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

The Allingham Minibus – Margery Allingham

allingham minibus cover

“Dornford killed Fellowes somewhere in Australia.”

I’ve written before about being a fan of Campion and the period-gentle kind of mystery. Here we have a collection of short stories, some with the famous detective, others a little more random. All in all, a rather good mix!

We open with a foreword from Agatha Christie – what better stamp of approval can another mystery writer of the time get, really?

The first story surprised me, as I didn’t know the author dabbled in horror. This is a perfect mystery-come-terror story, which I can wholly imagine being told around a campfire. And, despite the age (so much is reused, and loses something from the familiarity) still gave me a fun little chill. The rest of the stories mix this kind of ‘ghost story’ with mysteries, and a large dose of whimsy.

The strength of the writing is clear. There’s a lovely mix of cosy period elements, throwbacks to more genteel times, but with mysteries that genuinely kept me wondering where it was going next, whether they involved ageing, publicity-hunger actors, or church men who aren’t very godly, haunted parrot cages (!), or a more domestic tale of a couple’s last evening before an agreed divorce.

The Campion stories are scattered between, few of them and one I’d read before (in Campion at Christmas), but always a pleasure to imagine the character as portrayed in the TV series I loved.

Overall: an old-fashioned but nicely so collection of mysteries and light chills, perfect for the season – and beyond!

NetGalley eARC: 269 pages / 18 short stories
First published: 1973 and most recently rereleased October 2019
Series: Campion and other non-series stories
Read from 7th-27th October 2019

My rating: 7.5/10

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