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Book Review: Murder from Scratch – Delicious Culinary Cozy

Murder from Scratch

By Leslie Karst

Restaurant owner, chef and part-time amateur sleuth Sally Solari is back and things are heating up both in and out of the kitchen. First of all, one of her cooks has an attitude. Brian has been on edge, and it is affecting his co-workers in a less than desirable way. Maybe he is worried about Sally going into joint ownership of Gauguin, the restaurant she inherited from her aunt, with Javier her head chef. And secondly, her father calls with an unusual request. Apparently a relative by marriage has been found dead by her twenty-year-old blind daughter Evelyn. Italian family ties are strong, even if you have not seen a relative in years, you still help them. So Sally’s dad brought Evelyn to his house because she has nowhere else to go. She is more than welcome, but her service dog has made Sally’s dad’s allergies kick into high gear. Of course Sally welcomes Evelyn and her dog into her home. She is looking forward to getting to know her better.

When Evelyn begins to tell Sally about her mother’s death ruled a suicide, the girls soon realize foul play is most likely what happened. Apparently Evelyn’s mom was a gifted chef and had recently struck out on her own, leaving a disgruntled boss behind.  Then there are the suspicious co-workers that might be hiding something. Before long the suspect list becomes longer than the specials menu at Gauguin and Sally is determined to prove her aunt’s death was not an accident or suicide, but a well-planned murder.

Detective Vargas warns Sally to stay away from her list of suspects, knowing it is futile. He just wants her out of harm’s way. When he asks her to call him by his first name, Sally wonders if he may want to have a more personal relationship. Speaking of personal relationships, her ex-boyfriend Max is apparently seeing someone. She has mixed feelings about the whole thing. They are just friends, right? Then why is she upset about him seeing another woman?

This is the fourth book in this series, but the third I have read. Somehow I missed the first one, but have added it to my reading list. There are references to the previous books, but reads fine as a stand-alone novel if you have not read the previous books.

If you read my reviews, you know by now I am a fan of cozy mysteries. I know they are not War and Peace, but no one ever intended them to be. Karst delivers an intriguing plot with lots of suspects, characters that come to life in the pages and a satisfying end to the story. It is all a reader can ask for and more. I learned many things in Murder from Scratch about how blind people navigate through their lives as well as what it is like to work in and run a restaurant. And as a bonus, there are recipes at the end of the book for some of the dishes discussed in the novel.

I highly recommend this series if you are a mystery lover, crazy for cozies or just love a good plot without the blood and gore. You will not be disappointed.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Reviews: Chronicles of a Radical Hag – How Well Do We Really Know Anyone?

Chronicles of a Radical Hag

by  Lorna Ladvik

Haze Evans, columnist for the Granite Creek Gazette suffers a massive stroke at the beginning of Chronicles of a Radical Hag but the book is filled with her words and opinions on life. Haze has been writing columns for as long as anyone can remember. Sometimes her columns are lighthearted in nature, but most often with her strong opinions about social issues of the day. She takes on topics that others might shy away from, and gives her own personal take on everything from abortion to assassinations while making each topic even more personal by sharing her life stories bits and pieces at a time.

Susan, the editor of the paper decides to run Haze’s columns while her favorite columnist is hospitalized. Susan’s high school age son Sam is enlisted to work for his mom by reading through Haze’s columns to see which ones would be appropriate to run as well as the responses Haze received on the topics. He is an introverted teen with a lot on his mind, mainly the recent affair his father has had which lead to his parents separation.

Sam soon becomes engrossed in Haze’s columns, advice and the people who love and hate her opinions. The Gazette readers are finding a new side of their favorite columnist by reading Haze’s opinions from years ago. This interest has encouraged the local high school kids to really discuss issues in their English class instead of the usual disinterest in the meaning of text. Some of the kids have even begun writing – pen to paper – writing down their opinions and thoughts.

While Haze seems to have opened her life to her readers, Sam uncovers some things that she has never shared. The further he digs he realizes that one of the secrets could have an impact on his family. But honestly, we cannot know everything about a person, each of us has something we don’t share with others that might surprise even the best of friends.

Ms. Ladvik creates a town of engaging characters, old and young. As the reader gets to know each of them, it is easy to see why they behave like they do. Watching them grow and learn is a gift to the reader. It gives us hope for the change that true dialog with others whether written or conversing can initiate.

This is the first book that I have read by Ms. Ladvik, but not the first she has written. When I popped over to her website, I found that this is her 15th book. How I could have missed her engaging writing style reminiscent of Fanny Flagg is beyond me. I will be adding the other 14 to my reading list.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: The Drowned Girl – Thought Provoking Mystery

The Drowned Girl (previously published as Only One Life)

By Sara Blaedel

Officer Louise Rick travels an hour out of Copenhagen to a small town to help the Unit One Mobile Task Force investigate the horrific murder of a young girl. She was found submerged in the bay by a local fisherman. Suicide is out of the question as she was tethered to a concrete block. Was this an act of random violence? Was she killed by someone she knew? Or was this an honor killing?

