The Masque of a Murderer (Susanna Calkins, 2015)

masque of a murderer

Why did you choose this book?

l honestly don’t remember.  It came out in April and has been languishing on my TBR (to be read) pile ever since.  I think I probably read about it somewhere and decided it sounded good.  I am an avid cozy mystery reader, and this is my first attempt at reading one set in the distant past.

What’s it about?

This is the 3rd in a series, though the 1st of that series I’ve read.  The story takes place in London, after the plague and Great Fire have swept through, sometime in the mid-1660s.  Lucy works as an apprentice at a printer’s shop, though she maintains close ties with the family she previously served as a maid.  Sarah, the daughter of that family, just returned from America with her Quaker friends.  The pair receives word that a Friend, Jacob Whitby, has been run over by a cart.  But on his deathbed, Jacob’s final words warn Lucy that he was pushed and that he fears one of the Quakers cannot be trusted.  Is he right, or are these the delusional mutterings of a dying man?

Categories?

Mystery, cozy mystery, historical fiction

Other recommended reads?

Really, anything in the cozy genre.  I know her mysteries are set in a more recent time period, but if you like this one you’ll probably enjoy Agatha Christie, the Queen of the cozy.

Review?

I didn’t enjoy this as much as I wanted to.  I found myself becoming annoyed with the stilted dialogue of the Quakers (lots of thee and thou), and I didn’t really have sympathy toward any of the characters.  There was no sense of suspense and no worry for the protagonist.  I honestly didn’t even care which romantic interest she chose.  I didn’t figure out the culprit, but was that because it was well-written or because I didn’t care?  It was an average read for me.

Up next?

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater

The Royal We (Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, 2015)

royal we

Why did you choose this book?

I was intrigued by the idea of a novel based on the story of Prince William and Princess Kate.  The book was much larger than I thought it would be (at 400ish pages), and I love the cover art.

What’s it about?

Bex Porter has left Iowa and her twin sister Lacey behind to spend a semester at Oxford.  It turns out that she is in the same dorm as Nick, the heir to the British throne.  The two strike up an unlikely, rocky, and adorable friendship and the rest is history.  Or is it?

Categories?

Fiction.  Some people would probably say romance, but I don’t think that the romantic storyline is the entire point of the book.  There are a lot of other elements in Bex’s life.

Other recommended reads?

For some reason this book reminded me a lot of Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin.  Another story about relationships and friendships in the modern age.

Final thoughts?

I absolutely adored this book.  Seriously.  I couldn’t get enough of it, and I thought about it even when I wasn’t reading.  I was enthralled by the humanity of Bex, Nick and their friends.  It’s tempting to make a book like this into a pure fairytale, but the characters had human faults and made mistakes.  I love Bex’s gumption and tomboyishness.  I also have to say that I became really emotionally involved in this novel.  I laughed out loud several times, which I never ever do when I read.  It was just hilarious!  There were a couple of arguments where I was so into Bex’s perspective that I wanted her to say more and really drive her point home.  I also wish the book had covered just one more day in the timeline.  If you read it you’ll see what I mean.  And if you like romantic comedies at all you’ll read it.  I can’t recommend this one strongly enough.

Up next?

The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins

Rebel Queen (Michelle Moran, 2015)

rebelqueen

Why did you choose this book?

Two reasons.  First, I saw an ARC in my director’s office and had to grab it based on the fact that it was historical fiction set in India.  Second, I’m in a book club outside of my job and this is our current pick.

What’s it about?

Sita is a young girl growing up in the village of Barwa Sagar in the 1800s.  Her mother dies giving birth to her younger sister in a culture where having girls is a curse (they take large dowries away to their husbands’ families).  In order to provide a dowry for her sister, Sita trains to become one of the Durgavasi, elite female bodyguards charged with protecting the rani (the queen located in Jhansi).  Sita becomes one of these warriors, but her life certainly won’t be smooth sailing, especially as the British continue to tighten their colonial hold on India.

Categories?

Fiction, historical fiction, Indian history and culture

Other recommended reads?

Although it focuses on a Western historical figure, I was reminded of The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki.

Final thoughts?

I loved Sita’s character, and reading about life for the Durgavasi.  I thought the book was extremely well-researched and I learned a significant amount about Indian culture and customs (such as purdah, the practice of keeping women confined to their homes and out of sight).  I wish it had a happier ending, but I understand that the author was sticking to the facts of the historical record.  I do want to read more about the rani and her bodyguards, and according to the historical note, there is plenty of documentation about these women.

Up next?

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Every Last Word (Tamara Ireland Stone, 2015)

everylastword

Why did you choose this book?

I’m intrigued by reading about people with mental illness.  This novel features a teen struggling with OCD and was highly recommended on some of the book websites I visit.

What’s it about?

Samantha McAllister hangs out with a group of the most popular girls in school, and struggles to hide her OCD and weekly visits to the psychiatrist.  One day she meets Caroline, and the two become immediate friends.  Caroline introduces Sam to an underground poetry group at their school, and Sam becomes part of a new group of friends and a much more fulfilling life…until something happens that makes her question her sanity in an entirely different way.

Categories?

Fiction, teen, mental illness

Other recommended reads?

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver (2015) for reasons I can’t explain due to spoilers.  If you read them both, let me know what you think of the comparison.  Also, Dead Poets Society by NH Kleinbaum (2006) for what I hope are obvious reasons.

