Charleston Green (Tipsy Collins, #1)

Charleston GreenCharleston Green
by Stephanie Alexander
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781647040505
Series: Tipy Collins #1
Publication Date: April 14, 2020
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Bublish

 

I BookLikes friend read and rated this highly recently, and I’m always onboard for a ghost story-mystery set in Charleston.  Her standards are far more exacting than mine, so I felt confident buying it and its sequel the other day

Unfortunately, I can’t say I loved it.  I’m conflicted about even saying I liked it, although it was a good, well-written story, with the exception of a few formatting errors and at least a couple of grammatical ones, though still fewer of both than I normally find in most traditionally published books.

At first I thought the problem for me was the third person present POV.  In my opinion it’s the least forgiving POV available to authors and as such very hard to get right.  Done wrong, characters are flat and lifeless.

But the characters weren’t flat and lifeless.  Except for the main one, Tipsy herself, and ultimately this was what held me back from completely enjoying this book.  She was a dishrag, and not just because she’d just gone through a difficult divorce, but because she’d been something of a dishrag her whole life.  Not a victim, not even a doormat, but just a non-entity.  A time or two she caught fire and those moments were ones I enjoyed thoroughly, but they happened way too rarely to make up for all the rest of the book, where she just drifted through.

On the plus side, the ghosts were great, and I enjoyed the parts where Tipsy painted, likely because they were the only times she wasn’t passive.  But I truly enjoyed the story behind the ghosts and the mystery of how they died.

I was prepared to jump directly into the second book, Haint Blue, but I flipped through it this morning, and caught a passage that’s completely turned me off.  It’s obvious that the author’s need to write as true to life as possible means taking the reader on the same emotional roller coaster of relationships that most people would give a kidney to avoid experiencing in real life, but are bound to go through anyway.  Bound to or not in real life, I’m not obligated to experience it again in my books, and the passage that caught my eye has Tipsy acting like a melodramatic teen.  No, thank you.  Maybe someday, but for now I’m stopping with Charleston Green and calling it good.

 

I read this because it looked good, but I’m also using it for Halloween Bingo 2021 on my Murder Most Foul square.

The Filigree Ball

The Filigree BallThe Filigree Ball
by Anna Katherine Green
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1903
Pages: 418
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

 

I just finished this book and I have to forgo sleep to get this review down so I don’t forget any details overnight.

5 star read.  My first this year, I think.  Absolutely amazing story from start to finish, but oh man!  The finish!

I’ve been enjoying Anna Katherine Green’s books since first discovering her The Mayor’s Wife; I was entranced by how such an old story could rivet me, the reader, with what would have had to have been the birth of many tropes we get jaded about it today’s mysteries.

I admit to buying this one with some hesitancy though.   I assumed, by the title, that the mystery would involve a grand ball, someone being killed during a waltz, or over dinner, or perhaps just after an illicit assignation in the garden behind the ballroom.

HA!  I could not have been more wrong!  From start to finish, I had a creepy house with a history of death in the library, always by the same mysterious means; a house considered haunted by its history if not its actual ghosts.  Dark, abandoned mid-wedding, when the last body was found, right down to leaving the food on the tables and the cake on the floor where it was dropped during the stampede to escape the house’s curse.  It’s all very gothic.

Then there’s the bride, dead by seemingly her own hand, just a fortnight after her marriage, but surrounded by inconsistencies that make murder a possibility. Her heartbroken husband and her distraught sister, both of whom have shaky alibis and strange reactions to the events as they unfold, making them look more suspicious than bereaved.

Then there’s the narrator, who at times I swear foreshadows the Noir genre, with his quiet investigations on the side, to try to prove his theory that more was going on than met the eye.  His dedication to doing so to save the woman, who is, throughout the book, put upon a pedestal of all that is perfect in woman: beautiful, proud, self-sacrificing, suffering with utmost dignity.   Alas, we were missing just a bottle of whiskey and possibly the use of “Dame” in the narrative and we could have credited AKG with the first noir mystery.

