Mondays (and in this case, Thursdays) are for Murder: Date with Death…

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Well, last time I was complaining that Monday had come around too fast.  This time, it’s come so quickly that it’s got to Thursday before I can put up Monday’s post.  Sorry about the delay this week, but the week was busy, then when I sat down to blog I realised the keyboard had decided to retire without telling me, so I had to track down a new, more enthusiastic keyboard that was willing to work with no pay and under the constant threat of tea spillage and here we are, it’s Thursday.

Today’s book is the opener of a new cosy mystery series set in the Yorkshire Dales and although it has a punny title, I really enjoyed it.  We received our copy of Date With Death (Book 1 in the Dales Detective Series) by Julia Chapman from PanMacmillan Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Samson O’Brien has been dismissed from the police force, and returns to his home town of Bruncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales to set up a detective agency while he fights to clear his name. The people of Bruncliffe, however, aren’t that welcoming to a man they perceive as trouble – and he is greeted by his old friend, Delilah Metcalfe, not with an hug but a right hook that sends him sprawling.

Delilah, meanwhile, is besieged by financial concerns and struggling to keep her business, the Dales Detective Agency, afloat – all while trying to control her wayward Weimaraner dog Tolpuddle. Then when Samson gets his first case, investigating the supposed suicide of a local man, things take an unexpected turn, and soon he is discovering a trail of deaths that lead back to the door of Delilah’s agency. With suspicion hanging over someone they both care for, the two feuding neighbours soon realise that they need to work together to solve the mystery of the dating deaths – and working together is easier said than done.

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Plot Summary:

Delilah is in deep debt and struggling to hang on financially until her dating agency business gets off the ground. When Samson O’Brien returns to the Dales in disgrace, Delilah’s only financial option is to let him rent out her ground floor office for his new detective agency…a timely move indeed because it seems someone in their community is picking off members of Delilah’s agency one by one.

The Usual Suspects:

This is a bit of a tricky one because there isn’t anyone in the village (or beyond) who particularly stands out as someone who would happily be serial killing members of a dating agency.  As the story moves along, instead of actual people as suspects our protagonists try to build up a mental picture of who such a person might be.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

This is quite a refreshing aspect of the book because in your usual murder mystery you at least have a few suspects to work with.  It takes a little while to prove that the deaths are indeed murder, and then the hunt involves some rather tricky and dangerous tactics.  As well as attending the odd speed dating night out.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the amount of dutch courage needed to get through a blind date with a farmer whose personal hygiene habits receive only passing attention

Despite the fact that this is definitely a cosy and there is a lot of time spent on developing the characters, both main and secondary, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and would certainly be interested in following the series.  Delilah is the only girl in a family of manly men and is determined to make her business successful after a recent divorce.  Samson is the black sheep of the village, having left his alcoholic father in dire circumstances (in the opinion of the town) to swan off to London and bag a high paying and dangerous job with the Met.  When Samson returns home, his welcome is not particularly warm and he discovers that many things have changed drastically since he’s been away.  Samson’s return coincides with a little problem at work which he wants to keep hidden from the villagers at all cost.

I quite enjoyed the premise of the murdered folk all being from the same dating agency (although I’m sure this has been done before in some way, shape or form in other cosies) as well as the way in which Delilah and Samson (eventually) go about sorting it out.  It seems rather far-fetched that no one would bother to inform the police about their suspicions, but it works for the story and makes the eventual hunt far more suspenseful, knowing that Delilah and Samson are on their own.

As one who likes my mysteries twisty and my murders happening in quick succession, I did find the long sections developing characters, backstory and village life a little distracting, but I accept that this is obviously one of those series where the relationships between the characters and their relationship with their environment is of utmost importance.  The book also sets a bit of groundwork for other books in the series.  There are definitely some shady characters getting around Bruncliffe that will no doubt play a part in nefarious doings further down the track.

There’s a lot going on here that will satisfy those looking for both an exciting mystery and a story about coming home and reinventing oneself.  I must give a shout-out to the collective folk of the retirement village, of which Samson’s father is part, for lifting the mood whenever they appeared.  I’m glad to see that they will feature heavily in the next book in the series.  I would certainly recommend giving this one a go as your next holiday read, or, if you happen to live in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s the perfect book to snuggle up under a blanket with on a rainy, lazy weekend…for whenever the humidity decides to bugger off for good.

I will be submitting this book for the Popsugar Challenge under the category of “author using a pseudonym” because Julia Chapman is the pen name of Julia Stagg. You can check out my challenge progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: The 12.30 from Croydon

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As promised, here is the first of two Murderous Monday posts for February.  Today’s book is going to count toward the Wild Goose Chase Reading Challenge under category six, a book with a mode of transport in the title.  You can check out my progress toward the challenge here. The 12.30 From Croydon by Freeman Wills Croft is a bit of classic British crime fiction with a twist.  We received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

We begin with a body. Andrew Crowther, a wealthy retired manufacturer, is found dead in his seat on the 12.30 flight from Croydon to Paris. Rather less orthodox is the ensuing flashback in which we live with the killer at every stage, from the first thoughts of murder to the strains and stresses of living with its execution. Seen from the criminal s perspective, a mild-mannered Inspector by the name of French is simply another character who needs to be dealt with. This is an unconventional yet gripping story of intrigue, betrayal, obsession, justification and self-delusion. And will the killer get away with it?”

