Amy Among the Serial Killers by Jincy Willett (Audio Book / Mystery)

Writing: 5/5 Characters: 4/5 Plot: 4/5 Enjoyment: 5/5

Great title, right?

The titular “Amy” is a 70-something author and ex-writing coach — a bit of a hermit but with a soft spot for some of the members of her last workshops. Carla — an ex-child star is now the owner of “The Point” — a writer’s retreat in La Jolla. Carla is quite possibly Amy’s favorite ex-student (possibly because she saved Amy’s life in the first book — I won’t spoil any more of that as I haven’t read it yet either!). When one of the Point’s writers turns up dead, the cops wonder if the murder is connected with a spate of other local killings — hence the serial killers (note the plural!) in the title.

This is not your typical mystery. It is funny in an insightfully wry style. It is a book by and about writers and writing and is FULL of back stories, stories in progress, story planning, random story thoughts, etc. — creating a kind of fractal story universe that is somehow never confusing. I put this down to some high quality writing — excellent pacing and structure and a truly delightful use of vocabulary and phrasing. Because the characters (who are writers) are often thinking or talking about writing, there are even some lovely and humorous discussions of words themselves which I enjoyed thoroughly. The mystery aspect is good — I did figure it out a little before the characters did, but it was certainly a surprise. The story was nice and twisty and kept me well entertained. Some interesting character reflections as well, not usually present in genre books.

Audio books take more time (for me) than reading the print would, and often that means I get a little bored in parts because I can’t skim. This did not happen at all during this 13 hour audiobook which is saying quite a lot.

So what didn’t I like? While the narrator does a fabulous job with all of the different voices and her pacing and speech clarity were perfect, I did not love her natural voice — or at least the one she uses as the narrator in addition to slightly modified versions for most of the younger characters. It’s what I call a Millennial version of the old Valley Girl speak: lots of mid word tonal shifts and a slightly whiny feel. I think I’m just showing my age here because this does seem to be a popular speech pattern for younger people in some TV shows. I got over it because it was just so entertaining, but it did irritate me for a bit.

Thank you to Dreamscape Media and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this audio book in exchange for my honest review. The audio book will be published on August 23rd, 2022 — the print book is out already!

The Cliff’s Edge by Charles Todd (Historical Mystery)

Number 13 in the Bess Crawford series. Bess served as a nursing sister on the battlefields of WWI in France. Now it is 1919 and the war has ended. Bess is asked to nurse a formidable (and delightful) Countess Dowager through a gall bladder surgery in Yorkshire. But when the Dowager’s godson is gravely injured and another man killed during a terrible accident, Bess goes to help and becomes enmeshed in a bitter feud.

Oddly enough I find this series very calming (for me, not the characters!). The pace of life was slower at that time, and the authors (a mother and son team who go by the pseudonym “Charles Todd”) do an excellent job of blending action, context, interactions, and scene setting to keep the interest of different types of readers. This particular story was more gripping than usual, and I found myself wildly swiping my kindle pages to get to the end. Complete closure on the mystery but an additional little cliffhanger about the personal background of one of the series’ main characters has me wriggling with anticipation.

Thank you to William Morrow and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on February 14th, 2022.

Maame by Jessica George (Literary Fiction)

Writing: 5/5 Plot: 5/5 Characters: 5/5

In Twi (one of the languages spoken in Southern and Central Ghana), Maame means “woman” or “mother” or “Responsible One.” And that is the name by which Maddie is known (and treated) within her (somewhat dysfunctional by many standards) family. This story of the 25 year old dutiful daughter of Ghanaian immigrants in London is beautiful, insightful, humorous, and utterly engaging. Maddie is finally ready to strike out on her own after several years of caring for her Parkinson’s debilitated father whilst her brother and mother have managed to find urgent excuses to be elsewhere. With a new job, a new apartment (with new flatmates), and a few boyfriend experiments, Maddie feels ready to transpose herself into “fun” Maddie and “happy” Maddie, though her true (intentionally stifled) feelings always manage to seep through. With deft and spare prose, the book delves into deep issues of how we become the selves we want to be, rather than the selves that have unintentionally emerged while we were making other plans.

The story explores the roots of Maddie’s desires and unhappiness — seen through the lens of multiple cultures, friends, family, religion, and … the ultimate source of all knowledge … Google. Some honest and new (to me) discussions of racism, from a personal point of view rather than a strident, social justice approach. I loved the first lines: “In African culture — Wait, no, I don’t want to be presumptuous or in any way nationalistic enough to assume certain Ghanaian customs run true in other African countries. I might in fact just be speaking of what passes as practice in my family, but regardless of who the mores belong to, I was raised to keep family matters private.” In one fell swoop George outlined Maddie’s personal context in the many layers of identity to which she belonged.

I absolutely love George’s writing. Great structure with most of the content deriving from interactions (in-person, text), reflections (including some great conversations with “subconscious Maddie” who can be quite flippant bordering on rude), and extensive (and intriguing) “conversations” with Google. I love her use of vocabulary — the exact right word at the exact right spot in the prose. I love that Maddie’s flirtation with one man made extensive use of accurately placed semicolons. I loved Maddie’s Voice — so real and so individual. The language conveys essence and experience skillfully, without resorting to tricks of plots and constant emotional tugging. It feels genuine — that rarest of literary attributes.

So many excellent quotes — here are just a few:

“When Waterloo station approaches, I brace myself for another day at a job Google itself has deemed deserving of a bronze medal in the race to unhappiness.”

“We were friendlier at first, joked around a bit more, but that dried up like the arse of a prune on a date and time I still can’t stick a definitive pin in.”

“For some reason, at night, when you’re meant to be sleeping, your brain wants answers to everything.”

“It’s mentally exhausting trying to figure out if I’m taking that comment on my hair or lunch too seriously. It’s isolating when no one I know here is reading the Black authors I am or watching the same TV shows.”

“Still, that doesn’t change the fact that although I didn’t think I’d be rich I expected to be happy and the failure to do so has left me gasping for air most of the day.”

“I only suffer a few hiccups, mainly with the printer because they’re all bastards and will likely lead the technological charge in the eventual war against humans, but I’ve finished everything before Penny returns from her last meeting of the day.”

“I’d googled what to do when your flatmate is dumped by someone they’re casually seeing, but Google seemed very confused with at least two parts of the sentence.”

“I know what to do, how not to bring attention to myself. I’m skilled in assimilation, though my subconscious is quick to remind me that it’s nothing to be proud of. I have spent the entirety of my professional life in predominantly white spaces. As a bookseller, a receptionist, at the theater, and now a publishing house. Over the years, my instinct has been to shrink myself, to make sure I’m not too loud, to talk only about subjects I feel well versed in.”

“She frowns. ‘I don’t know why you’re offended. Gold-diggers are our nation’s hardest workers; do you know how much effort goes into pretending to give a shit about some guy for his money? A lot. Hoes are Britain’s unsung heroes.”

“It’s about what love is. Which is trust, commitment, empathy, and respect. It means really giving a shit about the other person.”

“I’m late, arriving halfway through, and he’s speaking Fante, which when spoken quickly is like trying to catch bubbles before they pop.”

“I cut the conversation off there because the way I see it, apologies only benefit the beggar. They get a clear conscience, and I get a sequence of hollow words incapable of changing anything.”

“Okay,” she says, and for a word that is often spelled with only two letters, she makes each syllable work hard. I slightly hate her.”

“I think when working in white spaces we can feel programmed to not rock the boat; like, we got a foot in the door and we should try to keep that door closed behind us. Which means you begin assigning any and all problematic issues to just being a part of the job….”

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on February 7th, 2023.