Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

I had a friend in high school who was a little left of center. She never cut her hair. She never wore matching shoes. And she never cleaned her room. She cried when she broke a nail… and then taped the tip back on. She only listened to the Beatles, Kylie Minogue, and the Powerpuff Girls OST. And she only watched the Twilight Zone, Powerpuff Girls, and Sailor Moon. She collected (and I assume played with) dolls. She still collects (and I assume plays with) dolls. She had a high pitch, chirpy voice, and an even higher pitched laugh that sometimes sounded like she was screaming if she thought something was particularly funny. She colored strips of paper with pens and markers and taped them into bracelets, and then she wore them. Unless they broke…then she would toss them into her clear, plastic backpack, where they would collect at the bottom along with pencil shavings, empty Frutopia bottles, pen caps with erasers, and incomplete math homework.

She is the best writer I’ve ever known. She is an enigma. She’s probably the only reason why I had real friends in middle school and high school. And this is who I thought about when I read Eggshells by Caitriona Lally.

I thought I preferred character-driven novels over everything else, but I was wrong. And, the thing about Eggshells by Caitriona Lally is it’s 100% character driven. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Eggshells. That’s far from the truth. But, I did find the novel to be…exhausting. Vivian, like my friend from high school, is a little left of center. Her behavior is extremely quirky (which, is just a polite way of saying, she’s a weirdo), and at first I found it charming and silly.

I was amused when Vivian sent letters containing the ashes of her late Aunt Maud to 22 of Aunt Maud’s friends– one to each letter of the alphabet. Then she picks four unsuspecting citizens from the phone book to complete the alphabet. I even related to her when she repeated the word “bumble bee” so many times that it started to sound meaningless because I do the exact same thing with the word “purple”.

Then, I felt sad for her when she felt confident that a letter sent via message in a bottle across oceans would get to her friend more safely than through the postal service. And that’s just barely scratching the surface. He whole perspective of the world is so abstract and bizarre, and it began to wear on me. I felt like my ability to enjoy this book depended on how well I accepted and appreciated Vivian, and perhaps she’s a bit too much of a social pariah for my tastes. In the end, I just felt overwhelmed by her, but maybe that’s the point.

What I really found myself sticking around for was Lally’s writing. It was poetic and clever and humorous (not in a laugh-out-loud sort of way, but subtly so). But even that was hard– sticking around for 250+ pages just because stylistically Lally’s writing is amazing.

In the end, would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Just make sure you understand what you’re picking up.

Are you a fan of character driven novels? What are some of your favorites?


Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

Released: May 2014
Genre: Literary Fiction
Age Group: Adult

[goodreads | indiebound]

Vivian doesn’t feel like she fits in – and never has. As a child, she was so whimsical that her parents told her she was “left by fairies.” Now, living alone in Dublin, the neighbors treat her like she’s crazy, her older sister condescends to her, social workers seem to have registered her as troubled, and she hasn’t a friend in the world.

So, she decides it’s time to change her life: She begins by advertising for a friend. Not just any friend. She wants one named Penelope. Meanwhile, she roams the city, mapping out a new neighborhood every day, seeking her escape route to a better world, the other world her parents told her she came from. And then one day someone named Penelope answers her ad for a friend. And from that moment on, Vivian’s life begins to change.

Debut author Caitriona Lally offers readers an exhilaratingly fresh take on the Irish love for lyricism, humor, and inventive wordplay in a book that is, in itself, deeply charming, and deeply moving.

This novel was received for free in exchange for an honest review as a part of TLC Book Tours

The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig

February is almost over, and I’ve only finished three books so far. Except for the Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata, which I devoured in two sittings, I find myself trudging through every book I pick up. Take for example the Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig- it’s a relatively short book with 288 pages, but I spent nearly a month reading it. Don’t get me wrong. There were aspects of this book that were engaging and beautifully written. But, there were also aspects of this book that I felt disconnected from, and indifferent.

This book felt a little cozy

As in, if you added a thrilling murder and a pet cat, you’d have a cozy mystery novel. I suspect it was the introduction of the main character, Neely, who is in the process of divorcing her cavorting pro-football husband and starting fresh in her old hometown in southwest Ohio– a world away from posh NYC, which is where she lived prior. (What cozy mystery doesn’t start out with the main character arriving in a small town after leaving a husband or a long-time boyfriend?)

She has also recently opened her own bakery called Rainbow Cakes, so you better believe your tummy will be grumbling throughout. If you’re a foodie or a baker, I’m sure you’ll love reading about all of Neely’s delicious baked goods! Plus, Rainbow Cakes is the perfect setting to meet all of the locals, like rough-around-the-edges Jett, Neely’s bakery assistant, and the bashful professor, who has his heart set on Maggie, Neely’s emotionally guarded waitress.

