Middle Grades ARCs

A quick review of two fun middle grades books--one a mystery, one a fantasy. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of these books in exchange for an honest review.

The Best Mistake Mystery

Dogwalker extraordinaire Stephen Nobel can get a little anxious, but his habit of counting the mistakes he and everyone else makes calms him. His need to analyze gets kicked into hyperdrive after two crazy events happen in one day at school: the bomb squad blows up a backpack and someone smashes a car into the building.

To make things worse, that someone thinks Stephen can identify them. Stephen receives a threatening text. If he goes to the police, his favourite dogs, Ping and Pong, will get hurt. The pressure mounts when his new best friend, Renée, begs for Stephen’s help. Her brother has been charged with the crimes and she wants to clear his name.

Is it a mistake to give in to dognappers? How can he possibly save everybody? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a cute mystery for middle grades. Stephen and his new friend Renee must overcome their own mistakes (like losing Ping and Pong, the dogs Stephen is supposed to be caring for) to discover who is threatening their school.

Stephen is a likable character, and while the mystery is pretty forgettable, it’s still a fun read.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

When twelve-year-old Nick runs away from his uncle’s in the middle of a blizzard, he stumbles onto a very opinionated bookstore. He also meets its guardian, the self-proclaimed Evil Wizard Smallbone, who calls Nick his apprentice and won’t let him leave, but won’t teach him magic, either. It’s a good thing the bookstore takes Nick’s magical education in hand, because Smallbone’s nemesis—the Evil Wizard Fidelou—and his pack of shape-shifting bikers are howling at the borders. Smallbone might call himself evil, but compared to Fidelou, he’s practically a puppy. And he can’t handle Fidelou alone. Wildly funny and cozily heartfelt, Delia Sherman’s latest is an eccentric fantasy adventure featuring dueling wizards, enchanted animals, and one stray boy with a surprising knack for magic. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is super fun! When Nick runs away from his horrible uncle, he ends up meeting Smallbone, a grumpy old wizard who’s not as evil as he pretends. Slowly Nick learns to do magic himself and must defend the village from an evil wolf wizard and Nick’s horrible uncle and cousin.

The setting is great–who wouldn’t want a library that would offer up whatever book you need next?–and Smallbone and Nick are both great characters. It’s a fun, unique fantasy.

And as usual, I’m tying this post back to my Lovely Words series by sharing my favorite quote from this book:

Anybody who can get through March without breaking a glass, a friendship, a secret, a promise, or somebody’s nose is either a saint or on vacation in Florida.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can read the rest of the posts in the series here.

ARC: Muffins and Mourning Tea

Muffins and Mourning Tea is the latest addition to the Oxford Tearoom mystery series. Just as fun as the rest of the series! #spon | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cotswolds tearoom owner Gemma Rose is excited to join the May Day celebrations in Oxford… until the beautiful spring morning ends in murder. Now, she’s embroiled in a deadly mystery – with four nosy old ladies determined to help in the sleuthing! Before she knows it, Gemma finds herself stalking a Russian “princess” and keeping up with the Old Biddies in Krav Maga class, while still trying to serve delicious cakes and buttery scones at her quaint English tearoom.
And that’s just the start of her worries: there’s her little tabby cat, Muesli, who is causing havoc at the local nursing home… and what should she do with the creepy plants that her mother keeps buying for her new cottage?

But the mystery that’s really bothering Gemma is her boyfriend’s odd behaviour. Devlin O’Connor has always been enigmatic but recently, the handsome CID detective has been strangely distant and evasive. Could he be lying to her? But why? (Review via Amazon.com)

Muffins and Mourning Tea is the latest installment in the wonderful Oxford Tearoom mystery series (you can see my previous reviews here, here, here, here, and here), and it was just as fun as always.

Gemma finds herself nearby when a murder is committed in the midst of a crowd, and of course, she can’t resist the temptation to investigate. But what with trying to run her tearoom, fending off the Old Biddies, and dealing with her boyfriend’s sudden evasiveness, Gemma has her hands full.

