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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Review - Snuffed Out

 This is a debut novel of new magical cozy mystery series that will be released Jan 10, 2023.  It has a touch of magic and cats.

Author: Valona Jones

Copyright: December 2011 (Berkley) 320 pgs

Series: 1st in Magic Candle Shop Mysteries

Sensuality: off-page intimate relationships

Mystery Sub-genre: Suspense

Main Characters: Twin sisters Tabby and Sage

Setting: Modern day, Savannah Georgia

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Book Blurb: "Twin sisters Tabby and Sage co-own a candle shop, but will it all go up in flames in Valona Jones’ series debut, perfect for fans of Amanda Flower and Bailey Cates.

30-year-old fraternal twins Tabby and Sage Winslow own The Book and Candle Shop in Savannah. Sage is hot-headed and impulsive while Tabby is calm and collected, making them the perfect partnership. When  one of their customers is found murdered, from a blow to the head, that partnership is put to the test.

Blithe McAdam had been seen in a heated argument with shop clerk Gerard, which immediately makes him suspect number one. The twins are convinced of Gerard’s innocence and start digging into Blithe’s past. But no one is cooperating. The neighbor who found the body isn’t talking, medical examiner Quig won’t give any details about the autopsy, and nasty rumors begin surfacing about the drowning of Blithe’s father years earlier—evidence that could seal Gerard’s fate.

 Tabby and Sage dig desperately for the truth. But it’s not only their friend who’s in peril. With the clock ticking, the twins find themselves in the grip of an unseen and deadly energy that has seeped into their midst—and in the sights of a ruthless killer." 

My Thoughts:  Tabby is the point-of-view main character I took a few chapters to warm up to.  Quig (Dr. Quigsly), a long time acquintance, is her potential romantic interest but she prefers to keep their relationship secret.  Sage, the twin sister, was a hard character for me to relate to. Actually I didn't like her for most of the book but she did grow by the finish.  I enjoyed the visit from their Auntie O who helped them investigate and hope she is a recurring character in some form.  

The magic element is quite unique and took a little bit for me to get into how it works.  The mystery had enough questions to keep me reading and the climax had some tense moments although was over quickly.  These thirty-year-old women have off-page intimate relationships with the men in their lives. This is still a cozy with no details on the page, but in case that makes a difference, be aware.  

For those wanting older than a twenty-something main character, this might be an answer. I think this new series has potential and I'm looking forward to the next book to see how the twins and storylines develop.  

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

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Monday, October 31, 2022

Review - Mrs Morris and the Vampire

I have hopped around with this series, reading ones that interest me in the moment.  I picked this as perfect for Halloween.

Traci Wilton

Copyright: August 2021 (Kensington Cozies) 338 pgs

Series: 5th in Salem B&B Mysteries

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal Cozy, amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Charlene Morris, Salem B&B owner

Setting: Modern day, Salem Massachusets

Obtained Through: library 

Book Blurb: "It’s B&B owner Charlene Morris’s second Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, and one she won’t soon forget when a self-proclaimed vampire is murdered . . .
Charlene’s bed and breakfast is fully booked with guests wanting to experience Salem’s wildest holiday—especially the annual Witch Ball, held at the historic Hawthorne Hotel. At the dance, actual witch and winery owner Brandy Flint has her back up over her daughter Serenity’s new beau—it’s bad enough he’s a decade older, he also claims to be a vampire from Romania.
As for Charlene, with handsome ghost Dr. Jack Strathmore haunting her B&B, she has developed an open mind regarding the supernatural. But her mind is blown when the clock strikes midnight, the lights flare and dim, and the vampire vanishes—leaving behind only his cape and a wooden stake with a thick red substance on the sharp tip. The next morning, a naked man washes up on the shore with a hole punched through his chest, and Detective Sam Holden has a homicide on his hands. Now Charlene and Jack must put their heads together to find out who staged the trick to stake a vampire . . ." 

My Thoughts:
Charlene is an enjoyable character. She is determined, thoughtful, and a good hostess.  I don't think I could have a parade of people through my house and enjoy them like she does.  This has all the atmosphere for a great Halloween read with vampires, witches, ghosts, and underground tunnels with Salem's tragic past. You might think it is more paranormal from the subject, but Jack's ghost is the only such element.  Everything else has a human explanation, so don't let that deter you.  I can't leave out Silva, her plush white cat who is always up to something and is featured on the cover wearing a costume.

It is a shame that Jack is a ghost because he would be a perfect romantic partner with how he supports Charlene's sleuthing efforts.  Sigh. This is so reminiscent of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. 

The plot is just tangled enough to keep you guessing and the killer reveal wasn't completely a surprise to me (I'd had a few suspicions), but it will startle many I think.  I breezed through this fun adventure in short time as the pacing kept my interest.  The killer reveal had some tense moments and I loved it.  The wrap-up answered any remaining questions and I miss Charlene and Jack already.

