Bodies from the Library 1 (MbD’s Deal-me-in Challenge)

Rather than create a separate post for each short story, I’m appending them under the anthology title as I read them.  Older short stores will be behind the ‘read more’.

Bodies from the Library 1Bodies from the Library 1
by Tony Medawar (editor)
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780008289225
Publication Date: January 1, 2018
Pages: 324
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Collins Crime Club

The Elusive Bullet by John Rhode, ✭✭✭✭

In spite of 90% of the solution being screamingly obvious from the start, I enjoyed this story.  Dr. Priestly and his secretary are a very Holmes and Watson-esque duo, with Dr. Priestly relying, it seems, entirely on mathematics to solve his crimes.  It was well-written and flowed easily, with the action moving at a nice pace, allowing a quick read before bed.  An excellent way to be introduced to this anthology.

Magic Tides (Kate Daniels: Wilmington Years #1)

Magic TidesMagic Tides
by Illona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 978164197529
Series: Kate Daniels: Wilmington Years #1
Publication Date: January 17, 2023
Pages: 146
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: NYLA Publishing

Kate, Curran and their son, Conlan have left Atlanta, vowing to keep a low profile, and are settling into a new city and new house…but some things never change! Magical mayhem is about to erupt when Kate undertakes the rescue of a kidnapped youth, while Curran guards the homefront.

It should be a simple retrieval, but with monsters on land and sea, Kate’s got her work cut out for her. Still, she's never let her blade dull or her purpose falter. And that low profile? It’s about to wash away with the raging tides!

Just when I thought Kate Daniels was through and I was reduced to catching glimpses or mentions of her through Andrews’ other same-universe series, out comes this little novella, re-whetting my appetite for Kate and Curran adventures.

It was almost perfect.  I understand moving Kate and Curran to another city allows for a fresh set of adventures with new fiends to fight and friends/alliances to make, but I still knocked .5 a star off because I miss the old friends, dammit!  Not all of them, but I’d have really liked Barabas and Christopher to stick around.

Even without them, the story was excellent.  Very tightly written (and well edited!) with a plot that’s constantly moving forward, a lot of action, and a fair number of bad guys dying, with the humorous dialog that always make these books fun to read, even when the content gets a bit dark.

In my last review of an Andrews’ work, I bemoaned their decision to break completely from traditional publishing and stated a number of reasons why I thought it was less than ideal; I’ll add another (purely selfish) reason: with no traditional publishing contract, it’s anyone’s guess as to when – or even if – they’ll get around to writing another Wilmington Years story.  It’s hard enough to wait for a favourite series when you know it’s scheduled; it’s excruciating when you’re left at the whim of the author.  Still, fingers crossed, because it’s obvious Kate and Curran aren’t ready to be retired just yet.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

The Very Secret Society of Irregular WitchesThe Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches
by Sangu Mandanna
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781399709866
Publication Date: August 30, 2022
Pages: 318
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon has lived her life by three rules: hide your magic, keep your head down, and stay away from other witches. An orphan raised by strangers from a young age, Mika is good at being alone, and she doesn't mind it . . . mostly.
But then an unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches, and Mika jumps at the chance for a different life.
Nowhere House is nothing like she expects, and she's quickly tangled up in the lives and secrets of its quirky, caring inhabitants . . . and Jamie, the handsome, prickly librarian who would do anything to protect his charges, and who sees Mika's arrival as a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika finds her feet, the thought of belonging somewhere starts to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn't the only danger in the world, and soon Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect the found family she didn't know she was looking for . . .

This was just what I needed after a run of mediocre reads.  It’s cute, but not cutesy or twee – it definitely has a cozy vibe going on, as nothing about the story is dark.  There is a lot of dysfunction though, and a lot of magic, and at least 1 overly-precocious 8 year old who talks like a sassy and hilarious 30 year old.  I enjoyed the little twist at the end that I probably should have seen coming, but I was too relaxed in the story to pay all that much attention to care about what was coming next.

A well-written, fun read.


by Holly Throsby
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781760878740
Publication Date: November 1, 2022
Pages: 406
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

On a hot morning in 1991 in the regional town of Clarke, Barney Clarke (no relation) is woken by the unexpected arrival of many policemen: they are going to search his backyard for the body of a missing woman.

