Review: Lowcountry Book Club by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Book Club by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Book Club (Liz Talbot Mystery #5) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #5
Pages: 268
Published by Henery Press on July 5, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Who could have pushed Shelby Poinsett out her second-floor library window besides her husband? In USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-winning author Susan M. Boyer’s new novel Lowcountry Book Club, Private Investigator Liz Talbot enters a tight-knit community of Charleston, SC’s genteel women who have gossip to spill, secrets of their own, and a hundred-year-old book club they are dying to join.

Newlywed couple and business partners Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews are hired by a prestigious Charleston law firm to prove the innocence of Shelby Poinsett’s husband, Clint Gerdhart, before his trial begins. As the two begin to dig into the case, they learn that Shelby may not have been the perfect wife everyone thought she was. When Liz uncovers a photo of Shelby and Sonny, a Talbot family friend and Charleston police officer, looking too cozy for comfort, Shelby’s true character comes into question. Did the woman who ran a book club, adopted animals, and volunteered at a homeless shelter have a past that would make someone kill?

As Liz interviews the eighteen members of the closed club, she notices an anger bubbling under these women’s polite exteriors. Through conversation, she finds that the hostile undertone of the book club began when Shelby was named president. Liz is convinced that one of them knows who pushed Shelby Poinsett out her window—or may be the murderer herself.

Liz must run the gamut of Southern society to keep an innocent man out of jail and bring a killer to justice. With Boyer’s authentic Southern voice, Lowcountry Book Club merges Charleston charm with a mystery that leaves readers guessing until the very end.

My Review:

After finishing The Queens of Innis Lear and The Poppy War, both epic fantasies and both epic tragedies, I went looking for something just a bit (OK a lot) lighter and brighter. And remembered the Liz Talbot series. I read the first few books (starting with Lowcountry Boil), enjoyed them, but ran into the “so many books, so little time” conundrum and picked up the subsequent books but never got around to them.

The seventh book in the series, Lowcountry Bookshop is coming out next month, which made this the perfect time to get caught up. I find mysteries to be a good “palate-cleanser” for reading, and this was definitely the right time!

The series features private investigator Liz Talbot, her business partner and new husband, Nate Andrews, and Liz’ guardian ghost, the spirit of her childhood best friend Colleen. Yes, you read that right, one of the main characters is a ghost.

But in spite of the woo-woo that Colleen occasionally contributes, the mystery in this story is very firmly grounded in the reality of here and now. Shelby Poinsett is dead, her husband is accused of her murder, and his lawyer believes that he is innocent and hires Liz and Nate to find the evidence before it is too late.

Shelby was rich, her husband inherits and no one else was in the house. It seems pretty cut and dried, and it looks like Shelby died for the oldest reasons in the book.

Except that no one believes her husband did it. And he already has his half of their very considerable fortune, and did not need to bump off his wife to get his hands on the cash. Theories abound. If it wasn’t the money, maybe jealousy was the motivating factor. There are nasty rumors that Shelby was having an affair.

But no one seriously believes that, either.

It seems impossible to believe that she died over the traditions of a 100-plus year old book club, but it’s starting to seem like what happens at book club stays at book club – at least until Liz prevails on old Southern hospitality and a few people’s need for hot gossip to wedge her way, if not into the inner circle, at least to a near-enough fringe to overhear the juiciest bits.

When someone starts taking poorly aimed potshots at both Liz and her best police pal, it’s obvious that they are getting close to something – even if they still can’t figure out what. Or who. Or why.

Escape Rating B: Lowcountry Book Club is just plain good fun, and it was exactly what I needed this week.

This is a case with a lot of red herrings – an entire school of them. On the one hand, no one seems to have wanted Shelby dead. She seems to be one woman who really was every bit as nice as people originally claimed she was,

Some of the “ladies” in the book club are pretty vile, or at least venal. Even so, the possible murder motives that stem from the book club seem pretty thin, at best. Unless someone really is seriously off their meds.

A lot of the investigation in this case involves removing possibilities, because they begin with a ton of potential suspects, no evidence at all, and very little time before the trial. But they also begin with the notes from the first investigator who worked on the case, and that’s where they finally unearth the leads, which are just a bit glaringly obvious in that direction if no other.

Lowcountry Book Club, in spite of the murder investigation, is a light, quick read. The two leads, Liz and Nate, are fun to follow and it’s a pleasure to see them working together in the middle of their happy ever after, in spite of some of the craziness that brought them together.

I was a bit disappointed that after all of the buildup, the motive for Shelby Poinsett’s murder was so… mundane. She sounded like such a great person, and there was so much drama in the investigation, that when the killer was eventually revealed it seemed a bit out of left field and felt a bit flat.

But I was still reminded of just how much i liked Liz and enjoyed the earlier books in the series. I’ll be back for Lowcountry Bonfire.

Review: Farewell My Cuckoo by Marty Wingate

Review: Farewell My Cuckoo by Marty WingateFarewell, My Cuckoo (Birds of a Feather Mystery #4) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Birds of a Feather #4
Pages: 268
Published by Random House Publishing Group - Alibi on April 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Julia Lanchester must defend her love nest from an invasive species: her boyfriend’s sister. And then there’s the little matter of murder . . .


“The cuckoo comes in April and sings its song in May. In June it changes tune and July it flies away.”

Wedding bells are ringing in the small British village of Smeaton-under-Lyme. Julia Lanchester’s second-in-command at the local tourist center is finally getting married, and the lovebirds are giving Julia and her live-in boyfriend, Michael Sedgwick, ideas about their own future. But before anyone can say “Will you,” Michael’s flighty older sister, Pammy, crashes the party, fresh off a breakup and lugging all her worldly possessions around with her in a tangle of plastic bags.

Before long, Julia’s cozy cottage starts feeling more like Pammy’s bachelorette pad. To keep herself from going cuckoo, Julia throws herself into her pet projects at work—until death disrupts her plans. First a body is found on the estate. Then the police discover that Pammy was the last one to see the man alive. And soon Julia gets the feeling that if she ever wants her home—or her boyfriend—back, she’ll have to get to the bottom of this mystery, even if it means breaking a few eggs.

My Review:

For every single relationship that has hit the rocks over a cheating spouse, an economic pitfall or irreconcilable differences, there are probably at least two that have come to a sad end because of a relative, on one side or the other, who is incapable of properly parsing the sentence, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” and just won’t leave – along with the person in the relationship who seems to be incapable of making them leave long after they’ve worn out whatever reluctant welcome they had in the first place.

