Posted in Books

“Murder on Cold Street” by Sherry Thomas

Normally, at this point in a series (Murder on Cold Street is the fifth in the Lady Sherlock series) I start to lose interest or forget all of the events of the previous books. The dynamics between characters can become stale, or fail to evolve, and the excitement wanes. However, not so with this novel, an adventure that takes the intrepid Charlotte Holmes to a new part of London, where mysterious murders in the form of a locked-door mystery present themselves.

The end of the last book, The Art of Theft, left readers on a cliff-hanger. Inspector Treadles, an ally to the Holmes gang and a friend of Lord Ingram, has been accused of murder. His wife, Alice, is convinced of his innocence, and engages Holmes and her associates to discover the truth of the matter. It is fortunate that Charlotte is on the case, as the evidence is pretty damning: Treadles was found in a locked room, with two dead men, holding a gun and covered in blood. It actually gets worse: the two dead men are associated with Alice, one is her late father’s business partner, and the other works for her at her company, Cousins Manufacturing. Matters look pretty bleak, to put it frankly. Despite that, the gang begins their task, endeavoring to uncover the truth and save the inspector from the hangman’s noose by Christmas.

I am already a big fan of the series, but I was incredibly impressed by this latest book. It advances the relationships between a number of characters, although most satisfyingly that of Charlotte and Lord Ingram. Thomas always has incredibly strong secondary characters, and I hope some of the ones who appear in Cold Street will return. The mystery itself is intricate, interwoven with details from previous books, which lends the story a curated quality that I really enjoyed. I love the little chosen family Charlotte has made for herself, and I am interested to see the developments the next book will bring. This series is easy to love, and I am content and pleased to see the books only improving with time.

The Art of Theft, by Sherry Thomas can be purchases wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library.

Posted in Books

“Act Your Age, Eve Brown” by Talia Hibbert

Act Your Age, Eve Brown is the last of Talia Hibbert’s Brown Sisters trilogy, and just overall a goddamned delight.

Eve is considered by most to be a disaster. At twenty-six, she has yet to chose a path, flitting from job to job with the speed of an intrepid log-jumper. Eve knows she keeps failing, and the latest disaster brings the wrath of her disappointed parents down on her. They demand that Eve get her act together, hold down a job and find some purpose. Until then, they will revoke their financial support, leaving Eve without an income, or a home.

Eve stumbles into a temporary gig at a bed and breakfast, where she not only makes an enemy of the proprietor, but almost immediately injures him.

Said proprietor is Jacob Wayne, a perfectly put together guy who does not need a force of chaos like Eve in his B&B. From the moment she shows up without a resume, Jacob knows Eve will not be frying the bacon at his establishment, but he has little choice, given the lack of other acceptable applicants. Then, Eve hits him with her car, and they’re stuck with each other. Jacob can’t run the B&B by himself with a broken arm, and Eve is wracked with guilt. Now, all they have to do is stay civil, though both of them can’t help but being distracted by each other.

This is just such an addictive read. I was forced by necessity to read it in two days, but otherwise I might have consumed it in one sitting! Eve is just adorable and wonderful, so charismatic and sweet. Jacob is grumpy and vulnerable, and their interactions are just a pleasure to read. Speaking of pleasure, this book is hot. Like, incredibly sexy. Turn up the AC, you’re gonna need it. It’s just what I needed, sexy, sweet, funny, and I am hyped for the new series to follow, set in the same town to follow Mont and his sisters, who are featured secondary characters and have some of the best lines in the book. The book also has some stellar ASD rep, I think writers like Hibbert and Helen Hoang are really doing the hard work to normalize neurodivergence in romance. To borrow a phrase from Mont, I want to take it home and hide it away from the world and marry it. Five stars.

Posted in Books

“Would Like to Meet” by Rachel Winters

Would Like to Meet has a quirky premise- our heroine, a stressed-out agent’s assistant, has to wrangle a manuscript from an intransigent screenwriter by proving that true love does happen like in the movies. I really liked the idea, and went into reading totally prepared to love it, but unfortunately it was pretty underwhelming.

