Monday, January 25, 2016

What I Read in June 2015 Part I

What I Read in June 2015 Part I ...

Murder She Barked: Paws and Claws Mystery #1  by Krista Davis -- Contemporary Cozy Mystery

Murder, She Barked (Paws and Claws Mystery #1)When Holly Miller gets an alarming phone call from her grandmother's best friend, she borrows her boyfriend's car and heads down to Wagtail, Virginia where her grandmother owns an inn. The trip is not uneventful. the rain and fog make it difficult to see and a little Jack Russell terrier adopts Holly as her human and makes a mess in neat-freak Ben's car. Then Holly spies a man on the highway who then disappears. Next she spies an explosion up on the mountain and clashes with the 911 operator. Despite the tough night, Holly is glad to be home at the Sugar Maple Inn with her Oma. There's more bad news in store - one of Oma's employees, Sven was killed by a hit-and-run driver. The sheriff is suspicious because the streets are pedestrian friendly. The more Holly hears about this hit-and-run, the more she worries someone is out to get Oma, but who would want to kill a sweet old lady and why? Then Holly stumbles across a dead body and the investigation turns towards her childhood friend Holmes as the chief suspect. Holly is determined to protect her friend and family. Holly and her new dog have to navigate relationships with the inn guests and their pets as well as the pet-loving townspeople in order to solve the mystery.

3.5/5 stars for the mystery and 5/5 stars for the characters and setting. The mystery was OK. I was more interested in Trixie and why someone would steal her than the explosion or the murder. I figured out who wanted to kill Oma and why right away as soon as they were introduced. That much was obvious to me. The rest I had no clue about whatsoever so the mystery kept me reading but mostly for Trixie. It was a little surprising how everything came together. I knew what the final piece of the puzzle was but how it connected to the murderer and who that was I didn't know. The writing quality is pretty good, nothing spectacular or too sophisticated but just right for a small town setting.

I love love love the idea of a pet-friendly, pedestrian-friendly town! I want to go there ASAP! It's so charming and I love how much they value their pets. The inn sounds amazing with gourmet meals for people and pets (be sure to check out the recipes in the back of the book) and plush pet beds. The town of Wagtail reminded me a lot of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls. Some of the townspeople are also similar to characters in the TV show, especially Jerry. Some of the townspeople are incredibly irritating and like Holly, I could not keep my mouth shut and I would go postal on anyone who hurt my dog on purpose.

My favorite character was of course Trixie, the Jack Russell Terrier. My heart broke into a million pieces when she thought her name was "bad dog." Whoever owned her previously needs to show up dead in a future novel. The author really understands terriers and their behavior. Ours was named Mischief for the same reason Trixie is Trixie (Tricks). Trixie is the star of the novel. I hated some of the things that happened to her and loved when she held the final clue. My second favorite character is Zelda, the pet psychic, obviously. I wish I had that gift. There are several other animal character besides Trixie, including Twinkletoes, a kitten who adopts Holly and Trixie. I'm not a fan of cats and Twinkletoes doesn't really do anything exceptional enough for me to really care much about her. There's also Gingersnap, Chief (a bassett hound), Dolce (a Great Dane, show dog) and Gina to round out the canine characters.

The other human characters vary in likeability. Holly is not a bad character. Her life is something of a mess but she's nice, caring and doesn't give in to the man in her life. I liked that she knew her own mind and she refused to do the easy thing. She didn't turn into a sadsack or get whiny and demanding. She stayed focused on keeping her Oma safe and knew when to get help solving the mystery. She never does anything idiotic. Oma is nice but she has secrets and she's a bit manipulative. I'd like to get to know her better because she's such a special person in Holly's life and well respected by everyone. The little old ladies of the town are Oma's friends and as individuals they don't have much personality. I liked Casey, the young man who works at the front desk. He adds some comic relief to the story. I hated Holly's automatic prejudice of Mr. Luciano because he's Italian and sounds like he's from the Godfather. UUGHHHHHHH!!!! That's only a minor thing in the beginning but it annoyed the heck out of me. Detective Dave Quinlin is different from the usual detective. He doesn't jump to conclusions about Holly and clash with her the way the police usually do in cozy mysteries. He comes on page and does his job and manages not to get on anyone's bad side.

