Thank you, Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books, for this ARC of Maggie Blackburn’s new series!
What may not be apparent on my blog is that I have a secret semi-guilty pleasure for cozy mysteries. Beyond that, I love cozy mysteries that include “book people,” whether it be librarians, book sellers, or book cafes. So when I received Little Bookshop of Murder , I was particularly excited. So without further ado:
From the Publisher:
A Shakespearean scholar inherits a beachside bookshop–and a murder mystery–in this delightful new cozy series for fans of Kate Carlisle and Ellery Adams.
Summer Merriweather’s career as a Shakespeare professor hangs by a bookbinder’s thread. Academic life at her Virginia university is a viper’s pit, so Summer spends her summer in England, researching a scholarly paper that, with any luck, will finally get her published, impress the Dean, and save her job. But her English idyll ends when her mother, Hildy, shuffles off her mortal coil from an apparent heart attack.
Returning to Brigid’s Island, NC, for the funeral, Summer is impatient to settle the estate, sell her mom’s embarrassingly romance-themed bookstore, Beach Reads, and go home. But as she drops by Beach Reads, Summer finds threatening notes addressed to Hildy: “Sell the bookstore or die.”
Clearly, something is rotten on Brigid’s Island. What method is behind the madness? Was Hildy murdered? The police insist there’s not enough evidence to launch a murder investigation. Instead, Summer and her Aunt Agatha screw their courage to the sticking place and start sleuthing, with the help of Hildy’s beloved book club. But there are more suspects on Brigid’s Island than are dreamt of in the Bard’s darkest philosophizing. And if Summer can’t find the villain, the town will be littered with a Shakespearean tragedy’s worth of corpses–including her own.
What I Liked:
- The setting. Little Bookshop takes place on a tiny island in the Carolinas that faces the ocean. The scenes are written beautifully, with the bookshop having a view of the sea, Summer often walking on the shore and sitting in the dunes, and her mother’s cottage is a convenient stroll the the beach. Having been raised in a very similar situation, I sympathized with the struggle of dealing with tourists while preserving your own land. Blackburn also made it easy to “follow” Summer and her cousins as they went to and fro on the island.
- The premise. While I think this book missed the execution (more below), I think that Little Bookshop has good bones. The main character Summer is an overwhelming literature snob (I think anyone who has ever been an English major can relate) who is made to learn that even “basic bitch” books like cozy mysteries can be worth reading. She is the inherited owner of a beach read bookshop, replete with cozy mysteries, romances, and paranormal books.
“She aspired to be one of those magnanimous teachers and people. You know, the one who would say, “As long as your son or daughter is reading”… but no… just no. Her philosophy: Read the good stuff. You have so much time on this planet, don’t fill your head with badly written books.”
This starting point has a lot of promise, because to be frank, her character arc can only go up from there. Summer does show some growth, despite herself. Further, the bookstore element has great bones – it is a cozy trope that works well for the genre. Body in the Library, much?
- The bird. Maybe there is an issue with a book whose best character is an aging parrot named Mr. Darcy, but he was a pip. I loved the addition of an unusual pet (most cozies stick with the faithful dog or sassy cat), and I thought that Mr. Darcy actually added a fun twist.
What Didn’t Work:
- The Execution. When I first started reading Little Bookshop, I genuinely thought it was written by a new author as a debut because of the clunky execution. To start, Summer Merriweather is the most ridiculously contrived name for someone who grew up on a beach. While I can appreciate the hippy origin, it was too much. Second, the fact that she could lose tenure based on something as silly as a viral arachnophobia video is almost insulting to anyone who has been in academia. The fact that Summer came into her mother’s store and decided she could do the books, make the orders, and the like without any training or knowhow is unrealistic for anyone wanting to run a successful business. The author does not seem to have done lot of research into key plot points, and it shows.
- Poorly executed feminism. When I first started Little Bookshop, it became apparent that the author wanted her female characters to be strong independent women (Summer, her aunt Agatha, her cousin Piper, niece Mia, and deceased mother) who didn’t need any man. I appreciated it, since sometimes cozies can fall into the bucket of bosom heaving, incompetent women. However, somehow all of the strong women that Blackburn lined up were all ineffective, and instead of making men supporting characters, she made them all bumbling, stupid, and incompetent. She threw in a potential love interest for Summer then had him disappear into the pages, and has Summer, Agatha, and Piper get themselves into sticky situations headlong. Instead of having her women be strong and independent, she makes them look feckless and unlucky in love. Her mother never told Summer who her father was; Mia’s father literally doesn’t exist according to the book. Summer is downright pretentious and contemptuous of her fellow women instead of strong.
“Summer figured she made Poppy nervous. she had that effect on young women. She was a woman with agency, who wasn’t into the niceties — hair, jewelry, fashion.”
- Bad editing. This is with a grain of salt, because of course this is an ARC and will presumably go through another round of edits; however, some of the issues were egregious. The island that the book takes place on is alternatively called St. Brigid, St. Brighid, and St. Brigits; there is often repetitive sentences throughout the book that I think may have occurred because of word count; characters are introduced then disappear (where did my hunky fire chief go?); and plot points became irrelevant (land developers? where?) I am hoping that this is rectified before publication, but it seems a little late in the game.
I would hesitate to recommend this to anyone other than a die hard cozy fan who could overlook some of the errors. I would recommend Little Shop as a quick beach read (of course!) and something to read at leisure. Two out of five waves! Maybe by the time we are allowed back on the beach, we can read it error free 🙂 Pre-order here and be ready to hit the sand.