Plaid and Plagiarism (Highland Bookshop Mystery #1) by Molly MacRae


Plaid and Plagiarism (Highland Bookshop Mystery #1) by Molly MacRae
Publisher/Year: Pegasus Crime, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟



A murder in a garden shed turns the four new owners of Yon Bonnie Books into amateur detectives, in a captivating new cozy mystery from Molly MacRae. 

Set in the weeks before the annual Inversgail Literature Festival in Scotland, Plaid and Plagiarism begins on a morning shortly after four women take possession of their new bookshop in the Highlands. Unfortunately, the move to Inversgail hasn’t gone as smoothly as they’d planned.

First, Janet Marsh is told she’ll have to wait before moving into her new home. Then she finds out the house has been vandalized. Again. The chief suspect? Una Graham, an advice columnist for the local paper–who’s trying to make a name for herself as an investigative reporter. When Janet and her business partners go looking for clues at the house, they find a body–it’s Una, in the garden shed, with a sickle in her neck. Janet never did like that garden shed.

Who wanted Una dead? After discovering a cache of nasty letters, Janet and her friends are beginning to wonder who didn’t, including Janet’s ex-husband. Surrounded by a cast of characters with whom readers will fall in love, the new owners of Yon Bonnie Books set out to solve Una’s murder so they can get back to business.

A delightful and deadly new novel about recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses, Plaid and Plagiarism is the start of a captivating new Scottish mystery series.

What I thought

My thoughts on this book can be summed up in a single sentence: I wish I would have enjoyed it more. It had so many elements for me to love (bookshop, Scotland), and I even found myself fond of the characters, I guess I just didn’t connect with the story.

From the beginning, I kept having to doublecheck that this was, indeed, the first book in the series & not a subsequent one. I think that was because of the fact that the characters weren’t distinctly introduced; I felt like I should already know them. And then they weren’t developed enough for me to have a clear picture of them as I read.

Other than that, though, I enjoyed this read well enough. It was a slower moving mystery (not a thriller, by any means), but I enjoyed the cozy pace. I didn’t manage to solve the mystery by the end, and I was invested enough to want to keep reading to find out what happened.

I did truly LIKE the book, despite the abrupt writing style & lack of character development. I just didn’t LOVE it. It was sweet & I’m fond of the characters, so I’ll probably read the next one some time. All in all, if you’re looking for a good cozy read during this upcoming winter, I’d definitely recommend Plaid & Plagiarism, although you might want to just check your local library for a copy.

The Simple Soul of Susan by Noel Branham


The Simple Soul of Susan by Noel Branham
Publisher/Year: Noel Branham, 2017
Format: E-book
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟



Summary (from Goodreads)

Susan Combs had long ago found the love of her life. The only problem was the other party still didn’t know he had been found.

Every day Susan saw Calder Hurtz, her next door neighbor and childhood best friend. They always enjoyed the short drive to school down the dusty streets of their small Texas town. She was happy in those perfect moments, for her life at home was most imperfect. The challenging homestead she inhabited was also the favorite subject of local gossip.

But one autumn day she overhears Calder and another boy having a conversation. This occasion of accidental audience sets Susan’s life on an unforeseen path. In the seasons to come, her future will be changed by two hospitalizations, two confessions of love, and one betrayal.

Compulsively readable, The Simple Soul of Susan is an engaging, soul-endearing romance and a mesmerizing debut.

What I thought

First thing’s first: Noel graciously provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All of these opinions are my own.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book–not because I was doubting her writing ability, but because it’s always nice to come across a debut, independently-published author with so much potential. Branham’s writing flows naturally, making this an easy, quick read. Plus, it was just a good, old-fashioned story. Although told in a narrative, at times anecdotal, style, which isn’t my usual preference, I think it lent itself to the type of story told here. This book was also a nice, clean read, making it an appropriate read for any age. I think it would make for an excellent palate cleanser, as well, if you needed a break from a heavier read.

As for the story itself, as I alluded to, I really enjoyed the simplistic feel. This was truly an old-fashioned story, at its best. Now, that isn’t to say this story was unrealistic through because the characters truly felt authentic. Susan & Calder’s story was sweet, but it also felt all the more real because they each had flaws. I loved that their story goes to show that love isn’t always rainbows & butterflies–it has its storms too–but it’s worth it despite all of the work. My only complaint about the plot was that I felt like some of the plot threads were unnecessary. This didn’t take away from the story, but I just think this is one of those things that will clear up as Branham hones her craft.

Overall, like I said, I was very impressed with Branham’s debut, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing her future progress. The Simple Soul of Susan was a very sweet & simple read from a strong & promising debut author. Definitely recommended!

