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review 2018-08-02 07:12
The High Tide Club
The High Tide Club - Mary Kay Andrews

Three words:  Phoned. it. in.

 

That's what this book appears to be.  Something Andrews - an author whose books I've always enjoyed - phone in.  Huge continuity errors, like an off-stage character that dies in WWII, first over Iwo Jima, then over Germany.  A fragmented sentence ended with a period that is truly a fragment - just cut off half way through; I can't even guess what it was supposed to have conveyed.  Monster gaps in the timeline, and I don't just mean time passes, but time passes where plot-important stuff happens and it's just ... gone.  Like maybe it used to be there and someone went all highlight-and-delete happy without turning Track Changes on.  The first half of the book is like a time warp, without the narrative overlay.  

 

There's supposedly a romance in here too, one that gets exactly two scenes.  Normally this would be fine; this story isn't about the MC's romantic life.  Except the story starts with Brooke being a single mom because she didn't tell the boy's father she got pregnant the night before he left for a 3 year research trip to Alaska, then continued not telling him.  During the course of this story he comes back, hoping to start back up, having no idea he's a father.  Even after he meets the boy.  All of this ... baggage; seems like it would call for more than 2 scenes.

 

The most unfortunate part of this is that The High Tide Club is, at its core, a really great story about extraordinarily strong women, friendships that span a century, and a ripping good murder mystery.  It's genuinely lovely; with a lot of heart and, at the same time, a delightfully brilliant mystery.   The American South setting is something Andrews excels at, even, apparently, when she's phoning it in, and the characters are all fully realised.  

 

If St. Martin's and Andrews hadn't been so short-sighted as to publish the raw manuscript, instead of a finished, edited work, this might have been one of her best.   As it is, I think I'll just re-read Hissy Fit.

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review 2018-07-10 11:51
Strange Sight (Essex Witch Museum Mystery #2)
Strange Sight - Syd Moore

Even better story than the first one, though epically bad copyediting.  Rosie is still an odd character for me to sort out, but coincidentally, I was at the hair salon today and was able to ask my stylist, a UK native, about the whole Essex thing, which he tried to explain while desperately trying to be PC about the whole thing.  I got the gist though, and it helped.  It also helped that Rosie seemed more focused in the second half of this one.

 

This story revolves around a good old fashioned murder mystery albeit with ghosts and a haunted restaurant.  Nothing to scare the reader too badly, but the historical context of the plot, (which is based on historical events, sadly) is wickedly dark and honestly, even if this wan't a cozy(ish), would be hard reading in a few places.  While this book is excellent on almost all fronts, it is also full of trigger warnings for epic violence against women.

 

I liked the ending - I liked that it didn't involve the MC doing something stupid or ending up in a woman-in-peril situation.  The very last page was also creepy as hell.

 

Can't wait for book 3!

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review 2018-07-09 09:30
Strange Magic (Essex Witch Museum Mystery, #1)
Strange Magic - Syd Moore

Both the titles and the covers of these books grabbed me, and as they were part of a 40% off sale, and I've been looking for new mystery series, I couldn't resist grabbing #'s 1 and 2.

 

I'm glad I did, although book 1 and I got off to a rocky start, when cracking it open the other night in bed, I read the prologue, featuring a comatose little boy suddenly 'waking up' speaking in Early English and rising up out of bed, floating in the crucifix position.  NOT what I want to read about right before turning out the lights and going to bed, thanks.

 

Fortunately, none of the rest of the book is nearly as scary as the prologue.  Spooky fun, yes, a tad creepy at times, but mostly fun.  Rosie has inherited her estranged grandfather's Essex Witch Museum, which she plans on selling as soon as possible.  Except while she's there a plea for help comes along that she can't refuse, and she and the curator, Sam (cue romantic tension) find themselves on a race to locate the remains of the original Essex Witch.

