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!

July’s Newzine

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2018 Nero Finalists Have Been Announced!

The “Nero” is an annual award presented to an author for literary excellence in the mystery genre. The award is presented at the Black Orchid Banquet, which is traditionally held on the first Saturday in December in New York City; this year the banquet will be on Saturday, December 1, 2018.

This year, the finalists are:

Kathleen Kent, The Dime (Mulholland Books/Little, Brown)
Loren D. Estelman, The Lioness is the Hunter (Forge)
Matt Goldman, Gone to Dust (Forge)
Stephen Mack Jones, August Snow (Soho)
Warren C. Easley, Blood for Wine (Poisoned Pen Press)

This year’s nominees join a procession of fine writers including Lee Child,
Walter Mosley, and Linda Fairstein, all of whom have been honored with the
prestigious “Nero.”

Congratulations to all!

Stephannie, Nero Award Chair (NeroAwardChair@nerowolfe.org)
Jane K. Cleland, Black Orchid Novella Award Chair (BlackOrchidAward@nerowolfe.org)

     Signings

Linda Castillo, Third Place Books, July 19th, 7pm

Carola Dunn, Third Place Books, July 20th, 6pm

Kevin O’Brien, Elliot Bay Books, July 31st, 7pm

Megan Abbott, Third Place Books, July 30th, 7pm

Megan Abbott, Powell’s, July 31st, 7pm

     Word of the Month

fredo: cold and passionless, a direction in music, (thanks to Says You, #1014) or, political commentary…

     Links of Interest

Here is a two-part story about a murder and the man imprisoned for the crime. It is very much in the vein of the series that have been on podcast or cable: “Blood Will Tell”, Part 1, Part 2

Daily Beast, June 1st: MH379 Didn’t Just Disappear, It was Caught in a Swamp of Corruption

Seattle Times, June 2nd: The Soviets Secretly Mapped Seattle

The Guardian, June 2nd: A Story of Survival: New York’s Last Remaining Independent Bookshops

WRAL, June 2nd: Listen Carefully, Book Lovers: Top Authors Are Skipping Print (yes, they’re going instead to audio – and to whom? Audible… aka SPECTRE! Seems they’re not yet done raiding the crippled world of publishing.)

Daily Beast, June 2nd: How Cuba Helped Make Venezuela a Mafia State

The Independent, June 3rd: James Bond producers want Helena Bonham Carter to play a villain

Newser, June 4th: What May Be ‘Most Famous Map in English Lit’ Up for Grabs – 1926 EH Shepard sketch of Hundred Acre Wood appears in AA Milne’s ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’

The Guardian, June 5th: Editorial: The Guardian view on Amazon: not a normal monopoly 

The Guardian, June 6th: A queer, diverse Nancy Drew: is this how to keep children’s classics alive?

The Oregonian, June 6th: Portland(ia) Feminist Bookstore, In Other Words, is Closing 

BBC June 10th: Serial poopers: What makes people poo in public places?

The Guardian, June 12th: Tim Miller Can Find Almost  Anyone. Can He Find His Daughter’s Killer?

BBC, June 12th: Demolished Londonderry house still receives post

BBC, June 12th: A plan to use pupils to run school libraries

The Washington Post, June 13th: Years ago I wandered into a used book store and a man named X handed me this gem [ JB agrees – these books are jewels!]

BBC, June 13th: Daredevil raccoon’s Minnesota skyscraper climb

The Guardian, June 13th: “Conan Doyle for the Defence” by Margalit Fox review – a case worthy of Sherlock Holmes

The Guardian, June 13th: Morality clauses: are publishers right to police writers?

The Guardian, June 19th: Oxford English Dictionary extends hunt for regional words around the world

BBC, June 21st: Why Hitchcock’s “Kaleidoscope” Was Too Shocking to be Made

Vox, June 22nd: Water rights, freeways, and Hollywood gossip: the secret history of LA, in 3 detective movies 

Atlas Obscura, June 22nd: Why Medieval Monasteries Branded Their Books

The Guardian, June 23rd: How alleged Toronto serial killer Bruce McArthur went unnoticed

The Guardian, June 23rd: How Well Do You Know Your Fictional Bookshops?

