Getting Old is Murder by Rita Lakin

Getting Old Is Murder (Gladdy Gold, #1)Getting Old Is Murder by Rita Lakin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hello. Let me introduce myself. I’m Gladdy Gold. Actually, Gladys. I’m a self-proclaimed P.I. That’s right, a private eye. Operating out of Fort Lauderdale.

When did I get into the P.I. biz? As we speak. My credentials? More than thirty years of reading mysteries. Miss Marple and Miss Silver are my heroines.

At age 75, retired librarian Gladys “Gladdy” Gold lives in Lanai Gardens, a Florida “retirement community” condo development. With her circle of friendly neighbors (including her younger sister), she enjoys a regular routine of walking, sitting by the pool, Publix shopping trips, canasta games, and other everyday activities. Lanai Gardens is a community unto itself, with everyone into one another’s business, so Gladdy fills the reader in on the goings-on in everyone’s life. Life that seems pretty predictable until ladies start dying right before their birthdays, and Gladdy quickly begins to suspect foul play.

This is a quick-moving book, with short chapters and snappy observations. It’s easy to hear Gladdy’s New York twang in her short sentences and wry humor. She is the gossipy great-aunt you didn’t know you had, but she is ready to sweep you up into her world and make you at home. Interspersed with the first-person chapters narrated by Gladdy, there are a few chapters that take a third-person perspective to reveal events that she doesn’t yet know the details of. With the murders presented on the page this way, the reader actually has more clues to the mystery than the book’s amateur sleuth does.

I picked this book up as part of my current obsession with cozy mysteries, and because it would qualify for Read Harder 2018 task 23: A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60. It almost qualified for the one-sitting book task, since I read nearly all of it on a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta. (And I already fulfilled that task with The Grownup.) It’s a fun read, and I like the quirky characters, and I really enjoyed the way it manages to echo the small-town settings so frequently found in cozies without taking place in a real (fictional) small town. It stands out, too, for the fact that Gladdy isn’t a newcomer to the community, like many cozy mystery protagonists; she’s been living in Lanai Gardens for years. The book is the first in a series, so if you enjoy it, there’s more to come!

Source: Ebook checked out from my public library
Challenges: Counts for Read Harder 2018 (Task #23: A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60)

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You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

You Go FirstYou Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard balanced an unopened Dr Pepper upright on her hand and thought: This is what it feels like to hold my dad’s heart.

She’d read online that the heart weighed about twelve ounces.

Same as the Dr Pepper.

(Somebody should probably mention to Charlotte that there’s a difference between ounces (mass) and fluid ounces (volume). Although Google tells me that a 12-ounce can of soda weighs about 13-14 ounces, so it’s pretty close!)

I’d been especially looking forward to this book since reading Kelly’s Newbery-winning Hello, Universe in February. This book has much of the charm of that book, with its painfully realistic middle-schoolers, but without the magical realism that was a part of Virgil’s story.

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard is dealing with her dad’s sudden health problem and the way her best friend seems to be drifting away from her now that they’ve started the seventh grade. Eleven-year-old Ben Boxer has just found out his parents are divorcing, and he doesn’t know how to talk to them about the troubles he’s been having fit in at middle school. Charlotte and Ben play online Scrabble against each other regularly. It’s their only interaction: Charlotte lives in Pennsylvania, and Ben lives in Louisiana. They’ve never met in person. But they have more in common than they think, and they might just be able to help one another.

Kelly captures the agonies of middle school perfectly – as a mom myself, I just wanted to hug both Charlotte and Ben. Their struggles are so familiar. At an age when they’re just starting to figure out who they are, the world seems to be suddenly rearranging itself all around them. The chapters alternate perspective between Charlotte and Ben, revealing the parallels in their lives to the reader before they really connect with other as more than word game adversaries. They’re both smart and awkward, and there are a lot of kids who will recognize themselves. Like in Hello, Universe, there isn’t a lot of action on the page; the development is emotional and psychological rather than physical. For those who enjoy character-driven stories, though, it’s a gem.

Source: Checked out from the public library

Challenges: None.

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Round-Up Review: The ScotShop Mysteries

A Wee Murder in My Shop (Scotshop Mystery, #1) A Wee Dose of Death (ScotShop Mystery #2) A Wee Homicide in the Hotel (ScotShop Mystery #3)

A Wee Murder in My Shop by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Wee Dose of Death by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Wee Homicide in the Hotel by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with the Gethsemane Brown books, I’m putting up one review for all three of these. I read all three of the span of five days, so they’re sort of a single entity in my head at this point.

Those Gethsemane Brown books seem to have sent me down a major rabbit hole of cozy mysteries, by the way. Specifically, it seems, cozies with ghosts in them. I did not see that coming, frankly.

Peggy Winn lives in Hamelin, Vermont, where she runs the ScotShop, selling all things Scottish to tourists. She makes regular visits to the Perthshire town of Pitlochry to purchase authentic Scottish wares for her stock. At the opening of the first book, she’s particularly glad to get on that transatlantic flight, because she’s just discovered her (now ex-)boyfriend in bed with her (now ex-)best friend. While in Scotland, she happens upon a strange shop and purchases a lovely tartan shawl, which she soon discovers comes with a genuine Scottish ghost. Macbeath Donlevy Freusach Macearacher Macpheidiran of clan Farquharson, deceased circa 1359, to be precise. She nicknames him Dirk.

Peggy returns to Hamelin, ghost in tow, to discover her ex-boyfriend is now her late ex-boyfriend – he’s been murdered overnight inside her shop. In the grand tradition of cozy mysteries, Peggy takes on the task of unmasking the murderer, since the local police chief is not exactly pursuing all leads.

In the second book, the local police chief is still thoroughly unhelpful, and Peggy (and Dirk) take on the task of figuring out who killed a local college professor in a deserted mountain cabin. Once that mystery is solved, the third book brings the Highland Games to Hamelin, along with (yet another) murder for Peggy and Dirk to investigate.

This appears to be a three-book series, without a fourth installment on the horizon. Which is a bit of a shame, since it seems poor Dirk will never actually get to reunite with his own Peigi or otherwise get to rest in peace.

I found the series charming, with its slightly eccentric small-town characters. The interactions between Dirk and Peggy, fraught with communication difficulties due to the seven centuries of linguistic development between their respective versions of English, in addition to cultural differences, are entertaining. Peggy’s relationships with the secondary characters round out the story and provide some interesting glimpses into parts of her life not revealed on the page. It is some of the loose ends of those threads that have me rather hoping for another sequel.

Also, I kind of want a Scottie dog now.

Source: Checked out the first book as an e-book from my public library via Libby; borrowed the second and third in paperback form from the library.

Reading Challenges: None. I’m ignoring the glares coming from Mt. TBR over there.

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The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the CenturyThe Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century
by Kirk W. Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 2009, Edwin Rist, age 20, American student flautist at the Royal Academy of Music, broke into an outpost of the British Museum and stole hundreds of preserved birds. Among the haul were scientific samples gathered in the 1800s by Alfred Russel Wallace, painstakingly labeled with data about where and when they were obtained. Priceless to researchers, the birds – or, more precisely, their brightly-colored feathers – were worth thousands of dollars to a select group: Victorian salmon fly-tying enthusiasts. When Kirk Wallace Johnson heard about the heist two years later, during a difficult time in his own life, the case gave him something to focus his energy on. Why did Rist do it? What happened afterward? And where, exactly, were those hundreds of birds?

Johnson opens the book with Rist in the middle of the burglary, then jumps back to the history of the birds and their collector, Alfred Russel Wallace, the Tring Museum and its beginnings as the private collection of Walter Rothschild, and the nineteenth-century “Feather Fever” and birth of the hobby of tying salmon flies to exacting standards. He chronicles Rist’s life as the homeschooled tween learns about and becomes obsessed with fly-tying, becomes famous among his fellow hobbyists, and heads to London with his flute. He covers the official investigation as well as his own inquiries into what exactly happened and how. It reads like a novel, introducing characters and backstories while briskly developing the plot. End notes detail his sources, including official records and personal interviews with key figures.

This book sounded interesting from the first time I heard about it – a feather-stealing flautist? Victorian fly-tying masters buying and selling black-market bird parts? It did not disappoint. In my paperback ARC, the photo section was black-and-white and not great quality, so I was very happy to discover the photo gallery on Johnson’s site. This is definitely my kind of true crime book!

Source: ARC borrowed from a friend (thanks, CG!)

Reading Challenges: Counts for Read Harder 2018 (Task #2: A book of true crime)

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Round-Up Review: Teapot Collector Mysteries by Amanda Cooper

 

Tempest in a Teapot by Amanda Cooper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Shadow of a Spout by Amanda Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Grim Steeper by Amanda Cooper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thelma Mae Earnshaw peeped through the lacy curtains that adorned the side window of La Belle Epoque, her quaint(ish) inn and tearoom. She was trying to figure out what had her archenemy and business competitor, Rose Freemont, in such a fuss.

