Thursday, December 28, 2023

Review: A Deadly Bone to Pick by Peggy Rothschild

I like dogs. I like mysteries that aren't too gory. And I definitely like it when the person investigating the murder has some actual credentials for doing so, even if they no longer work at whatever gave them the credentials in the first place. Peggy Rothschild's A Deadly Bone to Pick, the first in a new mystery series, has all of these things wrapped together in an easy to read story.

Molly Madison is an ex-cop and PI whose husband's death and the ensuing scandal caused her to flee to California from the East Coast. She and her lovely golden retriever Harlow are moving into her new place when they meet Noodle, the enthusiastic and drooly Berdoodle whose physician owner basically neglects the friendly but unruly dog. Molly offers to provide Noodle with training and doggie daycare and her reputation as a dog wrangler takes off. It turns out that interacting with their dogs is a good way to meet the neighbors. But then Noodle uncovers a severed hand on the beach while Molly is walking the dogs. Since the cops don't seem to be making any progress in solving that mystery, Molly leans on her training and starts asking around. But her involvement leads to more murders and an assault, all on people who Molly had interacted with recently and the snarly, unpleasant detective on the case would love nothing more than to pin everything on Molly. Now she has no choice but to keep looking into all of it to clear her own name.

There's a lot of interesting information on dog training and agility mixed in with the mystery of the severed hand and who is attacking and killing women in the neighborhood. The fact that Molly is just meeting people as a new transplant to the area means that the beginning of the book is full of background, slowing the plot significantly. Then the resolution is quite fast, although since uncovering the killer is fairly easy, that might be forgiven. Molly is an appealing character and her back story is sparingly revealed so as to keep her background mysterious as long as possible. The dogs are major players in the book but they are never anything more than dogs, not unreasonably intuitive or overly anthropormorphized, which is nice. Over all, this is a quick and pleasant afternoon read.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Review: Isabel Puddles Abroad by M.V. Byrne

When I saw the cover of this cozy mystery, I knew it would be absolutely perfect for my Anglophile mother. And because we believe in "pre-enjoying" book gifts, I immediately cracked it open myself. It is a nice story with an interesting cast of characters on two sides of the Atlantic. It is the third book in the Mitten State Mystery series, and it might be best to have the background from the first two books before diving into this one.

Isabel Puddles is a widow from Gull Harbor, Michigan. She has a comfortable life and friends in her small town but there are things she's always wanted to do and places she's always wanted to see that she now has time for. One of those things is going to England to visit her penpal and friend, well known mystery author (and professor) Teddy Mansfield. He's invited her to stay in the carriage house at his home in the Cornish village of Mousehole. Isabel is excited by her trip both to see a friend and for the budding potential for more but really she's just delighted to live her life a little bigger than she has in the past. When she gets to England, she gets to know Teddy's sister Matilde, his housekeeper Tuppence, and the people in the village as well as all of the petty squabbles, long histories, and rivalries amongst them. Not surprisingly, when a cantankerous villager is found murdered and buried in her own garden after possibly sabotaging her competition in the village bake-off so she could win for yet another year, as an outsider, Isabel can make and see connections between people that others can't, while she works to solve the murder.

Isabel is a congenial character who easily and unconsciously wins over most of the other characters immediately. Since she has a history of successfully solving other murders in her own town, her credentials as an amateur sleuth are accepted without question in Mousehole. The police keep her abreast of the investigation and people answer her questions with few or no reservations. The whole novel is gentle and easy to read. The story is a slow meander through quirky characters and village politics (with a small p) and the murder doesn't happen until quite far into the book. It's a quaint read filled with delicious sounding scones, inquisitive corgis, and appealing British scenery to the point it's almost a cliche. For those times that you need an easy and uncomplicated read, or if you're a lover of cozy mysteries, this might be the read for you.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Review: Rabid by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy

Rabies is the deadliest disease known to humankind and is still almost 100% fatal. It has been terrifying people for as long as we have recorded history. In Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus, Wasik and Murphy look at the history of rabies, the relationship between man and dog, the myths of werewolves and vampires, which might originate with rabies, the search for a vaccine, current treatment options, and hope for defanging rabies in the future throughout this thoroughly researched book. This can be slow and dry and there are quite a few extended digressions from the disease at hand. It was interesting enough to learn the method by which rabies sidesteps the human immune system and the ways in which it continues to spread around the world through unvaccinated dogs and in the US via bats. In an effort to make it accessible to a general audience, the authors didn't overwhelm the reader with a lot of technical science but that left them with less than a books' worth of information definitively about rabies. What is presented, and much of it is at best merely speculated to be connected to rabies, often incredibly tenuously, is almost entirely within the cultural sphere. That's unfortunate because the cultural history was not nearly as interesting as I'd hoped, even adding in information about zombies, wild (and ineffective) old time remedies, and ways in which rabies is depicted in books and movies among other things. You really have to be invested in rabies to find this an interesting read.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Review: Secret Identity by Alex Segura

My husband and sons are huge comics geeks. I am not. But somehow I came across this title and thought it would be perfect as a Christmas gift. In fact, I've apparently thought it would be perfect for my husband two Christmases in a row. As I came into the house this year, pleased as punch with my discovery, I glanced down at his bookshelves, only to see this same book already there. I hid this year's copy and asked him about it. He said he has not yet read it but was looking forward to it. Crestfallen (and now needing another gift for my husband), I decided to read it myself so I could best determine which of my sons was getting the duplicate gift. This was completely out of my wheelhouse and I didn't have the insider comics knowledge or interest that I suspect elevates this novel.

