by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have reviews of several more fun mysteries from Penguin and Kensington authors-Death in the Stacks: A Library Lover’s Mystery by Jenn McKinlay, Murder with Lemon Cakes: Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery by Karen Rose Smith, X Marks the Scot: A Liss MacCrimmon Mystery by Kaitlyn Dunnett, Murder in an English Village: A Beryl and Edwina Mystery by Jessica Ellicott, Of Murder and Men: A Cat Latimer Mystery by Lynn Cahoon and City of Lies by Victoria Thompson. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 6 books, along with links you can use to purchase them.
Death in the Stacks: A Library Lover’s Mystery by Jenn McKinlay
Review by Sandra Murphy
The Briar Creek Library’s annual fundraiser, Dinner in the Stacks, is just a week away. It’s a chance to get dressed up, dance, eat a catered meal, and bid on auction items. This year, movie star Robbie Vine is the auctioneer. His British accent is bound to cause a bidding frenzy.
While it seems like everything is in place, she’s shocked to enter her office and find a woman behind her desk, in her chair, and on her phone. It’s Olive Boyle, the new library board president. While the board does handle policy, day to day management and decisions are Lindsey’s. Olive thinks otherwise. Her call was to the caterer, demanding they donate all the food and labor for the event or lose the job.
Olive’s contacted the florist and changed the order three times and still says the flowers are not up to her standards. She tried to fire the band. Olive and her three friends—three is more than you’d expect her to have—are the adult version of high school’s Mean Girls. Olive wants library staff to wear uniforms, not dress up for children’s story hour, and do away with anything fun. It’s a constant battle, and the other board members, formerly supportive, are suddenly silent.
During the event Olive interrupts the music to make announcements. She’s zeroed in on Lindsey and claims Lindsey hired a dangerous felon to work in the library. Lindsey should be replaced for endangering the lives of patrons. She also brings up the fact that Lindsey suffered a bad breakup, and that’s why she came back into town.
Unexpected support comes in the form of a group of Brits in town for a visit. They have backup in another set of tourists, a group of friends who own a cupcake shop. Between them, they manage to shut Olive down and restart the party, much to Olive’s fury.
Lindsey is relieved when the evening ends, but the three Mean Girls claim Olive was to meet them in the parking lot and didn’t show. Paula, one of the library staff, finds Olive’s body in the stacks, stabbed with a steak knife.
The suspect list is long: an ex-husband whose current wife hates her, an estranged sister, other board members, and anybody who ever met her. Paula tops the list since she was found with the knife in hand and was the “dangerous felon” Olive talked about.
With the help of Robbie, boyfriend Sully and unexpected others, Lindsey is determined to find the killer and clear Paula’s name—and her own.
This is the eighth book in the series. McKinlay also writes the Hat Shop mysteries and the Cupcake Bakery series—characters from both make the cameo appearance mentioned above and come to Lindsey’s rescue. I only wish they’d gotten a bigger role in solving the mystery. For readers of those series, look for the latest news about them here (surprises!) McKinlay also writes the Bluff Point romance books (two). Humor, mystery and romance, all in one book. And there’s a dog.
Murder with Lemon Tea Cakes: Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery by Karen Rose Smith
Review by Sandra Murphy
Daisy and her Aunt Iris own Daisy’s Tea Garden where they supply both the locals and tourists with baked goods, flavorful teas, and a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. Business has been steady. Although she’d like more customers, Daisy is so busy running the shop, she just doesn’t have time to figure out social media to bring in more people.
With her oldest daughter off to college and her fifteen-year-old Jazzi in some kind of teenage mood, she’s got her hands full. Iris is dating Harvey, the owner of the menswear store from down the street. He’s technically still married to Monica, but the divorce papers are ready to sign if only his soon-to-be-ex would take pen in hand.
Harvey has Daisy host his store’s twenty-fifth anniversary party at her shop, to great success, except for the part when Monica stormed the affair, accusing him of hiding money to lessen her settlement. The party recovers, but when Iris goes into the garden to meet Harvey for their date, she discovers his body instead.
First on the scene and dating a rich, older, and married man puts Iris at the top of the suspect list. The detective in charge doesn’t seem inclined to look any further for the killer. Harvey’s wife had motive, there were rumors that he’d disinherited his son and daughter, and more rumors about the fate of his clothing store. Was he going to expand or sell out?
