Review: The Ruinous Sweep by Tim Wynne-Jones

Review: The Ruinous Sweep by Tim Wynne-Jones
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Candlewick Press. Thank you!
Publication: June 26, 2018 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

On the night Donovan Turner is thrown out of a car on a highway in the middle of nowhere, he can barely remember his own name, let alone the past twenty-four hours. Where is he? Where is his girlfriend, Bee? In an attempt to flag down the next passing car, he startles the driver, causing a fatal accident. With sirens in the distance and the lingering feeling that he’s running from something — or someone — Donovan grabs the dead driver’s briefcase and flees. Meanwhile, Bee is fighting for Dono’s life every bit as much as he is. But when the police show up and hint that he is the prime suspect in a murder, Bee is determined to put together the pieces of what happened and clear his name. With echoes of Dante’s Divine Comedy, this harrowing journey through hell and back is a page-turning tale of guilt, retribution, love, and redemption.

A rainy night. An empty highway. And no memory. From award-winning author Tim Wynne-Jones comes a riveting murder mystery that will keep readers enthralled until the last page.

Donovan closed his eyes. He couldn’t take much more of this. He was so tired. Too tired to keep his guard up. Words were seeping from him in a slow drip. What was he doing? How did he get here? He searched the empty highway ahead. He was running from something. That had to be it. He glanced back over his shoulder and saw only darkness out the rear window, and below it the darkness of something under wraps, something still breathing but smelling as if it had stopped. 

Twice the winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, critically-acclaimed Canadian author Tim Wynne-Jones returns with The Ruinous Sweep, a labyrinthine young adult mystery. A thrilling read, both sinister and heartbreaking, The Ruinous Sweep lightly draws from Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Wynne-Jones’s novel tells the story of seventeen year old Donovan Turner’s harrowing journey through what appears to be an otherworldly plane as his brilliant girlfriend Beatrice seeks to discover the truth behind his accident and the suspicions that Donovan may have committed murder before he was struck by a car and left for dead.

The first section of The Ruinous Sweep, The Space Casket, is told in alternating third-person narratives between main protagonists Donovan (aka Turn and Dono) and Beatrice (aka Bee). In The Space Casket, readers learn that Turn is in critical condition in the hospital, barely alive after being hit by a car. As his girlfriend Bee sits beside him in the hospital bed, despairing, horrified and angry, she decides to jot down every word or noise Turn makes in the hopes that it may help her figure out what happened. When the narrative shifts back to Donovan’s, readers are taken on an arguably hallucinogenic-like odyssey, equal parts terrifying, isolating, and bizarre. Is Donovan dreaming these strange journeys, in which his manipulative, unkind father and past acquaintances appear…in which gruesome scenes and also happier scenes from his childhood emerge? Has Donovan been tasked to fight his way through some kind of hellish limbo in order to get back to Bee and his mom? Readers might understandably get slightly frustrated with Donovan’s nightmare-like journey: Bee’s narrative is the more immediately viable and present (more directly focused on solving the mystery), and Donovan’s narrative is indeed complicated and sometimes puzzling. However- do go along with Donovan’s journey through The Space Casket: not only is it meticulously written, carefully plotted and planned, but also all comes together in part two, The Bowhunter. In part two, the focus shifts to Beatrice- who grows and truly maintains herself as a hero (faults, mistakes, exceptional moments and all). Through chapters in The Bowhunter, readers are along an unstoppable ride- tense and genuinely frightening- as Bee begins a deep dive into Donovan’s uttered words at the hospital. Looking back into Donovan’s childhood and Donovan’s father’s connections, Bee starts shifting puzzle pieces into play, trying to figure out who might have had cause to harm Turn. While the police assigned to Turn’s case are mostly reticent and on Bee to stay out of their investigation, Bee carries on, leading to an incredibly charged end, both satisfying and bittersweet- one that ties all of novel’s loose strings together.

Overall, a thoroughly compelling, intricately woven, strongly written young adult novel- deeply unusual and unsettling from beginning to end …(I can see The Ruinous Sweep in contention for Canadian lit awards come the season).  Be sure to give yourself the patience and space to let yourself sink first into Donovan’s story and then into Beatrice’s captivating turn. Readers who are fans of authors such as A.S. King, Laurie Halse Anderson, Courtney Summers or Brenna Yovanoff might especially find themselves thoroughly entrenched in the macabre of The Ruinous Sweep.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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Must Read Monday (83): Adult Fiction from Miriam Toews, A.J. Pearce, Uzma Jalaluddin & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction.
 


