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


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


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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Review: The Bookshop at Peony Harbor (An Aster Island Novel) by Rosie Summers

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Eloise Paisley needs cash, and she needs it fast. Thanks to an unexpected divorce, Eloise is low on funds, and if she doesn’t figure out a way to make ends meet—soon—she’ll lose the beachfront cottage that’s been in her family for over three generations.

Then one morning, out of the blue, Eloise receives a mysterious letter from her grandmother who has been gone for over twenty years. Inside the envelope is the deed to a rundown bookshop on Main Street—a gift for Eloise. Is she up to the task of breathing life into the almost-derelict building, or will she have to sell the beloved property so she can afford to stay on the island near her children?

Fortunately, Eloise isn’t alone in her decision. She’s got three grown children on her side, though each has problems of their own.

Jack, the eldest, is running his own company. Despite his success, he finds that something in his life is missing. Next is Lilah, a mother of two young children whose husband has been spending unexplained late nights at the office, and she’s determined to find out why. The youngest, Angelica, is a free spirit traveling the world for her career. But when she encounters an old flame at home, is it enough to draw her back?

Come visit the Paisley family on Aster Island and follow their journey as they explore new love and second chances, as they travel far and return home, and as they throw their hearts and souls into making a dream come true.

Source: NetGalley, Summer Reads, and Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  It will be a cold day in Hell before I bypass a book set in a bookstore 😊 The Bookshop at Peony Harbor is a special sort of place given the fact it comes to Eloise from her long-deceased grandmother at just the right moment in Eloise’s life.  With her three grown children home to help her navigate this great surprise in her life, Eloise decides to make a go of the bookshop.  Eloise has her hands full with the remodel and renovations of the bookshop, but her hands aren’t so full that she can’t see the troubles of each of her children.  As the family comes together to help Eloise, each child must also make some hard decisions about their own lives.  I truly enjoyed this first in a series book and see so much potential for the series.  With the bookshop and the small family cottage as a backdrop for the continuation of the series I am looking forward to moving forward.  Thankfully, I stumbled upon this book at a time when there are already at least two more book available.  YAY for me and my love sweet stories in idyllic settings and family sagas.

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Review: Aunt Ivy’s Cottage (Book #2: Dune Island Series) by Kristin Harper

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All Zoey’s happiest childhood memories are of her great-aunt Ivy’s rickety cottage on Dune Island, being spoiled with cranberry ice cream and watching the tides change from the rooftop. Now, heartbroken from a recent breakup, Zoey can see her elderly aunt’s spark is fading, and decides to move to the island so they can care for each other.

When she arrives to find her cousin, Mark, sitting at the solid oak kitchen table, she knows why Aunt Ivy hasn’t been herself. Because Mark—next in line to inherit the house—is pushing Ivy to move into a nursing home.

With the cousins clashing over what’s best for Ivy, Zoey is surprised when the local carpenter who’s working on Ivy’s cottage takes her side. As he offers Zoey comfort, the two grow close. Together, they make a discovery in the attic that links the family to the mysterious and reclusive local lighthouse keeper, and throws doubt on Mark’s claim…

Now Zoey has a heartbreaking choice to make. The discovery could keep Ivy in the house she’s loved her whole life… but can Zoey trust that the carpenter really has Ivy’s best interests at heart? And will dredging up an old secret destroy the peace and happiness of Ivy’s final years—and tear this family apart for good?

Source: NetGalley and Bookouture Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line: Aunt Ivy’s Cottage is an emotional roller coaster of a ride that traces the love, lives, loyalties, and betrayals of a family as one generation is coming to an end.  Aunt Ivy has spent her life in her home on Dune Island and until recently, she was quite happy to be there.  With the death of her beloved friend/sister-in-law, Aunt Ivy now faces her final years alone, rattling around in a home that now seems way too big and full of memories and shadows. 

With nothing but her aunt’s best interests at heart, Zoey has returned to Dune Island to care for her aunt.  Not realizing the mess she has stumbled into, Zoey finds herself fighting her cousin for her aunt’s health and happiness, caring for her somewhat troubled niece, and fighting her feelings for the local contractor.  As Zoey tries to navigate the complexities of her own life, she also unravels the complexities of her Aunt Ivy’s life.  Zoey uncovers lies and secrets, love and loyalties that have stood the test of time. 

