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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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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Book Review: Moo by Sharon Creech

MooMoo by Sharon Creech
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The truth is, she was ornery and stubborn, wouldn’t listen to a n y b o d y, and selfish beyond selfish, and filthy, caked with mud and dust, and moody: you’d better watch it or she’d knock you flat.

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Reena has always been a city girl, and she doesn’t know what to expect when her family moves to rural Maine. She certainly doesn’t expect, along with her seven-year-old brother, Luke, to be volunteered by their parents to help out a cranky elderly lady. Mrs. Falala lives alone, except for a pig, a cat, a parrot, a snake, and a cow. The cow is Zora, and Reena and Luke are tasked with grooming her for an upcoming fair.

Review: There are a few short chapters written in prose, but most of the book is in free verse and concrete poetry. This writing style, packed with sensory details, brings the reader well into Reena’s experience. Reena and Luke are believable city kids plunked down in an unfamiliar rural setting, and Reena’s thoughts and feelings will resonate especially with (sub)urban kids who are curious about life in the country. It’s a quiet book, focused more on emotions and personal growth than action. The poetic style and short chapters make it a faster read than it appears at first glance. There is a good deal of gentle humor, but be prepared for some realistic sad moments.

Personal Thoughts: I wanted to read the book based on some information given at a Book Buzz segment at an ALA Conference. By the time I got it, I mistook this book for another book that I also heard about at the same presentation, with left me a little bit confused for a chapter or three! But I was quickly engaged by Reena’s story. I grew up in the suburbs, and I clearly remember the first few times I encountered a real, live cow; Reena’s reactions rang true. I also loved the moment Reena and Luke realize where hamburgers come from, as well as the follow-up discussions with local boy Zep, their tutor in things livestock-showing-related, and with their parents. This would be a great choice for a parent-child book club.

Source: Borrowed from my public library.

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Book Review: Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret

(This post is part of the blog tour for Paula Berinstein’s newest book in the Amanda Lester series.)

Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks' Secret (Amanda Lester, Detective #4)

Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret by Paula Berinstein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What was Nick Moriarty, her ex-best friend, now her mortal enemy, doing in her bedroom? And why was that old red Formica table there, and that tiny oak cupboard, and that awful yellow beanbag chair?

Synopsis: Waking up on board the Moriarty family’s boat face-to-face with Nick – once her best friend and now her sworn enemy – is just one more confusing thing for Amanda Lester to cope with. The split between the factions of teachers at Legatum Continuatum sent half the instructors to Scotland to establish a new school, and the headmaster, several students, and Amanda’s cousins are missing. The acting headmaster is hiring new instructors, and Amanda’s mother is among the applicants. As if that’s not enough going on, her filmmaker idol is coming to England, her mother is dating a new guy, and her complicated feelings toward Scapulus Holmes are compounded by his relationship with her friend Amphora. Then there are the rare all-blue peacocks who have become mysteriously ill and an archaeological discovery that may turn the public against the detectives. Amanda and her friends have to keep a running list of the problems they need to solve!

Review: The fourth book in the series is packed with a lot of things happening at once. Background information is provided in the first few chapters, but it’s probably best not to jump into the series with this volume. The relationships between the characters take on great importance, whether they are bonds of family, friendship, or romance. The main characters all gain some development over the course of the novel. Ivy’s family plays a significant role in the story, providing details to round out her character. The perspective of the novel occasionally shifts away from Amanda, giving the reader a chance to glimpse what else is going on. The cliffhangers at the end of the book ensure that readers will be eager for the next installment! The Q&A section with the author in the back matter provides links to further information about the scientific facts that play a part in the story.

Personal Thoughts: Okay, I’m hooked. In my not-so-humble opinion, Berinstein’s writing gets better with each book, and I can hardly wait to see what she comes up with next.

Source: Kindle e-book courtesy of Lola’s Blog Tours

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Book Review: Amanda Lester and the Purple Rainbow Puzzle

(As part of the blog tour for Paula Berinstein’s newest book in the Amanda Lester series, Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret, this week I’m reviewing the second and third books as well as the new one.)

Amanda Lester and the Purple Rainbow Puzzle (Amanda Lester, Detective, #3)

Amanda Lester and the Purple Rainbow Puzzle by Paula Berinstein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who would have thought a little twerp like David Wiffle could bring an entire detective school to its knees?

Synopsis: Things have gone from bad to worse at the secret detective school, Legatum Continuatum. David Wiffle has disappeared after apparently destroying the school’s most precious artifact. Editta Sweetgum is also missing, having run away with the Moriarty family after the showdown involving that artifact. And two other students are also missing, presumably with the Moriartys as well. The teachers are dividing into factions, lawsuits have been filed, and the entire school seems ready to fall apart. In some areas, it’s ready to literally fall apart, as earthquake damage is still under repair. Amanda’s family seems set to self-destruct, too, now that her father has taken off for Tibet. Then things get really weird, with rainbows appearing in the sky in the wrong color order, and zombies appearing in town.

