The Mother by J.E. Clarkson

4 stars

The cigarette smoking detective Kate Monroe is back on the scene, investigating a serial killer in this sequel to The Lamb. The book takes us right back to Barnsworth, where Monroe and Halifax are pulled back in with fresh murders, one of which might be the new girlfriend of Monroe’s ex-husband.

The Mother: A Detective Kate Monroe Crime Thriller displayed on an iPad.
The Mother by J.E. Clarkson

I adored that Clarkson included a glossary of characters in the front of the book. As someone who has read several books since reading the first installment in this series, I appreciated the refresher on the cast of characters. I was also glad to get an answer to a major item that the first book left unresolved.

Clarkson’s distinctive writing style is present in this fast-moving tale, which can be consumed in a single sitting or savored at a slower pace. Again, I was able to add a few new British colloquialisms to my vocabulary, which is always fun.

Reading this respectable follow-up to The Lamb reinforced my love for J.E. Clarkson as an author and for Kate Monroe as a character. I continue to be a dedicated Clarkson fan and intend to keep auto-buying all of her new releases.

My review of The Lamb: https://bookpicksandpics.com/2021/12/11/the-lamb-by-j-e-clarkson/

To read my reviews of all of J.E. Clarkson’s books, browse her category on my blog.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

3 stars

In this novel, Marie Benedict hypothesizes about what happened during Agatha Christie’s most famous unsolved mystery, her own 11-day disappearance. 

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The book alternates between Agatha’s life when she first met and married Archie Christie and each day of her disappearance. In many ways, Archie Christie was the main character of this historical fiction work, and the portrait Benedict paints of Colonel Christie isn’t a flattering one. He comes across as demanding, domineering, and narcissistic, with all of Agatha’s actions centered on him.

It was interesting to read this book so soon after reading The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont. While the books cover the same time period, the two fictional accounts are very different. I’d give de Gramont an edge in the writing – her prose was more captivating than Benedict’s flatter style. 

However, de Gramont definitely took a lot more creative license in her story. Benedict’s account was much more believable and seemed much closer to what could have actually happened. 

Both portray Agatha as a strong, talented woman but in different ways. The Mystery of Mrs. Christie deals more with her relationship with her mother and sister, her affection for her daughter, and the pressure she felt to be the perfect wife. For most of the book, The Christie Affair portrays her as a colder, more career-oriented person who seems ambivalent toward her daughter.

My full review of The Christie Affair is linked below: https://bookpicksandpics.com/2022/04/03/the-christie-affair-by-nina-de-gramont/

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont

4 stars

The cover of The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont.
The Christie Affair

I picked up The Christie Affair because it is my book club’s pick this month. A historical fiction work, the novel imagines what happened during Agatha Christie’s brief, unexplained disappearance. 

Told from the point of view of Nan O’Dea, Archie Christie’s mistress, the story opens with a glimpse into O’Dea’s past and jumps to the present, a few days before Agatha vanishes. The story alternates back and forth between the two time periods, weaving in a lot of grief, heartbreak, and intrigue along the way.

The author’s explanation behind why the famous author disappeared is both fascinating and moving, though some of the events seemed a little far-fetched. The lovely prose, shrewd observations about humans, and a surprising take on the relationship between Nan and Agatha helped me look past some of the implausible moments. 

“I hadn’t learned yet. In this world, it’s the obedient girls who are most in danger.”

The Christie Affair

One of the lines that resonated with me in the book was, “I hadn’t learned yet. In this world, it’s the obedient girls who are most in danger.” I think every woman wonders at some point whether following the rules is going to be her downfall in the end.

Overall, this was a pleasant, well-written read that has me wanting to learn more about Agatha Christie. In fact, I’ve started to read The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, which is Marie Benedict’s take on the unsolved mystery of Agatha Christie’s 11-day disappearance. It will be interesting to compare the two novels once I’ve finished.

Are you an Agatha Christie fan? Have you read either of these books attempting to explain her disappearance?

The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

4 out of 5 stars

A paperback of The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish on a gray blanket with silver stars. A cloth tapestry bookmark is placed in the book.
The Other Passenger by
Louise Candlish

James “Jamie” Buckby and Clare, his wealthy partner of 10 years, start hanging out with a younger couple Kit Roper and his girlfriend, Melia. Kit and Jamie commute back and forth from work together on the ferry, and Clare and Melia know each other from working at the same real estate firm. 

