Review: Fixing to Die by Miranda James

Review: Fixing to Die by Miranda JamesFixing to Die (Southern Ladies Mystery, #4) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Southern Ladies Mystery #4
Pages: 294
Published by Berkley Books on October 3, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries and Digging Up the Dirt returns with the latest Southern Ladies Mystery...
It's autumn down south, and An'gel and Dickce Ducote are in Natchez, Mississippi, at the request of Mary Turner Catlin, the granddaughter of an old friend. Mary and her husband, Henry Howard, live in Cliffwood, one of the beautiful antebellum homes for which Natchez is famous.
Odd things have been happening in the house for years, and the French Room in particular has become the focal point for spooky sensations. The Ducotes suspect the ghostly goings-on are caused by the living, but when a relative of the Catlins is found dead in the room, An'gel and Dickce must sift through a haunted family history to catch a killer.

My Review:

What is it that makes cozy mysteries just so cozy and so much of a comfort to read? You’d think that the fact that they all start with a dead body would act against that, but it doesn’t. At all.

I’m caught up in this question because so many of my “comfort reads” are cozy mysteries. Because this has been a week where the weather has been so wet and gloomy that it makes a person want to curl up with a good book, a hot cup of tea and a cat and just wait for it all to go away – which won’t be until Saturday at the earliest and it’s been raining since Sunday. I couldn’t focus on any of the things I planned to read and ended up looking for a cozy mystery to sink into.

And here we are, Fixing to Die. Because this is the last book in the author’s Southern Ladies mystery series, although the adventures of the Cat in the Stacks seem to be continuing. Thank goodness.

So, on a damp and chilly autumn evening, when I couldn’t get into anything else, I found myself, along with sisters An’gel and Dickce Ducote, traveling from their home in Athena Mississippi to Natchez to help the granddaughter of an old friend out with her haunted antebellum bed and breakfast.

Only to find themselves in the midst of an acrimonious family drama – although thankfully one not even remotely their own this time, unlike the events in Dead with the Wind.

The practical-minded An’gel is certain that the ghostly happenings at Cliffwood are the result of a worldly rather than an otherworldly agent. Dickce is a bit more open-minded about the whole thing. After all, their own antebellum home has its share of inexplicable door-closings and perambulating knick-knacks.

But the humans who have gathered at Cliffwood make both the sisters more than a bit suspicious. Mary and Henry, the owners of the house, are fighting over just how much of their lives should be devoted to the care and feeding of the house and the guests they need to keep on keeping the house up to the standards of the Historical Society.

Mary’s cousin Nathan believes he’s entitled to the contents of one of the rooms in the house – based on an old will that he can’t find. That the room contains priceless antiques just adds to his motivations to make his cousin Mary and her husband Henry’s lives even more miserable. Nathan’s sister invites herself and her lawyer to the house in the hopes of loosening her brother’s grip on her trust fund.

Then a psychic medium knocks on the door, claiming that the spirits in the house have called to her to give them peace, and it’s clear that some kind of fix is in. If not multiple fixes.

When Nathan’s dead body is found in the morning in the room he claimed he owned, it’s more of a relief than it is a surprise. One of the lovely things about this series is that the person you most want to end up dead usually does in short order.

But with a corpse on their hands – again – the Ducote sisters can’t resist playing Nancy Drew in order to figure out how the murderer got into and out of the locked room containing the victim. So they can figure out whodunnit, and why, and how.

Because that’s what they do. They help the police solve murders – even when the police would much, much rather NOT be helped!

Escape Rating B: And we’re back to what makes cozy mysteries cozy, and why this particular series – and this particular author – have turned out to be such a cozy and comforting read for me.

I think what makes cozy mysteries cozy is a combination of two factors. A big one is the gang or group or family (found or birth or a combination) that surrounds the detectives, whether amateur or professional. An’gel and Dickce have each other of course, but they also have their 19-year-old ward, Benjy, and their companion animals, the Labradoodle Peanut who thinks An’gel hung the moon, and the Abyssinian cat Endora, who is certain that Dickce provides the best lap in the universe.

The sisters know everyone in Athena, and their friends and friends of friends, especially Athena’s chief homicide detective Kanesha Berry, extend their reach far and wide. And make everyone they come into contact with feel familiar – only because in a way they are.

There’s also the element of cozy mystery that’s sometimes referred to as the “romance of justice”. The reader knows going in that someone who might deserve it is going to die, and that whoever murdered them is going to get what’s coming to them. And that the murder will happen safely off-screen and that the murderer will receive their just desserts legally as well as righteously. No vigilantes, very little blood and gore, and everybody walks away, with the perpetrator walking away in handcuffs in police custody.

All’s well that ends well. And cozy mysteries invariably end well. It’s part of their charm, and it’s part of the comfort they provide, that the world can be rational, that good triumphs and evil gets an appropriate punishment.

Fixing to Die turned out to be exactly what I was looking for on a very rainy autumn night. The cast of characters is a lot of fun, the family shenanigans are interesting and are somebody else’s, the murder victim needed to be taken out of the gene pool and his murderer got their just desserts. The sisters saved the day – as they always do – and their animals are along to provide just the right touch of comic relief.

This series has just the right amount of sass mixed in with the sweet, and I’m sorry that it seems to have ended with this story. Although I wouldn’t mind visiting with the Ducote sisters again, either in a future book of their own or whenever Athena’s amateur detective and professional librarian, Charlie Harris and his big Cat in the Stacks Diesel need a bit of the Ducote’s local knowledge or wide span of influence around town.

I’ll be back to visit Charlie and Diesel in Athena early next spring with Hiss Me Deadly, and I’m definitely looking forward to the trip!

Review Digging Up the Dirt by Miranda James

Review Digging Up the Dirt by Miranda JamesDigging Up the Dirt (Southern Ladies Mystery, #3) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Southern Ladies Mystery #3
Pages: 296
Published by Berkley on September 6, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling author of Dead with the Wind and Bless Her Dead Little Heart is back with more of those sleuthing Southern belles, the Ducote sisters...
An’gel and Dickce Ducote, busy with plans for the Athena Garden Club’s spring tour of grand old homes, are having trouble getting the other club members to help. The rest of the group is all a-flutter now that dashing and still-eligible Hadley Partridge is back to restore his family mansion. But the idle chatter soon turns deadly serious when a body turns up on the Partridge estate after a storm...   The remains might belong to Hadley’s long-lost sister-in-law, Callie, who everyone thought ran off with Hadley years ago. And if it’s not Callie, who could it be? As the Ducotes begin uncovering secrets, they discover that more than one person in Athena would kill to be Mrs. Partridge. Now An’gel and Dickce will need to get their hands dirty if they hope to reveal a killer’s deep-buried motives before someone else’s name is mud...

