Review: Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

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Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary’s hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life. But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary–a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony–soon finds herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary’s garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows. A twisting, tightly plotted thriller from one of our greatest storytellers, Hour of the Witch is a timely and terrifying novel of socially sanctioned brutality and the original American witch hunt.

Source: NetGalley and Doubleday Books Rating: 5 stars

**SLIGHTLY SPOILERISH**

This is my first five star read in a very long time and WOWZA does this book deserve it.

The Hour of the Witch revolves around the sad life of Mary Deerfield, a young, beautiful woman so far in over her head she can’t possibly survive in the situation she finds herself in. 

Mary Deerfield, at the ripe old age of 24 finds herself married to a monster.  What’s worse, the monster knows exactly how to present himself in public, so his ugly nature is never revealed to anyone but Mary.  With too much alcohol, the monster shows itself and Mary often pays the price in the form of beatings and forced sexual encounters.  Her time and place, 17th century Boston, dictate that Mary never speak against her husband nor report any of the abuse she suffers.  Even if she reported the abuse, the likelihood of being believed is very small.

Until one night . . . .

Mary understands her place in the world is tenuous, at best, but every human has limits and the night her beast of a husband stabs her hand with a fork, she reaches her limit.  Fleeing to parent’s house, Mary decides on a risky move that will, if successful free her from the hell she lives in.  Divorce in 17th century Boston wasn’t common and rarely ever was a case brought by a mere woman.  With legal help and her parents beside her, Mary submits herself to a trial in which her life with the beast is scrutinized, judged, and ultimately deemed satisfactory.

As if her life weren’t hard enough before the trial, Mary’s life has worsened tenfold.  Not only is her husband more violent and abusive than ever, but many in the town now look on Mary with nothing less than a suspicious eye.  A suspicious eye in Mary’s time and place means she is being watched for any signs of possession of congress with the Devil.  In short order, Mary realizes how precarious her situation really is and she begins to devise a plan to save her own life.

Saving her own life will come at a great and terrible cost, but Mary is more than willing to pay the price.  With allies she did not know she had and some that will surely see her accused of witchcraft, Mary works quietly and quickly to enact her plan.  Time is always of the essence and just as Mary feels she’s safe her whole world comes crashing down once again.   This time, even a deal with the Devil may not save her.

The Bottom Line:  I can’t say I devoured this book as it took me a bit of time to read, but I did find it utterly engrossing.  I greatly dislike books written in the vernacular, so I found myself spending a bit of extra time translating the dialogue in my head to my more modern dialect.  Outside of that single irritant, I absorbed this book like a sponge.  Every aspect of this book feels incredibly authentic and that makes Mary’s story even more compelling and tragic.  As a woman, I found it difficult to read Mary’s reality, but admired her strength and determination.  Above all else, I admired the courage it took for Mary to speak her truth in the face of insurmountable odds.  I was also quite glad to discover that I can still be surprised by a book and its ending.  I was thoroughly surprised by this book’s ending and found it ridiculously satisfying.  Finally, the writing of this book is exquisite and outside of the personal irritant of the vernacular, I loved the crafting of this book.

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Review: The Tearoom on the Bay by Rachel Burton

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After a tough break-up, Ellie returns to the only place she’s ever really felt at home – the coastal town of Sanderson Bay. A year later, she’s living her dream, brewing delicious artisan teas and selling them at her very own café. And when the mysterious and brooding Ben walks into her tearoom, Ellie finally dares to dream of true love.

But then her ex shows up in the Bay, and just as Ellie discovers some tragic truths about her family’s past, she learns Ben might be hiding an unwelcome secret of his own…

Source: NetGalley Rating: 4/5 stars

You know, I have always been something of a sucker for an underdog story and this one really resonated with me.  Sanderson Bay is a small town with all the charm and quirky personalities that often in habit such places.  After years of living away from her home-away-from-home, Ellie has returned and is living her dream.  For the first time in many, many years Ellie is happy and looking forward to her future.