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Plot Summary:

A tale of murder told from the point of view of the murderer, this book is an in-depth study of the carrying out of a “perfect” crime.

The Usual Suspects:

For the second time this year I am bringing you a “not your typical” murder mystery, in the sense that, from the very beginning – or thereabouts – we know who the murderer is.  This is because the book follows the main character as he plans and carries it out. This book is also different in the sense that it carries the reader through two inquests and a full trial before the story is done.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Even though we know who the killer is, it is fascinating to watch through his eyes as the police investigate here and there, seemingly moving closer and then further away from the clues that might give the murderer away.  The second half of the book deals with the murderer’s keen interest in the hunt put on by the police.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the roller-coaster of emotions of a murderer wondering whether or not he will be caught.

I thoroughly enjoyed getting into this one, even if the “mystery” element of the murder-mystery equation was thoroughly absent.  It was fascinating to follow the protagonist’s – Charles Swinburne’s – train of thought as a convenient solution presents itself to his financial and personal difficulties.  Despite being a murderous murderer, Charles is quite a likable and ingenious bloke, with a real knack for malice aforethought, once he gets going.

Some readers may find the story a tad repetitive.  Because we are privy to all Charles’s pre-planning, the information brought out at the inquests and trial is not at all new to us as readers, and by the end I did find it a bit odd that I was sitting through what amounted to a detailed retelling of the story that I had already read.  By that stage I was thoroughly invested in the outcome however, and putting the book down was no longer an option.  The ending is something of an anti-climax, in that it wraps up quite abruptly, but the author has done a fantastic job of tying up every possible loose end.

I would highly recommend this if you are in the mood for a bit of classic historical mystery, from a slightly unexpected angle.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Mini DNF-a-Thon: DNFs with Potential…

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I have had a mini-swathe of DNFed books of late so I thought I’d share them here in case there are any of you whose interest is piqued by their content.  I hasten to add that none of the following books is bad in any major way, but they just didn’t really suit my tastes or my mindset at the time of reading, possibly because two out of three of them came unsolicited from the publishers. Here we go then.

The Diabolic (S. J. Kincaid)

*We received this one from Simon & Schuster for review * 

Categories: YA, science fiction, speculative fiction, playing politics, survival the-diabolic

DNF’ed at: page 77

Comments:

This one was sent unsolicited (ie: I didn’t request it) for review, so I wasn’t initially sure what I was getting into.  I was actually quite engaged during the first section of the book, but as soon as Nemesis got on the ship to head off to intergalactic court to impersonate her mistress, I lost interest.  This book is getting absolute rave reviews all over the place though, and my loss of interest may have had more to do with being too busy to focus on it, rather than the book suddenly becoming uninteresting.  I may well pick this one up again in the future and would recommend it to fans of sci-fi or YA that isn’t set in your typical fantasy or contemporary worlds.


The Fifth Avenue Artists Society (Joy Callaway)

*We were sent this one for review from Allen & Unwin*

Categories: Adult fiction, historical fiction, period romance  fifth-avenue-artists-society

DNF’ed at: page 36

Comments:

This one was also unsolicited, but I like a good period piece as much as the next gargoyle so I thought I’d give it a crack.  I could have probably found myself enjoying this if I didn’t have a whole bunch of books lying around waiting to be read, honestly, but overall this one was a bit too out-of-period for me.  I prefer my historical fiction from this era to be British rather than American.  There were a few turns of phrase in the dialogue and in the general writing that hit me as slightly out of place, but again, if I was an ordinary reader who read one book at a time, I may have found more to enjoy here.  This one is a victim of just not being my thing.  But it might be yours!


The Amateurs (Sarah Shepard)

*We received this one from Allen & Unwin for review*

Categories: YA, murder mystery the-amateurs

DNF’ed at: chapter ten

Comments:

This was a definite fail for me.  I was excited to read it because it features a group of amateur sleuths who chat online and try to solve cold cases.  Just my thing, I thought!  Unfortunately, the author insists on going off at annoying tangents by having her characters constantly reflect inwardly about various peoples’ hotness and whether they should really be hanging out with this person or encouraging advances from that person’s running coach, ad nauseum. I just wanted to know about the murder mystery, kids – save your adolescent angst for a romance book!  While I really did want to know who murdered Helena Kelly, I wasn’t prepared to wade through a bunch of cliched tripe-filled characters to find out.  Shame really.


