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Deception–things are not as they seem
by Patricia Bradley
Action and tension are abundant in Patricia Bradley’s Deception, the fourth book in the Natchez Trace Park Rangers Series. Madison, the protagonist, is a special agent with the Investigative Services Branch. After the bust of a human trafficking ring in Big Bend in which Madison’s partner is killed, she decides to switch gears and work in a white collar crimes division. She is good at both jobs.
In Mississippi she goes to visit her beloved grandfather, a retired judge, and things turn ugly and violent. A woman who could be Madison’s doppelgänger is attacked. Who is she and which one of the two was actually targeted? There is also a missing girl who was being rescued from her pimp. Could she have been the target? Madison is convinced that a suicide being investigated is in fact a homicide. This novel borders on being a police procedural as there are so many agencies involved.
The book has some romance as Madison is helped by Clayton, a former childhood friend, who is now a ranger in charge of a district in the Natchez Trace. Another interesting character is Nadine, the judge’s longtime housekeeper. She is in her eighties. She doesn’t say a lot, but she is a very careful observer and has great hearing.
Deception has lots of twists to the plot, and the characters not only have secrets, but many really do actively deceive. Madison turns to Clayton to try to understand forgiveness. He explains how he has forgiven others who have hurt him: “Because God forgave me for all the ways I’ve hurt others.” “I didn’t [do the forgiving]. God did it in me. But I had to give up my right to be angry and resentful.”
A huge part of the plot involves adoptions and family history, but all of these seemingly disparate threads tie together quite dramatically when the mysteries are resolved. Deception is my first exposure to this author. I definitely plan on reading more by her. It was an exciting book, and I like the way she gently wove Christian beliefs into a suspenseful tale.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Suspense, Christian, Romance
Notes: #4 in the Natchez Trace Park Rangers Series. It is enjoyable as a standalone, but I wish I had read the first ones. The first chapter dives into a previous time frame that sets up Madison’s reason for turning to white collar crime investigation and is easily understood. Then as the plot turns to current events, a lot of characters are introduced (or maybe reintroduced?). I pushed through that and because the plot is the focus, it all sorted itself out. I’m glad I persevered for a few chapters.
Publication: August 2, 2022—Revell
“He was this important businessman, and Mom always told me not to bother him. When he was at home it was like tiptoeing on eggshells, but at least he wasn’t home much.”
Sister. She loved the way the word wrapped around her heart. It sounded as though neither of their lives had been rosy, but perhaps this could be a new start for both of them.
He got the impression Madison didn’t trust many men. And after meeting her father, he could understand why. And then there was a the FBI agent who tried to ill her.
Lemon Drop Dead–love for a child
Lemon Drop Dead
by Amanda Flower
Although she still films her TV series “Bailey’s Amish Sweets” in New York City, Bailey is currently back in Harvest, Ohio, where she helps her grandmother operate the local candy shop, Swissmen Sweets. One of the shop assistants, Emily Keim, was taken under Bailey’s wing when her hateful sister and brother kicked her out of their pretzel shop business and home. Now Emily is married to a wonderful Amish man who knows that when she was young she had a baby out of wedlock and gave it up for adoption.
When an Amish woman, a stranger, shows up at the town’s baby shower for Emily and then is found dead in the pretzel shop, the little tourist town of Harvest is turned upside down. Everyone knows Bailey will investigate. The search for the killer turns personal as Bailey has a sweet, deaf, six year old girl, Hannah, thrust on her. Jethro the polka-dotted, pot-bellied pig saves the day as he comforts and amuses the child in the midst of the chaotic situation. Bailey is horrified by the insensitive, rude comments made about the child as if she is somehow “less than” because she can’t hear. The Amish do not like government interactions, but the social worker must get involved because of various laws to ensure the welfare of the child. Thankfully, she does try to be sensitive to the Amish culture and to not disrupt the child’s life any more than it already has been.
Along the way, Bailey encounters both Englisch and Amish who are breaking laws and hurting others. There are lots of threads and themes: Amish harness racing in carts, gambling, unwed mothers, adoption, deafness, generosity, paternal responsibility, and love of all types. There are developments in the relationship of Deputy Little and Bailey’s cousin Charlotte as she wrestles with whether to remain Amish or not. Bailey’s boyfriend Aiden has to decide whether to remain in a frustrating job in Harvest’s sheriff’s office or accept a position that is an advancement but would take him away from Harvest…and Bailey.
Lemon Drop Dead is a good story. Both the plot and characters pull the reader in. The reveal of the murderer is surprising. I am looking forward to my next visit to Harvest. Lois, who is a hoot in the Amish Matchmaker series which is also set in Harvest, surprises everyone in this book with her knowledge of sign language. She is sweet and supportive. I learned more about Amish customs, but the biggest surprise for me was finding Amish young men competing at the race track in special carts designed for that purpose and utilizing bicycle tires. Who knew?
