Library Girl's Guide To Books

Reviews and Musings From A Reading Life.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Clockmaker's Daughter 

                                                           by Kate Morton

I am a huge fan of Kate Morton and was lucky to have been able to meet her when I attended Book Expo US last year. She signed an ARC of The Clockmaker's Daughter and I am thrilled to have it.  Meeting this Australian born writer and briefly chatting with her was a delightful experience. I have listened to all of Kate Morton's books on audio so I was looking forward to listening to this one and Joanne Froggatt's narration was enjoyable. I recently finished it but have been putting off writing my review because I was disappointed in this one.

The story, as with all of Kate's books, goes back and forth between the present and the past. It begins when archivist Elodie Winslow finds a leather satchel with an old photograph and sketchbook from the mid 1800s, while working at her job. Something is familiar about the photograph and she feels a strange connection to it and the sketchbook/journal, so she begins to investigate. She discovers that the satchel belonged to a painter named Edward Radcliffe who owned a home on the Upper Thames named Birchfield Manor.

Edward, who was engaged to someone else, had a muse named Lily Minnington.  During the summer of  1862, Edward, Lily, his little sister, Lucy, and a group of bohemian artists descended on Birchfield Manor where they planned to spend a summer painting but tragedy struck. Lucy idolized her brother and part of the story is told from her point of view. Lucy plays a big part in what happened that summer at Birchfield Manor. Who was Lily Minnington really and what is the connection that Elodie had to this story and what happened that fateful day in 1862? It will all be explained but getting to that explanation was circuitous and complicated.

Kate is a skilled writer and she really brought the time periods alive and her attention to detail is amazing. It is difficult to review this book without spoilers ant it has a complicated plot spanning multiple time periods. There are so many characters, plot threads and multiple voices across the time periods that I often found myself lost, trying to figure out who that character was. Maybe part of this was because I listened to it on audio and had gaps in my listening time. The theme of everyone gathered at a manor where a murder took place is reminiscent of her excellent first novel, The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog for UK readers).

Kate is an award winning New York Times bestselling author and I look forward to her next book even though I was disappointed in The Clockmaker's Daughter.

The Dead Ringer 

by M.C. Beaton


I always look forward to a new Agatha Raisin mystery. Aggie is a brash, prickly, complicated, character and her adventures in the English Cotswolds are always fun. This time around Agatha is involved with mischief and mayhem in the village of Think Magna. This village is known for the medieval church of St. Ethelred and its famous bells. The whole town is aflutter over the impending visit of the handsome Bishop, Peter-Salver-Hinkley. The bell -ringers in Think Magna are practicing furiously so the bishop will be suitably impressed. The bishop is building an old folks home and trying to raise money for it and on the surface he seems like a good man. However, Aggie is convinced that he was involved in the disappearance of his former fiancee, a wealthy heiress, who disappeared years ago and her body has never been found. She convinces one of the bell- ringers, an attorney, to hire her to investigate. 

Soon Agatha is embroiled in a dangerous situation when there is a murder, then another murder and she is targeted. Will she be next? The handsome, charismatic bishop seems to be romancing everyone in the town, including the wealthy spinster twins, and Agatha but she is convinced that he isn't what he appears to be.

Agatha once again gets involved with an unsuitable man and James, her ex- husband, and Sir Charles are both there to pick up the pieces. But Aggie might find happiness after all with the surprising twist at the end of the book. 

Although this 29th book in the Agatha Raisin series hasn't had the best reviews from readers, I liked it. No, it isn't the best book that I have ever read and the series might be getting a little tired but it was still an enjoyable cozy book and I love the character of Agatha.  I have listened to all of the Agatha Raisin books on audio and Alison Larkin's narration was enjoyable too. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Wife Between Us

                              by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Vanessa meets Richard on a flight back to New York City after visiting her mother in Florida. After he gives up his first class seat to a serviceman on the plane, he ends up sitting next to Vanessa. She doesn't like flying and Richard is kind, talks to her and calms her down. A few days later her asks her out. Vanessa is struggling to make it on her salary as a preschool teacher and lives with her best friend, Samantha, in a cramped apartment in New York City. Although she loves her job and her friends she can't believe her good fortune in meeting Richard. He is handsome, a successful hedge fund manager and loves to lavish her with expensive gifts. He decides to call her Nellie because she was such a Nervous Nellie on the plane. Soon they are engaged and Richard is buying them an expensive home in Westchester. Vanessa loves living in New York City and isn't too sure about the house but she loves Richard and he is so happy and excited about getting the house for her that she goes along with it. She will still be able to see her friends and keep her job, right?  Things are too perfect to be believed. They certainly are!

