Tag: mystery


Review – Snobbery With Violence

Posted 15 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Snobbery With Violence by M.C. BeatonSnobbery With Violence, M.C. Beaton

I wasn’t a fan of M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series at all, so I was quite prepared to dislike Snobbery With Violence intensely. That might have been better for my TBR list, but it turned out that Snobbery With Violence hits the spot for me. It’s not Sayers, of course; it’s lacking in that incisiveness and depth of characters. But it is a fun quick read with characters you can more or less get along with: sometimes Rose is too spoilt, and Harry Cathcart too… blandly typical. I actually liked the side characters of Beckett and Daisy more; I like their relationship to each other and to their bosses.

Lady Rose’s family, well, they’re pretty colourless and despicable in a hands-off, self-absorbed way that is neither engaging nor particularly original. In general, the characters around the main four feel like props. The mystery, too, felt like that. It’s all relatively by-the-numbers. Sometimes the things which happen are just too silly — the example I can think of is from the second book, but at times there’s a cascade of events like a comedy of errors which just… makes the book feel like it’s intended to be a comedy somehow.

All of this is essentially damning with faint praise: I wouldn’t particularly recommend these books to someone specific, but since I have them, I’m reading them all and enjoying them. If you’re looking for something light with a bit of historical romance and a bit of mystery, this might be your thing. Objectively, it should probably be a two-star rating, but subjectively, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Dreamer’s Pool

Posted 8 June, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Dreamer's Pool by Juliet MarillierDreamer’s Pool, Juliet Marillier

I should’ve got round to this ages ago, I know. I usually enjoy Juliet Marillier’s work, though I don’t always love it (I think Wolfskin and Foxmask didn’t work so well for me), and I read some very enthusiastic reviews about this one. There were one or two aspects that made me pause (a minor character is a victim of pretty serious abuse and rape) and a few people did note that there’s a fair amount of ‘slut-shaming’ in the story, i.e. shaming a female character for being at all interested in sex. It’s not surprising in a medieval-esque setting, as it often comes with the territory, but off-putting in a fantasy world with no reason to include it.

Still, it’s essentially a fairytale set-up: Blackthorn makes a bargain with a fairy to get out of prison, with a number of conditions placed upon it. This frames the story and sets up her relationship with Grim, her obligation to help people, and her slow road to recovery after the depredations of prison and injustice. That then combines with the story of the side characters, Oran and Flidais, who have an arranged marriage but communicated via letters. Yet, when she arrives amidst the tragedy of losing one of her maids, her faithful dog suddenly hates her and she doesn’t behave at all like the bride he expected.

I found the actual mystery aspect of that really obvious; given the mythological, Celtic-ish setting, it was a little tedious waiting for everyone else to catch up to the obvious. There was one issue which surprised me a little, involving the dog Bramble, though I was pleased by that development and how the plot worked out. Flidais and Oran are sweet and naive, and it seemed like everyone would be miserable if things didn’t work out properly. It’s difficult to discuss the plot and the sex/abuse issue without giving any spoilers, so skip the next paragraph if you haven’t read the book and might want to work things out for yourself!

There is a character who has been abused and raped, but it is essential to the story for the things it brings out in various different characters — in Oran and his wife-to-be, in Blackthorn and Grim in their determination to give the girl justice. Likewise, the issue of sex isn’t as straightforward, in my opinion, as other people think. The problem is not that a particular character is interested in sex, but that she acts out of character about it. It’s as important that she isn’t sympathetic to a victim of rape as that she’s proactive about having sex with Oran. It all comes together into a picture of a woman who just isn’t the woman Oran thought he knew from the letters, and that is the important thing. Honestly, the most important clue about her identity is not the sexual aspects, but in her lack of interest in reading and poetry, and her indifference to her formerly beloved dog.

There’s a lot of time spent on the characters of Oran and Flidais, but Blackthorn and Grim are really the core of the story: Blackthorn’s trauma, her need for justice, her geas to help people in exchange for freedom. I expect that the second book is going to spend more time with Blackthorn and Grim, and dealing with their partnership and friendship, and I’m all for it. And I really enjoy that Blackthorn’s relationship with Grim is emotionally important to both of them, gives them both stability, and has nothing to do with sex or romance. I hope it continues that way.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Dead Man’s Chest

Posted 16 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dead Man's Chest by Kerry GreenwoodDead Man’s Chest, Kerry Greenwood

Dead Man’s Chest takes Phryne from the comforts of her own home to an attempted holiday, much in the vein of Peter and Harriet’s honeymoon in Sayers’ Lord Peter books, that is to say: a busman’s holiday. For all that, it’s a reasonably relaxed mystery, without too many dead bodies or late night attacks. There’s one or two nastier elements, but for the most part it focuses on Ruth getting to play house. In fact, the nastier element is almost entirely glossed over…

In this book, a new character joins the cast, and I rather hope he’ll be a recurring one. Enter Tinker: a young boy who spends most of his time gadding about and isn’t any too clean or conscientious, until Phryne gets her hands on him. He quickly finds a place in the household, and it doesn’t feel forced; I quickly found myself interested in what Tinker was up to and what was going to happen to him. (And poor Gaston, the dog.)

