Category: Mystery

Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express

“The murderer is with us—on the train now. . . .”

I haven’t read Agatha Christie in years, and with the re-make of Murder on the Orient Express, I decided to read the book before seeing the movie. (I still haven’t seen the movie, and I’m skeptical, because David Suchet will always be the best Hercule Poirot.) Murder on the Orient Express is the ninth book in the Poirot series (you do not have to read them in order). If you’re not familiar with them, Hercule Poirot is a Belgian detective with an excellent mustache and even better deductive skills. This book reminded me why I love Christie, and my 2018 book goals will definitely include reading more.

As you can probably guess, the entire story takes place on a train, the Orient Express. Just after midnight, the train runs into a snowdrift and stops, stuck on the tracks. Within a few hours, one of the passengers is dead, stabbed multiple times inside his locked room. Poirot is called on to figure out who among the remaining passengers is the killer, and what their connection to the victim is.

Agatha Christie isn’t know as the Queen of Crime for nothing. The format of this book is so simple-it is set up in sections: the setting, the crime, the evidence, the resolution-but so effective. The reader gets to go through the entire crime-solving process right alongside Poirot, watching “the little grey cells of the mind” at work. It’s an incredibly satisfying way to read a mystery. It’s straightforward, with little twists and turns throughout, but not enough to become frustrating. (I also love seeing how Poirot’s counterparts, in this case M. Bouc, become exasperated by how fast Poirot’s mind works, and how he de-bunks every theory they have.) The story itself is so well written, and while some of the language is a little outdated, I think it still stands up to any modern day mystery.

If you’re looking for a suspenseful cozy mystery or a quick winter read, I highly recommend Murder on the Orient Express. And if you haven’t watched any Hercule Poirot movies, look for the ones with David Suchet. He’s the only person I picture when I read the books!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review: Abigale Hall


Abigale Hall

In a hidden corner of the Welsh countryside, beneath the dark green hills and stretching deep underground, lies a secret.

 

This is not the sort of book I would usually reach for, even around Halloween. Maybe especially around Halloween. But Madeleine at Top Shelf Text recommended it so highly that I had to give it a try. I’m so glad I did, because while it was an anxiety-inducing novel, it was a really well-written one. Abigale Hall by Lauren Forry is categorized as a suspense novel, but it’s written in the vein of gothic horror novels. If you want a well-written, fast-paced page-turner, this is the one to go for.

17-year-old Eliza and her younger sister Rebecca have orphaned due to various events during WWII. Their mother was killed in the Blitz, their father committed suicide, and their aunt very suddenly and mysteriously decides she can no longer care for them and they are sent to work at a crumbling mansion in Wales. They never see the owner, Mr. Brownwell, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Pollard, is . . . off. Eliza tries to make plans to escape back to London, but when she discovers a book covered in blood, she has to figure out what’s going in the house and why none of the other girls hired in the past are alive.

This book made me nervous when I read it, and I genuinely feared for the safety of the characters. If the plot reminds you of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, it’s for a good reason. There are definite similarities between the two, and if you like Rebecca you’ll probably like this book too. The story is creepy and mysterious, but it’s not gory, so if gore bothers you (like it does me) don’t let that keep you from this one! WWII is the backdrop of the story, but I wouldn’t say it’s a major theme in the book.

None of the characters in the book are completely likable, but it was ok because the story drew me in so much. Eliza, who frustrated me at the beginning of the book, does go through some necessary character changes, and I was completely on her side by the end. I don’t want to say much about Rebecca, because her role in the story is twisted and interesting, but suffice it to say that she definitely adds to the creepiness and mystery!

Abigale Hall is a great gothic fiction story, and it’s perfect for people who don’t like to read real horror, such as Stephen King. It fits right in with books like Rebecca and Wuthering Heights, but is a bit more modern and fast-paced. Forry is a talented author, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Review: A Fatal Grace


A Fatal Grace: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

Gamache was the best of them, the smartest and bravest and strongest because he was willing to go into his own head alone, and open all the doors there, and enter all the dark rooms. And make friends with what he found there.

