Category: Mystery Review (page 1 of 5)

Calendar of Crime 2020: February Fever by Jess Lourey

Today’s review of February Fever by Jess Lourey is part of the reading challenge called Calendar of Crime 2020 hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block. 

Month: February

 

February Fever: Hot and Hilarious* (A Mira James Mystery) by Jess Lourey

(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

 

Summary:  In a sly nod to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, a trip to a conference for private investigators in Portland leaves Mira James trapped on a train with a murderer on board. It is soon apparent that some of the passengers are hiding their true identities. Will she be able to figure out who the killer is before someone else dies?

Check out my discussion of the first scene for Book Beginnings.

Review with Possible Spoilers

Lourey has a deft touch with character development. Her main character, Mira, is bright and curious with just the right amount of self effacement. Mira’s sidekick Mrs. Berns is a hoot.  Although she is impulsive and spews one liners, she’s also believable and her quirks are never too much over the top. You probably know someone like her.

The plotting/pacing of the novel isn’t quite as strong, or perhaps just didn’t conform to mystery norms. For example, typically with a mystery, the crime is often revealed near the beginning of the book. In this novel, the story had moved along before the mysterious death. I got so hooked on the characters, however, I was willing to plow through the slower, longer-than-expected set up.

Even though I picked this novel purely because it had February in the title and it fit the challenge criteria, I enjoyed it immensely. I am going to find the rest of the series, and — although this worked perfectly as a stand alone — I’m going to start with the first, May Day.  Maybe that will be my challenge book for May.

In the video below Jessica Lourey reveals why she started writing these novels (be prepared, it is heart wrenching), and encourages others to write as well.  She calls it using fiction to rewrite your life.  Wow. Well worth the few minutes to watch.

 

 

This amazing story is already way more than I expected to get out of the reading challenge.

What do you think?

 

#BookBeginnings February Fever: Hot and Hilarious by Jess Lourey

Let’s take a peek at February Fever: Hot and Hilarious by Jess Lourey for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

February Fever: Hot and Hilarious* (A Mira James Mystery) by Jess Lourey

(*Amazon Affiliate Link)

 

Summary: In a sly nod to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, a trip to a conference for private investigators in Portland leaves Mira James trapped on a train with a murderer on board. It is soon apparent that some of the passengers are hiding their true identities. Will she be able to figure out who the killer is before someone else –possibly Mira herself — dies?

 

First Sentence:

The upright bass strings resonated, the notes deep and husky. In the background, the finger-snapping began. Peggy Lee’s voice threaded over the top of the rhythm. It was playful, hot, and full of delicious promise.

Discussion:

See the Hot and Hilarious subtitle? The novel starts with a steamy scene between Mira James and her boyfriend, giving the hot part.

Readers might expect the rest is going to be a steamy romance novel. It turns out, however, this is only an attention-grabbing hook. It doesn’t truly reflect the rest of the book, which is a solid mystery with some threads of humor and at times downright wackiness.

Have you read any novels where the hook pointed to a different genre than the rest of the book? Did you feel like it was a bait-and-switch device or did it work for you?

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

 

Dear Blogger Friends, 

For some reason, I can not leave comments on Blogger blogs. Any comments I add disappear when I hit publish. I have tried many different fixes, but nothing has worked yet. I want to let you know I’m still reading your posts. 

Roberta

Calendar of Crime 2020: Jeopardy in January

Today’s review is part of the reading challenge called Calendar of Crime 2020 hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block. 

Month: January

Jeopardy in January* by Camilla Chafer

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Category:  I chose a mystery with the month in the title.

Summary:  As the head of the Calendar Public Library, Sara Cutler is fighting to keep the lovely old building from being torn down by a real estate developer named Jason Rees. When she discovers her assistant dead in the rare books section, handsome Rees is on hand to keep Sara safe. Soon Sara’s life becomes complicated as she must solve the mystery of her assistant’s double life, save the library, and figure out what to do about Rees.

Review with Spoilers

At times I’ve been known to compare a book to food. In this case, I was looking for something light, such as the cozy mystery version of a salad. Jeopardy in January turned out to be a salad, but one of those iceberg lettuce versions you get in diners sometimes, the ones with a few hard, tasteless tomato wedges and perhaps a carrot shred or two. It is a salad, but you are disappointed the creator didn’t put in a tiny bit more effort, like adding some new ingredients or at least better lettuce.

