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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Low Chicago – George RR Martin (ed)

low chicago cover

“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

The Hanging Tree – Ben Aaronovitch

hanging tree cover

“I dreamt that I heard Mr Punch laughing gleefully by my ear, but when I woke I realised it was my phone.”

NB: this is the sixth book in a series, and as such it’s almost impossible not to have vague spoilers for events in the previous instalments – read at your own peril!!

Peter Grant’s life seems pretty established now, since we first met him in Rivers of London and he discovered the branch of the police that deals with “weird bollocks”. Still training in magical skills, he’s now confident in his role, au fait with the ‘demimonde’, and even has a girlfriend who may or may not be the physical representation of a major English waterway. Yeah.

The story, too, is pretty established: this is not a volume for newcomers, this is a continuation of events that have been building over several books. If you don’t know who The Faceless Man is, or what Lesley may or may not be up to these days, or how Peter’s ‘relationship’ with Mr Punch has come about, then you’re really going to struggle with this.

As it was, it’s been long enough (for no good reason!) since I read the previous book(s) (and note to self: really, stop leaving series unfinished!!) that I was a little vague on just a few points. That was fine: I caught up quickly enough. But there was enough of a gap to make me very aware that this wasn’t a ‘whole story’ – not only is the ending (no spoilers!) fully open for the next instalment, but it picks up the plot directly not even from the previous book (Foxglove Summer), but back even further to Broken Homes!

So, read this as a series. I’m really quite looking forward to a bit of time passing, a few more books being out, and starting over from the very beginning as a continuous piece. As it stands, this one is a very good read but with flaws from that ‘middle book’ kind of feel, and perhaps just a bit of cockiness in both the main character and from the author being fully into his best-selling stride. I still want more! 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 16 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: Peter Grant book 6
Read from 7th-15th May 2018

My rating: 8/10

Read Herring Hunt – VM Burns

read herring hunt cover

“‘Did you see the getup that little floozy had on?'”

The Plot is Murder introduced us to Sam Washington, who takes the devastation of her husband’s death as a chance to live their dream of opening a mystery bookshop. Settled in to her new life and recovered from finding her realtor dead in her new yard, Sam is once again about to be thrust into a real-life murder mystery. This time it’s her practically-family new tenant who’s being accused of murdering his tarty ex-girlfriend. Can Sam, along with her grandmother and motley cast of friends, clear the accused’s name and find the real culprit?

I didn’t not enjoy this book. It was a light and easy read, exactly as I hoped and expected, and the characters are all quite fun. However, I felt that the author has really rushed this out – the first installment was only published at the end of November last year! That might not necessarily be an issue, but it’s an obvious culprit behind the too-sudden ending. Although the ‘whodunnit’ was fairly predictable from quite early on, it still seemed an abrupt and jarring chapter that dumped the ‘big reveal’ on us, and even more quickly tied up the peril. It was a little disappointing, to be honest.

Still, cosy mystery readers might find the ongoing personal dramas – dating and ‘learning to live again’ kind of things – enough to smooth over that. I did like the book-within-the-book element, adding an extra layer, although the “Cor blimey gov” dialect gets a bit cringeworthy.

I’d probably give the series at least one more go, and hope that the next book has a slightly stronger mystery element.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 23 chapters
First published: April 2018
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 2
Read from 19th-27th April 2018

My rating: 5/10

Fiction Can Be Murder – Becky Clark

fiction can be murder cover

“Melinda Walter settled her lean Pilates body – the maintaining of which took all her free time and could fund North Korea’s military for a year – into the soft leather driver’s seat of her sleek red 1959 classic Corvette.”

When her unpleasant agent is murdered in exactly the same way as Charlee describes in her new book, she’s instantly chief suspect. Given the book hasn’t been published yet, the list of possible murderers is rather worrying restricted to people she knows: her writing group and critique partners, her boyfriend, her agent’s lovely assistant. Driven to clear her own name and reassure herself that her nearest and dearests aren’t cold-blooded killers, Charlee sets out to investigate the case herself.

Of all the ‘cosy mystery’ series I’ve been reading of late, this new one is pretty straight-forward in terms of the main character working her way through a fixed list of suspects. I was a little irritated by the large number of weird names, from Charlemagne to Einstein to Queue (what?!), wishing we could have just had one weird moniker and a bunch of Pauls and Susans, quite frankly – but hey, small irritations!

