Monday, November 12, 2018

In Peppermint Peril by Joy Avon

Joy Avon's debut mystery, In Peppermint Peril, is the first "A Tea and a Read Mystery". This one is set in the Christmas season, while the second one will take readers back to Heart's Harbor, Maine, for the Fourth of July celebration. Meet Callie Aspen and her Great Aunt Iphegeneia (Iphy).

Iphy owns the vintage tearoom Book Tea. She loves mysteries and puts clues on her pastries. When Callie, who is visiting for the Christmas holiday, is dispatched to Haywood Hall with a special cake, she's curious about Aunt Iphy's mystery with this one. But, neither mystery fan realize they'll be caught up in an actual murder mystery at Haywood Hall.

There's a lot of tension. Mr. Leadenby, the retired gardener, doesn't get along with Sheila, Callie's childhood friend. They're snipping at each other at the door. Dorothea Finster, the oldest resident in town at 93 is throwing the tea party at her beloved home. She's about to read her will, and she's invited family and the important people in town, while Iphy and Callie are catering the party.  Sheila has her own plans. She wants her daughter's boyfriend to propose to Amber during the party, and she puts a ring box in the center of the cake.

But, everything goes wrong during the party. The ring is missing; the young people are upset about the pushy engagement plans. Dorothea never gets to read her will after Amber finds a body in the conservatory. Callie, who loves Haywood Hall and her memories, believes she has to do something to  make sure the killer is caught, but she doesn't want to put anyone under suspicion of murder. "In true Agatha Christie style, the will reading had led to murder." And, Callie isn't willing to share information with Deputy Falk who seems too inexperienced to solve the case.

The setting of In Peppermint Peril has potential, but this first mystery is weak. It feels rushed, as if the author threw in everything she knows about cozy mysteries. While there are comments about Agatha Christie and Ellis Peters, it feels more like the game of Clue, with a character stabbed in the conservatory. All the characters are amateur sleuths, even the deputy, who relies too much on Callie for information after initial conflicts. Every character lies, and they all rush around trying to cover their tracks. Avon tries for the cozy hometown atmosphere, but she's trying too hard. Let's hope the next mystery in the series is warm and cozy with characters who have a little more depth.

In Peppermint Peril by Joy Avon. Crooked Lane Books, 2018. ISBN 9781683317937 (hardcover), 283p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Beyond Absolution by Cora Harrison

Cora Harrison's Reverend Mother mysteries, set in Cork, Ireland in the 1920s, are certainly realistic. She doesn't sugarcoat the conditions of life at that time, or the brutality and deaths during the period of rebellion. She doesn't hesitate to injure or kill characters that the reader has grown to care for, because that's life. It's one more reason to encourage readers to start with the first book in this series, A Shameful Murder. Once you've read the first couple books, the repercussions of a murder in the third book, Beyond Absolution, are all the more shocking.

When Reverend Mother Aquinas sees Father Dominic's body in the confessional at Holy Trinity Church, she knows he was murdered. She sends for the police doctor so he can confirm that the priest's death was not accidental. He was stabbed through the ear by someone on the other side of the confessional. The murder of a priest becomes the talk of Cork. Reverend Mother wants to find the killer, but she wants to know what Father Dominic did in the days leading up to his death that led someone to be so desperate as to need to kill a priest.

Why would a Capuchin Friar who took a vow of poverty spend time at a local antiques shop? Reverend Mother once again calls on her acquaintances and former students to help in her probe for answers. Dr. Scher is not only the police doctor; he regularly calls at the convent to treat the nuns. Reverend Mother's cousin, Lucy, is well-married and still connected to society. Inspector Patrick Cashman, a former student, can be advised and encouraged in his investigation. Another former student, Eileen MacSweeney, is a member of the Republican Party, and knows all of the people involved with the antiques store. Reverend Mother knows how to pull strings to get answers.

Reverend Mother Aquinas may be able to pull strings and solve murders, but she can't prevent accidents or murder. As I mentioned earlier, these books reflect a realistic view of the brutality of life in 1920s Cork with it's poverty, disease, and death. But, Reverend Mother's depth of knowledge and understanding, and the authenticity of these books, will draw readers who appreciate historical mysteries.

Cora Harrison's website is

Beyond Absolution by Cora Harrison. Severn House, 2017. ISBN 9780727887139 (hardcover), 250p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Christmas on the Island by Jenny Colgan

There's a list of twenty-four other novels by Jenny Colgan in the front of Christmas on the Island, but I've only read one, The Bookshop on the Corner. I've picked up, and even brought home some of the books. The titles can be appealing -Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris. But, this one takes place on a small Scottish island. Since I hope to go to Edinburgh in September, it was time to try another one of Colgan's novels. This is the third in a series, but, of course, I picked up the third because it's new and it said "Christmas".

