Book Review: An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell, #6) by Deanna Raybourn

Title: An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell, #6)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: March 2, 2021
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A princess is missing, and a peace treaty is on the verge of collapse in this new Veronica Speedwell adventure from the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

January 1889. As the newest member of the Curiosity Club—an elite society of brilliant, intrepid women—Veronica Speedwell is excited to put her many skills to good use. As she assembles a memorial exhibition for pioneering mountain climber Alice Baker-Greene, Veronica discovers evidence that the recent death was not a tragic climbing accident but murder. Veronica and her natural historian beau, Stoker, tell the patron of the exhibit, Princess Gisela of Alpenwald, of their findings. With Europe on the verge of war, Gisela’s chancellor, Count von Rechstein, does not want to make waves—and before Veronica and Stoker can figure out their next move, the princess disappears.

Having noted Veronica’s resemblance to the princess, von Rechstein begs her to pose as Gisela for the sake of the peace treaty that brought the princess to England. Veronica reluctantly agrees to the scheme. She and Stoker must work together to keep the treaty intact while navigating unwelcome advances, assassination attempts, and Veronica’s own family—the royalty who has never claimed her.

Six books in, the Veronica Speedwell series shows no hint of getting stale or slowing down. In An Unexpected Peril, our intrepid lepidopterist finds herself once again embroiled in a murder investigation, putting her own life at risk as well as that of her hot, devoted, decidedly dangerous lover Stoker.

Veronica is Victorian-era spunk and determination personified. She’s a fearless explorer, a scientist passionately devoted to pursuit of rare butterfly species and the works of Darwin, a devoted sensualist, and a woman who does not back down. So when she and Stoker are commissioned to put together an exhibit dedicated to Alice Baker-Greene, a pioneering mountain climber who died tragically while attempting to summit an alp in the small (and fictional) country of Alpenwald, she finds herself unable to look past evidence that the death was murder.

Meanwhile, Veronica’s noted physical similarity to the princess of Alpenwald comes in handy when the princess disappears and the country’s diplomatic entourage to England recruits Veronica to act as a public stand-in. Naturally, nothing goes quite according to plan, and before long, Veronica and Stoker find themselves — yet again — in mortal danger as they pursue the truth.

The princess watched us in bemusement.

“Do you always take your own attempted murder in your stride?”

I considered this. “The first time is unnerving,” I admitted.

“But when it gets to be habit,” Stoker added, “one must adapt a rational attitude and make certain to eat to keep up one’s strength.”

An Unexpected Peril is a fun romp of a book, with royal glamour, risky adventures, misleading clues, and the deliciously passionate relationship between Veronica and Stoker. Their banter is always funny and outrageous, and their connection and relationship remain unconventional yet deeply loving.

The through-story of the series, related to Veronica’s background and her connection to the British royal family, remains simmering in the background, and I’m sure will be explored further as the series continues. (Book 7 should be released in 2022, and I hope there will be many, many more to come!)

This series is worth starting at the beginning. Veronica is a delightful character, and her adventures never fail to entertain. Start at the beginning (A Curious Beginning), and keep going!

Shelf Control #251: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

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! For 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!

Title: The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Author: Agatha Christie
Published: 1920
Length: 208 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Who poisoned the wealthy Emily Inglethorp and how did the murderer penetrate and escape from her locked bedroom? Suspects abound in the quaint village of Styles St. Mary—from the heiress’s fawning new husband to her two stepsons, her volatile housekeeper, and a pretty nurse who works in a hospital dispensary.

With impeccable timing, and making his unforgettable debut, the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is on the case.

How and when I got it:

I picked up a Kindle edition a couple of years ago.

Why I want to read it:

After reading the excellent new novel by Marie Benedict, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, my interest in Agatha Christie is definitely piqued! I’ve only read one of her books so far, but I’ve been intending to read more.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is Agatha Christie’s first published novel, and it’s also the book where she introduced Hercule Poirot. I feel like this would be a great starting place for me, and if I enjoy it (as I suspect I will), I can pick and choose more of her works to read.

