Links will take you to my full review.
All ratings are on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (great).
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manasala (Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries #1) – 4
After a disastrous breakup with her fiancé, Lila Macapagal has moved back to Shady Palms, Illinois, and is trying to help her aunt save her Filipino restaurant. One issue the restaurant is having is Derek Winter, Lila’s high school sweetheart who has becoming the local food critic and has written several nasty reviews of Tita Rosie’s Kitchen. When he comes back for yet another meal, he winds up dropping dead in his meal. Now the police are looking at Lila as a murderer, Tita Rosie’s Kitchen is closed until further notice, and Lila feels like the only hope of a happy ending is figuring out what is going on herself. Can she keep herself out of jail?
This is a solid debut. The mystery starts off quickly, and Lila learns plenty of secrets on her way to uncovering what really happened. The climax is suspenseful and creative. The characters are all strong. We even learn a bit more about Derek that makes him a little sympathetic although not completely likable. The rest of the cast is strong. A few supporting players blend together, but that is done on purpose, and we see glimpses of their individual personalities. We do have the beginnings of a love triangle here. Some of Lila’s friendships are so strong already, they help make those characters more real for us. I did feel a few of the themes of the book weren’t quite as well developed as I would have liked. Hopefully they will be explored more in further books. If the descriptions of food make you as hungry as they made me, you’ll be happy to see the four recipes at the end of the book. This is a strong debut, and I already can’t wait to find out what happens next to the characters.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
For Batter or Worse by Jenn McKinlay (Cupcake Bakery Mysteries #13) – 5
Mel and Joe’s wedding day is fast approaching. For their reception, they’ve picked the resort where Oz has landed the job of head pastry chef. However, things are not going well for Oz there as the head chef is proving to be an egomaniac. One day, Mel and Angie witness a very public fight between Oz and the head chef. Then, a couple of days later, Mel and Joe find Oz bending over the dead body of the chef. Mel doesn’t need anything else on her to do list, but can she figure out who the killer is before she walks down the aisle?
If you were worried that Oz was leaving the series after the events of the previous book, this proves that he will still very much be part of the series. He gets some interesting character growth, in fact. The rest of the gang is all present, and I enjoyed laughing at their antics as they worked to solve the case. The mystery is filled with plenty of suspects and red herrings, and I only began to figure things out right before Mel put it all together. I loved the final chapter. If the book makes you hungry, you’ll be happy with the four recipes at the end. Once again, fans will devour this book and be ready for Mel’s next adventure.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
While the Clock Ticked by Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys #11) – 4
When a man comes to the Hardy home, Frank and Joe are only too happy to offer their detective services in place of their vacationing father. The man just bought a home, and he is receiving threatening notes inside a secret room. Not only does he worry about who is threatening him and why, he is also puzzled by how the notes are getting into the secret room, which only opens on a timer. Meanwhile, the Bayport harbor is being plagued by thieves. Can the Hardy Boys figure out what is happening?
Anyone familiar with the series can guess how parts of the plot will come together, but there is plenty of action and narrow escapes along to way to keep the reader interested. Plus the locked room part of the story proves to be interesting. The characters are thin, but I didn’t notice as a kid, and I still get caught up in the action as an adult. There are some dated references, which isn’t surprising for a book from the 1960’s, but they are minor and most kids probably won’t notice. The action will make kids of all ages glad they read it.
Death by Equine by Annette Dashofy – 4
Veterinarian Jessie Cameron has agreed to fill in for her mentor, Doc Lewis, at Riverview Racetrack so Doc can take a much-deserved two-week vacation. However, the night before Doc is supposed to leave, he is killed by one of the horses at the track. Jessie’s work at the track makes her begin to question the supposed accident that killed Doc. Could there be more to it than the police are seeing? The more Jessie investigates, the more she begins to see her mentor in a different light. Did she really know the man? What secret she is uncovering led to his death?
