Tag Archives: Crimes of Fashion

A Toxic Trousseau


Title:  A Toxic Trousseau (Witchcraft Mystery 8)
Author:  Juliet Blackwell
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-451-46579-5

Book Summary:
Lily Ivory, owner of the successful vintage clothing shop Aunt Cora’s Closet in San Francisco, is a witch; but even that can’t insulate her from the realities of business ownership.  When her witch’s familiar, a pig named Oscar, knocks over a customer, Lily finds herself being sued for compensation for the victim’s personal injuries.  When Lily’s employees and Oscar himself claim the incident was very minor, Lily decides to approach the accuser.

Autumn Jennings owns her own vintage clothing shop in a more fashionable area of the city and deals with much higher quality couture garments; many of which she sells to museums.  When Lily and Maya enter her store, they find it deserted.  As they search for the owner, Autumn appears holding a gun.  It becomes quickly evident that she is unwell and passes out; she is rushed to the hospital.  When her death is pronounced, the cause becomes quickly apparent – poison.  Because of the lawsuit and Lily’s presence at the crime scene, she quickly becomes a suspect and her own shop is closed as it is searched for evidence.

Lily discovers that Autumn had acquired an antique trousseau with an old curse.  As she delves into the history of the trunk and its contents, a dark and cryptic past is revealed that has ties to the modern day.

If that wasn’t enough, local head of the magic community, Aidan Rhodes is called out of town and asks Lily to supervise his bureaucratic duties.  Juggling agreements with the mayor, settling disputes between witches, assisting with the licensing of fortune-tellers and necromancers, and being placed in charge of Aidan’s legendary satchel, challenges Lily’s patience and negotiating skills.

To top everything else off, for employee Brownyn’s birthday, Lily has been invited, along with the rest of the witch’s coven, to spend the night in the infamous Rodchester House of Spirits, a hundred room mansion in the South Bay that was built by the owner to appease the spirits of the dead who were killed by Rodchester rifles.  With so many conflicts and uncertainties, Lily feels bombarded with threats and malevolence.  The question is where exactly is it coming from and can she figure it out before it is too late!

Book Commentary:
Oops!  I read this one quite a while ago, but forgot to post my commentary.

I have read all the Lily Ivory books and I really enjoy them.  They are paranormal based but I don’t really categorize them as “cozy.”  I especially enjoy the author’s use of vintage clothing to tell the stories.  Clothing tells so much about the history, customs, values, and social codes of its time period.  The descriptions of and references to the garments in the trousseau are fascinating and at times terrifying as you realize what some of the materials used to make them were!

Lily is a very like-able character and the paranormal aside, she truly has grown as an individual and a shopkeeper over the course of the series.  The cast of secondary characters – Bronwyn, Maya, Oscar, Sailor – also have grown and their complexity adds to the depth of the plot-lines.  Of course, I am also a fan of any series set in San Francisco; a city with such a vibe of history, culture, and eclecticism, really anything can happen!

I also loved the description of the Rodchester Mystery House.  It is obviously based on the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.  The widow of the maker of the Winchester rifles felt haunted by the spirits of those killed by the guns, so she built a house “designed” by and meant to appeal to the spirits.  I remember reading about it in a Weekly Reader as a kid; when we took a family vacation to the West Coast, it was one of the places that I insisted we visit.  It really is an amazing house:  doors that go nowhere, interior stained glass windows, stairs with two inch treads.  Regardless how you feel about ghosts, the house is quite impressive . . . and just a bit creepy!

Who might like this book:
These are paranormal mysteries, which don’t appeal to everyone.  If you do like this type of mystery though, I think you would enjoy the series.  I am also a fan of Ellen Byerrum’s Crimes of Fashion series which also uses clothing as the basis for the story-lines and I think fans of each story would enjoy the other. I would, as always, recommend that they are read in order.  They stand alone as a story, but I think work a lot better as a continuing saga or adventure.

Here are the books in order:
Secondhand Spirits
A Cast-off Coven
Hexes and Hemlines
In a Witch’s Wardrobe
Tarnished and Torn
A Vision in Velvet
A Toxic Trousseau



A is for Alibi Homicide in Hardcover Killer Hairsecondhand-spirits-200

Were you shocked when you saw that title?  Yes!!  I do read both American mysteries AND contemporary mysteries.  I like to mix things up a bit and be a little wild and crazy!  I have a number that I enjoy but here are four of my favorites.  The best thing about this list is that all of these authors are well-established, so if you enjoy the first book, there are many more in the series.

