by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have a fun group of mysteries for your New Year’s Reading-A Brush with Murder: A Paint by Murder Mystery by Bailee Abbott, Digging Up Trouble: A Sweet Fiction Bookshop Mystery by Kitt Crowe, and Hypnosis is for Hacks: An Eleanor Wilde Mystery by Tamara Berry. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 3 books and links to purchase them at the end of each review–you may not be able to see the Amazon links if you have ad blocker on.
A Brush with Murder: A Paint by Murder Mystery by Bailee Abbott
Review by Cynthia Chow
Returning home to Whisper Cove, New York, Chloe Abbington is doing her best to not feel like a failure or that her life in New York City was a waste of time. While she is ostensibly only in town to help her sister Izzie open her new Paint With a View painting event shop, Chloe is also escaping a relationship and failed career as an artist, both which stalled out and proved to be a disappointment. Dreading having to face her artistic parents and her similarly talented sister, Chloe is drawn into helping Izzie plan her pre-opening event Paint Your Shop. Chloe certainly didn’t expect Izzie to get distracted and delegate the party to Chloe, especially when the attendees seem to harbor resentments and very un-neighborly sentiments towards one another.
Attracting the most hostility is Fiona Gimble, the Whisper Cove Gazette columnist who publishes the scandals and rumors everyone wants kept secret. While Chloe does see a different side to her briefly, Fiona quickly fires off barbs that have other business owners simmering and ready to see the journalist permanently gone. So, when Fiona is found stabbed to death, the suspect list should be brimming over with prospects, but the discovery that a painting knife was used as the weapon seems to link the murder to the painting shop or its customers. Or more worrisome, the owner.
Detective Hunter Barrett quickly focuses on interrogating the painting event participants, and Chloe wants to avoid answering questions as much as possible. That’s because Izzie was MIA during the entire event, and she is infuriatingly refusing to tell anyone what was so important that she missed her own big opening. Frustrated with Izzie and not trusting the detective, Chloe finds herself involved in investigating murder despite her best intentions. Before she realizes it, an ad hoc Abbington Detective Agency is formed as she, occasionally her parents, and assistant Willow North are following Fiona’s stories that often led to destroyed businesses and ruined relationships.
This first in the series quickly introduces readers to the charming town of Whisper Cove and its unique residents. Chloe herself is struggling to start over and not feel like she’s back where she started in her life, living with her parents and working for her sister. This is a challenge not made any easier when her NYC ex-boyfriend Ross Thompson lands on her doorstep with the declaration to win her back. While he can charm her parents, Chloe is reluctant to believe that she could ever be more than a distraction from his busy career as an attorney. As exasperating as an inexplicably disappearing Izzie may be at times, the events at Paint Your Shop are fun and fascinating as guests learn how to paint landscapes and portraits of their pets. There is an abundance of suspects, and the author allows Chloe and the reader to draw conclusions, sometimes false, at the same time she discovers new clues and learns more about everyone’s secrets. This keeps the pace of the mystery moving quickly while never making the solution obvious. The relationships between the Abbington sisters and their parents are the highlights of this novel, as they are relatable, engaging, and very loving towards one another. The siblings squabble, tease, but always have one another’s back. Together they are a winning team as they face down murderers and maybe find romance with deserving suitors. This is a promising start for a unique series, one that showcases the unexplored world of art, art events, and their unique abilities to help people bond and express their innermost feelings.
Digging Up Trouble: A Sweet Fiction Bookshop Mystery by Kitt Crowe
Review by Cynthia Chow
Former editor Lexi Jones is back in the sweet town of Confection, Oregon, to take over her family’s bookstore while also secretly writing her first novel. Running Sweet Fiction in the town that caters to tourists with candy-themed named businesses wasn’t Lexi’s plan for her future, but it does allow her to spend time back with her besties and not work sixty-hour weeks. Her adjustment back into her hometown might be going a little more smoothly if her adorable border collie-pit pooch Cookie wasn’t building a reputation for digging holes all around town. No one is incensed more by Cookie’s excavations than Gil Cloutier, a competitive member of the Central Garden Club and Lexi’s next-door neighbor. Lexi is forced to return a copper pipe that Cookie had most recently “retrieved” from Gil’s yard, but soon discovers Cookie again with the pipe. Only this time her pooch is accompanied by Gil’s dead body and a looming, very suspicious, Detective Chad Berg. Knowing first-hand Cookie’s criminal proclivities and second-hand of Lexi’s recent arguments with her neighbor, the detective can’t help but have suspicions about both their roles in the abrasive widower’s death.
