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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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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