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Tag: "mystery"

Review: Behind the Shattered Glass by Tasha Alexander

[ 3 ] December 29, 2013

Behind the Shattered GlassReviewed by Christen Krumm

I have been captivated by Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily Mysteries since I picked up book one a few months back at the recommendation of a friend. Described as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with an added murder mystery, this series will surely enchant you as well.

Behind the Shattered Glass is Tasha Alexander’s eighth Lady Emily mystery — and while you do not necessarily need to read the seven books that come before, I highly recommend it if only to know the back story of how Emily and her current husband, Colin, came to be (it is quite the romance let me tell you). Behind the Shattered Glass literally starts out with a bang and sucks you right into the story when the Marquess of Montagu and the Hargreaves’ neighbor, stumbles into the family dinner party at Anglemore Park, the Hargreaves’ ancestral home, and dies on the spot leaving Emily and her hunky, mystery solving husband, Colin, to solve the latest mystery that has fallen into their laps. Who had motive for murdering the young aristocrat? Who was the mysterious woman seen walking with him moments before he was brutally attacked? The answers will surely surprise you!

I love Alexander’s web of mystery. Every time I thought I had figured out who killed the Marquess, another flag would raise up doubts and point towards someone else. And when the murderer is finally revealed in the last chapters, your jaw may very well drop (it is not who you think it is!) Another interesting spin on Alexander’s eighth book is the telling of the story not only from Lady Emily’s first person view, but also in the view of the “downstairs help”. It was a slight switch as you were not in Lady Emily’s head the entire story as you are with previous Lady Emily mysteries, but hearing the story from the servant’s eyes was an aspect that I enjoyed. It also gave the book a slight Downton Abbey feel as you were able to get to know the help and their feelings on the murder that happened within their own walls.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Christen is an aspiring author, book lover, and coffee drinker. She lives in Arkansas with her superhero husband and 2 mini people. Connect with her at her blog: ChristenKrumm.com or Twitter @christenkrumm.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Minotaur Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Isabel’s Skin by Peter Benson

[ 2 ] December 17, 2013

isabels-skin_thumb[1]Reviewed by Cal Cleary

David Morris is satisfied with his quiet life. A book valuer based out of London, Morris is incredibly passionate about his work, and when he’s given the opportunity to visit and value the famed personal library of a recently deceased nobleman, he leaps at the opportunity. But something is deeply wrong in Somerset. The housekeeper is jumpy and judgmental, strictly enforcing odd, inexplicable rules. The townsfolk are reluctant to approach, and won’t go anywhere near the house once night falls. And in a small cottage owned by a visiting academic, David sometimes hears the piercing, shrieking cries of a woman in pain.

The first half of Isabel’s Skin – basically, everything up to the cottage – is fantastic. Moody, evocative, and undeniably memorable, the book’s atmosphere is heavy, pulsing with inhuman life. Benson’s prose contributes a lot to that, creating and maintaining a lot of the tension that drives the early, less overtly exciting chapters. Because, indeed, not a lot happens in the book’s opening chapters, but Benson does a fantastic job of making it feel alive, feel real and as visceral as your fear of the dark. More than real; portentous.

Which is why it’s a shame that the book becomes such a typical potboiler in its back half, dropping its atmosphere of creeping dread and becoming a far less engaging thriller. Its characters remain compelling, but it is a disappointing conclusion to a book that starts as strong as Isabel’s Skin does. The world shrinks, much of the (already small) cast disappears, and any lingering darkness dissipates as Benson shines a light in every dark corner of the book.

Despite Benson’s vivid prose and the book’s strong narrative voice, the further it slipped from its weird, chilling origins, the less I found it holding my attention. In its best moments, Isabel’s Skin is a thoroughly realized recreation of gothic horror storytelling. But its chilly foreshadowing soon gives way to something more predictable, and it follows that path to the end.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Cal Cleary is a librarian, critic and writer in rural Ohio. You can find more of his work at read/RANT and Comics Crux.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Alma Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Asylum by Madeleine Roux

[ 1 ] December 15, 2013

13597728Reviewed by Sarah Lelonek

My taste in books is very predictable. I mostly read young adult novels dealing with the paranormal and unexplained mixed with a little romance. That being said, when I saw Asylum by Madeleine Roux, I was excited. I saw that the book included disturbing photos like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and that the book took place in an asylum renovated to be a college dorm. However, after giving the book a chance, I felt myself unimpressed with the character development as well as the pace of the novel.

