Tag Archives: juliet blackwell



I think by now it is pretty clear that I love a good mystery series.  It probably started back in my Trixie Belden days, although I did read a fair amount of Nancy Drew as well.  When I was in college, I worked at a small bookstore in Geneva, Illinois.  There I got hooked on the Anne Perry mysteries.  I read a lot of different things in college for fun, but Anne Perry’s books truly solidified my love of series mysteries.  I branched out and read other authors, and the rest, as they say is history.

I currently have about fifty mystery series that I follow regularly; over the years, there have been some I have let go for a variety of reasons and I am always on the lookout for a new series.  For me, there are certain details that keep me engaged in a mystery series.  So for my completely biased opinion, these are my necessities of a good mystery series.


Interesting, plausible protagonist
Although I have read a lot of true crime novels, a good mystery for me is rooted in the characters.  I think that any good series must maintain strong, consistent characters to stabilize the continuity of the series.  It is what ties each book to the previous one and it is what the reader follows from book to book.  When a new release of a favorite author comes out, it feels like catching up with an old friend and visiting about what has happened since the last time we met.

I am not picky about the gender of my protagonist.  I love the female Lady Darby in Anna Lee Huber’s books and Amory Ames in Ashley Weaver’s series, but I find Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston and C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr just as engaging.  The key, and I know I have said it before, is that context in which the protagonist encounters a crime must be believable, it must be consistent, and it must be evolving.  I love a good cozy mystery but after a while, multiple deaths in a small town or at a certain ski resort; well, I don’t think I would put that on a place to visit!

Inquiry agents like Charles Lenox in Charles’ Finch’s series or Derek Stone in Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile mysteries, police detectives like Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James in Deborah Crombie Scotland Yard series, or even judges and attorneys like Verlaque and Bonnet in M. L. Longworth’s Provencal mysteries all have realistic reasons to encounter, and more importantly, be involved in, solving crimes.

Cozy mysteries are very entertaining and enjoyable, but they don’t have the same sustainability as something that is more grounded.  A good cozy writer should know when to quit and move on to a new series.

Historical setting
Not everything I read has a historical setting but it is definitely a huge plus in what makes a series my favorite.  Yes, I love the simpler time, the fascinating couture, the social customs and limitations, but honestly, the very best part is the lack of technology, specifically the internet.  Historical crime solvers must rely on their ingenuity and inquiry skills.  Now I am not discrediting modern detectives, but I truly love watching characters fit different pieces together.  I know that much of the detecting work could be completed a lot faster with modern tools, but what’s the point of a 50-page mystery!  I often think “why don’t they just look it up online” when I am reading a historical mystery before I remember that isn’t an option.

With characters spending days traveling by horseback or coach or waiting for letters to arrive, the tension of the story builds.  The reader often is sidetracked by the minutia of daily life and seemingly unimportant details; this adds depth and personality to the story and enables the reader to have a stronger grasp on the setting and characters and how they are woven together.

There is also something exotic and mystical about a historical setting; the grittiness seems darker and more threatening while the society and lifestyle creates a more glamorous and opulent feel.  I’ve always felt I that I was born in the wrong decade; reading historical mysteries helps me to channel my inner dreams.

Fun, quirky secondary characters
Remember, it is all about the characters for me.  Mystery books provide great opportunities for secondary characters to pop up over the course of a series.  These characters provide rich ambiance for the time period or foils for the different personalities of a protagonist.  They have the feel of that “crazy Aunt Edna” or “cousin Steve” that we all have in our families; the topic of holiday table conversations with details of their grand adventures, disasters, or both.  I think these characters add a dimension to the story to remind the readers that crime doesn’t occur in a bubble; life still goes on all around which is often what both helps and interferes with the solving of a crime.

Some of my favorite secondary characters are Bonnie Brock in the Lady Darby series, Sid and Gus in Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries, and Oscar in the Witchcraft mysteries by Juliet Blackwell.  Sometimes these characters are integral to the development of the plot, sometimes they create obstacles that interfere with the progression of the inquiry, and sometimes they just add a diversion of spice and humor to a darker theme.

Just a hint of romance
Okay, call me a hopeless romantic but I like a bit of a love story in my mysteries.  I like the tension between two characters when they aren’t sure who they can trust, and then how it builds to when they discover that must trust one another.  Relationships often cloud judgement and perception and this added depth creates more conflict in a story and therefore makes it more suspenseful for the reader.  I don’t ever want a relationship in a mystery book to take away from the mystery itself, but a good author with meld the two with thought and purpose.