Evie, our protagonist, is charming and likable, but a human disaster, because she puts her whole life into her job and doesn’t maintain a personal life. She also has a lot of unresolved issues related to her desire to be a writer, and her father’s death. Evie is almost a laughably bad friend, as she is entirely consumed with getting a promotion and being an agent. This book is kind of her coming-of-age-story, and not the romance I was expecting. The main strength of the book was good writing and great characterization, all of the people in the story are well-defined and their motivations are easy to discern. Unfortunately, the characters weren’t really given too many good moments because of the main problem with the story: bad pacing, and an overwrought plot.

The story really suffers from being so compressed, there’s too much happening without letting the reader breathe. Evie is essentially buffeted along by the plot and does whatever she has to do to make the story move forward. Character relationships and the love story are sacrificed for red herrings, and to give the antagonist more time on the page. The “twist” is pretty much obvious from the beginning of the book, and the ending is happy, but underwhelming. I was also partially disappointed that this wasn’t the enemies-to-lovers romance I was expecting, with Evie and the screenwriter coming to understand one another. I would say that the weakest point in the book was the love story, so you shouldn’t go into this book expecting romance. As a novel, it is enjoyable, though a bit scattered. I will say that I did read it in a matter of hours because I wanted to know the end, so at least it keeps one’s attention.

Posted in Books, Podcasts

“Everybody Has a Podcast (Except You)” by the McElroy Brothers

If you’re familiar at all with Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy, you probably know that their careers have been rather eclectic. If you are not, strap in.

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The three brothers began a podcast over ten years ago, My Brother, My Brother and Me, which is the cornerstone of their podcasting empire. Their body of work is substantive, with each of the brothers working on multiple podcasts, sometimes including other cohosts, like their father, or their respective spouses. Their success is widely attributed to their brand of comedy, which is somehow both wholesome and incredibly vulgar. The McElroys (or, as my partner and I sometimes refer to them, the McElboys) have a devoted fanbase of listeners, including myself. This is your warning that this review is biased, as I have literally listened to every episode of MBMBaM. Yes, including the first twenty. Yes, even the one with that weird sound thing.

The premise of Everybody Has a Podcast (Except You) is fairly straightforward. As the McElroys have a pretty solid expertise in the world of podcasting, this book is intended to advise fledgling podcasters, be they aspiring professionals or hobbyists. While I was skeptical going in, as I do not have a podcast of my own, this book was delightful and amusing. If you are familiar with the particular McElroy flavor of humor, it really shines through in the book. The illustrations are adorable, and the design overall is gorgeous, making the reading experience a true pleasure.

My main worry going into this book was my utter disinterest in technical matters. Because the subject matter is podcasting, there have to be chapters on equipment and sound editing, and that’s just not my area of interest. Fortunately, I found even the chapters I thought would least engage me to be charming and entertaining. I think that any reader interested in McElroy content will be happy reading this book, and it also does provide actual, attainable steps and practical advice for your podcasting pursuits. I think that those interested in creative pursuits outside of podcasting will also find inspiration between these pages.

I think one of the biggest issues a lot of how-to guides face is bogging themselves down in logistics. This excludes the voice of the instructor, and can make these rather dry books. In this case, I found that I learned a lot while enjoying myself, and I definitely think this book is worth a read. I would also be interested in an audiobook version, as audiobooks are like reaaally long podcasts and it would be interesting to see how that would pan out given the collaborative nature of the book. One of the biggest tests of a book written by well-known people is whether or not the book can find an audience outside of die-hard fans. Given the content and quality of this book, I would not be surprised if enterprising podcasters pick it up as a textbook, though admittedly, a very funny one.

Everybody Has a Podcast (Except You) can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from you local library. This reviewer was provided a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in Books

“Concrete Rose” by Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas has been one-to-watch in YA since The Hate U Give was released in 2017. While she has since had another book out, fans have been itching for more about the characters from her debut, and this year we got our wish: Concrete Rose, the story of Big Mav before parenthood and his coming-of-age as he deals with the slings and arrows of fortune.

