Sunday, October 21, 2018

Some Early Autumn Reviews

Ahh, an autumnal reminder of all that goes on at Hogwarts and around the literary world as the days grow shorter and the leaves shift colors and the stars grow brighter in the cool night air...

I love autumn...more even than spring because autumn brings the promise of cooler days and cold nights. It's nearly time to change the regular sheets for flannel ones, and I've put away the cotton capris of summer in favor of fleecy pants of coming winter. I can't wait for fires in the woodstove, heating the house and warming our hearts.

So here are some of my late-summer and early-autumn reviews of books I've been reading--and guess what? There's not an Austenesque book in the bunch!! I hope you'll enjoy my thoughts and perhaps find a title or two to add to your own reading lists...

I've Got My Eyes on You I've Got My Eyes on You by Mary Higgins Clark
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have been reading Mary Higgin Clark since high school in the early '80s, and I always enjoy them. I found her first dozen or so books to be absolutely compelling; I quite remember staying up all night reading A Cry in the Night and then reading it every spare moment that morning before school: at the breakfast table, as I brushed my teeth, as I put on my makeup. And then I did the unthinkable for this "good girl/excellent student": in my high school Algebra II class, I tucked the paperback between my textbook and my lap and continued reading, for who could possibly leave such a tale of psychological terror a mere thirty pages from the end?

But after a while, Mary Higgins Clark's books became fairly predictable, and although I still read them, I was quickly bored. I could pick out the murderer/stalker within the first half-dozen chapters and the same with the "love interest." Then the last few books before this one were much more interesting; in fact, they got almost twisty-turny again, and I didn't figure them out until close to the end. So with her latest track record in mind, I looked very much forward to this newest offering by a long-time author-friend, expecting more twists and turns and surprises along the journey.

Sigh. Not so with this one. I had the culprit pretty much figured out in the first quarter of the book. There were some nice red herrings along the way, but nothing that really put me off the track for long. It didn't help that the obvious murderer was eliminated from the get-go, and the rest of the story was interesting but not compelling. The characters felt "stock"--I wasn't really interested in any of them. I didn't really care about them at all, even the ones dealing with the grief of a murdered family member. It all felt stilted and cardboard-y.

So while I enjoyed the book, I didn't find it nearly as gripping as the last few before this one. I wish I had.

Buried in Books Buried in Books by Kate Carlisle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To quote River Song..."SPOILERS!" So this will be a short review because I don't want to give away much at all, despite my opening caveat. ;)

This is the big one...the Bibliophile mystery in which Brooklyn and Derek get married!! But trouble it always does for Brooklyn. Her mother invited Brooklyn's her two college roommates to the bridal shower, but these two hadn't spoken to each other in years because one ran off with the other's boyfriend. Both arrive, and it's fireworks for a bit. Both of them give Brooklyn gorgeous rare first edition books as gifts, but when one of them is murdered, one of the books is found to be to be a forgery.

It's a wonderful adventure, as all Bibliophile books are, and I absolutely LOVED it!! A delightful series, and definitely a delightful wedding!

Horribly Haunted in Hillbilly Hollow Horribly Haunted in Hillbilly Hollow by Blythe Baker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a cute paranormal mystery in which Emma Hooper returns from the big city to recover from a traumatic brain injury at her grandparents' home in the Ozarks where she was raised after the deaths of her parents. She feels guilty for not making it home more often, and she doesn't even tell them about her being hit by a taxi when crossing a street.

But the real problem is that after the accident, Emma can see spirits. And when the town's pastor is murdered nearby, seeing his ghost doesn't help her to believe that all of this spirit-stuff will just go away as her brain heals--which is her hope, one that wanes the longer she's in Hillbilly Hollow.

Emma quickly picks up her high school of which may become "more than a friend." And she also adopts a "dog" (actually a goat) named "Snowball" who follows her around the farm and even inside the farmhouse. And while her grandparents seem hale and hearty at first, there are some problems with her grandmother that make Emma want to stick around for a while. Emma keeps nosing around, and it's only with the help of Preacher Jacob's ghost that the murderer is captured and brought to justice.

This was a cute cozy mystery with the right amount of humor and paranormal without being creepy. I think that the series will continue to develop well. I definitely enjoyed it.

Flowers and Foul Play Flowers and Foul Play by Amanda Flower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun first book in the Magic Garden Mystery series: Fiona flies to Scotland with her "tail between her legs": her fiance ran off with the cake decorator and her flower business failed, all within the same month. So when her beloved Scottish godfather dies and leaves her his cottage, Duncreigan--with a possibly magic garden adjoining--she flies to Scotland almost without thought.

