Tag Archives: Cozy Mystery

Polished Off by Lila Dare

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of posting about the first book in the Southern Beauty Shop Mystery series, Tressed to Kill. Today is a follow-up about book two, Polished Off, which was just released this month.

Product Description:  Audrey Faye sashays into Violetta’s Salon looking for stylists for the Miss Magnolia Blossom pageant. Hairdresser Grace Terhune’s opportunity quickly turns into a nightmare with anti-pageant protestors, angry mothers, frantic contestants…and then, a very dead Audrey. The murder weapon was a nail file, making Violetta’s manicurist, Stella, the prime suspect. Now Grace must find the real murderer before she is polished off permanently.

Like the first book in the series, Polished Off begins in the salon at Violetta’s house, the heart of activity for the female characters and the hub of their social and familial networks. And while it still surprises me that I am into that, there are several reasons this book is a winner for me, and the great relationships among the women are just part of it!

Another reason and one of the most interesting things about this book was that the connections between a beauty salon and a beauty pageant are obvious. There could have been no complication of the objectification of women or of the role beauty plays in our lives. Instead, this cozy tackles a heavy-handed feminist view of pageants (they are always evil) and complicates it by noting how people make their lives from it and can win life-changing scholarships. And while, yes, that has been done (think Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality), it seems fresh and interesting here interspersed between mayhem and murder. 

I also really like how each women tries to live her own life without interfering in each other’s more than would be welcome. And, I can’t say too much about this point without giving away plot details that some readers will not want ahead of time, but I can say, Grace, Violetta, and Althea all struggle with deciding when one should mind her own business, and they all make great decisions. This really combats the stereotype of amateur sleuth as busybody present in so many cozies.

And that leads to my final point, which is one that I made yesterday: this series has strong female characters who do not need to be saved, rescued, told to butt out. So while they have great relationships with each other, they are also each unique and interesting of themselves.

Oh, and did I mention that each book in this series has recipes for organic health care products? They do; happy reading!

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Tressed to Kill by Lila Dare

Tressed to Kill is the first in the Southern Beauty Shop Mystery Series by Lila Dare. I learned about this series when I saw that a new book (Polished Off) was coming out for it this month on the Cozy Mystery Blog’s New Releases Post for February.

Product Description: St. Elizabeth, Georgia, offers charm, Southern hospitality-and, most recently, murder. When hairdresser Grace Terhune and her mother, Violetta, gussy up all the high-society ladies attending the town meeting, they find their snobbiest client dead. The police believe the mother-daughter duo did her in. But before things get snarled beyond repair, Grace sets out to clear their names.

 I liked this book much more than I anticipated. I know that I say this a lot, but I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially with the “southern” theme (Louisville is not in the south *smiles*), much less the hairdressing / beauty shop theme. I was pleasantly surprised to find a protagonist that is smart, funny, capable, and interesting. Grace Terhune doesn’t sit back and wait for things to happen, and she doesn’t feel the need to justify her actions all of the time. In addition, her supporting cast is as interesting and is very eclectic and diverse (in terms of age, race, and socio-economic status).  Even the older generation of women in this book are self sufficient and capable. I believe that this book offers at least one character to which all of us can relate. I think this series will be a hit; I didn’t even hesitate about buying the second book. I will review it (book 2 in this series, Polished Off) tomorrow.

Until then, Happy Reading!

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Home for a Spell by Madelyn Alt

I finished Madelyn Alt’s latest in the Bewitching Mystery series, Home for a Spell, this weekend, and I have to say: I was disappointed.

Product Description: As the newest witch in Indiana, Maggie O’Neill already has plenty to deal with. So being hobbled by a broken leg doesn’t help. Neither does the fact that her best friend and upstairs neighbor is getting ready to tie the knot with her own boyfriend and move away. This leads Maggie to wonder if it isn’t time to find herself a new pad.

But when she finds a place, Maggie’s dream of new digs turns into a nightmare: the apartment manager is found dead before she can even sign the lease. And Maggie finds herself not only searching for a new home- but for a frightfully clever killer.

