Garland of Bones (Sarah Booth Delaney, #22)

Garland of BonesGarland of Bones
by Carolyn Haines
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781250257925
Series: Sarah Booth Delaney #22
Publication Date: October 13, 2020
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

I have always loved this series for many reasons: the mysteries are always pretty good, the characters are wonderful, and the writing always felt naturally lyrical, with wit that just seemed to flow off Haines’ pen.

Not so much in this one.  The wit and sparkle felt forced, the sentiment feigned and even the characters were reluctant to involve themselves in the mystery, which felt lacklustre in spite of it being well plotted.

As I write this I find myself wondering if this book isn’t a reflection of the author’s state of mind when she wrote it.

View Spoiler »

This book definitely feels like a jaded mind at work.  Hopefully not a sign of books to come.

Gift of the Magpie (Meg Langslow, #28)

The Gift of the MagpieThe Gift of the Magpie
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781250760128
Series: Meg Langslow #28
Publication Date: October 20, 2020
Pages: 206
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

I loved this book.  I missed out on it during the Christmas season, but it’s cold and rainy here down under, so it was the perfect atmosphere in spite of it being the last day of July.

There’s always something wonderful going on in Caerphilly, even if a lot of people get bumped off.  This time it’s a Helping Hands program, started by the towns’ churches’ interfaith committee, to help out people with small (or large) projects, run by volunteers lending their individual expertise.  The biggest project of them all is a notorious hoarder who is in danger of having his home condemned and his family having him declared unfit to care for himself.  Meg and the mayor get the Helping Hands involved and are helping him deal with all his stuff and make repairs to his home when Meg finds him bashed in the head in his garage.

The mystery plot wasn’t one of her best, though Andrews did a great job keeping the reader in a state of reasonable doubt, but the rest of the story was just lovely. Not a word normally associated with mysteries, but it was.  Though there was less emphasis on the Christmas spirit in this one, I loved the ending and I loved the surprises.  The only thing that I noticed (beyond a couple of minor continuity errors) was that of all her books, this one was probably the one where the titular birds (magpies) had the smallest role.  The birds have never been pivotal to the plots, so it’s barely worth mentioning.  Have I mentioned how much I loved the ending?

I eagerly await the next two books.

Terns of Endearment (Meg Langslow, #26)

Terns of EndearmentTerns of Endearment
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250192974
Series: Meg Langslow #25
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

I read this book last year, but 2020 was a year full of cracks, and this book’s reading record and thoughts slipped through one of them.  I re-read it last night to brush up my memories.

I think the thing I love the most about Meg Langslow, after 26 books is her sheer competence.  Her family is quirky, and the mysteries are always good, but there just doesn’t seem to be any crisis that Meg, and the members of Caerphilly can’t handle with astonishing efficiency.

Terns of Endearment takes place on an educational wildlife cruise.  Her grandfather has been lured into a series of on-board lectures, but soon after the ship sets sail, a series of events leaves the ship stranded in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.  Dead bodies, sabotage, and on-board illnesses slow down the Langslow family not a bit and soon enough they’re sorting out the crew, the passengers and the mysteries.  It should be over-the-top, but it isn’t.  It’s inspiring.  I want to be Meg when I grow up.

Purrfectly Dead (Whiskey, Tango & Foxtrot Mystery, #5)

Purrfectly DeadPurrfectly Dead
by Dixie Lyle
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250078445
Series: Whiskey, Tango & Foxtrot Mystery #5
Publication Date: January 1, 1970
Pages: 325
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks

I’d given up on this series.  Purrfectly Dead was one of those books whose publication has been slated for years, but whose release date was always being pushed back.  I’d accepted it was something of a zombie.  And then a few months ago, there it was, released and waiting for me.

The series itself always leaves me baffled – not least because I thoroughly enjoy it in spite of myself.  I must not be alone in this feeling, as the author recognises this in the first chapter, in a clever breaking of the fourth wall combined with a series world-building summary: the MC can communication with animals telepathically, and part of her job is overseeing the pet cemetery, which serves as a crossroads for animal spirts travelling to visit their former owners (also dead).

I’ve never been a fan of talking animals so I shouldn’t enjoy this series as much as I do (and the cat calling the MC ‘toots’ grates on my nerves), but I love the idea of the crossroads, and the mysteries are usually pretty good, so it works.

I enjoyed the book, including the incredibly fast, witty dialogue, and not only laughed out loud, but had to read MT passages about the rock star with writer’s block and his efforts to overcome it (all of which involve copious amounts of recreational drugs).  But there’s a theme to the plot that’s based on Native American mythology – Thunderbirds – that I’d have liked to have enjoyed more, but didn’t.  There was no reference to Native Americans or their myths beyond using Thunderbirds, and the themes behind averting a supernatural war were heavy-handed.  A tad preachy.  However, the murder mystery was excellent with very clever plotting and possibly the best method of hiding by a villain I’ve ever read.  Admittedly impossible, but so much fun anyway.

I hope the reasons for the series hiatus are behind it and there’s a 6th book in the works; the premise is a bit silly, as the author acknowledges, but it’s also so heart-warmingly wonderful and fun at the same time.  So fingers crossed I can look forward to another one.

The Windermere Witness (Lake District Mystery, #1)

The Windermere WitnessThe Windermere Witness
by Rebecca Trope
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780749012694
Series: Lake District Mystery #1
Publication Date: August 26, 2013
Pages: 414
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Allison & Busby

Following a personal tragedy, florist Persimmon 'Simmy' Brown has moved to the beautiful region of the Lake District to be nearer her charismatic parents. Things are going well, with her latest flower arrangements praised and Simmy content to lose herself in her work. But the peace she has found is shattered when, at the wedding of a millionaire's daughter, the bride's brother is found brutally murdered in the lake.

As the wedding florist, and one of the last people to talk to Mark Baxter alive, Simmy gradually becomes involved with the grief-ridden and angry relatives. All seem to have their fair share of secrets and scandals - an uncaring mother, a cheating father, and a husband twenty-five years older than his bride. When events take another sinister turn, Simmy becomes a prime witness and finds herself at the heart of a murder investigation. The chief suspects are the groom and his closely knit band of bachelor friends. They are all intimidating, volatile and secretive - but which one is a killer?


I picked this up at a used book shop during our aborted Christmas travels; having spent time in the Lake District, specifically, the towns of Windermere, Bowness, and Ableside that this story is set in, it appealed to me instantly.

Alas, it was no more than a drab average.  The characters didn’t know what they wanted to be: the MC tells an inspector at the beginning she’s moved to Windermere after her divorce, that she was childless and insisted that there were “compensations”.  By the end of the book she’s barely coping with the stillborn birth she had 2 years before.  Coping and repression are likely, of course, but they aren’t part of of the narrative, so the reader is left with no grasp of this MC.  The Inspector is either attractive and friendly or greasy-haired and antagonistic.  The MC’s mother is supposed to be a hippy, but acts more like a criminal attorney; I never once got the impression she liked her daughter.  The bride of the story is either flaky, naive and needs to be protected, or a headstrong woman who is the only one that can steer her much older husband’s life.  Flip-flop.

The elements of the plot were interesting, but the plot itself wasn’t anything special.  The motivation was pathetic and unbelievable, given the characters, and the murderer pretty obvious after about half-way.

The setting was what I’d hoped for, at least.  My memories of the Lake District are still vivid, and I loved the area, so ‘re-visiting’ it through the book kept me picking it back up.  This is the first in a series all set here, and while weak, not so bad that should I come across another one at a used book shop, I’d probably pick it up.

Death in Daylesford (Phryne Fisher Mystery, #21)

Death in DaylesfordDeath in Daylesford
by Kerry Greenwood
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781743310342
Series: Phryne Fisher #21
Publication Date: November 15, 2020
Pages: 321
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Surrounded by secrets, great and small, the formidable Miss Phryne Fisher returns to vanquish injustice.

When a mysterious invitation arrives for Miss Phryne Fisher from an unknown Captain Herbert Spencer, Phryne's curiosity is excited. Spencer runs a retreat in Victoria's spa country for shell-shocked soldiers of the First World War. It's a cause after Phryne's own heart but what could Spencer want from her?

