Book Review: Murder by the Book ed. by Martin Edwards

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: August 10th, 2022
Pages: 304, paperback
Source: NetGalley

With Martin Edwards as librarian and guide, delve into an irresistible stack of bibliomysteries, perfect for every booklover and armchair sleuth, featuring much-loved Golden Age detectives Nigel Strangeways, Philip Trent, Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn, and others. But readers should be warned that the most riveting tales often conceal the deadliest of secrets…

If much of the action is set in a bookshop or a library, it is a bibliomystery, just as it is if a major character is a bookseller or a librarian.
–Otto Penzler

A bookish puzzle threatens an eagerly awaited inheritance; a submission to a publisher recounts a murder that seems increasingly to be a work of nonfiction; an irate novelist puts a grisly end to the source of his writer’s block.

There is no better hiding place for clues–or red herrings–than inside the pages of a book. But in this world of resentful ghost writers, indiscreet playwrights, and unscrupulous book collectors, literary prowess is often a prologue to disaster.

Anthologies for me are usually like boxed chocolates – there are some I love, some I like, and then some that are going in the trash uneaten. With British Library Crime Classics anthologies, though, I generally devour all the stories greedily.

I’d read a few of the stories before, such as the Innes, Brand, and Crispin ones, but there was a Trent story by Bentley that I hadn’t encountered, and enjoyed. The star of the collection for me, though, was the John Creasey story, The Book of Honour. That story alone would have earned this four stars from me, even if the other stories were absolute dreck, which they were not.

Each of these stories has something to do with books. Books are sold, books are written, and books are stolen. Most of the stories are written by authors with whom the reader will be familiar, but there are a few, like the ones by the Coles and Bremmer, that are unexpected delights.

Recommended for those who love books and those who write them, and those who love a good Golden Age mystery.

Book Review: Be the Serpent (October Daye #16) by Seanan McGuire

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: DAW
Publication Date: August 30th, 2022
Pages: 384, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

October Daye is finally something she never expected to be: married. All the trials and turmoils and terrors of a hero’s life have done very little to prepare her for the expectation that she will actually share her life with someone else, the good parts and the bad ones alike, not just allow them to dabble around the edges in the things she wants to share. But with an official break from hero duties from the Queen in the Mists, and her family wholly on board with this new version of “normal,” she’s doing her best to adjust.

It isn’t always easy, but she’s a hero, right? She’s done harder.
Until an old friend and ally turns out to have been an enemy in disguise for this entire time, and October’s brief respite turns into a battle for her life, her community, and everything she has ever believed to be true.

The debts of the Broken Ride are coming due, and whether she incurred them or not, she’s going to be the one who has to pay.

Toby has not had an easy time of it. She missed her daughter’s childhood when her stepfather turned her into a fish and left her in a pond. Her liege’s wife hates her and Toby is not allowed into their domain. So, in the last book, when she finally, FINALLY got a bit of happiness and married Tybalt, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Be the Serpent is not just that shoe, it’s Imelda Marcos’s entire collection of shoes dropping.

Toby’s best friend’s children are in danger, and Toby finds she may not know Stacy as well as she thinks she does. Toby’s powers have grown exponentially since the first book, as she becomes more Fae, but that might not be enough to take on her latest foe.

Toby is a hero. Toby views herself less as a hero, and more as someone who just keeps getting thrown into messes and has to do her utmost to protect her friends and family. She does an amazing job, whether she thinks so or not.

Toby has forged strong bonds with those who are not related to her by blood and most of them are more loyal to her than they are to their actually lieges. The relationships with her blood relatives? Well, the less said about most of them, the better. Who would have thought, back in Rosemary and Rue, that Toby the fish would find love with the King of Cats? She’s gained a sister (her Fetch May), a squire, a husband, and a strong team that supports her, whether she lets them or not.

