Review: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In the new novel from the bestselling author of Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied follows a young woman as she returns to her childhood summer camp to uncover the truth about a tragedy that happened there fifteen years ago.

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.

My Thoughts:

The story in Last Time is exciting. I enjoyed Emma’s return to Camp Nightingale as she simultaneously tries to learn what happened to her cabin mates and also move through that traumatic event. The mystery surrounding the girls’ disappearances was well done, and it took me until the end of the book to put it all together. As someone who reads a lot of mysteries, I’m always pleased when a mystery or thriller catches me off guard and is able to keep me guessing. That being said, if you’re paying enough attention, you might be able to figure out the ending sooner. But, like any good thriller writer, Sager includes the right amount of twists, turns, and red herrings to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

I really liked the detail of Emma’s artist career. The descriptions of her paintings were so vivid I felt like I could see the paintings right in front of me! Emma’s artwork is eerie, sensual, and shocking, which makes sense given what happened in her past. Riley Sager made a spot on career choice for Emma, though, and it adds considerable depth to her character. I also thought it was interesting that almost every single character in Last Time is unlikeable, which even includes Emma, our protagonist. I’m not bothered by this choice as I do love rooting for unlikeable characters, especially heroines, but it’s also tough when the reader feels at a distance to everyone involved. I think it’s helpful, even in thrillers, for the reader to like at least one main character.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! I really enjoyed Sager’s debut novel, Final Girls, and was nervous that Last Time wouldn’t live up to the hype. But I think I enjoyed Last Time even more than Final Girls! This is a fun, engaging, and quick summer read. It would be an excellent choice for a vacation read! I highly recommend this book, especially to fans of A.J. Finn and Ruth Ware.

This book is…

unputdownable

shocking

engaging

entertaining

spooky

Publisher: Dutton Books

Genre: thriller

Page Count: 384

ISBN: 1524743070

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read The Last Time I Lied? What thriller would you recommend?

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Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

My Thoughts:

This story is creepy! I loved how much Flynn used Missouri in this story. Missouri is not just the setting of this novel, it is a character in this novel. From luxurious details about the heat and how it gets under your skin to descriptions of the fields and rivers around town, Flynn lets Missouri embody the story. The characters in Sharp Objects are dried up, prickly, and bored. It reminds me of the play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. In both stories, the unrelenting heat coupled with limited locations drives the characters to make questionable choices. And no one wants to own up to their mistakes.

Camille is a fascinating protagonist. We learn early on that she previously spent time in a psychiatric hospital and that she’s also a heavy drinker. Immediately, Camille’s perceptions are distrusted. Most characters in Sharp Objects act different ways with different people which, especially when coupled with the heat, mean appearances can be deceiving. Camille is also obstinate at times, and her futile interactions with her distant family make the reader question what really happened to drive a wedge between mother and daughter.

And speaking of mothers and daughters, Camille and her mother, Adora, are destructive to themselves, each other, and everyone around them. One of the things I loved about Gone Girl was how much Flynn pushed back against traditional gender roles and challenged some stereotypes. She takes a similar approach in Sharp Objects by questioning the notion that all women should be mothers and that they are, inherently, good mothers. To say that Adora is not a good mother is a massive understatement. Camille seems reluctant to take that path herself which is understandable once we get to know Adora.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! Sharp Objects is definitely more gruesome than Gone Girl, so please keep that in mind if you’re expecting many similarities in tone. I’m eagerly awaiting the HBO miniseries and can’t wait to see how it compares to the book. I would also love to see this turned into a play. It would work quite well! I highly recommend this book, especially for fans of Tana French.

This book is…

sensuous

unputdownable

eerie

unsettling

shocking

This book contains content warnings for…

self-harm

child abuse

animal abuse

Publisher: Broadway Books

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 254

ISBN: 0307341550

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Sharp Objects? What mystery book would you recommend?

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Review: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Welcome to Three Pines, where the cruelest month is about to deliver on its threat. It’s spring in the tiny, forgotten village; buds are on the trees and the first flowers are struggling through the newly thawed earth. But not everything is meant to return to life. . .

