Review: A Cup of Silver Linings (Book #2: Dove Pond Series) by Karen Hawkins

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Ava Dove—the sixth of seven daughters of the famed Dove family, and owner of Ava’s Landscaping and Specialty Gourmet Tea—is frantic.

Just as she is getting ready to open her fabulous new tearoom, her herbal teas have gone wonky. Suddenly, the tea that is supposed to help people sleep is startling them awake with vivid dreams; the tea that infuses romance back into tired marriages is causing people to blurt out their darkest secrets; and the tea that helps people find happiness is making them spend hours staring into mirrors.

Meanwhile, living four doors down the road from Ava, sixteen-year-old Kristen Foster’s life has just crashed down around her. After her mother’s death, Kristen’s grandmother Ellen has arrived in town to sweep Kristen off to a white mansion on a hill in distant Raleigh. But Kristen has had enough ‘life changes’ and is desperate to stay with her friends in her beloved hometown of Dove Pond. But to do so means Kristen must undertake a quest she’s been avoiding her entire life—finding her never-been-there-for-her father.

With the help of an ancient herbal remedy book found in her attic by her sister, Ava realizes that Kristen holds the key to fixing her unstable tea leaves. So Ava throws herself into Kristen’s search, even convincing Kristen’s grandmother Ellen to help, too. Together, the three embark on a reluctant but magical journey of healing, friendship, and family that will delight fans of Alice Hoffman, Kate Morton, and Sarah Addison Allen.

Source: NatGalley, Gallery Books, and Purchase Rating: 5 stars

The Bottom Line:  Welcome back to Dove Pond!  It’s been a long wait between book and two in this series and I was so pleased to find the wait was absolutely worth it. 

Ava Dove has spent her life in service to others.  When her mother passed, she stepped in and took care of her siblings, she works tirelessly to landscape and maintain her community spaces, and she makes specialty teas for the aches, pains, and anxieties that plague her friends and neighbors.  All of Dove Pond know they can rely on Ava to help cure what ails them.  Until, one day they cannot.

In the face of monumental, life altering changes, Ava finds her past coming back to haunt her and the consequences of her long-ago actions are bleeding over into every aspect of her life from the personal to the professional.  To bring everything in her world back on track, Ava must confess to what she considers to be a great sin and risk losing everything.  Just like the first book, I fell into this book and didn’t come out until the end.  As I went back to look at my old review for book one, I realized I can say all the same things about this book: it has a wonderfully charming setting, it has just a touch of the mystical, it has a community that it giving and supportive, a wide cast of characters who are rich and full in their personalities, and topics that are often difficult to face and discuss but are widely experienced.  While I certainly don’t want to wait another year for the third book in the series, I am willing to do so in order to get another high quality read.

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Review: Murder at the Lobstah Shack (Book #3: Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery Series) by Maddie Day

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From clam chowdahs to oysters on the half-shell, Tulia Peters’ Lobstah Shack offers locals and tourists in Westham, Massachusetts, some of Cape Cod’s most amazing cuisine. But when the body of Annette DiCicero is discovered in the kitchen’s walk-in freezer—with a custom-made claw-handled lobster pick lodged in her neck—spoiled appetites are the least of Tulia’s worries.

After a heated public argument with Annette, Tulia is a person of interest in the police’s homicide investigation. To clear Tulia’s name, Mac and the Cozy Capers Book Group snoop into Annette’s personal life. Between her temperamental husband, his shady business partner, and two women tied to Annette’s past life as “Miss New Bedford”, there are now several suspects and multiple motives. And they’re getting crabby about Mac intruding on their affairs…

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

The Bottom Line:  No one likes to find a dead body in their cold storage freezer ☹  When Mac gets an early morning call from her friend and work neighbor Tulia, there is surely a dead body in the freezer and no one knows how the shockingly allergic to shellfish lady got into the local seafood haunt and died.

Once again, Mac and her cozy mystery reading club jump into the action in order to clear their friend’s name and work out who killed the poor woman in the freezer.  What I particularly liked about this book is the fact everyone has started backing off in their warnings to stay out of the investigation.  Even the police have realized it’s a futile effort that will fall on deaf ears and only offer the required warning . . . . once or twice 😊  In addition to the unraveling of the plot, this book also focuses on the social issue of homelessness and how it impacts communities.  While it’s certainly not the overriding theme of the book, I liked seeing this small bit of social awareness woven into the fabric of the story.  I find this series to be comfortable and one I will likely continue to return to, but I can’t say it is at the top of my cozies list.  It’s a good/solid series but I can’t go further than that with what’s currently available.

