Book Review: Hexes & Hijinks by Sherry Soule

“Hexes and Hijinks” is the perfect first installment in a promising new cozy mystery series! It covers everything needed to set up the series (characters, relationships, locations, jobs, pets, and a new love interest) without ever bogging down the storyline. This can be difficult to accomplish at the start of Book 1, and I appreciate the author’s skill in integrating everything so well.

Main character Danika is a breath of fresh air as a cozy heroine. She has pink hair, a serious love of tacos, and a great sense of humor. Occasionally, she directs a comment directly to the reader, which I enjoyed. I felt it drew me in to the narrative, and made me even more immersed in the story than I already was.

The mystery itself was very well-crafted. There were plenty of suspects, and the author seamlessly integrated them all into the story without overwhelming the reader. (There is a helpful character list at the beginning if needed.) I enjoyed Danika’s upfront sleuthing style, and her logical mind and outgoing personality are well-suited to this role. When all was revealed in the end, everything made sense given what the reader had learned along the way.

All in all, I enjoyed everything about this book, and very much look forward to the next installment in Danika’s adventures.

Five out of five slices of provolone!

Book Review: When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret Verble

“When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky” is an excellent historical fiction novel. Set in the Nashville area in the 1920s, it tells the story of Two Feathers, a young performer, and her time working at Glendale Park. From a historical perspective, the author shares a lot about what life was like in that time and place. The reader sees glimpses of everyday life for the wealthy park owners, prominent local citizens, and park employees. However, the most impressive lessons come from the light the author shines on the lives of American Indians and African Americans during a time when discrimination was common and accepted. I also enjoyed everything I learned about Cherokee history and culture.

In the midst of all the subtly educational content, there is also a great story. Two Feathers is employed at the park as a horse diver; this means that she rides her horse off a high platform and lands in a fairly small pool at the tower’s base. I loved learning about her act and everything that went into it. The story primarily focuses on Two, but a fair amount of time is spent with her friends and co-workers Crawford and Clive. All three are fascinating characters, with enough back story provided to let the reader truly understand their motivations and decisions.

A bit of magical realism is included as well, as two characters start to become aware of spirits around them. In addition, something odd is going on with the park’s animals, and it was fascinating to watch as the spirit world intersected with the actual one as the mystery was unraveled. I will note that the mystery was actually a fairly small part of the overall story. I recommend this mainly for readers who enjoy historical fiction, as well as anyone who wants to read a quality story about characters and events that don’t get written about nearly as often as they should.

Five out of five slices of perfect Provolone!

Book Review: Moon & Shadow by J. Steven Lamperti

I’d been hearing good things about the “Tales of Liamec” series, so I was excited to start reading with “Moon & Shadow”, the first book. It definitely did not disappoint….all the good reviews are definitely warranted!

The book reads very much like a traditional fairy tale. A young man, Sebastian, pulls the moon out of the sky one night. This leads him through a series of events he never could have anticipated as he fulfills what was obviously his destiny all along. I enjoyed the story itself, and was eager to keep reading to see what would happen next.

I also enjoyed the character of Sebastian. He is an interesting, detailed character, and I liked him more and more as additional details were revealed about his life and personality. A side character, Anise, was also intriguing, and I anticipate seeing more of her in future installments (based on some details provided in this one).

I like the idea of the fantastical world of Liamec, and that there are additional stories set there that will let me see more of this place and the people that inhabit it.

One final note: As I read the book, it didn’t really feel like I was reading. It felt more like I was sitting around a campfire listening to an old friend telling me a story. It was lovely…maybe some of the Liamec magic came through in real life?

Definitely 5 out of 5 chunks of perfect cheddar!

Book Review: Danger at the Cove by Hannah Dennison

I was excited to receive a review copy of “Danger at the Cove”, book two in the new Island Sisters series. I absolutely adored the first book, and was eager to read this second one. In this installment, Evie and Margo are preparing for their upcoming open house and grand opening. Since nothing can ever be easy, things are complicated by unexpected guests and a body count.

I loved the concept of setting this series on an isolated island that can only be accessed at certain times of day due to the tides. I’m enjoying this angle for a murder mystery; suspects can be added or ruled out based on whether or not they had access to the island during the time of the crime.

The descriptions, of both the landscape and the hotel itself, were just detailed enough to enable me to “see” everything, without bogging down the narrative at all. Tregarrick Island is based on the Scilly Isles, and it’s an area I’d definitely love to visit, even if Evie’s hotel is fictional.

I also enjoyed getting to know more about main characters Evie and Margot. Evie was likable and intelligent from the beginning, but I liked seeing her growth as she becomes more businesslike and independent this time around. Margot was a bit difficult in the first book, and it was refreshing to see her becoming a better person (and sister) with this story. I imagine we’ll see lots of character growth from both ladies in future installments. One other note: I appreciated Margo’s traditional morality and strong views on the subject. It will be interesting to see how she reconciles her personal views with the choices some of the future guests will no doubt make.

