Author Spotlight, Cozy Mysteries, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections, Women's Fiction

June & July 2022 Reads

I even added stars next to my July favorites!

I guess you could say that I’ve read a lot of books in the last two months! People ask how I do it and this is my answer:

  • I live in a small town where there isn’t much to do.
  • I’m still living the pandemic lifestyle, staying home even more than usual.
  • My husband has had to work lots of overtime lately.
  • We don’t have kids.
  • I sleep terribly.
  • I read fast.
  • My online book group has tons of motivational activities.
  • I upgraded my Kindle from a Basic to a Paperwhite Signature. (I was getting eye strain from the Basic. My poor eyes are so happy now!)

Some books I skim, some I give a great deal of attention to, and there are even some that I start and don’t finish (I don’t list these.) You may recognize some titles from previous posts. There are still a few I plan to acknowledge here, but the ones who had the greatest impact on me have already been reviewed. It’s difficult to get to everything.

I also get asked about authors. Which authors do I recommend? This is a TOUGH question! Everyone’s tastes are different. Please keep in mind that just because I love a book doesn’t mean everyone else will love it. This is why it’s important to read several reviews (unless you’re really brave)–and not just mine–before buying a book. Join Goodreads, read reviews on Amazon, join NetGalley, find a Facebook group for your age and genre preference. Being proactive is the only way to find what YOU enjoy reading.

But to answer the author question, here are some favorites–all fiction. You can find all of them in the “author” section of this site.

I hope this gives you a little glimpse into authors to research and whose works to pursue. For the devoted reader there is truly something for everyone. ❤️

Email subscribers: Visit readwithkristie.com to see the site in its entirety.

HAPPY READING!

Cozy Mysteries, Fiction, Mystery, Series & Collections

Her Royal Spyness Series, by Rhys Bowen

I have spent the last month devouring this series. It is, perhaps, the most delightful, entertaining series I’ve ever read. If you like cozy mysteries with a bit of Phryne Fisher and Downtown Abbey tossed into the mix, these books are for you.

Set in the 1930’s with the effects of World War 1 still felt and and the shadow of World War 2 looming in the future, our heroine is Lady Georgiana Rannoch. She is the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, granddaughter of the Duke of Rannoch on one side and a retired policeman on the other. At the beginning of the series she is living in Scotland in the drafty family castle, Castle Rannoch, with her half-brother and his unpleasant wife. Her prospects seem bleak.

But Georgie has an ace up her sleeve. Despite being a minor royal (34th in line for the throne,) she is well-liked by Queen Mary (grandmother to the current monarch, Elizabeth II.) Between minor assignments from the queen to keep an eye on “that American woman” trying to seduce her son, David (the future Edward VIII,) running into her flamboyant mother who ran out on her; sassy best friend, Belinda Warburton-Stoke; her hopeless maid, Queenie; and the mysterious but handsome Darcy O’Mara, each book brings a new adventure. We journey with Georgie from Scotland to England, France, Bulgaria, Italy, Ireland, and even Kenya.

I recommend this series highly and suggest reading the books in order. There are ongoing subplots that necessitate it. The first is available with an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription, while others may be in your online library. Of course, they’re available to purchase too.

There are many aspects that make this series fun, but, if you know a bit of British history, you’ll enjoy constant run-ins with the royal family and Mrs. Wallis Simpson (who enjoys a healthy social competition with Georgie’s mother, Claire.)

All in all a wonderful group of characters to cozy up with during the winter months.

9.5/10 Stars

P.S. There is also a short prequel “book 0.5” called Masked Ball at Broxley Manor. It’s only 40 pages and not essential to the story, but still enjoyable.

Cozy Mysteries, Fiction, Women's Fiction

Island Reunion Series (Books 1-3,) by Kathi Daley

Six friends, including one who is recently deceased and one who mysteriously disappeared twenty five years ago.

In the present we hear the voice of Kelly, one of the six, whose twin sister, Kayla, has recently passed away. Kelly, along with the remaining three friends Carrie, Nora, and Quinn, have plans to reunite in a rented house that once belonged to Kelly’s family. Meanwhile, on the fictional Shipwreck Island, patterns emerge of other teenage girls who have vanished over the years.

Throughout the Island Reunion series the women share their highs and lows, mourn Kayla’s passing, investigate the decades-old mystery of their missing friend, Peggy, and try to move forward from their individual life challenges. Now in their early forties, all of them have reached an impasse.

Despite the many characters, Kathi Daley does not bombard the reader. New characters are introduced at a pace that allows you to get to know a few at a time. The writing is fluid and comfortable. The dialogue feels realistic. Some romance and intrigue is peppered throughout. The final book was my least favorite of the three, but it tied up loose ends nicely and confirmed one prediction I made earlier.

