by Lorie Lewis Ham
Cynthia Chow, Sandra Murphy
& Terrance McArthur
Another year has ended and once again we take a look back at a few of the many books reviewed in KRL in 2019. All but one of our main reviewers share in this post their top 5-10ish favorite books they reviewed in 2019. Katherine Costa wanted to include favorite authors and TV shows that she has reviewed, so hers went up in a separate post in this issue.
The Alchemist’s Illusion: An Accidental Alchemist Mystery by Gigi Pandian
An amazing mix of mystery, fantasy, and science fiction, this highly original series features a 500 year-old alchemist and her Watson-like living gargoyle. Clever writing seamlessly blends timelines into a fascinating novel that as full of intrigue as it is witty humor.
Murder Wears A Little Black Dress: A Resale Boutique Mystery by Debra Sennefelder
A charming debut series that introduces readers both to its charming young heroine and the business of consignment shops. It has all of the required elements of a cozy novel – cats, baked goods, and romance – but places a unique and clever twist to all three. An irresistible read for fashionistas and mystery lovers.
The Puppy Who Knew Too Much: A Dog Club Mystery by V.M. Burns
Along with its heroine Lily, this series continues to grow stronger with each new installment. I of course adore the dogs of the novels, but it’s really Lily’s progression as a mature, confident woman that stands out. Her relationship with her adult daughter is as compelling as the mystery, and both ensure that fans will continue to follow their adventures.
Chocolate a la Murder: A Paranormal Museum Mystery by Kirsten Weiss
There is nothing that is not fun about this mystery set in a paranormal museum. A ghost detecting cat, a nemesis detective who deservedly – if unintentionally – suffers a number of humiliations and surfeit of chocolate lore make this a novel for the year. Humor, romance, and paranormal intrigue have never been more fun.
Deadly Feast: A Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette
I’m a longtime fan of this author and this series, and seeing them tackle the #MeToo movement in the food world is so rewarding. The writing balances delicious descriptions of food with the delicate exploration of harassment, ensuring for a thoughtful and entertaining novel. The Food columns are clever, and the advancement of Hayley’s romance is so rewarding.
The Scent of Murder by Kylie Logan
This new series introduces readers to Jazz Ramsay and her cadaver dog Luther, who find death in the school Jazz once attended. Having given up her dream to follow the family tradition of firefighting, a very guarded Jazz finds her place training working dogs. A past heartbreak is slowly repairs in this novel of class warfare, families, and of course canine trackers.
Paw of the Jungle: A Laying Down the Paw Mystery by Diane Kelly
Chapters alternating between Forth Worth Police Officer Megan Luz and her K9 partner Brigit are the highlight of this clever series, but it’s the even-handed treatment of poaching and its effects that is truly outstanding. Vignettes of their daily patrol work, which never becomes mundane for the idealist police officer, are as entertaining as they are humorous. Just as fun are Brigit’s insight into her human partner, especially when it comes to romantic obstacles.
Cookies and Clairvoyance: A Magical Bakery Mystery by Bailey Cates
It’s rare that the eighth installment of a series makes my favorite list, but here the author stands out by forcing its heroine Katie Lightfoot to confront a life without magic. The mythology of the world continues to build and expand, as does Katie’s relationship with her fiancée. This is a fantasy novel with mystery elements, one that continues to be original in the exploration the characters and their magic.
Top Books of 2019 by Sandra Murphy (alphabetical order)
A Dream of Death by Connie Berry—Kate, widowed, is still tasked with taking care of her sister-in-law, the drama queen. Being summoned to Scotland is going the extra mile for sure. Of course, when she gets there, her welcome is less than warm. The mystery is a good one, the writing excellent. Berry’s description of the snowy weather will have readers reaching for a sweater no matter the true temperature.
City of Secrets by Victoria Thompson—Thompson writes strong women who know what they want and are able to find a way to get it, while teaching the men they love to see the resulting benefits. Untrained, a woman’s choice is either a suitable and probably loveless marriage or a life of drudgery (or worse). Elizabeth Miles is a grifter. In the course of a con, Elizabeth met suffragists and her life and the lives of those around her, changed. (this one actually went up at the very end of 2018)
Come and Get Me by August Norman—a fast-paced, page-turner of a thriller. Readers will have trouble deciding which is a clue and which is a red herring, as it should be. Cait, an investigative reporter, can work the system but can be equally abrasive and annoying when she thinks the situation calls for it. Short chapters from the perpetrator’s point of view are chilling without exposing identity. This is a debut thriller and bursts onto the page in a no-holds-barred, attention grabbing, can’t-put-it-down style. Definitely not a cozy.
