Review: Death By Design by Paula Darnell

Laurel McMillan has been teaching her class how to make perfect pillows in her community center’s DIY class. While all of her students have made progress, she’s had a couple stand out and encourages them to participate in some local contests. Not surprisingly, Jennifer wins with her stunning beaded peacock pillow. Unfortunately, Jennifer’s husband is murdered soon afterwards, and it appears the pillow is the weapon. Can Laurel help uncover who the murderer is?

What a fun cozy mystery! Paula Darnell pulls the reader in quickly, introducing us both to the community and many of the characters. I love the idea of a homeowners’ association having crafting classes that members of the community can enjoy. The mystery itself is clever, with several red herrings thrown into the mix to keep the reader guessing.

DEATH BY DESIGN is the second book in the DIY Diva Mystery series but can easily be read as a standalone. I haven’t read the first book, but it’s on my stack to read as Paula Darnell writes an intriguing and entertaining cozy mystery. I love the crafting aspect, especially considering the students’ pillow projects vary from the very intricate work of Jennifer’s pillow to the more practical ones finished by Bud. I look forward to reading future books in the series!

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Review: Sifting Through Clues by Daryl Wood Gerber

Crystal Cove is celebrating Book Club Bonanza and the Cookbook Nook is geared up and ready to participate. One of the planned festivities involves one of the book clubs traveling to various homes to eat and discuss the mystery the members are reading. Jenna Hart, co-owner of the Cookbook Nook, can’t wait to participate, but unfortunately things go seriously wrong when one of the hosts is found dead in her home during the event. Worse yet, one of the prime suspects is the chief of police’s mother, Pepper Pritchett. Can Jenna help exonerate Pepper without destroying her relationship with her police chief daughter, Cinnamon?

SIFTING THROUGH THE CLUES is the eighth book in the Cookbook Nook mystery series and can be read as a standalone story. Daryl Wood Gerber helpfully provides a quick cast of characters at the beginning of the book so that new readers can quickly jump into the series and enjoy the story. I have to admit that I can’t imagine reading one book in the Cookbook Nook series and not wanting to read them all!

While I love the entire Cookbook Nook series, SIFTING THROUGH THE CLUES is probably my favorite book yet. Daryl Wood Gerber’s inclusion of the book club theme meant we had plenty of mentions of books other than just the usual intriguing cookbook references. In fact, I’ve added several of the cookbooks to my list to buy as a result! And oh, I love how Daryl Wood Gerber worked in references to her two other series and I can’t wait to hear all about Jenna and Rhett’s visit to Maison Rousseau!

SIFTING THROUGH CLUES is another fun and engaging mystery series from the talented Daryl Wood Gerber. Not only will culinary mystery fans delight in this entertaining story, but I suspect book lovers everywhere will appreciate the numerous book references that are a centerpiece of the tale. Highly recommended!

Review: ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Jacqueline Frost

Holly White is starting to settle into Mistletoe, Maine. She’s back home working at her parents Christmas tree farm, Reindeer Games, while making her own jewelry on the side. Her closest friends, Cookie and Caroline, have opened a cupcake shop and all seems blissful… until a dead body is found and suddenly Caroline is the primary suspect. Holly is determined to help her friend, even though the local sheriff and her maybe-boyfriend, Evan Gray, insists she stop investigating. Will Holly’s investigating put her in harm’s way yet again?

‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS is the second book in the Christmas Tree Farm Mystery series. While it can easily be read as a standalone, I can’t imagine wanting to miss one moment of this fun new cozy mystery series! Jacqueline Frost provides sufficient background information on the characters and the Christmas festivities of the Reindeer Games so new readers can easily jump right in. However, please note that a few spoilers from the first book, TWELVE SLAYS OF CHRISTMAS, are mentioned.

I absolutely love everything about Mistletoe, Maine. What a gorgeous, fun town Jacqueline Frost has created! I just discovered this series recently and it’s exactly the sort of read to get you in the Christmas spirit as Mistletoe is full of joy and quite Christmasy. However, it is the Reindeer Games that really put the Christmas Tree Farm Mystery series over the top! Who doesn’t want to participate in one of the seasonal games, whether it’s the gingerbread house decoration or the sleigh rides. And oh, the scrumptious desserts! I think my blood sugar rose and I gained 15 pounds just reading about the yummy sounding food and drinks available all around Mistletoe.

‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS is a heck of a lot of fun! Whether you are in the mood for a Christmas read or not, don’t let Jacqueline Frost’s engaging cozy series, Christmas Tree Farm Mystery series, pass you by. Highly recommended!