My only hesitation and thing I would change is how the source of most conflict in the story is between Charlene and her potential romantic interest, police detective Sam Holden.  This is actually a pet peeve of mine and this series has Charlene sleuthing then trying to make up for it endlessly with Sam.  In a prior book he even arrested her for interferring. That is so wishy-washy of Charlene in my opinion and the two aren't compatible with that dynamic, at all.

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

Here is a short video of sites in Salem.

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Musings - Hard Boiled Detective Fiction


Noir detective fiction, also called hard boiled fiction, is where the main character is usually a private investigator or police detectives in urban settigns. Noir fiction are essentially crime novels where the crime-ridden city is a character and the outlook is dark (thus noir-french for black) and cynical.

The 1920s dime novel (what we would call a novela now) detective was the pre-cursor for the noir detective novel.  It was an early influence on crime fiction and was critical to sustain mystery novels after Edgar Alan Poe until Sherlock Holmes exploded on the scene.

Cheap American fiction around 1860s for working class people first appeared with Beadle's Dime Novels and featured series novels.  They were hugely successful from the get-go.  As the American populace became more literate, the demand for affordable entertaining novels grew and soldiers during the Civil War on both sides devoured dime novels that were so portable. 

Old Sleuth was the first Dime novel detective in 1872 and the word "sleuth" was first used in this detective series where the detective would often wear the disguise of an old man.  This saw a shift from frontier themes in dime novels to crime fiction tales set in cities with more sensationalism. Thus, it was an indication of cities becoming population centers (also called the age of the metropolis).  The novels also typified the dynamics of urban settings that the nation was dealing with at the time and was therefore a sign of the times.

These novels had their own tropes that included diabolical villains, cruelly treated women in distress, and last minute escapes from danger.  But they also served up a variety of settings, including even Russia.  Bankers and mail carriers were detectives, and even a few ladies were featured as dime novel detectives.

Early examples of the formula to the success of the genre were a series of exciting and dangerous encounters one after another, infiltrating a criminal organization in disguise, his/her true identity uncovered, being captured and tortured, escaping through street smarts and strength, and ultimately solving the crime and descimating the criminals as a result.  There were all sorts of other elements but there was usually violence involved.  But a satisfactory outcome against the bad guys is the one element that was favored.

Nick Carter is probably the most famous and well known dime-novel detective.  The Nick Carter franchise shows the transition from dime novels to noir/hard boiled. The fictional character started as young, confident, a master of disguise, and role model with his clean living and family values.  By the 1920s and the advent of hard-boiled detective stories, Nick Carter adapted to the pulp magazine era and transitioned to a hard boiled detective who wasn't the clean living role model any longer and had a darker outlook (classic anti-hero) and more harsh reality featured in the stories such as harsh violence and rampant corruption.  

By 1949, there were around 4000 Nick Carter dime novels, pulp magazines, films (silent or talkies, and a few in French), comic books, comic strips, and radio shows.  After Ian Fleming's Bond novels came out, Nick Carter was reconstituted in 1964-1990 for intrigue as Nick Carter: Kill Master with plenty of gratuitous sex.

The 1920-40s detective was harsher and tougher (thus hard-boiled) and although more realistic, tended toward utter pessimism.  Raymond Chandler called the cozy "English country-house mystery" of Agatha Christie artificial and proclaimed it dead and replaced by the rougher hard-boiled detectives like what Dashiel Hammet wrote. But the traditional mysteries, puzzle mysteries, and cozy mysteries continued selling even during the hard-boiled rise in popularity.

MasterClass articles "What Is Noir Fiction?" says that classic noir fiction has these four elements as hallmarks of the genre: 

1. Enduring mystery: Nearly all noir novels are mystery stories if not detectives or private investigators—as in the work of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but this is not a requirement of noir.

2. A femme fatale: Classic noir often features a femme fatale, a mysterious and seductive woman who uses her sex appeal to seduce and entrap her enemies.

3. Gritty urban settings: Like many works of mystery fiction, noir fiction fits perfectly with the urban landscapes of twentieth-century America. West coast cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City are favorites of noir novelists.

4. Grim assessments of human nature: Although pulpy and driven by action and intrigue, some noir books are works of literary fiction that make statements on the human condition. In a great number of cases, they are very dismal and disheartening, even downright depressing. From the villains to the protagonists to society itself, the world seems to conspire against good people in noir fiction.

If you wish to explore noir fiction, check out these iconic classic novels that Masterclass recommends:

1. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1930): The book was later adapted into a blockbuster film starring Humphrey Bogart.

2. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939): Another hardboiled detective classic set in Los Angeles made into a movie once again starring Humphrey Bogart. 

3. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith (1950): Highsmith's debut novel inspired a famous Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name. 

4. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (1934): shocking plot points that led to book bannings after its publication.