Have you read any of these?  What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

Alphabet Soup Challenge: Useless Bay

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It’s getting to the pointy end of the year when I start to look back over the challenges to which I’ve committed and start to panic that I won’t finish them.  Thanks to a bit of blind luck, I’ve got the perfect entry today for the 2016 Alphabet Soup Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas, for the letter “U”: YA mystery suspense novel Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand.  We received our copy from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

On Whidbey Island, the Gray quintuplets are the stuff of legend. Pixie and her brothers have always been bigger and blonder than their neighbors, as if they were birthed from the island itself. Together, they serve as an unofficial search-and-rescue team for the island, saving tourists and locals alike from the forces of wind and sea. But, when a young boy goes missing, the mysteries start to pile up. While searching for him, they find his mother’s dead body instead—and realize that something sinister is in their midst. Edgar-nominated author M. J. Beaufrand has crafted another atmospheric thriller with a touch of magical realism that fans of mystery and true crime will devour.

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Although the cover of this edition puts me in mind of a middle grade targeted story, this is definitely one for the young adults and older readers.  The story is a strange combination of murder mystery, magical realism and family drama and at times I felt that the author couldn’t quite decide which genre they wanted to focus on, so chose instead to flick between them and see what happened.

The Gray quintuplets have lived on the island all their lives and are constantly described in almost mythical terms, but when it boils down to it, it appears that they just happen to be above average height with a strong familial connection and a fiercely independent streak.  Pixie, from whose point of view half of the story is told, comes to be responsible, almost by accident, for a bloodhound who turns out to be brilliant at finding lost people; and it seems like there are a lot of lost people to find on the island and a steady stream of work available for Pixie and her dog, unlikely as that may be.  Henry, from whose point of view the other half of the story is told, is the son of a famous, rich man, and the family’s connection with Useless Bay itself -and the mystical Gray quintuplets – is the result of some serendipitous real estate brokerage.

Overall, I did enjoy the mystery and drama of the story but much of the book felt a bit unwieldy, switching between the grim reality of searching for a lost child (presumed dead) and the odd levity of Pixie’s foray into paranormal historical hallucinations.  The overall atmosphere is quite despondent, but this is tempered with scenes of pacey action and the revelation of unexpected secrets.

I can certainly say I haven’t come across such a hybrid of genres and interesting mix of characters and setting for quite some time in a YA novel, so for that reason alone it is worth picking up.  I think this would appeal to those who enjoy a quirky mystery that blends reality with unexpected paranormal twists.

In case you’re wondering how I’m going with the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, you can check out my progress here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays are for Murder: Magpie Murders…

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I’m bringing out the big guns for our sojourn into humanity’s dark underbelly today, with the much-anticipated new release Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. We received our copy from Hachette Australia for review, and while the blurb is intriguing enough, it’s nothing compared to the twisty-turny-ness that goes on in the pages.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She’s worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It’s just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway…

But Conway’s latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

From Sunday Times bestseller Anthony Horowitz comes Magpie Murders, his deliciously dark take on the vintage crime novel, brought bang- up-to-date with a fiendish modern twist.

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Plot Summary:

It’s going to be quite difficult to tell you much about the plot without disturbing the intended reading experience, so I’ll keep this bit brief.  Susan Ryeland is an editor at a semi-successful publishing house that is kept from going under mostly due to the best-selling titles of one Alan Conway.  Conway writes the wildly popular Atticus Pund detective series, and while he is a complete pill to work with – demanding, selfish and generally unpleasant – he nevertheless delivers on providing his manuscripts bang on time.  It is after Conway has dropped off the manuscript of the ninth book in the series, Magpie Murders, to Cloverleaf books, that life begins imitating art and secrets that have the potential to shed a whole new light on the books and Conway himself are both revealed and kept back.  Even though Conway’s books are keeping her in a job, Susan wishes she had never laid eyes on Conway or Atticus Pund.

The Usual Suspects:

Okay, this section isn’t going to work particularly well for this novel because in essence you are getting two mysteries for the price of one.  You see, one section of the novel is devoted to the manuscript – yes, the entire manuscript – of the ninth Atticus Pund novel, so the reader gets to experience a vintage-style, golden age of crime, sleepy English village mystery, written by Conway, as well as a contemporary amateur sleuth mystery, narrated by Ryeland.  Incredible value for money, when you think about it!  I can tell you that the Pund manuscript features all the usual suspects you would expect from a Christie-esque mystery: the Lord and Lady of the Manor, various lackeys in the form of housekeepers, groundsmen and their families, the village doctor, the sister of the Lord of the Manor, a Johnny-come-lately store owner, a shady Reverend and his wife, a young couple trying to make a go of things…

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, there are two separate, but intertwined mysteries going on here, so I will focus on the Atticus Pund manuscript.  Again, this follows exactly the formula of a vintage British crime novel.  Atticus Pund is essentially Poirot, but German (indeed, Poirot, Marple and various other crime writers are mentioned throughout the contemporary part of the novel, and the reader is supposed to get the sense that the Atticus Pund series has been deliberately written in this style).  The detective and his young assistant come into town and question the appropriate people, Pund smugly lets on that he knows the answer to the mystery, the mystery is revealed in the typical fashion.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the utter bewilderment of trying to solve two mysteries simultaneously

I’m finding it hard to really get to the nitty-gritty of this novel and express what I thought about its quirks and twists, because I don’t want to give anything away. There are two major plot points that I think would really detract from the reading experience if you were to find them out before reading the book, so if you know any reviewers who are fond of spoilers, it might be best to steer clear until you’ve read it.  Suffice to say that if you are a fan of murder mysteries of the contemporary or historical variety, you should definitely give this a go and see what you think, because the format will most likely be different to anything you’ve read before in this genre.

