Friday, August 30, 2019

Review: Mulberry Mischief by Sharon Farrow

Mulberry Mischief (A Berry Basket Mystery, Book #4)
by Sharon Farrow
Release Date: August 27th 2019
2019 Kensington
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1496722614
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from Great Escapes Book Tours

4.5 / 5 Stars

With the Harvest Health Fair in full swing, Marlee makes sure to stock up on elderberry products for cold and flu season. But this year there's also a run on mulberry when an eccentric customer wants to use the dried berries to ward off evil forces. True, it's almost Halloween, but something else seems to be spooking Leticia the Lake Lady, Oriole Point's oddest resident. She believes someone plans to kill her—and the ghost. Only mulberries can protect them. Marlee doesn't take her fears seriously until a man named Felix Bonaventure arrives in the village, asking questions about a mysterious woman.

The next day, Marlee finds Bonaventure dead on Leticia's property—shot through the heart with an arrow made of mulberry wood. And Leticia has disappeared. Marlee soon learns the Lake Lady has a deadly past that is connected to the famous Sable family who are in town for the health fair. A bunch of clues start to come together—and figuring out what's going on puts Marlee in a real jam …

My Thoughts
Mulberry Mischief is the fourth entry in the A Berry Basket Mystery series and is a very enjoyable read.  There is a delightful group of characters, each with their own personality quirks, which makes the story fun and interesting.  The author likes to set her books around events, so in this one, the story line is centered around the Haunted Halloween Harvest Health Fair, a dichotomy to be sure.  As I love stories about Halloween, the concept definitely piqued my interest.

Marlee is a lovable heroine, always looking out for others, but because of this often becomes someone whom others can trust with their secrets, some of which become dangerous.  Leticia the Lake Lady, an eccentric resident, believes that someone is trying to hurt her and subsequently confides this information to Marlee.  I really like how the author gets Marlee involved without making her seem like a busybody or becoming really annoying, it just seems to happen naturally.  I think this is one of the things that makes these books so enjoyable.  Marlee naturally becomes involved because she cares about people so when Leticia goes missing after Marlee discovers a body, her caring nature leads her to look for Leticia simply because she's worried about her.  Furthermore, there is a whole host of charming characters surrounding Marlee that makes the story rather interesting. I have developed a fondness for Old Man Bowman who insisted that Big Foot was the menace; and I have to say, his scene at the end of the novel was rather a hoot.  

The story line turned out to be rather more involved than I expected, and although I didn't figure out who did the actually killing, the sad story behind Leticia's fear was a fairly predictable one.  What I liked though, was how the author unveiled the story line, bit by bit. I read a LOT of mystery novels so I was able to guess the events, but I'm not sure if it was that easy for everyone. Despite this, I thought the author did a fantastic job balancing the murders with Marlee's life and life in this Michigan town.   I especially like learning about the different things happening in small towns and the day-to-day life happenings rather than just mystery, mystery, mystery.  And things just seem to happen naturally with Marlee which is how she discovers information.  I would think that it takes a lot of planning for an author to be able to do that in a book.

Mulberry Mischief is another great entry in a fantastic series.  The characters, the plot line, the mystery, and the everyday events make this a very enjoyable read.  And I am really glad the author does not give away too much from previous books either in case readers have not read them.  And while this could be read as a standalone, I do recommend they are read in order just to get background information on the other characters.  Besides, I love learning about the different berries in these books.  Thousands of different strawberries? Who knew. Very interesting information and great recipes included. I am already looking forward to the next book in this series.
Friday, August 23, 2019

Review: The Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne

The Cliff House
by RaeAnne Thayne
Release Date: March 26th 2019
2019 HQN Books
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1335004901
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

After the death of their mother, sisters Daisy and Beatriz Davenport found a home with their aunt Stella in the beautiful and welcoming town of Cape Sanctuary. They never knew all the dreams that Stella sacrificed to ensure they had everything they’d ever need. Now, with Daisy and Bea grown, it’s time for Stella to reveal the secret she’s been keeping from them—a secret that will change their family forever.

Bea thought she’d sown all her wild oats when she got pregnant far too young. The marriage that followed was rocky and not destined to last, but it gave Bea her wonderful, mature, now eleven-year-old daughter, Marisol. But just as she’s beginning to pursue a new love with an old friend, Bea’s ex-husband resurfaces and turns their lives completely upside down.

