Airs and Graces

Written by Roz Southey

Peel: A historical murder mystery with a touch of the paranormal; it is apart of the Charles Patterson mysteries. A seemingly open-and-shut case, with a girl murdering most of her family to escape back to London, quickly becomes tangled upon investigation.

To begin with, I have not read the other Charles Patterson mysteries. I still found the novel enjoyable, but would recommend others to begin with the first book. How the Patterson universe works in relation to other worlds and spirits for example, took me by surprise but was still simple enough to follow. The chapters also started with amusing lines from letters between two, unknown to me, characters.

The first chapter is a mere six pages, and it pulls the reader straight into the book with a heavy dose of suspense. Southey does a lovely job at building up the plot, and giving little details so one may try and solve this mystery. Between all the twists and turns the novel takes, it’s not obvious who the murderer is but it’s still possible to piece it together. The chapters themselves tended to be pretty short, and between that and the suspense the novel read rather quickly. I found this book rather hard to put down, and finished it in one read.

On the other hand, I don’t particularly like the idea of being able to talk to spirits and ask them to recount events. To me, that seems like cheating. I would have greatly preferred the novel without any jumping between worlds and speaking with the dead.

Nibble: “The English are never in error. At least, that’s what they tell me.”

I would recommend this to anyone interested in a quirky murder mystery.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 shimmering silver apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from Severn House.

Roz Southey’s Site

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The Ely Testament

Written by Philip Gooden

Peel: A murder mystery set in the nineteen hundreds with a side story set in the seventeen hundreds. The main story focuses on a Mr. Lye, a partner in a law firm, who may have died without writing a will. Tom goes off to investigate, and his host, Mr. Lye’s brother, is arrested for murder and the mystery begins.

There was some lovely imagery, especially in describing architecture. There were many characters in this mystery that opened up many possibilities for what may have happened. Unfortunately the author tended to close doors off rather quickly, instead of allowing the reader to build up any pet theories. The side story keeps up suspense while the main develops slowly, and one gets to imagine possible connections between the two.

I prefer my mysteries to have a rather intelligent protagonist, so that one must actively think to figure out the mystery. I found many connections stated bluntly, that I would have liked to establish and mull over. I didn’t find the characters that likable, and the only likable one, Helen, was flawless and had every male chasing after her. Though there is a melodramatic twist at the end, the killer’s identity could be figured out via process of elimination. All in all the book was written well, but not my cup of tea.

Nibble: “Mute was a first-rate pseudonym for a contributor to the magazine since it not only described a paid mourner at a funeral but also had a tinge of mystery to it.”

I would recommend this to someone who wants a lazy Sunday mystery.

My Rating: 5 out of 10 misplaced scarlet apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from Severn House.

Philip Gooden’s Site

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In the Flesh

Written by Portia Da Costa

Peel: Beatrice posed for some nude photographs that got leaked to the public, destroying any chance of her receiving a respectable marriage proposal. Her brother has gambled away their money, and things are looking rather grim for Beatrice. Ritchie, a wealthy and powerful man, happens across the photos and decides he must have her.

The book is a lovely combination of historical romance and erotica. The author keeps the two well balanced, and doesn’t unrealistically dive into either too soon. In the beginning there’s a gentle building of anticipation and suspense, while the characters become more rounded. Beatrice’s character is quite likable, she also lacks any major flaws, and throughout the book is treated like a queen. The author also uses some gorgeous imagery, and never breaks away from the time period. The book is around three hundred and eighty pages, but between the plot and dialog feels much shorter. Most gender and sexuality roles are traditional, though there is a polyamorous couple to mix things up.

Throughout the story Ritchie seems to always know what Beatrice is thinking. It happened a few too many times for me, and made his character less realistic.

Nibble: “…she almost purred into his mouth like a plump and lazy kitten accepting his affection…”

I would recommend this to anyone who would like some plot to go with their erotica and romance.

My rating: 9 out of 10 sumptuous red apples

I received an advanced free copy of this book from the publishers, Harlequin,via NetGalley.

Portia Da Costa’s Site

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Bloody Chester

Written by J.T. Petty, Illustrated by Hilary Florido & Colored by Hilary Sycamore

Peel: In this graphic novel, Chester’s hired to burn down an empty town with a superstitious backstory. 