The story itself has layers upon layers, with puzzles and sideways references hidden throughout.  In terms of solving the mystery/s along with the characters, it is decidedly tricky to do because there are so many clues that are given piecemeal, or only make sense in the context of information that is revealed later.  Having said that, I certainly came across a few clues that had me thinking “Yes! I’ve got it!”.  I was proved wrong, of course, but not in the way I was expecting.

One of the strange things that I experienced, that most readers probably won’t have to contend with, is the fact that I was reading an uncorrected manuscript of an uncorrected manuscript, so I was trying to find clues where no clues were intended! My review copy was an ARC (or advanced readers copy, or uncorrected proof copy for the uninitiated) and therefore contained minor errors – typos mostly, and in one case, the wrong name assigned to a character – and as the Atticus Pund manuscript within the novel also contains minor errors (deliberately, I suspect, to make it look like a first draft manuscript), I was thinking that the errors in the contemporary bits might have some hidden meaning.

They didn’t.

But it certainly made reading the book a bizarre, code-cracking experience.

Horowitz has done a brilliant job of creating two complete mysteries within the one novel.  I enjoyed the Atticus Pund manuscript very much, given that it is in the vintage style that I prefer.  In fact, Horowitz has done such a good job with making Pund like Poirot that I wish he had been given charge of the new Poirot stories, rather than Sophie Hannah.  The contemporary part of the novel was a little bit slow for my liking, mostly because we have already been presented with what is essentially an entire book within the greater story, so I just wanted to hurry things along and get to the dual reveals.

Horowitz has proved once again what a fantastic mastery of writing he has with Magpie Murders.  We on the Shelf have long been fans of his work,  and although there were some parts of the book overall that don’t sit quite right with me on reflection, Magpie Murders is a wonderful, quirky and unexpected addition to the murder mystery section of the shelf that will have readers trying to puzzle out clues within clues.

Highly recommended.

Until next time,

Bruce

Monday is for Murder: First Class Murder (+ a little extra!)

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It’s Monday, so it’s murder time and today I am catching up on a series I just love to bits. I’ve also got a little extra today, with a short story from the same series.  First Class Murder is book three in Robin Stevens’ wildly popular Wells & Wong series for younger readers that harks back to the golden age of British murder mystery fiction.  I am desperately trying to keep pace with the series, but am still one book behind (soon to be two, as Mistletoe and Murder is to be released before Christmas in a fetching and festive red cover!!).  Let’s battle on then, with the blurb from Goodreads:

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a holiday through Europe on the world-famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it’s clear that each of their fellow first-class passengers has something to hide. Even more intriguing: rumour has it that there is a spy in their midst.

Then, during dinner, there is a bloodcurdling scream from inside one of the cabins. When the door is broken down, a passenger is found murdered, her stunning ruby necklace gone. But the killer is nowhere to be seen – almost as if they had vanished into thin air.

Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked-room mystery – and with competition from several other sleuths, who are just as determined to crack the case as they are.

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Plot Summary:

First Class Murder is a tribute to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, not a retelling for juniors, so while there will be familiar aspects – the unexpected stoppage, for example – don’t expect the story to unfold in exactly the same fashion.  The girls find themselves on the train and under the ever-watchful eye of Hazel’s father; the grown-ups seem to think that the girls have got themselves into enough mischief and danger to be going on with and a change of scenery and civilised society should do them a world of good.  Even before the murder happens, Daisy is determined to scent adventure, and after the incident Daisy and Hazel must employ all of their wits and cunning to continue detecting under the nose of a variety of meddling adults.

The Usual Suspects:

There’s a real collection of weirdos colourful characters on the train, including an elderly and angry Russian Countess, a writer of appalling crime novels, a spiritual medium, a world famous magician, a purveyor of diet pills, a wealthy heiress and a familiar face in unfamiliar clothing.  All of them have a motive for murdering the poor unfortunate victim and all seem to have skills that could lend themselves to a classic, locked room mystery!

