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by Valerie Burns
Kensington, August 2022
257 pages
ISBN: 1496738225

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Maddy Montgomery has spent her whole life preparing to marry somebody with money. When she is left at the altar, she gets another chance at a life. Her great-aunt Octavia dies and leaves Maddy everything: house, Baby Cakes Bakery, and a very large English Mastiff named Baby. The caveat? Maddy has to live in New Bison, MI and run the bakery for a year before she gets it all. Maddy doesn't cook or bake, so this will clearly be a challenge. Luckily, she has good employees who can cook and are willing to help her every step of the way. This includes teaching her how to bake, which results in some comical moments. Maddy is a whiz at social media and turns her mishaps into media gold. Baby the Mastiff soon has thousands of followers as a result of Maddy's posts about him.

There are folks in New Bison who are not thrilled that Maddy is going to try to keep the bakery. Real estate developers want her prime Michigan shore-line property for condominiums. Another local business owner wants to expand his shop into her space. A local English Mastiff breeder wants to buy Baby from her. Apparently somebody isn't ready to wait the one-year minimum required before Maddy can sell anything. Not one but two locals are found dead in her bakery; one is stabbed and Baby Cakes is set on fire. Later another person is found hanging in the ruins. Great-aunt Octavia has left some messages for Maddy. Who in town can Maddy trust? Octavia warns her to be careful, and doesn't know who to warn her about. Baby is a great judge of character, as Maddy learns quite quickly. He does contribute to the solving of the murders, unlike some "dog" mysteries where the canine is quite peripheral to the story and/or the plot. Baby is integral.

This is the first in a new series for Valerie Burns. She has two other series in print as V. M. Burns, with a total of twelve novels (apart from this one) under her belt. So this is not her first rodeo and it shows. I laughed out loud twice on the first page; I'm always delighted when that happens. It bodes well for the rest of the book. Her characters are delightful, and clearly people you or I could run into in our daily lives. The recipes in the book look very good; I suspect she is saving the chocolate cake recipe for another book, which is a shame. Having lived in a small town on the west side of Michigan, I can attest to the charm of New Bison, and the verity of her portrayal of what life in such a town is like. I did not figure out who the killer was, although I do believe she plays fair with the reader. I am looking forward to the second book in this delightful series.

P.J Coldren: I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and two fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, August 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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