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Five Belles Too Many–reality TV for a wedding
Five Belles Too Many
by Debra H. Goldstein
I’ll give kudos to Debra H. Goldstein, the author of Five Belles Too Many, for starting off this cozy mystery with an explosive scene. The cast of the Southern Belle Perfect Wedding Competition is staying at Jane’s Place, an inn and restaurant. As the book opens, Jane is clearly upset over what she feels is a rigged show. Our main character Sarah looks on with mixed feelings because Jane is her long-time nemesis. Sarah is involved in this reality show because her mother Maybelle and Mom’s boyfriend George have been selected as finalists. The competing belles are required to have “chaperones” who stay at the inn at night and participate in some of the events.
At first there are just ruffled feathers as the videotaping starts, but then murders begin and there is talk of gambling. Jane is accused of murder because she has threatened it and the crime occurred at her inn. The plot is complicated with the announcement of the method of murder awaiting toxicology results. Many members of the cast and crew dislike the victim. Meanwhile, as taping continues, the contestants have to put their best side forward even while competing with others to have the wedding and honeymoon of their dreams paid for by the producing network. Vendors are also competing to be chosen to supply the cakes, flowers, etc. for the winning couple.
Reviewing this book fairly was difficult for me because I truly dislike “reality TV,” mainly because there is little real about it. To me, the scenarios appear staged, and the outcomes pre-decided when there are competitions. The contests themselves are often absurd, and this was the case in Five Belles Too Many. I also don’t like gambling and don’t want to understand the intricacies of “pushes” and other gambling terms. So, a reality TV and/or gambling aficionado would probably enjoy this book more than I did.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Notes: 1. #5 in the Sarah Blair Mystery Series, but is OK as a standalone. I have only read one other book in the series and I had no problem jumping in with the plot and characters.
2. Recipes are included, but I saw nothing outstanding or with a strong tie-in to the story.
Publication: June 28, 2022—Kensington
As she slipped into the chair next to her mother, she heard Alan loudly observe, “That, my friends, is reality TV.”
Their unselfish pride at each other’s accomplishments was the big factor that made them such a great couple.
The sun was up, which Sarah took as a good sign because she firmly believed light triumphed darkness.
Bride for a Day–escape to Oklahoma
Bride for a Day
by Carolyn Brown
What a sweet romance! Carolyn Brown’s Bride for a Day is a simple, but pleasing story. Cassie has had a rough life. After her mother died, she lived a dirt poor existence with her mother’s friend. When she passed away too, Cassie was left in the hands of the friend’s husband, and he is not a nice man. Sexual trafficking is the dangerous threat, but nothing graphic is discussed. When Cassie runs away, Ted, a handsome stranger in a café, pretends very convincingly to local law enforcement that she is his fiancé.
Ted’s family embraces Cassie wholeheartedly because that’s just the kind of people they are and because Cassie is gradually bringing Ted back to life again. He had never come to grips with the death of his twin brother when they were in high school.
Because this is a romance, you can imagine that what started out as a rescue mission might well turn into a friendship where sparks fly. I really enjoyed the characters. Although wealthy, Ted’s family is down to earth and supportive of each other. Even though it is clear that the setting is a small town with a quick as lightning rumor mill, the author does not dwell on that aspect. Instead, she uses it as an opportunity to demonstrate that Cassie is a strong young lady. There are some fun and surprising plot twists and a very satisfying ending. It is a quick read with lots of smiles along the way.
I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Sourcebooks (Casablanca) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction
Publication: March 29, 2022—Sourcebooks (Casablanca)
Maria had told her that first day that breakfast was the time to set the mood for the whole day—yellow brightened the table, good food satisfied the appetite, and a loving family made the heart smile.
Ted had been dreaming of taking Cassie dancing after his boot came off and the cast on his arm, but right now he couldn’t two-step any faster than an armadillo could fly.
Evidently, she was in one of her Jesus moods, as her granny used to call them. Granny said that Cassie didn’t know what she wanted, wouldn’t want it if she got it, and Jesus himself couldn’t live with her.
Bookshop by the Sea–second chance romance
Bookshop by the Sea
by Denise Hunter
Sophie Lawson knows about abandonment and the pain it leaves in its trail. Her father left her family to fend for itself in the midst of her mother’s fatal illness on the very same day her boyfriend Aiden Maddox pulled up stakes and moved five hours away to start a new life. Aiden knows abandonment too. His mother left him sitting on the porch steps as a little boy and never looked back.
