Book Review: A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell, #4) by Deanna Raybourn

Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker’s brother calls in a favor. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly’s house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancée–much to Stoker’s chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed. Every invited guest has a connection to Romilly’s wife, Rosamund, who disappeared on her wedding day three years ago, and a dramatic dinner proves she is very much on her husband’s mind.

As spectral figures, ghostly music, and mysterious threats begin to plague the partygoers, Veronica enlists Stoker’s help to discover the host’s true motivations. And as they investigate, it becomes clear that there are numerous mysteries surrounding the Romilly estate, and every person present has a motive to kill Rosamund…

The house party with a twist is such a trope in old-timey feeling mysteries… and with good reason. Take a remote location, preferably in a house with some grandeur or mystique, add in a motley assortment of house guests, all invited for a variety of reasons, most of which end up being pretenses, maybe mix in some gothic family secrets… and bam! You’re all set up for a slightly claustrophobic, atmospheric whodunnit.

In the case of A Dangerous Collaboration, while the set-up is reminiscent of Agatha Christie, with perhaps a hint of Rebecca too, it’s a trope that works extremely well. We pick up with our plucky heroine Veronica Speedwell, already a world-famous lepidopterist despite being only in her mid-20s, and her dark and dangerous colleague Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, known as Stoker. The two have chemistry galore. When we last saw them in A Treacherous Curse, Veronice and Stoker had just solved a mystery involving plundered Egyptian tombs and Stoker’s notorious past… and were on the verge of a long-awaited lip-lock and possible confession of feelings, when they were interrupted by Stoker’s older brother, the Viscount Tiberius Templeton-Vane.

In A Dangerous Collaboration, we continue mere moments later. Tiberius arrives with a proposition for Veronica — to accompany him to a gathering at his friend Malcolm’s Cornish island castle, where she’ll be able to collect specimens of a rare butterfly previously thought extinct. Naturally, Veronica jumps at the chance, despite Stoker’s objections. So also naturally, Stoker shows up at the island too, where the two brothers and Veronica join Malcolm, his spinster sister, his widowed sister-in-law, and his nephew for a social gathering. At which point Malcolm informs them all that he needs their help — he wants to learn the truth of what really happened to Rosamund on their wedding day. Did she flee? Did she die? Was she murdered? There are some dark and disturbing possibilities, and all of the assembled guests, apart from Veronica and Stoker, seem to have much more at stake than is initially apparent.

The Veronica Speedwell books are utterly delightful, with their arch humor, constant sense of adventure, and layered mysteries to solve, all of which are enhanced a thousand times over by the sparks continually flying between Veronica and Stoker. While A Dangerous Collaboration felt at first a little tamer than the previous three books, probably because Veronica and Stoker did not appear themselves to be in mortal peril this time around, soon the danger grows and before long they’re once again risking life and limb to learn the truth.

Along the way, we get to know Tiberius better and understand what makes him tick, as well as gaining insight on the highly charged relationship between the brothers. For me, the most delicious part of the reading experience was the mounting tension between Veronica and Stoker, as they creep closer and closer to the point where they’ll just have to finally admit their feelings and declare their intentions toward one another. Like I said, these two — chemistry, sparks, fire, passion… you name it. (But no, there’s no graphic physical stuff, just tension and attraction galore.)

As always, the language and dialogue in these books is so much fun. A little sampling:

“What in the name of seven hells do you mean you want to ‘borrow’ Miss Speedwell? She not an umbrella, for God’s sake.”

Her doglike devotion was appalling; any woman with spirit or strength could only feel revulsion at the notion of offering oneself up like a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter of one’s own independent thought and feeling.

Men were a joy to sample, but a mate would be a complication I could not abide.

“Does this mean you will stop torturing me by displaying yourself in various states of undress?’

“Not a chance.”


