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Feint of Art

It is hot here in the UK, that kind of muggy heat that makes you to feel completely overwhelmed as soon as you move, bleugh, so I am chilling out with the cats who are making their unhappiness known with lots of audible sighs and general grumples.  Thankfully I seem to have had better luck with my books this time, as soon as I read the first page of Feint of Art, I knew that this book would be a good’n – and after the last three disasters, I needed this to be a good book!

Annie Kincaid has painting in her blood – or to be more precise, forgery.  By the age of 10 after painting a perfect copy of the Mona Lisa she was hailed a prodigy, but in her late teens after spending time with her professional forger Grandfather in France, she discovered that unless she wanted a life on the run with the threat of prison hanging over her, she needed a career change.

Despite her best efforts, her past has continually dogged her.  A promising career as a professional restorer at the Brock Museum was halted when an expert, still smarting from the embarrassment of being outed as proclaiming one of her teenage forgeries as the real deal, revealed her past to the owners.  This led to her being fired and her new career change, starting her own business specialising in faux finishing.

However hard she tries, her talents as a painter – and as a result of the tutelage of her Grandfather, her talent for detecting forgeries, is constantly called upon.  This time her ex boyfriend, who also happens to be Head Curator of the Brock, asked her to authenticate a Caravaggio (which turned out to be a fake painted by one of her Grandfather’s cronies) in a midnight meeting, later on he disappears and a janitor is murdered.

To make matters worse, her new landlord is going to raise her rent – and her first meeting with him, she dinged his car and insulted him.  So when she was tasked with finding the originals of some Old Master drawings that had been forged by the same man who created the copy of the Caravaggio, she thought that she could kill several birds with one stone and also raise some cash while she is at it.

Annie is a brilliant character, she has good intentions and would always drop everything to help a friend, unfortunately this also means that she finds herself in sticky situations.  Other supporting characters include Mary her assistant;  Annette the police woman; Frank her landlord and Michael the art thief. I really enjoyed this book and Annie was such a refreshing character with lots of dimensions.  As I have mentioned many times before, I actually love to see faults in a character as it makes them more believable and the cast of characters in Feint of Art are all well-rounded and incredibly likable, even the slightly iffy Michael!

I would describe the book as a mystery romp as you are propelled through the chapters along with Annie.  I liked the way that there were several new characters introduced throughout the book, instead of all lumped together at the beginning.  It also means that when  you think that you have an idea who the culprit is, someone new pops up.

The final scene was hilarious and beautifully captured the essence of the  book.  I can’t wait to read the next books, because you just know that Michael won’t be able to stay away and who knows what Annie will do next.

Hailey Lind’s website http://www.haileylind.com/

This book ticked so many boxes, a cozy murder mystery and Christmas – my favourite things, but as I started to read, it all went pear shaped.

The lead character Lucy Stone is married with children and is working herself to a frenzy keeping the house going, cooking up a storm for Christmas, looking after her husband and kids and working nights at a call centre for a catalogue company.

I found this book intensely depressing.  The description of the call centre job was  nothing but soul destroying, then one of their pet cats were killed, which Lucy and her husband casually dismissed (I think that I was more upset about it than they were).  Then Lucy’s mother was coming to stay and there was a long description about her father’s death and how she was coping with it.  In short, there was so much misery that the book gave me a stomach ache and life is too short to read books that do that to you, so I stopped reading it (something that I have only done with two other books). Out of curiosity, I flicked through to the last chapter and found out that I had guessed who the murderer was, so the murder mystery part of the book sucked too.

Some people really like this series, but it was just too much gloom and doom for me.  Blarg.

There are a couple of hours left of Friday, so I have managed to squeeze in a  Book BloggerHop – it happens every week and designed to bring book bloggers together and hopefully discover new blogs and books.

So, hello to any hoppers, thank you for visiting my little blog.  I am a huge fan of murder mystery books and this blog features reviews of cozy mysteries, so pull up a chair, grab yourself a cup of tea and settle down with me and a good book.