When some villagers decide to celebrate Easter with a séance at the Old Hadley House, they are hoping to rid the town of its evil—until one of their party dies of fright. Was this a natural death, or was the victim somehow helped along? Brilliant, compassionate Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to investigate, in a case that will force him to face his own ghosts as well as those of a seemingly idyllic town where relationships are far more dangerous than they seem.

My Thoughts:

The murder mystery in this book was really intriguing. This story kicks off with all things haunted and spooky as the central characters attempt a séance in an old house. I thought this was a fun twist on the ‘scared to death’ saying. Penny writes mysteries similarly to Agatha Christie. While reading the story, it’s impossible to predict the murderer. But once everything is revealed, it feels like the answer was right in front of you the whole time! I can assure you that this murder’s solution is quite surprising. There are lots of great plot twists in this story which keeps this book moving along nicely.

The Cruelest Month introduced us to a few new Three Pines residents, which was nicely timed to shake up the cast a bit. While I always enjoy Penny’s writing style, this book struck me as even more lyrical than the previous ones. I enjoyed her musings on the themes of spring, rebirth, and resurrection. Penny did a great job of tying these themes in with the mystery solution and resolution of some other plot points. The ending of this story is difficult to discuss without spoiling everything, but rest assured that The Cruelest Month wraps up this trilogy quite nicely, while still providing room for this series to grow.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I loved that this mystery resolved some of the broader plot points that occurred in the previous two books in the series. I still enjoy this series and would highly recommend this book. Is there a mystery series you’d recommend?

This book is…

lyrical

memorable

thought provoking

surprising

charming

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 311

ISBN: 0312573502

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read any of Louise Penny’s books? What were you reading this weekend?

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Review: The English Wife by Lauren Willig

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

My Thoughts:

I loved the initial premise of this book. I’m a big fan of mystery novels, and really enjoyed the beginning of The English Wife, in which one half of a married couple is found dead and the other half is missing. This plot is difficult to discuss without giving anything away, but I found the story to be extremely compelling and creative. There were quite a few plot twists and I can honestly say I never saw them coming. Lauren Willig uses flashbacks brilliantly in this story. Through these flashbacks we learn just enough at a time to keep the plot moving forward without answering every single question.

The characters in this story were incredibly diverse in terms of temperament, but certainly not in terms of race. Bayard and Annabelle make a great pair and play off each other nicely. My favorite character, though, was Bayard’s sister, Janie. I loved her tenacity, her intelligence, and took great pleasure in reading her character development. Per any mystery novel this one has lots of murder suspects, which always makes for fun reading. This book definitely has plenty of characters to love, hate, and to love to hate.

A few notes follow here about the ending, and I promise I won’t spoil it!

This story does not completely wrap up in the end. While some plot points are resolved, one or two are left up in the air. I’m not sure if Willig intended this solely so the reader can make up their own mind, or if a sequel is expected. Usually, I’m not a fan of ambiguous endings. I prefer to know what happened. But Willig did a nice job of tying enough loose ends and leaving a little bit unsaid in case there is a sequel.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I read much of Willig’s series, The Pink Carnation, but this was the first non-Carnation book of hers that I’ve read. I love that Willig writes complex characters, complicated plots, and romance on the side. I thought this book was a very fun read and I would definitely recommend this book, especially for historical fiction fans.

This book is…

surprising

engaging

full of twists and turns

unputdownable

satisfying

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 376

ISBN: 1250056276

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read any of Lauren Willig’s books? What other mystery would you recommend?

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Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed the plot of The Death of Mrs. Westaway. While there were some elements that I didn’t fully understand as they were revealed, Ware did a great job of tying everything together in the end and explaining all. I also loved that the reader was piecing the story together along with Hal, who makes for a great protagonist. Hal is determined, realistic, and likeable. I liked Ware’s take on the unlikeable hero as the reader knows what Hal is doing is wrong, but still wants her to succeed anyway.

