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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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