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: 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: 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 Cat Who Sniffed Glue

The Cat Who Sniffed Glue
Book #8
by Lilian Jackson Braun

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Cozy mystery

When the son and daughter-in-law of a prominent family in the far-north town of Pickax is murdered by what looks like a robbery gone wrong, former crime reporter Jim Qwilleran can’t help but ask the probing questions the police aren’t. And is it possible that someone is using the recent rash of vandalism in the area to cover something more sinister?

Koko is at it again, though he seems to be licking glue at least as much as he’s smelling it. I always try to figure out how his antics connect to the crime, and I don’t know if my lack of being able to do so is because I’ve never been very good at making connections when reading or watching mystery stories or because Braun doesn’t give the readers enough clues.

I’ve been enjoying this series overall, though this one didn’t stand out to me as much as others have. Qwill made some wise decisions in this book regarding the women in his life, though I knew what the outcome would ultimately be, since I’ve read some of the later books in the series long ago. This is my first time going through from start to finish, though, and I’m glad I made the decision to do so.

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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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