#AudioBookReview: The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate

#AudioBookReview: The Bodies in the Library by Marty WingateThe Bodies in the Library (First Edition Library Mystery, #1) by Marty Wingate
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: First Edition Library Mystery #1
Pages: 315
Length: 9 hours and 23 minutes
Published by Berkley on October 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Hayley Burke has landed a dream job. She is the new curator of Lady Georgiana Fowling's First Edition library. The library is kept at Middlebank House, a lovely Georgian home in Bath, England. Hayley lives on the premises and works with the finicky Glynis Woolgar, Lady Fowling's former secretary.
Mrs. Woolgar does not like Hayley's ideas to modernize The First Edition Society and bring in fresh blood. And she is not even aware of the fact that Hayley does not know the first thing about the Golden Age of Mysteries. Hayley is faking it till she makes it, and one of her plans to breathe new life into the Society is actually taking flight--an Agatha Christie fan fiction writers group is paying dues to meet up at Middlebank House.
But when one of the group is found dead in the venerable stacks of the library, Hayley has to catch the killer to save the Society and her new job.

My Review:

I have never been so happy to see a dead body in all of my reading life as I was when Tristram Cummins’ corpse was discovered in the library of Middlebank House, the home of the late Lady Georgiana Fowling’s First Edition Society.

Lady Georgiana Fowling died of natural causes – after all the woman was 92! – four years before this story begins. She was a collector of works written by the female authors of the Golden Age of Mystery, particularly Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey, among others. Daphne du Maurier’s works are also included in the library, not because she wrote mysteries – not exactly – but because she was a personal favorite of the late Lady Fowling.

Lady Fowling may be dead, but the Board of the charitable society that inherited her house and its contents – along with Lady Fowling’s secretary and personal assistant, Mrs. Glynis Woolgar – seem determined to preserve the library, the house, and its contents like a fly trapped in amber. Even if that is far from what Lady Fowling would have ever desired.

Hayley Burke, the newly appointed curator of the library, is determined to move the Society and its Library into the 21st century. She sees her job as placing the Library as prominently on the list of Bath’s literary-related attractions, such as the nearby Jane Austen Centre, as can possibly be arranged as quickly as can be managed. Or can be gotten past the Board and the Society’s Secretary.

Even though Hayley doesn’t know a thing about the Golden Age of Mystery – she knows plenty about ways that a literary site can put itself on the map, having previously worked – albeit in a rather junior position – at the Jane Austen Centre which has done an excellent job of just that.

The discovery of a body in the Society’s library, the morning after a contentious meeting of a local writers’ group, seems a bit too much like it’s straight out of the pages of one of the Agatha Christie novels sitting on a nearby shelf, The Body in the Library.

Whether inspired by Christie or not, that discovery, and the police investigation that ensues, certainly does put the First Edition Society on the map and at the top of mind of a whole lot of people who would otherwise never have heard of the place – in spite of Hayley’s best efforts.

But it’s not the kind of attention either Hayler or the Society actually wants. Because with all of the amateur and professional sleuths on the premises, someone will eventually deduce that the one person who should be an expert, the curator herself, doesn’t have a clue.

Escape Rating B: As much as I usually enjoy this author – and I’m particularly loving her London Ladies’ Murder Club (starting with A Body on the Doorstep) these days – I remember that I bounced off of this particular book really hard but didn’t remember exactly why.

So when I hit a hard flail and bail last week, in conjunction with a 2-for-1 sale at Audible, I picked this up in audio out of a bit of desperation. I knew that whatever had made me set this book aside when it came out, it couldn’t possibly be the same thing that was driving me away from the book I had just stopped listening to – with extreme prejudice – in the present.

I started the audio of The Bodies in the Library and figured out pretty quickly what drove me away the first time. OMG but Hayley Burke begins this story as a complete and utter doormat, and her doormat persona has invaded every part of her life.

This story is told in the first person, so we’re inside Hayley’s head – and it’s kind of a boring place to be, quite possibly because it seems like there’s no spine holding it up. Her long-distance boyfriend, her adult daughter, and her repressive, stick-up-her-bum colleague all walk all over her at every turn.

I could rant, but I’ll refrain. The work parts of this exhibition of lack of backbone are the one part of Hayley’s situation that make sense, as these two women share both the job and the house and making an actual enemy out of her recalcitrant colleague is the recipe for a very quick job change that Hayley can’t afford to make.

Howsomever, on top of the more personal aspects of her spinelessness it drove me round the twist. At least until Trist, the leader of that writers’ group, is found dead on the floor of the library and the pace of the story picks up while Hayley picks up her big girl panties and finally starts dealing with her life as well as the mystery that has been literally dropped in her lap.