Everyone seems to have their own quirks and secrets, too, making it quite a motley cast – but, no problems remembering who everyone is, I suppose.

Overall, it was a nice easy read and I did appreciate that. The mystery was a bit ‘hmm’, especially as a few background things were thrown in as the story progressed, tying things together but feeling just a bit forced.

I’d give the series another go, yes, but so far it’s not my favourite of the recent crop.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 29 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: A Mystery Writer’s Mystery book 1
Read from 3rd-7th April 2018

My rating: 6/10

Bonfire – Krysten Ritter

Bonfire cover

“My last year of high school, when Kaycee Mitchell and her friends got sick, my father had a bunch of theories.”

Barrens is a small town revitalised by the big company at its heart. Optimal provides not just employment, but scholarships, grants, and donations until it’s woven through the entire town like ivy. Or, like a cancer: perhaps literally, if the pending lawsuit against the company’s pollution is proven true.

Ten years ago, Abby Williams escaped from Barrens, and from high school bullies. Coming back to find evidence against Optimal, she soon finds herself unable to stop investigating the mystery of her teenage years, when several of her classmates faked illnesses – or, did they?

There was something dark and claustrophobic to this story, which rather appealed in the same vein as The Chalk Man: something that drew not just the character but also me back to teenage years and a love of creepy atmospheric reads, albeit mystery here rather than horror. And, of course, a hefty dose of curiosity about an actor turning their hand to writing – hmm!

Actually, I think Ms Ritter has done well here, although it is kind of hard not to visualise Jessica Jones as the cynical, damaged lead character. She’s written her next role, if she so wishes, I’m sure.

Overall, the story is pretty good, if not the most original in the world ever. There are a few attempts at twists and turns which sort of almost work, although get perhaps just a little muddy as the story gets to the end. And, while I rather enjoyed the journey, the destination (ie ending) could have been a little stronger, imo. Still, a pretty darn good debut and cautiously recommended for thriller fans.

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 44 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 13th November 2017 – 28th March 2018 (after putting it down after the first 10% and getting very distracted…!)

My rating: 7/10

Egyptian Enigma – LJM Owen

egyptian enigma cover

“Sipping a glass of hot apple tea, Dr Elizabeth Pimms watched dawn flow over the desert, blushing shades and grey shadows shifting and merging until they coalesced into the vast Pyramids of Giza.”

Tomb robbers and over-enthusiastic early archaeologists weren’t the only dangers to Egypt’s ancient mummies. Pharaohs rewrote history to remove their predecessors, and then stories of female pharaohs were discounted when it didn’t suit the prevailing social norms. Which only makes the mysteries that much harder to decipher.

I’ve missed a couple of books introducing Dr Elizabeth Pimms, the young Australian Egyptologist. That didn’t seem to matter too much – although I could tell when references to previous events were being made, without it impacting too much on the plot here – as it was easy enough to pick up with the story. Past events have led Elizabeth to a quieter-than-planned career as a librarian and tutor, so when she spots some strange markings on a papyrus during a trip to her beloved Egypt, she jumps at the chance to begin an investigation into the ‘Golden Tomb’ and the unidentified mummies that were discovered there.

Interspersed with Elizabeth’s modern archaeology – 3D printers are fabulous! – we get chapters told from the point of view of Tausret, the last pharaoh of the 19th dynasty – and a woman!

I do have a bit of a liking for ancient cultures such as Egypt, and a growing fondness for ‘cosy mysteries’, so I thought I’d give this NetGalley opportunity a go – and ended up gulping it down! The mix of real history – Tausret is real, the Golden Tomb is fictional – and a little insight into amateur archaeology in the technology age was a great mix.

The story is rounded out by various threads about Elizabeth’s friends and family – this is probably the bit most impacted by not reading the first two books, and indeed I’ve probably spoiled the plot to one of those by starting here. Still, the multicultural grandparentage was rather interesting, and I’m also a huge foodie so the descriptions of Chinese, French, and Welsh feasts was rather mouth watering!

Despite those bits, I would offer a warning over some of the ‘cosy’ status: I really shouldn’t have looked up ‘scaphism’ aka death by milk and honey before trying to sleep o_O

Overall: a fairly light yet involving read that moved at a good pace. I am deducting a mark, however, as the biggest non-Mummy mystery is left as a huge cliff-hanger – this isn’t  a stand-alone read, alas!

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 20 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth book 3
Read from 9th-13th March 2018

My rating: 7/10