The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-24-20

Sunday Post

This was generally a good week on the book front, except for that one clunker. Well, for me it was a clunker. Maybe I’m just a contrarian. So many people love The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires – I’m just not one of them. On the other hand, I’m surprised how much I enjoyed Tomb of Gods, as horror is usually not my thing. Apparently if you throw enough history into it, I can get into it after all.

George is turning out to be, not just a delightful kitten, but not at all camera-shy. Here’s a picture of a kitten not merely posing for his closeup, but posing with dignity. Or, at least doing an excellent job of temporarily faking it. Although he IS posing on his favorite dining room chair – UNDER the table.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop (ends TUESDAY!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Movie Night Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

A- Review: The Secrets of Bones by Kylie Logan
A- Review: The Ghosts of Sherwood by Carrie Vaughn
A- Review: Tomb of Gods by Brian Moreland
C Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
A Review: Westside Saints by W.M. Akers
Stacking the Shelves (393)

Coming This Week:

Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail Wilson (blog tour)
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini (excerpt tour)
Out of Body by Jeffrey Ford (review)

Stacking the Shelves (393)

Stacking the Shelves

It feels like the stacks are settling down. Probably just in time for the fall books to start showing up! Not that I haven’t already received plenty of those, as well as a few books that won’t be out until 2021. This year is just weird for everything.

But George is turning out to be an absolute delight. Just like several of these books look to be! Although the books aren’t nearly as cute. (BTW I’m going to keep including pictures of George until people tell me to stop!

For Review:
The Awakening (Dragon Heart Legacy #1) by Nora Roberts
A Choir of Crows (Owen Archer #12) by Candace Robb
The Daughters of Foxcote Manor by Eve Chase
Dead Man in a Ditch (Fetch Phillips #2) by Luke Arnold
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
The House on Widows Hill (Ishmael Jones #9) by Simon R. Green
Like Lovers Do (Girls Trip #2) by Tracey Livesay
My Favorites by Ben Bova
The Second Home by Christina Clancy
Sherlock Holmes & the Ripper of Whitechapel by M.K. Wiseman
The Sight of You by Holly Miller
The Summer Set by Aimee Agresti
The Trials of Koli (Rampart #2) by M.R. Carey

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Queen of the Unwanted (Women’s War #2) by Jenna Glass (audio)

Review: Westside Saints by W.M. Akers

Review: Westside Saints by W.M. AkersWestside Saints by W.M. Akers
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, fantasy, historical fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Westside #2
Pages: 304
Published by Harper Voyager on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Return to a twisted version of Jazz Age New York in this follow up to the critically acclaimed fantasy Westside, as relentless sleuth Gilda Carr’s pursuit of tiny mysteries drags her into a case that will rewrite everything she knows about her past.
Six months ago, the ruined Westside of Manhattan erupted into civil war, and private detective Gilda Carr nearly died to save her city. In 1922, winter has hit hard, and the desolate Lower West is frozen solid. Like the other lost souls who wander these overgrown streets, Gilda is weary, cold, and desperate for hope. She finds a mystery instead.
Hired by a family of eccentric street preachers to recover a lost saint’s finger, Gilda is tempted by their promise of “electric resurrection,” when the Westside’s countless dead will return to life. To a detective this cynical, faith is a weakness, and she is fighting the urge to believe in miracles when her long dead mother, Mary Fall, walks through the parlor door.
Stricken with amnesia, Mary remembers nothing of her daughter or her death, but that doesn’t stop her from being as infuriatingly pushy as Gilda herself. As her mother threatens to drive her insane, Gilda keeps their relationship a secret so that they can work together to investigate what brought Mary back to life. The search will force Gilda to reckon with the nature of death, family, and the uncomfortable fact that her mother was not just a saint, but a human being.

My Review:

Westside is a liminal place, walled away somewhere between “could be”, “might have been” – and Back to the Future. Literally. No DeLorean this time though, just a family of scam artists posing as revival preachers, a desperate con artist and the magic and mystery that make Westside what it is.

Dangerous. Deadly. Despairing. Debauched. Determined.

Westside Saints is the surprising followup to last year’s marvelous Westside. I say surprising mostly because I’m surprised that there was a followup! At the time, it seemed like everything that needed to be said got said, there was a huge climax to the story and it all wrapped it – not with a neat and tidy bow but with a dirty and bedraggled one made into a garrote, because that’s Westside.

But at the end of that story Gilda Carr walked, not away but into the ever-deepening darkness that settles over Westside, to nurse her wounds, both physical and emotional, and continue her investigations into tiny little mysteries.

Looking into a big one nearly killed her, and left a lot of bodies all over Westside. Bodies that still haunt her and her community when Westside Saints begins.

And it begins with a bang, quite literally, as the revival preaching family of the late Bully Byrd pulls off the miracle to end all miracles, and their dead and departed founder rises from the dead out of a cauldron filled with smoke and fire.

Gilda has been looking into a couple of tiny mysteries for the Byrd family, and believes that while they are on the side of the angels, they are not nearly as “saintly” as they make themselves out to be. Like so many of Gilda’s beliefs and illusions, only the worst parts of this one turn out to be true.

Because no one is in Westside. Not even the deeply religious Byrds who picked her dead, drunk father out of many a gutter back in the day.

So Gilda is certain that the supposed “resurrection” of the Reverend Bully Byrd is just another confidence trick. Or she is until her late and very much lamented mother, Mary Fall, walks into the house Gilda inherited from her parents and claims that she has amnesia. That she wants Gilda to investigate the tiny mystery of her missing ring, and hopefully solve the bigger mystery of where her memory went.

Bully Byrd’s return to Westside may have been a hoax, but Mary Fall’s resurrection, even a Mary Fall who seems to be in her early 20s and not the woman who died in her mid 30s. Not the woman who was Gilda’s mother but could be the woman who became her.

She’s certainly more than enough like Gilda to make that seem possible – even if she’s nothing like the saintly woman that Gilda remembers. The more time Gilda spends with lying, exasperating, infuriating Mary Fall, the less she wants to condemn this bright, shiny troublemaker to the life that Gilda wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy.

Not even if she has to.

Escape Rating A: I loved the first book, Westside, and loved this one every bit as much. After yesterday’s disappointment, I’m really glad I chose Westside Saints to close out the week.

At the top, I said that Westside was a liminal place, a place that exists on the borders, and so does the series that is wrapped around it. The first book straddled an invisible line between urban fantasy, historical fiction and horror, existing in all three but fully inhabiting none.

Westside Saints is a bit of a different mix, as if it moved just a step to the left to sit on the intersection between urban fantasy, historical fiction and science fiction.

In any case, the series is a genre-bender and genre-blender of epic proportions.

The entree into this story is Bully Byrd’s supposed resurrection. Gilda’s investigation dives deeply into the supposedly saintly Byrd family and finds, basically, a cesspit. Which is what she has come to expect of everyone and everything in Westside. But that discovery exposes not just one family, but a layer of rot that she thought had been eradicated at the end of that first book. It’s an investigation that strips away even more of the few illusions Gilda thought she had left. We’re with her as she keeps turning over rocks, only to find that yet more disgusting things keep crawling out.

But she’s a fighter and a survivor and watching her work is compelling in the extreme. It feels like the tinier the mystery she starts with, the bigger – and nastier – the reveal is at the end.

One of the themes that felt so prominent in Westside stands out even more in the sequel. In that first book, Gilda is forced to reckon with the people who were parents really were, and not the plaster saints her child-self made them out to be. That is even more true in Westside Saints, as she discovers the real reason why neither of her parents ever told her how they met or why they married. Because from certain perspectives, they really, really shouldn’t have.

In the end, Gilda faces pretty much the same paradox that Marty McFly does in Back to the Future. She has to somehow get her parents together, no matter how little her mother deserves to be condemned to the life and death they both know she’ll lead, in order to history’s paradoxes to be resolved. Otherwise the events of Westside never come to pass – and history will be the worse for them.

Even if Mary Fall’s life would be for the better.

In the first book, part of the story was about Gilda fighting for the soul of Westside. At the end, after the high butcher’s bill has been toted up, it feels like she and her friends have won. But, as Westside Saints gets deep into the aftermath of those events, it turns out that what Gilda achieved was either a Pyrrhic victory or the first battle in what will be a long drawn out series of skirmishes. Hopefully we’ll find out in later books in the series. Which I hope there will be several of, even if it turns out that Gilda is just fighting the long defeat. Or perhaps especially – if that’s the way it turns out.

Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady HendrixThe Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: horror, vampires
Pages: 404
Published by Quirk Books on April 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Fried Green Tomatoes and "Steel Magnolias" meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the '90s about a women's book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.
Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia's life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they're more likely to discuss the FBI's recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.
But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club's meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he's a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she--and her book club--are the only people standing between the monster they've invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.

My Review:

This was exactly what I was expecting when picking up horror. But the friends who recommended it to me mentioned the words “laughing” and “humor” in relation to this book, and I just didn’t get any of either.

What I did get read like a really odd twist on the first book in the Sookie Stackhouse series – and I know that sounds insane. But really, we have a tight-knit Southern community where an unattached but charismatic man turns up, moves in, can’t manage sunlight and has been around a LOT longer than anyone thinks. Admittedly, when James Harris moves into this neighborhood, he makes Bill the Vampire seem like a big, ole pussycat. Because Bill doesn’t come to Bon Temps to prey on the locals, while James Harris has that plan in mind from the very beginning – and he’s ruthless in carrying it out.

But the story isn’t the monster’s story. Instead, it’s the story of the group of suburban women who band together, first to read true crime and murder mysteries, and then to deal with the unreal but absolutely true crime that has invaded their very own little town.

The portrayal of the women’s friendships, through all their ups and downs, was the real highlight of the story. But the way that they not only turn on each other, but turn on their own very selves, was a big part of the sadness. None of their husband’s are remotely worthy of them, as they prove over the course of the story.

They have all caged themselves, and it takes a monster, and a monster’s rampage, to finally get them to set themselves free. They’ve spent their lives cleaning up men’s messes, after all, and they are damn good at it. Which is a good thing, because this monster left one big damn mess.

Escape Rating C: Most readers seem to have loved this book. Certainly all the people who recommended it to me did. And I really did need to read it for reasons that I can’t get into. And I did finish and the ending was compelling. Getting to that point was less so, at least for this reader.

Part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy this book is that it reminded me of all the reasons I don’t normally read horror. It was gruesome and terrible things were happening and nobody wants to believe the book club members and no one wants to pay attention to what’s going wrong.

But it felt like all of the reasons that no one wanted to pay attention had to do with the women themselves. They were all small and narrow and put upon and put down and disregarded in their own lives. They didn’t pay attention to themselves or each other and no one else did either. They were dismissed at every turn, not just by society as a whole, but by their husbands and children. They didn’t believe each other and they didn’t believe in themselves.

Also, this is supposed to be a satire of suburban life in the 90s, but to me it felt flat. Probably because this just didn’t read like the 90s. During the 90s, I was in my late 30s, so relatively close in age to the members of the book club, but I was divorced, childfree and working. I worked in a female dominated profession, so ALL the women I knew worked. Many had stepped out when their kids were very young, but had returned to work at some point when their kids got a bit older, as the children of these women already had. It was difficult if not impossible to maintain a suburban life with multiple children without both spouses working. So for this reader their lives were small, sad and unrealistic and that colored my opinion of the whole book. Your experience of that time period may certainly vary, and your reaction may be entirely different. If this had been set in the 1960s or earlier I would have had a different reaction. I would have still felt the sadness and smallness, but it would have fit better into the times.

