Wednesday, April 25, 2018

REVIEW: What's a Ghost Going to Do?

What's a Ghost Going to Do?
Author: Jane Thayer

My absolutely favorite book as a child was Gus, The Friendly Ghost by Jane Thayer.  My mom ordered it for me from The Weekly Reader Book Club. Every month or so they sent me books. I loved it when the package showed up! I can remember only three of the titles* I got way back then....and two are permanent residents of my Keeper Shelf.

Imagine my total surprise (and very happy reaction!) when I discovered just last week that Gus had a series! His adventures didn't stop with Gus, The Friendly Ghost! There is a series with 7 more books! I was immediately on a mission to read each and every one of them! Gus was one of my best book buddies as a young girl...and I want to know the rest of his story! Two of the books I was able to put on hold at local libraries in the county where I live....when I got the phone call that the books were available, the librarians both sounded surprised I had put a children's book on hold. They are used to me checking out mysteries and thrillers, not kid's books. :) I picked the Gus books up this week, along with a Jo Nesbo and C.J. Box books I had waiting for me at the library.....strange mix. :)

What's a Ghost Going to Do? is just a lovely book!!! The artwork is by Seymour Fleishman just like the first book in the series. It made me smile clear down to my soul. :)

Story basics: Gus lives in an old summer home owned by the Scott family. The family is there in the summer. When falls comes around, they leave. And then Gus' friend Mouse comes to stay with him. Unfortunately, the Scotts decide to sell the old house and build a new one somewhere else. What's a friendly ghost to do when he might lose his home? 

I won't say how it turns out! Read the book! :) 

The illustrations really make the story great! :) 

Jane Thayer is a pen name for author Catherine Woolley. She wrote many children's books under this name, including The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy. I am SO happy to discover that Gus the Ghost is an 8 book series! I will have to collect the other books to go with my copy of Gus, The Friendly Ghost on my keeper shelf. :) I will definitely be reading this entire series....and hunting down used copies for my shelf. I love Gus!! And have since I was 3 years old! 

*The other two books I remember receiving from the Weekly Reader club are: The Laughing Dragon by Kenneth Mahood (which also has a place on my permanent keeper shelf) and The Gollywhopper Egg by Anne Rockwell. The other titles I received were enjoyed.....but not remembered.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


The Bat
Author: Jo Nesbo

I really want to watch the movie The Snowman, based on a Harry Hole book by Jo Nesbo. But I have a rule...if a movie is based on a book, I have to read the book before I watch the film. There is a bit of a problem with that rule sometimes. I am a bit OCD when it comes to reading a series. I always have to start at book 1 and read through in order. The Snowman is book #7 of #11 in the Harry Hole I have a bit of reading to do before I can watch the film.

Jo Nesbo is Norwegian, and his Harry Hole series was not translated into English in order. The first book, The Bat, was written in 1997. But it wasn't published in English until 2012. From what I read, the delay is probably because the novel is set in Australia, not in Oslo as the later books. The second book, The Cockroaches, was also not translated until many years after it's publication in Norwegian. The second book is set in Thailand, as Harry Hole is sent there to assist in a murder investigation. So, technically a reader could jump in on book 3 where Hole is at home in Norway. Word is that the books set in Norway are better. I can't be a judge of that since I haven't read them yet. I'm reading in's just my way.

The basics: Norwegian detective Harry Hole is sent to Sydney, Australia to help investigate the murder of a Norwegian woman, Inger Holter. Australian officials don't really want his help, but he digs into the case anyway. He's paired up with an Aborigine detective, Andrew Kensington. Hole (pronounced Hole-y) finds that there are similar killings of other blonde women, turning the investigation into the search for a serial killer.

If I had to judge the Harry Hole character from this first book....I would have to be honest and say he's pretty unlikable. He makes some really crappy decisions in this first book...from falling off the wagon and making a total drunken ass of himself on more than one occasion to stupidly putting an innocent woman in danger to solve the case. Not to mention the really bad stuff in his past....yikes! Is he a good investigator -- yes. Is he perfect, or even respectable? Not really.  But being an asshole and making some huge mistakes doesn't mean he's a bad detective.....just a flawed one. I know this series gets better as it goes I'm going to give Harry the benefit of a doubt and not declare him too douchey for my reading tastes....yet. He makes some whopping bad judgement calls in this first novel....but he is flawed and undeniably human. And a damned good investigator, drunk or sober.

There is a lot of interesting discussion about Aborigine history, life and beliefs. I enjoyed those portions of the story immensely. And the criminal investigation was engaging and suspenseful, if a bit far-fetched in spots. I liked the way the story ends -- it was perfect.

All in all, Harry Hole is a very flawed character....but I like him anyway. I'm going to keep reading this series and see the development of the character over time. I'm glad I'm coming in when the series is already translated. It does make me wonder how many outstanding similar series I am missing out on because they aren't in English. I love discovering authors who are new to me.....I'm really looking forward to reading more books by Jo Nesbo.

Monday, April 23, 2018

REVIEW: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Author: Shirley Jackson

Constance, Mary Katherine and Uncle Julian all live in Blackwood House. The house and all the land owned by the family are enclosed by fences and a locked gate keeps the local villagers out. Years before, the other members of the family died from poisoning and Constance was put on trial for their deaths. She was acquitted, and the three have lived shut up in the old house ever since. Occasionally Mary Katherine, or Merricat as her sister calls her, goes to town to buy food and supplies. The villagers don't like them. Kids taunt her with catcalls. Adults make comments about poison and murder. They are shunned. Merricat doesn't really care....she spends her days in the woods and wants everything kept the same. Her parents things where they belong. Everything in the house where it belongs. Nothing changed. Then cousin Charles arrives. Merricat knows he's up to something....he isn't to be trusted. And he brings change. What can she do to make him just go away?

This story is twisted, strange and delightfully horrifying. Shirley Jackson's writing is subtle. Everything is there....but the horrific truths build slowly in the background. And just when you think you know what's going to happen....the tale takes an unexpected turn in the other direction. I had to read the ending of this book twice to let it all sink in. The story is perfectly written and ends just as strangely as it begins.

Every town has a house with a story....a place or people that are avoided because of a tragedy, crime or whatever gossip fits the local tale. In this particular village, it's Blackwood House. The gossip and truth slowly merge by the end, and the ending is perfect.

 I'm so glad I finally read this book! It's a chilling and strange tale....great read!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

REVIEW: Spooky Choc Orange Donut Murder

Spooky Choc Orange Donut Murder
Author: Susan Gillard

Heather Shepherd's business, Donut Delights, has reopened after an expansion and renovation. It's fall and Halloween is in the air. Donut Delights has created a lovely chocolate and orange theme doughnut for the season. And, they are providing sweet treats for the most fancy-schmancy Halloween party in town. Sarah Kenny is a wealthy socialite in Hillside, TX and throws parties that are perfect and well-attended by other local elite. Heather and her bestie Amy show up to deliver the doughnuts. Trick or Treat night turns a bit sour as Sarah and another wealthy resident have a pretty public cat fight in the hallway, throwing barbs and insults at each other. Heather and Amy just want to deliver the doughnuts, schmooze a little to promote the shop, and leave quietly. Wanting to politely thank the host and leave, they exit the party but get lost in the large Kenny home. They don't find the front door.....but they do find Sarah Kenny's dead body. Who strangled the snarky right woman with her own tacky party streamer?

Spooky Choc Orange Donut Murder is the 23rd novella-length story in the Donut Hole Mystery series. The stories are light, cozy mysteries that are perfect for those times a mystery lover just wants something short and sweet to read. I turn to this series as a sort of palate cleanser between the tense, suspenseful thriller and horror novels I enjoy. Sometimes I just need a happy ending and a mystery that is quick, simple and just entertaining. I like the characters in the Donut Hole series, the stories are quick to read, and they are definitely cozy mysteries -- no cussing, no gore, no sex or explicit situations. It's a nice break from more adult mysteries that incorporate much more graphic violence and situations.

