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Cozy Mysteries: How to Have Fun with (Fictional) Murder

One December a few years ago, I was sitting in an examination room at my doctor’s office, waiting for my doctor.  While I was waiting, I was reading a Christmas themed cozy mystery.  My doctor entered the room, looked at my book and said, “A Christmas murder mystery?  Isn’t that a little morbid?”  I told her no, and it was actually a little bit funny.  She just looked at me incredulously for a few seconds before getting down to medical business.

What are cozy mysteries, and how does one have fun with them?  Cozy mysteries are a gentler form of the mystery genre.  Sort of like a PG movie, if you will.  They don’t contain graphic scenes of sex or violence, and usually don’t contain foul language.    They often are set in small towns and the protagonist becomes an amateur detective.  Often you will also find an element of humor in them, which is why so many of them have punny titles.  Please don’t misunderstand, though.  The basis of an exceptional cozy is still a great mystery and great writing.  In addition to an expertly spun tale, many authors add recipes or craft ideas to their books. Here are just a few examples of authors who have found a way to go beyond the story and connect with their readers on another level.

One author I admire for her writing skills as well as her sense of entertainment and fun is Ellie Alexander.  Alexander is currently writing The Bakeshop Mysteries (setting is self-explanatory) and the Sloan Krause Mysteries, which are set in a brew pub.  She always has amazing recipes at the end of her books.  Don’t just stop with reading Alexander’s books, though.  Be sure to check out her website – https://www.elliealexander.co/, and follow her on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/elliealexanderauthor/ as she posts lots of videos with cooking and baking tips (my favorite humus recipe ever comes from Alexander; see below) and holds virtual chats with other authors.  Alexander is also collaborating with her fans and has written A Brunch with Death based on The Bakeshop Mysteries and is in a current collaboration with them based on The Sloan Krauss Mysteries.    Her latest release is Nothing Bundt Trouble, published in June 2020 by St. Martin’s Paperback, ISBN  978-1250214362).  Coming the end of September 2020 will be the release of Beyond a Reasonable Stout from Minatour, ISBN 978-1250766106.

I’ve written in my previous blog entry about author Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mysteries, and that I enjoy learning about bookbinding and restoration from her main character, Brooklyn Wainright.  Carlisle also writes The Fixer Upper Mysteries, a series that the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel has turned into movies starring Jewel.  Like many cozy authors, Carlisle lists recipes in the back of her books.  If you want more fun, visit her website’s “secret room” at https://katecarlisle.com/.  She has puzzles, recipes, crafts, and more.  Carlisle’s latest Bibliophile Mystery release was in June 2020 from Berkley is The Grim Reader, ISBN 978-0451491435.  Coming in December 2020 will be the release of Premeditated Mortar (Fixer Upper Mystery) from Penguin.

Another one of my favorite authors is Jenn McKinlay.  In a September 2, 2020 interview by 3TV’s Good Morning in Phoenix, AZ, McKinlay describes her mystery writing as “I Love Lucy/Agatha Christie mash ups”.  She writes several series in different genres, including the Library Lovers Mystery Series.  Lindsey Norris, the main character in these books, is Briar Creek’s library director.  A group meets every week at the library for “crafternoon”, which is a book club discussion with food and crafts.  At the end of each Library Lovers book, you’ll find the featured craft from that meeting, along with recipes for the foods described in the story. The newest book in this series, One for the Books, released September 2020 from Berkley (ISBN 978-0593101742).  McKinlay also wrote The Decoupage Mysteries, a three-book series under the pen name of Lucy Lawrence.  This older series, also published by Berkley, contains decoupage projects in the back of the book.  For more information about McKinlay’s books, go to her website http://www.jennmckinlay.com/.

Daryl Wood Gerber (a/k/a Avery Ames) writes several mystery series as well.  Her latest release from Kensington in July 2020 is A Sprinkling of Murder, ISBN 978-1-4967-2634-6.  This book is a first in her new Fairy Garden Mystery series.  Recipes are included at the end of the book, but if you go to Gerber’s website https://darylwoodgerber.com/, enter the Savor the Mystery Club section and you’ll find information on making your own fairy garden, recipes, puzzles, etc.  Although I haven’t started on my fairy garden yet, I recently added these items to my library.  (Ok, I gnome is not a fairy, but come on!  He’s reading a book! I couldn’t resist.) 

These are just a few examples of ways to go beyond the story and enjoy your cozy mystery.  If you haven’t explored this genre yet, I hope this post will inspire you to start your cozy mystery adventure.

