So I was puttering around on Goodreads and came across this
THEY REBRANDED THE CAT WHO… SERIES AS “JIM QWILLERAN FELINE WHODUNIT”
The Cat Who series is probably the most classic cozy mystery series (actually, I’d put it first, but Agatha Christie is the pinnacle of cozy mystery, so I’ll compromise and put the Cat Who series as second.). This series originally came out in the 60s before the author brought it back a few decades later and that’s when I started reading it. It’s THE cozy mystery series in my mind but this travesty is even worse than that horribly ignoble last book in the series. First, they renamed the series, -it’s understandable in that a revamp would bring in new readers but it’s entirely unnecessary. It would be like renaming Hamlet to “Yo, BRUH!” so that modern readers will discover it. Preposterous, isn’t it? And if that’s not unforgivable enough, they put a black cat on the covers and Koko and Yum Yum are Siamese cats. Ugh.
So I brought my outrage to the r/CozyMystery Discord server and ended up in a discussion about how Cozy Mystery covers are losing their coziness, getting away from the beautifully drawn covers and getting into covers that look like a photoshop collage. And that makes me sad!
Look at this book cover from a few years ago. Now this is a quintessentially Cozy Mystery cover. I mean, look at it! The cover screams cozy – the adorable cat, the detailed drawing that highlights the theme and plot (I love the overturned skull mug and the scared/dismayed looking pumpkin!) but I look at this cover and know this is going to be an entertaining and light read (which is was!) and it’s just what I’m wanting. And those covers make it so easy to spot a cozy mysteries, I could scan rows of book covers and spot them immediately.
Cozy Mysteries get such scant attention as it is in libraries and websites; very few of designate cozies as a separate subgenre, instead lumping it in with all the mysteries with generic covers of someone standing in fog holding an umbrella. And while the covers of people standing in fog are eye-catching, they do nothing to draw me in at first glance; whereas cozy mystery covers – the drawn ones, anyway – always grab my attention and before I even look at the description, I already have a good idea I’ll enjoy what’s going to be in the book.
And, as someone commented on the r/CozyMystery Discord, “I actually dock points from my reviews if the covers aren’t drawn. I totally judge a book by its cover!” and you know what? I do , too. So I’m lamenting the slow death of the cozy Cozy Mystery covers. Are we the only ones?
Hemlock for the Holidays A Fine Art Mystery #3 by Paula Darnell
Rating: 4 out of 5.
I picked this one up for the r/CozyMystery Plant in the Title square on book bingo (I’m still not 100% sure if Hemlock is a flower or a plant. All I could come up with was “flowering plant” which didn’t tell me much!) This is the third book in the series, but I’d say it can easily be read as a standalone, as any mentions of prior events didn’t hamper my enjoyment or understanding. But, it was so good, I will be reading the earlier books.
This was a nice, easy read with an enjoyable community of characters, a twisty plot and all the joy of Christmas. Lonesome Valley is a typical small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business and Amanda relies on her close knit group of friends to catch her up on the backstories of the townspeople. (I’m going to quote Mint’s review, “...the town is charming, yet flawed, adding a realistic touch to the story” and I agree completely!) I have to say, in this one, the people definitely outshone the plot, which isn’t to say the plot wasn’t good (it was!) but for once I enjoyed the people more. Usually I’m all about the solving, but I just liked hanging out with Amanda and the other characters so much, I wasn’t even trying to solve the mystery. Overall, a great read and I look forward to returning to Lonesome Valley!
Published August 5, 2021 by Campbell and Rogers Press
Caution: Spoiler below reveals the ending, so don’t click on it if you don’t want it spoiled:
Murder in the Mystery Suite Book Retreat Mysteries, #1 by Ellery Adams
Rating: 5 out of 5.
I was scouting around looking for a book for the r/CozyMystery Online Referral book bingo square and BeachbumBookworm swooped in on Discord with this recommendation. It had all the things I like in a cozy mystery; a deftly written plot, likeable characters, secrets (I love secret anything in books!) and the absence of tropes. Perfect!
Jane Steward runs a resort catering to book lovers, Storyton Hall, in the tiny town of Storyton, VA. Looking for an event to host that will bring in loads of book lovers paying to stay at the inn, she settles on a Murder and Mayhem mystery event, highlighting (and encouraging cosplay of) famous fictional sleuths. After receiving the grand prize of a first edition book, the winner is later found dead in his room, the victim of murder. Tasked with finding a murderer in their midst, Jane has to deal with learning a big family secret while caring for her twin sons, her elderly aunt and an entire inn of guests.