 

A Fatal Grace is the second book in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, and it’s even better than the first. I am completely hooked on this series, and I want to read all of them as fast as possible. (I bought the next book in the series a couple of days after finishing this one.)

This book takes us back to Three Pines with another mysterious death. This time, CC de Poitiers has been electrocuted in plain site at a curling match. (Does it get any more Canadian than that?) Somehow, no one saw anything, and no one is too upset that CC is dead. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate, and he soon realizes that something very strange is going on, and the people of Three Pines may know more than they’re letting on.

Where Still Life was a slow build, A Fatal Grace is more fast-paced right from the start. The characters are really starting to develop, and there is an overarching mystery involving Gamache and a past case that is becoming more prevalent. (And I believe it will continue throughout the rest of the series.) I love seeing how the characters are growing and changing, and how they become involved in solving the mystery. And while it may seem unbelievable that yet another murder takes place in a small town, Penny makes it completely believable, and I didn’t have to suspend my belief at all. Everything is connected.

Gamache is one of the best detective characters I’ve ever read, and I love him more with each book. In my review of Still Life (Read that review HERE) I said that I keep thinking I’ll run into him because he’s so well written he seems like a real person. I still feel that way, and I’m kind of disappointed that I’ll never be able to actually meet him.

A Fatal Grace is another fantastic cozy mystery in the Inspector Gamache series, and it’s even better than the first. This book takes place during the Christmas holidays, so if you’re a seasonal reader, now is the perfect time to get started on this series. (Still Life takes place over Canadian Thanksgiving, so if you haven’t read this series, start now!!) I loved this book, and I’ll be sitting down with the third book very soon.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

EXTRA!

As with Still Life, A Fatal Grace features the most delicious food, and I wish more than anything that I could sit down for a meal at the local bistro in Three Pines. During the off murdery season, of course. This is such a great series for a book club, especially if you want to tie food in to your meetings. Cozy mystery and great food? That’s all I want for Christmas.

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Review: The Rules of Magic

The Rules of Magic

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a digital galley of this book – all opinions are my own!

The summer had started them thinking: If they were not like everyone else, who, then, were they?

Y’all, my love for Alice Hoffman runs deep. I’ve been reading her books since high school, and she writes magical realism like no one else. I recently re-read Practical Magic (Read my review HERE.) so that I would be ready to read The Rules of Magic, a prequel to Practical Magic, out today. If you loved Practical Magic, or even just liked it, I can almost guarantee you’re going to love this one. It is wonderfully magical, perfect for fall, and has more suspense than I’m used to from Hoffman. I absolutely loved it.

In Practical Magic, Gillian and Sally live with their aunts, Franny and Jet, after their parents die. They spend much of the book denying their ancestry and both being fascinated by and trying to ignore the strange things the aunts do to help the women in their small town. The Rules of Magic is about Franny and Jet, their childhood, and how they came to be the women of Practical Magic. Franny, Jet, and their brother, Vincent, live in New York City, where their mother sets strict rules for them. But once a year, they visit their aunt Isabelle in a small Massachusetts town where their family has lived for centuries, the house on Magnolia Street. They, too, are trying to escape the Owens’ family curse, where magic rules and love leads to misfortune. But as Franny and Jet grow up, and Vincent makes his own way, they discover that you can’t outrun your destiny.

This is more blatantly magical than the first book, where magic is talked about and hinted at, and I have to say that I loved that. I loved seeing exactly what the Owens siblings were capable of, and how they dealt with that from youth into adulthood. I don’t want to say that I liked this better than Practical Magic . . . but I think I did. The characters are so well-written I felt like I knew them, and I wanted to hug all three siblings and help them somehow. I also really appreciated the added suspense in this novel. Hoffman is a beautiful writer, and I will read anything she writes, but The Rules of Magic contains an element of suspense that she doesn’t usually include, and it worked really well. The beginning story is interesting and will keep your attention because of the characters, but the end of the book will have you reading as fast as possible to find out what happens.

