Cozy Mystery Reads: Pies Before Guys Mystery series by Misha Popp

“Like there are these things that matter on a large grand scale, the kind of things Melly cares about, like stopping fascism and curing climate change, and that’s obviously super important, but then there are the little individual things, like a woman who’s getting hit at home or a girl whose rapist gets a free pass for being popular. Do you go for the big sweeping save-the-world changes that will help the most people, or do you chip away at the little problems, fixing one and another and another until you have this huge snowball of good deeds built up?”
― Misha Popp, Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies

Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies is the first book in the Pies Before Guys Mystery series. The description drew me in and I knew I needed to read it: a woman seeks vengeance on men who have wronged women by baking pies laced with deadly magic. Best part: there are recipes listed at the end of the book!

Daisy Ellery comes from a long line of magic women. Each woman’s magic manifests in different ways though: her grandmother sewed her magic into beautiful dresses, her mother opened a beauty salon where she used her magic to help cut women’s hair, and Daisy bakes her magic into pies. For years Daisy has believed that the family’s magic twisted and changed for the worse when it came to her. After all, her mother and grandmother used their magic for good, while Daisy’s magic mostly manifests for revenge.

Daisy’s first murder by pie was an accident. She has been on the move ever since, but has still found ways to deliver magic through baking. Daisy travels with her dog Zoe around the country in her refurbished RV baking vengeance into her pastries. Daisy delivers them to men who have done wrong to women in the towns wherever she chooses to stop.

Daisy currently parks her Pies Before Guys van outside a local diner, where she bakes pies for Frank, the diner owner. One day, Frank tells Daisy that someone has been prowling around her van. Daisy later discovers a letter stuck to her door. Her prowler knows about her secret murder pie business and is threatening to out her unless Daisy bakes pies for his own list of targets.

Daisy feels violated. Who dares blackmail her? This person obviously has no idea who or what they are dealing with, but without identifying who has it out for her, Daisy is left floundering. She decides to take whatever action she can: using her databases to research past abusive men, investing in security equipment, and staying aware of her surroundings.

When Daisy learns of a statewide pie contest that has the ability to help her promote Pies Before Guys everywhere, she decides to take the leap and enter. This contest, and the prize money, could change her life for the better as long as her blackmailer doesn’t get to her first.

Pies Before Guys Mystery series

  1. Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies (2022)
  2. A Good Day to Pie (2023)

Young Adult Series: The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,’ Neeve said. ‘Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.’
― Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys is the first book in The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. Stiefvater has created a gorgeously written world for her characters that will leave you wanting to learn more. She leaves hints in books that you pick up later that will leave you wondering at the way that Stiefvater constructs these books.

Blue Sargent has grown up in a family of clairvoyants. For as long as she can remember, her house has been full to bursting with random cousins, aunts, and friends of her mothers who all have some version of clairvoyance. Blue, however, doesn’t have any abilities. Instead she is like a battery – she makes other people’s talents stronger. Blue amplifies the powers of others. That’s why her mother takes her with to the churchyard on St Mark’s Eve to note the names of the soon-to-be dead walking past. In that freezing churchyard, Blue meets Gansey for the first time and her life is changed.

Blue discovers that Gansey is one of the rich students who attends Aglionby, a local private school. She has no desire to learn what is going to happen to that Raven Boy, what they call the Aglionby Boys, as her association with them can only mean trouble.

Despite her declaration to stay away from Gansey and the other Raven Boys, their paths continue to cross. When Blue realizes that Gansey is more than his good looks and family money, she finds herself drawn into a quest that has consumed Gansey and his friends for years. The problem: for as long as she can remember, Blue has been told that she will cause her true love to die. If she kisses her true love, he will die. This has never been an issue for Blue until she starts hanging around with the Raven Boys. Their life is strange and sinister and full of more mystery than she ever thought possible.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Raven Cycle series

  1. The Raven Boys (2012)
  2. The Dream Thieves (2013)
  3. Blue Lily, Lily Blue (2014)
  4. The Raven King (2016)
  5. Opal (2018) – a novella that takes place after the events of The Raven King

Related to The Raven Cycle series, Stiefvater has written the Dreamer Trilogy which delves more into Ronan Lynch:

  1. Call Down the Hawk (2019)
  2. Mister Impossible (2021)
  3. Greywaren (2022)

Online Reading Challenge – September

Hello Readers!

Welcome to the September edition of the Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re exploring alternative histories and viewing history from a different perspective. Some of the featured titles and those you’ll find in displays at our buildings look at a historical event with a key factor changed (What If the Nazi’s had won? What If Lincoln had lived?), others take an individual’s life and examine what might have happened if they had made different choices. All of them help open your mind to how one decision may have changed a life, or all of history.