Some of the usual elements are missing here — I don’t think there’s a single sex scene? — but for the most part, it’s what you’d expect from a holiday with Phryne. It captures the feel of a long warm day pretty well, too — and I’d say you can almost taste the gin and tonic, but I have no idea what that tastes like (and not much inclination to find out).

I think these books have essentially stopped surprising me at all, and instead become something comforting that comes out more or less as I’d expect, and deals with characters you can mostly sympathise with and like. There’s a place for that kind of reading, and I’m not disparaging it at all: it’s just that the Miss Fisher mysteries do somewhat lose their spice as they go along, because you get used to it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The City & The City

Posted 13 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The City & The City by China MiévilleThe City & The City, China Miéville

Originally posted 30th November 2010

I read this one in bits. The last half or so was all in one go, on a long train journey, but for the most part, I just read it in bits, a few pages at a time, and didn’t really get involved with it. I didn’t really care how it ended, for most of the time. I did get tense during the last parts, and I was sad for the main character about the ending, but I didn’t really care, for the most part. I wanted to care more about Corwi and Dhatt, but I didn’t really see enough of them, or enough positive about Dhatt…

I suppose it was pretty realistic, in that, but what actually kept me reading was the core idea — and, to some extent, the mystery. I’ve always said that cities were the most interesting thing about Miéville’s work: he’s really good at making them feel alive, I think. Less the individual parts, more the whole life of the city. This is a particularly interesting one, especially the way he navigates it: nothing here is overtly fantastical or sci-fi ish, really. I mean, it sounds completely far-fetched, but we know how deeply cultural conditioning can affect people, and if you just take it as a thought experiment…

Still, I like the idea — and Miéville evokes his worlds well — but it really didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, or caring about the characters, or needing to read more.

Rating: 4/5

 

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Review – Lady of Mallow

Posted 8 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Lady of Mallow by Dorothy EdenLady of Mallow, Dorothy Eden

In my quest for books like Mary Stewart’s, I think I’ve found another winner. The tone is much the same, and the set-up: there’s inevitably a touch of Nine Coaches Waiting (for me) when the protagonist becomes a governness – but this time, she’s deliberately there as a spy and she has her own motivations. I actually really liked following the twists of this and trying to make my own judgements, and I like that the conclusion wasn’t simple, wasn’t black and white.

I don’t know what it is about this sort of book I find so comforting and satisfying: the smart, proactive heroine, sometimes in a time/situation where she’s meant to follow a particular role; the fact that a happy ever after is more or less assured; perhaps the safe unsafeness of the male characters who seem a little wild but are, in the end, justified and acting for the best? Regardless, I found Lady of Mallow a fun entry in the more-or-less cosy mystery genre, and I’ll look for other books by Dorothy Eden.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Murder on a Midsummer Night

Posted 1 May, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry GreenwoodMurder on a Midsummer Night, Kerry Greenwood

Murder on a Midsummer Night is not the most striking entry in the series, but if you’re here for Phryne and her found family, her lavish lifestyle and her relationships with the people around her, it’s just what you’d expect. Lin Chung gets to use some of his talents from past books, setting up a creepy seance using his magician’s tricks, and Dot has her own sleuthing work to do on one case, while Phryne deals with another.

At this point, I find the mysteries themselves relatively forgettable: it’s Phryne I read for, her unflappability and good sense, her ability to see right through people and situations. And her family, of course: Jane’s fascination with all things biological, and her interest in becoming a doctor in particular.

Well might people complain that Phryne is too perfect, too privileged. But really she’s the answer to Lord Peter, with an extra heaping of sexuality and feminism. She’s supposed to be impossibly awesome, and it shows us that female characters can be too. I won’t complain!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Blackbirds

Posted 29 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Blackbirds by Chuck WendigBlackbirds, Chuck Wendig

Originally reviewed 20th April, 2012; received to review via Netgalley

I got Blackbirds from Angry Robot on Netgalley, to review. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it from the description, and the pre-existing reviews, but I wanted to give it a go because the idea is something relatively simple that could be turned into a really good story. The core idea is that a girl (Miriam) gains a power which means the first time she has skin-on-skin contact with someone, she sees how they die.

I enjoyed the character of Miriam: she’s a tough talking girl who swears like a sailor and does whatever she has to do to get through life, trying to tell herself that all these deaths she witnesses (and can’t prevent) don’t matter to her, and that she can’t do anything about it. There’s a lot that isn’t explained about her gift, which is equal parts frustrating and intriguing: I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel, to fill in the gaps that Blackbirds has left.