In the case of Farewell My Cuckoo, it’s Michael’s irresponsible sister Pammy who has become the cuckoo in Julia and Michael’s rather tiny little cottage nest in Smeaton-under-Lyme. To the point where I half-expected Pammy to become the corpse in this entry in the series, with Julia as the prime suspect. (For more background on Julia, Michael and Smeaton-under-Lyme, start with the first book in the series, The Rhyme of the Magpie)

Instead, the mystery takes a different path, as an unidentified man is found dead near a local pond. While no one knows exactly who he is, it turns out that there are plenty of people in the village who had at least a nodding acquaintance with “Bob”, even though no one seems to know any of the truly pertinent facts about the man, like his full name, or even where he was staying. If he was staying.

Julia, along with her friend Willow and more than a bit of help from a tourist visitor as well as the seemingly immovable Pammy, can’t resist looking into Bob’s identity and what brought him to live “rough” somewhere in the neighborhood.

Nor can she resist poking her nose into other local mysteries, especially the fervent pursuit of her friend Nuala by a rude and unwelcome stranger who seems to be able to turn on the charm when he needs to get his way. A stranger who seems perfectly willing to mislead Nuala about his own marital status in order to worm his way into her bakery and teashop business. And who has a surprising connection to the late, lamented Bob.

Possibly even a connection worth killing for.

Escape Rating B: For a series that centers around birds, the mysteries are salted with a surprising number of tasty red herrings. It is all too easy to understand why Julia’s amateur sleuthing so often leads her astray – because the reader is right there with her.

Not that some of those false leads don’t uncover important little mysteries of their own, even if their pursuit takes Julia away from the central problem.

As a cozy mystery, Julia’s amateur investigations often take her deep into the heart of village life, and Farewell My Cuckoo is no exception. Poor dead Bob leads not only to his killer, but also to the breakup of a marriage and a dubious business proposition, as well as to a villager who has gone off the rails and to the final, sad end of a long-lost love.

A lot happens, and it is all, in its way, fascinating. But the central problem remains throughout the story, and it isn’t poor Bob’s corpse and how it got there, although it should be. A lot of time is taken up with Pammy and her interloping. The reader will gnash their teeth at the way that both Julia and Michael switch from enabling Pammy’s behavior to her face while vocally resenting it behind her back. And this reader at least was gnashing right beside them.

Julia’s solutions to the mysteries that she comes across are generally interesting and her investigations are often quite a lot of fun. She does, unfortunately, have a penchant both for finding herself in uncomfortable personal situations and getting herself and her helpers into deadly danger, and Farewell My Cuckoo was no exception on either front.

As much as they sometimes drive me a bit crazy, I really like both of this author’s heroines, and find them easy to identify with and fun to follow. But I’ll confess that Pru Parke of the Potting Shed series is my favorite, so I’m really looking forward to the next book that series, Midsummer Mayhem, coming in November.

Tour Participants

April 9 – Babs Book Bistro – GUEST POST

April 9 – View from the Birdhouse – SPOTLIGHT

April 10 – Blogger Nicole Reviews – SPOTLIGHT

April 11 – Reading Reality – REVIEW

April 12 – Readeropolis – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

April 13 – Teresa Trent Author Blog – SPOTLIGHT

April 14 – Maureen’s Musings – SPOTLIGHT

April 15 – Varietats – REVIEW

April 16 – Back Porchervations – REVIEW

April 17 – Mysteries with Character – AUTHOR INTERVIEW

April 18 – My Reading Journeys – REVIEW

April 19 – Brooke Blogs – SPOTLIGHT

April 20 – Laura’s Interests – REVIEW

April 21- Books a Plenty Book Reviews – REVIEW

April 22 – Cozy Up With Kathy – GUEST POST

Review: Claws for Concern by Miranda James

Review: Claws for Concern by Miranda JamesClaws for Concern (Cat in the Stacks, #9) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #9
Pages: 277
Published by Berkley Books on February 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are embroiled in a new mystery when a cold case suddenly heats up in the latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series.

Charlie Harris has been enjoying some peace and quiet with his new grandson when a mysterious man with a connection to an unsolved murder starts visiting the library...

My Review:

April 8-14 is National Library Week. In honor of this week, one that celebrations Libraries and Librarians, I searched the virtually towering TBR pile for a book that related to libraries. Instead of choosing something serious, I went for the lighthearted approach, and snagged Claws for Concern, a cozy mystery by a librarian that features a librarian-cum-amateur sleuth.

While the book managed to be mostly light-hearted, in spite of the surprising number of murders that librarian Charlie Harris seems to trip over in his small Mississippi town, there was also a bit of real librarian seriousness in the background, which makes this the perfect book for this week after all.

The Cat in the Stacks series, which began with Murder Past Due, features the extremely large Maine Coon cat Diesel and his human, librarian Charlie Harris. Diesel does not solve crimes, and he never does anything that is not within the bounds of normal feline behavior, but he is probably the reason a lot of people read the series. We all want a cat just like him because he’s not merely large and intelligent (on the scale of cat intelligence – not human) but he is also incredibly well-behaved.

But of course it’s the human’s point of view that we follow. Librarian Charlie Harris, in spite of his penchant for involving himself in murder investigations, is very much “one of us”. The series is written by a librarian, and Charlie, at least at his actual work, is quite true to life. He does the things that many of us do, puts up with many of the things we have to put up with, and has many of the same gripes and complaints that real-life practicing librarians do, as well as many of the joys and intellectual challenges that make up library-life.

The murder in this particular entry is a cold case. It was refreshing not to have Charlie trip over yet another dead body, as the population of tiny Athena Mississippi and its surrounds would be decimated if he kept up at the rate he was going. But this cold case turns out to be tied to his family, albeit tangentially.

Long before the aunt from whom Charlie inherited his lovely house married the man that Charlie knew as his uncle, said uncle was previously married and divorced. And had a child he never knew about. That child is now in his 60s, seems a bit down on his luck, and is haunting Athena looking for information about the father he never knew.

But the poor man was also the suspect in a long-ago multiple murder, and it seems as if there is someone in town who either wants to settle the old score – or who wants to keep old Bill Delaney from revealing what he knows about that bloody, long ago, night.

Charlie isn’t sure whether his recently discovered cousin is a murderer who got off scot-free, or about to be the victim of a murder in the here and now. But he and his new associate are determined to find out – one way or another.

Escape Rating B: This is a cozy series, so it’s always a light read – no matter how many dead bodies Charlie stumbles over. This particular entry feels unique in that there are no new murders. And that’s probably good for the population of Athena.

Instead, Charlie finds himself investigating a cold case with the help of a new friend who has a history of conducting his own amateur investigations in a nearby town. Jack Pemberton writes true-crime books, investigates cold cases, and wants to feature Charlie and other amateur sleuths in his next book. Together they bring new light to a case that everyone believed was cut and dried if not open and shut.

