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Monday, May 17, 2021

Guest Post - Ashley Weaver

Please welcome Ashley Weaver, author of the Amory Ames mystery series and the exciting new Electra McDonnell historical mystery series.  I will be reviewing her debut novel in the new Electra McDonnell series soon.

Ms. Weaver is also the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. Weaver has worked in libraries since she was 14; she was a page and then a clerk before obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University. She lives in Oakdale, Louisiana.

How My New Series Was Born
A few years ago, I developed a fascination with World War II. I began reading several nonfiction books on the topic, everything from the Blitzkrieg to the SAS to the Navajo Code Talkers. It’s a subject that has innumerable facets to be explored, so many absolutely incredible rabbit holes to follow. I even read the riveting account of a serial killer operating in Occupied Paris!

It was while reading an excellent book by Ben Macintyre entitled Agent Zigzag, however, that I was inspired to write my own World War II tale. Agent Zigzag is the true story of Eddie Chapman, a petty criminal and sometime member of a safecracking gang, who ended up becoming a double agent for the British. I loved the idea of someone who was initially on the wrong side of the law using their talents for the Allies. I thought it would be especially interesting if that person was a woman. And so the idea for Electra McDonnell was born!

World War II proves a particularly good timeframe for the story
of criminals with a code of honor. It was a time when everyone was pulling together to “do their bit” to stop Hitler and his armies. Whether it was victory gardens, creative rationing, scrap drives, or buying war bonds, people wanted to help in whatever ways they could. Having my character, Ellie, possess a skill set that is considered dishonest in peacetime but invaluable in a time of war creates an interesting dynamic. When she is asked to break into a safe to retrieve some important documents before they can be handed to the Nazis, she has the opportunity to help the war effort on a larger scale. Not only is she able to help the cause, which is something she genuinely wants to do, but she is also able to take pride in her work in a way that she hasn’t been able to before.

Researching for this book allowed me to take a close look at England—London in particular—at the start of WWII. The Blitz has not quite started in A Peculiar Combination, but I found that, even before the bombs began to fall, there was a sense of unity and shared purpose among the British people. As various countries fell before the advancing German army, it became increasingly vital that Great Britain prevail against the Nazi onslaught. The mindset of determination and resilience was something I tried to work into my characters. Even though Ellie and her military intelligence contact, Major Ramsey, come from completely different worlds, they are equally determined to do whatever necessary to stop the enemy from succeeding.

I also particularly enjoyed getting to research the art of safecracking for this book. It was fascinating for me to delve into the workings of locks and develop at least a basic understanding of the mechanisms and how they can be thwarted. I even bought a lockpicking set to practice with, though it will be a long time before I come anywhere close to Ellie’s level of skill!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thank you Ms. Weaver for your sharing a little of the behind the scenes of your new series.  I'm looking forward to reviewing it since I too am fascinated by WWII history.

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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Review - Deadly Fashion

 "If you are a fan of Jacqueline Winspear, Susan Elia MacNeal, or Rhys Bowen, you are going to love Kate Parker's Deadly series."  

Kate Parker is the author of the Victorian Bookshop series as well as this WWII era series.  I reviewed the first in the series, Deadly Scandal (click here), I read the second but sadly hadn't reviewed it.  Here is the third book in the this exciting series.

Author: Kate Parker

Copyright: January, 2018 (JDP Press) 318 pgs

Series: 3rd in Deadly Mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical mystery, amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Olivia Dennis, Young widow and society columnist 

Setting: 1938 London and Paris

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb: "A Nazi-trained assassin with an assignment to take out anti-appeasement leaders in Britain adds one more name to the list. Olivia Denis.

September, 1938. Olivia Denis wins a plum assignment from her newspaper covering a glamorous French fashion designer providing frocks for Britain’s elite. While there, she finds herself rubbing shoulders with the fabulously wealthy, advising the aristocracy, and tripping over the body of a German anti-Nazi resistance leader.

In her search for a killer, Olivia discovers that an assassin with links to the London fashion house is targeting prominent British politicians.

Now Olivia must find the assassin before Britain loses the leaders who can best protect it from the Nazi menace. As she digs for the truth inside the designer’s studio, Olivia finds herself in the assassin’s crosshairs. Can Olivia survive a killer waiting in the shadows for the right moment to remove her...permanently?"

Olivia Dennis is a smart, capable young woman trying to be independent at a time when it wasn't acceptable.  Captain Adam Redmond, who works for Army Intelligence, is the romantic interest and gets only a little page time in this book, but his appearances show dynamics with Olivia and her father.  Olivia's father, Sir Ronald Harper, wants to control Olivia's life and tuck her away thus they have disagreements about her assignments. Sir Henry is the owner of the paper where she works and involves Olivia in aiding Jewish family and friends trying to secure means to leave occupied countries.  Mimi Mareau is a French fashion designer in the middle of the situation and is clearly a nod to Coco Chanel.  General Alford also has an assignment for Olivia to add to the excitement.

This is more than a murder mystery with its elements of intrigue with Sir Henry and General Alford asking for her help.  This kept my attention and I couldn't put it down with everything going on with the various plot lines. 