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Books on Books: Thoughts on Book Collecting

I started out my reading life as a serious bookworm in pigtails, who spent a lot of time at her public library.  Over the past many years, this bookworm has turned into a serious bibliophile. Is it enough for me to read and collect books? No!  I also read and collect books about books.  Exhibit A – some of the non-fiction books from my collection to prove my point.  In a previous blog, I wrote about my book buying philosophy.  My recent reading of Rare Books Uncovered by Rebecca Rego Barry (Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2018, ISBN 978-0-7603-6157-3)) has inspired me to share my thoughts and books on book collecting.

Exhibit A
Exhibit A

I will admit to purchasing one of those books pictured above by accident.  I bought ABC of Bookbinding by Jane Greenfield (New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2002, ISBN 978-1-884718-41-0), when I really meant to buy ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter.  Please don’t judge me – mistakes happen!  Although I still have not purchased Carter’s book, all is not lost regarding Greenfield’s book.  I find book binding fascinating even though I won’t be putting any knowledge from this book into practice.  This fascination has spilled over into my fiction reading.  Kate Carlisle writes the Bibliophile Mystery series, which is a favorite of mine.  In this series, Brooklyn Wainwright is a bookbinder and restorer, who always finds herself in the midst of a murder mystery.  In each book, Brooklyn describes to us a book she is restoring – it’s like a mini course on bookbinding!  In June 2020, book #14 in the series, The Grim Reader, was released.  For more information on Carlisle’s books, click here:  https://katecarlisle.com/

As you can see from the picture above, I not only enjoy my book collection, I also like to see other people’s collections and how they arrange and display their books.  I guess I like to look at books as well as to read them!  If you walk into my home, you cannot avoid seeing my library as it is the first room in the front of the house.  I try to be mindful about not getting too cluttered with my stacks of books on the shelves, tables, and book carts.  Do I have any thoughts on style?  In general, I say do what you like and what works for you.  Several years ago, someone told me I had too many books on my shelves.  GASP!!  She said I needed to arrange them more artistically…maybe get rid of some of the books on the shelves and add some artwork to break up the look. Clearly, she did not understand that my bookshelves are not for decorating – they are for books!  (I will admit to placing a few book inspired gifts in front of my books, but not in place of them.)

For the most part, my collection is a reading library, therefore nothing fancy.  I have an archival spirit though, so I purchased Care of Fine Books by Jane Greenfield (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-1-60239-078-2) in order to learn how to keep my collection in good condition.  I even have books relating to the public library as I work in one.  I so loved my public library when I was younger that I now own a section of the card catalog removed from it when they transitioned to an online catalog system. 

To round out my collection of books on books, I also have books about book collecting.  If you’re interested in starting out as a book collector, I recommend Modern Book Collecting: A Basic Guide to All Aspects of Book Collecting: What to Collect, Who to Buy from, Auctions, Bibliographies, Care, Fakes, Investments, Donations, Definitions, and More by Robert A. Wilson (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2015, ISBN 978-1629147918).  Another good book to read (that I’ve read but do not have in my own collection) if you’re starting out as a book collector is Book Finds: How to Find, Buy, and Sell Used and Rare Books by Ian C. Ellis (New York: Penguin Random House, 2006, ISBN 9780399532382). This book is a little older and as far as I know the 3rd edition is the latest.  I’m hoping that Ellis will come out with a 4th edition soon as an update. 

Anyone interested in books about books should definitely check out those by Nicholas Basbanes, who is the book master in my humble opinion.  Basbanes is a seasoned journalist, critic, and author.  Two of my favorite books written by Basbanes (pictured just above) are:  A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995, ISBN 0-8050-3653-9) and Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002, ISBN 0-8050-5159-7).  One of the subjects in A Gentle Madness is Stephen Blumberg, who had such a strong desire to collect books that he stole over 23,000 books from libraries in the United States and Canada.  Many of the institutions from which he stole books didn’t even know the books were missing until there was a federal case brought against him!  For more information about Basbanes and his books, click here: https://www.nicholasbasbanes.com/

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Spotlight: Grace Kelly

I have always enjoyed watching classic movies, and Alfred Hitchcock movies in particular. My top 3 favorite Hitchcock movies are Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955).  Because I lived in Newport, Rhode Island for a few years, another classic favorite (not by Hitchcock but a favorite none-the-less) is High Society (1956).  What do all these movies have in common?  They starred the Oscar winning actress and the (then) future Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly.

Over the years since her tragic death in 1982, I have added two Grace Kelly biographies to my library (see the photo in the title box above).  I purchased The Bridesmaids: Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, and Six Intimate Friends (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.  ISBN 1-555-84-067-1), written by a close friend of Kelly, Judith Balaban Quine.  My mother-in-law indulged my book collecting habit and gave me a copy of Robert Lacy’s Grace (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994. ISBN 0399-13872-2).  Both books give a very detailed look into the life and career of Kelly.