Crimes of Fashion by Ellen Byerrum
This series might be one of the most witty and charismatic books series I have ever read.  Lacey Smithsonian is a fashion writer for the Washington Eye; her clever and often cutting remarks about the sea of gray in Washington DC is very sharp and well-styled.  Her fashion reporting gets her embroiled in crimes that aren’t related to clothing choices.  What I really enjoy is how fashion serves as a plot device: a type of fabric that is poisonous when wet, an article of clothing used to smuggle heirlooms out of a war-torn country, or when the dress really does make the killer.

Lacey’s best friend and stylist Stella is larger than life and always adds a bit of humanity and humor to the storyline, her on-again, off-again boyfriend Vic Donovan provides more tension and conflict to Lacey’s life, and her mother and sister often pop in for surprise visits that create even more upheaval.  The humor is very well blended with thoughtful plotlines and a great deal of couture research.  The first two books in the series were made into TV movies and were actually quite good.

The Lacey Smithsonian books in order are:
Killer Hair
Designer Knockoff
Hostile Makeover
Raiders of the Lost Corset
Grave Appeal
Armed and Glamorous
Shot Through Velvet
Death on Heels
Veiled Revenge
Lethal Black Dress

Bibliophile Mysteries by Kate Carlisle
I know that I have reviewed the Kate Carlisle Bibliophile books before but I really enjoy them.  Brooklyn Wainwright is a book binder in San Francisco.  She repairs old and often priceless books and returns them to their past glory; however, the world of antique and rare books is very cutthroat and many of her restorations lead to murder.

This series manages to keep me engaged and each of the crimes is believable in the crime itself and Brooklyn’s involvement.  The stories have ranged from books that are smuggled into the country, supposedly lost books, and heirloom children’s books.  Of course, the fact that the story is based in books gripped me at the start, but Carlisle’s characters are who keep me coming back for more.  Brooklyn is worldly and yet naïve; her dreamy English security expect boyfriend Derek is well-developed and not a caricature; and Brookyn’s quirky Deadhead parents provide both humor and insight.

The Bibliophile series in order:
Homicide in Hardcover
If Books Could Kill
The Lies that Bind
Murder Under Cover
One Book in the Grave
Peril in Paperback
A Cookbook Conspiracy
The Book Stops Here
Ripped from the Pages
Books of a Feather (coming June 7, 2016)

Alphabet Mysteries by Sue Grafton
It can be hard to stick with an author over a long time and even more challenging for a writer to maintain a character and series, but Sue Grafton has done with her Alphabet Mysteries.  The stories are set in the 1980’s in Santa Teresa, California.  After a difficult childhood, Kinsey Millhone joined the police academy but quickly realized that she was better at being her own boss.  She gets her private investigator’s license and the rest is history.

Each of the stories in the series is unique, well-plotted, and engaging.  Although I will admit that I enjoyed some of the stories more than others, I always close the book at the last page feeling satisfied at a story well-written.  I have recommended these books to many people, and I have to stress that the series keeps getting better.  The first couple of books were good, but by about the fourth book, I was completely hooked.  Often characters will reappear after a few stories and the reader really feels as if he is getting a snapshot of Kinsey’s life.  I am quite enamored with Kinsey’s geriatric landlord Henry, and Rosie, who runs the restaurant down the road.  When each of the books end, there isn’t the burning need to “read the next one,” but I always enjoy when a new one comes out.  It is a great series to pick up, read a few, take a break, and come back to.

The author is most done with the alphabet and I will be sad when it is over.  The Kinsey Millhone books, in order, are:
A is for Alibis
B is for Burglar
C is for Corpse
D is for Deadbeat
E is for Evidence
F is for Fugitive
G is for Gumshoe
H is for Homicide
I is for Innocent
J is for Judgement
K is for Killer
L is for Lawless
M is for Malice
N is for Noose
O is for Outlaw
P is for Peril
Q is for Quarry
R is for Ricochet
S is for Silence
T is for Trespass
U is for Undertow
V is for Vengeance
W is for Wasted
No word yet on when Y will be released but she usually publishes a book a year.