Already insulted by Berg’s rather low opinion of her competencies as a dog owner, Lexi is infuriated to be thought of as a murderer. Indeed, it doesn’t take long for rumors in the small town to spread about Lexi’s combative interactions with her neighbor, but it’s not like she was the only one. His own sons had public arguments with their father, and Gil’s cutthroat competitors in the CGC are happy to have one less rival for a $15,000 grand prize as the Best Gardener of the Summer. Determined to prove Lexi’s innocence are the Sweet Fiction’s bookclub members known as the Macaroons, whose nine members track down clues while also discussing The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Lexi is going to need all the help she can get from her own Scooby-gang, especially since she admitted that her super-secret novel included a bludgeoning by pipe of a crabby neighbor. Not being a complete idiot, though, Lexi did at least wipe it off of her hard drive.
This first in the series presents a sharp-witted, smart-talking, and very likable heroine. While Lexi is modeling her work-in-progress novel’s love interests on her best friend’s brother and the exasperating Detective Berg, she describes her own dating life as “lame, yet amusing.” At least she’s not alone in that, with her best friend Cat Campbell obvious in her crush on Berg’s partner while other bestie Teri Hagen lusts after her own brother’s nemesis. The women’s natural banter and snarky teasing feels so well-established and real that readers will immediately believe in their long-lasting friendship. The sly humor of this novel is outstanding, with the tone never becoming too mean or over-the-top, and instead welcomes everyone into this quirky town where everyone is a little eccentric. Clues are laid throughout but deliver a completely unexpected finale, one that promises both romance and a lot of fun in Lexi’s future. This is an outstanding start to a series that bursts out of the gate with delightful characters and extremely funny dialogue. Tantalizing meals, a disobedient dog, competitive gardeners, and a writer struggling with her first book all make for a fun and extremely entertaining read.
Hypnosis is for Hacks: An Eleanor Wilde Mystery by Tamara Berry
Review by Sandra Murphy
Eleanor Wilde used to con people out of their money by pretending to be a medium. Now that her sister has passed away, she really can get help from the other side. She broke away from her former partner, Armand, and now lives a fairly quiet life in a small English village. Of course, there’s the occasional dead body, but she can hardly be blamed for that. In addition, Eleanor has a wealthy boyfriend whose zany mother is enough to keep anyone entertained, distracted, and distraught. Nick more than makes up for his mother’s behavior.
Eleanor, her visiting brother, Liam, and Nick’s mother all go to the seaside a few hours away. What could be nicer than sun, surf, and relaxation? If only that happened. Storms roll through, a man is thrown from a boat but it’s called a suicide, wealthy hotel guests are robbed by invisible thieves, and worst of all, Armand is there.
Eleanor assumes Armand means to blackmail her—help him scam Nick for millions or he’ll tell about her shady past. Nick comes to the rescue but in disguise, and the usual chaos, multiplied by tens, ensues. Seeing shadowy figures go poof, whether they are killing a man or stealing gems, is disconcerting to say the least. There has to be an explanation, but how to find it? Armand suggests hypnosis, never a good idea, more so in this case. So, of course, Eleanor agrees.
If you start with the premise, nothing is what it seems, and follow your intuition, even when furniture flies and creepy dolls follow you, then it all begins to make sense. Eleanor is a reformed schemer but often caught up in events beyond her control. Liam quite steals the show, but Nick’s mother runs a close second. There’s a bossy policewoman, her hapless second in command, helpful hotel staff, and Eleanor’s two cats. What more could readers ask for?
This is book four in the series. The romance between Eleanor and Nick is heating up even when she can’t believe it’s true. For a not-so-relaxing trip to a posh English hotel, this tale is perfect. Just don’t bring your good jewelry and keep your hand on your wallet.
To enter to win a copy of all 3 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “new year” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 8, 2022. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT MAY TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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