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.

The Lost and Found Bookshop

The Lost and Found BookshopThe Lost and Found Bookshop
by Susan Wiggs
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780008358754
Publication Date: September 16, 2020
Pages: 359
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins

Heartbroken Natalie Harper inherits her mother’s charming, cash-strapped bookshop and finds herself the carer for her ailing grandfather Andrew. She thinks it’s best to move him to an assisted-living home to ensure his care, but to pay for it, Natalie will have to sell up the bookshop. However, Grandpa Andrew owns the building and refuses to budge.

Moving into the studio apartment above the shop, Natalie hires a contractor, Peach Gallagher, to do some repairs. His young daughter becomes a regular at the shop, and she and Natalie begin reading together while Peach works. Slowly, Natalie’s sorrow begins to dissipate as her life becomes an unexpected journey of new friendships. From unearthing hidden artifacts in the bookshop’s walls, to learning the truth about her family, the bookshop is full of surprises. Can Natalie reveal her own heart’s desire and turn a new page…?


 

I’m in a general fiction sort of reading mood, and this book, my second attempt, was much better than the first (The Last Bookshop in London).  Although, it didn’t start out that way; this book is broken down into 6 parts and the first part is absolutely wretched.  The writing is solid, but the story is wretched.

Once the story moves into part 2, it becomes a more enjoyable read.  Natalie starts moving forward, Peach (sorry, I don’t care if you do look like a pirate, that nickname is ridiculous) starts working on the building and things move forward, albeit slowly.  This is a sedately paced story, though there are intermittent moments that are fun, like when they find stuff hidden in a wall, or out in an old shed.  The history of families, and of San Francisco, are threads that run through the book, woven through the plot, becoming pivotal to the resolution.  I’ve only ever spent a day in San Francisco, but I swear the bookstore in this story was smack in the middle of our self-created walking tour, as I kept recognising landmarks and places the author dropped into the text, an occurrence I always enjoy.

Overall, an enjoyable read if you can get past the first part and like a general fiction sort of book.  It has a happy ending and there’s a very small but potent romance that takes almost the entire book to develop.  I’m not altogether sure Andrew’s altruism is entirely realistic; I’d like to believe it’s possible but given the pressure the author puts him and Natalie under, it’s sadly improbable.  Still, I like books that show us our best possible selves (penchant for murder mysteries aside), so it didn’t really hinder my ability to buy into the story, although it did occur to me that by the end, around the clock security would probably be necessary to ward off the treasure hunters.

 

Stargazy Pie (Greenwing & Dart, #1)

Stargazy PieStargazy Pie
by Victoria Goddard
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781988908045
Series: Greenwing & Dart #1
Publication Date: October 9, 2016
Pages: 369
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Underhill Books

 

My friend over at Tannat Reads reviewed the second book in this series awhile back and it sounded like fun, in spite of the caveats she shared with me.

She was right about the caveats, and it was a fun read.

The story takes place in an alternative universe I kept trying to plop into the UK because so many of the names of towns and characters, and so much of the atmosphere, felt British.  I was never really able to get past this, so I found it a bit difficult to imagine this world.

And speaking of this world, the author proves here, by it’s complete absence, that a little info dumping can be a good thing.  I spend a third of the book trying to figure out what was going on and it kept me from getting lost in the book until pretty much the last third of the story.  It’s alternate-universe fantasy – a little explaining would have been welcome.

So. much. sneezing.

The main character, Jemis Greenwing, has had a rather shitty life, in spite of having all the necessary ingredients for a charmed one.  It takes way too long, but eventually you figure out that his father was branded a traitor, then a war hero, though nobody remembers that, and his mother a bigamist who went through her inheritance trying to support her and her son.

Both parents die when he’s still young and he goes to university, falls in love and excels at his studies, only to find out his true love betrayed him and his professor flunks him on his final paper.  He ends up in hospital sick with a flu he can’t shake, and the confrontation he and his girlfriend had results in such an uproar, he’s run out of town, and while he’s on a walking tour (hiding), misses his step-father’s death and funeral. He’s back home, trying to hide from everyone who thinks he’s the son of a traitor, and working in a bookshop.  His memory is hazy, he loses his train of thought, he’s certain he’s unworthy of any kindness, and omg, so much sneezing.

