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The Secret Place

Teenage girls can be the worst. My apologies if you are one of the good ones, because there are some amazing girls out there. I taught hundreds of them. But some are just wretched. They are mean and spiteful and a nightmare to be around. Unfortunately, this book features some awful girls, which greatly increased my dislike of the book. And although I love this series, this book grated on my nerves.

The entire plot is to figure out who killed this teenage boy who attends an all-boys school. The girls of the sister school are being interviewed, since they have a lot of contact with the boys. They are simply asking the girls if they know anything. These girls are clams. They won’t say a word, but enough slips out, a tiny bit at a time.

The plot is fine. Just another unsolved mystery. The detectives are clever and likable, and we get to see a very familiar face at one point. But the girls. Ugh. The two cliques involved are just so mean. Sadly, French captures this perfectly. I have known plenty of girls like this. She is spot-on with her portrayal. But I hated most of these girls so much that it just distracted me from my enjoyment of the book.

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A Good Marriage

It’s rare to find a thriller that’s from a lawyer’s perspective, or at least rare by what books I’ve read. So, when I selected this one for my most recent Book of the Month club pick, I was looking forward to it simply for that reason. I appreciate books that are told from a bit of an unusual perspective. Murder mysteries are usually told from a victim’s family or a police detective, so a defense attorney at least provides a different viewpoint.

Zach and Lizzie are old friends, so when Zach is arrested after the murder of his wife Amanda, he reaches out to Lizzie to defend him. She has to retrace Amanda’s footsteps and dig into her secrets, as well as deal with some secrets of her own. The story is told in past/present alternating chapters. Present is from Lizzie’s perspective and past is about Amanda’s life leading up to her murder.

There is a wide cast of friends in Amanda’s life, who you really don’t know whether or not to trust. Any one of them could have been the murderer, including Zach himself. The story is tightly woven and some good twists, turns, and reveals, and I found myself really enjoying this and not knowing where the plot would end up. Definitely recommend this one!

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Broken Harbor

Tana French writes excellent books. Her Dublin Murder Squad is some of the best of the murder mystery genre. And what’s great about these books is that even though they are connected, the link is thin and not critical to understand. Each book focuses on a murder and the detectives who work it. The next book features a character from the previous book, so one person is familiar, but the rest of the characters and the story itself are new. And you really don’t have to know much about the character to figure out the story. I am reading them in order, but you really just don’t have to.

Broken Harbor kept me guessing. I really had no idea how this case was going to be solved. The detectives in charge are trying to solve the murders of a family who seem to have it all. Three members have died, one is in intensive care, and there are absolutely no leads. And halfway through the book, when a big reveal is made (no spoilers), I had no idea where the book was headed after that.

These books are so well-written. Not just the plot, but she has some fantastic prose within them. They avoid the annoying tropes that a lot of mystery books use, and they all, so far, have lead me down a path that I never saw coming. I appreciate the slow-burn level her books provide. I’m hooked in pretty quickly, and instead of being jerked around by red herrings and meandering plots, the plot moves forward at every step. When people want a good place to start when venturing into the genre, these are the ones I recommend.

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Curse of the Poppy

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Fun fact: I’m allergic to heroin. No, I don’t know this by experience. Sort of. I’m allergic to codeine, which is derived from the poppy, as is heroin. Thankfully, I never had a desire to try heroin, so I’m still alive. So no purple drank for me. Also, no Jagermeister, which contains various herbs and spices, but poppy seeds are one of them. I’m okay with poppy muffins and bagels, but that’s where I draw the poppy line. Thankfully, there are no more opium dens, so I don’t have to worry about stumbling in to one of those anytime soon. Our heroine, Penny Green, isnt’ a fan of opium either. Get it? Heroin.. heroine? *wink wink*

Book five of the series (reviews for previous books Limelight, The Maid’s Secret, and The Inventor) finds Penny trying to solve yet another crime with her Scotland Yard crush, James. We find James still engaged to Charlotte, Mr. Edwards still desperately in love with Penny, Penny in love with James, and Penny’s sister trying to push Penny to see how wonderful Mr. Edwards is. It’s just one big circle of unrequited love. The murders in this book revolve around the opium trade, and more characters get involved than you would expect.

These books are really just so much fun. Penny is a fantastic main character, but the secondary characters are just as intriguing. With three books left (apparently the ninth will be out at some point), I can’t wait to see how Penny and James continue to work together, even with his impending marriage, whether or not Penny and her sister ever find out what happened to their long-lost dad, and whether Mr. Edwards ever becomes the man that Penny could love. Please check these out, especially if you have Kindle Unlimited because they are free to borrow there.

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The Cruelest Month

Armand Gamache returns! I first met him in Still Life, then in A Fatal Grace, and now he has returned to Three Pines to solve yet another murder. Somehow for being idyllic, Three Pines sure does have bad luck, especially for where it all began- the Hadley House.

This time, the house is the scene of a seance, and someone dies. At first glance, it appears as if she was scared to death, but during a toxicology report, a vast amount of ephedra was found in her, and combined with a heart condition, proved fatal. Enter Gamache and his team to try to solve the murder.

What I really like about these books is that there is always something else going on. In these first three books, you realize that Gamache isn’t perceived by all as the greatest guy, but you are uncertain why. Each book reveals a bit more of his backstory, which creates depth to the character and the story. There is some great dramatic irony in these books, but much is also hidden from the reader, keeping your brain working not just to solve the murder, but also to figure out what is happening behind the scenes of the police department Gamache works for. It’s also nice to see some characters that I’ve grown to enjoy returning each book. Despite the murders, Three Pines is charming and a place I would love to visit.

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The Maid’s Secret

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I’m so glad I discovered Emily Organ and the Penny Green series. These books are just much fun to read. I started with Limelight and recently finished The Rookery. The stories follow a female news reporter in the late 1800s in London. Penny isn’t well-received by most because she is unmarried, has no desire to be married, and has a job. Penny is a great character though. She makes no apologies for her position and is very good at her job.

Penny has some overarching plots that have, so far, extended through the first three books. Namely, her quest to find her father’s whereabouts. He’s an explorer, but no one has seen him in several years. Penny and her sister, Eliza, fear him dead. Penny also has a working relationship with a member of the Scotland Yard, James Blakely. It’s obvious they have feelings for each other, but he’s engaged and she has no desire to be married. But their relationship is fun to watch.

This story finds Penny undercover as a maid for the newspaper (and James is aware of the situation) trying to find out the secrets of a family that has a reputation for being cruel to its factory workers. While there, one of the members of the family meets an untimely end and it’s up to Penny and James to figure out if that person was murdered, and if so, by whom.

I just fly through these books. As much as I enjoy modern-day mysteries with DNA and fingerprint analysis, a good old-fashioned whodunit and also a lot of fun. I have all intentions of finishing these books and highly recommend them. They are on Kindle Unlimited, for those who have it. Absolutely delightful books.

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The Fourth Monkey

At some point, JD Barker followed me on Twitter, and I reciprocated. Through this exchange, I heard him discussing his book. So, I added it to my Amazon list and when the price dropped (sorry, man…I buy A LOT of books and can’t afford full price) I bought it, because why not? It sounded interesting, a police detective tries to solve a serial killer case, which is right up my alley.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, Porter (the cop), Emory (a teenage girl), Clair (only a couple chapters from her…another cop) and a diary. Porter is chasing a serial killer when he finally gets a break. The killer ends up dead, splattered by a bus. Sounds easy, right? The book follows a very twisty path of red herrings, various characters, plenty of bait and switch, and a few plot twists thrown into the mix. Normally, these types of narrative back and forths drive me nuts. And I admit that I knew something was up (it’s pretty easy to assume the mystery isn’t easily solved when you’ve only read 25% of the book), but I enjoyed my ride through the story.

The diary was the, um, best? part. It was a horrifying glimpse into the childhood of a killer, but it was shocking and kept me guessing. It was a bit disturbing at times, but I’ve read much worse. Right now, The Fourth Monkey and its sequel, The Fifth to Die, are $2.99 each on Amazon. I have pretty high expectations when it comes to creativity within a police procedural story, and this one hit the mark. Really enjoyed it.

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Where the Crawdads Sing

I’m really skeptical about books that EVERYONE loves. They usually don’t live up to the hype because I have high expectations when it comes to books. I can’t stand anything cheesy or poorly written. Not that everything has to be “literature,” but I don’t want a book that relies on tropes, flat characters, and poor storytelling. So many books out there fall into this category, but I was glad to see that this one didn’t. It might not be worth every bit of hype, but I really enjoyed it and thought the language was superb.

The story is told following a young girl, Kya, growing up in a marsh swamp in the 1950s, but also in 1969 after a death happens in her part of the swamp. As you watch Kya grow up, deal with one devastation after another, find her path in the world, you are also learning about the young man who died. Immediately, you wonder if it was an accident, suicide, or a murder, but the details are slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

The language of the book really is beautiful, and you grow to respect and admire Kya. She deals with more hardships than just about anyone, abandoned over and over by those who claim to love her, she fends for herself at a young age, and turns into an amazing woman. The descriptions of the marsh life- plants, animals, water, weather- are so enveloping that your senses are drawn into the story as well. I don’t know much about the marsh life of North Carolina, nor do I really have any desire to go there, but this book is the next best thing. I can see why this is a book many people want to read.

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The Likeness

If you have been following me at all, you know how particular I am about my murder mystery books. Most are crap. Let’s just lay it all on the table. When I find a book or an author worth my while, I’m pretty excited. When I read In the Woods a couple of years ago, I was hooked. Tana French wrote an excellent thriller that kept me guessing without using tired old tropes. For the record Robert Galbraith (AKA JK Rowling) writes great thrillers, too. Start with The Cuckoo’s Calling.

What’s clever about French’s books is they are connected but not direct sequels. The first book features two detectives, Rob and Cassie. The second book features Cassie and her superior, Frank. The third book (I peeked) features Frank but takes place in the past. So, there are familiar characters, but the plots aren’t directly hooked so I would say you could read them in any order.  A few things from the first book were mentioned in the second, but you don’t really need to understand them to follow the plot.

Cassie used to work undercover as a girl named Lexie Madison. Said Lexie turns up dead and happens to look exactly like Cassie. So, the police get creative and send Cassie back home with her four claiming innocence roommates. They tell her Lexie was injured rather than dead and let Cassie take her place to see if she can dig up any dirt. What’s really great about these books is the lack of red herrings. I am exhausted by “the killer reveal on page 30…oh wait just kidding” plots. French just lets it all unfold and evolve naturally. It’s what I like best about her books.  I can’t wait to dig into her next book.

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Birdman

I heard about this book at some point and all I remember hearing was that it was really graphic. And yea. Wow. Not the worst I’ve ever read, but definitely not for the faint of heart. That said, it’s a great book, and I was sucked in really quickly. I like a good detective story, and they are hard to find. I’m glad to say there are seven books in this series, but it’s also great because the first book is pretty well complete and you can read one without having to read the rest.

Jack Caffrey is a detective with a past. When he was a child, his brother went missing and was never found again. Jack lives in the same house, his parents are estranged, and he struggles with the loss of his brother. Jack is convinced his neighbor was the one who kidnapped his brother, but he can’t prove it. The neighbor constantly taunts Jack, not making the situation any easier. This plot line might be carried through the rest of the series, I don’t know. But the main plot is wrapped up by the end of the book.

Several prostitutes turn up dead with birds sewn into their chests. Yep. It’s pretty awful. The police have a few leads, but with the victims being ones who don’t have a lot of family or anyone reporting them missing, it’s hard to stay on top of the situation. Jack and his partner are able to put some pieces together, but the killer keeps eluding them. I will say that everything is solved (sorry, but I don’t think that’s really a spoiler) but I will give you zero clues as to who is behind this killing.

The ending is very tense, and I couldn’t put the book down, waiting to find out the fates of some of the characters. The characters aren’t as well developed as other books, but I imagine over the course of the series, you get to know Jack very well.