“Ghosts, like women, are creatures of yin – cold, dark, earthy, and feminine.”

I’d never read Lisa See before, but a friend consistently sings her praises.  When I saw Peony in Love (Random House, 2007), I snatched it up, and it’s sat patiently in my TBR pile for ages.  Until now.

I knew nothing about the plot when I carefully slipped the dust jacket off and opened to the first page.  Absolutely nothing.  It’s fun to go into a book completely blind.  There’s a trust there.

The novel opens with Peony, just two days shy of 16, bubbling with youth, beauty, and excitement.  Her father is staging a production of The Peony Pavilion, Peony’s most favorite of operas.  The girls and women will watch the 3-night-long production from behind a screen.  Peony could think of no better birthday present. While women aren’t typically allowed to see operas, she has collected eleven of the thirteen printed versions, and she reads them with the mind of a scholar and the heart of poet. 

Privileged Peony has lived a life of luxury and loneliness, kept inside the walls of her family’s villa.  She longs to take a riverboat, to make friends, to have adventures, and to fall in love.  But she’s a “proper” girl and is soon to be married to man she’s never met.  She’s been betrothed to him since she was a baby, and she has no say in the matter.  What is done is done.  And girls must be good daughters and then good wives.  It’s the way the world works.

But Peony, with her poet’s heart, is a bit of a dreamer.  She wants to fall madly and passionately in love, like Liniang in her beloved opera.  Each night of the opera, Peony meets up with a handsome stranger.  They discuss the opera as equals.  Peony’s body ripples with delight – she’s being naughty meeting this man alone and in secret, but this stranger has stirred something deep inside her.  Passion.  Lovelust.  They never touch, but oh how she wants him.

And so, life begins to imitate art and Peony becomes Liniang.  She is diagnosed as being “lovesick” and spends her days locked away, scribbling away in the margins of a new version of her beloved opera – sent by her soon-to-be sister-in-law.  She refuses to eat.  The doctor tells her mother that anger will cure her, so her mother burns the books – all but one volume of the opera, which had been hidden.  Peony learns her betrothed is the man from the gardens, but this knowledge comes too late.  Like Liniang, Peony becomes a ghost.  In her opera, Liniang’s lover brings her back to life.  Peony wants Ren to do the same.  But he can’t.

And this thus becomes a ghost story.  Like Liniang, Peony finds herself stuck in the afterlife as her ancestral tablet was not dotted.  She watches those she loves for years.  When Ren takes a new wife, she is curious, but she becomes furious when she sees he has been matched with the spoiled and hateful Tan Ze.  She learns the power she can have on the living, and she makes herself at home in their walls and in their bed.  She is, after all, Ren’s first wife even if she’d died before the official marriage.  She enters Tan Ze’s body during the “clouds and rain” times, bringing Ren much pleasure despite her host’s objections.  She further controls Tan Ze, forcing her to read the opera, forcing her hand to write commentary that was mostly Peony’s thoughts.  Peony thought if Ren saw it, he would know.  He eventually does see it, but he doesn’t understand.  He is given credit for the scholarly work – no one believes two women could have been so thoughtful or intelligent with it.  Peony continues her control over Tan Ze until there is nothing left of the head-strung, spoiled girl.  She dies in childbirth, the son she’d never wanted along with her.  As she’d died during childbirth, her soul is cast away to the Blood-Gathering Lake where she will be tortured for her failures as a wife and mother. 

Realizing what she’s done, Peony knows she must atone.  She sets her sights on Qian Yi, a young girl who should have been born into wealth and privilege, but the Cataclysm had changed her destiny.  Peony decides her feet should be bound.  Foot-binding was an act of resistance against the Manchus, and the act would place the child in a class above the rest of the family.  She protects the child, teaches the child to read – molding her into the perfect third wife for her beloved Ren.

This time, she protects the family.  She doesn’t drive Yi mad and she doesn’t enter the girl’s body during sex.  But she does whisper in the girl’s ear about the opera.  And so Ren’s third wife also becomes obsessed with the text, writing her commentary.  But Yi is not controlled – she writes in her own hand and even signs her name to her own thoughts.  She convinces Ren that she should be allowed to publish the work, giving voice to Ren’s three wives.