The process for opening the investigation reads very much like an oral history project, something conducted by many librarians and archivists (Charlie is both) over the years. There is no new forensic evidence – only evidence that may have been overlooked or just needs to be looked at in a new light.

But with a 20-year-old case Charlie and Jack have to find people who were around at the time, and interview them. Not that they don’t think everyone was interviewed at the time, but they need to form their own impressions. And it is always possible that someone remembers something they didn’t back then, or that someone was covering for someone who is now beyond earthly justice.

It is always fun to follow Charlie as he works, whether it’s his work at the library or his work as an amateur detective. Especially when he brings Diesel along with him. Athena is a nice place to visit, Charlie is a terrific person to visit it with, and I always enjoy my time with Diesel. This series is a comfort read for me, and I know I’ll be back for more when the mood arises.

One serious library issue gets raised early in the book, and it’s one that I want to talk about before I close. As a volunteer staff member at the Athena Public Library, Charlie has access to the library circulation system. He can look up people’s library cards, see where they live and what they’ve checked out. In libraries, this is a huge privacy issue, and there have been plenty of court cases about what staff can reveal to anyone other than the cardholder, including law enforcement. But when Charlie discovers that the old man who keeps coming into the library is looking up Charlie’s own address in the old City Directories, Charlie can’t resist the temptation to look up the man’s library card and see who he is and where he lives. Charlie knows he’s not supposed to do this, he has resisted the temptation on previous cases, but can’t resist temptation when he knows that this person is looking for him or his family and casing his house. Charlie feels guilty about it immediately afterwards, and so he should. Protecting patron privacy is one of the cornerstones of library service. He does not let himself off easily for his transgression, nor should he.

In celebration of National Library Week, please visit your local library and/or (preferably AND) tell your local powers that be that you value your library and want to see it continue to be funded and to serve your community.

Review: The Silence of the Library by Miranda James

Review: The Silence of the Library by Miranda JamesThe Silence of the Library (Cat in the Stacks, #5) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #5
Pages: 308
Published by Berkley on January 28th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Everyone in Athena, Mississippi, knows Charlie Harris, the librarian with a rescued Maine coon cat named Diesel. He’s returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but a celebrated author’s visit draws an unruly swarm of fanatic mystery buffs…and one devious killer.

It’s National Library Week, and the Athena Public Library is planning an exhibit to honor the centenary of famous novelist Electra Barnes Cartwright—creator of the beloved Veronica Thane series.

Charlie has a soft spot for Cartwright’s girl detective stories (not to mention an extensive collection of her books!). When the author agrees to make a rare public appearance, the news of her whereabouts goes viral overnight, and series devotees and book collectors converge on Athena.

After all, it’s rumored that Cartwright penned Veronica Thane stories that remain under wraps, and one rabid fan will stop at nothing—not even murder—to get hold of the rare books…

My Review:

I opened The Silence of the Library immediately after I finished Out of Circulation. I was still looking for comfort reads, and I found Diesel, Charlie Harris and the fine people of Athena Mississippi very comfortable to spend more time with.

But as comfortable a read as this was, it also confirmed my opinion that series like this are not meant to be read back to back (to back). Some of what is cozy for one book at a time starts to feel just a bit cloying when repeated.

And the central theme of this mystery just wasn’t quite as interesting as the classic mystery theme of Out of Circulation. On that, one’s reading mileage may certainly vary.

The Silence of the Library of the title does not refer to an actual silent library. I think the librarian-sleuth of the series, Charlie Harris, would agree that few 21st century libraries are ever silent – except possibly when they are closed. The days of the shushing librarian are far in the past, if they ever existed at all.

Instead, the title is reminiscent of those of classic juvenile mystery series like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and the Hardy Boys. The first Nancy Drew story was The Secret of the Old Clock, Trixie Belden’s first outing was in The Secret of the Mansion, while the Hardy Boys first adventure was The Tower Treasure. All the titles of all the series sounded a lot like The Silence of the Library, as intended.

Many people read (and still read) those old series, and a lot of us have fond memories of the books. The old books, the original copies that is, have become collectibles. Hasn’t everything?

Like many people, Charlie Harris has fond memories of reading those old series, including local author Electra Barnes Cartwright and the young detective she created, Veronica Thane. But unlike most people, when Charlie inherited his aunt’s house in Athena, he also inherited her extensive collection of all of those old series, including a series of first-edition Veronica Thane.

And that’s where the story begins. The Athena Public Library plans to feature all of those beloved series as part of their National Library Week display, so when they discover that Electra Barnes Cartwright is still alive (at nearly 100), lucid, and living near Athena, they make plans to invite her to the celebration for as much of the event as she’s willing and able to handle.

News of her first public appearance in decades brings all the crazy collectors out of the proverbial woodwork – and exposes the mercenary nature of EBC’s relatives. Everyone seems to want a piece of the old lady while she’s still around to take pieces out of.

It’s all fun and games (well, not really fun for Charlie or the library) until the dead bodies start piling up. Then it turns into a case for Veronica Thane herself. But since she’s not available, librarian and amateur detective Charlie Harris will just have to step in and solve the mystery in her place.

Escape Rating B: This was fun and I enjoyed it, but there were a few too many crazy people and not enough Diesel to make me as happy about this one as I was Out of Circulation.

Part of what I love about this series is that Charlie Harris feels like a real librarian (because his creator IS a real librarian). Charlie reads like someone I’d meet or hear speak at a conference. However, the downside of that verisimilitude is that the situations he gets into, except for the actual investigations, also feel really close to home.

There are crazy collectors just like the ones he meets in the story. Unfortunately, part of the reality of dealing with the general public is that all sorts of behaviors appear at our public service desks, including every nasty thing that happens in this story – except the murders. In other words, I didn’t like most of the characters introduced for the purposes of this story, but I have met all too many like them in real life.

The fanaticism of the collectors and the insularity of their world also reminded me a bit of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb – although this time it’s not the author who is so nasty that everyone expects them to be the victim long before it happens. But there’s a similar flavor.

The look back at those well-loved juvenile mystery series will be fascinating to any bibliophile, even one like me who dipped their toes into the series but didn’t fall head over heels. At the same time, the story within a story, where Charlie is reading one of the Veronica Thane books and discovers parallels between the story and “real life” will bring a smile to the face of anyone who remembers those books fondly.

Review: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay

Review: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlayBooks Can Be Deceiving (Library Lover's Mystery, #1) by Jenn McKinlay
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Library Lover's Mystery #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on July 5th 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lindsey is getting into her groove as the director of the Briar Creek Public Library when a New York editor visits town, creating quite a buzz. Lindsey's friend Beth wants to sell the editor her children's book, but Beth's boyfriend, a famous author, gets in the way. When they go to confront him, he's found murdered-and Beth is the prime suspect. Lindsey has to act fast before they throw the book at the wrong person.

