Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Sad Goodbye

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing the end of Cozy Little Book Journal. I will no longer be reviewing, tweeting about, or blogging about books. Period. This means the end of all of my secondary blogs as well, including this one, I'm afraid.

I'm so sorry to all of the authors and publishers who were counting on me to promote the countless books they've sent me over the years, and I'm sorry to all of the readers who have come back to my blog again and again. I appreciate all of your support and encouragement and I'm so sorry to disappoint anyone. I assure you I did not take this decision lightly.

Most people don't realize this but I've not been well for several months now. I've had medical issues that have impacted my life in various ways and I really need to focus on my health now. For a long time, blogging seemed like a good fit for me. I could read and review books even when I was too ill to do much else. Lately, however, the stress of all of my book-related commitments, combined with feeling physically ill and emotionally exhausted, has made it a hobby that I dread more than I treasure. I've hated having reading turn into a chore instead of a joy.

Apart from health concerns, I've also gotten tired of a lot of other aspects of having a book blog. I'm sick of having authors' friends call me an idiot on Amazon because I didn't like a book. I'm tired of being sent dozens of crappy book files every month, despite repeatedly telling self-published authors that I'm in no way interested in their Christian children's books or their vampire YA. I'm tired of always being a few hundred books behind in my reading list, then feeling guilty if I choose to read a library book instead of one I'm "obligated" to read. I miss re-reading my favourite books just because I feel like it, instead of trying to speed-read the endless book files I have on my Kobo.

Don't get me wrong. I've loved so much about book blogging. I'd say I've loved it way more than I've hated it. I've loved being a part of a community of committed readers who discuss books with the enthusiasm of sports fans discussing a big game. I've loved interacting with authors, illustrators, publishers and publicists, the majority of whom have been the most amazing and lovely people. I've treasured the moments when my honest excitement for a book can make an author's day, and I've loved when they've taken the time to tell me that. I've been in awe of so many authors and artists and I've felt like I was backstage at a rock concert, getting to exchange letters and emails with my literary heroes.

I've loved sharing this experience with my daughter. She's five, but she never starts a new book without reading not only the title, but also the name of the author, the illustrator and the publisher. I didn't do that when I was her age. She's only a beginner reader herself, but she can already easily identify when a book is written or illustrated by someone she knows because she's come to recognize art styles, writing styles, and author photos. She thinks computers are mostly for downloading book files. I love that.

Nonetheless, I've decided that it is time to take a break from blogging. My daughter is starting school in a few days and I'm trying to stay healthy enough to share each day with her. Of course we'll still be reading and discussing all our favourite books. We just won't be doing it online.

Thank-you again to everyone who has supported and participated in my book blog, in every capacity, over the past four years. Unfortunately it's goodbye for now (possibly forever) but I really appreciate all of you. Thanks for understanding.

Friday, July 18, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Strangling on the Stage, by Simon Brett (The Fethering Mysteries)

There's no doubt in my mind that Simon Brett is a very talented mystery writer. He's responsible for one of my favourite mystery novels of all time, The Christmas Crimes at Puzzel Manor. He's also a very prolific writer and, in my opinion, not always consistent. This book, for instance, is definitely not one of my favourites.

It started out with some great elements. It's set in the world of amateur theatre ("SADOS" not "am-drams"), which is always fun. It reminded me of "The Dangers of Gingerbread Cookies," by Laura Levine, or the movie Hot Fuzz in that respect. 

Of course it's strange to read a Simon Brett mystery about the theatre without having Charles Paris show up, but I suppose Paris is an amateur detective but a professional actor so he wouldn't be anywhere near the am-drams (sorry, SADOS). But it's a good setting, flush with drama, histrionics and things not being as they appear.

Which brings us to the murder, the so-called 'strangling on the stage.' It seems straight forward enough. A prop Velcro noose is replaced with a real one and an actor is hanged while reahearsing a gallows scene. So who switched the ropes? Seems simple enough but it felt like 150 pages are devoted to nothing else but this question. I really could have used a few subplots to keep the interest up.