Mure is a tiny island off the coast of the north of Scotland. As the story opens, Bramble, the retired sheepdog that belongs to the MacKenzies, makes his way around, a perfect introduction to the center of town. Flora MacKenzie is the owner and baker at Seaside Kitchen. She's in her thirties, and returned home from London a year earlier. She fell back in love with the island, and with the lawyer, Joel Binder. That's Flora's problem. She's pregnant, and afraid to tell Joel because he was a foster child who never knew a loving family, but only abuse.

Flora's best friend is Lorna MacLeod, headmistress of the primary school. She longs for a man who became her best friend, but has distanced himself since discovering how much she loves him. Saif Hassan is one of the two doctors on the island. He's a refugee from Syria, living on Mure with his two young sons. But, his wife may be alive. He doesn't know, and he can't move on with his life.

Colgan's moving novel is about love, loss, and moving on in so many ways. Joel's employer is Colton Rogers, a wealthy American who moved to the island with the intention of changing it. Instead, he fell in love and married Flora's brother, Fintan. But, Colton is dying of cancer. When Tripp, Colton's brother from Texas shows up in the village, he only comes to ask for money for the family.

Everyone is going to change in the course of the few weeks before Christmas. The newcomers, Colton, Joel, Saif,Tripp, and even some Russian sailors, change the islanders and island life. Every encounter affects the life. Even those chance meetings are important to the world.

Christmas on the Island is a loving, emotional story of life. How do strangers change us? The world moves on, whether it's because of a death or anger or love. Although everyone doesn't have a happy ending in the book, the stories and their conclusions are appropriate. That's why Colgan's book is so moving. It's about realistic people, trying to deal with day-to-day life while sometimes fumbling with their feelings and relationships.

Looking for a story set at Christmas, without the syrupy feelings of so many Christmas stories? Jenny Colgan's Christmas on the Islands, beginning with a dog's tour of Mure, might just be it. Or, if the setting and Flora's story appeals to you, you might be smarter than me and start with the first in the series, The Cafe by the Sea.

Jenny Colgan's website is

Christmas on the Island by Jenny Colgan. William Morrow, 2018. ISBN 9780062869203 (hardcover), 340p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, November 09, 2018

Winners and a Police & Partner Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. John S. from Iowa City, IA won Death in the Stars. Carola Dunn's The Corpse at the Crystal Palace goes to Robin C. from Ashtabula, OH. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away copies of book that feature the police working with an outside partner. I have two copies of each book, so there will be four winners. The latest Monkeewrench book is P.J. Tracy's The Guilty Dead. Minneapolis police detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth are investigating the death of a philanthropist. But, when they team up with the software experts at Monkeewrench, they discover a link between that death and a larger plot.

Or, you could head to Arizona for Steven Cooper's Dig Your Grave. Phoenix Police Detective Alex Mills doesn't hesitate to ask for help from a friend who is a psychic, Gus Parker. Several prominent victims have been discovered in graves they seem to have dug themselves. Ghoulish signs warn of more deaths to come so Mills is going to need Gus' help. And, then Gus disappears.

Which book do you want to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win The Guilty Dead" or "Win Dig Your Grave." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, November 15 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

What Are You Reading?

It's Thursday! Time to share what we've been reading this week.

I'm just starting the fourth Reverend Mother mystery by Cora Harrison, A Gruesome Discovery. This is a fascinating historical series set in Cork, Ireland in the 1920s. Reverend Mother Aquinas is a prominent figure in the city. She came from a well-off family, and knows many of the people of Cork, from the wealthy to the poorest people whose children often attend the convent school. She taught a young woman who is one of the rebellious Republicans, and she taught an inspector with the Civil Guards. Unfortunately for me, I read the fifth book first, so I'll be finished with the series until a new one comes out.

What are you reading this week? Any books you'd like to share with the rest of us?

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Sandie's Corner - Fool's Moon by Diane A.S. Stuckart

Sandie Herron and I both read Diane A.S. Stuckart's new mystery, the first in a series, Fool's Moon. It's not my type of book because I'm not fond of talking animals. However, Sandie had a much better reaction than I did. So, instead of sharing my review, I'm sharing Sandie's today.

Written by Diane A. S. Stuckart
The Tarot Cats Mystery Series #1
Midnight Ink
November 8, 2018

FOOL’S MOON is the charming first entry in the Tarot Cats Mystery series.  The action starts immediately with two sibling black cats being thrown away in a box onto the streets.  While they’d been adopted as kittens by a wealthy, elderly woman and had enjoyed her mansion and grounds, she recently died. The two are split up right away with Ophelia being rescued by a white pit bull on her walk with Ruby Sparks, half sister to the owner of Botanica Santa Rosa, a New Age shop offering tarot card readings.  Brandon is taken in by a pawn shop owner nearby.  However the brother and sister do not know where the other has gone.

