Dean James

Book Review: Fixing to Die by Miranda James

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What’s not to love about two elderly spinster sisters who are more spry than many fifty-year-olds I know? Between the amazing southern charm, the ghost-hunting, the family drama over an inheritance, and a potentially new line of relatives, the fourth saga in the Southern Ladies Mystery series by Miranda James, Fixing to Die, has it all. Kudos to this fantastic series and author… 4.5 stars for this latest edition published in 2017. I’m sad to say I’m all caught up on this series, and the author has put it on hold per the publisher for a few years (2020?) to focus on another series about a Cat in the Stacks… I’ve finished 2 of 8 in that series but will pick up the rest this fall and winter. I’m very excited for both.

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So… ‘Fixing to’ anything is quite an expression. My family in Louisiana uses it all the time. I try to, but I fail given I can’t really claim southern roots just because I was born in Florida. Miranda James does not have to worry or extrapolate – it’s right on! These characters are fixing to do a lot of things that likely lead to murder. In this mystery, the Ducote sisters travel to Natchez to help the granddaughter of a friend who’s having some trouble in her bed and breakfast with objects moving around and mysterious temperature changes. Is there a ghost or a human causing all this drama? When her relatives show up trying to claim ownership over the house due to a long-lost will, it gets quite complicated. But then… a psychic randomly appears claiming the house is haunted. What do they all have to do with one another?

Miranda James excels at ambiance and captivating settings. The characters are also quite good, but in this one, it’s the ghost aspects that really pop. I really knew it was a human, as the series isn’t about ghosts, but there were quite a few characters who looked guilty. A major clue / red herring was thrown out about 50% thru and I thought for a moment, hmm… what’s going on here, why was this so easy. Well, I won’t give away any spoilers but there’s more going on across a few levels. It gets quite interesting and the pay-off in the end makes it worth it.

The addition of Benjy has been a fantastic story line. And the pets have such personality. It’s carefully woven into the story without any over-the-top aspects. A fine balance where it’s the story and the characters who keep drawing you back for more fun in this easy-to-picture world. I’m impressed by the variety in James’ world and look forward to reading more soon.

 

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. The debut book, Academic Curveball, in my new mystery series, Braxton Campus Mysteries will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. I read, write, and blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge –and multiple Readathons. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

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Book Review: Digging Up the Dirt by Miranda James

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After clearing a major hurdle in my TBR with reading books I had promised reviews on, I’m now able to split my time with several existing authors and book series that I absolutely love to read and catch up on. One of those is the Southern Ladies cozy mystery series by Miranda James. This week, I read Digging Up the Dirt, published in 2016, where Dickce and An’gel are back in action sleuthing around… who wouldn’t love two ~80ish year old sisters in Mississippi with a penchant for discovering murderous drama and a flair for keeping things in order?

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When Hadley Partridge returns after a ~40 year absence, something is bound to happen in this small Mississippi town. Which of the grand bevy of older woman will win his affections? Or which of the women potentially killed his brother or sister-in-law years ago? In this truly cozy and enthralling caper, there’s a cast of wonderful and unique characters, gorgeous southern estates, and several liars! But which one is lying about more than a few ordinary things… Miranda James strikes gold in this series for me in this book by delivering a clever and hilarious plot that twists several times before you finally learn what really happened forty years ago.

James is a gifted writer who can transport you to a setting quite adeptly. I enjoy the difference yet similarities in the two sisters, but it’s the combination of their wit that makes these books sing. Often we have a single main character leading the investigation, but here, he’s got to handle two clever women who each approach the mystery from different angles. Throw in a dog, a cat, and a ward… you’ve got plenty of action going on besides the main mystery. I’m excited to catch up on this series and will be reading the 4th one next week.

If you need a fun new series with the perfect balance of mystery and town shenanigans, this is it!

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. The debut book, Academic Curveball, in my new mystery series, Braxton Campus Mysteries will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. I read, write, and blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge –and multiple Readathons. You can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Review: Dead with the Wind

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Dead with the Wind3 out of 5 stars to Dead with the Wind, the 2nd book in the “Southern Ladies” cozy mystery series, written in 2015 by Miranda James. I enjoyed reading about the two sisters and their rather rude family, feeling almost glad to see the character who died meet her maker this time.

