Review: Shelved Under Murder (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #2) by Victoria Gilbert

Review: Shelved Under Murder (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #2) by Victoria Gilbert
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: July 10, 2018 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

October in Taylorsford, Virginia means it’s leaf peeping season, with bright colorful foliage and a delightful fresh crew of tourists attending the annual Heritage Festival which celebrates local history and arts and crafts. Library director Amy Webber, though, is slightly dreading having to spend two days running a yard sale fundraiser for her library. But during these preparations, when she and her assistant Sunny stumble across a dead body, Amy finds a real reason to be worried.

The body belonged to a renowned artist who was murdered with her own pallet knife. A search of the artist’s studio uncovers a cache of forged paintings, and when the sheriff’s chief deputy Brad Tucker realizes Amy is skilled in art history research, she’s recruited to aid the investigation. It doesn’t seem to be an easy task, but when the state’s art expert uncovers a possible connection between Amy’s deceased uncle and the murder case, Amy must champion her Aunt Lydia to clear her late husband’s name.

That’s when another killing shakes the quiet town, and danger sweeps in like an autumn wind. Now, with her swoon-inducing neighbor Richard Muir, Amy must scour their resources to once again close the books on murder in Shelved Under Murder, the charming second installment in Victoria Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Library mysteries, perfect for fans of Jenn McKinlay and Miranda James.

Shelved Under Murder is the strong sophomore entry in Victoria Gilbert’s Blue Ridge Library Mystery series, which is proving itself to be an intelligent and thoroughly pleasurable and engrossing cozy mystery series. Balancing thrills with warm, delightful characters, light romance and small-town dynamics, Shelved Under Murder is a great read.

The central mystery in Shelved Under Murder focuses on the death of a popular and acclaimed local artist- whose body happens to be discovered by our protagonist, library director/librarian Amy Webber and her boyfriend, professional dancer and choreographer Richard Muir. As the investigation- headed by chief deputy Brad Tucker, the current boyfriend of Amy’s library colleague Sunny- begins, what first appears as a puzzling but possibly uncomplicated homicide then turns into a rather thorny deep dive into the high stakes world of counterfeit art and forgeries. In book one, we learned that Amy’s Aunt Lydia, a prominent and much-respected figure in their town, had lost her husband years before in a car accident. Her late husband, Andrew Talbot, had himself been a local artist, though never as successful as Lydia and art dealer and former family friend Kurt Kendrick had thought he should have been. As the present-day murder investigation into the local artist continues and an art expert is flown into town, a new leads turn up: one of which might be involving Aunt Lydia’s deceased husband and his possible knowledge of a counterfeit art circle in Blue Ridge. Shelved Under Murder has, arguably, a less shocking or surprising murderer (or murders…!) at the center of the story than in A Murder for the Books; however, Gilbert raises the stakes by weaving in fascinating layers to Amy and Lydia’s family history and how Andrew Talbot’s art connections while alive still thrum in present-day Blue Ridge. It is absolutely worth noting as well that Amy continues to be a capable and lovely protagonist, and she, along neighbor-now-boyfriend Richard (also deeply likeable), make for a delightful team, both as a romantic couple and as amateur sleuths.

Overall, a strong second entry in a series I am already thoroughly fond of and charmed by; well-written, engaging, with lovely and charismatic characters at its core. As mentioned above, while there is perhaps a less startling murder mystery at the center of this story than in the series opener, there are deeper elements examined in Amy and Richard’s relationship, as well as with Aunt Lydia and Kurt and their respective love for Amy’s deceased uncle- all of which are terrifically explored. Readers interested in looking into this series, I would recommend starting with book one, A Murder for the Books. I am looking forward to book three in the series, Past Due for Murder, coming out in early 2019!

Extras: Discussion Questions for book clubs via the author’s website!

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

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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.

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.

 

Review: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer

Review: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: February 13, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Bryony Gray is becoming famous as a painter in London art circles. But life isn’t so grand. Her uncle keeps her locked in the attic, forcing her to paint for his rich clients . . . and now her paintings are taking on a life of their own, and customers are going missing under mysterious circumstances.

