Gilding the Lily by Justine John (Mystery)
A well-written prologue can be the key to snagging a reader. In this case, the story begins with a woman who is feigning grief at the burial of another woman. It soon becomes clear that the former has caused the death of the latter and appears to have gotten away with it. What we don’t know is who has died and who remains.
We then meet our three main characters from whose perspectives the story is told: Amelia, Jack, and Evelyn. Amelia and her husband, Jack, live in England. Amelia’s widowed father, Roger, lives in New York City, and Evelyn is the new woman in his life. Amelia and Jack meet Evelyn for the first time at a surprise party for Roger’s 75th birthday, and it doesn’t take long for them to realize she is a gold-digger doing her best to come between Roger and Amelia. Amelia and Jack grow to hate and fear her, and when Roger’s health begins to fail, a bigger question arises: is she slowly killing him? Meanwhile, Evelyn hates Amelia because she is a threat to Evelyn’s continued hold on Roger. Hence, the question: who is going to dispose of whom?
The book has lots of short chapters told from alternating points of view. We know what Evelyn’s doing and thinking, and we know what Amelia and Jack are going through. We feel their frustration in dealing with someone so cunning that Roger’s friends think Evelyn is a bright light in his life. Occasionally there’s a scene that doesn’t seem to do anything to move the story along, but overall this debut novel is well done and worth the read.
Grandma gives Gilding the Lily four stars.
Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Ruler of the Night by David Morrell (Historical Fiction/Mystery)
Ruler of the Night is a blend of fact and fiction and is the final installment in a trilogy of murder mysteries set in Victorian England during the Crimean War. In 1855 a respected gentleman is brutally murdered on an English passenger train, setting off a frenzy of fear among travelers on this new mode of transportation. In the adjoining compartment are Thomas De Quincey, the brilliant author famous for writing about his on-going addiction to opiates, and his twenty-two-year-old daughter, Emily, who serves as his caregiver. Together with two Scotland Yard detectives, they seek to solve the murder and soon become involved in a much larger plot involving the Prime Minister of England, members of London’s high society, a German doctor accused of murdering Czar Nicholas of Russia, and a water-cure clinic on the outskirts of London that panders to the wealthy.
David Morrell is an acclaimed writer of both fiction and non-fiction, beginning with his debut novel in 1972, First Blood. His extensive research into the life and times of Thomas De Quincey brings this unusual man and his feisty daughter to life. De Quincey uses logic and clues in ways not yet common to police work, and his daughter’s knowledge of medicine gives them additional insights. Morrell vividly portrays the oddities and attitudes of the time period, effectively transporting the reader to smoky Victorian London with all of its grit and smells and discomforts alongside the haughty opulence of its upper class. The fast-paced story, told from multiple points of view, quickly involves us in the action and keeps us guessing while moving toward an exciting and satisfying conclusion.
Lovers of historical fiction, the Victorian era, or simply a good, well-written thriller will enjoy this book.
Grandma gives Ruler of the Night five stars.
Bella Reads and Reviews Books was given a free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
By Gaslight by Steven Price (Historical Fiction, Mystery)
This book does a superb job of transporting the reader to gas-lit Victorian London and post-Civil War U.S.A., as well as the diamond mines of South Africa. Steven Price’s rich and descriptive prose sets the mood and atmosphere and satisfies the reader who appreciates literary fiction. The story alternates between the viewpoints of William Pinkerton, a detective searching for the criminal who eluded his famous father, the American detective Allan Pinkerton, and Adam Foole, a conman searching for his lost love. Their paths cross, and we have a front row seat to their interactions as they pursue a common person of interest, Edward Shade.
The work is quite long, and at times I found the pace to be somewhat slow. However, each time I picked it up, I was immediately drawn back in by the language and no-holds-barred descriptions of people, places, and lifestyles that made me glad I did not live in those times. This book is not for the faint of heart. You will smell noxious fumes, witness disgusting lack of personal hygiene up close, and inspect the dismembered remains of a murdered woman. The air around you will feel heavy, you’ll be wandering dark streets in the fog, and you’ll share the main characters’ desperation when things go wrong. In short, if you enjoy historical fiction, you’ll be in your element.
Steven Price writes without the use of quotation marks to delineate dialogue, and at first that can be disconcerting. However, their absence seemed to fit with the spare, deprived, and depraved times into which this book immerses the reader, and once I became used to it, I rarely noticed their absence.
Grandma gives By Gaslight four stars.
Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Book Club Murders by Leslie Nagel
This cozy mystery is an engrossing read with lots of action and an interesting premise. Someone is killing women in a small Ohio town, and each murder mimics a scene from a different murder mystery on the reading list of a local book club, the Agathas. The Agathas are mostly high society matrons, but also include Charley, the young owner of a vintage clothing store, and her best girlfriend, Frankie. When Charley realizes the pattern that the killer is using, she brings her observations to the police detective, Marc, for whom she has mixed feelings of interest and dislike. They have shared history and a mutual case of distrust, but force themselves to work together to solve the mystery and, of course, fall in love.
Sleuthing out the identity of the killer is the best part of the book. The characters themselves are pretty standard – the feisty redheaded protagonist who won’t take no for an answer, the hunky but moody detective who finds himself falling for the feisty redhead even though he doesn’t want to, the ever-faithful perky BFF who refuses to be left out of the action, and the other popular character in women’s fiction today – the gorgeous, sexy, completely cool but alas, unavailable, gay guy best friend with the irreverent sense of humor.
This book is the first in a series called The Oakwood Mystery Series. It will be interesting to see how Charley finds herself involved in solving the next mystery, and I will look forward to reading the next installment.
Bella gives The Book Club Murders four stars.
Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and participation in a post-release blog tour.
Check out today’s GUEST POST from AUTHOR LESLIE NAGEL.
A Supersleuth is Born by T. Mara Jerabek (Middle Grade Fantasy)
I don’t usually review Middle Grade books, but I agreed to read this because the idea of a blind kid finding glasses that let him see sounded pretty good.
Ethan is a blind sixth grader who lives with his aunt because his parents have died. His best friend (and love interest) is Addison, a girl who meets him every day to take him to school, and his former best friend, Mikey, is now the kid who bullies him. He knows lots of people in town and is pretty independent, counting steps to get where he wants to go and being checked on by lots of neighbors as he travels between his house and that of the lady who takes care of him after school. One day, at the home of the caregiver, he finds a pair of magic goggles that give him the ability to see. They also talk to him about what’s going on, take pictures, record notes, and can increase his ability to hear conversations at a distance.
Meanwhile, his aunt/mom is a newspaper reporter who is trying to get new information about a bunch of stolen bikes in town, and since Ethan has always wanted to solve mysteries, he decides to use his new eyesight to help her and the police find the bike thief.
I’m not sure what to say about this, because everything was too simple and too quick, but maybe for middle-grade kids, that’s okay. The bullying kid, Mikey, suddenly becomes Ethan’s best friend again so they can solve mysteries together, but we never learn why he turned on him in the first place, and now, like overnight, everything’s okay. The mystery was a pretty minor one, and it’s hard to believe it took three kids to solve it when the police couldn’t. Plus, I never did understand why the thief had to steal kids’ bikes in order to do what he wanted to do. And I do think it would have been better if Ethan could have solved it all because he was an awesome blind kid instead of needing the goggles. They just turned him into another kid who could see.
I hope the author adds more tension and danger next time, to get the reader excited and nervous for Ethan, instead of making everything work out too easily. I liked Ethan’s voice as he told the story. He seemed like a kid I’d like to know, with a good sense of humor about life.
Bella gives A Supersleuth is Born three stars.
Bella Reads and Reviews received a free paperback copy from the author in return for an honest review.
Meanwhile, at the Dernstrum Institute… by Catherine Griffin (Mystery)
England, 1923: Following the death of her eccentric inventor father, Constance Wright has no money and no prospects. She takes a secretarial job at the scientific institute founded by her late godfather. There, in between learning to type, fending off her boss, coping with the Giant Walking War Machine, ghosts, and a dangerous variety of cabbage, she discovers her godfather left her a trail of clues to follow. Clues that might lead her to a fortune… if she can find it. And someone else is already on the trail…
Eccentrics are the norm at the Dernstrum Institute, where inventors of oddball things come to live and work in the isolated town of Uggley-on-Sea on the Somerset coast. Told in the first person by young Constance Wright, this story comes complete with the sinister director of the institute, the crabby housekeeper/cook, the con artist, the medium, the vicar, and a couple of well-intentioned but misguided inventors. We get a glance at life in the 1920s, while also facing the mystery of what really caused the death of Professor Dernstrum, and what is he trying to tell his god-daughter with his posthumous clues? The narrator’s wry observations are part of the fun, and while the story is so-so, it provides a light, entertaining read.
Grandma gives Meanwhile at the Dernstrum Institute… four stars.