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Friday, December 29, 2023

Review - Murder Marks the Page

 The first in a new series spun off from the Daisy Tea Garden Mysteries, Daisy’s daughter Jazzi Swanson has opened her own book and tea shop, providing a variety of literature and flavored beverages for a rural New York community. But Jazzi has not only inherited her mother’s gift for brewing tasty drinks—she also has a nose for sniffing out murder.

Author: Karen Rose Smith

Copyright: March 2024 (Kensington Cozies) 272 pgs

Series: 1st in A Tomes & Tea mystery series

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy, Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Jazzi Swanson, owner & operator of Tomes & Tea

Setting: Modern day, Belltower Landing, a lakeside resort town in New York

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review, Netgalley

 Book Blurb:  "New York State’s Belltower Landing is a lakeside resort town where tourists spend their summer days boating, floating, and paddle-boarding on the water. It’s also the perfect place to cuddle up with a good book and enjoy a cup of tea, courtesy of Tomes & Tea. Owned and operated by Jazzi and her best friend Dawn Fernsby, the book bar is beloved by vacationers and locals alike, but browsers grabbing brews in the off season aren’t enough to help them make ends meet.

     Between brainstorming social media publicity ideas for the shop and fending off flirtatious men she has no interest in or time for, Jazzi befriends a woman named Brie who has recently made contact with her biological father. As an adopted child herself, Jazzi is more than happy to give Brie emotional support, especially as her wealthy father’s wife and children see her as a threat.

     But Brie is also looking to start a family of her own. Unfortunately, all the potential princes she’s met through a dating app turn out to be frogs. Then, when Brie is found murdered, Jazzi finds herself playing detective. With a list of suspects ranging from jealous half-siblings to less-than-suitable suitors, Jazzi may need to consult some of her shop’s bestselling mysteries to help her uncover a killer . . ."

My Thoughts:

Jazzi Swanson is out of college and co-owner of Tome and Tea bookstore and Tea spot.  She is young but determined and a reluctant sleuth because her mother, Daisy Swanson from Daisy Tea Garden Mysteries, was known for investigating murders.  Dawn Fernsby is best friend, business partner, and roommate.  In many ways Dawn and Jazzi are more like sisters.  Oliver is a local upscale pub owner from Australia and a potential romantic interest.  Parker is a bookclub participant and software applications developer who, although very subtle, I see as a potential romantic interest as well.

The mystery has plenty of suspects and Jazzi never intends to investigate but ends doing so anyway.  I like the lake setting woven throughout the story.  The climax had some harrowing moments as the killer is revealed and Jazzi is in danger.  A subplot is extra efforts to bring in more business to the bookstore which provides a touch of realism about the business through the story.  A deligtful touch is Jazzi adopting two adorable kittens.  

Rating:  Excellent - A fun read-it was good.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Musings - New Year's Vision Board

 A vision board is a collection of images and words that symbolize your goals, dreams and visions of success for what you want to accomplish.

Joyce Marter contributed to HuffPost these thoughts on Vision Boarding:
Think of the idea of "self-fulfilling prophecy. Over and over again, I have seen that if we anticipate an outcome, it is more likely to occur that way because our thoughts precede our behaviors. As author Wayne Dyer said, Our intention creates our reality.

Determine your vision for the coming year as the first step.

Getting Started – Focus on What YOU Want your life to feel and look like.  Stretch, if there were nothing -- nothing at all -- to hold you back, what would you like your life in the next year to be like?  If there were no limits?  Consider these areas of life for some inspiration:

Financial – Money, wealth, and budget
Relationships – Close friends, family, and close colleagues
Network – Professional connections, greater community
Physical – Places and things like where you live, travel, artwork, furniture, etc.
Personal  projects, hobbies, self development,
and fun
Body – Your energy, health, appearance, and clothing, planned down-time
Self – Strengths, talents, and character
Spiritual – Deep connections and sacred spaces
Nature –  The great outdoors and retreats  

A theme may emerge, and you don't have to include every area listed.  You may decide to do one vision board for personal life and one for career/business life.  Make this fun and play with the opportunity to envision a great year ahead how you really would like to see it with no limits.

Get more specific.  Many people think in big concepts such as I want to travel more, I want love in my life, I want a better job.  But envision what that actually looks like.  Where is the first place you want to travel to? Is it a national park, Paris, or a place of family significance?  What should that love life be like? Respectful, a true partner, romantic or practical?  That job you want, is it an easy commute, better pay, a respectful boss who encourages growth and challenges you or lets you do your job without interference?  Get into what it really means to you and put that on your vision board.

Buy a poster board, cork board, or large paper and gather together pictures and words from magazines, Pinterest, or other print images you find on the internet or maybe draw/paint your own to symbolize and represent your goals.  I have even seen Vision Board Kits available on Etsy and even vision board clipart books on Amazon.  Yes, there are online-digital versions of vision boards, too.  Canva has several vision board templates.

Next, gather scissors, glue, maybe decorative paper and washi tape, and markers.  Set aside a good hour or two with a space where you can spread out images you've gathered and work uninterupted.  Make it relaxing - a mini retreat - with some inspiring music, maybe some candles or essential oils.  