When her newest painting escapes the canvas and rampages through the streets of London, Bryony digs into her family history, discovering some rather scandalous secrets her uncle has been keeping, including a deadly curse she’s inherited from her missing father. Bryony has accidentally unleashed the Gray family curse, and it’s spreading fast.

With a little help from the strange-but-beautiful girl next door and her paranoid brother, Bryony sets out to break the curse, dodging bloodthirsty paintings, angry mobs and her wicked uncle along the way.

When I saw the great cover and read the blurb for E. Latimer‘s The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray I thought it sounded terrifically spooky and added it to my reading list. A gothic historically-set middle grade novel, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray? Count me in! More sinister and more fantastical than I imagined, Latimer’s novel is a surprising treat.

The novel opens with a prologue that takes us into the extravagant, lush and self-indulgent life of Lady Dashworth, who is eagerly awaiting the delivery of a portrait of herself done by a supposedly odd but extremely talented thirteen year old girl. Upon opening, Lady Dashworth finds the portrait stunning…remarkable…so remarkable in fact, that the portrait seems too life-like. It is then that Latimer takes the already eerie opening and takes the story to its darker core: the portraits being done by that thirteen year old artist- Bryony Gray- are coming to life, ripping from their canvases and causing deadly mayhem in London. As readers meet Bryony and the terrible aunt and uncle who keep her prisoner in their attic, the story takes one fascinating turn after another.

Having planned an escape from her attic confines for some time, Bryony finds herself freed quite suddenly by accident when a portrait she purposely painted to look monstrous tears itself to life off the canvas. It is then, as Bryony escapes into the city slowly being tyrannized by her art, that she meets siblings Mira and Thompson- the next-door neighbors she had only dreamed to meet one day. Latimer weaves multiple elements as the story continues to unfold: Bryony experiencing London, her surroundings, and children her own age for almost the first time in her life; the trio of children having to escape for their lives time after time while attempting to help Bryony stop the madness; and perhaps the biggest thing of all, Bryony finally learning truths about her long-absent father who presumably cursed the Gray family. It is a lot to pack into a tale, but Latimer does a solid job of maintaining all of the elements, adding some bombshell reveals, and threading in some very interesting ties to an imagined incident that lead to The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Overall, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray is wonderfully unusual and atmospheric, with terrifying and surprising moments. It is written with such precise, intriguing detail that I vividly pictured the story from beginning to end, and even thought to myself how incredible it would be to see this story brought to life on-screen! Readers who enjoy gothic, scary stories or the work of authors such as Claire Legrand, Charis Cotter, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl or Laura Amy Schlitz might especially enjoy this dark tale.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada 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.

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.

Review: Unholy City (A Claire Codella Mystery #3) by Carrie Smith

Review: Unholy City (A Claire Codella Mystery #3) by Carrie Smith
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: November 7, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Despite their rocky history, Detective Claire Codella and Precinct Detective Brian Haggerty come together when senior churchwarden Philip Graves’s bloody body is found lying in the herb garden of historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side just two days before Good Friday. Upon first glance, it looks like a random act of big city violence, but it soon becomes clear churchwarden Philip’s death was the result of a meticulously calculated ploy by someone who knew him.

There are five vestry members and a choir director in addition to the ten homeless men asleep in the church basement. Any one of them could have done it, but what did Philip Graves do to warrant such a merciless death? Struggling to share the case and salvage their personal relationship, Claire, Brian and trusted Detective Eduardo Muñoz work around the clock to uncloak the desires, secrets, and resentments that find home through the iron gates and into the hidden beauty of one historic Romanesque church in Unholy City, the haunting third installment in Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella mysteries.

Unholy City is the third entry into Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella Mystery series, behind the debut Silent City and sophomore entry Forgotten City. As with the previous two series entries, Unholy City is a sharply written, highly engaging mystery with another unique criminal investigation at its core.

