Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

12875355Death Comes to Pemberley had a promising premise even to a Jane Austen fanfiction avoider such as myself. Death and mayhem befalling the dramatically inclined Wickham household is mostly irresistible especially in the hands of prolific writer, P.D. James. The lady is no novice and knows a thing or two about the whodunnit genre. I was willing to take a chance despite all the rather unfortunate reviews.

Plot-wise, there’s not much to talk about. A murder occurs on the Pemberley property the night before the Darcys are meant to hold a huge ball. Lydia and Wickham are involved in said murder. There’s an investigation, inquest, trial, and aftermath. That’s pretty much it.

James sets her story six years after Pride and Prejudice. I was so excited to see where marriage had led Lizzie and Darcy, Jane and Bingley. Plus, I really wanted to see the Wickhams get what they had coming to them. Particularly Lydia. I really detest Lydia.

The novel opens with a whole chapter that recaps P&P. The entire plot. Boring. Snooze. I think this was completely unnecessary as most of the readers were coming directly from the source material. The others probably know the plot of P&P simply because they are alive and read. Maybe I’m being harsh. Once I had slogged through that bit of redundancy, the pacing should have, but didn’t pick up. I don’t mean to say that the book is hard to read or takes a long time, but if FELT long. James seems to be trying too hard to write Austen-esque prose. It doesn’t flow smoothly.

But people, where the hell is Elizabeth? She’s present, off and on, but mainly as background scenery. In what literary world would our dear Lizzie Bennett ever not be a driving force to any story involving her? Her lack of vivacity and general characterization was the book’s most evil downfall. Darcy has also reverted back to his icy, stoic ways. And since he’s the lead to this narrative, the book feels just as icy and stoic. I missed Darcy and Elizabeth so hard.

The other characters are decent enough – the Wickhams are still dastardly, the Bingleys still sweet, and Mr. Bennett is still my favorite literary father. The newly introduced characters never really amount to much although I did enjoy Georgiana and her male suitors quite a bit. The murder mystery is almost not worth mentioning. Nothing was surprising or particularly interesting in how it all unfolded. Only one scene was at all shocking and, again, Darcy’s wooden perspective pretty much ruined it.

I did enjoy one aspect of the novel immensely. Off and on, James manages to bring together the Austenian society of her many novels into this one story. I really loved seeing how the Knightley’s (of Emma fame) found their way into the plot.

I know P.D. James is better than this. I’m determined to read something else by her and love it. But Death Comes to Pemberley is just a tragically epic mess. And as much as I hated writing that sentence, it’s the truth. I should have listened to my peers and stayed away. Perhaps I should just stay away from Austen fanfiction in general. I hated Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well as Austenland. Boo, hiss.

So tell me Austen fans – what’s your favorite Austen fanfiction? Any good recommendations? Did you like this one or love Austenland and just think I’m a Scrooge?

The Butterfly Sister by Amy Gail Hansen

The Butterfly SisterThis little literary mystery peaked my interest at the mention of Virginia Woolf.

Our narrator, Ruby, has recently attempted suicide and dropped out of college. A few months into writing obits, a suitcase arrives at her front door that she once borrowed from an old dorm mate, Beth, who has gone missing. In the suitcase, Ruby finds a beat up copy of Virginia Wolf’s A Room of One’s Own with a clue nestled inside that leads her on a mission to find out what happened to Beth. Shenanigans ensue. Plus, literary ghosts.

If you’re heading to the beach anytime soon, this is the perfect read for a sun soaked vacation. Even more so if you are a book nerd or former English major such as Ruby. Her senior thesis centers around female authors who have famously and gruesomely ended their own lives which adds an extra layer of funness (a word that should exist) to the psychological thriller within Hansen’s pages. And if you’re not reading too hard, you’ll have a great time.