Although this series does have a serious need for better editing, the books are enjoyable. I can read over typos and figure out incorrect words...but it does pull me out of the story. There are errors that a professional editor will find that spell check programs will not -- like typos that are actually words and slight continuity errors. But, for me, the likable characters, fast paced, simple mysteries and cute doughnut shop background theme make up for the little mistakes here and there. This series is fun and doesn't have to be perfect. It's my go-to series when I need to reset my reading zen before diving into murkier waters with books that portray grisly murders, rape, kidnappings, etc. I can sip hot tea, laugh at Dave the Dog, and let my mind just be entertained. Brain candy. This series does give me doughnut cravings though.....and there is a doughnut shop 3 blocks from my house. :)

There are 60 books the Donut Hole series. But don't panic -- the books are quick, short don't let 60 books stop you from reading this series.There is also a spin-off series, Oceanside Mysteries, that features the same characters. Right now there are 28 books in the Oceanside series with Susan Gillard adding new books frequently. Someday I will catch up with her....I'm almost halfway through the Donut Hole series! On to the next book!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

REVIEW: Tart of Darkness

Tart of Darkness
Author: Denise Swanson

Dani Sloan's life has been on a downturn lately. She left her corporate job after there were some major issues. She had to sign a non-disclosure document so she can't even discuss what happened. Then on top of that, she discovered her boyfriend was actually engaged to marry someone else. But, things take a positive turn when she suddenly inherits a house and decides to embark on a business venture that's more her style -- cooking bagged lunches for local college students and running a catering service. She hopes Chef-To-Go will take off and be successful. In an emergency, she allows three college students to move into the house with her. She provides their room and board and in return they work a few hours a week for her. It's a win-win situation for all. One of the girls sets her up with a catering upscale summer party. Regina Bourne is beautiful and known for her lavish parties. Unfortunately, the day after the event, Regina is found dead on a lounge next to the pool. Because of some problems during the party, Dani and her housemates find themselves suspects in the murder. One of the girls has an uncle who used to be a police officer. So with his help, Dani starts investigating Regina's death. Who killed the spoiled rich girl?

Tart of Darkness is the first book in a new series, the Chef-To-Go Mysteries. I'm not sure I would  classify this book as a "cozy'' mystery....I'm going to say it's cozy-ish. There is no gore, explicit sex or anything completely un-cozy, but there is some language and some minor sexual themes (for example, one minor character enjoys bondage and rough sex) that aren't usually in cozy mysteries. For readers who want to avoid any discussion of sexual themes or for younger readers, this might be one to avoid. As for me, I enjoyed the story.  It's a nice start to a new series! I like the background theme of a college town catering business. Dani is an interesting main character, and the 3 college-age girls she rents rooms to are great supporting characters. The hunky uncle is a nice love interest. The ending of the book seemed a bit abrupt...but it definitely made me wonder when the next book will be coming out. :) The romance angle seemed a bit trope-y as did the sudden inheritance of a huge house that allowed the MC to start a new business venture.....but the book is well-written and fun to read. I didn't really mind the trope-y moments.

All in all, this is an enjoyable cozy(ish) mystery! I will definitely be reading more of this series. Denise Swanson is the author of several cozy mystery series including Scumble River and the Devereaux's Dime Store Mysteries. I think I will start reading the Scumble River series while I want for the next Chef-To-Go mystery!

*I voluntarily read an advanced reader's copy of this book from Sourcebooks via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: How to Hang a Witch

How to Hang a Witch
Author: Adriana Mather

Samantha Mather lived in New York with her dad and step-mother Vivian until her father suddenly fell into a coma. With medical bills mounting, Vivian sells their NYC apartment and moves them to Salem, Massachusetts. Samantha's grandmother owned a house there before she died, and they can live there while Samantha's father is hospitalized. Immediately, things do not go as planned. As a relative of Cotton Mather, a proponent of the Salem witch trials, local descendants of those killed in the trials take a disliking to her. Strange things begin happening....accidents, injuries, deaths. Samantha has felt cursed all of her life. Maybe it's more than a feeling. Maybe she is actually cursed. With the help of a friendly spirit that only she can see, Samantha works to unravel the mystery causing harm to descendants on both sides of the infamous witch trials.

This book is an enjoyable read. The mystery is engaging and the plot moves along at a nice speed. The suspense kept me reading until the very last page. While definitely a YA book dealing with teen social issues alongside the witch trial, history of Salem, etc., the plot is not juvenile. As an adult, I still enjoyed the story. There is no sex, graphic violence or anything that would make this book inappropriate for middle grade aged students through adults. It does have a witchcraft theme...if that isn't your bag, then I'd pass this one by.

How to Hang a Witch is the first book in Adriana Mather's series about Samantha Mather. Luckily I have the second book, Haunting the Deep, on my TBR shelf waiting for me! Interestingly enough, Adriana Mather is actually a descendant of Cotton Mather just like the main character in her series.

REVIEW: The Accidental Guardian

The Accidental Guardian
Author: Mary Connealy

Deborah Harkness and her younger sister, Gwen join a wagon train going west. They are caregivers for two small children whose family is travelling to California to join relatives. Unfortunately, the wagon train is attacked by ruthless criminals. Deborah, Gwen and the children are the only survivors. Rancher Trace Riley happens upon the burning wagons and takes the women and children to his ranch. He's determined to find the men who murdered all those people and protect the survivors. Little does he know that he will also find love along the way.

I love stories about the old west and those who braved the trail to head west, so I knew I would like this book. I don't usually read romance novels, but this story has more than enough action in it to make it more of an adventure than a romance story. Trace is conflicted. He has done some violent things to keep innocent travelers safe and is afraid that it makes him a bad man. Deborah knows that he saved their lives and many others....and does everything she can to make him realize that. The criminals who have been murdering many along the trail for years are dangerous, and Trace knows they have to be stopped. Plenty of action, suspense and danger along with love and faith in this story!

I enjoyed this story. The characters all grow and learn much about relationships, faith and love along the way. There is violence, but it's not graphic or overdone. This is Christian there is no bad language or graphic sex. There are murders, violence and other criminal actions, but no graphic descriptions of bodies, gore, etc.  Some of the events central to the story would lead me to say this is a PG-13 sort of story -- multiple murders, dangerous criminals, etc....not really a story for kids under 13. Very enjoyable western without the racist, sexual or more gritty themes you might find in non-Christian stories. The Christian theme is not over-done.....the characters are Christian and there is talk about God, prayer and their beliefs, but it isn't so strong that it detracts from the main story.

This isn't the usual sort of western that I normally read. It's a bit more simple and light, given the fact that the violence and description are somewhat downplayed to fit the Christian theme. That was sort of a refreshing change. This book focuses on the characters and events, rather than the violent aspects of the "bad guys'' and the romance portion was not just centered on sex. Nice change from what I usually read. I enjoyed the story, and will definitely be reading more of the same from Bethany House. The front cover is perfect....adorable, and fits the story.

The Accidental Guardian is the first book in a series, High Sierra Sweethearts. A second book, The Reluctant Warrior, will be released in October 2018. I normally avoid romance stories, but the western background theme will be enough to keep me reading. Sometimes a break from the thrillers and more gritty stories I usually read is nice.....a bit of Christian romance as a palate cleanser. :) This story was well-written and enjoyable. I will definitely be reading more from Mary Connealy.

**I voluntarily read an advance readers copy of this book from Bethany House via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: Looking Glass

Looking Glass
Author: Andrew Mayne

Professor Theo Cray has a reputation as a rogue scientist willing to do anything to catch a killer. Having just used every scientific and investigative tool at his disposal to catch a serial killer in Montana, Cray is approached by a father whose son disappeared 9 years before. The police assumed the boy was involved in gang activity because the area of South California he disappeared in is known for violence. His father knows better. Cray agrees to look into it, and finds that a killer called the "Toy Man'' has been stalking, enticing and murdering young, black boys for years. Once again acting outside of law enforcement, Cray is on the trail of a dangerous serial killer and making use of every revolutionary scientific approach he knows to pinpoint a suspect, getting himself into hot water again in the process.

