At first, reading The Murder Next Door felt like reading the nth book in an ongoing series. There were references to previous investigations, and bits of one of the protagonists’ past were peeping through, and it just felt like there was a whole previous book or even series being referenced. I knew it was the author’s debut, though, from other reviews, so I stuck with it and can confirm that the information you need is all contained within this book, that you don’t need to know about the previous investigations (aside from that they were ill-received by the local police), and that the characters and their motivations all fully make sense by the end.
The story itself is not so unique: the couple next door have always seemed a little haughty and aloof, but beneath the surface, the husband was abusive and unfaithful, and the wife was terrified and fed up. Louisa and Ada become involved when the husband suddenly dies, and it’s clear it was poison: Ada saw the wife fleeing with her young son, and is haunted by another woman who was once arrested for murder.
Where it becomes a little less typical is the fact that Ada and Louisa are a couple, with Ada acting as Louisa’s ‘companion’ in order to hide the truth of their relationship. What’s more, Louisa is actually asexual (though she doesn’t have that word for it), and her relationship with Ada is a balancing act of trying to read cues she doesn’t understand, and trying to ensure the relationship is also satisfying for Ada. That aspect of the book was handled pretty well: that navigation between them rings true.
Overall, it was a fairly enjoyable story once I got into it and felt sure that all the pieces would be present in the same book (and that I wouldn’t have to find some other book to figure out why Ada was so affected by the case). I did find the characters a little… wooden, I suppose, in some ways? There were some scenes where things definitely rang true, and then others where it felt that the characters were arguing or agreeing solely because that’s what the plot needed in order to proceed. Sometimes it felt like a bit of a shortcut, I suppose.
So I guess the upshot is that it was enjoyable, just not brilliant.
If this was just any book, I might rate it a little higher, given that I tore through it in three sittings, and would eagerly have done so in one. But because it’s a book in this series, I have to compare it in my mind to the other mysteries, and I don’t think it quite matched up.
The thing that bothered me, really, was that Stoker really doesn’t want to be dragged into the mystery, and yet Veronica insists she knows what’s good for him, dragging him into danger again and again. That’s been the case for a while now, but in this book he genuinely didn’t seem that intrigued or happy to be dragged into a mystery. His worries about Veronica and her need for adventure rang very true, while Veronica just steamed ahead pulling him with her into any mess she could conceivably manage to traipse through.
However, the danger didn’t seem nearly as real in the other books, and the way they stumble out of the final danger just felt so unbelievably convenient and contrived. It took the whole book to get there, and they’re barely in trouble for a chapter before it’s all fixed up — and most of the time they are in trouble, they spend it having a lovers’ tiff.
This all sounds very critical, but I gulped this book down. The pace starts a little slow, but the mysteries are tantalising enough to drag you into it — and there is some genuine pathos and a little character development, mostly toward the end. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s good fun; it’s just not the best.
I pounced on this as soon as it came out, of course, and wasn’t disappointed. There’s a bit of a vibe of K.J. Charles’ Any Old Diamonds about the plot (except I guess it may also be reminding me of The Gentle Art of Fortune-Hunting, in some ways), and I’m totally here for that, any time. The relationship between the two leads is very different to that book, with far less power-play (and less cold-blooded criminality), but there’s an element of getting your own back that’s delicious.
Speaking of the relationship between the two leads, it’s a sweet one. It takes quite a long time to develop, though the seeds are obvious from the start in their strong physical attraction to one another. The best part, of course, is the slow development of trust between them, despite their disparate backgrounds, despite the harsh parts of their past.
There were a few twists and turns that I spotted coming, but nonetheless made shocked noises when they did happen, because oh! no! how dare! etc. So that was fun, and in general it was just everything I needed — if, in the end, the happy ever after felt rather easy to come by, I completely didn’t mind, because I was charmed by the characters. And in this plague year 2020-gone-2021, we can all do with some happy endings. I don’t want to talk too much about why I felt it was easy to come by, because that’s a spoiler, but suffice it to say that it’s very neat. It feels believable for the characters, but people usually find it harder to make wholesale changes like that!
