Spellbinding Historical Mystery

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March

Happy 2023! I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

Out with the old….

Last year I had a hard time keeping up with the schedule of reviewing and recommending a mystery every Tuesday. There were two reasons for this. First, I didn’t feel I could recommend some of the mysteries I read. And when that happened, I felt pressure to read another one so I could recommend that one, and I didn’t have time for it. Second, I read lots of other things, too, and since this is a mystery blog, there were weeks I didn’t read a mystery and I would have nothing to recommend come Tuesday morning. I hope I’m making sense.

In with the new…

Thus, my goal this year is to review and recommend a mystery every other Tuesday. My blog posts will alternate with my newsletter, which also goes out every other Tuesday.

So without further ado, my first recommendation of 2023 is Nev March’s beautiful and engrossing mystery, Murder in Old Bombay. This is the first book in March’s Captain Jim and Lady Diana Mysteries (no, not that Lady Diana).

Full disclosure: I have spent time with Nev on several occasions. She is an absolute delight. We belong to a couple of the same writing groups, we have had dinner together, and we have attended at least one reading together. But she doesn’t know I’m writing this review, and everything I say here is the truth. If I didn’t love the book, I wouldn’t recommend it.

When the book opens, we meet main character Captain Jim Agnihotri, a young man recovering from serious wounds sustained in battle. The British maintain control over much of India, and many Indian people harbor deep resentment toward the British. Captain Jim is caught between two worlds: his mother, who died when Jim was very young, was Indian; his father, whom Jim never knew, was British. This was a time in history when one’s pedigree and the color of one’s skin mattered very much, so Jim doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.

While still in the hospital, Jim has little to read except newspapers and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. When he reads a newspaper story about the deaths of two women from a high-society Bombay family, he is struck by the horrific manner in which they died and by the sorrowful dignity of the man who lost his wife and his sister in the tragedy.

When he is finally released from the hospital, he takes a job as a journalist and one of his assignments is to interview the man whose wife and sister died. When Jim meets the man, Adi Framji, he is immediately drawn to Adi’s calm demeanor, intelligence, and determination to prove to himself and society that his wife and sister did not commit suicide, as the public has been told. The Framjis are an upstanding Parsee family and Jim has an instinctive notion that someone who means the family harm is behind the deaths. It is important to note that Parsees are a subset of the Indian people, having fled persecution in Persia centuries before. They are a relatively small part of the population, so they keenly observe the custom of marrying within the group—this will come into play later in the book.

Adi hires Jim to help him find out what really happened the day Adi’s wife and sister fell from the top of the university clock tower in broad daylight. As Jim soon discovers, his investigations have threatened someone (or more than one!) and that person intends to stop Jim at all costs.

This story is filled with British Raj history, excitement, and well-paced twists and turns. The author describes Bombay and the Indian countryside in vivid color. There’s enough romance to satisfy even the most jaded reader. More importantly, the main character’s pedigree forms the basis of a fascinating and unsettling look at racism and the social structure at that time in Indian history.

And, of course, there’s the mystery. The whodunit weaves complex (in a good way!) and dastardly motives to bring forth a page-turner that will have readers rooting for the Jim as he makes his way forward at a time when personal and professional stagnation might have been the destiny for people with his parentage. Readers are treated to a graceful and powerful arc of Jim’s character as he moves from self-loathing to self-confidence. And the ending…well, it’s highly satisfying. No spoilers.

I loved this mystery and I would highly recommend it to other lovers of historical mystery. I am looking forward to the second book in the series, Peril at the Exposition.

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Death in Tinseltown

Over Her Dead Body by Susan Walter

If you like twisty tales with jaw-dropping twists told from multiple points of view, you’ll want to keep reading.

I read Over Her Dead Body in a matter of hours because I couldn’t help myself. The mystery has a fascinating cast of characters, and I had a love-hate relationship with almost every one of them. The story starts out from the point of view of Ashley, a struggling actress in LA. She’s had a few bit parts, but she’s still waiting for her big break (what she doesn’t know is that it may be her heart that experiences the big break).

