The Last Curtain Call (Haunted Home Renovation Mystery, #8)

The Last Curtain CallThe Last Curtain Call
by Juliet Blackwell
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780593097939
Series: Haunted Home Renovation Mystery #8
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Pages: 318
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Paranormal
Publisher: Berkley

Mel Turner can’t resist the chance to bring the Crockett Theatre, a decrepit San Francisco Art Deco movie palace, back to life. But there’s a catch for Turner Construction: Several artists are currently squatting in the building, and they aren’t the only ones haunting the once-grand halls of the historic theater.…

When one of the squatters is found dead, the police department has a long list of suspects to investigate. Meanwhile, Mel and her fiancé, Landon, are remodeling an old house for themselves, and Mel finds being on the other side of a home renovation project more challenging than she expected.

When Mel discovers that the former owner of the Crockett Theatre died under mysterious circumstances, and that there just might be a connection to the ghost haunting her own attic, the case takes a new turn—one that could bring down the curtain for the last time.

One of the few remaining cozy writers and series I still find dependable.  Juliet Blackwell is a good writer; I enjoy her characters, her imagination for the paranormal, and her plots … well I can’t think of any of her plots that failed to amuse, and I can’t think of one of her books where the mystery was transparent.  Her diversity of characters feels natural (the San Francisco setting probably helps) and I’ve been reading her long enough to know that they existed to greater or lesser extent long before it was ‘on trend’ to do so.

This one made me ache to explore an old, abandoned theatre, although I’d prefer mine to be ghost free, thanks; especially the kind of ghosts who fill the theatre seats and follow you around with their blank, unseeing stares.  The connection between the theatre Mel is renovating and the house she’s renovating for herself felt a bit too coincidental, but it bothered me so very little that it amounts to nit-picking.

A fun book, and a fun series that would be perfect for several Halloween Bingo squares.

Familiar Motives (Witch’s Cat Mystery, #3)

Familiar MotivesFamiliar Motives
by Delia James
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780451476593
Series: Witch's Cat Mystery #3
Publication Date: October 15, 2017
Pages: 321
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

After learning that she comes from a family of witches—and adopting a familiar named Alistair—artist Annabelle Britton has made beautiful Portsmouth, New Hampshire, her home. Together with her coven, this good witch is trying to put a stop to magic and murder most foul.

When Anna takes Alistair to see local veterinarian Ramona Forsythe, they meet the most famous cat in town: Ruby the Attitude Cat, spokes-feline for a pet food brand. But then Ramona turns up dead, and Ruby goes missing. It seems like the murderer used magical means, so it’s up to Anna and Alistair to catch a killer and cat-napper as only a canny cat can.

I’ve been trying to make a dent in my TBR piles recently, mostly, if I’m being honest, because I’m waiting for the new books I’ve ordered to arrive.  No matter my true motive, it’s a good feeling knowing there’s at least one or two fewer books languishing about.

This one had not only been loafing about on the hills of tbr, but it was the final book in a short-lived series, so the satisfaction of getting it read was doubled.

Unfortunately, that’s about the only real satisfaction I received from reading Familiar Motives.  The story itself was another ‘meh’ mystery – or else it was just me.  It really might have been me.  I liked the characters, I loved the cats, and the plot-line wasn’t frivolous.  But the pacing felt manic – not fast; manic – and the witty writing felt forced at times, adding to the manic feel.  I skimmed large sections of internal narrative because the pacing left me feeling manic to get to the end.

When I did get to the end, I liked it.  It was a good denouement, although the plot had too many pieces rather clumsily put together.  But to be fair, that could have been a product of the skimming I did, so I’m giving that a pass.

While it wasn’t a winner, I’m ok with that; the completist in my is happy that I haven’t left a series unfinished, and the responsible adult in me is happy to see one more book off the TBR range.  The reader thinks the book could have been better, but really, it didn’t suck either.

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.

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.

The Alchemist’s Illusion

The Alchemist's IllusionThe Alchemist's Illusion
by Gigi Pandian
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780738753010
Series: Accidental Alchemist #4
Publication Date: February 1, 2019
Pages: 329
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Midnight Ink


I read this book while I read two other supernatural books at the same time, and now my thoughts are all muddled.  But for the most part it’s a slightly better than average cozy paranormal mystery.

Zoe’s an alchemist that accidentally stumbled on the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life centuries ago and has been hiding her true nature ever since. Her best friend is a gargoyle that received the elixir of life from someone practicing backward alchemy a hundred years ago who got by before meeting Zoe by being a French chef to the blind.  There’s a lot to like in the premise of this book and series, if you like that sort of thing (and I do).

Zoe apprenticed under Nicholas Flamel and his wife, both of whom disappeared centuries ago and were presumed dead, but Zoe had begun having suspicions when she stumbled across a painting of the two of them – something she knew they never allowed.