In Jeopardy in January we are offered two men who serve as both love interest and potential killer. Two.  No red herrings, no non-love interest bad guys, no bad women, just those two.  That pretty much takes the joy out of the mystery.

I also expected a head librarian to talk about books once in awhile. Granted, she’s upset about the library being threatened and her assistant being killed, but when the readership is filled with book nerds, throw them a bone. Or because we’re doing salad, a bit of cucumber at least.

There are a few other things I noticed, but perhaps I’m being too harsh. On the whole the main character, Sara, was spunky and resourceful, plus the small town setting sounded delightful.  So, let’s say I was actually in the mood for coleslaw instead of a salad. Either that, or this review is sour grapes because I really wanted the harried police detective to get the girl in the end.

Public domain image by Marina Shemesh at Publicdomainpictures.net

Reviews: Two More Ruth Galloway Mysteries

Over the recent holiday I read the second and third Ruth Galloway Mysteries by Elly Griffiths. See the author post for more information about the series.

Number 2. The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

In The Janus Stone, construction workers uncover the bones of a child buried under the foundation of a structure. Ruth Galloway investigates and figures out the death is decades old, not centuries old. She and Detective Nelson search for the previous owners of the house and the child’s identity.

Number 3. The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths

When workers recording beach erosion uncover a mass grave, it is Ruth Galloway’s job to figure out how six men ended up bound, shot and buried there.

Quick Notes with Spoilers:

Both books feature the things that attracted me to the first novel, the compelling characters, the Norfolk setting, and the use of the present tense to give the action an immediate feel.

Although I enjoyed the second novel, there was some repetition of plot from the first.

By the third novel, however, the plot became a clone of the previous one, even though the victims were very different and the main character’s circumstances had changed drastically. In the climax scene, Ruth Galloway trudged  off to get captured by the villain on a boat, exactly like what happened in the second novel.  Once again Detective Nelson throws himself into the water to rescue her, but instead endangers himself, again the same scenario as the second novel.

I was particularly disappointed when Ruth Galloway chose to go off to meet the villain, when she had a compelling reason to go home to be with her child. The boat wasn’t that exciting a find, and to leave her child after her friend had just chided her for being an inattentive mother seemed weak and self-centered.

Personally, I thought the plot would have been stronger and more believable if Detective Nelson put himself in danger and Ruth figured out she needed to go save him.  That would have been a credible reason for Ruth to leave her child. According to the blurb for the next novel, Detective Nelson becomes ill and is in danger. So, perhaps I am being prescient?

 

 

Ruth Galloway Mystery

Author Post: Elly Griffiths

British novelist Domenica de Rosa writes awesome mysteries under the pseudonym Elly Griffiths.

The first series features forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway who lives in Norfolk, a county north and east of London.

Ruth Galloway Series:

  • The Crossing Places (2009) -see review below
  • The Janus Stone (2010) –quick review
  • The House at Sea’s End (2011) – quick review
  • A Room Full of Bones (2012)
  • Ruth’s First Christmas Tree (2012)
  • A Dying Fall (2013)
  • The Outcast Dead (2014)
  • The Ghost Fields (2015)
  • The Woman in Blue (2016)
  • The Chalk Pit (2017)
  • The Dark Angel (2018)
  • The Stone Circle (2019)

DI Stephens & Max Mephisto series

  • The Zig-Zag Girl (2014)
  • Smoke and Mirrors (2015)
  • The Blood Card (2016)
  • The Vanishing Box (2017)

Standalone Novels by Domenica de Rosa

  • The Italian Quarter (2004)
  • The Eternal City (2005)
  • Villa Serena (2007)
  • Summer School (2008)
  • A Girl Called Justice (2019)

 

The Crossing Places (first in the Ruth Galloway Mysteries series) by Elly Griffiths

When Ruth Galloway is called in to age some bones unearthed in a marsh, she quickly establishes that the Iron Age remains aren’t related to a decade-old case of a missing child. The detective who contacted her realizes Ruth’s expertise might shed light on some mysterious letters related to the disappearance. Soon Ruth is caught up in trying to find the lost girl as well.

This novel grabbed me in a way that I haven’t experienced in some time.

What I loved:

  • The main character is older, overweight, and lives with two cats. She seems grounded and real.
  • The novel is written in the present tense, making it feel immediate.
  • The pacing is fast. It fits in the mystery category because we don’t know who did what, but the fast pace makes it seem more like a thriller. It doesn’t wander.
  • Griffiths has a deft touch with foreshadowing.
  • The relationship between Ruth and the detective, Harry Nelson, makes a compelling character arc that pulls the reader into the next book without resorting to cliffhangers or unsatisfactory endings. It is perfect.

I hope the library has the next one on the shelf.

 

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About Author Posts:

Ever been at the library or in a store and wondered if you need a certain title or if you’ve read it?  Having a list like this makes it easy to check on your phone.

Author Post: Louise Penny

Louise Penny is a popular mystery novelist. She has a deft hand with plotting, pace, and character development, plus her setting — The village of Three Pines in Canada — shines.

Penny based her main character Inspector Armand Gamache (of the Sûreté du Québec) on her husband, Michael. Unlike detectives in many mysteries , Gamache is a well-rounded family man who is also good at his job.

People ask if the series should be read in order. My recommendation is that if you are going to read them all, then in order is preferable because they do build on one another. On the other hand, I skipped to the most recent one and was still able to enjoy it without reading all that came before.

Inspector Gamache Books in order:

Still Life (2005)

A Fatal Grace (2007)

The Cruelest Month (2008)

A Rule Against Murder (2009)

The Brutal Telling (2009)

Bury Your Dead (2010)

The Hangman (2010)

A Trick of the Light (2011)

The Beautiful Mystery (2012)

How the Light Gets In (2013)

The Long Way Home (2014)

The Nature of the Beast (2015)

A Great Reckoning (2016)

Glass Houses (2017)

Kingdom of the Blind (2018) –reviewed here

A Better Man (2019)

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About Author Posts:

Because I read a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of which novels I’ve finished. I thought blogging would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I read. To get more organized, I’ve decided to create a series of author posts with lists of novels and links to my reviews. I plan to edit these pages as needed.

Author Post: Tana French

I have a strong love/hate relationship with Tana French’s novels. I love her writing, especially her pitch perfect dialogue and feel-like-you-are-right-there settings. On the other hand I hate her characters, who are often unreliable narrators sinking down on some sort of negative character arc. They are slippery and slimy, and leave me feeling dissatisfied.

Although the Dublin Murder Squad books are loosely called a series, the main characters change from book to book.

Dublin Murder Squad Books

In the Woods (2007) reviewed for The Bestseller Code challenge

The Likeness (2008) -see below

Faithful Place (2010)

Broken Harbour (2011)

The Secret Place (2014) – on shelf

The Trespasser (2016)

Stand Alone Novels

The Witch Elm (2018) -see below

In The Woods* by Tana French

 


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Likeness (spoilers)

The premise completely spoiled this one for me. It was so unrealistic that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief. Plus the undercover detective trapped in a house with a potential killer was more claustrophobic than chilling.

Yes, I disliked the book, but I keep picking up and reading more by this author.

The Witch Elm (spoilers)

Saw it on the shelf at the library and couldn’t leave it there. The main character, Toby Hennessy, proves that he’ll go along with shady dealings early in the book. After he sustains a severe beating and loses parts of his memory (another unreliable narrator!), he’s not at all sure what criminal acts he might have done in the past. Let’s just say his behavior slides downhill from there. Plus he loses his wonderful girlfriend, the only bright spot in the whole book.

On the other hand, the writing is superb. Stephen King describes French’s writing as “smooth, almost satiny prose.” Like ice cream, it is beyond delicious and addictive.

Which is why I picked up The Secret Place for my TBR pile this week. I just can’t help myself.

 

###

About Author Posts:

Because I read a lot of mysteries, I’ve been trying to come up with a better system to keep track of which novels I’ve finished. I thought blogging would help, which it does, but I don’t always review everything I read. To get more organized, I’ve decided to create a series of author posts with lists of novels and links to my reviews. I plan to edit these pages as needed.

#BookBeginnings If I Die Tonight: A Novel by Alison Gaylin

The 2019 Edgar award winners were announced this week and I’m featuring the best paperback original If I Die Tonight: A Novel by Alison Gaylin for  Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

If I Die Tonight: A Novel by Alison Gaylin

 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Aging pop star Aimee En tells the police that a teenager stole her car and used it to run down a local high school football player named Liam Miller. As Miller’s life hangs in the balance, social media portrays Liam as a hero and the suspected car thief Wade Reed as a deranged killer. But are things that simple?

