Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas

Jane and the Twelve Days of ChristmasJane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's Christmas time, and Jane Austen, her sister Cassandra, and their mother are on the way to visit their brother James and his family for the holidays. They have a mishap enroute, thanks to their brother's parsimony, and end up meeting a handsome stranger on his way to the home of mutual friends, which eventually leads to an invitation for the whole family to join the house party at The Vyne. Unfortunately, a young man dies while they are visiting, and Jane determines it was murder.

She's not alone in her sleuthing this time, for the handsome stranger turns out to be Raphael West, an artist and government agent, and the two of them work together to solve the crime. Jane isn't completely sure she can trust Mr. West, despite their mutual attraction, but she has few options, especially when a second person dies under suspicious circumstances.

I loved all the historical details in this volume--from James' wife Mary's hypochondria to the 12 outfits Cassandra and Jane sewed for their niece's doll as gifts for each of the 12 nights of Christmas. These elements really made the story come alive for me. If Stephanie Barron's Mary Austen is anything like the real Mary Austen was, it's a miracle no one smothered her in her sleep. She is so utterly self-absorbed, she makes for good comic relief, though!

Unfortunately, I struggled to keep straight the names and relationships between a few of the secondary characters, and it slowed down my reading tremendously when I had to stop and go back to look up their connections to each other. This was partly due to my only having time to read during lunch breaks, which wasn't Ms. Barron's fault at all. However, since those characters ended up being central to the mystery, it made for some rough going some of the time.

The other thing that frustrated me was that Jane seemed to ignore some rather obvious clues, which is unusual for this series. I kept wishing I could be like Tuesday Next in the Jasper Fforde Eyre Affair series and jump right in to the book and talk to the characters. I felt like Jane could have wrapped up the case faster if she had paid more attention. On the other hand, the resolution felt somewhat hasty and unsatisfying, albeit realistic.

Bottom line? It's a fun historical cozy mystery, worth the read, but not the best in the series. Still, I'm sad that there can't be many more of these books to come, given that Jane died in her early 40s.

For readers' advisors: setting and story doorways. No sex, bad language, or onscreen violence.

I originally was approved to read a free eGalley copy through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review, but I didn't download it soon enough, so in the end I checked out a copy from my library. Same review, though. :)

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Friday, January 2, 2015

One Potion in the Grave

One Potion in the Grave ( A Magic Potion Mystery #2)One Potion in the Grave by Heather Blake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Carly Bell Hartwell uses secret drops to create magical potions that actually work, so when she gets a visit from a famous bride-to-be wanting a love potion, she's curious. And when her childhood friend, Katie Sue Perrywinkle, now Kathryn Perry, stops by her shop to say hello after a ten year absence and sets off Carly's "witchy senses" with the aura of danger surrounding her, Carly grows concerned. Her worry leads her to warn Dylan Jackson, her former-fiance-almost-boyfriend who works for the sheriff's office, that something is amiss. Sadly, Carly's warning doesn't prevent catastrophe, and she must piece together what happened before anyone else dies.

I really enjoy Heather Blake's two mystery series. They are fun cozies with quirky characters and small town settings. Two things affected my rating with this one, though: 1) I figured out near the beginning that a key assumption Carly made about Katie Sue's relationship to the Calhoun family was wrong, whereas it took Carly 3/4 or so of the book to realize her mistake, which was annoying, and 2) I actually figured out who the killer was several chapters before the end of the book. (I prefer not to be certain about who & why.)

OK, and a third thing that didn't help my rating was that I really enjoyed getting to know the characters in the first book in this series, and I had been wanting to get to know them better in this one, which barely happened. There is a little progress made in some key relationships, which I appreciated, but I felt like Blake could have had much more space to flesh out her characters if only they hadn't wasted so much time chasing red herrings. Ah well, it was still fun and a great choice for relaxing on the couch, recuperating after the holiday whirlwind.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. There is no sex or onscreen violence and only a few mild swear words.

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