Book Review: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James


The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

In the 1950s, Idlewild Hall in rural Vermont was a place where families sent daughters they’d rather forget. The residents of the boarding school are illegitimate, traumatized, criminal. But the school may be haunted by more than bad memories; a spirit called Mary Hand is said to stalk the halls, and four roommates, bonded over shared misery, will face the spirits of Idlewild when one of them disappears.

Meanwhile, in 2014, a local journalist is shocked to hear that long-abandoned Idlewild Hall is being restored. Her own obsession with the overgrown and forgotten school started when her sister’s body was discovered on the grounds twenty years earlier. As she begins to dig into the history of the school, she finds old mysteries entwined with new, and a growing sense that something haunts the grounds of the old school.

This was a wonderful mystery story with a supernatural twist. St. James weaves her narrative between 1950 and 2014, slowly parsing out information and clues to the reader. The book is atmospheric; the boarding school exudes a palpable sense of menace and despair. Fiona Sheridan, the journalist, and the four roommates from 1950 are well-written, with the young students quickly becoming characters to care about and fear for. 

The supernatural elements of the story are well done, and fit organically into the plot. Who, or what, Mary Hand may be is dangled in front of the reader, but largely kept teasingly out of reach until the very end.

In all, this is a wonderfully satisfying mystery that avoids the pitfalls of the mystery thriller genre. Anyone who wants a ghost story mixed in with their mystery will enjoy this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: The Man Upon the Stair by Gary Inbinder

The Man Upon the Stair by Gary Inbinder

This is the third book in Inbinder’s Inspector Lefebvre series. There’s probably going to be spoilers for the first two books here. The good news is that while it is definitely better to read the books as a series, you could probably read this book as a standalone without too much trouble.


Achille Lefebvre has just been promoted to Chief Inspector following his successful foiling of an anarchist plot to assassinate a high ranking foreign offical with a new type of bomb. When the bomber meets his fate at the guillotine, Lefebvre is told that his compatriots have targeted him for revenge. In the midst of this, a high ranking member of the aristocracy, Baron de Livet has gone missing. Trying to uncover the Baron’s fate, Lefebvre uncovers easy connections between his missing person and the Russian government. As the conspiracy grows deeper, Lefebvre must use all his considerable intelligence and skills to safeguard himself and his family, and to prevent an international incident.

I received all three Inspector Lefebvre books as a bundle, and powered through the series in a matter of days. These books are entertaining historical mysteries, featuring an intelligent, forward-looking detective, intelligent women (good and evil), fascinating historical detail, and cameos by famous (real) historical figures. Inbinder provides us with enticing mysteries, and a cast of characters to root for and against. I loved how carefully Inbinder used historical details to firmly plant his stories in realistic ground.

The Man Upon the Stair combines historical mystery with political thriller. International intrigue and good old fashioned murder combine to set teetering a nation (and continent) already on the brink of war. The story is richly detailed and beautifully woven. Inbinder is clearly passionate about his subject and that enthusiasm shows through in his stories.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley


Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

The first book in the Kat Holloway mystery series introduces us to our heroine; a Victorian-era cook with secrets in her past that leave her teetering on the fine edge of respectability. After starting a new position as cook for a wealthy and influential London family, Kat’s professional life takes a blow when her young assistant is brutally murdered. With the help of her long-time friend (and mysterious the secret-agent type), Daniel McAdam, Kat vows to uncover the truth about what happened to the young woman. As the plot thickens, the scope of the crime continues to grow, until even Queen Victoria placed at risk.

I love a good period mystery. Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery Series is a perennial favorite. Seeing the typical Victorian mystery through the eyes of a cook (generally depicted as tyrants or foils) also promised to be interesting and novel. And in general, Death Below Stairs delivered on its 19th century promises. Kat Holloway is intelligent but not perfect, Daniel McAdam is mysterious and reserved, and the supporting cast of characters is eccentric and entertaining.

However, I do have to say that this book doesn’t read like the first in a series. There is a lot of backstory, especially with Kat and McAdam, that is mentioned but not explained. Past events are referenced obliquely and little detail is given. I assume that a lot of this will be fleshed out in future books, so no harm done, but the book feels more like jumping in at book four or five than starting fresh. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I’m glad the author has fleshed out her characters to this extent, but I did have to check multiple times that this was indeed the start of a series. 

