Tag Archives: cozy mystery

Review: The Shadow of Memory, by Connie Berry

Book cover: The Shadow of Memory, by Connie Berry

The Shadow of Memory, by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane Books, 2022)

A stranger is found dead in the church yard—and he turns out to have a past connection with a local woman. When their mutual friends begin dying, can those deaths really be of natural causes? Meanwhile, Kate senses something fishy—and sinister—about a painting whose owners need to sell for quick cash.

I’ve been enjoying the Kate Hamilton mystery series, and book 4, The Shadow of Mystery, continues that trend. We have welcoming small British towns with just enough detail for atmosphere—and with plenty of good food for readers to savour vicariously.

In these books, the mystery comes first: cleverly plotted, clean, and with the present-day death somehow connected to secrets from one or more generations past.

The characters feel lifelike and come with personal and relational complications. These never overshadow the mystery, instead adding background flavour.

American Kate is an expert on antiques, currently assisting her English friend Ivor Tweedy (don’t you love his name?) with his shop, The Cabinet of Curiosities. Kate’s fiancé, Tom Mallory, is in British law enforcement. Once they set a date for the wedding they’ll need to decide which continent to call home. Kate and Tom have each lost a previous spouse and each have adult children. They each have a mother, too: Kate’s is a steadying source of advice, while Tom’s can’t accept him remarrying. Guess which one lives nearby?

We also have the elderly Vivian Bunn, with whom Kate currently boards, and the even older Lady Barbara Finchley-fforde living in the nearby manor house.

Readers can begin with this book with only mild spoilers for the previous ones, but I’d encourage you to start with book 1, A Dream of Death. You won’t regret it.

Despite the familiar and detailed way she writes British small town settings, Connie Berry is an American author based in Ohio. Check out her books at connieberry.com and sign up for her monthly newsletter, The Plot Thickens.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: Boughs of Folly, by Sandra Orchard

Boughs of Folly, by Sandra Orchard (Annie’s Fiction, 2022)

Cover art for Boughs of Folly. Christmas tree, gingerbread village, cat.

After 20 years away from her Georgia hometown, Jillian Green is back: living with her grandmother and great aunt in an antebellum mansion and slowly improving her baking skills at her grandmother’s Chocolate Shoppe bakery.

Christmas is approaching and she’s excited to decorate the mansion for the upcoming Merry Mansions tour. When one of the decorating team is found dead on the grounds, Jillian’s great aunt cries murder. Since the elderly woman is convinced her dead husband communicates with her through her cat, nobody takes the claim seriously—until handsome coroner Hunter Greyson agrees.

Jillian’s curiosity draws her into the murder investigation and also into a stranger’s quest to locate his long-lost high school sweetheart. As clues and complications multiply, she discovers the two mysteries may have a common thread.

Boughs of Folly is a feel-good Christmas cozy mystery that fits into a collection of books set in the same town, which means it comes with a well-established set of characters. This is a bonus for fans of the other books who get to see their fictional friends again. Not having read the other books didn’t affect me in terms of understanding the story although I did feel like there were a lot of people to keep track of.

Most fun thing about the book: the mansion’s decorations include an outdoor manger scene with lifelike sheep that Jillian remembers her grandfather regularly moving around so people would think they were real. Another good thing would be all the bakery goods references.

The mystery is satisfyingly tangled but it all comes out in the end. In traditional cozy fashion, readers will find a clean story with appealing characters and setting, a bit of humour, food, friendship, hints of romance, and a quirky pet.

Boughs of Folly is part of a three-book set called Jingle Bell Mysteries (with Klaus for Suspicion and Deck the Hearse) from Annie’s Fiction. Annie’s is a subscription book club delivering members a new read every 4-6 weeks. The Jingle Bell Mysteries set is available for purchase through Annie’s site without taking a subscription, so it’s a great way to check out the types of books they offer. For more about the book bundle or to order, click here: Jingle Bell Mysteries.

Believe it or not, this is Sandra Orchard’s 25th book. For more about the author and her mystery and romantic suspense books, visit sandraorchard.com.

[Review copy provided by the author. I wasn’t required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]

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Review: Crossed by Death, by A.C.F. Bookens

Crossed by Death, by ACF Bookens, Stitches in Crime series book 1

Crossed by Death, by A.C.F. Bookens (Andilit, 2021)

Paisley Sutton’s historical writing career went out the window when she became a single mom of a toddler too active to allow the necessary research time. Now she provides for herself and two-year-old Sawyer by salvaging vintage items from abandoned buildings and reselling them online.