And if I never read the words "drinkie things" again in my life, it'll be too soon. It's what the SADOS members call their after theatre cocktails and according to my e-reader the phrase appears over thirty times in the book. I don't believe that. I'm sure it was more like 200 times. And we don't actually get to see much "drinkie"-ing!

The whole book could have taken a cue from that old Elvis song, "A Little Less Conversation (A Little More Action)". And no "drinkie things"!

The Strangling on the Stage
A Fethering Mystery
by Simon Brett
Publisher: Creme de la Crime
Publication Date: February 1, 2014
View on Amazon

Source: NetGalley

Gingerbread Cookie

(my review)
The Christmas Crimes
at Puzzel Manor

(my review)
Hot Fuzz
A Little Less Conversation

Thursday, July 17, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Skeleton in the Closet, by M.C. Beaton

I've never read an M.C. Beaton mystery that didn't star either Hamish Macbeth or Agatha Raisin, so I'm glad I tracked down this stand-alone novel. It's charming, and written in a style that reminded me of Michael Palin's novel, Hemingway's Chair (which I read years ago and absolutely loved).

The story revolves around two people trying to solve a years old train robbery rather than a murder, though a few people are killed--or nearly killed--along the way. I liked Fellworth and Maggie as the sleuthing couple and almost wish Beaton had given them their own series. They could have been a folksy Tommy and Tuppence, or a shabby Nick and Nora Charles.

Keep reading for a sort-of-but-not-really-and-actually-not-at-all *spoiler*...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Ten Lords A-Leaping, by C.C. Benison...which should have been called "Not As Christmas-y As It Sounds"

Ten Lords A-Leaping is like a combination of several genres of cozy mystery: it's an English country house murder; it's a vicar mystery; at times it's a sexy romance mystery that has the sleuth lingering over impure thoughts (which was kind of weird in a vicar mystery).

One thing it is NOT is a Christmas mystery, which is bull crap as far as I'm concerned. Not only do I LOVE Christmas cozies, I had every reason to expect that this would be one. It's called Ten Lords A-Leaping, the third in a series that started--of course--with Twelve Drummers Drumming and Eleven Pipers Piping. As if that weren't Christmasy enough, the sleuth's name is FATHER CHRISTMAS! And this one was published in December! Why WOULDN'T I expect it to be a Christmas mystery? But alas, no, it does not take place at Christmas time.

It was a little hard for me to get past that one, if I'm honest. It's like C.C. Benison was taunting me. But I digress.

The mystery itself is enjoyable enough, I suppose, though it does proceed at a meandering pace (read: it's a little long). It was hard to maintain any sense of urgency when the murder itself seems all but forgotten throughout much of the book as the characters go off on tangents about lost relatives and weird romances. But I did like the English manor setting, complete with labyrinth (who doesn't love a labyrinth?), and the set up of the literal "lords a-leaping" (Peers of the Realm skydiving for charity) is a lot of fun.

I read this book and also listened to the audiobook, and I must say that the narration by Steve West (with Jean Gilpin) was amazing. I'm pretty picky (read: easily annoyed) about audiobook narration, but I had no complaints about this at all. In fact, I may look up other books narrated by Steve West to see if there are any others I'd like to hear.

Ten Lords A-Leaping: A Father Christmas Mystery
by C.C. Benison (Douglas Whiteway)
Audiobook narrated by Steve West and Jean Gilpin
Published by Random House/Delacorte Press
Audiobook published by Random House Audio
Publication Date: December 3, 2013
View on Amazon

 Source: NetGalley (audiobook from my local library)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Murder Past Due, by Miranda James (A Cat in the Stacks Mystery)

I didn't hate this book, but it definitely had some problems. On the one hand, I found myself speeding through it to find out what would happen next. The main character is a librarian, the victim is a successful author, and the "cat in the stacks" is a Maine coon, a breed I'm very familiar with here on the East Coast, so all of these were good elements for me. But the way they were handled was inexpert, bordering on lazy.

