Three More Series Cozies

Dead in the Doorway is the second installment in Diane Kelly’s House Flipper cozy mystery series, set in Nashville. Whitney Whitaker and her cousin and business partner Buck have bought a house on Songbird Circle to restore and sell, but their plan hits a snag when Whitney and her cat, Sawdust, find the body of one of the neighbors at the foot of a staircase.

No one on the cul-de-sac liked Nelda Dolan very much, but that hardly seems like a reason to push her down the stairs of an empty house. But what was she doing in the house? Searching for something? The previous owner’s family has taken everything they might want, and their late mother, Lillian, didn’t have much to leave behind, unless you count her recipes for prize-winning pies. There doesn’t seem to be anything else worth looking for—until Sawdust finds a secret hiding place.

Whitney can’t resist a bit of sleuthing between tearing out appliances and re-tiling floors (and she makes that all sound so simple!), and Detective Collin Flynn is pretty hard to resist, too. Between the two of them they’ll surely uncover the secrets of Songbird Circle.

Some Like It Shot is the latest installment in Zara Keane’s Movie Club Mysteries, featuring Maggie Doyle, a one-time San Francisco cop now working as a private investigator on the small Irish island where her father grew up and where Maggie spent summers as a child. Business is slow: her main case involves searching for a wandering Maine Coon cat. Then an American movie company arrives on the island. Maggie’s younger sister, an online “Beauty Influencer” (yes, apparently this is a Thing, although I have trouble wrapping my brain around it), has landed her first movie role—as the female lead.

Maggie is not thrilled; she and her sister have a rather dysfunctional relationship. But the movie shoot has been plagued with “accidents,” and Maggie and her off-the-wall assistant Lenny are hired to sniff out any possible sabotage. Maggie and her boyfriend, the sergeant in charge of the tiny Whisper Island police station, suspect that most of the accidents were just that, but when there’s a death on the set the danger ramps up quickly.

I really enjoy this series (this is the sixth book) with its mixture of mystery, humor, and small town Irish life (I did have to look up the pronunciation of a couple of names: the Irish clearly have their own version of the alphabet) and I hope there will be many more.

The Study of Secrets is the fifth installment in Cynthia Kuhn’s Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries. As it opens, Lila is winding up her sabbatical from Stonedale, staying in a cottage on the grounds of Callahan House, a Victorian mansion associated with Callahan College and now the property of Bibi Callahan. Long ago Bibi published three mystery novels under the name Isabella Dare, and Lila has been researching and writing a book on these nearly-forgotten works, while hoping that Bibi will admit publicly that she is, in fact, the author.

Lila has been organizing Bibi’s study for her, and in a locked drawer she finds the manuscript of an unpublished fourth novel. When one of Bibi’s life-long friends is murdered in the house and the manuscript vanishes, Bibi admits that the novel was a barely fictionalized version of the night when her younger sister disappeared, suggesting that she was killed by one of Bibi’s tight-knit circle of friends during a night of celebration between high school and college.

Bibi never meant anyone to see the manuscript, with its unfounded speculation, but when it gets out, and perhaps causes another death, Lila races to solve the long-ago mystery that appears to be the source of the present trouble.

Lila is still trying to finish her book on Isabella Dare—and find a publisher for it—and she’s also writing a mystery novel of her own, so I hope we’ll see another adventure before too long.

The Tudor Legacy Novels

The Virgin’s Daughter is the first volume in Laura Andersen’s Tudor Legacy Trilogy, opening about twenty years after the conclusion of The Boleyn Reckoning, the last of the Boleyn King trilogy. Elizabeth is Queen of England, and her daughter, Princess Anne Isabella of Wales, is eighteen years old. Elizabeth wants nothing more than to dissolve her twenty-year marriage to King Phillip of Spain. Phillip’s only other legitimate child, the unstable Don Carlos, has died, leaving Anne as the heir to both the Protestant English and the Catholic Spanish thrones. He needs another heir. Meanwhile, yet another plot to free Mary Queen of Scots from her imprisonment in England is brewing.

