Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Mystery

Four Dead Queens
Scholte, Astrid
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This book was not for me, but I think a lot of young adults will really love it. The following is essentially a laundry list of my issues. First, the worldbuilding was pretty weak. The fours quadrants are fairly reminiscent of those in Divergent, but they rarely interact and the farming sector basically works on Amish rules while the technological sector has holographs and advanced biosuits and all sorts of stuff. It does not make a ton of sense. And neither does the “queenly law” or really anything to do with the rules the palace or kingdom operates under – it all seemed pretty transparently created to serve the story that was written. Moving along. The characters really left something to be desired. Most were one-dimensional. The main character, Keralie, couldn’t make a good decision if her life depended on it and falls squarely into the snarky and ostensibly clever thief trope. We do get to hear from the queens a bit, but as I knew they’d end up dead and we only spent a little time with each of them, I didn’t find that it added to the story. And, of course, there is instalove between Keralie and our extremely boring male lead, Varin.

Some components of the book are pretty enjoyable. I think the premise is really cool (if executed poorly). The first queen’s murder took me a bit by surprise, and was deliciously gruesome. There were a few twists that I didn’t see coming. I quite liked the last 50 pages or so – the author, a debut, clearly has some really great ideas. Unfortunately, they didn’t come together in this book, though I’d try another book by this author pending favorable reviews.

TLDR: Readers who loved The Red Queen and Divergent will probably enjoy this one as well. I couldn’t get past the weak characters and worldbuilding, but I think a lot of readers will likely devour this one nonetheless. For me, it was just ok. 2 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and G. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Four Dead Queens will be released on 26 February.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Paragon Hotel
Faye, Lyndsay
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

1922. Alice James finds herself on a westbound train with two bullets in her stomach and $50,000 worth of counterfeit cash. On the run from the mob, she befriends a black porter who saves her life by taking her to his doctor friend in the only black hotel in Portland, Oregon. When a mixed race child goes missing from the hotel, the residents panic as KKK activity in Portland has been escalating. This excellent novel switches back and forth from the events leading up to Alice’s shooting and then her experiences at the hotel after arriving.

Alice James is one of my favorite characters in recent memory – she’s flawed, but self-aware, whip-smart and most importantly compassionate. Her empathy gets her into the trouble and she knows it, but she’s the sort who is willing to sacrifice herself for the greater cause. The supporting characters, especially Blossom, are equally flawed but lovable, especially as their truths slowly come to light. I’m a sucker for a 20s setting, and we get a lot of the good stuff here, especially linguistically. Our Alice has quite the endearing way of explaining herself in 20s style aphorisms.

In addition to being a charming read, the book covers some really important issues around race, gender and sexuality. The author has a deft enough hand at covering these issues that she manages to make the commentary work for the 20s as well as present day. If you decide to read this book, you’ll laught, cry and rage along with the characters at the injustices handed to them based on their gender, race or sexuality. My one complaint is that the middle sagged a bit – this is book that’s largely focused on character development and the mystery really just served to get Alice to learn things about her new friends.

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but the promise of mob-excitement, mystery and racial commentary brought me to this book, and I’m so glad it did. Richly drawn characters and a fascinating setting pretty much guarantee that most fiction (historical or otherwise) readers will enjoy this one, and I’ll be pre-ordering a copy for my mother. 5 stars – I adored it.

Thanks to Netgalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Paragon Hotel goes on sale on 08 January, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Clockmaker's Daughter
Morton, Kate
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This story centers around an impassioned artist and his dreams, a mysterious murder, an enchanting English manor and all that went on their throughout its many years, a ghost that stands outside of time witness to it all, a vanished girl, an archivist and her discovery of a priceless artifacts, and how what went on there all those years ago effects who she is today.

In the past, the 1860’s to be exact, this story begins with a talented artist Edward Radcliffe and a group of artists that spend a summer at the house of his dreams Birchwood Manor. But shortly after arriving a mysterious murder is committed, a priceless artifact disappears and one of the women vanishes. A hundred years later in the present an archivist, named Elodie, finds a satchel which contains an unrelated photograph and a sketchbook that contains a drawing of Birchwood Manor. As she digs deeper into the mystery she is pulled into a story that has her questioning her past and who she truly is. This beautiful atmospheric mystery spans the length of time, and is told by the many voices and people all living within and around the Manor’s walls.

