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Authentically, Izzy–love of books

Authentically, Izzy

by Pepper Basham

There are many enjoyable, bookish novels that have a bookshop or library setting or feature a writer, book club, or writer’s retreat. That kind of book appeals to me, and I have read a lot of them. Authentically, Izzy, however, is the most delightful and thoroughly  bookish story I have encountered; and because it is epistolary (emails and texts), the reader finds that words, quotes, and puns play a major role.

I smiled and laughed my way through the tale of shy library assistant Isabelle in the Appalachians who, despite having her heart truly and fully broken two times, is convinced by her cousin Josie into going on blind dates and using an online dating service. An added complication is that Izzy grew up with her cousins after the untimely death of her parents. They are wonderful people, but Izzy has never been quite sure of her role as a cousin/sister. 

Brodie, whose family has a chain of bookstores on the island kingdom of Skymar near Great Britain, signs on to the same service. His initial goal is to entice someone to come work in his country. Brodie is single, good looking, speaks English with an adorable accent, and is a book aficionado. His family could use the financial stipend their country offers to citizens who hire employees from outside the country to fund his little sister’s much needed surgery and to shore up their bookstore chain. Employment would be the incentive, but could romance be an added bonus?

Reading the interactions of these two total book nerds is an absolute delight, but there are many barriers to a happily ever after. They include a fear of flying, a long distance courtship, and a professor/author in the U.S. who is also pursuing Izzy. There are hints that certain potentially disastrous situations will catch up with the couple. One reveal happens fairly soon, but then the reader is left waiting for the other shoe to drop. What a pleasurable suspense! It is impossible to read this book without hoping for all to work out well in the end!

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, Christian Fiction

Notes: This book is considered a standalone, but another epistolary novel will be published in August 2023, that focuses on Izzy’s cousin/sister: Positively, Penelope. I can’t wait to read it!

Publication:  November 15, 2022—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

I have found fiction to meet me at the most poignant of times in my life. I learned the power of imagination through Narnia and the intimacy of true friendship in The Lord of the Rings. I found courage from Atticus Finch and an unexpected camaraderie with Emma’s Knightley…Fiction, at its best, speaks to the heart. 

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.” Can you believe Charles Dickens wrote that? I always thought of him as a dreary sort of fellow since he seemed to spend so much time thinking about ghosts and orphans and women who wear wedding gowns for much too long.

(Why do I keep renewing my passport if I’ve never used it? I think something needs to change. After all, Josephine says flying is the safest way to travel, though I’d prefer a magical wardrobe or even a portkey.)

Secrets in the Stacks–supporting friends

Secrets in the Stacks

by Lynn Cahoon

The Survivor’s Book Club is for women who are currently undergoing or have finished treatment for breast cancer. It was founded by Rarity, a local bookstore owner and cancer survivor. The group does not actually read books about cancer, but their background gives them an unspoken bond and perspective. When one of the club members discovers her grandmother murdered in their home, the group shifts into high gear to support their friend, clear her of suspicion, and help discover the real murderer.

As is usual with a Lynn Cahoon book, Secrets in the Stacks has an intricate plot, great characters, and a lot of surprises. Cahoon actually discovered cozy mysteries when she was going through breast cancer treatments herself and realized that writing is what she really wanted to do. She has been very successful with several popular series to her credit, but this is the first one that draws on her experiences with cancer treatment and survival.

Rarity is supported by a group of friends who are Sedona, Arizona, locals. She is close friends with Drew, a detective, but the romantic interest in the story is Archer, an athletic man who leads group hikes in the surrounding area. Rarity has her dog Killer, a Pomeranian, with her almost constantly. As the boss, she can even take her well-trained dog, who has a great instinct about people, to work with her.

The murdered grandmother was well-loved in the community, but no one seemed to know anything about her life before she and her teenaged son moved to Sedona. The group decides that something from her past could be a motivation for the crime. The deeper they delve, the more complications arise.

