Book Review: The 27 Club


Chance Edwards

This book was a surprise in several ways. Unlike many who tackle the subject Edwards addresses the paucity of evidence that there is an actual curse. He then goes on to write short but accurate and thorough descriptions of the lives and accomplishments of 27 individuals. Yes, he includes the ‘evergreen’ examples of Jones, Joplin, Hendrix and Morrison but then he goes on to include individuals who were not musicians and more impressively, not Europeans or North Americans. I finished the book feeling that I wanted to investigate the cultures and milieus of many of the individuals whose lives he sketches.

Well written, well researched and informative. The is little more one could have asked for the author.


Book Review: The Attraction: House of Illusion

by Rick Polito

The Attraction: House of Illusion is identified, by the publisher, as “humor, mystery & thriller, teens & YA”

Which means that I, as an A who has long since stopped being Y, am not part of the target audience. Imagine then my surprise to find that I thoroughly enjoyed the book from first page to last. The trick, as much as there is one, is that although the book is about teenagers they are not portrayed as angst ridden complaining stereotypes. The young adults/teens/tweens are as fully realized as any of other characters in the book. The humor is situational rather than farcical and there are multiple, interlocking mysteries. Why we wonder, from page one, has Nate’s mother decided to uproot her children and send them off to the Californian ‘delta area?’ How will Nate and his younger sister Lily (a tweener) handle being dropped into world with no internet and little TV without even their cell phones to keep them in touch with the rest of the world? Who are the strange people who have taken to following Nate and his sister around?

Adults are neither mysteriously absent nor do they take over to become the ‘responsible’ parties. The realism of the book extends to the ways in which adults do interact with teenagers and the complex stratification of social life of an American teenager.

In short this is a bang up good story that happens to be about a teenager and written in an appropriate voice. The rare YA that both a teenager and their parent(s\) will enjoy.

Book Review: Down the Hatch: An Agatha Raisin Mystery


by M. C. Beaton with R. W. Green

Agatha Raisin made her debut as a PR agent/amateur sleuth in Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death in 1992. That book was the first of M. C. Beaton’s 30 Agatha Raisin novels. Marion Chesney (Beaton’s real name) was a prolific author who wrote several series of books under her own name and a number of pen names.

Chesney’s Agatha Raisin books were classic cozies but she herself was perhaps more down to earth and practical about the business of writing and the relationship between author and readership than most since she, unlike many other authors, had reached out and identified another author to pick up the pen/typwriter after she was unable to carry on her work. R. W. Green took over writing the Raisin books with Hot to Trot which was finished before Chesney died and published in 2020.

Down the Hatch which will arrive in bookstores this October is Green’s second Raisin book. His writing style and plotting isn’t quite the same as Beaton’s but this reader (and many others) find his work to be quite similar to Beaton’s. Beaton will never write another Agatha Raisin book, but for those who want to follow Agatha stumble upon murders (as she seems fated always to do) to watch her ongoing relationship with James develop, watch her ever continuing battle with Detective Chief Inspector Wilkes, Green tells a good, one might even say, a cozy murder story.

Book Review: The Grimrose Girls

By Laura Pohl

Pub. Date. Nov. 2. Sourcebooks Fire


Magic realism meets YA meets murder mystery.

There is magic as well as mysterious death afoot at the Grimrose Académie. Like Hogwarts the Grimrose is a residential boarding school with students who are predominantly teenagers. But there the likenesses between to the two schools disappears Without there being a suggestion of ‘token individuals’ Pohl presents the reader with a cast of characters who differ in social backgrounds, financial standing, home environments, racial identification, ethnic identification, gender identification and gender orientation. There are mysteries, deaths and dangers and throughout the book the characters respond in ways that are true to young adults struggling with questions of their own identities, their relationships with friends and family and, indeed, with themselves.