Are you an Agatha Christie fan? Any recommendations on which books to read? Particular favorites?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

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 or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

Title: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
Author: Marie Benedict
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: December 29, 2020
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Marie Benedict, the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room, uncovers the untold story of Agatha Christie’s mysterious eleven day disappearance.

In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing. Investigators find her empty car on the edge of a deep, gloomy pond, the only clues some tire tracks nearby and a fur coat left in the car—strange for a frigid night. Her husband and daughter have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and England unleashes an unprecedented manhunt to find the up-and-coming mystery author. Eleven days later, she reappears, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming amnesia and providing no explanations for her time away.

The puzzle of those missing eleven days has persisted. With her trademark exploration into the shadows of history, acclaimed author Marie Benedict brings us into the world of Agatha Christie, imagining why such a brilliant woman would find herself at the center of such a murky story.

What is real, and what is mystery? What role did her unfaithful husband play, and what was he not telling investigators?

A master storyteller whose clever mind may never be matched, Agatha Christie’s untold history offers perhaps her greatest mystery of all. 

In this fascinating new release, author Marie Benedict creates an Agatha Christie-worthy mystery out of a real-life mystery from Christie’s own life.

Agatha Christie really did disappear for eleven days in 1926, and when she was located, her missing days were attributed to amnesia. That was it — a rather vague and unsatisfying resolution to a headline-making missing person story. (Read more about the actual events, here.)

But what really happened? Is there more to the story than meets the eye? In The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, we get a tantalizing view of a possible (and highly entertaining) answer.

The novel follows two narrative streams in alternating chapters: Agatha’s courtship and marriage to Archie Christie, told from Agatha’s perspective starting in 1912, and Agatha’s disappearance in 1926, told from Archie’s point of view. As the two weave together, we come to understand Agatha’s brilliance, and just how much of herself she sacrificed in order to please her moody, controlling husband.

I laughed at his rare joke, a mad cackle that I knew was a mistake the moment it escaped my lips. It sounded brash and overreactive, and Archie wouldn’t like it. It smacked of disorderly emotions.

I really don’t want to give too much away, so I won’t talk about outcomes at all. What I will highlight is the shock and dismay I felt reading Agatha’s narration of how she devoted herself to her husband, pushing down her own successes, her natural vivacity, and even her love for her daughter in order to cater to a man who demanded to be constantly at the center of his wife’s attention. It’s heartbreaking.

On those nights when I longed to hold my baby in my arms, even sleep with her in my bed, I told myself that this distance was necessary practice. How else could I ensure that Archie maintained his position at the center of my affections?

Even after her beloved mother dies, Agatha is made to feel responsible for neglecting Archie and causing his infidelity:

It was likely my fault that he’d become fascinated with Nancy. Hadn’t Mummy always warned me never to leave my husband alone for too long? And hadn’t I emotionally and physically abandoned him this summer in my grief? Even when he was in Spain, he knew my heart and mind weren’t with him but lost to my sorrow over Mummy.

Argh. It’s just so upsetting to see this amazing woman tie herself in knots as a result of her husband’s passive-aggressive, emotionally manipulative and abusive behavior. He even manages to suck the joy out of Agatha’s early writing successes, making her feel unsupportive of her husband if she became too happy about her publishing contracts and the beginnings of her fame.

I mostly write because I adore creating worlds and puzzles, and I want to succeed at it wildly. But ambition is a dirty word when it’s used by women; it’s decidedly unladylike, in fact.

The author weaves together the historical facts to create a police procedural crime investigation in the chapters set in 1926. If it starts to feel like we’re in an Agatha Christie novel, well, kudos to Marie Benedict! She employs Agatha’s wittiness and intelligence to create a puzzle out of Agatha’s own life. According to The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, Agatha first started writing her stories as a result of a dare from her sister, who just didn’t believe that Agatha could create an unsolvable puzzle for readers — so naturally, she had to prove her sister wrong. As in an Agatha Christie mystery, this book delivers clever plotting and intriguing twists that manage to surprise and delight.