5. Queenpin by Megan Abbott (2007): A touchstone of contemporary noir fiction focuses on a ruthless mob veteran.

6. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy (1987): The Black Dahlia is a contemporary noir novel and the first in Ellroy's "L.A. Quartet," a series of neo-noir books where corruption reigns, human nature fails, and happy endings are in short supply.

7. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy (1935):

Nordic noir has become quite popular.  They are written by
authors from Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.  Although these countries aren't usually associated with much crime, the novels range from police procedurals to private eyes and feature a wide range of crimes and equally large variety of criminals. Of course Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is perhaps the most well known nordic noir title, but it is by no means the first nor the biggest.  

Swedish authors Maj Sjöwall and her husband Per Wahlöö began the Nordic Noir in the 1965 with their first mystery novel Roseanna.  The series featured Stockholm police detective Martin Beck and consisted of ten novels published between 1965 and 1975- when Per Wahlöö passed away.  They had originally detailed out only 10 books anyway.   

Michael Connelly said of their work: “One of the most authentic, gripping, and profound collection of police procedurals ever accomplished.”  That is high praise indeed. Jo Nesbo calls Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö the godfathers of Scandinavian crime.  

Their fourth book, The Laughing Policeman, won the Edgar Award for best novel in 1971 from Mystery Writers of America and the book was also adapted into a film of the same name starring Walter Matthau.   

The ten novels emphasized the National Homicide Squad as a team and wrote it like an ensemble cast.  Author Ed McBain feels "they revolutionized the police procedural, emphasizing the squad as a whole."  In the ten books Sjöwall and Wahlöö wrote about suicide, serial killers, pornography, pedophilia, drug-smuggling, arms-dealing, and even madness; while their characters married, divorced, retired; aged, and yes-died.  Apparently all nordic noir authors after them give full credit to Sjöwall and Wahlöö as the pioneers of the genre.

If you like your books dark and gritty, then perhaps modern noir/hard-boiled is for you.  Modern hard-boiled novels include the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly,  Easy Rawlins series by Walter Mosley, James Ellroy in general, Derek Strange & Terry Quinn series by George Pelecanos, and Kenzie & Gennaro series by Dennis Lehane are a few to begin with.

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Monday, October 24, 2022

Review - Donut Disturb

 I haven't read any of the previous fourteen books in the series but I was able to jump right in just fine.  This new-to-me cozy mystery series features an upscale bakeshop owner as amateur sleuth.  See what I thought of it, and if you've read any of the books in this series, leave a comment about what you thought.  

Author: Ellie Alexander

Copyright: June 2022 (St. Martin's) 285 pgs

Series: 15th in Donut Disturb Mysteries

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: cozy mystery

Main Characters: Juliet Capshaw, owner of Torte-a friendly, family bake shop

Setting: Modern day, Ashland, Oregon (a Shakespearan themed town)

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Book Blurb: "Love is in bloom in Ashland, Oregon. The Shakespearean hamlet is bursting with fresh spring energy. Fragrant lilacs and the sweet aroma of vanilla cake fill the air as everyone in town gathers at Lithia Park for the celebration of the year—Thomas and Kerry’s wedding.

It’s a picture perfect day. Guests gather on picnic blankets in front of the bandshell to watch Kerry walk down the aisle and wed Ashland’s favorite detective in training, Thomas. Jules and her team at Torte have been tasked with catering the outdoor reception and everything is going according to plan, until a wedding crasher shows up.

The uninvited guest isn’t just someone looking to score a free glass of champagne. It’s Kerry’s estranged father who is supposed to be behind bars. Kerry is distraught. Jules vows to do everything she can to make sure that there are no other surprises on her friend’s big day. But when the bassist for Heart Strings, the wedding band, is found stabbed with the blunt end of his instrument Jules’s promise takes on new meaning. Now she’ll have to slice through the five tiered cake and a bevy of potential suspects in order to track down a killer before they turn the knife on her." 

My thoughts:

Ashland, the town where this novel takes place, is a truly cozy town.  The characters who populate this mystery and delightful (for the most part).  The police chief is called The Professor even, how charming is that?  I found the interpersonal relationships of the townspeople one of the strongest elements of the book.  Although, I wasn't enjoying Carlos much, which is difficult since he is Juliet's husband.  The mystery was solid with a few mis-directions.  The killer reveal was exciting with good tension and a highlight of the book.  The wrapup is typically just tying up loose story strands, but in this case it was touching and stood out.  I am looking forward to starting at the beginning of the series.

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

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Monday, October 17, 2022

Mystery Movie Review - Murder She Wrote TV Series

     It is with deep sadness that we say goodbye to Actress Angela Landsbury, who had a long and illustreous career but was perhaps best known for playing Jessica Fletcher on the Murder, She Wrote television series.  It ran for 12 seasons from September 30, 1984 to May 19, 1996, for a total of 264 episodes.  
     I remember seeing a young Landsbury in the classic movies Gaslight (1944-she was nominated for an Oscar: Best Supporting Actress) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and I noted that she had stage presence even in those smaller roles.  I had reviewed the movie Death on the Nile with Landsbury (click here) starring alongside Bette Davis and Maggie Smith.  But she became a beloved household name as Jessica Fletcher.

