Mystery

Review: The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden

The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden Title: The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden
Author: Kate Saunders
Page Count: 324
Publication: December 2021
Series: Laetitia Rood Mystery #3

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, The Times, Publisher’s Weekly)

One of the reasons I started this blog was because most review sites, nay 95% of them, tend to give you a re-written summary of the book and maybe a personal thought or two. Rarely happens and I’m surprised when it does. (Also, places that offer “reviews” such as Kirkus, Pub Weekly, and so forth do the same damn thing.)

And it’s disheartening reading those online reviews because surely I must have missed something if I don’t have the same reaction, or even close to the reaction, as other reviewers. (People on Goodreads tend to be more open and forthwith with their thoughts on such things.)

Maybe my taste is that much different? Sometimes it feels like I’m being purposely contrarian to those around me but truly, if I don’t dig into a book, then why bother writing frothy reviews of it, let alone finish it?

Now that that preamble is out of the way, I’ve been in a cozy mystery mood for some time now and this showed up in Netgalley as right up my alley and I took the chance.

Kirkus says,

The fastidious manners, which fit the 19th-century setting, are leavened with enough humor to suit modern tastes.

Are we even reading the same book?

Eh.

I found the plot and pace slow. I read Victorian lit in college and I do not recall works dragging their feet. The mood of The Mystery of the Sorrowful Maiden seems to be on Victorian brand, though a little heavy handed, and the character development was mostly well thought out but I kept waiting for the pace to pick and carry on with the story. It just wasn’t happening. I found myself flipping through my Kindle pages with dry expectations. I felt like I was reading in Jello and there were no marshmallows or canned fruit in it to liven it up.

Goodreads’ reviews indicate that many who are fans of the series who find it charming and droll, which I don’t see but whatever, but they do note that this book isn’t as charming as the first two so it very well could be I picked a wrong place to start. But what I read was enough to note that I probably won’t pick up the first two. Saunders is also known for her historical biographies so that may be on the pile first.

tl;dr Slow paced and not quite as funny as proclaimed, only worthy if you’re a fan of the series and want a bit more.

 

Queer · YA and Teen

Review: The Big Reveal

Title: The Big Reveal
Author: Jen Larsen
Page Count: 304
Publication: December 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, Popsugar)

A friend of mine, Jen, proudly announce that a friend of hers, Jen Larsen, had a new book coming out in December. That book, The Big Reveal, was about a teen ager who while fat showed that being fat was not who she is: Addie is more than fat. She’s a talented dancer. She’s a feminist. She’s the loyalist of friends. She is beautiful. She’s inspirational. She is everything I want to be and I’m old enough to be her mother.

Larsen, whose name sounded familiar but I could quite place, until I realised she’s also the author of Stranger Here, a memoir of her weight loss surgery (WLS). Larsen went on to lose 180lbs, a whole person!, as told in her funny and all too painfully true story. Now, I’m regurgitating what I read on Good Reads about the book, which I have not read, yet, but another friend, Sara, recommended the book to me as a primer to help make my decision about my own WLS journey. I can confidently say two things about Stranger Here: It’s been bumped up my queue and if Stranger Here is anything like The Big Reveal in terms of writing, I’m going to love it.

Some may say that being fat is a choice and if we’re being brutally honest, it isn’t. Not really. People can have disordered eating at any size but being fat can also be the result of medicines, health conditions, and genetics. In an ideal world, we could all be Addie: confident in our own skin and assertive enough to put ourselves into the front of line and not let the commentary about our bodies slow us down. I know this is something I’ve been struggling with and if you keep up with my newsletter (of course), detailing my journeys on struggling with who I am, I could use a boost of Addie right now. I’ve had more friends decide to do the WLS route recently and it is scary to think they are willing to rearrange organs to achieve an acceptable size.

Can’t we just be enough? Sometimes we think not, and that breaks my heart for my own self and my struggle with my own perception of me.

But Addie, Addie, Addie. She has the best of friends, a well intentioned but misses the mark mother, and a wonderful support sytem. But believing in yourself isn’t just about the support system you have but it’s also truly, deep down inside, believing who you are and that you are good enough. Addie believes she is good enough, more than good enough, and that’s what sets this charm of a book to its core.

