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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Review - A Brushstroke with Death

As I was looking for some fun cozy mysteries for Halloween to review, I came across this new series.  Check out this witch who is an artist.  I think this may be surprising change for many.  The author, Bethany Blake, wrote six books in the Lucky Paws Pet Sitting mystery series which are going on my TBR list.

: Bethany Blake

Copyright: October 2020 (Kensington Cozies) 322 pgs

Series: 1st in An Owl & Crescent Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Willow Bellamy, owner of Owl & Crescent Art Barn 

Setting: Contemporary, Zephry Hollow, Pennsylvania 

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb: "Near the creek that runs behind her Pennsylvania house, Willow Bellamy has converted an old barn into an art school—though the place does still have some animal inhabitants, including Rembrandt, the owl who lives up in the rafters. And while it’s important for any artist to have a vision, Willow can sometimes see things others can’t, just like her mother and grandmother before her. Not that she would exactly call herself a witch . . .
When some local merchants gather in the studio for a painting party, they focus their attention on a still life with flowers and an assortment of garden tools, including antique pruning shears that disappear—at the same time despised restaurant owner Evangeline Fletcher is murdered. Willow must use all her gifts to find the killer, although it means teaming up with a handsome, mysterious detective whom Willow fears she may have accidentally conjured from a canvas. This investigation is sure to be a hoot . . ."

Willow Bellamy is an artist and witch like her mother and grandmother. I liked her and felt we could be friends. She is thoughtful, reasonable, and loyal.  Astrid Applebee is the owner of Astrid's Astral Emporium, is one of Willow's coven and her friend.  Pepper Armbruster is a powerful witch from a wealthy family and the third member of the coven.  Detective Lucien Turner is completely an enigma who seems to know a lot about witchy things.  Derek Fletcher was Willow's first love and the victim's nephew who just returned to town.  Handyman George Van Buskirk seems mighty fond of Willow's grandmother Anna.  Willow's mother, Celeste Dinsmore Crockett Bellamy, is the Mayor of Zephry - that's not complicated at all.  Then there are the fantastic animals like Rembrandt, the owl; Mortimer, the rescue pig; and Luna, a petite gray cat with a white cresent-shaped mark on her chest that are Willow's companions.

Zephry Hollow is a good setting, but the Owl & Crescent Art Barn is a fantastic setting. Slightly secluded with the victim's mansion the closest home. The weather and seclusion add some atmospheric touches for a gothic touch.

Of course the plot revolves around Evangeline Fletcher's murder and suspects seem plentiful as Willow asks questions of everyone at the painting party to reveal Evangeline had made a lot of enemies.  I found the pacing kept me interested and wanting to read just one more page again and again.  There were a few twists as the story developed that really sucked me in.

I have to hand it to Ms. Blake.  She pulled off a great twist for the killer reveal.  I hadn't figured out the killer until just before the reveal and it was a surprising revelation.  The confrontation itself was a little nail-biting and blood pumping, just like I prefer it. Loved it.  The wrap-up was bittersweet but I can't go into it more than that.

Great fun with a little witchy business without being focused on only the paranormal. It had a twisty plot with some a good surprise at the climax. This is a thoroughly enjoyable cozy has a good paranormal element.

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

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Monday, October 18, 2021

Mystery Movie Review - Knives Out

If you weren't part of the crowds that saw this movie in the theaters, let me introduce you to the movie Knives Out.  If you packed in to watch it on the "big screen", revisit it for Halloween.  Released November 2019 and rated PG-13.

What it's about
"The night after his 85th birthday, after a party with his combative family, the wildly popular mystery author, Harlan Thrombey (played by the legendary Christopher Plummer from The Sound of Music) dies a sudden and suspicious death. The police arrive to investigate with a well known private investigator named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig of James Bond fame) sporting a Southern drawl.  The assumption is Harlan committed suicide and cut his own throat - or could it be murder?  Benoit was hired by an unknown person to investigate which adds to the mystique.  The family members are all shown to have reason to kill the author.  The film centers around the author's nurse, Marta, who will literally vomit if she tells a lie.  The all-star cast includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) as the nurse. 

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Critic Leonard Maltin: "Knives Out is never, ever dull and offers the kind of classy entertainment we could use more of on the big screen. And I have a feeling we'll see more of Daniel Craig's colorful character down the road."
  • 3 nominations at Golden Globe Awards
  • Best Original Screenplay nomination Academy Awards  AND British Academy Film Awards
  • Selected for top ten films of 2019 by American Institute and the National Board of Review.
  • Plus many, many others
The director, Rian Johnson, wrote the screenplay and specifically wanted to make a Christie inspired murder-mystery film.  Filming was in and around Boston, Massachusetts with the exteriors of the house filmed at a mansion located in Natick, west of Boston. The interior shots used The Ames Mansion in Borderland State Park a lot.
My thoughts:
This is perhaps one of the best Hollywood takes on a traditional mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie (but updated) with a powerhouse ensemble cast.  It exceeded my expectations, and most peoples.  The acting reflects that everyone on set was enjoying their roles and the directing and camera angles created the tension and intimate feel.  The mystery has plenty of red-herrings, twists, and a surprise ending.  It is meant to be funny in parts, and pulls it off great.  This is a really good, fun, and clever adult-oriented movie.  

