Best Selling Mysteries, Suspense, Thrillers, & Horror

Cozy Mystery

Once Upon a Murder by D. E. Dennis

Once Upon a Murder*

Grimm Time for the Charmings

It’s been a slow time for those at Grimm Investigations. Brother-and-sister team Michael and Monica just landed a new case. The teenage son of one of the wealthy families has just turned up murdered. The Charmings have hired Grimm Investigations, much to the chagrin of one of the police officers, Gutierrez, who never liked Michael. Castle Rock is a town of haves and have nots. Who would want to kill the Charming’s son? Will the PIs and police be able to work together?

The book had more than the common issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage. The typical comma issues were a problem; there were rarely commas between independent clauses in a compound sentence, and commas after an introductory phrase were often missing. The words who/that were used incorrectly. I don’t typically notice adverbs and adjectives, though the former are often decried these days, but the beginning of the book seems to have an excess amount of these modifiers, which slowed reading.

That said, the book has some funny moments that one looks for in a cozy mystery. I’m a sucker for a story with good family dynamics, and I loved the relationship between the Grimm siblings. There were fairytale in-jokes. I like that the brother and sister PIs were from the Grimm family. That definitely helps set up the concept of the series. After all, any manner of fairytales could be exploited under the Grimm name.

I received a free copy of this book, but that did not affect my review.

Handbags & Hooligans by Laina Turner

Handbags & Hooligans*

What Happens in Vegas

Before she can really start her new job as a Mary Kay consultant, Presley leaves town for Las Vegas. Her friend Anne has been involved in wedding planning, and she and her fiance decide to ditch all the plans and just run off to Vegas instead. Presley’s younger brother lives in Vegas. Unfortunately, his girlfriend has gone missing, and it appears the brother has secrets as well.

Will they find the missing girlfriend? What secrets have been hidden . . . and by whom? Will the wedding still go off without a hitch? Does a new career await Presley in Las Vegas?

This book wasn’t quite as humorous at the last one, but it was fun to get a little more insight into Presley’s family. I like how the author has been setting up each book of the series with a prologue that describes a key scene that is relevant to the central mystery of the book.

If you have enjoyed the previous books in this series, you will enjoy Presley’s next adventure.

I received a free copy of this book, but this did not affect my review.

Berried Alive by Chelsea Thomas

Berried Alive*

Going Toes Up in the Berries

In this installment of Apple Orchard Cozy series starts off with a mini mystery! Who is behind the Post-it caper at the Brown Cow? But things soon take an ominous turn. Local business owners are up in arms about the developer who has come to Pine Grove with plans to open up a Massive Mart. When he is found face-down, murdered, in a berry pie, Chelsea and Miss May are ready to step in to help local law enforcement figure out what’s going on.

Who is behind the developer’s death? Will Chelsea pursue the relationship with her favorite detective? What about Germany Turtle, son of the victims is of the previous crime that Chelsea and Miss May helped with?

This was a light, fun read. The author has set up a quirky female amateur sleuth team in Chelsea and Miss May. As often happens in cozy mysteries, there is a lot of humor here, and it is well done. In this book, I particularly enjoyed the little moments with Germany Turtle. I am a massive Jane Austen fan, and Germany Turtle reminded me in his interesting mix of pomposity and servility of Mr. Collins. I like him better than Mr. Collins, though; Germany just comes across as very sweet and perhaps not comfortable than people. His speeches were rather humorous.

I found one glaring error in the book. The author called the Marianas Trench the Mariana Trench. As I have several friends who are named Mariana, this stuck out like a sore thumb to me. But still, I quite enjoyed this quirky cozy.

Necklaces & Nooses by Laina Turner

Necklaces & Nooses*

New Boss Found Hanging!

At her new job in a boutique, Presley walks to find her boss Solange hanging from a light fixture. Presley figures it’s suicide, but Detective Willie thinks it’s a homicide. As Willie works on the case, he and Presley begin dating. Who killed the boss? Will Presley be a suspect since she found Solange? Will she and Willie become an item?

This second book of the series is an improvement over the first. The author isn’t trying so hard to be sassy or quirky and is playing a bit more with Presley’s character. I’m wondering, although, if it will be a thing in this series that Presley develops a romantic interest in whoever is investigating the murder in the book. Book three might give me some insight! The book has some issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage. Most glaring was the improper use of a past participle, *had broke* instead of *had broken*. It was a little jarring to see, but otherwise, I wasn’t overly impacted by these issues.

I received a free copy of this book, but that did not affect my review.