I would definitely call this “women’s fiction,” bordering on cozy mysteries, although the plot is unlike any of the cozy mysteries I’ve read in the past. It was quick and light but the characters and plot had substance. All have clean language–good “pandemic” reading to pass a few hours. And, while the lives of the wealthy can be hard to relate to, their privilege always remains a side point not a focus.

This was my introduction to Kathi Daley’s books and I’m motivated to try others. She is best known for her Inn at Holiday Bay series. The Island Reunion books are all included with a Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Book 1: Summerhouse Reunion

Book 2: Topsail Sundays

Book 3: Campfire Secrets

8/10 Stars

Cozy Mysteries

Some Cozy Mysteries to Miss

As a public service, here are a few books in my cozy mystery journey that fell short of my expectations. Keep in mind that this is purely my opinion.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, by Joanna Fluke (Hannah Swenson #1)

I realize this is a beloved series for many, one that has even been turned into Hallmark movies, but that is exactly how it read. Too saccharine, with (again, my opinion) a very nosy main character named Hannah Swenson. I will never understand why her cop brother-in-law, who is up for promotion, asks for her help. 5/10 Stars

Deadlines/Fault Lines/Firelines (The Pecan Springs Enterprise Trilogy,) by Susan Wittig Albert

Again, a series by a beloved writer that I thought was poorly written and boring beyond belief. 2/10 Stars

Savannah Sleuth, by Alan Chaput (Vigilantes for Justice, #1)

I decided to read this book as a courtesy because the author sent me a friend request on Goodreads. Awkward… It is like a hybrid between the Real Housewives of Savannah (is there such a show?) and The DaVinci Code. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. Too much unnecessary detail and way too many characters, all of them unrelatable. Just a painful read. 3/10 Stars

Carnations and Deadly Fixations, by Abby Reede (Fern Grove #1)

The most recent bumble in my quest for a great new series. Too bad, because it had potential if not for the amateurish writing. The beginning, especially, just cried out for better editing. 3/10 Stars

Final thoughts: Cozy mysteries, when done well, are an absolute delight. Creating believable characters and a plot that drives the reader is no easy task. It’s certainly a skill I don’t possess. But they cannot all be a success, just like books in other genres. These are a few that I really do not recommend.

Cozy Mysteries

Dewberry Farm Mystery Series (Books 1-6,) by Karen MacInerney

Before being slightly upstaged by Karin Kaufman’s Juniper Grove series, my first favorite (now holding a worthy 2nd place) was the Dewberry Farm series by Karen MacInerney.

Former crime reporter Lucy Resnick buys her grandparents’ farm and sets up residence in the town of Buttercup, Texas. As she learns the ropes about raising livestock, planting crops, and making jams, soaps, and candles to sell, she encounters a host of colorful characters at different local events. If there isn’t a murder at one of those events, you can bet there will be one somewhere else in town. Unfortunately, you can also bet that the hopelessly inept sheriff will lazily lock up the wrong person.

Along with her beloved farm and creatively named animals, Lucy is also close to her friend, Quinn, who runs the local cafe and is avoiding her abusive ex, and Tobias, the handsome new vet. Several other supporting characters appear often to help and support Lucy as she tries to piece together the clues that Rooster the sheriff refuses to acknowledge. (I picture him looking and acting like the Sheriff of Nottingham in Disney’s animated Robin Hood.)

Like other successful cozy mysteries (“successful” in my opinion,) the author, Karen MacInerney, has developed a valid reason for the main character to investigate. She also peppers in a hint of the supernatural. Whenever Lucy is in a real jam or closing in on the murderer, she feels her grandmother’s comforting presence and smells her lavender perfume. I love that.

This is a highly enjoyable series. I read the last two books just yesterday and today. The seventh book will be released September 30, 2020. All are included with a Kindle Unlimited subscription.

9/10 Stars for the series

Cozy Mysteries

Juniper Grove Mystery Series (Books 1-11,) by Karin Kaufman

I have swept through this series! So, instead of writing individual reviews for each book, they will be grouped together.

First, let’s talk a bit about “cozy mysteries,” a genre I have just discovered. They are usually (not always) written by women authors. They often have food, sometimes recipes, mentioned in the books (and sometimes in the titles.) They are usually fairly clean and homespun, take place in small towns, with a female protagonist who just happens to be around when murders happen. (Think Jessica Fletcher in the 80’s TV show, Murder, She Wrote.) That protagonist often ends up investigating the murder because (a) she is implicated, (b) one of her friends is implicated, (c) she’s asked by a friend to investigate, or (d) the local police is so inept that it is up to the townspeople to discover the truth.

Those are the similarities I have found in cozy mysteries. But, like any genre, there are the some better than others. I have learned that it all comes down to the quality of writing and relatable characters. In Karin Kaufman’s Juniper Grove series, I found some winners.

