Review: A Spell of Murder (Book #1: A Lost Maidens Loch Mystery Series) by Kennedy Kerr

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Down a quiet lane in town sits a little shop full of oddities you’d probably miss if you weren’t looking for it. This is Love’s Curiosities Inc., and its owner, Temerity Love, is sought by experts all over the world for her rare and magical gift: the ability to find lost things and learn their stories.  

When Lost Maidens’ pretty local school teacher is found murdered by a poisoned cup of tea, a strange antique hand mirror is discovered nearby. Temerity – with the help of witchy sister Tilda, their cats Scylla and Charybdis and the lovingly eccentric local townspeople – is determined to divine the story behind the mirror and its part in Miss Molly Bayliss’ untimely death.  

If only grumpy out-of-towner Angus Harley of Lost Maidens Police wasn’t on the scene. Temerity can’t solve the crime without him, but he’s distracting, and in more ways than one. Can this unconventional duo solve the most mysterious murder ever to blight Lost Maidens Loch before the killer strikes again?

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Source: NetGalley and Bookouture          Rating: 4½/5 stars

YES! YES! And, YES!

Kennedy Kerr welcome to my world and thank you for bringing Lost Maidens Loch and the Love sisters with you!  It’s always a risky proposition starting a new series as new series have a tendency to be difficult to navigate.  Fortunately, all the first in a series pitfalls have been nicely avoided and a very solid first offering has been provided.

Lost Maidens Loch is a place of mystery, romance, and history.  According to local lore and legend, the loch periodically claims a life and when it does, it becomes even more a part of the legend of the place.  Thanks to the tragedy and the lore, tourists keep the town alive and the money rolling in for locals like Temerity and Tilda Love.  Since the loss of both their parents, the Love sisters have run their family’s curiosities shop with trades in odds and ends related to the occult, the supernatural, rare books, and antiques.  Thanks to the girls’ inherent and learned gifts, their store does rather well for itself and has earned the girls a sound and solid reputation. 

Temerity Love has a reputation as not just an antiques dealer, but a woman with certain gifts.  Thanks to her parents, Temerity has the gift of psychometry which makes for excellent findings related to provenance and antiques and has come in handy on more than one occasion for the local police.  In times related to crime, the local sheriff has called on Temerity more than once to help solve a mystery.  Though Temerity doesn’t particularly enjoy such callings, she always helps where she can and this time, she’s been called to the scene of a murder. 

Though Temerity gets little from the objects found and the scene of the crime, she does get impressions, none of which are explainable or good.  As is her way, Temerity has more questions than answers and she isn’t one to let things go.  As is common in small towns, the gossip is rampant, and Temerity knows just who to ask for the information she needs.  Every answer she gets leaves her more perplexed and takes her ever closer to the large estate that has log been shrouded in mystery and despair.  What’s more, whomever it was that killed the poor woman has worked ever so hard to leave the impression witchcraft in involved and that has Temerity beyond curious.  Before it’s all said and done, Temerity will be tested beyond anything she’s ever known and, in the process, she may discover some new things about herself and her life. 

The Bottom Line: Temerity and Tilda Love and so delightfully weird and wonderful and both are comfortable in their oddness which makes them even more endearing.  Temerity is, by far the more outgoing of the two sisters, but as we discover in this book, she has to work to be so.  Her gifts, though generally accepted, aren’t always understood and that often makes her feel isolated.  Tilda is the nerdy sister who is far less outgoing than her sister and often pays for that thanks to local gossip.  Between the two, they are intelligent, kind, caring, and funny women who doing they best they can to live fulfilling lives.  When you add the setting and the story to the mix of really wonderful characters, you have all the makings of a fine story and that’s exactly what I got.

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Mini-Review: The Saturday Supper Club: An absolutely heartwarming romantic read by Amy Miller

47581046. sy475 Eve’s world was torn apart three years ago when the love of her life Ethan walked out on her. But now she has a new boyfriend in safe and sensible Joe, a cosy new flat, and she’s on the verge of opening her dream café. Things finally seem to be falling into place.  

When Joe begs Eve to take part in a supper club competition for a local newspaper where he’s trying to get a job, she plans an elaborate dinner for her mystery guests who are arriving in just 24 hours.  

But, as she adds the finishing touches to her hastily planned menu, the first of her mystery guests arrives and gives her the shock of her life… On the doorstep stands Ethan – the man with the most beautiful eyes she has ever seen, and the man she has spent three years trying to forget.  

