Saturday, March 17, 2018

Review: As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

As Bright As Heaven
by Susan Meissner
Release Date: February 6th 2018
2018 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 387 Pages
ISBN: 978-0399585968
ASIN: B072HS2J83
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters--Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa--a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without--and what they are willing to do about it.

My Thoughts
As Bright as Heaven is the poignant story of a family poised at the end of the Great War, a time of promise and hope, until a deadly disease, the Spanish Flu, strikes with determination and deadliness, causing the Bright family to re-evaluate their priorities and their dreams.  As a history teacher with a fascination for this time period, I was enveloped into this time period by some great descriptive writing and could feel the pain and hope that people experienced during this time period.

First of all, the story began on quite a sombre note as the family was dealing with the tragedy of dealing with the death of their baby brother at just a couple of months of age.  Needing to get away, Pauline Bright convinced her husband to finally accept his uncle's proposal to live in Philadelphia and become the heir to his business.  Filled with hope, they never would have guessed that Philadelphia would have been one of the hardest hit cities during the Spanish flu epidemic, and considering that Thomas' uncle owns what is considered an early form of a funeral home, would be right and center to the pain and suffering of Philadelphia's people.  I was actually quite fascinated by the business as I never really gave the matter much consideration before, especially as to how the business must have started and how the visitation idea began.  It was also a really neat idea for the epidemic to literally come right to the Brights' door, so to speak.

The story is told in alternating POVs and I didn't mind this in the least.  I didn't really enjoy Willa's POV in the beginning as she was only six years old and her story was kind of boring, but definitely thought the rest of them were quite interesting.  There was Pauline, the mother who was still dealing with her grief and a new life in Philadelphia, Maggie, the middle sister who was quite a spitfire, and Evie, the brilliant one who wanted to be a doctor.  The author definitely didn't gloss over how difficult life was during the last year of the Great War and how traumatizing it was for the men when they returned.  I liked the author's descriptions of the flu and the way it just crept in on you and how it must have caught the city unawares and how unprepared everyone must have been.  It made made me think how unprepared we would be today for such a thing if it ever hit again, and how devastating it would be.  Even after reading this, and reading about the hundreds of bodies piled up in the streets and outside the doors to the funeral home, I don't think we have any idea how bad it really was.  Over 50 million people died during this epidemic, and even though I teach this to students, the scope of it still astounds me. 

The only thing that jarred with me a little bit was Evie's marriage; it just seemed to happen so fast and I'm not sure I agreed with it, even if I understood it.  I won't give away any details other than this so you'll just have to read it for yourself to see what I mean.  Even the author questions Evie's decision through other characters, which I liked.  I am probably being a bit judgmental here, but it is hard not to be; given the time period and what these people survived, I can definitely understand the mentality of not waiting for your happiness, but taking it as it comes.

As Bright as Heaven is an interesting story told in the midst of the devastating Spanish flu and gives an insight as to how difficult this time period was for those who lived through it.  It is also a tale of hope though, a tale of spirit and energy, that humans can survive devastation and rise above it.  I really enjoyed this author's writing style and her descriptions made you feel like you were experiencing things as if you were there.  It is definitely a book about how the human spirit can triumph even in the midst of tragedy.
Saturday, March 10, 2018

Review: A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell, #3)
by Deanna Raybourn
Release Date: January 16th 2018
2018 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451476173
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. 

His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. 

Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

My Thoughts
A Treacherous Curse is the third book in the Veronica Speedwell series, and I enjoyed this one as much as I enjoyed the others, which is quite a lot.  Veronica is a funny characters and I definitely enjoy her quick wit and unconventional ways. 

One of the things I really like about Deanna Raybourn books is the way the author has of delivering authentic historical facts and descriptions.  Her beautiful writing style makes you feel like you are really there and brings to life the time period so well.  I have no problems envisioning what things looked like, what the people wore, their lifestyles, and their behaviours.  And combine this with two very likable characters, Veronica and Stoker, and you have a recipe for success.  And it is definitely because of these two characters that I keep returning to these books; their lives and histories are being slowly revealed one book at a time, and I am truly enjoying the journey of discovery.  In this one, it is Stoker's life that is the front and center and I finally discovered the truth about his marriage and his ex-wife.  Finally!!  These two characters are just so much fun, plus the interactions between them are quite hilarious.  She writes amazingly witty dialogues and I love the banter that exists; Veronica is rather good at quick comebacks and I always look forward to seeing what she is going to say next. I like the suspense that is also created and I will freely admit I am rooting for them to get together, but I am not sure if that is going to ever happen.  That is the only frustrating thing about this series, having to wait and find out what is going to happen next with these characters. If there is anything that rubs me the wrong way, it would have to be Stoker and his continuous pity-party. I get that he was grievously wronged by his ex-wife, and Stoker could be quite annoying at times.  I am so glad he got over it by the end of the book.

