Review: The English Wife

The English Wife, Lauren Willig

Published January 9th 2018 by St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover, 376 pages

Source: Goodreads giveaway

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Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

Holly and I have made no secrets that we’re Lauren Willig fangirls.   Though I do think the Pink Carnation series ended at just the right time I have missed Willig’s flirtatious banter and witty women.  The English Wife started a bit slow  but in the end I found it was just the right book at the right time for me. The romance and flirting – with just enough cheesiness was pure Willig and despite the sad mystery this book left me with a smile on my face.  

We have a murder, a missing wife, the possibility of a blatant affair (or more than one), and the drama of old New England money.  I loved the tension with the muckraking press and the overbearing mother who thought her class should rule the day.  And oh my – the freaking ending – I had definite theories as I read as to what could have happened to Annabelle and Bay and let me just say I did not expect what the ending was at all.  

Now I will go back to a Pink Carnation re-read while I wait to see what Lauren Willig writes next!

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for this advance copy!

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Overdue Review: Among the Ruins

Among the Ruins,  (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak #3) by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Published February 14th 2017 by Minotaur Books

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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On leave from Canada’s Community Policing department, Esa Khattak is traveling in Iran, reconnecting with his cultural heritage and seeking peace in the country’s beautiful mosques and gardens. But Khattak’s supposed break from work is cut short when he’s approached by a Canadian government agent in Iran, asking him to look into the death of renowned Canadian-Iranian filmmaker Zahra Sobhani. Zahra was murdered at Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where she’d been seeking the release of a well-known political prisoner. Khattak quickly finds himself embroiled in Iran’s tumultuous politics and under surveillance by the regime, but when the trail leads back to Zahra’s family in Canada, Khattak calls on his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, for help.

Rachel uncovers a conspiracy linked to the Shah of Iran and the decades-old murders of a group of Iran’s most famous dissidents. Historic letters, a connection to the Royal Ontario Museum, and a smuggling operation on the Caspian Sea are just some of the threads Rachel and Khattak begin unraveling, while the list of suspects stretches from Tehran to Toronto. But as Khattak gets caught up in the fate of Iran’s political prisoners, Rachel sees through to the heart of the matter: Zahra’s murder may not have been a political crime at all.

It is not easy to try to review a series from the middle so I will mostly just tell you that if you like mysteries and haven’t read these books YOU SHOULD START!  Book one of Esa and Rachel’s partnership, The Unquiet Dead, blew me away and The Language of Secrets was a worthy follow-up.  Now Esa has found his way into a new mystery while vacationing in Iran and Rachel tries to help as best she can from home in Canada.   As they had to work to communicate I found myself uncomfortably tense with worry about what would happen.  I was also 9 months pregnant when reading this – I might recommend against combination on reflection.  Too much anxiety!  We had deeply corrupt government figures, international drama, possibly stolen royal jewels and then family dramas – all wrapped up with murder.   

I have of course found myself emotionally caught up by characters in mysteries, even tearful (Flavia  de Luce I’m looking at you).  But I can’t think of a mystery book or series that gets me so caught up in the real fate of a group of people or nation or really just what the fuck is wrong with humanity sometimes.  Khan had me terrified and sad for the plight of prisoners in Iran – so much so I’d never want to go there- and at the same time longing to see the sights she described. Thankfully she started posting pictures on Facebook and saved me the searching time!  What a beautifully sad place.  

I’m also currently reading Khan’s foray into fantasy, The Bloodprint, and I’m really enjoying it.  Definitely getting flashbacks to the setting for Among the Ruins which is cool and different. 

Are you reading this series?  Any other good mysteries I should pick-up?  I think that’s the mood I’m heading into for fall.

Thank you Minotaur Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review! 

Why I’ve Fallen for Sydney Chambers

I’m totally head over heels for Grantchester.  The fact that the BBC Sydney looks like this doesn’t hurt.  

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Usually I’m a book before film girl, but I don’t mind having this face already in my head when I’m reading Sydney’s adventures. I really enjoyed Sydney Chambers and the Shadow of Death and the follow-up Sydney Chambers and the Perils of Night did not disappoint.  Here’s the scoop of Sydney’s adventures in book two:

The loveable full time priest and part time detective Canon Sidney Chambers continues his sleuthing adventures in late 1950’s Cambridge. Accompanied by his faithful Labrador Dickens, and working in tandem with the increasingly exasperated Inspector Geordie Keating, Sidney is called on to investigate the unexpected fall of a Cambridge don from the roof of King’s College Chapel; a case of arson at a glamor photographer’s studio; and the poisoning of Zafar Ali, Grantchester’s finest spin bowler, in the middle of a crucial game of cricket. As he pursues his quietly probing inquiries, Sidney also has to decide on the vexed question of marriage. Can he choose between the rich, glamorous socialite Amanda Kendall and Hildegard Staunton, a beguiling German widow three years his junior? To help him make up his mind Sidney takes a trip abroad, only to find himself trapped in a complex web of international espionage just as the Berlin Wall is going up. Here are six interlocking adventures that combine mystery with morality, and criminality with charm.