What it's about:
     This television series is in the cozy mystery tradition.  The main character is Jessica Fletcher (Angela Landsbury) who is a best-selling author of mystery novels, a former English teacher, and amateur detective.   Jessica is introduced as a widow in the first episode, her beloved husband Frank having died a couple of years before the start of the series. 

     Jessica and Frank had no children but did raise their nephew Grady upon the death of his parents, a never-named brother of Frank and his wife. Jessica is very close with Grady and he appears in several episodes in the first four seasons. 

     In the show's first episode, Grady sends her manuscript, The Corpse Danced at Midnight, to an agent because she was going to leave it in a drawer.  She becomes a wildly successful author and when murders happen around her, she is often able to use her reasoning and observation skills to figure out the killer.

After the the television series finished in 1996, four television films were released between 1997 and 2003.  There is currently an ongoing book series, beginning with Gin and Daggers, with a total of 56 books (written by Donald Bain 1989-2015, Donald Bain with Renée Paley-Bain 2015-2016Donald Bain with Jon Land 2018 MayJon Land 2018-2020, and Terrie Farley Moran 2020- present) at the time of this writing.

Regulars were: 
Angela Landsbury as Jessica Fletcher
Tom Bosley as Sheriff Amos Tucker
William Windon as Doctor Seth Hazlet
Ron Masak as Sheriff Mort Metzger
Michael Horton as Grady Fletcher

The show had stars and future stars on the show regularly such as: George Clooney, Courteney Cox, Linda Hamilton, Adrienne Barbeau, Linda Blair, Sonny Bono, James Caviezel, Morgan Fairchild, Genie Francis, Anthony Geary, Stewart Granger, Neil Patrick Harris, Rue McClanahan, Darren McGavin, Kristy McNichol, Gerald McRaney, Kate Mulgrew, Adrian Paul, Joaquin Phoenix, Phylicia Rashād, John Rhys-Davies, David Ogden Stiers, Kevin Sorbo, George Takei, Billy Zane, and many, many more.

Noteworthy awards or rankings:
34 award wins and 55 nominations according to IMDB (click here)

In 2004, Fletcher was listed in Bravo's "100 Greatest TV Characters". 

AOL named her one of the "100 Most Memorable Female TV Characters". The same website listed her among "TV's Smartest Detectives". 

She was ranked at number six on Sleuth Channel's poll of "America's Top Sleuths". 

Guinness World Records called her the "most prolific amateur sleuth".

From Wikipedia:
The lead role of Jessica Fletcher was originally developed for actress Jean Stapleton, who ended up turning down the role.

Filmed mostly on sound stages at Universal Studios in Universal City, California (near Los Angeles). The series also filmed exterior shots and some episodes on location in the Northern California town of Mendocino, which stood in for the fictional Maine town of Cabot Cove. 

It is established early in the series that Jessica cannot drive. This was written into the program to facilitate the character's questioning of suspects and fellow investigators while having them drive her somewhere. 

Jessica Fletcher's travels as an author frequently take her to places around much of the world, giving the show writers freedom to explore characters and situations beyond rural New England. 

One trip takes her to Hawaii, where she shares a crossover case with private investigator Thomas Magnum in a special episode of Magnum, P.I.

In 1985, Warren Company released a Murder, She Wrote board game. One player assumes the hidden role of a killer and the other players try to guess which player is the killer. The killer wins for killing five of the characters on the game-board and escaping, while the detective players win by correctly deducing the identity of the killer.

In later seasons, Jessica moved to Manhattan to teach criminology at Manhattan University.

From IMDB:
 The harbor of Jessica's home town, Cabot Cove, is actually the Jaws (1975) lake on the Universal Studios tram tour.

Jessica's middle name is Beatrice, which was a tribute to Lansbury's best friend, actress and singer Bea Arthur.

The show's title is a reference to the Miss Marple mystery Murder She Said (1961), which was based on a novel by Agatha Christie.

The location filming in Mendocino used the Blair House Inn Bed and Breakfast as the exterior of Jessica Fletcher's house. Due to the amount of filming that took place at the location for the series, a V.I.P. room was renamed as Angela's Suite, and a replica of Jessica's bike is in the garden.

Jessica's maiden name was MacGill, based on Lansbury's mother (born Charlotte Lilian McIldowie), who took the acting name Moyna MacGill.

Prior to creating this show, producers Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, and William Link produced Ellery Queen (1975), which used an almost identical format. 

Prior to being offered the role of Jessica, Lansbury was offered the chance to appear in a sitcom, Golden Girls, with her best friend Bea Arthur.  However, her manager suggested she not take that role and do Murder, She Wrote instead.