The focus in Unholy City is somewhat of a departure from the homicide investigations that occurred over the course of books one and two. While the crime itself is no less shocking in terms violence, there is an altogether unusual, perplexing mystery that meets Claire and fellow Detectives Brian Haggerty and Eduardo Muñoz. Their investigation into the death of a churchwarden at an Upper West Side church explodes into an exceedingly thorny examination into the supposedly quieter lives of multiple vestry members and their increasingly convoluted recollections of their time and relationship with the deceased. Unlike the first two Claire Codella novels, it seems as though Unholy City is more primarily focused on the crime and scene at hand; slightly less time is given to Claire and her partnership (professional and now personal) with Detective Haggerty in favour of concentration and detail on the strangely hushed, almost locked-room nature of the church homicide. Smith is meticulous in how the particular details of the major crime(s) committed are studied, examined and played out; more so than the previous series entries, Unholy City‘s major investigation is a case that involves logistics, deductive reasoning, and exhaustive suspect interviews. The third-person narrative also continues to rotate between that of Claire and her team’s work, to that of parties involved on the other side of the police investigation. This alternating viewpoint structure really works in this series to sustain reader’s attention and in this entry especially, works so well in layering and adding surprising character reveals, as well as in smoothly propelling the story toward the climax and reveal.

Overall, another very strong, well-written, well-plotted and well-paced entry into what has become a favourite new mystery/crime series. Now three books into Carrie Smith’s Claire Codella Mystery series and I continue to be hooked: not only by the titular protagonist who continues to engage and evolve, but also by the changing nature and scope of the investigations at the heart of the novels. I have likely mentioned this about the series, but will say it again: I do hope to read and explore many further titles in Carrie Smith’s terrific crime series.

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.

Blog Tour Stop: Eileen Cook’s The Hanging Girl!

Welcome to one of the stops on the Raincoast Books tour for Canadian author Eileen Cook‘s latest young adult novel, The Hanging Girl! Read on for my thoughts on the novel as well as a special Q&A that the wonderful author herself participated in!

The Hanging Girl by Eileen Cook
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: October 3, 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Skye Thorn has given tarot card readings for years, and now her psychic visions are helping the police find the town’s missing golden girl. It’s no challenge—her readings have always been faked, but this time she has some insider knowledge. The kidnapping was supposed to be easy—no one would get hurt and she’d get the money she needs to start a new life. But a seemingly harmless prank has turned dark, and Skye realizes the people she’s involved with are willing to kill to get what they want and she must discover their true identity before it’s too late.

Eileen Cook’s last released YA novel, With Malice, was met with solid reviews and great reception from the YA reader and mystery lover crowd. I had the luck of getting to read and review With Malice, and was delighted to see Eileen focus more in the mystery/suspense genre (a genre which I particularly enjoy!). With The Hanging Girl, the author strongly continues in the mystery genre with an even twistier, more complex, layered, exciting- and surprising- story.

At the core of the story is our protagonist, high school student Skye Thorn. Daughter of a single mom (who is a self-professed psychic), Skye has used tarot reading and her own ability to read people well to fake classmates out (and make money) with her own so-called ‘psychic’ and tarot reading abilities. Then, in a quick turn, readers find out that Skye has gotten herself with involved in…a kidnapping scheme with a supposed big payout and no repercussions. Yes, Skye has become inextricably and dangerously- due to reasons which will reveal themselves- involved in a seriously unnerving, twisted kidnapping plot. And readers, let me just say that the author does a wonderful job of throwing major curveballs in how Skye’s involvement with the kidnapping- and the supposedly ‘simple’ kidnapping job itself- turns around. The Hanging Girl is one of those hard-to-put-down reads- I actually read it in one big gulp (staying up very, very late into the night) transfixed by this unusual, suspenseful story. Skye herself is not the most sympathetic of characters, but she holds major interest- and experiencing the story- especially as big reveals happen- through her first-person narrative makes it all the more intriguing and edge-of-your-seat. While a tiny bit rushed toward the end of the novel, my enjoyment with the story was absolutely held from start to finish. With The Hanging Girl and With Malice, I think Eileen has more than shown herself a very strong, exciting writer in the YA mystery genre.

Overall, a solidly plotted mystery with genuinely shocking moments, The Hanging Girl bests With Malice as an even darker, more surprising, sophisticated mystery entry. Readers who adored With Malice, and/or readers who have enjoyed novels such as Caleb Roehrig’s Last Seen Leaving, Mindy Mejia’s Everything You Want Me to Be, or the work of Megan Abbott might especially enjoy sinking into The Hanging Girl.

 

Q&A Time with Eileen!