In this book, the owner of the Green Vase antiques shop dies in mysterious circumstances and leaves the shop to his niece who moves in with her two cats.  She is immediately latched onto my Monty Carmichael whose nosiness helps her with the mystery.  It turns out that the fate of her uncle is intricately linked with the fate of William Leidesdorff, a man who was influential in the early days of San Francisco and the gold rush.

It was only when I went to make notes for this review that I realised that I never knew the name of the main character.  When I visited the author’s website it is revealed that the anonymous narrator is a cunning way to indicate that “she is introverted and shy” and to reflect the “ongoing struggle to find out who Uncle Oscar was”.   In reality, the book held my attention so poorly that I didn’t really notice that the main character didn’t have a name.  Sorry, all of that cleverness was lost on me and I think that most readers felt the same way too.

I found the San Francisco and gold rush history tedious (maybe this is because I am not American?) and I felt that the author got carried away with the historical side to such an extent that the mystery part of the book was lost.  It seemed that the author was trying to be a little too clever for her own good and probably as a historical novel, the writing style would have worked well, but as a mystery – well, I wasn’t so convinced.  Clues that were meant to be subtle stood out like a sore thumb and when it came to the climax, it was so rushed that even when I re-read the last chapters there were a host of question marks over what happened.  Maybe this is to leave things open ended for the next books, but instead of it piquing my interest, I just felt *meh*.

It seemed like such a promising book, but all I wanted to do was to finish it as soon as possible so I could read a book that I actually enjoyed.

http://www.howtowashacat.com

I have a soft spot for the Mrs Murphy books as this was the series that got me addicted to cozy mysteries, but the last five books haven’t been so great – a trend that has continued with this recent addition.

The plot is that Aunt Tally is turning 100 and there are an abundance of celebrations, mostly centred around William Woods University alumnae association, one of whom gets murdered.  She is joined by her best friend and Fair’s mentor, Inez, who is a vet and an active member of the University alumnae activities and they try to figure out the murder.

I cannot say how much of a let down this book was for me.  It seems that it is just a vehicle for political soap boxing about the environment, the government, politics, culture and drugs.  While some authors bring up certain issues as a way of educating the reader and broadening awareness (for example the Booktown mysteries), I get the feeling that Rita Mae Brown likes a damn good rant, but forgets that there is a time and a place for such things.  I’d like to think that I am informed in political and environmental matters, but I don’t read cozy books to have a lecture and it seems that the mystery part of Cat of the Century is just a tenuous link between rants.

There was an absence of the usual characters  such as Miranda, the Rev, Blair and Susan, with just the briefest appearance of Coop, Little Mim and Mim.   The bulk of the story centred around the alumnae association, all of whom were instantly irritating.  One of the benefits of a series is that the reader has a connection and invested interest with the characters which works in the favour of the author when forming the different strands of a mystery.  Introducing a new cast of characters means that you need a really strong plot line to maintain this connection,  which this book didn’t have and when it came down to it, the new characters were so one-dimensional that I didn’t care who got murdered, who was falsely accused or who the murderer was.

Frustratingly I had figured out who the murderer was half way through the book.  When this happens I always feel a little cheated and the whole ‘white sand’ nonsense as a concept was just idiotic.  If only Rita Mae Brown put as much effort into creating a decent mystery plot as she did with her heavy-handed political lectures.

What it boils down to, is that every book in a series that is substandard, takes the shine off of the other books that were good and after a while, the whole series becomes tainted.  It doesn’t feel like Rita Mae Brown actually likes writing these books anymore and if that is the case, then she should just move on.