Steeped in the tradition and history of mid-seventeenth century China, Peony in Love addresses the role of women as poets as well as the common condition of “lovesick maidens” thought to have been made sick by writing and literature.  The women, Ren’s three wives, were real.  Their commentary of the opera was real.  The government’s disdain and official ban of the opera was real.  Solidly based in fact, this novel soars as historical fiction.  But it’s the ghost story and the treatment of the dead that gives it wings.

WOLVES OF EDEN – Kevin McCarthy


Kevin McCarthy is an Irish thriller writer, so I was quite intrigued when I read the blurb for Wolves of Eden (W.W. Norton & Company 2019), a novel set in the American West during Red Cloud’s War.  The novel is a war story and a mystery.  It is brutal and brilliant.  And it is decidedly not for the faint of heart.

The book is dedicated to “the memory of the American Indian peoples who suffered and died defending their homeland and the impoverished immigrant soldiers who suffered and died in the U.S. government’s efforts to take it from them.”

The dedication makes clear that McCarthy isn’t going to sugar coat his depictions of actual historical events.  As he indicates in the Historical Note at the close, “the crime for which the brothers stand accused is fictional, though based on similar incidents in other Western forts.  The crimes perpetrated by the government and army of the United States on the indigenous people of the American West are real.  Fiction has nothing on them.”

It’s a hard read.  War is ugly and many of the soldiers sent West to drive out the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho were still struggling with the scars left from the battles they’d fought during the Civil War.  There are bloody flashbacks to the war between the states, and sharp and painful depictions of mutilated bodies (both the innocent and not so innocent) that will turn your stomach.

Captain Molloy tries to drown his war demons by turning to the bottle.  He has an easy way with folks from all walks, but he has little love for the government. Daniel Kohn has been at his side for years, and knows that demons come in many forms.  He is loyal beyond measure to the Captain and his post.  General Cooke orders the pair to Fort Phil Kearny in the Dakota territory to investigate the murder of the sutler and his wife.  It’s a political favor – the dead man is the Secretary of the Treasury’s brother-in-law.  The murders had been blamed on the Sioux in the area, but something wasn’t adding up. The two disagree on the investigation – Molloy has no desire to hang a man over the death of the sutler and his wife – men are dying every day.  Kohn believes in his duty and that orders must always be followed.

The novel alternates between the investigation and Michael O’Driscoll’s written confession.  O’Driscoll is one of two brother’s Kohn has fingered for the murders, and his sections detail some of the more human and heartbreaking aspects of war.  Through O’Driscoll, McCarthy is able to give voice to the many Irish-born cowboys who fought and died for the US in the attempts to “tame” the West.

As the novel gallops forward, watching the two timelines finally converge highlights the fun behind the writing.  McCarthy is clearly a skilled writer and quite the historian.  If you enjoyed Lonesome Dove and more recently Deadwood and Hell on Wheels, give it a read.  If those turned your stomach and/or lost your interest, this probably isn’t your cup of tea.  And that’s okay.

MEXICAN GOTHIC – Silvia Moreno-Garcia


This one is likely going to be long and full of spoilers.  If you intend to read Mexican Gothic (2020 Random House) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and don’t want spoilers, just tiptoe on out.  I’ll wait.


Mexican Gothic was one of the most anticipated reads of the summer, and its gorgeous cover was everywhere; it’s so pretty it hurts.  I’m not saying I ordered it because of the cover, but I’m also not saying I didn’t.  Seriously – how flipping gorgeous is it?  I’ve never read Silvia Moreno-Garcia before, but dark and twisty and multicultural?  Sold.

(Last chance to leave.)

At its heart, Mexican Gothic is (surprise, surprise) a gothic set in Mexico.  I’ve seen some people dismayed that this book with that cover is a horror novel.  Umm… it’s in the title?

Suspense and fear – check

Damsel in distress – check

Creepy setting – check

Anti-hero – check

Male villain with a god-complex – check, check

Supernatural elements – check

Taste of romance – check

Melodrama – check

Nightmares and bad omens – check, check, check

Y’all.  It’s a gothic novel, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia tells you as much in the title. What exactly were you expecting?

Set in the 1950s, Mexican Gothic centers around Noemi Taboada, a flighty socialite who is more interested in pursuing education than pursuing marriage.  She flits through life not only knowing how to get what she wants, but consistently getting it.  When a concerning letter arrives from her cousin Catalina, she is called from a masquerade party where she in dressed as Spring. (Take note.) The letter is disturbing.  Rambling.  Disconcerting.  Her father tells her that he wants her to visit her cousin, to see if she needs psychiatric help.  Noemi doesn’t want to go, but he tells her if she does, he will allow her to pursue her dream of a Master’s degree in anthropology.  She packs her bags with party dresses and cigarettes and heads to El Triunfo and High Place, the very English home of Catalina’s husband, Virgil Doyle.

High Place is a run-down Victorian mansion high in the mountains.  A thick and unnerving mist settles around the house and the English graveyard.  The home is falling apart and mold has taken over the walls, the books, the ceilings.  A dampness clings to the air and Noemi’s skin; she can see how her cousin could go mad in a place like that.

The patriarch of the Doyle family is the decrepit and disturbing Howard Doyle.  Everything at High Place is run to his liking and demand.  He takes a fancy to Noemi, and her first encounter with him involves an uneasy conversation about eugenics.  She should have taken one look at all that blonde hair, blue eyes, and a family tree with seriously crossed branches and ran.  But she didn’t.

Howard looks down upon the locals, despite his former mining success (and his home) having been built upon their backs (and bones).  Mulch.  Nothing more than mulch.  He even brought European soil with him to grow English roses around his very Victorian home.  He brought an English doctor to treat the family as he doesn’t trust the local doctor.  Spanish is not to be spoken in the home; he never bothered to learn it.  He’s an old man when Noemi visits High Place, but she recognizes the darkness of his heart and his power almost immediately.

Noemi quickly learns that the house, with a skeleton in every closet, is alive and she is trapped in its walls.  But the house doesn’t speak Spanish, and Noemi does.  With the help of a living Doyle and a dead one, Noemi might be able to break the curse and free herself and Catalina.

“Open your eyes.”

Not only is Mexican Gothic  a gothic novel, it’s a gothic novel with postcolonial elements and hints of “writing back.”   The “writing back” in this novel, however, is not to the Spanish empire – it is to a Western world and a literary canon that has long denied diversity.  The novel openly evokes popular fairy-tales of the Western world, the Bronte sisters and other Victorian literature, and sprinkles elements of canonical gothic literature throughout (including a heavy nod to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”).  The canon is turned on its head, chewed up slowly and with careful consideration by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and spat out as a remarkable and very Mexican gothic.



Nothing is off limits when it comes to my shelves, but “military thrillers” aren’t really on my radar. As such, it’s not really surprising I’ve never read Nelson DeMille before. A library book sale, a bright cover, and a husband who likes thrillers brought The Cuban Affair into my home. 

As with all thrillers of this sort, Daniel “Mac” MacCormick is a veteran. He is brave and confident, easy on the eyes, with a quick wit that makes this a quick, exciting jaunt of a read. Mac is a charter boat captain in Key West, finding a freedom in that life that is well-deserved. He names his boat The Maine, after his home, but many think he’s named her for the USS Maine, which sank in the Havana Harbor in 1898. 
 Set in 2015, the novel focuses on the start of the Cuban thaw – as relationships begin to improve between the US and Cuba. As part of that “thaw,” a fishing tournament is organized – Pescanado Por la Paz — Fishing for Peace. The tournament provides the perfect cover for a covert mission to retrieve steamer trunks of money and documents belonging to those who had been forced to flee so many decades ago.
Mac can say no to neither a pretty girl nor adventure, so he accepts Sara Ortega’s offer. If all goes well, he’ll walk away with 3 million and likely a few sweaty, hot naked moments in Havana. He could also be killed, but he lives with the “we’re all on borrowed time” mentality. 
The Cuban Affair is a thriller so much of the beauty of Cuba doesn’t make its way to the pages. But there’s plenty of sweat, guns, treasure, and Cuba Libres to keep you turning the pages.


