Tuesday, November 30, 2021

ARC Review: A Murder Yule Regret by Winnie Archer

Title: A Murder Yule Regret
Series: A Bread Shop Mystery #7
Author: Winnie Archer
Source/Format: Netgalley; eARC
More Details: Cozy Mystery
Publisher/Publication Date: Kensington Publishing; November 30, 2021

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Freelance photographer and Yeast of Eden bakery assistant Ivy Culpepper has just scored the job of a lifetime shooting the Dickensian dress-up X-mas party thrown by It Girl film actress Eliza Fox...until an unwanted guest appears. 
A holiday costume party in the sleepy coastal town of Santa Sofia could be just the boost Ivy needs for her fledgling photography business. At the party, Ivy enters a Victorian fantasy come to life, all courtesy of the fabulous Ms. Fox. Ivy gets to play shutterbug while hanging with Scrooge, Marley, the Cratchits, and more classic Dickens characters. But what begins as the best of times turns out to be the very worst for one of the party guests--a tabloid journalist with more enemies than Ebenezer himself. When the man's body is found sprawled across the jagged rocks below the house, the fingers begin pointing at Eliza. Meanwhile, Ivy gets roped into helping prove the starlet's innocence. Her festive photos are now official evidence--and the Ghosts of Christmas Present could mean the party for Eliza is over, once and for all.

I’ve been into cozy mysteries lately, and this year’s selection has been really great. One of my latest forays into it is Winnie Archer’s A Murder Yule Regret. Based on the title, I knew this was going to be a holiday themed whodunit, and I have to say that the story delivered on all fronts.

I really had a lot of fun with this story. While the setting was still small town-ish, it was set in California, so the winter scenery was far more moderate. No snow or anything like that—mostly gorgeous views of the ocean—but the descriptions of the decorations and baked goods (because this story has a strong baking theme with the bread shop), certainly allowed for a festive atmosphere.

The mystery was also another highlight. The way it started was handled really great actually. The story had such an even pace, and it just flowed smoothly from one scene to the next. The mystery surrounding Eliza, her past, and the connection to the victim made for a page turner of a story.

The characters were also very charming. The whole cast was great. But I especially loved Ivy’s baking, sleuthing, and her adorable pug, Agatha. Her day-to-day life was as interesting as the mystery portion of the story, and I enjoyed all the scenes she shared with her boyfriend, friends, and family. Eliza Fox, the actress, was also an endearing character. There was something so earnest about her, and I liked how much she was in the story.

Overall, A Murder Yule Regret is another great cozy mystery, and it’s right on time for the holiday season.

About the author...
Melissa Bourbon Ramirez is the national bestselling author of seventeen mystery books, including the Lola Cruz Mysteries, A Magical Dressmaking Mystery series, and the Bread Shop Mysteries, written as Winnie Archer. She is a former middle school English teacher who gave up the classroom in order to live in her imagination full time. Melissa, a California native who has lived in Texas and Colorado, now calls the southeast home. She hikes, practices yoga, cooks, and is slowly but surely discovering all the great restaurants in the Carolinas. Since four of her five amazing kids are living their lives, scattered throughout the country, her dogs, Bean, the pug, Dobby, the chug, and Jasper, a cattle dog/lab keep her company while she writes. Melissa lives in North Carolina with her educator husband, Carlos, and their youngest son. She is beyond fortunate to be living the life of her dreams.

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Kensington Books) via NetGalley for this review, thank you!

Monday, November 29, 2021

Short Stories I Read in September-October

It’s November 29th. So it’s time to talk about the short stories, miscellaneous posts, and podcast episodes I read or listened to in September and October.

Judge Dee and the Poisoner of Montmartre by Lavie Tidhar (Tor.com; September 15, 2021)

I did not get to the latest Judge Dee story in time for Halloween. However, I was more than excited to finally get to it in October. As always, the vampire elements were done very well. This time, the story takes Judge Dee and Jonathan to Paris for their latest case. It was a slight shift in tone, since there were brief indulgences in plays and other parts of night life—which sometimes involved other vampire characters. The setting was also far less remote than some of the other locations in the previous two stories, and I enjoyed all the descriptions of the city. I was thoroughly engaged in the mystery. It was kind of chaotic, but it had a satisfying resolution.

