Book Review

Cozy Corner: Booktown Mysteries 

Welcome to another edition of Cozy Corner. As fall approaches, I am really getting into the mood for more lighthearted books, especially ones with great settings and puzzles to solve. I think one of the reasons that I love cozy mysteries is that they often are more focused on solving a puzzle than action and suspense. One series I’ve been really enjoying recently are the Booktown Mysteries by Lorna Barrett.

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These are charming books (for the most part – book 3 gets a little preachy). They take place in an idyllic little New England in town filled with genre-specific bookstores. Tricia Miles, the owner of the mystery-themed book store, stumbles upon dead bodies and uses her intuition and all she’s learned from her beloved books to crack the cases. She is a straight-laced person who I can really relate to. Her sister Angelica is her opposite but I really like her character too. The dynamic between the two sisters can be both heartwarming and humorous at times, and even their occasional friction is entertaining.

There are some great side characters too. I love Grace and Frannie especially. They add more entertainment and are very distinctive. I even really enjoy Tricia’s sparring with Sheriff Adams. I will admit though that I loathe the character of Ginny whose whining wears thin. I’ve been listening to these audiobooks and I find myself tuning out during her scenes, but overall there’s a great cast of characters here.

The setting of these stories is wonderful. It’s a cozy New England town that kind of reminds me of Cabot Cove. This is a place that would absolutely love to visit! I love cozies that take place in New England because I would love to live in New England (specifically Boston area) if I wasn’t such a wimp in winter.

The mysteries themselves are very well-plotted, especially for a cozy. There are lots of clues interspersed everywhere and it’s fun to try to figure out who committed the murders. In a lot of cozies, readers kind of bumble along and enjoy the ride while the amateur sleuth unbelievably uncover the murderer’s identity by happenstance, but these are very well-conceived puzzles.

If you’re looking for a new cozy series, I highly recommend this one!

 

Book Review

Cozy Corner: Agatha Raisin by M.C. Beaton

It’s time again for another installment of Cozy Corner! This time, I am recommending the fabulous Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton. This series is set in the English Cotswolds where retired PR guru Agatha Raisin is struggling to enjoy her retirement and winds up becoming an amateur sleuth and solving lots of village murders.

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This series is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, and I’ve been listening to a lot of the audiobooks recently (read by Penelope Keith who does an amazing job). I love Agatha as a protagonist. She’s endearing but very flawed which makes her both funny and relatable. Agatha can be petty, vain, and jealous, but she also has a big heart and a lot of wit. I love following her and the cast of side characters (especially Bill Wong and Toni Gilmour).

The mysteries themselves are not always the coziest, especially in the later books. While I would absolutely classify this series as a cozy series, there is occasional foul language, reference to sex, and some of the deaths are described in grisly detail. That being said, there’s still a light, whimsical tone in the books and Agatha is an amateur detective. These are two big parts of traditional cozies.

There is a companion television series that recently came out in the US, and it was just as fun as the books! I think I’ve seen every episode three times already, which is kind of insane actually. So far, only one season has aired, but I desperately hope that they make a second season. Agatha is played wonderfully by Ashley Jensen, who was the seamstress sidekick in Ugly Betty.

Some cozy series can be read in any order, but I would highly recommend these being read in the order they were published. While Agatha never seems to age, the drama of her personal life is complicated and will make more sense if the books are read in order. If you’re looking for something British and cozy and funny, I definitely recommend this book series and the TV show!

Book Review

Book Review: Come Sundown by Nora Roberts

I’ve recently been trying to expand the types of books I read. As part of this experiment, I decided to try some Nora Roberts books. I had always avoided her books because I don’t love books with lots of romance, but I ended up really liking several of her books because there are elements of other genres too. Her latest book, Come Sundown, is a novel of romantic suspense, and I really enjoyed it!

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This novel takes place on a ranch in Montana, where a woman named Alice disappeared years ago. She is assumed to have run away, but when she suddenly shows up in a disheveled state, they realize that she’s been held captive somewhere nearby for all these years. There’s a mystery here as they try to figure out who is responsible, but there’s also a lot of internal conflict as Alice has to try to cope with what has happened to her, and her family has to readjust to her sudden reappearance as well as the fear that this could happen again if they don’t find the man responsible.

I really enjoyed reading this book, although it was hard to read in some parts because of the captivity subject matter. I definitely thought this was one of Nora Robert’s darker books. There are elements of romance for some of the characters, but they definitely take a back seat to Alice’s story and journey. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who enjoys romantic suspense, and for anyone who enjoyed the book Room by Emma Donoghue (which has similar subject matter).

Book Review

Book Review: Watch Me Disappear 

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of the forthcoming book Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown.

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This was a great, character-driven mystery that centers around the disappearance of Billie, a mother who has disappeared after going on a hike. Her daughter Olive is trying to cope with her disappearance when she begins to hallucinate that she is seeing her mother alive. She and her very worried father then try to unravel what has happened and what is real.

I found this to be a great balance of fast-pace and insightful character development. Olive was a character that you could definitely root for. I wanted her to find out what was going on so that she could find the closure she desperately needed. Her father Jonathan was also a great character. He seemed very realistic, flaws and all, but he was someone I found myself wanting to know more about.

