Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Current (After 1999)’ Category

The second half of December I treated myself to three dog cozy mysteries. All three are titles my husband bought for me at a library book sale. The first is by an author (David Rosenfelt) whom I know about through the animal rescue world, while the others are by authors with four or five-star ratings at Cozy Mystery List.

My interest in the Andy Carpenter mysteries by David Rosenfelt comes from my having read his funny account of the start of a dog rescue foundation. The series contains sixteen titles to date and features a reluctant attorney who is most likely to be persuaded to take a case when a dog is somehow involved. In Dog Tags, the eighth book in the series, a German Shepherd police dog witnesses a murder. If his owner, an Iraq war vet and cop-turned thief, is convicted of the crime, the dog could be euthanized. Dog Tags didn’t fit my perception of a cozy mystery, which supposedly don’t focus on violence and contains bloodless murders that take place off stage. Instead Dog Tags revolves around a murder case with roots in Iraq, payoffs, hit men, and even a possible national security threat. Indeed, some reviewers have noted that Dog Tales is darker than earlier Andy Carpenter titles. What helps lighten the intensity of the plot is Andy’s sarcastic style, adamant opposition to danger, and obvious love of his wife and dog. I also enjoyed the quirky characters including Pete who is always calling in a favor, Marcus who eats as if there were no tomorrow, and Hike who puts pessimists to shame. Dogs are front and center, with one being on trial and the other being Carpenter’s own pet. Dog training and the building of trust are also integrated into the mystery.

The Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn have the most unusual quality of being narrated by a dog. To date, the series contains eight regular novels and four behind-the-scenes books. In Thereby Hangs a Tail, the second book in the series, Chet and Bernie are hired to investigate threats against the unlikely target of a pampered show dog named Princess. Although the series reads more like a thriller than a cozy mystery, I’ve become a fan due to the style, characters, and the location. More than any other animal book, thanks to his unique style, Quinn had me wondering what goes on in the mind of my dog or for that matter any dog. As a canine partner, he likes to puzzle out what scents mean for the case. He’ll also wag his tail, growl, and bark to turn Bernie onto clues. And he enjoys helping Bernie tackle criminals. At the same time, he’ll also interpret phrases so literally that conversation can be quickly lost on him. He’ll also scavenge places for food and will rarely turn down food—no matter what it’s source. Bernie is an equally multi-layered character. He makes bad financial investments, and proves a tough guy with criminals, but also has a soft heart for his dog and the woman he loves. Thereby Hangs a Tail takes place in remote areas in Arizona, well-suiting it to the cozy mystery genre.

The Rachel Alexander and Dash mysteries by Carol Lea Benjamin is my only selection by a female author. The series contains nine titles to date and features a female detective and her pit bull. In The Wrong Dog, the fifth book in the series, Sophie Gordon hires Rachel because her cloned dog does not possess the skills of a service dog as was promised to her. While Rachel is searching for the Side-by-Side agency that led Sophie astray, she’s thrown into a deeper mystery when Sophie is killed. I found the first two chapters, wherein Sophie recounts her story to Rachel, somewhat confusing and dull. After that, the narrative improves. I enjoyed how the plot unfolded, with Rachel finding herself in more and more danger as she digs deeper into Sophie’s murder. I also appreciated Rachel’s attempts to find Sophie’s two service dogs a home. Although the dogs (and an iguana!) are often in the background, they’re still prevalent in the story. The dogs like playing in the dog park and accompanying Rachel on her sleuthing expeditions.

Now that I have read six animal cozy mysteries, I’m curious about trends. Are dog mysteries normally darker, written by men, and starring male leads? Are cat mysteries normally lighter, written by ladies, and starring female leads? I’d also welcome reader recommendations! For those of you who are fans of animal mystery cozies, who are your favorite authors and why?


The first half of December I treated myself to three cat cozy mysteries. I picked random titles by two authors with whose names I have long heard of (Lillian Jackson Braun and Rite Mae Brown) and the first title in a series by an author (Sofie Kelly) whose books I discovered at a library book sale.

My interest in The Cat Who mysteries by Lillian Jackson Braun books comes from my mother-in-law having a dozen of them on her shelves. The series contains thirty titles and features journalist James Qwilleran and his two Siamese cats Yum Yum and Koko. In The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, the 24th book, the residents of the small town of Pickax located in Moose County “400 miles north of everywhere” have two concerns. The first concern is how late the arrival of the Big One is; residents are becoming increasingly anxious about wildfires, which the first snow storm of the season would help obliterate. The second concern naturally involves murder. I enjoyed Braun’s fast-paced style, her focus on one main character through whom I meet residents and hear community gossip, her creation of a town which bubbles with personality and of course the cats. Although the cats are often in the background, they’re still prevalent in the story. They air their opinions of James’ redecorating efforts, predict changes in weather and newsworthy occurrences and, just as important, provide clues to James as to the murderer’s identity. In reading about Braun, I discovered to my pleasure that she refused to cave to publisher demands to use more colorful language and to my dismay that she died not having ended the Cat Who series.

