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Category: Mystery

New Release Tuesday: The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick

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When Hollywood moguls and stars want privacy, they head to the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel . That’s where reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring down at a beautiful actress at the bottom of a pool.

Seeking the truth, Irene finds herself drawn to the mysterous Oliver Ward. Formerly a world-famous magician and now the owner of the Burning Cove Hotel, Oliver can’t let scandal threaten his livelihood, even if it means trusting Irene.

With Oliver’s help, Irene soon learns that the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove hides dark and dangerous secrets. And that the past—always just out of sight—could drag them both under…

Overall, I found this a fun, fast read and a satisfying mystery/romance novel. It wasn’t perfect, but it was very enjoyable, with some gasp-worthy moments and a hero that I fell for. Oliver is handsome, in control, and has a very interesting backstory. He also has a disabled leg, and I’m always here for a non-cookie-cutter romantic hero. Most importantly, he’s a gentleman, not an alpha male.

The mystery—I should say, mysteries—were intriguing and kept me turning the pages. The Girl Who Knew Too Much has a lot of deaths in it, but Quick’s storytelling never gets too dark. I give the romance a moderate heat rating of 3/5 stars, with just one heated scene containing an explicit reference that soon fades to black.

I read this in two sittings and was completely content. Readers who are willing to go along for the ride will love it! Having read and liked ‘Til Death Do Us Part, I got exactly what I was expecting.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain

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Former FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s attempts to return to the twenty-first century have failed, leaving her stuck at Aldridge Castle in 1815. And her problems have just begun: in London, the Duke of Aldridge’s nephew Alec—Kendra’s confidante and lover—has come under suspicion for murdering his former mistress, Lady Dover, who was found viciously stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved up in a bizarre and brutal way.

 As the noose tightens around Alec’s neck, Kendra will do anything to save him, including following every twist and turn through London’s glittering ballrooms, where deception is the norm—and any attempt to uncover the truth will get someone killed.

 I really enjoyed A Murder in Time and was eager to pick up the next Kendra Donovan Mystery: It did not disappoint! A Twist in Time is such a fun adventure. Kendra is a strong female character with a clear objective to return to her own time. She remains committed to this goal even when her situation is complicated by a romance while she is stuck in the past. One of the things I appreciate about Julie McElwain’s writing is that her novels are fast-paced and don’t take themselves too seriously. I need that every now and again in a mystery, as so much of this genre is incredibly dark—and that’s just not my cup of tea. A Twist in Time has a gruesome murder at its heart, but I wouldn’t call the novel dark. It’s light in tone, and the romance is pretty clean. This series is for all those, like me, who don’t want to get into the violence and horror of many thrillers and mysteries today. I was hoping to see a bit more resolution in this installment for Kendra, but overall I liked the book a lot. The romance developed nicely in this second book, and I look forward to book three! Fans of Deanna Raybourn will find much to enjoy. Check it out for yourself!

Until next time,

Anna

Reading Snapshots: Four Books You Should Pick Up

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The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams

I thoroughly enjoyed The Wicked City! The novel features two narratives connected by the New York City building in which they take place—one is set in the 1920s, one in the 1990s. The stories each had their own flavor and individual aspects that I loved. The characters are true to life, the setting is vividly rendered, and both timelines are equally engaging. I breezed through this novel in a single sitting! I thought the romance could have used a little more building up but really liked the book overall. The folks at William Morrow wrote up an excellent blurb for this book, and as a copywriter I can appreciate a job well done. Here’s their teaser:

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams recreates the New York City of A Certain Age in this deliciously spicy adventure that mixes past and present and centers on a Jazz age love triangle involving a rugged Prohibition agent, a saucy redheaded flapper, and a debonair Princetonian from a wealthy family.

 Thank you, William Morrow, for providing me with an ARC of this book!

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Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh

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This is such a sweet romance! Mary Balogh shines in this tale of family, self-worth, and the love we choose to accept. Centered on an orphanage in Bath, England, Someone to Hold features two protagonists who live with the social stigma of being illegitimate. After a terrible first impression, the two become reluctant friends and eventually—spoiler alert!—fall in love. I particularly enjoyed the many facets of the female protagonist, Camille. She has far more depth than your average romance heroine! I also found her current situation and Joel’s long-term experience growing up as an orphan to be a fascinating and thought-provoking contrast. Note: This is technically book two in the Westcott series, but I didn’t read book one and felt no confusion.

The premise:

Humphrey Wescott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune and a scandalous secret that will forever alter the lives of his family—sending one daughter on a journey of self-discovery. . . .