At the end of A Dangerous Collaboration, we get a hint about what Veronica and Stoker’s next adventure will be in book #5. And now I’m jumping out of my skin, dying to read it NOW. This is really a terrific series, and I encourage everyone to start at the beginning and dive in!

Want to know more? Check out my reviews of the previous books in the Veronica Speedwell series:
A Curious Beginning
A Perilous Undertaking
A Treacherous Curse
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The details:

Title: A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell, #4)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: March 12, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Take A Peek Book Review: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

“I seen a kid killed…He strangled it, up by the horse.”

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been—Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.

My Thoughts:

Yet another tense, tight murder mystery from the pen of Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J. K. Rowling… who obviously can do no wrong when she sits down to write a book.

In this 4th book in the Cormoran Strike series, Cormoran and Robin are both more successful and more troubled when the story opens. Book #3, Career of Evil, ended at a wedding… and Lethal White picks up right at the very same wedding, showing us all sorts of consequences and aftereffects that we could only previously imagine. The tensions each carries following the wedding spill over into their professional lives, as they deal with their respective relationship partners while trying to build their detective business now that they’ve become incredibly famous (thanks to the events of Career of Evil).

The mystery in Lethal White is two-fold, kicked off by the ravings of a schizophrenic man who finds his way into Strike’s office, and then deepened when the firm is hired to investigate a case of high-politics blackmail, which soon turns into a murder investigation. There’s danger and red herrings galore, and Cormoran and Robin are at their detective-y best as they charge off to investigate, interrogate, and stir up oodles of trouble for the rich and famous.

At 650+ pages, Lethal White is a BIG book, and the plot threatens to collapse under the weight of its endless twists and turns. The convoluted schemes and interconnected alibis and misleading clues keep things interesting, but I felt at times as if the story might have benefited from straight lines occasionally. The coincidence meter is on high alert in this book, as the double-mystery is awfully conveniently interwoven. I had to suspend my disbelief big-time over Cormoran’s powers of deductive reasoning and his ability to draw connections out of seemingly thin air.

At the same time, Cormoran and Robin are a great duo, working well together and playing off each other’s strengths. The complications of their personal lives make for a diverting and engaging side theme throughout the book, and is the piece I’ll be most anxiously awaiting in book #5, whenever that might be coming.

I’m really loving this series, and can’t wait to see where the story goes. Meanwhile, I’m delighted that I watched seasons 1 – 3 of the TV adaption, C B Strike, over the summer. It was terrific way to get a refresher on the story thus far, getting me totally ready to dive into reading Lethal White. Highly recommended!

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The details:

Title: Lethal White
Author: Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication date: September 18, 2018
Length: 656 pages
Genre: Mystery
Source: Library

Take A Peek Book Review: A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell, #3)

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Members of an Egyptian expedition fall victim to an ancient mummy’s curse in a thrilling Veronica Speedwell novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries. 
 
London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

My Thoughts:

This series is so much fun! I’ve written lengthier reviews of the first two Veronica Speedwell books (A Curious Beginning and A Perilous Undertaking), so I’ll keep this one brief. Veronica Speedwell, a (mostly) proper Victorian lady with a penchant for butterflies, scientific expeditions, and hot men, once again becomes embroiled in solving a mystery in order to stave off potential disgrace for her partner Stoker. The plot involves a mummy’s curse, shady explorers, Egyptian gods… and perhaps most importantly, figures from Stoker’s dark past.

The mystery itself is quite fun, and it’s satisfying to get some of the answers we’ve been waiting for about Stoker’s dismal reputation and the scandal that haunts him. Veronica and Stoker still have that red-hot (but unfulfilled) chemistry between them, and the door is definitely open for further adventures and further romantic entanglement.

Veronica is a terrific heroine, and the books in the series feature just the right combination of danger, adventure, and witty dialogue. Highly recommended!

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The details:

Title: A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell, #3)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: January 16, 2018
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Mystery/historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Shelf Control #69: Dissolution

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

dissolutionTitle: Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake, #1)
Author: C. J. Sansom
Published: 2003
Length: 443 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers it has ever seen. And under the order of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent through the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: dissolution.