The dead teen is Muslim. Her parents live by the rules of their religion, which makes the investigation much more difficult due to their lack of cooperation due to fear and tradition. Unfortunately, information comes to light that may point to a private side of the young victim. Her parents may have found out about her secret which could have brought dishonor to their family.

Enter crime reporter Camilla, close friend of Louise. She jumps into the story and latches onto the honor killing theory. Her editor wants more of this angle, but the deeper Camilla dives into the lives of the Muslim families, the more she wants to help them by finding the truth. But her articles are stirring up a hornet’s nest of preconceived notions that will result in a bigger divide between Danish and Muslims. Will this lead to more violence?

Not only is this a solid mystery, but the thread of prejudice that affects the different groups of people is woven throughout the plot. This multilayered story makes the reader pause to think about listening more and learning more about others they may fear or dislike without foundation.

Some books that are translated from a different language are difficult to read. The Drowned Girl is not one of those books. The flow and read was perfect. Even though this is the first novel I’ve read by Blaedel, it is not the first mystery featuring Louise Rick, but I never felt as though I didn’t know enough about the characters to fully understand the story. Actually, it was quite the opposite. Not only were the main characters shown doing their jobs, but personal lives, hopes and dreams are woven throughout to bring them to life and enrich the story.

This intriguing mystery is entertaining and thought provoking. The plot kept me guessing until the last chapters. Just when I thought I knew who the killer was, my theory would be debunked in the next chapter. This is a perfect multilayered book. If you like depth of characters and the tough topics in Jodi Picoult books, you will love Blaedel’s writing style.

Sara Blaedel is a prolific Danish author, who now resides in New York. She is the recipient of several awards including the Golden Laurel, Denmark’s most prestigious literary award.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher/author in connection with Killer Nashville in return for my review. Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Thinnest Air – Superb Suspenseful Thriller

The Thinnest Air

By Minka Kent

Meredith knows everyone looks at her like she is an airheaded beauty. She makes the perfect trophy wife for her millionaire husband. By all accounts, looking from outside the marriage, she is nothing but another bauble for Andrew Price to show off to his friends and associates. They have grossly underestimated her.

Even Meredith’s sister Greer, who she has always shared everything with, didn’t think it was good to be married to this man. In the beginning things were great. It wasn’t just the exotic vacations, fancy restaurants and posh parties. Andrew couldn’t get enough of her. Mer felt loved and adored.

Then the boredom set in. There are only so many places to shop in the little ski town they lived in. Most of the neighbors and friends of Andrew had relationships with Andrew’s ex-wife, judging every move Mer makes without even caring to get to know her. When she finds a note on her car by a strange man, she is terrified. More incidents occur, each one a bit more unsettling. Surprisingly, her husband brushes them off. The only one that takes her seriously is a Ronan, a young cop determined to keep her safe.

Then Meredith goes missing. Everyone’s secrets suddenly start surfacing. No one is as they seem to be on the surface and even the closest relationships are not what they seem. Will Meredith be found alive?

This is the perfect psychological thriller. The twists and turns don’t stop as the emotions and terror ramp up. Just when I began to trust a character, they would do something making me think they were not the person I thought they were. I seriously did not know who was good and who was terrifying until the last chapters. The Thinnest Air is one of the best books I have read this year. I read it from the Kindle app on my phone, and literally read it while riding in the car, waiting in line at the grocery store, at McDonald’s playground and during the Cub game.

Kent pulls you into the story making the characters real from the very first pages. She tells volumes with descriptive phases and dialog that stays with the reader long after the page has been turned. For example, when Mer thinks: “We’re powerless when it comes to our men. I’m just lucky I found a good one. The wrong one could easily be my undoing.”  The author perfectly lays out the foreshadowing quickly and quietly.  Once Mer goes missing, her sister Greer says to herself; I’m beginning to realize my sister was drowning in an ocean of secrets, and I was inland the entire time, clueless. These are just a few examples of this easy to read, page turning novel that will keep you breathless with every turn of the page.

This is the first novel I have read by Minka Kent. She has previously published two books, The Memory Watcher and The Perfect Roommate. She is a master of psychological thrillers, and I cannot wait to read her previous books and am looking forward to The Stillwater Girls scheduled for publication April 2019.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Written Off – Masterful Mystery

Written Off

By Sheila Lowe

When forensic handwriting expert Claudia Rose is asked by her dear friend Zebediah for help she immediately agrees. Due to a medical issue, he cannot travel from California to the east coast to retrieve an unfinished manuscript and, more importantly, interview a female serial killer. As the prisoner was the subject of the manuscript, it was imperative for Claudia to complete both of these tasks so that Zebediah can finish writing the incomplete book a friend of his was writing.

