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: 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.

Book Review: Front Page Murder (A Homefront News Mystery #1) by Joyce St. Anthony

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: March 8th, 2022
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

In this World War II-era historical mystery series debut by Joyce St. Anthony, small-town editor Irene Ingram has a nose for news and an eye for clues.

Irene Ingram has written for her father’s newspaper, the Progress Herald, ever since she could grasp a pencil. Now she’s editor in chief, which doesn’t sit well with the men in the newsroom. But proving her journalistic bona fides is the least of Irene’s worries when crime reporter Moe Bauer, on the heels of a hot tip, turns up dead at the foot of his cellar stairs.

An accident? That’s what Police Chief Walt Turner thinks, and Irene is inclined to agree until she finds the note Moe discreetly left on her desk. He was on to a big story, he wrote. The robbery she’d assigned him to cover at Markowicz Hardware turned out to be something far more devious. A Jewish store owner in a small, provincial town, Sam Markowicz received a terrifying message from a stranger. Moe suspected that Sam is being threatened not only for who he is…but for what he knows.

Tenacious Irene senses there’s more to the Markowicz story, which she is all but certain led to Moe’s murder. When she’s not filling up column inches with the usual small-town fare—locals in uniform, victory gardens, and scrap drives—she and her best friend, scrappy secretary Peggy Reardon, search for clues. If they can find the killer, it’ll be a scoop to stop the presses. But if they can’t, Irene and Peggy may face an all-too-literal deadline.

Front Page Murder is the first in a hopefully long series featuring a newspaper editor in Progress, Pennsylvania during WWII. Irene has assumed control of the local newspaper while her father is deployed. This has ruffled some feathers, including those of her cousin, who thinks he should be in charge.

Irene is investigating some hate crimes against Jewish members of the community when a murder occurs. She thinks they’re related, and turns her natural investigative skills to find the killer.

I’ve read many WWII mysteries, but usually, they’re set in England. I enjoyed seeing some perspective from the U.S. home front, and Irene is an engaging sleuth. The characters are well-written and show the varying viewpoints of people during this time period. Some feel that women shouldn’t be in charge, and Irene’s struggles to manage the newspaper are very believable. 

I’m not completely sure people in the U.S. were fully aware in 1942 about how much persecution and violence European Jews had suffered, but it makes sense that, if anyone would be well-informed, it would be the media.

Book Review: The White Rose Network by Ellie Midwood

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Bookouture
Publication Date: February 9th, 2022
Pages: 281, paperback
Source: NetGalley

Sophie was born to be a rebel, raised by parents who challenged the brutal Nazi regime. Determined to follow in their footsteps, she leaves for university, defying Hitler’s command for women to stay at home.

On her first day in Munich, Sophie’s brother Hans introduces her to his dear friend. When she meets Alexander, with his raven-black hair and brooding eyes, she knows instantly that she isn’t alone. There are more courageous souls like her, who will fight against evil.

Together, and with others who also refuse to back down, they form the White Rose Network. In an underground vault, Sophie and Alexander conspire in whispers, falling in love as they plot against Hitler. Promising her heart to Alexander is the most dangerous act of all––with each risk they take, they get closer to capture.

As snowflakes fall on a frosty February morning, Sophie and her brother scatter Munich University with leaflets calling for resistance: “We will not be silent; we will not leave you in peace!”

But their lives hang in the balance, with the secret police offering a reward to anyone with information on the White Rose Network. It is only a matter of time before the Gestapo closes in… And when Sophie is imprisoned in an interrogation room, staring a Nazi officer in the eye, will she take their secrets to her grave? Will she sacrifice her freedom for love?

Fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Alice Network and The Lilac Girls will be completely gripped by this heartbreaking and addictive page-turner. Based on a true story, this inspirational tale shows that, in the face of evil, giving up is not an option…

Ellie Midwood’s The White Rose Network is a fictionalized account of Sophie Scholl’s involvement in a student resistance against the Nazis in WWII Munich.

When Sophie arrives in Munich in the Spring of 1942 to study at the university, she has no idea that her brother Hans, his best friend Alex, and their fellow students have started publishing leaflets denouncing the Nazis. Sophie, despite being engaged to a Wehrmacht solider, is already a rebel, being one of only ten percent of women allowed to attend university. Her family do not support the Nazi regime, so it is natural that Sophie joins their group, called “The White Rose” and begins writing her own tracts.