The Butterfly Sister reads quickly and entertains in a commercial fiction sort of way. The writing is passable if slightly lacking a seasoned quality. Little things bugged me like continuously calling New Orleans the Crescent City. Sometimes sentences didn’t flow very well which I noticed but perhaps others would just fly right past. I also think the first half is much stronger than the conclusion which bordered on convoluted, clunky, and predictable. However, there were enough surprises along the way to adequately hold my interest. I think the biggest flaw might be how utterly forgettable the plot will inevitably be – I’ve already forgotten most of the details. So pick this one up before the long, lazy summer days come to close and you shouldn’t be too disappointed.

Have you read any other beachy gems this summer? Do you like a bit of mystery while you’re sitting pool side?

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Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of The Butterfly Sister in exchange for my honest review. Check out the other tour stops!

About the Author:

downloadA former English teacher, Amy Gail Hansen is a freelance writer and journalist living in suburban Chicago. This is her first novel.

 

 

 

 

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March Meetup: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

16299So I read and reviewed ATTWN last year and was excited for the Litwits to discuss this novel because I sort of expected it to be a hit! And it was. I don’t think a single member was too disappointed. That’s a huge win when you have a very diversified group of literary ladies.

Christie’s page-turning plot was no doubt a leading cause. We talked in depth of how intricately her narrative was plotted – what with all the characters and their layered pasts. Christie also takes great care in how she divulges all the twists and turns (of which there are many) to her readers – never letting them in on a secret too early. For this reason, her killer is next to impossible to suss out. In today’s far too often cookie-cutter mystery, Christie’s shocking reveals really set her among history’s elite whodunnit novelists.

We had fun delving into each character’s gritty back story and their particular reason for being selected among the doomed party. Whether or not they were actually to blame, how they lived with their culpability, and ultimately how crazy they had to have been. The psychological aspects of Christie’s story are so deliciously wrought with morality questions that it’s easy to understand why many readers and high schools across the nation deem her genre novels literary classics.

I think the only bit anyone didn’t agree on was the ending. Some loved Christie’s unveiling of the murderer through the novel’s last chapter – a letter from the actual killer. Others wished they had been left never knowing who was responsible. I was actually genuinely surprised at how many Litwits would have been satisfied without the killer’s identity being revealed!

So we Litwits highly recommend this or any other Christie novel for book clubs or individuals across the globe. We have some Christie aficionados among us who recommend The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Body in the Library. Happy Reading!

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley

6777616Oh, Flavia! How I love you so. I read the first Flavia novel for book club awhile back and fell head over heels in love. Many other members hated her! Something about her quirkiness just reminds me of myself. Not sure why I waited so long to read the second, but I plan on catching up with books 3 and 4 soon.

In Bradley’s second outing, we find Flavia up to her old tricks – chemistry in her lab, riding Gladys all over kingdom come, and finding herself smack dab in the middle of another murder mystery! A famous BBC puppeteer and his lady assistant come to Bishop’s Lacy and mayhem ultimately ensues. I love how random and eccentric Bradley’s topics and characters always are – from stamps to puppets everything you never thought you cared for but love instantly when Flavia’s on the case.

I will admit that the mystery in Hangman’s Bag isn’t nearly as fast-paced or intriguing as Sweetness, but I found myself not caring too much. The mysteries are not why I read these novels – not at all. Flavia, the people of her world, and the kookiness of Bishop’s Lacey is what I love. I could read about this little town watching the grass grow and be enthralled. But I understand how other readers less enamored than myself might find this second installment on the dull side. If you weren’t a fan of the first one, I highly doubt Hangman’s Bag will win you over.

For the Flavia lovers out there, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. More insight in the citizens of Bishop’s Lacey – including loads more gossip and perhaps even a love connection or two! The relationship between Flavia and her sisters is still filled with angst and well…poison! We’re also privy to a wonderful conversation between Flavia and her aunt concerning her mother that was the highlight of the book, in my opinion. I can’t wait to see where Flavia takes us next.

In The Woods by Tana French

237209I borrowed this book from my sister about a year ago with the best of intentions to read it as soon as I could. A year later, I made it happen! And now I want all of French’s other novels ASAP. Such a fun literary mystery reading experience.

I’m sure everyone knows what In The Woods is about by now, but I’ll give a little recap for those who might need one. Basically, in 1984 three children in a Dublin, Ireland suburb are playing in some nearby woods when they don’t return home for dinner. When their parents form a search group, only one of the children (Adam Ryan) is discovered, grasping a tree, blood-filled shoes (not his), and with absolutely no memory of what transpired. The other two children are never found and no one knows what happened to them. Flashforward 20 years and Adam Ryan is all grown up – going by his middle name, Robert, and now a detective on the murder squad. He still doesn’t remember what happened when he was 12 and has spent his life hiding his identity until another 12 year old is found murdered in those same woods. Mystery ensues.

French’s novel is not your typical murder mystery in that the writing is so lush and filled with vivid imagery. The plot, while excellent, wasn’t the only driving element of the story as in so many mass marketed mystery tales. Besides the whodunnit, French weaves a beautiful story centered around Rob and his partner, Cassie, their relationship, and how it’s deeply affected by this particular case they are working. I loved Cassie so much and enjoyed Rob as well – especially as they struggled with the age old question of whether or not men and women can just be close friends without involving emotions and sex.

As for the mystery, I think French did an amazing job plotting the story and creating the perfect pacing. I honestly have a hard time believing this is her debut novel. Before reading, many warned me about how disappointing the ending would be. And no, the ending isn’t happily-ever-after and answers aren’t always found, but that’s life and how the events unfolded felt sincere. So if you are looking for a Hollywood ending, you won’t find it here. Perhaps going in with the warning helped me temper my expectations. At the same time, I do feel a wee-bit frustrated at some of the things we don’t discover, but that frustration didn’t ruin my experience.

I’d also add that the killer was fairly obvious very early on, but I don’t think French meant for it not to be. I think the psychological journey the novel takes in trying to understand the why and the details is far more intriguing than merely who.

I’ve heard the other three novels in this series are even better so I can’t wait to get my hands on copies. For those who have read them all, which is your favorite? Anything you’d like to warn me about going forward? I’m intrigued that the second book is from Cassie’s point-of-view, but excited since I really did like her as the female lead.

 

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

6065182I purchased this book last December or maybe this past January (bad memory) on a whim from bn.com when they were having one of those super end-of-year sales.  It’s a gorgeous brand new hardback, signed edition that cost only $3.  How does such amazingness happen?  Anyway, I’ve watched so many bloggers read and write wonderful things about this novel over the year that I knew I couldn’t end 2012 a Sarah Waters virgin.

The Little Stranger is about an old crumbling mansion and the family that is falling to pieces with it. Mesmerized by Hundreds Hall (the previously mentioned mansion) since childhood, county doctor Faraday begins to insinuate himself into the grand ol’ home and the Ayres family when spooky, unexplained phenomena start to occur.  And that’s all you’re getting!

Waters’s novel is not plot driven and is really meant to be read slowly and savored.  Her prose is lush and lingering.  Reading The Little Stranger is almost like watching a really immersive 3-D film – you feel as if you are literally walking the deteriorating halls of Hundreds, hearing the random knocks and pattering footsteps, and shivering against the windy drafts seeking harbor from the unkempt gardens.  It’s these small hints that add such layered atmosphere and a creepy foreshadowing of certain doom.  Waters has become another novelist I’m sure I’ll never get enough of.

Dr. Faraday, along with the Ayres family (Mrs. Ayres, Caroline, and Roderick) weren’t incredibly likable, but I don’t think the story would have worked any other way.  Feeling that disconnect from the people inhabiting the story left me successfully out-of-balance, adding to the sort of foreign uneasiness of any well done ghost story.  By the novel’s end, I really believe I hated Dr. Faraday more than anyone else and had decided he was far from a reliable narrator.  I have my sincere suspicions about his guilt/blame in the whole fiasco.

