I shortly considered talking about Epic Fantasy’s love for the words Sword, King, Throne, Queen and so on but then I realized there is a genre I enjoy and that has a tendency for a certain something in the title. And by that, I mean Cozy Mysteries and groanworthy puns.
So please enjoy this collection of titles I found in less than 20 minutes on cozy-mystery.com and appreciate that it doesn’t consist solely of needlework-themed mysteries with dye/die-puns which would have been entirely possible because that’s a very popular pun.
I love fantasy, crime novels (especially mysteries) and romances but all of those have popular tropes that I can’t stand. So here are some and as a bonus some books from these genres that avoid (or subvert) the tropes.
1. The Noisy Mother (cozy mysteries)
The protagonist’s mother can’t stop sticking her nose in her child’s business. And to be clear: I’m not talking about calling them too often or occasionally appearing unannounced, I’m talking about pestering the child’s doctor to learn about their health, or opening every single conversation with questions about the kid’s love-life and (if it’s a daughter) when she finally intends to breed. That’s not adorable. That would make me require extensive therapy.
This doesn’t happen in:
Daisy and her mother have a complicated relationship and her mother isn’t even that likable (she is rather class-conscious and disapproves of Daisy’s marriage) but she never turns into a caricature.
2. Cold Openings (crime)
The classic crime novel opening has a person, usually a woman, running. While she is running she thinks about her family and then gets killed by a serial killer in more or less graphic detail. Sometimes the novel isn’t about a serial killer but e.g. a person from the character’s past coming after her because of a Dark Secret. In that case, her internal monologue just tells us enough to know that there is a Dark Secret but it could be anything from ‘When I was five I drowned my neighbour’s goldfish’ over ‘I sat in the car when my high as fuck college friend ran over somebody and didn’t stop’ to ‘We sacrificed the school bully to Satan’.
Variations of that are: she is already in the killer’s torture dungeon or she is doing something perfectly ordinary, talks perhaps about a bad feeling she has, hears a noise ‘and then everything went black’.
Here’s the thing: why should I care about a character I only met for perhaps 20 pages? I cannot remember an occasion where the cold opening told us anything plot-relevant. It just tells us that…there is a murder…in the murder mystery?
This doesn’t happen in:
Cold Openings are quite widespread in ‘serious’ crime novels (i.e. not cozy mysteries). The Cormoran Strike series isn’t one of them.
3. No Life Without Him/Her (romance)
Romances are about two* people meeting and falling in love. Yes, I know. But I get annoyed when one chapter ends with heroine makes plans to meet with her best friend and the following chapter starts with ‘Meeting her friend had been fun’, completely skips the whole thing and we’re back to the heroine interacting with the hero/thinking about him (the two heroines/heroes interacting). I’m not saying that the two halves of the couple should only meet three times over the course of the novel but it’s also an important part of someone’s characterisation to see how they act when with somebody else.
* Or more
This doesn’t happen in:
This is actually just a novella still manages to show how the protagonist has friends and family and yes she talks about her relationship with them but not exclusively.
4. The Bitchy Ex (romance)
Let’s face it: this is a big problem in m/m romance. One of the guys has an ex-wife who is an absolute harpy. When she finds out he is now with a man things get worse because she suddenly turns into the most conservative-evangelical Christian and screams how he’s going to hell. If there are children she obviously threatens to make sure he will never see them again. (And there are no other likable female characters in the book because ‘Women – eergh’). This is misogynistic bullshit.
Now that doesn’t mean that this never is an issue in m/f books. The ex of either of them can also make an appearance there and sabotage the relationship. Now I am aware that sometimes relationships end badly and people get hurt. But there’s a difference between that and ‘I want to make sure that my ex will never be happy again’.
This doesn’t happen in:
It is unfortunate that I can’t think of a counterexample with a non-horrible female ex because Simon and Maggie from All or Nothing both had a relationship with a guy. And Simon’s ex isn’t a great person but he isn’t some ‘You are not allowed to be happy without me’-caricature. He is somewhat ignorant about other people’s feeling but more in a clueless than a jerky way (and he gets better from what I remember).
5. People Can Have Only One Meaningful Relationship (romance)
I guess this is slightly related to the previous one. If one of the characters has had a previous long-term relationship, it had to have been horrible. Exceptions might be made if the previous partner is dead but even then, they will mention how dead partner was a good person but never made them feel like new person.
I know I am reading romance and it’s not very romantic if a character goes ‘I loved my ex more than anything and if they were still alive I would still be with them but if I marry you now I can really save on taxes’ but there is enough between those two extremes.
This doesn’t happen in:
Phoebe is a widow and it is made clear that her first marriage was also out of convenience than love but she cared about him and her feelings don’t suddenly disappear when she meets Nick.
6. The Chosen One (fantasy)
Now I should make it clear that I don’t hate all Chosen One narratives *pats her Harry Potter collection*. I do strongly dislike books where the chosen one is the hero because they are the chosen one but everybody else is more capable and do all the work while the chosen one stands around.
This doesn’t happen in:
Dust and Light
Song of the Beast
The Spirit Lens
Flesh and Spirit
Anything by Carol Berg. Her heroes are chosen ones in the sense that there is a reason that these things are happening to them and that reason is something they have no control over. But they still stand their ground. None of them are farm boys who need half of the first book to train. The characters have already achieved things before the book starts and they use the experience they got there to solve the problems in the book.
7. No, It Wasn’t Suicide (crime)
A person dies. It looks like suicide (or an accident). Everybody thinks it is suicide. Only Our All-Knowing Hero doubts it. It doesn’t matter that all he has is his gut-feeling, Our All-Knowing Hero is convinced that is was murder and refuses to obey any orders from his superiors about investigating that other obvious murder. Our All-Knowing Hero will shout, scream, stomp his foot and show all the restraint of a five-year-old in the sweet aisle of the supermarket.
Then it turns out that Our All-Knowing Hero was right all along. The dear reader is only mildly surprised because they were reading a murder-mystery after all. They are pretty fed up with Our All-Knowing Hero anyway because he acted like an absolute jerk and not even the knowledge that he was right makes him more likable.
This doesn’t happen in:
Here one of the protagonists thinks that there is more to some apparent accidents. His friend thinks he’s imagining things but is willing to look into it himself to give him some peace. (And then, surprisingly for a crime novel, it turns out there was something more to it…)
8. The Surprisingly Psychic Hero (historical novels)
The years is 1912. Our hero has an acquaintance who excitedly tells him about this unsinkable ship called ‘Titanic’. Our hero chuckles and says condescendingly “No ship is unsinkable”. Or it’s the 1920s and everybody is convinced that those Nazi guys over in Germany won’t be a big deal. Our hero knows better.
But in 90% of cases, it’s not convincing that our hero is so knowledgeable/cares about a subject so much. So all these things tell me is that the author knows that the Titanic sank which isn’t very impressive.
This doesn’t happen in:
A series set in the Weimar Republik and full of people who think the Nazis aren’t that big a threat. That includes the hero; there are no attempts to make him more likeable/brighter by constantly having him explain that the Nazis are bad and how this all will end badly because nobody believes him.
It’s also been made in a series with an awesome soundtrack which isn’t directly related to my point but I wanted to mention it anyway:
9. The Phrase “He didn’t yet know that he would never do X again” (everything really)
I have read this phrase more times than I can count. All it does is spoiling that this character is going to die a few chapters or pages before they actually do it.
This doesn’t happen in:
The phrase “He didn’t yet know he would never return to his flat again” appear in the first chapter and it’s no lie. The character never returns home. But it turns out to be for entirely different reasons than the reader thinks.
10. Look How Awesome And Different Everything Is (fantasy)
Don’t get me wrong: I love fantasy novels where the world isn’t just ‘vaguely Western European middle ages with magic’ and instead have a truly fantastical world. But sometimes authors get so lost in the details and throw everything at the reader: look this world has two moons! Look that strange ritual they are celebrating! Look at the weird animals! And nothing actually adds anything to the story. (Not that it needs to be plot-relevant if the world has two moons, but don’t pile everything up and then do absolutely nothing with it)
This doesn’t happen in:
The Gates of the World trilogy is set in a world similar to our early industrial age. Only it also has necromancy, talking dogs and some gods who are still quite present. But it never feels like the author is shouting ‘look how cool this is’. It’s just part of the world she created. Some things influence the plot more, some less but it all has a point.
In her third case, English Lady Emily hunts spies in Vienna and shows off her German skills…by which I mean the author’s ability to use Google Translate. Spoiler: Google Translate is not a reliable source. It will only lead to readers who know the language falling down laughing because the phrase ‘Hot chocolate with whipped cream’ got translated word for word.
Sadly only two books from the very enjoyable series about Finnish Inspector Ariel Kafka got translated into German. But I just found out that there are more in English so I can continue the series without having to learn Finnish.
Kai Meyer’s Flowing Queen trilogy is set in Venice. Well in an alternate Venice that has magic and mermaids but it’s still Venice.
Into how many TTT posts can I put The Three Musketeers? Stay with this blog to find out.
This time Daisy travels to Scotland. And falls over a body. What a surprise.
Silence of the Grave is (together with Jar City) my favourite from Indriðason’s Erlendur mysteries and I can only recommend them. There’s no need to read the whole series/the series in order and I honestly found the rest much weaker.
