Christmas is a time for new beginnings, so after her big breakup, Brynn MacAlister takes the gouda with the bad. With her three Red Devon cows, she settles in bucolic Shenandoah Springs, eager for a new life as an organic micro-dairy farmer and cheese-maker. Then her dear cow Petunia’s bellows set the whole town on edge. But it isn’t until Brynn’s neighbor, Nancy, dies in a mysterious fire that her feelings about small town life begin to curdle . . .
It seems some folks were not happy with Nancy’s plan to renovate the Old Glebe Church. But is a fear of change a motivation for murder? As a newcomer, Brynn can’t ignore the strange events happening just on the other side of her frosty pasture–and soon on her very own farm. Suddenly Christmas doesn’t feel so festive as everyone demands she muzzle sweet Petunia, and Brynn is wondering if someone wants to silence her–for good . . .
Brynn MacAlister is working hard to make her dream come true. After a nasty and most unexpected break with her fiancé, Brynn bought a small farm in the Shenandoah Valley and has begun to establish herself as a serious cheesemaker. Her products are small batch and of the highest quality and if she’s very lucky, her business is going to take off and allow her to continue to live her dream life.
The secret to Brynn’s success is her girls, three Devon Red cows who are as much her family as they are her product producers. While two of her girls are doing remarkably well, Petunia is in morning for her lost calf and Brynn has no idea how to help her sweet girl. What’s more, Brynn isn’t the only one who can her girl’s cries and her neighbors are starting to raise a fuss over the constant mooing. Little does Brynn know, her sad cow is about to be the least of her worries.
Brynn’s next-door neighbor, Nancy, like Brynn is newish to town and looking to make improvements to the land she lives on. With any luck, Nancy’s land and the building sitting on it will become the new home of a shop for all the local famers and their unique and delicious products. Unfortunately, before she can get the work underway, someone burns her property and kills Nancy in the process. Brynn is heartbroken by the loss of one of her only friend’s and in the wake of her death begins to ask questions about the how and why of her friend’s death.
Brynn’s questions lead her to two new and very solid friends, Willow and Schulyer, who help her sort out all the information she continues to uncover. Additionally, Brynn invites Nancy’s grandsons, Max and Wes to stay with her while their family is in town to help settle the affairs of the state and see their loved one buried. Max and Wes are absolute blessings because the more questions Brynn asks, the more weird and scary things begin to happen on her property. Her yard is nearly set on fire, there is stuffed bird nailed to her door, and one of her farm animals is stolen. Brynn knows she’s getting close to the truth, but the closer she gets the more danger she seems to be in.
The Bottom Line: I pretty much devoured this book, just like a piece of Brynn’s gourmet cheese! I was originally attracted to the series because of the adorable cows and got a fine read as well. The only thing I would like to see change, is Brynn gaining a bit more confidence in her actions and decisions. Oh, she’s great with the cheese, but the sleuthing isn’t quite her game . . . yet. Supporting Brynn at every turn is a wonderful cast of secondary characters that will absolutely be welcome additions to later additions to this series. Wes is a wonderfully polite and creative young man, Willow is kind and loyal to her friend, and Schuyler is feisty and intelligent and very hard to say no to. In all, I found this character-driven cozy mystery to be right up my alley.
With a foster cow in her corral and a new calf on the way, Brynn MacAlister has a lot on her plate. Especially since her micro-dairy farm is hosting the first annual cheesemakers contest at this year’s summer fair. A relative newcomer, Brynn’s hoping the contest becomes a tradition, bonding her even more strongly to the community. But when a mysterious tractor accident looks suspiciously like murder, Brynn suspects someone is up to no-gouda . . .
Some folks say the lead suspect was just defending his underage daughter from a suitor more mature than a vintage provolone, but Brynn isn’t buying it. Especially when another dead body turns up and Brynn’s top cheesemaker falls under suspicion. It’s enough to make a girl bluer than her best Stilton. But not enough to stop Brynn from getting to the bottom of things. What she discovers is the small town harbors some pretty unsavory characters. And the closer Brynn gets to the killer, the deeper she gets into danger . . .
Oh, boy! Less than a year in town and Brynn MacAlister has stepped into yet another murder! As if her growing business, apprentice, farm, friends, and the local fair aren’t enough, two of her friends have been accused of murder! Though she’s only sleuthed once before, Brynn isn’t about to let her friends go down for something they didn’t do, so it’s time to get the sleuthing hat back out and start asking questions.
While the first murder is troubling, it isn’t quite as pressing for Brynn as the second. A young man is shot to death and her apprentice and dear friend, Wes is being accused of the deed. Literally anyone who really knows Wes knows he can’t possibly be responsible for such an evil deed, but the evidence points to him. Wes is a kind, gentle soul who would rather be in the kitchen cooking up a gourmet meal for friends than conjuring up anger and mischief. Unfortunately, he is an absolute outsider in the Shenandoah Valley and that stacks the cards against him from the very beginning.
In the process of trying to help Wes, Brynn finds herself in a serious mess that leaves her with a tremendous concussion and an inability to really help as she would normally do. To help her out, her friends step in to tend to the girls and the farm and her sister comes to stay until Brynn can get back on her feet. In her moments of energy and clarity, Brynn works to solve the mystery of murder and she keeps coming back to one suspect, a beautiful, local sixteen-year-old girl with a reputation for loose morals and a variety of issues. Though Brynn doesn’t want to believe such a young person could be responsible for so much awful, the merging clues clearly indicate her involvement.
To make matters far worse, the local fair is something of a disaster this year and it is taking up time the police could be investigating Wes’s case. Wes’s father and brother have come to town and with Brynn’s help, they are digging into every avenue of inquiry they can think of. With the help of Brynn’s sister, the group stumbles onto a series of crimes that goes so far beyond the local level that the FBI is called in to assist. What’s clear is that Wes is absolutely not involved and the mastermind behind the whole fiasco is a whole new level of evil.
The Bottom Line: WOW!! What a mess this story is, in the best way possible. Not only does Brynn get pulled into the investigation, but Wes is totally railroaded, and there’s a series of crimes here that is so far beyond the local level. It took me very little time to read this book and now I’m sad there’s no more currently available. As I had hoped, there’s a huge presence of “older” characters and they really serve to enhance the overall read. Brynn really is becoming a part of her adopted community and with her business growing, it seems as if she has a very bright future in the Valley. That, dear reader, is very good news for us.