The pacing in this book is interesting. At first, the story moves along slowly. The pace does pick up a bit and become more engrossing towards the middle and definitely keeps the reader engaged in the end. But for me the beginning lagged a bit. Additionally, this is one of the few stories I’ve read in which I wished for an epilogue. I wanted to know more about Hal’s next steps and what would happen with the Westaway family. This is left up to the reader’s imagination. Usually I prefer when an author doesn’t spell everything out for the reader but I do think this book needed it.

I loved that this mystery really revolves around the women in the Westaway family. Ultimately, this story is about choices. Sometimes we make good choices and sometimes they’re bad. But The Death of Mrs. Westaway is about making choices and living with the consequences. I believe that every character in this story is suffering under the weight of the consequences of their actions. I found it fascinating to read how decisions can play out within one family and several generations.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! The Death of Mrs. Westaway felt different than Ware’s previous novels. There’s no active murder investigation and much of the action revolves around conversations. In a lot of ways, this book actually reminds me of an Agatha Christie novel. I love Agatha Christie, so the slower pace was not a problem for me. But it might be something to keep in mind if you need more of an action driven plot. I would highly recommend this book, especially for fans of more traditional mysteries and Old Hollywood Movies.

This book is…

surprising

clever

well-written

engaging

old-school

Publisher: Scout Press

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 384

ISBN: 1501156217

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read any of Ruth Ware’s books? Are you excited to read The Death of Mrs. Westaway?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.

No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death.

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he’s dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?

With his trademark compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find the dangerous secrets long buried there. For a Quebec winter is not only staggeringly beautiful but deadly, and the people of Three Pines know better than to reveal too much of themselves. But other dangers are becoming clear to Gamache. As a bitter wind blows into the village, something even more chilling is coming for Gamache himself.

My Thoughts:

The mystery in this book is incredible. Penny does a fantastic job of blending two seemingly disparate cases, keeping the reader guessing for a long time. CC’s death is all at once shocking and fascinating. With a cunning plot to rival Agatha Christie, you’ll never guess just how CC was electrocuted during an outdoor curling match! I also really enjoyed the clues that Penny slowly and methodically presents to Gamache and the reader. What I love about Penny’s writing is that she provides enough clues to the reader that they could put two and two together on their own, but the solution is always just out of reach until the conclusion.

Penny paints small town life with such a loving and yet also critical brush. This town and the detective force each have so much to offer, but neither world is perfect. Secrets abound everywhere. Penny hinted at secrets that Gamache and a few other characters hide in her first book, but secrecy really kicked into gear in this second book. We learn more about Gamache’s backstory in this book, which really speaks volumes as to who he is as a person. I’m also curious to learn more about a few of the other detectives, as it seems that some people are not quite what they seem.

One of my favorite things in Penny’s writing is her characters. Every single character we meet, both on the detective force and those residing in Three Pines, is memorable, quirky, and human. Many of these characters are extremely set in their ways, which makes for contrasting personalities all over the place. I especially love that Gamache prioritizes listening in his investigations. This choice leads to interesting conversations with his fellow detectives and the townspeople. There is so much to be said for listening and understanding, particularly during a murder investigation. This component reminds me of an Agatha Christie novel, in which the investigators had to rely on intuition and conversations to solve a case.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. I’ve quickly become a huge fan of Louise Penny and you can expect to see me reading the rest of this mystery series. I thought this second part was very well done and it was refreshing to be reunited with so many characters from the first book, Still Life. I’m definitely excited to see where this story goes from here! I would highly recommend this book, and if you haven’t read any Louise Penny, be sure to read my review of Still Life here.

This book is…

shocking

slow-burning

enticing

insightful

charming

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 313

ISBN: 0312541163

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read A Fatal Grace? What mystery series would you recommend?

