Review: The Silence of the Library by Miranda James

Review: The Silence of the Library by Miranda JamesThe Silence of the Library (Cat in the Stacks, #5) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #5
Pages: 308
Published by Berkley on January 28th 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Everyone in Athena, Mississippi, knows Charlie Harris, the librarian with a rescued Maine coon cat named Diesel. He’s returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but a celebrated author’s visit draws an unruly swarm of fanatic mystery buffs…and one devious killer.

It’s National Library Week, and the Athena Public Library is planning an exhibit to honor the centenary of famous novelist Electra Barnes Cartwright—creator of the beloved Veronica Thane series.

Charlie has a soft spot for Cartwright’s girl detective stories (not to mention an extensive collection of her books!). When the author agrees to make a rare public appearance, the news of her whereabouts goes viral overnight, and series devotees and book collectors converge on Athena.

After all, it’s rumored that Cartwright penned Veronica Thane stories that remain under wraps, and one rabid fan will stop at nothing—not even murder—to get hold of the rare books…

My Review:

I opened The Silence of the Library immediately after I finished Out of Circulation. I was still looking for comfort reads, and I found Diesel, Charlie Harris and the fine people of Athena Mississippi very comfortable to spend more time with.

But as comfortable a read as this was, it also confirmed my opinion that series like this are not meant to be read back to back (to back). Some of what is cozy for one book at a time starts to feel just a bit cloying when repeated.

And the central theme of this mystery just wasn’t quite as interesting as the classic mystery theme of Out of Circulation. On that, one’s reading mileage may certainly vary.

The Silence of the Library of the title does not refer to an actual silent library. I think the librarian-sleuth of the series, Charlie Harris, would agree that few 21st century libraries are ever silent – except possibly when they are closed. The days of the shushing librarian are far in the past, if they ever existed at all.

Instead, the title is reminiscent of those of classic juvenile mystery series like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and the Hardy Boys. The first Nancy Drew story was The Secret of the Old Clock, Trixie Belden’s first outing was in The Secret of the Mansion, while the Hardy Boys first adventure was The Tower Treasure. All the titles of all the series sounded a lot like The Silence of the Library, as intended.

Many people read (and still read) those old series, and a lot of us have fond memories of the books. The old books, the original copies that is, have become collectibles. Hasn’t everything?

Like many people, Charlie Harris has fond memories of reading those old series, including local author Electra Barnes Cartwright and the young detective she created, Veronica Thane. But unlike most people, when Charlie inherited his aunt’s house in Athena, he also inherited her extensive collection of all of those old series, including a series of first-edition Veronica Thane.

And that’s where the story begins. The Athena Public Library plans to feature all of those beloved series as part of their National Library Week display, so when they discover that Electra Barnes Cartwright is still alive (at nearly 100), lucid, and living near Athena, they make plans to invite her to the celebration for as much of the event as she’s willing and able to handle.

News of her first public appearance in decades brings all the crazy collectors out of the proverbial woodwork – and exposes the mercenary nature of EBC’s relatives. Everyone seems to want a piece of the old lady while she’s still around to take pieces out of.

It’s all fun and games (well, not really fun for Charlie or the library) until the dead bodies start piling up. Then it turns into a case for Veronica Thane herself. But since she’s not available, librarian and amateur detective Charlie Harris will just have to step in and solve the mystery in her place.

Escape Rating B: This was fun and I enjoyed it, but there were a few too many crazy people and not enough Diesel to make me as happy about this one as I was Out of Circulation.

Part of what I love about this series is that Charlie Harris feels like a real librarian (because his creator IS a real librarian). Charlie reads like someone I’d meet or hear speak at a conference. However, the downside of that verisimilitude is that the situations he gets into, except for the actual investigations, also feel really close to home.

There are crazy collectors just like the ones he meets in the story. Unfortunately, part of the reality of dealing with the general public is that all sorts of behaviors appear at our public service desks, including every nasty thing that happens in this story – except the murders. In other words, I didn’t like most of the characters introduced for the purposes of this story, but I have met all too many like them in real life.

The fanaticism of the collectors and the insularity of their world also reminded me a bit of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb – although this time it’s not the author who is so nasty that everyone expects them to be the victim long before it happens. But there’s a similar flavor.

The look back at those well-loved juvenile mystery series will be fascinating to any bibliophile, even one like me who dipped their toes into the series but didn’t fall head over heels. At the same time, the story within a story, where Charlie is reading one of the Veronica Thane books and discovers parallels between the story and “real life” will bring a smile to the face of anyone who remembers those books fondly.

Review: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay

Review: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlayBooks Can Be Deceiving (Library Lover's Mystery, #1) by Jenn McKinlay
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery
Series: Library Lover's Mystery #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on July 5th 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lindsey is getting into her groove as the director of the Briar Creek Public Library when a New York editor visits town, creating quite a buzz. Lindsey's friend Beth wants to sell the editor her children's book, but Beth's boyfriend, a famous author, gets in the way. When they go to confront him, he's found murdered-and Beth is the prime suspect. Lindsey has to act fast before they throw the book at the wrong person.

My Review:

I discovered this series as a read-alike for the Cat in the Stacks series by Miranda James, and it certainly. Both feature real-seeming librarians in almost-real libraries in small towns that are just perfect. Although I did miss Diesel, the librarian’s very large cat from the Cat in the Stacks series.

But where the Cat in the Stacks series is set in Athena Mississippi, the Library Lovers mysteries hail from Briar Creek Connecticut. Let’s just that the autumns are obviously a lot blustrier in coastal Connecticut than in the landlocked parts of Mississippi.

Unlike Charlie Harris at the beginning of the Cat in the Stacks series, Library Director Lindsey Norris is the relatively new director of the small town Briar Creek Public Library. She is also female, single, unencumbered and in her mid-30s – very different from widowed, 50-something Charlie with his grown children – and Diesel.

Lindsey on the other hand, is still feeling her way professionally and personally. Briar Creek is her first posting as the library director, and it’s not a career turn she had planned on. She had been an archivist at one of the Yale University libraries when budget cuts forced her to look in other directions. She found the position in Briar Creek because her best friend from grad school is the children’s librarian there.

Being a new, first-time director has its challenges. But no one plans on having one of their staff, particularly a friend, accused of murder. It’s difficult to tell which is worse, that Beth had both the motive and the opportunity for murdering her ex, or that the local sheriff is so determined to take the easy way out and place the blame on the “woman scorned” that he isn’t even looking for any other suspects.

He’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, either, and his bull-headedness is clearly driving the detective from the state Bureau of Investigation bonkers.

