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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

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.

I am a huge fan of Kate Collins and her Flower Shop Mystery books.  I love her characters, especially the heroine Abby Knight.  Abby owns a flower shop after leaving her law degree and like all the best characters she is full of light and shade.  She often finds herself in sticky situations because she wants to do the right thing – defend the defenceless and right wrongs – a true knight.  If you were ever in trouble, you’d want Abby fighting in your corner!

Of course things don’t often turn out how they should and she needs to have someone to rescue her.  This rescuer comes in the form of her hunky boyfriend, Marco.  A former Army Ranger who now owns the bar down from her flower shop, he loves the way that she always wants to do the right thing – even if it causes more than one headache for him!

The book starts out with Abby on one of her crusades, protesting against the cruel farming practices of Uniworld Food and managing to tick off big wigs at every turn.  She is exhibiting at a home and garden show where she is also collecting signatures for her petition.  The only problem is that Uniworld is sponsoring the event and soon security is called to escort her out.  unfortunately she has other problems in the form of her mother’s sweets that she was giving out as a promotion (her Mum has great ideas, but often ends up with not such a great product) which lead to a dramatic and hilarious show down that had me laughing out loud.

When she returns to the shop, a burning brick is thrown through the window and it turns out that it wasn’t just the security at the garden show that were ticked off with her.  Things escalated when her truly irritating cousin Jillian and her teenage niece were kidnapped.   This final kidnapping and the body linked to it was the final straw and Marco takes it upon himself to be a permanent body guard.  Unfortunately such close quarters makes her question whether or not they should marry.  Poor guy, he is really put through the ringer keeping an eye on Abby.  She is obviously feeling suffocated and it is her nature to rail against unnecessary rules, so she decides that the only way she can get back her freedom is to sort everything out and get to the bottom of the kidnapping, which means finding ways to escape Marco.

In true Kate Collins style, there are several intertwining plot lines.  One minute you think that you have an idea of what is going on, only for it to be turned on its head.  In the end, you never see the whole picture until Abby does – which also means you go along the same dead ends too.

As well as the scene in the home and garden show, my favourite part of the book (which also had me in floods of tears) was the final scene with Abby and her Dad.  You can see where she gets her strength from and it was a beautiful moment between father and daughter.  Throughout the series, you get the feeling that Abby’s tendency to search for the truth is as a result of her Dad’s accident (a former policeman, shot in the line of duty and  now in a wheelchair) and that she often mourns that with the accident he also lost the part of him that was the policeman.  This is proved wrong with the final showdown.  Even though he is in a wheelchair, her Dad still has a heart and head of a policeman, because of this I think that she has a growing realisation of who her Dad is.

I wish this book lasted a little longer, even though I tried to eek it out I still finished it within a day, but I am so excited about the next one.  There was  comment in passing about her Dad using crutches to get to Marco’s apartment which makes me wonder if he is getting ready to walk Abby down the aisle!  Of course the final page with the checklist was a brilliant way to end the book, with just enough romance to warm your heart.

Visit http://www.katecollinsbooks.com/ to see a plan of the flower shop and other snippets of information that aren’t in the book. Abby also has her own Facebook page too – I love these extras, with the internet it seems a fairly simple way of giving fans of the books a little added extra.

The Midnight Louie books are in my top 5 favourite mysteries and this is the first book in the series.

The main character is Temple Barr, a petite redhead who is a freelance PR whizz, because of her height she always wears high heels and keeps on stumbling over dead bodies.  She is adopted by Midnight Louie, a huge black cat who always seems to know where the best place is to be in the centre of the action.

What I love about these books is that Midnight Louie’s narratives punctuate the story.  Imagine a film noir smart ass detective complete with fedora, cigarette and an eye for the dames and this is Louie.  He is able to snoop around and reveal clues that the humans miss, but he also gives his own unique feline opinions of people and Vegas.

While mooching about in the convention centre which is hosting the American Booksellers Association Convention, he comes across a dead body and decides that it is his duty to alert the authorities to it – the authorities being Temple who is organising the PR for the event and ends up literally stumbling upon the body.

