A Deadly Éclair by Daryl Wood Gerber


A Deadly Éclair by Daryl Wood Gerber
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (340 pages)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

It’s always been Mimi Rousseau’s dream to open her own bistro, but it seems beyond her grasp since she’s been chased back home to Nouvelle Vie in Napa Valley by her late husband’s tremendous debt. Until her best friend Jorianne James introduces her to entrepreneur Bryan Baker who invests in promising prospects. Now, working the bistro and inn until she’s able to pay it off and call it her own, Mimi is throwing the inn’s first wedding ever.

The wedding will be the talk of the town, as famous talk show host Angelica Edmonton, daughter of Bryan’s half-brother, Edison, has chosen the inn as her perfect venue. Anxious, Mimi is sure things are going to turn south, especially when Edison gets drunk and rowdy at the out-of-towners’ dinner, but by the evening, things begin to look up again. That is until six AM rolls around, and Bryan is found dead at the bistro with an éclair stuffed in his mouth. And the fingers point at Mimi, whose entire loan is forgiven in Bryan’s will.

Now it’s up to Mimi to clear her name and get to the bottom of things before the killer turns up the heat again in A Deadly Éclair, the scrumptious series debut by Agatha Award-winning author Daryl Wood Gerber.

When personal and financial troubles force Mimi Rousseau to return home instead of following her dreams, she gets the break of a lifetime – the opportunity to open her own French bistro. Everything is moving forward and her future’s looking bright until a murder disrupts quiet Nouvelle Vie. Who would have thought that a killer lurked in Napa Valley?

Cozy mysteries are a favorite of mine. You always get quirky, lovable characters, a few over-the-top oddballs, and a murder. A Deadly Éclair does not disappoint in any case. Mimi is charming and likable and I loved that she bounced ideas off her goldfish. Her mother is nutty and her best friend is the kind of friend every girl wishes she had. Another enticing aspect to this book for me was that it’s set in and around a French bistro and the adjoining inn. As an avid cook, reading about Mimi’s special of the day and the recipes the author included only gave me more motivation to read this charming novel.

Although I know someone always has to die in a cozy mystery, I was upset with the victim in this first book of the series. Even though you don’t get to know him very well before he’s murdered, I felt devastated by the news. That’s probably Mimi projecting onto me, but I was still surprised that someone I thought would be a major player turned out to be the victim.

A Deadly Éclair has everything a good cozy mystery needs: charming and off the wall characters, a unique setting, and a mystery in need of solving! Plus, assorted hijinks and a hint of a romance along the way to spice things up a bit. Although this is my first novel by the author, it definitely won’t be my last. I’m anxiously awaiting the next in this series. Can’t wait to see what Mimi and her crew get themselves into next.

The 8th Circle by Sarah Cain

CIRCLE
The 8th Circle by Sarah Cain
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (326 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

A year ago, Danny Ryan lost his wife and son in a car accident. He’s still reeling from the tragedy when Michael Cohen, his friend and fellow journalist, drives into the pond in front of his house with a bullet through his gut.

With Michael’s death ruled a murder, Danny must work to get his name crossed off the list of suspects, and that means digging into Michael’s last article, an expose of the twisted side of Philadelphia politics. But powerful people are ready to kill to protect what Michael was about to uncover, and if Danny’s not careful, he’ll be next.

If I had to sum up The 8th Circle in one word, that would be gritty. There’s lots of violence and people start dying in sometimes gruesome ways, as the plot continues.

The storyline grabbed me from the opening chapter, especially when the main character’s friend drives his car into his pond and is the victim of an obvious shooting. Speaking of the main character, that’s Danny Ryan, who is likeable from page one. You feel for his pain and you’re cheering him along as they story takes more twists and turns. Did his friend drive to his house to give him something, are the deaths of Danny’s wife and child somehow connected to what’s currently happening in Danny’s suddenly nightmarish world?

One thing I liked most about this story was the natural sounding dialogue. So what didn’t I like about it? There wasn’t much but sometimes the story jumped to another chapter and another character’s viewpoint, one we hadn’t been introduced to before and it somehow seemed jarring, at least it did for me. Also, it wasn’t until later in the story that a character that we had been introduced to suddenly got a voice in this story which also seemed somewhat jarring to me.

There is a huge cast of characters in this story and not all of them very nice people. Even some you thought were okay, turned out to be not so nice people who would do anything to save their own skin. This story will certainly have you turning the pages, trying to figure out who’s behind every misfortune and death that seems to be befalling Danny.