It can be an organized layout with right angles and columns/sections or it can be loose with some overlapping and images at odd angles.  It's completely up to you.

This is also an activity that can be done as a family and teaches children to dream and envision for their future.  Also, check your library and local events for vision board workshops.

It's best if you place your completed vision board somewhere that you can see it regularly to remind you of your vision, soak into your subconscious, and give consideration and attention to it over the next year.  Where is that place for you, an office or personal space? If you opted for an online-digital vision board, find a way to print it out and display.  

So consider the placement and size you'll need.  Also, take a photo of it to keep on your phone, maybe use it as the background for your computer.  I have also seen a vision book similar to a scrapbook, but again it should be someplace accessible often to look at.  

As your dreams are realized, write the date on the image on your board. At the end of the year, review your vision board and circle the images that manifested, so over time you have an on-going record of your fulfilled dreams.

Enjoy the new year, may fantastic books be part of your great year ahead.  Let me know in the comments your vision board tips and tricks and how vision boards have worked for you.

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Saturday, December 23, 2023

Review - The Curse of Penryth Hall

If you are a fan of the gothic books from the 1960s thru the 1990s by Victoria Holt, Norah Lofts, Dorothy Eden, Joan Aiken, and many others then you will likely really enjoy this novel.  This debut work won the Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel competition.  

The gothic atmosphere is deliciously laid out like a banquet.  This line sets the stage: "The old Cornish folkways predate even the Romans.  There are things that occur there no one can explain, no one dares."

Jess Armstrong

Copyright: Dec 2023 (Minotaur) 329 pgs

Series: 1st in Ruby Vaughn mystery series

Sensuality: mild, innuendo, adult situations referenced

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical cozy, Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Ruby Vaughn, Heiress-prior WW1 ambulance driver and runs a bookstore for an octogenarian

Setting: August 1922, Cornwall, England

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review, Netgalley
Book Blurb:  "After the Great War, American heiress Ruby Vaughn made a life for herself running a rare bookstore alongside her octogenarian employer and house mate in Exeter. She’s always avoided dwelling on the past, even before the war, but it always has a way of finding her. When Ruby is forced to deliver a box of books to a folk healer living deep in the Cornish countryside, she is brought back to the one place she swore she’d never return. A more sensible soul would have delivered the package and left without rehashing old wounds. But no one has ever accused Ruby of being sensible. Thus begins her visit to Penryth Hall.

A foreboding fortress, Penryth Hall is home to Ruby’s once dearest friend, Tamsyn, and her husband, Sir Edward Chenowyth. It’s an unsettling place, and after a more unsettling evening, Ruby is eager to depart. But her plans change when Penryth’s bells ring for the first time in thirty years. Edward is dead; he met a gruesome end in the orchard, and with his death brings whispers of a returned curse. It also brings Ruan Kivell, the person whose books brought her to Cornwall, the one the locals call a Pellar, the man they believe can break the curse. Ruby doesn’t believe in curses—or Pellars—but this is Cornwall and to these villagers the curse is anything but lore, and they believe it will soon claim its next victim: Tamsyn.

To protect her friend, Ruby must work alongside the Pellar to find out what really happened in the orchard that night."

My Thoughts:  I grew up (10 years and on up) reading gothic romances of the sixities, seventies, eighties, and even nineties.  I have wanted more recent gothics with a newer writing style to take the gothic genre to new heights.  This is the best of the old gothic stories with updated takes and suspense.  
    The characters of  Ruby Vaughn (strong and flawed heroine), Ruan Kivell (the local "Pellar," in English folk he practiced Magic and Witchcraft, was a healer, diviner and breaker of spells) a compelling and mysterious man, and Tamysn (the recent widow who appears haunted and terrified) each provide layers and nuances to the story.  Although Ruby and Ruan initially butt heads, there is something between Ruby and Ruan, something ancient and mystical that I dearly hope will be further explained in subsequent books.  Mr. Owen and Mrs. Penrose are great secondary characters that I'm glad will be returning.
    The setting of Cornwall with the deep sense of history and persistant old folk ways sets the gothic atmosphere to perfection.  The plot has many twists and turns that kept me guessing.  The mystery may seem simple at first but it is actually more complex and involved.  The lurking image of a ghost, the Pellar's near magic healing abilities, and the family secrets slowly doled out are perfection and kept me reading on and on.  The climax was great with some suspense.  The wrapup ties up all the loose ends, except whether Ruby and Ruan will see each other again and figure out their strange connection.  Something to look forward to, I hope.  
     I admit the first chapter or two didn't grab me, but I'm glad I stuck with it because once Sir Edward Chenowyth is murdered the story had me in its spell and I could barely put it down to sleep.  I highly recommend.   

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

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Saturday, December 16, 2023

Mystery Movie Review-A Haunting in Venice vs Hallowe'en Party

A Haunting in Venice (2023) is very loosely
inspired by the 1969 book Halloween Party by Agatha Christie, her 31st novel to feature Hercule Poirot.  The only other adaptation/filming of the book was for the Hercules Poirot series in 2007-released 2010 (Season 12 episode 2).