Who would have expected Cambridge could be the scene of such murderous intrigue?  Again the book reads as it was almost made to be a BBC show but it works well while reading.  The mysteries are just long enough and just deep enough for an evening’s reading – but if you want to think deep thoughts you are left with the issues of post-WWII England including racism, homophobia, and the fight against communism.  But there’s still romance, and romantic betrayal, friendship and of course Dickens – the loyal black lab.  I am looking forward to more Sydney both on my tv screen and in book 3!  I’m very curious to see where the second season of the show goes based on the changes they made from the book.  

Thank you Bloomsbury USA for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: All the Missing Girls

All the Missing Girls, Megan Miranda

Kindle Edition, 384 pages

Expected publication: June 28th 2016 by Simon & Schuster

Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley

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Megan Miranda’s novel is a nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse.

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.

When I heard this was a mystery told in reverse I was really unsure how I’d feel about it.  I have to say that this book was basically a mind fuck. We start in the present as Nicolette returns to her rural home town of Cooley Ridge to help convince her ill father to sell her childhood home.  She leaves her fiancé behind and he’s unaware that Nicolette will be facing down both memories of her high school best friend’s disappearance and her physical high school boyfriend who she’s never really said goodbye to.

We then go two weeks into the future when there’s been another disappearance and Nicolette is being told to run – I won’t tell you who from. The book goes through each day and then flashes back again.  This was such a great way to tell a mystery!  I thought that I had everything figured out as Nic flashed back through each day – and I was always wrong! I loved how Miranda was able to drop clues that made so much sense in the end but totally threw me off as I was reading.  

If you need a summer thriller this is it!  Suspenseful and well written – definitely one to read at the beach!

Thank you Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie (The Grantchester Mysteries #1)

Paperback, 400 pages

Published January 13th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA

Source: Copy from Publisher

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Sidney Chambers, the Vicar of Grantchester, is a thirty-two year old bachelor. Sidney is an unconventional clergyman and can go where the police cannot.

Together with his roguish friend Inspector Geordie Keating, Sidney inquires into the suspect suicide of a Cambridge solicitor, a scandalous jewellery theft at a New Year’s Eve dinner party, the unexplained death of a well-known jazz promoter and a shocking art forgery, the disclosure of which puts a close friend in danger. Sidney discovers that being a detective, like being a clergyman, means that you are never off duty . . .

How did I not know about Grantchester?  A swooningly handsome English vicar with his loyal black lab puppy getting involved in murder mysteries in the 1950’s – yes please.  Meet tv Sidney:

 

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With that image in mind I am happy to sacrifice my imagination to the BBC’s fine work.  I decided to dive into the books before checking out the tv series  and found myself reading a book that almost feels like it was written to become a tv series. The Shadow of Death was not one mystery but a series of somewhat interconnected stories.  As Sidney gets pulled in by the police we meet his friend Inspector Keating, his grumpy housekeeper, his love interests and his family.  I love the setting of England recovering from the war and the internal conflict of Sidney the war hero with the upright vicar.  You feel Sidney’s initial reluctance to become involved in police business then turning to excitement as he gets more involved in each case.  I can’t put my finger on why – but something reminded me of my beloved Flavia de Luce – maybe the slight grumpiness that gets into Sidney at times?

And obviously here’s where I was sunk – when Sidney is gifted a puppy he is told:

“There is nothing like a Lab for company, and the black are better for conversation I find.”

Loki - Always listening for conversation

Loki – Always listening for conversation

I am looking forward to seeing if the stories grow any deeper in the second book in the series, after all now the stage has been set and Sidney’s supporting characters largely revealed.  I’m very curious about where dualing love interests will head

Now the biggest question is – do I binge Season One of Grantchester before or after reading more Sidney?  Are you reading or watching this series?  Let me know!

Thank you Bloomsbury USA for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: The Language of Secrets

The Language of Secrets, Ausma Zehanat Khan

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published: February 2nd 2016 by Minotaur Books

Source: Goodreads giveaway

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Detective Esa Khattak heads up Canada’s Community Policing Section, which handles minority-sensitive cases across all levels of law enforcement. Khattak is still under scrutiny for his last case, so he’s surprised when INSET, Canada’s federal intelligence agency, calls him in on another potentially hot button issue. For months, INSET has been investigating a local terrorist cell which is planning an attack on New Year’s Day. INSET had an informant, Mohsin Dar, undercover inside the cell. But now, just weeks before the attack, Mohsin has been murdered at the group’s training camp deep in the woods.