The ending is dramatic, action-packed, and surprising. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

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: Mystery

Notes: 1. #2 in the Survivors’ Book Club Mystery Series, but could be read as a standalone as Cahoon provides any background information needed.
2. Sedona is often associated with new-age beliefs so there are several references to tarot cards as well as one to crystals and sending out good wishes through the universe. Some of the characters believe in the “mystical part” of the tarot card reading and others don’t. As a Christian, I avoid the occult, but there are few enough references and enough skepticism on the part of the characters that I am able to read this book. It is not a predominant theme.
3. Includes a recipe for Hamburger Stew.

Publication: November 1, 2022—Kensington Books (Lyrical Press)

Memorable Lines:

“…running my own business is harder than I thought it would be. Every time I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel, it turns out to be a train.”

She’d worked out her negative feelings about what Shirley had said without confronting the woman. Sometimes you just needed to realize it was you and not them.

The book club was more than just a bunch of women reading books. Or even poking their noses into an investigation, or now, two. They were there for each other.

The Story of Love–being Englisch in an Amish community

The Story of Love

by Beth Wiseman

Yvonne moves from her house in Houston to live in Amish country in Montgomery, Indiana. Her friend Eva has been ordered to bed during her pregnancy, and Eva’s father-in-law is confined to a wheelchair leaving the farm management to Eva’s husband Jake. Yvonne, a rare book dealer, had met the couple at their bookstore, and now she steps in to help her friends at their store.

Abraham is a police officer who left the Amish church on friendly terms hoping to be useful as an intermediary between the Amish and the Englisch. He met Yvonne shortly after her fiancé died and hoped that at the right time he would be able to get to know her better.

The Story of Love is a sweet story of two people trying to sort out priorities and relationships. When the tale begins, Abraham is dating a very attractive woman who is as shallow as a mud puddle. With Yvonne and Abraham trying to make honorable choices, it takes a while for the romance in the story to progress. There is the further complication of Abraham’s family’s attitudes toward both women and their continuing discomfort with Abraham leaving the Amish faith. It is a problem for him too. Interesting and important subplots center on a homeless dog and a case of domestic violence.

I really enjoyed reading The Story of Love and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Hopefully Ever After, to discover what lies ahead for the characters. It is a gentle book but also has some action and confronts some serious issues. The characters use some Amish terms, and through the plot I learned how the Amish celebrate Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

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: Christian, Romance

Notes: 1. #2 in the Amish Bookstore Novel Series. It would be fun to read the first book in the series, but I had no problem jumping into this one.
2. Contains a Glossary of Amish words used in the book.

Publication: October 11, 2022—Zondervan Fiction

Memorable Lines:

Brianna smiled, looking gorgeous, but now that Yvonne had seen what was on the inside, her striking appearance had lost some of its luster.

This was what Christmas was supposed to be. Gifts created out of love. Meals shared with family. And an all-knowing sense that where more than one gathered in His name, He was there.

…if she was honest with herself, she was the problem. She was unlovable, despite her outward beauty that she’d always counted on to get her through life, to land her a good man, and to enjoy the life she thought she deserved. Maybe you had to give love with genuine intent before you got it back.

A Vacation to Die For–ex-in-laws can be a pain

A Vacation to Die For

by Lynn Cahoon

It’s good to return to South Cove to visit with Jill, owner of a bookstore/coffee shop, and her fiancé Greg, the local police detective. They head up to nearby Apple Valley for a much needed get-away, but unfortunately there is a murder back in town. In addition, there are a lot of other threads in this well-crafted cozy mystery. There is a conflict with the mayor when Jill won’t agree to sell her property to a real estate developer. Evie, one of Jill’s baristas is harassed by her ex-husband and his sister over an inheritance. Jill is a bibliophile, preferring a good book to social interaction, but she tries in this book to reach outside her comfort zone.

There are lots of interactions among the various characters. Some are just townspeople and others are in the area for trouble. Jill seems to frequently find her way into investigations and dangerous spots, sometimes because she is nosy and sometimes because she is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jill shows off her investigative skills in this book as she picks up on little things she sees or hears that others might not notice. She then feeds them to Greg, helping solve the crimes. Jill’s dog Emma is a mainstay, always ready for a run. Another dog, Homer, plays an important role in this book.

There are lots of food mentions from Tiny’s fantastic cooking at Lille’s café to Sadie’s delectable desserts from Pies on the Fly. You don’t want to try to read this book when you are hungry.

