Tag Archives: mystery

These Shallow Graves

these-shallow-graves

Title:  These Shallow Graves
Author:  Jennifer Donnelly
Publisher:  Random House Teens
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-0-385-73766-1

Book Summary:
Josephine Montfort is of the New York Montforts, and that means Miss Sparkwell’s School for Young Ladies, balls and galas, and finding a suitable husband.  It does not mean writing school newspaper stories about the abuses of young girls in the textile mills.  Even in 1890, after Nellie Bly’s exposés, true journalism is not an opportunity open to Jo.  However, when Jo’s father dies from an accident while cleaning his gun, her world crumbles.  Her mother descends into a depression and Jo is all but cooped up in the house of mourning.

When a chance opportunity occurs for her to deliver an item bequest in his will, Jo jumps at the prospect of visiting one of her late father’s holdings, the Standard, a city newspaper.  In awe of the bustle and excitement of the newspaper, Jo overhears the shocking accusation that her father’s death wasn’t an accident; it was suicide.  Overwhelmed by grief and confusion, Jo searches her father’s study for some indication of rationale and finds her father’s agenda.  Questioning of her uncle reveals that the cause of death was suicide but Jo continues to search for more answers.  The further she delves into the mystery, the more uncertain the facts become until Jo realizes that her father’s death wasn’t an accident or suicide; it was murder.

With the help of a scrappy ace reporter, a talented pickpocket, and a budding forensic doctor, Jo stretches out further from the home and life she has known and faces a new, sometimes exhilarating and sometimes terrifying, world.  The question is how much of her old life is she willing to let go and how much does she not want to return to.  The stakes of status, honor, and integrity are high but the threats to her sanity and life may be even greater.

Book Commentary:
I’ve read a few of Jennifer Donnelly’s adult books and enjoyed them, but this mystery book really caught my attention.  It is a young adult book but is unique in that it is a true historical mystery; mystery books are a rarity among young adult fiction.  Although I could see where the plot was going, I enjoyed how the author showed the growth of experience and knowledge in the young protagonist.  The concept of a young girl from a well-to-do family exploring the seedier side of the world is not a new one; what makes this story a bit unique is her clear awareness of both sides of life.  She realizes what sacrifices must be made on both sides while still maintaining a realistic naivety and open-eyed outlook on the world.

I found the book to be very enjoyable and I loved the gothic feel.  Amazon recommends the book for 9th grade and up and I think that is appropriate.  Although there is no sex, references and discussions are made in a youthful questioning and reflective way.  As the character learns what a brothel is, what it entails, and what it means for girls less privileged that she, the innocence is almost heart-breaking.

Who might like this book:
My daughter and I have had numerous discussions about the dearth of good young adult mysteries – historical or not – that don’t involve vampires, dystopian societies, or sappy emotions.  I think this book is a refreshing change and one that adults – both young and old – may enjoy.

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A Most Novel Revenge

a-most-novel-revenge

Title:  A Most Novel Revenge (Amory Ames 3)
Author:  Ashley Weaver
Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-1-250-6045-7

Book Summary:
Amory and Milo Adams have two murder investigations under their belts, and after five years of marriage, they finally seem to have arrived at a place of compromise and understanding.  Never satisfied at being in one place too long, Milo has his sights on travel to Italy with his wife for a quiet winter respite.  Plans change quickly however when Laurel, Amory’s cousin, emphatically requests her presence at a house party at Lyonsgate, the country house of Reginald Lyons, an old friend of Laurel’s.  Although Laurel and Milo have never been overly fond of one another, Laurel and Amory were both only children and their cousins’ bond is as close as sisters, so Amory and Milo accept.

The estate of Lyonsgate is a bit rundown and has been uninhabited for many years because it was the site of a raucous party where one of the attendees died.  Although the death was ruled an accident, Reginald moved away from the house.  Unsure of why Reginald has returned, Amory and Milo are shocked to discover that the other invitees to the house party were the same guests that were present that fateful night, including socialite Isobel Van Allen.

Years prior following the accident, Isobel wrote a fictionalized account of a murder at a high society house party that closely resembled the actual events that occurred at Lyonsgate.  The publication of the book and the scandal that ensued cost many of the participants heavily: loss of occupations, social exile, and even death.

Yet, Isobel doesn’t seem to be finished with the story.  She announces the first night at dinner that she is writing a sequel that will reveal even more of the details of that fateful night.  Although many years have passed, some secrets are meant to be buried and the truth is not always what it seems.  Amory and Milo present an unbiased observation of the events but quickly become embroiled in the lies and the scandal and must work together to unmask a killer.