I like how some relationships grow over the course of the series, like C.S. Harris’ Sebastian and Hero, Tasha Alexander’s Emily and Colin, or Julie Spencer-Fleming’s Russ and Clare.  In contrast, I enjoy how Ashley Weaver’s Amory and Milo stories jump right into an established marriage.  Then of course there is Brad Parks’ Carter Ross and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum; who knows if they will ever settle down!  What does Keanu Reeves’ character say in the movie Speed:  I have to warn you; I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.  Ah, love . . .

Any other mystery buffs out there?  What are the “must-haves” for your favorite series?

Letters from Paris


Title:  Letters from Paris
Author:  Juliet Blackwell
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-451-47370-7

Book Summary:
After Claire Broussard’s mother dies in a car accident when she is just an infant, and her father is deemed an unfit parent, Claire is raised by her maternal grandmother, Mammaw.  As a child when she wanted to escape from the world, she would sneak up into the eaves of the attic.  It was there she discovered the wooden crate sent from Paris by her great-grandfather after World War II.  Inside was a mix of sawdust, crumpled scrap paper, and a life-size face of a lady.  The sculpture was broken in numerous places, but her serene demeanor and beautiful countenance provided a sense of peace and calm for Claire.

Years later, as a successful independent woman working for a software company in Chicago, she receives the call that Mammaw was dying.  She leaves her newly-ex boyfriend, quits her job, and heads back to Louisiana.  Mammaw had saved Claire as a child and she owes it to her grandmother to care for her; she also feels that there is something lacking in her life and something waiting in her future.  Mammaw and Claire share stories and memories, and Mammaw encourages Claire to seek out the secret of the woman’s mask.  Claire discovers that the piece was known as L’Inconnue de la Seine, the Unknown Woman of the Seine.

After Mammaw’s death and feeling compelled to find a purpose, Claire travels to Paris to the mold-making business from where the mask was sent.  At the Lombardi family business, Claire meets Giselle and her cantankerous cousin Armand.  Through a combination of need-to-know and want-to-help, Claire begins working at the Lombardi business.  Her Cajun French and American personality are the perfect combination to deal with both customers and Armand.

Through the letters that Claire writes back home to her Uncle Remy and the scraps of notes she discovers in Paris, a story of love and loss and hope is woven together across the generations.  As Claire delves further into the mystery of the unknown mask model, she un-knots the strings of her own past and seeks answers for her future.

Book Commentary:
Okay, loved, loved, loved this book!!!  I am a big fan of Juliet Blackwell’s Witchcraft Mysteries and was completely delighted by her first Paris book, The Paris Key; however, I think this book surpasses them all.  An absolutely beautiful and endearing story of love and hope and perseverance and redemption. My husband laughed at me when I finished the last page with a huge smile; the book comes to such a complete and satisfying conclusion.

Claire is a complex and yet very straightforward character.  There is so much in her life that she accepts at face value; she has questions from her past but they don’t ever overwhelm her in her life back in the states.  It is only when she comes to Paris that she discovers that there might be more to who is she and who she wants to be.  I loved watching her growth as a character; there were few shocking, slap-in-the-face revelations, but rather an evolution of understanding and acceptance.  Her quest of knowledge about L’Inconnue also isn’t an obsessive pursuit, but rather a series of clues and ideas that progress to a hidden meaning.

I certainly don’t want to give the impression that the book was slow; rather, quite opposite.  What I appreciated was how the author created such a warm and intoxicating story without having to traumatize the reader or create discord in the plot-line. So many novels rely on the shock factor to progress the story along; this story unfolded naturally. It was just a really, really great story.

Who might like this book:
The author obviously has an appreciation and love of Paris; the story is told with the sights, sounds, and impressions of a native, rather than a tourist.  The author is truly a gifted storyteller and engages the reader’s attention and interest without using clichés.  Although it is a completely independent novel, I also highly recommend the author’s The Paris Key as well.

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


Four BOOK HOOKS on Friday

Book Hooks

Four BOOK HOOKS on Friday
Book Hooks . . . also known as, the things that attract me to a book before I read the synopsis teaser.  There are so many books on the market, and even though you can narrow down your choices by interest and reading the backs of the books, the sheer number is still rather daunting.  As I have mentioned previously, I love to wander bookstores to see what might strike my fancy, and I started to think about what attracts me to pick up one book to peruse the back synopsis and not pick up another.  To use the old cliche, I guess I do check out books by their covers.  So, here are four things that I look at BEFORE I read what the book is about.  A shout-out to my youngest for coming up with the title BOOK HOOKS; thank you, peanut!

