DNF Day

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Strawberries and Crime by Elle Brook White

Book #2: Finn Family Farm Mystery Series

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books

Rating: DNF

The Bottom Line:  One of the great things about cozy mysteries are the quirky characters all collected in a single small town.  A great cozy mystery will have such an array of crazy, fun characters all pulling together to solve a mystery.  When the characters are so flat as they are in this book, there’s nothing for me to truly enjoy and want to know more about.  Even the idyllic setting and promise of yummy food descriptions were not enough to overcome the flatness of the characters for me. 

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The Orphan Witch by Paige Crutcher

Source: NetGalley and St. Martin’s Griffin

Rating: DNF

The Bottom Line: Oh, how I wanted to like this book!  In an effort to get through this book, and hopefully thoroughly enjoy it, I tried both reading and listening to this one.  Although there are some fun bits in here – the invisible library and witchcraft – the story just isn’t interesting.  I normally love a story with loads of backstory/history, but I believe the author’s writing style did me in on this one.  I never could find a flow or rhythm to the writing that would allow me to keep reading/listening. 

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The Glitter End by Vivian Conroy

Book #3: Stationary Shop Mystery Series

Source: NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press

Rating: DNF

The Bottom Line:  UGH!  I pride myself on the variety of locations my beloved cozy mysteries take place within.  I have ice cream parlors, bakeries, tea shops, veterinary clinics, and a music box shop.  Having a stationary shop just added to my happy little list, but the time has come to mark this particular locale off my list.  After multiple, multiple attempts to enjoy this book and series, I must accept it is never going to happen.  The greatest issue with this book/series is how very flat the characters are.  I need my characters to feel like friends I can drop in on and visit with about their latest bit of shenanigans.  There just isn’t enough here for me to keep coming back.

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The Woman at the Gates by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

Source: NetGalley and Bookoutre

Rating: DNF

The Bottom Line:  The stories and tales related to the Holocaust are historically among my top reads each year.  This is a time in history I both abhor and find endlessly fascinating.  I gave this book multiple tries and never could get anything, characters, or plot, to resonate with me. I understand the need to lay some groundwork/provide some world building, but the bit I made it through, was repetitive and, truthfully uninteresting.  At some point, one just has to call it a day and I did so with this book.

Review: The Cider Shop Rules (Book #3: Cider Shop Mystery Series) by Julie Anne Lindsey

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The Fall Festival is in full swing. Civil War reenactors from three counties are partaking in Blossom Valley’s tribute to John Brown. Blue Ridge Mountain foliage is in full bloom. And best of all is Jacob Potter’s pumpkin farm where his hay rides, piglet races, pumpkin picking and corn maze are time-honored draws for locals and tourists alike. That’s why it’s such a shock when Mr. Potter is found dead, hidden under a tarp in the back of Winnie’s pickup truck. This certainly betrays Potter’s reputation as one of the town’s most popular citizens. Fortunately, when it comes to solving a murder, no one has a patch on Winnie. Now, all eyes are on her to do it. Unfortunately, that includes those of the killer who’ll do anything to keep an orchard full of secrets buried.

Source: NetGalley, Kensington, and Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  The Blue Ridge Mountain region is never more beautiful than in the fall when all the leaves change, there’s a nip in the air, and the residents of Blossom Valley are bringing their best to the Fall Festival.  The atmosphere is crackling with excitement as the Civil War reenactors gear up for their annual tribute to John Brown.  The valley is filled to the brim with residents and visitors alike which means it is also the perfect time for a new mystery for Winnie to solve.  When Winnie (and half the town) discovers the body of old Mr. Potter in the bed of Winnie’s truck, it becomes a race to find the guilty party before more bodies begin appearing.  As if one crime weren’t enough, Winnie also discovers the fugitive who has threatened she and the sheriff is back in town and looking to settle old scores.  Helping Winnie is her usual cast of characters and one special guest, the sheriff’s hot as sin brother who is in town for the Fall Festival.  Winnie’s sleuthing skills, her patience, and her crush on the sheriff are all put to the test in this read and it is a delightful ride from beginning to end.  Oh, and the goat faints . . . again 😊

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Review: Hop ‘Til You Drop (Book #3: Jules & Bun Mystery Series) by J.M. Griffin

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Juliette “Jules” Bridge is devoted to rabbit rescue and rehabilitation on her beloved Fur Bridge Farm in rural New Hampshire, but she also likes to do volunteer work wherever and whenever she can. This spring she’s offered to help hide painted eggs at the Hop ’Til You Drop Easter egg hunt—and of course she’s bringing along her black-and-white rabbit, Bun. In fact, he insists on it. Jules knows, because Bun communicates with her telepathically . . .