The mystery plot is both fresh and deeply intertwined with more traditional stories of youngsters, primarily female. Indeed the reader will likely finish the book with an appetite to learn more about old European folk tales The multiple protagonists have clear and clearly individual voices. The ending both delivers on the quest of uncover the reasons so many students at the Grimrose are dying and leaves the reader hoping that Pohl has already written the next book, the book that takes us even deeper into the magic of the Grimrose and the lives of the characters we have met.

I am NOT the intended audience of this book but it won me over. How much more would a member of that intended audience enjoy the book? There is only one way of finding out.

Book Review: Dark Night: A Mystery

by Paige Shelton

From the Publisher: The third book in the gripping, atmospheric Alaska Wild series by beloved cozy author Paige Shelton…..

For the reader who has not read any other books in the Alaska Wild series, don’t worry. You don’t need to have read either of those books to follow and enjoy Dark Night. Shelton provides enough contextual backstory and explanation to make the book understandable to those beginning the Alaska Wild series with book 3 without falling into the trap of repeating so much from earlier books that it turns off those who have read those books.

This is actually a modified (loosened) locked room story. Bemedict, Alaska is never completely cut off from the outside world although there are periods of time during which travel is almost impossible and it is clear that this isolation is both an attraction and a problem for different residents of the town.

This doesn’t read as the typical ‘cozy,’ perhaps because of its setting. Alaska in general and Benedict in particular become characters in the story and when you reach the last page, murder having been solved, you will still find yourself hoping that Shelton has already started to write the fourth book in series. Beth Rivers (our protagonist) still has personal mysteries to be solved and Benedict and its inhabitants are far to complex and realized not to be worthy of yet another story.

Book Review: True Crime Story: A Novel

Knox, Joseph. True Crime Story: A Novel. Illinois: Sourcebooks, 2012

True Crime Story starts out as do most true crime stories, telling the reader about a crime and a victim.

In the early hours of Saturday, December 17, 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old University of Manchester student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months.

She was never seen again

It proceeds, as many true crime books do, to explain how the author got involved in the case. We soon have a layered story: that of the author, the woman who got the author involved in the case, the backstory of the victim, the stories of her friends, her flatmates and those interviewed about the disappearance and finally, the story of the disappearance itself.

Look again at the title. It is NOT True Crime Story, it is True Crime Story: A Novel. For this is a novel, a story constructed not using the routine narrative pattern. The reader learns about Zoe, her family, her friends, her flatmates and a broad swathe of others with whom she was in contact in her life. On one level, thus, the book is about the attempts to solve a crime while on another level discussion of the crime is a tool to give us more insight into these people, these places this time.

True Crime Story: A Novel is not only enjoyable as a novel. The reader is free to read it AS a true crime story. The reader may enjoy analyzing the ways in which Knox uses the conventions of ‘true crime’ books not only to tell a story (a fictional account) of a crime but also to tell a story about a group of individuals and their interactions. The reader may also enjoy playing with the ‘messages’ or ‘meanings’ that might be implied. Is the author suggesting with the title that this fictional story is, in a sense as ‘real’ or at least ‘as accurate’ as most true crime books? Is the author boldly saying “well reader, if you like this type of book, let me give you a case in which no real person was hurt? Is the reader more invested in understanding the missing girl and the reasons for her disappearance or in watching the impact of that disappearance on those around her—her parents, her sister, her flat mates?

Knox has created a puzzle. Not simple the puzzle of what happened to Zoe but also a puzzle about the nature of social interactions, a puzzle as to how well we can truly know any other person. A puzzle as to why we read true crime stories.

Which of these puzzles is the REAL core of the story. Only you, the reader, can decide.

Book Review: Murder in the Village by Lisa Cutts

Murder in the Village by Lisa Cutts (A Belinda Penshurst Mystery Book 1)

If you like to read a cozy mystery set in a picturesque English village then this is the book for you. The narration of the audiobook is excellent and the story itself moves along at a lively pace. The protagonists are, to be generous, no longer young. The violence is usually off screen and never graphic. The language is comfortably modern yet never steps over that line that makes one worry about who else can hear what you are listening to. There are both male and female p.o.v. characters, and no group is cast as outsiders or inherently dangerous.