There’s Louisa, a former casting director who lives near Ashley in a cartoonish house down a creepy, overgrown drive. There’s Nathan, Louisa’s nephew and the only person in Louisa’s family who will have much of anything to do with her.

Louisa’s kids, Winnie and Charlie, have loads of personal issues. Their relationship has gone south in recent years, as a result of Winnie’s descent into alcoholism and Charlie’s marriage to a woman Winnie can’t stand.

There’s Jordan, Ashley’s roommate and probably my favorite character.

When you mix all these personalities together, there’s bound to be an explosion. And what the author gives the reader is an unforgettable explosion preceded by a gradual unfurling of mystery, drama, and high tension.

I love stories that are told from different points of view because the reader gets a glimpse into the psyches of the characters and is able to see different sides to every scene.

Here’s the basic outline: When Ashley’s dog, Brando, runs off for a midnight romp on Louisa’s property, the scene ends with warning gunshots and Ashley is, predictably, terrified. She runs home sans Brando. She and her roommate are leaving to search for him when she gets a phone call. It’s Nathan, Louisa’s nephew, letting her know that Brando is safe at Louisa’s house. Good thing Brando was wearing his collar with Ashley’s contact information.

When Ashley arrives to collect her dog, the sparks fly between her and Nathan. And it gets better—she is delighted to learn that Louisa might be able to help her land a plum movie role. Louisa has Ashley visit her over the next day or two to work on scripts … but everything comes crashing down when Nathan gets a phone call notifying him of Louisa’s sudden death. And—surprise!—Louisa has left her considerable fortune to someone whose identity shocks everyone.

What follows is a zigzag tale of greed, dreams deferred (or abandoned altogether), jealousy, and revenge. By the end, I was feeling (in a good way) like I had whiplash. Can anyone in this story be trusted?

The Hollywood angle is a brilliant stroke of storytelling. This novel wouldn’t be as scintillating if it were set in any other city because the manipulation on display mirrors that which we all associate with Hollywood. There’s glamour, certainly, but it’s mostly in Louisa’s past and that glamour hides a lot of pain. There’s betrayal in spades. If Hollywood wished to mock itself, this would make a great movie.

I highly recommend Over Her Dead Body to anyone who loves wry humor, satirical mystery, and an easy, fun read. Note: there’s some strong language at play in this book, so if you don’t like a lot of swearing, it’s probably not the book for you.

Death in Iceland

Snow Blind by Ragnar Jónasson 

I have been hearing for some time that I need to give Icelandic and Scandinavian fiction a try, so I finally took the plunge and read Snow Blind, Book 1 in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series.

Let me paraphrase what’s coming for the #TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) folks here: I will be reading more Icelandic and Scandinavian fiction, beginning with book 2 in the Dark Iceland series, Night Blind.

Snow Blind is the story of Ari Thór, a theology-student-turned-police-officer who moves from Reykjavik (starting here, I’m not putting the accents over the words because WordPress isn’t allowing it and I. Just. Can’t.) to Siglufjordur, a small town in the remote north of Iceland where the winters are long and dark and the residents seem to know everything about everyone.

Note my use of the word “seem.” Because when a well-known elderly writer in town dies under suspicious circumstances and his death is closely followed by another bizarre and violent occurrence, the residents are suddenly afraid and it quickly becomes clear they don’t know everything about everyone.

As the newcomer to a town where families go back generations and new faces are greeted with guarded suspicion, Ari Thor has his work cut out for him. He’s the rookie cop on the town’s very small police force and he needs to prove to his boss and the residents of Siglufjordur that he is smart and capable. It isn’t easy—he suffers from claustrophobia and now he’s stuck in a town where winter consists of constant darkness and tons and tons (and tons, and tons…) of snow with only one very treacherous road in or out. He’s left behind a serious girlfriend in Reykjavik and she’s unhappy with his decision to take the job. His new boss shifts on a dime from being fatherlike and kind to gruff and angry when Ari Thor suggests the old writer’s death wasn’t an accident.

