I received a complimentary ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Ghostly visions of the past. A dangerous magical mirror and pearl. Family secrets coming to light like monsters in a bedroom. *Sings These are a few of my favorite things. To read about.
Nicola Cornick’s House of Shadows was a delightfully eerie surprise when I discovered it nestled deep in my Kindle history the other day. Told from different perspectives—historical and present-day—and containing the gothic and romantic elements that I adore in Susanna Kearsley & Kate Morton’s books, House of Shadows had me enraptured from the word go to the final, satisfying lines.
I’ll try to keep the plot’s description simple though Cornick grandly pulls off a big story. Part of the book surrounds Queen Elizabeth Stuart, a 17th-century monarch who’s been sent off to royal exile and dreams of a better world, one she and her husband hope to create through the use of a magical mirror and pearl. And then we have Holly Ansell in the present-day, whose brother Ben is missing, and who runs into other mysteries as she looks for him: like the aforementioned mirror and pearl, the diary of a courtesan she discovers on her search (that’s the novel’s third perspective), and the ghostly visions she keeps seeing as she lives and works in the village her brother was last in.
House of Shadows reads like a detective novel of sorts, with Holly on the search for her brother, feeling like every clue she solves in this larger mirror & pearl historical mystery is taking her closer to finding him. Cornick’s historical descriptions are lush and lovely and her depictions of complicated women interesting and astute. I love how she captures different personalities in this book and how she not only makes aha connections between the characters but also links them to moments in time. These women feel the weight of their personal (and sometimes global) histories, and that’s part of what makes them so compelling to watch—and root for.
Like Morton’s books, Cornick’s features a “historical” romance and a “contemporary” one. I had some slight issues with the pacing of the contemporary one but then it turned suspenseful in the way that I adore.
House of Shadows is a scrumptious treat, and one I heartily recommend as we run headlong into fall. Give me all the ghost stories (with romance and magic and mayhem!).
4.5 out of 5 stars
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher but all opinions provided are my own.
Would you like your hero and heroine to be overall decent people but slightlyyyyy sketchy? And they live in a black+white=gray world, where they’re willing to risk everything to do what they feel like is right (even if it’s something that’s not technically legal?) And how steamy do you want it? Sexy and bold, with heroes who usually aren’t super expressive, even in the ending, but who would do anything for their partner?
You’ve come to the right place.
Outfox is Brown’s latest release, a dramatic, high-octane, high-stakes ride.
Drex Easton has a personal stake in finally capturing the con-man/serial killer he’s been following for years. When Drex’s partners tell him they think they’ve found the killer in Charleston, South Carolina, he’s only too willing to risk everything—including a superior FBI agent’s wrath—to try to take this guy down. Drex’s case is pretty slim, especially since the guy Jasper is married, which would be a pretty big breach in the alleged con-man/serial killer’s MO.
Jasper’s wife is Talia Shafer, and as soon as Drex sees her, bam, it’s instalust all the way. Does she know that her husband is almost definitely the murderer Drex has been chasing? Is she complicit in his crimes? Or is she an innocent victim?
Sandra Brown really knows how to write alpha heroes who are instantly stricken by the heroine, and I love it. The slick, manipulative personality that Drex takes on is no match for his lust and while his devotion to his admirable mission is stronger, he can’t help but want Talia in every way.
But there was a pretty big problem for me. On one hand, it’s uber sensual/exciting/passionate, how Drex’s drawn to her even though he knows he shouldn’t be and vice versa. On the other, Talia’s married, and she’s the wife of the man he’s hunting, so it’s not even close to being aboveboard. It’s part of that whole black+white=gray world I mentioned earlier.
Like in all of Brown’s books that I’ve read, the mystery is compelling and Brown’s writing is smart and punchy, but there are some aspects of the plot that I wasn’t as convinced by. There was at least one substantial conclusion that Drex and his partners seem to jump to, and I’m obviously not an expert, but I was surprised no one was saying, let’s wait before we get totally crazy here.
And a bigger lapse for me is that I wanted more from Talia’s characterization throughout the book. She’s beautiful and warm and ambitious—all the good things—but without getting too spoiler-y, the twists she takes later would have been even more convincing had there been more notice before. As it is, there were moments when her responses almost seemed shallow because they felt a little too spontaneous.