Looking Glass is the second book in the Naturalist series, but the first book by Andrew Mayne that I have read. Readers can jump in and start the series with book two like I did, but be forewarned that lots of information about the first story is revealed during the second book. I don't mind....I'm still going to backtrack and read the first book, even though I know who the killer is already and some of the events leading up to his capture. Cray is an interesting character. He is highly intelligent and very knowledgeable about scientific investigation, procedure and testing. He thinks in a purely logical manner, which makes emotion and social situations a bit tough for him. He tends to come off as a jerk, but it's really just directness and true knowledge, not know-it-all jerkishness. He annoys law enforcement because he bypasses their investigations when they refuse to listen to him. He solves cases they can't solve themselves and doesn't care whose toes he steps on.  When I first started Looking Glass, I had a hard time liking this character. He really did come off as a bit of a self-absorbed academic. But, then I got pulled into the story and came to understand that Theo Cray merely looks at all things in a purely logical and scientific manner. He has a goal and uses everything in his disposal to reach that goal -- this time, it's catching a serial killer preying on children. It wasn't long before I was totally on Cray's side, forgiving him for his personality.

This story is well-written and just amazing. The suspense is fantastic and the investigation is incredibly interesting. Cray has access to new scientific tests and tools that help him ferret out clues. Whether or not these things are actually available I have no clue....but the science seemed credible enough to me. I'm no I just went with the flow and enjoyed the story. Loved it! By the end, I was completely immersed in the story. The ending is fantastic! (No spoilers from me! Read the book!)

A third book in this series, Murder Theory, will be coming out in February, 2019. I can't wait!! I will be backtracking to read the first book, The Naturalist. Andrew Mayne has written several other books including the Station Breaker series and the Jessica Blackwood novels. I will be reading his other books while I wait for the new Theo Cray novel.

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this novel from Thomas & Mercer via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Friday, April 20, 2018

REVIEW: Oreo Sprinkled Murder

Oreo Sprinkled Murder
Author: Susan Gillard

Heather Shepherd, her foster daughter Lilly, and bestie Amy go to the new museum in Hillside to see the huge gold nugget on display there. Called The Goose Egg, it is the largest gold nugget ever discovered in Texas. Museum Curator Henry Boddington seems a bit preoccupied when Heather asks him some questions about the nugget. Later when the curator is found dead of a drug overdose and the nugget is missing from the museum, Heather thinks maybe he was a bit more than just preoccupied. Once again, Heather is called in to consult with the local police department to help discover who killed the curator and made off with the gold.

Oreo Sprinkled Murder is the 22nd cozy mystery in the Donut Hole series. The books are novella length and light cozy mysteries. The doughnut shop background theme is cute and the characters are likable. I like reading this series in between heavier mysteries or thrillers as a sort of entertaining palate cleanser. Sometimes I just want to read something light and entertaining...this series definitely fills that need! There are some minor editing issues here and there in this self-published series, but nothing that hampers my enjoyment of the stories. It's definitely my go-to cozy series when I want a quick and easy read to entertain me for an hour or so. The covers always feature a brightly colored doughnut that ties into the story somehow. Never fails to make me crave some fried doughnut goodness. :)

There are 60 books in the Donut Hole series. But readers should not be intimidated by that number. The books are short and easy to read. There is also a spin-off series, Oceanside Cozy Mysteries, that has more than 25 books in it. The author publishes new books in the Oceanside series quite hopefully at some point I will catch up to her! :) I have a lot of reading to do!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

REVIEW: Gemina

Authors: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Gemina is the second book in the Illuminae Files series. The story is told using personal journal entries & drawings, emails, ship communication logs and other information related to an attack on a space station. I absolutely love the creativity and suspense of this series! It's not just a great story...but it's visually entertaining as well. The diagrams, drawings, messages, logs, etc just bring a coolness factor to the story. It makes this series different.....and one of the most entertaining science fiction/action stories I've read in a long time!

In Illuminae, mining corporation BeiTech attacked a colony on Kerenza. To cover up the attack, BeiTech now intends to jump a fleet of drones through the wormhole at Heimdall Jump Station to destroy any survivors of the Kerenza attack. Then, they will also destroy the Jump Station. No witnesses. No survivors. Hanna Donnelly, daughter of the station's captain and two members of a drug-dealing crime family, Ella and Nik Malikov find themselves thrown together to resist the murderous invaders on the station.

I'm always a bit worried when I really love the first book in a series that the subsequent books won't be as good. This time I had nothing to worry about. Gemina is a fabulous continuation of the story started in Illuminae! Lots of action...great suspense...just a very entertaining space action story! Gemina ends on a bit of a I'm very very glad I have the finale of the trilogy, Obsidio on my TBR shelf waiting for me!

I am definitely going to be reading more by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. The Illuminae series is just outstanding! I will be sorry to reach the end....but will jump into other books by these two talented authors!

REVIEW: The Bengal Identity

The Bengal Identity
Author: Eileen Watkins

Cassie McGlone runs a cat boarding and grooming service in Chadwick, NJ. Just as rumors are circulating about a wild cat roaming the nearby hills attacking dogs and children, a man drops off a cat to board at her shop. The cat's fur has a strange texture and appears dirty, so she gives the animal a bath. Brown dye cascades down the drain, revealing that the kitty is an expensive purebred Bengal. The man never comes back to get the cat, so Cassie starts investigating whether the feline might be stolen. When the stranger who dropped the cat off is killed in a hit and run accident and someone attempts to break into Cassie's business, it appears the case is much more than just a case of possible cat-napping.

The Bengal Identity is the second book in the Cat Groomer Mystery series. The covers are always eye-catching and inviting. The bright orange background and lovely Bengal kitty on this latest cover definitely got my attention! The characters are likable and the background theme of a cat groomer and boarding business is fun and interesting. Cassie is an intelligent main character, and the supporting cast, such as Cassie's veternarian boyfriend and her employees, really add to the story. In this newest addition to the series, the mystery moved along at a nice pace with plenty of twists and clues. I thought I had things figured out....I was close, but the plot held some surprises back until the very end.

I like this series. The mix of humor, cat facts and mystery really appeal to me. I'm definitely going to keep reading! The next installment in the series, Feral Attraction, comes out in September 2018.

**I voluntarily read an advance readers copy of this book from Kensington Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

REVIEW: Gus Was a Mexican Ghost

Gus Was a Mexican Ghost
Author: Jane Thayer

Every child has a favorite book. A book that always got picked first during bedtime reading. A book that stays on the shelf even when its owner grows up. A book that gets purchased for children, grandchildren, other people's children because it's just a lovely book.  There are three such books** from my childhood that I remember and ALWAYS keep a copy on hand.  The book always at the very tippy top of the list is Gus the Friendly Ghost by Jane Thayer.

Imagine my shock today when I discovered that Gus was actually a SERIES of books!! After his appearance and designation as friendly....he went on to star in 7 more books! I'm nearly 50 years old...but the thought of more adventures with Gus and the lovely illustrations by Seymour Fleishman had me smiling like I was 5 years old again! I had no idea that Thayer wrote several additional Gus books up until the final one (Gus Loved His Happy Home) in 1989.

I immediately went on a mission to read each and every Gus book! The first one I could find is actually the 5th book in the series. Gus Was a Mexican Ghost! Gus lives in a historical museum with a cat, a mouse, a baby ghost, and a cantankerous human named Mr. Frizzle. Mr. Frizzle yells a lot. The museum is closed every winter. One particular winter, Mr. Frizzle leaves to go to Mexico during the off season. Gus misses Mr. Frizzle while he is gone. A postcard arrives from sunny Mexico that says "Wish you were here.''  Gus decides Mr. Frizzle wants to come home, so he decides to go to Mexico and fetch him. What adventures can a cat, a baby ghost and Gus get into in Mexico?
And can they find Mr. Frizzle?

This is an absolutely lovely children's book! The story is cute and the illustrations are colorful! Mr Frizzle's face turns red when he yells....hilarious! :) This book keeps all the charm I love about Gus is a Friendly Ghost. Mouse became his friend in that book....and is in this story, too. I can't wait to read the rest of the series and learn more about Cora the Cat, the baby ghost and Mr. Frizzle.

(For anyone who wants to know the other two children's books that always have a place on my shelf....they are:  The Laughing Dragon by Kenneth Mahood and Frog & Toad Together by Arnold Lobel)

REVIEW: Banana Coconut Murder

Banana Coconut Murder
Author: Susan Gillard

Ballerinas....the epitome of female grace and beauty. But Isabella Hunt isn't graceful anymore. She's dead. Struck on the head and pushed down a flight of stairs, the ballerina will no longer be the lead dancer in the current production planned by the Hillside ballet school. Heather Shepherd is once again on the case, assisting her husband, Ryan, a detective with the local police department. Who offed the prima ballerina?

Banana Coconut Murder is the 21st novella length story in the Donut Hole cozy mystery series. The books have a doughnut shop theme, with each cover featuring a new doughnut offered in Heather's shop, Donut Delights. These books are quick, simple stories...and definitely cozy. No cussing, no graphic violence, sex or gore. Perfect for reading on vacation, while waiting for appointments or whenever an entertaining but short book is needed. I like the characters and the doughnut shop background theme.

Banana Coconut Murder is an enjoyable read. The mystery proceeds at a good pace, the plot is interesting and the ending made sense. I pretty much had the ending figured out, but the Why behind it was a surprise. There are some nice developments for Heather and Ryan in this book. Made me smile! :)

There are 60 books in the Donut Hole mystery series. But don't freak out -- the books are short, fast reads. A cozy lover could work their way through the entire series with ease. There is also a spin-off series, The Oceanside series, that has almost 30 books. Susan Gillard churns these books out fast. Someday I will catch up with her! :)

On to the next book!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

REVIEW: Bad Neighbors

Bad Neighbors
Author: Maia Chance

Bad Neighbors is the second book in the Agnes & Effie Mystery series. Agnes had a serious falling out with her former fiance in book 1 (he left her for a sexy pilates instructor) and found herself not only heart-broken but homeless. So she joined forces with her Aunt Effie, a feisty older gal, to restore the Stagecoach Inn. The old place has seen many, many better days....

Agnes & Effie have cleaned the inside of the old Victorian. In fact it's spotless. But they are just starting to gauge the enormity of the project ahead of them.....bathroom updates, roof replacement, windows, floors, painting....  It's overwhelming. It's nowhere near time to apply for an innkeeping license or even think about having guests. But when a busload of leaf peepers are stranded by a broken down bus, it seems all the available rooms in town are filled. Four of the leafers will have to stay at the Stagecoach as Effie's guests. They will have plenty to do in town because it's Harvest Festival time in Naneda, NY and there's a murder to investigate. When the tourist bus broke down, the leaf peepers found the  body of a local mechanic stuffed in his car trunk at the repair shop. Dead. Bludgeoned with a wrench. And, owner of Hatch Automotive, Otis Hatch (the man Agnes is head over heels in love with) is taken in for questioning. Can Agnes....along with Effie and the four leaf peepers....solve the murder so that Otis can go on a trip to the mountains with her instead of being arrested for murder?

This newest adventure is filled with the same humor and quirky characters as the first book. Fun to read! The mystery is nicely paced with plenty of suspects and twists. Effie is still feisty and Agnes still manages to get herself into trouble. This time even her eyebrows get in on the action. :) I like this series and will definitely be reading more!

Maia Chance also writes the Discreet Retrieval Agency mysteries and the Fairy Tale Fatal series.

**I voluntarily read an advance readers copy of this book from Crooked Lane via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: Force of Nature

Force of Nature
Author: Jane Harper

Five women go into the Australian wilderness on a corporate team-building excursion. Only four come out. Alice Russell is secretly working with federal authorities investigating her employer. Did she disappear because of that investigation? Is she simply lost? Or something much worse? Federal Agent Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen hope to find their informant alive. The story switches back and forth between the search for Alice, and flashbacks to the hike that led up to her disappearance.

Force of Nature is the second book in the Aaron Falk series. I loved the first book, The Dry. And this second book is just as good! I don't usually like a lot of flashbacks, but in this case, it works. Jumping back in time to the women's hike in the woods together added to the suspense. The plot moves at perfect speed, building tension the whole way. I didn't quite know how things would end until the last few pages. Perfect!

Falk is an interesting main character. He carries a lot of emotional baggage, but is an excellent investigator. He works well with his partner, Carmen. I can't quite figure out his personal life and hang-ups, but neither can it's all good.

Harper really drives home the fact that we never really know casual friends, co-workers or employers very well. Some people hold grudges, harbor secrets, and others are just completely toxic. And nobody can really be sure what someone will do when they are pushed too far.

I can't wait for the next book in this series! Outstanding writing, interesting characters, and killer plots! I definitely recommend both books in this series to anyone who enjoys suspense stories!

Monday, April 16, 2018

REVIEW: Shot in the Dark

Shot in the Dark
Author: Cleo Coyle

I enjoy this series. It's on my list of go-to cozy mystery series when I want a cozy with a good story, well developed background theme and great writing. Set in a fictional NYC coffee house, Village Blend, the mysteries center around shop manager Clare Cosi. The supporting characters -- her detective fiance, coffee shop employees, her ex-husband and his mother who owns the company -- all have their own personalities and add to the richness of the plots. This series is like a coffee shop that serves a fabulous cup of java .... I will keep coming back!

Shot in the Dark is the 17th Coffeehouse Mystery. It seems everyone in the Village is using dating apps. Casual meet-ups seem to be causing all sorts of problems, and Clare is not comfortable with some behaviors she seems becoming commonplace. Then a woman brandishes a gun on the second floor of Village Blend, threatening a man she hooked up with using a dating app. A video of the incident at the coffee shop goes viral online quickly. Things go downhill from there, and the next day Clare discovers a body floating in the river. She recognizes the woman as a customer at Village Blend. The dead girl has a memory stick in her belongings. A video of the incident at Village Blend is saved on the memory stick. Are the two events related? Turns out there's a lot going on besides casual hook-ups.

The mystery is fast-paced and suspenseful, with lots of suspects and twists. The coffee house background theme is wonderful as usual. And all the characters just make these books enjoyable every time! As usual, at the end of the story there are recipes (my husband will LOVE the Italian Sub Quesadillas!), great info on the different types of coffee drinks and instructions on how to use a moka express pot.

The cover art for this book is perfect. Very eye-catching and ties in with the plot of the book. I love the look on the barista's face....she's like...WTF? lol

Cleo Coyle is the pen name for writer duo Alice Alfonsi and Marc Cerasini. They also write the Haunted Bookshop cozy series under the name Alice Kimberly.

**I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from Penguin via First to Read. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. And I'll take a venti skinny sugar free peppermint mocha with two shots. Cinnamon on top. No whipped creme. :)**

REVIEW: Raspberry Mojito Murder

Raspberry Mojito Murder
Author: Susan Gillard

Raspberry Mojito Murder is the 20th book in the Donut Hole cozy mystery series. I like this series because the books are short, easy reads. There are times when I want to read, but want something short, light and entertaining. Sometimes I just need something cute and simple as a palate cleanser in between mystery/thriller novels or quick reads for car trips, vacation, etc. That's when I turn to this series. The books are novella length. The doughnut shop background theme is cute and the characters are likable. It's a cozy mystery series so there is no cursing, graphic sex or gore. Just a nice, entertaining light mystery series.

This time around Doughnut Delights proprietor Heather Shepherd is trying not to get stressed. Her shop is being renovated and expanded. It's a week from re-opening day! She wants to spend the week relaxing and taking a vacation from her usually busy schedule. Life has other ideas though. An office building near the doughnut shop burns down. Not only is it a case of arson, but murder. Paul Jackson died in the fire. As a consulting detective for the police department, Heather is on the case with her husband, a local police detective. Can she discover the identity of the murderous arsonist in time to catch a break before her newly remodeled shop re-opens for business?

I enjoyed this book. As usual the plot is light and moves at a fast pace. There are some interesting developments for Heather and Ryan Shepherd in this book. I knew eventually this particular event would happen...but wasn't sure how or when.

