Max, our very down-to-earth and hands-on heroine, returned from New York to her small home town of Crystal Shores a year ago to help nurse her mother through her last months of fighting cancer. But Max is still here, working in Darlene’s Wedding Belles Bridal Salon. However, she’s just been offered a job as assistant designer at Bissette’s, where she used to be a pattern maker. Her father and friends are delighted that she’s delighted about this, but none of them want to see her go. Max herself has mixed feelings.

However, for the time being her attention is diverted as during a dress fitting stroppy and generally unpopular bride-to-be Jennifer Burns collapses. She dies shortly later in hospital, of cyanide poisoning. Who’s the murderer? Max, since she did mutter under her breath that she wished the trying Jennifer would drop dead, and she had in her pocket a red gemlike stone she’d found on the beach that very morning which someone tells her is a wishing stone? Stacy, the new wife of the man Max always thought she’d marry – Andy? She gave Jennifer some cake samples just before she died, and Jennifer had a past with Andy. Or one of the many, many local people who don’t want Jennifer to turn the town’s beloved old theatre into a shopping mall? Jennifer has inherited the theatre and it’s hers to do with as she pleases.

Max can’t help becoming involved in solving in the case. This brings her into contact and conflict with handsome cop Detective Jason Cruz. As she investigates, as well as learning the truth about what happened, she learns some truths about herself and what she really wants from life.

This is a beautifully written book, extremely readable and very entertaining. It has a romantic setting in this pretty seaside town in general and in the wedding shop in particular, but it’s never twee. We see behind the scenes into the dusty corners. There’s a great mix of characters, good and bad, and a convincing sense of community. We become as fond of Crystal Shores as Max. Max herself is creative but also practical, kind and caring but also assertive and businesslike, well-meaning but sometimes heavy-handed, and all in all, a perfectly imperfect heroine whose adventures we thoroughly enjoy sharing.

Other genres, such as mismem and griplit, come and go in popularity, but cosy mysteries remain constantly popular. These require creativity, ingenuity and humour on the part of the author, which make for a winning formula for readings. You find some really excellent writing.

Dying for Dinner Rolls by Lois Lavrisa is no exception. This is a short, delightful read. Our heroine Cat works in the family organic food store. She’s recovering from the recent violent death of her father, but her supportive husband and lively children have kept her going. Also she’s making an effort to be there for her Korean mother, Yunni. When Lucy is found dead after nipping home to fetch dinner rolls for Cat and the other members of the Chubby Chicks Club, a group of friends who get together for pot luck suppers and chats, a chilling clue seems to link her death with Cat’s father’s. The police consider it to be a suicide but Cat is convinced otherwise. Annie Mae, the chubbiest of the chicks, joins Cat for a day’s eventful sleuthing which threatens to land them both in jail. Handsome cop José keeps a nervous eye on proceedings and rushes in to rescue the crimebusting pair when the difficult situations they get themselves into threaten to get out of control. They do get a little carried away at times! However, they also get the murderer, but Cat is still determined to track down her father’s killer, whatever the cost.

Once you start this novella it’s hard to put it down. The characters are quirky, diverse and fascinating. Cat is a lively, likeable heroine with strengths and flaws that make her so utterly identifiable with. Annie Mae, twenty years her senior and, by the sounds of it, twenty times her weight, makes for the perfect sidekick for her. The plot twists and turns, just as it should, and the result is a clever, original cosy that has you gasping in horror and chuckling in delight in equal measure. I highly recommend it, and I’m now off to read the next two books in the series.

Just a couple of tiny nitpicks – well, I am an editor! There were just a couple of typos, but that’s quite acceptable as the error-free book has yet to be published, and the cover is a little too cluttered. The image is clean and classy but the quote and the Chubby Chicks logo rather spoiled the overall effect for me.

The New Year is a time for making resolutions and setting yourself challenges. For book lovers then a reading challenge is the ideal sort to go for. And there are plenty to choose from – I’d never realised quite how many! Girlxoxo gives a comprehensive listing here.

I’m going for two.

The first of these is the 2017 European Reading Challenge. I’m signing up for the Five Star Deluxe Entourage and will be aiming to read five qualifying books from or set in different countries of Europe. And, to make the challenge a bit more demanding, I’ve decided that my France book will be in French. There are four I shall be choosing from. I’ve had them all for quite a while but not got round to even starting them. Oops!

The other reading challenge I’m going to take on is 2017 Cruisin’ Through The Cozies. Not only do I thoroughly enjoy reading cozies, but I’m about to finish writing my first one – Hens, Haircuts and Homicide – so this is the ideal challenge for me. I’m going in at level one, and will be reading ten cozies, one in each of the categories listed in the rules and regs of the challenge. I’ll keep you posted as to how I get on during the year.

So, will you going for a reading challenge too?