On the home front, Daisy’s daughter Jazzi is being secretive and well, snarky. As a widow, it falls to Daisy to figure out what’s really going on. When Iris’ house is broken into and ransacked, it’s clear it wasn’t random but a search—for what? Daisy hasn’t dated since her husband died, but now Cade, her realtor and high school friend, asks her out to dinner. She’s not entirely sure it’s a date but is open to the possibility. On the other hand, Jonas, who owns the handmade furniture store across the street, seems to strike a spark whenever he’s around.
This is the first in a new series. Daisy and Iris would welcome you to their shop, explain the teas, and offer you a scone or two to nibble while you relax. Foster, a new hire, Caroline, a potential employee, and Tess, baker and artist, all offer possibilities for the next episodes.
The plot and subplot, plus bits of romance, will keep readers turning the pages. At the back of the book, Daisy shares recipes for leek and potato soup, a carrot, raisin and green grape salad, and lemon tea cakes, a cookie-like yummy that was Harvey’s favorite. There’s also an excerpt from the next book, “Murder with Cinnamon Scones.”
X Marks the Scot: A Liss MacCrimmon Mystery by Kaitlyn Dunnett
Review by Sandra Murphy
Liss MacCrimmon owns the Scottish Emporium in Moosetookalook, Maine. She’s always on the lookout for items to sell in her shop or to decorate it. When an auction is scheduled for the old Chadwick mansion, she knows there’s a painting that would be perfect for the shop and wins the bid. As she and her friend load the painting into her car, they drop it and expose something between the backing and the painting.
At home, she’s astonished to see what looks like a treasure map, but it seems unlikely that the map would be real. A trip to Canada for a new kilt maker and the highland games allows them to investigate the Canadian branch of the Chadwick family. Liss and Margaret stop at the Chadwick Historical and Genealogical Society to meet Orson Bailey, the town’s archivist and historian. Orson has gathered more information about the family.
Cindy, one of the employees, is puzzled by Orson’s absence. Liss finds his body beneath a table, hidden by the tablecloth. Liss and Margaret are allowed to go on with their trip. The question is, was it a random murder, or was it about their research into the Chadwick family?
While at the highland games, their motel room is broken into and searched again, connected or random? Back home, Liss is sure someone is in the house when she comes home unexpectedly. The police find no one. She’s sure it all revolves around the map. Suspects include another bidder at the auction, the man who bought the mansion, the son who sold it, and one missing Chadwick from long ago.
This is the eleventh book in the series. Margaret has retired from the shop and her job, adopted two Scottie dogs, and stays active. I like the relationship between the characters. Margaret is an active senior, Liss and her husband a strong couple. Along the way, there’s a lot to be learned about tartans, kilts, clans, and of course, the Scottie dogs. Dunnett brings Maine to the page for the rest of us to enjoy.
Murder in an English Village:: A Beryl and Edwina Mystery by Jessica Ellicott
Review by Sandra Murphy
For American Beryl Helliwell, life is always exciting—so much so, it becomes almost monotonous. Tramp steamers, camel rides, parachuting from a plane, and people following her every move. Who would believe a rest in the English countryside is what she’s craving?
Prohibition is well underway in the States. England still knows the value of the cocktail hour, even though they do have an unreasonable attachment to a nice cuppa tea at every turn. Beryl sees an ad for a lodger in the newspaper and is delighted to discover her boarding school friend, Edwina (aka Ed) Davenport, placed the ad. If she’s asking for a lodger, her circumstances must be dire.
The friends reunite, each worried the other won’t want to have a trial run at being roommates. Edwina is sure Walmsley Parva is too staid for Beryl, and Beryl is afraid Edwina would rather have someone less well-known. Edwina confesses to a definite lack of money and embarrassment that the whole village must be talking about her.
Beryl decides to remedy the situation by dropping a few hints to the local gossip that she and Edwina are undercover investigators for the King. To bolster the story, they have to find a case to solve. Two years before, a normally reliable Land Army volunteer, Agnes, disappeared without a trace. The police barely investigated. The Land Army provided women for agricultural work during the war.
The two friends ask questions of a woman who worked with Agnes, their supervisor, and townspeople. Shortly after, a body is found in a field where Agnes had worked. Beryl’s sure it must be connected to their inquiries. There are plenty of suspects—a love interest, a mysterious stranger, a local businessman, and the chance it was connected to Agnes. Edwina is attacked in her own garden which convinces Beryl their investigation is no longer a ploy to cover up Edwina’s impoverished status but a real case to solve.
