Monday, October 12, 2015

New in Paperback: Donally & the Lavenes

Reviews by Jeanne

It seems that I've been reading a lot of paperback series these days, both old and new. I usually refer to them as "my happy little cat mysteries." However, not all of them are happy and some don't even have cats. They do tend to be of the cozy variety, though.  Here are a couple of series with recent additions: 

Hiss and Tell is the fourth book in the Sunny & Shadow Mystery Series by Claire Donally.  Sunny works at a travel agency in Kittery Harbor, Maine, while Shadow is a former stray cat who has taken up with Sunny.  In this entry, former reporter Sunny has a free-lance reporting job covering the preliminaries to the wedding of the decade—or at least the year.  Priscilla Kingsbury, daughter of a political dynasty, is about to marry the son of a fabulously wealthy businessman.  There are suspicions that this may not be so much a marriage as a merger, but everyone is trying to put on a good face—at least until a member of the party ends up dead.

To complicate matters, Sunny’s policeman boyfriend Will is running for sheriff against his boss and his prospects don’t look good. 

I’ve enjoyed all three previous books in the series but I think Donally has really hit her stride with this one.  The mystery is very well constructed, the characters are settled in and there’s less angst about dead end jobs, crabby employers, or romantic entanglements.  She continues to intersperse the action with scenes told from Shadow’s point of view as he tries to decipher the mysterious ways of the two legs.  Some of these entries are more successful than others but most provide an entertaining view as well as advance the plot.  I think Donally did a much better job of creating believable characters this time around, avoiding some easy stereotypes for the most part.  The Maine setting is used to good advantage, as is some local lore. You needn’t have read the other books in the series to enjoy this one.

Sunny & Shadow Mystery
1. The Big Kitty
2. Cat Nap
3. Last Licks
4. Hiss and Tell

The next in the series will be Catch as Cat Can, due out in 2016.   Extra tidbit:  Claire Donally is one of the pen-names of Bill McCay.
Spell Booked is the first in the Retired Witches Mysteries by Joyce and Jim Lavene. Molly, Elise and Olivia are three aging witches who have run a shop called Smuggler’s Arcane in Wilmington, N.C. The shop is a cover, a place where they can keep their magical supplies and meet without arousing the curiosity of their non-magical family and friends.  As far as they know, the three ladies are simply dabbling as shopkeepers. The problem is that the three are, well, aging out of their jobs as protectors of the city.  Their powers are waning.  Some spells don’t work as well as they used to or work in unexpected ways. They need to find some young witches with all that strong youthful magic to train to take their places.  

This is not easy.  For one thing, they have to be the right sort of witches, tied to a different element.  For another—well, there just aren’t a lot about at the moment.  It would have been better if they’d started looking sooner, but who knew that time would pass so quickly?  It seems like just yesterday they were starting out and now they’re ready for Boca Raton.  (That’s where most witches go to retire, by the way.)

Before they can make any progress, Olivia is murdered and their spell book is stolen by a powerful, unknown witch.  Molly and Elise have to regroup and get their book back as well as find Olivia’s killer and not run too much afoul of the Council.

A friend gave me a copy of this book.  It’s probably not something I would have picked up on my own, despite the cats on the cover (yes, these witches have traditional familiars) but I’m glad she did! Molly and company are a lot of fun even though the storyline sounds grim, what with Olivia being murdered. There are a few dark elements but mostly this is more “Bewitched” than “American Horror Story.” The women have that comfortable relationship that very old friends have.  Molly has the added problem of her family, who are clueless that she’s a witch.  This is especially difficult now because Molly’s husband is a police officer who is investigating Olivia’s murder.  The book has some silly moments and characters need a little more development, but first books in a series are often a little uneven.

The second book, Looking for Mr. Good Witch, is scheduled for October 2015.

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