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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

My Musings - To-Be-Read Jar

Here is an idea to help you with your TBR pile or your reading

If you have a pile of books, literally or virtually, this idea might help you wade through those books and get them read.  The idea is just like taking a name out of a hat - or jar in this case.

You can put all the names of your books (physical print books or ebooks) into a jar and when you are ready to start a new one, you withdraw the name of the book to read. Writing them out could take a long time, so probably typing them up would be better with plenty of space to cut the book names apart and fold them for the jar.

-- Helps you pick the next book to read.
-- Even if every-other book you read is from your TBR-Jar, you are working through your piles.
-- While you're at it, weed through your shelves and get rid of those books you will never read and can't fathom why you bought in the first place.
-- You get a sense of accomplishment with each one you complete.

You can take this idea a little further if you have different genre's like romance, cozy mystery, historical fiction, and fantasy.  Create a jar specifically for each genre, then you can draw a name from the genre you're in the mood for.  Another version would be a jar for each reading challenge and placing the books you planed for that challenge in the corresponding jar. 

You can pick smaller jars or big according to your needs and an office supply store will have a variety of labels, from simple to decorative, to specify what genre, reading challenge, or just "TBR Jar".  You could even have a jar to place all your completed books into that will show your overall progress.   

You can get fancy and use the origami "Lucky Stars" folding with colored paper strips for your books (colors by genre or by reading challenge) to make them fun and playful.

I hope this is helpful, enjoy.

Here is a short video showing how to fold the Lucky Star if you would like.

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Monday, February 21, 2022

Review - A Secret Never Told

This series has been described as Miss Fisher meets Downton Abbey.  If that gets your attention, read on.

I have read the first two books in this series, but somehow I never reviewed them (scratching my head).  I don't know how I managed that.  But it is beyond time to share this series with you.  

Author: Shelley Noble

Copyright: Nov 2021 (Forge Books) 330 pgs

Series: 4th Lady Dunbridge Mystery series

Sensuality: Innuendo, PTSD

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Lady Dunbridge, recent widow relocated to US 

Setting: 1908, Mahattan, New York

Obtained Through: Library find

Book Blurb: "Philomena Amesbury, expatriate Countess of Dunbridge, is bored. Coney Island in the sweltering summer of 1908 offers no shortage of diversions for a young woman of means, but sea bathing, horse racing, and even amusement parks can’t hold a candle to uncovering dastardly plots and chasing villains. Lady Dunbridge hadn’t had a big challenge in months.

Fate obliges when Phil is called upon to host a dinner party in honor of a visiting Austrian psychologist whose revolutionary theories may be of interest to the War Department, not to mention various foreign powers, and who may have already survived one attempt on his life. The guest list includes a wealthy industrialist, various rival scientists and academics, a party hypnotist, a flamboyant party-crasher, and a damaged beauty whose cloudy psyche is lost in a world of its own. Before the night is out, one of the guests is dead with a bullet between the eyes and Phil finds herself with another mystery on her hands, even if it’s unclear who exactly the intended victim was meant to be.

Worse yet, the police’s prime suspect is a mystery man who Phil happens to be rather intimately acquainted with. Now it’s up to Lady Dunbridge, with the invaluable assistance of her intrepid butler and lady’s maid, to find the real culprit before the police nab the wrong one . . ."

I love the colorful cast of characters. Philomena Amesbury, known as Lady Dunbridge, or Phil to her friends, is widowed and relieved to be out of her controlling and miserable marriage.  She is enjoying life now living in Manhattan and really likes the thrill of investigating murders.  Her best friend, socialite Bev Reynolds, gets plenty of page time and is the kind of friend you want by your side.  

Phil has a mystery man she calls Mr. X who seems to work as a spy of some sort and filters scraps of information... and romantic attention her way.  Detective Sergeant John Atkins is an honest cop who finds Phil's interferance aggravating, but who may also be fond of Phil.  Preswick is her very proper 70-something butler who loves assisting in investigations. Lily is her lady's maid who carries a stiletto knife and picks locks.  Preswick and Lily are breakout characters who are best-supporting actors.  I adore them.

My Thoughts:  Coney Island is a location visited a few times in the investigation and it was handled quite well.  The characters are all vivid with a touch of humor here and there.  Lady Dunbridge is a sophisticated and worldly woman who is kicking up her heals a bit - thus the comparison to Miss Phryne Fisher.  The suspects all being involved in psychology and psycho-analysis or other mental theories makes the motives tangled. The story is twisty and the reader is along for the ride as information is uncovered until the reveal.  The killer confrontation has some exciting moments I enjoyed immensely. This series is great fun without sacrificing a good murder mystery.