While I generally like the story, I didn’t care for two of the main characters.  I know Zoey’s heart is in right place, however, she comes across as seriously naïve and more than a bit whiny and her cousin is scheming rat bastard with nothing but his own self-interest in mind.  I found it difficult to feel much of anything for these two as they vied for control of Aunt Ivy and her possessions.  The only real character I had any great affection or feeling for was Aunt Ivy.  Ivy brought humor, compassion, and love to the story and made it likeable. 

I found, throughout the book, lots of places were the story slowed to a snail’s pace, lots of Zoey’s whining was repetitive, and the ending was less than satisfyingly.  The last chapters of the book definitely picked up the pace, but the ending fell flat.  In the end, I’m on the fence with this read; I disliked some primary characters, but I did like the actual story and the addition of the past crashing into the present.

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Review: The Bohemians by Jasmin Darznik


In 1918, Dorothea Lange leaves the East Coast for California, where a disaster kick-starts a new life. Her friendship with Caroline Lee, a vivacious, straight-talking woman with a complicated past, gives her entrée into Monkey Block, an artists’ colony and the bohemian heart of San Francisco. Dazzled by Caroline and her friends, Dorothea is catapulted into a heady new world of freedom, art, and politics. She also finds herself unexpectedly–and unwisely–falling in love with Maynard Dixon, a brilliant but troubled painter. Dorothea and Caroline eventually create a flourishing portrait studio, but a devastating betrayal pushes their friendship to the breaking point and alters the course of their lives.

The Bohemians captures San Francisco in the glittering and gritty 1920s, with cameos from such legendary figures as Mabel Dodge, Frida Kahlo, Ansel Adams, and DH Lawrence . At the same time, it is eerily resonant with contemporary themes, as anti-immigration sentiment, corrupt politicians, and the Spanish flu bring tumult to the city–and as the gift of friendship and the possibility of self-invention persist against the ferocious pull of history.

Source: NetGalley, Ballantine Books, and Purchase Rating: 2½/5 stars

The Bottom Line: I have been an Art Historian for the better part of two decades and while I often enjoy historical fiction related to art and artist, from time to time, I come across a read that just doesn’t sit well for or with me.  Unfortunately, The Bohemians is one such book.  Dorothea Lange is, without doubt, one of the most celebrated photographers in American history, but much of her history is largely ignored in this book and I found that very difficult to reconcile.  For example, throughout this book the long hours Lange spent in the darkroom are repeatedly mentioned yet nothing is mentioned about her, at best, rudimentary darkroom abilities.  In fact, unless she simply could not afford it, Lange often paid other photographers – including Ansel Adams – to complete her darkroom work for her.  Lange’s genius lay behind the camera where she most certainly sought to convey the humanity and character of her subjects; for her hired hands, she left detailed instructions about the effect she wanted in the final print.  Furthermore, Lange was also known to spend time with her subjects and talk with them if at all possible.  Lange often used the words of her subjects as the captions for her photos and openly criticized other well-known photographers (Margaret Bourke-White) for not doing something similar in their own work.  Though this was touched on in this read, it wasn’t emphasized to the extent it really needed to be. While I certainly appreciate what the author is trying to convey with this book, the license taken is just a bit too much for someone such as myself who has spent two decades studying the likes of Dorothea Lange.  The things left out of this book are just as critical to understanding Lange’s later development as an artist as what is mentioned.  In the end, this book just isn’t a good representation of a woman who becomes an icon of early photography.

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Review: Ruby Red Herring (Book #1: An Avery Ayers Antique Mystery) by Tracy Gardner


After their parents’ deaths, Avery Ayers and her teenaged sister, Tilly, take over the family business, Antiquities & Artifacts Appraised. Life in Lilac Grove is filled with jewels, tapestries, paintings…and the antics of eccentric Aunt Midge. But their world is rocked when they learn that the theft of a priceless ruby may be connected to their parents’ demise.

The trouble starts when the Museum of Antiquities hires Avery to appraise a rare, resplendent ruby. It bears a striking similarity to a stone in the museum’s bejeweled dragon’s-head medallion. One of the dragon’s ruby eyes was stolen long ago–replaced with a fake. Now, Avery’s colleagues–pompous Sir Robert Lane and fatherly Micah Abbott–suspect they may have the missing gem. But facets of the case remain cloudy. Detective Art Smith is snooping around. Another body turns up. And Avery finds mysterious notes that, impossibly, seem to be written by her father.

