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Claret and Present Danger–bookish pub

Claret and Present Danger

by Sarah Fox

Sadie stars in Claret and Present Danger which is a solid cozy mystery. The series combines specialty cocktails created by Sadie with the same bookish theme present throughout Inkwell, her pub, in decor and special events. This novel cleverly brings a Renaissance Faire to the little town of Shady Creek, Vermont, during their summer tourist season. The plot has a combination of the special event, some shocking murders, small town gossip and friendships, and budding romance with brewery owner Grayson. A highlight for me is the Shakespeare Trivia Night at the pub where informal teams compete to answer questions with gift certificates as the prizes.

Sadie feels compelled to investigate the first murder when her bartender Damien is jailed for the crime. Others have just as strong motivations, but Damien has no alibi and was seen in conflict with the victim shortly before the murder. Sadie develops a suspect list which is thrown into chaos when her top suspect is also found murdered. Sadie finds an anonymous note threatening her if she doesn’t abandon her sleuthing, but she determinedly continues her main technique which is interviewing. Her efforts are hampered when the police close down the Renaissance Faire, but she gets help from Grayson who used to be a private detective. He supports her informal detective work as he knows she will continue with or without his help, and he wants to keep her safe.

The threads are complex and the resolution is a surprise. There is a little too much time spent on the details of who eats what, when, and where, but some of that was to put Sadie in locations where she could discuss or overhear conversations that provide essential clues. Overall, I enjoyed this cozy mystery with its strong Renaissance Faire vibe and look forward to reading the next in the series. There are hints that trouble may be on the horizon as Sadie’s mother might come to visit and wants to meet Sadie’s new boyfriend.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #4 in the Literary Pub Mystery Series, but could be read as a standalone as the author provides lots of background information succinctly at the beginning of the book.
2. Drink recipes included are: The Secret Life of Daiquiris (with a mocktail version) and A Midsummer Night’s Cream Mocktail which could easily be called a dessert. There is also a recipe for Apple Fritters (complicated, but probably delicious).

Publication: November 30, 2021—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

After getting hurt by my last boyfriend, I wanted to tread carefully when it came to giving away a piece of my heart. The problem was that my heart wasn’t always on the same page as my head.

“Sadie, I don’t want you getting into any kind of trouble for my sake.” “I don’t plan to get into trouble.” I knew full well that most of the trouble I did get into was’t planned, but I wasn’t going to bring that up.

“I wouldn’t be worried about decorum either if I had such a fine man kissing me.”

Christmas in the Scottish Highlands–feel good Christmas romance

Christmas in the Scottish Highlands

by Donna Ashcroft

Join Belle Albany as she tries to fulfill the elderly, lonely Edina’s Christmas wishes. Edina has separated herself from people and life in Evergreen Castle. It takes an accident to show her what she has been missing. Not only has she distanced herself from the townspeople, but she also needs to finally meet an adult grandson Jack and see her daughter Tara more often. Christmas in the Scottish Highlands is character generated and propelled. The stories that motivate the main characters are key, but the supporting characters are vital to the plot too. A surprising and important character is Bob, a delightful donkey that lives at Evergreen Castle.

Christmas is critical to the plot, not just a backdrop. You can anticipate lots of Christmas traditions. Belle’s students at Christmas Village Primary School put on the annual Nativity program. A lot of effort is devoted to reviving the tradition of a huge Christmas party at the castle—enough that you might coin a new saying: “it takes a village to celebrate Christmas properly.”

Front and center next to the frivolity are deep and sometimes painful relationship issues: abandonment, estrangement, and communication. There are also three romantic threads and one other disclosed third hand as Jack is a divorce lawyer, better at splitting assets than at mending relationships. Several characters need to learn that there are often two sides to a story and author Donna Ashcroft does an excellent job of helping her readers understand that.

I enjoyed my visit to the Scottish Highlands in this book with its snow, castle, small village feel, and Christmas Cairn. Ashcroft sprinkles the text with just enough Scottish dialect (nae, dinnae, wee, lass/lassie, lad/laddie) that as I read dialogue I heard a Scottish brogue.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: There is one scene in the book where the sex could have been implied. It was not terribly graphic, but I prefer romances with closed bedroom doors.

Publication: October 11, 2021—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

Belle said his name slowly, layering it with a dollop of irritation. Kenzy quirked an eyebrow. “Is Pollyanna having an off day? I know you weren’t that sure about him, but I thought your mantra was “there’s good in everyone”. Not that I’m complaining. You could do with toughening up—the world’s filled with sharks, it’s good to have your harpoon sharpened when you meet them.”