I was a little hesitant about reading The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, as I’ve only read one Agatha Christie novel (And Then There Were None), although I’ve seen adaptations of several others. I needn’t have worried. The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is perfectly accessible for a Christie novice like myself, and I imagine that it’ll be very enjoyable for the great lady’s more ardent fans too.

And now, of course, I need to read more Agatha Christie books! Do you have any favorites? Where should I start? I’m also definitely going to want to read more by Marie Benedict! So far, I’ve only listened to an audiobook novella written by her, Agent 355, and I loved it.

For anyone who’s a Christie fan, or for those who just enjoy a good literary puzzle with a strong, smart woman at its center, I highly recommend The Mystery of Mrs. Christie.

Book Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Title: The Turn of the Key
Author: Ruth Ware
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Publication date: August 6, 2019
Length: 337 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

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

The Turn of the Key is my book group’s pick for November, and I suppose I’m glad to have been “forced” to read it. I’ve been hearing about this book and author Ruth Ware for a while now, so it’s good to know what all the fuss is about!

From the start, we know that there’s something off about the main character. We meet Rowan as she reaches out by letter to a lawyer she’s heard about, one who might be able to turn around her hopeless case. Rowan is in prison, awaiting trial for murdering a child left in her care. And while Rowan admits that she’s done plenty wrong, she insists that she didn’t kill the child.

From here, she relates her strange story, starting with the advertisement for a nanny. A wealthy couple is offering a huge salary for a live-in nanny for their four children at their Scottish estate. To Rowan, this is simply too good to be true. The money involves a huge step up for her, she’s ready for a change, and as we later learn, she has other reasons for wanting the position too.

It’s a weird set-up. The house is a huge, beautiful old Victorian, but the back half has been totally converted into a sleek, glass-walled modern structure. The estate encompasses acres of woods and trails that the children are free to roam about unattended. The children range from toddler to teen, and seem like a handful, but Rowan is enchanted.

Less enchanting is the smart-house design. Everything is run via an app called Happy, that controls all lights, locks and unlocks doors, interfaces with phone calls, replenishes the grocery list, plays music and audiobooks, and so much more. There are cameras everywhere. Creepy!

The parents, Sandra and Bill, are strangely hands-off, to say the least. Upon hiring Rowan, they depart on a business trip the very next day. Suddenly, Rowan is left alone with children who don’t know her (and seem very hostile), a house she doesn’t know how to operate, and only a thick binder left behind by Sandra to offer her instructions on the daily routines and needs of the children.

There are so many red flags that honestly, if I were in Rowan’s shoes, I’d be heading for the hills. Being left alone with children I’ve just met for weeks? Living in an isolated old house? The creaky floors and strange noises? The scary walled garden? The impossible-to-figure-out house app and Sandra’s remote surveillance? No thank you very much.

Still, we also suspect early on that Rowan has secrets. What was her real reason for wanting this job? Why does she hesitate when someone calls her by name? Why does she hide her necklace and just seem so damned awkward all the time?

I had a lot of guesses about Rowan’s secrets, but I was wrong. I was slightly more on target with some of my guesses about the murder — I mean, I got that wrong too, but I figured out some of the “hows” at least!

The ending is pretty abrupt and perhaps a little manipulative, and there’s an ambiguous line thrown in right before the end that has me wondering what happened to Rowan after she finished telling her story.

Overall, I was only partially engaged; hence my 3-star rating. Granted, I’m not a thriller fan in general, so take my responses with a grain of salt. Still, I thought there was something stilted about the set-up, and felt that Rowan’s actions didn’t make enough sense going along. She displays a temper toward the children that made me go in some really dark directions which turned out not to be true — which is a relief, but then why such strong displays of anger? For a childcare professional, Rowan’s anger issues seem really inappropriate and probably should disqualify her from working with children.

