Review Copy: Dark Witch and Creamy

Dark Witch and Creamy is the first book in a fun cozy mystery series by H.Y. Hanna. #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book from the author. All opinions are my own.

Caitlyn is used to being the ugly duckling in her glamorous showbiz family… until the day she learns that she was adopted as an abandoned baby. Now, her search for answers takes her to the tiny English village of Tillyhenge where a man has been murdered by witchcraft – and where a mysterious shop selling enchanted chocolates is home to the “local witch”…

Soon Caitlyn finds herself fending off a toothless old vampire, rescuing an adorable kitten and meeting handsome aristocrat Lord James Fitzroy… not to mention discovering that she herself might have magical blood in her veins! (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve loved all of the books in H.Y. Hanna’s Oxford Tearoom series, so I was excited to hear that she is starting a new cozy mystery series called Bewitched by Chocolate. This new series has, as you might guess, a bit of magic and a whole lot of chocolate!

On her search to find her birth family, Caitlyn finds herself in a small English town that has more secrets than you might think. Caitlyn befriends the local chocolate maker, a grouchy old woman who is thought of by many as the local witch, and does her best to defend her when the town tries to blame her for a recent murder. But Caitlyn soon finds out that there might be more truth to the rumors of magic than she wants to believe.

As with all of H.Y. Hanna’s works, this is a fun, lighthearted cozy mystery. Caitlyn is very different from Gemma, but she’s still an enjoyable, imperfect character to follow. I loved the small town setting and the quirky characters Caitlyn meets there, and I especially enjoyed the magic chocolate store! I hope we get to spend even more time there in future books.

If you like cozy mysteries with a bit of magic, or if you’ve enjoyed H.Y. Hanna’s other series, you should give this book a try.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC: Muffins and Mourning Tea

Muffins and Mourning Tea is the latest addition to the Oxford Tearoom mystery series. Just as fun as the rest of the series! #spon | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cotswolds tearoom owner Gemma Rose is excited to join the May Day celebrations in Oxford… until the beautiful spring morning ends in murder. Now, she’s embroiled in a deadly mystery – with four nosy old ladies determined to help in the sleuthing! Before she knows it, Gemma finds herself stalking a Russian “princess” and keeping up with the Old Biddies in Krav Maga class, while still trying to serve delicious cakes and buttery scones at her quaint English tearoom.
And that’s just the start of her worries: there’s her little tabby cat, Muesli, who is causing havoc at the local nursing home… and what should she do with the creepy plants that her mother keeps buying for her new cottage?

But the mystery that’s really bothering Gemma is her boyfriend’s odd behaviour. Devlin O’Connor has always been enigmatic but recently, the handsome CID detective has been strangely distant and evasive. Could he be lying to her? But why? (Review via Amazon.com)

Muffins and Mourning Tea is the latest installment in the wonderful Oxford Tearoom mystery series (you can see my previous reviews here, here, here, here, and here), and it was just as fun as always.

Gemma finds herself nearby when a murder is committed in the midst of a crowd, and of course, she can’t resist the temptation to investigate. But what with trying to run her tearoom, fending off the Old Biddies, and dealing with her boyfriend’s sudden evasiveness, Gemma has her hands full.

We get to spend time with some favorite characters in this book, including Gemma’s nosy and overbearing mother (who is still trying to give her daughter hideous decorations and setting her up with her former love interest, Lincoln), the Old Biddies (hilarious as always), and Gemma’s detective boyfriend Devlin. I can’t wait for the next book to find out more details about Devlin’s strange behavior in Muffins and Mourning Tea.

Of course, I also learned some new things in this book–like what banoffee pie is (there’s a recipe in the back of the book that I might have to try!) and more fun traditions from Oxford. I love a good British mystery, and the setting of Oxford makes this series different from the proliferation of British cozies I’ve come across.