This book says “Thriller” right on the cover, but I wouldn’t call it a thriller. I would call it a suspense novel. Here’s why: the reader knows certain things that Ari Thor doesn’t know; the story starts with a crime and circles back to it toward the end of the book; and the killer isn’t known until the final reveal near the conclusion of the story.

But with that being said, it’s a thrilling book. Ari Thor puts himself in harm’s way more than once to prove that he’s the right man for the job, and there are times when he’s in danger and the reader wonders how he’s going to fare. There are red herrings aplenty (pun intended—herring? Iceland? Get it?), and I was kept just off-balance enough to keep reading until way past my bedtime because I needed to know whodunit.

The characters in the book are complex and three-dimensional and the plot moves at a nice clip. I am already looking forward to book 2 in the series and I’ll be checking out other Icelandic and Scandinavian authors, too.

I would highly recommend Snow Blind to anyone who loves dark fiction and a clever mystery set in a desolate but beautiful place with plenty of atmosphere and tension.

Small Town Suspense

We are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

This book is told from the perspectives of three people: Wyatt Branson, whose sister, Trumanelle, disappeared ten years before the beginning of the story; Odette Tucker, a police officer in the tiny Texas town where Trumanelle went missing; and Angel, a character we meet on page one.

Wyatt, Odette, and Angel have suffered tragedy. Their lives are thin threads (thin, but made of titanium) that hover between life and death, that hold untold secrets from everyone—and in one case, I think, even themselves—and that become inextricably linked by the events that led to the disappearance of Trumanelle.

With the exception of a few really low-down characters in this book, I felt sorry for almost everyone. The town has kept people, and not just the main characters, in the grip of an almost manic level of mystery surrounding Trumanelle’s disappearance, and no one seems able to escape or let go. Feelings of anger, rage, frustration, and violence run rampant even ten years after the disappearance, and distrust of Wyatt, especially, is a constant undercurrent in the book.

I would describe this novel as a slow-burn psychological suspense, with enough revelations and dirty laundry to make readers keep turning the pages. Though I knew who the villain was (or at least, who the WORST villain was) before the end, I didn’t know why that person did it and I enjoyed the little-by-little unfolding of the tale.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes psychological suspense, small town mysteries, and dark themes.

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What I’m reading:

2 ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) that I am LOVING and can’t wait to share with you

Audiobook: Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie

A Storm Hits Valparaíso by David Gaughran

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Until next time,

Amy

A Cryptic Mystery

Murder in the Crypt by Irina Shapiro

Jason Redmond, a physician and Captain in the Union Army during the American Civil War, has seen his fair share of horrors and atrocities—and experienced some of his own as a prisoner of war. When the war ends and Captain Redmond is freed, he discovers that during his absence, his love, Cecilia, has married his best friend. Crushed in spirit and not knowing what to do next, Jason receives word that his English grandfather has passed away, leaving Jason as the heir to his estate and the title that goes along with it.

Accompanied by a young boy (Micah) he met while in prison, Jason goes to England to settle the affairs of his grandfather. His arrival at the manor is the subject of great interest in the village of Birch Hill and its environs, and Jason and Micah haven’t been in residence for twenty-four hours before becoming the subjects of an investigation into a murder that occurred in the church crypt concurrent with their arrival.

The victim, a young man from a disreputable part of London, was discovered by the church pastor inside the tomb of a great ancestor of Birch Hill. A trail of blood led to the tomb, suggesting someone dragged the victim to that spot.

Who was the young man and why was he murdered?

The village constable, Daniel Haze, needs answers to these questions, and he needs them before the inquest, which is scheduled to take place not long after the discovery of the body. After a rather inauspicious beginning to their friendship, Daniel and Jason join forces to figure out who committed the murder and why.

The cover of this book is what attracted me first. It’s spooky and delightfully atmospheric. And the story is every bit as good as the cover. Both Jason and Daniel (and Micah, too) have experienced tragedy; as the story unfurls, the author reveals bits of backstory that continue to haunt the three characters.