 
It’s been…a while since the last Must Read Monday, even though I’ve been reading quite a bit and adding too many book to my TBR! But I’m back for this week and have quite a roster of adult fiction titles here. Here’s the rundown: the newest from Canadian award-winner Miriam Toews, entitled Women Talking (which I am ridiculously excited about); Kristen Iskandrian’s contemporary coming-of-age novel Motherest; a Pride and Prejudice retelling called Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, which sounds splendid and intriguing; the gothic-sounding Women of the Dunes by The House Between Tides author Sarah Maine; the historical fiction novel Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce, which sounds utterly touching and lovely; and last but not least, the mystery novel The Dry (Aaron Falk #1) by Jane Harper, which I’ve heard and read terrific things about.

 

The Dry (Aaron Falk #1) by Jane Harper
Publication: January 10, 2017 by Flatiron Books (first published 2016)
Book Description:

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

 

Motherest by Kristen Iskandrian
Publication: August 1, 2017 by Twelve
Book Description:

Marrying the sharp insights of Jenny Offill with the dark humor of Maria Semple, Motherest is an inventive and moving coming-of-age novel that captures the pain of fractured family life, the heat of new love, and the particular magic of the female friendship — all through the lens of a fraying daughter-mother bond.

It’s the early 1990s, and Agnes is running out of people she can count on. A new college student, she is caught between the broken home she leaves behind and the wilderness of campus life. What she needs most is her mother, who has seemingly disappeared, and her brother, who left the family tragically a few years prior.

As Agnes falls into new romance, mines female friendships for intimacy, and struggles to find her footing, she writes letters to her mother, both to conjure a closeness they never had and to try to translate her experiences to herself. When she finds out she is pregnant, Agnes begins to contend with what it means to be a mother and, in some ways, what it means to be your own mother.

 

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Publication: June 12, 2018 by HarperCollins Publishers
Book Description:
Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on.  Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.

 

Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce
Publication: July 3, 2018 by Scribner
Book Description:

London 1940, bombs are falling. Emmy Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent seem suddenly achievable. But the job turns out to be typist to the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.

Mrs Bird is very clear: Any letters containing Unpleasantness—must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant letters from women who are lonely, may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men and found themselves in trouble, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write letters back to the women of all ages who have spilled out their troubles.

Prepare to fall head over heels with Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are spirited and gutsy, even in the face of events that bring a terrible blow. As the bombs continue to fall, the irrepressible Emmy keeps writing, and readers are transformed by AJ Pearce’s hilarious, heartwarming, and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.

 

Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine
Expected publication: July 24, 2018 by Atria Books
Book Description:

From the author of the acclaimed novels The House Between Tides and Beyond the Wild River, a rich, atmospheric tale set on the sea-lashed coast of west Scotland, in which the lives of a ninth-century Norsewoman, a nineteenth-century woman, and a twenty-first-century archeologist weave together after a body is discovered in the dunes.

Libby Snow has always felt the pull of Ullanessm a lush Scottish island enshrouded in myth and deeply important to her family. Her great-great-grandmother Ellen was obsessed with the strange legend of Ulla, a Viking maiden who washed up on shore with the nearly lifeless body of her husband—and who inspired countless epic poems and the island’s name.

Central to the mystery is an ornate chalice and Libby, an archaeologist, finally has permission to excavate the site where Ulla is believed to have lived. But what Libby finds in the ancient dunes is a body from the Victorian era, clearly murdered…and potentially connected to Ellen.

What unfolds is an epic story that spans centuries, with Libby mining Ellen and Ulla’s stories for clues about the body, and in doing so, discovering the darker threads that bind all three women together across history.

 

Women Talking: A Novel by Miriam Toews
Expected publication: August 21, 2018 by Knopf Canada
Book Description:

Based on actual events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and assaulted in the night by what they were told (by the men of the colony) were “ghosts” or “demons,” Miriam Toews’ bold and affecting novel Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events.