If you’re looking for a fun and not super cliche cozy mystery series, I strongly recommend these books. They are always enjoyable with fun characters and a great setting, and Muffins and Mourning Tea is yet another example of H.Y. Hanna’s skill in writing satisfying mysteries.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC: All-Butter ShortDead

All-Butter ShortDead is a fun, short prequel to H.Y. Hanna's Oxford Tearoom mystery series. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gemma ditches her high-flying job and returns to Oxford to follow her dream: opening a traditional English tearoom serving warm buttery scones with jam and clotted cream… Only problem is–murder is the first thing on the menu and Gemma is the key suspect! And the only people Gemma can turn to for help are four nosy old ladies from her local Cotswolds village – not to mention a cheeky little tabby cat named Muesli. Who was the mysterious woman Gemma met on the flight back from Australia and why was she murdered? Now Gemma must find the killer, solve the mystery and clear her name if she’s to have her cake–and serve it too. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I’ve enjoyed each of the Oxford Tearoom mysteries (you can read about them here, herehere, and here), so I was thrilled to discover that H.Y. Hanna recently released a short prequel to the rest of the series, detailing how Gemma returned to Oxford, opened a tearoom, and discovered her knack for solving murders.

Whether or not you’ve read the rest of the series, this is a really cute and fun introduction to Gemma and her life as a tea shop owner. If you have read the other books in the series, you’ll find several nods to future events and characters who will become important in later stories. Speaking of which, the characters are great as usual. Gemma’s spunky best friend Cassie, her infuriating and oh-so-proper mother, and the Old Biddies all make an appearance.

Gemma being suspected as a murderer and not being sure how to start investigating is fun. Because Gemma was the last person to see the victim alive, the police have looked no further for suspects, and Gemma is driven to discover the real murderer and clear her name (with the prodding of the Old Biddies, of course). One aspect of the plot is a bit cliche (I won’t say more for fear of mild spoilers), but the author pulls it off and manages to make it fun rather than groan-inducing (at least for me).

A side note: Just so you know, this book is currently free on Amazon! If you’ve been interested in exploring this series, this is a quick, free way to get started. (I don’t get anything for promoting this, although I am on the author’s review team. All opinions are my own, and I truly think that if you’re into cozy mysteries, you’ll love this series.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC: Till Death Do Us Tart

Till Death Do Us Tart is a fun addition to the Oxford Tearoom series. If you like cozy mysteries, check it out! #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“When Oxfordshire tearoom owner, Gemma Rose, enters her little tabby, Muesli, in the cat show at the local village fair, the last thing she expects is to stumble across a murder. And when her meddling mother and the nosy Old Biddies decide to start their own investigation, Gemma has no choice but to join in the sleuthing. She soon finds there’s something much more sinister sandwiched between the home-made Victoria sponge cakes and luscious jam tarts … But murder isn’t the only thing on Gemma’s mind: there’s the desperate house-hunting that’s going nowhere, the freaky kitchen explosions at her quaint English tearoom and an offer from her handsome detective boyfriend that she can’t refuse! With things about to reach boiling point, can Gemma solve the mystery before the killer strikes again?” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Till Death Do Us Tart is the fourth addition to the Oxford Tearoom series (you can see my previous reviews here, here, and here), and it was such a fun addition. When a hateful woman dies suddenly at the local fair, everyone thinks it’s a heart attack–except Gemma and the Old Biddies. They have to work hard to convince Gemma’s boyfriend, police detective Devlin, and the rest of the police force to take them seriously, so Gemma decides to do a little investigating of her own.

As always, Gemma and her friends are great characters to follow. Gemma’s exasperating mother, overworked boyfriend, and mischievous cat Muesli all play important parts in this mystery. Though they don’t take up as much page time as in previous books, we also get to see glimpses of Gemma’s love life and her work in the tea shop in Oxford, which I always find enjoyable.

