Monday, July 13, 2020

The Lost Girls of Devon by Barbara O'Neal

I've been reading and admiring Barbara O'Neal's novels since she wrote them under the name Barbara Samuel. I read her latest, The Lost Girls of Devon, under the guise of a mystery. Yes, there is a disappearance and several murders. But, this is actually a story that examines the relationship between four generations of the Fairchild women. It doesn't have the magical realism focus that some of O'Neal's earlier books do. But, there's a magic and strength in nature and love and family that is the emphasis of this story.

Lillian Fairchild may be close to ninety, but the mystery writer is still tuned in to the atmosphere and conversations in the Devon village of Axestowe. Something is going on in the village. She calls her granddaughter, Zoe, to tell her Diana, Lillian's home nurse, once Zoe's best friend, has been missing for two weeks. Zoe, who feels guilty for her year-long argument with Diana, packs up her teen daughter, Isabel, and returns to the one place that was always home, Lillian's Woodhurst Hall.

Zoe spent years living with her grandmother after her mother, Poppy, left her there, promising to return. A lonely, needy Zoe wrote to her mother weekly, begging her to return. But, it was only after Zoe moved to New Mexico as an adult, married, and had a daughter, that Poppy returned from her travels in the East. Now, Poppy might have a popular shop, The Kitchen Witch, but Zoe has never forgiven the mother who abandoned her. Instead, Zoe's trapped in her feelings of hate and abandonment, never able to trust that people she loves won't leave her.  And, she argued with Diana, feeling betrayed, when Diana befriended Poppy.

Zoe even feels as if her first love, Sage Cooper, picked Poppy over her. But, with Lillian's health fading, and Zoe's own daughter, Isabel, struggling with depression as a result of an unknown trauma, there's no choice but to allow Poppy to have a role in the Fairchild relationships. But, Zoe won't do that graciously, or with love.

While the community comes together to search for Diana, and, then the police look into the murder of a young woman left on the beach, that's a vehicle the author uses to bring this family, and Sage, back into the same circle. It's those relationships, and that circle that is the heart of the story.

Barbara O'Neal specializes in novels featuring broken women who are forced to gather their strength and regroup. They are realistic, believable characters who have been hurt, or, have hurt others. It's O'Neal's role to show women who grow stronger, who heal, who find strength in other women. The Lost Girls of Devon, on the surface, is the story of several women who have gone missing. It's actually a heartbreaking, and heartwarming, story of lost girls who need the support of other women.

Barbara O'Neal's website is

The Lost Girls of Devon by Barbara O'Neal. Lake Union Publishing, 2020. ISBN 9781542020725 (paperback), 307p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a .pdf to review for a journal.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

A Spell for Trouble by Esme Addison

Esme Addison found a way to add a twist to her magical mystery debut. While the jacket copy mentions Ellery Adams and Heather Blake, remember that Addison's A Spell for Trouble is a debut. The magical twist is intriguing. The amateur sleuth needs a little polish.

Aleksandra Daniels' father didn't let her visit her mother's family in Bellamy Bay, North Carolina. Now that both of her parents are gone and she quit her job in New York City, she has nothing keeping her from family. She accepts her Aunt Lidia's invitation. It's been twenty years since she saw her cousins, Minka and Kamila, twenty years since her mother drowned. Now, Aunt Lidia and Minka run a Botanika, an herbal apothecary, while Kamila is a cop. And, Alex is happy to jump in and learn about the herbs and work in the shop.

It's a good idea to learn about the shop because Minka is going to need help there. Alex has no idea of her family history, so she's shocked to see Aunt Lidia angry with a customer she banned from her shop. Her anger is terrifying when she confronts Randy Bennett. When Bennett is found dead, Lidia is arrested for murder. Then a reporter for the local newspaper and a gossip column reveals stories of the family, including the history of water witches from Poland. Alex never heard the stories, and certainly never knew her own mother was reputed to be the most powerful one in the family. But, there's an enemy with a great deal of power, and that person seems determined to destroy Lidia and the family.