The novel takes place over forty-eight hours, as eight women gather in secret in a neighbour’s barn while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the attackers. They have come together to debate, on behalf of all the women and children in the community, whether to stay or leave before the men return. Taking minutes is the one man trusted and invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women speak.

By turns poignant, witty, acerbic, bitter, tender, devastating, and heartbreaking, the voices in this extraordinary novel are unforgettable. Toews has chosen to focus the novel tightly on a particular time and place, and yet it contains within its 48 hours and setting inside a hayloft an entire vast universe of thinking and feeling about the experience of women (and therefore men, too) in our contemporary world. In a word: astonishing.

 

Must Read Monday (82): Titles from Emily Carpenter, Tayari Jones, Matt Haig, Rumaan Alam & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction! You may have noticed that these Must Read Monday posts are less frequent; it’s been a bit of a gong show keeping up with my to-read list and constant changes with my reading list depending on my reviewing schedule (and life, in general!), so I’ll be aiming for around once a month (maybe twice). Any recommended titles, especially with regard to picture books, I’ll do my best to add to ‘Recently Read’ posts so you can see what’s been on my radar!

Preamble over, let’s get to some new must-read titles! For this edition, I’m turning to adult fiction and mysteries which have not been featured in some time! My (awesome) tower of must-read children’s titles has meant that adult fiction takes a bit of a backseat. However! There are a number of adult fiction titles that I am clamouring to read: the recent Pulitzer Prize winning Less by Andrew Sean Greer which a friend and library colleague gave top rating to; the fantastically reviewed An American Marriage by Tayari Jones; Matt Haig’s fascinating-sounding How to Stop Time; Celeste Ng’s bestselling and strongly received sophomore title Little Fires Everywhere, a title I can’t believe I haven’t read yet (!!); That Kind of Mother, by critically acclaimed writer Rumaan Alam; the twisty thriller The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter, which sounds right up my alley; and last but not least, the terrifically described mystery The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Let’s take a closer look:

 

The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter
Publication: June 6, 2017 by Lake Union Publishing
Book Description:

Reformed party girl Meg Ashley leads a life of a privilege, thanks to a bestselling horror novel her mother wrote decades ago. But Meg knows that the glow of their very public life hides a darker reality of lies, manipulation, and the heartbreak of her own solitary childhood. Desperate to break free of her mother, Meg accepts a proposal to write a scandalous, tell-all memoir.

Digging into the past—and her mother’s cult classic—draws Meg to Bonny Island, Georgia and an unusual woman said to be the inspiration for the book. At first, island life seems idyllic, but as Meg starts to ask tough questions, disturbing revelations come to light…including some about her mother.

Soon, Meg’s search leads her to question the facts of a decades-old murder. She’s warned to leave it alone, but as the lies pile up, Meg knows she’s getting close to finding a murderer. When her own life is threatened, Meg realizes the darkness found in her mother’s book is nothing compared to the chilling truth that lurks off the page.

 

Less: A Novel by Andrew Sean Greer
Publication: July 18, 2017 by Lee Boudreaux Books
Book Description:

Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world.

QUESTION: How do you arrange to skip town?

ANSWER: You accept them all.

What would possibly go wrong? Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.

Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, Less is, above all, a love story.

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Published September 12, 2017 by Penguin Press
Book Description:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.

 

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Published February 6, 2018 by Viking (first published July 6, 2017)
Book Description:

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history–performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.

So Tom moves back to London, his old home, to become a high school history teacher–the perfect job for someone who has witnessed the city’s history first hand. Better yet, a captivating French teacher at his school seems fascinated by him. But the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society’s watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can’t have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.

How to Stop Time is a bighearted, wildly original novel about losing and finding yourself, the inevitability of change, and how with enough time to learn, we just might find happiness.

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Algonquin Books
Book Description:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

 

 
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Publication: February 8, 2018 by Raven Books
Book Description:

At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

Deeply atmospheric and ingeniously plotted, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a highly original debut that will appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Agatha Christie.

 

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
Publication: May 8, 2018 by Ecco
Book Description:

Like many first-time mothers, Rebecca Stone finds herself both deeply in love with her newborn son and deeply overwhelmed. Struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood with her own aspirations and feeling utterly alone in the process, she reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help—Priscilla Johnson—and begs her to come home with them as her son’s nanny.

