Book Review: Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto

Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto

Alice Roosevelt was the daughter of US President Theodore Roosevelt. Born into the heights of New York Society, and thrust further into the spotlight as a member of the first family, Alice was a determined rebel in an age where proper behavior was paramount for well heeled women. Fiercely intelligent and chafing at the limitations placed upon her by society, Alice drank, smoked, and drove in cars with men. She imposed herself on her father’s policy meetings, offering political advice and helping in diplomatic meetings. Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

R.J. Koreto brings this remarkable woman to life in the historical mystery Alice and the Assassin. Koreto is an old hand at historical mysteries, his Lady Frances Ffolkes series features another strong (and fictional) heroine, and is quite a fun read (you can read my review of Death Among Rubies here).

This book, hopefully the first of several, features seventeen-year-old Alice and her Secret Service bodyguard, Joseph St. Clair. The year is 1902, and Theodore Roosevelt has recently ascended to the presidency after the assassination of William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz. Alice, wishing to satisfy her own curiosity about the incident, decides to seek out famous anarchist, and associate of Czolgosz, Emma Goldman. However, this meeting seems to disturb powerful factions within the local community, and soon Alice and St. Clair find themselves embroiled in a wide-reaching conspiracy which may threaten another president.

I am a fan of Koreto’s previous work and this book did not disappoint. Alice is well realized, both as a vulgarity-slinging iconoclast and a sheltered seventeen year old who wants to protect her family. Historical details are sprinkled throughout with satisfying accuracy, and those aspects which are fictionalized for the plot roll nicely into the feel of the era.

The book begins with some stutters as the author introduces us to the protagonists and the world they inherit, but rapidly finds its footing. The pacing is splendid, with enough narrative false trails and red herrings to make for an enjoyable mystery. The plot, while fictional, is based on real events, and the final solution to the plot feels a bit too possible for comfort.

In all, fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this book. I would recommend Alice and the Assassin to fans of Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery Series, Deanna Raybourn‘s books,  or the Maisie Dobbs series. Anyone looking for an engaging book featuring a strong female protagonist will also enjoy this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Sisters of Blue Mountain by Karen Katchur

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The Sisters of Blue Mountain by Karen Katchur

One morning in Mountain Springs, Pennsylvania, B&B owner Linnet sees a snow goose fall out of the sky, dead. Soon hundreds of geese are dead, putting Linnet’s B&B, and the tourism-dependent town in jeopardy. When a dead body shows up on the lawn of the B&B soon after, things quickly go from bad to worse. With her estranged sister, Myna, and her ornithologist father falling further into dementia, Linnet will have to face the demons in her past before those of the present consume her and her family.

This was a slow-burning mystery. The characters of Linnet and Myna are well crafted as sisters estranged as a result of a secret pact made when they were teenagers. Linnet and Myna’s relationship with their father, who suffers from dementia and is growing increasingly erratic, feels very real, as does their relationship with their deceased mother. The mystery of the dead man and the geese builds slowly, offering a long look at a family in crisis.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I did find that the slow pace of the plot took away from the sense of danger that comes with a really good mystery. A sense of menace is missing from the book. However, the mystery of the sisters’ past unfolding was very well done, and the author’s portrayal of small town life and social isolation is quite vivid. Those who don’t mind slow-burn mysteries will likely enjoy this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via GoodReads in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Nora Shaw lives an isolated life, and prefers it that way. She keeps to her schedule in her tiny studio in London, and relishes in the safety that her lack of social contact provides. Then one day, an email arrives, inviting her to her school friend Clare’s hen party. Nora hasn’t seen Clare in a decade, not since she walked out of school and never looked back. Reluctantly dragged into the party, Nora finds that not everything is as it seems. Something is deeply wrong at this party, and Nora must figure out what is going on before it costs her her life.

This is Ruth Ware’s debut novel, and it is an edge of the seat mystery/thriller. Ware paints a scary portrait of revenge and obsession, but as a reader, you’re never really sure who is truly obsessed. Nora herself seems to become more and more unreliable as a narrator as the story goes on, bringing everything that came before into question. The twists are numerous and surprising, once you’re sure you know where the book is going, it throws you in a different direction entirely. The false leads and narrative dead ends keep you guessing throughout the book.

Fans of books like The Girl on the Train and I See You, or fans of Tana French or Gillian Flynn will find a lot to like in this book.

Book Review: The Night Bird by Brian Freeman


The Night Bird by Brian Freeman

Sitting in traffic on the San Francisco Bay Bridge, a young woman has a sudden, violent mental breakdown. Tearing the flesh of her arms, torso, and face, she appears to be running from some invisible horror when she throws herself off the bridge.

And she is not the first. Detective Frost Easton is heading the investigation of similar deaths in the city, all with one common thread: Psychiatrist Dr. Francesca Stein. Dr. Stein’s controversial methods of helping highly phobic patients seem to be falling apart, unless someone is out there, targeting her former patients in a twisted attack. When Dr. Stein begins to receive taunting messages signed by “The Night Bird,” the clock is ticking for her and Easton to find the psychopath before more people die . . .

This is an enjoyable and fast-paced mystery. I greatly enjoyed the use the author made of the fragility of memory and the power of suggestion. The beginning (after the fantastic first casualty) was a bit awkward and stilted, but Freeman quickly finds his voice. Some aspects of the plot and the characters are a bit out there, but that may well be attributable to the story being set in proudly weird San Francisco.

In all, I enjoyed this book, some parts were genuinely creepy, and the requisite plot twists included several I didn’t see coming. Fans of darker mysteries will probably enjoy this novel, it’s not quite as violent or as twisted as a Jefferey Deaver book, but feels similar.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Skeleton God by Eliot Pattison

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Skeleton God by Eliot Pattison

This is the ninth book in Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan series. Therefore, there will probably be spoilers for the previous books in this review. Caveat: I haven’t read the previous book in the series, but the good news is that this book can be read as a stand-alone, without having read the previous novels.

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We find our hero, Shan Tao Yun, reluctantly acting as the constable of tiny Yangkar village in Tibet. His appointment more a punishment than an honor, Shan does his best to toe the party line while remaining sympathetic to the native Tibetans under his jurisdiction. When a military convoy stops in town with a dozen political prisoners and an investigator from the Public Security Bureau in tow, Shan braces himself for trouble. Unfortunately, he has no idea just how bad things can get. When an elderly nun is assaulted and local herders begin talking of “the dead walking” Shan heads into the mountainous terrain to investigate and finds something that defies explanation: an ancient tomb with not one, but three bodies inside – the mummified body of a Tibetan saint, the fifty-year-old corpse of a Chinese soldier, and the days old body of an American. With the Public Security Bureau and the army both digging into the town’s affairs, the situation becomes extremely complicated. Shan must find a way to solve the crimes without getting thrown back in prison or being executed.

This was certainly an interesting mystery. Pattison, while an American author, is a world traveler, and has infused the book with his love of Tibet and his knowledge of the conquest of that country by the People’s Republic of China. The intricacies (and atrocities) of politics between Tibet and China are on full display and impact most every aspect of the plot. Inspector Shan is a wonderful protagonist, vividly realized as a man trying his best to walk the tightrope between two very different worlds. The paranoia and precariousness of his situation are palpable throughout the book.

As I said before, this book works well as a stand-alone novel, but I would imagine you get a bit more out of it if you’ve read the previous books. Fans of the series will likely enjoy this book. I would also recommend it to mystery lovers and those into international intrigue.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Skeleton God will be available for purchase on March 7th, 2017.

Book Review: Wages of Sin by Katie Welsh

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The Wages of Sin by Katie Welsh

In 1892, the University of Edinburgh began to admit female medical students. The pushback from both faculty and the male student body was immense. Indeed, society itself looked down on these women as unfeminine and broken. Enter Sarah Gilchrist, banished from London after bringing scandal to her family name. Cut adrift and dependent on the good graces of Scottish relatives, Sarah is determined to make her own way as a female physician. In order to get practical training, Sarah volunteers at a charity infirmary in the slums. The work is hard, and the prejudices of society are increasingly difficult to bear. However, Sarah is doing well with her studies and her work until one day she recognizes the corpse in her anatomy class as her patients at the infirmary. . .

I always like a good historical fiction, and this one did not disappoint. Welsh does a great job of demonstrating the fine line these medical pioneers would have to walk between Victorian propriety and their dreams of higher education. The hypocrisy of their male counterparts is also brilliantly illustrated. Welsh also does well with her main protagonist, Sarah Gilchrist. The lasting physical and mental trauma from her “scandal” feels very real. While you may occasionally want to reach through the page, shake her, and yell “think before you speak,” she is overall a very sympathetic character. The mystery aspect of the book was well paced, with the requisite red herrings and plot twists.

Fans of historical murder mysteries will find a lot to like in this book, which feels like the first of a series. Historical fiction or murder mystery fans in general will likely also enjoy the book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Wages of Sin will be available for purchase on March 14th, 2017.

Book Review: A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

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A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

There are three narratives in play in this book. The first is Brette Caslake, a woman living in modern-day San Diego. Brette can see and talk with ghosts, though she has been trying to supress this aspect of herself since she was a little girl. The second is Simone Deveraux, a French Resistance fighter. The third is Annaliese Lange,a former ballerina fleeing from her Nazi husband.

Simone and Annaliese are thrown together on the RMS Queen Mary as it steams across the Atlantic in 1946 to reunite European war brides with their American husbands. But the secrets both women must keep simmer under the surface, and only one woman will get off the ship in New York. Meanwhile in the present day, Brette is investigating the Queen Mary as a favor to an old friend. She encounters a spirit on the ship which points her towards the half-century-old mystery . . .

I’m of two minds regarding this book. The stories of Simone and Annaliese are very well done. Each woman is given a unique voice, and their histories are compelling; the mystery surrounding their fatal voyage is engaging. You wind up caring deeply about the fate of both these women.

In contrast, Brette’s modern day storyline feels flat and tacked on. Her story feels like it exists solely as a tool to push the 1940s narrative along, and even then it feels unnecessary; Simone and Annaliese’s story could have been told entirely without the present-day narrative. The idea of a woman who can speak with ghosts is intriguing, but the end result here is unsatisfying. Brette allows herself to be bullied into investigating the haunted ship, all the while dealing with a husband who may or may not think she’s insane, but is trying to push her into having children anyway. Brette’s fears about motherhood, and passing on her unwanted ability onto her children are summarily brushed aside by her husband, and his acceptance (or lack thereof) of her abilities are never really resolved. I found the entire thing to be aggravating, and I found myself flipping past the chapters which featured Brette in favor of finding out what happened to the women in 1946.

In all, this is not a bad book, but I can’t help feel that the modern day narrative detracts from the overall story. Still, the book is worth checking out for Simone and Annaliese’s stories, and other readers may not find Brette’s storyline so off-putting.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. A Bridge Across the Ocean will be available for purchase on March 7th, 2017.

Book Review: Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

This is the 7th book featuring Gardner’s profiler pair, Quincy and Rainie. In case it isn’t obvious, there will likely be spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the other books. Additional caveat: I have not read the previous books in the series, but I was not lost, you can definitely read this book as a standalone if you wish.

The book begins from the point of view of a young boy. Telly loves his little sister, Sharlah, and will do anything to protect her from his drug addicted, abusive parents. One night, Telly’s father goes into a drug-fueled rampage, and Telly is forced to kill him to save himself and his sister.

Fast forward eight years and Sharlah is the foster daughter of Quincy and Rainie, ex-profilers and now private sector consultants. She hasn’t seen or had any contact with her brother since the night of their parent’s deaths. Then a simple “shots fired” call turns into a murder spree, and it seems like Sharlah’s older brother may be the gunman. As Quincy and Rainie are called into the case, Sharlah is forced to face the possibility that her brother may have always been a monster.

I enjoyed this dark thriller. Even without having read the previous books, it was easy to slip into the world of the primary characters. The subject matter is dark but well written, and while the plot seems to be straightforward at first, ample twists and turns will keep you interested. What I most liked was the intelligence of the Quincy and Rainie duo. You know all those niggling little details that occur in every mystery? The ones where you stop and go “Wait, that isn’t quite right,” well, those little things occur here as well, but (rather uniquely in my opinion) those little inconsistencies are picked up on by the protagonists. rather than being used as gotcha fuel later on in the book, those random little details are actually used to further the plot. More authors should make that attempt.

Fans of Jeffery Deaver or Lisa Unger will probably like this book, and I would think that if you’ve been following series thus far, this should be a no-brainer.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Right Behind You will be available for purchase on January 31st, 2017.

Book Review: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

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The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

This book is the sequel to Barry’s The Lace Reader, which has been on my TBR for quite some time (I picked it up at a library book sale a couple of years ago and simply never had the time). And while the characters in the Lace Reader do appear in this book, in The Fifth Petal, Barry chooses to focus on a few new characters in her slightly offset Salem, Massachusetts.

In 1989, three young women were murdered on Halloween night, allegedly while performing a satanic ritual. The crime, falling into legend as “The Goddess Murders,” were never solved, and continue to haunt the subconscious of Salem, Mass, ever since. Twenty-five years later, the sole suspect in the original murders is once again involved in an unusual homicide. The incident rips the scab off old wounds, bringing the Goddess Murders back into the limelight. Police Chief John Rafferty, with the aid of Callie Cahill, the only survivor of the massacre, must uncover the truth of what happened on Halloween two and a half decades ago, before more evil befalls the town.

This was an intriguing little mystery. The plots twists in and out of the Salem Witch Hysteria of 1692, and the lives of those victims and their accusers. Modern day witches, healers, and psychics abound. Banshees, wronged goddesses, and black magic infuse the plot. The modern day and the darkness of Puritan New England collide uniquely in Barry’s book. The plot meanders a bit, certain elements occasionally make the story seem overlong, but in all this is a tidy and engrossing mystery.

Any fan of mysteries will probably enjoy this book. The inclusion of plot lines from the Salem Witchcraft Trials was a big bonus for me. I had not read The Lace Reader before picking up this one (alas, I didn’t get the chance), but I was never lost. This book can be read as a stand-alone if preferred, though now I am doubly excited to read the first in the series.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Fifth Petal will be available for purchase on January 24th, 2017.

 

Book Review: The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni

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The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni

 

This is the fourth book in the Tracy Crosswhite series. Hopefully unnecessary caveat: There may well be spoilers in here for the first three books in the series.

When a high school student takes his boat out to an uninhabited island to poach crabs, he has no idea what he’s getting into. Tangled up in his trap line is another crab trap, one with the body of a woman inside . . .

Enter detective Tracy Crosswhite, still recovering from the events of previous novels. Crosswhite, who has a soft spot for young female murder victims after the death of her sister, is determined to find out who killed this woman and stuffed her body in a crab trap in Puget Sound. But identifying the victim turns out to be only the beginning. The more Crosswhite learns about the young woman in the trap, the more intricate and convoluted the mystery becomes.

I’m going to come right out and say it: I did not finish this book. The synopsis sounds great, and for the most part the mystery was intriguing. I was getting flashes of “Gone Girl” while reading certain parts. But I just couldn’t get behind Crosswhite as a main character. We just didn’t have any chemistry. Towards the middle of the book, I found myself skipping over page after page of baby-crazy contemplation on her part, and after a while, I just felt that life is too short to keep reading a book I’d lost interest in.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that this is not a good book. A mystery aficionado should give The Trapped Girl a try. I have mixed feelings about this book. I, personally, did not like the main character, and I also don’t crack open mystery novels to hear a central female character pine about wanting a child. Yet the mystery, without the added-on drama, was an interesting one, and one that unfolded in unexpected ways.

So, long story short, I didn’t like this book very much, but I certainly don’t discourage others for giving it a shot.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The Trapped Girl will be available for purchase on January 24th, 2017.