Tag Archives: cozy mysteries

Review: Sapped, by Emily James

Sapped, by Emily JamesSapped, by Emily James (Stronghold Books, 2016)

The worst way to find out that your boyfriend is already married is to see it on the news. The only way it could be worse than that is if his wife died under suspicious circumstances. [From the book description on Goodreads.]

And that’s how things start for the heroine in Sapped.

Nicole Fitzhenry-Dawes is the daughter of two over-achieving lawyers. She’s a lawyer herself, and although her people skills are an asset to her parents’ firm, she knows she’ll never live up to their expectations.

Now this happens, and she’s desperate to help prove her suddenly ex-boyfriend innocent. Even when her father orders her off the case.

Sapped is a prequel to the Maple Syrup Mysteries series, available as a free ebook for signing up for the author’s newsletter, or in print through Amazon.

It’s an engaging mystery, fast-paced and with a snappy delivery. Nicole’s self-doubts in a world of confident people make her very relatable, as does her desire to uncover the truth. She’s smart, spunky, and has a lot more going for her than she realizes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and immediately dove into the next in the series, A Sticky Inheritance, in which we see the significance of the “Maple Syrup Mysteries” title for the series. This isn’t a Christian series, but it’s a good, clean read.

There’s more than one author named Emily James. To find out more about the one behind the Maple Syrup Mysteries, and for more about her books or to sign up for your free ebook copy of Sapped, visit authoremilyjames.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Something Buried, Something Blue, by Lorena McCourtney

Something Buried, Something Blue, by Lorena McCourtneySomething Buried, Something Blue, by Lorena McCourtney (Rogue Ridge Press, 2016)

I thoroughly enjoyed the Ivy Malone series, and it seems only fair that with Ivy and Mac planning to get married, we should have a new series to celebrate it. Something Buried, Something Blue is The Mac ‘n’ Ivy Mysteries, Book #1.

Mac should have known there’d be more bodies ahead. Ivy attracts them, and it’s probably contagious. In this new series, Mac gets point of view chapters to balance Ivy’s, and they each have a part to play if they’re going to solve this crime and stay alive until their wedding day.

Mac and Ivy are senior citizens (she’s a self-proclaimed “LOL” – little old lady), and sometimes the “invisibility” that comes with age works to their advantage in solving crimes. Neither of them is known to back away from a challenge.

This book introduces Mac’s school-aged granddaughter, Elle, whose curiosity matches Ivy’s. I hope we’ll see more of this girl in the books to come.

It’s a fun story, amusing in places and without too much rough stuff. I did find it felt like some of the complication-causing characters kind of slipped off into the sunset before the final conflict, but other than that, another fine read. I’m looking forward to the next one.

For more about Lorena McCourtney and her books, see her Goodreads profile, and check out this interview: introducing-lorena-mccourtney.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Third Girl, by Nell Goddin

The Third Girl, by Nell GoddinThe Third Girl, by Nell Goddin (Beignet Books, 2015)

Isn’t that a beautiful cover? Unusual doors fascinate me, and each one of the Molly Sutton novels features a different one.

In the series-opener, Molly Sutton has used her divorce settlement to buy a home, sight unseen, in a village in France. She’s going to run a gîte, the French equivalent of a bed and breakfast. Her former neighbourhood in outer Boston was becoming unsafe, and she feels at home now, welcome, and secure in Castillac.

Until a female student from the local art college goes missing, and the villagers make references to previous, unsolved disappearances.

The main characters are Molly, struggling with limited French in new surroundings, and Benjamin Dufort, the local police chief, who feels a personal pressure to solve these crimes, which he fears are linked. Dufort’s staff are featured as well.

This is a very cozy mystery, filled with the gentle rhythm of village life. It’s told omnisciently, featuring one character at a time but expanding to narrate others’ thoughts or motivations in the same scene. The omniscience contributes to the gentle feel, and it works well for the story, but if you can’t stand hopping from head to head, you’ll want to give it a miss.

