Ellen Hart: The Grave Soul

TheGraveSoulEllen Hart is simply one of the very best traditional mystery writers in the business, and if you like a well crafted, thoughtful, traditional mystery and you don’t read Ellen Hart’s Jane Lawless series, you are really missing a bet. Jane, a Minneapolis restauranteur who also holds a P.I. license, is always the calm center of the storm. Except when she’s not.

One of Hart’s gifts is to slightly change things up with each book (and as this is her 23rd Jane Lawless outing, I imagine that’s not such an easy task) and in this one the opening sequence is nothing short of spectacular. We are introduced to a woman who has been beaten, finds brief sanctuary, and is thrust back into the snow. We’re given a Wisconsin setting, so we know it’s cold. read more

Julie Hyzy: All the President’s Menus

presidents-menusIt’s no secret that I’m a giant Julie Hyzy fan, whose White House Chef series just about reads like an episode of “The West Wing” only set in the kitchen. In the last book, to sort some personal stuff out, Chef Ollie Paras has to – gasp – leave the kitchen. Well, I understand. She had a lot on her plate and (spoiler if you haven’t yet read Home of the Braised) she got married to her Secret Service sweetie, Gav.

OK. She’s married, Gav is on medical leave, but she’s – yay – back in the kitchen. There’s a gentle jab from Hyzy aimed at the government sequester (it’s forced Ollie’s prized assistant, Cyan, on leave) and the lack of activity as state dinners have pretty much shut down. Ollie is just wishin’ and hopin’ for a little more of a lively time when word comes down that there will be a team of visiting chefs from the country of Saardisca, and they’ll be working with Ollie’s team to create a dinner for a Saardiscan Presidential candidate, to be held across the street at Blair House. read more

Eva Gates: By Book or By Crook

ByBookorByCrookBerkley reliably cranks out an entire line of cozies, hitting many specialized areas of interest for readers. This one hits several of the cozy tropes – there’s a lighthouse, a library in the lighthouse, a cat, a young heroine, two suitors, and for an extra fillip, Jane Austen. All familiar tropes and yet, Gates brings something a little more kick ass to the cozy table. A little extra verve, and a brisk, hard to put down way of telling a story that will have you flipping pages.

Gates is the pen name of Canadian Vicki Delany, who has a long series featuring Constable Molly Smith, several books set in the Klondike, as well as several stand alones. She’s a real pro and it shows in her narrative chops. She knows how to pace and she knows how to end each chapter making you want to read on to the next one (I finished this is a day and a half, a real inhale of a read). read more

E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen: The Question of the Missing Head

missingheadThis absolutely charming, totally enjoyable book is one of the reads of the year from E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen, a writer with a long and solid history in the cozy mystery genre. His earliest books featured a parent with an Asperger’s child; in this one he’s streamlined his concept and given the main character Asperger’s, something that enhances his skills as a detective. Cohen, the real life parent of an Asperger’s child, illuminates the condition for the reader in the best possible way: by showing, not telling. read more

Jane Haddam: Fighting Chance

Fighting ChanceWhile much of the attention in publishing is focused on dazzling, huge best sellers, it’s the old reliables, steadily publishing year after year, who keep the engine of publishing moving along.  Jane Haddam can now boast 28 novels in her long running Gregor Demarkian series.  While there are some series entries I disliked it would almost be more surprising if there weren’t.  When Jane Haddam is “on,” she’s one of the best, and this turned out to be a favorite of mine in her long series. read more

Denise Swanson: Murder of a Needled Knitter

Murder of a needled KnitterDenise Swanson, 17 books into her Scumble River series featuring school psychologist Skye Denison, has at last married Skye off to her sweetheart, Wally, and sent them off on their honeymoon aboard a cruise ship.  Guess who else turns out to be aboard?  Skye’s best pal, Trixie, on a cruise with her own husband, and her parents.  

Swanson pretty much could have left her plot at that:  your parents on your honeymoon?  Anyone’s nightmare.  But she’s never been a lazy writer and she’s not about to start now, as she also arranges for there to be a group of knitters on board (hence Skye’s mother, May), complete with an obnoxious group leader, hated by all.  It’s not long before the much hated Guinevere is a goner and the entire knitting group including especially Skye’s mother, who had public words with her, are suspects. read more

Julie Hyzy: Home of the Braised

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but for about the price (or less) of a movie ticket you can instead buy and read this blast of a book.  This is a series I look forward to without fail, and I’m joined by Hyzy’s growing number of enthusiastic readers, who love White House Executive Chef Ollie Parras.  Hyzy actually writes what I would call old fashioned adventure novels – she tells a rollicking good story, sometimes stretching credulity, but as you’re caught up in her narrative, you simply won’t care. read more

Ellen Hart: Taken by the Wind

In A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engel writes of “the educated heart,” a quality Ellen Hart possesses in spades.  Hart’s novels, populated with a variety of overlapping characters and a variety of life experiences, form a rich and complex tapestry where she can spin her tales.  She’s also one of the best “traditional” mystery writers at work at the moment, utilizing the format of the detective story, with clues, characters, red herrings, suspects and a driving narrative style that propels the reader forward.  To me this combination of her matrix of character and setting along with her use of the classic mystery format is an irresistible one. read more

Julia Spencer-Fleming: Through the Evil Days

I think what makes some series writers special – or one of the things, at least – is the ability to treat each installment differently.  The characters belong to the arc, but each story is told in a specific and different way that almost makes each novel a standalone.  Julia Spencer-Fleming has this skill, and she proves herself to be spectacularly versatile in her seventh novel, delivering a pure thriller.

evil-daysIn each novel her setting of Miller’s Kill, New York, is a character in some sense.  In this novel it’s an aggressive character in the form of a horrible ice storm that never seems to end.  It makes you shiver and hope February, when it arrives, isn’t this terrible. read more

Sheila Connolly: Monument to the Dead

Sheila Connelly is one of the Energizer bunnies of the cozy universe, writing three series as well as a couple stand alones.  She’s one of our best selling authors.  Each series ties to an actual passion or interest of hers – this one is centers on the head of an historical museum in Philadelphia, Nell Pratt, a former fundraiser who is now in charge of things.  Since many of our customers and many mystery readers are academics and/or librarians, this particular series should have serious appeal. read more