Temple, with a background in reporting and the curiosity of a cat, takes it upon herself to find out as much as she can about the dead man, believing that anything that can cause bad publicity for the event is part of her duties.  Of course her enthusiasm for ferreting out information irritates the police no end, especially the formidable Lieutenant C. R. Molina.  She is a woman you wouldn’t mess with, that is, unless you are Temple or Louie!

Throughout the book, it is revealed that this isn’t Temple’s first run in with Molina.  She ended up in Vegas after throwing caution to the wind and followed her gorgeous dark-haired and green-eyed magician boyfriend – the Mystifying Max – to Las Vegas, where they bought an apartment at the Circle Ritz.  This is a circular building owned by the brilliant Electra Lark – a senior citizen with a penchant for brightly dyed hair muumuus, who also runs the wedding chapel attached to the building.  After his last show at the Goliath, Max disappeared without a trace in mysterious circumstances, attracting the attention of  Molina causing her to set her sights on Temple who she thinks is protecting the whereabouts of Max.  There is also a new resident in the Circle Ritz, the gorgeous Matt Devine who lives up to his name and is the polar opposite to Max, who seems to be at the right place at the right time to help Temple.

Temple and Louie take a shine to each other and he gives up his position as the “in-house detective” at the Crystal Phoenix (run by Van von Rhine and her husband Nicky Fontana – the only Fontana to run a legitimate business in Vegas) to adopt her and help investigate the murder.

Throughout the book you find out all about the cut throat publishing industry, the catnapping of two important cats, several murders and the horrors of backstreet abortion.  By breaking up the story with the Louie narratives, the reader is constantly bouncing between different story lines and characters which keeps you on your toes and is ultimately a brilliant way of keeping the pages turning.  This leads to a very complex plot and this combined means that it is hard to figure out who the murderer was.

This book is a great springboard to the rest of the series.  In her typical style, Carole Nelson Douglas leaves you wanting more – what really happened to Max? What the story behind Matt Devine? What is going to happen to Temple and Louie?  A brilliant first book.

http://carolenelsondouglas.com

I was in the disturbing quandary of not having any new books left to read, so I went onto the various online booksellers to see which books have been recommended and this was one of them

Brenna moves from Boston to a small town where she works in her friend’s paper shop specialising in decoupage.  She soon discovers the mayor’s body shoved in a trunk and her friend and landlord is being accused of the murder, so to save him and her sanity, she decides to do some investigating herself along with her best friend.

In some books, rather than establishing a character that the reader has an immediate affinity for, sometimes author do the opposite and introduce a character that is so annoying and infuriating that it serves just as well as a tool to feel empathy for the main character.  In this book, we are introduced to Ella and Marie Porter, senior citizen twins who are bent on bickering, one-upmanship and behaviour that would warrant them to me put on the naughty step and have their toys confiscated.  I am not sure if I actually felt empathy for Brenna with having to deal with these monsters and instead sped read over those paragraphs instead.

I liked this book, the story line was interesting with a good twist at the end (even though it felt a little rushed).  I am not sure if this was a deliberate ploy by the author, but  you often felt like an outsider to the community like Brenna – instead of say, the Hannah Swensen books where you are thrown into town life and enveloped by the characters – and so I wasn’t too keen on this, but I am interested enough in the characters to get the next book.

Author’s Website

This is the fourth book from the Ghost Hunter Mystery series featuring MJ Holliday (ghost hunter and medium), her best friend and business partner Gilley and Heath Whitefeather a fellow ghost hunter first seen in the last book Demons are a Ghoul’s Best Friend.

