reading: The Diva Haunts the House

I know Halloween is over for the year, but I had to squeeze in one last review, because I really enjoyed this book.

Title: The Diva Haunts the House

Author: Krista Davis diva-haunts-the-house

Series: Domestic Diva

Sleuth: domestic diva Sophie Winston, who has puzzlingly good relationships with both her ex-husband and the frenemy-since-childhood whom he left her for.

Setting: Old Town Alexandria, which appears to host the requisite number of restaurants and quirky shops to keep the cosy-mystery economy going (though not so many as to be baffling). More specifically, much of the story centres around “Bubble and Trouble,” the haunted house Sophie is helping with; it’s located in a former boarding house which once hosted a vampire. The legend of vampire Viktor’s time in the town is tied to the present-day mystery.

Animal: A dog named Daisy. The ex-husband, Mars, regularly takes her for walks. These people have a confusing lack of closure.

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but see that attractive, intricate cover up there? It contains an enjoyable, intricate mystery. Aside from the decorating tips, recipes, and seasonal ghost-and-vampire details, there’s a well-plotted mystery.

The suburb-ish setting has a cast of bafflingly interconnected (by family, marriage, divorce, and affairs) set of characters, but baffling in a way that makes me want to find the rest of the series, as opposed to the kind of baffling where I want to throw the book at the wall and give up. I’m really looking forward to finding the books that come before this one.

 

 

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reading: Halloween themed cosy mysteries

Title: Death of a Pumpkin Carver

Author: Lee Hollis death-of-a-pumpkin-carver

Back cover: For Hayley Powell, food and cocktails columnist for the Island Times, Halloween is all about costume parties and holiday treats—until a killer crashes the party…

This Halloween, Hayley can’t imagine a worse trick than her ex-husband Danny returning to Bar Harbor. Her kids may be happy to see their dad, but Hayley’s determined not to be taken in by his charms, and suspects he’s in financial trouble—again.

Still, the haunted holiday is about to get a whole lot scarier after Danny’s moonshine-making uncle is found lying dead next to a tombstone in a cemetery—and Danny quickly becomes the prime suspect. To prove her ex is innocent, Hayley will have to dig deep into her own bag of tricks to unmask the real culprit . . . before anyone else—including her—ends up in the graveyard…

Impressions: The main characters recipe-posts were so revealing that I honestly expected one of the townspeople to kill HER. Had a gossipy Garrison-Keilor feel at times, and delicious sounding recipes if you’re into those. My favourite so far out of my stack of Halloween themed cosies. Excellent voice, likeable character, great cast of supporting characters, and while a bit “zany” in tone it didn’t grate.

                                                                                 Title: The Legend of Sleepy Harlow

legend-of-sleepy-harlowAuthor: Kylie Logan

Back cover: It takes more than a lurid legend to scare off the League of Literary Ladies…

For Halloween, the Literary Ladies have chosen to read Washington Irving’s spooky classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with its infamous headless horseman. But South Bass Island has its own headless legend—of a Prohibition bootlegger named Charlie “Sleepy” Harlow. Decapitated by rival rumrunners, Harlow appears once a year in spectral form to search for his noggin.

This October, the Elkhart Ghost Getters (EGG) have returned to the island. The group claims that they have film footage of Harlow’s ghost, and are determined to get more. They’re staying at Bea Cartwright’s B and B, but it’s Kate Wilder who isn’t happy to see them after they trashed her winery last year. When the EGG leader turns up dead, Kate becomes the prime suspect, and the other League members need to scramble to crack the case.

Impressions: I’m not sure I could suspend disbelief enough to believe that a legendary gangster’s personal papers would lie undiscovered (and un-rotted) in a cave for the better part of a century, but I didn’t really care, because I loved the main character and the setting.

Title: Death by Pumpkin Spice

Author: Alex Erickson death-by-pumpkin-spice

Back cover: Bookstore café owner Krissy Hancock would rather spend Halloween serving pumpkin goodies than wearing costumes with Pine Hills’ wealthiest at Yarborough mansion, especially when the soiree shapes up to be more trick than treat . . .

As if a run-in with an old flame and a failed marriage proposal weren’t enough to horrify Krissy for one night, a woman is found strangled to death in a room filled with ominous jack-o’-lanterns. All signs suggest a crime of passion—but when the hostess’s jewelry disappears, malevolent intentions seem way more likely . . .

With the estate on lockdown and a killer roaming the halls, Krissy must help Officer Paul Dalton investigate each nook, cranny, and guest for answers—while also confronting a few demons of her own. Someone has lots of skeletons in the closet, and Krissy better tread lightly to expose them . . .