In the wake of her boyfriend just walking away with no explanation, Ellie has done little to cultivate her personal life.  She loves her little tea shop and spends nearly every waking hour developing new brews, serving her loyal customers, and hosting theme nights.  Ellie loves her life and her circumstances and doesn’t see any real need to change what she’s been doing.  Fate is a fickle mistress and often likes to shake things up just when a person thinks all is as it should be.  To that end, Fate decides Ellie needs a visit from her rat bastard ex and the mysterious Ben, all within a few days of each other.

The ex really is a first-class jerk and the minute he walks in, Ellie realizes just how lucky she was when he walked out the door.  In an effort to not be a jerk herself, Ellie allows her ex to sleep on her couch until he can figure out what and where he wants to be when he grows up.  Ben, on the other hand, has a place to stay and what is, apparently, a load of heavy business to deal with while in town.  Both Ben and Ellie are immediately attracted to one another, but each has his/her own reasons for remaining aloof.  To make things even more awkward, Ellie is trying to start a new relationship with Ben while her ex is making himself at home and even working in her tea shop to help earn his keep.

Ben’s situation is difficult, at best, and downright tragic at worst.  He’s trying to find closure related to the loss of his father and he juggles a horrible work schedule with the care of his mother.  His current work assignment has taken him home to Sanderson Bay which allows for some of the closure to take place and some sneakiness to occur.  While Ellie is unaware of Ben’s reasons for being in town, Ben is painfully aware of his reasons and is actually doing all he can to save what he has started to build with Ellie.  Yet again, Fate steps in and yet again, it isn’t pretty.

The Bottom Line:  WOW!  It seems as if I actually agree with the Goodreads rating for a book 😊  There’s a lot of information that comes with this book and I enjoyed taking in every bit of it.  Ellie is a wonderfully sympathetic character and I found myself really rooting for her.  Ellie doesn’t have a particularly easy time in this read and one of my favorite aspects of the read, was the response of her family, friends, and the community around her.  There is a great deal of support from the entire community and that is something I always appreciate in my reads.  I also very much liked Ellie’s response to her ex and the various issues she is presented with; Ellie is tough as nails and her responses always seem to be spot on and just what I wanted out of her.  This is another book where I certainly wouldn’t mind a sequel in which I get a glimpse of Ellie’s life a year or two in the future.

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Mini Review: Murder on the Menu (Book #1: The Nosey Parker Mysteries Series) by Fiona Leitch

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Still spinning from the hustle and bustle of city life, Jodie ‘Nosey’ Parker is glad to be back in the Cornish village she calls home. Having quit the Met Police in search of something less dangerous, the change of pace means she can finally start her dream catering company and raise her daughter, Daisy, somewhere safer.

But there’s nothing like having your first job back at home to be catering an ex-boyfriend’s wedding to remind you of just how small your village is. And when the bride, Cheryl, vanishes Jodie is drawn into the investigation, realizing that life in the countryside might not be as quaint as she remembers…

With a missing bride on their hands, there is murder and mayhem around every corner but surely saving the day will be a piece of cake for this not-so-amateur sleuth?

Source: NetGalley and One More Chapter Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line: Once again, I find myself completely on the fence with a book.  Jodie Parker has found herself turning over an entirely new leaf in her very small hometown.  After leaving the London police force, she’s back home and looking to start a catering business.  While the work is radically different from her former job, she’s looking forward to the change and not constantly worrying her daughter about her safety.  With her first job lined up, Jodie is ready and willing to work hard and build her business, what she doesn’t count on is an ex-boyfriend, a runaway bride, and a dead body before the vows can even be spoken. Though she tries to stay out of the investigation, old habits die hard, and Jodie finds herself in the thick of the mystery.  Yet again, I am in the position of not disliking this book, but also not finding anything that makes me want to come back for more.  There are simply too many cozy mysteries out there for me to hang on to a series that doesn’t just bowl me over.

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Mini Review: Death at a Country Mansion (Book #1: Daisy Thorne Mystery Series) by Louise R. Innes

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No one would ever accuse famous opera star Dame Serena Levanté of lacking a flare for the dramatic. Unfortunately, it’s curtains down on the dysfunctional diva when she’s found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her elegant home. Solving an opera singer’s murder may not be the typical hairdresser’s aria of expertise. But Dame Serena was the mother of Daisy’s best friend Floria, so Daisy must do-or-dye her best to get to the roots of the case.