My Review:

I discovered this series as a read-alike for the Cat in the Stacks series by Miranda James, and it certainly. Both feature real-seeming librarians in almost-real libraries in small towns that are just perfect. Although I did miss Diesel, the librarian’s very large cat from the Cat in the Stacks series.

But where the Cat in the Stacks series is set in Athena Mississippi, the Library Lovers mysteries hail from Briar Creek Connecticut. Let’s just that the autumns are obviously a lot blustrier in coastal Connecticut than in the landlocked parts of Mississippi.

Unlike Charlie Harris at the beginning of the Cat in the Stacks series, Library Director Lindsey Norris is the relatively new director of the small town Briar Creek Public Library. She is also female, single, unencumbered and in her mid-30s – very different from widowed, 50-something Charlie with his grown children – and Diesel.

Lindsey on the other hand, is still feeling her way professionally and personally. Briar Creek is her first posting as the library director, and it’s not a career turn she had planned on. She had been an archivist at one of the Yale University libraries when budget cuts forced her to look in other directions. She found the position in Briar Creek because her best friend from grad school is the children’s librarian there.

Being a new, first-time director has its challenges. But no one plans on having one of their staff, particularly a friend, accused of murder. It’s difficult to tell which is worse, that Beth had both the motive and the opportunity for murdering her ex, or that the local sheriff is so determined to take the easy way out and place the blame on the “woman scorned” that he isn’t even looking for any other suspects.

He’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, either, and his bull-headedness is clearly driving the detective from the state Bureau of Investigation bonkers.

But with the local sheriff doing his level best to make sure Beth is found guilty, and the local press more than willing to stir up trouble just for the ratings, it’s up to Lindsey to focus her research skills on the late and not very lamented, to see if there’s someone else who might have a motive to end his existence.

The problem is that Lindsey’s research skills, as formidable as they are, barely keep her one step ahead of the killer – a step that closes faster than she expected.

Escape Rating B: I came down with the flu, and was looking for comfort reading again. As this will be posted just before I run off to the American Library Association Midwinter Conference, yet another library mystery seemed like a good fit.

Lindsey Norris does seem like “one of us”, much as Charlie Harris does. And for the same reason – her creator is also a library worker. But where I’d love to sit down and have coffee with Charlie, Lindsey reminds me much more of the “road not taken”. I often thought about becoming a library director but when I was interested I wasn’t able to make the leap, and eventually I realized that it just wasn’t my calling in the profession.

Seeing what Lindsey deals with, even in a fictional and perfectly imperfect library reminds me that I was right.

This story is the introduction to the series, the characters and the town of Briar Creek, and it does put the reader firmly into the middle of the action. Lindsey, as a transplant from somewhere else, is still warming up to the little town, and vice-versa, which makes her a good point of view character for the reader.

As is often the case, the case itself, the murder at the heart of the mystery, is just a bit over the top, but the scenes of small town life and Lindsey fitting herself into it are well done. The reader can certainly see why she’s fallen in love with the place.

A lot of what happens in the Briar Creek Public Library is very true to library life, both the good and the bad. Every library, big and small, has patrons just like those in Briar Creek, the good, the bad, the loud, the demanding, the weird and the obstreperous.

The staff, while occasionally a bit too good to be true and sometimes a bit too bad or weird to be true, is also quite  true-to-life. And unfortunately that includes the nasty character of Ms. Cole, the head of the circulation department and the disapprover of everything that Lindsey, Beth and anyone not the previous (and deceased) library director. That Ms. Cole can’t let go of her resentment of change and the advent of the 21st century is unfortunately all too plausible. I’ve worked both with and for people like her in my career (and supervised a few), and saying that it is never fun is a serious understatement.

But Lindsey is the new director of the library. That makes her Ms. Cole’s boss, whether either or them likes it or not. That Lindsey, with just about six months tenure under her belt, has not figured out what to do about Ms. Cole yet is not surprising. The woman is a fixture in the library and the community – even if a frequently resented one. The problem isn’t just that Ms. Cole challenges Lindsey’s authority at every turn, although that is a problem.

What I found questionable, to the point where it threw me out of the story, is that Lindsey isn’t even thinking about what she should do about Ms. Cole. While the reality is that the answer may be very little, she’s at the point in her job where she should be at least thinking about some changes. This disturbed me because Lindsey makes it clear at one point that she is aware that part of the joy of the job from Ms. Cole’s perspective is to torment and browbeat the library shelvers, who are usually teenagers in their very first job. While life isn’t fair, and bad things happen to good people, etc., etc., etc., for Lindsey to be aware of this and not even be thinking about what to do about this aspect of Ms. Cole’s performance of her duties is problematic.
And now I’ll get down off my soapbox.

But if you like cozy mystery series like Cat in the Stacks, or other small town mystery series that feature the mainstays of the town, Books Can Be Deceiving is a lot of fun. I have the other books in the series and I’m looking forward to returning to Briar Creek the next time I need a comfort read.

Reviewer’s Note: One of the reviews listed in Goodreads for this book was written by a dear and departed friend. I knew that if she liked it, I would too. I wish I could talk about it with her, because I’d love to hear the snark that she left out of her review!

Review: Out of Circulation by Miranda James

Review: Out of Circulation by Miranda JamesOut of Circulation (Cat in the Stacks, #4) 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 #4
Pages: 289
Published by Berkley on January 29th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Everyone in Athena, Mississippi, knows Charlie Harris, the librarian with a rescued Maine coon cat named Diesel. He's returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but when a feud erupts between the town's richest ladies, the writing on the wall spells murder.

The Ducote sisters are in a tiff with Vera Cassity over the location of this year's library fundraising gala, and Charlie would rather curl up in a corner than get into the fray. It seems everyone--even his housekeeper Azalea--has it in for Vera. And at the gala, she gives them good reason, with a public display of rancor aimed at anyone who gets in her way.

But those bitter words wind up being her last. When Charlie discovers Azalea standing over Vera's dead body, it's up to him--with a little help from Diesel--to clear Azalea's name, and catch a killer before his last chapter is finished.

My Review:

Part of what I enjoy so much about the Cat in the Stacks mystery series is that Charlie Harris feels like “one of us” – one of us librarians that is. He’s someone that I could imagine sitting down with at a library conference, laughing about our coincidentally shared last name and swapping stories about the library career we have very much in common.

And telling each other cat stories, because Diesel is definitely a cat worth talking about. Diesel may be extra-large, even for a Maine Coon (a typically large breed) but Diesel’s outsized personality is all cat. He doesn’t solve crimes, he doesn’t nudge clues, but he does provide his person and the people that surround him with outsized doses of sympathy when needed and love all the time, as well as the occasionally well-deserved “diss” when he feels ignored.

