B O O K R E V I E W :: Vinyl Resting Place by Olivia Blacke

In Vinyl Resting Place, Juni Jessup and her two sisters are excited to open Sip and Spin, a record store and coffee shop in their hometown just outside of Austin Texas. Almost everyone in town is at their grand opening. It is a perfect night with music, drinks, and a taco truck until Juni finds a dead body in the store’s supply closet. Juni’s, ex-boyfriend Beau, now a detective, identifies her uncle Calvin as the prime suspect since the victim was holding one of his business cards in her hand. Juni and her family don’t believe that Calvin could do anything so horrific.

When he is arrested, Juni and her sisters unquestionably put up the record store as collateral for bail. They are as surprised as the police when he skips town shortly after his release. Juni knows there must be a good reason for his flight. Regardless, if they don’t exonerate him and make it safe for him to return to Cedar River, he will forfeit bail and the sisters will lose the record store they’ve worked so hard to build. Juni uses all the tools in her arsenal to find out who really killed the woman in the closet but as she gets closer to answers, the killer proves how far they will go to keep the truth from coming to light.

I am always interested in cozy mysteries, but I specifically requested this one because its record store setting. George loves vinyl and we sometimes listen to records together The book includes references to records, different genres of music and the Austin music scene, which I really enjoyed. Juni has just returned to Cedar River after working in Oregon, so the book delivers interesting interactions with people she hasn’t seen in years—including ex-boyfriends!

The book also has all the elements that make cozies enjoyable: a likable amateur sleuth, an animal companion, in this case a stray cat, and an interesting setting and mystery. Blacke included several potential avenues of investigation that had me guessing. It’s not as saccharin as some cozies, which is a plus for me.

A few details took me out of the narrative. Juni and her sisters put the record store together in just a few weeks (my brain is interrupting and saying no business can become established so quickly). Uncle Calvin, besides being family, seemed like a bit of a jerk, so it was hard for me to understand the risk the sisters took in using their store for collateral. Also, Juni didn’t seem interested in the identity of the victim for an unusually long period.

With winning characters, a fun location, and a hotbed of entangled relationships, Vinyl Resting Place provides a strong foundation for this new series. I will certainly read future books!

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for a gifted copy of the book!

B O O K R E V I E W : Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings

Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings 
Liz Ireland
Kensington Books

April, a hotel owner on the coast of Oregon, falls in love with Nick when he stays at her inn. She’s more than a little shocked to learn that he is Nick Claus, younger brother of Chris Claus, but still marries him. After Chris dies in a freak accident, Nick must don the famous red suit per family tradition.

Acclimating to the North Pole is no easy task. April must learn to endure the extreme cold and master the strict rules of etiquette for Mrs. Claus. At the same time, Nick is acting Santa for the first time, figuring out his duties. One of his tasks is judging the ice sculpting competition.

Elf Giblet Hollyberry, who has a public argument with Nick after placing second in the competition is found dead, killed by a black widow spider. At first, Constable Crinkle declares the death an accident, but soon rumors swirl that Nick is responsible for the elf’s death.

To save Christmas, April decides to secretly investigate Giblet’s death. Her attempts to create peace in Santaland might backfire and put her in the killer’s sights.

While the mystery is solid with lots of possible suspects and unexpected threads tied together, what is most fun about the book is Ireland’s creative world-building. Santaland is populated with the royalty-like Clauses, elves, snow monsters, snowmen, and a multitude of rituals around Christmas including the Reindeer Games.

The characters are also endearing, particularly Quasar, a klutzy one-antlered reindeer who lives in the castle; Jingles, the castle’s head elf; and Nick’s sister, Lucia, a Valkyerian animal lover. However, I do wish there had been more characterization of Nick and interaction between Nick and April.

This cozy mystery really embodies the spirit of Christmas. Read for an intensive immersion in the holiday!

B O O K R E V I E W : The Enemy You Gnocchi by Catherine Bruns

The town of Harvest Lake has united for the annual Festival of Lights, a fundraising event for a different local nonprofit each year.

Only one ingredient makes things less than merry— Mario Russo, a newcomer to the town and owner of the Espresso Lane whose new coffee shop is stealing business from the beloved Java Time by undercutting their prices.

The business owners of the community are unhappy when the mayor’s office selects Mario to play Santa when the usual Father Claus is struck down with the flu.

No one expects Mario to be stabbed the first night of the Festival of Lights—or for Archie Fenton, owner of Java Time to be arrested for his murder. Archie has always taken care of Tessa and her cousins, Gabby and Gino.

