Another November Review!

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Amber Here!

Merry Black Friday!? Remember to be nice to those ringing you up today! I will be walking around Green Lake trying to work off my Thanksgiving Day dinner!

Don’t forget to check out the latest installment in my mystery series Finder Of Lost Things! This week Phoebe & Beatrice hammer out details and you get introduced to the Residents…

Mercedes Lackey – The Bartered Brides

What happens when you combine Sherlock Holmes and one of the pillars of the fantasy genera?

You get Mercedes Lackey’s The Bartered Brides!

An exciting take on what happens when Watson, Mary, and their (new to us) crew work a case after the events of Reichenbach Falls…

Now I must tell you I have a secret vice….after years of advising everyone at SMB to read series in order. I must admit I absolutely LOVE to start a long series in the middle! If an author can catch you up with who everyone is without using standard boilerplate descriptions of characters (one of the few things which drive me crazy about the In Death series by J.D. Robb) I take it as a positive sign for the quality of the story.

Now, mind you, in this case, the only reason why I started with the fourteenth book in the series is that I wasn’t wearing my glasses in the bookstore (seriously I need to get a chain for them & channel my inner librarian). So the cover art caught my eye, the author name sealed the deal – but I completely missed the fine print – ah’well no one is perfect.

But to my complete satisfaction Lackey did an excellent job with this book! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the shifting perspectives of all involved, detectives, elemental masters (this is Mercedes Lackey after all – there had to be a supernatural spin to it – which Holmes regards with no small amount of skepticism), a mass murderer & his maid and two master criminals (one living and one dead)! A plot device which sometimes can get out of hand, but works well in this mystery.

Overall I think this book (and undoubtedly the entire series – which I intend to hunt down and read in its entirety) is well worth your time. Lackey marries together the quintessential detective duo of Holmes & Watson with the supernatural flawlessly while sprinkling in gothic elements to add an extra zing to her mystery. With the addition of two remarkable, well rounded, heroines it makes the Sherlock & Watson’s adventure more accessible to a wider range of readers (plus Mary Watson is rather kick-ass herself and hilariously often shields her husband from the more flagrant flouting of social conventions – like the when Nan & Sarah sneak off wearing men’s clothing!)

I would recommend this book to anyone who’s had trouble getting a foothold in the Sherlock canon. There are enough fantasy elements to keep a fan of the genera engaged (seriously, they are fun to read – elemental masters & wizards – earth, air, fire, water, and spirit nothing but fun). But for those of you who are Sherlock aficionados, there are enough of the elements from the original texts to keep you content (plus Lackey does not have Watson, Holmes, Mary or Mrs. Hudson doing anything out of character. Watson & Mary may have a bit more going on – but they stay true to their roots).

I cannot wait to start cracking on the other preceding thirteen books!

Yet Another November Review!

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Amber Here!

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!? Is that a thing?

(And btw how is it Thanksgiving time already? Next thing you know it will be Christmas! I swear someone pushed the fast forward button on the calendar.)

Well to celebrate this tangential holiday I give you a beer…..mystery review!

Hope you guys enjoy reading reading it, and don’t forget to check out this week’s installment in Finder Of Lost Things! This week Morticia (aka Phoebe) meets the Lavender Lady!

Oh and if you like listening to podcasts and drinking beer check out the Pico Dudes! A couple of home brewers who brew & then review their beers (with hilarious results).

Ellie Alexander – Death On Tap

When I was a kid, my family would head over to my grandparent’s house for burgers and fries every Saturday night. And every Saturday night unlabeled, blue capped, brown bottles of beer would be ingested by my grandfather and any other adult who wanted one. I thought the no label thing was weird, but since I wasn’t allowed to drink it, the question didn’t bother me often. Eventually, I did ask why my grandfather why his bottles didn’t look like the ones I saw in the store. That’s when he took me downstairs into the basement and showed me his homebrew & bottling set up.

