Suspense and Sensibility: Or, First Impressions Revisited (Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, #2)

by Carrie Bebris

I’m a sucker for anything based on Jane Austen if it is well done. And sometimes when it is not. This is evidenced by the fact that I’ve read all of these Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, though this is the only one I have actually written anything on. It starts off pretty well; the characters seemed pretty true to the originals, though Kitty is given a more positive spin. It is an improvement over Pride and Prescience. I actually chuckled a few times. Sadly, it degenerates pretty quickly once the mystery kicks in. Unfortunately, it is another paranormal mystery and it is positively outlandish. It was nice to see the Dashwood women again. Lucy Ferrars nee Steele starts out true to form, but her ultimate fate is positively ludicrous and cringe-worthy. The resolution has some tragic aspects considering the fluffy way it starts out. I was considerably less patient with the rest in the series, just skipping through the mystery part. I remember looking forward to more of Georgiana as she was pretty intriguing, and also an appearance of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Unfortunately, I do not remember anything about any of the other stories, which I guess is a review of the whole series in and of itself.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

September 15, 2014

The Trail of the Green Doll (Judy Bolton Mysteries #27)

By Margaret Sutton

“This must be the entrance to the cave…We never would have found it if Judy’s shoe hadn’t scraped against it when she fell.”
You were determined to find it, with or without me,” she retorted. “Isn’t anybody going to ask me if I hurt myself?”
Apparently nobody was.

Judy’s adventure starts out with her putting a sign on the road advertising her home as a place for tourists to stay. Without consulting her husband who is a secret FBI agent with an office in his house. Not Good, Judy, Not Good. Of course, It quickly attracts some really sketchy men and Judy comes to her senses. Anyway, a young single mother with two children whose car had just been forced off the road and her purse stolen also saw it, and Judy is off to the races.

What follows is a mystery involving a valuable jade collection that is missing from a mansion that has just burned to the ground. The rather flaky and secretive widowed mother was traveling to see her Uncle Paul, the owner. Besides being the key to the missing jade, her history includes a soap opera-ish love triangle between her, her late husband, and his identical twin brother, three cousins who grew up there.

This effort by Margaret Sutton is notable for its exploration of the Hindu mythological tale, The Ramayana, which permeates the story and the mystery. It surely would have been very strange and very educational to her young readers.

This book is not a favorite despite its exotic and interesting aspects. The little family and their troubles did not appeal to me, and one of the mysteries (Talking Trees!) had a very far-fetched explanation. Almost as implausible as the secret tunnel in The Black Cat’s Clue.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

October 8, 2021

Apples Never Fall

By Liane Moriarty

Going OFF-GRID for a little while! I’m dancing daffodils 21 Dog Champagne to end Czechoslovakia! Spangle Moot! Love, Mum.’ Heart emoji. Butterfly emoji. Flower emoji. Smiley face emoji. ‘Off-grid’ was in capitals.” The beauty therapist’s mother used a lot of emojis in her texts too. Mothers loved emojis. She wondered what all that “dancing daffodils” stuff could possibly mean.

Moriarty once again has written an engrossing exploration of a dramatic family dynamic. I guess every family has its dark undercurrents, resentments, secrets, and challenges, but this is a family whose potential for both everyday and cataclysmic blow-ups is turned up more than a notch. First of all, although affluent and successful, they are a family of former athletes that never quite attained their dreams. The father, Stan, is a successful local tennis coach who had the potential for worldwide fame and greatness. The mother, Joy, gave up her own tennis career to raise 4 challenging kids and build the family business. As energetic and loving as she is she has had her plate more than full throughout her whole life. Like so many wives and mothers of her time, she feels cheated and unappreciated.

When the children were little they always called it “Daddy’s office” even though Joy was the one who handled all the business of the business. Yet they all had to maintain the pretense that because Stan was the man, whatever he was doing was automatically more important and deserved priority over any contribution from the little lady. Well, fuck you, Stan.

And then there’s the 4 kids: Amy, the oldest, who has all kinds of mental health disorders. Pick one. Logan, rather ordinary and scruffy, just broke up with his universally adored girlfriend, Indira, and is confused and miserable. Troy, a wealthy trader, and reformed drug dealer is now divorced from his lovely wife whom he cheated on. And Brooke, outwardly stable, has suffered from debilitating migraines since childhood. She too is divorced and trying, so far unsuccessfully, to start her own physical therapy practice.

Yes, Amy had her mental health challenges, but she was as tough as nails at her core; Logan pretended not to care about anything but cared about everything; Troy acted so superior because he felt so inferior; and Brooke liked to present herself as the most grown-up of them all, but sometimes Joy caught the fleeting expression of a frightened child crossing her face.

Things come to a head when a stranger knocks on Stan and Joy’s door seeking shelter and doesn’t leave. She worms her way into their affections and they become almost dependent upon her. Their kids are bewildered, worried, and start investigating. What’s her scam? When her lies and motives are exposed, she leaves, leaving seeds of destruction behind her. Some months later Joy disappears without a trace except for a perplexing text message to her children. Unbelievably, It starts to look to the police, his children, and the reader that her loving but complex husband of 50 years might have murdered her.

The build-up is slow but fascinating as we get to know each member of the family. I alternatively sympathized then despised then liked them again all at many points in the novel. That is a measure of Liane Moriarty’s talent and skill in constructing her characters. And we are mystified by Savannah. Who is she really and what is she up to? Things really start to pop shortly after the halfway point and the revelations come fast and furious.

In my experience, Lianne Moriarty really knows how to end a book. All is revealed and tied up in a very satisfying conclusion with happy endings, beginnings, and hope for all of the Delaney family.

Nico said there were good floorboards waiting beneath the vile carpet in the house they’d just bought. Amazing to think something beautiful could lie beneath the ugliness and all you had to do was peel it away. 

Then we get a shock of a second bonus ending which I read with simultaneous horror and guilty amusement.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 5, 2021

The Thirteenth Tale

By Diane Setterfield

I read old novels. The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic separations and unhoped-for reunions, great falls and dreams fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait. They should come after adventures, perils, dangers and dilemmas, and wind everything up nice and neatly. Endings like this are to be found more commonly in old novels than new ones, so I read old novels.

I had very high hopes for The Thirteenth Tale. I was very intrigued at the beginning and thought the ending was excellent, with the fates of the secondary and bit players nicely revealed and loose ends tied up (see quote above.) It was very well written and had some beautifully written and thought-provoking passages. I should have loved it. I dealt in out-of-print and collectible books for years and there was so much that I definitely enjoyed and related to. However, sad to say, I found the middle a bit of a slog. The stories told by Vida Winter telling of her past were deeply unpleasant and disturbing. They were not enjoyable to read and seemed just setups to establish mysteries to be solved later.

I was never invested in Margaret Ley’s anguish over her lost twin and the dampening effect it had on her life. I guess maybe you have to be a twin to fully appreciate what she was going through and to also understand the key relationship between Adeline and Emmeline. But I just wanted to tell her to get over herself, you were just a baby and didn’t even know about her until you were 10. It was interesting, but I was not emotionally invested in her angst. The refreshing Dr. Clifton says it best, 

“You are suffering from an ailment that afflicts ladies of romantic imagination. Symptoms include fainting, weariness, loss of appetite, low spirits…. However, unlike the heroines of your favorite novels, your constitution has not been weakened by the privations of life in earlier, harsher centuries. No tuberculosis, no childhood polio, no unhygienic living conditions. You’ll survive.”

The final reveals were sort of compelling and surprising, but the reader knew something of the sort was going to be coming since twins were involved.

I had some major questions about some of the key developments in character. Many were answered in the course of the book, but many were not. The characters were deftly drawn but didn’t always hold up to scrutiny. 

**spoiler**

Hester arrived on the scene like a breath of fresh air and brought hope and renewal. But then she turned cold, heartless, and abusive. She and the doctor treated the children like laboratory rats. However good their intentions started out being, they ended up just using them as an excuse to be together without guilt. Then back into a positive character in the postscript. The fact that she had a happy and successful marriage and career at the end seemed to come out of nowhere. Could she really be happy with the patronizing Dr. Maudsley, her intellectual inferior?
Why was young Vida so passionately taken with the placid and dull Emmeline?
Could the violent and uncontrollable Adeline really be kept hidden all those teenage years?
Why was John the Dig so hostile to Hester? Yes, if she found out about Vida, she probably would have brought her out into the open and sent her to school. But would that have been such a bad thing? And why was the present-day elderly Vida so devoted to Adeline who was responsible for so much evil and tragedy? (Assuming it was Emmaline who died in the fire.) 

**end spoiler**

 I would have enjoyed some more closure between Margaret and her mother. I would have enjoyed reading more about the very likable Dr. Clifton, a beacon of sense and sanity. I feel like we should have seen much more of him and learned more about him.

The Thirteenth Tale is definitely a book that would benefit from a “knowing what I know now” reread, but once was enough for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 21, 2021

Blindsighted

By Karin Slaughter

I thought this one was a good bet because of the fantastic reviews, and the backlist featuring the same lead characters with the promise of relationship development leading to a satisfying and happy partnership in crime-fighting. Unfortunately, I found this book to be way too gruesome and unnecessarily explicit in both the description of the gore and the torture both mental and physical.

I also could not understand and was very bothered by two other character’s unconscionable behaviors. 

**Spoiler**

How could Lena, as a supposedly good and tough-minded cop let a half-conscious pitiful victim steal her gun right off of her and ultimately blow her head off? When she took her gun, Lena had a chance to talk her down and change her mind. Instead, Lena pretty much did the opposite with her accusatory outburst. She as good as pulled the trigger herself. Other than her feeling bad, there were no consequences for her. After that, she was just dead to me. The other thing that really turned me off was Sara, our main girl, putting her own emotional preference of keeping the horrible details of her rape a secret from Jeffrey despite the jarring similarities and connections to what happened to Sibyl, the first victim, and then the second victim. I respect her right not to confide and I even understand it, but not when other women’s lives are at stake! Also she was really dense as to who the psycho was until it was too late. Speaking of which, the demented actions of the killer were so over the top, I didn’t think it credible that he could be such a normal nice guy with no hint of anything “wrong” there. Also, it is established the killer had knowledge and access to a certain drug. There was one pharmacist in town. Hello? 

**end spoiler**

I still give it 3 stars because it kept me reading and engaged. I’m not giving the aptly named author a second chance because I read enough about the series as a whole to know there is too much misery in store. I am a big fan of Midsomer County and the murders therein, but I will be stepping on the gas and leaving Grant County in my rearview mirror.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 20, 2019

A Share in Death

By Deborah Crombie

This was a good Agatha Christie/Golden age type mystery set in modern times. It could well have occurred in the 1930s but for Gemma, a single mother and Duncan Kincaid’s sergeant. And one of the character’s purple spiked hair. Most of the appeal for me lies in its being the first in an ongoing series where the continuing characters grow and develop. I don’t believe I will like it as well as Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, but it seems to have more promise than another partners-in-crime type series I started but quit after the second one.

The puzzle was pretty good as to the who and the why, although the solution came upon our hero like a bolt of lightning without a lot of build-up. It was kind of a relief to read a story that was just a straightforward mystery without a huge shocker of a twist that authors nowadays seem obligated to include. This requirement also obliges the reader to look for the “trick” around every corner and not take anything at face value. This can be entertaining, but it is also very wearing on the nerves.

I thought it was funny how desperate our hero is for a committed relationship. This was a nice quality, but it caused him to have harmless mini-crushes on two women simultaneously. One happily married with two children! I’m sure it won’t take long for him to notice the woman right in front of him! 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 24, 2019

Every Secret Thing

By Susanna Kearsley (Emma Cole)

Later on, when I looked back on it, the only explanation I could give for what I did next was that, at the time, I saw no other way. My life, as I was living now, was not a life. To be in fear, to be in hiding, using someone else’s name – this wasn’t how I wanted to go on. And it would never stop, so long as both the murderer and I were still alive. My only thought on that long morning flight to London was that, one way or another, I would see it end, today.

This has been in my TBR pile for a very long time. I kept putting it off because I thought it was going to be a long and heavy WWII angst-ridden emotional journey with lots of tragedy that would require a big commitment in time and emotion, as most of her other books do. It did have some of that, but mostly it was a normal-sized mystery and adventure that was very reminiscent of Mary Stewart, if she had written her books today, instead of 60 or 70 years ago. The heroine of this one, Kate, had the narrative voice of a Mary Stewart heroine and I also enjoyed the travelogue-like descriptions of Lisbon, Enola, and Washington DC. In Susanna Kearsley’s books, you can follow along with our heroine on Google Earth and really almost be there, on the scene.

I won’t go into the plot, but like most of Susanna’s novels, it involves a dual timeline. In order to investigate the mystery, and later to ensure justice is served, Kate, our investigative journalist, tracks down and interviews the now elderly men and women who can shed light on a murder that happened during WWII in Lisbon, Portugal. Their reminiscences are all part of the puzzle but also provide an entertaining story involving love, intrigue, and a portrait of a hero: Andrew Deacon. But someone who wants to silence her and those who would help her solve the puzzle is following her. Someone powerful with high connections with Whitehall. No one is to be trusted, including an attractive man she meets on her quest. And once the murderer is revealed, how will she exact justice and end the danger to herself and others?

By the end, you marvel at all of the threads that have come together to provide the satisfying conclusion. There is poignancy and sadness in the part of the story that belongs to Kate’s grandmother, but no regret. Being a romantic at heart, I wished for more closure on the page for Kate’s happy ending, but I know in my heart she will have one very soon after I put the book down.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

September 5, 2021

Big Summer

By Jennifer Weiner

Drue opened the door, then surprised me by hugging me hard. “This was the best day of my life,” she said….

“I’m glad Drue got to come.” My father’s head was buried in the refrigerator. I couldn’t see his expression as he said, “I think she was hungry.” As if, I thought. “They have a chef who makes them anything they want.” “So you’ve mentioned.”

.… I went to my bedroom to work on the watercolor I’d been painting for my mother’s birthday and to think about my friend and how there were things you could be hungry for besides food.

Besides being a juicy chick-lit containing the usual themes exploring career, family, romance, personal growth, overcoming challenges, and a nemesis or two, this book is also a murder mystery. It also has a lot of lessons to teach. The one that stood out to me was how important good loving parents and family are. You may not be rich, blue-blooded, or thin and beautiful, but if you have a good family, you are truly blessed.

There are many lessons the two young women, Daphne and Drue, the used and the user, learn in their journeys. One ends happily but the other learns too late. And that part was very sad.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June 30, 2020

The Silent Patient

by Alex Michaelides

“I’m forty two years old. And I became a psychotherapist because I was fucked-up. That’s the truth – though it’s not what I said during the interview when the question was put to me.”

This is the kind of book that might be better read than listened to. The narrations were great, no complaints there, whatsoever, and I had no trouble following it or remembering all of the characters, but I wish I was able to page through from the beginning to relive all of the clues and get a better handle on it all.

**Spoiler**

Especially the dual timelines. That was surprising, and a bit of a cheat. Were there any clues in the text, that it wasn’t a chronological story? I think it was signaled right from the beginning that there is something wrong with Theo and he is not a good person. Also that Gabriel was not the paragon that Alicia thought he was. The difference between what Alicia says about him versus how he acts on the page stands out. Theo’s crude language and anger was a giveaway for me. I really thought Alicia was innocent though. It seems like the police would have seen the marks of the wires on her wrists and ankles and figured out that there was more to the story of Alicia tying him up and shooting him. 

**end spoilers**

There were a lot of red herrings that were very well done.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

May 22, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing

By Delia Owens

“Female fireflies draw in strange males with dishonest signals and eat them; mantis females devour their own mates. Female insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers.”

Where the Crawdad Sings was a book that was out of my comfort zone. I’m not automatically drawn to lush Pat-Conroyish prose or anything with a whiff of Southern Gothic. But I have read and enjoyed such and I was won over by the glowing reviews that promised tragedy, cruelty, and sadness, yes, but also triumph, romance, and victory. The fact that it was a Reese Witherspoon book club selection sealed the deal. The novel delivered on all points. I didn’t read one glowing review that I disagree with.

I didn’t give it 5 stars. The resolution to the murder mystery did not seem supported by the facts, logistics, and evidence. Maybe I should re-read some parts, because I felt like the author kind of went behind the reader’s back. But it might just be me. The red herrings were excellent. I wish there had been a more satisfactory outcome with Kya’s lost family. One loose end was tied up very sadly, but there were more left hanging. The trial was good, but lacked some drama. The ending with Tate seemed to be a little rushed and easily won.

So it’s not perfect, but I would recommend it to almost anyone. It’s a better book than many I have given 5 stars to, but it aimed high so my bar was set high

Rating: 4 out of 5.

December 24, 2018