Two Down, Bun to Go by H.Y. Hanna My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Professor Quentin Barrow is found dead, stabbed to death with an Egyptian Dagger. Gemma’s former Oxford chum and still good friend, Seth Browning, is charged with the murder. Seth was seen arguing with professor Barrow before the body was discovered. A staunch advocate for the homeless and other such causes, Seth was getting pushback from the professor regarding a piece of college donated property that would have benefited the homeless. Barrow’s pompous, elitist attitude disgusted Seth, and his repulsion for the man was evident. Gemma knows her friend could not have committed the murder, although she must admit his current odd, uncharacteristic and mysterious behavior is quite alarming. But how can she prove his innocence when there is so much circumstantial evidence pointing to Seth? With the help of handsome CID Detective and former boyfriend, Devlin O’Connor, contending beau, Lincoln Green, and the meddlesome but lovable Old Biddies, Gemma uncovers a slew of others who might have killed the unpopular professor. The question is, which one of them actually did?
I don’t know how H.Y. Hanna manages it, but each successive book in her Oxford Tearoom Mystery series is better than the last. Don’t let the whimsical, cute little cover fool you. They rival other renowned and beloved writers of British mysteries hands down. Her characters’ magnetic personalities captivate; from the endearing to the villainous, they’re all equally entertaining. The way in which she describes her mother’s witty charms and hapless adventures, the antics of the Old Biddies, and little Muesli the cat, never fails to elicit chuckles. The plot moves along effortlessly as the reader is immersed in English life and subtly educated about the peculiarities and uniqueness of the University of Oxford—a real treat and added bonus.
Read it, you’ll LOVE it. And if you want an even greater experience, do yourself a favor and listen to the audio version. The narrator does a stupendous job of bringing the characters to life. Very, very highly recommended.
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Tagged for Death by Sherry Harris
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
⭐⭐⭐⭐💫 Sarah Winston, 38, is devoid of a social life since divorcing her husband, CJ Hooker, former Air Force Base Security Forces squadron commander. Forced to retire for “misconduct” after having had an affair with a 19 year old airman, Tiffany Lopez. Sarah does, however, enjoy frequenting garage sales, and recently she’s snagged a great buy at one in particular, even managing to collect various free items for charity. Back at her small apartment, while sorting out the charitable items to be taken to the military base thrift shop, she finds a bloodstained shirt with her ex-husband’s initials on the monogrammed cuff, along with another piece of bloodied clothing, a maternity top, that belonged to his dismissed lover, Tiffany Lopez. Flabbergasted as to how either of the items wound up with her other collectibles, and in a panic, Sarah frantically tries to locate CJ. When he finally contacts her she shares what she found and he assures her he’ll figure out what’s going on. But when blood is found on Tiffany’s dorm room floor, and Sarah soon finds a skull and bones on the thrift store grounds where she volunteers, will she be able to prove that her ex-husband didn’t have a motive for murder?
I really enjoyed Tagged for death. The mystery of what happened to Tiffany Lopez unfolds gradually while we simultaneously gain a window into Sarah’s life as an ex-military wife, and how she is forced to redefine herself after losing much of her identity after moving off the military base. While Sarah has to learn to adapt to life as an ordinary civilian and divorcee, she’s savvy when it comes to using her wits to investigate the murder of her ex-husband’s lover. The struggle to rid herself of the love she still has deep down for her cheating husband, while endeavoring to make a little money to sustain herself by setting up garage sales for friends and acquaintances, endeared me to her character. She’s a fighter, determined to overcome adversity, and I admired that quality. Tagged for Death is not a whimsical cozy. It has a mature theme that held my attention as much as the mystery aspect. There are a few twists that I didn’t expect, and that makes me curious and eager to move on in the series, as these twists warrant further development. A great story. I am definitely interested to see how Sarah gets on with her life. Recommended.
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The Julius House by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ I love the Aurora Teagarden Mystery series. I would classify The Julius House as a conventional mystery, although I find it along the lines of cozy-ish. Charlaine Harris knows how to assemble intricately contrived, yet plausible murder scenarios that definitely excite and entertain the reader. I’ve been astounded by the outcome of the murder mystery each time I’ve read one of the books in this series. Thankfully, she’s adding new books to the series and I eagerly await what she will cook up in the ones that are to come. And now a synopsis of The Julius House…
Aurora (Roe) Teagarden’s new husband, Martin, has bought her The Julius House as a wedding present. But this is no ordinary house. The Julius House was home to a family of three that disappeared approximately six years before. It’s like they just vanished into thin air. The only relative who can relate what happened on that fateful day is Melba Totino, the mother of one of the occupants, Hope, who was married to T.C. Julius. The two lived in the house with their teenage daughter, Charity. Melba lived in a little apartment above the garage adjacent to the house. On the morning the family vanished, Melba had stepped over to the house to cook breakfast for the family as usual. According to her statement to police, when she went there that morning nobody was in the home. The couples’ vehicles were in the garage, the house was undisturbed, but the family was gone. Six years later they’re still missing.