Thanks to Berkley Books for giving me access to an ARC via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

 A Veronica Speedwell Mystery

This was simply delightful!
*witty banter to the max
*Victorian murder mystery
*art colony + Hellfire Club + opium den
*will they or won’t they?
*I don’t even care, I love them just as they are!

Who are they? The grouchiest, most eccentric and outlandish pair of natural-scientist-amateur-investigators in London. Do look them up!

(But be sure to start with the first Veronica Speedwell Mystery, A Curious Beginning. Read my review here.)

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The Abundance by Annie Dillard

Wow. This collection from masterful essayist Annie Dillard was beautiful, crisp, and very inspiring to me as a writer. The prose, the metaphors, the way she describes things—nature, especially—is absolutely breathtaking. If you are at all interested in exposing yourself to a whole new level of literary talent, this book of essays is your introduction to a pro.

Best of 2016 List

This was a great year for me and books! What with blogging, joining the Litsy community (@annahenke), and just loving the reading life, I’m perfectly content. I read over 120 books in 2016. It’s customary in the blogosphere to do some sort of “Best of” list, and I’m excited to share mine with you. Here’s my list of the best books I read in 2016 by category!

FANTASY

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A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Thorns and Roses #2

I devoured this book! I have loved everything Sarah J. Maas has written so far. The character development in A Court of Mist and Fury is astoundingly good. I really like how Maas handles Feyre’s grief and portrays her PTSD after the events of A Court of Thorns and Roses.  I couldn’t put it down! This is a series that MUST be read in order.

NOTE: This is not a YA book, in my opinion – at least, not in terms of the romance. Full-on steamy. This should have been marketed as adult fantasy.

HISTORICAL FICTION

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Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

What a remarkable story! This fictionalization of the life of trailblazing horse trainer and pilot Beryl Markham blew me away. Set primarily during her formative years and early adulthood in Kenya, this novel about a strong historical woman who wasn’t afraid to smash boundaries is beautifully written. Beryl was flawed but fierce and endured much for “being a woman and daring to think I could be free” (Circling the Sun). I’ve put Beryl’s memoir, West With the Night, on my TBR, and I’m very interested to hear the full story from the woman herself. Beryl was a private person by all accounts, however, so I hear it doesn’t have much in the way of personal relationships, which was a strength of McLain’s fictionalization. But I still need to read it!

MYSTERY

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A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, Veronica Speedwell Mystery #1

I enjoyed this book so much that I read it twice in one year! I had to prep for the sequel coming out in January 2017. Why I loved it: It’s a Victorian historical mystery featuring an intrepid lady/amateur detective who is also a lepidopterist (specialist on butterflies and moths).  Sold! There is an enigmatic, handsome taxidermist who becomes her reluctant investigative partner. Yes! There is a romance, but it’s very subtle and develops slowly. Just my cup of tea! They take refuge in an abandoned private museum of sorts. Hooray! There is a mystery about the main character’s heritage. Love it! I could go on, but I won’t.

GRAPHIC NOVEL

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The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

Brilliant! The artwork is amazing and perfectly fits the tone of the story being told. The fictional folktales within are everything one would wish for: clever, funny, poignant, and sweet. I think it’s a must-read for graphic novel fans and a great entry point for newcomers to the format.

AUDIOBOOK

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Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, Narrated by Susie Riddell

This book was so strange and I loved it. It’s a Jane Eyre-inspired story with a quirky twist: What if Jane had been a serial killer? The tagline for the marketing was, “Reader, I murdered him.” For those unfamiliar with the real Jane Eyre, the most famous line is, “Reader, I married him.” So clever!  I was hooked by the fascinating premise; however, the book was something of a surprise. Jane was  quite likeable. This is in itself is a remarkable achievement for a writer. I consider myself pretty sensitive to violence, and I don’t enjoy unlikeable characters at all, so I was very impressed that Faye pulled that off. Jane kills multiple people (only bad people, mind), but I was still rooting for her in the end. The audiobook is exceptional. I would not have changed a thing.

As a side note, the premise of this book is so bizarre that it makes a great conversation piece. I had about a twenty-minute conversation with my coworkers about it at the company picnic and they all thought I’d gone mad. 🙂

INSPIRATIONAL NONFICTION

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Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

I loved what Nyquist had to say about grace, forgiveness, and shame. I learned so much. Read my review here.

INSPIRATIONAL FICTION

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The Wood’s Edge by Lori Benton, The Pathfinders #1

I was so impressed with the diversity, vigor, and historicity of Benton’s writing in this first chapter of a new family saga. The story is wonderful. Read my review here.