We get to spend time with some favorite characters in this book, including Gemma’s nosy and overbearing mother (who is still trying to give her daughter hideous decorations and setting her up with her former love interest, Lincoln), the Old Biddies (hilarious as always), and Gemma’s detective boyfriend Devlin. I can’t wait for the next book to find out more details about Devlin’s strange behavior in Muffins and Mourning Tea.

Of course, I also learned some new things in this book–like what banoffee pie is (there’s a recipe in the back of the book that I might have to try!) and more fun traditions from Oxford. I love a good British mystery, and the setting of Oxford makes this series different from the proliferation of British cozies I’ve come across.

If you’re looking for a fun and not super cliche cozy mystery series, I strongly recommend these books. They are always enjoyable with fun characters and a great setting, and Muffins and Mourning Tea is yet another example of H.Y. Hanna’s skill in writing satisfying mysteries.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

My Top Ten(ish) All-Time Favorite Mysteries

Wanting to pick up some new mysteries? This post is for you! I'm linking up to share my top ten favorite mysteries. | NewberyandBeyond.com
I’m linking up with the Broke and Bookish for today’s Top Ten Tuesday post!

It’s no secret that I love mysteries and have for my entire life. So when I saw that Broke & Bookish themselves chose mysteries for their TTT prompt this week, I knew I had to join in. Since I’ve read such a wide variety of mysteries, I’m going to segment my favorites into groups. If you want to get into mysteries, I think at least one of these will catch your interest!

If you’re looking for a cozy mystery, check out:

  • The Oxford Tearoom series [review copy]. I’ve said many times before how much I enjoy this series of cozies. Gemma is a tea shop owner in Oxford who keeps stumbling upon murders. The setting and characters really shine, and the mysteries are fresh (a rarity for cozy mysteries).
  • The Needlecraft Mystery series. If you’re into cozy mysteries, this series by Monica Ferris is for you. Amateur sleuth and needlework shop owner Betsy is a lot of fun to follow, and the other inhabitants of her small Minnesota town are quirky and sweet. This series is not without its flaws, but it is full of fun, quick, satisfying mysteries.
  • Thus Was Adonis Murdered. This very British mystery revolves around a hapless, clueless barrister on vacation. When she is implicated in a murder, her coworkers back home have to help her out of the mess she’s gotten into. Lighthearted and fun.

If you’re looking for children’s or YA mysteries, start with:

  • The Westing Game. This Newbery book is a classic, and I absolutely love it. It’s convoluted and creepy, but in a way that’s fun and not too frightening.
  • The Three Investigators series. This series of books by Alfred Hitchcock (or at least produced under his brand) was one of my favorites as a kid. It might take a little searching to find them, but if you can get your hands on these books, you (or your child) will probably love the fun adventures the three boys find themselves on.
  • The Dana Girls series. Although I loved the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew series as a kid, the Dana Girls were much more interesting to read about. It’s been a while since I picked up one of these books, so there are likely some outdated and possibly offensive elements within that I’ve forgotten about. Still, I think they’re worth a read if you can get your hands on them.
  • Jackaby. Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who. Need I say more? (Bonus: the author has written two sequels so far, and I believe there are more still to come for this series.)
  • The Case of the Cursed Dodo [review copy]. Such a cute mystery! It involves a panda detective, some awesome illustrations, and a fun play on the hardboiled PI tropes.
  • Murder is Bad Manners. This is a great start to a series that revolves around two girls at an English boarding school. Fun and not too creepy.

If you’d rather read a mystery written for adults, look into:

  • The Flavia de Luce series. Although these books have a child protagonist, they are clearly written for adults. Flavia is rude and nosy in the best way, and she ends up poking her nose into matters that are really none of her business. Still, her love of chemistry and her trusty bicycle get her out of most of her scrapes and help her solve mysteries that baffle the adults around her.
  • The Likeness. This book sucked me in. The intense relationships between the characters and the blurring of lines around the undercover detective involved will keep you guessing and turning pages until the very end. I’m looking forward to reading Tana French’s sequel Faithful Place soon.
  • Tommy and Tuppence. Whether you check out The Secret Adversary or my personal favorite N or M?, Agatha Christie’s mystery-solving secret agent couple are sure to bring a smile to your face. The Tommy and Tuppence books are a little more action-packed than Christie’s other novels, so if you’re not sure about taking on the classic Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot mysteries, Tommy and Tuppence are a good place to start.
  • The Junior Bender series. This series has a lot of action and comedy to supplement its mysteries. The characters are fun and unusual, too. Definitely worth checking out.