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

The detecting aspect of the case has an added element of fun in this book because the girls have been expressly forbidden to engage in any detection by not one, but two, authoritative figures after the murder takes place.  This means that a lot of listening at doors and hiding under tables is required in order to get the juicy clues.  The prospect of competition is raised too, as the bumbling Doctor Sandwich and his much cleverer sidekick Alexander, are officially “on the case”.  There are some red herrings left lying about in plain sight as well as a few hints that clever clogs should pick up on fairly early on, but the entire puzzle should remain a mystery until the reveal.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the cheering prospect of being murdered in first class luxury

First Class Murder felt like the most fun of the three books I have read of this series.  There’s the light-hearted feeling of adventure from going on an unexpected holiday, the vaguely amusing collection of characters on the train and the lengths to which Daisy and Hazel must go to ferret out the murderer/s.  I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Alexander and the mention of the Junior Pinkertons, as I think the girls can handle a little competition and this sets things up nicely for later books in the series.  It was also a wonderful twist that the book doesn’t just become a retelling of Murder on the Orient Express, because it means that the reveal isn’t a given for anyone who has read that other classic story first.  Overall, this was an excellent, slightly quirky addition to the series and I can’t wait to back up with book four, Jolly Foul Play.

I’m submitting this book under category seven of The Title Fight Reading Challenge: a book with a word or phrase implying victory in the title.  Only one more category to go to complete this challenge! To find out more about the challenge (and join in – there’s still plenty of time!) just click on this large attractive button:

Title Fight Button 2016

Now I told you there’d be a little extra on this post, so I will now mini-review The Case of the Blue Violet by Robin Stevens.  It’s a little ebook novella – book three-and-a-half in the series, if you will – featuring Daisy and Hazel back at school at Deepdean.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

I am the Honourable Daisy Wells, President of the Detective Society, one of the greatest detectives ever known – and also a fourth former at Deepdean School for Girls.

Violet Darby – one of the Big Girls – recently asked me to solve a most puzzling romantic mystery. I knew I’d be able to crack the case, and I did, in just a day and a half. It was one of my greatest triumphs (Hazel Wong, my Vice-President and best friend, is telling me that this is boasting, but it is also the truth). Hazel didn’t believe I would have the patience to write the account of it, but of course, she was wrong. I did write it down, and it came out very well.

I now, therefore, present to you: the Case of the Blue Violet.

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This novella can be knocked over in under half an hour if you’re quick and is the perfect teaser for when you are in-between the novels.  There’s no murder in this one, but instead a mystery relating to the love interest of an older girl at Deepdean.  I won’t say much about the plot because, this being such a short story, I would give too much away, but the puzzle is just as satisfying to solve as the more complex ones found in the novels.  Keen-eyed readers may have an inkling as to which way the wind is blowing here, but the brevity of the story means it’s loaded with fun and the pace is quick.  I’d definitely recommend this as a perfect pick for when you need a brain-break, or as a great taster for the series as a whole.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

A YA Double-Dip: Italian Accidents and High Stakes Reality…

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I would suggest grabbing a juicy, juicy snack for today’s Double-Dip review because we have two YA novels oozing juicy, juicy gossip.  Everyone knows I never repeat gossip.  So listen carefully as we dive on in!

First up, we have Nerve by Jeanne Ryan, kindly provided to us for review by Simon & Schuster Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco–a high-stakes online game of dares turns deadly in this suspenseful debut

When Vee is picked to be a player in NERVE, an anonymous game of dares broadcast live online, she discovers that the gameknows her. They tempt her with prizes taken from her ThisIsMe page and team her up with the perfect boy, sizzling-hot Ian. At first it’s exhilarating–Vee and Ian’s fans cheer them on to riskier dares with higher stakes. But the game takes a twisted turn when they’re directed to a secret location with five other players for the Grand Prize round. Suddenly they’re playing all or nothing, with their lives on the line. Just how far will Vee go before she loses NERVE.

Dip into it for… nerve

…a reasonably unbelievable, but fun and fast-paced story for those times you need to take a break from adulting (or young-adulting).  Despite having very little in the way of character development and some plot twists that seem dubious at best, there was still something about this book that kept me hanging in there.  I don’t think this one will be claiming any prizes for sophisticated writing, but I still enjoyed the sheer unlikeliness of some of the events – simply because they were unlikely, and therefore unpredictable.  The ending ramps up the action and danger considerably and ended up being my favourite part in a bizarre, action movie type of way.

Don’t dip if…

…you enjoy books that feature characters with coherent back stories, and at least a basic explanation for why certain things are happening.  There are gaping holes here for almost every character, so it’s hard to really connect with any of them on more than a superficial level.  Vee, for instance, has obviously had a recent mental health issue (or is it?) that caused her to be hospitalised, and as a result of this her parents…..ground her.  I’m not certain in what universe a parent would think grounding someone is an appropriate response to an apparent suicide attempt (or is it?) but that’s the sort of explanatory black hole to which I refer.  There isn’t a lot going on in terms of world-building either, to explain the hows and whys and who’s of Nerve (the game) and the people behind it.

Overall Dip Factor

If you can suspend your disbelief and your natural sense of curiosity about certain characters and their motivations (’cause you ain’t going to find out anything about ’em), this would be a great choice for a lazy beach or Saturday afternoon read.  There’s some fairly predictable romance thrown in, but overall the pace of the book is quite quick, with Vee and Ian moving from one dare to the next within the space of a few hours or days at most.  If you think you might like to give this one a crack, just be aware that it’s more action than substance.

