Title: Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson
Published: May 10th 2016
Genres: Middle Grade, Mystery
Format: Trade Paper
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue when six children navigate a mansion full of secrets—and maybe money—in this “delightful gem” (School Library Journal, starred review) with heart.
Sweet, shy Tabitha Crum, the neglected only child of two parents straight out of a Roald Dahl book, doesn’t have a friend in the world—except for her pet mouse, Pemberley, whom she loves dearly. But on the day she receives one of six invitations to the country estate of wealthy Countess Camilla DeMoss, her life changes forever.
Upon the children’s arrival at the sprawling, possibly haunted mansion, it turns out the countess has a very big secret—one that will change their lives forever.
Then the children beginning disappearing, one by one. So Tabitha takes a cue from her favorite detective novels and, with Pemberley by her side, attempts to solve the case and rescue the other children…who just might be her first real friends.
This was purely a cover buy, because every time I’d walk by it, I’d tell myself I needed it. But then it sat on my shelf for years until this year when I added it to my 20 books in 2020 list (that I’m not going to finish, but that’s okay!!). I’m glad I read it when I did because it’s the perfect mystery escape, and I think it will appeal to a lot of different readers of all ages. Within the first few chapters, I found myself thinking This is a little dark for a kids’ book
but then seeing the comparisons to Roald Dahl and Lemony Snicket made perfect sense. This is something that would appeal to those readers and definitely belongs on the shelf next to Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong mystery series!
Tabitha is such a wonderful character, sure of herself while also searching for her place in the world, smart without being too smart, and very funny on top of it all. After being told by her parents they’re dumping her off at an orphanage because they can’t keep her any longer (!!!) but days before she’s set to be dropped off, Tabitha receives a mysterious invitation to the Countess of Windermere’s mansion. She along with five other children are chosen to help get to the bottom of a lineage mystery as well as an inheritance mystery.
Mysteries can be easily spoiled, so I won’t write much about the details, but I will say that I was delighted by all of the twists and turns and red herrings. This is such a well-crafted traditional mystery story, and it made me want to dive back into reading some Agatha Christie again because the pacing of the story and the characters and reveals within reminded me so much of what I’ve read of Christie.
I just really loved this one for all sorts of reasons. If you enjoy well-paced adventure stories, well-plotted mysteries, and great multifaceted characters (no matter your age), this one should be on your list to read next. Nooks & Crannies was the sort of book that reminded me of how much I loved reading when I was younger, and I feel like there are so few middle grade books I’ve read in the past few years that make me feel that way. I also loved that it’s a standalone title! In this current pandemic with all of the stress of it on top of regular life stress, it’s so nice to be able to read a story from beginning to end in one book!! (But this is also a post for another time, because while I love series, my brain is definitely leaning toward standalones.)
Title: Off the Grid by Robert B. McCaw
Published by Oceanview Publishing
Published: July 2nd 2019
Format: Trade Paper
A scrap of cloth fluttering in the wind leads Hilo police Chief Detective Koa Kāne to the tortured remains of an unfortunate soul, left to burn in the path of an advancing lava flow. For Koa, it’s the second gruesome homicide of the day, and he soon discovers the murders are linked. These grisly crimes on Hawaiʻi’s Big Island could rewrite history―or cost Chief Detective Koa Kāne his career.
The dead, a reclusive couple living off the grid, turn out to be mysterious fugitives. The CIA, the Chinese government, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, attempt to thwart Koa’s investigation and obscure the victims’ true identities. Undeterred by mounting political pressure, Koa pursues the truth only to find himself drawn into a web of international intrigue.
While Koa investigates, the Big Island scrambles to prepare for the biggest and most explosive political rally in its history. Despite police resources stretched to the breaking point, Koa uncovers a government conspiracy so shocking its exposure topples senior officials far beyond Hawaiʻi’s shores.
It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blog, and that’s because I recently moved across the country! I did set aside all of my review copies and books I’m really excited to read, so expect updates about those on my blog and Instagram! I’m still in between places, so to speak, and I decided to try updating my blog from my phone for a bit to see how this works! I hope to get back in the regular swing of things soon as I really miss blogging and posting!