Stilettos & Scoundrels by Laina Turner

Stilettos & Scoundrels*

Who Killed the Senator?

After a MeToo moment, heroine Presley quits her job in HR and decides to become a journalist. The day after her first interview, her subject–a senator–is found murdered, the weapon being a stiletto heel. Was Presley the last one to see him alive? Her ex-boyfriend Cooper thinks she’s a suspect.

Who murdered the senator? Does this spell the end for Presley’s new career . . . and her freedom? Will old feelings resurface between her and Cooper, or will they be at each other’s throats?

This is the debut novel for the author. I think she was attempting to do one of those quirky, funny cozy mysteries, with humor, but she fell out short of the mark. I’m willing to cut her slack as it is her first book. I am interested to see what happens in book 2.

Just a side comment . . . This book is full of brand names and cultural references. I wonder if that dates a book and/or makes it less accessible to those who aren’t familiar with these references. Books can live on Amazon and other online book stories for a long time. Will a reader ten years from now understand what the references mean?

I received a free copy of this book, but that did not affect my review.

A Bottle Full of Djinn by Paula Lester

A Bottle Full of Djinn*

Mysterious Happenings at Witches’ Retirement Community

Zoey is the head of staff for a magical retirement community. Her town of Sunnyside, California, is full of witches and warlocks, though normals do occasionally pass through town. People aren’t supposed to use magic in public, but they are often lax about it. Strange events that Zoey can’t explain start happening at the retirement community, a kitchen covered in chocolate cake batter, farm animals in the common room, and a ghost. Will Zoey figure out what’s going on? Will she lose staff and residents because of this? If you read the prequel to The Sunnyside Retired Witches Community series, you are familiar with the quirky world and cast characters that make up the greater and smaller communities of Sunnyside. The author does a fantastic job of integrating magic into the story, often in a humorous fashion. It’s an engaging read that makes you wonder what funny, offbeat thing will happen next, whether it is magical or not. The book is a delightful way to spend an afternoon.

S’more Event by Wendy Meadows

NOTE: At the time of this writing, this book was only available at Amazon.

S'more Event*

Chocolate-Driven Cozy Mystery

This is a cozy mystery taking place in a fictional New England town. Things get off to a rocky start when ten pounds of chocolate go missing from one of the stores there. The owner first accuses chocolate-loving parrot, Spot. But of course, one bird can’t eat that much chocolate. Soon, a much more dire event takes place. A woman is found dead. Who could have done such a thing and why? Does the missing chocolate have anything to do with the murder?

This is a relatively short book that doesn’t take long to read. At first, I was a little annoyed at the initial bit about the parrot eating the chocolate, as that scene did go on for a bit, when it is obvious that a parrot couldn’t eat that much! However, things got a little less silly, thank goodness, when the murder happened. I enjoyed the main character, Hillary. She is a recent widow, and she feels like Spot, her parrot, helps keep her memory of her husband alive. The police chief has a romantic interest in her, but she’s not quite ready or another relationship.

The book had some of the common issues with grammar, punctuation, and spelling that many books seem to have today, but it was not overly distracting from the story.

If you enjoy short cozy mysteries with a food bent, you might enjoy this one.

The Golden Hour by Malia Zaidi

The Golden Hour

Meandering Cozy Mystery in Post Great War Britain

In this sprawling cozy mystery set in post-Great War Britain, Lady Evelyn is newly returned from university when one of her Scottish cousins calls her and asks for her assistance with her mother (Lady Evelyn’s aunt). Before leaving London, she stops in at her aunt’s home, and soon her aunt is traveling with her to find out what is going on with the family in Scotland. When they arrived, much more is happening than the cousin let on. Also, a neighbor has turned his home into an artist’s retreat for veterans of the war. Soon, a murder happens, and then another that is related to her family. Lady Evelyn is determined to figure out all that is going on.

What family secrets are there in Scotland? Who is causing these murders in this neighborhood? What exactly has Lady Evelyn stumbled upon?

If you are accustomed to mysteries that get right to the point, you will need to allow yourself to savor this slow movement of this story. That’s not to say that things don’t happen in an interesting fashion. In fact, I love the humorous way that Aunt Agnes got involved. But it takes a while for us to get to the mysteries at the heart of the book and even longer to untangle them. Personally, I enjoy cozy mysteries that are like this, the kind where you make yourself a cuppa and settle in for a meandering but intriguing ride.

The characters in this story are well-drawn, and the settings are almost characters themselves. The characters are quirky, and many have their own goals and motivations that lead to either help or hinder Lady Evelyn.