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The central figure in The Virgin’s Daughter is not Anne (known to her close friends as Anabel), but her friend Lucette Courtenay, sent by spy master Francis Walsingham to visit family friends in France. Lucette knew the LeClerc brothers, Nicolas and Julien, when they visited her family in England some twelve years past, when Lucette was only ten and the boys teenagers. Now they are all adults, and both Nicolas and Julien are hiding terrible secrets. But are either—or both—of them plotting against Elizabeth?

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Most of the characters in this book are familiar from the earlier trilogy, and I recommend reading the series in order. I deliberately left a long gap between reading the first and second trilogies, because I knew I’d get sucked into Andersen’s almost-like-the-history-books-but-not-quite world, and indeed I did. I’ve already opened the next book, The Virgin’s Spy. But what better time than “Stay Home, Stay Safe” to dive into Andersen’s richly imagined and intricately plotted Tudor time line?

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The Virgin’s Spy centers on Stephen Courtenay, Lucette’s brother, who is sent to Ireland to infiltrate the Kavanaugh Clan, one of the many groups rebelling against English rule. The leader of the clan has recently died, leaving his niece, Ailis, in charge. And Ailis has her own reasons for hating the English in general and seeking revenge against one Englishman in particular. Stephen’s experiences in Ireland will change him forever.

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Meanwhile plans for Anabel’s eventual political marriage are swirling. Will she marry King James of Scotland, several years her junior, or the pock-marked but charming Duc d’Anjou, heir to the French throne? She knows she will have to make a political marriage, but her heart lies elsewhere. And for the first time we get a glimpse of the continent, as the Courtenays visit Spain, delivering gifts for King Philip’s new heirs—and picking up intelligence along the way.

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In The Virgin’s War, the long-simmering tensions between England and Spain boil over into the naval invasion we remember as the Spanish Armada, changed in Andersen’s history by the presence of Princess Anne in the English north country, where she courts the Catholic nobles for support. Has she broken with her mother over religion and her possible allegiance to her Spanish father, or is something else going on?

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All the characters we have come to know are back, Tudor and Courtenay alike, Princess Anne and Pippa Courtenay taking center stage. Amid the political maneuvering, romances are kindled and resolved, battles are fought, hearts are broken and sometimes mended. Loose ends are tied off, some more neatly than others.

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The action moves all over England and even into Scotland, where we meet King James, who has become a surprisingly canny king at the age of twenty. Throughout we see Queen Elizabeth fighting to preserve a country threatening to split over religious lines and to unite her people in opposition to foreign interference.

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I’ve loved the whole six-book series. Andersen’s research and imagination are equally impressive. One can’t help but wonder what changes in the world might have resulted if the Tudor line had continued. Maybe Laura Andersen will take another guess at it someday.

Mystery and Humor

If you stop by here often, you know that mysteries and humor are two of my favorite reads, all the better if combined. Here are three more I’ve enjoyed.

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A Novel Way to Die is the second in Tamra Baumann’s bookshop mystery series, following Plotting For Murder and continuing the misadventures of Sawyer Davis, an accomplished chef who has found herself back in the small northern California town where she grew up, running the mystery bookshop she inherited from her mother, trying to understand the fifteen-year-old girl her mother had adopted, fighting her uncle over the very strange terms of the family trust, and making sense of her feelings for the local sheriff, the man who jilted her years ago.

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As if that weren’t enough, Sawyer keeps stumbling into homicides. This time the husband of an author signing her books at Sawyer’s shop turns up dead in the freezer of Sawyer’s best friend Renee’s ice cream shop. The victim and Renee once had a bad break up, too, and all the evidence points to her as the killer. But Sawyer knows that’s impossible. Now all she has to do is prove it.

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That requires the computer expertise of Brittany, Sawyer’s adopted sister and ward, inside information from Madge, the gossip loving manager of the sheriff’s office, and support from the members of the shop’s book club. Even Max, Sawyer’s third-rate magician dad, pops in with a few good ideas.

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A Novel Way to Die is a thoroughly entertaining tale, solving the mystery but leaving that strange family trust begging for another installment.

