Cozy books for cool nights

Title: All the Little Liars by Charlaine HarrisPublisher: Minotaur Books 240 pp, October 2016

Genre: mystery, cozy, series, Aurora Teagarden, fiction, 

3.5 stars

Author: I don’t think this author needs any introduction after the urban fantasy Southern Vampire HBO TrueBlood mystery series. Although as I have said before, I like her earlier mysteries more, and love the current Midnight Texas series. Harris is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the American Crime Writers League. She is a member of the board of Sisters in Crime, and alternates as president of the Arkansas Mystery Writers Alliance.

Story line: This is the 9th installment but 13 years after the previous mystery. There are many expected changes but it remains comfortably familiar. Recently, many well established authors have had minor but glaring errors in their books which is more than a little disappointing. As an easy read, it is simple to ignore them, but they are annoying. Roe is always a charming librarian, and we want to catch up with what happens next with an old friend, however fictional. She’s back from her honeymoon, her 15 year old half brother Phillip is now living with them, but mysteriously disappears, and then a body is found. It’s a typical cozy in that the amateur detective solves the case that stymies police and FBI. This wasn’t the best read as I missed the wit and intelligence of Roe, but it was short and has an obvious progression. There are evidently 4 HallMark movies starring Candace Cameron Bure, which might explain the new, and forthcoming, books.The first two films, based on the second and first book premiered in 2015 on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel. The third film is based on the third book Three Bedrooms, One Corpse while the fourth film is The Julius House (2016).

Read on:  If you like cozy mysteries. her fans won’t be disappointed.

Quotes:

Robin was nothing if not suspicious; since he was a mystery writer, that came naturally.

I was learning about living with a writer. I had loved Robin’s crime novels long before I’d ever met the man and loved him, too.

I appreciated the fact that the library was so relevant to the lives of the people it served.

But I’d always been a printed-word person. I loved holding an actual book. I loved turning the pages. I loved carrying a novel around with me, getting it out of my purse at lunch to read for a few minutes in the break room. I had never been able to fathom what people did with their free moments, if they didn’t read. But I’d become increasingly aware that this attitude aged me, made me more like seventy-six than thirty-seven.

There were more people we could have called, but abruptly, we circled our wagons and spent the rest of our night reading.

Every town has a boy like Clayton, I suppose.

A row of casserole dishes cluttered the table. Friends had brought food. That proved we were in a crisis.
Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

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The Butler Did It!- Again!

Title: Judgment of Murder by CS ChallinorPublisher: Midnight Ink Nov 2016

Genre: cozy, mystery, English historical, British mystery, Scottish barrister, 

4+ stars

It’s the 100th anniversary of Agatha Christies first published novel and cozies are all the rage again. They provide good reading and are multi-layered nuanced entertainment. The Solution depends on observation not technology and there is little graphic violence or sex.

Author:

Challinor was born in the US, educated in Scotland and England (joint Hons in Latin, French) and currently lives in Florida. She also holds a diploma in Russian from the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. Challinor is a member of the Authors Guild, New York, and writes the critically acclaimed Rex Graves mystery series featuring the Scottish barrister-sleuth. The cozy series begins with: Christmas is Murder (September 2008, Midnight Ink Books, a Kindle best seller), and continues with Murder in the Raw (2009), Phi Beta Murder (2010), Murder on the Moor (2011), Murder of the Bride (2012, a Mystery Guild book club pick), Murder at the Dolphin Inn (2013) Murder at Midnight (2014) and Murder comes Calling (2015). I particularly appreciate the understated humour and banter between Rex and and his fiancé Helen d’Arcy (schoolteacher) and have enjoyed the series more with each new book. Challinor keeps most readers guessing as she cleverly spreads suspicion and clues and red herrings. Cozy fans will enjoy this traditional series featuring a witty, charming and engaging sleuth. Her light touch makes them entertaining reads, perfect for cold winter nights. JoM will make a lovely Christmas gift.

