Love and Death Among the Cheetahs (Royal Spyness, #13)

Love and Death Among the CheetahsLove and Death Among the Cheetahs
by Rhys Bowen
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Royal Spyness #13
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Pages: 304
Publisher: Berkley

The author starts this instalment with an apology in advance; the book is set in Africa – Kenya – during the late 20’s/early 30’s, a time when race relations and the views of the British Empire (as were the rest of the world) were shameful.

This had me braced for difficult reading, but I have to say, that was not the disclaimer I needed.  In true cozy style, Bowen acknowledged the dichotomy and inequality between white and black without really verbalising it.  What caught me unawares (and shouldn’t have; I can only wonder if the pre-apology diverted me), was the casual references to hunting big game.  Of course it was a thing back then, and of course I should have seen it coming.

The other unexpected part of the story was the behaviour of the upper class in Kenya; a risqué path for a cozy, but done well by the author, and based on actual events and a real person: Lady Idina Sackville.  Bowen closes with a short bibliography of texts she used in an effort to write about the times accurately.

All in all, another enjoyable instalment in a long-running series that has remained fairly strong throughout, balancing cheeky naiveté and interesting murder plots.

What Lola Wants (Lola Cruz, #4)

What Lola WantsWhat Lola Wants
by Melissa Bourbon
Rating: ★★★
Series: Lola Cruz #
Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Pages: 244
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

The first three books in this series were published years ago, and, I’m guessing, got dropped from the publisher.  I was disappointed at the time because I enjoyed the series, and I generally enjoyed the author’s mystery writing.  Fast forward several years later, and Henery Press published this fourth instalment.

Meh.  Either my tastes changed, or the author lost her groove during the hiatus.  It was still an interesting plot, and I still enjoyed the characters, but a lot of her romance writing history bled through into the story and the chapters’ angst.  And seriously, the editor or author need to repeat things over and over is grating on my nerves.  Lola’s always wanted to be a detective; she knows jujitsu; I get it and I got it the first time it was mentioned.  I’m smart that way.

Not sure this series is for me anymore.

The Glass Thief (Jaya Jones Treasure Mystery, #6)

The Glass ThiefThe Glass Thief
by Gigi Pandian
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781635115550
Series: Jaya Jones Mystery #
Publication Date: November 1, 2019
Pages: 256
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

I never know what to say about these books.  They’re cozy, but with an Indiana Jones/Where in the World is Carmen Santiago mash up vibe.  All the mysteries in this series are rooted in off the beaten path historical fact, usually, but not always, India’s past, and always center on some type of treasure that’s been looted, or being searched for in order to be looted.  It’s this that keeps me coming back to these books if I’m honest.  I like the characters well enough, but I’m not as invested in them as I could be.

The Glass Thief is supposed to be an homage to Elizabeth Peters’ character Vicky Bliss, but – and admittedly it’s been over a decade since I’ve read them – I didn’t see it.  The romantic relationship here is similar, but otherwise I’d have to re-read the Vicky Bliss books to see more.  The plot twist was obvious from the beginning, so the ‘gasp!’ moment mid-way was less gasp! and more eye-roll.  But overall it was a good story that kept me entertained, which is something of an accomplishment lately, so it deserves merit for that.

Lowcountry Boomerang (Liz Talbot Mystery, #8)

Lowcountry BoomerangLowcountry Boomerang
by Susan M. Boyer
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 1635115434
Series: Liz Talbot Mystery #8
Publication Date: September 1, 2019
Pages: 256
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

I continue to really enjoy this series; Boyer doesn’t overplay the ghost, and keeps the mysteries solvable by strictly corporeal measures.

The plots are always well done, though this one’s solution sort of felt like it came out of left field.  Looking back at the end, I can see where the author placed the ‘clues’ (though they wren’t really clues) but I’m not sure really works, and it left questions for me.  Still, I really enjoyed watching Liz and Nate go about solving the crime, absolving their client of a false accusation.  And the Talbot family had a few moments in the spotlight to let their crazy flag fly, which I always enjoy.

