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The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus by Tim Slover Book Review

The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

The Christmas Chronicles The Legend of Santa Claus by Tim Slover

Author: Tim Slover
Publisher: Bantam (November 2010)
ISBN: 0553808109, EAN: 9780553808100
Page Count: 176 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

 

Synopsis:

In 1343, Klaus was orphaned and adopted by a guild of woodworkers and craftsmen.  Surrounded by tools and wood since a young age, Klaus became a master craftsman at the young age of 17, making a bitter enemy at the same time.  When the Black Death visited his small village shortly afterwards, Klaus was deeply grieved at the losses of others and sought a way to lift the spirits of those around him – particularly the children.  It began with 53 toys made for the children in his own village, which were blessed by the village priest and delivered on Christmas Eve.  And so the legend of Santa Claus begins…

Review:

Ever wondered who Santa Claus really is and how he came to be?  Well, look no further than this charming little Christmas tale that could easily become a classic in your home.  Not only does Tim Slover present a brief, but welcome, back story about Klaus’s mortal life, but he answers all of those questions that children ask around Christmastime.  Why does Santa Claus use reindeer to pull Santa Claus Delivering Gifts with Reindeerhis sleigh?  Because he grew up in the cold, snowy north and they were his wife’s favorite racing animal.  Why does Santa Claus deliver toys down the chimney?  Because Klaus’s mortal enemy, Rolf Eckhof, took half of the toys one year and burned them, which meant it wasn’t safe to leave the toys outside anymore. This also led to the popular belief that you better be good or you won’t get a Christmas toy as all of the parents of those toyless children used the experience as an opportunity to remember all of the things their children did wrong that year.  How does Santa deliver toys around the world in one night?  Through Chronolepsy or time stopping.  How does Santa understand all of the different languages?  By using the Lingua Franca Effect, which means Santa and his reindeer speak and understand whatever language is predominant in the region they are in.  The book also covers the concept of Tarrying (not aging and living a long life), why many believe Santa Claus is a Saint, how he makes toys, how he receives letters, how he travels, who the elves really are and so much more.  Think of a question about Santa Claus and it will probably be answered in this book!

The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus begins and ends with a narrative by a person who claims to have seen Santa’s sleigh and to have had the privilege of reading The Green Book, which is a biography of Klaus.  I feel that these sections will be interesting to adults and older children, but they kind of Spirit of Christmasdrag it down a bit for little children.  I understand why Tim Slover, the author, used them here and I appreciate the challenge to spread the true spirit of Christmas in the season, but they were not my favorite parts of the book.  My favorite part was the story of Santa Claus itself.  This book is brief, succinct and there is not a lot of time and effort developing characters, describing locales or going into great depth on any particular point and I think that this was a great way to go.  I envision families around the US including this book as part of their holiday traditions.  This is a wonderful little tale to read aloud to children of all ages.  Santa’s story is only seven chapters long and, while some of the chapters are lengthy, I feel that this book could easily be shared with children over a week or two in December.  Hopefully it will spark a wonderful feeling for Christmas in readers of all ages and draw families closer together during the holiday season as they focus more on the spirit of giving than on receiving.

I have enjoyed reading this book for Christmas during these past two years.  It is He Sees You When You're Sleepinga quick, easy read that only takes an hour and, with a mug of hot chocolate close by and some Christmas carols playing, it always brings a smile to my face and gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling about the holidays.  Again, this is a simple story, told with simple words and, while there is a villain, there is not a lot of excitement or thrill in the book, but I have grown to love it.  If you are looking for a good family gift to purchase for Christmas or enjoying reading holiday books yourself, this is one for the keeper shelf!

Content:

This book has some scenes of mild peril.  Many people die from the Black Death, but there are no details provided and just a general feeling of grief and loss.  There is an attempted murder, but it fails.  There are some brief philosophical and religious questions addressed.  Appropriate for viewers of all ages, recommended for ages 6 and up or to be read aloud to anyone.

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The Midwife’s Tale (Midwife Mystery #1) by Sam Thomas Book Review

The Midwife’s Tale

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas

Series: Midwife Mystery #1
Author: Sam Thomas
Publisher: Minotaur Books (January 2013)
ISBN: 97812500107066
Page Count: 320 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

It is 1644 and Parliament’s armies have risen against King Charles I.  The rebels currently lay siege to the city of York, the home of Lady Bridget Hodgson, a midwife.  Bridget continues to deliver babies and look after her new mothers while praying for a quick resolution to the conflict.  When one of her friends, Esther Cooper, is convicted of murdering her husband, Bridget must act quickly to prevent Esther from burning at the stake.  Bridget joins forces with her mysterious new maid, Martha Hawkins, and tracks down clues through the city – clues that lead to a conspiracy amongst the most powerful in regards to the new balance of power.

Review:

I always a good historical mystery and loved The Midwife’s Tale!  Lady Bridget Hodgson is based on a real person (as I learned in the author’s epilogue) and it was absolutely delightful to read about this volatile period through her eyes.  Bridget has been twice widowed and her Mdiwfe in the Middle Ageschildren passed away when they were young. She is beautiful, still young enough to bear more children and is quite wealthy so she doesn’t lack for suitors, but Bridget enjoys her independence too much to wed again.  Instead, Bridget focuses on her duties as a midwife, which are varied and grant her a great deal of power for a woman in the 1600s.  Not only does a midwife deliver babies, but she ferrets out the information about parentage to ensure that children are supported financially.  The midwife uses coercion, force or fear to persuade unwed mothers to name the father of their babe.  If they refuse, they will not help with the labor or delivery, which is too terrifying to go through alone!  The midwife also has a group of women, called gossips, who help out in the different households.  They pass information along about all members of society, both high and low, and I think their husbands would be shocked and dismayed to realize how observant most of these women are!  There are few secrets in the town of York and Bridget seems to be involved in uncovering the few that remain.  I loved learning about the midwives and found it fascinating to learn about the treatments and methods used in this time period.