I did like, well, not the villain, you’re not supposed to like the villain, but that the monster didn’t exactly fit into any preconceived versions of monster. He’s referred to as a vampire, but it felt more in the sense that some people are emotional vampires sucking the life out of everyone around them. Not that he didn’t suck blood, but he also put it back. It’s complicated. But he didn’t just take blood, he took everything. He was a force of eternal hunger, always wanting more, always taking advantage, always leaving destruction in his wake. And we never do discover how he came to be. Or whether or not he actually came to end.

So that part was cool. But he also represented the way that the men in these women’s lives had also sucked them dry and left devastation in their wakes, and that leads me back to sad, and a bit disappointed. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

Review: Tomb of Gods by Brian Moreland

Review: Tomb of Gods by Brian MorelandTomb of Gods by Brian Moreland
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, horror
Pages: 288
Published by Flame Tree Press on May 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"Brian Moreland writes with one eye on characterization and the other on scaring the life out of you." -- Maynard Sims, author of Stronghold and The Eighth Witch Deep inside the tomb exists a hidden world of wonder and terror . . In 1935, British archaeologists vanished inside an Egyptian cave. A year later, one man returned covered in mysterious scars. Egyptologist Imogen Riley desperately wants to know what happened to the ill-fated expedition led by her grandfather. On a quest for answers, she joins a team of archeologists and soldiers in Egypt. Inside a mountain tomb, they've found a technologically advanced relic and a maze of tunnels. Dr. Nathan Trummel believes this tomb leads to the most guarded secrets of the pharaohs. When the explorers venture deep into the caves, they discover a hidden world of wonder and terror.

My Review:

I picked this one for the cover. I don’t read a lot of horror, but not only did this one have a strong historical bent, but the cover looked like something out of the classic Doctor Who episode Pyramids of Mars. But the way that the story works reads a lot more like Journey to the Center of the Earth – with just a touch of the late 19th/early 20th century archaeology vibe of Amelia Peabody Emerson. And possibly even a bit of Dr. Daniel Jackson’s (Stargate) oft-derided theories about the “true” origins of ancient civilizations.

I was absolutely astonished when that last bit turned out to be closest to the mark.

As you might guess from the above rambling paragraph, when I have to read something described as horror I kind of have to sidle up to it by convincing myself that it’s more horror-adjacent than actual horror. Which is how I ended up at Tomb of Gods. Which in spite of what I just said is DEFINITELY horror.

Surprisingly for a horror story set in a lost Egyptian tomb, there aren’t any mummies. Which doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of horror, because there certainly is. But the story isn’t really about the horror that they find, not in the usual way with ambulatory mummies and predatory cursed monsters. Not that there aren’t plenty of monsters.

Instead, this is a story about the horrors that they all bring with them. The horrors that reside deep inside their hearts, the terrible things that they’ve said and done, the ones that they feel the most guilty for. The actions and emotions that they never want to let see the light of day.

Or see the darkest of nights at the bottom of a never-ending tomb – on a journey that feels like it’s heading straight to the center of the earth – by way of the paths outlined in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

Escape Rating A-: I liked this way more than I expected to. Mostly because it didn’t go any of the places I expected it to. Again with the no shambling mummies. I loved the atmosphere, not just the darkness of the tomb, but also the entire feel of mid-1930s archaeology, especially combined with all those “curse of the mummy’s tomb” vibe, even though, again, no tottering, groaning mummies.

The beginning of this one is all about the setup, and it’s both pleasantly – and unpleasantly – familiar. The grasping, greedy, overbearing archaeologist, the mercenary guards, the frightened native workers, the quest for a treasure that only said overbearing archaeologist believes in.

And into that mix we throw Imogen Riley, also an archaeologist. The granddaughter of the man who originally found said tomb. The former lover of the current, overbearing archaeologist.

While there have been plenty of strange and deadly phenomena already on this dig, it’s only once Imogen is on the scene that the story takes off. She’s the catalyst that kicks off the rest of the action, as her presence provokes her former lover to new depths of, well, basically ignoring all good advice, common sense and proper archaeological practice to rush towards the treasure.

