Serena’s Review: “Dreadful Company”

36518517Book: “Dreadful Company” by Vivian Shaw

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: When Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead, is unexpectedly called to Paris to present at a medical conference, she expects nothing more exciting than professional discourse on zombie reconstructive surgery and skin disease in bogeymen — and hopefully at least one uneventful night at the Opera.

Unfortunately for Greta, Paris happens to be infested with a coven of vampires — and not the civilized kind. If she hopes to survive, Greta must navigate the darkest corners of the City of Lights, the maze of ancient catacombs and mine-tunnels underneath the streets, where there is more to find than simply dead men’s bones.

Previously reviewed: “Strange Practice”

Review: I loved the brilliantly odd “Strange Practice” and blazed through it in a single summer day last year. So there was no question that I would get my hands on its sequel, “Dreadful Company” as soon as possible. And the quirkiness, strong characters, and unique world-building came through for me again!

Though a doctor to the undead, Greta Helsing’s responsibilities are very similar to those you’d find for any medical professional, up to and including attending conferences and presenting on obscure topics of medical interest. While at such a conference in Paris, however, things go astray when Greta starts noticing strange (but adorable!) little monsters popping up at her hotel room. Where did they come from? Why are they here? What starts out as innocent questions quickly leads Greta down a path that leads to a nasty group of vampires who read a few too many Anne Rice novels for anyone’s tastes. But even this may be just the beginning of a much more serious threat looming over the entire city.

One of the biggest strengths of the first book was its world building and the clever manipulation of classic monsters into new, often very suave, beings. And here that strength is just as evident. In a new city, we are introduced to several new creatures ranging from the adorable well monsters and hair monsters that lurk in Greta’s hotel room to the bigger power players such as a werewolf who has been the guardian of the city for centuries and two undying ghost experts who are just in town to handle a local haunting. They are all expertly crafted and incorporate interesting twists on the traditional lore associated with these types of supernatural creatures.

Of course, the vampire coven itself is one big mockery of many of the tropes found in vampire fiction. You’ve got leather, you’ve got glitter, you’ve got bones used to decorate gothic, blood orgies. And while they serve as menacing villains on their own, half of the fun is enjoying Greta and her friends scathing judgement of the silliness of this group.

Of course, among the new faces, we also have the familiar ones of our favorite vampires, Rutheven and Varney who must come to Paris when they discover that Greta may be in over her head (but is she really, guys? It’s Greta! Girl can get it done!). In the first book, there were several fun asides having to do with the classic vampire fiction which was derived from these two real vampires’ lives. Here, we have even more classic monster tales making an appearance, even if the monsters themselves remain in the shadows. Probably one of the most fun pieces of this story, for me, was watching how these classic tales were worked into the story on hand, and I was particularly thrilled when one in particular became a much larger focus than I had originally thought!

Greta, of course, is her usual excellent self as the heroine of the tale. While this book incorporated even more characters, which meant even more page time that needed to be shared between their stories that twisted in and out of Greta’s own, I still found myself preferring her story specifically. Not only is she a fun character to follow, but it was great seeing her in action in this story, winning over her foes with her competence and sympathy. She may not be up to fighting any battles with supernatural beings, but here she proves why she doesn’t have to.

The story was slower in the beginning, so it did take a bit for me to become fully invested in events. As I said, Greta is sharing the stage not only with the familiar characters from the first book, but with an entirely new cast of characters, friends and foes alike. And while all of their various plot lines tie together neatly in the end, in the beginning it was a bit tough reading some of the slower storylines while wanting to anxiously get back to the action with Greta. It all pays off in the end, however.

For fans of the first book, I definitely recommend continuing with this series! In many ways, it’s even stronger than the first.

Rating 8: A solid second showing proves that the clever concept and compelling characters weren’t a one-off!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dreadful Company” is a newer book so isn’t on any relevant lists, but it should be on “Magic Punk.”

Find “Dreadful Company” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Pieces of Her”

35887251Book: “Pieces of Her” by Karin Slaughter

Publishing Info: William Morrow, August 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me a hardcover copy.

Book Description: What if the person you thought you knew best turns out to be someone you never knew at all…?

Andrea knows everything about her mother, Laura. She knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Belle Isle; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?

But all that changes when a trip to the mall explodes into violence and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to Laura. Because it turns out that before Laura was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again.

The police want answers and Laura’s innocence is on the line, but she won’t speak to anyone, including her own daughter. Andrea is on a desperate journey following the breadcrumb trail of her mother’s past. And if she can’t uncover the secrets hidden there, there may be no future for either one of them…

Review: I want to extend a special thanks to William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book!

This may be surprising to some of you out there, but until I was given “Pieces of Her” I had never actually read a book by Karin Slaughter. Given that she’s such a prolific thriller and mystery author it’s a bit strange, and yet while I’d certainly heard of her I just never picked her up. But when William Morrow asked if I would be interested in reading this book, I said sure, and decided to give her a whirl, finally! And while I went in not knowing what to expect, I ended up really enjoying “Pieces of Her”.

The first thing that struck me about “Pieces of Her” was that I was going to be getting two separate stories, even if I didn’t realize that at first. The first narrative is that of Andy, a thirty one year old woman who has found herself drifting in life (as so many people around my age have, thanks in part to the Great Recession that slammed us right when we were set to be starting or ending college). She loves her mother Laura, who has always been a caring and devoted parent to her. But when Laura becomes famous for interfering in an act of violence and killing a killer, Andy sees a side of her mother that she never knew existed. For many people there is that one moment that you realize that your parent is a person beyond just being your parent, and Andy’s moment turns into a very engrossing journey. We follow Andy as she tries to piece together who Laura was before she had Andy, and why she seems to be comfortable with violence and destruction. This mystery is intriguing and the journey Andy takes kept me interested. But what was even more interesting was the story of Laura’s past, which is told as well through her own chapters and sections. These were even more fascinating, as we got to watch Laura face harrowing and upsetting circumstances (which I don’t particularly want to spoil here, as it was far more fun slowly watching it all come to fruition), and see how she moved from her experiences there to the picture perfect, but not really perfect, parent that she was in Andy’s eyes. Seeing their relationship evolve because of these revelations was also very neat, just as watching the story as a whole unfold and come together was very gripping. Slaughter is clearly a pro at devising a cohesive and intricate plot.

I also really enjoyed the various societal themes that Slaughter discusses in this book, specifically how our culture tends to gloss over or perpetuate violence towards women due to toxic masculinity and toxic men. There are multiple severe and relevant moments of violence in this book that target women, targeted by men who are entitled, who are angry, or who have been victims of societal standards of masculinity and therein take their pain and turn it against others. It’s no coincidence that the act of violence that sparks the entire story is perpetrated by a teenager who killed his ex girlfriend and her mother because said girlfriend dumped him. It’s no coincidence that a character who makes a pivotal decision in the past timeline was a victim of violence at the hands of her husband, who killed their children and himself. Other women in this book have had various abuses thrown at them by men, and it shapes them and drives them to do various things, some good, some bad. This is very much a book about how our culture can hurt and fail those who are vulnerable, and I greatly appreciated that Slaughter was willing to do a deep dive into some psychological darkness. It made the story that much richer, and made it feel that much more real.

“Pieces of Her” was a book that I ended up greatly enjoying. I’m sure that Karin Slaughter fans will find a lot to like, but I think that fans of thrillers who haven’t sought her out would find it to be an entertaining read.

Rating 8: A well plotted out and engrossing thriller/mystery that addresses hidden pasts, violence towards women, and the relationship between mothers and daughters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Pieces of Her” is still fairly new and not on many relevant or specific Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Witness Protection, New Identities, People in Hiding”, and “Bonds Between Mother’s and Daughters”.

Find “Pieces of Her” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Treacherous Curse”

26244626Book: “A Treacherous Curse” by Deanna Raybourn

Publishing Info: Berkley, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: 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. . . .

Review: I am now completely caught up on the Veronica Speedwell novels! Yay!! There are now no more Vernoica Speedwell novels to read until MARCH 2019! Boo!! But, as always, it is best to focus on the present instead of dreading the long, cold dreary months until next spring when the next book is finally released. And, surprising no one, this book was delight, and I blazed through it much more quickly than I would have liked!

Veronica and Stoker are minding their own business, busily cataloging the items that have been gathering dust in their patron’s expansive properties for generations. All seems well until a sensationalist story of a cursed expedition to Egypt begins making a splash across the local newspapers. But what should have remained a simple curiosity, becomes much more dire when the pair realize that the linchpin for the mystery is a man who was formerly Stoker’s partner. What’s worse, this partner was the one to run off with Stoker’s ex-wife. So when this man disappears, Stoker finds himself squarely in the cross-hairs of an investigation that is only too likely to recast him, once again, as a villain of society. Veronica, of course, has something to say about this, and so with her leading the charge, the pair set out to unravel the mystery and secure Stoker’s reputation and future.

I’ve made comparisons to the Amelia Peabody series from the start, but the subject matter of this one really hits that nail squarely on the head. I’ve always been interested in Egyptology (I blame my unrepentant love of 90s “The Mummy!”), so I was excited to see it as a focal point of this book. There are the requisite references to ancient gods, a few curses running around, and ancient jewelry that’s gone missing. And what would a good Egyptian mystery be without a mummy? So of course there is one of those as well. I enjoyed the sprawling cast of characters that made up the suspect pool of the story, all having an extensive history together working on digs in that area of the world. The tangled relationships and roles left me constantly guessing as to the motives of each player and how they could be involved with the disappearance of Stoker’s former friend.  It was even more fun reading these bits than usual, as references to famous hotels and locations in Eygpt were familiar from my reading of the Amelia Peabody books.

While I did like these elements of the mystery and my general appreciation for the topic remained, I was a bit put off by the constant comparisons to the other series that was going on in my mind. The line was just a bit too close between the two. Not Stoker and Veronica themselves, since as characters they have enough established to differentiate themselves from Amelia and Emerson. But the way the mystery unfolded and the roles the characters involved played did start to feel a bit predictable having come off reading so many historical mysteries featuring similar topics.

Veronica and Stoker were excellent as always. Veronica, especially, seems to really come into her own in this book. Stoker, understandably, struggles with the entire situation and is thrown into numerous scenes that shake him quite badly, most notably a confrontation with his ex-wife. I particularly liked Veronica’s tongue-lashing of Stoker when he too often fell into bouts of self-pity. Stoker’s arc and past have been slowly unrolling for the past several books, but I do hope that this confrontation with his past as forced upon him by this story will put an end to some of the more mopey and melodramatic moments he could be prone to. Veronica always plays nicely off this aspect of him, but at a certain point, there needs to be a bit more growth on Stoker’s side. So while I liked the situations that arose here, I’m hopeful that this will be the end of this particular plot point.

A complaint I’ve had in the past has had to do with the endings often feeling rushed and too convenient. This book mostly avoids that same pitfall. Mostly. Instead, there are various reveals scattered throughout the story. This allows what is really a very complicated mystery with a ton of moving pieces to come together in a more natural and less info-dumpy manner. However, again, the ending did fall prone to the convenience factor with the villains neatly doing away with themselves. It seems to be a common trait.

The romance between Veronica and Stoker was understandably muted in this story, given the nature of the mystery and the involvement of Stoker’s ex, whom he still struggles to move on from. Similarly to his tendency towards the morose, I’m hopeful that this book marks a turning point in their relationship as well. No need to rush to the alter or anything, but a bit more progress in this area would be nice.

I very much enjoyed “A Treacherous Curse.” It remained true to all the aspects that I’ve enjoyed previously, most notably the strength of its two leads and the inclusion of a legitimately puzzling mystery. The topic of the mystery was a bit dampened  by comparisons to the Amelia Peabody books, because let’s be honest, there’s no beating those stories as far as historical mysteries in Egypt go. But this goes down as another solid entry in this series, and if you haven’t already, definitely check it out. Or save it up a bit until March is closer so you’re not waiting forever like me.

Rating 8: While Egypt remains Amelia Peabody’s stronghold, Veronica and Stoker are setting up camp as a strong second.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Treacherous Curse” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Regency and Victorian Mysteries” and “Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women.”

Find “A Treacherous Curse” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Kate’s Review: “Force of Nature”

34275222Book: “Force of Nature” by Jane Harper

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with?

When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

Review: Remember when I read “The Dry”,, and while I wasn’t fully into it I was excited about the potential of Jane Harper’s character Aaron Falk and where we could go with him? Shortly after that review was posted, I got my hands on “Force of Nature”, the second book in the Aaron Falk Series. My ambivalence towards “The Dry” meant that “Force of Nature” sat on my really too high book pile for far too long, and that by the time I got to it I only had a couple of days to read it before it was due. But almost immediately after I started it, my interest was piqued by the reference to an off page character whom I knew right away was based on Ivan Milat, the Backpacker Killer. That little tidbit, combined with a mystery about a group of women who go into the mountains on a team building hike that leads to wilderness survival and the disappearance of one of them?

giphy7
Okay, I’m intrigued. (source)

The mystery of “Force of Nature” is what happened to Alice, a cold and ambitious corporate worker, while she and four others went on a hike. Alice has connections to Falk and his partner Carmen, as she was giving them information of a nature that we are not necessarily privy to when our story begins. We switch off between two perspectives: the first is of Aaron and Carmen as they get tied into the investigation after Bree, Beth, Jill, and Lauren leave the woods without Alice. The second is what exactly did happen in the woods between the five women, and  how the tensions that were already present between them could have erupted into something more than arguments and spats. Like most thrillers, we get to see the two narratives give us different insights, and we get to see the statements given to Falk unravel and transform into different realities as we go back into the disastrous hike itself. I knew that the four remaining women were going to be unreliable to Falk, but it was fun seeing it all unfold. I liked how it all slowly came together, and while I figured out a majority of the solution pretty early on, I still really enjoyed traipsing along the way as Falk and Carmen sleuthed. For me, the most fun of this story were in two things: the survival story of the five women (and how they quickly descended into paranoia and belligerence), and the hints and clues to Ivan Milat (known as Martin Kovac in this book) and the horrific serial murders he committed. For those who don’t know, Milat found backpackers and campers in the Belangelo State forest in New South Wales, Australia, and killed them in awful, violent ways. He’d then leave their bodies off trail in the forest. He’s officially responsible for seven murders, but in reality it was probably many more. The possibility that these characters might not only have the elements and each other to fear, but ALSO a crazed murderer, is really my kind of cup of tea, and it gave this book the oomph that REALLY made it a fun read.

But Harper has also given us a bit more to chew on with the characters this time. I don’t know if it’s because this time it’s not as personal for Falk, or because it isn’t seen mostly through his eyes, but I found myself more taken in by this group than I was by those in “The Dry”. I loved his partner Carmen, with whom he has some undefinable heat that neither of them are willing or able to explore, because she is very sensible and a good foil for Falk. She has his back, but also can read people in her own right. And plus, I like the heat that they share, even if nothing very well may come of it. And I also liked seeing the awfulness of Alice, and how the other women in her group have had problems with her in one way or another. Harper does a very good job of creating a ruthless person who very well may have a target on her back, while still giving her enough humanity (mostly through her daughter) that she doesn’t feel like a caricature who doesn’t deserve to be found in one piece. And if the Aaron Falk stories are going to be like this, where Falk is there as a grounding force of good, but with most of the focus on a different cast of characters for each book, I would be totally here for that. It clicked so well this time that I will almost be more frustrated if we go back to the structure of “The Dry”, because I felt like the groove I wanted from that book was more present here.

“Force of Nature” was a thrilling and solid mystery, and now that I have finally fully climbed aboard the Aaron Falk train I am very excited to see where it goes next. Fans of survival thrillers with a side of catty drama should absolutely pick this one up, and you may not even need to start with “The Dry” to fully enjoy this one.

Rating 8: A strong second helping of a new series, “Force of Nature” brings some focus off of Aaron Falk and centers it on complex and interesting characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Force of Nature” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Survival Stories”, and “The Aussie List”.

Find “Force of Nature” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Dry”.

Kate’s Review: “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter”

34499251Book: “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Scarlett Hart, orphaned daughter of two legendary monster hunters, is determined to carry on in her parents’ footsteps—even if the Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities says she’s too young to fight perilous horrors. But whether it’s creepy mummies or a horrid hound, Scarlett won’t back down, and with the help of her loyal butler and a lot of monster-mashing gadgets, she’s on the case.

With her parent’s archrival, Count Stankovic, ratting her out to T.R.A.P.E.Z.E. and taking all the monster-catching rewards for himself, it’s getting hard for Scarlett to do what she was born to do. And when more monsters start mysteriously manifesting than ever before, Scarlett knows she has to get to the bottom of it and save the city… whatever the danger!

In his first adventure for middle-grade readers, acclaimed YA author Marcus Sedgwick teams up with Thomas Taylor (illustrator of the original edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) to create a rip-roaring romp full of hairy horrors, villainous villains, and introducing the world’s toughest monster hunter—Scarlett Hart!

Review: Rarely can you find an author who can jump from genre to genre with ease. A lot stick within their strengths, which may  be limited to one or two genres. It’s true that sometimes you get some who can shift between them and be strong in all of them (Stephen King and J.K. Rowling come to mind for me), but I wouldn’t necessarily expect it of an author, great ones included. So Marcus Sedgwick just keeps completely surprising me. He has written dark fantasy (“Midwinterblood”), straight up horror (“White Crow”), speculative Science Fiction (“The Ghosts of Heaven”), and realistic crime fiction with a literary zest (“Saint Death”). And he does a good job in all of them. Now we can add children’s graphic fantasy to his already impressive list of genre jumping, with “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter”. Given that the last book I read by him was the brutal and violent and depressing “Saint Death”, I thought that he couldn’t POSSIBLY make a realistic shift to a fun fantasy for children.

And yet “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is exactly that. Scarlett is a mix of Anne Shirley and Buffy Summers, as she’s a plucky monster hunter with a lot of heart but also a bit of sad baggage. She is determined to follow in the footsteps of her parents, both renowned monster hunters in their own right who died in the line of duty, but is too young according to The Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities (T.R.A.P.E.Z.E.). With the help of her guardian/former servant Napoleon White she breaks the rules, wanting to make her parents proud. I loved Scarlett, for her tenacity and her recklessness, and I loved how she and Napoleon banter and work together in their monster hunting. Napoleon himself is a fun stereotype/send up of the stuffy Gilded Age British  butler, with his worry about the state of his car and restrained frustration with Scarlett’s antics. Their interactions are both funny and sweet, and you get a good sense of both their motivations and devotions to her late parents as well as his devotion to her because of a sort of surrogate parental instinct. It’s very Buffy and Giles.

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With all the father/daughter-esque joy and none of the angst. (source)

The monsters themselves are pretty standard villains, but they have some fun tweaks and twists added to them. We’ve all heard of the Hound of the Baskervilles Church Grims, and mummys and gargoyles. But while they are presented as menacing and definitely scary, the tone is lighthearted enough that kids who may not like scary things will probably be able to enjoy the monster hunts themselves. The true villains of this story are Count Stankovic, who was the arch rival of Scarlett’s parents and hates her just as much, and, in some ways, society. T.R.A.P.E.Z.E. is a very strict group, seeming to  be mirrored off of old Victorian secret societies that you might see in other books like this, and one of the rules is that Scarlett is too young to officially hunt, under threat of punishment if she is caught. But given that is her main source of income now that she has been orphaned, she has little choice, especially since women during this time period (Victorian? Edwardian? I’m not totally certain) really didn’t have many options if they were on their own. Seeing her fight against norms of the society she lives in is fun and encouraging, and I think that a lot of people, kids and teens alike, will find a lot to relate to with her.

I also really enjoyed the artwork for this book. It’s cartoony enough to be entertaining to the audience it’s written for, but there is a lot of depth to it as well. I’m not too surprised, given that Thomas Taylor was the original artist for the cover of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in the U.K. He’s made a career for himself beyond that, but he was the first. And his talents are definitely on display in this book.

Screen Shot 2018-05-22 at 3.28.56 PM
(source)

“Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is a comic that I think will be perfect for end of summer reading for kids and teens alike. Heck, if stories about spunky orphans getting into some daring do is your thing, you’ll probably like it too! Marcus Sedgwick has now branched his writing talents into the middle grade community, and I think that he is going to fit in just swimmingly!

Rating 8: A fun and sweet romp with good characters and a solid premise, “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is just another example of Marcus Sedgwick’s talent as a writer.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” is fairly new and not on many Goodreads lists. But it is included on “Great Graphic Novels for Girls”, and I think it would fit in on “Women Leads: Kids Books and Comics”.

Find “Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Seeing a Large Cat”

66526Book: “Seeing a Large Cat” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: No villain is safe in 1903 Egypt as feisty archaeologist Amelia Peabody embarks on her ninth adventure.

According to an ancient Egyptian papyrus, dreaming of a large cat means good luck. And that’s just what Amelia Peabody could use, as her growing family matures in the new century. What’s more, Amelia’s dashing husband Emerson has received a mysterious warning not to enter the Valley of the Kings. To Emerson’s annoyance, Amelia’s meddling distracts her attention as she exposes a fraudulent spiritualist, saves a marriage, and plays matchmaker. But diabolical forces are at work when an unknown tomb reveals a shocking murder — and the Peabody family dodges bullets from an assassin determined to put an end to their discoveries.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley” and “Deeds of the Disturber” and “The Last Camel Died at Noon” and “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog.” and “The Hippopotamus Pool”

Review: I know, right?! Finally, we’re back with another Amelia Peabody book! I mean, yes, the Veronica Speedwell books have been a nice stand-in, but I can’t write a single review of those without referencing the OG female sleuth, Amelia. Plus, as much as I like the slow-burn romance in that book, I was also hankering for a nice, established relationship where I could just lounge in all of the lovely romance.

This book takes another pretty big leap in time between it and its predecessor. For the most part, the books before went year to year. But when we start this one, we see Amelia and Emerson waiting for the return of their son Ramses, who, now a young man, has spent the summer with the tribes and is only just not rejoining his family. I believe he is around 16 in this book? With Neferet being around 19? I was doing a lot of mental math throughout the book, and at a certain point, it was just distracting, so we’ll go with that.

Anyways! Reunited, the Emersons find themselves once gain caught up in a mystery. With dire warnings coming their way (which Amelia ignores, of course!) and old friends reemerging with romantic entanglements of their own, Amelia never wavers in her confidence that she is prepared to handle it all. This book also marks a change in that we get several chapters that are written in third person, detailing the goings-on of the younger generation. Here, we finally see behind the curtain and realize that while yes, Amelia does have a good understanding of much that is happening, her rapscallion child and wards also get up to a good amount of mischief that does fly beneath her ever-watchful radar.

It took a bit for me to get used to having to share my narrative time with these third-person chapters. Part of the reason I love these books so much is the brilliance of Amelia’s narrating voice, so it felt like a loss to give that up, even briefly. It was also unclear who actually wrote these other chapters. The rest of the books have clearly stated that Amelia is writing them for posterity. Who, then, is writing these? Especially since it is written in third person? It seems as if it has to be either Ramses or Neferet. But as the story progressed, I did begin to appreciate more and more this inner look into the “childrens'” eyes. One has to assume that as the series progresses, their own story lines will also begin to take more precedence (especially the thwarted love that Ramses feels for Neferet), and this device is a clever way of balancing both.

The mystery itself was also quite complicated and good. I also love the fact that Amelia’s penchant for match-making often seems to play a role in these stories. And here, that thread takes on a very different role with the return of two characters whom she had previously matched and who are now struggling quite a bit. From my view of things, I think the man in question never redeems himself and I was pleased to see Amelia think equally poorly of him for his failings. But, because these are happy books, things are resolved eventually.

Amelia and Emerson were as great as ever. Their banter and bond remain one of the biggest draws for the series. I also liked the action of this story, particularly the final scene. Of course the family ends up in quite a scrap, but the way things resolved was surprising and took on an unexpected, but appreciated, serious tone. I’m curious to see what the fall-out of this experience will be for the entire family.

All told, this was another solid entry into the series. I feel that it is ushering in a new age for the series with the introduction of the Manuscript H sections that feature the younger generation. But I was pleased to see that these sections never over-shadowed the real draw: Amelia herself!

Rating 8: An excellent return to a favorite series! This book brought forward new views on this familiar and beloved family.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Seeing a Large Cat” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Brainy/Genius Romantic Heroes” and “Sleuths in Silks.”

Find “Seeing a Large Cat” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Kate’s Review: “All the Beautiful Lies”

35230481Book: “All the Beautiful Lies” by Peter Swanson

Publishing info: William Morrow, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Harry Ackerson has always considered his step-mother Alice to be sexy and beautiful, in an “other worldly” way. She has always been kind and attentive, if a little aloof in the last few years.

Days before his college graduation, Alice calls with shocking news. His father is dead and the police think it’s suicide. Devastated, he returns to his father’s home in Maine. There, he and Alice will help one another pick up of the pieces of their lives and uncover what happened to his father.

Shortly after he arrives, Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace McGowan. Though she claims to be new to the area, Harry begins to suspect that Grace may not be a complete stranger to his family. But she isn’t the only attractive woman taking an interest in Harry. The sensual Alice is also growing closer, coming on to him in an enticing, clearly sexual way.

Mesmerized by these two women, Harry finds himself falling deeper under their spell. Yet the closer he gets to them, the more isolated he feels, disoriented by a growing fear that both women are hiding dangerous—even deadly—secrets . . . and that neither one is telling the truth.

Review: If you ever said to yourself “You know, I think that I would like a book that is ‘The Graduate’ meets ‘Double Indemnity’ with a little bit of ‘Black Widow’ for good measure,” then I have some good news for you. “All the Beautiful Lies” is what you may be looking for. Once again Peter Swanson has written a book that sat my butt down and gave me very little reason to stop reading unless it was absolutely necessary. Which rendered me basically couch ridden for an entire morning when there were other things I needed to be doing.

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File footage of my productivity failing to escape the clutches of an engrossing thriller. (source)

I liked that this book is told between a number of third person perspectives, and through a couple different points in time. The most pertinent perspectives are those of Harry, the newly orphaned twenty something who returns home when his father dies in an accident, and Alice, his young stepmother who has an air about her that sucks him in, just as it did his father. While Harry’s story is focused directly in the ‘now’, Alice’s is focused mostly in the ‘then’, two timelines that do eventually converge in ways that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and which gave insight into both their characters. While I did enjoy the slow burn of the mystery of Harry’s father’s death, and whether it was an accident or not (and who the mysterious Grace is and how she factors into it all), I was definitely more interested in Alice’s story. We know that she is enticing and mysterious, and has a pull over Harry even though he doesn’t know her very well. It’s very fun to see how she eventually becomes the person that she is. Her story is complicated and doesn’t hold back in it’s complication; Alice is many things that may seem like contradictions, but hold together believably. Swanson has always been good at making complex characters with dubious to sketchy morals, and you can put Alice up there with Lily Kintner when it comes to ambitious and dangerous, albeit fascinating, morally suspect femme fatales.

Swanson is also someone who knows how to take a twist and really pull it off. Part way through this book, a huge shift came along and totally shocked me. Not only that, Swanson recalibrated and brought in two NEW perspective points that caught me off guard and knocked me off kilter for a little bit. While a less deft author might have bungled the pass off (and thoroughly frustrated me in the process), Swanson tied it all together while still expanding the scope, bringing more much needed clues to the forefront. And he is so good at slowly revealing his hand that I never reached any conclusion before he wanted me to; no matter how many times I tried to keep a few steps ahead, I never was. The burn may be slow, but I was so desperate to find out what happened next that it felt like an emotional rollercoaster until the very last page. Which managed to throw one more curveball in, with master level skill.

And the tone is just creepy at times, for lots of reasons. Sexuality is weaponized, seduction borders on the nerve wracking, and because you know things that other characters may not you just kind of have to sit back and watch it, totally unsettled as it all unravels. The constant sexual tension between Harry and Alice is just icky because she’s his stepmother, as is another relationship in the book which is even worse (but no spoilers here), and watching these relationships slowly unfold because of a predator casting a web will give you the serious, serious willies. But Swanson is also careful to show just how calculated these predators are, and how they can make their prey not feel like prey at all. But at the same time, it never falls into the bounds of bad taste: it’s not titillating or sexy, it’s deeply, deeply uncomfortable and upsetting.

All in all, “All the Beautiful Lies” is another winner from Peter Swanson. If you haven’t given his books a try yet, now is the time and this would be a good one to start with.

Rating 8: Another solid and salacious mystery/thriller from Peter Swanson, “All the Beautiful Lies” sucked me in and held my interest until I had reached the last page.

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Beautiful Lies” is pretty new and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 Mystery Thriller Horror”, and I think it would fit in on “What A Strange Family”.

Find “All the Beautiful Lies” at your library using WorldCat!