Sophie and Aiden loved each other or thought they did. Seven years later, just as Sophie’s dream to open her own bookshop is about to come true, Sophie and Aiden are thrown together once more—by a wedding and a hurricane. Can love revitalize and conquer bitterness, hurt, confusion, family obligations, and distance?
In Bookshop by the Sea, Denise Hunter paints an emotional in-depth picture of Sophie and Aiden, their pasts and the possibilities for their futures. Disaster keeps striking for Sophie who really deserves a break, but it’s hard to see how she’ll get one in time for her grand opening and book signing event. Those stressors are the backdrop for their relationship drama as the threads weave together, breaking in places only to be retied to push the characters towards growth and healing.
Bookshop by the Sea is a clean book with Christian undertones as the characters mention praying over situations. I enjoyed reading it, not really knowing if it would have a happily ever after ending, but hoping so. The characters definitely have baggage to work through—even the more minor characters as found in Sophie’s family. There is a lot of realism as no one’s life is presented as a fairy tale. There is also a lot of hope, kindness, and community spirit.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Publication: April 13, 2021—Thomas Nelson
He’d forgotten how easily words of affirmation rolled off her tongue. She’d always made him feel like he could do anything. Be anything. He let the admiration in her eyes wash over him like a cool wave on a hot summer day.
“Don’t borrow trouble. ‘Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?’ ’’ She gave him a wry look. “Did you just quote Scripture at me?” “Hey, there’s a reason I have it memorized. If I’ve learned anything it’s that worrying does nothing but stress you out.”
I guess somewhere along the line I started believing that when the going gets tough…people leave.” Sophie’s heart went soft and squishy at his words, his vulnerability. At the little boy who watched his mother drive away from him and never return.
Murder on the Menu–21st century Nosey Parker
Murder on the Menu
by Fiona Leitch
A delightful British cozy mystery, Murder on the Menu takes us to the fictional town of Penstowan in Cornwall where Jodie Parker and her daughter Daisy have returned to Jodie’s hometown after years on the police force in London. Wanting to remain safe for her daughter’s sake, Jodie retrained in culinary school and plans on starting a catering business. She gets her first job (from an old friend getting married) with little notice, but is anxious to prove herself.
The case of a murdered ex-wife and a bride who may have done a runner returns Jodie to her investigative roots. As she tries to discover the who and why, Nosey (as her childhood nickname used to be) Parker meets the handsome DCI Withers who really wishes she would stay out of his investigations and crime scenes.
I enjoyed all the Britishisms. I know biscuits in England are cookies in the U.S., but terms like “Jammie Dodgers,” butty with brown sauce,” and “ponce” sent me scurrying to the Internet. I love sleuthing words!
The characters are interesting and humor in dialogue and plot is sprinkled throughout. I enjoyed the Cornish accent and word choice like “guv” and “copper;” They are stronger in some of the characters than others depending on their backgrounds. Her mum and Daisy are appropriately supportive of Jodie’s passion for police work that she has trouble leaving behind. Jodie, to the delight of Daisy, adopts a Pomeranian when its human mom is murdered. An expert at “escapology,” the white fluff ball becomes a constant companion and essential to the plot.
The plot is complicated and Jodie is good at both finding clues and deducting their meanings. Our perception of DCI Withers develops from that of an “annoying git,” to a fair and honest investigator.
The setting includes the many varied locales from the town of Penstowan to tourist campsites and from the hotel for the wedding reception to the church hall for the weekly women’s coffee group.
The next three books in the series have already been published as there was lots of time for writing in New Zealand during the lockdown of 2020. This poses a task that I look forward to handling.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Harper 360 (One More Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery
Notes: 1. #1 in the Nosey Parker Cozy Mystery Series
2. Some questionable language
Publication: February 15, 2022—Harper 360 (One More Chapter)
“This is your first major case here—definitely your first murder case; we don’t get a lot of those down this way—and you want to make a good impression by solving it quickly. But this is Cornwall. We don’t do things quickly here, and we don’t expect you to, either. We just want you to do it properly.”
“Are you all right, love?” she said, offering me a wine gum before adding with typical Cornish understatement, “That were a bit intense, weren’t it?”
I was excited about my new catering business,…but this got my adrenaline pumping in a way that making a velouté never could. I’d never been a detective, as such, but I’d always been nosey.
