Reading Fanatic Reviews

All Mystery, Suspense, and Thriller Reviews

A Drizzle of Murder by Constance Barker

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A Drizzle of Murder*

A Good Start to a New Cozy Mystery Series

After romance, cozy mysteries are my favorite fiction genre to read. Even though I enjoy the more serious police shows on TV, when I read, I prefer a good cozy. This is the first book in a new series by an author I have not read before. This is a culinary mystery, and I always find these to be particularly fun. Luckily, this one was no exception. The murder takes place in a bakery; the man who helped the heroine move into her new bakery space is found dead. They had not gotten along so well during the move, so she is a likely suspect. Luckily, she has a variety of friends who try to help her figure out what actually happened.

I did enjoy the quirky world created by this author. A good cozy needs to be quirky for sure and perhaps even wacky. I think this book fulfilled both requirements. There is a surprisingly large cast of characters in this book, and the heroine has a lot of friends. I will admit this was a little confusing at first, as we are introduced to many characters one after the other. Their speech patterns were not distinct enough to really help characterize them, so sometimes it was a little hard to follow and know who was who. I absolutely adored the older friends of the heroine; we don’t see enough active, older characters in contemporary fiction. The friends actually do have a big role in this novel as they try to help the heroine sort everything out. There were some definite issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage, enough to be distracting. Commas were problematic as were the hyphens needed for compound adjectives. The last may sound a little silly, but if they aren’t used properly, sometimes the meaning of a sentence is not clear, making you have to re-read to get the meaning.

All in all, though, I thought that this was a good start for a new cozy mystery series. At least when I read the next one, I will have a better sense of the large cast of characters, which will be a help. Now, if the author could just get it professionally edited, that would be a big help for me, too!

A Snowflake at Midnight by Anne Renwick

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A Snowflake at Midnight*

Christmas Steampunk Romance

I don’t read as much steampunk as I might like, but I do find it a very fascinating sub-sub-genre. This book had all the steampunk elements I enjoy, like all the science, airships, clockwork, a focus on industry, and harkening back to ancient traditions. I know once I read the description that it would be a book I’d like. I love the fact that the heroine is a librarian and the hero a botanist. I am intrigued by ancient texts myself, so I loved that that was an element in the mix. I absolutely adored the fact that the key to possibly finding a cure for her father had to do with a special type of mistletoe! Perfect for a Christmas story. I found both the main characters to be believable and relatable, and I loved that they were willing to sacrifice in the hopes of saving her father.

Over the Broomstick by Mara Webb

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Over the Broomstick*

More Needed in the Middle

I enjoy cozy mysteries very much, especially paranormal ones. In general, I like novellas, but the mystery genre just is not made for this short form of writing. A good mystery needs room to ramble, time for twists and turns happen, a space for the buildup of red herrings, etc. This story felt like it had great potential. The death of a loved one that brings you to a magical town? Sounds like the perfect setup. And the setup was good. But I didn’t feel like the follow-through was there. There wasn’t enough tension and forward motion to the plot. I thought the writing itself was fine. The descriptive passages were perhaps at times a little much, but overall, it was a pleasant read. I just wish that it felt like there was more to the middle of the story.

Son of Thunder by Steven M. Moore

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Son of Thunder*

Thriller through Space and Time

This is the first book that I have read by this author. I thought it was intriguing how he started the book. He sets it up like the person writing it (in 2025) is a scribe who is writing down the real-life tales of a woman who got into some intriguing adventures as an art detective. This is followed by a couple of different sections, like a cast of characters and an explanation of the agencies that are like the FBI and CIA in Great Britain and France. I actually thought all of this front material helped to prime the pump and got you curious about what exactly this book would be about.

I was surprised that it actually started in Renaissance Italy. The book not only takes us around the globe but also back and forth in time. What a fascinating concept! The book is mostly fast paced, though it does have times of relative stillness. I found it to be a thoroughly engaging read, written in a detailed style that is not overly much so (as can happen sometimes, unfortunately. I thought the pacing was a spot on and the characters well-formed for a thriller. If you like globe-trotting thrillers that are steeped in history, you may very well enjoy this book.

The Perfect Brew by Jo-Ann Carson

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The Perfect Brew*

Bumpy Start Morphs into a Good Read

I enjoy a good cozy mystery. This one, unfortunately, started off with an information dump, which I never like in any sort of fiction that I read. It did get better after that. The heroine got more than she bargained for when she came to a small town in the Pacific Northwest to settle her great-aunt’s affairs. The now-deceased lady has left the heroine a coffee shop… and a curse. Soon, a second body drops, and the heroine has determined to help figure out who the murderer is. She’s got a little something going on the romance front as well, or at least potentially. I found this novel a quirky and enjoyable read, which is how I like my paranormal cozy mysteries.

Buried in the Stacks by Allison Brook

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Burried in the Stacks*

Too Slow Getting to the Murder

Librarian Carrie has many projects going on at work when one of her colleagues is killed in a car accident and believed to be murdered. The library has a resident ghost who happens to be the dead woman’s aunt. The ghost wants to figure out what happened to her niece, and it turns out that the murdered women had a secret life that would make her many enemies.

Despite the paranormal aspect of this, I did not feel that this was a true cozy mystery. It is more like an amateur sleuth story with a paranormal element. I felt like the story started too slow. Until the murder (which happened near the 25% mark), we basically just saw Carrie meeting with her friend, her hospitalized colleague, and working at her job (even though there were new aspects to her job). It just felt like too much setup, not enough actually happening. The writing is straightforward and clean. Even the idea that there is a ghost who is such an integral part of the story is treated in a no-nonsense manner. I feel neutral about this book; it was an okay read, but I’m not particularly looking forward to the next book (which I hope to do for any series that I start).

