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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

Birdland

Birdland - Leila Jeffreys

A gorgeous book that I’d eyed about a year ago and dismissed as too decadent; coffee-table art books generally don’t make it into my book budget.  Luckily, I received it as a birthday gift last week, so I could wallow in the beautiful bird portraits guilt-free.

 

Then, at the end, I saw the List of Works, in which Jeffreys included general information about the species, and almost always, a small anecdote about her experience photographing the individual bird.  They were, apologies to Jeffreys and her obvious talent, the best part of the book, because while her photos are stunning, those little anecdotes brought them, and the bird, to life.  So much so that at some points, I found myself a little misty-eyed and a lot jealous.

 

A beautiful book for those that enjoy birds and photography.



The Windermere Witness (Lake District Mystery, #1)

The Windermere Witness (The Lake District Mysteries) - Rebecca Tope

I picked this up at a used book shop during our aborted Christmas travels; having spent time in the Lake District, specifically, the towns of Windermere, Bowness, and Ableside that this story is set in, it appealed to me instantly.

 

Alas, it was no more than a drab average.  The characters didn't know what they wanted to be: the MC tells an inspector at the beginning she's moved to Windermere after her divorce, that she was childless and insisted that there were "compensations".  By the end of the book she's barely coping with the stillborn birth she had 2 years before.  Coping and repression are likely, of course, but they aren't part of of the narrative, so the reader is left with no grasp of this MC.  The Inspector is either attractive and friendly or greasy-haired and antagonistic.  The MC's mother is supposed to be a hippy, but acts more like a criminal attorney; I never once got the impression she liked her daughter.  The bride of the story is either flaky, naive and needs to be protected, or a headstrong woman who is the only one that can steer her much older husband's life.  Flip-flop.

 

The elements of the plot were interesting, but the plot itself wasn't anything special.  The motivation was pathetic and unbelievable, given the characters, and the murderer pretty obvious after about half-way.  

 

The setting was what I'd hoped for, at least.  My memories of the Lake District are still vivid, and I loved the area, so 're-visiting' it through the book kept me picking it back up.  This is the first in a series all set here, and while weak, not so bad that should I come across another one at a used book shop, I'd probably pick it up.



A Pretty Deceit (Verity Kent, #4)

A Pretty Deceit - Anna Lee Huber

Aside from my subjective issues with the path Huber chose for these characters, I like this series; you could say I enjoy them in spite of myself.  But while this book was a 4 star read on the strength of its plot, it might have been a 4.5/5 star read if not for the weakness of the editing.

 

The narrative is much longer than it needed to be because Huber, with admirable motivation, spends a lot of time ruminating on the devastation wrought on both the soldiers who fought in WWI, and those left behind to cope in fear and anxiety.  She does bring light to many aspects of the horror that is war, especially the first world war, but she spends too much time doing it, and this is a murder mystery, after all.  I'm confident a lot of it could have been cut without losing the more important message, and the overall story would have been a lot better for it.

 

Still, the plot is a strong one, with aspects of scavenger and treasure hunting spicing up what would otherwise be an ordinary nemesis plot running parallel to a murder mystery.  I'm still kid enough to enjoy rhyming clues and secret codes, as well as the touch of cloak and dagger when used judiciously, and it is here.

 

As I opened the post with, I still don't like what Huber is doing with the characters; while there are no love triangles or quadrangles, she has two other men in love with Verity who are dedicated to uncovering the series' plot; there seems to be no plan for this to change and it's tiresome.  Luckily, the murder mysteries have so far made up for it.  Can't see that lasting much longer though.



A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder (Countess of Harleigh Mystery, #3)

A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder - Dianne Freeman

Historical mysteries seem to be all the rage at the moment, and fortunately, publishers have yet to monetise and ruin the trend to such a degree that you can't find a selection of well written series to enjoy.  While the quality of cozy mysteries has been abysmal the last several years, Historical Mysteries have filled in the gap nicely for me.