They all do that, too. You haven’t been seriously dissed until you’ve been dissed by a cat who believes he hasn’t gotten his or her due – and they all think that on occasion, no matter how good we usually are at being catservants.

There are also a lot of librarians who are mystery readers, and a lot of librarians who are owned by cats. This particular story puts those two well-known penchants together into a marvelously cozy little mystery.

In the end, it isn’t a surprise that Vera Cassity was murdered – it’s much more of a surprise that it took so long. And that it happened in the middle of a mystery-themed gala fundraiser for the Athena Public Library.

Vera wasn’t merely unpopular, she seemed to go out of her way to piss people off. That someone had finally had enough isn’t much of a surprise.

But what is a surprise is that the Sheriff seems to be concentrating his investigative attention on Charlie’s long-time housekeeper Azalea Berry. Not because Azalea had any more motive than anyone else, but because digging into any dirt he can find on Azalea will splash mud onto her daughter Kanesha – who looks to be the Sheriff’s rival in a not-too-distant election.

Of course, in this cozy mystery, the red herrings abound, and nothing is quite as it seems. Charlie, as always, does finally manage to figure out who really done it, but that’s not all he uncovers in this lovely little mystery. The secrets he didn’t expect to find turn out to be more explosive than the ones he was actually looking for.

Escape Rating A-: This was definitely a case of “right book at the right time”. I was looking for a comfort read to get myself back into the reading and reviewing swing, and discovered through trial and error that there were a whole bunch of genres I just was not in the mood for. A cozy mystery like Out of Circulation turned out to be just right. Especially since we missed our own cats very much while we were away.

I always love Diesel. He is just such a marvelous cat. Also a LOT of cat. But very cat. Not psychic, not human level intelligent, just big and loving and occasionally snarky (in a cat way) and very sweetly, demandingly, cat. I’ve had cats that have had individual bits of Diesel’s purrsonality (although quite not his huge size) but never one that had all these qualities at once. Every time Diesel appears in the story I got a chuckle.

And yes, we all talk to our cats the way that Charlie does and we all think they understand on some level. They’ve trained us well.

Part of the fun of this particular story were the allusions to many classic mystery series. At the costume party where the murder takes place, all of the guests were dressed, not as famous historical figures or in typical Halloween costumes, but in very clever costumes that paid homage to some of my own favorite mystery writers and fictional detectives.

Of course, it’s always just fun and games until the dead body is discovered, and so it proves in Out of Circulation.

The thoughtful part of this story revolved around the other mystery that Charlie looks into. Athena Mississippi is a small Southern town where memories are long and whose founding families are still represented in the current population. Charlie’s dilemma reflected a professional ethical issue that will be understood by any librarian or archivist, and the way that he handled it would serve as a terrific example for anyone in the professional on how to handle a problem like this one – which probably happens more often than we think. Every family has skeletons in the closet if you look back far enough.

And the way that the remaining family members handled the issue once it was discovered? Well that was just classy. It’s no wonder that the author has spun those particular characters off into their own series, because they are wonderful steel magnolias.

Review: Of Spice and Men by Sarah Fox + Giveaway

Review: Of Spice and Men by Sarah Fox + GiveawayOf Spice and Men by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #3
Pages: 256
Published by Random House Publishing Group on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Lights. Camera. Murder? Wildwood Cove’s star turn is soured by a sneaky killer in this delicious cozy mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of The Crêpes of Wrath.

Bonus content: includes original recipes inspired by the Flip Side Pancake House menu!

With a Hollywood film crew in town to shoot a remake of the horror classic The Perishing, the residents of Wildwood Cove are all abuzz. Even Marley McKinney, owner of The Flip Side Pancake House, can overlook the fact that the lead actress, Alyssa Jayde, happens to be an old flame of her boyfriend. After all, the crew loves Marley’s crêpes—so much so that Christine, the head makeup artist, invites her onset for a behind-the-scenes tour. But when Marley arrives, the special-effects trailer is on fire . . . with Christine inside.

The cops quickly rule Christine’s death a murder, and Alyssa a suspect. Marley’s boyfriend insists that the actress is innocent, but when Marley sticks her nose into the complicated lives of The Perishing’s cast and crew, she discovers more questions than answers. It seems that everyone has a hidden agenda—and a plausible motive. And as the horror spills over from the silver screen, Marley gets a funny feeling that she may be the killer’s next victim.

Sarah Fox’s addictive Pancake House Mysteries can be enjoyed together or à la carte: THE CRÊPES OF WRATH | FOR WHOM THE BREAD ROLLS | OF SPICE AND MEN

My Review:

One of the things that makes cozy mysteries so cozy is that they are often set in small towns where there are lots of quirky and interesting characters and everyone knows everyone else’s business. One of the dilemmas of cozy mystery series set in small towns is that sooner or later the reader starts to wonder why anyone would continue to live in place where the odds of becoming either a murder victim or a murder suspect are so disproportionately high.

Could there be any remaining residents in Midsomer County who have not been involved in murder at some point? Or Cabot Cove?

In Of Spice and Men, the third book in the Pancake House mystery series, the author has solved the problem by bringing a film crew to the tiny town of Wildwood Cove. This is the kind of thing that really does happen, and lives in the town’s memories for decades after.

(If you are ever in tiny Micanopy, Florida they still have plenty of memorabilia from the local filming of the 1991 film Doc Hollywood on display)

The movie being filmed in Wildwood Cove is the remake of the cult horror classic The Perishing (apropos title, all things considered!), and the little coastal town has plenty of Victorian houses to use as stand-ins for the creep-o-rama. The film shoot is a lot of excitement for Wildwood Cove, but things get a bit too exciting when our amateur sleuth, Marley McKinney, finds the first victim in a burning trailer on set.

Marley tried to rescue the woman, but she was already dead when Marley found her. And even though Marley couldn’t have saved her, she still feels guilty that she didn’t. That’s enough to get Marley started on the case, even though, as usual, the sheriff would rather she resisted her impulse to conduct yet another amateur investigation.

When Marley discovers that the heroine of the movie is her boyfriend’s ex, that said ex is the prime suspect in the murder, that she expects Brett to “take care of things” with his uncle the sheriff, and that, most unnerving of all, Brett seems to be going along with her demands, Marley sees red. And green. Particularly as Brett keeps defending the woman, refusing to admit that she had both opportunity and motive.

After a lot of soul searching, Marley decides that solving the murder is the fastest way to get Allison Jayde out of her life – whether by landing her in jail for good or absolving her so that she doesn’t need Brett’s help. And who can blame her?

