For Letter or Worse – Vivian Conroy

for letter or worse cover


That’s… some way to open a book o.O

Things do improve significantly 😉 LOL! We’re back in the small, ex-mining town of Tundish, where Delta Douglas moved at the start of Last Pen Standing to follow her dream of running a craft store and designing her own stationary. It’s a sleepy kind of place – except when people turn up dead, of course! This time the murder is linked to one of the town’s wealthy residents, a former model and her interior designer husband.

The story ticks all of the cosy mystery ‘tropes’, but in a very well written and well balanced way compared to many. Yes, we have a hint of romance – but it feels nicely ‘real’ and down to earth. The police chief is of course unsympathetic, but it doesn’t come across as wilful negligence. And the characters are drawn into the mystery quite naturally.

For me the best bit is that the mystery was well formed. It’s not quite Agatha, but nor was it too obvious or too deus ex machina. The suspects and red herrings lined up nicely.

This was a really great example of a nice, gentle cosy mystery – ticked all the right boxes and was a lovely wee read. I’ll be back for the third installment!

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 2020
Series: Stationary Shop mystery book 2
Read from 21st-30th September 2020

My rating: 8/10

Little Bookshop of Murder – Maggie Blackburn

little bookshop of murder cover

“Summer Merriweather slipped off her flip-flops, allowing the sand’s warmth to comfort the bottom of her feet like it had thousands of times before.”

I’m a sucker for stories about books and bookshops, and there’s something lovely about a good cosy mystery when you need some non-mentally-taxing reading. Alas, while not dreadful by any means, I wouldn’t really go so far as to call this a great example of the genre.

Summer has returned home for her mother’s funeral. Her life has been too full of drama of late, after a video goes viral of her freaking out while teaching a class – although to be fair, I’d also be freaking out if the neighbouring lab’s arachnid collection came wandering in, so the whole might-be-fired thing seems kind of OTT. Hmm.

Anyway, she now has more on her mind, after her very healthy mom suffers a fatal heart attack. When several threatening letters are discovered, however, everyone – apart from the obligatory doubting police – starts to wonder if it wasn’t natural causes after all.

All of the usual elements to a cosy mystery are here, really, with the exception of a budding romance – much to my relief, I should add. Mourning a parent is not the best headspace to have a character start down that path! But we have a murder, a good reason for Summer to be investigating, and a group of friends of all ages to help out.

So far so good, and yet… there’s just something about the way it’s all put together here that really didn’t grab me. The first chapters are quite downbeat and repetitive with Summer’s shock over the death and all of that kind of thing. Several elements throughout seem to serve very little purpose – the whole spiders thing, for instance, is so overplayed I was dreading a huge icky scene but I can reassure my fellow arachnophobes that there’s just one ‘thing I read in a book’ scene and otherwise I wasn’t too freaked out!

Far less forgivable, however, is the sheer obviousness of the whodunnit, and the obtuseness required from the characters to not have them stumble onto the right answer almost immediately – it’s almost hard work for them to dance around it so many times!

It’s not all bad. I liked the family dynamic, and the location is a nice mental vacation spot. Quite how a tiny bookstore deals with so many regular deliveries that need six people a time to sort them, though – hmm! There’s also a subthread which feels irritatingly ‘meta’, about a Shakespeare professor getting over her snobbishness about romance and cosy mysteries, which is perhaps driving a little too hard – we’re already reading the book, we’re not the ones needing convinced (much ;)).

So… can’t really find myself recommending this. I still sort of enjoyed the daft read, but really just too many flaws and irrelevant meanderings to make it one I’d look for a follow up from.

NetGalley eARC: 258 pages / 66 chapters
First published: 2020
Series: Beach Reads mystery book 1
Read from 5th-14th September 2020

My rating: 4/10

Checked Out For Murder – Allison Brook

checked out for murder cover

“‘More coffee?’ I asked Dylan as I got up from the table to pour us both a refill.”

