The Windermere Witness (Lake District Mystery, #1)

The Windermere WitnessThe Windermere Witness
by Rebecca Trope
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780749012694
Series: Lake District Mystery #1
Publication Date: August 26, 2013
Pages: 414
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Allison & Busby

Following a personal tragedy, florist Persimmon 'Simmy' Brown has moved to the beautiful region of the Lake District to be nearer her charismatic parents. Things are going well, with her latest flower arrangements praised and Simmy content to lose herself in her work. But the peace she has found is shattered when, at the wedding of a millionaire's daughter, the bride's brother is found brutally murdered in the lake.

As the wedding florist, and one of the last people to talk to Mark Baxter alive, Simmy gradually becomes involved with the grief-ridden and angry relatives. All seem to have their fair share of secrets and scandals - an uncaring mother, a cheating father, and a husband twenty-five years older than his bride. When events take another sinister turn, Simmy becomes a prime witness and finds herself at the heart of a murder investigation. The chief suspects are the groom and his closely knit band of bachelor friends. They are all intimidating, volatile and secretive - but which one is a killer?


I picked this up at a used book shop during our aborted Christmas travels; having spent time in the Lake District, specifically, the towns of Windermere, Bowness, and Ableside that this story is set in, it appealed to me instantly.

Alas, it was no more than a drab average.  The characters didn’t know what they wanted to be: the MC tells an inspector at the beginning she’s moved to Windermere after her divorce, that she was childless and insisted that there were “compensations”.  By the end of the book she’s barely coping with the stillborn birth she had 2 years before.  Coping and repression are likely, of course, but they aren’t part of of the narrative, so the reader is left with no grasp of this MC.  The Inspector is either attractive and friendly or greasy-haired and antagonistic.  The MC’s mother is supposed to be a hippy, but acts more like a criminal attorney; I never once got the impression she liked her daughter.  The bride of the story is either flaky, naive and needs to be protected, or a headstrong woman who is the only one that can steer her much older husband’s life.  Flip-flop.

The elements of the plot were interesting, but the plot itself wasn’t anything special.  The motivation was pathetic and unbelievable, given the characters, and the murderer pretty obvious after about half-way.

The setting was what I’d hoped for, at least.  My memories of the Lake District are still vivid, and I loved the area, so ‘re-visiting’ it through the book kept me picking it back up.  This is the first in a series all set here, and while weak, not so bad that should I come across another one at a used book shop, I’d probably pick it up.

Betwixt (Betwixt & Between, #1)

BetwixtBetwixt
by Darynda Jones
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781734385243
Series: Betwixt & Between #1
Publication Date: February 15, 2020
Pages: 254
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Self-published

Forty-something Defiance Dayne only recently discovered she comes from a long line of powerful witches. Added to that was the teensy, infinitesimal fact that she is what’s called a charmling. One of three on the entire planet. And there are other witches who will stop at nothing to steal her immense power, which would basically involve her unfortunate and untimely death.

No one told her life after forty would mean having to learn new lifeskills—such as how to dodge supernatural assassins while casting from a moving vehicle—or that the sexiest man alive would be living in her basement.

Whoever said life begins at forty was clearly a master of the underappreciated and oft maligned understatement.


 

I heard about this one from a fellow reviewer, and being a big fan of Darynda Jones’ other work in paranormal stories, I bent so far as to buy the ebook, I was so eager to read it.

This is an easy to read, fun, well-written story of no immense depth, full of the wonderful narrative snark that Jones is brilliant at.  If you’ve read her before and didn’t care for the snark, this one won’t endear her to you, but it’s a lot of fun to read.

At its heart is the friendship between the main character Defiance and her BFF, Annette.  And, of course, the romantic interest that is Roane.  Jones tries really hard to make Roane not be Reyes from glorious Grim Reaper series, but while she succeeds at making him look different, a rose by any other name would still be Reyes.  The author definitely has a type.  Fortunately it works.

While book one is light on plot, focusing mostly on world and character building, I didn’t feel the lack.  These are characters I genuinely enjoyed reading about and their new life was interesting in itself.  The only complaint I had was the dangling storyline of the Ex.  His brief re-appearance was unnecessary, made more so by the complete lack of follow up.  It feels like something an editor forgot to take out.

The book ends on a definitely lead in to the next book; not a cliffhanger, but definitely a dangling carrot of sorts.  If you find yourself enjoying this book, you’ll likely want to jump right into the next one.

Sympathy for the Devil (Mad Bean Mystery, #1)

Sympathy for the DevilSympathy for the Devil
by Jerrilyn Farmer
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780380795963
Series: Madeline Bean #1
Publication Date: May 31, 1998
Pages: 248
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Avon Books

 

In the years before I started tracking my reading in the mid 2000’s I’d read this book several times, but it’s obviously been sitting on the shelf, neglected ever since, because I have no record of a review for it.