Why This Book
I’d started reading another series by this author, also known as Dean James, and gave the first book in this series a chance earlier in the year. I enjoy the cozy mystery and try to incorporate one in the reading list every three books, just to have something a bit lighter. I’d ordered a couple through Amazon and this one was sitting on the shelf, calling to me. After a few thrillers, it sounded like a perfect comfy book to relax with for a day or two.

Overview of Story
An’gel and Dickce Ducote, two southern sisters, often referred to as old biddies who stick their noses into crimes around the lovely town of Athena, Mississippi, travel to a small Louisiana town to visit their cousin Mireille for her granddaughter’s upcoming wedding. They bring along their ward, Benjy, a 20ish young guy who lost his own family in a previous mystery, and their new pet cat and dog. When they arrive, they find the house in a bit of an uproar. Mireille seems to be aging too quickly. Her daughter Jackie cannot control her own daughter, Sondra. Sondra, about to marry a man who has the intellect of a 6-year old, but the face a God, apparently has a 4-year old daughter no one knew about. And the help around the house seem to have an attitude about everything going on.

Sondra, a wicked woman who throws temper tantrums and treats her mother and grandmother quite poorly, suddenly falls off the balcony during a major thunderstorm. It looks like an accident, but when the police learn she had a car accident the previous day, due to the brake lines having been cut, murder is the new game in town. An’gel and Dickce try to keep things calm while figuring out all the mysterious goings-on around the house the last few weeks, but unfortunately, their poor cousin Mireille falls ill and is taken the hospital. Another murder happens. And the Ducote sisters find enough clues to realize between all the wills, someone stood to inherit a lot of money. Could that be the secret killer? As they wind down the mystery, eliminating each suspect, they’re left with only one — and a trap is needed to capture a confession.

Approach & Style
The book is told in past tense by a third person narrator. The narrator changes point of view from focusing on An’gel to Dickce across each chapter, sometimes throwing in a few scenes from the perspective of Benjy, their ward. The language reflects that of an upper-class southern family with historical roots and ties to the area. It’s easy to understand and has a few laughs at the differences in sayings and expressions, at least from this northerner. Chapters are around ten pages each, stopping with a scene or perspective change between characters.

Strengths
James does a great job at portraying the two elderly sisters. At 82ish, they seem a little more spry than I’d expect, but you also get a certain southern charm and wit from them. Occasionally, I find them a bit too sensitive or rude, but seeing them slap a few characters around is always a hoot. I’m beginning to see enough differences between the two sisters in this second book, whereas in the first, I felt they were the same character.

The background setting, the description of the house and the extended family, and the dialogue are all good. You feel transported to the southern part of the country and enjoy the removal from every day life.

Benjy is a fun character. He’s on the sidelines, but used very well to help with transitions or provide information the sisters wouldn’t normally have access to obtain. He’s great with kids and animals. I’m sure it’s a setup for him to marry into their family down the line in a future book.

Open Questions & Concerns
The mystery had some complexities to it, but it wasn’t as strong as it should have been. I liked the various family characters, as well as the extended help with the lawyer, neighbor, maid and butler; however, the reveal of the killer was too weak. The killer’s motive wasn’t strong, but making it any of the characters who seemed to have a strong motive would have been way too easy. It felt like the plot needed to be flushed out a tiny bit more to have some additional connections between various characters.

Author & Other Similar Books
It’s a typical cozy mystery, and a bit similar to an American Miss Marple, in terms of characters. It’s not as complex as an Agatha Christie book. The sisters seem like the female version of a James Qwilleran from Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who series.

Final Thoughts
I enjoy the characters and the setting, which means I’ll come back for more. It’s less about the mystery and more about watching how everyone interacts, seeing different parts of the south and exploring the depths of the two sisters’ personalities. Given how you feel dropped into a great setting, the books are a good read, especially when it’s about 4 hours of your time. Your mind works a little to solve the mystery, and you can usually figure them out on your own.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

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Review: Bless Her Dead Little Heart

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Bless Her Dead Little Heart
4 of 5 stars to Miranda James‘s Bless Her Dead Little Heart, the first in a new “Southern Ladies” mystery series. I chose this book because I enjoy the author’s (Dean James) other series, “Cat in the Stacks,” which also takes place in Athena, Mississippi and includes Diesel, the Maine Coon cat. It was a little shaky at first, but then the characters took off and I ultimately enjoyed this book. On to the review…