As her past life comes crashing into her perfect new one, she’s sent into a spin. How will she get through all three courses with the man who broke her heart sitting across the table? And how does she feel about Ethan three years on?  

As the Saturday Supper Club gets under way, Eve has no idea what to think now Ethan has walked back into her life. Who will win the competition? And who will ultimately win Eve’s heart?

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Source: NetGalley and Bookouture         Rating: 2/5

The Bottom Line: I have to say, when a book is advertised as “An absolutely heartwarming romantic read” I expect something far, far, far different than what I found between the covers of this book.  In truth, I expected to find a book populated by worthy and wonderful characters worthy of rooting for and supporting in their endeavors.  What I found was a cast of characters with no redeeming qualities between the lot of them.  There isn’t a character in this book that is at all likeable or even remotely sympathetic.  In fact, every character in this book, to one degree or another is remarkably selfish, self-centered, and generally wretched.  I even found myself disliking the “victims” in this story.  I stuck with this book from start to finish in the hopes there would be a radical change in character and/or personality, but alas, I was thoroughly disappointed.  From a technical perspective, I can’t make any complaints or comments, but I also can’t rely on the technical bits alone to be a reason to recommend a book.

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Mini-Review: Cartier’s Hope by M.J. Rose

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New York, 1910: A city of magnificent skyscrapers and winding subways, where poor immigrants are crammed into tenements while millionaires thrive in Fifth Avenue mansions. Vera Garland is a thirty-two-year-old journalist, fighting alongside hundreds of women for a place in society, only to meet hurdles around every turn. Most female journalists are delegated to the fashion and lifestyle pages but like her hero, Nellie Bly, Vera is a fighter. 

When news of the Hope Diamond—a jewel whose infamous legends and curses have captured the world’s attention—arrives in the city, Vera is fast on its trail. She’s certain the fabulous jewel will help jumpstart her career but she’s determined to seek revenge against her current employer, a magazine owner whose greed and blackmailing schemes led to the death of her beloved father.

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Source: NetGalley and Atria Books          Rating: 2½/5 stars

The Bottom Line: I have read and quite enjoyed M.J. Rose previously but I’m afraid this book didn’t hit the mark for me.  I was certainly interested in the stories, both factual and fictional, surrounding the Hope Diamond, but I rather disliked the story wrapped around the diamond in this particular iteration.  While I realize there is a fair bit of flexibility when dealing in historical fiction, I just couldn’t really wrap my head around the story.  I found much of the story be rather contrived and a stretch, at best, even when taking the historical fiction flexibility into account.  With that being said, I absolutely cannot criticize the author on any of the mechanics of writing and while this book wasn’t for me, it may certainly be for many others.

Pre-order now for the January 2020 release:

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Review: The Perfect Brew (Book #1: Perfect Brew Series) by Jo-Ann Carson

46729644. sy475 An unexpected inheritance turns Cassie Black’s world upside-down, and she finds herself the owner of a sentient coffee-house that comes with an inter-dimensional portal and a side of ancient curse. When Cassie is summoned to attend the funeral of her great-aunt, Ophelia, she finds the picturesque village on the edge of the ocean is not at all what it seems. Her benefactor’s death is suspicious, and to make matters worse, after Ophelia’s lawyer explains her will to Cassie, he drops dead in a plate of cookie crumbs. That makes two unexplained deaths, which is two too many for a good witch to swallow. 

Up to her neck in mysteries, and weighed down with a curse, Cassie canvases the town to find the murderer. Of course, there are many unusual suspects, a tall, dark and annoying human detective keeps getting in her way, and a seductive warlock offers his assistance.  Will Cassie catch the villain before he kills again?

Will she be able to free herself from the curse? Will Sid, her beloved cat familiar with a naughty mind, convince her to play dirty with the boys?

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Source: NetGalley and JRT Publications          Rating: 4/5 stars

Cassie Black has enough on her mind, thank you very much!  Her lukewarm love affair seems to be headed towards full-on frozen, she’s fairly certain there’s an angry mobster looking to kill her, and she’s had to cross the ocean in order to settle the estate of her great-aunt, Ophelia.

