A Murder of Magpies – A Review

9 Sep

A Murder of Magpies

Judith Flanders

286 pages

Minotaur Books, February 2015

This book is the first work of fiction by Judith Flanders.

You’ll like it if…

  • You’re British, or like other British media
  • You have to have a witty main character
  • You can stick with a book even if it drags a bit

It’s about

Book editor Samantha Clair is enjoying a quiet life in the publishing industry of London. One author has sent in a book that’s surprisingly unpublishable, and the other has promised to deliver a gossipy manuscript that Sam is sure will fly off the shelves, if its subject doesn’t take her to court with accusations of libel first. When the police show up at her office inquiring about a package she never received, Sam’s quiet life becomes anything but. Thrown into a whirlwind of backstabbing scandal it becomes clear that powerful people don’t want this manuscript to come to light and will do anything they can to stop its publication.

I thought

I really enjoyed the characters in this novel. Sam was a perfectly likable main character, witty and moderately self-deprecating as British protagonists often are. I really loved her mother, who juggles life as a power attorney, socialite and genuinely concerned mom without breaking a sweat. If only the mystery itself had been as engrossing. I found that it got a bit bogged down in the details and legalities of the case and introduced too many side characters to hold my interest and push the plot forward. And the title? A good pun, and I could guess at the reason it was chosen, but only by the barest of logical threads.

The Real Mystery

Will there be a second book in this series? Will I pick it up if there is? Not likely.

Goodreads Reviews – Helpful or Hurtful?

19 Aug

I spend a lot of time on Goodreads! I love keeping track of what I’m reading and what I want to read next, and what’s coming soon from authors I know I want to read! I have learned, however, that reviews posted on Goodreads have to be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, I recently read (and reviewed) To Brie or Not To Brie by Avery Aames, a book in the Cheese Shop Mystery Series. I’ve been reading this series since it started and have enjoyed each installment so far. When I finished this book and went to post my review, I was surprised to find that several of the most liked, and therefore highest listed, reviews of this book were pretty negative. The first review I came across stated in the first sentence that they hadn’t read the other books in this series and that that was probably a contributing factor to their dislike of the book. Well, of course it was! All of the other complaints and arguments against this book would have been solved easily by reading the previous books in the series. Her first complaint was that so many characters were introduced in the first few pages, and she was so confused that she had to put the book down for a while. But, guess what? All those characters she couldn’t keep straight were actually introduced in about 900 pages of the first three books. Then she complained about the lack of “real” language, annoyed by the author’s lighter terms like ‘dang’ and ‘heck’, and about the lack of graphic sex scenes! Clearly, this reviewer is not only unfamiliar with this series, but also cozy mysteries in general, making her review of absolutely no use to me at all. Even if I weren’t familiar with this series, I wouldn’t trust for a second a review of a genre that I am familiar with and know I like from someone who clearly doesn’t understand the niche that this genre caters to. I can’t help but think that reviews like this one are only bringing down cozy mysteries as a whole.

Finding reviews on goodreads that are trustworthy and that will actually align with my own opinions on books is tricky. One advantage of reading a lot of mysteries, is that you come to recognize some names of reviewers who read the same books as you. That’s really the first hurdle. Figuring out what genres of books you like and finding active reviewers who share your taste. Once you find a couple though, they become a great resource of books you have a good chance of enjoying that you may not have ever found on your own.

One other thing that I find a little annoying about goodreads reviews is the tendency for some reviewers to include a summary. Goodreads does that for you! There’s a professionally written summary at the top of each book’s page, with all kinds of other information like the page count and publication date that I find useful. I don’t need to read through two paragraphs of your own summary to get to your actual review of the book!

I hope each of you enjoys Goodreads and finds it as helpful and addictive as I do! And, here’s hoping we all find our book soulmate who publishes reviews we can trust and introduces us to wonderful new stories!

To Brie or Not to Brie – A Review

18 Aug

To Brie or Not to Brie   

Avery Aames

336 Pages

Berkley, February 2013

This book is the Fourth in the Cheese Shop Mystery Series by Avery Aames

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You’ll like it if…

  • You like cheese
  • You like mysteries set in small towns
  • You want to brush up on your high school French

It’s about

Charlotte Bessette, heroine of the Cheese Shop Mystery series and owner of Fromagerie Bessette (better known as The Cheese Shop) is back again to solve another mystery. While busy planning her cousin’s wedding, Charlotte becomes entangled in a murder that takes place at the local Ice Cream Parlor. A stranger turns up dead; his head bashed in with a container of Charlotte’s very own and newest creation, Brie blueberry ice cream. Now Charlotte must untangle both the mystery of the man’s death and the mysteries of his connection to her fiance and future sister-in-law. Can she exonerate her future family members and still get to the truth?

I thought

I have been reading this mystery series for a few years now, and I can always count on it (so far..fingers crossed!) to deliver just what I’m looking for in a cozy. I love the small town setting, I love the main character and her zany family and employees, I love the cheese. It all blends together beautifully. The mystery was solvable without being impossible and I thought the pacing of the story was on point. Throw on a clever title, and I’m in!

The Real Mystery

Will Charlotte Bessette get a wedding of her own soon?

Confession: I Read “Beautiful Creatures”

2 Feb

It’s another YA paranormal romance series a la Twilight, (painfully obvious with a cover like this:)
and the movie comes out next month. I hope we can still be friends. But, maybe you’ll appreciate a fellow cozy-lover’s view on a book like this.