This came out in the heyday of the cozy mystery, before big publishing corrupted the sub-genre into a cash-cow, cookie-cutter formula.  Madeline Bean and her partner Wesley own a catering company that’s hip with the Hollywood crowd, throwing parties for the rich and infamous.  When their latest client is killed, Wesley’s old grudge with the man makes him look like the best suspect.

Farmer write a hell of a mystery.  It’s fun, it’s cozy, it’s fast-paced and the dialog is witty, intelligent and engaging.  These are characters one would choose to be friends with.  And the Huntley family is diabolically dysfunctional in ways that are hard to imagine unless you watch a lot of entertainment news.

The plotting was fascinating.  So many promising, legitimate possibilities and so many red herrings.  The climax is dramatic but well done – not overplayed – and the murderer was a surprise.

I enjoyed every book in this series, until it was cut short for reasons never explained; I’ve always been disappointed that it ended long before its time, but thankful that I have them all on my shelves to revisit.

I read this for the Halloween Square on my 2020 Halloween Bingo card.

Cry Wolf (Alpha & Omega, #1)

Cry WolfCry Wolf
by Patricia Briggs
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781440630811
Series: Alpha and Omega #1
Publication Date: September 27, 2020
Pages: 321
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

I’m a fan of the Mercy Thompson series, but I really had no interest in the Alpha and Omega series, since weres aren’t my favorite paranormal species.

But I found myself unspeakably bored at work yesterday and nothing on my kindle for mac app appealed. Until I stumbled across Cry Wolf and thought reading more about Bran and Charles sounded like a great idea

.An excellent read, although I’ll still maintain that I prefer the more diverse world of Mercy’s. It was a bit tough figuring out what was going on at first, since this book takes place pretty much right after the novella ‘Alpha and Omega’ – so if you’re looking to get into this series, start with the novella – it will make the beginning of this book so much more sensical.

After figuring out what was going on though, I really liked the dynamic between Anna and Charles and I appreciated the amount of time spent on them before launching into the action. The action itself, while not gory, was hard to read at times and I’ll admit, I passed right on over anything having to do with hurting animals. It makes up a small, very small part of the story, but those few sentences were more than I could bear. Otherwise, the subjugation of one person by another (I won’t say human, as I don’t think it applies in this case) is a big theme in the story and I thought Ms. Briggs did a very good job with it – reading it made me uncomfortable, as it was meant to.

I don’t know if I’ll read the next or not, but I’ll certainly be checking it out.

Fashionably Dead (Hot Damned, #1)

A fun, somewhat amusing way to pass time when you’re stuck at work with nothing to do (not even legitimate work!).

 

The premise of the story reminds me a lot of the Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson. With Prada. The story is told to entertain, with a few sex scenes to make it a bit steamy, and eccentric characters galore. Also, chock full o’ girl power.

 

Cotton Candy comes to mind when I try to make a comparison: fun, sweet, in swirly bright colours, it gives you a rush when you first consume it, but it doesn’t stay with you long.

 

The story leaves off with a cliffhanger, so there’s definitely another book in the future. If I’m still looking for an entertaining way to kill time, I’ll definitely be looking forward to reading it.

Bran New Death (A Merry Muffin Mystery #1)

This is a very well written book with an excellent story and plot. It misses that last half star because I just didn’t connect well with the main character. Her two friends, yes. Her hinted-at future love interest – not even a little bit. So I was left feeling that while I really enjoyed the story, I didn’t empathise with the main character or her future life in Autumn Vale at all.

 

The setting was really well done – Autumn Vale is full of quirky, eccentric folks and I found that the setting was written with realism – this isn’t the idyllic quaint town that hums along; this is a quaint little town that is dying, with more storefronts closed up than open. There’s a lot potential here for future development in subsequent books.

 

The central murder plot was very well crafted; this is a meaty story and not one I think you’re likely to breeze through. Ms. Hamilton writes another series and in comparison, there is a much more mature quality to the plotting and writing in this first-in-a-new-series. The action moved along, there was well crafted dialogue, and not a lot of filler in the form of internal dialogue – there was a bit of ‘let’s sum up the suspects’ but it was minimal and didn’t really take me out of the flow of the story.

 

A convoluted plot with suspects known and unknown. Well done to the end.

 

I’ll definitely pick up the next book – there’s a bit of a cliff hanger in the form of a puzzle yet to be solved; that could prove to be fun. I’ll hope that in the next book I’ll find more to connect with regarding the main character, Merry.

Clammed Up (A Maine Clambake Mystery #1)

This book started slow for me, and I was certain it wouldn’t be a 4 star read. But it was well-written and something kept me from just putting it down and walking away. As I kept reading, the story built momentum, and I became more engrossed, more invested, with each chapter.