I almost always look first at the author of a book . . . of course it helps that most stores arrange their books alphabetically by author!!  Although, I noticed recently, that a local Barnes and Noble separated cozy mysteries from other mysteries.  Hmmm.  “Cozy” mysteries is somewhat of an ambiguous term and I don’t like that they are telling me what is cozy and what isn’t.  Rather annoys me; kind of like when they pushed the mysteries to the back of the store.  Kind of gets my goat . . . but I digress.

I have a list . . . of course I have a list . . . of about 50 favorite authors that I follow and read regularly. Sometimes I add new ones and sometimes I have to break up with them, but if I see a book by one of “my” authors, I am going to pick it up.  Now, I don’t always read every series by each of the authors, but I am more likely to try something new from an author I like.  I do this with movies too; I follow certain actors, regardless of the film itself.  Richard Armitage is in a movie . . . yup, I’m gonna see it.

Cover Art
I suppose this is the cliche at its finest, but if a book has a castle and a character in period clothing, I am going to pick it up!  I know that was how I found both of my two most favorite authors – Anna Lee Huber and C. S. Harris.  Huber’s first cover indicates a period mystery set in Scottish Highlands (uh, yeah!) and Harris’ cover shows a darker, more gothic environment.

I will admit that the cartoon-y, cutesy covers tend to turn me off though and some books covers just don’t give the right feel for the book.

I appreciate a good play on words and enjoy a creative title.  Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile series attracted me with the title Homicide in Hardcover, and I enjoyed the contradiction of Anne Cleeland’s Murder in Thrall.  A newer series by Loretta Ross (check out my review next week!) has Death in every title, but it is the name of main character.  Most of Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries are Irish phrases and song titles – In Like Flynn and Oh Danny Boy.

Because I tend to be a bit detailed oriented . . . you kind of figured that out, right . . . I really enjoy titles that have a pattern.  C. A. Belmond’s series all starts with “A Rather . . .,” as in A Rather Lovely Inheritance and A Rather Curious Engagement.  Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft series titles all have clothing references in the title: A Toxic Trousseau and Hexes and Hemlines.  When I see a series of titles on the shelf that seem to follow a pattern, I will pick them up.  Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mystery series and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series appeal to my sense of organization.

Finally, I look at endorsements.  I figure that if an author that I enjoy likes the book, there is a reasonable chance that I might also enjoy it.  I will get especially excited when more than one of my favorite authors comments on the book!  Both Anna Lee Huber and Deanna Raybourn commented on the Simone St. James books and that was clincher for me to try her out.  I have often wondered though how an author is asked to comment on another author’s book; is there an insiders secret code?  Hmmm.  Might have to research that.  Finally, once I have found a possibility based on one of these four draws, I will then read the synopsis.

Of course the real challenge starts next; how do I choose which to purchase from the stack that I have assembled?!  Ah, the life of a reader!  How about you?  What attracts . . . or detracts . . . you from picking up a book?



I have to admit that I am Buzz Feed Quiz junkie.  You know, the ones that have you answer questions to determine which Disney Princess you are, which Hogwarts House you belong in, and which decade should you have lived in.  In order, Belle (no surprise there), Gryffindor (I wish I was that brave), and the 1950’s (pencil skirts and cocktail hour all the way!).  I recently saw one that “determined” your book interests based on travel preferences, and it got me thinking about settings.  I went through my list of all my favorite mystery writers . . . of course I have a list . . . and not too surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap of locations.  An honorable mention list must include New Orleans, Washington DC, and New York, but here are the four that made the final cut.

The United Kingdom
Big surprise there!  Obviously London – past and present – is number one of my list.  I have been an Anglophile forever, and although I have only had the opportunity to travel to the UK once, I love the juxtaposition between old and new, ancient and modern.  The history combined with all the cultural influences makes the setting full of literary opportunities.  With such a rich history, mysteries can be set in so many different time periods.  I love to read about the social customs and class mores that are indicative to each era.  Some of my favorite authors include maps of historical London and it is fascinating to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

I love to read about modern London in Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James New Scotland Yard adventures, Regency London through the eyes of C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr, and Victorian London’s Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch.