Next up we have With Malice by Eileen Cook, which we received from Allen & Unwin for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Wish you weren’t here…

When Jill wakes up in a hospital bed with her leg in a cast, the last six weeks of her life are a complete blank. All she has been told is that she was involved in a fatal accident while on a school trip in Italy and had to be jetted home to receive intensive care. Care that involves a lawyer. And a press team. Because maybe the accident…. wasn’t just an accident.

With no memory of what happened or what she did, can Jill prove her innocence? And can she really be sure that she isn’t the one to blame?

Dip into it for…

with malice

…a solid stab at the oft-used “amnesia” story-line with a quirky format to push things along and a cheeky ending that had me nodding with satisfaction at the unexpectedness of it.  I don’t know whether you’ve noticed but there do seem to be an awful lot of “person wakes up in hospital with no memory of how they got there and finds themselves accused of a crime” books getting around at the moment.  I found With Malice to be toward the top of the pile of books with this story-line that I have come across, mainly due to the formatting; rather than just a standard novel, the author has included bits of police transcripts, emails, blog posts and all sorts to drip feed new information to the reader.  The book follows a sort of “main character POV” chapter followed by alternative storytelling method” structure and I found that this really kept my interest in the story up.  The ending has a sense of inevitability about it, but a few twists in terms of motives and behaviours so that although the reader might be able to guess what happened towards the end, they probably won’t guess why it happened.  The incident also takes place in Italy, so there is a very slight sense of “abroad” about it all, which makes a nice change from the typical USA-set YA tale.

Don’t dip if…

…you don’t like amnesia stories.  Although there are quirks in the format and ending, overall this reads exactly as you’d expect it to as Jill tries to get her memory back and doesn’t necessarily know what to believe.

Overall Dip Factor

While I don’t feel that this is the greatest amnesiac murder mystery ever written, there was enough here to keep me interested.  I particularly enjoyed the police interview transcripts and the ways that minor characters viewed the event – what particular things they noticed and how their opinions on what happened differed from each other.  I’d say that this is another good candidate for a lazy beach read, with some unexpected quirks to spice up a familiar plot-line.

Well, did you manage not to spill the beans onto your outfit?  I hope one of these juicy little numbers has taken your fancy!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Surprising YA” Edition…

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I hope you aren’t too saddle sore from our Mega Supersized Round-Up earlier in the week, because I now have three YA titles for you that you will definitely want to be sizing up.  I’ve got historical fiction, fantasy and a bit of weird science for you, so we’d better get straight to it!

These Shallow Graves (Jennifer Donnelly)

*We received a copy of These Shallow Graves from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: 

these shallow graves

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly  Published by Allen & Unwin, 22nd June 2016.  RRP: $16.99

 

Josephine Montfort comes from one of New York’s most wealthy families, but harbours a secret desire to be a journalist, uncovering the lives of the poor and downtrodden. When her father dies, apparently from suicide, Josephine decides to go out on a limb, putting her journalistic skills to the test in an investigation that will have major ramifications for her family…and herself, if she is discovered.

Muster up the motivation because…

It’s quite refreshing to see a historical murder mystery that isn’t set in Victorian England.  While all the manners and social proprieties are still there, These Shallow Graves has a slightly different flavour, as the “new” and “old” money families battle it out in an unspoken war to be the most prominent.  There’s even a particularly mouthy grandmother character who reminded me strongly of Shouty Doris!  Josephine is a character that young female readers will immediately be drawn to – fiercely independent despite her coddled existence, with a desire to step out of the boundaries that society has set for her.  I enjoyed how the author doesn’t try to make Jo more worldly than she could possibly have been, given her upbringing.  As she discovers more about the seedier side of life, it’s obvious that Jo is undergoing rapid personal growth and making decisions about who she will be in her pre-destined world.  There is the obligatory love triangle, between Jo, her intended marital match and Ed, the young journalist far below Jo’s lofty station who assists Jo in her investigations.  As far as the murder mystery goes, I wasn’t entirely gripped by these elements and would have preferred things on that front to move a lot faster.  The book is more a 50/50 split between romance and mystery however, and with romance not really being my thing, I didn’t end up loving this one but found it easy to get into nonetheless.  I’d definitely recommend this one to fans of historical fiction and particularly historical cosy mysteries, who are looking for a slight change of pace from the English mysteries that seem to be this genre’s bread and butter.

Brand it with:

Sisters doin’ it for themselves, investigative journalism, sticking up for the little guy

Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend (Alan Cumyn)

* We received a copy of Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend from Simon & Schuster Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis: hot pterodactyl boyfriend

Shiels is in her final year of high school, the student-body chair, has definite plans about studying political sociology at college after she graduates and can count on Sheldon, her boyfriend-fixture, to support her in everything she does. Then Pyke, a pterodactyl, turns up to attend Vista View High and Shiels’ carefully laid plans go awry.

