I am preparing for my second attempt at NaNoWriMo. November has been deemed National Novel Writing Month and the goal is to write a novel (estimated at about 50,000 words) in 30 days. Last year I persisted for eight days before I gave up. I didn’t get very far because I was just free-writing, but this year, I’m determined to finish. I am ramping up with a story outline and character ideas.

I'm using RocketBook to help organize all my ideas.

I’m using RocketBook to help organize all my ideas. This was my first brainstorm of what to write about in November.

I have always loved to write stories since I was a child. In third grade I wrote a story that was chosen to be performed by the local theatrical troupe visiting my elementary school. It was based on the board game Candy Land, imagining a world where the characters came to life. I was thrilled to watch my story performed. That was just the beginning of love for writing and creating stories.

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Dora rates this book “one paw.”

After the success of their first murder investigation, Charlotte’s Angels are back in Buy A Whisker, book two in the Second Chance Cat Mystery series by Sofie Ryan. The senior ladies: Charlotte, Liz, and Rose, (and their friend Alfred, an old timer hacker) are ready to expose the truth with their investigation services operation –headquartered in the Second Chance shop, of course.

The Second Chance shop, owned and operated by North Harbour, Maine resident Sarah Grayson, features repurposed goods. The unique shop attracts many tour bus customers, but Sarah knows business could be better. With the prospect of a new development in the works, the tourist town is overjoyed by the possibilities of bringing in new customers and updating it’s image. Everything is in place for the development to go through except for one business owner’s approval.

Local bakery owner Lily Carter refuses to sell her property, inherited from her grandfather. She declined the developer’s offer, which has resulted in outrage from the town in the form of petty pranks, threats, and pleas for her to change her mind and accept the deal. When Lily is found dead on the basement stairs of her bakery, it isn’t surprising that the police think there has been a homicide.

The suspect list is long: it could have been any shop owner depending on the development or money they would receive from selling their property. Is it possible it was the developer himself? Or maybe a newcomer? When one of the Angels, Liz, is moved to the top of the suspect list, the Angels set out to find the real killer. Sarah is depending on Elvis, her feline with lie-detecting abilities, to help her solve the mystery before her friends put themselves in danger.

Overall, this installment was much better than the first in the series. I am in love with Elvis and have finally warmed up to Sarah and her Second Chance crew. Elvis’s personality reminds me so much of my own all-black feline, Dora. While Sarah finds herself arguing with Elvis over her seat, I find myself having the same arguments with Dora. Finally, I give in and share the seat with him.

There is not much of Sarah’s grandmother, Isabel, in the story, even though all the ladies that work with her are her Grandmother’s friends and Isabel supposedly lives the on the upper floor of her house. Maybe that’s the gag? We do learn more about the other ladies: Charlotte, Liz, and  Rose, who reminds me of Betty White.

I’m still not sure about some of the minor characters. There are brief moments where the dialogue goes from cozy to cheesy and I have to put the book down, close my eyes and let out a deep breath, particularly around Sarah’s friendship with her teenage crush, Nick. I’ve never accidentally fallen into the arms of a male friend and if I did, I probably wouldn’t stare into his eyes. As for her work companion Mac, I would prefer to read a little less about his muscles and more about his mysterious past.

I bought this copy at my local library’s book sale, but am delighted to see the rest of the series is available on my library’s OverDrive app.

Cost: Approximately $0.05

Drink of Choice: Flat White with Soy

Earlier this year I reviewed In a Dark, Dark Wood, a story about a hen party (British slang for bachelorette party) gone wrong. The setting: an isolated cottage in the woods. The main character carpools with the one girl she knows besides the bride to someone’s vacation home for a weekend of pre-wedding shenanigans.

When I received news that the bachelorette party for my dear friend and sister-in-law, Candice, was planned for weekend away at a friend’s beach house and the only girl I really knew besides the bride is the one I would be carpooling with, it put me on alert. I joked with my husband, “I’m either going to be murdered, murder someone or solve a murder. I don’t know which yet, we’ll find out on Sunday when I return home –or not!”

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Even though you know that it’s her destiny to make the trip to California, your heart aches knowing that she has to make this journey. It yells out to her, “No! Don’t do it, Eliza. Think of your future!” but you know she must go and there is nothing you can do to stop her. So you prepare yourself for a tear jerker — the story of a Chilean girl who follows her lover to California during the peak of the Gold Rush.

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After a year of my reading challenge, I have finally reached the end. In 2015, I set a goal to read 50 books and although it was a sluggish beginning I read a total of 25 books. My reading list had a mixture of cat stories, old stories, some tedious stories and some great finds. The majority read were, no surprise, cat-themed cozy mysteries.

Even with the Weekend Wednesdays, I was only able to accomplish half my goal. The problem I’m having with reaching my goal is it’s set too high. With my social obligations and time spent gaming, it’s just not possibly for me to read that many.