Many cultures have the “marriage to a beast” type tales – intended as warnings and preparations for arranged marriages for children and as a bit dirtier stories for adults.  “La Belle et la Bête” (Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, 1740) is perhaps the heart of the most commonly known tale, but it was influenced by earlier stories like ”Cupid and Pysche (2nd century AD) and “The Pig King” (1550). 

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Sarah J. Maas pulls from the more familiar “Beauty and the Beast” as well as “Little Broomstick”, “The Summer and Winter Garden”, “The White Wolf” and other folklore and fairytales in creating her A Court of Thorns and Roses.  Those who grew up with Disney quickly recognize the “tale as old as time” backdrop to this grown-up fantastical fantasy retelling of a childhood classic.  But Feyre is no Belle – she is an illiterate huntress.  Her inability to read is a crucial part of this retelling, and it would have been cleverly done but for the timing – Feyre was 11 when her life changed and 14 when they ran out of money.  Her diction marks her as high class to the fairies.  She shouldn’t have been illiterate based on those circumstances, but she needed to be to accomplish what Maas was seeking to accomplish.

Feyre made a vow to her dying mother that she would take care of her two older sisters (one sweet, and one more wicked as seen in the variations).  After her father loses their money, she has to hunt for their survival.  She kills a wolf and a beastly figure demands she pay for her crimes.  As punishment, Feyre is whisked away to the fairylands where she learns the hideous beast who’d taken her as payment for the life of his friend is a fairy, and a High Fae at that.  With him, she learns that things are not always as they seem and chaos rumbles, ready to explode.

Will a human help a fae?  Will a fae admits he needs her?  Can they save both of their worlds before everything is ripped to shreds? And how far will Rhys’s redemption arc take him?

It’s a satisfying read, and I intend to finish the trilogy.  Knowing the ancient variations, I imagine her sisters, especially Nesta, will show back up in a time of conflict.


MEN AND DOGS – Katie Crouch

Katie Crouch’s Men and Dogs (2010) drew my attention because of the title and the cover. While the cover meets the aesthetic of Crouch’s first novel, Girls in Trucks, (which I have not read) neither it nor the title suit this novel and I’ve been trying to reconcile the disconnect since reading the first chapter.

 When Hannah Legare is eleven, her father disappears after taking the small boat and the dog out on the Charleston harbor. The boat and the dog are recovered, Buzz Legare is not. Hannah does not believe he died that day, and as she ages, she looks for her father – clinging to the men who have even the slightest resemblance to that man she was so sure would come back home. Textbook abandonment and daddy issues, and Hannah is fully aware. She is an alcoholic and self-destructive.

Hannah’s older brother Palmer was just discovering his sexuality and exploring it with his best friend when his father didn’t come home that April night. While he has accepted that his father is dead, he believes his father killed himself. His guilt is the face in the gym window watching horrified as Palmer kisses a boy. Palmer becomes a veterinarian because of Tucker, the dog that had waited terrified and alone on that boat, for Buzz to come back. He never allows himself to love a dog more than he’d loved Tucker. He never allows himself to love anything or anyone at all. He is self-absorbed and self-destructive.

A drunken mistake, a dangerous fall caused by a terrier, and an estranged husband at his wit’s end result in Hannah being sent to Charleston to dry out – it was either rehab or the undesired homecoming. Once in the South, Hannah begins again to chase her father’s ghost. She pours over a box of photographs that she believes belonged to her father. Her high-school sweetheart’s mother appears in nearly all of them. Did her father love Virginia? Were they having an affair? And what about her mother’s new husband – the one who quickly stepped in after her dad went missing. Was he involved? Her mother swears they never met before the funeral, but she finds a picture of her parents and he’s lingering in the background. Hannah, supposedly home to heal and sober up, continues her unhealthy journey down a rabbit hole lined with secrets and the disjointed memories of an eleven-year-old.

The title derives from a brief conversation between Palmer and Hannah wherein she proclaims that “men are such fucking dogs.” Palmer tells her it’s a bad idiom as there is “nothing more faithful than a dog.” He uses Rumpus, his nervous terrier with damaged vocal cords, as an example. There was a missed opportunity to use canines as foils of the siblings. Crouch gets halfway there with Palmer, but she doesn’t follow through with Hannah – and this is primarily Hannah’s redemption arc.