The Washington Post, June 25th: Supreme Court won’t hear the case of Brendan Dassey, sentenced to life as a teen and featured in ‘Making a Murderer’

BBC, June 26th: My best friend’s killer got away – until I made police try again

The Guardian, June 27th: Publishers are paying writers a pittance, say bestselling authors

The Atlantic, June 27th: What Is “The Staircase” Trying to Do?

The Guardian, June 30th: All the Pieces Matter review – the inside story of “The Wire”

Vox, June 30th: You can rent a room above this bookstore by the sea and run the shop

          RIP

BBC, June 6th: Jerry Maren: Last Wizard of Oz Munchkin dies aged 98

BBC, June 8th: Anthony Bourdain

BBC, June 9th: The first Bond girl, Eunice Grayson, dies at 90

LA Times, June 28th: Celebrity admirers bid farewell to Harlan Ellison, a ‘great author and cautionary tale’

Miami Herald, June 29th: Rob Hiaasen, journalist killed in Maryland newsroom shooting, had deep South Florida ties  (our best to his brother Carl)

                    What We’ve Been Doing

     Amber

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Georgette Heyer – The Unfinished Clue

Put one – gold-digger & jealous husband, amused spinster, nervy wife & her would-be-lover, a tyrant, a self-absorbed dancer & a sap, a snake charmer, old friend, a vicar & a gossip under the same roof for an entire weekend and you’re bound to have a murder!

No one was particularly sad to see Sir Arthur Billington-Smith go toes up at the end of the weekend; the only real complaint they had was his lousy timing! They were all still residents when he got himself murdered.

Even worse?

None of the partiers (aka suspects) can leave until the culprit is caught!

I enjoyed this mystery. You have a house stuffed to the gills with great suspects, a bevy of motives and a couple of red herrings! There are only three characters in the entire book I liked, Finch (the butler), Dinah (the victim’s sister-in-law) and Inspector Harding (from Scotland Yard). The rest of the cast of characters are so abominable in their own unique way I could hardly wait to see what they would do next!

Then there’s Georgette Heyer’s use of language – words like “highfalutin” and “nincompoop” are used conversationally. Her vocabulary taken with her singular turn of phrase make this book a joy to read!

Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells us that “Brevity is the soul of wit,” in Heyer’s case, this is true. The Unfinished Clue is by far the shortest mystery I’ve read by her – and it works. At no point did I feel like this book dragged on – between the arguments, accusations, hysterics, and murder – this book never stops chugging along.

If you can overlook one or two outmoded ways of thinking which make this book feel a bit dated ( a touch of misogyny and the horror of a “nice you man” falling into the clutches of a dancer) – this is a fantastic mystery. One I would recommend to most mystery readers who relish a delightful English country house mystery.

     Fran

I’ve added my reviews separately (because of course I did) so let’s see if I can come up with an anecdote from work.

We have folks who go FTR – Failure To Report – rather a lot, as you’d suspect. If you’re a mystery writer, let me clue you in on something. Vengeful ex-girlfriends (generally our culprits are guys, so I’m not stereotyping much here) are a real thing.

We get calls all the time from ladies scorned who know more about how (and when) to find their ex-guys than any PI ever written. They put bill collectors and student loan repayers to shame. I can’t tell you how many calls we’ve gotten from women saying, “You wanna know where to find the sonofabitch? Let me tell you, he’ll be walking into 1234 Main Street, Apt. 56, at 1:34 a.m. with that SKANK, and by 1:45 they’ll be asleep because he sucks in bed!”

You want top-of-the-line surveillance? Get an ex on the job!

You know how you say that once you retire, you’ll read all those books you’ve been buying but never got around to? Or hope to contract some disease that can only be cured by reading books so you can finally attack the piles towering around you?

Well, since I’m not getting fabulous new ARCs every day any more (small sob), I decided to do just that – read something I’ve been meaning to read. Something I was told years ago to read, by Janine and Adele and Tammy in this case.

I picked up Tim Maleeny’s STEALING THE DRAGON (Midnight Ink). And of course I love it. THEY TOLD ME I WOULD! And they were right, and I should have years ago, but I’ve come to my senses now.

Trust me, if these three tell you to read something, don’t put it off. Otherwise you’ll miss out on characters like Cape Weathers, Tim’s protagonist who’s been a lot of things in his disreputable past but is now a private investigator in San Francisco.

You’d think that idea would have been worked to death, that there couldn’t be anything new or different about a PI in Frisco, and, like me, you’d be wrong. Tim Maleeny is smart, funny, wickedly sharp, twisty and wonderful.