Season 1 episode 18 "Murder Takes the Bus" and Season 2 episode 13 "Trial by Error" and the highest rated episodes.

My Thoughts:
Murder, She Wrote is like comfort food and Jessica is eminently likeable.  If you enjoy cozy mysteries then dip your toe into the MSW world alongside Jessica Fletcher (currently on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel most evenings).  The books are always a pleasure to read as well.  Angela Landsbury owned the role and I can't imagine anybody else ever playing the role.  I always enjoy seeing all the guest stars.  Thank you for all the great movies and MSW, Angela Landsbury.   

Show Trailer

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Friday, October 14, 2022

Review - Murder at the Serpentine Bridge

 One of my go-to, immediately acquire historical mystery series.  I love the Regency era and this series is one of the best set in Regency.

1)  Murder on Swan Lake (review here

2)  Murder at Halfmoon Gate (review here

3)  Murder at Kensington Palace (review here)  

4)  Murder at Queen's Landing (review here

5)  Murder at Royal Botanic Gardens (review here

Author interview (click here

This is reputedly perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn and Anne Perry, but I have to confess I love this series more than Deanna Raybourn's--and that's saying a lot.

Author: Andrea Penrose

Copyright: Sept 2022 (Kensington) 368 pgs

Series: 6th in Wrexford & Sloane Mysteries

Sensuality:  Era innuendo

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical mystery, Historical Suspense

Main Characters: Widowed Charlotte Sloane, a satirical cartoonist under the name A.J. Quill

Setting: Regency Era, London England

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Book Blurb: "Charlotte, now the Countess of Wrexford, would like nothing more than a summer of peace and quiet with her new husband and their unconventional family and friends. Still, some social obligations must be honored, especially with the grand Peace Celebrations unfolding throughout London to honor victory over Napoleon.

But when Wrexford and their two young wards, Raven and Hawk, discover a body floating in Hyde Park’s famous lake, that newfound peace looks to be at risk. The late Jeremiah Willis was the engineering genius behind a new design for a top-secret weapon, and the prototype is missing from the Royal Armory’s laboratory. Wrexford is tasked with retrieving it before it falls into the wrong hands. But there are unsettling complications to the case—including a family connection.

Soon, old secrets are tangling with new betrayals, and as Charlotte and Wrexford spin through a web of international intrigue and sumptuous parties, they must race against time to save their loved ones from harm—and keep the weapon from igniting a new war . . ."

My Thoughts:  Ms. Penrose is at her best with these characters that you enjoy spending time with.  Lady Charlotte is a believable independant and strong woman for the era and Wrexford, Wrex for short, turns out to be a great romantic match.  Charlotte's adopted sons, Raven and Hawk, are rescued street waifs that she loves dearly and in this book they make close friends with another boy that they bestoy the name Falcon.  Falcon is a heart-tuging addition to the characters and I already adore him.   A subplot involves Wrex's best friend, Kit Sheffield, and his conflicted feelings over his business partner, Lady Cordelia.  This has been developing for a few books and gets a little resolution in this book.  

The interactions and undercurrents between all the characters is rich and layered.  The plot is two fold again:  find the weapon, but be wary of who could be the killer before they strike at Charlotte and Wrex.  Combined with the spot-on pacing makes this a page turner.  This series has a high bar of exciting climaxs and this new book keeps that record in tact.  I was swept up in the tense save-the-day culmination.  Perfection!

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

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Monday, October 10, 2022

Musings - Locked Room Mysteries

Locked-room murders are located in a confined space where no one can enter or leave without being seen.  Making it an impossible murder.  It can be more than a single room, but also trains, planes, boats, elevators, cars, isolated island, trapped at a beach resort or ski resort, and so many others.  This is popular because it is not only a "whodunit" but a "howdunit".  The solutions are often clever and rely on questioning all assumptions.

The first locked room mystery was the1841 Edgar Allen Poe story Murders in the Rue Morgue where fictional detective August Dupin investigates two murders in a locked room on the fourth floor of a house.  In 1907 French author Gaston Laroux published The Mystery of the Yellow Room and he is often credited with the first locked-room murder novel.  The Mystery of the Yellow Room is certainly given more critical aclaim than Poe's Murder in the Rue Morgue and gets mentioned with praise in John Dickson Carr's novel by his detective as well as the incomperable Agatha Christie has Hercules Poirot likewise praise the novel.  

Agatha Christie wrote the most locked-room mysteries and provided us with perhaps the most famous example in And Then There Were None were ten people are stranded on an island and begin to be killed off one-by-one.  

The 1980's television series Remington Steele had one episode, In the Steele of the Night, where a murder took place on an elevator between floors and nobody else in the elevator.

Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes solve a traditional locked-room murder in The Speckled Band.  Author John Dickson Carr was also considered the master of locked-room mysteries.  Ruth Ware has written two notable locked-room mysteries, The Woman in Cabin 10 and One by One.  