ROMANCE

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A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

I loved this book and look forward to everything Kearsley writes. It contains her signature Scottish history connection, a mystery in a book, and features a beautiful, intelligent heroine who happens to have Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s real, and the romance is so heartwarming and completely believable. Apparently, Susanna’s daughter has Asperger’s, and that shows in the sensitivity and normalcy with which she portrays the social interactions of the main character. I thought it was fantastic! This is a solid, clean romance recommendation.

SCIENCE FICTION

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Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

This one took me a little while to get into, but I was more than amazed by the end of it! Its best qualities are the unorthodox storytelling, the various illustrations, and the gripping action/suspense. I literally gasped at the twists and turns in the last fifty pages. Definitely worth the read! A top-notch YA pick.

That’s all for 2016. 🙂 Happy New Year!

Reading Snapshot: July 2016

July was a great month for reading—partly because it was too hot to do anything else! I participated in the #24in48 readathon weekend, so I finished a lot more books than usual. I didn’t get close to 24 hours of reading done in 48 hours, but it was time well spent.

I read 14 books this month: 1 nonfiction (Cure), 1 short story, 4 audiobooks, and 10 print books.

The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor (#2, 2.5, and 3)

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In this delightful, action-packed series, time-traveling Historians go on madcap adventures while doing hands-on research. Of course, there’s also an evil organization trying to sabotage “the timeline” and hijinks ensue. The audiobooks (narrated by Zarra Ram) are fantastic. Highlight: Loads of dry humor. Qualm: I’d love to see more character development in addition to the fun plots. My recommendation: Keep in mind these are light on historical detail and just enjoy the ride. View the series on Goodreads!

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

MargaretIsn’t this the most beautiful cover you’ve ever seen? This is a fictional account of the life of Margaret the First, one of the first English women to make a living as an author. I am still in awe of this slim but stunning work of literary imagination. Dutton’s fanciful and lyrical voice perfectly conveys the spirit of Margaret, who “made the world her book.” I have no qualms. If you like historical fiction, this is a must-read. View the publisher’s summary on Goodreads!

 

 

AmyAmy Snow by Tracy Rees, narrated by Melody Grove

This one is right in my sweet spot! I adore historical novels with mystery elements. Set in 1840s England, Amy Snow is the story of a friendship between two women: one privileged, one a penniless orphan. While dying of a long illness, the wealthy girl sets up a treasure hunt for her friend using secret letters and clues only Amy will understand. On her journey—a fascinating undertaking for a woman in this time period—Amy learns more than expected about both her friend and herself. I enjoyed watching Amy come into her own while wrestling with how to honor her friend’s wishes and choose her own path. View the publisher’s summary on Goodreads!

That’s it from me. See you next week for my review of Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. It’s a gothic retelling of Jane Eyre—if Jane was a serial killer. The tagline is “Reader, I murdered him.” Need I say more?

 

Read Harder Challenge 2015

I am a big Boot Riot fan—the posts, the podcasts, the whole shebang—so I decided to take up their 2015 Read Harder challenge. I like to take up a challenge every year to stretch my reading horizons (and be inspired to catch up on my TBR pile). It’s definitely made me pick up a few books that I wouldn’t have already, and I still have some interesting categories yet to fill!

Here’s a (slightly past) midyear update of my progress so far:

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A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25

The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

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A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

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A collection or anthology of short stories

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

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A book published by an indie press

The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women From the Gospels by Frank Viola and Mary E. DeMuth

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A book by or about someone who identifies as LGBTQ

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfield

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A book by a person whose gender is different from your own

How to Enjoy Reading Your Bible by Keith Ferrin

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A YA novel

Atlantia by Ally Condie

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A sci-fi novel

This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

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A romance novel

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

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A Pulitzer Prize winner from the last ten years

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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A book that is a retelling of a classic story

Cinder by Melissa Meyer

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An audiobook

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

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A graphic novel, memoir, or comic collection

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffnegger

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A “guilty pleasure” book

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

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A book published this year

The Accidental Empress by Alison Pataki

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A self-improvement book

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

Tasks still to go:

A collection of poetry

A book that someone else has recommended to you

A book that was originally published in another language.

A book published before 1850

A book that takes place in Asia

A book by an author from Africa

A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous community

A microhistory

That’s it for now! If you have any suggestions for the remaining categories, I’d love to hear them! Happy reading!

Downton Abbey Withdrawal?

Who isn’t in Downton Abbey withdrawal?

If you’re like me (and half of America and England), you can’t wait for season three  of Downton to get your fix of drama, dresses, and romance–upstairs and downstairs!