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Stayin’ Alive is the latest installment in Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders, set in Kansas City in the mid 1970s. The setting here is part of the fun, taking the reader back to the days when people did not carry cell phones or while away their time on computers. Ellison Russell is an artist, the mother of a teenage daughter, and a widow, and her talent for stumbling over bodies matches that of Jessica Fletcher. This horrifies her mother, who regards Ellison’s involvement in murder investigations—and her friendship with homicide detective Anarchy Jones—as a threat to her social standing.

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In Stayin’ Alive, Ellison chairs a fund raising gala for a local museum’s touring display of Chinese funerary art—and finds a body during the festivities, albeit in a closed section of the museum. And that’s not the last body. Meanwhile Ellison’s relatives and friends contribute both information and aggravation, and Max, Ellison’s incorrigible dog, falls in love. It seems like nothing surprises Ellison any more—until she finds out that even Anarchy Jones has been keeping a secret from her.

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This is number 10 in the series. I recommend reading the Country Club Murders from the beginning, because it’s so much fun getting to know the characters and following the threads running through Ellison’s adventures. Number 11 is due out in late June.

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Twisted Twenty-Six is, not surprisingly, Janet Evanovich’s 26th Stephanie Plum novel. I’ve been reading them since the first one came out in 1994. I recently replace my shabby paperback copy of that first one (One for the Money) with a newer trade paperback edition, and I have all the rest in hardback on my keeper shelf. Clearly, I’m a fan.

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When I opened Twisted Twenty-Six, the first line rang a bell: “Some men enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever.” One for the Money opened with almost exactly these words, referring to Stephanie’s relationship with Joe Morelli (I, by the way, am Team Morelli: Ranger has his charms, but Morelli is the keeper). In Twisted Twenty-Six the line refers to Jimmy Rosolli, and his forty-five minute marriage to Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur.

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The aftermath of that brief union leaves Grandma Mazur at the center of a complicated web of intrigue involving missing keys, the Jersey mob (or at least a small, elderly, but definitely dangerous branch called the Laz-Y-Boys), Rosolli’s ex-wives, and random enemies. While Stephanie and Lula, Morelli, and Ranger try to figure out who is gunning for Grandma, life goes on at the bail bond agency, and Stephanie and Lula search for the usual motley assortment of oddballs who Fail To Appear for their hearings.

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Twisted Twenty-Six continues with Evanovich’s trademark combination of humor and mystery. It’s the characters that keep me coming back year after year, and Grandma Mazur has always been a favorite. She’s front and center in this one, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

A Trip to the Sixties

Early Out, the title of Carlos Ledson Miller’s early 60s memoir, refers to his rather impulsive decision to leave the Marine Corps after nearly four years and return to civilian life, a journey that takes him from a visit to his father in Belize to a stay in the French Quarter in New Orleans, and then to school and work in Houston. International events intrude—the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy assassination, the beginnings of involvement in Viet Nam—and hang over Miller’s head as he waits out his two years of inactive reserve service, subject to recall if needed.

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But that shadow on the horizon isn’t enough to disrupt the life of a young man completely on the loose for the first time. Of course not: Miller manages to disrupt his own life often enough, describing with wonder and good humor his adventures in the bars and pool halls of New Orleans (while holding down a respectable job with horrible hours) and his decision to move on to California, a trip which somehow stalls out in Houston, at a time when the Astrodome is just a giant hole in the ground, the Colt 45s are not yet the Astros, and Miller’s vacuum-tube based electronics training is on the verge of obsolescence as transistors begin to take over the industry.

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If you remember the 60s, if you’ve lived in New Orleans or Houston, you’ll enjoy this work of “creative nonfiction.” And if you’re too young to remember a time when a steak dinner could be had for $1.49, you’ll learn a thing or two about the not-so-distant past. A thoroughly entertaining visit to an important decade.

Kindle Voyage Reset

A couple of weeks ago my four-year-old Kindle Voyage stopped working. Well, parts of it stopped working—the main parts: the library, and then the home screen. The Voyage continued to receive the special offer ads, and some of the menus worked, but clearly there was no way to actually read a book on it, even after several restarts and assorted Google research.