If you like cozies and animal stories, you will enjoy this one. I got suckered in by the dog-friendly town and the terrier on the cover and want to return to Wagtail again! 

Murder and Marinara (An Italian Kitchen Mystery, #1)Murder and Marinara by Rosie Genova--Contemporary cozy mystery

Vick Reed, famed mystery writer decides it's time to write the book of her heart - a story based on her family history. To do that she has to go home to the Jersey shore where she'll be kid sister, daughter and granddaughter Victoria Riezzi. She arrives to frosty stares and hard chores from her Nonna and though she grumbles about the chores, Vicky considers it good for research. She is looking forward to working in her quiet cottage but her peace is broken when she learns that RealTV is planning to film a reality show about some twentysomethings at a Jersey shore rental brawling and drinking at the Jersey shore only a few miles away from the restaurant. The Riezzi family is up in arms about The Jersey Side (Nonna calls them puttanas (which is one word in Italian I can understand. My Nonnie apparently labeled one of my dad's high school girlfriends a puttana for wearing a miniskirt in the 60s). Those puttanas represent a bad image of the Jersey shore and the family and some of their neighbors want it stopped. However, the mayor is fully compliant, believing the show will be good for business. After a failed protest, the producer of the show Gio Parisi barges in to the restaurant demanding lunch (when they're not officially open) or else! Vicky has the unfortunate chore of waiting on him and trying to get the hated man out of there before Nonna finds out he was there. Her mission is successful, but when Vicky next sees Gio Parisi, he's lying outside face down in his own vomit - dead! The media makes a big deal out of the fact Parisi died at the restaurant and zeroes in on Vicky. The paparazzi want an interview Vicky isn't prepared to give, unless she can figure out whodunnit in a week! The police have their own list of suspects and Vicky is near the top. The main suspect is Tim Trouvare, the assistant cook and Vicky's old flame. She's certain he didn't do it, and she's positive no one else associated with the restaurant did it - or did they? The other suspects include Cal, the handsome woodworker repairing the bar; the two kids from the show who were with Parisi earlier that day; cast member Mikey G's dad, who has ties to the mafia; the mayor, who has a beef with the Riezzi's for some reason; the not-so-grieving widow Anjelica Parisi and the ex-lover/mistress. With the help of her super fabulous sister-in-law (SIL) Sofia, Vicky is determined to solve the mystery and make sure that business picks up again.

I really wanted to like this story. I was excited to read about an Italian-American woman whose family owns a restaurant. My dad's family owned an Italian restaurant for many years but it closed before I was born so I thought this book might give me a good idea of what it was like for my family though the story is contemporary. Unfortunately I really didn't care that much for it. The characters are all Italian stereotypes and they drove me nutty. I'm not super sensitive to that sort of thing but they're all in one book: the mother with an over-the-top sense of style (think Long Island Medium), the formidable Nonna, the mobsters, the so-called guidos, the handsome half-Italian, half-Irish hunk. UGH! Nonna, I get because I've seen pictures of my great-grandmother and great-great grandmother and they look pretty terrifying but my Nonnie was not like that at all. I had hoped that an Italian-American author could avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping - at least leaving out the mafia if the rest is based on her own family and of course,
The Jersey Shore. It's better than the Stephanie Plum novels (also set in Jersey) but not not much. I figured out whodunnit based on a vital clue about 1/4 of the book before Vicky did. The clue is a minor one she didn't even pick up on but I was certain I was right. I was on the right track with how and that lead to who. I wasn't entirely surprised at the end but still I read on to find out how Vicky solved the mystery.

I wanted to like Vicky because she tried to escape her crazy Italian family and she's a writer, both things I can identify with. However, I really couldn't stand her. She's supposed to be in her 30s and she acts like a teenager. She has a silly love triangle she can't figure out and she repeatedly sticks her nose in where she shouldn't, doing illegal things and basically making the situation worse than it already was. Her continued bumbling got on my nerves. I liked Sofia better because she did the research and she knew what she wanted out of life, but then she started behaving like an idiot too.

The other characters don't really get much of a chance to stand out except Tim, the boy who can't grow up and Danny, Vicky's brother, who endangers his career by helping his sister. Cal is meant to be mysterious and we don't know much about him. I was pretty sure he was sincere and just a flirt. Everyone else is pretty much the same old stereotypes.

I don't think I'll be reading the next book in the series.

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