Priscilla’s presence quickly does as much to shake up Rebecca’s perception of the world as it does to stabilize her life. Rebecca is white, and Priscilla is black, and through their relationship, Rebecca finds herself confronting, for the first time, the blind spots of her own privilege. She feels profoundly connected to the woman who essentially taught her what it means to be a mother. When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. As she soon learns, navigating motherhood for her is a matter of learning how to raise two children whom she loves with equal ferocity, but whom the world is determined to treat differently.

 

Recently Read: A Murder for the Books (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #1) by Victoria Gilbert

Review: A Murder for the Books (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #1) by Victoria Gilbert
Source: ARC courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: December 12, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Fleeing a disastrous love affair, university librarian Amy Webber moves in with her aunt in a quiet, historic mountain town in Virginia. She quickly busies herself with managing a charming public library that requires all her attention with its severe lack of funds and overabundance of eccentric patrons. The last thing she needs is a new, available neighbor whose charm lures her into trouble.

Dancer-turned-teacher and choreographer Richard Muir inherited the farmhouse next door from his great-uncle, Paul Dassin. But town folklore claims the house’s original owner was poisoned by his wife, who was an outsider. It quickly became water under the bridge, until she vanished after her sensational 1925 murder trial. Determined to clear the name of the woman his great-uncle loved, Richard implores Amy to help him investigate the case. Amy is skeptical until their research raises questions about the culpability of the town’s leading families… including her own.

When inexplicable murders plunge the quiet town into chaos, Amy and Richard must crack open the books to reveal a cruel conspiracy and lay a turbulent past to rest in A Murder for the Books, the first installment of Victoria Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Library mysteries.

I have to admit: when I saw that the protagonist in A Murder for the Books is a librarian, I was very curious! Representations of librarians in literature (from children’s book to adult fiction, comic strips, etc.) are…varied. Putting it mildly, sometimes librarians are not so accurately (or kindly!) represented. Author Victoria Gilbert, as I learned, is herself a librarian, so I felt like my reading experience would be in better hands…and it was! A Murder for the Books– featuring intelligent, accomplished yet self-effacing librarian Amy Webber- is a well-written, absorbing, intriguingly plotted mystery.

Gilbert has done a terrific job with this debut in laying out a strong foundation of characters (both primary and secondary), and in establishing the town of Blue Ridge. Through the first-person narrative of Amy, readers are taken into the small community of Blue Ridge, Virginia and its inhabitants. Amy, now living with her aunt Lydia in her beautiful stately home, hopes to live a more quiet life (free of relationship messes) as the new manager of the town public library. As we know from the book description, however, Amy’s life does not stay quiet for long. When elderly community member Doris is found dead- from a bullet wound- in the library archives, the supposed tranquility of Blue Ridge upends. Along with their new neighbor Richard- a talented dancer/choreographer who is exploring his own complicated family history in Blue Ridge- Amy takes research into her hands to investigate who could’ve murdered Doris- and why. As Amy unearths one piece of the town’s shadier history after another- some shocking and sad, some that surprisingly involve her own family as well as Richard’s- things slowly fall into place to make for some weighty and fascinating reveals. Gilbert balances the mix of murder mystery, detailed backstory, as well as the fairly crackling spark between Amy and Richard very well, giving attention to each facet as needed to propel the story (which is, at times, quite involved) along at a good pace.

Overall, A Murder for the Books is a very solid series start; a well-done mystery that will likely appeal to readers who are interested in more intricate amateur sleuth mysteries. In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to read some delightful cozy mysteries– if you’ve had a chance to enjoy any of those titles, or enjoy the work of authors such as Margaret Mizushima, Jenn McKinlay, Joanne Fluke, or Janet Evanovich, you might especially like A Murder for the Books. There is a second book in the series, Shelved Under Murder, coming out this summer, so readers can look forward to more of Amy and Richard!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: A Grave Issue (A Funeral Parlor Mystery #1) by Lillian Bell

A Grave Issue (A Funeral Parlor Mystery #1) by Lillian Bell
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 13, 2018 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

After an on-air gaffe goes viral and jeopardizes her career, journalist Desiree Turner retreats home to Verbena, California for some peace and quiet. She begins working one of the quietest jobs around: presiding over funerals for her great-grandfather’s funeral parlor. But the action seems to follow her as a fistfight breaks out between neighbors Rosemarie Brewer and Lola Hansen at one of the first funerals she’s in charge of running. It exposes a nasty dispute and Rosemarie’s husband, Alan, is found murdered shortly after.