The puzzle pieces come together, disjointedly, as our nameless narrator plod through, putting clues together, ferreting out further information and even chasing one witness to Tampa, Florida.

And the ending, omg the ending was so good.  So well crafted, and such a sucker punch.

The books perfection might have been heightened, in my opinion, by the exclusion of the final chapter, chapter 27.  It’s truly extraneous to the book in all ways except for those readers who want their loose ends tied up in a HEA bow.  I did not mind it, I would not have missed its absence either.

Truly, one of the best mysteries I’ve read in ages, vintage or otherwise.  I’d happily recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good vintage mystery (with the caveat to expect a few offhand and cheerful references to the casual racism that was part of the times in which this book was written.)

 

I read this because I’ve been meaning to for the last few weeks anyway, but also because the new Halloween Bingo 2021 square Vintage Mysteries is one of the re-vamped squares that has lifted its restrictions on what constitutes a qualifying mystery.  As AKG predates the Golden Age, it wouldn’t have necessarily qualified before.  I’ll be using it for Vintage Mysteries but if anyone else is interested, it would also qualify for Gothic, and I think, given the questions concerning all the murders that take place in the book, it would also work for Locked Room

Murder Most Fair (Verity Kent, #5)

Murder Most FairMurder Most Fair
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781496728494
Series: Verity Kent #5
Publication Date: August 31, 2021
Pages: 384
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

 

I think this book ended up with a 4 star rating because I liked the ending.  Looking back as I write this there were several things that probably put this more at 3.5 stars.

There were some editing issues; I’m pretty sure the German Aunt central to this plot started out being on Verity’s mother’s side (references to her mother’s German family) and then suddenly, she’s Verity’s father’s Aunt.

But mostly the story was just so melancholy.  It fits with the time period – post WWI – and all the books have been tinged with an appropriate air of pain, confusion and recovery, but Huber just piled on in this book.  We have the veterans trying to adjust to life after the trenches, we have Lord Ryder wallowing, passed-out drunk in the uncertainty that his father might not have been a loyal peer of the realm before his death, we have the culmination of a 5 year breach between Verity and her family, and Verity’s inability to confront her grief over the loss of one of her brothers during the war.  It’s all very heavy.

Buried underneath all this depressiveness is, actually, a really good mystery, albeit a very slow moving one under the weight of all the above, about the murder of her German Aunt’s personal maid, during a holiday gathering at the family estate in the Yorkshire Dales.  Huber touches on the bigotry in the aftermath of war, and the inability for some to differentiate between a person and a government.  It was a well-crafted plot, too, in that I should have seen the killer before I did, but missed it.

So, really probably a 3.5 star read, but laziness will keep it at 4.  A good story bogged down by what would be normally be compelling side lines on their own, but taken together felt altogether too depressing for a cozy mystery.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 and it fits the Country House Mystery square, as it’s set at the family estate in the Yorkshire Dales.

Independent Bones (Sarah Booth Delaney, #23)

Independent BonesIndependent Bones
by Carolyn Haines
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250257871
Series: Sarah Booth Delaney #23
Publication Date: May 18, 2021
Pages: 357
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

 

Whew – I had concerns after the last book, Garland of Bones, was such a poor entry to what is normally a reliable series.

This one starts right off with a bang – a rather graphic display of domestic violence at the grand opening of Zinnia’s new public park, during a speech by a professor passionate about women’s rights.  The next day, the abuser is found dead, and the police find two other murders with the exact same MO in two other cities, and the professor is a suspect in all of them.

The fight-the-patriarchy rhetoric was strong, and at times, way too thickly laid on.  Given Sarah Booth and Tinkie’s apathy for their client, the professor, I think it was done on purpose with the idea of illustrating that too much of anything – good or bad – can have disastrous consequences.  This made the rhetoric, which was mostly in the first half of the book, at least useful to the plot.  It still detracted from my enjoyment overall though.

What I did appreciate an awful lot, along with the faster pace and the lighter tone, was that the author also took the time to point out that the characters series readers know and love already have quietly, and in their own unique way, ‘fought the patriarchy’ and carved out their own independence and power.  Balance.