It’s almost impossible to review this without spoiling it, so I’ll tell you why you should read it (and the rest of the series, if you haven’t already). The series just keeps getting stronger. Each book builds on the one before it, and this one is the culmination of so many storylines. Each character is well-drawn, and is not merely a prop for Toby. The descriptions are lush, and there’s an appropriate sense of menace throughout. You know something bad has happened. You know something worse is going to happen. The one person who might be able to help Toby is apathetic, at best, and obstructive, at worst. Frankly, I was amazed the body count wasn’t higher. I understand why the book ended the way it did, but it’s hard to see what this cost Toby and know that you’ll have to wait until at least next year for the next book. Be sure you have plenty of time set aside, because this is not a story that lends itself to stopping places.

Book Review: Terminal Peace (Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse #3) by Jim C. Hines

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Publisher: DAW
Publication Date: August 9th, 2022
Pages: 336, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

The third and final book of the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse follows a group of unlikely heroes trying to save the galaxy from a zombie plague.

Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos and her team were trained to clean spaceships. They were absolutely not trained to fight an interplanetary war with the xenocidal Prodryans or to make first contact with the Jynx, a race who might not be as primitive as they seem. But if there’s one lesson Mops and her crew have learned, it’s that things like “training” and “being remotely qualified” are overrated.

The war is escalating. (This might be Mops’ fault.) The survival of humanity—those few who weren’t turned to feral, shambling monsters by an alien plague—as well as the fate of all other non-Prodryans, will depend on what Captain Mops and the crew of the EDFS Pufferfish discover on the ringed planet of Tuxatl.

But the Jynx on Tuxatl are fighting a war of their own, and their world’s long-buried secrets could be more dangerous than the Prodryans.

To make matters worse, Mops is starting to feel a little feral herself…

Terminal Peace is the third in the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse series by Jim C. Hines. Really, do you need anything other than the name of the series to know this is going to be great?

Premise is that humanity have been turned “feral” by an alien disease, except for a few who were naturally immune. Those became “librarians,” and have been working to free humanity from subjugation by various intergalactic powers.

Mops is a human janitor who is also the captain of a ship crewed by humans and aliens. War is imminent, and humans will suffer even more than they already have. It’s up to Mops and her crew to clean up yet another mess, but Mops is running out of time, as she’s been infected and will soon “revert.”

Mops is a delight, as are her crew. There are plenty of pop culture references, but not enough to distract from the story. This is a story of the underdog and how doing the right thing sometimes pays off, even if not in ways you expect. Mops and her crew battle their way to a forbidden planet in hopes of something that will stop the Prodryans, who want to dominate the galaxy. Can they convince the “primitive” Jynx to help them?

Hines is a good writer, and has created worlds and beings with whom you will want to spend more time. I’m hoping there are more in this series, although the ending of this book did wrap things up well.

Book Review: A Treacherous Tale (The Cambridge Bookshop Series #2) by Elizabeth Penney

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Publication Date: August 23rd, 2022
Pages: 288, mass market
Source: NetGalley

Lately, Molly has been feeling that she might have fallen into a fairy tale: she’s reinvigorated the family bookshop Thomas Marlowe—Manuscripts and Folios, made friends in her new home of Cambridge, England, and is even developing a bit of a romance with the handsome Kieran—a bike shop owner with a somewhat intimidating family pedigree.

Having recently discovered The Strawberry Girls, a classic children’s tale, Molly is thrilled to learn the author, Iona York, lives nearby. But while visiting the famous author at her lovely cottage in nearby Hazelhurst, an old acquaintance of Iona’s tumbles off her roof to his death.

Then, when one of Iona’s daughters—an inspiration for the original Strawberry Girls—goes missing, Molly begins to worry this story might be more Brothers Grimm than happily-ever-after. Especially after Molly learns about the mysterious long-ago death of Iona’s husband and co-author of The Strawberry Girls…could past and present crimes be linked? Molly must put the clues together before someone turns this sweet tale sour.

Molly Kimball, recent transplant from Vermont to Cambridge, is busy with her bookshop and her aristocratic beau, but when her uncle is suspected of murder, she flies on her bicycle to solve her second case.