Story Line:

An old colleague Lord Gordon Murgatroyd, the infamous Judge Murder, dies in England, but his daughter Phoebe, newly widowed, suspects foul play. Rex Graves QC develops his prosecutorial expertise to sleuth his way through possible method and probable motive and near death. His trusty likable colleague Alistair helps investigate and even saves Rex at one point. Both are caught up in another regional case with abducted girl(s), linking cold cases, murderers and suspects. Rex does like to announce the murderer in a denouement, continuing the Golden Age style. Challinor’s mysteries are a welcome and charming modern take on Agatha Christie. I felt this one was more multilayered although they remain descriptive stories. Reading enjoyment may benefit from knowledge of previous cases and character development. 

Read On:

Anne Cleeland (Shetland), Deborah Crombie, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, MC Beaton (Hamish McBeth), Rhys Bowen (Royal Spyness), Anna Lee Huber (Lady Darby), Alexander McCall Smith (Sunday Philosophy Club), Paige Shelton  (Scottish bookshop), Sophie Hannah (Poirot)

Quotes:

The golf could wait. Murder could not.

In the event he was on a wild goose chase, he thought he might as well do some sightseeing and make the most of his sabotaged weekend.

Miss Bird had been their housekeeper since he was a boy, and she and his mother persisted in calling him by his given name, instead of its derivative “Rex,” which he preferred. Now that they were well into their eighties he had lost all hope of their changing the habit.

She spoke in the genteel tones of Morningside ladies, which Rex often thought belied a razor sharp mind that had lost none of its acuity in her advancing age.

“Well, I wish you’d just hurry up and marry the woman. You know how I love weddings.” Rex gazed at his friend in mild frustration.

I’m aboot as lethal as one of these chips.” 

Rex commended his friend’s foresight, without fully comprehending how he had been able to run with a crowbar secreted in his coat, but now wasn’t the time to ask.”

“Your mother must be so proud of you, as am I. I suppose you could go about incognito but you’re a hard person to disguise.”

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Most in the series available from Rochester Public Library.

Bubble bubble. Toil and Trouble!

Title: Thrice the Brinded Cat hath Mew’d By Alan BradleyPublisher: Bantam, 352 pp September 2016

Genre: cozy mystery, YA, British, historical, fiction

5 stars : Read in one sitting, as all previous books were, often late into the night

Author:

Alan Bradley was born in Toronto, Canada. After a career in television broadcasting, he retired from the University of Saskatchewan to write full-time. His publications include children’s stories, lifestyle and arts columns in Canadian newspapers and screenplays. His adult stories have been broadcast on CBC radio and published in various literary journals. He was the recipient of the first Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature. 

The first in the series, “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” won the 2007 Debut Dagger Award of the Crime Writers Association in the UK; the 2009 Agatha Award for Best First Novel; the 2010 Dilys, awarded by the International Mystery Booksellers Association; the Spotted Owl Award, given by the Friends of Mystery, and the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award, given by the Crime Writers of Canada for Best First Novel. It was also nominated for an Anthony Award, a Barry Award, and a Macavity Award. Sweetness made numerous lists and awards including the New York Times, as a Favorite Mystery of 2009, an American Library Association nominee as Best Book For Young Adults; a Barnes and Noble Bestseller. The audiobook version of “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” was voted Best AudioBook by iTunes. The books are all NYTimes best sellers. Don’t miss the audio books narrated by Jayne Entwistle- she is absolutely perfect, and in 2014 won Outstanding Audiobook Narration for The Dead in their Vaulted Arches. Academy Award-winning producer/director Sam Mendes, of “Skyfall” and “American Beauty” fame has optioned for Flavia for television movies (2012).

Story line:

This is book 8 in what I hope is a long series of sleuthing for our intrepid youngster Flavia De Luce. Yes, another cliffhanger so we know book 9 is in progress. Please read these in order as there is a good progression of character, friendships, sleuthing techniques, layers of personal history, and ‘in jokes’. My favourites are volumes 1,6 and now 8. A word of warning, have your hankies ready. If you love the Flavia stories you will definitely enjoy this installment back in 1950s England. Flavia returns without welcome as her father is gravely ill. In no time she’s off on trusty Gladys, in the usual English weather with the usual suspects. Fortunately there is a body and sleuthing commences.