My Review:

Honestly, I picked this one up because I just felt like it. I was looking for something that would be both familiar and new at the same time, and this seemed like it would be it. And it was.

Also, I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Bless Her Dead Little Heart, so even though I was a bit disappointed in Dead with the Wind I like this author more than enough to want to see if the third time would be the charm. And I had high hopes for a cameo from the main characters in the author’s other series, Cat in the Stacks, so I was very happy to see a bit – but not too much – of librarian Charlie Harris and his gentlemanly Maine Coon cat Diesel.

The story in Digging Up the Dirt reads like it’s at the intersection of two “old” sayings. The first is from the late, much-lamented Terry Pratchett, who said in the book Moving Pictures that “inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.” More likely wondering what the HELL happened, but the thought is definitely there.

The quote it intersects with is something that a friend used to say fairly often when her spouse had just done something she wished he hadn’t. Her comment was that “the problem (with spouses) is that you can’t live with ‘em and you can’t bury ‘em in the backyard because the dogs will dig them up”

The Ducote sisters, An’gel and Dickce, along with the rest of the Athena Garden Club, have been rather abruptly confronted with the truth of the Pratchett quote when Hadley Partridge returns to Athena after a four-decade absence.

When Hadley left Athena all those years ago, he left the entire Garden Club in a veritable tizzy, as he was charming, handsome, rich and flirting with every single member of the club. When he left town, rumor had it that his brother threw him out of the family mansion in a fit of jealousy. Everyone in Athena, including, unfortunately for Hadley, his older brother, was just absolutely certain that Hadley was having an affair with his brother’s wife.

So when that same woman, Hadley’s sister-in-law Callie Partridge, disappeared without a trace a few days after Hadley’s abrupt departure, everyone just assumed that she ran off after Hadley.

At least that’s what everyone assumed until Hamish Partridge died and left the family manse to his brother Hadley. When Hadley returned to Athena, and got the entire Garden Club into pretty much the same tizzy he left them in, he claimed that he had not seen Callie in the intervening 40 years.

Then the Ducote sisters’ labradoodle, Peanut, digs up a body in the backyard of the Partridge estate. A body that goes a long way towards explaining where Callie Partridge has been “hiding” for all these years.

But doesn’t get either amateur sleuths An’gel and Dickce Ducote or Sherriff’s Detective Kanesha Berry much further in their hunt for the person who is killing the members of the Garden Club in the here and now.

Escape Rating A-: Except for the Ducote sisters, whose ages seem to be fixed at 80 and 84 for the entirety of this series, we don’t actually know the ages of the rest of the Athena Garden Club. Just that all of them were adults and Garden Club members 40 years previously, making all of them somewhere north of 60, if not quite as far north as An’gel and Dickce Ducote.

What I loved about all of them, even the ones that are crazy as betsy bugs, is that they are all, to a woman, vital and independent and healthy and active. (Physically healthy at least although there are one or two whose mental health may be – and have always been – a bit iffy.) And that it seems like everything they felt 40 years ago is just as alive in their heads and in their hearts – and possibly other places – now as it was then.

Their spirits are all still as willing as they ever were, even if the flesh occasionally creaks a bit. A feeling I can empathize with all too well – even if, or especially because, some of them were being really silly with it. Every bit as silly as they were 40 years ago. As another old saying goes, “we are too soon old and too late smart.”

The red herrings in this particular story are also steamed to a delectable turn. That there are murders to be solved in both the past and the present just adds to the number of different ways that the detectives and the reader can be led delightfully astray.

And we are all the way to the end. I was convinced until the very end that the present-day murderer was an entirely different party than the person who turned out to be guilty after all, although I did figure out Hadley’s secret slightly earlier than the Ducote sisters. Of course I wasn’t having any nostalgic or romantic ideas to cloud my judgment the way that they were.

There were two things that put this one head and shoulders over the previous book in the series. Except for the Ducote sisters and their traveling household of ward, dog and cat, there were very few likeable characters in Dead with the Wind. Which combined a bit too neatly with the second thing, that the story took An’gel and Dickce away from their home in Athena, robbing them of their usual support network and eliminating several people that the reader could have – and has – happily followed along with.

Which leaves me a tad worried about the final – at least so far – book in the series, Fixing to Die, which also takes the sisters and their household out of Athena. I’ll still be back for it, the next time I need the Ducote’s particular brand of reading comfort.

Review: Dead with the Wind by Miranda James

Review: Dead with the Wind by Miranda JamesDead with the Wind (Southern Ladies Mystery, #2) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Southern Ladies Mystery #2
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on September 29, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling author of Bless Her Dead Little Heart and the Cats in the Stacks mysteries brings back the Ducote sisters, two spry Southern sleuths.
An’gel and Dickce Ducote tend to stay put in Athena, Mississippi, but a wedding is a good reason to say a temporary farewell to Charlie Harris’s cat Diesel and go visit relatives. But while their stay in Louisiana is scorching hot, the atmosphere at the wedding is downright cold, with bride-to-be Sondra Delevan putting her trust fund above little things like love and loyalty.
When a violent storm supposedly sweeps Sondra off a balcony to her death, the sisters discover that many of the guests attending the wedding had major reasons to object to Sondra’s marriage. Now, it’s up to An’gel and Dickce to use their down-home instincts to expose dubious alibis, silver-plated secrets, and one relentless murderer who lives for “till death do us part.”

My Review:

On what was feeling that Mondayest Monday ever, I needed a comfort read. Since I’m currently caught up with the Cat in the Stacks series, I turned to the same author’s Southern Ladies Mystery series to sink into a whole lot of cozy, with animal companions both around me and between the pages – along with just a couple of dead bodies to add a bit of excitement. But not too much.

Dead with the Wind is a story about family ties. The ones that bind get the Ducote Sisters into this situation, but it’s the ties that strangle that lead to the murder. Not that someone shouldn’t have strangled Sondra Delevan a long time ago.

The Ducote Sisters are in St. Ignatiusville, Louisiana at their cousin Mireille’s antebellum city mansion for Sondra’s wedding. An occasion that does not get off to an auspicious start when An’gel Ducote righteously dumps a vase filled with water on Sondra’s overreacting head.

I’d say Sondra was a bridezilla, but that implies that she’s normally a halfway reasonable human being and is only being such a demanding bitch because of the wedding, and that’s not remotely the case. Sondra is demanding bitch 100% of the time and always has been. She’s one of those adults that people other than her immediate family look at and think that the universe would have been better off if she’d been disciplined instead of indulged a few – possibly a lot – of times in her childhood when it would have done some good.

So when Sondra is murdered, it’s not so much that the reader is surprised that someone killed her as amazed that it didn’t happen a whole lot sooner.