“Ah, lass, it’s been a lot of years since anyone’s said anything so nice. The last compliment I got was from my dentist—and she just admired that I still had my own teeth.” Edina’s face lit with mirth and Kenzy snorted. The older woman had a wicked sense of humour and often had Belle belly laughing.

He’d had a quiet few days in Evergreen Castle, feeling slightly more popular than an axe murderer, but less welcome than someone with a really contagious cold.

Fatal Family Ties–genealogy mystery

Fatal Family Ties

by S.C. Perkins

Lucy is a genealogist with her own business in Austin. She is tracked down at lunch by Camilla Braithwaite, one of her “three least-favorite former coworkers” at a job she held four years prior at Howland University Library in Houston. She wants Lucy to disprove an article written in Chronology magazine about her ancestor Charles Edward Braithwaite who is accused of being “a coward, a deserter, and a charlatan.”

This project turns out to be a complicated task because records from the Civil War, especially from the Confederate army, are scarce, incomplete, and often inaccurate. Lucy’s expertise is just what this job requires. It is complicated further by a mysterious triptych and the sudden death of Camilla’s Uncle Charlie who was like a grandfather to her. He and Camilla each own a panel from the art set and no one seems to know who inherited the third panel.

Fortunately, as things get dangerous, Lucy’s boyfriend, Special Agent Ben Turner of the FBI, has most of a week off. His concealed carry license, law enforcement connections, and special training help keep Lucy safe. Her associations with the art restoration world through her college friend Helen help Lucy solve the murder and the triptych mystery.

I liked all the positive characters and enjoyed watching Lucy solve this puzzling case. The “mean girls” were clearly not going to give anyone warm fuzzies, but the author did not portray them in black and white terms. There was room for growth and self-realization for two of them. Suspicion landed on various characters and the ending was a surprise. My favorite minor character was Lucy’s mom. I particularly enjoyed the way she interacted with an elderly neighbor known for her grumpiness.
Genealogy is a field that has always confused me with phrases like “second cousin twice removed on your mother’s side.” Fatal Family Ties is dependent on those relationships, but I could follow the reasoning. Lucy even explains that the term “great aunt” instead of “grandaunt” is, in fact, confusing as it does not follow the established language pattern. That made me feel better! You can learn about genealogy and its importance through this book, but it is never pedantic.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Ancestry Detective Series, but can be read as a standalone. There is not a lot of personal character backstory to catch up on. The current mystery is the focus.

Publication: July 20, 2021—St. Martin’s Press (Minotaur)

Memorable Lines:

I certainly understood Camilla’s stress, and I had immense sympathy, but I didn’t need the attitude. If I was going to be snapped at, I deserved carbs.

“Wonders will never cease,” Mom said, and I smiled at her. I always loved how she said it as a statement she was stubbornly sure of rather than posing it as the traditional sarcastically surprised question.

“Though one thing you don’t need to change, Lucy, is your willingness to give people second chances. Too few people are open like that these days. Don’t give it up, okay?”

Read a Book, Help a Cowboy: Support the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund with Shanna Hatfield #RABHAC #JCCF #rodeoromance @ShannaHatfield

Ever wonder what happens to a rodeo cowboy who is injured? It’s not like he has a boss and goes on disability for a work related injury. Author Shanna Hatfield did some research and discovered that Justin Boots in partnership with some professional rodeo associations created a fund to help. This post gives you a way to help while reading! What could be better? Between October 1 until December 24, she will donate 10% of her sales to the fund. If you are a social media fan, you can read this post to learn more about a special online event, but it is not necessary to participate in that. My thanks to Carla at for sharing the word!

Fast Forward To F.A.S.T.

Unfortunately, this author is not trying to be humorous. What has “education” come to?

Grumpy Old Teacher

You know it’s time to retire when you cannot keep up with the acronyms. Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (actually a decent name that gives away the longstanding pretense that the reading test is testing reading) is an easy one for Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) to puzzle out, but he admits B.E.S.T. keeps him googling for the B: Benchmarks for Excellence in Student Thinking.

And that tips us off that while Ringling Brothers retired the elephants and the pungent smell of elephant dung departed from the Big Top, well, that Florida smell of standardized testing remains no matter what we call it.

And yes, GOT has an attitude and is proud of it.

Is Florida’s demand for student performance on their state tests any less torturous?

The first problem with F.A.S.T. is that Florida is moving too fast; it is implementing a new test before they are ready. For those…

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Welcome to the First School by the Sea–boarding school in Cornwall

Welcome to the First School by the Sea

by Jenny Colgan

Whether or not you are a fan of British boarding school books aimed at girls, you will enjoy this series written for adults who loved that genre in their younger days. The series will contain six books as it follows students and teachers through six grades at Downey House in Cornwall beginning with this book, Welcome to the First School by the Sea.

