Book Review: Murder Through the English Post (Beryl & Edwina Mystery #6) by Jessica Ellicott

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: July 26th, 2022
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

A rash of poison pen letters has enveloped the sleepy English village of Walmsley Parva in cloud of suspicion and paranoia. But when rampant aspersions culminate in murder, enquiry agents Beryl Helliwell and Edwina Davenport must stamp out the evil-minded epistles . . .

What began for two dear if very different friends–an American adventuress and a prim and proper Brit–as a creative response to the lean times following the Great War has evolved into a respectable private enquiry business. So much so that Constable Gibbs calls upon Beryl and Edwina to solve a curious campaign of character assassination.

A series of anonymous accusations sent via post have set friend against friend and neighbor against neighbor. In her new position as magistrate, Edwina has already had to settle one dispute that led to fisticuffs. Even Beryl has received a poison pen letter, and while she finds its message preposterous and laughable, others are taking the missives to heart. Their headstrong housekeeper Beddoes is ready to resign and one villager has attempted to take her own life.

The disruption of the peace goes far beyond malicious mischief when another villager is murdered. Now it’s up to the intrepid sleuths to read between the lines and narrow down the suspects to identify the lethal letter writer and ensure that justice is delivered . . .

Poison is in the pen in Jessica Ellicott’s latest mystery, Murder Through the English Post. This time, Beryl and Edwina must investigate a rash of poison pen letters that may have caused a death.

Beryl, Edwina, and Simpkins continue to grow and their unconventional partnership is a delight. The flip side of that is that there is a LOT of introspection, mostly by Edwina, in this book, and it does cause it to drag in places. I’m very happy that Edwina is opening herself up to new experiences, such as becoming a magistrate, but I don’t necessarily want to read an entire chapter of her inner thoughts about her life.

Pretty much everyone in the village gets a poison pen letter, some deserved, some not. Readers will probably figure out the solution before Beryl and Edwina, but this is an enjoyable visit to Walmsley Parva, and a great peek into post-WWI village life.

Book Review: Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: May 17th, 2022
Pages: 370, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

The internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world.

Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare book store that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager’s unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:

Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiance was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances – most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she’s been working to support the family following her husband’s breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.

Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she’s working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.

As they interact with various literary figures of the time – Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others – these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.

Evie, Vivien, and Gracie are the Bloomsbury Girls, a not-quite sequel to Natalie Jenner’s The Jane Austen Society, although Evie appears in both novels.

It’s 1950s London. There’s still austerity, but life has more-or-less resumed as it was before World War II…and that’s the problem. Women are in the workforce in increased numbers, to the consternation, and sometimes hostility of their male coworkers and some customers.

Each woman is trying to make her place in Bloomsbury Books, which has stood for over 100 years and has over 50 unbreakable rules. In the changing society of the 50s, though, rule-breaking is almost inevitable, and each of the “girls” must decide whether to go with the status quo or fight to carve out the place she deserves among the shelves and aisles.

In addition to being a great story with characters you want to spend time with, this is a great peek into the post-war working-class society in mid-20th-century London. It does focus more on the internal struggles for each woman, but there are glimpses into the wider world and how it impacts their choices.

You don’t have to have read The Jane Austen Society before reading this, but you will want to, if only to learn more about Evie Stone.

Book Review: The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions by Kerry Greenwood

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: May 17th, 2022
Pages: 272, paperback
Source: NetGalley

The elegant Miss Phryne Fisher returns in this scintillating collection, featuring four brand-new stories.

The Honourable Phryne Fisher—she of the Lulu bob, Cupid’s Bow lips, diamante garters and pearl-handled pistol—is the 1920s’ most elegant and irrepressible sleuth.

Miss Phryne Fisher is up to her stunning green eyes in intriguing crime in each of these entertaining, fun and compulsively readable stories. With the ever-loyal Dot, the ingenious Mr Butler and all of Phryne’s friends and household, the action is as fast as Phryne’s wit and logic.

Phryne Fisher is back with four new short stories in The Lady with the Gun Asks the Questions. Her sleek bob and sharp wits remain unchanged, but there are minor alterations to a few of the other thirteen stories, which were previously published in A Question of Death.

