The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright

The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright

Title: The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
Scored a: B+
Status: Finished!


This was a book that was around in my childhood (I even chose to represent it with the cover I knew it by) that I never read and often conflated with another story where a little girl finds an old dollhouse with dolls that move on their own. In the one I mixed it up with, the girl refurbishes their dollhouse and gave me an untrue expectation of wallpaper sample availability. Still can’t remember its name.

In this one? There’s murder and screaming. Perfect late night read.

Plot: Amy is having a hard time at home, so she temporarily moves in with her Aunt Clare. When she finds her Aunt Clare’s old dollhouse, she’s enchanted. Until the dolls begin acting out the brutal murder of her great-grandparents. With her little sister Louann and her friend Ellen’s help, she sets to find out what the dollhouse is telling her. Even if Aunt Clare wants them to leave well enough alone.

Ah, I loved this. It had me leaning in to read more, and I could almost hear the thunderstorm raging around in the scariest moment of the book.

Amy is 12 (turning 13 over the course of the book) and life isn’t easy for her. Her little sister Louann has brain damage and taking care of her is wearing Amy down, especially since she blames her sister for how other children avoid her after meeting Louann. This was something I’d seen myself in person – in this case an extremely frustrated little brother with his older low-functioning autistic brother, so it rang pretty true to me.

If you’re worried, Louann does okay for herself. She has her own interests and her own life going on, and is pretty essential to how the book plays out and not in a magical savant way. The only problem with her part of the story I had is where Aunt Clare suddenly knows better than everyone else to help the niece that she just met. It felt unfair, narratively.

That said, gosh, I like this book. Amy realizing she has friends, Amy discovering things, Amy being brave, the creepiness of the dolls. All of it.

If you want a ghost story with a lot of atmosphere (but remember it’s aimed at middle grade), definitely check this one out.

I purchased another book by the author, Christina’s Ghost. Looking forward to it.

To Sketch a Thief by Sharon Pape

To Sketch a Thief by Sharon Pape
To Sketch a Thief by Sharon Pape

Title: To Sketch a Thief by Sharon Pape
Scored a: B+
Status: Finished!


I was just trying to download my kindle library onto my new ipad when I got sick of babysitting the little bars and I clicked on a book at random. Later I surfaced, having read the entirety of To Sketch a Thief.

It’s the sequel to ‘Sketch Me If You Can‘ and the adventures of Rory, no longer a sketch artist but a PI, and her ghost Zeke.

In this one we delve more into why Zeke’s dead (not just being killed, there’s details), and a new character is added to the cast: Hobo the Dog. Seen on the cover. Hobo is a nice dog. I like Hobo.

Plot: Rory finds an errant dog and takes him home. Unfortunately his owner’s been murdered, and her other dog, a show-quality maltese, is also missing. Rory is hired by the woman’s friend not to solve the murder (that’s police business now) but to crack a dognapping ring that may have stolen the dead woman’s dog and her friend’s.

I liked it! Enough that I entered into a timewarp when I meant to just glance at it. The murder mystery part was satisfying and well plotted, I enjoyed the look into Zeke’s life. The characters were fleshed out and the interactions were good readin’.

The parts I didn’t like so much is that Rory and Zeke fought overly much so that every morning scene was ‘the rift between us from last night’ to the point of overuse, and I didn’t feel quite satisfied with how the dognapping case tied up.

That said, this is a pretty good mystery and I’ll be buying the next in the series.

A Skeleton In The Family by Leigh Perry

Title: A Skeleton In The Family by Leigh Perry
Scored a: C+
Status: Finished!

Cover of A Skeleton In The Family by Leigh Perry
Cover of A Skeleton In The Family by Leigh Perry. Don’t let the oddly photoshopped cover fool you, the akito doesn’t solve any crimes.

Plot: Georgia Thackery’s family has a skeleton. He’s named Sid and he can walk and talk. And it turns out he might have been murdered.

I’m going to start off with what I didn’t like, so I can end this review on what I did like.

I didn’t like how with the exception of her daughter, every lady character was presented as very adversarial to the main character, or just straight up jerks. One redeemed herself near the end, but the the lack of sympathetic lady characters made this book a very hostile read. It got to the point where I wasn’t even surprised when it was a man and a woman with the same goal in a scene, the woman was almost cartoonishly harsh while the man written as reasonable, despite what the narration said he was like after.