With great sadness, I am not sure that I’d want to read any future books in the series, and if I did, then I’d get a copy from the library – there are far better books for me to spend my money on.  Fans of the series, stay away.

http://www.ritamaebrown.com

Sometimes you open up a book and from the first couple of words, you know that it’ll be a good read.  The Cat, The Quilt and The Corpse starts off with “My cat is allergic to people – yes, odd, I know – so when I came in the back door and heard Chablis sneeze, I stopped dead”.  It certainly piques your interest doesn’t it?

This is the first book in the Cats in Trouble series.   Jillian Hart had just moved to a small Carolina town when her husband suddenly dies, leaving her alone in a strange town.  She lives with her three cats Chablis, Syrah and Merlot and makes quilts for a living.  One day, she comes home to find Chablis sneezing, a sure sign that someone has been in the house – only to discover that Syrah is missing.

This is the catalyst (excuse the pun) which throws her into Mercy life and soon she has made friends with Candace – the police woman who was called to investigate the break in and Tom, an ex cop who is now a security system expert who also installed a cat cam in her house.

If you have ever lost a pet, you know that awful lurching feeling in your stomach and you can sense this desperation that Jillian feels in the book – there is no how or why about it, she needs to find her cat – even if it gets her into trouble.  With the help of Shawn and Allison from the animal shelter and her new cat cam, she discovers who the catnapper is, but when she goes to confront him and to get Syrah back, she finds him dead.

Soon Jillian ends up in the middle of a web of lies and combining the fate of dozens of cats and distraught owners, so she takes it upon herself to find out just what the catnapper was up to, assisted by her new friends Candace and Tom.  One of my favourite characters is the completely delusional Lydia Monk, an ex beauty queen deputy coroner with a fondness of inappropriate work wear and an unwavering belief in her sexual attraction over the men in the Mercy.  She is absolutely hilarious and just a little bit scary too.

The plot is very complex and like all good cozy mysteries there are enough characters to keep you on your toes.  It was nice to see the journey that Jillian went on, from the mourning reclusive to the stronger, more confident woman who rose to the challenge and kicked ass – advocating the rights of the cats, even in the face of uncooperative authorities.

I loved this book, it made me laugh and it made me cry – and I ended up reading into the early hours of the morning.  This new series is certainly in my top five favourites.

Leann Sweeney website

This week I am participating in the Book Blogger Hop which happens every week and designed to bring book bloggers together and hopefully discover new blogs and books.

I am a huge fan of murder mystery books and this blog features reviews of cozy mysteries, so pull up a chair, grab yourself a cup of tea and settle down with me and a good book.

It is friday again and I am slowly but surely writing up the reviews of the books that I have been reading.  I was undecided about the Diva series, which was why I didn’t read the second book until now.

In this book Sophie’s sister, Hannah, is marrying creepy Craig and she is organising the wedding.  Of course, this also means that the oh so delightful Natasha is doing all she can to muscle in on the action at every opportunity.

What I like about this book is that on every chapter there is a Q and A or an article snippet from either Sophie’s or Natasha’s column.  It is a really clever way of highlighting the difference between the characters and also set up the theme of the chapter.

Natasha set up home with Mars in the same road as Sophie, which means that Sophie has a constant stream of people who are seeking refuge, including the dog.  The first victim turns out to be connected to Craig, which throws the wedding party into chaos.  Hannah on the other hand is doing a perfect impression of an ostritch sticking her head in the sand, so Sophie decides to poke around a bit to try and find out more about Craig’s life – and more importantly, what he is hiding.

Along with the murder, the other main theme running through the book is the constant interfering of Natasha.  What an awful woman, I don’t know whether Sophie is the most gracious hostess on the planet or is an impressive doormat.  She seems to just accept the meddling and blatant attempts of Natasha to seize every element of her life. I wonder if she actually has a backbone.  Halfway through the book she finally told Natasha not to interfere, but did she listen?  Of course not, and Natasha carried on regardless.  What I don’t understand is that Sophie considers her as a friend, yet there is no indication of a friendship, just some nutty woman who wants to hijack anything that she does.  When it comes down to it, Natasha is just a whisker away from assuming Sophie’s identity.