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Review: Aria’s Traveling Book Shop (Book #2: The Traveling Shops Series) by Rebecca Raisin

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A life on the road with best friend Rosie and her beloved camper-van-cum-book-shop, and definitely, definitely, no romance.

But when Aria finds herself falling – after one too many glasses of wine, from a karaoke stage – into the arms of Jonathan, a part of her comes back to life for the first time in years.

Since her beloved husband died Aria has sworn off love, unless it’s the kind you can find in the pages of a book. One love of her life is quite enough.

And so Aria tries to forget Jonathan and sets off for a summer to remember in France. But could this trip change Aria’s life forever…?

Source: NetGalley and HQ Digital Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  Aria was introduced in the first book in the series and proved to be a great support to Rosie as Rosie began her life as a traveling tea shop owner.  From the beginning, it is clear Aria is a true-blue friend, but also a friend hiding a lot of her own pain.  Through this book, Aria is forced to deal with her loss, her sadness, and the possibility of letting go of her own guilt and moving forward with her life. 

With a long, winding trip through France with Rosie and company, Aria finds herself constantly and most unexpectedly in the presence of the one man who can help her overcome all she has carried for three long, trying years.  An unexpected gift also arrives that takes Aria and the reader on an emotional journey meant to help her sort her feelings and make solid decisions about her future. 

Once again, I was charmed by all aspects of Raisin’s writing and fictional world.  The long winding journey through France very much mimicked Aria’s own emotional journey and I quite liked the parallels.  The descriptions of the landscape, the food, the sites, and the community of van lifers is such a wonderful form of escapist reading.  While I appreciate this is a series, I can’t quite see at this stage where the series is going to go next.  The first two books have focused almost exclusively on a very small circle of friends and there doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room to move forward.  Of course, there is also a reason I am a reader and not a writer 😊

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Review: The Rocky Road to Ruin (Book #1: Ice Cream Shop Mysteries) by Meri Allen

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Riley Rhodes, travel food blogger and librarian at the CIA, makes a bittersweet return to her childhood home of Penniman, Connecticut – land of dairy farms and covered bridges – for a funeral. Despite the circumstances, Riley’s trip home is sprinkled with reunions with old friends, visits to her father’s cozy bookshop on the town green, and joyful hours behind the counter at the beloved Udderly Delicious Ice Cream Shop. It feels like a time to help her friend Caroline rebuild after her mother’s death, and for Riley to do a bit of her own reflecting after a botched undercover mission in Italy. After all, it’s always good to be home.

But Caroline and her brother Mike have to decide what to do with the assets they’ve inherited – the ice cream shop as well as the farm they grew up on – and they’ve never seen eye to eye. Trouble begins to swirl as Riley is spooked by reports of a stranger camping behind the farm and by the odd behavior of the shop’s mascot, Caroline’s snooty Persian, Sprinkles. When Mike turns up dead in the barn the morning after the funeral, the peace and quiet of Penniman seems upended for good. Can Riley find the killer before another body gets scooped?

Source: Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I needed a new type of cozy in my life and until this book, I didn’t have a single ice cream shop in the mix of cozies I read.  Now I do and I won’t be giving up on this new series anytime soon.  Though I had a bit of a hard time buying into Riley’s job background, I found the rest of the read to be rather delightful.  Riley and her best-friend, Caroline find themselves in quite a mess when folks keep turning up dead, the financial situation related to the family farm is in question, and the ability to keep the family-owned and operated ice cream shop open is sketchy, at best. 

Given her somewhat hard to buy into background, Riley is the perfect person to poke around into all the various piles of crap that seem to keep cropping up.  Her inquiries lead her down some long-forgotten roads that will tie up not only the current murders but expose some truths long-buried and largely forgotten.  In addition to the sleuthing, Riley has agreed to take over the running of the ice cream shop and this is where I found myself most excited about the read, all the ice cream.  From the book of spells (recipe book!) to the wonderfully unique flavors and descriptions, I really felt a part of the environment and the crowd eager to get their hands on a scoop of their favorite flavor. 

Between the beautifully described setting (town, farm, community), the ice cream shop, and the characters, I think this cozy series is going to quickly make its way to the top of my favorites list.  Riley and Caroline have a tough road ahead of them, but they are two strong and determined ladies with a great community around them eager to see them succeed.  Onward and upward!