But the circumstances of Sondra’s death are rather suspicious, because her death and the manner of it fall all too closely on the heels of the housekeeper proclaiming that the wedding is ill-omened as it resembles a long-ago tragedy much too much. There’s a long arm of coincidence here that is way too long to convince either of the Ducote Sisters.

That before her death Sondra was such a heartless little bitch as to stage a scene that drove her grandmother, the Ducotes’ Cousin Mireille, into a heart attack and her grave does not help anyone to think well of the recently and spectacularly departed Sondra, but it does make the Sisters wonder just who benefits from both of those deaths.

There’s something rotten in Cousin Mireille’s beautiful mansion. It looks like there’s someone close to the family circle determined to bump off everyone in their way. But in the way of what, exactly?

The Sisters – along with the local police – follow that first rule of investigation. They follow the money, and it leads them straight to the killer. Or does it?

Escape Rating B-: I went into this because I wanted something familiar but not quite so familiar that I’d know every single thing before it happened. And that is kind of what I got. The Ducote Sisters of Athena, Mississippi, introduced in the author’s Cat in the Stacks series, are the power behind nearly everything going on in Athena, and have been for decades. An’gel is 84 and Dickce is 80. They live in a palatial family mansion, they’re the last of their direct family, never married, never had kids, and pretty much keep Athena running, sometimes it seems all by themselves.

So it was fun to see them out of their element in this story, which is kind of a locked-room mystery. Not that the room or the house is literally locked, but rather that everything that happens seems to happen in the house and inside the rather tight family circle. Even if all the members of the family aren’t related by blood.

What made this story a bit less fun than I usually find this author, or even the first book in this series, Bless Her Dead Little Heart, is that no one involved is all that likeable except for Sondra’s little girl Tippy and the family butler and general factotum, Grayson. All the rest of them are pieces of work, from Sondra the spoiled sociopath to her on-again-off-again fiancé to her stepfather and unfortunately but definitely including her mother and grandmother (Cousin Mireille). The mansion seems to be a veritable hothouse of all sorts of -pathy. Except sympathy as there really isn’t a whole lot of that going around.

Also, a big part of the story is that Sondra is marrying Lance because, frankly, Sondra is looking for someone she can control, getting married gets her control of the substantial fortune she inherited from her father, and there’s something not quite right about Lance. There are multiple things about Lance that aren’t quite right, but his maturity level and that of Sondra’s three-year-old daughter are about on a par. The family treats it as an open joke, but are still allowing the marriage because no one wants to cross Sondra. The situation did not sit well, or rather the way everyone treated did not sit well.

This turned out to be one of those stories about families that pretend everything is fine but where things are really, really wrong. Like Sondra’s extremes of behavior and self-centeredness. And Lance’s undiagnosed but joked about issues.

So I felt a bit more discomfort than desired for something I picked up as a comfort read. Even though Sondra’s death was very cathartic. Some characters just need to be let out of a story at the very first opportunity. By the time the killer’s identity was revealed it wasn’t much of a surprise – nor was I expecting it to be as this is not that kind of book.

But the way it got revealed – now that was a surprise. And it made a wonderful ending for a story that had a few more downs than ups.

I’m glad that the next book in this series, Digging Up the Dirt, places the Sisters back home in Athena where they belong!

Review: What the Cat Dragged In by Miranda James

Review: What the Cat Dragged In by Miranda JamesWhat the Cat Dragged in by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #14
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on August 31, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Librarian Charlie Harris and his faithful feline companion, Diesel, have inherited Charlie’s grandfather’s house, along with a deadly legacy: a decades-old crime scene, in this all-new mystery in the New York Times bestselling Cat in the Stacks series.

Charlie has always believed that his grandfather had sold his house to his longtime tenant, Martin Hale. So when Martin dies, Charlie is surprised to discover the house was not left to Martin but instead belongs to Charlie. As he and Diesel check out the house he remembers fondly from his childhood, he is pleasantly surprised that it is in better condition than expected. That is, until they find a literal skeleton in a closet.

While the sheriff’s department investigates the mysterious remains, Charlie digs deeper into the past for clues to the identity of the bones and why they are there. But the cold case heats up quickly when Martin’s grandson is found dead on the farm.

As Charlie delves into his own family history, he encounters many people who might have been motivated to take a life. But Charlie and Diesel know that things are not always what they seem, and that secrets seemingly lost to time have a way of finding their way back to haunt the present.

My Reviews:

This book has been calling my name, loudly, with increasingly more high-pitched meows, until I finally just gave in and read it. The series features a 50-something librarian with the last name of Harris and his now two feline companions – one of whom is pictured on the cover of every book in the series. How could I possibly resist?

Librarian Charlie Harris has a tendency to get himself involved in investigating local murders, no matter how much Detective Kanesha Berry really, really wishes he could manage to keep his much too inquisitive nose out of police business.

But this time Charlie’s involvement is kind of baked in, along with his own investigation into a surprising number of skeletons in his own family’s closet. Secrets that have been buried for not just years but decades, stuff that Charlie never knew about and now wishes he had learned at his grandparents’ knees back when those knees were still available.

Charlie begins the story surprised to inherit his grandfather’s house and farm outside of town. He thought that the property had been sold long ago, and it’s only upon the death of the man who turns out to have been a life tenant and not the owner that Charlie learns that he’s just inherited another house.

What he discovers, or rather what his Maine Coon cat Diesel discovers when they visit the new/old property, is that Charlie has inherited a literal skeleton as well. Diesel finds a cache of human bones in the attic. Nobody is pleased at this development, least of all Detective Berry.

The discovery of those bones opens up, not just one proverbial can of worms, but can after can after can. Especially when another dead body is found on the property – this one considerably more recent and very nearly as puzzling.

Charlie, who can’t resist any sort of puzzle especially once he’s in it, is caught between multiple mysteries. Those bones might be old enough to be laid at his grandparents’ feet – although the revelation that the body in question has neither feet nor hands just adds to the macabre feel of the whole mess. The new body has something to do with a secret that his grandfather kept long ago and Charlie’s dive into the family tree turns up secrets left, right, center and on the wrong side of the blanket.

While Detective Berry has her hands full with the recent killing, it turns out to be up to Charlie to uncover the identity of not just the old bones but how they came to be in the attic. And when the new case intersects with the old, the answer very nearly adds Charlie’s bones – along with Diesel’s – to the family skeleton pile.

Escape Rating A-: This series is always a comfort read for me. It helps that librarian Charlie Harris, besides sharing a last name, also feels like “one of us” librarians, probably because his author is a real-life librarian. He has the kind of job, or at least the kind of work environment, that many of us wish we had in real life. He’s inherited enough money that he does not have to worry about the librarian’s lament, that “librarians get paid weekly, very weakly.” And of course there are the charms of Charlie’s two cats, the large, in charge and quite well-behaved cat-about-town Diesel, and the rambunctious just-barely-out-of-kittenhood Ramses.