Accompanied by her Afghan hound, Avery enlists Art’s help in cutting the list of suspects who might have polished off her parents and swiped the jewel. Was it art collector Oliver Renell? Curator Nate Brennan? Actor Tyler Chadwick? Or was the theft an inside job, perpetrated by someone all too close to Avery? If she can’t find the culprit, Lilac Grove may be the setting for Avery’s own death.

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

The Bottom Line: Yet again, I must admit to struggling with a read I truly expected to blaze through.  It took me days to finish this book and I think it had to do with the wonkiness of the plot.  There is a lot going on in this book, between the project Avery and her partners are working on to the suspicions surrounding the deaths of Avery’s parents.  While the two stories are actually intertwined, I found the blending of the two to be somewhat clunky and awkward.  I also found the pacing of the first two-thirds of the book to be somewhat slow and it wasn’t until the last third that the pace picked up and I was able to move more easily towards the end.  Though I struggled with this book, I like author (another series I follow!) and the cast of characters in this book.  I have faith the second book will overcome some of the clunkiness of this read and I will more thoroughly enjoy the succeeding books in this series.  I am not yet ready to kick this series to the curb and will dive into the second book as it becomes available.

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Review: The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

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Thea Mottram is having a bad month. Her husband of nearly twenty years has just left her for one of her friends, and she is let go from her office job–on Valentine’s Day, of all days. Bewildered and completely lost, Thea doesn’t know what to do. But when she learns that a distant great uncle in Scotland has passed away, leaving her his home and a hefty antique book collection, she decides to leave Sussex for a few weeks. Escaping to a small coastal town where no one knows her seems to be exactly what she needs.

Almost instantly, Thea becomes enamored with the quaint cottage, comforted by its cozy rooms and shaggy, tulip-covered lawn. The locals in nearby Baldochrie are just as warm, quirky, and inviting. The only person she can’t seem to win over is bookshop owner Edward Maltravers, to whom she hopes to sell her uncle’s antique novel collection. His gruff attitude–fueled by an infamous, long-standing feud with his brother, a local lord–tests Thea’s patience. But bickering with Edward proves oddly refreshing and exciting, leading Thea to develop feelings she hasn’t felt in a long time. As she follows a thrilling yet terrifying impulse to stay in Scotland indefinitely, Thea realizes that her new life may quickly become just as complicated as the one she was running from.

Source: NetGalley and Ballantine Books Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line: Thea Mottram is one of my favorite character types – the woman wronged, the woman whose life has been turned upside down but refuses to succumb to the wight of it all.  Rather than wallow in self-pity, Thea makes for a small coastal town intent on setting things right with her late relative’s estate and simply taking a few weeks to reset and determine the trajectory of her life from this point forward.

As a few weeks turns into a few months, Thea finds she not only likes the small town and her cozy cottage, but she also likes her otherwise grumpy and irascible boss at the local bookstore.  The bookstore is something of a safe haven for Thea and she learns the business, she learns how to improve the business and that brings a great sense of accomplishment.  Even her surly boss is impressed by her endeavors and encourages Thea to soldier on.  To literally everyone’s surprise, Thea and her boss not only get along but seem to genuinely like one another and that sets tongues a wagging about town.  Yet again, I find myself on the opposite end of the star rating spectrum with this book.  I enjoyed this read.  Between Edward’s sordid past, Thea’s recent life-altering experiences, and the locals, the setting for this particular story is just perfect.  Small towns always breed a bit of crazy and I find myself drawn to this setting again and again.  The Bookshop of Second Chances is exactly what it bills itself to be and for more than one character a second chance is exactly what is given.  Make no mistake, this isn’t a straight line from sad and awful to HEA, but a bit of winding road with plenty of bumps and potholes along the way.  The bumps and potholes make the second chances and the eventual HEA totally worth it and makes this book a solid stand alone read.

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Review: Dogged by Death (Book #1: (A Furry Friends Mystery) by Laura Scott


Ally Winter is going through a ruff patch. The thirty-something veterinarian lost her fiance, her clinic, and her savings in rapid succession. So when Ally’s grandfather undergoes hip replacement surgery, she moves back to Willow Bluff, Wisconsin, to care for him. She arrives home, tail between her legs, only to find sleazy lawyer Marty Shawlin murdered in his home office. And the only witness was Marty’s faithful boxer, Roxy.