The inside flap of my book says there’s already a ninth book out, so maybe I won’t have to wait longer than the slower than usual post before I can jump back in.

Owl be Home for Christmas (Meg Langslow, #26)

Owl be Home for ChristmasOwl be Home for Christmas
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250305312
Series: Meg Langslow #26
Publication Date: October 19, 2019
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

This was the only Christmas story I read this year, and I started it just as everything started going pear shaped in RL, so it took me forever to read it.  I know this is a ‘me’ problem, but the longer it takes me to finish a book, the more scattered the story feels to me, so this entry by one of my favorite current authors got short shrift from me this year.  Still, it was good; the mystery was well constructed and the holiday spirit was high.  The Christmas dinner almost made me misty eyed and made me love Donna Andrews as an author just a little bit more than I already did.

Death Comes to the School (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #4)

Death Comes To The SchoolDeath Comes To The School
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781496702081
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #5
Publication Date: November 28, 2017
Pages: 273
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

I caught a cold a few weeks ago that I thought I’d kicked to the curb after only 4 days, only to have it come raging back a week later in the form of a cough that will. not. die.  I’ve sounded like a barking seal for the last 8 days and yesterday, to add insult to injury, I got a skull cracking headache, too, leaving me feeling like every time I coughed I was going to end up like those people in the X-files, whose brains exploded out their ears.

So even though I have 3 other books currently going, I needed something very easy on both my brain and my eyes.  Death Comes to the School was a perfect fit with it’s on-the-large-side-of-average typeface and it’s very familiar backdrop and characters.  It allowed me to forget for a time about the icepack wrapped around my head and the cough lozenges that have stained my tongue purple (black elderberry).

The story starts off 3 years after the last book;  why don’t authors of series do this more often?  It makes everything that happens so much more believable; rather than have a village of death, you’re backdrop is just a village where normal stuff happens.  Anyway, the murder happens fairly quickly, to a school teacher nobody liked, and it happens rather oddly, with a hat pin in her neck and a pen in her eye.  From this point, the author has a bit of fun twisting the character stereotypes of the time around and using them to her advantage.  The mystery plotting of the book is really very good, although the motivation tie-in at the end was a tad weak.

The character angst though, I could have done without.  I really like Robert and Lucy, both individually and together but this book … this book turn them into cardboard cliches, all because Lucy has yet to produce an heir.  This is an historically accurate issue; childbirth was a treacherous business and entailments created situations where entire villages depended on one poor woman to produce a son.  I get that.  But the whole emotional miscommunication thing that bogged down this story was stupid; for two characters that talked and argued about everything incessantly in the first three books, the whole “doesn’t she want me?” “he doesn’t desire me anymore, I’m a failure” let’s-not-talk thing was just annoying.

There was more to like than not, though, and as a nice bonus, the book takes place during Christmas, so it was seasonal too!  This has been a solid series so far and I’m already looking forward to the next one, which will undoubtably continue to revolve around heirs and spares, but hopefully without all the silly angst.

Book themes for St. Martin’s Day: Read a book set  before the age of electricity.



Death Comes To Kurland Hall

Death Comes to Kurland HallDeath Comes to Kurland Hall
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780758287373
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #3
Publication Date: November 24, 2015
Pages: 281
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

I really enjoy this historical cozy mystery series.  Ms. Lloyd writes such great characters and settings.  I suspect some anachronisms (did people go on honeymoons, or call them that, in 1817?) but my grasp of the details of history is weak at best so most will fly right over my head.

The plotting of this one was almost superb, but it sort of fell apart in the last third of the book.  Or maybe it didn’t; perhaps the author intended to lead the reader to the conclusion, but the effect felt a bit convoluted and the twist at the end suffered for it.  Still I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope there are more to come.

Death Comes to London (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #2)

Death Comes to LondonDeath Comes to London
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780758287359
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #2
Publication Date: November 25, 2014
Pages: 259
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

With the reluctant blessings of their father, the rector of Kurland St. Mary, Lucy Harrington and her sister Anna leave home for a social season in London. At the same time, Lucy's special friend Major Robert Kurland is summoned to the city to accept a baronetcy for his wartime heroism.