Lola’s husband, Kyle, is immediately arrested. Desiree, whose own father’s death was devastating, has always viewed Kyle as a second father. Determined to clear his name, Desiree jumps head first into the investigation and quickly discovers that Alan had several unsavory habits at his job and in his personal life, including putting assets into his mistress’s account to hide them from Rosemarie. People murder for money and love all the time, and there’s no telling who he offended just enough to push them over the edge.

A Grave Issue is the charming and supremely enjoyable Funeral Parlor Mystery series debut from Lillian Bell. The novel centers around Desiree Turner, a now-scandalized journalist who returns to her hometown where her family has long-operated the town’s funeral parlor. A cozy mystery, A Grave Issue mixes family and personal drama, potential romantic entanglements, as well as a few deadly incidents.

Readers follow the first-person narrative of journalist-turned-assistant-funeral-director Desiree as she finds herself in a number of odd predicaments upon her return home. Back in her hometown of Verbena, California, Desiree is unwittingly thrust into the local spotlight (and local newspaper) when a bizarre outburst occurs during funeral events at her family-owned funeral parlor. That incident seeminglyleads to the murder of a rather unpleasant man named Alan Brewer, with the man held for his murder being other than the Turner family’s closest friend- and Alan’s neighbor- Kyle Hansen. Bell weaves a solid, engaging and funny story from beginning to end here, led by the droll and witty narrative from the character of Desiree. While the crux of A Grave Issue focuses upon Desiree’s probe into Alan’s murder and why her family friend seems to have been framed for it, there are a few other crises at play. Bell dives into a few matters: what drove Desiree’s escape from her path toward being an investigative journalist; Desiree’s steps to strengthen the trust and bond between her and her sister Donna; the possible relationships to develop between Desiree and two potential suitors; and perhaps, most intriguingly, a major bombshell regarding Desiree’s and Donna’s presumed-to-be-deceased father- who had gone missing but whose body had never been recovered- drops.

Overall, what a thoroughly entertaining and fun read! I have recently been getting into the cozy mystery genre, and found much to enjoy and appreciate with Bell’s series debut. You have a self-deprecating and clever protagonist facing a puzzling murder mystery, a slightly zany, close knit small town with intriguing characters, and some major personal and familial drama that promises to be further explored in series entries to come. If you are a cozy mystery reader or enjoy armchair/amateur detective series with good doses of humour, then I would recommend giving this series debut a whirl. It looks as though the second entry into the series, If the Coffin Fits is due out in the fall of 2018!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: No One Can Know (A Stillwater General Mystery #2) by Lucy Kerr

No One Can Know (A Stillwater General Mystery #2)Review: No One Can Know (A Stillwater General Mystery #2) by Lucy Kerr
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: February 13, 2018 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

When a pregnant car crash victim arrives at Stillwater General, ER nurse Frankie Stapleton and the team must work swiftly to deliver the baby safely. After hours of grueling effort, they finally save the baby, but the mother dies. The staff is already rattled, but then they learn that the accidental car crash was actually deliberate.

Just when they thought the hard work was over, suspects begin rearing their heads one by one and no one is safe. There’s no shortage of motives. The victim was a social worker, and someone may have been seeking revenge. Or perhaps someone was trying to intimidate her up-and-coming politician husband. Then the baby goes missing.

Now Frankie must race to uncover the truth in time to catch a killer and save a child in Lucy Kerr’s riveting second Stillwater General Mystery, No One Can Know.

No One Can Know is the second entry in Lucy Kerr’s thoroughly entertaining and thrilling Stillwater General Mystery series. The debut, Time of Death, introduced readers to our protagonist: emergency room nurse Frankie Stapleton and her rather complicated return to her small hometown of Stillwater. In my review of Time of Death, I noted that I was captivated early on with Frankie’s voice and the series’ intriguing premise of combining suspense and murder investigation with medical emergencies and family drama. In No One Can Know, Kerr continues to excel with a tightly written mystery that manages to entertain, engage and keep the reader guessing all at once.

