Thursday, August 21, 2014

Traditional Mysteries and Cozy Mysteries

A couple days ago, when I reviewed Erika Chase's Book Fair and Foul, a couple of you had questions about cozy mysteries and traditional mysteries, and particularly where Louise Penny is concerned. The discussion of her series of Inspector Armand Gamache books is wrapping up this week at If you're a fan, I hope you've checked out some of the discussions. Readers have had thoughtful, in-depth discussions of the works, ending with How the Light Gets In, as we await the release of The Long Way Home next week.

I do have some answers, and, before I finish, I'm going to quote an expert. Cozy mysteries have little violence, sexual content or abusive language. Most of the violence takes place offstage. The community is usually a small town or a closed setting. An amateur sleuth is usually the detective.

Cozy mysteries are really a subset of the traditional mystery. Cozies are gentle mysteries in which the world is generally seen as quite nice, except for the murder. Crafts, cats, hobbies, and cooking are often part of the subject of cozies. Cozies are lighthearted, and sometimes humorous, comfort reads.

On the other hand, traditional mysteries may explore dark, sometimes disturbing themes. While Louise Penny's books may be defined as traditional mysteries, they are definitely not cozy. They do involve disturbing themes, even the early books in the series. And, when I quote Enid Schantz, she mentions that traditional mysteries are not police procedurals because the emphasis is on police work. Penny's books include the police, but the procedure of step-by-step investigation is not the point of her books.

When I discussed traditional and cozy mysteries in Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (Seventh Edition), I quoted the late Enid Schantz of Rue Morgue Press, with the permission of her husband, Tom. She summarized this beautifully. "In my view all cozies are traditional mysteries but by no means all traditional mysteries are cozies. A traditional mystery may feature either a professional or an amateur detective (but not, as a rule, a private detective) but is not a police procedural where the emphasis is on police work (Ed McBain). There is a minimum of violence and often a closed setting, and usually the murderer and the victim know each other. Examples of traditional mystery writers are Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, etc. A cozy is a type of traditional mystery which is gentled down ever further, where everyone and everything is nice except the murder.

Traditional - definitely Louise Penny. Also Julia Spencer-Fleming's books. Cozy - Jenn McKinlay, Julie Hyzy, Miranda James.

I hope this helps!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, I was a branch manager searching for a children's librarian. Each candidate had to do a program for us, one suitable for children. I spent a year interviewing before Ann Minner showed up with her puppets, Chick, a small white mouse, and her beat poet orangutan. (Thank heavens for Ann!) Until Ann, I must have sat through a dozen versions of  I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (OK, I know it only seemed that way). I never wanted to hear the story again. Imagine my shock to open a package yesterday and find a picture book in it, I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel. But author Caryn Yacowitz, along with illustrator David Slonim, have created a fun, fascinating book that will capture the attention of children and adults alike.

A family shows up at Bubbe's house to celebrate Chanukah. She has a wonderful dinner for them, but the cat accidentally drops a dreidel on the table, and Bubbe swallows it, thinking it's a bagel. Perhaps it's fatal! From there, Bubbe goes through a number of holiday rituals involving oil, latkes, and even the menorah.

So far, that's just a cute Chanukah story incorporating elements of the holiday celebration, perfect for the intended audience of four to eight-year-olds. And, children will enjoy looking for the cat throughout the book. But, Yacowitz and Slonim did so much more to catch the eye of the adult reader. They turned each element of the story into a parody of a famous piece of art, from Rodin's The Thinker to Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. It's fun for adults, and can be used for art instruction for children. Since you had to see some for yourself, I photographed the back cover of the book.

I'm sure you recognize the original paintings. Slonim has an artist's note at the end of the book, showing each of the fourteen parodies, along with the title of the original work of art, artist information, and where the artwork is.

Without the artwork, Caryn Yacowitz' I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel would have been just another cute version of a familiar story, but perfect for Chanukah. With Slonim's artwork, it becomes a fun book, but also a book to discuss and share.

Caryn Yacowitz' website is

David Slonim's website is

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel by Caryn Yacowitz & illusrated by David Slonim. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014. ISBN 9780439915304 (hardcover).

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Fair and Foul by Erika Chase

I love mysteries set in the book world, whether they're about authors, book fairs, libraries, book groups, bookstores. Erika Chase combines a few of those elements in her latest Ashton Corners Book Club mystery, Book Fair and Foul.

Molly Mathews, owner of A Novel Plot bookstore, is hosting her first book fair in Ashton Corners, Alabama. Her friends in the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society are all helping, including Lizzie Turner, the reading specialist at the elementary school. Four authors had been invited to the mystery fair, and Lizzie was a little shocked to discover that two of them seemed to be divas, complaining and competing. But, she was even more shocked to learn that the publicist who showed up unexpectedly, Ashley Dixon, was her old college roommate. And, there were good reasons the two only roomed together for one semester. Ashley was hateful to Lizzie, spreading rumors about her. And, it didn't seem any different when Ashley showed up in town, eyeing Mark Dreyfus, the chief of police and Lizzie's boyfriend. Even so, Lizzie was embarrassed to death when she yelled at Ashley in public. It made it even worse when Ashley turned up dead, with Lizzie's cell phone nearby.