Muster up the motivation because…

How could you not want to read this, with a title like Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend??  I remember being desperate to get my claws on this one when it was released and now that I’ve read it, it was entirely not what I was expecting!  I was thinking that this must be a comedy.  Had to be.  But surprisingly, this is actually a really down-to-earth story of a girl whose plans have been hit for a six, that just happens to include an actual pterodactyl as a character.  After reading it, I can see that this could be any typical YA story wherein the main character undergoes massive personal upheaval due to an unexpected occurrence – an illness, the death of a loved one, someone coming out, a friendship breakdown – but the particular unexpected occurrence featured here is Shiels falling in love with a pterodactyl.  If you can get your head around that, then you’ll be far more prepared than I going into the reading experience.  Having said that, I quickly became absorbed by Shiels’ story.  She’s a likeable character despite the fact that she has quite glaring personality flaws that cause problems in her relationships.  The situations she gets caught up in – apart from the whole pterodactyl thing, obviously – are believable and readers in the target age group should be able to relate.  I did find my interest waning a little around two-thirds of the way into the book, but I enjoyed the ending (which dipped into the “utterly bizarre” category of magical realism – or should that be “prehistoric realism”?) and overall I think this is a solid and engaging read with one big, flapping, screeching point of difference.  Having had a look on Goodreads, the ratings are completely split in a loved it/hated it divide, but I definitely enjoyed this one even though it didn’t turn out to be the comedy I expected it to be.

Brand it with:

I believe I can fly, diversity in education, prehistoric problems

The Witch’s Kiss (Katharine & Elizabeth Corr)

*We received a copy of The Witch’s Kiss from HarperCollins Australia for review* 

Two Sentence Synopsis: the witchs kiss

For Merry, being a witch hasn’t ever been much of a problem…until her actions nearly cost her boyfriend his life. But if she thought that was the worst that might happen, Merry is sadly mistaken – because an ancient curse is about to surface and Merry will need every ounce of her ability to safeguard the people of her town, or die in the attempt.

Muster up the motivation because…

I found this to be a solid, well-constructed story with just the right blend of contemporary teen angst and historical magical curse.  I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, as I was worried that the romance elements might overpower the fantasy elements of the story.  I should not have feared though, because the authors manage to balance those two parts masterfully, so that the inevitable romance between Jack and Merry neatly complements the heart-stabbing, murderous, magical bits.  It was super refreshing to see a strong sister-brother partnership as the main protagonists, and Leo is a great balance to Merry’s impulsiveness and tendency toward pessimism.  The story alternates between the present day, as Merry and Leo attempt to stop the King of Hearts, who is carrying out random attacks on innocent people in their town, and hundreds of years ago, when the curse on the King of Hearts originated.  As Merry becomes more involved in the curse unfolding in the present day, her links to her ancestors become clearer, and the ending deftly brings these two periods in history together at a cracking pace.  The only problem I had with this book is that it is a series-opener.  To me, this is the perfect kind of story for a standalone – the ending is not left as a cliffhanger and I felt like all the loose ends were tied up.  Sometimes I like to know that on finishing a book, I have experienced all there is to experience with a set of characters and I am happy to have done so.  I’m not entirely sure where the story will go in a sequel, but I was perfectly satisfied with this one as an entity in itself.  I’d recommend this to those who love fantasy stories that have a fable-type feel with a contemporary twist, and don’t mind a little bit of romance to tie things together.

Brand it with:

Which witch is which?, Curse you!, Unrequited love

Three very different YA titles for you here – surely there’s something you want to get your hands on?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Found, Near Water: A Rather Depressing Murder Mystery for Your Friday…

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I’m book-ending the week with another murder mystery, although this one is a contemporary and set (surprisingly!) in New Zealand.  Christchurch, to be exact.  We received a copy of Found, Near Water by Katherine Hayton from Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Rena Sutherland wakes from a coma to discover her daughter’s been missing for days. No one’s noticed, no one’s complained, no one’s searching.

The victim support officer assigned to her case, Christine Emmett puts aside her own problems as she tries to guide Rena through the maelstrom of her daughter’s disappearance.

A task made harder by an ex-husband desperate for control; a paedophile on early-release in the community; and a psychic who knows more than seems possible.

And flowing beneath everything is a crime – perpetrated across generations – pulling them into its wake.

The first thing I’ve got to tell you about this one is that in overall tone, it’s reasonably depressing.  I suspect that this has much to do with the protagonist, Christine, who is rather a depressing old stick herself – with good reason, some might argue, given that her daughter is dead and her husband is an alcoholic.  Christine works as a volunteer victim advocate/support type person at the local police station and is generally a bit acerbic to almost everybody.  While I found this tolerable, she isn’t the kind of person I was hoping to spend the book with.  It’s worth mentioning here that all of the characters in this story are flawed in some way and the atmosphere is one of lurking menace – not necessarily because there may be a child kidnapper or murderer on the loose, but just due to the unspoken assumption that life is random, brutish and most likely to dish out tragedy to the undeserving.

Having put you on your guard, let me reassure you that I did actually find the book a reasonably solid murder mystery, with an ending that was unexpected and a whole lot creepier than I had anticipated.  There are some interesting twists involving psychics that I didn’t see coming (teehee!) and enough action toward the end to make the dreariness worthwhile.