Midwood uses contemporary sources and actual quotes which demonstrate the bravery and conviction of these students. Sophie’s refusal to condemn the others to save herself, despite the best efforts of her Gestapo interrogator to get her to do so, shows that, even in evil times, there are good people, and it is worth it to try to change things.

It’s not an easy read. You know not all of the group will survive the war, and there are definitely uncomfortable parallels to the political climates in several places. The content is rich, though, and Midwood brings each person vividly to life.

Book Review: Seven Mercies (Seven Devils #2) by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Publisher: DAW Books
Publication Date: January 25th, 2022
Pages: 464, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

The second book in a feminist space opera duology that follows the team of seven rebels who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire–or die trying.

After an ambush leaves the Novantae resistance in tatters, the survivors scatter across the galaxy. Wanted by two great empires, the bounty on any rebel’s head is enough to make a captor filthy rich. And the seven devils? Biggest score of them all. To avoid attacks, the crew of Zelus scavenge for supplies on long-abandoned Tholosian outposts.

Not long after the remnants of the rebellion settle briefly on Fortuna, Ariadne gets a message with unimaginable consequences: the Oracle has gone rogue. In a planned coup against the Empire’s new ruler, the AI has developed a way of mass programming citizens into mindless drones. The Oracle’s demand is simple: the AI wants One’s daughter back at any cost.

Time for an Impossible to Infiltrate mission: high chance of death, low chance of success. The devils will have to use their unique skills, no matter the sacrifice, and pair up with old enemies. Their plan? Get to the heart of the Empire. Destroy the Oracle. Burn it all to the ground.

Gina’s Review

Seven Mercies is the sequel to Seven Devils, and continues the story of the rebellion led by the former heir to the Tholosian Empire. In the Empire, the Archon controls the populace by means of the Oracle, a powerful AI.

The Devils are on the run. Most of their forces have abandoned them, and they have no allies. One of them will be dead soon without a cure for the ichor. The One wants her programmer back, and is willing to enslave all of humanity to make it happen. The odds couldn’t be more stacked against them, until a bit of intel from the most unlikely of potential allies gives them one last shot for the freedom of the galaxy. The stakes are high, and Eris, former heir to the throne, knows that she will have to pay her god in more deaths before they are done.

The relationships between the characters grow stronger, but there are still times when they don’t act as a cohesive unit, and members pursue their own agendas. We learn the backstories for several of them, and those stories serve to further illustrate how despotic the Empire is.

The book clocks in at 464 pages, and at times, it feels like it. Each of the characters, with the exception of Kyla, has a fully fleshed-out story arc/tangent, and there’s a lot of exposition. It’s good exposition, but this is not a quick or easy read.

Lam and May have done a great job of tying up all the loose ends and have given a satisfactory, if somewhat formulaic, ending to the duology.

Book Review: Rosebud by Paul Cornell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Sci-Fi
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publication Date: April 26th, 2022
Pages: 112, paperback
Source: NetGalley

“The crew of the Rosebud are, currently, and by force of law, a balloon, a goth with a swagger stick, some sort of science aristocrat possibly, a ball of hands, and a swarm of insects.”

When five sentient digital beings—condemned for over three hundred years to crew the small survey ship by the all-powerful Company—encounter a mysterious black sphere, their course of action is clear: obtain the object, inform the Company, earn lots of praise.

But the ship malfunctions, and the crew has no choice but to approach the sphere and survey it themselves. They have no idea that this object—and the transcendent truth hidden within—will change the fate of all existence, the Company, and themselves.

I like Paul Cornell’s work, even when I’m not sure I’ve entirely gotten the message. Such is the case with Rosebud. It’s as if 2001 had been written by John Dickson Carr, perhaps. It’s a mystery inside an enigma inside a, well, you get the idea.

There are five sentient digital beings who are being punished for crimes against society. Their job is to investigate anomalies. Upon encountering a mysterious sphere, they decide to investigate and then must decide what to do with forbidden knowledge.

I found myself distracted by the physical forms the digital beings took. I suppose that if you’ve been locked up for several hundred years, you have to take your freedoms where you can, but it didn’t really add anything to the story for me, and it made it a bit harder to keep track of who was whom. The characters themselves are interesting, and I wanted to know more about them.

