The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

naturalsThis was terrific! I don’t watch crime shows on tv and have always found them super unappealing.  That said, I love Elementary and Sherlock and the amazing ways that Sherlock Holmes and his partner unravel crimes and can tell things by details that most of us never notice.  And that’s very much what this is.  Cassie is a teenager who lives with her father’s family ever since her mother’s gruesome murder five years earlier. The body was never found and the crime remains unsolved, haunting Cassie.  One day and FBI agent invites her to be part of a special program-she will live in a house with other teens who have amazing skills and they will help the FBI with cold cases.  She is told that she and the other teens are “Naturals.”  Without trying they have amazing abilities (not supernatural), in Cassie’s case she can profile people.  She knows at a glance all sorts of things about them and it’s completely intuitive and logical (just like Sherlock Holmes.)   There’s lots of bloody descriptions, but the creepiest part is the alternating chapters that use  a serial killer’s voice.  There is a serial killer on the loose and it seems there might be a connection to Cassie’s mother, which of course makes Cassie want to get involved in solving it.  This had great suspense and thrill and a good setup to what will surely be series (and yes, in this case, I approve.)

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The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen (Her Royal Spyness #6)

cluesSomewhere along the way I missed #5 in this series and just happened to see this one on the shelf of our little library. Out of order and out of season, but I had to grab it and read it. Once again Lady Georgiana Rannoch finds herself in the midst of a puzzling crime.  In this case it’s a suspicious death every day of her holiday.  Faced with nowhere to go except spending Christmas with her horrid sister in law, Fig, she answers and advertisement for a lady of good social standing to join a house party.  It turns out that the hostess, Lady Hawze-Gorsely, is having guests for a true old fashioned English village Christmas.  It’s very Clue-like, complete with a Colonel, what, what? Fewer details of her royal relatives in this installment, but the lovely details made such a vivid picture in my head of this British village and the time.  Georgie’s mother, grandfather, Noel Coward, and of course, her love interest, Darcy, all manage to happen to spending Christmas in the same little village, so the familiar characters are there.

I thought this was a splendid mystery, was fooled by a red herring, and was very satisfied with the ending. I also liked it that the author included traditional Christmas games and recipes at the end.  I must say, the meals described were wonderful and I can’t believe people weren’t fat as houses back then. Giant teas followed by sumptuous repasts at dinner!

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Hub Reading Challenge: PPYA

starI’ve known about this book for quite a long time and even attended the studio recording of the audiobook. And yet, I just wasn’t interested in reading it. I’ve had it checked out for a month and only somewhat unwillingly picked it up yesterday morning because I thought I should give it a try. Well. Apparently I just didn’t know what this book was all about because it was fantastic. I have an hour’s time this afternoon while I wait for my daughter in dance class and I couldn’t even save it for then. I had to just spend the morning reading it until it was done because I was so caught up in it.

The first thing that made this so compelling was the fact that it’s set in a boarding school! Present day, London. Rory has moved there from New Orleans and is going to spend a year there while her parents are on sabbatical.  Just as she arrives and is dealing with fitting in a murder occurs that mimics the first murder of Jack the Ripper. A second soon follows and the city is caught up in copycat Jack the Ripper panic. I’ll pause here to say that Rory becomes involved and it’s a great thriller and I totally recommend it. If you don’t mind spoilers scroll on down past picture and I’ll tell some details that might explain it better. Otherwise, just take my word for it, enjoy the photo, and go check this book out of the library (and p.s. the cover was one of the things that turned me off. I hope it’s better in the paperback version.)
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

OK, so what I didn’t know that made the book completely exciting was that due to a near death experience the first night at school Rory can see ghosts. And it turns out that she’s not the only one-that others who can are part of a super secret, denied by the government, but run by them, organization. Ghost police, if you will. And without realizing she was seeing a ghost, Rory saw the murderer who is terrorizing London and becomes involved with this ghost squad in trying to stop him before he kills his next target, who is Rory herself.
This was an exciting and suspenseful mystery. The supernatural element was not totally crazy. There’s some historical stuff in there, which was nice, and there were loads of the type of boarding school details that I just eat up.
Really great.

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes

mammywalshI’m a big fan of Marian Keyes and was very excited when I found out this was coming out. And very happy to get my name on the holds list early! It was a real pleasure to read something of hers again that revisits the Walsh family. Since I wrote about her books for my St. Patrick’s Day post I’ve been itching to go back and read her earlier books and this definitely made me want to. There are 5 Walsh sisters and this is the final sister’s story-Helen.
Helen doesn’t really like people, she’s brusque, and she doesn’t fit in with folks. She’s a private investigator who’s fallen on hard times-business has dried up and she has lost her house, electricity, etc-and she’s forced to move back in with her parents.  This is all especially difficult because, as she tells us in bits and pieces, she’s had a bout of depression that landed her in a hospital once before, and it seems like it might be happening to her again. Out of the blue an ex-boyfriend comes to her with a very important, top-secret, case: she must find a missing member of a once powerfully famous boy band before the reunion concert scheduled in less than a week’s time.

I really enjoyed this so much. Keyes is always funny and has a great way of blending funny, sassy, strange characters with genuinely heartfelt, realistic, touching emotions. It was a treat to see Mammy Walsh again and little peeks at the other sisters.  And it was fun to have this one be a mystery and try to figure out where Wayne could have gotten to.  The only thing that wasn’t super was the part about her no-longer-friend, Bronagh.  She is alluded to occasionally, always in the past tense, so you know something big has happened to her.  From previous books I assumed it was going to be a huge, very emotional revelation, and it ended up being very anticlimactic and not a big deal to me. But really, that was just a small part of it.  I loved this and it was so much fun to have a Marian Keyes to read again.

Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen (Her Royal Spyness #4)

royalI really enjoy this series and just happened to see this on the shelf at the library and was delighted to see it existed. My mom tells me that there is an even newer one that I missed, Christmas themed.  In this installment Lady Georgianna is invited (commanded) to represent the royal family at a royal wedding in Transylvania. She is excited about the travel, especially because the bride is having a Parisian dressmaker make her gown. Free food and clothes! Hooray! A few stumbling blocks, though. She needs a maid and ends up with the worst maid ever, Queenie, and is assigned a travel companion (who has her own traveling companion!) who is quite stern.

They finally arrive in Transylvania to find that the castle is extremely remote and terrifying.  Bowen manages to convincingly get all the usual characters to happen to be at the castle too, so we have the fun of meeting new people and having fun folks like Belinda and the dreamy Darcy around. The castle is so spooky that of course Georgie is worried about vampires, and even more so when strange things happen-like waking up in the middle of the night and finding a pale young man standing over her.  We all know a murder will happen (as this is a mystery series) and it does in the form of a nasty man dropping dead at a big formal dinner.  At first presumed to be a heart attack, it is quickly realized to have been cyanide. Because the wedding is a few days away and they want to avoid an international incident, they decide to hide the truth.  And since a convenient giant snow has trapped everyone in the castle, that makes this book a “bottle episode” (in tv parlance!)  So, no one can go anywhere and it stands to reason the killer is among them.  Georgie sets about amateur sleuthing.

I liked this, but not quite as much as the others. Perhaps because I had a hard time getting my head around the time period and location which seemed to clash ancient things and modern things together, plus Romania, Bulgaria, Transylvania-presumably there was actual history there, but it was slightly confusing. Nonetheless, Georgie was as delightful as ever, as were all the other characters. I didn’t care for the vampire worries-that just seemed silly.

 

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

sherlockThe end of December was filled with Sherlock Holmes for me.  We had just watched the second movie with Robert Downey, Jr. and I loved it. I’m not a big Guy Ritchie fan, but I absolutely love his treatment of these films and RD is hilarious and the scenery amazing and it’s all so clever.  We had also started watching Elementary on television and though we both hate crime procedurals (CSI, Law & Order, SVU, all that crap) found that we really enjoyed this show.  The clever solving and deductive reasoning were simply fascinating to me. Well, then we started watching the BBC show Sherlock (Netflix streaming) and that was best of all.  Each episode an hour and a half and starring the preposterously named Benedict Cumberbatch (really??) and Martin Freeman, whom we love and know best as Tim, from The Office (the British original; he was also in another great BBC show called The Robinsons) These shows were like a Christmas present-we watched one each night leading up to Christmas and then it ended thrillingly.  So since I was feeling all fascinated by Sherlock Holmes, Paul came home from the library one day with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes for me, so that I could read the original. I had never in my life considered reading this before because 1. much as I like an old-fashioned book I had to assume that I would find the writing practically Dickensian and 2. I claim to not really like mysteries (but this is false.)

Well, I have to say that I was wrong on all counts because I thoroughly enjoyed every story in this collection. And, it has been really interesting to read these stories now, after having watched all these modern versions of it, and see which elements of his character and the style the various actors, directors, screenwriters, have chosen to use in their retellings.  For example, Sherlock plays the violin, something we see often in Sherlock.  His practically Asberger’s inability to be empathetic or considerate of others in both television versions doesn’t seem that apparent to me in the written stories.  And Irene Adler is a character who seems to be turned into a much bigger story in the modern retellings.  I was fascinated that her story, with its risque photo-blackmailing plot, seemed like it was made up for the new versions, but actually came straight from Doyle’s pen.

What I really liked about the collection was, and I guess this is Doyle’s style and his whole way with Sherlock Holmes, that each story is resolved fairly quickly, and there is no toying about with the reader.  A person comes to Sherlock Holmes and tells his or her story in a straightforward narrative and then Holmes might go off by himself for a while and then he comes back and tells you how it all worked out.  Very little of the story is taken up with actual action-it’s all retelling, a presentation of a riddle or puzzle and Sherlock tells us the answer.  And I simply love how he solves things.  That is the essence of Sherlock Holmes and faithfully represented in all the tv shows and movies I’ve seen. He makes me feel like I should be more observant.  I like how he often tells Watson that he sees the same things everyone else is seeing, it’s just that he actually put the pieces together.

I also liked being able to read the stories individually-no trouble at all to stop and read another novel for a day.  I would definitely read more of these.

The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart

pigeonpieI loved The Tower, the Tortoise, and the Zoo, so when I saw she had another book out I had to try it. More than that, when I saw the cover I was immediately attracted because I recognized the artwork as being by Allison Jay, and it was just perfect for this title.

Much like The Tower..  it is filled with fascinating details about a very specific (and very bizarre to a 21st century American) place in England, specifically the grace-and-favor cottages in Victorian England.  These “cottages” are residences in a big estate, owned by the Queen, and given rent free to certain individuals.  In this case one is offered to an Indian princess.In fact, she was born and raised in England, but her late father (who died in a rather bawdy manner) was an ousted Maharajah.  So right there are all sorts of exotic details.  So she moves into the residence with her stalwart servant and delves into the gossipy community of mostly widowers and widows and other genteely impoverished folk who bicker all the time.  What’s funny and fascinating is that I read about three-quarters of the book picturing the princess hanging out with these elderly 70 and 80 year old women and then I found out they were in their late 30s!!

So after an Easter picnic a much disliked gentleman dies and it seems that he died from poisoning, specifically from the pigeon pie her maid made. It seems more and more likely that she will be arrested and executed for the crime, but the Princess is determined to solve the mystery.  Meanwhile there are all sorts of very funny details and turns of phrase and the characters are a hoot.  It’s a wonderful blend of peculiar history and fine writing. I really have no idea if she has a very wide audience, but she should.