Although a respected entrepreneur and chef at her restaurant Anything’s Pastable, Tessa began amateur sleuthing fourteen months ago when her husband died in a car fire. Confident of Archie’s innocence, she and Gabby begin an investigation of their own, to the chagrin of Gino, the detective in charge of the case.

Tessa identifies a plethora of suspects—business owners Mario wronged, two shady men who arrived the day Mario died, lovers he mistreated, and husbands of women he was seeing. Even her assistant chef acts suspicious. Tessa doesn’t have much time to find the killer to ensure that Christmas in Harvest Lake isn’t stolen by the grinch of a criminal.

The Enemy You Gnocchi (Third in the Italian Chef Mystery series) by Catherine Bruns was published in October, but I read it yesterday to celebrate Christmas. It’s a satisfying, solid cozy mystery with a touch of romance. I love the cover which features Tessa’s tuxedo cat, Luigi. Includes recipes!

I loved the relationship between cousins Tessa and Gabby, the shenanigans at the mayor’s office, and the final confrontation with the killer.

Remember to add to your reading list for next Christmas. In the meantime, you can catch up with the first two books!

Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for an advanced reading copy of the book!

B O O K R E V I E W : Murder Most Festive by Ada Moncrieff

Murder Most Festive
Ada Moncrieff
Publication Date: October 12, 2021

Lady Westbury, whose party invitations are the envy of the upper crust, has opened Christmas festivities beyond her immediate family. Able to negotiate any social milieux, she is excited to bring together a diverse cast of chat including MP Anthony De Havilland. However, even her skills aren’t sufficient to restore calm and order when one of the guests in found dead in the snow on Christmas morning.

David Campbell-Scott, a war hero, had made his fortune abroad, and this was his first trip home in almost ten years. With the gun nearby and only one set of tracks leading to the body, the local constable is quick to declare it a death by suicide.

Hugh Gaveston, the closest friend of the Westbury’s daughter, Lydia, and amateur detective, doubts this pronouncement and as an amateur detective decides to investigate. As he questions the motives of each guest, he uncovers shocking secrets.

Although I like cozy mysteries all year, there’s something especially fitting about reading them during the holiday season, and MURDER MOST FESTIVE was a satisfying and enjoyable book in this category! Set in 1938, the book draws on an earlier writing style reminiscent of Agatha Christie. While at times it can be a little awkward, it also is fitting for the book. I did figure out the identity of the killer early, but I still enjoyed the narrative, and I thought the characters were well-developed and interesting. I would definitely read another book featuring Hugh.

Thank you to @poisonedpenpress for the gifted copy!

B O O K R E V I E W : A Murder Yule Regret by Winnie Archer

Ivy Culpepper, photographer and part-time employee of famed bread shop Yeast of Eden in beautiful Santa Sofia, receives an opportunity of a lifetime when she is asked to document Eliza Fox’s holiday party. As fitting a Hollywood starlet, Eliza’s asked guests to come dressed costumed as characters from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Shortly after Eliza makes her grand entrance, a scream brought guests outside to find one of the caterers gesturing over the cliffs: a man had fallen—or been pushed—to his death.

The man, paparazzi Ed Yentin, had no shortage of enemies. He had already published one scathing article about Eliza’s husband and was rumored to be writing a second more shocking piece. Eliza’s wasn’t the only career or marriage he devastated. Actress Cordelia Knight, who also had secrets exposed by Yentin, was rumored to be in attendance.

Ivy, no stranger to investigations, becomes embroiled in the case when her photographs from the party become important evidence. Though Ivy wants to prove Eliza innocent, she may have the strongest motive of all.

All year, I read cozy mysteries but they seem particularly fitting during the holiday season! This is the seventh book in the Bread Shop Mystery Series, and though I had no problem starting here, I might have missed some background on the recurring characters: Emmaline, the no-nonsense sheriff and Ivy’s best friend, Olaya, the talented owner of Yeast of Eden and Ivy’s mentor, Mrs. Branford, Ivy’s older neighbor and partner-in-crime, and her boyfriend, Miguel.

The mystery—Hollywood intrigue exported to a small costal town—was fun with many possible suspects. I was surprised by how things wrapped up.

All the descriptions of baked goods were so tempting, but the book includes several recipes (including one for a fun cocktail that I am definitely trying soon). Best of all, the animal sidekick is a pug!

Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for providing an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review!