Phryne and the faithful Dot view their spa sojourn as a short holiday but are quickly thrown in the midst of disturbing Highland gatherings, disappearing women, murder and the mystery of the Temperance Hotel.

Meanwhile, Cec, Bert and Tinker find a young woman floating face down in the harbour, dead. Tinker, with Jane and Ruth, Phryne's resilient adopted daughters, together decide to solve what appears to be a heinous crime.

Disappearances, murder, bombs, booby-traps and strange goings-on land Miss Phryne Fisher right in the middle of her most exciting adventure.


I’ve been a fan of this series from the beginning but this one was phoned in, either by the author herself or Allen and Unwin, or, possibly, both.  I still enjoyed the hell out of catching up with Phryne and friends, but in quality, this was disappointing.

Death in Daylesford is one of her longer entries, and the story meanders quite a bit across at least 3 different plot-lines taking place in two different places: Melbourne’s mystery being solved by Phryne’s three adopted kids and her assistant’s fiancé (a police detective), and one in Daylesford, a spa town about an hour away from Melbourne, spear-headed by Phryne and her assistant Dot.

The Melbourne plot could have been scrapped and I’d have never missed it.  While I like Jane and Ruth as characters, I found their plot/mystery to be too Nancy Drew for my tastes.  The death they investigated was tragic, and it’s solution sad, but it was superfluous to requirements.

Phryne’s mysteries were more interesting and more diabolical, but poor editing and the inclusion of the Nancy Drew parallel plot detracted significantly from what it might have been.  The poor editing is obvious – and surprising – in the form of missing words, and one scene where the dead body is removed from the scene twice.  Blaming the parallel plot is just speculation on my part, but so many things in Phryne’s mysteries were glossed over and she reached conclusions with no discernible process to the reader, that I have to believe Greenwood just didn’t have the page space to expand on plot points the way she might have.  Which is a shame, because the plots were interesting and deserved more than they got.

In spite of all this, I enjoyed the read, and I’m thrilled to see a new Phryne Fisher mystery out, after I’d started to believe the series was over.  I hope there will be more, and I hope the author and the publisher both get their groove back.

Shake Down (Elliott Lisbon Mystery, #5)

Shake DownShake Down
by Kendel Lynn
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781635115871
Series: Elliott Lisbon Mystery #5
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
Pages: 224
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

Ballantyne Foundation Director and PI-in-training, Elliott Lisbon, is enjoying her idyllically slow life on Sea Pine Island, South Carolina. It’s the week before the annual Beach Ball and she’s sipping Bellinis on the sidelines. Her committee involvement is limited to securing the centerpieces: scrumptious masterpieces from the Cake & Shake. But when the head baker goes missing, Elli’s calm life gets a major shakeup. She takes the case and soon learns that missing is a relative term.

As Elli walks the delicate line between a woman finding herself and a woman needing to be found, the days speed up and she knows something’s about to go down. From drug runners to whistleblowers to sea turtle sabotage, Elli stirs up secrets and inadvertently whips a desperate killer into a frenzy. If she doesn’t find a way out of the heat, she’s going to get burned.


I’m always excited about a new Elliott Lisbon mystery being released; Kendel Lynn doesn’t publish on the typical once-a-year schedule, so you just never know when or if the next one is coming.

But they’re worth the suspense – these are well-written mysteries with solid plots and while definitely cozy, there’s nothing cutesy or twee about the characters or the plots.  Shake Down starts off slow and builds slowly, with the search for a missing woman.  Is she missing?  Did she just take off?  Was there foul play involved?  Elliott Lisbon is a PI in training, putting in her required hours before receiving her license and she’s hired to find the woman, or find out what happened to her.

For spice, and possibly levity, there’s a reality tv show involved in the plot, but the ending is unexpected and, well, unexpected.  This one isn’t going to keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will offer you a satisfying mystery.