Still experiencing the aftereffects of her involvement in investigating the death of Stillwater community member Clem Jensen, Frankie finds herself at the centre of another highly suspicious, horrendous tragedy. When Frankie and her ER colleagues try and save the life of a highly pregnant women involved in a car wreck, the case ends up being larger than anything Frankie or her colleagues could have imagined. As Frankie learns more about the mother who lost her life and the deceased’s husband- who has high political aspirations- she finds herself deeply involved in the case and unable to let go- much to the frustration of the Stillwater police officer heading the case (who happens to be her former fiance Noah). Frankie continues her own sleuthing into the increasingly tangled murder investigation and as the media frenzy surrounding the politician’s wife’s death grows, she discovers that Noah might need her help and support more than ever. As with Time of Death, Kerr does a great job here in combining relationship drama (both family and romantic) with elements of suspense and genuine twists. The ending of No One Can Know is one of quiet surprise and reveal, leaving a lot of room open for darker and bigger directions the series could take!

Overall, a strong, more than worthy second entry in a solid mystery series that looks to have many more exciting and riveting stories in it. Though not absolutely essential to have read book one, I do recommend starting with Time of Death as it offers a lot of background and character introduction to Frankie, her family, and more details into her long history with Noah. Readers who enjoy amateur sleuth mysteries, medical dramas, or slightly darker cozy mysteries with a strong protagonist might do very well to check Lucy Kerr’s series out.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Best of 2017, Part 1: Children’s Lit, Young Adult, Adult Fiction & more!

Hope everyone is having a wonderful, safe and lovely holiday season, whatever your celebrations may be!

I am rather late in posting this, but I wanted to get in my 2017 reading highlights before the end of the year. In no particular order, here are my book selections for part one, hope you enjoy!

 

Children’s Fiction/Middle Grade:
The Goat by Anne Fleming
Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. Lambert
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt
Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge
Greenglass House (Greenglass House #1) by Kate Milford
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall
Shadow of a Pug (Howard Wallace, P.I #2) by Casey Lyall
Ghost (Track #1) by Jason Reynolds
The Cat Stole My Pants (Timmy Failure #6) by Stephan Pastis
Royal Crush (From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess #3) by Meg Cabot
Roll by Darcy Miller
The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
Jolly Foul Play (Murder Most Unladylike #4) by Robin Stevens
Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling
The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter
Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere (Olga #1) by Elise Gravel
Catstronauts series by Drew Brockington (graphic novel)
Wallace the Brave by Will Henry (graphic novel)
Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten (graphic novel)
Bird and Squirrel on Fire (Bird & Squirrel #4) by James Burks
Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illus. LeUyen Pham, color by Jane Poole (graphic novel)
Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm (Heavenly Nostrils, #6) by Dana Simpson (graphic novel)
Grandfather and the Moon by Stéphanie Lapointe, illus. Rogé, translated by Shelley Tanaka

 

Young Adult:
The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith
The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby
Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman
Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend
You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan
Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail (YA/MG crossover)
The Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler (YA non-fiction)

 

Adult Fiction & Mysteries:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Nine Lessons (Josephine Tey Mystery #9) by Nicola Upson
Hunting Hour (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #3) by Margaret Mizushima
Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia
On Turpentine Lane by Eleanor Lipman
Forgotten City (A Claire Codella Mystery #2) by Carrie Smith
The Boy is Back (Boy #4) by Meg Cabot

 

Adult Non-Fiction, Humour and Other:

Big Mushy Happy Lump (Sarah’s Scribbles #2) by Sarah Anderson
It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot
I Hate Everyone Except You by Clinton Kelly
Texts From Dog II: The Dog Delusion by October Jones
Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting by Brian Gordon
Onward and Downward: The Twenty-Second Sherman’s Lagoon Collection by Jim Toomey

 

Note: Some titles appearing on this list may have been published in previous years; titles on this list are ones that I read in 2017. Some titles appearing on this list may also have been provided by publishers in exchange for honest reviews; this has no bearing on making this list. These are my personal selections.