But the deeper that Marley digs, the more complicated the case gets. There are too many people who might have had a motive to kill the victim, and even more people who had a motive to pin it on the selfish and shallow Allison Jayde.

As Marley frequently complains, she has way more questions than she has answers. Right up to the moment she finds herself face-to-face with the murderer, and suddenly it all makes sense.

Unfortunately for Marley, it also makes sense for the murderer to make sure that she can’t reveal what she’s figured out to anyone else. Ever.

Escape Rating B: In the end, that I am still following this series boils down to the fact that I like Marley as the main character. Not just that she’s both plucky and nosy, but also the way that she has taken on the changes in her life and made a new life for herself in a new place with new (and interesting) people.

It takes as much courage in real life to immerse yourself in new surroundings with new people and especially take on the ownership of a business as it fictionally does to poke her nose into murder.

I like just how grounded Marley is, and how responsible she is. She genuinely does care about her town, her friends and her business – and occasionally that caring gets her into trouble.

It is interesting that all of the crimes she has poked her nose into, at least so far, have touched on her life directly in one way or another. Her first time out she was investigating the death of the cousin who left her the Flip Side Pancake House (The Crepes of Wrath). In her second “case” she investigated the death of a local misanthrope because Marley herself was the prime suspect (For Whom the Bread Rolls). Now in her third “case” she’s looking into the murder in order to get her boyfriend’s ex out of town as fast as possible.

No one’s circle of acquaintances in real life is quite this murder-prone, but it does make for quirky mysteries.

The case that Marley is stuck in this time has a lot of twists and turns. And this time out the victims, suspects and witnesses are all outsiders, so Marley has a difficult time finding out who wants to do what to whom. There’s plenty of drama (and melodrama) both onscreen and off, and Marley has her hands full sorting out what is real and what is make believe.

But she’s likeable and always fun to watch. Enough so that I’m looking forward to her next adventure.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Best Laid Plants by Marty Wingate

Review: Best Laid Plants by Marty WingateBest-Laid Plants (Potting Shed Mystery #6) by Marty Wingate
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Potting Shed #6
Pages: 281
Published by Random House Publishing Group - Alibi on October 17th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A trip to the English countryside turns into a brush with death for Pru Parke, the only gardener whose holiday wouldn’t be complete without a murder to solve.

Pru and her husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, are long overdue for a getaway. So when Pru is invited to redesign an Arts and Crafts garden in the picturesque Cotswolds, she and Christopher jump at the chance. Unfortunately, their B&B is more ramshackle than charming, and the once thriving garden, with its lovely Thyme Walk, has fallen into heartbreaking neglect. With the garden’s owner and designer, Batsford Bede, under the weather, Pru tackles the renovation alone. But just as she’s starting to make headway, she stumbles upon Batsford’s body in the garden—dead and pinned beneath one of his limestone statues.

With such a small police force in the area, Christopher is called upon to lead the investigation. Pru can’t imagine anyone murdering Batsford Bede, a gentle man who preferred to spend his time in quiet contemplation, surrounded by nature. But as her work on the garden turns up one ominous clue after another, Pru discovers that the scenery is more dangerous than she or Christopher could have anticipated

Pru Parke digs up buried secrets in this charming series from an author who “plants clever clues with a dash of romantic spice to satisfy any hungry mystery reader” (Mary Daheim).

My Review:

Another garden, another dead body. If one didn’t know better one could easily wonder if master gardener Pru Parke was somehow planting “corpse seeds” wherever she went. Because no matter where Pru travels to consult on gardens, whether in her beloved England or her native Texas, she seems to have a knack for finding a body, and getting herself involved in a murder investigation.

This particular case is return trip to the Cotswolds for Pru, with the intent of helping to bring back a famous Arts and Crafts style garden, visit friends and reminisce about her first trip (The Garden Plot) where she spent much of her time interfering in DCI Christopher Pearse’s murder investigation. Now Christopher is her husband, and this is supposed to be a bit of a vacation.

Until she trips over a body. As Pru so often does.

As Pru’s cases go (and they are all Pru’s cases, in spite of Christopher being a police detective) this one is a bit of a hodge-podge. A fact which is fitting for the garden she has come to restore, which began as rather a beautiful hodge-podge of the early 20th century Arts and Crafts Movement, but has descended into a neglected mess, albeit one with “good bones”.

And, as Pru inevitably discovers, real bones. Pru finds her erstwhile employer dead in the garden, under a fallen statue. But what should have looked like a clear case of accidental death is, of course, anything but.

The statue is all too obviously not the cause of death. It may be trapping the old man’s body, but it isn’t actually touching it. And Pru heard the sound of hammering, which is what drew her to the scene in the first place. The poor statue was quite securely on its plinth until someone viciously attacked it with a sledgehammer – someone who Pru obviously interrupted.

And there’s no blood at the scene. Anyone who has ever watched murder mysteries on TV knows that there’s blood at the actual murder site – especially if falling statuary is involved!

Poor old Batsford Bede was definitely murdered. And while he may have been in a physical decline, and he’s definitely very dead – he was far, far from poor. And wherever there’s a will, there’s a list of people who may have wanted to collect on their inheritance sooner rather than later, and another list of people who are at the very least unhappy that they are not one of the favored few.

This case positively sprouts with potential murderers with heaps of motive, and red herring clues that are so obviously planted that they stink like three day old fish.

It’s up to Pru and Christopher to figure out whodunnit and whydunnit before the wrong person gets convicted of a murder they certainly did not commit.

And, as usual for Pru, she figures it all out, but almost too late to save herself.

Escape Rating B: I love this series, and will cheerfully scoop up any mystery that Marty Wingate writes. (She also writes actual gardening books, and that’s just not my jam)

As much as I also enjoy her other series, Birds of a Feather, the Potting Shed mysteries have a special place in my heart because of, well, Pru’s heart. And Pru herself. It is not often, and not nearly often enough, that our heroine is a woman of a certain age who has found realistically portrayed romance, a new career in a new place, and becomes an amateur detective. Miss Marple falling in love with one of her oh-so-helpful detectives and continuing to solve mysteries – just with more respect.

But I said that this case was a bit of a hodge-podge. Part of that hodge-podge is the way that the story opens. Pru arrives in the Cotswolds with Christopher, and nothing is as it was purported to be – except the state of the garden. It’s not just that their B&B is a throwback to the 1970s disaster. That part of the story eventually becomes surprisingly heartwarming.

The crazy-making bit is the person who hired Pru, and her extremely evasive answers about the nature of the job and the state of the person who owns the estate. Coral Summersun is both there and not-there in a way that drove this reader a bit batty.

