Book Review: Crocodile on the Sandbank (take 2)

Crocodile on the Sandbank
Amelia Peabody #1
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

As a female during the Victorian era in England, Amelia Peabody is ahead of her time. Unmarried and independently wealthy, she has no need for a man or most of societal conventions. With a passion for Egyptology and a thirst for adventure, she decides to journey to less-traveled parts of Egypt, taking into her company along the way a young woman whose reputation has been tarnished. Amelia gets the adventure she’s looking for, and more, when a missing mummy begins to terrorize the women.

I listened to this book a year ago with a different narrator and did not care for it (see original review here, which I will refer to as I compare the two versions in this review). My sister, who recommended the book in the first place, convinced me to try again with a different narrator, and it really did make a huge difference. Things that irritated me about the main character weren’t nearly as pronounced, and I think that’s simply due to the sound of the two different narrators’ voices. Yes, Amelia is still arrogant and aggressive, and Rosenblat certainly did put that into her inflection, but it didn’t seem as over the top this time. It might have helped, too, that Rosenblat’s Amelia actually had a British accent. Even Amelia’s companion, Evelyn, I realized while listening this time, felt less breathy and weak in this version. I hadn’t even realized how much that had bothered me with the other version. Emerson was the one character I liked the first time around, and I was more able to enjoy the humor he and his interactions with Amelia bring to the book on this second listen. Also, Rosenblat’s voice for Lucas, Evelyn’s cousin who follows her to Egypt, is perfect.

Overall, I was able to enjoy the story more, and frankly, I think I paid closer attention, as I remember my attention wandering more the first time around. Now that I’ve given it another chance, I’m looking forward to continuing on to the next book with this narrator. I’m also glad to be able to recommend this book to people who like cozy mysteries or Egyptology. But if you’re considering listening to the audiobook, I highly suggest finding Barbara Rosenblat’s version, if you can.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare

The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare
Book #7
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

After inheriting millions of dollars, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran has started to make the far-north town of Pickax home. When a prominent local man dies, Qwilleran can’t help but question whether or not it was really an accident. And is there a connection to the sudden rash of fires in the small town?

There is so much tragedy and loss in this book, it’s a little heavier than other recent entries in the series. It was good to see some of the characters from previous books, like Hixie Rice from The Cat Who Saw Red, though not necessarily good to see her luck hasn’t really changed. To be fair, it isn’t as bad as poor Mrs. Cobb’s luck with men. One thing is for sure—Braun does not let things stagnate in this series; one can never get too comfortable with anything, as it could change at any time.

I liked this book but not as much as the several preceding it. Part of my issue was that I was thrown off by the mention of Qwill having already lived in Pickax for over a year? Apparently a lot of time had passed between this book and the previous, or I’m remembering the previous one wrong, but I was really confused for a while and felt like I’d missed something. There is also a lot of off-mystery story in this one that I didn’t feel were particularly interesting or worth including. Maybe it was meant to add some red herrings to the main mystery, but it felt detached to me. Still, I’m really into the series now and looking forward to reading more.

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Book Review: Chapter and Curse

Chapter and Curse
The Cambridge Bookshop Series #1
by Elizabeth Penney

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When American Molly Kimball and her recently widowed British mother move to Cambridge to take over the running of a bookstore that’s been in their family for generations, the last thing they expect is to get caught up in a murder investigation. But within days of their arrival, someone dies near the bookstore, and Molly’s great aunt, who invited them to England, is the prime suspect. Now, amidst trying to help the bookstore get back on its feet, learning about and meeting members of her previously estranged family, and getting to know the good-looking guy who works next door, Molly is determined to clear her aunt’s name.

Overall, the book was decent. The plot drags in some places, and the mystery seems a little watered-down to me, which is certainly not what you want in a book from this genre. I liked most of the characters, though Molly herself is sort of “meh,” in my opinion. The bookstore and the community around it were a lot of fun to read about. Aunt Violet’s friends are a little on the bizarre side, and I had a difficult time pinning down what age anyone was supposed to be. I can figure it out with some math, but a lot of the characters act similarly to each other, so it was difficult to imagine age differences between some who I assume should have been in different generations.

I don’t go into a cozy mystery expecting to figure out whodunit by the end, though that doesn’t stop me from speculating. I have a tendency to take things at face value and get too caught up in the red herrings. The resolution to this mystery wasn’t a total surprise to me, though, even while I didn’t expect it to go that way simply because it felt so bland. The resolution to the mystery and motivation behind it seemed weak, like much more effort went into setting up this location and cast of characters for future stories than into making the mystery interesting. That’s my opinion, however, and it’s not enough to keep me from being interested in the continuation of this new series, due to how much I liked the setting and characters.

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Played Post Office

The Cat Who Played Post Office
Book #6
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

Now that he’s inherited more money than he could possibly spend, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran sets to work figuring out how not to let it ruin his life. As he settles into the mansion full of antiques and hires some staff to make his life easier, he begins to uncover some secrets about a former employee of the manor. Is the maid missing, or did something more sinister happen to her? Could it be a coincidence that other people connected to her are starting to die?