Trying to instill the passion for homebrewing into me early, we brewed several batches of root beer together. Unfortunately for my grandfather, I was (and am) a cream soda & sarsaparilla girl and my attention soon wandered onto other unsolved mysteries in my universe.

I’d completely forgotten about this early episode of my life until I read Ellie Alexander’s Death On Tap! Then it all came flooding back to me, the light turquoise wall, buckets, tubes, yeasty smell and stacks of brown bottles in the corner of the laundry room. So I must thank the author for helping me recall good times with my grandparent!

Now, why did this mystery remind me of my grandfather’s beer (which FYI I never got a taste of, because he stopped brewing by the time I was old enough to drink)?

The clue is in the title of the book.

This cozy mystery is set around the word of brewing, both macro & microbreweries, hops, and beer. Which really works, since the book is set in Leavenworth, Washington where Octoberfest is bigger than Christmas (but not by much)! So it’s easy to meld the brewing theme in without distracting the reader from the mystery, which is the most important part.

Now here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter if you’re into beer or not (I’m a vodka & juice box girl myself) because Alexander gets just technical enough to keep a brew enthusiast interested while not boring the pants off non-brewer cozy aficionados. Plus after reading so many cozies themed with – books, baking and candlestick making (okay I made up that last one – I liked the rhythm of it), it’s nice to read a mystery which deals with a different kind of craft!

I also appreciate the deftness which Death On Tap deals with a cheating husband (and the complications which arise from said deed), motherhood (and trying to stay adult about the aforementioned zipper challenged spouse with your kid), a new job (because working at the family business, even if you love his parents to pieces, is out of the question since the ex and his partner The Beer Wench both work there) and solving a mystery (aka clearing your ex-husband’s name, despite what he did)!

Plus I was pleasantly surprised with the complex layering of mysteries which Alexander was able to achieve in just one book – while still hoodwinking the reader and having them make complete sense in the end!

Death On Tap is a well written themed mystery which I would recommend to anyone looking to read a mystery on the lighter side to escape (for even a moment) from these uncertain times. The characters are well rounded, the plot’s engrossing and the beer isn’t overwhelming. In fact, after I finished the first book, I went immediately out and purchased the second installment, The Pint of No Return.

That’s how much I enjoyed it.

An Additional November Review

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Amber Here!

Seriously this Fall is full of wonderful new releases which cannot wait for our monthly newzine! So here a great historical mystery I couldn’t wait until December to share.

Don’t forget to check out my original mystery blog, Finder of Lost Things

Shelley Noble – Ask Me No Questions

One interesting fact about readers of the nicer (but not cozy) mysteries – they are a bloodthirsty lot. If a body doesn’t drop within the first three chapters of a mystery, they are often disappointed. Many readers confessed to quitting book entirely if the mystery didn’t smack them in the face immediately. Which seems counter-intuitive I know, they want the mystery, just not the blood and gore associated with it.

For those of you who count yourselves amongst this lot, I found a book for you!

Shelly Noble’s Ask Me No Questions, an excellent historical mystery which deposits its first body on page five – right into the lap of a bottled blond chorus girl. Which is extremely embarrassing for his wife, who ends up witnessing the entire tableau, screeching mistress and all, while picking up her old school chum (and our heroine) from the docks (as she’s just arrived from England). From this point onwards the book continues at a brisk pace, making it extremely hard to put down – because you want to know what twist is coming next!

Noble does a wonderful job of making you feel like your in the time and place of Ask Me No Questions, tackling the challenges of the day. Such as staring down the barrel of a police investigation (for the murder of Reggie Reynolds) in 1907 New York. Meaning? Our heroine Lady Philomena must contend with the two opposing faces of the NYPD. The honest cop, who believes in Teddy Roosevelt’s vision of what the police body needs to espouse to serve New York to its fullest potential, whose conducting the investigation. Then there’s the old guard, which Roosevelt only partially excised during his stint as police commissioner, famed for their corruption and thuggish methods – who horn in on the case. This dichotomy provides exciting plot points and heightens the underlying tension to the story. Plus, if your interested in the history of New York, gives you a nice (fictional) first-hand taste of what this situation may have looked like, which I thoroughly enjoyed!