The plot line moves quickly following Chester, or Lady Kate, on an adventure in the old, unromanticized, west. This is certainly a different take on the cowboys versus indians trope. The plot alone was very gripping and there’s an unexpected twist towards the end. Though none of the characters are particularly reliable or likable, they’re all very interesting to watch interact. Chester is especially interesting, as I found myself rooting for him even after he made bad decision after bad decision.

This was labeled for ages fourteen and up, which seems pretty low for the amount of violence, adult implications, ethnic slurs and swears. The art unfortunately wasn’t that great, and didn’t enrich the story at all. There may be different lettering in the final copy, but the one I received was typed rather than handwritten and in all capital letters. This is one of the few graphic novels I’ve read that would have been better as just a novel.

Nibble: “Only been here a month, but I’ve seen you take more beatings than a whore’s bed.”

I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read a gripping creepy tale, and doesn’t mind disliking the protagonist.

My Rating: 4 out of 10 dusty golden apples

I received an advanced free copy of this book from the publishers, First Second,via NetGalley.

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A Waltz at Midnight

Written by Crista McHugh

Peel: A woman receives a completely unromantic letter from a potential suitor, and turns to her servant to dissuade him. Susanna, posing as Charlotte, continues writing to the suitor and their letters become increasingly personal.

This is a fun short story, and the beginning is especially entertaining to read. The main character is rather likable, though she lacks any flaws. McHugh’s language is quite descriptive, and pushes the reader through the entire story.

Often Susanna would write as if she were the voice of all women, which I found rather annoying. The ending tied up everything rather quickly and superficially, either a longer ending or an epilogue would have made the ending seem more likely. All in all, I liked the idea behind the piece but I wasn’t huge on the execution.

Nibble: “If he ever showed his face here, she personally would give him such a tongue-lashing, his pride would limp for days.”

I would recommend this as a quick sweet distraction.

My Rating: 5 out of 10 sugary sweet apples

I received an advanced electronic copy from the publisher, Carina Press, via NetGalley.

Crista McHugh’s Site

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Lady Seductress’s Ball

Written by Eliza Knight

Peel: Olivia is unfortunately married to the aged Earl of March who she neither loves nor cares for. She dreams of another, Tristan, but she doesn’t want to do much while Lord March lives.

There is plot with this erotica, but it’s pretty well balanced. The erotica is rather steamy from an evening in a gazebo to an enticing masquerade.

Most of the language is true the Regency setting, but there are a few places where a modern phrase jumped out. My only problem with having serious romance in this story was that all we knew about Tristan was he was attractive, got around, and was allegedly in love with Olivia. The whole story was about Olivia, which is fine, but contributed to their relationship seeming only lust based. Perhaps if this had been the length of a novella, rather than a short story, the romance would have felt more authentic and less lust-confused-for-love. So in conclusion, lovely erotica, fine plot, heavy romance that could have used more space.

Nibble: “Waving that delicate fan would never calm the fire building between the two of them.”

I would recommend this to any erotica lover.

My Rating: 7 out of 10 scarlet steamed apples

I received an electronic copy from the publisher, Carina Press, via NetGalley.

Eliza Knight’s Site

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Green River Killer: A True Detective Story

Written by Jeff Jensen, Illustrated by Jonathan Case

The plot is based around trying to find the Green River Killer, and finding sufficient proof. The story is told from the detective’s point of view, and written by the detective’s son.

This graphic novel had quite the opening, rather dramatic and suspenseful, and it drew me in quickly. The rest of the novel was more psychological rather than action-based which heightened my interest without desensitizing me. The stark black and white artwork grew on me throughout the novel, and a lot of expression was packed into the amount of lines drawn. The understated art worked excellently with this novel, and kept it from going into the flashy gore zone. The examination and quasi obsession with the killer is fascinating, as the killer’s motivations remain largely a mystery. As the book is extremely readable and compelling, I finished it in one go this morning. I found the story all around interesting, perhaps more so as I’m from the East Coast, and hadn’t heard much about this serial killer. All of the main characters were complete, and gave the right emotional depth for this piece.

The only thing against this story, is I don’t think it would hold up to multiple reads. It also had many time jumps, for long and short amounts of time forwards and backwards, which took me out of the story as I tried to imagine an accurate timeline.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading about the darker side of human nature.