Speaking of the end, it’s not entirely satisfying for many readers because you never fully know what happens and there’s lots of room left for debate about who ‘the little stranger’ was all along or even if such a creature existed.  These sorts of open endings intrigue me, however, and I love sitting back for the following few days trying to wrap my brain around all the possibilities.  I like interacting with literature in that way.  It’s a wonder I don’t read more mystery novels.

As a ghost story, The Little Stranger manages decent success especially if you prefer your ghosts without any serious spook factor.  Only once or twice did I fear reading the next few lines (damn those key holes!) and had no problems turning the pages at night in the house all alone.  Instead, I just felt a great sense of longing and decay – a sadness.  Not a bad thing by any means because Waters totally transcends the haunted house genre – delving much more deeply into themes of yearning, holding on to the past, the social class system of 1940s Britain, and the nature of entitlement.

A great book to curl up with during cold, wintry nights!

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

My first Sherlock Holmes!  Completely inspired by my inhaling the BBC’s Sherlock and falling in love with Benedict Cumberbatch.  I immediately picked up the only Holmes story I owned and dug in, only slightly nervous about how well the older, original stories would hold up against the newer BBC version.  I know that’s not really fair since Holmes is a Doyle creation, but all my fears were shortly put to rest!

In The Hound, the Baskerville family has been plagued by a nasty legend involving an almost supernatural hound creature.  If at any time they find themselves out on the Devon moor alone at night, bad things are sure to happen!  When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead just outside his estate’s gate, Sherlock Holmes and his trusty Watson are called in to investigate how Sir Charles met his mysterious end.  Can they figure out the culprit of these seemingly canine murders in time to save the new heir’s life?

Weak plot description, I know.  It’s just that I don’t want to give anything away since half the fun’s in guessing who (or what) dunnit.  I was really worried that Doyle’s original stories wouldn’t hold up well in the modernity of today’s mystery novels, but definitely not the case at all.  The language and prose are both beautiful and simplistic.  In many ways, the story felt incredibly fresh and contemporary, with only the slightly archaic mentions of carriages, cloaks, and telegrams.  But even these dated references didn’t ruin the vivacity of the story – instead they added a coziness and decidedly British feel that was entirely welcome.  I’m actually shocked at how talented a writer Doyle turned out to be – not sure why I should be shocked since his novels have held up so long.

What most surprised me was how little Sherlock Holmes was actually used in this particular story.  Watson definitely takes center stage and never comes off as bumbling (which modern adaptations can sometimes fall victim to).  I thoroughly enjoyed Watson and often never even missed Holmes, but was pleasantly surprised when he showed his lovably arrogant face again.  And Holmes seemed a bit softer and more jovial in Doyle’s text than in the updated scripts of the past few years.  Two very fantastic characters for the price of one!

Honestly, the only thing that holds me back from shouting the highest praise is the book’s inability to keep me guessing very long.  I knew who the killer was quite early on as I suspect most readers will discover as well.  The plot was just a bit too transparent.  Doyle might have had better success if he’d created more characters or suspects, but when the mystery takes place in a nearly deserted moor – things aren’t going to be too complicated.

I do highly recommend fitting some Sherlock Holmes in your busy reading schedules!  Delightful characters, quickly moving mysteries, and atmosphere in spades will keep you turning the pages.  Really want to find a great Holmes collection and read all his stories and novels.  If anyone has any suggestions of a particular volume, please let me know in the comments.  What are your favorite Holmes stories?  Have you seen Sherlock?  Is anyone watching Elementary and enjoying?

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A Classics Club selection!

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

I can’t believe I’ve lived almost three decades and this is only my first run-in with Agatha Christie!  I feel so ashamed!  October seemed like the perfect time to remedy this tragedy and so I picked up And Then There Were None off the TBR shelf.  Such a fun theme read for the Halloween season!

The basic premise involves 10 seemingly random people brought together on Indian Island (a small island off the coast of England).  One by one, the guests begin to die and eventually surmise that the killing must be an inside job due to there being no one else on the island!  The remaining victims are in a race against time to discover the true killer if they are to survive to see the mainland again!  Brilliant.