A Fatal Family Feast–a wedding at stake
A Fatal Family Feast
by Lynn Cahoon
If you want a feel-good cozy mystery series with villains juxtaposed with some really nice main characters and an intricate plot, you’ll find it in Lynn Cahoon’s Farm to Fork Mystery Series. In A Fatal Family Feast, Angie Turner, owner of the County Seat restaurant in Idaho, is maid of honor for Felicia, her best friend and business partner who has won the heart of Estebe, a gruff chef who is really a softy. Unfortunately, he is accused of murder by a detective with a grudge. Angie, her boyfriend Ian, Felicia, and Estebe, who jokingly call themselves the Scooby gang, have to find the real murderer or there won’t be a wedding in Idaho or a honeymoon in Spain.
With the clock ticking, they divide up their time between the restaurant, which will be closed for the week of the wedding, and their investigation which uncovers the secrets of several dysfunctional families. The more Angie learns of Felicia’s family, the prouder she is of the family she is creating from her County Seat team; they work together well and support each other. The story also includes positive examples of families. Angie’s boyfriend Ian manages the town’s farmers’ market, and is less concerned about making money than about helping others. Ian’s uncle and his wife are fostering a teenager with great success. Estebe is part of an enthusiastic Basque community who love family, food, fellowship and their Basque culture. They welcome Felicia with open arms.
Certainly the theme of family is an important one to the author. She gives plenty of attention to the characters and to Angie’s animals: Dom, her St. Bernard; Precious, a goat; and Mabel, her hen. The animals don’t play critical roles but are referenced throughout. The plot is always central, and the fun for the reader is in the discovery of clues and eventually the murderer.
I would like to extend my thanks to the author and to Lyrical Press (Kensington Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #6 in the Farm to Fork Mystery Series. Although this book could be read as a standalone, the series would be more enjoyable if read in sequence with the added background on the characters.
2. A risotto recipe is included.
Publication: January 4, 2022—Lyrical Press
The hen clucked her disbelief that the goat could even know the word responsible, which made Angie laugh. “I know the two of you can’t really understand what I’m saying, but sometimes, you make me feel like you can.”
“I think we’re better at finding clues because we’re less people orientated. We’re both introverts, so we were born with the watcher gene. We see things most people ignore.”
Everything’s going to be all right.” “You say that a lot. Even when all the facts go against that premise.” He kissed her cheek. “I have something better than facts. I have faith.”
A Deadly Edition–much anticipated wedding
A Deadly Edition
by Victoria Gilbert
Although A Deadly Edition is plot driven, the importance of the characters should not be understated. Some of these characters are regulars from the previous three books in the series, but author Victoria Gilbert handily reintroduces each one. There are also a number of new characters who converge on Taylorsford for the much anticipated garden wedding of Amy Webber, the town’s head librarian, and Richer Muir, a dance instructor at Clarion University.
We dive into the seamy side of the upper crust with those who make their fortunes from the sales of art and books with a few frauds and forgeries thrown in. These same collectors and dealers could have ties to the even more dangerous world of drugs.
A murder precipitates Amy’s investigation that she hangs on to like a pit bull, hardly having time for her wedding preparations. As a consummate researcher, she uncovers motives for a number of people. Some are close to her, making her inquiries more painful. She is, for the most part, upfront with Brad, Chief Deputy, who both warns her for her own safety and appreciates her contributions.
A Deadly Edition has a strong plot with lots of threads. We follow Amy’s investigation and reasoning as she works through the many red herrings thrown in. The surprising climax has action, and then the book closes with a kinder and gentler focus on family and friends.
I had one irritation with the book. There were twelve instances of various characters responding to another with a light-hearted salute—usually called “mock salute,” but sometimes employing other adjectives. Seven different characters use the little salute so it isn’t one character’s trademark gesture. This repetition was definitely a minor annoyance; other readers might not even notice it. It certainly does not affect my recommendation of this quite involved cozy mystery.
I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #4 in the Blue Ridge Library Mystery Series, but would be fine as a standalone.
Publication: December 8, 2020—Crooked Lane Books
Sometimes chocolate is the only thing standing between me and murder.
I needed to find a way to untangle the sticky threads of coincidence that seemed to be entrapping the truth.