Thread Count by Cynthia Gómez (Strange Horizons; Issue: Fund Drive 2021)

The second short story I read in October was Thread Count by Cynthia Gómez. I like this one a whole lot. It was a mystery with circumstances that leaned toward the possibility of something speculative (fantastical) in nature. At its core though was a timely topic. It was also well-written, and I liked the way the author approached the story. I will definitely keep an eye out for future work by Cynthia Gómez.

Bespoke Nightmares by Carolina Valentine (Strange Horizons; Issue: 18 October 2021)

Some of my favorite types of stories are ones that involve dreams or nightmares in some capacity. Carolina Valentine’s Bespoke Nightmares fit that bill perfectly with a shop that literally makes and sells nightmares. And rarely ever does its keeper make dreams. That wasn’t without reason or consequences, with dreams being difficult to make. The line—be careful what you wish for—duly applies here. All-in-all, Bespoke Nightmares was a great story.

From around the web…
  • Our Opinions Are Correct episode #91: Three Simple Tests That Reveal A.I. Consciousness
  • Understanding Horses: Getting to Know You (Judith Tarr; Tor.com, September 20, 2021)
  • I Write Fantasy Because of Patricia McKillip’s The Riddlemaster of Hed (Julie E. Czerneda; Tor.com, September 24, 2021)

Friday, November 26, 2021

ARC Review: A Swift and Savage Tide by Chloe Neill

Title: A Swift and Savage Tide
Series: Captain Kit Brightling #2
Author: Chloe Neill
Source/Format: NetGalley; eARC
More Details: Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Berkley; November 30, 2021

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
Chloe Neill's bold, seafaring heroine Captain Kit Brightling sets sail for high seas and high sorcery in this swashbuckling fantasy series.

Captain Kit Brightling is Aligned to the magic of the sea, which makes her an invaluable asset to the Saxon Isles and its monarch, Queen Charlotte. The Isles and its allies will need every advantage they can get: Gerard Rousseau, the former Gallic emperor and scourge of the Continent, has escaped his island prison to renew his quest for control of the Continent. Gerard has no qualms about using dangerous magic to support his ambitions, so Kit and the crew of her ship, the Diana, are the natural choice to find him—and help stop him. Sparks fly when Kit's path unexpectedly crosses with that of the dashing and handsome Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, who's working undercover on the Continent in his own efforts to stop Gerard. But he's not the only person Kit is surprised to see. An old enemy has arisen, and the power he'll wield on Gerard's behalf is beautiful and terrible. Sparks will fly and sails will flutter as Kit and crew are cast onto the seas of adventure to fight for queen and country.

It’s been just over a year since The Bright and Breaking Sea was released, and since then I have been eagerly awaiting the sequel. That book could be best described as having tottered on the brink of something. All the clues were there. Whereas its sequel, A Swift and Savage Tide, was an excellent story that saw the continuation (and result) of those very same clues and outstanding mysteries introduced in the first book. It was more than fitting as a sequel for a series that began with a lot of promise.

It was great to dive back into the world with Kit, her crew, and Grant. One of the main reasons for that was the dynamics between the characters being as great as it was. And I particularly enjoyed the way Neill chose to advance those relationships. Kit and her crew were tightknit, which was a highlight of the story. They were skilled at what they did, and their strong suits ultimately aided them in the difficult circumstances that surrounded the Diana’s latest missions.

And while the story had its fun and lighthearted moments, those were few. A Swift and Savage Tide had a serious tone to it, as the echoes of a greater conflict finally reached a boiling point where there was no way back. It was a fight on the land and the sea, between skill and magic. The stakes were sky high, and it made for an incredibly thrilling story.

The ending did pay off—and it was satisfying in some ways—but there was open-endedness to it. Everything was very-VERY far from over. There are so many possibilities that could be in store, and I will be over here waiting for the next book to (hopefully) be announced sometime soon.

About the author.....
Chloe Neill is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Captain Kit Brightling, Heirs of Chicagoland, Chicagoland Vampires, Devil’s Isle, and Dark Elite novels. She was born and raised in the South, but now makes her home in the Midwest, where she lives with her gamer husband and their bosses/dogs, Baxter and Scout. Chloe is a voracious reader and obsessive Maker of Things; the crafting rotation currently involves baking and quilting. She believes she is exceedingly witty; her husband has been known to disagree.

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Berkley) via Netgalley for this review, thank you!