Q: I am always interested in hearing about the research that goes into a book! In With Malice, the protagonist deals with post-accident amnesia and recovery- areas in which you have personal experience given your past career in counseling patients recovering from major trauma and injuries. For The Hanging Girl, what was the preparation for writing the character of Skye and the plot focus on tarot reading and psychic abilities? Did you have the opportunity to research and/or interview practicing psychics and tarot readers?

A: One of the things I enjoy best about the writing process is the chance to do research. I love learning things. Sometimes this can become a procrastination technique (I also can spend hours online chasing random bits of information.) However, in this case I felt if I was going to write a character who read tarot then I felt it was something that I needed to understand. Especially because reading the future was so important to Skye and her mom. I wouldn’t say I’m very good at it—but I did like learning about the history of tarot and the meanings of different cards.

A lot of what makes for a good tarot card reader is like being a counsellor. Counsellors are always listening not just to what you say, but also what you don’t say. We’re paying attention to body language. For example, if you cross your arms and scowl as I’m saying something, I get the idea that you either disagree with me, or have strong feelings about what I’ve said. A psychic is often doing the same thing, paying attention to how you react and moving their reading in that direction.

I also went to about a half a dozen different psychics to have them do a reading for me. I compared what they said to what I’d learned at a conference put on by The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. They’re a group of people who use science to investigate various topics— including psychics. The session I went to covered how easy it is to fool someone into believing you have psychic ability. I found that fascinating and filed away the information knowing it would be useful for a character and because I hadn’t realized how easy it could be to take advantage of someone who wants to believe.

Thank you so much for your time, Eileen!

Don’t forget: you can check out the other stops on the blog tour this week!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog post. All opinions and comments are my own. The interview with the author was kindly organized by Raincoast Books.

Must Read Monday (73): Children’s Titles from Charis Cotter, David Barclay Moore, Kat Yeh & 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: wonderful looking and sounding children’s lit! The Truth About Twinkie Pie author Kat Yeh is back with The Way to Bea; award-winning Canadian author Charis Cotter returns with The Painting; Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is back with a sequel to the incredible, award-winning The War That Saved My Life with The War I Finally Won; Jake Burt debuts on scene with the buzz-worthy Greetings from Witness Protection!; Lindsay Currie promises a wonderful suspense with The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street; and David Barclay Moore’s The Stars Beneath Our Feet is already receiving praise and starred reviews.

 

The Painting by Charis Cotter
Publication: September 19, 2017 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Annie and her mother don’t see eye to eye. When Annie finds a painting of a lonely lighthouse in their home, she is immediately drawn to it–and her mother wishes it would stay banished in the attic. To her, art has no interest, but Annie loves drawing and painting.

When Annie’s mother slips into a coma following a car accident, strange things begin to happen to Annie. She finds herself falling into the painting and meeting Claire, a girl her own age living at the lighthouse. Claire’s mother Maisie is the artist behind the painting, and like Annie, Claire’s relationship with her mother is fraught. Annie thinks she can help them find their way back to each other, and in so doing, help mend her relationship with her own mother.
But who IS Claire? Why can Annie travel through the painting? And can Annie help her mother wake up from her coma? The Painting is a touching, evocative story with a hint of mystery and suspense to keep readers hooked.

 

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore
Publication: September 19, 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.

His path isn’t clear–and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape–and an unexpected bridge back to the world.

 

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh
Publication: September 19, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Everything in Bea’s world has changed. She’s starting seventh grade newly friendless and facing big changes at home, where she is about to go from only child to big sister. Feeling alone and adrift, and like her words don’t deserve to be seen, Bea takes solace in writing haiku in invisible ink and hiding them in a secret spot.

But then something incredible happens–someone writes back. And Bea begins to connect with new friends, including a classmate obsessed with a nearby labyrinth and determined to get inside. As she decides where her next path will lead, she just might discover that her words–and herself–have found a new way to belong.

 

Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt
Expected publication: October 3, 2017 by Feiwel and Friends
Book Description:

Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. . . .

The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.

Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

 

The War I Finally Won (The War That Saved My Life #2) by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Expected publication: October 3, 2017 by Dial Books
Book Description:

When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—damaged, deranged, crippled mentally as well as physically. She’s not a daughter anymore, either. What is she?

