Taylor O’Brian, founder of “Off the Beaten Path”, takes small groups on wine country tours of romantic Sonoma County. Friends are everything in the tour business, so Taylor is happy to guide investors to the winery owned by her friend Tim Slade. But vintage turns to vinegar when an FDA inspector is found floating face down in one of Tim’s vats of squished grapes.
Tim is arrested on suspicion of murder, and Taylor and her friends rally to prove his innocence. But it’s not an easy task, especially since the winery proprietor’s acidic sense of humor tends to reap a harvest of sour grapes. Taylor’s investigation is withering on the vine until she discovers that Tim’s girlfriend, Mandy, is having an affair with a self-help guru. But before she has a chance to confront Mandy, Taylor finds Tim standing over the body of the dead guru.
This tart turn of events sends a bottle shock through Sonoma. Might Taylor’s friend really be a Zin-ful killer? If so, could Taylor be the next victim? The tour guide and her friends come to realize that the true murderer’s scent is obscured by an unsavory bouquet of red herrings.
The Bottom Line: Round two of A Wine Country Mystery series is once again set in idyllic Sonoma wine country and once again, that idyllic setting is marred by a murder and Taylor O’Brian is right in the thick of the investigation. Though she isn’t accused this time, Taylor’s good friend and fellow winery owner, Tim Slade is, and Taylor just can’t let her friend go to prison for a murder she is certain he didn’t commit. As with the first book, Taylor spends the bulk of the read poking her nose into things best left to the police and getting herself (and her friends!) into a load of trouble. As with the first book, I liked the setting and some of the characters, but that’s where the good ends for me. Taylor still doesn’t feel like a very solid, well-developed character and this time around I found the plot to be rather convoluted. While I had no difficulty following the plot, I found its complications to be unnecessary and fussy which caused to me to enjoy the overall read less. At the end of it all, I don’t think an idyllic setting and lovely wine descriptions are going to be enough to keep me coming back to this series. With the amount of cozy mysteries out there, I really need these series to deliver on multiple levels and this series, sadly just isn’t delivering.
Taylor O’Brian is a new businesswoman, founder of “Taylor’s Off The Beaten Path Wine Tours,” who lives on a small winery with her Aunt Jemma. She plans to take small groups around romantic Sonoma county to discover some of the county’s outdoor gardens. It’s all running as smooth as can be until Laura, the leader of the group of yoga instructors she’s leading, is found dead. And it’s Taylor’s corkscrew that’s found buried in Laura’s neck.
She’s not sure who to trust, and everyone around suddenly seems suspect. Only two weeks after the murder, her very own administrative assistant, Amy, marries Laura’s husband, Dan, who doesn’t seem very bereaved about being widowed, and the three yoga masters who were also out on the tour begin to seem shady. Taylor can’t afford to jump ship from her new business endeavor, but just as she begins her investigation, another dead body surfaces. This time, it’s Dan’s sister. And the killer is coming for Taylor next.
Now it’s up to Taylor to uncork this open-bottle mystery, before more blood is spilled. For fans of Laura Childs and Ellen Crosby, A Case of Syrah, Syrah is the charming first in bestselling author Nancy J. Parra’s Wine Country mysteries.
The Bottom Line: When Taylor O’Brian came home to help her “ailing” Aunt Jemma, she never thought she would stay, let alone launch a new business. Deep in the heart of wine country, Taylor plans to shuttle tourists around to the area’s best kept secrets and, of course, enjoy a bit of wine along the way. Unfortunately, Taylor’s first tour is marred by tragedy and lands herself in jail and accused of murder! For the remainder of the book, Taylor spends her time ignoring her lawyer’s advice and snooping around in order to clear her name. While I appreciate the initiative taken by Taylor to clear her name, I often found her lack of listening to her lawyer tiresome. What’s more, though I liked Taylor while reading the book, I found she faded rather quickly once I finished the book which suggests to me, Taylor needs to be a bit more fully developed to be a more memorable character. With that being said, everything else worked for me in this book including the plot, the other characters, and the especially the setting.
Judith Kratt inherited all the Kratt family had to offer—the pie safe, the copper clock, the murder no one talks about. She knows it’s high time to make an inventory of her household and its valuables, but she finds that cataloging the family belongings—as well as their misfortunes—won’t contain her family’s secrets, not when her wayward sister suddenly returns, determined to expose skeletons the Kratts had hoped to take to their graves.