 I didn't foresee the killer, so kudos.  Although this wasn't an daring and tense killer reveal, I liked how it worked out.  The conclusion answers all the remaining questions and ends a great note.  

This series is quickly becoming on of my favorites.  Give it a try if you like historical mysteries with a dash of intrigue.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

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Monday, May 10, 2021

Mystery Movie - Five Card Stud

This week I am reviewing the only Mystery Western, that I know of, from 1968 titled Five Card Stud from the novel by Ray Gaulden.  Directed by Henry Hathaway and starring popular Dean Martin and the powerhouse Robert Mitchum.

In 1880, a gambler in the small town of Rincon, 100 miles from
Denver, Colorado is caught cheating at a five-card stud poker game. The players, led by the volatile Nick Evers, take the cheating gambler to hang him.  Dean Martin's character, Van Morgan, tried to stop them, but was unable to prevent the tragedy.  The players in that fateful night's poker game are being mysteriously killed off, one by one.  Van Morgan (Dean Martin) realizes the connection of the deadly poker game and investigates along with Mitchum's character, the newly arrived unorthodox Reverend Jonathan Rudd.  Tensions rise until panic turns the townspeople against each other.

It's a Western with a traditional mystery plot and plenty of suspense wrapped in a film noir style.  Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum give stellar performances and have a quality supporting cast with Inger Stevens, Roddy McDowell, John Anderson, and Denver Pyle.  This is an often forgotten movie and sadly underrated.  The director, Hathaway, gave us True Grit, How the West Was Won, and The Sons of Katie Elder but that didn't ensure this movie being better.  It is a good movie, not great.  

It is a slow burn to modern audiences used to fast paced everything in movies now. Don't look for prefect historical accuracy either.  It builds the story and characters like a Hitchcock movie.  The picking off of the poker players that fateful night is reminiscent of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None" story.  

This is an enjoyable movie for an afternoon with some popcorn when you want something unique and outside the usual.  I saw this on television when I was a teen and it stuck with me until I bought the DVD as an adult.  Give it a try, it might surprise you.

Movie trailer

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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Review - Journey to Munich

Working with the British Secret Service on an undercover mission, Maisie Dobbs is sent to Hitler’s Germany in this thrilling tale of danger and intrigue—the twelfth novel in Jacqueline Winspear’s New York Times bestselling “series that seems to get better with each entry” (Wall Street Journal).

I have only read one prior novel in this series, Book 8 -- A Lesson In Secrets (click here).

Jacqueline Winspear 

Copyright: March 2016 (Harper) 309 pgs

Series: 12th in Masisie Dobbs Mystery series

Sensuality: one murder witnessed, no gore

Mystery Sub-genre: historical amateur Sleuth, intrigue

Main Characters: Masie Dobbs,  Private Investigator, former psychologist, & war nurse

Setting: 1938 London and Munich on the brink of WWII

Obtained Through: library

Book Blurb: "Working with the British Secret Service on an undercover mission, Maisie Dobbs is sent to Hitler’s Germany in this thrilling tale of danger and intrigue—the twelfth novel in Jacqueline Winspear’s New York Times bestselling “series that seems to get better with each entry” (Wall Street Journal).

It’s early 1938, and Maisie Dobbs is back in England. On a fine yet chilly morning, as she walks towards Fitzroy Square—a place of many memories—she is intercepted by Brian Huntley and Robert MacFarlane of the Secret Service. The German government has agreed to release a British subject from prison, but only if he is handed over to a family member. Because the man’s wife is bedridden and his daughter has been killed in an accident, the Secret Service wants Maisie—who bears a striking resemblance to the daughter—to retrieve the man from Dachau, on the outskirts of Munich.

The British government is not alone in its interest in Maisie’s travel plans. Her nemesis—the man she holds responsible for her husband’s death—has learned of her journey, and is also desperate for her help.

Traveling into the heart of Nazi Germany, Maisie encounters unexpected dangers—and finds herself questioning whether it’s time to return to the work she loved. But the Secret Service may have other ideas. . . ."

Maisie is a responsible woman who has faced much in life. In this book she is still grieving the untimely death of her husband and trying to pick up her life again.  Everybody needs a close friend like Priscilla who provides a home for Maisie in London while she pieces her life together.  Brian Huntley and Robert MacFarlane of the Secret Service are more concerned about the coming confrontation with fascist Germany and only slightly worried about Maisie's lethal mission.  As if it weren't dangerous enough, John Otterburn pushes Maisie into finding his errant socialite party-girl daughter, Elaine Otterburn, while in Germany and getting her home.  Maisie has to face her anger at Elaine for not flying and Maisie's husband flying in her place which is when he died.  Mark Scott, an American agent who always seems around is somebody Maisie doesn't fully trust but who could come in handy.

The setting is only a little in London, but mostly in Munich. The author is great at conveying the mood of the setting.  The plot is going undercover to impersonate a man's daughter to get him out of Dachau, the only concentration camp in Germany, and then in her spare time find Elaine and convince her to return to England.  But things don't go as planned with either assignment.  The man who is in Dachau as Mr. Leon Donat isn't who he says he is so Maisie must find the man to rescue him. Elaine has been setup for murder of a soldier and Maisie is trying to keep her from being arrested.  With the complications it keeps the tension up and I was glued to the story.  

