Thursday, January 28, 2016

What I Read in August 2015 Part VIII

What I Read in August 2015 Part VIII ...

When the Cookie Crumbles (Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery, #3)When The Cookie Crumbles  (Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery #3) by Virginia Lovell-- Cozy Mystery/contemporary romance

Livie is serving on the Chatterley Heights 250th birthday celebration under the eye of the mayor, Karen Evanson. Karen is obsessed with getting everything just right and making news in DC and Baltimore. So when Paine Chatterley, the last remaining legitimate descendant of Frederick P. Chatterley, the town's founder, shows up with his wife Hermione, the locals are shocked and furious. After 6 months of renovations with free labor donated by Lucas and his crew, the Chatterley mansion is fit to live in again and Paine Chatterley won't let anyone in or near the mansion. Despite Livie's attempts at reconciliation, Paine remains stubbornly opposed to socializing. The only person Paine shows a different side to is Maddie's Aunt Sadie, with whom he spent his happiest childhood memories. When Paine ends up dead in the bathtub, Sheriff Del determines foul play. Sure Paine was an awful old man who drank too much, but who could have wanted him dead? Was it his wife? Matthew Fabriziao, one of the construction crew who claims Chatterly descent on the wrong side of the blanket? Karen who is furious at having her masterly plans ruined? Quill, the town historian who seems to hold a grudge against Paine? Or someone else who may have heard rumors of the possible Chatterley cookie cutter collection? As the long-held secrets of the suspects come to life, it becomes clear this case will be a difficult one to solve.

Even though I stayed up too late finishing this book, I was really disappointed in the murderer. I was positive it was someone else entirely. I had a list of four suspects before the murder even happened and who did it barely crossed my radar. They had very little motive except a long-held grudge. That grudge doesn't make any sense in the real world. The writing was tighter on this one than the last. The story progresses quickly once the mystery begins, which is pretty early on. The serving wench/tavern wench costumes drove me batty. If Maddie's such a computer whiz, why didn't she find out what real people wore in the 18th century instead of perpetuating a ridiculous stereotype? You would think Karen and Quill would have insisted on realism.

The characters in this story are really realistic. I love Livie's rescue Yorkie Spunky and how the author makes sure the reader understands how the dog's past affects his present and how it takes time, patience and love to own a rescue but the owner is rewarded with unconditional love in return. He is my favorite character. My only quibble is that his great garbage find didn't put up any red flags for Livie. Why was it in the garbage? Later on it is revealed that Spunky's find could have been a clue or a red herring clue but that didn't even cross Livvie's mind. I also thought what else Livie saw in the trash was going to be a clue.

I still like Livie and Maddie managed not to drive me crazy, aside from the serving wench thing. I enjoy Livie's mom Ellie, though she is so different from me. She adds a bit of lightness to the story. I didn't like Karen any more than Livie did. Her type A personality was too abrasive to make her likable. Rosemarie and Heather annoyed me a lot trying to take advantage of Livie's relationship with Del. That's not right and they knew it. Livie fortunately has more sense than that. I liked the fleeting glimpse of Constance and I hope she's in future books. She's tough but likable. I wanted to like Quill, the historian. Despite the difference in our ages, we have a lot in common. He's a little cranky and standoffish though. Paine and Hermione Chatterley round out the new characters. Neither of them are particularly appealing. Hermione dinged warning bells in my head early on and I didn't like Livvie's attempts to befriend her. Paine was a nasty old man but he had a terrible childhood and perhaps like Olivia's dog, he could have been loving and kind if he had had someone to love him sooner. He was very nice to Aunt Sadie.

The biggest complaint aside from the identity of the murderer is the lack of recipes! You can't write a book about gingerbread houses without including the recipe! Maddie uses meringue powder to make her royal icing so we can at least look up a recipe.

One Dead Cookie (Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery, #4)
One Dead Cookie (Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery #4) by Virginia Lovell-- Cozy Mystery/contemporary romance

Maddie and Lucas are finally getting married and Livie has volunteered to make Maddie's cookie cake. She's pressed for time and worried about a series of local break-ins and neighboring shops. Livie had her hands full with a business to run so has hired a new clerk, a woman named Jennifer Elsworth, who excels at sales but is remarkably terse when it comes to her past. Livie feels uneasy hiring someone so unknown and tries to delve into Jennifer's background. Only Livie's brother Jason can provide the fact Jennie grew up in the next community, Twiterton and had a tough childhood. When the local vet's aunt Len, a former actress, invites a Hollywood celebrity to visit her in Chatterley Heights, the whole town is in a tizzy. Livie is less than impressed with soap star Trevor Lane and only slightly more so with Trevor's handler, Dougie Adair. It seems the pair grew up in Twiterton. Is there a connection to Jennifer, despite a big difference in their ages? When Trevor ends up dead and Livie and Maddie's childhood friend Stacey's ex-husband Wade is accused, Livie and Maddie feel honor bound to solve the mystery and keep the paparazzi from hounding Stacey and her kids.

This mystery was a little complicated. I figured out who the murderer was going to be before it happened but I wasn't positive. I had 3 major suspects and one seemed the most likely candidate. I stayed up late finishing the book and wasn't surprised. The "why" turned out to be more complicated than I expected. I thought I knew why Jennifer kept disappearing, especially when Trevor and Dougie showed up, but I guessed wrong. The background to this mystery is rather dark for this light mystery series.