One of the more, let’s call it awkward, parts of Hayley’s character at the beginning is that she doesn’t merely have impostor syndrome – don’t we all on occasion – but that she IS an actual impostor. She’s not REALLY qualified for the well-compensated job she lucked into. Hayley knows nothing about the Golden Age of Mystery as she specialized in 19th century literature for her degree. For a lot of the story, we see her flailing about in an attempt to hide her lack of knowledge – what we don’t see is her actually rectifying that lack until after the body drops. It’s clear that her continuing forays into the world of Golden Age mystery is going to be part of her journey – and will hopefully induce readers to do the same – but early on I found myself wondering, repeatedly and OFTEN, why she didn’t just stream a whole lot of video because they’ve ALL been done. It wouldn’t have been the same as reading the books, but it would certainly have given her a leg up that she desperately needed.

Speaking of media, however, the audio was fine, and it certainly got me over the rough first third of the book that drove me away the first time around. So I’m glad I picked it up – even though once the story finally got started I got more than caught up in it enough to want to find out whodunnit a whole lot faster than audio would allow.

The advent of that body in the library (all due apologies to Agatha Christie because the cases aren’t much the same after all) turns out to be the making of both Hayley and the story as a whole, which is the reason I ended up at a ‘B’ grade in spite of the character’s and the story’s frustrating and glacially paced opening. By the end, the whole thing shows a LOT of promise, to the point where I’m sure I’ll pick up the next book in the series, Murder is a Must, the next time I’m in the mood for a very cozy and gentle mystery.

Or I want to see how the Library’s cat Bunter is doing with the new visitors that Hayley is hopefully bringing to the place!

Memorial Day 2024

Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti lays a wreath at the US monument at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, Korea.

The U.S. has fought wars overseas from almost the very beginning of its history. Many of the fallen have, by necessity or by choice, been lain to rest in the country where they fell.

The American Battle Monuments Commission administers 26 cemeteries and 31 monuments, almost all of which are located overseas. One of them is the monument in the picture, the U.S. Korean War Memorial in the United Nations cemetery in Busan, Korea.

A poem of the “forgotten war” by Lt. Cmdr. (Ret.) Roberto J. Prinselaar, U.S. Coast Guard:

We didn’t do much talking,
We didn’t raise a fuss.
But Korea really happened
So please – remember us.

We all just did our duty
But we didn’t win or lose.
A victory was denied us
But we didn’t get to choose.

We all roasted in the summer
In winter, we damn near froze.
Walking back from near the Yalu
With our blackened frozen toes.

Like the surf the Chinese kept coming
With their bugles in the night.
We fired into their masses
Praying for the morning light.
All of us just had to be there

And so many of us died.
But now we’re all but half forgotten
No one remembers how we tried.

We grow fewer with the years now
And we still don’t raise a fuss.
But Korea really happened
So please – remember us.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-26-24

This post is the result of a bit of serendipitous procrastination. Or that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I couldn’t quite decide EXACTLY what I’d be reading this week, particular as last week was a bit on the ‘meh’ side. I’m in the middle of three books, two of which I had bailed on at previous points in time, and it just wasn’t looking like a schedule that had the proverbial hope in hell of happening – even with Galen handling the Memorial Day Holiday post on Monday – for which I’m always both grateful and eager to see what he comes up with because they’re always interesting – especially when it takes me a minute or two to figure out how his starting point relates to the particular holiday.

I’ll certainly have things to say about the rest of the week’s books, as those two books I previously flailed and bailed on, while they did get better this time around, didn’t so much redeem the parts that made me bail as they merely got past them. You’ll see.

Speaking of, well, talking about various and sundry issues, this week’s cat picture is of the ‘young guns’ in this clowder, (left to right)  George, Tuna and Luna. We think they’re out on the catio complaining about the neighbor cat that has been coming around and tearing at the screens in an attempt to get in on their very good thing. They don’t seem all that fussed about it – at least so far – but we’ve laid in a supply of screen repair patches, just in case!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Moms Rock Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Spring 2024 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

B- #BookReview: A Mischief of Rats by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett
B- #BookReview: Dear Edna Sloane by Amy Shearn
B #BookReview: The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood
B #BookReview: Lost Ark Dreaming by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
A- #BookReview: How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub by P. Djèlí Clark
Stacking the Shelves (602)

Coming This Week:

Memorial Day 2024 (Guest Post by Galen)
The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate (#AudioBookReview)
To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods by Molly X. Chang (#AudioBookReview)
One Man’s Treasure by Sarah Pinsker (#BookReview)
Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas (#BookReview)

Stacking the Shelves (602)

I picked up the Colleen Gleason series because I got reminded that Colleen Gleason is a pseudonym for Colleen Cambridge – or the other way around. So far I’ve adored her Julia Child mysteries, the series that started with Mastering the Art of French Murder, so the idea of the same marvelous voice – the author’s not Child’s – in a paranormal series tickled by reading funny bone. Or I certainly hope it will.

