Friday, August 27, 2010

“String of Lies” by Mary Ellen Hughes

This is book number two in the Craft Corner mystery series featuring recent widow and craft store owner Jo McAllister.

We find Jo wondering about the fate of her store as she hears that wealthy businessman Parker Holt is buying up local real estate, including several stores on the street where Jo’s Craft Corner is located. Jo tries to reach him by phone, but he has a very protective secretary and she never hears back from him.

Since Jo’s best friend’s husband, Dan is working on a home improvement project for Mr. Holt, she decides to pay Mr. Holt a visit and asks Dan for the address. When Jo arrives she sees a car in the driveway but nobody answers the doorbell. She notices a side door is ajar. When she steps inside, she sees that Mr. Holt has fallen down the stairs and appears to be dead.

The police arrive and rule Mr. Holt’s death a homicide based on the evidence they find at the scene. Unfortunately suspicion is thrown upon Dan and his employee, Xavier. Jo knows this can’t be true so she sets out to find the truth.

Complicating matters is the fact that Parker Holt’s wife is the niece of the town’s mayor. Jo thinks the murder investigation will be wrapped up quickly, without looking at other suspects since the mayor is involved.

So Jo enlists her set of trusted helpers: her students from her craft classes. This time she is teaching a beading class. She lets them know what she’s uncovered and they help her ask questions of potential suspects and make sense of it all.

And they have an addition to the class - Vernon, the town’s butcher. He’s retired and is looking for a hobby. Turns out he’s got a knack for the craft and comes up with some beautiful beaded jewelry, even better than most of what the women make. One classmate jokes and says that Vernon didn’t know what he was getting into when he signed up for this class, which should be called ‘Beaded Earrings and Murder 101’.

We also find Jo on a first-name basis with police Lieutenant Russ Morgan. Their interest in each other is deepening. I’ve noticed a few books in this genre have the amateur female-sleuth and the male police-investigator become romantically involved. They each rely on the other.

I thought this was a good read as the book really held my interest. You can buy it here:

Friday, August 20, 2010

“The Chocolate Bear Burglary” by JoAnna Carl

Now for the last book I read on my recent trip out-of-town. “The Chocolate Bear Burglary” is the second entry in the Chocoholic mystery series featuring Lee McKinney. Lee is a former Texan who moved to the resort community of Warner Pier, Michigan after her divorce to help her Aunt Nettie run the family business, TenHuis Chocolade.

It’s winter in Warner Pier and the local Chamber of Commerce has decided on a “Teddy Bear Getaway” to help bring tourists and customers to the town. So several local businesses are using the teddy bear theme in their promotional activities. For example, the local bed and breakfasts have filled their rooms with teddy bears. Restaurants are serving honey cakes. A local theater group is even putting on a play called “Teddy and His Bear”, a comedy about the hunting exploits of President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.

For it’s part TenHuis Chocolade is selling several varieties and sizes of molded chocolate teddy bears. They are also displaying several antique chocolate molds, many of which are in the shape of bears. And my favorite - gift certificates held in the backpacks of cuddly adorable plush teddy bears.

The antique chocolate molds are owned by a local woman whose grandfather used them in his chocolate business in the early 1900’s. The story goes that he sold his business, along with the molds, to the Hershey Company in 1910.

Late one night TenHuis Chocolade is broken into and one of the chocolate molds in the shape of a teddy bear goes missing. Soon after someone is murdered and Lee is chased by a menacing person riding a snowmobile. That was quite suspenseful!

The mystery is complicated by the arrival of Lee’s former stepson from Texas, who won’t say why he suddenly left college and drove all the way to Michigan in the winter with just a few dollars in his pocket. He always seems to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, a fact the police have noted.

And Lee and local hunk Joe Woodyard are working through some tough times in their romance. Lee struggles to understand why Joe won’t take her out in public, but he had been married to a famous person before and had some bad experiences with the press. So he’s determined not to live out his love life in the media again. Lee wonders if that’s just an excuse to not take her out on a date! I suspect we will find out in later books in the series.

I enjoyed this book and some of the chocolate trivia included within. You can buy it here:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

“Slay It With Flowers” by Kate Collins

This book is the second in the Flower Shop mystery series featuring female-sleuth Abby Knight. And it’s the second book I read on my recent out-of-town trip.

Abby owns “Bloomers” which is located in the small downtown of New Chapel, Indiana. She is a law-school dropout who used the proceeds of her grandfather’s college trust fund to purchase Bloomers. I say ‘purchase’ lightly because Abby has a large mortgage to pay. The trust fund only paid for a down payment.

Abby’s friends and coworkers think she meddles too much in things. She likes to deny this. In her opinion, she’s a curious, caring person who doesn’t like the injustices of the world. She refuses to play politics, just as her father did in his former job on the New Chapel police force. It cost him some promotions, but he always felt like he did the right thing.

Abby’s father is her hero.

“Slay It With Flowers” finds Abby working on her cousin Jillian’s wedding flowers. Jillian is engaged for the umpteenth-time and Abby really hopes this particular wedding is not called off. Mainly because Jillian’s parents are wealthy and the profit from the wedding flowers would help pay Abby’s bills.