When a priceless Modigliani painting in the house is reported missing, the mystery gets even more tangled. Even though the gruff but handsome Detective Inspector Paul McGuinness tells the stylist to stay out of his hair, Daisy is determined to make sure the killer faces a stern makeover—behind bars.

Source: NetGalley and Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  Oh, yes indeed, this book was right up my cozy mystery alley.  This is a rather complicated book in terms of the number of people and potential suspects, but Innes handles it all beautifully and pulls it all together in such a clever way.  Dame Levanté isn’t a character to weep over, but the various suspects sure were fun to follow and try to determine which one disliked her more than the others.  Daisy Thorne certainly isn’t Dame Levanté highbrow, but she is best friends with the Dame’s daughter and that brings her right into the thick of things.  Thanks to Daisy’s discerning mind, ability to piece together a huge puzzle of personalities, and the gossip of the local ladies at Daisy’s salon, she’s able to help her friend solve the mystery of her mother’s death.  I liked the intricacy of this read, the variety of wonderfully weird personalities, the large amount of backstory (YAY!), and how the whole thing played out in the end.  This was a top notch read for me and I am looking forward to the future of this series.

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Mini Review: Deadly Delights (Book #2: A Bookish Baker Mystery Series) by Laura Jensen Walker

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August in Lake Potawatomi, Wisconsin, always means one thing: the annual baking contest. Picture The Great British Baking Show, writ Midwestern. It’s a huge draw for the upper crust of Wisconsin pastry aficionados. And, of course, bon vivant baker-turned-mystery writer Teddie St. John has a pie in the ring. The white vinyl baking tent boasts an array of folding tables housing each entrant’s daily baked good. And at one of those tables sits the corpse of the head judge, his face half-buried in a delectable coconut cream pie.

The body in question belonged to notorious Les Morris. Les may have been getting on in years, but he hadn’t outgrown his well-earned reputation for lechery. Now, Les is no more. But unfortunately, by his side lies Teddie’s distinctive embossed rolling pin…covered with blood.

It’s out of the baking pan, into the oven. A life sentence behind a lattice of prison bars and a tangle of rhu-barbed wire will never do, and Teddie’s quick wit and bohemian charm won’t save her from the long spatula of the law. So, with the help of her friends, she’ll concoct a recipe to clear her name–if the real killer doesn’t ice her first.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line: I liked this installment of the series better than the first.  In fact, I found this book to be an easy and entertaining read that took me no time to finish.  Teddie has calmed down a bit in this book and doesn’t constantly remind me she doesn’t have boobs.  This time around, Teddie is confident in her abilities and sets out to clear her name with no hesitation.  In addition to the murder, she has to solve, Teddie also has to deal with her mother and the big secret she seems to be keeping.  With life progressing rapidly, Teddie is on top of her game and not willing to let anything or anyone get in the way of her goals.  I appreciated the improvements in this book and now feel this is a series I can commit myself to for the long haul.

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Mini Review: Murder at the Lakeside Library (Book #1: A Lakeside Library Mystery Series) by Holly Danvers

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Rain Wilmont has just returned to her family’s waterfront log cabin in Lofty Pines, Wisconsin after the untimely death of her husband. The cabin is peaceful compared to Rain’s corporate job and comes with an informal library that Rain’s mother, Willow, used to run. But as Rain prepares for the re-opening of the library, all hopes for a peaceful life are shattered when she discovers the body of Thornton Hughes, a real estate buyer, on the premise.