Beginning:

Five days earlier

In bed late at night with her laptop, Jackie Reed sometimes forgot there were others in the house. That’s how quiet it was here, with these hushed boys of hers, always with their heads down, with their shuffling footsteps and their padded sneakers, their muttered greetings, their doors closing behind them.

Discussion:

According to the blurb, the story’s told from multiple points of view. That may explain why the beginning is from Wade Reed’s mother’s point of view.

I think some of you may have already reviewed this. Did you like it?

Have you read anything by Alison Gaylin? Would you like to read this one?

 

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny Review

Time to share thoughts about Louise Penny’s newest novel, Kingdom of the Blind.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: How do you summarize a complex novel like this one? Here’s the gist:

A stranger has named Chief Inspector Armand Gamache to be one of the executors of her will, Still suspended because of an investigation in a case that went wrong months before, Gamache agrees to accept the task as a way to keep occupied. What would seem to be a straightforward duty becomes troublesome, however, when he sees the bizarre terms of the will.

As if that weren’t enough, the case that got him suspended rears its ugly head again and he must track down missing drugs and work to clear his name while at the same time figuring out who murdered one of the heirs.

Read the Acknowledgements For Kingdom of the Blind First

I really wish I had read the acknowledgments before starting the book — they are at the end– because they inform the reading so much. It turns out Louise Penny based her main character Armand Gamache on her husband Michael. In a few sad, wry, warm, stunning paragraphs she reveals how she thought the series was over when her husband passed away. He had been her muse and he was gone.

What happened next is an inspiration to writers. She discovered it is possible to keep writing and even find joy in it. You need to read it in her words, though. Truly a message for the ages.

Throw Out The Rules (Or At Least Loosen Them)

As I mentioned previously, Louise Penny has almost an entire shelf in the mystery section at our local bookstore and her books are very popular. To say she is a successful writer is an understatement. Yet, like another mega-bestselling writer Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling), she completely ignores tight/limited third person point of view and blithely “head hops” from character to character, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph. From my understanding, the narrator doesn’t feel far enough away from the characters to be truly omniscient, either, so probably would be called third person multiple?

In any case, it appears that third person limited POV is good for beginning writers who have trouble moving from character to character without confusing readers, but masterful writers can loosen up third person point of view successfully and readers seem to prefer it.

Setting, Characters, and Plot

Another reason it is apparent she is a masterful author is that Louise Penny has a wonderful knack with setting (especially her descriptions of snow), is fantastic at developing realistic characters who drive the story, and she knows how to build a complex and believable plot. Many authors can are good at one or two of those. Kudos to Penny for being able to conquer all three.

winter-kingdom-of-the-blind

Public domain image by Larisa Koshkina from Publicdomainpictures.net

#BookBeginnings Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Today I’m reading Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Penny

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  How do you summarize a complex novel like this one? Here’s the gist:

A stranger has named Chief Inspector Armand Gamache to be one of the executors of her will, along with a bookseller named Myrna Landers and a young builder. Still suspended because of an investigation in a case that went wrong months before, Gamache agrees to accept the task as a way to keep occupied. What would seem to be a straightforward duty becomes troublesome, however, when they read the bizarre terms of the will, which before long leads to murder.

As if that weren’t enough, the case that got him suspended rears its ugly head again and he must track down missing drugs and work to clear his name.

First Sentences of Kingdom of the Blind:

Armand Gamache slowed his car to a crawl, then stopped on the snow-covered secondary road.

This was it, he supposed. Pulling in, he drove between the tall pine trees until he reached the clearing.

There he parked the car and sat in the warm vehicle looking out at the cold day. Snow flurries were hitting the windshield and dissolving.

Discussion:

The Chief Inspector Gamache series are set in Canada, around Québec and Montreal. I love the way she describes the snow and the cold.

Although this copy is from the library, I noticed that Louise Penny has almost an entire shelf to herself at our local bookstore. Her books are very popular.

Do you think it is surprising that the title is Kingdom of the Blind rather that The Kingdom of the Blind?

Have you read any of this series? What do you think?

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