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.
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
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 cozymystery. 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.