I liked the other main characters, too: Ashley and Louis. Well, Ashley is kind of unlikeable, but I like what was done with him, and Louis… well, you can’t help liking Louis and rooting for him, even though the story is telling you the whole time that nothing good is going to come of this.

There are a couple of things that I didn’t find convincing enough: the motives of the people who were after her; Louis’ attraction to her; the whole Ashley thing. Some of that might be resolved in the next book, but either way, the momentum of the story carried me past anything that gave me pause. I read it in one sitting — if it sounds interesting to you, then I’d say go ahead and pick it up, as long as you can get past the fact that there’s graphic violence, swearing and sex!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death at the Bar

Posted 27 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Death at the Bar, by Ngaio MarshDeath at the Bar, Ngaio Marsh

I don’t quite understand people who like Marsh’s books as much as, say, Dorothy L. Sayers’. Alleyn just doesn’t have the same depth of characterisation as Wimsey, and while the character of Troy is quite fun, she doesn’t seem to have come into it as much as Harriet. It is true that Wimsey books go buy without Harriet, though usually there’s Parker and Bunter, the Dowager Duchess and plenty of other supporting characters who pop up repeatedly. In these books, it seems to often be just Alleyn and Fox, and the possibilities of that partnership are limited.

The mystery itself is… okay. It takes some time to build up a set of characters to theorise about first (though I hope they’re not intended to be likeable as such, because most of them are not), which at least adds a bit of interest; I do like the way crime/mystery stories can be used as a character study. I found the ending ridiculously drawn out; enough red herrings, let’s have the culprit, please.

I think Ngaio Marsh’s books, properly spaced out, will keep me entertained well enough, but I’m probably going to avoid reading them back to back. They’re just too dry, and Alleyn isn’t enough of a person to me.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Liar

Posted 22 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Liar by Justine LarbalestierLiar, Justine Larbalestier

Originally reviewed 6th January 2011

I first heard of Liar when everyone was talking about the controversy surrounding the original cover. I filed it away in the back of my mind, thinking of picking the book up when it came out. I was reminded of it recently when friends started to talk about it again — through having read it, now — and put it on my last minute Christmas list. Cue me getting it in the mail yesterday, and being almost unable to resist the lure of the first page, which starts with the hook, “I was born with a light covering of fur.”

If you don’t enjoy unreliable narrators, step away right now. Micah is as unreliable as you can get, and the whole book peels back — or layers on — more of her lies.

For the first part of the book, it could be the story of a normal teenager — one who has had bad things happen to her, and who is a loner, yes, but one who is essentially like those around her. It doesn’t stay like that, though: if you’re not a fan of fantastical elements, you probably want to step back now.

The thing with this book is that there are at least two ways of reading it. It’s a delicate balance to walk, but Larbalestier does, in my opinion, walk it well. It wasn’t wholly unpredictable, but I have been spoiled a little by reading other people’s reviews. If you can, and this book sounds interesting to you, then try to go into it knowing as little as possible — just knowing that Micah is a liar (not a spoiler: it’s in the title).

The other thing that pleased me was the fact that the book has non-white characters — chiefly non-white characters, in fact — and LGBT content, plus a generally sex-positive attitude. There’s totally non-explicit sexual references, there’s an understanding of teenagers feeling and dealing with desire, and I didn’t get a ‘sex is bad, hush, we don’t talk about sex’ vibe from it.

(It irks me that there are likely people reading this review thinking, ‘I’d better not give this to my teenage daughter.’ There’s nothing in this that would have damaged my fragile fourteen year old psyche. It’s just people.)

I realise this doesn’t tell you much about how I, personally, felt about this book: I read it within the space of an afternoon, and kept stopping myself after every fifty pages so I could drag it out more and enjoy it for that bit longer. When I put it down, I already had a list of people I want to recommend it to.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Stormy Petrel

Posted 26 March, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Stormy Petrel by Mary StewartStormy Petrel, Mary Stewart

Stormy Petrel isn’t my favourite of Mary Stewart’s romance/suspense stories, though I do love that the main character is a science fiction writer, a poet, and a don at Cambridge. Her relatively self-sufficiency is great, and there aren’t too many damsel-in-distress moments. The romance is relatively light, and doesn’t treat us to the ridiculousness of marrying a guy you’ve only just met — sometimes it works for me, in Stewart’s writing, but all the same, I prefer a lighter touch. Especially when it means that the romance isn’t forced, which this would’ve been; kind of like in Rose Cottage, where the romance seemed to come in at the end to round things off.

As usual, the sense of place is great and makes me almost want to visit this area off the coast of Scotland. On the other hand, the midges sound like a pretty solid deterrent.

Rating: 3/5

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