These plot quibbles aside, Outfox is uber romantic (if you can ignore that whole already-married thing--hey! her husband is probably a serial killer), with one of Brown’s more expressive heroes, and a really lovely Epilogue. All-around it’s a 3.5-4 star read for me, a gray area that I’m happy to leave gray.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a mystery-thriller where a secondary character is murdered and the hunt for his killer does not guarantee—and likely will not include—a romantic Happily Ever After (HEA). What I did feel assured of in reading Jane Harper’s The Lost Man was a resolution to the mystery—an answer to the questions that had been assailing me from the first pages—and it hit me with the force that Harper likely intended.
Harper is a stand-out mystery-thriller writer, and The Lost Man is devastatingly powerful, a whodunit where the focus is pretty small—a household of family members and three employees—and the stakes are proportionately higher: the killer of Cameron Bright is someone they all know. Someone they still eat meals with. Someone who mourned at the funeral.
The expansive, isolated, brutal Australian outback is the setting for this story and the place of Cameron’s death. A beloved member of his community, Cameron is found dead on a sweltering hot Australian afternoon at the Stockman’s grave—the site of a local myth/ghost story. Initially his death looks to be suicide, but questions abound, and Cameron’s semi-estranged brother Nathan can’t help but try to answer them.
Harper is a stellar mystery writer and here she writes so intimately. Family secrets are exposed. Family grief is complicated by the weight of their shared drama. And someone in the house—someone who has been mourning Cameron’s death—is the same person who left him to die an extremely painful death at the Stockman’s grave. All the while we learn about this family, Harper is turning the screw tighter, heightening the tension.
For me, that’s the real thrill of Harper’s books: how exquisitely she captures her characters and their setting. You feel like to come to know them, even if there are some parts of their story you’d like to shy away from. And like Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, which blew me away earlier this year with Hannah’s absolutely incredible descriptions of the great wild, Harper portrays the Australian outback fantastically. It’s dangerous and beautiful. It’s a place where rules apply and people are punished by not following them, but the rules have been adapted by living in a place where most people wouldn’t/couldn’t.
As I tore through the pages of The Lost Man, I was reminded again and again of how talented Jane Harper is, how she makes the world her characters inhabit come alive in a fierce/dramatic/unputadownable way, and how I am not meant to live in the Balamara region of Australia. At all.
Q: Do you have a favorite thriller-mystery writer? One of my other favorites is Tana French. You have to read her if you haven’t already!
Content Warning below:
Rape. Physical & emotional abuse.
I won a beautiful hard-copy of this book from a Goodreads contest. Thanks, Goodreads & Gallery Books!
PI Kira Vance sustains no major injuries when someone starts shooting people in the house where she’s working on a case, but her employer-mentor Ollie Novak dies. What had he just found out about the murder case they were working on, and did it get him killed?
Within hours Kira’s hired to discover the answer to those questions. Keeping her safe is Jeremy Owen, a former soldier and current bodyguard of sorts who Kira’s also dangerously attracted to.
So let’s see: so far we have an urgent mystery *ticks fingers*, danger, and a sweeeet romance plot. Everything that I needed to keep me reading Laura Griffin’s Her Deadly Secrets and finish it in one day.
Some of my friends like thrillers but haven’t necessarily made the leap to romantic suspense. Laura Griffin is a great place to start. Like Karen Rose’s romantic suspense books or Kylie Brant’s Mindhunter series, Griffin’s books are smart and gripping, plus they have kissing!
The mystery angle of Her Deadly Secrets is adeptly written, with a cast of main and secondary characters who are both knowledgeable and committed to discovering the answers behind Ollie’s murder. Griffin unravels the whodunit clue by compelling clue, as the exceptionally competent Kira and Jeremy race around the city following leads and trying to avoid getting killed next.
Although I wanted a bit more at the end, the romance plot, too, is satisfying. Griffin builds up the sexual tension between Kira & Jeremy, as mainly Jeremy tries to resist acting on the feelings between them and possibly being taken off Kira’s security. When they finally relent, it’s lovely and passionate, and has an obvious layer of “deep-like-maybe-more” underneath it all, which I am all here for. But Griffin keeps up the suspense here too: will the physical attraction and their feelings be enough to keep them together, even after the case is *hopefully* solved?