There was a lot to like about this one; a delightful cast of characters, the beautiful setting and a masterfully written plot with more twists and turns than the roads leading to Storyton Hall. What more could a cozy mystery fan want? I figured out the “who” around halfway through the book, but nothing could have prepared me for the why and the how. I also liked how the world of Storyton grew as the book went on, giving enough rich detail to pull you in without being too much to make it clumsy, something the author does very well.
Overall, an enjoyable first and a big thank you to BeachbumBookworm for recommending this one, and I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series!
Portent in the Pages The Inn at Holiday Bay #16 by Kathi Daley
Rating: 4 out of 5.
I always look forward to getting back to Holiday Bay and catching up with all the happenings at the Inn. This one had a novel plot (heh book pun) with the suspicious suicides of 2 successful celebrity women. It made for a great plot and I really enjoyed it but there were a few things that stuck out me. One was a character that I thought was going to be a bigger part of the plot than she did, which left me wondering what her purpose in the book was. And the other was that the plot meandered around in an unfocused way until the resolution of the plot came about suddenly, so there wasn’t much sleuthing in this one, it was mostly rehashing until an aha! moment. It was a great plot though and I really enjoyed it, it just evolved in a different way than I expected.
By the Pricking of My Thumbs Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries, #4 by Agatha Christie
Rating: 4 out of 5.
“I hate mourning,” she said. “It always smells of moth balls because it’s been laid up somewhere.”
I will admit, I was never a fan of Agatha Christie after I was disappointed by Murder on the Orient Express back in high school. But there’s an Agatha Christie square on the r/CozyMystery Book Bingo, so I picked up this one because it qualified for hard mode (Not Marple or Poirot.) and because I was intrigued by the blurb. And I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised to be drawn into it from the beginning, mostly because I liked Tuppence so much. While Tommy has good instincts, Tuppence has the detecting skills and I liked how well they played off each other, but Tuppence was definitely the star of this story.
As for the plot; possible shenanigans at an old folks home, a sophisticated crime ring, and a mysterious house in a painting all served to compel to Tuppence that something was amiss and required further detecting. It was thoroughly enjoyable and quintessentially Christie, complete with a surprise twist at the end. I was surprised to like it as much as I did, but then again, not really surprised because let’s face it, there’s a reason why Agatha Christie is the queen of cozy mystery. Overall, it was a fun, intriguing and a bit fanciful and I might just pick up the other books some time.
Original publication: Collins Crime Club (London), November 1968
Roses and Revenge An Isle of Man Ghostly Cozy Book 18 by Diana Xarissa
Rating: 4 out of 5.
I was looking forward to this one, as it’s set in Buffalo, where I grew up. Fenella and Daniel are in town for Jack’s wedding to his new love Linda. When Linda’s ex-husband returns to disrupt the wedding, having left her with no notice or forwarding address years before, tempers flare and George is later found dead in a dumpster. Despite being on vacation thousands of miles away from home, Daniel and Fenella find themselves in the middle of another murder.
I enjoyed this one, but for a while it felt like they were spinning their wheels and felt like it was longer than it could’ve/should’ve been. But there were some great moments along the way, as well as very familiar scenery (to me, at least) and at one point, Fenella drives over the Grand Island Bridge with Jack hyperventilating in the back seat and I entirely related. In fact, it triggered flashbacks of driving the bridge in the rain, surrounded by speeding semi trucks and seeing glimpses of the angry Niagara river churning below. *shudders* Yeeeesh. I felt for ya, Jack.
As for the murder itself, there was very little detail as to the manner of death and without any knowledge of the suspects, it felt very much like I was in the dark as much as Fenella and Daniel were, which definitely made it more interesting. There were only 2 things that put me off. First, Fenella was called upon by the detective to talk about suspects, despite having known nearly all of them for just a few hours (really, she had only known them when she was introduced, so more like a few minutes) and I can’t see how any detective would bother putting that in a report. Second, there were several clues that would’ve wrapped up the case fairly quickly that were ignored and given no mention.
Overall, I enjoyed it and it was gratifying to see the formerly absent-minded and co-dependent Jack finally “grow into himself” a little, even taking charge a time or two. If you’ve been reading the series from the beginning as I have, he’s come a long way. With a sweet moment at the end, it was enjoyable from start to finish.
The Body in the Beauty Parlor A Jazzi Zanders Mystery #6 by Judi Lynn
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Absolutely loved this one! Fantastic from start to finish!
Before I dive into my review, I want to reiterate something I put in an update: It’s a myth that you have to wait 24 hours before reporting an adult missing. Absolutely not true. If someone you know is missing, call the police as soon as possible.
