As a lover of cozy mysteries, true crime, and Lifetime original movies, I like to think that I pay attention to my surroundings (my family may disagree…). Whenever I’m reading or watching something where someone is trying to solve a murder (or a new person comes to a mysterious town), I frequently find myself mumbling, ‘Don’t do that! That’s not going to end well…’ Imagine my curiousity when I found Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village written by Maureen Johnson and illustrated by Jay Cooper. This is a guidebook full of dark and sarcastic humor all about how to avoid a gruesome death in innocent-looking bucolic English villages, or ‘English Murder Villages’ as the book calls them.
First off, let’s talk about the illustrations. They are absolute perfection, an Edward Gorey-esque set of drawings with only red pops of color to draw your eye to elements of death and murder. Without these illustrations, the book wouldn’t be complete. The illustrations and text perfectly compliment each other.
This book is written from the perspective of an author who wants to warn people of the dangers of visiting English Murder Villages. She wants you to not stray from the big towns as venturing off the beaten path will lead to your inevitable and premature death. As a way to help you survive, she has compiled lists of people and locations to be careful of in the village and the manor. There’s really no safe space, but forewarned is forearmed. This book is full of nods to classic British crime tropes, which I adored. If you have seen/read any Miss Marple, Murder She Wrote, Agatha Christie, or watched/read any cozy mysteries, you may enjoy this death-laden trip through the English countryside (and may pick up some handy tricks to stay alive along the way)!
Pulitzer Prize winning author, Junot Díaz writes with a kind of swagger and cool that makes it pretty hard to believe that he’s a creative writing professor at MIT. Having recently finished reading his third published book, a collection of short stories called This is How You Lose Her, I am convinced that he knows every dirty word in English and Spanish. Particularly if the words are referencing female anatomy. So be warned, this is not the novel for anyone offended by salty and sexual language.
But if you can get beyond that, I can’t recommend this book enough. Díaz, himself a Dominican immigrant, tells stories about immigrants that help create a full picture of why someone is who they are. He shows that machismo is often a projection due to a lack of respect, and poor behavior isn’t something to be excused, but it can sometimes be explained. This is never more true than in his semi-autobiographical character, Yunior, the protagonist of most of this collection.
Readers may have met Yunior in Díaz’s The Brief Life of Oscar Wao (winner of the aforementioned Pulitzer) or in his first published collection of short stories, Drown, but I met Yunior for the first time after he cheated on Magda in This is How You Lose Her. As he cheats his way through many of these short stories — and continues to imprison himself in grief and regret following the discovery of his transgressions — Yunior’s story becomes less about each individual relationship and more about how Yunior’s relationships reflect his own self-image and cultural identity. The most powerful passages in the novel occur in his home, when we meet his family and see the effects of his father and brother’s infidelity on the family. Equally funny and frustrating, Díaz has written a complicated novel that feels both universal and unique.