Kira and Jeremy are just the latest in a line of Griffin’s heroes and heroines who gave me the heart-eyes, and whom I hope to encounter again, the next time that someone faces danger in a future Griffin book. And I will be reading more, because Griffin writes thoughtful & sexy romantic suspense, and if I haven’t told you that enough, that’s my thing.
Q: do you think you'd like to be a PI? I actually thought to myself yesterday--at the beginning of the book--that I would, but I was reminded by the end why I couldn't/shouldn't.
A princess who is second in line to the throne. A hot Scot. A Roman Holiday-esque adventure. A murder mystery.
This gorgeous book has it all—and it’s certain to hit the spot for all of those people who love their romance with a hefty dose of suspense and/or royal aficionados whose heartstrings are still resonating from all the love and romance on the other side of the pond (must be nice).
Theodora “Thea” Isabella Victoria knows how to play the role of princess because, in her words, “I really was a princess. I had the tiara, the palace, the framed certificate, and everything.” But in a real departure from a princess story, Thea’s fiancé, Christian Fraser-Campbell, a duke, abandons her at the altar, resulting in her ignominious exile to Perpetua, a territory of Drieden (the name of her kingdom), for four months.
After returning to the palace and her responsibilities as second in line to the throne, she escapes to a bar—as she is sometimes wont to do when her life’s demands become too much. There, she meets a man named Nick who makes her wonder if her betrothed deliberately left her at the altar, or if someone made him disappear. Now the hunt is on, and our runaway princess wants answers as the questions become more and more complicated…
The Royal Runaway kept me engrossed from beginning to end. First, there is Thea, the whip-smart narrator with a dry sense of humor; a beautiful historian of sorts who is also an able escape artist. Then there is the romance (sighhhhh)*, and a conflict between royal duty and the need to escape, which Emory thoughtfully plays up throughout the book.
And it’s all very well done. Somehow the book manages to be both effervescent and weighty, so that I was quickly turning the pages, lulled into happiness by the romance and adventure, and then occasionally shocked by the reminder that the stakes regarding Christian’s disappearance were actually quite high.
In short: The Royal Runaway is a lovely book that packs a wallop.
**The romance scenes in this book are *fade to black*, so this book is highly recommended for those who like to read exciting and charismatic romance stories that are also less explicit.
I’ve always been too terrified to watch scary movies, but give me a good gothic novel and I’m in heaven. Especially a gothic novel with romance. Then I’m there with an awkwardly enthusiastic smile and a glitter covered poster-board.
That’s why I always eagerly anticipate a Susanna Kearsley novel. They have some of the things that I find most delicious in a gothic work: a historical and contemporary timeline, in which the contemporary characters are trying to solve a mystery related to the historical timeline; vividly rendered, atmospheric backdrops, often with supernatural elements, whether it’s ghosts, time travel, mysteriously found artifacts, etc.; romance in both the historical and contemporary timelines. Sometimes it’s doomed, sometimes it’s HEA, but it’s always lovely and fills me with the same happiness I get from a peaceful morning: dew still on the ground, pear-colored light slanting in through the windows, and a cup of coffee in my hand. You get the picture.
Kearsley’s latest, Bellewether, is set in Long Island and revolves around two timelines: one set during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), and one set during present day. In the present-day timeline, Charley Van Hoek has moved to Millbank, New York after the death of her brother to care for her young adult niece, Rachel, and her house, and to be the curator of the Wilde House museum. The Wilde House is famous for being the home of Benjamin Wilde, a famous Revolutionary War hero, and for being haunted. The locals say that you can see a lantern wandering the path from the house to the water, and they attribute the ghost carrying it to a doomed love story: a French soldier who has "signed the paper giving his parole of honor" (basically a POW, in our terms), was held in the home at the end of the French and Indian War, and he and the young woman of the house—who was loyal to the British, the opposing side—fell in love. The legend says that he was murdered by the young woman’s brother when their relationship was discovered.
We get Charley’s perspective, but luckily for us, we also get Jean-Phillipe’s—the French soldier—and Lydia Wilde’s, the young woman. Jean-Phillipe, a soldier born in Canada and fighting for the French, is drawn to Lydia, even though he knows no English and can sense her resentment toward his presence in her home. Lydia is recovering from the loss of her fiancé, who was killed by the French during the French and Indian War.
Did Jean-Phillipe and Lydia have a romantic relationship, despite the odds against them? Did it end in both of their deaths, as the legend says? Is there a ghost at Wilde House?