We’re back with Carrie Singleton, head of events at Clover Ridge library – which just happens to be haunted by a friendly ghost, Evelyn, only Carrie can see and hear. When a self-declared psychic comes to town, Evelyn’s knowledge of the town’s past might prove invaluable. Even more so when when of the cast of the movie being filmed in the small town is found murdered.

Carrie may have sworn to stay away from the drama after her sleuthing put in danger in Death Overdue, Read and Goneand Buried in the Stacks, but when her mother turns into the prime suspect she has no choice but to try to find the real killer.

Of all of my dabbling in the cosy mystery genre, this is one of my favourite series. Carrie is relatively sensible and comes across very well, and her relationship ‘dramas’ are kept more to the background that some in the genre. There’s something quite wholesome and healthy about her relationship with Dylan, making for a very pleasant change. Her relationship with her mother is a lot more strained, but again, there’s a sensible lack of melodrama – well, apart from the murder, the way everyone tries to involve Carrie, and of course the library ghost.

I still think the ‘haunted’ part of the series title is very underplayed, but otherwise this was a decent enough read. I like spending time with these characters, even when Brianna-nee-Linda is being a diva. But it suits me perfectly that the plot keeps focus on the mystery, with the personal aspects adding strength not overwhelming everything else.

I did find the ending just a little abrupt – I usually do with cosy mysteries, it seems – so a mark off for that. Otherwise, a sweet diversion of a read, and I’m all for that.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 36 chapters
First published: 2020
Series: Haunted Library book 4
Read from 23rd-29th August 2020

My rating: 7/10

To Kill a Mocking Girl – Harper Kinkaid

to kill a mocking girl cover

“Quinn Caine may have traveled all over the world, but she still thought nothing was more enchanting than springtime in Vienna, Virginia, especially driving with the windows down on Church Street.”

Quinn is newly returned to her hometown after years of volunteering abroad. As she settles into her new life repairing old books, she doesn’t know if she’s more surprised that her hellraising cousin and best friend is now a nun, or that her sleepy town has just witnessed its second brutal murder in six months…

This book and I didn’t get off to the best starts, as I found it hugely cliched – the aggressive, in-Quinn’s-face police officer hellbent on pinning the murder on her irked me immensely.

However, things did settle down and I ended up enjoying the read. The cliches don’t end, though, with an unrequited crush, school bullies who are still full-on Mean Girls, feisty canine sidekick, several nasty characters to layer on the red herrings, and – sad to say for the cosy mystery genre – a final solution that doesn’t feel entirely ‘earned’.

Still, there’s a lot to like. The inclusion of a novitiate nun as a character was rather intriguing, albeit background fare. I found it charmingly odd to have each chapter begin with a quote from a less than ‘usual’ source, including Game of Thrones, Neil Gaiman, and other quite pop-culture sources. The characters are mostly likeable, at least where they’re meant to be, and the reasons for Quinn’s involvement in the detective work don’t feel too forced.

Overall, though, it’s a bit ‘hmm’. There seemed to be a bit of meandering in the plot, and several characters, with things not wholly feeling resolved in a number of places – although, they weren’t really the point, either. What makes most sense is thinking of this as the first in a series, and I suspect some of the threads will be picked up again. So would I give Quinn another go? Actually, yes, so it can’t have been all that bad! 😉

NetGalley eARC: 352 pages / 31 chapters
First published: 2020
Series: Bookbinder Mystery book 1
Read from 17th-24th May 2020

My rating: 6/10

Death on the Page – Essie Lang

death on the page cover

“‘Did you just say that Savannah Page is staying overnight here, in the castle?’

Trouble on the Books wasn’t my favourite cosy mystery of last year, but I thought I’d give the series another chance. I think book 2 is a bit stronger, although still not my favourite in the genre.