I always love it when an author manages to come up with an unusual murder weapon, and that’s exactly what author Annette Dashofy has done for this stand alone. I may have been impatient, but I felt the book was a bit slow at the beginning, but it wasn’t long before I was caught up in the story and all Jessie was learning. The climax was wonderfully suspenseful. I did struggle with how little the police believed Jessie, which is funny since it is part of so many other books I read. The characters are wonderful. They are fully realized and help draw us into the story, confusing us on what exactly is going on until Jessie figures it out. Like Annette Dashofy’s other books, this one has a smattering of foul language and a tad more violence than in the cozies I normally read. These are cozy adjacent or traditional, and I’m sure if you enjoy cozies you’ll enjoy these, too. If you’ve wanted to try Annette’s books, this is a great place to jump in. If you are already a fan, you’ll enjoy this one as well.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
A Trail of Lies by Kylie Logan (Jazz Ramsey #3) – 5
With her boyfriend unavailable due to an assignment with the police, Jazz Ramsey has promised to look in on Kim, Nick’s mother, to make sure she is already. While Kim is an alcoholic, Jazz still wasn’t expecting the frantic middle of the night phone call announcing that Kim killed someone in her backyard. Jazz hurries over to find no body in the backyard, and the cadaver dogs she brings in give a split decision about whether someone died there. Then a body does turn up in a park, and Kim clams up. Can Jazz figure out what is really going on?
I came to author Kylie Logan because of her fun cozies. This book has a more serious tone. It deals with Kim’s alcoholism and its effect on Nick pretty realistically, for example. But those moments are lightened by the dogs that Jazz works with, especially her new puppy. The result are characters that are very rich. I love Jazz, and her family and friends do a wonderful job of rounding out her character while also being real themselves. The mystery is strong with plenty of suspects and events to keep us confused until Jazz finally begins to piece things together at the end. All of the books in this series are wonderful. If you’ve missed them, start them today. If you’re already a fan, you’ll enjoy this one.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book.
“S” is for Silence by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone #19) – 4
On July 4, 1953, Victoria Sullivan vanished without a trace and was never heard from again. Her abusive husband lived under the shadow of suspicion, and her then seven-year-old daughter, Daisy, has lived with the questions about what happened to her mother and why. And so, thirty-four years later, she hires PI Kinsey Millhone to try to finally solve this mystery. Kinsey is reluctant to take on the case. After all this time, what can she find? Yet, as she begins to poke around, she suspects that the people she is talking to know more than they’ve ever told the police or are telling her. Can she figure out what happened?
Cold cases can make excellent novels, and this is a perfect example. It is obvious early on that Kinsey is gaining new information, but how that is going to play out keeps us guessing until the end. I was certain I knew who it was, but I was wrong. Still, the ending did make sense to me. The characters are strong as always. Kinsey spends much of the book out of town, so we don’t see much of the regulars, which was disappointing, but a minor issue. While all the “modern” 1987 scenes are narrated from Kinsey’s first-person point of view, there are sections from other character’s point of view back in 1953. As good as some of those scenes are, sadly, there are some very graphic scenes in them. We could have easily done without them and it wouldn’t have impacted the story at all. I’m taking a star off for that. If you are a fan, be prepared to skim those scenes and you’ll still enjoy the book overall.
Murder in Murray Hill by Victoria Thompson (Gaslight Mysteries #16) – 5
New York City Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy gets a new case when a man walks into police headquarters wanting to report his daughter missing. Henry Livingston has no clue where Grace might have gone, but Frank quickly figures out that she has been responding to lonely hearts ads in the newspaper trying to find herself a husband. While she might have eloped with someone, all signs point to something much worse. Is Grace still alive? Can Frank and Sarah Brandt find her?
This book is darker than some of the others in the series, but it deals with that darker subject sympathetically, and there aren’t any details we don’t need. The darker subject of the mystery is balanced out by lighter sub-plots involving Sarah and Frank’s future plans. (And if you aren’t up to date on the series, know that this one spoils some major events from the end of the previous book.) I love the characters, so it was wonderful to check in again with them and find out what is happening in their lives. The mystery is twisty; just when I thought I knew where things were going, something would happen to confuse me again. The world of 1890’s New York City is brought to life expertly without slowing the story down at all. This is another page turning entry in the series.
Swift Run by Laura DiSilverio (Charlie and Gigi Mysteries #3) – 5
With Charlie out recovering from their last case, running Swift Investigations has fallen to her partner, Gigi. And Gigi is very reluctant to take on their new client when the last person she wants to see walks through the door – Heather-Anne, the woman that Gigi’s ex-husband Les ran away with over a year ago. Now Heather-Anne is back in town and wants to hire Swift Investigations to track down Les, who she also claims is back in Colorado Springs. Can Gigi and Charlie find him?
Sadly, this appears to be the final book in this series. Fortunately, it is another fabulous book. Once again, we are treated to a great mystery with plenty of twists and turns. And we get lots of laughs from the situations that Charlie and Gigi find themselves in. Since this is more Gigi’s story than Charlie’s, she takes over first-person narration duties, but Charlie still gets plenty of time in the spotlight thanks to chapters from her third-person point of view. We also get some good character growth, especially for Gigi, something she has needed. While a couple of threads aren’t wrapped up, I was satisfied with how the series ended. If you are looking for a light mystery, check out these books.