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Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

My Thoughts:

I was only barely aware of the infamous Lizzie Borden and the unsolved murders of her father and step-mother. And when I say barely aware, that last sentence was pretty much all I knew. See What I Have Done does a great job of providing information about this case and the details of the Borden family’s life. Sarah Schmidt is not offering brand new facts or hypotheses about the investigation, but is instead how things might have transpired on that fateful day. Schmidt does an excellent job of keeping the reader on edge throughout and always unsure of whom to trust. I love that this book alternates perspectives of some of the key players, and with an additional invented character. This choice offers lots of insight between the characters and we learn so much more about everyone’s past. Despite the ambiguity of this case, you’ll finish this book with your own opinion of whether or not Lizzie Borden murdered her parents.

I would just like to start by saying that Lizzie Borden was a horrible person. Regardless of her potential involvement with the murders, she was mean, vindictive, and greedy with everyone else she met. I do enjoy reading stories featuring unlikeable women characters, but Lizzie Borden certainly takes the cake. I really loved reading about her sister, Emma, and the family maid/servant, Bridget. Their perspectives shed considerable light on Lizzie’s nature and context for her emotional responses after the murders. I was especially struck by Emma’s waffling between her need to flee her stifling family and her long ago promise to take care of Lizzie. This struggle felt extremely real to me and I thought Emma and Lizzie’s dynamic was very sisterly.

I also think it’s worth noting here that this book is creepy. It’s certainly not horror, but Schmidt does not shy away from depicting gruesome and bodily scenes with intense detail. She describes smells, tastes, and feelings with eerie precision, and I could see this book being too much to handle for some. Personally, I thought these writing choices added atmosphere to this story and really set the tone for the disturbing nature of these murders.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I discovered it because it was nominated for the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, which is a UK prize. You can read the rest of the longlist here. Despite being over 300 pages, this book is incredibly readable and impossible to put down. This is definitely a one or two sitting read! I highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy true crime and more gruesome murders.

This book is…

eerie

nerve wracking

full of twists and turns

shocking

disturbing

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 328

ISBN: 0802126596

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read See What I Have Done? What do you think about the infamous Lizzie Borden case?

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Review: Still Life by Louise Penny

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away. Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

With this award-winning first novel, Louise Penny introduces an engaging hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces–and this series–with power, ingenuity, and charm.

My Thoughts:

This is a slow moving mystery but also a very engaging one. It moves so quietly and with key clues coming at just the right times, that this book is impossible to put down. The mystery itself is quite compelling, as it’s unclear as to whether or not this death was an accident. There are a number of red herrings, which quickly tricks the reader into suspecting everyone. I was pleasantly surprised at how much the solution depended on how well the villagers knew one another. Ultimately, Gamache puts all the pieces together himself, but he is still very dependent on what he learns from the people who know one another so well.

I really enjoyed getting to know Chief Inspector Gamache. He reminds me a bit of Agatha Christie’s famous detective Poirot in that both men are set in their ways, excellent at observing people, and determined to follow their instincts. Gamache is a charming man and I enjoyed reading his attempts to interact with the curious townspeople to solve the murder. The other villagers behave exactly the way I expect they would in a quirky small village. Everyone knows everything about everyone and it was remarkable to read about their devastation when a beloved resident is found dead. The singular character I did not enjoy was Agent Yvette Nichol, who gets her first crack at a homicide case with Gamache. I found Nichol to be shockingly idiotic and rude, although she did provide an excellent foil for Gamache. I’m curious to see if she’ll appear in subsequent novels.

Interestingly, I learned a lot about the dynamics between the French and the British living in Canada. I was not aware that there was a long and difficult past between the two groups and that the British often felt oppressed. I hope Penny continues to explore this tension within the rest of this series. With regards to other representation, there was a singular black woman and one gay couple in the village. But that was it. It was great to read about so many women in this story, including working as detectives, coroners, and lawyers. But the amount of diversity could definitely increase. I realize that this story takes place in a small Canadian village, but as it’s fiction, this story could easily better represent the Canadian population. I hope that this improves this series.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! Louise Penny had been on my TBR list for such a long time and I’m so glad I finally picked this up. Now is actually a great time to start reading Penny, as she has quite a few books out now that your reading list will be easily filled! This is a very engrossing read and I read almost the entire book in one sitting. I loved it so much, in fact, that I bought the sequel the very next day! I highly recommend this book, especially for fans of Agatha Christie and the television show, Midsomer Murders.