Book Commentary:
This series has moved into my top five favorite mystery series.  The characters are fantastic and the setting of the elite rich following World War I presents a modern view of a society trying to maintain its old traditions and lifestyle in a rapidly changing world.  I love the details of the clothing, the cars, and the social nuances of this generation.  The way the characters cling to the customs and protocol of their place in society as chaos reigns down around them is truly fascinating.

I have mentioned in my previous reviews how much I love the character of Amory.  This book actually presents a bit more of her emotional and vulnerable side, which I think reflects the slowly evolving growth of Milo and Amory’s marriage.  As someone who doesn’t have a connection to the characters involved in the scandal, Amory is able to present an unbiased viewpoint; however, she quickly become invested in the truth which makes her even more likeable but also susceptible to danger.

I am also quite the fan of Milo and love how his character develops in this third installment.  He seems to have come to a comfortable place in admiring Amory’s detective abilities but also, surprisingly, shows a fierce sense of protection of her.  Events occur that show some of his own vulnerability and fears but he still maintains his unruffled and calm demeanor.

Who might like this book:
A really great, well plotted series with engaging characters and mystery that includes all the necessities of love, revenge, jealously, and greed.

Check out my reviews for the first two books in the series:
Murder at Brightwell
Death Wears a Mask

A Terrible Beauty

a-terrible-beauty

Title:  A Terrible Beauty (Lady Emily 11)
Author:  Tasha Alexander
Publisher:  Minotaur Press
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-1-250-05827-0

Book Summary:
Following the heartbreak of Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, as seen in The Adventuress,  Lady Emily decides a change of scenery would be best for her friend.  In an attempt to lift his spirits, Lady Emily and husband Colin Hargreaves, whisk Jeremy off to a holiday in Greece.  They are joined by Emily’s good friend Margaret.  A lover of all things Latin, Margaret and Emily plan lively debates and entertaining excursions.  The friends will stay on the island of Santorini at Emily’s villa, left to her by her deceased first husband, Lord Philip Ashton.

Philip left for a hunting trip to Africa right after the couple was married and died abroad, victim of poisoning.  Perhaps it is the impending trip to the island that Philip was so fond of, Emily is haunted by thoughts of her first husband exacerbated by strange occurrences that plague her mind.  First, an unsigned postcard arrives addressed to The Viscountess Ashton, a name she has not used in over five years since her marriage to Colin.  Then, Philip’s journal entry of the night of their engagement is pulled out of its hiding place and put in plain sight.  Finally, Emily is sure that she has seen the ghost of her dead husband both on the boat to Greece and hiding behind a column in the ruins.

When the friends arrive in Santorini, the housekeeper shocks them with the news that the Viscount Ashton is there.  Although his face had aged by time and the sun, Philip is who Emily remembers.  He recounts a fantastic tale of an escape from near death by poison, of wandering through the plains of Africa, a rescue by a kind-hearted traveler, and a renewed passion for archaeology.

As overwhelmed by confusion as Emily is, her husband, once Philip’s best friend, is beset with grief and guilt at the possibility that he had left his friend for dead.  The couple is also unsure how his arrival will affect the status of their marriage and more importantly the legitimacy of their children.

The conflict mounts as they discover that Philip has been pursued by an illegal antique artifacts dealer who is convinced that he is in possession of a piece of Achilles’ helmet.  An expert and scholar on Achilles, Phillip is convinced of the authenticity of the artifact that he discovered but distraught at how it was stolen from him moments after its unearthing.  The tension rises as dead bodies, mysterious conversations, and haunting clues follow as Emily and Colin must work together to prevent more loss and to salvage their marriage.

Book Commentary:
Oh, how I loved this book!!!  I have been reading Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series for years but I think this one might be my favorite.  She hearkens back to the adventure and uncertainty of Colin and Emily’s first escapes together; there is a sense of a simpler time as they struggle to grasp hold of what they know and hold most dear.  At times the reader isn’t sure if he can trust Emily’s perceptions as she is often clouded by pain, guilt, and fear.

I really enjoyed the development of Colin’s character; he always seems to be so in charge and in control.  In this novel, we see a break in the calm, cool exterior.  His obvious love for Emily and his genuine compassion for his friend present conflicting emotions and he at times seems a bit lost.  I think this adds a great deal of humanity to his character; the dimension of his raw emotions and his true sense of integrity and honesty create a disjointedness and vulnerability that makes the reader enjoy him even more.