This book has no paranormal elements, despite the series title, book title, and description of Maggie as the newest witch. And while certainly there are allusions to supernatural happenings and forces, and the pretense of a home-finding spell, the paranormal elements of the previous novels in the series are left out of this one completely. Add that missing element to a slow, boring mystery, and this book doesn’t cut it for me. And, I love the previous ones in the series. My disappointment is great, and I feel badly just writing this review. I hope that Alt pulls out a winner next time or I am afraid this series will die. Maggie just wasn’t interesting this time around.

Happy Reading (of something else)!

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Do-It-Yourself Home Renovations Series by Jennie Bentley

The latest in Jennie Bentley’s Do-it-Yourself Home Renovations series was released earlier this month. Mortar and Murder is described on the author’s website as follows: 

When Avery and Derek take on the renovation of a decrepit 1783 center-chimney Colonial house on a remote island off the coast of Maine, they soon get more than they bargained for.

A grumpy thriller-writing neighbor, a mysterious animal that lives under the porch, and the dead body of a young woman floating in the ocean between Rowanberry Island and Waterfield Harbor conspire to make this the most thrilling and dangerous renovation Avery has ever undertaken.

Avery and Derek are very likeable, though I wonder if Derek is just too good to be true! I read this latest installment of the do-it-yourself series in one sitting. It was short but action-packed. And, it was interesting to see this series take on the sex-worker / slave trade, even if superficially. This series has always had historical components; in addition to the obvious historical element to home renovation, the history of Maine all of the way back to settlement (pre-revolution) is always fairly front and center. In this book, that history is explored with a focus on smuggling, and the issue of smuggling is made more contemporary through the plot focused on the illegal slave trade, especially of (East) Slavic women. That meshing of past and present is what Avery and Derek strive for in each renovation and was a nice touch by the author.

 
 

 

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Book One: Fatal Fixer Upper

To Avery, the idea of preparing her aunt’s crumbling and cluttered home for sale is overwhelming. So when someone offers to buy the place as-is, Avery’s relieved. Until she learns it’s worth more than she thought – that is, with a few repairs here and there…

With help from hunky handyman Derek Ellis, Avery starts learning the ABCs of DIY. But when the designer-turned-renovator finds clues that lead to a missing professor and then her own life is threatened, Avery wonders if she can finish the house – without getting finished off in the process…
Book 2: Spackled and Spooked
Home renovation is never easy, especially when the home’s inhabitants are dead. Avery’s hunky boyfriend and business partner, Derek Ellis, wants to flip a seriously stigmatized ranch house where murder occurred two decades ago. It’s a good thing Avery has more faith in her boyfriend than in ghosts.Their renovations are quickly interrupted when a presence is felt–and it’s not happy with the new alterations. Could it really be that the property is possessed? If they’re going to flip this house, all the outdated fixtures—including the supernatural squatters—must be disposed of, or else this project will haunt them forever…


Book 3: Plaster and Poison

Local bed and breakfast owner Kate McGillicutty and Waterfield Police Chief Wayne Rasmussen are finally tying the knot. They’ve asked Avery and her boyfriend, Derek, to renovate an old carriage house behind the B&B. It’s a daunting task, but Avery plans on remaking the relic into a romantic Parisian-style retreat.

But the course of true love–and home repair–rarely runs smooth. As proven when Avery stumbles across a lifeless body in the carriage house. And now, Avery’s to-do list reads: find wallpaper…lay insulation…solve murder!

While each of these books has interesting merits, I really think my favorite so far was the first. Happy Reading!

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Buffalo West Wing by Julie Hyzy

 Last week saw the release of Julie Hyzy’s latest in the White House Chef Mystery series, Buffalo West Wing. I read the first three in this series this summer after learning about them on the Mystery Lover’s Kitchen blog. I liked them enough to buy this one on its release date.

Product description: With a new First Family, White House executive chef Olivia Paras can’t afford to make any mistakes. But when a box of take-out chicken mysteriously shows up for the First Kids, she soon finds herself in a “no-wing” situation. After Olivia refuses to serve the chicken, the First Lady gives her the cold shoulder. But when it turns out to be poisoned poultry, Olivia realizes the kids are true targets.

I liked this book as well or better than the previous ones in the series. In this one, Ollie seemed much more sure of herself. One thing that is a bit off-putting for me (and this occurs in each book of the series) is that there are a lot scenes in which supporting characters tell Ollie to butt out or “not worry her pretty little head” about things. And while I guess part of that is to keep it real (who would want a chef interfering in secret service business?), it really takes away from the progress of the story. Having said that, I really like Ollie and I love reading about food! The White House history and tidbits are very interesting, and the mystery kept me guessing (I did not figure out the mole). I would definitely add this to your TBR (to be read) list. And while it can be read as stand alone, I’d recommend starting at the beginning; the characters and their nuances will make much more sense.

