Book Review: Eleven Pipers Piping, A Father Christmas Mystery

I’m a little late on the holiday bandwagon, but I’m typing this the day before  New Year’s Eve, so I’m hoping the Christmas cheer hasn’t worn off yet. I read C.C. Benison’s Eleven Pipers Piping over the Christmas break, which seemed quite fitting when I look back on my reading schedule, but not for the reasons you may think. Yes, the book has the subtitle “A Father Christmas Mystery”, and yes, the book has a certain holiday feel to it, although it doesn’t take place over Christmas, and really, it doesn’t have anything to do with the holiday season at all. It just feels like it does because of the setting (small English town covered in snow), the characters (gossipy, older crowd) and the abundance of festivities that are celebrated throughout its 4oo pages (Robbie Burns dinner, some pagan harvesting ritual, etc). Oh, and of course the subtitle, but I’m hoping you don’t need any further explanation to see that connection.index

Before I get into why I like this book, I want to quickly talk about something else, as I would be remiss if I didn’t take advantage of the teachable moment that this particular post offers. Now that I’ve completed yet another mystery that I thoroughly enjoyed, I’ve begun to not only understand my reading tastes a bit better, but come across a label for this particular sub-genre as well. Let me explain: it’s no secret I’m a fan of Jessica Fletcher and the wonderful Murder She Wrote series, which I have just discovered is a perfect example of the sub-genre of books called ‘cozy mysteries’. What is a cozy mystery you ask? Well the wikipedia page is helpful, but I prefer this blog’s definition as it offers many examples as well. Here are some more traits of this mystery sub-genre:  lack of sex and violence, small-town settings, overall light-hearted tone , likable protagonists, and victims who can be viewed as ‘having it coming’ (you feel bad saying it, but seriously there’s tons of characters like that). Examples of cozy mystery writers include Agatha Christie, Alexander McCall Smith, Alan Bradley, Gail Bowen and most recently Gloria Ferris.

Back to the book-Father Christmas is a really interesting character, as a religious figure he exhibited lots of conflicting emotions and impulses that are fun to read about, and his interactions with other people in his village are great fun to follow, most likely due to the sarcastic comments he makes to himself and the reader. What really makes this book are the aforementioned villagers, and the harmless joking and gossip that’s found within small-town communities. Again, these are all characteristics of the cozy mystery, so if this is beginning to sound a bit familiar it’s meant to.275px-Mswss

Now that I’m aware of this genre, everything is beginning to fall into place for me. The cozy mystery is a genre I prefer reading in the winter-it literally makes me feel cozy when I’m curled up inside avoiding the snowy outdoors and enjoying my fireplace and feline companions. So, the more I think about it, the ‘holiday’ feel I’m referring to at the beginning of this post is the really just the effects of the cozy mystery genre. But I digress, and apologize that I ended up talking about myself more than the book in this post. So to end off on a high note, Eleven Pipers Piping is the second book in what is sure to be an exciting series, and I can’t wait to read the next one.

Signature | The Homestretch | Book suggestions | The Homestretch | Book suggestions.

Not only do I enjoy referring to cats on a regular basis on this blog, but I also like to BROADCAST the fact that I’m a crazy cat lady as well. Click on the link above to hear that and my book picks for this holiday season. Oh, and do yourself a favor by finishing your Christmas shopping quickly and easily at your local independent bookstore.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

The books I recommend on-air included: Life Class by Ann Charney, The Circle by Dave Eggers, Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland, Simon’s Cat Vs. The World by Simon Tofield, Clearing the Plains by James Daschuk and Black Code by Ronald J. Diebert.


Book Review: Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Do you have Mommy or Daddy issues? Many people will answer “who doesn’t?”, but if you’re currently receiving therapy for any f family-related problems, you should avoid this psychological thriller at all costs. Why do I begin this review with a warning? Because this book is THAT good. It will have you second guessing all your happy childhood memories, analyzing them to pick out the evil motivations of your parents and siblings. Scared yet? Let’s dive into the reasoning behind my warning.