 

A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder is the 3rd in a series I discovered at my first (and so far only) Bouchercon convention.  It's a good series, and this book is a strong 3rd book, moving the characters' arcs along quickly, while presenting an interesting stand-alone plot, with clues easily missed and writing that skilfully misdirected the reader down several false avenues.  As the story moved along, some of the misdirection became obvious, but some of it didn't, rendering a delightful mystery well done.

 

My only groan over the book was the introduction of Countess Harleigh's mother who was caricatured for most of her page time, only to do the whole mama-lion thing and achieving what to me was an insincere redemption in the final pages.  Fortunately she's not around much in this book and it wasn't enough to really weight the book down.



The Grandest Bookshop in the World

The Grandest Bookshop in the World - Amelia Mellor

A friend told me about this book 6+ months ago, as a gift idea for my 10 year old niece, mentioning it was a story I’d enjoy too.  I forgot about it until she reminded me back in October, so when, just a few weeks later, I saw it at one of my schools’ book fairs, I bought it for a Christmas present, thinking niece and I could read it together, since I’d be spending Christmas with her and her family.

 

Then, Christmas got cancelled and the book was packed up to ship up to her along with the rest of the presents.  I figured I’d get to it one of these days.

 

Turns out I would; a package arrived at our house 5 days after Christmas, from an online bookseller, containing this book – I never ordered it and there’s NO information in the package about who sent it.  Mysteries.  The Good Kind.

 

Anyway, I got to read the book and oh, what an enchanting story it is.  Firmly written for middle grade kids, but magical enough to capture this adult’s imagination.  Two children, who live above the Grandest Bookstore in the World** have 28 hours to solve 7 challenges or else their beloved dad and their bookstore will cease to exist.

 

There are shades of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Jumanji, and on a deeper level Faust, but nothing ever too heavy for a 10 year old to handle.  Everything is couched in adventure and the heavier theme behind the Faustian roots of the story are confronted honestly without dwelling on them.  It really is a most wonderfully done story.

 

** Coles Book Arcade was a real place in Melbourne in the late 1800’s and it really was the Grandest Bookshop in the World.  While all the parts the author uses in the book (the tea room, the lolly shop, the fernery, etc.) didn’t all exist at the same time, they did all exist.  For those interested, I highly recommend this article from The Guardian, written by the author of this book, which you can find here.



Lowcountry Boondoggle (Liz Talbot, #9)

Lowcountry Boondoggle - Susan M. Boyer

Another solid entry in what's been a very dependable, well-written series.  The mystery itself was a little predictable, but I can't be certain the author didn't intend that, as the clues weren't subtle; a story about PIs wouldn't really work with subtle and still be fair to the readers.

 

There's some character development in this one, as well as references to a previous plot that make this less than ideal as a standalone, and it's wroth the time to start at the beginning with book 1.



A Woman of No Importance

A Woman of No Importance - Sonia Purnell

An outstanding story from start to finish.  I listened to the audio and the narrator did an outstanding job, making an already riveting story one that I wanted to just sit and listen to, rather than serving as just a diversion while in traffic.

 

Virginia Hall, by any standard measure of time, accomplishment, daring, intelligence or bravery, was a heroine.  Her gender makes no difference in this distinction, nor does her disability, but both render her accomplishments during WWII even more astounding.  

Sonia Purnell does an excellent job chronicling the life of Hall, in spite of what she admits upfront was a daunting process of historical research in the face of archive fires, classified intelligence in multiple countries, and Hall's own ingrained reticence to discuss her work or accept accolades for her contributions to ending the war.  Her speculations as to what might have happened during gaps in primary sources seem few, and the writing makes those speculations clear.  She also doesn't just rely solely on chronicling Virginia's life, but covers quite a bit of the story of the French Resistance, especially in Lyon, during the Vichy government, and the Nazi take-over leading up to the invasion of Normandy.

