..for the review dump today, I realized this morning that I’ve been way too lazy keeping this updated. Within the last week, I managed to bring myself to only 3 books behind schedule in my Goodreads 2021 reading challenge, and I’m happy about that (at one point I was 9 books behind. Yeesh.). And I’ve finally filled one row on my r/CozyMystery book bingo and overall I’m doing well on completing it on schedule.
This Gideon Oliver series definitely put a fire under me, they’re such great books and I realized it gives me an Alex Delaware kind of vibe and that series is one of my all time favorites. If you like anthropology/archeology, definitely give them a try.
Tall Tails Secret Book Club (Secret Library #1) by CeeCee James
Rating: 4 out of 5.
I don’t know where I first heard about this book, but it had all the things that light my fire. An old crumbling mansion, secret passageways and a secret garden, and a cat. What more could you want? Plus it was 99 cents on Amazon, great book for a great price!
And overall I did enjoy it, but I have to say this one is more cozy than mystery. It wasn’t until halfway through the book that I realized that the murder I was expecting already happened earlier in the book but it was just casually mentioned, barely 3 or four sentences marked that it happened. So I spent most of the book wondering where this was all going and it wasn’t until 2/3 through that it all started to come together. Once the pieces started falling into place, the pace picked up and then it was a roller coaster ride to the ending.
I’ll give this one four stars, despite being a little flummoxed until it all started to come together., but the end made up for it. So I would say if you enjoy character driven stories, this might be for you.
Edit: I spent a little time thinking about the book last night after writing this review and came to the realization that I didn’t give enough credit to the author for how neatly and subtly the mystery evolved as the book went on. I realized I never did notice when the mystery part of the plot started to “grow” until that last third of the book when all the clues became clearer. So, kudos to the author who managed to keep a well crafted mystery galloping along, weaving it neatly into the MC’s narrative as she starts her job.
Tequila Mockingbird (Australian Amateur Sleuth #7) by Morgana Best
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Another day, another murder at Cressida’s boardinghouse, only this time the poor victim was the 5th Earl of Mockingbird, Peregrine, who showed up with his entourage of female assistants and his driver. He’s an unlikable sort of guy and it’s not long before he’s done in with a methanol laced shot of tequila. Mr. Buttons, who is immediately under suspicion as he had an acrimonious relationship with Peregrine, is nonplussed and mortified to be taken in several times for questioning. Cressida pulls Sibyl in to help investigate, complete with humorous capers and sleuth out the killer before the suspects can flee back to England.
I always love when I get to travel back to Little Tatterford and that dreary boardinghouse with death scene paintings on the walls. This is such a great series that really should get more attention than it does. It has everything; great plots, laugh out loud moments, characters who are delightfully offbeat and a cursing cockatoo, always entertaining and I look forward to each new book. This one had a couple of good red herrings, ones that I was leaning towards being completely unrelated to the plot but couldn’t figure out why they were there unless they were related? I love when a book makes me question my thought processes while peppering me with things that make me laugh; Cressida’s newest painting, Lord Farringdon’s tantrum, it’s hard not to giggle when reading these books. I also love the ideas Cressida comes up to snoop around. Drop bears, anyone? But the plot itself was quite good; with no information to go on other than the earl’s catty entourage, I had fewer ideas on the suspects than Sibyl, Cressida and Mr. Buttons did.
I finished around 3/4 of this book this afternoon, once it got going I couldn’t put it down.
I’ve been steadily reading my way through this series and although a bit formulaic, each plot is always a fresh idea and so full of twists that I’ve long since given up trying to solve before Gideon does. And although I had a few ideas who was behind the crimes, so I did love the long windup to the payoff. But what I liked best was that Gideon was matching wits with a killer just as knowledgeable about bones as he was.
And as I already said, I seem to forget that these books were written back in the late 80s/early 90s (well, the early books of the series I’m reading now, anyway) when cell phones, DNA testing and the internet was in its infancy, used by very few if used at all. Being a Gen X’er, I remember that period of time when “going online” wasn’t even close to what it was today (Anyone remember Compuserve? We had that and a 300 baud modem, go look that up, you’ll see what I mean) and that makes me really respect the challenges that anthropologists, pathologists, law enforcement and forensic technicians had back then and yet still solve murders and although this is a work of fiction, the author has obviously done his research thoroughly on all aspects of the subject.