Every member of the fictional Hurst family is messed up in their own way. The most trusted and ‘normal’ character of the book is committed to a psych hospital within the first few pages-yes, she’s the one you feel the most connected to, so that should give you an idea of the people that feature in this novel. You quickly discover that the villain of the book is the matriarch of the family, and the term ‘matriarch’ really does suit Josephine Hurst, because she rules her roost like a tyrant. index

Do you remember reading Gone Girl and thinking “Wow, she’s messed up”? Well, you have that thought to look forward to again when reading about Josephine, because Mother, Mother lives up to the hype of that book, and more. Why hasn’t Mother, Mother gotten the same attention as Gone Girl? It’s unfair because I think Zailckas’s writing is way better than what appears in Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster, but perhaps the idea of someone in your family being unstable rings true for too many readers.

indexA sign that this book is truly accomplished is the fact that it had me second guessing the motivations of each of the characters at different points throughout the novel. Who is lying? Surprisingly, there aren’t a whole lot of twists in the plot, mainly just stories told from different perspectives, but what’s so great about this book is that depending on the reader, you may identify with different stories at different times. I immediately distrusted the father figure, but perhaps a male reader may see his story in a more positive light.

Family dynamics are strange phenomena that we all deal with on a regular basis as we struggle to explain our own household’s quirks to outsiders. People get defensive when others point out the strange habits of their family, yet we’re more than happy to joke about the weirdness that pervades our own family reunions. Zailckas plays on this notion throughout her book, shifting our allegiances to characters by pushing the boundaries of what’s considered ‘normal’ within a family. Have I piqued your interest yet? I’m hoping my use of big words is helping my case here, but if not, take a chance on Mother, Mother anyway.


Book Review: Corpse Flower by Gloria Ferris

I really like the mystery genre. Regular readers of this blog will already know that, but I wanted to reiterate it in case you’re new. I’ve had Corpse Flower  on my shelf for awhile, the lovely people at Dundurn sent it to me quite a few months ago, and I’m embarrassed to say I only got it around to it now. Although that’s probably a good thing, because it’s release date of Dec. 14 is still a few days off. Am I allowed to be posting this review early? I’ll find out soon enough!

A little bit of history for ya: Before it was published, Corpse Flower won the Unhanged Arthur Award from the Crime Writers of Canada back in 2010. This is awarded to the best unpublished manuscript, so it’s a special kind of recognition for an author who hasn’t yet found a publisher for their work. Dundurn Press has first rights of refusal on that manuscript (most likely due to some sponsorship of the award, etc), and not surprisingly they scooped up this book shortly after it won. Although not a mind-astonishingly complicated story, it’s definitely fun, and ‘humerous mysteries’ are making a big come back in the book world. It’s a sub-genre that I particularly enjoy, and Corpse Flower is a great example of this kind of book done right.images

The main character of this book, Bliss Moonbeam Cornwall (yes, that’s her real name), is perhaps one of my favourite characters that I’ve come across in awhile. Similar to reader’s attachment to Joanne Kilbourn of Gail Bowen’s famous series, Bliss is someone that I would look forward to reading more about for many future books to come. She’s got a foul mouth and a spunky attitude, but she’s an extremely hard worker and her disdain for her ‘weasel’ of an ex-husband is absolutely hilarious, so she won me over within the first few pages of the book. What’s unique about her is that she’s not even actively trying to solve a mystery, she just finds herself mixed up in some really strange situations which inevitably lead her to a) trouble b) creepy people and c) unbelievable and extremely enjoyable situations to read about. As I’ve said before, the protagonists of murder mysteries can either make or break a series or plot, and Gloria Ferris has struck a winner with Ms. Cornwall. On a side note, Ferris hails from my hometown of Guelph, so that’s reason enough to pick up this book.

Gloria Ferris has an awesome author photo so I just had to share it here

Gloria Ferris has an awesome author photo so I just had to share it here

It’s obvious that Ferris is dreaming up more books with Ms. Cornwall, because the subtitle of the book is “A Cornwall and Redfern Mystery”, which of course implies that these two characters are going to be teaming up to solve some mysteries in the future. This extremely obvious subtitle leads me to my only problem that I had with the book. It’s a minor one, but I wouldn’t be a true reviewer if I didn’t mention this. One plot point that’s threaded throughout the narrative is the suggestion that Redfern is a crooked cop, which is supposed to be a problem for Bliss, because it’s obvious to everyone around them that they’re sweet on each other. However, the fact that Bliss overheard him talking to some shady characters in a strange way convinces her that he’s double-dealing and can’t be trusted. This two-faced personality is so obviously him acting undercover that it doesn’t for one minute convince the reader that Bliss is right, especially because the front cover basically confirms that he will be featured in every book thereafter. If any author is reading this blog, take note: never underestimate your reader, especially when weaving a mystery together. If I can already guess which characters are bad and which are good, you’re not making things challenging enough!