“And one thing I’ve learned, after all these years, is that there are many kinds of love. Not all of them end in marriage, or are even romantic, but all can mean quite a lot. Or at least”—he released my hand and sat back, his focus shifting to the stage—“enough.”
The Littlest Cowgirls–new twins in Second Chance
The Littlest Cowgirls
by Melinda Curtis
Twins! Twins have an undeniable attraction for most readers, and there are a lot of them in Melinda Curtis’ The Mountain Monroes Series. In The Littlest Cowgirls, twins Ashley and Laurel have a sticky situation resulting from Laurel going on a date with famous actor and playboy Wyatt Halford—as a stand-in for her more reticent sister Ashley, an actress. Fast forward nine months when Wyatt is invited to attend a very pregnant Laurel’s wedding. Laurel has decided Wyatt needs to at least know of his paternity to twin daughters. Ashley, meanwhile, wants to change her image from “America’s Sweetheart” as a former child and teenage actress to that of a more serious and mature actress and producer. Life becomes complicated quickly for everyone in the story as they work through their personal pasts and how that will affect their futures.
You’ll need to read the book to find out if the sparks flying between Ashley and Wyatt can turn into a professional relationship, and if Wyatt wants to be part of his little girls’ lives. The members of the Monroe clan make a backdrop for the drama playing out in Second Chance, Idaho. Twelve-year old Gabby has big ears but has difficulty keeping a secret. Cousin Jonah has written the script about villain Mike Moody for a western whose origins come straight from the local mountains. There is lots of local color provided by adult and pint-sized cowboys and a few cowgirls as well.
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.
Notes: #7 in The Mountain Monroes Series. Although it could be read as a standalone, this one is a little harder to read independently because there are so many Monroes converging on Second Chance for the wedding. Although the author provides a chart for the relationships of the original family members, the family has grown through marriages and engagements to include many more people. An expanded chart or extra notes would have helped for this novel.
Publication: February 21, 2021—Harlequin Heartwarming
“But thanks for bringing us all down to earth, Mother.” “As the worst-case scenario thinker in the family, I live to serve.” Mom made her exit with a dramatic flourish of her hand.
Wyatt could feel a double cross in his bones better than his coal-mining father could feel the earth tremble before a cave-in.
An inkling that one of these days, he’d look in the mirror and find a gray hair. And his indestructible self-image, the one he used as a shield against his father’s bitterness, would crack. Then his position on top of Hollywood would tilt and crumble.
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.
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
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.
Til Death–another fantastic Zoe Chambers mystery
by Annette Dashofy
If all mysteries were as good as Til Death, readers would be glued to their easy chairs and no work would get done. Annette Dashofy continues her series with main character Zoe Chambers being promoted to Chief Deputy Coroner and giving up her job as an EMT. This is a huge change with lots of responsibilities, a big learning curve, and people and events that challenge her.
The story opens with County Coroner Franklin Marshall collapsing in the autopsy suite—and not out of a squeamish response to the procedure. The action takes off from there and doesn’t stop until the last period. There are several deaths, a cold case, attacks on law enforcement, and berserk ex-wives. Among all the cases could there be more than one criminal? There are three modes of murder, so maybe? Or do they all somehow tie together?
Philandering Dustin Landis is released from prison when a judge overturns his conviction. The D.A. is going to try him again. Dustin has always insisted on his innocence. Now pieces are coming to light that indicate a serial killer was operating in the area at the time. When Franklin’s most recent ex-wife explodes on the scene, chaos follows her. She tears Franklin’s office apart, apparently in search of a document, and summarily kicks out Zoe and the Coroner’s Office with her.
Zoe’s attention is divided as she and Police Chief Pete Adams are getting married in two weeks, an event that brings seemingly inevitable family drama to the forefront. A staff romance in the Vance Township Police force causes a crisis of a different sort. Meanwhile Zoe and Pete have to work together and independently to fit all of the puzzle pieces together with the goal of solving all those mysteries simultaneously.
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: #10 in the Zoe Chambers Mystery Series, but holds up well as a standalone.
Publication: June 16, 2020—Henery Press
If Loretta Marshall’s dark hair had been half white, Zoe would’ve warned her friends who owned Dalmatians.
“Good old Dr. Davis. Politician first. Forensic expert second. Human being? Somewhere way lower on the list.”
Zoe collapsed onto her stacked boxes, staring out the dirt-streaked window, thoughts and emotions racing inside her skull like deranged bumper cars.