Then there’s Daisy—sensible, rational, financially prudent Daisy. She’s never taken a risk in her life—until she meets a man who makes her question everything she thought she knew about life, love and the power of taking chances.

My Thoughts
The Cliff House was an enjoyable book about two sisters and the aunt who raised them after their mother died figuring out new paths in their lives and taking chances on love.  Having read previous books by this author, I really felt like the characters and their stories were underdeveloped compared to what I have read previously.  Personally, I think the author took on too much and perhaps it may have been better to focus on one sister, or just the aunt, for this book.  There would have been plenty for three books.

I really liked all three women, although it did take a while for Daisy to grow on me as she was a bit surly in the beginning.  I also felt like Daisy's character was the least developed and would have liked a longer book, or one devoted to her story line as there was so much going on with her.  And you could say that with Bea and with Stella as well.  Because of this, I really felt there was not enough time to really develop their stories and tell them properly.  And while the story did bounce around quite a bit between the different characters, most of the time it was smoothly done. I do think it would have been better to have left the POVs to the women though, as there was just too much going on. I'm used to big plodding stories and don't typically mind them as I like the development and really getting to know the characters.  

The plot was fairly predictable and it wasn't hard to figure out what would happen in the end, but it was still a fun journey.  I actually liked Bea's ex-husband and thought he would be a great character for a future book.  The setting seems beautiful and I loved the descriptions of Daisy's house. I really felt like Bea got the least amount of attention though, which is why I still think three story lines was too much for this book despite the good writing.  I also tend to hate melodrama and there was a point where the book was heading in that direction, but luckily, it stopped.  Relying simply on misunderstanding to fuel a plot can be quite irritating. It really, really bothers me when characters can't seem to get their act together and communicate with each other.  And to be honest, I still can't quite figure out why the big secret in this one was an actual secret.  Seemed a bit childish to me.  

The Cliff House was a busy book, but I still enjoyed reading it.  While the three love stories left all three characters underdeveloped, it was still interesting to read.  I was actually surprised the author did this as she usually tends to take her time with a character and really develop their stories and their personalities, but...oh well.  The author's writing style is engaging, so I do recommend this one.  If you are new to this author though, I highly recommend some of her other books as well.
Thursday, August 22, 2019

Review: The Summoning by Heather Graham

The Summoning (Krewe of Hunters, Book #27)
by Heather Graham
Release Date: May 21st 2019
2019 MIRA
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778369912
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

When Kristi Stewart inherits a property in the old part of Savannah, she knows it comes with stories of hauntings. But she doesn’t believe in ghosts, even while she runs seances for the guests of McLane House Bed-and-Breakfast. Until the inexplicable midnight appearance of one of her infamous ancestors. Terrified, she flees into the night—and right into the arms of Dallas Wicker.

Dallas is trying to uncover the truth about a colleague who died under suspicious circumstances. As strange happenings continue to plague Kristi’s home, it is soon clear that there’s a very living threat in the neighborhood—several people have disappeared without a trace. Dallas can’t find any connection between the victims, but someone wanted them gone, and it might be linked to the history of McLane House. And that means Kristi should be very afraid.

My Thoughts
The Summoning is the latest entry in the Krewe of Hunters series by this author. For whatever reason, I am drawn to this series and have read every book; I consider it my fluff reading in between those heavy hitters simply because I know it's formulaic and predictable and I am okay with that.  Basically, boy meets girl, one of whom sees ghosts, the other one suddenly sees ghosts, one is being haunted, someone is murdered, they investigate together, they fall in love, they solve the case, end.  Predictable, but I think I would be a bit upset if the formula changed at this point.  

What I think draws me to these books is the settings; haunted places all over the United States and as I tend to be drawn to those places when I do the tourist thing, so am I drawn to them in books.  I've been to Savannah and was quite happy to see another one of these books set there.  I've always thought one of this author's strengths is the way she describes the local areas and highlights the history, something I love.  This book focused more on the Civil War and the Revolution around the area and you got an idea of what the area might have been like during that time period.  And since I have been in downtown Savannah, I could picture where the characters were going and what they were doing.  

