The Cats Came Back (Magical Cats Mystery, #10)

The Cats Came BackThe Cats Came Back
by Sofie Kelly
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780399584596
Series: Magical Cats Mystery #10
Publication Date: January 1, 2018
Pages: 294
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

 

This is an adorably fun series about two magical cats and a likeable group of humans, but this entry was very average for me, mainly because I anticipated every plot development and who the murderer was well before it’s reasonable to have guessed.

That’s pretty much all I’ve got to say – it’s not a bad read, it just wasn’t as cleverly plotted as others in the series.

Death by Committee (Abby McCree Mystery, #1)

Death by CommitteeDeath by Committee
by Alexis Morgan
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781496719539
Series: Abby McCree Mystery #1
Publication Date: January 29, 2019
Pages: 282
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

 

Meh.

Several decades ago, when I started reading cozies, they were actually good; well written and well plotted puzzles that didn’t involve the grimy underbelly of society or graphic violence (the gory kind).

They’re still puzzles that don’t involve the grimy underbelly of society or graphic violence (the gory kind), but somewhere along the way – about a decade ago – publishers turned them into a commodity to be standardised; they created a formula for maximum efficiency and higher returns via quantity.  And they seemed to have completely done away with quality.

This is starting to piss me off, because as much as I enjoy a good vintage cozy/traditional mystery, sometimes I want a good cozy/traditional set in my own time, and I’m dammed if I can find one anymore (and by this, I mean new series, not the good ones that have lasted).

I thought Death by Committee had potential at the beginning, but by the halfway mark it became clear that the author (or her editor) was falling into the standard equation, and not only following formula in plotting, because sometimes there’s no escaping those tropes that work, but following a worn out formula for her characters too.  The current fad seems to be a middle aged woman riding heard on a band of hyperactive seniors.  Sophie Kelly makes this work with her series, but Morgan does not.  The seniors were flat and took advantage of the MC.  The MC’s righteous indignation failed to feel righteous, and the MC’s romantic interest failed to seem like anyone other than someone with a mood disorder.

The highlight of the book was the MC’s mastiff-mix, Zeke.

Editing was subpar, with several dropped time-lines (a memorable one is where the MC and her romantic interest make plans to meet for dinner that night and it never happens – the entire scene just disappeared).

It’s morning here as I write this, and I’m not a morning person, so let me just say this: it wasn’t a bad book.  It just wan’t a good one, either.

Lord of the Far Island

Lord of the Far IslandLord of the Far Island
by Victoria Holt
Rating: ★★
isbn: 0600872114
Publication Date: January 1, 1975
Pages: 284
Genre: Historical, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Companion Book Club

 

This was written in 1975.

This was a mantra of mine as I read this book.  Generally, I’m unaffected by dated material, or maybe not unaffected, but aware that reading the old stuff means a likelihood of butting up against outdated social mores, prejudices and attitudes, and I try not to let it colour my enjoyment of the story.

I could not do this with Lord of Far Island.  The romantic hero drove me plum crazy.

The book starts off slow, with Part 1 a very verbose retrospective of the MC, Ellen’s, life.  It’s almost entirely telling, rather than showing.  Part 2 gets a lot more interesting, as Ellen has been invited to Kellaway Island, a deliciously gothic island off the coast of Cornwall, complete with castle and all the gothic accessories.  The Kellaway’s are her father’s side of the family and a complete unknown to her.  There she meets the “Lord” of the island, Jago Kellaway, a many times removed cousin and the romantic hero.

Also, an utter prat.

I’ll get to the prat part later, because that’s where my inability to put aside the differences between when this was written and when I read it most strongly come into play.  I also had a hard time with this romance because of the cousin thing – which I can usually shrug off, but it kept coming up, keeping it at the forefront.  Even more creepy, in my estimation, was the fact that he kept referring to her as his ward.  She’s 20 and he’s “not much more than 30”, so everybody’s well beyond the age of consent.  But her father died and he named Jago her guardian until she turned 21, and he constantly introduced her as his ward, and reminded her he was her guardian and the whole thing just started to feel really creepy.

Did I mention Jago was a prat?  Well, he was.  I can’t explain it better than he can so here’s a few quotes:

“She’ll tell your fortune. I know you like having your fortune told. All women do.”

 

“That was a fortunate release, my darling. That’s how you’re going to see it.”

 

“You go too fast.  I have not yet said I will marry you.
This is perverse of you because you know as well as I do that you are going to.”

 

It turns out I don’t like my fictional MC’s being bossed around any more than I like being bossed around myself.

I suspect if I’d read this when I was far younger I’d have enjoyed it more, but there’s been too much water under the bridge, so to speak, for me to find Jago to be anything but a prat.

Murder at the Royal Botanic Garden’s (Wrexford & Sloane Mystery #5)

Murder at the Royal Botanic GardensMurder at the Royal Botanic Gardens
by Andrea Penrose
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781496732507
Series: Wrexford & Sloane #5
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Pages: 368
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

One advantage of being caught up in a whirl of dress fittings and decisions about flower arrangements and breakfast menus is that Charlotte Sloane has little time for any pre-wedding qualms. Her love for Wrexford isn’t in question. But will being a wife—and a Countess—make it difficult for her to maintain her independence—not to mention, her secret identity as famed satirical artist A.J. Quill?

Despite those concerns, there are soon even more urgent matters to attend to during Charlotte and Wrexford’s first public outing as an engaged couple. At a symposium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, a visiting botanist suffers a fatal collapse. The traces of white powder near his mouth reveal the dark truth—he was murdered. Drawn into the investigation, Charlotte and the Earl learn of the victim’s involvement in a momentous medical discovery. With fame and immense fortune at stake, there’s no shortage of suspects, including some whose ruthlessness is already known. But neither Charlotte nor her husband-to-be can realize how close the danger is about to get—or to what lengths this villain is prepared to go . . .


 

I still like this series, but what started out as a string of compelling mysteries is starting to lose its edge.  Blame it on the editor, reader feedback, or change of perspective on the part of the author, but the whole narrative has become entirely too idealistic to be reasonably realistic.  There was an excess of repetitive statements about the family you choose, the power of love, and an awful lot of lamenting over the death of an objectively heinous individual.  All of these ideals are wonderful and worth striving for, but considering the early 1800’s setting, I doubt very much they were worked quite so thoroughly into the mindset of anybody living at the time.  The result was a book that felt entirely too much like a religious genre novel.  Only with murder and (light) swearing.

What I did enjoy was the botanical setting of Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, and the impetus behind the plot being the race for a game-changing medicinal plant that enhances the effect of cinchona, or quinine, against malaria (plant being entirely fictional).  I really enjoyed the name drops of real historical figures, including Alexander von Humboldt – and was tickled to see the author recommend Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature in the story notes.

The plot was going rather well until I neared the end, when the author suddenly felt the need to work in a slave-trade angle that felt like a bolt from nowhere.  Looking at the story as a whole, it felt like the author needed to wrap up some loose ends from the previous book, needing to kill someone off while keeping the current book’s plot going.  I don’t know, but it just felt super clumsy.

I’ll read a 6th, should it appear, because I really do enjoy the cast of characters, but if this idealistic stuff continues to the point of incredulity, I’ll add this series to the “done for me” list.

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.