Another great installment of the series, this book is a good example of how this series doesn’t necessarily follow the mystery format of: crime happens, investigation happens. You can get through a good amount of the book before really understanding that Qwill has been investigating a possible crime the whole time. While he’s settling in to his new home, meeting his lawyers and the local interior designer, and learning how the local diner crowd provides a lot of (mostly useless) gossip, he’s bringing to light a mystery that had been swept under the rug. Of course, this ruffles some feathers and causes some problems by the time it’s clear whether or not he’s really uncovered something important.

I loved the way the cats would play with the mail pouring through the slot, hiding some and bringing some directly to Qwill. Other antics of Koko’s were fun to see come into play too. I’m still really enjoying this series and would recommend this book for fans of the classic whodunit & cozy mystery genres.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Played Brahms

The Cat Who Played Brahms
Book #5
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When an old friend of his mother’s, a nearly 90-year-old woman he’s always called Aunt Fanny, offers him use of her cabin on a lake for the summer, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran decides that a few months away from the bustle of city life and his newspaper job that keeps changing assignments on him might be just what he needs. Moose County, though, is practically a whole different country, and Qwilleran experiences culture shock, even as his old familiar instincts kick in when he’s certain he’s found evidence of a murder occurring.

I keep saying this, but I think this might be my new favorite in the series. Qwill out of his element was pretty great, and the introduction to the area I know he’ll be living for the rest of the series was comical in many ways. The inclusion of Koko’s latest quirk as hinted at in the title might have been my favorite so far, and I really liked the little bit of emotion near the end of the book. I loved seeing real friendships begin to develop with people he’ll be living amongst soon, and especially enjoyed the few interactions he had with the managing editor of the local paper. Overall, the clash of a true city man trying to understand the far north country made this book different than the previous in a lot of ways, but I really liked it.

To be honest, until I started reading through this series recently, I wondered if I only liked them when I was younger because…well, I was younger. I thought I’d find them silly, pedantic, boring, etc. now. Apparently my reading tastes haven’t changed all that much, because I’ve been enjoying them a lot. I would recommend this book for fans of the classic whodunit & cozy mystery genres.

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Book Review: Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers

Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers
A Woman of WWII Mystery #2
by Tessa Arlen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

Poppy Redfern’s writing has gotten noticed, and she’s been made a scriptwriter for the London Crown Film Unit to help showcase British civilians who are heroes in some way to the war effort. Through this job she meets women pilots from the Air Transport Auxiliary, whose job it is to fly new and repaired planes to military airfields throughout the country. While working on the script for the film about these ladies, one of them dies in a spectacular crash that is attributed to pilot error. But Poppy is not so sure it was an accident and starts asking questions that don’t exactly relate to the script she’s writing.

I really liked this book, though not quite as much as the first one in the series. The world-building and atmosphere were just as good, but the characters were just a little weaker. And the mystery plot was mostly done well, but I was left scratching my head a little at the end. There was a clue given near the beginning of the story that was never actually used in any way, unless I simply missed it. Still, the story played out well.

I love the history that this series brings to life, and learning about the ATA and Attagirls was the best part of the book. The American fighter pilot Poppy grows close to in the previous book, Griff, is in this one as well. Readers hoping to see their relationship ramp up may be disappointed, but I personally don’t mind the struggles they’re going through, only partly related to the differences between their cultures. Poppy comes to realize during this book that she may be offering Griff more than just “British reserve” due to her own past, but Griff shows that he can handle it. I wonder if we’re seeing shades of the author’s relationship with her husband, she being British and he being American. Either way, it’s a much more realistic-feeling “romance” than most you find in books, and I like it.

Poppy’s continued inner voice of the main character of the novels she’s still writing is a quirk that doesn’t detract from the novel at all, in my opinion. Like the previous book, I enjoyed the experience this book provided and would recommend you give it a try if either of the genres interest you. I may have to wait half a year for the next book to come out, but I’ll definitely be watching for it.

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Book Review: The Curse of the Pharaohs

The Curse of the Pharaohs
Amelia Peabody #2
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank.

When Amelia’s husband is invited by the effervescent Lady Baskerville to finish an excavation that her late husband was unable to, Amelia goes with him to Egypt. She’s certain Lord Baskerville was murdered, so while she helps Emerson with the work, she also formulates theories about the various people around her. Before Amelia can point to a culprit, though, there is another death and more than one accident that threatens Emerson’s safety. Can she solve the crime before her husband is the next victim?

I liked this book a little more than the first one. That’s mostly because Amelia’s haughtiness and disdain were toned down a little, or at least focused on Emerson, which made for some fairly amusing interactions between the married couple. However, there was such a rehashing of elements from the first book that it made it a little dull. There’s the curse angle, which all of the local workers believe in, making the work more difficult. There are sightings of some sort of supernatural being that scares people. There’s the one woman that most of the male characters are falling over themselves to win the hand of. Overall, a lot of it felt like it had been done before.

I liked the introduction of the cat Bastet and the revelation of the true identity of one of the characters. I disliked the way Amelia kept feeling the need to allude to her and Emerson’s private moments. Overall, I don’t think I was invested in the story as I would like to be when reading a mystery. Whether or not I continue the series remains to be seen, but keep in mind that there are many positive reviews, so if you are a mystery reader and/or like the setting of this series, the book might be a good read for you.