While traveling, I read Robert McCaw’s Off the Grid! It’s a mystery set in Hawai’i and I loved the setting of it so much! I feel like I’ve read so few titles set in Hawai’i, and this one really showcased the island’s culture and natural surroundings. I loved the insights into Hawai’ian culture MaCaw gave. The story definitely made me want to read more about Hawai’i and maybe visit some day!
It’s a well-constructed and well-crafted mystery that kept me engaged, and I didn’t feel as if I missed any of the story as it’s the second in a series. While a lot of stories I’ve read or watched about Hawai’i seem magical and perfect tourist places, McCaw shows us the darker underside to the beautiful islands, and that really adds dimension to the novel’s setting, especially the juxtaposition of island life and the broader scope of US and international politics. If you like mysteries and want to read a mystery in an island setting, look into this one!
Many thanks to Oceanview Publishing and FSB Associates for sending me a complimentary copy to review! All opinions are my own
Title: The Unquiet Heart by Kaite Welsh
Series: Sarah Gilchrist #2
Published by Pegasus Books
Published: February 21st 2019
Kaite Welsh's thrilling THE UNQUIET HEART is the second in the gothic Sarah Gilchrist series, following a medical student turned detective in Victorian Edinburgh.
Sarah Gilchrist has no intention of marrying her dull fiancé Miles, the man her family hope will restore her reputation and put an end to her dreams of becoming a doctor, but when he is arrested for a murder she is sure he didn't commit she finds herself his reluctant ally. Beneath the genteel façade of upper class Edinburgh lurks blackmail, adultery, poison and madness and Sarah must return to Edinburgh's slums, back alleys and asylums as she discovers the dark past about a family where no one is what they seem, even Miles himself. It also brings her back into the orbit of her mercurial professor, Gregory Merchiston - he sees Sarah as his protegee, but can he stave off his demons long enough to teach her the skills that will save her life?
I read the first Sarah Gilchrist book last year? The year before? And I fell in love with it. Sarah Gilchrist is a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, and in this second installment of the series, Sarah is trying not to marry her fiance Miles. In the midst of the drama surrounding her upcoming wedding, Miles is arrested for a murder Sarah is sure he didn’t commit, and she becomes his ally in trying to clear his name while maintaining the delicate balance of her own reputation.
I love Sarah’s voice. She’s a strong-willed individual who finds it difficult to balance what she wants in her life while trying to balance what’s expected of hers by others. She knows she’ll never be able to live up to those expectations, and her professor Gregory Merchiston encourages Sarah to find her own way. Welsh weaves in traditional mystery tropes with historical fiction and feminism, and the writing and the story is fresh, engaging, and wonderful. I also loved the weaving in of what happened in the first book without it feeling like an info dump, because there were some details I had forgotten or was glad to be reminded about. The hint of romance near the end is swoon-worthy, because who doesn’t love a quietly-pining, broody someone?
If you’re interested in feminist historical fiction with strong characters with a setting that feels like you’re completely immersed, definitely check out this series.
Thank you to Netgalley and Pegasus Books for the digital advance copy! All opinions are my own.
Title: A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper
Published by Seventh Street Books
Published: October 2nd 2018
Format: Trade Paper
Physician Arthur Conan Doyle takes a break from his practice to assist London police in tracking down Jack the Ripper in this debut novel and series starter.
September 1888. A twenty-nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle practices medicine by day and writes at night. His first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, although gaining critical and popular success, has only netted him twenty-five pounds. Embittered by the experience, he vows never to write another “crime story.” Then a messenger arrives with a mysterious summons from former Prime Minister William Gladstone, asking him to come to London immediately.
Once there, he is offered one month’s employment to assist the Metropolitan Police as a “consultant” in their hunt for the serial killer soon to be known as Jack the Ripper. Doyle agrees on the stipulation his old professor of surgery, Professor Joseph Bell—Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes—agrees to work with him. Bell agrees, and soon the two are joined by Miss Margaret Harkness, an author residing in the East End who knows how to use a Derringer and serves as their guide and companion.
Pursuing leads through the dank alleys and courtyards of Whitechapel, they come upon the body of a savagely murdered fifth victim. Soon it becomes clear that the hunters have become the hunted when a knife-wielding figure approaches.
As someone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes pastiches and nearly anything revolving around Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life outside of those stories, I was incredibly excited to see a new mystery (or mystery series, perhaps? Goodreads says it’s a series starter!) involving Conan Doyle, Bell, and Margaret Harkness. Bradley Harper’s A Knife in the Fog
is incredibly well-researched and well-rounded. It’s difficult to get the tone and language of the time period to be believable without feeling as if it’s forced, and Harper manages to bring the style of the time forward to modern ears.
A Knife in the Fog follows Doyle, Bell, and Harkness as they try to deduce who calls himself “Jack the Ripper” and his motives for attacking the working women of Whitechapel. There are numerous theories of the identity of Jack the Ripper, and Harper’s theory ties in believably in the scope of his novel. Margaret Harkness is a lively figure in history brought to life in the novel in such a way that charges the trajectory of the narrative. As a reader, I thought the addition of Margaret Harkness into the dynamic duo of Bell and Doyle was a necessary and wonderful addition to the story. While I won’t go into spoilery details, Harkness is one of the two women in this story who forces each Bell and Doyle to reconsider their assumptions and prejudices about women and women’s work. And given the traditional nature of these boys’ club mysteries, I was pleasantly surprised to see two women.
I also liked the nods to various literary figures and future Sherlock Holmes stories scattered throughout the book as well. It was like hunting for literary clues. Overall, this is a well-paced, well-researched, and well-crafted mystery with just the right amount of flair and atmosphere. If you enjoy historical fiction/mysteries, Jack the Ripper stories, and Doyle/Holmes pastiches, I highly recommend you check out A Knife in the Fog!
Thank you to Seventh Street Books for sending me a complimentary review copy! All opinions are my own.
Title: Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
Published: August 21st 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Format: Trade Paper
Emma Grace Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes. Brown hair. Missing since June.
Emma Townsend is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.
Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Abandoned by her mother. Kidnapper.Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal--and when a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her, far away from home. But if it's to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?
Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure she wants her daughter back.Amy's life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now she's gone without a trace.
As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But her real mother is at home, waiting for her to return--and the longer the search for Emma continues, Amy is forced to question if she really wants her back.
Emotionally powerful and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother--and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.
Rea Frey’s Not Her Daughter
is a well-paced domestic thriller in which Sarah Walker, a successful entrepreneur, kidnaps Emma Townsend, a five year old girl. Amy Townsend, Emma’s mother, is worried about her daughter’s disappearance, but she also feels some kind of secret relief in not having to deal with the personality clashes she has with her own daughter. That secret relief Amy felt was one of the most interesting parts of the book for me.
While I felt like I did have to suspend disbelief a little bit while reading this novel, I really enjoyed how this was formatted. Not Her Daughter is divided into the perspectives of Sarah Walker and Amy Townsend, each with subsections of “before,” “during,” and “after.” The way each of these glimpses into the lives and minds of the two women added such depth to the story and kept me turning the pages because I wanted to know how this would be resolved and how everything would turn out in the end.
Some of the issues I had with the novel were the body-shaming and a few logistic issues near the end. I am tired of the trope that the “bad” women are fat and not very pretty, while the protagonist is fit and conventionally attractive. The traveling scenes at the end of the book seemed farfetched in terms of distance and time as neither seemed very clear, and that’s where some of the suspension of disbelief tied in.
However, I did enjoy Frey’s writing. I found it engaging and well-constructed. And I loved the dynamic of Sarah and Emma’s mother/daughter bonding.
Not Her Daughter brings into question what is right and wrong in terms of a young child’s life, and Rea Frey deals with the difficult subjects of abusive and neglectful children, the children of parents who were neglectful, and how each of those circumstances tie together everything a person does in their present and future.
If you enjoy domestic thrillers and are looking for a new writer to add to your reading lists, definitely pick this one up!
Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a complimentary copy to review!