Maggie, a young English teacher from Glasgow, has been teaching in a fairly rough school in London and is ready for a change. She lands a job at the posh boarding school which looks like a beautiful castle. Her long-time, scruffy boyfriend Stan stays behind, and they try to work through the problems of a long distance relationship. The girls and some of the staff are introduced gradually as the plot progresses. Some are likable, some intentionally not. I really enjoyed meeting the various characters from the hardworking, bullied scholarship student Simone whose family hails from Romania to the sophisticated and daring French teacher Claire Crozier.

Maggie wants to do well by her students and is committed to being successful in her new job. She find herself in the middle of situations that develop and even puts herself physically at risk to help a distraught student. The Headteacher, Dr. Veronica Deveral, is a formidable but also amiable institution at the school. There is a potential romantic interest in Maggie’s counterpart at the boys’ school nearby. His dog Stephen Daedalus plays a prominent role in the story.

The normal tension from girls going through puberty, angst over grades, sports and distant family, and unpleasant bullying is ratcheted up when some valuable personal items go missing at the school. The identity of the thief is quite a surprise. Other dramatic twists are included, but not totally resolved leaving the reader anxious to rejoin the staff and students of Downey House after their summer break.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins (William Morrow) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. #1 in The School by the Sea series.
2. Be sure to read “A Word from Jenny” about the origin of the series. It is very interesting as is the original “Introduction” by the author under her pen name.
3. Some swearing.

Publication: March 29, 2022—HarperCollins (William Morrow)

Memorable Lines:

Once she’d dreamed of filling young hearts and minds with wonderful books and poetry; inspiring them, like Robin Williams, to think beyond their small communities and into the big world. Now she just dreamed of crowd control, and keeping them quiet for ten bloody minutes without someone whacking somebody else or answering their hidden mobiles.

Pat and Liz had been delighted to take the young teacher under their wing and give her the benefit of their wisdom, acquired through about two years in the classroom and twenty in administration, as far as Maggie could work out.

Remembering her family’s love provided a small candle of warmth inside her.

Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake–literally a cliffhanger

Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake

by Sarah Graves

Most cozy mysteries are fairly tame. They have an interesting plot with a great whodunnit puzzle, a little action, and a sprinkling or two of danger. With Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake, you can take those expectations and turn them upside down. Then double the pace, add lots of adventure, and throw in some creepiness.

The settings are extremely important to the plot. Main character Jacobia (Jake) and her friend Ellie own a chocolate-themed bakery, The Chocolate Moose, in the island village of Eastport, Maine. A lot of the action takes place at a remote cliffside house recently purchased by Ingrid Merryfield, a past-her-prime actress. Formerly glorious but currently decaying, Cliff House sits at the end of a narrow peninsula. With one way in by car, boat access when the tides are right, earthquakes, swamps, and secret tunnels, Sarah Graves has created a setting that is the perfect background for her plot.

Merryfield is hosting a party to ostensibly show off her new house to old friends even before any remodeling has been done. The guests who are staying overnight are plunged into sudden danger as they are trapped when a ginormous tree is uprooted and blocks the egress just as someone starts murdering them one by one. Instead of a locked room mystery, we can call it a sealed island mystery.

Ellie and Jake have been hired and paid well to provide chocolate desserts with the proviso that they stay overnight to serve and clean up. Things go from bad to worse as Jake tries to save Ellie, Jake’s stepmother, and Jake’s daughter-in-law and get them off the island. Graves goes into great detail with the setting helping the reader picture the dangerous cliffs and rising tides.

Sorting through the characters, their motivations, and the numerous plot twists is a full-time job. In the conclusion, everything is spelled out and loose ends are tied up. Jake and Ellie are brave, self-sacrificing, and ingenious ladies, but two of my favorite characters critical to the plot are not main characters. My semi-heroes are Igor the Irish Wolfhound who has a recurrent role and Jake’s elderly father who should not be underestimated. Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake is not the book for a calm afternoon’s read, but a cup of hot tea might go with it well as there are some wet, cold scenes.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #5 in the Death by Chocolate Series. It could be read as a standalone, but would be enjoyed better with more character background.
2. Minor swearing (about 5 occasions)

Publication: March 29, 2021—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

…there are no dumb housewives in Maine. If there were, they’d get eaten by bears, poisoned by toadstools masquerading as mushrooms, or bled dry by mosquitoes so big they could stand flat-footed and look right over the barn at you.