 

The history is at times romantic in true Bond style, terrifying, and heartbreaking.  The details of Vichy and Nazi interrogating techniques is NOT for the feint of heart, and the post-war years for Virginia were a mixture of recognition of her talents and accomplishments, and a disgusting record of 50's misogyny.  I appreciated that the author made the effort to be accurate, not falling into the easy route of railing against all the discrimination and not giving time to those men in the intelligence and government sectors that stood up and gladly gave her the credit she earned and deserved.  Purnell tries to be balanced, and I think she succeeds brilliantly, pointing out the CIA's mistakes and their own efforts to take responsibility for them.

 

I'm thankful I found this book, and I'm thankful Purnell wrote it, giving men and women around the world another authentic role model and hero to look to.  I can't help but wonder, though, how Hall herself would view this fine work.  I hope, in spite of her life-long secrecy and desire to remain unknown, she'd appreciate her life's achievements as the valuable legacy they are to future generations.



The Bright and Breaking Sea (Captain Kit Brightling, #1

The Bright and Breaking Sea - Chloe Neill

I'm wavering between 3.5 and 4 stars.  This first in a new series reads like it could almost be a middle grade story, except for one romantic scene which I know my niece, at least, would wrinkle her nose at.  It's still a great story, just rather more bright and optimistic than is usually offered to us jaded adults.  It also lacks the snark Neill is generally known for, but then again, her Devil's Isle series wasn't snarky either.  

 

Chloe Neill walks a fine line between imagining a world where women are common in historically male roles, and acknowledging the gender bias that exists in this one.  I'm not convinced she pulled it off; I'd have rather she stick to one truth or the other, but it wasn't problematic and didn't affect my enjoyment of the book.

 

Mostly, it's a new concept, and a new series, so I'd imagine there some growing pains and adjustments ahead, but it was a nice escape and I'm interested in seeing where future books take me and the characters.



The Man in the Microwave Oven (Theo Bogart, #2)

The Man in the Microwave Oven - Susan Cox

Interesting concept, really interesting characters, a plot that's a little out there, requiring a greater degree of suspension of disbelief.  I found the narrative hard to follow at times, as the style is a bit choppy; I feel like the editor could have smoothed out the rougher edges without sacrificing the author's voice.  There were times when it was easy to lose track of who was saying what, and scenes within chapters could change abruptly. 

 

The whole “I have a secret” thing is going to get old if Cox perpetuates through a third book, but otherwise I really like this start of a new series and I'm on-board with seeing where it goes.



Reading progress update: I've listened 380 out of 780 minutes.

A Woman of No Importance - Sonia Purnell

I’m 46% of the way through, and really, it’s a riveting book, and Juliet Stevenson does an excellent job with the narration. Her American accent leaves something to be desired, but then again Hugh Laurie is the only Brit I’ve ever heard who can nail an American accent, so no points off.



Ladies' Night

Ladies' Night - Mary Kay Andrews

Definitely not one of her best books, but not nearly as poor as I was led to believe.  Admittedly, it's set in my home town, which never fails to delight me as my home town only read made it on to the map in the last 15 years or so.  But I enjoyed following the main character's vision and her hard work on restoring the Cracker house, and I thoroughly enjoyed the romantic interest's background of owning Jungle Jerry's, a fictional but entirely accurate take on Sarasota Jungle Gardens, right down to the parrot that rides a bike. 

 

Nostalgia definitely bumped the rating on this book at least a star; the villains were too villainous to be real - although in Florida non of them were impossible - and the plots were superficial at best.  I always hold up her non detective fiction against her an early work of hers, Hissy Fit, and this falls far short of that incredibly readable story, but it's not, as I said, her worst.  Living as far from home as one can get and still be on the planet, I thoroughly enjoyed the virtual trip home, so, 4 stars.