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Review: Seven-Year Witch (Book #2: Witch Way Librarian Mysteries) by Angela M. Sanders

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While Josie develops her witchcraft with the help of letters left by her grandmother, there are other changes happening in her new hometown. A retreat center is being built at the old mill site, and rumor has it that the location is cursed. That piques Josie’s interest almost as much as Sam Wilfred, handsome FBI agent and descendant of the town’s founder…

When Sam’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Fiona, goes missing at the same time that a bloodied weapon is found, Josie enlists her witchy insight, and her cat familiar, to clear Sam’s name. But then the mill project’s architect is found dead, and it’s clear that someone has been drawing up a vicious plan. Now Josie will have to divine her way out of fatal mischief, before this deadly trouble turns double…

Source: NetGalley, Kensington, and Purchase Rating: 4½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, even at only book two in the series, this series is shaping up to quickly become one of my favorites!  This read is a bit of slow burn compared to book one, but I very much enjoyed the ride.  Josie is learning to develop her skills and I especially loved how she’s truly learning to rely on her books to help her learn and problem-solve.  No longer does Josie have only her instincts to rely on when sleuthing, but an entire library full of (mostly) willing helpers. 

In many ways, the plot of this book tied into the plot from book one and liked the continuation without a load of repetition.  Sam is back in town with a baby and wife in tow, the resort construction is a hot mess, and apparently there’s an old, old town legend/story that is trying to come to light so a wrong can be righted.  With her hands full and her brain spinning, it takes all of Josie’s considerable skills to suss out the answers and keep herself alive. 

From start to finish I was deeply absorbed in this read and barely put it down to rest.  Josie is such a likeable character, and her burgeoning skills are so fun.  I appreciate a good bookworm character, but Josie’s ability to communicate with her library takes it all to a whole new level.  The sense of community is growing, and Josie is becoming more a part of her new environment, her love life is weirdly moving in directions yet unknown, and her skills are growing through the help of her long-deceased grandmother.  I am so enjoying the pacing, the setting, and the clever plots that seem to always include the past meeting up with the present.  In all, this series is offering me everything I adore in the genre!

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Review: Cold Brew Corpse (Book #2: A Coffee Lover´s Mystery) by Tara Lush

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It’s a steamy September, and business is brisk at Perkatory, the hottest coffee shop in Devil’s Beach, FL. Much of the clientele pours in from Dante’s Inferno, the hot yoga studio next door. But the bright, sunny Gulf Coast days turn decidedly dark-roast when the body of the studio’s owner turns up in a nearby swamp.

Between running Perkatory and training Stanley, her golden Shih Tzu puppy, reporter-turned-barista Lana Lewis is too busy to go sleuthing. But when the editor of the local paper asks her to write about the murder, Lana’s dreams of getting back into journalism start to percolate.

Lana discovers that the yogi has a nefarious past and her share of mug shots, so grinding her way through the suspect list is a large task. She learns that the victim was fatally beaned by an SUV before she was dumped in the swamp. But was the killer one of her students? An envious yoga teacher? Or a local photographer who seems to know too much?

But no one tells Lana Lewis what to do. Hunting the caf-fiend who killed the yogi puts Lana and Chief Noah’s relationship–and Lana’s life–in very hot coffee.

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

The Bottom Line:  Yet again, I find myself not only on the fence with a book but having to fess up to a personal bias.  One of my least favorite character types is the “anything for a story” reporter and, unfortunately Lana fell well into that category in this read.  There were several moments in the story when even Lana questioned her motivations and actions especially with regards to Noah.  It is this aspect and this aspect alone that has caused me to drop my star rating to a 3; I reiterate, this is one of my least favorite character types.

If I ignore the above – and I will not! – my star rating would have gone up to at least a 4 if not a 4½.  When Lana is in coffee mode, she is all kinds of fun and her little shop, Perkatory is such a great vibe for the setting and the reader.  What’s more, I adore Noah, Stanley, Erica, and Lana’s tree-hugging hippy grandfather.  Finally, I enjoyed the plot of this book with the twists and turns and the drama among all the various characters/suspects. All the above leaves me at the ever-awful book crossroads.  I can’t see Lana’s obsession with her former career lessening any time soon, which means I will start each new book in the series with a strong bias.  On the other hand, there are so many other characters and qualities of this series that I do truly like.  I think my final decision on the series as a whole will be determined by the third book and how far Lana dives into the journalism side of her personality.