 

The story takes place in Maine and the characters adhere to the stoic typecast of most residents of Maine. The result is not a light-hearted, humorous book or setting. The characters are likeable, but they aren’t charming or witty or cheeky; it takes time to warm to them. There’s also a fair amount of family drama to work through in this book, and that ratchets up the stoicism just that little bit more.

 

Julia has just moved back to Maine from New York City in an attempt to save the family business, and has no real friends in town to speak of, so no opportunities for banter or for the lighter side of a personality to shine through. Quentin shows promise in the future for more levity, but he doesn’t play a massive part in this plot and isn’t seen very often.

 

The plot itself was delightfully twisty and the ending was skilfully done; there was no guessing on my part – I hadn’t a clue how the story was going to end. A few threads were tied up a bit neatly at the end, but none of them central to the murder and none of them a surprise. I will say the author knows how to end a book too!

 

A very strong first, and I’m looking forward to reading the second.

Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1) Audio

Ms. Peters is a master, there is no doubt about it. An excellent story, very well written, but I tend to prefer her Vicky Bliss books over Ms. Peabody. Still, I enjoyed the audiobook enough to buy the next one in the series. The narration was outstanding, although the narrator made Evelyn such a whispery girl I wanted to smack her. Still, if you like audiobooks and you’re looking for a good old fashioned traditional mystery, I can recommend this one as worth the time.

Cloche and Dagger (A Hat Shop Mystery #1)

Usually I save my 5 star ratings for cozies that are a joy to read and offer something a bit different – unique (or not often used) plot devices, a deeper level of writing, really creative twists or settings. Cloche and Dagger didn’t really offer any of these pluses, but it was such an outstandingly fun read with such likeable characters, I couldn’t possibly have given it anything less.

 

For me, Ms. McKinlay wasn’t going to go wrong with a setting in Notting Hill, London. Consider that box ticked. The characters were each written so well, that they immediately presented themselves in my minds eye so I almost never struggled keeping characters/suspects straight in my mind (about 10 seconds asking ‘which one’s Andre and which one’s Nick’ was about it).

 

I am already crushing on Harrison – if Scarlett doesn’t want him, I’ll take him. We don’t get much time with Viv, but it’s clear she’ll be quirky and fun and I really like Fee. And thank you, thank you, thank you, for NOT introducing some awful, hateful caricature of some nasty cow put there to make everyone’s lives miserable.

 

The plot was nicely done – the first mystery presents itself on page 3(?) with Viv’s disappearance. The actual murder doesn’t come along until about 1/3 of the way through the book, which allows the author to introduce the setting, the people, etc. with the backdrop of Viv’s absence keeping things interesting. Once the murder does occur, it’s a good one. I had a suspicion throughout, but was never sure, until the end.

 

Ms. McKinlay has yet to write a series I don’t love (we won’t bring Josie Bell into this) and I think my rankings are going to need a reshuffling – Hat Shop, Library, Cupcakes. I was genuinely disappointed to have come to the end of this book and I can’t wait to read more (especially with the hint of paranormal at the very end – ooooh!).

Pall in the Family (A Family Fortune Mystery #1)

A very good, well-written first in what could be an excellent new series.

 

This is not a quick, light read. It’s not dark or depressing, but there’s a maturity to the writing that you don’t find in a lot of cozies, especially the paranormal ones. That’s not a criticism of cozies – I’m a huge fan – but this book feels like it’s a step above. The writing, the character building, the plot, all felt more on the level with Barbara Michaels, or Earlene Fowler (maybe?).  I felt like this book took longer to read than most of equal length, even though the story kept me invested.

 

The characters in this book are well-written, solid and real. There are no caricatures here. I’ll admit I really don’t like Vi, but she’s real – she reminds me in many ways of some of my own relatives. Clyde’s mom is a nag and Clyde is trying to power through a very traumatic event. The most humorous element of the book are the dogs, Baxter and Tuffy, with a few scenes that had me giggling a bit. Oh, and the deputy, Tom and his unfortunate lack of grace definitely lent itself to moments of levity. Mac is a love interest you can get behind and I love the background to their story. If the author continues to have Clyde fight against her ‘gifts’ I’ll not continue reading the series, but her qualms are justified in the short term.

 

Having talked the book up, I’ll now admit I guessed the killer pretty early on in the book but I’ll still argue the plot was very well done. Old crimes and new, plenty of suspects and a little bit of misdirection. While I knew who the killer was, I didn’t begin to guess at the motivation until the end – I totally had that part wrong, so no enjoyment was lost to my early guess.

 

I’m really looking forward to the next book; I hope it will come sooner rather than later.