Like the previous book, the storyline was very complex and with all the relatives and friends floating around Sophie’s house, it was reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel.  All these different characters kept you on your toes because you were constantly trying to figure out who was doing what and who was connected to who, not to mention several red herrings. There was also the non-romance between Sophie and the Wolf, with the classic lack of communication between them, made worse by guess who? Natasha, of course.  Again in what way is this woman showing friendship?

As much as I hated Natasha, I did enjoy the book.  The complex plot and all the characters meant that you never got ahead of yourself in trying to predict what was going to happen.  It would be a great book if Natasha wasn’t such a pantomime villain.  If she was toned down, or if we could see why there is this friendship, then it would be easier to tolerate such a vivid character.  Just because she is the antagonist, doesn’t mean that you can’t see the good parts in her –   many of the characters that I love the most are the ones where you get to see all shades of their personality.

Again, like the first book, I am going to wait a while before I read the third in the series to de-Natasha-ise, otherwise the book would certainly end up being thrown across the room!

Domestic Diva Mysteries Website – this is a great website, you even get the layout of Sophie’s neighbourhood and some of her recipes

I haven’t been well over the last couple of months and what with being on steroids and the painkillers being increased,  book reviews have fallen by the wayside – but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t stopped reading them!  In fact, curling up with a book and the cat has meant I have a backlog of reviews to come…

Bookplate Special features Tricia Miles who owns Haven’t Got A Clue, a book shop that specialises in mysteries and this is the third in the ‘Booktown Mysteries’.  Tricia is playing host to her old college friend, Pammy, who has been an absolute pain in the neck.  Tricia finally asks her to leave after she discovers that Pammy has stolen money from her.  She goes without a peep, but soon emerges that Pammy has been going around the town looking for a job and giving Tricia as her reference and while chatting to Angelica (her sister), Tricia is guilt tripped into finding Pammy and apologising.  Pammy is discovered all too soon when Tricia takes out the rubbish for Angelica and finds her corpse in the dustbin.  Oops.

Thankfully the unbalanced Sherriff Wendy wasn’t investigating and instead Captain Barker, a welcome newcomer to the town is attending in her place.  Not only being the person to throw Pammy out, but also the one to find her, Tricia is being treated like the main suspect and she not only decides to solve the murder herself/

She discovers that Pammy has been very busy, embracing a freeganist lifestyle and boasting about a large sum of money that she was soon going to come into.  A nasty piece of work, she seems to have been as much of a criminal as the murderer was and on unravelling her steps, Tricia also finds out other secrets within the town, such as the Stoneham Food Shelf, dark family secrets and a mysterious diary.

What I like about these books is that as well as showing the light and shade in the characters, Lorna Barrett also does the same with the town of Stoneham too.  It would be all too easy to cast it in this idealised light, like Stars Hollow in the Gilmore Girls, but instead she tackles topics such as financial hardships and stigma surrounding it.

The most tragic figure in this book wasn’t Tricia, Pammy or even the murderer, but Ginny.  A loyal employee of the Haven’t  Got A Clue, she is financially struggling, trying to do up her cottage with her boyfriend Brian (scumbag) who is set on putting her through the ringer.  I hope that things get better for her in the next book.

I loved the romance between Mr Everett and Grace, so often in cozies romance is all ‘hot and bothered’ and sometimes it is refreshing to see some good old fashioned courting going on!

Thankfully Tricia broke up with Russ.  While I can understand why he was part of the story so far and that Tricia needed to have a post-divorce date  before she could start a ‘proper’ relationship with someone else, but Russ really did have the charm of a slug.

This is a book that didn’t disappoint.  It is a refreshing, more mature cozy mystery that deals with real issues without becoming political.  You end up feeling like you have learnt something from the book and itching to find out what happens next!