I really enjoyed this mystery, and as always, I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. If you’re looking for a fun, fresh, well written cozy mystery with great characters and a surprising ending, I bet you’d like this book too.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC: Two Down, Bun to Go

H.Y. Hanna's newest installment in her cozy mystery series is just as sweet and fresh as the first two. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

A sinister phone call in the middle of the night throws tearoom owner, Gemma Rose, straight into the heart of a new murder mystery–this time with her friend, Seth, arrested as the key suspect! The grisly killing in the cloisters of an old Oxford college points to a bitter feud within the University–but Gemma finds unexpected clues popping up in her tiny Cotswolds village.

With her exasperating mother and her mischievous little tabby cat, Muesli, driving her nutty as a fruitcake–and the nosy Old Biddies at her heels–Gemma must crack her toughest case yet if she is to save her friend from a life behind bars. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve reviewed the first two books in this series (you can see the reviews here and here), and each time I’ve marveled at the fun, fresh take on cozy mystery tropes. And the latest book does not disappoint. If you loved the unique setting of Oxford and the fun characters from the previous installments, Two Down, Bun to Go will provide!

The murder that takes place in this book hits close to home when Gemma’s college friend Seth is found standing over the body, murder weapon in hand. Frustrated at the police’s inability to see past their first (admittedly guilty-looking) suspect, Gemma and the Old Biddies take things into their own hands.

Although Gemma is a bit more proactive in her investigations this go round (a cozy mystery trope that’s often frustrating to me), she still comes off as a concerned friend rather than a nosy busybody. Gemma is still trying to decide between Devlin, the old college flame who’s constantly rubbing Gemma the wrong way, and Lincoln, the perfectly nice doctor who doesn’t make Gemma feel any sparks. Still, this “love triangle” is so much more mature than most love triangles I’ve read. Sure, there are misunderstandings and jealousy, but everyone acts like an adult about their love lives! It’s so refreshing. One caveat: I did find the mystery a bit more predictable in this book than in previous installments. Still, it was interesting enough to keep my attention, and the characters and setting more than made up for this slight weakness.

If you’re looking for a fun cozy mystery filled with romance that isn’t all-consuming, characters that are relatable even when they’re being difficult, and descriptions of life at an English tearoom (plus a recipe for Chelsea buns!), I definitely recommend this series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Review Copy: Tea with Milk and Murder

The next addition to the Oxford Tearoom cozy mystery series is just wonderful. #spon | A book review from NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free digital copy of this book from the author. All opinions are my own.

While at an Oxford cocktail party, tearoom owner Gemma Rose overhears a sinister conversation minutes before a University student is fatally poisoned. Could there be a connection? And could her best friend Cassie’s new boyfriend have anything to do with the murder?

Gemma decides to start her own investigation, helped by the nosy ladies from her Oxfordshire village and her old college flame, CID detective Devlin O’Connor. But her mother is causing havoc at Gemma’s quaint English tearoom and her best friend is furious at her snooping… and this mystery is turning out to have more twists than a chocolate pretzel!

Too late, Gemma realises that she’s could be the next item on the killer’s menu. Or will her little tabby cat, Muesli, save the day? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

The second book in H.Y. Hanna’s cozy mystery series is just wonderful. I recently read and reviewed the first book, A Scone to Die For, and many of the things I liked about that book returned in this one. Gemma, the tea shop owner, happens upon a murder at a party, and despite her best intentions, she starts to suspect her best friend’s boyfriend. Despite her elderly friends’ interference, her best friend’s anger, and her former flame and almost-boyfriend Detective O’Connor’s insistence that she stay out of things, Gemma is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery–even if it means relying on her mother’s help.

Again, one of the things I love most about this series is how fresh it feels as a cozy mystery. The fact that Gemma is continually stumbling across a murder feels natural rather than contrived. Her budding relationship with the handsome detective is sweet, but it doesn’t take over the entire story. Even Gemma’s overbearing mother is more relatable and three-dimensional in this book–she’s even working as the baker at Gemma’s tea shop! Each of the characters is well written and realistic, and the Oxford setting is great.

Overall, an interesting cozy mystery that feels fresh and fun. This book was a pleasure to read.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC Roundup: January Edition

The latest and greatest (and maybe not so great) from NetGalley this year so far. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received the following ARCs from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All summaries are via NetGalley.com.