Unfortunately, the woman writing the book was brutally murdered. At first it appears to be a random act of violence. But as Claudia learns more about the now dead professor she realizes the murderer more than likely targeted the victim. Would Claudia stir up the hornet’s nest that caused the death of the professor by doing the requested interview? If so, could she become the next victim?

Lowe’s page turning mystery has twists and turns throughout the plot. Just when I thought I knew who the killer was, an additional piece of evidence would come to light blowing up my theory. It is always delightful for a mystery fan to be guessing to the end of a great story.

The other interesting element in this well-written novel is the handwriting analysis that is done by the main character. I found myself comparing the things she said about handwriting styles to my own. I am a fan of learning new things intertwined with a great story. Written Off has both of these components expertly written to entertain and enlighten readers.

This is the first Shelia Lowe book I have read, and the seventh book in this series. It works very well as a stand-alone novel. If you are like me, you will seek out the other six novels in this series. I also am interested in her non-fiction books on handwriting analysis. Handwriting of the Famous and Infamous as well as The Complete Idiot’s guide to Handwriting Analysis both sound like must reads to me!

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review. Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: A Murder For the Books – First in the Cozy Series

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher/author in connection with Killer Nashville in return for my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

Nursing a broken heart and a bruised ego, Amy Webber flees to a small town in Virginia. Leaving a prestigious university job to become the director at the Taylorsville Public Library wasn’t part of her life plan, but it just might be what she needs at this point in her life.  She is enjoying the slower pace of life. Living with Aunt Lydia, whom she has adored since childhood, has been good for both of them.

Amy’s tranquility is upended when the tiny town is shattered by a murder. Not only is the body found in the library, but there may be a connection to one of Lydia and Amy’s long dead relatives. The mystery is too much for Amy to ignore. She begins to dig into the past with the help of her handsome new neighbor, Richard.

There is just enough romance to lighten up the tension of the mystery that must be solved. Richard is not only a partner in the investigation; he is also clearly smitten with Amy.  How long does her heart have to heal before she can trust anyone?

Against her better judgement, Amy impulsively jumps into the investigation. The closer she gets to the truth; she realizes that many of the people she loves may be in danger. Will she find the answers she seeks before the killer strikes again?

Murder for the Books is the first book in Victoria Gilbert’s new series.  It is the perfect cozy mystery.  The characters are interesting and can easily be seen as people you might know. The town sounds delightfully quirky with the beautiful setting of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, Shelved Under Murder, slated for publication July 2018.

https://killernashville.com/murder-books-victoria-gilbert-review-laura-hartman/

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Book Review: River City Dead – Cozy Mystery in a Cool Setting

River City Dead

By Nancy G. West

Aggie is excited but nervous. Her boyfriend Sam has booked a suite in a hotel right on San Antonio’s River Walk during Fiesta Week. This is the first time they are going to actually spend the weekend together. Aggie cares for Sam and wants to be with him, but this is the first time she’ll actually be spending a night with a man since her ex, whom she refers to as Lester the Louse.

Sam is nothing like Lester. He is a San Antonio police detective. The bad news is Aggie keeps sticking her nose in cases that Sam is working on. The good news is he is allowing her to help out a bit on investigations. Both of them were hoping to avoid any kind of crime during their getaway, but it has a way of finding them.

This time it is really too close to home to ignore. A dead body is found in the suite they were supposed to be staying in this weekend and the victim is someone Aggie knows. Sam wants her to leave so she is out of harm’s way. Aggie is determined to stay and help find the killer.

The problem is Aggie may be getting in too deep. She starts hanging out with some of the girls that are there to perform as a group during Fiesta Week. There are several of these groups staying at the hotel and Aggie is sure someone in or connected to them could be responsible for the dead girl in the suite she should be staying in.

Aggie soon finds herself at odds with Sam. Is her relationship going to end before it goes any further? Will the killer target another one of the girls in the group, or possibly Aggie to keep her from finding out the truth?

River City Dead is a great cozy mystery. It has all of the essential elements. Sam, the hot detective is the perfect love interest for guy shy Aggie. The fact that he lets her help solve crimes, albeit grudgingly, makes them a dynamic duo. I loved the setting. I’ve been to San Antonio’s River Walk, but never during Fiesta Week. The bits of history add a nice element to round out the story.

This is the fourth book in the Aggie Mundeen Mystery Series. It is the first one I’ve read, which worked fine as a standalone mystery. I learned bits and pieces of Aggie and Sam’s history. It was enough to know what was going on, but my curiosity wants a bit more info. That is encouraging me to read the other books in Ms. West’s series to get the scoop.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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