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Now this wasn’t exactly an emergency. I have an 8-inch Fire tablet, where I actually do most of my electronic reading, a 10-inch Fire tablet, the Kindle app on my phone, and the Kindle app on my computer. But I do like to have the small dedicated e-reader to stick in my purse for times when I know I’ll be sitting and waiting somewhere, or eating alone.

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The evening the Voyage stopped working, I checked Amazon for a possible replacement. I hadn’t realized that the Voyage had been discontinued a couple of years ago. The newer Oasis, which I might have wanted if I wasn’t reading so much on my Fire, is wildly expensive. The newest Paperwhite, on the other hand, was selling that night for $85, as opposed to its usual $130. Did I really need one? I’d think about it.

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The next day the price of the Paperwhite had gone back up to $130, and I decided that purchase could wait a while. I downloaded the Price Tracker for Amazon app to my phone and set it up to let me know when the price went down again, and I went back to reading on my Fire.

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This morning my phone beeped, and the price tracker informed me that the price of a Paperwhite Kindle had dropped again, this time to $95. That sounded good, so I popped one into my Amazon cart, and added a non-Amazon case I had run across while buying a new case for my Fire.

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Then, just for the heck of it, I opened the Voyage. Out of juice, so I connected it to a charger (by now I have a whole basket of them on the kitchen counter) and went back to reading the newspaper. When I checked the Voyage, the home screen and library were still gone, but I opened the settings to see if there might be something I’d accidentally changed, and found the menu item for resetting the device to factory specs, the nuclear option. This would erase everything stored on the reader, but since it wasn’t working anyway, why not try? If it worked, it wouldn’t be any different than setting up a new reader.

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So I hit reset.

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And it worked.

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After several minutes of doing whatever it was doing, the Voyage came back and asked me to connect to my wifi network and then to my Amazon account. Once that was done, there was the home screen and the library, nothing downloaded but everything available in my cloud. I downloaded and opened the book I’ve been reading on the Fire, and there it was, synced to the right page (something the Voyage had been having trouble with for a while) and ready to go.

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I emptied my Amazon cart. I’ll stick with the Voyage, at least until it craters again.

Random Reading

Here are three books I have enjoyed recently, with absolutely no connection to one another.

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Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a terrific novel. If you remember the 70s (although some say that if you think you remember that era you weren’t really there), you will recognize the time of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, and Daisy Jones pretty much exemplifies all that.

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The story covers the formation of the band called The Six, the tension, conflict, and success brought about by the addition of singer Daisy Jones, and the eventual sudden and unexplained (until now) break up of the band.

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Although Daisy was a spoiled brat in many ways, and a hard core addict, I was still pulling for her to somehow survive it all. Billy Dunne, leader of The Six, also deep into the drug scene (as was pretty much everyone in the cast) had enough redeeming qualities, and made enough good choices (Daisy rarely did) that I was pulling for him, too. And Karen, and Graham.

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The story is told in the form of bits of interviews, arranged by the nameless (until the end) Author; none of the characters are together through the interviews, but their versions of the story and their reactions to one another are skillfully braided together, in a sort of modern version of the old epistolary novel.

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It took me a while to find this book, but I’m so glad I did. Now I’ll have to keep an eye out for Reid’s other novels.

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A friend recommended Lyssa Kay Adams’ The Bromance Book Club, a book that might not otherwise have been on my reading radar, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The premise, a group of men (most of them professional athletes) who read romance novels and regard them as “manuals” for puzzling out what the women in their lives really want, is as humorous as it sounds. The newest member of the club is baseball player Gavin Scott, whose wife of three years has thrown him out, for reasons he really doesn’t want to share with his friends. But he loves his wife, Thea, and he’s willing to take advice from his friends, as humiliating as that might be. If following the path to true love laid out in a paperback Regency romance called Courting the Countess (yes, there are excerpts) will get him back into Thea’s good graces, he’s willing to try. What could possibly go wrong?

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Well, it’s a funny, entertaining, heart-warming story, and of course all sorts of things go wrong. But Gavin and Thea are likable characters, clearly meant for each other, and worth rooting for. Adams also does an excellent job of showing how the hurts in their respective pasts cause problems in the present, and how sharing those buried secrets help to solve those problems.

