Review: Dead by Midnight by Carolyn Hart

Book cover Dead by MidnightBibliography: Hart, Carolyn. (2011). Dead by Midnight. New York: William Morrow. ISBN: 0061914975 (hc) 0061914983 (pb)

Plot Summary:  Henny Brawley convinces Annie Darling to hire Pat Merridew at Death on Demand after Pat is let go from her long time job as receptionist at a local law firm on Broward’s Rock.  Annie is hesitant, Pat is not a mystery reader, but the bookstore needs the help, and Annie is pleasantly surprised by how well Pat is working out.  Till the day that Pat doesn’t come into work.  Annie could kill her, except Pat is already dead of an apparent suicide.  Henny refuses to believe it, and convinces Annie to help prove otherwise.  When just days later Glenn Jamison, Pat’s former boss is found murdered and his sister Elaine is the number one suspect, Annie knows that the deaths are connected, if she could only prove it.

Thoughts: I love Carolyn Hart.  Over the years I have read many cozy mystery writers and series and at some point they lose steam.  The mystery elements are not as strong, ongoing love triangles get really old (I’m looking at you Janet Evanovich, Diane Mott Davidson and Joanne Fluke).  But not Hart and her Death on Demand series.  Perhaps it helps that there is no love triangle or cutesy recipes or other gimmicks.  Instead, we have the people of Broward’s Rock going about their daily lives.  They just are a little homicide prone.  Or maybe it is all the references to both Golden Age and current mystery fiction and writers.  I love the coffee mugs with the mystery titles on them and the mystery paintings contest featured in each installment.  When Annie mentioned Kathryn Wall I felt like I was “in the know” because she is certainly a lesser known writer who deserves more readers.

This entry in the series (number 21) does not disappoint.  Matter of fact, in addition to a tangled plot, we have a scene worthy of Nancy Drew (who I feel is Annie’s ancestor) where Annie breaks into a house looking for clues and a suspenseful climax where Annie’s life is in danger.  I like that Hart doesn’t hold back just because this is a cozy.  I think it shows that she and her series have kept up with the times and trends.  I will say that I did figure out who done it (which is rare for me) but not why.  And unlike other times when this has been the case, I was not disappointed but pleased to think I had solved the puzzle.  Looking at Hart’s website, I am happy to see there are several newer entries in the series waiting to be enjoyed.  And I highly recommend the audiobooks, they are a pleasure to listen to.

Review Excerpts:

” Expert pacing and a tense climax distinguish this intriguing variation on the locked room mystery.”–Publisher’s Weekly

“A mystery bookseller once more finds real-life murders harder to solve than the ones in the books she loves….Hart’s latest cozy puzzler casts a net that will ensnare a wide audience.”–Kirkus Reviews

Reviewed from public library audiobook copy. Amazon Affiliate: If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

Review: All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry

Bibliography: Berry, Julieallthetruththatsinme. (2013).  All the Truth That’s In Me.  New York: Viking Juvenile.  ISBN:  978-0670786152

Plot Summary:  Four years ago, a lifetime ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared.  Two years ago, only Judith came back.  Some think she is cursed and others just don’t see her, but she can’t speak out as most of her tongue has been cut out.  She spends her days watching the boy she once loved, living a life longing for passion on the inside.  When the town is attacked, a series of events are set in motion that forces Judith to decide whether to make herself heard or disappear for real.

Thoughts: I tried to read this slowly to savor it but I just had to know how it would turn out.  Not written in free verse but with poetic language set in the past yet not defined exactly lets the focus stay on the characters.  A well constructed plot hints at past events but the truth is only known once Judith finds her courage not only to remember but to speak. And that might be the most beautiful part of the story. Her courage comes from within, from realizing that she has people who love her for herself…imperfect people but perfect love.  Hoping that Julie Berry has many more such stories that are waiting to be told.

Review Excerpts:

“Every now and then, a novel comes along with such an original voice that readers slow down to savor the poetic prose. This is such a story.” —Kirkus

“…suspenseful and haunting. [Julie's] poetic narrative will draw readers in, and the gradual unveiling of secrets will keep them absorbed.”  —Publishers Weekly

“Lyrical language, a good mystery, and a compelling heroine–this is a page-turner with substance.” —School Library Journal

“heart-wrenching and…heart-pounding” —BCCB

“Berry keeps her readers on edge, tantalizing us with pieces of the puzzle right up until the gripping conclusion.” —Horn Book

“effectively combines elements of traditional genre literature to create a distinctive novel that includes a powerful message about the value of women’s voices and what is lost when they are silenced.” —New York Times Book Review

Reviewed from public library copy. Amazon Affiliate: If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

Review: The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

FridaySocietyBibliography: Kress, Adrienne. (2012).  The Friday Society.  New York: Dial.  ISBN: 978-0803737617.

Plot Summary:  Three girls from completely different backgrounds and circumstances are thrown together in an alternative Steampunk Victorian London.  Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician’s assistant meet at a ball but are forever connected when they discover the body of a murdered man.  They decide to work together to solve the crime, not realizing just what they are getting themselves into.