With Lizzie the number one suspect, suspended from her job at school, it gives her plenty of time to look for a killer, with the help of friends in the book club. Who would want to frame Lizzie for murder?

As I said, Chase's book has many elements that I love. The chapter headings were fun, quotes taken from other mysteries, containing hints as to what each chapter was about. And, I enjoyed all the discussion of books. But, I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. Perhaps this is my own issue, since I like police procedurals as well as traditional mysteries. As a cozy mystery, the amateur sleuth should investigate and find the killer. In this case, though, Mark is an excellent police chief, carrying on a careful investigation. So, I agreed with him when he responded to Lizzie when she insisted she needed to know who he suspected. "You need to know? I need you to keep out of this investigation. We go through this every time there's a murder, Lizzie. I am the cop. You are the civilian. It's my job to solve this. It's your job to stay out of it. I can't let you get involved just because we're in a relationship. And besides all that, it's too frigging dangerous. Now will you please back off?"

She should have backed off. I'm sorry if that's an unrealistic reaction to a cozy mystery since we're supposed to suspend disbelief. I just had a hard time accepting that Lizzie wouldn't let Mark do his job when he was so good at it. I've had this argument before with a mystery author. I understand it's necessary for the sake of the mystery for the amateur sleuth to solve the case. But, sometimes, I'm just not happy with it. Just my opinion of Book Fair and Foul.

Erika Chase's website is

Book Fair and Foul by Erika Chase. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425271490 (paperback), 294p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman

I hope the title of Carolyn T. Dingman's debut novel, Cancel the Wedding, didn't immediately turn you off. There's nothing wrong with chick lit or the cover of this book, but neither the title nor the cover art succeed in illustrating the serious tone of this book. The publisher chose to play up "the runaway bride" aspect. I prefer to see the story as a well-written, fascinating search for family secrets. It's a mystery about one woman's past so much more than a story of a runaway bride.

At thirty-two, Olivia Hughes seems to have it all, a well-paying job in Washington, D.C., and a successful lawyer fiance. But, her father died of heart disease, her mother died almost a year earlier of cancer, and Olivia really is uncomfortable with the direction her life is taking. When Leo announces at a family dinner that he has a surprise, the date and site for their wedding is now available, Olivia panics. She, too, announces a surprise. She's ready to go to Huntley, Georgia, with her mother's ashes, to honor her wishes. What's it matter that Olivia and her older sister, Georgia, have no idea why her mother wanted her ashes scattered there? Jane Rutledge Hughes never talked about her past.

Along with her fourteen-year-old niece, Logan, Olivia sets out for Huntley, Georgia, only to discover the town is no longer there. The town had been flooded out when the TVA created a man-made lake. And, her mother's past seems to have vanished as well, although a few people remember "the Huntley Rutledges". It isn't long before Olivia finds an ally in the local newspaper owner. Elliott sees it as a local human interest story. Olivia sees it as a search for her mother's past, a mother she discovers she never really knew. And, while she's in Georgia, maybe she'll find answers to her own uncertain future.

The characters of Olivia, Logan, and Elliott are wonderful. It's soon obvious why Olivia is unsuited for life with a high-powered lawyer, with her lack of filter when she speaks, and her klutziness. It's those qualities, though, that make her likable. And, it's obvious she loved her mother, and doesn't understand why there were secrets. Even so, Olivia is determined to find why her mother wanted to return home.

Carolyn T. Dingman's first novel is a riveting story of the search for answers. She manages to make one woman's hunt spellbinding, incorporating personal elements as well as historical elements to bring to life the search and story of one town and a small group of people. I wish I could tell you more about Jane Rutledge Hughes' own story, but you'll have to uncover it step-by-step with Olivia, Logan, and Elliott. It's a puzzle, a treasure hunt through old newspaper files, library books, and people's memories. And, I found myself as moved by Jane's story as Olivia was.

Move beyond the title and the cover of this book. Yes, there is a reason the book is called Cancel the Wedding. But, as I said, Dingman's outstanding debut is about one woman's hunt for her mother's past and her own future.  It's so much more than the story of a runaway bride.

Carolyn T. Dingman's website is She's on Facebook at Carolyn Dingman, and on Twitter @CarolynTDingman.

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn T. Dingman. Harper. 2014. ISBN 9780062276728 (paperback), 416p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The received a copy to participate in the TLC Book Tour.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

Next month, my brown bag lunch at work will cover the topic "Peck-N-Paws", books about animals. One of the Readers' Advisors recommended The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat by Susann Fromberg Schaeffer, saying it was her favor cat book. Foudini does for cats what Chet does for dogs in Spencer Quinn's books. Foudini narrates the story of his own life. It's a charming story for all cat lovers. (And, remember this is an "autobiography" so Foudini lives. But, no promises about other beloved animals.)