Sarah’s resident haint, Jitty, also played a far less annoying part that usual; Sarah Booth has finally, after 22 books, stopped being taken in like an idiot, by her frequent appearances as historical figures.  This time around, the figures she appears as are all powerful women throughout American history, who fought the constraints of their times to achieve agency over their own lives.  And all of them outlaws.  One of the messages being, that before our current generations, the only way women had their own agency was to be outlaws, in one way or another.  These interludes were interesting and I found myself far less impatient with them than I’ve been in the past.  They felt less silly and more relevant.

It doesn’t take a genius to know that for the last few years the writing has been on the wall for American women, as the feeble, power-hungry men we helped elect have been systematically making noise about taking away a woman’s agency, but the timing of this plot feels especially prescient, as the publication of this book came almost at the exact same time as events in Texas unfolded.  Because behind the scenes of this story is a new, secret, well-funded, political movement unfolding across the US, with the goal of unwinding the rights of women back to pre 1900’s, where women couldn’t work any meaningful jobs, or have control of their finances, never mind their bodies, and their husbands were legally free to ‘correct’ their behaviour as they saw fit.  That bit of the story doesn’t end with a tied-up bow and a justice-wins-the-day at the end, which is fitting.  The pendulum of humanity swings wide, but slow.

 

I read this book for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Dem Bones square.  Every book in the series has “Bones” in the title, and a skeleton, or part of one, on the cover.

Murder Most Fowl (Meg Langslow, #29)

Murder Most FowlMurder Most Fowl
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250760166
Series: Meg Langslow #29
Publication Date: August 3, 2021
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

 

It had to happen at some point, right?  And 3.5 is not a bad rating, and it’s not that the book isn’t up to snuff.  It’s more that the setting has appeared in previous books in one incarnation or another (historical re-enactments), and at some point it starts to feel re-cycled.

The story was also lighter on the humor than previous books and a couple of the more eccentric family members were absent.

None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy the book – I definitely did – but compared to other books in the series it lacked that certain … something.  It’s still written better than your average cozy mystery though.

 

This book is a shoe-in for my 2021 Halloween Bingo Card’s Gallows Humor, or Murder Most Foul squares, but I’m holding off assigning it to a square until I read my next book; I need In the Dark, Dark Woods and this one might just squeak in on that square if my next book fails me.

Like a Charm

Like a CharmLike a Charm
by Candace Havens
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780425219263
Publication Date: February 5, 2008
Pages: 289
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Berkley

 

I’ve had a few books by Candace Havens on the shelves for over a decade, and the other night I decided I had to re-read them; I remembered the broad strokes, but not much else.  I started with this one, Like a Charm and it held up surprisingly well, for the kind of story it is.

Like a Charm is a paranormal romance, but really the romance is only about half the story, the rest is about the MC, Kira, picking herself up and putting herself back together after a horrific work related experience that left her traumatised and seriously ill.  She goes back to her hometown and reconnects with the residents and her family, and while she’s there, the town librarian dies, a woman who was like a second mom to her.  Kira is bequeathed an extraordinary inheritance, and must weight accepting it against going back to her highly successful law career.

Of course that other half of the story is Caleb.  Caleb has all the requirements of a romantic hero: of course he’s hot, and he’s a carpenter, BUT only on the side, when he’s not running around the world being a highly successful investigative reporter, and of course he’s rich, although you’d never know it unless he’s in a suit.  And of course he’s a gentleman of the southern variety, holding doors, paying for everything – but only in the most enlightened and charming fashion.  I’m used to this sort of stuff in what few romances I read, and I accept that it’s a winning formula for a reason.  But where things got really out-of-date, was the whole first time in bed scene.  It was just soooo cheesy.

As is obvious, I enjoyed the non-romantic half more.  It was largely an ode to books and libraries and the book-title-author name dropping was fun.  It was a light, fun read that went fast.

 

I’ve decided to use this for the Raven/Free Square on my Halloween Bingo 2021 card.  It’s full of magic and I-see-dead-people and is set in a small town run and protected by a coven of witches.