Ramses reminds me a lot of our George, except that our cats are not tempted by “people food” and they don’t beg for any. They’re more interested in the plastic wrappers that some of our food comes in. But I digress.

In this entry in the series, I discovered that the case that Charlie was investigating was way more interesting than the one that Kanesha Berry was dealing with – in spite of the two cases intersecting at the end. At very nearly Charlie and Diesel’s end.

But Charlie’s half of the investigation was wrapped up in family secrets. All the stuff you think you know about your family that turns out to be not what you thought it was. Like discovering, at my grandfather’s funeral, that he was married before he married my grandmother, and that my dad’s sisters were actually his half sisters – if they were related at all. Which they might not have been. Apparently grandpa’s first wife played around, which was why he divorced her. I didn’t find out until I was in college, but it explained so much about the way my grandma treated me as a child. I was her only grandchild, after all.

That’s the kind of secret that Charlie discovers when he starts looking into his own family history. He remembers visiting his grandparents when he was a child in the house he’s just inherited. His dad and his aunt both said granddad had sold it, but clearly he didn’t. What Charlie digs into uncovers a whole bunch of fascinating family secrets that you’d – and he’d – think wouldn’t have much bearing on the present. But they do, otherwise his search wouldn’t be such a big part of the story.

I really liked following the progress, and the two steps forward one step back, nature of his search. The result was a surprise, especially to Charlie, but his reaction was all the more heartwarming because of it.

This series as a whole is very cozy. It’s a small-town, Charlie is one of those accidental amateur detectives who can’t seem to stop stumbling over murders. His friends and family are a big part of the background action and serve as his support team, cheering squad and occasionally attempt to warn him off to no avail. Relationships in town are complicated, everyone knows everyone and knows everyone’s secrets – or at least thinks they do.

And the cats are adorable. Still realistically cats and not super-felinely able, but absolutely adorable. I’d read this series just for Diesel, and sometimes I have. But I like all the characters, I find Charlie’s life and investigations soothing – in spite of the times he nearly becomes part of his own case – and I’ll sign up for another whenever the next one comes out, which looks like it’s going to be Hiss Me Deadly, hopefully next March!

In the meantime, the next time I’m looking for a fix of Athena Mississippi I’ll have to go back to the author’s Southern Ladies Mystery series. They’re a hoot!

Review: Cat Me if You Can by Miranda James

Review: Cat Me if You Can by Miranda JamesCat Me If You Can (Cat in the Stacks Mystery #13) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #13
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlie Harris and his feline companion Diesel take a bookish vacation but discover that murder never takes a holiday, in this all-new installment of the New York Times bestselling series. Charlie and Diesel along with Charlie's fiance, Helen Louise Brady, are heading to Asheville, North Carolina to spend a week at a boutique hotel and participate in a gathering of a mystery reader's club composed of patrons of the Athena Public Library. In addition to seeing the local sights, the members will take turns giving talks on their favorite authors.
The always spry Ducote sisters, friends of the hotel's owners, are helping underwrite the expenses, and they've insisted that Charlie, Helen, and Diesel join them. Anxious to get Helen Louise away from her bistro for a vacation, Charlie readily agrees. While Charlie is looking forward to relaxing with Helen Louise and Diesel, other members of the group have ulterior motives including a long-standing score to settle.
When an intrusive, uninvited guest turns up dead, only one mystery club member with a connection to the deceased appears to have a motive to kill. But could the answer really be that simple? Charlie and Diesel, along with the detecting Ducote sisters, know that every murder plot has an unexpected twist.

My Review:

This is my second cozy mystery this month where a significant part of the plot wraps itself around a literary genre and runs away with it. Earlier this month, Peachy Scream was set at a Shakespeare festival, involved a troupe of actors, and used Shakespearean plot devices in both the crime and especially its solution.

Cat Me If You Can is set at an extra-special meeting of the Athena Mystery Book Club, one where the Ducote sisters, Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce, take the entire club on a trip from Athena Mississippi to Asheville North Carolina, to a historic Bed and Breakfast near the famous Biltmore Estate, to get to know each other better, discuss their favorite Golden Age mystery writers, and get an insider tour of Biltmore.

But in the middle of this private little mystery convention, murder breaks out. When the ex-lover of not one but two members of the mystery club is murdered in the B&B, followed by the murder of one of the B&B’s staff, the mystery lovers are confined to the city by the local police.

It feels like they have found themselves in the middle of one of those Golden Age mysteries, and they’re all a bit worried that it might turn out to be Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Not a comfortable prospect for any mystery fan – or possibly any guest of the inn.

But Charlie Harris, professional librarian and very amateur sleuth, is in the midst of the action – as usual. And on the case, also as usual. But in this city far away from his usual haunts, it takes the assistance of both the formidable Miss An’gel and the surprise appearance of Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry straight from the Athens PD to keep Charlie out of the official soup and on the track of the killer.

Escape Rating B+: This series is a comfort read for me, and I was VERY comfortable reading this book. The cat on my lap was even apropos to the story!

But seriously, this is a series to read because you want to find out what’s up with the cast of characters – especially Diesel – and want to see what they’re up to since last you met. That was certainly true for me with Cat Me If You Can as it brought me up to date with all of the recent goings on in Athena. (If the sound of the series appeals, start with Murder Past Due. You don’t have to read them all to get into this one, but you do need to have read some in order to care enough about the characters for this latest entry to truly appeal.)

It also, at least temporarily, dealt with one of the major issues in ongoing, small town cozy mystery series. No one in their right mind would move to Athena, as the homicide rate must be well above the national average. In a small town like this one, that would have to be noticed.

I loved the shout-out to Cabot Cove and another series of small town mysteries that stretched this particular point of credulity. Charlie Harris and Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote would have a lot to talk about – including any possible stratagems for keeping their fellow townsfolk alive!

It was good to see Charlie – and the Ducote sisters, who also solve mysteries in the author’s Southern Ladies series – get away from their usual haunts while still bringing murder along for the ride.

It was also great fun to see the way that the group’s increasing confinement to their hotel began to resemble one of those cozy, small town Golden Age mysteries that they had come to discuss. A case of art imitating life imitating art – or something like that.

And while it was lovely to see Charlie and Helen Louise finally talking about getting married – I was a bit surprised that they didn’t just elope while in Asheville – it did strain credulity a bit that Charlie brought Diesel to Asheville.

Admittedly, I love the series FOR Diesel, but the logistics of dealing with a cat, even one as well-behaved as Diesel, often seemed intrusive. Although it was even more of a stretch when Athena’s Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry showed up. The point of getting the protagonist detective, whether amateur or professional, away from home in most stories is to take them out of their setting and away from their usual support group.

