Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Cozy Mystery Review: Tart of Darkness by Denise Swanson

Publishing Date: Apr. 1, 2018

From the Publisher:

Right when Dani thinks she’s hit a dead-end in her career, she unexpectedly inherits an enormous old house in a quaint college town. This gives her the perfect opportunity to pursue her true passion—cooking! So Dani opens Chef-to-Go, preparing delicious, ready-made meals for hungry students attending the nearby university, as well as providing personal chef services and catering events for the local community. To help support her new business, she opens her home to a few students, renting them rooms and becoming almost like a big sister figure in their lives.

But just as Dani is relishing her sweet new life, the friend of one of her boarders is murdered, and Dani becomes one of the primary suspects! She’ll have to scramble to clear her name and save her business before the killer reappears—perhaps to silence the new chef forever.

My Thoughts:

Oh, this one was just a lot of fun to read. The opening was a bit rough, but once Dani sets up her Chef-to-Go business and the college girls move in, we're off to the races.

The romantic elements are a bit stronger in this cozy mystery series than I like, and some of Dani's actions made me frown, but other than those few bumps, this was a really fun new series. I liked the details about Dani's chef business, and her interactions with the upper crust of the small town she lives in. The addition of the college girls who live with her and help her with the business makes the series feel a bit younger and edgier--a welcome new take on the cozy mystery genre. The mystery wasn't too tough to figure out, but still well-plotted for the avid mystery fan.

Recommended if you like cozy mysteries, but are looking for something a bit edgier and fun.

*NetGalley copy provided for review**

Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday Mystery Review: A Whisper of Bones by Ellen Hart

Publication Date: Feb. 28, 2018

From the Publisher:

Fans of Jane Lawless new and old will be fascinated by newly minted Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Ellen Hart's latest intricate puzzle in A Whisper of Bones.

Britt Ickles doesn't remember much from her only visit to her mother's childhood home when she was a kid, except for playing with her cousin Timmy and the eruption of a sudden family feud. That's why, when she drops by unannounced after years of silence, she's shocked when her aunts tell her Timmy never existed, that she must be confusing him with someone else. But Britt can't shake the feeling that Timmy did exist...and that something horrible has happened to him. Something her aunts want to cover up.

Britt hires Jane Lawless, hoping the private investigator can figure out what really happened to her cousin. When a fire in the family's garage leads to the discovery of buried bones and one of the aunts dies suddenly and suspiciously, Jane can't help but be pulled into the case. Do the bones belong to Timmy? Was the aunt's death an accident, suicide, or homicide? What dark secret has this family been hiding for decades? It all depends on Jane Lawless to unravel.

My Thoughts:

I requested this book for review, not realizing this was book twenty-five (!!) of a series. But I could jump right in; it wasn't difficult to get to know the characters, the way it does in some series. You can easily jump in right here with A Whisper of Bones, though I'm now tempted to start at book one...

The mystery here was solid and intriguing: who is buried under the garage, and why is the whole family trying to cover it up? The story is very atmospheric, the mystery is well-written, and the series element doesn't get in the way of things--no lengthy sidetracking storylines about the secondary characters, like some series do, especially this far in.

There are quite a few perspective shifts, which made me want to get back to our lead character, and how she was going to solve the crime. But overall, I really liked this, and I'll be checking out the authors other books. Recommended, if you're behind the curve, like me (book twenty-five! how did I miss this series for so long?).

**NetGalley provided copy for review**

Monday, February 19, 2018

#MMGM Review: Marabel and the Book of Fate by Tracy Barrett

From the Publisher:

In Magikos, life is dictated by the Book of Fate's ancient predictions, including the birth of a royal Chosen One who will save the realm. Princess Marabel has grown up in the shadow of her twin brother, Marco, who everyone assumes is the true Chosen One. While Marco is adored and given every opportunity, Marabel is overlooked and has to practice her sword fighting in secret.

But on the night of their thirteenth birthday, Marco is kidnapped by an evil queen, and Marabel runs to his rescue. Outside the castle walls for the first time, accompanied by her best friend and a very smug unicorn, Marabel embarks on a daring mission that brings her face-to-face with fairies, trolls, giants--and the possibility that all is not as it seems in Magikos.

My Thoughts:

This was a fun, fresh take on the traditional fairytale/princess story--and one not just for girls.

I liked the humor in this story, the tongue-in-cheek references to modern technology, and the go-getting attitude of Marabel, despite playing second fiddle to her brother. It was a quick read, and one I could see being really fun to read aloud, at home or in the classroom.

Recommended for kids (and grown-ups) who like fairytales, but are looking for a new take on the traditional stories.