However it looks like there may not be a wedding since one of the groomsmen is missing. Eventually another person in the wedding party is found dead, and Jillian begs for Abby’s help to try to solve the case. So Abby does what comes naturally: she meddles.

Abby has always been asked to be a bridesmaid for Jillian’s weddings and she has a closet full of bridesmaid dresses to attest to that fact. For that reason she hopes this wedding goes off without a hitch.

Plus she’s tired of playing those silly games at Jillian’s shower. They always play the one where you have to come up with a sentence or phrase using all the letters in Jillian’s new married name. The best phrase wins a prize. This time it’s Jillian Knight Osborne, and Abby comes up with “Kill no bones in a jig, Ruth”. It doesn’t win any prizes.

And then there is another mystery: the one of the Emporer’s Spa - a new massage parlor in town. Why are no women allowed in the place? Why does an old cruel-looking man guard the door? Do they give more than just massages there?

But Abby’s meddling pays off as she manages to solve both puzzles. Another fun read in the series.

You can buy the book here:

Monday, August 16, 2010

“Finger Lickin’ Fifteen” by Janet Evanovich

I was recently out of town and had a lot of time on my hands. So I read three books. This is the first of the three.

"Finger Lickin' Fifteen" is the 15th installment in the popular Stephanie Plum bounty hunter series by Janet Evanovich.

Here we see Stephanie helping her bounty hunter mentor Ranger with his security business which is located in Trenton New Jersey. Several of his client’s homes and businesses have been broken into and that’s not good for business - or for Ranger’s reputation. So he asks Stephanie to help him figure out who is stealing the secret pass codes. She does.

Stephanie and Ranger are also wildly attracted to each other. Does she give into temptation? I’m not telling!

In another side-plot Lula, Stephanie’s sidekick, is the sole witness to a murder and we see her getting chased by the bad guys. The man that was killed was a TV chef who was going to sponsor a local barbecue cook-off contest. Lula is convinced the killers will show up for the contest so she decides to enter it. This leads to a lot of jokes about getting gas from eating lots of meat with barbecue sauce on it.

Stephanie’s goofy Grandma Mazur is recruited to be Lula’s assistant chef and that leads to all sorts of comic complications and messes.

At one point Lula and Grandma Mazur are at Stephanie’s parent’s home testing a new barbecue recipe. They serve the food to Stephanie’s dad, at which point he asks “What the Sam Hill is this?”

I know firsthand what this expression means. Sam Hill was an actual person who had dreams of building a Quaker settlement along the Columbia River Gorge in Washington state.

Unfortunately the land he purchased was dry and desolate, and he couldn’t convince folks to join him.

Sam Hill even built a home for his wife there, but she refused to live in it. Local residents were evidently astonished by what Sam was doing, and so the phrase “What in the Sam Hill?” was born.

Eventually the home was dedicated as a museum, called the Maryhill Museum. You can read more about it at their site:
Maryhill Museum. I’ve been to the museum and I thought it was pretty nice.

To wrap up, I thought this book was quite interesting for the first half. But the second half was a let down for me. There were a lot of good ideas that didn’t really go anywhere and I found that to be a disappointment.

Friday, August 13, 2010

"The Ghost and the Dead Deb" by Alice Kimberly

This is the second book in the Haunted Bookshop mystery series. I just re-read this book, but I wanted to comment on it since I've read all the other books in the series.

You could say I'm a bit obsessive-compulsive. Well, maybe more than just a bit!

Our female-sleuth of the series, Penelope Thornton-McClure (Pen for short) is the owner of the Quindicott, Rhode Island bookstore named "Buy the Book". She has a resident ghost, Jack Shepard, who is a former private investigator from New York City. He was gunned down in 1949 at the exact spot of Pen's bookstore, and now his spirit - while very willing- has never left.

This book finds Pen sponsoring another book signing, this one of an up and coming young author named Angel Stark. Angel has written a tell-all book about a debutante named Bethany Banks who was strangled to death.

Evidently Angel was a part of that crowd and had inside information about the murder, so she decided to capitalize on it by writing a book. Needless to say, the Banks family was not pleased.

Along the way a couple more murders are committed, and the young nephew of a friend is arrested. Pen decides to help him, but she knows she needs to improve her detecting skills. She asks Jack the Ghost for help, but he says she should let the police handle it.

But as we know, one of the traits of the amateur female-sleuth is stubbornness. So Jack reluctantly decides to help her. What choice does he have?

One of the more interesting characters in the book is named Fiona Finch. Fiona, along with her husband, runs the local Finch Inn. It's Quindicott's only bed & breakfast. Fiona loves to collect pins and brooches with bird designs. She often goes to several garage and yard sales to add to her collection. (Me, I just go to eBay or Bonanzle). Jack the Ghost calls Fiona the 'Bird Lady'. Fiona likes to help Pen solve her 'cases'.

The romance between Pen and Jack deepens. She can now see him, thanks to an old buffalo-head nickel of his that she found in her store. When she leaves the store, and takes the 5-cent piece with her, he can come along too. I like this part of the plot. It makes for an interesting read since Pen and Jack are becoming more of a sleuthing team.

You can buy the book here: