Book Review: The Shakespeare Secret by J.L. Carrell

The Shakespeare Secret is the first book by J.L Carrell to feature Kate Stanley.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A complex, fast-paced adventure through the world of Shakespeare, both past and present, which kept me entertained. 3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

A modern serial killer – hunting an ancient secret.

A woman is left to die as the rebuilt Globe theatre burns. Another woman is drowned like Ophelia, skirts swirling in the water. A professor has his throat slashed open on the steps of Washington’s Capitol building.

A deadly serial killer is on the loose, modelling his murders on Shakespeare’s plays. But why is he killing? And how can he be stopped?

Favourite Quote

The book that had rolled from the presses at last was a beautiful thing – a blatant bid to shift the author from the rowdy, disreputable world of the theatre to the eternal truths of poetry.

(From The Shakespeare Secret by J. L. Carrell, page 55)

Review

For the most part, I enjoyed this story.  It was an entertaining tale, full of action and adventure, and with plenty of twists and turns, reminding me in no small way of the writing of Dan Brown, especially the Da Vinci Code.  I had an idea of how the story was going to end, but I couldn’t quiet guess how it would get there, so it certainly kept me interested.

The story is presented as a Shakespeare play, with the modern story taking place during the “Acts” and the historical flashbacks / contexts taking place in the “Interludes” between. I understand the reason behind doing this, but I wonder if the book might have read better without the historical scenes.  The Acts were far longer than the interludes and the modern story complicated enough without stepping back in time to another cast of characters, whose own storylines themselves were convoluted.  Political and religious intrigues of the Elizabethan era, not to mention family trees, are complex, and when there is more than one character called “Will”, or the person in question is being referred to by their family name or title…yeah, it can be hard to keep up.

If you don’t like Shakespeare, or have no interest in his plays and sonnets, you probably won’t enjoy this book. Neither will you appreciate the references to his writing and life, made throughout the story, which were cleverly woven into the plot. Also, if you take Shakespeare and everything about him quite seriously, again you might not enjoy this book, especially if you have a firm view on whether Shakespeare was really the man behind the works attributed to him. But if you can separate the fictional entertainment from the scholarly aspects of the subject, I do think you will enjoy it.

I loved all the locations the story meanders through, some of which I’ve visited myself – Stratford-upon-Avon, and some you wouldn’t necessarily think of – Valladolid, Spain. The author clearly knows a lot about the subject, and this knowledge filters down through the storytelling.

It wasn’t until I was writing the review for The Shakespeare Secret that I realised the author has penned another book featuring Kate Stanley, Haunt Me Still, inspired by Macbeth.  Having been well-entertained with the first book, I would gladly give this second book a read.

Rating

3.5 / 5

Book Review: Death at the Priory by James Ruddick

Death at The Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England, by James Ruddick.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A well-written true crime mystery and an in-depth look into the role of women in the Victorian period. Compelling reading! 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

In 1875, the beautiful and vivacious widow Florence Ricardo married Charles Bravo, a dashing barrister. The marriage seemed a happy one, but one night, four months after the wedding, Bravo collapsed. For the next fifty-five hours, with some of London’s most distinguished physicians in attendance, Charles suffered a slow and agonizing death.  All the doctors agreed: Charles Bravo had been poisoned.

The dramatic investigation that followed was covered in sensational detail by the press. So great was public interest in the case that coverage of it eclipsed the prime minister’s negotiations with Egypt, the Prince of Wales’ Indian tour and the conflict in the Balkans. The finger of suspicion pointed at various times at suicide, at Mrs Cox the housekeeper, at George Griffiths, a stableman with a grudge, and at the remarkable figure of Florence Bravo herself.

Death at the Priory is a gripping historical reconstruction and startling portrait of a woman, a marriage and a society. The brilliant conclusion uses new evidence discovered by the author to demonstrate conclusively who really murdered Charles Bravo.

Favourite Quote

“An unhappy woman with easy access to weedkiller had to be watched carefully.”

(From Death at The Prioy, by James Ruddick, page 172)

Review

It’s not often that I review non-fiction on Sammi Loves Books, because I tend to dip in and out of it, but I read “Death at The Priory” from cover to cover, and was completely gripped by the case.

I enjoy reading about true crime, especially if in an historical context, and especially if said crime remained unsolved, and if it could be classed as a type of “locked room” mystery.  I was surprised I hadn’t heard of the death of Charles Bravo before, given my interest in Victorian history and true crime.  By all accounts, it was covered with relish in the media of the day, eclipsing events on the world stage, even.

Death at the Priory is extremely well-written.  The evidence is presented clearly, in an easy to understand, easy to digest manner, without becoming heavy or requiring the author to dress it up with dramatic prose.  Although some passages are quite graphic – yes, there is a reference to sex in the book’s subtitle – it does help in providing a context in which Charles Bravo’s death occurred.

Florence Bravo, wife of the dead man, was certainly an interesting woman to read about, with a colourful life, and a tragic ending. She had been unfortunate in as much as she’d had to endure two unhappy marriages to husbands who were abusive towards her. The prevailing opinion of the day was that this was a woman’s lot, and she had to suffer it with grace and silence.  Florence, unconventionally for the time, did not believe she had to accept this.  She believed she had a right to be happy and if that meant away from her husband, she would not be forced to remain with him…

Charles Bravo is not painted as a sympathetic character at all, and I found myself having little concern for him in his plight.  I thought the author’s conclusions in his attempt to solve the case were definitely plausible, but of course, after the passage of so much time, and with all those being involved long dead, we will never know the truth for certain.

A fascinating read, one which I recommend to those interested in true crime, or who are interested in the role of women in Victorian society.

Rating

Book Review: Lights, Camera…by Carolyn Keene

Lights, Camera…is the fifth book in the Nancy Drew: Girl Detective series, by Carolyn Keene.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Not as good as I remember, unfortunately, but worth a read just to see how the character and style has changed for a modern audience. 2.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

I’m a detective, not an actor, so who would think I’d be involved in a crime both offscreen and on? A producer has come to River Heights to film a re-enactment of the heist that gave our town it’s name, and he thinks I’m perfect for the part of Esther, the sister of the thieving Rackham boys. So I figure, why not give it a try?

But once the cameras start rolling, the trouble begins. Food poisoning. Broken generators. And worse! If I don’t sniff out some suspects soon, this might be my final act.

Favourite Quote

I was really fired up, because hanging out on a movie set was a far better escape from shoe shopping than I could have thought up.

(From Lights, Camera…by Carolyn Keene, page 5)

Review

I used to read the Nancy Drew books when I was younger, and when I found a copy of Lights, Camera… in a bag of books given to me by a family member, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return to a childhood favourite.

However, my fond memories of the books I grew up reading were not to be reinforced by my reading of this newer take on the series.  In fact, they ensured I saw what was lacking in this more modern story.  First, let me explain what I remember of the Nancy Drew books: there was a depth to the storytelling that drew a young reader in, you wanted to know about the characters as well as the plots. And the story felt believable.

This modern Nancy Drew felt very light; there was little depth to the characters and the story moved too quickly and without the necessary fluidity to pull the pace off, making it clunky.  There was plenty of action though, and I did read it to the end.  What I did find quite annoying was that almost every time an adult said to Nancy the filming has to stop because of (fill in the blank), Nancy would respond with, “but I have a friend who can do that” and save the day.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this is one of those books that works better if you’re part of the audience it is intended for…

So ultimately, I didn’t think this was as a good as I remembered, unfortunately, but it was worth a read just to see how the character and style has changed for a modern audience.  I don’t think I would be interested in reading any more, only revisiting the earlier series of the books.

Rating

2.5 / 5

Book Review: The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches is the sixth book in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

I loved everything about this book.  Flavia is fantastic, the storyline engaging and the setting captivating.  A wonderful read.  Highly recommended.  5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

On a spring morning in 1951, eleven-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later, he is dead, mysteriously pushed under the train by someone in the crowd. Who was this man, what did his words mean, and why were they intended for Flavia? Back home at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ crumbling estate, Flavia puts her sleuthing skills to the test. Following a trail of clues sparked by the discovery of a reel of film stashed away in the attic, she unravels the deepest secrets of the de Luce clan, involving none other than Winston Churchill himself. Surrounded by family, friends, and a famous pathologist from the Home Office—and making spectacular use of Harriet’s beloved Gipsy Moth plane, Blithe Spirit—Flavia will do anything, even take to the skies, to land a killer

Favourite Quote

“…But ‘kill’, as you will have observed, like ‘spy’ and ‘stop’, is really just one more of those short but exceedingly troublesome words.”

(From The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley, page 220)

Review

I’m going to keep this review fairly short, for fear of sounding repetitive, seeing as though it was only a few weeks ago that I reviewed my first Flavia de Luce book and my thoughts haven’t changed.  (You can read that review here.)  Honestly, they’ve not changed at all.  Quite simply, I love this book, love Flavia, love the storylines, love the setting, and like how science is intertwined with the narrative.  

The level of poignancy is heightened in this instalment, given the subject: the body of Flavia’s mother is returned to Buckshaw, a decade after she went missing and was presumed dead after a wartime mission.  The dichotomy between who Flavia thinks she is (a very clever small person) and what she is (an eleven year old motherless girl) really comes to fore.  With clever storytelling we get to see how Flavia processes this turn of events, as she tries to figure out her place in the world and in her family.

The family dynamics, again, are worth commenting on.  Flavia isn’t close to anyone in her family, or outside it really, apart from Dogger, her father’s valet.  There is a coldness from her father, and a distance between her and her sisters that she struggles to overcome and understand, and I can’t help but feel for her.  For such a young person, she is certainly quite isolated, but I wonder if much of this stems from the fact she comes across as unusual and strange to others. They don’t know how to be around her or how to speak to her because she is smarter than they are because they’ve never met a child quite like her.

And this leads to one of the highlights of the storytelling: witnessing how Flavia interacts with everyone she comes across.  She is indulged, told off and warned away at various points by various people, and her reaction to most of these is, ‘What is their motive?’  I like that level of analysis.  Flavia does not take the world at face value.  Yes, she does appear a little lofty at times, but she is never annoying.

I am completely hooked on this series, and can’t recommend it highly enough.  The question now, is whether to continue on with the series where I am at with it, or to go back to the beginning and start the first book…Hmm…

Rating

Book Review: Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood

Murder on the Ballarat Train is the third book in the Phryne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Addictive and entertaining storytelling, with a wonderful cast of characters and an excellent setting.  Phryne Fisher is fantastic as the bold and sassy private detective. Highly recommended!  5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

When the 1920s’ most glamorous lady detective, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, arranges to go to Ballarat for the week, she eschews the excitement of her red Hispano-Suiza racing car for the sedate safety of the train. The last thing she expects is to have to use her trusty Beretta .32 to save lives. As the passengers sleep, they are poisoned with chloroform.
Phryne is left to piece together the clues after this restful country sojourn turns into the stuff of nightmares: a young girl who can’t remember anything, rumors of white slavery and black magic, and the body of an old woman missing her emerald rings. Then there is the rowing team and the choristers, all deliciously engaging young men. At first they seem like a pleasant diversion….

Favourite Quote

Blake really was an excellent poet, Phryne reflected, lighting a cigarette and leaning back on the leather upholstery, though regrettably mad, as poets so often are.

(From Murder on The Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood, page 157)

Review

Recently, I’ve hit a bit of reading slump, due I’m sure, to the fact that I’ve spent nearly all of my free time writing and editing, which sometimes has the unfortunate side effect of making me too tired to read of an evening.  I had picked out one book after another from a far too big pile of volumes waiting to be read, only for them to added to a different stack – books I thought I was about to begin reading but didn’t – not long after.  Yet have no fear, Phryne Fisher saved the day!

As soon as I started this third book in the Phryne Fisher Mysteries my reading slump disappeared.  I simply could not stop reading.  I found Murder on the Ballarat Train to be addictive and unputdownable, and I did not stop until I reached the final page.  This was just the book I needed to read.

I love Phryne. She is strong-minded, determined, intelligent, independent and compassionate towards though less fortunate than herself.  She doesn’t take rubbish from anyone, nor is she afraid to go after what she wants, whether or not it is seen as acceptable by wider society, for which she doesn’t really give a fig.  The company she keeps is varied…policemen, college boys, whores…which makes for refreshing, unpredictable plotlines.

The book is set in 1928, and the attention to detail for the period setting, is as always, spot on.  From the clothing Phryne wears to the room furnishings, from the food and drink to the scent the women wear…it surely is decadent, indulgent storytelling.  To offset all the loveliness of the story, there has to be a few darker themes too as it is a murder mystery, but these plot lines were handled sensitively by the author.

This was such a joy to read.  A quick and easy to digest cosy mystery, with an intriguing plot and a wonderfully entertaining cast of characters.  I can’t recommend these books highly enough.  The next book in the series is Death at Victoria Dock…and yes, I’ve already ordered it 😉

Rating

Book Review: The Railway Detective by Edward Marston

The Railway Detective is the first book in the series of the same name by Edward Marston.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An interesting and well-described setting.  A promising first book in a series. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

London 1851. With the opening of the Great Exhibition at hand, interest is mounting in the engineering triumphs of the railways, but not everyone feels like celebrating… In an audacious attack, the London to Birmingham mail train is robbed and derailed, causing many casualties. Planned with military precision, this crime proves a challenge to Detective Inspector Robert Colbeck who fights to untangle a web of murder, blackmail and destruction. As Colbeck closes in on the criminal masterminds, events take an unexpected turn when the beautiful Madeleine, daughter of the injured train driver, becomes a pawn in the criminals’ game. With time running out, good and evil, new and old, battle against each other. But will the long arm of the law have speed on its side? The Railway Detective is an action-packed dip into murky 1850s London. Full of historical detail, unexpected twists and memorable characters, this is a mystery that will surprise you at every turn.

Favourite Quote

My favourite quote from this book was a description of the slum area of London known as Devil’s Acre:

Colbeck knew the area only too well. It was a favoured haunt of the criminal fraternity and notorious for its brothels and gambling dens…No decent or sensible man would even dare to venture into such a hazardous district.

(From The Railway Detective by Edward Marston, page 57)

Review

Having already read the first few instalments in Edward Marston’s Elizabethan Bracewell Mysteries, which I love, I thought I would give another one of his popular historical series a try.  With an interest in the Victorian period and having already enjoyed a number of stories based on or around trains (Agatha Christie’s 4.50 from Paddington and Carola Dunn’s Murder on The Flying Scotsman), I had high hopes for The Railway Detective

I enjoyed the setting of this story, but unfortunately I didn’t really connect with the characters.  Most of them came across as excessively aggressive and antagonistic, which I accept, given the areas these characters worked in and came from, is probably historically accurate, but it didn’t make for particularly enjoyable reading.  And then there were the characters who had particular personality traits which were continually stressed, in very clear and basic terms. I’m not sure the points needed to be laboured as hard as they were.  A reader can often work out which of the characters are bad and which are good.

The setting on the other hand, was well-described, vivid, and most importantly of all authentic.  I could see the slums of Devil’s Acre, the orderliness of the police headquarters, the grand country estate, the trains, and perhaps my favourite of the settings, the Crystal Palace…

Was The Railway Detective really a mystery book though?  I didn’t find it particularly mysterious as we are told pretty early on in the story who is behind the crime.  Instead the narrative focuses on watching the case unfold.  The reader gets to witness the detectives chase down the criminals, with the only questions being whether they will get away and what cost they might inflict upon the other characters before the book ends.

One of my favourite passages of the story was when Detective Inspector Colbeck’s copy of Bradshaw’s got a mention.

So, this was a bit of mixed review, and if I’m being honest, I was expecting a bit more from The Railway Detective.  I’ve not yet warmed to the characters but the series does hold some promise that it will improve the further we get into it, I think.  I will give the series another book or two to convince me whether I should stick with it or put it aside for good.

Rating

Book Review: Speaking From Among The Bones by Alan Bradley

Speaking From Among The Bones is the fifth book in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley

Quick review (read on for full review)

I absolutely loved this book – and Flavia too!  Beautifully written with a captivating cast of characters and an engaging plot, this is one of my favourite reads of the year so far. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Eleven-year-old amateur detective and ardent chemist Flavia de Luce is used to digging up clues, whether they’re found among the potions in her laboratory or between the pages of her insufferable sisters’ diaries. What she is not accustomed to is digging up bodies. Upon the five-hundredth anniversary of St. Tancred’s death, the English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey is busily preparing to open its patron saint’s tomb. Nobody is more excited to peek inside the crypt than Flavia, yet what she finds will halt the proceedings dead in their tracks: the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist, his face grotesquely and inexplicably masked. Who held a vendetta against Mr. Collicutt, and why would they hide him in such a sacred resting place? The irrepressible Flavia decides to find out. And what she unearths will prove there’s never such thing as an open-and-shut case.

Favourite Quote

“I’ve mentioned before my passion for poisons and my special fondness for cyanide. But, to be perfectly fair, I must admit that I also have something of a soft spot for strychnine, not just for what it is, but for what it’s capable of becoming. Brought into the presence of nascent oxygen, for instance, these rather ordinary white crystals become at first rich blue in colour, then pass in succession through purple, violet, crimson, orange and yellow.

A perfect rainbow of ruin!

(From Speaking From Among The Bones by Alan Bradley, page 63)

Review

I absolutely loved this book – and Flavia too!  Beautifully written and heart-warming in its way, Flavia de Luce is wonderful as the younger-than-average sleuth, who no doubt possesses more brains than most. Although only a child herself, she is more than capable of working her way through the evidence, most of which she has collected herself, to locate the culprit.

First, a few thoughts on book covers and titles.  As regular readers of these reviews will have already worked out, I cannot resist beautiful book cover art, and it was the cover of the next book in the series which first alerted me to these books.  As for the cover of this book, I love the subtle colours, the tree branches, the headless stone carving and the bats.  And the titles of the books are dramatic and evocative.  Of the books in the series that I’ve so far read, I’ve learned these titles are inspired by Thomas Parnell’s poem, A Night-Piece on Death from 1721.  On to the review…

Although I jumped into the series with book 5 (and as soon as I finished it, I devoured book 6), I don’t feel that I needed to have read the preceding four books to understand what was going on in this one.  However, I will of course, be returning to book one because after enjoying them so far I. Must. Read. Them. All.

The series is set during the 1950s, a time which sees much change in England.  With the scars of the second world war still visible for many, this aspect of the setting isn’t down-played or glossed over – thanks very much to the character of Dogger. The book is full of quotable passages, and although it stars a child – Flavia is eleven at the time of “Speaking From Among The Bones” – this isn’t a story for children, and never does it once come across as childish.

I love the fact that Flavia loves poisons.  And that she has her own fully functional, fully stocked, science laboratory, where she carries out the analysis on the evidence – or else plans and prepares for any other weird and wonderful experiment she has dreamed up.  The world around her is at once both wonderfully simple and tremendously complex, given her age and her abilities.  She is a child, but she doesn’t act like one, yet when something arises for which she isn’t prepared or isn’t necessarily old enough to comprehend, her prism shifts and we see the eleven year old beneath the older, wiser exterior she projects and others take for granted.

The most trying thing of all for Flavia is her home-life.  Her relationship with her sisters is complicated, and the one with her father non-existent.  There is a distance between her and nearly everyone else in Bishop’s Lacey, even the people she is related to, except for one person.  The one person who seems to understand her best is Dogger, and in him she has an ally and a confidante. 

The mystery is a good one, the setting perfectly captivating and the humour, often laugh-out-loud funny. I have nothing but good things to say about this book, and I have added a new name to my list of favourite authors.  The next book in the series is, The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches, my review for which you will be able to read soon…

Rating

Book Review: The Medium by C. J Archer

The Medium is the first book in the Emily Chambers Spirit Medium trilogy by C. J. Archer.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable, easy to read paranormal story set in a convincing Victorian setting, combined with a solid mystery and a large dose of romance.  4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Seventeen year-old spirit medium Emily Chambers has a problem. Actually, she has several. As if seeing dead people isn’t a big enough social disadvantage, she also has to contend with an escaped demon and a handsome ghost with a secret past. And then there’s the question of her parentage. Being born an entire year after her father’s death (yes, a year) and without the pale skin of other respectable English ladies, Emily is as much a mystery as the dead boy assigned to her.

Jacob Beaufort’s spirit has been unable to crossover since his death. It might have something to do with the fact he was murdered. Or it might not. All he knows is, he has been assigned by the Otherworld’s administrators to a girl named Emily. A girl who can see and touch him. A girl who released a shape-shifting demon into the mortal realm. Together they must send the demon back before it wreaks havoc on London. It should be a simple assignment, but they soon learn there’s nothing simple when a live girl and a dead boy fall in love.

Favourite Quote

“Tell me you won’t go, tell me you’ll stay forever, tell me you love me.”

(From The Medium by C. J. Archer)

Review

The Medium has been sitting on my virtual shelf for so many years, that I’ve actually lost count how many it’s been.  But, having made sure that I managed to get around to reading the first book in the Glass and Steele series by the same author for last year’s Indie Only Month, (and although that had been on my virtual bookshelf for some time, it hadn’t been as long as The Medium) I was determined to get around to reading this one this year.  And I did!  Woohoo!  On to the review…

The first thing I have to mention is the gorgeous book cover.  I love the colours and the font, not to mention the flourishes, but it is the moonlit, fog-swathed view of the Victorian street that really caught my eye – and my imagination.

I liked Emily Chambers for the most part.  Sometimes she came across as too childish for my liking, especially when it came to dealing with her older sister, and I did find that a little off-putting, but it wasn’t enough to stop me reading or make me turn against her character. However, I thought she was terribly dismissive of the sensitivities of others when she decided it was her place to reveal news to a family when a ghost had asked her not too.  And at that point, I didn’t particularly like her so much.

I did like Jacob.  He was convincingly created so you could believe he was this confused, sometimes over-confident, sometimes possibly dangerous young man at a loss as to understand what has befallen him and why he is different from other ghosts.

As for the other characters, they were also very well drawn. I liked Emily’s sister, Celia – she had a lot to put up with from Emily, I thought.  The Chamber’s new maid was amusing.  My favourite character from the whole book though was probably George, the rich, eccentric demonologist. I hope we get to see him make more appearances in later books.

The love story is one I can invest in. There is an instant attraction / connection between the two leads and it works – sometimes this sort of insta-love doesn’t work, but with these character, and in this setting, I found it acceptable.  Also, the romantic plot isn’t perfect, there are plenty of obstacles for them to overcome, which kept me interested.

The mystery aspect of the story was solid, leaving me gripped and engaged enough to need to know how it was going to be resolved.  This resolution did seem a little too easy, compared to the path which them there but by the time we reached it, I was probably more interested in wondering where the next book was going to lead, especially in terms of the romantic storyline.

The descriptions of Victorian London ensured I could imagine each and every setting.  From the Chamber’s home in Druid’s Lane, to the parlours of those they visited for the seances they conducted, then there was George’s library, the dark, dank streets of Whitechapel, the school for domestic servants…I could envisage them all.

The big question I found myself asking whilst reading (and subsequently after) was, is The Medium better than The Watchmaker’s Daughter? (see my review for the latter here). This sort of comparison usually helps me when I’m struggling to rate a book.  I awarded the first book in the Glass and Steele series four out of five stars, and I think The Medium is on a level with that.  I enjoyed them both, very much.

The second book in the series is Possession, and I have added it to my ‘books to be bought’ list.

Rating

Book Review: Death Pays A Visit by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Death Pays A Visit is the seventh book in the Myrtle Clover Mysteries by Elizabeth Spann Craig.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An entertaining, fun cosy mystery and just as good as the other books I’ve read so far in the series.  I love Myrtle, and I love these books! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

When psychic (and hubcap retailer) Wanda Alewine pays a late-night visit to Myrtle Clover, she urges the octogenarian sleuth to head straight to Greener Pastures Retirement Home. But Wanda doesn’t want Myrtle to consider the Home’s dubious amenities–she wants Myrtle to prevent a murder seen in a vision.

Reluctant Myrtle investigates with sidekick Miles, who seems a lot more interested in Greener Pastures than she is. As the duo digs, they uncover more than just Sudoku and Scrabble—they discover a sinister undercurrent… with murder as its outcome.

Favourite Quote

“A private eye? Like Sam Spade? Certainly not!” That would involve wearing a fedora, drinking lots of scotch, and having a dame as a client. Puddin was no dame and Myrtle had a preference for sherry. She’d reserve judgement on the fedora.  Who knows? Maybe she’d look good in one.’

(From Death Pays A Visit by Elizabeth Spann Craig, chapter 11)

Review

I can always rely on this series to entertain me without requiring a mental workout at the same time.  Perfect for summer chillout reading.  Actually, ignore that.  It’s perfect for reading any time of the year.

Death Pays A Visit is a great addition to this series.  Light but engaging, I loved how the one place Myrtle had to go to for this case – Greener Pastures Retirement Home – is the one place she is desperate to avoid at all costs, just in case she ends up stuck there for good.

Myrtle and her younger side-kick, Miles, (he’s in his sixties) make such a great team.  They work well together, even though they don’t always agree with each other, especially when it comes to their views on Greener Pastures Retirement Home.  The retirement home was a compelling setting for a cosy mystery, and the residents and their secrets provided enough plot twists and turns to keep the story moving forward without revealing whodunnit too early in the book.

I love Myrtle as the star of these stories.  She’s fantastic and smart, and proves that you can be an octogenarian, hate knitting and still solve the occasional murder mystery. She won’t be bullied, nor manipulated, and she will not allow younger people to patronise the elderly.

After Myrtle, my favourite character has to be Wanda.  She is so vague with her predictions, yet somehow always seems to be accurate in what she tells Myrtle. And it’s always fun to read about Myrtle’s cat, Pasha, and how she gets on – or doesn’t – with the other characters in the book.

The mystery was good, the story entertaining, and it held my interest all the way to the end.  I guessed right as to who the culprit was, but it was fun reading how everyone else reached the same conclusion as there were plenty of suspects who could have done it.

Recommended for fans of cosy mysteries.  Also for fans of quick, yet entertaining, reads.

Rating


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #18 in the list: a book that promotes happiness and well-being, or has an uplifting message.  Although this might seem like a stretch, this book, from my perspective at any rate, fulfils this criteria – it makes me happy, is good for my well-being and leaves me feeling uplifted 😉

Book Review: The Ancient Curse by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A quick, entertaining read, with plenty of historical details to get lost in.  Well worth a read.  3.5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

An ancient crime, with a curse that remains…

In the darkest hours of the night at the Museum of Volterra, young archaeologist Fabrizio Castellani is immersed in his work. He has discovered that the famous Etruscan statue known as the ‘shade of twilight’ contains a mysterious object, seemingly enclosed within the sculpture itself. He is suddenly interrupted by the phone ringing – on the other end of the line an icy female voice warns him to abandon his research at once.

A series of gruesome killings follow. The victims, who have all been involved in the desecration of an unexplored tomb, seem to be have been torn to pieces by a beast of unimaginable size. Meanwhile, as Fabrizio excavates the Etruscan tomb he discovers something extraordinary, and chilling…

Will Fabrizio manage to unravel these secrets without being sucked into the spiral of violence himself?

Favourite Quote

“…not the usual vestal virgin he was used to seeing wandering the halls of museums and NAS offices.”

(From The Ancient Curse by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, page 19)

Note as to why this was chosen as my favourite quote: it made me wonder if the corridors of these museums usually had women dressed in the robes of the priestesses of Vesta wandering up and down them…

Review

It’s been years since I have read anything by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, although I have plenty of his books, translated from the Italian to English, on my shelves.  To give you some idea how long it has been, I started this site’s A-Z Review Index in 2013 and no reviews for his books were listed prior to today…

The Ancient Curse is an interesting blend of history and modern mystery with a dash of horror thrown in.  Both the past and present are brought dramatically to life as an Etruscan curse is awakened and vengeance for an ancient crime is visited on the town of Volterra.

The supernatural elements of the story were executed well.  I felt the fear, could imagine the monster (boy, was it mean!), and sense the building terror, for most of the book.  I really enjoyed the Etruscan history mentioned in the story; usually the Etruscans are overlooked in favour of the later Romans when it comes to historical fiction, so this I found very interesting.  I also liked reading about the archaeology, from the discovery in the tomb, to how things were recorded and reported as well as behind the scenes at the museum.

The only difficulty with translations is that I find dialogue doesn’t always sound quite right, and that can hinder me creating a strong connection with the characters.  I liked Fabrizio, Francesca and Reggiani, but I didn’t have any strong feelings towards them or about what might happen to them.  That being said, as I read the book I felt the plot, meaning the curse, the historical context and the archaeological descriptions and accuracy, were perhaps the most important aspect and the characters came second.  That doesn’t bother me much, but it might bother some readers.  Following on from that, the romance was probably the weakest part of the story…but then, I didn’t read it for the romance.

Overall, I would say this was well worth a read, and that I’m happy to have found time to read another of Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s books.  The next one on my list is The Lost Army…hopefully I’ll get around to reading that as part of this year’s Historical Fiction Month in August…

Rating

3.5 / 5