Nevertheless, fans of period mysteries, especially Victoeian-era mysteries, will probably enjoy this book a great deal. This a well-crafted mystery, perfect for consuming over the course of a chilly gray afternoon.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber

this side of murder

This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber

After the end of World War I, Verity Kent is on her way to a house party celebrating the engagement of one of her late husband’s friends. Normally Verity prefers to be alone in her grief, but a mysterious message arrives, alleging that her husband, who died in battle on the fields of France, was actually a traitor to Great Britain. The letter hints that answers will be found at the party, and so Verity, who worked for the Secret Service during the war, sets off to find out the truth of her husband’s death. Once on isolated Umbersea Island, however, Verity finds that most of the party guests are potential suspects. When several guests are die mysteriously, it seems that someone will go to any lengths to keep the facts secret, and Verity must race against time to uncover the murderer’s identity before she is targeted next.

This was a great little period mystery. Verity Kent is an intelligent, determined, traumatized woman, who despite her losses in the war, is determined to continue to live her own life and defend the reputation of her dead husband. The isolated island provides a nice little “locked room” aspect to the mystery, ensuring that those on the island are unable to get help, and are indeed trapped with a murderer. Huber does a wonderful job with Verity, and the interactions between her characters are top notch. There are the requisite twists, turns, and red herrings, but I have to say that I did not anticipate how the book would end.

Fans of period mysteries, such as the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Windspear, and classical mysteries like Agatha Christie‘s novels should find a lot to love in this new mystery series. Huber has delivered up a classically intriguing story, and a fantastic new heroine.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review and GIVEAWAY!!! Bloodstains with Brönte by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Bloodstains with Brönte by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Giveaway details are at the end of my review!

Fair warning, this is the second book on the Crimes with the Classics series, so expect spoilers below for the first book. But good news! You can read this book and have fun without reading the previous book. 

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Okay, so this book finds Emily Cavanagh in the midst of renovations to turn the mansion she inherited from her murdered aunt into a writer’s retreat. Unfortunately, Emily’s ward, Katie, seems to have a horrible past with one of the workers, and the other seems to have developed an unhealthy obsession for the young woman. When one of the young men turns up dead at a murder-mystery fundraiser at Emily’s house, Katie becomes the primary suspect. With tensions running high and the dreary winter storms setting in, Emily must uncover the truth if she’s to save her young friend. 

I like a cozy mystery every now and then. A nice bit of fiction to consume in an autumn afternoon. Bloodstains with Brönte fit the bill perfectly. You have a quirky, independent woman pulled unexpectedly into crime solving, a small town with a crazy high murder per capita rate, a great setting in an antique house replete with hidden staircases and dark corners, and colorful local townsfolk to provide a plethora of red herrings for our heroine to follow.

My one complaint is with Emily herself. I expect my detectives to be flawed, and no mystery novel would be complete without pointing the finger at the wrong person once or twice, but midway through the book, Emily completely abandons all logic (it’s actually stated that “He might have reason on his side, but affection trumped reason in her book.”) in the face of Katie’s possible guilt. I’m all for sticking up for friends and family, but I prefer my amateur detectives to be a bit less willing to divorce their investigation from the facts. Fortunately, Emily eventually comes around, and the book continues on in a more satisfying way, but come on.

So cozy mystery lovers and fans of Louise Penny take note. Despite its flaws, this is a fun little tea cake of a mystery series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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Giveaway Details: 

Enter for a chance to win a finished copy of this book! (US only, sorry)

How to Enter:

Like and comment on this post for one entry

You can get bonus entries by following and liking the giveaway post on my Instagram page (@irregularreader) and by following me on Twitter (@readirregular) and retweeting the giveaway post. 

A winner will be randomly selected on December 20th, 2017. The book will be mailed directly from the publisher!

You know you want a free book for the holiday season!

Book Review: White Bodies by Jane Robins

White Bodies by Jane Robins

Callie and Tilda are twins, though they couldn’t be more different. Tilda is beautiful, outgoing, and a successful actress. Callie is quiet and introverted, and worships the ground her sister walks on. When Tilda becomes involved with successful stockbroker Felix, Callie is at first happy that her sister has found someone so perfect. But after Tilda starts behaving oddly, and displaying mysterious bruises, Callie begins to worry that Felix is dangerous. Getting drawn into an internet site for abused women, Callie becomes more and more obsessed with revealing the truth about Felix. But as the foundations of Callie’s concern begin to shift and crumble, can her perceptions be trusted?