It is an "original" movie, meaning there was no book or comic book with a fan base already existing, it had to stand it on its own merit, and it did.  As one person in the industry noted for a Buzzfeed article: "It’s the stars, but it’s more. It’s the genre, but it’s more. It’s a solid script, a savvy director, attention to detail, and excellent casting." 

Another highlight to this movie is it wasn't generated, like the majority of movies these days, to be the basis for an exploitable merchandising campaign, but solely for the craft of the movie itself.  Sadly, Hollywood hasn't taken the lesson to create and support more original adult-oriented good content, but rather are running with this.  So, there will a Knives Out 2, trying to recreate the magic of the first and will be another Benoit Blanc investigation.  Please don't turn this into a series trying to milk this for every dime.

I highly recommend, make a night of it to watch the movie.

If you want more, here is the director going in depth into one scene of the movie and his insights on what the scene took.

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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Review - The Unkindness of Ravens

I discovered this debut of a new mystery series on Netgalley and it intrigued me.

Tagline: "Librarian Greer Hogan matches wits with a deviously clever killer in M.E. Hilliard's chilling series debut, ideal for fans of Louise Penny and Dorothy L. Sayers."

Last week I reviewed Bait and Witch for a Halloween touch.  It featured a librarian sleuth, and this week I have another librarian sleuth and this is good for the upcoming holiday as well.  At points I would get the two books mixed in my mind.  But this is different in significant ways.

Author: M.E. Hilliard

Copyright: April 2021 (Crooked Lane Books) 331 pgs

Series: 1st in Greer Hogan Mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, traditional mystery

Main Characters: Greer Hogan, librarian who is recently widowed 

Setting: Contemporary, Raven Hill, NY

Obtained Through: Netgalley

Book blurb: "Greer Hogan is a librarian and an avid reader of murder mysteries. She also has a habit of stumbling upon murdered bodies. The first was her husband's, and the tragic loss led Greer to leave New York behind for a new start in the Village of Raven Hill. But her new home becomes less idyllic when she discovers her best friend sprawled dead on the floor of the library.

Was her friend's demise related to two other deaths that the police deemed accidental? Do the residents of this insular village hold dark secrets about another murder, decades ago? Does a serial killer haunt Raven Hill?

As the body count rises, Greer's anxious musings take a darker turn when she uncovers unexpected and distressing information about her own husband's death...and the man who went to prison for his murder. She is racked with guilt at the possibility that her testimony may have helped to convict an innocent man.

Though Greer admires the masters of deduction she reads about in books, she never expected to have to solve a mystery herself. Fortunately, she possesses a quick wit and a librarian's natural resourcefulness. But will that be enough to protect her from a brilliant, diabolical murderer?

And even if Greer manages to catch the Raven Hill killer, will living with her conscience prove a fate worse than death?"

Greer has been the librarian for six months and remains hopeful of seeing a ghost in the supposedly haunted mansion made into the library. She is still a little traumatized from discovering her husband and discovering her friend's body brings it all back again.  There are a few employees at the library, but none take more of a central role.  She rents the top of a house owned by Henri and his dog Pierre who are the breakout characters and I adore them. Henri has sort of unofficially adopted Greer.  Officer Jennie Webber ends up being a substantial character in the investigation and I like this character and would love to see more of her.

Raven Hill and the gothic library with a brooding exterior are each used to great effect.  The creek, called Ravens Kill, was the sight of an old drowning and adds creepy touches as well. "I have it on good authority that the currents have always been strange in the Ravens Kill."

The plot centers around a killer who struck a woman down during library hours. Greer tries to figure out the culprit while fully aware the murderer could be lurking and watching.  The pacing is steady and this book builds till the very tense climax. 

The killer reveal, or showdown, is excellent and left me breathless.  Greer is daring and smart against the killer. Excellent. While I had begun to suspect the killer, the full motive revealed just how cold blooded the murderer was.  The wrap-up answers the final questions and firmly sets up the next book where she will face some nagging discrepancies in her husband's murder since she has had to relive that trauma throughout the story.

My thoughts: This book tries for literary, but some literary allusions didn't make sense or seemed forced to appear "literary".  The writing style adds to the atmospheric feel throughout the book. This is a little darker in feel and style than a cozy mystery and there isn't any romantic interest or light moments.  Overall the book is well done with a solid mystery and compelling characters, and the gripping climax is superb.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list

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Monday, October 11, 2021

11 Native American Mystery Series

Native American mysteries are some of the most atmospheric novels (in my opinion).  I have enjoyed many of these and some I discovered while researching for this post.  Let me know in the comments if you would like me to review more of those series that I don't have any reviews or only a few. 