What's It About:

In 1947, post-World War II Venice, Poirot, now retired and living in his own exile, while employing ex–police officer Vitale Portfoglio to act as a bodyguard. On Halloween, mystery writer Ariadne Oliver convinces Poirot to attend a Halloween party and séance at the palazzo of famed opera singer Rowena Drake and to expose Joyce Reynolds, a World War I army nurse turned medium, as a fraud. The palazzo itself is claimed to be haunted by the spirits of children who, when the palazzo was an orphanage, were locked up and left to die when a plague swept through the city, with rumors that the spirits torment any nurses and doctors who dare to enter.

Rowena has hired Joyce to help her commune with her daughter Alicia, who reportedly died by suicide after her fiancé, chef Maxime Gerard, broke off their engagement. Among the guests in attendance are Maxime, Rowena's housekeeper Olga Seminoff, Drake family doctor Leslie Ferrier and his son Leopold, and Joyce's Romani assistant Desdemona Holland.

Director:  Kenneth Branagh

Writers: Michael Green and "Agatha Christie"


Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot

Michelle Yeoh as Joyce Reynolds

Jamie Dornan as  Dr. Leslie Ferrier

Kelly Reilly (Pride & Prejudice) as  Rowena Drake

Jude Hill as Leopold Ferrier

Tina Fey as  Ariadne Oliver

Dylan Corbett-Bader as  Baker

Amir El-Masry as Alessandro Longo

Riccardo Scamarcio as Vitale Portfoglio

Fernando Piloni as Vincenzo Di Stefano

Reviews:  Rotten Tomatoes: 76% 

The film received generally positive reviews from critics.

"The film resonates with qualities found in classics of the genre by Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, and is simultaneously reminiscent in its aggressive theatrical approach to Branagh’s own neo-noir thriller “Dead Again” from 1991." Lee Zumpe of Tampa Bay Newspapers

"A Haunting in Venice is an adequate mystery, with shadows, mystique and a plot with twists and turns." Marie Asner of Phantom Tollbooth

"It's beautifully shot, perfectly set, and filled with great actors - and it's even mercifully under 2 hours. So if you want a good pre-Halloween snack with some chills and thrills but isn't too much, this is a fun one for you."  Paul Salfen of AMFM Magazine


The film had its red carpet premiere at the Odeon Luxe Leicester Square at the West End London on September 11 with none of the cast members in attendance due to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike.

Clinched No. 1 on its opening weekend in the UK, Spain and Italy, but not in the USA.

Filmed on location in Venice. Branagh wanted to use as many physical sets possible for filming.

Released on September 15, 2023, Dame Agatha Christie's 133rd birthday.

Michelle Yeoh dropped out of The Electric State (2024) to star in this movie.

As of November 2023, this is the least successful Poirot movie by Kenneth Branagh on the box office world wide.

Sir Kenneth Branagh worked with the technical department to cause surprises for the cast. The actors were not warned about lights going out suddenly, or gusts of wind and slamming doors on the sets in which they worked, causing genuine confused and startled reactions from the actors to appear in the film. Kelly Reilly confirmed that filming the seance scene was a terrifying experience saying in an interview, "It scared the bejesus out of me."

Dr. Farrier mentions that medical staff accidentally killed the starving concentration camp prisoners they had liberated with milk. This is actually possible, and is caused by a condition known as "Refeeding Syndrome."

Bergen-Belsen, mentioned as the source of Dr. Farrier's trauma, was a real concentration camp during WW2, and was the camp Anne Frank died in.

Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill previously played father and son in Belfast (2021), also directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh.

My Thoughts:

Plot is nowhere near the same plot as Christie's book, things are so changed around that it is a different story all together than Agatha Christie and I don't think the changes made the mystery any better.  The characters may have had the same names but were completely changed and the motive and setups of murder and even killer were all different.  

The acting had some shining stars, in particular Michelle Yeoh as the medium and twelve-year-old Jude Hill as the boy Leopold Ferrier gave outstanding performances.  Jamie Dornan as  Dr. Leslie Ferrier and Kelly Reilly as Rowena Drake gave a good performances as well.  The music was particularly well done and added to the near horror mood.  Cinematography was dark (everything is dark, darker than the prior two) but intense and has the signature Branagh camera angles and style.

If I look at this as a mystery in the tradition of Christie only, I would consider it an entertaining and spooky movie, not necesarrily great, but enough.

Original "Halloween Party" Season 12 Episode 2 July 2007

During an English village's Hallowe'en party held in a mannor home, a young girl boasts of having witnessed a murder from years before. No one believes her tale until her body is found later on in the evening, drowned in the apple-bobbing bucket.

The popular author who was at the party contacts Poirot to rush to the village and solve the young girl's murder. He believes the girl's death is because she claimed to witness a murder several years prior and sets about to discover who was murdered years before (probably what was thought a suicide) and uncover who killed the young girl to keep the murder she claimed to witness quiet.  