But their egg hiding is disrupted by a hare-raising scene: their unpleasant supervisor, Della Meany, lies peacefully on the grass with stems of Lily of the Valley on her chest, surrounded by garishly decorated Easter eggs. Is someone sending a message by staging the corpse? As they begin to examine the crime scene, Jules spots a tall, two-legged rabbit fleeing into the woods. Perhaps late for an important date? If their prime suspect is a person in an Easter Bunny costume, it seems a safe bet the killer is a real basket case. Jules and Bun will need to put their heads together—because the hunt is on . . .

Source: Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  The thing I generally love about cozies is the fact that the lead never goes looking for trouble, it just tends to find him/her.  Then, there’s Bun, who actively looks around and tries to sniff out the next mystery or murder for he and Jules to involve themselves in.  With his naturally inquisitive nature and lust for adventure, Bun knows there is always going to be some sort of mischief he can drag Jules into.  In this instance, the dynamic duo stumble upon the body of one of the town’s most hateful residents which leaves them with a laundry list of suspects.  Though Jules is hesitant to get involved, she does see the importance of bringing justice to the victim despite her surly attitude.  As Bun and Jules dig deeper into the woman’s life, they uncover more than a few secrets, stumble upon an even bigger mystery, and risk life and limb to bring all the culprits to justice.  I am such a fan of this series, and it has everything to do with the cast of characters.  I have a hard time resisting a book with a talking animal so, Bun for the win!  I also truly love Molly, Jessica, Jules, and their intrepid sheriff.  The relationships between these characters add such dimension and weight to each read that I truly feel as if I am dropping in on old friends.  I also very much like the diversity of the farm: from the bunnies to the vet clinic to the yarn shop, there is always something interesting to read about and the fact that they all connect to one another makes me an even happier reader.  There’s a great deal of promise in this series and I sincerely hope that promise is met in future installments.

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Review: A Letter to Three Witches by Elizabeth Bass

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Nearly a century ago, Gwen Engel’s great-great-grandfather cast a spell with catastrophic side-effects. As a result, the Grand Council of Witches forbade his descendants from practicing witchcraft. The Council even planted anonymous snitches called Watchers in the community to report any errant spellcasting…

Yet magic may still be alive and not so well in Zenobia. Gwen and her cousins, Trudy and Milo, receive a letter from Gwen’s adopted sister, Tannith, informing them that she’s bewitched one of their partners and will run away with him at the end of the week. While Gwen frets about whether to trust her scientist boyfriend, currently out of town on a beetle-studying trip, she’s worried that local grad student Jeremy is secretly a Watcher doing his own research.

Cousin Trudy is so stressed that she accidentally enchants her cupcakes, creating havoc among her bakery customers—and in her marriage. Perhaps it’s time the family took back control and figured out how to harness their powers. How else can Gwen decide whether her growing feelings for Jeremy are real—or the result of too many of Trudy’s cupcakes?…

Source: NetGalley and Kensington Rating: 4½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  This was a very quick read for me as I was able to sink into the plot and the characters from the beginning.  With the sending of a letter filled with nothing more than the power of suggestion, one family is left scrambling in an effort to understand the forces involved in their likely demise.  Thanks to a generations-old mandate, the family isn’t allowed to practice magic yet with arrival the letter, magic seems to be leaking out of everyone.  The cupcakes are imbued with magic, the dirty rotten husband is a bunny, and the cranky old aunt is a story unto herself filled with magical revelations . . . . and amphibians.  From the blunders and the accidents to the revelations and resolutions, I found this to be a wonderfully fun read that ticks nearly all the boxes I have for fiction. 

P.S.  The way this book ended seems to indicate there is more to come.  I wouldn’t mind seeing this book become a series 😊

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Review: Archangel’s Light (Book #14: Guild Hunter Series) by Nalini Singh

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Illium and Aodhan. Aodhan and Illium. For centuries they’ve been inseparable: the best of friends, closer than brothers, companions of the heart. But that was before—before darkness befell Aodhan and shattered him, body, mind, and soul. Now, at long last, Aodhan is healing, but his new-found strength and independence may come at a devastating cost—his relationship with Illium.

As they serve side by side in China, a territory yet marked by the evil of its former archangel, the secret it holds nightmarish beyond imagining, things come to an explosive decision point. Illium and Aodhan must either walk away from the relationship that has defined them—or step forward into a future that promises a bond infinitely precious in the life of an immortal…but that demands a terrifying vulnerability from two badly bruised hearts.