Coming December 7, 2021: Goodreads | Amazon | Hardcover

Review: Under the Cover of Murder (Book #6: Beyond the Page Bookstore Mystery) by Lauren Elliott

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It promises to be Greyborne Harbor’s wedding of the year. The impending nuptials of Serena Chandler and Zach Ludlow will take place aboard his family’s luxurious super-yacht, currently moored in the harbor and the talk of the town. But on the day of the wedding, a man’s body washes up on the beach with no ID, only a torn page from a book in his pocket. As owner of Beyond the Page Books and Curios, bibliophile Addie is called in to identify the book, but she cannot.

The morning following the extravagant ceremony, a second body washes ashore and Addie has a sinking feeling that the two deaths are connected. While the guests are held on the yacht as the police investigate, at least Addie can peruse Zach’s father’s rare books library on board. A copy of Agatha Christie’s first Hercule Poirot novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, provides a clue that the killer may still be on the ship—but narrowing down the suspects without becoming the next victim may prove a truly Herculean task…

Source: NetGalley, Kensington, and Purchase Rating: 4½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  There’s not much more stressful than planning a wedding.  For Addie Greyborne’s best friend, the experience has been a full-on nightmare.  With a mother-in-law consumed with appearances and social standing, the wedding is nothing like the bride envisioned and everything she hoped to avoid.

With everyone aboard a luxury super yacht for the blessed event, Addie can’t believe the extravagance, the luxury, the expense, and the two dead bodies!  Knowing the killer has to be among the guests, the police literally trap everyone in attendance on the yacht and begin their investigation.  As always, dives right in with the blessing of the police.  Not only are Addie’s sleuthing skills put to the test in this caper, but also her knowledge of rare and expensive books.  With everyone in such close quarters, it’s easy to discover everyone’s dirty little secrets, but not so easy to see how those secrets have led to the deaths of two people.

What I found most intriguing about this read is the setting.  I didn’t think I would like the quarantine nature of this read, but Elliott cleverly placed everyone on a SUPER yacht so there is still plenty of room for Addie to run around.  Next up is the changing nature of relationships in this book.  One in particular is very intriguing and certainly leaves room for speculation (and drama!) in future books.  While nothing relationship-wise dramatically changed in this book, there is certainly enough here to warrant thinking about everyone’s future and how the characters will evolve as the series continues.  What’s more, Addie is getting better at sleuthing with every case and that certainly leaves room for more complex plotlines which I am not at all opposed to.  I feel a sort of real devotion to this series and hope I am not reading too much into the nuggets of information dropped/hinted at in this book.  I look forward to finding out if my intuition is correct.

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Review: Still Life and Death (Book #3: Shepherd Sisters Mysteries) by Tracy Gardner

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Savanna Shepherd, a former art authenticator turned grade school art teacher, is delighted when her Uncle Max and Uncle Freddie move to Carson. Uncle Max takes a job at Libby’s Blooms, where Savanna teaches a still life painting class for adults. But one morning, Uncle Max finds a dead body in the rooftop greenhouse…and even worse, it looks like an inside job.

Savanna and her sisters—Skylar, a lawyer, and Sydney, the owner of a pet shop and grooming salon—dig in to find the real murderer. With their connections to the community and Savanna’s keen eye for details, they uncover longstanding resentments and horticultural clues. Meanwhile, Savanna’s dating local doctor Aidan Gallager, but she worries it’ll cause a scandal, since his daughter is in her class. As Savanna’s investigation leads her into thorny situations, the killer may be arranging another murder: her own.

Source: NetGalley and Hallmark Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  The Shepherd sisters are back and, once again, they are up to their butts in a mystery.  When the local florist is brutally murdered in her own shop, Sidney, Savanna, and Skyler jump into the investigation with all six of their curious feet.  Libby’s murder is beyond comprehension and of the three Shepherd sisters, Sydney is having the hardest time adjusting to the senseless loss of her friend.  As the sisters delve deeper into the mystery, they discovery a series of threats and accusations, attempted bribes and manipulation, all of which led to the death of a mostly innocent woman. 