I don’t know if I’m going to do WLS just yet, and I’ve been mulling about it for months, but I do know I’m going to pull a bit of Addie in my life and start to believe not only am I good enough, but that I’m worthy of taking up space.

tl;dr Insightful, beautifully written, full of warmth and charm, The Big Reveal will be, dare I say and I hate this word, an unputdownable book that will make you want to believe in everything around you. Five stars.

No Idea How to Classify

Review: Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village

Title: Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village
Author: Maureen Johnson (author) and Jay Cooper (illustrator)
Page Count: 128
Publication: September 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

Maureen Johnson is a celebrated YA author and Jay Cooper is a celebrated illustrator. Together, they have created a gem of a book that is hard to describe. Well, it is easy to describe not not quite so easy to classify.

You have a well thought out travelogue of what and what not to do if you happen to be traveling in England and find yourself in a quaint village. You’ve seen or read enough cozy mysteries to know something always happen. You’ve at least seen Hot Fuzz, right? There is always murder and mayhem in quaint little villages. Who knew the pie at the village fete would be poisoned or that the butcher had it in for the grocer. There is always something sinister and evil hanging out around the local pub.

But fret no more! Johnson and Cooper have you covered on what to do if you happen to visit the local manor, slink around the vicarage, or head down to the local pub. And be very careful especially at the local manor where the old person and the weird son are ready to throw knives at you at any chance.

The illustrations are a delight and Johnson’s dead pan delivery in her writing. She’s notable for her comedic timing and her witty commentary on Twitter and it’s so evident in the book which makes it even more amusing.

But be forewarned, this slim book is a fast read and you’ll find yourself a bit disappointed that the fun is done but remember, if you ever travel to an quaint English village, you’ll know exactly what to do.

Romance

Review: The Countess Conspiracy

Title: The Countess Conspiracy
Author: Courtney Milan
Page Count: 309
Publication: December 2013
Series: The Brothers Sinister #3

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other Reviews: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)

Reviewed by Natalie

Though this is the third book in the Brothers Sinister series, you don’t need to read the other two to enjoy it. I did not, though I do want to after reading this.
Sebastian and Violet have a wonderful romance. Violet is a scientific genius, but because she’s a woman, she cannot present her ideas. Over the last few years, Sebastian has been doing it for her until he gets tired of lying. To say Violet doesn’t like this turn of events is putting it mildly. Science is the only thing she’s truly passionate about; with good reason. Her backstory unfurls slowly throughout the book.
It was agony getting the bits and pieces of why Violet is the way she is, but when you find out, it’s a doozy. She’s utterly oblivious as to how Sebastian truly feels about her. He has to tell her to her face. Winning her over is by no means an easy task, but Sebastian is the perfect hero for the job.
I love romances; I mean who doesn’t love a happily ever after? Sebastian and Violet’s is a different level of romance for me. It was a beautiful and at times heartbreaking story. I loved every page of it.
Mystery

Review: The Midnight Hour

Title: The Midnight Hour
Author: Elly Griffiths
Page Count: 352
Publication: December 2021
Series: Brighton Mysteries #6

 

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly)

It’s simply OK.

When you review a digital ARC, it is hoped that the formatting of the file doesn’t take away from the story and that the reviewer is conscious of this and doesn’t use it against the book content.

That’s the idea anyway.

But I cannot help but mentioned the formatting for this book was not that great. Paragraphs were broken up, words were overlapped, book info was sometimes deposited in between the sentences. I’ve published a book on Amazon before and it’s not really that hard to get the formatting set up if you’re willing to put in the time and energy to do it. That a professional publishing house didn’t see fit to do that, yes yes, it’s an ARC, is a bit lazy.

Back to the story.

The Midnight Hour is the sixth installment in the Brighton Mysteries. At this point, the characters are well established and a history has been formed. I give Griffiths points that she was able to fill in the missing pieces and the book can be read as a standalone. That’s often a difficult job to do, why do authors go on forever?, and Griffiths pulls it out quite nicely.