But with the local sheriff doing his level best to make sure Beth is found guilty, and the local press more than willing to stir up trouble just for the ratings, it’s up to Lindsey to focus her research skills on the late and not very lamented, to see if there’s someone else who might have a motive to end his existence.

The problem is that Lindsey’s research skills, as formidable as they are, barely keep her one step ahead of the killer – a step that closes faster than she expected.

Escape Rating B: I came down with the flu, and was looking for comfort reading again. As this will be posted just before I run off to the American Library Association Midwinter Conference, yet another library mystery seemed like a good fit.

Lindsey Norris does seem like “one of us”, much as Charlie Harris does. And for the same reason – her creator is also a library worker. But where I’d love to sit down and have coffee with Charlie, Lindsey reminds me much more of the “road not taken”. I often thought about becoming a library director but when I was interested I wasn’t able to make the leap, and eventually I realized that it just wasn’t my calling in the profession.

Seeing what Lindsey deals with, even in a fictional and perfectly imperfect library reminds me that I was right.

This story is the introduction to the series, the characters and the town of Briar Creek, and it does put the reader firmly into the middle of the action. Lindsey, as a transplant from somewhere else, is still warming up to the little town, and vice-versa, which makes her a good point of view character for the reader.

As is often the case, the case itself, the murder at the heart of the mystery, is just a bit over the top, but the scenes of small town life and Lindsey fitting herself into it are well done. The reader can certainly see why she’s fallen in love with the place.

A lot of what happens in the Briar Creek Public Library is very true to library life, both the good and the bad. Every library, big and small, has patrons just like those in Briar Creek, the good, the bad, the loud, the demanding, the weird and the obstreperous.

The staff, while occasionally a bit too good to be true and sometimes a bit too bad or weird to be true, is also quite  true-to-life. And unfortunately that includes the nasty character of Ms. Cole, the head of the circulation department and the disapprover of everything that Lindsey, Beth and anyone not the previous (and deceased) library director. That Ms. Cole can’t let go of her resentment of change and the advent of the 21st century is unfortunately all too plausible. I’ve worked both with and for people like her in my career (and supervised a few), and saying that it is never fun is a serious understatement.

But Lindsey is the new director of the library. That makes her Ms. Cole’s boss, whether either or them likes it or not. That Lindsey, with just about six months tenure under her belt, has not figured out what to do about Ms. Cole yet is not surprising. The woman is a fixture in the library and the community – even if a frequently resented one. The problem isn’t just that Ms. Cole challenges Lindsey’s authority at every turn, although that is a problem.

What I found questionable, to the point where it threw me out of the story, is that Lindsey isn’t even thinking about what she should do about Ms. Cole. While the reality is that the answer may be very little, she’s at the point in her job where she should be at least thinking about some changes. This disturbed me because Lindsey makes it clear at one point that she is aware that part of the joy of the job from Ms. Cole’s perspective is to torment and browbeat the library shelvers, who are usually teenagers in their very first job. While life isn’t fair, and bad things happen to good people, etc., etc., etc., for Lindsey to be aware of this and not even be thinking about what to do about this aspect of Ms. Cole’s performance of her duties is problematic.
And now I’ll get down off my soapbox.

But if you like cozy mystery series like Cat in the Stacks, or other small town mystery series that feature the mainstays of the town, Books Can Be Deceiving is a lot of fun. I have the other books in the series and I’m looking forward to returning to Briar Creek the next time I need a comfort read.

Reviewer’s Note: One of the reviews listed in Goodreads for this book was written by a dear and departed friend. I knew that if she liked it, I would too. I wish I could talk about it with her, because I’d love to hear the snark that she left out of her review!

Review: Out of Circulation by Miranda James

Review: Out of Circulation by Miranda JamesOut of Circulation (Cat in the Stacks, #4) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #4
Pages: 289
Published by Berkley on January 29th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Everyone in Athena, Mississippi, knows Charlie Harris, the librarian with a rescued Maine coon cat named Diesel. He's returned to his hometown to immerse himself in books, but when a feud erupts between the town's richest ladies, the writing on the wall spells murder.

The Ducote sisters are in a tiff with Vera Cassity over the location of this year's library fundraising gala, and Charlie would rather curl up in a corner than get into the fray. It seems everyone--even his housekeeper Azalea--has it in for Vera. And at the gala, she gives them good reason, with a public display of rancor aimed at anyone who gets in her way.

But those bitter words wind up being her last. When Charlie discovers Azalea standing over Vera's dead body, it's up to him--with a little help from Diesel--to clear Azalea's name, and catch a killer before his last chapter is finished.

My Review:

Part of what I enjoy so much about the Cat in the Stacks mystery series is that Charlie Harris feels like “one of us” – one of us librarians that is. He’s someone that I could imagine sitting down with at a library conference, laughing about our coincidentally shared last name and swapping stories about the library career we have very much in common.

And telling each other cat stories, because Diesel is definitely a cat worth talking about. Diesel may be extra-large, even for a Maine Coon (a typically large breed) but Diesel’s outsized personality is all cat. He doesn’t solve crimes, he doesn’t nudge clues, but he does provide his person and the people that surround him with outsized doses of sympathy when needed and love all the time, as well as the occasionally well-deserved “diss” when he feels ignored.

They all do that, too. You haven’t been seriously dissed until you’ve been dissed by a cat who believes he hasn’t gotten his or her due – and they all think that on occasion, no matter how good we usually are at being catservants.

There are also a lot of librarians who are mystery readers, and a lot of librarians who are owned by cats. This particular story puts those two well-known penchants together into a marvelously cozy little mystery.

In the end, it isn’t a surprise that Vera Cassity was murdered – it’s much more of a surprise that it took so long. And that it happened in the middle of a mystery-themed gala fundraiser for the Athena Public Library.

Vera wasn’t merely unpopular, she seemed to go out of her way to piss people off. That someone had finally had enough isn’t much of a surprise.

But what is a surprise is that the Sheriff seems to be concentrating his investigative attention on Charlie’s long-time housekeeper Azalea Berry. Not because Azalea had any more motive than anyone else, but because digging into any dirt he can find on Azalea will splash mud onto her daughter Kanesha – who looks to be the Sheriff’s rival in a not-too-distant election.

Of course, in this cozy mystery, the red herrings abound, and nothing is quite as it seems. Charlie, as always, does finally manage to figure out who really done it, but that’s not all he uncovers in this lovely little mystery. The secrets he didn’t expect to find turn out to be more explosive than the ones he was actually looking for.