I wasn’t sure if Neely’s gift was supernatural or synesthesia

My favorite aspect of this book is how Neely can connect emotions and memories to certain flavors. I thought she was a synesthetic at first, and perhaps she is. Still, her gift teeters on the edge of the supernatural because she can experience feelings and memories of her ancestors. Fertig’s writing springs to life every time Neely experiences the past, and readers are treated to rich imagery of life in the Ohio River Valley during the 1800s.

But…I’d rather read about Neely’s past than her present

The part of the novel I feel indifferent about is Neely’s present, specifically the conflicts she has to overcome in her love life. Unlike Neely’s baked goods, Neely is kind of a bland character, and I had a hard time connecting with her. As for the conflict…it had potential. Neely is trying to divorce her football star husband, who doesn’t seem quite ready to let her go despite his debaucherous behavior. She especially wants to expedite the process because she’s falling in love with one of her best friends. She has to be careful though because there is a clause in the prenuptial agreement that could mean financial ruin if it’s determined Neely is being unfaithful. Fertig lets this conflict simmer throughout the novel; I wanted the pot to come to a full boil, but Fertig removes it from the burner before it had a chance, and I was left feeling kind of let down.

That being said…the wedding Neely and her team are planning was totally my dream wedding!!!

Perhaps my timing was off

The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig teeters right on the edge of being a fluffy, contemporary novel, which is best devoured during a summer afternoon sitting on the back deck, soaking up the sun, not during the throes of winter while buried under blankets.


The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig

Released: June 2016
Genre: Contemporary
Age Group: Adult

[goodreads | indiebound]

A crisp tang of citrus that is at once poignant and familiar, sharpening the senses and opening the mind to possibilities once known and long forgotten…
 
Claire “Neely” Davis is no ordinary pastry chef. Her flavor combinations aren’t just a product of a well-honed palate: she can “taste” people’s emotions, sensing the ingredients that will touch her customers’ souls. Her gift has never failed her—until she meets a free-spirited bride-to-be and her overbearing society mother. The two are unable to agree on a single wedding detail, and their bickering leaves Neely’s intuition frustratingly silent—right when she needs it most.

Between trying to navigate a divorce, explore a new relationship, and handle the reappearance of her long-absent father, Neely is struggling to make sense of her own conflicting emotions, much less those of her hard-to-please bride. But as she embarks on a flavorful quest to craft the perfect wedding celebration, she’ll uncover a family history that sheds light on both the missing ingredients and her own problems—and illustrates how the sweet and sour in life often combine to make the most delicious memories…

Four Reasons Why I Would Never Want to Live During the 1800s| Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina

Have you ever been asked the question, “If you could go back in time and live, which year/decade/century would you choose”? After reading Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina, I can, with certainty, tell you that I wouldn’t want to live in America during the 1850s and 1880s.


madame-presidentessMadame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina

Released: July 2016
Publisher: Lawson Gartner Publishing
★★★★☆
Add to Goodreads
Purchase: Amazon|B&N

Forty-eight years before women were granted the right to vote, one woman dared to run for President of the United States, yet her name has been virtually written out of the history books.

Rising from the shame of an abusive childhood, Victoria Woodhull, the daughter of a con-man and a religious zealot, vows to follow her destiny, one the spirits say will lead her out of poverty to “become ruler of her people.”

But the road to glory is far from easy. A nightmarish marriage teaches Victoria that women are stronger and deserve far more credit than society gives. Eschewing the conventions of her day, she strikes out on her own to improve herself and the lot of American women.

Over the next several years, she sets into motion plans that shatter the old boys club of Wall Street and defile even the sanctity of the halls of Congress. But it’s not just her ambition that threatens men of wealth and privilege; when she announces her candidacy for President in the 1872 election, they realize she may well usurp the power they’ve so long fought to protect.

Those who support her laud “Notorious Victoria” as a gifted spiritualist medium and healer, a talented financial mind, a fresh voice in the suffrage movement, and the radical idealist needed to move the nation forward. But those who dislike her see a dangerous force who is too willing to speak out when women are expected to be quiet. Ultimately, “Mrs. Satan’s” radical views on women’s rights, equality of the sexes, free love and the role of politics in private affairs collide with her tumultuous personal life to endanger all she has built and change how she is viewed by future generations.

This is the story of one woman who was ahead of her time – a woman who would make waves even in the 21st century – but who dared to speak out and challenge the conventions of post-Civil War America, setting a precedent that is still followed by female politicians today.


First reason why I wouldn’t want to live during the second half of the 1800s (or the first half, really): everybody was dying during the war or from tuberculosis and dysentery (leading cause of death during all of my Oregon Trail efforts [RIP greenhorn]) and splinters and stuff. That being said, the atmosphere, grim though it may be, was perfect for spiritualism (you know, the Fox sisters? Ectoplasm? This post I wrote a few months ago?), and our dear Victoria Woodhull was a believer, nay! a practitioner of the art. Madame Presidentess explores Woodhull’s relationship with spiritualism throughout her life. Exploited by family, at a young age, Woodhull and her sister, Tennie, entertained clients by contacting the spirits from beyond. Then, during adolescence and early adulthood when she wanted to gain independence, Woodhull made a fortune as a traveling magnetic healer. (Later, she would earn another fortune after opening her own stock brokerage firm on freaking Wall Street. No bid deal.)

