One By One by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware is one of my favorite authors writing primarily mysteries and psychological thrillers.  With many titles being published in this genre over the last few years, Ware is unique among authors with her innovative twists and turns.  Her titles are always among the best.  If you are intrigued by this genre and don’t know where to start, I highly recommend Ruth Ware.  Each of her books is a stand alone title and any would be a good place to begin, including her latest release, One By One.

When One By One  opens, we meet Erin and Danny, caretaker and chef respectively, of a picturesque chalet in the French Alps.  They are preparing the chalet for a new tech start up group who will be arriving from London and will be renting the chalet.  The CEO has rented the house for the inner circle of the company with the intention of team building, presentations and strategizing.

As voyeurs to the group and the changing dynamic between its members, Erin and Danny soon sense tension as old secrets start to emerge. The group conducts their annual business meeting and during the meeting a faction of employees announce their intention to take a buyout deal that would make millions for a select few.

After the tense meeting, the guests try to settle in at the chalet.  Just as they start to relax, an avalanche quickly and violently destroys the chalet’s access to the outside world.  To make matters worse, one of the guests was on the slopes when the avalanche hit and did not return to the chalet.  With the group being isolated, Erin and Danny frantically try to keep the guests calm while simultaneously trying to contact the authorities for help.  They soon realize that help may not be coming and the most dire threat may be from one of the guests as their numbers start to dwindle one by one in a variety of suspicious circumstances.

The book wraps up with a thrilling ski scene that makes you feel like you are right on the slopes of the French Alps.  Again, another winner from Ruth Ware!

One By One is also available as an eBook and eAudiobook on Overdrive.

Deception at Thornecrest : An Amory Ames Mystery by Ashley Weaver

I have been a big fan of the Amory Ames mysteries by Ashley Weaver since the series debuted in 2014.  Primarily set in 1930s England, these cozy mysteries give the reader a glimpse of the pampered life of Amory Ames and her circle of friends as they jet set between England, New York and the warm Mediterranean coast.   The seventh book in the series, A Deception at Thornecrest, is another exciting and richly detailed mystery with a cast of interesting and memorable characters.

At the start of the novel, Amory and her husband, Milo, are currently residing at Thornecrest, Milo’s family estate in England.  They are eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child.  While Milo is away in London, a strange woman appears at the door and declares that she is Mrs. Ames, wife of Milo.  As Amory tries to process the news of how this mishap could have occurred, the woman confirms through a wedding photo of Amory and Milo that she is, in fact,  married to the man in the picture!  Amory’s mind spins with this news and it could not have come at a worse time, with the baby due any day.  All she can think of is that maybe Milo is up to his old tricks again.

After getting word to Milo that he must return to Thornecrest at once, he begins to answer Amory’s expected questions.  With the answers it quickly become apparent what has happened when an unknown man shows up at their door and looks very familiar to Amory and Milo.  This stranger brings a second set of mysterious developments to Thornecrest and with a bit of digging, long dead secrets resurface and questions are answered.   With one mystery somewhat solved, Amory focuses on planning the Springtide Festival in the village.

The day of the Springtide Festival arrives and all is proceeding smoothly until Milo’s stable hand, Bertie, is found murdered during the horse race.   Honing her amateur sleuth skills, Amory sets out to solve the case but she can’t help but wonder if the arrival of a few strangers to town has something to do with the murder.

If you like cozy historical mysteries set in England, I highly recommend the Amory Ames series.  You could read this book as a stand alone or consider starting the series with Murder at the Brightwell.  

The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart – American Mystery Classics

The Haunted Lady  by Mary Roberts Rinehart is enjoying a new rebirth thanks to Otto Penzler and his American Mystery Classics series.  Originally published in 1942, The Haunted Lady is one of a handful of reprinted mysteries hand selected by Penzler for a new generation of mystery readers.  Even though the American Mystery Classic series includes a multitude of vintage authors, the reissued titles have a common theme in their beautifully modern covers that give the books a uniform look and feel.  The cover of The Haunted Lady is exactly what drew me to the book in the first place.  Known as “the American Agatha Christie”, Rinehart apparently lost popularity after her death in the 1950s.  Penzler provides a short history of the author’s work at the beginning of the book.  Featuring nurse Hilda Adams, The Haunted Lady is one of three books featuring Adams.  Even though this book is the second in the series, picking up the book without reading the first in the series was seamless.

When we meet Hilda Adams, she has been recruited by Inspector Fuller to insert herself into the wealthy Fairbanks household to look after the elderly matriarch Eliza Fairbanks. Mrs. Fairbanks is convinced someone in her household is trying to kill her by initially feeding her arsenic and then by driving her mad with loose bats in her bedroom.  Nurse Adams charge is to keep an eye on Mrs. Fairbanks and report back to Inspector Fuller.  She meets a cast of characters in the Fairbanks family, and almost immediately more odd occurrences happen.   After a murder is committed in a seemingly locked room under Nurse Adams watch, she and Inspector Fuller team up to uncover the baffling truth.

For fans of early 20th century mysteries and cozy mysteries, I recommend The Haunted Lady as well as other novels in the American Mystery Classics series.  At the time, Mary Roberts Rinehart was  a very popular mystery writer and although not well know today, her mysteries still hold the reader’s attention and keep them guessing as to the culprit.  This series reintroduces vintage authors to an entirely new set of readers in today’s world.

 

 

 

 

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Maggie Holt was too young to remember the terrifying time she spent at Baneberry Hall, the expansive Victorian mansion her parents purchased in rural Vermont nearly 25 years earlier.  Maggie, along with her parents Ewan and Jess, lived at Baneberry Hall for only three weeks before sheer terror drove them to flee in the middle of the night.  Now nearly 30, Maggie has to face the reality of not only the recent death of her father, but yet again she has to face the skepticism and criticism regarding his best selling book, House of Horrors.  Her father’s book detailed the paranormal activity and deep secrets of the home’s history.  Author Riley Sager merges the past and present as well as the suspenseful and supernatural in Home Before Dark.

On her father’s deathbed she learns that she is the new owner of Baneberry Hall.  As a restorer of old homes, Maggie’s goal is to make the needed updates and sell the home as quickly as possible.  Upon moving into the house temporarily, Maggie begins to  doubt that her father invented many of the stories detailed in House of Horrors.  She begins to meet many of the townspeople portrayed in his book.  They have long memories and still harbor mixed emotions toward her family and the book.  As odd occurrences begin to spook Maggie, she begins to question everything that she has doubted her entire life – are there sinister evil spirits in Baneberry Hall or did her father invent the phenomenons that he claimed were true?

Home Before Dark is the second Riley Sager book that I have read and have thoroughly enjoyed both titles.  I would highly recommend his books if you enjoy the psychological suspense genre peppered with a little horror and supernatural elements.  In addition to the print book, Home Before Dark is also available as an eBook through Overdrive.

 

The Half Sister by Sandie Jones

The Half Sister by Sandie Jones is a whirlwind ride of a suspense novel, full of unexpected twists, turns  all within one family, where each member is hiding their own damaging secrets.  This is another strong offering in the domestic suspense / psychological thriller genre that is currently quite popular.  The Half Sister is Sandie Jones’ third novel, following both The First Mistake  and The Other Woman, which was a Reese Witherspoon Sunshine Book Club Pick in late 2018.

Joining their mother for the routine Sunday dinner after the death of their father, Kate and Lauren begrudgingly go through the emotions  of a seemingly normal family whose cracks have become more and more apparent.  The sister’s relationship was never very solid and the death of their father, and their opposing memories of him creates a deeper divide with each family dinner.

On a typical Sunday, the group receives an expected visitor named Jess who promptly announces that she is the daughter of their father, which makes her Kate and Lauren’s half sister.  Each sister has their own reaction to Jess, which spans the spectrum from complete denial that their father would have had a secret daughter (Kate) to intrigue that the stranger may be telling the truth (Lauren).  Jess does have scientific proof in the form of a DNA test that, on the surface, proves her claims.

As the weeks wear on, Jess has an uncanny ability to cause more and more friction between the sisters and their mother, who also harbors doubts about their father and a possible secret life.  As Kate delves into spotty memories of the past, she realizes that there are a handful of unexplained behaviors from her father that make her doubt her memories of him as the “perfect” father.

Lauren, who believes Jess, is on a quest to discover the truth which leads her to a decades old mystery that has never been solved.  The trail leads right back to the family and a past that has been strictly off limits.  When the truth begins to rise to the surface, the twists and turns come in quick succession.  I really enjoyed The Half Sister, especially the second half of the book when the tension, theories, and accusations come to the shocking conclusion.

 

 

Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing : A Zofia Turbotynska mystery by Maryla Szymicazkowa

Set in southern Poland at the turn of the century in 1890, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing , is the first book in a new series by Maryla Szymiczkowa, a pseudonym for two Polish authors.  The book offers a  unique look at the culture, lifestyle and social climbing of the upper class society in Cracow, which comes alive through our heroine, Zofia Turbotynska.  Zofia is the  wife of a university medical professor who is looking to strengthen (and elevate) her social status with a variety of charitable endeavors but finds her true calling as a newly minted sleuth.