Interweaving the present with chilling flashbacks from one fateful evening in 1929, Judith pieces together the influence of her family on their small South Carolina cotton town, learning that the devastating effects of dark family secrets can last a lifetime and beyond.
If you have followed me for any length of time and really read my reviews, you know I am a lover of good, solid, real characters. In fact, my history will show you I am always going to choose characters over nearly every other aspect of a book. The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt is a ginormous read with such strong characters that I found it hard to put down. What’s more, there isn’t a single character in this book I liked – NOT ONE! – yet I still loved this book.
My reading history and reviews will also reveal my love of books that mix the past and the present and that is exactly what I got with this book. Miss Judith Kratt, a proper Southern woman from an old family is nearing the end of her life and to that end, she is determined to inventory the goods and items in her home for the sake of posterity. As the inventory begins, Miss Judith is taken away, deep into her family’s tragic past to relive how each item, each object factored into the awful that is her history. Even to Miss Judith it seems the items are the carriers of the past, the conduits of tragedy making her list and her memories even more painful.
For decades, Miss Judith has worked to ignore her family’s history. If pressed, she will recount her family’s successes while glossing over the uglier truths those with long memories can still recount. Those truths most certainly involve bigotry, classism, bribery, bullying, and any number of criminal activities up to and including murder. Oh yes, the Kratt family most certainly epitomizes infamy and Miss Judith has worked hard to forget not only these ugly truths but her role in many of them. It isn’t until her inventory begins and long-lost sister comes back home that Miss Judith begins to face the ugly truths of her past.
Make no mistake, Miss Judith’s numerous trips down memory lane coupled with her sister’s recollections are shocking to all involved and completely alter how both women view the events of their collective past. In fact, the secrets and memories that leak out and sometimes get spat out are vile, horrible things that have been allowed to fester for decades. The unearthing of these secrets, the revelations cause everyone involved to rethink their long-held beliefs, especially towards one another.
To make matters far, far worse, Miss Judith and her sister are also dealing with a situation in the present that is beyond distressing. What’s more, as the past begins to come to light, the present situation is greatly impacted and causes the Kratt sister’s to make some difficult decisions that will not only right some of the wrongs of the past, but secure the future for the only innocents in their respective lives.
The Bottom Line: Seriously, there isn’t a single likeable character in this entire book and that made me love it all the more! The merging of the past and the present, the revelation of some very ugly truths, and the despicable acts of literally everyone made this book so very entertaining. Make no mistake, this is by no means an easy read, nor does it deal with easy topics, but the richness, the fullness of the characters and their truly terrible personalities amplify the awful and that very much appealed to me. What one ultimately sees at the end of the read, which is also the end of Miss Judith’s inventory, is an accounting of actions, attitudes, and endeavors and the breaking of a cycle of secrecy that has poisoned a family for decades. For myself, I found this debut novel to be absolutely engrossing and I can’t wait to see what Andrea Bobotis dreams up next!
NEVER SAY NEVER
Sadie Gold is ready to take her career to the next level with the role of a lifetime. Finally, she can shake her reputation as a pretty face with more wealth and connections than talent. But Sadie is not prepared for the wild turn her own life is about to take. The man in charge of training Sadie for her most demanding role yet is none other than her first real boyfriend—the one who took her heart and ran away.
WHEN IT COMES TO LOVE
Bo Ibarra is as good-looking and irresistible as ever. Maybe even more so, now that everything once worked against them—Sadie’s pampered and privileged upbringing and Bo’s childhood in a family struggling to make ends meet—is in the past. But the future is still unwritten…and getting there, together, means coming clean about painful secrets and slashing through nasty tabloid rumors while trying to control the attraction that crackles between them. Maybe it’s finally time for them to walk off into the sunset and into a true and lasting love?
Though Sadie Gold won’t admit it to her friends, she still hasn’t gotten over her first true love, the man who shattered her heart more than 10 years ago. To be fair, Sadie will barely admit the truth to herself, but the universe has plans for Sadie and admitting the truth is absolutely one of those plans 😊
For the last 10 years, Sadie has focused all her attention on improving herself as an actress and convincing people she is serious about her craft. Sadie is tired of the public’s assumption that she is just a spoiled little rich girl whose parents bought her career and she’s looking to correct that misconception in a big way. Oh, make no mistake, Sadie is rich, but she isn’t spoiled, and she’s worked her butt off to earn every role she’s gotten. In fact, it’s her latest role in a huge action movie that Sadie hopes will earn her the respect she has worked so hard for. She’s trained, she prepared, and with filming about to commence, there’s nothing that can derail her!
