Tag Archives: debut novel

Mini-reviews: Mysteries

Warning: Some of these reviews contain spoilers.

leaving everything most lovedLeaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear (March 2013, Harper), 352 pages

I loved the color and spices of India that infused this novel, the tenth in the Maisie Dobbs series.

I felt a little manipulated by Winspear. I wondered if she was delaying a decision on Maisie’s relationship with James just to prolong the series (ugh!). On the one hand, I just want to see them together. I think they’ll work well, and I want to see that. But on the other, I think Maisie still acted within her very independent nature. So mostly I’m just sitting here wishing and hoping. And a little sad.

Another great installment in one of my favorite historical mystery series.

doors openDoors Open by Ian Rankin (Reagan Arthur (Little Brown), 2010), 368 pages

I’d heard lots of great things about Ian Rankin’s books, so I was glad to get the chance to pull this one from its lingering spot on the TBR shelf. Mostly, though, I was disappointed by this one. If I hadn’t heard such great things, I probably would have put it down mid-read (and I maybe should have abandoned it regardless).

I did enjoy the Edinburgh setting, though.

I plan to give Rankin another try, starting with book one of his Inspector Rebus series, Knots and Crosses.

missing fileThe Missing File by D.A. Mishani (Harper, March 2013), 304 pages

This is another one that didn’t really live up to my expectations. Again, I enjoyed the setting (Israel this time). But most of the book really plodded. The protagonist’s low self-esteem seemed to pervade the book. We have this supposedly great detective, who doesn’t do or learn anything really. It’s like he’s living in an allergy fog like those commercials, except we’re given no explanation for his inaction.

The twist at the end is pretty great, though, I thought. And how the main points are never really, truly, nailed down.

red herring without mustardA Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley (Bantam, 2011), 432 pages

This third Flavia de Luce mystery was the needed rebound after the sophomore slump that was The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (my review). Our precocious protag is back at it, and I quite enjoyed this one. I hope it’s not too long until I can return to the series (I think I’ve got books four and five on my shelves waiting patiently).

I received some of these books from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

In the Woods by Tana French

Word Lily review

In the Woods by Tana French (Viking Penguin, 2007), 429 pages

In a small outlying Dublin neighborhood, three children hop the stone fence into their favorite woods. But then they don’t come home for tea, and they don’t come when their mothers call. Much later, police find only one of the tweens, terrified and with a complete block as to what filled the missing hours. Years later, that found boy is a detective on the Murder Squad. He’s changed his name and left the past buried. But when he and partner Cassie Maddox investigate the murder of a 12-year-old girl in those same woods, well, things get interesting.

I’d heard so many good things about this, I knew I wanted — needed, even? — to read it. I’m glad I finally got around to picking it off the shelf. The writing is superbly beautiful and filled with nuggets like this will still being accessible and readable.

The characters are definitely flawed, just the way I like them. Even when they disappoint me.

Haunting is a good word for In the Woods. Not that it scared me, but that it stayed with me in a somewhat uncomfortable way. It’s interesting to read the blurbs on the back cover, some call it a “hard-boiled police procedural” and others label it “psychological suspense.” Of course these aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but it does kind of show, I think, the limits of labels.

I think I might finally understand all the people who say they love sad books. Well. I’m not saying I love sad books to the extent that I’m going to seek them out, but this book is sad, and I [still] love it.

I was spoiled, I knew before I got to the end that it wasn’t all wrapped up neatly. But I don’t think it would have bothered me like it did some people, even if I hadn’t known. I should have suspected, anyway. I’m OK with ambiguity. The sadness was harder for me than the lack of closure.

In the Woods won an Edgar Award for best first novel.

Rating: 4.5 stars

I look forward to reading more from French. I’ll probably start with the follow-up to this one, The Likeness

About the author
Tana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990. She trained as a professional actress at Trinity College, Dublin, and has worked in theater, film and voiceover.

Other reviews
Caribou’s Mom
Reading Matters
You’ve GOTTA Read This
Book Journey
Fyrefly Books
Farm Lane Books
Presenting Lenore
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The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

Word Lily review

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens, book 1 of the Vanessa Michael Munroe series (Crown/Broadway, March 2011), 320 pages

Vanessa “Michael” Munroe deals in information. If you need to find out something undiscoverable — and have the resources to pay — she can figure it out for you. She grew up as a missionary kid in Cameroon, and she still bears the scars of her past life (literally and figuratively). Her gift for languages comes in handy in her work. When a Texas oil man wants her to find his daughter, who disappeared in Africa, she’s thrust back into the jungle haunted by her past.

I knew I wanted to read it when I heard the first whisperings of the hardcover. When I had the chance to read the paperback, I was thrilled. When I cracked open the pages, I wasn’t disappointed.

I love so many things about this book, about Vanessa Michael Munroe. I love the West African setting, the heart-pounding story arc, the genuine pain of past hurts that comes through (not that I’m glad the pain exists, but I’m glad it shows up and feels real). I love Munroe’s skill with languages and reading people. I enjoy the [few] personal connections she does have.

While the blood and sex and language might make this book an uncomfortable read for some, I found it generally appropriate for the setting and the characters.

I finished reading this book a couple weeks ago, and I’m still over the moon about it. Love it!

My biggest problem with this book is that, when I finished it, I couldn’t yet get my hands on the second book in the series, The Innocent, due out December 27. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but I want more! I can’t wait.

Rating: 4.75 stars

About the author
Taylor Stevens (@Taylor_Stevens, Facebook) was raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond the sixth grade; she broke free of the Children of God and now lives in Texas. She’s working on the third Vanessa Michael Munroe book.

Other reviews
Jenn’s Bookshelves
Leeswammes’ Blog
S. Krishna’s Books
Beth Fish Reads
Toothy Books
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I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Book Spotlight: Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett

About the book:
Colm recognizes the truth: He’s sick and not getting better. Cathleen fiercely believes her faith will protect her young, ailing son, but Colm’s not so sure. With wisdom beyond his years, Colm has come to terms with his likely fate; he just has one wish. He wants to meet his father, who abandoned his mom before Colm was born.
The quest to find the dying boy’s missing parent becomes a journey of emotional discovery — a test of faith and an anxious search for proof of heaven.

Read an excerpt of Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett.

I received this book from the publisher as part of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

When Sparrows Fall by Meg Moseley

Word Lily review

When Sparrows Fall by Meg Moseley (Multnomah, May 3, 2011), 352 pages

When the pastor of young widow Miranda Hanford’s close-knit church announces his plans to move the entire congregation to another state, Miranda jumps at the opportunity to cut ties with Mason Chandler and his controlling method of ruling his flock. But Mason threatens to unearth secrets from her past, and she feels trapped, terrified she’ll be unable to protect her six children.

I like the characters, and I especially like the themes explored in When Sparrows Fall. I think it was pretty well-done, too. The comparisons and contrasts drawn between this small, fringe (large home-schooling families, marked by homemade dresses and long hair for the women and girls), body of believers and the church more generally were well handled and intriguing. I actually know someone whose pastor told his congregation they were all moving to another state, like Mason did in the book, and I was sucked in immediately.

But the romance felt obligatory, separate. I wasn’t a fan.

This probably sounds nit-picky, but Moseley frequently mentions (describes, even) the trademark clunky shoes all the women of this group wear. But even with all the various context and descriptors, I couldn’t picture them. This disappointed me.

I found it interesting how the book brings in praying for the souls of people who have already died, especially since it’s published by a large Christian publisher. And I found myself disappointed by how the idea was so quickly rationalized away in the text.

The story dealt with gender roles, art, medicine, and more in connection with the church. Excellent! When Sparrows Fall is compelling, and I look forward to reading many more books by Meg Moseley (this is her debut novel).

Read the first chapter.

Rating: 4.5 stars

About the author
Meg Moseley (blog, Facebook) has written a column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She home schooled for more than 20 years. She and her husband live in northern Georgia.

Other reviews
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I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky

Word Lily review

Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky, illustrated by Erwin Madrid (Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins, April 26, 2011), 240 pages

Juniper Berry is the daughter of movie superstars. She has fond memories of spending time with her parents, but since their stardom really took off, they’ve become distant, obsessed with maintaining their status. What’s more, they’ve also — in attempt to safeguard their privacy — essentially shut Juniper up, she never gets to leave the house. Her parents’ eyes are empty, and when a neighbor boy wanders into her backyard, she not only gains a friend but also incentive to figure out what’s wrong with her parents.

I appreciated the first part of the book, the part that details Juniper’s everyday goings on. Her looking through her monocular, telescope, and playing with the family dog, Kitty. The scene involving the home-video of Central Park is especially poignant.

Once it got past the beginning part (I can’t help but think of it as two separate parts, the transition was abrupt), the story was quite dark, which surprised me. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Dark, and scary, and background-wise, there were quite a few holes I wish had been filled in.

The characters. The cast of characters who actually shows signs of life is very small: Juniper, Giles, Dmitri, and Theodore. Dmitri and Theodore have very little screen time. Even Giles feels like a type, rather than a real person.

I usually really enjoy middle-grade fiction, but this one didn’t succeed for me. It was OK, but *only* OK.

Rating: 2.75 stars

About the author
M.P. Kozlowsky was a high school English teacher before becoming a writer. Juniper Berry is his first book. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

Other reviews
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I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (review and giveaway)

Word Lily review

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell (Dutton, April 14, 2011), 336 pages

Lincoln, thought by some to be a perpetual student, finally quit school (after several degrees) and moved back home. Now, he’s working at the newspaper, overseeing internet security and fixing printers when they need it. It’s not a great job; Lincoln’s working second shift, in a windowless office all alone. He can’t meet people, because he works when they’re awake. And he really doesn’t like snooping through private emails, but that’s what he’s paid to do.

Much of the book consists of email exchanges between two women, friends. Lincoln can’t bring himself to send them a warning, and he kind of feels like he’s become friends with them — even while feeling like a creep for reading their email.

In some ways, this is a coming of age novel. Although Lincoln’s not a teenager, when the book opens he doesn’t have a clear picture of who he is, and he’s lacking direction and motivation.

The Y2K scare and preparation aspect of the book (it’s set in 1999) is fun. I love the Omaha, Nebraska setting. I also loved being back in a newspaper office, talking about inky fingers, second shift, and copy-editing.

Overall, I found this book charming, and not entirely shallow. The book touches on themes of self-concept, esteem, ethics, fertility, and marriage.

Rating: 4 stars

About the author
Rainbow Rowell (Facebook @rainbowrowell), is a columnist for the Omaha World-Herald. She lives in Omaha with her family. She has a journalism degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Other reviews
Teresa’s Reading Corner
Books, Movies, and Chinese Food
Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books
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Thanks to the publisher, one of you can win a copy of Attachments! (U.S. or Canada only.) To enter, leave a comment on this post. (One entry per person.) I’ll accept entries through Monday, May 2, 2011.

ETA: This giveaway is now closed. See who won.

I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer (Moonlighting for Murder)

Word Lily review

Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer, book 1 in the Riley Spartz series (Doubleday, 2008), 320 pages

Riley Spartz is still recovering from her husband’s tragic death, but it’s sweeps month, she’s back from leave, and she has to prove herself. With big stories. With ratings. She has a rare investigative reporter gig in television news for Channel 3 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When her long-time police source hands her two homicide files, she senses a connection — and an urgency — as the anniversary nears.

This is Julie Kramer’s debut novel, and it received a lot of hype when it was released a few years ago now. I’d wanted to read them since then, partly because of what I’d heard, partly because of the Minnesota setting, and also — I’ll admit it — because of the excellent cover art. I’m glad I finally took Jen’s Moonlighting for Murder as my excuse to dive into this series, this character.

The mystery in Stalking Susan is fun, and the tension ratchets up nicely. Riley herself, however, was another matter for me. I found her quite dumb, not to the level of quintessential blonde, but in a way that was actually more harmful. There are blondes who happily play dumb because it suits their ends but who are actually intelligent. And there are blondes who are really dumb. And there are blondes who don’t act blonde. (I feel like I can say this because hey, we’re talking about my hair color, here.)

Riley Spartz wasn’t aware of her miscues. And while I’m sure we’ve all been there, she didn’t seem to realize the gravity of the situation she was in. Which, when you actually, intentionally, pursue a serial killer, isn’t very smart. And while I feel for her — she’s been through too much in her years — I didn’t find her sympathetic, on the whole.

I appreciated the setting and the story, and I’m certainly not calling it quits with Riley. I’m looking forward to reading more of this series.

Here’s the trailer for the book:

Stalking Susan is followed by book 2, Missing Mark (review soon), and book 3, Silencing Sam.

Rating: 3.5 stars

About the author
Prior to becoming a novelist, Julie Kramer had a career as a freelance news producer for NBC and CBS, as well as running the WCCO-TV I-Team in Minneapolis. She grew up along the Minnesota-Iowa border, fourth generation of a family who raised cattle and farmed corn for 130 years. An avid reader, she tired of fictional TV reporters being portrayed as obnoxious secondary characters who could be killed off whenever the plot started dragging, so her series features reporter Riley Spartz as heroine. Julie lives with her family in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Other reviews
My Favourite Books
Confessions of a Bibliophile
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