reading: Milkshakes, Mermaids, and Murder

milkshakes mermaids murder

Title: Milkshakes, Mermaids, and Murder

Author: Sara Rosett

Series: The Ellie Avery Mysteries

Sleuth: Ellie Avery

Children: Nathan and Olivia (Livvy)

Setting: Sandy Beach, Florida

Animal: A dog named Rex, who doesn’t appear in this story other than a brief mention that he’s been dropped at a kennel so the family can go on their Gulf Coast vacation.

This book was so good. So, so good. I mean, if you hate cosy mysteries you won’t enjoy it, obviously, but I loved it. The mystery was well-constructed and believable, the solution made sense, the setting was rendered in enough detail to be realistic without sounding like a tourism brochure, the local businesses all made sense in their setting, and aside from all that I had a few personal reasons for liking it.

Reasons I liked it:

  1. The career/hobby/theme of these is organization; Jane runs a business as an organization consultant. Instead of recipes there were organization tips at the end of each chapter, which actually connected to the plot. Good job theme-izing without making it too obviously a pointless gimmick.
  2. Jane’s husband is an American Air Force pilot. I grew up in a Canadian Air Force town, and to this day am filled with admiration for the way military wives cope with being the single-parent-present so much of the time, so I was predisposed to like Jane. (Also her husband gets delayed in Goose Bay, which a) happens all the time and b) is a place I’ve visited often, so that was cute.)
  3. The children were like actual children! No staff materialize to take care of them 100% of the time! Jane has to carry a crapload of stuff along on a vacation, and then has to physically carry it to the beach! They have to be fed regularly! I’m sorry, I’m just over excited because it’s so rare to see children written realistically. Even in this book, the plot gets them “out of the way” by having Jane’s sister take them overnight and all the next day; I’ve seen people complaining on Goodreads because apparently in the other books Jane’s family life is more of a thing. I have to track down and read those other books ASAP, then, because even in the bits at the beginning and end of the novel there’s more reality than in the entirety of most cosies I’ve read.

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reading: Murder in the Mystery Suite

murder in the mystery suite

Title: Murder in the Mystery Suite

Author: Ellery Adams

Series: Book Retreat Mysteries

Sleuth: Jane Steward

Children: twin six-year-old boys named Fitzgerald and Hemingway

Setting: Storyton Hall, in Storyton Village, a “little village” in rural western Virginia

Improbable Local Businesses: I’m not going to list things like the pharmacy or the hair salon (which even small villages might have); I’m only listing the peculiar tourist-dependent shops crowding this “little village.” Aside from the 50-bedroom resort, Storyton Hall, there’s La Grande Dame (Mabel Wimberly’s seamstress shop), Geppetto’s toy shop, the Run for Cover Book Shop, The Cheshire Cat (the local pub), the Pickled Pig (a market) , the Canvas Creamery (an art gallery and frozen custard shop), and Loafing Around (a sandwich shop). I suppose those all could exist, but somehow…well, let’s just say I continue to be amazed by economics as they exist in cozy mysteries.

Animal: Muffet Cat

Are you feeling as though you’ve already exceeded the maximum daily adult dose of twee? You aren’t alone. I haven’t even gotten to the staff (Butterworth, Pimpernel, Sterling, Mrs. Hubbard…).

I’m sure this book has a devoted following, and I’d confidently recommend it to any BBC-loving American who has never met an actual English person. Real live British people, however, should probably steer clear:

“The British have such impeccable manners,” Jane said, clicking her tongue. “And yet, Desmond sounds rude. In fact, he sounds like an utter cad.” (p. 136)

Jane, honey, I hate to break it to you, but if the British were uniformly polite they wouldn’t have had to come up with the phrase “an utter cad.” Alas, Jane, “his mother was a Brit” is not enough to make your suspect behave.

Jane, you might have noticed, is not the brightest or most believable heroine even by cosy mystery standards. I suspect the author must have overdosed on The Librarian, because in chapter seven Jane finds out she’s the latest in a long line of people assigned to protect a secret library (of things like unknown Shakespeare plays). No, really, that happens. And now that she knows the secret and has the key, she’s supposed to get a secret tattoo and start training.