Fiona and Hamish, her godfather's caretaker, go to explore the garden which seems "mostly dead" yet is coming back to life, apparently, from the moment she stepped foot in Scotland. But an unwelcome surprise meets them in a corner of the garden: a dead body who turns out to be the lawyer she's supposed to see about her inheritance. She is immediately questioned by Chief Inspector Neil Craig, who is decidedly handsome, but who is also closed-mouthed about the murder investigation.

So Fiona begins to nose around herself and finds that her lawyer was in the middle of a huge land dispute in the small Scottish village nearby. But each question she asks puts Fiona in more and more danger, with Neil trying to save her from herself and from those who have high stakes in the land deal.

This was the first of this series, and I could have cried--I want another book in this series right away!! I really enjoy Amanda Flower's book series, but she seems to be spread a little thin, writing the first and second books of several series rather than concentrating on establishing one series for a bit before starting another (and another). Well, I sincerely hope that she will continue to add to both the Magic Garden series and the Magic Bookstore series...and that she writes FAST!!

What Remains of Heaven What Remains of Heaven by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After his and Hero Jarvis' near-death experience at the end of the fourth book, Sebastian St. Cyr is called in by his aunt and the Archbishop of Canterbury, one of her dear friends, to solve the murder of the Bishop of London in an ancient crypt in a village outside of London.

The mysterious part? The Bishop's body lies atop another body, an unidentified man apparently murdered 20+ years previously in the same crypt which had been sealed up about the time of the unidentified man's murder.

But Hero Jarvis has been seeing the Bishop, also a friend of hers, on a very important mission: to find a home for her unborn child, fathered by Sebastian when they both thought they were dying together.

Sebastian has almost too many suspects to choose from, including the son of Benjamin Franklin and a butcher from the slums of London whose brother has sworn to kill Sebastian after they served together on the Continent. Then an ugly family truth is revealed that may bring Sebastian's ruin...and his ultimate happiness with his beloved Kat Boleyn after all.

A Morbid Taste for Bones A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With my love for all things medieval, I've long wanted to read this series set in the 1130s, and I found it as wonderful as I thought I would. Brother Cadfael is likable although not too terribly religious (more human than religious, if such a thing may be written), with an expansive understanding of human nature and an insightful intellect that solves many a problem, even a gritty murder such as the one that occurs when Brother Cadfael accompanies a group of monks from Shrewsbury Abbey to his native Wales where they wish to co-opt the body of Saint Winifred for their own. Naturally, the Welsh people don't really want to give up the saint's body although her grave has been sorely neglected.

When the Welshman most opposed to moving Saint Winifred away from her native Wales to English soil is murdered, it's down to Brother Cadfael to solve the crime. Much is not as it seems, with one brother's ecstatic visions telling one story and a secret romance telling quite another. Brother Cadfael sets several traps and manages to reveal the killer and also keep the peace with the Welsh village where Saint Winifred was laid to rest.

I like Cadfael--the way his mind works, and the way his heart works. He may not be the most pious monk, but he is indeed "wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove," especially in preventing further bloodshed from occurring among the warlike Welsh and the pompous, superior English contingent.

I'm definitely going to continue with the series...and then and only then will I watch the 1990s TV series with Derek Jacobi, one of my favorite Shakespearean actors.

The Case Is Closed The Case Is Closed by Patricia Wentworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This second Miss Silver mystery, set in the late 1930s, features a woman whose husband, Geoffrey Grey, has been convicted and imprisoned for the murder of his uncle, yet he swears his innocence, and his wife believes him as does his wife's cousin, Hilary.

But when Hilary starts nosing around the uncle's house and interviews some of the former staff employed by Geoff's uncle, she finds herself the victim of attempted murder. At this point, Hilary's former fiance steps in to help, wisely employing the unflappable Miss Silver to assist. It was a wonderful mystery, so 1930s in dialog and dress, yet exciting; I found myself on the edge of my seat more than once, especially when Hilary was being chased by men trying to murder her in the dark fields of the English countryside.

I am ordering the third book in the series as soon as I can; this one was available only as an electronic resource since the series has been republished as e-books, but I'd rather than a hold-in-the-hands book for this series!

Gone Girl Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As River Song says: SPOILERS...and seriously, there are some complete SPOILERS here, so take warning!

I had tried to read this book previously (a couple of times, actually), and just couldn't. I loved the writing style, but something about the first section of the book really bugged me, and rather than putting down the book again and sending it back to the library unread once more, I admit to skipping about half of the first section. Maybe more than half of the first section. It was clear as day that Nick wasn't guilty of killing his wife, Amy, yet he looked so, so terribly guilty, with so, so much evidence mounting against him. I liked the woman revealed by the diary entries, but she seemed so perfect. So smart. Maybe too smart. I could tell something wasn't right, but I didn't know what.

When I skipped forward to the second section, it all became clear, and I was both thrilled and repulsed. And I couldn't stop reading. I kept hoping that they would catch her, but she really is a "psychopathic bitch" as Nick calls his wife when she finally returns after committing murder that she calls "self-defense." She's a long-term planner, and she does her research, and she has no conscience whatsoever. She calls it "discipline" to kill the man who had protected her (rather smotheringly, yes, but he did protect her), to cut his jugular with a single stroke of a butcher's knife before "escaping" and coming home.

One of the police officers believes Nick's story that Amy set him up for her murder and that she did actually murder her "protector," along with Nick's twin sister, Margo, but they had no evidence. Just he said, she said, despite Amy's confession in the shower with the water on full-blast so that no recording devices could be used. And then she every so neatly traps him...and it's utterly maddening. When I finished, I both loved and hated the book. I so admired the way the author manipulated the readers, but I also hated being manipulated.

It's a tough book...and I stayed up way too late to read it the last three nights once I skipped forward. It was utterly fascinating and compelling, but the whole time it left such a bitter taste in my mouth...and in my spirit. How can people act this way? It was maddening. I wanted to drown the book right there in the jacuzzi. Seriously. It deserved it.

* * * * *

So there we are...eight books and not an Austenesque book among them! Pretty much all mysteries and suspense, which is exactly how I finished the summer and headed into autumn, happily reading "whodunnits" Not a bad way to end a season and begin the new one, to my way of thinking, anyway. 

Happy reading! 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Variety of Reviews of Summer/Fall Reads

I spent a couple of hours this past week, catching up on my summer reading list at Goodreads, so now I can share them here on my blog as well. I won't post all at once--but about half a dozen at a time. I read more mysteries and other novels this summer rather than Austen-inspired literature...the last two are seriously amazing books that I first read several years ago on, so I'm thrilled that the author has published them now in e-book form. Yay!!

Now that I've caught up, I'm within only nine books of my 2018 Reading Goal of 70 books, eight books ahead of the pace I need to finish my goal by the end of the year. I've actually just finished another book this week, so I'll have to add that one, too. So only seven left to finish. Perhaps I ought to try a really long one, such as Les Miserables, to slow me down a bit. Our librarians love me, though!! 

So here are the next six books I read over the summer--quite a variety!

Come Rain or Come Shine Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This thirteenth Mitford novel is focused less on Father Tim and more on Dooley and Lace as they prepare for their potluck wedding at Meadowgate Farm where Dooley, now Dr. Kavanaugh, is taking over Hal's veterinary practice. We see most of the events through Lace's POV, but also through Dooley's and Father Tim's viewpoints. The Mitford folks are out in full force, and we also get to meet some newer friends as well...including a notorious bull!! :)

This novel is bittersweet as Lace faces health issues and a hard prognosis, yet joy arrives with the challenges, as is almost always the case in Mitford. It's the kind of place where tears and laughter are consistently intermixed, where hardness is healed and difficulties are prayed over with "the prayer that never fails": "Thy will be done."

Welcome home to Mitford once again--or, in this case, Meadowgate, and see the joyous craziness of the Big Day coming ever closer...until it arrives at long last.

Where Serpents Sleep Where Serpents Sleep by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this fourth of the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries, Sebastian is sought out by the daughter of the Prince Regent's cousin and advisor, Hero Jarvis, after the murder of eight former prostitutes in a Quaker house of refuge (which was also set afire to conceal the murders). One of the women obviously came from quality and was giving Hero an interview when the men broke in and started killing the girls. Hero and the woman ran away, but the woman was shot as she and Hero tried to escape. In frustration over the resulting cover-up of the murders, Hero approaches Sebastian to help her to discover the young woman's real identity and the reason and culprits behind the murders.

Once again, Sebastian finds himself working with a strong-minded woman, this one extremely powerful because of her father's position, in solving the mystery of the women's deaths and bringing their murderers to justice.

Cold Terror Cold Terror by Susan Sleeman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hannah Perry and her son are in Cold Harbor where Hannah, a forensic artist, is helping with a murder case when their cabin is breached and they flee in a boat to the mainland. When their boat capsizes, they are rescued by former Navy SEAL Gage Blackwell, Hannah's former fiance who abandoned her years previously.

Gage vows to protect the recently-widowed Hannah and her son, especially since Hannah's husband had been one of Gage's SEAL team members. He takes her to his compound, Blackwell Tactical, which is manned by former SEALs as they try to solve the mystery of the young woman's death and, in the process, are faced with the possibility that one of their former SEAL members may have not only murdered the young woman but also Hannah's husband as well.

Gage, the father of an autistic daughter and now a widower, finds himself falling in love all over again with Hannah. But can Hannah trust the man who left her a decade previously? And can she learn to trust God again, as well as Gage?

This mystery dragged at times and seemed focused too much on simplistic faith and vacillating emotions. It was okay, but I don't have any desire to continue reading the series.

Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first of the thirty-something Miss Silver mysteries, which have all been republished in e-book form (yay!!!), this 1928 novel focuses on a young and very "blonde" (in every way imaginable) heiress named Margot after the death of her father. A young man named Charles overhears a plan to "remove" Margot so that the next heir, her cousin Egbert, can inherit all of the riches after the death of Margot's father. In overhearing this plan, Charles finds that he has stumbled onto a criminal syndicate of sorts, led by a completely amoral man wearing a grey mask.

Margot, only just eighteen, is vapid and innocent and has no idea of the danger she is in; she is far more interested in eating chocolates. Fortunately, the other young people she befriends, including Charles, his former fiancee Margaret, and Charles' friend, try to protect her, with the help of Miss Silver, a former governess-turned-private investigator, who is always invisibly present when needed.

This was a fun British mystery, and I really enjoyed it. The characters are appealing and even compelling, the twist was really twisty and one I did not see coming (Yay!), and the ending wonderfully suspenseful. I loved the 1920's slang and Miss Silver's cleverness which was masked perfectly beneath her primness. It's difficult to get ahold of the series in book form; I believe I checked out the only copy available in the entire state of California which sported a sticker from the San Francisco Library stating "Last Copy." But the books are available as e-books, and I may have to go that way for the second book since I can't find a copy anywhere in the Link Plus statewide library system.

This series reminds me of Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter series although this one is much more lighthearted...and just lighter in general. It's as if Miss Wentworth were gently spoofing her own time/place of late-1920s London, and I loved every minute. I'm hoping to read through the whole series eventually, even if I need to check out e-books rather than the actual book-books. ;)

A Constant Love: A Pride and Prejudice Continuation by Sophie Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read Sophie Turner's books on, so I'm thrilled to find them published as well! I think I've read this series at least three times, and I loved it more every time I read it. My favorite Austen fanfics are continuations: what happens after Pride and Prejudice (and other novels). Sophie shows us such delightful relationships being developed after the events of Pride and Prejudice such as the friendship between Elizabeth and Georgiana. It's a lovely story...and the first of a series, too! Read 'em ALL!!!

We get to see Elizabeth and Georgiana take on a London Season and the ton, and both succeed well. But becoming "Mrs. Darcy" is a stretch for Elizabeth who becomes much happier after returning to Pemberley at the end of the season. Georgiana gains more experience with gentlemen, finding that sometimes being an heiress is more challenging than being relatively poor like Elizabeth was before her marriage. Both learn a great deal about society and themselves along the way. And we get to see Darcy and Elizabeth fall even more in love as their marriage progresses. A lovely, thoughtful novel.

A Change of Legacies: A Pride & Prejudice Continuation A Change of Legacies: A Pride and Prejudice Continuation by Sophie Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this second novel in the Constant Love series. This book focuses more on Georgiana and her marriage but still on Elizabeth and Darcy as well as they prepare for the birth of their first child. We also get to see Mary, the unmarried sister, perhaps start to fall in love, too--or at least she's interested in the younger brother of Georgiana's naval husband. There is so much wonderful development of the characters we know and love--and some intriguing angst, too--that this series remains one of my favorites. I don't want to say too much and give away spoilers, so I'll stop here. I'm so glad that Sophie Turner published her books so that I can re-read them over and over!! They are utterly delightful!!

* * * * *

Obviously, I did a good deal of reading over the summer, as usual. The heat just saps my energy, so I end up reading a lot. Also, when my pain levels get rather nasty, reading helps me to ignore it as much as possible. So from my reading list, I think we can tell it was rather hot and my pain levels were above normal as well. ;)

Happy reading, everyone! 


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