If your taste in mysteries leans more toward thrillers, read:

  • The Passenger [review copy]. I think of this book as the better version of Girl on the Train. Definitely check it out if you liked that book.
  • All the Missing Girls [review copy]. A murder mystery told backward, this book is another that will keep you guessing till the very end.

Bonus: Here are my top seven favorite murder mystery TV shows–in case you can’t get enough mysteries in your life! (These are all currently available on Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Prime.)

  • Castle
  • Death in Paradise
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
  • Rosemary and Thyme
  • Broadchurch
  • Sherlock
  • Veronica Mars

What are your favorite mysteries (books or TV shows)? Let me know in the comments–I’m always on the hunt for my next favorite mystery!

Adult Fiction Roundup: August Edition

Quick reviews of The Little Paris Bookshop, Sold, and Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Sold

Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal. But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshmi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family.

Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope. But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution. Lakshmi’s life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape. Still, she lives by her mother’s words— Simply to endure is to triumph.

Written in spare and evocative vignettes, this powerful novel renders a world that is as unimaginable as it is real, and a girl who not only survives but triumphs. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know that human trafficking is an issue close to my heart. I put off reading this book because I knew it would make me sad and outraged. It did, of course, but that’s not all there is to this book.

Sold is made up of short, almost poetic chapters. Yes, it is heart wrenching and painful, but it is also beautiful and hopeful. If you’re curious about how young girls get trafficked in Nepal, this book (fictional, but based on the author’s firsthand research) is a beautiful way to start.

If you want to know how you can support girls and women who have escaped human trafficking situations like this, check out my post on the subject here.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante

December 1941. Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill arrives in Washington, D.C., along with special agent Maggie Hope. Posing as his typist, she is accompanying the prime minister as he meets with President Roosevelt to negotiate the United States’ entry into World War II. When one of the First Lady’s aides is mysteriously murdered, Maggie is quickly drawn into Mrs. Roosevelt’s inner circle—as ER herself is implicated in the crime. Maggie knows she must keep the investigation quiet, so she employs her unparalleled skills at code breaking and espionage to figure out who would target Mrs. Roosevelt, and why. What Maggie uncovers is a shocking conspiracy that could jeopardize American support for the war and leave the fate of the world hanging dangerously in the balance. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Guys, I really didn’t like this book. Even though this is the fifth book in the Maggie Hope series, there’s a lot of exposition and very little action. You would think I would be able to get behind Maggie as a woman doing dangerous work at a time when that was far from the norm, but she’s pretty boring herself. She hardly does anything other than take notes for Winston Churchill and follow Eleanor Roosevelt around.

Even these famous historical characters–FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill–don’t seem familiar. I’m not a historical expert, certainly, but some of the things that these real-life characters said rang false. This totally took me out of the reading experience. I’m definitely not interested in reading any of the other books in this series.

Rating: Meh

The Little Paris Bookshop

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I’ve been seeing this book everywhere, and I finally got around to reading it after a friend of mine bought her own copy and demanded I read along with her. And it was not at all what I thought it was going to be!

The Little Paris Bookshop has beautiful writing, and the setting (France) is pretty gorgeous itself. After Perdu finally reads the letter that his lover left him so many years ago, he begins a symbolic journey down the river, pursuing his memories of Manon. I got annoyed at Perdu sometimes because of his stubbornness, and the book was very sad in places, but I liked his companions (Max, Samy, and Cuneo).

Be forewarned that there is some sexual content, but if you’re good with that, you might enjoy this book about the power of books to heal us. I personally found this one beautiful but forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Middle Grades Book Roundup

These three middle grades books are fun, diverse, and thought-provoking. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Last month I was in the mood for some light, fun reading, so I checked out a few middle grades books. They were fun, but they also explored some thought-provoking topics–and they’re much more diverse than the MG books of my childhood.