 

It's a good story - an excellent story.  My only beefs with it were the slightly forced tone of the will-they-won't-they romantic tension, and Rosie's character, to a certain degree.  The former is just personal taste, but the latter is, I think, a lack of micro-cultural understanding. Rosie is a strong, very intelligent and independent woman, but has a chip on her shoulder about being an Essex girl - and I don't know what that means.  As the book progressed I got the feeling it's sort of like an American redneck, but my lack of confidence meant Rosie came across paranoid, or at least carrying an aggressive inferiority complex.  

 

Possibly related, her internal dialogue's habit of noting every time a man looked at her breasts/body got super tedious, super fast.  Yes, men look at women's bits; sometimes they are so distracted by them they lose sight of the fact women have faces.  Yes, it's tiresome, Yes, it's deplorable. Don't care. Don't want to hear about it in my murder mystery, it's beyond irrelevant and lent a rather shallow tone to an MC that wasn't.

 

Note though that these were minor annoyances; if I understood the Essex thing better, I'm guessing they would have lent authenticity to her character, and her accounting of leers received didn't happen more than 2 or 3 times, and it's a personal tic.  The majority of the story was, as I said, excellent: fast-paced, well plotted, and my favorite literary device: based on the history of a real woman tried and hung for witchcraft, Ursula Kemp.  In the acknowledgements, the author outlines at what point the fiction diverges from the reality, and both make for compelling storytelling. Also, people throughout history have been appalling.  Truly appalling. 

 

I'm so glad I already have book 2 in hand, and I believe book 3 is scheduled for publication any day now, which means if I like Strange Sight as much as I enjoyed Strange Magic, I'll only have to wait as long as the postal service to find out what happens next.

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review 2018-06-27 07:37
They Came to Baghdad
They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

This was a surprise.  I'm certainly a long way from having read the entire Christie canon, but I've read enough to expect a certain...atmosphere in her books.  They Came to Baghdad certainly defied those expectations.  Exuberant is the only word that comes to mind.

 

Unfortunately the plot is ludicrous.  For the first 13 chapters, Christie was on fire, creating rich characters and setting.  The breaking of the fourth wall in Chapter two, when Christie's narrator uses the collective present (Victoria was like most of us, ...), has left me wondering if there isn't a touch of the autobiographical in Victoria.  I can imagine Victoria's first impressions of Baghdad being Christie's and I could well believe her final thoughts on relationships are pulled from Christie's first hand knowledge.  It isn't until the plot is revealed that it all goes sideways.  It's all just a bit too Austen Powers.

 

Still, if you can overlook it (and it becomes harder to do so in the second half of the book, to be honest), it's a highly entertaining book; practically a romp.  I enjoyed it overall, and it was worth the wobbly plot to see Christie's lighter side.

 

(This was a buddy read for Summer of Spies.)

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review 2018-06-22 09:46
Bodies in a Bookshop (Professor John Stubbs Mystery)
Bodies in a Bookshop - R.T. Campbell

A re-issue of a 1940's mystery written by Ruthven Todd; I have to say that in general, I did not like this book.  It probably deserves 2.5 stars but the bookshop setting and plot surrounding books keeps me from doing it.  This is an instance when I know I'm being too kind though, because the writing had me skimming from just about the mid-way point.

 

The book (and series) is hyped to be witty and humorous and in the forward Peter Main mentions that Ruthven Todd wrote these only in order to make money; he felt that they were vastly inferior to his poetry.  I put these two disparate ideas together because I can only think that what is considered funny to others is what I felt was a complete lack of respect for the genre.  Of the three main characters, one is a constantly fatigued Scotland Yard detective, another is a corpulent Scotsman, and the third, our narrator, a botanist and assistant to said corpulent Scotsman, who does not hide his complete disdain for both from the reader.  It's a disdain attached to grudging affection and respect, and I suspect it is supposed to be read as acerbic wit, but it just sounded petulant to me.

 

Never thought I'd say this but: there's such a thing as too much Scottish vernacular.

 

The plot was ok, but too strung out and would have benefited from an editor with fascist work habits.  Dover says upfront that the text is from the original published manuscript as it was printed, so fair enough to them, but that just means the original had many flaws, including a niece that becomes a sister and is then demoted back to niece in the span of 2 pages.

 

Dover have reissued a few others of his work, but I won't be searching them out.

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