I’d recommend this if enjoy your mysteries on the gritty side.

Once Shadows Fall by Robert Daniels

SHADOWS
Once Shadows Fall by Robert Daniels
Publisher: Crooked Lane
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (343 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

After years of paying her dues on the force, Beth Sturgis has earned her place as a detective for the Robbery-Homicide division of the Atlanta PD. Now, she’s heading up a major manhunt for a potential serial killer who’s working his way inward from the outskirts of the city. The copycat elements in the first crime scene lead Sturgis to retired FBI agent Jack Kale, who was responsible for apprehending and nearly killing the murderer known as the Scarecrow, the same Scarecrow who appears to be this new killer’s terrible inspiration.

A reclusive single father and university professor, Kale is trying to keep the demons at bay through therapy and avoidance. That is, until Sturgis shows up asking for his help. Against his better judgment, Kale is drawn into the most dangerous cat and mouse game of his life. Robert Daniels’s Once Shadows Fall, is a gripping thriller in the bestselling tradition of Silence of the Lambs and is sure to become a crime fiction classic.

A young woman has been looking for the right spot to take some photographs for her class. She’s been having trouble finding “the” spot, but an abandoned farm talks to her. She returns with her camera and is ready to begin taking pictures, she notices the crows are bothering a scarecrow. She tries to run them off but they return. Unfortunately, they are not crows. They are turkey buzzards…

Mr. Daniels writes a tough non-stop mystery novel filled with action, terror, and a couple of psychopaths. He takes a new Homicide detective and dumps a serial killer case on her. Then he throws in a survivor of a horror of the past who still has baggage and has not recovered mentally. Jack is very smart, but he has issues of his own. Helping her on this case will bring all those memories back again and he hasn’t done well at containing them in a box in head yet.

He gets involved because the deaths are similar to the ones committed by a killer he put in prison. The first three look like copycat crimes, then the pattern changes. The new killer has other little quirks. He’s just as deadly, though.

Before the book is done, there are three killers involved, all them insane, and it’s Jack and Beth trying to take them down. It’s hard to do with little evidence and unknown assailants. But if they aren’t quick, they will become the next victims.

The ending is breathtaking and you can’t stop reading. The killer has Beth. Can Jack get there in time? I liked the story, the historical references of previous serial killers, the budding romance between Jack and Beth, and how they confess their secrets to each other. A good relationship begins with a level of trust. That’s why the ending of the story was made me so anxious… recommended.

Killing Trail by Margaret Mizushima

TRAIL
Killing Trail by Margaret Mizushima
A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (311 pgs)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

When a young girl is found dead in the mountains outside Timber Creek, life-long resident Officer Mattie Cobb and her partner, K-9 police dog Robo, are assigned to the case that has rocked the small Colorado town.

With the help of Cole Walker, local veterinarian and a single father, Mattie and Robo must track down the truth before it claims another victim. But the more Mattie investigates, the more she realizes how many secrets her hometown holds. And the key may be Cole’s daughter, who knows more than she’s saying.

The murder was just the beginning, and if Mattie isn’t careful, she and Robo could be next. Suspenseful and smart, Killing Trail is a gripping read that will have readers clamoring for more Mattie and Robo for years to come. Fans of Nevada Barr and C.J. Box will love this explosive debut.

Mystery, suspense and a canine…who could ask for more? The canine in this story is Robo, Mattie Cobb’s K-9 partner who helps her solve a case in the small Colorado community that she calls home.

I enjoyed the opening with its introduction to Mattie and how she came to be partnered with Robo. It’s clear that Mattie hasn’t always been the best dog handler which I felt made her more of credible character. It’s not long into the story that the duo is put to work when a young girl’s body is found. There’s also a dog who’s been shot which brings into the picture a newly single dad and veterinarian, Cole Walker. I liked Mattie’s character and her determination and vulnerability at times. I also liked Cole a lot. He too seemed full of hurt from his recent divorce and his struggle as a newly single dad. There was a hint that a relationship will develop between these two which I hope is the case.

And let’s not forget the mystery. I had several suspects in mind but when the first one wound up dead, it made me read on faster to find out if my other inclination was right. This is a fast paced mystery, well layered with clues and does keep you guessing. The two things I enjoyed about it the most are the setting and the cast of characters who came across as real people.

The author obviously did lots of research on K-9 training and how police officers work with their canine partners which added to the authenticity of the story. This is a series I’ll definitely be following, and if you’re looking for a new police procedural story, this is one I’d recommend you check out.