Liar & Spy

When seventh grader Georges (the S is silent) moves into a Brooklyn apartment building, he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer’s first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: how far is too far to go for your only friend? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

With his mother gone, his dad out of work, and a brand new apartment to deal with, Georges is facing a lot of changes in his life. The kids at school make fun of him, so Georges ends up spending a lot of time with Safer, who always seems to have a new, crazy idea for Georges. As you read through the book, Georges’s and Safer’s secrets are revealed, and each has to deal with their own struggles.

Liar & Spy is by author Rebecca Stead, who wrote the 2010 Newbery winner, When You Reach Me. This story isn’t quite as nicely put together, but it’s still a cute book. (And, of course, it’s a bit tearjerky.)

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Murder is Bad Manners

Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a great English boarding school mystery with, surprisingly, a Chinese MC. Hazel and Daisy are unlikely friends who decide to form a detective agency. But when they start investigating the mysterious death of one of their teachers, they have to struggle to find clues and stay out of trouble at the same time.

Hazel faces some racism (the story is set in 1930s England, after all), but this is treated in a gentle way. It’s an interesting mystery with some fun characters–this is a series I’ll definitely follow.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Out of My Mind

Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults who try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom – the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged, because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she’s determined to let everyone know it – somehow. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is the most emotional of all the books I’ve reviewed in this post. Melody has cerebral palsy that leaves her unable to speak, walk, or care for herself. But trapped inside her body is an intelligent, curious mind. After years of repetitive, boring lessons with the rest of her special ed class, Melody receives a computer that helps her speak–and everyone is shocked at how much brain power she has.

Melody is a great narrator. Despite her cerebral palsy, she just wants to be a normal kid, eating meals with friends, wearing trendy clothes, and joining school clubs. It’s incredibly frustrating (for Melody and for the reader) when other students and even teachers underestimate what she can do. If you’re like me, you’ll tear up over the trials and triumphs that Melody faces. This book is a great, quick introduction for young teens to certain types of special needs.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

ARC: All-Butter ShortDead

All-Butter ShortDead is a fun, short prequel to H.Y. Hanna's Oxford Tearoom mystery series. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Gemma ditches her high-flying job and returns to Oxford to follow her dream: opening a traditional English tearoom serving warm buttery scones with jam and clotted cream… Only problem is–murder is the first thing on the menu and Gemma is the key suspect! And the only people Gemma can turn to for help are four nosy old ladies from her local Cotswolds village – not to mention a cheeky little tabby cat named Muesli. Who was the mysterious woman Gemma met on the flight back from Australia and why was she murdered? Now Gemma must find the killer, solve the mystery and clear her name if she’s to have her cake–and serve it too. (Summary via Amazon.com)

I’ve enjoyed each of the Oxford Tearoom mysteries (you can read about them here, herehere, and here), so I was thrilled to discover that H.Y. Hanna recently released a short prequel to the rest of the series, detailing how Gemma returned to Oxford, opened a tearoom, and discovered her knack for solving murders.

Whether or not you’ve read the rest of the series, this is a really cute and fun introduction to Gemma and her life as a tea shop owner. If you have read the other books in the series, you’ll find several nods to future events and characters who will become important in later stories. Speaking of which, the characters are great as usual. Gemma’s spunky best friend Cassie, her infuriating and oh-so-proper mother, and the Old Biddies all make an appearance.

Gemma being suspected as a murderer and not being sure how to start investigating is fun. Because Gemma was the last person to see the victim alive, the police have looked no further for suspects, and Gemma is driven to discover the real murderer and clear her name (with the prodding of the Old Biddies, of course). One aspect of the plot is a bit cliche (I won’t say more for fear of mild spoilers), but the author pulls it off and manages to make it fun rather than groan-inducing (at least for me).

A side note: Just so you know, this book is currently free on Amazon! If you’ve been interested in exploring this series, this is a quick, free way to get started. (I don’t get anything for promoting this, although I am on the author’s review team. All opinions are my own, and I truly think that if you’re into cozy mysteries, you’ll love this series.)

