It was two Monica Ferris cosy crimes on the bounce for me recently. I was just in that sort of mood. As I said just a couple of posts ago this cosy crime series, set in a needlecraft shop in Minnesota, is my favourite of all the many cosies I've read so far. Although now I've written that it's just reminded me of another series that I've probably also said is my favourite (the one set in a coffee shop in New York - my favourite kind of place in my favourite city, so what's not to love?); they can be joint favourites then.
Since I've discussed the previous book from this series already, you don't really need all the background, so here's a brief synopsis. A visitor from Texas comes into Betsy's needlecraft shop and Betsy notices that the visitor bears a remarkable resemblance to one of her regular customers. The look-alikes, Texan Lucille and local Jan, are introduced and it turns out that Lucille was adopted as a baby and has returned to Minnesota in search of her real family. But soon there's a death in Jan's family - her wealthy great-aunt is stabbed with just the sort of tiny knitting needle that Jan favours and Betsy is called in to help clear Jan's name.
Along the way, Betsy discovers a very old cushion lined with an embroidered map of the area which leads to a long-buried secret being uncovered and, eventually, the killer being unmasked.
The main thing to strike me about this book was how much darker it is than any of the others I've read in this series; I honestly thought it could have been written by a different author. And that's not a criticism, I found it a refreshing change. At over 300 pages, this book is L-O-N-G by cosy standards - most come in at around 200 pages. The extra pages in this one mean that the author was able to take a lot more time than usual building up the background to the story, introducing the characters in some depth and providing a much more intense reading experience. There was one section of the book, when the family are looking round the elderly aunt's home after her death, which goes on a bit too long (the editor should have done some culling here), but other than that I have few criticisms of this book. Enjoyable and recommended, if you happen to be a cosy fan. Even if you're not, this might not be a bad place to start.
And, did you notice? This is book review no. 26 of the year. Remember back in the midsts of time (January 8th - see the post here) when I set myself a challenge to read more books in 2013 than I had in 2012? Well, in 2012 I read 24 books and so far this year I've read 28, and I'm part way through no. 29. Might I even make it to 30???? Watch this space.
Christmas is alive and well in our lovely village. The village shop is decorated with paintings by the Reception year children at the village school, including this masterpiece by a certain artist who goes by the moniker 'DC'.
Lights have been strung from many houses.
There are plenty more to be seen but I keep forgetting to take photos of them.
The church was floodlight for the carol service.
And some very lovely children performed their school nativity play.
Here's DC modelling his 'star' costume.
The church made a lovely setting.
And DC discovered that deely boppers can be used to channel super powers into the audience, whilst all the other children remained in character.
It's that time of year when what seems like every blank space (as well as many that aren't blank) in the Family W household gets the Christmas treatment. We LUUUUURRRRRVE Christmas, and like to start our decorating on the 1st of December every year. What luck that this year it fell on a weekend, making tree shopping a much less stressful prospect.
Here's hubby having a look if the one right at the back is worth having.
And here's DC suggesting that we just go with the one at the front; and that's exactly what we did.
After a bit of furniture moving, the tree was brought in
and de-netted. Quite a looker, don't you think?
After a couple of hours primping, she was ready for her big moment.
Some close ups of just a few of the many, many, many decorations.
I made this one a couple of weeks ago using a wooden star template with a Christmas paper napkin decoupaged on top; it was the first time I'd ever done anything like it and I'm rather pleased with how it turned out.
Lots of our tree decorations have been bought overseas; whenever we go on holiday we try to find a decoration so that when we open the boxes at the beginning of December we are transported back to many and varied destinations such as:
Hungary (left) and Latvia (right)
And then there's the disappointment of managing to break the lovely bauble I'd bought to mark DC's first Christmas. Darn.
But back to the decorations that remain in tact (for the time being at least.)
DC came home with this fabulous sleigh that he'd made at school. It's being driven by a Fisher Price pilot, with a rather worried looking Father Christmas as a passenger. And the best bit about this? I made the Father Christmas at school when I was about the same age that DC is now. I think it's probably earned the name 'Vintage Father Christmas'.