The red herrings in this book are intriguing and subtle, and there were enough surprises to keep me turning pages well into the night to reach The End, where everything was explained and where there are tantalizing hints of the next mystery to embroil the team of Captain Redmond and Daniel Haze. I look forward to reading Book Two.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves historical mysteries (particularly those set in England during the Victorian Era), anyone who loves mysteries with complex yet relatable characters, and anyone who loves a good, old-fashioned mystery set in an English village.

Delightful Cape May Cozy

Scones and Scofflaws by Jane Gorman

Following the death of her great-aunt Louise, Anna McGregor—the main character in this first-in-series cozy mystery—has inherited Climbing Rose Cottage, a bed and breakfast in Cape May, New Jersey (don’t you love the name “Climbing Rose Cottage”??). Anna, a medical anthropologist, has arrived in Cape May with some emotional baggage, a must for all great main characters. She has recently broken up with someone who not only hurt her romantically, but also destroyed her career.

Anna is in the process of fixing the B&B up a bit and is eager to welcome her first guests, though with that eagerness comes some trepidation about this new venture. The trepidation turns to dismay and horror when her first guest drops dead at the breakfast table, having eaten one of Anna’s blueberry scones.

Talk about killer scones.

Now Anna has to convince the people in the charming south Jersey town, as well as any future guests of her fledgling new business, that she’s not a killer. Luckily, she’s not alone—she has the help of her hunky handyman, a certain police officer (a big plus, since the police are mostly not on her side), her best friend (a Wildwood bakery owner), a young Irish visitor, and a keen kitty.

Anna is an intriguing main character and I enjoyed the way she puzzled through the clues and red herrings in this book. She has a hot temper and manages to alienate people in the closely-knit town because of the way she approaches them with questions, but she’s strong and determined to exonerate herself without becoming a damsel in distress. I like her spunk.

The pacing of the book is great and the potential for relationships between and among the various characters is ripe. I look forward to reading the next two books currently in the series and seeing where the author takes these possible storylines. I also love Cape May, so it was fun to read a story set in the area and recognize some of the places the author mentions. And bonus: if you like a good cocktail, the Scofflaw recipe in the back of the book is terrific!

Special note: for anyone living in or visiting the Cape May area, author Jane Gorman will be at the Cape May Fall Festival on October 15, 2022, at Cape May Convention Hall.

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I’ve got a great deal to share with you this week. Sixty authors have gotten together to offer sixty free stories to readers! I picked up a few of them myself. Follow the link below to take a look at the books!

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What I’m reading:

Murder in the Crypt by Irina Shapiro

We are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

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Until next time,

Amy

A Riveting Read…Plane and Simple

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

I was intrigued by this book from the moment I read the blurb on the back cover: two women, each running from dire circumstances, switch tickets at the airport. Claire, the wife of a politician, gets on a plane headed to California and Eva is going to Puerto Rico.

When the plane bound for Puerto Rico crashes into the Atlantic Ocean, Claire knows the media is going to erupt with news of her supposed death. She has no choice but to adopt Eva’s identity … and along with it, the secrets Eva left behind.

I read this book at every opportunity I had: in line at the post office, waiting at the doctor’s office, and sitting in parking lots. It moves at a quick clip and had me turning the pages as fast as I could devour the words.

The characterization in this book is what makes it so good. The author does a great job of developing these two women and the reader feels sympathy for both of them (though Eva has made her fair share of bad choices, even when alternatives were available to her, and tends to blame others for her misfortunes). I was rooting for both of them. There are a few spots in the book where the reader has to suspend belief a little bit, but because the story is so good, that is easy to do.

I think, in the end, the book is really about strong women, the consequences of telling one’s story in the face of abuse, and having the courage to take the actions that can bring about personal empowerment. Claire and Eva are not without fear and doubt, but they do what they have to do to save themselves.

And the epilogue…you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

I would recommend this thriller to anyone who loves a story featuring strong and well-written female characters, a unique and twisty plot, and stories that explore serious social issues.