Although I had read the first two books in the series, this book can easily be read out of order or alone without problems.  But the whole series is fun and recommended.  I love how this series is developing and I look forward to each book.  

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

Book Trailer:  

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Monday, February 14, 2022

My Musings - Book Boyfriend Anyone?

This Valentine's day, let's discuss mystery book-boyfriends (or girlfriends).

Don't knock a book boyfriend/girlfriend.  There are advantages such as: 

  • He’s perfect (at least as far as you know.)

  • It’s very convenient.  If he annoys you, just close the book. 

  • He says the right things when you want to hear them. 

  • He knows how to romance you. 

  • He doesn’t put you on the shelf - commitment is guaranteed. 

  • He’s always there for you when you need him. 

  • He never disagrees with you, how nice is that! 

  • He’s emotionally available. 

  • He looks good on paper — and in our imagination. 

I'm not saying to give up on flesh-and-blood partners.  Obviously, no fictional character can celebrate the good times with you nor hold you tight through the bad.  These guys/gals are fictional and can't take the place of a real-world person.  But we can still dream, am I right?

I know that murder mysteries and thrillers aren't most people's first thought for romance.  But often they have given us a guy or gal that are brave and good romantic material, and may even seem perfect.  

If a character were to spring out of the pages of a crime fiction novel and become real, which character would you want to go on a date with? 

Do you prefer the historical men like Sebastion St. Cyr by CS Harris, Sebastian Gage from Lady Kiera Darby series by Anna Lee Huber, Captain Gabriel Lacey Regency mysteries by Ashley Gardner, Colonel Francis Mayhew from the Madam of Espionage series by Carol Carr, Jerri Westerson's Crispin Guest, or maybe the Earl of Wrexford in the Wrexford and Sloane series by Andrea Penrose.

Maybe a Scott like Hamish Macbeth by M.C. Beaton or Leith Cameron in Scottish Highlands Mysteries by Hannah Reed?  Would it be boyish Ellery Queen?  Inspector Arthur St. Just or maybe Marco Salvare from the Flower Shop mysteries,  Roarke from JD Robb's "In Death" series or Derek from the Bibliophile Mysteries by Kate Carlisle?

Brooding loners or those with rough edges like Michael Connelly's Detective Bosch or Lee Child's Jack Reacher, Joe Pike and Elvis Cole, Walt Longmire, Gamache and Jean-Guy from Louise Penny's novels?  Maybe Roderick Alleyn and the "gentleman detective" or something really different like Monk?  How about Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee from Tony Hillerman or  P. D. James' Adam Dalgliesh?

I don't want to leave anybody out, so anybody out there think Stephanie Plum, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Stieg Larson's Lisbeth or chef extraordinaire Goldy Korman would their idea of a great date?

Tell me who your book valentine is.

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Friday, February 11, 2022

Review - Phantoms & Felonies

I reviewed the first in this new series, Haunted Homicide (click here).  Now it is time for the second book in the series from Berkley.  I don't think this series is getting much publicity or push from Berkley, which is a shame because I find it delightful.  Continue to find out more about the second book in this new series.

Author: Lucy Ness

Copyright: April 2021 (Berkley) 284 pgs

Series: 2nd in Haunted Mansion Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, Light Paranormal Cozy

Main Characters: Avery Morgan, New manager of a prestigious women's club 

Setting: Contemporary, Portage Path, Ohio, thirty miles south of Cleveland

Obtained Through: Netgalley for honest review

Blurb Blurb: "When a local theater troupe puts on a new play at the club, manager Avery Morgan is excited. This is just the sort of event that's destined to bring in potential new members. Okay, millionaire banker Bob Hanover has more bucks than talent and has used his position to grab the lead role, but that seems like a small price to pay...until Bob is found dead backstage.

Bob rubbed many people the wrong way, but would anyone want him dead? The short answer to that is: Who wouldn't want him dead? His long-suffereing wife had to put up with years of womanizing. The show's playwright has been tricked out of his one great idea by Bob, who claimed it as his own work. And Bob bankrupted one of the town's small businessmen. The choices are many and the time to find the killer is running short.

Avery is working overtime to keep the club open and find the killer. Fortunately, she has help with the latter task. Clemmie Bow was once a singer in the speakeasy in the club's basement. Now she's a ghost who's also a top-notch detective. Together Clemmie and Avery will find the killer—even if it kills one of them."