This isn't a whodunit, so there isn't a killer reveal.  Just when I thought we were at the conclusion, Maisie has still more to accomplish before she can get the @$#* out of there.  This ratchets up the final chapter's suspense.  Very well done.

The wrap-up shows Maisie taking steps for her future and showing healing from her grief.  I appreciated ending on an upside for Maisie.

The Maisie Dobbs series has won several awards and this book displays why the accolades.  This has everything: great historical detail, just complicated enough plot, complex characters, the setting used optimally, and plenty of high stakes tension.  I can't recommend highly enough.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

Here is the author at a bookstore for the novel

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Monday, May 3, 2021

Mystery Movie - Agatha & the Truth of Murder

It's no surprise that I not only read mysteries, thrillers, and espionage, but I also watch them.  I will occasionally review a mystery series or movie as a new feature on the blog.  I hope you enjoy it.
Today I want to share my thoughts on the 2018 British movie Agatha and the Truth of Murder.  I chose this movie, while not Oscar worthy, because it probably wasn't a movie widely advertised and it was much like a Christie traditional mystery.  

The short description is the author Agatha Christie decides to solve a real murder.  The longer description is based in fact.  On Friday 3 December 1926, the wildly popular Agatha Christie vanished (for real) from her home in Berkshire for 11 days. It sparked a massive manhunt of 1,000 policeman and hundreds of civilians searching for her.  Her car was found abandoned but no sign of Agatha or foul play.  I read a report of the time saying that fellow authors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy Sayers also were enlisted in the search.  For the first time in history airplanes had been used in the search along with dogs on the ground.  

Wild conspiracies abounded from suicide to a publicity stunt and worse murdered by her husband, since he was know to cheat (some reports say she had an argument with her husband right before disappearing).  News spread around the world and the New York Times covered it.  On December 14 she was located safe and sound at a hotel in Harrogate England enjoying herself at the hotel dances.  She has no memory, reportedly, of what happened and she didn't speak of it ever again after that.  Her husband claimed she suffered memory loss from the car accident.  I suspect she ran away for her own sanity and was contemplating the big decision of divorce.  This movie takes place in those 11 days she went missing with the premise that she went undercover to solve a murder.  I found that fascinating and couldn't resist the lure of the movie.

My thoughts:  It is very British, so the slower pace and understated acting are on full display.  With that in mind I found this a fun, traditional mystery in the classic style of Agatha herself.   If you like the BBC Christie television murder movies (Mystery Theater), this will be your cup of tea.  If you don't like the British style of a slower build up in the murder investigation, then you may find this too plodding.  I enjoyed it tremendously and will likely watch it again sometime.

Watch on Vudu:​



Movie Trailer

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Saturday, May 1, 2021

Review - The Kaiser's Web

 In New York Times bestseller Steve Berry’s latest Cotton Malone adventure, a secret dossier from a World War II-era Soviet spy comes to light containing information that, if proven true, would not only rewrite history — it could impact Germany's upcoming national elections and forever alter the political landscape of Europe.

It has been a while since I reviewed a Cotton Malone thriller and this one grabbed my attention. My prior reviews in the series are: 

#5 The Paris Vendetta (click here).

#7 The Jefferson Key (click here).

#8 The King's Deception (click here). 

Author: Steve Berry

Copyright: February 2021 (Minotaur) 421 pgs

Series: 16th in Cotton Malone Thriller series

Sensuality: mild, gun-play

Mystery Sub-genre: political thriller, suspense thriller

Main Characters: Cotton Malone, former Dept. of Justice (Magellan Billet) 

Setting: Contemporary- International (Germany, Chile, S. Africa, Switzerland)

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Book blurb: "Two candidates are vying to become Chancellor of Germany. One is a patriot having served for the past sixteen years, the other a usurper, stoking the flames of nationalistic hate. Both harbor secrets, but only one knows the truth about the other. They are on a collision course, all turning on the events of one fateful day — April 30, 1945 — and what happened deep beneath Berlin in the F├╝rherbunker. Did Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun die there? Did Martin Bormann, Hitler’s close confidant, manage to escape? And, even more important, where did billions in Nazi wealth disappear to in the waning days of World War II? The answers to these questions will determine who becomes the next Chancellor of Germany.

From the mysterious Chilean lake district, to the dangerous mesas of South Africa, and finally into the secret vaults of Switzerland, former-Justice Department agent Cotton Malone discovers the truth about the fates of Hitler, Braun, and Bormann. Revelations that could not only transform Europe, but finally expose a mystery known as the Kaiser’s web."

 Cotton Malone is working as part of team and learning to be a couple with Cassiopeia.  I liked seeing this side of Cotton. Cassiopeia Vitt is always a great, dynamic character and for a while they cover different aspects of the story separately.  This was interesting to see her character more closely.  Former President Danny Daniels makes several appearances in the story, mainly to help facilitate special transportation or make it easier for Cotton to do what he needs via his contacts.  Chancellor Marie Eisenhuth is the politician Former President Daniels referred to Cotton for help.  Information has fallen into her hands about her opponent, information that would tie him to 1940s Germany in a very disturbing way. Rather than leak the information, she wants somebody trustworthy to investigate the validity of the information. There is a subplot of her failing marriage and how her hubby is more aligned to her opponent.  Her opponent, Theodor Pohl, is the spider in the middle of a tangled web to destroy the Chancellor.  Can Cotton and Cassiopeia cut through the elaborate scheme and get to the truth in time?