In A Treacherous Tale, Molly is organizing an event with local author Iona York, who is coming out with a new edition of her classic children’s book. She visits Iona, only to discover the body of a local antiques dealer, who has fallen off the roof of Iona’s house, where Molly’s uncle was repairing the thatch.

Molly is a likeable heroine and has a great support system in her friends and family. While she does occasionally jump to a wrong conclusion, she generally follows the evidence and the reader is given all the clues they need to solve the case along with her. The secondary characters are important to the narrative, and don’t just serve to enhance Molly.

Penney is a solid cozy writer, and I hope there are many more in this series. I like the Cambridge Bookshop series, but I admit I’m more partial to Penney’s Apron Shop series. Both are well worth reading.

Book Review: Death at the Manor (Lily Adler Mystery #3) by Katharine Schellman

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: August 9th, 2022
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Regency widow Lily Adler is looking forward to spending the autumn away from the social whirl of London society. When she arrives in Hampshire with her friends, Lord and Lady Carroway, she doesn’t expect much more than a quiet country visit and the chance to spend time with her charming new acquaintance, Matthew Spencer.

But something odd is afoot in the small country village. A ghost has taken up residence in the Belleford manor, a lady in grey who wanders the halls at night, weeping and wailing. Half the servants have left in terror, but the family is delighted with the notoriety that their ghost provides. Piqued by this spectral guest, Lily and her party immediately make plans to visit Belleford.

They arrive at the manor the next morning ready to be entertained—but tragedy has struck. The matriarch of the family has just been found smothered to death in her bed.

There was no one else in her room, and the door was locked from the inside. The dead woman’s family is convinced that the ghost is responsible. The servants are keeping secrets. The local magistrate is flummoxed. Lily is determined to learn the truth before another victim turns up—but could she be next in line for the Great Beyond?

Lily Adler’s third case is a death that may have been caused by a ghost. In Death at the Manor, Lily, along with her friends Lord and Lady Carroway, are on a visit to Lily’s aunt in Hampshire. There have been recent sightings of a “Grey Lady” at the local manor, so Lily and Ophelia wish to investigate. Matthew Spencer, who may or may not be a potential beau, is a neighbor of the Wrights, and assists with their investigation.

While good, this book may be suffering from sophomore slump, even though it’s the third in the series. I think this is largely due to the absence of Jack and Simon. Matthew may be a potential suitor, but he isn’t the foil for Lily the way the other two are. It was nice that Lily and Ophelia got to spend more time together, and we got to spend time with the Carroways as a couple and see more of their relationship.

I also think the book couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, a Regency romance, a cozy mystery, or a gothic. It led to some slow pacing and an overall disjointedness. That said, it’s still a really good mystery on its own merits, and if I hadn’t had the previous two to which to compare, I’d probably have rated this one more highly.

DNF Book Review: So Happy For You by Celia Laskey

Genre: girl i don’t even know, it says it’s meant to be a humorous thriller but it fails in both those categories
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Publication Date: June 7th, 2022
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: Library

A wedding weekend spirals out of control in this bold, electrifying, hilarious novel about the complexities of female friendship 

Robin and Ellie have been best friends since childhood. When Robin came out, Ellie was there for her. When Ellie’s father died, Robin had her back. But when Ellie asks Robin to be her maid of honor, she is reluctant. A queer academic, Robin is dubious of the elaborate wedding rituals now sweeping the nation, which go far beyond champagne toasts and a bouquet toss. But loyalty wins out, and Robin accepts. 

Yet, as the wedding weekend approaches, a series of ominous occurrences lead Robin to second-guess her decision. It seems that everyone in the bridal party is out to get her. Perhaps even Ellie herself. 

Manically entertaining, viciously funny and eerily campy, So Happy for You is the ultimate send-up to our collective obsession with the wedding industry complex and a riveting, unexpectedly poignant depiction of friendship in all its messy glory.

101/304

The dustjacket summary calls this a “satire”, but I’m not entirely certain Laskey manages to pull that off. I got to 101 pages when I decided my unease with how Laskey was portraying Robin and her group of “rabid feminist” friends was a good enough reason to quit reading, in addition to me skimming the end and seeing Robin call herself a “rage-a-holic” for getting upset and angry when people have bigoted opinions (or as the book tries to calls it, “opinions different from hers.”)

The thing is, up until that point in the novel, Robin hadn’t gone out of her way to seek out bigoted opinions. The biggest example I can think of is when she’s teaching her feminist studies class and she’s pushing her students to think critically about, you know, feminist theories. The thing she’s paid to do. (I just now caught on to the fact that Laskey made Robin a college professor trying to teach her students about so-called “liberal ideas”, a.k.a. an accusation Republicans love to throw at colleges. This is icky to me.)

There’s also a bit where Ellie is stated as feeling like she “can’t say anything right around [Robin’s] friends” and Robin backs this up because Ellie asked a trans friend of Robin’s if he’d “fully transitioned” yet. The way it’s written, we’re made to think both parties are at fault and being ridiculous — but moreso Robin’s, because how dare they hurt Ellie’s feelings by being like, “Uh, maybe don’t ask that right off the bat?”

The ending makes it seem like both Ellie and Robin have huge flaws, but I dunno, y’all, wanting people to be treated equally and seen as human and getting upset when others hold opinions that view those people as less than isn’t really a huge flaw to me! There’s also nothing wrong with being friends mainly with people who share your opinions. If you view me as deserving of less rights than others simply because I’m queer, or fat, or a woman, or whatever, I don’t really want to hang out with you. If that makes me a rabid feminist, oh well!

I don’t know, maybe I’m being overly critical here, but with the severe feminist backlash we’re in the middle of, I think writers need to be a little more careful about what portrayals they put out in their books. I’m not saying don’t write it entirely. But really ask yourself what you’re hoping to accomplish with it, and if it does more harm than good.

Any commentary Laskey tried to make about the wedding industrial complex were sort of lost in my uneasy feelings about the treatment of Robin and her friends. So, in the end, maybe this just wasn’t for me.

Book Review: August Kitko and the Mechas from Space by Alex White

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: July 12th, 2022
Pages: 464, paperback
Source: NetGalley

When an army of giant robot AIs threatens to devastate Earth, a virtuoso pianist becomes humanity’s last hope in this bold, lightning-paced, technicolor new space opera series from the author of A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe.

Jazz pianist Gus Kitko expected to spend his final moments on Earth playing piano at the greatest goodbye party of all time, and maybe kissing rockstar Ardent Violet, before the last of humanity is wiped out forever by the Vanguards–ultra-powerful robots from the dark heart of space, hell-bent on destroying humanity for reasons none can divine. 

But when the Vanguards arrive, the unthinkable happens–the mecha that should be killing Gus instead saves him. Suddenly, Gus’s swan song becomes humanity’s encore, as he is chosen to join a small group of traitorous Vanguards and their pilots dedicated to saving humanity.

Love, mechas, and music at the end of the world – what’s not to love? August Kitko is a loveable, awkward, semi-successful jazz musician who ends up playing a song that just might save humanking. Being a hero is all well and good, but can he save both the world and his new relationship?

This is the first book in The Starmetal Symphony series by Alex White. As the story opens, humanity is about to be destroyed by killer robots from outer space (yes, really), called the Vanguards. At one of the many apocalypse parties, August Kitko meets rockstar Ardent Violet, and falls head over heels for them. Unfortuntately, a Vanguard named Greymalkin also knocks Gus head over heels. Gus has five minutes to save the world before he dies.

Gus is an adorable everyman, caught up in something way bigger than he is and for which he seems wholly unprepared, both with the Vanguard and Ardent. The story is sparkly and fun and exciting, and you will absolutely have a soundtrack going through your head for most of the ride. Ardent is less Bowie and more Pete Burns, I felt, and Gus? Maybe Paul Simon? Gus and Ardent’s first jam had me humming “Doomsday Disco” by Lord of the Lost. I’m not sure whether I wanted the author to include the soundtrack they played writing this (if any) or if I was glad I could imagine my own.

