I was excited about Wicked Weaves by Joyce and Jim Levene, the first Renaissance Faire mystery featuring Jessie, a graduate student who works at the year-round Renaissance village during the summers, learning a new craft and choosing a new lover each year. This summer, she's learning basket-making from Mary, a Gullah who was exiled by her people. Mary's cousin also works in the village, and when her estranged husband turns up at the Village, strangled with one of Mary's baskets (or is it?), the police suspect Mary. Mary keeps to herself, but Jessie decides she needs to meddle and clear Mary's name, even going so far as to lie to give Mary an alibi, with no real motivation for her actions. In addition, a tedious romantic storyline takes center stage, and it goes something like this: "Oh, I can't get involved with Chase! But he's so attractive! But he has no ambition! Oh, wait, he has a BMW and a law license! Oops, I slept with him! I can't get involved with him! Oops, I slept with him again!" And on a nitpicky note (because I'm nothing if not nitpicky), Jessie has a mooch of a twin brother and makes at least two comments about how the two of them could have come from one egg. Well, unless one of them was identified with the wrong gender, they didn't, since opposite-sex twins are always fraternal, which means separate eggs. This mystery had so much potential, too. The Renaissance Faire Village is hilarious. I loved the residents who had worked there long enough to lose their sense of reality, especially a man who changed his name to Robin Hood, hangs out in Sherwood Forest, and steals toaster ovens from the rich. That's classic stuff. And the queen who takes the whole thing a little too seriously, the rules about staying in character, and the vaguely sinister monks. But all that takes a backseat to the romance. Oh, and this is a murder mystery, so there is a murder, but I felt like the murderer was wearing a neon sign flashing "I did it!" The murder also involves outsiders, which took the focus off the more interesting Ren folk. I might check reviews for the next in the series to see if the romance is less of a focus, but I was disappointed in this one.
Hard Day's Knight by Katie MacAlister: Katie MacAlister is fun. I don't read much romance, but I had fond memories of The Corset Diaries and Blow Me Down, so I picked this one up as a companion to Wicked Weaves. Now, here is Ren Faire literature done right. To my surprise, the big focus was jousting, and this isn't a parody of Ren Faires. The heroine actually decides to learn jousting, so I learned a lot about it, too, and it was fascinating. Pepper's cousin C. J., a member of the Wench organization, takes unemployed, single pepper to an international jousting competition, primarily to meet attractive men in tights. She meets a couple of sexy knights, ends up deep in jousting competition intrigue, and keeps an eye on her aunt's cat (who steals practically every scene he's in). The mystery was well-done, the characters fresh and vivid, the wit plentiful, the jousting interesting, and the book was an overall good read--a romantic comedy with jousting.
Kilt Dead by Kaitlyn Dunnett: This is the first in a series featuring Liss Maccrimmon, a Scottish dancer grounded by a knee injury who returns to Moosetookalook, Maine to help her aunt in her Scottish Emporium while she regroups. She finds her former teacher, Mrs. Norris, dead under a bolt of fabric in the store, and decides to investigate when the state police decide Liss must be guilty. She has help from Dan, an old friend, and Sherri, a part-time employee at the Scottish Emporium who is conveniently moonlighting as a police dispatcher. The mystery in this one was very well-done, complex but not confusing, with an ending that made sense, but which I didn't see coming. Liss was likable and sympathetic, and her interactions with Dan and Sherri made for pleasant, believable relationships. The ne'er-do-well brother and accusatory state cop add characters-you-love-to-hate to the mix. The Scottish component and Liss's manning the booth at the Highland Games were a fun counterpoint to small-town western Maine. An excellent first mystery--I'll be picking up the second, Scone Cold Dead.