Second reason why I wouldn’t want to live during the second half of the 1800s: everybody seemed to be pretty awful to each other. Following the abolition of slavery, racial tensions soared (I mean, the KKK was founded). Luckily for business owners though, the Fair Labor Standards Act didn’t exist, so they were free to overwork and underpay their employees (who were frequently children). Women didn’t fare so well either. At times, Madame Presidentess was difficult to read because Woodhull was physically and sexually abused throughout her youth and young adulthood. Particularly devastating was the abuse by the hand of her first husband, Canning Woodhull, who was a womanizer with a penchant for alcohol and laudanum (damn Libertines!). “Penchant” is probably definitely an understatement here. Woodhull was a fierce young women though and divorced that sucker.

Third reason why I wouldn’t want to live during the second half of the 1800s: women didn’t have the right to vote. Which is why Victoria Woodhull is such an important figure. She fought to give women a voice. She launched her own newspaper, through which she published articles advocating women’s suffrage, sex education, and free love. She rubbed elbows with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and infiltrated the male dominated world of business and politics. Then, she ran for president and named abolitionist leader, Frederick Douglas, as her Veep! (She lost though. Obviously. Which maybe isn’t the worst thing since she also promoted eugenics).

Fourth reason why I wouldn’t want to live during the second half of the 1800s: internet, video games, Jets BBQ chicken pizza, sneakers, Harry Potter, and Adagio tea did not exist. But, I digress…

If I had to sum up Madame Presidentess in one word, I would definitely choose “fascinating”. What a life this woman lead! I’m not saying her stances and actions were always ethical, but Woodhull was certainly a powerhouse, who for some reason was written out of the history books. If you’re looking for an engaging and fast-paced historical fiction novel about subject not often explored in the genre, be sure to check out Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina.

 

TLC Book Tours

This novel was provided for free from the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

And the Award for Best Characters Goes to…|The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson

I may have over-committed myself this October. I had these grand plans to devour a collection of spooky novels and write all about them, but instead I found myself in a bit of a reading rut after abandoning three books back to back to back. I can’t decide if the books were particularly uninteresting to me or if I was just distracted. I did, after all, get married this month (more on that later though!). When I finally sat down to read The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson, I was certain my reading rut would affect my ability to appreciate the story. Sometimes negativity begets negativity, you know? But, that’s not what happened. In truth, I actually kind of loved The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness.


the-survivors-guide-to-family-happiness-coverThe Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson

Released: October 25, 2016
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
★★★★☆
Add to Goodreads
Purchase: Amazon|BAM!|B&N

Newly orphaned, recently divorced, and semiadrift, Nina Popkin is on a search for her birth mother. She’s spent her life looking into strangers’ faces, fantasizing they’re related to her, and now, at thirty-five, she’s ready for answers.

Meanwhile, the last thing Lindy McIntyre wants is someone like Nina bursting into her life, announcing that they’re sisters and campaigning to track down their mother. She’s too busy with her successful salon, three children, beautiful home, and…oh yes, some pesky little anxiety attacks.

But Nina is determined to reassemble her birth family. Her search turns up Phoebe Mullen, a guarded, hard-talking woman convinced she has nothing to offer. Gradually sharing stories and secrets, the three women make for a messy, unpredictable family that looks nothing like Nina pictured…but may be exactly what she needs. Nina’s moving, ridiculous, tragic, and transcendent journey becomes a love story proving that real family has nothing to do with DNA.


It is entirely possible that Maddie Dawson’s cast of characters are my favorite for the year of 2016. They’re so…believably flawed. Nina Popkin is impulsive and a bit flaky as she mourns over the death of her adoptive mother, navigates a new relationship following a recent divorce that she’s not quite over, and tries her hand at parenting even though she’s convinced she is not capable of such a feat considering her biological mother abandoned her when she was an infant. Then, there is Lindy, Nina’s sister, who has a perfect life, or at least tries to portray she has a perfect life; she may have a successful business, great hair, and a coach purse, but she’s never felt more disconnected from her husband, and she has a disorder that compels her to count things, like the tiles between her chair and the door, and dear god, please let there be an odd number of tiles because odd numbers are lucky. The relationship between Nina and Lindy is strained at first because after 30+ years of existence, they just found out they are biological siblings, and while impulsive Nina wants everything to do with her biological family, prim and proper Lindy doesn’t appreciate the black mark on her birth record. However, through the course of the novel, Nina and Lindy grow from strangers to sisters, and it’s really kind of heart-warming.