The story engages the heart through the characters’ ordinariness. When the missing girl’s parents come to stay with Molly, she struggles like any of us would with what to say, and whether to intrude or leave them to worry alone.

Favourite line:

“A little part of his brain, the weaselly part everyone has, wondered if perhaps it might be better to call later…” [Benjamin Dufort, reluctant to contact the missing girl’s family. Page 41.]

This is a mainstream novel, with the occasional mild curse word, but essentially a clean read. I look forward to reading the rest of the Molly Sutton Mysteries. Book two is The Luckiest Woman Ever. Nell Goddin is an American writer who knows how to bring the setting of a French village to life.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Serenity Stone Murder, by Marianne Jones

The Serenity Stone Murder, by Marianne JonesThe Serenity Stone Murder, by Marianne Jones (Split Tree Publishing, 2014)

When Margaret reluctantly accompanies her friend Louise to a spiritually questionable retreat for artists, she’s hoping for a bit of a break from small-town boredom. The friends get more than they’d bargained for just finding accommodations… and then there’s the murder.

This cozy mystery takes place in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and the author does an excellent job of bringing the setting to life. It feels natural and real, not like the tourist brochures that some novels resemble when real-life settings are involved.

It’s essentially a mainstream novel, complete with a few minor cuss words, but I appreciated the gentle spiritual thread too. When Margaret and Louise are at odds, Margaret recognizes (and resists) two or three instances of God nudging her to make peace. That’s true to life and a good reminder to Christian readers to pay attention when He does it.

Something that didn’t work for me was the way the omniscient point of view occasionally explained other characters’ motivations. This kept me from fully engaging with Margaret as the protagonist, and it made it harder to orient myself in the early pages. Also, there was a significant threat where the source was never resolved. Was it from the killer, or not?

Despite those negatives, The Serenity Stone Murder is an enjoyable read. It leaves openings for future books with Margaret, Louise, and their friends.

Canadian author Marianne Jones’ most recent book is The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die (memoir). She has also written poetry and children’s books. For more about the author and her work, visit mariannejones.ca.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Murder at the Courthouse, by A.H. Gabhart

Murder at the Courthouse, by A.H. GabhartMurder at the Courthouse, by A.H. Gabhart (Revell, 2015)

Michael Keane took the deputy sheriff position in small-town Hidden Springs to get away from the ugliness of big-city crime. He wants to help people, not get hardened like his former partner.

When a stranger is found dead on the courthouse steps, Michael will only solve the mystery if he can see the truth about his fellow citizens – and about himself.

Murder at the Courthouse is a gently-paced cozy mystery with quirky characters and a heaping helping of heart. I enjoyed the small-town feel, and it was easy to care about Michael, his aunt Lindy, and Anthony, the teenager who Michael’s trying to keep out of trouble.

Most of the story is told from Michael’s point of view, with a few snippets from his aunt. My favourite line:

…sometimes worry for his safety perched on her shoulder, digging its talons down all the way into her heart. [Aunt Lindy, about Michael’s police work, p. 43]

I did guess the killer’s identity, but that was only part of the mystery, and it didn’t affect my appreciation of the story. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for the next Hidden Springs Mystery.

Ann H. Gabhart is a bestselling author of novels for adults and young adults. You can find her and her books at annhgabhart.com, and you can also read a sample chapter of Murder at the Courthouse.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: Recipe for Murder, by Lisa Harris

Recipe for Murder, by Lisa HarrisRecipe For Murder (Cozy Crumb Mystery Series Book 1), by Lisa Harris (Lisa Harris, 2013)

When retired cooking instructor Pricilla Crumb steps in as chef at her son’s hunting lodge, she’s hoping to spend time with him and perhaps work herself into a job. Truth told, she also has matchmaking on her mind, having invited her friend Max and his single, charming daughter.

What she’s not expecting is murder.

When one of the guests dies, Pricilla involves herself in the investigation. Max appoints himself as her protector, with matchmaking ideas of his own. He needs to keep Pricilla safe long enough to discover if they have a chance at a relationship, themselves.

