Book Review: “The Grim Reader,” by Kate Carlisle

Hello, reading people! I am so sorry to have been absent – my job job is kicking my butt, and the unrest in New York has made it hard to focus on anything other than the news. It has been a rough couple of weeks, but things are looking up. I hope you have all stayed safe and spread awareness in your own way.

I just had the opportunity to finish Kate Carlisle’s newest Bibliophile Mystery (14th book!), The Grim Reader. This has long been one of my favorite cozy series, and I was giddy to get it in the mail as a preorder. So without further ado…

From the Publisher:

Brooklyn and her new hunky husband, Derek, are excited to be guests at Dharma’s first annual Book Festival. The entire town is involved and Brooklyn’s mom Rebecca is taking charge. In addition to all of her other event related duties, she’s got Brooklyn doing rare book appraisals and is also staging Little Women, the musical to delight the festival goers. If that wasn’t enough, she and Meg—Derek’s mom—will have a booth where they read palms and tarot cards.

Brooklyn couldn’t be prouder of her mom’s do-it-all attitude so when a greedy local businessman who seems intent on destroying Dharma starts harassing Rebecca, Brooklyn is ready to take him down. Rebecca is able to hold her own with the nasty jerk until one of her fellow festival committee members is brutally murdered and the money for the festival seems to have vanished into thin air. 

Things get even more personal when one of Brooklyn’s nearest and dearest is nearly run down in cold blood. Brooklyn and Derek go into attack mode and the pressure is on to catch a spineless killer before they find themselves skipping the festival for a funeral.

What I loved:

  • Meg and Becky (Derek and Brooklyn’s moms, respectively): Meg and Becky became fast friends during and after Derek and Brooklyn’s engagement, and this book really gets to show that friendship. Meg and Becky find the first body in the book, and instead of swooning over like Brooklyn and Derek seemed to expect, they were both excited to solve a mystery. They are made of tough stuff, and I love seeing strong moms shown in books.
  • The book festival. In The Grim Reader, Dharma is hosting its first ever book festival, with the theme being Little Women. First of all, I love book festivals, and second, I love Little Women. This felt particularly timely given the release of the theatrical version of Little Women in December 2019, and the resurgence of women supporting women. It was also so good to read, since BookCon has been moved virtually for COVID and the fate of the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book festival 2020 unknown. I loved hearing about the workshops going on and the play being performed, given all that I missed this year.

What Didn’t Work:

  • Derek and Brooklyn: Like every devotee of this series, I love the romance between Derek and Brooklyn. It finally culminated in them getting married two books ago, and since then, they have become frankly annoying. Being in a very happy relationship myself, I still can’t relate to Brooklyn fawning over Derek at all times, and not being annoyed by other women checking him out because “how can they not?” I am generally all for romance, but this is borderline “cutesy.”
  • The (lack of) bookbinding. One of the biggest reasons I love this series is the extended descriptions of Brooklyn’s job, namely, binding and restoring antiquarian books using old techniques and arts. It is what was appealing to most fans, I think, since many cozies don’t have a main character whose profession is as interesting as this (most cozy main characters are store owners or librarians – also cool, but this is unique and cool). In The Grim Reader, Brooklyn only works on Little Women once in full detail, and a few other times “off-page,” and it wasn’t really a satisfying enough amount. A lot of energy was spent on Brooklyn’s family goings-on, and not nearly enough on the real secondary reason why people read a Bookbinding series: for the bookbinding.

Bottom Line:

While I love this series and will continue to order and read it, The Grim Reader kind of failed to capture me. Too much time was spent on Brooklyn’s family, and not enough on either the mystery (two deaths should be given more weight), or the bookbinding process. This was also not as good at catching new readers up to speed as some prior books in the series were, so first time readers of the Bookbinder Mystery series are going to be confused at the character dump that occured here. Three out of five waves for diehard fans, but this is semi-inflated by my love of the series as a whole. However if you are new to the series, I don’t want this review to detract you from checking out book one, Homicide in Hardcover, because it really is great!


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