Christmas Cow Bells (A Buttermilk Creek Mystery) by Mollie Cox Bryan – a #BookReview #cozy

Yahoo! I’m starting this series and new author (to me) with Book 1!

Christmas Cow Bells by Mollie Cox BryanBook Blurb:

The first novel in Mollie Cox Bryan’s brand new mystery series, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, will keep you guessing until the cows come home . . .
Christmas is a time for new beginnings, so after her big breakup, Brynn MacAlister takes the gouda with the bad. With her three Red Devon cows, she settles in bucolic Shenandoah Springs, eager for a new life as an organic micro-dairy farmer and cheese-maker. Then her dear cow Petunia’s bellows set the whole town on edge. But it isn’t until Brynn’s neighbor, Nancy, dies in a mysterious fire that her feelings about small town life begin to curdle . . .

It seems some folks were not happy with Nancy’s plan to renovate the Old Glebe Church. But is a fear of change a motivation for murder? As a newcomer, Brynn can’t ignore the strange events happening just on the other side of her frosty pasture—and soon on her very own farm. Suddenly Christmas doesn’t feel so festive as everyone demands she muzzle sweet Petunia, and Brynn is wondering if someone wants to silence her—for good . .

My Review:

Protagonist Brynn MacAlister has ended up in bucolic Shenandoah Springs on a small micro-dairy farm with emphasis on artisanal cheeses without the fiancé planned with the move. (He turned out to be a two-timing jerk.) Her grandmother had passed away giving her the wherewithal to purchase the property complete with main house (formerly a B&B), guest house, and barn. She has brought with her three Red Devon dairy cows, Petunia, Marigold, and Buttercup. Unfortunately, Petunia gave birth to a stillborn calf and is in severe mourning.

Brynn is getting to know the people of the tiny town in Virginia and as always, some are more friendly than others. She wants to network as she’ll be trying to sell her cheese locally, but it is with her close neighbor, Nancy, with whom she finds the most common interests. Nancy is also a recent transplant and wants to rehab the other side of the field, formerly a church. Unfortunately, there is a fire and Nancy succumbs to smoke inhalation and the injuries suffered. It is part of Nancy’s family that includes two boys who will stay in Brynn’s guest home, helping with chores as they are on Christmas break.

Christmas Cow Bells by Mollie Cox BryanThe two outstanding support characters, Schuyler and Willow, are great and I’d love to see their characters grow within the series. And Wes sounds like he’ll be a great asset, young, smart, enthusiastic, and media capable. The descriptions of the area make it sound so beautiful, although I can imagine the bone-chilling cold during the Christmas season and the thought of going out to milk Petunia, get them fed, muck the barn, and provide some kind of heating system doesn’t get me enthused enough to move.

Also greatly appreciated getting to know more about the cheese-making process and the artisan varieties–who doesn’t love cheese? As always, with any of these crafts, there are definitions of the industry language with cleanliness standards high on the list. I can remember being invited to the home of a couple also in the Jazz Mass Choir during rehearsals for a European choir tour wherein her dessert was a plate of special cheeses, including Brie, crackers, and grapes, and I’ve never been able to find a Brie that could equal. (Believe me, I’ve looked.)

So with only the whispered words from Nancy prior to her death to go on, Brynn begins to investigate. But that seems to start a round of warnings and things get creepy. She does attain a dog, Freckles, although Freckles seems to be just a tad hit and miss on the watchdog thing.

The well-plotted and atmospheric storyline moves at a fairly decent pace, although there is more than sufficient repeats of main points that will not let you forget exactly why she was there trying to do this alone (perhaps it was a mistake), who was trying to get her to move, and why. Brynn waffles, although under the circumstances, probably anyone would. Still, it sounded like the idyllic setting. There are red herrings, yes, but more than ample hints of the who, whether or not we understood the why until the conclusion.

I love it when I get to start a promising new series with Book 1 and this one appears to be off and running with a strong debut. I’m looking forward to more fleshing in Brynn, but love the support characters, human as well as animal. 

I was granted this digital download by the publisher and NetGalley and greatly appreciated the opportunity to read and review. Recommended for cozy mystery fans, particularly of the culinary sort. I suspect a few of the ingredients will grace your shopping list (as it will mine).

Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Culinary Mystery, Cozy Animal Mystery, Amateur Sleuth
Publisher: Kensington

  • ISBN-10:1496721322
  • ISBN-13:978-1496721327
  • ASIN: B07MH9XYHY

Print Length: 336 pages
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
Title Link: Christmas Cow Bells
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Rosepoint Publishing:  Four of Five Stars 4-stars

Mollie Cox Bryan - authorThe Author: Mollie Cox Bryan writes cozy mysteries with edge and romances with slow, sweet burn. The first book in her new mystery series, “Cora Crafts Mysteries.” is DEATH AMONG THE DOILIES, which was selected as “Fresh Fiction Not to Miss” and is a 2017 Finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award. The second book, NO CHARM INTENDED, was named a Summer 2017 Top 10 Beach Read by Woman’s World. She also wrote the Agatha-award nominated Cumberland Creek Mysteries. Several of the books in that series were short-listed for the Virginia Library People’s Choice Award. She’s also penned a historical fiction: MEMORY OF LIGHT: AN AFTERMATH OF GETTYSBURG and historical romance: TEMPTING WILL MCGLASHEN. She makes her home at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley, Va.

©2019 V Williams V Williams

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Beyond a Reasonable Stout: A Sloan Krause Mystery Book 3 by Ellie Alexander

This may yet get me to try a craft beer. Although I’d be happier checking out this beautiful little Washington state village.

Five of Five Stars 5-stars

Beyond a Reasonable Stout by Ellie AlexanderBook Blurb:

Amateur sleuth Sloan Krause delves into the murderous political world in another delightful mystery from popular cozy writer Ellie Alexander.

It’s the dead season in Leavenworth, Washington. The throngs of Oktoberfest crowds have headed home, and the charming Bavarian streets are quiet and calm—momentarily. Villagers use the reprieve to drink in the crisp fall mountain air and prepare for the upcoming winter light festival. Soon the German-inspired shops and restaurants will be aglow with thousands of twinkling lights. Visitors will return to the northern Cascades to drink warm mulled cider and peruse the holiday markets. Brewer, Sloan Krause and her partner in crime Garrett Strong are using the slowdown to stock up on a new line of their signature craft beers at Nitro. They’re experimenting with a hoppy holiday pine and a chocolate hazelnut stout. The small brewery is alive with delicious scents and bubbling batches of brew.

Sloan is in her element. She loves the creativity and lowkey atmosphere at Nitro. Only that is soon threatened by the incumbent city councilmember Kristopher Cooper. Kristopher is running for re-election on a platform of making Leavenworth dry. Everyone in beertopia is fuming. Leavenworth’s economy relies on keeping the kegs flowing. Kristopher wants to banish beer, a policy that might just bankrupt the entire village. However, Kristopher turns up dead days before election night. Sloan quickly realizes that his murder isn’t the work of a stranger. Friends, family, and every other business owner had a motive to kill him, including none other than April Ablin, Leavenworth’s self-described ambassador of all things German. Sloan finds herself defending April and trying to sleuth out a killer amongst a group of familiar faces.

My Review:

No I don’t drink beer and at my age can barely tolerate a small glass of white wine before I’m running for an antacid, but for some reason, this little series set a spark that has caught my attention.

Beyond a Reasonable Stout by Ellie AlexanderProtagonist Sloan Krause has the nose and the taste buds for the business. She’s smart, inventive, and original. Having grown up the hard way through a series of foster homes, she thought she’d found a family when she married Mac and became part of his family’s Der Keller Brewery in the quaint mountainous Bavarian styled village of  Leavenworth. They had a son, Alex, but Mac soon acquired a wandering eye.

All was not lost when she discovered a start-up brewery run by Garrett at close by at Nitro. He is an ex-Seattle chemist. He is easy and laid back, detailed oriented and intelligent. They hired Kat, a young woman who needed a job and a roof over her head and acquired both with Nitro.

Book three has the village facing a city council election whose incumbent has decided Leavenworth should be alcohol-free–which, of course, would kill most of the town’s livelihoods. Following a nasty confrontation following a rally for his opponent, he is found murdered and it’s the town’s self-proclaimed “ambassador” April, who is #1 person of interest.

Running parallel in an undercurrent left from Book 2, Sloan again confronts her past and seeks answers regarding her parents and the resulting abandonment.

Once again, the compelling and well-developed support characters from the previous novel are back and are readily familiar, although you could easily read this as a standalone. There is a lot of industry-standard vocabulary, as well as Sloan’s tasty ideas for the upcoming season. Details of brewing are shared in an off-hand way that doesn’t interrupt the story, merely adds credence and understanding to the craft art.

