Friday, March 31, 2023


DIANA XARISSA (Isle of Man Cozy Mystery #1)

Kindle edition

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Aunt Bessie assumes that she'll have the beach all to herself on a cold, wet, and windy March morning just after sunrise, then she stumbles (almost literally) over a dead body.

Elizabeth (Bessie) Cubbon, aged somewhere between free bus pass (60) and telegram from the Queen (100), has lived her entire adult life in a small cottage on Laxey beach. For most of those years, she's been in the habit of taking a brisk morning walk along the beach. Dead men have never been part of the scenery before.

Aunt Bessie assumes that the dead man died of natural causes, then the police find the knife in his chest.

Try as she might, Bessie just can't find anything to like about the young widow that she provides tea and sympathy to in the immediate aftermath of finding the body. There isn't much to like about the rest of the victim's family either.

Aunt Bessie assumes that the police will have the case wrapped up in no time at all, then she finds a second body.

Can Bessie and her friends find the killer before she ends up as the next victim?


My Review: First in a cozy mystery series set on the gorgeous 1990s Isle of Man, this Venerable-Friend-Kath-recommended story gets my seal of approval. What makes it so enjoyable is the acerbic-spinster heroine/sleuth (both apply to Aunt Bessie in this book). So I'm pleased to present my first post-strokes review of the delight that is Bessie.

If you're a fan of cozies you already know you're not going to be gore-splashed, or challenged to keep up with the pace of a police investigation; and that the cops will treat the amateur sleuth completely unrealistically as a colleague. This is, of course, nonsense. But if you can go with the suspension of disbelief that mysteries require it's definitely a good trip to make with a quest, and a character-driven story about a charming group of small-town friends who, regardless of their ages and genders and jobs, genuinely form a close community of supportive friends.

The mystery here is not hugely difficult to work out; but the stakes are personal by the time the solution hoves into view. If it hadn't been so, I would've turned the last page of the book and immediately forgotten the whole thing; shifting from resolving the murders of innocent people to keeping Aunt Bessie safe was a bolt of storytelling inspiration that kept me very invested in the proceedings. The Scooby-group the author's assembled is going to be the make-or-break as the series moves on through its 26 (TWENTY-SIX!!) volumes, as always with cozies. The beginning is promising enough that I've already used part of a gift card to get Aunt Bessie Believes (reviewed below) with the rest of that very generous gift card (thanks, Jeff!). I'm recommending them based on the ease of investing in the set-up and setting; the pleasures of being entertained by genuinely nice people doing their best and choosing to do the right thing at every turn; and the pleasantly direct yet descriptive prose.


DIANA XARISSA (Isle of Man Cozy Mystery #2)

Kindle edition

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Aunt Bessie believes that Moirrey Teare is just about the most disagreeable woman she's ever had the misfortune to meet.

Elizabeth Cubbon, (Aunt Bessie to nearly everyone), is somewhere past sixty, and old enough to ignore the rude woman that does her best to ruin the first session of the beginning Manx language class they are both taking. Moirrey's sudden death is harder to ignore.

Aunt Bessie believes that Moirrey's death was the result of the heart condition that Moirrey always complained about.

The police investigation, however, suggests that someone switched some of the dead woman's essential medications for something far more deadly.

Aunt Bessie believes that she and her friends can find the killer.

But with Doona suspended from work and spending all of her time with the dead woman's long-lost brother, Hugh caught up in a brand new romance and Inspector Rockwell chasing after a man that might not even exist, Bessie finds herself believing that someone might just get away with murder.


My Review: I didn't care who killed Moirrey, I wanted her dead, and felt as though a wee tiny bit of blind-eye-turning by starchy overly-upright Aunt Bessie would've improved the story 1000%. Take a page from Poirot...sometimes leaving stuff alone serves Justice if not the law. I disliked The Twist at the very end which wasn't really a well-done one, and felt completely underwhelmed by The Reveal, which pretty much got telegraphed much too early on as well. A new favorite character gets foregrounded, of course, that's the good bit about cozies, but on the whole I'm glad I've already got books 3 & 4 for free or I'd be weighing my options after what I consider to be a lazy piece of plotting that marred the many and still fun pleasures of spending Aunt Bessie time.

I will recommend to you that you not read these books while peckish or you'll be the size of a zeppelin before you finish this book. They eat well and often, these characters!


DIANA XARISSA (Isle of Man Cozy Mystery #3)

Kindle edition

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Aunt Bessie considers it an honour to be giving a presentation about her research at a conference at the Manx Museum.

Miss Elizabeth Cubbon is known as “Aunt Bessie” to nearly everyone in her hometown of Laxey. While she never earned a college degree, she’s become something of an expert in the history of the island that she’s called home for all of her adult life. Once she turned sixty, she stopped counting how many years that includes.

Aunt Bessie considers it unfair when the entire conference schedule is thrown into disarray by Mack Dickson’s sudden arrival.

Mack promises that what he has to say is important enough to warrant the upheaval. But even more turmoil follows when Bessie discovers Mack’s body only a short time after he’s finished giving his speech.

Aunt Bessie considers Police Inspector Peter Corkill a poor substitute for her friend, John Rockwell.