There are 60 novella length books in the Donut Hole series. Plus a spin-off Oceanside Mysteries series that has 20+ books. Don't fret about there being so many books if you are new to the series. The stories are easy, short reads. And readers can jump in at any point in the series and still enjoy the mysteries. I am a bit OCD about reading series from book 1 in order, so I'm trying to catch up. :) I try to read a couple of these mysteries each week to work my way to the Oceanside series. Gillard puts out new books regularly and I have a lot of reading to do! I will catch up! It's an enjoyable race at least. :) Maybe she will go on vacation this summer and I can slip in a bit of extra reading and get a bit closer to catching up! :)

I love the cover for this book -- colorful! And the green with pink sprinkles doughnut looks tasty! I admit I had to look up what a raspberry mojito is. I knew it was a drink, but wasn't sure what was in it. It's raspberry and mint flavored....just like the doughnuts in the book. I found a recipe:

Raspberry Mojito Recipe

Sounds yummy!

On to the next book!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

REVIEW: Hell House

Hell House
Author: Richard Matheson

I absolutely love the early 70's movie version of this book, The Legend of Hell House with Roddy McDowell. But I never read the book it was based on. Following the spirit of my challenge to myself this year to read more books that I've always wanted to read but never have....I decided to delve into the evil that is Hell House. I have to admit that I saw the actors from the movie in my head as I read this story. I'm not sure I like the mixing of so much cheesy horror with what might have been a great haunted house tale. It worked in a cheesy 70's movie....not so much for the original book, in my opinion. I enjoyed the story......but I would have enjoyed it more had the plot just ..... not tried too hard. That's the best way I can word it. 

This story definitely brings a 1960's/early 1970's horror movie feel to the classic haunted house story. Lots of strange biofeedback-type pseudoscience reigning here, but it does make for a spooky and strangely demented story. The basics: Dr Lionel Barrett is a physicist. With backing from a wealthy (and terminally ill) patron, he heads an expedition to a haunted house. Not just any haunted house -- the last group that went into the Belasco House was almost entirely annihilated and the house was sealed for decades. The house is evil....evil caused by years of extreme debauchery and wickedness. Lionel wants to prove that the supernatural is not some magical spiritual thing, but a testable form of residual energy instead. It's good vs evil.....and science vs supernatural. Turns out that the house isn't amused.....

The over-the-top explanations of the evil doings of the original property owner took this story from scary to almost ridiculous. And the ridiculous origins led into cheesy displays of supernatural shenanigans ranging from ectoplasm to horny ghosts. Like I said earlier...for me, the plot just tried too hard. It took all the scare out of it for me and just made it creepy...not in the haunted house sense but in the sexual deviant weird guy on a park bench sense.

I'm glad I read the book. There were spooky moments....and I still love, love, love Roddy McDowell in the movie. The movie kept the debauchery but reined it in somewhat....70's horror movies are supposed to be cheese fests. The book version just dragged it out much longer....all the way to the ending that just fell a bit flat for me. Oh, I knew what was coming....but expected a bigger bang out of the book version.

In the end, my after thoughts amounted to a passing thought and chuckle about there being no diverse characters in this book. All of the people that enter the Belasco House to find out what makes it tick are white. But there is a reason for that --- all the people of color that were asked if they wanted anything to do with the house said NO.

There is bad language in this clip....but I have to add Eddie Murphy's take on this:

So, although this was a great nostalgia read for me because of the movie.....for the most part, this book was a miss for me. Too much cheese.....not enough actually scary moments. The mix of horror elements along with the haunted house just didn't work for me. Cheese overload. The 70's called....they want their physical mediums, seances and ectoplasm back.

I'm definitely going to read more by Richard Matheson though -- he's also the author of I am Legend and Stir of Echoes.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

REVIEW: Ghostly Animals of America

Ghostly Animals of America
Author: Patricia Edwards Clyne

I love folklore and ghost stories. America definitely has its share of interesting, spooky tales. From the disappearance of colonists from Roanoke Island to strange tales of the Old West, there is no shortage of creepy-cool American folklore. Patricia Edwards Clyne gathers some very interesting stories, all featuring spectral animals, in her book Ghostly Animals of America.

All 19 stories in this book are well-written, interesting and obviously well researched. I enjoyed each one! The author also includes information on where the places and events occurred and how to learn more about the story. The author is careful to mention when places, homes, locations are private property or public park land. The stories are presented not as horror tales but as folklore. There is nothing too scary or graphic for middle-grade aged children. Children and adults alike will enjoy these tales of legendary animal hauntings. The stories are varied with locations ranging all over the United States.

I could definitely see this book incorporated into lesson plans for United States history, geography or even creative writing. Kids would enjoy the stories and learn a little bit about different areas of the country and folklore.

A fun read! I recommend this for anyone 10 & up who enjoys folktales with a bit of a spooky edge to them!

Patricia Edwards Clyne has written several books for middle-grade age children on caving, history and the Hudson Valley region of NY state.

Friday, April 13, 2018

REVIEW: Pacific Vortex

Pacific Vortex
Author: Clive Cussler

When I was a teenager, I loved the Dirk Pitt adventure stories. But once I went to college, got married, had kids, etc., I lost track of many series that I enjoyed. Now that I'm older and have more time for reading, I'm going back and revisiting many authors and series that I missed. I've read two James Bond books this year so far....and those stories reminded me of Dirk Pitt. Dirk Pitt is like James Bond...or what 007 would be if he was into underwater exploration and salvage missions.

Pacific Vortex is the first Dirk Pitt story, even though it was not the first book that was published. Dirk is an underwater engineer for the North American Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA). He investigates ship wrecks, salvages cargo and occasionally gets involved in political intrigue. In Pacific Vortex, Pitt discovers a communications float from a US Navy submarine that went missing six months before. The sub was never found, so he takes the information to the Navy. NUMA loans Pitt to the Navy to assist in looking for the submarine. It seems many vessels over the past 30 years or so have disappeared without a trace in that area of the Pacific. When one of the lost vessels is a new, state-of-the-art nuclear submarine, it's time to figure out what's going on. Turns out the investigation is going to be much more dangerous than anyone expected!

Just like James Bond, Dirk Pitt is very much a man's man. He likes beautiful women, fast cars, adventure and excitement. This story is very action oriented, a bit cheesy (just like Bond) and completely testosterone-y. Readers who don't enjoy man-centric action stories might want to pass this one by. Dirk does not pull any punches....literally. In this book, a woman attempts to kill him with a hypodermic needle filled with poison.....he punches her lights out. The character is a very masculine stereotype. He takes what he wants....goes after the bad guys....and attracts the most beautiful women. It is what it is. As for me, I love action stories. If Dirk were a real person, I would probably dislike him, finding him a bit over the top and arrogant. But......he is a fictional action hero. I'm just interested in things blowing up, gun fire, the answer to the mystery they are investigating and the final fight where the good guys win. :)

I enjoyed re-reading this book. I'm going to read the entire series. I've always enjoyed Clive Cussler's books....especially because he actually does underwater exploration and salvage in real life. Great adventure stories!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

REVIEW: Caramel Glazed Murder

Caramel Glazed Murder
Author: Susan Gillard

Heather Shepherd really loves her bestie, Amy Givens. Amy is intelligent, a great employee, snarky in a fun way, a great friend.....and a murder suspect. Heather's doughnut shop is undergoing a renovation and expansion, so the crew is  doing deliveries and online orders only. Amy dutifully goes on a delivery run. Two extra thick chocolate milkshakes for Junior Buckle. Junior is a bit on the hefty side. Not just from doughnuts and milkshakes....but also because of his lifestyle. He's a video gamer. Well, he was a video gamer. After drinking his milkshake that morning, Junior Buckle is dead. Game Over. After passing her licensing exam to be an official private investigator, Heather comes in on the case as a consultant for the local police department, working alongside her husband, Ryan, a detective on the force. Who poisoned Junior Buckle? Heather knows it wasn't Amy and she is determined to prove it!

Caramel Glazed Murder is the 19th book in the Donut Hole Mystery series. The book are light, cozy mysteries of novella length. This series is great for a quick, cozy fix. The plots are usually simple and the story moves along at a quick pace. The doughnut shop theme is cute and enjoyable. Each book features a different type of doughnut on the front cover.

