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review 2017-12-08 22:25
Death Comes to the School (Kurland St. Mary Mystery, #4)
Death Comes to the School - Catherine Lloyd

I caught a cold a few weeks ago that I thought I'd kicked to the curb after only 4 days, only to have it come raging back a week later in the form of a cough that will. not. die.  I've sounded like a barking seal for the last 8 days and yesterday, to add insult to injury, I got a skull cracking headache, too, leaving me feeling like every time I coughed I was going to end up like those people in the X-files, whose brains exploded out their ears.

 

So even though I have 3 other books currently going, I needed something very easy on both my brain and my eyes.  Death Comes to the School was a perfect fit with it's on-the-large-side-of-average typeface and it's very familiar backdrop and characters.  It allowed me to forget for a time about the icepack wrapped around my head and the cough lozenges that have stained my tongue purple (black elderberry). 

 

The story starts off 3 years after the last book;  why don't authors of series do this more often?  It makes everything that happens so much more believable; rather than have a village of death, you're backdrop is just a village where normal stuff happens.  Anyway, the murder happens fairly quickly, to a school teacher nobody liked, and it happens rather oddly, with a hat pin in her neck and a pen in her eye.  From this point, the author has a bit of fun twisting the character stereotypes of the time around and using them to her advantage.  The mystery plotting of the book is really very good, although the motivation tie-in at the end was a tad weak.

 

The character angst though, I could have done without.  I really like Robert and Lucy, both individually and together but this book ... this book turn them into cardboard cliches, all because Lucy has yet to produce an heir.  This is an historically accurate issue; childbirth was a treacherous business and entailments created situations where entire villages depended on one poor woman to produce a son.  I get that.  But the whole emotional miscommunication thing that bogged down this story was stupid; for two characters that talked and argued about everything incessantly in the first three books, the whole "doesn't she want me?" "he doesn't desire me anymore, I'm a failure" let's-not-talk thing was just annoying.  

 

There was more to like than not, though, and as a nice bonus, the book takes place during Christmas, so it was seasonal too!  This has been a solid series so far and I'm already looking forward to the next one, which will undoubtably continue to revolve around heirs and spares, but hopefully without all the silly angst.

 

Book themes for St. Martin’s Day: Read a book set  before the age of electricity. 

 

 

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review 2017-11-29 06:54
The Moonstone
The Moonstone - Ronald Pickup,Sean Barrett,David Timson,Wilkie Collins,Dale Brown,Jonathan Oliver,John Foley,Fenella Woolgar,Joe Marsh,Jamie Parker

What can I say other than the book is worth the hype?  

 

I wasn't sure at the start; I listened to the audiobook version - which was excellently done - and Gabriel Betteredge's opening narrative is... trying.  I loved his character the best and the narrator who played his part played it to the hilt, which meant it felt like there was an amiable, loveable, old man telling me a story by taking the longest possible route.  I was charmed, while at the same time wanting to prod him along, and honestly, if I had to hear much more about Robinson Crusoe I might have started pulling out my own hair.

 

Once we get past Betteredge's ramblings (which take up the first 40% of the book), the story moves along much quicker and the story becomes far more interesting, as the twist at the midway point was riveting.  I only ever listen to audio while I'm in the car, because I'm so easily distracted, but I found myself carrying my phone and portable speaker out to the garden to listen to The Moonstone while I weeded, and found 3.5 hours disappeared in a blink.  I got so close to the end today by the time I got home, I came straight in and grabbed my print edition so I could finish it. 

 

I guessed who the villain was at the start, but then the twist came in and I had NO idea where he was going with the mystery; subtle misdirections were everywhere in the narratives and so, while I never really gave up my notions of who was guilty, I was entirely ready to believe I had the wrong end of the stick until the end. 

 

The Moonstone is excellent and I highly recommend it; it's not a light, breezy read to be done in one or two settings, but it does reward the reader's commitment at the end.  

 

Book themes for Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day: Read anything where the main character has servants (paid servants count, NOT unpaid) or is working as a servant him-/ herself.

 

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review 2017-10-30 01:11
The Bishop's Pawn by Don Gutteridge
The Bishop's Pawn (A Marc Edwards Mystery Book 7) - Don Gutteridge

This is set primarily in Toronto in 1839, although some of the characters take a brief trip to New York City later on. At the start of the book we meet Dick Dougherty, a massively overweight man who was once a lawyer in New York City but who, after some vague and mysterious trouble, was able to relocate to Toronto. Since then, he’s been taking care of his two wards, Brodie and Celia, and slowly taking control of his life again. A recent courtroom success has inspired him to apply for admission to the Bar (he wasn’t disbarred back in New York), and with Brodie and Celia’s help and encouragement he’s slowly regaining his mobility. He now takes daily walks that are so regular and predictable people can practically set their watches by him.

Unfortunately, although the common folk of Toronto love Dougherty, the same can’t be said for some of the area’s political leaders. There are rumors that Dougherty’s relationship with Celia isn’t entirely proper, and Dougherty’s refusal to give any details on the events that got him run out of New York City inspires even more whispers. Things come to a head when Archdeacon John Strachan delivers a fiery sermon that accuses Dougherty of “vile and abominable” behavior. Not long after the sermon, Dougherty is discovered dead, with one of his eyes removed and a note with “Sodomite” written on it pinned to his chest.