I enjoyed this one thoroughly and although some of the books in the series have been hit or miss, this one was definitely a hit.
The Armstrong Assignment (Janet Markham Bennett Cozy Thriller #1) by Diana Xarissa
Rating: 4 out of 5.
I was a big fan of the Markham Sisters series (and bummed when it was over) and I was looking forward to this new series with Janet Markham and new husband Edward Bennett. I miss the quick, easy non-murder reads of the Markham Sisters series, but I did like how the author evolved it into this new series. It’s more cozy than thriller, but definitely more action than in the original series and I enjoyed seeing Janet get involved with the job Edward was on (and his reluctant participation didn’t make a lot of sense, but then again, how else would the plot be set up? Not going to quibble about it) and how she “got the job done” was exciting and a lot of fun. I’m definitely looking forward to more of Janet and Edward’s adventures!
You know what keeps this series from getting too repetitive? It’s the plots and their surprising twists and turns that thwart you from guessing what happens next.
Although this one got off to a slow start, thanks to the annoying tv host/author and his group of whiners, but picked up once the murder happened. As always, I love the anthropological parts of the story and I always like seeing John Lau show up. And I did like the plot, both the avalanche investigation and the murder investigation. The only thing I don’t care for is how Gideon always gets himself into a situation where he’s attacked (why are there so many people attacking anthropologists?) which gets old and really, doesn’t add much to the story for me. I guess I’m in it for the solution and the action is just superfluous in my mind. But overall, I did enjoy (most of) the story and as always, the conclusion was a surprise that left me reeling.
Gideon, struggling with writing a boring manuscript and with the cold, gray, rainy Washington weather, gets an offer he can’t refuse: a return to a disastrous Mayan dig that was scrapped years before after a scandal left an important priceless artifact missing. Invited by old friend and mentor Abe to investigate a skeleton found at the now re-opened dig, Gideon and Julie pack up and head for the Yucatán. Upon arrival, Gideon finds many of the same people from the first dig, as well as a host of new problems; an unauthorized excavation occurring surreptitiously at night where the artifact had gone missing years before, a recently translated curse that a New Age couple are convinced will come true, strange happenings, attacks and then a murder. Can Gideon unravel all the secrets before the curse comes true?
I enjoyed this one, what’s not to love about Mayan ruins, archaeology, the lush rain forest, and an ancient curse? Made for an exciting read, with lots of twists and turns that kept me guessing. I would’ve loved to have seen the the sound and light show at Chichen Itza (as a gen X’er, I remember the Choose Your Own Adventure book I read 30 years ago and it brought back sooooo many memories) and you know, now that I think about it, the amazing descriptions of the locale is what helps bring these stories alive. As for the plot – dizzying. The pace never lagged, with something new popping up with every page and it really kept me guessing. In the end, the impossible to guess ending made for a satisfying read. I think this series is really hitting its stride and I look forward to the next Gideon adventure.
Murder in the Queen’s Armes (Gideon Oliver #3) by Aaron Elkins
Rating: 4 out of 5.
I’m not really sure how to rate this one. On one hand it was compelling, exciting, picturesque, and not your ordinary mystery. On the other hand it was a bit convoluted, long winded and…well, a bit weird.
Gideon and new wife Julie are in England on their honeymoon (why they went to England in the winter, I can’t guess. Well, apparently to tour Thomas Hardy’s old stomping ground but…?) Anyway, While they’re in Dorchester, Gideon goes to a museum to see a anthropologically exciting skull fragment, only to find it’s been stolen. Next, Gideon and Julie head to Dorset to check into their hotel. Gideon plans to check in on an old friend’s archaeological dig and finds the dig in a shambles and old friend Nate on the verge of being discredited by the archaeological groups in charge of the site. Much shenanigans ensue, Gideon is drawn in and in the end two people are dead and Gideon sleuths out the killer.