My Thoughts:  Avery Morgan may have accepted she can talk to Clemie, but she isn't ready to let anybody-least of all her psychic aunt-know of her ability.  But she may not have any choice.

Clemie Bow, resident ghost from roaring 20s, gets more page time in this book and I love her. Sergeant Alterman, known as Oz, is a romantic interest in this slow burn romance.  I like how this is gradually developing.  Avery's psychic Aunt Rosemary makes a surprise visit and her character is fun and sweet.  I am enjoying these characters.  The historic manner house is a great setting for these mysteries and shines again.  In addition to the characters, the mystery is solid with plenty of suspects and motives to sift through and a gripping killer reveal make this a favorite cozy with a fun paranormal touch.  

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

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Monday, February 7, 2022

My Musings - Plot vs Characters

There is an ongoing debate of which produces the better novel, a plot-driven or character-driven story.  But, is it really that simple of a distinction?

Within the mystery genre there are several sub-genres like cozy mystery, historical mystery, paranormal mystery, police procedural, private investigator, suspense thriller, political thriller, psychological thriller, espionage and many more.  Many people seem to make a broad judegement that mysteries are all plot driven, but I disagree.  Let's take a look at this distrinction of story telling and see what you like and why.

My definition of Plot-driven is a story that ensures it holds my interest with twists and plenty of story developments.  That is basic and everybody seems to have different definitions.  

According to the post "A Guide to Character Driven vs Plot Driven Stories" at SkillShare Blog: A plot driven story, also referred to as a narrative driven story, is one in which events supersede character development—think plot twists, complex and fantastical world-building, and plenty of action.   
I like my definition better personally.  

The plot-driven definition provided by SkillShareBlog definition broadly describes fantasy books, and yet Lord of the Rings trilogy has given the world some of the most beloved and complex characters. Frodo, Sam, Gandolf, Aragorn, and even Gollum are unforgettable far and above the epic battles and sweeping action to save the world from evil.

My definition of a character-driven story is one that ensures you are invested in what happens to the main character(s). It's simple, I know. The characters are obviously fleshed out, but I know that character enough to care and even think about him or her after I've finished the book because they have so come to life.  Again, the post "A Guide to Character Driven vs Plot Driven Stories" at SkillShare Blog says: ...the protagonist doesn’t just have things happen to them. Rather, they actively change as a result of the events they face, and the author makes sure that you’re aware of what these changes are.  

I am going to throw a little wrench in here.  I love novels where the setting is a character! If you use the "change" definition of character-driven stories, you would think the setting has nothing to do with character.  Oh, not so.  I don't know who first really developed the setting as a character, but it was perfected in gothic novels where the atmosphere is filled with mystery and horror, an undercurrent of violence or the supernatural. Other than a gothic novel, the setting can take on a persona of its own in a novel such as the woods in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the moors in Sir Connan Doyle's The Hound of Baskerville, or the saltmarsh in Elly Griffiths' The Crossing Places.  As an element that has taken on a persona, it doesn't go through change or have an arc, but there are books where the setting is definitely a character.

I believe there are some mis-conceptions regarding character driven writing in that they are more literary and thus better.  Whereas plot driven is assumed to have little substance and for... gasp... genre fiction!  As if it is simply a lot of action like a continual car-chase (or a super-hero movie) and written in third person or similar.  But even in the Marvel universe there is the Black Widow with her sad and tragic backstory that drives her quest for redemption, which is surprising character development.  In a hard-core action story, character depth can be explored and displayed too.  

Even in the Dan Brown's thrillers (widely criticized as plot driven and unworthy) we are given one of the most moving villains - I contend - in the last several decades.  I am speaking of the broken and tragic character of Silas, the albino assassin, [Spoiler Alert] in the Da Vinci Code who was horribly abused as a child and learned to defend himself and even kill to survive.  He is rescued from that life and shown kindness by a priest who later uses Silas and tells him to kill for God. That is a heartbreaking character story, that would be considered literary (if we were in his head experiencing all his pain) except it is in a suspense thriller that is primarily plot driven.  

Cozy mysteries (labeled plot driven) are known for focusing more on the characters in a tight community.  Arguably one of the most loved cozy protagonists is the Scottish Jim Qwilleran with a lush mustache and a slave to two Siamese, in The Cat Who series.  But because we aren't experiencing his inner struggles or witnessing a big change in who Qwilleran is as a character it wouldn't be considered character-driven.  

