You know, this book really works! I was a little worried to start with that it wouldn’t, since it quickly emerges that there’s a magical paranormal element, and yet the book has such down-to-earth characters and a plot that has financial concerns at its core. Can such prosaic realism and such imaginative make-believe act in harmony? With this author, most definitely.

Frank, the heir to the Jamieson ice cream fortune, disappears together with his trust fund leaving his wife, Christy, and his daughter, Noelle, at the mercy of Frank’s trustees. Their marriage wasn’t successful but Christy is genuinely worried about her husband and knows this behaviour is out of character. However, everyone else seems to accept it all at face value. She is desperate to find him.

Christy and Noelle have to make big economies and so move to a smaller house, next door to the Armstrongs. Quinn Armstrong, a journalist, at first pursues Christy for a story since there are suspicions she’s involved in the money’s disappearance. To begin with she refuses to have anything to do with him, but soon she needs his help. In return for a scoop on Frank, he agrees to help her. More assistance comes from Stormy, Christy’s cat, who ends up on Quinn’s doorstep.

There is a lot for Christy and Quinn to deal with, not least the growing attraction between them. It all makes for a very enjoyable and innovative mystery.

My only quibble is with the title. There are an awful lot of books with the same title. I’ve mentioned this before in reviews, but it is vital for a book to be instantly findable. A distinctive, unique title is a must!

I am a great fan of cozy mysteries, as you’ve probably guessed by now. What you may not know is that I’m also equally addicted to scones. So how could I possibly resist a cozy involving scones and that’s also set in Oxford, where I spent three wonderful years as an undergraduate rather longer ago than I care to remember!

I was hooked by this book from the very start. It has a very dramatic opening: “I never thought I’d end the week facing an American with a sharp knife.” Gemma is our narrator. She owns the Little Stable Tearooms in Meadowford-on-Smythe. She’s turned her back on corporate life to follow her dream, much to her parents’ despair. But she’s sure she’s made the right choice for her. However, when the unpleasant American turns up dead outside her tearooms the next day with one of her scones stuck in his throat, then even she begins to wonder if she shouldn’t have stayed in Sydney.

She decides to investigate, helped by a group of very nosey old ladies and her own inside knowledge of Oxford, where, like me, she was a student. The police are busy hunting down the killer too, led by Devlin O’Connor, Gemma’s ex-boyfriend who was at Oxford with her. His reappearance results in a lot of mixed feelings for Gemma and definitely causes complications.

There’s a great deal of fun and clever writing in this book. It’s delightful – sweet but never cloying, and tongue-in-cheek at times but never slapstick. Extremely entertaining, it’s cozy at its most delicious. It comes with an explanation of very British terms for readers from different backgrounds, and has a glossary of those strange terms that Oxford University positively revels in. And there’s a recipe for scones too. What more could you ask for! More books in this series? Then don’t worry, there are currently four more books to enjoy, and there’s even a prequel too.

 

This is a really enjoyable, compact little cozy mystery. It has all the main ingredients we like to see. First up we have a smart, very likeable heroine, Alyssa Sanders, who has her own bakery business, a hunky cop boyfriend, a slightly ditzy assistant and a pair of Yorkies called Buttercream and Cinnamon. Then we have the offstage murder of a nice old lady, Violet, which Alyssa decides to investigate since Violet was a good customer. Alyssa always listens to local gossip so she knows a lot about what’s going on and knows this could come in useful. Cameron, the boyfriend, obviously enough doesn’t want her getting involved. However, when Alyssa suddenly becomes the chief suspect then not even he can keep her out of things.
And then of course we have more going on than just a bit of sleuthing. Added to the clever mystery, with its twists and turns, Alyssa and Cameron are having a bit of a bumpy ride. They’ve been together two years but Cameron doesn’t want to commit himself to anything permanent, and what’s more, he’s looking at moving to the city. He’s sure Alyssa will enjoy life there. Alyssa feels like he hardly knows her. So she has a lot of other things on her plate besides being suspected of being a murderer.
The author’s style is delightful and sure, and this is a very poised and perky novella. It has a super cover and is generally very professionally presented. A little iced-gem of book!

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.

Nightmare in Burgundy

Nightmare in Burgundy is the third in the Winemaker’s Detective novel series by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Blaen, featuring Benjamin Cooker. This adventure sees him in Burgundy where, at the beginning of the book, he is given the honour of being named Chevalier du Tastevin by the Knights of this order, who have, as their slogan, ‘Never whine, always wine’!

The morning after he receives this honour,  he is, not surprisingly, a little slow but is soon aroused to full capacity when he goes to inspect the graffiti that has appeared overnight in the country town Vougeot, where he’s staying. It inspires him since it’s in Latin, which isn’t usual for graffiti. Sadly, the locals think it’s young vandals, and two of them, the Mancenot brothers, shoot two teenagers whom they believe are responsible. Cooker, appalled by this vigilante justice, isn’t convinced they’ve got the right person.

An elderly friend of his, Brother Clément, helps Cooker determine what this Latin graffiti is all about. It’s a Psalm, and a rather foreboding one at that. Virgile, Cooker’s young and virile assistant, lends a hand too and the sleuthing begins in earnest.

Like its predecessors, this book is a wonderful combination of entertainment and education. We learn about wines, local folklore, history and, this time, some Latin. There’s suspense, suspicion, desperation, humour, lust and erudition. Benjamin Cooker displays his customary calm, loyalty and tenacity as he gets to grips with this definitely different mystery that faces him.

As you would expect from authors Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Blaen, there is some haunting imagery in this tightly-written, enjoyable novel. My favourite passage is: “In the distance, the massive silhouette of the Vougeot château seemed to be dozing in the middle of a burial ground of vines whose bony limbs and gnarled stumps were packed all the way to the back of the vineyard. A thick sky was brushing against the points of the tower where the crows were performing sinister and mocking spirals.”

If that doesn’t tempt you to want to read more of this book, then I’m not sure what will!

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