At the heart of the book, I really enjoyed the mystery and the picturesque scenery. I was able to figure out a lot of it as it happened (sorry, Gid!) but not the who, and it seems to me the story could’ve been wrapped up a lot faster without a lot of the extraneous information woven in, like the newspaper editor (none of that was relevant to the story really, and if it was a red herring, not a very good one.) but overall it was an interesting read. I liked it, but I didn’t love it, so 3 1/2 stars.
After the disappointment that was the first book in the series, it sure did come roaring back. This is the Gideon Oliver I love.
While on an anthropology dig in Washington State, Gideon gets called away to another scene of an ancient Native American burial ground containing several bodies buried in native baskets – and several far more recent bones. Gideon is called in to match them to several hikers that went missing in the same area in recent years. After matching the remains to the missing hikers, another hiker, a young woman goes missing and is later found dead and Gideon comes to an impossibly improbable solution that spans centuries.
I love anthropology/archaeology and this series gives me my fill. There’s no way anyone could possibly have solved this unless they’re psychic, so like everyone else I was along for the ride. And what a ride it was! I was glad to see the Bigfoot angle get so little page time, although it did add a touch of humor. And I loved getting to see how Gideon and Julie met and fell in love. Along with the beautiful Pacific Northwest scenery, John Lau’s child-like giggle, and Gideon’s fallible hero complex, it really gave me more dimension into who he is as a character and to have it all wrapped in a stunning story made for a great read. Onto the next!
Fellowship of Fear (Gideon Oliver #1) by Aaron Elkins
Rating: 1 out of 5.
DNF’ed this at 52%. I’m just not interested enough to finish it.
This one read more like a Da Vinci Code sort of espionage thriller, rather than a mystery. And while it wasn’t a bad book, it’s just not the sort of thing I enjoy reading. The book kicks off with Gideon “The Skeleton Detective” Oliver heading to Heidelberg, Germany to teach seminars at US/NATO bases in Europe. The first chapter was a nice “introduction” so to speak where Gideon meets his co-workers and learns that 2 previous people who held his Fellowship died or mysteriously disappeared. After that, the rest of the book (that I read) turned into a random spy thriller and Gideon gets attacked every couple of pages. There’s no information or asides to tell you why this is happening and in the end, I didn’t really care.
I did like “meeting” John Lau, as he was in the later book I read, Old Bones, and I like the guy, childish giggles notwithstanding and I enjoy the dynamic between Gideon and John Lau. “You don’t have to call me Doc, my name is Gideon” “Ok, Gid!” “Ugh, why not just stick with Doc”. Made me laugh, it seemed like such an organic exchange between 2 acquaintances.
I’ve read later books in the series and enjoyed them, and I’ve already started the second book in the series that’s more of a mystery, so I’m just going to ignore that this book ever happened. So, if you like Da Vinci Code type thrillers, spy thrillers or action movies, you might get more out of this than I did.
Murder by the Bookend (Antique Bookshop Mystery #2) by Laura Gail Black
Rating: 4 out of 5.
I received this from the Crooked Lane Books on Netgalley awhile ago but it got buried on my Kindle thanks to all the Book Bingo books I added a few months ago. I’m sorry I waited so long to finish it, it was a great book!
The second book in the Antique Bookshop series has Jenna presiding over the grand re-opening of the antique/used bookstore she inherited from her uncle. All seems to go well until one guest – Linus Talbot, an antique book expert – has several run-ins with other guests. As the evening draws to a close, Jenna finds Linus dead in his car in the parking lot, murdered with his antique bookends and the only witness is his dog, Eddy. With several suspects and almost no clues, can Jenna find the murderer?
I enjoyed the first book in this series and came to really like Jenna, Mason and Rita and Keith and the juicy plot in this one (gasp THE DRAMA! clutches pearls) as it wound its way among the suspects and unraveled all the clues – which were right there all along but in the end the culprit was still surprising. Just as in the first book, I suspected and then discarded a suspect or two, only to be surprised at the end. sigh Fooled me again!
Another great entry into what’s shaping up to be a really great series and I’m looking forward to the next book.
Expected publication: September 7th 2021 by Crooked Lane Books