Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Fantastic characters, Christmas cozy feeling
Cons: Plot is uneven, timeline issues
The Bottom Line:
Starts with dead neighbor
Mixes in great characters
But under serves plot
Death of a Neighbor Complicates Winnie’s Plans
I am always on the lookout for a promising new series, not that I need any more series to try to read. The Cider Shop Mysteries sounded promising, so I jumped right in with the first, Apple Cider Slaying.
Winnie Montgomery has grown up on her grandparent’s orchard in Blossom Valley, West Virginia, but now that her grandfather has passed away, she and her granny are struggling to keep the orchard open. One issue is that their fruit stand closes down during the winter months, and they don’t bring any more income in until they reopen in spring. Winnie has started planning several ideas to help bring in revenue all year, including a new cider shop on the premises. She just has to get the bank to give her a small business loan.
However, her meeting with the loan officer doesn’t go well at all when they find the body of Nadine during the tour. Nadine has owned the neighboring farm for years, and she and Granny seem to constantly be fighting over something. Given this history, the police begin to look at Granny. Winnie knows this is ridiculous and sets out to find the real killer. Meanwhile, business has dropped off and the bank is hesitating about the loan. Can Winnie clear Granny and save the orchard?
I often see discussions of what is more important in a book, characters or plot. I maintain that the two need to be mixed well, and, unfortunately, this new book shows what happens when that doesn’t happen.
The plot moves along with fits and starts. Now, hear what I am saying. There are plenty of events going on to keep your interest, however, these events cover the fact that Winnie isn’t gathering much in the way of clues pointing to any suspects. The sub-plot involving opening the cider shop seems to take over the book much of the time, as well, with Winnie focusing on her plans for that and worrying about how to save the orchard. I get that this is the Cider Shop Mysteries, and I certainly expect to have sub-plots related to that. I just felt that the balance was off.
On the other hand, the characters are fantastic. Winnie and Granny come to life on the page, as do Winnie’s friend Dot and the sheriff, Colton. The supporting players are well drawn, too, although they don’t have as much page time as these four do. I truly did enjoy spending time with them.
Just how much I was enjoying spending time with them struck me in the second half when a certain event made me gasp and keep reading a little longer than I had intended to read that day. So, clearly, I came to care about the characters. And clearly, there are exciting events that happen over the course of the book. I just felt like the mystery was underdone overall.
This book also featuring some timeline issues as Winnie keeps mentioning things that contradict what she’s said before as to what part of the month they are in or even when the sun sets. I know, I know, I’m being picky, but it really bothered me.
This book takes place mostly in the week to week and a half after Thanksgiving – the beginning of Christmas season. I loved that aspect of the book. It really helped sell the cozy nature of the story as well, with weather cooling down, decorating, Christmas carols, and plenty of sweet treats.
Speaking of sweets treats, we are treated to four recipes at the end of the book. Yes, one is a cider recipe, but only one. They all sound delicious.
Author Julie Anne Lindsey is very prolific, also writing under the names Jacqueline Frost and Bree Baker, and has an ever-growing fan base. Based on how I felt about the characters here, I can see why.
For me, Apple Cider Slaying turned out to be a mixed bag. While I love the characters, I wish the mystery had been stronger. Julie Anne Lindsey’s many fans, however, will be delighted to pick up this book and make some new friends.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.