Book Review: Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson

Quiet Neighbors
Catriona McPherson
Midnight Ink, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-4762-0
Hardcover

We all live in neighborhoods, some loud and raucous, some quiet and peaceful. In either case, we may know a good deal about those who live in those sheltering houses, and we may not. We might also be surprised to learn somethings good or not so good about our neighbors.

Neighborhoods are a collective façade behind which we often protect our privacy, letting others make assumptions without question until something upsets the even and normal fabric.

People have secrets and this is a novel of revelation, of history and secrets and the results of false assumptions. In some neighborhoods, or tiny towns, such as this one on the Scottish coast, the insertion of a new force, such as a stranger, can be benign or upsetting.

London librarian Jude comes on vacation with her husband to this tiny town of bookshops, fabric stores and teashops. It’s a quiet Scottish town and Jude discovers an odd bookstore nestled amongst other quirky shops. Lowland Glen Books turns out to be a treasure trove of used books. But the place is, to say the least, not well organized. But the store and its proprietor offer some quirky calm in the midst of Jude’s deteriorating life and marriage.

Weeks later, she needs a place to go to ground in a hurry and for unfathomable reasons, the town around Lowland Books rises in her memory and there she goes to hide. The mystery of her need to hide is one of the many mysteries so carefully unraveled as this story progresses. She needs shelter and a job wouldn’t be amiss, either. When the bookstore owner, possessor of his own secrets, offers her the job reorganizing the bookstore, and a roof over her head, the situation seems heaven-sent.

Naturally, in a small community like this, Jude discovers some people with secrets of their own and when a young pregnant woman, claiming a relationship with the bookstore owner, shows up, more yarn begins to unravel.

The revelations, the discoveries, intertwined with startling personality bends, are masterfully handled, retaining and enhancing wide-ranging literary comment, examination of some life styles and amazement as the sometimes slyly revealed truths come to the fore. Any reader who loves mystery, countervailing personal forces and a persistent, forward-moving narrative, will find this novel interesting and difficult to put  down.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

Elementary, She Read
A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #1
Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-68331-096-9
Hardcover

In Elementary, She Read, author Delany introduces quite an interesting set of characters along with a new twist on mysteries set in bookshops. While Gemma Doyle is the protagonist of this new series, the history behind the story begins when Gemma’s Great Uncle Arthur seized the opportunity to buy a building at the famous address of 222 Baker Street- though this Baker Street is located in West London, Massachusetts rather than London, England. With such a well known address, it was a given that her mystery loving uncle would open a Sherlock Holmes bookstore.  When he found a bookstore alone wouldn’t make it, he expanded to include any and all things pertaining to Sherlock Holmes. Along the way, the opportunity arose to open a tea shop, named appropriately Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, next door but connected by an internal door. That shop is run by Gemma’s good friend Jayne. That is the story behind the story.

In a nutshell, the main plot of Elementary, She Read is this. The store is swamped one afternoon by a traveling bridge group, and while tidying the store after the group has left, Gemma finds an old Strand magazine that is not part of the store’s inventory hidden among the other magazines. Curious as to how it came to be there, she thinks back over the people who had just left the store and remembers one lady who was carrying a plain white plastic shopping bag that did not appear to be part of the group. She searches the store, finds the bag the woman was carrying and in it found a clue as to where the woman might be staying. Puzzled as to why the woman left what could well be a valuable magazine in the store, she puts the magazine to her home safe and sets off to find the woman. From there the plot follows a familiar path of amateur sleuths. Gemma tries to do the right thing and ends up finding a dead body or two and lands in the middle of a police investigation as a prime suspect. Eager to clear her name she starts snooping around trying to solve the murder, as well as unravel the original mystery as to why the magazine was placed in her store. The plot is well done with plenty of twists to keep readers on their toes. When the solution was finally revealed, I have to say I had figured out that the guilty person was involved but had not worked out how or why. I felt like Delany played fair with the readers by giving them clues to follow yet making the puzzle complicated enough to keep us working at it.

Readers don’t see much of Uncle Arthur in the book, and I hope that changes as the series moves forward. He seems to be a character ripe for development. Gemma is a great protagonist and has the eye for noticing details like Sherlock himself. There is a book about thinking like Sherlock mentioned several times throughout the book. The book actually exists (I checked on Amazon) and I plan on getting a copy. Readers get to know Jayne a bit but I suspect we’ll get a better read on her in future books. There were a couple of “villains” among the characters giving readers people to despise. One was a police woman who seems to have taken an instant dislike to Gemma, while the other was a fellow shopkeeper who has the need to control everyone else’s business. I’m sure we’ll get more of them as well.

There are the standard animals in the book-Gemma’s pet dog and the store’s resident cat who seems to like everyone except Emma.

Elementary, She Read is a wonderful beginning to what I hope is a long running series.

I volunteered to read and review this book which I received from the publisher.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, February 2017.

Book Review: Plot Boiler by Ali Brandon

Plot BoilerPlot Boiler
A Black Cat Bookshop Mystery #5
Ali Brandon
Berkley Prime Crime, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-26155-2
Mass Market Paperback

Even though he’s willful and contrary and seems convinced that he, not Darla Pettistone, owns Pettistone’s Rare Books, cat Hamlet is a treasured member of the bookshop gang, along with retired Professor and rare book expert James T. James and goth Robert, barista in Darla’s new coffee bar. It’s July, and Darla and her Brooklyn business neighbors are hosting a Fourth of July block party with music and dancers and Martial Arts demonstrations and booths. Almost everyone is enthusiastic. Only George, who is convinced that Darla opened her coffee bar to drive his coffee-shop out of business, is dragging his feet. As the heat and the problems build up, Darla works to keep the party going. Then Hamlet finds a body in George’s shop.

There are plenty of suspects and lots of interesting incidents. I enjoyed the camaraderie between Darla and her friends, and followed her sleuthing with enthusiasm. And Hamlet was his infuriating, adorable self. Long may his plumy tail wave.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, December 2015.