I can’t get too much into the plot without revealing anything, but I will say that I found the plot progression and end to be quite satisfying. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who liked The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl. This one definitely had that sort of vibe, although I found this one less dark and with more likeable characters.

Finally, happy Independence Day to any of my fellow Americans who might be reading this! I hope that you’re having a fun holiday with friends and family.

Book Review

Book Review: Where They Found Her 

It’s rare that I come across a mystery novel where I feel more engrossed by the lives of the living characters than I do the circumstances surrounding the dead characters. Usually, I’m flipping pages as quickly as I can read them to race to the end to find out if I’m right about who did it and why. Recently, I read a different kind of mystery, one that I read so slowly in order to fully absorb the complicated lives of all the many characters: Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight.

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Now, there definitely is some tough subject matter in this book. The overall premise is that the dead body of a baby is found in a small college town, and as the facts about what happened come to light, a whole lot of other secrets come to the surface. This book is told from several different perspectives, which I think has become quite the trend in fiction. It really worked in this novel, and the multiple narrators helped me to really get to know and understand where the characters who coming from.

If I had to pick a main character, I would probably pick Molly – a young mom and journalist who recently suffered a miscarriage. Throughout this book, Molly’s sections explore motherhood and the many ways that guilt can arise for mothers. I found her to be flawed in a great, believable way. She seemed like a real person suffering from grief and loss and trying to figure out how to survive and move on. She doesn’t always make the right choices, but she is very endearing and she learns a lot about the world and herself throughout the novel.

One of my other favorite perspectives was Barbara. I felt like I learned so much about her as the book progressed. She might have been one of the least likable characters, especially at first, but I felt like I really understood her by the end. That’s not to say that she transformed into a more likable character. Rather, I understood why she did the things that made her seemed unlikable, and that enabled me to have more compassion for her and real people that I know who are kind of like her. It’s easy to judge people who come across as very intense and controlling, but this behavior often stems from deep insecurities or learned patterns of behavior from parents or other figures present in childhood.

I know I say this in almost every book review, but I don’t want to give too much away about the plot. While I was surprised by the revelations at the end, and I felt like they didn’t all quite seem believable, I found the ending to provide a very satisfying conclusion. I was actually quite sad when the book was over because I was so enjoying the reading experience. I guess this means that I should definitely pick up another book by this author (and I plan too!)

Book Review

Cozy Corner: White House Chef Mysteries 

While I review all genres of books on this blog, one type that is near and dear to my heart is the cozy mystery genre. These mysteries are characterized by amateur sleuths (often librarians, bakers, retired women, etc) and they have little to no violence, sexual content, or profanity. The murders always take place off scene, and the setting is often idyllic (despite the fact that a murder has occurred). I think that one of the reasons I’m so drawn to these books is because I know they’ll have a happy ending. Life is hard and sometimes I just need a guaranteed happy ending in my life. I’ve mentioned some cozies here among my other reviews, but I thought I’d start having a regular, expected “Cozy Corner” segment. The first series I want to review is the White House Chef Series by Julie Hyzy.

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The first book in this series is State of the Onion. I love the pun-ny titles! (I think my favorite title is either Buffalo West Wing or Eggsecutive Orders). The series follows Olivia Paras, a chef in the White House who has an uncanny knack for stumbling upon murders. One highlight of the series is that it’s a bit more action-packed than other cozies. I liked the fast-pace and the fact that there were some moments where I genuinely worried about the character even though I was certain that everything would work out in the end – it is a cozy after all.

Olivia is a great protagonist. She is career- minded and has to have some introspection as to whether or not she has time for romance in her life. She is a hard worker and is very competitive in the cooking arena, but she still has a soft side and cares deeply for her friends. This is not only a protagonist that you can root for, but she is also someone with a lot of potential for growth over the course of the series. While some characters in cozies (ahem – Stephanie Plum) never seem to grow as people, Olivia is one who seems to learn something about herself in every book.

I think that cozy lovers will naturally love this series, but this one could also appeal to people who like action/adventure with their mysteries. The White House is also a really cool setting, and I feel like I learned some interesting details about how it is structured and some details about the traditional role of the First Lady. Overall, I’m happy to recommend this to anyone looking for a quick escape from reality!

Book Review

Book Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood

I haven’t been blogging as much because I went through a period of illness mixed with a busy school schedule, but I’m excited to be back online. While I was recovering, I read a really fantastic book: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware.

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This was a really exciting read, and I felt like I just didn’t want to put this one down. I needed to know what was going to happen next. This book is largely divided into two parts: for the first half, you’re trying to figure out who was murdered and for the second half, you’re trying to figure out who committed the murder. This one is filled with twists and turns and unreliable characters.

I had a few problems with the main character of Nora, but unfortunately I don’t think I can write about most of them without giving too much away. Overall, she did feel a little too contrived. She seems as if she was written to be too deliberately unreliable, and I think that this did take away from the story just a bit too much. Still, while I wasn’t thrilled by the lack of character depth, I was entranced by the plot and I would recommend this to anyone looking for a plot-driven mystery.