On one of their last commutes home before the Christmas holiday, Jamie and Kit get in a heated argument. Kit doesn’t make it on the boat the next day. Police question Jamie as the last person who saw Kit before his disappearance, suggesting that an anonymous passenger tipped them off about the fight. 

Set in London, this commuter thriller starts slowly, takes several turns round the bend, and picks up speed as we reach our final destination. Although there were some expected tropes in this character driven crime drama, there were a few twists that I didn’t see coming. Generational divides and economic differences play an interesting role in the conflict. Envy over youth and money shape the choices that the characters make.

The writing is compelling and features the atmospheric language I’ve come to associate with Candlish. I like how Candlish subtly used song titles and bits of lyrics to help set the mood, and in some cases, foreshadow events to come. 

The book also weaves in some commentary on technology, noting that “privacy [is] a setting now, not a human right.” Jamie also makes an astute observation about smart phones: “What power these things have, as if words lit on a screen are more significant than those produced by the human voice.”

Overall, I thought The Other Passenger was worth the read. I will be adding Candlish to my list of must read authors.

My review of Louise Candlish’s newest book, The Heights, can be found here.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

4 stars

“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes we have no clue, yet we push it just the same.”

Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why
Cover of the book Thirteen Reasons Why

In Thirteen Reasons Why, Hannah Baker is a high school student who commits suicide. Before she dies, she creates a series of tapes outlining what led up to her decision and makes arrangements for them to be sent to the people who played a role.

The author used the tapes to create a unique storytelling structure. Readers get the perspective of Clay Jensen, a guy who worked with Hannah and had a crush on her, as he listens to the tapes and reacts to what he hears. 

This structure was creative and it added to the suspense. However, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish whether I was reading Hannah’s voice or Clay’s thoughts. I needed more than italics to keep the two perspectives straight. I felt that Clay’s perspective could have been more distinctive.

I’ve read other reviews that have criticized Hannah’s character for being self-absorbed or vindictive or questioning whether what happened to her was enough to cause her to make the choices she did. (Personally, I thought she endured a lot at a young age). But, to me, judgments about Hannah and her reasons miss the point of the book. This story is about how the choices we make and what we say or don’t say can have a profound effect on someone else.

The book isn’t perfect, but it provokes discussion. I admire the author for tackling a difficult subject that isn’t discussed enough and for creating a memorable story that makes us think about our impact on each other. 

The story as a whole reminds the reader, “When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life.”

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

3 stars

A hand holding up the book A Good Girl's Guide to Murder.

Everyone has been talking about this Holly Jackson series featuring a smart, driven young woman as the main character. I love books with strong women, so I decided to give it a try.

In this first book in this young adult (YA) mystery series, high school student Pip Fitz-Amobi decides to investigate a 5-year-old murder for her senior project.

As someone who thrived off Nancy Drew books as a kid, I was completely drawn in by the premise of a modern-day teenage sleuth. One of my favorite elements of this book is the way Pip’s research notes and interview transcripts are incorporated. I was worried at first that these would be distracting but found myself enjoying them even more than the traditional narrative parts of the book. 

The biggest drawbacks of this otherwise enjoyable book for me were the high-risk situations that Pip naively gets herself into and the big leaps that she makes in the last third of the book. The mom in me was in a constant state of concern and disbelief.

There were a few points where I just couldn’t buy that this seemingly sheltered teen was able to outsmart some pretty devious individuals in her first investigation. 

Even with these flaws, I am likely to read the next book in this series, where I hope to see more sides to Pip’s character. I am also interested to see what becomes of her partnership with Ravi.

Crickets by Lee Chappel

4 out of 5 stars

An ipad displaying the cover of the book Crickets. The ipad is laying on a black and white plaid blanket.

After reporting a rape, Kara Peterson leaves her hometown of Paige, Ohio, and never looks back. However, when her father dies unexpectedly 10 years later, she returns home and is confronted with fresh taunts and memories she wanted to leave behind.

This is a suspenseful page-turner – I read it all in a day because I couldn’t wait to find out who or what was haunting Kara. From panic attacks to seeking comfort from her childhood best friend, Brent, the author does a good job capturing the dizzying mix of emotions Kara feels being back home for a funeral.