Something Wicked by Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand #3) – 4
Annie Lawrence and her finance, Max Darling, have landed parts in the local theater’s summer production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Annie loves the play, so she wants to be enjoying it more, but a series of pranks, growing more serious, have dampened her enthusiasm. Just days before the curtain is supposed to open, one of her fellow actors is killed backstage during the rehearsal. When Max becomes the only suspect in the eyes of the law, Annie jumps in to try to figure out what happened. Can she free Max?
As a fan of Arsenic and Old Lace (the play, which is better than the movie), I really got a kick out of the scenes involving the play. While I did enjoy the book, I’m of two minds about it. The plot is complex, yet everything makes sense when Annie confronts the villain. Yet I felt like the pacing was off. The characters are fun and provide some laughs, but instead of growing over the course of the story, they slip into caricature. The plans for Annie and Max’s wedding provide a funny sub-plot that makes me wonder just what their wedding winds up looking like. This book originally came out in 1988, so it and some of the authors name-dropped are dated, but as long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine. This is another case where the flaws are easy to spot, but I still enjoyed the book overall.
Bear Bottom by Stuart Gibbs (FunJungle #7) – 4
Teddy Fitzroy is in Yellowstone with his parents and the McCrackens to evaluate a ranch that J.J. McCracken is thinking about buying. The ranch is just outside of the national park, and the Fitzroys are also using the time to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The ranch raises bison, and they’ve had a couple go missing, so Teddy is asked to try to figure out what has happened to them. Before he can even start on that, the house where everyone is staying is broken into by a Grizzley bear. In the aftermath, Mrs. McCracken’s expensive necklace disappears. Can Teddy solve both mysteries?
Part of the fun of the FunJungle series is the setting and the recurring characters. I’ll admit I missed them. However, this book does have a core cast of regulars, and I enjoyed spending time with them. Both mysteries are intriguing and kept the pace steady. Watching Teddy work is always fascinating, and we got some wonderful action scenes along the way. While the series always tackles some environmental issues, I felt like this book lectured a bit more than the series usually does. It doesn’t help that one thing intended to be funny didn’t come across that way to me; instead, if felt like more lectures. I still did enjoy this book overall. It’s just not quite up to Stuart Gibbs’s usual high standards.
Death on the Boardwalk by Cable Wygal (Myrtle Beach Mysteries #1) – 4
Clark Thomas runs a bookstore near the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. His days are usually fairly quiet, and he enjoys helping his customers find just the right beach read for their vacation. However, this particular morning, he arrives at work to find a carpet rolled up by his shop’s back door. When he investigates, he discovers that a body is hidden inside the carpet. Worse yet, he recognizes the victim as Paige, one of his regular customers. Clark can’t help but wonder why the body was dumped behind his store. And why would someone want to kill Paige?
I always enjoy getting to visit a tourist destination via a cozy mystery, and this one brought Myrtle Beach to life. Clark’s bookstore was a bonus, and I enjoyed that aspect of the book as well. Since the mystery includes how as well as who and why, there was plenty to keep me engaged as I read, and I especially enjoyed one twist near the end of the book before Clark figured it all out. Once we reached the end, everything made sense. The characters were good, but could be a little more fleshed out. Clark is the strongest of them, mainly because of a tragedy in his past that is talked about some here. The writing was a little rough near the beginning, with some information given to us in a jarring manner. Fortunately, that got better as the book went along. I could see this turning into a fun series. It’s definitely a good beach read whether you can get to the beach this summer or not.
Murder on the Beach by Various Authors – 5
Surfs up with this collection of eight mystery short stories set on the beach. We’ve got everything from a constantly disappearing family heirloom at a beach side wedding reception to a dead body on a girls’ weekend, a death at a frog leg cooking competition, a ring half buried in the sand, and an accident plagued trip to Cabo San Lucas.
Each story in this collection averaged 40 minutes for me to read, so there is plenty of content in the book. While some of the authors have written about their series sleuths, all of the stories can be read on their own, which was good because I was only familiar with one set of characters before I started the collection. All the stories feature strong characters and fun mysteries in addition to the variety of beach settings. Whether you take this book along to read at the beach or read it at home while dreaming of being at the beach, you’ll enjoy it.
NOTE: I received a copy of this book.