BOOKS & BLOG: May 1, 2020

by | May 2, 2020 | 2020


  • Act Like It, Lucy Parker
  • Murder at the Mena House, Erica Ruth Neubauer
  • Death in the Family, Tessa Wegert
  • The Animals at Lockwood Manor, Jane Healey
  • The Magicians, Lev Grossman
  • The Secret Chapter, Genvieve Cogman
  • Ink and Sigil, Kevin Hearne
  • Monster, She Wrote, Lisa Kroger and Melanie Anderson
  • Smoke Bitten, Patricia Briggs


Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series was recommended to me, and I dipped my toes in with Act Like It.Two stage actors, the female of which has just broken up with another cast member, and male of which has a history of behaving very badly in public, are pressures into pretending to be romantic with each other to repair their careers and public images. Naturally, they do fall in love, though the snags are real enough to provide tension, and their honesty with each other is so refreshing.

Murder at the Mena House is Erica Ruth Neubauer’s debut mystery, and I’m sure it’s the beginning of an exciting career. Jane Wunderly, widow of an abuser and also a very curious lady, is traveling with her aunt in Egypt in 1936 when she steps right into a murder at their hotel. Shady characters abound, there’s a plethora of former and current sexual goings-on, and artifacts are being smuggled. I’ve never stayed at any hotel like the Mena House, and it’s lots of fun.

Tessa Wegert’s Death in the Family is a modern locked-room mystery, except the locked room is a small island with one large family home, isolated by a terrible storm. Detective Shana Merchant and her partner barely make it onto the island to investigate a blood-soaked bed and a missing family member, before the storm blocks off access and egress. Merchant, still recovering from a trauma at her previous job with the NYPD, tries to maintain her mental balance while all around her family members and their significant others are misbehaving in various ways. This is a complicated and well-written mystery.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor is not exactly a mystery, and yet it is. In 1939, a natural history museum’s stuffed animals are transported to a remote manor for safety, and Hetty Cartwright is dispatched to supervise the collection while it is in exile, so to speak. Seems easy enough, right? Major Lord Lockwood, host of the collection, is not at all who she’d hoped he’d be, and his daughter Lucy, who seems to have a troubled past, is more than Hetty had ever imagined. Some of the collection vanishes outright, some vandalized, and Hetty is made to look crazy for trying to keep her museum’s property safe. Lockwood is terrifying, and Lucy is terrorized. Obviously, something big and awful is going to happen.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is (of course) the basis for the television series, and I confess I’d watched the first two seasons before I knew that. I felt quite ashamed of myself, and bought the first book immediately. Of course, it’s a good book, and of course, you should read the books before you watch “The Magicians.” It’s complete world-building at its best.

Genevieve Cogman’s The Secret Chapter is also about missing books, or a part of a missing book (as is The Magicians) but Cogman’s book is more of a spy novel in feel. Her two secret agents (Irene and Kai, who work for the Library) have successfully arrived on Nemo’s island, where a master criminal secrets his stolen merchandise. Irene and Kai have a book Nemo wants desperately, and in return they must steal a painting form 21st century Vienna. It’s a desperate challenge, and even if they get the painting, can they get off Nemo’s island alive?

By golly, I wish librarians really led these lives.

Kevin Hearne is one of my favorite urban fantasy writers. I was thrilled to get an ARC of Ink and Sigil, which will be available AUGUST 25. It’s a spinoff from the Iron Druid series, and the main character is Al MacBharrais, who appeared in the books. MacBharrais lives by running a printing press, which prints ordinary things, but his secret occupation is collecting rare inks and writing sigils with them he can sell to those in need. His business would flourish if only his apprentices would stop dying! I enjoyed this immensely.

Lisa Kroger and Melanie Anderson have written an excellent book (Monster, She Wrote) about women in the past and present who at the forefront of the horror and speculative fiction field. It’s informative and inspiring.

Smoke Bitten is another in the Mercy Thompson series. Patricia Briggs’ work is at the top of my list for consistency and sheer readability, if that’s a valid term. I think I’m just beginning the book, and then I’m at the end. The action, the imagination, and the warmth and courage of Mercy’s character just roll the story along. I recently reread this whole series in order from beginning to end, and it was just as good read that way.



Yesterday, I felt a little better. We finally let the cleaning service come in, and the yard crew was outside mowing, so all the noises around the house seemed normal. And I have an appointment to get my hair cut! But it’s been bumped back since salons are still closed. Though I was grieved (I’m almost thinking of cutting my hair myself) I absolutely do NOT want a resurgence of this terrible disease, and it’s worth more quarantine to prevent that happening.

I don’t usually talk about politics, because it’s such a fraught subject. But I have to say, when Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick suggested old people ought to be willing to die (since we’re more vulnerable) in order that younger people might benefit from a revitalized economy . . . well, Dan, you first, buddy!

Aside from obvious asshats, I think most public officials are doing their best in a situation they hadn’t ever imagined would become a reality in America. Untrained, undereducated in the facts, and without stocks of needed supplies, it’s scary enough to make any ordinary office holder flounder some.

All that aside, I think someday this will be over, and after a while, life will return to more-or-less normal, as we knew it.

In the meantime, thank God for books!


Charlaine Harris