Lorna Barrett’s website

Sophie is a freshly divorced party planner who is currently planning a family Thanksgiving and taking part in a turkey stuffing competition.

Within the first pages of this book  you are introduced to Natasha, a glamorous, perfect, Martha Stewart type and Sophie’s nemesis since her school days.  It seems that her family are completely enchanted with Natasha, her column and TV show – which only seems to give the most impractical of advice for Thanksgiving, guaranteed to make any regular woman feel like a failure.  Oh, and she has also set up house with Sophie’s ex-husband, Mars.

On her way to the supermarket, Sophie is approached by a man with a kitten asking if she would like to have it.  Sophie says no, but while shopping decides to accept the kitten if he is still there.  She is also approached by Dean Coswell, the editor of a newspaper who is frustrated with the Natasha insanity (his wife injured herself trying to make Natasha’s Thanksgiving decorations), and asks if  Sophie would write a column as the voice of reason – an anti-Natasha.  Hooray

When she reaches her car, she finds the kitten as well as the body of the man .  As the person who found the body, the police are suspicious of her especially as she is covered in residual blood (from the kitten? bin?) and the dead man had a picture of her in his car.  After taking her statement, one of the policemen, Wolf, turns up at her house with her groceries and kitten food – he seems to have taken a shine to her and the kitten 🙂

At the stuffing contest, Simon, a judge who is obnoxiously rich presumes that Sophie would go on a date with him,  as he is a judge, Natasha is the first (and only person) to shriek about cheating, even though Sophie hadn’t agreed to the date.  When Simon is found dead, it is Natasha again who accuses Sophie of killing him.  Good grief, this woman bugs me, to top it all Sophie doesn’t do anything, she just benignly accepts Natasha and her antics.  “Oh, you’ve just accused me of cheating and murder… that’s nice”, also her family and friends do nothing either!  Gah.

In the run up to Thanksgiving, her house (which seems like the Tardis) fills up with her own family including her sister Hannah (who is almost as irritating as Natasha) and her insipid fiance Craig, as well as Mars’ relatives who  Natasha has pissed off and alienated.  This includes his Mum, June and his best friend Bernie.  After Natasha has a fire in her house (which she blames on June and consequently tries to convince Mars to put her in a residential care home), Sophie’s Mum and June invite Mars and Natasha to Thanksgiving in the hope to get Sophie and Mars back together.  There is so much talk about Southern hospitality, but surely there is Southern etiquette for being a good guest too?

During Thanksgiving lunch, which includes several neighbours and Wolf, a guest is poisoned and guess what, there are more accusations by Natasha which prompts Sophie into figuring out who the murderer is.

I am split about this book, I really like it, but there are some elements that truly bug me.  The main characters are all one-dimensional.  Natasha is as irritating as a flea bite on your ass and Sophie has saint-like patience that makes her seems like a doormat.  It is frequently commented that Natasha and Sophie are friends, but I see no friendship between them.  Really, would a friend be the first person to accuse you of cheating and murder?  With friends like those, who needs enemies! It’s not even a rivalry, just a woman who is so used to getting her own way that she just tramples over everyone.  I suppose the author has done a good job, because Natasha’s character makes  my blood boil, I just wish that I could see Sophie stand up to her.  Or if they are friends, show me why they are friends, not simply because they went to the same school.

On the positive side, at the start of every chapter is an excerpt of a column or TV programme by Natasha or Sophie.  It is not only interesting, but a clever way of setting the tone for the chapter and highlight the differences between Natasha and Sophie.

It is also a great mystery, there are so many twists and turns – and so many characters that it is hard to keep track of who is who which is a clever way of concealing who the murderer is.  I also liked the characterisation of the animals and her next door neighbour Nina, who comes across as a real friend.

Of course I am going to read the next books, but not straight away – I can’t handle another Natasha filled novel, not just yet which is sad because in the end you want a reader to want to read your books, not read them while despising a character.

Crafty Book Worm

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