More recently, several novels have been published related to the life of Grace Kelly.  In Meet Me in Monaco: A Novel of Grace Kelly’s Royal Wedding, by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb (New York: William Morrow, 2019. ISBN 978-0-06-288536-4), Grace is almost a secondary character and her wedding is more of a backdrop to the main story.  Sophie Duval is a perfumer in the South of France, desperately trying to keep her family business from closing. While hiding Grace from the paparazzi, Sophie meets photographer James Henderson.  This wonderful story spans three decades and reveals the intertwining relationships of friendship, love, and heartbreak (not necessarily in that order!) of these three characters.

These next two novels were published earlier this year.  I was to attend a book event to be held at a local theater, which was going to show To Catch a Thief, and then have a signing and meet and greet with the authors.  Alas, the event was cancelled, but I did receive my copies of the books.  The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly, by Kerri Maher (New York: Berkley, 2020. ISBN 978-0-451-49207-4), follows Grace throughout her life and shows how she was determined to win independence from her parents, and at the same time win their approval.  I admit while reading this book I sometimes forgot I was reading a work of fiction. 

The second book from this event was The Grace Kelly Dress:  One Dress, Three Generations of Women. A Lifetime of Love by Brenda Janowtiz (Toronto: Graydon House, 2020.  ISBN: 978-1-525-80459-5).  This very enjoyable book is also less about Grace Kelly and more about the lives of the women who were inspired by Grace’s wedding dress. 

If you like The Grace Kelly Dress, you may want to check out another novel about a different royal wedding dress.  The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson (New York: William Morrow, 2018. ISBN 978-0-06-267-495-1), is historical fiction based on the women who created the wedding gown for Queen Elizabeth II.  I’ve never been disappointed when reading any of her books, as Robson is a superb storyteller. 

I hope you get a chance to read and enjoy these books.  If you’d like more information about the authors of these featured books, please click on the links below:

Hazel Gaynor – https://www.hazelgaynor.com/

Brenda Janowitz – http://www.brendajanowitz.com/

Kerri Maher – http://www.kerrimaher.com/

Heather Webb – http://heatherwebbauthor.com/

Jennifer Robson – http://www.jennifer-robson.com/

If you would like more information about the Princess Grace Foundation, please go to this website – https://pgfusa.org/

For more information on The Principality of Monaco, please visit this website – https://www.monte-carlo.mc/en/

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Spotlight: Winston Churchill

“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”  Winston S. Churchill

I’ve always been a history lover and I’ve read a lot about the period surrounding World War II.  Maybe because of this, I have been fascinated by Winston Churchill.  One of the events I was to attend this month was a book signing and lecture by Erik Larson, who wrote The Splendid and the Vile:  A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz (New York: Crown Publishing, 2020, ISBN: 978-0-385-34871-3).  Even though the event was cancelled, I still received a copy of the book, which I have read and highly recommend.  The seemingly insurmountable hardships England endured during the war and their grit and determination to survive and conquer keep coming to my mind in light of current events surrounding this deadly virus we are now facing. This biography covers the first year of Churchill being Prime Minister, 1940-1941, beginning just before England entered the War. Larson shares insights of Churchill and his family, key government officials from Churchill’s trusted circle, German and American officials, as well as the ordinary British citizen.  He does an amazing job of presenting facts without being boring or dry.

If you enjoy Larson’s book, I recommend going straight to the source.  The six-volume set The Second World War, was written by Sir Winston S. Churchill and published by Houghton Mifflin Company.  (Pictured in the title box above.) This set contains:  Vol. 1: The Gathering Storm (c1948); Vol. 2: Their Finest Hour (c1949); Vol. 3: The Grand Alliance (c1950); Vol. 4: The Hinge of Fate (c1950); Vol. 5: Closing the Ring (c1951); and Vol. 6: Triumph and Tragedy (c1953).

If you’re looking for a fictional read related to Churchill, may I also recommend The Maggie Hope Mystery Series by Susan Elia MacNeal.  The first in this superb series is Mr. Churchill’s Secretary (New York: Bantam, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-553-59361-7).   This book also begins when England enters World War II and now has nine titles in the collection, which follows the life of Maggie Hope, secretary turned spy.  If you’d like more information on this series, click here.

Additional novels dealing with life during the Blitz that I recommend are:  Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson (New York: William Morrow, 2017, ISBN: 978-0-06-238985-5); Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearse (New York: Scribner, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-5011-7006-6); and The Light Over London by Julia Kelly (New York: Gallery Books, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-5011-9641-6).

If you’re interested in reading a novel written from the perspective of Churchill’s wife, you won’t want to miss reading Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict (New York: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020, ISBN: 978-1-4926-6690-5).  Clementine was every bit as strong in character as her husband.

Would you like to see some of this history in person?  If you’re planning a trip to London, you may want to visit the Churchill War Rooms, located underground in Westminster.  This is where Churchill and his cabinet worked during the War.  For more information, click here.