Exploring a long-closed rural gas station was not supposed to end with her finding a dead body. Nor was meeting the town sheriff supposed to unfold into a potential for romance.

I enjoyed following Paisley’s research as she tries to untangle generational secrets that might explain not only the present-day murder but the long-ago one that closed the gas station.

Cozy mystery fans will find a few familiar staples: a well-stocked yarn store is a key setting (although Paisley herself prefers cross-stitch), there’s an interesting pet (a Maine Coon cat) and plenty of food references, along with the law enforcement romantic hero. Her salvage career is interesting, and the mystery is an engaging puzzle to follow.

I like Paisley’s accepting way with people and her desire to contribute to their lives. Her mama-bear determination to provide for and protect her son create a strong reader connection. The book does a great job of showing white characters (including Paisley) interacting with Black characters with no prejudice but also with no sense of “hey, look at us being non-racist.” It’s just natural, as it should be, with a few regretful references to past segregation.

Crossed by Death is book 1 in the Stitches in Crime mystery series. A.C.F. Bookens has a few other cozy mystery series as well, one of which is a free download on her site: acfbookens.com. Fans of Karin Kaufman’s Juniper Grove series will want to give this author a try, and vice versa.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Gossip and Grace, by Janice L. Dick

Gossip and Grace, The Happenstance Chronicles Book 3, by Janice L. Dick

Gossip and Grace, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2022)

When you mess up in a small town, everybody knows it. Which is why 19-year-old Sol Wuppertal does not want to return to Happenstance when he gets out of prison. No matter his claims of innocence—all the townsfolk will remember is that he hung around with bad characters and has done time.

Readers of the Happenstance Chronicles series will recognize Sol’s large, energetic family: his dad owns the general store. Other fan favourites are back as well: Matt and the Misses Grayce and Emmaline, Bear, the crotchety Morris Craddock, and more. If you’re new to the series, you’ll fit right in and quickly develop a fondness for these folks.

In this book, Sol is lured home by his sister Rachel who’s running the new bistro and needs a helper. Sol needs a job but doesn’t want to work in the family store—his father hasn’t forgiven him for shaming the family name. But working at the bistro puts Sol in regular contact with Mr. Craddock. Words will fly and tempers will flare.

As if conflict with his father, the local gossip columnist, Mr. Craddock, and his parole officer isn’t enough, Sol also finds himself in the middle of a mystery. Someone’s been stealing rare books from the library attached to the bistro.

Gossip and Grace is a blend of contemporary fiction and cozy mystery, with a dash of whimsy. The mystery is clearly secondary to the challenges and changes in the characters’ lives.

Sol has a lot of negative mental baggage and as he tries to learn to reframe his perspective I appreciate the realistic ups and downs in the process. Too many books make it look easy or like a one time choice. Negative self-talk and false beliefs about others are things that affect so many of us in the real world, and I think Sol’s journey can point to real-life change. Not that it’s preachy in any way—his growth is an organic result of his struggle.

Gossip and Grace is the newest feel-good mystery in the Happenstance Chronicles, with delightful characters, amusing banter, and a whimsical small town you’ll wish was real. As well as this contemporary series, Janice L. Dick has also written historical fiction. For more about the author and her books, visit janicedick.com.

[Review copy provided by the author. I wasn’t required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]

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Review: Cold Drip, by Heather Day Gilbert (Barks & Beans 6)

Cold Drip, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2022)

A tour of the local caverns with her visiting boyfriend plunges Macy Hatfield into another mystery when a young woman falls over a cliff during a suspicious power outage.

I’m always happy to return to the West Virginia-set Barks and Beans Café for a vicarious dose of tasty treats and canine company. And as the series continues, I appreciate how some of the secondary characters are included in aspects of the mysteries. It lets readers get to know them along with brother-and-sister sleuthing duo Bo and Macy—and Coal, my favourite fictional Great Dane.

Fans of Heather Day Gilbert’s other books will be happy to recognize a new character in Cold Drip who was introduced in False Pretense, the recent finale to her Murder in the Mountains series. Cold Drip also includes some hints that may shape future mysteries in the series.

The Barks and Beans books are light-toned cozy mysteries with characters who’ll keep you coming back for more. There’s an overall arc of developing friendships and romance, yet a reader could start with any book.