Traitor’s Masque (Andari Chronicles #1) by Kenley Davidson


Traitor’s Masque by Kenley Davidson
Publisher/Year: Page Nine Press, 2015
Format: E-book (Kindle)
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟





Summary (from Goodreads)

A breathtaking fantasy romance inspired by Cinderella…

Trystan has only two goals — to free herself from her stepmother’s household and to live her life on her own terms. But she cannot do so alone. In her desperation, she accepts the aid of a mysterious band of conspirators in exchange for her promise to help protect the kingdom. Trystan is uncertain whether her new friends can be trusted, but then she meets Donevan, a compelling and enigmatic young man whose face haunts her dreams.

Caught between her desire for love and the needs of a kingdom in turmoil, Trystan attends the Royal Masque, where she learns that her quest for a happy ending may have betrayed the man she loves. Plunged headlong into a nightmare of duplicity, espionage and intrigue, she will have just one chance at redemption, though she may be forced to sacrifice everything she’s ever dreamed of to prevent her kingdom from falling into the hands of a ruthless adversary.

An unforgettable tale of romance, intrigue and suspense, Traitor’s Masque is the first book of the Andari Chronicles, a series of interconnected but stand-alone fairy tale retellings.

What I thought

I grew up on fairytales, so it should come as no surprise that I love fairytale retellings. Traitor’s Masque was quite the pleasant surprise–it was truly a unique take on the traditional Cinderella story.

Honestly, I’m not quite sure why this book took me so long to read because I really enjoyed nearly everything about it. The writing drew me in right away; I liked that it read like someone was telling me an old-fashioned fairy tale. At the same time though, I liked that Davidson kept her story from feeling stale. Embrie & Donevan were not the typical Cinderella & Prince Charming, and I lived for their banter. They felt more human, with their flaws & imperfections.

I think the only (slight) problem I had was with the plot. Don’t get me wrong, it more than kept my interest & I LOVED that it was so different while still keeping that traditional fairytale feel. I guess my issue was the pacing. It wasn’t too slow, but it also wasn’t too fast. I wasn’t dragging through the pages–I enjoyed my time with this story, I really did. I just wish I would have felt that “can’t put this down” feeling.

That being said, this was an excellent read, and it stands as one of my favorite fairytale retellings. I will definitely be continuing this series, especially because I want to see more of these characters!

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney


The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 371
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟




The year is 1867. Winter has just tightened its grip on Dove River, a tiny isolated settlement in the Northern Territory, when a man is brutally murdered. Laurent Jammett had been a voyageur for the Hudson Bay Company before an accident lamed him four years earlier. The same accident afforded him the little parcel of land in Dove River, land that the locals called unlucky due to the untimely death of the previous owner.

A local woman, Mrs. Ross, stumbles upon the crime scene and sees the tracks leading from the dead man’s cabin north toward the forest and the tundra beyond. It is Mrs. Ross’s knock on the door of the largest house in Caulfield that launches the investigation. Within hours she will regret that knock with a mother’s love–for soon she makes another discovery: her seventeen-year-old son Francis has disappeared and is now considered a prime suspect.

In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the crime and to the township–Andrew Knox, Dove River’s elder statesman; Thomas Sturrock, a wily American itinerant trader; Donald Moody, the clumsy young Company representative; William Parker, a half-breed Native American and trapper who was briefly detained for Jammett’s murder before becoming Mrs. Ross’s guide. But the question remains: do these men want to solve the crime or exploit it?

One by one, the searchers set out from Dove River following the tracks across a desolate landscape–home to only wild animals, madmen, and fugitives–variously seeking a murderer, a son, two sisters missing for seventeen years, and a forgotten Native American culture before the snows settle and cover the tracks of the past for good.

In an astonishingly assured debut, Stef Penney deftly weaves adventure, suspense, revelation, and humor into an exhilarating thriller; a panoramic historical romance; a gripping murder mystery; and, ultimately, with the sheer scope and quality of her storytelling, an epic for the ages.

What I thought

With the onset of winter weather, this was the perfect book to cozy up with. I went into this expecting a historical fiction/murder mystery, but it ended up being so much more than that–some of which worked for me & some of which did not.

I absolutely fell in love with Penney’s writing. This is one of the most atmospheric reads I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, particularly impressive coming from a debut author. Not only was the setting vivid, but Penney’s descriptions of human observation were utterly breathtaking. Also, while it might not be for every reader, I really enjoyed the multiple storylines & I felt that they propelled the story forward & made me want to keep reading.

All of what I’ve mentioned makes this a solid 4 star read, but there were some things that kept this from 5 stars. I think the biggest problem I had was with the ending. I mean, on one hand, I was satisfied, especially with the final 2 lines. But at the same time, there were several of the storylines that were left hanging. In regards to the solution of the mystery, I couldn’t help but think, “Really? That’s it?” It was realistic, I’ll give it that, but I suppose I was just underwhelmed.

I found The Tenderness of Wolves to be a strong, promising debut novel, but it is just that–a debut novel. Although I found there were a few problem spots, Penney writes absolutely beautifully & I’d recommend this book on that alone. Brimming with potential, I will definitely be checking out her subsequent works.