Of course, the great thing about the UK is that you can include Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.  My favorite mystery writer, Anna Lee Huber, sets her Georgian Lady Darby series in Scotland.  A modern day Wales is seen in Elizabeth Dunnett’s Penny Brannigan series and Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans mysteries.

San Francisco
You have probably also noticed my love of San Francisco.  Ah, if money were no object . . . actually, it is an object, just one I don’t have a lot of!  Once again, it is a city with a lot of history and diversity.  With influences from the West and its role in the American Gold Rush and westward expansion history, there is a wealth of potential for conflict and personality.  The cultural and ethnic enclaves within the city are so vibrant that they are also individual and unique settings within the larger city.

I love Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft series that is set in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco; the author does a great job at describing the tone and feel of this vibrant neighborhood.  Kate Carlisle is another favorite author of mine; her stories are set all around the heart of the city but she also travels up 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge to the wine country as well.  I just discovered Nancy Herriman’s novel of Old San Francisco set post Gold Rush and I look forward to more in that series.

New England
The crisp fall air.  The smell of apple pie.  The sound the pounding surf.  The sight of a dead body.  Don’t you love New England!!  Having lived in the Northeast, I quickly fell in love with the region and it truly does provide a wonderful backdrop to a great crime!  Seriously though, the history, the topography, and customs of decades old generations makes New England a great setting.

Quintessential New England towns provide the perfect setting for Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Russ VanAlstyne and Clare Fergusson contemporary mysteries that feature a small town cop and an Episcopalian priest, and for Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lovers mysteries set in coastal Connecticut.  Kaitlyn Dunnett channels a Scottish heritage in the fictitious Moosetookalook, Maine.

Ironically, France had never been a place I had a huge desire to visit, until I was introduced to two great mystery series sent in this beautiful and culturally rich country.  Wine, cheese, the French Alps, the French Riviera.  Seriously, what was I thinking?  Of course I would love to go there!!

Two writers that I really enjoy include Mark Pryor and M.L. Longworth.  Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series is set mainly in Paris and I enjoy reading about both the famous and infamous stops that he visits within the city.  M.L. Longworth’s Verlaque and Bonnet series takes place in Aix-en-Provence, which is in southern France not too far from Marseille.  I really enjoy the contrast between the two geographically and culturally diverse areas.

Interesting . . . I have lived in two of these locations; perhaps it is time to move again?  As I wrote this, it got me thinking about specific places from novels that I have read that I would like to visit.  I think I see another blog post topic!  How about you?  What are your favorite book settings?


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)


The Paris Key

The Paris Key

Title:  The Paris Key
Author:  Juliet Blackwell
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-0-451-47369-1

Book Summary:
After her mother passed away when she was a teen, Genevieve Martin traveled to Paris to stay with her uncle Dave.  Dave is a locksmith and Genevieve spends a glorious summer learning about Paris and the art of locksmithing.  Years later when her marriage begins to crumble, she escapes to Paris to sort out her relationship with her husband and her understanding of herself.  Her Uncle Dave has recently passed away and her cousin Catharine invites her to stay in her late uncle’s home and take over her his shop.

Dealing with the French bureaucrats becomes overwhelming so Genevieve attempts to turn away customers, but to no avail.  Uncle Dave’s cliental and friends rely on Genevieve to finish his uncompleted work.  As she remembers the skills that were taught to her, she is able to meet new people and become more comfortable with herself.  She assists Irish neighbor Killian after he locks himself out of his apartment, and her uncle’s friend Phillipe needs her to finish cleaning and carrying for the locks in his family’s house.

As she works on Phillipe’s house, Genevieve discovers a small door.  The lock is old but she is able to open it and discovers a basement full of treasures, one of which is a grate in the floor with a specialized lock that she knows was her uncle’s work.  Genevieve wonders what is hidden under that door and is she brave enough to face the discoveries.  As her locksmith skills come back to her, so do her memories of her own past and she begins to unravel secrets about her family.  The more she discovers, the more she must decide how her future will proceed.  Will she be imprisoned in the past or will she break the lock and face the future?