Critical Analysis:  I am a fan of steampunk, and there are parts of this story that I really enjoyed.  The high energy from Nellie, the quiet fortitude of Michiko and the consternation of Cora all worked together to make a group of strong women whose travails and tribulations were fun to follow.  I was thrown off by the use of modern language and slang, but I don’t think teens would be, and in a way it is a nod and a wink from the author that adds to the irreverent fun.  What was weak for me was the mystery.  I wanted more there.  I have had the same issue with other recent steampunk and fantasy titles.  It seems like the author gets so wrapped up in the characters and details of the world that the plot gets a little short shrift.  I don’t think many teens will care though.  And it appears perhaps a sequel is possible, which allows for growth and improvement (as happened with The Girl in Clockwork Collar, which I thought was much stronger than the first book.)

Review Excerpts:  “With odd inventions, beautifully described clothing, and skilled heroines, this alternate history offers much to enjoy.” — Publishers Weekly

“…an overall sense of frothy fun prevails, bolstered by winks at genre convention (much is made of the always-foggy London crime scenes) and by three kick-ass females with complementary strengths and distinctive personalities.” — The Horn Book

“Intense and fast paced, the plot incorporates murder, mistaken identities, and misunderstandings of characters’ intentions….the characterization is rather flat…with generally predictable behavior….More television claptrap than well-developed novel, this trio’s adventures don’t merit one of the coveted places on library shelves.”–School Library Journal

Reviewed from public library copy. Amazon Affiliate: If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

Review: Dare You To by Katie McGarry

DareYouToBibliography: McGarry, Katie. (May 2013). Dare You To. Buffalo, New York: Harlequin Teen. ISBN: 978-0373210633

Plot Summary: Beth is just trying to protect her mother long enough to  figure a plan for them both to escape to freedom.  Ryan just wants to play ball, go pro after high school and trade dares with his best buddies in the mean time.  But life has a way of getting in the way of our best laid plans.  Beth takes the fall so her mother doesn’t get sent to jail and ends up in the small town where Ryan lives.  Ryan makes it to the finals of a writing competition and is faced with a choice–take the path his father has carved for him or find his own way.  Beth and Ryan are like oil and water.  They shouldn’t work–but why does each find the other irresistible?  What started as a dare becomes something more.

Critical Analysis: I really enjoyed McGarry’s first book, Pushing the Limits and was so excited to see another “connected” book.  (This is less of a series and more along the lines of what many adult romance writers do–a set of books within the same world/sphere.  The main characters in one become secondary in the next but there are clear links.)   For me what I enjoyed about both books is that the setting is so gritty and real.  In this story we have the wonderful contrast of the urban setting where Beth goes to try and help her mom and the rural setting where Beth goes to live with her uncle and ends up at Ryan’s school where you have homecoming court, field parties, church committees and more.  McGarry says this was where she grew up and for me it rings true.  The other thing about the books is that there is still a fairy tale, a happily ever after quality, two people destined to be together despite the odds and the fact that they can’t stay out of their own way.  You get so wrapped up in the characters, the place and the romance that you suspend disbelief and will them to come together.  In this book, the dares make it even more fun and I love the fact that while there are many steamy scenes, the characters take time to decide whether and when to have sex.  And for a real change, it is the guy holding back.  I can’t wait for the next in the sequence, Isaiah’s story which heavily foreshadowed here.

Review Excerpts: “At first, readers may find Beth’s story the more compelling, but as Ryan’s too-perfect-to-be-true, community-leader family and controlling father reveal themselves, both characters spring to life. As in the first book, these two protagonists differ on the surface but have many similarities under the skin. Everything–setting, characters, romance–about this novel works and works well.” -Kirkus Reviews

“McGarry…captures…the aching vulnerability underlying Beth’s tough exterior….Sex, drugs, profanity, and violence, as well as subplots about loved ones who escaped town for emotional survival, heighten the dramatic tension but don’t disguise the wholesome, girl-next-door quality of this well-paced, satisfying romance.”-Publishers Weekly

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Reviewed from publisher provided advanced copy. Amazon Affiliate: If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

Summer Reading: 48 Hour Book Challenge 2013 Wrap Up

As usual, Monday morning hits me like a ton of bricks and just now sitting down to do a wrap-up of the 48 Hour Book Challenge.  I am glad that I decided at the last minute to participate again this year.  I really enjoyed the luxury of just reading and not worrying about much else.  Again I lament my inability to stay awake (which is especially ironic as lately I have had difficulty falling asleep.)  I didn’t quite make as many hours and pages as last year, but considering that I have not been reading much or blogging at all, this is a success for me.  I wish I had spent more time visiting and commenting on blogs, following on twitter and so forth, but perhaps that is something I can try to add to my everyday activities as well.  Now since I seem to have some interest in blogging again, I need to figure out how to fix what is going on with my blog…I read parts of 5 books (finishing 2 that I was in the middle of) and completed 2 books.  The final numbers: 18 hours, 15 minutes, 1223 pages read, 1 hour spent blogging/networking.