Shelved Under Murder – Victoria Gilbert

shelved under murder cover

“One thing every librarian learns is that people rarely ask the question they actually want answered.”

Several months have passed since small-town librarian Amy Webber was caught up in the events of A Murder for the Books. Usual warning: if you read on, mention of events in book 2 might spoil some of book 1!

Taylorsford is preparing itself for the annual Heritage Festival, an arts and crafts spectacular. Art becomes the theme for the book, as the discovery of a dead artist seems to tie in with forgery rings and organised crime. Could it be that Amy’s late uncle, himself a struggling artist, might have been more connected to these events than anyone would wish?!

I’ve heard cosy mysteries like this described as ‘palate cleansers’ (or should that be ‘palette’, given the topic? ;)) and this is indeed just that. Light and easy to read, nothing too taxing on the brain, this was a sweet little romance with added murder. Urm…! 😉

I thought the story felt a little more assured than the previous book, or perhaps it was just that less setting up was required. We’re assumed to know who the main cast are, from the first book. Of course, this does mean that new players stand out like sore thumbs, and it was pretty obvious who was going to turn out to be the bad guys. The bigger mystery elements are more reveals about the main characters’ pasts, rather than the more obvious crime of the day.

Still, it served its purpose.  I like that this series is a little less ‘fluffy’ than some cosy mysteries, but it’s still a bit heavy on the romance for my tastes. There’s also the merest hint of something supernatural, which I’m not sure about: I think the author needs to commit to including/explaining some of it, or leave it out. Ymmv, as they say!

NetGalley eARC: ~327 pages / 28 chapters
First published: July 2018
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 2
Read from 5th-9th July 2018

My rating: 6/10

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Days of Blood and Starlight – Laini Taylor

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“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil held a wishbone between them. And its snap split the world in two.”

I liked the first half of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, the first in this series, much more than the second half. Conversely, I took a little while to get going with this one, spending a good chunk of the first third or so thinking this was going to be a slightly disappointing middle installment. How wrong I was!

(As ever, I can’t promise a review of book 2 won’t mention something that ‘spoils’ an e.g. survival from book 1, so you might want to leave before I really get going!)

Following the catastrophic events at the end of the first book, we find Karou living a shadowy nightmare life. Akiva’s isn’t that much better, but while his pain is caused almost solely by the separation and facade of fitting back into his old life, Karou has lost just about everything. She’s back with the chimaera, but an outsider in almost every way.

For a middle book, this surprised me. There was that point where I thought ‘how is there a third novel in this series?’ and then of course the world up-ends again. Twists and turns, darkness and more darkness – this is a gripping read, once the initial tranche of new world-building and scene setting is out of the way.

We see a lot more of the chimaera here, not just glimpses of Brimstone and Issa, or flashbacks, and we also find out more about the social order of the seraphim. Both are rather satisfying.

The ending is slightly less cliff-hanger-er than the first book, but still: roll on the final installment!

Paperback: 512 pages / 84 chapters
First published: 2012
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy book 2
Read from 17th June – 1st July 2018

My rating: 8/10

84K – Claire North

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“At the beginning and ending of all things…”

In the future, not too far from now, everything has a price. Crimes are paid for in cold hard cash. Caught shoplifting? Six grand might keep you out of jail. Murder? Well, that depends on the ‘value’ of the life you took. Just don’t commit fraud against the Company – there’s no paying for that.

Theo Miller knows the value of every crime, every life. That’s what he does. Until one day a face from his past disrupts his life of quiet despair. Forced to do what the rest of the country so desperately avoids – to really look at the state of society – Theo is about to make a final entry on his balance sheet.

I have mixed feelings about Claire North’s work. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August wowed me, for instance, whereas The End of The Day was a bit… hmm. This was unfortunately a bit more towards the latter, for me, with an intriguing ‘what if’ going on but the dystopia was a bit of a downer and the lit-fic style (unfinished sentences, half-thoughts) really started to irk. I got to the end still unsure how some of the switching timelines related, too.