As Oktoberfest is history, the village has a slight lull prior to Thanksgiving, the tree lighting ceremonies, the opening of ski season and winter activities, so they have the opportunity to work on projects and taste test. The weather is turning cold and the beauty of their village, their little valley, and the mountains take on a whole new perspective. The author imparts her love of the Pacific Northwest in her descriptive prose and once again creates a travel lust. I loved the descriptions of the various beers and exactly how they are classified, reminding me a little of the tour we took in Japan of the Kirin (Ichiban) Brewery in Yokohama. (Yes, I tasted it…how can you not?)

There continues to be some growth in the relationship between her and Garrett, although Mac is trying to come back and I’m discerning just a slight bit of emotional confusion. The antagonist was no real surprise, although there were a few twists and red herrings to throw you off. And I appreciated the way April returned the favor–and excited to see that idea going forward. But then, what?? A cliffhanger?!! Gees, I hate cliffhangers. I read Book 2, The Pint of No Return last year and loved it. (See that review here.) Now I have to wait another year??

“Beer Cures What Ales You.”

“Every loaf of bread is a tragic story of grains that could have become beer but didn’t.”

I received this uncorrected digital galley from the publisher and NetGalley and loved the opportunity to read and review. I am really looking forward to following this series and will be watching for Book 4! Recommended for any who enjoy a fun, fast-paced cozy mystery or any well-crafted novel with wonderful fully-developed characters in a unique and gorgeous setting.

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Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Culinary Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press and Minotaur Books

  • ISBN-10:1250205751
  • ISBN-13:978-1250205759
  • ASIN: B07P7BXXHZ

Print Length: 284 pages
Publication Date: To be released October 1, 2019
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
Title Link: Beyond a Reasonable Stout

Kate Dyer-Seeley - authorThe Author: Ellie Alexander, author of the Bakeshop Mystery Series and the Sloan Krause Mysteries (St. Martin’s Press), is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she’s not coated in flour, you’ll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research.

Find out more about Ellie and her books by visiting her here:
web: http://https://www.elliealexander.co/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ellie_alexander
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwd80ruKbz98VZQGT2I23-Q/featured
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elliealexanderauthor
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/BakeshopMystery

©2019 V Williams V Williams

Fatal Cajun Festival by Ellen Byron – a #BookReview #cozy

Love that sound, love that food, and the Mardi Gras atmosphere.

Fatal Cajun Festival by Ellen Byron

Fatal Cajun Festival: A Cajun Country Mystery by Ellen Byron

Book Blurb:

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Ellen Byron cranks it up to eleven in the fifth fast and funny Cajun Country mystery.

Louisiana B&B owner Maggie Crozat kicks up her heels at a country music festival–but she’ll have one foot in the grave if she can’t bring the killer of a diva’s hanger-on to heel.

Grab your tickets for Cajun Country Live!, the pickers’ and crooners’ answer to the legendary New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Maggie Crozat, proprietor of the Crozat Plantation B&B, plans to be in the cheering section when her friend Gaynell Bourgeois takes the stage with her band, Gaynell and the Gator Girls.

The festival’s headliner, native daughter Tammy Barker, rocketed to stardom on a TV singing competition. She has the voice of an angel…and the personality of a devilish diva. But Maggie learns that this tiny terror carries a grudge against Gaynell. She’s already sabotaged the Gator Girls’ JazzFest audition. When a member of Tammy’s entourage is murdered at the festival, Tammy makes sure Gaynell is number one on the suspect list.

Gaynell has plenty of company on that list–including every one of Tammy’s musicians. Posing as a groupie, Maggie infiltrates Tammy’s band and will have to hit all the right notes to clear her friend’s name.

My Review:

Fatal Cajun Festival by Ellen ByronA cozy mystery with recipes, my first with the author and the series, and you know what? I really enjoyed it! I know what you’re thinking–Rosepoint Pub has had one too many and who is covering for her? Au Contraire, lovely readers, and I appreciate your concern!

First, you are wondering, “yeah, but it’s number five of the series” (with an adorable cover). Take heart. Although I’m sure you’d enjoy reading 1-4, this one functioned fine for me as a standalone for several reasons: (1) Locale driven but enough info about the main and support characters without doing a complete backstory, and (2) multi-layered and complex storyline that kept your attention. (Oh, and I might mention a complete listing of characters appears at the beginning and if I didn’t get lost, you shouldn’t.)

(Magnolia) Maggie Crozat is proprietor of the Crozat Plantation B&B in Pelican, Louisana. Her fiancé is Bo, Detective Bo Durand. And then there is Gaynell Bourgeois, Maggie’s best friend and soon to be person of interest. Lest I am to blame for confusing you, I’ll only further mention Tammy Barker, the local girl country star gone big time come back to gloat.