Phyrne is always a joy to read. She is poised, confident, and intelligent, and uses her skills (and money) to pursue justice and solve mysteries. I wish there were more than four new stories, but it had been awhile since I had read the anthology with the others, so it was like catching up with an old friend who had exciting new news.

But Phryne does not act in a vacuum. While she may dine with the upper crust, she’s equally at home in humbler (and more socialistic) settings. She’s a chameleon, but she’s always true to herself and is sympathetic to people in unfortunate circumstances.

If you like mysteries with wit, sparkle, and charm set in the period between the World Wars, you should be reading Phryne. Even if you don’t think that’s your cuppa, try them anyway. You won’t be disappointed.

Book Review: Rotten to the Core (Lady Hardcastle Mysteries #8) by T.E. Kinsey

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: June 7th, 2022
Pages: 334, paperback
Source: NetGalley

Summer 1911. A scorching heatwave engulfs the quiet town of Littleton Cotterell and brings about an unusually early harvest. The villagers are thrilled, but events quickly turn sour when one of them turns up dead in an apple orchard, stabbed through the heart.

Amateur sleuth Lady Hardcastle and her trusty lady’s maid, Flo, suddenly have a juicy case on their hands. Might the mysterious stranger they recently met in the village be to blame?

When a second cider-related murder takes place, it quickly becomes clear that there’s more to these mysterious deaths than meets the eye. The daring duo uncover whispers of an ancient order and moonlit rituals. And evidence points to a macabre secret in the village stretching back years. A secret someone will do anything—anything at all—to keep hidden.

Something is rotten, that’s for sure. With the local constabulary baffled, Lady Hardcastle and Flo must use all their powers of wit and whimsy to get to the bottom of the dastardly deed. But can they catch the killer before any more people drop dead?

Old sins cast long shadows in T E Kinsey’s latest Lady Hardcastle mystery, Rotten to the Core. In the midst of preparations for a harvest festival, a local man is found dead in an orchard. Lady Hardcastle and her more-than-a-maid Flo are called upon to investigate. They find a benevolent society with some odd rituals, a tourist/newcomer who picks some odd local sites to visit, and more than one motive for murder.

Flo and Emily are back with the sharp skills and witty banter that we’ve come to expect and love. There are red herrings and suspects galore in this outing, indeed, maybe a few too many. But Flo and Emily persevere, and solve the case in time to enjoy cider at the festival.

I always enjoy spending time in Littleton Cottrell, and this book is no exception.

If you like an egalitarian aristocrat with an amazing jill-of-all-trades sidekick, pick up this series now!

Book Review: Prison of Sleep (Journals of Zaxony Delatree #2) by Tim Pratt

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publication Date: April 26th, 2022
Pages: 400, paperback
Source: NetGalley

After escaping the ruthless Lector, Zax Delatree has a new enemy to fight in the sequel to Doors of Sleep.

Every time Zaxony Delatree falls asleep he wakes up on a new world. His life has turned into an endless series of brief encounters. But at least he and Minna, the one companion who has found a way of travelling with him, are no longer pursued by the psychotic and vengeful Lector.

But now Zax has been joined once again by Ana, a companion he thought left behind long ago. Ana is one of the Sleepers, a group of fellow travellers between worlds. Ana tells Zax that he is unknowingly host to a parasitic alien that exists partly in his blood and partly between dimensions. The chemical that the alien secretes is what allows Zax to travel. Every time he does, however, the parasite grows, damaging the fabric of the Universes. Anas is desperate to recruit Zax to her cause and stop the alien.

But there are others who are using the parasite, such as the cult who serve the Prisoner – an entity trapped in the dimension between universes. Every world is like a bar in its prison. The cult want to collapse all the bars of the worlds and free their god. Can Zax, Minna, Ana and the other Sleepers band together and stop them?

Prison of Sleep continues Zax’s journey through multiple worlds as he tries to stop the Sleeper cult from propagating and destroying space-time. Told from the points-of-view of Zax, and his former traveling partner and lover, Ana, we get insights (and, admittedly, info-dumps) about the cult and the people from various worlds who are working to defeat it. But, can a god who can traverse anywhere be killed?