As someone who grew up in a small town, the sense of place the book establishes is on point. I could really relate to the scenes where Kara had to make small talk with former acquaintances.

I wasn’t completely shocked by the ending, but there was enough mystery to hold my attention and make me see if my late building suspicions were correct.

In my opinion, this book is a hidden gem that I’d recommend to anyone looking for a good mystery/suspense story.

Thank you to the publisher, Bleau Press, for providing a free e-review copy. All opinions are my own.

The e-book, paperback, and hardcover editions of Crickets are available on Amazon.

What hidden gems have you read this year?

Walking on Thin Ice by Robert Burns

An ipad mini displaying the cover of "Walking on Thin Ice" by Robert Burns. The device is laying on a black and white plaid blanket.

Walking on Thin Ice centers on Rachel Drucker, a rookie traffic reporter trying to get her big break by investigating the unsolved kidnapping and presumed murder of Julia Brown. The case is significant to Rachel because it was a case that her detective father was never able to solve and it plagued him up until his death.

The book opens with a scene from the day little Julia was kidnapped and I was immediately hooked. I wanted to know what happened to her. 

I connected with Rachel’s drive and passion. Her voice and personality were well developed. Burns writes the scenes between Rachel and her father in a way that the reader is able to feel her emotions. His deft use of pacing helps convey Rachel’s mental state at various points in the story.

I also appreciated the awake/asleep story structure used throughout most of the book. Using lucid dreaming to solve a cold case is a unique twist in a classic murder mystery/thriller story that I haven’t encountered before. It worked for me. We have all been in Rachel’s shoes, trying to decipher what is real after a particularly vivid dream. 

This mystery/thriller kept me guessing until the very end. This is a great debut book and I hope we will see more novels from Burns.

Walking on Thin Ice is available on Amazon in digital and paperback formats.

Note: I was a beta reader for an earlier draft of this book.

The Heights by Louise Candlish

I have such mixed feelings about this slow-burning thriller about obsessive, all-consuming hate and the quest for revenge.  

I’ll start with the best parts. The writing is impeccable. The descriptions really paint a picture of the setting without being overly ornate. The dialogue was well done, as was the pacing. Even though some parts are slower than others, I was never bored nor sure of what was coming next. I also appreciated how the story was woven together, starting with Ellen’s perspective, switching to Vic’s, and interspersing snippets from Ellen’s book.

The characters are what didn’t work as well for me. All of the characters either came across as unreliable or one-dimensional. Ellen’s portrayal was the most challenging for me. As a mother myself, I wanted so much to be able to relate to Ellen, but from the start, something seemed off about her. Vic’s chapters do add insight, but I never could connect with her. I think it was because I never could quite envision her as a loving mother to Lucas and Freya, even before the events that take place that destroy her.

Overall, I would recommend this book and this author. I have wanted to read one of Candlish’s books for some time now and, for the most part, the writing and storytelling lived up to the hype.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a free e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.

The Lamb by J.E. Clarkson

4 out of 5 stars

“She’d learned long ago that people only see what they want to see and they talk themselves out of being suspicious, even if they have a very good reason to be.”

The Lamb, J.E. Clarkson

Who can resist a good suspense story? I’ve been reading a lot of sci-fi novels lately and wanted a change of pace with a good mystery/thriller. J.E. Clarkson’s “The Lamb” fit the bill. 

The Lamb is the first installment in a  series featuring detective Kate Monroe. Fresh off a breakup with a jazz musician, Monroe has just moved back to her hometown of Barnsworth when a disappearance occurs. Monroe is compelled to investigate. 

While the story relies on a few staples of murder mysteries, such as cryptic anonymous letters, it has several twists. Readers are quickly taken from the disappearance of the sleazy town councillor and catapulted into a full-fledged serial killer drama.

I didn’t guess the identity of the killer, which I always appreciate in a murder mystery. I also learned a few new words, such as summat (British slang for something) and dodgems (British for bumper car). Learning something new is one of my favorite things about reading.

The unconventional, Russian-cigarette smoking Monroe was an interesting enough lead character that I’d read another book in a series headlined by her. With short, fast-moving chapters and just enough detail, I appreciated Clarkson’s oblique writing style.

I look forward to reading other books by this author.