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review 2019-01-27 22:54
Mardi Gras Murder (Cajun Country Mystery, #4)
Mardi Gras Murder: A Cajun Country Mystery - Ellen Byron

Cozy mysteries are perfect when life feels hard and you want to escape somewhere that feels fairly uncomplicated, even if people are being murdered.  This series, set in small town Louisiana, is one of the stronger ones to come out in recent years.  It's not perfect by any stretch, but it's got good bones, so to speak.


Mardi Gras Murder takes place very soon after a fairly catastrophic flood sweeps through, one that leaves behind the body of a John Doe.  At first presumed to have been a victim of the flood waters, an autopsy reveals he was shot.  As the town rebuilds and focuses on their Mardi Gras celebrations, a judge of the local beauty contest is also shot and killed, and in spite of any evidence, our MC Maggie has a gut feeling the two are related.  Of course they are.  After attempted murder is tried on another judge, Maggie starts looking for connections to the John Doe.


The beauty contest is a total red herring; that's not a spoiler either, as it's pretty obvious from the get go that it's meant to be.  The real ties that kill are much more investing that a vapid beauty contest, though the ultimate motivation behind them is just as shallow and meaningless. 


Still, the author writes a solid setting with strong characters - all of them, men and women, good and bad.  If the plotting and murder motivations aren't as strong as they could be, they're surrounded by a lot that is.  The backdrop and characters are why I probably rated this higher than I should, objectively speaking.  But I got happily lost in backwater Louisiana for a day or two, and I'll happily get lost in it again, should the author write another.

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review 2019-01-25 18:52
You've Got Murder (Turing Hopper, #1)
You've Got Murder - Donna Andrews

I've been a die hard Donna Andrews fan since the first book in her Meg Langslow series came out, Murder with Peacocks.  At about the same time that series started taking off in the early 2000's, she published another series where the MC is an AI (Artificial Intelligence).


Science Fiction in general is not my wheelhouse, and I'm philosophically opposed to AI, so I always shied away from these books in spite of knowing I'd like Andrews' writing.


Then I met her at Bouchercon, and she impressed me all over again with her no nonsense intelligence; soon after, I found this book and the third one in a local UBS and thought 'just give it a chance'.   So last week, I did.


Turing Hopper is an Artificial Intelligence Personality created by a huge corporation named the Universal Library.  One of their mandates is the universal digitisation of all books, so that they can then be sold to customers to read on their computers (pre-Kindle/smartphone).  UL also sells dial-in subscriptions to corporate and private users where they can speak to an AI who will answer all their questions. Each AI is a different personality, so customers can request specific AI's to suit their needs.  The company gives the AI's access to all the data available to make them as robust as possible.  


What nobody at UL realises though, is that Turing Hopper has evolved sentience.  "She" has become aware of herself, has a senes of past, present and future, and a conscience. When her creator, programmer Zack, goes missing, and nobody seems to notice, she starts looking for a digital footprint and finds nothing.  She enlists the help of the only two people who are aware of her sentience: the guy in the copy room, and a secretary.  Once they start looking, they find Zack's disappearance is just the tip of iceberg, and find themselves up to their ears in nefarious corporate manipulations.


This is not in the same vein as Andrews' Meg Langslow series.  There is no zaniness, no family shenanigans, no eccentric characters.  There's an inherent sweetness to Turing, but in the vein of all Andrews' female characters, she's strong willed, and clear-sighted.  It's telling of Andrews' style that of the two human characters, it's the 50-something secretary that is the mechanically inclined sidekick, while the younger man from the copy room is more the gopher.


The book is very well written, and as the story progresses, Andrews uses Turing to muse on what it is to be sentient and created in the image of humans.  Can she feel?  Can she understand human emotion?  But more importantly, are sentient AI 'life'?  The author certainly makes the reader care about the AI's in this book, though she doesn't advocate for or against them.  She also goes to great lengths to muse on the power of information, especially for those that have the power to manipulate it.  The result is a book that is both a little dates, and yet still current. And very relevant.


The story ends somewhat abruptly with a mildly shocking climax and a behind the scenes tie up of loose ends.  This mostly works, because, while there are obviously other characters involved in the plot, they remain off-stage, and their lines, if any, are few.  In general, I think her Meg Langslow series remains the stronger of the two, and I'm still not an AI / SciFi fan, but I have the third book, and I enjoyed this one enough to want to find the second one and read them all.  