The pretty books this time around are The Forbidden Book, which thankfully isn’t, The Republic of Salt, and Songs for the Brokenhearted. There are several graphic novels this time around, but their covers are more interesting than they are pretty.

For Review:
Cartoonists Against Racism by Rachel Medoff and Craig Yoe
The Forbidden Book by Sacha Lamb
The Light of Learning by Glenn Dynner
Lolita at Leonard’s of Great Neck and Other Stories from the Before Times by Shira Dicker
My Youth and Early Deaths by Allen Stein
Never Again Will I Visit Auschwitz by Ari Richter
No Road Leading Back by Chris Heath
Once There Was Warsaw by Ber Kutsher, translated by Gerald Marcus
Postwar Stories by Rachel Gordan
The Republic of Salt (Mirror Realm Cycle #2) by Ariel Kaplan
Rimonim by Aurora Levins Morales
Songs for the Brokenhearted by Ayelet Tsabari
The Treasure Hunters Club by Tom Ryan

Purchased from Amazon/Audible/Etc.:
Hexes, Exes and Codexes (Three Tomes Bookshop #4) by Colleen Gleason
Purses, Curses & Hearses (Three Tomes Bookshop #2) by Colleen Gleason
Stakes, Cakes and Mandrakes (Three Tomes Bookshop #3) by Colleen Gleason
Tomes, Scones & Crones (Three Tomes Bookshop #1) by Colleen Gleason


If you want to find out more about Stacking The Shelves, please visit the official launch page

Please link your STS post in the linky below:


A- #BookReview: How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub by P Djèlí Clark

A- #BookReview: How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub by P Djèlí Clark"How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub" by P. Djèlí Clark in Uncanny Magazine Issue 50, January-February 2023 by P. Djèlí Clark
Format: ebook
Source: supplied by publisher via Hugo Packet
Formats available: magazine, ebook
Genres: historical fantasy, short stories, steampunk
Series: Uncanny Magazine Issue 50
Pages: 26
Published by Uncanny Magazine on January 3, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

The January/February 2023 issue of Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine .

Our landmark Issue 50, a double sized issue! Featuring new fiction by Ken Liu and Caroline M. Yoachim, Mary Robinette Kowal, P. Djèlí Clark, A. T. Greenblatt, A.M. Dellamonica, Eugenia Triantafyllou, Sarah Pinsker, E. Lily Yu, Marie Brennan, Christopher Caldwell, John Wiswell, and Maureen Mchugh. Essays by Elsa Sjunneson, John Picacio, Annalee Newitz, A.T. Greenblatt, Diana M. Pho, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, poetry by Neil Gaiman, Terese Mason Pierre, Sonya Taaffe, Betsy Aoki, Theodora Goss, Ali Trota, Abu Bakr Sadiq, Elizabeth Bear, and Brandon O'Brien, interviews with Ken Liu and Caroline M. Yoachim by Tina Connolly; interviews with Eugenia Triantafyllou, E. Lily Yu, and Christopher Caldwell by Caroline M. Yoachim, a cover by Galen Dara, and editorials by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, and Meg Elison.

My Review:

The title of this story is the title of the manual that Trevor Hemley receives along with the rather expensive ‘Kraken egg’ that he’s purchased from an advertisement in the back of a magazine. Which all sounds utterly dodgy when you think about it for even half a second – but Trevor Hemley didn’t. Think, that is.

All Trevor thought about was the possibility of fame and fortune, of finally proving to his wealthy father-in-law that he was worthy of the hand of the man’s daughter – even though he already had that hand, along with a lovely home and a secure position all provided by his wife’s father.

Which of course made him feel all that more looked down upon by his wife’s family and their wealthy connections.

So a kraken. Or rather a plan to hatch said kraken in his bathtub, reveal the existence of the long-believed either mythical or extinct kraken to the world, and reap the rewards that Trevor felt were his due. After all, in Trevor’s Victorian Era, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, fantastic discoveries were being made around the globe by Englishmen of science and daring, and the sun never set on an Empire that reaped the benefits of all the countries to which it believed it was bringing enlightenment while raping their economies and destroying their cultures.

But England is unassailable from without – as history has proven time and again. Which does not mean that it can’t be conquered – or that vengeance can’t be delivered upon it – from within. One crate and one bathtub at a time.

By a monstrous and rapacious creature – in fact a whole horde of them – with appetites as large as empires.

Escape Rating A-: The whole of this story is considerably greater than the sum of its parts, which is merely one part of what makes it so much fun and so thought provoking at the same time.

On the surface, it’s a bit of a funny story about a man whose reach has very definitely exceeded his grasp, as well as a bit of a morality tale about the parting of fools and their money, combined with the message that anything that sounds too good to be true generally is and that people generally get conned because they’ve conned themselves first.

But those messages were delivered in a thrashing of tentacles and teeth which Trevor Hemley certainly deserved. What gives the story its shiver of horror mixed with delicious righteousness is the way that Trevor is merely a part of the deliverance of those messages to a much wider and even more deserving ‘audience’.

