These Shallow Graves (Jennifer Donnelly, 2015)

these shallow

Why did you choose this book? 

The synopsis and cover intrigued me.  It should also be said that this cover is misleading.  It is not a horror novel but rather a kind of cute teen historical mystery with a tad bit of forensic science.

What’s it about?

Jo Montfort has it all – a supportive family, social status as one of the elites of 1890s New York, one of the most desirable bachelors courting her…and yet she’s a fierce and independent young lady.  While away at finishing school, her father is found dead, presumably from the accidental discharge of his revolver.  But Jo finds this hard to believe and as she investigates, she learns that he was murdered.  Through her new friendship with reporter Eddie Gallagher and city morgue employee Oscar Rubin, she tries to find her father’s murderer and bring him/her to justice, even though it means scouring the underbelly of New York.  As the other partners in Van Houten Shipping start falling to the murderer’s knife, time is running out.

Categories

Teen fiction, historical mystery

Other recommended reads?

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott features a girl on a mission, though in a fantasy world and with much more athletic prowess.  A better match would be A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn, a historical mystery with a kick-ass heroine and one of my favorite reads so far this year.

Review

I thought this was quite a good book.  As I said earlier, the cover is a bit misleading.  That being said, I did not identify the murderer or motive before Jo.  I did find her a bit annoying sometimes in her insistence on being taken to the heart of the matter, regardless of the risk to herself or her companions.  The forensic science was well-done and believable, but the author’s note made her sound a bit crazy (characters speaking to her and whatnot).  The major issue I had with Jo is that she is too naive to know what a brothel and madam are, yet she has no problem kissing Eddie…

Up next?

Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville (I think anyway)

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The Forgotten Room (Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig, 2016)

the forgotten room

Why did you choose this book?

I thought the premise sounded intriguing, very similar to one of my favorite authors, Kate Morton.

What’s it about?

The chapters rotate between three characters.  First is Kate, a doctor in 1940s New York, working in a hospital that used to be a mansion.  Second is Olive, the daughter of an architect now working as a maid in 1890s New York.  Third is Lucy, working as a secretary in a law firm and boarding in an old mansion in 1920s New York.  The three are grandmother, mother, and daughter and are all connected to the same imposing edifice.

Categories

Historical fiction, mystery

Other recommended reads?

Kate Morton’s The Secret KeeperThe House at Riverton, or The Forgotten Garden.  But The Secret Keeper has the World War II tie-in.

Review

I loved the rotation between the characters and the level of mystery in this novel.  It took me quite a while to put all of the pieces together.  For example, which man each woman married, which man was the father of each daughter, the connections of each woman to the house, and how much of the backstory each of them knew.  It was quite the tale!  As much as I loved that, I didn’t care for any of the female protagonists that much.  My favorite character was one of their love interests, Harry, and while he played a supporting role, he stole the show!

Up next?

The Glass Sentence by SE Grove

A Curious Beginning (Deanna Raybourn, 2015)

curious beginning

Why did you choose this book?

A historical mystery with a spunky female protagonist!

What’s it about?

Veronica Speedwell is a professional butterfly-hunter interested in all areas of natural history.  She is also an orphan, taken in by a pair of elderly sisters.  After the second sister’s funeral, she returns home to find a burglar.  He threatens her but she is rescued by a German baron, who whisks her away to London, promises to tell her about her family, and deposits her in the warehouse home of a tattooed taxidermist named Stoker.  When the baron is murdered, the two are on the run before either is arrested in connection with the crime.

Categories

Historical mystery, set in London, late 1800s

Other recommended reads?

This is the best historical mystery I’ve read in a while.  Another series set in historic London is the Lucy Campion series by Susanna Calkins, though that series is set much earlier.  If it’s the writing style you like, try Wendy Sand Eckel’s Murder at Barclay Meadow.

Review

I loved this book!  Veronica is a feisty heroine who never takes no for an answer and isn’t afraid to get her Victorian hands dirty.  Stoker is the gruff but intelligent male counterpart along for her adventures.  I love the hint of romantic tension between the pair without being smacked in the face by romance.  I really enjoyed the author’s writing style.  The language was stilted enough to keep the reader in the 1800s, but it was witty and made me chuckle.  It was also easy enough to understand that I didn’t have to think about it, like I do with older authors like Agatha Christie.  I enjoyed this one enough that I will be going back and reading her other series – Lady Julia Gray.  Have you read those?  I don’t know anything about them – so please share your thoughts but no spoilers!

Up next?

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell

 

The Scorpion Rules (Erin Bow, 2015)

scorpion rules

Why did you choose this book?

It was surrounded by a lot of book buzz.  Seriously, I heard about this everywhere.

What’s it about?

It’s about a dystopian future.  After the ice caps melted, cities flooded and there were serious water shortages.  The world dissolved into war.  To combat this, an AI named Talis took over and established Preceptures.  The ruling power of each country would send the heir to a Precepture, and the heir would be killed if the country went to war.  This system worked fairly well, until now…

Categories

Teen, dystopian

Other recommended reads?

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Final thoughts?

I loved Greta’s character – she was a strong female, but still had her faults.  Some aspects of the book were a bit on the brutal side.  I have never read a book with a strong robot element before, and I’m intrigued.  I loved the character of the Abbot.  Possible spoiler – an AI Class Two is a robot with a consciousness that was once embodied in a person.  Some of these transitions were successful (such as Talis and the Abbot) and some were not.  I want to know more about Talis and the Abbot before they became AI.  I cried at one point – let me know where this book hits you.  I have a feeling it has emotional plot points for everyone and they’re all in different places.  Here’s hoping for a sequel…

Up next?

All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani

Cooking as Fast as I Can (Cat Cora, 2015)

cooking as fast as I can

Why did you choose this book?

Primarily due to my obsession with Food Network and celebrity chefs.

What’s it about?

This is a memoir of Iron Chef and TV personality Cat Cora, best known for her take on Mediterranean cuisine.

Categories?

Memoir, food, celebrity chefs

Other recommended reads?

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

Review

This is one of the best-written and most enjoyable memoirs I have read in a very very long time.  I learned a lot about Cat (like that she is a lesbian, was sexually abused as a child by a family friend, was adopted and has a good relationship with her birth and adoptive families, and has 4 boys (2 biologically hers) with her partner).  Cat is honest about the stress of celebrity life and the negative impact it has had on her family, and about her struggles reaching the place she is now.

Up next?

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

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

Lumberjanes (Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson)

lumberjanes

Why did you choose this book?

I had heard a lot of buzz about this one on websites and in library catalogs.  It won two Eisner awards this year.

What’s it about?

It’s a graphic novel for middle-grade readers.  Jo, Mal, Molly, April, and Ripley are all attending a scouting camp with a very complicated name.  But every time they leave their cabin, they run into strange, dangerous, and magical creatures.  What’s going on at this place?

Categories?

JFIC, fantasy, graphic novels

Other recommended reads?

This novel appeals to readers who like strong female characters, and enjoy reading stories packed with adventure, but who also don’t mind that adventure having a magical twist.  It’s kind of like a graphic novel, female-centric version of Percy Jackson (Rick Riordan) or The Thirty Nine Clues (which is my FAVORITE JFIC series for so very many reasons).

Final thoughts?

I thought the idea of a hipster yeti was awesome.  That being said, the parts of the book that were from the scouting manual needed to be proof-read (for typos) and edited (they didn’t make much sense).  The illustrations were well done, but the book didn’t read as a unified story, just a bunch of disconnected adventures with a cliff-hanger ending.  I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the next one or not.

Up next?

The Zhivago Affair by Peter Finn