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

Foul Play on Words – Becky Clark

foul play on words cover

“Waiting for someone to pick you up at the airport is like being forced to be eight years old again.”

Fiction Can Be Murderthe first book in the Mystery Writer’s Mystery series, introduced us to Charlemagne (Charlee) Russo, the mystery writer in question, after her unpleasant agent is found murdered.

Book two picks up a few months later, with Charlee due to speak at a writer’s conference organised by her friend, Viv. However, she instead finds herself in charge of organising the whole about-to-be fiasco, as Viv is a little more concerned with the kidnapping of her daughter! Can Charlee juggle hotel cock-ups, double booked doggies, and dark suspicions?

I hadn’t been completely enthralled with the first book, but this one feels like an improvement. Certainly, I was kept guessing as to which way the plot was going to turn. Charlee is reasonably relatable here, trying to help in awful circumstances, and behaving in a pretty plausible way – not often the case in such books!

I enjoyed the easy, mostly fun read and the not entirely obvious twists and turns. The ending is perhaps a little weak, but more in terms of how we get to the big reveal rather than the solution itself.

I was unsure about continuing with this series after book one, but after this instalment I’d be happy enough to continue.

NetGalley eARC: 257 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: A Mystery Writer’s Mystery book 2
Read from ?-24th July 2019

My rating: 6.5/10

A Scandal in Scarlet – Vicki Delany

a scandal in scarlet cover

“I love owning a dog.”

Of all the book-related cosy mysteries that have become my go-to ‘palette cleanse’, easy-read choice, this series is almost certainly my favourite. Gemma Doyle is smarter than me, but I relate to her logical way of looking at the world, and both her love-life and dog ownership are thankfully kept as just a backing piece to the stories of murder and books.

The Scarlet of the title refers to a historical museum, popular with school parties and tourists in Gemma’s peaceful (well…!) little town. When a fire destroys a large part of it, local residents rally round to help raise funds for the restoration. But as Gemma soon learns, the volunteer board isn’t all sweetness and light behind the scenes…

There are a few over the top, unbelievable moments here – Gemma disguising herself to poke around asking questions, for instance – but they are played with tongue in cheek humour that does lift the slightly darker elements, from murders to adultery, and downright pantomime-ly unpleasant fellow shop owners. The author does perhaps over-do telling us about all the “dark red – scarlet” clothing etc that highlights the museum and book name, but not too irritating!

The crime element is played out very well, with plenty of twists and red herrings. More than most cosy mysteries, this really is the main thrust of the narrative. The background of location, bookstore, cake and friendship is lovely, but unlike other series I’ve tried, we’re not mainly following the romance woes, or getting minutiae of the ins and outs of pet ownership…!

Hit all the right buttons. Excellent example of the genre!

NetGalley eARC: 296 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 4
Read from 19th-26th May 2019

My rating: 8/10 – excellent example of the cosy mystery genre 🙂

Past Due for Murder – Victoria Gilbert

past due for murder cover

“It’s amazing how much easier it is for people to learn something when you turn lessons into stories.”

A Murder for the Books introduced us to Amy Webber, small town librarian caught up in a murder mystery which it turns out her research skills and logical mind are well-suited to solving. The second instalment, Shelved Under Murder, allowed both the character and the story confidence to grow, and with the third in the series I think we’ve really hit stride.

As Amy’s small town gears up to boost tourism by reintroducing the historical May Day festival, a local folklore expert’s tales of young women disappearing on the eve of May Day seems also to be revisiting the town. But as some go missing, other old faces are making unwelcome reappearances in Amy’s (love) life…

As ever, I’m less keen on the romance element that tends to accompany cosy mysteries, but actually the lack of generally fluffiness about this series helps the relationship aspect not feel too saccharine. I am still annoyed with the otherwise rational and logical character tending to fly off the emotional handle where her men are involved, but otherwise, fair ’nuff.

I can tend to be a little sniffy about cosy mysteries in my reviewing, but I actually really enjoyed this. It was a nice light and easy read, with enough going on to hold my attention and make me look forward to curling up with the book when I could. The pace does dip a little in the middle, but almost as soon as I was finding it a little ‘meh’, I hit the start of the revelations and couldn’t put the book down despite the late hour!

Looking forward to more from Amy – even if it requires a bit of her love-life along the way 😉

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 3
Read from 28th – 31st January 2019

My rating: 7/10

Campion at Christmas – Margery Allingham

campion at christmas cover

“Sir Leo Pursuivant, the Chief Constable, had been sitting in his comfortable study after a magnificent lunch and talking heavily of the sadness of Christmas while his guest, Mr Campion, most favoured of this large house-party, had been laughing at him gently.”

I’ve always had a soft spot for Campion, after enjoying the tv adaptations when I was younger. Took me a long time to get around to any of the books – starting with The Crime at Black Dudley – and to be honest I’ve still only read a couple. However, a set of four short stories from Margery Allingham, based at Christmas, just sounded lovely!

And, they are quite sweet. Three of the four, On Christmas Day in the Morning, The Man with the Sack, and Word in Season,  involve Albert Campion, two of those solving mini mysteries and the other one a slice of family life with a very very large dollop of whimsy. I enjoyed all of these, picturing Peter Davison in the role, and who doesn’t love dogs with the last one? 🙂

The other story, Happy Christmas, the second in the collection, is a different beast. While clearly about Christmas, it doesn’t feature Campion and to be honest I was left scratching my head a little over what it was all about. Nothing wrong with it, it’s still a sweet little slice of period frippery, just not entirely sure what I was missing. It’s the oldest story, too, published in 1937 compared with the 1960s for the others.

If you’re a fan of Campion, this is a short but lovely little compilation of cosy mystery niceness that conjures images of a more gentile time.

NetGalley eARC: 63 pages / 4 short stories
First published: 2018 (as collection), 1937-1965 (originally in various magazines)
Series: Campion short stories
Read from 16th-17th December 2018

My rating: 7.5/10

The Novel Art of Murder – VM Burns

novel art of murder cover

“‘What the blazes do you mean I didn’t get the part?'”

Sam Washington’s life has been a bit of a rollercoaster since we first met her in The Plot is Murder, and then again in Read Herring Hunt. Her small town is in danger of turning into the new Cabot Cove (from Murder She Wrote) with yet another mysterious death, and another person close to Sam accused of murder! This time, she has just a week to save her Nana Jo from the Big House, after a rival takes her lead role in the local am-dram play…

Cosy mysteries are my snuggle up for a bit of fluff reads, and I adore books about books. Bonus with this series is Sam’s own efforts at writing a mystery – alas, these are rather the low point of the whole affair. They pad things out nicely, allow for a change of pace, and explain well Sam’s leaps of intuition over the real cases, but they also serve to make the rest of the book look great in comparison. Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie but falling quite far short, especially in dialect, and the whole sub-mystery is tied up in a sudden revelation from nowhere.

Aside from that, the book also allows Sam’s life to continue to grow as has been building in the series. Everything – aside from the murder! – is running rather wonderfully, and that too is a nice counterbalance to the ‘oh no, another death!’.

This leans heavily into the ‘cosy’, with very little in the way of peril despite a few sobbing fits from some of our leading ladies. I still love the elderly band of sleuths helping Sam, although the teenagers are all a little too nice and helpful to be realistic 😉

I like this series, but it’s probably going to remain ‘okay’ rather than ‘great’. And I’m fine with that. This one is a little better than the preceding volume, and I’d still happily reach for the next installment.

NetGalley eARC: 256 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 3
Read from 12th-16th December 2018

My rating: 6/10