Bridget is a strong female character, as is her maid, Martha.  I was delighted to see that Bridget’s fiercest rival is another female, but I was a little less delighted to see how thick-headed most of the men of the time seemed.  I don’t know if it was because the information was coming from Bridget or because the author felt that men of the time really were that stupid, but most male characters were not credited with much intelligence.  Bridget’s brother-in-law was the exception, but I wish that there could have been a better balance.  Surely there would be at least a few enlightened males in the town of York who realized that women also possessed a brain, right?  Surprisingly enough, this comes from a male author who should surely know better!  Most of the men in the book are boorish, loutish and would-be-rapists simply waiting for an opportunity – I would never walk the streets alone!  Will, who is the most sympathetic male character and Bridget’s nephew, was born with a clubfoot so he is a bit more sensitive than most of the males of his time, though he, too, needed a swift kick in the pants from time to time!

The Midwife’s Tale is engagingly written and was a real page turner.  I was engrossed in the mystery, though it really wasn’t that complicated.  The book jacket makes it sound like the book’s sole focus Cavaliers vs Roundheadsis the murder of Esther’s husband, but there are so many other subplots going on that I found myself getting distracted and focusing on babies dying in childbirth, christening ceremonies, the murder of an infant boy, and much more.  Ultimately, when the main mystery was solved, I found myself a bit disappointed.  Not that I can condone murder, but the victims deserved death in this case and it seems like they met a fated end.  I was heartbroken to discover the identity of the murderer and was not at all pleased that they were caught.  It seems like Bridget had a warm, forgiving heart for many, but could be cold as stone to those she felt must pay for their sins.

The Midwife’s Tale is a fascinating glimpse into the past that will be sure to delight any who enjoy a good mystery.  Modern readers will be horrified to learn about the pitiful conditions of most servants during this time period and will have a better understanding of why people clung to their faith.  It is unreal to read about women being charged with treason because they rose up against their master or husband!  I loved the historical details and appreciate that the author modernized the dialogue and writing just enough to enable the reader to easily understand the story.  I am astonished to learn that this is Sam Thomas’s first book and will look forward with anticipation to more books written by this talented new author.

Content:

This book contains multiple scenes of death, including babies.  Some bodies are described in more detail than others.  There are multiple descriptions of labor and delivery, though nothing too explicit.  Life was pretty filthy back then so be prepared for dirty streets, chamberpots and reeking privies.  There are multiple scenes of attempted rape and several stories of rape.  Chauvinism and other prejudices are portrayed in a historically accurate manner.  There is some strong language.  There are several scenes of drinking and drunkenness.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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Button Holed (Button Box Mystery #1) by Kylie Logan Book Review

Button Holed

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Button Holed by Kylie Logan

Series: Button Box Mystery #1
Author: Kylie Logan
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (September 2011)
ISBN: 9780425243763
Page Count: 288 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Josie Giancola is thrilled to open her new shop, The Button Box, in downtown Chicago.  Though Josie knows her passion for buttons makes her a geek and her shop’s chances of success dicey, Josie is sure that her reputation as a button expert will bring in special clients – like Kate Franciscus, Hollywood starlet and future princess.  Unfortunately, Josie’s once-in-a-lifetime dream opportunity to provide Kate with buttons for her wedding dress turns into a nightmare when Kate’s lifeless body is found on the floor of her shop.  Who hated Kate enough to kill her?  Or, more accurately, who didn’t?

Review:

I love a good cozy mystery and Button Holed is a solid start to a new series.  Josie Giancola was an interesting character who constantly surprised me as the book unfolded.  At first, I thought she was just a Antique Button #1single woman struggling to open a store featuring her hobby and passion – buttons.  I quickly learned that Josie is anything but a simple character.  She designed costumes on a cult movie classic, Trolls, and has a steady royalty income every month.   Josie still keeps in touch with the movie’s famous producer, a friend from college, and that is how Kate learned about her shop.  Josie’s ex-husband is a gorgeous loser whom she can’t seem to shake and she is hopeless at blind dating.  Even though I am not passionate about buttons, I did enjoy learning about them and found it all too easy to identify with Josie and her attempts to find love and change her life.  I can’t wait to see Josie learn and grow in future books – hopefully there is some hot and heavy romance ahead of us!

The secondary characters almost stole the show for me in this book.  Josie’s ex-husband, Kaz, is a lovable loser who is extremely hard to hate.  Josie has to constantly remind herself not to fall for Kaz’s charms and sob stories, but it is pretty tough!  Brina is an ineffectual Goth girl who is pretending to work at the button shop, but doesn’t really do anything.  Estelle Marvin runs a crafting empire and is determined to have Josie on her show in a segment called “The Button Babe,” complete with button-bearing cabana boy in Antique Button #2nothing but a skimpy loincloth.  Margot, Sloan and Wynona backstab, gossip and will do anything needed to emerge from the shadows as Kate’s personal assistants.  Mike Homolka is delightfully despicable as a member of the despised paparazzo.  Prince Roland is more complicated than his handsome face suggests.  Hugh Weaver is a powerful Hollywood producer who only has time for Josie when he needs her help.  Stan is Josie’s retired neighbor who used to be a detective and can’t wait to get involved in solving the crime, preferably by using stakeouts.  Homicide detective Nevin Riley, one of Josie’s disastrous blind dates, is adorable, but appears to be incompetent.  Everyone of them (except for Kaz, Stan and Nevin) are suspects and have motives and means to kill Kate.  Kylie Logan has a real gift for describing characters in a way that makes them all relatable and likable, even if they aren’t!  I loved getting to know everyone in Josie’s world and hope that we will see some of these characters pop up again!

