Book Review: The Cat Who Wasn’t There

The Cat Who Wasn’t There
Book #14
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When a group trip to Scotland ends in tragedy, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran begins to suspect that the death may not have been natural. Can he piece together the clues, including those from his perceptive Siamese, to solve the mystery?

Koko’s back to licking photographs, but while he does his best to communicate the clues to his food-provider (or is just coincidence?), Qwilleran is busy dodging an old girlfriend who wants to be a new wife. Qwilleran has definitely changed over the course of this series, in ways that even he is still discovering. It keeps the series from getting stale, as do the location changes now and then. While I have grumbled in the past about books that take us away from Pickax, this book still spends plenty of time there, while the death happens far away.

I’m not a Shakespeare aficionado in any way and have never read Macbeth, but it makes a great backdrop to the story. The author does a pretty good job of giving a reader without knowledge of the play, which the local theater club is staging, enough information to appreciate the connections made. I don’t know if a reader more knowledgeable about Macbeth would enjoy it more or less than I did. Though I had suspicions about who was involved in the crime, I didn’t put together the hows and whys before I was told. But to be fair, Braun wrote these books before “cozy mystery” became a formula. In the end, I enjoyed the book a little more than I did the previous.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Moved a Mountain

The Cat Who Moved a Mountain
Book #13
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When his 5-year requirement to live in the small, northern town of Pickax ends, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran has a big decision in front of him. To help him make it, he decides to get away to a mountain retreat. But his plans for a quiet getaway are quickly spoiled when he gets caught up in local prejudices and politics and a murder investigation that might have convicted the wrong man.

I guess it makes sense to move the action away from the same small town/northern county now and then, so it doesn’t become a place full of murders, but sadly, the change of locale often means I won’t like the book as much. Still, this one wasn’t too bad. I liked the way Qwilleran sees both sides of an ongoing battle, meeting and talking talking to people with both points of view. The mystery was decent, though not quite as interesting as others in this series have been. Koko’s antics that inspired the title aren’t exactly new, though I did appreciate the play on words.

I recently read a mystery novel with a main character who had been a gangster in the past but was forced to change due to circumstances beyond his control. In that book, the MC’s new life involved things he never would have done or cared about in the past, but it felt really forced to me. That made me notice all the more the way Qwilleran’s changes in lifestyle and personality throughout the series have been a lot smoother and more subtle. He’s certainly still himself, but also quite different from the man that used to live in the big city and write about urban crime. Overall, this was a good addition to the series.

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Book Review: Cozy Up to Christmas

Cozy Up to Christmas
Cozy Up
#5

by Colin Conway

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery, Christmas

Ed Belmont just wants to make it through the Christmas season doing his job as mall Santa. But someone else is committing crimes around town wearing a Santa suit, and the cops are looking at Ed. Since he’s an ex-con in witness protection, the attention could be a problem.

I haven’t read any of the preceding books in the series, but events from them were brought up in this book a few times. Belmont (not really his name) was the bookkeeper in a gang and reluctantly became a witness against them, and now he’s force to move from place to place, job to job, to keep ahead of the danger. While it seems that previous identities were compromised and required relocation, this one had an expiration date—Christmas. Yet he does end up under suspicion for ongoing criminal activity, which also seems to be a theme in the series.

From start to finish, this is a fairly straightforward story with a protagonist who could be interesting, but feels like a caricature. He learned to enjoy reading, specifically mystery novels, in the first book in the series, and while I have nothing against a hardened gang member becoming a reader, it somehow felt forced to me. I could see what the author was trying to do in showing changes in this man who had been forced into situations and lifestyles he never would have chosen for himself, but for me, at least, it didn’t work very well.

I also think the overall story could have done with another round or two of edits. Maybe some dialog read out loud, some actions acted out. Characters were all the time touching each others arms and sleeves while talking, which I’m not sure is natural. And a lot of people in the story tended to act out what they were saying with their hands, again not necessarily common. While both of these things could have been a trait assigned to one character, having them be so widespread was odd. It also seems really important to the author that I know what everyone is wearing. It’s generally the first thing we’re told whenever anyone new is in a scene. There’s a woman who comes onto Ed so strongly it made me uncomfortable, and imagine if the roles were reversed and it was a man trying to convince a woman to let him touch her (sit on her lap, because, well, she is Santa, after all). It would be considered creepy, and he’d be labeled a perv, not just a humorous device to make the MC all the more annoyed at his lot in life.

The mystery wasn’t bad, but wasn’t super interesting or difficult to solve. There was a small twist regarding the various crimes that had been committed, and it did give Ed a chance to grow more in the story. I think with some refining, this could be a good book and a series I’d be interested in. It is a mostly clean book, with almost no profanity and nothing else that would bother me, minus the aforementioned woman trying to force herself onto Santa. While I don’t plan to read any other stories about Beauregard Smith (Ed’s real name), plenty of others have enjoyed it more than I did. If you’re interested, be sure to check out other reviews at the link below.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal

The Cat Who Knew a Cardinal
Book #12
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When an unpleasant man is murdered in former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran’s own backyard, he is determined to let the police handle it. But between Koko’s antics and his own inquisitive nature, it isn’t long before he’s unable to stop the theories from forming.