What follows would be a great story if not for Zoe’s over-riding angst colouring the whole story.  Constant worrying about being found out; her other best friend being railroaded for a crime he didn’t commit because of his race; her gargoyle being discovered; her boyfriend not believing her.  The list is sort of exhaustive, and reading about it is exhaustive.  Beyond that is a really interesting story about hiding in plain sight, and the corruption of desire in a life lived too long.

This book culminates in a few secrets being revealed, so I can only hope the next book will be a lot less angsty and a lot more pure fun.


I read this book for 2021 Halloween Bingo’s Genre: Mystery square.  Underneath all the gargoyles and alchemists, there’s a murder mystery to be solved.

Purrfectly Dead (Whiskey, Tango & Foxtrot Mystery, #5)

Purrfectly DeadPurrfectly Dead
by Dixie Lyle
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250078445
Series: Whiskey, Tango & Foxtrot Mystery #5
Publication Date: January 1, 1970
Pages: 325
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks

I’d given up on this series.  Purrfectly Dead was one of those books whose publication has been slated for years, but whose release date was always being pushed back.  I’d accepted it was something of a zombie.  And then a few months ago, there it was, released and waiting for me.

The series itself always leaves me baffled – not least because I thoroughly enjoy it in spite of myself.  I must not be alone in this feeling, as the author recognises this in the first chapter, in a clever breaking of the fourth wall combined with a series world-building summary: the MC can communication with animals telepathically, and part of her job is overseeing the pet cemetery, which serves as a crossroads for animal spirts travelling to visit their former owners (also dead).

I’ve never been a fan of talking animals so I shouldn’t enjoy this series as much as I do (and the cat calling the MC ‘toots’ grates on my nerves), but I love the idea of the crossroads, and the mysteries are usually pretty good, so it works.

I enjoyed the book, including the incredibly fast, witty dialogue, and not only laughed out loud, but had to read MT passages about the rock star with writer’s block and his efforts to overcome it (all of which involve copious amounts of recreational drugs).  But there’s a theme to the plot that’s based on Native American mythology – Thunderbirds – that I’d have liked to have enjoyed more, but didn’t.  There was no reference to Native Americans or their myths beyond using Thunderbirds, and the themes behind averting a supernatural war were heavy-handed.  A tad preachy.  However, the murder mystery was excellent with very clever plotting and possibly the best method of hiding by a villain I’ve ever read.  Admittedly impossible, but so much fun anyway.

I hope the reasons for the series hiatus are behind it and there’s a 6th book in the works; the premise is a bit silly, as the author acknowledges, but it’s also so heart-warmingly wonderful and fun at the same time.  So fingers crossed I can look forward to another one.

If Bread Could Rise to the Occasion (Gram’s Cooking School #3)

A fun series, and this book was a fun read.  With each book bringing a new ghost with it’s own mystery, along with current day murder mysteries, the story lines stay fresh and interesting.


Taking place in an old wild-west town-turned-tourist destination known for being overly haunted by ghosts, it’s a fun setting. I like Bettes but will admit to having a hard time warming up to Grams – she doesn’t feel quite three dimensional to me. Or maybe I just don’t care for her personality. Jake is a great bff/sidekick and the romance with her old high school sweetheart is sweet. But the author has done something interesting; she’s managed to introduce a love triangle that really isn’t.


Now, I HATE love triangles, but this one, I get a kick out of it and the author has possibly created a sexual tension that can be kept going indefinitely throughout the series, without getting stale. Time will tell.


The murder mysteries were cleverly done (both of them) and well plotted. I didn’t have any idea until the end and it was a fairly good ending as well.


I look forward to more from this series. A genuine enjoyment to read.

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.

A Custom-Fit Crime: A Magical Dressmaking Mystery #4

First of all, I love this series. It ticks all the boxes for me: good mysteries, great characters, great setting, humour, quirkiness, ghosts and charms. I love the ever evolving backstory of Bliss.


What to say about this book in particular? I’m not sure. It was a good story, with really clever plot-lines (although the primary plot line murderer was the one I suspected). I love where Harlow and Will are heading and I really get a kick out of his daughter. But for some reason, this book just felt flatter than the others and I can’t really say why.


Did I enjoy reading it? Yes, though not as much as the previous ones. Would I recommend this series? Have done and will continue to rave about it. But I wouldn’t recommend that anyone read this book as an introduction to the series (although if they do, they can look forward to all the rest of the books being even better!


On the plus side, the next one comes out 9 months from now, instead of a year. Woot!

Tarnished and Torn: A Witchcraft Mystery #5

An excellent read I didn’t want to put down until it was over. The characters feel like friends at this point and it’s nice to ‘visit’ with them at Aunt Cora’s Closet.


The plot line is a big one – maybe a teensy bit too big even for the suspension of disbelief – but a fun one. Even though the ‘bad guys’ are clear from the beginning, the villain of the murder wasn’t at all and surprised me a bit.


I’d have liked to see a bit more of Sailor but at least he puts in his appearance eventually.  Some explanations of behaviour would be nice too. But I can’t wait until I get to visit the gang again. I’m only sorry I’ll have to wait another year to do it.