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Monday, December 19, 2011


Author:  Annette Blair 
Plot Type:  Chick Lit, Cozy Mystery 
Ratings:  V2, S2, H4
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley
        A Veiled Deception (1/2009)
        Larceny and Lace (8/2009)
        Death by Diamonds (7/2010)
        Skirting the Grave (7/2011)
        Cloaked in Malice (7/2012)
        Tulle Death Do Us Part (7/2013)

     This post was revised and updated on 9/20/13 to include a review of Tulle Death Do Us Part, the sixth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first five books:

          BOOK 6:  Tulle Death Do Us Part          
     The plot of this book reinforces the series-long concept that the wealthy citizens of Mystic Falls are a bunch of selfish, no-good, greedy, law-breaking scoundrels. Really, the only good, down-to-earth folks in this series are the lower and middle class people—shopkeepers, public employees, and senior citizens. As Donna Summer so fiercely sang it back in the 1980s, each one of those people "works hard for the money, so you better treat her [or him] right." 

     This time around, the action begins when a contractor working on an addition to Maddy's shop finds a mysterious package tucked up under the rafters. The package is wrapped in a fabric remnant, so, of course, when Maddy touches it, she is instantly transported back in time to an incident involving the wearer of the garment(actually a petticoat) that was the source of the fabric. That scene involves a group of spoiled 20-something country club guys and girls who have stolen items from other club members as part of a scavenger hunt at the club's 50th (golden) anniversary ball. The kicker is that one of their group has disappeared, apparently drowned in the cold, rough seas. Was it murder or an accident?

     From that point, the main story line follows Maddy and her BFF, Eve, as they try to solve the crime with lots of assistance from Maddy's wannabe lover, Lytton Werner, a detective in the Mystic Falls police department. If you've been reading the series, you know that Maddy has been on and off with Nick Jaconetti, a handsome FBI agent, but that her real love (since childhood) has been Werner. Now, Nick has been MIA for months—far away in France in the company of Paisley (whom we met in book 5), so Maddie is free to act on her attraction to Werner—and vice versa. (SPOILER: Consummation Alert!) Another story thread involves Maddie's father and his sweetheart, Fiona, who move their romance quite a bit further along in this book.

     The plot—which appears on the surface to be relatively simple—is complicated by the fact that most of the villains have two different names—the behavior-related names that Maddy assigns them during her visions (before she learns their true identities) and their real names. The author indiscriminately switches back and forth between the two sets of names, and because there are so many members of the bad-guys group, distinguishing among them can be tiresomely difficult at times.

     The requisite social event, which in this series always serves as the scene of the climax and resolution, is a costume ball at which the attendees wear outfits that were worn at the Golden Anniversary Ball back in the 1970s. Maddie is a judge for the best costume award at the ball, so that gives her the opportunity to touch each dress and tuxedo and go into her trances to pick up some clues.

     Maddy continues her too-cutesy behavior in this book, as she simpers and flirts with Werner and has any number of TSTL moments as she and Eve skulk about town in the middle of the night on their "sleuthing" adventures, with Werner coming to the rescue more than once. The over-the-top vintage clothing descriptions are even more numerous than usual and provide way too much detail. Paragraphs (sometimes multiple paragraphs) are spent in describing various dresses, shoes, and hats where a few words—a sentence or two at the most—would have sufficed, unless, of course, you are reading this for the clothing descriptions and not the mystery.

     To summarize...this is another almost identical book in a featherweight, medium-quality paranormal chick lit series. If you enjoyed the previous books, you'll probably like this one. The book could be read as a stand-alone because there isn't much past history that affects the story line.     