Our main title this month is the delightful My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, a rollicking, white-knuckle adventure set in Tudor England. Edward is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d rather be planning his first kiss than who will inherit his crown. Jane, Edward’s cousin, is far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately, Edward has arranged to marry her off to Gifford secure the line of succession. And Gifford is, well, a horse. That is, he an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated) who becomes a chestnut steed every morning, but wakes as a man at dusk, with a mouthful of hay. Very undignified. The plot thickens as the three are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy, and have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads? Highly recommended.

This title is also available as an eaudiobook and as a book on CD.

Other titles in our Book Flight include Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. 

This title is also available as an ebook, an eaudiobook and as a book on CD.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susan Clarke. In the midst of the Napoleonic Wars in 1806, most people believe magic to have long since disappeared from England – until the reclusive Mr. Norrell reveals his powers and becomes an overnight celebrity. Another practicing magician then emerges: the young and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s pupil, and the two join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wild, most perilous forms of magic, and he soon risks sacrificing his partnership with Norrell and everything else he holds dear.

First Impressions by Charles Lovett. Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

As always, you can find displays of these titles and many more at each of our Davenport Library locations!

‘The Ex Hex’ by Erin Sterling

“Never mix vodka and witchcraft.”
― Erin Sterling, The Ex Hex

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling is the story of a scorned lover who demands revenge, albeit while drunk and in a way that she didn’t think would actually come to fruition. Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones was a young witch nursing a freshly broken heart. She tried to heal it the best way she (and her cousin) knew how: a bubble bath, vodka, sad music, and a curse on her horrible ex-boyfriend. Vivi and her cousin knew they shouldn’t mix vodka and witchcraft, but her broken heart wanted vengeance. After all, they cast their curse using an orchard hayride scented candle – that’s an utterly ridiculous candle to curse someone with, so the two thought nothing of it and moved on. At best, they thought he would have a couple minor inconveniences and that’s it, no grievous bodily harm or anything.

Flash forward nine years and Rhys Penhallow, the breaker of Vivi’s heart, is on his way back to Graves Glen, Georgia. Rhys is one of the descendants of the town’s ancestors. His presence is necessary to recharge the town’s ley lines and to put in an obligatory appearance at the annual fall festival. The minute Rhys is within the town’s limits though, disaster strikes. As soon as he recovers from one issue, another one happens. It soon becomes apparent to Vivi and Rhys that her long ago hex isn’t quite as harmless as she thought it would be.

After a particularly disastrous incident, the two realize that Graves Glen is under attack. The magic has begun to rebel and the supposedly harmless ex hex may lay at the root of all of their problems. Vivi and Rhys must work together to find a way to save the town and to counteract and/or destroy the ex hex before everything they know and love is destroyed.

This book is also available in the following format:

Romance Reads: Witches of Thistle Grove series by Lana Harper

‘That was the thing about growing up with magic. Until you left it behind for good, you had no idea how incredible it felt just to be around it.’ – Lana Harper, Payback’s a Witch

Over the last year, I have noticed an increase in paranormal witchy romances, so naturally I decided to read some! My latest adventure into this genre was the first in the Witches of Thistle Grove series by Lana Harper titled Payback’s a Witch. I found this title to be uniquely engaging and full of world-building, yet not overwhelming with the amount of information given.

Emmy Harlow is back in Thistle Grove. After leaving this magical town right after high school, she never though she’d be back. Harlow may be a witch, but she’s not a very powerful one. The time she has spent away from Thistle Grove, plus the physical distance separating her from the town, has depleted her magic. Her exile from her family has been self-imposed due to a complicated relationship with her family, her family history, and relationships with her peers. Emmy has always wanted to forge her own destiny that had nothing to do with being a Harlow witch in Thistle Grove. Add in a nasty breakup with Gareth Blackmoor when she was in high school and Emmy was drawn to leave quicker than she had planned. After all, Gareth is the heir to the most powerful magical family in town. He oh so casually shattered her dreams and broke her heart without a second thought. She had to leave.

Flash forward: Emmy is back in Thistle Grove to perform her family’s role as arbiter in a spellcasting tournament held every fifty years. A massive guilt trip from her family and the lure of tradition was enough to bring her back. Emmy’s plan is to do her duty as arbiter, spend time with her best friend Linden Thorn, and then immediately leave to head back to her life in Chicago. The universe has other plans.

On her first night back in town, Emmy runs into Talia Avramov at a local bar. Talia is another heir to a different magical family who practices darker magic. She is also fresh off a bad breakup of sorts with Gareth Blackmoor. It turns out that Gareth was also dating Emmy’s best friend Linden, at the same time he was messing around with Talia – with both women not realizing the either was in a relationship with him! Scandal! Linden and Talia want revenge on Gareth and believe that with Emmy they can finally get back at him for what he has done to all three. Emmy has to decide if she wants in and if so, what the plan should be. Add in friend drama and romantic drama between the three and Emmy’s short trip home becomes even more complicated than she originally hoped.