I prefer reading the books in order because of the ongoing story line with the main characters who appear in every book. Rachel Stowe is the heroine, the one whose voice and thoughts we hear. A never-married mystery writer in her early 40’s, Rachel has moved to the fictional Colorado town of Juniper Grove after seven years in the publishing rat race of Boston. Julia Foster and Holly Quinn are her two best friends. Julia, a feisty widow in her sixties, lives next door. Holly, in her mid thirties, who runs the local bakery with her husband, hears all the local gossip–valuable when trying to solve murders as people let their guard down while noshing on pastries. At the police station is the stoic Chief James Gilroy; his right hand man, Officer Underhill; and a couple of junior officers who come and go for different reasons. Gilroy is an evolving character about which a little is revealed at a time in each book.

Each story in the series places Rachel in a new setting, such as a neighborhood scavenger hunt, a Christmas gathering, or a murder mystery party (oh, the irony!) Once in a while, like in the case of Death Knell, an odd event draws her attention and, lo and behold, a dead body is involved. (Sarcasm intended.)

Of the seven cozy series I’ve tried (each book takes about three hours to complete,) Juniper Grove is my favorite. The writing and character development is both high quality and economic. And, while there are some aspects that could be considered corny, such as the creation of the ladies’ “mystery gang,” the Rachel Stowe character has become my literary friend.

At this point in my “cozy mystery journey,” I’m using the Juniper Grove series as my yardstick with which to measure all the others. (The Dewberry Farm series, by Karen MacInerney, runs a close second. I’ll review it soon.) It’s an entertaining “pandemic panacea” that makes you forget about this bizarre time of viruses, politics, and societal unrest.

Book #12, Grim Death, is expected to be published soon. Books 1-11 are available as part of the Kindle Unlimited subscription on Amazon. Otherwise they range from $0.99 to $2.99 each.

Karin Kaufman’s website is HERE.

9/10 overall for the series, with high hopes for future books

Cozy Mysteries

The Savannah Reid Mystery Series, Books 1-3, by G. A. McKevett

Book 1: Just Desserts

Book 2: Bitter Sweets

Book 3: Killer Calories

Few things are more satisfying to me than to discover a new author whose writing keeps me totally engaged. So it was an unexpected delight to stumble upon the popular Savannah Reid mystery series.

The main character puts on a brassy front but, like most women, she enjoys being treated like a lady too. Her challenging, although loving childhood, helping to raise eight brothers and sisters under her grandparents’ care made her scrappy and resourceful, but still sympathetic and sensitive. It’s hard not to like this woman.

In Book 1, Just Desserts, we meet Savannah when she is still a detective with the San Carmelita PD. She works closely with her scruffy but lovable partner, Dirk Coulter, until she is asked to fly solo on a particular murder case. Here is where we see the author’s style come into play: excellent character and plot development plus the ideal balance of dialogue and expository information. The plot often turns one direction halfway into the story and takes a another twist three-quarters in–showing great forethought, economy, and outlining before the writing even began. We are also introduced to characters who will become old friends as the books progress; the aforementioned Dick Coulter, the dashing Ryan Stone and John Gibson (they come as a set,) and Tammy Hart, Savannah’s new secretary as she opens her PI business. I had great fun reading this mystery, although Savannah’s little sister, who shows up unannounced, was a frustrating character. 9/10 Stars

Book 2, Bitter Sweets, is my favorite of the first three Savannah Reid mysteries. Aside from meeting Savannah’s Granny Reid, the relative she loves most of all, we also see the softer side of the private investigator. The twists, turns, and characters are especially clever in this story as Savannah investigates a murder and furiously tries to rescue a missing child. The obstacles bring out her sensitivity and frustration, making her granny’s unannounced visit all the more timely. And, despite guessing who the murderer was before the name was announced, I devoured this book in record time. It’s my guess that the 25 books in the series do not need to be read in order, but I would recommend reading Books 1&2 to get to know the main character before hopscotching through the other books in random order. 9.5/10 Stars

Book 3, Killer Calories, was a bit of a let down after it’s terrific predecessor. Not only did I have a hard time getting into the story, but the author used a few of my “least” favorite words and expressions more than once. Not expletives per se–the books have stayed at about a PG rating–but word choices I find crass. Just a personal thing and a bit detrimental to my prevous enjoyment of the Savannah Reid character. This time she is hired by an anonymous client to investigate a murder at a seedy health spa. I found myself caring little about most of the new characters. The plot did redeem itself towards the end, but the setting and cast did little for me. Still, I will plug along with other books in the series. 7.5/10 Stars

Conclusion: Make no assumptions and underestimations about these books based on their sugary-themed titles. G. A. McKevett (the pen name of prolific author Sonja Massie) is a very talented writer. Three books in three days means I’m definitely hooked!