Next door, Leonie Wallace and little Joe watch the police cars through their kitchen window. Leonie has been waiting six years for this day. She is certain that her friend Ginny Lawson is buried in that backyard.

But the fate of Ginny Lawson is not the only mystery in Clarke. Barney lives alone in a rented house with a ring on his finger, but where is Barney's wife? Leonie lives with four-year-old Joe, but where is Joe's mother?

Clarke is a story of family and violence, of identity and longing, of unlikely connections and the comedy of everyday life. At its centre stands Leonie Wallace, a travel agent who has never travelled, a warm woman full of love and hope and grief, who would do anything in the world for Joe.

This is Throsby’s third book, and, I think, the … not weakest, but least complicated, in terms of story.  It’s also probably the most accessible in terms of vernacular; a few things were purely Aussie, but understandable in context.  I didn’t need my handy-dandy MT-dictionary to decipher cultural references or some of the more obscure slang.

Unlike in the previous books, that where the stories were more centred on the community, Clarke focuses on two people, neighbours but strangers, both of whom are deeply damaged people after suffering significant tragedies.  When the police show up to Barney’s newly rented home with a warrant to search for the body of a missing woman who lived there 6 years previous, Barney is forced out of his shell, and he begins to interact with his neighbours Leonie.

Throsby weaves the memories of each of their tragedies throughout the narrative, so that the real stories behind each unfurl every so slowly, as the search for Ginny Lawson’s body continues on.  It’s a bit maddening, but worthwhile at the end as she brings everything together.  It’s not a story with a happy ending, but it at least ends on a hopeful note.  Throsby does something a little different, too, as she leaves the reader with more information than the characters have, and I think it works.

The tag line on the cover isn’t really good marketing; this really isn’t a mystery.  But it is a very good story, that just happens to center on the search for a body.

Murder at the Serpentine Bridge (Wrexford & Sloane Mystery, #6)

Murder at the Serpentine BridgeMurder at the Serpentine Bridge
by Andrea Penrose
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781496732538
Series: Wrexford & Sloane #6
Publication Date: September 27, 2022
Pages: 361
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

Charlotte, now the Countess of Wrexford, would like nothing more than a summer of peace and quiet with her new husband and their unconventional family and friends. Still, some social obligations must be honored, especially with the grand Peace Celebrations unfolding throughout London to honor victory over Napoleon.

But when Wrexford and their two young wards, Raven and Hawk, discover a body floating in Hyde Park’s famous lake, that newfound peace looks to be at risk. The late Jeremiah Willis was the engineering genius behind a new design for a top-secret weapon, and the prototype is missing from the Royal Armory’s laboratory. Wrexford is tasked with retrieving it before it falls into the wrong hands. But there are unsettling complications to the case—including a family connection.

Soon, old secrets are tangling with new betrayals, and as Charlotte and Wrexford spin through a web of international intrigue and sumptuous parties, they must race against time to save their loved ones from harm—and keep the weapon from igniting a new war . . .

Is platitudinal a word?  My spell checker thinks it is, but when I ask it to define it, I get the definition for latitudinal.

Anyway, this book is platitudinal, as in full of the platitudes.  All about love, and family, and friendship, which is all very nice, but not why I read mysteries.  Still, this book was better than the last one, which just about put me off the series entirely.  This one featured a plot of international intrigue entering around the London Peace Celebrations that took place after the Napoleonic war ended.  Penrose was clever; she wrote the story in such a way that I was sure it was transparent and I was going to be annoyed … but while I did figure out one part of the solution, I was totally wrong about the other.  There was also some double crossing and double dealing going on that made the whole thing more complicated than it looked.  Overall, it was a decent story, but not as compelling as the earliest entries.

At the end the author includes a note that clearly delineates what is historically factual and what she made up (which was actually not as much as I’d have guessed).

Great Stories of Crime and Detection (MbD’s Deal Me In challenge)

Great Stories of Crime and DetectionGreat Stories of Crime and Detection
by H.R.F. Keating, Various Authors
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 2002
Pages: 1784
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Folio Society

As I’ve done for the other anthologies I’m using in this challenge, I’m creating one post per anthology – or in this case the boxed set of 4 volumes.  I’ll share some quick(ish) thoughts about each story as iI read them and append them to the top of post.  Previous thoughts will be under the ‘read more’.  Since this is a multi-volume collection, it will cause a bit of a mess, but I’ll try to keep it neat.