Pros: This series is entertaining and fun to read. Because they are short, the books are a quick, simple mystery fix. The characters are quirky and interesting. And doughnuts! mmmmmmmm :)

Cons: Lots of typos and other mistakes in this self-published series. For the most part, the errors are minor but it does pull me out of the story when I come across wrong words, misspelled words and mistakes. This is not a series to read for complex plots. At times, the story lines can seem a bit too simple, but it would be hard to wrap up a mystery in a hundred pages if it was more complex.

In the end, I read this series because I like the characters and the stories are great palate cleansers in between more complex novels. Sometimes I want to read a story just for entertainment, to relax and just enjoy reading. This series is perfect for that! I do end up craving a doughnut most of the time, but that's ok.

Caramel Glazed Murder is an enjoyable read. Heather finally gets her first real case as a consultant for the police department. No investigating behind her detective husband's back this time. She did do a couple things during her investigation that, in reality, might have hurt the police department's case. But, this is a cozy series.....I suspend reality for the most part and just go for it. I'm reading a couple thrillers right now, and needed a break. As usual, Heather and the gang are a perfect choice when I need a mystery that is just entertaining and not "heavy.'' Amy's snarky comments during interviews or Lilly and Dave the Dog's antics never fail to make me smile.

There are 60 books in the Donut Hole series, and 20+ more in the spin-off Oceanside series. I'm trying to catch up! :) Lots of reading to do!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

REVIEW: Brief, Horrible Moments

Brief, Horrible Moments
Author: Marco Pandza

There is a moment in every horror movie where the plot twists around on itself and you get that oh-my-god-I-can't-believe-that-just-happened feeling. Brief, Horrible Moments delivers that feeling in every sentence. A collection of one sentence horror snippets, the book is a fun (yet demented) read.

My favorites:

All my friends knew I slept during the day because I worked the night shift, which was easier than explaining that I'd been given a curfew by the thing in my closet.

The smiling clown looked into my eyes, clutched my broken, twisted body and whispered, "I'm going to make you a balloon animal.''

Some of these little horrific gems are great, others gross, even demented and some missed the mark entirely for me. But we all have different things that horrify us....there's a little bit for everyone in this book. Definitely a fun read for those who like cheesy horror. The sentences are organized into chapters: Monsters, Demons, Creatures & Oddities; Murder, Death & the Dead; Family, Friends, Love & Relationships; Food & Eating; Fear, Dread & the Unknown; Crime & Punishment; Doctors, Health & Hospitals; and, The Human Body.

I had fun reading some of these out loud to my husband and son. Very creative and fun book!

**I won a copy of this book in a giveaway. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

REVIEW: Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew & the Women Who Created Her
Author: Melanie Rehak

Ok...first some Nancy Drew fan-girling....then my review of this book.

When I saw this book in my local library, I snapped it right up! Although Trixie Belden is my girl detective of choice ever since my teenage years in the 80's, I also enjoyed Nancy Drew. There's just something about a teenage girl sleuth that draws a young girl in to these books. Back in the day, I had the entire Trixie Belden series in paperback, and dutifully traveled to Waldenbooks in the city to pick up the last two books, published in 1986. I remember being so excited that there were new Trixie stories that I actually waited to read them. I had to build up some courage to read the final books. I knew when I finished those last books that it was more Trixie. I still do that sometimes when I'm on the last book of a good series! It's hard to say goodbye to characters when a series is ending.

Trixie and Nancy Drew really started my love of books. Those were the books I CHOSE to read, rather than the books I HAD to read for school. Being forced to read a book just takes a bit of the enjoyment out of it. Laying across your bed with the cat completely engrossed in a story til your Mom yells at you that you're holding up dinner.....then getting lectured for bringing a book to the table....that's enjoying a book! You  never would have caught me getting in trouble for bringing The Red Badge of Courage to the dinner table. The exciting adventures of girl amateur sleuths were worth inciting The Wrath of Mom. Classic force-reads...not so much. I babysat my horrendous (he was so naughty and spoiled!) nephew in the summer to earn money to spend on Trixie books. A new $1.25 non-creased, new-book-smell paperback was worth all the whining, coloring on the walls and temper tantrums in the world to me. My whole bookshelf was filled with lovely 80's version tan cover much beloved Trixie paperbacks (that shows how many times I had to babysit that nightmare nephew!). But on the very top....held up with mismatched bookends (one side was a big piece of petrified wood and the other was the piggy bank my dad gave me for my birthday when I was 8. Being between those two prized items (which I still have displayed on my bookshelves even now) was a supreme place of honor!) was a partial row of bright yellow spines (and some blue, too). Nancy Drew! And another series published by the same people -- Hardy Boys!

Now that I have explained how much I loved these books....I can get to my book review. I'm getting there! I'm getting there!

I homed in on this book sitting atop my local library's shelf on display like Trixie jumping on a clue. Gleepers! It's a book about Nancy Drew! It might contain clues about who wrote the books! Egads! :) I was probably one of the only readers who didn't realize Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym used by ghostwriters to churn out this series. In my defense, I was young, naive and didn't realize publishers required some authors to sign away their rights to their work upon payment. Contract work exists to this day. When a paying job comes up, you take it...right? I read a lot of cozy mystery series (probably stemming from my early love of these girl sleuth novels) and cozy authors often contract to write series using another name under contract to a publisher. I don't think it's ever as extreme as with these early series. To this day, I still have never read any information about which authors wrote the Trixie Belden books! I wish I knew!! The in-house writers were all just lumped under the pen-name Kathryn Kenny (after book #6 when Julie Campbell ducked out). It gets complicated! And is still complicated!!!

OK.....Yes, I am finally getting to Melanie Rehak's book.  I brought Girl Sleuths home from the library, finished the two books I was reading at the time, and delved into the world of Nancy Drew and early twentieth century syndicate publishing.

Alas, some mysteries are better off left unsolved.

I found this book disappointing. A bit of a let-down. I wanted to the depths of my heart to love, love, love this book --- I naively expected to read about female authors getting to ply their craft and creating this wonderful, beloved girl sleuth and feeling chuffed and fulfilled as each book was published. That couldn't have been further from the truth. In reality, Nancy Drew was created by an early publishing syndicate that churned out many other series aimed at youth. They used ghostwriters, requiring the authors to sign away all rights to their work and paying them a small lump sum for their work. None of the money made from Nancy Drew was ever seen by the woman who penned the first books from 1929-1953, Mildred Wirt. She was paid $125 per book (or less during the depression when the publisher decided the bad economy required them to pay less per book). Working from an outline provided by the publisher and subject to editing of any dialogue or story events that seemed un-ladylike, Wirt churned out many books for the syndicate over the years (not just Nancy Drew), but under her contract was forbidden to claim any of it as her writing or discuss her part in the process. The syndicate was sure that the authors who wrote their books just followed the outlines provided to them without really adding that much to the process....     Really???

Not only was I disappointed to find out the authors of some of my favorite books were victims of blatant publisher contractual mind-rape....but this book is written in a pretty dry format. The book focuses on the founder of the publishing syndicate, Edward Stratemeyer, and his daughter, Harriet, rather than the books, characters or writers of these stories. The book reads like a dissertation....just a spewing forth of facts and dates....rather than a story about the people or books they published. There is very little about creation of the characters or covers for the books, modernization of the books, or what is happening with the series now.....just a lot of mind-numbing facts about the publishing syndicate that kept women at their typewriters for decades with no recognition.....even telling lies about who actually wrote Nancy Drew and other children's series to keep the actual authors identities a secret. It was all a marketing trick.....the books were churned out according to formula outlines and published in such a way to prevent authors from being loved by their readers so that a publishing syndicate could rake in big bucks. What a load of shit. 

I love the Nancy Drew books. I love Trixie Belden. But it appears the publishing world that created all of these stories is a mire of greed and just crappy behavior. I'm glad I know the identity of the woman who wrote most of the first Nancy Drew books. But I really couldn't care less about the publishing syndicate that took advantage of her, and others like her, for decades.

Gleepers! What a clue! I know who the crooks are! Egads!

What a let-down.