Final thoughts?

I have seriously mixed feelings about this book.  First, the description says that Sam has purely obsessional OCD.  However, she always has to drive her car until the odometer stops on a three before parking.  That is a compulsion – the obsession is whatever reason she thinks she needs to stop on three.  So I quibble with the diagnosis.

I am completely done with underground poetry reading groups as plot devices.  I didn’t like Dead Poets Society and this poetry group reminded me of that experience.

This book made me cry.  I’m not sure that the biggest twist was necessary, but it was heart-wrenching and completely unexpected.  Again, if you read this book, let me know your thoughts.  SERIOUSLY.

Up next?

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book (Peter Finn and Petra Couvee, 2014)

zhivagoaffair

Why did you choose this book?

I’ve mentioned before I think that I lead book discussions as part of my job.  This is our library book club pick this month.

What’s it about?

Boris Pasternak was a well-known Russian poet before he wrote his masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago.  Due to the restrictions placed on literature by the Soviet government, the novel would not be published in Russia.  This book is part biography of Pasternak, part the path the novel took to publication, and part the ramifications of the book on Pasternak/the Soviet Union/the world.

Categories?

Nonfiction, biography, Russian history, history of literature

Other recommended reads?

This is a hard one because it depends on what draws you to the book.  If you like it for the history of literature, you might also like The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills (2015).  If you like it for Russian history, you might like Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous LIfe of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan (2015).

Final thoughts?

I found this book to be a bit of a struggle.  I’m not a lover of Russian literature (I gave up on Crime and Punishment after about 50 pages in high school, though I kept my copy to try again later).  It was very densely packed with historical research and I really wanted the author to provide a glossary of important figures, as the names all blended together (example: Surkov and Simonov).  When the individuals aren’t mentioned frequently, it’s hard for someone not familiar with Russian names to keep them straight.

Up next?

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

The Divorce Papers (Susan Rieger, 2014)

divorce papers

Why did you choose this book?

I remember seeing it highly recommended either on Amazon or LibraryReads when it was first published.  I was tidying the stacks of our fiction section one night and on impulse decided it was time to read it.

What’s it about?

Sophie Diehl is a successful criminal lawyer living in Narragansett (here used as a fictional state).  Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim and her husband Daniel are getting divorced.  When all of the divorce lawyers are occupied, Sophie completes the initial interview with Mia.  Mia loves Sophie’s spunk and asks that she act as the divorce attorney for the proceedings.  This plot is the majority of the book, but some sections also deal with Sophie’s personal life, conflict between Mia and Daniel, and the impact of the entire situation on their daughter, Jane.

Categories?

Fiction, epistolary

Other recommended reads?

To enjoy this book, you absolutely have to be a fan of the epistolary novel (aka a novel written entirely in letters or other ephemera).  My favorite book as a tween was PS Longer Letter Later by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger, which was composed entirely of letters and emails.  The first adult novel that jumps into my mind is S by JJ Abrams, which I have not read, but desperately want to.

Final thoughts?

I love a good epistolary novel.  That being said, this one dealt so heavily with official legal paperwork and jargon that the going was extremely slow sometimes.  I wanted more correspondence between Sophie and the people in her personal life, and between Mia and her friends.  The most interesting part to me was probably the transcription of Jane’s psychiatric evaluation.  I guess I either wanted more variation in the types of material included, or a shorter novel.

Up next?

Hopefully, The Zhivago Affair, but it’s slow going so far.

Plantation Shudders (Ellen Byron)

plantation shudders

Why did you choose this book?

Recently, I’ve been entering a lot of GoodReads giveaways in the hope of actually winning a book or two.  This is the first (and so far only) title I’ve won!

What’s it about?

Maggie Crozat lives with her parents and helps them run their family’s ancestral plantation as a bed and breakfast.  Guests are pouring in from all over the country, including an unpleasant elderly couple, Hal and Beverly Clabber.  One night the power goes out, and when it’s restored, Hal is dead.  Beverly takes a heart pill and within moments has also passed away.  Was one of the guests responsible?  The plot thickens further as a result of Hatfield and McCoy-esque tension between Maggie and the local chief of police.

Categories?

Cozy mystery, mostly.  I personally really love cozies, and refer often to a certain cozy mystery blog.  It is a fantastic resource, listing new cozy releases, indexing cozies by author and genre, and providing this fabulous definition of what makes a cozy mystery worthy of the title.

Other recommended reads?

My theory is that if you like one cozy mystery, you’ll probably like them all.  Though each has a slightly different topic, there are plenty dealing with the Deep South and Cajun culture, and plenty where the amateur sleuth runs a bed and breakfast.

Final thoughts?

Sometimes I find cozies predictable and can guess the culprit and the motive before the final chapter.  This cozy was excellent in that I couldn’t figure it out, though I almost wonder if the motive was too obscure for a reader to guess.  One problem I had is that this novel stretches what I know as the definition of a cozy mystery.  At times there is profanity.  Usually a cozy implies that two characters were attracted to each other or that they had sex.  This one used phrases like libido, turned on, and stating that a couple had sex.  While I’m fine with reading about sex, a reader expecting a traditional cozy would probably be a little stunned.

Up next?

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger (2014)