In the last book they battled an evil snake like demon which was filmed for a TV programme about possessed possessions, and they now have their own TV show ‘Ghoul Getters’, travelling around Europe finding the most haunted places to ghost hunt.  Unfortunately this also means that Doc the parrot wasn’t in the book that much, which was sad because who can resist a parrot who has a tendency to sing YMCA and shouts ‘Gilley, I’ve been shot!’ when he’s upset?  Also missing from this book was MJ’s boyfriend Dr Steven Sable who only made an appearance at the end…

In Scotland, the researchers found a village haunted by a witch and her sisters.  They emerge every 100 years to claim the lives of 7 people from the clans who brutally murdered and tortured the sisters believing that they were responsible for the plague that swept through the village.  Both MJ and Heath are shocked by the immense power that these witches have causing them to be physically and psychically beaten and rendering their usual weapons almost useless.

The witches, called upon by one of their direct descendants are out for blood and it turns out the Gilley’s ancestors were from one of the clans who tortured the witches and has been singled out to be one of their victims favouring fire as their weapon.  With his life in danger MJ and Heath decide that they have to pass over or lock down the witches to save him.  Gilley, in a permanent state of hysterical panic is now dousing himself in fire retardant and carrying around a fully armed fire extinguisher like a security blanket – never one to over-react!

I love Victoria Laurie’s books and this is no exception.  Her characters have many dimensions and she isn’t afraid to show their flaws, like true friends, you know that they can be sulky, snarky and sometimes a pain in the neck, but you still love them – and this is how you end up feeling about these characters.  I like that we were able to learn more about Heath, showing his sense of humour rather than being a ghost hunting pretty boy.

As far as the mystery part of the story goes, the clues were all cleverly concealed, so you get to figure out the mystery along with the characters – a perfect plot!  Like all Laurie’s books, the reveal at the end was full of excitement, danger, spooky goings on and a little bit of sadness, topped off with some humour too.

The new characters of Gopher, John, Meg and Kim are probably all going to be featured in the next books, expanding the cast and sub-plotlines, making for complex and exciting future books.  There was a cliff hanger at the end with the appearance of Dr Steven and I hope that this isn’t the last we see of him.  The only irritant in this book is the characters we offered tea with cream, something that I doubt any British person would have – you drink tea with milk!  Although you may have a cream tea which involves eating cakes and scones with cream at teatime.

I knew that this book would be brilliant, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The fast paced storyline, likable characters, paranormal subjects and humour in the books all add up to an exciting read, and one that I’ll re-read too.  My only problem, is that it was over too soon and I have to wait until next year for the next book.

Victoria Laurie’s Website

I love books.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have my nose in a book.  At school, I could escape the horrors of the playground; during the holidays I was transported off to different times and places; as an adult I collect old and battered books and  try to restore them, but they hold even more importance for me.  Seven years ago I developed nerve damage on my back which caused me to suffer constant chronic pain.  Often awake at night, feeling miserable and totally befuddled with pain killers I went back to my old favourite books by Agatha Christie, like a comfortable jumper, I found a distraction to the world I had found myself in.  When a friend talked about the Rita Mae Brown Mrs Murphy mystery books, I thought I’d give them ago and I haven’t looked back.  My name is Nicola and I collect mysteries!

There is a genre of books that are written in a similar form to Agatha Christie, often set in a small town where the hero (or more often heroine) is a valued member of the community – a post mistress, a PR whizz, a baker, bear makers, florists, a chocolatier, a barista, tea shop owner, pet sitter, psychic, ghost hunter, witch, a needlework shop owner, a journalist – spurred to look into the murders.  Sometimes they are even helped by talking animals like Joe in the Shirley Rousseau Murphy books, or the cats/dogs play a part in discovering clues like Louie in the Carole Nelson Douglas and Rita Mae Brown books.

Whoever the heroine and wherever they are set, they feature a complex web of plots, a huge cast of characters, not too much gore, but a lot of fun.  A modern Agatha Christie novel, but often dismissed as cozy books.

I was given a book journal for Christmas and have been writing my own reviews, but I soon filled the book and decided to detail what I have read here.  As well as the books I am reading at the moment (Ghouls Gone Wild – Victoria Laurie), I’ll add reviews of those that I have already read too.

Crafty Book Worm

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