I mentioned to my newsletter subscribers (not one of them? You can sign up here) that I recently went a little crazy requesting and reading a bunch of NetGalley books. I’ve read and enjoyed a bunch of them already, so I’ve rounded up a few of my most recent reads in these mini reviews. Hopefully you’ll find something that will get your 2016 reading off to a good start!

Under the Dusty Moon

Victoria Mahler is the sixteen-year-old only daughter of rocker Micky Wayne, whose band, Dusty Moon, took the world by storm when Micky was just a teenager. The band broke up under mysterious circumstances, but, after years spent off the road being a mom, Micky’s solo career is finally starting to take off.

Will Vic be able to maintain her newfound sense of self amidst the building thunder of Micky’s second chance at stardom? And through it all, will Micky still really be her best friend?

Victoria, daughter of the lead singer of cult favorite band, Dusty Moon, is just trying to live a normal life. Get together with a new boyfriend, work on a summer project with her best friend, and get along with her mom, if possible. But she feels the need to keep her life compartmentalized–her mom is too famous in certain circles, and Victoria wants to be known as her own person. Micky is a quirky and fun character, and despite Victoria’s numerous missteps and Micky’s sometimes too carefree outlook on life, the mother-daughter pair gets along pretty well and is a lot of fun to read about. Their relationship is a bit reminiscent of Lorelai and Rory on Gilmore Girls, if Lorelai was a world-traveling, almost-famous singer and Rory was a bit less straight-laced.

A fun read, if you don’t mind a bit of (briefly described) teenage sex and experimentation with alcohol.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Blue Bottle Mystery

This graphic novel version of Kathy Hoopmann’s best-selling Blue Bottle Mystery brings this much-loved fantasy story to life for a new generation of readers. The hero is Ben, a boy with Asperger Syndrome (AS). When Ben and his friend Andy find an old bottle in the school yard, little do they know of the surprises about to be unleashed in their lives. Bound up with this exciting mystery is the story of how Ben is diagnosed with AS and how he and his family deal with the problems and joys that come along with it.

I am passingly familiar with Asperger Syndrome because of my college education classes, and as far as my limited knowledge goes, this book does a great job of depicting a kid who has AS. Ben really wants to please his family, his teacher, and his classmates, but he seems to be constantly misunderstanding them and doing things wrong. When he and his friend Andy find a bottle at school, strange things start to happen. Ben has to adjust to new things along the way, and his family learns better ways to help him with the transition.

It sounds kind of preachy when you describe it, but the graphic novel format keeps the book from being a thinly disguised manual for kids. It’s short and sweet, pretty fun on its own merits, but even better because it teaches about a group of kids on the autism spectrum who are often misunderstood.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Finding Hope

Hope lives in a small town with nothing to do and nowhere to go. With a drug addict for a brother, she focuses on the only thing that keeps her sane, writing poetry. To escape, she jumps at the chance to attend Ravenhurst Academy as a boarding student. She’ll even put up with the clique-ish Ravens if it means making a fresh start.

At first, Ravenhurst is better than Hope could have dreamed. She has a boyfriend and a cool roommate, and she might finally have found a place she can fit in. But can she trust her online boyfriend? And what can she do after her brother shows up at the school gates, desperate for help, and the Ravens turn on her? Trapped and unsure, Hope realizes that if she wants to save her brother, she has to save herself first.

Yeesh, this book was intense. Hope lives in a tiny town where she is continually overshadowed by her brother–a former star hockey player and a meth addict. Throughout the book, the author alternates between Hope’s POV and her brother’s. We see Hope as she enters a new boarding school and is almost immediately alienated by her fellow students, and we watch her brother do desperate and disturbing things to feed his meth addiction and try to forget about the reason he became an addict in the first place.