Of course I can’t forget to mention Carter, Nina’s dreamy new boyfriend, who is about 20 years older than she is and kind of a distracted parent. His wife left him, and then she followed her dream of becoming a kale farmer (do people really dream of becoming kale farmers?). She left behind her daughter Kayla, who is a 15 year-old with blue hair and is hella angsty. But, Kayla’s got a heart of gold, she’s compassionate, and when it comes to animal rights, she is proud to take a stand (even if her methods leads to madness). She also left behind a son, who is graduating the top of his class but has zero interest in attending college even though he was accepted into freaking Vanderbilt.

And by the way, Lindy and Nina’s biological mom is now a chain-smoking vegan, who used to be a 1980’s pop icon. But…attaining dreams of stardom is not why she put her babies up for adoption. The true story is much more twisted and devastating.

The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness was just the book to pull me out of a reading rut. Dawson writes a character-driven story that is both dramatic and heart-warming, and her characters are well-crafted with impeccable chemistry. It’s hard not to root for them, to hope everything turns out better than alright.

 

TLC Book Tours

This novel was provided for free from the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

When Expectations Do Not Meet Reality | The Readahoics and the Gothic Gala by Laura DiSilverio

It’s not uncommon that I start a cozy mystery novel somewhere near the middle of the series. I can only think of three series where I started with book one (Lending a Paw by Laurie Cass, Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox, and the Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum by Kirsten Weiss). And honestly, I’ve never had a problem starting in the middle of a cozy mystery series; the books tend stand up by themselves, although if a book is particularly intriguing, I tend to read other books in the series, like the Ghost Hunter Mystery series by Victoria Laurie. But I’ve gotta tell ya…I really struggled with the Readaholics and the Gothic Gala by Laura DiSilverio.


readaholics-and-the-gothic-galaThe Readaholics and the Gothic Gala by Laura DiSilverio

Released: August 2016
Publisher: NAL
Add to Goodreads
★★☆☆☆

Reading the gothic classic Rebecca already has the Readaholics spooked, and the chills only get worse when someone in town actually gives up the ghost….
 
Amy-Faye Johnson has her hands full coordinating the Celebration of Gothic Novels in Heaven, Colorado. The festivities start off smoothly, but the weekend is soon cursed with large egos, old resentments, and uninvited guests. Matters become truly grave when a dead body is found at the gothic-themed costume party.

The out-of-town authors claim not to know the victim, but Amy-Faye has doubts. With skeletons turning up in all of the suspects’ closets, Amy-Faye and the Readaholics must tap into their knowledge of gothic literature to find a killer who lurks in the shadows…

 


Expectations did not meet reality

The summary put a lot of emphasis on not only the Gothic Gala but also on the book club that main character, Amy-Faye, participated in, yet the Gothic Gala concluded by the third chapter (roughly), and Amy-Faye only met with her reading group twice in 300+ pages. I…was kind of disappointed. I mean, part of me understands that a crime could not take place and be solved during the course of a charity event, but a girl can dream, right?

There were a lot of characters

And I mean A LOT. Considering I usually start mid-series with cozies, I still do not struggle with keeping all of the characters in line. But, that was not the case with the Readaholics and the Gothic Gala. Not only does it appear that the usual cast of characters is pretty large (the reading group + Amy-Fayes employees + the entire town of Heaven, Colorado), but all of the additional, out-of-town characters at the partie(s) are quite large too, so it was hard to keep track of everyone.

The ending really caught me by surprise

But not in a good way. Mostly because I couldn’t remember which character was which, so when the murderer was revealed, I found myself flipping to the beginning of the book for reminders. Also, I don’t think enough clues were revealed throughout the course of the novel about the victim’s identity. The motivation really caught me by surprise, but again…not in a good way.


Overall, I’m kind of let down, and when I try to think of how to sum up my feelings about this story, all I can conjure up is a shoulder shrug. The storytelling in this particular novel was not up to par, and honestly it discourages me from exploring other books in this series. That being said, I can tell Laura DiSilverio is a wonderful writer, and I am curious about her other series.

The World Needs a New Period Drama, and it Needs to be The Girl Who Fought Napoleon by Linda Lafferty

The world seems to be enamored with period dramas that take place in the U.K., like Downton Abbey, the Tudors, and the White Queen. There is actually an entire website dedicated to Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian period dramas called Willow and Thatch. Truly, with the exception of the Borgias, I cannot think of a period drama that doesn’t take place in the U.K. Isn’t that sad? So, when I sat down to read the Girl Who Fought Napoleon by Linda Lafferty, all I could think about was how badly I wanted this to be optioned for a TV mini-series. Lafferty brings Russia during the Napoleonic Wars to life both in the warm and seemingly safe Winter Palace as well as the bloody battlefields. Further, this 430 page novel seems to fly right by; the plot is paced perfectly and is filled with action, suspense, treason and betrayal.


the-girl-who-fought-napoleonThe Girl Who Fought Napoleon by Linda Lafferty

Released: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Add to Goodreads
★★★★☆

In a sweeping story straight out of Russian history, Tsar Alexander I and a courageous girl named Nadezhda Durova join forces against Napoleon.