Button Holed is well written and intriguing.  The mystery was Antique Button Braceletinteresting until I solved it and then I just stuck with the book to see what happened to Josie and her fellow cast of characters.  There is some information about buttons included in the book, but it is not exhaustive or overwhelming.  I hope that we get to spend more time in Josie’s store in the next book and less time running around the countryside following up on clues!  The Button Box Mystery series is definitely one to check out for mystery lovers!

Content:

This book features a murder by stabbing.  Thieves break into the button shop multiple times and create a mess.  Josie’s life is in peril a couple of times in the book, but she doesn’t get hurt.  There are scenes of arguing and threats of physical violence.  No forensic details or physical violence is described in detail.  Gambling and gambling addiction are addressed in the book.  Characters are divorced, have sex outside of marriage, cheat on fiancés and spouses, and have children out of wedlock.  There are some scenes of drinking and smoking.  There is some mild language.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Cookie Dough or Die (Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery #1) by Virginia Lowell Book Review

Cookie Dough or Die

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

 Cookie Dough or Die by Virginia Lowell

Series: Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery #1
Author: Virginia Lowell
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (April 2011)
ISBN: 9780425240670
Page Count: 304 pages
Format: Paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Olivia Greyson is proud of her specialty shop, The Gingerbread House.  She sunk all of her divorce settlement into her new business at the urging of successful business owner, Clarisse Chamberlain.  Clarisse became a mentor and a friend so no one is more shocked than Olivia to hear that Clarisse committed suicide.  When Olivia discovers a note Clarisse hid in her shop, she realizes that Olivia was hiding a huge secret – she may have a grandchild somewhere.  Armed with this new information, Olivia challenges local law enforcement to investigate Clarisse’s death as a murder while she takes a break from baking and tries to find a lost child.

Review:

I love reading cozy mysteries and am a sucker for books featuring female businessmen running shops or other types of businesses involving their passion.  Olivia runs a shop named The Gingerbread Antique Snoopy Cookie CuttersHouse that specializes in selling cookie cutters, both antique and modern.  Though the author describes the shop a couple of times, I had a difficult time believing a small town could support a shop that is geared towards such a small niche market.  Tourists make up some of their business and I am sure online sales are also involved, but how many cookie cutter mobiles, hand-sewn aprons and coffee-table cookie books can you sell in a shop in a day?  I would have liked a bit more insight and understanding as to the value of the cookie cutters and the different types of people who collect them, but we are just given brief glimpses into this world in this book.  Olivia and her best friend Maddy spend quite a bit of time baking and decorating cookies, but I don’t think they sell them in the shop.

I liked Olivia as a character and feel that she has a lot of room to grow in this series.  She recently divorced her successful husband, a surgeon, who was looking for a prop at his side rather than a partner.  Olivia appears to be interested in the local Sheriff, who is a cutie, but her ex-Yorkshire Terrier Puppyhusband is also sniffing around.  Spunky, Olivia’s puppy, is adorable and definitely keeps Olivia on her toes.  Buddy, one of Spunky’s friends, is a real character and I hope that we will see more of him and other dogs in future books.  The author has a knack for describing animals and sometimes the animals seemed more real and important than their human counterparts!  What made Olivia interesting was not her love of her puppy, but the eclectic combination of friends that she has.  Some of them are snobs who demand the best and only come around when they want something, others are low maintenance and follow all the gossip, while a new friend is tech-savvy and eccentric.  It is interesting to see these friends congregate around Olivia and watch them interact as the sparks are always flying!

Cookie Dough or Die is well written and interesting.  The modern-day murder mystery of Clarisse is combined with an older mystery of a mysterious, gorgeous woman who disappears from town one day and is never seen again, leaving a stream of broken hearts behind.  Olivia is sure that this woman bore a child, fathered by one of Clarisse’s sons, but which one is the father and where did the mother and child go?  I enjoyed both mysteries and found them equally interesting, which was a nice change.  I also guessed incorrectly when it came to identifying the murderer!  This is a nice change for me as I usually lose interest in the mystery once I figure out who did it so this book kept me guessing until the end!

This book is a solid start for this mystery series and I am looking forward to reading more by Virginia Lowell in the future.

Content:

This book features a murder by poison.  Other characters survive attempted murder attempts.  There is some violence and verbal arguments.  Characters drink wine and smoke.  There is a lot of gossip and it includes premarital sex, having children out of wedlock, divorce and complicated romantic attachments.  There is some mild language.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Our Lady of Pain (Edwardian Murder Mystery #4) by Marion Chesney Book Review

Our Lady of Pain

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Our Lady of Pain by Marion Chesney

Series: Edwardian Murder Mystery #4
Author
: Marion Chesney
Publisher: St. Martin’s Minotaur Books (April 2006)
ISBN: 9780312329686
Page Count: 215 pages
Format: hardcover

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

Lady Rose Summer is working as Captain Harry Cathcart’s secretary, along with her companion, Daisy, when she meets Harry’s latest client, Dolores Duval.  Dolores is a seductive French lady who belongs to the demimonde, or an exclusive ranking of upper-class mistresses.  While Lady Rose knows that her engagement to Harry is merely to prevent her parents from sending her off to India, she is outraged to see Harry escort Dolores to the opera.  In a heated moment, Rose threatens to kill Dolores if she doesn’t stay away from Harry.  When Rose discovers Dolores’s body the next morning, she becomes the prime suspect.  Harry is convinced that Rose did not kill Dolores, but he will have to offer Superintendent Kerridge of Scotland Yard real proof before Rose will be off the hook.  Now if only Harry could find a way to keep Rose out of trouble while he investigates!

Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed the previous three books in this series so I was bitterly disappointed with the final book, Our Lady of Pain.  Lady Rose Summer and Captain Harry Cathcart have been passionately involved in an on-again/off-again relationship throughout the series.  Rose is a Edwardian Wedding Dressspoiled wealthy society lady who is expected to marry well, but Rose is stubborn and wants to carve out a life for herself.  Harry is a member of society, but he lives on the fringes as he has to actually work for a living.  He works as a private investigator for the wealthy and middle-class who do not trust the police or want their scandals to be discovered.  They actually make a pretty good match for each other and I was waiting with bated breath to discover what happens when they finally admit that they love each other only to be let down with an anticlimactic, overly brief ending.  Of course we know that Harry and Rose are eventually going to come together and get married, but the payoff in this series was so disappointing!  Harry is off rescuing Rose after one mishap after another and all she does is continue to sneak out and get into more trouble.  When Harry is in trouble, on the other hand, Rose simply abandons him without a backward glance and leaves him to get out of trouble on his own.  I thought that the romance was over until the author gives the readers one paragraph – one paragraph! – at the end of the book to bring them back together.  Sorry to spoil it for you, but the horrible ending absolutely ruined the series for me!

While Harry and Rose are battling back and forth, I was happy to see that Daisy, Lady Rose’s maid/companion and Becket, Harry’s mysterious manservant/chauffeur/butler, finally got together.  Until the author ruined it all!  Daisy is a Cockney girl brought up in relative poverty and she still has some rough edges to smooth out, but she is a good girl at heart.  We never really learn anything about Becket other than that he was a military man at some point, which was too bad as he is one of the most titillating characters in the book.  Too bad I will never read anything about him again!  Daisy and Becket finally get married here in Our Lady of Pain after Daisy gets pregnant and then their relationship went downhill from there.  Daisy is suddenly unhappy and bored, even considering cheating on Becket with another man in Harry’s employ!, when all she wanted to do was marry the man of her dreams.  I understand that the author is trying to explore something other than the traditional happily-ever-after marriage scene, but I was devastated to see this sweet romance plot come to such a bittersweet ending.  Both relationships are on the rocks in this final book in the series and I feel like I deserved a happier ending!

With all of the wishy-washy relationships going on, I was hoping for a more interesting mystery, but the murder of Dolores Duval wasn’t Edwardian Wedding Portraitit.  Harry and Rose spend time traveling around, idly looking into Dolores’s real identity in their spare time and stumbling across the real criminal somewhere along the way.  I missed the investigations, interviews and clues that were present in the other books in the series, though I did enjoy some of the secondary characters quite a bit.  Rose’s eccentric Aunt Elizabeth provided a fun side trip to Scotland and a regal duchess sweeps the troop off to a whirlwind trip to Paris.  Glimpses into the life of the demimonde of this time period was also very interesting.  I had no idea that these beautiful, exclusive women entered into contracts with prospective clients or lovers before the assignations began!  Houses, carriages, jewelry and other means of payment were negotiated and set out in writing before any “romance” began.  In a time period where women who were born on the outskirts of society or to the lower classes had few options for making money, it is no wonder that so many of them turned to prostitution to support themselves and their families.

Our Lady of Pain is well-written and interesting at times, but a disappointment for readers of the Edwardian Murder Mystery series.  There was not as much fun or zest for life in this last book and I felt like the characters had morphed into someone unrecognizable.  This book felt like more of a middle book to the series than the last in the series to me.  If Our Lady of Pain had been book #2 or #3 in the series, it would have made a great deal more sense for their to be so much jealousy and misunderstanding, but this is the last book!  I was left with nothing after I finished reading and, while the book was still of good quality, I was just so disappointed with the story!  If you enjoy period mysteries, you will definitely enjoy the writing of Marion Chesney, just be prepared for the big let down at the end.

Content:

This book contains several murders including stabbing, shooting and suicide.  Bodies are described briefly, but there are no gory details.  Sex out-of-wedlock and prostitution are commented on and one of the victims is a member of the demimonde or the highest paid courtesans of the time (there are no details or scenes including actual sex between characters).  Prejudice and class structure dictate people’s lives.  Poverty, crime and unsanitary conditions are presented to provide authentic historic details.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Sick of Shadows (Edwardian Murder Mystery #3) by Marion Chesney Book Review

Sick of Shadows

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Sick of Shadows by Marion Chesney

Series: Edwardian Murder Mystery #3
Author: Marion Chesney
Publisher: Minotaur Books (January 2013)
ISBN: 9781250022509
Page Count: 224 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Lady Rose Summer has accepted Captain Harry Cathcart’s sham engagement so she is not shipped off to India, but Rose is sick and tired of Harry’s lack of attention.  Cathcart never shows up at balls or other social engagements and gossip is spreading that Rose cannot hold a man’s attention.  Of course, Rose’s parents are desperately hoping that the engagement is some kind of sick joke and are very excited at Lord Peter’s willingness to squire Lady Rose to parties when the Captain is unavailable.  Rose even considers marrying Peter until she discovers that he is being blackmailed for something she cannot understand or forgive.

Meanwhile, Dolly Tremaine has made a tremendous splash on the London social scene and could make a brilliant marriage due to her beauty, but she is determined to marry for love.  When Dolly’s body is found floating in the river like the Lady of Shalot with Rose standing over the body, Rose has a difficult time explaining her presence and immediately becomes a suspect and then a potential victim.  Forced to rely on Captain Cathcart to investigate and keep her safe, Rose retreats to the country and has plenty of time to think about what she wants for her future.

Review:

I was expecting Sick of Shadows to go in a different direction than Marion Chesney took it.  I was so happy that Lady Rose and Captain Cathcart finally got engaged and that they were both willing to put in enough work to make it look real.  I thought for sure that they would realize how they truly felt for the other and fall madly and deeply in Rural Edwardian Englandlove, but that did not happen.  Instead, these two lovebirds spend a great deal of the book apart as Lady Rose lives with a rural policeman in a small town to try to wait for the murderer to be uncovered and arrested.  Lady Rose starts off pretty snobbish in the small house, but grows to love her host’s family and even gives them some money and new clothing for the children. I think it was great for her to see how the middle-class of the time were living and to hopefully appreciate how fortunate she is in her life of wealth and privilege.  If Rose were a bit less spoiled, I think that Harry would take her suggestions more seriously and admit his love for her rather than fighting with her all of the time!