Ok, on to the review and this was a humdinger of a book! There were several mysteries, the “side murders” were the murder of a recently hired employee, Misty, in the hair salon owned by her sister and mother. That one was, as well as another murder of a waitress, were wrapped up pretty quickly. The big plot revolved around Jazzi’s ex-boyfriend Chad, who Jazzi agreed to help after his wife, Ginger, went missing. Chad and Ginger’s marriage had been rocky, but were working hard to repair their marriage when she went missing and was later found dead. Chad was suspected of the murder, but Jazzi knew he didn’t do it and worked with Detective Gaff to find the real killer. The whole plot was put together so well and you know what I liked? That the murders are actually investigated thoroughly, there’s no jumping to conclusions and wasting time taking people into custody for finding a body. Gaff, who always seems to catch the cases that Jazzi gets involved with, is pretty realistic for a detective, despite the fact that he brings a civilian along to question people (which I’m willing to overlook, otherwise there wouldn’t be much to the books) and I love how he and Jazzi work together. And although she’s busy detecting, Jazzi, Jerod and Ansel always complete their latest house flip ahead of schedule (you know, now that I think about it, that’s the most unrealistic thing about this series; home renovations never end early and on budget. I’ve watched enough HGTV to know!) And to top it all off, the endings are always satisfying and realistic. Sprinkle in all the good family-gathering-with-good-food vibes (I always feel like I gain 10 lbs reading about everything Jazzi makes) and you have the perfect recipe for a great cozy mystery read. Definitely a full 5 star read!
Dead Men’s Hearts Gideon Oliver #8) by Aaron Elkins
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
As I’ve said before, this series seems to be hit or miss and this one was in the miss category.
Gideon is in Egypt, having been strong-armed into narrating a documentary about the history of Horizon House, a museum and archaeology facility in Luxor, steps from the Sphinx. This was an audaciously multi faceted plot; the suspicious death of the man in charge of the facility, the theft of ancient artifacts, and a skeleton of a modern day man found labeled as an ancient skeleton. All of this points to an inside job, and Gideon has to work out who. The plot was well done, the scenery beautiful (it’s so easy to picture the locations with all the rich descriptions) but it just didn’t grab me the way other books in this series have. It was good, but not GOOD. 3 1/2 stars
Christmas Spirit The Middle-Aged Ghost Whisperer #1 by Morgana Best
Rating: 2 out of 5.
This one was a pretty quick read, didn’t take me more than an hour to read (mostly because I skipped through a lot of the scenes with Prudence’s annoying and obnoxious family and friends (other than Uncle Tim, who I really liked) that Prudence felt obligated to have over for Christmas. Prudence, who is a pretty straightforward no-nonsense person, puts up with her shockingly rude friends and family without kicking their rotten butts out of her house, especially Constance; I don’t know how Prudence can call Constance a friend, and I’d have happily punched her in the face every time she opened her mouth. Prudence, take a hint from your parents and go on a cruise next year.
I really liked Prudence, a psychic medium who had never seen a ghost until dead detective Levi showed up, imploring her to help with the case that got him murdered, a case involving an up and coming actor who died and the question of if it was a murder or a suicide. And I really enjoyed the plot and if the friends/family crap hadn’t been there and maybe a side plot added, it would’ve been a 5 star read; but with all the crap detracting from it, I can’t manage more than 3 stars, mostly because I liked the main plot so much. I’ll give book 2 a try, but if these mouthy people are in the next one, I’m going to give it a pass.
Finding Answers Rescue Alaska Mystery #2 by Kathi Daley
Rating: 5 out of 5.
More cleaning up of all the books that’ve been hanging out on my currently reading list waiting for me to finish and review.
In Finding Answers, Search & Rescue gets a call about a missing child and they mount a search. After locating the child (safe and sound) they find a gruesome scene; the pastor for the local church is found murdered with his throat slashed. When several more townspeople go missing and are found dead, Harmony puts her special skills to work to find an evil murderer bent on revenge.
What I love about this series is how all these facets – beautiful Alaska scenery, the dogs, the close knit townspeople – make for such a strong foundation throughout the series. I liked the plot in this one, for one thing there wasn’t much “sleuthing” as the police sussed out the killer and why before Harmony found out about it, her role was to help find a victim, not solve the case. And I think that’s why I liked it to much; usually in cozy mysteries, the MC sleuths out the killer (and often tells the entire town and not the police what they know) and this was the reverse. That made it more realistic in my mind, one of my issues with cozy mysteries; in real life, law enforcement wouldn’t reveal anything about the case to a civilian so that their case wouldn’t be jeopardized while prosecuting. I understand the reasons for that trope in cozy mysteries, but this book is more organic and realistic and I appreciate that. Gives the book more authenticity. There’s also very little in the way of romance, Harmony is attracted to some of the guys but there’s no canoodling or flirting. Something else that makes it more realistic.
Overall, this was a great read; every bit as good as the first book, with a great plot. Realistic, authentic, exciting and moving, it made for a great read.