Then there’s our amateur sleuth herself, Lady Philomena Dunbridge (Phil to her friends), whose witty, savvy, sophisticated, clever and rankles under the title of Dowager at the ripe old age of twenty-six. Who absolutely refuses to be pigeonholed, for the rest of her life, by her first (bad) marriage. Also, thru her internal and external dialogues, exposes the reader to the realities of marriage in 1907 for women amongst the upper class – so their families can gain wealth, prestige or a title. Then expectations foisted onto them if they become widows. But never fear, while this theme is present, Noble does a beautiful job of working it seamlessly into the plot! Making it propel the book forward without ever bogging it down!

About the only real criticism, I can level at this Ask Me No Questions is the with Phil’s maid Lily. And not at the girl herself, but at the fact that Phil repeatedly, hammers at the fact that Lily’s past is a complete enigma. She can speak at least three languages, refuses to tell Phil her real name and knows how to pick locks. Yes, these all add up to a mystery, but to bang on about them was unnecessary. I know this sounds nit-picky (because it is, I think I need to eat something) but it is the only flaw I found in the book!

But really, other than a trivial (and superficial flaw) this book was a lovely read, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading historical mysteries who are looking something a bit different from the English country house mysteries (this one is a New York brownstone mystery). Or looking for something to read between Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series (only set a bit earlier) or Dianne Freeman’s Countess of Harleigh series (just set a bit later). I cannot wait (fingers crossed) for the next book, as I adored Phil and the other cast of characters!

Another October Review!

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Amber Here!

Yup you guessed it another book review! There is so much good stuff coming out this fall I can’t contain my reviews to just once a month. 

Don’t forget about my other penny dreadful mystery blog – Finder of Lost Things! Phoebe gets her second ever job and an invitation!

Edgar Cantero – This Body’s Not Big Enough For Both Of Us

How long does it take to learn Spanish? Seriously. A couple of years?

Why am I keen on learning a second language? I need to become absolutely fluent because if Cantero’s Spanish language books are half as zany, unconventional, inexplicable and hilarious as their English counterparts I need to have the language down pat.

If you can’t tell I am a huge fan of this man’s writing.

One reason? He takes traditional mystery tropes and turns them on their heads. Meddling Kids (his second English Language book) takes a group of young sleuths (who bear a striking resemblance to the Scooby Doo gang) and tells the story of what happens to them after their last extraordinary and unsettling case.

In This Body’s Not Big Enough For The Both Of Us, he takes a multitude of noir & mystery themes and adds his unique twist to them. Like our detective – A.Z. Kimrean – a brother & sister, twins, who didn’t completely split from each other in the womb – so they occupy the same body and have very different thoughts on how to execute their cases.

And let me tell you their very divergent styles make this book move at lightning speed! This adventure finds them called in by the L.A.P.D to help investigate the murder of a crime boss’s son, stop a gangland war and safely extract an undercover detective while dodging thugs, a ninja, and requests by femme fatals…

Now here’s one thing you need to know when you start the book – I think Cantero took Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writers as a challenge and set out to break every one of them while writing the prologue(he also left Raymond Chandler’s set in tatters as well).

This piece of trivia is important to know, so you can fully appreciate it (looking up Leonard’s ten rules of writing also helps).

Don’t make my mistake! I didn’t bother reading the flyleaves, I just read the author’s name and thrust my money into the cashier’s hand and ran out of the store to start the book. Which left me a bit confused while reading the opening – so I’m trying to help you all out! (The rest of the book follows a much more sequential order to events, so don’t worry.)

This above is not a criticism of the book – it’s just a helpful hint.