Quick as a greyhound, Noah Jorgensen is on the case. The good news is, he’s the best detective around. The bad news, at least the way Ally sees it, is that Noah is still just as fetching as he was back in high school. He also just happens to have witnessed every embarrassing incident that befell accident-prone Ally–including the fire-ant attack that set tongues wagging and won her the unshakable nickname Hot Pants.

Meanwhile, true-crime aficionado Gramps fancies himself a sleuth, and he is doggedly determined to sniff out the culprit himself…with Ally’s reluctant help, of course. Ally has no choice but to team up with Noah–and the irrepressible Roxy–to solve the case while keeping Gramps on a short leash.

Ally had better learn some new tricks, lickety-split. Because if she can’t bring the killer to heel, she won’t just be playing dead.

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

The Bottom Line:  From the beginning, it is clear Ally Winter is in trouble and if her fortunes and luck don’t turn soon, she’s going to be down to her last dollar and living with her beloved grandfather in his already cramped senior living situation.  With no interest in going backward in her life, Ally sets her sights on the future and growing her burgeoning veterinary clinic. 

With a stack of bills and little pride, Ally takes on all including dog-walking, grooming, and standard veterinary care.  It’s one of her dog walking clients, the uber-creepy Marty Shawlin that draws Ally and her true crime obsessed grandfather into a mess that threatens to bring down Ally and her new clinic.  Marty Shawlin may have excellent taste in dogs, but his business ethics are lacking and lands him in the morgue and Ally with a doggy witness with no home. 

When Ally’s grandfather gets involved, things go from somewhat manageable to downright crazy and reigning him in is a bit like herding cats.  To make matters worse, Ally and her grandfather seem to keep uncovering information the police need, but the police – Noah in particular – is not interested in the help or the tips.  Every uncovered bit of information only encourages Ally’s grandfather and makes him even more difficult to contain.    With the exception of Ally’s constant musings about money and credit cards clearing, I found this book to be fun and quite entertaining.  Ally clearly cares for the animals she helps, her grandfather is relentless and hilarious (the cell phone calls!), and the elderly women he lives with are pure sunshine.  There is a lot about this first in a series book to like and keep me interested in what the future holds for Ally, Roxy, and her grandfather.  This one will appeal to fans of cozy mystery as well as fans of books with a heavy animal presence.

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Review: The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale


Fourteen years ago, Delphine abandoned her prestigious soloist spot at the Paris Opera Ballet for a new life in St. Petersburg––taking with her a secret that could upend the lives of her best friends, fellow dancers Lindsay and Margaux. Now 36 years old, Delphine has returned to her former home and to the legendary Palais Garnier Opera House, to choreograph the ballet that will kickstart the next phase of her career––and, she hopes, finally make things right with her former friends. But Delphine quickly discovers that things have changed while she’s been away…and some secrets can’t stay buried forever.

Moving between the trio’s adolescent years and the present day, The Ballerinas explores the complexities of female friendship, the dark drive towards physical perfection in the name of artistic expression, the double-edged sword of ambition and passion, and the sublimated rage that so many women hold inside––all culminating in a twist you won’t see coming, with magnetic characters you won’t soon forget.

Source: NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  What a wonderful train wreck this story turned out to be!  I have long been drawn to stories about dancers and especially ballerinas and this one did not disappoint.  I was in just the right frame of mind for this dark, spiraling story of three friends linked over the years by friendship, secrets, lies, betrayals, and loyalty.  The Ballerinas traces the lives of three friends from their youth to the present when each must deal with the past, face the hard truths of the past and present, and survive the storm they are all embroiled in.  The Ballerinas is not a happy or hopeful story, but a dark and winding tail of three women who have lived lives only a handful can ever truly understand or appreciate.  Though there isn’t much to root for in this book, it was, nevertheless a fascinating dance into the darkness with three women facing some significant demons.  As always, I enjoyed the mixing of the past and the present and how the past has so significantly impacted the present.  The author’s writing style is suitably low-key for the overall tone of the book, and I found I really didn’t want to stop reading this one.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend this one if you’re looking for a sweet, light-hearted read, but if you’re in the mood for dark, angsty, and somewhat sinister then this is the book you are looking for.

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