In the course of the investigation, Cotton and Cassiopeia travel light and far. The Chilean lake district, the harsh mesas of South Africa, secret bank vaults in Switzerland, and a German castle.  Mr. Berry is quite good at evoking the setting no matter where the story takes the reader.  This is special in a thriller to have such attention to the place for atmosphere and context. Wonderfully done.

The plot revolves around a volatile election with historical echoes and significance.  I found this timely with the resurgence of neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism around the world.  I felt this was handled well in the storyline. There is a tangled web to wade through and at times I wasn't sure if Cotton and Cass were getting to the truth amid all the subterfuge.  The pacing had just a few instances of slowing for a little too long, but it picked up again.

 The reader knows who the villain is and you approach the climax with that knowledge, but there is still a twist that makes your jaw drop. The final confrontation is exciting and tense, which is my favorite.  Excellent job there. 

A great addition to the Cotton Malone adventures series. As usual, Mr. Berry takes a historical event (Hitler's death in the furher bunker) and finds tidbits to weave a credible thriller from.  For clarification, this has Hitler definitely die from suicide, but looks for closely at Martin Bormann.  Well done and the twist at the end was superb.

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

1) Short talk with Steve Berry

2) Poisoned Pen Virtual Book Launch

3) Steve and his wife discuss the book

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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

2021 Lefty Awards

Book awards often open us up to new authors or series.  Here is this year's Left Coast Crime book awards, the Lefty!

Winners are listed first each category.

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel
  Ellen Byron, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard (Crooked Lane Books)
  ° Jennifer J. Chow, Mimi Lee Gets a Clue (Berkley Prime Crime)
  ° Carl Hiaasen, Squeeze Me (Alfred A. Knopf)
  ° Cynthia Kuhn, The Study of Secrets (Henery Press)
  ° J. Michael Orenduff, The Pot Thief Who Studied the Woman at Otowi Crossing (Aakenbaaken & Kent)
  ° Sung J. Woo, Skin Deep (Agora Books)

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel
(Bruce Alexander Memorial) for books covering events before 1970
  ✫ Catriona McPherson, The Turning Tide (Quercus)
  ° Susanna Calkins, The Fate of a Flapper (Minotaur Books)
  ° Dianne Freeman, A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder (Kensington Books) here is a review of the 1st in the series (click here)
  ° Laurie R. King, Riviera Gold (Bantam Books)
  ° Ann Parker, Mortal Music (Poisoned Pen Press)
  ° James W. Ziskin, Turn to Stone (Seventh Street Books)

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel
  ✫ David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Winter Counts (Ecco)
  ° Daisy Bateman, Murder Goes to Market (Seventh Street Books)
  ° Mary Keliikoa, Derailed (Camel Press)
  ° Erica Ruth Neubauer, Murder at the Mena House (Kensington Books)
  ° Richard Osman, The Thursday Murder Club (Viking)
  ° Halley Sutton, The Lady Upstairs (Putnam)

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel
  Louise Penny, All the Devils Are Here (Minotaur Books)
  ° Tracy Clark, What You Don’t See (Kensington Books)
  ° S.A. Cosby, Blacktop Wasteland (Flatiron Books)
  ° Matt Coyle, Blind Vigil (Oceanview Publishing)
  ° Rachel Howzell Hall, And Now She’s Gone (Forge)

Hopefully you find your new book to read from these award-winning mysteries!

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Monday, April 19, 2021

Review - Pressed to Death

I reviewed the first in The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum (click here).  I finished the troublesome second book (always harder on the second book to keep up the momentum.)  Find out how this book stacked up. 

Author: Kirsten Weiss

Copyright: June 2020 (Misterio Press) 338 pgs

Series: 2nd in A Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery with ghostly touches, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Maddie Kosloski, new manager of Paranormal Museum and skeptic 

Setting: Modern day in small town San Benedetto in central California

Obtained Through: library

Book blurb: "It's Halloween season in San Benedetto, and paranormal museum owner Maddie Kosloski has the perfect paranormal exhibit for the harvest festival – a haunted grape press. But before she can open the exhibit, she’s accused of stealing the antique press. And when her accuser is found murdered, all eyes turn to Maddie.

Solving the crime is the last thing on Maddie’s mind, but her mother insists she investigate. Does her mother have a secret agenda? And why has the local charity, Ladies Aid, seemingly gone gangster?

In this light, cozy mystery, haunted houses, runaway wine barrels, and murder combine in a perfect storm of chaos. Facing down danger and her own over-active imagination, Maddie must unearth the killer before she becomes the next ghost to haunt her museum."