8. Czech Republik-ish
Well, it’s set in Prague pre-WWI so it’s not the Czech Republic, yet (or even Czechoslovakia) but today Prague is very much the Czech Republic so let’s say it counts.
Yes it gets described as ‘If Harry Potter had grown up and joined the police force’ quite often (or also ‘if Harry Potter had actual diversity’ ehem). And it’s not completely wrong. But it definitely doesn’t need to hide behind HP (or any other series).
10. Northern Ireland
I only remember that I really enjoyed this book when I read it ages ago. (And I had already made the graphic when I remembered Glenn Patterson’s The International, another book set in Northern Ireland, which is also very good and about which I actually remember something of the plot.) Perhaps it’s time for a re-read to see how it holds up.
I guess I should travel outside Europe a bit more often 😉
I had read The Last Unicorn and got curious about what else Beagle had written. TIS was one of the first I got my hands on and WOW. The Last Unicorn is very much an untypical Fantasy novel but The Innkeeper’s Song is even more unconventional (and amazing).
2. Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto
After Northanger Abbey, I wanted to read some real gothic novels and since The Castle of Otranto was the shortest I thought “Why not start there?” And God it puts a lot in these few pages. It reads more like a parody than anything else. (Long-Lost heirs with conveniently identifying moles, heinous villains, damsels in so much distress…)
3. James Barclay: Dawnthief
When I recommend this book to people I always end up saying something like “It’s so amazing! So many people die!” Which are odd warm words but so many fantasy novels are about people getting from one incredibly dangerous situation to the next but the heroes always survive. Occasionally people get introduced only to die and if one of the actual heroes dies and they get a long and dramatic death scene. In Dawnthief and the sequels, the heroes die. No epicness involved, they’re just a tiny bit too slow or just unlucky.
4. Kerstin Gier: Ruby Red Trilogy
I admit it: the blurb made this book sound horrible. And occasionally I do enjoy reading bad books and then writing detailed gif-filled reviews about their badness. And then I read it…and immediately had to read the sequel…AND THEN THE THIRD AND FINAL BOOK WASN’T OUT YET AND I HAD TO WAIT A FEW DAYS! Reader, the waiting was horrible 😁
5. Carola Dunn: Lady Daisy Mysteries
Another book I started with low expectations. Cozies are great but so many are full of tstl-heroines who miss obvious clues and when they miraculously figured out who the murderer is, they decide to confront him alone.
I didn’t have much hope that Daisy would be any different but it was really cheap and the cover kind of cute. I am now on book 23 of the series, eagerly awaiting the next one.
6. Carola Dunn: Manna from Hades
Conversely, I then had very really high expectations for the author’s other series but ended up disappointed. A great thing about the Lady Daisy books is that while they are not some deep psychological studies about what drives a person to kill they still avoid painting things too black and white. Manna from Hades is very black and white…and has really annoying characters (not too stupid to live but still…annoying)
7. Tanja Kinkel: The Shadows of La Rochelle
The surprising thing was that in a novel that is otherwise a serious and boring historic novel two ship captains appear that are called Picard and Riker.
8. Pierre Pevel: The Cardinal’s Blades
Here the surprise is that the author could take the concept The Three Musketeers in an alternate universe where dragons exist and make it so incredibly dull that I now fall asleep just thinking about this book. The heroes are all flawless, win all fights and have so little personality that I had trouble telling them apart while reading it.
9. Andreas Pittler: Tacheles
Now how do I put this? I was surprised by the cucumber. Or rather where the character had put the cucumber. That way you won’t get any vitamins from it. And now excuse me I have to drink a bottle of brain-bleach.
10. Lyndsay Faye: Dust and Shadow
To finish off, another positive surprise. Dust and Shadow is a story about Sherlock Holmes hunting Jack the Ripper and before reading it I had made many not great experiences with Holmes-pastiches, several bad experiences with Ripper-fiction, and utterly horrible experiences with Holmes-hunts-the-Ripper stories. But Dust and Shadow was great.
1. Curtis Craddoc: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors
“I still think I should-”
“No!” Isabelle rallied against the automatic male assumption that anything she might do, they could do better, even if they had no experience whatsoever.
We’ve all been there Isabelle
2. Terry Pratchett: Small Gods
“What have I always believed?
That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right.”
I could fill ten posts with Terry Pratchett quotes but to be fair to other authors I’ll keep it at one.
3. KJ Charles: Spectred Isle
“You’ve had a hell of a time, haven’t you?”
“Other’s worse,” Saul managed.
“That is the most specious form of consolation possible. One can always find someone who has it worse. If I’m having my fingernails torn out with pincers, it is unhelpful to observe that my neighbour has been hanged, drawn and quartered.”