Her favorite organization of the moment, Helcel House, is a retirement home run by a bevy of nuns who she finds in panic one morning upon the disappearance of an elderly resident, Mrs. Mohr.  Mrs. Mohr is finally located dead in an attic room that would be impossible for her to reach in her immobile condition.  Zofia starts her own investigation after the police rule the death an accident.  Soon thereafter, another resident of Helcel House goes missing and then a third disappears and Zofia is confident that someone is targeting the elderly residents of the home.  Investigating the cases with only her cook and one inquisitive nun in her confidence, Zofia is able to solve the complex case near the end of the book while gathering all the parties together at the Helcel House for an unveiling of the real killer.

Its glimpse into the changing landscape of Poland is what initially caught my attention.  As mysteries are my genre of choice, the cultural context and hierarchy of their society was fascinating as well.  The author provides a nice summary at the beginning of the book that details the complex history of Poland during the 1800s, which includes being partitioned by the empires of Prussia, Russia and Austria.  If you like the feel of a cozy mystery with a rich historical glimpse into the past, Mrs. Mohr Goes Missing is a great choice.

Acorn TV Mysteries!

Over the last month, I have had the chance (and frankly, the time)  to indulge in one of my favorite digital offerings at the Davenport Public Library, Acorn TV!  Since mysteries are my genre of choice, Acorn TV a great place to find both long running mystery series and shorter limited run series.  Acorn TV has many excellent dramas, comedies and documentaries as well.  Two recent mysteries that I have discovered, Mayday and Winter are both top notch mystery series.  Each series is just one season and contain five and six episodes respectively.  These are but two of the many great mystery series available on Acorn TV.  To access Acorn TV from home, go to www.davenportlibrary.com and click on “Digital Content” at the top of the page.  Then, follow the directions under Acorn TV to create an account.

 

Mayday – A small English village holds its annual Mayday festival and parade where a local teenage girl will be crowned as Mayday Queen.  But as the parade begins and the Queen’s float appears down main street, it is empty.  The Mayday Queen has disappeared mere moments before the parade is set to begin with only her abandoned bike found near the woods at the edge of town.  The locals quickly organize to look for her throughout the area.  As the search goes on it becomes clear that many in the village have a motive to do harm to the young girl.  We meet a cast of characters, including ex-police officer, her detective husband, a real estate developer, a society wife and a man with mysterious access to heaps of cash.  Many of the locals have their own dark secrets that they intend to keep at any cost.  The series not only highlights the intricacies of the police  investigation but how the villagers react to a suspect being one of their own.  Mayday if full of red herrings, shocks and surprises and I highly recommend it for mystery fans.

 

Winter – Australian detective Eve Winter is on a brief hiatus between cases when she is recruited to come back after the death of a young woman whose body was found at the bottom of a rocky cliff just north of Sydney.   Simultaneously, Eve learns of a young girl hospitalized after a hit and run accident.  It becomes apparent to Eve that these two cases have everything to do with each other and if she can get the young girl to trust her and talk may be the key to cracking the case.  Splitting her time between the murder investigation and gaining the young girl’s trust, Eve and her team discover that there are many powerful and influential residents who will cover the secrets in their past at any cost.  Winter is another great mystery series with all the twists, turns and secrets of the past that make the story so memorable and suspenseful.

Dying in the Wool: A Kate Shackleton Mystery by Frances Brody

We meet amateur sleuth and former World War I nurse, Kate Shackleton a few years after the conclusion of the war in her small village of Bridgestead, England in the first book of the Kate Shackleton Mystery series, Dying in the Wool  by Frances Brody.  Kate is still reeling from her husband being declared missing in the war but, at the same time,  continues to hold out hope that he is alive.  As a nurse in the war, Kate has picked up the skills of a sleuth in helping a few fellow nurses find missing loved ones.  She has gained quite the reputation as a novice detective and based on her reputation one fellow nurse, Tabitha Braithwaite, calls on Kate for a mystery of her own.

Tabitha is engaged to be married within weeks and her wish before she walks down the aisle is to find her father, Joshua Braithwaite, who mysteriously disappeared and no trace of him was ever found.  Was Mr. Braithwaite, the owner and operator of a textile mill, a victim of someone with a grudge, did he stage his own disappearance or is the truth something more sinister?  Kate has little time to dig to the bottom of the mystery before Tabitha’s wedding day.  She meets a cast of characters in the village, including many mill workers who may have a grudge against the powerful mill owner and are potential suspects.  Kate, along with Sykes, a former detective who she hires as an employee, get closer and closer to finding the truth with potential murderous results.  Told in alternative chapters merging past and present, Dying in the Wool  gives the reader a glimpse into British society and culture in the early 1920s within a cozy mystery.