Kristi and Dallas were all right as main characters; and by that I mean they weren't annoying as some of them can be.  I liked that Kristi was strong and didn't frighten easily, checking things out for herself. I tend to have a dislike for those wimpy characters who do nothing but cringe and cry and are afraid of everything.  There is nothing wrong with being afraid, and Kristi was afraid, but she didn't hide in her room and let the 'men' do everything.  And like I said, the plot was totally formulaic, so if you've read most of the Heather Graham books you would have been able to figure out who the murderer was quite easily.  This is probably the only part where I wait hoping there would be that one last twist, but it doesn't usually happen the way I would love it to happen.  I also tend to dislike the romance in these books simply because I feel that a couple of days is not enough to really develop a relationship.  But then, I don't really read these books for the romance. What I did enjoy about these books though, are the ghosts.  A ghost with a sense of humour and who watches Netflix? Funny.

The Summoning was another addition to the Krewe of Hunters and I definitely get why these books are so popular.  I did enjoy it and I thought the ghosts were funny; I also thought Kristi's reaction to seeing them was quite funny too.  I was actually glad to see a bit of humour injected into this one.  And I do want to reiterate something here: just because something is formulaic doesn't necessarily make that a bad thing.  If it works, why fix it?  And for this author, it definitely works.  However, as a reviewer, it is something that does need to be pointed out.  Am I going to read another one? Already did, and yes, for sure.    
Thursday, August 15, 2019

Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

The American Agent (Maisie Dobbs, Book #15)
by Jacqueline Winspear
Release Date: March 26th 2019
2019 Harper
Kindle Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062436665
ASIN: B07B7K973K
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

When Catherine Saxon, an American correspondent reporting on the war in Europe, is found murdered in her London digs, news of her death is concealed by British authorities. Serving as a linchpin between Scotland Yard and the Secret Service, Robert MacFarlane pays a visit to Maisie Dobbs, seeking her help. He is accompanied by an agent from the US Department of Justice—Mark Scott, the American who helped Maisie escape Hitler’s Munich in 1938. MacFarlane asks Maisie to work with Scott to uncover the truth about Saxon’s death.

As the Germans unleash the full terror of their blitzkrieg upon the British Isles, raining death and destruction from the skies, Maisie must balance the demands of solving this dangerous case with her need to protect Anna, the young evacuee she has grown to love and wants to adopt. Entangled in an investigation linked to the power of wartime propaganda and American political intrigue being played out in Britain, Maisie will face losing her dearest friend—and the possibility that she might be falling in love again.

My Thoughts
The American Agent is the fifteenth entry in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series and I was so happy to see the return of Mark Scott. Scott is the American agent who helped Daisie escape from Munich in 1938 and yes, there is a bit of history there.  While I don't think you necessarily have to have read the previous books in order to understand this one, it certainly helps put their relationship in perspective and gives you an idea of Maisie's thoughts and why she was so determined to know what Scott was up to in London.  The author does assume that you have this previous knowledge.

I love this series and have been reading it since the first book was published all those years ago.  And while I really liked this book, and thought it did a good job highlighting the Blitz and the terror of that time-period, I really felt like there was something missing from this one, just that little something that I just can't quite put my finger on.  Maisie seems a bit different in this installment, but in all fairness, she does have a lot going on; she volunteers as an ambulance driver and rescue worker, has to deal with the enormous paperwork required for her to be able to adopt Anna as her own, has an investigation to run, and still has a business to maintain.  And while Maisie is definitely dogged in her pursuit to find the murderer, she also seemed distracted by everything happening around her. And while the author masterfully intertwined descriptions of the Blitz with descriptions of daily life, and people around them got seriously hurt, including her best friend, it was the investigation that felt a bit muddled and made the characters, and the investigation, seem a bit...flatter than usual. Don't get me wrong, I love all the characters in this book, but it is the character development that has really drawn me back time and again to this series.  I just didn't feel or see that development as much in this one.  Typically, I can't put one of this author's books down once I've started them, but this one I could, and needed to. The investigation was interesting, but I'm wondering if the author got too caught up in all of the story lines that were happening and the plot kind of got muddled up.

The American Agent was a good addition to a stellar series, but I don't really feel it was as good as some of the previous entries.  While there was a lot going on, the character development seemed stunted and I really felt like the investigation was a bit muddled, although it did come out quite well in the end, with a couple of twists and turns that caught me off guard.  The author does have this brilliant way of describing the time period that makes you feel like you are right there, huddled in a basement shelter, listening to the bombs being dropped all night long, wondering if you will get hit. So I really think the descriptions of the Blitz were my favourite part of this book.  Do I recommend this book? Oh, definitely. And I am looking forward to what happens next to Mark, Maisie, and Anna.