Dachshund Through the Snow by David Rosenfelt—a multi-layered mystery full of humor, suspense, and dogs. His characters spring to life on the page, inviting readers to come along for the adventure. Andy’s love for his family—Laurie, son Ricky, Tara the golden retriever, and Sebastian the basset hound who naps a lot and occasionally blinks so you know he’s still breathing—is evident. A thoroughly enjoyable read and a good mystery as well.
Gone Fishing in Lottawatah by Evelyn David-It’s hard to combine humor, suspense, some flashbacks, and still keep a fast pace going but Evelyn David has managed to pull it off. I had to read start-to-finish in one sitting. It’s always a good thing when a reader is torn between finding out who did it and not wanting the book to end. Evelyn David is the pen name for Marian Edelman Borden and Rhonda Dossett. Marian lives in New York while Rhonda is in Oklahoma, the setting for Lottawatah. Their co-writing is done via the internet; surprisingly, even after fourteen books, the two have never met in person.
Fractured Truth by Susan Furlong—Brynn Callahan faces discrimination as a Traveller (gypsy), an ex-Marine, wounded in action. She and her dog, Wilco, a cadaver dog, help with search and rescue or recovery of victims. In case you’re squeamish, the Bone Gap Travellers thrillers share more details about the bodies and more suspense. Brynn is a woman coming apart at the seams, who doesn’t fit in anywhere, with no idea how to fix her life except to deaden the pain.
Fatal Cajun Festival by Ellen Byron—a music festival, dead body, diva/backstabbing singing star, and pralines coming out her ears keep Maggie busy enough without having to help solve the murder to protect her friend. Then there’s Maggie and Bo’s wedding. Will they be able to pull it off? Only time will tell.
Heart of Barkness by Spencer Quinn—Lotty Pilgrim was a well-known country singer/songwriter. Now she’s reduced to playing one-night stands at dive bars. She used to sing about the down and out, dirt poor, broken souls. Now she is one. The mystery is complex, weaving together both Lotty and country music’s past, present, and hopefully, future. Told from the point of view of the dog, which just complicates things further, this series earns a perpetual spot on my Best of List. For twists and turns, laugh out loud moments, a bit of sadness, and romance gone wrong, Chet and Bernie never disappoint. Read one, get hooked, find you have to own them all.
Let’s Fake a Deal by Sherry Harris—a complex story, with double plots, a potential romance, and the reality anyone can be hacked. Harris shows readers the difficulties military families face—one book tackles PTSD, military dogs and their importance to their handlers—and this one, the pressure on military wives. Rank is as important for the wives to respect as it is for their husbands. Some wives use it; some abuse it. Harris weaves military life and civilian life, Sarah’s past and present, seamlessly, never distracting from the story but adding depth.
Mumbo Gumbo Murder by Laura Childs with Terrie Farley Moran—lives are changing as Carmela agrees to marry Edgar. What will Ava do without her bestie? It’s a sure bet the answer is, get into even more trouble. Readers will love Mimi, an orphaned Pug, who should be a regular character from now on, perhaps working in the scrap booking/craft store?
Murder She Wrote, Murder in Red by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land—book forty-nine in the long running series and the second book co-penned by Land and Jessica. Land took over writing the series after the death of Donald Bain. Jessica veers to the edge of cozy status in that she is more willing to take risks now than before.
Saving Ferris by A. R. Kennedy—this book is well researched on a volatile topic. How do you put a value on a pet? Is he family or “just a dog?” The characters are well drawn, many of them, people you’d like to know, depending on your answer to the question above. From the first few pages, readers will be dragged into the story and held captive until the end.
Something Borrowed, Something Mewed by Bethany Blake—Socrates the Basset remains a favorite character as Daphne interprets his sighs, looks, and moans. She continues to get into predicaments like aboard the Tiny-tanic, a refurbished rowboat with a Pug and a Chihuahua for crewmates. With the background of romance, possibility of disasters, dead bodies, and surprises, this series has a solid place on my Best of Reviews List. Again.
The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair—a glimpse into post-war London as the class system is crumbling. Society women are forced to work, shop girls look for husbands so they don’t have to. What was familiar and sure is gone. In this tale, two women work together to find their way in a world neither of them had known or could imagine. They manage to do it with finesse, style, and humor. Loved this book and want to read more.
Total Mayhem by John Gilstrap—anyone who ha followed Jonathan Grave and the Big Guy through jungles to rescue kidnapped victims, knows Gilstrap writes with page-turning tension and plenty of bodies. With Total Mayhem, you’ll realize you ain’t seen nothing yet. This is terrorism on a personal level, right in Small Town America. If this one doesn’t scare the stuffing out of you, nothing will.