The journey to which exposes the darkness inside each person’s heart as they run headlong towards an end that only he can see. And it’s not the ending we (and Imogen) have been led to expect. He was a prick from beginning to end, and I wanted him to seriously get his comeuppance. Whether he does or not is left to the reader to decide.

In the end, this one is more about the journey than the destination. We see each person’s guilts and fears. The journey is harrowing, and we are as harrowed as the characters we follow.

I’m left with a couple of niggling questions. One is the obvious, in that I am not sure that the villain’s fate was a punishment or a reward. And I think that’s the way it’s meant to end.

As much as I liked Imogen and identified with her as the protagonist, I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was truly necessary for the story for Dr. Overbearing – actually Nathan Trummel, to have been a former lover. That particular bit of setup felt like a nod to earlier stories of archaeological horror and adventure, where the pretty girl was the reward or side piece of the real hero. Which Trummel is so far from being that he’s not even in the same universe – even if he thinks he is.

I also enjoyed the surprisingly deep dive into Egyptian mythology that underpins the story. As I said at the top, I need to sidle up to horror, and all the history and mythology gave me an excellent door through which to do that sidling. While still creeping me thoroughly out. In a good way. This is not a book to read with the lights off, but it is absolutely a book to read!

 

Review: The Ghosts of Sherwood by Carrie Vaughn

Review: The Ghosts of Sherwood by Carrie VaughnThe Ghosts of Sherwood (The Robin Hood Stories, #1) by Carrie Vaughn
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fantasy, retellings
Series: Robin Hood Stories #1
Pages: 104
Published by Tor.com on June 9, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Carrie Vaughn's The Ghosts of Sherwood revisits the Robin Hood legend with a story of the famed archer's children.
Everything about Father is stories.
Robin of Locksley and his one true love, Marian, are married. It has been close on two decades since they beat the Sheriff of Nottingham with the help of a diverse band of talented friends. King John is now on the throne, and Robin has sworn fealty in order to further protect not just his family, but those of the lords and barons who look up to him – and, by extension, the villagers they protect.
There is a truce. An uneasy one, to be sure, but a truce, nonetheless.
But when the Locksley children are stolen away by persons unknown, Robin and Marian are going to need the help of everyone they’ve ever known, perhaps even the ghosts that are said to reside deep within Sherwood.
And the Locksley children, despite appearances to the contrary, are not without tricks of their own…

My Review:

There’s a theory going around that people are re-reading and re-watching old favorites right now because they not only already know how they end, but that not-exactly-foreknowledge removes the tension of not knowing that everyone is going to be okay, because it’s already happened. So to speak.

There may also be a trend towards re-tellings as this uncertain season goes on. In a re-telling, we either already know how it’s going to go – and just want to see it told differently (By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar looks like it’s going to be one of those) or because we already know the characters and want to see them in new adventures. We don’t have to get to know new people because we’re already familiar with the cast. The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow falls into this category and does VERY WELL with it.

The Ghosts of Sherwood is also this particular variety of re-telling. We ALL have at least a nodding acquaintance with Robin Hood’s story – if only from movies like Disney’s 1973 animated version, with a surprisingly sexy fox as Robin. (Which is being remade as a live-action hybrid, Yikes!) Meaning that we all know these characters to some extent, and we know the outline of the original story. Making it ripe for an extension.

Leading to The Ghosts of Sherwood, the first novella in The Robin Hood Stories. Which, at least from this opening, read like “Robin Hood, the Next Generation”. Which has its bit of irony, as Star Trek Next Gen also did a takeoff episode on Robin Hood, but more in the vein of Men in Tights. The episode is best known for Worf’s line, “I am NOT a merry man.” I digress, but this does go to show just how ubiquitous the legend of Robin Hood is.

As The Ghosts of Sherwood opens, Robin and Marion are on their way back from Runnymede, from the signing of the Magna Carta, setting this story in 1215. Robin, as the Earl of Locksley, was one of the barons who rebelled against King John’s rule – yet again in Robin’s case – and brought him to the bargaining table. There is still no love lost between Robin and King John, not even 20 years after the events that made their way into legend.