Are you a fan of the locked-room murder mystery?  What is your favorite?  What locked-room mystery have you read recently?  Please share in the comments.

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Friday, October 7, 2022

Review - Mrs. Morris and the Witch

I found this series and have been skipping around reading it.  It is a good series for approaching Halloween.  See what you think.

1) Mrs. Morris and the Ghost (click here)

6) Mrs Morris and the Pot of Gold (click here)

I am reviewing the second in the series today, hope you enjoy.

Author: Traci Wilton

Copyright: April 2020 (Kensington Cozies) 219 pgs

Series: 2nd in Salem B&B Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Paranormal cozy mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Character: Charlene Morris, new B&B owner

Setting: Modern day, Salem, Massachusetts

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Book Blurb: "Halloween is the biggest holiday of the year in Salem, Massachusetts—but when B&B owner Charlene Morris finds the dead body of a witch, it spells trouble . . .

Charlene, recently widowed, has renovated her historic mansion just in time to greet guests arriving for the town’s annual Halloween festivities. She’s lucky to have a helpful staff to provide support—as well as a handsome ghost named Jack standing invisibly by her side.

Unfortunately, while the revelers head out on haunted tours, have their fortunes told, or grab a drink at Brews and Broomsticks, a killer walks among them. When Charlene discovers Morganna, a local Wiccan, dead in her shop, she starts getting cozy with the local coven, looking for clues to locate the crafty culprit. Salem may be famous for the false accusations of witchery in centuries past, but this time someone is genuinely guilty—of murder . . ." 

My Thoughts:

Charlene, recently moved from Chicago and is still missing her deceased husband but she is adapting to her new life in historic Salem as a B&B owner. Jack Strathmore is the extremely handsome ghost who owned the family mansion and chose to stay with Charlene when he could have "gone to the light".  Their relationship is enough for both of them at the moment which is a unique approach.  Will Johnson and wife Minnie are her small staff and delightful.  Detective Sam Holden, six foot tall resembling the actor Sam Elliot, is fond of Charlene but being patient.  Silva is her plush white cat who is a sweet cat with little antics.

In this book in the series, Salem is used and adds quite a bit to the story.  The plot was just complex enough to provide some twists. The climax was well done and provided some good chills and tension.

This has an enjoyable heroine, handsome flirty ghost, nicely developed murder mystery, and good pacing.  This is cozy goodness and an entertaining mystery. 

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

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Monday, October 3, 2022

Musings - Reading is Good for Mental Health

The famed Victorian writer, Lord Thomas Macaulay, wrote on the death of his beloved younger sister,  "that I have not utterly sunk under this blow, I owe chiefly to literature. Literature has saved my life and my reason."

We know that during the pandemic book sales increased, particularly cozy mysteries, as a healthy or positive escapism during the Covid quarantine.  The Associated Press had an article on March 7, 2021 about cozy mysteries being a salve during the quarantine.  I did a blog post about it as well (click here.)  But even before the quarantine and beyond that situation, research is showing that reading has many benefits for our mental health in general.

When we say healthy escapism we mean seeking distraction, diversion, and relief of the mind from harsh and distressing realities or boring routines by seeking entertainment and engaging in fantasy either routinely or occasionally as a coping mechanism.  Healthy escapism provides a respite and mental refresh to face daily emotional trials.  Harmful escapism is the avoidance of reality and the tendency to withdraw from the world altogether such as addictions.

Thus, reading provides that mental escape and we are able to deal with life with a renewed outlook thanks to the emotional vacation provided by the story taking us outside our life and into a fictional world for a few hours.

A study in 2015 from the UK claims that readers are “21 percent less likely to experience feelings of depression.” (click here

There is even a reading therapy (called "bibliotherapy") that provides a structured book reading program run by clinics, libraries, and even schools that intends to promote recovery in people facing mental health challenges. (Psychology Today May 24, 2019, Rob Whitley click here.) 

The same 2019 Psychology Today article claims benefits such as increasing reader empathy, social skills, and interpersonal understanding.  Because "readers can deeply engage with characters and scenarios, giving them a better understanding of our shared humanity and common struggles." It states that Dr. Keith Oatley of the University of Toronto (Professor Emeritus in the Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology and researcher) often recommends works of fiction to students "in order to increase understanding about mental health. Two favourites are The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Path, both of which give readers a deep understanding of the alienation, loneliness, shaming, stigma and social exclusion that is often experienced by people with mental health difficulties."

University of Michigan studied how reading fiction is tied to reducing stress.  This is after University of Sussex tied reading to reduced stress levels by up to 68%.  Additionally reading is more effective and faster than other relaxation methods such as a cup of hot tea or listening to music.