The community of Lofty Pines starts pointing fingers at Willow, since she has been unusually absent from the library this summer. A fishy rumor surfaces when Rain learns that Willow had been spending a lot of time with Thorton. The town even thought they were having an affair.
While theories swirl about the Thorton’s death, Rain takes it upon herself to solve the case to exonerate her mother. As more clues surface, Rain will have to piece together the mystery. But if she isn’t careful, she may be the next to end up dead in the water in Murder at Lakeside Library the first in Holly Danvers’ new Lakeside Library mysteries.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line: I’m not entirely sure where I fall with this read.  In some ways – setting, the main character – I really should have loved this book.  In other ways – the oddness of the plot and some of the minor characters – I couldn’t really get behind this story.  The setting really is idyllic and when you add in a library, I am generally hooked.  However, the things that would normally suck me in were overshadowed by the very odd nature of the plot, the identity of the big bad, and the qualities of some of the minor characters (the next-door neighbors!).  Normally, I would be willing to give a new series a second chance, but I think I may take a pass on this one.  I just don’t feel there is enough in this book to allow it to stand out from the pack – this is a packed genre – and hold my interest for the long run.

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Review: One Poison Pie (Book #1: Kitchen Witch Mysteries Series) by Lynn Cahoon

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What’s a kitchen witch to do when her almost-fiancé leaves her suddenly single and unemployed? For Mia Malone, the answer’s simple: move to her grandmother’s quirky Idaho hometown, where magic is an open secret and witches and warlocks are (mostly) welcome. With a new gourmet dinner delivery business—and a touch of magic in her recipes—Mia’s hopes are high. Even when her ex’s little sister, Christina, arrives looking for a place to stay, Mia takes it in stride.

But her first catering job takes a distasteful turn when her client’s body is found, stabbed and stuffed under the head table. Mia’s shocked to learn that she’s a suspect—and even more so when she realizes she’s next on a killer’s list. With Christina, along with Mia’s meddling grandma, in the mix, she’ll have to find out which of the town’s eccentric residents has an appetite for murder…before this fresh start comes to a sticky end. . . .

Source: NetGalley and Kensington Rating: 4/5 stars

Mia Malone truly doesn’t go looking for trouble.  In fact, Mia looks for everything but trouble, and she’s currently looking for a bit of good luck with the launching of her new business just around the corner.  With the help of her grandmother, Mia has a huge event to cater and if it goes well, her reputation will be solidified.

And then the guest of honor/client ends of dead . . . . with Mia’s knife in her back. 

Before her business can even officially open, Mia is struggling and trying to figure out who is looking to frame her for the murder of Magic Springs crankiest resident. Sure, no one really had any great affection for the old bird, but no one deserves to die at their own party.  Furthermore, Mia doesn’t appreciate one of her best knives being used to kill the old bat and making her the primary suspect in the case.  The way Mia sees it, she can sit back and be railroaded, or she can dig in and figure out who did the deed.

Adding to Mia’s murder suspect stress is the presence of her ex-boyfriend’s little sister.  While Mia wants to believe the girl is true blue and simply looking for a new start to her young life, she can’t shake the feeling that the girl has an ulterior motive.  As if confirming her suspicions, Mia’s ex shows up on her doorstep claiming he only wants to see his little sister.  As if Mia doesn’t have enough to worry about, now she’s got a rat bastard to deal with too. 

While it would be easy for Mia to feel completely alone and isolated in her current situation, she isn’t alone and, in fact, she has quite a crew backing her.  Her grandmother is always willing to weave a little magic and mayhem to help Mia, her ex’s sister appears to be on Mia’s side and willing to help, and, inexplicably, the local hardware store owner is suddenly a helpful Harry.  With so much on her mind, Mia doesn’t necessarily have time to sort out the motives of every person she encounters and given her present circumstances, she’s willing to extend a little grace in order to receive the help she desperately needs.

The Bottom Line:  There’s a novella introduction to this series that I found somewhat lacking, but not so much that I wasn’t willing to stick around for the first full-length book.  I’m glad I stuck to my guns because this book delivered on the promise of the novella.  Mia and her grandmother are crazy interesting characters, each holding secrets that will eventually be revealed (I hope).  Mia’s new business brings with it the promise of greater involvement with the community as a whole, and the hardware guy brings his own set of promises.  If anyone is asking, I would suggest skipping the novella and moving straight to this book as it is a much better representation of the author’s abilities and what I think this series is going to be in the future.

