Why this whole blogging thing is just not going to work for me…
I started this blog to be like the other cool writer wannabes. But I’ve been spying on checking out their blogs, and it’s clear I’m doing at least three things wrong:
- I’m squee-impaired. When someone writes the word ‘squee’, I want to tweet back, “Bless you.” (Sometimes, I take a surreptitious hit of hand sanitizer.)
- I don’t call people ‘beotches’. I’ve known many bitches (and many… er… male offspring of same), and none of them spell it with an ‘o’. Or three ‘o’s… Not to mention the fact that after my formative years on the south side of Chicago, self-preservation leaves me reluctant to apply the term to their faces, whether as pejorative or endearment.
- I don’t drop the f-bomb.
Okay, those who’ve driven with me on a motorway in England know that I’m lying about at least one of the above points. (Make that two of the above…)
Here is the real reason I’m not going to make it as a blogger. I don’t have a cat to take cute pictures of or to inspire adorable blog posts (other than frequent reference to the eternally intriguing 101 Uses for a Dead Cat by Simon Bond). I can tell that cat blogging is important because among my blog-stats from the geniuses at WordPress is a list of search terms that led people to my blog. An astonishing 25.5% of them were looking for cat pictures like the one here. Plus one confused searcher was looking for a persian dog. Clearly, the more kittens you have working for you, the more people will visit your blog.
[NOTE: Of course, 62.5% of search engine traffic was from people looking for my reasons NOT to have kids. Given that I have four children, I’m either the best or the worst source to consult on that topic. Either way though, I’m not posting their baby pix here either. And this policy has absolutely nothing to do with those restraining orders the kids took out…]
So in the interests of driving traffic to this blog, I offer the following all-purpose gif:
If you’re part of the teeming hordes of viewers this picture brings in, I hope you will take a moment to look at the review below of the first two books of The Yellow Cottage Vintage Mysteries by J. New. Now there’s an author who knows what to do with a dead cat!
One ghost, one murder, one hundred years apart. But are they connected?
Ella has discovered a secret room in The Yellow Cottage, but with it comes a ghost. Who was she? And how did she die? Ella needs to find the answers before either of them can find peace. But suddenly things take a nasty turn for the worse.
Ella Bridges has been living on Linhay Island for several months but still hasn’t discovered the identity of her ghostly guest. Deciding to research the history of her cottage for clues she finds it is connected to Arundel Hall, the large Manor House on the bluff, and when an invitation to dinner arrives realises it is the perfect opportunity to discover more.
However the evening takes a shocking turn when one of their party is murdered. Is The Curse of Arundel Hall once again rearing its ugly head, or is there a simpler explanation?
Ella suddenly finds herself involved in two mysteries at once, and again joins forces with Scotland Yard’s Police Commissioner to try and catch a killer. But will they succeed?
My Review: 5 stars out of 5 for The Yellow Cottage Vintage Mystery Series (Books 1 & 2)
When I received a review copy The Curse of Arundel Hall, I noticed that it was the second book in the Yellow Cottage Vintage Mystery series. So I wrote to author J. New and asked if it was a stand alone or if I should first read Book 1, An Accidental Murder. She replied that while it works as a standalone, she thought it might help my review to read the first book as well, and sent a review copy along too. She was right.
I started reading and went back in time. But it wasn’t to the mid-1930s setting of the Yellow Cottage series, which TV Tropes calls Genteel Interbellum Setting—that vaguely between-World-Wars era of women in furs and cocktail dresses, men in dinner jackets, country houses and estates, and sophisticated banter. No, I was once again a 10-year-old, home from school with strep throat and sequestered in my parents’ bedroom to keep my germ-ridden self away from my siblings. Since my Irish-Catholic mother had already produced six of those siblings—with another on the way—that meant she stashed me in her room with the side-by-side twin beds in approved fifties ain’t-no-sex-goin-on-here-nohow culture. (As their child-production count eventually topped out at ten, I never really quite got the point of those twin beds. Once, when I asked her, my mother said I should just be glad I didn’t have twice as many siblings. I said if that was the case, she should have thought about moving that other twin bed to a different room. In another state…)
But I digress. The point (of course I have one—I’m a professional writer. Don’t try this at home…) is that her bed had a bookshelf headboard which held her latest mystery books, currently all by Agatha Christie. So I read the (still socially-inappropriately titled) Ten Little Indians. Huh. Didn’t see that ending coming. I picked up another one, starring an unlikely sleuth—a little old lady named Miss Marple, who investigates When a Murder is Announced. And that was it. My little California-based soul was hooked: on witty mysteries with literate British amateur sleuths, on fabulous British settings, on fantastic BBC productions, and most definitely on Dame Agatha.