Flavia has charmed me since the very first novel as has Bradley’s excellent writing. Flavia is still a fascinating, captivating, curious, quirky, beguiling, precocious 12 year old. Her observations are priceless. I enjoy the intricate mysteries that Bradley creates, here with interesting details of woodcarvers, witches, childhood storybooks, but Flavia is the reason to read. I love her clever mind. She is going to be an incredible, formidable adult! I can’t wait for the next book. The anticipation of each novel is exceeded only by the actual read. 

Quotes:

Gladys gave a little squeak of delight. She loved coasting as much as I did, and if there was no one in sight, I might even put my feet up on her handlebars: a bit of bicycle artistry that she loved even more than ordinary free-wheeling.

Life with my sister Daffy had taught me that you could tell as much about people by their books as you could by snooping through their diaries – a practice of which I am exceedingly fond and, I must confess, especially adept.”
Thanks to my Girl Guide training, I was able to bluff convincingly when required. All those wet and windy Wednesday evenings spent in cold, drafty parish halls were paying off at last.

How could I tell the dear man that murder made me feel so gloriously alive?

The DeLuce blood is stronger, afterall, then sentiment.

There is an art to staging a convincing accident. It is not as easy as you may think – particularly on short notice. First and foremost, it must look completely natural and spontaneous. Secondly, there must be nothing comical about it, since comedy saps sympathy.

The world can be an interesting place to a girl who keeps her ears open.

Read on: 

If you like Harriet the Spy or Lemony Snickett’s Violet Baudeleaire. Or are a Sherlock Holmes Fan.

Or listen to Jayne Entwistle narrate Julie Berry’s Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place.

Laurie King The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Martha Grimes Belle Ruin series

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library.

BLR!

Title: A Murder in Time, Julie McElwain
3.5 to 4 Stars ****

Publisher: Pegasus Books April 2017 320 pp

Genre: time travel, historical, English mystery, regency mystery

Author

This is Julie McElwain’s debut novel, which was selected as a Big Library Read (BLR), the first global ebook club for the period June 23- July 7th. Check out their website http://www.biglibraryread.com. I intend to keep track of these books now that I have discovered the site. I was prompted to read the book from Rochester Public Library’s website. And I was also intrigued that she grew up in rural North Dakota, local!

Story line: 

This novel makes a lovely beach read: it’s a fast pace, easy read with elements of romance, fantasy (time travel), mystery (rather gruesome serial killer) and regency England. Here we have a special ops FBI agent Kendra Donovan, who is thrown into an English castle in 1815. A serial killer has targeted Aldrich Castle and she must use her wits to catch him. There are several moments you have to suspend belief, the killer was a little too easy to figure out, and there are many unanswered questions until you realize this is part of a series. A Twist in Time will be published next spring to continue the Kendra Donovan saga.

More than rock and stone

Title: The Bluebonnet Betrayal by Marty Wingate
4 Stars ****

Publisher: Alibi (Random House) August 2016

Genre: English mystery, cozy, series,

Author:  Marty Wingate is the author of The Potting Shed mysteries: The Garden Plot, The Red Book of Primrose House, and Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Her new mystery series, Birds of a Feather: The Rhyme of the Magpie was published In 2015.

Marty writes about gardening in the PNW and travel (she also gives European garden tours). She can be heard on A Dry Rain (adryrain.net), a free podcast available on iTunes. Wingate is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, as well as the Royal Horticultural Society and the Garden Writers Association. 

Story line: This is the latest in the Potting Shed mysteries featuring Texas transplant Pru Parke and her very English detective husband Christopher Pearse. Each story develops the characters and has a great sense of place, while being filled with gardening tidbits and the odd clue. These are fun cozy reads, good for a perfect summer day or beach read.

This time we are at Chelsea for the world famous flower show held every spring by the Royal Horticultural Society. Having been several times, and being an avid gardener, I am happy to report that Wingate’s portrayal of behind the scenes drama, weather and crises are spot on. I was ready to get on a plane, or make reservations for next May. 

Pru sets out to help fellow Texans from the Austin Rock Garden Society create their native display, complete with blue bonnets. (Don’t miss the delightful chapter headings as minutes or notes from their meetings!) Pru is only supposed to be supervising and helping the team settle in, but instead delays, weather, mishaps and murder nearly prevent the show. I like seeing more of Christopher, here off duty, but providing great support. Their heartwarming relationship is charming. Enjoy English pubs, flower descriptions, walkabouts, and please send me some custard tarts. 