Other than having heard Rita Mae Brown’s name in connection to feminism, I’m not sure how I came to know of her Sneaky Pie books. The series contains twenty-six books to date and features a cast of characters so extensive that they’re listed in the front pages. However, Mary Haristeen (aka as Harry), her gray tiger cat, and her Welsh corgi appear to be whom the mysteries center around. In Pay Dirt, the 4th book, the residents of the small town of Cozet, Virginia, have two concerns. The first concern is a computer virus that threatens to hit businesses that summer and indeed hits the local town’s bank. The second concern naturally involves murder. It took me several chapters before I started to like Pay Dirt. The mystery is written from a third-person omniscient point-of-view, and that initially left me feeling removed from the story, especially as it started out with a lengthy description of the town. The two pets are not only often in the background, but they also talk with one another, which surprised me in an adult novel. Eventually, I began to like the young postmistress and her two sidekicks without whom the mystery wouldn’t have been solved. Also, Dirt contained the most plausible solution of the three mysteries I read for this review, for which I give it huge kudos.

From my box of cat cozy mysteries, I picked for my third book the first title in the Magical Cats Mysteries by Sofie Kelly because it featured a librarian as the main character. The series contains nine titles to date and features Kathleen Paulson and her two stray cats Owen and Hercules. In Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, the residents of the small town of Mayville, Minnesota, have three concerns. These are: When will library renovations be completed; Will the town’s music festival continue as scheduled; and Who murdered the famous guest in town? I enjoyed the first-person narrative, the complexity of the characters, and of course the cats. Not only do the two cats appear in every chapter, but they have distinctive interests. Oren delights in Funky Chicken toys, while Hercules enjoys joining Kathleen on outings. Kelly also sneaks in lots of info about Trap-Neuter-Release and its benefits to community cats.

If you don’t know what cozy mysteries are, Wikipedia defines them as a subgenre of crime fiction. Good Reads elaborates by saying that, “Cozies rarely focus on sex, profanity, or violence. The murders take place off stage, and are often relatively bloodless.” In addition, the mystery usually takes place in a small town or village. I suspect that I’ll be reading lots of cozy mysteries in the years ahead!

If you like cats, romances, and mysteries, check out Mayhem and Mystery at the Kitty Kastle by Malynda McCarrick. The downside is the writing could use some editing and polish. The upside is a portion of the proceeds from the purchase of this short fun read goes to support Midwest cat shelters.

Too many strange things were happening at the Kitty Kastle for anyone to dismiss them as just anyone’s imagination. First, there were the unexplainable noises such as that of footsteps when there’s no one else around. Then there was the lack of noise. On the fourth floor, especially in an old house, one should the wind or the rain but instead the build is sound proof. Third, there are walls that are located where they shouldn’t be and a foundation that doesn’t line up with the rest of the building. Finally, there are the gifts that mysteriously appear. The mystery is my favorite part.

One black cat knew that something was afoot and kept trying to provide clues to Jay Carpenter, the man hired to bring the shelter up to code. He’s also a growing source of comfort to Miranda, the owner of Kitty Kastle. She’s recovering from a messy divorce, but apparently can’t resist a hunk in a toolbelt. Jay turns out to strong in build and gentle in character. Soon, the two are dreaming up a multitude of ideas for how the building could be renovated. Moreover, because Jay knows the shelter couldn’t cover the cost of major repairs, Jay has volunteered to help for free. Just as important, a dog lover at heart, Jay is slowly being converted to a cat lover. The romance is unrealistic but does make for a light-hearted read, which we all need at times.

Finally, there are the cats of Kitty Kastle. They live in a dream shelter. Each floor has varying levels of padded condos. In addition, the walls have ledges and cubby holes in which the cats can play and hide. On the first floor is a central playroom, filled with climbing structures and tunnels for the cats to explore. There’s also a large kitchen with multiple refrigerator for the specialty foods and various medicines the cats would need. Finally, the owner lives on the premises and so she is available 24/7 to check on the feline residents. The shelter’s inhabitants serve as a pleasant backdrop and the mystery wouldn’t have been resolved without Minx.

Author Malynda McCarrick is Midwestern country girl who grew up with a love for books. She’s also an avid animal lover. One day, the arrangement of vendors at a cat show put her and The Cat House (a no-kill cat shelter) next to one another. Afternoon conversations between the two led to McCarrick taking an interest in The Cat House and eventually self-publishing a cat cozy dedicated to its hard-working volunteers. Run-on sentences, missed punctuation, and some stereotype characters diminished some of my enjoyment of Mayhem and Mystery at the Kitty Kastle. Otherwise, McCarricks’ novel served as an evening of escapism.