I wouldn’t say ‘don’t read this’ – but, I think I’m not the best audience for it, at least not right now. I felt like I slogged my way through this a little, despite the fact that the writing was, as ever, very good. My biggest interest, however, was trying to figure out the inspiration: perhaps, The Handmaid’s Tale, but with the poor being treated as disposable resource rather than women – as I said, not exactly cheery.

Hardback: 452 pages / 83 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 9th-23rd June 2018

My rating: 6.5/10

The Furthest Station – Ben Aaronovitch

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“Jaget said he’d been watching this documentary on TV about the way people learn to track animals.”

Set between Foxglove Summer and The Hanging TreeThe Furthest Station picks up with PC Peter Grant well into his training as a… well, magician is probably not a word he’d enjoy. Practitioner? Either way, this isn’t really a starting place for the uninitiated – you’d probably still be able to enjoy the story, but the background isn’t explained in any way here.

What we do get is a curious case that soon attracts the attention of The Folly, the magical-stuff branch of the Metropolitan Police. Ghosts have been harassing people on the Metropolitan Line, and in investigating some of the cases, Peter and his boss, Nightingale, start to wonder if there’s something bigger going on…

I would have grabbed at this to read much sooner, but quite frankly the price tag for such a short tome seemed a bit steep. Hurrah for libraries! 🙂 I actually ended up enjoying this almost more than the full-length novels in the series. I liked the focus on the single plot-line, without some of the distracting diversions that creep in to the longer stories.

I also liked the reintroduction of Abigail, Peter’s far-too-curious little cousin. She was slightly forgotten in the most recent book, but actually her ongoing story should be impacting quite a lot. I do wonder if Mr Aaronovitch is struggling a little with his plot- and time-lines, as things have been jumping around a little. Perhaps more novellas like this could help fill in the gaps that are appearing? Of course, any use of magic is likely to leave gaps in the grey matter, so…! 😉

Fully recommended for fans, even if I do think charging full price for a slim volume you could easily read in a day is a little bit of a cheek. And if you’ve yet to discover the series, absolute give Rivers of London a go first! 🙂

Hardback: 118 pages / 9 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: PC Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 5.5
Read from 10th-13th June 2018

My rating: 8/10

Low Chicago – George RR Martin (ed)

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“It had been one hundred and forty-two years since John Nighthawk had been inside the Palmer House, and then it had been the earlier incarnation of the luxurious Chicago hotel, known simply as the Palmer.”

It seems very odd to jump into a series at book 25, but this isn’t the kind of story where that matters too much. Sure, I had to do a quick google for the underlying premise: an alien virus hits the Earth, and while most of the infected die, those that survive are altered. Known as the Wild Card event, most of those whose ‘cards turned’ become ‘jokers’ – cursed with some kind of abnormality, like the woman with rabbit ears. Some are ‘deuces’, granted low-level, party-trick kind of powers. But a very few are the ‘aces’, those with real superpowers.

The whole series has been collections of short stories, and this latest volume is no different. We start with a framing tale – very Canterbury Tales 😉 – of a high stakes poker game. Each player is allowed to take two bodyguards in with them, be that physical muscle or ace-skills, or both!

The human mutation premise isn’t exactly novel, but I think it’s a nice take on things here, feeling different enough from, say, X-Men.

When something goes awry during the card game, it turns out that one of the superpowers in the room is the ability to send people to different time periods. So, with regular interludes back to our framing tale, we then get a series of stories written by different authors detailing the ‘adventures’ of one or more of the party, flung into the distant or recent past.

I’m not sure I would have noticed the different authors if it hadn’t been made clear at the start, but once pointed out then yes, I caught a few differences in writing styles. That works well, though, given the range of eras the stories are set in: Jurassic to 1980s, with stops at several quite famous events – and with a few famous faces, to boot!