Pricilla is your typical, amateur sleuth, thinking she can take on a murderer. For all the mistakes she makes along the way, she does turn up information that helps solve the case.

It’s interesting to watch characters in their 60’s begin to navigate the complexities of a new relationship. We’ll have to read the rest of the series to see how Max and Pricilla tackle what will be a long-distance relationship (and she doesn’t even use email).

I found the delivery a little slow, and Pricilla would annoy me if I lived with her. She’s a kind person, though, with a concern for people’s spiritual needs as well as their physical comfort. And she’s an amazing cook.

Recipe for Murder is a cozy mystery that’s good for an easy read without a lot of tension. Sometimes that’s exactly what we need.

Award-winning Lisa Harris also writes higher-stakes romantic suspense, including her Southern Crimes series. Her website is presently under renovations but she’s still active on her blog: myblogintheheartofafrica.blogspot.ca. I received my ebook copy of Recipe for Murder for free by signing up for her author newsletter, which you can do on her blog. The rest of the Cozy Crumb Mystery Series is available through the regular online booksellers.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Shadow of a Butterfly, by J.A. Menzies

Shadow of a Butterfly, by J.A. MenziesShadow of a Butterfly, by J.A. Menzies (MurderWillOut Mysteries, 2015)

In typical Golden-Age mystery style, J.A. Menzies creates a tapestry of well-formed characters whose interplay offers – and masks – motive and opportunity for murder. The dynamics between old-school detective Paul Manziuk and his much younger partner, Jaquie Ryan, add another satisfying layer.

The murder takes place in an upscale apartment complex for senior citizens, making everyone on that floor of the building a potential suspect. The novel includes a list of characters for helpful reference, as well as a floor plan.

I’m one of the many readers who’ve been looking forward to a new Manziuk and Ryan Mystery, and Shadow of a Butterfly does not disappoint. The title is significant on two levels, but you’ll have to read the novel to find out why.

Favourite quotes:

… their appearance bore no similarities beyond the fact that each was dressed in the manner she felt most likely to intimidate the other. [Kindle Advance Review Copy location 169]

… when we begin, we only have our dreams. If we could see the sacrifices and struggles ahead, how many of us would set foot on the path to reach those dreams? (Hilary Brooks) [Kindle Advance Review Copy location 2669]

J.A. Menzies is the alter-ego of Canadian author N.J. Lindquist. Shadow of a Butterfly is book 3 in the series. If you haven’t read book 1, Shaded Light, it’s available for free on all ebook platforms. For more about the author and her books, visit jamenzies.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Review: Death by the Book, by Julianna Deering

Death by the Book

Death by the Book, by Julianna Deering (Bethany House, 2014)

In 1930’s England, Drew Farthering is developing a bad habit of encountering dead bodies. This time it’s his solicitor, bludgeoned to death… and sporting a cryptic note in flowing calligraphy, fastened to his body with a fancy Victorian hatpin.

Chief Inspector Birdsong grudgingly allows Drew to participate in the investigation—ostensibly because Birdsong can’t ignore any potential source of assistance, but probably because he knows Drew’s curiosity won’t leave the mystery alone.

Drew works best in company with his best friend Nick and the young American woman, Madeline, who Drew hopes to marry. That will be harder this time, since Madeline’s Aunt Ruth has arrived to “protect” Madeline’s virtue and hardly lets them have any time alone together.

As the bodies begin to pile up, can Drew solve the mysterious notes, find the murderer, and win over the formidable Aunt Ruth?

I enjoyed Death by the Book‘s light, lively tone. Without minimizing the tragic deaths, Drew and company nonetheless try to see the lighter side of daily life.

Favourite line, describing Aunt Ruth:

She turned her head sideways, peering at him [Drew] over her wire-rimmed spectacles as if she were some enormous parrot in full mourning. (p. 19)

Drew has only recently begun to trust God to be personally involved in his life, and as the danger presses closer to home, he finds himself praying for safety. As he uncovers the motivations and moral lapses behind the crimes, his awareness of his own failings and weaknesses keep him from giving in to the anger that wants to lash out.