Philip’s character is the most fascinating in the story.  We are reminded how time distorts memories and we can’t always trust what Colin remembers about his friend.  Emily interaction with Philip prior to his departure to Africa consisted only of their courting and very brief marriage; she knows him only through the journals that he left behind.  Philip too has created idolized memories of Emily and their relationship.

Throughout the novel, I felt a sense of heartbreak for these characters and the conflicting emotions that they must be facing.  At the same time, the tension of the stolen artifacts and the ensuing violence build to a very climatic ending.

Who might like this book:
I know that I have mentioned this before, but Tasha Alexander’s biography indicates that she was an English major “in order to have a legitimate excuse for spending all her time reading.”  You have to respect an author who loves reading as much as she does!

This story further capitalized on Emily’s (and the author’s) love of Greece.  The descriptions of the sites visited and the historical details provide a feel of a travelogue, meshed with an exciting story.

Read the series in order.  You will do a disservice to yourself if you miss any of the previous adventures.

And Only to Deceive
A Poisoned Season
A Fatal Waltz
Tears of Pearl
Dangerous to Know
A Crimson Warning
Death in the Floating City
Behind the Shattered Glass
The Counterfeit Heiress
The Adventuress

An Untimely Frost

an-untimely-frost

Title:  An Untimely Frost (Lilly Long 1)
Author:  Penny Richards
Publisher:  Kensington
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-1-4967-0602-7

Book Summary:
Since the age of eleven, Lilly Long has lived life on stage.  Over the years, her skills as an actress have been honed with talents in disguise, speaking different languages, and sword-fighting; however, her skills for finding a suitable husband are lacking.  In the four months she was married to Tim Warner, he took her innocence, her self-respect, and her confidence.  When their confrontation eventually comes to blows, she quickly realizes that it is time to break off their relationship and seek out a fresh start.  One that appeals to Lilly is helping other women avoid being taken advantage of, as she was.

In 1881, the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Chicago has just begun to hire on young women.  Although the famous Allan Pinkerton is open to female recruits, his sons William and Robert are less convinced of their effectiveness.  Through four separate interviews, acting as four separate women, Lilly is able to surprise the agency with her spunk and adaptability, and she is hired on in a trial term as a detective.  After a few weeks of training and research, Lilly is given her first assignment.

Sent to the small town of Vandalia, she is charged with finding the Reverend Harold Purcell, former owner of the estate called Heaven’s Gate.  A new buyer is interested in the property but cannot purchased it until the previous owners are found.  The Reverend and his family disappeared in the middle of the night from Heaven’s Gate after absconding with church funds.  It is obvious that the townspeople have an intense dislike of the Reverend; however Lilly is surprise by the fear and histrionics that accompany the mention of his name.

When Lilly ventures out of town to the home site, she senses the unease of the abandoned site.  After the Reverend’s departure, dark red stains were discovered in the house.  Lilly is convinced that something very evil occurred there.  There is also the uncomfortable feeling she has of being watched and followed.  As she continues her detecting, she runs into more roadblocks and is even threatened.  Why don’t the townspeople want to help her find the Reverend?  And, what evil has cast such a shadow over the town?  Lilly must solve the secrets or she is going to find her first assignment as a Pinkerton agent, her last.

Book Commentary:
I have always been fascinated with the Pinkerton Detective agency and its evolution into the modern day FBI.  I particularly am interested in stories of how the Pinkerton Agency assisted during the Civil War.  This fresh new series has a lot of potential to show a fictionalized account of a female Pinkerton Agent.

I enjoyed how the author provided a strong rationale for Lilly to become an agent, and particularly found her skills as an actress applicable for her to be successful.  Little bits of her own personal history were presented, but there is definitely an opportunity for more depth and continued stories about her past.

Without giving too much away, another character is introduced in the story who will also continue to make an appearance in future adventures.  I look forward to watching as they struggle between conflict and cooperation.

As a former resident of Illinois, I also enjoyed the references to different locations and landmarks.

Who might like this book:
A very pleasant start to a new series with a lot of potential.  The next book in the series Though This Be Madness is set for release in May of 2017.

Murder at the Brightwell

Murder at the Brightwell

Title:  Murder at the Brightwell (Amory Ames 1)
Author:  Ashley Weaver
Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Publication Date:  2014
ISBN:  978-1-250-07462-1

Book Summary:
England, 1932.  World War I is over and England is enjoying prosperity and a new age.  Amory Ames has been married to Milo for five years; although very charming and handsome, Milo shows little contentment at staying home with his wife.  He prefers traveling around the continent with, as he states, “more money than he could ever spend.”