But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes…

How I got it:

I bought it at a library sale.

When I got it:

Oh, a while ago. I feel like this book has been living on my shelf for years.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve heard such good things about the Shardlake books! The idea of a mystery series set in Tudor England sounds just brilliant.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Sleepwalker

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

sleepwalker

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. Once, she merely destroyed the hydrangeas in front of her Vermont home. More terrifying was the night her older daughter, Lianna, pulled her back from the precipice of the Gale River bridge.

The morning of Annalee’s disappearance, a search party combs the nearby woods. Annalee’s husband, Warren, flies home from a business trip. Lianna is questioned by a young, hazel-eyed detective. And her little sister, Paige, takes to swimming the Gale to look for clues. When the police discover a small swatch of fabric, a nightshirt, ripped and hanging from a tree branch, it seems certain Annalee is dead, but Gavin Rikert, the hazel-eyed detective, continues to call, continues to stop by the Ahlbergs’ Victorian home.

As Lianna peels back the layers of mystery surrounding Annalee’s disappearance, she finds herself drawn to Gavin, but she must ask herself: Why does the detective know so much about her mother? Why did Annalee leave her bed only when her father was away? And if she really died while sleepwalking, where was the body?

Conjuring the strange and mysterious world of parasomnia, a place somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness, The Sleepwalker is a masterful novel from one of our most treasured storytellers.”

My Thoughts:

Chris Bohjalian is one of my favorite authors, and The Sleepwalker doesn’t disappoint. He can always be relied upon to deliver a read that’s compelling, hard to put down, and with the most unusual of premises. Here, it’s a mystery with a little-known and extreme form of sleepwalking at its core. Told through the character Lianna, Annalee’s 21-year-old daughter, The Sleepwalker takes us inside a seemingly ordinary and happy family to reveal the pain and conflicts wrought by Annalee’s affliction.

Lianna is an interesting point-of-view character, still on the cusp of adulthood in some ways, leaving behind her stoner approach to life when her father and sister need her most. She’s both her mother’s daughter and her own person, challenging the facts and the investigation to uncover the truth behind Annalee’s disappearance, even when she realizes that the truth may be much more painful than she’s prepared to handle.

The Sleepwalker is a domestic story with a narrower focus than some of the author’s more recent books. It doesn’t have the weightiness and overwhelming horror of last year’s The Guest Room, with its focus on sex trafficking, or the historical sweep of earlier novels such as The Sandcastle Girls or The Light in the Ruins. Still, this story of a family’s suffering is absorbing and tightly constructed, and while I tried to figure out its riddles, I found myself barking up the completely wrong tree. I won’t say more, but wow — what an ending!

Bohjalian’s books always leave a mark. The emotional impact just doesn’t let up. You really can’t go wrong with any of his books (no, I haven’t read them all, but I’m working on it!), and if you enjoy contemporary mysteries and family dramas, definitely check out The Sleepwalker.

Note: A prequel story, The Premonition, is available as an e-book download. The Premotion recounts events from four years prior to The Sleepwalker. I recommend reading The Premonition first. It doesn’t spoil anything in the main novel and gives a good introduction to the characters and setting. If you prefer not to , though, you’re fine. The Sleepwalker stands perfectly well on its own.

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The details:

Title: The Sleepwalker
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley… and then I won a hard copy of the book in a giveaway from Reading With Robin!

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Book Review: A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell, #2) by Deanna Raybourn

perilous-undertakingBook the Second in the wonderful Veronica Speedwell mystery series by Deanna Raybourn!

Veronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries…

London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman’s noose in a week’s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia’s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.

From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed….

Victorian era? Check.

Intelligent, non-conformist heroine? Check.

Flouting of social niceties? Check.

Sexy, mysterious partner, and oodles of sexual tension? Check, and check.

