cozy

“Violet Dawn” by Brandilyn Collins

 

Book Cover - Violet Dawn

Don’t read the first chapter of “Violet Dawn” if you plan on stepping into your hot-tub in the middle of the night. You might not ever get into it again unless there are floodlights blazing on the deck.

 

Imagine:  a touch, a brush aside of something annoying and ALL OF A SUDDEN YOU REALIZE YOU’RE IN A HOT TUB WITH…” Shriek!!!!! – The scene Collins has written would be a delicious opening for a movie.  (Play ‘Psycho’ music here)

 

Collins’ loyal following has put her on the bestseller list with several faith-based series. “Violet Dawn” is the first in her Kanner Lake group, featuring a small town reminiscent of TVs Cabot Cove – where everyone knows everyone else’s business, but whose residents also stand ready to help when life takes a downturn. The Kanner Lake population seems unfriendly at first, but then we get to know the quirky regulars at the Java Joint and realize that our initial impressions have been filtered through Paige Williams’ eyes, a young woman with a complex past. Paige’s background drives her distinctly odd behavior at the beginning of the book, and Collins keeps the readers’ interest as that past is revealed, a bit at a time, against the backdrop of a missing persons search and then, murder investigation.

 

Although new in town, Paige has the support of both her boss and the owner of the Java Joint when the murder investigation points to her. A fame-seeking reporter finds her humanity and plays a pivotal role in “Violet Dawn.” An honest Chief of Police keeps digging until the truth is revealed. Each of the characters has a story of his/her own to tell and it seems clear that they will be more fully developed as the series continues.

 

The main villain, Black Mamba, slithered through his scenes in a satisfyingly sinister way. The character was a bit over the top at times in comparison with the rest of Kanner Lake people, but he works as a stark contrast between decent townspeople and the creeps who would do us harm.

 

By the way, if I ever buy a hot tub, it’s going to have a transparent cover!

 

Titles from the Kanner Lake series: “Coral Moon,” “Crimson Eve,” and “Amber Moon.”

Collins’ work is sometimes grouped with Christian fiction; other times with cozies.

 

For more about Collins and “Seatbelt Suspense,” visit www.brandilyncollins.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Kneading to Die” by Liz Mugavero

 

Book Cover - Kneading To Die copy

‘Stan’ (short for Kristan) Connor leaves Hartford, Connecticut after being unfairly downsized from her high paying, high pressure PR job. It’s time to take a breather from the fast lane and move her life in a different direction. When she arrives at her newly purchased Victorian in Frog Ledge, a town so small that everybody knows your business before you say hello for the first time, she knows she is home.

 

Her boyfriend doesn’t agree, and pressures her to get another job ASAP before she regrets her decision. Plus, he’s not happy about the commute to see her. He keeps trying to arrange job interviews for her, despite her protests. Not needed, not wanted. She has two years severance pay, after all. This pair is definitely not on the same page.

 

Stan soon finds herself in a fix when she visits the obnoxious town vet with her Maine coon, Nutty. The vet is dead; kibble sprinkled over her body, and hardly anybody misses her. Stan is a suspect in the murder, just because she found the body. Well, small town people do have to blame the outsiders, don’t they?  😉

 

As Kristan seeks to clear herself in “Kneading to Die,” she finds it hard to know whom to trust. Even her childhood friend, an animal rescuer and now the owner of Pet’s Last Chance, Nikki Manning, comes under suspicion as the case unfolds. But, then Nikki delivers some inside info about the deceased and a possible motive for the vet’s death.

 

Colorful characters (and suspects) abound, including alpaca farmers/bed & breakfast owners, a sweetshop owner, dairy farmers, gossipy townspeople, long-lost relatives, a homeopathic vet, and more.

 

Kristan bakes healthy treats for pets, made from scratch like people cookies, but without the additives usually found in commercial cat and dog food. One of my mother’s cats suffered with clumps of hair falling out, traced back to his completely canned diet. As soon as mom put him on a diet of home cooked fish and other fresh goodies, the condition cleared up. Mugavero is definitely onto something with this aspect of “Kneading to Die,” and has generously included recipes for dog and kitty treats at end of the book.