Book One is Hail to the Chef. It’s product description reads

White House executive Chef Ollie Paras has a lot on her plate, what with holiday meals to map out, the First Lady’s matchmaking plans to deflect, safety classes to take, and terrorist plots to avoid. Oh, and a senator’s assistant has been begging Ollie to rig the countrywide gingerbread-man-decorating contest in favor of the senator’s kids …

Then a cautious, kindly electrician is electrocuted, and the First Lady’s nephew doesn’t show up for an important event when not twenty-four hours before he was happily cleaning shrimp with Ollie. Ollie suspects there’s something going on that’s fishier than shrimp cocktail. Now, she’ll have to watch her back — and find a killer unlikely to be pardoned …

The second in the series is State of the Onion and its description is

Never let them see you sweat — that’s White House Assistant Chef Olivia Paras’s motto, which is pretty hard to honor in the most important kitchen in the world. She’s hell-bent on earning her dream job, Executive Chef. There’s just one thing: her nemesis is vying for it, too. Well, that and the fact that an elusive assassin wants to see her fry…

The highly-trained Secret Service agents couldn’t do it. Snipers swarming the White House grounds were no help. Only Ollie Paras was able to stop the intruder-hitting him with a frying pan. She’d like to wash her hands of the whole thing, but after she witnesses a murder, there’s no going back…

Ollie’s Secret Service boyfriend warns her that the killer is a world-class assassin. And Ollie’s the only person alive who can recognize him. Still, guilt propels her to investigate, even if it means putting herself — and her relationship-in hot water…

Book 3 is Eggsecutive Orders.  This book’s description is

Ollie’s mom and grandmother have flown out to D.C. for the annual Easter Egg Roll and a personal tour of the White House. But plans are scrambled when executive chef Ollie is banished from the kitchen after one of the president’s guests dies at the dinner table. Who killed Carl Minkus? Ollie is at odds with her Secret Service boyfriend, Tom, who has been charged with making sure his intrepid girlfriend keeps her nose out of official business this time. But Ollie is determined to restore her reputation. Will proving her innocence mean the end of a relationship with Tom?

Again, I enjoy this series. It’s fun and teaches me random facts (what more could a girl want). I know it is short notice, but the author is hosting a contest for the release of Buffalo West Wing. If you have read the book, consider entering. The deadline is tomorrow! The details are here.

Happy Reading!

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A Killer Crop by Sheila Connolly

I first learned of Sheila Connolly on the Mystery Lover’s Kitchen Blog (one of my favorites!) when Fundraising the Dead, a new Museum mystery series by Connolly, was released. I bought and read it, loved it, and decided to check out her other books. I began the Orchard Mystery series this summer when I was reading like crazy but avoiding writing at all costs (because I felt guilty for spending so much time writing for fun when I should have been writing my dissertation–more on that later!).

I bought A Killer Crop for my eReader the week it was released. Like others in this series, this one picked up exactly where the last one left off. In it, main character Meg’s mother lands on her doorstep in Granford completely unexpected and somewhat unwanted since it is at the height of Meg’s first apple-picking season. It turns out, though, Elizabeth didn’t come to town to visit Meg; she came at the request of an old (male) friend who is murdered just hours after meeting with her. Meg must prove her mother didn’t do it as she juggles her personal life with apple picking. And during this time, we get to know Elizabeth who has simply been mentioned in the previous books as Meg’s absentee co-owner of the home she is renovating. Because of her apparent apathy, she was not a character I expected to meet and to ultimately end up liking. But, that is the way it turned out. Like other characters in this series, Elizabeth’s dynamic nature and complexity of personality makes her very likable.

This book is a winner for me. I enjoyed it for the reasons above and for its continuing exploration of historical events, specifically in this case ones related to Emily Dickinson. For that reason, I think this book is even better than the previous in the series because there are simply layers and layers of interest. 