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If you are one of my newsletter subscribers, you’ll know that I have tweaked the format of my newsletters. One of the changes I’ve made is to share deals and releases by other authors here on my blog instead of in the newsletters.

So with that in mind, I have two books to share with you this week. Both are by Laina C. Turner, each one is the first book in a series, and they’re both just 99 cents (and free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited). I have not had a chance to read either of these books yet, but I have both on my Kindle. I’m looking forward to reading them soon.

Friends and Foes: A Read Wine Bookstore Mystery

Stilettos and Scoudndrels: A Presley Thurman Cozy Mystery

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Until next time,

Amy

Collect them All!

A Fatal Collection by Mary Ellen Hughes

A Fatal Collection is the first book in the Keepsake Cove Mystery series by Mary Ellen Hughes. Don’t you love the cover? It just radiates cozy mystery vibes.

Keepsake Cove is a charming community in the town of Mapleton, located on Maryland’s eastern shore. Filled with adorable shops selling everything from toys to candles to glass, the area holds a special place in the hearts of the people who call it home and the hearts of the people who love to visit. Callie Reed has gone to Keepsake Cove to reconnect with her aunt, the vibrant, smart, and fascinating owner of a music box shop. The two haven’t seen each other in ten years, though they’ve corresponded and their ties are strong.

When Melanie dies shortly after Callie’s arrival, Callie is numb with shock. And when Callie learns that Melanie has left everything to her—her shop, her cottage behind the shop, her inventory, and even her cat—Callie is left reeling.

But once in Keepsake Cove, Callie has some time to think over some of the choices she’s made. She discovers that maybe the inheritance and the new responsibilities as owner of the music box shop are just what she needs to take her life in a new direction. And then there’s that one incredible music box that … well, you’ll just have to read the book to know what I’m talking about.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were plenty of juicy red herrings, hidden secrets, and conflicts among friends and foes in this vibrant and engaging story. There was a complex and rich set of characters, many of whom I hope to see in future books in the series. The author did a great job setting out the clues, most of which went unnoticed by me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best kind of mystery.

I highly recommend this to cozy and traditional mystery readers, as well as people who enjoy a good story set along the Atlantic seaboard.

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What I’m reading:

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

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Until next time,

Amy

Reading Round-Up: January 2021

It’s a brand new year and I’ve promised myself to read 61 books in 2021. If you’re part of Goodreads, have you signed up for the 2021 Reading Challenge? If you’re not part of Goodreads, hop on over to goodreads.com, sign up, and join the challenge! There are no winners or losers—just people who love to read.

Christmas Cow Bells

Christmas Cow Bells (A Buttermilk Creek Mystery Book 1) by [Mollie Cox Bryan]

I was so happy to start off the year with a five-star read by Mollie Cox Bryan. What a great way to end the holidays and kick off 2021! Christmas Cow Bells (a Buttermilk Creek Mystery #1) is the terrific tale of a dairy farmer who has recently moved to a small town in Virginia to live and build her cheesemaking business. With a staff of three lovable cows, Brynn is determined to make a success of her cheeses and her involvement with the local CSA (community-supported agriculture) members to bring a healthy organic and agricultural revitalization to the area. But there are members of the community who prefer to dwell in the past…can they make enough trouble to force Brynn to up and move? Are they willing to resort to murder to do it? You’ll have to find out for yourself in this wonderful Christmas mystery. Read my review here.

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The Spirit Woman of Lockleer Mountain

The Spirit Woman of Lockleer Mountain by [Elaine Faber]

The Spirit Woman of Lockleer Mountain, by Elaine Faber (see her guest post from last week here), is a page-turning read that I found most interesting because it’s a story I could see happening in real life (with the possible exception of the paranormal element, which Ms. Faber handles extremely well). I figured out whodunit (at least for one of the crimes), but still enjoyed going along for the ride as the main characters figured it out, too. You can read my review here.