I am now in full-fledged psychological thriller burnout. I have to admit that I feel a bit more justified in my feelings on the subject after reading Emily Martin’s article on Bookriot entitled “Why We Should Stop Searching for the Next Gone Girl” (warning: spoilers for Gone Girls, The Couple Next Door, and The Girl on the Train). Martin makes the point that in the rush to achieve to runaway success Gillian Flynn did with Gone Girl, folks have been cranking out similar stories, each trying on their own brand of mental illness to up the suspense. However, as much as Amy Dunne was a psychopathic bitch, her flaws and intelligence made her a complex and compelling (if horrible) character. As Emily Martin points out in her article, Flynn was able to give us a leading female character who was pretty much unlikeable in every way.

The inevitable consequence of Flynn’s success, according to Martin

. . . is a new and equally problematic female character archetype – the unwieldy off-the-rails woman. This woman is not any more complicated than the “strong female character.” Her craziness is not a personality, and her bouts of insanity that not even she can control allow for absolutely any twist possible that the writer wants to imagine.

And with this, I can finally put my finger on what has been bugging me about this genre recently. None of the recent protagonists of these books have been more complex than their mental illness. And while our current protagonist, Callie, is probably the weirdest I’ve seen yet, simply being crazy does not a compelling character make.

The books also by necessity rely heavily on inevitable plot twist(s), and this one is no exception. The problem is, that while reading these books (much like watching an M. Night Shyamalan movie) we are looking into every crevice and casually uttered word for said twist. With that amount of scrutiny, any surprises the plot might hold are going to be guessed long before the climax; if not from the evidence at hand, then simply by trying to think of ways to make the ending more shocking.

I apologize that this review is less about White Bodies specifically and more about the genre as a whole, but the field is crowded at the moment, and it takes a truly remarkable talent to separate oneself from the pack. White Bodies, unfortunately, does not do this. Callie is simply one more protagonist who’s mental illness is used to facilitate contortions of the plot.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Atwelle Confession by Joel Gordonson


The Atwelle Confession by Joel Gordonson

There’s something odd about St. Clements church in Atwelle, Cambridge researcher Margeaux Wood can feel it. When odd gargoyles are found carved into the eaves of the church during its restoration, her hunch seems to be confirmed. Teaming up with Don Whiby, the architect in charge of the restorations, Margeaux sets out to uncover the story behind the unique carvings. But then there is a murder, and soon another, and the pattern of the murders seems to echo the mysterious carvings in the eves. Furthermore, these murders seem to echo similar crimes committed during the reign of Henry VIII . . .

I really liked the concept of this book. The interplay between Tudor England and modern times was well done. Gordonson gives the reader a wealth of historical detail to work with, and I found the balancing act played by both church officials and highly placed citizenry during Henry VIII’s conflict with the Vatican to be truly fascinating. The mystery itself is original and interesting.

That being said, I found the execution of the book to be somewhat wanting. The characters of Margeaux and Don, and others central to the plot, feel a bit unfinished. There is little to the characters beyond the immediate needs of the story, nothing about wants, desires, or dreams beyond the gargoyles in the church. Additionally, the antagonists seem to have little motivation for being such. They are acting to foil or to harm our protagonists, yes, but why?

There are some nicely suspenseful scenes in this book, with a good creep factor to boot. But I did find that several opportunities for suspense were passed by, possibly to increase the pace of the book. The plot does move quickly, but occasionally feels like it’s stampeding along, sacrificing plot and character development in the process.

I guess my overall impression is one of haste. The plot gallops along, leaving us with quick glimpses of something fascinating. Taking the time to give the reader a bit more to work with, to flesh out the characters, the world they live in, and the (really quite interesting) central mystery would have given this book real punch.

In all, this is a fantastic idea, with a great amount of attention paid to historical detail. Gordonson is certainly able to craft a compelling story. But I feel that as written, we are seeing only the bare bones of a great story.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: I am Providence by Nick Mamatas

I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Colleen Danzig is an aspiring writer of Lovecraftian fiction. While attending the biggest gathering for Lovecraftian literary types: The Summer Tentacular in Providence, Rhode Island, she finds the hardcore fans more than a little off-putting. When her roommate–a widely admired and equally despised writer named Panossian–is murdered and his face surgically removed, Colleen finds that she is the only one who seems to care about Panossian’s death. Deciding to start her own investigation, she delves into the underbelly of the Lovecraftian fandom, a place where racism and sexism merge with mystical thinking, and more than one convention goer seems to be searching for a book bound in human skin . . .