Another cozy mystery round-up review!

The Teapot Collector Mystery series is centered on Sophie Taylor, who at age 29 has just been through the rise and failure of her own New York City restaurant. Her father is eternally traveling on business, and her mother would like her to marry a nice (wealthy) young man already and turn into the sort of Society Lady Sophie has never wanted to be. Instead, Sophie heads upstate to Gracious Grove, a tiny town with more interest in tea than seems reasonable (maybe because the town also happens to be dry). There, her octogenarian grandmother, Rose Freemont, runs Auntie Rose’s Victorian Tea House and could perhaps use a hand. Next door, Thelma Mae Earnshaw runs a rival tearoom, because her entire life seems to revolve around trying to get even with Rose for a supposed slight decades ago. Her business never quite gets the upper hand, and it isn’t helped any when Thelma’s granddaughter’s mother-in-law-to-be dies suddenly right there in the tearoom. Soon, Sophie is trying to untangle the web of connections between families and businesses in Gracious Grove to figure out who could have murdered the woman and why.

In the second book, Rose and her business partner (and best friend) Laverne go to the annual International Teapot Collectors Society convention together for the first time, since Sophie is still in Gracious Grove to mind the shop. Their jaunt takes a nasty turn when the state ITCS president is murdered in the night… after a public argument with Rose over identification of a peculiar teapot. Since said teapot is found next to the body, Rose quickly becomes the suspect everyone is watching. Sophie drives up to assist in finding the real killer.

At the opening of the third book, Rose has had a health scare, and Sophie wants to help out in any way she can. The town’s annual Tea Stroll is coming up, there’s some sort of scandal going on at the local college, and – eventually – a man turns up dead on the Auntie Rose’s Victorian Tea House property.

This is a fun series, with a cast of quirky recurring characters who get into each other’s business the way people will in a small town. While Sophie grew up in a moneyed family, with luxuries like a vacation house in the Hamptons and an education at private boarding schools, all she wanted as a teenager was to stay at her grandmother’s house in Gracious Grove with the kids she was able to hang out with during her visits. A number of those kids are now the adults of Gracious Grove, and Sophie runs into a few bumps trying to fit back in. The narrative shifts between characters: while it returns frequently to Sophie, the scenes are sometimes viewed through the eyes of Rose or Thelma Mae. The sections told from Thelma Mae’s point of view are particularly interesting, making a character who could have been a flat stereotype of a cranky old lady into someone more real. I could understand why she does some of the things she does, even as I would like to tell her, “No! Don’t do that! Just go talk to Rose!” It’s a good thing the characters are interesting in their own right, since it takes a while to get the mystery in each book, especially the third one. There’s also a very slow burn romance developing for Sophie, which is very sweet. And each book includes tips on tea and a recipe for a little treat. I hope there will be more installments in the series.

Source: Checked out from my public library

Reading Challenges: Um, none. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

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The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (Guide, #1)
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the morning we are to leave for our Grand Tour of the Continent, I wake in bed beside Percy. For a disorienting moment, it’s unclear whether we’ve slept together or simply slept together.

This novel reminded me of reading Voltaire’s Candide in an English translation in college. What I remember most about that is that it was one adventure after another, a sort of Energizer Bunny of a story that just… kept… going. I recently did a little digging to figure out if what I remembered was accurate, and I ran across the term “picaresque novel”, for which the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms provides this explanation:

In the strict sense, a novel with a picaroon (Spanish, picaró: a rogue or scoundrel) as its hero or heroine, usually recounting his or her escapades in a first-person narrative marked by its episodic structure and realistic low-life descriptions. The picaroon is often a quick-witted servant who takes up with a succession of employers. […] In the looser sense now more frequently used, the term is applied to narratives that do not have a picaroon as their central character, but are loosely structured as a sequence of episodes united only by the presence of the central character, who is often involved in a long journey[…].

Okay, so The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue doesn’t strictly meet the definition, but it’s pretty close. It’s set in an unspecified year sometime in the eighteenth century. The first-person narrator, Henry “Monty” Montague, is the eighteen-year-old Viscount Disley, a lad pretty committed to a daily routine of drinking, gambling, and romping with assorted girls and boys. His father, the earl, has been vocal (and physical) in his disapproval of Monty’s habits, especially the “mucking about with boys” that was a major factor in Monty’s expulsion from Eton.