But the Manx Museum is out of Rockwell’s jurisdiction and that means Corkill is in charge of the investigation, no matter what Bessie thinks. With Corkill insisting that Mack’s death was probably an unfortunate accident, Mack’s slides that shocked the conference disappear. Bessie finds herself drawn into another investigation, and she’s determined to drag her friends, Rockwell, Doona and Hugh, in with her.

This is the third book in the Isle of Man Cozy Mystery Series.


My Review: Fun and fluffy...lots of food eaten, a rotter murdered who comme d'habitude with La Xarissa just flat needed killin' and nobody shoulda done more than tut unconvincingly about these awful modern times and scarfed another jammy dodger or two and left it alone. I hope Aunt Bessie has occasion to delve into the murder of someone who's decent instead of another craptastic creep.

The setting Xarissa created for this outing, an archaeology conference about Manx history, was very interesting; I was especially pleased that Aunt Bessie's avocation as an amateur historian got further development...though it's not thorough-going or detailed, I was satisfied that she was presented as a colleague known and accepted by the professionals in the conference. Several of those professional people from this story will be returning or I have lost my spidey-senses along with my left side's strength and dexterity; and a big ol' hint about who'll end up in some bad trouble eftsoons got plonked before us.

The British obsession with tea remains opaque to me. Stuff's nasty, yet these folk swill absolute hogsheads of it, even polluting it with sugar and milk like it wasn't foul enough already. Still and all, they're good company, are Bessie and her Scoobygroup, and the stories feel so genuinely honestly reflective of the author's worldview that I continue to look forward to my next outing with them.


DIANA XARISSA (Isle of Man Cozy Mystery #4)
Kindle Edition

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Aunt Bessie decides that she and her closest friends should have an enjoyable night out.

Elizabeth Cubbon (known to almost everyone as Aunt Bessie) has made many friends over the lifetime that she’s lived in the village of Laxey, but few have been as close as the ones she’s made recently. Bessie relied on Doona Moore, Hugh Watterson and John Rockwell to help her through several recent murder investigations she’s found herself caught up in. Now she wants to treat them all to an open-air performance of a Shakespearean play on the grounds of historic Peel Castle.

Aunt Bessie decides that it doesn’t much matter what show the troupe is performing as long as she and her friends can relax and have fun.

Two members have recently left the theatre company. Now the troupe has thrown aside its usual repertoire in favour of a play written by one of their own. When those two former members appear in the audience, though, someone decides to get rid of one of them for good.

Aunt Bessie decides to give the show another chance, but a second performance almost ends in a second tragedy.

With all of the suspects blaming one another, and several of them turning up on the doorstep of Bessie’s cottage, it’s time for Bessie to decide to solve this murder herself.

This is the fourth book in the Isle of Man Cozy Mystery Series.


My Review: I was ready for the action to begin well before it did...but one of the charms of the Bessie stories is how she and her Scoobygroup hang together even when not solving crimes, and that's what a goodly part of this story does. It's not a bad thing per se, but I was, as stated, ready to get the body on the slab (so to speak) and figure out why the killer chose the time and place for the crime. I'll be honest...the theatre troupe was made up of nasty, unkind, un-Bessie-able people who won't reappear (if anyone does I'll be very surprised, not least because they're all just visiting from the US) who drink and cuss and comport themselves quite unbecomingly.

Xarissa has a low opinion of her countryfolk. As I tend to share that trait with her, I wasn't put off by it. I just don't see how the clear and rational deductions that lead her to the murderer's identity did not occur to her far earlier.

A quibble only. I'm not here for the puzzles, I'm here for the Scoobygroup and the food! Fair warning: do not start here. Start at the beginning or there will be a great loss of grounding in the whys and hows of Aunt Bessie's special little (term used advisedly) world.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Returning to some semblance of normal at last!

Happy news!

I'll be back on my deeply belovèd boardwalk soon.

My stint in rehab, recovering from several right-hemisphere strokes I had in mid-January, is winding down. My quite unusually complete recovery is coming to an end on Thursday, and I'll be returning to my home in Long Beach. Rehab has been a lot of work. I'll be very glad to be back home. but will miss Seth, Noel, Manitha, Maureen, Trudi, and Paul, whose hands-on help getting me ready as I can be to resume my life was invaluable (as well as often do you get to chuck a ball at someone who can keep you guessing where it neeeds to go back to, like Anthony so patiently did?). Elegantly dressed young Manfred transported me hither, thither, and yon in his stylish suits that reminded me always of how much more fun life is when you're dressed to thrill. I'm going to hear the encouragement I've received loud and clear as I keep going on the quest to get my left side to remember its job. I'll also carry "SLOW DOWN!! or you're gonna end up where you don't want to be!" and "nose over toes before you go" and "look where your feet are" loud and clear as well. Thank all y'all for everything you taught me. My medical care team here was exemplary in their attentive and respectful attitude, giving me the rare experience of feeling heard on many levels.

The wonderful CNAs and skilled nurses I've had helping me with the mechanics of living as my recovery progressed are some of the happiest memories I'll take home with me. It's impossible to overstate the value of a friendly smile and a ready helping hand when you just don't know yet if you're ever going to recover from your trauma. To a person these men and women have left me glad I got to know them.

I guess it's luck when you recover from trauma with the speed and completeness I have. I'm deeply grateful to have beaten terrible odds.

Now to wrangle Verizon into recognizing my new phone! *irritated scowl at Technology*

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