Nibble: “When the Vietcong hear of my legend, they quiver in fear, then staple something.”

My Rating: 8 out of 10 dark red apples

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Five Dances with Death

By Austin Briggs

In this book Briggs displays an incredible world drawn in historical fiction, and mixes it with fantasy. It’s set during the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, which contributes to an underlying tone of eventual doom. The protagonist, Angry Wasp, is trying to keep his nation safe while also searching for his long lost daughter. Nations around him are becoming more inclined towards war, and the Spanish are beginning to march inland. There is quite a lot of violence and sacrifice in this book, but I found the descriptions tasteful and not overly gratuitous. Angry Wasp certainly lives up to his name, and in the beginning makes many impulsive decisions. In his character we see progressions, and a few recessions, in his development. Briggs’ simple language worked excellently, and most of the dialog came off as authentic and translated. The ending was actually a surprise and twist, which was lovely.

I realized towards the end of the book that I didn’t care what would happen to Angry Wasp. It was an odd realization as he’s an interesting and realistic character to read about- but between the amount of casual death and a lack of sympathy for him, I found myself rather neutral towards his fate, yet wrapped up in his story. As a warning, when reading this you really have to pay attention with the multitude of places, and jumping from reality to outer body experiences with spiritual doubles. A map in the beginning of the book would have been very helpful.

I found this a great story, that also filled a niche that should certainly be expanded. In my American history classes and books, it tended to be about how Europe colonized America, rather than placing emphasis on the people who were actually living there and being invaded. You can also feel the depth of knowledge Briggs has about this time, and it grounds the story without being distracting.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Nibble {first sentence of prologue}: “I had challenged Talon to the ballgame because my daughter Dew had been his slave as long as she knew how to walk.”

My Rating: 8 out of 10 fresh jumping apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author via LibraryThing.

Of Moths & Butterflies

By V.R. Christensen

Set in the late nineteenth century, this novel has a female protagonist trying to escape her past and monetary fortune, a very curious man, some over-friendly cousins, and a few greedy folk for good measure. An arranged marriage appears to ease our protagonist’s troubles, but instead new problems arise everywhere.

I particularly liked how dialog heavy Christensen was in this novel. Christensen’s dialog felt natural, restrained, characterized excellently, and smoothly flickers between intense and amusing. Though the novel was almost six hundred and fifty pages, it still felt like a light read from the interesting drama and dialog. In these pages there’s a slow build up and shaping of the plot, and characters’ interactions with one another.

However, I would have liked to see the protagonist humanized a little earlier, her light flaws become apparent rather late into the novel. Almost every other character loves her or hates her right upon meeting her, only towards the ending do we see other characters moving away from the extremes of feelings for her.

As a warning, there are references to past sexual abuse.

Nibble: “Her conflicting and tumultuous emotions betrayed themselves only in her occupation of busily fingering the fringe of her paisley shawl.”

After reading the book, I found the author’s blog post about it rather interesting and made me rethink themes of the book placed in contemporary times. Most interestingly, what happens if one goes into a marriage with absolutely no expectations? The blog post is here, .

I would heavily recommend this book to anyone looking for a dramatic romance, and furthermore I think this book would be lovely for fostering conversation at a bookclub meeting.

My Rating: 8 out of 10 red glass apples

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author via LibraryThing.

Mother Night

Vonnegut plays with shades of gray throughout this novel. Roughly it’s about an American spy who during WWII was an excellent propaganda machine for Germany. There’s excellent tension within the character of Campbell, and throughout the novel I found myself torn between if he was guilty or innocent. All of the characters exist in gray, and for the main supporting characters their good and/or evil title is rather ambiguous. There are a few haunting phrases that pop up multiple times, usually in German, that tie the story together beautifully. Vonnegut’s language is, as usual, gripping and very difficult to put down, even after you’ve finished. On top of that the ideas he shoves in your head are hard to let go of. If someone’s pretending to be evil for a good cause, how much better is that than just being evil? Especially if they have the same exact negative effects?

The only other Vonnegut novel I would put immediately above this one is Cat’s Cradle.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to rethink the definitions of good and evil, in disjunction and conjunction.

Nibble: “It was typical of his schizophrenia as a spy that he should use an institution he so admired for purposes of espionage.”

My Rating: 9 out of 10 tasty but colorless apples