That the small, understaffed Athena Police Department was willing to second their only homicide detective to Asheville – a bigger city with more resources – was either a testament to the power of Miss An’gel Ducote, a bit too much of a stretch for the long arm of coincidence, or more than a bit of both.

The best part of this one wasn’t the mystery or its solution, but the book discussions that managed to take place between bodies, interviews, gossip and speculation. That part of the story was both a mystery reader’s and a librarian’s dream. I was particularly gratified to see a shout-out to two of my old favorites, Josephine Tey’s marvelous The Daughter of Time and it’s slightly more recent (1974 vs 1951) counterpoint, Elizabeth Peters’ The Murders of Richard III.

This is a book where I came for the comfort read. Conversely, I found the story even cozier than usual because they were able to travel where real life is still in the situation where it is just not advisable. I’m always happy to see how Diesel is doing, even if he was uncomfortable during a lot of this story and probably shouldn’t have been along for this ride. I wish there had been more of the book discussions, but that might not be most readers’ cup of tea.

And I’ll be looking forward, as always, to my next visit with Diesel and his human, in What the Cat Dragged In, just in time for my 10th Blogoversary next April!

Review: No Cats Allowed by Miranda James

Review: No Cats Allowed by Miranda JamesNo Cats Allowed (Cat in the Stacks, #7) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #7
Pages: 275
Published by Berkley on February 23, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Springtime in Mississippi is abloom with beauty, but the library’s employees are too busy worrying to stop and smell the flowers. The new library director, Oscar Reilly, is a brash, unfriendly Yankee who’s on a mission to cut costs—and his first targets are the archive and the rare book collection.   As annoying as a long-overdue book, Reilly quickly raises the hackles of everyone on staff, including Charlie’s fiery friend Melba—whom Reilly wants to replace with someone younger. But his biggest offense is declaring all four-legged creatures banned from the stacks.   With enemies aplenty, the suspect list is long when Reilly's body is discovered in the library. But things take a turn for the worse when a threatening e-mail throws suspicion on Melba.   Charlie is convinced that his friend is no murderer, especially when he catches sight of a menacing stranger lurking around the library. Now he and Diesel will have to read between the lines, before Melba is shelved under “G” for guilty…

My Review:

I pulled this out of somewhere deep in the virtually towering TBR pile because I was looking for a comfort read. I needed a book I could get into instantly. I just got the latest book in the series from Netgalley, and was sorely tempted to start it. Then I remembered that there was one of the earlier books I hadn’t read, so here we are, back in Athena Mississippi with Librarian Charlie Harris and his large and in charge Maine Coon cat Diesel.

And I dove right into this story with a sigh of relief – in spite of the murders – and didn’t emerge until I finished, feeling like my reading mojo was refreshed and that, if all is not right with the world, at least I could dive back into the reading pool from here.

One of the things I really liked about No Cats Allowed is just how true-to-life Charlie’s situation is in this book. Charlie Harris is a 50-something librarian in tiny Athena. After a career at the Houston Public Library, Charlie inherited a sprawling house in his home town and returned to his roots.

Between his inheritance and his pension, Charlie doesn’t need to work for a living. But he certainly does need to keep himself – and Diesel – mentally occupied. And that’s where his work for Athena College comes in, where he serves as the Rare Books Cataloger and maintains the archives. And also how he seems to find himself involved in solving murders.

But this particular case is absolutely steeped in the atmosphere of working in a library, and everything about solving this case is very much involved with the way that libraries work, and the way that they go wrong when they don’t.

In other words, the situation at the library and the college rang very true-to-life, even though the resulting murders were definitely fictional.

Not that the victim didn’t deserve it – although maybe not quite the way it happened.

When the bastard of an interim library director’s dead body is discovered crushed between the compact shelving in the library’s basement, it’s easier for Charlie to determine who didn’t want to kill the man than who did, because it seems like the entire library staff, and possibly a significant number of staff in the college as a whole, wanted him dead. And with good reason.

But nothing about the crime seems to add up. And neither do the library’s accounts – which may just be the motive after all.

Escape Rating A-: I had too much fun with this. It was just the right book at the right time, so I was all in from the first page and stayed in to the end. This was the only book in the series I hadn’t read, so it also answers a bunch of questions about situations that came up later, like the biggie about just how and why Charlie ended up as the interim library director, a job he definitely did not want, while the search for a new director was ongoing. And why they needed a new director in the first place.

Athena, like Cabot Cove and Midsomer County, has a terribly high murder rate for its population. It might be a very nice place to live but it seems like visiting can be a bit too deadly.

What was fun for this reader was the insight into the way that the library worked. All of Charlie’s colleagues reminded me very much of people that I worked with over my own career – including, I have to admit, both the murderer and the victim. As Charlie points out, neither management nor budgeting are skills taught in library school, so there’s a lot of “winging it” on both counts. Sometimes on VERY stubby wings.

The author of this series is a real-life librarian, and that experience certainly shows in Charlie’s working life in every book. He’s “one of us” and it reads as accurate. I’ve always said that Charlie is someone I’d love to have coffee with at a conference – when we get back to having in person conferences, that is.

As is usual with a cozy mystery series, part of what makes reading this so much fun is seeing where Charlie’s team is at in their lives. What’s lovely about Charlie’s team is that they are also his family, whether they are family by blood or family of choice. They’re just a lovely bunch of people, and that definitely includes Diesel.

Unlike some other felines in cozies, Diesel is just a cat. A very big cat, and an extremely well-behaved cat, but definitely a cat. (Diesel weights 36 pounds, approximately the weight of all four of our cats combined!) He’s a comfort – and a comfortable – animal. And in spite of being very chatty, as cats can sometimes be, he doesn’t speak in English. Not that he can’t make himself perfectly understood by his human, but that’s a talent that all cats have. Cat owners will love using CBD oil for cats when they get anxious or when they are in a bad mood.

But Diesel is utterly adorable in his very cat-ness, and the series, as well as the life of its protagonist, is richer for his presence. He’s a scene-stealer in the best possible way.

This is a series I love, and turn to whenever I need a comfort read. I’ll be back when the urge strikes, probably sooner rather than later considering just how uncomfortable 2020 has been so far, when Cat Me If You Can comes out later this summer.

Review: Careless Whiskers by Miranda James

Review: Careless Whiskers by Miranda JamesCareless Whiskers (Cat in the Stacks #12) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #12
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on January 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When librarian Charlie Harris' daughter is falsely accused of murder, he and his faithful feline Diesel must leap forward to crack the case in this all-new installment in the New York Times bestselling series.

Charlie Harris has sworn off investigating murder and mayhem after a recent close call. Instead, he's delighted to cheer on his daughter, Laura, who's starring in a production of Careless Whispers. The theater department at Athena College is debuting the play written by a fledgling playwright with local connections and Charlie's son-in-law, Frank Salisbury, will be calling the directorial shots.