Story

Charlie Harris of the “Cat in the Stack” series drops his Maine Coon cat off with his friends/neighbors, Dickce and An’gel Ducote, while he takes off on a trip. Dickce and An’gel are 79 and 84 years old, from old money, and have a strong connection to the antebellum south. When a former sorority sister, Rosebelle Sultan, shows up claiming her family is trying to kill her, the Ducote sisters know they will have a problem to deal with, especially given all the troubles Rosebelle has caused over the 60 years they’ve known her. And this time, it’s the truth. Her two daughters, son and a boatload of in-laws and grandchildren show up after Rosebelle and the Ducote sisters feel their southern hospitality calling on them. Soon after, Sultan family members start dying under mysterious circumstances and the Ducote sisters need to call Deputy Kanesha Berry (also of the Cat in the Stacks series) for help. Both sisters survive the ordeal, but their life is about to change given the impacts of who is killed and the mess that is left behind.


Strengths

1. You’ve got this fantastically crazy Sultan family full of characters you want to love and hate all at the same time. There is a reason for it to be any of them, and each stand to inherit money depending on who kicks the bucket first. A great mystery for the mind.

2. A true southern appeal… without overdoing it. Lots of antebellum charm, language and setting without getting caught up in accents and unknown cultural themes. A perfect balance of fun.

3. The author knows how to drag you into the mystery, laughing and smiling the whole time. It’s not a typical suspense page-turner, but you often find yourself wanting to read it all in one sitting just to figure out whodunit.


Suggestions

1. It may be too early to say this, but I’m not sure you need both sisters. I sort of grouped them together and assumed they were the same person, except when they were separated and in different scenes. It’s hard to keep them separate when both are unmarried and have no children and we know little about their former lives. I think we need stronger personalities to be able to see enough of a difference.

2. They are spry for 80, but how long will they be able to keep this up! And who really lets nearly 10 uninvited guests just stay at the house to help a friend. LOL I laughed it off but I hope the rest of the series has a little less “on the nose” humor and more “accidental” humor! Still was fun, just mentioning some potential concerns with a longer series.


Final Thoughts

A good read, worth taking a chance on if you like cozy mysteries, older protagonists, less crime detection and more subtle relationship building and conversational stories.

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Review: Murder Past Due

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Murder Past Due
Murder Past Due by Miranda James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chose this one because it takes place in the south and in a library setting. I was curious where the author would go with it given I read another series with a main character who is a cat (Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who Books”) and another one with a library setting (Jenn MCKinlay’s “Library Lovers cozy series”)… fits right in.

I like the main character but I’m not overly fond of him where I feel the need to continue reading the next book in the series immediately. I would read more of them, but when it happens, it happens.

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Review: Classified as Murder

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Classified as Murder
Classified as Murder by Miranda James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 stars to Miranda James‘s Classified as Murder. I very much enjoyed this classic cozy tale. It is reminiscent of an Agatha Christie story with all the key elements from a family of potential killers, a mysterious theft, and more going on that anyone realizes!


Story

James Delacorte, a single and eccentric octogenarian, hires Charlie Harris, eccentric librarian extraordinaire, to uncover a potential book thief in his own family. James suspects his ruthless family may be stealing from him, but he doesn’t suspect they’d go as far as killing him. But it happens! And right before he dies, James amends his will adding in a codicil to have Charlie inventory the library and become the collection’s custodian for Athena College in their small Missisippi town. When a second death occurs, Charlie realizes there’s more going on that everyone realizes… Is is the secretive grand-niece, the manipulative grand-nephew, the loony in-law, the mean sister or the loyal butler?

There’s also a good sidestory introducing Charlie’s estranged son back into the fold forcing Charlie to determine how to heal old wounds from when his wife passed away and his kids felt a bit neglected.


Strengths

1. It’s a classic whodunit with all the remnants of an Agatha Christie tale.
2. Seeing more of Charlie’s relationships with his family, you learn to like him even more. I want to see what happens to him in the future.


Weaknesses

A bit of an abrupt end. I would like to hear more about what happens next with the book collection, the family who has to move on and the new houseguest. Perhaps that’s in book 3 of the series.


Final Thoughts

Charlie Harris grows on you. His herd of helpers is building. His relationships are expanding and gaining depth. I’d like to learn more about the town and how it all comes together. Book 3 will move up on my “To Read” list.

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