Fatal Cajun Festival (A Cajun Country Mystery, #5)

Fatal Cajun FestivalFatal Cajun Festival
by Ellen Byron
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781643851297
Series: Cajun Country Mystery #5
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Pages: 292
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Grab your tickets for Cajun Country Live!, the pickers' and crooners' answer to the legendary New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Maggie Crozat, proprietor of the Crozat Plantation B&B, plans to be in the cheering section when her friend Gaynell Bourgeois takes the stage with her band, Gaynell and the Gator Girls.

The festival's headliner, native daughter Tammy Barker, rocketed to stardom on a TV singing competition. She has the voice of an angel...and the personality of a devilish diva. But Maggie learns that this tiny terror carries a grudge against Gaynell. She's already sabotaged the Gator Girls' JazzFest audition. When a member of Tammy's entourage is murdered at the festival, Tammy makes sure Gaynell is number one on the suspect list.

Gaynell has plenty of company on that list--including every one of Tammy's musicians. Posing as a groupie, Maggie infiltrates Tammy's band and will have to hit all the right notes to clear her friend's name.


Not bad; I think Crooked Lane Publishers could do better with a tighter editing process, but the plotting was excellent.  The characters weren’t engaging as past entries of the series, but I’m not sure I can say why.  Generally, a relatively solid entry in a better than average series.
 

Lowcountry Boondoggle (Liz Talbot, #9)

Lowcountry BoondoggleLowcountry Boondoggle
by Susan M. Boyer
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781635116076
Series: Liz Talbot Mystery #9
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Pages: 240
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

Private investigators Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews thought they’d put Darius Baker’s troubles to rest—then his recently discovered son ropes him into a hemp farm investment with his college buddies. When a beloved Charleston professor—and potential investor—is murdered, Liz and Nate discover Darius keeps the PIs on speed dial.

A shocking number of people had reasons to want the genteel, bowtie wearing, tea-drinking professor dead. Was it one of his many girlfriends or a disgruntled student? Or perhaps Murray was killed because his failure to invest meant the hemp farm trio’s dreams were going up in smoke? Though Liz’s long-dead best friend, Colleen, warns her the stakes are far higher than Liz imagines, she is hellbent on finding the no-good killer among the bevy of suspects. But will the price of justice be more than Liz can bear?


Another solid entry in what’s been a very dependable, well-written series.  The mystery itself was a little predictable, but I can’t be certain the author didn’t intend that, as the clues weren’t subtle; a story about PIs wouldn’t really work with subtle and still be fair to the readers.

There’s some character development in this one, as well as references to a previous plot that make this less than ideal as a standalone, and it’s wroth the time to start at the beginning with book 1.

The Man in the Microwave Oven (Theo Bogart, #2)

The Man in the Microwave OvenThe Man in the Microwave Oven
by Susan Cox
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250116208
Series: Theo Bogart Mystery #2
Publication Date: November 3, 2020
Pages: 298
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur

Fleeing from a murder and family tragedy in her native England, where she was the scandal du jour for the tabloid press, Theo Bogart changed her name and built an undercover life in a close-knit San Francisco neighborhood. She didn’t expect to find love and friendship there, and now she doesn’t know how—or if—to reveal the truth.

After a confrontation with a difficult neighbor, Theo fears her secrets are about to be uncovered after all. When the woman who threatened to expose her is murdered, Theo is embroiled in the kind of jeopardy she crossed an ocean to escape. Worse yet, dangerous family secrets have followed her. Theo’s grandfather unveils a glimpse of the shadowy world he once inhabited as an agent for the British Secret Service, bringing an even bigger breed of trouble—and another death—to Theo’s doorstep. She finds herself fighting to protect herself, her family, and her new friends, aware that one of them might be a murderer.


Interesting concept, really interesting characters, a plot that’s a little out there, requiring a greater degree of suspension of disbelief.  I found the narrative hard to follow at times, as the style is a bit choppy; I feel like the editor could have smoothed out the rougher edges without sacrificing the author’s voice.  There were times when it was easy to lose track of who was saying what, and scenes within chapters could change abruptly.

The whole “I have a secret” thing is going to get old if Cox perpetuates through a third book, but otherwise I really like this start of a new series and I’m on-board with seeing where it goes.