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review 2019-01-18 05:41
The Spirit in Question (Lila MacLean Mystery, #3)
The Spirit in Question - Cynthia Kuhn

I enjoy this series a lot - it's cozy without being twee, and the mysteries are reasonably well plotted most of the time.  I also love that Kuhn shows way more than she tells; this might be the only reason I'd tell someone to read these in order.  The stories don't require it at all, but the author doesn't waste her established readers' time by going over all the backstory.  New readers might feel lost if they started with book 3 instead of book 1.


The Spirit in Question isn't anything I can rave about, it was just an enjoyable story.  My first inclination was to give it 3.5 stars, but that's more a reflection of my bias against mysteries that take place in the theatre.  It's a haunted theatre though, so that gave it an edge for me.


The plotting was solid; I had no idea who the killer was.  But on the other hand, the motive for the killer felt a little weak.  Possibly, maybe, one that unconsciously falls back on an old stereotype that feminists would grind their teeth over.  It didn't bother me, but I did notice it.


My only complaint about the series overall is that she doesn't write them faster.  I need more solid, dependable cozy/traditional series in my life like this one.

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review 2019-01-14 06:11
Bird, Bath and Beyond (Paws to the Stars, #2)
Bird, Bath, and Beyond - E.J. Copperman

I think I liked the first one better, though this one was good.  The premise, and series name, sound more twee and cutesy than the stories themselves are, though it's definitely cozy fare.  Kay is an agent to animals used in the entertainment industry, mostly because she's from an acting family, loves animals and couldn't stomach being a vet.


The plot of this one was ... out there.  But here's the thing, and I don't know if I'm going to explain this correctly:  the premise was one that could have been believable, just.  


A famous TV actor hires a hitman to kill ... himself.  He's depressed, battling addictions, hates his job, his life, etc. but either doesn't have the courage to do the killing himself, or wants to go out making a statement about the need for gun control - the book never really cleared that up.

(spoiler show)


I mean, stranger things have happened.  But Copperman further complicated what was already a weird plot by adding layers of crimes and criminals.  It's my feeling that he took an already weird plot and twisted it up to make it weirder when it didn't need to be.


And now what will look like something of a non sequitur but will make sense in a second, when I was at Bouchercon, my sister and I sat in on a panel that E.J. Copperman was on, and he kept talking about how he writes humorous cozies, like Donna Andrews.  My sister and I were sitting at the back, so we could swap comments, sotto voce, and I said to her that I'd read most of his books and I didn't remember any of them being funny.  Not that the jokes fell flat, but that I didn't remember there being any attempt at all to make them.


This is the first of his books I've read since Bouchercon, and now I see what he's talking about, and now I can say they're there, they just (mostly) fall flat.  In fact, he seems to be going for a wiseass voice throughout most of the book, and it's either too heavy, or it's a NYC style of humor I fail to get, in a way that is similar to some people not getting British humor.  It didn't ruin the book at all, but it became cloying at times.


I wouldn't say 'no' to a third book - I like the parts of the story where Kay is interacting with clients and their owners, and the scenes at her office feel balanced and witty.  But I'm not sure if I'll rush out to get it - and it'll probably be in paperback.

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review 2018-12-24 01:48
Lark! The Herald Angels Sing (Meg Langslow Mystery, #24)
Lark! The Herald Angels Sing - Donna Andrews

What can I say - I love this series because it features a strong woman MC, with strong supporting characters, solid family relationships and tons of humor.  The Christmas ones have become an annual tradition (no pressure Ms. Andrews) I look forward to every year, and I always save them to read in the day or two before Christmas.  


This year's involved a baby in a manger, a paternity allegation, and some dark dealings in a neighbouring county that lead to some very dangerous events in the lead up to Christmas. The mystery was pretty much over by midway, and the rest of the book was more rescue mission with shades of three stooges.  


The finale was ... the very best kind of holiday wishful thinking.  This was definitely Andrews taking the opportunity to create the kind of reality she'd like to see and I loved it; it was outrageous and wonderful.  Not my favorite of her Christmas books, Duck the Halls still holds that place of honour, but an excellent, festive read nonetheless. 

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