The answers are in Bellewether.
Though I was a little bemused (perhaps even slightly disappointed) by one plot element (DM me for spoiler-y details!), on the whole this book was exactly what I was craving and expecting. A compelling mystery-romance that kept me engrossed to the very last page; two haunting stories that intertwined; and richly developed historical details that made me think about how we write our history, and that prove once again how wonderful of a storyteller Kearsley is.
Pssst! If You Like This Book, Try: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, any Kate Morton book, The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
**I was given an ARC of this book from Netgalley, but all opinions provided are my own.
So I'm posting this a little later than I expected. But, you know. Life got in the way.
I have no memory whatsoever of requesting this book from my library, but I’m so glad that I did. If you’re looking for a mystery with complicated characters doing what they can to live with their pasts and survive in their present, then this book is calling your name. Do you hear it?
Police Detective Casey Duncan reveals to a therapist at the beginning of City of the Lost that she killed her former boyfriend. She shot him after he left her to be mercilessly beaten by men who were angry that he was selling drugs on their turf—and she was never charged with the crime. This is a long-standing pattern of behavior for her, of revealing what she did to therapists and waiting for the consequences to catch up to her. In her case, those consequences could come through the law, or through her former boyfriend’s family, who are members of an organized crime syndicate.
So when Casey’s present-day lover is shot when he tries to protect her, she’s very upset, but not entirely surprised that her former boyfriend’s family has finally figured his death out and come for revenge. Concurrently, Casey’s best friend Diana’s abusive husband attacks her again, and Diana begs Casey to move with her to a city she’s heard about, where it’s possible to entirely disappear. Wanting to protect the man who was shot trying to save her and her best friend, Casey reluctantly agrees to move to this community in the wilds of Canada.
Still with me?
This community of roughly 200 people is completely off the grid, completely hidden from outsiders. But they do have some pluses, including an attractive—and extremely complicated (read the second line of the post)—sheriff, Eric Dalton, who isn’t happy about Casey’s presence and who gives her 6-months before he sends her back home. There’s also the small matter of a proportionately high number of people being killed in this community, for no clear reason that Eric or others can determine.
Can Casey crack the case? Is it possible for her to change Eric’s mind, and does she want to? And more important for her own development, can she come to terms with what she’s done?
As with the finest of mystery novels, the mystery here is secondary to Armstrong’s skilled characterization of people who have made tremendous mistakes but who have much to offer each other and themselves.
And if you enjoy this one as much as I did, check out the sequel: A Darkness Absolute. It’s on my To Read list.
Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell is the kind of book that I get really excited about. Marvelous characterization and a tense, surprising plot=a happy Jess. This book did not go where I thought it would, and after I finished the last sentence, I was left thinking about what had happened and wondering where the characters would end up next. I’m still thinking about it.
The book opens immediately following the moment that Rachel has “shot her husband dead.” Rachel reads the emotions on her husband’s face—his “anger,” his “outrage,” his “determination.” Then “He looked right at her as the most incomprehensible of emotions staked its claim and subsumed all others: Love.”
From the moment I finished reading this formidable prologue, I was racing with questions. Starting with, of course, why Rachel shot her husband. Why and how they ended up there. If she loved him too. If I would remain invested in a story when I knew so much about the characters’ fate from the first pages. The answer to the last question was a resounding and enthusiastic YES!
Immediately following the prologue, Lehane’s narrator moves into an exploration of Rachel’s childhood, as the daughter of an impressive and yet hard to love therapist. In contrast to the opening pages of the novel, these next pages take on a John Irving-esque storytelling quality. While that might sound like some kind of narrative let-down—coming as it does immediately after Rachel has shot her husband—it wasn’t at all. Instead, Lehane offers a lovely treatment of a domestic drama—a drama that we see will have profound implications on Rachel’s life and which might help to explain how exactly she ended up shooting her husband.
After Rachel’s mother dies, she hires a man named Brian to find out who her father, James, is. This private investigator, Brian, becomes a steady presence in her life, even if from afar. He helps her find James. He emails her sporadically to compliment her journalism. He is nearly one of the only people in her life who encourages her after she experiences an on-air melt-down. And when Rachel becomes agoraphobic—her world shrinking down to the safe walls of her apartment—it’s Brian who is patiently there for her.