Review: The third book of the series picks up right where the second left off, so some space in the first chapter is given over to recapping the events leading to this point. After that, events pick up pace, with Amanda and her friends tasked with solving a whole bunch of problems that the adults are unable to handle. The point of view remains in close third-person, so the reader gets a good idea of what Amanda thinks of things, though other characters sometimes act in seemingly inexplicable ways (simply because Amanda has no idea of the explanation). The interpersonal relations are realistically thorny, as the teenage characters cope with emotional and physical challenges. The story ends with some open questions readers will want to find the answers to in future installments of the series. Like the previous book, it has a Q&A section at the end with author that includes pointers to more information about some of the scientific curiosities that play a part in the action.

Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed this book more than the previous one. I feel there’s a bit of a Roald Dahl influence, especially in the larger-than-life characteristics of the adults versus the more realistically drawn young people.

Source: Kindle e-book courtesy of Lola’s Blog Tours

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Book Review: Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis

(As part of the blog tour for Paula Berinstein’s newest book in the Amanda Lester series, Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret, this week I’m reviewing the second and third books as well as the new one.)

Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis (Amanda Lester, Detective Book 2)
Amanda Lester and the Orange Crystal Crisis by Paula Berinstein
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Life was already weird enough at Legatum Continuatum, the secret school for descendants of famous detective, in England’s Lake District. After the events of the last few months, including her father’s kidnapping, two murders, a teacher’s disappearance, an explosions, and a criminal plot to corner the world’s sugar market, she was battered, fed up, and downright depressed, especially since one of the kidnappers had turned out to be the boy she thought was her best friend.

Synopsis: As classes resume at Legatum Continuatum after the Spring Holiday, Amanda and her friends are joined by a new student: Scapulus Holmes. Nearly everyone is impressed and/or intrigued by him, much to Amanda’s disgust. But she has other things on her mind, too, as she overhears the teachers panicking over a missing object, her filmmaking idol Darius Plover asks for her input on his new film, and one of her classmates is several days late returning from the break. And then there is an earthquake, causing extensive damage and revealing some unusual orange crystals and a skeleton. Amanda and Scapulus are going to have to find a way to work together to keep the crystals out of the hands of the Moriarty gang and maybe help the school recover the mysterious missing object.

Review: The second book in the Nancy-Drew-meets-Harry-Potter-minus-magic series picks up the loose ends from the first volume and weaves them right in to a new adventure. The characters are realistically flawed, and their interactions ring true to anyone who has spent time around tween and early teens. The cast of characters is diverse without feeling forced, which is refreshing. Less refreshing is the fat-shaming that occasionally pops up in the close third-person narration, which generally reads as Amanda’s internal voice. All of the characters are facing challenges and hiding secrets, sometimes putting them at odds with each other just when they need to come together, and sometimes making their character development uneven and unconvincing. Berinstein brings in some interesting scientific ideas, taking understandable artistic license, and includes pointers to more information in the Q&A section at the back of the book.

Personal Thoughts: I want to like this book more than I did. At one point, Amanda explains that, “Voiceovers are stupid. You’re telling rather than showing the audience what you want to get across.” That rather summed up one of my issues with the book, which is that too much is told flat-out in the narration rather than revealed through dialog or action. Still, I like the world and the characters too much to stop reading.

Source: Kindle e-book courtesy of Lola’s Blog Tours

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Book Review: Up to This Pointe

Up to This Pointe
Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I’ve been in Antarctica a total of eighty-three minutes, so I’m positive more exciting surprises will probably (hopefully) reveal themselves, but for now, the most intriguing thing about McMurdo, the American science station, is all the condoms.

Synopsis: At seventeen, Harper Scott is on the verge of achieving her lifelong dream. Since they were very small, she and her best friend, Kate, have been following The Plan. The Plan involves total dedication to ballet, and it culminates in both of them joining the San Francisco Ballet shortly after their early graduation from high school. But Harper doesn’t have Kate’s undeniable natural ability, so despite all the years of hard work, one audition might just crush her dreams. When things get suddenly and surprisingly complicated, Harper decides to follow her distant relative Robert Falcon Scott’s footsteps to Antarctica. She manages to land a highly coveted research assistant position for the six-month winter at McMurdo. No matter how far she goes, though, the problems she has to deal with come right along.

Review: This is a finely-crafted young adult novel, packed with descriptive details that bring life in San Francisco and Antarctica to life. The chapters alternate between Harper’s present, in Antarctica, and what happened back in San Francisco several months earlier. The sharp dichotomy between the first two chapters sets the tone for the book, as the reader knows where Harper ends up, but has no idea how she got there. Enough information about ballet is provided that readers without a background in dance can understand, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming. Life at McMurdo, too, is explained through the eyes of a newcomer without any tedious “information dumps”. For reader who do want to know more, there is a short bibliography at the end, listing recommended books and films.

Personal Thoughts: I’ve long been fascinated by Antarctica, and I dearly hope to visit one day. (I found all but one of the books on Antarctica in the bibliography already in my to-read queue here at GoodReads.) I loved the glimpse into the life of those staying there long-term, rather than tourists. I kind of wish they hadn’t gone for the ballet pun in the title, but that’s really just me.

Recommend to: Fans of character-driven contemporary realistic fiction

Source: e-ARC courtesy of NetGalley

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