Charlie Moon series by James D Doss features a Ute tribal policeman (later becomes private detective) in southern Colorado.
The first four are my favorites: Shaman Sings, Shaman's Laugh, Shaman's Bones, and  Shaman's Game

Of course Tony Hillerman put Native American mystery novels on the map like never before.  His series starts with The Blessing Way.  Anne Hillerman continued the series when her father passed away.  My favorites are A Thief in Time, Skinwalker, and Sacred Clowns.  **If you would be interested in my reviewing some of these, please leave a comment saying so.

Wind River series by Margaret Coel, Eagle Catcher is the1st in the series.

Manny Tanno Investigations by C.M. Wendelboe take place mostly on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota.

Kate Shugak Mysteries by Dana Stabenow (no review) take place in Alaska.

Vanishing Act is the 1st in Jane Whitefield series by Thomas Perry (no reviews). Jane is a Native American (Seneca) who has made a career out of helping worthy people disappear (like an abuse victim disappear from powerful husband sort of thing).

Shandra Higheagle Mystery series by Patty Jagger features a woman who is half Nez Perce for an amateur sleuth. Double Duplicity is the first in the series.

Sadie Walela Mystery series by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe features a Cherokee amateur sleuth in Oklahoma.

Naomi ManyMules mystery series by J & D Burges (no reviews) features a divorced, thirty-something mom of two as the amateur sleuth on the edge of Navajo country and claims it is humorous. 

Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson has many Native American themes and characters

This series has some Native American themes: Cork O'Connor Investigation series by William Kent Krueger

There you have 11 series either featuring a Native American sleuth/detective or that often have Native American characters or themes featured in the stories.  I may have missed some, so please share if you know of one that isn't spotlighted here.  If you have read some of these, tell me what you thought of them too.

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Thursday, October 7, 2021

Review - Bait and Witch

 “Zippy and fun, with just enough ambiance to satisfy readers seeking spooks and humor.”

—Kirkus Reviews

In my search for some paranormal mysteries for Halloween, I found this new cozy series.  Librarian Josie Way moved to small-town Oregon to lay low. Instead, thanks to newfound magic abilities—and a killer on the loose—she’s leapt out of the frying pan and into a cauldron of trouble . . .

Author: Angela M. Sanders

Copyright: Dec 2020 (Kensington Cozies) 338 pgs

Series: 1st in Witch Way Librarian Mystery series

Sensuality: Mature topics

Mystery Sub-genre: cozy paranormal mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Josie Way, librarian and newfound witch 

Setting: Contemporary, small town Wilfred, Oregon 

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb: "Josie Way loved working among the Library of Congress’s leather-scented stacks—until she uncovered corruption and made herself a target. As Wilfred, Oregon’s new librarian, Josie can stay undercover until the case goes to court. But life in this little town isn’t as subdued as she expected. The library, housed in a Victorian mansion, is slated to be bulldozed. Still digesting the news that her safe haven is about to become scrap lumber, Josie discovers a body in the woods . . .

 Almost as shocking, Josie learns that she’s descended from a long line of witches—and her powers have suddenly sprung to life. With help from a spoiled alley cat who just may be her familiar, Josie’s thumbing through a catalog of suspects, hoping she can conjure a way to save her library—and her life . . ."

Josie Way is a strong willed gal who suddenly has magic powers as she is hiding for her life. She was easily likeable and relatable.  Rodney is the black cat that has adopted Josie and seems too smart for the average cat.  He steals the show and I can't get enough of Rodney! Darla is the Library Trustee who hired Josie and the owner/operator of Darla's Tavern and Diner as well as owner of the Magnolia Rolling Estates Trailer Park.  Sam Wilfred is the only living descendant of the "Wilfred family" the town was named after. His ancestor's abandoned the town and mill that supported the entire town, so the town hates the family.  Roslyn "Roz" Grover is Josie's right hand gal at library with a secret.  Sheriff Bert Dolby and sister are ever present in the story.  Lyndon Forster is the minimal-talk caretaker of the grounds and library.

The library grounds include a caretaker's cottage and the Big House that are the primary setting with Magnolia Rolling Estates Trailer Park and the Kirby river added.  I love the Library building, but living upstairs was a little unsettling at night. Great use of the old mansion/library. 

The mystery is fairly straight forward, who killed the woman found behind the library and who was she anyway?  Was the victim an assassin after Josie or did somebody mistake the woman for Josie?  Is Josie safe or not?  Is the killer a local? As the story unfolds, things get complicated.  Along with the subplots around Sam acting suspiciously, Roz's secret, the fight to save the library, and Josie's fear of her own powers, the pages flew by.

 The climax was somewhat tense and I had only begun suspecting the villain a couple chapters before the reveal, so great job there.  The wrap-up was great and solves a big problem unrelated to the murder.  

I found this debut of a new paranormal cozy series very enjoyable. The witchy aspects are well done for added oomph to the story. I was surprised at the level of development for the supporting cast. The mystery was well done with a great surprise killer that I really appreciated.  There was an added bonus of a hidden crime being solved in the midst of all this as well.  I also found the economic hard times of the town more true to life for small towns than the rosy image portrayed in most cozy mysteries while still keeping it charming.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author and series on your watch list

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