In The Tent of Abraham, three leaders from different faiths find a common ground in the Biblical story of Abraham. By listening to one another’s interpretation of a shared tradition, they model how to create unity amid diversity. In addition, they offer a way to use stories to remind us of God’s call for peace and reconciliation.

The Tent of Abraham is divided into three parts. The first part presents the classic version of Abraham’s journey as presented in the Torah which became foundation for the story in Judaism and Christianity, and the story as presented in the Quran which is the central religious text of Islam. The second part offers three sections of essays that interpret the story from the perspective of those in three different faiths: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. The last section includes resources created by a small group of scholars from these three faiths who met to pray, study, and together.

One thing I appreciate about The Tent of Abraham is the opportunity to hear how those of other faiths recount the Biblical story of Abraham. We share some common ground. All three leaders recognize that Abraham lies about his relationship with his wife Sarah to keep an Egyptian pharaoh from taking her. They all recognize that Sarah becomes jealous after her handmaiden, Hagar, bears a son to Abraham. And each tells of God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice his son. There are also ways in which the leaders varied greatly in their interpretations. But none of them attempted to condemn or even convert. They simply shared their viewpoints, as people might tell stories around a campfire. And so, I discover new ways to see old stories: I learned how essential wells were, how important safety was to travelers, and how often struggle, anger, withdrawal, and reconciliation happen within families in Biblical stories. There are numerous situations today where people are at odds with each other, not just over religion, and choose to react with hate. What if instead we took time to listen and learn? We still might agree to disagree. But we might also better understand each other’s viewpoints, and thereby become a more compassionate people.

Another thing I appreciate about The Tent of Abraham is the opportunity to learn how the Israli-Palestinian conflict is viewed by those who live it. Is the struggle about the blending of opposites or about uniting Abraham’s offspring, which includes Isaac and Ishmael? And if it’s about uniting two factions, how can this even happen when each thinks the other is in the wrong? Is the loss of children on both side worth the conflict? Each leader varied in the stories they shared. But each also shared the desire for peace and reconciliation. For without these, violence would continue, and bloodshed and destruction would remain the norm. There are no easy answers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor are there any easy answers to America’s strife. Can we find unity in the fact we’re all part of humanity? Can we listen to the cries of people who say that we are victimizing them when we feel that they are victimizing us? Can we find a way past our differences to build a bridge of love?

It’s not often that I step out of my comfort zone to read books that I know upfront will not mesh with my own beliefs. And I’m not encouraging anyone to read this book with the idea that it might change their faith. The Tent of Abraham reminded me of the importance of listening, talking, and sharing. Three things that we all should do more of, to make the world a better place.

Alphabet books are popular because they are good at teaching letters. With so many available, how do you choose between them? Click Clack ABC by Doreen Cronin introduces ABCs through a fast-paced story about farm animals preparing for a picnic. At times, the style is so frenetic that the plot is hard to follow. By drawing on characters from her best-selling picture books, Cronin ensures readers will feel comfortable. She also infuses clever alliteration. The result is a fun and educational tale.

From Alyssa Capucilli comes Biscuit, a sweet yellow puppy. Ten of his innocent and charming adventures have been collected into a sturdy cloth-bound book titled Biscuit Storybook Collection. Part of the I Can Read imprint, these stories are perfect for new and emergent readers, while also enjoyable for adults. The plot has a formulaic style that sometimes results in a forced twist. Nonetheless, I wanted to pull Biscuit right out of the pages and cuddle him. Even when he causes trouble, he’s such a winsome puppy. Biscuit tries repeatedly to please his young owner and doesn’t have a mean bone in his small body. His antics are irresistible!

Humor, mystery, and romance abound in two titles by Sarah Weeks: Pie and Honey. The titles are also unified by themes of family, death, and pets. In Pie, Alice’s Aunt Polly takes her world-famous pie crust recipe to her grave. Or does she? The search for the lost recipe leads one person to ransack Polly’s shop, another person to steal her cat, and another to question residents. In Honey, Melody doesn’t mind not having a mother until she overhears her dad call someone ‘Honey’. Has her dad fallen in love with someone? Who could it be? No one will answer these questions. Nor will they talk about her mom. Melody’s story alternates with a story of a dog that has concerns of his own. When secrets are revealed in both titles, lives are forever changed.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

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Happy New Year!

Allison’s Book Bag is currently on hiatus. I will return after a much-needed rest with reviews of Advanced Reader Copies including: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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