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Book Review: Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank
Amelia Peabody #1
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Susan O’Malley

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

As a female during the Victorian era in England, Amelia Peabody is ahead of her time. Unmarried and independently wealthy, she has no need for a man or most of societal conventions. With a passion for Egyptology and a thirst for adventure, she decides to travel to Cairo, taking into her company along the way a young woman whose reputation has been tarnished. Amelia gets the adventure she’s looking for, and more, when a missing mummy begins to terrorize the women.

I was not a huge fan of this book for the most part. Amelia’s attitude, which is the main thing that most other readers seem to love, just irritated me most of the time. Her haughtiness and aggressiveness was just too much. I listened to the audiobook, and the reader did such a good job infusing the 1st-person narration with arrogance and disdain that it only added to my dislike for Amelia. Add to that the mystery being a bit light–took a long time to get going and was mostly easy to solve–and Amelia’s disdain for Christianity, and it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read for me.

There were parts of the book that I found interesting–the descriptions of excavation and archaeology in those days, as well as travel by the dahabiyas (luxury boats) on the Nile. However, by the time I was halfway through, I’d decided I wouldn’t continue the series after the first book. Now that it’s been a few days since I finished it, I think I may give it another try. The next book is set somewhere around 6 years after the first one, and it looks like many things will be different. As for this first book, though, I do think others might appreciate it more than I did, so if it sounds interesting, be sure to check out other reviews and consider giving this book a try.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Saw Red

The Cat Who Saw Red
Book #4
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

Former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran starts a new diet just before he’s made the newspaper’s first ever gourmet reporter. In typical Qwill fashion, he immerses himself in the culture by moving into a boarding house where the owner is a gourmet chef and requires all boarders to have some sort of connection to food. Part of the reason for moving there (okay, maybe most of the reason) is that Qwill’s old flame lives there, and when she disappears, he starts to question if foul play is involved. Still, she’s always been flighty, as Qwill knows well enough. Then a houseboy vanishes, and Qwill kicks his investigation into high gear.

My experience with this book is probably a bit tainted by the fact that I’ve read it before, many years ago. It’s actually one I remember most from whichever ones of this series I read when I was younger. So that being said, I really liked the story and the mystery, even though I was pretty sure I knew what was going on the entire time. Because even with that past experience, I couldn’t quite decide for sure if my theory was correct or not. In the end, the mystery was interesting and maybe even a bit more sensational than normal for this series.

I always enjoy the antics that the cats get up to, and this book was no exception for me. Qwill even has a bit of a scare involving them, and it’s very touching to see his reaction. One particular side character amused me quite a bit too, even down to a comical description of the car that he drives. I only wish there would have been more of him. Overall, this was an entertaining read that I do believe beat out the previous to be my favorite in the series so far. I would recommend this book for fans of the classic whodunit & cozy mystery genres.

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Book Review: Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders

Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders
A Woman of WWII Mystery #1
by Tessa Arlen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

Newly trained Air Raid Warden Poppy Redfern takes up her post in the small English village of Little Buffenden, where an American Air Force airfield is about to open. The airfield could make this otherwise quiet hamlet a target for an air raid, but the Germans aren’t the only danger to Little Buffenden; trouble is much closer to home when two women are murdered only days apart. When suspicion is cast upon the Americans at the airfield, distrust for the “friendly invaders” surges in Little Buffenden. Poppy begins to investigate while continuing her duties as warden and trying not to end up as the next victim.

This book was all sorts of great! The descriptions made the story come to life, and though there were quite a few characters from the village and neighboring airfield involved, the author did a great job of helping me keep them all straight as I got used to them. Poppy had a wonderful mixture of spunk, loyalty, compassion, and intelligence, with a little quirk thrown in (it’s not that strange to have the main character of the novel you’re writing pop into your head with observations or admonitions now and then…or so I’ve heard).

I really liked the feel of this small town in 1942 England, where they’ve been at war for much longer than their American allies, not to mention more directly affected. The things the Air Force men take for granted, like having sugar and beef readily available, were luxuries to the locals. The attempts made by Poppy and her grandparents to help their fellow villagers see the Americans in a different light showed the great wisdom of this family. And though there are some bumps along the way that were a little frustrating, the American pilot that works with Poppy, Griff, was one of my favorite characters. Also, I’m not a dog person and don’t normally care much about dogs in fiction, but Bess was pretty great.

I would classify this as a cozy mystery–it has all of the earmarks. I had guessed who the murderer was much earlier than I normally do, but I wasn’t quite certain, and the reveal was still done really well. However, the book does probably have a little more description of violence and disturbing images than you’d normally find in a classic cozy mystery. That’s not to say that it’s very much–it didn’t bother me at all, and I don’t have a very high tolerance for some of that kind of thing–but enough that I thought it was worth mentioning if I’m classifying it as “cozy.” All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience this book provided and would recommend you give it a try if either of the genres interest you. There’s a second book in the series so far, which I’m looking forward to reading.

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