But Robin and Marion have changed – as has King John. Robin and Marion are married, and are part of the nobility of England, as fractured as it was at that time. The surviving members of Robin’s band of outlaws are part of their household at Locksley. And they have three children, Mary, John and Eleanor. Mary, the oldest, is 16, Eleanor is 8 and John is somewhere in between.

They are all as familiar with Sherwood as they are with their own house, but Mary seems to be the one who is most like her father, and most at home in the forest that is part of their home and heritage.

This story is, not exactly a passing of the torch, but rather a story that shows that the younger generation is willing to pick up that burden when the time comes. The children are kidnapped in the forest by, not outlaws but rather men loyal to the barons who opposed their father over the Magna Carta.

But the children have no certainty that their parents even know they are missing. It is up to them to use the cunning they inherited from both their parents, all the talents they can muster, as well as the legends that make Sherwood a place of menace to outsiders – so that they can rescue themselves.

Escape Rating A-: First, this was a lovely little story. It does a terrific job of portraying Robin and Marion’s post-outlaw life in a way that seems fitting. They are older, occasionally wiser, and often tireder than they were back in the day. And that’s the way it should be.

The details also do a terrific job of placing the story firmly within a historical, rather than mythical, legendary or fantasy context. If Robin existed, he would have been one of the nobles forcing King John to the bargaining table and the Magna Carta. It’s impossible to imagine that the enmity they felt for each other during King Richard the Lionhearted’s absence on Crusade, especially Robin’s armed rebellion, would ever have faded. As this story opens, John is nearly at the end of his reign, and Robin and Marion are no longer the young rebels they once were. (I’m saying the above in spite of the story being billed as historical fantasy. So far, at least, there are no fantastic elements – in spite of Mary referring to her mysterious protector as “The Ghost”. Maybe in a future installment?)

The focus of this story is on their children, particularly 16-year-old Mary, as she faces the decisions of oncoming adulthood.

But the story also deals with the politics of the country as one king’s reign is about to end and his heir is a child of nine. That forces are jockeying for power, and that Robin will have influence and could possibly be influenced is a part of his times.

So the story has large implications for the future of England, and the future stories of the series. At the same time, it’s very small and intimate. Three children, kidnapped, forced to rely on their wits and each other, figuring out how to get the better of their captors in spite of the odds. By banding together.

That the story works so well on both levels gives me high hopes for the future stories in the series. I’m very much looking forward to reading The Heirs of Locksley later this summer. Because I want more.

Review: The Secrets of Bones by Kylie Logan

Review: The Secrets of Bones by Kylie LoganThe Secrets of Bones by Kylie Logan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery
Series: Jazz Ramsey #2
Pages: 336
Published by Minotaur Books on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Second in a new series from national bestselling author Kylie Logan, The Secrets of Bones is a riveting mystery following Jazz Ramsey as she trains a cadaver dog.
Assembly Day at St. Catherine's dawns bright and cloudless as professional woman gather from all around Ohio to talk to the schoolgirls about their careers in medicine, at NASA, and as yoga instructors. Administrative assistant Jazz Ramsey is involved herself, giving the girls a taste of her lifelong passion: cadaver dog training. Her adorable new puppy Wally hasn't been certified yet, so she borrows the fully-trained Gus from a friend and hides a few bones in the unused fourth floor of the school for him to find.
The girls are impressed when Gus easily finds the first bone, but for the second Gus seems to have lost the scent, and heads confidently to a part of the floor where Jazz is sure no bones are hidden—at least not any that she's put there. But Gus is a professional, and sure enough, behind a door that shouldn't have been opened in decades, is a human skeleton.
Jazz recognizes the skeleton as Bernadette Quinn, an ex-teacher at the school who'd never returned after one Christmas break, though letters and postcards from her had seemed to indicate there was no cause for worry. But now it seems Bernadette never left the school at all, and her hiding place makes it clear: this was murder.
Bernadette's strident personality means there are a plethora of suspects inside the school and out of it, and as Jazz gets closer to the truth she can't help but wonder if someone might be dogging her footsteps . . .