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Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries

Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet by [Sally Cronin]

I read Sally Cronin’s blog frequently and I find that the array of topics she covers is mind-boggling. She has interests in everything from music to nutrition to travel to holiday customs to…you name it. I have found that her writing style is easy to read and fun-loving—it’s just like you’re having a conversation with her over a cup of tea in the back garden. That’s why I knew I would enjoy Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries, and Ms. Cronin didn’t disappoint. I didn’t just enjoy it—I devoured it. The book is comprised of poignant short stories and beautiful, descriptive poetry. You can read my review here; I’m excited that Sally will be on the blog to discuss the book in February.

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The Art of War

The Art of War illustrated by [Sun Tzu, Lionel Giles]

This book, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, was written in the sixth-century B.C. and has been read by countless military leaders, business leaders, politicians, and regular people down through the centuries. Though is may have been written as a military treatise, approaching its lessons with an open mind proves that it holds relevance today in situations we all face. It proves to me that people twenty-six centuries ago are not all that different from people today. We may look different and act differently, but our hearts remain the same. Read my review here.

What have you been reading?

Until next time,

Amy

Reading Round-Up: November Edition

I didn’t read as many books as I would have liked during November because I was participating in NaNoWriMo (a novel-writing challenge, for those of you who are unfamiliar), but I did manage to sneak in a few reads. Add your own November reads to the comments below!

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The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by [Samantha Vérant]

First up this month was The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant. If you know me, you know why the title of this book intrigued me—I thought I would be reading scads of French recipes. But alas, there are only a few recipes in the back of the book, and those are not ones I’m likely to make.

Anyway, this was a romance. Let me start by saying I’m not a romance reader unless there’s a mystery to solve, too, and there wasn’t much mystery in this one. The beginning of the story is a little too dramatic to be believable, but who am I to say? I’ve never lost a job at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Once the main character moves to France, the story gets better. I think readers will find themselves getting hungry while they read this book and they are DEFINITELY going to want to travel to France. Read my review here.

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It’s time I let you all in on a shameful secret.

Until this month, I have never read any of the Harry Potter books. I have, likewise, never seen any of the Harry Potter movies.

I read this book because the Harry Potter books are among my niece’s favorites and she was appalled (read: disgusted, horrified, speechless) that I hadn’t read them yet. I promised her I would read Book 1 before Thanksgiving so we could discuss it together (it may have to be over the phone thanks to COVID, but we’ll still discuss it).

In short, the book is AMAZING. I can’t wait to read the second one. I would love to spend just ten minutes inside J.K. Rowling’s imagination and discover where she learned to tell stories like this. You can read my review and 7 million others here.

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I had never heard of Kahlil Gibran’s book The Prophet until I read a review of it on someone else’s blog (thanks, Debby Gies!). And what a book. First published in 1923, The Prophet is a collection of short essays that make up a story. The essays (there are almost 30!) cover every topic from good and evil to crime and punishment to eating and drinking to prayer to children to joy and sorrow and everything in between. The beautifully poetic essays are full of spiritual lessons and brilliant metaphors for human life and behavior. If I could give this book ten stars, I would. Read my review here.

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THE BODY IN THE TRANSEPT a cozy murder mystery full of twists (Dorothy Martin Mystery Book 1) by [JEANNE M.  DAMS]

The final book I had time to read this month was The Body in the Transept by Jeanne M. Dams. This was a thoroughly enjoyable cozy mystery, complete with English setting, a widowed main character, a much-loved cat, and plenty of suspects. I did manage to guess the killer, but the operative word there is “guess.” I was totally wrong about the motive and that was part of what made this book so much fun to read. I highly recommend it. Read my review here.

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Remember, every Wednesday afternoon at 1:45 Eastern, I and the other two authors who make up the BookEm channel on YouTube debut a new episode! This week I’m in the hot seat, talking about the importance of hobbies and introducing you to a few new-to-me reads! Join me here at 1:45 if you can. If you can’t join me then, drop by to watch the video at your leisure anytime after that!

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I wish all of my American friends a happy and safe Thanksgiving! And to the rest of you, have a great week!

Until next time,

Amy