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Review: Rosie’s Traveling Tea Shop by Rebecca Raisin

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A swanky job as a Michelin-Starred Sous Chef, a loving husband and future children scheduled for exactly January 2021.
 
That’s until she comes home one day to find her husband’s pre-packed bag and a confession that he’s had an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, Rosie drowns her sorrows in a glass (or three) of wine, only to discover the following morning that she has spontaneously invested in a bright pink campervan to facilitate her grand plans to travel the country.
 
Now, Rosie is about to embark on the trip of a lifetime, and the chance to change her life! With Poppy, her new-found traveling tea shop in tow, nothing could go wrong, could it…?

Source: NetGalley, HQ Digital, and Purchase Rating: 4½/5 stars

Rosie’s life has always been planned, her plans have plans, and her plans have back up plans and right up to the moment her husband walks out on her, Rosie thought all the plans were still totally acceptable to all involved.  Right up until the moment her rat bastard husband left her . . . .

With her life and all her plans turned completely upside down and inside out, Rosie must make some serious decisions about her future.  With more than a glass of wine or three in her, Rosie makes a most un-Rosie-like decision that involves a huge hit to her credit card and a bright pink campervan.  In the bright light of day, Rosie can’t believe what she’s done and one she realizes there’s no going back, she starts making plans and reaching out to others for advice. 

In short order, Rosie has a travel plan, a load of custom-made teas, and a load of fear that she won’t be able to make this new life plan work.  Though luck hasn’t often been with Rosie in the recent past, the universe does hand her a freebie in the form of the free-wheeling bookseller named Poppy.  Poppy has been living the traveler’s life far longer than Rosie and has many, many secrets, and tricks of the trade that she is more than willing to share with Rosie.  What’s more, Poppy’s books pair beautifully with Rosie’s teas and in no time flat, the two have a business plan in place that may just keep them both afloat.

Becoming a part of the traveler community is unlike anything Rosie has ever experienced.  She is welcomed by all and made to feel a part of the community immediately.  The others in the community share their best and worst travel tips with Rosie and after consulting with Poppy they plan their travels accordingly.  Along the way, Rosie experiences both the best and the worst of her new lifestyle.  Her teas are a wonderful success, and she sells out at nearly every stop, but her bright pink campervan has a lot of miles and frequently costs Rosie a chuck of her profits.  If it weren’t for the support of the community, Rosie may have called it quits after the first disaster, but her new life is interesting and not something she is willing to give up on so easily.

The Bottom Line:  Yet again, I am on the opposite side of others with my star rating.  I completely enjoyed this book and found it quite uplifting.  Rosie is forced into a life she never planned for and not only does she make the most of it, but she also succeeds in spectacular fashion.  With a few good friends, Rosie is able to overcome her obstacles and create a life for herself that is so much more fulfilling than what she once had and thought she couldn’t live without.  I had such respect for Rosie and the courage it took for her to take on her crazy adventure.  With the exception of a few little wonky moments, I quite enjoyed this read.  In fact, I read it in no time flat and wouldn’t mind a sequel to catch me up on Rosie’s life a year or so in the future.

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Mini Review: Take the Lead (Book #2: Dance With Me Series) by Shelley Shepard Gray

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Growing up in foster care, Officer Traci Lucky had a rough start to life, but things are looking up now that she’s found a place in Bridgeport with two sisters she never knew she had. One night while on the job Traci finds Gwen, a pregnant teen caught up in a dangerous world of drugs, and takes her straight to the hospital. There Traci encounters the oh-so-charming Dr. Matt Rossi, who surprises Traci with his compassion–and his movie-star good looks.

A busy ob-gyn with a huge, meddling Italian family, Matt Rossi hasn’t had much time for love in his life. All that changes when he meets the beautiful Officer Lucky. He’s intrigued by her strength and the kind heart she tries to hide beneath her tough exterior.

When Matt confides that he needs to learn to waltz for his brother’s wedding, Traci reveals that her sister happens to be a ballroom dance teacher. Next thing they know, Matt and Traci are juggling busy careers, helping young Gwen with her pregnancy and personal safety, and learning to waltz together. But when Gwen’s escalating problems threaten to put all of them in danger, they wonder if they’ll ever find time for a little romance too.