The family stories and legends are fascinating, and there are secrets to be revealed in future books. But, there are a few issues with Alex, ones that bothered me, but may not bother other readers. Just remember, this is a debut. When Alex seems to rush into things, and seems too nosy for a newcomer to the community, remember she's an amateur sleuth new to her own family secrets. It just always surprises me that so many people will allow a newcomer to butt into an investigation. It's a little easier to understand when the amateur sleuth has been in the community for a while.

Despite my complaint, I'll be watching for the next book. And, if you can overlook the newcomer and amateur sleuth issues, you might appreciate this debut and its magical elements.

Esme Addison's website is

A Spell for Trouble by Esme Addison. Crooked Lane Books, 2020. ISBN 9781643853031 (hardcover), 336p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Murder in the Balcony by Margaret Dumas

I don't know when I've described a mystery as joyful. Yes, Margaret Dumas' Movie Palace mysteries have murders in them. In fact, there are two, and a couple attempts in the second book in the series, Murder in the Balcony. But, Nora Paige's team is quirky and lovable. Trixie, the ghost of an usherette who died in 1937 is delightful. However, it's the love of classic films and the few reviews by "Sally Lee" on the blog "Movies My Friends Should Watch" that truly add a spark to these books.

Nora is the almost ex-wife of movie star Ted Bishop. She had been waffling about whether or not to take him back when it was all over the Internet that he was back with his co-star, the woman he had left Nora for. One decision made. So, she can go back to worrying about her job as manager of the Palace movie theater, and how to make the money to maintain and upgrade the theater. She might not need to. According to Lisa, the friend who owns the coffee shop across the street, realtor Stan McMillan is trying to buy up the businesses on the block to build a multi-use development. And, Lisa is feeling the pressure.

But, Nora and Lisa aren't the only ones with problems. Callie Geo, the film student who works for her, is dating a realtor who won't answer her phone calls. Callie can forgive him when it turns out he's dead. However, she's not so happy when she learns he was dating two other women at the same time. Did one of Warren's girlfriends kill him? Or, did Warren know something about Stan McMillan, who happened to be in the same bar the night Warren was murdered?

One pushy realtor. One dead realtor. Nora is hosting an all-day conference for realtors, hosted by Warren's boss, June. It's her chance to check out Stan and the other realtors, and see if anyone talks about buying up the block, or about murder. But, before she can even make plans to have her resident ghost help her, Nora and sexy former crime lord Hector Acosta put out a fire in Lisa's coffee shop. Nora's convinced Stan is responsible, so Trixie is assigned the job of spying on Stan. Nora can't imagine that a woman will be killed in front of a room full of people, a woman who goes over the balcony, just as Trixie did years earlier.

There's so much to like about these mysteries. While the mystery itself is a little confusing, the characters are wonderful. Nora's staff includes Callie, a high school student with a crush on Callie, a grumpy, opinionated projectionist, and a nonagenarian. Add in Trixie, the ghost. And, Hector is hot. But, I have to admire Nora, who expresses her love for strong women by showing movies featuring Bette Davis and Eleanor Powell. She's attracted to Hector. "But no amount of attraction made up for the fact that I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to let another man into my life. Not after Ted's series of brutal betrayals. No, I wasn't ready to start thinking about a life with someone else. Not until I'd established a life just for me."

One part of Nora Paige's life, the secretive part, is the part she plays as blogger Sally Lee, writing a column about classic films. Those blogs are included in the book, reviews of "Roman Holiday", "Born Yesterday", and "Born to Dance". She talks about the women in the films, and does include a spoiler alert that she can't discuss the films without talking about what happens. I've added some classic films to my list of movies to watch after reading Dumas' books.