The mystery itself was interesting, and was made even more so by the limited suspect pool provided by the island. Despite the relatively small number of people involved, there was plenty of room for doubt, suspicion, and clue-hunting. The author did a fabulous job of expanding on the old “closed-room mystery” sub-genre, and doing so in a unique and fascinating way. Patty, the head law enforcement person for the area, is a breath of fresh air! Her style is reminiscent of old-school detective novels along the lines of Holmes of Poirot. Any time she made an appearance, she definitely stole the scene!

As other reviewers have mentioned this, I will add that the murder didn’t take place until around the mid-point of the novel. I didn’t find this a negative at all, as I was completely caught up in the lives of the characters and the goings-on at the hotel. I would happily continue this series if there were no more crimes at all, and Patty was relegated to investigating things like someone’s missing luggage.

Honestly, I loved everything about this story, and can’t wait until the next book comes out.

Five out of five chunks of perfect provolone!

Book Review: The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner

I first discovered author Susie Finkbeiner when I read “Stories That Bind Us”. I loved it so much that I snatched up a copy of “The Nature of Small Birds” as soon as it became available without even reading the blurb, and I’m SO glad I did. This book is every bit as amazing, detailed, and moving as the first one I read. I plan to do the same when her next book comes out.

This particular book tells the story of the Matthews family during three time periods, which come together to provide the reader with a complete portrait of the lives of the family members. The tale is unique in that it is told during three distinct years: 2013 (present day) from the perspective of patriarch Bruce, 1988 from the perspective of 18-year old daughter Sonny, and 1975 from the perspective of matriarch Linda. I found it easy to keep the time periods straight, and enjoyed this interesting method of storytelling. As each character’s POV chapter ended, I was sad that it was over, but also eager to pick up missing threads of the narrative from the next character’s chapter. This made the book virtually impossible to put down!

The story itself revolves around the family’s adoption of a Vietnamese child named Minh/Mindy in the 1970s, and how that event affected the family and their relationships going forward. I appreciated learning more about the Vietnam Babylift, a topic about which I knew nothing before reading this novel. It was interesting to learn about this historical event, while also seeing how one particular family reacted to being part of it.

All of the characters were incredibly well-written. Of course, we learn the most about the three major POV characters, but other family members were portrayed with a great deal of detail as well. I found plenty of moments I could relate to personally, as well as others that I could only sympathize with.

I loved the way the family’s entire history felt complete by the end of the book. There were some laughs along the way, as well as some tears (both happy and sad). I’m so glad to have had the chance to read “The Nature of Small Birds”….it is a story that will stay with me for a long time.

One final note: I enjoyed the author’s blurb at the end in which she explained how she got the idea for the story. She had been researching an earlier book, and came across information about the Babylift. It didn’t fit for that book, but she made a note and came back to it when she was looking for a new idea. I appreciated that little glimpse into her writing process, and am SO glad she made and found that note!

Five out of five chunks of the most perfect Provolone!

Book Review: Draw and Order by Cheryl Hollon

After enjoying the debut novel in the “Paint and Shine” series last year, I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of the second book, “Draw and Order”. The first book covered all the introductory items necessary for a new series, and I was looking forward to seeing what happened next. I was NOT disappointed by Book 2! It had all the warmth and charm of the first book, but I honestly think it was EVEN BETTER!

Main character Miranda has now established herself as a businesswoman in her new hometown, and is being taken seriously by the locals. I very much appreciated how much Miranda has grown in business acumen and confidence since the first book. It’s nice to see a legitimate growth arc in a cozy mystery, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Miranda. Her romance is moving along at a respectable cozy pace, her businesses are interesting, and her puppy is adorable. Basically, she’s the perfect cozy heroine!

The murder mystery was also handled very well. Since Miranda’s business involves taking various groups of people (often out-of-town guests) on a cultural experience, there’s always a nice influx of new characters/victims/suspects. This is a genius idea for a business for a cozy heroine, and I loved that it’s different from what I often see in this genre. The new group of guests this time around brings Miranda the discovery of a cold-case-disappearance-turned-murder and plenty of new suspects to investigate. I loved the way she methodically uses her “murder notebook” to keep track of her sleuthing; it’s very organized, and helps the reader visualize her thought process. Once everything was revealed in the end, it all made sense given what Miranda (and the reader) had learned along the way.

I also enjoyed the positive relationships Miranda has with the local sheriff, coroner, and park ranger. It’s nice to have the official folks getting along with an amateur sleuth instead of constantly resenting her involvement. Of course, the sheriff warns her to “stay out of it”, but it seems to stem more from his concern for her safety than from any real belief that she wouldn’t be helpful.

Another added bonus this time around is that Miranda’s distillery business is progressing…it won’t be long before she’s able to brew her own moonshine! I’m enjoying learning more about this topic, and really enjoy the moonshine cocktail recipes included along with the food recipes. (Of course, I grew up near Franklin County, VA, so that might be part of it.)