“First, you must train. Your body and mind must be honed like a sword. We’ll begin with fencing and martial arts classes. Sterling will teach you weaponry, and when Gavin recovers from his knee surgery, he and his successor will work with you on hunting, tracking, and survival techniques.” (p. 105)

You know, since this is an inherited responsibility, you’d think Jane would have been in training since childhood, or at least since such time as it looked like she’d have to assume the role. Instead they’re starting now, in her mid-thirties. Okay, sure, whatever.

At least finding out half her staff are former Navy Seals and CIA and whatever should help with the cosy mystery part of the book, right? No, wrong, because even though two people have turned up dead (one after a horse chase through Storyton village, no less), Jane’s reaction to seeing a dangerous looking stranger board the elevator is to go have a long conversation with her friend, instead of informing anyone else of her suspicions. Swell.

Speaking of her friends…do normal people in rural Virginia talk like this?

“Are you quite muddled yet?” (p. 2)

“If this event is to be a success, then the whole village will have to be involved in some way or another.” (p. 22)

“No,” Doc Lydgate replied. “It was fastened in a complex knot at the nape of her neck.” (p. 31)

“I transported all the purple and blue arrangements. Aren’t these freesias exquisite?” (p. 113)

“Desmond Price has come to Storyton with a purpose. And if you ask me, it’s a nefarious one.” (138)

I’ve never been to rural Virginia, so for all I know, people there really talk like this. I have my doubts, though. If my friends and I were throwing around phrases like “nefarious purpose,” it would mean we were really drunk and had been binge-watching Masterpiece Theatre.

I expected to really like this book. I enjoy the usual level of cosy mystery improbability, and books centred around books usually please me. But even leaving aside the ghastly secret library thing, the book managed to annoy me. The mystery-themed hotel event could have worked, but then we hit this:

“Violet was an adult-sized Nancy Drew. Mabel had done a wonderful job with everyone’s costume, but the Nancy Drew was Jane’s favorite. It called to mind a vintage prom dress and was made of lavender tulle. Most women would have looked ridiculous in such a getup, but the dress showed off Violet’s curves, turning the traditional schoolgirl sleuth image on its head.” (pp. 125-6)

I just….what now? She’s come as Nancy Drew by dressing as something that doesn’t remind you of Nancy Drew? What?

I mean, you could put someone in a ballgown and cite any one of MANY Nancy Drew novels in which Nancy went to a dance, if you wanted to. But no, why reference an actual book when you can just thump in a curvy adult Nancy Drew in a tulle prom dress.

Okay, but APART from the entire secret library thing, the dangerous levels of “whimsy,” and the stilted self-consciously bookish conversations, the mystery itself was good. The murder, the stolen book, the dead lady on the horse: all of that wrapped up well. Even the possible love interest was tolerable, if you don’t mind brusque Darcy clones galloping (literally) into the plot for no other reason than to be a love interest.

I think I am going to have to read the next book in the series, from morbid curiousity if nothing else.

reading: Cookies and Scream 

cookies and scream

Title: Cookies and Scream

Author: Virginia Lowell

Series: Cookie Cutter Shop Mystery

Sleuth: Olivia Greyson, owner of The Gingerbread House

Setting: Chatterley Heights, Maryland

Animal: a rescue Yorkie named Spunky

Phew. That seems like a lot of information before I’ve even started the review. I know my memory, though, especially when it comes to cozy mysteries. A year from now all I’ll remember is some nagging detail like “cookie cutters!” so my only hope of sorting out what I’ve read is to record all that stuff.

I always wonder, reading these, whether these niche businesses actually exist in the real world. Is it just part of the cozy mystery fantasy, or are there really people making a go of cookies or snowglobes or whatever?

Anyway, this was a competent, entertaining mystery. It’s also NOT the first one in the series, because I never manage to read things in the right order. The B story involved the apparent love interest, but he was off doing his own thing (helping his ex-wife escape her abusive husband, and then sticking around when she was charged with murder), so the interruptions to the main plot to check in with him were fairly interesting. Enough so that it never felt like padding, anyway.

The dog (because pets are a Thing in cozy mysteries) only disappeared once that I noticed. In an early scene, much is made of him accompanying his mistress to Pete’s Diner and sitting on a realtor’s lap while they ate, but then both women depart the diner with no further mention of the dog. But the rest of the time he was reasonably present, being fed and walked and so forth. (I can’t help it: when books make a huge deal out of including a pet, but then no one is ever shown looking after said pet, it grates on my nerves. So I make a point of praising authors who remember they’ve written an animal into their character’s life.)