Although I’ve never been close to a drug addict, this book taught me some of what it might feel like, to struggle between loving and wanting to give the person what they need and trying to provide the tough love to straighten that person out. This book is not for kids, in case that wasn’t clear. Besides the meth addiction descriptions, there is also a large amount of swearing, a bit of sex, and a lot of just plain disturbing situations. Still, if you’re up for it, it’s a pretty powerful look at addiction and the effects it has not only on the addict but on the people around them.

Rating: Good but Forgettable (or rather, Good with Caveats)

Saving Montgomery Sole

Montgomery Sole is a square peg in a small town, forced to go to a school full of jocks and girls who don’t even know what irony is. It would all be impossible if it weren’t for her best friends, Thomas and Naoki. The three are also the only members of Jefferson High’s Mystery Club, dedicated to exploring the weird and unexplained, from ESP and astrology to super powers and mysterious objects.

Then there’s the Eye of Know, the possibly powerful crystal amulet Monty bought online. Will it help her predict the future or fight back against the ignorant jerks who make fun of Thomas for being gay or Monty for having lesbian moms? Maybe the Eye is here just in time, because the newest resident of their small town is scarier than mothmen, poltergeists, or, you know, gym.

This was a pretty fun book, if a bit offbeat. Montgomery is the daughter of two lesbian moms, and she is constantly on guard against those who might make fun of her, especially the new kid at school. She and the other members of her Mystery Club, which explores unexplained phenomena, are the oddballs of their school, and as the book goes on, Montgomery starts feeling isolated even from them. I found Montgomery a bit moody and annoying at times, but teenagers, I guess? Your enjoyment of this book will probably hinge on your views on homosexuality, since that is the crux of the book, or possibly on whether Montgomery is a rightfully angry, mostly normal teen or a moody, irritating kid who pushes everyone who loves her away.

Rating: Good but Forgettable (or, again, Good with Caveats)

The Greatest Zombie Movie

After producing three horror movies that went mostly ignored on YouTube, Justin and his filmmaking buddies decide it’s time they create something noteworthy, something epic. They’re going to film the Greatest Zombie Movie Ever. They may not have money or a script, but they have passion. And, after a rash text message, they also have the beautiful Alicia Howtz- Justin’s crush- as the lead.

With only one month to complete their movie, a script that can’t possibly get worse, and the hopes and dreams of Alicia on the line, Justin is feeling the pressure. Add to that a cast of uncooperative extras and incompetent production assistants, and Justin must face the sad, sad truth. He may actually be producing the Worst Zombie Movie Ever…

This was silly, but a lot of fun. Justin wants to make the best zombie movie ever made, but on a budget of $5,000, he and his friends are struggling to make it just okay. From writing the script to casting the movie to finding places to film, everything that can go wrong eventually does. It’s pretty hilarious. Not something I’ll revisit in ten years or push on all of my friends, but certainly something I enjoyed reading.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

A Scone to Die For

When an American tourist is murdered with a scone in Gemma Rose’s quaint Oxfordshire tearoom, she suddenly finds herself apron-deep in a mystery involving long-buried secrets from Oxford’s past.

Gemma sets out to solve the mystery—all while dealing with her matchmaking mother and the return of her old college love, Devlin O’Connor, now a dashing CID detective.

But with the body count rising and her business going bust, can Gemma find the killer before things turn to custard?

This is the only “adult” book on this whole list, and of course it is a cozy mystery. And I really enjoyed it. Cozy mysteries are often all the same–likable but single female MC, murder taking place nearby MC’s home/place of work, often involves food or baking, almost always a pushy mother trying to set up her almost-ineligible daughter with some well-meaning but boring doctor or lawyer–but somehow this book put a new spin on a worn formula.

Gemma is a lot of fun to follow, and her romance (of course) with her first love (now a detective) doesn’t move too fast. The setting, I think, has a lot to do with making this mystery seem fresh. I’ve read many mysteries set in England, but never one that took place specifically in Oxford. I loved all the scenes when Gemma explored her old college stomping grounds and explained some of Oxford’s old traditions. Definitely worth a look if you’re into cozies.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

 

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