The Cannonball tree Mystery (Crown Colony, #5)

The Cannonball Tree MysteryThe Cannonball Tree Mystery
by Ovidia Yu
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781472132031
Series: Crown Colony Mystery #5
Publication Date: June 3, 2021
Pages: 313
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Constable

 

Blame it on being written, and punished during a pandemic, maybe, but this one wasn’t nearly as good as the last, The Mimosa Tree Mystery.  There were serious issues with editing and continuity, both within the story and with the overall series.  In the previous book, Hideki tells Su Lin her mother was the youngest of the cousins, but in this book he is said to have looked upon her as “an older sister or mother figure”.  The first murder victim in this book is the sister of Su Lin’s aunt by marriage, but the victim is referred to several times as Su Lin’s Aunt and as ‘being married to your uncle’.

There are at least half a dozen more instances where a character does or says something on one page and then is said to have said/done the exact opposite a page or two later.  I don’t know if this is poor story editing, or if it’s meant to reflect the hysteria of war time in an occupation where anybody could be shot for simply now bowing deeply enough.  If it’s the latter, then the editing still failed as the narrative left me confused about my confusion.

The storyline itself also failed to compete with the compelling storyline of Mimosa Tree, which involved war time codes, rebel forces, POW’s, treasures and a murder that happened just hours before the story started.  In this one, the first murder didn’t take place until well over 100 pages of household drama – pretty horrific household drama, I’ll grant, but overall, not worth the 100+ pages it was written on.  The last 200 pages have moments that are far more interesting, but not enough to really shine; I kept reading because I kept waiting for interesting things to happen, and they rarely did.

Most disappointing of all was the absence of Le Froy, a primary character of the series, obviously modelled after Sherlock Holmes.  While absent for 99% of Mimosa Tree he was a guiding and motivating force for Su Lin and the plot.  Here, his name was barely mentioned and only then in passing introspective thoughts.  It’s as if with the absence of Le Froy, the story – and the author – lost it’s focus, organisation, and its logic.

But then again, this book takes place in 1944, when the axis countries started to fall apart, and perhaps this books disorganisation is a reflection of the unraveling  of the Japanese Empire towards the end.  Who knows?  I only know it wasn’t nearly as good a story as I know the author is capable of.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021.  I’m using it for my Truly Terrifying square by invoking my Amplification spell card.  Ovidia Yu is a Singaporean author and qualifies as a diverse voice from an historically marginalised community.

The Mimosa Tree Mystery (Crown Colony, #4)

The Mimosa Tree MysteryThe Mimosa Tree Mystery
by Ovidia Yu
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781472132024
Series: Crown Colony Mystery #4
Publication Date: June 4, 2020
Pages: 311
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Constable

 

Even though I’ve enjoyed the previous three entries in this series, I hesitated over this one.  The first three were pre-WWII, but The Mimosa Tree Mystery moves the series into Japanese occupied Singapore.  I couldn’t see how Yu would be able to write a story that maintained the gentility of a traditional mystery in the middle of a Japanese occupied war-torn setting and maintain any semblance of authenticity.

Yu not only managed, she outdid her previous efforts.  There’s no sugar-coating the atrocities perpetuated by the Japanese during that time – Su Lin and her family are Chinese, and the story starts in the middle of a roundup into a killing field – but by focusing on Su Lin and the murder mystery the author avoids the story being overwhelmed by the horror of the times.

I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this story.  I liked the previous ones, but I had a hard time becoming invested in the characters.  This time around it wasn’t a problem – the story was riveting enough and the pace fast enough that whether I became wholly invested in the characters didn’t matter.  My only complaint was the denouement scene.  I understand that the point was the murderer wasn’t rational, but Yu did the job too well and it became extraordinarily difficult to follow along with who supposedly was working with whom and who ordered what, etc.  It was a small thing in the overall enjoyment of the story, but it was at the end, so it stuck.

I now find myself eager to dive into the next book, The Cannonball Tree Mystery to find out what happens next with Su Lin, her family, and (former) detective, now POW, Le Froy.

