February Mystery Catchup: Bookstores/Cats/Magic

 Reviews by Sandra Murphy & Cynthia Chow

This week we have reviews and giveaways of 3 more fun mysteries-How to Book a Murder: A Starlit Bookshop Mystery by Cynthia Kuhn, Witch Trial: A Full Moon Mystery by Cate Conte, and Totally Pawstruck: A Second Chance Cat Mystery by Sofie Ryan. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 3 books, and Amazon links to purchase them at the end of each review--if you have ad blocker on you may not see them.

How to Book a Murder: A Starlit Bookshop Mystery by Cynthia Kuhn
review by Cynthia Chow

After recently earning a PhD in English, Emma Starrs sacrificed tenure in order to return home and save her family’s Starlit Bookshop in Silvercrest, Colorado. The bookstore is definitely in the red and in danger of losing its lease, and neither Emma nor her sister Lucy are willing to give up their late parents’ legacy. That explains why even though she only previously organized a few faculty events and parties, Emma offers to plan and host a well-paid murder mystery party for her former classmate Tabitha Louise Saxton Lyme Harmon Gladstone Baxter. The former Mean Girl hasn’t lost any of her elitism or cliquish tendencies, but Emma is willing to swallow her pride and welcome Tabita’s gossiping acolytes. So it’s unfortunate when Tabitha’s (latest) husband Tip is found to be very dead at the end of the event, with Tabitha wasting no time in accusing Emma’s Aunt Nora of being responsible.

Image Source Crooked Lane

Mystery writer and English professor Nora had admittedly battled against the late Silvercrest College Dean of Arts and Humanity, with most of the conflict centered over the move of her English Department to a prized area of real estate located on a building’s top floor. As egos and politics take over common sense, Nora further finds herself in the hot seat when Tip’s death closely resembles a scene from one of her earlier mystery novels. While Tabitha continues to cast shade upon Nora’s reputation, Emma and Lucy struggle to continue to bring in bookshop business and cater to another college professor client. Eccentric Calliope Nightfall hopes to have her gothic noir book signing held in the Starlit Bookshop, although her rapidly changing designs and plans for mandatory Halloween costumes may have the sisters regretting the event. Even an aspiring writers’ critique group meeting in the bookstore doesn’t help to elevate Emma’s hopes, especially when it brings in her high school nemesis, the admittedly handsome but irritatingly competitive Jake Hollister.

This first in a new series combines a literature-loving bookstore theme with academic intrigue and professorial politics. Author Cynthia Kuhn brings in all of her background with the academia that she so enjoyingly showcases in her other Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries. The petty battles between departments over offices and access to rooms are infuriating for all involved but humorously entertaining for readers. Emma’s continual pivoting with Calliope’s whims for a Poe-themed party are admirable, especially when she juggles this with her mission to prove her aunt’s innocence. Starlit Bookshop is charmingly depicted and faces one of its greatest battles when one of Tabitha’s exes moves in next door with plans to create a very loud live-music venue. With so much going on Emma still manages to make peace with her less-professorial life, resolve long-held rivalries, and spark a new future for Starlit Bookshop and her Colorado hometown. This is the debut of a very witty bibliophile mystery full of engaging characters and even more compelling academic infighting.


Witch Trial: A Full Moon Mystery by Cate Conte
review by Cynthia Chow

It’s been something of a rough going ever since Violet Mooney not only discovered that her real last name was Moonstone, but that she was descended from two incredibly powerful witch families. While the healing crystal shop owner welcomed a new half-sister in her life, reuniting with their imperious and extremely powerful mother Fiona Ravenstar has been something of a trial. That’s nothing like the trial that Vi is about to undergo, though, as due to previous events she is being questioned about the “genieing” of undercover reporter Mazzy Diamond. Mazzy’s allegations of fraudulent witch practices got her in the way of very powerful forces, and as a result she was genied into a pile of goo. Having participated in the cover-up and hiding the involvement of her Full Moon employee and fellow witch Josie Cook, Vi feels guilty enough to take on the responsibility of freeing Mazzy before the horrific transformation becomes permanent.

Image Source Kensington

Being tried by the Magickal Council should be enough to keep Vi occupied, but she is also troubled by the recent disappearance of a woman brought to her for a crystal consultation. Vi’s emerging power not only detected a haunting gray aura around Nicole St. James, but a shadow of fear that has Vi alarmed and concerned. Unfortunately, Vi’s recommendation of healing crystals aren’t enough to protect the attorney, and it’s not long before local police discover Nicole dead. Despite Fiona’s warnings/orders to stay out of the business of mortals, Vi and her friends begin looking into Nicole’s personal life and those with motives to have wanted her gone. Leprechaun private detectives, a truly Wicked Web internet, and magical break-and-entering will all become vital tools for Vi as she delves into these multiple investigations.

