05 July 2020

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know; Samira Ahmed

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to KnowMad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who is the mysterious woman who inspired Byron's poem The Giaour, which then inspired Delacroix's The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan paintings? And what is the link to Alexandre Dumas? Fascinated by the Delacroix, Kayyam has written a paper about her belief that there is a missing painting - this paper should have gotten her into an exclusive art school but instead has lead her to an incredibly dejected and lost summer with her parents in their apartment in Paris.

On her way to see the Delacroix at the Petit Palais, she meets Alexandre Dumas (the many greats-grandson of the famous author). They pair up to find some mysterious treasure related to the paintings and Dumas' book The Count of Monte Cristo and somehow Byron's poem. The places they go to are real: any reader could do a tour of Paris based on this book. Is the story of Leila real? Well... there's no evidence of that. However, it is not implausible given women's lives at that time and the way that some female managed to inspire those three works.

Many are comparing this to Byatt's Possession but I see it more as akin to Donnelly's Revolution. The blending of history, mystery, real artifacts and the effects of religion and race on art and society are well done; if only the characters had been just as well-rounded.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Suicide House; Charlie Donlea

The Suicide HouseThe Suicide House by Charlie Donlea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prep schools are always filled with traditions handed down from generation to generation, and Westmount is no different. Their tradition (one of them, anyway) is to select a few choice juniors to undertake several tasks, culminating with facing The Man in the Mirror. The winner of that last task initiates next year's group. Simple, right? Well... up until several people end up dead. And then the survivors go back to the remote house it happened in and commit suicide. Or do they? There's even a hit podcast and website exploring the mystery.

The detectives on this are definitely not the norm: Rory, a forensic reconstructionist, is as quirky as they come. There were many moments when I wanted her to pair up with Carol O'Connell's Mallory. Lane is closer to what we think of as normal, but you can see the glimpses of odd in there. Somehow the methodology works and they follow the clues - and non-clues - to figuring out how and who. I want to read more about them.

The school, however, really felt wrong. Yes, it's fiction, so suspension of "normal" is important but the idea that the students would all be in therapy with either the Head of School or a teacher is a bit too wrong. And then there were too many POVs, too many subplots to untangle. A little more focus, just a trim here and there, and this would have been an easy five star.

eARC provided by publisher.

04 July 2020

Boyfriend Material; Alexis Hall

Boyfriend MaterialBoyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a pleasant surprise!

My first thought was that this was going to be a same-old same-old gay romance, but there's so much humor here that it clearly lands in the romcom genre instead. And that humor? I giggled through much of the book. If the pink cocktail sauce or the jokes that Luc tells at work don't make you at least smile, there's something wrong.

The plot isn't anything new: Luc is a mess, and in order to keep his job he needs to find a boyfriend who is respectable. Enter Oliver. Enter fake dating, misunderstandings, feelings, etc.. through to Happily Ever After. It's the humor that elevates this. Just read it where you can, in fact, giggle freely.

eARC provided by publisher.

The Safe Place; Anna Downes

The Safe PlaceThe Safe Place by Anna Downes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The major message of this book is that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Emily learns that after one of the worst days of her life: losing her job, her home, and the agent supposed to help her find acting roles. But then, like a fairy godfather, the head of her last temp position offers her an amazing opportunity to work for him, living in a secluded enclave in France helping take care of his wife and mysteriously ill daughter.

To be honest, Emily is not terribly likable and when her life upends it's clearly all her fault. And a normal person would have far more qualms about the job she's offered. Suspending that natural suspicion leads to an interesting tale with an unexpected twist. And by the end, Emily hasn't quite redeemed herself but she's slightly less pathetic.

eARC provided by publisher.

Outsider; Linda Castillo

Outsider (Kate Burkholder #12)Outsider by Linda Castillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Oh those Amish. Such a mysterious group, so easy to hide away from trouble among (see: Witness [movie]). Add to that the depths of winter, with people being snowed into homes and impassible roads and you've got a thriller/mystery that feels as though perhaps it's not part of America.

Kate has returned to her Amish town, serving as the chief of police, bridging the two worlds. Then her former friend and partner in the police force in Pittsburgh shows up, clearly on the run. The insertion of the English into the Amish world isn't a new one, nor is the questioning people do on both sides about what it would be like to be different. Couple that with the friendship Gina and Kate used to share, and Kate's questions about what happened to that relationship, and this book gained a star.

eARC provided by publisher.

03 July 2020

The Mystery of Henri Pick; David Foenkinos

The Mystery of Henri PickThe Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The idea of a library filled with rejected manuscripts is quirky enough to provide much fodder for thought. When an editor finds what she thinks will be The Book, written by the unassuming pizzeria owner Henri Pick, it changes lives more than one might expect.

This is a very French book - I can't exactly explain how, just that to me it oozes a French sensibility and feel. Maybe an American or British author would have added more action, or mystery, to the plot. Instead it just unfolds, human bit by human bit, imbued with a sense of "do we really know the people in our lives?"

eARC provided by publisher.

Here is the Beehive; Sarah Crossan

Here Is the BeehiveHere Is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I had such high hopes for this, but the verse just got in the way of the plot.

DNF at 25%

eARC provided by publisher.

Elastoe; Darcie Little Badger

ElatsoeElatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blend of Lipan mythology, fantasy/horror and murder mystery is seamless, leading to a great first book by a Native author.

Forget seeing, El raises dead things, like Kirby, her dog (oh how I want one or two of my cats to be "Kirby'd"). She is friends with a guy whose sister is engaged to a vampire. And then her cousin dies in somewhat mysterious circumstances. El and her family feel a sense of responsibility to finding out what really happened, leaving their town to move in with his widow (and child) while they search for answers.

I can't wait to share this with my readers.

eARC provided by publisher.

02 July 2020

All the Devils Are Here; Louise Penny

All the Devils Are Here (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #16)All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yet another book that neatly sidesteps the question of what to do with Gamache et al. now. Jean-Guy moved to Paris - how would that partnership work across the Atlantic? Send Gamache to Paris. Give him a dead body or two and stir. Reine-Marie plays an important role, displaying her librarian/archivist skills and network. We even get a better sense of Daniel, their son, long relegated to Europe and somehow estranged from his father.

Even after 16 books, there are depths to Armand that we haven't explored and it's to the author's credit that she continues to plumb those depths. Unfortunately, the others are fairly static and some of the more interesting possibilities have been removed from the series. Still, by the end of this episode, of course the mystery is solved. Only at the last are we in Three Pines with the gang, with a sense that all's well with the world and that our friends will be there in the near future.

eARC provided by publisher.

A Deadly Education; Naomi Novick

A Deadly Education (Scholomance, #1)A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are a lot of gaps here, but for some reason this book about a school where most students end up dead appealed to me. The Scholomance is a place, a school situated somewhere in the void - neither here nor there. There are no teachers, instead course materials appear and you will - somehow - learn. Students are brought to the school by some magical process, assigned a room they will live in for the next four years, and they left to learn the rules and how to survive. Why? Because monsters. Lots and lots of monsters.

Some alliances are necessary to survive, but our herione El isn't the alliance type. Because she's a seriously bad person, per her grandmother. So when the school good guy starts being nice? You just know that's not going to go well.

I loved El's anger and rudeness, her suspicion of those around her. The setting is different, and the combination of the way the school operates and the students challenges will be even greater in the next book.

eARC provided by publisher.