Maddie Kosloski is settling into her unexpected career running and sprucing up a paranormal museum while dealing with her pressuring mother. Adele Nakamoto is her close friend who runs the adjacent tea room and daughter of a vineyard owner/mayor. Harper Caldarelli is another close friend and a financial advisor. Adele and Harper prove they are good friends in this addition to the series. Blond hunk Mason Hjelm who runs a motorcycle shop next door to the museum is her boyfriend and there is trouble when an old girlfriend shows up. Detective Slate (Laurel's partner) is a subdued potential romantic interest on the sidelines.  Detective Laurel Hammer is Maddie's nemesis from high school who looks for connections to Maddie in the murder.  The museum cat, GD for Ghost Detecting, is an interesting adjunct staff for the museum.   

The setting is mostly around the harvest festival and the paranomal museum (voted tackiest museum in town).  I enjoyed all the wine and grape related items in the story that were great touches.  I felt like I was in the middle of a wine focused community.

There is a subplot of the haunted grape press. The subplot has a haunting that presents its own little mystery and once that is solved the "haunting" is over. The subplot is always subtle, adding a little fun. The story kept my attention and made an enjoyable escape. The killer reveal was exciting and daring. It was done a little differently but it worked well.

This is a fun cozy mystery if you are looking for a lite book to pass the hours that has a rocky road for romance, a subplot that adds a smidgen of ghostly atmosphere, and a murder mystery to puzzle over.  It isn't perfect, for those who can't get beyond the author's use of providence when it should be provenance or the incorrect spelling of memento mori this isn't for you. But if you want a wine themed fun cozy with a dash of paranormal to entertain you for a few hours, this is the book. 

Rating:  Pretty Good - A fun read with a few minor flaws. 

Here is a short video on a similar type of wine press that is featured in the book (although not antique).

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Monday, April 12, 2021

How Do You Pick Your Next Read?

There are so many books available at our fingertips today. With ebooks, you can shop and start reading a new book in a few minutes.  But the number and variety of books can be overwhelming. There are well over 1 million books published a year.  Even if a book is one of the fewer and fewer traditionally published, the author shoulders more and more of the burden to publicize the book.  Considering all of that, how do you pick your next read? 

1) Sometimes we are lucky to have family or friends with similar reading taste and can take recommendations from them.  But for those who aren't so lucky, where do you look?

2)  Amazon suggested reads was always a good way to look at similar books and discover a new read, but that has gone away and Amazon is now flooded with paid ads by authors all struggling to get your attention.  

3)  Goodreads isn't perfect, but at least it is all about books and readers with a little of the social aspect of Facebook.  As a reader, do you visit Goodreads regularly, follow authors or reviewers, and find books to read via your favorite reviewer? 

4)  Or there are Facebook readers groups to get input from other readers what they have enjoyed.  Facebook also has author ads.  Have you bought a book based on a FB reader group or ad?

5)  A more old school approach is newspaper or magazine reviews.  They are fewer out there, and they are often syndicated so the same review hits a number of newspapers.  Have you purchased a book based on a review in a newspaper or magazine?

6)  Blogs are still influential and popular in spite of the ever changing trending app of the moment.  There is a plethora of book blogs with reviews of books, often genre specific.  Have you found a new book to read from a blog?

7)  Then there are subscription newsletters for books (BookBub, BargainBooksy, The Fussy Librarian, BookGorilla, Ereader News Today etc.)  These are often for books on sale or bargain priced and seem quite popular.  

Please vote in the poll how you typically find your next read.  If there are other avenues you use to find the next book to read, please share in the comments.  Thank you!

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Sunday, April 4, 2021

Review - Death on Tap

This is a new to me series that I decided to start at the beginning.  The concept captured my interest, see what I think.

Author: Ellie Alexander

Copyright: August 2018 (Random House-Bantam) 315 pgs

Series: 1st in Sloan Krause Mystery series

Sensuality: Adult topics

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Sloan Krause-foster child-turned chef, brewer, and mother

Setting: Contemporary, mountain village of Leavenworth, Washington

Obtained Through: Purchase

Blurb:  "When Sloan Krause walks in on her husband, Mac, screwing the barmaid, she gives him the boot. Sloan has spent her life in Leavenworth, Washington becoming an expert in brewing craft beer, and she doesn’t have time to be held back by her soon-to-be ex-husband. She decides to strike out on her own, breaking away from the Krause family brewery, and goes to work for Nitro, the hip new nano-brewery in the Bavarian-themed town. Nitro’s owner, brewmaster Garrett Strong, has the brew-world abuzz with his newest recipe, “Pucker-Up IPA.” This place is the new cool place in town, and Mac can’t help but be green with envy at their success.

But just as Sloan is settling in to her new gig, she finds one of Nitro’s competitors dead in the fermenting tub, clutching the secret recipe for the IPA. When Mac, is arrested, Sloan knows that her ex might be a cheater, but a murderer? No way. Danger is brewing in Beervaria and suddenly Sloan is on the case."

Sloan Krause Sloan grew up a foster child-turned chef, brewer, and mother so she is struggling with the infidelity and particularly what this means with her in-laws who are the closest to parents she has ever had.  Cheating husband Mac is really a loser and doesn't deserve Sloan at all.  Garrett Strong, owner of new Nitro really likes Sloan and is a possible romantic interest in future novels in the series.  Otto and Ursula (Mac's parents) and Hans (Mac's younger brother) are jewels and I love them. Alex, Sloan's son, is refreshing in that he is responsible and caring of his mother. 