Ahh, the apple barn at last! The thing I remember most from when I read some of this series around 20ish years ago is the converted apple barn with ramps and balconies that Qwilleran, Koko, and Yum Yum live in. I didn’t quite realize how long it took them to get there, but it isn’t surprising that it was this far in, given the progression of Qwilleran’s life up to this point. It’s only a shame that their housewarming is punctuated by murder, not to mention the further tragedy that is more of a spoiler to mention here. The mystery in this book is another good one, though I was struck by similarities in the main players of the drama to those in a previous book, The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts. I loved Koko’s “friendship” with the cardinal and found myself reacting with high sentiments at the developments related to it.

One thing I didn’t care for in this book is the hit that the relationship between Qwilleran and Polly takes. The way they seem to regard each other makes me feel sad and wonder how long they can possibly last. They both seem ready to toss each other over at the first chance. Maybe this is supposed to be due to the fact that neither of them wants a marriage, but they still get quickly jealous over the other paying a little extra attention to someone of the opposite gender. I used to think of their relationship as sweet and comfortable, but I’m definitely starting to see it differently now. We’ll see how that progresses, though, since I’m only a little more than 1/3 of the way through the series, which I do recommend for fans of cozy mysteries.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Lived High

The Cat Who Lived High
Book #11
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When a past acquaintance of former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran asks him to help save a historic building from being demolished, he moves into a penthouse apartment in the building. He quickly discovers that the former occupant was murdered, and that the story being told about the death may not be accurate.

This book was good, but not one of the better installments of the series. Part of that, I think, is because after we’ve had the chance to get used to Pickax City, Moose County, and all of the odd characters in Qwilleran’s new home 400 miles north of everywhere, we’re yanked back to the big city (as is Qwilleran). There are some familiar faces there, but the series really got better when Qwilleran moved north, so why go back? I think the other reason it didn’t stand out is that the cats aren’t all that involved. Yum Yum pretty much sleeps the whole time, and Koko’s input mostly involves finding locations where certain things happened. Yes, it plays into his uncanny abilities, but part of the charm of this series is the odd habits he tends to pick up for the length of one mystery and then discard. That didn’t really happen this time.

The mystery was not particularly interesting, either, and while there were some aspects to it that I didn’t figure out myself, it was overall nothing spectacular. Still, it’s not a bad story, and I would still recommend it to fans of cozy mysteries.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts

The Cat Who Talked to Ghosts
Book #10
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran’s friend and former landlady calls him in a panic, he rushes to her house but is too late to prevent her death. She’d told him stories of hearing ghosts in the walls and appeared to have been frightened to death. Qwilleran is compelled to believe there’s a human element involved and moves into Mrs. Cobb’s empty dwelling to see if he can uncover the truth.

This is one of the few books from this series that I remember pretty well from 20+ years ago when I read some of this series. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed it a lot on this reading, which is probably the reason I remember it so well. The death of a recurring character kicks the story off with a bang, and the old Goodwinter farmhouse, where Mrs. Cobb was living, is the perfect setting for a ghost-themed mystery. The side characters and side plots are interesting, and everything came together well at the end.

Though Qwilleran is a fairly set in his ways and has little patience for certain personalities, I liked how his compassionate side comes out in this book. And not just the easier kind of compassion toward someone that he likes or is intrigued by, but also compassion toward someone he dislikes or at least doesn’t regard in a great light originally. This is a great addition to a series that I really enjoy and highly recommend to fans of cozy mysteries.

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Book Review: The Cat Who Went Underground

The Cat Who Went Underground
Book #9
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran decides to spend the summer at the cabin on the lake he inherited, he quickly discovers that “roughing it” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The cabin’s near-continual repair needs nearly distract Qwilleran from the mystery he’s stumbled into the middle of.

This wasn’t my favorite book in the series, but it still has the charm that I’m used to from the series. Though Koko did, indeed, go underground, and that did play a big part in the story’s mystery, that cats weren’t terribly involved overall. That wasn’t really what led to the lower score, though, as the mystery itself wasn’t quite as interesting as it has been in other books. It didn’t help that Qwill speculated something that might have seemed wild at the time early in the book, and that turned out to be the truth. It might have been better for it to have been more of a surprise later.

Still, I actually enjoyed the fact that, though Qwill normally prefers a simple life and doesn’t have much use for money for himself, he definitely relied on it, and quickly, every time something went wrong with the cabin. I also liked the starting up of the human interest column I knew he would be writing for much of the series and the various ways Qwill is still getting used to this northern, wilder environment. Though this one didn’t stand out to me as much as others have, I enjoy the overall story and characters and look forward to continuing the series.