First of all, none of the characters was well developed at all. The main character, Charlie Harris (who is apparently a fan of author Charlaine Harris...might he have been named after her?), is a fifty-year-old archivist at a university library who has recently returned to his home town of Athena, Mississippi, boards college students at his house and takes his cat everywhere with him (literally EVERYWHERE). And know you know everything about him. What does he look like? No idea. What does he like to eat? Um...not important. Does he have any hobbies? Uh...paperwork? I'm guessing he wears sweaters year round because that seems dull to me, but I really don't know. Miranda James never bothered to tell us. Oh, but we do know that he likes the Hardy Boys and Peyton Place (PEYTON PLACE!) because apparently his cultural references are all from the 1950's and '60's for some reason.

Speaking of Miranda James, does anyone know why author Dean James (which also sounds like a fake name, to be honest) chose a woman's name as his pseudonym for this series? I thought since he has a male protagonist, it would have made more sense for him to use a male pen name, but I'm guessing he thought that female authors were more "traditional" for cozy mysteries, particularly cat cozies. It wouldn't surprise me, considering it seems like all his choices were based on what was most traditional (read: stereotypical) rather than developing any depth to his characters or stories.

Take the murder victim, for instance. Godfrey Priest is a successful mystery writer from Athena who returns home for a book signing (or something...honestly the details were a little vague). The only thing that everyone agrees on is that they hate him. Why? Because he's a jerk. How is he a jerk? Well because he is. A lot of the characters complain that they don't like his writing, but it seems more like snobbery and jealousy over his success than a reason to hate somebody as a person. Some of them are annoyed that he acts like he's "too good" for the small town because he doesn't always show up for book signings at local book stores, but if this guy is supposed to be a millionaire (we eventually learn he is worth over $100 million just from his books and movie options, which would make him one of the richest authors in the world) it's pretty damn amazing he shows up for ANY small town book signings. So the whole town can suck it, as far as I'm concerned. At no point did Miranda James make a compelling argument for Godfrey Priest's supposed jerkiness.

Not that she (sorry, he) made a compelling argument for any of the characters, one way or another. They're all so bland that not one of them seemed like a real person. Well, except maybe the cat. No, not even the cat, because James' description of a Maine coon was based entirely on wrong information. He describes the cat as being 25-30 pounds and expected to get bigger at full size. Nope. Not true. They ARE NOT THAT BIG, despite what Dean James may have heard. They're big cats, but more like 15 pounds than 25. Plus he has Diesel the cat jumping up and down from things all the time. While this may be typical of most cats, it's not typical of Maine coons. They're not jumpers. We have a lot of the breed here in Nova Scotia, and even more mixed breed versions of them (lots of extra toes amongst Nova Scotia felines!) and they don't jump nearly as much as other cats, because they're too big and prefer to stay close to the ground. And the thing about Charlie walking Diesel on a leash? Just because it could happen, doesn't mean it would. I mean, who brings their cat with them EVERYWHERE? To the bank? To work? To the grocery store? TO A FUNERAL? It's just stupid.

I said at the beginning that I didn't hate this book. That's true. But that doesn't mean I thought it was good. I did, however, think that the author could have done a lot better if he had just put more effort in. Maybe I'll read some reviews of the later books in the series to see if anyone thinks he improved.

Murder Past Due (Cat in the Stacks Mystery #1)
by Miranda James (aka Dean James)
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: August 3, 2010
View on Amazon

Source: library book sale

Monday, July 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2), by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

It pains me to write anything negative about J.K. Rowling because I have such affection for the Harry Potter series, but I did not like this book at all. I read it all the way through--I couldn't imagine abandoning a J.K. Rowling book, even if it was one written under her pseudonym--but it never got more enjoyable for me. In fact, I found it more irritating and unbelievable as I went on. Mostly I just found the whole thing to be a giant case of, "Who cares?".

First there's the main character, the unlikely named Cormoran Strike. I couldn't get a read on him at all. He's described as big and lumbering, someone who sleeps in his office and looks quite rough, but then he's described as neat and particular thanks to his military training. He doesn't seem neat and particular. In fact he seems rather slovenly.