And one of Christopher’s exes lives in town. At the beginning of the story, there’s a bit too much melodrama. Once the body falls down, the story heats up. From that point onwards, everything runs at a very fast clip as Christopher finds himself back in harness and, for once, officially enlists Pru’s help with the investigation.

The killer hides in plain sight and keeps the police and Pru distracted, both by arranging for a series of minor disturbances to happen elsewhere, and by throwing false clues everywhere, all pointing to very plausible suspects.

There’s also more than a bit of heartbreak attached to this case. As Pru dives into the weeds of the garden, she learns the story of just how it came to be, and the ultimately tragic romance between Batsford Bede and Coral’s mother. It’s a shared loss that at first united the unlikely pair, and then suddenly divided them. It’s only as her “Uncle Batty” needed her again that he and Coral finally had a chance to regain their lovely father-daughter relationship. That their reconciliation was cut short by such a venal murder is an even bigger tragedy than the death itself.

I left the book satisfied that, if good had not exactly triumphed because a good man was dead before his time, that evil certainly got its just desserts. I look forward, as always, to Pru’s next adventure. In the meantime I have Farewell, My Cuckoo, the next book in her Birds of a Feather series, to look forward to in the spring, appropriately right along with the return of the migrating birds.

 

Review: The Ninja’s Illusion by Gigi Pandian + Giveaway

Review: The Ninja’s Illusion by Gigi Pandian + GiveawayThe Ninja's Illusion (Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, #5) by Gigi Pandian
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt #5
Pages: 288
Published by Henery Press on October 3rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A fabled illusion performed by a stage magician who claims to possess real supernatural powers. A treasure from the colonial era in India when international supremacies vied for power. A phantom trading ship lost over 200 years ago. And a ninja whose murderous intentions in present-day Japan connect the deeds of a long-dead trader who was much more than he seemed…

When Jaya travels from San Francisco to Japan with her stage magician best friend Sanjay—a.k.a. The Hindi Houdini—for his Japanese debut, she jumps at the chance to pursue her own research that could solve a tantalizing centuries-old mystery.

With the colorful autumn leaves of historic Kyoto falling around her, Jaya soon loses sight of what’s real and what’s a deception. A mysterious ninja attempts sabotage on Sanjay’s trick, along with Japan’s most controversial magician, Akira. Ancient folklore blurs the lines between illusion and reality when a magician’s assistant appears to be a kitsune, a mythical fox spirit. As tricks escalate to murder, Jaya and her friends must unravel secrets hidden in the ancient capital of Japan, before one of their own becomes the next victim.

My Review:

The Ninja’s Illusion is a lovely piece of misdirection and stage management, much like the trick that Jaya Jones’ best friend Sanjay, the “Hindu Houdini”, performs onstage as part of his magic act.

And it’s great fun to read.

This is a cozy mystery, and much of the fun, and the mystery, revolves around Jaya and her group of friends. Her best friend Sanjay has come to Japan to work with an ultra-famous Japanese magician on a trick that is famous for its impossibility – the Indian Rope Trick. But someone is stalking both Sanjay and Akira, so there is clearly much more going on than meets the eye.

Jaya, a respected historian and increasingly well-known treasure hunter, comes to Japan to support Sanjay. And to assist a Japanese historian who has unearthed a historical mystery that relates to Jaya’s area of expertise, the history of the Dutch East India Company.

But when Sanjay’s mentor is killed in a brutal attack, Jaya’s historical research takes a definite back seat to the need to figure out who killed Akira, and why. Because if it’s all about the secret of his marquee trick, then Sanjay may be next on the killer’s list. But if the trick isn’t the motive, then what is?

When Jaya finds that her original historical research leads right back to Akira and the trick that can’t be done, she has a difficult time separating the threads of her research from the increasingly desperate attempts to find something that Akira left hidden.

If all the clues from both puzzles point to the same mystery, then what is the real mystery after all? And can Jaya and her friends figure out the solution before it’s too late?

Escape Rating B+: The Ninja’s Illusion is the fifth book in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt series, and I had a great time with it. I have not read the previous books in the series, which begins in Artifact, and there were references to events from previous books that flew a bit past me, but I still had a terrific time with this one. Enough of a terrific time that I went back and bought the first four. I can’t wait to see how we get to this point, and the ways in which Jaya’s friendships with the other characters have developed over the series.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is that it feels like a bit of an homage to the late Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss series. While Vicky Bliss was a librarian rather than a historian, she also spent much of her madcap career hunting for mysterious historical artifacts and treasures, and was surrounded by a very similar cast of “irregulars” including an elderly mentor (Sebastien in Jaya’s life, Herr Professor Anton Z. Schmidt in Vicky’s) and an on-again, off-again lover who is as much thief as he is adventurer (Lane Peters for Jaya and John Smythe for Vicky) as well as a supporting cast of friends and fellow researchers. While there are plenty of differences, the feeling of Nancy Drew jumping out of the frying pan into the fire and falling in love with someone completely impossible feels very familiar. And as Elizabeth Peters is sadly no longer with us to continue the Vicky Bliss series, it is very, very nice indeed to have a read-alike that looks like it has the legs to keep going.

The historical piece of the puzzle also reminds me of the historical setting of the Shinobi Mysteries by Susan Spann. So if the historical parts of this puzzle sound as fascinating to you as they did to me, take a look at Claws of the Cat, the first book in Spann’s series. That one of Akira and Sanjay’s stalkers in The Ninja’s Illusion is costumed as a shinobi, or ninja, makes the link between the two just that much closer.

Magic is at the heart of this story. Not magic like in Harry Potter, but magic like in stage magic. David Copperfield. The hand is quicker than the eye. Illusions, misdirection, smoke and mirrors. Jaya spends most of the case distracted. Some of her distraction is internal, she’s trying to resolve a sudden confusion in her relationships with and between Sanjay and Lane. So she’s not thinking on all cylinders, and she’s away from home and missing her usual resources, like her librarian best friend Tamarind Ortega, who definitely reads like “one of us”, librarians, that is.

Jaya is also distracted by the endless distractions offered by what begins as two cases, Akira and Sanjay’s stalker, and her historical research into a Dutch East India Company ship of the 1790s that managed to lose itself in history by flying a false flag. Things continue along the paths of confusion for quite a long time, as just because the two cases are coming together it does not mean that there is a single perpetrator, or even a single motive, for all events.

This case is like the old story of the blind men and elephant. Each person seems to be grasping a different part, and drawing different and equally erroneous conclusions about the nature of the elephant and the case.