I was also expecting Daisy and Becket to be busily planning their wedding and looking forward to a rosy future.  But, alas, I was disappointed in this as well!  Daisy is growing increasingly frustrated with her new position.  She is no longer Rose’s lady’s maid, but instead, Daisy is her companion.  At first, Daisy loves her new position and appreciates the leisurely mornings and lovely clothing, but she soon realizes that a companion falls into that nebulous gray area in between servants and the aristocracy.  Now Daisy does not truly belong to either group and she is feeling a bit isolated and unsure as to how to proceed.  Becket, her fiancé and Cathcart’s servant/right-hand man/whatever Cathcart needs, is relying on his employer to honor his word and promote him to a member of Cathcart’s investigation Edwardian Familybusiness.  Becket can then afford to marry Daisy and support her, as Daisy will not be able to work after they wed.  This was an eye opener for me.  I was familiar enough with the time period to know that there were no married servants in the high-born houses, but I guess I assumed that they could still work in other places and that women commonly worked after they were married if they did not have children or needed a little bit of extra money, but I was quite wrong in that regard!  I cannot see Daisy being content to stay at home and be a good little housewife, but maybe love will really conquer all.  I am not sure that Cathcart and Rose will ever get together so I have pinned my hopes on Becket and Daisy as I feel that they are so close to realizing a happy future together, but I have to wait for another book to find out!

This book was not as smoothly written as the first two in the series and did not have as many humorous scenes, but there was a still a great deal to smile about.  It is a quick, light read and is “fluffy” rather than serious in any way, but sometimes that is just what I am looking for.  I have grown attached to the four main characters and keep hoping for NPG x104169; Maison Lewisthe romances that have been hinted at for so long will strengthen and flourish, but I don’t know if or when they will.  I will mention that the historical accuracy in this book is a bit iffy in places.  Homosexuality is not only recognized by a gently bred lady, but overlooked or ignored.  While I know that those with enough money or power could make just about anything happen, the circumstances in this book stretched the my credulity and, while I appreciate the subplot and admire the author’s support and reinvention of the time, it would never have happened.  There are a few other instances like this, but it was not enough to keep me from enjoying the book as a whole.  However, I will say that I would be very disappointed in this book if I had not read the other two in the series.  Make sure that you begin with the first book as Sick of Shadows is not the best in the series.

Content:

This book contains a character who is rather openly homosexual and society’s reactions to it.  There is a murder and brief descriptions of the body.  There are scenes of drinking and smoking.  There are scenes of prejudice and social inequality.  There is some mild language, but it is historically accurate and not at all offensive.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Pretty Poison (Peggy Lee Garden Mystery #1) by Joyce & Jim Lavene Book Review

Pretty Poison

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

 Pretty Poison by Joyce and Jim Lavene

Series: Peggy Lee Garden Mystery #1
Author: Joyce and Jim Lavene
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (May 2005)
ISBN: 0425202992
Page Count: 267 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Peggy Lee (no relation to the famous singer) is busy teaching at the local university and running her garden shop in Charlotte, North Carolina when she gets swept up into a murder investigation.  The dead body of notorious womanizer Mark Warner is found face down in one of her pots and Peggy discovers him the following morning.  When a harmless homeless man is arrested for the murder, Peggy immediately goes to work to try to clear his name.  There is no shortage of suspects, but Peggy seems to be running into a dead end with all of them, until a miscarriage reveals the fact that one of her employees was having an affair with the dead man.  Could the girl Peggy has known her whole life be capable of murder?

Review:

Pretty Poison is a lovely little cozy mystery.  Peggy was a fascinating character to get to know.  She is eccentric, erratic and completely unpredictable!  Peggy is fifty-two years old and has been a widow for two years after her husband was shot when he responded to a domestic violence call.  She still has a lot of friends on the police force, including Al, her husband’s old partner.  Al is in charge of the Mark Warner Foxgloveinvestigation so Peggy is able to get quite a lot of information through legitimate channels rather than hearsay.  Peggy’s close ties to the police force do not keep her from bending or outright breaking a few laws and you will certainly be stunned, as I was!, when Peggy gets involved with some college pranks with serious legal repercussions if she were caught.  The most interesting thing about Peggy, however, is her interest in plants.  Peggy teaches herbology at the local university, gives weekly workshops to gardeners, dispenses plenty of advice in her garden shop (which seems to be very busy), and also maintains the greenery for several local businesses.  Her area of expertise happens to be plant poisons and, coincidentally, there is more than one murder in the book that involves a rare type of poison that is tasteless, odorless and kills quickly.  Peggy already helped with a previous investigation involving a rare plant poison (this is mentioned in passing, but not included as part of the story and, yes, this is the first book in the series) and is the logical expert for the police to go to when they need help on the case.  In her spare time, Peggy experiments with new plant types in her basement for fun.  If plants aren’t your thing, there is a great little subplot about an abused Great Dane that Peggy ends up adopting.  The dog is huge and Peggy doesn’t really want a dog, but he worms his way into her heart and she ends up sharing her home and her bed with him.  This may be temporary, however, as a handsome, younger veterinarian seems to be very interested in Peggy.

Peggy is the main character in the book and the whole story is told through her point of view, but there is a large cast of supporting characters that readers will need to remember to follow the plot.  Mark Castor BeanWarner slept with several women, usually at the same time, and left behind spurned lovers, current lovers and a wife.  All of them are interviewed and investigated.  Peggy also has several employees, all of whom help out at various times throughout the investigation and one of whom is actually a viable suspect for the crime.  There are several police investigators involved in the case, including Paul, Peggy’s only son, and Mai, a forensic technician.  The names can get a bit overwhelming at times, but the context of Peggy’s conversations with them are clear enough that you don’t have to really keep track of all of them unless you want to.  If you do pay attention, you will be able to solve the crime before the end of the book.  I was able to successfully guess the identity of the murderer, but only a few chapters before the end of the book after a more obvious suspect was let off the hook for the crime.