If you enjoy long cozy mysteries with a historic backdrop, you might enjoy this book.

I received a free review copy, but this did not affect my review.

Poetic Poison by VS Vale

Poetic Poison

Delightful–and Deadly–Return to Swansneck Village

What a delightful second visit to Swansneck Village! I read the first book of the series a few weeks back. While you don’t have to have read the first book to understand the second–as the author does an excellent job of giving bits and pieces of backstory throughout the first part of the book–you will have a greater appreciation of the diverse cast of characters and what brought Jenny Bradshaw back to Swansneck if you do.

Jenny is well ensconced in village life now, her vintage hat store turning into a vintage clothing store. In a handbag from a box of items purchased for the store, she finds a crumpled poem with a murder threat. It turns out that the woman who owned the handbag died some months earlier. This makes Jenny question whether there was murder involved in some way.

Jenny and her grandmother sort through some of her grandfather’s things at the house she inherited from him. When Jenny first moved in, she simply boxed up her grandfather’s things to make room for her stuff. Now it appears that her grandfather’s stamp collection is missing. So now Jenny has two things to solve. Was there a foul play involved with the woman’s death? What happened to her grandfather stamps?

Along the way, Jenny gets involved in village happenings, like the Founders Day Fete. Also, it seems that a group of older ladies in town see her as a spinster now!

I enjoyed this book so much! The author has a way of drawing you in that is subtle and endearing. As someone who reads other cozies and thrillers, I enjoy the slow pace of her writing. I often get annoyed at books where the pacing is too slow, but surprisingly, I appreciate it here in a way that I don’t in other books. I particularly love the small moments of interactions between friends and family because they seem organic and realistic. For instance, before Jenny goes through her grandfather’s things with her grandmother, the two women just to talk about the past. It reminded me of discussions I’ve had with my mother as we readied old Christmas ornaments and discussed the history of how certain ones came into the family. That sort of intimate writing is rare in any genre of modern book and especially mysteries. Its unexpectedness makes it more special.

The book had some of the common issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage, and I do understand and appreciate the difference between American and British English. But some rules–like the one that should be between independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence–stand in either form of English. I actually do enjoy the use of British spelling, words, and phrases, as they lend authenticity to this tale that takes place in a small town in the north of England. I even learned a few terms that I didn’t know, like dab-hand, and I consider myself an Anglophile.

If you enjoy cozy British mysteries with a large cast of realistic and fascinating quirky characters, you will enjoy this book and the previous one in the Swansneck Village series.

Murder Most Fowl by VS Vale

Murder Most Fowl*

Slow-Paced Cozy Mystery Also a Character Study of a Village

If you’re accustomed to frenetic-paced thrillers or even get-to-the-point-fast cozy mystery novellas, this book requires you to slow down and take in the scenery. On a cold winter’s day, pour yourself a cup of your favorite hot beverage and dig in.  Jenny Bradshaw is returning home to Swansneck, a small English village, after her grandfather dies and leaves her a home that she cannot sell or rent for three years. Leaving London and her stressful personal assistant job is not something she is in favor of it first, but her pending divorce doesn’t make it wholly a bad choice either. In her first days back, she resumes working in her family bakery, but in discussion with a good friend, she realizes that she needs to carve her own path in the village if she is to maintain her sanity. Her friend suggests buying a hat-renting business, which she does.

The book meanders for a while. As Jenny gets accustomed to the changes to her hometown, we learn about its past as well as the changes seen through Jenny’s eyes. Jenny keeps busy, opening her new business, relaunching a village newsletter, and taking part in the biggest wedding the community has seen. The murder doesn’t actually take place until well into the book. Much time is spent in setting the scene for the entirety of the community, gaining an understanding of Jenny’s quirky neighbors as well as getting glimpses of her new life. When the murder occurs, Jenny is drawn in, hoping to assist a friend who can be considered a suspect. Strange notes are left, and Jenny is drawn deeper into the world around her, learning more about her neighbors and the strange happenings, which only seem to give her more questions.

The book is refreshingly free of grammar, punctuation, and usage issues. If you enjoy slow-paced cozy mysteries with offbeat but intriguing characters and a strong sense of place, you will most likely enjoy this story. I am looking forward to the next book of the series.

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    The asterisks (*) by the book title denote the source of the book copy.

    One star = I received it as a free advance/review copy or from the author.

    Two stars = I borrowed it through my Kindle Unlimited subscription.

    Three stars = I purchased the book outright (sometimes for free).

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