     This giddy, girly series has many cozy mystery elements: an amateur sleuth, relatively bloodless murders, and not much sex. There are, however, more than enough fashionista moments to make it chick lit. At the beginning of the series, Madeira (Maddy) Cutler is a New York fashion designer who longs to leave the big city for the small-town life of her childhood. Maddy's mother, who died when Maddy was ten years old, was a witch, and so is her "Aunt" Fiona—Maddy's mother's best friend. Maddy and her siblings were raised by their father (Harry), a university professor who is addicted to quotations, and by their Aunt Fiona. Early on in the series, the sisters realize that Fiona loves Harry, but Harry hasn't yet realized that he loves Fiona. In each book, Maddy gets involved in solving a murder and generally puts herself in danger at least once, usually being rescued by one of her love interests.
     In book 1, Maddy discovers that she is a psychometrist. That is, she has the gift of "seeing" important events in the history of an item just by touching it. Soon, she begins to have visions and see the spirits of the people who formerly owned various pieces of vintage clothing. Unfortunately, those visions frequently knock her unconscious. Eventually, Maddie opens her own vintage clothing shop in a former funeral home that comes with its own ghost. Each book generally includes a central social event (e.g., a wedding, a ball, a charity event) that forces Maddie to attend to a myriad of fashion-related tasks as she solves the murder.
Here is a list of the supporting characters:
   Sherry and Justin: Maddie's "normal" sister and her husband
   >  Brandy: Maddie's eccentric sister (still single)
   >  Alex and Tricia: Maddie's brother (an FBI agent) and his wife
   >  Eve: Maddie's long-time BFF, who also knows about Maddie's magical talent 
   >  Nick Jaconetti: Maddie's long-time, on-and-off-again FBI-agent boyfriend, who knows that she is psychometric; he is Alex's partner
   >  Lytton Werner: Maddy's childhood nemesis, who is now more of a "frenemy" and who eventually becomes a second love interest; he is a police detective in Mystic Falls
    This is a light and fluffy series, overflowing with fashion descriptions of vintage clothing, shoes, jewelry, and accessories. The characters are relatively one dimensional. and we get no angst-filled monologues here—just endless sentences like this one: "...he was the first to appreciate my sixties Geoffrey Beene mint green linen slit-neck swing dress, paired with bow-topped natural python platform pumps." (Skirting the Grave, p. 203) Frequently, the descriptions run on to one or two paragraphs. The humor is girlish in tone, with Maddie constantly substituting sewing terms for cuss words (e.g., "Payback's a stitch." "Tucking A!" "You look like scrap." "I needed a tucking miracle."). If you love vintage fashion and lightweight paranormal fiction with no supernaturals, you might enjoy this series.
    Blair also wrote the TRIPLET WITCH TRILOGY, the ACCIDENTAL WITCH TRILOGY, and WORKS LIKE MAGICK. Characters from these series occasionally make appearances in VINTAGE MAGIC stories. I reviewed the first two series in my book, Fang-tastic Fiction: 21st Century Paranormal Reads. Click HERE to read my review (on this blog) of WORKS LIKE MAGICK.

          BOOK 1:  A Veiled Deception          
     As the series opens, Maddie goes home to Mystic Falls, Connecticut, for Sherry's wedding and immediately becomes involved in a murder mystery when the "Jezebel" who tries to steal Sherry's fiancé is found murdered—strangled with Sherry's bridal veil. Of course, Sherry is the prime suspect, and Maddy must solve the case in order to clear her sister's name. In the meantime, when Maddie begins to alter Sherry's vintage wedding gown (an heirloom from her fiancé's family) she has a vision, and she thinks it may include clues to the murder.

     As Maddie tries to solve the case, she has to dig deeply into the past. During her non-sleuthing moments, Maddie acquires an old haunted funeral home where she plans to open Vintage Magic, her very own vintage clothing and design shop. Her resident ghost is Dante Underhill, debonair man about town and former owner of the funeral home, who can't leave the building and is happy to serve as Maddie's night watchman.

          BOOK 2:  Larceny and Lace          
     As the story opens, Maddie is getting ready for Vintage Magic's grand opening when an intruder breaks into her shop. In the aftermath of the break-in, Maddie discovers that the burglar stole a blanket-wrapped package of human skeletal bones that had been left in an old body drawer many years ago. 

     When the local playhouse across the street from her store burns down with its curator inside, Maddie has a hunch that the two crimes are somehow related. Then she learns that the bones have a connection with a thirty-year old murder. Add in an obnoxious councilman and his gossipy trophy wife, and Maddie has her hands full. The social event in this book is a witchy Halloween costume ball to be held at Vintage Magic.