INSET wants Khattak to give the appearance of investigating Mohsin’s death, and then to bury the lead. They can’t risk exposing their operation, or Mohsin’s role in it. But Khattak used to know Mohsin, and he knows he can’t just let this murder slide. So Khattak sends his partner, Detective Rachel Getty, undercover into the small-town mosque which houses the terrorist cell. As Rachel tentatively reaches out into the unfamiliar world of Islam, and begins developing relationships with the people of the mosque and the terrorist cell within it, the potential reasons for Mohsin’s murder only seem to multiply, from the political and ideological to the intensely personal.

I was blown away last year by Ausma Zehanat Khan’s debut, The Unquiet Dead.  I can’t think of another mystery that had me so caught up in the plot and also left me in tears.  So I was very excited to start her next book about Detectives Khattak and Getty.  A Muslim police officer investigating in a mosque for a murder suspect – while there is also a terrorism investigation happening.  Sounds almost as intense as Khan’s last book about a Balkan war criminal sneaking into Canada and ending up murdered.  Khattak is so different than a basic murder cop you might read about – he has so many layers and his story as I know it so far is fascinating.   There is so much beauty to Islam and I really liked getting Khattak’s interpretation of his faith – especially interesting juxtaposed with a suspected violent extremist.  

Again I was caught up until the very end of this book as to who the actual murderer was and it was no one I suspected!   I was so sure I knew what had happened but Khan definitely led me down the wrong path.  I like how Khattak and Getty work together, and I will definitely hope for a 3rd book with more about Rachel again.  Here we had much more of Esa and his family which was great, but I would have liked both of them.  

I might have been better served by rereading the Unquiet Dead before starting The Language of Secrets.  There are references to the previous case and the fallout it caused – so while this works as a stand alone I would recommend starting with book one.  While Rachel Getty is definitely a lighter foil to her partner she’s not really so light herself.  These are pretty heavy books overall.  The dramatic past between Esa and his fellow police is plot relevant, but also felt like it bogged the flow down at times.  That is what kept this from being a 5 star read for me.  

This cover fits so well and is totally creeping me out when I look at it now that I’ve finished. This is a perfect match for this mystery – it was creepy and dark!  

4 stars!

Thank you Minotaur Books and Goodreads for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

2015 TBR Challenge Review: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie King (Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes #1)

Published April 1st 2010 by Minotaur Books

ebook, 368 pages

Source: Chicago Public Library

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1914, a young woman named Mary Russell meets a retired beekeeper on the Sussex Downs. His name is Sherlock Holmes. And although he may have all the Victorian “flaws” listed above, the Great Detective is no fool, and can spot a fellow intellect even in a fifteen-year-old woman.

So, at first informally, then consciously, he takes Mary Russell as his apprentice. They work on a few small local cases, then on a larger and more urgent investigation, which ends successfully. All the time, Mary is developing as a detective in her own right, with the benefit of the knowledge and experience of her mentor and, increasingly, friend.

And then the sky opens on them, and they find themselves the targets of a slippery, murderous, and apparently all-knowing adversary. Together they devise a plan to trap their enemy–a plan that may save their lives but may also kill off their relationship.  This is not a “Sherlock Holmes” story. It is the story of a modern young woman who comes to know and work with Holmes, the story of young woman coming to terms with herself and with this older man who embodies the age that is past.

So I’m probably not making it through my 2015 TBR Challenge books but I am still trying! I am so glad I got The Beekeeper’s Apprentice off my to read list – however, it’s now been replaced by the sequel, A Monstrous Regiment of Women.  Also, I now really have to read Sherlock Holmes himself I think.  

Young Mary Russell nearly falls over Sherlock Holmes while out walking one day.  A friendship is struck between the odd pair and as she grows up and studies Mary realizes that Holmes is more than her teacher, and that she is a fit partner for the semi-retired detective.  Their adventures are told by Mary herself reflecting back in time.  

I loved reading about a young woman like Mary.  She’s brilliant and determined and she’s not cowed by Holmes just because of who he is.  Mary is not perfect and I really enjoyed how she and Holmes balance each other out.  I particularly enjoyed picturing them as a gypsy father and daughter trying to get themselves arrested to start to solve a kidnapping.  I appreciated that King gives the reader more than just one mystery in this first book and I liked seeing Mary take bigger steps as a detective in each case.  I look forward to seeing how the series unfolds.

4 stars!

3 weeks, 4 challenge books to go.  I will get as far as I can before I admit defeat!  Sadly Adam at the Roofbeam Reader has decided he will not be hosting a 2016 TBR Challenge due to commitments outside of book life.  Holly and I liked the challenge so much that, along with Eva at The Paperback Princess, we’re going to continue to push ourselves to clear our TBR shelves.  Let’s be honest, we’re not as organized as Adam was so we won’t be as fancy.  But if you are looking for a challenge please join us and make a 2016 TBR list!