All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).
Scoop to Kill by Wendy Lyn Watson (Mystery A-La-Mode #2) – 4
A reception to honor outstanding achievement at the local college turns tragic when Tally Jones’s niece, Alice, finds the body of grad student Bryan. Bryan was another local attending the college, although he had clearly been making some enemies along the way. With Alice in the thick of things, Tally starts spending a little less time at her ice cream shop, Remember the A-La-Mode, and more time at the college looking for clues. Will she find the killer?
While the mystery starts strongly with the discovery of Bryan’s body just a few pages in, the book still seems to wander a bit. We are gathering clues and information on the suspects, but it isn’t until the second half that it feels like Tally is truly investigating and we are beginning to find clues and disregard the red herrings. Once this happens, the book gets very good, and I was fully hooked. Tally and her immediate circle are a fun group, and I enjoyed spending time with them. I also enjoyed the cameos by some of the supporting cast from the first book. The suspects were strong enough to help us tell them apart, but they could have spent a little more time on the page to be fully developed. I had forgotten that there is a love triangle in this series, although it looks like that is coming to a head, which I appreciated. There is more language scattered throughout this book than is typical for a cozy, but this is still a light, fun cozy sure to keep you cool on a warm summer day. You might want to make sure you have some ice cream on hand first, however, to satisfy any cravings.
Murder with a Cherry on Top by Cynthia Baxter (Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mysteries #1) – 4
Kate McKay has returned to her hometown of Wolfet’s Roost in the Hudson River Valley of New York, and she has opened her own ice cream shop. Her only possibly concern is that it is across the street from the bakery owned by Ashley Winthrop. The two have known each other all their lives, and they have never gotten along. Sadly, Kate hasn’t even been opened a week before she gets proof that Ashley intends to continue their feud. But when Ashley is murdered the day after the two have a very public fight, Kate finds herself questioned by the police. Can she figure out what really happened before she is arrested for a crime she didn’t commit?
First books in series walk a fine line between introducing us to characters and giving us a good mystery. This one errs on the side of character backstory, which makes the first quarter very slow plot wise. Things do pick up as we go along, and by the second half the mystery is in full swing. Once it got going, I found the mystery good with an ending I didn’t suspect yet one that made sense. Kate, her Gran, and her niece are all solid characters and I enjoyed spending time with them. I am curious where Kate’s love life will go after what we learned and the characters we met here. The suspects don’t get much page time, but they seem real from the little bit of time we did get to spend with them. And there is plenty of talk about ice cream, which made me crave one of my favorite desserts. There are four delicious sounding recipes at the end, so you can bring a bit of Kate’s shop home with you. If you are looking for a new series to help you cool off as the summer heats up, this debut is for you.
The Wanted by Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike #17) – 4
Elvis Cole thinks his current assignment will be easy. Single mother Devin Connor has hired him to find out where the money, clothes, and fancy watch that her teenage son, Tyson, have are coming from. She thinks that Tyson has started selling drugs, but it isn’t long before Elvis determines that Tyson is part of a trio that is robbing houses in the LA area. While Devin isn’t happy with the news, she’s preparing to deal with it, and Elvis thinks the assignment is over. However, that night Tyson disappears and a frantic Devin asks Elvis to find him. As Elvis once again begins to hunt for the teen, he discovers that someone else is after the teen and his friends, someone leaving dead bodies in their wake. Will Elvis be able to find Tyson in time?
This is yet another satisfying thrill ride from the pen of Robert Crais. The story starts strong and keeps us going until we reach the end. Unfortunately, it does have a few trademark Robert Crais issues, including Joe Pike acting a bit like a deus ex machina, although it isn’t as bad as in some books. Also, parts of the book rely on characters being too stupid to live (I was rooting for one to die, in fact). The characters could all be stronger, for example I couldn’t keep the main villains straight at all. But they are developed enough that I cared about the outcome. This is one of those books where it is easy to pick apart the flaws, but it is such a fun thrill ride that I’m glad I read it.
Risky Biscuits by Mary Lee Ashford (Sugar and Spice Mysteries #2) – 4
“Sugar” Calloway and her business partner Dixie Spicer have taken on a new cookbook client, the St. Ignatius Crack of Dawn Breakfast Club. The group is famous for their all you can eat biscuits and gravy breakfasts, and they want their cookbook to raise money to refurbish the park where they hold their breakfasts. Alma is the de facto head of the group, and she is also a neighbor and friend of Greer, Sugar’s landlady, in the retirement community where Greer now lives. One day, Alma goes missing only for the police to report that she died under mysterious circumstances. This throws the cookbook project into chaos, but Greer is very concerned about what happened to her friend. Can Sugar uncover a few clues while making sure the cookbook makes it to print on time?