Source: Purchase Rating: 5 stars

The Bottom Light: Like every other Guild Hunter series fan, I have waiting more than a decade for the coming of this book!  I had no expectations going into this book other than knowing I would love it no matter the outcome.  Oh, I had some hopes and suspicions, but I never let myself get too devoted to those hopes and suspicions.  I recognized immediately, I would not do my usual devouring of a Guild Hunter book but would savor this read.  Sinking into and savoring this read is exactly what it demanded as the story is slower, less hectic, less frenzied than so many of the books that have come before.  For the first time in many, many books there is no great battle nor has the next enemy shown him/herself; there is only the silence of the world rebuilding after the threat of Lijuan is finally gone.  In this quiet, everyone has time and space to think which leaves both Aodhan and Illium with too much time and space; the absence of the other is heartbreaking and requires much contemplation.  As each assess their respective lives it becomes clear that something must change, the relationship between them must evolve or it will begin to fade.  In light of these very troubling facts, both men begin to gently poke and prod at the other to get to the heart of the matter. 

I see so many utterly unique and fascinating levels in not only this book, but in the future of this series.  This is a very subtle and quiet book that brims with possibility.  Just under the surface of every word in this book is a threat and a promise of what is still to come for all the players in the game.  This true union between Illium and Aodahn creates a power base that is, in the current series world, nearly unparalleled. (One must remember Titus and the Hummingbird 😊) The possibility of Illium ascending with Aodahn at his side and their intense connection to Raphael and the rest of the Seven is disturbingly awesome.  As it stands now, there is virtually nothing in existence that can upset the hold on peace that currently exists.  That, my friends, means Nalini Singh is going to have to dig deep to come up with a foe who can challenge not only Illium and Aodahn, but the rest of the Seven and the world at large.  Better get a wiggle on, ‘cause I’m waiting to see what’s next!

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Review: A Pairing to Die for (Book #2: Colorado Wine Mystery Series) by Kate Lansing

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It’s fall in Boulder, Colorado, and the leaves aren’t the only things changing. Parker Valentine, owner of Vino Valentine, is finally settling in to her winery and her new relationship with Reid Wallace, a local chef. But their delicate pairing is endangered when Reid’s estranged family comes into town to celebrate the opening of his new restaurant.

Reid and his family are immediately at loggerheads, given their often acidic temperaments, but Parker still wants to make a good first impression. However, her efforts might be in vain when Reid’s sous chef is found dead in the alley behind the restaurant, and Reid is implicated in the murder. In order to save Reid, Parker will have to find the real killer, even if the truth is difficult to swallow.

Source: Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line: It was nice to fall back into Parker Valentine’s world and winery.  Unfortunately, just as things are beginning to go well for Parker, her business, and her boyfriend, the world turns upside down and Parker finds herself in the midst of another murder investigation.  With her boyfriend behind bars and looking very much like the killer, it would be easy for Parker to cut her losses and focus on her own life.  What I like about Parker is her loyalty and refusal to believe her boyfriend is what everyone, including his wretched family, believes him to be.  Yet again, against the advice of the police, Parker dives into the crime, putting herself in harm’s way and doggedly pursuing the truth.  In truth, this series is one of the lower-key series I read and that matches perfectly with the setting and emphasis on wine.  A sort of slower, boozy/buzzy kind of read that I find quite pleasing.  I liked this story and how it deepened the relationship between Parker and Reid without him being in much of the story.  I also completely loved Parker’s assistant and sincerely wish he would make a surprise appearance in future reads.  In all, this book is exactly what it says it is, a cozy mystery that draws you in and keep s you happy from start to finish.

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DNF Day

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Alice loves her job and wants to keep it – whatever the price. But then she’s told the company is switching to flexible working and hot desking…Alice’s desk might look a mess, but she knows exactly where everything is. Or she did. Until she found out she’s going to share it with the most annoying guy in the office.

Jamie can work from anywhere. He’s quite happy to sweep his work life into a box at the end of the working day. But can sharing a desk with Alice be as much fun as teasing her in person?

With no option but to try it and see, will their relationship turn into open warfare or will it ever progress beyond a post-it note?

Source: NetGalley and One More Chapter Rating: None, DNF at 54%

The Bottom Line:  Honestly, I can’t believe I made it to the 54% mark with this book.  The synopsis sounded so fun, and I do love a well-organized desk, but Alice’s whining simply became too much, and I had to throw in the towel.  From the moment the book opens, Alice is whining either aloud or via her inner monologue about one injustice or another and at some point, I realized I was reading the same sentences (figuratively speaking) over and over again.  I think I held on as long as I did hoping the book would take a turn and Alice would begin to evolve, the become something more, and really bring me around to rooting for her.  Unfortunately, none of that happened by the halfway point and I had to, sadly, give up on this read.