Must Read Monday (76): YA from S.K. Ali, Kelly Jones, Mitali Perkins & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week is another spotlight on young adult fiction! Six titles are on the docket this week, and it’s a great mix of genres. We have: Solo, from the award-winning, incredible author-poet Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess; Saints and Misfits, the contemporary YA debut from Canadian author S.K. Ali; Mitali Perkins’ wonderfully-reviewed You Bring the Distant Near; Robin Benway’s award-winning Far from the Tree; Kelly Jones’ terrific-sounding historical YA Murder, Magic, and What We Wore; and Truly Devious, the long-awaited upcoming mystery from Maureen Johnson.

 

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Publication: June 13, 2017 by Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them? Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?

 

Solo by Kwame Alexander & Mary Rand Hess
Publication: July 25, 2017 by Blink
Book description:

When the heart gets lost, let the music find you.

Blade never asked for a life of the rich and famous. In fact, he’d give anything not to be the son of Rutherford Morrison, a washed-up rock star and drug addict with delusions of a comeback. Or to no longer be part of a family known most for lost potential, failure, and tragedy. The one true light is his girlfriend, Chapel, but her parents have forbidden their relationship, assuming—like many—that Blade will become just like his father.

In reality, the only thing Blade has in common with Rutherford is the music that lives inside them. But not even the songs that flow through Blade’s soul are enough when he’s faced with two unimaginable realities: the threat of losing Chapel forever, and the revelation of a long-held family secret, one that leaves him questioning everything he thought was true. All that remains is a letter and a ticket to Ghana—both of which could bring Blade the freedom and love he’s been searching for, or leave him feeling even more adrift.

 

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
Publication: September 12, 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Book Description:

Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve her Bengali identity–award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.

 

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones
Publication: September 19, 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

The year is 1818, the city is London, and our heroine, 16-year-old Annis Whitworth, has just learned that her father is dead and all his money is missing. And so, of course, she decides to become a spy.

Annis always suspected that her father was a spy, so following in his footsteps to unmask his killer makes perfect sense. Alas, it does not make sense to England’s current spymasters—not even when Annis reveals that she has the rare magical ability to sew glamours: garments that can disguise the wearer completely.

Well, if the spies are too pigheaded to take on a young woman of quality, then Annis will take them on. She’ll follow the clues her father left behind and discover what befell him. She’ll prove she can sew an impenetrable disguise. She’ll earn a living without stooping to become a—shudder—governess.

It can’t be any harder than navigating the London social season, can it?

 

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway
Publication: October 3, 2017 by HarperTeen
Book Description:

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs. But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

 

Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1) by Maureen Johnson
Expected publication: January 16, 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books
Book Description:

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

 

Review: Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson

Review: Nine Lessons (A Josephine Tey Mystery #7) by Nicola Upson
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: October 10, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Called to the peaceful wooded churchyard of St-John’s-at-Hampstead, Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose faces one of the most audacious and unusual murders of his career. The body of the church’s organist is found in an opened grave, together with a photograph of a manor house and a cryptic note. The image leads Archie to Cambridge, where the crisp autumn air has brought with it bustling life to the ancient university and town.

Both Josephine Tey and Archie’s lover Bridget have recently settled in Cambridge, though both women are not equally happy to see him. One has concealed an important secret from Archie which now threatens to come to light. Meanwhile, the change of seasons has also brought with it a series of vicious attacks against women in town, spreading fear and suspicion through the community.

Soon, another body is revealed, and in the shadow of King’s College Chapel, Archie uncovers a connection twenty-five years old which haunted both victims—as well as some of their living companions. As Archie and Josephine each grapple with savage malefactors intent on making their victims pay, they must race to stop another attack in this beautifully written, intricately plotted mystery.

 

Curling up with a compelling, detailed and surprising historical mystery is one of my great reading pleasures, so imagine my delight to have been introduced to a new, terrifically written historical mystery series! Nicola Upson’s well-reviewed Nine Lessons is the seventh entry in the critically acclaimed Josephine Tey Mystery 1930s-set series, though the first one I have had the pleasure of reading. Beautifully, elegantly written with a subtle darker edge at its core and rounded out by terrific, engrossing characters, I found Nine Lessons to be quite a standout historical mystery title.