Nine Lives by Wendy Corsi Staub

NINE
Nine Lives by Wendy Corsi Staub
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (279 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

After the death of her husband, Bella Jordan and her son need a fresh start. But on their way to stay with family in Chicago, they stop in Lily Dale, New York and a storm forces them to spend the night.

Brimming with psychics and mediums, Lily Dale is just the kind of quirky little town Bella’s late husband always talked about settling down in. So when the local hotel’s owner, Leona, passes away, Bella agrees to step in and help temporarily. The longer she and Max stay there, the more Lily Dale starts to feel like home.

But for Bella, finding a home means finding danger, too. Leona was murdered, and it’s up to Bella to track down the killer before her sanctuary comes crashing down in bestseller Wendy Corsi Staub’s warm and witty series debut.

A chance for new beginnings is complicated by a mystery of a murdered lady. A newly widowed mom and her son get plunked right in the middle of it. How can a woman who is still hurting so bad able to be the catalyst for solving the crime? That is a good question and the answer can be found by reading this well-written and entertaining mystery filled with heartfelt insight into a woman who needs to stay strong for her son but isn’t quite sure how to pull it off. Bella receives help from a most unlikely cast of characters, which in turn creates an atmosphere of charm, acceptance and support. If not for the chill of death, this story would have just been quirky fun.

There is a lot of internal dialogue on Bella’s part because she’s human. She second guesses herself, gives herself pep talks and generally tries to make sense of this strange town of Lily Dale and the people she meets. Her character is easy to like, to connect with and to cheer for. There are two men who might be a perfect match for her but one is a suspect and the other just seems like a nice guy. As little as they are on stage, they do provide some plot movement, inspire some interesting mother/son moments and dialogue, and some pondering from a reader as to what further role they might have in any future books that might be told about Bella’s new life. Somehow life in Lily Dale isn’t as placid as it first appears, or as kooky.

The storytelling voice is hard for me to pinpoint. I had a tough time trying to figure out if it was third person, narrative, or a little of both. In the middle of the paragraphs, I got into the grove of the story and I was fine. When there was a chapter break or a shift in scene, it starts off a bit different than I’m used to. It jarred me because I’m used to a certain format, but the storytelling is so strong, the mystery too intriguing and the threads of clues the heroine discovers amazingly intricate, I could not stop reading.

There is a light brushing of paranormal in the novel that was a nice touch. So much could be explained away but it was the things that could not be explained by science or fact that fascinated me. The most poignant and tear jerking moment came at the end of the story. If that wasn’t beautifully paranormal, I don’t know what else to call it. Whatever other readers will label that moment, it gave me the sniffles and happy tears.

I enjoyed how Bella solved the crime, not so much because she had a knack for sleuthing, but because she lived her life, and in getting to know the other residents in Lily Dale, could pick up on things they could not. Sometimes an objective eye is all that’s needed, and the willingness to believe. The heroine is a doer, a mover and it holds her in good stead in this book, especially with the ultimate solving of the mystery. I didn’t figure it out when she did. I was still led along like everyone else so the confrontation was rather shocking. I liked that.

Nine Lives is not just a mystery, but a story of a mother’s determination to provide a life for her young son and the sacrifices she’s willing to make in order to accomplish that goal. The author created a lovely town in Lily Dale and it came across in the writing. The fact that such a nice town could be subjected to a violent crime is a powerful conflict and it works. That a regular woman, with no super powers, military training or martial arts, could outwit a criminal and win is a great reason to check out this novel. It’s how the characters are written; ordinary people doing extraordinary things and saving the day. It’s one of the best things about this book and why I definitely recommend it to mystery and nonmystery fans alike. It’s just that good a read

Silent City by Carrie Smith

CITY
Silent City by Carrie Smith
A Claire Codella Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (326 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

NYPD Detective Claire Codella has just won a tough battle with cancer. Now she has to regain her rightful place on the force. she hasn’t even been back a day when Hector Sanchez, a maverick public school principal, is found murdered. The school is on high alert. The media is howling for answers. And Codella catches the high-profile case at the worst possible time.

As she races to track down the killer, she uncovers dirty politics, questionable contracts, and dark secrets. Each discovery she makes brings her closer to the truth, but the truth may cost Codella her life.

Claire is just returning to work after a long battle with cancer. The cancer almost won. She’s looking forward to coming back to her desk and settling back into the routine of the job. But she gets a phone call instead. She’s thrown right into the middle of a new murder case.