Roe feels unsettled and determined to find out what happened to the Julius family. Could they be dead somewhere on or around the property? She’s determined to do some digging to put her mind at ease. Unfortunately, the Julius family is not the only mystery she’s interested in solving. It seems her new husband has got some secrets of his own. For instance, just who is the mysterious, odd married couple that Martin has informed Roe will be living with them in Melba’s old apartment over the garage? Why is he vague about who they are and why they’re there? It becomes clear that Roe just might have her work cut out for her as she goes on a mission to uncover both mysteries.
I can always count on being fully immersed in an Aurora Teagarden murder mystery. I enjoyed this book immensely. Most definitely recommended.
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The Secrets She Kept by Brenda Novak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Josephine Lazarow had a lot of secrets….
The Secrets She Kept, book 2 in the Fairham Island series, picks up 5 years after The Secret Sister. Josephine Lazarow is dead. Her death has been ruled a suicide, but her son, Keith Lazarow, is not convinced. His mother would never take her own life, he insists. Once a down and out addict, Keith has turned over a new leaf. Turns out he has a knack for real estate and operates a multimillion dollar company in California. His newfound wealth gives him the means to delve deeper into his mother’s death. After consulting with his sister Maisey regarding the mysterious circumstances surrounding their mother’s death, she supports Keith’s decision to pursue a more thorough investigation. If only he could persuade the beautiful, highly intelligent and efficient Chief of Police, Harper Underwood, to get on board. Keith realizes that his negative reputation precedes him, and that it will take great effort on his part to reverse others’ preconceived notions of him, including the police chief’s. Meanwhile, Keith is trying to contain his feelings for the woman whose heart he broke 5 years earlier before he got clean, Nancy Dellinger. Realizing he made a tremendous mistake in taking her for granted, he desperately wants to start over with her. But Nancy has continually resisted his attempts and Keith is having a difficult time accepting her rejections. Will these distressing circumstances in his life push Keith over the edge and back to the drugs he’s worked so hard to put behind him? Did Josephine take her own life or did someone murder her?
The Secrets She Kept was every bit as good as The Secret Sister, which was a 5-star read for me. In it we find a great mystery alongside a solid, second-chance romance story. Brenda Novak is very adept at conveying human emotion. Her characters’ feelings and expressions are authentic and relatable. I also appreciate how there’s a purpose for every one of her characters. At the conclusion of the book the reader is not left wondering “whatever happened to so and so?”. Everything comes together at the end, neat and tidy, with each person accounted for. Some of the characters that we were introduced to in The Secret Sister have evolved and matured in The Secrets She kept, and for that reason I recommend reading the books in order. If I had to list any cons for this book there would only be one. I wish it was free of the heavy petting and sensual scenes since I prefer wholesome romance. Just my own personal preference. Brenda Novak’s writing is so good it doesn’t even seem necessary. Being that the romance aspect shared space with the mystery, these scenes were few and I did my best to skip over them. Had everything remained the same, and the romance been strictly sweet, it would be a 5++ read for me.
Overall, The Secrets She Kept was an excellent read with a thoroughly satisfying mystery and a HEA that will melt your heart.
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A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
⭐⭐⭐💫 Lena London’s life is about to change….in more ways than one.
When Lena brings her car to a halt in front of the large, ominous-looking mansion and home of her idol, novelist Camilla Graham, she still can’t believe her good fortune. Lena has devoured every one of Camilla Graham’s books since she was a young girl, and now she will have the privilege of living in her house as her personal assistant and ghost writer, thanks to her friend Allison who got her the interview that landed her the job. This apprenticeship is a dream come true for Lena, but as she gets started in her new role she finds that all is not well in the sleepy, blissful town of Blue Lake, IN. Nothing notable ever really happens in Blue Lake she’s been told, but in less than a day since Lena’s arrival a dead body is discovered on Camilla’s property, and she learns that their neighbor next door, Sam West, is suspected of killing his missing wife. And while walking Camilla’s feisty German Shepherds, Heathcliff and Rochester, in an attempt to acquaint herself with her new surroundings and neighbors, she meets several surly male residents and a few pleasant women in town who seem cordial and welcoming enough. But Lena’s on high alert. Can any of these townsfolk be responsible for the murder of Martin Jonas, waiter at the Wheat Grass restaurant? Did Sam West kill his wife who vanished a year ago without a trace?
This cozy started out well, and I liked the idea of an aspiring writer living with and working for her favorite novelist. Their interactions throughout the book were endearing, and it was nice to see how their relationship evolved from the time they met to the book’s end. Camilla’s dogs, Rochester and Heathcliff; and Lena’s cat, Lestrade, were a welcome addition to the story. Their antics were amusing and I never tired of reading about what they were up to. While the characters were interesting, I would like to have seen some of them more fully developed. There was so much more potential for fleshing them out. Perhaps we’ll learn more about them in book 2. What put me off a little with this book was the insta-love between Lena and one of the other characters, the double murder plot which at times made me wonder which one was taking center stage, the easy way I determined who the killer was, and the To Be Continued ending. All in all, I liked this cozy but I didn’t love it. I wanted to love it so much. It began on a high note but gradually started to lose steam for me when I was about 3/4 of the way in. Nevertheless it was a pretty good read. But hey, judging from the 4 and 5 star reviews it’s receiving you might think differently so I’d say give it a try. You may very well think it deserves more merit.