Different plants and flowers are just as important to the mystery as the characters Peggy is investigating.  The authors took the time to include Minuet Laurela header before each chapter that discusses one plant in depth.  I loved learning about the historical background of these plants and how they got their name in mythology or what they were used for historically.  Peggy also comments on the meaning of flowers in different wreaths and bouquets, which I found very interesting as it is really a lost art today.  People select flowers for funerals and dates based on how they look or smell rather than what they mean.  I also learned a great deal about growing plants more effectively.  If you are interested in planting in the fall, there is an afterward that includes helpful tips and tricks that will help your plants be stronger and healthier.  Incidentally, all of the beautiful plant photos included with this post are deadly when ingested!

Pretty Poison is well written and interesting.  There are a lot of subplots running underneath the main mystery so be prepared to get involved Bittersweet Nightshadewith Peggy’s life.  You will learn about ordering for a garden shop, what it is like to work with college students, get swept up in a romance with a younger man, grow and develop new plants, accompany the police on their investigations, conduct interviews with suspects, break the law, and much, much more.  Even though there is a lot going on in the mystery, the authors very capably keep all of the plots running smoothly and definitely kept me interested.  I never once felt like I was lost or getting too much information on a subplot that I was not interested in.  I really enjoyed getting to know Peggy and cannot wait to see her investigate more plant-related crimes!

Content:

This book contains multiple murders.  The victims are killed through bludgeoning and poison.  Peggy’s husband was a police officer killed in the line of duty.  Animal cruelty is described and discussed.  Cyberstalking, assault, theft and other crimes are committed.  Mental illness and homelessness are discussed.  There are descriptions of dead bodies, including those in the morgue and the funeral home.  There are multiple affairs and many characters have open marriages.  There is an out-of-wedlock pregnancy that leads to a miscarriage.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

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Brownies and Broomsticks (Magical Bakery Mystery #1) by Bailey Cates Book Review

Brownies and Broomsticks

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Brownies and Broomsticks by Bailey Cates

Series: Magical Bakery Mystery #1
Author: Bailey Cates
Publisher: Obsidian Mystery (May 2012)
ISBN: 9780451236630
Page Count: 323 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Katie Lightfoot is tired of being the assistant manager at a Ohio bakery.  She also could use a change of scenery after her engagement falls apart.  When Katie’s Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ben open a new bakery in Savannah, Georgia, Katie is thrilled to join them.  The Honeybee Bakery is off to a good start when they host a Downtown Business Association meeting and everyone raves about Katie’s baking – except for Mrs. Templeton.  When Mrs. Templeton refuses to pay for the food, Uncle Ben has a vicious argument with her, only to become the prime suspect in her murder when Mrs. Templeton’s body is found dead outside their bakery a few minutes later.  Katie knows that her Uncle could never murder someone, not even someone as mean as Mrs. Templeton, but what can she do to help solve the crime?  Turns out that Katie has some newfound magic powers that may be just what she needs to solve the murder.

Review:

Brownies and Broomsticks is a delightful cozy mystery.  I loved the setting in downtown Savannah, Georgia and enjoyed brief glimpses into Honey Bee Bakeryother shops, as well as different districts.  The bakery shop sounded absolutely heavenly and I would strongly encourage you to have a few treats on hand as you read this book or you will be certain to have a rumbly tummy!  All of the recipes that Katie is developing for the bakery sounded so yummy!  There are a few recipes at the end of the book that I can’t wait to try.  Though these recipes do not feature the magical herbs and spells that Aunt Lucy uses in the Honeybee Bakery, the peanut butter swirl brownies and cheddar-sage scones will no doubt taste as delicious as they sound!

Katie Lightfoot is the main character in the book and I found her endearing, if a bit puzzling.  Katie has no idea that she has magical powers, but soon realizes that she does possess magic of her own.  Both of her parents are witches, but Katie chooses not to confront either of them in this book about the secrets they kept from her.  This doesn’t mean that Katie doesn’t wonder about it, she just doesn’t do anything about it.  It should be exciting to see Katie develop her newfound Witch in Trainingmagical abilities, however, as they seem unnaturally strong.  All of the women in Aunt Lucy’s coven are very different and have different strengths.  If Katie plays her cards right, she can learn a great deal from each of them, though Katie doubts she has any real magical abilities at all.  What Katie does have is a weird sleep disorder.  She only sleeps for a few hours each night and then goes running.  There is a hypothesis for this restlessness at the end of the book, however, so hopefully Katie gets that under control.  No one likes to read about someone who only sleeps for 2 hours a night and gets an incredible amount of work done each day!  Katie really made me feel like a slacker at times, but I won’t hold that against her as I love to sleep!  Mungo the Magnificent was my favorite character, however.  He is Katie’s new familiar and is an adorable little black terrier.  Mungo doesn’t talk, but his meanings come through loud and clear.

Katie seems sweet and nice, but she is a bit of a user or she is just totally clueless (I am going by user myself).  She recently got dumped by her fiancé and has promised herself at least six months of no dating, but finds herself confronted with two very attractive men who seem to be interested in her.  Declan McCarthy is a handsome firefighter who Mungo the Magnificenttrained with Uncle Ben before he retired as fire chief.  He is the type of man who rescues puppies and helps little old ladies across the street and never hesitates to help someone move furniture in his truck.  Steve Dawes is a bit of a rebel and seems to have some magical powers of his own.  He is the local journalist and is always willing to trade for information, even if he does refuse to take no for an answer.  Steve and Declan are bitter enemies so it doesn’t help that they both seem to be interested in Katie.  What frustrated me was that Katie claims that she doesn’t want a relationship, but she keeps calling Steve and Declan to help her with errands, moving furniture, interviewing suspects, etc.  Talk about sending out mixed signals!  These two guys had to be super confused as most of Katie’s requests for help could be construed as wanting to get to know them better and maybe start dating.