So if you like madcap adventures with likable characters and multiple mysteries to solve, The Ninja’s Illusion will provide not a very good time, and that’s no illusion.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Cat Shining Bright by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Review: Cat Shining Bright by Shirley Rousseau MurphyCat Shining Bright (Joe Grey #20) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Joe Grey #20
Pages: 304
Published by William Morrow on August 15th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The stakes are higher and more personal than ever for feline investigator Joe Grey when death comes to his beloved coastal California town in this twentieth installment of the enchanting cat mystery series.
While new father Joe Grey is overjoyed to teach his three young kittens about the world, he misses his cop work — secretly helping solve crimes alongside his human friends at Molena Point P. D. But when beautician Barbara Conley and one of her customers are found dead in the salon, Joe makes an exception, he heads for the crime scene. He has no idea that the kittens are following him, or how they will complicate the investigation.
But this is not the only danger to the kittens. A stranger is lurking around the home of Joe’s tabby lady, Dulcie, where the kittens were born. Both parents’ backs are up and their claws out, ready to protect their babies and to protect Wilma Getz, Dulcie’s human housemate.
As the death of the beautician becomes entangled with a gang of thieves working the village, Joe, Dulcie, Kit and Pan are all into the investigation; and they are led to unexpected connections, to the building of the new cat shelter and to a neighbor who becomes suddenly an unexpected part of the tangle.
Joe Grey fans will relish this latest installment following their favorite feline detective and his growing group of friends.

My Review:

There are two threads in Cat Shining Bright. One is indeed a bright shiny thread, and the other is dark and twisted. A fairly fitting combination for this series.

The bright and shining thread revolves around talking feline detective Joe Grey, his tabby lady Dulcie, and their three kittens, born at the very beginning of the book (also at the very end of the previous book, Cat Shout for Joy.

Joe Grey, Dulcie, and their feline friends Kit and Pan are talking cats with human-level intelligence. Also with human-level emotions, maturity and conflicts. They walk a very fine line between feline instincts and human complications.

As for why these particular cats, or for that matter the feral clowder of cats that congregate at the old Pamillon Estate, all have the capacity for human speech, no one knows. Which brings an air of suspense to the birth of Joe Grey and Dulcie’s kittens. Everyone, both human and feline, hopes that they will be speaking cats like their parents, but there is no certainty until they open their little mouths and something comes out besides “meow”.

Because cats mature relatively quickly, a big part of this story encapsulates all the joys and trepidations of parenthood into a brief four-month period, as the three kittens, Buffin, Striker and Courtney grow from blind, mewling fluffballs to young adults ready to strike out on their own.

While Joe Grey worries about his new family, and Dulcie is both contented and stir-crazy hovering over the kittens during their early months, a gang of sophisticated car thieves preys on Molena Point and the neighboring small towns along the California Coast.

Their pattern is insidious. They strike a town, and for two or three days steal as many late-model cars as they can, while trashing all the cars they can’t steal and robbing the trashed cars of any valuables. After a two or three day rampage, they move to the next town, and the one after that. A few weeks later they return and start all over again. And even though the police manage to arrest a few members of the gang each time, the gang itself seems to continue unimpaired.

While Dulcie is cooped up with the kittens, Joe Grey, Kit and Pan do their best to help the police track the gang, at least whenever they hit Molena Point. Meanwhile, Dulcie’s human friend Wilma is threatened with a problem of her own, one that puts Dulcie, the kittens and possibly all the speaking cats in grave danger.

It’s not until Joe Grey and the police are able to connect ALL the dots that both cases can come to their proper conclusion. And unfortunately, not until after grand theft auto escalates to murder most foul.

Escape Rating B: I love this series, and I really enjoyed my visit to Molena Point to see both the cats and the humans are doing. As Cat Shining Bright is the 20th book in the series, and I’ve read them all (including the semi-sorta-prequel The Catswold Portal) I feel like these two and four-legged people are all friends and I’m always glad to visit and see what everyone is up to.

If the idea of a story featuring a sentient (and often smart-alecky) cat sounds like catnip to you, start with Joe Grey’s first adventure, Cat on the Edge. A lot of what makes Cat Shining Bright work for fans is the emotional investment, and that just takes time to develop. You could probably start anywhere in the earlier books, but the last four rely on previous knowledge and involvement with the series to really come together.

As much as I enjoyed Cat Shining Bright, it felt like both threads of the story were a bit blinded by that shining brightness.. Your mileage may vary.

On the mystery side of the equation, it doesn’t feel quite so much like Joe Grey and the Molena Point PD solve the case as that the solution falls into their laps (at least for those of the two-legged persuasion who actually HAVE laps, that it). The criminals were fairly ingenious in their methods, the cats were distracted, and the humans just couldn’t catch a break. At least not until everything broke all at once.

And I’m not sure we ever got the full story on Wilma’s problem. It ended, but for this reader it felt like some of the whys and wherefores were missing.

The feline side of the equation had a lot more bright spots. Listening in on Joe Grey’s thought processes as he deals with fatherhood and watches the kittens grow up in what to humans would be accelerated time works well. We feel for his dilemma. Joe Grey is a warrior and a protector. He wants to protect his family, his humans and his town, and those drives come into conflict. He also loves his kittens but recognizes that he has to not merely let them, but actually help them, grow up. And he’s “human” enough not to want to.

The fates and futures of the kittens are tied up in prophecies made the wise old cat Misto near his end, during Cat Shout for Joy. Misto’s wisdom and the kittens various powers are tied in with the feral speaking cats at the old Pamillon Estate, with the ancient past of the speaking cats, and with the events of The Catsworld Portal and an earlier book in Joe Grey’s series, Cat Bearing Gifts. It looks like little Courtney is going to be the cat that connects that particular set of dots, so there’s a lot left hanging.

One final note about the human side of the story. One of the issues for the humans in this story is what to do about the secret that they are the caretakers for. There is a small circle of humans that knows all about the cats’ talents, including Joe Grey’s people, Clyde and his wife Ryan, Dulcie’s human, Wilma, and Kit and Pan’s human family, the Greenlaws. The vet John Firetti also knows, which is both convenient for the cats and necessary for parts of this particular story. As their humans have found life companions, the circle of people in on this dangerous secret has slowly widened. That’s what happens here, as the speaking ferals take it upon themselves to let Scott Flannery in on their secret so their friend Kate can have her happily ever after. Kate was right that it would be impossible to have a good marriage with a lie that big at its heart.

Which begs the question, what about Charlie and Max? Charlie knows the secret, and has known for a long time. But her husband Max does not know. Max is the Chief of the Molena Point Police Department, and everyone is afraid that if Max discovers that his best snitches are Joe Grey, Dulcie and Kit, that he will stop letting them help him, which would certainly contribute to a rise in the Molena Point crime rate. But how long can this go on?

Hopefully we’ll find out in one of Joe Grey’s future adventures, hopefully sometime next year.