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The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Brenda Novak tricked me!! Just when I thought I had it all figured out she blindsided me with a twist I didn’t see coming, and it was clever. As the title suggests, there could very well have been a secret sister that protagonist, Maisey Lazarow, didn’t know about. When a metal box that was keenly hidden emerges, the photographs inside incite vague memories of a girl she may have once been acquainted with. But how could that be? Keith and Maisey are the only two children of Malcolm and Josephine Lazarow. Or are they? Maisey doesn’t dare broach that subject with her mother. Josephine is an odious, overbearing and austere woman who exerts her power and influence on Fairham Island, the place where Maisey grew up and has now returned to help her brother, a weak and broken soul who can’t get his life together. Maisey’s relationship with her mother is so shallow that she refuses to stay in the family home, Coldiron House, preferring to take up residence on the far side of the island where her family owns a number of bungalows that are in desperate need of repair. Even a crumbling cottage is better than living in the same house with her mother. But when Maisey finds out that the contractor who’s been hired to do the renovations on the bungalows is none other that Rafael “Rafe” Romano, a guy she had a fling with in her younger days, and who now owns and lives in one of the bungalows nearby with his adorable young daughter, Laney, Maisey wonders how she’ll be able to divert her attention away from the alluringly attractive man that her mother would never approve of for her daughter. Bad enough she’s recently divorced from Jack, a man who her mother had advised her not to marry; a fact that Josephine will not let her forget. And now, finding the pictures of the young girl in that box raises many questions. Who is she, and why hadn’t her parents told her and Keith about her? Why aren’t there any police records about her, or small-town rumors circulating that she’s heard about? Could her mother have anything to do with the child’s disappearance? The implications of that thought alone are unnerving. Aside from trying to find answers to these lingering questions, she’ll have to make a decision about who she wants to have in her life romantically, Jack or Rafe; straighten out her careless, irresponsible brother, revitalize her writing career, heal from a personal tragedy, and put forth her best effort to mend the rift with her mother that’s been intensified by her reluctance to break things off with Rafe.
The mystery/romance combination of this story really worked for me. I love mysteries, and I love romance, so when they work in tandem I’m contented. This method of storytelling also gives more space to the plot rather than the bedroom scenes. That’s a plus for me because I prefer wholesome romance where heavy sexual content is non-existent. As was the case with The Secret Sister, my attention was drawn more to the mystery of the unidentified girl than it was to Rafe and Maisey’s relationship drama, although I was interested in knowing if their feelings for each other would overcome any obstacles that threatened to keep them apart. In the end, I had to suspend disbelief just a bit to come to terms with the rapid progression of their love, but isn’t that what enjoying fiction is all about sometimes? In conclusion, The Secret Sister was a tantalizing mystery that pulled a fast one on me, along with a romance made up of two unlikely, but very likeable adults, and secondary characters that consisted of all the traits that make for an interesting and absorbing read. I look forward to finding out more about the Lazarow family in Fairham Island book 2, The Secrets She Kept. Highly recommended.
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Guidebook to Murder by Lynn Cahoon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ This was an audiobook. Guidebook to Murder was my first cozy mystery by Lynn Cahoon. I was immediately drawn in from the start and continued to be enthralled to the end. My imagination embraced the setting of a small California coastal town called South Cove. The primary character, Jill Gardner, owned and operated Coffee, Books and More; the only book store/coffee shop for miles around. Jill was a divorced attorney who visited the town of South Cove while on vacation and loved it so much that she decided to move there and open her store. Part of the town’s allure was the friendship she immediately forged with a kind old lady who initially welcomed her and made her feel right at home. Her name was Miss Emily, and Jill became like a daughter to her. Since Jill was devoid of a romantic relationship at the time, and Ms. Emily lived alone with few if any real friends, the two shared a special bond. But then the unthinkable happened. Ms. Emily was murdered and Jill was devastated. Who would do this? Ms. Emily was being continually pressured by the city council about infractions on her property, and shortly before she died the council was threatening to demolish her property if she didn’t repair the fence, fix the lawn, and take care of many other eye sores related to her parcel. Ms. Emily’s property was the lone obstacle to plans for a new development project, a commercial venture that could presumably net the town a considerable amount of money. Even the mayor was intent on dispossessing poor Ms. Emily. But would the developer or a city council member resort to murder? Jill wonders, but when her best friend Amy goes missing, and Ms. Emily’s unsightly house begins turning up very valuable hidden treasures and secrets, is there more to this Murder mystery than Jill realised?
Lynn Cahoon has been added to my FAVORITE COZY AUTHORS list. This mystery was beautifully paced, the characters were interesting and varied, and the details surrounding Miss Emily’s murder kept me guessing until the revealing at the end, which was both fulfilling and plausible. Thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it highly.
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