For me, Agatha Christie’s books succeed on two levels. Level One is first and foremost the characters. Each of them, but especially the detective, is fully rounded and fleshed out with charming idiosyncrasies or ominous foibles. On this level, author J. New succeeds brilliantly. Each character is introduced, brought to well-rounded existence into their place in that most idiosyncratic of all societies, a small English village. Protagonist Isobella (Bella) Bridges is a young widow whose husband died in somewhat mysterious circumstances. Two years after his death, she returns to the little village where her family spent happy holidays and purchases the Yellow Cottage after visiting with its owner—who, Bella later discovers, had already been dead for seven months when they spoke—who leaves her several mysteries to solve, including a ghost cat. Bella is a perfect example of her class—posh, casually prejudiced, and so supremely assured of her place in the world that she is perfectly willing to ignore fashion and custom when it suits her while unconsciously adhering to their dictates in almost every aspect of her life.
Having grown up in and around old houses, Bella accepts the ghosts with the same aplomb as she greets her quirky new neighbors. In the first book of the series, An Accidental Murder, most of the action centers around London, so we also meet Bella’s brother Jerry and his wife Ginny, as well as Ginny’s “Uncle” Albert, Scotland Yard’s Police Commissioner.
Level Two of Agatha Christie’s success is all about that surprise ending. Christie herself caught readers with the twist at the end by systematically breaking almost every rule of detective stories. There’s a story—perhaps apocryphal—that Agatha Christie was almost kicked out of the Detection Club for breaking their rules of detective fiction, and only saved by the single dissenting vote of then-president Dorothy L Sayers. (Yep, there was such a club and they actually did write down rules for detective fiction.) And it’s pretty indisputable that Agatha Christie—who served as its president from 1957-1976—also regularly broke most of those detective story rules. Of course readers are attracted to different types of mystery and detective stories. But one thing most agree is that they enjoy looking at the clues and trying to figure things out with—or before!—the sleuth. That’s why “You’re probably wondering why I’ve asked you all here” is a trope that’s kept working so well for so long.
Again, J. New doesn’t disappoint. In true homage to the genre, in The Curse of Arundel Hall all the suspects are gathered together in the drawing room while the detective lists each one’s opportunity and motive for murder. The victim, American social climbing actress Patty-Mae, had revealed herself guilty of every sort of character fault, including that most unforgivable of all—bad manners. Although the author withheld a vital clue that solved the crime until that final summation, I have to admit that the identity of the murderer would have been just as complete a surprise to me at either point.
Wikipedia defines a cozy mystery as “…a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.” True to the definition, sex, profanity, and violence are “behind the door” and only gently referenced. Sleuth Bella is an amateur who gathers a posse of essential helpers—in this case the Police Commissioner, his chief medical examiner, and her own well-connected family.
I did have a couple of places where the required “willing suspension of disbelief” was more of a stretch. And the writer’s device of ending each chapter with somewhat heavy-handed foreshadowing—”Little did I know it would be sooner than I expected.”—got old quickly. But the thing that raises this series to five stars for me and makes me anxious to read the next book, is the genre mix of paranormal with cozy mystery.
Bella sees ghosts, and even talks to them. Her cat, Phantom, is usually a ghost. Except (he’s a cat after all) when he’s not. Mixing the paranormal elements with the main mystery, and adding dessert toppings of secondary mysteries, puzzles, and mysteriously puzzling ghosts, keeps the story lively and makes the reader look forward to learning more about the characters (both living and dead).
As a cozy mystery, as a paranormal detective story, and as a completely entertaining series in a historical setting, I am delighted to recommend The Yellow Cottage Mystery series.
**I received this book from the publisher or author to expedite an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
Book Title: An Accidental Murder and The Curse of Arundel Hall
Author: J. New
Genre: Cozy Paranormal Mystery
Publisher: Phantom Press (An Accidental Murder—22 Mar. 2015, and The Curse of Arundel Hall—20 Jan. 2017)
Length: An Accidental Murder—122 pages, The Curse of Arundel Hall—256 pages