 Men and Dogs is a quick and easy read, and, on its face, the plot had great potential. But the characters are rather unlikeable, the three dogs that actually do appear don’t get the respect they deserve, and the ending stumbles.


Maisy Card’s debut novel, These Ghosts Are Family ( Simon & Schuster – 3/3/2020), is quite possibly my most favorite read of this crazy year; I don’t typically give stars, but I’m giving this novel an entire galaxy.

 The novel is told in a fragmented way that brings to mind the oral tradition of story-telling – a rambling stroll through history and time, families and legends, with the listener hanging on every word spilling forth from the story-teller’s mouth. And Maisy Card can most certainly spin a tale.

 The novel opens in Harlem in 2005, with Stanford Solomon preparing to admit that he is actually Abel Paisley – and that he had faked his death and assumed Stan’s identity years ago.

 When Abel left Jamaica to work in England, he left behind a demanding and promiscuous wife, Vera, and two small children. Irene has little memory of her father beyond the picture of him beneath a mango tree – a tree she’d run to whenever her mother would abuse her. She spends her entire life wondering how things would have been different, would have been better, had her father not died in that unfortunate accident. She flees her mother and Jamaica only to find herself standing before the wheelchair-bound man, the father she’s mourned for decades, who needs to confess his sins before he dies.

 The story splinters out, showing how Abel’s decision to steal Stanford’s identity impacted his entire family. And while this novel is very much about the sins of the father being visited on the sons (and daughters), Abel’s sin is not the focus – these sins go far back to the Warm Manor plantation where people barter and trade in flesh, where lighter skin is praised and more costly, and men own the children they put in the bellies of their slaves. These are the skeletons of a family tree.

 Jamaica, the true ghost of the family, breathes. From England to Harlem, she breathes – heavy on the backs of those who sought to escape her. And no story about familial ghosts of Jamaica would be complete without an Ol’ Hige or three. The blood-suck hag who sheds her skin has her place in the family tree – this is her home, too.

 And there is the heart of this novel – home. Dust your ghosts off and set them on a shelf. Carry them with you where you go. They are your home – good, bad, and ugly. And when you’re done – read this book.


Cozy mysteries aren’t something that oft find themselves in my TBR.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, it’s just that they’re not typically something I pick up.  As luck would have it, I did pick up several in last year’s library sale at the fairgrounds, and Carolyn Hart’s White Elephant Dead (1999) is the second cozy read I’ve read this month! 

White Elephant Dead is a Death on Demand novel featuring the amateur sleuthing styles of mystery bookstore owner Annie Darling and her attorney (though not barred in South Carolina) and PI (though not licensed in South Carolina) wealthy husband, Max.  The novel opens with seemingly unrelated snippets into the lives of several residents of Broward’s Rock, but the reader quickly gets a clue – Kathryn Girard, member of the Women’s Club, is not who she says she is.  By the end of the first chapter, Annie has found her dead body and her friend, Henny, is missing.

The young buck of a new police chief, who isn’t that good at his job (as is part of the formula for these sorts of books) is quick to finger Henny as the main suspect.  Even after she’s found by the boy scouts with a head injury and no memory of the events, Chief Garrett is still prepared to charge her for the murder of Kathryn Girard, or whoever she really was.

Luckily for Henny, Annie’s on the case.  Armed with the list of addresses Kathryn was supposed to be visiting to pick up items for the upcoming Women’s Club white elephant sale, Annie and Max set about clearing Henny’s name and finding the real murderer.  Renowned mystery writer of the Marigold Rembrandt stories and local celebrity, Emma Clyde, joins them.

The book is a treasure trove for lovers of the genre.  Since our protagonist owns a mystery bookstore, she is pretty much the expert on mysteries; the pages are just littered with references to other works as she uses her literary knowledge to piece together the clues.  And much like Annie Darling, Carolyn Hart knows and loves her genre. From Agatha Christie to Lilian Jackson Braun, Hart shows her love for the craft – there should be a reading challenge for all the references in this novel alone!

If you love the genre, you’ve probably already encountered Hart. If you’re like me and just tipping your toe in for a quick little fun read, White Elephant Dead won’t disappoint.

