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review 2018-12-15 19:27
Murder of a Stacked Librarian / Denise Swanson
Murder of a Stacked Librarian - Denise Swanson

There’s no place like Scumble River at Christmastime, and this year, school psychologist Skye Denison has twice as much to celebrate—and to do. In addition to the usual holiday frenzy, Skye’s wedding to police chief Wally Boyd is less than a week away—that is, if the groom isn’t too busy working to attend. The town’s sexy new librarian, Yvonne Osborn, has just been murdered, and the list of suspects is piling up faster than late fees on an overdue book.Yvonne’s strict sense of right and wrong annoyed some townspeople and infuriated others. Did her high standards lead to her death? Skye is distracted by worries about what havoc the crazy Dooziers will wreak on her wedding day and whether she’ll fit into her dress. But Skye can’t afford to leave any page unturned because unless she works quickly to expose the scheming killer, her happy ending may be put on permanent hold.…

 

I may have stepped into this series at book 16, but I needn't have worried that I would be missing out on anything.  In fact, the author may have over-explained a few details!  I was unsurprised to read Charlaine Harris' blurb on the cover--this book reminded me very strongly of two of Harris' series (Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard). There is the same attention to a lot of tedious detail.  We know how often Skye cleans her cat's litter box and we know every bite that she eats plus far more than we need to about her personal hygiene habits.  

 

But those seem to be characteristics of cozy mysteries set in the Southern States.  That, plus the image of the Southern mother being over-bearing and persistently entangled in her children's lives (thinking of Molly Harper's Jane Jameson series too).  Add to that Skye's preoccupation with marriage, her weight, and doing everything perfectly, all of which make me roll my eyes!

 

So this was not the right book for me, but I know for a fact that there are cozy mystery readers out there who will eat this up and ask for more.  That's why there are over 16 books in the series.  In some ways, I'm glad, as I really don't need more series clamouring for my attention!

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review 2018-12-14 16:09
12 Days at Bleakley Manor / Michelle Griep
12 Days at Bleakly Manor: Book 1 in Once Upon a Dickens Christmas - Michelle Griep

When CLARA CHAPMAN receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of one thousand pounds. That’s enough money to bring her brother back from America and reinstate their stolen family fortune. But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancé, BENJAMIN LANE.

Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar.

Brought together under mysterious circumstances for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Clara and Ben discover that what they've been striving for isn't what ultimately matters. What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love.

 

A sweet Christmas story, easily read in one evening. It’s a combination of historical fantasy, Gothic romance, and mystery story, set in a big ole English edifice, Bleakly Manor. Me thinks it owes a bit to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, as a number of people are anonymously invited to the Manor for the 12 Days of Christmas with promises of rewards should they stay the full 12 days. Their host is not in evidence and the rules quickly change: only one guest will get the reward, the person who makes it to the 12th day. Things quickly begin to happen, eliminating guests by choice & by happenstance.

The Gothic romance aspect involves the two main characters, Clara Chapman and her former fiancé Benjamin Lane. Clara considers herself abandoned at the altar and left penniless. Ben has to be rescued from prison, where he has been merely surviving, wondering why Clara hasn’t come looking for him. The mystery includes deducing who has done this to them and why. Clara is your classic Gothic heroine, orphaned, poor, and separated from her love by a grave problem.

There are interesting details involving the Victorian celebration of Christmas and a seasonally appropriate message about caring for others and the nature of love.

If you’re looking for a cozy Christmas mystery, you could do much worse that 12 Days at Bleakly Manor.

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review 2018-12-14 00:11
MAIGRET SETS A TRAP
Maigret Sets a Trap - Georges Simenon

The novel takes the reader to Paris in early August. It is a rather hot and stale summer in the city, where breezes are few, and those that arise tend to be arid and dry. Enough to make anyone wish for rain. 

