Greenglass House – Kate Milford

Greenglass House cover

“There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smugglers’ town.”

It’s the first day of the Christmas holidays, and Milo already has his homework out of the way so he can enjoy the festivities with his parents. Then, disaster: the usually quiet season for their family-run hotel is disturbed by not just one unexpected guest, but an increasing parade of odd and shifty characters. It seems obvious that they’re all looking for something – probably the same thing – but what on earth could be hidden in the home Milo’s lived in all his life?

After reluctantly teaming up with the housekeeper’s youngest daughter, Meddie, the pair set out to discover the secrets of Greenglass House. After all, it was once owned by a famous smuggler…

I am so, so glad I took up the recommendation to read this book – and to read it instantly, not do my usual of adding it to the insane reading pile – as it is quite possibly the best thing I’ve read in ages! Fair warning: it’s a ‘middle grade’ book, so the main character is about eleven, but think Narnia or Sabriel – by which I mean, the themes are still a little dark at times, and the language is totally not ‘dumbed down’, despite the suitable-for-younger readers status. It’s also hugely suitable for older readers, who are open to having a little magic in their lives 🙂

There is an absolute magic in this story, in the way it swept me up and stirred up memories of childhood adventures – or at least, the ones I imagined, whereas Milo and Meddie get to have the reality of familiar surroundings becoming so much more exciting. The plot is a perfect mix of mystery and adventure and a little of the supernatural. It’s also got a huge amount of heart, not least from the background detail of Milo’s adoptive status. Overall, it’s just lovely!

Not only was I utterly in the mood for that, but reading this actually reminded me of why I want to write: to capture the excitement and enthusiasm for stories, for adventures. I can’t give that anything less than full marks!

Do yourself a favour: at time of writing this is still on sale in the Kindle store, under £2. It’s an absolutely perfect, slightly cosy but still exciting book to snuggle up with and particularly appropriate for the Christmas season. Go go go!! 🙂

Kindle: 384 pages / 15 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: Greenglass House book 1 (of 2 so far)
Read from 11th-15th October 2017

My rating: 10/10

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Death Overdue – Allison Brook

death overdue cover

“Time to move on.”

I’m getting quite fond of the ‘cosy mystery’ genre, turning to these kinds of titles for easy and uplifting reads. I also love books set in libraries, so this sounded like a win-win.

Carrie Singleton is getting ready to leave her childhood town again and go back to her rootless existence when she’s offered a better role at the library where she’s been temping. One of her first tasks is organising a talk by a former police detective, one who’s now promising to solve the cold case he failed with fifteen years before: the murder of a local mother and library employee. However, it seems that the secret killer might be less than keen to let him have his say…

There’s plenty to enjoy reading this book, but in all honesty I can’t give it a very high rating. It’s a lot more ‘chick-lit’ and romance-based than I would have hoped, which could be fine, but alas that pushes the mystery and paranormal bits not only to lesser importance but to rather rushed and not-great written parts. The opening murder, for instance, seems very clunkily handled: a ‘I know I need this bit, but not quite how to write it’ feeling, which is a real shame.

There’s also the usual fluffy genre failing of the heroine’s too-perfect life falling into her lap. First it’s the near-perfect job – okay, that one comes with half an explanation. But then there’s the massively reduced rent on an amazing house, interested dishy men to chose from, family who spoil her endlessly, enemies made good, and heck – we can even squeeze a kitten in here because why not?! I didn’t even wholly like the main character, with her goth look so easily cast aside, murky reasonings for turning sleuth and quite frankly daft ways of stumbling onwards, and not-great treatment of other characters.

Still, it was easy enough to read and keep going with, despite the flaws. Perhaps the next in the series will be able to build on the strengths – an intriguing and helpful library ghost, for instance, or perhaps an explanation as to how this particularly library is so well-funded – and lose some of the fluffier failings.

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 37 chapters
First published: October 2017
Series: A Haunted Library Mystery book 1
Read from 6th-11th October 2017

My rating: 5/10

Odd & True – Cat Winters

Odd and True cover

“‘Tell me the story again,’ I urged my sister in the nighttime blackness of our attic bedroom.”

Raised on stories about their mother and uncle’s monster hunting past, Trudchen Grey is still not inclined to believe her sister’s letters, telling of Odette’s adventures in the circus or even wilder escapades. But when Odette returns to their aunt’s house to whisk her little sister into an even bigger adventure, Tru has to make a choice to believe – or not. Either will have repercussions.