 

The hunky potential love interest, Jake McGee, owns a seemingly untrainable, sloppy, big dog that loves Stan’s treats and shows up on her doorstep at odd hours, waiting to get fed. The dog keeps throwing Kristan and Jake together, at times embarrassing them both.

 

The underlying theme of this dog-and-cat-filled cozy is advocacy for animals. Mugavero weaves the nasty side of pet sales, abandoned animals, questionable veterinarian policies, badly prepared pet food, etc. into the murder plotline and raises awareness of the real-life issues involved. Fortunately, the unpleasant side of the pet industry is balanced with the warm, caring behavior of the assorted animal lovers in “Kneading to Die.”

 

P.S. If you’ve ever owned a cat or a dog, you’ll find the descriptions of the animals in “Kneading to Die” hilarious and spot-on. I was checking a detail at the beginning of the book and reread about Nutty’s tail delivering opinions – still sooo funny. Mugavero clearly knows her animals.

 

“Kneading to Die” is the first book in Pawsitively Organic series, and happily, Kristan Connor will be back in the next.

 

Please visit www.lizmugavero.com for information about this debut author.

 

 

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“Hearse and Buggy” by Laura Bradford

 

Book Cover - Hearse and Buggy

Claire Weatherly has left a fast-paced New York life and a wealthy, absentee husband, to live in a quiet Pennsylvania town in Amish country with her aunt. Aunt Diane runs a bed and breakfast for tourists curious about the Amish and she always knows what’s going on in both English and Amish communities. As Claire settles in to her new, simpler lifestyle, she opens Heavenly Treasures (a gift shop featuring Amish creations), employs Esther (a local Amish girl) and earns the respect of both business owners and Amish alike. After just a few months, Claire is happily rediscovering who she is.

 

A new police detective, Jakob Fisher, comes to town (a detective who is a former member of the Amish community) and heartbreaking secrets are revealed. When Amish friends are cheated, misunderstood, denounced as something other than they seem, accused of murdering the man who cheated them, Jakob is at a loss to investigate, since he has been shunned and the Amish are not allowed to speak to him directly.

 

How will fairness and justice be served? Claire becomes a liaison between Jakob and her Amish friends and is soon actively involved in the pursuit of the truth. What’s at stake is more than catching a killer – trust must be restored between the two communities.

 

Bradford weaves an absorbing look at the Amish culture and value system into the murder investigation. We learn about Ordnung and Rumspringa, about clothing and transportation, as well as the misconceptions outsiders might have. Bradford presents a balanced view, including both defense and criticisms of this way of life, making “Hearse and Buggy” a fascinating read.

 

There are several love stories and family conflicts and surprises in this well-written, character driven cozy. Relationships do not go smoothly for anyone, but resolutions are realistic and satisfying, even when the pairings don’t work out.

 

“Hearse and Buggy” is the first book in the Amish Mystery series, followed by “Assaulted Pretzel.”

 

Visit www.laurabradford.com for more information about Bradford and the Amish Mystery series, as well as other books she writes under a pseudonym.

 

 

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“The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” by Alexander McCall Smith

 

Book Cover - No1LadiesDetectiveAgency

 

Smith has written a series of much-admired bestsellers based in Gaborone, Botswana, where life is enjoyed most when sitting on a porch sipping red bush tea, enjoying the view of acacia trees, listening to Go-Away birds calling, and watching people from the village stroll past. The ‘No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency’ in the fourteen books, is run by Mma Precious Ramotswe, a sensible woman of traditional size (translation – big woman), so no slinky, svelte types will be found between the pages, unless they happen to be up to no good. Makeup is more or less dismissed as unnecessary (or mostly for those women who are up to no good).