Take my advice: Once you’ve seen Downton Abbey, you definitely want to go back to the books on this one. I love period dramas much more than the average Jane–from Masterpiece Classic to BBC–but even I have difficulty watching period films that were created before 1990. Such a beautiful age deserves to be viewed through a soft glow, with opulent settings and gorgeous dresses . . . or through the gilded lens of your imagination. So here are some different suggestions and sub-categories that will satisfy your needs for something rich, scandalous, and classy–in every sense of the word.

1) Just in time for the lapse between seasons 2 and 3, the 100th anniversary of the Titanic has spawned its own sub-category–a few highlights:

I loved: The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott. 

Next on my TBR pile is The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe. I adored her first novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. It hit so many of my literary love buttons: scholarly intrigue, history, magic–sigh. I’m so excited for her second book. It looks like it has all the things I loved in the first, with addition of a Titanic/Downton era connection. I just hope it’s as good as it sounds . . .

2) Cora’s story . . . or something like it.

I loved: The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin. 

3) The upstairs/downstairs aspect:

I loved: The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen 

4) Family secrets–and, of course, scandal . . .

I’m looking forward to Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton. 

I loved: The Distant Hours–also by Kate Morton. Also about a manor and it’s secrets. She does it well.

5) For Lady Sybill fans . . . and who isn’t?

I loved: A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd (and the whole Bess Crawford series). Mystery, a nurse . . . the Great War–need I say more??

Anybody else have any favorite Downton-esque fiction?

Nell Sweeney: More Murder, please!

I spent the last six days devouring P.B. Ryan’s Nell Sweeney mysteries. I don’t go on mystery binges very often, but I couldn’t put these down! Ryan’s historical mysteries are set in post-civil war America, so they hit all sorts of my favorite buttons. The books are not gruesome, but not too delicate either. The story and characters suck you in–and you won’t be able to get enough of them! (Evidence: I read all six books in the same number of days.)

The series kicks off with Still Life with Murder, when heroine Nell Sweeney assists in the birth of a maid’s daughter at a wealthy Boston home. The unorthodox matron of the house adopts the illegitimate daughter of her maid on the spot, and decides to keep Nell on as nurse/governess. Nell is not exactly a fitting candidate, but her and Viola get along from the get-go. The former cutpurse–turned physicians assistant–turned respectable governess–falls in love with her young charge Gracie. Serving as not only Gracie’s governess but also as companion to Viola Hewitt, who is confined to a wheelchair, but full of vigor in every other capacity. With the assistance of the estranged eldest Hewitt son, thought dead after the war, Nell investigates a variety of tough cases that keep you guessing with numerous twists. In addition to unpredictable endings, the books are full of historical references, social class issues, romance, and humor. Who could say no?

Reading Slumps and Recollections of a Mystery with a Fantastical Twist

Have you ever experienced a reading slump? Lately I’ve been creeping through three different books, unable to actually commit to anything because NOTHING has felt right. Everything I’ve picked up has failed to really grasp my imagination-with the one recent exception of Inheritance, which finally drew me out of my funk, thank goodness. (Post on that coming soon!) I don’t think I’ve ever abandoned so many books in such a short period. Usually I push through and eventually get into the story. I feel a little lost without a good book. I don’t know what to do with my free time and I end up wasting it watching tv.

I suppose there could be a variety of causes. The chief cause is that my work schedule is cutting into my reading time. I have awkward periods in which to read that don’t allow enough time for proper immersion. I suppose I’ll just have to accept that I no longer have time to read a book in a single sitting. Ah, the cost of growing up. Maybe I should consider a short story collection. At least I would be able to finish something on a more regular basis.

Thus, my absence from the blogosphere lately.

I forgot that I had started a post on The City & The City before the onset of my literary ditch, so here are some thoughts on that:

The City & The City was CityCitymy first China Mieville novel. I don’t read a lot of detective or crime fiction, so I wasn’t sure about it. However, I’ve heard been hearing a lot about Mieville lately and decided to see what all the buzz is about.

I was pleasantly surprised. I appreciated the way he mixed genres in The City & The City. It is a detective novel, but what makes it interesting is the setting. In the world Mieville creates, two cities lay on top of each other, inhabiting the same geographic space. This makes the detective’s investigation extremely complicated, as the murder he is investigating takes place in a “crosshatching.” The cities that lie on top of each other are actually in two different countries, and diplomatic relations are shaky.

It is a bit confusing at first to grasp the situation of the cities, as Mieville is so subtle with his world-building. The rules of society are strange. One must “unsee” members of the other city or risk “breach,” which breaks international law. To breach (fail to unsee) is a serious offense. Offenders of this law are taken by the organization Breach, which no one seems to know the exact function of–nor what happens to those who breach.  I was more interested in the world itself than the detective story. Still, it is well-worth taking a look at China Mieville. I’m certainly going to check out some of his other works.