Leavenworth Washington is a unique setting.  It is an entire town dedicated to beer... and is essentially an American version of a German alpine village nicknamed Beer-varia.  Everything is associated with beer in some way or another. Garrett's new pub, Nitro doesn't follow the Bavarian  theme of the rest of town which gets hims some pressure from locals.  This all makes for an interesting setting.

The plot develops over the course of the story.  What was the victim involved in that got him killed, why was he killed in Nitro, and why was Mac's lighter found next to the body? Throw in some good misdirection and it keeps you guessing.  I found it had enough complications and surprises to keep me reading, although at times the mystery takes a back seat to all the personal issues in Sloan's life.

 The killer reveal was realistic with only some tension. I know I love a harrowing killer reveal/confrontation is my favorite. But this worked with the storyline well.  The wrapup gives us an interesting tidbit for Sloan's personal life that will play out in the following novels in the series.

The setting is done very well with lots of character.  Sloan is a good character with a lot going on emotionally and she is handling well. I liked the explantions of beer making and its craft side.  The mystery was good. I had suspected the killer early on, but hadn't determined the motive. This is a fun cozy with developed characters.

Rating:  Good - checks all the cozy boxes for a light read. 

Here is a short video tour of Leavenworth, Washington

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Monday, March 29, 2021

Create Family Reading Habits and Traditions

How do you compete with televisions and video games?  Children today have a lot of devices calling them, enticing them.  But if you start early (although its never too late to start), you can build reading into children's lives.  Here are a smattering of ideas to help you with developing reading habits that will carry your children into adulthood.  It will aid them at all stages of their life with academics, focus, theoretical thinking, creativity building, and empathy towards others.  All of which will be critical as they grow older.

Reading aloud to the little squirts is the most basic concept.  If you are fortunate to start early, then start with the baby bump and read aloud to your child at this stage.  This would be good right before bedtime to settle in and start that habit.  Get that habit instilled before birth and you are ahead of the game!

Once the baby is born, keep up the habit.  It may require a bit more flexibility with newborns and may be only a few minutes of reading, but it will be worth it.  Middle of the night feedings are rough, but perhaps after its changed and while/after feeding it may be a good time to slip in a short nursery rhyme or two read aloud.  As your children grow older, an established routine helps even during the terrible twos.  Flexibility is still key since some children have more attention span than others.  

Keep books available to children at all times, whether that is a soft book for infants and toddlers, board books, or early chapters books.  When the children have their own rooms, even one bookshelf with books readily available makes a difference.  There are even books designed for tub-time called bath books!  That is perfect to get children used to books as natural in their lives.

Library trips can be made into a special time.  Keep up with your libraries children's section and if they have story times or other programs you can bring your kids to participate.  This makes books and reading special and reinforces with other children that are modeling a love for books.  Encourage your child to keep a list of books they want to check out to read.  Make it a big deal when a book can be marked off the list!

Its best if you can set a specific time for reading together, whether everyday or on certain days.  It may start as only fifteen minutes and evolve into thirty minutes after the habit is well developed.  It is still best to read aloud to them, unless they ask to do the reading for you.  
I read where a mother always had a book on hand, at first a small board book in her purse and later digital on her phone.  When out in pubic and her child would get restless in a line waiting, she would take out her book and read aloud to her child.  She would have others in line smile as her child focused on the story rather than her restlessness get out of hand.  It may not work for every child, but its worth a try, especially if you have started them early with reading.

Taking the story and getting interactive is always great with children.  This may not be for every story, just the special ones, but try dressing up and playing the characters.  Don't forget dressing up as a favorite character for Halloween.  For years there were scores of  Harry, Ron, and Hermiones at Halloween. 

Another way to get interactive is with some dolls or stuffed animals to play the characters.  If you are really crafty, you can make some basic hand or sock puppets with your kids and dress them to act out some scenes from the book.  

Basics Paper Mache forms from craft store with pictures Mod Podged on.
Speaking of crafts, you could create holiday ornaments by photocopying (reduced size) the covers of favorite books and use Mod Podge to adhere to a form from a hobby store like Michaels.  You could also create a "Have Read" poster for their room with small photocopies of the books they've read glued onto the poster. They can stick on stars for how good they thought each book was.

Another great interactive idea is field trips related to the book.  If you read a book on dinosaurs, a trip to a nature museum within driving distance would be a good tie-in.  If you read a book on astronauts, find out if you have a local astronomy group for a star gazing session.  Go to a ballet if you read a book on ballerinas (or a video of the ballet).  The Nutcracker is great for children and you can usually find it being performed in December.  Any books on local history might have a local spot related to the topic.

Give books as gifts for holidays, birthdays, and rewards which places a value on them.  Of course, buying books on something they are interested in is best.

Children always have questions about why things are a certain way, so find a book or children's magazine to answer the questions.  Ranger Rick is great for animal and nature questions.  The library usually has a great selection to help you out.

Don't forget older kids - Harry Potter saw many tween kids and teens reading the books with their parents and enjoying them as a family.