Volume IV: The Sixties to the Present (2000)

The Last High Mountain by Clark Howard: ✭✭½  Not my jam.  I really liked the setting of the Shoshone Indian Reservation, but the rest was all too … testosterone for my tastes.  There’s no mystery here at all; it’s the story of a just-released-from-jail-early Native American, who, in exchange for the early release (which was engineered by another shady Native American), agrees to knock off the payroll for the nearby Air Force base.  It’s a story of ironic timing, lots of errors and no happy ending.  For anybody.

Continue reading Great Stories of Crime and Detection (MbD’s Deal Me In challenge)

Cat Lady

Cat LadyCat Lady
by Dawn O'Porter
Rating: ★★½
isbn: 9780008385408
Publication Date: November 3, 2022
Pages: 342
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins

Single, independent, crazy, aloof, on-the-shelf, lives alone . . .

It’s safer for Mia to play the part that people expect. She’s a good wife to her husband Tristan, a doting stepmother, she slips on her suit for work each morning like a new skin.

But beneath the surface, there’s another woman just clawing to get out . . .

When a shocking event shatters the conventional life she’s been so careful to build, Mia is faced with a choice. Does she live for a society that’s all too quick to judge, or does she live for herself?

And if that’s as an independent woman with a cat, then the world better get ready . . .

When am I going to learn about impulse buying?  Anyone who knows me knows why I grabbed this book – how could I possibly walk away from a book called the Cat Lady?

I should have.  I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but this was the most gratuitously vulgar book I’ve read in memory and I mean gratuitously, graphically vulgar in that way that British writers can excel at and make it sound like that’s just the way everybody talks.  I realise everybody grows more conservative as they age, but I’d have found this as over the top offensive 30 years ago as I do now.

I really wanted to DNF it after chapter 3, the first time the author wallows in the vulgarity, but I really hoped it was a one-off thing, the way so many author’s will have that one, obligatory explicit sex scene.  In the space between chapter 3 and the next spree of vulgarity there was a compelling and touching story, so I committed myself to the end.

If this book had been written without all the how-disgustingly-explicit-can-I-get; if the author had left all that crap out – this would have possibly been a 4.5, maybe even 5 star read.  One  that required a box of tissues by one’s side.  Because the parts in between are lovely, touching, and so often on-point about how much love and acceptance pets bring to our lives and how important they can become to us.

There’s a character in this book that’s described as a genuinely kind, loving, grieving man who hide his true self behind a wall of angry tattoos that cover his body.  This story is exactly that – a genuinely lovely story hidden behind an almost impenetrable wall of graphic vulgarity.

Sweep of the Heart (Innkeeper Series, #4)

Sweep of the HeartSweep of the Heart
by Illona Andrews
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9798364351043
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #4
Publication Date: December 1, 2022
Pages: 440
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: NYLA Publishing

Life is busier than ever for Innkeeper, Dina DeMille and Sean Evans. But it’s about to get even more chaotic when Sean’s werewolf mentor is kidnapped. To find him, they must host an intergalactic spouse-search for one of the most powerful rulers in the Galaxy. Dina is never one to back down from a challenge. That is, if she can manage her temperamental Red Cleaver chef; the consequences of her favorite Galactic ex-tyrant’s dark history; the tangled politics of an interstellar nation, and oh, yes, keep the wedding candidates from a dozen alien species from killing each other. Not to mention the Costco lady.

They say love is a battlefield; but Dina and Sean are determined to limit the casualties!

What a weird blend of Eurovision, The Bachelor and Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera.  Andrews sucked me in to the Innkeeper series by making the first one a gateway drug to what is ultimately a science fiction series – something that is definitely not my jam.  But I thoroughly enjoy the recurring characters so I keep with the series.

This was, for an Andrews book, a door stopper at 440 pages and the plot is a story within a story.  As it started as a serial, the complicatedness and length made sense and overall, it ready fast.