Beneath all the shiny, there’s a sweet love story, some Pacific Rim-style fights, and the mystery of why the Vanguards want to destroy humans to solve. The story is covered with glitter and fire and light, and is face-paced and noisy. You can help but root for Gus, and Ardent, self-centered, but utterly loyal to Gus, will grow on you. Probably. If not, you’ll like them because they love Gus.

The story is told from both Gus’s and Ardent’s points-of-view, and I felt that the Ardent chapters were less successful than the Gus ones. That’s partially because almost all the mecha are in the Gus chapters, but also because, well, Ardent isn’t entirely likeable, and the action drags in their sections. I also felt that their “love at first sight” was a bit convenient, but then, hey, it WAS the end of the world, and they were immediately thrown into battle.

Fun, if a bit clunky in places. You won’t be sorry you tuned in.

Miranda’s June Reading Wrap Up

Happy summer! I’ve been in a bit of a slump since June, though thankfully not as bad as the slump I was in during February. Part of it is that work has been busy, so when I get home I don’t have much energy to sit down and read; I also can’t listen to a lot of audiobooks because I had to be more active at work. Things should hopefully calm down now that work is slowing down again.

Of course, now I get to show off the spreads for my reading journal in June. And since it was Pride, of course I put rainbows everywhere.

After receiving the June sticker pack from Pipsticks, I decided to use all of them in this set up. I also used some scrapbooking paper. I especially loved the butterflies in the sticker pack.

I did manage to read 17 books and listen to 7 audiobooks in June. Three of them were rereads. I also DNF’d 6 books. Overall I read 3,116 pages and listened to 4,668 minutes of audiobooks. My favorite book in June was She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick — I swooned. My average rating for June was 3.5, which is the highest it’s been so far!

This is the second month I’m trying out a calendar in my reading journal, and I’m still really enjoying it, although I’ve found I forget to actually sit down and put the tape and stickers in (as you can tell by the absence of both in days 23-30). I’ll try to be better about it in July.

Last up is my mood tracker and a new feature I added in June!

I trimmed down the number of moods I tracked in July and drew a Pride flag as my tracker. Save for a handful of bad days (thanks, Supreme Court!) June was mostly okay for me.

After I wrote down my key, I still had a large space of unused paper on the left hand side. In May’s spread, I used it to stamp some flowers and color them in, but I didn’t have anything that I felt really fit in June. Then I decided to add a “gratitude log”. I tend to be a negative person, and with the world the way it is, I thought adding a gratitude log would maybe help me. This was added about a week into June so a lot of early days are blank because my memory is awful and I couldn’t really think of anything. It’s a work in progress, I think.

Now for the books I read in June…

I reread the first three volumes of Witch Hat Atelier, then got caught up to what the library has available. I also finally read Nimona, which was great. My favorite physical book was probably SPYxFAMILY, which was charming as hell.

I didn’t burn through as many audiobooks this month, which is a bit sad, but overall I liked most of the ones I listened to. The only one I was underwhelmed by was Daughter of Sparta, which started out strong but ultimately went on too long and proved not to be to my taste as far as the romance went. But, my favorite audiobook (and overall book) of June was She Gets the Girl, as I said before. Loved it. I hope these two authors write more together soon.

So that’s it for me! What did you read in June? If you have a reading journal, how did you decorate it last month?

Book Review: Peril at the Exposition (Captain Jim Agnihotri #2) by Nev March

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: July 12th, 2022
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Captain Jim Agnihotri and his new bride, Diana Framji, return in Nev March’s Peril at the Exposition, the follow up to March’s award-winning, Edgar finalist debut, Murder in Old Bombay.