We soon find out that things did not go well in their marriage and Vanessa/Nellie is now divorced from Richard, living with her aunt and working at Saks selling clothing to women she used to socialize with when she was married to Richard. To make matters worse, Richard is now engaged to Emma, a carbon copy of Vanessa but younger. Vanessa has lost everything and she will stop at nothing to prevent Richard from marrying Emma.

The story is told in first and third person and alternates between time periods. Vanessa is an unreliable narrator who drinks too much but as the story continues we begin to see that there is more going on  than we thought. Richard is a neat freak and is his solicitous manner with Vanessa because he loves her or is he controlling her? Is there something strange about his close relationship with his sister, Maureen? Is Vanessa really becoming mentally ill like her mother and what happened to her dog, Duke?

This novel of suspense has multiple points of view and can be confusing if the reader doesn't pay attention. There are several twists and the ending did surprise me.  I listened to it on audio and Julia Whelan was outstanding, as always, reading this book. Although it has had mixed reviews, I enjoyed it. If you like suspenseful novels with twists, an unreliable narrator and a surprise ending you should like The Wife Between Us. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

                                The English Wife 

                                                               by Lauren Willig         
                                                                                                                                                       

 Family secrets, intrigue, affairs, mistaken identities and murder set the backdrop for an entertaining mystery set in New York City during The Gilded Age.

Georgie, a struggling actress in London, meets Bayard Van Duyvil when he is on his Grand Tour. Bay is kind, generous and from a wealthy, distinguished New York City family. Slowly he and Georgie form a bond and Bay asks her to marry him and move to New York City with him. But is Georgie really Annabelle, a woman from a wealthy family? Annabelle and Georgie grew up together in the same home and Bay is convinced that she is Annabelle. They marry and move to New York City where Annabelle/Georgie meet Bay's tyrannical mother and his mousy sister, Janie.

Bay is a caring, generous, if a somewhat removed husband, and he is building her a home that exactly replicates her childhood home. They have beautiful twins and all should be well but there are rumors that Annabelle is having an affair with the architect who is designing their new home. A house warming party with a Twelfth Night theme is decided on so that they can welcome everyone to their new home. When Bay is found dead with a knife in his chest and Annabelle disappears, Bay's sister defies her mother to investigate his murder. She allies herself with a newspaper reporter to discover what has really happened.

The story uses flashbacks to unfold  the events and it works as a literary device. Janie comes into her own as she  defies her mother and reluctantly works with the attractive reporter to uncover the truth surrounding Bay's death.

The English Wife has references to Shakespeare's plays, wonderful period detail, a good mystery and a surprise ending where we find out what actually happened and who killed Bay. I really enjoyed The English Wife. I listened to it on audio and enjoyed the narration by Barrie Kreinik.

The Woman in the Window 

                                                                   by  A. J. Finn 

I love psychological mystery/thrillers so I was excited to read this debut novel by A. J. Finn. If you are familiar with the Hitchcock movie, Rear Window, you will see some similarities to it in this book.

Anna Fox is a mess. She lives alone in her New York City home. We learn that she is a child psychologist but has such a bad case of agoraphobia that she hasn't left her home in months. She is  also an alcoholic who takes pills for her anxiety while drinking wine and she often spies on her neighbors with her Nikon camera. She also loves classic noir movies and watches them to fill up her time. Although Anna can't seem to help herself, she helps other people suffering with agoraphobia in an online chat group.

Anna has suffered a trauma that is revealed later in the book and she is separated from her husband and child, although she talks to them daily. When the Russell family moves in across the street, they seem like the perfect family to Anna with a husband, wife and teenage son. When Mrs. Russell and her son  come over to give Anna a gift, she gets drunk with Mrs. Russell and forms a bond with her.  One day while spying on them, she sees a crime being committed in their house across the street. Or does she? Should she call the police who probably won't believe her because she has been drinking? The police don't believe her and the Russell's deny that any crime has been committed but the Mrs. Russell who talks to the police isn't the same Mrs. Russell Anna met.

This is an atmospheric story with twists and turns. I am a fan of noir movies so I loved that part of the story and it added to the tension in the book. Anna's three story house also plays a big part in the story because it is Anna's whole world now that she can't leave it. Although she is alone in the house, she rents out the basement to a young man who helps her with things around the house but can he be trusted after Anna finds out some things about him?

 I did figure out a few things but didn't figure out how they would all come together at the end of the book. I listened to it on audio and at first wasn't sure how I liked the reader but ended up liking the narration by Ann Marie Lee.

If you like psychological thrillers with twists, an unreliable narrator and noir overtones, you should give The Woman in the Window a try. It was also an Amazon Best Book of January 2018.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Girls in the Picture        

                                  by  Melanie Benjamin

I was excited to start The Girls in the Picture after reading and loving The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin. I love stories about old Hollywood and while this was an entertaining read with lots of fun information about the early years of the movie business in Hollywood, I was ultimately disappointed with it.

Mary Pickford, "America's Sweetheart", was a legend in the movie business. She made the transition from 'flickers' to 'talkies' when other stars of silent movies didn't. Her golden curls were adored by fans. When she wed dashing Douglas Fairbanks, they became the "Golden Couple" and Hollywood royalty. Their dinner parties at their estate, Pickfair, were attended by many notable people including  famous writers, actors and dignitaries. Mary and Douglas founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and D.W Griffith and they revolutionized the movie industry and the way movies right were distributed.

 Mary's closest friend and confidant was Frances Marion who went from being Mary's assistant to become an extremely successful screenwriter winning two Academy Awards. These two strong, trailblazing women made a place for themselves in a male dominated world. The Girls in the Picture is about their close but sometimes turbulent friendship.

I really enjoyed reading about the movie business and how it evolved. Rudolph Valentino, Lillian Gish, Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer and other famous movie people had cameos in this book. With all of this, I should have loved The Girls in the Picture but I didn't and I struggled to finish it. I think what bothered me was the dialogue between the characters. It felt stilted and contrived. However, reading this book did lead me to do some research on some of the people in the book and it was fascinating to read about their real lives.

Thank you to NetGalley and Delacourt Press for providing me with an ARC for an honest review.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sunburn  

                    by Laura Lippman         


I am a lover of noir in books and film. When I read a review of Sunburn that said it is a modern noir, I knew that I had to read it and would probably love it. I was right. This is an enjoyable psychological thriller that will keep you interested and guessing till the end.

Polly and Adam meet in a bar in Belleville, Delaware. They are both there for a reason. Polly is running away from something and someone and Dan has his own reason for being there. Both of them are just passing through this small town yet they are strangely drawn to each other. Polly's cool, quiet and aloof demeanor both excites and unnerves Adam.  Instead of moving on, they stay for the summer and are soon engulfed in an intense, steamy, passionate affair. Although Adam doesn't quite trust Polly, he can't stay away from her. As the summer progresses they begin a cat and mouse game that soon turns deadly when someone dies. Was it an accident? Neither Adam nor Polly is who they seem to be. Is Polly a cold blooded killer or a victim?  Why is Adam, an adventure seeking, globe trotting traveler, there in the small town of Belleview?

It has been said that James M. Cain's novella, The Postman Always Rings Twice, was the inspiration for this book. As in some of the Cain books I have read, the man instantly falls for the woman and will do almost anything, even murder, to keep her. Like Postman, this book is set in a diner, the female character is a femme fatale who is irresistible to men and might have been involved in planning a murder.

The twists and turns in Sunburn will keep you guessing and the ending was unexpected. If you like noir and psychological suspense, you will want to read Sunburn.

I listened to Sunburn on audio and Susan Bennett's narration was a perfect fit for the noir tone and feel of Sunburn.

The Clockmaker's Daughter                                                             by Kate Morton I am a huge fan of Kate Morto...