Past Due for Murder – Victoria Gilbert

past due for murder cover

“It’s amazing how much easier it is for people to learn something when you turn lessons into stories.”

A Murder for the Books introduced us to Amy Webber, small town librarian caught up in a murder mystery which it turns out her research skills and logical mind are well-suited to solving. The second instalment, Shelved Under Murder, allowed both the character and the story confidence to grow, and with the third in the series I think we’ve really hit stride.

As Amy’s small town gears up to boost tourism by reintroducing the historical May Day festival, a local folklore expert’s tales of young women disappearing on the eve of May Day seems also to be revisiting the town. But as some go missing, other old faces are making unwelcome reappearances in Amy’s (love) life…

As ever, I’m less keen on the romance element that tends to accompany cosy mysteries, but actually the lack of generally fluffiness about this series helps the relationship aspect not feel too saccharine. I am still annoyed with the otherwise rational and logical character tending to fly off the emotional handle where her men are involved, but otherwise, fair ’nuff.

I can tend to be a little sniffy about cosy mysteries in my reviewing, but I actually really enjoyed this. It was a nice light and easy read, with enough going on to hold my attention and make me look forward to curling up with the book when I could. The pace does dip a little in the middle, but almost as soon as I was finding it a little ‘meh’, I hit the start of the revelations and couldn’t put the book down despite the late hour!

Looking forward to more from Amy – even if it requires a bit of her love-life along the way 😉

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 3
Read from 28th – 31st January 2019

My rating: 7/10

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Glass (2019)

glass poster

Back in 2000, M Night Shyamalan followed the huge hit that was Sixth Sense (1999) with a very understated ‘superhero’ film called Unbreakable. I vaguely recall not being very impressed at the time, although I would like to revisit it now. Then, I think it was just too slow and moody and perhaps a little bit odd for what I was expecting.

Fast forward to 2016, and I was much less critical of Split – a strange tale of multiple personality disorder that might have been more than it seemed. And, as a stinger, it was revealed at the end (not a spoiler, don’t worry!) that this was the same universe as Unbreakable… and, that we could expect a third instalment, bringing together Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), David Dunn (Bruce Willis), and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) aka Mr Glass.

The premise from the first movie – David being asked to believe he has superpowers – is picked up well, with a psychiatrist suggesting that everything is actually a delusion and can be explained rationally. But as Mr Glass plots, and the Beast returns, figuring out what’s real is the least of their problems…

I wasn’t sure how much to expect from this movie, to be honest, having had mixed views on the first two. In fact, the friend who was a huge fan of Unbreakable was a bit disappointed with this, whereas I was pleasantly surprised.

The plot is a bit so-so – a little stretching on plausibility of actions at times – but the performances are excellent. Bruce Willis only has to frown moodily through most of it, but Sam Jackson is chillingly cool, and James McAvoy is outstanding with his dozen or so personalities, switching rapidly at times and making each entirely recognisable and different. I wasn’t too impressed with the surrounding cast, but they were sufficient.

Overall, then, it wasn’t a bad way to bring the trilogy to a close, but nor did it have anything like the impact that it perhaps would have liked. It was… serviceable. Damned with faint praise, perhaps, but there ya go.

Released: 18th January 2019
Viewed: 18th January 2019
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Campion at Christmas – Margery Allingham

campion at christmas cover

“Sir Leo Pursuivant, the Chief Constable, had been sitting in his comfortable study after a magnificent lunch and talking heavily of the sadness of Christmas while his guest, Mr Campion, most favoured of this large house-party, had been laughing at him gently.”

I’ve always had a soft spot for Campion, after enjoying the tv adaptations when I was younger. Took me a long time to get around to any of the books – starting with The Crime at Black Dudley – and to be honest I’ve still only read a couple. However, a set of four short stories from Margery Allingham, based at Christmas, just sounded lovely!