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.
Notes: 1. #6 in the Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series. It can be enjoyed as a standalone, but the whole series is good. Some of the books have more humor, but this one does deal with some serious issues so is a little less lighthearted.
2. Clean and wholesome read.
3. Recipe for Lemon Drops included.
Publication: April 27, 2021—Kensington
“Gott gives each and every one of us gifts. Each is different. Each is special. It is up to you what you do with them.”
For her and my grandfather to be proud of me was all I’d ever wanted. I’d thought for a very long time that I had to earn that pride by becoming the top chocolatier in New York City. I had since learned my grandparents were prouder of me when I cared for others.
I winced. Hollywood was harsh if it was even asking pigs to lose weight.
Candy Slain Murder–lots of food and mystery
Candy Slain Murder
by Maddie Day
December arrives to provide a Christmassy backdrop to this cozy mystery set in the little town of South Lick, Indiana, where Robbie Jordan owns a breakfast and lunch restaurant that also features vintage cookware for sale. There is a cast of regulars making their appearance in Maddie Day’s Candy Slain Murder, but remain fearless, dear Reader, as the author’s talents include bringing the reader quickly on board with Robbie’s friends and family.
This mystery includes a cold case and a new murder case that appear to be connected. There are a number of characters with potential motives that Robbie has to sort through as she informally interviews various persons of interest as well as those whose knowledge might contribute to her investigations.
Another thread in the story is the surprise appearance of the mysterious half-brother of one of Robbie’s employees. Protective of those she loves, Robbie is concerned that this man’s claims might not be legitimate. Even his religious ties as a former Quaker turned Muslim are odd. They lead to a discussion of inclusiveness versus discrimination in South Lick with some B&B guests. This thread is interesting, but seems an afterthought as the couple appears only once besides meal times.
I enjoyed the book as I tried to discover the murderer or murderers along with Robbie. There were plenty of distractions to keep me guessing, although I had in mind a resolution that I wanted to see. Happily, I was correct, but it was fun to follow the characters to a satisfactory conclusion.
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.
Notes: 1. #8 in the Country Store Mysteries Series. I have read, out of order, a few of the books in this series. All, including Candy Slain Murder, have worked well as standalones.
2. Six recipes are included in the book and several are holiday appropriate.
3. I am puzzled by Robbie’s critical comment on the celebration of Christmas in the little town. They were having a Christmas tree lighting and a visit by Santa. Robbie said of the mayor, “Corrine could have slanted the celebration in a more secular direction.” As a Christian, I think the celebration was very secular. There was no nativity scene and no mention of the birth of Jesus, which is the origin of Christmas celebrations.
Publication: September 29, 2020—Kensington
“You’re more full of questions than one of them robots on the phone. At least you ain’t asking me to press one for this and two for that.”
Buck poured on the syrup and tore into his cranberry pancakes so fast I thought they would catch on fire.
“It’s one of them, you know, fifty percent of one and a dozen of the other.” My jaw dropped at his fractured metaphor.
Dash Away All–dangerous drama on the movie set
Dash Away All
by Christina Freeburn
I was close to frustration with Merry Winters, the main character in Dash Away All by Christina Freeman, when she became frustrated with herself. Finally! Merry has been contracted to create craft items for the backdrop of a Christmas movie featuring a crafter. The job becomes bigger than originally planned when a shed holding many Christmas decorations burns down and Merry is expected to create or round up from the tiny town of Carol Lake, Indiana, the necessary items to fill out the various scenes. For someone so overwhelmingly concerned about the quantity of crafts she is supposed to make, Merry spends a lot of time going down rabbit holes. Some of the trails she follows are legitimate ones to pursue a criminal, but others are self-indulgent like her visit to a toy store. Sometimes she is just plain nosy and involves herself in things that are truly none of her business.
This Christmas movie is being filmed in a hot and humid July, so if you are looking for a Christmassy read, this is not for you. If you want a cozy mystery with red herrings, a plot with twists and turns, some danger, and a tiny splash of romance, you would probably enjoy Dash Away All. An aging and domineering Christmas movie star is making a comeback at the same time she is trying to resolve some personal issues from her past. They happen to coincide with Merry’s current crisis in terms of family. Merry’s long distance business partner Bright is somewhat helpful, but it seems we will never meet her as she, for family reasons, is not able to join Merry in her time of need. I, unfortunately, felt little fondness for the characters in this mystery, and that hampered my enjoyment of the book. Even the role of Ebenezer the Guinea pig seemed contrived.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #3 in the Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mystery Series
Publication: July 7, 2020—Henery Press
“Luna’s three loves in life are acting, trouble, and men, and which takes the top spot changes from day to day.”