Carmen Valdez grew up in Miami, loving comics. When she moves to New York City in 1975, she takes a job with Triumph Comics, a publisher several steps below Marvel and DC. She's the publisher/owner's assistant but what she'd really like to do is to write comics. But the industry, which seems to be fading out, is not welcoming to women and their perspectives. She is frustrated but she continues to try and break into writing despite her boss's constant dismissal of her scripts. So when Harvey, a mediocre writer at Triumph, comes to her and tells her he wants her help writing a script, she agrees, despite knowing that she can't admit her involvement with the book, if it even gets published. Carmen and Harvey, but mainly Carmen, create a female superhero named Claudia Calla, the Lynx. After Harvey turns the six scripts in without Carmen's name on them, he is murdered. So now Carmen needs to figure out how to reclaim her character, who turns out to be a runaway hit, who killed Harvey, and if she's now in danger too.

Segura obviously knows the comics industry and its history and he deftly weaves them into a story about much more than comics. Carmen is dealing with the misogyny of her chosen industry, the homophobia of the age, and the gritty reality of living in 1970s New York City. Her feelings about Harvey (he's a friend, he's a jerk, he's a friend, he's only a co-worker acquaintance, he's a friend, he's a double crosser, he's a friend, etc.) are completely inconsistent and change page to page depending on which feeling drives the story better. There are also several plot threads that come to great prominence and then just peter out. Illustrated pages from Lynx's comic book were sprinkled throughout the story but were distracting, not having enough connection to the plot of the story to make them valuable to the story, especially for a non-comic reader like me. I do think that my husband and the son who will be getting this pre-read copy for Christmas this year will enjoy the book more than I did.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

Hedging Your Bets by
Jayne Denker.
The book is being released by Kensington on January 9, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: When small-town neighbors go head-to-head, better start Hedging Your Bets.

Gillian has been happily divorced for several years and, after trying a few dating apps, prefers to stay that way. Navigating her way through dates with fat shamers and lackluster men has left her with no desire to do anything other than work in her garden in her spare time. Who needs rude comments and awkward first-date conversation when soft roses and vibrant tulips are so much better?

Noah West has just moved to Willow Cove. After a rough breakup that leaves him looking to get far away, he relocates to the same small town he spent summers in as a teen--and moves right next door to Gillian. A big believer in minimalist design and that the best kind of plants are non-flowering, he knows as soon as he meets his neighbor that they are going to clash on just about everything. Now if only he could keep his eyes off her too. That might be helpful.

When a gardening contest brings out the competition in Gillian and Noah, dueling plant arrangements and fiery banter ensues. But is it possible that beneath all their differences, they might just be perfect for each other?

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

Familia by
Lauren E. Rico.
The book is being released by Kensington on December 26, 2023.

The book's jacket copy says: What if your most basic beliefs about your life were suddenly revealed to be a lie?

As the fact checker for a popular magazine, Gabby DiMarco believes in absolute, verifiable Truths—until they throw the facts of her own life into question. The genealogy test she took as research for an article has yielded a baffling result: Gabby has a sister—one who’s been desperately trying to find her. Except, as Gabby’s beloved parents would confirm if they were still alive, that’s impossible.

Isabella Ruiz can still picture the face of her baby sister, who disappeared from the streets of San Juan twenty-five years ago. Isabella, an artist, has fought hard for the stable home and loving marriage she has today—yet the longing to find Marianna has never left. At last, she’s found a match, and Gabby has agreed to come to Puerto Rico.

But Gabby, as defensive and cautious as Isabella is impulsive, offers no happy reunion. She insists there’s been a mistake. And Isabella realizes that even if this woman is her sister, she may not want to be. With nothing—or perhaps so much—in common, Gabby and Isabella set out to find the truth, though it means risking everything they’ve known for an uncertain future—and a past that harbors yet more surprises . . .

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme was hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on. I'm choosing to continue the tradition even though she has stopped.

Mercury by
Amy Jo Burns.
The book is being released by Celadon Books on January 2, 2024.

The book's jacket copy says: A roofing family's bonds of loyalty are tested when they uncover a long-hidden secret at the heart of their blue-collar town--from Amy Jo Burns, author of the critically acclaimed novel Shiner

It's 1990 and seventeen-year-old Marley West is blazing into the river valley town of Mercury, Pennsylvania. A perpetual loner, she seeks a place at someone's table and a family of her own. The first thing she sees when she arrives in town is three men standing on a rooftop. Their silhouettes blot out the sun.

The Joseph brothers become Marley's whole world before she can blink. Soon, she is young wife to one, The One Who Got Away to another, and adopted mother to them all. As their own mother fades away and their roofing business crumbles under the weight of their unwieldy father's inflated ego, Marley steps in to shepherd these unruly men. Years later, an eerie discovery in the church attic causes old wounds to resurface and suddenly the family's survival hangs in the balance. With Marley as their light, the Joseph brothers must decide whether they can save the family they've always known--or whether together they can build something stronger in its place.

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