Overall, I liked it, but I did my research first and I think that made it better. Had I picked this book up off the shelf with no background or an idea of what to expect I think I would have been sorely disappointed. This is TEEN fiction. (When did this whole “Young Adult” phrase come to mean main characters who are 15 and Sophomores in High School?! As an actual young adult, I’m a little offended.) But once you accept that it’s geared to younger kids and come to expect that the authors will reveal obvious plot twists like you never saw it coming and force a few vocabulary lessons down your throat, it’s a decent story if you’re into stories about magic and witches (ahem…”Casters”). If you liked books or movies like Twilight or the True Blood series, you’ll probably enjoy this one, just be sure to understand you’re probably not the target demographic.

Hail to the Chef – A Review

29 Jan

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This book is the Second in the White House Chef Mystery Series.

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You’ll like it if…

  • You’re an American (or really like America anyway)
  • You’re a foodie who loves to get an inside look at a professional kitchen
  • You like a mystery that holds your attention and doesn’t let go

It’s about

Ollie Paras, the newly appointed White House Executive Chef, is back in the kitchen. It’s the most stressful time of year for the White House staff, preparing for Thanksgiving and the quickly approaching launch of Christmas festivities in America’s Home. When a bomb is found in the White House, they call in a Special Secret Service team to investigate, and shortly after the chief electrician is found dead, apparently electrocuted. Did their experienced electrician really make a fatal error? And will whoever planted the first bomb try again? Ollie must put her acute observational senses to work and do what she can to thwart sinister plans to take down the White House.

I thought

I loved the holiday setting of this mystery, and it had a lot going on to keep you reading. Bombs, electrocution, suspicious suicide, tangled business deals, Secret Service Agents. There was so much going on in this story, it was impossible to get bored and while you might think things could get muddled along the way, Hyzy did a great job of keeping it all straight and giving lots of little clues and twists along the way. The ending tied it up and while it may not have been tight enough for the ultra-realist readers, I think the average cozy reader will be wholly satisfied.

The Real Mystery

How this story juggled so many crimes and suspects while still being totally easy to follow and satisfying!

 

This is my first book to count toward the 2012 Foodie Reading Challenge! It’s not too late, you can join the challenge here!

Review: A Killer Plot – Books By the Bay #1

23 Jan

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It’s about…

Olivia Limoges has returned to Oyster Bay, North Carolina, a town steeped in salt air, sea culture and bittersweet memories of Olivia’s childhood past. She’s gorgeous and wealthy, owning the town’s five star restaurant and several properties in town. She keeps everything running with the help of her brilliant and very un-dog-like black poodle, Captain Haviland. She overhears a group of writers at a local diner one morning and, as she’s working on a manuscript herself, is persuaded to join by Camden Ford, a young gossip blogger and writer oozing with charisma. When Camden doesn’t show up to Olivia’s first meeting, the group starts to worry. He’s found dead in an alleyway with a haiku, of all things, spray painted above him. Olivia and Captain Haviland investigate and find Camden’s manuscript, a thinly-veiled expose of a famous family may be the killer’s motive. Can Olivia figure out which family tie was angry enough to kill before they strike again?

I thought…

This was an excellent debut novel. I loved the vivid setting (you know I like a little Southern flair), the dog, and I felt like the author had a lot of fun writing it especially working in the excerpts of the writers’ manuscripts of all different genres. For me it’s always a good sign when an author seems to have had a great time working on a book. I think this series has great things in store for it, but for me the first half of the book was perfectly paced and the last half was rushed through. Olivia’s love interests muddled things a little for me and the climax was confusing because there was so much going on that I hadn’t had time to work out in my head. Then, the final wrap-up seemed to drag and give us a little too much unnecessary information. As an experienced author, she writes several other series under the names J.B. Stanley and Jennifer Stanley as well as another as Ellery Adams, I thought she did much better with this debut than the average cozy first-novelist, and I’m confident she can weave wonderful tales now that these exciting new characters have been introduced.

The Real Mystery?

How Ellery Adams created such an incredibly human-like canine that absolutely stands out as a main character despite his inability to talk!

Town in a Wild Moose Chase – a Review

17 Jan

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It’s about…

Candy Holliday returns to solve another crime. Cape Willington’s ice sculpting festival is underway and she’s happy to get to see the art unfold before her. But back at Blueberry Acres she’s startled when a local hermit stumbles out of the woods claiming to have found a dead body. She calls the police who find no sign of foul play, but she’s still unsettled, especially since she suspects one of the sculptors has gone missing despite the claims of his wife. When a body is found by a snowplow, Candy is unsure if they’ve stumbled on two murders or one. Could a rivalry between two ice sculptors have driven someone to murder? With the help of Maggie, Ben and a rare and mysterious white moose, Candy will have to sort out the details and avoid becoming a target herself.

I thought…

This installment of the Candy Holliday series changed everything. While the second book built upon the first in some ways, this third book would be impossible to follow without having read the first two, and it’s made clear that the fourth will be the same. I read the second book about a year and a half ago and I still had trouble following all the references to previous events, especially in the last few chapters which went by too fast. I’m still not sure I’ve grasped the whole finish. I love Haywood’s writing style, it’s believable and mature, staying away from the style of some other cozy authors that can cross the line into complete silliness at times. It’s one of the main reasons I love her series so much, but I’m not sure if making each book almost completely dependent on the last is going to serve her well. Ultimately, I still love the series and I admire the way that Haywood has tried to cope with the fact that a tiny town sees so many murders. I’ll keep coming back for more.

The Real Mystery?

If the author’s current strategy of an over-arching mystery driven by smaller “one-book” murders will keep enough readers like me hanging on for more.

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