Book Commentary:
I am a fan of Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft mysteries, but this is a totally different story and a complete delight.  The author does a fabulous job at interweaving the past and present while subtly maintaining the metaphor of keys and locks throughout the story; the English teacher in me loves this!  The story is told from three different perspectives:  Genevieve’s present visit to Paris, her visit to Paris following her mother’s death, and her mother’s visit to Paris before Genevieve was born.  The three different vantage points are blended so well that the story really moves seamlessly.  Sometimes flashbacks can be distracting to the reader and the continuity of the plot-line can be lost; this is not the case for this book at all.

I love Genevieve’s character.  She definitely goes through a lot of self-discovery and although she learns some pretty interesting things about her past and her family, she is relatable.  There are times when the emotions of the story could become melodramatic and overdone but instead are very poignant and touching.  She takes responsibility for her actions and her emotions.  I especially like her interaction with her soon-to-be ex-husband and how she takes ownership of some of the flaws in her marriage; this part could have also been trite and stereo-typical but instead is very mature and refreshing.

As much as I loved Genevieve, the secondary characters are so much fun!  Sylviane is a straightforward, charismatic Frenchwoman with lots of personality and panache.  I would love to have her take me shopping!  Cousin Catharine brings in a reality-check on Genevieve’s memories of her uncle and her mother, and Phillippe is a dashing older gentleman.  His attention of detail and his Parisian charm make him an ideal dinner companion; the reader wishes she could also be at the table enjoying the French cheese and wine and baguettes.

The undercurrent of dissatisfaction of life forces the reader to reflect on the questions of what truly makes us happy.  The idea that the grass is greener elsewhere takes on both a complimentary and contradictory tone. This dichotomy is a really interesting way to address the question of who makes the joy in life and what joy itself constitutes.

Who might like this book:
Great book!!  There is a strong mystery tone throughout the novel; however, it is not about the death of a person but rather the death of happiness.   The author’s descriptions of the food, wine, architecture, and fashion of Paris make the book very visually stimulating and again once again my interest in traveling to France has been piqued.  Another great aspect of the book is the history of Paris and France’s choices following World War 2; it made me realize my own limited knowledge of Europe and its choices following the war and made me curious to learn more.

I would love to talk about this book with someone who has visited Paris to see if the author created the feel as well as I think she did.  Any Paris natives or travelers out there?

Spellcasting in Silk (Witchcraft 7)

Title: Spellcasting in Silk (Witchcraft Mystery 7)
Author: Juliet Blackwell
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 2015
ISBN: 978-0-451-46578-8

Book Summary:
Lily Ivory is the owner of a successful vintage clothing boutique in San Francisco; Lily is also a very gifted witch. After a traumatic upbringing and incomplete education in her craft, she has finally found friends, a solid business, a budding relationship with a man named Sailor, and a place to call home. She enjoys scavenging through estate sales to discover beautiful clothing from by-gone eras. Her familiar, Oscar, is a miniature potbellied pig by day and a lovingly grotesque cross between a gargoyle and goblin by night.

Lily’s past experiences have attracted the attention of Inspector Carlos Romero of the San Francisco Police Department’s Homicide Division, and she has become an unofficial witchy consultant to the department. As her store, Aunt Cora’s Attic, is busy with customers as they search for the perfect outfit to wear to San Francisco’s upcoming Summer of Love Festival, Inspector Romero approaches Lily for help with a mysterious case. A woman jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in an apparent suicide. When her death seems to be related to a botanica in the Mission District, Lily goes to investigate. The mysterious owner is in jail, her granddaughter is missing, and a hostile spirit is wreaking havoc on the botanica.

Lily searches for the truth in a race to find the missing girl and encounters some very powerful magic that she isn’t prepared to deal with.

Book Commentary:
I have read all the Lily Ivory books and I really enjoy them. They don’t fall into my definition of fluff mystery, so if you aren’t interested in magic and paranormal, they might not be for you. Although the plots of the mysteries are fine, I read them because I love the characters. They are diverse and quirky and people I don’t meet in my normal everyday life. Because of their uniqueness, I am drawn to their adventures and experiences. I also love that the book is set in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities. Readers who are familiar with the city may enjoy the references to places and events.

Who might like this book:
These are paranormal mysteries, which don’t appeal to everyone. I do enjoy the paranormal story, as long as it isn’t too scary!, and this series is one the better ones I have read. The plot lines and characters have definitely grown and developed over the course of the seven books, and some of them are better than others. I would, as always, recommend that they are read in order. They stand alone as a story, but I think they work a lot better as a continuing adventure saga. The author Juliet Blackwell has also written the Haunted Home Renovation series, although I haven’t been able to get into those as much.

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