Also, it didn’t feel rational to me that a person would show up and take this job in the first place with no adjustment period, and the smart-house aspects are creepy without really adding to the plot. Likewise, the awful garden is in the mix as a danger sign and huge clue… except in the end, it doesn’t really have anything to do with what’s going on, except for being yet one more thing to freak out the main character.

Rowan’s letters from prison make her sound pretty unhinged, so learning that she’s not as unreliable a narrator as we’re led to believe makes me feel like I was being handled, rather than tricked by a clever story.

I don’t know. I was engaged and needed to see how it all turned out, but never particularly connected to any of the characters or cared about them as individuals — not even the children, who didn’t seem particularly realistic.

So yeah, just a 3-star read for me. *Shrug*. Kind of disappointing, considering that I have another book by this author on my shelf. Here’s hoping I have better luck with the next one!

PS – I keep having to stop myself from referring to this book as The Turn of the Screw… and I assume that’s an intentional nod to the classic. New nanny, strange and potentially haunted house, weird children… although the Henry James version doesn’t include invasive smart devices and apps!

Book Review: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes, #1) by Nancy Springer

Title: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes, #1)
Author: Nancy Springer
Publisher: Puffin
Publication date: 2006
Length: 228 pages
Genre: Middle grade
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Meet Enola Holmes, teenaged girl turned detective and the younger sister to Sherlock Holmes.

When Enola Holmes, sister to the detective Sherlock Holmes, discovers her mother has disappeared, she quickly embarks on a journey to London in search of her. But nothing can prepare her for what awaits. Because when she arrives, she finds herself involved in the kidnapping of a young marquess, fleeing murderous villains, and trying to elude her shrewd older brothers—all while attempting to piece together clues to her mother’s strange disappearance. Amid all the mayhem, will Enola be able to decode the necessary clues and find her mother?

After watching the delightful Netflix adaptation of this book (more about this below), I just had to check out the source material! I’m glad I did — the first book in Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes series is clever, funny, and full of adventure.

In The Case of the Missing Marquess, Enola wakes up on her 14th birthday to discover that her mother is missing. When her older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock, arrive on the scene, it’s clear that they have no faith in the ability of a woman to fend for herself or to think rationally. As for what to do with Enola, boarding school is the obvious choice, as far as the men are concerned.

Enola is having none of it, and resolves to run off and go in search of her mother. Using clues left for her by her mother, Enola sets out in clever disguise, making use of the awful requirements of women’s dress (including corsetry and bustle) to find hiding places for money and other essentials.

Along her journey, she stumbles across the case of the missing Marquess — a 12-year-old boy from a prestigious family who’s been reportedly abducted, but Enola sees enough through her own perspective to realize that he’s probably run away as well.

As Enola travels to London, she crosses paths with the Marquess, and together they endure hardships, threats, near-death encounters with bad guys, and a thrilling escape.

By the end, Enola has not yet found her mother, but she’s learned a lot about the ways of the world, how women are viewed and how to use that to her own advantage, and how to survive on her own.

Enola is a delightful character, and the book is a fun caper story. It’s geared toward a younger crowd than YA, which is why I’d call it middle grade, although it might skew somewhere in between.

The writing and dialogue are clever, and it’s quite fun to see how Enola uses society’s view of women to her own ends, subverting the patriarchy right under the patriarchy’s chauvinistic noses.

I’m not sure that I’ll continue with the series — while this book was really enjoyable, I’m not really feeling the need to carry on with something that’s essentially a children’s book series. (If my kids were still in the the target age range, I might feel differently.)

In terms of the Netflix adaptation, well.. it’s not really a fair comparison! The books are a great read for the right age group, but as an adult, I just loved the Netflix version, its cast, and its super-clever approach to the story.