It’s 1803, and an adolescent Nadya is determined not to follow in her overbearing Ukrainian mother’s footsteps. She’s a horsewoman, not a housewife. When Tsar Paul is assassinated in St. Petersburg and a reluctant and naive Alexander is crowned emperor, Nadya runs away from home and joins the Russian cavalry in the war against Napoleon. Disguised as a boy and riding her spirited stallion, Alcides, Nadya rises in the ranks, even as her father begs the tsar to find his daughter and send her home.

Both Nadya and Alexander defy expectations—she as a heroic fighter and he as a spiritual seeker—while the battles of Austerlitz, Friedland, Borodino, and Smolensk rage on.

In a captivating tale that brings Durova’s memoirs to life, from bloody battlefields to glittering palaces, two rebels dare to break free of their expected roles and discover themselves in the process.


This story is also told in alternating perspectives.

But, it’s not what you would expect. Typically, that would imply first person perspectives from two main characters, but that is not the case with the Girl Who Fought Napoleon. Lafferty makes an interesting choice to write the narrative from both first person perspective as well as third person subjective. I’ve never read a novel that alternates between first person and third person, so that did take a few chapters to get used to. However, it’s a storytelling method that I appreciated, especially for this particular story. The Girl Who Fought Napoleon is based on the memoirs of Nadezhda Durova (the Calvary Maiden), so the obvious choice would be to tell the story in first person. This story is hers, after all. But, that would offer the reader such a limited view of what was happening in Russia during this point in history. Switching to a third person point of view allows readers to peek inside the Winter Palace– to get to know the paranoid Tsar Paul and the reluctant soon-to-be Tsar Alexander, to witness assassination plots and royal affairs, to understand the political turmoil rumbling across Europe as the tides of the Napoleonic Wars lap at Russia’s borders.

The biggest challenge in understanding the alternate POV had less to do with the actual point of view and more to do with the timeline

The timeline tends to bounce back and forth. For example, the story starts in 1783, which is when Nadezhda Durova is born. The next chapter jumps six years to Christmas 1789, when young Alexander and his family are opening presents. Then the next chapter jumps back to 1785 to reveal more about Nadezhda’s life. Then to 1790…and 1799…and back to 1789. Trying to remember when certain events happened was futile; I eventually stopped reading the date headers because it was distracting me from the story.

By the way, can we talk about how amazing Nadezhda Durova is?

First, the story seems a little cliché– young woman dresses up as a man so she may live life with more freedom. In Nadezdha Durova’s case, it was to escape restrictions and tedium of “women’s work” and to help save her homeland. Second, it seems kind of far-fetched that during the early 1800s, a young woman would trick her way into the military and dupe everyone for nearly a decade, save a bunch of lives with very little military training, receive recognition from the Tsar himself, help lead victories over the Grand Armee, and live to retire and then write a memoir about it. BUT IT’S TRUE. IT’S TOTALLY FREAKING TRUE! That is reason enough to read this novel– you need to know Nadezdha Durova!


Overall, I really enjoyed the Girl Who Fought Napoleon. It’s one of those books that looks long but somehow you manage to breeze through 100 pages before you even finish eating your box of bon bons (and it’s not even a particularly large box of bon bons either). I just found myself not only fascinated by Nadezhda, but also with Russia during the early 1800s. I think the only reason why I managed to not consult wikipedia during my readthrough is because the novel was such a page-turner. Should you read this one? Definitely!

This book was received for free in exchange for an honest review.

TLC Book Tours

This is Not a Cozy. I repeat! This is Not a Cozy | A Grave Prediction by Victoria Laurie

I’ve written about the Ghost Hunter Mystery series by Victoria Laurie a few times on Books & Tea. It’s a cozy mystery series with a supernatural flair, and I’ve loved what I’ve read so far. Then, during my last library visit, I realized Laurie had another book series called the Psychic Eye Mysteries. I knew very little about the series except than the main character was a psychic, and it took place in Royal Oak, Michigan; so, between setting and the fact that Victoria Laurie was the author, I knew I had to test out the new series.


A grave preditionA Grave Prediction (Psychic Eye Mystery #14) by Victoria Laurie

Released: July 2016
Publisher: NAL
Add to Goodreads
★★★☆☆

Professional psychics learn to deal with skeptics, but Abby has to prepare herself for one steep uphill battle when she’s sent to San Diego to help train FBI officers to use their intuition. Her first challenge: a series of bank robberies in which the thieves made off with loads of cash but left no clues.

Abby’s sixth sense leads her team to a tract of land recently cleared for development. But instead of finding clues to the cash, Abby gets a vision of four buried bodies. A site search turns up some bones and pottery from an American Indian tribe, but that’s still enough to delay construction for years.