For the entirety of her life, Cassie has felt like the black sheep in her family.  Her magic, comparatively speaking is quite weak and often backfires, and her chosen profession, art forger is not much for her family to be proud of.  Even among all the disappointments, Cassie has never quite crossed over the line as far as her legendary great-aunt, Ophelia.  Known far and wide in the magical community for her shenanigans, antics, and magic, Ophelia was a bright and giving personality who was the darkest of black sheep and the one witch the family never, ever talks about.  For some reason Cassie can’t even begin to understand, Ophelia has left her entire estate to Cassie. 

From the moment Cassie steps into the Perfect Brew she knows in her bones something is different about the place.  With only a few questions to the right people, Cassie discovers the Perfect Brew isn’t just a safe place for supernatural beings but is also home to an inter-dimensional portal that has previously been both supported and defended by Cassie’s aunt and one very surly and sexy warlock.  Though Cassie fully intends to settle the estate and sell the coffee shop, she quickly finds it won’t at all be that easy especially once the lawyer she was working with to settle everything drops dead in her presence.  By the time its all said and done, Cassie has more problems than she knows what to do with.

The Bottom Line:  I rarely dislike an anti-hero and Cassie Black feels very much like an anti-hero to me.  She walks a little on both sides of the line between right and wrong and I find that to be one of her best character traits.  I also like the fact Cassie is bold, strong, and determined to do what she can to solve her own problems; if it means solving some other problems along the way and helping a few others, then so be it.  Finally, I am quite fond of the fact the Perfect Brew is perfectly sentient and willing to help Cassie in her endeavors and there are familiars!  I believe this is my first Jo-Ann Carson book and I’m quite glad this is where I chose to start.  I see a bright future for Cassie Black and the Perfect Brew!

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Review: The Second Life of Nathan Jones by David Atkinson

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When one wrong step – and the poor timing of the number 19 bus – send Nathan Jones to the Edinburgh morgue his story should have ended…but then he went and woke up.  

Returned to real life Nathan finds a wife disappointed that he’s miraculously returned from the dead and an unshakeable attraction for mortuary technician Kat – the woman who brought him back to life, in more ways than one. 

Now, as his world implodes and Kat leads him down an unexpected path, Nathan somehow finds himself having the time of his second life…

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Source: NetGalley and HarperImpulse          Rating: 4½/5 stars

Nathan Jones isn’t leading what most would call a stellar, totally fulfilling life, but it’s better than no life at all.  Oh, Nathan knows his marriage is rubbish and his wife is a cow, but his daughters are delightful and being with them means everything to Nathan.  Things aren’t perfect amongst the living but waking up in a morgue is even worse.  Just ask Nathan Jones.

Kat’s never met a real zombie, but Nathan Jones seems to be just that, a real, live returned from the dead kind of zombie, but don’t call him that.  Nathan Jones is also immensely attractive and from the moment she meets him, Kat is intrigued by the man who returned from the dead.  Getting to know Nathan Jones isn’t going to be easy, but nothing worth it in this life is easy.  Against the advice of her best friend, Kat sets upon a course that will bring her the greatest pleasure and the greatest heartbreak she has ever known in her life.

Nathan Jones thought dying and returning from the dead was the worst thing he was going to face in his, well, life.  As it turns out, the worst thing he must face is the prospect of his wife leaving him and taking his beloved daughters with him.  If it weren’t for Kat and her plan to know Nathan Jones, he would be completely alone and totally lost.  Kat is unlike anyone Nathan Jones has ever met.  She’s Goth (not punk!), wildly inappropriate, kind, generous, and the most delightfully weird person Nathan Jones has ever known.  If Kat thinks it, she says it, if she enjoys it, she does it, and if she wants it, she goes for it.  For Nathan Jones, Kat is a bit a refreshing, a breath of fresh air in a life (and death) that had otherwise become tolerable, at best. 

Kat completely understands the mess she is getting herself into.  Nathan Jones doesn’t come with baggage; he comes with a cargo plane filled with baggage.  He’s not technically divorced, his girls are a consideration, and there is always the possibility he doesn’t actually like Kat.  In short order, the last bit is answered, a trip to the zoo goes a long way in smoothing the path with the girls, and the first is just a volcano waiting to erupt.  Yes, Kat is absolutely insane to even consider becoming involved with Nathan Jones, but something about him screams special and worth it, so Kat soldiers on. 

The time Kat has with Nathan Jones is both exhilarating and turbulent.  Nathan Joens’ wife has no intention of going away quietly into the night; in fact, Nathan Jones’ wife has every intention of living up to her reputation as a cow and looks to make life miserable for everyone, Kat included.  As the cow’s plans unfold, both Kat and Nathan Jones are brought to the lowest point of their respective lives.  Nathan Jones is on the verge of losing his girls for good and Kat is as heartbroken as she every could have imagined.  With no real hope left, the two part ways and hope there comes a day when the pain isn’t quite so potent.

The Bottom Line:  The Second Life of Nathan Jones is one of those books whose Goodreads star rating totally baffles me.  I found this book to be smartly written, wickedly funny, and appropriately emotional.  This isn’t just the story of Nathan Jones and his miraculous return from the dead, it’s the story of a group of people, some incredibly broken and misguided, crashing into one another and trying to make the best of it all.  Every character is clear and full, the plot is a train wreck in the best possible way, and I simply couldn’t put this book down.  This really is an emotional roller coaster of a ride that is tempered with a good bit of dark humor, sarcasm, witty banter, awkward moments, and a few naughty bits thrown in for good measure!  In all, a fine read.

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Review: Out of the Picture: A Shepherd Sisters Mystery by Tracy Gardner

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Savanna Shepherd is a former art authenticator—someone who can tell a forgery from the real thing. She’s got a talent for spotting secrets hiding in plain sight.

In the wake of a painful breakup, she moves back to her idyllic hometown on the banks of Lake Michigan. At least she’s close to her sisters again, and she’s enjoying her new job as a grade school art teacher.

Savanna even rediscovers her creative soul when an old family friend hires her to paint a mural. But sad and strange incidents occur at the woman’s mansion, compelling Savanna to investigate. With a little help from her sisters—and from Aidan, the intriguing town doctor—will she be able to figure out what’s wrong with this picture?

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Source: NetGalley and Hallmark Publishing          Rating: 4/5 stars

As the old saying goes, you can’t ever go home, but Savanna Shepherd is determined to be the exception to that rule.  After leaving the big city, her feckless fiancé, and her prestigious job as an art authenticator, Savanna is back home and settling in nicely.  She’s secured a job as an elementary art teacher, she is living with her sister, and slowly melding back into life in her beloved hometown. 

One of the first orders of business for Savanna upon settling in is reconnecting with her grandmother-of-the-heart, Caroline Carson.  From childhood, Caroline has held a special place in the Shepherd sister’s lives and hearts.  Seeing Caroline again is a special pleasure for Savanna and while she intended it to be a short visit to reconnect with an old friend, it turns into something far, far greater.

As Savanna reenters Caroline’s life, she discovers her dear friend is renovating her historic home, thinning out her impressive and vast art collection, and gearing up for her 90th birthday celebration.  To that end, Caroline enlists Savanna’s help in the form of a lovely seascape mural to match the view out her sitting room window.  With a new job, a new project, and a new life, Savanna is excited to get started, but almost immediately, that excitement is tempered by worry.  Caroline, at 89-years-old is in remarkable shape, but her heart is acting a bit wonky which has led to some in-home testing and the presence of her personal physician, Dr. Aidan Gallager. 

Though Caroline convinces Savanna the tests are nothing to be worried about, a series of events unfolds that only compounds Savanna’s worry.  Following the sudden and unexpected death of one of Caroline’s dear friends, Savanna, Caroline, and Dr. Gallager all begin to wonder and worry.  As the days and weeks leading up to the party unfold, more troubling events unfold in Caroline’s home that leads Savanna and company to believe there’s a very bad person out to harm Caroline, if not kill her.  Though Caroline doesn’t want to believe it to be true, the evidence is mounting up the more questions that are asked and answers that are uncovered.  If Savanna and company can’t figure out the truth of the situation soon, Caroline just may not make it to her 90th birthday bash.

The Bottom Line:  You know what’s awesome when it’s combined?  Hallmark Publishing and the cozy mystery genre!  The Shepherd sisters are all quite delightful, each with their own distinct and lovely personalities, their parents are a wonderful support system, and the town itself is comfortable and perfect for the story and characters.  The plot involves on of my favorite topics, art, and plays with a cast of characters that are easy to like, easy to root for, and fun to read about.  With three sisters, I see a solid and entertaining trilogy in my future!

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Review: The Spice King (Book #1: Hope and Glory Series) by Elizabeth Camden

43838042Gray Delacroix has dedicated his life to building an acclaimed global spice empire, but it has come at a cost. Resolved to salvage his family before they spiral out of control, he returns to his ancestral home for good after years of traveling the world. 