Escape Rating A-: This was definitely a case of “right book at the right time”. I was looking for a comfort read to get myself back into the reading and reviewing swing, and discovered through trial and error that there were a whole bunch of genres I just was not in the mood for. A cozy mystery like Out of Circulation turned out to be just right. Especially since we missed our own cats very much while we were away.

I always love Diesel. He is just such a marvelous cat. Also a LOT of cat. But very cat. Not psychic, not human level intelligent, just big and loving and occasionally snarky (in a cat way) and very sweetly, demandingly, cat. I’ve had cats that have had individual bits of Diesel’s purrsonality (although quite not his huge size) but never one that had all these qualities at once. Every time Diesel appears in the story I got a chuckle.

And yes, we all talk to our cats the way that Charlie does and we all think they understand on some level. They’ve trained us well.

Part of the fun of this particular story were the allusions to many classic mystery series. At the costume party where the murder takes place, all of the guests were dressed, not as famous historical figures or in typical Halloween costumes, but in very clever costumes that paid homage to some of my own favorite mystery writers and fictional detectives.

Of course, it’s always just fun and games until the dead body is discovered, and so it proves in Out of Circulation.

The thoughtful part of this story revolved around the other mystery that Charlie looks into. Athena Mississippi is a small Southern town where memories are long and whose founding families are still represented in the current population. Charlie’s dilemma reflected a professional ethical issue that will be understood by any librarian or archivist, and the way that he handled it would serve as a terrific example for anyone in the professional on how to handle a problem like this one – which probably happens more often than we think. Every family has skeletons in the closet if you look back far enough.

And the way that the remaining family members handled the issue once it was discovered? Well that was just classy. It’s no wonder that the author has spun those particular characters off into their own series, because they are wonderful steel magnolias.

Review: Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Wed by Mary BaloghSomeone to Wed (Westcott #3) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Westcott #3
Pages: 384
Published by Berkley on November 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A very practical marriage makes Alexander Westcott question his heart in the latest Regency romance from the New York Times bestselling author of Someone to Hold.

When Alexander Westcott becomes the new Earl of Riverdale, he inherits a title he never wanted and a failing country estate he can’t afford. But he fully intends to do everything in his power to undo years of neglect and give the people who depend on him a better life. . . .

A recluse for more than twenty years, Wren Heyden wants one thing out of life: marriage. With her vast fortune, she sets her sights on buying a husband. But when she makes the desperate—and oh-so-dashing—earl a startlingly unexpected proposal, Alex will only agree to a proper courtship, hoping for at least friendship and respect to develop between them. He is totally unprepared for the desire that overwhelms him when Wren finally lifts the veils that hide the secrets of her past. . . .

My Review:

I’m a little early with this review, but this was the book that was calling my name. So I decided to listen to that little voice and just read it now anyway. And I’m so very glad I did.

Someone to Wed is the third book in Balogh’s historical romance Westcott series, and just like the first two books, Someone to Love and Someone to Hold, it is an absolute treat from beginning to end.

The stories are all tied together, loosely enough that you don’t HAVE to read them in order, but I think it adds a bit more depth if you do. In the beginning, Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, was an ass. Just how big an ass was only revealed after his death, when it was discovered that his countess wasn’t really his countess, his heir wasn’t really his heir, and that his only legitimate child had been raised in an orphanage with no knowledge of her heritage whatsoever.

He left a big, huge, stinking mess. But he didn’t have to deal with any of it, because he was dead. This is probably a good thing, as most of the participants in the drama he left behind, and many readers, would cheerfully wring his neck if it wasn’t already six feet under.

Each story in this series deals with the human fallout from the late Humphrey’s assholishness. This time around it’s his cousin Alexander Westcott turn. Alex, as now the next legitimate male heir, has become the very unwilling Earl of Riverdale.

While one might think that anyone would love to inherit a title, this is definitely not true in Alex’s case. Because Alex has inherited the title and the quite frankly failing entailed estates, but none of the money that should go with them. Alex has inherited a title and a money pit. Money that he does not have.

Just plain Alexander Westcott had just managed to restore his own inherited patrimony to profitability after decades of neglect on his late father’s part and years of hard work on his own. Becoming the Earl of Riverdale means that he has the same work to do all over again, with the same resources he had before spread over much, much larger (and more seriously neglected) lands.

Plain Alexander Westcott could have afforded to marry for love. The new Earl of Riverdale must marry money. And that’s where Wren Heyden comes in. Wren has inherited a fortune and a very successful glassworks from her late and much beloved uncle. Nearing 30, her year of mourning for her uncle’s (and aunt’s) deaths over with, she wants to marry.

But Wren believes that her fortune is all she has to recommend her. Why? Because Wren has a large port-wine stain, in other words a big purple birthmark, covering much of the left side of her face. Long ago, someone convinced her that she was so ugly that no one could ever possibly love her – or even manage to look at her without running screaming from the room. Years of her aunt and uncle’s unstinting love and unwavering support never managed to convince her otherwise.

Wren attempts to buy Alex’s hand in marriage. He needs a rich wife, and she needs a man who will give her children. She begins by believing that she can maintain her life as a hermit, while giving Alex the money he needs to restore Riverdale.

While Alex feels that marrying for love is a now a dream out of his reach, he is still offended by the crassness at the base of Wren’s proposal. He does not want to be bought. But he recognizes the injustices of his feelings – after all, he was planning to present himself in the marriage mart with the hope of contracting just such an alliance.

Even more, Alex wonders if they will suit. He may not be able to marry for love, but mutual respect and eventual affection are surely not out of reach.

But can there be anything else between two people after such an inauspicious beginning? Can there be anything at all?

Escape Rating A: I swallowed this book in a day. Someone to Wed is marvelous because it throws so many of the standard historical romance tropes over within its first pages.

Of course, the thing that makes Someone to Wed so different is that Wren is the mover and shaker of the story. In the beginning, she acts, and Alex is the one who reacts – not always terribly well. What makes it work is the way that he thinks about his reactions, and reminds himself just how unfair so many of them are.

What makes the romance work is the way that both Wren and Alex bend over the course of the story. As unexpected as her proposal is, and as much as all of Alex’s instincts urge him to reject it and her, he does his best to be fair. She is both right and reasonable in her actions – he’s just not used to seeing a woman exhibit that much cold-blooded logic.

That Alex discovers that he actually enjoys talking with a woman who is his intellectual equal and is not afraid to show it – or who is completely incapable of hiding it – comes as a revelation.

Another thing that made this story work for this reader is the way that Wren’s birthmark was handled. It, and her mother’s reaction to it, scarred her, seemingly for life, much more than the birthmark itself does. She feels ugly and unlovable because that’s how she was made to feel as a child – not because either of those things are true. Her journey towards acceptance of herself is marvelously hard won.