A woman who loved to feel needed and felt lost when those who had needed her most—children and mom—either no longer did as they’re venturing out on their own, or because they couldn’t remember her.
It was a simple solution. Why hadn’t I thought of it? I knew exactly why I hadn’t; complicating matters was becoming a new hobby. I was turning back into a teenage girl and morphing everything into a drama of the century.
Murder with Cherry Tarts–tearoom delights throughout the mystery
Murder with Cherry Tarts
by Karen Rose Smith
What a delightful cozy mystery! I enjoyed Murder with Cherry Tarts by Karen Rose Smith from beginning to end. It has interesting characters including Daisy Swanson, a widow and co-owner of Daisy’s Tea Garden with her Aunt Iris. Daisy is at the center of the book’s many threads. There is, of course, a murder mystery which Daisy tries not to get involved in, but her kind nature won’t allow her to stand by while an innocent man is railroaded by a detective with a chip on his shoulder. That chip is connected to Daisy’s boyfriend Jonas, a former detective. Other tensions include a homeless man and his daughter and an elderly antique shop owner possibly being cheated by a family member. Also, Daisy has continuing relationship issues with her mother, preparations for the upcoming wedding of her pregnant daughter, and the struggles of her youngest daughter, who is adopted, to connect with her biological mother. It is a busy story!
The setting is Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. Although Daisy is not Amish, there are a sprinkling of references to horse and buggy transport and other Amish customs as Willow Creek is a seasonal tourist town.
Despite the various focuses on relationships, the mystery is still key. There are several suspects with plausible motives, but when the murderer is revealed in a scene replete with danger, the surprise ending is stunning.
The author follows up with an epilogue that provides a promisingly happy conclusion to the relationship threads as well as the murder investigation. There are, however, still developments to look forward to in the next cozy in this series.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #4 in the Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery Series, but works very well as a standalone. The characters’ backgrounds are skillfully woven into the first chapter.
2. The book concludes with recipes, including one for Daisy’s famous cherry tarts that everyone raves about.
Publication: November 26, 2019—Kensington Books
“Sharing tea with a friend is a calming experience. I think it has to do with just taking time out of your day to talk and to share. It doesn’t matter the type of tea or if you use sugar or honey or milk. It’s just the experience of sipping it that counts.”
That was exactly what grief felt like, a hole that could never be filled up.
The photographs would never reveal the tension that always bubbled up within her family. But that was the point of happy photos, wasn’t it? To remember the good times and cherish them.
Lake Season–God’s plan for good
by Denise Hunter
Do you believe in coincidence? The novel Lake Season written by Denise Hunter might convince you that God can work even the smallest details together to achieve His good plan. At the time certain events happen, there may be no clear vision of how it could even begin to be used for good. Then comes to mind the phrase “but God,” as God turns what appears to be a series of coincidences into something amazing.
Molly and her siblings, Levi and Grace, are devastated by the death of their parents in a car wreck, but they make sacrifices to fulfill their parents’ dream of converting their house into an inn. Just as the inn is almost set to open, Adam, who writes romances under a pen name, arrives in small Bluebell, North Carolina, looking for inspiration for his new book. The discovery of a long lost letter unites Adam and Molly in a search to find the young couple separated by the Vietnam War and family disapproval.
Molly and Adam are not weak but are vulnerable main characters with deep-seated emotional pains left-over from their pasts. Both are very likable, but it would take a miracle for their hearts to heal enough to allow them to leave the hurts of the past behind them. As the tale progresses, they touch the lives of others through their kindness and research in ways that have to be more than a coincidence.
Can a publicity shy novelist and a young innkeeper with trust issues find happiness and a way forward together? As author Denise Hunter’s newest fan, I found tears filling my eyes as I approached the end of the book and hoped for the best.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Romance
Notes: I was delighted to discover that this is the first book of the Bluebell Romance Series. Denise Hunter has written over 30 books, two of which have been made, not surprisingly, into Hallmark movies.
Publication: November 12, 2019—Thomas Nelson
“You’ve been very welcoming, and you have a beautiful face—I mean, place. You have a beautiful place.” Why did he have to be such an imbecile with women?
All those times he’d disappointed his dad rose to the surface like buoys, bringing a load of hurt and a feeling of unworthiness that went core deep.
“…I’ve never had God’s work in my life be so…blatant. I mean, I’ve seen Him work in my life so many times. But this particular situation is so convoluted and layered, it would be impossible not to see it as His handiwork.”
Into the Frying Pan–medical mayhem
Into the Frying Pan
by Sarah Osborne
If my opinion of this book were based on the likability of the characters the plot centers around in Into the Frying Pan, it would get a low rating. Fortunately the main characters, pediatrician Ditie Brown and her detective boyfriend Mason, along with Ditie’s adopted daughter Lucie and Ditie’s close friends Lurleen and Danny, do not like these people either. Sadly they were an odd group of former friends from Ditie’s medical school days.