The other characters introduced in this book were quite interesting as well, and I enjoyed the various twists and turns that came about just because of their personalities.  Even the villains were quite likable and this is definitely not the case in many books.  If there is any weakness in this book, it would have to be the overall mystery as it was quite easy to figure out as I felt the author focused a lot on Stoker and his past grievances.  I do have to look at the whole picture, and while the characters were delightful, the pacing was a bit slow and did have a tendency to drag on a bit. 

A Treacherous Curse is another fun entry into the series.  You do not have to have read the first two books in the series in order to understand this one, which is nice.  As always, the characters and their interactions are always interesting, and I truly do like the witty dialogues that are in this.  While the mystery was touted to be about Egypt and Egyptology, there really was little in the way of Egypt in here, unless you count the many references to expeditions and trips to that country.  But the action didn't take place outside of England and I was a bit disappointed by that as I was hoping they would have a fun trip to Egypt and all that would have entailed.  However, with an interesting story line, this one is a nice entry for this series, and fans will be happy with the continuing adventures of Stoker and Veronica. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Look For Her by Emily Winslow

Look For Her (Keene and Frohmann, Book #4)
by Emily Winslow
Release Date: February 13th 2018
2018 William Morrow Paperbacks
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062572585
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Partners in Crime Tours

3 / 5 Stars

Just outside of Cambridge, Lilling seems like an unassuming idyllic English village, but it’s home to a dark history. In 1976, a teenage girl named Annalise Wood disappeared while riding her bike home from school. Though her body was later discovered in a shallow grave, the culprit was never found. Decades later, Annalise maintains a perverse kind of celebrity in the small town, and is still the focus of grief, speculation, and for one young woman, a disturbing, escalating jealousy.

When DNA linked to the Annalise murder unexpectedly surfaces, cold case investigator Morris Keene realizes he may now have the chance of his career. Morris and his former partner, Chloe Frohmann, hope to finally solve this perplexing mystery, and bring closure to a traumatized community. But the new evidence that should be the simple solution instead undoes the case's only certainty: the buried body that had long ago been confidently identified as Annalise may be someone else entirely, and instead of answers, the investigators face only new puzzles.

Whose body was unearthed all those years ago, and what happened to the real Annalise? Could she have had a secret child? Is someone interfering with the investigation? And is there a link to a present-day drowning with eerie connections?

My Thoughts
Look for Her is one of those books I tried really hard to like, but unfortunately, it fell a bit flat for me. It really had an interesting premise, and I was looking forward to some twists and turns as well as some interesting detective work on a cold case file.  

The novel starts off in a unique way, with a transcript of a therapy session, and you really do wonder quite a bit at first what is going on, but the session also leaves you with this feeling of unease, as if something's really wrong; I really enjoyed it and thought it was a great beginning.  I really did enjoy the author's writing style at the beginning as well.  However, the beginning seemed to drag on and on, and when nothing really happened, it began to lose interest in the characters and the story, and there were times I actually had to re-read parts of it to keep me interested and knowledgeable. I think the author tried too hard with character development that she included too many plot twists.  And while I am not opposed to plot twists, ones that don't have any bearing on the story do get annoying, especially if just thrown in to create a red herring that doesn't quite jive with the rest of the story. It really felt towards the end that while the author had a clear vision as to how she ended the novel, that vision wasn't too clear on how to get there.