 But the goal wasn’t always about hitting 50; it was about dedicating myself to reading more books and discovering new worlds.Continue reading

Mrs. Cook has seen many generations of the Jones family grow up. She has watched over them and become a part of the Jones family herself. These days she walks a little slower. After an unfortunate incident with one of the Tower ravens, Mrs. Cook has taken to staying indoors. Her age of 180 is impressive and catches the attention of the Queen, which sets in motion the whole story. Mrs. Cook is also a tortoise and the story is the The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart.

Set in contemporary London, The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise is an exploration of the London Tower and one maudlin man, Balthazar Jones, whose duties are about to change dramatically. He is a member of the elite Beefeaters. Officially titled the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, the Beefeaters are a tourist attraction that once guarded the Tower of London. The Queen has decided to open a new royal menagerie at the London Tower to display the exotic animals given to her as gifts by leaders of foreign nations. Balthazar’s ability to keep the elderly tortoise Mrs. Cook alive has convinced the Queen that he is the ideal zookeeper.

There are two aspects of this novel that I loved: the conflicting personalities of the Tower’s residents and the delightful personalities of the animals. Balthazar is lovable in his inability to focus on pick pockets and other threats to the Tower. He is constantly distracted by the rain and his own thoughts. Every failure made me want to reach out and hug the poor guy. His Greek wife, Hebe, works at the London Underground Lost Property Office. Hebe is not interested in the rain, she is interested in the mystery behind each item turned in: books, wigs, an urn. Who would leave these things on the tube? She is delighted whenever a lost item is reunited with its worrisome owner. Her co-worker, Valerie, is lonely and consequently, obsessed with the mid-morning snack of elevenses.

The Tower would not be complete with it’s religious figure. The Chaplin is a man of the cloth, but his duties are confusing to the residents of the Tower, who often turn to him for confession. He can only reply, you might want to see the Catholics up the road. The lonely Chaplin yearns for love and a family, but he is also a failure. He finds relief and refuge in writing sermons and novels of all genres.

Then there is the Ravenmaster. He is jealous of the menagerie distracting visitors from the famous ravens he looks after. His awkward relationship with Balthazar resulting from the attack of Mrs. Cook, fuels his desire to see the menagerie a failure.

The animals were unfamiliar, so I spent some time researching creatures like the zorillas. Silly to admit, but I wanted to confirm that the animals mentioned were real and not fictional. Their personalities made me laugh and I think the residents learned a valuable lesson about handling exotic animals.

When I first read the word “Beefeaters,” I had no reference to what this could mean. I hadn’t heard of the Tower of London and I was unfamiliar with its history. Luckily, the author explained all I needed to know. I felt like I was getting a history lesson in British landmarks, specifically the Tower, the ghosts inhabiting it, and the surrounding river. The spirits are mischievous and have their own agendas, much like the ghosts in the Harry Potter series. I was getting an exclusive look into the castle and the London Underground Lost Property Office. Do these stories have some truth to them or not?

This is the second novel I’ve read by Julia Stuart and I absolutely loved it. I did have some difficulty understanding the slang and had to look up phrases like “elevenses,” which aren’t as common here in the states. I thoroughly enjoyed this book almost as much as her previous novel, The Pigeon Pie Mystery. These two novels make the perfect Anglophile starter kit.

I spent my youth reading V.C. Andrews novels – family saga gothic fiction with dark secrets and twisted mysteries. Last November I was looking for a change in novels, something more my age. I was having difficulty trying to focus in on the exact genre I was yearning to read. I browsed the “Mystery” section at bn.com, but everything seemed way too violent, sexy or supernatural. My husband suggested Stuart Woods, but he didn’t sound that appealing, I wanted something more Nancy Drew.  I wanted a mystery that I could solve, something fun, that would make me laugh, but still keep me engaged until the unveiling at the end. Then I discovered that there is a name for such a genre: Cozy Mystery.

What is a cozy mystery? I think of it as a light-hearted mystery with a happy ending, nothing too obscene or grotesque. There is most likely a murder, an unknown killer, and maybe even an innocent person accused. These novels are more Hallmark Channel than Investigation Discovery or Cloo. Like a PG movie for those of us not interested in the details of a predictable sex scene or a violent, gory murder.

Goodreads describes a cozy mystery as, “Cozies very rarely focus on sex, profanity or violence. The murders take place off stage, and are often relatively bloodless (e.g. poisoning, while sexual activity (if any) between characters is only ever gently implied and never directly addressed.” And that’s exactly what I wanted.

I plan on reviewing some cozy mysteries soon. Grab a blanket and make yourself some hot tea, because you’ll want to snuggle right up with these page-turners.

Drink of choice: Earl Grey tea