Because it’s not really about the kraken after all. Even though it still is. And it’s the double-barrelling of the story, that it’s both the tongue-in-cheek tale of a man who does something really, really stupid and pays for it, AND it’s a story about colonialism where the colonizers get more than a few tentacles of their just desserts.

The title of this is marvelous, eye-catching and true in more ways than one – much like the story it represents. However, that title isn’t the only reason I picked this up yesterday – but it is one of the reasons that I picked it first out of the Hugo Packet for this year’s awards – which leads me straight into the other reasons I chose to read this story to round out a week that’s had a whole lot of ‘meh’ in it.

As a person with at least a Supporting Membership in this year’s World Science Fiction Convention, I have voting rights for the Hugo Awards. In order to be informed about exercising those rights, the Awards committee compiles a packet of ebook versions of as much of the nominated material as the publishers will give them. That packet became available this week and I immediately downloaded the lot.

A lot that included this story by P. Djèlí Clark, whose previous work I have very much enjoyed, and in the case of the whole, entire Dead Djinn Universe (A Dead Djinn in Cairo, The Angel of Khan el-Khalili, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 and the utterly awesome A Master of Djinn) absolutely loved. While there are no djinn in this story, dead or alive, I was still up for some of his work because I knew it would be a gem whether or not it had received a Hugo nod.

All of which is to explain that many of the works that have received Hugo nominations (including another story from this very issue of Uncanny Magazine!) will appear in reviews here over the coming weeks. Based on the works that I have already read, plus this first foray into the nominated shorter works, it’s going to be an excellent year for the Hugos no matter which stories ultimately go home with rockets!

#BookReview: Lost Ark Dreaming by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

#BookReview: Lost Ark Dreaming by Suyi Davies OkungbowaLost Ark Dreaming by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: dystopian, mythology, post apocalyptic, retellings, science fiction
Pages: 192
Published by Tordotcom on May 21, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

The brutally engineered class divisions of Snowpiercer meets Rivers Solomon’s The Deep in this high-octane post-climate disaster novella written by Nommo Award-winning author Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Off the coast of West Africa, decades after the dangerous rise of the Atlantic Ocean, the region’s survivors live inside five partially submerged, kilometers-high towers originally created as a playground for the wealthy. Now the towers’ most affluent rule from their lofty perch at the top while the rest are crammed into the dark, fetid floors below sea level.

There are also those who were left for dead in the Atlantic, only to be reawakened by an ancient power, and who seek vengeance on those who offered them up to the waves.

Three lives within the towers are pulled to the fore of this Yekini, an earnest, mid-level rookie analyst; Tuoyo, an undersea mechanic mourning a tremendous loss; and Ngozi, an egotistical bureaucrat from the highest levels of governance. They will need to work together if there is to be any hope of a future that is worth living―for everyone.

My Review:

Noah’s Ark isn’t the only, let’s call it an ancestral tale, of a great flood that once upon a time, a long, long time ago, wiped out civilization as the variations of ancient civilizations that existed then knew it.

In other words, Noah wasn’t the only mythical being who built an ark, and our Bible isn’t the only religious document, myth or legend where such an event was recorded and/or told and/or remembered.

This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.

Which is, in its largest frame, the story in Lost Ark Dreaming. Because the flood itself has already happened again. This is the story about the creation of the ark that will save humanity as backward as that may seem.

It’s about the form that the ark will take this time – and about who it will save. If anyone is worth saving.

That part is the story of Lost Ark Dreaming in its smaller frame, of the story being told in its ‘here and now’ – a near-future, drowning, dystopia and the tiny group of outsiders, heroes,and potential saviors who may have to die to bring a message of hope to people that need it more than they recognize – no matter how much the earthly powers-that-be reassure them that all is well.

Because all is far from well, and the foundations of anything that once might have approached that well are crumbling around them – literally – and taking everyone and everything with them. Again.

Unless this Ark can manage to carry them all. At last.

Escape Rating B: This is a story that travels in layers, come to think of it a bit like the decks of an actual ark. It’s also an SF story that toes right up to the line of fantasy – or at least to mythic retellings – but doesn’t exactly go over that line. At least not completely.

At first, setting is both very SFnal and rather familiar. The Pinnacle is just the kind of ossified, stratified society that develops in stories about generation ships on long voyages. It reminded me more than a bit of Medusa Uploaded or Braking Day, in that generation after generation has lived on in this one, remaining, isolated structure and over the decades people have become locked into the places that their parents were born into as the elite levels become further and further out of touch from the people who lives they control.

(This is the point where I wanted a little bit more of the background that there just isn’t room for in a novella. The worldbuilding is tight and solid but very insular, which left me wondering a LOT about the rest of humanity as we know it and whether there’s any contact with the rest of the world – if there still is one above the waves.)