So the whole line of thought was a vicious circle and for now I set it aside turning instead to thoughts of our imminent journey: Life jacket, check. Iron grip on the rail, check.

On the hearth, flames licked hungrily at the logs, curling their splinters to frizzled wisps.

Legally Blind Luck–uncovering the truth

Legally Blind Luck

by James J. Cudney

The discoveries, surprises, and twists just keep coming in the seventh novel in James J. Cudney’s cozy mystery series. In Legally Blind Luck there are a number of mysterious new characters including a blind woman with a bodyguard. Kellan, the main character, discovers a murder victim just as an art exhibit is scheduled to open on campus. An art treasure, supposedly bearing a curse, disappears. Kellan’s uncle who died a few months prior to the exhibit might have been involved. These events seem to be tied into South Africa’s history of apartheid. Kellan and his girlfriend April, a sheriff, have to search out the murderer and untangle relationship webs to keep Kellan and his family safe.

The many characters in the book are described in great detail. The plot moves quickly enough, but it is easy for me to get bogged down as I try to recall the characters as they reappear. Fortunately, the author, recognizing that this could be a problem, includes a descriptive character list at the beginning of the book. As usual, Kellan’s Nana D plays a role in providing humor as she and her grandson lovingly tease each other. The conclusion of the book holds many surprises that I absolutely did not see coming as well as some major hooks to draw the reader into the next book in the series.

I would like to extend my thanks to author James J. Cudney and to Gumshoe (Next Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #7 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series. It could be read as a standalone, but the author recommends “reading the series in order because of the side stories and character progression.” I agree with him, and I have enjoyed each book.

Publication: April 15, 2020—Next Chapter

Memorable Lines:

I’d mostly felt lost and ignored, so I kept to myself—bookish nerd met prankster met Curious George.

Dr. Myriam Castle delivered a uniquely special brand of cantankerous poppycock that was best left ignored if you valued your sanity.

“I might believe her personality is on par with Nurse Ratched and Lizzie Borden, but I don’t doubt her love for you.”

Academic Curveball: FREE Kindle from 3/5 thru 3/9

This is a fun cozy mystery series with a male protagonist and lots of quirky characters. It is a good series to start at the beginning as there is a lot of character background that develops through the series. It is amazing the author is giving readers the opportunity to read this first book for free! I hope you enjoy it!

Charmed by the Cook’s Kids–a chef with hidden talents

Charmed by the Cook’s Kids

by Melinda Curtis

Charmed by the Cook's KidsHarlan Monroe’s many descendants have personalities and passions that are as diverse as the snowflakes that fall on the dying Idaho tourist town of Second Chance, but they have one thing in common. The terms of their beloved grandfather’s will led to their parents’ firing them from family businesses. They now must agree on saving their grandfather’s hometown or selling it off.

Ivy was rescued from an abusive marriage by Harlan and is now raising her children by running the Bent Nickel, the town’s only restaurant. She supports herself as a short order cook, but she indulges her culinary passions in her secret kitchen. Cam Monroe, who has a coveted Michelin star, arrives in the little town only to discover that his family wants him to cater out of Bent Nickel’s  marginally adequate kitchen for a crowd of celebrities at his cousin’s wedding. 

Ivy and Cam lock horns over different culinary goals and methods before they get to know each other. They both have likable sides and honorable goals, but they have histories that they have to work through.

Melinda Curtis tells their story in Charmed by the Cook’s Kids where you, also, will be charmed by R.J., an aspiring 8 year old chef, and his 5 year old brother Nick. Foodies at heart, they are protective of their mother and have her rules and routines engrained in their psyches. I have enjoyed all the books in the Mountain Monroes, and Charmed by the Cook’s Kids is no exception. If you have read the other books in this series, you will enjoy meeting up with old friends. If this book is the first for you, I think you will find enough information provided that you will not puzzle over characters who are not central to the storyline. Although a clean and heartwarming romance, this book addresses head-on emotional and verbal abuse and the damage they cause. The main storyline has closure, but a few threads are left dangling to entice you to join the denizens of Second Chance to see how situations play out in the next book in this fun series that will leave you smiling.

I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #6 in the Mountain Monroes, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   June 1, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

…she’d felt a shock when he’d taken her arms and shifted her out of his way, a jolt like the first tart taste of lemon in a finely made meringue.

Don’t touch my dish, Ivy. You’ll just ruin it. Her ex-husband’s voice echoed in the kitchen, in Ivy’s head, in her very bones. He’d yell and whisper and hiss that she should stay away, and then he’d contradict himself. You knew my sauce needed more basil. What kind of idiot lets it go out that way?

Diane fixed Ivy with a stare cold enough to freeze the Salmon River.

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