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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

The Paper Bark Tree Mystery (Crown Colony, #3)

The Paper Bark Tree Mystery - Ovidia Yu

I enjoy this series for the setting, the time, the history and the characters, but The Paper Bark Tree Mystery was a poor entry structure wise.  The plot was good, but marred by the fragmented delivery; characters would transition from point A to point S without the reader knowing anything about B-R, making for a disjointed and often confusing read.  Ultimately, this is the fault of whomever edited it, but it's a shame because the story and the series has so much going for it and a lot of potential ahead.  I'll read the next one if there is a next one, but I hope for a much smoother narrative.



Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland, #2)

Wicked Hour - Chloe Neill

I was a big fan of the Chicagoland Vampires series, but wasn't quite so sure about the spin-off until I finished the first book (which started slow).  Then I was hooked.  Wicked Hour was even better than the first book combining a group of established friends from the first book with a great setting, snarky dialog, and an interesting mystery.  What is the mysterious beast in the north woods of Minnesota? 

 

The two main characters of this series are a vampire and a werewolf in love with each other, so I expected the inevitable conflict between species to be one the author might milk for at least a couple of books.  So imagine my glee when she didn't take that trope-tastic route but instead had her two main characters act like rational adults.  

 

Where the author did skirt the line was the amount of animosity Lis was up against from the werewolf clan.  At times it felt too manufactured to be believed, although towards the end  the author made it work by turning it inward and making it about something larger than Lis's vampirism.

 

All up it was an excellent sophomore entry in a promising new series I look forward to continuing.



Mama Rides Shotgun (Mace Bauer, #2)

Mama Rides Shotgun - Deborah Sharp

Re-read update:  This book did not hold up well on re-read.  I had the same issue with the re-invention of the first book's history, and the rest of it, even though I didn't remember who the murderer was, I found extremely tedious and meandering.

Here's hoping the third book holds up better.



Mick Abruzzo: The Second Wire

Mick Abruzzo: The Second Wire - Nancy Martin

At the start of book 10 A Little Night Murder (I think) it's obvious there's some backstory missing; something that was going on between book 9 and 10.  This short story fills in the gaps.  It's not strictly necessary, but for a reader invested in the series, it's satisfying to have.  

 

As a bonus (because not all between novel novellas are equal) this is a very well written, fully formed story about Mick's struggles to get out of the family business and stay legit.  Martin always wrote Mick as a real person, struggling against his upbringing to be better and this story gives the struggle centre stage.  

 

Really well done and reminds me why and how much I miss this series.



Mama Does Time (Mace Bauer, #1) Re-read

Mama Does Time - Deborah Sharp

Update for second read:  Holds up to my first review perfectly; 7 years later and I still can't keep Maddie and Marty straight in my head.  Still a very good read.

 

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I put off reading this book for a long time because it just had way too redneck-y a vibe for me to think I'd find it enjoyable. But then I read about the author being a native Floridian (as I am) and I thought, well, I should give this a go, she should be able to do "old Florida" justice with out turning everyone into caricatures.

So I was pleased to find myself thoroughly involved in this book by about 1/3 of the way in. I had to struggle a bit to keep Marty and Maddie straight, but each character very much has their own personality and for the most part, they're colourful and likeable. Of course I love the Old Florida setting. 

The plot was well done; a lot of red herrings and suspects, a lot of clues. Very strong ending.

I'll be ordering the next books in the series, and I'm hoping for some more scenes of the chemistry sort between Carlos and Mace. :)



Dead as a Door Knocker (House Flipping Mystery, #1)

Dead as a Door Knocker - Diane Kelly

Diane Kelly writes a very good series about an IRS agent, Tara Holloway, and a surprisingly decent series about a police officer and her K-9 (surprising because the dog has its own chapters).

 

This is not on par with those other efforts.  This was just short of awful.