This is a meta-fiction, a Lovecraft book about Lovecraft folks. There are no cosmic horrors here, though, just the banal horror of truly terrible people. I do like the split narrative between the well-meaning and frustrated Colleen and the dead, decomposing, but still conscious Panossian, which did give the book a touch of Lovecraftian horror. the tone of the book is bitter and snarky, focusing on the trouble that arises when you have too many socially-backward folks in one place. Despite the occasionally sour-grapes-esque tone, Mamatas does bring forward some legitimate problems both with Lovecraft himself and with a subset of his fans (see previous: racism, sexism, etc.).

The plot of the book stumbles at times, switching viewpoints or segueing with little warning. In addition, the various secondary characters tend to be a bit one dimensional, which occasionally makes it difficult to keep these players straight.

The book is quite funny at times, but I would recommend it more for the serious Lovecraft fan, and not a casual reader.

Book Review: The Night Bird by Brian Freeman


The Night Bird by Brian Freeman

Sitting in traffic on the San Francisco Bay Bridge, a young woman has a sudden, violent mental breakdown. Tearing the flesh of her arms, torso, and face, she appears to be running from some invisible horror when she throws herself off the bridge.

And she is not the first. Detective Frost Easton is heading the investigation of similar deaths in the city, all with one common thread: Psychiatrist Dr. Francesca Stein. Dr. Stein’s controversial methods of helping highly phobic patients seem to be falling apart, unless someone is out there, targeting her former patients in a twisted attack. When Dr. Stein begins to receive taunting messages signed by “The Night Bird,” the clock is ticking for her and Easton to find the psychopath before more people die . . .

This is an enjoyable and fast-paced mystery. I greatly enjoyed the use the author made of the fragility of memory and the power of suggestion. The beginning (after the fantastic first casualty) was a bit awkward and stilted, but Freeman quickly finds his voice. Some aspects of the plot and the characters are a bit out there, but that may well be attributable to the story being set in proudly weird San Francisco.

In all, I enjoyed this book, some parts were genuinely creepy, and the requisite plot twists included several I didn’t see coming. Fans of darker mysteries will probably enjoy this novel, it’s not quite as violent or as twisted as a Jefferey Deaver book, but feels similar.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

This is the 7th book featuring Gardner’s profiler pair, Quincy and Rainie. In case it isn’t obvious, there will likely be spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the other books. Additional caveat: I have not read the previous books in the series, but I was not lost, you can definitely read this book as a standalone if you wish.

The book begins from the point of view of a young boy. Telly loves his little sister, Sharlah, and will do anything to protect her from his drug addicted, abusive parents. One night, Telly’s father goes into a drug-fueled rampage, and Telly is forced to kill him to save himself and his sister.

Fast forward eight years and Sharlah is the foster daughter of Quincy and Rainie, ex-profilers and now private sector consultants. She hasn’t seen or had any contact with her brother since the night of their parent’s deaths. Then a simple “shots fired” call turns into a murder spree, and it seems like Sharlah’s older brother may be the gunman. As Quincy and Rainie are called into the case, Sharlah is forced to face the possibility that her brother may have always been a monster.

I enjoyed this dark thriller. Even without having read the previous books, it was easy to slip into the world of the primary characters. The subject matter is dark but well written, and while the plot seems to be straightforward at first, ample twists and turns will keep you interested. What I most liked was the intelligence of the Quincy and Rainie duo. You know all those niggling little details that occur in every mystery? The ones where you stop and go “Wait, that isn’t quite right,” well, those little things occur here as well, but (rather uniquely in my opinion) those little inconsistencies are picked up on by the protagonists. rather than being used as gotcha fuel later on in the book, those random little details are actually used to further the plot. More authors should make that attempt.

Fans of Jeffery Deaver or Lisa Unger will probably like this book, and I would think that if you’ve been following series thus far, this should be a no-brainer.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Right Behind You will be available for purchase on January 31st, 2017.