The same goes for his memory. Several characters comment on Cormoran's steel trap memory, his ability to remember anything and everything, yet his secretary has to remind him numerous times about their plans to meet for drinks. He keeps forgetting the date and time they're supposed to be meeting. Does he have selective memory? Is he teasing her? He's a completely humourless character (everyone in the series is) so I can't imagine it's that. If it's so out of character for him to forget something, you'd think his assistant would have at least commented on that.

So is Strike a complex character, a man of contrasts? Or just an unbelievable one who isn't very well written? If it were anyone other than J.K. Rowling writing this book, I'd say it was the latter. But I find it so hard not to give her the benefit of the doubt because I love her other writing so much. I don't think I'll ever be truly objective when it comes to her. So far that has resulted in me plodding threw three increasingly unsatisfying adult novels.

The most troubling point of the book, however, isn't just Cormoran Strike's character but his motivation. I never understood what on earth compelled him to take on the case of the missing writer in the first place, after being hired by the man's sullen and boring wife. He knows she's unlikely to be able to pay him, and I can't imagine he found her enticing or even likeable. (I kept picturing her as this character from American Horror Story, not because that's what she looks like but because she's so dull.) Why does he care what happened to her husband? Of course it turns out that her husband is dead (or else this would have been a much shorter book) but Strike doesn't know that when he takes the case.

And the case itself is ridiculous. Writer Owen Quine is murdered because his dreadful new--but unpublished--fantasy novel is a grotesque parody of the behaviour of people in the publishing industry? What?? Rowling--sorry, Galbraith--keeps insisting we should care about this but the whole thing doesn't amount to enough tension to go slack-lining, let alone keep up the interest of mystery reader.

The Silkworm
by Robert Galbraith
Series: A Cormoran Strike Novel (Book 2)
Published by Mulholland Books
Publication Date: June 19, 2014
View on Amazon

Source: my local library

BOOK REVIEW: I finally read an Ann Cleeves book and it was pretty great

I love a British mystery. There are many British mystery series that I love to read, and plenty TV adaptations that I love to watch, but few that I love in equal measure. Either the show does no justice to the books, or else it's so good that I hate to admit I like it better than the original stories. But the ITV adaptation of Ann Cleeves' Vera Stanhope mysteries hits just the right balance, and I love them both.

Reading Silent Voices was like watching an episode of Vera, except all of my extra questions about the characters were explained (I know, this sounds obvious, but I'm not sure how else to say it). The tone was the same in the book as it is in the show, so if you've seen the show and hate it, you might not like the books at all.

This entry in the series is a story of a social worker and single mom whom Vera finds dead--a victim of strangulation--in the steam room of her gym. I love the moment when Vera realizes she'll have to call it in, meaning that everyone at work will know she's joined a health club. Realizing she has no choice, she at least takes the time to change back into her street clothes before her team arrives. No need to be seen in her swim suit, even if there is a crime scene!

The pace is somewhat slow, but I didn't find it dragged on. The pace made sense for the setting. Everyone is lying and everyone is at least a little bit depressed about something, so they don't make for very helpful witnesses. DI Stanhope, herself a little depressed and secretive, knows how to get things out of people eventually. These are, after all, her people. The bleakness of the setting is a big part of the charm.

Only Ann Cleeves could make a character as grumpy and frumpy as Vera Stanhope seem like the most capable, formidable, and oddly likeable detective ever. If I had a crime that needed solving, I'd want Vera to solve it. Unless of course I was the criminal, in which case I'd probably break down eventually, confessing everything to her over a cup of spiked tea and a good cry. She'd give me a biscuit, call me pet, and then cart me off to jail in handcuffs. She's made of stern stuff, our Vera.

Silent Voices (A DI Vera Stanhope Mystery)
by Ann Cleeves
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
View on Amazon

Source: local library

Death of a Policeman
A Very British Murder
Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly