Under Suspicion Series // by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke

  • I’ve Got You Under My Skin (2014)
  • The Cinderella Murder (2014)
  • All Dressed in White (2015)
  • The Sleeping Beauty Killer (2016)
  • Every Breath You Take (2017)

A while back I read The Ex by Alafair Burke.  While it wasn’t the best thriller I had ever read, it was solid enough to make me add several of Burke’s other works onto the TBR.  However, when I added this series I didn’t realize that Burke was a co-author.  Somehow, I had never gotten around to reading any of the famous Mary Higgins Clark’s books, so I was actually pretty intrigued to delve into this series.

The first book was written by Clark on her own, and it sets the premise for the rest of the series.  The story opens when Greg, a young doctor, at the park with his three-year-old son, Timmy.  A stranger appears and murders Greg – and only Timmy sees his face.  Timmy remarkably is able to remember that the man had very blue eyes and also that he said, “Tell your mother she’s next, and then it’s your turn.”

Five years later, no further progress has been made on the Blue-Eyed Killer.  Greg’s wife, Laurie, has done her best to move forward with her life, even with the constant threat made by a murderer hanging over her.  Her father, Leo, took an early retirement from his job on the police force in order to help Laurie take care of Timmy.  Laurie works as a television producer, but her last few ideas haven’t done very well and she knows that her next pitch could be her last.

But it’s a doozy – her idea is to have a sort-of reality show that revisits cold cases.  But instead of just talking about them, she wants to pull together all the main players and reenact some of the scenes.  She wants her main focus to be on cold cases where the witnesses are also the suspects – where the fact that the case is still open means that multiple people are still under suspicion – which is exactly what she wants to title her new show.

Although her boss is at first reluctant, she manages to hook him with a cold case that received a lot of media attention at the time, and soon production for the first episode of Under Suspicion is underway.  Meanwhile, the reader is privy to the fact that Blue Eyes is back on the fringes of Laurie’s life – with definite plans for finishing the job he started five years earlier.

I really enjoyed this series a lot, and gave basically all of these books an easy 4* rating.  It felt a little obvious that Clark didn’t originally intend for the first book to be the first in a series – Laurie’s mystery is neatly wrapped up, she’s given a potential love interest for the future, and things overall get tidied – but it works really well as a series nonetheless, with each book being another episode of Under Suspicion.  Laurie is a really likable protagonist, and the other characters grew on me as well.  I was moderately frustrated with the slow speed of her romance with THE PERFECT GUY, but overall that was also a nice thread running throughout.

It did seem as though the endings were sometimes rushed – I especially felt that way with the first book, where things are tooling along and then suddenly ACTION!  DEATH!  MURDER!  SUICIDE!  CHAOS!  And then the end.  Other than that, though, the pacing was good throughout.  The chapters are SUPER short – some of them only a couple of paragraphs long – which I find incredibly addictive.

A new character is introduced in The Sleeping Beauty Killer, and he really brought down my overall enjoyment of that book and the next.  Ryan ended up being THE most stereotyped character in the whole series…  let’s create a male character who is a caricature of every stereotypical negative male trait ever!  It was so annoying, especially since everyone else grows and changes, but Ryan just stays completely stagnant in order to emphasize how EASY it is for men ALL THE TIME, blah blah blah.

But overall these were great thrillers. They had enough twists to keep things interesting, good premises, likable characters (except Ryan), and decent character development over time (except Ryan).  The most recent was just published last year, so I’m hopeful that there may be another addition to the series at some point.  4/5 for the Under Suspicion series on the whole.

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April Minireviews // Part 2

I keep thinking that I’m through my blogging funk and am ready to write some solid full reviews… and then I start to write and realize I just don’t wanna!  :-D  So here’s another batch of minireviews from this month…

Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

//published 2011//

Before I picked up this book and read the introduction I didn’t realize that it’s actually a book based on a movie.  I’m not completely sure I would have bothered checking it out of the library if I had known that before, as it’s not something I generally enjoy.  And, like other movies-to-books that I’ve read, this one felt a little flat.  There wasn’t a lot of character development, and the third person POV jumped around between characters in a manner that was very choppy and confusing.  There was a lot of potential with this story, but instead it just felt like it dragged on and on and created more questions than it answered.