This and the final playout of the mystery knocked this down to a C+, but if these aren’t a problem for you I fully recommend this book. It has a lot going for it.

I hear she has another book coming out soon, and I hope the same issue isn’t present in it because I do plan to get it.

It was especially on my mind, as (look down a post to here) I had read If These Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell where the trend I’d noticed in her book of sympathetic women continued.

Now, for what I liked! I liked the main character (Georgia) loads, I really liked her relationship with her daughter, and Sid was great. I enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery (the ways they came up with for finding out clues were ingenious) and the story moved along at a healthy pace.

Sid and Georgia’s interactions were fun. I could see why the two were so attached to each other, and the things they noticed about their lives were nice touches.

As I said above, I’m planning on buying the next one because I wanna see what happens next to the characters.

Thus continues me reading through all the haunted cozies.

If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell

Title: If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell
Scored a: A-
Status: Finished!

Cover of If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell
Cover of If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell

I recently reviewed another book by Juliet Blackwell, Secondhand Spirits, that I did not realize was by the same author when I picked this up. Couldn’t figure out why I was getting the wrong book results when I searched for this one because I was very very tired after a long plane trip.

Juliet Blackwell’s strength, to my eyes, is how well she writes side characters. They come right to life. And there were a lot in this book, but not to its detriment.

Okay, so the plot is thus: Mel Turner has taken over her father’s historical home renovation business, even though all she wants to do is go to Paris and be wan. Things aren’t going her way towards that goal, especially when someone dies at her friend’s home renovation/demolition party and his ghost starts appearing to her asking for help solving his murder.

It’s a fun story! Mel has neat friends, she’s fun to watch interact with people and solve clues, and her supporting family cast (including her step-son from her ex-marriage and her father and his live-in friend Stan) is fun to watch and not overpowering. The romance wasn’t half bad, either. Romances seem to be de rigeur in cozies I’ve noticed and a dickish one can ruin a book fast for me.

The final confrontation was, best of all, very satisfying after all the things that happened during the course of the story. And the solution was foreshadowed pretty well, I thought. However, some ways the mystery played out knocked this down to an A- from an A+, mostly regarding a subplot that seemed overly garbled.

I’ve already bought the sequel.

Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton

Title: Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton
Scored a: B+
Status: Finished


Cover of Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy Atherton
Cover of Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton

And now for the third book I finished over my vacation! Although it looks like If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell (same as the witchcraft vintage store mysteries, but this one is about home repair and a good deal more gritty) is fast approaching putting me at four completed. See, what happened was, at the airport on the way home I was struck by wanting to read a LOT of ghost cozy mysteries so I googled ‘mystery partner ghost’ and and the first result was exactly what I was looking for. Thanks, googley overlords.

The page I found was a huge list of cozy series that featured ghosts and summaries of the series. I picked out a few to start with (Aunt Dimity, Family Skeleton, Haunted Bookshop, Haunted Home Renovation) and started with Aunt Dimity’s Death.

Well, it was a mystery, but not the kind I was expecting. Not a single murder! But that’s not a criticism, since a book not being what I expected when I didn’t  read the summary all the way is not its fault in the least.

Since the amazon page is withholding summaries from me, I will donnez:


Lori Shepherd’s life has been in a downward spiral. She’d had a happy childhood with a loving mother and stories her mother made up of the adventures of ‘Aunt Dimity.’ But now her mother’s dead, she can barely get any work, and a law office just contacted her to tell her that not only is Aunt Dimity real, she died some months ago. But she has a task for Lori.

There was a ghost as promised and I am satisfied.I will be reading the next book in the series.

The book itself was very much like a fairytale, but the idea of a fairytale and not a real one where your life is in constant peril. It was fun to read and picture the descriptions, because the places in the book sounded beautiful.

It’s not an A because as much as I enjoyed what it was, it didn’t give me all I wanted – the plot wasn’t full enough for me. Hopefully the next ones will be more meaty.

Sketch Me If You Can by Sharon Pape

Title: Sketch Me If You Can by Sharon Pape
Scored a: B-
Status: Finished

Cover of Sketch Me If You Can by Sharon Pape
Cover of Sketch Me If You Can by Sharon Pape



She’s a police sketch artist. He’s a dead lawman. Together, they put a face on murder.