Review: If the Coffin Fits by Lillian Bell

Violet Daugherty’s death seems an accident, a case of drowsy driving. Meanwhile, a comment made during the funeral planning for Frank Fiore has Funeral Director and reporter Desiree Turner questioning if something more sinister is going on in Verbena. Unfortunately, the rumor mill runs rampant in the small town and soon Desiree is faced with losing business, as everyone is worried they too will be accused of murder. Will Desiree risk the family business and defy her family’s orders or will she ignore her reporter’s instincts and sit this one out?

IF THE COFFIN FITS is the second book in Lillian Bell’s A Funeral Parlor Mystery series.  New readers to the series can easily jump right in and enjoy the series. Lillian Bell provides enough of the history on the characters that it’s easy to follow the mystery.

I was a little concerned about how I would enjoy a story featuring a funeral parlor and the funeral director but Lillian Bell pulled me right into her story line. Heck, Desiree has her own reservations about working for the family business and it is that edge that helps make IF THE COFFIN FITS so enjoyable. I like that Desiree is also a reporter as it also makes her amateur sleuthing far more believable.

IF THE COFFIN FITS is an entertaining cozy mystery coupled with some fascinating side stories. The conclusion of the book leaves me with so many questions that I can’t wait to see answered in the next book! If you love cozy mysteries with unconventional jobs (like a funeral director), then IF THE COFFIN FITS may just be your cup of tea as well.

Tail of the Dragon by Connie di Marco

Julia Bonatti makes her living as a professional astrologer but sometimes the unreliable income makes her budget a bit tight. Her former boss and current astrological client, attorney David Meyers, has begged her to fill in for a week at his firm while his secretary is on vacation. Julia agrees,  only to become embroiled in a murder mystery her very first day. However, the first murder won’t be the last and Julia will need to utilize every skill to solve this murder mystery.

TAIL OF THE DRAGON is the third book in the Zodiac Mystery series and wow, this series only keeps getting better and better! Connie di Marco’s unique approach to the cozy mystery genre continues to intrigue me as I love how astrology plays a crucial role in the series. I also appreciate that Connie di Marco explains the more complex aspects of her astrological reasoning so that people like me who aren’t familiar with astrology are able to both comprehend and enjoy it.

Julia is a great heroine! I love her loyalty to her friends, even when murder is thrown into the mix. Her bravery coupled with her quick intelligence make her the perfect amateur sleuth. I look forward to visiting with her in future books to see what troubles find her next!

Connie de Marco integrates Julia’s love for astrology with her amateur sleuthing skills to craft one heck of a good mystery. TAIL OF THE DRAGON is another stunningly good tale in a series that only gets better with each installment. If you like unique cozy mysteries with lots of twists and turns, then TAIL OF THE DRAGON is just your cup of tea. Easily recommended!

Review: Disorderly Conduct by Mary Feliz

A wildfire is threatening Professional Organizer Maggie McDonald’s home and the family is preparing for the possible upcoming evacuation. Plan A is to evacuate to the home of her friend, Tess Olmos. Unfortunately, that plan takes an unexpected turn when Tess’ husband is found dead. Worse yet, Tess is the primary suspect in his murder. Can Maggie and her family stay safe from the wildfire while uncovering who killed Patrick?

DISORDERLY CONDUCT is the fourth book in the Maggie McDonald Mystery series. It can be read on its own merits, but I suspect readers will enjoy Maggie and her family so much that they’ll want to read all three of the earlier books in the series!

Mary Feliz tackles some disturbing but all too realistic issues in DISORDERLY CONDUCT. I can’t say more as I don’t want to reveal spoilers, but I like that she doesn’t gloss over some of the darker aspects of life. The motivation for the murder is a bit convoluted but Mary Feliz does a good job at breaking it down for the reader.

I didn’t think I would like a professional organizer as the heroine as much as I do! Maggie’s tips at the beginning of each chapter are very helpful, not just for fires but for hurricanes or other natural disasters. I like that DISORDERLY CONDUCT shows us that even the most well-organized plans can go astray and that taking time to mentally refocus is just as important as having an excellent checklist to follow. The Maggie McDonald Mystery series is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Easily recommended!

Review: Pre-Meditated Murder by Tracy Weber

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PRE-MEDITATED MURDER is the fifth book in Tracy Weber’s Downward Dog Mystery series. I haven’t read the earlier books but suggest that you read it in order if spoilers are an issue. In fact, the entire plot of PRE-MEDITATED MURDER hinges around a huge spoiler for the relationship between the main character, Kate Davidson, and her boyfriend, Michael.