David Sucket is the epitome of Christie's character and brings some humor to Poirot in this movie as well as his sensitivity to young people.  The story follows the book pretty closely.  The story is a little dark and has gothic/spooky touches but not bordering on horror atmosphere.  At no point in the story is Poirot disturbed by the deaths, mystery, or "haunted" by the spirits like the 2023 version.

Filmed at: Beckley Park, Beckley, Oxfordshire, England, UK (In particular: Topiary garden of the Drake residence) 

My Thoughts:

I really enjoy the original for its being close to the book.  It is a classic British mystery with plenty of twists upon twists in the plot.  David Suchet is the embodiment of Hercules Poirot-full stop. Although I enjoy Peter Ustinov's portrayals, David Suchet became Poirot completely and his acting is nuanced.  For this reason I always enjoy watching his portrayals of the greatest detective.  This version isn't as flashy or fast paced as Haunting, but I find it more entertaining since I enjoy British paced mysteries.  I will probably watch this version again and again, but not the 2023 Haunting.

DID YOU SEE BOTH?  What did you think of them?  Leave a comment please.

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Saturday, October 28, 2023

Review - Snow Place for Murder

 Get into the winter and holiday mood with this book.  We are up to the third in this series that I have been following since the beginning.

1)  Getaway with Murder (click here)

2)  A Trip with Trouble (click here)

Author: Diane Kelly

Copyright: October 2023 (Berkley) 298 pgs

Series: 3rd in Mountain Lodge Mysteries

Sensuality: mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy, amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Misty Murphy, Owner of Mountaintop Lodge

Setting: Modern day, Blue Ridge Mountains

Obtained Through: Publisher (via Netgalley) for honest review

Book Blurb: "International resort developer Nigel Goodwin has traveled all the way from London, England to Misty Murphy’s little corner of North Carolina and bought out the Mountaintop Lodge for the week prior to Christmas. Their intention? To pitch an exclusive new resort concept to wealthy American investors.

But locals are at odds over the idea, and when a group comes to the lodge to express their worries to Mr. Goodwin and the potential investors, a blizzard hits Beech Mountain. Like the weather outside, things quickly get frosty, and Misty has to call local police to intervene. Handyman Rocky Crowder plows the lodge’s drive and, in an attempt to regain a jovial holiday atmosphere, smooths the snow pile into a makeshift sledding hill for the guests to enjoy.

Misty’s boys have finished their exams and are “home” from college for the winter break, planning to spend most of their time snowboarding at the ski resort. While taking a few runs down Rocky’s sledding hill, they discover a funny-looking, nose-shaped rock. Only it’s not a rock. It’s the frozen nose of Nigel Goodwin, who’s found dead and buried under the mound of snow.

Who put the developer on ice and why?" 

My Thoughts:  Misty Murphy is a great main character, level headed, thoughtful, intelligent, and hard working.  Her developing relationship with Rocky Crowder is delightful.  

This series always has such a sense of place and this is no exception.  The wintery mountains are brought alive to the point you can nearly smell the pine with a tinge of fireplace smoke and feel the chill. 

If you particularly enjoy books where you feel part of the family, this is the book for you.  Join Misty for Thanksgiving and then Christmas with her two boys and Rocky's daughter.

I do have to say that the murder and investigation don't happen until well into the book.  Some may be surprised by that since so many books now have the murder in the first chapter of two.  But it is worth the wait. 

As for solving whodunit, I didn't have a strong candidate, they all seemed equally likely. The subtle clues didn't stand out for me, but they are there.  The killer reveal wasn't perilous, but had its own excitement.  I am enjoying this series as it progresses and recommend.

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

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Sunday, October 22, 2023

Review - A Counterfeit Suitor

 This is a favorite series, a "must read" on my list.  I have missed it and caught up with it here.

First book "A Useful Woman" (click here), 

Second book "A Purely Private Affair" (click here)

Shird book "And Dangerous To Know" (click here)

Fourth book "A Lady Compromised" no review

Two guest posts (click here and here

Author: Darcie Wilde

Copyright: Nov 2021 (Kensington Books) 442 pgs

Series: 5th in Rosalind Thorne Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy

Main Characters: Rosalind Thorne

Setting: Early 1800s (Regency,) London

Obtained Through: library

Book Blurb: "Among the ton of Regency London, one breath of scandal can be disastrous. Enter Rosalind Thorne, a young woman adept at helping ladies of quality navigate the most delicate problems—in this charming mystery series inspired by the novels of Jane Austen . . .

It is every mama’s dearest wish that her daughter marries well. But how to ensure that a seemingly earnest suitor is not merely a fortune hunter? Rosalind is involved in just such a case, discreetly investigating a client’s prospective son-in-law, when she is drawn into another predicament shockingly close to home.

Rosalind’s estranged father, Sir Reginald Thorne—a drunkard and forger—has fallen into the hands of the vicious scoundrel Russell Fullerton. Angered by her interference in his blackmail schemes, Fullerton intends to unleash Sir Reginald on society and ruin Rosalind. Before Rosalind’s enemy can act, Sir Reginald is found murdered—and Fullerton is arrested for the crime. He protests his innocence, and Rosalind reluctantly agrees to uncover the truth, suspecting that this mystery may be linked to her other, ongoing cases.