This book is…

addicting

charming

slow burning

well written

surprising

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 312

ISBN: 1250000645

Have you read Still Life? What book did you read this weekend?

Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

My Thoughts:

This novel was a bit slow to start for me. Many of the characters were felt to be at a distance from the reader, as everyone was so perfectly characterized in their own ways. The mystery was interesting but did not pick up the pacing of the novel until the last 50 or so pages. More than anything else in the plot, I enjoyed getting to know Maisie’s backstory. I was surprised that her past was included in this first novel of a series, as usually an author will divulge most of the past as the series progresses forward. But I think Maisie’s past is so central to why she is the way that she is, that it must be included in this first book.

“Remember basics, Maisie, dear. Whenever you are stuck, go back to our earliest conversations. And remember connections, that there are always connections.”

Maisie herself is an unusual character. She is careful with her person, her work, and her interactions with characters. She is so perfectly careful that it would be easy for her to come across as standoffish, and yet, she is warm and charming. Maisie is clearly someone who worked hard for what she has, deeply values her friends and family, and holds her values high. It took a long time for me to find Maisie endearing, and I think I owe that change to the interesting choice of detailing Maisie’s past in this book. The reader is introduced to so many more characters in Maisie’s past, and these are characters that heavily shaped her future. So many of the other characters in this book are more dynamic than Maisie, and they all balanced each other out nicely.

“You worry what you can do for these boys, Maisie. You worry about whatever it is you can do.”

Because this mystery is also historical fiction, Winspear does a great job of really enveloping the reader in the WWI and post WWI time period. The emotions of these years played a big role in these characters’ lives and even the central mystery. I thought this book was spot on in terms of capturing British sentiments during wartime and the various ways in which individuals were coping after the war.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Although I found the pacing to be a bit off at times and the book as a whole seeming quite perfect, I thought this was a great mystery. This is a quick read and I think would fit nicely after reading a much longer story. I would highly recommend this book, especially for fans of Downton Abbey and Nancy Drew.

This book is…

charming

well-written

carefully crafted

memorable

endearing

Publisher: Penguin

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 309

ISBN: 0142004332

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read Maisie Dobbs? What mystery have you read recently?

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Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears…

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced…

My Thoughts:

I can’t say enough good things about the plot of this novel. The chapters alternate between the past and the present, keeping the reader on their toes and slowly putting all the puzzle pieces together. I enjoyed the ghost story elements much more than I expected and was continuously impressed with how eerie I found this story. St. James does a fantastic job of ultimately tying the two storylines together and making this mystery about some much larger themes. I’m really hesitant to share too much about this book’s plot because it is just so surprising and I don’t want to spoil anything!

I was really impressed with all of the characters in this novel. Fiona is strong, smart, and determined to uncover the truth. She’s definitely a flawed protagonist, but I think that makes her all the more compelling. I particularly enjoyed the relationships between the four roommates during the 1950 storyline. Their friendships felt so real to me and I loved seeing them lean on each other and work together to solve their own mystery. The men in this story are very much pushed to the sidelines and were really only around to support Fiona in her investigation.

Honestly, I think the title of this book is awful. There is probably a adjective to describe these girls and the struggles they’ve endured then calling them “broken.” I think that word oversimplifies the incredible journeys they undergo in this novel. I also think the representation in this book could be stronger. All of the characters are white, heterosexual, and able-bodied and I think St. James could have done a better job of diversifying her characters.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! I was really impressed with how well St. James blended the ghost story with the more modern mystery storyline. I think this book would make a fantastic movie. This book won’t be out in the U.S. until March, but I would highly recommend this book, particularly to fans of ghost stories, Hitchcock films, and anyone who loves Tana French’s books. This was my first book by St. James but it definitely won’t be my last.

This book is…

haunting

a page turner

well-written

surprising

clever

Publisher: Berkley Books

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 336

ISBN: 0451476204

Available here from Book Depository.

Are you excited for The Broken Girls? What mystery have you read recently?

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