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Vivian Wainwright is living her dream. The middle-aged widow owns the Misty Bay Tearoom, a quaint, English-accented shop on the Oregon coast. But on the eve of the tearoom’s second anniversary, the dream turns nightmarish when a man falls to his death from a hotel balcony.

The body belongs to Dean Ramsey, ex-husband of Vivian’s assistant, Jenna. Detective Tony Messina quickly zeroes in on Jenna as prime suspect, since she was seen leaving the hotel shortly before the body was found.

Vivian and her other assistant, Gracie, set out to help clear Jenna’s name, using their wit and a bit of criminology know-how Vivian picked up from her late attorney husband. Detective Messina is on board, but he’s starting to develop feelings for his number one suspect. Puzzling questions persist–chief among them, whose clothes was Dean wearing when he landed on the rocky shore?

To complicate matters, Vivian’s friend, pet shop owner Hal Douglass, seems to know some secrets about the hotel that could add a long list of names to the suspect list…including Hal’s own. Vivian must work quickly because if she can’t, Jenna faces a murder rap…or worse.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: None, DNF at 15%

The Bottom Line:  Historically, Crooked Lane Books has been a great publishing house for me, and I have fallen in love with several of their series.  Unfortunately, this series isn’t going to fall into that category.  At 15% I realized all the characters were reading as the same person for me and I couldn’t really connect to the story.  Even with an early murder, I found the pacing to be incredibly slow and with no real sense of urgency.  It was easy for me to set this book aside and move on to the next offering.

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Returning home from the daily hunt for the rationed ingredients necessary to keep his family pâtisserie open, André Albert finds his four-year-old son in the street, his wife gone, and an emaciated Jewish woman cowering behind the display case.

Without Mireille, the foundation of André’s world crumbles. He desperately searches for her, but finds more trouble than answers. Lives are further jeopardized when he agrees to hide Émilie, the escapee, and a Nazi officer shows up to investigate Mireille’s disappearance.

André will do anything to bring his wife home, catapulting him, their son, and Émilie on a perilous journey impeded by temptation, past trauma, and stunning revelations.

Source: NetGalley and Mortal Coil Books Rating: None, DNF at 30%

The Bottom Line:  UGH!  Yet another World War II era read that just didn’t hit the mark for me.  I very much like the premise of this book but found the execution lacking.  There are simply too many issues with this book to get me beyond the 30% mark.  I found Andrė to be a rather tiresome character, his response to his wife’s disappearance to be rather unbelievable, and the appearance of the Jewish woman to be odd.  I’m sure that last bit would have eventually been explained, but for me, it was too little too late, and Andrė, as a character, became unbearable.  I wanted this story to come together and be interesting and engaging, but that didn’t happen by the 30% mark, so I set this one aside for a different story.

Review: The Last Checkmate by Gabriella Saab

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Maria is many things: daughter, avid chess player, and member of the Polish underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Warsaw.  Captured by the Gestapo she is imprisoned in Auschwitz, while her family is sent to their deaths. Realizing her ability to play chess, the sadistic camp deputy, Fritzsch, intends to use her as a chess opponent to entertain the camp guards. However, once he tires of utilizing her skills, he has every intention of killing her.   Befriended by a Catholic priest, Maria attempts to overcome her grief and see the value in survival. Literally playing for her life through four grueling years, her strategy is simple: Live. Fight. Survive. By cleverly provoking Fritzsch’s volatile nature in front of his superiors, Maria intends to orchestrate his downfall. Only then will she have a chance to evade the fate awaiting her and see him brought to justice.

  As she carries out her plan and the war nears its end, she discovers Fritzsch has survived.  And so Maria, vowing still to avenge the murder of her family, challenges her former nemesis to one final game, certain to end in life or death, in failure or justice. If Maria can bear to face Fritzsch—and her past—one last time.

Source: NetGalley and Wm. Morrow Paperbacks Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  If you’ve been with me for any length of time, you know I am like a moth to a flame when it comes to Holocaust reads.  I can’t resist this part of history and find the individual stories of courage and heroism utterly fascinating.  I wish I could say I found Maria utterly fascinating, but I did not.  Even considering the extraordinary circumstances and the historical fiction labelling, I found Maria to be something of a stretch as a character.  While I don’t doubt someone like Maria existed and was likely imprisoned by the Nazi regime, I just couldn’t get behind her being singled out for survival because she was holding a chess piece when she arrived at Auschwitz.  Furthermore, I had a hard time believing the revenge aspect of this story and how it all played out in the end.