When your child needs to read aloud at school, it can be stressful for them.  A great way to ease those nerves is to encourage your child to read to a pet. Some schools even have programs where dogs or cats come in just for the kids to read to them. Sometimes it is the local shelter that offers Book Buddies.  Pets are non-judgemental and make children feel accepted reading aloud. 

As your child gets older, the competition for their attention is greater.  I heard of a parent who, rather than an allowance, gave five dollars for each book (age appropriate length and page amount) that their son completed.  The boy thought it was easy money and the parents felt it was the best investment.  You could do your own amount depending on the age of the child and your budget.

Best of all is for you to be an example, let them see you place importance on your own reading and share how you enjoy what you read.  My family talked about the books we were reading at the dinner table.  If you make it a priority, they will often follow that example. 

Create a family TBR list and keep a record of the books you have read together.  This creates excitement for what's next to read and a sense of accomplishment with each book finished.

It may be a challenge at times, but instilling a reading habit early will reap life long rewards.

Here is a full instruction video of how to make basic sock puppets.  It is long because it is a craft instruction video.

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Saturday, March 27, 2021

Review - The Crossing Places

The first entry in the Ruth Galloway series follows an archaeologist in this gritty winner of the Mary Higgins Clark award.  Somehow it took me this long to begin this series.  So many books, so few hours in the day.  But better late than never!  Read on to see how I felt about this first in the series.

Author: Elly Griffith

Copyright: Jan 2010 (Mariner Books) 306 pgs

Series: 1st in Ruth Galloway Mystery series

Sensuality: One mild (no graphic details) sex scene

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth with touches of police procedural

Main Character: Dr. Ruth Galloway, Forensic archeologist 

Setting: Modern Day, Norfolk, England

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb: "Forensic archeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway is in her late thirties. She lives happily alone with her two cats in a bleak, remote area near Norfolk, land that was sacred to its Iron Age inhabitants—not quite earth, not quite sea. But her routine days of digging up bones and other ancient objects are harshly upended when a child’s bones are found on a desolate beach. Detective Chief Inspector Nelson calls Galloway for help, believing they are the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing a decade ago and whose abductor continues to taunt him with bizarre letters containing references to ritual sacrifice, Shakespeare, and the Bible. Then a second girl goes missing and Nelson receives a new letter—exactly like the ones about Lucy."

Dr. Ruth Galloway lives a pretty solitary life. She teaches classes at the university in Norfolk, works archeology digs, and shares her house with two cats that keep her company.  She is brilliant but self conscious of her being more "full figured".  She is relatable in some ways, and not  in other ways.  Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson doesn't seem very bright at times. I'm not sure if that is a deceptive ploy or not (like Columbo). Example, simple things need explained to him like the concept of carbon dating, and he made no progress for ten years on analyzing the taunting letters.  Ruth's mentor Erik Anderssen, one of those professional men who expect everyone to bow to his superior knowledge, is part of the story and while intelligent he is abrasive.  Ruth's former boyfriend, Peter, is a total jerk trying to weasel his way back into Ruth's life now that his marriage has failed.  Then there is Shona, her friend, who has baggage of her own.  The characters are complex and all a bit of a mess.

The setting is deliciously gothic with the the bleak and treacherous saltmarsh. I love when the setting is used to optimal effect and that is the case with this novel. 

The story develops, unveiling the suspects and events from ten years prior, creating a twisting tale.  Ruth takes the investigation further than it had for the last ten years without exerting herself much.  The writing style kept me glued to the pages.

If you have followed my reviews for long, you know I love a scary, tense killer reveal/confrontation.  This book excelled in that sense.  Great suspenseful killer reveal.

Conclusion: This is character driven, so we see everything through Ruth's eyes and that is claustrophobic at times which adds to the overall feeling.  It is also written in first person, so if that turns you off you have been warned. Ruth weighs 12 stone (size 16) and you get how people have treated her as overweight in many ways. I know this could be misconstrued as fat shaming - but in reality the author has brought the reader inside Ruth's head to see how she has been treated is now part of her psyche.  I liked how Ruth was a strong character and a little stubborn who therefore makes occasional bad decisions.  This first novel shows strong potential and I look forward to the next book in the series.  

Rating:  Well done, loved it! 

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Monday, March 22, 2021

Cozy Mystery Tropes: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

There are many tropes ("a common or overused theme or device" Merriam Webster) in the cozy mystery genre.  Here I will compile the tropes I know of and a little about what is good and/or bad about them for consideration.  I certainly am not a final say and these are just my thoughts on them for consideration.  

Let's begin with the broad definition of what makes a cozy mystery a cozy.  IngramSpark's blog "What is a Cozy Mystery and Why is it So Popular?" gives us this definition:

 "The tone of a cozy should be upbeat, optimistic and light-hearted. The setting should be the kind of place that the reader might long to live in or to choose for their vacation."

That is a fairly wide open definition that provides plenty of room for an author to be creative while still being a cozy.  A more strict definition will state there is an amateur (usually a woman) investigating a crime, there should be no blood, guts, or gore and definitely no on-page sex, swearing is anathema along with overt violence.  Don't ever hurt an animal or a child in a cozy either! Oh, and the setting should be a small community of some sort to keep suspects limited.  That is the more specific elements of a cozy mystery and what's acceptable.