I don’t know what else can possibly be said about Agatha Christie.  She met all my expectations and more.  Her tale was expertly crafted and I suspected every single character of being the murderer at some point.  And I can guarantee that once the full story is revealed everyone will be pleasantly surprised at how things went down.  Readers will also encounter some fantastically written characters, especially the strong female lead character of Vera – loved her!

And there is so much suspense!  I know a lot of readers might think this book rather tame as compared to modern day slasher flicks, but I honestly preferred reading certain parts of this novel in the daytime rather than the dark of night!  And I love slasher flicks, but well done suspense is timeless.

So if you need a very quick, delightfully spooky Halloween read – please consider And Then There Were None!  I almost want to go back and read it again now knowing the details uncovered at the end of the story.  I can’t wait to read another Christie novel to see how well her other novels stand up to this winner.

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My first Agatha Christie!  Perhaps I should add more to my Classics Club List?

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

I’m fascinated by Louisiana and the New Orleans area – always have been.  There’s just something so uniquely Southern about this part of the country, an almost haunted feeling of past meshing with present that intrigues me so much.  So when I know a story is set there, I absolutely cannot resist.  The Cutting Season, Locke’s second novel, captures the tension of antebellum plantations and modern day perfectly, only enhancing my obsession with the spirit of Louisiana.

Caren Gray has come home again, back to Belle Vie, the plantation where her family spent generations as slaves cutting cane and where she grew up while her mother played cook to the current day owners, the Clancy family.  But now Caren is manager of the property and trying to come to terms with her family’s history and how to reconcile an ugly past with a promising future.  To complicate matters, a migrant field worker is found murdered on Belle Vie’s property and now a killer is on the loose.  Before long, Caren realizes that this present tragedy is all too similar to a past crime against her ancestors.  Can Caren find the killer before someone else gets hurt or an innocent party is thrown in jail?

Attica Locke can write, plain and simple.  I loved settling down in her prose for hour after hour of time more than well spent.  The Cutting Season really transcends any sort of typical murder mystery to become this haunting historical mystery novel full of atmosphere and a strong sense of place.  There’s so much more to care about within these nearly 400 pages besides the whodunnit.  Caren’s relationship with her mother and her own daughter is nuanced and complex.  The bridges and gaps between who we were, who we are, and who we will be are deeply studied and brilliantly realized.  I believe Locke has written a novel worthy of any college classroom that simultaneously satisfies picky plot-driven readers.  I can’t wait to pick up a copy of her first novel – how did I ever miss it to begin with?

I will say that the first third of the novel travels a bit slowly.  Locke spends a hundred or so pages painting a detailed picture of Belle Vie, her characters, and the murky past that will come into play so heavily during the much more quickly paced latter half.  But hang in there and you won’t be disappointed.  And the killer is far from easily spotted.  I suspected multiple shady and not-so-shady characters throughout the pages!  The resolution was so tightly plotted and realistic – these events could so easily happen in real life that it almost felt like really well done narrative nonfiction.  I literally googled the historical facts surrounding the murder case before remembering everything was fiction!

All-in-all, a great read and a perfect selection for October – just the right amount of spookiness and atmosphere for Halloween.  Attica Locke is an author you don’t want to miss out on, I promise!

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Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing the review copy in exchange for my honest review.  Check out the other tour dates here!

Black Water Rising, Attica Locke’s first novel, was shortlisted for the prestigious Orange Prize in the UK in 2010. It was nominated for an Edgar Award, an NAACP Image Award, as well as a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a Strand Magazine Critics Award.Black Water Rising was also a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

Attica Locke has spent many years working as a screenwriter, penning movie and television scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, HBO, and Dreamworks. She was a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmakers Lab and is a graduate of Northwestern University.

A native of Houston, Texas, Attica now lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter. She is a member of the board of directors for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Most recently, she wrote the introduction for the UK publication of Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying. Her second book, The Cutting Season, will be published by HarperCollins / and Dennis Lehane in September 2012.

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman is a hugely famous author that, prior to this book, I had never heard of.  How does this happen?  She was even born in Atlanta, but grew up in Maryland.  That makes us practically cousins!  Turns out, she was a newspaper reporter before she turned author and I think that really shows in her writing style.  Did I mention she’s won nearly every award available to the mystery/crime/thriller novel genre?

And When She Was Good is a standalone novel featuring a suburban madam named Helen/Heloise.  Helen escapes her abusive father only to land in the hands of other not-so-nice men when she’s only a teenager.  To make ends meet, she becomes the darling escort to pimp, Val, where she becomes quite the professional prostitute.  Things get a bit shaky for Helen when she secretly helps the cops put Val behind bars for murder.  Thrust out into the world with very little money and no education, Helen transforms into Heloise and begins her own successful escort service in an upscale suburban neighborhood.  On top of an already risky business, Val acts as her silent partner from jail unaware that Heloise has given birth to their son.  Just when Heloise is getting comfy and a bit complacent, a neighboring suburban madam is found murdered.  Is Heloise next?

Lippman chooses the age-old dual narrative to tell Helen/Heloise’s story.  As we follow Heloise through her present day struggles and a sense of impending doom, every other chapter revisits her very unfortunate past as the sweet, smart Helen and focuses on how such a good girl could end up so far away from decency.  Normally, I’m not much for this narrative device, but Lippman’s obvious talent and ability help the two plots flow almost seamlessly throughout the novel.  And while I did tend to favor the Helen narrative, it never overshadowed the modern day story line.

What I loved most about And When She Was Good was being on the inside of the prostitution business.  So intriguing and page turning in and of itself.  The seedy underbelly of society is always so fascinating and I felt like Lippman had really done her research.  The details were superb and felt so true to life.  And despite such a typically shameful professional, Heloise and her girls aren’t the stereotypical prostitutes you come to expect.  They are hardworking women trying to support themselves with jobs that they are very good at.  Heloise runs her business strictly, professionally, and as safely as possible.  You come to respect her business savvy immensely.

A couple of things didn’t work so well for me.  First, I’m not sure what genre this novel fits into.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one for pigeon-holding anything into a neat and tidy box.  But I felt that this novel is being marketed as a mystery which is very misleading to me.  I guess there is a small mystery, but honestly, I knew who was behind everything from the get-go and I can’t imagine any other reader not figuring everything out early on either.  I’ve also seen the crime thriller catchphrase tossed around as well.  But again, I never felt on the edge of my seat.  To me,  And When She Was Good felt like a fictional memoir that highlighted the escort profession – the positives and the potential negatives.  And obviously, this blip is no fault of Lippman’s.

Lippman’s prose also threw me for a loop a couple times.  Sometimes she transitioned between characters or story sequences in one sentence rather abruptly.  I’d feel a bit lost and have to reread things over and over to figure out what had happened.  This issue could be entirely personal to my own  reading comprehension flaws, but it happened more than once throughout the book.  Just could have used some additional editing in my opinion, but nothing so bad that my reading experience was ruined.

I definitely recommend And When She Was Good to fans of Lippman and anyone else wanting to give her a try.  The plot is fascinating, the pacing page-turning, and the subject illuminating.  Great female characters that will challenge your preconceived notions and leave you with a strong sense of satisfaction when the last word is read.

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About the Author:  Laura Lippman grew up in Baltimore and returned to her hometown in 1989 to work as a journalist. After writing seven books while still a full-time reporter, she left the Baltimore Sun to focus on fiction. The author of two New York Times bestsellers, What the Dead Knowand Another Thing to Fall, she has won numerous awards for her work, including the Edgar, Quill, Anthony, Nero Wolfe, Agatha, Gumshoe, Barry, and Macavity.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for providing me with a free copy in exchange for my honest review! Don’t forget to check out the other blog stops here!