But that is the popularity of the series, Qwilleran went through that growth and transformation before the series even starts - he is a recovering alcoholic who lost everything (his wife and career) and now finds companionship in his two Siamese cats while he solves murder mysteries.  The entire point to the novels is they are enjoyable escapism while having an interesting, but not somber or melancholy, character.

Since I read primarily mystery, suspense, thriller, and espionage novels I am therefore reading mostly plot driven books according to more strict definitions.  Yet, I dislike books that don't have the main character developed enough for me to give a rat's tail about their future.  There have definitely been plenty of those that I've never finished or continued in the series.  

Alternately, I have read books that are primarily about the internal conflicts of the character so they develop and grow.  Except for in some remarkable classics, I will get bored pretty quickly if they don't have enough twists and urgency in the plot to keep things moving, or I've found them to be too dark and depressing.

I propose that a good book, whether it is a rom-com or women's fiction, a cozy mystery or political thriller, must have both a strong plot with enough happening and a twist or two plus well developed characters that I give a fig about.  An author may excell at one over the other or the story may place more emphasis on one more than the other. But I believe any good novel has characters that you are invested in and a plot that grabs hold of you and keeps you engaged throughout the story. 

What do you enjoy more: plot-driven or character-driven?  Do you agree with its both?  Do you like the setting as a character?  What are some misconceptions you've heard?  What are your thoughts?

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Saturday, February 5, 2022

Review - Mimi Lee Cracks the Code

This is the third book and although I usually like to start at the beginning, I liked the blurb for this book and decided to give it a try.  I had no problem jumping in with the third book at all.  Book one was "Mimi Lee Gets a Clue" and the second was "Mimi Lee Reads Between the Lines."  Let's take a break from the cold winter and go to sunny California.  

Author: Jenifer J Chow

Copyright: Nov 2021 (Berkley) 286 pgs

Series: 3rd in Sassy Cat Mystery series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy mystery, amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Mimi Lee, Owner of Hollywoof Pet Grooming 

Setting: Contemporary Los Angeles, CA

Obtained Through: Netgalley for an honest review

Book Blurb:  "Mimi Lee just found an extra perk to being a pet groomer at Hollywoof (other than cuddling animals all day long, that is). Pixie St. James, one of Mimi’s clients and the investor behind Hollywoof, has offered her and her boyfriend, Josh, a getaway at her vacation home, nestled on beautiful Catalina Island. With the island just outside of Los Angeles but still far enough from the hustle and bustle, Mimi, Josh, and their cat Marshmallow (who, of course, wouldn’t be caught dead in a dingy pet hotel) are excited for their relaxing stay.

 That is, until Pixie’s last renter, Davis D. Argo, turns up dead. Mimi and Josh’s romantic getaway immediately turns into an enormous buzzkill, especially when Pixie asks Mimi for help. The police suspect Pixie, and Mimi knows a thing or two about wrongful allegations. Mimi figures it couldn’t hurt to snoop a little since she’s already there, and soon discovers that a valuable item is missing. Except Pixie isn’t the only one in the neighborhood who has been robbed. There is something strange happening on the island, and Mimi won’t stop until she finds out what it is."

Mimi Lee is a fun character who loves animals and is working hard to make her dreams come true. Alice, her sister is the funny counter to Mimi's more serious character.  Her boyfriend, Josh, is building his career as a young lawyer but they don't get much time together in this book, and go through a rough patch.  Mimi's mother seems to be a reoccuring character who is meddling in her daughter's lives. Of course Marshmallow, her talking cat, is the snarky star of the story who keeps things light, is a great sleuthing partner, and can be counted on in a crisis.

My Thoughts:  This is a delightful and enjoyable cozy mystery. Mimi Lee is very relatable working to make her pet grooming business a success while dealing with her overbearing mother.  Fortunately, since she has a boyfriend her mother isn't constantly trying to set her up. No, that has now fallen upon her poor sister, who relies on Mimi to run interferance.  Sister provides comic relief dealing with their mother.  Catalina is described well and brought my one trip there as a teenager back to me.  My one significant complaint is Mimi's interactions with Detective Brown are over-the-top (i.e. flouncing into his office and telling him who he needs to investigate more because of some little tidbit she uncovered.)  But that is only a couple of scenes and the rest is a fun read.  The reader is getting the clues as Mimi uncovers them and the killer reveal had some good tense moments like I enjoy.  

Rating: A good fun read when you want something lite 

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