Alex’ reaction to her birthmark reminds me of a quote from science fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s Notebooks of Lazarus Long, “A man does not insist on physical beauty in a woman who builds up his morale. After a while he realizes that she is beautiful–he just hadn’t noticed it at first.” While there is definitely some sexism in there, the point is still valid. Think of it as a more pleasant version of the old saw about beauty being skin deep, but ugly going clean through to the bone. Beauty is as beauty does. And beauty shines from within.

Wren is beautiful. And it takes Alex much less time to realize that fact than it does Wren herself. But when she finally does, it’s even more beautiful than their romance.

Reviewer’s Note: I don’t always envision the hero or heroine as any person in particular, but Alex is described as incredibly, perfectly handsome so many times that I kept seeing him as Yannick Bisson from the Murdoch Mysteries TV series. Particularly in the early years of the series, Bisson seemed too beautiful to be real. Your imaginary mileage may vary.

Review: File M for Murder by Miranda James

Review: File M for Murder by Miranda JamesFile M for Murder (Cat in the Stacks, #3) by Miranda James
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #3
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on January 31st 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Athena College's new writer in residence is native son and playwright Connor Lawton, known for his sharp writing- and sharper tongue. After an unpleasant encounter, librarian Charlie Harris heads home to a nice surprise: his daughter Laura is subbing for another Athena professor this fall semester. It's great news until he hears who got her the job: her old flame, Connor Lawton...
Fearing competition for Connor's affections, one of his admirers tries to drive Laura out of town. And then, before Connor finishes the play he is writing, he is murdered- and Laura is the prime suspect. Knowing she's innocent, Charlie and his faithful sidekick, Diesel, follow Connor's cluttered trail of angry lovers, bitter enemies, and intriguing research to find the true killer before his daughter is forever cataloged under "M"- for murderer.

My Review:

I am predisposed to like this series. The amateur sleuth is a 50-something librarian named Harris who loves his enormous cat. Said cat is excellent at providing aid and comfort (but mostly comfort) to anyone in his orbit who needs it, and sometimes serves as a great sounding board for his human.

We all talk to our cats, and we all believe that they understand at least some of what we say, and vice versa. Diesel, while rather large for a cat, because Maine Coons are very large cats, acts like a cat a bit on the high end of feline intelligence. But no more than that. One of the things I love about Diesel is that he never does anything that cats don’t do – albeit writ somewhat large. It’s not uncommon for Maine Coon cats to be three feet long from nose to tail, and for the males to top out at over 20 pounds. Diesel is a big, handsome boy with a purr that sounds like, you guessed it, a diesel engine.

And Charlie Harris is very much a librarian. I can easily identify with what he does at work, and why he does it. And also why he loves the parts of this job that he loves, and dislikes the parts he doesn’t love. He rings true as “one of us”. Except for that fascinating habit he has of getting involved in murder. Like so many fictional small town amateur detectives, he does have a gift for tripping over dead bodies and inserting himself into police investigations. It’s a knack that the local police detective finds more annoying than endearing, to say the least.

This particular case hits rather close to home. On the plus side, Charlie’s daughter Laura is home in Athena for the summer, teaching a drama class at the local college where Charlie works. On the minus side, she got the temporary gig through the influence of this year’s resident playwright at the university. And Connor Lawton is a major pain in the ass. Not just to Charlie, but to every single person he comes in contact with. He’s rude, arrogant and downright nasty to all, and no one likes him one bit.

He’s one of those people who is just such a big arsehole that no one seems to mourn him when he’s found dead in his apartment. Rather, the long line of people who might want to do him in stretches rather far.

But once Connor is out of the way, whoever is behind his death turns their gaze upon Laura Harris, and her family finds itself under threat from all sides. Charlie, as usual, feels like it’s all up to him to figure out whodunit – before the killer manages to either kill his daughter or burn down his house with everyone inside.

Escape Rating B: This series is always a good time. I got hooked when I picked up Twelve Angry Librarians, and so far I have yet to be disappointed by a single trip to Athena, Mississippi. I grabbed this one because I bounced hard off of two books, and needed something that I knew would draw me right in, and File M for Murder certainly delivered.

The mysteries in this series are definitely cozy. And not just because Diesel, like all Maine Coons, is a very furry cat. Athena, Mississippi is a small college town, and everyone pretty much does know everyone. When Charlie needs to find the dirt on someone living in town, he knows just who to ask. And when he has to do research on someone’s past doings, he knows just which library has all the resources he needs, as well as the skill to use them.

There are plenty of cat mysteries, but one of the things that I like best about this series is that Diesel is just a cat. A very big cat, but just a cat. He doesn’t do anything that cats don’t do. Even in this particular story, where there is one point where Diesel really does save the day, he does it by smelling something off and meowing about it until he gets his human’s attention. Not all of us receive letter bombs (thank goodness) but that a cat would sniff out that the thing just smells “wrong” in a big way is quite possible.

It’s not that I don’t love Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey series, because I do, but one talking cat mystery series is probably enough. Or at least it is for this reader.

Another thing that I enjoy about this series is that Charlie is not always the first person to solve the mystery, the best person to solve the mystery, or even the person who saves the day by solving the mystery. In Charlie’s cases, he does get in the way of the police as often as he helps them. He doesn’t always do the cliche thing of getting all the suspects together for the big reveal. Sometimes the solution is anti-climactic, and Charlie is a step behind the police. It feels more human, and more likely, that an amateur sleuth would be as much of a hindrance as a help, while it still gives the reader a chance to put the pieces together along with Charlie, mistakes and all.

If you are looking for a light, fluffy and fun mystery series, with lovely people in an interesting setting, check out Charlie and Diesel. You don’t have to start with Murder Past Due (I didn’t) – this series is just good cozy fun wherever you jump in.

Review: When All the Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann Krentz

Review: When All the Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann KrentzWhen All The Girls Have Gone by Jayne Ann Krentz
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Cutler Sutter & Salinas #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Jayne Ann Krentz, the New York Times bestselling author of Secret Sisters, delivers a thrilling novel of the deceptions we hide behind, the passions we surrender to, and the lengths we’ll go to for the truth...
When Charlotte Sawyer is unable to contact her step-sister, Jocelyn, to tell her that one her closest friends was found dead, she discovers that Jocelyn has vanished.
Beautiful, brilliant—and reckless—Jocelyn has gone off the grid before, but never like this. In a desperate effort to find her, Charlotte joins forces with Max Cutler, a struggling PI who recently moved to Seattle after his previous career as a criminal profiler went down in flames—literally. Burned out, divorced and almost broke, Max needs the job.
After surviving a near-fatal attack, Charlotte and Max turn to Jocelyn’s closest friends, women in a Seattle-based online investment club, for answers. But what they find is chilling…
When her uneasy alliance with Max turns into a full-blown affair, Charlotte has no choice but to trust him with her life. For the shadows of Jocelyn’s past are threatening to consume her—and anyone else who gets in their way...