This second in the series continues to develop a fascinating mythology around the witches living in North Harbor, Connecticut. Vi and readers are introduced to this world where witches have their own law enforcement and justice system, with one lawyer in particular becoming very prominent in Vi’s future. Alternating chapters from Fiona’s chapter expand upon her character and reveal motives and machinations unknown to Vi, who is still reluctant to trust the mother long been absent from her life. This novel is an outstanding blend of fantasy and mystery, with the mystical elements as fascinating as the multiple puzzles being explored. One of Vi’s biggest challenges is learning how to balance her mundane and magical lives, which Fiona believes should be separate and never end well when combined. An unexpected reveal about the secrets being kept from her will no doubt challenge Vi’s future as she races against the clock to prove her own innocence and free Mazzy, but it also promises exciting intrigue for her and fans of this magical mystery series. 

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Totally Pawstruck: A Second Chance Cat Mystery by Sofie Ryan  
review by Sandra Murphy

Sarah and her friends, Jess and Nick, get together on a regular basis—most of the time. Now it’s been a while since their last outing, but she and Jess manage to meet at their usual place for good food and great music. 

On their way to the car, they’re shocked to see their friend Stella standing over a man lying half on the sidewalk and half in the street. He’s bleeding from a head wound and Stella has a bloodied glass ball in her hand. 

Image Source Penguin

Sarah and Jess are sure Stella didn’t bash the man, but she’s in shock and he’s on his way to the hospital, lights and sirens all the way. Unfortunately for Stella, the man dies. He’s one of the most disliked men in town so the suspect list of who would want him dead goes way past Stella. Means, the glass ball, too bad she had that in hand. Opportunity—standing over a dying man’s got that covered too. Motive—everybody’s got one.

Sarah owns a second hand store, recycling, upcycling, and saving or reinventing treasures. Her back room is rented out to older friends who call themselves the Angels. Mr. P is a licensed private detective, Rose is getting her license, Charlotte and Liz have other functions in the group. They take on Stella’s case and Sarah, once again, is dragged right along. After all, someone has to keep an eye on them. 

At the shop, Avery is in charge of window displays, creative ideas, and selling up a storm, with the help of Charlotte. They’re both aided by Elvis the Cat. He poses on furniture and charms customers. Mack, originally just the fix-it guy, is now Sarah’s Valentine—if she can decide what gift will make their first Valentine’s Day special. 

I love this series. The characters are people you’d want to know, especially the Angels, if you could keep up. Sarah and Mack make a wonderful couple. Avery is still in school but is more self-assured than most adults. And Elvis—who can resist a charming cat? This is book nine in the series. 

Ryan also writes the Magical Cats mysteries under the pen name of Sofie Kelly. Regular readers will remember Owen and Hercules and Owen’s Fred the Funky Chicken catnip toy, often beheaded. Find an excerpt of the first book in the series, Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, at the back of the book


To enter to win a copy of all 3 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line "february,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 19, 2022. US residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win. If entering via comment please include your email address so we can contact you. BE AWARE THAT DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS THERE MAY BE A DELAY IN SHIPPING THE WINNING BOOK. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section in Kings River Life and in our mystery category here on KRL News & Reviews. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. And check out our new mystery podcast which features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors! A new episode went up this week.

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the Arch in St. Louis Missouri. She writes about eco-friendly topics, pets and wildlife for magazines and reviews mysteries and thrillers for KRL. A collection of her short stories, published by Untreed Reads, From Hay to Eternity: Ten Tales of Crime and Deception can be found at all the usual outlets. Each one is a little weird and all have a twist you won't see coming.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Another great clutch of books! Count me in!

  2. Love to get in on a new series. All three
    sound great. thanks.

  3. Excited for all these great new books!

  4. Sounds like three great books. Would love to read all of them.

  5. All three of these books look like fun and entertaining cozy reads.

    allibrary (at) aol (dot) com

  6. Enjoy books about book shops - they need
    to be saved. Cate and Safia always have
    great reads. thanks

  7. These all sound so good. Thanks for the article and the contest. ckmbeg (at) gmail (dot) com

  8. Thanks for the opportunity! tWarner419@aol.com

  9. thanks so much for the chance to win!

  10. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing! Much appreciation--and I'm thrilled that you enjoyed it.


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