In alternating chapters, the narrator switches from Tru to Odette, who fills in some of the mysteries of the family’s past. Soon, the reader is left trying to figure out which half of the story – either side of the fin de siecle – is the bigger mystery.

You might be able to tell from my rating: I loved this book! I went in not knowing too much about it, but I suppose with expectations of a ‘Hansel and Gretel Witchhunters’ ya adventure – which would have been fine. But this is absolutely not that book. It is so much more!

I’m left not really wanting to spoil it all too much for any would-be readers, rather allowing you to make those discoveries for yourself. Suffice to say, this is a heart-pulling drama, a lovely historical slice, and sure – a l’il bit about monster hunting. It’s also a perfect book about the power of stories, and the bonds of family.

Huge thanks to NetGalley for the review copy of the book, and the chance to discover Cat Winters.

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 22 chapters plus epilogue
First published: September 2017
Series: none
Read from 6th-12th September 2017

My rating: 9/10

Body on Baker Street – Vicki Delany

Body on Baker Street cover

“‘Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, Gemma speaking.'”

Elementary, She Read introduced us to Gemma Doyle, Sherlock Holmes-themed bookshop owner, possibly related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and very definitely living up to the famous character in her deductive skills.

Following on from the mysterious death and subsequent investigations in the first novel, Gemma and best friend, Jayne Wilson, are back to happily running their Baker Street, Cape Cod, shop and tea room. To her surprise, Gemma is asked to host a book signing for popular if controversial writer, Renalta Van Markoff, as she publishes the new book in her ‘Hudson and Holmes’ mystery series.

Renalta has already been accosted in a local restaurant by a woman accusing her of stealing her work; Gemma knows that several of her regular patrons hate the way the books ‘taint’ the purity of the original Sherlock stories. Trouble is half expected at the book signing – trouble, but not murder!

I really enjoyed this ‘cosy mystery’, finding it fun and untaxing, with enough to keep me guessing. The characterisation builds well on the first installment, and I warmed a bit more to Gemma, after finding her a bit too unaware of her own annoyance factor in book one. There are still some of the ongoing personal side-plot elements, but largely these are on the backburner with the juicier mystery definitely at the fore.

My enjoyment of this series is growing, so I’m rather looking forward to book 3 – The Cat of the Baskervilles – due in February 2018 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 12th September 2017
Series: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 2
Read from 2nd-3rd August 2017 (yup, it’s that kind of book 🙂 )

My rating: 8/10 – it’s not high literature, but it’s a very fun example of what it is 🙂

MAD Librarian – Michael Guillebeau

MAD Librarian cover

“Serenity tried.”

Just because the budget for her public library is being slashed again and again, doesn’t mean head librarian Serenity Sweetwater Hammer doesn’t have big dreams about what they could do for the local community if only they did have the money. When the all-important internet bill needs paid, her desperate search for cash uncovers something… strange. Fortuitous. Dangerous?

When money becomes no object, what does a librarian do?

I really wanted to like this book. I love books about books and libraries, and handing power to a librarian sounds like a good idea 😉 And of course, it’s a lovely idea that half of the book’s profits go to a library charity. But, alas, concept and reality just didn’t gel for me.

To begin with, the opening chapters – the setting up of the ‘norm’ – are actually quite depressing. Yup, librarians are underfunded. Yup, politicians are vile. But oy, the sexism, the over-the-top aggressive dismissals Serenity faces as she’s expected to produce miracles, just made me grind my teeth. Probably the point, but to be honest I didn’t need to read it again and again.

Nor, actually, did I need the rather out of place sex scene near the end. It’s not too graphic, but it felt very voyeuristic and out of place. Serenity’s marriage subplot really didn’t work all that well for me at all, there was just something clunky about the relationship as written, with overly-perfect cop hubby, Joe Hammer (I mean, really!).

Anyway, the early depressive tone changes to more of a mystery, which does help, but things escalate rather to the point of ridiculousness. The supporting characters don’t help: you’d think distinguishing between the one very young and one very old under-librarians would be easy enough, but to be honest… urm? One had tattoos, one insisted on being called ‘Doom’ – both were very OTT in the ‘anything for the library!’ message.

Overall, I think it was a nice idea, and it was a very quick and easy read. Chapters were very short, a few pages at most, so I suspect a fair amount of those 400 pages were whitespace. However, while I don’t begrudge the reading time, I felt very disappointed that things were only 90%-ish wrapped up, with the first chapter of the sequel included at the end – which I really don’t see me picking up.