Why have the villagers been offering sacrifices to the werewolf for years but now all of a sudden decide that it must die?  That was the biggest one for me.  These people have been living with this situation for decades, but all of a sudden it’s this huge emergency/crisis and everyone is flipping out about killing the wolf.  I hated the blend of religion/paranormal in this book, as the “good” guy, who is a bishop or something, is also a total jerk + arrogant + stupid, and goes around proclaiming how he is “working for the power of God” etc etc and it really felt like he could have been the same character minus the constant blathering about God and wouldn’t have been nearly as offensive.  The main character, Valerie, basically sucked and was completely passive and also inconsistent and we had to spend WAY too much time listening to her dither about which guy she should be with; she and everyone else just kind of ran around like a bunch of sheep, making every stupid decision possible.

THEN, the final kicker – there’s no last chapter!  The book just stops!  Apparently, the book came out just before the movie, so they didn’t want the ending spoiled and didn’t post the lats chapter until after the movie appeared.  Now you can go online and read it (and I did, and it genuinely was a terrible ending that STILL didn’t really make the story make sense), but it seems like a pretty obnoxious marketing device to not put the ending in a book.  All in all, a 2/5 for this one – I did want to see how things came out, so I feel like I can’t justify only 1*, but it’s close.

The Foundling by Georgette Heyer

//published 1948//

It had been way too long since I had indulged in the sheer joy and relaxation of a Heyer book, and I was excited to read this one for the first time.  I genuinely loved the main character, Gilly, and laughed out loud on more than one occasion at his ability to get tangled in some genuinely ridiculous situations.  It was funny to read a Heyer that was more about a guy than a girl, but Gilly was so completely likable that I really enjoyed it.  I wish there was a sequel to this book that was nothing except Gilly and his new wife and all of their adventures because I shipped them SO HARD.  4/5.

Ride Like an Indian by Henry Larom

//published 1958//

A while back I read the Mountain Pony series by Larom and really enjoyed it, so I checked to see if he had written anything else.  I found a copy of Ride Like an Indian on eBay and took the $5 splurge.  This was aimed at younger readers than the Mountain Pony books – it’s almost a picture book – but it was pretty adorable, even if it wasn’t very exciting.  I enjoyed the reading, but it wasn’t really an instant classic for me.  3.5/5.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillup

//published 1988//

I’ve had kind of mixed results from McKillup’s writing.  Everything I’ve read has been good but they have not all been magical.  That was the case with this book.  The story was a pleasant and engaging one, but didn’t have that magic that made me want to add it to my permanent collection.  3/5.

Don’t Believe a Word by Patricia MacDonald

//published 2016//

I read about this book over on Fictionophile’s blog a while back, and thought I would give it a whirl.  While I enjoyed reading it and definitely wanted to see how everything came together, it wasn’t a book that I loved, and it didn’t particularly inspire me to find more of MacDonald’s writing.  For some reason, this book just had a negative vibe for me, and I’m not even sure exactly why.  There is also this weird plot twist where it turns out that two of the characters are actually half-siblings and have been having an incestual relationship.  That was never really addressed as a negative thing and it made me kind of uncomfortable that the conclusion was just that it was basically their business and they should be able to do whatever they feel is right.  Still, that was a minor part of an otherwise decent story.  3.5/5.

Adam Dalgliesh Mysteries // by P.D. James

This was my first foray into the writing of P.D. James.  I’ve seen the Dalgliesh mysteries mentioned here and there around the interwebs, and decided to give them a try.  I ended up reading the first 4 1/2 books in the series, but it just wasn’t for me, so I decided not to finish.  I read:

  • Cover Her Face (1962)
  • A Mind to Murder (1963)
  • Unnatural Causes (1967)
  • Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
  • The Black Tower (partially) (1975)

Cover Her Face was a 3.5/5 read for me, and a decent, although not riveting, start to the series.  Dalgliesh himself is honestly a very minor player in this book – he doesn’t even appear until page 59, and most of the story is more about the murder victim’s family than it is about the detective.  Virtually everyone in the book was unlikable, even Dalgliesh’s potential love interest.  One of the characters in particular (Stephen) was just flat obnoxious, and I basically dreaded every time he appeared on the page.  Still, the story and mysteries were decent, and I was quite willing to give the next book a go.

I liked the second book a great deal more, and gave it a 4* rating.  While the initial cast of characters was a bit confusing, once I got everyone sorted, the mystery was quite engaging.  The pacing was very good and the red herrings excellent.

Unnatural Causes went a bit off the rails in my mind.  It was an incredibly depressing read, with yet another set of characters out of whom not a single one was pleasant.  Dalgliesh’s role in the entire thing was quite murky (since he was technically on holiday), and it made the whole book feel off-kilter.  James also used what is virtually one of my least-favorite writing techniques of all time: where the main character has a sudden revelation and magically knows everything that happened… but doesn’t let us know until multiple other characters have been told.  And in this case, there was (a) not really any way that I could have arrived (or jumped rather) to the conclusion Dalgliesh did, and (b) the information was obviously just being withheld so there would be this grand revelation in the end.  I don’t mind this  method as much if I’m following a character who’s a bit slow (say, Dr. Hastings in a Poirot tale), or when the author has at least given me ALL the clues so that I could have figured it out if I was clever enough – but neither of those things was true here, so it just felt awkward, with things like, “he explained everything to the detective, who shook his head in disbelief.”  That makes for aggravating, rather than interesting, reading.  And, like I said, the ending honestly felt like a cheat.  I just could NOT grasp how Dalgliesh could have POSSIBLY figured out how the murder was committed.  I had trouble understanding how the murderer thought of it to begin with!  It was absurdly complicated (and honestly rather disturbing, ugh).  All in all, this was a 2* read for me.

Book #4 was somewhat better (3.5/5), but still just weirdly depressing.  There were weird things that I guess were supposed to be red herrings, but ended up just feeling random and never really had a good explanation, like the way that one of the suspects was once engaged to a man who died, and then it turns out that another suspect is that man’s brother… and Suspect #1 had an affair with Suspect #2.  But…  why??  Why was there a connection between them??  I guess this is just supposed to throw me off??  But it seemed very out of character for Suspect #1 so I just felt confused.  In another chapter, one of Dalgliesh’s underlings has sex with one of the witnesses, and then spends the evening dancing with someone else he’s supposed to be questioning, and the entire chapter felt like a bad dream.  And of course, once again, I had to suffer through not getting to know what Dalgliesh knows, for not really any good reason:

“But I think I know how it was done.”  [said Dalgliesh.]

He described his theory.  Sergeant Masterson, cross with himself for having missed the obvious, said:  “Of course.  It must have been done that way.”

“Not must, Sergeant.  It was probably done that way.”

But Sergeant Masterson had seen an objection and voiced it.

Dalgliesh replied:  “But that wouldn’t apply to a woman.  A woman could do it easily.”

Do you see why this annoys me??  It’s not necessarily because I don’t get to know what Dalgliesh is thinking – it’s because there is an entire conversation going on about something that I don’t get to know.  And, for instance, I never find out what Masterson’s objection was, even after I find out what the heck they were talking about!  (Which, by the way, doesn’t happen for at least another hundred pages.)

Still, despite feeling a bit meh about everything so far, I picked up The Black Tower.  And I can’t explain exactly why I didn’t finish it.  I think because James had set up an entirely new cast of characters, all unlikable, all depressing, in a depressing setting, and I just found that I couldn’t face another 300 pages of Dalgliesh moping about his job (because he is a great one for being morose and withdrawn, constantly agonizing over some life decision, always on the verge of a crisis, etc.).  So I stopped.  And I sent the whole batch of books back to the library and moved on with my life.

While these weren’t bad books, they just weren’t for me.  I’m not fond of a dark and dreary brooding hero who is full of introspection.  I don’t like it when I feel like I wouldn’t care if someone came by and poisoned the entire cast of characters.  I hate it when authors withhold information just so their hero can appear even more clever later (even if it makes the writing awkward in the short term).  I don’t like finishing a book and feeling vaguely sad about life.  So while I can see why people enjoy these stories – because the writing is good and the mysteries are decent – I just couldn’t get into them myself.

