Blog Tour: “The Murder of Mr. Wickham”

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Book: “The Murder of Mr. Wickham” by Claudia Gray

Publishing Info: Vintage, May 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: The happily married Mr. Knightley and Emma are throwing a house party, bringing together distant relatives and new acquaintances—characters beloved by Jane Austen fans. Definitely not invited is Mr. Wickham, whose latest financial scheme has netted him an even broader array of enemies. As tempers flare and secrets are revealed, it’s clear that everyone would be happier if Mr. Wickham got his comeuppance. Yet they’re all shocked when Wickham turns up murdered—except, of course, for the killer hidden in their midst.

Nearly everyone at the house party is a suspect, so it falls to the party’s two youngest guests to solve the mystery: Juliet Tilney, the smart and resourceful daughter of Catherine and Henry, eager for adventure beyond Northanger Abbey; and Jonathan Darcy, the Darcys’ eldest son, whose adherence to propriety makes his father seem almost relaxed. In a tantalizing fusion of Austen and Christie, the unlikely pair must put aside their own poor first impressions and uncover the guilty party—before an innocent person is sentenced to hang.

Review: There is a truth universally acknowledged: the more ardent a fan of Jane Austen a reader is, the more critical that fan will be of any and every Jane Austen adaptation/sequel. I feel fairly confident making a generalization like that, and I would easily include myself in it. There have been times when my snobbery has reached levels not seen in any other favorite genre or beloved series of books. But I’m glad that I didn’t let this lesser self dictate whether or not I picked up this book, cuz, man, other than “Death Comes to Pemberley,” this is probably my favorite Jane Austen continuation yet!

In Emma’s view, a house party is always just the thing to cheer matters up! So she and her husband, Mr. Knightley, gather a large group of friends, acquaintances, and family members to share in a visit at their home. This cheerful event is made much less so, however, when the disreputable Mr. Wickham shows up one dark and stormy night. And what’s worse than an unwelcome guest? One that is rude enough to get themselves murdered on the premises, thus leaving all the remaining guests left as suspects. With so many members of the group having motives for thinking the world would be better off without Mr. Wickham, the Darcy’s oldest son, Jonathan, and the young Juliet Tilney decide to tackle the mystery themselves. But as they get closer and closer to discovering the murderer, the more horrifying the truth becomes, because it must have been one of their dear friends!

It’s immediately obvious that the author is herself a huge fan of Jane Austen. This book is so clearly a love letter to all of these characters and to all of the fans that it’s impossible to miss. This also makes the reading experience entirely dependent on one’s familiarity with these characters and stories. There are so many small nods and inside jokes that will only be appreciated by ardent fans, that the reading experience will likely be vastly different for those familiar with these stories and those who have been less-exposed. And because the story includes characters from all of the books, the reader pretty much has to have all six novels well under the belt to appreciate the work the author has put into creating in this story.

As fun as all of these Easter egg clues were to spot, what really made this book stand out was how well the author understood the characters she was working with, in all of their strengths and weaknesses. Most especially, she envisioned how these personalities would play off one another, both between each other and within their own marriages (since, due to the nature of Austen’s books, we see very little of what these characters’ lives are like in the marital state). Gray doesn’t shy away from pointing out some of the flaws in these characters that could drive wedges into their marriages. However, everything is handled with such care that you never feel like any of these choices or actions are out of character with the originals. Instead, we see how many of them grow even further once some of these characteristics are exposed to the harsh light of day.

From a purely preferential state, I was glad to see that Emma and Knightley were by far the most stable of the couples. Not only do they know each other much better than anyone else (Emma having grown up with Knightley as a good friend from the very beginning), but the original book does a good job dealing with each of their flaws to begin with. Fans of “Mansfield Park,” however, may be dismayed to see that Fanny and Edmund, on the other hand, probably have the most work to do. Again, this never feels like an overt critique of the original story, but instead seems perfectly in line with these two characters and the way their romance played out (honestly, one of the more weird ones when you think about it). It’s satisfying to see Fanny come more into her own and Edmund be forced to reckon with some of the ways that he didn’t do his best with regards to Fanny and their relationship.

All of this written and I haven’t even touched on the mystery! I honestly can’t say enough good thing about this as well. It’s truly impressive how well Gray managed to work Wickham into all of these characters’ lives in ways that felt completely natural and inline with their stories. Not once did his relationship with these characters feel forced or shoe-horned in to fit the narrative. Instead, it felt completely organic and believable. Thus making the entire thing so stressful! It starts to become truly horrifying wondering how this mystery is going to be resolved without vilifying one of our beloved main characters!

I also really enjoyed the original characters of Jonathan and Juliet. It’s tough work to create new characters and stand them up against classics like Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, but Gray manages it! For one thing, the book features so many viewpoints that Jonathan and Juliet are by no means the sole focus. We get plenty of time with our other favorites, but I also began to appreciate both Jonathan and Juliet in their own right. I was also pleased to see that while there are hints of a potential romance between these two, the story didn’t commit to anything in this arena. There simply wasn’t enough time in this book to not do a disserve to the mystery by trying to force in a fully-fledged romance as well.

All of this to say, I highly recommend this book to any Jane Austen fan out there! The more familiar you are with the originals, the more you’re likely to enjoy this!

Rating 9: Simply excellent and sure to please even the most picky Jane Austen fan!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Murder of Mr. Wickham” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Jane Austen Sequels and Pastiches.

Kate’s Review: “Homicide and Halo-Halo”

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Book: “Homicide and Halo-Halo” by Mia P. Manansala

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, February 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Things are heating up for Lila Macapagal. Not in her love life, which she insists on keeping nonexistent despite the attention of two very eligible bachelors. Or her professional life, since she can’t bring herself to open her new cafe after the unpleasantness that occurred a few months ago at her aunt’s Filipino restaurant, Tita Rosie’s Kitchen. No, things are heating up quite literally, since summer, her least favorite season, has just started.