CONJURE WOMEN – Afia Atakora

One of my more recent goals has been to read more “new” releases, particularly from debut authors and authors of color.  I ordered Conjure Women because it ticked off several of my boxes.  It is a debut novel by an author of color, but more importantly, it’s the type of book my shelves crave: magical realism, historical fiction, strong female leads, stunning cover.
                Afia Atakora’s mesmerizing debut novel, published in April of 2020, has been brushed with magic but the magic rests just on the fringe of the story.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen more of it, but that storyline was May Belle’s, the magic was May Belle’s, never Rue’s.

                “Miss May Belle had used to turn coin on hoodooing.  As a slave woman she’d made her name and her money by crafting curses.  More profit to be made in curses than in her work mixing healing tinctures.  More praise to be found in revenge than in birthing babies.”
                Rue believed in the magic; her mother just never taught her.  As such the magic rides the edges of the story, like the runaway slave Miss May Belle turned into a bird so she could escape North or Rue’s daddy, turned into a tree when he was hanged for the false words of a white woman, or the joinder through a topsy turvy doll, crafted lovingly by Miss May Belle, of Rue and the Master’s daughter, Varina.  It kisses the pages, just enough to remind you it sits, just under the surface of everything, like secrets tossed in the water.
                Therein lies Rue’s power; she’s the keeper of secrets and stories.  As a child, her mother had used her to glean information from throughout the plantation.  This information was used in both the “hoodoo-ing” and the healing.  While her mama didn’t teach how to conjure, her mother did teach her healing.  After the war, with a red-headed secret held fast in the church, Rue took care of her people.  She birthed the babies and cared for the sick.  Forever tied to Varina due to the conjure, she could not leave.
                When she births a mysterious child, buried with a caul, with strange eyes, she knows one of her secrets has floated to the top of that river where she had buried him – a different type of magic emerges.  Superstition has long addressed the caul in childbirth, and Rue quickly tells Sarah it means the child will have the gift of second sight.  Of interesting note, seamen believe it will protect one against drowning as long as it is kept.  This very British superstition grabs hold of this very African superstition and the two link – much like the bloodlines that created the baby in question, a baby Rue names Bean because of his little black eyes.  The caul is burned and Bean is terrified of water.  (There is so much that can be said about Bean, the caul, and the water.)
                Midwifery, conjuring, and healing are oft thought to be “women’s work” and the novel gets its heart from Rue, May Belle, Ma Doe, and Varina.  But a smooth-talking preacher man, light enough he could pass as white if he so wanted, threatens to unravel the fabric of their lives.
                Bruh Abel comes to town every year on his way down south.  He thumps his Bible, winks at the women, and baptizes as many as he can – with his hands finding themselves in questionable places.   But it’s different this time.

“She’d known him for what he was then.  His was a clear-water cure sweetened with nothing more than clever words, a con man’s type of conjure.”
Rue is forced to fight for herself, to hold fast to her mother’s healing and her mother’s words, as Bruh Abel encourages her people to toss aside the past and find their faith in religion while he collects their coins. Suddenly an outcast and deemed a witch, Rue does what she has to protect herself, her secrets, her people, and Bean – just as she’s done her whole life.  

Despite many differences, Conjure Women called to mind Sarah Gertrude Millin’s God’s Stepchildren, which was published in 1924.  They are very different novels that were published in very different times and set in very different locations, but the interracial aspects (one through slavery and one through “faith”) the treatment of color, and the use of God had the two swirling in my mind and had me wishing I still did things like present papers.  I haven’t thought of Millin’s novel in a long time – I may need to reread it.
As far as Afia Atakora’s debut goes, Conjure Women is a roaring success.  It is beautifully written, cleverly told, magical, and heartbreaking in its reality.  There are some hiccups, particularly as we reach the close where the story could have been a bit tighter as the conjure came undone, but I strongly recommend it.  It’s an excellent example of magical realism removed from Latin America, and that’s an important aspect in understanding the fluidity of the genre. Conjure Women is a brilliant novel to break down and look at the tools the author is using to create something quite literary. I know many of you don’t care so much about the building blocks and dissection of a work – you are just looking for a good read – and Conjure Women would also fit that need.