All of this is pretty much all the information you don’t get until about half way through the book, and only then in dibs and dabs.  It made it very difficult for me to click with the main character.  He was always unsure of himself, scattered, and, well, moist.

But once Mr. Dart arrived on the scene, and to a lesser extent Violet and Mrs. Etaris, things started picking up.  By the halfway mark I was reasonable certain – as much as the plot allowed, which isn’t much – of what was going on.  Mr. Dart was all the things Jemis wasn’t and it was a much needed boost to my enjoyment. The repartee between the two life-long friends made me feel like I could eventually like Jemis, and by the last third, I was completely hooked on the characters, if not the plot.

The plot came together all too chaotically and rapidly for my liking.  I suppose that’s because Jemis was the MC, and not Mrs. Etaris.  Had Mrs. Etaris been the MC of this book everything would have been far clearer, more organised, and events handled far more efficiently.

But in spite of all of that, there was something fun about this book.  It was quirky, the dialog was smart and amusing, and interesting things happened at a fairly even pace.  So, while I didn’t think I was going to like this book all that much at first, I ended it with a desire to read the second book.

Alls well that ends with another book to read…

Window on the Square re-read

Window on the SquareWindow on the Square
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1962
Pages: 297
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Appleton-Century-Crofts

 

I got about 3 pages into The Stone Bull, and suddenly needed to re-read this, imo, classic of romantic suspense.

Of all the Whitney books I’ve read so far, this one remains far and away the best; the romance is still silly insta-love in that way so popular in the 60’s, but the suspense story is fabulous.  The writing is much tighter than her later works and the action clips along.

Eventually I’ll read the rest of her works just because I really want to know if anything she wrote is better than this one.

The Stone Bull

The Stone BullThe Stone Bull
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1977
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Doubleday

 

Even when Whitney’s books aren’t great, her sense of setting and atmosphere never falter.  This is true of The Stone Bull.  The pacing is slow, but atmosphere abounds.  She plays with timelines in the narrative – as if someone was writing a diary retrospectively, jumping between present and just-past events, then skipping ahead another day and looking back.  It sounds like a disaster, but it worked and took me very little effort to get used to.

The characters are typical of Whitney; a bit shallow; capricious; prone to instant love and romance.  What’s different here from the other books of hers I’ve read so far, is that this one starts where the rest usually end – after the wedding and in the throes of honeymoon giddiness.  Of course the honeymoon isn’t going to last.   Let’s just say the story feels progressive for a romantic Suspense novel written in 1977, by a woman who was 74 years old at the time of publishing and had lived the bulk of her life under a different set of social norms.

Definitely not her best, but still readable, if a little tedious.

The Ex Hex

The Ex HexThe Ex Hex
by Erin Sterling
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780063027473
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Pages: 320
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance
Publisher: HarperCollins

 

A departure for me, as this book is all about the romance, not a mystery plot that masks a little romance on the side.  But Whiskey in the Jar’s review made it sound cute and a lot of fun, so I grabbed it from my library.

It was fun, and it was cute.  I liked the N. Georgia setting and the brand of witchiness the story relied upon (think more Bewitched, less later-seasons-Charmed).  It was a nice change to read about a romantic hero that was Welsh instead of the tried and true Scottish or Irish male.

I mostly liked the relationships; the dynamic between Vivienne and her aunt and cousin, and especially the relationship between Rhys and his brothers.  The dynamic between Rhys and Simon, the father, felt forced and, the way it’s written here, kind of useless, as it really goes nowhere.

The narrative banter was the most enjoyable part of the book for me (that and the fact that the cat got a voice).  The banter kept me reading, even though I skimmed the romance and the angst, but that’s not the book, that’s just me.

Overall exactly what I was hoping for.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021, and I read it at night, with my little book light for ambiance, making it work for Read by Candlelight or Flashlight; I was all ready to do the candle light, but I remember Easter-cats first confrontation with a candle flame, and her singed whiskers.  Pikachu has insanely long whiskers and an insatiable curiosity that didn’t bode well for the candlelit reading.

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.