Source: NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  This series really is a very sweet series with likeable characters you just want good things to happen to.  Int his installment, Officer Traci Lucky has the opportunity to face some of the demons of her own past while helping a young lady she knows has the ability and desire to turn her life around.  With the help of her sisters and the delectable Dr. Matt Rossi, Traci has a real opportunity to not only heal herself, but another person in desperate need of just one person caring for her.  As with the first book, I found Take the Lead to be a rather uplifting and heartwarming story that really hit the spot over the holidays.  I genuinely like this series and hope it will continue to produce good stories revolving around worthy characters.

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Review: Reserved for Murder (Book #2: Booklovers B&B Mysteries Series) by Victoria Gilbert

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Beaufort, North Carolina, is home to Chapters Bed and Breakfast, owned and operated by former schoolteacher Charlotte Reed. This historic 18th-century inn draws in voracious readers from far and wide with its lovingly curated special events celebrating a host of genres and authors.
On this sunny July weekend, a visit by one of the biggest names in romantic fantasy attracts throngs of admirers to the quaint coastal village. That’s not ideal, as the author retreated to Chapters to get away from it all for a while. No matter–she’ll appease her fans with a “Tea and Talk” meet-and-greet at the B&B celebrating her bestselling series (starring a devilishly dashing, time-traveling pirate), follow that up with a quick book signing at Bookwaves, the hip indie bookstore across town, and spend the remainder of the weekend in delightful repose.


But when the president of the reclusive writer’s fan club is found dead in the harbor by the Beaufort docks–done in by a blunt-force blow to the head–it’s up to Charlotte Reed, her neighbor Ellen, and Ellen’s trusty Yorkshire terrier to sniff out the killer. Because if they can’t, a spectacularly successful book series–and its author–may come to a sudden, lethal conclusion.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: 4½/5 stars

Charlotte Reed has found her stride with her B&B, Chapters.  She’s got great help, an outstanding chef on standby, great ideas to keep her guests entertained, and a schedule that seems to get busier by the day.  If she can keep the bad at bay (recall that nasty murder?!) she’ll solidify her name in the industry. 

Charlotte’s next big hurdle is ensuring the privacy of a well-known author as she checks in for a bit of R&R between stops on her book tour.  The author’s presence isn’t a total secret as a select group of contest winners will also be in residence and in attendance for certain book-related events.  Though the group initially seems quite enthusiastic and excited, the cracks in the façade show themselves quickly and the situation becomes deadly. 

Once again, Charlotte has a house full of suspects and any one of them could be the culprit.  With her reputation and safety on the line, Charlotte turns to her crafty neighbor for advice and help.  Speaking of her neighbor, there a new resident at Ellen’s house and Charlotte isn’t buying the “distant relative” story.  With two mysteries to solve, Charlotte puts on her investigator hat and starts sorting through the clues.

As is her way, Charlotte begins poking around and prodding people for their respective stories.  While some are more than willing to talk, others are reluctant and clearly have something to hide.  What Charlotte eventually uncovers is a scandal that can ruin an author’s career and definitely put a person or two in jail for a very long time.  And that’s just one of her mysteries.  On the other case, Charlotte discovers a very old truth that could destroy the life of one of her dearest friends and the shatter the long-standing friendship of others.  To say Charlotte is between a rock and a hard place with both mysteries is putting it all very mildly.

The Bottom Line:  I feel like this series gained some strength with this read as Charlotte is surer of herself, Ellen is a bit more open, honest, and willing to help, the story got a bit darker.  While I liked the primary tale told in this book – the author’s scandal/story – I liked the secondary tale even more. The mystery man staying at Ellen’s is an intriguing character that is most certainly going to make appearances in later installments.  His presence makes both Charlotte and Ellen’s lives more interesting and will perhaps allow for the crafty women to do a bit more sleuthing in the future.  With this read, I have a bit more confidence in the series and can see an exciting future for Charlotte and Ellen.

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