My Review:

Like last year’s Secret Sisters, When All the Girls Have Gone is one of Jayne Ann Krentz’s rare (and awesome) stand alone contemporary romantic suspense titles. As much as I adore her Arcane Society/Harmony series, it’s always a treat to read a stand-alone title with that same ability to enthrall me from the first page to the last. And I’m not left mourning the wait for the next title in the series. When all of those girls are finally found, we get to watch our heroine and hero virtually ride off into the sunset. Job well done.

And also like Secret Sisters, Girls is also a story about sisterhood. Both the kind that you make, and the kind that gets made for you.

Charlotte Sawyer gets dragged into this mystery because her step-sister Jocelyn has gone missing. Charlotte discovers this after she learns that one of the women who seem to be Jocelyn’s sisters-of-the-heart turns up dead – and Jocelyn can’t be found.

There are secrets within secrets in this story. One reason why so much of the action happens is the way that the police handle a series of rape cases, then rape and murder cases, and then just plain murder cases. All the victims are women. And all of the various police departments where the crimes take place choose to take the easy way out in solving, or rather not solving, each crime.

When Jocelyn was a college student, she was raped. The police first dismissed her story, did the unfortunate but all-too-usual victim blaming, and then managed to lose the box of evidence that Jocelyn so carefully arranged to have taken at the local hospital.

Now her best friend is dead, and Jocelyn is off the grid. When private investigator Max Cutler picks up the case, he starts looking into the last days of the dead woman. The police think she died of a drug overdose. Because that’s the way the scene has been framed, and that’s the easy way out. Max is certain her death was murder. Especially since someone took all her electronics.

As Max investigates the death of Louise Finch, Charlotte comes looking for Louise, her step-sister’s best friend. Because Louise sent Jocelyn a very mysterious package, and now that Jocelyn is off the grid Charlotte can’t deliver it.

Max ties Louise’ death to Jocelyn’s disappearance, and Charlotte inserts herself into his case – and into his life. Louise’ cousin wants to find out what happened. Charlotte wants to locate Jocelyn. And from there the search expands outward, as Charlotte and Max begin to look into the women in Jocelyn’s circle, and the ultra secret “Investment Club” that Jocelyn refused to let Charlotte enter.

The search balloons outward, from Louise to Jocelyn to the other women and the cause that brought them together. And it contracts inwards, all the way back to Jocelyn’s long ago rape, and the man that thought he got away with it.

But he didn’t.

Escape Rating A-: This is a page turner. Ironically, both the hero and heroine think of themselves as plodders, the kind of people who just put one foot in front of the other and don’t lead very exciting lives. To the point where Charlotte’s ex-fiance broke their engagement five days before the wedding because he said she was boring. In reality, he’s a commitment-phobic douche, but we’ll get back to him.

Both Charlotte and Max are emotionally scarred. Charlotte by the douchey-ex. Also in a small way, her step-sister Jocelyn who keeps trying to protect Charlotte even though they are both adults. Jocelyn interprets Charlotte’s optimism and faith in others as naive stupidity. And they are both wrong.

Max’s history is tragic, and he’s still hunting for the man who nearly killed him and his brothers when they were children. He’s managed to make a life for himself, but things are pretty rough around the edges. But whatever Max and Charlotte are, they are anything but boring. Especially to each other.

Charlotte and Max ground each other. And they are both eminently sensible people in so many ways. Neither of them panics, not even when the situation is extremely dire. But the story isn’t all practicality. The more time they spend together, the more they see that they have the basis for a relationship, if they can manage to reach for it. Which they eventually do, in their own practical, and extremely satisfying, way.

The investigation is one that starts with nearly all unknowns. But Max’s specialty is plodding with incredible sparks of insight. He keeps going, doing the work, until he gets a sudden breakthrough and the pattern emerges. The pattern here takes a while to emerge, but the search keeps the reader frantically flipping pages the whole way. One of the neat things about the way this story was written is that we don’t see into the murk surrounding this case until Max and Charlotte do.

This is romantic suspense, so there is finally a happy ending. But before we get there, we have the inevitable point where the heroine is in extreme danger. One of the things that made the development of the relationship between Max and Charlotte so much fun to read was that Charlotte’s practicality means that she very much participates in her own rescue. The damsel may be in distress, but she is far, far from helpless.

I have one tiny quibble with this story. I said that Charlotte’s ex was a douche, which he was. He comes back during this story. His rebound went back to her ex, and he’s just sure that Charlotte will be grateful to take him back. Charlotte is rightfully pissed, and shows it. Good on her. But his behavior felt just enough over the top that I kept expecting him to reappear and be tied into the skullduggery. He felt unresolved. For me, it felt like an unfulfilled variation on Chekhov’s Gun. Instead we had Chekhov’s Ex standing in the corner, possibly waiting to be slapped – as he so richly deserved.

But I had a ball with this book, and found myself picking it up at odd (sometimes very odd) moments, just so I could read a couple more pages. Isn’t that what bathrooms are for?

Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry ThomasA Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1) by Sherry Thomas
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Sherlock #1
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on October 18th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

USA Today bestselling author Sherry Thomas turns the story of the renowned Sherlock Holmes upside down…   With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society.  But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.   When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

My Review:

I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so when I saw the eARC of A Study in Scarlet Women, I was instantly intrigued. Sherlock Holmes has been adapted in so many different directions, from the very different modern TV incarnations of Sherlock and Elementary to the slightly off-tangent House to the married Holmes in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series along with the fantasy version in the late Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy series and Neil Gaiman’s award-winning A Study in Emerald.

While there was a well-known series by Carole Nelson Douglas that features Irene Adler (“the woman” from A Scandal in Bohemia) as a Sherlock Holmes-type detective, I’ll admit that I can’t find a citation for an actual female Holmes, although I know I’ve read them.

A Study in Scarlet Women is just that – it posits Sherlock Holmes as a woman who uses Sherlock Holmes as a nom-de-guerre to shroud her work in an air of mystery, and to keep both the police and the criminal element from dismissing her as merely a female. The rendering of Sherlock Holmes, nee Charlotte Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet Women is contemporaneous with the original Sherlock Holmes canon. One of the elements that is both fascinating and frustrating about A Study in Scarlet Women is that Charlotte Holmes does not feel anachronistic to her era at all. She is forced to deal with all of the prejudices and restrictions that surrounded young women of that era, and find a way around them.