Clairvoyant Clues by Paula Lester

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Clairvoyant Clues*

Another Delightful Visit to the Sunnyside Retirement Community

I think that I have read every single book in this series, and I just adore every one of them. The author has created a zany, quirky paranormal world that I love to revisit whenever a new installment comes out. What’s not to like about a series centered around a retirement home for witches and other magical people? Can Zoey, the young woman who is the director of this community, keep them in line?

In this particular story, Zoey has a lot on her plate. Her mother is just only back in the land of the living but still is not responsive; her father thinks that she is just faking it. Zoey has a new love interest. But the mystery centers around a psychic who is planning to move into the community; she disappears before she can do so. Law enforcement believes that someone at the retirement community, either a resident or worker, had something to do with it. Suspects pile up as many haven’t been so happy with the psychic’s predictions. So, that is what needs to be sorted out in this particular installment.

As always, I enjoyed the characters who make up the retirement community. There is so much humor in this book because of the wonderful characters that the author has created; she has taken great pains to make so individual and relatable as well as zany. Most of these people have what I would say are good intentions, but in trying to help Zoey, they more often make a hash of it all—and quite often in hilarious ways. Since this series now has several books, we have gotten to know some of these characters over time, so reading the book is like visiting your crazy friends; you just know it will be insane but a lot of fun. I totally would like to be the director of this community; you would never be bored! While the novel is a part of a series, it can definitely be read as a standalone, although you will get much more from it if you start reading the series at the beginning. If you like paranormal cozy mysteries with humor and an exceptionally well-drawn cast of characters, you might enjoy this series as much as I do.

Double Fudge Drowning by Diana DuMont

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Double Fudge Drowning*

I’ll Take Some Double-Fudge Rum Pie, Please!

I have read all the books, I think, of the Drunken Pie Cafe cozy mystery series. Sometimes I swear that I enjoy the names of the drunken pies more than the mystery! I wish the author included recipes. Anyway, about this book. I like that the author got to the first dead body rather quickly. I do get frustrated with cozy mysteries that spend too much time on the quirky characters or other world-building, delaying the murder and therefore not allowing much time for twists and turns and red herrings necessary for a mystery plot. This did have an extended scene before the crime was discovered, but it was relatively confined (at a town event) and necessary to set up the murder. This time, one of Izzy’s friends looks like the prime suspect, and her alibi doesn’t look too good and cannot be corroborated. Even Sheriff Mitch doesn’t like having to investigate her as he had considered her a friend as well. This book does have a few red herrings and blind alleys, which I always love in a mystery. I think, though, that the number of characters in Sunshine Springs that we know of needs to be expanded to give us more possibilities for suspects. It felt like the suspect pool was limited in this book. All in all, I still found it to be an enjoyable cozy mystery read.

Black Widow by Lucy Leroux

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Black Widow*

Good at First, Then Goes Off the Rails

I am not quite sure what to write for this review. I was surprised by this book, but not in a good way. When I read the book description, I just read the summary, not the quotes from other reviewers within the blurb; I never read those or other reviews before I read a book. From the couple paragraph description, I was expecting a somewhat standard historical romance. And the first part of the book and delivered on that, along with a little romantic suspense—which I also enjoy. The heroine has a variety of secrets that neither we nor the hero is privy to for a while. We learn from the first chapter that the heroine is not a murderer, as first suspected by the hero. I actually enjoyed watching their initial dance, shall we say, as they became reacquainted with each other and he tried to figure out if she had anything to do with her husband’s death.

But then it got weird. And, frankly, I didn’t see it coming. I read a variety of books, so I don’t have anything necessarily against weird so long as I am prepared for it. I certainly did not expect the book to go the way it did in the last roughly 40%. Actually, I kept thinking it would straighten back out into a standard story instead of going into a paranormal aspect that wasn’t appropriately foreshadowed and therefore felt entirely out of place. It almost felt like a deus ex machina move, which I never like in a story as it feels like a cop-out. I did enjoy watching the push-me, pull-you relationship of the hero and heroine at first, and the heroine’s naivete was surprising (in an intriguing way) in a story about a widow (and I liked watching the hero’s education of her). I do feel that there were too many intimate scenes after a certain point in the story; they did detract from the rest of the plot because, at times, it felt like the plot existed as something to happen between the intimate moments so it wouldn’t be just all that. So, I actually enjoyed the first part of the book, but the second half fell apart for me once it appeared as though the paranormal aspect was meant to be real.

Bound by Truth by Suzanne Cass

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Bound by Truth*

Thriller Romance on Small Island Off Australia

It’s rare to have a genre mashup of thriller and romance, but this book manages to pull it off. The story seemed to start out slow for a thriller, as the heroine first meets the hero when they’re taking a ferry to the island where she lives (and where he’s about to start a job as a cop) and she discovers that her home has been broken into and trashed. The hero and heroine do have chemistry, especially after he gets to know her as he takes part in the police investigation of the robbery. There’s a deep history with a stalker and some abductions. I don’t want to give too much away because part of the fun of a thriller is to follow it step by step. I thought some of the language was a little off and unnatural. There were definitely issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage, but I found this to be a minor distraction. In general, I liked the story, and I definitely felt the characters to be believable and relatable—which I love in a story.

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