 

The characters are good, but the author has fully grown adults running around saying “the b word” but not thinking twice about haring off to the home of someone they decide must be a suspect and “interrogating” them, flinging accusations around like confetti.

 

The plot was well constructed but just about smothered under chapters of introspection and a detective just short of being earnestly incompetent.  

 

Sawdust is awesome, but Kelly tends to give him slightly canine tendencies that don't quite ring true, and frankly, no matter how endearing Sawdust is, a reader can't help but wonder if this isn't a marketing gimmick to appease the cat lovers out there.

 

Disappointing, but this won't be a series I'll be continuing.



Bookhype.com: It's no BookLikes, but it's better than GoodReads even in beta.

**UPDATE: The developer has just added a search function for your personal library!  Yay!**

 

While stalking the developer of my WP plug-ins, I discovered she was getting ready to launch a new book tracking website.  So by sheer luck I was one of the first people to join Bookhype.com.  It was basic, but it had potential right out of the gate for some interesting features, so I uploaded my data and started playing.

 

That was back in the beginning of September, and the site's feature set has grown enough that it seemed now was as good a time as any to update friends who have not yet joined, about the site's progress.

 

The most important thing to remember is that the site is still in beta.  So while a lot of features are missing, I don't know if they're missing because they haven't been added yet, or because they're never going to be added.  If I do know, I'll mention that below.

 

 

What the site has that's working for me:

 

A pretty easy to use interface; the UI is easy on the eyes and for the most part extremely easy to use.  You can log multiple reads and multiple editions (including purchasing information), but your shelves only display one edition, which can get confusing until you get the hang of it.

 

Some pretty good reading stats - with charts! - that include things like genres and page counts, as well as books acquired over time.

 

Series tracking:  It's pretty slick.  You can follow series, and if you opt in, new titles added to those series will be automatically added to your shelves, and also as an opt in, you can get an email notification.  The back end of the site has some nice logic built in, so series that have changed names mid-way through can alias the old/new name, and the librarian functions allow merging/deleting series, avoiding potential bloating.  What could be better:  it would be nice to be able to nominate how new titles are added to your shelves.

 

Librarian functions:  One of the first "big" features that were added after launch, and of course, I applied.  Because I guess I need more databases in my life.  The features are pretty well thought out and robust, though I'd still love to see the ability to bulk combine titles and bulk merge authors, something I hate to admit GoodReads got right.  What could be better:  while the site handles pseudonyms pretty well, there's no cross-referencing of pseudonyms on the author pages themselves.  Also, there seems to be no plans for handling multiple covers other than adding more additions.  This is going to cause wicked edition bloat, and at the moment, there seems to be no way to merge duplicate listings, though that may change.

 

 

What I think really needs addressing:

 

Personal library:  this is the part where I'm most critical.  At the moment there's only one way to view it and that's cover mode.  Which looks nice, but doesn't make my heart sing because I want to see the data, preferably in list view with the ability to sort by ALL the columns.  At this time you also can't search your books, which is HUGELY problematic.  You can filter by Read, Reviewed, Currently Reading, Wishlist but you can't just search out a specific title, and you can't see all the books on your shelves by author.  I've emailed the developer about this and I know she's thinking about it, but I don't know what her plans are, if any, for improving the ability to manipulate your own shelves.  I've also asked about creating personal shelves, which she's nixed, as she's going the tag route.  When I mentioned they weren't that easy to use, she immediately went about making them MUCH easier.  Now I'm hoping she'll move their location on the page to make them easier to access on the fly.

 

Social aspects - there aren't any.  You can follow people, but the lack of notification when someone likes or comments makes the following a moot point.  I'm guessing this is still something that's in development and as such I'm REALLY hoping she'll make the activity page one that's interactive, with the ability to comment on posts, and respond to other comments, directly from the activity page.

 

Generally the site has a lot of potential and seems to have a very dedicated developer intent on creating a book site that is completely independent of Amazon.  It's got a lot of nice touches, and with a few more could be a much better alternative to GoodReads.  Fingers crossed.



Revenge in Rubies (Harriet Gordon, #2)

Revenge in Rubies - A.M. Stuart

My issues with this one remain the same as the first, but I realise after some thought, that I am the victim of the romantic tension trope.  Possibly a willing victim, as it turns out.  I understand that Stuart is bucking the trope by having the two MCs not being romantically available to each other, but alas, I don't like it.  It feels like something is missing, in spite of my not being a fan of romances.  Given the time period these are set in, and  the general attitude of society that a man and a woman can't really be partners and bond on any level other than romantically - and should they try everybody accuses them of being romantically involved anyway, I can't see this going anywhere that isn't going to irritate me.

 

Still, the mysteries are good, and the Singapore setting is threatening to become trendy.  The characters are growing on me in spite of the lack of oomph.  The plotting is intricate enough, though one scene gave away the villain just a few pages before the big reveal.

 

I'll definitely read a third one and who knows, maybe the character dynamics will go somewhere interesting without all the silly angst.



Killer Wedding (Madeline Bean, #3)

Killer Wedding - Jerrilyn Farmer

I love this book, it holds up so well to re-reading.  Part of what makes the story so fascinating is what the author shares in her acknowledgements at the start of the book.  A chance meeting with a fascinating gentleman in a crammed hotel breakfast room, and the background of this book is born.

 

Maddie and friends are temporarily shut down while they battle a non-compete clause being upheld by the company that bought out their now defunct catering business.  The premiere wedding planner in LA wants out and thinks if she acts like Maddie is buying her out, then Maddie actually will.  All of this culminates in Maddie and co. being invited to a wedding at the Natural History Museum, where she finds a dead body draped over the main dinosaur display.  Trying to be nice and lend a helping hand to the deceased's family, she stumbles on an amazing story involving smuggling and a fabulous treasure, of sorts.

 

What also makes this a great story is that it was written at a time when a cozy could be a cozy without being so far up its own prudish backside that it doubled as a See Jane Run story for children.  Sex scenes are modest, but the author isn't afraid to use f bombs judiciously and where they're most effective.  This book's characters read like they could be real people in the real world, and they're the kind you'd see yourself liking.

It's nice to see an old favorite can remain a favorite after 20 years.



The Leper of St. Giles (Fifth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael)

The Leper Of Saint Giles: The Fifth Chronicle Of Brother Cadfael - Ellis Peters

For slower paced, traditional mysteries that are very skilfully written, you can't go wrong with Brother Cadfael.  When Peters created a crusader turned monk, she gave herself a large canvas on which to paint a variety of clever, interesting crimes.

 

The Leper of St. Giles takes place largely in and around St. Giles, the hospice for lepers that lies just outside Shrewsbury, but it's largely about the wedding of an 18 year old girl, sold off by her guardians for a large portion of her own inheritance, to a cold, unfeeling 60-something land baron who only bought her lands and is taking her on sufferance.  Of course she's fragile and innocent and lovely and of course his squire is around the bend in love with her and incandescent over the injustice of her treatment.  And of course the baron ends up murdered.

 

There's a plot twist in this book; a rather major one, but it's telegraphed early on, so that I knew long before it was revealed.  It's a good one, but if Peters hadn't split the difference, the early guess would have ruined the story.  As it is, Peters seems to have covered her bets and kept that reveal from being absolutely pivotal to the plot, making the ultimate solution a surprise, and a tragic one at that.

 

A few of the series characters readers enjoy aren't here in this book, but there are other characters that endear themselves to the reader.  There's a bit of humor here and there too, making this a much more enjoyable read than the last, St. Peters' Fair, which was a good story but dragged.  I'd be best pleased if we saw Bran and Joscelin again, though I'm not counting on it.



Immaculate Reception (Madeline Bean, #2)

Immaculate Reception - Jerrilyn Farmer

I read this book when it first came out over 20 years ago, and I loved it.  I've re-read it since a couple of times, but never after I started writing my thoughts down, so I picked it up again this week and I have to say it ages perfectly.  Farmer was a talented writer who wrote great mysteries and very real characters you'd be happy to call friends.

 

Immaculate Reception is the re-imagining of the very real happenings of the Catholic church in the 1930's, specifically a document called Humani generis unitas (On the Unity of the Human Race).  This document was a draft for an encyclical planned by Pope Pius XI before his death on February 10, 1939. It condemned antisemitism, racism and the persecution of Jews. Because it was never issued, it is sometimes referred to as "The Hidden Encyclical" or "The Lost Encyclical."  Farmer also ties some Nazi stolen treasure stories into the mix for a breathtaking ending.  This might all sound over the top and Indiana Jones, but it's definitely not.  But it's a great story that can leave invested readers questioning the line between heroism and villainism.   It's also - in between all that - a fun, lighthearted book.



Pocket Apocalypse (InCryptid, #4)

Pocket Apocalypse: InCryptid, Book Four - Seanan McGuire

The second of Alex's books, and the best of the two by a clear margin.  This one takes place in Australia, and the author nails the setting, while taking the mickey about (northern) Australia's natural population's inherent desire to kill everyone.  Half-off Ragnarok struggled to get this cultural uniqueness right, in my opinion, so it was a relief to see the improvement here.  Shelby still remained elusive as an individual, but her family members more than compensated.

 

Shelby's family is why I didn't like this book even more; they're over-the-top asses to Alex and it teetered on caricature.

 

The plot was good; while I wasn't shocked by the turn of events, I didn't see them coming, either.  I love how the author and Alex brought in the wadjets, using this angle to work in the injustice of ‘otherness’, though the Yowie's (who I loved) circumstances turned what was a subtle but effective highlight on that injustice into something more like a sledgehammer.  

 

The Aeslin mice are here but I did not appreciate the turn of events the author took with them.  Maybe she'd argue it was necessary to the story line, but she'd never convince me.  Luckily it was a relatively short scene.

 

With every book of McGuire's I've read, I have both enjoyed them and found them problematic.  That I mostly keep coming back (I've skipped a few) for more Price family antics suggests she gets it right more often than she doesn't.



Singapore Sapphire (Harriet Gordon, #1)

Singapore Sapphire (A Harriet Gordon Mystery #1) - A.M. Stuart

First in a series taking place in Singapore in 1910, about a woman convicted in England for her suffragette activities who flees to Singapore to assist her brother, a headmaster at a school for British boys.  As her post is unpaid, she advertises for secretarial jobs on the side, and discovers her first commissioner brutally murdered.

 

It's a compelling start to a series, but this first book leaves the characters' dynamic with each other unsettled at the end, so I didn't like it as much I would have otherwise.  Still the plotting was strong and well thought out, though some aspects of the puzzle were obvious to the reader, either because they were telegraphed early on, or because the reader has read too many mysteries not to see what was coming.  The characters not having the benefit of 100+ years of mysteries to tap into, their slowness to pick up on what was going on was understandable, if sometimes tedious.

 

I have the second book in hand on my TBR, and I'm looking forward to seeing the character development in that one.  That will decide me as to whether to go on with the series or not. (Assuming it continues past book 2, of course.)

 

 



A Bad Day for Sunshine (Sunshine Vicram, #1)

A Bad Day for Sunshine - Darynda Jones

A long time fan of Jones' writing, I was excited to hear about this new series after her Charlie Davidson series came to an end, but also hesitant, as the premise for this new series sounded like quite a departure in a lot of ways.