As a bonus, a book that suggests that the best way to judge a person’s character is how they interact with dogs.

Bookish thoughts: Reading as a skill vs reading as a form of social positioning

All too often I hear or read people complaining that “kids today” don’t read enough. I admit that I am wont to suspect that these individuals themselves are not great readers. Why? Because they speak of “reading” in such a way that I doubt they consider reading as a skill.

Reading, and the books we read, seems often to be as much about social positioning as it is about learning or gaining anything from the book read. Perhaps the most obvious example of a book whose main purpose is to be seen rather than to be read is the coffee-table book. 

When I, as a child, first heard of coffee-table books I was confused and perplexed at the very idea. In my world books existed to be read. Because my parents were frugal most of the books we read were borrowed from the local library. I visited the library on Saturday and came home with an armful of books.  I took my books to my room and was very careful never to leave a book lying on the coffee table since odds were it would be grabbed by the first member of my family who wandered through the room and thus end up in their room on their pile of books. We went to the library almost every Saturday and every visit I went into the building with my arms full of books I had read and I left the building with my arms full of books I was going to read.

My experience growing up was that books were things you read not things you wanted other people to think that you had read so the idea that one would buy a book not to read but to adorn one’s coffee table made no sense to me.  When first I visited homes where such books were found I inadvertently embarrassed people by asking about the book since I presumed that if the book was on the table they were reading it and if they were reading it they would enjoy talking about it. This was not, I soon discovered, something that those who display coffee-table books like to do–or at least they don’t like doing it if the discussion ventures far beyond what they themselves could have gathered from reading the blurbs on the back of the book and the New York Times book review.

What does this have to do with the subject line of this post? I think that many people who talk about reading and praise reading and want their children to do more are themselves very poor readers else they would not describe and discuss books as they do.

Reading is a skill. Not just learning to read as children do but READING seriously and thoughtfully as an adult. It needs to be taught well and it needs to be practiced. Left unused the skill will rust away and yet we may not realize that we have become unskilled at READING because we are still able to read. We can read the labels on the tins at the grocery store. We can read the road signs as we drive along. But we are no longer READING we are reading and books have ceased to become things we READ they are objects that we use to position ourselves socially.

If owning a book becomes an evidence of social position then the books themselves both gain and lose power. They gain because they are invested with talismanic powers. Parents will at the same time complain that their children are not reading and that their children are being exposed to the wrong type of books. They complain about their children learning the wrong facts–not because the facts are “wrong” but because knowledge of those facts might lead to what the parents consider the wrong conclusions. If those parents were truly in favour of teaching READING skills then they would not be in fear of books or facts since their children would have the skills necessary to check the facts and weigh the arguments put forward in the book.

Books also lose power when what is actually written gets lost as people worry about what owning that book says about their own social position and what having read the book says about them as thinkers and what having liked about the book says about them as people. The book becomes part of one’s own social presentation and thus criticisms of the book are perceived as criticisms of oneself.

If reading the book allows me to maintain my chosen social presentation but READING the book undermines the book’s value as a talisman of that social place then READING becomes the enemy of book.

Book Review: The Rise of the Meritocracy

1959. The rise of the meritocracy, 1870-2033: the new elite of our social revolution. New York: Random House.

Fascinating examination which to purports to examine the ways in which the attempt for egalitarianism would ultimately result in the reduplication of inherited status and power. However the book suffers in several key areas:

1) it ‘buys’ the argument that there is a simple and yet global ‘intelligence’ that could be measured and then would give advantage in all aspects of life. It is not clear whether the reader is supposed to agree with the interlocutor that such a thing exists but this reader was not convinced that the attempt to demonstrate would not fall at the first post.

2) in a failure of imagination that rivals that of Frank Herbert the author/interlocutor can imagine a world in which there are massive changes in technology and even social arrangements yet at the same time cannot conceive of a fundamental change in the relationship between men and women in society.

3) warning!!! Ends abruptly, and this reader was left feeling that it requires at the very least, an epilogue.