With a furious developer and dubious FBI agents on her back, Abby is losing credibility fast. But unlike the best laid plans, Abby’s talent rarely leads her astray. And if the bodies aren’t there yet, that means that four deaths can still be stopped. She’ll just have to dig a little deeper . . .

 


This is not a cozy. I repeat! This is not a cozy.

You may remember, a few weeks ago I participated in the Save My Cozies Readathon— during which, I started reading A Grave Prediction by Victoria Laurie. I quickly realized after the first F-bomb that A Grave Prediction was not a cozy mystery. Cuss words don’t phase me; I admit, my own language is quite colorful. But, it still caught me off guard because I thought I was jumping into a cozy mystery.

This book felt long…sometimes

A Grave Prediction is only about 300 pages, which isn’t very long. But, sometimes it felt life a long novel. I’m sure there is an element of tedium to detective work, and unfortunately, Laurie managed to capture that in a few scenes (ie. every time Abby needed to freshen up with a shower after a workout or every time Abby walked downstairs to grab a banana or a bag of chips while her friend napped…who cares?)Now that we have that out of the way…

#friendshipgoals

Abby is a psychic-turned-consultant to the FBI, Candice is a private investigator, and together, they make an unstoppable team. They are compliments to each other’s talents; Abby my have a psychic vision, and Candice uses her PI skills to find concrete evidence to support Abby’s intuition. Beyond their partnership, they’re best friends. They console and support one another when skeptics are critical of their abilities. They encourage one another to step outside their comfort zone. And of course, they engage in some classic, witty banter. These two gals had me rolling in laughter!

A compelling almost-murder mystery

What starts out as a mystery revolving around a series of flawlessly choreographed bank heists turns into a race against the clock to prevent the deaths of four girls. Abby’s intuition tells her these crimes are linked, but she can’t figure out how or why, and this time, Abby and Candice must solve the case without the resources of the FBI. Their sleuthing leads them to the seedier neighborhoods in southern California to the quiet, manicured homes of suburbia, where they break protocol by assuming fake identities and engage in the occasional breaking and entering in the effort to save lives.

Abby Cooper is one of Victoria Laurie’s finest characters

I can’t help but compare Laurie’s two series here. I love the Ghost Hunter Mystery series because Laurie’s writing is spooky and thrilling, but the voice of her protagonist, M.J. Holliday, doesn’t stand out to me. I actually think MJ’s friend, Gilley, steals the show most of the time. Then, there is Abby Cooper, the protagonist of the Psychic Eye Mystery series. She’s confident about her abilities but also defensive when approached by skeptics. She’s quick-witted and snarky, especially when engaging in banter with her BFF. She loves pizza and hates exercise and mentally hexes her BFF every time the kettlebell is forced upon her. Abby Cooper felt like the character that Laurie had been mulling over for years. She felt like the character Laurie was meant to write. Abby Cooper just felt…real.


Overall, I was impressed by A Grave Prediction. Not only did Laurie write a compelling mystery, but she has created one heck of a character. And, as usual, I jumped into the middle of this series. Actually, I jumped to book number 14! And just like the Ghost Hunter Mystery series, I know I need more Psychic Eye mystery series in my life. I am apparently a sucker for mysteries that are tinged with supernatural elements (ie. zombie crime thrillers or ghost hunter mysteries). I really, really want to read the earlier novels though because they take place in my home state– Michigan.

Have you read any mystery novels that feature a supernatural element? Tell me about it in the comments! I’d love to check it out!

A Series Starter that Breaks the Cozy Formula | Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox

The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox is an ambitious, first novel in a cozy mystery series. The author tries so hard to take popular, cozy characteristics that have been written about to death and put a unique spin on them, but the execution is not always successful.


Crepes of wrathThe Crepes of Wrath (Pancake House Mystery #1) by Sarah Fox

Released: August 2016
Publisher: Alibi
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★★★☆☆

When Marley McKinney’s aging cousin, Jimmy, is hospitalized with pneumonia, she agrees to help run his pancake house while he recovers. With its rustic interior and syrupy scent, the Flip Side Pancake House is just as she pictured it—and the surly chef is a wizard with crêpes. Marley expects to spend a leisurely week or two in Wildwood Cove, the quaint, coastal community where she used to spend her summers, but then Cousin Jimmy is found murdered, sprawled on the rocks beneath a nearby cliff.

After she stumbles across evidence of stolen goods in Jimmy’s workshop, Marley is determined to find out what’s really going on in the not-so-quiet town of Wildwood Cove. With help from her childhood crush and her adopted cat, Flapjack, Marley sinks her teeth into the investigation. But if she’s not careful, she’s going to get burned by a killer who’s only interested in serving up trouble.


Cozy mystery murder victims tend to be morally ambiguous characters

At some point in their life, the murder victim probably screwed over other characters in the story. Maybe they manipulated business deals to gain a large sum of money while leaving their business partner in financial ruin. Maybe they planned to demolish a beloved park to build a gas station. Or, maybe they were just a social pariah. Whatever the reason, it’s not like anyone is particularly sad that the person died, and it allows for several compelling motives.