 

I needn't have worried; A Bad Day for Sunshine has everything I loved in the Charlie Davidson series (save the outright paranormal plots), only slightly more polished.  Where the snark and jokes in the CD series could sometimes be a tad overdone (naming ever in animate object), here it was perfectly balanced.  The multiple plots were here too, without quite the manic pace, and the friendships and dialog were bang on perfect.  Levi too is the version of Reyes one could take home to their more liberal parents.  In many ways, as much as I loved the Charlie Davidson series, Sunshine Vicram feels more polished.

 

Plotwise, there are many different irons in the fire and all were good, though a few were telegraphed ahead of time to varying degrees.  I knocked half a star off because the multi-book plot feels transparent.  I still can't say who did it, but I feel confident about who didn't and what role the character played in the crime.  Whether I'm right or not, it left me feeling frustrated with the lack of resolution at the end, and doubly so when I found out the next book doesn't come out until July 2021.  But A Good Day for Chardonnay will definitely be pre-ordered.



The Thirteen Problems

The Thirteen Problems - Agatha Christie

I (re)read this book for two reasons:  I belong to a group reading Agatha Christie's oeuvre in order of publication, and it fit a Halloween Bingo prompt - 13.  Either one of those reasons would have been a good enough excuse to read this charming little collection of Miss Marple showing everyone up.

 

13 short stories: the first 6 of which share a common tie of being stories told at the Tuesday Night Club, an impromptu gathering where each person tells the tale of a mystery that went unsolved at the time.  The next 6 stories are tied together in a similar way, as stories all told around the dining table one evening.  The last story is a 'stand-alone' although it relies on the friendship established in the previous stories between Miss Marple and Sir Henry Clithering.

 

Without exception, each story is excellent.  Some are more excellent than others; in my opinion, The Blue Geranium is the absolute stand-out, though Motive vs Opportunity comes close.  The weakest was probably the last, for me, Death by Drowning.  It's solid, but in comparison, duller than the previous 12 stories.

 

I have a confession to make about Agatha Christie's books:  I dislike both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.  I find that in the longer books Miss Marple tends to natter on a bit too much and plays the "old spinster" and "aww shucks" hands a little too strongly.  Hercule Poirot is just ... an amalgamation of the worst traits of Holmes and Dupin is as close I can come to a description.  I don't find him as comical as most.

 

However, these short stories offer the perfect dose of Miss Marple: for almost all the stories, her participation is relegated to the end, so the simpering is contained.  I also really tried, while reading these, to re-imagine Miss Marple in my mind by remembering the subjectivity of the descriptor 'old' and the stereotype of 'spinster'.  Yes, Miss Marple has white hair and knits, but I know many a 50-60 year old that has white hair and knits.  I don't recall her age ever being mentioned in the books I've read so far, so perhaps I dislike Miss Marple because of popular portrayals, combined with current attitudes about the adjectives that Christie used 100 years ago, when they covered broader spectrums.

 

I was partially successful; it was a struggle.  Ingrained conceptions die hard.  Fortunately I have a lot of books ahead of me to use for mental re-programming.  Now if only I could figure out a way to like Poirot...



Murder at Queen's Landing (Wexford & Sloane, #4)

Murder at Queen's Landing - Andrea Penrose

I've really enjoyed the first three books in this series, and though I enjoyed this one too it was a bit heavy on the sentimentality.

 

Penrose crafts her plots around fictionalised versions of real historic events, and this time around it's mathematical machines and financial shenanigans that may or may not involve the East India Company.  Her historical knowledge always adds an extra depth to the story, and a well plotted mystery makes it even better.

 

Charlotte has built quite a scooby gang around her and Wexford, and the characters are fully fleshed and they're easy to care about and cheer for.  But the dynamic between Wexford and Charlotte has become increasingly sentimental to the point of down right syrupy.  The sentiments are lovely, but just a little too much for my tastes.  I was also getting aggravated at the overuse of the word ‘dastards’.  

 

I'm still a fan, but I'm hoping the next book will regain a little of the edge the first couple had.