Impressions: I bought this one for the title, but was ultimately disappointed. The main character was blandly annoying and obsessed with romance in a way that felt ridiculous for an adult woman. I spent much of the book wondering how she could possibly be competent enough to run a bookstore cafe, since she couldn’t dress herself without five pages of dithering and self-criticism.

reading: A Dark and Stormy Murder

I’ve discovered that you can sell me just about any cosy mystery that features a large Victorian house on the front cover. This one (unlike many, many others) was absolutely worth buying and reading. I loved it, largely because it was geared exactly towards my interests: Gothic novels and drug smuggling. No, kidding: just the Gothic novels.

dark-and-stormy-murder

Title: A Dark and Stormy Murder

Author: Julia Buckley

Series: Writer’s Apprentice

Sleuth: Lena London, assistant to author Camilla Graham (who also does some of the detecting).

Setting: Camilla’s huge, secret-passage-containing house on the shore of Blue Lake, Indiana. The house is straight out of innumerable Gothic novels (or Old Dark House movies), and is perfect.

Animal: Lena has a cat named Lestrade, and Camilla owns two German Shepherds, Heathcliff and Rochester.

The elderly author in this book, Camilla Graham, writes the literate, far-flung Gothic novels that were all the rage in the sixties. Hers, I gather, are meant to be from the literary end of the Gothic spectrum (think Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart), rather than the trashier “there are devil worshippers in my bedsit” kind (although those are still amazing and I love them).

So the backdrop to this book is an author-worshipping book lover getting her dream job as an assistant to her favourite author, who turns out to be sensible and smart. And the foreground is a major mystery (involving what looks like murder, and turns out to be kidnapping) that won’t get solved until later in the series, and a minor mystery surrounding the sort of sordid drugs-and-murder crime that happens in real life all the time.

reading: We’ll Always Have Parrots

You know how sometimes you love a book too much to review it well? This book is like that for me. I unabashedly love it, and I’ve reread it twice. It’s a comfort read that I rely on to make me smile.

we'll always have parrots.jpg

Title: We’ll Always Have Parrots

Author: Donna Andrews

Series: Meg Langslow Mysteries

Sleuth: Meg Langslow, blacksmith

Children: Meg’s ten-year-old nephew, Eric. Her mother and father are also very much a presence.

Setting: The fandom con for (fictitious) television show Porfiria, Queen of the Jungle. held in a hotel in Northern Virginia. Meg’s boyfriend Michael acts on the show, and she’s accompanied him to the conference and is selling  swords in the dealers’ room.

Animal: Meg’s parents have brought along a dog, Spike. More importantly, the Friends of Amblyopia (that’s the fan club for the show) have tried to re-create the jungle setting of the show by bringing parrots and monkeys to the hotel, all of which have escaped their cages are are hanging out at roof level.

It’s the insanity of low-budget cult television, and the fandoms that support it, that really makes this book. The mystery is satisfying, and nicely grounded in the supporting characters’ past, but it’s the atmosphere that keeps me rereading this. I will never not find it funny when someone discovers slashfic for the first time; I am incapable of reading about filksingers without being charmed; and I would really, really be into a show where all the places and characters have been named out of a medical dictionary.

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reading: Let’s Play Dead

let's play dead

Title: Let’s Play Dead

Author: Sheila Connolly

Series: Museum Mysteries

Sleuth: Nell Pratt, president of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society

Setting: Philadelphia, specifically the (fictitious) children’s museum, Let’s Play

This was an excellent cosy, complete with diva children’s author (she created Harriet the Hedgehog, damn it, show some respect!) who is like the mean-world version of Beatrix Potter. The mystery was solid enough, and the characters were excellent.

I’ve never worked in a museum, but if you’ve ever done volunteer work, or worked at any large public institute with a shoestring budget (libraries come to mind) you’ll recognize many of the issues Nell deals with. Not the murders, I hope, but the other stuff: the struggles to manage staff and funding, and stay relevant to the public, and try to keep an elderly building staggering along while you scrounge up money for repairs. It’s all portrayed really well, enough so that the setting is definitely part of the charm.

This actually sums up so many workplaces it made me groan in sympathy:

“Maybe. There’s always somebody whose nose is out of joint about what’s being done, or what’s not. Look, Nell, you’re in a position to know something about all of this. You’ve worked at several different places, and you know people at others. Isn’t there always some malcontent on the staff, someone who thinks he or she got passed over or isn’t getting enough attention? That kind of thing can fester. Maybe that’s what happened.” (p. 145)

When you put it like that, it’s almost amazing there aren’t more workplace murders.

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.

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.