          BOOK 3:  Death by Diamonds          
     In the third book, Maddie receives a package containing a bejeweled dress that she designed some time ago for her old friend, the actress Dominique DeLong. The package includes a note from Dominique saying that if Maddie receives the dress in any way other than personally from Dominique, that means that Dominique is dead. Sure enough, Maddie learns that Dominique died the night before under very suspicious circumstances, so she heads off to New York City to solve the murder. To add to the mystery, some valuable diamonds are also missing. The suspects include a bitter ex, a rival ingenue, and a supposed "best friend"—any of whom could have done the dastardly deed. 

     As Maddie takes care of the tasks involved in being the executor of Dominique's estate, she uses her psychometric talent to solve the case. The rivalry between Lytton and Nick really heats up in this story. Towards the end of this book, Lytton and Maddie wind up in a compromising position and share an incendiary kiss that puts Nick into a state of extreme aggravation.

          BOOK 4:  Skirting the Grave          
     In book 4, Maddy has succumbed to pressure from her sister, Brandy, and has agreed to hire a friend of Brandy's as an intern in the shop. Unfortunately, a young woman who looks just like the new hire turns up dead at the train station on what was to have been her first day at work. The case involves identical twin sisters and their look-alike cousin, and throughout most of the book, we're not really sure who is who. As she searches for clues, Maddie uses her touchy talent on a trunk full of vintage clothing that once belonged to the intern's grandmother. Maddie's romantic feelings are still bouncing back and forth between Nick and Lytton, and even though she seemingly makes her choice at the end of the book, I don't think that the matter is quite settled yet. 

     To me, this is the weakest book in the series so far. The vintage fashion descriptions are so frequent and so lengthy that they consume the majority of the print. The visions are weirder than usual and are sometimes not at all easy to understand. The social event in this book is a charity vintage car show and bachelor auction, and there are endless descriptions of the theme, decorations, and fashion moments, both during the planning stages and during the event itself. The solving of the crime is definitely the least important of the story threads. 

          BOOK 5:  Cloaked in Malice          
     This unlikely plot revolves around the life of a mysterious young woman who stops at Maddy's shop and blurts out her anguished life storyat least the parts she can recall. Paisley Skye has no memory of much of her childhood. She claims to have been raised by an odd couple she called Mam and Pap on an isolated island off the coast of Massachusetts, where their farm was surrounded by a very tall electrified fence  that she was never allowed to cross. Until her "parents" died, Paisley never saw another person during the twenty-plus years she lived on the island. 

     The "family" grew their own crops, raised animals for meat, and had no personal or electronic contact with the outside worldat least that's what Paisley has always believed. When Maddy touches a vintage cloak belonging to Paisley, she has a vision of several young girls wearing the cloak, one of whom is probably Paisley. That vision also includes a well-dressed woman being kidnapped and an equally fashionable man lying deadshot down on the street. Naturally enough, Maddy begins sleuthing. Other than her strange upbringing, another odd thing about Paisley is that she looks exactly like Maddy's centenarian friend and benefactor, Dolly Sweet, in her younger years. In fact, when she happens to stop by the shop when Paisley is there, Dolly sees the resemblance and immediately sneaks off to Paris for purposes that are obviously connected to Paisley's story but are unknown to Maddy (and to the reader) until the conflict is improbably resolved late in the novel. Maddy's boyfriend, Nick Jaconetti, is around full time in this novel, having learned his lesson in a previous book when Maddy had a flirtation with Lytton Werner, local police detective and wannabe lover.

     As the plot proceeds, it falls gracelessly apart, with holes so gigantic that you could drive a fleet of semi-trailer trucks through them. The implausibilities and impossibilities in the story line accumulate to the point that I would have stopped reading if I didn't have to review the book. On top of the wildly far-fetched plot, Maddy's character gets more and more cutesy and cloying with every book. Although I am mildly curious about which love interest Maddy will finally choose, I may not keep reading this series if the plots continue to go downhill at such a fast pace.

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