Kate is expecting Michael to pop the marriage question to her at the expensive birthday dinner he has arranged for her. After all, her best friend, Rene, saw him exiting a jewelry store with a purchase in hand shortly before the big night. Unfortunately, their entire relationship is about to come into question as Kate will have to use all of her yoga calming skills once she finds out Michael has a secret… he’s already married and his estranged wife is demanding a huge sum of money for the divorce! Things only worsen when Kate and Michael try to work things out with Gabriella and she turns up dead, murdered with Michael being the primary suspect. Can Kate uncover who Gabriella’s murderer is? And will their relationship survive?

Admittedly, it’s hard to get thrown into the middle of a crisis in a relationship with characters you haven’t met previously and appreciate the emotional struggle they are undergoing. Tracy Weber, however, does a marvelous job at drawing readers into the heart of the dilemma.  Kate’s emotional anguish is palpable from the opening pages as we watch her excitement turn into horror when she realizes Michael has been lying to her.

And oh, how can I not mention Bella, the slightly neurotic German Shephard with separation anxiety? I loved her antics, from her hatred of beards to her protectiveness of the overexuberant toddler she meets. I want to read more of the Downward Dog Mystery series if only to see more of Bella!

PRE-MEDITATED MURDER is easily recommended for cozy mystery readers, particularly if you love animals.

Review: All Signs Point to Murder by Connie di Marco

A wedding is supposed to be a time of joy and Julia Bonatti hoped the wedding would be all that and more for her best friend from college, Geneva Leary, despite the Moon-Mars-Pluto connection. Little did any of the wedding participants expect the evening would end in murder. When Geneva begs Julia to help her uncover the truth about the murder, Julia can’t refuse- but will the murderer come after her in the process?

The Zodiac Mystery series offers readers an unusual approach to solving mysteries. The heroine, Julia, is an astrologer and uses astrological charts to help guide her as she tries to solve the mysteries. Connie di Marco does a great job at providing readers unfamiliar with astrology enough details so that we can understand Julia’s reasoning based on the various conjunctions and signs she sees in the astrological charts.

Conni di Marco does a great job at creating a whole plethora of characters without overwhelming the reader. Julia is a fun heroine, despite her penchant for wandering into sticky situations. I love her quick thinking and her willingness to help her friends, even at her own peril. One of the things that makes ALL SIGNS POINT TO MURDER so much more fun than the first book is that the potential villains are much better fleshed out.

ALL SIGNS POINT TO MURDER is the second book in the Zodiac Mystery series but readers can jump right in and enjoy the characters.  In fact, Connie di Marco is really hitting her stride with ALL SIGNS POINT TO MURDER as I enjoyed it even more than the first book, THE MADNESS OF MERCURY. ALL SIGNS POINT TO MURDER is hard to put down as there was nary a dull moment and plenty of red herrings to keep readers guessing who was behind the murder. Easily recommended!

Review: The Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler

Cyndy Etler was just a teenager when her world was turned upside down. She voluntarily entered the foster care system to avoid the difficulties and potential dangers in her own home, only to find herself thrown into a residential drug program called Straight, Incorporated. Unfortunately, what went on behind the doors of Straight, Incorporated reads like something out of a brainwashing manual. Step inside her world and see what she faced in this stunning memoir of her time inside the drug rehabilitation program.

I remember reading about Straight, Incorporated when I was younger. Substance abuse and its treatment is what drew me into the mental health profession initially and so I followed any information on it (as well as other programs and treatments) back then. Straight, Incorporated was highly touted by some very prominent people, including Nancy Reagan. I couldn’t resist reading THE DEAD INSIDE when I saw it was a story about what really went on behind those doors.

Cyndy Etler tells a gut-wrenching story about drug rehabilitation and what happens when “tough love” goes seriously wrong. As a social worker, I’m horrified by the abuses that occurred in this facility as well as the fact that her drug use even warranted residential treatment. THE DEAD INSIDE is not an easy story to read, and I had to put it aside on numerous occasions due to the graphic and horrifying depictions of emotional and physical abuse conducted at Straight, Incorporated. However, it is a very important story that needs to be told. I look forward to seeing Cyndy Etler’s upcoming book about how she reintegrated into society after the events of THE DEAD INSIDE. Highly recommended!

*copy received from Netgalley*