My Review:

I really was hoping for more about the dogs, especially after the first book in the series, The Scent of Murder. Instead, I got a lot more of Jazz Ramsey, the Catholic college prep school where she is the principal’s administrative assistant, and yet the late discovery of the remains of another person tied to the school.

But I also got more of Jazz stumbling and falling into being an amateur detective again, as well as her fumbling her way back into some kind of relationship with her ex-lover and current friend Nick. Both luckily and unluckily for Jazz, Nick isn’t the investigating officer this time around, when Jazz and a retired cadaver dog discover human remains other than the ones she planted for demonstration.

It’s creepy to think of a school where a dead body has been decomposing on an unused floor for two years. The wildest stories that the students have made up and passed around about the weird things that happened on the old building’s sealed up Fourth Floor have acquired whole new chapters after old Gus discovers the body of a teacher that everyone thought had merely resigned.

After all, she left a letter of resignation. Why would anyone think she was dead? But the body in the closet suggests otherwise. Rather strongly.

When the police detective who IS in charge of the investigation starts out thinking that Sister Eileen, the founder and principal of St. Catherine’s, might be the murderer, Jazz is sure that a) he’s wrong and b) he’s more than a bit of an asshole. Which means that Jazz is off to the races poking her nose into yet another murder.

The entire investigation turns out to be a lesson about that classic definition of the word “assume”, as in “assume makes an ass out of u and me” – and not just for amateur sleuth Jazz. The body has desiccated beyond easy recognition, locked in that not-exactly-climate-controlled “attic” for more than two years. The victim is identified based on her rather distinctive clothing and effects. The timing is certainly right.

But is the body?

Escape Rating A-: I hope the third book in this series – and I hope there is a third book in this series – has more dogs. Jazz’ new pup, Wally the totally attitudinal Airedale, has a long way to go before he’s fully trained and qualified as a human remains detection dog. But they’re working on it.

In the meantime, this series, and this book in it, feels like it’s right on the edge between “cozy” mystery and just plain mystery. And I like that edge.

On the one hand, Jazz is a bit of the typical amateur detective, who gets involved because someone she knows is either the victim, the suspect, or both. But her entry into the mystery is not just unusual but more than a bit creepy – and closer to a traditional mystery. She finds a body, by accident for her, perhaps, but all part of a day’s work for the dog. It also feels like Jazz gets in a bit more danger than the usual cozy mystery sleuth.

The mystery in this one is particularly interesting because of the kind of “hothouse” atmosphere of the school. (In that way, it kind of reminds me of Sarah Gailey’s marvelous Magic for Liars, which is also set in a school, albeit one more like Hogwarts. Also Trace of Deceit by Karen Odden, despite its Victorian setting.) But the ambiance of teachers dedicated to teaching mixed with students who think they run the place – and sometimes do – along with angry parents just sure their little “darlings” couldn’t possibly have committed whatever wrong they so manifestly did, is a setting just ripe for drama – and murder. So many hormones, and so much heightened emotion!

Like most mystery series, cozy or not, in order to like the series one needs to like the protagonist, in this case, Jazz and her family, friends and colleagues. I find her eminently likeable, and will be happy to follow more of her adventures.

For the series to continue, Jazz needs to start finding bodies in the wider Cleveland area and not just of people connected to St. Catherine’s. Otherwise the place is going to have a higher murder rate per capita than even Cabot Cove, and that’s just not reasonable for a school in an area where there are plenty of other options.

