The Painted Ladies by Sylvia Dickey Smith

I have been a Sidra Smart Mystery fan since book one, so when this lovely author offered to send me a copy of her newest installment, I told her, “GIMMIE!” I love this series because it’s a departure from the tried-and-true cozy formula. You know the drill: wayward 30-something single gal in a small, touristy town finds a dead body and searches for clues with the hunky town sheriff. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy these formulaic thrillers; I just need a break from the monotony every once in a while.

Enter Sidra Smart! Unlike her young, single, unlucky-in-love counterparts, she’s a little older and wiser than the average sleuth. I hazard to say she’s on par with the great J.B. Fletcher!  You won’t find any love triangles or hunky detectives nagging her to stay out of the way.  Sidra’s not wasting her time with all that bologna. She’s a one-woman-show…well that’s if you’re not counting her ghostly brother and her pup Slider. And in this book, she’s got a mystery to solve on two planes: the earthly world and the great beyond.

It all begins when a newly orphaned young woman named Belle  enlists Sidra’s help in discovering the mysteries behind her mother’s three historic houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Why would her mother keep those beautiful “Painted Ladies” under wraps for all these years? And why didn’t her father—a mega-church preacher/conman—ever mention this little family secret? Now the sole heir of her parents’ assets, Belle must get to the bottom of this mystery to discover what lies beneath her family’s gleaming facade.

Together, Belle and Sidra grab their pups and embark on a road trip from Dallas to Hot Springs. Side note: I’ve visited this charming little town and absolutely loved revisiting the historic bath houses, kitschy tourist shops and gangster museums through Sidra’s eyes. After reading this, I’m going to bug Jarred into taking me back there so I can prowl around the majestic Arlington Hotel with my ghost radar app!

Back to the story! So along their journey, they meet some colorful characters, including a reclusive old woman who lives alone in a hut-like cottage near the three Painted Ladies. While speaking with the locals, Bella and Sidra learn that these houses have quite the reputation! Don’t be fooled by their cheery, colorful exteriors, they aren’t happy about visitors and they’ll let you know when it’s time to get out! In fact, the Painted Ladies have voices and personalities of their own–and boy can those walls talk!  This time, someone is going to stick around long enough to hear them out. It’s going to take a lot more than a few bumps in the night to scare Sidra Smart away!

I’ll stop right here before I give away any spoilers, but I will say that you’ll learn some fun trivia facts about Hot Springs history. And while unearthing (literally) clues to Bella’s family history, Sidra discovers a doozy about her own lineage as well. Oh such fun!

A big thanks to Miss Dickey Smith for sending me a free copy in return for an honest review. It was a pleasure, as always, accompanying Sidra and her hound Slider on their latest adventure. I look forward to the next installment and hope to see more of the new ghostly sidekick since I’m not sure if this entity is a friend or foe!

The Countdown to CeeCee-o-Ween: Beewitched by Hannah Read

untitledMy little busy bee is buzzing with excitement about all the spookalicious books we’re reading this Halloween! We’re covering the gamut in fall-themed mysteries and thrillers. Some are mildly spooky and others are downright terrifying! Heck, we’re even throwing in a few nostalgic family-friendly classics for the kiddos. Stay tuned for more as we count down the days to All Hallows Eve!

18210687In this next installment of our CeeCee-o-Ween countdown, we selected a fun little cozy mystery filled with bees, witchcraft and zany small town antics. Our amateur sleuth is a beekeeper and owner of a kitschy honey-goods store in a cute little Wisconsin village.

Like most cozy mysteries, the town is cut right out of a Norman Rockwell painting—but don’t be fooled! Evil lurks within this idyllic little hamlet. Witches are running amok and nobody is safe at the annual fall festival. Sure enough, a dead body is found in the corn maze and all signs point to the daughters of evil!

It’s up to our intrepid sleuth, Story, to team up with her wacky sidekick and nab the killer before evil strikes again. And as with most cozy mysteries, the podunk cops are asleep at the wheel. The hot crime-fighting boyfriend is constantly lecturing Story about putting herself in danger (an annoying and antiquated trope that needs to go away!). And, of course, there are a bazillion characters thrown into the mix, keeping me in a constant state of confusion. This is my biggest gripe with cozies. Maybe that’s why I never liked those aggravating jigsaw puzzles with ten thousand microscopic pieces. Tedious much?

Gripes aside, this is a quality mystery with well-developed characters and hilarious dialogue. Story is great, but I have a feeling readers keep coming back for more of her sidekick’s zany hijinks.  Though I would’ve like more scenes of the fall festival (seriously, Story, stop and take a break for a moment!), this is a quality read for anyone who enjoys a good, puzzling mystery!

Back to the Bedroom…More Like Back to the Blah

The sugary sweet story of a woman with the “soul of a birthday cake living in a bran muffin house” who falls for a man with the “soul of a bran muffin living in a birthday cake house” has about as much substance as a Krispy Krème doughnut. The story is simple: Girl meets boy, girl and boy fall in love and ridiculous neuroticisms and eccentricities keep boy and girl apart. Female protagonist Katherine Finn is supposed to be endearing with her wild mane of red hair and chronic fear of commitment; however, I grew tired of her insatiable need to complicate a seemingly perfect relationship with the lotto-winning, all around Mr. Perfect David Dodd. Come to think of it, I don’t think I would want much to do with the overly sensitive guy either. The love scenes didn’t steam up my reading glasses because the cute-as-a-button male lead embodied about as much testosterone as the writer herself. I mean really, nothing sparks my fire more than a man who stays at home all day and plays with toys. Evanovich made an attempt to add an element of mystery to spice up the ho-hum storyline by having a piece of an unexplained aircraft crash down on Katherine’s house. The so-called mystery quickly shifts to the backburner as the painstakingly tedious romance unfolds. Now, considering this is one of Evanovich’s earlier works, I would like to believe this contrived, harlequinesque story was just a fluke, so I went on to read two more of her earlier works: “Visions of Sugarplums” and “Thanksgiving.” Sadly, these duds far surpassed my low expectations. As far as Janet Evanovich books are concerned, the three-strikes- rule certainly applies. Never again will I devote precious reading time to Evanovich’s mind-numbing, generic novels. In short, “Back to the Bedroom” is a paint-by-numbers romance that strives too hard for a fairytale ending – triggering a gag reflex along the way.