I also felt the twists and turns of the story were strong, but it was the damned formatting that got me flustered and frustrated. I’m trying to enjoy a novel only to be besieged by a mess.

I didn’t see the murderer coming and it wasn’t obvious whodunnit which is also refreshing. The writing was okay, some places Griffiths was strong and other places a bit lackluster. Griffiths mentions in the afterword that she wrote the book during lock down and we all know that we’re not in the best shape of mind so some parts felt a bit desperate. I did enjoy the characters did travel around England which I bet Griffiths was longing to do herself and let her fictional characters do it for her.

I like historical mysteries (especially cozies but this one is close to but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is) and I this this series has a lot of promise. The timing of the publication and writing period may have not been that great. Like I said, the book is OK. Serviceable and gets the job done. Griffiths won an Edgar for previous work so maybe this is a one off?

Griffiths is prolific. One of my libraries has 20 of her books alone so I’m totally up for reading her other work to see if she is all that and a bag of chips.

tl;dr: Serviceable. Worth if if you’re a fan of the series or of Griffiths herself. Printed and formalized Kindle editions won’t have the formatting issues so take that into consideration and my review affected by this as a grain of salt.

Mystery

Review: Murder at Mallowan Hall

Title: Murder at Mallowan Hall
Author: Colleen Cambridge
Page Count: 272
Publication: October 2021
Series: Phyllida Bright Mystery #1

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

I knew it!

When I reviewed Tomes Scones and Crones, I knew Colleen Cambridge (Colleen Gleason), based on her The Clockwork Scarab, was a good and decent writer. I enjoyed The Clockwork Scarab muchly and was slightly disappointed by Tomes Scones and Crones. It felt half-assed and rushed. Plus the goddamned librarian stereotype even down to the cardigan.

So we’re 1-1 and while I knew I would pick up Stoker & Holmes series again, I wasn’t quite sure with Tomes Scones and Crones. Nevertheless, based upon description alone, I knew I was going to read Murder at Mallowan Hall.

Enjoyed it muchly, I did!

But to be honest, I’m a sucker for pastiches and anything that happens in English country homes. A vague closed room mystery, I had no idea who the killer was until the very end when Phyllida breaks it on down in the vein of Poirot (someone much admired by our detective heroine). A non-traditional cozy mystery, Cambridge (Gleason) lays down a breadcrumb of a story that at times twists unnaturally but not unnecessarily. This book forces you to pay attention to follow along. But at the same time, it’s a very quick engrossing read. While I don’t think you’ll come back to this book, you will be eager to read the follow-ups.

 

General Non-Fiction

Review: Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump

Title: Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump
AuthorJennifer Rubin
Page Count: 416
Publication: September 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly)

Reviewed by Natalie

Washington Post columnist Rubin covers the elections from 2016 to 2020. This is a really interesting book on the surge of women getting politically involved due to the election of Donald Trump. She mainly covers women running for state or national seats. Organizations that were involved or created during this time to assist these women are also mentioned. Filled with facts, but not boring, this kept my attention throughout the entire book. The last few chapters are a bit repetitive, but the rest of the book is a fascinating read into politics and activism.
Though Rubin is a well-known Conservative writer, she gives credit where it’s due to women in both parties. She admits that while she may not agree with some of their beliefs, she admires the women who broke through glass ceilings and became the first woman to win their election. This book is definitely geared to readers who are not fans of the former President, so avoid it if you’re a fan.
Folklore · Mythology · Thriller

Review: Comfort Me With Apples

Title: Comfort Me With Apples
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Page Count: 112
Publication: November 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly)

Valente is a prolific author with a variety of genres under her belt. She tends to write of the fantastic as well as the unreal. Her work is hard to categorize which puts her in a league all of her own.

Comfort Me With Apples, billed a thriller, isn’t. Not really. It’s a retelling of a creation myth with a twist. A big turn of a twist but the reader is too lulled by Valente’s deft words in this slim volume. It reminded me quite a bit of Speak Easy, another slim volume by Valente that came out in 2015.

(INTERESTINGLY, Speak Easy  is not listed on her site nor is it often listed when her bibliography is reproduced in magazine articles.)