While she does get a bit luckier than is probably likely, even her solutions fit within the time-frame. She hides who she really is behind a fictional “brother”, and conducts many of her consultations via the post, the better to hide her physical self.

Part of the frustration in this book is that those restrictions were very, well, restrictive. Charlotte’s solution to the problem of getting out from under her parents’ control while not putting herself under the control of a husband is ingenious. She reckons with all of the consequences to herself, but neglects to factor murder into her calculations. Not that she committed one, nor has anyone in her family, but that her disgrace gives her sister and her parents a reason to commit one, and puts them under suspicion of having done so.

Her first case arises from a need to clear their names, as well as to see justice done.

There is a Watson, and her origins (yes, her) are even more fascinating than Holmes, both in the ways that they do and do not follow the original character. Mrs. Watson, a well-to-do widow, comes to Charlotte’s rescue when she is at her most desperate, and finds a common cause and a new lease on life assisting in Charlotte’s investigations.

Where Dr. John Watson was a veteran of the Afghan war, Mrs. John Watson is the widow of an Army doctor who was killed in, of course, the Afghan War. However, Mrs. Watson, nee Joanna Hamish Redmayne, is also a former actress and retired denizen of the demimondaine, and therefore a scarlet woman. As is Charlotte, who arranged to have herself “ruined” to escape the strictures of upper-middle-class respectable and restricted womanhood.

It is these two scarlet women, with the help of Charlotte’s somewhat reluctant childhood friend, and an even more desperate police detective, who discover the link between a series of seemingly unrelated murders, and get Charlotte’s family off-the-hook.

It is the beginning of what I hope will be a brilliant career for Charlotte, make that Sherlock, Holmes.

Escape Rating B+: As I said at the beginning, this story is both fun and frustrating, sometimes in equal measure. Because it posits a female Sherlock Holmes during the Victorian Era, the character and the reader are forced to deal with the upper-class-Victorian restrictions on women’s, particularly young women’s, lives and movements. The first third of the book has to feature Charlotte’s solution to this particular quagmire, and its immediate consequences. It’s a situation that shows Charlotte’s resolution and self-knowledge, but for 21st century readers it’s fairly ugly. It feels realistic, but no fun at all to read through.

And we need to see the consequences of Charlotte’s tough decisions and all of their unfortunate direct consequences for Charlotte until she very nearly hits rock-bottom. It’s only at that point that she is rescued by the equally unconventional Mrs. Watson, and her story really begins.

Because Watson in this case is older and has more experience of the world, Holmes and Watson are much more nearly equal than some of the popular misconceptions about the pair. This Watson is no dunderhead. She is not the genius that Holmes is, but her acting ability, knowledge of the social strata and ability to understand people makes her a partner rather than a mere sidekick. Especially since Mrs. Watson provides the initial funds for the entire enterprise!

As the story unfolds, the reader gets to play a game of “spot the character” as we determine who in this new version is playing the parts that are familiar from the original canon. For example, the author of the stories will not be Watson, but Charlotte’s sister. It’s a fun game and I enjoyed figuring out who was who.

The case was every bit as convoluted, and the solution every bit as difficult, as any of the original Holmes’ cases. The clues may be there from the beginning, but determining whodunnit and why is an effort that takes both Charlotte and the reader the entire story.

One part of A Study in Scarlet Women troubles me just a bit. As is famously known, the original Sherlock Holmes seems to have had no truck with emotion of any kind. Until the version of Holmes portrayed in the Mary Russell stories, Holmes and romance have seemed to be, not merely on different continents, but on far distant planets from one another.

There is not exactly a romance in A Study in Scarlet Women, but there’s not exactly not one either. Charlotte’s childhood friend, Lord Ingram Ashburton, is clearly the man she should have married. And very much vice-versa. But they didn’t realize it until much too late, after Ingram was not only married but had discovered that his wife had only married him for his money and title. It is not a happy marriage, or even a companionable one. But Ingram is an honorable man, perhaps to a fault. The amount of unresolved sexual tension between Ingram and Charlotte is enough to light London for a month through a pea-souper fog. I wonder how this conundrum will get resolved as the series continued.

I wonder even more why it was necessary to introduce a romantic element for Holmes in the first place. Hopefully we’ll see in future entries in the series.

Review: Apprentice in Death by J.D. Robb

Review: Apprentice in Death by J.D. RobbApprentice in Death (In Death, #43) by J.D. Robb
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, papaerback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: futuristic, mystery, thriller
Series: In Death #43
Pages: 375
Published by Berkley on September 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lieutenant Eve Dallas returns in a fast-paced new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author J. D. Robb. 
Nature versus nurture...
  The shots came quickly, silently, and with deadly accuracy. Within seconds, three people were dead at Central Park’s ice skating rink. The victims: a talented young skater, a doctor, and a teacher. As random as random can be.
Eve Dallas has seen a lot of killers during her time with the NYPSD, but never one like this. After reviewing security videos, it becomes clear that the victims were killed by a sniper firing a tactical laser rifle, who could have been miles away when the trigger was pulled. And though the locations where the shooter could have set up seem endless, the list of people with that particular skill set is finite: police, military, professional killer.
Eve’s husband, Roarke, has unlimited resources—and genius—at his disposal. And when his computer program leads Eve to the location of the sniper, she learns a shocking fact: There were two—one older, one younger. Someone is being trained by an expert in the science of killing, and they have an agenda. Central Park was just a warm-up. And as another sniper attack shakes the city to its core, Eve realizes that though we’re all shaped by the people around us, there are those who are just born evil...

My Review:

This was not the book I planned to review today, but I caught a cold and found myself looking for a book that would suck me in and keep me glued to the page from first to last. I needed something that would take me effortlessly out of myself for a few hours. So I listened to the siren song in my stuffed up head and bought a copy of the new In Death book. I’m always happy to catch up with my favorite futuristic cop shop, whether the mystery is a winner or merely a sideshow. I like these people and am always happy to see how they are all doing. Especially Galahad.

The case in this one has a tiny bit of a ripped from the headlines feel, even though the book takes place in a fictionalized 2062. The NYPSD finds itself hunting for an LDSK who is attempting to cover their agenda with collateral damage – a tactic that only leads to more bodies and more clues for Eve and company to investigate.

