The clock said 6:30 a.m, but light through the window said it was predawn. No problem, I thought. It’s a cloudy morning and the sun is still low. But then the clouds turned thicker, darker, like smoke from a forest fire. Moments later, pounding rain sent birds into a nearby fir tree to hide. Just one raindrop could ground a bird. What next? Would the earth erupt? Would an archaeopteryx fly by? Had Armageddon begun? What should I do? The answer came in an instant. I wrapped myself in an afghan, settled into my most comfortable chair, and started reading a cozy mystery with great animal characters. Why not? Instead of a last meal, I’d enjoy one last book.
CHOOSING THE LAST BOOK BEFORE ARMAGEDDON was easy. Waiting on my Kindle was the only Shirley Rousseau Murphy “Joe Grey” cozy mystery I hadn’t read. Reading was magical just as it always is, except this time, there was a bonus: When I finished the book, the dark rain ended and the birds flapped out from beneath fir branches. I added the book to my five-star list, not because it had warded off Armageddon, but simply because it deserved it.
FIVE STARS FOR A COZY MYSTERY? A cozy is never a serious tale of personal, philosophical struggle, but is that the guideline for a good book? No. It’s the writing that counts. It must be evocative, the plotting must be strong, and for sure, the characters must be sympathetic. You have to care what happens to them, and I cared about Joe Grey and his cat friends, Dulcie and Kit. I ask you, when Armageddon looms, do you want a depressingly soul-wrenching novel or an engrossing cozy with delightful characters and a happy ending?
Queenie was a shepherd mix, the collie portion contributing long black fur that set off the ambitious red bow we always attached to her collar on Christmas Day. She enjoyed her big bow, but only until it slid beneath her chin. People don’t like things poking into their chins, and dogs don’t either. She showed her unhappiness in the doggy way: head tipped down, eyes tilted up. It’s a look we humans can’t ignore, and so we removed her décor. However, she got a new red bow the following year and with the same result.
Though the size of a large rabbit with fur almost as soft, it wasn’t a bunny. The solid little creature was black and white like a lemur’s tail with a white face that drew me to it like a kitten face does with those irresistibly large, sparkling eyes. Innocent eyes filled with the wonder of the world.
“There are two ways humans have of not telling the truth. The first used to be hard for me to understand because it doesn’t come with any of the usual signs of not-truth-telling. Like the time Sarah called my white paws ‘socks.’ Look at your adorable little socks, she said. Socks are what humans wear on their feet to make them more like cats’ paws…
“Now I know that humans sometimes best understand the truth of things if they come at it indirectly. Like how sometimes the best way to catch a mouse that’s right in front of you is to back up a bit before you pounce.”
This is how “Love Saves the Day” by Gwen Cooper begins—with the words of Prudence, a tabby cat. You might at first think it’s just another of those cute and clever speaking-cat books, but it isn’t. It’s a deeply affecting story of a mother, a daughter, and a thoughtful cat. Continue reading →
My little Roomba vacuum was opposite me, having completed the living room, but it moved an inch, stopped, moved another inch, stopped, and continued that way. Normally, it would trundle off down the hallway toward “home,” but it was Inch. Stop. Inch. Stop.
What the devil? Was it broken? Something maybe caught in a wheel? But then I saw it—a large black house spider two feet in front of the Roomba, facing it.
A turkey is beneath the bird feeder, our local dining room, and is intimidating the regular customers. Some peek through branches, others from the shrubbery, and more are around the corner. They wait while the turkey hogs the space. It doesn’t belong there. This is just plain wrong. (Image by 272447 on Pixabay)
A young squirrel, late for breakfast, blasts around the side of the house, sees the turkey, drops down spread-eagle onto the sidewalk, and holds its breath. “Now what?” Being a gray squirrel, it decides caution is always better than valor and so rises slowly to carefully walk away.
First we have a pandemic. Then along comes a nationwide protest over a heinous act, the protests being usurped by rioters. We need a portal into a world of peace, a portal that, unfortunately, doesn’t exist. What we do have, however, is the escape-hatch novel.
The escape-hatch novel has no room for serial murderers lurking in the alley, lizard aliens dining on humans, or evil shadows slithering across the bedroom floor. It’s a place filled with likable and often unique characters. It’s the cozy mystery. For us animal lovers, it’s best when populated with animals. Continue reading →
Maybe that’s a bit too strong. What I hate are reviews that blabber on and on about everything from scenery to characters to plot and theme and style, all of it interspersed with opinion. By the time I’m done reading such a review—or trying to read it—I’ve lost interest in the book.
(Image by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay)
I don’t want to know all the details. That’s what reading the book is for. And then there’s the reviewer’s personal opinion. If you love lobster and someone else hates all seafood, do you care? No? Neither do I, and I don’t care if the reviewer dislikes a book because it has snakes in it or because they like mysteries but not the cozy variety. Continue reading →
I couldn’t read at all for a while. I cleaned closets and drawers, cooked batches of meals to fill the freezer, learned how to brew my own flavor extracts, planted an indoor herb garden, made doughnuts and bread until I ran out of yeast, composed some music, and watched movies on TV, and though all of it filled the time and some of it was even productive, I needed more. I needed to escape the tension of being cooped up because of the pandemic. One day, several weeks down the road into madness, I glanced out the window and saw a deer placidly eating her breakfast in the tall grass, paying little attention to her fawn, which was leaping and bouncing and doing comical arabesques all around her. Happiness. Peacefulness.
(Image by smarko on Pixabay)
“Bambi,” I thought. “I need Bambi,” and that’s when I remembered the book I’d borrowed just before the library had closed due to the pandemic. It was a fantasy for grownups. I opened and started reading “The Catswold Portal” by Shirley Rousseau Murphy, but I did it slowly, a half chapter at a time, wanting to remain in the book’s world as long as possible. Continue reading →
“A Fur Person is a cat who had decided to stay with people as long as he lives. This can only happen if a human being has imagined a part of himself into a cat just as the cat has imagined part of himself into a human being.”
Sarton’s own cat is the model for this delightful novella in which she imagines his journey from stray to gentleman cat. It’s a short and utterly charming read, complete with how the cat sees his world and sings to it.