1893: Newlyweds Captain Jim Agnihotri and Diana Framji are settling into their new home in Boston, Massachusetts, having fled the strict social rules of British Bombay. It’s a different life than what they left behind, but theirs is no ordinary marriage: Jim, now a detective at the Dupree Agency, is teaching Diana the art of deduction he’s learned from his idol, Sherlock Holmes.

Everyone is talking about the preparations for the World’s Fair in Chicago: the grandeur, the speculation, the trickery. Captain Jim will experience it first-hand: he’s being sent to Chicago to investigate the murder of a man named Thomas Grewe. As Jim probes the underbelly of Chicago’s docks, warehouses, and taverns, he discovers deep social unrest and some deadly ambitions.

When Jim goes missing, young Diana must venture to Chicago’s treacherous streets to learn what happened. But who can she trust, when a single misstep could mean disaster?

Award-winning author Nev March mesmerized readers with her Edgar finalist debut, Murder in Old Bombay. Now, in Peril at the Exposition, she wields her craft against the glittering landscape of the Gilded Age with spectacular results.

Peril at the Exposition is the follow-up to Nev March’s first novel, Murder in Old Bombay, featuring Captain Jim Agnihotri. Jim and his new bride, Diana, have moved from India to America. Jim has started work as a private investigator, and is sent to Chicago for the 1893 World’s Fair. After weeks of not hearing from Jim, Diana takes matters into her own hands and follows him from Boston to Chicago, where she finds danger and deceit.

I loved the first book, which was from Jim’s POV. This novel is told alternately by Jim and Diana, which allows the reader to have more of the facts and background. Jim has, perhaps understandably, become a bit harder since his move to the States and embarking on a new career. While I applaud Diana’s bravery and her ability to care for the less fortunate around her, I found her part of the investigation to be clumsy. I had difficulty believing that Jim couldn’t get a message to her for all that time, and didn’t feel like the story really needed her intervention. Her naivety imperiled those around her, as well as herself and Jim.

Still, the read was mostly enjoyable, for the story and the name-dropping of the like of Tesla. It also provided a window on the Expo and late 19th-century Chicago.

Book Review: Guilty Creatures: A Menagerie of Mysteries ed. by Martin Edwards

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery short story collection
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: June 7th, 2022
Pages: 320, paperback
Source: NetGalley

“Curiously enough,” said Dr. Manners, “I know a story in which the detection of a murder turned on the behaviour of a bird: in this instance a jackdaw.” Since the dawn of the crime fiction genre, animals of all kinds have played a memorable part in countless mysteries, and in a variety of roles: the perpetrator, the key witness, the sleuth’s trusted companion. This collection of fourteen stories corrals plots centred around cats, dogs and insects alongside more exotic incidents involving gorillas, parakeets and serpents – complete with a customary shoal of red herrings. From the animal mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle and F. Tennyson Jesse through to more modern masterpieces of the sub-genre from Christianna Brand and Penelope Wallace, this anthology celebrates one of the liveliest and most imaginative species of classic crime fiction. 

Guilty Creatures is the latest vintage mystery short-story anthology from British Library Crime Classics/Poisoned Pen Press, edited by Martin Edwards. This outing is all about mysteries where an animal is a key component of the case.

A few of the stories were familiar, but were welcome re-reads, like Doyle’s The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane. I’d forgotten that Doyle did occasionally have Holmes self-narrate a tale, and it’s interesting to see Holmes through his own eyes.

Some of the stories are weaker, mystery-wise, such as The Man Who Shot Birds by Mary Fitt, but the tale itself is so entertaining that that can be overlooked.

Pit of Screams by Garnett Radcliffe is another one I’d read before, but I’d forgotten the trick ending, which is a very pleasing one.

You can’t go wrong with Christianna Brand, whose Inspector Cockrill makes a welcome appearance in “The Hornet’s Nest.” This is another one I’d read before, but it’s just so good and so unexpected that it’s worth the time spent to read again.

The anthology is a mixed bag, but is well worth reading just for these gems.