At the headquarters of the Police Judiciaire at Quai des Orfèvres, Inspector Maigret feels very much like a man under siege. The press, sensing that a big story is about to break, have made themselves like permanent fixtures in the police station. Over the past 6 months, there have been a number of murders of young women in the Montmartre section of the city. Maigret has been hard pressed to determine who the murderer could be, as well as a possible rationale behind the killings. Most of the novel is taken up with the steps taken by Maigret to set up a trap to snare, once and for all, the murderer and restore tranquility in the neighborhood. 

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review 2018-11-19 19:46
A Fatal Inversion / Barbara Vine
A Fatal Inversion - Barbara Vine

In the long, hot summer of 1976, a group of young people is camping in Wyvis Hall. Adam, Rufus, Shiva, Vivien and Zosie hardly ask why they are there or how they are to live; they scavenge, steal and sell the family heirlooms.

 

Ten years later, the bodies of a woman and child are discovered in the Hall's animal cemetery. Which woman? And whose child?

 

Probably not the best Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell book to get started with. For me, it didn’t flow as well as I could have hoped. Plus, although I certainly don’t require likeable characters to keep me engaged, I have to care about who did what and why. I found all of the characters in this novel to be unpleasant (to say the least) and I couldn’t care much about how they ended up.

It was odd—gathering the details gradually and making assumptions about who the woman and the child found in the pet cemetery could be and how they got there. I’ve read books where I’ve known the perpetrator from the beginning, but still was intrigued by the story, but this book didn’t grab me the same way. It wasn’t until the very last pages that I found myself engaged. That’s a long time to wait.

I was reading AFI largely on my work coffee breaks. It helped to have no alternative reading available, as I found myself reluctant to pick up the book and yet anxious to get finished and move on to something more rewarding. Truly, cognitive dissonance.

Perhaps I was just in the wrong mood for this mystery—I’m a bit off of mysteries right now, I think perhaps I’ve read a few too many of them in the last while. But it was one of the books that I chose for my 2018 reading list and so I forged ahead with it. Your mileage may vary.

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review 2018-11-13 19:58
The Witch Elm / Tana French
The Witch Elm - Tana French

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

 

This book isn’t part of French’s Dublin Murder Squad books, so don’t go into it expecting that. She is still writing in the mystery genre, but no doubt feeling the urge to diversify a bit, and not be locked into just one series.

Having said that, Toby (the main character of this book) reminded me in several ways of Rob Ryan from the first DMS book, In the Woods. They both have dodgy memories and both start out each book seeming like happy-go-lucky guys. Ms. French doesn’t let them stay too settled, however. Toby’s kinda-sorta-close family ties also reminded me of Frank Mackey in DMS #3, Faithful Place. Frank, just like Toby, had to sort through family history and old memories to come to some sort of conclusion about the present.

How accurately do we remember the past? I think the general consensus is that we’re all revisionists. (As Stephen King wrote in Joyland, “When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.”) And how much more severe is that situation going to be when Toby has been severely head-injured? Actually, I really didn’t like the Toby of the first few pages and was wondering what had happened to one of my favourite writers! I usually really enjoy even French’s most annoying characters—so I was happily surprised that head-injured Toby was more much interesting and (to me) likeable.

I had a great big soft spot for Uncle Hugo as well. Having done genealogy myself, I loved that French made him a genealogical researcher (and a good one). I’ve got some Irish ancestors, who emigrated to Canada and kept raising money to bring more relatives over. I’ve got to find the time to learn more about them!

The Witch Elm also made me think of M.L. Rio’s If We Were Villains, which I absolutely adored. I thought that Toby resembled Oliver Marks from that novel, particularly when it came to the book’s ending. A lovely messy ending, with only hints at how things will actually resolve when either Oliver or Toby emerge back into the world.

So, I maybe didn’t love The Witch Elm quite as much as the Dublin Murder Squad, but I still found it to be a book well worth reading. Ms. French, I am still a devotée.

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