For reference: Book 1 in this series is One Bad Apple (August 2008). The product description reads: When Boston investment banker Meg Corey moves to Granford, Massachusetts, things don’t go exactly smoothly. She has left behind a Boston job that was swallowed up in a bank merger, and ex boyfriend Chandler Hale, in exchange for a crumbling colonial house and an orchard. She figures she’ll spend a little time fixing up the house to sell while she looks for a new job and licks her wounds. Things take a turn for the worse when Chandler shows up in town to manage a proposed commercial development project, but Meg can handle that. But then Chandler is found dead by next-door neighbor, plumber Seth Chapin, in her septic tank, and Meg is the sheriff’s favorite suspect. With Seth’s help she identifies the killer, but by then she has discovered that she doesn’t want to leave Granford and her orchard.

The second is Rotten to the Core (July 2009), and its description is: Spring has come to Meg Corey’s apple orchard—and it’s quickly becoming a killer season. Just as she’s getting the hang of managing the two-hundred-year-old orchard she’s inherited, the dead body of a local organic farming activist is found in her springhouse. And the only thing that’s sprung is a murder accusation—against her…  The young man’s body was found with traces of pesticide poisoning. Strange for someone opposed to all things chemical. And why did someone plant his body on Meg’s land—when Meg hadn’t even met him? Now Meg needs to pick her actions wisely and get rid of the seed of suspicion that’s been planted before the orchard—and her future—is spoiled for good.

Book 3 is Red Delicious Death (March 2010), and its description is: Granford newcomer Meg Corey has more than enough to do, between restoring the colonial house she’s inherited and trying to manage her orchard. Then a trio of young chefs fresh out of cooking school arrive in town to open a restaurant using local foods, and Meg volunteers to help them out. But then one of the chefs is found dead in a farmer’s pig wallow. When Meg begins looking into the death, her investigation digs up some old town secrets–and Meg soon realizes that they have a locally grown killer on their hands.

This books were quick and fun to read. I will keep up with the series. Happy Reading!

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More Mystery Shopping (Elaine Viets)

I have been basically homebound since Sunday because of a combination of the lousy weather (the kids have missed three days of school this week) and my youngest not feeling well so I had a chance to finish up the Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper series by Elaine Viets. I reviewed the first book in the series, Dying in Style, on December 8 at https://professorstacy.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/dying-in-style-by-elaine-viets/ and the third, Accessory to Murder, on December 15 at https://professorstacy.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/accessory-to-murder-by-elaine-viets/. (The second, High Heels are Murder, was not available for my eReader). Today, I will write about the fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Book 4 is Murder with all the Trimmings. The product description reads:

Mystery shopper Josie Marcus doesn’t get the appeal of the year-round Christmas shop. But when three such holiday houses pop up within two blocks, she’s assigned to rate them anonymously.

Easy enough, Josie thinks, until she realizes that shoppers at one store are finding a strange—even deadly—secret ingredient in their holiday cake. And Josie must get to the bottom of it all before someone else becomes a Christmas spirit.

Book 5 is The Fashion Hound Murders and is described with:

Josie Marcus has been hired to check out a big pet store’s involvement with puppy mills. When an employee who clued her into the mills’ existence shows up dead, Josie realizes that sinking her teeth into this case could mean getting bitten back…

The most recent in this series is Book 6: An Uplifting Murder. This one is described as follows:

On Josie’s latest assignment, her former teacher-now working in a lingerie shop-is in need of some serious support when a customer is found murdered. Unfortunately, the teacher’s alibi is flimsier than the camisoles she sells, so Josie will need to bust out her sleuthing skills to expose the real killer…

Of these last three, the most recent, Book 6 is the best. The others (all 4 that I read) tend to blend together with no real character development of change. However, Book 6 demonstrates character growth with Josie’s mother Jane becoming a bit more complicated, with Josie really struggling with insecurity in her decision making, and with a supporting “whodunit” cast of wild and wackies. By far, Book 6 is the best, though I have to say I felt like a voyeur at times since the book revolved around a lingerie-based murder and dealt with a few lingerie-based situations (could I be any more vague?). This feeling wasn’t quite uncomfortable, but it was there and I did wonder what kind of person I was to find parts of it funny. 🙂 I am sure we all have those moments, though, and the crazy cast with their bizarre personal problems was enjoyable. You can read the first chapter at the author’s website at http://www.elaineviets.com/new/novels/default.asp if you’d like a peek!

Happy Reading!

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