I also need to add that the author clearly knows her novel’s location very well on a personal level. Her love for the natural beauty of the mountains of Kentucky shines through with every scene she describes. I’m enjoying this unique cozy setting, and a lot of that is because of how authentic Ms. Hollon’s descriptions of people and places are. Kudos for some truly excellent writing and storytelling!

Five out of five slices of white cheddar!

Book Review: A Wild Ride by Jane Tesh

First, I have to say that I don’t usually choose to start a series with the sixth book. However, that’s just what I did with “A Wild Ride”. Why, you might ask? It’s simple…because of the author! While I’m new to the Madeline Maclin series, I’m a huge fan of Jane Tesh’s “Grace Street Mysteries”, so when the opportunity to read this one arose, I was happy to take it!

As a reader who is new to this series, I can honestly say that the book works fine as a standalone. Obviously, you’ll know more about what happened in the past if you’ve already read books 1-5, but I had no trouble figuring out who everyone was, and how they relate to each other. Speaking of the characters….they’re great! Ms. Tesh has created some very clear, well-defined major characters. Many of the minor characters were unique as well, and all added something important to the story.

The main mystery was very well-written, with plenty of clues, suspects, and red herrings for the reader to follow along with Madeline. Since she’s actually a PI, she has an established and logical investigating style, which I found enjoyable. As an added bonus, the major case in this installment centers around the theft of paintings from an art gallery….which means lots of focus on the art world and the unique characters that inhabit it. I found this setting fascinating! There were some smaller/side mysteries as well, and those were also handled perfectly. For added fun, a local reporter has decided to create a You Tube show about Madeline’s life and career. He adds a dash of humor and joy to each scene in which he appears.

All in all, a great mystery! I plan to read the earlier volumes of Madeline’s adventures when time permits, and eagerly await the next book!

Five out of five dollops of the creamiest cream cheese!

Book Review: A Glimmer of a Clue by Daryl Wood Gerber

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read and review “A Glimmer of a Clue”, the second book in Daryl Wood Gerber’s “Fairy Garden Mystery” series. I have to say that I loved everything about it….this installment definitely lived up to the high standards set by book 1, and I eagerly await the next book in the series.

Main character Courtney comes across as a genuine, real person. She’s smart, hard-working, kind, and loyal; she seems like the kind of person you could meet (and really like) in real life. The fact that she can see and talk to fairies adds a fun element to her character, and to the story. It’s a tribute to the author that these magical realism elements fit right in with the narrative, and feel believable within the parameters of the story.

The mystery element (in this case, the murder of a woman that virtually nobody liked) was very well done. I enjoy Courtney as an amateur sleuth, because she actually makes an effort to investigate. She is methodical and focused in her approach, and talks openly to the police. (Of course, they want her to stay out of things, but since she’s finding clues they didn’t, they can’t complain too much.) Due to the victim’s disagreeable personality, there is no shortage of suspects and motives for Courtney to research. The mystery takes front-and-center stage in this book, which I really appreciated.

However, all the normal cozy elements are represented as well. The reader will spend time at work with Courtney in her shop, and as she interacts with her friends and pet. There are plenty of lighter moments to offset the murder investigation, and I enjoyed them very much. Some side plots from the first book are addressed (a friend’s missing daughter, Fiona’s quest to earn her wings, Courtney’s relationship with her father), but I don’t think anyone starting the series with this book would have any trouble picking up on what’s happening.

All in all, an EXCELLENT cozy mystery with a bit of magical flair. Five out of five slices of perfect provolone!

Book Review: Under the Blood Tree by P.J. Grondin

I enjoyed reading “Under the Blood Tree”, a suspense novel by P.J. Grondin. First, the characters were very well-written. All of the major characters had very clear, unique personalities, and it was easy to keep everyone straight. I enjoyed “meeting” them as children during the back story part of the book, them comparing those early impressions to the adults they became by the “present day” part of the story. It was interesting to see how each one matured, and was affected by the events of the past.

The mystery itself was also very well-plotted. There were a lot of intricate details that all fit together perfectly as new clues were uncovered and new evidence came to light. Everything made sense in the end. The main thing that I have to say is that I was so impressed and pleased with the level of detail and interconnected plot points throughout this novel. It was so INTRICATE…the author obviously devoted himself to making sure all the tiny elements worked together properly, and that not a detail was out of place. If you’re expecting a good mystery/suspense story, you won’t be disappointed. But this book is so much more….the detail, the many small connections, the intricacy….this book was a breath of fresh air!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the detailed descriptions of the trailer park, the local area, and the lake. I felt like I could close my eyes and actually see what the characters were seeing. The weather plays a big role in the plot, and I appreciated seeing the effects that it had on the characters and town.

All in all, I can happily rate this book five out of five chunks of spicy Pepper-Jack cheese!