No Escape Claws (Second Chance Cat Mystery, #6)

No Escape ClawsNo Escape Claws
by Sofie Ryan
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781101991244
Series: Second Chance Cat Mystery #6
Publication Date: January 29, 2019
Pages: 287
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

It’s fall in North Harbor, Maine, where Sarah owns a charming secondhand shop and sells lovingly refurbished items of all kinds. The shop is always bustling–and not just because a quirky team of senior-citizen detectives works out of it and manages to get in even more trouble than Sarah’s rough-and-tumble rescue cat, Elvis.

A cold case heats up when young Mallory Pearson appears at the shop. Mallory’s father is in prison for negligence after her stepmother’s mysterious death, but Mallory believes he is innocent and asks the in-house detectives to take on the case. With Sarah and Elvis lending a paw, the detectives decide to try to give Mallory’s father a second chance of his own.


 

A so-so entry.  Good character, great cat, small-town setting.  Sophie Ryan (who also writes as Sophie Kelly) is a decent writer, too, but the plotting was weak in No Escape Claws.

View Spoiler »

 

Overall, this is an enjoyable cozy series, as current cozies go.  This one just wasn’t one of the strongest.

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.

No Nest for the Wicket re-read

No Nest for the WicketNo Nest for the Wicket
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780312329402
Series: Meg Langslow #7
Publication Date: August 8, 2006
Pages: 259
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur

 

I read this when it first came out back in 2008-ish, and my first review can be found here.

I love Donna Andrews, but for some reason haven’t re-read the non-Christmas ones in ages, if ever.  It was a little bit strange going back this far, as Meg and Michael aren’t married yet, the twins are not yet a glint in their eye, and Meg’s family has yet to transition from Yorktown to Caerphilly.  But the eXtreme croquet tournament that is at the heart of this mystery is hilarious – extra wickets for hitting the balls between the legs of the cows and the sheep! and the Morris Men Dancer team is certainly an interesting twist.

I’m going to say that the plot is not the primary reason to read this book.  If you’re a follower of the series, the characters and the side plots are enough to keep the book entertaining.  While the mystery itself was decent, Andrews gave an abundance of clues to the reader and then sprung an unexpected murderer on Meg and the rest of us.  Not strictly fair play.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo – for a square I dreaded: Lethal Games until Themis-Athena reminded me of the Meg Langslow series’ multiple games-focused plots.  Thanks TA for making this square a lot less stressful.  🙂

Lowcountry Boughs of Holly (Liz Talbot Mystery, #10)

Lowcountry Boughs of HollyLowcountry Boughs of Holly
by Susan M. Boyer
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781635116311
Series: Liz Talbot Mystery #10
Publication Date: November 17, 2020
Pages: 242
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but PI Liz Talbot is struggling to feel festive. She hasn’t seen her best friend in weeks and fears she may never see her again in this life. Meanwhile Nate, Liz’s husband and partner, is spending money like he prints it in the attic on a mysterious family Christmas celebration.

Liz’s nerves are shot, and she hasn’t even decked a single hall. But there’s no time to fret. On a beach run, Liz spots a rowboat run aground with Santa inside. Did Old Saint Nick have too much eggnog at the boat parade? No indeedy—Santa’s been shot. And he’s none other than C.C. Bounetheau, patriarch of one of Charleston’s wealthiest families.

Liz and Nate already unwrapped quite a few family secrets while searching for the Bounetheau’s missing granddaughter last year—enough to make them swear to steer forever clear of the entire clan. But as Liz and Nate are the police chief’s on-call detectives, they’re on the case. With no shortage of suspects, they dash to find a killer who may be working his or her way down a naughty list.


Calling this series ‘dependable’ sounds like I’m talking about old shoes, but dependable really is the best word; each of the 10 entries so far have offered up solid writing, great characters (with eccentric family members) and creative and sometimes heartbreaking plots, with just a dash of the supernatural in the form of a ghost to keep things interesting.

Lowcountry Boughs of Holly was no different, though I have to say the storyline was too convenient in a forced kind of way.  The entire murder plot, while good, was all too relevant to the solution of a multi-book mini mystery that’s been brewing.  Liz has been worried for the past several books about where her husband Nate has been finding the money he’s been spending.  It’s been nothing more than a passing curiosity but this is the book where it all comes out.  And the coincidental parallels between the two plots beggars belief.

Putting that aside though, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and as it is yet another Christmas themed mystery, the ending is a charming and happy one all the way around.

Murder Once Removed (Genealogical Mystery, #1)

Murder Once RemovedMurder Once Removed
by S.C. Perkins
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250189035
Series: Genealogy Investigations #1
Publication Date: March 12, 2019
Pages: 319
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

Lucy's client, Austin billionaire Gus Halloran, has announced on live television that Texas senator Caleb Applewhite might be responsible for the murder of Seth Halloran.

Of course, Lucy is a genealogist, so the murder in question took place back in 1849. And it's possible that another nineteenth-century Texas politician may, in fact, have wielded the death blow. Lucy is determined to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt who the guilty man is, but when her curiosity lands her at the scene of another murder - this time, in the present-day - she realises that the branches of some family trees shouldn't be shaken.


This sat on my TBR for ages, and then I started reading it in April and it started off slowly enough that it languished bedside for almost 4 months.  Everything else I wanted to pick up yesterday qualified for Halloween Book Bingo, so I decided to just finish this one off. This book ended up being much better than I expected.

Lucy is a professional genealogist, researching the family tree of one of the more prominent Austin families when she stumbles upon evidence that a long ago ‘accidental’ death of one of her client’s ancestors was actually a murder, paid for by a man with the initials C.A.  As she tried to find out more about the people surrounding this 150+ year old crime she discovers that someone in the here and now is very much invested in what happened all those days ago.

The story starts off slow, and frankly a little bit immaturely, but about half way through the story got interesting as it became apparent how the author was going to make a 150 year old crime relevant enough for someone to kill over in the present.  The writing also got better; it’s standard cozy fare, but it’s better than average once you get past the frivolous party attitude prevalent at the start.

The solution was, perhaps, trying too hard to be clever and Lucy’s little justifications of genealogy a bit tedious, but overall it was a mystery that surprised me.  I had no intention of reading another one after the first 75 pages, but by the end I found myself willing to read the second one to see where it goes.

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.

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1)

Dead Until DarkDead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 2008-01-02
Series: Sookie Stackhouse #1
Publication Date: January 2, 2008
Pages: 312
Genre: Urban Fantasy

I read this for the first time in 2008, when it came out, but find I don’t have any notes or reviews of it; obviously I was only lurking and shelving on GR back in 2008.  I remember really liking it back then, and I’ve read all but the 13th and final novel since.

However, upon a second read many years later, I find the writing doesn’t hold up.  Sookie is naive and a bit simple (not simple-minded), as she is supposed to be, but the writing too feels naive and simple, which left me impatient.

It’s possible later books are better written, but so far I have not the urge to find out.