My biggest beef with the book and the reason for my rating is that, as a self-published book usually is, it’s terribly edited.  In addition to the myriad missing words (usually of the article and conjunction variety), Gaston becomes Tony from one sentence to the next in a scene that has already put Tony off-planet, and the final climatic scene of the Bachelor-like competition is so convoluted that I had to read it three times before it made any sense to me at all.  (The authors’ start with a countdown from 6th place, but then after 6th and 5th are announced, suddenly switch to counting up from 2nd.)  Frankly, this just pissed me off and really took a chunk of my enjoyment away from the story as a whole.

I understand the reasons for established authors to self publish on occasion but I think the Andrews are making a mistake to switch wholly to self publishing.  Their creativity might flourish, but their reputation, in the long run, won’t.  Self publishing suffers from the lack of editorial resources, and most of all, the lack of big publishing’s marketing resources.  While I’m a huge fan of just about everything this writing team puts out in terms of stories, I’m not about to haunt their website just to have some idea of if or when a new book comes out – and the odds of their attracting new readers to their body of work diminishes.  I just really wish they’d find a balance between self and traditional marketing.

Digression aside, this was definitely my least favourite InnKeeper book so far, although I love how the end circles back to what will hopefully be a follow up to Maude’s book and its cliffhanger ending.

In the Shadow of Agatha Christie (MbD’s Deal-me-in Challenge)

In the Shadow of Agatha ChristieIn the Shadow of Agatha Christie
by Leslie S. Klinger (editor)
isbn: 9781681776309
Publication Date: January 1, 2018
Pages: 328
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Pegasus Crime

Before Agatha Christie became the world's Queen of Crime, she stood on the talented shoulders of the female crime authors who came before her. This splendid new anthology by Leslie S. Klinger brings these exceptional writers out of her shadow and back into the spotlight they deserve. Agatha Christie is undoubtedly the world's best-selling mystery author, hailed as the "Queen of Crime", with worldwide sales in the billions. Christie burst onto the literary scene in 1920, with The Mysterious Affair at Styles; her last novel was published in 1976, a career longer than even Conan Doyle's forty-year span. The truth is that it was due to the success of writers like Anna Katherine Green in America; L. T. Meade, C. L. Pirkis, the Baroness Orczy and Elizabeth Corbett in England; and Mary Fortune in Australia that the doors were finally opened for women crime-writers. Authors who followed them, such as Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy Sayers and, of course, Agatha Christie would not have thrived without the bold, fearless work of their predecessors and the genre would be much poorer for their absence.

So while Agatha Christie may still reign supreme, it is important to remember that she did not ascend that throne except on the shoulders of the women who came before her and inspired her and who are now removed from her shadow once and for all by this superb new anthology by Leslie S. Klinger.

I’m reading these stories as part of my 2023 short story challenge.  I am also going to append all my short story/individual reviews for this specific anthology to this post (in the order they’re read) so that upon completion it will serve as a review of the whole of the book.

January 22, 2023

Point in Morals by Ellen Glasgow ✭✭✭✭:  This wasn’t a mystery at all, but, as the title suggests, a question of morality.  Do we hold all human life to be sacred to the point that humanity in general suffers for it?

The story is set on a yacht, apropos of nothing, but I suppose the story must be set somewhere.  It gets off to a rocky start as the author is writing what would be the perfectly natural sort of conversation a group of people relaxing and enjoying themselves would have: the chaotic kind.  You know, the kind where everyone interrupts everyone else?  This is immediately how the story begins, and it takes a bit of concentration to keep track of not only the introduction of the characters but who is interrupting whom.  This goes on for a page or so before the story settles on the recollection of the mesmerist’s (also, none of the characters have names, just categories).  Once the mesmerist starts his tale everything settles down and becomes straightforward.

What follows is the mesmerist’s story of his encounter with a corrupted man and the results of that encounter.  He leaves it to his fellow sailors: did he do the moral thing under the circumstances?

Ellen Glasgow won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1942 novel In This Our Life, and the skill that won her that prize is evident here.  Initial confusion aside, the story is engrossing and leaves the reader with no answers, just food for thought.

As an aside, at the start of the story – which was written in 1899 – the sailors are all talking about the degeneration of society; it’s amusing in a disheartening way to read their complaints and realise that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Previously posted comments about other stories are behind the break.

