Tour’s Books Blog

November 23, 2015

Cozy Corner – Reviews of Print and Ebooks

Despite all my good intentions, I keep buying and getting cozies.  You’d think by now I’d learn.  95% of cozy mysteries are complete junk – despite high Amazon reviews.  Lead characters do things that not only flies in the face of common sense but should have killed them so many times I am amazed they live – but NEVER learn.   Then again, ‘insanity’ is defined as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different outcome’.  It’s widely purported as being said by Albert Einstein.  Who knows?  I just know that occasionally I find something that’s a cut above – though it rarely lasts.  Maybe I’m insane, but without the suicidal tendencies of cozy characters – Thank-God!

So we will venture into the land of the lost causes and hope for the best.

Laura Levine is one of the sharper, wittier cozy authors out there and Jaine Austen series about freelance writer Jaine Austen are generally entertaining.  Death by Tiara is short, but a good read thanks to a strong lead character than most cozy characters.  Jaine gets hired by a woman determined her daughter, a smart, somewhat bookish, pretty girl become Miss Teenage America.  Heather was a beauty queen and wants her daughter to do even more. Taylor, her daughter, wants to read the classics and go to college and eat M&M’s.  Jaine needs to write some lyrics for her to sing during the talent portion of the contest.  Too bad Taylor can’t sing.

Jaine’s reaction to the ‘Amada Inn’ with it’s tiny, shabby rooms and lousy service is spot on, but getting stuck with her cat, Prozac, because her neighbor Lance is going to Palm Springs with the UPS delivery guy for the weekend.  The overbearing stage mother routine wears on Jaine, who keeps her eyes on the money while she sneaks M&M’s to Taylor AND has to have dinner with her detective boyfriend’s parents – who turn out to be rich and snobs.  Then, Amy, the assistant to pageant coordinator Candice, is found murdered, her bashed in with the winner’s tiara.  That’s a lot of things to juggle and Jaine, as usual, gets caught in the middle of events.

Ms Levine does a good job in a slight, yet entertaining book with well drawn, if rather ‘stock’ characters and a heroine who has a gift for getting herself into crazy situations, but with enough backbone to make me like her.  The solution was less obvious than most, but not challenging.  There were still some surprises.  My rating for Death by Tiara is C+ to B- (3.6*) and a suggested read for cozies lovers.  I got my copy through a book swap site, but even used it’s still selling for $10 or more, so get it from the library or wait awhile and get it from a used bookstore.

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Southern mysteries seem to be ‘the thing’ these says with many authors setting them down below the Mason-Dixon Line.  The late Anne George did an excellent series featuring the Southern Sisters, but one more ‘Bless her heart’ and I might gag.  Miranda James also uses sisters, in this case, active octogenarians An’gel and Duckie Ducote in second in a series, Dead with the Wind.  They drive with their young male ward to Lousiana to a home of their cousin, another branch of their old South family, for the wedding of her spoiled, obnoxious, about to be rich granddaughter.

Then Sondra’s new car has a brake failure, which makes no sense and makes Dickie suspicious about motives for wanting the young woman dead.  Then come her wedding day to a man their ward Benjy swears is gay, and Sondra gets ‘swept off the balcony by the storm’ and dies in the fall.  The sisters don’t believe that for one minute and launch their questions when they feel the police have dropped the ball.

As a study in manners as a weapon when properly applied, this is it, but I found it tedious at times, even though An’gel and Dickie were better than normal characters and very Miss Marple-like in their quiet pursuit of the killer.  There was a very good twist at the end, but the studied manners grates on my nerves.

Dead with the Wind gets a C+ (3.2*) rating and I bought at a deep discount from Amazon and it is still cheap in print but the Kindle remains at the publisher price of $7.99.  Get the print or better still, get it from you library.

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The Skeleton in the Closet is book 2 in Angie Fox’s Southern Ghost Hunter series.  (You see this ‘Bless her heart’ trend here?)  It combines yet another paranormal theme, a woman who sees ghosts, and a deputy sheriff who knows who secret.  Angie Fox is well known for her humorous Biker Witch Demonslayer series.  I wasn’t all the crazy about book one, Southern Spirits, but I got this for free from a buddy, so I read it.

On the upside, I liked it better than book one, on the downside, I’m still not thrilled with the series, though it is more original than most.  Given Angie Fox’s far better Biker Witches Demonslayer series, this is a disappointment.