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 17th August 2021
I’ve enjoyed Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s other books, so I clicked for this one on Netgalley more or less on auto-pilot, and because the idea of reading historical fiction set in a period/place I don’t know much about sounded interesting. It’s set in Mexico in the 1970s, and follows two main characters: Maite, a lover of romance comics who gets accidentally pulled into intrigue as a result of minding her neighbour’s cat, and Elvis, a lover of rock-n-roll and part of a gang dedicated to crushing student dissent against the government.
Neither of the characters is likeable for me, which is where things fall down. This is a really personal thing, but it’s always an issue for me — I can enjoy a story without characters I love, but it’s usually got to be something more in my usual wheelhouse. The characters are interesting, in that they’re well-written. Particularly in the case of Maite, who I could imagine very well. But… without quite being able to hang my hat on either of them, at all, because they’re both pretty unpleasant as people… I just checked out.
If you’re really interested in the period and/or in historical fiction and noir-feel fiction, this will probably be more your thing than it was mine (where SF/F is still my main genre). I did find the historical context fascinating — I kept looking things up to get a bit more context. I might give it another try in future, but for now, it didn’t really work for me.
As a reminder about my ratings in this case, since it’s so much a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”: take this with a grain of salt; as always with my ratings, it’s based on my personal taste and how much I liked it. And sometimes not-so-keen reviews can still point the way for other readers who think “but that sounds like it’s right up my street”!
In this book, Lady Emily is now engaged to Colin, and gets drawn into his world of espionage in her quest to clear the name of someone close to her. The trip takes her to Vienna, where she consorts with the best and worst… and with a woman Colin once loved, and who still wants to be with Colin herself (despite her marriage). Jealousy isn’t a good look on Lady Emily, and I was embarrassed for her when she slipped and revealed her lack of trust in Colin. I joke about being the relationship advice Dalek, but really, communicate!
Aside from the plotline of jealousy, it turns out someone else is in love with Emily (groan), so there are two jealousy plotlines here, both involving unrequited love. I admit that this book is not my favourite so far because of that, though the investigation plot was actually fairly engaging. I enjoyed Emily’s dip into espionage, even if it all got a little melodramatic.
In the end, it’s a fun read, just didn’t quite capture me the way the previous books have!
The second Lady Emily book focuses on a mysterious string of incidents in which items that had belonged to Marie Antoinette are being stolen — along with a sideplot of her encounters with a mysterious admirer. Meanwhile, Colin continues to try to persuade her to marry him, and scandal about her bubbles away.
The book features quite a few delights — anonymous flirting in Greek, Emily’s continued interest in her studies and classical art, Colin’s attempts to persuade her of his affections, and Emily’s friendships with other women around her. Even her mother is a delight, in her own overbearing way, because her support for her daughter is solid despite the total lack of understanding between them. She even arranges for Emily to have tea with the Queen!
Like the first book, I found this really enjoyable, and I’m eager to read the third. Which is annoyingly out of print, but ebooks have come to my rescue.
Yaaaay, a stand-alone Regency romance with attempted cunning scams, falling in love with the wrong people, and improbably yanking at the tangle and sorting it all out at the end. It’s funny, the communication between the characters is as sexy as I ever find anything (ace, remember), and it’s good for the happy wriggle and toe-curls of “yaaay, a proper romance-novel happy ending”. And of course, it’s K.J. Charles, so you count on the fact that the sex advances character and plot, consent is properly obtained, and she knows the contract with the reader when it comes to happy ends.
I don’t understand how allegedly intelligent people don’t figure Robin out waaaay sooner than they do, given the abundant clues, but I do love the slow reveal of Robin’s past and motives, and the way the plot builds up toward the pairing.
And the funniness. And the heart.
Band Sinister is still my favourite, but this one is definitely on my ‘reread when things are shit’ list, too.