 

I read this for 2021 Halloween Bingo.  It fits the Tropical Terror square rather well, as it is set in Singapore (Tropical) during the WWII Japanese occupation (Terror).

Agnes and the Hitman re-read

Agnes and the HitmanAgnes and the Hitman
by Jennifer Crusie
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780312363048
Publication Date: August 21, 2007
Pages: 368
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

 

I recently read Wild Ride by the same two authors for a Halloween Bingo square, and it made me want to re-read my very favorite Crusie of all time.  I reviewed it back in 2014, which can be found here, but even then it was a re-read and I don’t have any notes from my original reading.

But it really doesn’t matter, because this book is just as good the 5 or 6th time as it was the first time.  Hilarious, not at all realistic, yet believable, and at its heart, endearingly sweet in a way that only a mafia related killing spree can be.

Agnes is engaged and they’ve bought the house of her dreams from her BFF’s mother, where she and her soon-to-be are going to write cookbooks and cater fabulous events.  The first event is part of the mortgage contract: throw a fabulous wedding at the house for Agnes’ goddaughter and the previous owner’s grand-daughter in exchange for the first 3 months of payments.

Easy, until someone comes in one night to steal her dog at gunpoint.  Agnes, who has a history of anger management issues, hits him with a frying pan, knocking him through the wall into an unknown (to her) basement.  She calls her old friend Joey (the Gent) who, hearing what happened and seeing the basement, calls in his nephew, Shane, a government black-op.  He comes to protect Agnes and find out who wants the dog, and why.

Meanwhile, the bride’s grand-mother seems determined to relocate the wedding to the country club, and everything that can go wrong with the wedding preparations does.   Through it all Agnes just keeps cooking and planning and fixing, refusing to allow anything to stand in her way of having this wedding, not even the dead bodies.

It’s a fast paced read, with no slow spots.  It’s a huge amount of fun, and as I said before it’s not at all realistic, but the relationships are feel believable.  Even the instant attraction between Shane and Agnes.  I continue to absolutely love this book as one of the ultimate comfort reads on my shelves.

 

I re-read this just because I wanted to, but it fits for Halloween Bingo’s Terror in a Small Town square, so I’m going with that.  It’s set in Keyes, South Carolina a tiny (fictional) town that’s home to half the Jersey mob’s family (the retired half) and is beset with a string of murders that leaves a body count somewhere around 7.

The Alchemist’s Illusion

The Alchemist's IllusionThe Alchemist's Illusion
by Gigi Pandian
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780738753010
Series: Accidental Alchemist #4
Publication Date: February 1, 2019
Pages: 329
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Midnight Ink

 

I read this book while I read two other supernatural books at the same time, and now my thoughts are all muddled.  But for the most part it’s a slightly better than average cozy paranormal mystery.

Zoe’s an alchemist that accidentally stumbled on the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life centuries ago and has been hiding her true nature ever since. Her best friend is a gargoyle that received the elixir of life from someone practicing backward alchemy a hundred years ago who got by before meeting Zoe by being a French chef to the blind.  There’s a lot to like in the premise of this book and series, if you like that sort of thing (and I do).

Zoe apprenticed under Nicholas Flamel and his wife, both of whom disappeared centuries ago and were presumed dead, but Zoe had begun having suspicions when she stumbled across a painting of the two of them – something she knew they never allowed.

What follows would be a great story if not for Zoe’s over-riding angst colouring the whole story.  Constant worrying about being found out; her other best friend being railroaded for a crime he didn’t commit because of his race; her gargoyle being discovered; her boyfriend not believing her.  The list is sort of exhaustive, and reading about it is exhaustive.  Beyond that is a really interesting story about hiding in plain sight, and the corruption of desire in a life lived too long.

This book culminates in a few secrets being revealed, so I can only hope the next book will be a lot less angsty and a lot more pure fun.

 

I read this book for 2021 Halloween Bingo’s Genre: Mystery square.  Underneath all the gargoyles and alchemists, there’s a murder mystery to be solved.