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: Mystery

Notes: 1. A Vacation to Die For is #14 in the Tourist Trap Mystery Series. You could read it as a standalone as Cahoon is good at grounding readers in the past and the characters as needed. As this story is fairly far into the series, however, I think it would be more enjoyable if others in the series were read first. I do recommend the whole series if you are looking to read a new cozy mystery series. This one never disappoints.
2. A recipe for Esmeralda’s Creole Seafood Stew is included.

Publication: September 6, 2022—Kensington (Lyrical Press)

Memorable Lines:

“I swear, I can’t hold a Tupperware party without having one of the guests show up dead.”

I let her talk for a while. I found the best part of being a friend was letting the other person talk out the problem and find their own solution.

The world must be moving into an ice age. Greg had asked me to investigate. I hurried home to get my car before he changed his mind.

On Spine of Death–hidden bones

On Spine of Death

by Tamara Berry

Tess, a thriller writer, believes in using real life as an inspiration for her fiction. Sometimes that means investigating real murders that happen in her newly adopted small hometown, even on her own property. She also sets up scenarios to see if a situation is possible even if not probable. She is quite successful and has been able to renovate (i.e. make livable) a cabin she inherited from her grandfather. Newly divorced, she lives there with her teenage daughter Gertrude. In this book there are an assortment of interesting characters including two undercover FBI agents: Nikki who acts as a bookmobile librarian and Jared, a strapping young man who works construction for Tess as she tries to transform her grandfather’s wreck of a hardware store into a bookstore. Jared doesn’t do well as an undercover agent because he can’t “lie his way out of a paper bag.”

It is during the demolition of parts of the store that skeletons are discovered. Judging from similar hatchet marks on the bodies, it seems there has been a serial killer at work. The plot takes off from there as the story becomes more and more complicated. It appears the murderer has returned and is trying to frame either Tess’ family or the sheriff.

Woven through the mystery there is a lot of humor in situation and dialogue. There is also some romance and sabre rattling as Jared and Sheriff Boyd are both attracted to Tess.

The ending is dramatic and full of action. There is resolution of the mysteries but also a hook to make the reader want to read of Tess’ next adventures which will assuredly include some of both the romantic and investigative varieties. She may even find time to reach some of her publisher’s deadlines for her next book. Be ready to suspend reality and enjoy some over the top humorous situations in On Spine of Death.

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: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the By the Book Mystery Series. I recommend reading this series from the beginning rather than trying to read this book as a standalone. It is a series where you will benefit from meeting the characters and watching their relationships develop.

Publication: November 29, 2022—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

She also knew that the more exhausted the sheriff was, the more likely he was to cave. That was a trick Gertrude used all the time. Requests for increases to her allowance always occurred with greater frequency whenever Tess was approaching a deadline.

There was no telling how or why rumors spread so quickly in a place like this, where social media existed mostly in the form of the church calling tree and chance encounters at the grocery store, but there was no denying that they did. No one went so far as to throw stones at her or start waving pitchforks in her face, but the hostility was palpable.

Tess had always assumed that hackers were social misfits, living off Mountain Dew and whole bags of Doritos in the dark. A humorous hacker who could manipulate her like playing a drum opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

The Tuesday Night Survivors’ Club–a new bookshop

The Tuesday Night Survivors’ Club

by Lynn Cahoon

If anyone could write a cozy mystery about a book club formed to gather and support breast cancer survivors, it would be Lynn Cahoon. As survivors these women share a background that leaves some things unspoken, but understood. They are not choosing books about breast cancer, however. They select a mystery for their first read, but soon find themselves involved in a real-life murder mystery.

In The Tuesday Night Survivors’ Club, the founder of the club is Rarity who owns the new bookstore that sponsors the group. She has left her stressful, big city job for the slower pace of being her own boss in Sedona, AZ. Her best friend is Sam who owns a crystal shop and makes jewelry. There are two romantic interests: Drew, a detective, and Archer, a lawyer turned hiking guide.