Lady Emily married quickly to get away from her parents — or mostly her mother, who is overbearing and absolutely obsessed with getting her married off safely before she loses her looks. (Ugh.) She barely had time for the honeymoon, though, before her husband went away on an expedition… and never returned, with his friends sending back the news that he was dead, leaving her in possession of all his things, a lot of money, and a lot more freedom.
Over the course of the book it turns out that he was deeply in love with her, and she begins to read his journals and understand the kind of man he was, beginning to explore his interests and what she might have shared with him. This leads to her falling in love with him too, despite knowing he’s already gone. At the same time, strange things are happening and it seems that he may have been involved in something strange, or perhaps even dangerous, a tangle that Lady Emily decides to unravel.
I ended up enjoying this a lot, enough that I immediately got the next book (and by this point I’m gleefully onto the third). I liked the idea of how Emily falls in love with her husband posthumously — it’s feels surprisingly tender and real, and it’s a surprising touch, especially given she does go on to have a new love interest. She’s anachronistic, of course, though not quite so much so as Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell — the book does show some of the ways in which that disturbs people and that makes it feel a bit more real. No surprises that I’d feel a kinship with a heroine who loves books, anyway…
This review is inevitably spoilery for certain things, so look away now if you want to be unspoiled — I couldn’t think of a way to comment on some of this book without spoilers.
I was wondering what Raybourn would do now that the will-they-won’t-they potential should, in theory, be over with after the ending of the last book. Turns out, it’s actually “go straight into another book with very little time difference, meaning they haven’t had chance to consummate their relationship… and they’ll dither for another book about whether they’re going to do it or not”. Granted, that does give her chance for a good payoff scene near the end which is everything you need for the couple getting together; anything else might have felt a bit flat.
In the meantime, the plot goes ahead and entangles Veronica further with the Royal Family and even Jack the Ripper (of course, given the era). It barrels along at a cracking pace, of course, with some anxious moments for certain characters, and the inevitable emotional complexities of Veronica’s every interaction with any member of her family. I enjoyed it a lot, and raced through the book.
I don’t know if maybe the shine isn’t wearing off a little on this series for me, though. Not because the main characters are together, but just because it’s ever more unrealistic for Veronica to be this deeply entangled in the Royal Family’s affairs, and this trusted to untangle them without question… without much payoff, on her part. I kind of want her and Stoker to tell ’em to sod off, and ride off into the sunset. Somewhere that Veronica can catch butterflies and also screw Stoker silly on the regular, since that’s what she really wants.
Not that I’m stopping reading the series in the least — it’s highly entertaining. but I hope Veronica gets some payoff for her tireless efforts on the behalf of a family who regard her existence as an embarrassment and will never give her any official recognition whatsoever.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor follows Hetty, an assistant at the natural history museum, elevated to supervisor due to the beginning of World War II and the loss of the men of the department to enlistment. Hetty’s in charge of the evacuation of key parts of the museum’s collection, including invaluable type specimens, to a house in the country: Lockwood Manor. At first, the site seems close to ideal, but almost immediately there are issues: valuable items disappear, things are moved around when Hetty isn’t looking, and something sinister seems to be happening which makes her begin to doubt her sanity.
It’s all very Gothic and a little spooky, with brief interlude chapters from the point of view of Lord Lockwood’s daughter, Lucy, who is clearly haunted by the wild behaviour of her mentally ill mother. Throughout, there’s a sense that either there’s some serious gaslighting going on, or Hetty and Lucy are truly haunted — even as they become close and start a romantic relationship, clinging to one another amidst the awfulness of the seeming haunting and of Lord Lockwood’s dalliances with women younger than his own daughter.
On the one hand, I couldn’t point to anything special about the book — nothing I thought stood out, or particularly made it worth reading. On the other hand, I read it practically all in one go: there’s something about it which is gripping, helped along by the connection between Hetty and Lucy (at its best before they say a thing to one another, laying tension into each scene) and the fact that I am interested in Hetty’s job and the work she’s described as doing. It was enjoyable, though not outstanding; I may not even think of it again, but it certainly whiled away a few hours entertainingly.