The acronym LDSK is in use today, in our early 21st century world. And it’s a shame and a sadness that it needs to exist at all. An LDSK is a Long Distance Serial Killer – someone who sets up in a sniper’s nest and picks off their targets from long-range. This is never an opportunistic crime, because it takes weeks and months of planning to scout out and secure potential nests. In order to shoot accurately at such extreme ranges calls for the coldest of cold blood.

The police work in this case involves sorting the tiny grains of wheat from mountains of chaff.

There are very few people who are capable of the hit at the Central Park Ice Rink that opens this story. Three shots, three victims, from high above and more than a mile away. The shooter has to have used a long-range tactical rifle. The skills to use one and the ability to obtain one narrow the possible field. The shooter was either current or former military, police or professional assassin.

Or trained by one of the above.

In a city of urban high-rises and urban density like New York (the city hasn’t changed much in the intervening decades), isolating the sniper’s nest comes down to finding one perfect needle among hundreds of haystacks. Even with the assistance of Roarke’s fancy IT skills, there is still a lot of pavement pounding and door-knocking involved.

A lucky break gets them a suspect. Two suspects. And the race is on to catch the killer before they kill again. And again. But not again.

Escape Rating A-: I’m probably a bit prejudiced about this one. I needed something like this to take me away from my snotty nose and constant cough, and it blissfully did the job for five hours or so. Consider me grateful.

While Roarke’s IT skills help shorten the door knocking and pavement pounding, in the end it is good police work that solves this case, and it feels like the kind of police work that could feature in an early 21st century police procedural just as well as a mid-21st century one.

Search for links among the multiple victims. Figure out what, and who, they had in common. Find the nest. Dig for witnesses, and pray it doesn’t involve any actual digging. Search for a motive, even a twisted one. Keep an open mind so that the clues lead to the killer rather than an assumption about the killer leading to the clues.

And all the while, keep the team together as the chase goes on, the pressure mounts and the body count goes up.

naked in death by J.D. RobbWhat I love about this series, whether the individual case is thrilling or good or just ho hum, is the team and family-of-choice that has gathered around Eve and Roarke, both because of who they are and sometimes in spite of what Eve in particular says she wants. For a woman who began her story in Naked in Death with very little except the job, she has created a surprisingly large circle of people who she loves and who love her in return. Her constant surprise, occasional consternation and unexpected joy that this is so always warms the heart.

This is one of those cases where Eve sees herself in the killer. There but for the grace of God might have gone Eve, and it is something that haunts her frequently.

This is also a case about mentorship and fatherhood, whether surrogate or biological. What makes one man choose to warp his child beyond humanity? What makes one man pick one someone out of the pack to be child, student and legacy? So as Eve chases the killer, she finds herself looking at the relationships in her own life. What made Feeney pick her out of the sea of cops, all those years ago, and help shape her into the officer she is? What made Summerset pick Roarke, and let them save each other? And what made her choose Peabody?

And how the hell did she escape from what her father tried to make her? And why didn’t this killer?

echoes in death by jd robb These are the kind of questions that keep this reader coming back for more. I can’t wait for Echoes in Death, coming in February. A hot book to warm a chilly winter’s night.

Cass Rant on Demand: Wild Embrace by Nalini Singh

Cass Rant on Demand: Wild Embrace by Nalini SinghWild Embrace (Psy-Changeling, #15.5) by Nalini Singh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Psy-Changeling #15.5
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on August 23rd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The “alpha author of paranormal romance”* presents a stunningly sensual collection of four all-new Psy-Changeling novellas, in which taboos are broken, boundaries are crossed, and instincts prove irresistible...

Echo of Silence
In a deep-sea station, Tazia Nerif has found her life’s work as an engineer, keeping things running smoothly. But she wants nothing more than to break down the barrier of silence between her and her telekinetic Psy station commander...

Dorian
A changeling who can never shift lives a life of quiet frustration—until he learns how to let his leopard come out and play...

Partners in Persuasion
Still raw from being burned by a dominant female, wolf changeling Felix will never again risk being a plaything. But for dominant leopard Dezi, he’s the most fascinating man she’s ever met. She just has to convince this gun-shy wolf that he can trust the dangerous cat who wants to take a slow, sexy bite out of him…

Flirtation of Fate
Seven years ago, Kenji broke Garnet’s heart. Now the wolf packmates have to investigate the shocking murder of one of their own. And the more Kenji sees of the woman Garnet has become, the deeper he begins to fall once more. But even his primal instincts are no match for the dark secret he carries...
*Booklist, starred review

Hello again! Long time, no see. Who’s up for a Cass Rant On Demand™? Clearly the person who baited me with another dip into the Psy-Changeling world. An anthology this time. Be warned, there shall be spoilers and snark ahead.

Anyone want to place bets on how many stories involve a psychic woman being saved by the mighty powers of the changeling cock?

Echo of Silence: Now wait just a moment here. What atrocity is this? A poor woman being left alone in the world to fend off the attentions of this nightmarish man-creature that respects her culture. Be warned, the following exchange may shock you.

“I can’t discard who I am like it’s an old coat.”

“I understand,” Stefan said, having already guessed at Tazia’s value system after so carefully noting every single thing about her in the year they’d worked together. “Your cultural mores are no more or less irrational than the protocol under which my people are conditioned.”

To add insult to injury, he takes this a step further by valuing her talents as an engineer.

“Your skills are necessary.”

Typical Psy. Without exposure to Changeling packs, he hasn’t yet learned that it is his job to threaten his crush (Lucas), violate her bodily autonomy (Vaughn), belittle her life choices (Clay), and piss all over her loyalty to her family (Dorian). Though I guess the latter isn’t necessary since her brother seems to have missed out on the Riley Kincaid Lecture Series: Your Sister’s Vagina is Your Property. 

Of course he’s a former Arrow. Apparently the only school on this planet that teaches how to respect women is the one with a regular torture regimen.

“No grease streaks for once,” she said, nervous.

“I have a confession.” He rose from the bed. “I only used to say that to have an excuse to speak to you. Sometimes you didn’t have grease on your face. I lied.”

Stefan, Stefan, Stefan. Pick up the phone, and give DarkRiver a call. Nate will be happy to explain to you how to infantilize the woman you are romantically interested in. Then you won’t need to worry about conversational icebreakers. (+)

Dorian. This entry is an absolute joke. It’s basically deleted scenes from prior novels, loosely compiled and told from the POV of one racist misogynist fucktard.