Reading this book, I realize I have completely fallen in love with the setting. St. Ignatius seems like a charming small town that I would love to visit (between murders, of course), and the author’s descriptions of Iowa make it sound beautiful. The book takes a little time to focus before the plot really starts to get going. As I figured, those early wanderings did come into play as the story wound to its logical conclusion. I thought I knew where things were going early on, but it turned out I was wrong. The characters in this series are all strong and just as charming as the setting. And there’s the food. While reading, I was drooling at the descriptions of food, so I was happy for the four recipes we find at the end. This book will leave you hungry for delicious food and another trip to this charming small town.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
The Pawful Truth by Miranda James (Cat in the Stacks Mysteries #11) – 4
Charlie Harris has decided to indulge his love of history by auditing a class at Athena College. On his first day, he is impressed with his professor, Dr. Carey Warriner, who is obviously popular not only because of his good looks but also because of his abilities as a lecturer. However, part of an exchange between Dr. Warriner and a fellow student as Charlie is leaving concerns Charlie. When that student dies under mysterious circumstances, the campus rumor mill heats up, and Charlie is left to wonder if he is taking a class from a murderer.
Before you ask, yes, Diesel (the “Cat” of Cat in the Stacks) is a very active part of this mystery, and is as charming as ever, although the new kitten in Charlie’s life does his best to steal the show. Honestly, the entire cast of regulars, human and animal, are at their best, and it is always a delight to spend time around these characters. The plot is a little weak, however, feeling more like a soap opera at times and filled with speculation at others. However, it does reach a logical conclusion. Honestly, time with these characters is never really wasted, and I enjoyed my time with them again here.
NOTE: I received a copy of this book.
The Secret of Shadow Ranch by Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew #5) – 4
It’s summer, and Nancy has been invited to spend it with her best friends Bess Marvin and George Fayne on the ranch their uncle Ed and aunt Bet have just bought in Arizona. However, she has barely landed when she learns that things aren’t going well on the ranch. Someone is trying to drive the new owners off the land with acts of sabotage, most of which are foreshadowed by a phantom horse. There is a legend that an old outlaw cursed the ranch, but Nancy thinks the culprits are more modern and very real. Can she figure out what is going on and why?
This may be the fifth book in the series, but this is the first time we are seeing Bess and George, Nancy’s usual sleuthing companions. They jump right in here for another action-packed story. The general plot outline is fairly obvious early on, including a massive coincidence in the story, but that didn’t keep me from turning pages as quickly as I could. As an adult I find the characters thinner than I remember, but we still like them enough to care about the outcome. Since the book was last updated in the 1950’s, some of the language is a little dated (it even stopped me a little), but I doubt it will slow down today’s kids as they race to see how Nancy will piece together this fun mystery.
Ripe for Vengeance by Wendy Tyson (Greenhouse Mysteries #5) – 5
Some of Denver Finn’s friends are coming to town, and Megan Sawyer is excited to see a different side of her boyfriend. They don’t make a good first impression, however, when their dinner together is filled with not so hidden tension. These friends are in town as part of a corporate charity weekend to mentor kids at a nearby school for troubled teens, but that event goes wrong when one of the adults is murdered. The police are looking at a teen as the likely killer, but Megan doesn’t think the teen did it. Can she find the real killer?
This series always has strong characters, and this book is no different. We get to know everyone involved in this case well, and as events unfold, their reactions and the impact on their live help pull us into the story. Those looking for a twist a minute might find the pace a little slow, but I found the book compelling since I was so drawn to the characters. Not to say that this book doesn’t have some good twists and an ending that surprised me. We do get to see the series regulars and those introduced in previous books, but they are in supporting roles, so they don’t take over from the characters important to this case. There is a little foul language, and the more serious tone helps put this on the traditional side of the spectrum for me. Just make sure that your mood matches the book, and you’ll be fine. This isn’t to say that it is all serious; we get a fun sub-plot involving a pig and plenty of cuteness from the animals on Megan’s farm to help lighten things. Plan to set aside quite a bit of time when you open this book because you won’t want to stop reading.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
The Tell Tail Heart by Cate Conte (Cat Café Mysteries #3) – 5
Things on Daybreak Island have gotten quieter now that it has entered November and the season is officially over. Maddie James is delighted to find that she still has a few locals who drop into her cat cafe. But she’s really surprised about the man who came in, paid for a week in advance, and spends most of his time working on his laptop surrounded by the cats. However, things get interesting when a woman shows up and announces that she believes JJ, Maddie’s cat, is really her cat. Naturally, the encounter upsets Maddie, but it is soon pushed to the back of her mind when a body is found floating in the water next to the yacht club. With a Nor’easter approaching the island, will that interfere with the investigation into the death?
I found it fun to visit this island during the off season, not that it keeps the book from being any less exciting. In fact, there is quite a bit happening here, and it takes some time for Maddie to unravel what relates to the murder and what is just red herring. By the time she does that and we reach the exciting climax, everything makes perfect sense. One of the minor characters in the series really steps into the spotlight with this book, and I enjoyed getting to learn more about him. The suspects are strong, and I loved spending time with the series regulars again. I’m already anxious for the next book to see how the ending of this one is resolved. This is another fun, charming entry in the series.