This book is well written and surprisingly dense given the irreverent nature of it and stands up to multiple rereadings. Because there is so much going on and so many layers written into the story you get something new out of the mystery each time. I absolutely loved this book, and if you enjoy a twisted sense of humor and the warping classic mystery motifs, you’ll love this book. (BTW there isn’t any magic, fantasy or alternate realities at play here – A. Z. Kimrean’s condition is based in science, not science fiction – I promise)

Another October Supplemental!

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Amber Here!

So here’s my next single review! Hope you enjoy it!

And don’t forget to check out my other penny dreadful blog, Finder Of Lost Things! This week Phoebe’s dealing with the aftereffects from her dinner at the Fungus House with Wood and Beatrice.

Theodora Goss – European Travel For The Monstrous Gentlewoman

This is Book II in The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series, the follow-up novel to The Strange Case Of The Alchemist’s Daughter which I reviewed in September.

If you enjoy supernatural adjacent mysteries, I highly recommend both books in this series (and I cannot wait until the third book!). Goss masterfully tweaks and massages classic gothic texts (without ever misshapenning them) to create a unique set of heroines whom I find seriously fun to read!

After finding each other in the first book, our five heroines (the daughters of mad scientists Victor Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyl, Mr. Hyde, Dr. Moreau & Dr. Rappaccini) receive a telegram requesting assistance for another scientifically mistreated girl – the daughter of Dr. Van Helsing.

To execute this rescue, and put an end to these hideous experiments, they will greet old friends, make new ones, and travel across Europe at breakneck speeds!

Once again I cannot state how much I enjoyed reading this series. The two books (so far) are well constructed and executed. Giving both solid outcomes to the current mystery at hand while providing solid hints about problems which will plague the girls in the next book (no I’m not going to tell you what they are – except one involves Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson).

While Goss is using characters from well-loved gothic classics like Frankenstein, Dracula and Dr. Jekle & Mr. Hyde (plus one well-known detective) – she breathes new life in them – but never abandons the canon of the original stories. Sherlock doesn’t have roller skates strapped to his feet, Irene Adler isn’t an idiot and Renfield is still nuts.

Perhaps every now and again Goss is a bit heavy-handed with declarations of friendship between her girls during their European travels. But it only happens every now and again, and is the only real flaw for me in this installment – which is pretty good for a 706-page book!

October Supplemental!

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Amber Here!

Fall brings many delightful things, colorful leaves, pumpkin spice everything and a cornucopia of new releases! So many in fact I cannot wait to share them with you guys.

So here’s the first in a string of single book reviews, hope they help you sort out your to-be-read stacks!

(And btw don’t forget to check out my other blog – Finder Of Lost Things!)

Chloe Neill – Wild Hunger

An Heirs Of Chicagoland Novel

Twenty years have passed since we last visited Chicago – the food is still great, the Cubs are still swinging, and supernatural politics are still tricky. The biggest change? The Houses are no longer allowed to investigate supernatural crimes which occur in their fair city – the Ombudsmen’s office scrutinizes all (which means Merit’s hung up her katana). This arrangement has worked out well, due to the peace struck by Master Ethan Sullivan and his Sentinal Merit with Chicago and its other supernatural residents.

This peace is a blueprint for other, more troubled, regions in the world. One of the places looking to forge their own peace accord? The vampire Houses of Western Europe, who’ve all agreed to treat Chicago as neutral territory, where they can attempt to hammer out their own peace accord. It doesn’t hurt that all the Houses in Chicago are well armed and well trained (plus the Pack) and are ready to keep everyone honest.

What does this mean to the daughter of Ethan and Merit? Who happens to be completing her year of armed service for a Parisian House in exchange for a college education? She’s going home.

Elisa Sullivan should feel thrilled at the prospect of seeing her family and friends again, and she does…But setting foot in Chicago also fills her with trepidation. Because Elisa has a secret, a secret linked to the magic which enabled her mother to carry her to term (Elisa’s unlike any other vampire in the world because she was born, not made).

Unfortunately, this secret isn’t Elisa’s only problem or even her biggest headache. That honor belongs to the less than popular member of one of the delegations who gets murdered literally in her parent’s backyard – which threatens to unravel the entire summit.