World War II continues, and Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their loving legal guardian, Susan, in a borrowed cottage on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton—along with Lady Thorton herself and her daughter, Maggie. Life in the crowded cottage is tense enough, and then, quite suddenly, Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? The occupants of the house are horrified. But other impacts of the war become far more frightening. As death creeps closer to their door, life and morality during wartime grow more complex. Who is Ada now? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?

 

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie
Expected publication: October 10th 2017 by Aladdin
Book Description:

Tessa Woodward isn’t exactly thrilled to move to rainy, cold Chicago from her home in sunny Florida. But homesickness turns to icy fear when unexplainable things start happening in her new house. Things like flickering lights, mysterious drawings appearing out of nowhere, and a crackling noise she can feel in her bones.

When her little brother’s doll starts crying real tears, Tessa realizes that someone—or something—is trying to communicate with her. A secret that’s been shrouded in mystery for more than one hundred years.

With the help of three new friends, Tessa begins unraveling the mystery of what happened in the house on Shady Street—and more importantly, what it has to do with her!

Review: Hunting Hour (A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #3) by Margaret Mizushima

Review: Hunting Hour (A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #3) by Margaret Mizushima
Source: ARC courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. Thank you!
Publication: August 8, 2017 by Crooked Lane Books
Book Description:

Deputy Mattie Cobb is in a dark place and has withdrawn from Cole Walker and his family to work on issues from her past. When she and her K-9 partner Robo get called to track a missing junior high student, they find the girl dead on Smoker’s Hill behind the high school, and Mattie must head to the Walker home to break the bad news. But that’s only the start of trouble in Timber Creek, because soon another girl goes missing—and this time it’s one of Cole’s daughters.

Knowing that each hour a child remains missing lessens the probability of finding her alive, Mattie and Robo lead the hunt while Cole and community volunteers join in to search everywhere. To no avail. It seems that someone has snatched all trace of the Walker girl from their midst, including her scent. Grasping at straws, Mattie and Robo follow a phoned-in tip into the dense forest, where they hope to find a trace of the girl’s scent and to rescue her alive. But when Robo does catch her scent, it leads them to information that challenges everything they thought they knew about the case.

Mattie and Robo must rush to hunt down the kidnapper before they’re too late in Hunting Hour, the third installment in critically acclaimed author Margaret Mizushima’s exhilarating mystery series.

Author Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 Mystery series has fast become a mystery series that I adore. Pairing formidable deputy Mattie Cobb and her incredible police dog Robo, the Timber Creek series blends elements of suspense, police procedural work, with explorations of interpersonal relationships to terrific effect. In Hunting Hour, the third in the series, Deputy Cobb and her team face an intense, almost impossible-to-solve situation when the heartbreaking discovery of a dead body leads to a terrifying hunt that hits much too close to home.

As per the book’s description, readers are taken on an intense journey with Mattie and Robo as Timber Creek is struck- again- with news about the death of a young girl. With tensions and suspicions running high, and Mattie facing her own biases when searching for possible homicide suspects, the town of Timber Creek is on high alert. As with the two previous Timber Creek entries, there are two perspectives (in third person narratives) running parallel to one another. While Mattie is undoubtedly the lead protagonist, the series also features veterinarian Cole Walker as the alternating perspective. Cole and Mattie have become close friends- with undercurrents of romantic friction- over the course of the novels, and Hunting Hour really explores more of their increasing feelings towards one another. As the case intensifies beyond belief- when Cole’s youngest daughter goes missing- and Mattie’s personal stake in solving the case goes beyond fierce, the alternating perspectives of Mattie and Cole reach extreme peaks and realizations.

As ever, I hope to read more of Mattie and Robo in Timber Creek series entries to come. While not a cozy mystery series, there is something comforting in reading about Mattie and Robo’s phenomenal relationship- and in how the duo approach increasingly tenacious situations with hope. Mizushima has also crafted Timber Creek so well over the last three novels, welcoming new and returning readers to a well-established, wild, and magnetic (and crime-prone!) community. Hunting Hour is the strongest of the series yet, with more examination into Mattie’s personal history and psychological trauma, as well as further exploration into the intensifying relationship between Mattie and Cole Walker. Readers interested in trying a well-written mystery series featuring an unusual and unforgettable duo might do well to try Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 novels 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.