I am still very much attached to this series and that has everything to do with the great levels of evolution in the characters.  All three of the Shepherd sisters have major life events in this read and that is all wrapped around the three intrepid women once again bringing closure to a family and their community through their incessant nosiness.  The way the girls go about their sleuthing is with each other’s safety and security in mind.  Their love of one another, their larger family, and their community is one of the reasons I enjoy this series so much.  At this stage, all three sisters have told their respective stories which means this series may be at an end.  If this is the end, I can truthfully say I am satisfied with the ending and wish the Shepherd girls nothing but the very best in their respective future. 

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Review: The Bookseller’s Secret by Michelle Gable

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In 1942, London, Nancy Mitford is worried about more than air raids and German spies. Still recovering from a devastating loss, the once sparkling Bright Young Thing is estranged from her husband, her allowance has been cut, and she’s given up her writing career. On top of this, her five beautiful but infamous sisters continue making headlines with their controversial politics.

Eager for distraction and desperate for income, Nancy jumps at the chance to manage the Heywood Hill bookshop while the owner is away at war. Between the shop’s brisk business and the literary salons she hosts for her eccentric friends, Nancy’s life seems on the upswing. But when a mysterious French officer insists that she has a story to tell, Nancy must decide if picking up the pen again and revealing all is worth the price she might be forced to pay.

Eighty years later, Heywood Hill is abuzz with the hunt for a lost wartime manuscript written by Nancy Mitford. For one woman desperately in need of a change, the search will reveal not only a new side to Nancy, but an even more surprising link between the past and present…

Source: NetGalley and Graydon House Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I tend to pile up my book reviews and sit down for marathon writing sessions.  95% of the time, I have no difficulty recalling a story, its plot, and characters even with distance between finishing the book and writing the review.  That other 5% are the books I must really think about, re-read the synopsis, and think back to the actual reading of the book.  It is times like this when I know the star rating is going to be a bit lower because the book has clearly not stuck with me as the really good books tend to.  The Bookseller’s Secret is among the 5% and as I think back on the reading of this book, I distinctly remember struggling to get through it. 

I generally enjoy a past meets present book, but this one is quite lacking.  In the present, a struggling author and inquisitive young man are on the hunt for a missing manuscript from renowned author Nancy Mitford.  In the past, Nancy is not only working through her own author-ly struggles, but personal and financial struggles as well.  The lost manuscript is in fact written by Nancy, but it never sees the light of day.  My struggle with this book is how dull the past portion of this book really is.  While Nancy Mitford may have been a wonderfully interesting figure that excitement and interest is dulled completely in this book.  In truth, I wanted to like this book far more than I did and find I have a hard time recommending this read to others.

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Review: A Page Marked for Murder (Book #5: Beyond the Page Bookstore Mystery) by Lauren Elliott

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January isn’t the season for the seaside, but the big Fire and Ice festival is keeping bookstore owner Addie busy. Amid the plans for a fireworks display and an ice-carving competition, she’s also dog sitting for a friend in the hospital. When Addie goes to her friend’s house to gather supplies, she notices an interesting item on the nightstand which belongs to her shop assistant, Paige: a very valuable copy of the beloved children’s book The Secret Garden.

But Addie’s blood runs cold when she finds something else: a dead body behind the bakery next door to her shop. Martha, the bakery owner, has no alibi–and has been seen in a heated argument with the victim. And the next thing Addie knows, that first edition has gone missing. Is there a connection between the body and the treasured tome? If there is, it’s up to Addie to find a killer with a motive as hidden as Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous garden…

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

The Bottom Line:  One of the hallmarks of good series (for me!) is being away from the series for a while and falling right back into the latest book like you never left!  Addie, her cozy little town, and her wonderful bookstore all fit the bill of a welcoming old friend and I was delighted to return to this series after time away. 

Like so many others, Addie doesn’t go looking for trouble, but it certainly knows where to find her.  In the short time she’s lived in town, Addie has solved several crimes and the locals now know they can count her to dive into any mischief.  Chief among those residents is Addie’s work neighbor, Martha, the surly baker who would make a good suspect for nearly any crime committed within city limits.  Getting Martha off the hook isn’t going to be easy when the victim is known jerk hellbent on hurting Martha’s daughter and granddaughter.  I still love all the twists and turns in this series and how every book has a bookish twist.  Addie is one of my all-time favorite cozy mystery characters and I don’t ever seem to get enough of her sleuthing, her delightful town, or her circle of friends who always seem to step up when Addie needs them most.  The real sense of community is one of the things I love most about this series and that shines through once again in this book.  There are even a few little bits at the end that has me wondering about future plotlines and character development.  All very good signs for the continuation of this series.

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