Author Heather Day Gilbert writes contemporary mysteries (some faith-based and some clean mainstream) and Viking historicals. To quote her bio on the Goodreads site, “She brings authentic family relationships to the page, and she particularly delights in heroines who take a stand to protect those they love.”  For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the author. I was not required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]

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Review: Trouble Brewing, by Heather Day Gilbert (Barks ‘n Beans 5)

Trouble Brewing, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2021)

When her friend Della suspects that an elderly homecare client was murdered, local sleuth Macy Hatfield sees the perfect way to scout out the dead woman’s suspect-laden family: The daughter and her husband run a country inn that’s offering a Halloween weekend getaway.

Leaving her faithful Great Dane, Coal, in the care of her brother, Bo, Macy and Della book a mini getaway. They both need one, and it’ll be fun. What could possibly go wrong?

Among the family, motive abounds. Add a creepy ghost-tour walk, an apparition on the grounds, bats, and a dead body, and Macy and Della may be in too deep. Because there’s nothing ghostly about the very human killer.

Favourite line:

It was the kind of sun-speckled October day that wrapped the autumn trees in a lazy golden cocoon. I’d been a child of the mountains since the day I was born, but this kind of weather forced everyone to sit up and acknowledge that West Virginia was called “almost heaven” for good reason. [chapter 1]

Don’t you just want to visit?

Trouble Brewing is book 5 in the Barks & Beans Café Mystery series, clean reads set in small-town West Virginia. Fans of the series will still have a chance to visit the café and enjoy the staff and the rescue dogs, but the bulk of the story takes place at Baxter Manor.

This is a series you can jump into anywhere, with each mystery self-contained. That said, there is a long-running plot thread from Bo’s former work in drug enforcement, and the characters are building relationships with one another and in the community.

Award-winning author Heather Day Gilbert’s books range from cozy mysteries to suspense to Viking historicals. For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Advance reader copy provided by the author. My review is voluntary and is my own opinion.]

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Review: Spilled Milk, by Heather Day Gilbert (Barks & Beans 4)

Spilled Milk, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2021)

A feel-good cozy mystery!

The Barks & Beans Café—small-town Lewisville’s place to gather for fantastic coffee and the chance to mingle with (and perhaps adopt) lovable dogs from the nearby animal shelter.

In the middle of plans for the café’s one-year anniversary, Macy Hatfield’s brother and business partner, Bo, is called away for “one last duty” for his former drug enforcement boss.

Macy can handle this on her own, right? Her loyal staff members, and her friend Summer from the animal shelter, are on board to help.

Except her best barista is suddenly a murder suspect. And her ex-husband slithers into town. And Bo’s cat is a nightmare houseguest.

Readers familiar with the series know Macy has a helping heart. She has to support Kylie and clear her name despite the girl’s distant attitude. And despite the rebellious younger sister Kylie is supporting.

If you’re new to the series you can start here, but it’d be more fun to start at the beginning with No Filter. Each story is self-contained, although there’s a long-term plot thread as well as developing relationships.

I like the characters—human and animal—and the light-hearted vibe even though the body count is rising. This is a mystery I could read at bedtime, be fully engaged in the story, and not risk bad dreams. I don’t know if “feel-good mystery” is a genre, but the label fits for this one. I was smiling when I finished.  

The Barks & Beans novels are clean, mainstream cozy mysteries set in small-town West Virginia. Spilled Milk is book four. Up next will be Trouble Brewing.

Author Heather Day Gilbert writes cozy mysteries, romantic suspense, and Viking historicals. Check out her website for more information: heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher. I was not required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]

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Review: Fair Trade, by Heather Day Gilbert

Fair Trade, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2020)

This third instalment in The Barks & Beans Café Mystery Series sees brother and sister co-owners Bo and Macy Hatfield on location at the West Virginia state fair with a booth for iced coffee, snacks, and a few of the shelter dogs who make up the “barks” side of the name.

This time, Macy reconnects with an old school friend, now a country music star, who’s in town for a couple of concerts at the fair. Macy enjoys the chance to see behind the scenes in the band, but when there’s an attempt on her friend’s life the rest of the band suddenly look like suspects.

The fairground atmosphere took me back to fun childhood memories of rides, food, and exhibits. Favourite line:

It was a curious concoction of popcorn, hot dogs, and caramel, mingled with the very human scent of something I could only describe as undiluted excitement.

[Kindle location 719, Macy describing the scent of the fair]

I found the psychology especially interesting in this story, and of course Coal the Great Dane is a treat. I like how he’s always featured on the covers. Waffles the clueless shelter dog is back, as well of course as the likeable siblings and their staff and friends. And there’s a surprise cameo appearance by someone fans will recognize from another Heather Day Gilbert series.