Nine Lessons begins in a churchyard with the discovery of a body in an open grave. Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose, as readers can surmise, has seen his fair share of crime scenes and death; but this, the finding of the church organist’s body is something…different. Penrose, with the aid of his police colleagues, finds out almost incomprehensibly disturbing details about how the deceased, former Cambridge student Dr. Stephen Laxborough, might have been killed. As Penrose begins piecing together strange and frustratingly vague clues left on the deceased person, more murders- all linked, somehow, to Dr. Laxborough and a group of Cambridge classmates- occur. While Penrose focuses most of his time and attention on the Laxborough murder and connected crimes in and around Cambridge, a string of heinous, violent sexual crimes against women are happening in the same city. As the two crime threads intersect at intervals, readers are introduced (or re-introduced) to Penrose’s friend, mystery author and amateur sleuth Josephine Tey (a character Upson has based on the highly-regarded Scottish author). As Tey finds herself exploring in both crime threads to aid Penrose and women in the Cambridge area, readers are proffered glimpses into Tey and Penrose’s somewhat delicate history and how they have come to be with their current romantic partners. How the crime threads are investigated and culminate is pretty terrific- meticulously plotted and presented. Moreover, there is another related piece to Nine Lessons that I want to bring up: just how much substance and critical weight to the subject matter Upson covers in Nine Lessons. Everything from police and public response to sexual assault, victim (female) blaming and shaming after rape, historical and public conceptions and intolerance regarding same-sex partnerships, and more. You might be wondering, with such an incredible scope, just how does everything tie together and wrap itself up by the end of 300 pages? Lest you worry, I can say that Upson does a superb job with making Nine Lessons read cohesively- never overwhelming or burdening the reader.

Overall, an excellent, complicated mystery that leaves the reader satisfied: polished, interesting and compelling from start to finish with tremendous depth. I was so intrigued by the main characters of Archie and Josephine- and their clearly complex history- during my reading, that I have now made it a goal to go back and read the series from the beginning. While I don’t think any curious readers diving into the series at this entry point will have any issues following along, my interest has definitely been piqued and I am aiming to go back and gain more insight into Archie and Josephine’s separate and joint histories. For any readers who adore this sub-genre of mystery/suspense, I highly recommend this title and series; if you’re not yet convinced, Nine Lessons has made Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2017 in the mystery/thriller category!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (74): Children’s Titles from Pam Smy, Natalia O’Hara and Lauren O’Hara & Lorena Alvarez

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

 

 

This feature has been absent for a few weeks as I’ve been working my way through my already lengthy to-read pile and reviews! But it is back this week, with some new and intriguing titles. On the roster this week are three mysterious, wondrous looking and sounding children’s titles: Thornhill by Pam Smy; Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia O’Hara and Lauren O’Hara; and Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez.

 

Thornhill by Pam Smy
Publication: August 29, 2017 by Roaring Brook Press
Book Description:

Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as Ella unravels the mystery of the girl next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2016: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

 

Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia O’Hara, illus. Lauren O’Hara
Publication: October 5, 2017 by Puffin
Book Description:

A haunting, original fairy tale from two dazzling debut picture book talents, in the spirit of Neil Gaiman and Carson Ellis.

Hortense is a kind and brave girl, but she is sad–even angry–that her shadow follows her everywhere she goes. She hates her shadow, and thinks her shadow must hate her too. But one cold, dark night, when bandits surprise her in the woods, Hortense discovers that her shadow is the very thing she needs most.

This stunningly illustrated story stirs the soul with its compelling, subtle exploration of self-esteem, self-identity, and finding inner strength.

 

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez
Publication: March 14, 2017 by Nobrow Press
Book Description:

Every night, tiny stars appear out of the darkness in little Sandy’s bedroom. She catches them and creates wonderful creatures to play with until she falls asleep, and in the morning brings them back to life in the whimsical drawings. When a mysterious new girl appears at school, Sandy’s drawings are noticed for the first time…but Morfie’s fascination with Sandy’s talent soon turns into something far more sinister.

Nightlights is a beautiful story about fear, insecurity, and creativity, from the enchanting imagination of Lorena Alvarez.