But a key that is emphasized is that you pick something that interests you.  Don't read what you think you should, that adds stess right away. Be cautious of self-help books, they have been shown to increase stress.  Pick a fiction novel that captures your imagination or dig into an activity or hobby that fascinates you like travel or cooking.  Read where and when you won't be interrupted, too.  Keep looking until you find the genre or topic that helps you to leave your stresses behind, even if it is for only thirty minutes at a time.

Let's recap, reading: 
  • provides healthy escape from life's stresses, 
  • makes us more understanding, 
  • provides opportunity to identify with others in similar circumstances (empathy), 
  • provides mental activity, 
  • lessens depression, 
 and additionally reading: 
  • keeps the mind active,
  • expands vocabulary, 
  • improves memory,
  • improves brain connectivity and function, 
  • and improves analytical thinking skills.
The next time somebody criticizes how you're being bookish, remind them that you are supporting good mental health and they should try it.

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Saturday, October 1, 2022

Review - Witch And Famous

I reviewed the first in this series of witchy mystery fun.  I didn't review the second but here is the third in the series and it doesn't disappoint. 

Angela M. Sanders

Copyright: July 2022 (Berkley) 274 pgs

Series: 3rd 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: Publisher for honest review

Book Blurb:  "For a tiny town, picturesque Wilfred, Oregon, has everything, including an impressive library housed in a Victorian mansion, a touch of magic in new librarian and fledgling witch, Josie Way, a visiting movie star—and a curious tendency toward murder . . .
Josie and all of Wilfred are buzzing with excitement. A-list movie star Daphne Morris has chosen to interview Roz, assistant librarian and novelist, for her book club. But when the glamorous actress quickly charms both Roz’s long-time love and sheriff Sam, the object of Josie’s unrequited affection, Josie turns to the whispers from her beloved books for ideas on revising the plot. Yet soon there’s another twist . . .
At a party to celebrate the interview, Daphne’s personal chef is found dead in a scene that all too closely echoes one in Roz’s novel. It’s clear to Josie that someone’s idea of a happy ending means framing her friend. She’ll have to read between the lines with the help of the library’s enchanted stacks, guidance from her magical grandmother’s letters, and her cat familiar, Rodney, to solve this murder before someone decides to stage a deadly sequel . . ." 

My Thoughts:
Josie Way is a fun character learning to control her witchy powers.  She cares about her neighbors and movie star Daphne Morris is turning the town upside down.  Rodney, the cat familiar, is a delightful sidekick.  Josie looks into the murder while navigating the town drama in Daphne's wake, including her romantic interest being swept up by the star.  The plot had enough meat to keep my interest and serve up some twists.  The climax provided some good thrills to top off a solid mystery.  This is a fun mystery with humor and a satisfying plot. 

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

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Monday, September 26, 2022

Review - A Fiances Guide to First Wives and Murder

 This is one of my favorite historical cozy mystery series.  The specific sub-genre is chock full of many good series, but this series is delightful and I'm a fan.  Check out what has won me over.

Previous reviews:

1) A Lady's Guide to Ettiquette and Murder 

3) the Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder 

Author: Dianne Freeman

Copyright: July 2011 (Kensington Books) 306 pgs

Series: 4th in Countess of Harleigh Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical cozy mystery, amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Frances Wynn, the wealthy Countess of Harleigh

Setting: Victorian era, London and countryside, England

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb: "For Frances Wynn, widow to the late Earl of Harleigh, life has a cosmopolitan flavor of late. No sooner has she sent her mother and daughter off on a shopping trip to Paris than she and her fiancé, George Hazelton, are socializing with visiting members of the Russian royal family. Amid this whirlwind, scandal also comes calling when Inspector Delaney turns up outside Frances’s house with a young French woman with a shocking claim: she is Mrs. George Hazelton.

 As the future Mrs. George Hazelton, Frances assumes the woman is either lying or demented. “Mrs. Hazelton,” aka Irena, makes other outrageous statements. Among them, she insists that she is the illegitimate daughter of Russian royalty, that she has been abducted many times, and that someone is sending her threatening letters. When George arrives, he clarifies that he is certainly not married to Irena—though he can confirm her royal parentage. But even as he agrees to investigate whether Irena’s life is in danger, her claim proves tragically true. Irena is found strangled in Frances’s garden.

 To uncover a killer—and clear their own names—Frances and George must determine which of Irena’s outlandish stories were based in fact. And as the search reaches a shocking conclusion, they may find that villainy lurks all too close to home . . ." 

My Thoughts:

Frances Wynn, one of my favorite heroines, loved her husband and has grieved his death. So many historical mysteries have the deceased husband as unpleasant and the woman is relieved, so this is a pleasant change.  She is newly engaged to George Hazelton who had become her best friend over the previous books, and was a good friend of her late husband. They both are tested by the surprise woman claiming to be George's wife, but also by societal norms around the situation.  

The setting of Victorian England is always well portrayed and creates an immersive backdrop.  The plot has several twists and turns along the way. The climax had some tense moments and was well done.  This is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery that fully incorporates the era and finely realized characters.

