Review: Murder at the Village Fete by Catherine Coles #NetGalley #BookReview #1920s #Mystery

My thanks to NetGalley and BooksGoSocial for a review copy of this one.

After not really requesting books from NetGalley for a bit (so as to tackle by own TBR pile), last month I came across a handful that sounded so interesting and I ended up requesting. One of these was this one–Murder at the Village Fete. This one, a cosy mystery set in the 1920s, was described as Downton Abbey crossed with Murder She Wrote.

This is the second in a series, The Tommy and Evelyn Christie Mysteries. Tommy Christie, formerly a policeman is now Lord Northmoor having inherited the title unexpectedly in the previous book. His wife, Evelyn had also served in the police. In this one, the couple—who are still adjusting to their new life and roles—have been convinced by Evelyn’s sister, Millicent, to host the local fete at Hessleham Hall, while her father, a former MP has asked them to invite some of his close friends and former colleagues to stay. Most of the guests are trying with endless demands and complaints, causing much annoyance to both the staff and Evelyn. Among the guests staying with the Christies is the current local MP Robert Billingham, who is to open the fete. But on the morning of the fete, as Evelyn and Tommy are walking her Gordon Setters, Nancy and Davey, they come upon Billingham lying face down in the stream with a knife in his back! The case is entrusted to Detective Inspector Andrews, but Tommy and Evelyn soon realise that for their guests’ safety, they must themselves step in and find the murderer.  

For starters, even though this was the second in the series, this was not a hard one to get into; one gets a general idea of the events that unfolded in book 1 and it’s easy to pick up the threads again. We learn a little about the simpler lives Tommy and Evelyn lived before he came into the title, the struggles they are having adjusting, but also how they are using the opportunities that this brings to do well by people. Both Tommy and Evelyn are very likeable characters, as is the mischievous Auntie Em (Emily, Tommy’s aunt), who isn’t shy of speaking her mind.

The theme around which this mystery is centred is corruption in arms/ammunition supplies during the war which resulted in many soldiers losing their lives. Tommy is deeply affected by this since he had served in the war and is carrying wounds from the time. There are numerous suspects including even possibly Evelyn’s father, but certainly all the guests he has invited to Tommy and Evelyn’s for they were all serving in key positions at the time. And they have all received letters of blackmail about the incident. Besides the four, the beautiful new schoolteacher, Isolde Newley seems to be hiding something, while a young reporter, Ernest Franklin is also snooping around.

The mystery itself as a result has a few threads and with all of the main suspects having a stake in the corruption scandal, one is not quite sure which of them did it, or whether the blackmailer had more of a motive than blackmail itself. And then of course, there is another death as well, complicating matters. The Detective Inspector seems out of his depth (as is expected in such books) and it is Tommy and Evelyn who do much of the investigating.

The author also uses the story to explore relationships—highlighting Tommy and Evelyn’s comfortable and loving relationship where each has complete trust in the other; and give the other the chance to live their life fully, and so the things that make them happy (including Evelyn’s regular visits to the kitchen and doing some baking there). Some of the others we see are not as lucky. Alongside we also have a possible romance thread with Isolde Newley being somewhat interested in the attractive, but reticent local doctor, Dr. Mainwaring.

While this was a light and fun enough read, there were also some aspects that didn’t work for me. For one, while the murder was supposed to be at the village fete according to the title, we barely see any of the actual fete—I mean it is mentioned and some events happen, but nothing significant; even the murder has taken place before the actual fete, so the fete seems lost in all of this.

Then in the mystery, for one I felt, the murder itself happened far too soon, before we even really got to know the guests. There wasn’t even a chance to guess who the victim might be, it simply happens. Then in the investigation, in some of the conversations Tommy and Evelyn have with various people, they seem to approach them far too directly, rather than more tactfully, if that makes sense—you can’t exactly expect anyone to just come out and admit they were involved, after all. And one suspect Tommy just pronounces as innocent without giving a convincing enough reason (in fact, any reason) for doing so (that makes one begin to doubt his skills as a detective).

The other issue I had was with the writing itself; to me at times it felt (especially in some of the dialogue) far too modern for the time period in which it is set; for instance, Tommy using the expression ‘meet up’; also there were other instances where it just didn’t seem like people would speak that way/use those expressions, so it felt a bit off.

All in all while this had a promising setting and plot, it turned out just an okay read.

Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig #SpookyReads #BookReview #YoungAdult

House of Salt and Sorrows is a young adult fantasy novel which is essentially a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses but with a dark, in fact, a very dark twist. This one I came across purely by chance in a YouTube video by Hailey in Bookland and got a copy because it sounded so interesting.

In keeping with its dark done, the story opens with a funeral. Our heroine/narrator, Annaleigh Thaumas is one of twelve sisters, but sadly, only eight are left now. They lost their mother when the youngest was born, and since, four other sisters have died—of the plague, a drowning, and now Eulalie, of a plummeting fall—all tragic but seemingly accidental. But with Eulalie’s death, something changes. A young man, Edgar Morris who used to know her (in fact, claims that the two were in love) says he saw something strange on the night it happened. But only Annaleigh seems to believe him. Alongside, while Annaleigh’s family (at the instance of her stepmother Morella) makes a decision to leave aside mourning and attempt to return to normalcy after the tragedies that have plagued them all for far too long, more strange developments take place. Balls are thrown for the girls but the young men of society avoid dancing with the sisters for they are seen as cursed. Disappointed, the girls with their friend Fisher (the son of the housekeeper and their childhood pal) find a door to a magical world where they are invited to balls every night. Attendees are always masked, and wear beautiful gowns (as do our sisters–I thought these balls and the girls’ gorgeous gowns were beautifully described), there are refreshments galore but also something perhaps mysterious in them all—at least Annaleigh seems to get a sense of this. But her sisters are willing to continue to go, even when she stays behind. Their worn out shoes, as in the original story, are a puzzle to their father. In the ‘real’ world, things are not right either. Annaleigh is becoming increasingly suspicious about the circumstances surrounding Eulalie’s death. And one of her younger sisters, Verity not only sees some ghastly apparitions, but she has also been drawing them in her book—including scenes of her sisters’ deaths which she could not possibly have seen. But whenever Annaleigh tries to approach her father for help, either she is not listened to or it turns out that she was imagining it all. Was she? Does she manage to find out what is really going on and why her sisters died?

This story was meant to be a scary, dark read and it certainly was. From the tragedies that have struck and continue to strike the family to the ghastly apparitions that Verity ‘sees’ and draws in her book (to Annaleigh’s horror), to the nightmares Annaleigh has, everything keeps the mood and ‘feel’ very creepy indeed. The setting too, in a manor by the seaside, with cliffs for someone to plummet down from (as Eulalie did) was pretty perfect for the story. For me though, while these ghostly (and grisly) visions did add to the mood, what was truly unsettling were the moments when one couldn’t decide what was illusion and what was reality, and whether what we were taking to be the true version of events really was.

The world in which it is set is a fantasy one with magic yet without it, in that while our characters don’t have magical powers, theirs is a world which gods once frequented and can still influence, and there is some magic in operation like the door that the girls and Fisher find.  For the rest, the place where they live in is an island city in which while people are ordinary and yet, the author creates an ideal world where customs are more egalitarian, and women get their due.

I really enjoyed the plot of the book, the author’s spin on the twelve dancing princesses story. The mystery element was one to which there were some hints, but at the same time, we do get thrown off track suspecting almost everyone, especially since after a point one really doesn’t know what is illusion and what isn’t. I thought the explanation incorporating another story of legend was quite interesting (nicely done) though some parts of it I though went may be a bit too over the top; I mean some of those details it could have done without.

This was a great read for the Halloween season, and one which I enjoyed very much. My rating—4.5 stars).

It wouldn’t do to end this review without a sentence on the actual book. I really liked the cover itself but more so the lovely endpapers in black and silver which incorporate motifs associated with the story—the family’s octopus crest, masks from the balls, and chandeliers among them—very lovely.

Close up of the end papers

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Looking forward to you thoughts!

Shelf Control #115: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus #YoungAdult #Mystery #TBR

Wednesday, the 25th of November, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what it’s about, why you want to read it, when you got it, and such. If you participate, don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Today my pick is yet another young adult mystery (I seem to be reading or picking these up a lot lately), and the first in a series of the name name with (so far) two books, One of Us is Lying (2017) by Karen M. McManus.

Described as a mash up of The Breakfast Club and Pretty Little Liars, in this one, we have five students, Yale hopeful, Bronwyn (‘who has never publicly broken a rule’); Cooper, sports star (‘who only knows what he’s doing in the basketball diamond’); Nate, bad boy (‘only one misstep away from a life of crime’); Addy, prom queen (‘holding together the cracks in her perfect life’) and Simon, creator of a notorious gossip app at Bayview High. On Monday afternoon, all five walk into detention, but Simon never makes it out of the room–and this just 24 hours before he was set to post their deepest secrets online. All four immediately become suspects but did one of them actually do it or are they ‘the perfect pasties for the killer still on the loose’?

It is only in the last few years that I have been picking up young adult fiction a lot, mostly after coming across titles that sounded interesting on YouTube or Goodreads. And Young Adult mysteries have come to my notice that way as well (as also via NetGalley), and to my own surprise I have ended up enjoying a lot of them. This one being in what sounds like a typical high-school setting had me a little sceptical but being a mystery/whodunit proper (which I mostly can’t resist, as I’m sure is clear from my posts by now:)), I also did want to give it a shot, so I ended up ordering a copy. Goodreads friends have given it pretty positive reviews as well, so let’s see. I’m hoping this will turn out to be an enjoyable read.