As a junior botanist for the Smithsonian, Annabelle Larkin has been charged with the impossible task of gaining access to the notoriously private Delacroix plant collection. If she fails, she will be out of a job and the family farm in Kansas will go under. She has no idea that in gaining entrance to the Delacroix world, she will unwittingly step into a web of dangerous political intrigue far beyond her experience. 

Unable to deny her attraction to the reclusive business tycoon, Annabelle will be forced to choose between her heart and loyalty to her country. Can Gray and Annabelle find a way through the storm of scandal without destroying the family Gray is fighting to save?

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Source: NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers          Rating: 4½/5 stars

Annabelle Larkin’s family has sacrificed everything so she and her sister, Elaine can spread their wings and live a life far beyond the confines of their failing Kansas farm.  The Larkin girls have both been to college and if they play their cards right, life in their new home of Washington D.C. can and will exceed everyone’s expectations.  Though both women are thrilled to be living in the city, life isn’t without its challenges.

Annabelle’s sister is blind and her presence in D.C. is meant to help her live a real life, a life beyond her limitations.  Elaine spends her days volunteering at the national library where she works with the Braille collection and helps fellow blind people advance their own reading skills.  Elaine’s life hasn’t been easy, but helping others brings her comfort and allows her to live a life she is proud to call her own.  However, her life isn’t perfect and without Annabelle, Elaine’s newfound freedom would not be possible.  Annabelle spends her days working as an assistant botanist at the Smithsonian and if she wants her job to continue, she must impress her bosses.

Annabelle’s ultimate goal in life is to help her family bring their farm back to prosperity and that means learning all she can about wheat and crop production.  To continue toward that goal and keeping her sister safe and happy, Annabelle must keep her job at the Smithsonian, but as a woman working in the late 19th century, that isn’t going to be easy.  Her bosses have a very specific agenda and that agenda includes Annabelle gaining access to the plant and spice collection of one of the world’s most reclusive and private men, Gray Delacroix.  Gray’s collection of rare and special plants would be a boon to the Smithsonian collection and Annabelle has been tasked with gaining access to, if not cuttings and samples from the tremendous collection.

Gray Delacroix has spent his life travelling the world collecting the most exotic plants and spices.  His family’s fortune is based on he and his father’s hard work and focused determination to bring only the best spices back to America and make them commercially available.  Gray is highly protective of his work and believes only he and his family can provide the best products in the industry.  To Gray’s thinking, organizations like the Smithsonian and Department of Agriculture only want to exploit his efforts and give away for free what he and his family have worked hard to build.  To Gray’s mind, Annabelle Larkin is just the latest volley in the ongoing struggle between Gray and the US government. 

Or, is she . . . . .

Annabelle Larkin is the only woman who has ever made Gray think seriously about settling down and being more than a powerful and successful businessman.  Annabelle is knowledgeable, honest, clear in her intentions, and truly interested in what Gray has accomplished.  Her love of plants and desire to learn is rivaled only by Gray’s and that is something he has never found.  In the shortest of time span’s Gray decides to court Annabelle and work towards building a life and family with her.  Gray has every intention of helping Annabelle secure her future and support her sister and parents.  Just as everything seems to be falling into place for both Gray and Annabelle, their lives are turned upside down following the arrest of Gray’s brother for treason.  What unfolds in the wake of the arrest is a story of betrayal, lies, plans, shady business dealings, and the desire to do the right thing even in the face of heartbreak.

The Bottom Line: I was somewhat on the fence when I requested this book from NetGalley and I certainly should not have been.  The Spice King is a bit outside my normal historical fiction comfort zone, but I am quite glad to have stepped outside the zone.  I found this book to be complex, complicated, informative, and absolutely engrossing.  I spent one very late night reading this book cover to cover and regret nothing.  This story could have been dead dull if it weren’t for the robust characters telling the story.  Annabelle is a quiet storm who holds fast to beliefs and loyalties no matter the personal cost.  Gray is a surly, stubborn, reclusive man hell-bent on protecting his family no matter the personal cost.  There are so many plots and sub-plots going on in this book, but Camden weaves them all together brilliantly and creates a truly excellent read.  This book has a bit of everything including well-rounded and interesting characters, a solid and very real historical setting, and a story that weaves in and out in the most wonderful ways.  Elizabeth Camden is a force to be reckoned with in the historical fiction genre and I look forward to her next offering.

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