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Review Copy: Death at the Paris Exposition

Death at the Paris Exposition is a great historical fiction mystery filled with gorgeous fashion, socialites, and murder. #spon | NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Amateur sleuth Emily Cabot’s journey once again takes her to a world’s fair–the Paris Exposition of 1900. Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer is named the only female U. S. commissioner to the Exposition and enlists Emily’s services as her secretary. Their visit to the House of Worth for the fitting of a couture gown is interrupted by the theft of Mrs. Palmer’s famous pearl necklace. Before that crime can be solved, several young women meet untimely deaths and a member of the Palmer’s inner circle is accused of the crimes. As Emily races to clear the family name she encounters jealous society ladies, American heiresses seeking titled European husbands, and more luscious gowns and priceless jewels. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Death at the Paris Exposition is the sixth book in the series, but this was my first experience with Emily and her adventures. If you’re like me and pick this book up out of order, don’t worry–it won’t take away from your enjoyment and understanding of the book.

This story revolves around Bertha Palmer (a real, historic Chicago socialite) and her family’s troubles. Emily, our main character, is Mrs. Palmer’s social secretary, and as such, she and her family have been invited to Paris to see the 1900 Paris exposition. But as these rich and privileged people (and the many lower-class people surrounding them) prepare for the upcoming festivities, their fun is marred by several thefts and a couple of murders.

The author does a fantastic job of exploring Paris at the turn of the century. I loved the descriptions of fashion at the Paris exposition, especially. The characters spend a lot of time at the House of Worth, a couture house in Paris, and each of the women’s dresses are described in vivid detail.

While the setting is well fleshed out, some of the characters are not. Bertha Palmer is an interesting character, but her (fictional) counterparts, like the Johnstones, are often static. An unfortunate side effect of the focus on fashion does portray some of the women as shallow, since they think of little other than the newest gowns and their efforts to snag a high-class European husband. Even Emily’s own husband gets little page time, even though he spends most of his time in the same social circles.

Still, the mystery was engaging, and I was definitely surprised by the ending. This is a fun book for those who want a historical mystery that’s rich in detail and don’t mind if some of the characters fall flat.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

 P.S. Want to know what other mysteries I’ve been enjoying lately? Check out Crashed, The Likeness, and Till Death Do Us Tart.

ARC: Till Death Do Us Tart

Till Death Do Us Tart is a fun addition to the Oxford Tearoom series. If you like cozy mysteries, check it out! #spon | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“When Oxfordshire tearoom owner, Gemma Rose, enters her little tabby, Muesli, in the cat show at the local village fair, the last thing she expects is to stumble across a murder. And when her meddling mother and the nosy Old Biddies decide to start their own investigation, Gemma has no choice but to join in the sleuthing. She soon finds there’s something much more sinister sandwiched between the home-made Victoria sponge cakes and luscious jam tarts … But murder isn’t the only thing on Gemma’s mind: there’s the desperate house-hunting that’s going nowhere, the freaky kitchen explosions at her quaint English tearoom and an offer from her handsome detective boyfriend that she can’t refuse! With things about to reach boiling point, can Gemma solve the mystery before the killer strikes again?” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

Till Death Do Us Tart is the fourth addition to the Oxford Tearoom series (you can see my previous reviews here, here, and here), and it was such a fun addition. When a hateful woman dies suddenly at the local fair, everyone thinks it’s a heart attack–except Gemma and the Old Biddies. They have to work hard to convince Gemma’s boyfriend, police detective Devlin, and the rest of the police force to take them seriously, so Gemma decides to do a little investigating of her own.

As always, Gemma and her friends are great characters to follow. Gemma’s exasperating mother, overworked boyfriend, and mischievous cat Muesli all play important parts in this mystery. Though they don’t take up as much page time as in previous books, we also get to see glimpses of Gemma’s love life and her work in the tea shop in Oxford, which I always find enjoyable.