Oh, and not incidentally: A ripping good murder mystery? Yup, big check.

Prolific author Deanna Raybourn released the first Veronica mystery, A Curious Beginning, in 2015. (I reviewed it, here.) In it, we met the irrepressible Veronica Speedwell, an accomplished lepidopterist in her mid-twenties who finds herself suddenly at the center of strange plots and attempted violence. Veronica is headstrong and unabashed, and while she has the gentility and manners of a lady, she is quite proud of her scientific accomplishments — and is quite blunt about taking lovers during her overseas expeditions and her general enjoyment of the carnal arts.

I blinked again. “Is it not possible to enjoy bed sport during one’s pregnancy? You mean women have to go without for the duration? Nine months without sexual congress? That’s monstrous.”

By some odd twists and turns, she finds herself under the protection of Stoker, a (gorgeously muscled) man of good family who is haunted by clouds of scandal and mystery stemming from his own natural history expedition which ended in disaster in Brazil.

Side note — a word on Stoker’s appeal:

When a gentleman of excellent breeding and perfect vowels assumes the guise of a ruffian, women are frequently reduced to a state of helpless infatuation.

The two end up on the run together, trying to figure out who’s out to murder Veronica and why. It’s absolutely fun, full of hijinks and smart, quippy dialogue. Veronica and Stoker quickly became one of my favorite non-couple couples in fiction!

In A Perilous Undertaking, Veronica and Stoker are somewhat in the doldrums after a planned expedition is cancelled, until Veronica is summoned by a mysterious upper-class lady to take on the task of absolving a condemned man of murder. Lacking much else to do and needing a challenge, as well as fueled by a personal motivation that I’ll leave unspecified (spoilers!), Veronica accepts her assignment. With Stoker as her sidekick/co-adventurer/protector, she sets out to explore the world of a bohemian artists colony, its patrons and participants, and the secret and slightly kinky goings-on that a whole slew of people might want to kill to cover up.

She fell silent, gripped by genuine emotion, and against my will, I found myself in danger of liking her. For a potential murderess, she was rather engaging.

Once again, Deanna Raybourn creates a highly entertaining adventure that lets her characters shine. Veronica and Stoker are quite a pair, and you could cut the tension between them with a knife. They live and operate outside the bounds of proper Victorian society, yet they’re able to infiltrate into the upper reaches and still maintain their zest for scientific knowledge and experimentation.

Some rather comical incidents (including encounters with a large and inconvenient tortoise) lighten up the tension of the more dangerous escapades. There are injuries, life and death situations, narrow escapes, and acts of great daring. At the same time, we learn more about Veronica and Stoker’s inner lives and what makes them tick.

I think it’s pretty obvious that I loved the heck out of this book! The characters are just so delightful. I only hope that the author continues the series, as I want more! Veronica and Stoker clearly have plenty of adventures ahead of them and, at the risk of sounding completely voyeuristic, I want to get to see where their relationship goes, when and if they finally take the plunge and acknowledge their mutual attraction.

I suppose you could read A Perilous Undertaking on its own, as there are enough hints and reminders sprinkled throughout to cover the essential backstory — but why would you want to? Start with A Curious Beginning, then continue straight on to A Perilous Undertaking. You’re in for a treat!

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The details:

Title: A Perilous Undertaking
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Mystery/historical fiction
Source: Won in a Goodreads giveaway!

 

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Shelf Control #58: The Pigeon Pie Mystery

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

pigeon-pie-mysteryTitle: The Pigeon Pie Mystery
Author: Julia Stuart
Published: 2012
Length: 336 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

When Indian Princess Alexandrina is left penniless by the sudden death of her father, the Maharaja of Brindor, Queen Victoria grants her a grace-and-favor home in Hampton Court Palace. Though rumored to be haunted, Alexandrina and her lady’s maid, Pooki, have no choice but to take the Queen up on her offer.

