Book Review: A Murder in Time – Julie McElwain

a murder in timeTitle: A Murder in Time
Author: Julie McElwain
ISBN:9781605989747
Pages: 499
Release Date: April 11, 2016
Publisher: Pegasus
Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

Kendra Donovan might be young, but she’s making a name for herself at the FBI. That is, until something goes horribly wrong on a raid, and Kendra wakes up in the hospital. Set on revenge, Kendra strikes out on her own, determined to bring her own brand of vigilante justice to the person responsible for killing her team members. But just as she’s catching up with her man, something unexplainable happens: Kendra is thrown back in time, to the year 1815. Trapped in a world she doesn’t know or understand, Kendra must figure out how to get home…if a murderer in the past doesn’t find her first.

Review

A Murder in Time is a hard book to summarize, as you might be able to tell from the plot synopsis above; there’s so much going on in this book that it’s hard to do it justice in a few sentences. The bottom line is that the second I heard about this book, I knew it was for me. Lady main character? FBI? Murder? Time travel? This was 100% up my alley, even if I never expected a book combining all these themes. I was a little worried at how McElwain would handle it—if it would be too silly to really be enjoyable—but I shouldn’t have worried. I was hooked on this novel from beginning to end.

The novel starts off a little slow, as the reader gets to know Kendra and her place within the FBI; this is necessary background, but it doesn’t feel as though the story really starts taking off until Kendra sets out on her own. At this point, things start moving at a breakneck pace, and it doesn’t let off much over the course of the book. Kendra’s grappling with being out of her own time, unsure of how or if she’ll get home, trying to fit in, railing against how women are treated in this world, grappling with the class divides…and oh yeah, solving a murder that happens while she’s in the past. There’s a lot going on, and the author juggles it all very well.

You don’t expect a fun murder mystery to be especially thought provoking, and yet A Murder in Time is. By setting the bulk of the novel in the past, McElwain is able to discuss issues of class and feminism, providing a social commentary through Kendra on how much has changed, but more importantly, what hasn’t. The social undertones never get in the way of plot, as the author makes sure they’re such an integral part of Kendra’s character. This novel really does have it all.

The second I finished A Murder in Time, I was immediately on social media asking if there would be a sequel because I fell in love with this world that McElwain created. Kendra is such a great character—capable, smart, funny—but she isn’t perfect. I loved getting to know her, and I hope that we do see that sequel (in development, but no guarantees) soon!

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Book Review: Murder at the Brightwell – Ashley Weaver

Murder at the Brightwell coverTitle: Murder at the Brightwell
Author: Ashley Weaver
ISBN: 9781250046369
Pages: 336
Release Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Historical Mystery
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Amory Ames fell head over heels in love with Miles, and she left her then-fiance, Gil, in order to marry the rogueish playboy. Now, Amory regrets her hasty marriage, and when Gil comes asking Amory for a favor, she can’t resist her old love. Gil and Amory travel to the seaside resort the Brightwell Hotel, posing as lovers, but when Miles shows up unexpectedly, it complicates the facade that Amory has thrown up. What’s more, when a man is murdered at the Brightwell and Gil is the main suspect, Amory takes it upon herself to find the killer while also trying to discover what exactly Miles is up to and why.

Snapshot Review:

A delightful murder mystery with an atmospheric 1920s setting, Murder at the Brightwell features the delicious relationship between Miles and Amory Ames at its center. Readers will come for the gripping mystery and stay for the witty banter between these two characters.

Full Review:

A lighthearted murder mystery set in the 1920s? If it sounds like the perfect fun, effortless read, then you’d be right—Murder at the Brightwell is full of whimsy and delight as Amory Ames sets herself on the trail of a murderer. Weaver did a wonderful job with the atmosphere in her debut novel. The banter and wit has the elegance of this time period; readers will be able to hear the waves crashing on the rocks by the Brightwell and smell the salt in the sea air as they read this novel. It’s got a great sense of time and place that readers will truly enjoy.

Sometimes it’s hard to write characters in these types of mystery novels; authors want their characters to be investigative and proactive, rather than reactionary, but they don’t want them to seem nosy. Amory strikes a great balance between the two; she feels a measure of culpability in the police suspecting Gil, so it’s understandable why she takes a personal interest in the murder. But she is never nosy or annoying; she’s smart, capable, and just a lot of fun.

The best part about Murder at the Brightwell isn’t Amory, though, nor is it the gripping storyline. No, it’s Miles Ames, or rather, the relationships between Miles and Amory. It sizzles with passion; you can tell that these two care for each other quite a bit, but Miles’ rogue behavior keeps Amory from trusting him. However, the reader gets the sense that there is more to Miles than meets the eye; could his playboy nature all just be an act? Is it possible that Miles really and truly loves Amory? It’s so great to watch these two banter and work together; readers will be left wanting much, much more of these two, so here’s hoping Weaver is already at work on a sequel.

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Book Review: Rustication – Charles Palliser

Rustication coverTitle: Rustication
Author: Charles Palliser
ISBN: 9780393088724
Pages: 336
Release Date: November 4, 2013
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Mystery
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

The year is 1863, and 17-year-old Richard Shenstone has been expelled from Cambridge University. He arrives home to find things much changed: his father is dead, and his mother and sister are barely scraping by. He expects they will be thrilled to see him, but he’s disturbed to learn they’d rather have him gone. They’ve been keeping secrets from him, and when threatening letters begin to surface in town, fingers start to point to Richard. What are his mother and sister hiding, and who is behind these awful letters?

Snapshot Review:

A strange, atmospheric novel, Rustication is both a mystery and an intense character exploration. As Richard tries to uncover the secrets around him, readers aren’t fully able to trust this unreliable narrator, leading to a delicious and twisty read.

Full Review:

If you say the words “gothic mystery,” I’m there, with my hands out, eyes pleading with you to hand over the book you’re recommending. I’m a complete sucker for gothic mysteries, and it’s been rare that I don’t immediately take to one. Rustication is an incredibly atmospheric historical mystery, and though it took me a little while to warm to it, I can definitively say that it’s a book that gothic fans should not miss.

Let’s start with the main character, Richard. Rustication is told through his eyes; specifically, through his journal. From the beginning, it’s clear that he’s not being completely honest. Whether those secrets have any bearing on the main storyline is irrelevant; as soon as the reader gets that sense, he becomes an unreliable narrator. He’s also a bit paranoid, convinced everyone is out to get him. It’s interesting to dissect his thoughts, to try and understand what’s really happening as opposed to what he’s narrating. But it’s also difficult to discount that there are strange things afoot around him. Richard isn’t trustworthy (or likeable, really) but that doesn’t mean that someone isn’t out to get him.

Palliser does a great job with the more subtle details in Rustication. This isn’t a mystery in which things jump out at you. It’s the underhandedness, the subtle manipulations, that are on center stage here. A lot of times, it’s just a feeling that things aren’t quite right. This atmosphere is crucial to the book’s success, yet at the same time, it means it’s hard to get into. It draws you in slowly rather than with a bang, though it’s absolutely worth sticking with.

Rustication is a novel that will keep you guessing, deliciously throwing one small revelation after another into the mix. It’s not a traditional mystery by any means; it’s an incredibly well written, literary novel with strange, unsympathetic characters. It’s a credit to Palliser’s writing ability that these characters are fascinating, rather than odious, and it absolutely makes this novel worth reading.

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Book Review: The Last Camellia – Sarah Jio

The Last Camellia cover

Title: The Last Camellia
Author: Sarah Jio
ISBN: 9780452298392
Pages: 320
Release Date: May 28, 2013
Publisher: Plume
Genre: Historical Mystery
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Flora is an American woman who has told her parents she’s moving to England to work as a botanist. But she’s not being truthful: she’s actually been hired to find and steal the Middlebury Pink, a rare camellia rumored to be on an English country estate. Over fifty years later, Addison decides that she and her husband, Rex, should spend some time in the manor his parents recently bought in the English countryside. But what Addison hasn’t told Rex is that there are ghosts in her past that have come back to haunt her, and that even England might not be far enough for her to run.

Snapshot Review:

The Last Camellia is an enjoyable novel with a gothic feel, told during two different time periods. Sometimes the novel seems overly simple and rushed, but readers will enjoy getting to know these women and the atmosphere that author Jio creates for her fourth novel.

Full Review:

Sarah Jio has become an expert at writing novels with two different, but related, storylines: past and present. While this literary technique may seem simple, it’s actually quite difficult to accomplish well. All too often, one storyline is intriguing, while the other drags. It’s hard to make both seem equally urgent and relevant, with sympathetic and interesting characters, yet Jio makes it seem effortless. She uses the narrative device to great effect in The Last Camellia.

One of the main storylines of The Last Camellia is that of the flower. It’s always nice to learn something while also being entertained, and Jio does it well. The storyline in the past focuses more on the Middlebury Pink than that of the present, and readers will enjoy the information about camellias while also getting to know Flora. She’s an easy woman to like, and the mystery of what happens to her, and Addison in the present, are enough to keep the readers in suspense.

At times, plot turns seem a little rushed or convenient, but overall, The Last Camellia is a light, easy read that fans of women’s fiction and suspense will most certainly enjoy. If you’re a fan of gothic mysteries, you will likely appreciate the thick atmosphere that Jio creates for this novel. Sarah Jio is a prolific writer; her novels are always reliably entertaining, and it will be interesting to see what topic she tackles next.

Other books by Sarah Jio:

Blackberry Winter
The Violets of March

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Book Review: Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Burial Rites cover

Title: Burial Rites Author: Hannah Kent ISBN: 9780316243919 Pages: 336 Release Date: September 10, 2013 Publisher: Little, Brown and Co Genre: Historical Mystery, Literary Fition Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: The year is 1829, and Agnes Magnusdottir is awaiting execution for her role in a brutal murder. But Iceland has no prisons, so […]

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Book Review: The Asylum – John Harwood

Title: The Asylum Author: John Harwood ISBN: 9780544003477 Pages: 272 Release Date: May 21, 2013 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Genre: Historical Fiction, Psychological Thriller, Gothic Mystery Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: A woman awakens to discover that she’s in an asylum in England. Despite the fact that she knows to the core […]

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Book Review: A Place of Secrets – Rachel Hore

Title: A Place of Secrets Author: Rachel Hore ISBN: 9780805094497 Pages: 400 Release Date: January 31, 2012 Publisher: Holt Paperbacks Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Mystery Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: Jude is an appraiser for an auction house in London, and she receives the opportunity of a lifetime when she’s asked to […]

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Book Review: The Technologists – Matthew Pearl

Title: The Technologists Author: Matthew Pearl ISBN: 9781400066575 Pages: 496 Release Date: February 21, 2012 Publisher: Random House Genre: Historical Thriller Source: TLC Book Tours Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: The year is 1868 and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (or MIT) is about to graduate its first class.  Many in Boston, especially at […]

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