But Brian has secrets, and job or no job, Rachel is still an investigative journalist. Who is this man she married? Who has been the one person who has supported her unceasingly and patiently, but who has, undeniably, lied to Rachel? The pacing of the plot winds up again, inexorably taking us to that moment in the prologue—that moment that I forgot about for much of the book because Dennis Lehane is a wizard who made me forget that that explosive moment was coming.
Since We Fell is an inventive, nuanced love story unlike any that I’ve ever read before.
I received a complimentary subscription to Book of the Month for a month, and I selected Since We Fell. All opinions included in this review are my own. Book of the Month is a monthly subscription service which offers a curated list of hardback books, all selected by fantastic judges. You can select one book per month, or you can skip that month, if you'd like (you can also add an extra book for a fee). Shipping is free. Book of the Month is running a promotion this month: Sign up for a 3-month membership for $10 per month.
Need to Know: A cinematic, tense murder-mystery that probes at questions surrounding the lies and truths of friendship and the secrets we keep.
From the opening lines of The Dry—a gruesome meditation on the blowflies swarming around the dead bodies of the Handler family—to the last stirring, powerful lines, I was hooked into this murder-mystery. This book offers a tense, mesmerizing ride; it's an extraordinarily focused mystery that also manages to be tender and empathetic to many of its characters.
When the novel opens, Luke Handler, his wife, Karen, and their young son, Billy, have been shot and killed. All signs point to Luke as being the perpetrator of the murders. Aaron Falk, a police officer who lives in Melbourne and who was once Luke’s best friend, returns to Kiewarra for the funeral. While there, he’s enlisted by Luke’s parents to investigate what happened.
Complicating Aaron’s presence there is the fact that when he and Luke were teens, one of their closest friends, Ellie Deacon, was found dead. The people of Kiewarra suspected the two young men, but Luke and Aaron avoided any further suspicion by using the same alibi. The problem is that they weren't being honest about where they were the day that Ellie died.
The questions surrounding the whodunits drive the plot forward and double the tension. Could Luke have murdered his wife and son and killed himself? Are the Handler murders and Ellie’s death related in some way?
Underpinning all of these questions is the drought in Kiewarra, a drought that’s devastating the community. That’s making people act in unexpected ways. That’s creating near boiling conditions where anything could happen, particularly when the Handlers have just been killed and the person suspected of killing Ellie Deacon is walking in their community again.
The Dry is such a good mystery. Finely crafted and well-written, with a compelling plot that doesn’t skimp on thoughtful characterization. Some of the scenes in this book, particularly regarding the child Billy, are incredibly difficult to read; partly because, plot aside, these were characters that I cared about. But don’t let that stop you from reading this really great book.
The Need to Know: It’s Always the Husband was like candy to me: a delicious treat that I quickly gobbled up.
Last weekend I raced through Michele Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband, a compelling, dramatic mystery that reminds me so much of one of my favorite shows, How to Get Away with Murder (HTGAWM). Like HTGAWM, It’s Always the Husband focuses on a small group of friends who attend a private school together. Booze, drugs, sex, and drama abound.
Also like HTGAWM, eventually the characters in It’s Always the Husband find themselves confronting something much darker than the jealousies, insecurities, and resentments that underlie their friendship.
In It’s Always the Husband, Aubrey, Jenny, and the beautiful, charismatic Kate don’t have a perfect friendship. But they’re college freshmen roommates, and they’re the closest friends each of them have.
Fast forward twenty-two years later, and now Kate is dead. Who did it? And why?
Campbell does an excellent job of using flashbacks to illuminate her characters’ deepest motivations and desires. These are characters that I didn’t feel protective of or emotionally drawn to, but layered, complicated characters who, at their core, want something more than acceptance: an acknowledgement of their superiority.
Even more important in terms of this murder-mystery plot, Campbell’s ability to hold these various threads of the story together so skillfully means that the reader has suspicions about what happened to Kate and why, but no real certainty until the book’s last pages. As Campbell suggests through her portrayal of Aubrey, Jenny, and Kate and their dangerous friendship, any number of characters might have had motive—to use the police vocab—to kill Kate.
If you’re in the mood for a moody, dramatic murder-mystery that’s centered on a rich portrayal of a female friendship, check out It’s Always the Husband.
**I received a complimentary copy of Michele Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband from SheSpeaks but all opinions included here are my own. This book will be released on 05/16/17 and is available for pre-order today.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.