The protagonists represent the various strata of that society, as well as the desperation of those who have risen through some of the possible ranks to maintain their level of comfort and the contempt with which those who have achieved or been born into those middle-levels treat the literal “lowers” who live below them and maintain the structure that they ALL rely on.

At the same time, the way that the “midders” treat the “lowers” and the way that the “uppers” defer maintenance and budgets for the nitty-gritty but absolutely and literally fundamental infrastructure reads entirely too much like the way that governments have always operated and probably will centuries from now as well – if there are any, that is.

In other words, the whole thing is headed straight for a ‘perfect storm’, and so are we because their now isn’t all that far in our future.

What lifts the story up and out of the mire is where the fantasy/mythic retelling elements come in – in ways that will remind readers of Rivers Solomon’s The Deep and Leslye Penelope’s Daughter of the Merciful Deep. Because the humans in the tower are not the only people who need to find a way out of the vicious cycle. All the denizens of the deep have to do is find a way to communicate and find common ground with the ‘towerzens’ who are still willing and able to listen.

It felt like there were two stories in Lost Ark Dreaming, two great tastes that in the end did go great together.  I got hooked by the SFnal setting, some readers will get caught up in the ‘hero-tale’ of the outsiders finding a way to get past the structures that keep their people isolated, while others will fall for the idea of the drowned and the lost finding a new form of life and all the myths and legends they have gathered up in that making.

That the whole thing is wrapped up in a tale of fighting the odds against a repressive dictatorship makes the whole story that much more compelling.

In the end, the conclusion of the story is one of immediate triumph and long-term hope – but it doesn’t have to work out that in the long run but it could all STILL be happening yet again. It’s left for the reader to decide. Which I am, still.

#BookReview: The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood

#BookReview: The Marlow Murder Club by Robert ThorogoodThe Marlow Murder Club (Marlow Murder Club, #1) by Robert Thorogood
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Marlow Murder Club #1
Pages: 340
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on January 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

To solve an impossible murder, you need an impossible hero…
Judith Potts is seventy-seven years old and blissfully happy. She lives on her own in a faded mansion just outside Marlow, there’s no man in her life to tell her what to do or how much whisky to drink, and to keep herself busy she sets crosswords for The Times newspaper.
One evening, while out swimming in the Thames, Judith witnesses a brutal murder. The local police don’t believe her story, so she decides to investigate for herself, and is soon joined in her quest by Suzie, a salt-of-the-earth dog-walker, and Becks, the prim and proper wife of the local Vicar.
Together, they are the Marlow Murder Club.
When another body turns up, they realise they have a real-life serial killer on their hands. And the puzzle they set out to solve has become a trap from which they might never escape…

My Review:

Being in a murder-y mood this week, I was searching through the virtually towering TBR pile for mysteries, especially mystery series, that I hadn’t dipped into, and lo and behold The Marlow Murder Club popped to the top of the pile.

Recommended, pretty much everywhere as a readalike for The Thursday Murder Club, which I liked very much the second time I tackled it, I decided to give this other Murder Club a try. Even though that readalike recommendation isn’t quite on the nose – if anything Marlow turned out to be a teensy bit closer to An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, this still turned out to be a fun cozy that fit right into both that murder-y mood and to be the second book this week featuring surprisingly successful amateur detectives aiding, abetting and looked down upon by less than stellar local police.

At least the local police in Marlow have a really good excuse for their less than stellar performance – and they do manage to redeem themselves in the end, which was certainly not the case in Monday’s A Mischief of Rats or its entire series so far.

Let me go back to the beginning – at least the beginning of The Marlow Murder Club.

One evening, eccentric, reclusive Judith Potts hears a murder. Specifically, she hears a gunshot at her nearest neighbor’s house and punts along the Thames from her house to his to see if he’s alright. He’s not – not that she quite knows that at the time.

So she calls it in, the local police come out to their remote corner just outside Marlow, and discover – absolutely nothing.

Judith can’t let that rest, so she goes over the next day – better prepared – and investigates for herself. She discovers something the police missed – her neighbor’s dead body, caught in the rushes, with a bullet hole in the center of his forehead.

The police try to pass it off as an accident – or even suicide – but Judith is having none of THAT. When a second body turns up, complete with forehead-centered bullet hole, and the bullets are proved to be from the same antique pistol, it’s clear that there’s a serial killer in a tiny, peaceful little Home Counties village that has never experienced anything like this. At all. Ever.

The local police, in the person of Detective Sergeant Tamika Malik, are in over their under-equipped, under-trained and under-staffed heads. There should be a Detective Inspector in charge of this case – but none are available and none will be. Malik makes much too convenient a scapegoat if the crimes go unsolved – which is exactly what her superiors expect from her.

But Malik has been shadowed, dogged, and out-investigated by Judith Potts and her two new friends and accomplices, dog-walker Suzie Harris and parson’s wife Becks Starling. They’ve found clues and leads at every turn, while Malik keeps coming up with exactly nothing.

