For the cozy mystery challenge, I just completed Juliet Blackwell’s Secondhand Spirits. The author’s website has the following description:
Secondhand Spirits, first in the new Witchcraft Mystery Series, features Lily Ivory, a witch who opens a vintage clothing store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. “In the old days –the burning times– there was a distinction made between sorcerers and witches. It was said that a sorcerer learned magic through training, while a witch was born with innate talents and connections to the spirit world. The latter was true in my case, to an extreme degree. I hadn’t chosen this path, it had chosen me. It wasn’t easy growing up as a (super)natural witch in a small Texas town: The other children, the teachers, even my own mother was afraid of me.” Now, with a shape-shifting pot-bellied pig at her side, Lily has finally found a place she fits in amongst the characters that populate this unique San Francisco neighborhood. If only those mischievous spirits would leave her alone . . .
My thoughts: I enjoyed this mystery, though it wasn’t as light-hearted and many cozies are. It was, though, like coming home in that it was very familiar in some ways because it had a lot in common with other cozies and other paranormal mystery series I have read this year. First, Lily is a vintage-clothing shopkeeper with an ability to read the clothing, like Annette Blair’s Madeira Cutler in the Vintage Magic Series. Second, she has a familiar that is very reminiscent of Horace the gargoyle in Linda Wisdom’s Hex Series right down toward his perverted tendencies to spy on women trying on clothing.
Those similarities, though, are not a turn off because I like them in the other series and this book is significantly different in other ways. The biggest difference is that it is very, very witchy. By that, I mean, there are significant details of spells, castings, and brewing included. The descriptions are so detailed that a warning from the author is included in the back of the book: “Most of the spells used throughout this book are based on information from practicing witches in personal interviews, but none should be repeated” (225). Interestingly enough, she doesn’t elaborate why. I honestly expected the next sentence to be something about spell casting being personal and / or the danger is using ingredients without training, or something. But, nada.
I did like the mystery of the book. Enough details and hints were dropped that I could figure out the bad guy a bit before Lily, but not enough that I spent time thinking, “Why hasn’t she figured it out yet?” That’s the best kind of mystery.
I liked the characters, as well. Clearly, Maya and Bronwyn are positioned to appear as recurring characters as Lily’s employees and friends. Also, several interesting male characters appeared. The main character did not bounce between them romantically, either, which too often is common in cozy mysteries (I mean, seriously, one could almost label “two male love interests” as a staple of the genre.)
It is also one of the most diverse cozies I have ever read. Setting the book in a big city like San Fransisco (another deviation from the “cozy” genre) allows the author to introduce characters from a variety of backgrounds, including racially and economically diverse groups. Clearly, some of the characters are more well off financially than others. There are several instances of Spanish-speaking conversations during the plot (not enough to confuse one, though, if not able to read Spanish; they are obvious or translated immediately). That’s not something I have seen in a cozy before.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes cozies with a bit of the paranormal, and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes witchy mysteries. I will be downloading the next one in the series as soon as it is available (projected release date June 2010).