Witchcraft mysteries by Juliet Blackwell
Lily Ivory is a witch; she lives in San Francisco and is the owner of Aunt Cora’s Attic, a vintage clothing store.  Literally run out of a small Texas town, Lily has finally found a place to call home.  With the aid of her familiar, a gargoyle/pot-bellied pig named Oscar, she lives a quiet life above her story.  Lily’s spell-casting training was never completed and as a result, she often attracts unwanted attention of the supernatural kind.  Aidan Rhodes, a powerful and domineering witch, and a man known only as Sailor, both vie for her attention and her talents.

I really enjoy the supernatural aspect of these stories and especially like how it compliments and expands the plotlines without over-powering or diminishing the story itself.  Lily is a very likable character and the author does a great job at making the reader want to root for her.

The Witchcraft series in order:
Secondhand Spirits
Cast-Off Coven
Hexes and Hemlines
In a Witch’s Wardrobe
Tarnished and Torn
A Vision in Velvet
Spellcasting in Silk
A Toxic Trousseau (coming July 5, 2016)


Cover Shot

Cover Shot

Title:  Cover Shot (Headlines in High Heels 5)
Author:  LynDee Walker
Publisher:  Henery Press
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1943390212

Book Summary:
When you are in the newspaper business, slow crime activity makes for dull reading, but reporter Nichelle Clarke’s wish for some excitement comes with bang.  The murder of a wealthy and well-renowned doctor should be front page news, but the police are dragging their feet with official identification of the victim. Nichelle uses her charms and wiles to discover not only the doctor’s identity, but also that he was heavily involved in cancer research and drug trials.  For further complicate matters, all this prior associates had nothing but complimentary things to say about the man who left public practice to work on private inquiries.  Nichelle’s primary police contact Aaron seems to be under pressure to keep a very tight lid on the case, but from who?

In a seemingly unrelated matter, a mysterious guy with a rifle takes an entire hospital hostage.  His request is to speak with Nichelle herself and when she faces the gunman, she discovers that there is a lot more to the story than appears.  The police are under pressure to make an arrest, but there are way too many “whys” to the story and Nichelle keeps digging to discover the truth.

Complicating matters, the higher ups at the Richmond Telegraph seem to be aggressively trying to coerce Nichelle’s editor into retirement.  The truth behind both the hospital gunman and the murdered doctor may help to secure her editor’s job and her own shot at a story of a lifetime, but it may also threaten the one person Nichelle holds most dear.  It becomes a race to the deadline as Nichelle combines her sleuthing skills with the power of the pen.

Book Commentary:
I discovered this book series on a whim.  Read the first book and then promptly ordered the rest of the series.  I really enjoy Nichelle; she is smart and sassy without being a stereo-typical “tough girl.”  Her sense of justice is honorable, but I really admire her quest for a good story.  Although this series isn’t a hard-core police procedural, there is enough sleuthing and unraveling of details to give the story some real depth. I feel that sometimes the hard-core detective series focus so much on the procedural part that they lose the characterizations.

Nichelle’s personal life has an interesting way of blending into her professional life.  Ex-boyfriend Kyle is an FBI agent who thinks he would like to rekindle their past relationship and has a very strong sense of right and wrong.  Kyle follows the law to the letter and Nichelle sometimes likes to divert from that straight and narrow path.  Perfect example is Nichelle’s “friend” Joey.  She isn’t sure exactly what Joey does for living but there is a hint of some dubious, possible mob-related, connections.  Nichelle doesn’t even know Joey’s last name, but their relationship is sound at the moment.  I love to watch the building cat-and-mouse game between Kyle and Joey; their conflict promises to come to a head in future books.

Who might like this book:
I am a huge fan of Ellen Byerrum’s Crimes of Fashion series; her protagonist is a fashion reporter for a DC newspaper who seems to get herself embroiled in finding the facts for crime stories.  The Headlines in High Heels series has more of a universal appeal as the protagonist is a straight news reporter but both are very enjoyable.

It is also very interesting to see the contrast between print and internet media and television media.  Nichelle has a love-hate relationship with a local news reporter and it is fascinating to see how the different media sources get their information to the public.

I really enjoy this series; it has engaging plots, relatable and likeable characters, and quirky, yet real-life based plotlines.  Of course, read the series in order!

1 – Front Page Fatality
2 – Buried Leads
3 – Small Town Spin
4 – Devil in the Deadline
5 – Cover Shot
6 – Lethal Lifestyles (released Fall 2016)