Malik’s desperate, they’re determined. So she drafts them into service as volunteer consultants. Malik was told to do “everything in her power” to get this case solved – and that’s exactly what she does.

That it works, and the way that it works, surprises everyone in Marlow. Especially the killer.

Escape Rating B: Marlow is very cozy, in spite of the murder spree. But about that murder spree…I’ve seen this particular plot device before, so I recognized what was happening REALLY early on. At that point I didn’t have enough of a picture of Marlow to know precisely whodunnit but I knew precisely how it was done much too early on.

The initial suspect was a bit too smug, and resembled a real-life Lucius Malfoy entirely too much to be anything but the villain. Or at least, a villain, and thereby hung the whole, entire, tale.

That being said, the story still worked, not so much as a mystery but definitely as a cozy. The way that the “club” puts itself together was a hoot, as none of the members intend to band together for anything, with anyone, but they can’t resist not just solving the murder but the sense of camaraderie and outright sisterhood they receive from working together.

So it was great watching the gang pull together, and especially for all of these lonely people – and they are ALL lonely, even married Becks – find common cause, common purpose, and much-needed friendship – even if none of them would ever have admitted that they were in desperate need of all of the above.

The other thing I really liked was that, while the local police were completely overwhelmed by a serial killer in their tiny town, the reasons they were overwhelmed were much easier to understand and empathize with than the lackluster performance of the local constabulary in Monday’s book and its series – although I still like that series and intend to continue it.

The police in the Dr. Nell Ward series often seem distracted and incompetent and made more incompetent by their distractions. DS Malik, on the other hand, has been left in this soup very much over her head, knows it, and does a surprisingly good job of finding people to throw her a lifeline. I felt FOR her to the point that just as much as she drafts the “Marlow Murder Club” in as auxiliaries to the investigation, they adopt her as an auxiliary member of their “club”.

As much as the mystery in this first outing was screamingly obvious, I still stuck with the book and outright enjoyed it for the development of the characters and the setting. I’ll certainly be back for the next book in the series, Death Comes to Marlow, the next time I’m in a murder-y mood!

#BookReview: Dear Edna Sloane by Amy Shearn

#BookReview: Dear Edna Sloane by Amy ShearnDear Edna Sloane by Amy Shearn
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: epistolary novels, literary fiction
Pages: 250
Published by Red Hen Press on April 30, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Edna Sloane was a promising author at the top of her game. Her debut novel was an instant classic and commercial success, vaulting her into the heady echelons of the 1980s New York City lit scene. Then she disappeared and was largely forgotten. Decades later, Seth Edwards is an aspiring writer and editor who feels he’s done all the right things to achieve literary success, but despairs that his dream will be forever out of reach. He becomes obsessed with the idea that if he can rediscover Sloane, it will make his career. His search for her leads to unexpected places and connections, and the epistolary correspondence that ensues makes up this book, a novel infused with insights and meditations about what our cultural obsession with the "next big thing" does to literature, and what it means to be a creative person in the world.

My Review:

There are plenty of variations on the saying that “Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.” (I’ve always thought this was Hemingway, but a bit of Google-Fu turns up an earlier attribution to sports writer “Red” Smith in 1949.

But the story in this book has things a bit differently – at least from a certain literary point of view.

Writ-ING is actually easy, full stop. Lots of people do it every day in one form or another. We may not write letters much anymore, but we “tweet” tweets – or we did when it was called ‘Twitter’. Do people now ‘ex’ on X? (Just those types of digressions are common in the correspondence that makes up the bulk of this epistolary novel.)

Whatever tweets are called these days, we also write emails, memos and reports, caption Facebook and Instagram posts and text each other incessantly. It’s all writ-ING. Which doesn’t mean that any of it is either good or effective – just that it happens a lot more than we think it does.

But we’re not writ-ERS, and that difference is a big part of what this book is exploring.

Once upon a time in the 1980s, Edna Sloane was a young WRITER, a debut novelist, a literary wunderkind, whose first novel, An Infinity of Traces, took the book world by storm and became an instant classic.

Then she disappeared from the scene – at least the literary scene. The speculation was endless – even without social media as we know it today. Whether Edna Sloane was murdered, kidnapped, walked away on her own recognizance or got locked up in an institution of one kind or another, the woman was nowhere to be found.

Agatha Christie famously disappeared in 1926 but she was found in a spa hotel two weeks later. Edna Sloane wasn’t found at all until a junior editor at an online literary magazine tracked her down in 2017.

Dear Edna Sloane, the book, is the cumulated correspondence between the titular novelist, now nearing 60, and Seth Edwards, the young would-be writer who pretends he’s pursuing the elusive Sloane for an article to save his job. What he’s really doing is pouring out all of his own angst about just how difficult it is to be a WRITER no matter how desperately he tries to hold onto his dream.

