“Distillery Cats: Profiles in Courage of the World’s Most Spirited Mousers” by Brad Thomas Parsons

A quirky addition to any collection of bourbon books tells the whimsical tales, not tails, of those hard-working cats in distilleries around the world.

Parsons is a James Beard award winning author assigned to explain the historical role of these mousers. The distilleries make products from grains, which to the distiller is an expensive cash crop, to the mice, rodents and birds the grains become a beckoning all-you-can-eat buffet. What began as a simple organic solution to pest control has turned felines into whiskey brand ambassadors.

Boone is a Maine Coon male who lives in a Portland, Oregon, distillery. They found him on a Craigslist. The manager says, “Best. Decision. Ever.” His extrovert personality makes him a hit with visitors, especially kids. His annual performance review says, “exceeds expectations.”

Another rescue cat, Char, is not so much a mouser, but an entertainer. The distillery has a miniature golf course, and Char lies in wait ready to pounce on your golf ball, especially after it drops in the hole.

Cooper stole the show at the Albany Distilling Company. When U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer held a press conference there to announce an initiative to establish crop insurance for local farmers, Cooper hopped up on a barrel next to the senator for his own photo op. On distillery tours, he will climb ladders or barrels to be sure he’s the center of attention. But he also has been known to “nestle himself inside a visitor’s purse.”

These cats might seem to have an easy job, but then you read the story of Jeffy in Brooklyn New York. Life was a breeze until Hurricane Sandy flooded the building washing in waves of “roving bands of displaced zombie mice.” After three weeks, Jeffy had the problem under control.

There is a favorites list for each of the cats, such as favorite hobby, job title and superpowers. But if that’s not enough, there are 15 cocktail recipes throughout the book to entertain while you’re being entertained.

Parsons must have had the “assignment of a lifetime” traveling around the globe to meet these mousers in person, and sample the products they protected.

“Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living” by Bailey White

Bailey White grew up in Georgia in the 1950s when things were not quite so complicated. Her mother ran the farm, and her father lived and wrote in Hollywood. She had access to all the eccentric, unconventional characters that resided in Thomasville, with her innate ability to write as if for an audience.

Her friend, Daniel Pinkwater, urged her to submit some of her commentaries to National Public Radio. Her gravelly voice connected with listeners, who knew individuals similar to those of rural Georgia, or who wished they had the charms of Bailey’s mother.

White is able to write about true originals, as well as capture a time and place where the Southern gothic voice dominated as did that of William Faulkner or Fannie Flagg.

You might join young Bailey as she travels with Aunt Belle to every town in North Carolina, which contained the name of Ferry. Bailey was always tasked with asking a local where was the ferry. Of course, there hadn’t been an operating ferry for more than 50 years. When asked where she wanted to go to, Bailey responded that her aunt just wanted to ride the ferry.

Or, the time Aunt Belle wanted to buy a live chicken from a local farmer. “There’s a man with a nice garden. I know he’s got some chickens around back.”

“Do you want it picked and cleaned?” asked the farmer. “No, just a plain, live chicken.” The chicken disappeared into the thicket, probably heading back to that “nice” garden. But perhaps there are red feral chickens wandering the North Carolina woods.

Every Friday night, Bailey and Mama would eat at the catfish restaurant down the road. Not because they like catfish, but so that Mama can argue with Uncle Sonny. Sonny, a lumber jack, knows the common names of trees. While Mama likes the more scientific terms of genus and species. “While eyes flash and catfish bones fly,” Bailey reads her novels until the waitresses begin flapping their towels on empty tables.

Think of these stories and envision yourself on the front porch with some iced tea or perhaps a mint julep, and imagine Aunt Belle teaching an alligator how to bellow on demand. It really happened! When warm stories about simpler times are required, look to the gentle wit of Bailey White’s Mama and her unique brand of southern eccentricity.

— Review by Lizz Taylor, Poor Richard’s Books

“The Windsor Knot” by SJ Bennett

This is the first book in a delightful new cozy mystery series featuring Queen Elizabeth II who secretly solves crimes while carrying out her royal duties.  

When a Russian pianist is found dead in his room after a “dine and sleep” at Windsor Castle, QEII becomes concerned when MI5 determines that it was a Russian conspiracy. She enlists the assistance of her private secretary, Rozie Oshodi, who begins following clues to try to solve the mystery of who the murderer might be. Meanwhile, Elizabeth continues to carry out her public duties, which includes a visit from President Barack Obama.  

Bennett has written a British cozy mystery that is imaginative and well researched.  An intriguing look behind the scenes at Windsor Castle make a delightful backdrop to the novel, and the conversations between the Queen and Prince Phillip add a great deal of humor.  

Fans of “Murder She Wrote” may enjoy this new series.  

— Review by Paul Sawyier Public Library staff

The Thursday Murder Club” by Richard Osman

Four friends — Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Joyce and Ron — are residents of Coopers Chase, a posh retirement community in Kent, England. Every Thursday they meet in the “Jigsaw Room” to discuss old unsolved murder cases, an interest started by another resident, a former policewoman, who is now in a nursing home.  

When a local real estate developer is found dead near Coopers Chase, the quartet suddenly have a real time case to solve. As they work with the police to solve the crime, things get more complicated.

This is a highly entertaining and amusing British cozy murder mystery where the sleuths are all pushing 80. Osman’s book not only provides hours of good reading, but is also a tribute to people of a certain age. The Thursday Murder Club members are definitely not toddling old people.  

A light mystery that reads quickly with plenty of red herrings, great camaraderie and innocent fun. Osman’s book makes for a great escape read during February’s cold, dark days.   

— Review by Paul Sawyier Public Library staff