Friday, January 22, 2021

 

I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts, and I was excited to read the book If I Disappear due to its story involving a true-crime podcaster.  Obsessive fan Sera Fleece becomes concerned when the host of the podcast Murder, She Spoke suddenly stops putting out her very regular episodes.  As the majority of episodes of the podcast had dealt with missing women, Sera immediately becomes convinced that Rachel, the podcaster, has been murdered (or somehow the victim of foul play).  Using clues from the various episodes, Sera decides to travel to Rachel's home and see if she can get to the bottom of the disappearance.

Sera is a very hard character to like or even sympathize with.  She mentions over and over how she was "born to disappear" and has just never felt at home in the world.  She married her ex-husband because he seemed like some she could tolerate and describes feeling detached at her wedding. She couldn't hold a job and wasn't close to her parents.  Now in her 30s, she has been sitting at home doing nothing for the past year other than listening to Rachel's podcast over and over.  

Rachel began her podcast with a story that was local to her:  the disappearance of a girl from her high school when she was also a student there.  Rachel has talked about her life a great deal on the podcast:  that her parents run Fountain Creek Guest Ranch in Happy Camp, California; that she doesn't get along with her parents; that she lives in a yellow house on the property.  

Sera shows up in town asking for directions to the ranch and is met with stares and hostility from the local townspeople.  When she finally finds it, the ranch appears to be mostly run-down and overgrown with blackberry brambles.  Rachel's mother, Addy, quickly agrees to give Sera a job at the ranch cleaning and helping with the horses.  The other people who live at the ranch are Rachel's father Emmett and a hired man named Jed.

Soon, Sera begins, not very subtly to ask about Rachel and her disappearance.  Maddeningly for her, no one seems concerned or upset that Rachel is gone.  Many people tell her Rachel was strange, didn't get along with anyone, and had a habit of disappearing for long periods of time only to return with outlandish tales of what had happened to her. Only her mother Addy has a different story: that Rachel has been murdered by "gangs" from town.  Even if her mother believes that, Sera finds it odd that no police investigation has been done.

The story meanders along with Sera confronting everyone at the ranch and in town with her suspicious about Rachel's disappearance.  She keeps trying to find a bond between her "disappearance" from her own life and Rachel's absence.  The book was a little confusing because while real-life true-crime cases were mentioned, there were also many fictional ones that made up some of the cases Rachel covered on her show.  The only thing I can say I really enjoyed about the book was the fact that several times I thought I had elements of the story figured out, but none of what I was expecting happened. Still, the ending felt somewhat rushed and illogical, so I wasn't entirely left feeling as if the story delivered on a satisfying resolution.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of If I Disappear from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

 

Kara Sullivan is a NYC-based author of romance novels who is not very successful in the romance department herself in Talk Bookish to Me.  Her friend Crissy is getting married, and as maid of honor Kara is doing her best to make the wedding day as smooth as possible for her friend.  At a pre-wedding party for the happy couple, Kara is shocked to find out that one of the groom's best friends, in from North Carolina for the wedding, is her old college sweetheart, Ryan.  

Even though it's been 10 years, Kara still has unfinished business with Ryan.  He graduated before she did, and while they tried a long-distance relationship, she could never believe that he wasn't seeing other girls.  After going out with Ryan for drinks, Kara finds that her writer's block has mysteriously disappeared.  She's able to finally make progress on the novel that is due to the publisher in only a few days.  Since Ryan seems to be the key to finishing the book, there's only one thing to do: spend as much time as possible with him while trying to maintain her aloof demeanor (guess how long that lasts?).  

As Kara works on her latest novel, we get chapters of that book showing the progress she's making.  Helpfully, Kara explains the romance genre to Ryan in great detail, which of course he's only too eager to absorb.  She details the various types of romance novels (Kara's own specialty is 19th century British historical novels), as well as the tropes that appear in all romance novels.  