I really enjoyed this mystery, and as always, I’m looking forward to the next book in the series. If you’re looking for a fun, fresh, well written cozy mystery with great characters and a surprising ending, I bet you’d like this book too.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Two Mystery Novels, Reviewed

Two mystery novels that are the first in their series. Are they worth your time? Click through to find out. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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These two mystery novels have very little to do with each other, other than each is the first book in its series. I’ve heard good things about each of these mystery novels, so I wanted to see if they were worth the investment. And were they? Read on…

Still Life

“Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away. Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book was not as amazing as I expected from its rave reviews. I’ve heard Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy recommend it several times, and since I frequently love her book picks, I thought I’d give it a try. But I didn’t find Still Life as wonderful as I expected.

For one thing, I disliked the plot thread about Agent Nichol. This new detective, working under Inspector Gamache, is constantly sticking her foot in her mouth, and not in a charming way. She’s offensive and arrogant, and she never redeemed herself. Maybe she’ll mature in the next book, but in this one she was immensely irritating. I was also annoyed with the constantly changing POV. We can read different characters’ thoughts within the same paragraph, which I found confusing. I’m still interested in reading the rest of the series, but I’m not totally sold on it yet.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Crashed

“Junior Bender is a Los Angeles burglar with a magic touch. Since he first started breaking into houses when he was fourteen years old, he’s never once been caught. But now, after twenty-two years of an exemplary career, Junior has been blackmailed by Trey Annunziato, one of the most powerful crime bosses in LA, into acting as a private investigator on the set of Trey’s porn movie venture, which someone keeps sabotaging.

Junior knows what that he should do — get the actress out and find her help — but doing the right thing will land him on the wrong side of LA’s scariest mob boss. With the help of his precocious twelve-year-old daughter, Rina, and his criminal sidekick, Louie the Lost (an ex-getaway driver), Junior has to figure out a miracle solution.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book was surprisingly interesting; it has a great voice and great characters. Junior is easy to like–he’s funny, sweet, and laid back for a burglar. So when he finds himself being blackmailed by a powerful mob boss, torn between wanting to protect himself and his family and hoping to help a strung-out former child actress escape the exploitative porn movie that she’s been forced into, you have to feel for him.

The mystery itself is pretty great. It’s not so much a whodunit as an adventure/thriller with a lot of comedy thrown in. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Likeness

Tana French's mystery will keep you glued to the book until the last, bittersweet page. | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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(Thanks to Anne Bogel from Modern Mrs. Darcy for the recommendation!)

I’ve heard good things about The Likeness, but it didn’t really sound like my thing. Until I came across it in a crazy good book sale at my local thrift store (I got nine books for $2! Can you blame me for getting a little carried away?).

The basic plot is this: Cassie, a police detective, has moved into the Domestic Violence department after something went awry in her last big murder case (this is the plot of the first book in the series, but you can read The Likeness as a stand alone–I did). But when a girl who looks eerily like Cassie turns up dead, and her ID is under the false name Cassie used when she was an undercover cop, Cassie is pulled back in. She takes on Lexie Madison’s voice, mannerisms, and clothes, and she goes to Whitethorn House as Lexie to live with her four roommates and hopefully lure out the killer.

It’s kind of a crazy premise, but Tana French pulls it off beautifully. Lexie and her friends all turn out to be much more complicated and loving than they appear from the outside, and Cassie finds herself being seduced by their simple, tight-knit way of life. But, of course, things are never quite what they seemed to be.

This book is haunting at times. It’s one of those books that feels like it’s Saying Something, about the attempt to escape from the daily grind and the horrible things we do to the ones we love the most, but without ever being heavy handed.

“Take what you want and pay for it,” one of the characters quotes, and each character in this book finds out how true that saying is before the story is over. It made me sad in a kind of wistful way–it’s a book that talks about the fact that sometimes love isn’t enough and sometimes the price you pay for the things you want turns out to be too high. The ending was a surprise, but at the same time it almost felt inevitable; it definitely fit with the tone of the book. I’m not sure if I’ll go back and read the first book in the series (I’ve heard it’s significantly darker), but I’ll definitely be on the lookout for new books by Tana French.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

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