You might pick up Margaret Dumas' books for the mysteries. You'll return for the cast and the films. They're delightful. (The third book, Murder on the Silver Screen, has just been released. I can't wait!)

Margaret Dumas' website is, but she also has a site,

Murder in the Balcony by Margaret Dumas. Henery Press. 2019. ISBN 9781635115352 (paperback), 294p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Winners and A Cozy Foodie Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. The Knife Slipped is going to Glen D. of Yuba City, CA. Carl S. from Lukeville, AZ won After She Wrote Him. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I"m giving away two cozy mysteries involving food. Eve Calder's And Then There Were Crumbs is the first in the Cookie House mystery series. Kate McGuire, a talented pastry chef, is starting from scratch in the island town of Coral Cay, Florida. It has everything she's looking for: friendly locals and a Help Wanted sign in the bakery shop window. She convinces the shop's crusty owner Sam Hepplewhite to hire her. But, when a real estate developer tries to purchase the Cookie House from Sam, and ends up dead, Kate investigates to convince the police her new boss isn't a killer.

Cobblered to Death by Rosemarie Ross is also the first in a new series. Introducing Courtney Archer known for hosting the show "Cooking with the Farmer's Daughter", although she's really a pediatrician's daughter. Now, she's signed on for a reality show, "The American Baking Battle", a show without the usual backstabbing and manufactured drama. But, a fellow contestant finds out about her fake farm-girl story. When he's murdered, found right next to Courtney's cast-iron fry pan, her pan is classified as a murder weapon, and Courtney is classified as a suspect.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win And Then There Were Crumbs" or "Win Cobblered to Death." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, July 16 at 5 PM CT.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

What Are You Reading?

First, how are you doing this week? That's the important question. The next is, of course, what are you reading?

I'm reading the second Movie Palace mystery by Margaret Dumas, Murder in the Balcony. I didn't realize the second and the third were out until a friend mentioned them on her blog. I really liked the first in the series, Murder at the Palace. The books take place in a historic movie theater in San Francisco that shows classic films. Nora Paige is the manager. Not only does she handle the day-to-day running of the theater and supervise the quirky staff, she's dealing now with a realtor who wants to buy up the entire block. She has help from the staff, the ghost of an usherette who died in 1937, and a handsome former crime lord who went straight. I also enjoy the movie reviews posted on a blog called "Movies My Friends Should Watch."

How about you? What are you reading this week?

Take care of yourself!

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth by Jay Stringer

There's just something about Jay Stringer's fast-paced Marah Chase adventures that appeal to me. If  you enjoyed Saturday morning serials or movie adventures, you can pick up just where Stringer's Marah Chase and the Conqueror's Tomb left off. Chase, a restless relics hunter, swoops in to kick off the latest book, Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth.

And, I mean, she swoops in. Treasure hunter August Nash was just about to recover the Ark of the Covenant when Marah steals it. But, she makes an enemy of the man who was once her mentor, and he doesn't really want her to live to regret it. Even so, her partner in crime steals the Ark from Chase, and she's forced to return home to New York City with just the memory, although other relic hunters do know she beat Nash at the game.

Once Chase is home, she's just about kidnapped by the owner of a cola empire. She wants Marah to search for the Fountain of Youth. Chase scoffs at the story, but heads to London in search of an elusive journalist who might have a story to tell. That's one mistake. She knows she's in trouble when she does some research at the British Library, and her friend, Hess, who comes to meet her, is accosted by Neo-Nazis. Then, she and Hess make a fatal mistake and lead others to the journalist who has been trying to keep a low profile, and remain under the radar.

Although Chase and Hess make some terrible errors in judgment, legends and maps lead them to Tanzania and Mt. Kilimanjaro. They head into danger under the threat of earthquakes and volcanic action, but it could mean their death if they don't defeat the team with entirely different goals for the Fountain of Youth, and the world.