**NetGalley copy provided for review**

Friday, February 9, 2018

Friday Cozy Mystery Book Review: Wedding Cake Crumble by Jenn McKinlay

Publishing date: Apr. 8, 2018

From the Publisher:

Wedding bells and death knells are ringing for the Fairy Tale Cupcake crew in this latest mystery in the New York Times bestselling series

With Angie and Tate's wedding just around the corner, it's a happy--but very busy--time for Mel. Not only is she doing double duty as both the maid of honor and best man, but her bakery, Fairy Tale Cupcakes, has just been hired to provide cupcakes for a famous author's book signing. But when the author turns up dead, it's just the start of a murder mystery that Mel must solve.

My Thoughts:

This was the first book I read in the Cupcake Bakery Mystery series, so I was expecting to take some time getting up to speed. Not so: I was quickly familiar with the characters, who are charming and just plain fun to hang out with.

The murder mystery was solid. I liked how the author (or characters) didn't take herself too seriously, and made a little fun of the fact that there was yet another murder in their small little town and social circle. In fact, the first few chapters reveal that several murders were committed before we get to the main crime: the murder of a local author with lots of skeletons in her closet.

The story drags a little toward the last quarter of the book, when two of the main characters get married. But I imagine that faithful readers will enjoy this part.

Jenn McKinlay has the cozy mystery genre down. I'd recommend this series, and think I might go read book one now... 

**NetGalley copy provided for review**

Friday, January 19, 2018

Congrats to the Edgar Nominees!

The Edgar nominees were just announced--congrats to everyone who made the list! Here are the top contenders in Juvenile and YA:


Audacity Jones Steals the Show by Kirby Larson (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)
Vanished! By James Ponti (Simon & Schuster – Aladdin)
The Assassin’s Curse by Kevin Sands (Simon & Schuster – Aladdin)
First Class Murder by Robin Stevens (Simon & Schuster – Simon & Schuster BFYR)
NewsPrints by Ru Xu (Scholastic – Graphix)
The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – Feiwel & Friends)
Grit by Gillian French (HarperCollins Publishers – HarperTeen)
The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (Simon & Schuster)
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Simon & Schuster – Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (HarperCollins Publishers – Balzer + Bray)

Monday, January 15, 2018

MMGM Review: Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti & Tony Cliff

Publication date: Jan 23rd 2018

From the Publisher: 

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

Second in the Spy on History series, it’s a compelling story of a little-known chapter from the war—and a mystery to solve. Using spycraft materials included in a sealed envelope, readers will discover and unravel the clues embedded in the book’s text and illustrations, and uncover the mystery of Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook.

My Thoughts: 

I can't say enough good things about the Spy on History series (first book was on Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring)--I wish it had been around sooner. I often do library/teacher convention talks on how to reach reluctant readers, and this is a perfect example of a non-fiction title that would bridge the gap between fiction and non-fiction for kids who may not like to read. 

The story is one of those footnote-in-history ones, about engineers tasked with deceiving the Germans in WWII. We follow soldier Victor Dowd and the Ghost Army as their missions are challenging, and seemingly too difficult to accomplish. 

I love how there are graphic novel-style illustration throughout, plus excerpts in bold, so the story visually moves along. The author does a brilliant job at building the arc of the Ghost Army's achievement, finding the thriller-like story in history, while not trivializing the sacrifice made by the people the Ghost Army was fighting for.  

There's a historical note in the back, plus a code for kids to crack, which is fun. This book, and the series, is an exciting addition for MG readers. I'll look forward to the next book. 

**NetGalley provided e-copy for review**

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Happy 2018!

Happy 2018, everyone! I hope it’s a great year for you…
I’m making plans for 2018 (I like plans better than resolutions, which always seem a little vague), with equal parts writing and reading in the comfort of my office, as well as getting out into the world. I try not to be a hermit.
Here are my goals; share yours if you’re willing in the comments…

I’m working on a MG mystery, very fun and super structured in a mystery way, if that makes sense. A true whodunit for kids. It’s fun so far; I plan to spend January and probably part of February on the first draft. Kind of like a NaNoWriMo, only in January, which makes more sense anyway. January is cold and dull otherwise. 
I made myself set a reading goal, fifty-two books, which is one a week. Totally doable, I say. I read from picture books to mysteries for adults; I’ll post more reviews here too, as I read.
Out in the Wild World
I'm traveling this year, mostly around Colorado, but here’s the breakdown for now:

Feb. 7-10, 2018: Colorado Council International Reading Association Conference, Author visits 101 presentation

Feb. 10, 2018: ALA Midwinter 2018, Meet the Author at SinC booth 649, 9-11 a.m. 

Mar. 3, 2018: Colorado Book Festival, Denver Public Library 

Mar. 17, 2018: Denver Children's Festival of Stories, hosted by Second Star to the Right Bookstore, Denver, CO

Jun. 5, 2018: nErDcampKS, Heston, KS

Mystery TV

Okay, so it’s time for me to do more writing and reading, and less binge-watching. But I did get caught up on season two of The Travelers—love this science fiction series! It’s on Netflix… And of course, there’s Broadchurch. Still awesome as ever. 
That’s it for me. Oh, and I want to take more photographs and learn to play the banjo. I’m aiming high this year. 
How about you?