It is Maggie’s Grand-mère (Charlotte Crozat) who suggests the little town have a Cajun Country Live! Festival to catch music fans on their way to the larger fest in New Orleans. In the meantime, widow Grand-mère is off on a “death cleaning” and discovers something in the process she can’t ignore. Maggie must gear up her booth with Pelican Pralines as well as offer her paintings. (She also holds a new position as Doucet’s art collection specialist.)

Being a headliner, Tammy arrives amid huge pomp with her entourage, totally over-shadowing another local (lesser successful but talented) musician, Gaynell. Well, you know how musicians are. There is bound to be a clash and Gaynell and her Gator Girls land in the middle. Tammy’s manager is soon discovered in some bushes. Dead. Before Tammy’s group moves on to the Jazz Festival, Maggie will have to move fast to clear Gaynell’s name.

Boy, I do love the music, and add Cajun or Zydeco to the mix is probably the only place left where an accordion sounds GOOOOD with a washboard! Grab some crawdads, shrimp, and Cajun spice and you have a festival! This book just exudes that enthusiastic feel-good time. And then there is the mystery–mercy that gets complicated–but then you’re immersed in the whole atmosphere of the Louisiana Cajun Country. (Also, there is the Reader’s Digest explanation of Cajun vs Creole.) This is fascinating stuff, people!

Zydeco musicians at the Cajun Zydeco Festival
Photo Attribute: Cajun Zydeco Festival photo by Cheryl Gerber

The dialogue is peppered with a mix of French and Cajun patois. Maggie is interesting, but it is the history and tidbits of the area that I most appreciated and invested. It is well-paced and I must admit I didn’t guess either the perp or the reason, which provides a fascinating twist, even entirely plausible. There are bits of humor along the way; one of my favorites describing a cluster of teens.

“A giggle,” Maggie said. “I think you’d call it a giggle of girls.” (Yup!)

The conclusion came on the heels of another of Maggie’s open mouth, insert foot moments. She did annoy me a couple times. Also, I stumbled over Gaynell’s name more than once, wishing it were something else; Jane even, but Gaynell(?). Still, her character was fully engaging. I loved the recipes (and you remember I don’t usually look at them). They seemed geared to feed the entire southern militia, but that won’t stop me from trying a couple and the ingredients are already on my shopping list!

I received this digital ebook from the publisher and NetGalley and was thoroughly entertained, grateful to have the opportunity to read and review. I’m totally onboard for Book 6! Recommended to those mystery fans who don’t always get a culinary cozy and to anyone looking for an entertaining read. (Eat first.)

Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Culinary Mystery, Cozy Craft and Hobby Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
ISBN: 1643851292

  • ASIN: B07NKW8WMY

 Print Length: 298 pages
Publication Date: Happy Publication Day! September 10, 2019
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
Title Link: Fatal Cajun Festival 

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Rosepoint Publishing:  Four point Five of Five Stars 4.5-stars

Ellen Byron - authorThe Author: Author of MARDI GRAS MURDER, the 2018 AGATHA AWARD winner for Best Contemporary Novel.

Ellen Byron writes the USA Today bestselling Cajun Country Mysteries. MARDI GRAS MURDER won the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and was nominated for a Best Humorous Mystery Lefty Award by Left Coast Crime. A CAJUN CHRISTMAS KILLING and BODY ON THE BAYOU, both won the Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery, and were nominated for Agatha Awards in the category of Best Contemporary Novel. PLANTATION SHUDDERS, the first book in the series, was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. Cajun Country Mysteries offer “everything a cozy reader could want,” according to Publishers Weekly, while Library Journal says, “Diane Mott Davidson and Lou Jane Temple fans will line up for this series.” HERE COMES THE BODY, the first book in her Catering Hall Mysteries will launch in March 2020 under the name Maria DiRico.

Ellen’s TV credits include Wings and Just Shoot Me; she’s written over 200 magazine articles; her published plays include the award-winning Graceland and Asleep on the Wind. She is a native New Yorker who lives in Los Angeles and attributes her fascination with Louisiana to her college years at New Orleans’ Tulane University. She also worked as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart, a credit she never tires of sharing. Have an early copy of Martha’s first book, ENTERTAINING? Ellen’s standing right next to her in the group shot.