Laura is upset to learn that Luke Lombardi, an overbearing actor she knew from her time in Hollywood will also be taking part in the production as a guest artist. Lombardi arrives with an entourage in tow and promptly proceeds to annoy everyone involved with the production. When he collapses and dies on stage, after drinking from a glass Laura handed him, she becomes the chief suspect in his murder.

Charlie knows his daughter is innocent, and he's not going to let anyone railroad his little girl. So, despite his intentions to put his amateur sleuthing days behind him, Charlie has to take center stage, and with Diesel's help, shine a spotlight on the real killer.

My Review:

I’ve generally enjoyed the whole Cat in the Stacks series, starting with Murder Past Due. And I’ve always felt that the amateur detective around whom this series is based, Charlie Harris, is very much, “one of us” librarians. Which seems totally right, because his creator is also a real-life librarian.

So it seemed particularly appropriate to pick up Careless Whiskers while I was attending the recent American Library Association Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia, as I’ve also always said that Charlie is someone I’d love to catch a drink or a cup of coffee with at a conference.

I also picked this book because of Charlie’s “large and in charge” sidekick, his 35-pound Maine Coon cat named Diesel. I always miss our kitties when we are away, so I felt the urge to settle in with a feline book baby as my own were too far away too snuggle.

There are plenty of hints dropped at the end of the previous book in this series, The Pawful Truth, to let the reader know that this story would be focused on Charlie’s daughter Laura and son-in-law Frank and the next production of the college’s theater department.

And so it proves, with Frank directing and Laura co-starring in Careless Whispers by Finnegan Zwake. This particular production is a big part of the department’s annual fundraiser, an event where they get a relatively big name star to come to tiny Athena Mississippi for a couple of weeks to star in a play in the usually correct assumption that the big name star will draw big donor fans.

This year is not going to be their best year. Possibly their most dramatic, but even though some of that drama does occur onstage it is not of the type that contributes to a long run of any play.

Not that either Frank or Laura is all that eager to see once-upon-a-time Tony nominee Luke Lombardi “grace” their stage or their town. Laura has worked with the overacting thespian before and has no real desire to deal with him again – ever.

But as much as she can’t wait to see the back of him – she doesn’t want to see him dead. For real. On stage. On opening night.

Especially not when it looks like she’s either the prime suspect – or the next victim.

Escape Rating B-: I really, really, really wanted to get into this and love it because this series is such a comfort read for me. I adore Diesel, especially because he’s so himself and so cat at the same time – and he’s just a sweet boy and a smart cat at the cat level of smart. Not that I don’t love Joe Grey in his series, but Joe is human-smart and sometimes human-confused and human-conflicted and it’s a different experience.

Diesel is just big and perfectly cat. He’s not ordinary, but he’s not extraordinary in any way that is outside his species norms. And he’s adorable with it.

And, as I said at the top, Charlie just seems like “one of us” librarians in ways that writers don’t always get right. So when I settled in to read I thought I’d be all in – and I just wasn’t.

This entry in the series fell a bit flat for me. As I look back I’m not quite sure why, either, but it just didn’t zing or gel or any of the things that usually happen when I visit Athena.

I think that a lot of that was the theater setting. If I wanted a murder mystery crossed with Noises Off, I’d have found one. I wanted Athena and got locked in a playhouse instead. Another way I keep looking at it is that there was too much show business and not enough murder business. Or it went too far over the top in more than one direction.

First there was the business with Lombardi’s dresser and his mistress, who happened to be married to each other. And were both French and seemed more like characters from one of Moliere’s farces than even half-real people.

Especially when combined with the two men pretending to be the playwright Finnegan Zwake – accompanied by the equally farcical goings-on surrounding that red herring. Their rivalry, at least, made more sense than the French farce, but it added more comic relief than this particular story needed.

Although, now that I think about it, the real reason this didn’t work for me was its lack of dramatic tension. The blurb lures you in, as I did above, with the idea that Charlie’s daughter Laura is going to be the prime suspect in the murder. But she never really is. Even the police detective admits that she doesn’t actually suspect Laura – just that she has to investigate her enough to cross her off her list. And, while Charlie torments himself with the possibility that Laura could have been the next victim, by the time his brain starts going down that path the possibility is already over.

So color me disappointed with this entry in the series. But I’ll still be back for Diesel’s next adventure, Cat Me if You Can. I just hope that 13 turns out to be a luckier number for the series!

Review: The Pawful Truth by Miranda James

Review: The Pawful Truth by Miranda JamesThe Pawful Truth (Cat in the Stacks #11) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #11
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When Charlie Harris decides to go back to school, he and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, find themselves entangled in a deadly lovers quarrel on campus in the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

In addition to his library duties and his role as doting grandad, Charlie has enrolled in an early medieval history course offered by young, charismatic professor Carey Warriner. Charlie feels a bit out of place- his fellow classmates are half his age- except for Dixie Bell Compton, another 'mature' student. When Charlie hears an angry exchange between her and their professor, his interest in piqued. He's even more intrigued when she shows up at his office asking for a study partner. Charlie turns her down and is saddened to learn just a few days later that Dixie has been killed.

Charlie wonders if Professor Warriner had anything to do with Dixie's death. Warriner is married to a fellow professor who happens to be a successful author. There are rumors on campus that their marriage was on the rocks. Was Dixie's death the result of a lovers' triangle gone bad? Charlie soon discovers that the professor's wife may have some secrets of her own and his suspect list is only getting longer.

As he and Diesel step further into the tangled web of relationships, someone else is viciously killed. Whose jealousy finally erupted into murderous rage? Was it a crime of passion or is there another more sinister motive? Charlie races to unravel this mystery: and to draw out the culprit, he may just have to put his own life on the line...

My Review:

I was looking for a comfort read this week. I’ve been reading too much fanfiction and haven’t been able to just dive into anything that I could write a review for. And the cats have been particularly adorable this week, which led me to Charlie Harris, his large and in charge Maine Coon cat Diesel, and the Cat in the Stacks series. As if that wasn’t enough of a reminder, I just picked up an eARC of the next book in the series!

Charlie Harris is the rare books librarian and archivist at Athena College in the cozy little small town of Athena Mississippi. Charlie, an alum of Athena College, spent most of his professional life in Houston, but returned home at the beginning of the series in Murder Past Due, when he inherited a lovely old house from his Aunt Dottie. (A far northerly version of this opening occurs in Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who series.)

By this 11th book in the series we’ve gotten to know Charlie, his friends and family, and the denizens of Athena fairly well. Especially Charlie’s large and colorful cat, Diesel. Maine Coons are generally large and fairly placid cats, but Diesel is exceptional even for his breed, as Charlie comments that he’s 37 pounds or so with the bone structure to carry that weight. Diesel can afford to be fairly laid back, as he is bigger than even some medium sized dogs.