Another thing I appreciate about this series is the overarching plot threads that link the books. Not that a reader couldn’t start here and be happy, but continuity-wise it’s better to start at the beginning and watch it all unfold. Each story is complete on its own, but as well as developing relationships there’s the shadowy background villain who keeps inserting himself into Macy’s life.

Fair Trade is a quick, clean cozy mystery that may have you wishing for a chance to take in your own local fair.

Award-winning author Heather Day Gilbert writes cozy mysteries, suspense and romantic suspense, and Viking historicals. For more about the author and her books, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: Iced Over, by Heather Day Gilbert

Iced Over, Barks & Beans Cafe Mystery Series book 2, by Heather Day Gilbert

Iced Over, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2020)

An accident on an icy road leaves one armoured car driver dead and the other in a coma—and a surprising amount of people looking for money stolen from the scene.

Macy Hatfield, co-owner of Barks & Beans with her brother Bo, discovers the injured man is uncle to one of their employees at the café and brother to one of her friends from church. Macy’s protective streak kicks in, and her curiosity isn’t far behind.

This is a light-hearted series, with no graphic scenes or profanity. The characters attend church, but that’s the only overt faith content you’ll see.

Being light doesn’t mean fluffy, though. While on the one hand we have Waffles, the adorable-but-clueless shelter dog who can’t behave, on the other we have teenaged Ethan (the injured man’s nephew) on regular dialysis and needing a kidney transplant. And we have stolen cash in West Virginia, but also international criminals with a wider agenda.

I enjoy being able to read mystery and suspense without getting tense or worried. The Barks & Beans series fits that bill nicely, and I like the characters—both human and animal. For the cat-lovers among us, Bo has a delightful kitten named Stormy.

Dog-wise, we have Coal, Macy’s Great Dane, and the various shelter dogs delivered to the café each day in hopes of finding a café patron who’ll adopt them. The food and drinks that come out of this café make it a place I’d definitely like to visit, and I’d like to visit with the dogs too.

Favourite lines:

Sometimes, in the empty spaces, it was almost like my heart was beating too loudly, shouting for someone else to hear it. [Macy thinking about living alone in a large house, Kindle location353]

I was about to raise his interest in buzzing off from Barks & Beans for good. “I understand,” I said, offering that honeyed smile of the South that meant you had another thing coming. [Macy again (the whole book is in her point of view), Kindle location 779]

Heather Day Gilbert writes cozy mysteries, romantic suspense, and Viking historical fiction, both clean mainstream and Christian. Iced Over is book 2 in The Barks and Beans Café Mystery Series. Book 3, Fair Trade, releases fall 2020. For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: No Filter, by Heather Day Gilbert

No Filter,by Heather Day Gilbert  Barks & Beans Cafe Mystery Series, Book 1 | #cleanreads #cozymystery

No Filter, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2020)

Mystery readers will love the sister and brother duo—and Coal, the Great Dane—in Heather Day Gilbert’s new Barks & Beans Café Mystery Series.

Newly-single Macy Hatfield is lured home to the West Virginia town of Lewisburg when her brother Bo moves back to open his own business—The Barks & Beans Café. It’s a trendy, upscale coffee shop with a difference: there’s an attached space where patrons can get their pet fix by visiting with dogs from the local shelter.

Bo’s the coffee guy, and Macy’s the dog lover. Together, they run this business in what was their beloved Aunt Athaleen’s home. Bo is ex-military, which will come in handy when the mystery part of the story starts.

Apparently cafés like this do exist, and I think they sound fun (for dogs or for cats). The café staff are an eclectic and interesting group, as are the clientele, and the café treats sound tempting.

When Macy adopts a Great Dane after his owner’s murder, she’s drawn into the mystery surrounding the death.

No Filter is a clean cozy mystery and a fun read, and I’m fond of Coal, the Great Dane. Macy and Bo have a really strong sibling relationship. It’s good to see support instead of bickering. I like their banter and the way each has the other’s back. They need to, since otherwise they’re on their own. Each one carries wounds from previous relationships as well as the longer-standing trauma of their parents’ deaths many years earlier.

Favourite line (Macy talking to Bo):

I rolled my eyes. “I can take care of myself. Case in point, I was at the scene of a murder tonight and I didn’t get killed.” [Kindle location 1834]

No Filter is book 1 in the Barks & Beans Café Mystery Series. The novel is complete on its own, with some suspense and relationship threads that lead into later books. Readers who enjoy No Filter will want to order the sequel, Iced Over, releasing July 2020. For more about author Heather Day Gilbert and her other books (mysteries, suspense, and Viking historicals) visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher; opinions are my own.]

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