Tim Pratt is a writer who’s work is always a joy for me. I became a fan with his Marla Mason series, and have liked everything since. I read The Twilight Empire at the same time I was reading Prison of Sleep, and was intrigued by how effortlessly he builds worlds and characters.

Zax has traveled over 1000 worlds, and he has lost several companions along the way. The cult are looking for him, either to convert or to kill him, and it’s becoming harder to stay ahead of them.

Ana has also become a traveler, after surviving near-madness due to exposure of the space between the worlds. She’s a bit more pessimistic than Zax, but also less idealistic. They balance each other well, and readers will hope for their eventual reunion.

We also meet back up with some characters I thought might be lost for good after the first book. No spoilers, but they’ve joined the fight as well, and are working their way to Zax.

Despite the large blocks of info, the plot moves well and makes sense. I think possibly it could have been improved by having two parts Zax to one part Ana in the chapters, but then too, Ana’s sections give us lots of the backstory of the cult and the group working against them.

This is a good, solid sci-fi series that will appeal to readers who like to imagine alternate times and places.

Book Review: Knit or Dye Trying (A Riverbank Knitting Mystery #2) by Allie Pleiter

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication Date: April 5th, 2022
Pages: 304, mass market paperback
Source: NetGalley

Business is booming for Libby Beckett and her fabulous Maryland shop, aptly named Y.A.R.N., but when a town festival brings a fatality with it, Libby gets all tangled up in murder.

As spring comes to Collinstown, the village launches a food festival to draw a new group of tourists. Libby, proud owner of Y.A.R.N., has planned a yarn event to provide an alternative option to a foodie weekend. Artisan fiber dyer Julie Wilson–known for her work with animal-friendly, plant-based knitting fibers such as bamboo and hemp as well as her brilliant use of color–will hopefully draw a crowd with a special dyeing workshop.

The festival begins, but it draws more than crowds. First a flock of sheep parades down the street, herded by farmers protesting Julie’s antiwool stance. Then Julie’s celebrity chef sister appears, and the siblings resume a long-standing rivalry. Despite all this, Julie’s workshop has sold out. Libby is thrilled, and they’re preparing for a full house. But the night before the event, Julie is found alone in the warehouse event space–dead. The witty “Watch Julie Wilson Dye” workshop title now has a terrible new meaning–and it’s up to Libby to catch a crafty killer.

A flock of protest sheep welcome Libby’s most recent celebrity guest, a well-known, and much-disliked yarn dyer, in Knit or Dye Trying, the second in Allie Pleiter’s knitting mystery series. Libby owns Y.A.R.N, and is having an event to go along with the local seafood festival. Julie Wilson is her expert guest, and Libby gives Julie access to a local warehouse so that Julie can create her special, highly sought-after, colors. Julie gets trapped in the warehouse, and is overcome by fumes. Libby feels responsible, and decides to investigate.

This second outing for Libby is every bit as enjoyable as the first. Although she hasn’t been back in town long, she’s folded herself seamlessly into the life of her town, even running for local office against her blowhard fellow business owner George. One of the strengths of the series is the relationships Libby has forged and the growth we’ve seen from the first book. Libby is likeable and is a very relatable character, as are her almost-boyfriend Gavin, Gavin’s daughter, and Libby’s mom. They feel like real people whom you’d like to know.

Libby is a great cozy heroine. She’s thoughtful, and doesn’t jump to conclusions. She looks at the people involved in the case, and makes logical deductions. Maybe it’s a knitting thing? I can knit a decent scarf, and I admire people who can work large, complex patterns. Libby is amazing at unravelling (pun intended) the knotty skeins of the crimes which have come her way.

The crimes make sense, too, and there are enough clues scattered along the way to keep the reader engaged without letting them guess the solution too soon.

It’s a wonderful series, filled with life and love. I hope there are many more to come.

Book Review: The Ex Hex (The Ex Hex #1) by Erin Sterling

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: September 28th, 2021
Length: 7 hrs 23mins
Source: Library

Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.

Sir Percival the cat was the best part of this, especially when he called Gwyn “mama”. Otherwise I rolled my eyes at a lot of this, especially the heavy focus on sex when frankly there were much more important things going on. Mayhaps I am simply a Clueless Ace, but do allosexual adults really spend this much time thinking/talking/joking about sex and getting turned on at the drop of a hat? Sounds exhausting. Couldn’t be me.