Monty is looking forward to one last hurrah of a Grand European Tour with his best friend (and the boy he’s been in love with for years), Percy, before returning to England, where his father expects him to settle down and learn how to handle estate he is expected to inherit. Monty is disappointed to discover that, in addition to bringing his fifteen-year-old sister, Felicity, along for a portion of the tour, he and Percy have been assigned a “bear-leader” who pledges to keep them on the straight and narrow.

That doesn’t last past Paris; events at a party at Versailles quickly lead to Monty, Percy, and Felicity – separated from their supposed guardian – finding themselves in a flight from city to city, trying to keep one step ahead of some dangerous pursuers. Secrets of all sorts are revealed as one challenge follows another, and Monty learns quite a lot more than he bargained for.

Monty, Percy, and Felicity are all realistically complicated characters. Monty is a rogue who has trouble seeing past his own privilege, but his biracial best friend and science-minded younger sister can (eventually) get through to him. The difficulties Percy and Felicity face are realistic edges in a story that verges on the fantastical.

This book is, most of all, fun. Monty’s attraction to boys as well as girls isn’t an issue for him (other than the fact that it drives his father’s vicious treatment of him); his problem is that he isn’t sure how to tell the boy he likes that he, well, likes him. Having a crush on your best friend that you’re afraid to confess because you can’t bear the thought of losing that friend? That’s a problem teenagers across time, space, gender, and orientation can all understand. This is a picaresque (hey, there’s that word!) adventure novel and a romance, so you know that despite the obstacles (and more obstacles… and more obstacles) they face, our heroes will get to their happy ending.

And Felicity is getting a book of her own, slated for October 2018. I am so looking forward to The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. I can hardly wait.

Source: Checked out from my public library.

Reading Challenges: Um, none. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

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A Study in Lavender by Joseph R. G, DeMarco (ed.)

A Study In Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes
A Study In Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes
edited by Joseph R.G. DeMarco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Is Sherlock Holmes homosexual? Is Watson? Should we even be asking these questions?

DeMarco opens the Introduction to this collection of short stories with these questions. The following stories look at many facets of queer life in Victorian London as they touch on the lives of Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, and various original characters. In most of the stories, the (identified) queer characters are people other than Holmes and Watson themselves. Indeed, Holmes and Watson are all but entirely absent in at least two stories.

As with any anthology, the style varies between contributors. Most of the tales are written in traditional pastiche style, modeled on the Canon stories and narrated by Watson. One story is in third-person, one story is narrated by Holmes himself, and one story is a first-person narration by an original character.

I enjoyed the stories overall. There were a few that I just didn’t connect with, and the very first one surprised me with (content warning and spoiler alert!) references to incest. That topic is a Hard Pass for some readers, and I personally find it problematic in context. But that’s my personal engagement with the book, and yours is bound to be different.

If you are looking for Holmes/Watson romance, this is (mostly) not your book. If, however, you are looking for thoughtful, well-written explorations of the challenges faced by queer people in Victorian London, with a little Sherlockian flair, then this is the book for you.

Source: Purchased new

Reading Challenges: Counts for the Official TBR Pile Challenge and Mount TBR.

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Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Hello, UniverseHello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eleven-year-old Virgil Salinas already regretted the rest of middle school, and he’d only just finished sixth grade.

It’s the beginning of summer vacation, and the lives of four middle-schoolers are about to cross in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is small and quiet in a family of loud, large personalities. Kaori Tanaka is determined to use her gift of the “second sight” to help other kids. Valencia Somerset loves nature, but doesn’t really want to spend as much time alone as she does. Chet Bullens wants to impress people, especially his father, and believes to make himself bigger he must make others small.

I hadn’t heard about this book before it won the Newbery (though I did have Kelly’s two previous middle-grade books on the shelf at my library), so I really didn’t know what to expect.

I loved this book. It’s sweet and funny, and it captures so much of what it means to be at that age, just on the precipice of teenager-hood, when you’re figuring out who you are and what you believe.

The characters are diverse in a way that feels totally natural, and none of them are one-sided. The perspective rotates among Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet, giving the reader a wealth of information not available to the individual characters. Valencia’s chapters are written in first person, while the other three are all third-person. (I am curious about that choice!) Chet’s chapters, in particular, were a little heart-breaking to me as an adult (and the parent of an eleven-year-old). While the book is very much centered on the kids, I thought the glimpses of the adults in their lives were really interesting. And Lola is just fabulous.