The mystery was well thought out and there are plenty of suspects to go around.  Mrs. Templeton was universally despised throughout Peanut Butter Swirl BrowniesSavannah, but was too powerful to ignore or disobey.  The more I found out about her, the more I was surprised that no one tried to take her out sooner!  Katie’s investigative techniques were unorthodox, to say the least, but she did get results.  I confess that I was completely surprised to discover who really committed the crime, but part of that was due to Katie’s inexperience as an investigator.  She had all of the clues she needed, but didn’t follow up on some critical leads that would have helped solve the crime sooner.  Of course, it is a lot easier to spot an important clue when you are comfortably sitting at home on your couch, but still!

There is a great deal of charm in this first Magical Bakery MysteryBailey Cates has left herself a wide variety of options for future books in the series and I cannot wait to see which direction she chooses to go in!  Will we focus on growing their brand new bakery and making it a success?  Training Katie’s newfound magical abilities?  Confronting her parents and putting the past behind her?  Will Katie focus in on one of her hunky new suitors or will we endure a love triangle for many books to come?  Most important, what new recipes will we be reading about!

Content:

This book features a murder victim who has her neck snapped.  There is very little description of the body.  There is some drinking, smoking and drug abuse in this book.  There is some language, though it is relatively infrequent and mild.  Poverty and old age are discussed.  There are several verbal arguments and threats to escalate to physical violence.  There is a scene of attempted murder and some violence.  There is also a backstory of a rookie firefighter who died of smoke inhalation.  Witchcraft, including various rituals and different implements used in witchcraft are discussed in detail.  Spells are cast on unaware humans.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

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A Timely Vision (Missing Pieces Mystery #1) by Joyce and Jim Lavene Book Review

A Timely Vision

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

A Timely Vision by Joyce and Jim Lavene

Series: Missing Pieces Mystery #1
Author: Joyce and Jim Lavene
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (May 2010)
ISBN: 9780425234754
Page Count: 292 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1

Synopsis:

Dae O’Donnell is the proud mayor of Duck, North Carolina and owner of Missing Pieces, an antique/souvenir/curio shop.  Dae is also the person that everyone turns to when they have lost something.  She was born with the ability to find anything, but Dae has to touch the person while they are thinking about the item they lost.  When Dae helps Miss Mildred locate the watch she loaned to her sister, Miss Lizzie, Dae doesn’t understand her vision until she stumbles across Miss Lizzie’s body buried in the sand.  The police immediately zero in on Miss Mildred as the killer and find enough circumstantial evidence to put her away, but Dae is convinced that Miss Mildred didn’t kill her sister, even though they had argued for years.  With the help of a retired FBI agent, Kevin Brickman, who recently purchased the Blue Whale Inn, and her grandfather, a retired police detective, will Dae be able to uncover what really happened the day of the murder?

Review:

I was excited to read A Timely Vision as Dae’s special ability sets her apart from most other protagonists in cozy mysteries.  I have read my fair share of mysteries involving paranormal abilities and am used to reading books about those who can touch dead bodies and see the moments surrounding their death, touch objects and see what happened to the person who last touched them, gain psychic Duck North Carolina Welcome Signimpressions of locations of dead bodies or missing witnesses and a variety of others, but never one as simple and easy to explain as Dae’s.  Dae wishes she was born with an ability that could really help people, like the abilities listed previously, but quickly regrets her wish when her talent is revealed to the FBI agents investigating the murder.  The FBI are very interested in adding Dae to their list of consultants and even suggest Dae try touching Miss Lizzie’s body to see if she can learn anything!  Dae insists that she can only find lost objects and she has rules to follow.  The person looking for the object must be alive and focusing intently on the object they lost.  They must own the object they are asking Dae to find.  The object cannot be involved in anything illegal (like the drugs a high school friend lost and asked her to find).  She spends most of her time finding lost keys, purses, etc., but now Dae is finding lost items that change the course of a murder investigation.  This changes the way that Dae regards her gift, but not her willingness to help the locals find anything they have lost. I am excited to see what Dae will be able to accomplish with her gift in future books and hope that she will continue to grow and develop her ability.

I loved that the residents of Duck just accepted Dae’s ability as nothing out of the ordinary.  There are quite a few drawbacks to living in a small town, but there are definite perks, too!  Most people seem to be more tolerant of residents, particularly lifelong residents and Duck is no different.  Miss Mildred and Miss Lizzie have been arguing for Duck North Carolinayears.  Their fights and conquests are legendary and the town delights in pulling out all of the old gossip for anyone who is interested.  Mary Lou’s passionate defense of the local turtle population is treated seriously and everyone turns out to support her fundraisers.  Police officer Tim has been in love with Dae for years and everyone assumes he will eventually wear her down and they will get married.  Kevin Brickman is a source of considerable interest as he is a new resident in town.  He recently purchased the abandoned Blue Whale Inn and no one knows very much about him.  Still, handsome, single men are pretty thin on the ground in Duck so all the single ladies turn out in force to try to get to know Kevin better.  Dae doesn’t want to be in the competition, so to speak, but Kevin seems to be going out of his way to spend time with her.  I am not sure what to think of Kevin at this time and think that the authors did a good job keeping him a bit mysterious.  I am sure he will feature in future books in the series and look forward to learning more about him.