Aided by her sister, Charlotte, and sundry friends and associates—including handsome Bow Street Runner Adam Harkness—Rosalind sets to work. But with political espionage and Napoleon loyalists in the mix, there may be more sinister motives, and far higher stakes, than she ever imagined..." 

My Thoughts:

Rosalind still reminds me of a proper British version of True Grit's Mattie Ross. I enjoyed the warming in the very slow burn beween Rosalind and the Bow Street runner, Adam Harkness.  Harkness is reserved but clearly devoted to Rosalind.  Alice Littlefield, Rosalind's best friend, joins her again and proves her worth.  Rosalind's sister, who had run off with their father years ago, is back and their relationship is strained at best.  In this book Rosalind must face a very personal challenge that has her emotionally off balance and is affecting her abilities on her case.  Very well done.

Her past family issues also seem to come to a resolution plus a long standing enemy, in a surprising twist, reaches out to her for help.  The plot has plenty of twists and the climax was great.  Rosalind really steps up on many levels in this novel. Perhaps my favorite of all the books thus far.   

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

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Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Musings - Cozy, Traditional, and Amateur Sleuth

When I tell people I'm an author they inevitably ask what I write.  When I reply cozy mysteries they either light up and mention their favorite series or they stare blankly and ask what is a cozy.  Somehow when I simply answer I write mysteries, the broad term ends up confusing them.  Every genre has subgenres that further narrow the field.  A cozy fan will know exactly what they expect, but they too will get confused by the differences an amateur sleuth or a traditional mystery.  There are certainly many elements in common, but there are distinct difference between the three.  

Are the following categories absolute?  No, they aren't.  But they are a good guideline, particularly if you are a reader trying to stay away from hard core violence or other sensitive content.  If you are a writer, this helps you know your audience and how to classify what you've written.  What I have included here actually took some research because some views vary.  This is a fairly good guideline, but amatuer sleuths and traditional mysteries seem to have more wiggle room.

Cozy mysteries: almost always have an amateur sleuth with an occupation (baking, crafting, innkeeping) or hobby theme that's a hook for a segment of readers.  Cozies invariably include colorful friends and frenemies, pets, no bad language, no explicit sex on the page, no gory descriptions, and take place in a small town or a tight community in a larger city.

The cozy focuses on the relationship between the characters as much as, if not more than, solving the mystery.  As I like to put it, cozies are the kinder, gentler murder mystery.  They have a more positive outlook and the murder disrupts the peace and sense of safety and the hero(ine) seeks to heal the community by bringing the killer to justice.  Examples:  "Murder, She Wrote: Trick or Treachery" by Jessica Fletcher, "The Cat Who Saw Red" by Lillian Jackson Braun, "Strawberry Shortcake Murder" by Joanne Fluke, and "On What Grounds" by Cleo Coyle 

Amateur Sleuth:  Although all cozies feature an amateur sleuth, not all amateur sleuth mysteries are cozies.  They may contain a few swear words sprinkled throughout and may have a stronger sense of sex without it being explicit, and may have more violence on the page.  It is more common to have a larger city but still have a tight pool of suspects for an amateur to identify and snoop around, although I've read several that were in small towns.  Amateur sleuth novels can have an emotional environment between the tight cohesiveness of a cozy to a slightly more jaded outlook.  Examples:  "The Crossing Places by Ruth Galloway", " The Woman in the Library" by Sulari Gentill, "One for the Money" by Janet Evanovich [Stephanie Plum isn't a trained police official or investigator for hire so she is an amateur sleuth].

Traditional mysteries:  Can be a lot like a cozy if you strip away the themed hook of cooking etc. occupation or common hobby.  The focus is definitely more on the mystery than building a close-knit community.  Drop the eccentric or kooky friends and provide more developed and deeper characters.  There may be a similar jaded outlook like the amateur sleuth but likely more twists and turns plus blood than a cozy.  The hero(ine) may have a tougher background that makes them good at understanding criminals, but their ability to understand the dark side of human nature is most important.  The small cast of characters includes the villain and a confined setting such as a small town or an isolated mansion. The plot focuses on solving the murder and “fair play” ( all clues are provided for the reader to solve the murder) is emphasized.  Examples:  "The French Powder Mystery" by Ellery Queen, "One by One" by Ruth Ware, and "The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side" and "Then There Were None" both by Agatha Christie.  

Each of these can have elements of other genres.  A cozy paranormal will have a fun witch or such. Example: "First Bite" by Avery Daniels and "Witch and Famous" by Angela Sanders.  A historical cozy or amateur sleuth will meet all the specifications mentioned but be placed in a historical setting.  Example: "A Body in the Garden" by Katharine Schellman and "A Lady's Guide to Ettiquette and Murder" by Dianne Freeman.

I hope you enjoyed this foray into the cozy, traditional, and amateur sleuth genres.  May this guide you in increasing your TBR stack!  You're welcome *wink*.