Shelby Cox is settling into her life helping her aunt run a bookshop in a castle tourism site. She’s got friends, a steady boyfriend, and is finding out a little more about her absent mother. However, when a true crime writer negotiates a stay in the castle for research, things take a dark turn. Can Shelby keep her nose out of yet another murder?

Well, of course not, otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a mystery! While it provides the main plot, it feels fairly secondary to elements of Shelby’s life, which is the wrong balance to firmly capture my attention.

Still, a sweet and decent read; a perfect palate cleanser 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 226 pages / 38 chapters
First published: 10th March 2020
Series: A Castle Bookshop Mystery book 2
Read from 20th February – 1st March 2020

My rating: 6/10

There’s a Murder Afoot – Vicki Delany

murder afoot cover

“My sister Phillipa Doyle is a minor functionary in the British government.”

Of all the cosy mystery series set in libraries or bookshops that I’ve tried (and there’s been a few!), this is by far my favourite. It retains focus on the mystery, with the personal stuff kept as a background – perfect! Main character, Gemma Doyle (probably no relation to the famous author), is highly intelligent and logical, and the situations she ends up investigating feel quite natural for her to do so.

I’ll forgive the slight ‘hmm’ of having so many of the usual cast join in her trip to London for this, the latest in the series that began with Elementary, She Read. A Sherlock Holmes convention is the flimsy reason for dragging not just her best friend (for a holiday), boyfriend (to show off her home town), but also another two vague hangers-on. But, that’s a minor blip in an otherwise lovely cosy mystery, decent on the mystery, not too distracted with love interests and/or pets.

When someone is murdered during the convention, suspicion falls on the dazed man found standing over the body. Unfortunately, this happens to be Gemma’s father, a retired police officer. Worse, the detective leading the investigation has a grudge against his former colleague, whom he’d be delighted to see charged with the crime. So of course Gemma’s going to poke her nose into things.

The story leans quite heavily, I think, on the Benedict Cumberbatch adaptation, with Gemma’s sister, Pippa, being quite the Mycroft. But it’s very aware of its inspiration and uses it well, with enough differences and ‘extras’.

Recommend the series for those who enjoy a less fluffy but still cosy mystery.

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 7th January 2020
Series: Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 5
Read from 17th-10th August 2019

My rating: 8/10

Bound for Murder – Victoria Gilbert

bound for murder cover

“There are two times in a woman’s life when complete strangers think it’s appropriate to offer unsolicited advice – when she’s obviously pregnant, and when they discover she’s planning a wedding.”

When bones are uncovered on her friend’s grandparents’ farm, Librarian Amy Webber is about to be caught up in another murder mystery. Perhaps the hippy commune they ran in the 1960s wasn’t all peace and love…

Amy’s life is going pretty well. We first met her back in A Murder for the Books, and this is the fourth book in the series. She’s pretty incapable of not poking her nose into a mystery, but then, this time ’round it’s to help best friend, Sunny, who’s campaign to be elected town mayor can only be damaged by the scandal surrounding her grandparents.

The mystery element is built well, with various suspects as well as the suspense of who’s bones have been discovered – and who is behind the attempts to scare Amy off the investigation.

Being a cosy mystery, this is as much about the characters’ lives, and so we have continuing wedding plans, relationship issues, and family dramas to contend with.

It’s not high art, but it’s a fun palette cleanser – easy to read, well written, albeit a bit on the fluffy side.

NetGalley eARC: 29 chapters
First published: 7th January 2020
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 4
Read from 7th-16th December 2019

My rating: 7/10

Bookmarked for Murder – VM Burns

Bookmarked for Murder cover

“‘Samantha Marie Washington!'”

Returning from a trip with several of her grandmother’s retirement village residents, bookshop owner and amateur sleuth, Samantha Washington, is once again caught up in mystery and murder. But given the enclosed space of the bus, that means… gulp!… one of the retirees is a murderer?!

A famous journalist writing an exposé of an even more famous historical figure is a set up for quite the mystery. But when one of the gang is almost killed, too, keeping her grandmother and friends safe is enough to overcome Sam’s reluctance to get involved.

