Tag Archives: Rhys Bowen

Four NECESSITIES FOR A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

mysteries

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.

Four NECESSITIES OF A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

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?

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Queries and Conundrums: BBA Update!

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I know that it is Friday and that is usually a FOUR ON FRIDAY, but it is also April 15!!.  If you remember about a month ago, I had a bit of  a crisis; my to-be-read pile was reaching critical mass and my book buying was out-stretching my reading time.  I challenged myself to read 10 books FROM MY TO-BE-READ pile and here is the update! 

I did it and I must admit that it was quite cathartic.  My shelf looks more manageable and I finally got to read some books that had been sitting there a while.  Some I liked, some I loved, and some I gave 50 pages to and said I’m done.  Here’s the list of what I read and what I thought.

Death and the Brewmaster’s Widow by Loretta Ross
Book 2 in the Auction Block series.  I liked the first book and I really enjoyed the second!  Check out my commentary here.

Black and Blue by Emma Jameson
Book four in the Lord and Lady Hetheridge series.  I enjoyed book 4 more than books 2 and 3, and I think the series is on the right track.  Indications are that there will be a book 5.

A Heart for Milton by Tracy Brasure
A “what-happens-next” after Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian novel North and South.  It is always a risk when author tries to write a sequel to another author’s work.  I enjoyed North and South a great deal, but this book didn’t hold my interest.  I finished it because I was curious to see this interpretation as to how the characters’ lives played out.

Two Birds with One Stone by Sigrid Vansandt
A charming cozy mystery set in the village of Marsden-Lacey, England.  A predictable “least favorite villager gets killed” plotline but some very enjoyable characters with a unique tie to the past and a famous English author.

The Quick by Lauren Owen
Not sure I can count this one; I only made it about 130 pages.  The cover author recommendation was from Deborah Harkness, who I love, so I picked it up.  The story started out really good and I was curious to see this author’s interpretation of vampires, but the story got very convoluted and the author included scraps of chapters and unclear references.  I think if I had given it another 100 or so pages, the story would have worked itself out but I wasn’t invested enough to follow through with it.

When Falcon’s Fall by C. S. Harris  (Not on my “to-be-read pile, but moved to the front of the queue when it arrived!)
Sebastian St. Cyr’s 11th story: absolutely wonderful!!  I also just saw that the author recently was contracted to write at least three more in the series.  See me doing my happy dance!!  My commentary is here.

Deadly Scandal by Kate Parker
A new series by the author of the Victorian Bookshop series, one that I really enjoy.  This one is set in 1930’s London between the time of the two great wars.  Check out my review here.

Moonlight over Paris by Jennifer Robson
A love story with rich historical roots set in Paris.  The cover caught my eye and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.  Beautiful story about a young woman who, while lying near death following a nasty engagement break-up and life-threatening case of scarlet fever, vows that if she recovers, she will not dwell on the past and instead will embrace her future.  Helena Parr travels to her aunt’s house in France and begins to study art.  There she makes friends with an eclectic group of artists and meets and falls in love with an American reporter.  This is a slightly different look for the “Lost Generation” following World War 1 but Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald all make an appearance.  I really enjoyed the beautiful story; more of a “coming of life” rather than a “coming of age” story, but included some breath-taking descriptions and a rich historical feel.

A Scone to Die for by H. Y. Hanna
A cozy mystery series set in a teashop just outside of Oxford, England.  Uh, yeah!  Fun start to a new series.  An obnoxious and loud American tourist is murdered following an altercation in Gemma Rose’s tearoom.  Gemma, her intrepid employees including a cat named Muesli, and four nosy ladies from her community worked together to try to solve the case before someone shuts down her shop for good.  Kind of predictable but very fun.

Portrait of a Dead Guy by Larissa Reinhart
Cherry Tucker has grown up in the small town of Halo, Georgia.  As she tries to establish herself as a portrait artist after years studying at a respectable art school, the town isn’t quite ready to let go of her past.  When Dustin Branson is murdered and Cherry is asked to paint a death portrait, she discovers more about death and art than she would ever want to know.  A little predictable but some very eccentric and entertaining characters.

Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen (Not on my “to-be-read pile, but it was a library book that I had been on the wait list for)
Concerned after she caught a glimpse of her husband in a movie news reel and a cryptic letter, Molly Murphy book 16 takes Molly and young son Liam on a grand adventure to San Francisco.  Check out my review here.

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders
London book editor Sam Clair is used to dealing with temperamental authors and prickly lawyers, but it is Kit Lovell’s new book that dishes on the latest fashion industry scandal that pushes Sam out of her comfort zone.  Detective Jake Field and Sam’s mother, an accomplished and fearsome attorney, join forces with Sam to uncover the mysterious disappearance of author Kit and his novel.

I’ll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable
As she is packing for a trip to England with her mother, Annie discovers a book that her mother had hidden about real life Gladys Spencer-Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough.  As her mother’s business deal takes more time than expected, Annie begins to read the book and embarks on a quest to understand the Duchess and her life and the people who cared for her.  Although I enjoyed the author’s previous book A Paris Apartment more, there was a plot twist that took me so completely by surprise that I was engrossed in the plot so much that I had to finish the story.

Who Glares Wins by Camilla Chafer
This is the second book in the Lexi Graves series.  I read the first one and I’ll be the first to admit it is kind-of fluff, guilty pleasure reading.  However, after reading the second book, I am hooked.  Lexi is a very likable character with a wry sense of humor and a knack for adventure.  Although the series isn’t written quite as tight as the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum books, I find Lexi a more believable and realistic character.  Her mistakes are human and her personality has more depth and less caricature.  I found myself rooting for her success, without hoping for a disaster.  I will most likely check out the next in the series.

Poldark: Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
I love watching period dramas on BBC almost as much as I love reading them, so of course I am obsessed by the new Poldark series.  Starring Aidan Turner . . . yeah, that’s enough for me . . . Poldark tells the story of Ross Poldark, who once arriving home after fighting in the Americas, discovers that his father has died, his love is engaged to his cousin, his family homestead lies in decay and disuse, and his prospects are lean.  He commits himself to starting a new life for himself in his home of Cornwall.  This book is the first in a series of twelve books about the generations of the Poldark family.  The story is a bit dry but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it as a companion to the television series.  It filled in some gaps and it was fun to note differences with the production.  It reminded me a bit of North & South how it provided enough detail about the mining industry of Cornwall and its influence on the people who lived there, without bogging the reader down in the technical aspects.  I am looking forward to reading more of the series.

 

SO . . .  actually I read 15 books!  One was an additional purchase and one was a library book, but look how nice my to-be-read shelf looks!  Of course to celebrate my accomplishment, I went out and bought 4 new books!

 

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!

Author
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.

Title
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.

Endorsements
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?

Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday

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Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday
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.

France
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?