ALL THE LITTLE LIARS – Charlaine Harris

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read anything by Charlaine Harris, but she is candy for this book-dragon heart and just like a Bit-O-Honey, I still enjoy her characters.  Admittedly, I’ve only read the Sookie Stackhouse books, and not even all of those.  (I loved the books so much more than the TV show.)  I have been introduced to Manfred and all those “not so normal” folks seeking refuge in Midnight through the Midnight, Texas TV series, which I did enjoy, and that trilogy is on my “one day” list even though not yet in the TBR pile.  And thanks to the Hallmark Channel, I know who Aurora Teagarden is.  Harris is incredibly talented in the worlds she creates.  She’s not going to win any awards for “literary fiction” but the woman can spin a tale that will hold your attention until it reaches its usually satisfying close.  CANDY.
(Also, she’s a very nice woman who actually responded and responded promptly to a message I’d sent several years ago.)
When I saw an Aurora Teagarden mystery at the huge library sale in my county last year, I added it to my box.  (I am really missing that sale this year.  $5 a box.  Any sized box.)  And I have no regrets.  It’s a quick and delightful little mystery.
Published in 2016, over a decade after Poppy Done to Death, All the Little Liars marked the return of the beloved mystery-solving librarian.  Interest in the series undoubtedly increased after Hallmark and Candace Cameron Bure started making the Aurora movies, and Harris has published another one since All the Little Liars.

All the Little Liars revolves around Roe’s missing half-brother, who had moved in with her and Robin after walking in on his dad cheating on his mon.  Phillip has adjusted well and seems to be a typical teenage kid.  Better still, he’s made friends with twins Josh and Joss.  He seems happy, or as happy as a kid with such dysfunctional parents can be. 

Then he turns up missing.  Along with Josh and Joss.  And Liza, the 11-year-old daughter of the preacher.  And the notorious town bad boy, Clayton.  Rumors began to circulate, and Roe is hellbent to get to the bottom of it and find her brother.
A body is found, and Roe is called out to ensure it’s not Phillip.  The fact Roe is called to the scene, before the body is even flipped over, is not realistic.  Nor is it realistic to think they’d call her to see if the body was her brother when the body is clearly female.  But the scene is important and considering the POV of the story, Roe had to be there for us to be there. 

The body belongs to another teen, Tammy.  Why her disappearance hadn’t been acknowledged, I don’t know, but she’s found in an alleyway, having been struck by a car.  Turns out, she is Joss’s girlfriend.  Or was.  There is a very brief but touching moment where Joss’s mother learns she’s a lesbian and Tammy was her girlfriend.  Joss is still missing, and her mother goes to Tammy’s funeral in her place. 

Clayton’s parents have claimed he has been kidnapped and they’ve received ransom information.  They beg Roe not to tell the police or the kidnappers will hurt their son. Roe and Robin conduct a little stakeout to find the drop-off.  There’s certainly something rotten here – none of the other parents have received any contact from the kidnappers.
Josh’s car is found.  There is blood inside.  It belongs to Joss.  A bloody shirt is found further out.  The shirt and the blood are Josh’s.  Roe gets a call from an unknown caller.  It’s Phillip and he says someone has a gun on her and that Josh is hurt.  Is the “Liza” or “Joss”?  Who has the gun?  Where are they?
Roe learns that Liza had been bullied, severely bullied, by three girls at school.  One of the girls is Clayton’s sister.  “Little bitches” they’re called by everyone.  Even Roe – and she is not one prone to potty mouth.  Clayton’s sister threatens to tell everyone that Phillip was having sex with Liza – a blatant lie, but she is a vicious child.  Much like her brother.
Roe learns that Clayton’s girlfriend, Connie, is never far from his side.  She’s surprised that Connie isn’t missing as all witness accounts place her with Clayton the day of the kidnapping.  She tries to speak with Connie, but Connie’s mother won’t let her.  She encourages law enforcement to question the teenage girl further.  Connie ultimately commits suicide.
As per the formula, Roe is able to put the pieces together faster than local police and the FBI.  And, as also per the formula, she takes some risks and makes some enemies along the way.
I’m not going to spoil the fun by giving away the ending, but if you want a quick, little mystery – you can’t go wrong with Aurora Teagarden.