Anyone interested in the first time Clay met the pack? Or want to see Dorian briefly interact with the sister that was fridged before the first book? Maybe you want to know how Lucas feels about Dorian being able to shift? Anyone? Bueller? (-)

Partners in Persuasion: Here we have a recently retired supermodel, who is really into fashion and flowers, but just can’t seem to relate to women. In fact, he is so shy around them that he refuses to even make eye contact. Thankfully he has no trouble whatsoever relating to or engaging with men, so when a butch woman puts the moves on him, he tentatively agrees to give it a shot. She’s mannish enough for it to work out.

She tried to shift closer, was stopped by the way they were seated, his upper body twisted to meet her kiss. Placing her hand on his throat,  she—

He wasn’t there any longer, having jerked away to the other side of the trunk. Reeling, she tried to think what she’d done,

I hate to break it to you Dezi, but you didn’t do anything wrong. He freaked out as soon as you got close enough for him to realize you didn’t have a cock.

We’re 15 books into this series, and there hasn’t been one single queer-identified character. All we get is a shy,flower-arranging fashion model who, contrary to pages of internal monologue about how it’ll never work, deciding to hook up with Idgie Threadgoode. Give me a fucking break. Is there an previous entry in the series I missed that covers how the Psy discovered the “gay gene” and managed to suppress it from appearing in the population? (-)

Flirtation of Fate: One self-centered man baby, who firmly believes his feelings outweigh those of any and all females in his life. They will get over their shit. He is the only one who can wallow.

“You knew how awful she was to me, how she made my life a living hell, and you not only took her to prom, you dated her for a year!”

A befuddled expression on his face. “I know you two didn’t like each other, but I thought it was, you know, girl stuff.”

Let that be a lesson to all you menfolk out there. It is completely acceptable to bang a hot bully, even as she is emotionally tormenting your best friend. Teenage girls aren’t at all prone to depression and suicide in situations like this. It’s just girl stuff. Feel free to ignore it.

wild-embrace-uk-editionThe – ahem – romance between these two only appears to deepen with time. After man baby gets his jollies plowing her nemesis, he leads her on, ditches her at her birthday party to bang another girl, spends years tormenting her professionally, and ultimately decides for her that her only purpose in life is to breed. Because yeah. That is how you demonstrate your love for your true mate. Fuck this noise. (-)

In sum, only bother with the first story.

Before I move on to the grading, I need to spend just one moment addressing the cover-shaped elephant in the room. What is with the US covers?! The US cover screams P-O-R-N. Which it really isn’t. There is sex in every story, but it’s only painful when the author is forcing two clearly queer characters into a hetero-normative relationship. If you decide to buy this anthology for the first story, order it from the UK. Even man-baby’s pink hair is preferable to Mr. Nipples.

Escape Rating: D for Down With the Douchebaggery!

 

Marlene’s Notes: Cass is absolutely right about the UK vs. US covers. I always hate the US covers. The UK covers are always lots better.

Howsomever, much as I agree about the covers, I disagree about the series in general and this book in particular. For a considerably more positive take on Wild Embrace, check out my joint review with E over at The Book Pushers.

Guest Review: Mindkiller by Spider Robinson

Guest Review: Mindkiller by Spider RobinsonMindkiller by Spider Robinson
Format: paperback
Source: purchased from bookstore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback
Genres: dystopian, science fiction, thriller
Pages: 246
Published by Berkley on November 1st 1983
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of Time Pressure comes a pulse-pounding tale of action and suspense as two men and a woman search for--and find--the ultimate frontier of experience. "The new Robert Heinlein . . ".--New York Times.

Guest Review by Amy:

Norman Kent has had enough of life; his experiences in the war, his failed marriage, his dead-end career…and in the opening words of this tale, he’s ready to end it all. But an unfriendly stranger gets in the way of his plan, and he returns to his apartment, only to find his sister there, whom he’d not seen in years and years. Shortly, she disappears abruptly, without a trace.

Hop forward a few years, and a clever, tech-savvy burglar who doesn’t know his own name finds a woman with a wire in her skull, trying to kill herself with pleasure. He pulls her back from the brink, only to go on a crusade with her against the forces that created the pleasure addiction of “wireheads.”

Spider Robinson’s brain just doesn’t work like the rest of ours, I don’t think; if you’ve ever read any of his Callahan’s stories, you’ll understand; in those books he deals in puns and wild stories, while giving the reader a peek into a community of people where “shared joy is increased, shared pain is lessened,” a notion that has created substantial communities of fans here and there around the digital world (full disclosure: I am a member of one such community). The New York Times’ review of this book pinned the label “the new Robert Heinlein” on Robinson, but as a Heinlein fan, I’m not quite going to agree to that; Heinlein fans will enjoy this tale, and feel right at home with Spider Robinson’s style, but it’s…different, in ways I can’t quite put my finger on.

Something I missed early on in this book was that time was jumping back and forth; we begin Norman’s story in 1994-1995, and are jumping to 1999 for the story of the burglar and the wirehead. Once I caught onto that, things started to make a little more sense for me, and I raptly followed both plots, wondering when and how they would converge, and when an antagonist would appear. Once a name was mentioned in both plots, things kind of clicked into place–no other explanation fits the facts at hand, so if you’re watching for it, you’ll figure it out before our protagonists do. Naturally, if you miss it, Robinson helpfully provides an intrusion between the story lines, in the form of Norman’s ex-wife Lois, to help you pull it all together. The apparent climax is not-unexpected, but even here, when you think you’ve got it figured out, the author gives us a lovely new twist, right at the end. Jarring, yes, but utterly necessary, and provided a way to tidy up several loose ends still dangling.

Escape Rating: A. Unlike Heinlein, who aggressively pursued a world that got better over time, and where characters pushed for that, Spider Robinson gives us a world that has clearly spiralled downward; our heroes show no particular desire to turn it around; they’re just trying to deal with it. There is no ultra-rich Howard Family pulling the strings to make things better, just avarice and dog-eat-dog individualism, easily recognizable in our own world at times. Our heroes are hard-boiled pragmatists, jaded by the world around them; so much so that when the burglar Joe heard young Karen talking about her crusade to go after the inventors of the wirehead technology, he thought she was crazy. But Karen had lived rough herself, and was willing to play hardball to do what must be done, and for reasons he doesn’t quite grasp, Joe joins her, because–for the first time he can remember–he actually cares about someone!

Our cast of characters is well-developed, every one of them with clear motivations, and rich description. Once I got past the time-hopping confusion of the first couple of chapters, I was able to track what was happening, and the story moved along crisply, without a lot of needless embellishment. A little bit of a thriller and a little bit of dystopian sci-fi, mixed in just the right proportions with engaging characters, made this a real page-turner for me. If you’re looking for a classic dystopian novel with a great thriller thrown in the mix, I heartily recommend Mindkiller.