Ms. Smith does a very good job of character building. Claire was a very competent cop who solved a very big case right before the cancer hit. Her boss doesn’t like her because it got her promoted and he was made to look like a fool. He’s got in for her.

He sends her to help a new officer in homicide. The officer is gay and it doesn’t take long for the other boys to find out. They call him the Rainbow Dick. He’s a good cop, will do as he’s told, and he’s on Claire’s side. She might be the token female but he’s also the token gay cop.

The more they interview people, the less they know. This is a complicated plot with lots of players. The author weaves the story, picks up another thread and weaves in and I ended up with no idea who the killer was. At the end I was beginning to suspect one of them but the other one flabbergasted me. What some people will do for money amazes me.

The story flows well, the mix of people is amazing, and greed and lust walk among them. Ms. Smith makes the story believable even if it’s unpredictable. You’ll meet a lot of unethical people in this book. The sad truth is there are a lot of them in the world nowadays. At least the author gives them their comeuppance in this story. If only you could do that in real life.

Plantation Shudders by Ellen Byron

SHUDDERS
Plantation Shudders by Ellen Byron
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (276 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Check in for some Southern hospitality in Plantation Shudders, the Cajun Country series debut from Ellen Byron.

It’s the end of the summer and Prodigal Daughter Maggie Crozat has returned home to her family’s plantation-turned-bed-and-breakfast in Louisiana. The Crozats have an inn full of guests for the local food festival–elderly honeymooners, the Cajun Cuties, a mysterious stranger from Texas, a couple of hipster lovebirds, and a trio of Georgia frat boys. But when the elderly couple keels over dead within minutes of each other–one from very unnatural causes– Maggie and the others suddenly become suspects in a murder.

With the help of Bo Durand, the town’s handsome new detective, Maggie must investigate to clear her name while holding the family business together at the same time. And the deeper she digs, the more she wonders: are all of the guests really there for a vacation or do they have ulterior motives? Decades-old secrets and stunning revelations abound in Ellen Byron’s charming cozy debut, Plantation Shudders.

Family loyalty and fortitude are put to the test when the Crozat family is framed for murder. Ms. Byron presents readers with a unique cast of characters whose quirks and characteristics are endearing and enchanting. That lightness is in stark contrast to the darkness of the crime which haunts them and the determined heroine, Maggie, has the gumption and will to fight for her family’s home, reputation and freedom. It sounds heavy and mysterious but in fact Plantation Shudders is kept from being a dark read by virtue of Maggie’s eccentric grandmother, a love interest named Bo, and all the different personalities that are residing at Maggie’s family’s bed and breakfast. I was vastly entertained.

First, the mystery works. I didn’t figure out the “whodunit” until the author wanted me to. I liked the fact that so many of the guests had secrets that Maggie ferreted out, but I never clued in as to which one was going to be the ‘tell’. I enjoyed all hoops the heroine had to jump through in order to investigate on her own. Another aspect of her sleuthing is her eventual trust in Bo. I was thrilled when he not only didn’t stop her from doing her own investigating, nor did he try to dissuade her, but instead treated her as a valuable informal partner. I enjoyed watching that trust grow.

The strongest element in the novel is Maggie and her family’s relationship. The author is able to bring a reader into the Crozat family home where they’re treated to some very down to earth daily activities. They may seem normal and routine but that’s part of the book’s charm. It’s that welcoming atmosphere that brings the guests to the B & B, and gets a reader to care about the Crozat family and creates a drive to continue reading until the amazing conclusion when all is revealed. I think the moving log is a great scene.

One thing I noticed was the importance of food and local dishes to the atmosphere of the book. Imagine my delight when I found recipes after the epilogue. There is one that I am surely going to try. It sounds delicious!!

My favorite parts of the story are whenever Maggie and Xander are together. I appreciated how the author handled that subject and I thought their final scenes together to be the sweetest things ever. It highlighted more than anything else in the story, just how wonderful a person Maggie really is. It’s that kind of insight that helped her solve the mystery, and it will surely be an asset when a future relationship develops with Bo. At least, I hope that’s what will happen. It sure was a nice touch in Plantation Shudders.

Cozy mystery fans need to give Plantation Shudders a try. It’s a fascinating read and I enjoyed watching Maggie try to solve the crimes. She’s a regular lady with a strong sense of family and history. Her character has a gentle strength which appealed to me. I also got a kick out of the wrap up epilogue which documented how the aftermath of the solving of the mystery affected the town and some of its residents. It was totally grin worthy.