I tried really hard to like the characters, but except for Frohmann and Keene, none of them really left an impression on my that was favourable.  I even got annoyed with the two detectives; I have read all of the previous novels so I am familiar with their background stories, and I have to say something felt a bit off.  I typically really enjoy these detectives and their stories, but found myself particularly annoyed with Keene for some reason.  I know the author wrote these characters to be sketchy, and she certainly succeeded in that area as I found them to be creepy and weird.  I took a particular dislike to Anna for some reason. Because the novel is told in alternating viewpoints, I couldn't wait to get back to Keene's or Frohmann's POV as they seemed the most normal of the lot; the rest just creeped me out.  The different POVs certainly helped with the plot twists though, and things sort of picked up around the middle of the novel. I did however, enjoy reading the therapist's point of view as that was the most interesting.  She was still dealing with her grief over her first husband even though she is remarried, and I found that story line to be quite interesting. 

I do have to say that while I expected the ending, it happened in a way that was the best thing about this novel.  Kudos for a great ending!!

Look for Her had a great premise and story line that didn't unfortunately live up to itself.  Sadly, the book lost its focus for me after the first few chapters, and I had a hard time refocusing on the story and the characters. What I did really find fascinating in the novel though, is the effect the media had on the murder and how it was able to keep alive the name of a girl who died for so many years.  And how so many people remembered the events because of the media.  I definitely thought about this as I was reading and how we remember certain people because of the media, and how others disappear into obscurity.  I'm not sure if I would recommend this book to people I know who love good police procedurals, but as always, I do think you should read it for yourself and decide what you think.
Friday, March 2, 2018

Review: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Red Clocks
by Leni Zumas
Release Date: January 16th 2018
2018 Little, Brown and Company
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0316434812
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro's best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or "mender," who brings all their fates together when she's arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

My Thoughts
Red Clocks is one of those books that I think was supposed to be controversial and a good source for some great discussion, but I don't think it quite succeeded in its intent.  There seemed to be quite a lot of questions being asked such as: If a young woman became pregnant, what are her options in a society that has banned abortion? For a single mother, what are her options in a society that allows only two-parent families to adopt? For a physician who believes it is a person's choice regarding abortion, what happens to them if they are caught? And if a person chooses to use alternative medicine, what are the repercussions for both practitioner and client?  And while the questions are great, I don't really feel as if the consequences that came about in this book really made much of an impact on me.

First of all, abortion is still such a touchy subject in a lot of countries and is outright banned in quite a few, so the real impact of this Personhood Amendment in this novel guaranteeing the right of embryos was not as strong as it could have been.  I think I was more upset of the loss of in-vitro fertilization than I was over the other issue and very much empathized with Ro who was trying to have a baby despite some medical issues.  As a single mother, she would have been excluded from being to adopt on her own as the new law coming into effect bans single parents from adopting, and apparently is a jailable offense to do it under the table.  There was even, at one point, an attempt from a doctor to suggest that Ro go abroad and adopt but he could have been jailed if he recommended that outright.  

The whole concept in this novel was brilliant considering the political climates surrounding the issues, and even the idea of a Pink Wall between Canada and the U.S. was brilliant as it also echoes some of the political climate.  The Pink Wall was an agreement between the two countries that Canada would return any U.S. citizen attempting to have an abortion or IVF treatments in Canada, where it was still legal.  Where the concept really failed in my opinion, was in the writing.  I couldn't get past some of the structures as they were written which made me lose my interest and then my empathy towards the characters.  While the author was trying to be really creative, I do think one can go too far, and this is a good example of  a story being lost in the format.  Which was a shame as the concept was intriguing.  I also really think that such a personal topic needs to involve the reader as much as possible and to invest in the characters.  Unfortunately, even the titles of the chapters, titled "The Wife", "The Daughter", "The Mentor", and "The Biographer" didn't help the situation.  While I do think the idea was on purpose, I think it was a mistake as this is not a topic where you want to be distant and apathetic towards the characters, which is how I felt.  I wanted to be embroiled in their turmoil, their disgust, their panic and so on, but I wasn't.  And I really disliked The Wife who was lazy, self-centered, and really, really annoying, and who was a character that really didn't fit into the story line. If she had been removed from the story, I don't think it would have made any difference to the story.

Red Clocks had such a fantastic premise that I was excited to read this.  Unfortunately, it didn't live up to what I think it was trying to get across.  First of all, due to the way it was written, I didn't feel much empathy for any of the characters and didn't really care what the consequences of their actions were; in other words, it had no real heart and soul.  I should have felt deeply troubled by this new law, but there wasn't anything really revelatory in this story, so while it did make me think, there was no shock value.  I'm not sure I would recommend this one, but as always, you need to judge for yourself.
Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Review & Giveaway: The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend by Nicole Evelina

The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend
by Nicole Evelina
Release Date: November 21st 2017
2017 Lawson Gartner Publishing
Kindle Edition; 278 pages
ISBN: 978-0996763226
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Review copy from author via HFVBT

4 / 5 Stars

Literature tells us painfully little about Guinevere, mostly focusing on her sin and betrayal of Arthur and Camelot. As a result, she is often seen as a one-dimensional character. But there is more to her story. By examining popular works of more than 20 authors over the last one thousand years, The Once and Future Queen shows how Guinevere reflects attitudes toward women during the time in which her story was written, changing to suit the expectations of her audience. Beginning in Celtic times and continuing through the present day, this book synthesizes academic criticism and popular opinion into a highly readable, approachable work that fills a gap in Arthurian material available to the general public.

My Thoughts
The Once and Future Queen is a great companion to Nicole Evelina's Daughter of Destiny and Camelot's Queen as she explores the legend of Guinevere from its earliest beginnings to current literature, and how the change in societies has had an impact on her story and on her personality. I am very familiar with the tale of Arthur and Guinevere and have found the various legends and stories to be quite interesting, so I was quite thrilled to read this author's thoughts on the various tales and how they might have developed over time.  

First of all, while this wasn't a real in-depth overview of Guinevere, in the sense of a deep scholarly study, I really enjoyed the lighter touch to her well-researched book as it was easy to read and to follow. I remember reading some more scholarly things about Camelot while taking some history courses and they were not easy to read nor follow, so I definitely appreciated the effort to keep it light but also be very informative.  I don't want to make light of the amount of research that would have gone into this book though, so when I say it's light, it just means that it was written in such a way as to make it easy to understand who the characters were that people Guinevere's world.  You don't have to have a huge background knowledge of Guinevere and her court in order to understand this book. There are no assumptions made that you have read material about Camelot before, so anyone could pick this up and enjoy the discussion about her.  

What I did find fascinating is the trends that took place over the centuries regarding Guinevere and her personality and how it is shaped by the societies in which each story was written.  I am not especially surprised by this, but to have it laid out in a format that discusses each story as they were written makes it easy to follow the historical routes and ideas that conceived each novel. Was Guinevere a saint, a sinner, a martyr, a queen, a feminist, a mother, a slut, or a simply a representation of what should have been like during each time period in which she was written.  Naturally, being born in the modern time period, I prefer her when she is strong and independent, but flawed through bad choices and pressures that were put upon her.  I know when I read Le Morte d'Arthur, I wasn't overly impressed with Guinevere (or Arthur either for that matter), so reading Sharan Newman's Guinevere series (Guinevere, The Chessboard Queen, and Guinevere Evermore) was very enlightening, with a much stronger queen that I liked, even if I had issues with the overall stories.

The Once and Future Queen is an engrossing and detailed rendering of Guinevere through the ages, and is a welcome addition to the works about Guinevere.  As someone with a background in history, I definitely enjoyed the simplicity of what I read, but there is definitely a plethora of research notes that you could check out if you were interested in going deeper and into even more detail.  I definitely like the stories of today whereby Guinevere is from a Celtic descent with overtones towards pagan worship as opposed to Christian worship and the conflicts that must have ensued.  It's evident that every author wants to put their own on her life and I definitely appreciate that, but I really like the fact that her character has grown to be a more trusted and powerful one, almost a warrior queen.  The author makes Guinevere's evolution easy to understand and provides very detailed reasons for why these shifts occurred over the years.  I am glad to know that Mistress of Legend (the third book in the Guinevere's Tale) will be released this year as I highly recommend the other two books in the series, as well as this non-fiction book of Guinevere's development through the ages.  Anyone with an interest in Camelot should pick up this book.


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The Once and Future Queen
Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review: The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd

The Gate Keeper (Inspector Ian Rutledge, Book #20)
by Charles Todd
Release Date: February 6th 2018
2018 William Morrow
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062678737
ASIN: B0713W4784
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Hours after his sister’s wedding, a restless Ian Rutledge drives aimlessly, haunted by the past, and narrowly misses a motorcar stopped in the middle of a desolate road. Standing beside the vehicle is a woman with blood on her hands and a dead man at her feet.

She swears she didn’t kill Stephen Wentworth. A stranger stepped out in front of their motorcar, and without warning, fired a single shot before vanishing into the night. But there is no trace of him. And the shaken woman insists it all happened so quickly, she never saw the man’s face.

Wentworth was well-liked, yet his bitter family paint a malevolent portrait, calling him a murderer. But who did Wentworth kill? Is his death retribution? Or has his companion lied? Wolf Pit, his village, has a notorious history: in Medieval times, the last wolf in England was killed there. When a second suspicious death occurs, the evidence suggests that a dangerous predator is on the loose, and that death is closer than Rutledge knows.

My Thoughts
The Gate Keeper is the 20th entry in the Ian Rutledge series, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, although I may be a bit biased as I really like this series, and its inspector and have been reading these books since the debut was published.  The mother-son writing duo certainly know how to keep one's interest despite the longevity of the series; and for those of us who are invested in these characters, I really like how they have developed over the series as well.

I have truly enjoyed watching Rutledge's journey throughout the years as he battles with shell shock and the horror of the Battle of the Somme.  What I really like is how the horror is not glossed over and rears itself over and over again throughout the series, showing the reality of what things were like for the brave men who fought in that war.  The glimpses of the aftermath and people trying to get their lives back together is rather remarkable and I can't but feel empathy for these people and what they have suffered.  To learn more about Rutledge and how he gets through his day despite the ever-present guilt is something I adore; he's definitely not without flaws, being a loner and sometimes working again the wishes of Scotland Yard, but it is his daily routine that I find interesting and how the author helps him transition to another, and then another, day.  He embodies exactly what I think a Scotland Yard Inspector is all about during this time period, and I love that. 

I do have to mention that I took an immediate dislike to Stephen Wentworth's mother. There was nothing truly to like about this woman and I really hoped to see something happen to her. You could look at her situation as someone who probably needed a psychologist/psychiatrist to help her deal with her obvious dislike of Stephen as that behaviour was not normal.  For those reasons, I couldn't come up with a shred of compassion for her, not one bit.  I don't usually react so strongly to a character, and even tend to like difficult characters, but this was definitely not one those times.  Kudos to the authors for exploring that little bit of motherhood, though. I'm sure it was difficult to write.

I really enjoyed the mystery in this one as I had a hard time figuring out who was exactly guilty and those are the mysteries I like.  Having those subtle red herrings thrown at you is quite complicated to do, and I have to admire the authors for being able to do that, especially after so many books when you get to know the writing.   Even if the plot was a bit slow, that didn't really bother me as I know after reading so many of their works, how explosive the endings can be, so I was really patient and paid attention to the clues that were given through interviews. And I love the descriptions of tea time and sweets that were included, so much a part of this book.  And the writing: the authors have an amazing ability to convey a lot through dialogue, rather than just through description, so you have to pay attention to every little detail.  

The Gate Keeper is one of those murder mysteries in which I felt a lot of sadness as the victims seemed to be genuinely nice people who didn't deserve the fate they were dealt.  I haven't always felt sympathetic so it was a nice surprise.   The mystery was a bit slow, but not boring, and the red herrings were quite interesting as I had a hard time figuring out exactly what might have happened. The writing was excellent and there was some good investigative work that I really liked. And while I absolutely recommend this book to others, and it could be read on its own, perhaps starting at the beginning would give readers an insight into Hamish and Rutledge and their relationship with which the authors assume you are already familiar.
Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes

The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1)
by Jessica Fellowes
Release Date: January 23rd 2018 (First published September 14th 2017)
2018 Minotaur Books
Kindle Edition; 420 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250170781
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

It's 1919, and Louisa Cannon dreams of escaping her life of poverty in London, and most of all her oppressive and dangerous uncle.

Louisa's salvation is a position within the Mitford household at Asthall Manor, in the Oxfordshire countryside. There she will become nurserymaid, chaperone and confidante to the Mitford sisters, especially sixteen-year-old Nancy - an acerbic, bright young woman in love with stories.

But then a nurse - Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of her famous namesake - is killed on a train in broad daylight, and Louisa and Nancy find themselves entangled in the crimes of a murderer who will do anything to hide their secret . . .

My Thoughts
The Mitford Murders is the first book in series featuring the Mitford sisters.  When I first started reading the book I thought one of the Mitford sisters would be the main character and I was looking forward to that. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, and I couldn't help but be disappointed. Luckily, that disappointment only lasted for a couple of chapters as the main character, a nursery maid, was actually quite interesting and I grew to really like her character and personality. 

First of all, I had no idea that this story was based on true events until I reached the end of the book and read some of the historical background to the events. Naturally, I went and looked it up on the Internet and what I discovered was quite interesting. As in the book, the real Nightingale Shore was traveling on the train in broad daylight and to this date, they still have not discovered the murderer's identity. Considering she was the goddaughter the THE Florence Nightingale made it that much more fascinating. 

As I mentioned previously, the main character, Louisa, grew on me throughout the story and I really enjoyed her transition from a scared and timid young girl to one who has discovered her sense of worth and who she can be. When she began working for the Mifords, she was afraid of being discovered by her wayward uncle who only wanted to use her to settle gambling debts. As her friendship with Nancy Mitford developed, she also seemed to develop her own identity and became more determined to discover the truth whether she wanted to hear it or not.  I really enjoyed her friendship with Nancy as they struggled with class differences even as they became quite good friends. I was a bit disappointed by the fact that I didn't really discover all that much about Nancy Mitford, but when I did get glimpses of her personality, it seemed to go in line with what I'd read about her; her stubborness, her jealousies regarding her sisters, her temper. Yet despite all of this, there was kindness and loyalty as well.  Despite the fact that history has portrayed her as quite intelligent and witty, it has also portrayed her as being silly, vain, and extremely jealous of her sister Pamela, and I liked that the book kept faith with that character.  While we did see a lot of the temperament happening, we didn't really get to see her budding wit and how people adored that aspect of her. 

I really enjoyed the friendship that developed between Louisa and Guy Sullivan, an employee of the train company on whose train Nightingale Shore was murdered.  Both Louisa and Guy are flawed characters; one was escaping her home life while the other was trying to learn how to stand up to brothers who tended to bully him, and together, they made a good team.  I enjoyed their interactions with each other, and was glad to discover this book wouldn't be another love story where everything works out in the end. 

What I couldn't get past was the development of the mystery; while it was fascinating, it was still slow and it was definitely easy to figure out where it was heading.  I actually think the author was trying too hard to make the book seem historically authentic which made some of the scenes actually worse as it just didn't always work.  There is also this tendency to view women as weak and in need of saving all of the time, and I quite doubt that all women of this time period were like that.  Just think; the marches and parades and other such things to allow women to vote took place during this time period so I wish more voice was given to them.  Or to the fact that women's place in society was changing.  There was some allusion to this with descriptions of women with short hair and dresses that were inappropriate but not enough.  That being said, the author can definitely write well, and you get a good glimpse of life during this time period, even if some of the things said or events being described, were a bit jarring.  

I thought The Mitford Murders was a good book with a solid mystery, even if the mystery was slow to take off and it was quite easy to figure out the murderer.  For whatever reason, the solution didn't quite ring true to events, and I thought the murderer's character actually changed throughout the novel in a way that didn't quite sit true with me.  I did enjoy Louisa and Guy's characters and liked how they communicated with each other, developing a friendship rather it being forced on the reader. Nancy is quite young in this novel and there must be allowances for that as she would develop and hone her writing skills in France in the years to come as she tried to break away from her father's control to become more independent.  I did like how she tried to assert her independence only to have it broken down by her parents' strict rules and punishments.  They weren't cruel but they were definitely trying to hone down her impulse for adventure and fun.  Would I read the next book in this series?  Oh, yes, definitely, and I hope to see much more of the Mitford sisters as well.  There are definitely some interesting times ahead. And for anyone interested in the Nightingale Shore murder, I recently got this book as I thought it would shed some light on the murder: The Nightingale Shore Murder: Death of a World War 1 Heroine by Rosemary Cook.
Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review & Giveaway: The Swedish Girl by Alex Gray

The Swedish Girl (DCI Lorimer, Book #10)
by Alex Gray
Release Date: January 9th, 2018 (first published January 1st, 2013)
2018 Witness Impulse
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062659255
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from Partners in Crime Tours

3 / 5 Stars

Eighteen-year-old Kirsty Wilson can't believe her luck when she lands a room in a luxury Glasgow flat owned by the beautiful Eva Magnusson, a wealthy fellow student from Stockholm. But her initial delight turns to terror when Kirsty finds the Swedish girl lying dead in their home and their male flatmate accused of her murder. Kirsty refuses to accept that he is guilty and, inspired by family friend Detective Superintendent Lorimer, sets out to clear his name.