Two different topics, yes, but the writing is very similar: it breathes as you read, a pulse that is sometimes hard to put your finger on but you know it’s there. Much like the two hearts of The Doctor. But unlike Speak Easy, review hereComfort Me With Apples is much more cohesive. Valente has grown as a writer, which seems impossible because she’s always been fantastically good at her job, but her work is stronger here in words and plot.

This could read that I’m being superfluous, but I’m not, not really. That’s how Valente reviews work: you praise her writing, marvel at her imagination, and ponder how many muses she must kill to write this well. I’m kidding. Sort of.

Let’s cut to the chase: Why should you read Comfort Me With Apples? Because it will be an underrated book that is both thoughtful and thought provoking. It will present a topic we rarely think about with a new perspective. It will have you thinking long into the night to not open up locked vanity drawers if you’re not ready for the truth. It’s clever and a quick read. A perfect cleanser no matter what you just read. A baby thriller that shows that one day Valente is going to let loose; really loose, and it will be a joy to behold.

 

BIPOC · Romance

Review: Christmas in Rose Bend

Title: Christmas in Rose Bend
Author: Naima Simone
Page Count: 416
Publication: October 2021
Series: Rose Bend #2

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly)

So it seems I’m in the very much the minority on this book.

I did not finish it because it felt like the emphasis was on Nessa’s loins rather than the story of grief, loss, and redemption. Also, the big secret revealed in book one is withheld here with vague comments about Nessa’s “terrible secret.” This is book two of the series, we should have the secret told to us and watch as the ramifications unfold but no, we’re not told what this “terrible secret is in the first 25% of the book, just Nessa’s moaning about it existing. While I’m sure the secret would probably be given to us at some point, I read another review of this book and the secret was dropped. LIke I said, book two in a series, the early chapters of the book should play a quick catch-up for those just tuning in.

So the slow burn wasn’t really a slow burn but a pound in your face hot sexy times that began on page 3. this reminded me a lot of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita the Vampire Slayer series where the up to around book eight or nine, we have a paranormal mysteries going on with some romance and sex thrown in, which is what I totally signed up for but in the later books, Antia couldn’t move a foot without banging someone and it got tiresome.

I don’t like tiresome in my sex scenes and unfortunately with Christmas at Rose Bend, that’s what I got which bored me to tears. The editing was also super choppy which was distracting. I’m not sure if it was because what I read was an ebook ARC but I found it took away from the writing.

I saw a conversation on Twitter recently amongst various authors that as a general rule, authors shouldn’t clutch pearls if a reader doesn’t like their book because often times, the reader will read something else by the author that may appeal to them. I find this way with Simone. I found enough in her snark and sass, which I always appreciate, to read her other stuff. But truth be told, this book just didn’t fulfill the promise it offered up.

Children's · Graphic Novel and Manga · SFF

Review: Garlic & the Vampire

Title: Garlic & the Vampire
Author: Bree Paulson
Page Count: 160
Publication: September 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus)

Cheese and chives! This graphic novel is just really fucking delightful.

Really.

The enchanting story of an anthropomorphized Garlic, along with her friends Celery, Carrot, and others, help witch Agnes tend to her garden as well as sell the un-anthropomorphized versions of themselves at the local market. Magicked as Agnes’ “mute little helpers that keep me company,” the local garden produce have grown and prospered into their own personalities from anxious Garlic to her best friend steadfast Carrot, and the mean Celery to the cheery Potato and Tomato.

One day, Witch Agnes notices smoke rising from a local castle. Using her magic, she deducess a vampire is living there! The garden, now asunder with fear and anxiety, beg Garlic, the vampire’s natural enemy, to go and seek out what the vampire is doing and to banish him away from their land.

But what if, just what if, the vampire turns out to be a super nice guy who is really into gardening?

There is a lot to be learned her from self-reliance and growth of oneself to taking chances and going outside your boundaries. Paulson’s color scheme, the warm rich colors of a beloved fall day, make all the difference to the story. Drawn and colored any other way would just not seem right. Paulson is also an illustrator which gives the drawings a lifelike feel to them. There is just something warm and cozy about this book.

While geared for children, this book should bring a big hug of delight to just about anyone who reads it.