Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Alert! There's a Man in the Cozy Writing Room!

The City:  Atlanta

The Date:  28 July 2015

Continually having to admit one's weakness is both tiresome and not a little embarrassing.  I mean, do I really need another series? The answer will be always, "maybe not need, but want!", but then again, "not really."  It's a dilemma.  But let me offer this excuse: this is a a new cozy series written by a man. I know there are cozies written by men and I will admit that I'm not familiar enough with those series to use as a comparison, but somehow I don't think there is a cozy, written by a man who's main character is a woman.  I could be wrong, of course, however, that's the excuse I'm using for starting the new Mary Handley Mystery Series written by Lawrence H. Levy who's debut title is Second Street Station.

It's 1888 Brooklyn, New York.  The Brooklyn Bridge is only five years old, electricity has come to New York City only six years before, AT&T is three years old and there is no underground transit system.  Like the cozy trailblazers Victoria Thompson of the Gaslight Mysteries and Rhys Bowen of the Molly Murphy Series (both series I read and love) a vivid portrait is painted for us of life in New York City at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.  Mr. Levy gives us a wonderfully strong and progressive character in Mary Handley - completely believable - infinitely likable - most definitely generating curiosity about where she's going in the future.  He sets his story up using historical figures like Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan and Nikola Tesla to create a compelling and uniquely interesting mystery.  I loved Mr. Levy's characterizations of the historical figures that lent a greater reality to who they probably really were as human beings as opposed to our romantic historical vision of who they were.  And as someone who lived in New York City for nearly 30 years, it's always interesting to be transported to the New York City of the late 19th century - especially considering that - in spite of the ever quick paced death of New York City - there is still a lot that remains from Mary's time.

While I almost never offer criticism, I hope Mr. Levy will take my next comments kindly because they are meant as a gesture of goodwill  because I want to see the series succeed.  And considering he has super-stiff competition in the cozy culture from very well-estabished writers with very loyal fan bases, I don't want there to be any room for unnecessary criticism going forward.  Two things didn't ring true for me.  First was use of language in some instances that - regardless of class - was distinctly not 19th century.  Mr. Levy's contemporaries are very careful about this and tailor their verbiage accordingly.  The second thing is that it is essential Mr. Levy establish whether Mary's family is Irish Catholic or Irish Protestant.  From this title, I have to assume they are Protestants considering that the times in this book where Mary joins her family for their weekly Friday supper, meat was served.  No Irish Catholic - indeed no Catholic - ate meat on Friday any time of the year in 1888.  So I urge Mr. Levy to clarify this before the second novel is printed because readers will notice!

In spite of these two points, I most certainly will continue with the series.  I have already pre-ordered my copy of Brooklyn On Fire that will be released on 19 January 2016.

I sincerely recommend The Mary Handley Series to lovers of Sarah Brandt and Molly Murphy.  Mr. Levy has done a wonderful job creating the voice of a strong female character in the world of cozy mystery heroines.  Please visit his website:

As always, I'd love to hear from all of my fellow cozy addicts.  Should you wish to know more about me, please visit my website:

Until next month, when Mystery In the Paperback Parlor - the second title in the Book Retreat Mystery Series by Ellery Adams - is released - Happy Cozying!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Okay, okay! I Cry Uncle!

The City:  Atlanta

The Date:  20 July 2015

In "Grace Cries Uncle", the sixth title in The Manor House Mysteries by Julie Hyzy, Ms. Hyzy gifts us with a very compelling mystery that eases the reader into dis-ease.  This is most poignantly the case when her sister, Liza enters the picture and I knew right away that I just plain wished she hadn't entered the picture at all.  In the great land of cozies, Ms. Hyzy finally answers a mystery that has served as a tantalizing through-line in the series.  She also provided a heart-thumping twist at the end that made me cry, "uncle!", meaning for me - "I give in - this has been way too much of a cozy-coaster ride for me - I can't breathe!"  Of course, this is a good thing.  It is the sign not only of a good writer, but, more wonderfully, a great storyteller. And Ms. Hyzy is most certainly that:  a great storyteller.  The proof is in the pudding here because in the cozy cabinet of mysteries Ms. Hyzy provides us with two series.  I, of course, follow both and have hooked my Aunt Lila on both. In addition to the Manor House Mysteries, Ms. Hyzy authors The White House Chef Mysteries.  While I adore both of them, I am only going to focus on The Manor House Mysteries in this blog entry because I will write about the upcoming title in the The White House Chef Mysteries, "Foreign Eclairs",  when it is released on 5 January 2016.

When an author pens more than one series, it's always interesting to compare the series with regard to characters, tone, and ambience.   And while both main characters in each of the series are strong, intelligent, independent individuals, they are very different just the series themselves are very different.  

I have to be honest and admit that I have a great, great affection for Olivia Paras, the main character in The White House Chef Mysteries and that's all I'll say for now.  However, Grace Wheaton, the main character in The Manor House Mysteries, is not someone I find myself  loving  unconditionally.  There's no ambivalence here - I truly do love Grace as well as the whole cast of characters - otherwise I wouldn't be a loyal follower of the series.  This is one of those series where the author includes positive gay characters in  her supporting cast in the series.  In this case it's Grace's roommates, Scott and Bruce.  There is an honestly deep love and respect in the household portrayed here, with unconditional friendship, affection and loyalty.  That alone, can win my loyalty to a series.   Yet, Grace can oftentimes frustrate me and part of my frustration is my frustration at being frustrated because I always keep wondering why  I am frustrated. I am happy to report that after reading this title and being put through the emotional ringer I finally pinpointed the source of my frustration: Grace needs a beau; it's time for her to get serious about someone.  I am a firm believer in and advocate for the "main-character-needs-a-main- squeeze" angle.  I think this is an essential component in the success of keeping one's audience in cozies.  Let's be honest, what makes a cozy a cozy, is employing that Dickensian device where the bad guys get their comeuppance in the end and the people who are in love (and who we want to be) - really do get together.  The "main-character-needs-a-main-squeeze" issue came up in the most recent title of another series I read and when I addressed that concern in this blog and in an e-mail I sent to the author, they assured me that this issue would be addressed in the next title.  I suspect that since the sub-mystery plot that has been tantalizing us all throughout The Manor House Mysteries has been solved, the groundwork has been laid for Grace's love life.  I just hope that the sister angle will be resolved in the next installment in such a way that it becomes a dead issue because I really wasn't happy about the sister turning up or the way she turned out and I never want to hear of her again.  Of course, only time will provide those answers when the next Manor House Mystery appears.  In the meantime, check out Julie Hyzy's website where you'll get all the information on her two wonderful series:

As always, I'd love to hear from all my fellow cozy addicts.  Should you wish to learn more about me, please visit my website:

Until the next cozy!