Aside from the ghost sightings, Hampton Court doesn’t seem so bad. The princess is soon befriended by three eccentric widows who invite her to a picnic with all the palace’s inhabitants, for which Pooki bakes a pigeon pie. But when General-Major Bagshot dies after eating said pie, and the coroner finds traces of arsenic in his body, Pooki becomes the #1 suspect in a murder investigation.

Princess Alexandrina isn’t about to let her faithful servant hang. She begins an investigation of her own, and discovers that Hampton Court isn’t such a safe place to live after all.

With her trademark wit and charm, Julia Stuart introduces us to an outstanding cast of lovable oddballs, from the palace maze-keeper to the unconventional Lady Beatrice (who likes to dress up as a toucan—don’t ask), as she guides us through the many delightful twists and turns in this fun and quirky murder mystery. Everyone is hiding a secret of the heart, and even Alexandrina may not realize when she’s caught in a maze of love.

How I got it:

I found a copy on the $1 table at my library’s last big book sale.

When I got it:

Last year.

Why I want to read it:

I remember hearing about this book a few years ago, and thought it sounded like a light, adorable read. So, when I saw it on the mystery table at the book sale for just a dollar, I had to grab it! I’m really looking forward to reading this one, and will keep it in mind for when I need something cute and breezy.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

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Take A Peek Book Review: Before the Fall

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.Before the Fall

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

My Thoughts:

Wow, what a thrill-ride! Although choosing to start this book the night before a long plane trip was maybe not the brightest idea I’ve every had.

In Before the Fall, the story starts almost immediately with the terror of the crash, and then the miracle of Scott’s long swim to safety, saving his own life as well as that of one small boy. But that’s only the beginning — from here, the author takes a post-mortem approach, giving us chapters focusing on each of the people on board the small plane, so that we see how the pieces fit together. Was it mechanical failure? Something deliberate? And if it was deliberate, who was the intended target?

The storyline shows Scott’s growing closeness to the surviving child, the intensity of the government agents investigating the crash, and the firestorm of media attention and sensationalism that soon follows. The chapters focusing on the different characters and their backstories are fascinating, always leaving me wanting more.

Overall, Before the Fall is a gripping read that builds and builds. It’s tense, well-constructed, hard to predict, and surprising in all the right ways. The characters are well-defined, so much so that it’s hard to approach the end of the story and realize that these people — good and bad, all flawed, almost none irredeemable — are doomed to the end that we knew about from the start.

It’s a pretty neat trick, telling us up front that all of these characters have died, and then taking the time to let us get to know them. Somehow, the tragedy of their senseless deaths is all the more striking with this backwards approach. Meanwhile, Scott’s story is compelling and sympathetic. It’s hard to see a decent man caught up in the tabloid frenzy that follows the crash, but how Scott manages is pretty good stuff too.

Before the Fall is a great summer read — quick, absorbing, and impossible not to care about.

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The details:

Title: Before the Fall
Author: Noah Hawley
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: May 31, 2016
Length: 391 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Purchased (e-book)

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Book Review: The Girl on the Train

Girl on the TrainSynopsis:

(via Goodreads)

EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My thoughts:

Hmm. The hype machine strikes again. Last year, it seemed like everyone was talking about The Girl On the Train as the next “it” book, with all sorts of comparisons, especially to Gone Girl. So does it measure up?

Not really — but then again, I feel like calling a book the next Gone Girl is just setting readers up for disappointment. Gone Girl was Gone Girl, and this is something different. It does seem like that’s the inevitable point of comparison for every new book that comes along that features an unreliable narrator, but there’s only so many times that concept can remain fresh and exciting.

In any case…

The Girl on the Train is told mainly through the eyes of Rachel, a depressed, out-of-work alcoholic who rides the train every day so that her kind roommate won’t know that she got fired. Rachel’s eyes are drawn every day to a beautiful woman who sits out on her terrace facing the tracks. The woman seems to have a perfect life, with a perfect husband. But Rachel isn’t drawn to the couple only because of the image of happiness that they project; they also happen to live just a few doors down from the home she used to share with her ex-husband Tom, who now lives in that house with his new wife and baby.