Diesel is often a common sight around town, as he accompanies his person nearly everywhere that Charlie goes. But Diesel, for all his size and empathy, is never portrayed as anything more than just a very large cat who is smart on the feline intelligence scale. He doesn’t solve murders.

Yes, I want a Diesel of my own. Maine Coons are handsome and very well behaved.

Which is more than one can say for Ramses, the kitten that Charlie and Diesel adopted at the end of Six Cats a Slayin’.

If you’re getting the impression that I read this series more for the cat than his human, you might be right.

Nevertheless, Charlie Harris is an interesting sleuth, and the author, a real-life librarian, has done an excellent job of making Charlie read like “one of us” while still allowing the other characters to lampshade Charlie’s unfortunate resemblance to TV small town sleuth Jessica Fletcher.

Too many dead bodies seem to turn up in both of their wakes – to the point where one might wonder – as some of the other characters frequently do, whether Charlie’s luck is good or bad and whether or not it is safe to be in his orbit.

This particular case combines the character’s loves of both English literature and history with that oft-quoted quip by Henry Kissinger, the one that goes, “The reason that university politics is so vicious is because takes are so small.”

Only Charlie Harris could manage to audit a college class that results in not just one but two dead bodies. And ends with the killer’s hands wrapped around Charlie’s own throat.

Escape Rating B: I read this series for fun – and I certainly had fun reading The Pawful Truth. In spite of the terribly punny title.

This entry in the series provided a light read that instantly swept me back into the little town of Athena and Charlie Harris’ terrific family, whether those family members are by birth or by “adoption”.

(I’ll admit that I would also love to audit that class that Charlie does – Plantagenet and Tudor England was also my favorite period of history.)

But the mystery in this one was also interesting in the way that it spins out from what seems like a relatively simple case of love triangle gone wrong to something that in the end surprisingly resembles Shakespearean tragedy. A particular Shakespearean tragedy in fact – that of Othello.

It was fun to watch the case morph from the simple to the increasingly complex, even as Charlie did his usual job of digging into something that he should never have been part of in the first place – only to find himself in the middle yet again.

That this case looked to be based in the insular world of academia added yet more red herrings while also providing a semi-credible excuse for Charlie to involve himself way more than he ought to have. Not that Charlie ever needs much of an excuse.

And I was too busy catching up with all my friends in this series to spot who the murderer was, which just added to the fun.

I’ll definitely be back for the next book in the series, Careless Whiskers, whenever I need a little reading vacation in Athena.

Reviewer’s Note: As much as I always love Diesel, his behavior with the tiny and precocious kitten Ramses brought a smile to my face and reminded me very fondly of feline behavior in my own household. When Hecate was a tiny kitten Freddie used to “let” her chase him and “pretend” that she had thrown him to the ground. At the time, Hecate weighed 1.5 pounds (maybe) and Freddie about 12 pounds. Cats who want to play with each other in spite of a significant size difference will play just the way that Diesel and Ramses do and it’s utterly adorable.

Review: Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James

Review: Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda JamesArsenic and Old Books by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #6
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on February 15, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Athena, Mississippi, librarian Charlie Harris is known for his good nature—and for his Maine coon cat, Diesel, that he walks on a leash. Charlie returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but taking the plunge into a recent acquisition will have him in over his head…   Lucinda Beckwith Long, the mayor of Athena, has donated a set of Civil War-era diaries to the archives of Athena College. The books were recently discovered among the personal effects of an ancestor of Mrs. Long’s husband. The mayor would like Charlie to preserve and to substantiate them as a part of the Long family legacy—something that could benefit her son, Andrew, as he prepares to campaign for the state senate.   Andrew’s rival for his party’s nomination is Jasper Singletary. His Southern roots are as deep as Andrew’s, and his family has been bitter enemies with the Longs since the Civil War. Jasper claims the Long clan has a history of underhanded behavior at the expense of the Singletarys. His allegations draw the interest of a local reporter who soon asks to see the diaries. But she mysteriously vanishes before Charlie has a chance to show them to her…   Now Charlie is left with a catalog of questions. Even if the diaries turn out to be fakes, they could still be worth killing for. One thing is certain: Charlie will need to be careful, because the more he reads, the closer he could be coming to his final chapter…

My Review:

I picked this to read this week because this is National Library Week. I was looking for something that related to libraries in some way, and I was in the mood for a little bit of comfort reading. Any entry in the Cat in the Stacks series always fills both of those requirements!

I think that my friend Attila the Archivist would have a field day with this one. Not only does she love cats (Diesel is always a sweetie) but the mystery revolves around some Civil War diaries that are donated to the local university archives, and there’s a lot in here about proper handling of fragile material, the necessity of preservation, and just how much time and effort goes into preparing material for the collection and ultimate use by scholars.

And all of that mostly factual (I think, I’m not an archivist) information serves as the raisins in what turns out to be this very tasty Oatmeal-Raisin Cookie of a case.

(Diesel the cat always tries to get the cookies, but raisins aren’t good for cats. His human, Charlie Harris, seems to love Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and gets tempted by them fairly often in the story.)

The archival parts of this story begin when one of the prominent local families in tiny Athena Mississippi donates four volumes of Civil War-era diaries to the university archives. The Long family has been prominent in Athena since its founding in the early 1800s, and there will be plenty of history students at the university who will look to those diaries for research papers once they are available for use.

But archivist/librarian Charlie Harris is besieged from the moment the diaries are placed in his care. A local reporter demands access before the diaries have even been properly evaluated. And one of the history professors demands exclusive access to those same diaries – even more loudly and rudely – the moment they arrive in Charlie’s hands.

Things get crazier from there, as they often do when Charlie gets involved. He seems to be a magnet for trouble – and murder. Or he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. (Or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending upon one’s perspective. The local police detective seems to be of two minds about this. As one might imagine!)

The diaries are stolen. Then they’re mysteriously returned. And then, that loud and rude professor gets murdered. Charlie and those diaries find themselves in the thick of the case – and caught in the middle of a local political race that shouldn’t relate to 150-year-old diaries but somehow does just the same.

This is a case where words matter. Even words written over a century and a half ago. Or perhaps especially over those words.

Escape Rating B: I had a terrific time with this story – a terrific time that was certainly enhanced by the inclusion of a short story at the end that finally tells the tale of when Charlie met Diesel.

There are two things that I really love about this series. One is that the author is very clearly “one of us” librarians. Charlie Harris didn’t necessarily have to be a librarian, but since he is, it is important, at least to me, that he seem realistic. If he weren’t it would throw me (and probably most librarians) totally out of the story. The series is popular and ongoing, so it’s clear that the author managed to straddle the line between satisfying those of us “in the know” while still entertaining general readers.