Sadie planned and the Universe laughed . . . . . HARD!
Bo Ibarra has spent the last 10 years doing two things: 1) building his career as a stuntman and; 2) regretting his decision to walk away from Sadie Gold. Not once in 10 years have their paths crossed, until now. With Sadie’s new movie set in Chicago and filled with stunts, Bo and his company are perfectly placed to coordinate the stunts. Though Bo was expecting to see Sadie the first day of filming, Sadie wasn’t expecting him. While Bo had hoped the reunion would be good, Sadie is clearly taken aback and somewhat frosty. If his plans to win her back are going to work, Bo is going to have to make amends and prove to the woman he still loves that he can be trusted with her heart.
As the days on set begin to unfold, Sadie finds all her old feelings for Bo rising to the surface. She’s done a damn fine job of keeping those feelings locked away and unacknowledged for 10 years but being face to face with Bo regularly is wobbling her resolve. Bo is everything she has ever wanted and more, but he walked away from her once and the heartbreak nearly killed her. She has to trust him on set with her body (the stunts, you pervert!) but trusting him with her heart is harder to do. With each encounter, Sadie allows herself to remember more about her past with Bo and to bravely confront him about his actions. Thanks to age, wisdom, and experience, both Bo and Sadie are better able to comprehend and accept that the past is the past and if they truly want a future with one another, the past is going to have to remain just that, the past. Unfortunately, not everyone in their lives is happy with the situation and with one bombshell, Bo and Sadie are blown apart once again.
The Bottom Line: I know I said this yesterday about book two, but here goes . . . . I liked this book even better than the one before it 😊 Sadie and Bo are by far my favorite series couple and it has everything to do with their shared past (aaaw, second chance romance!) and they’re deliciously naughty, naughty bits!! I love past meets present books and this book certainly satisfied that love. Furthermore, I feel like Sadie and Bo, probably because of their shared past, are the most mature couple of the series to date and that very much appealed to me. I am so glad I stumbled across this series and can’t wait to see what the author has in store for the last two friends in this crazy group of awesome girls!
English professor Bonnie Blythe expects her life to play out like her favorite novels, especially now that her long-term boyfriend has finally proposed. So when a shocking discovery leads Bonnie to end her engagement, she decides to close the book on love. But the plot thickens when a brand-new character enters the scene—and quickens Bonnie’s heart.
With his brilliant blue eyes, sexy accent, and irresistible charm, Theo Wharton is like a romantic hero straight out of a Jane Austen novel. When fate places Bonnie in England for a summer—conveniently close to Theo—she realizes a hot friends-with-benefits fling is exactly what she needs to start a fresh chapter. Just as Bonnie begins to believe she’s falling in love, an eye-opening revelation into Theo’s life makes Bonnie feel like she’s wandered into one of her favorite books. Will Bonnie have the courage to risk her heart and turn the page with the dashing Brit to find her true happy ending after all?
Bonnie Blythe has known since she was a child exactly her life will play out. She will continuously indulge her love of literature and she will marry the man she has been in love with since elementary school. With the exception of no set wedding date, everything is right on schedule for Bonnie and going exactly according to plan. Well, until she walks in on her fiancé with another woman; that sort of derails the old life plan.
Though Bonnie is sad about the end of her engagement, she isn’t quite as broken up as she expected to be. What’s more, she finds herself thinking more and more about a most intriguing man she met while in the midst of helping her best friend, Cassie Crow find her happily ever after with her hot Scot, Logan Reid. Logan’s partner in crime, Theo Wharton is a curious man with fine manners, a brilliant education, a love of literature, and a proper British title. He is every girl’s dream but Bonnie’s interest in Theo troubles her.
Theo Wharton has spent his life knowing certain things to be true: 1) the men in his family have failed his family, 2) he will not, under any circumstances follow in the footsteps of the men in his family and, 3) in order to save his family’s legacy and lands, Theo must marry a wealthy woman, even if love isn’t a part of the equation. Until he met Bonnie Blythe, Theo was certain he could fulfill his familial promises with little to no difficulty. Bonnie Blythe is most certainly a difficulty and now that she is single and available, Theo has every intention of pursuing her even if it means finding a new way to save his family.
