Book Review: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

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The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

I’m continuing my Sherlockian trend with the first of this series by Laurie R. King!

Sherlock Holmes has retired from the life of a consulting detective to keep bees and indulge in chemistry experiments in the Sussex Downs. Mary Russell is a teenage orphan, forced to live with her penurious aunt until her majority. When the two chance to meet, Holmes is not expecting to encounter a mind equal to his, and Mary Russell is not expecting to find a mentor. This first book chronicles the first four years of their friendship.

This is the first in a series which now contains fourteen books. I’m definitely late to the party. Like most of the other Sherlock Holmes stuff I’m reading lately, the choice was inspired by From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Boström. The book is a series of interconnected vignettes rather than one contiguous story. In The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, we move from Mary and Sherlock’s first meeting, to their strange friendship, and the beginning of Mary’s training in the art of detection.

In Mary Russell, King has given us a heroine who is fiercely intelligent and independent, and more than a match for Holmes himself. I loved that while she shares a lot of Holmes’ personality traits, the two complement one another rather than existing as mirror-image duplicates. As with any new series, there is always the awkward getting-to-know-you period. But this is a great start to a series, and I’m quite looking forward to binging on the rest of the series.

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Book Review: The Atwelle Confession by Joel Gordonson


The Atwelle Confession by Joel Gordonson

There’s something odd about St. Clements church in Atwelle, Cambridge researcher Margeaux Wood can feel it. When odd gargoyles are found carved into the eaves of the church during its restoration, her hunch seems to be confirmed. Teaming up with Don Whiby, the architect in charge of the restorations, Margeaux sets out to uncover the story behind the unique carvings. But then there is a murder, and soon another, and the pattern of the murders seems to echo the mysterious carvings in the eves. Furthermore, these murders seem to echo similar crimes committed during the reign of Henry VIII . . .

I really liked the concept of this book. The interplay between Tudor England and modern times was well done. Gordonson gives the reader a wealth of historical detail to work with, and I found the balancing act played by both church officials and highly placed citizenry during Henry VIII’s conflict with the Vatican to be truly fascinating. The mystery itself is original and interesting.

That being said, I found the execution of the book to be somewhat wanting. The characters of Margeaux and Don, and others central to the plot, feel a bit unfinished. There is little to the characters beyond the immediate needs of the story, nothing about wants, desires, or dreams beyond the gargoyles in the church. Additionally, the antagonists seem to have little motivation for being such. They are acting to foil or to harm our protagonists, yes, but why?

There are some nicely suspenseful scenes in this book, with a good creep factor to boot. But I did find that several opportunities for suspense were passed by, possibly to increase the pace of the book. The plot does move quickly, but occasionally feels like it’s stampeding along, sacrificing plot and character development in the process.

I guess my overall impression is one of haste. The plot gallops along, leaving us with quick glimpses of something fascinating. Taking the time to give the reader a bit more to work with, to flesh out the characters, the world they live in, and the (really quite interesting) central mystery would have given this book real punch.

In all, this is a fantastic idea, with a great amount of attention paid to historical detail. Gordonson is certainly able to craft a compelling story. But I feel that as written, we are seeing only the bare bones of a great story.

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

Book Review: That Last Weekend by Laura DiSilverio

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That Last Weekend: A Novel of Suspense by Laura DiSilverio

Five college friends stayed at the same castle-like bed and breakfast every year, until tragedy struck. Pushed away by suspicion and fear, and drifting further apart due to distance and time, they now barely speak to one another. Until, ten years after that fateful night, each receives an invitation to return to the Chateau du Cygne Noir for one last weekend. The demons of the past and the present join forces, and death stalks the chateau. The five friends must confront their past and rip open old wounds to finally uncover the truth.

If all this sounds like a Christopher Pike novel to you, you are not far off (old person question: do people still read Christopher Pike books? Or are you looking up his Wikipedia page right now?). I’m not sure if I’m just burned out on the psychological thriller genre, but I just couldn’t get into this book. I tried, but ultimately, I couldn’t get behind any of the main characters, and reading the book felt a bit like my middle school reads attempted an Agatha Christie radio drama.

But, maybe I’m being overly harsh. I’ve certainly been hitting the psychological thrillers harder than the whiskey recently, and I have to say, they’ve all started to look alike to me. I think too many plot twists may have turned my head. If you’re generally a fan of the genre, or you’re old enough to look back at The Midnight Club with something like nostalgia, then give this book a whirl. I’d like to know if quiet, self-conscious, jogging female protagonists have turned me into a bitter old hag.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

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Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land

Milly used to be Annie. But everything changed when she walked into a police station and told the officer on duty about her mother. Annie’s mother was a serial killer. Annie got a new foster family and a new name, and her mother is in jail.

But the trial is coming up, and Milly-Annie must face her mother one more time, must be the one who sends her away for good. But with the stress of the trial and tensions in her foster family; is Annie her own person, or simply her mother’s daughter?

This is one of those ubiquitous psychological thrillers which are all the rage these days (young people, grumble grumble). But Good Me Bad Me stands out from the pack for being a truly disturbing read. Honestly, parts of this book read more like a horror novel than a psychological thriller. I’m a fan.

Milly’s past is shown to us in flashes and snippets, with a lot left implied or unsaid. Her mother is truly a boogeyman figure, who looms dark and sinister even when Milly is supposed to feel safe. And yet, Milly’s relationship with her mother is more complicated than monster and victim. Milly hates and fears her mother, yes, but these emotions are tangled up in a truly twisted love of the person who raised her, and a desire to make her mother proud (The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne superbly explored this fucked up family dynamic).

The book loses a bit of steam for me when it goes in for all the high school drama (yes, yes, teenagers are the real psychopaths, this is old news). Though the truly horrific bullying experienced by Milly provides a great backdrop for her struggle between some semblance of normality, or the sociopathic tendencies nurtured by her mother.

In all, this book is a standout in an overcrowded genre. Those who enjoy their books dark, disturbing, and more than a bit fucked up will want to add this one to their to-read lists.

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

Book Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas


A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas

This is the second Lady Sherlock book by Sherry Thomas. You should naturally expect spoilers for the first book, A Study in Scarlet Women in this review. If you haven’t yet read the first book, stop what you’re doing and read it now. I’ll wait.

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I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first book featuring Charlotte Holmes. Rather than the trite gender-swapped rehashing of the well-trod Sherlock Holmes stories, I found a smart, witty, and wonderfully realized mystery featuring not Sherlock Holmes, but a woman whose brilliant deductive mind is trapped in the body of a Victorian society lady,mwith all the attendant limitations and societal entrapment.

The second book in the series does not disappoint. Taking place shortly after the first book leaves off, we find Charlotte settling into the life of a social pariah, and enjoying the freedom that comes with being “Sherlock Holmes.” Things go a bit sideways when she is approached by the wife of Lord Ingram, her childhood friend, who is trying to track down her first love. Beyond the obvious conflicts of investigating the case without the knowledge of Lord Ingram, the further Charlotte digs into the identity and history of Lady Ingram’s former paramour, the more strangely complicated matters become. Soon Charlotte finds herself embroiled in hidden ciphers, codes within codes, blackmail plots, poisoning, and espionage. Weaving these disparate threads into a resolution will tax even her brilliant mind.

Charlotte Holmes is simply a great character. She is by no means a female stand-in for the great detective, rather it’s as if Thomas grew her from scratch; a brilliant and analytical mind on par with Sherlock Holmes, but within a person who has had to grow up adhering (to a greater or lesser degree) the societal expectations for a nineteenth-century lady of breeding. Thomas also continues to develop the characters of Mrs. Watson, Lord Ingram, Inspector Treadle, and Charlotte’s older sister, Livia. Though the supporting characters don’t get as much attention as Charlotte, there were several excellent subplots throughout the book. I was especially impressed with the characterization of Inspector Treadle, an honorable and forthright man, trying to come to grips with the existence of women who seek a measure of independence. This could easily have turned into some cliche or overdone condemnation of weak-minded men, but instead we see Treadles honestly wrestling with himself and his preconceptions.

Fans of historical mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, and the like should check out this series. If you enjoyed A Study in Scarlet Women you will likely enjoy this book as well. I cannot wait to see what Thomas does in future books in this series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Fever by Deon Meyer

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Fever by Deon Meyer

A mysterious illness swept across the world, killing off 95% of the population. Months after the disaster peaked, 13 year old Nico Storm and his father, Willem, drive across the blighted landscape of South Africa, trying to survive in a new and terrifying world. Coming to a small town with hydroelectric power equipment still intact, Nico’s father dreams of creating an ideal, rational society out of the ashes of the old world. The community grows and so do its enemies. Loyalty, honor, and optimism must wage a war against fascism, zealotry, and violence.

This is an epic book, as the post-apocalyptic genre lends itself to. The book spans years, from Nico and Willem’s first days scavenging, through to the development and success of the community that they establish. The book’s true focus is not necessarily on the post apocalyptic world, but rather on the nature of humankind itself. The book is written from Nico’s perspective, and focuses on the defining moment of his life: the murder of his father. By unwinding the story of the post-fever world and the development of a utopian community, we unravel the events which led to Willem Storm’s assassination.

This is a very human novel. There are no monsters or mutants here to provide danger, simply people. In that regard, the book strongly reminds me of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The tension and suspense come not from creepy-crawlies out to eat our protagonists, but the very very scary question about what will triumph in a global catastrophe. Will “the better angels of our nature” win the day, or will they fall to the petty evilness that lurks in the human psyche? I think it is this question which makes the post-apocalyptic genre so compelling. Can we put our faith in human nature?

This book was well written and grand in scale. The South African setting provided a new point of view for me over here in the United States. Anyone with a love for post-apocalyptic tales should check out this book.

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

Book Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

 The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
This book has been drifting around my TBR for a bit. But after my recent read of From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Boström, I find myself moving any and all Sherlock Holmes stories up on my to-read list. This book is significant because is is one of the only stories to win the seal of approval from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate, his heirs being determined to jealously preserve the Holmes mystique. So with all that in mind, there’s a lot of pressure on Horowitz to deliver not only a good mystery, but also a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

The story begins in typical fashion, with Holmes and Watson (visiting his old friend while his wife is away) sitting in their respective chairs by the fire. Sherlock delivers his usual uncannily accurate observations on Watson’s recent activities. Watson, per usual is totally flabbergasted until the requisite explanation is offered. From there we delve into a multifaceted mystery encompassing stolen artwork, Irish gangs, Pinkerton Detectives, and threats to the Baker Street Irregulars. 

Horowitz is careful to include many of the common elements from Conan Doyle’s stories. The House of Silk, written for a modern audience, is darker and more violent than the original stories. Horowitz, not needing to contend with Victorian sensibilities, is able to lay out what Doyle only hinted at. In all, though, this is a well done addition to the Holmes canon. Fans of Sherlock Homes (duh) or Victorian mysteries should add this book to their to-read lists.

Book Review: Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

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Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

In 2002, popular college professor Chuck Buhrman was brutally murdered. His teenage daughter, Lanie, watched as Warren Cave, the neighbor’s son, pulled the trigger. Buhrman’s death ripped his family apart. Lanie and her twin sister, Josie became estranged, and their mother abandoned her children to join a cult.

It has been over a decade since Chuck Buhrman’s death, and Josie has survived by cutting herself off from everything and anything to do with her family. But suddenly a podcast revisiting the events of that night goes viral, and Josie finds that, ultimately, there is no escape from the past.

Dragged back home by the death of her mother, Josie is forced to confront the fact that Lanie may not have told the truth about what happened the night their father died. Afraid of both knowing and not knowing, Josie and her carefully constructed life slowly begin to unravel.

Thrillers like these are very much in vogue right now. I know I’ve been reading quite a few. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but when everyone is trying to get on the “Girl on a Train,” wagon, everything can start to look the same. This book, while similar to those put out to great effect by Paula Hawkins, Clare Mackintosh, and Ruth Ware, does stand out for it’s up-to-the-minute plot. With the rise of true-crime podcasts like Serial, obscure crimes and obscure people suddenly find themselves pushed into the limelight. Some will certainly relish their moments in the sun, but I think that many would find unexpected national scrutiny to be something out of a nightmare.

The use of the viral podcast and the effects of sudden and unwanted infamy make this story stand out. Writing this story from the point of view of the victim’s family, now with the sympathy of the nation turning against them, was an excellent choice, and the paranoia and claustrophobia caused by the sudden scrutiny was well written.

Those who have enjoyed books like The Girl on the Train, In a Dark, Dark Wood, or I See You will probably like this book. If you’re a fan of Serial or other such true-crime podcasts, this book might be right up your alley as well.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

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Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

It’s been a year since Sybilla “Billie” Flanagan disappeared while on a solo hiking trip. Missing and presumed dead, her grieving husband and teenage daughter have been left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. Then one day at school, Billie’s daughter has a vision: her mother is alive, somewhere out there, and needs Olive to come find her. Jonathan, Billie’s husband, initially dismisses the idea that Billie is still alive. After all, he has just recently been able to accept the fact of her death. But then a chance encounter with one of Billie’s friends reveals that his wife has been keeping secrets from him for years. The deeper he digs into his wife’s mysterious past, the more uncertain he becomes about the woman he married, and whether she did actually perish a year ago.

This is a tight, subtle thriller. We know Billie, former wild child turned Berkeley super mom by the holes she left in the lives of those around her. While Olive and Jonathan work in their own ways to find out what happened to Billie, we see her surface persona slowly scraped away, and something different and darker start to show through underneath. Every revelation about who Billie was adds more mystery, rather than less, to her ultimate fate. Through the course of the book, you find yourself very smugly sure that so-and-so knows what happened to Billie, only to have that assumption ripped away a few chapters later, and your focus moved on to a new suspect.

Fans of mysteries and thrillers will probably enjoy this book. The story has several elements in common with Gone Girl. If you’ve enjoyed books in that vein, this is a good pick for you.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: I Am No One by Patrick Flannery

I Am No One by Patrick Flannery

Jeremy O’Keefe is your average, everyday NYU history professor. Nothing special or remarkable to make him stick out from a crowd, except perhaps for a decade spent teaching overseas at Oxford University. Then, one day, he goes to a cafe to meet one of his graduate students and is stood up. Returning to his office, he finds he emailed said student earlier that day, asking for a postponement . . . but he has no memory of sending that email. Strange events continue to build: people who seem to be following him, or waiting outside his home and his office–staring in through the windows. The events culminate when he is sent a plain brown box, a box that contains a computer printout of every website he has ever visited in the past decade. The line between paranoia and true persecution continues to blur as Jeremy finds himself at the center of an incredibly large and complex, yet faceless surveillance. What could he possibly have done to make himself such a target?

Flannery has a very flowing, lyrical writing style. The book, written in the first person, flows and skips along in the vein of a free association memoir. Jeremy O’Keefe, who’s focus of study is surveillance within totalitarian states, is a man who seems to harbor more than the usual amount of baseline paranoia. As the events in the book continue to pile up upon his consciousness, that natural high functioning paranoia begins to change into something darker. Self doubt begins with worries of dementia, of fugue states, then transfers to the possibility of serious mental disorder, then finally to certainty, and the corresponding uncertainty of who to trust.

The beginning of the book was incredibly interesting. Flannery does a great job in his creation of Jeremy O’Keefe; the character is complex, multidimensional, and very relatable. The uncertainty whether Jeremy’s paranoia is justified and to what extent, combined with the slow unraveling of the events of his life over the past decade, form an intriguing little mystery as the reliability of our narrator is called into question. Unfortunately, the tension that underscores the first part of the book is not maintained, leaving the ending flat, anticlimactic, and unsatisfying. As the final parts of the book see the puzzle pieces fall into place, the revelation of the truth should be disturbing and electrifying. Unfortunately, the knowledge of the truth pales in comparison to the anxiety of not knowing, and the reader can’t help but feel a bit let down and cheated by how something potentially earth-shattering can feel so banal.

Those who are heavily into psychological thrillers may still want to check out this book for the interesting beginning and the fine characterization of the protagonist. But I feel that most readers will be left frustrated by the lackluster ending.

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