Amidst the dizzying whirl of balls and formal dinners, the focus shifts from mixing and matchmaking to murder when the dowager Countess of Broughton, the mother of an old army friend of Robert, drops dead. When it's revealed she's been poisoned, Robert's former betrothed, Miss Chingford, is accused, and she in turn points a finger at Anna. To protect her sister, Lucy enlists Robert's aid in drawing out the true culprit.

But with suspects ranging from resentful rivals and embittered family members to the toast of the ton, it will take all their sleuthing skills to unmask the poisoner before more trouble is stirred up. . .

I chose this book to read right before going to sleep at night because it’s a Regency historical cozy and would be a more calming read than, say, a thriller or a paranormal ghost story.

This was also dumb, because I enjoyed the story enough that I didn’t want to close the book and I ended up staying up too late three nights in a row.

Ms. Lloyd created excellent characters: likeable and flawed.  The clincher for me is not that they are flawed, but that there isn’t any spotlight on the flaws; they weren’t created to give the characters something to overcome, they just are what they are.  Lucy is too headstrong and independent for most of the eligible men of London, and maybe a bit too old.  Oh well, she is what she is and she’s fine with it.  Robert is a grumpy ass in a lot of pain (war wound).  He’s a good person, just really not subtle and he’s short-tempered.  He apologises when he offends, but well, it’s the way he is.  Anna comes closest to a trope: beautiful, naive, sweet-natured, but she shows not only the expected flashes of temper but also appealing moments of rational thinking and decisive action.

The mystery concerns the death of a dowager countess during a ball at Almack’s – she was universally loathed so the suspects are thick on the ground.  The plotting is complex, well-thought out and until the very end there are just too many people who could have done the terrible deeds that begin with that old woman’s death.

There’s a romantic element between Lucy and Robert but it’s ethereal at best; I would have liked a little more forward momentum and less of Lucy jumping to unwarranted conclusions.  (The end was what griped me the most – the rest was fine.)

A great read and it looks to be a great series – I’ll be waiting for book 3.

Death Comes to the Village (A Kurland St. Mary Mystery)

Death Comes to the VillageDeath Comes to the Village
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780758287335
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #1
Publication Date: November 26, 2013
Pages: 282
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

A fast, entertaining read I picked up and finished in one day.

A wounded soldier and a rector’s daughter discover strange goings-on in the sleepy village of Kurland S. Mary in Regency England.

The author has a degree in history so I’m taking on faith that this is a historically accurate cozy mystery tale.  Either way I found it to be well-written with both likeable and detestable characters.  I’m pretty sure I liked all the characters I was meant to like; Lucy, the MC, and her sister Anna are modelled after Lizzie and Jane in Pride & Prejudice and I suppose arguments could be made for Major Robert Kurland favouring Darcy.

The setting was sketchy; I didn’t get a clear sense of the village at all, although the rectory and Kurland Manor are both well described.

The plot was good; very good.  I know many readers feel like a murder mystery should have a dead body appear almost immediately.  If you’re the type who is looking for the body to drop, this book isn’t for you; you’re going to be waiting a long time for a corpse to appear.  Instead, this is a very well crafted mystery focussed on the disappearance of two young girls and a rash of thefts taking place in the ‘big’ houses of the village.  The author takes you where she wants you to go, then slowly starts introducing the clues that make it clear things aren’t as obvious as they seem.  I picked up on part of the mystery early, but the bulk of it I didn’t get until Ms. Lloyed wanted me to.

Two things about this book stood out for me, neither of which detracted from my overall enjoyment of the book (much).  The first thing is niggling, really rather trivial: the opening two sentences of the book should be reversed.  The second, and I’m certain this is historically accurate, is the author doesn’t sugar-coat the complete disregard men have for women in this time; how women are truly nothing more than chattel.  It was a rather infuriating theme throughout the story.

I’m under the impression that this is the first in a new series.  If so, I’ll gladly read the second; I’d like to see more of Lucy and Robert and I’d like to see more of what the author is capable of in terms of plotting.