The characters in this series are so vivid and seem like the types that live in small towns like Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls). In fact, Lucas is Luke and Lenora Tucker is Miss Patty. The characters you will love to hate are Binnie, the gossip newspaper/blog writer and her niece Ned. Binnie is so rude and obnoxious that I can't believe she isn't in jail. I love how Del is one step ahead of her at times. Del is starting to emerge as a full-fleshed person. He has a wry sense of humor and isn't a romantic but he loves Livie. Their relationship is similar to Ellie and Allan, Livie's mom and stepdad. Allan also appears in this novel instead of being just a mention. He and Ellie are such opposites, it's hard to believe they're married. Ellie sure loves to gossip but it's always well-meant. She seems like she would be flaky because she's a hippie, but she's sharp and perceptive. Maddie's ADHD brain drove me crazy again. She's continually being insensitive and rude but yet Livie loves her. Maddie is not a "hacker" for guessing her best friend's password. I know my best friend's password because she gave it to me but unlike Maddie, I respect her privacy and have only used it sparingly. Maddie is good at searching the Internet but next time, Livie should ask Heather, the librarian to teach her how to search effectively.

The new characters are Trevor, Dougie, Howie and Livie and Maddie's friend Stacey. I don't remember Stacey being in the series at all. I know Maddie is usually jealous of Livie's other friends but this time she's friendly with Stacey still. Stacey is a caring and protective woman but seems very different from Maddie and Livie. Like Livie, I wasn't impressed with Trevor and Dougie. I found Trevor sleazy and Dougie not much better for keeping Trevor out of trouble. Their backstory is horrifying and I can't believe they would have gotten away with what they did. Howie is instantly a character I hated. He holds a grudge against his childhood tormentors yet wants to be pals with them. He seems like a nasty, bitter man - Livie's dad refers to Howie as a brilliant sociopath who would do well in the corporate world. That's creepy!

Finally, there are recipes in this book! However, one of them is for Ellie's lemon chicken. Why is there a chicken recipe in a book about cookies? Where are Maddie's special lavender/lemon and rose/lemon wedding cookies? Only the rose cookie recipe is included.

Cookies and Scream (Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery, #5)Cookies and Scream (Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery #5) by Virginia Lovell-- Cozy Mystery/contemporary romance

Livie returns home early from vacation with the sense that something isn't quite right. Spunky senses it too from an unfamiliar scent on the floor. When she checks the store safe she finds it bursting with unfamiliar antique cookie cutters. The mystery is cleared up when her friend Constance calls to say former Chatterley Heights resident Greta Oskarson has returned and wants Livie to sell her antique cookie cutter collection to fund her retirement. Despite the fact Greta has outlived several wealthy husbands, Livie is glad to help an old friend of her mentor Clarisse. The night following The Gingerbread House's welcome party, Greta calls Livie in distress. Livie calls 911 but it's too late. Greta is dead. With Del away, Deputy Cody is in charge and though he's eager to prove himself, he's too inexperienced to sense something is wrong. Livie and Maddie's instincts are aroused though. They know a murder when they see one and they're going to do everything in their power to solve this one. When they hit up the local gossips, they discover there was more to Greta than meets the eye and she had any number of enemies who would want her dead. Meanwhile, Ellie is dealing with the arrival of Allan's cousin Calliope "call me Cal", a big, brash professional moocher and she seems to have her hooks on Jason.

This is the best mystery of them all. It's unconventional and the plot twists really surprised me. I had no idea who the murderer was or why and the secrets kept coming out and shocking me. I did have a good guess as to the identity of Desiree. I was very close but not exact. Livie and Maddie annoyed me by going off investigating on their own but mostly I liked them. I love the quirky small town locals who always know the right gossip to steer an investigation in the right direction. Another bonus is that though Del is away, he keeps in contact with Livie and their romance seems to be progressing. He comes to a good realization in this book though she's still scarred from her divorce. I did not like how Bertha could recall a scene exactly though it's been years since that day. That always bugs me about mystery novels.

There aren't many new characters in this novel. They all ended up on my list of suspects, except Constance, who isn't new but has a larger role in this story. There's the mysterious Desiree who annoys Livie (and me) by acting like a ditzy teenager but seems to know more than she lets on. Then there's Olaf, another son of Swedish immigrants like Greta. He's a nasty old man and the one the reader will love to hate. Then there's Cal, Allan's cousin. She's big, loud and brash which is annoying. She ended up on my suspect list early on because it was obvious she had encountered Greta before. I felt bad that Ellie was so discomfited by her and their personalities are so different. Allan has retreated back to his computer so doesn't have a lot to say. Aunt Sadie plays a larger role in this story too. I like seeing her appear in the plot and taking on a larger role. I think she will end up being important to Livie as well as Maddie and The Gingerbread House.

I was disappointed Spunky didn't have as big a role to play in this story. He hardly appears at all and doesn't really move the action forward but when he's on page, he's very endearing.

The biggest disappointment is there is only one cookie recipe when two were specifically mentioned in the novel. Tangerine Cardamom Shortbread sounds a little strange but my whole family loved the Norwegian Christmas cookies I made last year with tangerine zest so maybe this one is good too.

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