Tag Archives: San Francisco

A Toxic Trousseau

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

 

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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?

Book Scavenger

Book Scavenger

Title:  Book Scavenger
Author:  Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Publisher:  Henry Holt
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1-62779-115-1

Book Summary:
Twelve-year-old Emily’s family is on a quest to live in 50 houses in 50 states.  Her mother is a blogger and writer and hoping to publish a book about their adventures.  Leaving New Mexico is hard for Emily but the excitement of moving to San Francisco is complimented by the fact that it is the home to Bayside Press, Garrison Griswold, and the home base for the Book Scavenger.

Book Scavenger is an online game where participants write clues that lead to books hidden all over the world.  The game is described as “a community of book lovers, puzzle lovers, and treasure hunters,” and Emily is just a few points away from the Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin level.  Mr. Griswold is about to reveal his newest and most exciting puzzle quest yet but is violently attacked before he can reveal the game.

As someone who has moved often, Emily struggles with friendships but is lucky that James lives just upstairs and loves puzzles as well.  When Emily and James visit the site of the Griswold attack, they find a copy of The Gold-Bug.  They quickly discover that this book isn’t part of the Book Scavengers game but may be a clue to Mr. Griswold’s big announcement.  They are not the only ones in search of The Gold-Bug however, and some of the other interested parties have old grudges and will go to great lengths to solve the puzzle.  Emily and James learn quickly that they cannot trust everyone and they must rely on their own wits and skills and each other as they decipher the clues and race to find the spectacular prize. If they aren’t able to solve the clues quickly, the end result may be something much more sinister.

Book Commentary:
What a completely fun book!!  I actually picked this up for my daughter and became totally engrossed in the story.  What a concept of solving puzzles and finding books!  The game itself is a wonderful creation and the story is just as engaging and exciting.  It reminds me a bit of The Westing Game, The 39 Clues series, and The Red Blazer Girls series; the puzzles help the story to progress and the reader becomes involved in solving the clues.  I only wish the game were real and I could play!

Emily and James are very likeable characters and Emily’s family provides great supporting action.  There is a lot of humor, coupled with the frustrations and trials of life as a middle schooler.

Who might like this book:
Although this is technically a young adult book, I truly think anyone who loves books, mysteries, or puzzle-solving will enjoy this adventure.  It is a well-written and engaging story. There is an obvious appreciation and love of books evident throughout the story.  Emily and James travel all over San Francisco on quite an adventure, but as a native to the city, James is very believable as a tour guide.  There are numerous references to famous landmarks and anyone familiar with the city will enjoy and recognize the sights and locales.

I highly recommend this book.  It would a great read for a middle school classroom and serve as a starting point in the study of codes and puzzles.  I hope the author writes more!

No Comfort for the Lost (Mystery of Old San Francisco 1)

No Comfort for the Lost
Title:  No Comfort for the Lost (Mystery of Old San Francisco 1)
Author:  Nancy Herriman
Publisher:  Penguin
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-0-451-47489-6

Book Summary:
In 1867 San Francisco, tensions run high between the Chinese who have immigrated in search of a better life and the San Francisco population of Irish, Polish, Italian, and other nationalities.  The “native” San Franciscans accuse the Chinese of stealing their jobs, and riots and fights are breaking out all over the city.

After serving as a nurse in the Crimea, Celia Davies, a British born woman from a well-to-do family, left her home to follow her new husband to America.  After arriving in San Francisco and being disillusioned by the gold rush, her husband Patrick disappears on a merchant ship and is presumed dead.  Although there is no love lost between Celia and her brother-in-law Tom, when he is accused of the murder of Li-Sha, the mother of his child, she feels compelled to help clear his name.  Li-Sha was a friend of Celia and her cousin Barbara, and she was Chinese.  The police are happy to let Tom hang for the crime, but Detective Nicholas Greaves begrudgingly agrees with Celia that there is more to the story.

Celia’s work at a woman’s clinic that caters to the poor of all ethnicities and her innate curiosity have a tendency to put her in precarious situations.  Her concern for safety must also extend to her cousin Barbara who is both half-Chinese and lame from a club foot, and her Scottish housekeeper Addie.  When the threats encroach dangerously close to home, Celia and Nicholas must work together to solve the case.  The safety and security of Celia and her sister and the entire Chinese population are at stake if they aren’t successful.

Book Commentary:                      
I’m doing the happy dance!  I love a new series and this one comes highly recommended.  When three authors I have read and enjoyed – Anna Lee Huber, Victoria Thompson, and Alyssa Maxwell – have author comments on the cover, I know it is a book I should look at.

The concept of a strong, dominant higher class female and an honest truth-seeking police detective in a corrupt environment is not a new one.  However, there are a number of factors that make this book unique.  First, the setting of San Francisco following the Civil War provides a wealth of cultural and political intrigue.  Prior to the great earthquake of 1906 but following the height of the Gold Rush, the city is in a state of flux and numerous groups and individuals are vying for power and control.  The distance from both the eastern part of the US and the proximity to the west brings in a diverse population and unique social and economic conflicts.

Second, Celia is English, served as a nurse in the Crimea, and now cares for the under-privileged and ignored of the city.  As a nurse and a married woman, albeit with a missing husband, she is allowed access to areas that might be prohibited to women.  Because her uncle married a Chinese woman during the Gold Rush and her cousin is half-Chinese, Celia has first-hand experience with prejudice in her role as Barbara’s guardian.

Finally Nick is a police officer with his own demons.  Allusions to a dead sister and a lost-love, coupled with the memories of the horrors he saw while serving during the Civil War, provide his character with some depth and mystery.  I am curious to know more about him!

Who might like this book:
Anyone who likes period mysteries with a little romance should check this book out.  The time period, setting, and well-defined characters make this a series that shows a great deal of promise and I look forward to following Celia and Nick on their next adventure.  Book 2 – No Pity for the Dead comes out in August 2016.

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