Concrete Rose (The Hate U Give, #0.5)

Like many fans, I was compelled by Starr’s parents in The Hate U Give. They and their generation had such an intricate backstory and a gravity to them. In so many YA books, parents are absent, present as obstacles, or blandly supportive, but Lisa and Maverick have such life. While prequels can be a bit of a toss-up, I was excited to get my hands on this one. I was not disappointed.

Mav’s story, while in many ways more tragic than Starr’s, has many parallels to that of his daughter. Maverick experiences a huge loss, and that shapes the way he lives his life. But, ultimately, he does the hard, right thing, much like Starr does. Starr’s fight is for justice, while Mav’s is for survival. His story also shows why he is so determined to keep his kids out of the streets, given the effects it had on his life, and the lives of the people he loves. We see Mav growing into the man and the father he wants to be, and moving away from the people who influence him to be otherwise.

I was a little surprised that the book ended where it did- I guess given that it’s about Mav coming to terms with his roots and his desire for more, it ends succinctly with him confirming he wants to leave the King Lords, but given how much backstory there is to cover, I was a bit taken aback that the story winds up so soon. The journey for Mav is about deciding to pursue a different life, and so the ending does work, even if you might want more. I think my favorite part was reading about young Lisa, who is as much a spitfire as you would expect. Maverick’s mother Faye and his other family members were also wonderful supporting characters, and they really flesh out a world that is already so full of life.

I unreservedly recommend this book to any fans of Angie Thomas’ other work, it’s a wonderful read, and honestly worth buying if only for the gorgeous cover. Potential trigger warnings include: unintended pregnancy, gang violence, drugs, and gun violence.

Concrete Rose can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. Chamber of Spoilers always encourages folks to try to buy from independently owned bookstores.

Posted in Books

“Candy Hearts” is the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your sweetheart

Tommy Siegel’s Candy Hearts started out as a single idea for a comic during a project. Siegel was drawing a comic a day for 500 days, and dashed one off. In the introduction to this book of comics, Siegel writes “I started to realize that candy hearts made for a pretty convenient setup to illustrate inner monologues . . . on the outside. A way to cut through to the truth and bluntly show what people are feeling but not expressing to their loved ones.” The idea is a fun, novel one, and really captured a lot of attention when Siegel posted it, on Valentine’s day in 2018. Now, a whole book of candy heart comics await anyone who wants to read something earnest and short.

While obviously anthropomorphic candy hearts have different physiology to human beings, they really come across in Siegel’s comics as bizarrely human. Their faces are expressionless, but their body language expresses almost as much as the lettering on the hearts. The collection is humorous, blunt, and raw, full of jokes that hit hard and sometimes come a little too close to the truth. While it is a fast read, it is a joy to revisit, and well worth a place on your shelf. Some of my favorite bits include the tiny baby hearts, and the dogs, which are both cute while the latter are adorably derpy. There is just something so sweet about a little candy heart playing with a truck, and a dog with one of its eyes hovering out of focus. Word to the wise, I did find myself reading the funnier ones aloud to my significant other, so if you do buy this book for a loved one, prepare to listen to it as they chortle over the more amusing tableaux.

Candy Hearts is out February 2, 2021, and can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. If you wish to support this blog, you can also buy it from Amazon using our affiliate link.

Posted in Books

“Family Ties” by Sarah Richman

Family Ties

Family Ties is a middle-grade novel set slightly in the future, in a world where androids and humans coexist, though not entirely in harmony. The first generation of androids lived on the edges of society, but now the second generation is slowly being integrated into the mainstream. Android neighborhoods are established, and there are even programs opening up schools to android kids and teens. But, some humans fear and hate androids, and want to prevent them from finding a place in the human world.

Julie is a freshman in high school, and though she loves media club and doing the morning announcements, she’s made few friends. Julie knows that her family will be moving soon, so she keeps to herself. Julie’s parents are anti-android, and don’t want to live anywhere where androids are accepted in society. When Julie’s high school accepts its first android students, Julie is told she’ll have to share the morning announcements with Leila, a junior- and an android. Julie has a choice to make- can she move past prejudices and make new friends, or should she stick to what her family believes?

This book is an entertaining read that still asks deep questions about what it means to be a person. While the parallels to the civil rights struggle aren’t exact, it’s obvious that this narrative is meant to show the dangers of extremism, with anti-android sentiment standing in for white supremacy. In fact, though possibly not intentionally, this novel more closely reflects the experience of refugees, people who struggle to make a home in the United States but still face prejudice from many.

The story lands really well- Julie is a sympathetic protagonist, but clearly still in the wrong. When she fails to understand the damage her parents’ views are doing, she experiences a kind of “human privilege.” The other characters are well-defined and easy to understand, even the ones we’re not supposed to like. Julie’s parents, in particular, are very well-written. The android teens are by far the most fun, and I would have really liked to see more of them. Overall, this is an engaging read and a great book for anyone looking for some middle grade science fiction that still hits heavy.

Family Ties can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. The author of this book provided a copy for review. Disclosure: This reviewer is a friend of Sarah Richman’s, however, reviews at Chamber of Spoilers are unbiased and reflect only this reviewer’s opinion of the book.

Posted in Books

“Bury the Lede” by Gaby Dunn

Bury the Lede

Bury the Lede is a murder-mystery graphic novel by NTY bestseller Gaby Dunn, a queer writer known for their work with writing partner and frequent collaborator Allison Raskin, as well as their podcast “Bad with Money” and the associated financial memoir.

The book has beautiful art by Claire Roe, which really conveys the mystique and the dark energy of the story, while not venturing too deep into surrealism. The story follows intern Madison Jackson as she struggles to prove herself in the midst of a salacious crime. Content warnings include: sexual assault of minors, drugs, and graphic depictions of violence.

The story, while convoluted, is an interesting journey through a reporter’s big break. Madison, while clearly a sympathetic figure, crosses a lot of lines to get the story, and that makes her a morally ambiguous protagonist, one who you nonetheless root for. Despite her motives, it is difficult to watch Madison alienate herself from the people who care about her and destroy her relationships to get the headline. It will be interesting to see if there are further books that follow this character, to see if she can right the ship or if she’ll spiral deeper into darkness.

Dunn is an expert at creating well-defined characters, and the art aids in differentiating the characters populating the story. There are a number of interesting figures who will hopefully be explored in the future. Though Bury the Lede works fine as a stand-alone, further volumes could really deepen what already exists in the text. I guess we’ll see.

Bury the Lede can be bought wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. If you can, support your local book store.

Posted in Books

“Written in the Stars” by Alexandria Bellefleur

I am always excited to get my hands on a good queer romance, and this one has a gorgeous cover and got some really good initial reviews. While I enjoyed reading it and connected with the characters, it didn’t really live up to the hype for me. It was a really pleasant read, but I thought the premise of it being a Pride and Prejudice retelling didn’t really pan out. I also had a couple of character issues that took away from my enjoyment. I would say it’s still a great book, I think I just went in with my expectations really high due to how much friends and reviewers talked it up.

In terms of what I loved about the book, I really enjoyed Darcy and Elle. Darcy is really easy to understand, and her issues lie really close to the surface, despite how together she looks. Elle felt a little young to me, probably because her issues are mostly based on seeking external validation for her success. I also liked Brendon, he’s a good brother, although I did have a small issue with him initially.

The problem I had with Brendon was mostly that he seemed like a really caring, loving sibling, but he was essentially strong-arming his sister into going on dates and putting herself out there when she clearly wasn’t ready for that. Darcy is closed-off because of past heartbreak, and isn’t willing to open herself up to getting hurt again. Brendon seems like a thoughtful guy and it irked me that he was so clearly not reading her. Their boundaries seemed pretty loose, and Darcy really needed to tell her brother that she needed more time.