The murder of one of the group members turns them all into amateur sleuths investigating potential suspects and ferreting out motivations. Not everyone is who they seem to be. Rarity also finds the original, limited membership concept for the club expanding as others pitch in to help with the investigation. I thought I had figured out the murderer from a clue mentioned early on, but I was wrong. The investigation turns dangerous and the ending is a surprise. I can’t wait for the next book in this new series.

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: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Survivors’ Book Club Mystery Series

Publication: June 14, 2022—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

Action was rewarded. Worrying never did anyone any favors.

Welcome to the sisterhood. The cost of joining was just living through a disease that tried to kill you. And you had to wear pink for the rest of your life. (A rule that Rarity ignored since she hated pink.)

“There have been times in my life when I questioned whether Edith and I were ‘meant to be.’ Whether or not she was my soul mate. But I always come back to the fact that our lives together are what we make of them. Don’t hold out for a fantasy when real life is more rewarding.”

Reserved for Murder–mystery with a nod to spies

Reserved for Murder

by Victoria Gilbert

As mysteries go, this cozy, Reserved for Murder, has a plot with its share of suspicious characters and motivations for murder that bubble to the surface. In keeping with its bookish nature, Charlotte’s B&B is called Chapters as a tribute to Isabella, the great-aunt she inherited it from. Isabella collected rare books. Although not a spy like her aunt, Charlotte has a nose for sniffing out clues and it gets put to the test when one of her guests is murdered.

The book focuses on a whole week set up as part of a promotional event and also intended to be a short break for famous romance author Amanda Nobel. It includes accommodations for the three winners of a fan contest, a book signing, a tea party, and a cocktail party. Several locals play important roles including Charlotte’s very private neighbor Ellen who used to be Isabella’s handler. Ellen also has a charming but mysterious “cousin” Gavin staying with her.

I enjoyed this mystery. The murderer is revealed in a dramatic scene. Charlotte has a finale party after her her last guest leaves and explains the details to the locals exposing the secrets and putting everything in order. It was a nice wrap-up for the book.

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. #2 in the Booklover’s B&B Mystery Series
2. I enjoyed this not-quite-spy, but all mystery, story. Background from the first book in the series would be helpful but is not essential.

Publication: June 8, 2021—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

“It is astonishing, isn’t it? Books, I mean. All the books by so many authors. You’d think all the ideas would be used up, but somehow they’re not.”

If there was anything likely to toughen someone up and teach them how to play a long game, dealing with a classroom full of high-energy, hormonal, sometimes oppositional, teenagers was definitely it.

While there are many well-written bestsellers, there are some that aren’t, and yet are still inexplicably popular. And you know, trends come and go. What’s popular one day can change the next.”

Murder in Waiting–hit and run?

Murder in Waiting

by Lynn Cahoon

If you’re looking for a good cozy mystery, you can’t go wrong with one written by Lynn Cahoon. Her Murder in Waiting fulfilled my expectations. Jill Gardner, former attorney, owns South Cove’s combination coffee house and bookshop. She has several employees and loves taking the first shift as it gives her time to read. She lives with Greg King, the lead detective for the local police. With each having a prior marriage, neither is anxious to make the big commitment again.

Jill’s friend Amy, however, is ready to tie the knot and manipulates Jill into planning her bachelorette party. The book devotes some time to the upcoming nuptials, but the author might have a surprise tie-in to the mystery itself. Jill witnesses a hit and run fatality, and it is up to the local police to determine if it was an accident or murder. 

Meanwhile, Jill is being bombarded with two personal issues. A developer wants the land her cottage is built on, and various individuals keep approaching her to try to convince her to sell. Some are rather threatening. Jill provides space and refreshments for a local business group’s monthly meetings. In the absence of the leader of the group, a member starts an unfounded smear campaign on Jill claiming their membership dues are rising because of Jill.

Besides the nitty gritty of the suspicious and murderous happenings, there are fun things going on in South Cove too. Deek, a “super dude” barista, not only has great marketing ideas, but is also trying to write his first book. Jill and Greg’s comfortable relationship takes them further along without high pressure expectations. Jill’s Aunt Jackie and her boyfriend Harrold are important characters in the story. Emma is Jill’s dog who loves nothing better than a run along the beach or handouts and pats from her human friends. There is a lot of food talk, but it is not over the top.