One of the most unique aspects of this mystery is the detail that Brody adds to the novel regarding the British textile mill industry immediately following WWI.  It is clear she has done her research, giving the reader a sense of the intricacies of how this industry was run.  Readers of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series may want to consider starting this series (the eleventh book in the series came out in November).  I’m already nearly done the second book, A Medal for Murder, and am looking forward to the third!

Lady Takes the Case by Eliza Casey

Lady Takes the Case by Eliza Casey caught my eye the minute I saw the cover illustration and read a quick summary of the book.  I’m a huge fan of the traditional “cozy” mysteries and this book, first in the Manor Cat Mysteries series, takes place in rural England during the spring of 1912.

Lady Cecilia Bates spends the majority of her time on the grounds of her family’s estate, Danby Hall, living a life of leisure by assisting her mother, the Countess of Avebury, with parties and other domestic duties.  Her family’s estate is run like clockwork by a household of servants who cater the the family’s every whim.  Cecilia lives here with her brother, Patrick, who is the heir apparent of the estate.  To an outsider, Patrick seems an unlikely heir, as he would much rather be alone with the exotic plants he lovingly cares for in his laboratory.

As Danby Hall has increasingly become more difficult to maintain with the family’s finances, a glimmer of hope arrives in the form of Miss Annabel Clarke from the United States.  She, along with her vast wealth, arrive for a host of parties with the hope of an engagement to Patrick Bates who will become Earl of Avebury in years to come.

Immediately upon Miss Clarke’s arrival, an elaborate dinner party celebrates all that is best of Danby in order to impress the American heiress. What the residents of Danby Hall did not count on was the murder of a guest by poison just as drinks were served!  The victim is a renowned naturalist in between explorations who was making a quick stop at Danby Hall, but it quickly becomes apparent that maybe the poison wasn’t meant for him.

Lady Cecilia, along with Miss Clarke’s maid, Jane and her stowaway marmalade cat Jack, hit the ground running in an attempt to find the culprit and save Danby Hall from further scandal.  With the amateur sleuths finding clue after clue within the house, evidence points to someone close to the family or someone attempting to capitalize on the family’s dwindling fortune.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lady Takes the Case by Eliza Casey.  Some of the twists and turns were to be expected, but the mystery kept my interest and was a true “cozy” mystery.  My only criticism is that I would have liked the manor cat, Jack, to have more of a starring role.  Maybe he will in the second installment, due in the summer of 2020.

When Less Becomes More : Making Space for Slow, Simple and Good by Emily Ley

Among the numerous books recently published on decluttering, minimalism and general advice on simpler living, When Less Becomes More is the latest entry in a long list of books with techniques and tips to make our lives more meaningful and simple.  I always seem to gravitate toward checking out these types of books, which all have practical information coupled with inspirational advice.  Emily Ley, who began creating planners and has expanded to books, has many helpful stories and antidotes that she has learned throughout her life and now is sharing with her readers.  She divides the book into multiple chapters each dealing with a certain issue and how to take small steps to enjoy things in moderation but without having them first and foremost in your life.  Below I’ve highlighted a few sections of the book and these include Ley’s personal stories peppered in between her advice.  She gleans a lot from her own life and how she built her business and other stories, which is helpful and makes her more relateable to her audience.  My only criticism of the book is that it would be more effective if she included more concrete tips of how to achieve these ideas / themes, no matter your personal situation.

Rush – With all the commitments that women have these days, Ley suggests saying a polite but firm, “no,” to things you are not passionate about and to question where you put your energy and priorities.

Technology  – Ley asks if there is beauty in a more analog existence and provides examples of times you may be able to turn off technology and do more connecting to the world and people around you.

Noise – Not only physical noise, but the noise you create with a busy life.

Wellness – Taking cues from your surroundings and yourself, focusing on what is best for you, both inside and out.

Chasing – Finding contentment with what is already around you and knowing when enough is enough.

As with many of these types of books, some of the suggestions and examples are clearly not for everyone.  In my opinion, these are good ideas but not everyone’s road to a simpler, more meaningful life will be the same.  Some of these tips are not feasible for everyone and some are easier to implement in your life.  When Less Becomes More has some good takeaways, similarly to other books in the genre, and are clearly the author’s take on this timely subject.  Even if you do not choose to do make every lifestyle change, this book is a good introduction to leading a not so hectic life.  If you are interested in jumping on board or if you are already familiar with the concept, When Less Becomes More is more reinforcement!