All the above begs the question, how can I still be at three stars if I found the lead character so unbelievable?  The answer to that is easy: I found two of the minor characters quite believable and far more sympathetic which led me to see their stories through to the end.  Hania and Irena played out as far more believable characters who used their own strengths and cunning to survive unbearable and tremendous circumstances.  Both Irena and Hania served as a strong counterbalance to Maria, and I was so glad to read the ending of the respective stories.  In all, these two women saved this read for me and kept me reading until the very end.  I want to recommend this book to readers, but I don’t feel completely comfortable doing so.  There are just too many issues with the main character to make this a truly good and recommendable read.

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Review: The Lily Garden by Barbara Josselsohn

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When Caroline left Lake Summers thirty years ago, she thought she’d never go back to the place where she lost her parents. But when she finds out that the town’s lily garden lovingly built by her mother is going to be destroyed, she knows fate is calling. Dropping everything at her office in Chicago, she knows she is the only person who can save the garden.

Caroline and her daughter Lee are welcomed home by the warm smile of her mother’s best friend Maxine, and piles of pancakes at her cozy little restaurant in town. And Caroline soon learns that she isn’t the only person invested in saving her mother’s legacy, when she meets handsome historian Aaron. As she gets to know him, strolling along the sparkling lakeshore, she can’t imagine anywhere else she’d rather be.

But then Caroline learns a terrible secret about the day her mother died. And soon the real reason Aaron is in Lake Summers comes to light. Will the truth about the people she loves force her to give up a future with Aaron, and the beautiful town that has always been in her heart?

Source: NetGalley and Bookouture Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I’m not sure I can agree with the tagline of “A heart-warming, feel-good summer romance.”  While there is a bit of romance in this book, it certainly isn’t a particularly heart-warming, feel-good read.  There is a load of drama in this book from the strained relationship between Caroline and her family to the long-held secret about Caroline’s relocation from Lake Summers to Chicago so many years ago.  What’s more, Aaron’s story is anything but heart-warming and feel-good as he grapples with a reality he is trying to come to grips with.  Finally, there is the fight to save the Lily Garden which is just about the only truly uplifting part of this book.  I enjoyed the setting of this book immensely and the great sense of community, but beyond that, I can’t say I loved this read especially given the billing versus the reality of the read.  I expected something a bit lighter and can’t honestly say I was pleasantly surprised by the heavier read.  I can see this book appealing to a great many readers, but it missed the mark a bit for me.

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Review: Live, Local, and Dead (Book #1: Vermont Radio Mystery Series) by Nikki Knight

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In a fit of anger, radio DJ Jaye Jordan blows a snowman’s head off with a Revolutionary War-style musket. But the corpse that tumbles out is all too human. Jaye thought life would be quieter when she left New York City and bought a tiny Vermont radio station. But now, Edwin Anger–the ranting and raving radio talk show host who Jaye recently fired–lies dead in the snow. And the Edwin Anger fans who protested his dismissal are sure she killed him.

To clear her name, Jaye must find the real killer, as if she doesn’t have her hands full running the radio station, DJing her all-request love song show, and shuttling tween daughter Ryan to and from school. It doesn’t make matters easier that the governor–Jaye’s old crush–arrived on the scene before the musket smoke cleared. Fortunately, Jaye has allies…if you count the flatulent moose that lives in the transmitter shack, and Neptune, the giant gray cat that lives at the station.

If Jaye can turn the tables on the devious killer, she and the governor may get to make some sweet, sweet music together. But if she can’t, she’ll be off the air…permanently.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: 3½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I have to admit my two favorite parts of this book are the candy-eating moose and the blowing away of the snowman at the very beginning.  When a book starts with such an explosive scene (HA!) I expected the rest of the book to follow suit.  Unfortunately, the rest of the book didn’t quite live up to the exciting beginning.  With that said, I still liked this story, the setting, the oddity of the local radio angle, and the locals.  At present, Jaye is a bit too brash for my taste, but I like all the other characters and am willing to give this series another chance.  I would like to see Jaye a bit more toned down, but I *think* I can get beyond that issue given all the other characters I take no issue with and genuinely want to see evolve and stay involved in future plots.  Furthermore, I find it hard to turn my back on a series that is doing something so fun like a live, local radio show, especially one that features such good music.  Oh, and this series has a candy-eating moose 😊

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