I really enjoyed both the premise of the stories here, and the individual time travel tales. There were a few times when I thought, “This is probably a reference to a previous story”, but nothing to detract too much. If I did have a complaint, it’s that this book gives a bit of a glimpse at a clearly well-established universe, but we don’t get to spend a great deal of time with character development or deeper explanations.

Still, that just gives me an even bigger reason to check out the rest of the series!

NetGalley eARC: 432 pages / 7 short stories plus framing tale
First published: 2018
Series: Wild Cards book 25
Read from 3rd-10th June 2018

My rating: 8/10

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor

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“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”

Karou’s life is anything but ordinary. From her blue hair and somewhat mysterious lack of details on her previous life, she seems perfectly suited to being a 17-year-old art student in Prague. Her sketchbooks are filled with strange creatures about whom she has myriad stories – except, while her friends assume they of course must be fiction, Karou is only telling the truth.

Raised by chimera – creatures that seem composites of other animals, such as a snake-woman, or bull-headed man – Karou still runs errands for the gruff Brimstone, generally involving meeting less-than-savoury types to purchase teeth, of all sorts and species. Quite what Brimstone does with these teeth is only one of his many mysteries, but he pays Karou in wishes. She only ever gets small wishes, though – enough for blue hair, but not flight.

Plagued by the feeling that she’s meant to be living a different existence, Karou’s lack of knowledge about herself only deepens when one day a strange man – a strange winged man – takes a sudden and intense interest in her…

Following an enjoyment of Strange the Dreamer, spotting this first book in Laini Taylor’s earlier series in the library felt like a no-brainer. And then I realised I’d read the opening chapter as a free sample before, and decided that this was perhaps a little too ‘young adult’ for me. Which bits of it are: teen romance rarely interests me. But that aside, the rest of it made me glad I gave it all a second chance.

I do like the art student lifestyle that Laini Taylor describes, and the city of Prague is made to sound amazing. The layers of mystery slowly, oh so slowly, unfold, as we discover more about the creatures who raised Karou, the other world she can only enter through doors when someone opens them from the other side, and all sorts of smokey, ancient-feeling magics and elsewhere-ness. Very atmospheric!

As we find out more, my interest did waver a little, as we end up back with the romance plot. But, still many mysteries to keep me going – including a huge cliffhanger! Thankfully the entire trilogy is available, so I don’t have to wait to find out what happens next.

Paperback: 418 pages / 60 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy book 1
Read from 13th-29th May 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Blue Sword – Robin McKinley

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“She scowled at her glass of orange juice.”

Harry Crewe never quite seems to fit in with other girls or polite society. Orphaned, she finds herself in a colonial house on the edge of the Damar desert. The barren landscape transfixes her, as does her first sight of the Hillfolk – secretive, possibly magical, they like these colonisers not much but the not-quite-human Northerners even less. Is a war brewing? What does that mean for a girl like Harry?

I feel a bit mean not liking this book more than I did. I came to it on the back of a recommendation from an author whose work I enjoy very much, claiming this as one that spoke to her a lot in childhood – and I can understand that. I think if I’d read this when I was younger, or back in the 80s when female-led fantasy wasn’t as strong as it is now, then I probably would have enjoyed this a lot more.

As it stands now, though, I found it a little hard to get past the idea of these ‘Homelanders’ colonising another land and that being so okay to the point of not being much of an issue. Or, a female character being kidnapped and sort of going along with it. Hmm. Then, of course, there’s just too much these days of the fantasy trope where a character goes from knowing nothing to being a superb fighter etc because ‘training montage’ and/or reincarnation/prophecy/destiny/something like that (you pick: I’m not giving spoilers!).

So yes, I get that if I’d read this when I was 12 I would have been entranced by Harry and her adventures, and that ‘a girl’ was getting to do all these cool things. Now, though, I thought that while well enough written, this hasn’t aged as well as those childhood memories had raved about.

Kindle: 292 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 1982
Series: Damar book 1
Read from 6th May – 2nd June 2018

My rating: 6/10