The action of the novel takes place over just a day or two, so a lot of the “action” is internal, with the characters confronting their own ideas. There’s more than a touch of magical realism, too, giving the book an added dimension, but not drawing the story over the line into fantasy. Are these converging events nothing more than coincidence, or is the universe trying to get the characters’ attention?

This is a lovely little book that touches on big themes – friendship, bullying, standing up for yourself and others. If things seems to wrap up just a little bit too neatly, well, that’s the universe for you.

Source: Checked out from the public library

Reading Challenges: Counts for the Newbery Reading Challenge (Medal Winner: 3 points).

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Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way DownLong Way Down by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

RANDOM THOUGHT

Blood soaking into a
T-shirt, blue jeans, and boots
looks a lot like chocolate syrup
when the glow from the streetlights hit it.

But I know ain’t
nothing sweet about blood.
I know it ain’t like chocolate syrup

at all.

At 15 years old, Will knows the rules: Never cry. Never snitch. Always get revenge. And that’s what he’s going to do. His brother was shot last night, and Will is sure he knows the guy who did it. So, he’s got his brother’s gun tucked in the back of his pants and he’s waiting for the elevator to get down to the lobby. But before he gets there, he has to deal with some ghosts – in a very literal sense.

There was a lot of buzz about this novel-in-verse last year – it was nominated for a National Book Award and an Edgar award – so it wasn’t too surprising to see it get some attention from the ALA Youth Media Awards.

It’s a very timely, powerful book. The verse format makes it a quicker read than it looks at first, but those few words pack some serious punches. The main action takes place in a very short period of time and in one location, and the style brings us right into Will’s thoughts. The subject is serious, but there are moments of humor that remind you that Will is still just a teenage boy.

There’s a lot a food for thought in this novel – questions about responsibility and loyalty, right and wrong, choices and consequences. It would be good for a teen book group prepared to wrestle with those questions.

Source: Checked out from the public library

Reading Challenges: Counts for the Newbery Reading Challenge (Honor: 2 points)

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Round-Up Review: Gethsemane Brown Mysteries

Murder in G Major (Gethsemane Brown Mysteries, #1) Death in D Minor (Gethsemane Brown Mysteries, #2) Killing in C Sharp (Gethsemane Brown Mysteries #3)

Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Death in D Minor by Alexia Gordon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Killing in C Sharp by Alexia Gordon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m putting up one review for all three of these books, partly because I read them all in a span of about 4 days, and partly because it’s difficult to talk about the second and third books without spoiling the first (and second).

I stumbled across this series looking for books to fulfill the Read Harder Challenge Task #21: A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author. A cozy mystery series about an African American musician stranded in rural Ireland and recruited by a ghost (and she doesn’t believe in ghosts) to solve his murder, which was written off as a suicide decades ago? Yes, please.

Early on, I was a little skeptical about the ghost thing. (Ha! See what I did there?) But Eamon is an absolutely perfect foil for Gethsemane, and their interactions are thoroughly charming.

Of the three books, I liked the second one, Death in D Minor the best. The book introduces Gethsemane’s brother-in-law, an interesting character in his own right as well as a window into Gethsemane’s life before Dunmullach. There’s also a new ghost in town, which is just fun. And there’s a needlework sampler that plays a major role, which I found even more appealing than the music angle (but that’s me).

I liked the second book so much I immediately downloaded the e-ARC of the third book, Killing in C Sharp, from NetGalley rather than wait for the book to be published next month. When the crew of a ghost-hunting television show arrives on Gethsemane’s doorstep, you know things are about to get interesting. In fact, they get downright bizarre. There’s another new ghost, and this one is not at all friendly.

As much as I enjoyed the books, though, I am troubled by the representation of queer (apologies to those who dislike that word, but it’s really the best catch-all in this case) characters – there are a few, but none of them seem quite okay. I don’t need every queer character to be good, but when every one is evil and/or mentally ill, that’s a problem. The representation of mental illness is a little problematic, too, especially in the first book.

Overall, I found the series entertaining and engaging, which is what I want in a cozy mystery. I’ll be keeping an eye out for a fourth book in the series.

Source: Checked out from my public library (1 & 2); e-ARC via NetGalley (#3)

Reading Challenges: Counts for Read Harder 2018 (Task #21: A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author.)

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