Read on: If you like Rosemary and Thyme, Agatha Christie, MC Beaton (Agatha Raisin), Charlot King (Cambridge), or Jean Davis (Dorothy Martin).

Quotes: (Not supposed to quote until the book is published, but these are good indicators of the descriptive writing style, the flavor of English location and the interesting characters.)


Simon was chuffed that his sister would be involved in a garden at Chelsea. “Are you joking? You can’t say no to that!”

—but here, in front of her, lay the eleven empty acres that would become the Chelsea Flower Show…..The crowds of people strolling the avenue with their flutes of champagne and glasses of Pimm’s, the men in their striped jackets and boaters, women wearing skimpy summer dresses and impossibly high heels even though May weather in London could be iffy at best.

The Austin Rock Garden Society—those were her rocks. She already felt the responsibility of being the only American on-site.

“Let me introduce you,” Ivory said. “You don’t know any of these women, but they sure do know you.

friendship measured in minutes, not even weeks or months.

He dropped me at a B&B.” “Where is it?” Pru asked. “Somewhere in the 1970s, I think,” he said, and she laughed. “Orange plaid duvet and a bath down the corridor.”

She sighed, leaving him to pick up on the subtext- I can manage just fine, but I wish with all my heart that you were here.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Thanks!

Lovely summer cozy

Title: Murder Comes Calling (#7) by C.S. Challinor Publisher: Midnight Ink, 216 p

Genre: Cozy, English mystery, mystery, golden age classic

4 stars

Author:

Challinor was born in the US but educated in Scotland and England ( joint Homs in Latin and French). She currently lives in SW Florida. Her cozy mystery series featuring Scottish barrister Rex Graves begins with: Christmas is Murder (September 2008, Midnight Ink Books, a Kindle best seller), Murder in the Raw (2009), Phi Beta Murder (2010), Murder on the Moor (2011), Murder of the Bride (2012, a Mystery Guild book club pick), Murder at the Dolphin Inn (2013, PPLM, Inc.) I particularly enjoy the understated humour and banter between Rex and Helen.

Story Line:

Four unexpected and seemingly unconnected murders occur in the quiet English village of Notting Hamlet, each body discovered by a neighbor Malcolm Patterson (retired pathologist). He calls on his old school friend barrister and amateur sleuth Rex Graves to investigate the crimes as he fears he is being framed. As Rex’s disapproving fiancée is away on a cruise, Rex decides to help. With his photographic memory and penchant for the smallest detail, Rex has developed a reputation as a credible sleuth/detective. 

These are classic English cozies in the style of the Golden Age of mysteries. They can be read alone, although there is logical progression of personal development. They are all fun quick reads, perfect for a summer day, train travel, bedtime or beach read. I look forward to more entertaining cases with delicious red herrings.

Read On:

Anne Cleeland, Deborah Crombie, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, MC Beaton

Quotes:

I love Rex Graves’ Curriculum Vitae from her website http://www.rexgraves.com:

Reginald “Rex” Graves QC

Year of Call: 1985

Year of Silk: 2003 

Rex Graves graduated with a first in law from Edinburgh University in 1981, trained as a solicitor with the international firm of Browne, Quiggley and Squire from 1982 to 1984, devilled for the Hon. Lord Ferguson and W. Iain Reid QC from 1984-1985, and became an advocate in 1985 and Queen’s Counsel in 2003. He specializes in criminal litigation and prosecutes at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh.

Personal Biography: 1959, born in Edinburgh to Mr. Colin Graves (deceased) and Mrs. Moira Ann Graves, née Thorpe, currently residing in Morningside, Edinburgh. Rex attended Fettes College, where he was president of the Debating Society and proved an absolute flop at polo. 

1987, married his beloved Fiona May Gillespie, whom he ultimately loses to breast cancer.

1988, son Campbell born, presently attending Hilliard University in Florida where he is studying marine science and pursuing an independent study in birds of the non-feather variety.

2006, meets Helen d’Arcy, a student counselor in Derby, England and solves his first private case, the Swanmere Manor Murders. 