This book shares two problems I had with another witchy romance book, Payback’s a Witch. Both of them feature settings consisting of a town in America that was founded a few hundred years previously by an ancestor of one of the main characters. Just like in the aforementioned book, nothing is said about what happened to the Native Americans who owned the land before it was colonized. Really gotta wonder about that! Also, this book takes place in Georgia. So, uh… did any of the ancestors, you know, enslave Black people? It’s stated that the town was founded at least 300 years ago, so.

Maybe I’m ruining the witchy rom-com vibe the book was going for by trying to pry deeper into the worldbuilding and wanting answers to these serious questions, but if you introduce this kind of world, a bitch is gonna wonder about a few things.

There’s also a couple of snide remarks about how “fake” witchcraft has become very popular (“Everyone’s a witch these days.”) and this was a thing in Payback’s a Witch as well. Kind of tired of it, to be honest. Just because a lot of people are experimenting with witchcraft doesn’t make them fakers or posers. It’s just a sense of condescension that rubs me the wrong way.

Otherwise, I wasn’t moved much by the main couple. Like I said, the main focus on sex dampened by ability to really get into them or root for them as a couple. I also just found Vivienne annoying as hell. This comes down to a personality issue for me; I don’t see why characters, especially female ones, have to still be torn up and hurt by a dude even nine years after he did something to them, or be frankly huge bitches when the dudes show back up. I try to cut some slack since I know this is me being judgmental, and I guess it’s fine if it still hurts a bit, but come on. You’re twenty-eight. Let’s act like the adult we are instead of the 19-year-old who got her heart broken.

Book Review: Danger on the Atlantic (A Jane Wunderly Mystery #3) by Erica Ruth Neubauer

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: March 29th, 2022
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

For young American widow Jane Wunderly, there are worse fates than adventuring aboard a transatlantic liner with the only man who could change her mind about romance. Unfortunately, her first-class itinerary has an unexpected—and deadly—addition waiting just below deck . . .

Atlantic Ocean, 1926: Voyaging from Southampton to New York, self-reliant Jane is determined to prove herself a worthy investigator on the stately ship—even awkwardly going undercover as the fashionable wife of her magnetic partner, Mr. Redvers. Few details are known about the rumored German spy the duo have been tasked with identifying among fellow passengers, but new troubles unfold once wealthy newlywed Vanessa FitzSimmons announces the sudden disappearance of her husband at sea . . .

Miles Van de Meter, the man Vanessa rushed to marry in Monte Carlo, has allegedly vanished into thin air along with his luggage. Redvers guesses the shifty heiress may be weaving tall tales for fun between flutes of champagne, yet Jane isn’t convinced—not after the stunning murder of a trusted acquaintance sends them into uncharted waters. Facing two dangerous mysteries and a boat load of suspects, Jane must navigate a claustrophobic quest for answers before the culprits can slip from her grasp on land . . . or, worse, ensure she and Redvers never reach their destination.

In Danger on the Atlantic, the third installment in Erica Ruth Neubauer’s Jane Wunderly series, there are rumblings of unrest in Europe. Jane and Redvers pose as a married couple traveling on an ocean liner to discover who among three suspects is a German spy. But a missing newlywed husband and a gaslit bride distract Jane from her primary mission, putting her in peril from multiple sides.

For the character development and the backstories of Jane and Redvers alone, this is a great read. While the story does have some uneven pacing, the plot generally ticks along and there are enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing for a long while.

There are a few more will they/won’t they moments between Jane and Redvers, but they also serve to deepen their connection. He is a bit dismissive of her thoughts on occasion, but in general, he treats her as a partner, which allows her to trust again after her disastrous abusive marriage.

If you haven’t read the others, the only thing you’re missing out on is Jane’s overbearing aunt, so reading the first two is not crucial to enjoying this one. If you enjoy Christie-type puzzles, you’ll like this book.