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Friday, October 13, 2023

Review - Key to Deceit/Playing it Safe

1) A Peculiar Combination (click here

Guest Post: (click here 

I realized I hadn't done my review of the second book in this series when I was ready to write my review for the third.  So, you get both books in this one post.  I love the premise of this series, a safe craker using her unique skills to aid British Intelligence during WW2. Read on to find out how the second and third books "stack up".

The author has also written the Amory Ames Mysteries that I have reviewed.

The Key to Deceit 

Author: Ashley Weaver

Copyright: June 2022 (Minotaur) 288 pgs

Series: 2nd in Electra McDonnell Mysteries

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, Cozy Intrigue

Main Character: Electra McDonnell, a safe-cracking thief aiding the war effort 

Setting: 1942 London during WWII

Obtained Through: Personal purchase

Book Blurb: "London, 1940. After years of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor―well, to themselves, anyway―Ellie McDonnell and her family have turned over a new leaf as they help the government’s war effort. It’s true that the straight-laced Major Ramsey didn’t give them much choice, but still, Ellie must admit she doesn’t miss breaking and entering as much as she might have thought. What she does miss is the challenge of unlocking an impossible code and the adrenaline rush that comes from being somewhere she shouldn’t.

So when Major Ramsey turns up unannounced with another job, she can’t say no. A woman’s body has been found floating in the Thames, with a bracelet locked onto her wrist, and a cameo locket attached to it. It’s clear this woman was involved in espionage, but whose side was she on? Who was she reporting to? And who wanted her dead?"

My Thoughts:  In addition to the job Major Ramsey enlists her to do, Ellie is looking into her mother's death in jail for the murder of her father.  She has a lot going on and the fast changing world around her is another challenge.  Major Ramsey initially was seeking Uncle Mick to do the job, but Mick was unavailable so he resorts to Ellie. He seems reluctant to involve Ellie much, either from the danger of the job or of spending time together. Long time forger friend-of-the-family Felix Lacey is working to be closer to Electra and she cares for him but is it romantically or more a friend?  Uncle Mick and the housekeeper Nacy are absolute gems and stand out secondary characters.

The plot has a murder to solve but is also full of intrigue. The climatic confrontation was spot on with high stakes and no room for mistakes.  This was complex enough to keep me glued to the pages.  But more than that, the author delivers an absorbing setting with layered characters.  

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Playing it Safe

Author: Ashley Weaver

Copyright: May 2023 (Minotaur) 272 pgs

Series: 3rd in Electra McDonnell Mysteries

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, Cozy Intrigue

Main Characters: Electra McDonnell, a safe-cracking thief aiding the war effort 

Setting: 1942 London during WWII

Obtained Through: Library

Book Blurb:  "As the Blitz continues to ravage London, Ellie McDonnell—formerly a safecracking thief, but currently determined to stay on the straight and narrow to help her country—is approached by British Intelligence officer Major Ramsey with a new assignment. She is to travel under an assumed identity to the port city of Sunderland and there await further instructions. In his usual infuriating way, the Major has left her task as vague and mysterious as possible.

Ellie, ever-ready to aid her country, heads north, her safecracking tools in tow. But before she can rendezvous with the major, she witnesses an unnatural death. A man falls dead in the street in front of her, with a note clutched in his hand. Ellie’s instincts tell her that the man’s death is connected in some way to her mission.

Soon, Ellie and the major are locked in a battle of wits and a race against time with an unknown and deadly adversary, and a case that leads them to a possible Nazi counterfeiting operation. With bombs dropping on the city and a would-be assassin shadowing their every move, it will take all of Ellie’s resourcefulness and Major Ramsey’s fortitude to unmask the spymaster and avert disastrous consequences—for England and for their own lives." 

My Thoughts:  Ellie is a great heroine in the midst of a national crisis who steps up on many levels to the challenge of the times and her circumstances.  Major Ramsey is the epitome of a strict military man with a pinch of high society untouchable air for this slow burn attraction to keep me coming back. Felix Lacey is still in the picture, for this is more complex than two men interested her.

Ellie being away from her family in an unfamiliar city creates a sense of isolation and uncertainty. I appreciated the counterfeiting aspect since this was a real tactic used in the war. The bombings hammering the country every night and the emotional toll is touched on as well.  

This was another page-turner with a sense of cat-and-mouse against a hidden spy master and a killer loose.  There was a twist or two to mix things up and keep me on my toes.  Plus the subplot of following up on the mystery of her mother has a significant development.    

This has become a must-read series for me and the sub-plot of Major Ramsey and Ellie's undeniable and growing attraction makes waiting for the next book torture.    

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

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Thursday, October 5, 2023

Review - Digging Up Daisy

Today I am reviewing a the debut novel in a new series by Sherry Lynn, who also writes as Holly Danvers and Holly Quinn.  As Holly Quinn she writes the Handcrafted Mysteries and as Holly Danvers she writes the Lakeside Library Mysteries (click here for review of 3rd in series).  Read on to discover my reaction to this new series.