The author Karen M. McManus lives in Massachusetts. She holds a masters degree in journalism, and has written three young adult mysteries/thriller, with a fourth book out later this year.

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Do you enjoy young adult mysteries? Which are some of your favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Cover image and book info from Goodreads as always (here) as is the author info (here)

Find Lisa’s pick this week, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth here

#BookReview: The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson #Mystery #YoungAdult #TrulyDevious

In The Hand on the Wall, Maureen Johnson gives us a satisfying conclusion to the two mysteries surrounding Ellingham Academy which we have been following from book 1. This is of course, the third book of the Truly Devious series of Young Adult mysteries (I recently found out that there is to be a fourth book but that will be an entirely new mystery).

Ellingham Academy, the setting for the series, is a school in Vermont which was established by a tycoon in the 1930s for students who excelled or were gifted in particular areas, and which allowed them to pursue curricula that were designed to develop these interests. For our main character Stevie or Stephanie Bell, this is true crime. She is interested in solving crimes and more specifically the mystery surrounding the school itself for 80 years ago just after the school was set up, the founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and while his wife’s body was found, his daughter Alice was never recovered. Another student Dottie Epstein, a rather clever young girl had also disappeared at the time. And just before the disappearances, Ellingham was receiving mysterious, threatening messages from someone who called themselves ‘Truly Devious’. Now as Stevie is beginning to reinvestigate the case, deaths begin to take place in the present as well, first one student and then a second, and both had been working on a documentary connected with the old case. And where we left off last, a third person interested in the Ellingham matter died in mysterious circumstances. But was it just an accident as it seemed to be?

In this instalment, Stevie has solved the 1930s mystery (or so she thinks), discovered who Truly Devious was, but Alice is yet to be found. Also, in the present-day mystery, the threads are yet to be connected—were all the deaths simply things gone wrong or accidents? Not only that, her boyfriend or at least the boy she was interested in, David has gone missing and is miffed with her for acting at the behest of his father. Stevie is feeling lost amidst all of this and needs to get her thoughts together but a huge storm is about to break out and the school is suddenly evacuated. Another turn of circumstances, and Stevie and a small group of friends end up being the only ones staying behind at Ellingham and in this freezing place, Stevie must put the final pieces of the puzzles (both) together.   

Compared to book 2, I found I got into this one far more easily (though the gap between my reading this and the last was about the same as between book 2 and book 1), and found myself absorbed back in right from the start. Like the first two books, this one also follows a dual timeline and so we the reader see events as they unfolded back in the 1930s (as also the present), while Stevie must work them out for herself, and so while she does solve the puzzle, we the reader have a fuller and clearer explanation (of the older mystery, I mean). This was something I oddly enjoyed. In fact, the 1930s mystery with all its twists and complications was the one I ended up enjoying much more than the present-day one. The solution to the latter too was satisfying, no doubt, but perhaps not something that entirely took me by surprise (I mean, not that I guessed but it wasn’t the kind that sometimes entirely blows one away, if that makes sense). The romance thread was also not my favourite but her friends were kind of fun. And I also did enjoy the Agatha Christie references (in this one it is essentially to And Then There Were None which is supposed to be Stevie’s favourite) once again.

Overall I really enjoyed the series, though and would like to read the new mystery when it comes out. What I’d have done differently with this series would have probably been to not read it as it came out but wait till they were all available because I felt with the gaps between books, I did lose track of characters and developments in the story.

Have you read this series? What did you think of it? Any other young adult mysteries that you’ve read and enjoyed? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Images: the first mine, and the second via Goodreads.

Shelf Control #114: Miss Moorthy Investigates by Ovidia Yu #HistoricalFiction #Mystery #TBR

Wednesday, the 18th of November, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Today my pick is a recently acquired cozy mystery, which I picked up after coming across the author by chance, on account mostly of its setting. The book is Miss Moorthy Investigates by Ovidia Yu and the setting is Singapore in the 1970s.

A couple of months ago, in a YouTube/booktube video discussing cosy mysteries on which I happened to leave a comment, I came across the author’s name in another comment which mentioned that Ovidia Yu’s mysteries were set in Singapore. This immediately interested me since I haven’t read very many books set in Singapore (I think Crazy Rich Asians was one series that fell in that category), and I love mysteries (as I’m sure you know by now), so she seemed a perfect author for me to explore. Looking further I found that she has a series set in 1930s Singapore, one featuring Aunty Lee which I think is contemporary, and then this one which seems to be a standalone, which is set in the 1970s. Since this was a short one and a standalone, I thought I might be a good place to start so I ordered it.