Book Review: Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments (Edinburgh Nights #2) by T.L. Huchu

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: April 5th, 2022
Pages: 368, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Some secrets are meant to stay buried

When Ropa Moyo discovered an occult underground library, she expected great things. She’s really into Edinburgh’s secret societies – but turns out they are less into her. So instead of getting paid to work magic, she’s had to accept a crummy unpaid internship. And her with bills to pay and a pet fox to feed.

Then her friend Priya offers her a job on the side. Priya works at Our Lady of Mysterious Maladies, a very specialized hospital, where a new illness is resisting magical and medical remedies alike. The first patient was a teenage boy, Max Wu, and his healers are baffled. If Ropa can solve the case, she might earn as she learns – and impress her mentor, Sir Callander.

Her sleuthing will lead her to a lost fortune, an avenging spirit and a secret buried deep in Scotland’s past. But how are they connected? Lives are at stake and Ropa is running out of time.

Stop what you’re doing and go buy this series now. Seriously. Why are you still reading my review? Go!

If you love Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, you’ll be captivated by T. L. Huchu’s Edinburgh Nights. Ropa Moyo might finally have gotten a break after the disastrous events in the first book led to an unpaid internship and the loss of her primary ghostalking clientele. Her friend Priya offers her a job investigating the victim of a mysterious new magical illness. Ropa has to navigate post-catastrophe Edinburgh and, even worse, a high-society magical boarding school to get the answers. But what she uncovers is a threat hundreds of years old, and no one today may have the power to stop it.

Ropa is doing her best to stay under the radar of the various Edinburgh gangs, keep food on the table for her gran and her younger sister, and not get into any more trouble with the Library. She’s an amazing character, and you’ll root for her even as you marvel and the wonderful (and awful) world Huchu has created. While there are similarities to Aaronovitch’s series, Ropa is very much her own character and has had a much rougher time of it than Peter Grant. She meets every challenge head-on, and will undoubtedly change the magical society of Edinburgh before they change her.

Book Review: Crowbones (The Others #8) by Anne Bishop

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace
Publication Date: March 8th, 2022
Pages: 384, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Crowbones will gitcha if you don’t watch out!

Deep in the territory controlled by the Others-shape-shifters, vampires, and even deadlier paranormal beings-Vicki DeVine has made a new life for herself running The Jumble, a rustic resort. When she decides to host a gathering of friends and guests for Trickster Night, at first everything is going well between the humans and the Others.

But then someone arrives dressed as Crowbones, the Crowgard bogeyman. When the impostor is killed along with a shape-shifting Crow, and the deaths are clearly connected, everyone fears that the real Crowbones may have come to The Jumble-and that could mean serious trouble.

To “encourage” humans to help them find some answers, the Elders and Elementals close all the roads, locking in suspects and victims alike. Now Vicki, human police chief Grimshaw, vampire lawyer Ilya Sanguinati, and the rest of their friends have to figure out who is manipulating events designed to pit humans against Others-and who may have put Vicki DeVine in the crosshairs of a powerful hunter.

It’s Trickster Night in Crowbones, the latest book in Anne Bishop’s The Others series. Vicki DeVine has introduced the non-human residents of Sproing to that world’s equivalent of Halloween. But the tricks turn to terror when a mutilated corpse is found and the Indigene block the roads so that no one can leave.

My recommendation is that you read the other books in this series before attempting this one. While there’s a reasonable amount of recap, the interpersonal relationships and the fear the residents feel will make a lot more sense with the backstory you’ll find in previous books.

I’m not a fan of Bishop’s other series, and this one felt a bit like some of her character quirks from those other novels made their way into this one. The human men are much better-defined and have less trauma than the human women. Overall, human women do not fare well in this series. They’ve typically survived all forms of abuse and violence, and can’t sustain healthy relationships.

However, the writing and worldbuilding is strong enough to compensate for a few flaws. There are many parallels with our world, but just enough differences to feel ‘alien.’ The idea that humans have somehow managed to coexist with stronger, faster, and quite frankly, usually smarter beings is fascinating. When contrasted against the Indigene, who are comprised of vampires, shifters, and other non-human species, you have to wonder how the humans managed to survive long enough to develop technology. But, humans being humans, they often find ways to alienate the Indigene, which leads to the deaths of those humans.

Come for the glimpse into a world where we aren’t top of the food chain and stay for the wonderful non-human characters.