Over on one of the shelves we have a laser-cut wooden tree (which I think we bought in Krakow), along with a bark reindeer from New York and a lovely old green glass bottle with the words 'F. Christmas & Co' across the middle (hubby gave me that a couple of birthdays ago.)
On another shelf is a little sorpresa (which translates as 'surprise') which we bought in El Salvador.
The surprise being that when you lift up the tree, there's a tiny nativity scene hidden inside.
Other shelves house a variety of decorations including a wooden moose wearing a jumper, which we bought at the Eden Project, a Merry Christmas garland which came from Monsoon when I worked there, and a wooden advent calendar in the shape of a house.
One of the windowsills in the living area is home to a selection of glittery decorations.
While the mantle is adorned with sparkly lights and a Father Christmas who is just counting the days.
Out in the hallway my branches are decked in tiny baubles from Florida.
And a robin and snowman add to the festivities.
On the other side of the hallway is tree number two. An artificial one here, wearing matching baubles and coloured lights, because we like to have a tree that can be seen twinkling away when you walk up the path to the house.
And the final tree, here in the snug, the Starbucks tree. It's a sad but true fact that we have so many Starbucks decorations that they need their own tree. So shoot me.
And it's not just decorations that abound;
just look in the mug cupboard - Christmas is everywhere in this house.
And the little wooden shelves haven't escaped either.
After all that, it's time for a well-earned Christmas drink.
This cosy crime series written by Monica Ferris is probably my favourite of all the many, many cosy series I have read/plan to read. If I cast my mind back, I think it was one from this series that was the first ever cosy I read; if I remember rightly I picked up a copy of Crewel World when hubby and I were travelling, back in 2008. Although it's possible that I'd read some of the Agatha Raisin series before then (written by British author MC Beaton), Crewel World really introduced me to the US cosy crime genre.Odd then that I haven't read any from this series since the end of 2012.
Anyway, back to it. Embroidered Truths is the ninth in the series following amateur sleuth Betsy Devonshire as she solves crimes in and around her adoptive town of Excelsior, Minnesota while also running a needlework shop (the imaginatively named Crewel World.) In this book, Betsy's shop assistant Godwin returns from a holiday in Mexico City, has a huge row with his boyfriend and ends up sleeping in Betsy's spare room. A few days later and Godwin's ex, John, is found dead in his home and Godwin is arrested for the murder. As Betsy sets out to prove Godwin's innocence she uncovers a web of intrigue centred on the law firm where John worked. Turns out that some people (John included) were making lots of money through dodgy dealings. I thought the visit to Mexico City was going to play a much bigger part in the who- and why-dunnit aspect of the mystery, but I was wrong; the red herrings there certainly had me fooled, although perhaps the story could have benefited if the Mexico storyline had been followed up a little more.
What I enjoyed about this book:
Godwin's character is developed much more in this book than in any other in the series so far; we find out a lot about his relationship with John, although it doesn't always make for pleasant reading - I found the homophobia displayed by some of the characters rather unpleasant.
the references to Mexico City were interesting (I wonder if the author had recently taken a break there, or if the research was done via the wonder of the t'interweb)
the descriptions of the locations within the story; you do get a true sense of what it must be like to live in Minnesota when you read this series
the references to needlework (especially cross stitch) are a nice touch
the continuing cast of (background) characters who feature throughout the series; sometimes they play a large part, sometimes it's a fleeting glimpse, but it gives a feeling of continuation
the fact that it's a cosy; enough said
What I disliked about this book
the story didn't feel quite right; I can't put my figure on the 'whos', 'whats' and 'whys' that meant that it didn't quite work for me, but it just didn't. Aren't I a good reviewer?!?
Overall I enjoyed the book but, as is often the way with cosies, I didn't love it. I guess when you are churning out book after book in a series, there will always be great books, good books, mediocre books and poor books. I think I'd rate this one somewhere between mediocre and good; if it happened to be the first one of this series you ever read, you probably wouldn't rush to read more, but if, like me, you happen to have been totally suckered in to the whole Crewel World thing, then it probably wouldn't put you off reading more.
Last month I celebrated my birthday - hoooooray, I do love me a good old birthday celebration. Or two. Or three. In fact, this year I decided I was pretty much having a birthday fortnight.
Things started exceptionally well when my dear friend Rachel (she of Lazyhill Gallery fame) took me for afternoon tea at the very lovely Coombe House Hotel just outside Honiton.
On my actual birthday I decided a trip to my second home was in order: the mall at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol and, most importantly, John Lewis. They'd even decorated in my honour...
I may have done a *little* shopping.
When I got home, darling hubby presented me with a homemade Red Velvet birthday cake. As luck would have it, no one else seems to like Red Velvet, so I've had the entire beast of a cake to myself. Ho hum, what's a girl to do?
In the evening, hubby surprised me with a visit to a very lovely pub (The Tytherleigh Arms, near Axminster) for dinner.
My starter of Lyme Bay scallops was devoured before I even thought to take a photo.
This is my main course: pheasant and trimmings.
And it was sticky toffee pudding for dessert. DE.LI.CIOUS.
I was also lucky enough to receive some lovely gifts including a White Company diffuser (in the sumblime Winter scent), a flying duck to add to my collection, some edible goodies, some money to put towards having my eyeballs lasered into submission, tickets to see Billy Bragg in concert, and tickets for another special treat which you can read more about later on down the page...
And my dear Mum also supplied me with lots of smellies and chocolate.
The following week hubby and I made our way to Frome to see Billy Bragg in concert at the Cheese and Grain. At how many other concert venues can you buy a cake
and a hot chocolate (with cream and marshmallows)?! Perfect.
And, yes, that's Billy Bragg.
I'm quite the accomplished photographer, wouldn't you agree?
The following morning, with 'Sexuality' and 'New England' still ringing in our ears, we were up and out and on the road by 8am in order to reach our destination by 9.30am.
Can you guess where it is yet?
Or, to give it it's official name - Highclere Castle.
Dearest hubby had secured us tickets to visit a Christmas Fair there.
Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside. But, suffice to say, it's every bit as lovely as it appears on screen. We walked through the main hallway and several of the downstairs rooms that are featured on the TV show, including the dining room and library. We even had the opportunity to walk down the beautiful main staircase, as well as peering into Lady Grantham and Lady Sybil's bedrooms.
And we took a selfie. Natch.
After the delights of Downton/Highclere, we found ourselves back in the real world with a couple of hours of our day out to spare. Where better to head than lovely Frome.
The shops and cafes looked (and indeed were) very inviting, all bright and cosy against the cold, wintery day.
Just a couple of photos. And then it was time to head home.
And there endeth my birthday fortnight! Thank you to everyone who made it so enjoyable.
Fleece Navidad - Maggie Sefton. How can you not love a book with a title like that?? Set in a yarn shop in Colarado, I do enjoy this series
Holiday Grind - Cleo Coyle. I love this series set in and around a coffeeshop in New York (two of my favourite things in one book!); also, I read it while we were in NY, so what could be better??!
Agatha Raisin and the Blood of an Englishman - MC Beaton. Another dreadful installment, but still I can't stop reading them. It's like a car crash.
To Davy Jones Below - Carola Dunn. Another enjoyable installment in this series set in 1930s England (and beyond!)
Pretty Poison - Joyce & Jim Lavene. First in the Gardening Shop mysteries series. Thumbs up as it wasn't too twee.
Bones Under the Beach Hut - Simon Brett. Twelfth in the Fethering Mysteries series. I love this series, not really had a duff one yet.
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate - Alexander McCall Smith. Second in the Isabel Dalhousie series.I didn't particularly enjoy the first in the series, but I really liked this one and look forward to number 3!
Dyer Consequences - Maggie Sefton. Fifth in the Knitting Mysteries series; I enjoyed this one.
The Real Katie Lavender - Erica James. Perfect as a holiday read but not sure it would cut the mustard as an 'at home' read.
The Secrets Between Us - Louise Douglas. Gripping, suspenseful but hit the rocks with about 100 pages to go
Sophie Kinsella - Remember Me? A light and fluffy holiday read, but enjoyable nonetheless
Blackwork - Monica Ferris. From the excellent Needlecraft Mysteries series which I love. Enjoyed this one a lot.