Hobbies include Sudoku and crossword puzzles; reading Latin—the dustier the volume, the better; hiking; whisky tastings; and American food. He has a morbid fear of horses and going nude on public beaches, and is allergic to cats and snobs. 

Physical Description: 6′ 4″, stocky build, red hair, ginger beard, green eyes. He is often found with pipe in hand (though trying to quit) and a skeptical look on his face. When not wearing court wig and gown, he prefers a tweed jacket, corduroys, and Hush Puppies.

  
Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Cozy Auld Reekie

Summer is all about fun reads. I have a stack to read when it is too hot to do much else, have travel (planes, trains or automobiles) or just want to relax. Cozy mysteries often fit the bill as they have an uncomplicated mystery, a little romance and are generally fast reads (short or simple). This was a delightful read, taking place in my favourite August place (think Edinburgh Festival)!
Title: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Marty Wingate

Publisher: Random House/Alibi. 276 pp

Genre: cozy, mystery, english mystery, British mystery, Scotland. 3.5 stars

Author:

Marty Wingate is the author of The Potting Shed mysteries: The Garden Plot, The Red Book of Primrose House, and Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Her new mystery series, Birds of a Feather: The Rhyme of the Magpie was published June 2015.  Marty writes about gardening in the PNW and travel (she also gives European garden tours). She can be heard on A Dry Rain (adryrain.net), a free podcast available on iTunes. Wingate is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, as well as the Royal Horticultural Society and the Garden Writers Association. Her enthusiasm for flowers and gardening has created a lovely, entertaining series. Be careful downloading titles, as there are a dozen books with this title; kindle price is quite reasonable.

Story line: The Potting Shed Mysteries take place in Britain (England and now Scotland), where master gardener Pru Parke has transplanted herself. In the first book, Pru (short for Prunella) of course finds a body in her odd job but is introduced to DCI Christopher Pearse. There is a developing romantic relationship throughout the three books with both characters in their 50s. In the second book on Primrose house, they have a long distance relationship as she has found her dream job at an 18th century Manor house in Sussex. In this delightful installment Between a Rock and a Hard Place, once again the couple part, but this time to be married in three months, just after she finishes her next job. Pru is off to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to determine if a newly discovered document is indeed a lost journal of an 18th century plant collector (Archibald Menzies). There are of course bodies, politics, sinister characters but hysterical wedding plans. And memorable secondary characters (especially Tamsin Duncan, Mrs Murchie, and Murdo) which make for a charming read. Pru is an interesting protagonist, becoming more confident and at home in her newly adopted country. These books are the definition of cosy: fast easy reads, delightful secondary characters, solvable mystery and fun. There is a nice blend of history, gardening and romance. I was glad it wasn’t a long wait until the third book. If you haven’t read them, read in order as one summer beach read.  

Of course I must leave you with a few details on Archibald Menzies (please remember there are few if any “z” sounds in scottish and this surname sounds more like “Ming ess” (Which also explains why many tourists can’t find the stationers shop when the locals, plus accent, direct them.)) Menzies is often overlooked as a plant collector as there have been so many other great scottish botanists (especially David Douglas, further reading). Menzies (from Perthshire) trained as a surgeon at the University of Edinburgh, but was descended from a long line of botanists and gardeners (all four brothers, father, grandfather). He was also an explorer, part of many ship expeditions (China, Hawaii, PNW, West Indies) as surgeon, naturalist and or botanist. His later voyage with Cpt Vancouver on the HMS Discovery are recorded in fantastic, detailed journals documenting an explorers life. These are held by the British Museum. (Some interesting excerpts online). He introduced to Europe a real dinosaur tree: the monkey puzzle tree (Auracaria sp). To say nothing of rhododendrons. RBGE has fantastic collections of these plants. I visit annually.

Read on:

If you like Rosemary and Thyme, Murder She Wrote or Agatha Christie 

Wingate is recommended for readers of Laura Childs, Ellery Adams, Laura McKinlay or Mary Daheim.

For historical plant collectors:

Carolyn Fry The Plant Hunters (2013)

Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, Will Musgrave The Plant Hunters (1998)

Tyler Whittle The Plant Hunters (1997)

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!