Before I go any further, first, let me say this. Kate Morton is the master of atmospheric beautiful Gothic mysteries and I am a big fan of hers and have loved every one of her past books. Her intricate and deeply rooted stories her beautiful prose, and her enchanting settings are the reasons why she is simply one of the best in her genre. That being said, this work, was a bit of a disappointment. While all the elements of what I love about Kate Morton’s books were there; an intricate story steeped in history, an old vast English manor with a secret or two to hide within its walls, old families with long pedigrees, a family mystery, an enchanting setting, this book fell short for me mainly because of its intricacy and complexity. I also believe the ending was a bit weak. I really wanted to love it, I just couldn’t.

Morton, I believe, really attempted to tell a challenging story, but simply had to many voices trying to tell it. While I like a good dual timeline novel, this one, with at least four voices and timelines was simply too much. There were times that, because of how she bounced around among the numerous timelines, when I got completely lost in which timeline I was following. This combined with how many characters and voices there were throughout the novel, made the story overall a whole lot less enjoyable. I’ll admit, this story took me a good while to get through and I do recommend, if reading this, keeping a list of who everyone is and which timeline goes where. It’s definitely a book you have to think through. That being said the story itself was beautiful and it makes me wonder, if it wouldn’t be better as an audio book where each of the voices are sounded out. Overall a 2.5-3 star read for me. However, if you are a Kate Morton fan and if you love atmospheric Gothic mysteries, I couldn’t count this one out, I would still give this one a go, just maybe as an audio book. Place your copy on hold today!

Thank you to Netgalley, Atria books, and Simon and Schuster for a DRC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Turton, Stuart
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Finished this book at 2 a.m. (thanks a lot Mr. Turton!). Freaking amazing! I don't even quite know how to classify it - and I don't want to give anything away so I won't even try. Let's just say that it is like reading a REALLY good murder mystery through a kaleidoscope, shifting perspectives constantly to allow everything to eventually come together. I would suggest just letting the first half of the book just wash over you without trying too much to figure it out - otherwise it would get frustrating. And keep track of the characters - that is very important (and there are a lot of them!). Wow, just wow.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Genres:
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Turton, Stuart
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Every day at 11pm, Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered at Blackheath, her family’s estate and her childhood home. Aiden Bishop has eight days to solve her murder. Eight of the same days. The day repeats on a loop, but each day for eight days, Aiden occupies a different body. His only escape from the never ending loop is to solve her murder.

Wow. This was a fantastic, kind of trippy thrill ride. The only thing I can really think to compare it to is The Magus by John Fowler, and that’s only in the sense that both you the reader and the main character really have absolutely no clue what is going on. Unlike The Magus, though, (almost) everything is revealed by the end of the book and it comes to a mostly satisfying conclusion.

Even if it were just a closed door murder mystery, it would still be good. The mystery itself was twisty enough to keep the reader constantly on their feet. I guessed one thing, but most of the elements of the mystery were a total surprise when they were revealed. It’s deliciously complex. The addition of the eight different perspectives along with the fact that everyone is unreliable really added to the story. Add to that the fact that someone is killing off Aiden’s hosts, and the book becomes nearly impossible to put down. I actually had to stop reading it before bed because I was staying up too late (just one more chapter!). There were a few world building things that were left frustratingly vague, but I think that was by intention, so I can’t complain.

This genre bending book will screw with your head in the best way possible. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I really loved the reading experience. I think a lot of people will enjoy it – mystery lovers, those that enjoy high concepts and general fiction readers are going to love this one. I certainly did! 5 stars.

Thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle will be available for purchase in the US on 18 September 2018. You can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
The Death of Mrs. Westaway
Ware, Ruth
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

2 1/2 stars. It was a fun Gothic-type novel, but nothing really memorable. If you just need something light to read with not too much substance (I call them "chewing gum" books), you may enjoy this title. This is my 3rd Ruth Ware novel to which I've given 2 1/2-3 stars so I think I'm done with her books.

Reviewer's Name: Krista M.
Awards:
The Tuscan Child
Bowen, Rhys
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Loved this dual-timeline novel. Both stories were strong enough that they could have stood on their own, but together they were wonderful. The descriptions of a small town in Tuscany were so vivid that I felt like I was there, and the food in particular made me hungry! I've only ever read the Royal Spyness mysteries by Rhys Bowen, but they are among my favorite lighthearted mystery series. Now, I'm definitely going to have to pick up In Farleigh Field and her other mysteries!!!

Reviewer's Name: Krista M.
The Art of Inheriting Secrets
O'Neal, Barbara
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

My favorite so far of Barbara O'Neal's books, and my favorite of the year! This book was just beautiful in every way and just what I needed. Beautiful setting, family secrets, descriptions of food that made my mouth water, and one of the most beautiful love stories I've read in a long time. I honestly felt sad when this book ended. I will be recommending it to anyone looking for a mystery, a Gothic novel, a healing story, a foodie book, or a gorgeous love story. Just wonderful.

Reviewer's Name: Krista M.
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle
Connor, Leslie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Not only can Mason Buttle barely read or write, he’s the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade. His best friend was found dead in the Buttle family orchard and Mason’s relentlessly bullied. On top of that, Lieutenant Baird doesn’t seem to believe Mason’s story of what happened the day that Benny died. Life’s not going well. Join Mason and his new friend Calvin as they figure out how to escape the bullies. This heartwarming story of self-reliance and hope will encourage readers who struggle with bullying, friendship, and even learning difficulties.

Reviewer's Name: Carol S.
Metro Girl
Evanovich, Janet
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I can honestly say, this is the worst book I have read in 2018. I couldn't believe it was written by Janet Evanovich. It lacked her usual wit and laugh out loud moments. I actually thought I would love it since I enjoyed the graphic novel. But no. I didn't care about any of the characters.
I thought the story line plodded along and at the end, I just didn't care. I was hoping a canister of nerve gas would just destroy every copy of this book so no one else who's thinking of reading will suffer.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
The Book of Lost Things
Voigt, Cynthia
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Max's parents have dashed off on an unexpected adventure and left their 12 year old son Max behind, alone...well, his grandmother is around to watch over him, but she is busy being a librarian. Max has to fend for himself and picks up a part time job as a solutioneer (sounds like engineer, but much more mysterious). His first task is to find a lost pet and this snowballs into many intricately involved adventures that will keep readers turning pages with anticipation to find out what this determined young man will do next. The Book of Lost Things, by Cynthia Voigt, is sure to please children 9 - 13 who enjoy a good mystery.

Reviewer's Name: Barb
Truly Devious
Johnson, Maureen
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Stevie Bell loves all things crime, true or otherwise. She loves to dive into the fictional encounters of the likes of Hercule Poroit and Sherlock Holmes almost as much as she loves to solve cold cases. So when she gets the opportunity to study at Ellingham Academy, site of one of the most famous unsolved murder/kidnapping cases of all time, she jumps at the chance. She doesn't get too far into her murder investigation, however, when a fellow student is found dead in the same tunnel as a murdered girl from before.

For the most part, this is just a straight-up mystery with a quirky setting and side characters, but it really works. The book goes back and forth from the events of the 1939 Ellingham murders to present day, and I found myself equally interested in both stories. Our main character, Stevie, is extremely likable, and gives us some smart, biting commentary about her life and her classmates along with a lot of interesting tidbits about past crimes and mystery authors. Stevie's classmates all have distinct personalities and are quite the diverse cast of characters. Students at Ellingham are selected for having some sort of ability or interest, and her roommates are an artist, an inventor, a coder, a writer and a YouTube star which makes for some fun interactions and conversation in the group. There's a bit of a meh romance, but it didn't detract from the rest of the book and it will be interesting to see where that heads in the sequel.

The main appeal here is the dual mysteries. Both were a lot of fun to read, and I was dead wrong about the identity of the present day killer which is always fun. Really, the only downside for me was the ending. It ends on a massive cliffhanger, and I actually wish a few things were a bit more tied up. I found it to be jarring and a bit off-putting. That said, I'll probably check out the sequel.

If you are looking for a really solid mystery featuring clever and engaging characters, then this is for you! You can put Truly Devious on hold now - thanks to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for the electronic review copy. If it weren't for that ending it'd be a 4 star read for me, but...3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Widow
Barton, Fiona
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is dark, and it addresses most of the situations of what is happening in the present. However it gives the reader another view besides the victims, but everybody that is affected by the circumstances. It is really good, I could not put it down.

Reviewer's Name: Lourdes C.
The Screaming Staircase
Stroud, Jonathan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Fans of Bartimaeus will not be disappointed by Jonathan Stroud’s series, Lockwood & Co. The “Problem” started about 50 years ago in London. Ghosts became true, dangerous, and very real threats to the living. Only young people have the ability to “see” and eradicate these creatures of the night. Enter Lockwood & Co., a company of three who go out nightly to defend the city. Great adventure, ghost story, and humor interweave for perfect storytelling in The Screaming Staircase, the first in the series.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Genres:
Agent of Chaos
Garcia, Kami
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When Fox Mulder was just a kid, his little sister was kidnapped while he was babysitting her. That event has haunted him and his family ever since. So, when children start to go missing and then turn up dead from what appears to be a ritualistic serial killer, Mulder knows that he has to do something.

While I like the X-files, I'm certainly not the world's greatest fan - I've probably seen around 1/2 of the episodes, and I haven't watched the reboot. However, this book jumped out at me as I was perusing the stacks, and I'm glad it did. In fact, if you are just a fan of mysteries and/or the paranormal, this book will totally meet your needs. You can go into this without knowing anything about Mulder and the TV show, and you'll still have a great reading experience. If you are an avid fan of the show, there are several "easter eggs", cameos and cute references throughout the book (the smoking man shows up in the first chapter!). Also, it's got some entertaining historical fiction elements as the book is set in 1979, and that is very much reflected in the music and technology.

Garcia does a great job with the character development. Mulder quickly teams up with two other "genuis" types, and this book could've quickly devolved into some variation of "three teen geniuses solve a crime caper" a la a number of middle grade/YA books out there, but Garcia fleshed the characters out to the point that this pitfall was, for the most part, avoided. Mulder is, understandably, obsessed with finding his sister, and his parents are separated. His best friend, Gimble (a D&D name), has a father who is so enmeshed into conspiracy theories that he's been fired from the Air Force (he may or may not be an influence to young Mulder). His other best friend, also a love interest, was not as well developed, she was easily the weakest character, and I could've done without her and the romance. The story itself was a well done serial killer mystery, though the end felt a little abrupt with a ton of loose strings. The mystery is only mostly resolved, so I'm assuming there will be a sequel.

Anyone looking for a decent mystery with good characters, look no further. The X-files stuff is just icing on what is an already pretty tasty cake. I wanted to believe (I couldn't help myself), and this book didn't let me down. 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
And Then There Were None
Christie, Agatha
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I often have a hard time with mysteries, but And Then There Were None was classic, suspenseful and just plain enjoyable. The audiobook version was especially entertaining, perhaps because the original story was written as a play under an alternate (and controversial) title. The characters feel like they were the predecessors to the characters found in the game Clue. They are equally sinister and sympathetic. I am particularly intrigued with the connecting reason all of them have been brought to the island and the psychological effects of that reason. To the very end Agatha Christie teases your deductive reasoning skills. You always feel like you are on the cusp of finding out who the killer is, and then you're wrong! I was completely at a loss by the end. Thanks goodness for the epilogue. This is a timeless mystery classic.

Reviewer's Name: Danielle
The Girl Before
Delaney, J.P.
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

Would you like to read a book about psychopathic men exploiting vulnerable women? Well then, do I have the book for you!

After having a stillborn child, Jane needs a new start. What better way to start over than in a new apartment? One Folgate Street has weird rules to be sure, but the minimalist life style required by the owner actually sounds like the perfect way to reinvent herself. But after she moves in, Jane learns that a previous tenant, Emma Matthews, was murdered in the apartment. As Jane learns more about Emma, she finds that they have much in common - and that she might be the apartment's next victim. The Girl Before goes back and forth between Jane and Emma's stories.

