Tag Archives: cozy mysteries

Review: Death of a Scavenger, by Karin Kaufman

Death of a Scavenger, by Karin KaufmanDeath of a Scavenger, by Karin Kaufman (2017)

Juniper Grove, Colorado, is a small town, but newcomer Rachel Stowe is about to find her second dead body, only a month after the first one turned up in her back yard.

At least this one’s on someone else’s property.

In the middle of the town’s annual Halloween scavenger hunt (complete with fake corpse) a second, real corpse is found – and it’s hard to find anyone other than Rachel who doesn’t have a motive.

Again, Rachel and her friends Julia and Holly team up to solve the mystery. It’s not that Rachel thinks Police Chief Gilroy is incompetent. Far from it. She’s just afraid he’s looking in the wrong places.

Death of a Scavenger is book two in the Juniper Grove mystery series, and it’s good to spend more time with these characters… and to vicariously enjoy the cream puffs from Holly’s bakery.

My favourite addition to the cast of characters is Gina, a grey-dreadlocked lady with mobility issues who lives in a brightly-painted house.

Clues and diversions abound, along with more conflict with the ever-patient Chief Gilroy, and again Rachel plays a key part in solving the mystery.

The Juniper Grove novels are short, quick reads. They’re clean and not too intense – perfect for those times when you don’t want anything too heavy. That said, the characters always leave you with something to think about, even if it’s just the challenge to be kinder to someone who’s marginalized like Gina.

Karin Kaufman is also the author of the Anna Denning mystery series. Death of a Scavenger is the second in the Juniper Grove mystery series. For more about the author and her books, visit karinkaufman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep

12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep (Shiloh Run Press, 2017)

England. 1850. On December 24, Clara Chapman receives a mysterious offer: if she spends the next 12 days at a place called Bleakly Manor, she’ll receive enough money to rescue her from the poverty she’s experienced from the loss of her family fortune.

If they’d told her that another of the guests would be the man who stood her up at the altar, she’d have stayed away.

Except her former fiancé, Benjamin Lane, missed the wedding because he’d been thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He thinks Clara has refused to visit him because she believes he’s a thief. Can he somehow clear his name? Can the two lovers trust one another again?

The other guests are unusual, bordering caricatures: Miss Scurry, who keeps her box of pet mice with her at all times (and who can tell them apart by name!); Mr. Minnow, an eel-like fellow; Mr. Pocket, a police inspector; Mademoiselle Pretents, quite pretentious (and very rude); Mr. Tallgrass, a vulgar fellow in a wheelchair.

It’s a light-hearted mystery: who (and where) is their mysterious host? And who’s behind the incidents that seem calculated to eliminate the guests?

Michelle Griep draws readers in with choice turns of phrase. My favourites:

Ancient buildings with rheumy windows leaned toward one another for support, blocking a good portion of the sky… Clara rapped on the very next door, then fought the urge to wipe her glove. The filthy boards, hung together more by memory than nails, rattled like bones. [page 9]

A cold mist settled over London, dampening everyone’s clothing to the same shade of dreary. It was the kind of late January day that crawled under the best of woolen capes and took up residence in the bones. [page 181]

The novella is book one in the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series, and while Charles Dickens himself doesn’t appear on the pages, readers will find the connection before the story ends.

Michelle Griep’s website describes her as “an author, blogger, and occasional superhero when her cape is clean.” For more about the author and her books, visit michellegriep.com. Also, you can read my interview with her here.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: Death of a Dead Man, by Karin Kaufman

Death of a Dead Man, Juniper Grove Mysteries book 1, by Karin KaufmanDeath of a Dead Man, by Karin Kaufman (2017)

Colorado native Rachel Stowe has fled a stressful job in Boston to return to her home state, specifically to the endearing small town of Juniper Grove, where the few square blocks that make up downtown are a four-minute drive from her home. She can live simply and write more mystery novels.

Rachel is single, in her forties, and has a fondness for casual attire and cream puffs. I like her a lot.

She doesn’t have it all together, but she’s made some good friends here and she’s not one to back down from a challenge. Like helping clear her neighbour Julia’s name from the local paper’s mud-slinging.

Julia’s husband has finally been declared legally dead after he robbed a bank and went missing seven years ago. Most people think he drowned with his partner. But some, like the paper’s editor, suggest Julia knows something about the missing money.

When the dead man turns up freshly-dead in Rachel’s back yard, she’s more motivated than ever to find the truth.

This is the start of a fun series. The books are short, the delivery is snappy, and there’s even an attractive police chief that Rachel butts heads with so regularly that you just know there’s a relationship coming here eventually.

An abundance of clues and details kept me guessing until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more of this series.

My favourite line, which both describes Julia and says something about Rachel herself:

Most of the time Julia had a grandmotherly air about her, and I liked that, but every now and then she transformed into someone you did not want to mess with. I liked that too. [Page 27]

Karin Kaufman is also the author of the Anna Denning mystery series. Death of a Dead Man is the first in the Juniper Grove mystery series. For more about the author and her books, visit karinkaufman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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.]