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Thea and Gavin’s three-year-old twin daughters talk and sometimes act like six-year-old girls, and now and then Gavin’s male friends break into feminist rhetoric (if this was a movie they might break into song), but these are minor problems. On the whole The Bromance Book Club is funny and touching and optimistic, and well worth reading. My friend just picked up the sequel, Undercover Bromance.

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Not long ago I ran across an article listing good science fiction romances and thought that Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair looked particularly interesting. So I clicked on the Amazon link, only to learn that I had bought the book in June, 2016 — those little notices are definitely a blessing for bookaholics like me!

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So I located the book in my Kindle library, and a few days later I jumped in. I’ve been a science fiction fan all my reading life (and that goes back a long time), and I suspect Sinclair has been as well, because the science fiction aspects of Finders Keepers are as solid as the romance.

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Trilby Elliot is the captain and sole human crew member of an antiquated and beat up freighter called the Careless Venture. She and her android crewman Dezi are making repairs to the ship at her little hideaway on a rather inhospitable uninhabited planet when another space craft crashes nearby. Trilby rescues the pilot and brings him back to her rudimentary sick bay, where the equipment has a bit of trouble reading him.

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Trilby’s medical bay may be old and somewhat unreliable, but the truth is that Rhis Vanur really isn’t quite what—or who—he appears to be. By the time Trilby finds out the truth, she’s too far involved in galactic politics to get out. And she’s finding out the truth about far more than Rhis.

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Finders Keepers is just the ticket if you’re in the mood for a rousing space opera with a good (but never very graphic) romance running through it. My only complaint is that the ending seemed rather abrupt—and that Sinclair apparently never wrote a sequel (although she has written numerous other novels). I really wanted to know what happened next to Trilby, Rhis, and several of their colleagues.

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Now that I think about it, there is a connection: they all have love stories. That probably says something about my taste in books. I do like a happy ending.

Nero Wolfe Lives On

When Robert Goldsborough took over Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series in the mid 1980s, he brought Wolfe and his crew forward into the age of the personal computer (for the orchid germination records) without aging any of the characters. He wrote seven books, the last in 1994, before taking a break.

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Wolfe and Goodwin reappeared—and met—in the 2012 prequel Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, and Murder in the Ball Park, published in 2014, drops Wolfe and his usual crew, Archie, Lily Rowan, Fritz the chef, Lon Cohen from the Gazette, and Cramer and Stebbins from the NYPD, back into the mid twentieth century, a few years after the end of World War II. The ball park in the title is the old Polo Grounds (demolished in 1964), and Goldsborough has fun with NYC baseball of the period. He also delves into what we now call PTSD and the difficulties of men returning from combat.

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In Archie in the Crosshairs, Goldsborough stays in the mid-twentieth century, which was perhaps the peak of Nero Wolfe’s (and Rex Stout’s) career, the period many fans seem to prefer. All the usual characters are present, trying to figure out who is taking pot shots at Archie (apparently in revenge aimed at Wolfe) and who is blackmailing a naive young heiress. Could these cases possibly be connected?

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Stop the Presses! is set in the late 1970s, when Nero Wolfe is asked to determine whether or not a highly popular but widely detested muck-raking columnist committed suicide. Before his death he told his colleagues at the New York Gazette that he had been receiving threatening phone calls, and that he believed they were the work of one of five people he had gone after in his column. Inspector Cramer of the NYPD is convinced of the suicide theory, but the owner and the editor of the paper believe the columnist was murdered. As usual, Wolfe solves the case without ever leaving his brownstone. Archie, however, does a bit of traveling.

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I know there are Stout/Wolfe purists who decry the continuation of the series, but I’m enjoying the books. I read all the Stout novels (long ago) and I think Goldsborough has done a fine job recreating the characters and atmosphere. There are three more in the series waiting on my Kindle, and yet another scheduled for May 2020 (and Goldsborough is 82 years old!). Cheers to Open Road Press for making so many mysteries, both vintage and new, available.

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