1970s Singapore–safe, strait-laced–is terrorized by a bizarre killer, ‘the Strangler’. The Strangler targets single, successful career women, and removes their hands. Miss Moorthy (based on the author’s friend), is a school teacher, and feels safe despite all the rumours around. But then her colleague Evelyn Ngui is murdered and her free-spirited flat-mate Connie encounters the murderer–and that too, in their apartment. Now Miss Moorthy must investigate. But will she be able to find the killer, and with all the secrets she’s uncovering, will she be able to come out alive?

This sounds really delightful since it combines what sounds like an interesting mystery with a setting which I certainly want to explore. All the more so since it is one I don’t really know much about (the time period in the place I mean). So certainly want to pick this one up soon.

Have you read anything by Ovidia Yu before? Which book/s and how did you like it/them? Any other mysteries or books set in Singapore that you enjoyed? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Book cover image and info from Goodreads as always (here)

Find Lisa’s pick this week, set in a dystopian future, The City in the Middle of the Night (here)

#Review: Naked Heat by Richard Castle #Mystery #Castle

Naked Heat is book 2 in the Nikki Heat series of books. The series was published as to tie-in with the TV series Castle in which Richard Castle, an author, first comes in contact with Detective Kate Beckett when a copycat killer bases his crimes on the former’s books, and decides to base his next series on her. The books were actually written by screenwriter Tom Straw, but published under Castle’s name and feature his picture as author. Since I enjoyed the series so much, the initial seasons particularly, I had been meaning to give the books a try as well, and now I finally read this one which I’d bought last year.

 This one opens with Nikki Heat on her way to a crime scene when she encounters something rather unusual. At the crime scene, she finds a victim who used to drive a truck delivering vegetables and fruit with no apparent reason why anyone would kill him. Almost before finishing with that scene, she is called to a second crime scene. Here the victim is a gossip columnist, Cassidy Towne and the person that reporter the murder is journalist Jameson Rook, who was working on a story on her. Needless to say, Towne was no pleasant person and has an endless list of ‘victims’ who’d wish her dead. We follow Rook and Heat and officers Riley and Ochoa as they interview suspects and try to find out which of them actually did her in. As Towne was a celebrity columnist, this is the world they find themselves navigating—not just a singer and a sportsman but also a politician whose career Towne cut short, and Rook’s connections help get them around a bit.

On the personal front, Rook and Heat have broken up since the article he was shadowing her team for ended up focusing on her rather than the team as a whole which left them all angry, and Nikki feeling wronged. Working with Nikki again on this case, Rook hopes to patch things up with her and the others, but Nikki’s old boyfriend enters the scene complicating things a little.

This is an enjoyable read that plays out more or less like any episode of the show Castle. The characters are basically versions of those—Castle is Rook, Beckett is Heat, Ryan is Riley, Esposito is Ochoa, and medical examiner Lanie is Lauren, while Castle’s mother Martha becomes Margaret though his daughter is not in the book (nor mentioned). The mystery is fairly complicated with plenty of suspects (all with strong enough motives) and some red herrings. We also learn something interesting about Rook; while Heat’s mother’s murder is mentioned but there are no developments in that direction. The only complaint if any I had was that may be it felt was a touch too long; but as someone who really enjoyed the show, I thought this was a great deal of fun.

Are you a fan of the show? Have you read this one or any of the others in this series or the Derrick Storm ones? Which ones and how did you like them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Shelf Control #113: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Wednesday, the 11th of November, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, where you got it and such. If you participate, don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

This week, once again, I’m picking from my recent acquisitions, and is one I just picked up because it was on sale (on Kindle) and it was one I’d been hearing about a lot though I didn’t quite know what the story was about exactly–The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This book was written by American author Mary Ann Shafer but the editor had requested changes which involved substantial rewriting; since her own health was declining at this point, Shafer entrusted the editing and rewriting to her niece, Annie Barrows, author of children’s books.

This one is set just after the Second World War–1946. Juliet Ashton is an author suffering writer’s block. One day she receives a letter from a stranger Dawsey Adams who came across her name written in a second-hand book of essays. And so she enters into correspondence with him and through this become aware of a society he is part of, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. She begins to correspond with other members as well and learns about their love for books, life on the island, and their time under German occupation. And she eventually ends up travelling to Guernsey! The book is told in epistolary form.

This sounds like a read which which combines elements that will be sweet and pleasant–the correspondence which develops between Juliet and the members of the society, but also graver themes like life under German occupation which will probably not be as easy to read about. While I do find books set around the war and the experiences that people went through hard to read about I also do think it important that we are aware of them, so this will be something I would want to pick up. I haven’t watched the film version so far.

Have you read this one? How did you find it? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Cover image and book info from Goodreads (here) and also Wikipedia (here).

Find Lisa’s pick this week, Mrs Everything by Jennifer Weiner here. This is historical fiction set in the 1960s about two girls for whom life doesn’t quite turn out what they’d imagined.