When Gil Trent, Amory’s friend and ex-fiancé asks for help, she accepts an invitation to Brightwell as a welcome change.  Gil wants Amory to attend under the pretext that she is leaving her husband for him; a charade that Amory isn’t completely comfortable with.  Gil is concerned because his beloved sister Emmeline is engaged to Rupert Howe, a notorious playboy and gambler.  Gil hopes that if Emmeline sees how Amory is trying to leave a similar marriage, that she might reconsider the proposal.  Fellow guests at the resort include the Rodgers, a paradoxical couple of a solemn solicitor and a vibrant platinum blonde; the Hamiltons, a nasty critical husband and a shy unassuming wife; and Lionel Blake, a rising star of the British stage.

When Milo unexpectedly returns from Monte Carlo prior to her departure, Amory is confused but chooses to help Gil anyway.  The first evening at Brightwell is filled with dining and dancing and sly looks and whispered exchanges.  Gil and Amory plan to meet Rupert and Emmeline for tea the next day, but when they arrive, they discover Emmeline perplexed as Rupert is nowhere to be found.  Looking over the stone balcony, Amory is shocked to discover his body lying on the ground.  Inspector Jones arrives and, contrary to what is suspected, rules that Rupert was murdered.

Amory quickly becomes embroiled in the investigation when Gil’s dislike of Rupert becomes known and he rises to the position of top suspect.   It seems however that many of the guests had encounters with and dislikes of Rupert and the facts become muddied.  To complicate matters even more, Milo shows up at the resort.  Amory struggles with juggling between her friendship with Gil and her marriage to Milo.  Who does she trust, and just as important, who does she love?  As more accidents occur, Amory realizes that the culprit must be discovered quickly before she also becomes a victim.

Book Commentary:
What a completely delightful story!!  Set in the posh elegance of polite society, Amory is a woman caught in a marriage and life that seems to have no purpose.  Although obviously still in love with her husband, she feels as though she were ambling with no purpose.  She is a smart and clever heroine but also quite staid and reserved.  This contrast, coupled with carefully guarded emotions, creates a sense of mystery about her; however this mystery is only perceived by herself.  Told from the first person perspective, Amory reveals her fears and loneliness but doesn’t ever wallow in self-pity.

Milo, however, is the true mystery character and the author does a fabulous job at making the reader question who he is and what is his purpose.  The author does not reveal all and I look forward to his appearance in future stories.

I also loved the descriptions of this obviously elite resort; the details about the clothing, décor, and cuisine help to create the high-society feel of the setting and draws the reader into the story.

Who might like this book:
You know I love a good English mystery and this one definitely fits the bill.  Amory is a very likeable character and the time between the World Wars provides fodder for a great story. Unlike others I have read set during this time period, there is no international intrigue but rather a focus on the lifestyles and recreations of the very wealthy.

I was thrilled when I started to write this review to discover that the book was published in 2014.  A second book Death Wears a Mask is also out and a third book A Most Novel Revenge is set for publication in October of 2016.

The Red Notebook

The Red Notebook

Title:  The Red Notebook
Author:  Antoine Laurain
Publisher:  Gallic
Publication Date:  2014
ISBN:  978-1-908313-86-7

Book Summary:
As Laure arrives home late at night, she is mugged and her purse is stolen.  Although her head was knocked against the wall, she is more distraught about the loss of her purse and all the memories . . . her entire life . . . that the purse contained.  She stumbles across the street to a small hotel and begs for a room, explaining what happened and her intent to contact a friend who has a key to let her in the next morning.  She looks out the window across the street to her flat and can see her cat sitting in the window.  In the morning, when she doesn’t answer the door, the maid finds her unconscious.

While walking to a local café to enjoy a morning espresso, bookseller Laurent discovers a discarded purse in the rubbish bin.  A beautiful purse, Laurent feels that no one would just throw it away.  With his mother’s words that “a man should never go through a woman’s handbag” haunting his thoughts, he takes the purse to his home.  With great apprehension, Laurent opens the purse in an attempt to discover the owner.  He finds no wallet or cell phone, but instead a myriad of objects that define the woman who owns the purse: a lipstick tube, an envelope of photographs, a few smooth stones, an autographed copy of a well-known writer, a generic dry-cleaner receipt, and a red notebook full of the owner’s thoughts, dreams, fears, and desires.