Like in her other books, Hoffman sticks with some tried and true themes: family is family, being an outsider is hard, and being true to yourself is important. She uses these in a lot of her books, but never feel tired because she introduces new ideas in every story, and this one felt fresh too. I think she takes a lot of things from her own life and weaves them into her stories. Hoffman used to be notoriously private, preferring people to just read her books and ignore her, leaving her alone at home. If you read The Rules of Magic closely, that theme of the importance of home is loud and clear. No matter where the characters go, or what they go through, they always go back home. The house on Magnolia Street draws everyone back in, and remaining close to home becomes very important to all of the Owens women.

The Rules of Magic is one of Hoffman’s best works yet and, selfishly, I hope she writes more about the Owens family, because I cannot get enough. This is great all year, but especially perfect for your nightstand in October!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Review: The Marsh King’s Daughter

The Marsh King’s Daughter

Thanks to Netgalley and Putnam for providing me with a digital galley of this book – all opinions are my own!

Memories can be tricky, especially those from childhood.

Ripped from the headlines stories can be tricky. Too much detail, and it seems indulgent and grotesque. Too little and it can be, frankly, boring. Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter is no regular ripped from the headlines story, but she takes inspiration from a few and has twisted them into a wonderful suspenseful fairy tale of a book.

Helena Pelletier has an idyllic life in the UP (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula). A loving, supportive husband, two daughters, and a jam-making business that is flourishing. What no one, including her family, knows, is that her mother was a famously-abducted teenager, and her father, the abductor, has been in prison for 20 years. Helena’s childhood was spent in a cabin deep in the woods of the UP, unaware that a society existed outside of her small world. When she and her mother escape, she acclimates to the “new” world and sheds her past as soon as she is old enough to change her name and leave it all behind. Now her father has escaped, and Helena has to face both her fear and childhood love of him, all while trying to find him before he finds her family.

This is one the best, most well-written books I’ve read this year. I absolutely loved it, and Dionne’s storytelling abilities are out of this world. There is definitely suspense and mystery in this book, but I also found a lot of fairy tale elements woven in. A young girl kept captive, unaware of the outside world. An evil male figure and his cowed counterpart. There are some mystical aspects of Native American culture woven in, rather than real magic, but they serve as the magical element of this suspenseful fairy tale. What I really enjoyed most was the dichotomy between Helena’s hatred and love for her father (and her mother). As a child, she revered him. She knew he could be mean and harsh, but he was still her father, and he taught her how to hunt and fish, and she loved him fiercely. Once she discovered the truth about her mother’s kidnapping, she hated him for it, but that familial love never really goes away. Even after 20 years, she knew her father well enough to know exactly where he would go after escaping prison, and even though she is hunting him down like prey, it also feels like a game of hide and seek between father and daughter.

The book also mixes in excerpts from Hans Christian Andersen’s short story The Marsh King’s Daughter. Andersen’s story is about a girl named Helga who is born to the wicked Marsh King and a fairy princess. She takes on attributes of both parents, and is only able to be freed once she feels compassion for another person and rids herself of her father’s characteristics. The parallels between that story and Helena’s struggle with her feelings for her father are striking and very well done. I really liked the way Dionne mixed in an old fairy tale with Helena’s story, and used it to solidify the struggles Helena faced when it came to her feelings for her parents.

If you like suspense, mystery, or fairy tales, this is a truly compelling story that combines all three into an amazing book. I cannot recommend The Marsh King’s Daughter strongly enough!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

EXTRA!
I haven’t read or watched Room, because I think I’m too sensitive to read that particular subject matter, but I have heard from others that this book is very different. If you’re concerned about the content (it does involve a child being kidnapped and impregnated against her will), the focus is not on the relationship between Helena’s father and mother, so I don’t think it will be a problem in that regard.

EXTRA! EXTRA!
Although I was provided with a review copy of this book, I ended up listening to a lot of it on audio and the narration was extremely good! I listened every chance I got, and at one point hid in my room away from my family so that I could finish it. So whether you use your eyes or your ears for this one, you can’t lose!

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