In the Crepes of Wrath, the murder victim is a beloved member of the Wildwood Cove community and our main character, Marley’s, Uncle Jimmy. I was intrigued by this gutsy move at first, but then my interest waned as the story progressed. Uncle Jimmy’s death was meant to be emotional, and Marley spent the first half of the book morose and weepy. But, I was unmoved because I didn’t really get to know him. I didn’t get to see his involvement with the community or his relationship with Marley, so I didn’t get the opportunity to care about this character.

This novel doesn’t have a fresh start

In the cozy mystery novels I’ve read so far, the main character is getting a chance at a fresh start. Usually they’re moving to a new city after a failed relationship or failed career. They’re discovering new friends, new favorite hangout spots, and new facets of themselves. Marley isn’t running away from a failed anything thouhg. She actually has a very stable job back in Seattle working as a legal assistant at a law firm; she just happens to be stepping in at her uncle’s restaurant while he’s in the hospital recovering from Pneumonia. I felt like this was another thing that made it hard to relate to Marley because nobody’s boss is that cool– most people can’t just take a month-long sabbatical to go work for your sick uncle. Aside from that, I just really missed reading about a character healing or trying to carve out a niche in their new hometown.

This novel is missing a slow burning romance

The slow burning romance tends to be a key element of cozy mystery series. Not that it’s ever R-rated like a Harlequin romance. Heck, I’m not sure I wouldn’t even consider it PG-13. Regardless, the main character tends to fall for one of their male companions (usually a cop or fellow sleuth) over the course of the series. Marley jumps right in to a romance with someone she had a crush on a decade earlier. It felt rushed. It felt forced.

Marley lacked a clear voice

I could have accepted the deviations from cozy mystery tropes, but Marley did not have a strong enough voice. Her personality did not shine through the narrative, so I had a hard time relating to her or sympathizing for her. She felt kind of generic.

Fox succeeds at writing suspense and piecing together a mystery

Between midnight break-ins at the pancake house and scary car chases, Fox succeeds in making my heart race. Writing suspense instead of sob stories seems to be her expertise. She also manages to piece together a compelling mystery surrounding the murder of a well-loved member of the community. Where other authors may struggle to create believable motives for murdering an otherwise benign person, Fox does so with ease. She even adds in some very clever red herrings to really throw readers for a loop.


Overall, I thought Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox was okay. I can appreciate Fox’s series starter for trying to be different. Cozy mysteries are absolutely formulaic, and it’s nice to read something experimental for a change. But because Marley lacked a unique and compelling voice, I struggled to really immerse myself in the story.

This Story Features a Master Ninja Ronin Detective, Which is Pretty Awesome| the Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann

When I was offered the opportunity to read the Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann, I jumped on it. From what I could tell, the novel featured two subjects that I was interested obsessed with: mysteries and Japanese history. Yet, the longer this novel sat on the corner of my dining room table, the more reluctant I became to read it. I hyper-focused on the idea of the main character, Hiro Hattori, being a master ninja detective and couldn’t help but wonder if I was launching myself into to weird, campy martial arts story reminiscent of those poorly dubbed kung-fu movies of the 1970s. (Yes, yes, I know those 1970s kung fu movies came from China, not Japan). Instead, I discovered the Ninja’s Daughter to be a compelling mystery set in the complex world of feudal Japan right at the end of the Muromachi period.


 

Ninjas daughterThe Ninja’s Daughter (Shinobi Mystery #4) by Susan Spann

Released: August 2016
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
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★★★☆☆

Autumn, 1565: When an actor’s daughter is murdered on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim’s only hope for justice.

As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, and rival warlords threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace–but Hiro has a personal connection to the girl, and must avenge her. The secret investigation leads Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the exclusive world of Kyoto’s theater guilds, where they quickly learn that nothing, and no one, is as it seems. With only a mysterious golden coin to guide them, the investigators uncover a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and a dangerous link to corruption within the Kyoto police department that leaves Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives.

 


The mystery is compelling even though the characters involved are kind of terrible

Hiro and Father Mateo must discover the link between a golden coin, a missing mask, and the death of a young woman associated from one of Kyoto’s theater guilds. All of the suspects harbor secrets that threaten reputations, so there is a constant veil of deceit that only Hiro seems to pick up on because of his master ninja skills (also his familiarity of Japanese nuances compared to his Portuguese sleuthing companion). Despite their weeping eyes, it’s hard to feel sympathy for any of the suspects because their reluctance to cooperate comes off as selfish instead of simply defensive. I suppose that sounds like an unpleasant read, but I actually kind of liked it. I suppose I’ve been in the mood for unlikable characters lately. But I digress! I even had a hard time feeling sympathy for the victim– not because she may or may not have become a lady of the night to purchase her freedom (freedom in a metaphorical sense, not literal) but because of the ways she exploited her family.