With nothing but the items in the purse, Laurent is intent upon finding the owner of the purse.  He wants to return her belongings, but more importantly he wants to meet the woman behind the words in the red notebook.  And so, a quest through Paris begins.

Book Commentary:
One of the most enjoyable books I have read in a very long time.  A beautiful story, part romance, part mystery, part quest-adventure, and all Parisian.  At only 159 pages, it is a quick read but an absolutely beautiful story.  Written in very short bursts of chapters, the story fluctuates between Laure, Laurent, and numerous other people who are part of their lives.  I am so impressed at the skill of the author to create such depth in his characters though the lives of the other characters.

Written originally in French, there are numerous subtle nuances of Parisian life and culture.  As I have mentioned previously, France has never been on my list of places that I want to visit but recently as I have read so many books set in France, my interest is piqued.  I am curious how those who have visited this country and Paris in particular would enjoy this book.  There is a fair about of satire about modern life that was both poignant and mildly embarrassing as the author truly grasps the flaws and foibles of humanity.

The mystery lover in me thoroughly enjoyed how Laurent, not even a novice detective, uses the items in Laure’s purse to discover who she is and what the items say about her personality and character.  He seems to fall in love with this woman he has never met simply through what is represented in her purse.  It makes me wonder what people would think of me based on the contents of my purse!!

The romantic in me loves how Laurent painstakingly searches for Laure and how his analysis of each of the items in her purse guides his pursuit; a pursuit for the owner, but also a quest in which he discovers so much about himself as well.

Who might like this book:
Like I mentioned, it is a quick read for anyone who likes a simple life mystery, a sweet love story, or an immersion into Parisian life.  But don’t think this is a unassuming book; the depth of human frailty and desire, the question of who we are and where are lives take us, the items that represent our lives, beliefs, and passions are all presented in a straightforward, and at times, brutally honest manner.  I haven’t been touched by a book this much in a while.

The author has written another book, The President’s Hat about President François Mitterrand’s hat, that I am very excited to read, and French Rhapsody to be released in October 2016.

The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next Door

Title:  The Girl Next Door (Carter Ross 3)
Author:  Brad Parks
Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Publication Date:  2012
ISBN:  978-1-250-01340-8

Book Summary:
Strolling through the obituaries looking for inspiration for a story, Carter Ross reads about the death of Nancy Marino, a waitress and a delivery person for the Eagle-Examiner.  Even though Carter never meet her, he feels that he owes a fellow employee an article about the life of this everyday woman.  Carter heads to her wake to get input from friends and family but the combination of a confrontation with his publisher Gary Jackman and the whisperings of Nancy’s family indicates that there is much more to this story.  One sister clams up quickly but the other one is convinced that her death was not an accident.

Carter searches the scene of Nancy’s hit-and-run death and uncovers a witness whose story indicates that the accident was intentional.  Unfortunately, Carter’s new editor and sometime girlfriend, Tina Thompson, has removed him from the story upon the request of her higher-ups.  Carter, however, cannot let it go.

His quest for the truth involves a English major intern, Lunky, whose knowledge of literature vastly surpasses his ability to write copy; Nikki, Nancy’s fellow waitress at the Greek restaurant; Jim McNabb, local union executive director; and Tommy Hernandez, City Hall beat writer.  The more involved Carter gets into the story, the more his personal and profession life seem to fall apart and he must decide if his job and his life are worth the story.

Book Commentary:
This is the third Carter Ross book I have read and they just keep getting better.  Carter is a truly likable character but he is always very real, very human, and very flawed.  There are times when I am cheering for his decisions and other times I am smacking my face at his mistakes.  He is someone the reader wants to root for.  The author has also done a great job at incorporating multi-dimensional secondary characters; they are interesting and believable enough to help advance the plot without taking away from Carter and his main story.

I really enjoyed Carter’s struggle in this book with “machine of newspaper publishing.”  In this day and age of computers and the internet and instant news, it is sometime difficult to see the necessity of in-depth reporting and research.  Carter’s quest for the truth and the hurdles through which he must jump show just how intricate and complex news and truth really are.

Who might like this book:
The series does a great job at presenting modern journalism in a useful and meaningful way.  The series highlights the classic respect of the newspaper age as it struggles to find its place in a modern world.  However, the stories aren’t meant to be social commentary and the facts about the industry never detract from the main story itself.

It is obvious that the writer is a former newspaperman.  He truly tells a good story.  I have to thank my daughter for this one; I got her interested in the series and she put this book on her birthday wishlist.  I bought it for her but had to read it first!  Guess I will have to give it to her a bit early!