Dan Crawford decides to spend the summer before senior year at New Hampshire College Prep. Upon arriving at the school, Dan realizes that his dorm is an old insane asylum. Trying to shake off the general creep factor of the dorm, Dan manages to make two friends even though he was mostly an outcast back home. As time progresses, the three teenagers start to realize, through the use of photographs and clues, that there is much more to this asylum than what meets the eye.

What I liked about the novel was the basic plot. Anything dealing with a questionable old building usually can at least keep my attention. I was expecting an American Horror Story vibe with less gore and cursing. Sure, just being in a building that used to be an asylum is freaky enough, but still, I wanted a little more. The story just didn’t hold my attention after a while. I wanted to know more about the characters so I could connect with them.

The writing was not necessarily bad. It’s just the way the novel was written didn’t exactly stand out. The photos, while interesting to look at, didn’t really seem to do much for the book. I also thought that the teenage romance was forced and not very well explained. This is probably because of a lack of character development. What little development there happened to be in this book really just made the characters seem awkward and childish.

Basically, I didn’t exactly enjoy or not enjoy this book. I liked trying to figure out what had happened with the characters as well as what had happened in the past within the asylum. The plot was interesting and the photos were fun to look at. However, I didn’t like the bland writing style, the kind of romance, or the complete lack of character development. I would have to say Asylum was the epitome of mediocrity.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Sarah Emily Lelonek has a BA in English Literature from Kent State University. She is planning on attending Graduate School for English Rhetoric and Composition. She enjoys traveling and gaming while on breaks from working on her novel.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Inferno by Dan Brown

[ 3 ] December 14, 2013

Inferno-coverReviewed by Sara Drake

Robert Landon (hero of The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol) returns for another adventure. He wakes in a hospital with no memory of why he is in Italy or what day it is – then someone comes to kill him. Racing through Italy, Robert attempts to solve the mystery of his lost memories, avoid those trying to find him, and save humanity. Of course, he has help. The beautiful and mysterious Dr. Brooks.

Dan Brown offers another book with all his trade mark charm. Like most Dan Brown books, you will either enjoy this fast paced adventure or you will hate it. In Inferno, Dan Brown shifts his focus to overpopulation while chasing the symbology found in art and Dante’s Divine Comedy. The insights into Divine Comedy were absolutely fascinating and held my attention throughout. The exotic backdrops and constant action keep the reader turning pages.

Mr. Brown turns the table on the readers two-thirds of the way through the book in a move that would have been stunning if it had worked. Not only wasn’t I convinced by the turn-around, I thought it took a great deal of the suspense from the book, leaving the last portion of the book boring and unsatisfying. Mostly, it felt like a cheat. It seemed like Mr. Brown got so far with the book and couldn’t figure out how to keep it exciting, so he took a short cut. I would explain more but I really don’t want to spoil anything. Fans of Dan Brown will read the book regardless of any review and I would hate to be the one to take the fun of the ending away from them.

I enjoy Mr. Brown’s books, even the ones I roll my eyes at, because he has unique style and voice. All of his books make me pause at least once to actually think about something – which may be why I continue to read them. I enjoyed this one, too, reading it straight through. I’m just not yet willing to forgive him for the ending, so feel free to ignore my complaints.

Overall, Mr. Brown gives us detailed descriptions of foreign destinations, a chance for the reader to travel there in their own minds. I have previously visited many of the locales he describes and enjoyed the trip down memory lane. I could almost taste the cappuccinos. At times, the layers of descriptions felt distracting and I had to fight the urge to skim.

I am sure I’ll pick up the next book he writes. He’s written worse books than this one and much better books. Overall, if you’re a Dan Brown fan, read this book.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Sara Drake has been an avid reader since a young age. She has both a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and a Master’s in History.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Doubleday. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

[ 8 ] December 9, 2013

imagesReviewed by Colleen Turner

When I first started reading The Luminaries I must admit I was a bit intimidated. This chunkster is 830 pages long, is broken up into twelve parts all labeled with a complicated looking astrological chart and location coordinates and has a classical, Victorian writing style to it. However, once I actually started reading it I found it hard to stop. This crime mystery set in 19th century New Zealand is unlike anything I have read before and, for that and many other reasons, was entirely entertaining and consuming.