Meanwhile, Lorimer calls on his trusted colleague, psychologist Solly Brightman, to help unravel the truth behind the enigmatic Eva's life and death. But it is not long until another woman, bearing a marked resemblance to Eva, is brutally murdered in Glasgow. Horrified, Lorimer and his team realise that Kirsty could be right. Is it possible that Glasgow's finest detective has put the wrong man behind bars? And is there a cold-blooded killer out there orchestrating the death of their next innocent victim?

My Thoughts
The Swedish Girl is the tenth entry in the DCI Lorimer series and was originally published in January 2013. Although I had read most of the other books in this series, for whatever reasons that I can't think of at the moment, this one fell through the reading cracks for me, so I was happy to have a chance to review it. It is written in true Alex Gray style which means that it was enjoyable, easy to read, has a few twists and turns that are easy to see through if you are familiar with her work, but with an ending that I wasn't overly crazy about, and characters who were much blander than I remember.

What I really enjoyed about this book are the main characters, except one, as they are comfortable without this drive to be dramatic or overly histrionic.  Don't get me wrong, I do like my characters to be somewhat flawed as it makes the story that much more interesting, but sometimes it's nice to have a msin character, like DCI Lorimier, who is comfortable, happy with his life, and always eager to return home to a loving wife.   In this book, he has been promoted to Detective Superintendent and I do have to admit I kind of miss his major involvement in following up crime incidents rather than just delegating his officers to do what he used to do.  I think he misses it too as he was always looking for an excuse to go out and interview people, sometimes getting involved in things he should have let his detectives do for themselves.  I definitely get it, and it was nice to see him out and about, but I did wonder how that would play out with his team.

I thought the story was interesting, and I really wanted to find out more about Eva Magnusson, as when a person is described as being 'perfect', it really makes you wonder what is going on insider her head. And when other similar murders occurred, there was the question of a deranged serial killer on the loose. There were some entertaining twists and turns, but if you are already familiar with Gray's work, it is easy to spot the red herrings and see what is going on. That being said, I could tell where the story was going with regards to the murderer, and I was really hoping it wouldn't go in that direction, but alas, it did, and I was really disappointed. For all the build-up, it was a bit of a let down. And to be honest, although I really enjoyed Kirsty Wilson as a character and liked the big decision she made in the end (although it was not a surprise), I did question the fact that Kirsty was used to search and discover information for Lorimer. I am not a police officer, but I do question it when a civilian is used to do searches and interviews as I thought it would compromise the evidence.  I just didn't buy her involvement in the case, and I didn't buy Lorimer's instincts to use her as it went completely against character; he seemed a lot more indecisive that the Lorimer that I remember. Who I really didn't like though, was DI Jo Grant, and it's not her fault, it's the author's. She is the stereotypical female cop, arresting people even when the evidence is scarce, and getting upset when her decisions turn out to be wrong.  Haven't we come a lot further than this? To arrest someone because he cried in the interviewing room seems like a lousy excuse, and I was really disappointed by her character. Any good lawyer would have had Colin released ASAP, but for some reason that didn't quite happen. She is also quite insubordinate and bland, and I just couldn't warm up to her.  She is someone I would be happy to see gone from these books.

The Swedish Girl was an okay story, and although I really enjoyed the previous novels in this series, I am wondering if maybe, after reading countless other crime novels, that I may have lost interest in DCI Lorimer and his crew as I found him boring.  I would have to go back and read her first novel to see if there is a difference in the writing, but perhaps I've just outgrown them? Anyways, I would suggest you read it for yourself as you may have a different opinion that I do, and I do think fans of her work will be happy with this one. It just wasn't for me although I am willing to give another book a shot. We'll see!!