Then there’s the Faries…and the heir-apparent of the Pack…all of whom seem intent on throwing wrenches into the works…

This book is the first in a new series which features the next generation of the supernaturals of the Chicagoland series (I mean it is the description of the series).

This premise puts Neill in a tricky position writing-wise.

Creating whole new stories set in and amongst an already existing landscape is tricky. Because Neill needed to incorporate the pillars of the original series, many of whom are immortal (or really difficult to kill – which amounts to the same thing) while writing unique new characters to follow on their heels.

On the whole, Neill pulled it off well.

Wild Hunger does an excellent job of hinting around at exciting future storylines while echoing earlier themes of the original series. All the while following clues to resolve the fast-paced mystery being investigated by our new heroine. Perhaps Wild Hunger has a bit of the soft-reboot blues, the need to pay homage to the old guard weighing the narrative down slightly. BUT I am confident this slight flaw will be cleared up in the next installment allowing the shiny new cast to go their own way – with the original players making cameos when needed.

And I cannot wait until the next one is released! (BTW I inhaled this book in one sitting!)

Wild Hunger is a fun, fast read and I highly recommend it. Neill does a great job in quietly catching up a new reader with the backstory without boring her longtime readers (which is a huge feat in and of itself!). Anyone who’s looking for an entertaining supernatural mystery this Halloween season should give this book a try! (Plus, if you’re intimidated by a huge series, Wild Hunger allows you to leap into Chicagoland without reading Neill’s entire catalog. But I warn you if you love Wild Hunger you might be tempted to go back and start Some Girls Bite!)

From Me To You…

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Things I learned while working at SMB:

1. It is okay to not finish a book if you aren’t enjoying it.
2. How to write book reviews and blogs
3. How to manage a website.
4. That Agatha Christie, Elizabeth Daly and Georgette Heyer are some of my absolutely favorite authors.
5. How to defend highly formed opinions on Young Adult fiction and censorship
6. That enthusiasm and sincerity can bamboozle even the most jaded author into a smile.
7. I got to meet Jasper Fforde and Sophie Hannah! (While this isn’t strictly learning something, it was REALLY exciting!)

Who I met at SMB:

Working at SMB I met my friends JB and Fran, who over the past ten years have provided inspiration, guidance and a kick in the pants – when needed. Without them I never would have read Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Rex Stout, Carol O’Connel, Alan Bradley, Ellis Peters and the list just keeps going on. These two great people helped me work up the confidence to write My 52 Weeks With Christie (of which I am still very proud). With JB and Fran I experienced the absolutely weirdest job interview ever (which still blows my mind).

Then….

1. Ernie Cline let me check out a gull-wing DeLorean with an authentic-looking flux capacitor (thanks Ernie)
2. I got to talk soccer with Ian Rankin and a score of European authors
3. Startled Helen Tursten with my enthusiasm over her books
4. Laughed with Gail Carriger
4. Learn a totally new fist bump from Seanan McGuire
5. And I got to meet Jasper Fforde and Sophie Hannah! (have I mentioned that this was REALLY exciting!)

Even better? I met all of you guys. Readers who I got to know over the past ten years (can you believe it?). All of our great readers who recommended books that I never would have tried otherwise. Readers who when I placed a book in their hands and told them they “had to read it” they believed me and did. Maybe I didn’t always remember your names (it was a universal flaw), but my faulty memory aside – I will miss all of you.

Even better I got to bake approximately 1,000,000,000 cookies for you all!

It is still hard to believe I won’t see you almost every day. Even when I drive JB & Fran crazy and vise versa (I am sure they will not miss my penchant for organization & cleaning), they gave me the courage to try look towards the future with hope and enthusiasm. Our Readers, authors and friends helped me try some things both new and a bit scary, a little awesome and slightly twisted. When I remember The Shop, Bill, JB, Fran and you all – I will try to remember the best advise Dr. Seuss ever gave: Don’t Cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

Until then keep reading.

Amber