The tale is full of suspicions and secrets when one of the group is killed during a Civil War reenactment. Ugly motives and complicated relationships emerge. Will Ditie be able to protect herself and her children while interviewing former friends to discover the murderer?
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #2 in the Ditie Brown Mystery Series but great as a standalone.
Publication: May 28, 2019— Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)
I hung up not sure what I was feeling. I’d put Phil in a category of lousy human being and now he was trying to ease his way out of that box.
Agatha Christie would have loved this gathering. A small clutch of people with one murderer in the mix.
“You see, I learned the hard way that some people get broken by their past and don’t recover from it—that was Carl. I did everything I could not to be like my mother, but Carl became his father. He ran around, had schemes to get money, and always wanted more than he had. I thought I could love him into being a better man, but you can’t do that for another person. They have to do it for themselves.”
Sweet Tea and Secrets–a web of lies
Sweet Tea and Secrets
by Joy Avon
Like the main character, Callie Aspen, the plot of Sweet Tea and Secrets seems to exist in limbo in Joy Avon’s latest cozy mystery. Callie has quit a job she loves as an international tour guide and moved back to Heart’s Harbor to help her Aunt Iphy run Book Tea, the local tea shop. She is waiting for a local rental to be restored to livable condition. She doesn’t actually contribute much help to the tea room in this book. To top it off, Deputy Falk, an additional enticement when she decided to move, seems less than enthusiastic about Callie’s return to town.
The plot follows the same erratic pacing and intensity as we see in Callie’s personal life. Callie gets pulled into the investigation of a cold murder case that revolves around a web of lies. It is hard for Callie and the reader to know which characters are reliable. My interest would ramp up, and then I would find myself wondering when the book would end. The ending was a surprise in regards to the mystery, and the author didn’t leave any loose ends. There were a number of subplots that were interesting but sometimes too distracting when acting as red herrings. I was glad Callie’s personal relationship with Falk showed forward progress. I would read another book in the series, but I hope it will have more of a focus on the tea room like the first books in the series do.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #2 in the Book Tea Shop Mystery Series
Publication: June 11, 2019—Crooked Lane Books
But nothing happened. Just those lights teasing her from the darkness. Telling her she wasn’t alone.
“So far everybody seems to have been lying about everything.”
Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches–secrets in the family
Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches
by Karen Rose Smith
Along comes a fairly gentle cozy mystery in Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches by Karen Rose Smith that is half personal relationships and half murder mystery. Interestingly enough, Smith manages to tie in a lot of the personal issues with the murder. Daisy, a widow, owns Daisy’s Tea Garden with her Aunt Iris. This mystery begins with uncomfortable anticipation for Daisy and her staff caused by the upcoming visit by celebrity food blogger Derek, known for giving unfavorable reviews. He is found dead after his visit.
There are so many questions about Derek’s death that Daisy must try to answer while juggling personal dilemmas with her college age daughter Vi and with Foster, Vi’s boyfriend, who is also an employee of Daisy. Her other daughter, Jazzi, is undergoing emotional trauma because of possible rejection by her birth mom. Daisy is moving slowly in her relationship with former detective and current local woodworker Jonas. Daisy’s parents live in the same town, and her mother tends to be critical. What a lot of things for Daisy to deal with at one time!
At the teashop, business is off because potential customers are deterred by the possibility of poisoning. Daisy needs to find the murderer to save her shop and her employees’ jobs. Her major method is listening as she informally interviews suspects and watches for their reactions. The characters are interesting, and I enjoy visits to the tea shop where all kinds of teas and goodies are available as well as more substantial fare such as soups. Before the murder, bus loads of tourists frequently stopped for tea, but the murder has squelched enthusiasm for the tea shop. As the setting is Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, there are some Amish references as Daisy and Jonas interact with Amish friends and employees. Willow Creek is a welcoming little town, and Daisy’s Tea Garden, set in a charming Victorian house, is a comfortable spot to chat with a friend. Come on in! The tea is hot, the hostess is friendly, and the treats are (not literally) “to die for.”
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #3 in the Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone thanks to the author’s ability to dive right into the plot while simultaneously providing background.
2. Three original recipes are included at the end of the book for items served in the tearoom.
Publication: May 28, 2019—Kensington
“I know a therapist who’s very good with teenagers. She has a cat who sits in on most sessions. She finds that Lancelot relaxes her clients. He’s very loving, and in that intuitive way cats have, he knows whether to come closer or stay away.”
Daisy felt as if she was living in more than one universe—one filled with the tea garden and friends and customers, tea and sweet goods. And the other with a family dilemma she didn’t know how to handle.
The tea might have been brewed for them, but by their expressions and body language, she could tell tension brewed between them.