This book is also available in the following format:

Witches of Thistle Grove series

  1. Payback’s a Witch (2021)
  2. From Bad to Cursed (2022)
  3. Back in a Spell (2023)

Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

Lauren Blackwood is a Jamaican American writer who writes romance-heavy fantasy. Her debut young adult novel, Within These Wicked Wallsdefinitely falls into that category. This fantasy novel is a New York Times bestseller as well as Reese Witherspoon’s Fall 2021 Young Adult book club pick.

“If I look at all the bad in my life along with the good, the bad would bury the good in a landslide. My spirit, my will to live, would shrivel and die. So, instead, I choose to be thankful for what little good I have.”
― Lauren Blackwood, Within These Wicked Walls

Within These Wicked Walls is a young adult fantasy novel that has definite horror elements.  Andromeda is a debtera without a license. Debtera are exorcists hired by households to cleanse them of the Evil Eye. Her mentor, however, threw her out before she was able to earn her license, leaving Andromeda to scrounge for work. Her only option is to find a patron and she has her eyes set on a job that has proven deadly. Andromeda wants Magnus Rochester, a handsome young heir, to be her patron. He is a rich, well-connected person who, if she completes this job, will be able to vouch for her abilities to other potential clients.

The downside: Magnus is rude and demanding  with a long list of rules that must be followed. He’s also eccentric in ways that don’t make sense until Andromeda gets to know him. The more time Andromeda spends in the house, the more she realizes that this job is nothing like anything she has ever done before. There are manifestations throughout the house, some benign while others are horrifying. While Andromeda works to cleanse the house, she discovers that Magnus is hiding more than she has ever been trained for. Death may be the only option to free the house, but Andromeda is determined to rid the house of evil before any more innocent blood is shed.

This book is also available in the following format:

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

One of Sarah Gailey’s older works (relatively speaking – after this 2019 volume came a flurry of hits including 2020’s Upright Women Wanted and 2021’s The Echo Wife), Magic for Liars is a feminist gumshoe detective story set in the American version of Harry Potter’s world. While highly original, the story pays homage to a number of tropes: magic abounds in an impossible high school (complete with a boy convinced he’s the Chosen One of prophecy), our cynical narrator spends lots of time brooding in bars even while investigating a grisly murder that has shocked the community, and two estranged sisters forced together must finally face what has divided them. Best of all, a sapphic thread runs through the characters – women loving women is common and routine in this world, though it may have been a motive for murder…

Ivy Gamble is almost successful as a private investigator. She’s almost got a handle on her drinking. And she’s almost definitely not jealous of her magically-gifted sister Tabitha. When a suspicious death rocks the school where Tabitha is a professor of Theoretical Magic, Ivy is called in to investigate. Out of her depth in the investigation and in the world of magic, Ivy quickly starts to question everything she thought she knew about magic, the world, her sister, and herself.

Gailey has created such a unique character in Ivy – she’s a mix of Stephanie Plum’s flawed detective and Petunia Evans Dursley’s bitter resentment, but fully lucid of her flaws, and able to grow, change, and face her mistakes. Tabitha, meanwhile, has the charm of Lily Evans and the haughty emotional distance of Minerva McGonagall (if either of those icons had been lesbians) but the obsessive, secretive temperament of Severus Snape. Spoilers — this is a risky combination. I don’t know that I was totally convinced by the book as a whole — between the mystery, the sibling tension, the high school drama, facing personal demons, AND an unlikely romance, it seemed like the book was trying to do too much and didn’t do each component full justice — but as a reinvention of classic tropes it’s very clever and original, and the normalization of queer identities is very refreshing.

More than that, the pace of the book was addictive, and ended in a way that leaves the reader wondering whether the book was supposed to be part of a bigger, as yet unfinished, story. Will Ivy ever get a sequel to continue her journey? Only time will tell; for now I do recommend this book to all those who enjoy books with gumshoe murder mysteries, high school drama, estranged siblings, bizarre modern magic, and all the dark sides of love.

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske is set in Edwardian England, with all of it’s rigid formality and strict social rules intact but with one difference – magic exists. However, only a few people know this and fewer still possess magical abilities.

Sir Robin Blyth comes from a noble family but due to his parent’s frivolous ways, he and his sister are left with little money and he must work to keep them afloat. An administrative error assigns him the job of civil service liaison to a hidden magical world, something he had no idea even existed before his first day at work.

Edwin Courcey is a member of a very old magical family, although he has only a small amount of magic himself. He is horrified to find Robin in the Magical Liason office and astonished to discover that he doesn’t even know magic exists. Edwin and Robin take an instant dislike to each other and part ways. However, on his way to resign, Robin is accosted by three strangers wearing mysterious masks, asking him “where is it?”. When he can’t answer (he has no idea what they’re talking about), one of the men places a painful curse on his arm and tells him the curse will only get worse until he gives them what they want.