I enjoyed my time in Duck and think that this would be a wonderful little town to visit.  The residents have their quirks and interesting personalities, but that is delightful for a short visit rather than Duck North Carolina Waterfront Shopexasperating.  There are all kinds of mysteries waiting to be solved, too!  Miss Lizzie’s murder is of primary importance, of course, as Miss Mildred has been arrested for the murder, but there seem to be quite a few missing and mysterious people in Duck.  What happened to Miss Lizzie’s husband, Wild Johnny Simpson? And what about Bunk Whitley, the town’s lawyer, who just disappeared one day?  And what is the true story in regards to Silas, Miss Mildred and Miss Lizzie’s only brother?  Some of these questions are answered in this book and some are not.  I am looking forward to returning to visit Duck again in the near future and hope to enjoy uncovering the town’s mysteries.

Content:

This book contains the story of multiple murders and bodies are briefly described.  Miss Lizzie is hit with a shovel and then buried in the sand.  Dae and Kevin have to move her body, but her body was found quickly and there is little blood so it isn’t too gruesome.  An old, skeletal body is found and described briefly.  Police shootouts and potential cover ups are discussed.  Prohibition, bootlegging, and smuggling illegal substances into town are part of the plot.  There are scenes of drinking.  There are some scenes of verbal arguments, mild violence and some brief language.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

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Chance of a Ghost (Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #4) by E. J. Copperman Book Review

Chance of a Ghost

Book Review by Debbie Winkler

Chance of a Ghost by E. J. Copperman

Series: Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #4
Author: E. J. Copperman
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime (February 2013)
ISBN: 9780425251683
Page Count: 292 pages
Format: paperback

Target Age Group: adults
My Ratingimage_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

It’s wintertime in New Jersey and Alison only has two guests to worry about.  This turns out to be a good thing because the weather and her family are going to take up a lot of Alison’s time in the next couple of days!  Alison’s mother confesses that she has been meeting Alison’s father every Tuesday for years now, but he has never once appeared to Alison.  Hurt and confused by her father’s distance, Alison nonetheless rushes to her mother’s side when her father misses too many of his weekly appointments.  Another ghost, Lawrence Laurentz, recently deceased, claims that he can help them locate Alison’s father, but only if Alison investigates his murder.  With a blizzard bearing down on the state, a couple of guests who think Alison is going crazy and more than her fair share of ghosts, Alison will have to work fast to save her father and keep her mother out of trouble.

Review:

A lot has changed in Alison’s life since the last mystery, Old Haunts.  Alison learned that her father has been appearing regularly to Alison’s mother, but has not tried to communicate with her.  This really hurts Alison’s feelings as she can now see just about all ghosts and doesn’t understand why her father wouldn’t want to spend time with her New Jersey Snowlike he does with her mother.  And what about his own granddaughter, Melissa, why doesn’t he spend time with her?  In other personal news, Alison is no longer dating anyone and the field is clear for a new boyfriend to enter the wings. Alison reconnects with an old childhood friend, Josh and I am happy to say that this one actually seems to have some potential.  Alison’s resident ghosts have also been growing and developing.  Maxine discovered at the end of the last book that she can leave Alison’s house and travel anywhere she wants.  She still spends most of her time hanging out and bugging Alison, only now she can go with Alison when she goes to run errands.  Paul is still stuck in the house, but he has grown a great deal in strength and can now manipulate heavy objects.  Meanwhile, Jeannie, Alison’s best friend is completely obsessed with her new baby, Oliver.  Her husband, Tony, begs Alison to help him out and try to get her to leave the house – without Oliver.  Unfortunately, the best Alison can do is get Jeannie to leave the house with Oliver and help her investigate the current mystery.  This leads to some humorous situations, of course, as Jeannie is still completely oblivious to the facts that there are ghosts all around her.  I am confident that all of these characters will continue to change and grow as the series continues and I can’t wait to see what happens!

There are a few new characters that I really enjoyed in this book.  Morgan and Nan are the retired couple staying with Alison during this difficult case.  At first, Alison thinks they hate her and her guesthouse, but she comes to find out that Morgan is just missing investigating crimes as he recently retired from the police force. This works out great for Alison as she can pick his brain on the Lawrence Laurentz case.  And speaking of the alleged victim, Lawrence is Old Peter Panhilarious!  He is a wanna-be actor who took himself fairly seriously in life, but didn’t seem to have many friends.  The list of suspects includes the New Old Thespians, a theater group that Lawrence was briefly involved with and it is worth reading the book for the Peter Pan performance that the group puts on later in the book!  The descriptions of the reimagined story with Peter Pan wanting to remain old forever and never get younger are hysterical!  These characters are not funny in and of themselves, but when you see them through Alison’s eyes and read her inner dialogues as she describes them, you will grow to see how everything has a humorous side to it.

The mystery is pretty interesting this time as none of us are sure if there really is a mystery to solve.  Alison and her mother are very concerned about Alison’s father, but neither one of them know enough about the spirit world to know if he is being held against his will or if he just doesn’t want to see them right now.  To get an answer, Alison is forced into investigating Lawrence Laurentz’s death, which was ruled a heart attack.  Lawrence insists that someone threw a toaster in the bathtub with him and that he was murdered, but there is no evidence that backs this up.  Since ghosts are not cognizant until a few days after their death, Lawrence cannot identify his murderer or give any additional details.  Fortunately, Alison is a much better investigator now that she has some experience and Paul, her Canadian private investigator ghost, and Morgan, her retired-investigator guest, are able to help her a great deal when she gets stuck on this case and she actually manages to solve the crime.

I love the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series and look forward to each new installment with great pleasure.  These books are consistently well written and feature interesting mysteries presented by a very entertaining lead character in Alison Kerby.   Chance of a Ghost delivers the same high-quality characters and humor that I have grown accustomed to and I was not disappointed!

Content:

This book contains tales of multiple deaths, some of which are murder victims.  There is a scene of attempted murder, as well.  There are scenes of mild violence and arguments.  There is some mild language.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.

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