The Skeleton in the Closet gets a C- (2.8*) from me.  Available in ebook and print, buy or borrow the ebook.  Better still, stick with her Dragonslayer series.  I got this free through a book swap site.  It will leave the same way.

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Jenn McKinlay writes several cozy series (The Hat Shop series and Cupcake Bakery series) under this name plus others under pen names.  I generally like her Library Lover’s series, but when this title went to hardcover, I gave it a pass.  Like most cozies, it’s short, uncomplicated, and lacks anything like a real surprise.  A Likely Story should be titled ‘An Obvious Story’.

Lindsey Norris, head librarian in a small coastal Connecticut town serves not just those who live on the mainland, but those who live year-round on the Thumb Islands.  Two of the most eccentric are Peter and Stewert Rosen. Stewert had looked after Peter since he broke his back as a young man leaving him crippled.  Their large Victorian was stuffed with junk and valuables and clutter – and dangerous booby traps.  But when Stewert fails to meet them at the dock to pick up the books, Lindsey and ex-boyfriend Sully – the water taxi captain/business owner – carefully make their way inside and  find Peter dead from a gunshot wound.  They immediately call Emma, the police chief who gets out there and starts carefully investigating only to get caught by a booby trap that sets off a fire.

At this point, you’re about 25% done and all key characters have been introduced and then the story plods to the inevitable conclusion.  You could see it coming from a mile away when Sully tells Lindsey the Rosen family story on the way to the island.

A Likely Story was unimpressive – ok, it was kind of dull and lifeless.  The big surprise from Sully’s competition for Lindsey is so obvious you know what it will be in the opening pages.  I think Ms McKinley is trying to write too many different series and the quality of her plots is degrading as she spreads herself too thin to spend the time she needs to create the subtleties needed to make it work.  Oddly, the story opens with a discussion of Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, one of the finest mysteries ever written, yet a surprisingly short book given the complex plot.  Alas, the reader would be better served going back and rereading Tey rather than wasting time and money here.

A Likely Story gets a C- (2.8*) for sheer lack of originality and shallow and putting it out in an expensive hardcover is an insult to readers and a shameless money grab by authors and publishers alike.  At over $13 in print and $12 in ebook, save your money!  This slight book is not worth it and frankly, I’d likely say the same for the $7.99 mmpb when it finally comes out.  If you are a fan, get it from your library.  Mine came through an online book swap site and is heading back out.

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I purchased Cover Shot on a whim when looking through Amazon’s ebooks.  Another shoe obsessed heroine had limited appeal, but at least she was a reporter on the crime beat.  It’s book 5 in a series, but like most mysteries, the over-arching plot that ties them together is pretty slim so reading one as a stand-alone is fine.  Nichelle Clarke is a crime reporter with no major crimes going on in Richmond, but was mystery tweeter who keeps sending her cryptic messages.  She and her detective contact decide to celebrate a slow day with a burger and beer when their dinner is interrupted by an emergency call.  Her detective might be shutting her out, but Nichelle is a woman on a mission – get a story and save her job and that of her Pulitzer Prize-winning boss, Bob.

It’s obvious from the start that LynDee Walker is herself a journalist.  She has an eye for detail, brevity, and pacing that many authors lack.  Her characters are believable, even if the plot elements edged into not quite credible area.   Nicey has a personal stake in all this given her beloved mother is a cancer survivor and the central character is a dead oncologist who was doing experiments the NIH knew nothing about and may have found the holt grail – a cure for cancer.   Possibly mobbed-up boyfriend Joey flits in and out while ex-Kyle tries to get her back, but otherwise previous stories don’t overlap.  The author, like her journalist character, keeps her eye on the story, not diversions.

Nichelle is a strong lead character and the plot, despite some mixed feelings I might have had thanks to decades in the pharma industry, remained believable enough to keep it interesting.  Cover Short ties together two apparently different story lines in an ingenious way and held my interest for the length of the book.  At about 300 pages, that’s actually impressive for a book in this genre – not quite a cozy, but not a mainstream mystery either.  Cover Shot is just a good read.

While some of the over-arching secondary plot elements are unresolved, Cover Shot was a very solid mystery, well plotted, with very well drawn believable characters, and a satisfying conclusion.  It comes in a solid B (4*) rating from me, high for a book in this genre and even more surprising given the whole shoe fetish thing.  A suggested read in ebook at $4.99 on Amazon and available in a grossly over-priced print version of just under $16!  Stick with the ebook!

 

 

 

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