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

Here is an interview with the author.

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Thursday, September 1, 2022

Review - Getaway with Murder

The author of Southern Homebrew, House Flipper, Paw Enforcement mysteries, and Tara Holloway novels brings us a new mystery series.  This series takes into the mountains to a rustic lodge where death checks in.

Author: Diane Kelly

Copyright: October 2021 (Berkley) 296 pgs

Series: 1st in Mountain Lodge Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery

Main Character: Misty Murphy, new owner of the Mountaintop Lodge

Setting: Modern day, Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Book Blurb: "As if hitting the half-century mark wasn’t enough, Misty Murphy celebrated her landmark birthday by amicably ending her marriage and investing her settlement in a dilapidated mountain lodge at the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With the old inn teetering on both a bluff and bankruptcy, she must have lost her ever-loving mind.

Luckily, handyman Rocky Crowder has a knack for rehabbing virtual ruins and for doing it on a dime, and to Misty’s delight, the lodge is fully booked on opening night, every room filled with flexible folks who’d slipped into spandex and ascended the peak for a yoga retreat with plans to namastay for a full week. Misty and her guests are feeling zen—at least until the yoga instructor is found dead.

With a killer on the loose and the lodge’s reputation hanging in the balance, Misty must put her detective-skills to the test. Only one thing is as clear as a sunny mountain morning—she must solve the crime before the lodge ends up, once again, on the brink."

My Thoughts:  Features Misty Murphy as a newly divorced and just turned fifty amateur sleuth, a hunky handyman named Rocky, a new age housekeeper, and a diner owner as her new best friend. The characters were all fun and relatable. A dog named Molasses and cat called Yeti are delightful additions. This debut novel has a basic whodunit plot with a lodge full of suspects that each have motive or opportunity. The setting is stellar and adds to the storyline. I was engaged and read through it every chance I had. As the first book, Misty guesses everyone at the lodge at one point, but she learns as she goes. I enjoyed this book with its mountain setting and the characters rounded out the story.  I will be back for more.

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

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Monday, August 22, 2022

Review - The Woman in the Library

 "[The Woman in the Library] is a mystery-within-a-mystery, with the clues in Freddie's story becoming more intriguing as Leo's advice becomes more sinister. The two story lines work together beautifully, amping up the suspense before reaching a surprising conclusion." ― Booklist

This is the mystery of the moment, getting a lot of attention and praise.  See what my thoughts are on the unique plot and writing.

Author: Sulari Gentill

Copyright: June 2022 (Poisoned Pen Press) 292 pgs

Series: Stand Alone Mystery

Sensuality: Off-page intimacy

Mystery Sub-genre: Suspenseful Mystery

Main Characters: Freddie and Hannah, authors

Setting: Modern day, Boston primarily

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Book Blurb: "Ned Kelly award winning author Sulari Gentill sets this mystery-within-a-mystery in motion with a deceptively simple, Dear Hannah, What are you writing? pulling us into theornate reading room at the Boston Public Library.

In every person's story, there is something to hide...

The tranquility is shattered by a woman's terrified scream. Security guards take charge immediately, instructing everyone inside to stay put until the threat is identified and contained. While they wait for the all-clear, four strangers, who'd happened to sit at the same table, pass the time in conversation and friendships are struck. Each has his or her own reasons for being in the reading room that morning—it just happens that one is a murderer."

My Thoughts:

The novel has an interesting approach: 1) A mystery writer, Hannah, in Australia is writing a novel set in Boston.  Hannah corresponds with Leo in Boston to get details of the city and locals correct.  We get a chapter of Hannah's murder mystery and the next chapter is Leo's email replies which start to take a strange turn.

2) Hannah's actual manuscript is based on Freddie, a female writer, who goes to the Boston Public Library seeking inspiration for her book.  After hearing a horrific scream from somewhere inside the library, Freddie and the three people she was sitting near strike up a conversation and eventually form an unlikely friendship.  A few hours later a woman is found murdered in the Library.  As their friendship solidifies, something is off among the foursome.  But Freddie is getting seriously involved with one of the group.

It seems like this approach would be confusing, but it actually flowed quiet well.  I was invested in Hannah's manuscript and got absorbed in that story, while the email critiques of the chapters were a slow burn and wouldn't have worked on their own. 

This was cleverly plotted with a different approach to the storyline. The manuscript mystery was engrossing while the Hannah and Leo storyline sneaks up on you.  This built tension while the Hannah's manuscript built suspicion as well.  The manuscript characters where well written and Freddie was easy to like.  I wasn't sure if I would like this story, but it hooked me and provided enough surprises in both storylines.  I don't know that I would heap as much praise as I see some pouring on it, but it is certainly a superb mystery that I highly recommend.  Some are labeling it "literary" but this is a solid mystery all the way around.

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

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