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

ARC Review: Claret and Present Danger by Sarah Fox

Title: Claret and Present Danger
Series: Literary Pub Mystery #4
Author: Sarag Fox
Source/Format: NetGalley; eARC
More Details: Cozy Mystery
Publisher/Publication Date: Kensignton; November 30, 2021 

Goodreads     Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads...
When a Renaissance Faire visits the small town of Shady Creek, Vermont, amateur sleuth and proprietor of bookish theme pub The Inkwell, Sadie Coleman, finds deadly happenings stick around like red wine stains on white tunics in the fourth Literary Pub Mystery by USA Today bestselling author Sarah Fox.

The Trueheart Renaissance Faire and Circus has rolled into town, attracting locals who can’t wait to spend a few summer days lost in a whimsical world of all-knowing fortune tellers and daring acrobats. Well-read pub owner Sadie Coleman is swept up in the magic herself when she serves drinks to the faire’s resident wizard, the shamelessly brazen illusionist Ozzie Stone, and scores two tickets to his opening performance. Sadie has no complaints about indulging in a free show with her new beau, craft brewery owner Grayson Blake. But while Ozzie is an instant crowd pleaser, the real surprise comes when he collapses in the middle of his set. It’s not part of the act—Ozzie is dead, seemingly poisoned by someone who wasn’t clowning around about writing the roguish showman’s final chapter. The terrifying situation intensifies when the police eye one of Sadie’s employees, last seen caught in a suspicious fist fight at the fairground. With so much at stake, Sadie must strain through a suspect list longer than her cocktail menu to find the real knave of a killer. But when another performer is murdered, it becomes clear that bringing the mixed-up murderer to justice will be about as dangerous as walking the high wire after happy hour…

I’ve seen the Literary Pub Mystery books around and was excited to read Claret and Present Danger, the fourth installment in the series. I was drawn in by the summary and intrigued by the renaissance faire and circus that was going to be at the center of the latest mystery in Shady Creek, Vermont.

Overall, I liked the story. The issues I had with it were few and mainly personal, otherwise it was a good book. Some of my favorite aspects turned out to be the faire—with the characters in costume and reciting lines. It provided a handful of moments of much needed fun (no matter how temporary) in a story that was otherwise pretty somber in content.

I also liked the characters and some of the other key locations in the story, such as the literary themed pub the main character, Sadie Coleman, owned and operated in the small scenic town. I really liked the pub’s aesthetic, and I got all the little literary references sprinkled throughout the menu. Speaking of Sadie Coleman, I liked her well enough. She was loyal and willing to help out an employee of her pub when he landed in hot water, and I liked the way her relationship with her boyfriend gradually developed. I also liked the secondary cast as well, and their presence helped drive home that the immediate community Sadie lived in was pretty close-knit.

As for the mystery, it was fine. Ozzie Stone seemed to be good at his job as well as being generally liked, but there were a lot of secrets to uncover. His were only the beginning of the tangled web that would ultimately be brought to light in Claret and Present Danger.

About the author....
Sarah Fox, writer of cozy mysteries, was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she developed a love for mysteries at a young age. When not writing novels or working as a legal writer she is often reading her way through a stack of books or spending time outdoors with her English Springer Spaniel. Sarah is the author of the Literary Pub Mysteries, the Pancake House Mysteries, and the Music Lover's Mysteries.

Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Kensington) via NetGalley for this review, thank you!

Monday, November 22, 2021

Music Monday (181): Tinashe, Sounds of Blackness, Mariah Carey, Khalid & Kirk Franklin, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holiday


  • Music Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Lauren Stoolfire at Always Me that asks you to share one or two songs that you've recently enjoyed. For the rules, visit the page HERE 
Breana: Lately, I've been listening to Tinashe's holiday album called Comfort & Joy. My pick for today is her cover of Last Christmas. The original is a classic, but I like this version too. 


Adri: I found some older songs that I like. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! by Frank Sinatra and I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm by Billie Holiday.

Andrea: So the Christmas Season is upon us, which means it's time for Christmas music. With that said, I'm starting the season listening to  Soul Holidays by Sounds of Blacknes and Fall In Love At Christmas by Mariah Carey, Khalid, and Kirk Franklin. I didn't think that I would share a Mariah Carey song this year, but then...she released new Christmas music, and I love it!

Have an amazing week, and stay safe this holiday season!

What are you listening to this week?

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