Beryl is a ready liar, doesn’t see the difference between talking to someone of class or the gardener, drives fast, drinks every chance she gets, and is the most loyal friend one could ask for. Edwina is the steady type although she finds she quite likes a bit of excitement now that Beryl’s around. Walmsley Parva is a typical English village—shopkeepers, the working class, the moneyed or formerly moneyed, smooth as glass on the surface but with intrigue, secrets, and lies that can lead to murder.
This is the first in a new series that promises to be a rousing good time as Beryl and Edwina prove life in an English village is more than just tea and crumpets. Who could resist an author with a bio like this? Jessica Ellicott loves fountain pens, Mini Coopers, and throwing parties. She lives in northern New England where she obsessively knits wool socks and enthusiastically speaks Portuguese with a shocking disregard for the rules of grammar.
City of Lies: Counterfeit Lady series by Victoria Thompson
Review by Sandra Murphy
Elizabeth Miles is her real name, but it’s not often the one she uses. Changing her name, personality, and history is all part of the con. This time, she and Jake are running a scheme to fleece Oscar Thornton. He’s wealthy and can afford to lose the money. The plan was put together without all the usual props, and that’s where things go wrong. Oscar’s out the money and intends to get it back. For Oscar, it’s not just the principal of the thing, he has to have revenge, too.
When he comes after Elizabeth, she doesn’t even have time to pack a bag before running. His men are on her heels when she remembers the suffragists are picketing President Wilson’s White House. She manages to blend in with the crowd of women and then instigate a situation where they’ll all be arrested. After all, what’s safer than jail? That plan doesn’t work out so well because the women are sent to a workhouse to teach them their place. Food is scarce and inedible so a hunger strike isn’t the biggest hardship they face.
Elizabeth had nothing in common with the wealthy women who are fighting for the vote, but she’s surprised to discover, they’re not the empty-headed females men think they are. Once released, Elizabeth has to juggle her lies—those told to the women, her new friend, a suitor, and a sharp lawyer. In the end, who will Elizabeth be?
City of Lies is the first in the Counterfeit Lady series. Elizabeth is a delightful character, ready to lie in a split second, fiercely defensive of her lifestyle and friends while vulnerable when making new ones. The history the suffragist movement is seamlessly woven into the story showing the brutal treatment from the men who think women too delicate to vote but not too delicate to be beaten, the determination of the wealthy women, and the friendships that come from unexpected common ground. Thompson also writes the Gaslight series, twenty in all, many reviewed here.
Of Murder and Men: A Cat Latimer Mystery by Lynn Cahoon
Review by Sandra Murphy
A writers retreat should be a calming, productive networking experience. So far, Cat Latimer’s retreats have been a bit more stressful than expected. This time her business partner, Shauna, isn’t going to be around full-time as before. She’s got a new boyfriend who expects her to be with him. Cat thinks Kevin is a broken-heart waiting to happen for Shauna, but it’s tricky to criticize a friend’s choice in men.
Shauna usually stays at the house during a retreat, but Kevin wants to see her. When she wakes up, Kevin isn’t in the house. His body is found in the barn and that makes Shauna Suspect Number One. Kevin was a wealthy businessman who made enemies along the way. He has a messy personal life, and in general, was a jerk. Even Shauna admits that. Suspects are not the problem. With a security system set up, access to the property was a challenge.
The retreat itself is going well. Cat has a hands-off policy except for a professor from the college who lectures on Hemingway and a talk on bookstores from Sasha. Cat meets with the attendees for informal talks about publishing, marketing, and writing. Each retreat, she gives a scholarship to one college student to attend as well.
On a personal front, Cat’s ex-husband, Michael, died last year. She’s finally clearing out his study, ready to donate books and his papers to the college. Sorting and reviewing what goes, what stays, and what heads for the wastebasket takes time—and reveals secrets. It’s a lot to juggle—the retreat, Kevin’s death, the writers, the plot for Cat’s next book, and Michael’s mysterious life after the divorce.
This is the third book in the series. Cat is getting used to running the retreats and the inspiration networking brings. Seth, her boyfriend, is a good match for her. Shauna runs the house, prepares the food, and makes sure things get done on time, including Cat’s writing. Pay close attention to the character’s names. There are a number of them because of the various subplots. In the end, the mystery is solved, friends are made, and it’s time to plan the next retreat where, hopefully, at least a couple of the characters from this book, show up again. Cahoon also writes the Tourist Trap mysteries, nine so far.
To enter to win a copy of all 6 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “winter reading,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen January 20, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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