Charlie Harris is a librarian that I’d love to have coffee with at any conference. And he’d fit right in.

The other thing is that while Diesel is most definitely large and in charge and utterly adorable, he’s just a cat. An extremely large cat – although not unrealistically so – but just a cat. He’s good at the things that cats are good at, bad at – and in the same manner – the things that cats are bad at. But he’s not more than felinely intelligent – if a bit high on the feline intelligence scale. But then, I’ve had cats of my own who were high on that scale – and also one who was extremely dim. There’s a range and Diesel fits within it.

This is my way of saying that series like The Cat Who and Sneaky Pie Brown and my personal favorite Joe Grey may be a lot of fun, but most cats should be cats and not detectives.

The case in this book turned out to be fascinating in a number of ways. One part of it was the application of the old saw about “academic politics being so vicious because the stakes are so small.” The corner of this mess that revolves around the tenure chase and the emotions engendered feels very realistic – even though that part of the case gets a bit far-fetched.

There’s also a lot about family history and family reputations and long-held grudges and resentments and how all of that plays out in the political arena. As well as more than a bit about the corruption of politics and just how the need to protect both a legacy and a reputation in that field can lead many people astray.

And at the heart of it all is the diary of a sometimes flighty young woman who matured at a time when the world was falling down around her. As well as the havoc she inadvertently wrecked and the strength she found to endure.

Review: Six Cats a Slayin’ by Miranda James

Review: Six Cats a Slayin’ by Miranda JamesSix Cats a Slayin' by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #10
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on October 23, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are busy decking the halls for the holidays when an unexpected delivery and a shocking murder conspire to shake up the season in this all new installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

December twenty-fifth is right around the corner, and Charlie is making his list and checking it twice. He is doing his best to show some peace and goodwill toward his nosy neighbor Gerry Albritton, a real estate agent who seems to have designs on his house (and maybe on him, as well), while preparing for a very important role, indeed--his first Christmas as a grandfather.

The last thing Charlie expects is to gain several new additions to his family. Charlie finds a box on his doorstep with five kittens inside and a note begging him to keep them safe. With Diesel's help, Charlie welcomes the tiny felines into the Harris household just as Gerry decides it is time to throw a lavish holiday party.

Determined to make her mark on Athena, Gerry instead winds up dead at her very own party. Though attempts to dig into her past come up empty, Charlie and his girlfriend, Helen Louise, witness two heated exchanges involving Gerry before her death: one with a leading citizen and another with the wife of a good friend. Will one of these ladies wind up on the sheriff's naughty list? Charlie and Diesel have to wrap up the case before the special season is ruined by a sinister scrooge.

My Review:

Even though it still feels too early to talk about the Xmas holidays, this was still the perfect book for this week. Why? Because just like Charlie Harris, we got a kitten this week. But we got just the one, while Charlie found five little ones on his and Diesel’s doorstep.

If our two boys turn out to be half the cat-uncle-babysitter that Diesel does, we’ll be very happy. Also totally astonished.

Back to the book…although our itteh bitteh kitteh is utterly adorable.

This is the holiday entry in the cozy mystery series Cat in the Stacks. Our hero, amateur detective and fellow librarian ends up with two mysteries to solve. One mystery has a suitably heartwarming ending for the holiday season and the other is a convoluted murder case.

There is no such thing as a “heartwarming” ending to a murder case. Someone has died before their time, and someone else needs to pay for bringing that time ahead of schedule.

The first part of the mystery is that stealth placement of five kittens on Charlie and Diesel’s doorstep, along with a note that lets Charlie know that although the kittens owner loves them, his or her male parent is not letting said owner keep them at home. Based on the handwriting, the owner is a child – and said parent is being a Grinch this Christmas.

So Charlie’s first mystery is to find the owner of the kittens, so that he can give that male parent a piece of his mind – as well as get the owner’s take on what to do with the kittens. They are almost old enough to be adopted out, so in the six to eight week range. And he can’t keep all five, as much as he wants to. Diesel is exhausted playing uncle to the brood.

At the same time, there’s a much darker mystery wrapped around the sudden advent of his new neighbor, Gerry Albritton. She claims to have lived in tiny Athena all of her life, but no one seems to recognize her. She looks vaguely familiar, but no one can place her. And there are no females of the right age on the well-known Albritton family tree.

Gerry is a mystery. Also a slightly distasteful one. She comes on much too strong to all of the men who get within grabbing distance, and makes everyone, especially Charlie, uncomfortable with her heavy-handed flirting. She’s also had the most garish holiday light display ever seen in Athena set up in, at and on her house.

Charlie needs blackout curtains to sleep at night.

But everyone in town is invited to the big holiday shindig she is hosting – and no one plans to miss it. Including Gerry’s murderer – whoever they might be. Whoever Gerry might be.

Escape Rating B+: This series is a comfort read for me, and I was certainly comforted by reading it. This series is always very cozy, with lots of friendly and family happenings stashed in between the bits of Charlie solving the murder. It is also not a series where you have to read the books in order to get into the action. Although I think it helps to have read at least one or two.

The fact is that I like Charlie. While his penchant for solving murders is a bit outside the usual librarian job description, what makes this series work for me is that Charlie sounds like “one of us”. His experiences as a librarian ring true for me as a librarian. If they didn’t it would throw me out of the story. (This reflects very much on the observations about scientists in Friday’s Putting the Science in Fiction review. When we know something intimately, and an author goes there, if the scenario doesn’t ring true the rest of the book falls flat. Or gets thrown against a wall.)

Charlie reads like “one of us librarians” because his creator is a real-life librarian. I’d be happy to have drinks at a library conference with either one of them.

I also like that Diesel, Charlie’s big, handsome Maine Coon cat, is intelligent for a cat but does not veer into human intelligence. I love Joe Grey in Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s series of the same name, but one cat detective is enough. Instead, Diesel makes himself a big part of the story by doing what cats do best – taking care of their people, making sure their people take care of them and getting into just the right amount of mischief.

Although Diesel’s role in this story is to keep the clowder of rambunctious kittens OUT of mischief. It’s an exhausting job, but somebody definitely has to do it!

The solution to the mystery of who dropped the kittens at Charlie’s door had just the right kind of light touch to offset the family crisis that Charlie has to deal with and especially with the increasing mystery that surrounds Gerry Albritton. Not just the mystery of her death, but first the mystery of her life. It’s impossible for either the police or Charlie to figure out whodunnit until they are able to discover who it was that got done.

Gerry’s life is a tragedy that turned into a triumph and ultimately back into the tragedy of her death.Once they figured out who she was, it was all too easy to figure out who benefitted from her death.

But the final tragedy was appropriately leavened by the advent of the most rambunctious of the kittens into Charlie and Diesel’s life. For good this time!