In STEALING THE DRAGON, you meet Cape who is an old friend to you by page three. And the premise here is that a cargo ship filled with illegal Chinese immigrants crashes into Alcatraz, which has nothing to do with Cape until it’s brought to his attention that just about the only person who could have done what happened on that ship is his best friend and protector, Sally.

As the story progresses, we see things unfolding in Cape’s investigation, but we also see how Sally became to be who she is, and she’s amazing and magnificent.

So take the advice of those wiser than I am and do yourself a favor. Go to your local indie bookshop (because duh!) and order STEALING THE DRAGON, BEATING THE BABUSHKA, and GREASING THE PINATA, and enjoy yourself. Do not make the mistake I did of reading the first one without the other two close at hand.

Seriously – learn from my mistakes here and enjoy yourself immensely in the process!

     JB

I’ve been a fan of Chandler and Marlowe for decades – no secret there. So I was thrilled to read in the Seattle Times about a new Philip Marlowe novel coming out in July. I was able to secure an advanced reader copy, Lawrence Osborne’s Only to Sleep, from the publisher. It’s an odd book, but then most of Chandler’s novels were, too, when you think about it. Sometimes they don’t make sense, you don’t always know who did what, and behind the wondrous prose is gauzy world of Marlowe and the rich and poor of Chandler’s imagination, not necessarily of the real LA.

In Osborne’s novel, a 72 year-old Marlowe has retired and is living simply on Mexican coast. He uses a cane due to a broken foot from a decade ago but still seems to get around. The cane has a sword in it and that’s his only weapon. No shoulder holster under his coat, no Luger in a hidden compartment in the car. He seems to be a puzzled old man trying to figure out what his did with his life and what it was all about. Then he gets a chance have one more case.

Like most of his cases, its pretty banal. An insurance company wants him to check to see if someone who is supposed to be dead really is before they pay out the policy. And why not? “There was, I thought, something calling to me from out in the dark. It came out int he tempest, even from the lights of the fishing boats a mile out to sea. You can be called to a last effort, a final heroic statement, because I doubt you can call yourself to leave comforts and certainties for an open road. But the call is inside your own head. It’s a sad summons from the depths of your own wasted past. You could call it the imperative to go out with full-tilt trumpets and gunshots instead of the quietly desperate sound of a hospital ventilator.” Right there, on page 10, you can feel that Osborne has captured the mind-set of Marlowe, a sense of nobility swirled with fatalistic boredom.

On the way, Marlowe will meet a raft of people as well as the dame in the center of the case. Is she a grieving widow or a femme fatale? It’s 1988. Surely they’ve not gone extinct? “So I skipped that question and just enjoyed her presence. She was the only thread I was handling as I groped my way through the dark on my small and wind-swept odyssey. A thread as soft as silk, shiny and mysterious, or, if you want to put it another way, a dance partner that is different with every step. Count me as one of those who knows that life is unbearable not because it’s a tragedy but because it’s a romance.”

That’s Chandleresque.

This is the second new Marlowe novel the estate has commissioned, not counting the Robert B. Parker works. The first was Benjamin Black’s The Black-Eyed Blonde. I hope and expect them to continue. I would just ask that they speed up the publications.

From Third Place/Ravenna, I have on order the newly released The Annotated Big Sleep, which Adam Woog profiled in his recent Seattle Times column.

Then there’s the used hardcover of Frank Nitti: The True Story of Chicago’s Notorious “Enforcer” by Ronald D. Humble. I thought I’d known a lot about Nitti but from this book I have a far greater understanding of his power and reach. It’s a book with a great deal of information but is unfortunately presented with haphazard organization and wooden writing. Wish he’d had a better editor…

Lastly, if you’re into podcasts, there are three I’d recommend:

~ One has been out awhile – Shit*town is a wild and strange trip into the head and heart of a brilliant man who loathes his small hometown. The story begins with an accusation of murder and then spins off into weirdness.

~ Slate has just released a series of episodes on Watergate called Slow Burn. It’s well done, interesting and very, very timely. Again, thought I knew a lot about that era but I’m learning more with each episode.

~ The last and newest is The RFK Tapes, which re-examines the Robert Kennedy assassination. There are three episodes out so far. Not sure how many there will be. Again, well done, interesting and very very timely.

 

That’s It Until August.

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