Foudini is a housecat in the human world, writing his autobiography for the younger cat in the household, Grace. He tries to impart his wisdom to Grace, who doesn't know what it's like to be an outside wild cat. Foudini's mother was a stray who moved him from place to place until she found a spot for him in the laundry room of an apartment building. Then, one day, she disappeared. And, a woman finally caught him, took him to the vet's, where he was adopted by a man and a woman.

And, to his horror, this man and woman had a dog. Not, just any dog, but a big one! But, over time, the dog, Sam, became Foudini's dog, and he became Sam's cat. It was Sam who convinced Foudini he had to have names for the people, so Foudini called the woman Warm and the man Pest.

Honestly? The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat is the most charming story I've ever read about a cat. Schaeffer seems to understand a cat's soul, and so many actions will be recognizable by cat lovers. There are charming vignettes in which Foudini dreams about cat ancestors, the ancient ones who come back to advise him about everything from protecting his people to his love life. It's funny, but the book does have its tear-jerker moments as well.

A cat lover? Do yourself a favor. Find The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat at your local public library. It's a slightly older book, so you may have better luck at a library. But, you won't regret searching for it.

The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. Alfred A. Knopf. 1997. ISBN 9780679454748 (hardcover), 166p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Half in Love with Artful Death by Bill Crider

My friend, reviewer Kevin Tipple, is from Texas. Maybe that's why he appreciated Bill Crider's Sheriff Dan Rhodes mysteries long before I did. But, once I discovered them, I realized I was missing mysteries that are fun, light-hearted in tone, while cognizant of the serious nature of crime, particularly murder. Half in Love with Artful Death is all of that. And, if you've never read one of the mysteries, you can start with this one. Sheriff Rhodes and his motley crew are just waiting for you to meet them.

The sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas also provides services for the town of Clearview, so when Burt Collins wants to complain about artists in town, he shows up in the sheriff's office. Since Burt complains about everything, Sheriff Rhodes doesn't take him too seriously until he has to attend to a disturbance at the art exhibit. He finds Collins being restrained by two men, including Seepy Benton, a mathematics professor who considers himself part of the sheriff's department because of his attendance at the citizens' academy. Both men accuse Burt of vandalizing the art in the exhibit, but no one can prove it. Burt is released, and everything seems to be under control.

A sheriff's work is never done, particularly when there's a small staff. So, that night, Rhodes has to handle a robbery at the Pak-a-Sak convenience sore, donkeys on the loose on the highway, and Burt Collins' murder. In the course of the murder investigation, there is also a naked woman in some bushes, another robbery, a meth bust, the local news, and politicians. All in the day-to-day life of a Texas lawman.

At least in the day-to-day life of Sheriff Dan Rhodes. Crider's lawman is slow and steady, and he gets there, despite the "Who's on First" behavior of his dispatcher and jailer, and a few of his over-eager officers. Of course, he has what every lawman needs, an understanding wife, a couple dogs, and two do-nothing cats. And, a sense of humor.

If you enjoy funny conversations, the quirky people in a small town, and a shrewd, patient lawman, meet Sheriff Dan Rhodes. Half in Love with Artful Death is mystery with just the right tone of humor and respect for the seriousness of crime.

Bill Crider's website is

Half in Love with Artful Death by Bill Crider. Minotaur Books. 2014. ISBN 9781250039675 (hardcover), 272p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Winners and an Historic England Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Karen B. of Bloomington, MN will receive Rosie Genova's Murder and Marinara. Maple Mayhem by Jessie Crockett will go to Jess D. from Harrisburg, PA. I'll mail the books today.

This week, I'm giving away two books set in England's past. The first isn't a mystery, although mystery readers will recognize Jacqueline Winspear's name. Winspear is the author of the Maisie Dobbs books. This year, she gives us a novel, The Care and Management of Lies, set just before and during the Great War. The story focuses on three young people, and what they do to survive. Kezia Marchant's friendship with Thea Brissenden suffered when Thea turned to women's suffrage and Kezia planned to marry Thea's brother, Tom, in 1914. Thea's wedding gift to Kezia, a book on household management, is a gift of scorn that Kezia will now be a farm wife. But, when Tom enlists and Thea heads to the battlefields, Kezia's responsibilities become even more serious. Filled with details of everyday life and the tragedy of war, The Care and Management of Lies is a powerful book. I have an ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) to give away.

If you would prefer a mystery, you can enter to win Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily mystery, Behind the Shattered Glass. Lady Emily and her husband are at her husband's ancestral estate when a neighbor bursts through the doors and falls down dead. It seems more than a couple people had reason to want the young aristocrat dead. As Lady Emily searches for a killer, the trail takes readers into the gilded world of a British manor house and below stairs, where the servants know all the secrets.

Which book would you like to read? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Management of Lies" or "Win Behind the Shattered Glass." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The contest will end next Thursday, Aug. 21 at 6 PM CT.