To add to her feelings of sticky unease, Lila’s little town of Shady Palms has resurrected the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, which she won many years ago–a fact that serves as a wedge between Lila and her cousin slash rival, Bernadette. But when the head judge of the pageant is murdered and Bernadette becomes the main suspect, the two must put aside their differences and solve the case–because it looks like one of them might be next.

Review: I was truly kicking myself when I realized that I had missed the publication of the second book in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries Series, “Homicide and Halo-Halo”. Given how much I enjoyed Mia P. Manansala’s first book in the series, “Arsenic and Adobo”, and given that it’s a cozy mystery series I actually like, I immediately put it on hold at the library. It took a little time to arrive, but when it did I was thrilled! Not only was a eager to revisit the town of Shady Palms and the character of Lila Macapagal, I was also eager to read up on all the delicious Filipino food that Lila and her family makes in her Tita Rosie’s restaurant.

And it was a nice return at that! Manansala has once again put together and enjoyable and not so intense mystery involving murder, gossip, and small town beauty pageants! After the head of the judging panel of the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant is murdered, Lila (who was asked to be on the judging panel as a former winner) can’t help but be sucked into investigating, especially when her cousin Bernadette is a prime suspect. It’s the kind of mystery that, while indeed high stakes, doesn’t seem too stressful, and it has the elements of being complex and well thought out without being convoluted or too zig zaggy. I liked following Lila as she investigates like a snarkier Jessica Fletcher, and how she goes about investigating in her own way. It just flows effortlessly, and it did keep me guessing, though going back Manansala did lay the clues out in clever ways.

It’s still the characters that really make it for me. Lila remains a fun and flawed protagonist, who has a little more to work with this time around given that Manansala decides to not shy away from the emotional and mental fallout of the previous novel. Lila is having emotional and mental struggles after having nearly been killed in “Arsenic and Adobo”. I liked that we actually address how traumatizing this was for her, and how that has had some real consequences for her in her personal and professional life. But given that this is, in fact, a cozy mystery, we also don’t get too bogged down in it, and Lila is still a fun, plucky, and snarky detective with a whole cast of characters who act as her foils. From her supportive (though sometimes judgmental) aunties to her friends to her colleagues at the pageant, we have an enjoyable cast of characters, some of whom serve as some probable and potential perpetrators to the crime at hand, as well as other scandals and mysteries that surround it. I especially liked seeing Lila and her nemesis cousin Bernadette interact, as their relationship is… complicated. And we kind of get to explore why that is, and how perhaps they themselves aren’t solely to blame for it. And hell, even though there’s a bit of a love triangle (still with the love triangle, gracious), it wasn’t too focused on that I found it terribly obnoxious. Not terribly, anyway.

And once again, the recipes!! Since this is a library book that will have to be returned I can’t have it at the ready if I want to try them out…. So of course I took pictures of the recipes and sent them to my email recipe folder! Manansala introduces the readers to more Filipino foods and easily gives them background and context within the story, and then adds a few to the back to try at home. I said it last time and I’ll say it again, THIS is the kind of cozy mystery perk I can get behind!

I challenge you to read the description of Halo-Halo and NOT want to eat it immediately! (source)

I continue to be completely charmed by the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries! Bring on the next! My hunger for both well done mysteries and delicious food is ever present!

Rating 8: Another entertaining and delectable cozy mystery with yummy recipes, “Homicide and Halo-Halo” continues a fun series following a fun protagonist!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Homicide and Halo-Halo” is included on the Goodreads lists “If You Liked ‘Dial A for Aunties’ Try…”, and “Filipino Fiction (English)”.

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “Murder at Queen’s Landing”

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Book: “Murder at Queen’s Landing” by Andrea Penrose

Publishing Info: Kensington, September 2020

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

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: When Lady Cordelia, a brilliant mathematician, and her brother, Lord Woodbridge, disappear from London, rumors swirl concerning fraudulent bank loans and a secret consortium engaged in an illicit—and highly profitable—trading scheme that threatens the entire British economy. The incriminating evidence mounts, but for Charlotte and Wrexford, it’s a question of loyalty and friendship. And so they begin a new investigation to clear the siblings’ names, uncover their whereabouts, and unravel the truth behind the whispers.

As they delve into the murky world of banking and international arbitrage, Charlotte and Wrexford also struggle to navigate their increasingly complex feelings for each other. But the clock is ticking—a cunning mastermind has emerged . . . along with some unexpected allies—and Charlotte and Wrexford must race to prevent disasters both economic and personal as they are forced into a dangerous match of wits in an attempt to beat the enemy at his own game.

Previously Reviewed: “Murder on Black Swan Lane” and “Murder at Half Moon Gate” and “Murder at Kensington Palace”

Review: Back again for my seemingly monthly review of a book from the “Wrexford and Sloane” series. I’ve had my up and down moments with this series, but now I am beginning to catch up to the author’s release schedule, so it’s becoming a bit of a goal to complete it at this point. Overall, I was pleased with this entry, which just makes it all the more easy to move forward with this series!

Wrexford and Charlotte have begun to make a bit of a name for themselves in the crime-solving department. Of course, each is pursuing these goals under the guise of various other personal personas: Wrexford, a rather grumpy, scientifically minded member of the gentry, and Charlotte as the hidden genius behind a popular satirical cartoonist. But their friends know of their abilities, and it is these friends who call upon them when Lady Cordelia and her brother go missing. As Wrexford and Charlotte dive into the fray, they find themselves getting caught up with players who are more powerful than any they have grappled with before.

I really liked this entry into this series. There were a few things that were changed up that really gave the books the boost they needed. There had been a bit of a rut forming prior to this, so I was pleased to see the author address this. We had two changes made to the general story. One, there were a few chapters where we strayed from Charlottle and Wrexford’s particular stories. Instead, we got to see what Raven was up to. Raven and Hawk have been excellent side characters, but they had been becoming a bit predictable in their “street wise” ways. So having a few chapters where we saw Raven in action helped personify him more as a character in his own right.

We also had a few scenes where our characters were transplanted outside of their typical London domains. It was refreshing to see them interacting in new ways and to explore new locations other than the dark streets of the city. It opened up new angles on our characters and seemed to brighten the story considerably.

The mystery itself was also good. They typically have been, so that wasn’t really a surprise here. I will say, however, that this one walked a fine line of being almost a bit too complicated. I applaud the author for using each book to explore a different unique scientific or economic force that was prevalent in this time period. To do this, however, there is a necessary amount of explanation that needs to be conveyed to the reader in each story to fully lay out the stakes of the situation. And here, too, we got to explore how new concepts that were just entering the scene could be used and manipulated, for good and evil. It just so happened that the way some of these wove together got to be confusing and hard to keep track of as the story unraveled.

I was pleased to see the relationship between Wrexford and Sloane progress nicely. I think this will be a welcome change for many fans of the series. On the other hand, a lot of the emotional stakes for this particular mystery were centered around characters that we knew very little of. Lady Cordelia and her brother, while familiar to a certain extent from previous books, just didn’t have the same pull as the previous mysteries that tied more directly to our two main characters. That said, it is nice to see the cast becoming more fleshed out.

Fans of the series will likely be pleased with this book. It took a few steps forward in important aspects of the story, though I feel like, strangely, the mystery itself was the biggest challenge. Though, I still enjoyed that well enough, too.

Rating 8: Another solid entry. If you’re looking for a reliable (but not mind-blowing) historical mystery series, this one’s a good bet even four books in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Murder at Queen’s Landing” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Historical Mystery 2020 and Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women.

Kate’s Review: “Very Bad People”


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Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Very Bad People” by Kit Frick

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, April 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: In this dark academia young adult thriller for fans of The Female of the Species and People Like Us, a teen girl’s search for answers about her mother’s mysterious death leads to a powerful secret society at her new boarding school—and a dangerous game of revenge that will leave her forever changed.

Six years ago, Calliope Bolan’s mother drove the family van into a lake with her three daughters inside. The girls escaped, but their mother drowned, and the truth behind the “accident” remains a mystery Calliope is determined to solve. Now sixteen, she transfers to Tipton Academy, the same elite boarding school her mother once attended. Tipton promises a peek into the past and a host of new opportunities—including a coveted invitation to join Haunt and Rail, an exclusive secret society that looms over campus like a legend. Calliope accepts, stepping into the exhilarating world of the “ghosts,” a society of revolutionaries fighting for social justice. But when Haunt and Rail commits to exposing a dangerous person on campus, it becomes clear that some ghosts define justice differently than others.

As the society’s tactics escalate, Calliope uncovers a possible link between Haunt and Rail and her mother’s deadly crash. Now, she must question what lengths the society might go to in order to see a victory—and if the secret behind her mother’s death could be buried here at Tipton.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I had some pretty grand plans for myself nearing the end of March. I secured a solo trip up to the North Shore, bringing a book stack and my Kindle and thinking that I’d spend my days in nature and my evenings reading… Well, my faith in good weather was foolhardy, as that first day it was snowing and the wind chill made the temperatures outside feel like it was 18 degrees. I don’t know why I didn’t consider that, being Minnesota and all. But it DID mean that I got a LOT of reading done, and when I sat down with Kit Frick’s newest book “Very Bad People”, I found myself tearing through my eARC. The pacing was great! The mysteries were appropriately engaging! We had a secret society with some potentially nefarious members! Spending all the time inside was turning out okay for me…. Until we once again hit the dreaded ‘and it all falls apart in the last third of the book’ situation.

As per my usual strategy, I’m going to start with what I liked. And the potential for this story just oozes off the page. It has so many things that work for me on paper. I love boarding school thrillers, I love people who get in over their heads in frog in the boiling water situations, and I love moral ambiguity and questions. I also really liked Calliope as our main character, as she felt rounded and real and like someone who would be completely into being included in a secret society like Haunt and Rail. I also liked the school history and history of the secret society as a whole. On top of that, it was so fast paced and engaging that I was eager to see what was going to happen next, and how the connection of Haunt and Rail across the generations was going to come into play.

But I just didn’t like how a couple of the big arcs shook out. Like, at all. And I’m not certain if it had to do with the structure and set up feeling unbalanced with the conclusions, or straight up personal preference on my part and my own sore spots and biases coloring my judgement. I’m half tempted to go on a rant here, but am also kind of not wanting to spoil anything because I think that people would probably do better with it than I did…. What the hell, let’s just go half and half and throw in a

Skip to the next paragraph if you so choose (source)

The book opens with a recounting of the tragedy that has haunted Calliope for a few years: the car accident that killed her mother and nearly killed her and her two sisters. There has always been question as to what happened, as Calliope was asleep, and her two sisters either couldn’t remember what happened or was two young to do so. Calliope sees a man in town during a trek from the Tipton grounds, has her memory jumped, and is convinced she saw him the day of the accident. She starts trying to piece together who he was, as well as his connection to her mother, AS WELL AS her mother’s connection to the Haunt and Rail Society, which leads to the supposedly accidental death of another student during her mother’s time in the club. Calliope starts to surmise that perhaps the Haunt and Rail members had something to do with the student’s death, and her mother’s death was actually someone trying to shut her up. It’s a great premise….. But it isn’t the case. What IS the case is that Calliope’s mother was ACTUALLY LEAVING HER HUSBAND FOR HER HIGH SCHOOL BOYFRIEND AND TAKING THE KIDS WITH HER ON THE DAY OF THE CRASH. It’s all coincidence. And it’s awful. It immediately turned me off from the mother as a character who was, until that point, a formative and powerful drive for Calliope and her connection to the Haunt and Rail assholes. I get what Frick was trying to do, to say that some things are random and terrible (and it does have another connecting point, ultimately), but it left such a sour taste in my mouth. I don’t even think of myself as some kind of Puritanical scold, but once it was revealed how profoundly selfish the mother was being in wanting to uproot her kids from the life they knew with their father (with no indication that he’s a bad or even emotionally incompatible guy; HE SEEMS LIKE A REALLY GOOD LOVING GUY?), with NO actual exploration into her motivations outside of ‘oh, my high school boyfriend is back in my life and THAT’S EXCITING’, it wrecked that entire thread. Okay, I’m not going to elaborate further into the other reveals and twists and turns, but that was just too much. It derailed the emotional crux.

And then a lot of the other characters were frustrating and shrill in their characterizations, especially some of the Haunt and Rail members. It wasn’t even that their motivations and thoughts were things I disagreed with. I found myself quite sympathetic to the matter at hand, as a matter of fact! But I didn’t think that Frick did the due diligence to show enough complexity to their ‘arbiters of justice in their own minds’ themes until too far into the narrative. By then I had kind of stopped caring about their motivations and was more blinded by how their zealotry was damaging to those who didn’t deserve it, and I don’t think that it was properly grappled with.

Talk about running off the rails. There was so much promise with this book for the first two thirds. I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it too much because it could just be a ‘me’ thing.

Rating 5: Lots of built up momentum and promise ends with a couple of clunker reveals.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Very Bad People” is included on the Goodreads lists “2022 YA Mysteries and Thrillers”, and would fit in on “Academia, Magic, and Secret Societies”.

Blog Tour and Review: “Secret Identity”

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Book: “Secret Identity” by Alex Segura

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, March 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley as part of this Blog Tour.

Where Can You Get this Book: WorldCat | Amazon | IndieBound |

Book Description: From Anthony Award-winning writer Alex Segura comes Secret Identity, a rollicking literary mystery set in the world of comic books.

It’s 1975 and the comic book industry is struggling, but Carmen Valdez doesn’t care. She’s an assistant at Triumph Comics, which doesn’t have the creative zeal of Marvel nor the buttoned-up efficiency of DC, but it doesn’t matter. Carmen is tantalizingly close to fulfilling her dream of writing a superhero book.

That dream is nearly a reality when one of the Triumph writers enlists her help to create a new character, which they call “The Lethal Lynx,” Triumph’s first female hero. But her colleague is acting strangely and asking to keep her involvement a secret. And then he’s found dead, with all of their scripts turned into the publisher without her name. Carmen is desperate to piece together what happened to him, to hang on to her piece of the Lynx, which turns out to be a runaway hit. But that’s complicated by a surprise visitor from her home in Miami, a tenacious cop who is piecing everything together too quickly for Carmen, and the tangled web of secrets and resentments among the passionate eccentrics who write comics for a living.

Alex Segura uses his expertise as a comics creator as well as his unabashed love of noir fiction to create a truly one-of-a-kind novel–hard-edged and bright-eyed, gritty and dangerous, and utterly absorbing.

Review: Thank you so much to Maris Tasaka of Macmillan for sending me an eARC of this book via NetGalley and for including our blog on the Blog Tour of this book!

My enjoyment of comic books and therein graphic novels was solidly influenced by my mother, who was an avid DC fan as a child. During a childhood trip to visit my grandparents in Iowa, my mother managed to find a huge box of her old comics, and I had a grand old time reading through them and familiarizing myself with Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Batman (I feel like this was her favorite title; SO MANY BATMAN COMICS). I definitely spent some time thinking about this as I read “Secret Identity”, a new literary mystery from Alex Segura, that has its main thrust and story in the comics industry during the 1970s (about ten years after my Mom was reading the various heroes of DC), and starring a young woman named Carmen who loves comics and is working with them, though not at the capacity she’d like. Because misogyny and racism, of course! That alone is compelling as hell, but when you add some ghost writing, an unstable ex, and a murder to boot? That’s even more tantalizing.

“Secret Identity” is fast paced, suspenseful, and it sends the reader back to 1970s New York City with ease. As I was reading I felt deeply immersed in the time and place, able to picture everything that was being described. The setting makes for a great mystery, given that 1970s New York City was gritty and grim in many ways, and Segura gives us a solid whodunnit with a fantastic detective at the forefront. I really loved Carmen as our protagonist, as she is determined and ambitious, as well as very relatable and likable while trying to balance her gender, ethnicity, and sexuality in a very patriarchal vocation and society. I was righteously indignant for her given the fact that she is a Latin woman working in a boys club industry during a time of changing gender dynamics, and her experiences very much reflect that. Be it being dismissed by her boss, being seen as a secretary and not much more, being hit on by men and having to fend them off while hiding the fact she’s into women, or being excluded from her coworkers, even in inadvertent ways, Carmen has to deal with a lot of shit. And she does it because she loves comics, she lives and breathes comics, and that makes her tolerate it all…. Until a coworker named Harvey approaches her for creative help on a new character they call The Lynx, a female superhero that subverts the norms. Carmen is the force behind the best parts of her, but Harvey takes the full credit because of course he does. Carmen’s anger about this is kind of short lived, however, as before she can confront him he is murdered. And the reason for that may be because of the Lynx. Combining this violation of her creative property with a murder mystery makes for a very complicated journey for Carmen, as while she has to frame it as wanting to find justice for her friend, there is the deeper component of wanting to reclaim her character, but also being in danger BECAUSE of the character. The mystery is very well crafted, and Segura lays out the clues and has a number of well placed red herrings to boot.

And this entire story is a true Valentine to superhero comics and the way they can sweep a reader up and influence them, while being realistic about what the comics industry was like during the time period. Carmen is not only a great noir-esque amateur detective, but I loved how Segura made her love and passion for comics so evident and believable, and how honest he is about the highs and lows of the comics industry. Carmen’s enthusiasm and knowledge is really fun on the page, and we even get to see some of the pages of the comics of The Lynx as the story goes on and when the themes are relevant (given that Segura is also a comics writer, these moments were extra awesome and felt really authentic). And while this takes place in the 1970s, my guess is that some of the issues are timeless, and Segura takes on mediocre writers who get promotions based on sex and race, misogyny, idea theft, and other toxic realities of being a woman and POC in the comics industry. It adds another layer to the mystery, given that Harvey was more than happy to steal the credit from Carmen and figured that there wouldn’t be anything she could do about it. It all comes together nicely and in a way that adds to the plot and makes it all the more complex and interesting.

I definitely enjoyed “Secret Identity”, and already have a wide swath of people in mind as to who I would recommend it to (my Mom, for instance)! The buzz around this book is absolutely spot on. Anyone into superhero comics from the era, or just comics in general, should pick it up!

Rating 9: A solid mystery, a love letter to comics, and a stirring character study, “Secret Identity” is a must read for comics fans and mystery fans alike!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Secret Identity” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books for Geeky Girls”, and “About Comics”.

Other Stops on the Blog Tour:

Jessicamap Reviews (March 10)

Kate’s Review: “Nine Lives”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Nine Lives” by Peter Swanson

Publishing Info: William Morrow & Company, March 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: The story of nine strangers who receive a cryptic list with their names on it – and then begin to die in highly unusual circumstances.

Nine strangers receive a list with their names on it in the mail. Nothing else, just a list of names on a single sheet of paper. None of the nine people know or have ever met the others on the list. They dismiss it as junk mail, a fluke – until very, very bad things begin happening to people on the list. First, a well-liked old man is drowned on a beach in the small town of Kennewick, Maine. Then, a father is shot in the back while running through his quiet neighborhood in suburban Massachusetts. A frightening pattern is emerging, but what do these nine people have in common? Their professions range from oncology nurse to aspiring actor.

FBI agent Jessica Winslow, who is on the list herself, is determined to find out. Could there be some dark secret that binds them all together? Or is this the work of a murderous madman? As the mysterious sender stalks these nine strangers, they find themselves constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering who will be crossed off next….

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC to this novel!

I’ve been reading Peter Swanson novels since 2016, in which “The Killing Kind” totally blew me away and kept me on my toes. I have come to expect him to find ways to bring in new twists and turns that are totally earned by also shocking and unexpected, sometimes even deconstructing what we have come to expect of the thriller genre as a whole. Because I have this knowledge and because I’m so familiar with his tricky little carpet yanks, one would think that when I went into his newest book “Nine Lives” that I would have figured all of this out. One would think that I would be expecting a twist and that when it came I would say ‘ah yes, I knew that was coming’. And hey, to be fair, there were a couple early on moments that I thought ‘well either that was the twist or perhaps there IS no big reveal this time just to keep me on my toes even more’.

And then this guy STILL manages to completely take me by surprise with a twist I didn’t expect AT ALL.

And it’s just one of a good few in this story! (source)

The thing that I like the most about Peter Swanson, beyond the ability he has to totally floor me, is that he always crafts mysteries that have just enough twists to be interesting without going into wholly farfetched territory. As each stranger on the list of names is slowly picked off one by one, the deaths are done in ways that are almost always matter of fact, totally believable, and in a finite and quick manner that makes the beat punch hard, but then go onto the next. We don’t linger on melodrama nor do we feel a need to explain until it’s fully time for explanations. The clues are placed here and there, and they all fit together once they start to near each other. And while it’s true that I caught a couple of them in advance, the lion’s share were truly surprising. It has definite allusions to the Agatha Christie story “And Then There Were None” without feeling like a direct lifting, and while acknowledging that there are some tweaks here and there. The mystery is strong, even if a lot of the characters kind of fall by the wayside. But I think that that is kind of to be expected in some ways, just because there are nine people on the list, and a limited amount of time that they are going to be alive given that they are all targets of a killer. But for a few of them I felt like we did get some pretty okay insight into who they were as people outside of this, even while others fell flat or into two dimensional tropes.

I have seen criticism of the motive behind what all is going on, and I can definitely get why the criticism is there. Ultimately the construction of the mystery is sound and it has very solid working parts, but the actual foundation of the motive was pretty generic and glossed over. It doesn’t really help that there had to be a huge ‘telling instead of showing’ component at the end, with a big letter that explains just about everything. That’s usually a huge splash of cold water on a book for me, and I remember thinking ‘ah jeeze’ when I realized what was happening.

But hey, I was still having a fun time as we barreled towards the end of “Nine Lives”. The motive may be eh, but the journey through a list of nine marked people is still really fun. Keep on catching me off guard, Peter Swanson! I always like being surprised!

Rating 7: A fun twist on “And Then There Were None” with a few good surprises, “Nine Lives” is another entertaining read from Peter Swanson, even if some of the details are glossed over or undercooked.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Nine Lives” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery & Thriller 2022”, and would fit in on “‘And Then There Were None’ Trope Novels”.

Kate’s Review: “The Night Shift”

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Book: “The Night Shift” by Alex Finlay

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, March 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where Can You Get this Book: WorldCat |Amazon | IndieBound

Book Description: It’s New Year’s Eve 1999. Y2K is expected to end in chaos: planes falling from the sky, elevators plunging to earth, world markets collapsing. A digital apocalypse. None of that happens. But at a Blockbuster Video in Linden, New Jersey, four teenage girls working the night shift are attacked. Only one survives. Police quickly identify a suspect who flees and is never seen again.

Fifteen years later, in the same town, four teenage employees working late at an ice cream store are attacked, and again only one makes it out alive. Both surviving victims recall the killer speaking only a few final words… “Goodnight, pretty girl.”

In the aftermath, three lives intersect: the survivor of the Blockbuster massacre who’s forced to relive her tragedy; the brother of the original suspect, who’s convinced the police have it wrong; and the FBI agent, who’s determined to solve both cases. On a collision course toward the truth, all three lives will forever be changed, and not everyone will make it out alive.

Twisty, poignant, and redemptive, The Night Shift is a story about the legacy of trauma and how the broken can come out on the other side, and it solidifies Alex Finlay as one of the new leading voices in the world of thrillers.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

On paper, “The Night Shift” by Alex Finlay was complete and utter catnip for me. There’s a time jumping mystery, there’s a whodunnit murder element, there are multiple characters who may or may not have secrets, and there is a healthy does of 90s nostalgia. I remember that going to Blockbuster on Friday night was an EVENT! I also saw all the hype surrounding this book, so I jumped in really hoping for a home run. And we didn’t quite get there.

There were, however, things to like, and I will start there because I do want to highlight the positives. For one, we have a pretty well thought out and well connected story, told through the perspectives of interconnected characters. The first is Ella, a therapist who was the sole survivor of a multiple murder at her high school workplace, Blockbuster, in which her coworkers were killed and she was not. The second is Chris, a public defender whose brother Vince was the main suspect in the Blockbuster murders, but disappeared off the grid after he was released from custody before he could be tried for the crime. The third is Special Agent Keller, an FBI agent who is trying to connect a new multiple murder scene at an ice cream shop to the Blockbuster murders, as there is, once again, one survivor named Jess, and the perpetrator said the same phrase to her as he said to Ella. I liked how these three characters were separate at first, and then slowly converged into the big story and overarching mystery as they are trying to handle their own baggage and mysteries, and it really kept me engaged and interested as I read. I especially liked Keller’s POV, as she is determined and gritty and had the scenes that I found myself most invested in, since she was doing a lot of the investigating that felt like it was getting somewhere (I have more to say on Ella and Chris in a bit). AND she is doing all of this while eight months pregnant with twins, which was kind of a fun tidbit and felt very Marge Gunderson from “Fargo” (especially since her husband is SUPER doting, much like Norm was in that movie).

Speaking of couples goals. (source)

But that kind of segues into the things that didn’t work for me as much in this book. Firstly, many of the other characters outside of Keller felt pretty two dimensional and not super explored. Ella is a pretty typical and standard examination of trauma, in that she has devoted her life to trying to cope by compartmentalizing, and has completely messed up her personal life because of it (when we meet her she is meeting up for a hook up in spite of the fact she has a fiancé, because wow look at what a mess she is, right?!). Her connection with Jess, the newest victim, is based of her skills as a therapist as well as the fact she’s been there before, but Jess is tragic and precocious and hiding her own issues that only serve to muddy some waters. Since we don’t really get into her head she is, once again, pretty standard fare that we’ve seen before. And then there’s Chris, whose story is tragic in its own ways as he clings to the hope that his brother Vince is innocent, and has been thinking he has perhaps found him via the Internet. This was, admittedly, an interesting plot line, but Chris himself is also pretty two dimensional. And on top of all of that, the mystery itself becomes glaringly obvious in terms of conclusion pretty quickly. There were a few ‘mini’ mysteries here and there that kept me kinda guessing and invested, hence the engaging aspect of this book, but the big one wasn’t shocking, and the journey getting there on that outcome alone wouldn’t have been as compelling. And frankly, the big mystery should be compelling.

I think that I will go back and read Finlay’s previous book, as there is definitely potential in “The Night Shift” that has glimmers of a thriller I’d enjoy. But as a final product and full package it was a little ho hum.

Rating 6: Admittedly super engaging, but the big reveal isn’t very surprising, and most of the characters are pretty two dimensional.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Night Shift” is included on the Goodreads list “Can’t Wait Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2022”.

Serena’s Review: “Murder at Kensington Palace”

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Book: “Murder at Kensington Palace” by Andrea Penrose

Publishing Info: Kensington Books/Kensington Publishing Corp, September 2019

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

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Though Charlotte Sloane’s secret identity as the controversial satirical cartoonist A.J. Quill is safe with the Earl of Wrexford, she’s ill prepared for the rippling effects sharing the truth about her background has cast over their relationship. She thought a bit of space might improve the situation. But when her cousin is murdered and his twin brother is accused of the gruesome crime, Charlotte immediately turns to Wrexford for help in proving the young man’s innocence. Though she finds the brooding scientist just as enigmatic and intense as ever, their partnership is now marked by an unfamiliar tension that seems to complicate every encounter.

Despite this newfound complexity, Wrexford and Charlotte are determined to track down the real killer. Their investigation leads them on a dangerous chase through Mayfair’s glittering ballrooms and opulent drawing rooms, where gossip and rumors swirl to confuse the facts. Was her cousin murdered over a romantic rivalry . . . or staggering gambling debts? Or could the motive be far darker and involve the clandestine scientific society that claimed both brothers as members? The more Charlotte and Wrexford try to unknot the truth, the more tangled it becomes. But they must solve the case soon, before the killer’s madness seizes another victim…

Previously Reviewed: “Murder on Black Swan Lane” and “Murder at Half Moon Gate”

Review: Once I discover a good audiobook series, I get pretty addicted. It also usually goes that this happens with the historical mystery series I read. Mostly this is because I’ve found I greatly prefer British audiobook narrators (something about the accent seems to elevate even pretty boring books to a more interesting level, let alone the boost they give to already entertaining stories) and these are the narrators often chosen for the historical mysteries I typically enjoy. And while I’m still really enjoying the narrator’s presentation of this book, I did begin to struggle with this story more than the first two in the series.

This time murder falls at Charlotte’s door after she and Wrexford learn of the brutal murder of Charlotte’s cousin, a wealthy and powerful young man. When his twin brother is accused of committing the crime, Charlotte knows he must be innocent and persuades Wrexford to join her quest to find the real murderer. Though the two are still unsure of where they stand with each other, their partnership and devotion to uncovering the truth lead them to pursue all avenues of investigation. And for Charlotte, this may mean uprooting the quiet, anonymous life that she has built for herself and her two young wards.

So, let’s start out with the good stuff. I’m continually impressed by the quality of the mysteries at the heart of these stories. The author sets up several compelling motives and possible culprits as the story goes on. All of the classic stuff: for love, for money, for power. Wrexford and Charlotte each uncover various aspects of each of these possible motives, and it was fun seeing how these stories began to interweave, with characters Wrexford interrogated and received certain clues then wandering across Charlotte’s path, and, because of her different perspective, yielding different and new information.

There were also some rather major changes to Charlotte’s life that were explored in this book. We only got to see the barest hints of these changes in action, but it was fun to see that character’s trajectory travelling along a compelling arch of change. For his part, Wrexford felt a bit more stagnant, with the author more unsure where to take this character beyond the basic premise of who and what he is. I’m hopeful that more can be done to create a story for Wrexford on his own, but we’ll have to see.

However, I did start to have problems with the general layout and progression of the story. In so many ways, it felt like a simple retread of the exact same plot we’ve seen in the first two books. Like I said, the mysteries have all been good on their own and very different (I also want to add that I’ve liked the different areas of science that have been explored and the interesting culture of science in Victorian England at this time), but the actual layout of the plot has been almost exactly the same each time. To an almost comical level! The last half of each book, in particular, follows a very predictable train of events that was fairly tiring to retread once again here.

Also, in a direct contradiction to my concerns over the second book where I worried that the romance had been too rushed, here, the author fell into the exact opposite problem. We have here an example of the classic “characters fail to talk about basic things” trope to develop tension and draw out a romantic progression. It was an equally unsuccessful trope here as it has been almost every other time I’ve encountered it. I was also disappointed to see the romance, too, follow the exact same arch we’ve seen in the previous book, with Wrexford and Sloane suddenly confessing feelings and thoughts while under duress at the conclusion of the mystery.

This was my least favorite book in the series so far. It was far too obvious how much the author seemed to be following a “paint by number” plot format, and the romance swung wildly from one misfire in the previous book to a very different, but equally frustrating, misfire here. I will be continuing with the series, however, as there were enough changes to the basic set-up of the situation (notably, Charlotte’s change in society) that I’m curious to see where the series will go from here. But if the same plot line shows up again, I may have to call it quits.

Rating 7: An all too familiar chain of events really crippled a story that once again had a good mystery at its heart.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Murder at Kensington Palace” is on these Goodreads lists: Strong Female lead historical and History through Novels: 1000-1899 Western Europe.

Serena’s Review: “Murder at Half Moon Gate”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Murder at Half Moon Gate” by Andrea Penrose

Publication Info: Kensington, March 2018

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

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: When Lord Wrexford discovers the body of a gifted inventor in a dark London alley, he promptly alerts the watchman and lets the authorities handle the matter. But Wrexford soon finds himself drawn into the murder investigation when the inventor’s widow begs for his assistance, claiming the crime was not a random robbery. It seems her husband’s designs for a revolutionary steam-powered engine went missing the night of his death. The plans could be worth a fortune . . . and very dangerous in the wrong hands.
 
Joining Wrexford in his investigation is Charlotte Sloane, who uses the pseudonym A. J. Quill to publish her scathing political cartoons. Her extensive network of informants is critical for her work, but she doesn’t mind tapping that same web of spies to track down an elusive killer. Each suspect—from ambitious assistants to rich investors, and even the inventor’s widow—is entwined in a maze of secrets and lies that leads Wrexford and Sloane down London’s most perilous stews and darkest alleyways.
 
With danger lurking at every turn, the potent combination of Wrexford’s analytical mind and Sloane’s exacting intuition begins to unravel the twisted motivations behind the inventor’s death. But they are up against a cunning and deadly foe—a killer ready to strike again before they can recover the inventor’s priceless designs . . .

Previously Reviewed: “Murder on Black Swan Lane”

Review: Once I discover a “goody,” my self-control really goes out of the window. This is especially true for good books that likewise have good audiobook versions. I’ve found that audiobook narrator preferences are among the more individualized preferences in readers, and a good or bad narrator can really make or break a book for me. So when I read the first book in this series and discovered that I greatly enjoyed the writing itself, I was excited. When I also realized that the narrator, James Cameron Stewart, was just of the variety that I prefer, I was thrilled. So, buckle in as we likely review this series one after another over the next few months!

After forming an unlikely team to solve one mystery, both Mrs. Sloane and Lord Wrexford doubt their paths will cross in quite the same way again. They’ve maintained their blossoming friendship, but their social circles by no means intersect. That is until Lord Wrexford literally stumbles across the scene of a new crime, and after having his heartstrings (such as they are) tugged on upon by a becoming widow, he finds himself yet again caught up in a mystery. And knowing the value of the unique eye that Charlotte brings to these sorts of crimes, she, too, finds herself caught up once again in murder. But as they circle closer and closer to the truth amidst a complicated web of science, ambition, and greed, the killer also draws closer and closer to them.

Given the way the other murder landed on our two main characters’ tables, I was curious to see how the author was going to get them entangled in another. Not every murder in London can be personally tied to one of the two! But I thought the method here was effective. Nominally, it’s a random murder that Wrexford is only drawn into after being personally petitioned. But as the plot thickens, so, too, do we see how it provides an opportunity to gather more insight into our main characters. Wrexford begins to question how he see those around him, why this particular widow was able to pull on his heartstrings and how this insight reflects on his burgeoning relationship with Charlotte.

For her part, Charlotte is beginning to expand her life outwards, starting with a move to a larger house in a more respectable part of London. This comes with the unique challenge of appropriately drawing on the support systems she has while not compromising her pride in the independent lifestyle she has created for herself and the two boys under her care. Given her unique position, she’s able cross the boundaries between a respectable lady who can call upon the grieving widow and an independent entity who can call upon sources on the streets to turn over the darker underside of London itself. But this balance is becoming precarious, and in this story, we see the costs that Charlotte bears trying to maintain both sides of things.

The mystery itself was intriguing and complicated. I feel like half of the books one reads about this time period have some reference to the Luddite protests that were so prevalent in public discourse. But I liked the way this book tackled the topic while also delving into other modern aspects of business that we take for granted now but that were relatively new at the time. And even with all of these factors at play, the murder itself was still grounded in human emotions and motivations that get to the core of individuals.

My only quibble comes with the relationship between Wrexford and Sloane. In the first book, they meet each other and form a tenuous working relationship that slowly blooms into a sort of friendship. Here, we begin to see that friendship tested with hard truths being spoken and levels of trust explored. But then it felt like the end of the book took a hard dive in a particular direction. The direction itself is unsurprising (I mean, I barely think it’s a spoiler at this point to see where this is going…), but I found the sudden jump in both characters to begin to see/admit to other aspects of the relationship so quickly felt a bit out of left field. It also leaves me wondering where the story will go from here. Honestly, I had this particular storyline pegged out as taking place over several more books before coming to a head, so I’m not as sure now how the author has it plotted out.

But other than that small point, I really enjoyed this book. The author has perfectly nailed the language and feel of this time period in London, and her two main characters are both complicated and layered. I’m hopeful that she hasn’t played too many of her cards too early, but either way, I’m excited to find out in the next book!

Rating 8: An intriguing mystery centered around two increasingly compelling main characters! Count me in for the next one!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Murder at Half Moon Gate” is on these Goodreads lists: Regency and Victorian Mysteries and History through Novels: 1000-1899 Western Europe.

Serena’s Review: “Silence in the Library”

Book: “Silence in the Library” by Katharine Schellman

Publishing Info: Crooked Lane Books, July 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library

Book Description: Regency widow Lily Adler has finally settled into her new London life when her semi-estranged father arrives unexpectedly, intending to stay with her while he recovers from an illness. Hounded by his disapproval, Lily is drawn into spending time with Lady Wyatt, the new wife of an old family friend. Lily barely knows Lady Wyatt. But she and her husband, Sir Charles, seem as happy as any newly married couple until the morning Lily arrives to find the house in an uproar and Sir Charles dead.

All signs indicate that he tripped and struck his head late at night. But when Bow Street constable Simon Page is called to the scene, he suspects foul play. And it isn’t long before Lily stumbles on evidence that Sir Charles was, indeed, murdered.

Mr. Page was there when Lily caught her first murderer, and he trusts her insight into the world of London’s upper class. With the help of Captain Jack Hartley, they piece together the reasons that Sir Charles’s family might have wanted him dead. But anyone who might have profited from the old man’s death seems to have an alibi… until Lily receives a mysterious summons to speak with one of the Wyatts’ maids, only to find the young woman dead when she arrives.

Mr. Page believes the surviving family members are hiding the key to the death of both Sir Charles and the maid. To uncover the truth, Lily must convince the father who doesn’t trust or respect her to help catch his friend’s killer before anyone else in the Wyatt household dies.

Previously Reviewed: “The Body in the Garden”

Review: Somehow I missed this coming out way back in July! This just goes to show how out of control my TBR list is, since I had been eagerly awaiting a new installment in this series almost since the moment that I finished the last page of the first book. “The Body in the Garden” was such a supreme pleasure to read and a great discovery that my expectations were quite high for this next book. Luckily, those expectations were met in every way!

Fairly recently I found myself complaining about the lack of information given in a book description, but here we have the opposite case! This intro spoils events that don’t happen until almost halfway through the book! I couldn’t believe it (though, luckily, I didn’t read this description until after reading the book, so I wasn’t actually spoiled, but only through sheer laziness on my part). Given how much information (for better or worse) is laid out in the official book description, I won’t waste anyone’s time re-reading my attempts at a summary here.

I was so excited when I saw that this book was out already and that my library had a readily available audiobook copy! I had read the first book as an ebook, but I really enjoyed the story through this medium and the narrator was excellent.

The mystery was another great one. I had a few theories early on, but only one of those turned out to be right, with many more surprises and reveals along the way. It was a clever murder with only a small cast of characters up for suspicion, all of whom had both motives for conducting the murder as well as strong evidence pointing towards their innocence. I also really enjoyed the way the mystery was wrapped up, with cleverness behind both putting the clues together and catching the murderer themselves.

We had two angles on the mystery, as well. One, of course, was our heroine Lily Adler. Alongside her burgeoning mystery-solving career, here, we see her begin to further emerge from her shell of mourning. Rightly, a number of potential love interests and suitors begin to circle, and I enjoyed the exploration of the complicated feelings this new return to non-mourning brought to Lily. Overall, the series has been such an excellent examination of grief and the long journey the loved ones left behind must travel. We also see more adventures from Lily with her taking things into her own hands and putting herself in situations that are unusual for a woman of her station and life. At the same time, all of these choices were still restrained enough to be believable, with the author neatly side-stepping the too-often anachronistic “strong woman” tropes that can pop up when trying to write this sort of character.

We also got to see a few chapters from the perspective of Simon Page, the constable in charge of solving the murder. It was lovely to see him much more respectful and appreciate of Lily, and I really enjoyed seeing his unique take on the murder, as well as the detective work that only he could complete. He was rather unlikable in the first book, but I really enjoyed what we got from him here.

We also had a return of several familiar faces, as well as an introduction of new characters. Lily’s father was all the villain the summary makes him out to be. If anything, he was much, much worse than the typical “disapproving parental figure” that one sees in these stories. I also liked the addition of a young boy who was growing up with autism (or something like this, obviously it was unnamed at the time.) With additions like this, the series continues to do its excellent work at highlighting how you can write a historical novel while also including a diverse cast of characters. It’s very well done.

This was another stand-out mystery novel, and this next go around, I WILL NOT miss the publication date of the next story. Fans of the first book and fans of general historical fiction mysteries are sure to enjoy it.

Rating 9: Excellent all around, a great mystery paired with a diverse cast of characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silence in the Library” is on these Goodreads lists: Cozy Mystery/Romance/History and Books with Library in the Title.

Find “Silence in the Library” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

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