But, you knew there would be a "but", the cozy genre seems more defined by unofficial guidelines anymore in the form of tropes.  Some of the tropes have been good for the genre, and others I feel aren't helpful.

Somewhere in most cozies today, you will read the amateur sleuth repeatedly admonished, harangued, and downright hounded to not sleuth - don't even consider the possibility of asking even somewhat innocent questions.  This is by far the trope I dislike the most.  An entire genre based on the premise of an amateur solving murders is weighed down by this lazy attempt (in my opinion) at creating story tension.  Sadly, this hounding is usually done by the romantic interest.  I find myself yelling at the star sleuth to immediately break up with the fictional boyfriend, he isn't adding to the story, just being a nuisance.  Some argue that such haranguing is more realistic.  Cozy mysteries are the closest to a fantasy world with a smidgen of crime.  If you want realism, then you want police procedurals - but those have violence, swearing, sex, and blood because... that's realistic. If you are reading a cozy, you don't really want realism.  So please, can we ditch the nagging the sleuth to not sleuth?

Whew, glad I got that out of my system.  Now on to the next.

A police officer must be the sleuth's boyfriend.  I have nothing against police in fiction, but again this seems like a lazy way for the sleuth to gain certain information for their investigation.  This is a setup for the harassment mentioned previously.  I find these policeman boyfriends tedious at best because they are duty bound to talk down to, nag, and deride the sleuth for asking any question at all - in some cases even charge them with obstruction or interference to make a point.  

Obstruction is officially defined as:  "an act that "corruptly or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication, influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice."

 I haven't seen many sleuths that fit this definition even minutely!  So the cop boyfriend claiming that the sleuth essentially gossiping for information constitutes obstruction is absurd.  The setup is most often a gossiping situation or asking round-about questions of who was where.  That isn't interfering with the administration of justice, or influencing either.  If that were the case, every time people around a water-cooler gossiped about a murder in town then gossiped with their neighbor over the fence about the same murder, they would be arrested.  Again, the entire point of the genre is this amateur will be snooping like your nosey next-door neighbor, so I wish more would have boyfriends who aren't a cop and get the info they need via other methods than a defensive cop boyfriend.  Granted, this may just be me.  

Next up is the trope of two eligible men (one probably a cop!) are trying to date the female sleuth.  When handled well this can work for a book or two.  The biggest problem with this trope is it has been used so much and for too long in a given series that the reader gets sick of the situation.  I'm not a fan because I think it makes the woman out to be rather insipid and opportunistic.

Often the amateur sleuth is a prime suspect in a murder which kicks off the penchant for sleuthing.  From that point on people look to this amateur for assistance when there is a murder.  This is a useful way to start an amateur's foray into sleuthing and it leaves plenty of room to not be the same old thing every time.  

Another often used introduction to a cozy series is the sleuth left the big terrible city and high powered job for small town life.  Often this is because of a messy breakup or occasionally a job loss.  This same driven and highly successful woman finds fulfillment working a small town job like a retail store of some sort or a librarian (without the usual prerequisite degree in library science.)  Somehow, this is when realism isn't a big deal.  This sort of woman would need more mental and creative stimulus than what most small towns have on tap, if we are true to the origin story of the character.  The second part to this trope is how a small town retail store, like a bookstore, yarn, or bead shop, makes enough revenue to support one or more employees.  I don't know about all small towns, but the ones I have been a tourist in see the owner slaving long hours with no help and barely scraping by.  So if you want realism in your cozy mystery - forget the nagging boyfriend and be more true-to-life in this aspect perhaps.

One of my favorite tropes is the animals.  Who doesn't love an adorable dog or cat?  Their involvement can just be devotion to the sleuth or sometimes an intuition that aids the sleuth in their snooping.  These animals help to round out the character and humanize them.

Another good trope is the funny or quirky sidekick friend or family member.  This gives much needed "girl time" and comradery that rounds the character and helps us witness what kind of a friend our sleuth is.
Family is a tough one in the cozy mystery.  They are either quirky or too judgmental of our sleuth.  I love when they are an eccentric or funny family who provide support and aid in snooping.  I really don't have much tolerance for the difficult, nitpicking, disrespectful, or judgmental trope family.  Usually the sleuth takes the verbal lashings and doesn't stand up for herself, which drops my opinion of the sleuth right off.   There is the subset trope of a parent pushing and prodding our sleuth to marry and have kids.  I had my sleuth push right back on that score.   

One of the definitions of a cozy is they take place in a small, tight community so there are limited suspects.  I love the authors who do this within a big city such as Cleo Coyle's cozies in New York City, or Juliette Blackwell's two cozy series set in San Francisco.  An intimate community doesn't have to mean a small town.  I enjoy the quirky denizens of the setting best.

Finally in this list is the trope of a food or hobby theme.  This has been done so much that forecasts for the future trends in cozy mysteries say food and hobbies may have been overdone and travel is the next trend.  We will have to see, because food and hobbies are comfort and spirit enhancing, which is part of what makes cozies so lighthearted and upbeat.

Thank you for indulging my short rant and opinions on the most common tropes in the cozy mystery genre.  What are your thoughts on cozy tropes?  Share in the comments.

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