 

Ramotswe guarantees satisfaction for all parties, and as the clever owner of the first detective agency in Botswana run by a woman, that’s a standard she is happy to apply as a matter of personal principle. In “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” she must find a missing husband, follow an errant teenager, and search for a missing child, while keeping her clients happy and herself safe – not easy when witch doctors and cobras might be involved.

 

The feel-good mystery series has been a worldwide phenomenon and has inspired a BBC TV series as well as a movie. Smith writes from his experience of living and working in Botswana. His descriptions of the countryside make the reader feel that looking for the hippos around the next bend of the river is the natural order of things, where going to the next town is a really big deal and making a 97 on a final exam is cause for endless celebration. Smith has successfully conveyed his love of Africa through Ramotswe’s unabashed pride in her beloved Botswana, whether speaking of snakes or diamonds or witch doctors or the cattle used to buy her business.

 

Happily, the main supporting characters are well drawn and we as readers are pulled into the relationships as Ramotswe makes her decisions. I was angered, dismayed, touched, and ultimately quite pleased by the behavior of the men in her life.

 

A later book in the series (from 2010) “The Double Comfort Safari Club,” is not quite as successful as the earlier titles because of one case involving an inheritance to be delivered to the correct person. The resolution seemed to be an odd stretch and made me question whether I could trust Mma Ramotswe’s usually sound judgment. Perhaps it’s a cultural disconnect, but I kept re-reading that section of the book to see if I had somehow misunderstood the issues surrounding the choices.

 

With that exception, “Double Comfort…” is pleasant, and often demonstrates Mma Ramotswe’s loyalty to the people in her circle. Having been in difficult situations herself, she helps and encourages those in need. Another case, involving a trusted employee whose fiancé has a tragic accident and afterward becomes virtually imprisoned by an aunt, is resolved rather deliciously, underlining Ramotswe’s basic decency. She isn’t always correct in her assessment of the clients, but she is fiercely protective of the ones who need her the most.

 

No shoot-outs, no car chases, no bloody murders, just enjoyable reads about a woman with common sense born out of an abusive early marriage and a knack for understanding the quirky bits of human nature – important characteristics for the head detective in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

 

For more information about Alexander McCall Smith and his other famous series, please visit www.alexandermccallsmith.co.uk

 

 

 

 

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“Dead Cat Bounce” by Sarah Graves

Book Cover - Dead Cat Bounce

The ‘Home Repair is Homicide’ series gets off to a hammering start with this first installment, “Dead Cat Bounce.” Jacobia Tiptree has purchased a fixer-upper on an island in Maine and while handy with a wrench and other assorted tools, she is not prepared for the corpse she discovers in her storeroom one murky morning.

 

When the body is revealed to be that of a local billionaire and Tiptree (the newcomer in town) begins to investigate why he wound up in her house, her safety and that of her son is threatened. Family trust is tested, an ex-husband proves to be a forever jerk, and Tiptree relies on her Wall Street savvy to uncover the truth behind the murder. Graves reveals that ‘dead cat bounce’ refers to stock market jargon for a temporary rise in a stock’s trading price after a sharp drop…“even a dead cat will bounce if dropped.”

 

Along the way, we learn handy home repair tips for old houses. I now know why sagging floors have to be jacked up slowly and that if repairs turn out to be extensive, “you might as well stick your checkbook on the back door and let people fill out their own.” “Dead Cat Bounce” is a witty take on murder in a small town, with home repair as the source for many of the plot twists. A gal with a tool belt cannot be underestimated.

 

This mystery is completely guilty of solid character development and deeply felt relationships, and because of that, Tiptree is someone we’d like to help, invite over for coffee, get financial advice from, and especially have her on our side if we were ever accused of murder. I’ve read several of Graves’ fifteen books in the series and the people surrounding Tiptree are so real, they could be my own neighbors. Except for the killers, I hope.

 

The most recent in the series, “Dead Level,” was published in 2012, and “A Bat in the Belfry” is coming out in April, 2013.

 

For more information, visit www.sarahgraves.net

 

 

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