That being said, the scene where the perpetrator is revealed is kind of a let down. All of the suspects are sitting in a room, and Hiro starts explaining to them why he has determined a certain person could not have committed the crime, until he finally reveals who the real killer is. I can’t help but think of the endings of Scooby Doo mysteries (but with kimonos and the fear of bringing shame to the family).

Really, it was the historical aspect that sucked me in

Spann chose a rather complex time in Japanese history to use as a setting for a mystery series. By 1565, Japan had been steeped in a civil war lasting at least 100 years, and now it is trying to recover after the death of the shogun. To add to the tension, the first waves of European missionaries are making contact on Japanese soil (which would inevitably lead to Japan isolating itself in the following period). It’s a time of samurai and ninjas but also art forms such as flower arrangement, the tea ceremony, and Noh theater. This isn’t merely a backdrop for a mystery. The historical aspect plays a vital role in the series as a whole; the political and military turmoil start to burden the Portuguese missionary and Hiro (a ninja ronin detective!) And Spann writes about this without making the story feel cumbersome. I’m not saying the historical aspect of these books are flawless (I’m not sure how someone just “slips into” their kimono), but they are well researched nonetheless (which, I would expect considering Spann has turned an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies into a lifelong passion for learning about Japan, which she writes about frequently on her blog).

Clearly, I owe the Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann a thousand apologies for ever thinking it was going to be campy. It was engaging and surprisingly complex compared to the usual mystery I devour. On top of that, I’m pretty sure it will be the book that launches me into an obsession with historical fiction novels taking place in Japan. Heian Period, here I come!

I also want to pick up the previous books in the series. Yet again, I started reading a mystery series from the middle, but I really want to know how the death of the shogun affected Hiro, and I really want to know how and why Hiro ended up guarding Father Mateo.

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The Novel Had a Cat on the Cover, so Are We Even Surprised that I Loved this Book? | Lending a Paw by Laurie Cass

I recently went on a cozy book buying spree, which is when Lending a Paw by Laurie Cass was added to my e-library. I think I figured I was destined to enjoy this book for three reasons: 1. CATS!!! (obviously) 2. our sleuthing MC is a librarian, and 3. the series takes place in Michigan, my home state! Aaaaaand…basically I was right (but for more reasons than the three I just listed).


Lending a Paw by Laurie Cass Book CoverLending a Paw by Laurie Cass

Released: December 2013
Publisher: NAL
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Eddie followed Minnie home one day, and now she can’t seem to shake the furry little shadow. But in spite of her efforts to contain her new pal, the tabby sneaks out and trails her all the way to the bookmobile on its maiden voyage. Before she knows it, her slinky stowaway becomes her cat co-pilot!

Minnie and Eddie’s first day visiting readers around the county seems to pass without trouble—until Eddie darts outside at the last stop and leads her to the body of a local man who’s reached his final chapter.

Initially, Minnie is ready to let the police handle this case, but Eddie seems to smell a rat. Together, they’ll work to find the killer—because a good librarian always knows when justice is overdue.


Reading books that take place where you live is the coolest

Granted, Lending a Paw takes place “up north” in a fictional town named Chilson, which is located somewhere north of Traverse City and south of Charlevoix– basically, where all the wineries, cherry trees, and ritzy vacation homes settled on Lake Michigan are located. It’s totally different from where I live, which is part of the “Rust Belt“, if that paints a charming picture in your head at all. Still, it’s always interesting to see how authors perceive your state. Especially Michigan because Michigan is the best 😉

Eddie the cat is also the coolest

Aside from helping Minnie solve a murder (without magic) and being her co-pilot in the bookmobile, I also have a bias towards cat named Eddie (or variations thereof). Throughout this novel, I could help but picture my late cat, Ed, even though he’s orange. He just seemed like the Eddie in Lending a Paw.

His name had been the inspiration of a bemused coworker. “Sounds like and Eddie kind of cat,” Josh had said after I told the story.
“What kind is that?” Holly, another coworker, had asked.
“Just…Eddie.” Josh had shrugged. “You know what guys named Eddie are like.”
And just like that, my cat had a name.

What impressed me the most was the sleuthing

While I’ve enjoyed every cozy mystery novel I’ve read and reviewed for Books & Tea, I’ve always felt the actual sleuthing was minimal. A lot of times, clues are revealed by chance and the main characters, while intent on finding the perp, don’t always piece the puzzle together very well throughout the story. Sometimes I’m totally surprised when the identity of the perp is revealed and I wonder if that’s a good thing; did I not see it coming because the author did not give me enough clues or did I not see it coming because I’m…CLUELESS (hahahahah!)

In Lending a Paw, Minnie “interviews” suspects, pieces together a family tree, and follows tracks and clues before the trail goes cold. She also keeps means and motive in mind, and while her hunches are not always right, another piece of the piece of the puzzle is usually revealed. This novel presented one of the most satisfying mystery-solving experience I’ve read so far.