This is the fifth outing for Sam and her ‘silver sleuths’, in a series that started with The Plot is MurderAs such, there’s a lot of familiarity with the set up, characters, and of course, the addition of repeat visits to Sam’s own novel-in-progress.

My view of the series remains unchanged. It’s a nice, easy, cosy read, and I thoroughly enjoy the change of pace once in a while. I’m also growing quite fond of the cast of characters, even if the in-book writing is still a tad annoying (the woman never EDITS! argh!!). But, while the mystery was intriguing, I felt a little let down by the sudden revelation of the murderer in slight too-quick fashion. ymmv.

NetGalley eARC: 256 pages / 21 chapters
First published: 20th November 2019
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 5
Read from 18th-21st November 2019

My rating: 6/10

Last Pen Standing – Vivian Conroy

last pen standing cover

“Even though the sign of her destination was already in sight, calling out a warm welcome to Tundish, Montana, “the town with a heart of gold,” Delta Douglas couldn’t resist the temptation to stop her car, reach for the sketchbook in the passenger seat, and draw the orange and gold trees covering a mountain flank all the way to where the snow-peaked top began.”

My foray into the cosy mystery genre has so far centred around books set in bookshops or libraries. This new series is set in the world of craft supplies and notebooks, another topic that appeals to me greatly.

Delta Douglas has been lucky enough to come into enough money to leave her stressful graphic design job in the city and pursue her dream: to own a stationery shop. But her move to a picturesque tourist town quickly goes from glitter to murder. Worse, her best friend and business partner is implicated in the case. Can Delta enlist the help of the ‘Paper Posse’ crafting group, find the real murderer, and save her friend – or will poking her nose into the crime put her in more danger?

This book ticks all the boxes for a cosy mystery: dream job, move to a small town, helpful locals, possible love-interest, hobbies, cake, and dogs. It’s also well written, with plenty of mystery to keep me guessing. The big reveal doesn’t quite pack a (craft) punch, but that’s as expected from the genre, I think.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing voice, the story and descriptions, and will definitely be looking out for the sequel. I’m also feeling quite inspired on the crafty front – bonus! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 18 chapters
First published: September 2019
Series: Stationery Shop Mystery book 1
Read from 21st-10th September 2019

My rating: 7/10

Buried in the Stacks – Allison Brook

buried in the stacks cover

“‘The blue-cheese burger and fries are calling to me, but I’m going with a small salad, no bread,’ Angela said, looking up from the lunch menu with a sigh.”

Librarian Carrie Singleton is once more caught up in a murder mystery, following the events in Death Overdue and Read and Gone. This time, though, she might also get to the bottom of what happened to Evelyn, the library’s ghost.

The homeless of the town have started to use the library as a warm shelter during the cold days. When this causes troubles with other patrons, Carrie finds herself helping out with an ambitious project to refurbish an old house as a refuge. But is the project as above-board as it seems? Could the death of a local resident be connected? And can Carrie curb her sleuthing ways long enough to stay out of danger?

The answer to that last question is a resounding no, and that’s maybe the big irritation here. If someone had broken into my house and left threatening messages, I might be looking to take a holiday – not still poking my nose into shady situations!

Still, plot needs must, I suppose, and Carrie continues to investigate while otherwise leading her normal life: planning library events, eating a lot of avocado, getting her boyfriend to move back to town, and helping her best friend plan her wedding. And looking after a cat, of course! The charming normality is layered on quite thick, but that’s what makes a cosy mystery.

Points off, however, that the mystery is wrapped up rather abruptly and in a very trope-y confession scene. So, enjoy the pleasant meander through Carrie’s life again, but don’t expect too much of a thriller.

NetGalley eARC: 316 pages / 38 chapters
First published: 10th September 2019
Series: Haunted Library Mystery book 3
Read from 3rd-10th September 2019

My rating: 6.5/10