And, they are quite sweet. Three of the four, On Christmas Day in the Morning, The Man with the Sack, and Word in Season,  involve Albert Campion, two of those solving mini mysteries and the other one a slice of family life with a very very large dollop of whimsy. I enjoyed all of these, picturing Peter Davison in the role, and who doesn’t love dogs with the last one? 🙂

The other story, Happy Christmas, the second in the collection, is a different beast. While clearly about Christmas, it doesn’t feature Campion and to be honest I was left scratching my head a little over what it was all about. Nothing wrong with it, it’s still a sweet little slice of period frippery, just not entirely sure what I was missing. It’s the oldest story, too, published in 1937 compared with the 1960s for the others.

If you’re a fan of Campion, this is a short but lovely little compilation of cosy mystery niceness that conjures images of a more gentile time.

NetGalley eARC: 63 pages / 4 short stories
First published: 2018 (as collection), 1937-1965 (originally in various magazines)
Series: Campion short stories
Read from 16th-17th December 2018

My rating: 7.5/10

The Novel Art of Murder – VM Burns

novel art of murder cover

“‘What the blazes do you mean I didn’t get the part?'”

Sam Washington’s life has been a bit of a rollercoaster since we first met her in The Plot is Murder, and then again in Read Herring Hunt. Her small town is in danger of turning into the new Cabot Cove (from Murder She Wrote) with yet another mysterious death, and another person close to Sam accused of murder! This time, she has just a week to save her Nana Jo from the Big House, after a rival takes her lead role in the local am-dram play…

Cosy mysteries are my snuggle up for a bit of fluff reads, and I adore books about books. Bonus with this series is Sam’s own efforts at writing a mystery – alas, these are rather the low point of the whole affair. They pad things out nicely, allow for a change of pace, and explain well Sam’s leaps of intuition over the real cases, but they also serve to make the rest of the book look great in comparison. Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie but falling quite far short, especially in dialect, and the whole sub-mystery is tied up in a sudden revelation from nowhere.

Aside from that, the book also allows Sam’s life to continue to grow as has been building in the series. Everything – aside from the murder! – is running rather wonderfully, and that too is a nice counterbalance to the ‘oh no, another death!’.

This leans heavily into the ‘cosy’, with very little in the way of peril despite a few sobbing fits from some of our leading ladies. I still love the elderly band of sleuths helping Sam, although the teenagers are all a little too nice and helpful to be realistic 😉

I like this series, but it’s probably going to remain ‘okay’ rather than ‘great’. And I’m fine with that. This one is a little better than the preceding volume, and I’d still happily reach for the next installment.

NetGalley eARC: 256 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 3
Read from 12th-16th December 2018

My rating: 6/10

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

nine perfect strangers cover

“‘I’m fine,’ said the woman. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me.'”

Big Little Lies was some of the best television I saw last year, and when I backtracked to the book I could see why Reese Witherspoon had been so inspired to adapt (and, imo, slightly improve) it. So it was a no-brainer to request author Liane Moriarty’s new book, Nine Perfect Strangers, when it appeared on NetGalley.

Tranquillum is a health resort which promises to improve your life, changing it for the better in just ten days. Too good to be true? It’s alluring enough for a group of strangers to each head there, hoping to fix their marriages, their careers, or just themselves. At first the spa treatments and meditation, fasting and tai chi, are all par for the course. But Tranquillum’s owner, Masha, has some dark secrets in her own past…

Chapters switch points of view between the different guests, Masha and a few members of staff, giving different layers of insight into events that brought everyone together and add to their reasons for signing up for a ‘transformation’. Background is layered through the ongoing story, adding mini ‘reveals’ to rather more mundane mysteries that are every day – if not entirely ordinary – lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed Nine Perfect Strangers (although argument on the title, as they aren’t all strangers – there’s a couple and a family ;)). The mystery wasn’t quite what I’d guessed, but also didn’t surprise me too much – to be honest, it wasn’t quite as thrilling or shocking as I expected. In lesser hands that probably would have ruined the book for me, but the strength here is bigger than just the plot line. The characters are well-sketched – you don’t get too much time with any of them, considering – really drawing you in to their lives, their woes, and the reasons for them being here. In fact, almost 10% of the book is the ‘after’, which you’d think would be padding, but by this point I really wanted to know what happened to everyone.