Grave War (Alex Craft, #7)

Grave War - Kalayna Price

The final book of the series, this is the one that wraps up the whole thing.  I couldn't put it down, but I can't say I totally loved it, but that's because it didn't end the way I'd have chosen, and I felt that there were endings left undone, or not really done to any satisfaction.  At least mine.  But it was well written, and well plotted and I got a huge amount of satisfaction at having called the major plot twist from the very start of the series.

 

I never doubted for a second that Alex's father was the High Court Fairy King.

(show spoiler)

 

So there was that.

 

It's a series I'll miss, and re-read, but I'm happy the author got to end the story on her terms.



Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops

Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops - Shaun Bythell

Having read his first two books, I was surprised when this arrived at how small it was.  But good things / small packages and all that.  It may be a small, slim volume, but it's spot on and hilarious.  I've never owned a bookshop (yet) but I recognise these people from time spent in bookshops - and a library or two - everywhere.  I found myself reading most of it aloud to my husband, and we took turns naming those we know who fit Bythell's descriptions a little too well, inside or outside a bookshop.  

 

MT self-identified with type 3 of the Homo qui desidet or Loiterer, sub-type The Bored Spouse (though in his defense, he just buys his books way too fast).  I was relived not to have identified with the American sub-type of Family Historian, since I leave all that stuff to my mom, who is a first generation American, so comes by it honestly, at least.  I'd like to think I fall firmly in the bonus category of Cliens Perfectus as I generally enter a bookshop, talk to nobody, browse everything, and almost never leave without a stack, and the idea of haggling is one I find personally abhorrent, but then, doesn't everyone think they're the Perfect Customer?

 

All in all, a fun way to spend a few hours as long as you have a healthy sense of humor about humanity.



A Murderous Relation (Veronica Speedwell, #5)

A Murderous Relation - Deanna Raybourn

A fan from the start of the series, I always thought the mc being based on a real historical figure gave the books that little extra something, but when I finished this one, as much as I enjoyed it, I thought ‘the author certainly took some creative liberties in this one’.

 

Which shows how much I know about history; every part I found fantastical turned out to be based on true events.  So all I can say now is, poor Prince Albert Victor; even if some of the more spurious speculations about him took place long after his death, his memory seems unfairly tarnished.

 

Veronica and Stoker's story was a good time though.  The plot was well crafted, though not a mystery, really.  This was much more about foiling a two-pronged conspiracy, and while murder was done, there was no mystery as to who did it.  Raybourn also used the storyline's backdrop of Whitechapel and the Jack the Ripper murders to spotlight the social inequities of the Victorian age.

 

And finally, after 5 books, there is finally some advancement between Veronica and Stoker, which, while the romance isn't the thing for me, is a relief, because I find tension of any kind, too long strung out, to be tedious in the extreme.

 

It took me too long to get this book because of the pandemic, but the upside is the next one has already been announced, so I know I'll have another to look forward to soon.



The Devil's Bones (Sarah Booth Delaney, #21)

The Devil's Bones - Carolyn Haines

Not one of the best ones by a long shot.  The story meandered, felt disjointed - something that was not helped by the secondary plot introduction - and the killer was telegraphed from the first scene they were in.

 

Normally, I love this series and I love these characters, but between the meandering and the lack of mystery behind a string of murders, there wasn't much to keep me engaged.  The author also seemed more melancholy and wistful than usual, with less of the humour I enjoy so much.

 

All together, it resulted in a poor showing for book #21.  Hopefully #22 regains the series stride.



Howl of Wolves (Sam Clair, #4)

A Howl of Wolves - Judith Flanders

Flanders writes a great mystery, whose main character has a dry wit that I enjoy.

 

Howl of Wolves is centred around a theatre production, which isn't one of my favourite settings, but it worked. I enjoyed watching Sam put facts and observations together without wedging herself in where she didn't belong, or going around the backs of the police.  The murderer might have been several people but wasn't obvious enough to ruin the surprise.

 

I'd like to hope that there will be a fifth book, but it's been awhile since this one was published.  No more Sam and Jake adventures would be a disappointment.