Although the book is set in Christchurch, I will admit to not picking up on any particular Kiwi leanings until the setting was explicitly mentioned.  Disappointingly, the police in this one aren’t nearly as cheery and high-spirited as those we see on the Kiwi version of Motorway Patrol, that gets shown over here on a Saturday afternoon.  Possibly, their lack of jollity is related to the fact that they are investigating child murder and not crazy driving.

Overall, if you are looking for a murder mystery set in New Zealand that heaps epic amounts of suffering on the undeserving and a few decent shovelfuls on those who are really asking for it, this is a good candidate.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Mondays are for Murder: The Secrets of Wishtide…

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Time to get our murdering on again and for the second month on the trot I’ve got a historical cosy mystery for you – and what’s more, three of the words of the title are exactly the same.  The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders is the first of a new series featuring spritely, middle-aged widow Laetitia Rodd.  I will admit that this first offering saw we shelf-denizens taking quite a shine to Mrs Rodd and we thoroughly enjoyed this first adventure (a digital copy of which we received from the publisher via Netgalley).  Let’s crack on – here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Mrs Laetitia Rodd is the impoverished widow of an Archdeacon, living modestly in Hampstead with her landlady Mrs Bentley. She is also a private detective of the utmost discretion. In winter 1850, her brother Frederick, a criminal barrister, introduces her to Sir James Calderstone, a wealthy and powerful industrialist who asks Mrs Rodd to investigate the background of an ‘unsuitable’ woman his son intends to marry ? a match he is determined to prevent.

In the guise of governess, she travels to the family seat, Wishtide, deep in the frozen Lincolnshire countryside, where she soon discovers that the Calderstones have more to hide than most. As their secrets unfold, the case takes an unpleasant turn when a man is found dead outside a tavern. Mrs Rodd’s keen eyes and astute wits are taxed as never before in her search for the truth ? which carries her from elite drawing rooms to London’s notorious inns and its steaming laundry houses.

Dickensian in its scope and characters, The Secrets of Wishtide brings nineteenth century society vividly to life and illuminates the effect of Victorian morality on women’s lives. Introducing an irresistible new detective, the first book in the Laetitia Rodd Mystery series will enthral and delight.

secrets of wishtide

Plot Summary:

Middle-aged widow Letty Rodd is called to the countryside to investigate the past of a woman who is the object of the affections of a rich young gentleman. Just when Mrs Rodd believes she has got at the truth, events take a gruesome turn and Mrs Rodd is suddenly plunged into the thick of a murder investigation, in which a young man’s life hangs in the balance.  As the bodies mount up, Mrs Rodd knows that she is dealing with a ruthless killer, yet without the hard evidence required by the slightly irritating Constable Blackbeard, Laetitia is not certain that she can clear Charles Calderstone’s name and spare the family the horror of losing their son.

The Usual Suspects:

There are quite a slew of possible suspects here and they all seem to have shady connections to the deceased and each other.  There is, of course, young Charles Calderstone, last seen arguing with his beloved before a brutal murder occurs, there’s the blackmailer and his or her potential lackeys, there’s Sir James Calderstone, who has his own reasons for not wanting his son to marry the object of his affections, and also a collection of persons unknown who may have an axe to grind against Sir James and his wife.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

I have to say that the hunt for the murderer/s was expertly done, with fantastic pacing and the added excitement of extra, unexpected murders to spice things up (and shake up the list of suspects).  Often I find that novels of this sort have problems with pacing in that too much is revealed too early, leaving the story to drag, or not enough is revealed early on, leaving the reader wishing the intended would hurry up and be killed.  I had no troubles at all with this book however and was thoroughly engaged from start to end.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the sordid satisfaction of dirty linen aired in public

I found this to be an impressive series opener, and I am glad that it is the start of a series because Laetitia Rodd is a thoroughly likeable protagonist.  The mystery elements were complicated enough to be interesting, without being so twisted as to be impossible to untangle.  The characters all seemed to have colourful pasts, which makes guessing who the murderer/s might be jolly good fun.

There were a couple of idiosyncrasies to the writing that threw me a bit.  Throughout the narration, Laetitia continually references investigations in which she has previously participated, and this had me a bit confused until I could reassure myself that this was in fact the first in the series and I hadn’t accidentally picked up the second or third by mistake.  Also, I simply could not picture Mrs Rodd as the middle-aged woman that she is supposed to be.  I’m not sure if it is the picture on the cover that led me astray or her buoyant, energetic manner, but my mind insisted on imagining Laetitia as an early-twenty-something. Regardless, I couldn’t help but fall into step beside her and attempt to assist in catching the murderer/s.

The only area in which this fell down a little was the fact that the ending was far more straightforward than I expected it to be, but for a first crack at a new character, it was more than enough to be going on with.  I will be definitely keeping an eye out for Mrs Rodd’s further adventures.

Until next time,

Bruce