This book gets a 3 star rating from me.... it's well researched, but presented in a really dry, boring manner and just focuses too much on the Stratemeyers. Just a little bit more about the actual writing and editing process, the popularity of the series and other books based on this formula, how they developed new series, development of the characters over time, the decisions to edit the earlier books to modernize the characters, and where the series is going now would have been so interesting. But the book mostly dwells on the Stratemeyers, their publishing syndicate and its use of contracts to control the books, and their heavy-handed editing to maintain lady-like behavior and talk, etc. Ho, hum. It just ended up making me a mixture of angry and sad.

REVIEW: Chocolate Pomegranate Glaze Murder

Chocolate Pomegranate Glaze Murder
Author: Susan Gillard

While her doughnut shop, Donut Delights, is being renovated and expanded, Heather Shepherd is delivering doughnuts by special order to her customers. Clarissa James, who owns a nail salon near the doughnut shop, ordered two dozen, so Heather and her bestie Amy dutifully walk them up the street to deliver.  Cheeky's Nails seems deserted....they call to Clarissa, but get no answer. Unfortunately, the hippest mani-pedi artist in town will not be enjoying pomegranate glazed doughnuts anytime soon. Heather finds her face down in her back room....dead. Who shot the salon owner? Immediately, Heather pinpoints several suspects....but whodunit?

Chocolate Pomegranate Glaze Murder is the 18th novella-length story in the Donut Hole Mystery series. These stories are light, cozy mysteries. I enjoy a quick cozy fix between thrillers or other heavier reading (I'm reading two horror novels right now and sometimes I just need something that is NOT scary to give my brain a rest), and these fun, entertaining short mysteries are just perfect. There are usually quite a few typos in these little gems, but no major errors that ruin my enjoyment of the story. Heather is a strong, intelligent and determined main character. The side characters (her employees, bestie Amy, husband Ryan, her nemesis Geoff Lawless, etc) are all quirky and entertaining. These stories are simple, yet entertaining. Perfect for mystery lovers that just want something quick to read that is just a refreshing, simple story. I like the doughnut shop theme, despite the fact it always makes me crave a doughnut. Once every two weeks I let myself splurge and get a lemon-filled (my favorite) at Granny's Bakery up the street from my house. I will blame Susan Gillard for that. :)

There are 60 books in the Donut Hole Mystery series, with 22 more books in the spin-off Oceanside series. Don't let the number of books intimidate you. It isn't necessary to start at the beginning of the series. A reader could jump in anywhere and be able to follow the plots pretty easily. But to get all the character background, start at book 1. The stories are short, quick reads, so an avid reader could work their way through the series without it taking too long.

On to the next book! :)

Monday, April 9, 2018

REVIEW: The Shadow of Death

The Shadow of Death
Author: Jane Willan

Sister Agatha has been a nun at Gwenafwy Abbey in Wales for 40 years. Besides God, there have been two great loves in her life since childhood....the nuns of the Abbey and books. She is the librarian at the Abbey and, in secret, she listens to mystery podcasts and is writing her own novel. Then she discovers the Abbey's Sexton, Jacob Traherne, dead under an avalanche of metal shelving and rounds of Heavenly Gouda (cheese made by the nuns) and has to put everything she knows about sleuthing to the test. The local constable has reservations, but Sister Agatha is sure that Jacob was murdered. She sets to work to discover the murderer, putting everything she has learned from literary detectives like Hercule Poirot and even information gleaned from her favorite podcast, How to Write a Mystery Novel, into practice. With the help of the other nuns at the Abbey and Father Selwyn, Sister Agatha sets out to prove the innocence of an accused postulant and save the day!

This book has such a refreshing mix of wit, humor and mystery. It reminds me of Hamish Macbeth for the quirky characters....a bit of Father Brown with its amateur sleuths of the religious persuasion....and a smidge of Murder She Wrote tossed in the pot as well. Several times I had to laugh out loud at the humor. For example, the sisters adopted two pigs not realizing they were potbellied pigs and not regular soon-to-be-ham pigs, and they ended up pets. Their names? Luther and Calvin. :) A little Catholic humor there. :) And their cheese....Heavenly Gouda. That's just too cute. I enjoyed this story from beginning to end. The characters are fabulous. The humor and wit is refreshing. And the mystery was interesting with plenty of suspects, twists, turns and sheannigans going on.

What a nice start for a new cozy series! It has a little bit of everything.....a postulant with a past, thievery at the church, a Bishop with bad intentions, a nun who loves whodunits and podcasts, and a great murder mystery. Loved it from beginning to end!

This is Jane Willan's debut novel. I will definitely be reading more of this series!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Crooked Lane Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Sunday, April 8, 2018

REVIEW: M&M Surprise Murder

M&M Surprise Murder
Author: Susan Gillard

Because her employee and friend Jung is in the competition, Heather Shepherd is in the stands for the annual Hillside Archery competition. Unfortunately, the event is halted before it even starts. One of the judges is dead, an arrow through his heart. Who wanted Kyle Henson dead? Heather jumps into investigating the case, but it turns out there are a lot of reasons someone might have wanted Kyle dead. A ruined sports career. Messy divorce. Old jealousies. Heather is determined to help her police detective husband solve the case, as usual.

M&M Surprise Murder is the 17th book in the Donut Hole Mystery series. The stories are light cozy mysteries of novella length. Fun, quick reads! I like the doughnut shop theme. Heather is a strong, intelligent main character. The supporting characters are quirky and fun, making for an enjoyable, entertaining reading experience. Heather's nemesis, Geoff Lawless, is definitely the comic relief in these stories. This time he even puts a doughnut on his nose. Total weirdo. But you know, I find myself really liking the character. Strange, loner wackadoo who tries so hard to steal Heather's doughnut recipes but can't seem to manage it. I start each book looking forward to whatever crazy thing Geoff is going to do. The doughnut on the nose moment in this book made me laugh out loud. I could picture the chunky, bearded weirdo putting his schnoz through a doughnut hole. Why not? He's done stranger things (like dumpster diving for doughnuts)!

There are usually more than a few typos and grammar mistakes in these books....but I can overlook that. The errors are minor ones, not glaring problematic mistakes or huge plot holes.

For cozy mystery fans, this series is perfect for times when you need a short, enjoyable light mystery to read -- car trips, waiting for appointments, at the beach, during train or airplane trips, etc.

The only problem I have with this series is that it always leaves me with a severe doughnut craving!

The Donut Hole Mystery Series has 60 novella length books. There is also a spin-off series, The Oceanside Mysteries, with 22 books. I have a lot of reading to do!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

REVIEW: The Divide

The Divide
Author: Jolina Petersheim

The Divide is the conclusion to The Alliance series. The world is effectively sent back in time by an EMP attack. In the first book, The Alliance, the magnetic pulses destroy all technology, anything that uses computer chips such as newer vehicles, phones, watches....all gone in mere seconds. Leora Ebersole lives in an Old Order Mennonite Community. The community is forced to align with Englishers stranded by the destruction of technology. Modern society starts to fall apart once food begins to run short. Treachery, violence and panic ensue. The Mennonites are pacifists so they flee to the mountains to escape the danger, at least for awhile. In The Divide, the story reaches its climax. A dangerous group calling itself ARC is killing survivors and taking others to forced work camps. Leora kills one of their scouts. Now ARC is hunting for their community hidden in the mountains. Can the community, and the survivors who have helped them along the way, survive?

I enjoyed this series. Modern life has accustomed most people to being able to go to the grocery store and buy food. We all have at most a couple weeks worth of perishables and canned goods in our homes. What would happen if suddenly we couldn't just go buy food? There is a saying that society is 9 missed meals away from anarchy. Imagine that would happen if all modern conveniences were suddenly gone.....along with ready fuel supplies, food, most transportation and medical care. It wouldn't take long for things to degenerate into madness. The Mennonites usually keep their communities separate from others, but in this emergency they have to learn to work with others and they have to protect themselves. It makes for a wonderful story.

Both The Alliance and The Divide are well-written, engaging stories and the characters are believable.

Jolina Petersheim is also the author of The Midwife and The Outcast.