Marc Edwards and others suspect that one of Strachan’s parishioners was influenced by his sermon and killed the man. They even find a likely suspect, drunk and covered in blood. However, some of the details don’t add up. Marc suspects there’s something else going on, but the tense political situation makes it difficult to discover the truth.

I’ll start off by saying that this is book 7 in Gutteridge’s Marc Edwards series, and I haven’t read the previous six. The only reason I had this one, and five other ones after it, is because they were all free during some past Smashwords sale and their descriptions made me think of the Murdoch Mysteries TV series. I had noticed the series numbering but thought it might be a mistake, because no books with earlier series numbering were even listed. The earlier books appear to have been put out by a different publisher, one that doesn't sell through Smashwords (not a deal breaker for me, as long as it's available through Kobo) and that has chosen to add DRM to all their e-books (still one of my deal breakers when it comes to e-book purchasing).

I had hoped that jumping into the series at such a late point wouldn’t be too difficult. The story itself was fairly self-contained. Unfortunately, character relationships weren’t, and I could tell there were references to at least three previous books: one in which I’m guessing Dougherty was first introduced, one in which Marc’s wife’s first husband was killed, and one in which Marc was reunited with his mother. I had difficulty connecting to and caring about most of the characters, and I wasn’t sure whether that was due to the writing or my own lack of familiarity with them.

My other hurdle was my lack of familiarity with Canadian history. I basically know nothing. I probably should have sat down and read a few Wikipedia pages on historical figures and events mentioned in the book’s first 50 or so pages, but instead I powered through my confusion. Thankfully, the situation became a lot easier for me to follow once Dougherty was murdered. The basics: politicians afraid of a scandal, and a power struggle brewing over the position Strachan would vacate once he was elevated to bishop as everyone expected he would be.

Marc was given a pretty tight deadline, and I wasn’t sure I could buy the extension he was given in order to go to New York City and ask a few more questions. Still, the results of his investigation were interesting and more shocking and horrible than I expected. I was glad that Marc

didn’t see pedophilia and homosexuality as being essentially the same thing, even though other characters seemed to.

(spoiler show)


This was a decent book, but it didn’t work nearly as well for me as I had hoped it would. Marc and his wife both seemed like okay characters but didn’t really grab me, whereas Cobb and his habit of mispronouncing words actively annoyed me. I’m still debating what I’m going to do with my freebie books 8 through 12. Eh, they’re free and not taking up any physical space, so I’ll probably keep them around for now. I just checked, and it looks like I should be able to read at least a few of the previous books via interlibrary loan, if I wanted to give one of the earlier books a shot before moving on to book 8.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-10-26 05:28
This Side of Murder (Verity Kent, #1)
This Side of Murder - Anna Lee Huber

I love Huber's other series, the Lady Darby mysteries, and I was eager to read this one, set later in time, immediately after WWI.  It was slow to hook me, as I remember The Anatomist's Wife was, but it did.  And then I got to page 165.  Oh hell no.

 

Because for the first 164 pages, she sucked me in and I became invested in Verity.  But not just Verity, but Verity and Max.  Max is awesome.  Max is the OED poster-man for hero. But nooo... we couldn't just enjoy that slow burn, she had to introduce a love triangle:  

 

By brining Verity's DEAD HUSBAND BACK FROM THE DEAD.  Is she kidding me with this?  GAH!

(spoiler show)

 

So, while the story was amazing - old crimes never punished, ciphers, secrets, revenge, the whole lot wrapped up in an almost Christie-esque island setting (with the requisite storm, of course), and a VERY strong and capable heroine, Huber seriously knocked the wind out of my sails with page 165's revelations.  My enthusiasm continued to dim as, frankly, my wish for the 'other' man's imminent demise remained unfulfilled.  Some might find this story to be a truly HEA affair, but all things considered, that twist knocked a 5 star read down to a 3 star for me.  Because of all the different love triangles an author can torture her readers with, this one is just the worst kind of crap.

 

The cover says "A Verity Kent Mystery", implying a series, but I don't know if I can read another one, no matter how damn good the story is.  If another does come out, I'll be reading all the spoilers I can find before deciding.

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review 2017-10-19 08:23
Blunt Instrument
A Blunt Instrument - Georgette Heyer

Here's the thing about most Golden Age mysteries:  the puzzle is all.  No matter how witty or clever or brilliant the writing is, it's almost never about the characters themselves, but about the murder mystery puzzle.  Which is, of course, why I read mysteries; I love the puzzle and I love trying to solve it.  But unfortunately, if the reader does solve the murder/puzzle, there's not a lot of characterisation to fall back on; solve the puzzle and the remaining story can be tedious.

 

I solved this one on page 88-89.  I don't think I did anything particularly clever, just that a certain passage hit me a certain way and it all became clear to me.  The only thing I ended up getting wrong was the relation of the murderer to one of the characters and then only because I imagined the murderer to be the wrong age.

 

I didn't dnf, or skip to the end to see if I was correct solely because, when Heyer is 'on' with her writing she is on, and this is one of her better writing efforts, even if the plotting went astray (and I've found out her mysteries were all plotted by her husband).  The story behind the mystery plot is a farce and Heyer thoroughly caricatures everyone except Hannasyde.  The dialog was electric and even though I was thoroughly impatient with Neville at the start, I thought him wildly entertaining by the end.  I wanted to keep reading just to see what he'd say and do next. 

 

So, 2 stars for the plotting because... page 89.  There was never any doubt on my part that I was wrong.  But an extra star because the characters are Heyer at her wittiest and most hilarious.

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