As Fate would have it, Bonnie finds herself in England for the summer teaching a course near and dear to her heart, Shakespeare. As Fate would also have it, Bonnie is in close proximity to Theo which presents her with wonderful and sexy possibilities for her time in England. While there, Bonnie and Theo become quite friends and also begin to understand one another a bit better. Theo understands Bonnie’s true intentions and desires for her life, while Bonnie begins to understand how conflicted Theo is regarding his family and duty toward them. As one might expect, the understanding brings clarity and clarity, as it so often does leads to decisions. Decisions don’t always bring happy endings and for Bonnie and Theo an HEA may not be possible.
The Bottom Line: With the exception of one thing, I enjoyed this second installment of the Sometimes in Love series even more than the first. The only thing I wanted a bit more of was some serious fire power out of Bonnie when she caught her fiancé with the other woman. Outside of that single issue, I got great pleasure out of this book and, like its predecessor completed it in a single sitting. Even more than Cassie and Logan, I liked Bonnie and Theo immensely and their story was quite wonderful. Between their general attitudes and tendencies and the constant literary references, I, like Bonnie was quite smitten and more than ready for book three.
Cassie Crow, a pop-culture reporter for a TV talk show, is focused on becoming a “serious” journalist. But when she stumbles into a kilted Highlander with a killer accent, Cassie decides that taking one night off from work and spending it with a sexy Scot couldn’t hurt. . .
Logan Reid has built a career on his charm, hosting a series of off-the-wall hijinks on the Web. But when the Scottish prankster meets the all-American, equal parts intelligent and irresistible Cassie, Logan realizes that one night of fun won’t be enough. Could it be that this career-focused, commitment-phobic couple is finally ready to take a chance at true and lasting love?
Cassie Crow and her four best friends have spent their summer travelling around Europe and having the time of their lives. With only a few stops left before returning home, Cassie has ticked off every item on her to-do list except one, a hot, sweaty one-night stand with a beautiful stranger. As it happens, Scotland, her next to last stop has just what she has been seeking and he’s wearing a kilt!
Logan Reid has spent his life as a prankster and it has paid off in spades. He is world-famous, gets to live like a kid, and get paid for it! Until recently, Logan has been completely satisfied with his life, but now there is a possibility for advancement he never thought possible. In order to secure his advancement, Logan must prove to producers his appeal can reach a larger, broader audience. To do that, Logan must pull off the mother of all pranks and he does so with the beautiful and completely clueless Cassie Crow.
In a matter of just a few moments Logan not only has the epic prank he needs, but his head has been so twisted and turned around by the luscious Cassie Crow that he isn’t sure he can bring himself to use the footage. What’s more, with the help of her friends, Logan is able to “accidentally” run into Cassie again before she leaves for home. In that brief amount of time, Logan is utterly convinced he will do nothing to harm Cassie even if it means sacrificing his own career advancement.
Meanwhile, back in America and back to reality . . . .
Cassie is back at work and more determined than ever to move on from her fluff position at the TV station and on to a more serious role. With Scotland, the hot Scot, and the stupid filmed prank behind her, she’s ready to get down to business. Nothing is going to derail her plans until the moment Logan Reid shows up in her town. Wait what?? As it turns out, without releasing the video of the embarrassing prank, Logan has still been able to achieve his goals and now that Cassie feels safe from the threat to her budding new career path, a real relationship with Logan seems entirely possible. For several months the plan works, and Cassie is blissfully happy with her one-night stand turned boyfriend.
And then that one drunken mistake causes it all to come crashing down . . . .
The Bottom Line: This was my first Melonie Johnson book and I found myself quite taken with her brand of rom-com. Cassie and her friends – right down to the last one – are all delightful, successful, educated young women living their best lives possible. They support one another, tease one another, and encourage one another even when the plan is crazy. I love the varying personalities, all of which come together to create a wonderful circle of women. As so often happens for me, a book can be made or broken by dialogue and in this instance, the dialogue is sharp, fast, witty, and often sarcastically awesome. In all, I found every element of this book to be a fine introduction to a new series and new-to-me author.