Secrets on Saturday - Anne Purser. Sixth in the Lois Meade series and a pretty poor show, I'm afraid
The Gallery of Vanished Husbands - Natasha Solomons. I sort of liked it, but not much happened
Espresso Shot - Cleo Coyle. Another of my fave cosy series; enjoyed this one
The Mummy Case - Elizabeth Peters. Third in the series set in 1920s/30s Egypt and England. This was much better than the second in the series which almost made me give up
Murder on the Half Shelf - Lorna Barett. Umpteenth in the series which ranks among my favourite cosies
A Killer Plot - Ellery Adams. First in the series; I think I liked it
The Shooting in the Shop - Simon Brett. I love this mystery series, set in the south of England; not 'cosy' as such, but probably not far off
The Christie Curse - Victoria Abbott. I cannot remember a single thing about this book. Eeek, what does that say?!
Agatha Raisin: Something Borrowed, Someone Dead - MC Beaton. As always I ask myself 'why on earth do I keep bothering with this series?', but it's like a dreadful addiction - you know it's bad for you, but still you keep doing it.
Rattle His Bones - Carola Dunn. I enjoyed the previous book in the series so much that I thought I'd crack on with another; sadly, this one wasn't quite up to par
The Shop on Blossom Street - Debbie Macomber. A very easy and light read; looking forward to reading the next in this series
Styx and Stones - Carola Dunn. Cosy crime set in 1920s England; I enjoy this series and this book was a good one
What Did I Read in 2014?
Fear on Friday - Ann Purser. Fifth in the Lois Meade series which I really do enjoy.
Coming Home for Christmas - Julia Williams. Thought this would help me get in the festive mood; but it wasn't even set at Christmas - what a swizz - so don't go making the same mistake as me! Predictable and schmaltzy, I'd probably suggest giving this one a miss.
Thai Die - Monica Ferris. Umpteenth in my favourite cosy series. Enjoyable, as always
The Vintage Tea Cup Club - Vanessa Greene. Chick-lit; very predictable.
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party - Alexander McCall Smith. Ahh, the world of Mma Ramotswe, how I wish I could live there and feel happy and content!
Gunpowder Green - Laura Childs. Second in the cosy crime set in a tea shop; didn't enjoy it as much as the first but I'm still happy to give the next in the series a try
Sentenced to Death - Lorna Barrett. Fifth in the series, and not bad at all. This is one of my favourite cosy series.
The Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson. Ridiculous and funny, and ridiculously funny. I liked this one a lot.
Mini Shopaholic - Sophie Kinsella
The Sisterhood - Emily Barr
Death by Darjeeling - Laura Childs. First in the cosy crime series set in a tea shop; very enjoyable.
A Crafty Killing - Lorraine Bartlett
We Are All Made of Glue - Marina Lewycka. Enjoyed this one very much for the most part.
A Year in the Merde - Stephen Clarke. Not bad for a holiday read.
Three Ways to Capsize a Boat - Chris Stewart
Dead in the Water - Carola Dunn. UK cozy. Not the best in the series.
The Quick and the Thread - Amanda Lee. Cosy crime set in an embroidery shop. Just my cup of tea.
Life After Life - Kate Atkinson. Wow, what a read! I'd thoroughly recommend this book, so much so that I'm almost tempted to read it again already
Hiss and Hers - MC Beaton
Around Ireland With a Fridge - Tony Hawks
French Pressed - Cleo Coyle
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt. Book club book no.2 of the year; liked it even though it took me quite a while to realise it was non-fiction!
Body Surfing - Anita Shreve. I enjoyed this book, it was an easy read and I think could be filed under 'thinking-person's chick lit'
My Animals and Other Family - Clare Balding. Read it in two days; really enjoyable, funny, warm, interesting, an all round good read.
What Did I Read in 2013?
As The Pig Turns - MC Beaton. 22nd in the Agatha Raisin series; badly written, but still I keep reading them!
A Highland Christmas - MC Beaton; from the Hamish Macbeth series
Damsel in Distress - Carola Dunn. Fifth in the Daisy Dalrymple series which I am growing fonder of with every book I read.