Well, thinks Robin, this isn’t good. He seeks out Edwin (the only magical person he knows) and Edwin, who has made a study of magic, is intrigued by the curse which appears in intricate curls and patterns on Robin’s arm. At first reluctant, Edwin can’t pass on this intriguing puzzle and thus begins a search for answers that includes murder, foresight, a very dangerous hedge, family drama, secret rooms and magical objects of all kinds including a very protective mansion.

The enemies become friends and then much more over the course of their adventures. The magical world that Marske creates is imaginative and intricate and the characters – good guys and bad – are compelling. You will root for Robin and Edwin both as a couple and as individuals as they stumble their way to solutions. There are elements of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Red, White and Royal Blue and even a touch of Lord of the Rings that combine into something unique and delightful.

 

In Deeper Waters by FT Lukens

Did I just pick up this book because of its beautiful cover? Yes. Yes I did. But luckily it turned out to be as lovely a story as its cover.

In Deeper Waters by FT Lukens is a coming-of-age story, a romance, an imaginative fairy-tale-inspired fantasy, and a rollicking adventure. Tal is the fourth in line to the throne, and he’s on his coming of age tour around the kingdom. The kingdom is tense and war is threatened, which doesn’t help to ease Tal’s anxiety: he secretly has magic which he fears will be used as a weapon. Just as his tour is getting underway, his ship encounters a mysterious derelict with an abandoned prisoner inside – the mysterious Athlen. Athlen treats Tal more like a person than anyone has in a while, but before they can explore this connection, Athlen makes a shocking escape. When he reappears miraculously in a later port, Tal follows him, determined to get answers. And it’s not a moment too soon, as Tal is then kidnapped by pirates. He must escape if he wants to prevent a war, and he needs all the help he can get.

The familial love is on-point, messing with some stereotypes, the magic is captivating, and in my opinion the world-building is expert. In some fantasy novels, a page or three at the beginning of the story is taken up by explanations of what the world is and how it works and who the players are; in this case the story starts right up and details about the world are revealed gradually and organically, so that your picture of the world your in grows and gets colored in as you read. I found that very effective for keeping readers hooked and sharing just enough detail so things make sense as they’re happening.

One thing that struck home for me was that although Tal is unsure of himself, and a lot of decisions are out of his hands, he gradually takes more control of his life and decides what kind of person he’s going to be. I always love a story where a character forges their own path. I also thought the depiction of politics, and how complicated monarchy can be depending on your perspective, was a good nod to realism without being too dark. In short, hope is a theme running through most parts of the story – and the world needs more of that.

Sweet, exciting, and thought-provoking, this book is recommended for those who liked The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Pirates of the Caribbean, or similar fantasy adventure romps.

Online Reading Challenge – June Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

We’re halfway through the year – how is your Challenge going? Did you find something good to read during this month of Alice Hoffman?

I chose to read The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. Although it was written after Practical Magic (one of Hoffman’s most popular books) this one actually takes place chronologically  before Practical Magic begins. In The Rules of Magic we learn a little more about the curse that haunts the Owens family, about the aunt that helped raise Jet and Franny (and their brother Vincent) who in turn one day will be tasked with raising Gillian and Sally whose story will unfold in Practical Magic.

Members of the Owens family possess magic and trying to deny it or hide from it will not save them from the family curse, that everything they love will leave them. Jet and Franny and Vincent’s parents work hard to make the siblings hide their magic, but it persists in each of them, just below the surface. One summer, when they’re young teens, their mother allows them to spend the summer with their Aunt Isabelle at the family home place in a rural town. At first they miss Manhattan, but they soon discover that their magic is growing stronger and that their aunt is happy to encourage them. It becomes a summer of rebellion and revelation as they each begin to find how to live with their legacy.

In time, despite their best efforts, each sibling falls in love and for each one, in one way or another, the family curse prevails. But isn’t that part of everyone’s life, that we seek out love, that we love recklessly and without regret and that someday, maybe today, maybe years from now, that love will no longer be with us.

It has been several years since I read Practical Magic and I wasn’t sure I would be able to make a connection, but I found this book can stand pretty much on it’s own. The writing is lyrical, which sounds kind of pretentious, but describes it best – Hoffman evokes the mysterious, tangled atmosphere of Isabelle’s house as well as the depth of emotions the characters feel with the same delicate touch, never maudlin but always real. In many ways, I found this book to be sad with so much heartbreak and sacrifice but also, ultimately, hopeful that the legacy of the past passes on to the next generation and the sacrifices made were worth the pain. As Hoffman concludes, “the only remedy for love is to love more”. A beautiful book.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?