NetGalley eARC: 404 pages / 70 chapters
First published: December 2017
Series: first of something, given the sequel’s opening chapter was included at the end
Read from 1st-4th September 2017

My rating: 5/10 – nice idea, but didn’t hit the mark for me

The Witch at Wayside Cross – Lisa Tuttle

Witch at Wayside Cross cover

“The man was dead, and although he had not cut a particularly large or imposing figure when he was alive, his lifeless body seemed to take up more space in our entranceway than a whole crowd of living, breathing visitors.”

The first book in the Casebooks of Jesperson and Lane, The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thieffinishes one mystery only to tease us with the start of the next: a frantic late night visitor who drops dead in the investigative duo’s front hall. So of course this follow-up installment picks right up where we left off.

Billed as a paranormal-ish take on a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, this time we follow our detectives out of Victorian London and into the Norfolk countryside. It seems the dead man was a devotee of a pagan-like cult, keen to bring back ‘natural’ British magics to rival the mysticism coming from the East. However, it’s one thing saying that ‘witch’ simply means practitioner of herbalism and the like, and another to avoid the age-old fears, especially when a baby goes missing.

I still love the ideas of this series, from the Victorian setting to the smart female detective. However, while I do think this improves on a few of my irks from the first volume, it’s not quite perfect. Ms Lane narrates a little less of her feelings, which is great, but if anything Jasper Jesperson is becoming more annoying: certainly, to drag his supposed partner across country but refuse for the whole trip to reveal a single thing about his suspicions, would have earned him a swift kick in the shins from me!

Perhaps that is the problem: it’s nice getting a female co-lead, but she has then either to act very out-of-time, or feel very old-fashioned. This is only highlighted in these pages, when Ms Lane has to defend her choice of being a woman and employed, and more scandalously, to traipse about the country with an equally unmarried man. Heavens!! *fans self* I do applaud the author for trying to walk that thin path, and mostly successfully, at that.

Another path to be carefully trodden is the balance between the detective mystery and the supernatural. You do have to go into these books knowing that it has that supernatural twist, otherwise it might feel a bit strange when not all of the mysteries – which develop nicely in layers here – are solved by logic! This mix is fairly well handled, putting me in mind of something of a cross between The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (the real life case behind which is actually referenced here) and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, with folklore being very real.

Minor grumbles aside, this was an enjoyable, fairly easy read, with a great period setting plus a darkly gothic atmosphere. I’ll be looking out for the next ‘Curious Affair’ 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 25 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: The Curious Affair of / Casebooks of Jesperson and Lane book 2
Read from 13th-16th August 2017

My rating: 6.5/10

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore – Matthew Sullivan

“Lydia heard the distant flap of paper wings as the first book fell from its shelf.”

Mystery set in a bookshop? Well, that’s me sold already! Small warning, though, that this is not a cosy mystery à la Elementary, She Read, but a fair bit darker. However, it’s firmly in the ‘mystery’ and not ‘thriller’ category, so nothing trying to make you jump – perfect!

We start off with the suicide of a regular patron – a ‘bookfrog’ (heh, it was meant to be reviewed here, wasn’t it!? 🙂 ) – of the titular bookstore. When Lydia finds the body, she also finds a 20-year-old photo of her tenth birthday party in his pocket. How? Why? And then another photo – a newspaper snap of her coming out of the bookstore alongside the stretcher – suddenly brings a rush of her long-avoided past to sweep her back up.

While most of the story follows the current interlacing mysteries, we get plenty of flashback chapters, taking us back to a time just after that first photo was taken, when Lydia lives through a huge trauma – no spoilers! – that is still impacting on her life today. Old friends, estranged parents – it seems like everyone is coming out of the woodwork, and Lydia will no longer be able to put her past behind her.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, including the slightly darker tone. Lydia is a very well-written character, with just the right amount of fear and courage, and believable responses to things that (have) happen(ed). The other characters are kept more secondary, but not 2-dimensional, keeping the focus on the plot’s twists and turns. Okay, so the final denouement perhaps relies on a few too many coincidences, but for the main they are woven very organically into the story and kept me guessing the whole way.

I think, with this book, I’ve come to realise that I really like the mystery genre. I’ve dabbled in the past with more ‘thrillers’, but am rarely in the mood for that kind of ‘Danger! Danger!’ approach. MatBIB kept me mentally intrigued, without having to reach into the disturbing territory. More like this, please!

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 27 chapters plus epilogue
First published: August 2017
Series: none
Read from 5th-9th July 2017

My rating: 8/10