Author: Sherry Lynn

Copyright: April 2023 (Minotaur) 288 pgs

Series: 1st in Mainely Murder Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery, Amateur sleuth

Main Character: Kinsley Clark, owner of SeaScapes landscaping

Setting: Modern day, Harborside, Maine

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review, Netgalley

Book Blurb: "At twenty-nine, Kinsley Clark is living the dream life she always envisioned for herself. She’s the proud owner of SeaScapes, a thriving landscaping company in wealthy Harborside, set on the rugged coast of southern Maine. Kinsley’s veins are filled with salty air, a myriad of colors, and the fragrance of fresh blooms. But one afternoon, while working at her aunt Tilly’s bed-and-breakfast, the Salty Breeze Inn, Kinsley digs up more than she bargained for—a high-heeled shoe. The once sparkly shoe, now caked in mud, is linked to a case the police had appropriately dubbed the "Cinderella Murder."

Kinsley panics.  Does this mean that her aunt and the inn are somehow connected to this murder? Will it scare away potential guests? Will it subject the inn to a rush of bad press? With Aunt Tilly’s reputation, and possibly her safety, on the line, Kinsley digs deeper into the crime to find out what the shoe was doing on her aunt’s property and who murdered Cinderella, whose real name is Daisy. As she investigates, more suspects rise to the surface, and eventually, Kinsley has to weed out a killer."

My Thoughts:  Kinsley Clark's life is nothing but her landscaping business and her aunt.

Aunt Tilly, owner of the Salty Breeze Inn bed-and-breakfast, raised Kinsley and her brother when their parents died.  Kinsley will do anything for Tilly. 

Best friend Rebecca "Becca" is a real estate agent and has a good head on her shoulders.  The potential romantic interest is a restaurant owner, Pete, but he seems stand offish which isn't explained until the last pages.  I like going against the standard convention of the romantic interest being a cop.  In this case Rachel, Kinsley's brother's ex girlfriend, is the cop and they're friends.

The mystery has enough depth and complexity to keep you guessing and go with a misdirect.  I like the town as a setting, it is brought to life and wraps its arms around the reader.  The climax was my favorite of a suspenseful killer reveal done well and believeably. Kudos.

My biggest complaint is the ridiculous descriptions of the color of anything via flowers - such as eyes the color of "Sweet Tea heucherella leaves" or eyes the color of "blooming blue hydrangea globes".  This became ridiculous and I was done with that on the second such plant reference for a color descriptor when the book is full of them!  This doesn't make an interesting character - it makes her unrelatable unless we are all focused on gardening to that extreme.

Rating:  Good - A fun read with enjoyable characters and town setting.  Solid mystery.

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Monday, October 2, 2023

Banned Book Week 2023

October 1-7 is Banned Book Week (began in 1982) where we bring awareness to book banning and push back.  Judith Krug, co-fouder of Banned Books Week, states it so well: "The right of any individual to read is an absolute necessity in a democratic society."

More important than ever!
Although book bans have been around for centuries and are nothing new, there were more censorship attempts in 2022 than at any time since the American Library Association began tracking more than twenty years ago.

It is critical to stand up against censorship since a small cadre are producing most challenges leading to bans while on both sides of the aisle, large majorities of voters and parents oppose book bans:
71% of voters oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries.
67% of voters oppose efforts to remove books from school libraries.

Additionally, according to reports, 70% of Florida parents with children in the schools disagree with the book bans.

Tampa Bay Times Sept 3, 2023 editorial stated "The two culture warriors submitted about 600 of the 1,100 book challenges made since July 2022 ... The Times investigation shows it’s not at all clear if the people making the complaints actually read the books they said should be tossed out.

The Times investigation shows quite clearly how a tiny number of activists can effectively overwhelm a school district, especially when enabled by state leaders.

“We have probably spent more resources on (Bruce Friedman who filed 400+ complaints) than anyone else in the history of the school district,’’ said Roger Dailey, Clay County’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

The report also shows that the vast majority of parents aren’t using book challenges... This isn’t a mass movement. Parents aren’t showing up in big numbers to censor books."

Removing and banning books from libraries is a slippery slope to government censorship and the erosion of our country's commitment to freedom of expression.

Here is LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow fame (and or course Roots and Star Trek Next Generation) with a message for Banned Book Week:

Brief history of book banning
Check out this informative short video that gives a good overview of book banning history.

The first recorded book in US to be banned on a national scale was Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and has been credited with being one of the books that helped start the Civil War.  

"Because, as the lawmakers of ancient China and the Nazis in Czechoslovakia decided, an educated people can not be governed; because the conquered people must change the history of their beliefs, like the Aztecs; because only the illiterate can save the world, a common theme of the millenarian preachers of every era; because the nature of a great collection of books is a threat to the new power."  Books on Fire: The Destuction of Libraries throughout History by Lucien Polastron

"In late 2021, I’m confronted with an unprecedented “new illiteracy”—another version of the ever-shifting literacy myth. The historical continuities are shattered by, first, the call to ban books in innumerable circumstances; second, the banning of written literature without reading it; and, third, calls for burning books. This constitutes a movement for illiteracy, not a campaign for approved or selective uses of reading and writing. 