The pop culture references were fun. It does seem to be a thing for a lot of books lately, but I have to wonder whether people will really be quoting cult classics several hundred years from now, the way we do, say, Shakespeare.

Book Review: Three Shots to the Wind (Chloe Jackson, Sea Glass Saloon Mystery #3) by Sherry Harris

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Cozy mystery
Publisher: Kensington
Publication Date: March 29th, 2022
Pages: 304, mass market paperback
Source: NetGalley

DEAD EXES TELL NO TALES

Saloon owner Chloe Jackson appears to have a secret admirer. She’s pouring drinks at the Sea Glass Saloon in Emerald Cove when an airplane flies by above the beach with a banner reading I LOVE YOU CHLOE JACKSON. She immediately rules out Rip Barnett. They are in the early stages of dating and no one has said the L word. Then a bouquet of lilacs—her favorite flower—is delivered to the bar, followed by an expensive bottle of her favorite sparkling wine. It couldn’t be . . .

Sure enough, her ex-fiancé from Chicago has flown down to Florida for an accountants’ convention. But is he trying to mix business with pleasure and win her back? Unfortunately he’s not in a hotel conference room, he’s floating facedown in the lake next to her house, clutching a photo of Chloe. Who murders an accountant on a business trip—it just doesn’t add up. When Rip becomes the prime suspect, Chloe is determined to find the secret murderer. But if she isn’t careful, it may be closing time and lights out for her.

The Chloe Jackson series just keeps getting better. This time, Chloe’s ex-fiance turns up dead, and Chloe finds there was a lot she didn’t know about her seemingly mild-mannered ex.

Chloe has settled in nicely to her new life in Florida. She’s part owner of the Sea Glass Saloon, and is building strong relationships with the residents of Emerald Cove. She’s a great character, and her motivations and actions feel real. There’s also a good amount of humor.

This is a great cozy series and I hope there are many more cases for Chloe.

Book Review: Under Lock & Skeleton Key (Secret Staircase Mystery #1) by Gigi Pandian

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 15th, 2022
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

An impossible crime. A family legacy. The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases.

After a disastrous accident derails Tempest Raj’s career, and life, she heads back to her childhood home in California to comfort herself with her grandfather’s Indian home-cooked meals. Though she resists, every day brings her closer to the inevitable: working for her father’s company. Secret Staircase Construction specializes in bringing the magic of childhood to all by transforming clients’ homes with sliding bookcases, intricate locks, backyard treehouses, and hidden reading nooks.

When Tempest visits her dad’s latest renovation project, her former stage double is discovered dead inside a wall that’s supposedly been sealed for more than a century. Fearing she was the intended victim, it’s up to Tempest to solve this seemingly impossible crime. But as she delves further into the mystery, Tempest can’t help but wonder if the Raj family curse that’s plagued her family for generations—something she used to swear didn’t exist—has finally come for her. 

Who better than a magician to unravel a locked room mystery?

Tempest Raj has returned home after nearly dying in her last magic show in Las Vegas. She can’t prove sabotage, but thinks her former assistant set her up. To Tempest’s surprise, her father’s crew find the body of her former assistant walled up in a property they are renovating. The only problem is, that section hadn’t been touched in decades, so it was impossible for her to be there. Tempest and her friends (including Sanjay, from Pandian’s Jaya Jones series) must unlock the mystery before Tempest becomes the next victim.

Tempest has had a rough go of it. She’s broke, has had to move back home with her father and grandparents, and may be sued by the venue where she used to perform. On top of that, she may be being haunted by her mother, who disappeared years ago, possibly due to the family curse.

Tempest is a likeable heroine and you’ll root for her. She’s not quite as fierce as she thinks she is, but she’s real and strong and has a good support system in her family and friends. She’s also lucky to have friends and family who share her interest in magic and puzzles. I was frankly jealous of her living space.

The story is well-written, and the action flows naturally. There are the requisite number of red herrings, and not too many potential villains. Like Tempest, once the reader figures out what made the crime impossible, the who and the how will follow.

Be sure to eat something before you read, as the food descriptions will make you hungry. Luckily, Pandian includes recipes in her books!

4 out of 5 magic stars – highly recommended.