Zuki, the gentle pit bull, introduces Ophelia to her home and housemates which include a psychic koi who will answer but one question a day, in verse.  The animals talk to each other but not aloud in human language.  However, a suspension of disbelief is required to follow the animals communicating with each other.  Ophelia closely watches Ruby do tarot card readings and discovers a hidden talent for turning cards herself.

Zuki helps Ophelia find Brandon with clues from Philomena, the koi fish.  My own heart quickened during these journeys, and I cheered at their reunion.  They immediately put together the clues from their life at the Palm Beach mansion with what their former housekeeper Luciana had shared during her own tarot reading with Ruby. She suspects her former employer, Hilda, did not die an accidental death but was murdered. When Luciana dies under suspicious circumstances, Ruby gets involved because of what she had shared during their reading. Hilda’s family members also get involved as does the pawn shop owner Luis who claims Brandon is his cat.

Four special animals and two human beings all are looking into why the two women died.  The journey from mansion to new age shop was quite compelling, and the journey from shop back to the mansion is more gripping.  First the cats return with secret help separately from Zuki and Luis and Ruby, and then they return covertly with the same three, but this time all are searching for answers together.  What they find is a surprise to all but the koi, who knew all along.

Diane Stuckart, also the author of the Black Cat mystery series written under the name of Ali Brandon, has penned a delightful and enchanting adventure.  The reader learns a bit about tarot card reading while getting to know the cats and pit bull.  When not just one but two suspected murders take place, the animals deploy their skills and get their humans involved.  All together they solve both mysteries in a surprising and satisfying finale.  I highly enjoyed this heartwarming story and hope for many more entries in the Tarot Cats Mystery series.

Diane A.S. Stuckart's website is

Fool's Moon by Diane A.S. Stuckart. Midnight Ink, 2018. ISBN 9780738757087 (paperback), 336p.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Sandie's Corner - A Wrench in the Works by Kate Carlisle

You're used to seeing Sandie Herron's name connected with the audio book reviews here under the topic, "Have You Heard?" Today, she has a review of Kate Carlisle's lastest book, A Wrench in the Works. (Thanks, Sandie!)

Written by Kate Carlisle
A Fixer-Upper Mystery, Book 6
Berkley Prime Crime, November 6, 2018
·         Mass Market Paperback

Contractor Shannon Hammer is happy to welcome her contractor sister Chloe back home.  It’s been ten years since she last lived in the family home in Lighthouse Cove.  She left after high school to find her way in Hollywood, and she became one of the stars of the Home Builder’s Network show “Makeover Madness.”  They want to film several episodes in Lighthouse Cove focusing on the Victorian architecture so prevalent in this historic town.  Chloe co-stars with Blake Bennett, an older man with whom she has a terrific stage presence.  They are complimented by a devoted crew headed by Sergio, a strong, handsome carpenter full of charm. 

It isn’t until the entire crew arrives in town that Shannon meets the executive producer, Bree Bennett, wife of star Blake Bennett.  Bree keeps the show running, making most of the important decisions and carrying them out.  However, she has a nasty temper and is rude to most of her immediate staff as well as the stars and workers on the show.  Bree routinely fires them, never meaning for the firing to stick, until she fires her husband Blake.  The network has decided to start a new show without Blake and featuring Chloe and Sergio as soon as these segments are complete.

Chloe has recruited Shannon to be on the show while in town.  They arrive at the Bloom house, a rundown but appealing, well-designed Victorian home, early on the first day of shooting.  As they examine the house, they discover Bree’s dead body on the fireplace hearth.  Shannon calls the police chief, Eric Jensen, who promptly arrives and cancels any shooting within the home.  As Jensen processed the scene with his own crew, a search is made to find Blake Bennett.  He is discovered drugged in his trailer where he slept the night before.  Could he have killed Bree in his present state?  How many other disgruntled employees could have done the deed?

The next day Shannon discovers another dead body on the porch of the mansion.  The town’s rich kid, now an annoying adult, is actually the reason Chloe has stayed away so many years because of an incident in high school.  Later, while filming some outdoor shots, Chloe falls from an extension ladder rigged to fail.  Who would want Chloe dead?

This was a charming, very cozy mystery centering on Shannon and Chloe yet involving many other characters with distinct roles.  The plot advanced smoothly with several twists to follow.  The suspense ratchets up when Chloe becomes a target.  There is speculation on which the villain is, townspeople or TV crew, as everyone discusses events, yet this is not excessive.  The action keeps going without stalling on any one event or person. 

A very delightful journey following our charismatic and compelling heroines in the sixth entry of the fixer-upper mystery series.  I hope to visit with them again soon.

Kate Carlisle's website is

A Wrench in the Works by Kate Carlisle. Berkley Prime Crime, 2018. ISBN 9780399586484 (paperback), 304p.