Previous banning movements did not overtly concentrate on race, aim to empty libraries, or associate so closely with one political party. The people behind these movements prided themselves on their direct familiarity with the explicit contents of that which they wished to ban (or even burn). They used their literacy in their brazen efforts to control the uses of others’ literacy. Today’s banners and burners, by contrast, are the new illiterates, achieving a rare historical distinction."  The History of Book Banning by Harvey J. Graff (historian of literacy), Publisher's Weekly, Dec 31, 2021

Resources to get involved 

5 Steps you can take: Click here 

Little Free Libraries Banned Book Week information: Click here  

Unite Against Book Bans toolkit: Click here 

Virtual Read Out Videos: Post a video (under 3 minutes) of reading a section of a banned book on the Youtube or other and submit your entry (here) with the link to your video.  Youtube has a channel of Virtual Read Outs where you can see how it's done (click here).

And please, PLEASE, write a letter to your governor in support of bills like this one passed in Illinois (click here) that outlaws public library book bans, and this one passed in California (click here) which outlaws book bans and textbook censorship in public schools.

Check your local library for Banned Book Week events
Here are a few events at libraries throughout the nation (click here) and go to your local library's website to see what they may have planned.  

Empty Library Memorial in Berlin

To finish off this post about the banned book week, I'd like to draw attention to a thought provoking memorial in Berlin, Germany.  It is a memorial to the May 10, 1933 book burnings by the Nazis.  The memorial can be seen from the street as you look through a window to bookshelves below the street starkly empty that represents all the books, the ideas, the knowledge, the words that challenged and expanded thinking that were lost.

"As part of the process of aligning German society, the Hitler regime initiated a policy of censorship and prohibition from the outset. Physical regeneration was also accompanied by moral regeneration, that is, the promotion of Germanic identity and, conversely, the annihilation of writings deemed subversive, decadent, or at least contrary to German honor...  Each year, as the commemorative dates of the event approach, an open-air library is set up in the square, making available to the curious some of the works that were incinerated at the time."

They also banned and burned books simply because of the ethnic heritage of the author or political association.  Similar to banning Amanda Gorman's 2021 inauguration poem "The Hill We Climb, If Only We Dare It" because she is black and the poem doesn't "white wash" our history.  Amanda Gorman at 22 years old is the youngest poet for an inauguration in our history, she became the Youth Poet Laurete of Los Angeles at age 16, she is the first National Youth Poet Laurete and yet her inaugural poem has been banned and challenged. Click here for poem video.

Sound familiar to what we are seeing today in massive book bannings with the "writings deemed subversive, decadent, or at least contrary to [American exceptionalism]?"  It is the same as challenges to books today. 

Thank you for reading this blog and please recommend to friends and family who will enjoy it.

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Friday, September 29, 2023

Review - The Fatal Folio

Maybe it's me, but every since the book The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill, where there was the actual story line alongside a book being read with it's own mystery, there seem to be more books with dual story-telling popping up.  Have you noticed that too??  Share your thoughts in the comments.  This is a new to me series, so keep reading and find out my thoughts.

Author: Elizabeth Penney

Copyright: October 2023 (Minotaur) 288 pgs

Series: 3rd in The Cambridge Bookshop Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy Mystery

Main Characters: Molly Kimball, works at family's bookshop

Setting: Modern day, Cambridge, England

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review, Netgalley

Book Blurb: "After moving to Cambridge, England, Molly Kimball has found a lot to love, including—of course—her family’s ancestral bookshop, Thomas Marlowe—Manuscripts and Folios. And though she’s not quite ready to use the “L” word when it comes to her boyfriend Kieran, she’s definitely fallen for his intimidating family’s library.

His family is paying her handsomely for an updated catalog when Molly discovers the original manuscript of a Gothic novel, A Fatal Folio by the pseudonymous Selwyn Scott. Kieran’s cousin Oliver, a professor specializing in Gothic literature, is eager to publish a paper on the mystery—especially because a troublesome student, Thad, is threatening to file a complaint against him and prevent his long-awaited promotion.

On Guy Fawkes Night, Molly, Kieran, and her friends set out to enjoy the costumes, fireworks, and fun—at least until a stray firework starts a panic, and the group stumbles upon a prone body, their face covered by a mask. It’s Thad, and he’s been stabbed to death.

It soon becomes clear Oliver isn’t the only one with a motive, and Molly must once again put on a few masks of her own to sleuth out Thad’s killer, prove Oliver’s innocence, and discover what Selwyn’s novel might have to do with this most atmospheric mystery…"

My Thoughts: 

This is another story within a story.  There is the discovered novel (A Fatal Folio) contained within this mystery.  

I enjoyed Molly's mother, Nina, and her Aunt Violet.  Her boyfriend Kieran owns a bike shop but his parents are Lord Graham Scott and Lady Asha which intimidates Molly.  I like Kieran so far but feel I didn't get to know him much in this, my first outing without reading the previous books.

There are plenty of suspects and I had an inkling of who the killer was.  There are plenty of atmospheric touches that I really liked.  The killer reveal was quick and over and not very tense.  I found this was an enjoyable read.  

Rating: Good - A fun read with a lot of atmosphere

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