Scone Cold Dead by Karen MacInerney (Gray Whale Inn #9) – 5
It’s late spring on Cranberry Island, but the beautiful weather is doing nothing for the tensions building. Something is going on with the lobstermen on the island. There are rumors of illegal activity, but no one seems to have any proof. Natalie Barnes is concerned about that, but she is also concerned that her bed and breakfast doesn’t have reservations like in years past. Fortunately, she does have some guests thanks to the new artists commune her niece, Gwen, has opened. But when the tension on the island leads to murder, will Natalie figure out what happened?
It’s always a pleasure to visit Cranberry Island, and this book is no exception. The characters are old friends by this point, and there are a couple of sub-plots that focus on them that helped pull me into the book early. Not that the mystery itself wasn’t compelling, and the sub-plots and mystery weave in and out of each other expertly. There are several good fully developed suspects we meet and plenty of turns before we hit the suspenseful climax. Natalie is working on recipes for a scone competition, so it is no surprise that three of the recipes at the end of the book are scones. Fans of the series will be happy with our latest visit to the island, and this book is fun enough to hook new fans as well.
NOTE: I received a copy of this book.
The Subject of Malice by Cynthia Kuhn (Lila Maclean #4) – 5
English professor Lila Maclean is attending an academic conference she has helped organize near her university in Colorado, and she is looking forward to presenting a paper, attending panels, and rubbing elbows with the publisher that has accepted her book. The downside is that her rival, Simone, and Simone’s twin sister, Selene, are also attending the conference and trying to make life miserable for her. The conference organizers have some surprises up their sleeves, but the dead body after the opening night dinner wasn’t one of them. Did someone’s academic rivalry boil over to murder?
In this book, Lila is approached by her boyfriend, police detective Lex Archer, about helping investigate because she knows the players and the motives. That stretched credibility a bit for me, but I was having so much fun I didn’t let it bother me too much. There is plenty of malice at the conference, not all of it connected to the murder, and that was enough to keep me turning the pages as quickly as possible until I reached the satisfying climax. Lila is once again a great main character who faces a couple of twists in her personal life in this book. We don’t see all of the supporting cast, but the ones we do see are great as usual, and the suspects are strong as well. The setting of the conference, an old movie studio turned into a resort, added a layer of fun to things as well. All told, I give this book a grade of A+.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
The Closers by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #11) – 5
Harry Bosch has returned to the LAPD, joining the Open/Unsolved Unit that has recently been established and partnering again with Kiz Rider. His first day back, they are given a new DNA hit on a cold case from 1988 to work. The case involved a sixteen-year-old girl that was murdered that summer, and the DNA was recovered from the gun that killed her. The match takes them to a petty criminal who has never been arrested for murder or come close to committing murder. Naturally, this make Bosch and Kiz question whether their suspect is guilty. If he isn’t, will he lead them to the killer?
This book started a bit slowly as we were introduced to all the players from the original investigation as Bosch and Kiz work on getting up to speed on the case and see if they can figure out how the DNA results fit. However, rest assured, there are still plenty of twists coming before the book is over, and fans of author Michael Connelly won’t be disappointed in how things unravel by the time the book ends. Bosch is still a fantastic lead character, and I enjoyed getting to spend time with Kiz again. Several other regular players pop in. Since this book takes place 17 years after the murder took place, it allows us to see how murder impacts those left behind, especially when they have no idea what happened. This adds a complexity to the book I enjoyed, and it left me wondering how these events impacted the new characters if it did at all. As always, Michael Connelly proves why he has so many fans.
Let’s Fake a Deal by Sherry Harris (Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries #7) – 5
Sarah Winston’s latest garage sale turns into a disaster when the police show up just after she has opened. It turns out Sarah is selling stolen goods, and the people who hired her have vanished without a trace, making it look even more like she is guilty. That night, Sarah meets up with her friend Michelle at a local bar. Michelle, who is up for a promotion in the Air Force, is facing a bogus discrimination complaint. The next morning, one of the men Michelle thinks is behind her complaint is found dead in her car. Can Sarah clear her friend while keeping herself out of jail?
With two strong mysteries, I’m sure it is no surprise to say that this is a fast-paced book. Sarah is always working on one case or the other, and author Sherry Harris balances them perfectly, so we can easily follow what is happening in both cases. I had a hard time putting the book down, which is standard for this series, and I was satisfied when I reached the ending. The characters are great as always; I’m especially enjoying getting to know Sarah’s brother Luke. This book highlights another issue that career military people face without forgetting that it is a mystery novel first, something I especially enjoy about this series. Now comes the wait for the next time I get to visit Sarah.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.