And Edna answers. Not with platitudes, but with truth – the kind of truths that her own novel was so rightfully famous for. Seth’s quest for Edna brings Edna back into the world – even as it echoes the plot of her famous novel and pushes him out of it.

Escape Rating B-: There’s a life imitates art imitates life aspect to this story that draws the reader in more than one might expect – certainly more than this reader expected. At the same time, it is also very, ‘lit-ficcy’ in that there’s not a lot of action but there is a ton of angst.

That it doesn’t wallow in itself or its angst – in other words, that it goes about its business without getting carried away endlessly – makes it a relatively short bit of literary fiction, and the quest to find Edna Sloane carries the story along even though the events that take place around it fade into the background more than a bit – much as Seth does in the end.

What Seth’s side of the correspondence brings to the table – or screen – is his desperation to hang onto a dream that is slipping away. Seth is caught on the horns of the dilemma about the circus worker stuck with the job of cleaning up elephant poop who won’t leave because he’d have to give up show business.

Edna, on the other hand, brings back the heady, glorious days of the literary scene in the 1980s, even as she puts perspective on just how naive and innocent she was in her 20s – just as Seth is now. She also stands at the crossroads of her own dilemmas. Then, it was about balancing so-called ‘real life’ with her burning need to write – and being forced to choose and adopt a persona that would get her through the day and get the work of living done.

As well as discovering that she could either be feted for the work or do the work when it came to writing, but not both. Writing was easy, but being a writer in the sense of being part of the star-making machinery and finding a way to support herself as a writer was damn hard and in the end she set it aside even if that was not what she planned or desired.

And yes, there’s plenty about the emotional labor of women in that part of her life but it’s not the whole of the thing at all.

Still, Edna needs her writing to reconcile her past – and even more so the effect of her father’s past as a Survivor (of Auschwitz) – whether she’s feted or celebrated for it or not. So she’s never really stopped, even when it seemed like she really, truly, seriously had stopped. She stopped being ‘a writer’ but that vein was still open so she never stopped writing after all.

#BookReview: A Mischief of Rats by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett

#BookReview: A Mischief of Rats by Sarah Yarwood-LovettA Mischief of Rats by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Dr Nell Ward #3
Pages: 420
Published by Embla Books on February 28, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBetter World Books
Goodreads

When a driver dies during a glamourous classic car event at her family's estate, Dr Nell Ward is in a race against time to uncover the truth and prevent the killer from making a speedy getaway...
Back in her natural habitat, Dr Nell Ward heads to a woodland pond to survey local newt populations. She's shocked to discover a car submerged in the water - with the driver dead behind the wheel.
Nell recognises the dead man as professional racing driver, and tabloid love rat, Jack Rafferty, whose performance on (and off) Finchmere's racetrack had earned him enemies.
Suspecting this isn't the tragic accident it appears DI James Clark calls upon Nell and her ecological skills to help find the murderer. But she soon finds that more lurks under the surface than she could ever have imagined. Despite the danger, Nell is determined to dredge up the truth from the murky depths of this case, before it's too late...

My Review:

Whichever of her two personas is her alter ego, both of them are entirely too busy during the jam-packed weekend this story takes place.

As Lady Eleanor Ward-Beaumont, daughter of the Earl of Finchmere and his wife, Imelda Beaumont MP, heir to the estate of Finchmere – the weekend of the Finchmere Classic – a Classic Car race, car auction, fun fair and general all purpose extravaganza may be one of Lady Eleanor’s favorite events at the estate but is also a showcase for her family’s stewardship of the land, maintenance of the estate, and everything she’s doing to keep the whole business self-sustaining and profitable for the ones who come after her.

That she is personally involved with one of the cars in the race, a formerly derelict but classic ‘gullwing’ Mercedes-Benz 300 SL that has been converted to an all-electric vehicle just adds to the heightened atmosphere – and the tensions among the car’s crew for the race add bucketloads of stress to a situation that is already fraught.

As Dr. Nell Ward, ecologist and environmental surveyor, she has committed to help a former intern at a nearby nature reserve do some surveying in preparation for an upcoming certification visit early on the morning that the festivities at Finchmere begin.

And both of her personas are on pins and needles as she hoped that she would be able to get to know her romantic partner’s parents as they attend the Classic – in between all the other demands on her time – which are legion even at the start.

When Nell and her friend Mai discover that the reserve’s pristine habitat has been compromised – if not outright ruined – by a car that crashed through and then sank in what had been a carefully rehabilitated pond – WITH a dead body in it – everything crashes along with the car.

Not that the dead man hadn’t honestly earned more than enough enmity for someone to have seen to his demise. But he was supposed to drive Nell’s car in the race. Her partner’s young sister left her custom-made earrings on the dashboard of the wreck. His parents, who already disapprove for multiple reasons – are about to blame Nell for the girl’s involvement – as well as everything else that continues to go wrong over one of the longest weekends in Nell’s life.