When her uncle dies, police sketch artist Rory McCain get’s a list of clients from his private detective business and a beautiful, old house with a ghostly inhabitant: Federal Marshal Ezekiel Drummond, aka Zeke.

Having a ghost as a housemate is bad enough, but as Rory’s drawn into one of her uncle’s unsolved cases and faces a cold-blooded killer, she may need the marshal’s supernatural help to stay alive.


I’ve actually been reading this one for… well, it doesn’t appear to be logged when I bought it in my email. Needless to say, a long time. I didn’t stop reading out of dislike, but distraction. Fortunately after literally years, it was easy to pick up where I left off and finish this book. Which is sort of funny, because during when I was reading it the first time I totally forgot the prologue where you witness the murder and then was like ‘how does she know that her uncle’s murder WASN’T an accident then?’ because I am a sillybilly.

Rory was pretty great. Capable and interesting to listen to the narrative of. The ghost’s sexism, while time appropriate, made me sigh, but I enjoyed how they seemed to gel pretty quick. The series is ‘A Portrait of a Crime’ and I’ll be reading the next one to see what they’re like when they haven’t just met.

And, most importantly for a mystery? I liked the ending.

Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell

Title: Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell
Scored a: B
Status: Finished


The cover of Secondhand Spirits - in person the grey swirls have sparkles!
The cover of Secondhand Spirits – in person the grey swirls have sparkles!


Before I left town on a trip to San Diego, I was overcome with an urge to read about mysteries with ghosts. Fortunately my mother has one of the biggest cozy collections I have ever known and that included more than a few supernatural mysteries. What I chose was Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell and Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris. After doing a more thorough reading of the plot of Grave Sight, I chose not to read that one ever, but Secondhand Spirits kept me nicely occupied on the plane as well as being the first paper non-comicbook I read in years.

The summary:

Love the vintage- not the ghosts

Lily Ivory feels that she can finally fit in somewhere and conceal her “witchiness” in San Francisco. It’s there that she opens her vintage clothing shop, outfitting customers both spiritually and stylistically.

Just when things seem normal, a client is murdered and children start disappearing from the Bay Area. Lily has a good idea that some bad phantoms are behind it. Can she keep her identity secret, or will her witchy ways be forced out of the closet as she attempts to stop the phantom?

The summary turned out to be misleading, as it turns out she cannot see ghosts.

I did like it, though. The cast of characters was appealing, her love interest wasn’t a dick, I enjoyed the job she did, and I only snickered a little every time she referred to the ‘burning times’ in reference to witch history.

It was a little light on the actual villain of the story, but the monster portion of the story was pretty cool. It was La Llorona, the weeping woman who drowns children. A note on the use of a Mexican spirit, at first for a lot of the book I thought Lily was Latina, but it turned out that while her grandmother was, she is only Lily’s grandmother via adoption. So it was a ‘oh, it’s her culture!’ followed by ‘oh, it’s sort of her culture’ but you know, a good scary ghost.

I’ve bought the sequel to read soon. Right now it’s chilling its heels in my kindle account.

The City & The City

Title: The City & The City by China Mieville
Scored a: C+
Status: Unfinished due to mishap

Cover of The City & The City
Cover of The City & The City

The City & The City was a book I was very eager to read, because the concept sounded great. Two cities occupying the same space? And the book delivers on the idea. The bits and pieces I saw of the cities before the Mishap was just what I was hoping for.

Unfortunately, I only saw bits and pieces. Mieville’s characters proceeded to get in the way of the world over and over. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the characters had been fun in some way, or at least interesting, but they were ciphers. Stick figures who kept standing in front of the shot you were trying to take.

And then, of course, I accidentally lost the book and can’t bring myself to buy a new copy to finish it. So I guess I’ll never find out how the murder mystery turned out, which is a shame. I’m also sad I didn’t get to enjoy the cities if Beszel and Ul Qoma as much as I would have liked.

When I was talking about my problem with the book before the Mishap with my friend, she told me she’d had the same problem with other books of his. Great worlds, not so great characters. Another friend assured me Mieville was really nice, but that didn’t quite explain the problem with the book.

So much for making this book 41 on my 100 books of winter.

Currently working on: All Creatures Great And Small by James Herriot, and Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones. Both of which involve a lot of animal care, but I don’t think Herriot gets anything combat worthy from his efforts, unless you count all that cow shit he gets covered in.