That being said, I’m enjoying Jazz’ adventures, her fumbling increase in detective skills, and her slowly re-developing relationship with Nick. She has a unique way of stumbling over bodies that seems to be an excellent method for dragging her into new cases – and the reader right along with her.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 5-17-20

Sunday Post

I just discovered the notice that the last of the events we were planning to travel to this summer has been cancelled. I was expecting it, but as the event was in late August I still had a bit of hope. C’est la vie, and it’s better not to travel and gather if one wants to continue to vie! So color me a bit disappointed but not terribly surprised. George the kitten (see yesterday’s STS post for cute kitten George picture), along with his big brothers and sister, will be more than happy to take up my time by playing with me. Or the other way around.

And there are always plenty of books to read. This was a good week, two giveaways for you and three Grade A books for me!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Movie Night Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Mother May I? Giveaway Hop is Kim

Blog Recap:

A Review: The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold
Life’s a Beach Giveaway Hop
A Review: This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf
A+ Review: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
Movie Night Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (392)

Coming This Week:

The Secrets of Bones by Kylie Logan (review)
Tomb of Gods by Brian Moreland (review)
Westside Saints by W.M. Akers (review)
The Ghosts of Sherwood by Carrie Vaughn (review)
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (review)

Stacking the Shelves (392)

Stacking the Shelves

If you have not seen that there will be a full cast recording of the adaptation of the first three books of Neil Gaiman’s awesome Sandman graphic novels, consider yourself told. It’s going to be awesome. And in the ultimate casting against type, Michael Sheen will be playing Lucifer this time, after his turn as the angel Aziraphale in Good Omens. Which was marvelous and we might watch it again. I still need to get around to The Annotated American Gods. One of these days.

 

Kitten pic for attention. This is George. He’s 2 months old, give or take. Also utterly adorable with the winsomest face ever. He purrs ALL THE TIME.

For Review:
Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis
The Book of V. by Anna Solomon
The Fate of a Flapper (Speakeasy Murders #2) by Susanna Calkins
The Fires of Vengeance (Burning #2) by Evan Winter
The Forgotten Kingdom (Lost Queen #2) by Signe Pike
His & Hers by Alice Feeney
The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell
The House that Fell from the Sky by Patrick Delaney
Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell
Just Like You by Nick Hornby
The Lies that Bind by Emily Giffin
Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March
The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard
The Peace Machine by Özgür Mumcu
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronaut #3) by Mary Robinette Kowal
Safecracker by Ryan Wick
Shiner by Amy Jo Burns
Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay
The Talented Miss Farwell by Emily Gray Tedrowe
The Three Mrs. Wrights by Linda Keir
The Tourist Attraction (Moose Springs, Alaska #1) by Sarah Morgenthaler
An Unnatural Life by Erin K. Wagner

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4) by Lindsay Buroker
The Physicians of Vilnoc (Penric & Desdemona #8) by Lois McMaster Bujold (review)
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman (audio/preorder)

Movie Night Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Movie Night Giveaway Hop, hosted by Review Wire Media and Chatty Patty’s Place!

It’s Friday! Once upon a time – back in February – this would probably be “movie night” or at least “date night” for a lot of people. And there were plenty of movies that we were all looking forward to this summer.

There still are movies to look forward to, just not the same one. After all, the film of the original cast production of Hamilton is going to be on Disney+ just in time for the July 4th weekend. So movie night is still possible, it’s just changed. Instead of an evening at a theater, now it’s at home in comfy clothes – or even jammies! And you have to make your own popcorn.

I highly recommend Brown Butter for that popcorn. It’s even yummier than the regular kind and really easy to make.

While I enjoy movies, I’m also very, very fond of the quote below.

For example, Dune. Please don’t judge that book by ANY of the various adaptations, or even the one currently in production (although the cast looks awesome!). The book is still awesome. The movies, at least so far, not so much. Very occasionally the movie is actually better, The Princess Bride for example. Then again, The Princess Bride is perfect.

So, for this hop in celebration of movie night, however you celebrate it, the giveaway will be a bit different from my usual. The winner will receive their choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card (you can get movies from, or on Amazon), a $10 Fandango Gift Card (because movies) or $10 in Books, which could, but don’t have to be, the basis of movies. Now it’s up to YOU!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fantastically cinematic prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter