Inspired by a glowing review on NPR and the gorgeous cover design, I snapped up The Dark Rose as quickly as I could. It’s a mild thriller-cum-literary novel that tangles with the questions of morality and guilt. If you intend to do harm but fail, are you guilty of the crime? If you intend to do good, but fall into the wrong side of the law, are you morally at fault?  Yes and yes, according to Erin Kelly, an author who hands out death and disaster with a free hand; hers is a universe where even minor crimes don’t go unpunished, and the result is oddly satisfying (if a bit bleak). The story follows two central characters – Louisa and Paul – and three timelines: Louisa’s volatile relationship with rocker Adam Glasslake as an 18 year old in 1989 London, Paul’s troubled upbringing in a suburban slum under the wing of his illiterate best friend Daniel, and the present day, where the two characters meet and work together restoring a sixteenth-century garden in the British countryside. Louisa is immediately drawn to Paul, a doppelganger of her long gone lover Adam, and Paul – vulnerable in the aftermath of agreeing to testify against his best friend in a murder trial – is drawn to her as well. Each of them is flawed in interesting and unique ways, and they have coping methods and personalities that feel genuine as well as compelling.

Juggling multiple timelines is a feat successfully maneuvered by few authors, but Kelly does a respectable job matching the pacing and tone between her segments and blending them together the right way. Unfortunately, she’s much better at characterization than plotting, as her attempt isn’t without flaws: the present day story starts off running and only picks up speed, while the back stories start off slower and eventually grind to a crawl near the 2/3 mark. It’s frustrating to have to leave the exciting, sensual present to revisit teenaged Louisa and Paul flailing in 1989 and 2009, respectively, as they cope with circumstances and guilt that will haunt them going forward. That aside, the language in this book is splendid and the gardening subplot is a rich source of metaphor and a tidy frame for the story.

We are all guilty of something; this book is about what happens when that guilt catches up to you.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James is a mystery set 6 years after Pride & Prejudice, when Lizzie’s disgraced sister Lydia comes to the Darcy estate screaming that her husband – the notorious rogue George Wickham – has been murdered. Everyone has a different opinion on Pride & Prejudice sequels. “Glorified fanfiction,” some say. “Total crap,” or “completely wonderful,” say others. I think the line between success and failure depends not only on good writing, setting, plotting, and characters, but on a critical distinction: no one but Jane Austen should write Jane Austen’s characters. Elizabeth’s wit and Darcy’s mysterious motives are the critical features that make Pride & Prejudice such an enduring classic, and any other authors trying to inhabit these characters inevitably struggle to do as well as Austen did. P.D. James, although an accomplished and talented author by any definition, is regrettably no exception. Her Darcy is wooden and boring, her Elizabeth does little but turn up every 25 pages and agree with her husband, and her speculation on Colonel Fitzwilliam’s future and character is hardly in line with the lovable, friendly man we know from P&P. The characters she invents – a dashing suitor for Georgiana, the staff of Pemberley – are much more vivid and entertaining.

James can turn a phrase admirably; even in its most stilted information-dumping passages (lots of early 19th century criminal law needs to be explained – feel free to skim these parts), the writing isn’t at fault here. It’s revealing that the best chapter of the entire book is the first one, where James neatly summarizes the events of Pride & Prejudice and weaves in the 6 years of additional plot she’s invented. You would expect a summary to be boring, but this one’s remarkably engaging; it’s the plodding mystery that stalls this book.

If you love mysteries and you love Austen continuations, give Death Comes to Pemberley a try. Although truth be told, you might be happier re-reading the original, especially if you’re an Austen purist or a demanding mystery fan. Despite a few good ideas, this book doesn’t satisfy on either end of that spectrum.

As someone who loves to read mysteries and is always on the hunt for another series to start, I stumbled upon the Bailey Weggins mystery series by Kate White and just finished If Looks Could Kill, the first book in the series.  Bailey Weggins is a freelance writer of crime and human interest stories for the monthly fashion and lifestyle magazine Gloss.  Early one Sunday morning Bailey is roused out of bed by her boss and the editor of Gloss, Cat Jones, who can’t get her live-in nanny, Heidi, to answer the door of her basement suite.  Bailey springs to action to help her boss figure out where Heidi has gone – and it isn’t far – when Bailey discovers the nanny dead in her suite.  Cat pleads with Bailey to use her sleuthing skills to try and figure out why Heidi was murdered.  Bailey, who puts her investigative skills right to the test, dives into the case.

The mystery heats up when it is determined that Heidi died from eating poisonous chocolate truffles that were an intended  hostess gift for Cat.  Who was the intended victim – Cat or Heidi?  Bailey uncovers evidence that points to someone trying to poison the editors of high profile magazines and she puts her life at risk with her unofficial investigation.

If Looks Could Kill is a light (as far as mysteries are concerned) and easy read that effortlessly blends fashion, vibrant New York City life and murder.

Long Gone, the new thriller from Alafair Burke, is a suspenseful roller coaster of a novel where everything appears one way but, in reality, is completely the opposite.  Recently fired from her job at a prestigious art museum in New York, Alice Humphrey is thrilled to be approached by a complete stranger, Drew Campbell, during an art gallery opening.  Drew offers her a fabulous proposition – a dream job of managing an up-and-coming art gallery funded by an anonymous, wealthy patron.  After a few initial doubts, Alice accepts the offer and begins to make her mark on the art world.

After the initial flurry of a successful opening, Alice begins to enjoy her new career until one morning a few weeks later.  She opens the gallery and discovers the space is completely empty and the body of Drew Campbell is on the gallery floor.  Quickly, the evidence begins to mount against her and the police believe that she killed the man who she thought to be Drew Campbell, but has been identified as someone else.  Knowing that she has been set up, Alice desperately sets out on a quest to clear her name and find out the truth.  While searching for answers along the way, Alice discovers even more hidden secrets involving her own family’s past.

Long Gone is a page-turning mystery with an intense and intricately woven storyline.   Highly recommended!

At the start of A Quiet Death, Hannah Ives is riding the Washington D.C. metro when her train crashes. Though injured herself, she tries to help a fellow passenger who is very badly hurt. In the confusion, she ends up with a shopping bag he was carrying. Eventually she reads the letters it contains in order to return the bag to him.

I picked up the book because I was interested in the Washington D.C. setting and that promise was fulfilled. Marcia Talley does well in portraying a city that revolves around the government – for example, the subtleties of how prestigious a restaurant is  – based on the level of the bureaucrats who frequent it.

The mystery itself, however, seemed a bit contrived. Instead of checking with transit or police officials who may be able to locate the mystery passenger, Hannah decides to find him herself, relying on simple google searches. Nothing very intriguing there. Security is also lax at Fox, I mean Lynx, News where Hannah drops in to interview their news anchor, whom she’s never met.

A pleasant read, but not a real page turner.

I recently listened to the audiobook version of Irish author Tana French’s debut mystery, In The Woods.  French thrusts the reader into a dual storyline – one past and one present – both inextricably linked by one man, Inspector Rob Ryan of the Dublin Murder Squad.  Twenty years before, Rob and his two young school chums made headlines when all three disappeared and Rob was later found alone exiting the woods without any recollection of what had happened to his friends –  the case has remained unsolved. 

In the current case, Rob and his partner Cassie Maddox are assigned to a case involving the murder of a young ballet dancer, Katy Develin – a crime that was committed in the exact same spot as Detective Ryan’s incident twenty years prior (he changed his name from Adam Ryan due to the publicity of his case).  Katy’s family begins to exhibit odd and baffling behavior and it peaks the interest of the detectives.  Ryan and Maddox realize that someone close to the victim may be involved – but which family member knows more about Katy’s murder than they are admitting?  

I am a big fan of mysteries and the ending of In The Woods was a shocker- I highly recommend it.

One of my all-time favorite shows that was canceled too soon, Veronica Mars deserved to go on much longer than three seasons.  The show is about high school student Veronica Mars, who juggles classes with working at Mars Investigations, her father Keith’s private detective agency.    Keith Mars used to be the sheriff of Neptune, California until scandal hit the small town: Veronica’s best friend, rich and beautiful Lily Kane, was murdered.  After Keith accused Lily’s father, powerful businessman Jake Kane, Keith was removed from office and he and Veronica became the town outcasts.  Veronica and her dad work together to solve a different mystery every week at Mars Investigations, but the two work all season long to discover what really happened to Lily Kane and bring the killer to justice.

If you like mystery, drama, and intrigue, you’ll love this show.  Yes it’s about high school, but it has a film noir feel to it and is pretty serious as opposed to a typical teen show.  There is, however, plenty of humor involved; Veronica has a very snarky sense of humor that really appeals to me.  And of course, there’s a love story, as Veronica used to date Lily’s brother Duncan until he mysteriously broke up with her before Lily’s murder.  But one of my favorite things about the show was the relationship between Veronica and her dad.  It was just the two of them after Veronica’s mom skipped town, and they have one of those amazing father-daughter relationships that every viewer has to be jealous of.  I highly recommend giving this show a try, it really has something for everyone!  Stop by the library today to pick up seasons one, two, and three.

The bestselling author of Sarah’s Key, Tatina de Rosnay, has written another winner.  A Secret Kept literally keeps the reader in suspense, wondering if the secret will ever be totally revealed.

Antoine takes his sister Melanie on a 40th birthday trip to  Noirmoutier Island, a lovely place where they had spent several enjoyable summers as children.   But something about the island also brings back troubling memories for Melanie.  On the return trip home, just as Melanie is about to reveal her fears to Antoine, she loses control of the car.  The book opens with Antoine waiting anxiously in a hospital waiting room, wondering if Melanie will even survive.

Antoine finds himself confronting not only his past, but his present family relationships as well.  Unhappy since his divorce just a year ago, he has difficulty communicating with his children and he has always felt distanced from his father.  He senses the secret revolves around his mother, and he wonders about her sudden death so many years ago.

I really enjoyed this book.  The tension is kept sufficiently tight, and the character development, realistic.  Plus, if you’re a francophile, you’ll appreciate some of the many French references! Incidentally, the author was recently named one of the top ten fiction writers in Europe.

What’s with all the numbers lately?  Recent releases by several popular authors all feature numbers in their titles, as evidenced here:  


Connelly’s newest is actually the fourth in this series, which began with The Lincoln Lawyer.  Movie-goes may have seen the recently released film (same title)  with Matthew McConaghey playing the lead role of lawyer Mickey Haller.  Haller’s reputation comes from managing his L.A. criminal defense practice out of his Lincoln Town Car. 

Baldacci’s newest book stars characters Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, both former Secret Service agents who are now security consultants for hire.  As in the other books in this series — the first being Split Second — there’s lots of dialogue and fast-paced action.  The investigators seem to be constantly on the move, seldom sleeping or eating, yet still able to ward off professionally hired assailants with maximum efficiency. 

Patterson’s 10th Anniversary is his tenth novel in the Women’s Murder Club series, which began with 1st to Die.  If you haven’t read any of them,  perhaps you caught some of the made-for-TV-movies featuring Angie Harmon in the lead role of Lindsay Boxer, a tough San Francisco detective who works alongside other professional women (an attorney, a coroner and a journalist) to solve high-profile murder cases.  The books are quick, easy reads with short chapters.  

All of the above make great choices for summer reading, so come check out some  — by the numbers!

I don’t read a lot of mysteries, but at the suggestion of a good friend I picked up The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the first in a series by Alan Bradley starring wannabe detective Flavia de Luce.  Flavia is one of the most unique protagonists I have seen lately:  she’s smart, inquisitive, resourceful, and witty.  She has an obsession with chemistry, especially poisons.  Oh, and did I mention that she’s eleven years old?

In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, we are introduced to Flavia and her family, who are living in an estate called Buckshaw in England in the 1950s.  Her mother disappeared when she was a baby, so Flavia is left with her distant father, her antagonistic older sisters, and man-about-the-house Dogger.  Things are boring as usual at Buckshaw when Flavia discovers a dead man in their cucumber patch in the middle of the night.  When Flavia’s father is taken into custody as the prime suspect, Flavia gets on the case to find out who really did it and prove her father’s innocence.  Flavia follows a series of initially puzzling clues (including an antique postage stamp and a dead bird) that lead to the identity of the killer, making for an exciting and surprising climax.  I listened to the audiobook and it’s very enjoyable; the reader manages to capture Flavia’s spirit very well and make it an exciting listen.

After finishing this book I had to immediately go out and pick up a copy of the second in the series, called The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag.  Flavia meets a traveling puppet show team whose car has broken down, and so they elect to do a series of shows in Bishop’s Lacey while they are waiting for the repairs.  When the star of the show is murdered, of course Flavia is the first one on the case.  I’m in the middle of it right now and I’m glad to say that Flavia has kept her cheek and tenacity fully intact.  The third book in the series, A Red Herring Without Mustard, just came out a couple months ago to rave reviews, and it’s certainly next on my “To Read” list.  If you like mysteries with a strong female protagonist, the charming setting of England, or mysteries that really keep you guessing right up to the end, this series will not disappoint.  Even if you don’t usually read mysteries, I recommend checking out this series, because I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know Flavia de Luce.