Sins and Needles - Monica Ferris. This was a much darker and more detailed book than is usual in this series, but I enjoyed it all the more as a result.
Embroidered Truths - Monica Ferris. Probably my favourite US cozy series. Enjoyable, but not one of her best
A Killer Stitch - Maggie Sefton. Cozy crime with a knitted twist. Not that great, but I still keep reading this series!
The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng. Lovely, lovely book
Death of a Gossip - M.C. Beaton. First in the Hamish Macbeth murder mystery series. Very easy to read, not taxing and a not that well written in parts, but enjoyable nonetheless
Theft on Thursday - Ann Purser. fourth in the Lois Meade series; a slightly darker take on the cozy genre and, as a whole, I've found this series very enjoyable
All That I Am - Anna Funder. First Book Club book of the 2013-14 season; a little slow to get going, but gripping and thought-provoking after that.
The Beach Hut - Veronica Henry; chick-lit/holiday reading combined; if you're looking for something in those genres, you could do much worse.
Deadly Yarn - Maggie Sefton. More cosy to be enjoyed by my cotton-wool brain.
Murder on the Flying Scotsman - Carola Dunn. Fourth in the Daisy Dalrymple series; a gentle 'whodunit' and very enjoyable.
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn. Wow, I LOVED this book. A great thriller with twist upon turn upon twist. If thrillers are your thing, then I wold highly recommend this book.
Requiem for a Mezzo - Carola Dunn. 3rd in the Daisy Dalrymple series. Easy reading cosy crime; I like this series (so far)
The Red House - Mark Haddon. I was really looking forward to this book, but I ended up being so disappointed. I didn't enjoy the 'stream of consciousness' writing style.
Join Me - Danny Wallace. I probably would have liked this book when I was 25. But that was 16 years ago. Instead I found it annoying and immature.
The Great Indoors - Sabine Durrant. Enjoyed a lot more than I expected to, which is always a bonus.
The Double Comfort Safari Club - Alexander McCall Smith. Just as enjoyable as ever. Love this gentle series.
The Alchemist - Paolo Coehlo. Book Club book. I've always steered clear of books by this author, expecting them to be a bit 'knit your own yak-wool teabag'; so, was I pleasantly surprised? Well, at least it was only 170pages long, so I whipped through it in a couple of days. Yes, there were a few sentences that made me stop and think, but mostly it is a bit too much of a hippy-trippy self-help book for cynical old me to really like. But I'm glad I've read it at long last.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce. Book Club choice. I really wanted to enjoy this book, and I thought I was going to at first. But then the story, like Harold himself, started plodding along and became less and less enjoyable and rather annoying/boring to tell the truth. So, all in all I was disappointed.
When God Was a Rabbit - Sarah Winman. I just can't decide about this one. At first I didn't enjoy it, then I did, then I was indifferent. But I still keep thinking about it, so does that mean I liked it?!
If Books Could Kill - Kate Carlisle. Second in this cozy mystery series; I was unsure of the first in the series so thought I'd give it a chance by reading the second; I shouldn't have bothered; this one was even worse than the first. Very disappointing indeed.
Decaffeinated Corpse - Cleo Coyle. Can you guess from the title that this is a cozy?! Always enjoy this series as it features my twin loves of cozy crime and coffee. What's not to like?
The Thread - Victoria Hislop. Book Club choice; I wasn't sure that I would like it, but I really enjoyed it. Very easy to read, despite being quite a harsh subject. I'd recommend this one.
The Winter Garden Mystery -Carola Dunn. No 2 in the Daisy Dalrymple series; cosy crime, gentle and easy to read.
Call the Midwife - Jennifer Worth. The book of the tv series; very enjoyable
The Curse of the Pharoahs - Elizabeth Peters. Second in the Amelia Peabody Murser Mystery series, set in 19thC England and Egypt. Egyptology cosy; really enjoyed this one and was itching to get straight onto the next, but had to change course with a Book Club book instead.
The Poisoning in the Pub- Simon Brett. Part of the Fethering Mysteries series; not quite a cosy, but not a brooding Scandinavian thriller either. Enjoyed it very much.