Plantation Shudders is a great read and it gets a hearty recommend from me. Ms. Byron has a winner.

Dark Waters by Chris Goff

TDARK
Dark Waters by Chris Goff
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (344 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Raisa “Rae” Jordan, an agent for the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service, isn’t in Israel for more than a day before her predecessor is gunned down in a Tel Aviv square by a sniper. Assigned to investigate the assassination of one of her own, she must also protect Judge Ben Taylor and his teenage daughter. They may be the sniper’s next target and are most certainly being threatened by a desperate cadre of terrorists with their sights set on the Secretary of State’s upcoming visit. But is an attack on the Secretary of State all that they have planned or is that just the beginning?

There are no protocols for this kind of a situation, and following the rules is exactly the kind of thing that could get the Taylors killed. To subvert an attack that could crush the fledgling peace in the Middle East, Jordan must trust her instincts and bring together a contentious team of agents from Israel, the U.S., and the Palestinian territories to uncover a conspiracy years in the making.

With millions of lives hanging in the balance, Dark Waters, Chris Goff’s explosive thriller, is a series debut that mirrors global headlines and will have you frantically turning pages.

If you like a rollercoaster ride of a read, then Dark Waters will definitely be a book you’ll enjoy.

The author did a great job diving into the action and setting up what would be a fast paced plot with twists and turns that had me reading for long stretches, and turning the pages to see if my theory about what would happen next was right.

I liked the main character Raisa. She was tough, strong, and someone to cheer on. I also liked the other main character Ben, who seemed to be caught up in something larger than life while trying to save his daughter’s life.

All the characters seemed to come to life off the page and the dialogue was realistic. I especially liked the setting; the author did a first rate job describing the sounds and customs of Tel Aviv and surrounding area. It made me feel like I was there, right in the region and in the middle of the danger.

This might seem like a long read but I think you’ll find yourself getting caught up in all the action that you’ll be at the end before you realize it.

If you’re looking for a book to finish out your summer reading fix, this is one I highly recommend.

Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank

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Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes by Denise Grover Swank
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (277 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

For Rose Gardner, working at the DMV on a Friday afternoon is bad even before she sees a vision of herself dead. She’s had plenty of visions, usually boring ones like someone’s toilet’s overflowed, but she’s never seen one of herself before. When her overbearing momma winds up murdered on her sofa instead, two things are certain: There isn’t enough hydrogen peroxide in the state of Arkansas to get that stain out, and Rose is the prime suspect.

Rose realizes she’s wasted twenty-four years of living and makes a list on the back of a Wal-Mart receipt: twenty-eight things she wants to accomplish before her vision comes true. She’s well on her way with the help of her next door neighbor Joe, who has no trouble teaching Rose the rules of drinking, but won’t help with number fifteen– do more with a man. Joe’s new to town, but it doesn’t take a vision for Rose to realize he’s got plenty secrets of his own.

Somebody thinks Rose has something they want and they’ll do anything to get it. Her house is broken into, someone else she knows is murdered, and suddenly, dying a virgin in the Fenton County jail isn’t her biggest worry after all.

Rose Gardner has visions. She’s been punished by her mother, derided by friends and most people think she’s weird. So she doesn’t talk about them anymore. However, when the next customer at DMV sits down and she looks at him, she sees herself in a vision. She’s on the couch at home and she’s dead…

Ms. Swank starts the book with a great first sentence: “It all started when I saw myself dead.” She had my attention and she kept it until the end of the book. This is a great read. Rose is naïve, has never been kissed even though she’s twenty-four, and her mother still tells her what to do. She thinks about moving out but she doesn’t know where, nor can she leave her mother alone. Rose will grow up a lot before the end of this story.

The man she met at DMV is a bad man. He thinks she has something he wants and no matter how many times she says she doesn’t, he doesn’t believe her. When she finds her mother dead on the couch, she freaks because it should have been her. If she hadn’t gotten mad and went to the library, she would have been home during the attack.

There’s great interaction between family members and Rose has a crush on her new neighbor. But can she trust him?

Ms. Swank twists her tale around and keeps you on your toes trying to keep up. Rose and her family are in danger, the action happens fast, and the matter needs to be resolved in a week or she’ll really be dead this time. The suspense and the danger add to the story line as well as the budding romance with Joe. I turned the pages fast when reading this one and sat and read the whole thing in one sitting. I didn’t want to wait and see what happened; I wanted to know now!

The author did an excellent job on this story and I’m ready to get the next book now. Rose is a great character and I want to know her better.