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Book Review: The Mummy Case

The Mummy Case
Amelia Peabody #3
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical mystery

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

After some time away, the Emersons are returning to Egypt for a dig, this time taking their young son Ramses along. When Amelia suspects that a suicide might actually be foul play, her husband doesn’t agree. Then strange things begin to happen in the area around their not-so-exciting dig site, and Amelia sees connections where Emerson just sees random misfortune. First Amelia has to convince him that something is afoot, and then they have to solve the mystery before anyone else gets hurt.

My synopsis probably doesn’t do the story justice, but I found myself equal parts lost and bored while listening to this installment in the series. And I think the reason I got lost at times was due to my mind wandering, because the story simply didn’t capture my attention as the books before it did. I’m not completely sure why, either; maybe I’ve already grown tired of the formula of this series? But I also think it’s partly because the mystery was super slow in getting going. After the death that Amelia suspects is a murder, it’s mostly just them getting on with their dig and meeting lots of new people for quite a while. Little things that keep the mystery in mind happen, but nothing all that exciting.

I think part of my issue is with Ramses, though. He’s an amusing character, but only to a point. I don’t honestly know how old he’s supposed to be in this book, but I’m guessing around 7. And he’s super smart, can translate ancient languages, solves much of the mystery alongside (or ahead of) his parents, and speaks with a speech impediment. And he always obeys his parents, but finds loopholes in what they tell him to do (or, more accurately, in what they neglect to say he can’t do). I also grew quite weary of Emerson’s (and Amelia’s, to a lesser degree) disdain for Christianity and Christian missionaries. There were a few humorous moments in the book, but not as many as I remember in the first two. Since much of my dislike of this book was personal preference, and it’s clear that many others enjoyed it, if you’re a fan of cozy mysteries or Egyptology, you might want to check this book out. 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: A Treacherous Tale

A Treacherous Tale
The Cambridge Bookshop Series #2
by Elizabeth Penney

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

American Molly Kimball loves her life in Cambridge, running the family’s old book shop, dating the most eligible bachelor in the area, and meeting the author of one of her favorite books growing up. But when a man dies outside the author’s house, Molly finds herself thrust back into the darker side of the picturesque town, once again trying to prove the innocence of people she cares about.

I wasn’t completely sure how I felt about the first book in the series but felt it was worth pressing on when the second came out. But I think I can better express why I probably won’t continue on after this. To start with, the main character, Molly, is just so weak. Personally, I prefer my mystery detectives to be less papery-thin and more willing to push through disturbing situations. She all but falls apart every time she has a sudden flash of inspiration about the case. Her friends and family are always noticing the unhappy expression on her face and coddling her as she tells them the sudden realization.

And speaking of those realizations, half the time they are pretty obvious things for her to suddenly realize. Like Molly herself, the mystery was also weak, especially to me as the reader, because the narrator practically spoon-fed me every bit of information, even making detailed connections for me (some of them more than once), so I certainly couldn’t help but follow along (or, in some cases, get ahead of her). And including the entire text of the fictional book involved in the story was a good idea in theory, but in the end, I didn’t see how it really added to the story. I kept expecting it to provide some kind of major insight for both Molly and me. I also kept expecting some kind of surprise twist about what was REALLY going on, because it was pretty bland and simple overall. This makes it all the more unrealistic that the police can’t figure out who really did it and need Molly to lead them to the bad guys. Even the brilliant ex-MI-5 agent needs Molly to tell him that they should keep a discovery a secret, so as not to alert the bad guys to the discovery (after which Molly proceeds to tell everyone she knows about it).

In the end, what I did like about the first book didn’t give me as much enjoyment this time. Everyone that Molly likes is almost too perfect (especially her boyfriend), and the few people she doesn’t like are mostly alike in their flaws and are thrown under the bus. The descriptions of every meal or snack eaten and every outfit worn dragged the story down for me. I am confident in saying that there are a lot of people who will enjoy the setting, characters, and mystery in this book/series more than I do, but for me, it’s over.

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

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Publication date: August 23, 2022

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Book Review: The Curse of the Pharaohs (take 2)

The Curse of the Pharaohs
Amelia Peabody #2
by Elizabeth Peters
read by Barbara Rosenblat

My rating: 4.5 / 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 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). However, I went back to the first book in the series, read by a different narrator, and found that I liked the different voice a lot more. So I’m continuing on with a do-over on this 2nd book too, which was as far as I got in the series before. And like with the first book, I enjoyed this one more with the different narrator. I still felt that there were some elements that were too similar to the first one and wished it had been more of a departure. However, I was able to better appreciate the repartee between Amelia and Emerson, their gruff-but-obvious adoration of their far-too-brilliant son, and the contributions from the cat Bastet.

I’m looking forward to continuing on in the series for the first time, now that I’ve found a narrator I like. I do hope that every book won’t include a beautiful woman that all of the male characters (except Emerson) wants to marry and manifestations of a curse that scares the local work force. Still, people who like cozy mysteries or Egyptology might want to check this book out. But if you’re considering listening to the audiobook, I highly suggest finding Barbara Rosenblat’s version, if you can.

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