©2019 V Williams V Williams

Restaurant Weeks Are Murder by Libby Klein – a #BookReview

Restaurant Weeks Are Murder by Libby KleinTitle: Restaurant Weeks Are Murder by Libby Klein

Genre: Cozy Culinary Mystery, Amateur Sleuths, Cozy Animal Mysteries

Publisher: Kensington

  • ISBN-10:1496713079
  • ISBN-13:978-1496713070
  • ASIN: B07DBQBVYJ

 Print Length: 304 pages

Publication Date: February 26, 2019

Source: Publisher and NetGalley

Title Link: Restaurant Weeks Are Murder (A Poppy McAllister Mystery Book 3)

Book Blurb:

Cape May, New Jersey, is the site of a big culinary competition—and the knives are out . . .

Poppy McAllister is happy about opening a Jersey Shore B&B—but working in a professional kitchen has always been her real dream. Now it’s coming true, at least briefly, as she teams up with her former fiancée, Tim—and his condescending partner, Gigi—during the high-profile Restaurant Week challenge. Poppy’s specialty is pastries, despite her devotion to a Paleo diet. But if anyone can make glorious gluten-free goodies, it’s Poppy.

Things get heated quickly—especially when some ingredients get switched and Tim’s accused of sabotage. Relatively harmless pranks soon escalate into real hazards, including an exploding deep fryer. And now one of the judges has died after taking a bite of Poppy’s cannoli—making her the chef suspect . . .

Includes Seven Recipes from Poppy’s Kitchen!

My Review:

Restaurant Weeks Are Murder by Libby KleinMs. Klein has ramped up her cooking expertise in Book 3 of her Poppy McAllister series. Poppy and her Aunt Ginny are finishing up the touches on their Butterfly Wings Bed and Breakfast. Tim, Poppy’s one-time fiancé, has asked her to team with him and Gigi in the Restaurant Week Challenge where she will create her specialty desserts and pastries. The competition of seven days comprises three stages that include a “mystery basket” of ingredients and is judged by well-known celebrities, if possibly questionable, local judges and is to be recorded to show on Jersey area daytime TV.

One of the six teams is comprised of Gia, a steamy, mcDreamy Italian for whom Poppy has been supplying some of her pastries for him and his mother’s Italian restaurant. Teams include a head chef, a sous chef, and a pastry chef per each restaurant team. It’s obvious from the beginning that this is a serious competition, each vying for the prize of $10,000 as well as the notoriety, air time, and press. Unfortunately, few of the team members get along with each other and the judges are brutal. So, this being a cozy is not too difficult to guess who will be the victim.

Before the mics are on and the cameras are rolling, there is sabotage (changing labels of food ingredients), bickering, materials are disappearing, and a fight breaking out between two of the competing chefs. You can almost visualize Chef Ramsey delivering a scathing review to one of the dishes as the 10-year-old looks on teary-eyed.

The author’s wicked sense of humor sparks off the characters, including her Aunt Ginny who is up to her usual antics and her naughty kitty Figaro who figures out which judge housed in their B&B is allergic to felines and does his best to make sure she is sneezing and miserable. The dialogue ranges between snarky, hilarious, and believable in an honest conversational tone. The secondary characters work well with the main characters and protagonist providing that tension in a real kitchen competition atmosphere, scrambling to the pantry for their ingredients only to have another chef snatch it out from under them.

The characters have been developed in previous series entries and there is little further fleshing here, although with the plot focus on food could still work as a stand alone. It is a very well paced plot, albeit slow to deliver a victim as the focus is the restaurant challenge and all the outrageous events happening while trying to film each day’s segment concluding with judging scores. Red herrings, twists, and new discoveries every chapter lead to a conclusion you may have guessed, but it’s been fun.

I had two problems, and yes, it is acknowledged that her aunt is an active, saucy octogenarian, but she and her friends were referred to constantly as the “biddies and cronies.” (Ouch) And, the dreaded romantic triangle. (I’m so over it–can we move on now?). Also the judge, “Stormin’ Norman,” weatherman. (Perhaps Ms. Klein is unaware of the scandal that took place in the 80s out west and it did give me icky pause.)

I received this ebook download from the publisher and NetGalley and appreciated the opportunity to read and review. The author has a writing style I enjoy, characters that engage, and I’m looking forward to Book 4.

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Rosepoint Publishing:  Four point Five of Five Stars Four point Five of Five Stars

Libby Klein - authorThe Author: Libby Klein graduated Lower Cape May Regional High School sometime in the ’80s. Her classes revolved mostly around the culinary sciences and theater, with the occasional nap in Chemistry. She loves to drink coffee, bake gluten free goodies, and befriend random fluffy cats. She writes from her Northern Virginia office while trying to keep her cat Figaro off her keyboard. Most of her hobbies revolve around eating, and travel, and eating while traveling.

©2019 V Williams Blog author