I had no idea whodunnit. None. Looking back from the end, the clues were there all along. I’m not sure if I missed something or if there was more coincidence involved in the plot than I like to see, and I can’t give details without leaking major spoilers. Either way, Death by the Book was a fun read and I hope we see Drew, Madeline and Nick again in another adventure.

Julianna Deering‘s website lists a third title in the Drew Farthering Mystery series, Murder at the Mikado, releasing July 2014. I like the covers for this series. They’re light, fresh, and they suit the tone. To read a sample of Death by the Book, click here.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, by Alan Bradley

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, by Alan BradleyThe Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, by Alan Bradley (Random House, 2014)

[This review contains a spoiler for the previous books in the series.]

There’s so much to love about Flavia de Luce: her quick wits, her unusual view of the world, her propensity for chemicals and poisons. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is book six featuring the somewhat dysfunctional de Luce family in their crumbling ancestral home of Buckshaw, England.

It’s 1951. Flavia will soon be 12. She and her sisters have matured, and events have bound them together—somewhat—but old habits of mutual torment die hard.

I confess I misunderstood the ending of the previous book, Speaking from Among the Bones. Flavia’s missing mother, Harriet, found? She’d been lost in a Himalayan expedition when Flavia was still too young to remember her. I envisioned a joyful reunion, expecting the accident had caused amnesia which would somehow now go away. A happy ending would be so heartwarming.

Instead, Harriet comes home in a coffin as sensible readers expected all along. It makes for a better story, including the requisite mysterious death, and as Flavia and her sisters find closure, Flavia also learns the truth of her mother’s death—and of her life.

The novel is more about unravelling the mystery surrounding Harriet than about who killed the man at the train station, but it all comes together in the end. If you had questions about Flavia and her unusual upbringing, they’re likely answered by The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.

Internationally-bestselling author Alan Bradley’s bio says he’s working on more Flavia de Luce mysteries—reassuring, since The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches wraps things up so nicely. I’d been afraid we’d seen the last of Flavia. It will be a challenge writing this character as she grows up, but in many ways Flavia’s an old soul. I look forward to her next adventure.

[Review copy borrowed from a friend.]

Review: Rules of Murder, by Julianna Deering

Rules of Murder, by Julianna DeeringRules of Murder, by Juliana Deering (Bethany House, 2013)

Drew Farthering: From the tip of his black Homburg to the crease in his cheviot trousers, he’s the epitome of a stylish 1930s English gentleman. His only problem? The body he just discovered. (from the back cover)

Drew is charming, urbane, and he wants more than the party circuit that absorbs many of his peers. He and his best friend Nick (son of the family butler) enjoy mystery novels, so what better sport than to investigate this crime? Except when the second victim appears, the deaths become personal.

Madeline Parker makes a delightful third member of the sleuthing team. Newly arrived from America, she catches Drew’s heart at their first meeting. But in a house of mourning, it’s not a good time to explore their mutual attraction.

Rules of Murder has the delightful tone and setting of a Golden Age English house party murder mystery, worthy of Agatha Christie herself. It has a gentle thread of faith, as Drew begins to wonder about the God he thought he outgrew.

The title comes from Father Knox’s Decalogue: The 10 Rules of (Golden Age) Detective Fiction, regularly quoted by Nick in the novel. Drew and Nick – and author Julianna Deering – know the rules, but this case wants to break each one.

I’m not much for villains who give a full explanation at the end, although in this case I’m not sure how else readers could have had our questions answered.

Rules of Murder is a satisfying mystery novel notwithstanding, with well-developed characters, layers of meaning and splashes of humour. I’m looking forward to the next Drew Farthering Mystery.

Julianna Deering is the pen name of historical fiction novelist DeAnna Julie Dodson. Check out this excerpt from Rules of Murder (the first paragraph convinced me to settle down and enjoy this book) and the author Q&A with Julianna Deering. You can read another interview with the author at Divine Detour.

 [Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]