This was...not good. The beginning of the book was intriguing, and until about 1/3 of the way through, I was thinking it'd be a 2-3 star read for me. And then, like a conversation with a stranger or a first date, the book took an unfortunate turn. This was, sadly, to be the first of many unfortunate turns. Ultimately, I finished the book as it truly is an easy read - there was almost no imagery or description, you spend most of the time in the main characters' heads or watching them do incredibly stupid things (have these women never heard of a hotel?). Oh, and as is often the case in these domestic thrillers, the characters were all extremely unlikable.

This genre is pretty hit or miss for me (for example, I liked Gone Girl but HATED Girl on the Train), and The Girl Before was no exception - I found it to be kind of terrible. It's apparently being made into a movie, and I think with some plot/character changes, it may be more successful in that format. Stay away from the book unless you just can't get enough of psychological thrillers. 1 star - I did not like it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Traces of Guilt
Henderson, Dee
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Small town crime is the plot of the novel. Cold cases are reexamined by Evie Blackwell State Police Detective to launch a new state task force. The novel kept my interest to the end because I wanted to know if and how she solved the cases. It seemed unlikely that all these cases would have occurred in a rural town setting and many of them overlapping, but perhaps I am naïve about such things. . It was interesting to follow the thoughts of police work and the background that goes into solving cases. The characters were enjoyable, particularly the Thane brothers. I enjoyed these men of integrity, their caring hearts, and the family they belong to. Evie is tenacious in her thoughts and work. I enjoyed some visiting characters from other Dee Henderson novels that I had read previously. I wouldn't say there is a lot of action suspense, but rather character development more along the lines of regular fiction. There were some touch topics that affected the characters deeply. I would recommend it if you like character driven stories.

Reviewer's Name: Angie
The Trespasser
French, Tana
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In the early hours of the morning, a man places a phone call to the local police station reporting that a woman has fallen down and hit her head in her living room. He asks for an ambulance to be sent but hangs up before the officer receiving the call can ask any more questions. When the first responders arrive at the scene, they find a young woman lying against the fireplace, dead. Junior Detectives Antoinette Conway and Stephen Moran are assigned to the case, but as they dig into the facts they start to suspect that there’s more to it than a simple domestic dispute. Try as they might, though, every new lead seems to dry up when they look into it. And it isn’t just the case that’s causing problems; everything seems to be going wrong in Conway’s life. She’s being relentlessly hazed by the other detectives on the squad; her relationship with her friends is deteriorating between the long hours and her own depression; and no matter how high their clearance rate is, neither she nor Steve are having any decent cases thrown their way. Conway is tough as nails and dedicated to her job, but the animosity of the rest of the squad and the constant scut work are starting to make her doubt her career path. This case seems like their best chance to get back on track and finally win some respect -- provided they can prove that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

This is the most recent entry in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series. If you're not familiar with the series, I'll say that, while each book can be read as a stand-alone without issue, there are some recurring characters that make it rewarding to read them in order. The lead in this book, Antoinette Conway, was first introduced in the preceding book, The Secret Place, and her partner, Steve, started out as a minor character in Broken Harbor. All of French’s books are excellent character portraits, so it’s rewarding to get to see the same individuals first from an outside perspective and then from within their own head, but you won’t miss anything plot-wise by skipping them. The Trespasser centers around the idea of fantasy: the stories we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better, the stories we tell to other people to make them act the way we want them to, and the devastating effects it can have when those fantasies finally collapse. That applies as much to the detectives as it does to the victim, and so we get a nice mix of personal drama with our protagonists and the more straightforward investigation of the murder. I loved Conway as a character in The Secret Place, so I enjoyed getting to see things from her own perspective in this book. What I like about French’s books is that they have more going on than just the ‘whodunnit’. The mystery is always interesting to me, but what really shines is her portrayal of the characters and the setting: Dublin really comes alive for you in her books, and the characters feel like they could walk off the page.

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
113 Minutes
Patterson, James
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I was very curious to try one of James Patterson's Bookshots. He called them a pulse pounding thriller from beginning to end. I will say it lived up to the billing! I was immediately into the story and kept wondering what was going to happen next. 113 Minutes started off with a teenage boy dying from an overdose from crystal meth. Then there is a bank robbery, a heist of over a million dollars at a country club, and then a shootout with the Feds! Whew!!! I really enjoyed this one and can't wait to read more Bookshots!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.

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