Continue reading In the Shadow of Agatha Christie (MbD’s Deal-me-in Challenge)

Running with Sherman (re-read)

Running with Sherman: The Donkey that Survived Against All Odds and Raced Like a ChampionRunning with Sherman: The Donkey that Survived Against All Odds and Raced Like a Champion
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781781258279
Publication Date: July 2, 2020
Pages: 338
Genre: Memoir, Non-fiction
Publisher: Profile Books

When barefoot running guru Christopher McDougall takes in a neglected donkey, his aim is to get Sherman back to reasonable health. But Sherman is ill-tempered, obstinate and uncooperative - and it's clear his poor treatment has made him deeply fearful of humans. Christopher knows that donkeys need a purpose - they are working, pack animals - and so when he learns of the sport of Burro Racing or running with donkeys, he sets out to give Sherman something worth living for.

With the aid of Christopher's menagerie on his farm in rural Pennsylvania, his wife Mika and their friends and neighbours including the local Amish population, Sherman begins to build trust in Christopher. To give him a purpose, they start to run together. But what Sherman gains in confidence and meaning is something we all need: a connection with nature, the outdoors, with movement. And as Christopher learns, the side benefits of exercise and animal contact are surprising, helping with mental and physical health in unexpected ways.

I read this almost exactly 2 years ago to the day for the first time, and it was one of those stories that quietly stuck with me.  So much so, that when I saw a copy for sale at out local, I snapped it up without even thinking about it (I originally borrowed a friend’s copy).  I’ve been eyeing it for a re-read since I bought it and it did not disappoint.  My original review is below, and it stands – except for the part where I refer to the ‘filler’.  That has a negative sound and it isn’t a negative thing.  While the narrative dives off into different directions, those directions are related, and ultimately, quite fascinating.

A good friend of mine – whose idea of a good time is competing in triathlons – and I met for our weekly coffee/tea a couple of weeks ago, and she said “I have a book I think you’d like.” I looked at her with heavy scepticism, because she reads running books and cookbooks, and I’d rather starve than cook, and be eaten rather than run. “No, really; it’s written by a runner, but it’s about a donkey and I SWEAR nothing bad happens to the donkey, and it’s ends happily.” She knows me well.

So I brought the book home, and when MT saw it, he said, with heavy scepticism, “Is that supposed to be for me to read?”, thereby proving that the only person he thought less likely to be interested in the book than himself was me. So I started explaining how the book ended up on our coffee table and as I did, I opened it to the first page.

And was completely captivated. I don’t mean “oh, this actually looks good” in an idle sort of way, I mean once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop and I heard MT ask about 30 minutes later: “Did you mean to start reading that now?” Er… no, but shhh…

Part of this easy engagement definitely stemmed from my friend’s assurances that the story ended well; if she hadn’t sworn up and down that this was so, I’d have thrown the book down before I got to page 2 and refused to touch it again. The donkey may end up in a great place, but he doesn’t start there. Horrifying fact: donkey’s hooves never stop growing; they have to be trimmed or else they start curling upwards.

The story in a nutshell is this: the author, a runner, agrees to shelter and rehabilitate a donkey rescued from a hoarder. Part of the donkey’s recovery success depends on being given a purpose, and at a loss for anything more purposeful, and with a secret curiosity about the sport of donkey racing, the author starts the donkey on the long path from death’s door to racing fit.

That nutshell makes it sound like it’s still more about racing than the more sedentary reader would like, but it isn’t. This book is about the donkey – Sherman – and his fellow goat and equine friends, Lawrence, Flower and Matilda; it’s about the people involved in helping Sherman be his best donkey self, and, as filler to pad out the page count, a lot of interesting asides about related topics, such as the history of donkey racing (honest to god, it’s a thing), the people involved in racing donkeys, the benefits of animal/human relations, the benefits and dangers (in excess) of athletic training, depression, and the Amish. Yes, the Amish. It works.

McDougall is, at heart, a journalist, and the writing style and narrative reflect that. It’s well written and an easy read, but it lacks that formal, reserved style sometimes found in similar books. It’s chatty, and his personality comes through clearly, as does Sherman’s and his furry friends. Who are awesome, by the way.

Running with Sherman is the best kind of feel good book, where the animal triumphs in the end, and everybody wins. As the reader who’d rather be eaten than run (not really, but it’s a close thing), I’d happily recommend this book to anybody looking for an easy but worthwhile read.