Friday, April 6, 2018

REVIEW: The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City
Author: Erik Larson

This book is so much more than I expected!! Interested in learning more about serial killer H.H.Holmes and his murderous ways in Chicago in the late 1800's, I was pleasantly surprised that this book is more about the 1893 World's Fair than about the serial killer. I found myself enjoying the history of the planning, building and showmanship of the World's Fair even more than the horrific facts about Holmes' activities. From the AC power provided by Nikola Tesla that lit up the entire grounds to the huge wheel designed by George Ferris, the World's Fair was a wondrous spectacle that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the city. An unintended result was that the Fair also brought many young women new to the city and unchaperoned for the first time....some of whom fell victim to the charms and murderous intent of H.H. Holmes.

I listened to the audio version of this book. The audiobook is just over 15 hours long and narrated by Scott Brick. I like Brick's voice, and he read at a nice even pace. I have hearing loss, but had no problem hearing and understanding the audio. Larson obviously did copious amounts of research into the planning, construction and details of the World's Fair. He gives so much detail about all aspects of the event, and of H.H.Holmes' life, crimes, capture and subsequent prosecution and execution. Great story!

Note of caution: This book is Non-fiction, and not written like a narrative story. There are lots of facts and information about the Fair, its planning and engineering, the events, people, copious details about H.H. Holmes. This does not read like a fictional novel or story!  Readers who don't enjoy historical accounts with lots and lots of details...this might not be the book for you. History buffs or those who love great details like how many people could ride the first Ferris wheel at one time or how many people attended the Fair each day, etc....will LOVE this!! I sure did!

Erik Larson has written several other non-fiction narratives about historical events including Dead Wake (about the sinking of the Lusitania) and Thunderstruck (about the capture of the murderer Dr. Crippen). 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

REVIEW: The Missing Moose Mystery

The Missing Moose Mystery
Author: Dian Curtis Regan

The Missing Moose Mystery is the fourth Ghost Twins book. The twins accidentally drowned in Kickingbird Lake near their home in the 1940's. As ghosts, they still live in their former home, even though the lake area has been turned into a tourist resort. Guests that stay in the house can't see them, but the twins follow the people that stay in their house and investigate mysteries, along with their ghost dog, Thatch.

This series is a cute, enjoyable middle-grade series. This time around, an artist and her grand-daughter are staying in Beka and Robbie's house. Nell Makanda is having health problems and has partially lost her sight. She has come to the lake to recover. Robbie is more interested in her grand-daughter, Jamie. Even ghost boys know a pretty girl when they see one. :) Turns out there is a mystery to solve as well.....a moose statue from town has been missing for 40 years. When clues start appearing in Nell's paintings, the ghost twins are on the case!

I like this series. The mysteries are always different as are the guests staying in Beka and Robbie's house. Each book also teaches the twins a little bit more about being a ghost. There are certain rules and restrictions on what they can and can't do as spirits. But each time they interact with the living, they learn a little bit more about how to make their presence felt or ways they can manipulate the things around them.

The Missing Moose Mystery was entertaining and suspenseful, with the usual added humor and fun. Another great book in this series for kids. Dian Curtis Regan has written many children's books for middle-grade and younger kids including The Snow Blew Inn and Monster of the Month Club.

There are 8 books in the Ghost Twins series, published in the mid 1990's. The series is out of print, but copies are easily available online.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

REVIEW: Death by the Sea

Death by the Sea
Author: Kathleen Bridge

After a horribly public and violent breakup of her relationship with a best-selling novelist, Liz Holt returns home to Melbourne Beach, Florida and her family's island resort hotel. She grew up at the historic hotel, and it seemed the best place to go to recover her sanity following her disgrace in New York. She bears the scars of her old relationship, literally....and wants to leave all that behind and focus on her next book. The Indialantic Hotel is run by her Aunt Amelia and Liz's father. Amelia was an actress in the 50's and 60's and loves to tell stories about all the shows she was on and the actors she met. Liz settles back into life at the hotel, enjoying the touristy emporium shops and quirky guests. Just as Liz's life seems to be calming down, a wealthy and very difficult guest is found murdered in her suite at the hotel. It might have been a robbery...but what if it was murder? Liz has to be sure she starts to investigate. Who wanted Regina Worth dead?

I loved all of the classic television and movie references in this book! I'm a huge Ghost and Mrs. Muir fan. I love the 1940's movie! But I had no idea there was a television show in the 1960's! A reference in this book led me to start watching the old show! It's wonderful! (It only had two seasons. But all episodes are available to watch on Youtube!) I think it's cute that Liz and her Aunt Amelia always compare their quirky guests to old television or movie actors. The hotel, movie references and discussion of classic movies and television make for a nice background theme!

Liz is great as a main character. She is dealing with personal problems stemming from her prior relationship, and is struggling to get her writing back on track. She's intelligent, strong and a brave person, but has her flaws just like anyone does. I like all the quirky side characters...Aunt Amelia who talks about her former acting career, Betty who wrote some of the Nancy Drew novels, The Captain with a weakness for the ladies, Pierre the Chef who is having memory's a great cast of characters! Quirky and sweet. :)

The mystery moved along at a nice pace. There were plenty of twists and surprises, although I wasn't very surprised at the murder's identity. This book is a great start to a new cozy mystery series! I'm definitely going to read the next book! I'm a huge classic radio, television and movie fan! This book was perfect for me!

Kathleen Bridge also writes the Hamptons Home & Gardens cozy series. The second book in the By the Sea Mystery series, A Killing By the Sea, will be out in September 2018!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own. **

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

REVIEW: Lost Books and Old Bones

Lost Books and Old Bones
Author: Paige Shelton

Lost Books and Old Bones is the third book in Paige Shelton's Scottish Bookshop cozy mystery series. When this book showed up in my galley list for review, I didn't remember requesting it. But I do have this series on my cozy TBR I was excited to get to read it, whether I remembered asking for it specifically or not. It was a happy surprise! This is the first book in the series that I have read, but I was easily able to jump in mid-stream and follow the story line. It does mention some past events, but the story stands on its own well enough to read without reading the prior two books. I'm definitely going to back-track now and read the other books in this series. This was a fun, entertaining cozy! I like the background theme of a rare manuscript and bookshop, The Cracked Spine, in Scotland. :)

The basics: Delaney Nicols has befriended two local medical students, Sophie and Rena, after they came into the shop to sell some rare medical books from the early 1900s. Her boss, Edwin MacAlister, was very excited to get the old tomes. At the pub with her new friends, she meets one of their professors, Dr Eban, and another student, Mallory. Dr. Eban makes Delaney uncomfortable....he's creepy and just...strange, plus he's having an affair with Sophie. Later that night, Delaney meets up with her boyfriend Tom at  the bookshop, and they investigate a bit in her boss' warehouse, looking for a famous set of scalpels used by an infamous local doctor back in the days of body snatching. Thinking it's best to leave the scalpels locked up for the night, they leave them in a desk drawer in the shop and go home for the night. The next day in the alleyway outside the shop, a body is discovered. Mallory -- the student Delaney met the previous night -- has been murdered and the shop door is open. A skull was left by the body making the scene appear staged. At the pub the night before, Dr Eban had been asking about the rumored collection of antiquities owned by Delaney's boss, even mentioning the scalpels specifically. Is that a coincidence? Or is Mallory's death linked to the scalpels somehow? Is Dr Eban not just lecherous and creepy, but also a murderer? Or was the scene staged to make it appear that way?

I loved this book! I like the background theme of a rare bookshop, and its mysterious hidden warehouse of antiquities and interesting objects. It lends a cool creepy factor to the story! Delaney is a fun, intelligent main character, and all the quirky side characters (and her hunky boyfriend Tom) all add charm to the story. The mystery progresses at a nice pace with plenty of twists and suspects. It kept my attention from beginning to end. And although I could totally follow the story and characters without reading from the beginning of the series, I definitely am back-tracking and reading this entire series! Entertaining, fun, with splashes of humor and creepiness -- lovely cozy mystery!

Paige Shelton is the author of several cozy mystery series including the Farmer's Market Mysteries.

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from St. Martin's Press via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**