Once again, Stringer brings back his gutsy protagonist, and teams her up with an equally brave partner in adventure. It's another fast-paced story. But, there's more depth in Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth. Issues of cultural appropriation, faith, history, identity and environmental change, influence the action-packed book featuring LGBTQ+ diverse characters. Fans of Indiana Jones or the Marvel action series will appreciate this cinematic adventure.

Jay Stringer's website is

Marah Chase and the Fountain of Youth by Jay Stringer. Pegasus Crime, 2020. ISBN 9781643134307 (paperback), 336p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I read a .pdf for a journal.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Outsider by Linda Castillo

Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder novels create more tension than most books I read. This series is one of my favorite ones, yet I have to pause while I read the books because they're stressful. Outsider, with Kate isolated with just an Amish family and an old friend, is one of the most stressful books I've read lately. I worried about that family for most of the book.

When Kate Burkholder left her Amish family and everything she knew,  Gina Colorosa was her life raft. The waitress fed her, gave her a place to stay, and, when she learned Kate only had an eighth grade education, pushed her to get her GED. Then the two young women went through the police academy and joined the Columbus Division of Police together. Kate was closer to Gina than she was to her own sister. But, when Gina took the wrong road, and Kate realized she was becoming a crooked cop, Kate got out. That's when she moved home to Holmes County. Police Chief Kate Burkholder and her former best friend, Gina Colorosa, haven't spoken since.

Gina is prepared when there's a no-knock warrant on her door in the middle of the night, and she escapes in a snowstorm, not knowing where she's going. She's a dirty cop who knows too much, and there are other cops ready to take her down. She realizes she's burned most of her bridges, and she isn't sure she can count on her old friend, Kate. But, before she can make it to her, she loses control of her truck in the snowstorm, and crashes. It's Adam Lengacher, an Amish widower with three children, who finds her in the snow, almost frozen, with a gunshot wound. And, he reaches out to the police chief.

Kate is stunned to recognize her old friend, but, now she's in an impossible situation. She should report the gunshot wound. She should arrest Gina when she learns there's a warrant. And, she doesn't believe all of Colorosa's story of dirty cops, stolen money, dead informants, and corruption at the top. But, Kate doesn't want to get her small team involved. There's a blizzard, and she's stuck at the farmhouse.

Burkholder's one connection to the outside world and the news reports is John Tomasetti, her partner, and an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Intelligence. Tomasetti arrives on a snowmobile, and he isn't happy with Kate's involvement in Gina's story. And, it only gets worse as Tomasetti investigates. Kate, Gina, and Tomasetti all fear someone will come looking for Colorosa after they make the connection to her and Burkholder.

Outsider brings Kate Burkholder's past back again. It's an untold story, how Kate became a police officer and survived after leaving her Amish family. It's a story of loyalty and trust, and the lack of it. There's quite a contrast between Kate's suspicion that Gina is lying to her, and Kate and Tomasetti's complete trust in each other and their relationship. Kate doesn't try to hide anything from him, although he's an agent who could arrest Gina. That trust and loyalty has grown in the course of the series, and it's obvious how strong their relationship has become. It's also a vivid contrast in the innocence and faith embodied in the Amish family with the corruption and flinty attitudes of Gina and her fellow vice squad members.

Usually, I mention how much I appreciate the strong family and friendship feeling about Burkholder's small team at the police department in Painters Mill. There's just a touch of that in the final wrap-up of this story. But, Castillo makes up for it with the family atmosphere created in the Amish household that shelters Gina and Kate. It's warm and comforting in the midst of the trouble Colorosa has brought down on the small community.  In the long run, though, Gina Colorosa brought the trouble upon herself as the result of decisions she made ten years earlier when she took a path Kate Burkholder refused to follow. Outsider is a tragic story of consequences and decisions, and a timely story right now, of corrupt cops and their willingness to do anything.

Linda Castillo's website is

Outsider by Linda Castillo. Minotaur Books, 2020. ISBN 9781250142894 (hardcover), 320p.

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