March Minireviews – Part 1

I have had just zero inspiration for blogging lately.  These anti-blogging moods come on me from time to time, and no longer really fuss me, as I know the urge will return at some point.  In the meantime, I’ve still been reading aplenty, so I thought I would at least share a few notes on some of my recent reads…

Tulipomania by Mike Dash

//published 1999//

I love reading nonfiction on random topics, and doesn’t get much more random than the tulip boom (and bust) of the 1630’s.  Dash does an excellent job painting a picture of the times, and I was honestly intrigued by what was going to happen next.  I couldn’t get over how crazy the entire boom was, with people buying, selling, and trading bulbs – bulbs!  You can’t even tell if they are really what the seller says they are!  Can you imagine paying more than a year’s worth of wages for one??

This book definitely needed pictures – I had to keep stopping to look up different styles/types/varieties of tulips (most of which no longer exist).  Charts and graphs would have been awesome as well, and could have definitely bumped this book a half star.  Dash also had a tendency to sometimes go off onto rambling trails to Nowhereville, but on the whole usually brought it back around to something at least moderately relevant.  On the whole, a 4/5 for this one, and recommended.  It also made me want to plant some tulips.  I feel like I have really underappreciated them up to this point.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

//published 2011//

This was one of those books that I wanted to like more than I did.  While it was creative and not a bad story, it just didn’t have magic.  And despite all the adventuring in the middle bits, in the end it felt like everyone just ended up back where they started, instead of their being some kind of growth.  In the end, 3.5/5 for an alright but rather bland fairy tale.  However, I will say that I originally added to this to the TBR after reading a review over at Tales of the Marvelous, so be sure to check that out for a perspective that found this book more engaging than I did!

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

//published 2016//

This book totally had me glued to the pages when I was reading it, despite the fact that I found Zoe to be rather annoying, and Simon even more so.  (Maybe I found Zoe annoying because she was with Simon?  He just seemed like such a tool!  And her ex-husband was a sweetheart.  I was confused by the creation of a very nice character who is still in love with his ex-wife… but who cheated on her??  The pieces of Matt’s character didn’t always fit together for me.)  I enjoyed having a first-person narration and also a third-person narration instead of all first person, which I think can frequently start sounding very same-y.  I’m sticking with 4/5 for this one because I couldn’t 100% get behind the conclusion – it was like Mackintosh took the twists to one more level, and I couldn’t quite follow her there, so I felt like the conclusion was just barely in the plausible realm, although other people seem to disagree with me, so it’s possible that I just have a different perspective of human character haha Anyway, this one was definitely worth a read and I’m looking forward to reading some more of Mackintosh’s writing soon!

NB: I would 100% be behind another story with Kelly and Nick!

I feel like this book was reviewed by just about everyone when it was first published!  For some other great reviews, check out Stephanie’s Book Reviews, Reading, Writing and Riesling, Cleopatra Loves Books, Chrissi Reads, Bibliobeth, and Fictionophile!

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

//published 1877//

This is a definite childhood classic for me.  I was very much into horses as a girl, and still own multiple copies of Black Beauty, each with its own style of illustrations and binding.  My favorite for reading is still the small Scholastic Book Club paperback.  It’s illustrated with line drawings, but doesn’t say who drew them!  I’ve had this particular copy since I was about ten, and have read it many times.  However, it had been several years since I had pulled it out.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, although as a more pessimistic adult, I find the ending not as confidently positive as I did as a youngster – after multiple times a sudden change in the life of Beauty’s owners leading to his being reluctantly sold, I was necessarily confident that the same wouldn’t happen again in his retirement.  What a grump I’ve turned out to be!

Of course, the story is quite polemic in nature – Sewell’s entire goal was to expose many of the everyday cruelties endured by horses and other animals (and people) with no one to speak for them.  But everything is presented in such a gentle and loving way that it’s hard to take offense.  It’s just many little stories that collectively remind readers that the power to make the world a better place is within everyone’s grasp, if they are willing to step forward and do their small part.

Despite the fact that much of the tale is a bit out of date as far as societal issues go (I don’t really remember the last time I saw someone forcing a horse to draw a heavy load uphill while using the bearing rein), the overall lessons of kindness, generosity, and always looking out for those who are weaker than you are timeless.

This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills

//published 2016//

It’s really hard when I don’t feel like writing serious reviews, but then read a book that I really like a lot, and this one definitely falls into that category.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve read about a group of friends that I liked as well as I did Sloane and her group.  Despite the fact that there wasn’t this big urgent plot, this was the book I kept wanting to come back to, just so I could see what snarky adventures everyone was going to have next.  I realized when I was finished that one of the big reasons that I enjoyed this book so much is that it is way more about friendship and the importance of having a core group of good friends that you can really trust than it is about romance and falling in love.  The love story was really a small side issue to the main thrust of the story.

This wasn’t a perfect read for me.  It felt like it took way too long for Sloane to “get” that she part of the group, and what that meant she needed to do.  I really liked Sloane’s dad and her relationship with him, but I definitely needed more of Sloane’s mom – she only appears a few times, so she just kind of comes across as this weird grumpy person in the background.  I personally thought a lot of the things she was grumpy about were justifiable, but she never really gets an opportunity to explain her point of view of their family issues, so in the end the entire relationship between Sloane’s parent is still really ambiguous, which detracted from the overall story for me.

But I legit could read like five more books about this gang of friends.  I so enjoyed their banter and loyalty.  I also loved reading a story where one of the main characters is popular and beautiful and nice, as I am really tired of the trope where the girls who are into girly things are empty-headed back stabbers.  Emma Mills has definitely been added to my list of authors whose backlogs I need to find.  In the meantime, if you enjoy funny, engaging YA, I recommend This Adventure Ends.

This book first came to my attention thanks to Stephanie’s Book Reviews, so be sure to check out her thoughts as well!

February Minireviews – Part 3

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

I seem to have a lot of these this month (plus, it’s just been a month of bad weather so lots of extra reading time!) – Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 can be found here.

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

//published 2016//

Honestly, it’s just been a while since I finished this book, and it isn’t super memorable to me.  It was a decent read that kept me interested, but even after I found out the answers I wasn’t convinced that the villain’s motives made a whole lot of sense.  Still, it was engaging while I was reading it, and while I’m not planning to hunt up more of Kubica’s books, I’m open to reading another one if someone has a recommendation.  For this one, 3.5/5 and kinda recommended.

NB: This book was originally added to the TBR thanks to two separate reviews – one from Cleopatra Loves Books and another from Reading, Writing and Riesling – be sure to check them out!

Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1915// or possibly 1911//

I’m attempting to read all of Wodehouse’s works in published order, but it’s made somewhat extra difficult by the fact that Wodehouse published both in the US and the UK, sometimes at the same time, or sometimes earlier in one place or the other.  Sometimes books have the same title in both countries and sometimes different titles.  And then to keep things really interesting, some books didn’t get published in other country at all, and instead Wodehouse would recycle part of a book from one country and incorporate it into a book that was only published in the other.  Of course now, a hundred years later, I can get all the books no matter where they originated, but pinning down an official and definitive “order of publication list” has been difficult, although I am doing my best.

All that to say that the original list I am working from listed The Prince and Betty as being published in 1912 and Psmith, Journalist being published in 1915.  Except a huge chunk of Betty is actually the entire plot of Psmith.  And it turns out that Psmith was actually published in the UK in 1911 (and in the US in 1915), while Betty wasn’t published there until some time later.  WHY.

But really, that’s all just rambling side notes.  The actual point is that Psmith, Journalist is one of my favorite Wodehouse titles.  I just love this story so much.  A lot of people find Psmith to be obnoxious, but he’s one of my favorites, and this entire story with Psmith helping another fellow run a newspaper makes me laugh every time I read it.  Definitely recommended – “Cosy Moments will not be muzzled!”

The Viking’s Chosen by Quinn Loftis

//published 2018//

This is a book I would never have picked up on my own, but because it came in a book subscription box, I thought I would give it a try.  It ended up being an engaging read that I overall enjoyed, but it ended on such a major cliffhanger that it basically felt like the book had just stopped in the middle of the book.  This probably wouldn’t annoy me quite so much if book #2 had already been published, but it HASN’T so I suppose I will just have to bide my time.

Still, overall an interesting story with decent characters, and a pleasantly not-full-of-sex-and-swearing plot.  3.5/5.

NB: This was published by Clean Teen Publishing, which I had never heard of.  What’s nice is that they actually have a content rating for the book, showing the level of swearing, violence, and sex you can expect in the book.  I honestly wish all books would do this!

The Mystery of the Empty Room by Augusta Huiell Seaman

//published 1953// I didn’t feel like this book had nearly as much drama or terror as the cover led me to believe //

This is an old Scholastic Book Club paperback that has been on my shelf for years.  I thought I had read it once, but reading it this time did not ring any bells, so it’s possible that either had never read it before, or found it completely unmemorable!  It’s not really a book that sticks with you, although it’s perfectly entertaining.  There was a lot of fun and intrigue, but I did feel like a lot of the story revolved around the fact that the characters weren’t actually communicating with one another, so everyone had a piece of the puzzle and things didn’t come together under everyone finally collaborated.  Still, an easy 3.5/5 for a somewhat dated but still pleasant story.

Japanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki

//published 1903//

I picked up this collection of 22 traditional Japanese fairy tales as a free Kindle book a while back.  I really enjoy reading fairy tales from different cultures, and was intrigued to see what kind of stories would emerge from an eastern culture.  Like all short story collections (and, let’s be honest, fairy tale collections), there were some stories that were stronger than others, but they were all interesting in their own right.  None of them emerged as stories I loved, but I could definitely see some of them turning into longer and more involved tales.

Like most western fairy tales, there were a lot of evil stepmothers (apparently they are universally hated) and a lot of random – and sometimes quite violent – deaths.  Also talking vegetables, children who arrive inside of various pieces of produce, evil badgers, and a dragon king who rules under the sea.

While I don’t see myself returning to these stories time and again, they were fun for a one-time read.

An Odd Situation by Sophie Lynbrook

//published 2018//

In this P&P retelling, Darcy is thrown from his horse on his way to Netherfield.  Because he has a head injury and is in a coma, he is moved to the closest house – Longbourn.  Despite the fact that he is an unknown stranger, the Bennetts take him in.  The doctor recommends that he not be left alone, and that people talk to him/in the same room as him because some studies have shown that people with these types of injuries respond well to outside stimulation.  The doctor also tells them that Darcy (at this point a John Doe) may or may not be able to hear what everyone is saying.

Of course, Darcy can hear what everyone is saying, and this story involves him listening to all of the many conversations that swirl around his sickbed.  Throughout, he comes to realize that he’s a bit of a snob, and also comes to value the various members of the Bennett family, even the obnoxious ones.

Overall, this was a pleasant and engaging retelling, although weirdly passive.  The entire story is from Darcy’s (third person) perspective, and since he’s in a coma most of the time, there isn’t a lot of action.  It would have been nice to get some idea of what Elizabeth is thinking/doing as well.  And while I liked the way Darcy has a lot of self-realizations and makes good resolutions to be a better person going forward, the implication is that Elizabeth is already perfect and has no lessons to learn.  In the original, it’s important for both of them to recognize their shortcomings, and a large part of what makes the story so excellent is seeing them both grow as people.  In this version, only Darcy has to change.

Still, a 4/5 for an enjoyable (and completely clean) variation, and recommended to others who may be addicted to these types of stories. :-D

A Beautiful Blue Death // The September Society // by Charles Finch

//published 2007//

I remember reading a couple of the books from this series a very long time ago, back when there were only three or four in the series.  It’s one that I have meant to revisit for quite some time, especially since several books have been added to it since then.  However, in the end I reread these two books and found them rather bland, and so have decided not to fuss with the rest of the books after all.

The books center on Charles Lenox, a gentleman in 1860’s London, who works as a private detective.  He’s a rather odd character because he apparently has enough money of private means to just ‘be a gentleman’ but chooses to work as a detective as well.  We don’t meet up with him on his first big case, but are dropped into the middle of his career, seemingly at random.  He lives next door to a widow, Lady Jane, with whom he also grew up.  His older brother, Edward, serves in parliament, which is actually Lenox’s dream job (which makes sense, because he loves rambling on about random stuff all the time).

//published 2008//

The main problem I had with these books was Finch’s tendency to really pontificate about random things.  I don’t mind a bit of background on a character or a few lines of description to help with the setting, but in these books it feels like every time Lenox passes a historical building or London neighborhood, Finch finds it necessary to go on for at least a paragraph, explaining the history and significance of the location, as well as all of Lenox’s personal associations with the spot.  After a while, it really began to feel like it was interfering with the pace of the story.

For instance, in The September Society, Lenox passes through a park:

Green Park, a shamrock-colored rectangle that lay behind the Houses of Parliament, was warm and beautiful that afternoon.  The willow trees bent toward the lake, their lowest branches just brushing the water, and the park’s lone wanderers and couples alike walked more slowly than they had along the fast city blocks, stopping to watch for a while.  Lenox always liked to watch the swans gliding serenely, birds with just the mix of beauty and danger that humans like in wildlife – for a swan, of course, could break a man’s arm.

Okay, a bit prosy but alright.  Except the next paragraph, rather than getting on with the story, continues with the swans!

Another curious fact about them was that every swan in England belonged to Queen Victoria.  Not many people knew it, but poaching swans was an offense the crown could punish.  The official swan keeper to Her Majesty wrangled the birds in the third week of July every year, when they were served at the Queen’s table and a few others across the isles, in Cambridge, Oxford, York, Edinburgh.  The swans were mute, but at their deaths they found voice and sang, and the long line of wranglers always claimed to be haunted by the sound.  It was the origin of the term swan song.

???  Just… this has nothing to do with the story.  And if this was the only instance of this meandering fact-giving it would be find, but it happens multiple times per chapter, and it became very off-putting to me, as it started to feel that Finch felt that it was important to insert all of his research into the story whether it fit or not.  It really, really interfered with the pace of the story.

In A Beautiful Blue Death, I was put off almost immediately when Lenox and his friend, a doctor, determine almost immediately that the murder victim’s death was caused by a very rare poison.  However, we aren’t really told how the doctor arrives at this conclusion.  He just…  knows?  After that, the detective in charge of the investigation decides he doesn’t want Lenox around.  So the whole story feels rather strange, with Lenox sort of meandering around the edges of it.

It just felt like both books lacked any urgency.  Lenox is very dry as a main character, and always felt rather pompous to me, although part of that is definitely Finch’s narration.  However, I will say that my younger brother loved these books, and his favorite part were all the asides and odd facts, so maybe it’s just a reader-preference thing.

All in all, these were solid 3/5 reads for me.  They were fine stories that didn’t feel like a waste of time, but also didn’t really leave me with any desire to complete the series.  With 105 other mystery series on the TBR, I don’t necessarily feel like I need to read ones that don’t really do something for me.

The Great Shelby Holmes // by Elizabeth Eulberg

//published 2016//

This book sounded like it could be super cute and fun.  A kid named John Watson moves into a new apartment building and becomes friends with the girl next door, Shelby Holmes.  Shelby is incredibly observant and considers herself a detective.  Together, they solve a mystery of a missing dog.

I liked the concept of a kiddie version of Sherlock Holmes, in this world where the original Sherlock obviously doesn’t exist.  Young Watson was a pleasant narrator, settling into his new life (which of course involves a divorce, because we aren’t allowed to write about children with two parents any more, unless those parents are either incredibly weird or gay).  He isn’t really sure that he wants to be friends with Shelby, who is kind of strange, but he doesn’t have a lot of other options, and soon finds himself pulled into her adventures.

So, like, I think what Eulberg was trying to do was portray a socially awkward kid (Shelby) and then have Watson kind of show her how to be a friend.  But all that really happens is Shelby is so obnoxious and annoying that I couldn’t hardly stand to read about her.  She is just flat rude, way beyond just being awkward.  Is she supposed to be autistic and I’m supposed to have empathy for her or something?  I have no idea.  I just couldn’t believe what an obnoxious know-it-all jerk she was 100% of the time.

What really blew my mind was that she wasn’t just that way with other kids – she’s consistently rude and condescending to every adult she meets, too, including her own parents.  And like – all the adults just go with it?  They let her boss them around and ask rude questions and give in to all her demands.  It was quite strange.  If Shelby had showed up in my life, I would have told her where to get off.  And if I had ever talked to my parents the way she talked to hers, I would have been grounded for weeks.

I realize that the original Sherlock isn’t completely likable.  He is also rather condescending at times and not always polite.  But he’s also an adult, not a nine-year-old.  I basically got to the point where I realized that I wouldn’t recommend this book to any of the younger readers I know, because there is no way I would want them to look at Shelby as a role model.  Even though by the end Shelby is doing slightly  better at ‘being a friend,’ it’s not like she ever actually realizes what a boor she is, or apologizes for being obnoxious.

At one point, Watson and his mom go to Shelby’s house for dinner.  Throughout, Shelby talks back to her parents, makes rude comments under her breath, and is incredibly sulky and annoying.  When told to eat her green beans, she first off refuses, and then shoves them all in her mouth at once and chews with her mouth open.  When she is given a piece of pie, she takes a bite and then spits it out because it’s sugar free.  For some reason, her dad refers to her as ‘Shelly,’ to which Shelby responds, “It’s Shelby, Father.  How many times must I remind you of that, especially since you have given me that designation?”  …So apparently her dad forgets her name regularly…???  Or is Shelly a nickname that she doesn’t like???  Throughout the evening, her rude behavior is met with only mild remonstrance from her parents, who are of course portrayed as rather slow, dense, and ineffective.  And afterwards, does Watson’s mom say, “Wow, there is no way I want this kid to be your primary influence in your new home!” ??  No, of course not.  She’s just like, “Oh, wow, Shelby sure is interesting!  ::nervous laughter:: ”

I also found it really hard to believe that Watson and Shelby were allowed to just meander all over New York City without telling anyone where they were going or when they would be back.  Watson’s mother gives him strict rules about where he can go, but he doesn’t pay any attention to them since he’s just following Shelby around.  On multiple occasions he finds himself places where he is uncomfortable or doesn’t know how to get home.  None of these things seemed like actions I would want a younger reader finding acceptable.  And even when Watson’s mom finds out that he went places he wasn’t supposed to, she just sort of shrugs it off because she’s glad he’s ‘making friends.’

I had trouble deciding whether a 10-year-old would have found the mystery of the book challenging.  I found it almost embarrassingly obvious, to the point that I started to worry that maybe Watson needs some help if he can’t put together the clues that Shelby is handing him.  Again, I know it’s traditional for the sidekick to be a little dense, but seriously.  The culprit actually explains the motive behind the dognapping but Watson doesn’t notice…

As I was reading this book, I found myself thinking a lot about the child-genius-detective that I grew up with, Encyclopedia Brown.  I even pulled out a couple of my old EB books to see if he was more annoying than I remember.  But no, Encyclopedia manages to be unfailingly polite and helpful, has normal friends, does chores without complaining, and is respectful to his parents and other adults.  His dad is the chief of police, and often presents Encyclopedia with the facts of a case so EB can solve them, which he always does in a way that does not imply that his dad is stupid.

All in all, I was completely turned off by Shelby as a character, which meant I didn’t enjoy this book at all, and would never recommend it to any of the younger readers I know.  I would never want them to think that Shelby’s condescending, rude, obnoxious behavior is in any way as acceptable as it was consistently presented.  Shelby is a know-it-all jerk who spends all of her time rolling her eyes, pouting, and being dismissive of other people’s opinions and thoughts.  There wasn’t a single moment of this book where I found her to be sympathetic or likable.  2/5 and not recommended.