With its sunny California setting and the small tourist town vibes, South Cove opens its heart and Diamond Lille’s diner to welcome you to stay and visit. As Greg and Jill work through the many plot threads, you’ll be glad you dropped in. 

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. #11 in the Tourist Trap Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

  2. Recipe included for Easy Low-Carb Egg Muffins

Publication:   June 30, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

Relationships. They were as bumpy as a road filled with land mines.

If my employees weren’t emotional eaters before they joined the staff, I tended to train them to become one by modeling the behavior.

Family. You had to accept them as they were because you weren’t going to change them.

Penne Dreadful–a delicious cozy mystery

Penne Dreadful

by Catherine Bruns

Penne DreadfulA cozy mystery about a chef whose heritage and passion is Italian cuisine? Count me in! Penne Dreadful by Catherine Bruns is filled with food references from the beginning “Italians are passionate about almost everything in the world, and food is at the top of the list” to recipes for sauce, pizza, and stromboli at the end. In between, you will find a solid plot and interesting characters. 

Five weeks prior to the story’s action, Tessa’s husband, Dylan, was killed in a car accident. Tess walks around in a trance until she learns that the crash may not have been an accident and neither her husband nor her marriage was what she thought they were. Secrets and evil minded souls abound, and it seems her husband was one of them. The discovery jolts Tess out of her grieving stupor and into action putting herself and her friends in danger as she tries to uncover the truth.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Italian Chef Mystery Series

Publication:   July 30, 2019—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

Luigi’s V-8 engine noises continued while I filled his food dish with star-shaped kitty crunches, and then he couldn’t scramble out of my arms fast enough.

“…you don’t ever want to get on Izzy’s bad side. That broad has enough venom in her to make a snake jealous.”

That was one of the beauties about New York weather. It might be ninety degrees one day, and forty the next. Unpredictable, the same as life.

The Printed Letter Bookshop–books as a pathway to healing

The Printed Letter Bookshop

by Katherine Reay

The Printed Letter BookshopThis fictional work opens with the rather stark and extremely well attended funeral of Maddie and shares the perspectives of her estranged, but much loved, niece Madeline and of Janet and Claire, two ladies who are employees and friends of Maddie. What follows takes us into the lives and families of all of these ladies. They struggle with work and relationships, but Maddie leaves each an encouraging letter listing books that will help them in their life journeys. Maddie has a reputation for matching up readers with just the right book. Life is a battle for each of these ladies, and there is some characteristic in one or more of them that readers can identify with.

Part of The Printed Letter Bookshop draws attention to Proverbs 31 in the Bible which describes a wise woman and provides a model for the characters in forming their aspirations. I followed the ups and downs of the characters with hopes for successful resolutions to their problems. Will Madeline continue on her intended path to become a successful law partner? Will the town’s beloved bookshop survive during an online economy and after some bad business decisions? Can Janet find restoration with her husband and children? Is there a way for Claire to be a good mom while meeting her own needs? The story builds at an adequate pace as we are introduced to the characters and storyline, but accelerates towards the end as things come to a head for each of the characters in solving their personal dilemmas. Although there is closure for each of the ladies, it is not a puffy pink, cotton candy kind of resolution. There are surprises, heartbreaks, and difficult situations along the way as they learn what is important, how to forgive, and the need to avoid jumping to conclusions based on appearances.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction

Notes: I would LOVE to visit this bookstore!

Publication:  May 14 , 2019—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

You can miss your family so much you have to look down to see your chest rise and fall, to confirm that it hasn’t been cut open and you’re not bleeding out and you’re still breathing. Friends can’t hurt you like that, nor can they fill that fissure.

“I remember Aunt Maddie saying you could lose yourself in a book and, paradoxically, find yourself as well.”

I do remember that his resignation ignited my anger. Anger always comes first for me. Anger keeps embarrassment, humiliation, shame, all manner of painful emotions at bay—for a time. But it requires so much fuel. And while it burned hot that night, and for a couple weeks after, it soon flickered out. Shame replaced it, and shame doesn’t need much fuel to thrive. It can live on tiny nibbles for years, possibly a lifetime.

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