The adaptation also has a much more intricate plot and more story threads to unwind. I do wonder whether some of these other pieces will come into play in later books, but not really enough to make me want to keep reading.

I’d recommend the books for middle grade readers (and parents/teachers/friends of middle grade readers), but for adults looking to enjoy the essence of the story, Netflix’s Enola Holmes is the way to go!

Shelf Control #237: Dragon Bones by Lisa See

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! For 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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Title: Dragon Bones
Author: Lisa See
Published: 2002
Length: 368 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In a magnificent land where myth mixes treacherously with truth, one woman is in charge of telling them apart. Liu Hulan is the Inspector in China’s Ministry of Public Security whose tough style rousts wrongdoers and rubs her superiors the wrong way. Now her latest case finds her trapped between her country’s distant past and her own recent history.

The case starts at a rally for a controversial cult that ends suddenly in bloodshed, and leads to the apparent murder of an American archaeologist, which officials want to keep quiet. And haunting Hulan’s investigation is the possible theft of ancient dragon bones that might alter the history of civilization itself.

Getting to the bottom of ever-spiraling events, Hulan unearths more scandals, confronts more murderers, and revives tragic memories that shake her tormented marriage to its core. In the end, she solves a mystery as big, unruly, and complex as China itself. 

How and when I got it:

I picked up a paperback copy at a library sale, sometime within the last 3 – 4 years.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve read many of Lisa See’s more recent books, including two of my all-time favorites, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane and The Island of Sea Women. This book is a little different. Written earlier in the author’s career, Dragon Bones is one of three mysteries in the Red Princess series, although from what I understand, they can be read as stand-alones. (At least, I hope this is true, since I only have this one, and Goodreads says it’s #3.)

The plot itself sounds really appealing. I do love a good mystery that involves archaeology and a mix of ancient and recent history. Plus, I feel confident that any book by this author will be worth reading!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

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 or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Shelf Control #233: Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars, #2) by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham

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! For 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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Title: Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars, #2)
Author: Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham
Published: 2015
Length: 330 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In the second book in the New York Times bestselling mystery series, Veronica Mars is back with a case that will expose the hidden workings of one of Neptune’s most murderous locations.

The Neptune Grand has always been the seaside town’s ritziest hotel, despite the shady dealings and high-profile scandals that seem to follow its elite guests. When a woman claims that she was brutally assaulted in one of its rooms and left for dead by a staff member, the owners know that they have a potential powder keg on their hands. They turn to Veronica to disprove—or prove—the woman’s story.

The case is a complicated mix of hard facts, mysterious occurrences, and uncooperative witnesses. The hotel refuses to turn over its reservation list and the victim won’t divulge who she was meeting that night. Add in the facts that the attack happened months ago, the victim’s memory is fuzzy, and there are holes in the hotel’s surveillance system, and Veronica has a convoluted mess on her hands. As she works to fill in the missing pieces, it becomes clear that someone is lying—but who? And why? 

How and when I got it:

I bought it because VERONICA MARS.

Why I want to read it:

The simple answer is, I’m a VMars fan through and through, and always will be. Yes, even after the less-than-inspiring season 3 (which I mostly choose to ignore) and the very upsetting ending to the recent season on Netflix. I love these characters, and will always be there for more.

I read the first Veronica Mars book, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, about a year ago, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’m not usually a fan of novelizations of movies or TV shows, but in this case, the show’s creator wrote a story that advanced the overall plotlines and felt really true to the characters and their world.

I’ve been meaning to read #2 ever since, and hope to dive into it in the next few months. And who knows, maybe I’ll be inspired to go back and do another re-watch. Because there can never be too much Veronica Mars!

What do you think? Would you read a book based on a favorite TV show or movie?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

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 or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

Title: The Dry
Author: Jane Harper
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 31, 2016
Length: 328 pages
Genre: Crime fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A small town hides big secrets in this atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by award-winning author Jane Harper.

In the grip of the worst drought in a century, the farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily when three members of a local family are found brutally slain.

Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown for the funeral of his childhood friend, loath to face the townsfolk who turned their backs on him twenty years earlier.

But as questions mount, Falk is forced to probe deeper into the deaths of the Hadler family. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret. A secret Falk thought was long buried. A secret Luke’s death now threatens to bring to the surface in this small Australian town, as old wounds bleed into new ones.

The Dry is a twisty tale of murder and secrets set in a rural Australian community, where drought has dried up farms and rivers and brought the entire town to the brink of natural and economic ruin.

Federal Investigator Aaron Falk is drawn back into the web of gossip and lies in the town of Kiewarra when he returns home for a funeral — the funeral of his former best friend, who appears to have slaughtered his wife and son before turning the shotgun on himself. It’s horrifying and ugly, and the town is roiling with unhappiness.

At the same time, Aaron’s reception by the town is hostile. Twenty years earlier, he was suspected of murdering a classmate and was forced to flee with his father in the face of threats and aggression. The people of Kiewarra have a long memory, and no one — especially the dead girl’s family — wants to see him back among them.

But Aaron and the local police officer both believe something is off about the deaths of Luke’s family. Something about the crime scene just doesn’t add up, so Aaron stays to help pick through the witness statements and other bits and pieces of clues. Meanwhile, his memories of the events of 20 years earlier are coming back strongly, and he’s finding himself plagued by that unsolved mystery as well.

I was very caught up in the story of The Dry and just could not stop reading! The murder itself is gruesome and terrible, and it’s shocking to see how the different pieces fit together. Aaron is an impressive main character, smart and determined, but also flawed and haunted by his past and his regrets.

It was fascinating to get a view of the small-town politics and power plays, and I found the description of the drought-ridden environment and its dangers really powerful. Who knew that a scene with a lighter in it could be quite so scary?

I’m rating this book 3 1/2 stars, because I did enjoy it quite a bit, but also felt certain pieces of the mystery were a little on the obvious side. Given that I don’t normally gravitate toward crime stories, I was surprised that I liked The Dry as much as I did!

In fact, I think at some point I’ll want to read more of this author’s work — my book group friends recommend her books highly! **Save

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Shelf Control #200: Still Life by Louise Penny

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! For 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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Title: Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache, #1)
Author: Louise Penny
Published: 2005
Length: 321 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

As the early morning mist clears on Thanksgiving Sunday, the homes of Three Pines come to life – all except one…

To locals, the village is a safe haven. So they are bewildered when a well-loved member of the community is found lying dead in the maple woods. Surely it was an accident – a hunter’s arrow gone astray. Who could want Jane Neal dead?

In a long and distinguished career with the Sûreté du Quebec, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has learned to look for snakes in Eden. Gamache knows something dark is lurking behind the white picket fences, and if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will begin to give up its secrets…

How and when I got it:

Picked up at a library book sale, sometime within the last few years.

Why I want to read it:

Talk about being late to the party. EVERYONE seems to love this series, and I can’t even tell you how many people have pushed this book on me over the years. And while I’m not a huge mystery fan, the small-town, remote setting absolutely appeals to me, and I’ve heard nothing but good things. In fact, the main reason I still haven’t started this book is the fact that the series is up to 15 books so far! I’m afraid that I’ll like it TOO much, will want to continue, and will end up with a new obsession. Call me crazy. I know I’m missing out, and just have to convince myself to dive in!

What do you think? Have you read this book? Have you read the whole series? And if I start, will I be able to stop?

Please share your thoughts!

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Have fun!

Aubiobook Review: Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

From Rob Thomas, the creator of groundbreaking television series and movie Veronica Mars, comes the first book in a thrilling new mystery series.

Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is not a simple missing person’s case. The house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

My Thoughts:

More Veronica Mars? Yes, more Veronica Mars!

If you’ve visited my blog at all during the last couple of months, chances are you’ve seen me chatting up my VMars obsession, which was reignited by the new season of the TV series, then further fueled by going back and re-watching the show from the beginning. I capped it off by watching the 2014 Veronica Mars movie… so naturally, what came next was the first of two Veronica Mars books, written by series creator Rob Thomas.

And in case you’re wondering — no, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line does NOT read like a cheap novelization. Instead, it’s a complex, well-developed detective story that kept me on the edge of my seat. And of course, the true delight is getting to spend more time with the characters we know and love.

As a bit of context, the plot of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is set about two months after the events of the movie. (Seriously, go watch the movie if you haven’t!). Veronica is back in Neptune, turning her back on a lucrative law career and a boring relationship (bye, Piz!) in New York to join her father in the family business, Mars Investigations. And if you think Papa Mars is happy about that, think again! Keith explodes in anger, furious that Veronica has given up the safety of corporate law to wade back into the seedy, dangerous PI business. Of course, his anger is really a mask for fear. He’s terrified that Veronica will end up hurt, or worse, and with good reason. She just does not know how to back down when she’s chasing a lead, no matter the danger involved.

What about Logan? Well, Veronica and her true love Logan Echolls reunited in the movie, and they’re still together, building a relationship, in this book — although “together” is a relative term, since he’s in the Navy and away on a mission for the duration of The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. Still, it warms my little heart to know that these two crazy lovebirds are back in each other’s lives.

As to the mystery fueling the plot, it centers around the lunacy of spring break in Neptune, a magnet for drunken rowdiness for college students from all over, who descend on Neptune and party like there’s no tomorrow. And for one unlucky girl, there isn’t — a college freshman named Hayley goes missing after a wild party at a fancy mansion. Once national attention becomes focused on the debauchery of Neptune, the town’s leaders realize they need the girl found in order to protect the lucrative Neptune spring break business, so they hire Mars Investigations to find her (because the local sheriff is both corrupt and incompetent, don’t ya know.)

Keith is out of commission, having been severely wounded in a car crash (in the movie) and still recovering, so Veronica jumps in and takes the lead on the case. Her investigations lead her to college campuses, the rich and powerful of Neptune, and even to a Mexican drug cartel, putting her own life in grave danger (naturally). A second girl goes missing, and this time, it’s personal — it turns out that Aurora is the underage stepdaughter of Veronica’s mother, a woman who abandoned her years ago and whom she hasn’t seen in over a decade.

The plots twists are just as good and unpredictable as any Veronica Mars fan might expect. And Veronica herself is as much of a reckless bad-ass as ever, with plenty of smarts and a handy Taser to back her up. Not to mention her good friends in her corner — Wallace and Mac are back, as are some other old favorites, such as the DA Cliff and even the ridiculous Dick Casablancas.

The writing is terrific, with all the quippiness that makes Veronica Mars so much fun.

Sometimes, if it looks like a murderous duck and quacks like a murderous duck… well, you know.

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is tons of fun. If you’re thinking about reading it — I can’t stress this enough! — pick up the audiobook! Kristen Bell does the narration, and it’s perfect. I mean, you really can’t get any better than having the actress who plays Veronica Mars reading the Veronica Mars novel. She does a good job with the supporting characters too, although it’s a little weird to hear Kristen Bell doing Keith and Logan, but I got over it.

If you’ve never watched Veronica Mars, then likely this is all gibberish to you (although what are you waiting for? Go watch the TV series, and be sure to start at the beginning!) This book is a total treat for fans, and I would guess that even folks not familiar with VMars might enjoy the detective story here.

As for me, in case it isn’t already clear, I loved it. There’s one more book available, and I can’t wait to start it!

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The details:

Title: Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line 
Author: Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Narrator:  Kristen Bell
Publisher: Vintage Books
Publication date: March 25, 2014
Audiobook length: 8 hours, 42 minutes
Printed book length: 324 pages
Genre: Mystery
Source: Purchased (Audible)