The first part of The Luminaries is 360 pages all by itself and begins on a dark and stormy night in a small town on the coast of New Zealand. Walter Moody has fled his past and traveled to this remote location to find his future and, hopefully, his fortune in the goldfields nearby. Quite by accident he stumbles upon a secret meeting of twelve men, all seemingly very different but connected by things Mr. Moody has yet to discover. What follows in this first section is the history of each of these men and their separate connections to the strange events that have recently occurred all on the same night, namely the death of a reclusive drunk, the discovery of a vast fortune in gold hidden in the dead man’s home, the disappearance of a wealthy young man and the believed attempted suicide of a prostitute. Is it possible that all of these events happening simultaneously are a coincidence? As each man shares his knowledge and influence over these events it becomes quite clear that there is much they must discover if they will ever know the truth about what really happened on that fateful night.

The next three parts continue into the near future, showing how the men, now thirteen strong with the addition of Mr. Moody, try and put all the small and intricate pieces of these various puzzles together to discover the truth. As these events unfolded it was exhilarating to see how the pieces fit together and how so much of what had been perceived was in fact not what it appeared to be.

The remaining parts of The Luminaries go back in time to show the reader what really happened and come full circle back to the beginning of the story. I absolutely loved this structure and, for me, it helped bring closure to the events discussed as, whether for good or bad, the reader is finally given the facts as they are. By no means does the above description talk about everything going on in this book. The Luminaries is chock full of strange similarities as well as opposites: crime and justice; greed and generosity; love and hate; the mystical and the elemental. It has heavy astrological influences that, to be honest, I don’t believe I fully understand but which I find completely fascinating.

I think my favorite aspect of The Luminaries is the vast amount of time spent on character and setting development. I found it to be a completely immersive experience and the reader can’t help but feel like they are a witness to the complicated events unfolding.

It isn’t hard to see why The Luminaries recently won the Man Booker Prize. Any reader willing to give it the time it deserves will not be disappointed.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Little, Brown and Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Montana by Gwen Florio

[ 0 ] December 6, 2013

20131122__montana-by-gwen-florio~p1_200Reviewed by Cal Cleary

Journalist Lola Wicks has been working in the Middle East for so long now, she’s more at home there than she is at the Baltimore newspaper that employs her. But when the paper cancels all its overseas coverage and brings her home, she finds herself having a tough time fitting back in with an America that’s seemingly left her behind. She plans to go back to Kabul and work for herself as soon as possible, but first she has to take a trip to Montana where former coworker and best friend Mary Alice has semi-retired. She arrives to find Mary Alice dead, her cabin ransacked, and a local sheriff who lacks the experience or resources to handle a murder. Trapped in Montana until the case resolves, Lola decides to pit her formidable know-how against a tight-knit small town that seems to be harboring its fair share of secrets.

Montana is the debut novel of Gwen Florio, retired journalist and Montana transplant. Florio has a clear understanding of the material, with a lot of detail and journalistic anecdotes filling out what is otherwise a fairly slight story. But while Florio understands the surface material well enough to give the world a confident, lived-in feel, I’m less certain about Florio’s grasp on the mechanics of crafting a mystery.

She’s got a rock-solid premise, but (aside from a bang-up prologue) the set-up is also the weakest part of the book, spending far too much time on Lola trying to leave while the universe seemingly throws every possible bit of information she needs to solve the case right at her feet. Mary Alice’s tiny Montana town is only mildly fleshed-out thanks to the somewhat limited page-count, but its residents are by and large fairly memorable. There are a lot of small setting details, too, that make Montana a fun read. But the mystery at the book’s core is unfortunately a non-starter – it quickly becomes less a ‘whodunnit’ and more a ‘why dunnit’ with a goofy, pulpy conclusion that doesn’t sit too well with a lot of what came before.

Too straight-forward to be an effective mystery and too slack to be an effective thriller, Montana succeeds as much as it does on the strength of its characters. It’s not a mistake that the first half of the book is the weakest; while Lola is an interesting protagonist, she needs people to bounce off for the book to come alive. Florio may have a hard time with the structure of the book, but she did a genuinely good job when it came to bringing together a diverse, fascinating cast of characters. There are a lot of strong moments in Montana, but it stumbles too often to build up much momentum off them. With a little more room to breathe and build its world, this could have been an excellent mystery; as is, it’s passable but not particularly exciting.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Cal Cleary is a librarian, critic and writer in rural Ohio. You can find more of his work at read/RANT and Comics Crux.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Permanent Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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