At least the police can’t arrest her for the murder this time around. Not that some of them wouldn’t still like to – if only to stop Nell meddling in the investigation. Again.

Escape Rating B-: This third book in the Dr. Nell Ward series, after A Murder of Crows and A Cast of Falcons, follows a pattern that this series seems to have hit in my brain. I keep having mixed feelings about the whole thing – and this entry more than most for reasons I’ll get to, appropriately as you’ll see, at the end.

I’ve been following the series because I like Nell as a character, but I like her nerdiness about her earned profession more than I do her persona as Lady Eleanor, so this book didn’t get as near to a mystery sweet spot for me as others that I follow. All of which means that I hope she gets back a bit more to her environmental work in the next book A Generation of Vipers. We’ll certainly see. Eventually.

But in the meantime, back to A Mischief of Rats. It could be claimed that the dead man was the chief rat in this mystery, but he actually wasn’t. The chief rat, that is. He certainly was one of the rats. That his rat-nature got him killed isn’t a surprise at all. That the road to figuring out how his rattiness rattled the chief rat to the point that it got him killed made for a marvelously twisty mystery, which I want to say had plenty of tasty red herrings but in this case no because rats and tasty do not belong in the same sentence or even the same paragraph.

Still, you get the point. Unlike the first book in the series, while I knew it wasn’t any of the obvious suspects fairly early on – I just didn’t figure out who the real killer was until the point where Nell does – with the police following along behind her. Literally.

The part that left me with extremely mixed feelings was the ending. Not the resolution of the mystery because that was fine and wrapped things up with a really cathartic and rat-free bow. But the personal parts of this story and the way they ended on a terrible crash of a cliffhanger gave me a lot of pause. And that’s literal, as in I will continue the series but I’m going to pause for a bit to let the ending settle.

While part of what I love about cozy mysteries revolves around getting to know the characters and the gang of friends and assistants that they gather around them, Nell seems to have a lot of personal angst and romantic drama that, for this reader at least, takes away from the fun and coziness of the mystery. There’s been a ‘torn between two lovers’ undercurrent going on through these first three books, and I’ve gotta admit that isn’t a place I want this series to go. (It’s part of what turned me off of the Stephanie Plum series – not that she changed her mind but that she couldn’t seem to make it up at all.)

I admit that this is a ‘me’ thing that may not be a ‘you’ thing. Howsomever, for this reader it feels like Nell’s romantic trials and tribulations are a bit over the top, particularly as her rich and aristocratic background – along with her surprisingly functional relationship with her parents – seem to have insulated her from a whole lot of regular stresses and issues to the point where over-the-top is the only direction left.

Which is exactly where this installment of the series ended – up and over the top of the wall and landing upside-down with traction. I’m still kind of reeling over it, to the point where I had to thumb the next couple of books to make sure that this story thread does get resolved no matter how much more angst will be involved in that wrapping.

So, for the most part, I was enjoying the mystery right up until that end, when I crashed right along with it. I’ll be back to see what murders Nell trips over and what terrible things happen in her personal life in A Generation of Vipers, but probably not for a couple of months at least.

We’ll certainly see the next time I get into another murder-y mood.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-19-24

I’m in kind of a murder-y mood this week, so a couple of mysteries are definitely on my reading horizon. I have to confess that it might not be the two actually slotted into the schedule – but if it’s not them it will be something similar.

Although, speaking of wanting to murder something – I wish I could figure out what purpose it serves for bogus email addresses to enter one of the giveaways. I do check to make sure that the random entry rafflecopter settles itself on is legit – which takes forever when there are 13,000+ (not a typo, THIRTEEN THOUSAND) entries to let it shuffle through until it hits a real, honest-to-goodness entry by someone who actually did comment. By the end, I was yawning as much as Tuna in this picture below, although Tuna is absolutely, totally, definitely much cuter when he does. As I snapped the picture, he was yawning and stretching SO HARD that he eventually rolled himself off the step. Fortunately for him, he was on the bottom step and just landed on his feet. As they do.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Moms Rock Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Spring 2024 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Come What May Giveaway Hop is Brigette

Blog Recap:

A+ #BookReview: How to Become the Dark Lord and Die Trying by Django Wexler
B #AudioBookReview: Every Time We Say Goodbye by Natalie Jenner
B #BookReview: In Our Stars by Jack Campbell
Moms Rock Giveaway Hop
A+ #AudioBookReview: When Among Crows by Veronica Roth
Stacking the Shelves (601)

Coming This Week:

A Mischief of Rats by Sarah Yarwood-Lovett (#BookReview)
Dear Edna Sloane by Amy Shearn (#BookReview)
The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood (#BookReview)
Lost Ark Dreaming by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (#BookReview)
I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons by Peter S. Beagle (#BookReview)