Virtual Sabotage by Julie Hyzy—a fast-paced thriller that will leave readers guessing. Some clues are apparent, some a bit trickier, and some so subtle, readers will wonder how they missed them. No need to be tech savvy to read this tale of virtual reality. The suspenseful scene at the end will leave you holding your breath for pages.
Recently, the mystery world lost two prolific writers. Bill Crider and Lea Wait both have passed away. Here are my last two reviews of their books. They always appeared on my Best of list—because they were not only very good writers but very good people.
That Old Scoundrel Death by Bill Crider—for the last time, visit Clearview, to see the indifferent cats, to listen to Seepy’s schemes and, Hack and Lawton bicker, talk books with Clyde, and have dinner with Ivy and to romp with the dogs, Speedo and Yancy. It is a fitting end.
Crider wrote several other series, including the Professor Sally Good series, Professor Carl Burns mysteries, Westerns, children’s books and more. Sheriff Dan Rhodes was his most popular. For characters, you’d love as friends, settings you’d long to visit, and mysteries that are solved with brainpower instead of firepower, Crider always delivered.
Thread on Arrival by Lea Wait—Wait wrote weather better than any other author I’ve read. She also made Haven Harbor as real as can be, a character in itself.
She wrote three series—the Mainely needlepoint books, the Shadows Antique books about antique prints, and as Cornelia Kidd, the Maine Murders. Justice and Mercy is a historical mystery for adults. She wrote seven historical novels for ages eight and up. Pizza to Die For is a contemporary mystery for the young adult audience.
Love and Death Among the Cheetahs: A Royal Spyness Mystery by Rhys Bowen–Georgie, 24th in line to the British throne, is finally married, and her honeymoon turns out to be an undercover investigation in Africa.
Circle of the Moon: Soulwood series By Faith Hunter–Nell, who communicates with the earth and encourages plants, deals with witch circles, vampires, and a bloodthirsty tree.
Wild Country: The World of the Others series By Anne Bishop–After the powerful Others, put down a human uprising, they repopulate a town to see if humans can get along with vampires, shape-changers, and other creatures. Enter, a female deputy.
Haunted Rails By Matthew L. Swayne–Take a non-fiction trip to railroad stations, tunnels, transportation museums, and lonely tracks, where not all the passengers are still living.
Lorie Lewis Ham
I always review way fewer books than our main reviewers simply because I’m not a fast reader and I don’t have time—so I only choose to review books that I’m fairly certain I will love and this year was no exception.
This was a Jeri Westerson year-I reviewed something from her in every genre I usually read-mystery, fantasy, and something new for me-steampunk with a touch of mystery. Jeri is a master at creating interesting characters and each one of these books is filled with them. I have loved her Crispin Guest series since day one and this year I got to review the latest one, Traitor’s Codex, which I think is the best one so far. I also got to review the final 2 books in her Booke of the Hidden Series-Shadows in the Mist and The Darkest Gateway. Lastly, I reviewed the first in a new Steampunk series by Jeri, The Daemon Device. I highly recommend anything that Jeri writes!
Another favorite author of mine is Keri Arthur. This year I reviewed the latest in her Lizzie Grace series, Demons Dance. This series features a witch and her human familiar running a teashop on a werewolf reservation-what more could you ask for? I love this series and will be posting my review of the next book this month.
My year wouldn’t be complete without reviewing a book by Cleo Coyle! I love her Coffeehouse Mysteries—the fun coffee facts, wonderful characters, and well plotted mysteries are an absolute favorite! I love visiting the Village Blend every year. Brewed Awakening had a bit of a different twist to it, which was a lot of fun!
Lee Goldberg introduced a new thriller series in 2018 that is wonderfully unique and a lot of fun. I reviewed the first book, True Fiction and the second book, Killer Thriller in 2019. The main character is a thriller writer whose books basically come to life! Check out my reviews to learn more! I look forward to the next book in the series coming out this year.
I also reviewed the latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree book by Marilyn Meredith, Spirit Wind, which are always fun quick reads.
I have 3 new to me authors that I discovered this year, who I will definitely be following now, two of which fall into the LGBTQ+ mystery/thriller category. Survival is a Dying Art by Neil S. Plakcy features Special Agent Angus Green and was a lot of fun. I will definitely be returning to read more about Agent Green.
The other was Chaser by Dharma Kelleher which features a transgender bounty hunter. This was an unexpected one for me-I don’t think I have ever read a book featuring a bounty hunter as the main character, but I loved the main character and the story drew me in so much that I’m reviewing the third book in the series this month and can’t wait for more!
Lastly, I discovered a fun mix of sci-fi and mystery in Scott Finlay’s book A Fatal Exception that features a robot detective! I look forward to the next book coming out in this series as well.
What were some of your favorite books this year?
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play.