I feel like the Pride and Prejudice retelling was a little played up- basically, Elle has a family who doesn’t appreciate her success, a whole mess of siblings, and is an open, dreaming type. Darcy is buttoned up and high-end, wears designer labels and makes snap judgements. The fake-dating trope didn’t really seem like something Elle, who is an honest person, would agree to do. Still, when they got the ball rolling, that worked for the story. I don’t really think this is a “retelling” just because so few of the story beats are followed.

Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who loves romance and is looking for a good f/f read, it’s not too serious and a fun book to pick up over the holidays.

Written in the Stars is available now wherever books are sold, or at your local library.

Posted in Books

“No One Asked for This: Essays” by Cazzie David

I never like to judge a book on anything other than its own merit, but that becomes difficult when the writer has such a visible public persona. While Cazzie David isn’t necessarily a celebrity in her own right, she has a kind of adjacent fame, due to her father’s success and her relationship with Pete Davidson. David is also fairly young, which doesn’t mean her work is juvenile by default, but does give me pause. The point has been made that without her father’s fame, David would not have this book out, and I tend to agree. While No One Asked for This shows definite potential and some of the essays are worth reading, the book is sloppily cobbled together with essays of middling and low quality in addition to the more polished ones. I do think some of the essays are genuinely good and I did enjoy parts of the book. But when putting out essays they should be of uniform quality, and this ain’t it, chief.

No One Asked for This: Essays

In terms of the make up of the book, I would say 50% of the essays were totally intolerable, which automatically means I cannot recommend it in good conscience. 30% of the essays were decent, and 20% were excellent. I can only assume that David had to pad the book with some slapdash work, because her best efforts show a decent writer. It’s just disappointing to read something good, and then immediately be hit in the face with the written equivalent of a leaky garbage bag.

I am probably the closest thing to an ideal reader for this book: I am a mentally ill, Ashkenazi Jewish woman in her mid-twenties who enjoys comedy. That being said, I found some of David’s writing impossible to stomach and way more self-involved than self-exploratory. She exposes a lot of vulnerability, but without any artistic merit, it is completely superfluous and soulless. If you’re going to get deep, you have to draw something out of it, and it felt more like she was like, “Look! Look at my thorny pain!” Which is fine, but not especially interesting. I did find her anxiety relatable, but at some point an essay needs to be about more than just your feelings of dread. I also felt a little weird about her insistence that she didn’t want to take medication for her mental health, which was repeated throughout the book. Why? Medication is pretty great. She described herself as someone bowing under the weight of anxiety and depression in an alternating manner, which sounds pretty terrible when the alternative is going to the doctor and possibly some side effects.

The best essays in the book are “Mean Sister,” “Tweets I Would Tweet If I Weren’t Morally Opposed to Twitter: I,” “I Got a Cat for My Anxiety,” “Moving Out,” and “Erase Me.” The rest are either outright bad or mostly forgettable, so I would advise just checking the book out of a library and reading these ones. I did enjoy reading David’s depiction of her family, which seems about as eccentric as you’d expect. Her obligatory Pete Davidson essay was actually quite impressive- being the ex of a person who suddenly becomes Very Famous for dating someone Ridiculously Famous is a rare experience. I think it comes across that Davidson was deeply mentally ill, as was David. I don’t agree that it’s an unflattering depiction of Davidson or his ex-fiancĂ©, pop star Ariana Grande. Frankly, given how David was treated by the media and Grande’s army of child fans, the way she writes about them is fair. Leaving an emotionally exhausting and unsteady relationship is a fair thing to do, and I think becoming more Famous by Relation than David was used to effected her a lot. Being a famous person’s kid is very different than being the ex-girlfriend of the fiancĂ© of one of the most famous people in the world. Overall, I thought it was fine.

While I wasn’t overly impressed by No One Asked for This, I will keep an eye out for further writings by David. I think her work shows a lot of potential and I’m interested to see what is next for her.