Rachel’s life is a mess, and it’s the glimpse into other people’s lives that give her a shred of hope, until one day she spots the woman with another man in a seemingly intimate embrace. Rachel is shocked, and seems to need to inject herself into the story. And when the woman on the terrace becomes a missing person, Rachel can’t stay away, inserting herself into the police investigation and into the life of the husband, who is naturally the leading suspect in what’s looking like a case of foul play.

The relationships and connections are tangled and complicated, and Rachel’s version of events is doubtful from the start. She’s an out-of-control drinker who typically stops only when she passes out. She has blackouts, after which she has no memories. She blames herself for the misery of her own life, but can’t seem to pull herself together enough to change anything. No wonder the police consider her a nut job who just wants the excitement of feeling important… especially since her ex’s new wife has filed complaints against Rachel for her stalker-like behavior.

It took me quite a while to really get into The Girl on the Train. None of the characters are at all likeable, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but I didn’t particularly connect with any of them or feel sympathetic. Even as late as the halfway mark, I was wondering what all the fuss was about. The story is interesting enough, but I didn’t feel like it tipped over into un-put-down-ableness until close to the end.

The last quarter or so is fast-moving and absorbing, and despite having a pretty good idea of the who in the whodunnit, finding out the why and the how was pretty exciting as the big reveals started coming into view.

I did enjoy the book, but there was a samey-same feel to much of the story. I really didn’t get sucked in until close to the end, and stuck with it mainly because of all the hype which made me feel like there would be something amazing coming along any second now. I didn’t think the book ever reached AMAZING, but it was a fun read and kept me busy on a summer weekend.

The Girl on the Train would make a great beach read, or would be a good choice for a long plane ride. It’s a good diversion, not earth-shattering, but still quite a fun way to pass the time.

PS – I am looking forward to the movie version, to be released in the fall. I was going to include the trailer here… but it seems so spoilerific that I decided not to. Check it out at your own peril!

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The details:

Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication date: January 13, 2015
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Purchased

Shelf Control #35: The Child’s Child

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Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Child's ChildTitle: The Child’s Child
Author: Barbara Vine
Published: 2012
Length: 320 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

When their grandmother dies, Grace and Andrew Easton inherit her sprawling, book-filled London home, Dinmont House. Rather than sell it, the adult siblings move in together, splitting the numerous bedrooms and studies. The arrangement is unusual, but ideal for the affectionate pair — until the day Andrew brings home a new boyfriend. A devilishly handsome novelist, James Derain resembles Cary Grant, but his strident comments about Grace’s doctoral thesis soon puncture the house’s idyllic atmosphere. When he and Andrew witness their friend’s murder outside a London nightclub, James begins to unravel, and what happens next will change the lives of everyone in the house.

Just as turmoil sets in at Dinmont House, Grace escapes into reading a manuscript — a long-lost novel from 1951 called The Child’s Child — never published, owing to its frank depictions of an unwed mother and a homosexual relationship. The book is the story of two siblings born a few years after World War One. This brother and sister, John and Maud, mirror the present-day Andrew and Grace: a homosexual brother and a sister carrying an illegitimate child. Acts of violence and sex will reverberate through their stories.

The Child’s Child is an ingenious novel-within-a-novel about family, betrayal, and disgrace. A master of psychological suspense, Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, takes us where violence and social taboos collide. She shows how society’s treatment of those it once considered undesirable has changed — and how sometimes it hasn’t.

How I got it:

I bought it!

When I got it:

When the book was first released, in 2012.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve only read one Barbara Vine novel before, but somehow or another I stumbled across the synopsis for this book in an early review and decided I had to read it. I even splurged and bought a hardcover! I hope this will be the year when I finally settle down with more books from my shelves… and I intend to make this one a priority.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!


For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control