So, perhaps not quite what I was expecting but thoroughly engrossing. I even quite fancy a spa/meditation/wellness retreat myself – although, probably not one like this 😉 Also looking forward to the movie or TV adaptation that looks to be in the works!

NetGalley eARC: 432 pages / 76 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 29th September –  5th October 2018

My rating: 9/10

Secret Passages in a Hillside Town – Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

Secret Passages cover

“Publisher Olli Suominen spent the rainy days of autumn buying umbrellas and forgetting them all around Jyväskylä. He also accidentally joined a film club.”

Olli Suominen is a middle-aged publisher with a loving wife and young son, whose biggest life woes are squint walls in his otherwise lovely house and a propensity for losing umbrellas, when his past makes a rather dramatic reappearance in his life. What happened all those summers when he was a child, memories he seems to have half-suppressed? Who is the girl in the pear-print dress? As his small Finnish town is caught up in the magic of a book about ‘living a cinematic life’, the author turns out to be someone rather surprising…

I absolutely loved The Rabbit Back Literature Society with its mix of magic and darkness, whimsy and nastiness. Grabbing this from NetGalley was therefore a no-brainer, although I did suspect it would struggle to live up to one of my favourite reads from last year – and I was right. Mostly I still very much enjoyed this book, but that hint of unpleasantness started to feel a little… misogynistic? Certainly, a middle-aged male publisher describing dreams about women offering themselves just felt icky.

That was a minor part of things, though, and mostly what carried me through this was the mystery of what Olli had gotten up to in his childhood summers. What are these secret passageways – childhood games, or something darker? What happened to split up the group, this ‘Finnish Famous Five’?

I was also quite intrigued by the book-within-the-book, the Cinematic Guide. I could easily see such a tome doing well in the real world, encouraging people to romanticise their day to day, pretend they’re in a movie – in fact, dressing like a movie star sounds appealing to me right now 😉

As things progress, I did half-guess a bit of the big twist. However, this occurs at the 75% mark, so there’s still a fair chunk of book to go and it does take yet another direction I didn’t expect. No spoilers, but tbh I wasn’t quite sure how ‘okay’ the whole concept was, really – back to that vague feeling of ‘ick’.

Still. High marks from me, although I totally get why this is a(nother) marmite book people either love or hate. I found it refreshingly different to most things I read, and I got real chills when the first revelation about the secret passages arrived. It’s a slow start, but worth sticking with.

NetGalley eARC: 416 pages / 55 chapters
First published: 2010 / 2017 in English translation
Series: none
Read from 21st-10th September 2018

My rating: 8/10

A Simple Favour (2018)

A Simple Favour poster

Single mom Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) has a seemingly perfect life: bubbling with energy, running half the school committees, and host of her own cookery vlog. But one day she meets fellow mom Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) and finds a new level of ‘perfect’. Which woman has it better? Perhaps their growing friendship – however odd Emily seems – might have improved things for both women, until the day that Emily disappears.

I absolutely loved this movie, despite a few inconsistencies in tone. The beginning and end are definitely black comedy, but in the middle things just get a fair bit darker and less fun. There are twists I did and didn’t seem coming, but through it all I was completely engrossed.

There was something here that made me think, too. The two ‘perfect’ lives are of course anything but, and the slow reveal of secrets is very well done. That said, it’s easy to see why Stephanie finds Emily so inspiring – I, too, was eyeing up Blake Lively’s wardrobe and music tastes and overall chicness, and thinking ‘wow’. Ironically, on-screen hubby isn’t quite up to Ryan Reynolds standards, but amusingly enough her tipple of choice is Aviation Gin…  😉

This is one to see without spoilers, but definitely one to see, I reckon. Like the character’s lives it’s not quite perfect, but it’s a cleverly done thriller with eye candy to spare.

Released: 20th September 2018
Viewed: 23rd September 2018
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10