This is such an important concept and I love that it came up in the book.
4. Jane Austen: Persuasion
You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope…I have loved none but you.
I also could fill many posts with Austenian love-declaration…
5. Naomi Novik: Uprooted
“They all had stories. They had mothers or fathers, sisters or lovers. They weren’t alone in the world, mattering to no one but themselves. It seemed utterly wrong to treat them like pennies in a purse. I felt the soldiers understood perfectly well that we were making sums out of them– this many safe to spend, this number too high, as if each one wasn’t a whole man.”
Uprooted is a beautiful story that starts off very fairy-tale like but soon turns pretty dark and drops sentences like this.
6. The Iron Ship
He could rarely find his hammers, or his shoes, or his mistress, and therefore had many spares of each.
The whole book is very quotable and has hilarious, meaningful and sad sentences. I choose this because it was the best of all it was the first I could find on my saved Kindle notes.
7. Carol Berg: The Demon Prism
She raises Grapes. I raise the dead.
In which the grumpy necromancer desperately tries to come up with reasons why a relationship with the clever and talented mage who enjoys stabbing people would be a bad idea.
8. Rose Lerner: Sweet Disorder
“I bought you a ham,”
“Well, I know you don’t like sweets.”
If you do not think ham-presents are the most romantic thing ever you are obviously wrong.
9. Victoria Schlederer: Des Teufels Maskerade (The Devil’s Masquerade) (badly translated by me)
“Do I believe it? That Duchess Libuša is an ancient vampire who sleeps somewhere in the Hradschin and has tasked a heroic maniac to lead Bohemia to independence? Of course, I don’t believe it!”
From the mouth of an English aristocrat, who has spent decades as ghost, before a magical accident turned him in an otter, this generally reasonable view, sounded rather frivolous.
I love this book. A lot. Magic! Czech history! An adorable couple! An (almost) equally adorable aristocrat-turned-otter.
10. Lyndsay Faye: The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes
“I require your assistance, and you suppose you’re too good for my money! Well, you aren’t, Mr. Holmes!”
“On the contrary. I suspect that I’ve been too good for better people’s money as a matter of fact.”
Lyndsay Faye is one of the few Holmes pastiche authors I love and sentences like this are the reason for it.
I admit with so many shiny new books coming along I don’t re-read as much as I used to. Which is a shame because re-reading books is so enjoyable and it’s fun if you come across things you hadn’t noticed before…anyway this is more a ‘Books I have re-read multiple times but now haven’t touched in a while because sadly the day has only 24 hours and I need to sleep occasionally’.
1. James Barclay: Dawnthief
I think I almost immediately went back to re-reading some passages after finishing it the first time. The book just came around at exactly the right time for me and had everything I wanted (mages! elves! an unpredictable plot!) and unlike so many fantasy-novels death wasn’t cheap: with one exception everybody who died, stayed dead (and lots of people died) and the characters actually reacted to those deaths and also didn’t forget about them after a chapter. Now, this does make it sound like an odd choice for a frequent re-read but…well I’m odd 😉
2. The Harry Potter Series
I was a fantasy-loving teenager in the late 90s/early 00s. I am sure this is a very surprising addition to this list…
3. Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers
TTM was among the first ‘grown-up’ books I read. I think I was about 12 at the time and it took me a while to get through. Once I had managed it I was very sad about the ending and called two of my stuffed animal Constance and d’Artagnan so at least those could be happy. I still re-read it a couple of times and my love for it has turned into a strange obsession where I’m not only reading the book but also watch so many movie-adaptations…
Some of them are great fun
Some are fun but you also wonder if the people who made the movie ever read the book
And some…also exist
Sorry. I just got carried away…be glad I don’t have more gifs from the really bad versions. North Korean spies-bad. David Hasselhoff and Thomas Gottschalk are in it-bad.
Fun fact: Nowhere in the book does it say that Rochefort wears an eyepatch, just that he has a scar near his eye. However, Christopher Lee wore one in the 74-version and since then approximately 2/3 of all actors playing him have done so as well.
Where was I? Right. Re-reading books
4. Terry Pratchett: Men at Arms
The correct answer to ‘What is your favourite Discworld-book?’ is obviously ‘Give me a week to write an essay in which I examine every single book in detail.’ but…I love Men at Arms a lot. Because of Angua. I love Angua a lot.
5. Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes
No, I’m not frequently re-reading the complete Sherlock Holmes but some stories I can re-read again and again. Or listen to again and again because Holmes stories are perfectly suited for audio plays. And I love my collection of the Peter Pasetti ones, even if they are based on different translations which means Holmes and Watson sometimes use the formal Sie and sometimes the informal Du with each other. (And let’s not get into the pronunciation of Holmes in some of them…)