While there was some funny banter in the book between Kara, Ryan, and her friends, the action moved along at a glacial pace.  The same things were gone over and over (the misunderstandings that led to the initial breakup, parental problems, etc.) without much progress being made.  I also didn't understand the romance-writer tutorial that was sort of awkwardly thrown in.  Still, Kara and Ryan's relationship did employ several of the tropes she mentioned, so at least this book followed the guidelines!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Talk Bookish to Me from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Sunday, January 17, 2021

 

A Beautiful Blue Death turns out to be nothing of the sort.  Lovely housemaid Prudence Smith has been found murdered with the rare poison bella indigo.  To confuse matters further, a small bottle of arsenic is left on the bedside table, even though this is not what killed her.  Could it be a strange case of suicide? These are all matters that require the investigative skills of Charles Lenox, second son (therefore untitled) but still wealthy enough to pursue his interests and hobbies without having to worry about making a living.  Charles is asked to investigate the death by his childhood friend and current neighbor the widow Lady Jane Grey.  Prudence has only left Lady Jane's house to take up another job in a house where her fiancĂ© is also employed.  So, if Prudence's death is indeed a murder, how did she manage to make a deadly enemy so soon in her new place of employment?

Charles has just successfully solved a forgery case that had baffled his nemesis, the Inspector Exeter of Scotland Yard.  Sadly, it doesn't take much to baffle Exeter, but he still insists that Charles should stay out of his cases and absolutely avoid meddling in any ongoing investigations.  Still, Charles agrees to help Lady Jane find out what happened to her former employee.

Plenty of suspects soon emerge at the new house where Prudence was working.  The man who owned the house, George Barnard, is the director of the Royal Mint.  He also happens to have many houseguests who all come under suspicion:  other mint/government employees, impoverished relatives, and of course, numerous servants.  

Charles is assisted in his inquiries by many eager would-be detectives: his elder brother Edmund, his butler Graham, Lady Jane's cousin Toto and her husband the alcoholic Dr. Thomas McConnell, Prudence's distraught fiancĂ©, and other assorted helpers from London's busy streets.  While trying to find a motive for the murder of the maid, Charles must traverse London in shoddy boots, pour over the latest travel/historical books and maps accommodating booksellers deliver to his home daily, and keep up his social schedule of visits, balls, and teas.  It's all very exhausting!

While the beginning of the book was a bit difficult to follow, due to the many characters that were introduced, I was eventually able to keep track of them and I began to enjoy trying to figure out who the guilty party was.  Although most of the characters go about their upper-class lives without much thought for "how the other half lives," there were occasional twinges of social conscience, such as when some shady characters lead the shadowing Graham into "the Rookery" slum and the conditions are very shocking for him.  

This book is the first in the Charles Lenox mystery series, which is now up to 12 books.  I look forward to returning to Victorian London to see what new adventures he finds!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of A Beautiful Blue Death from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

 

Fans of Liane Moriarty will rejoice at the events in the novel The Push. The story begins with a social event at an upscale home in suburban London where *someone* ends up dead.  Of course, it takes most of the book to even find out who the corpse is, never mind the revelations that could lead to murder for most of the guests at the party.

Six expecting couples meet for the first time when they all show up to a meeting of a support group for new parents.  The leader of the group, Nina, instructs the couples on such issues as baby first aid and what to expect during the birthing process.  The couples seem to be a complete cross-section of society.  There's Jax (whose story is most fully explored) and Aaron.  Jax is 38 and 14 years older than Aaron, who has grown up in foster care.  Cathy and Hazel are a lesbian couple who have used a sperm donor from abroad.  Monica and Ed are a 40-something wealthy couple.  Aisha and Rahul are an Asian couple who married after only knowing each other for a few months.  Anita and Jeremy are receiving updates from their surrogate mother who lives in the United States. Finally, there's Kelly, a nervous 22 year old who almost always attends the meetings alone since her boyfriend Ryan is unenthusiastic about becoming a parent.

While the stories of the various couples are told in flashbacks leading up to the day of the party, other chapters are interspersed into the story involving Alison, the police detective who is investigating the death at the party.  Alison is also currently undergoing fertility problems, so she is sympathetic with the parenting problems that the couples are exhibiting.  While the people she interviews about the death all insist the deadly fall was an accident, Alison can't help but feel that every single person she's spoken to is hiding something.  With her bosses eager to close the case as an accident and move on to other things, Alison must trust her instincts and experience in order to get to the truth.

The story moved along at a very fast pace, and with so many characters, there were a lot of secrets to unearth. Although the narration moved back and forth between characters and events before and after the death, it was easy to keep up with all the various characters.  There was a side plot with Jax having a big secret from her past that might be coming back to haunt her.  I really enjoyed the final chapter which tied up all the loose ends and explained where all the couples ended up.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Push from NetGalley in exchange for this review

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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