Review of “The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne” by Elsa Hart

Hart, Elsa. The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne. New York: Minotaur Books, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250142818 | $26.99 USD | 352 pages | Historical Mystery 

Blurb

From the author of the acclaimed Li Du novels comes Elsa Hart’s new atmospheric mystery series.

London, 1703. In a time when the old approaches to science coexist with the new, one elite community attempts to understand the world by collecting its wonders. Sir Barnaby Mayne, the most formidable of these collectors, has devoted his life to filling his cabinets. While the curious-minded vie for invitations to study the rare stones, bones, books, and artifacts he has amassed, some visitors come with a darker purpose.

For Cecily Kay, it is a passion for plants that brings her to the Mayne house. The only puzzle she expects to encounter is how to locate the specimens she needs within Sir Barnaby’s crowded cabinets. But when her host is stabbed to death, Cecily finds the confession of the supposed killer unconvincing. She pays attention to details—years of practice have taught her that the smallest particulars can distinguish a harmless herb from a deadly one—and in the case of Sir Barnaby’s murder, there are too many inconsistencies for her to ignore.

To discover the truth, Cecily must enter the world of the collectors, a realm where intellect is distorted by obsession and greed. As her pursuit of answers brings her closer to a killer, she risks being given a final resting place amid the bones that wait, silent and still, in the cabinets of Barnaby Mayne.

Review 

3 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I wasn’t sure at first what I was getting into with The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne; it sounded a bit odd, but still interesting. And while the first 20% or so is a bit slow, the story picks up and ultimately pays off. 

The story has a classic mystery vibe, with some readers evoking comparisons to Agatha Christie (an author I have yet to read, to my shame). The environment of the curious collection of Barnaby Mayne truly comes to life, in a way that you can picture it right before your eyes. 

The mystery is complex enough to be engaging, justifying the slightly slower pace to set up  the plot, and get things in motion. 

I did find something a bit lacking when it came to the characters, however. I never really connected with anyone, even Cecily. While I like that she’s independent and intelligent, I felt there was a sense of shallowness to her relationships with other people that may have been accurate to the period, but did not really endear me to her or anyone else. 

I have mixed feelings about the book, but I find the author’s writing style engaging, and would be interested to read more from her in the future. If you love stories with a classic, Christie-esque mystery feel, then you should still check out this book, to see if it works out better for you. 

Author Bio

Elsa Hart is the author of three acclaimed mystery novels set in eighteenth-century China. The most recent, City of Ink, was one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2018. The daughter of a journalist, Elsa was born in Rome and spent much of her childhood abroad, attending international schools in Moscow and Prague. She is drawn to stories about travelers throughout history, and likes to put her own characters in places that are unfamiliar to them.

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Review of “Dead Silence” by Robin Caroll

Caroll, Robin. Dead Silence. Uhrichville, OH: Shiloh Run Press, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1643523316 | $14.99 USD | 320 pages | Christian Fiction/Mystery/Thriller

Blurb

Political games can be deadly…
 
Elise Carmichael is a court sign language interpreter who reads lips all the time. As a widow with a young son who is deaf, lip reading is simply second nature, until the day she reads the lips of someone on the phone discussing an attempt to be made on a senator’s life—a senator who just happens to be her mother-in-law. Before she can decide what she needs to do, she receives the information that her son is rushed to the ER and she must leave. Then she later sees the news report that her mother-in-law has been shot and killed. But when she comes forward, her life, as well as her son’s life, may now be in the crosshairs of the assassin.

Review

3 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

I’m not sure how to feel about Dead Silence…it’s objectively a good book, but it didn’t engage me as much as I hoped upon initially reading the premise. 

I did like Elise and felt her character delivered on what was promised. I liked her concern for her son, and how her skill with reading lips fed into the plot. And there’s a beautiful moment with her late husband’s Bible that I found particularly touching. 

But my investment with the mystery element flagged, due to it being slow moving and the choice of repetitive telling vs. showing killing the suspense. Ultimately, the reveal didn’t feel earned. 

While I didn’t love this, I think it’s an “it’s not you, it’s me” thing, especially since I’ve fallen into a bit of a slump following the gloriousness of a previous read. I think if you’re a Christian fiction reader, and happen to like mysteries, it might still be worth trying. 

Author Bio 

Robin Caroll grew up in Louisiana with her nose in a book. She still has the complete Trixie Belden series, and her love for mysteries and suspense has only increased with her age.

Robin’s passion has always been to tell stories to entertain others and come alongside them on their faith journey—aspects Robin weaves into each of her published novels.

Best-selling author of thirty-plus novels, ROBIN CAROLL writes Southern stories of mystery and suspense, with a hint of romance to entertain readers. Her books have been recognized in several awards, including the Carol Award, HOLT Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, and more.

When she isn’t writing, Robin spends quality time with her husband of nearly three decades, her three beautiful daughters and two handsome grandsons, and their character-filled pets at home in the South.

Robin serves the writing community as Executive/Conference Director for ACFW.

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Review of “The Masked Baron” by Anneka R. Walker

Walker, Anneka R. The Masked Baron. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, Inc., 2020.

eBook | $5.99 USD | 9781524412258 | 240 pages | Regency Romance

2.5 stars

I received at an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Masked Baron intrigued me, between its straighforward, yet suspenseful title, to the blurb which conveyed a semi-Gothic atmosphere and a lot of intriguing questions that needed answering. Unfortunately, this book fell flat for me.

The setting is incredibly atmospheric, and I felt the evocative nature of the Black Forest was well conveyed. And the central mystery, surrounding the titular character, concludes in a satisfying way, exploring why Ellis chose to adopt the masked persona and providing closure for the demons of his past.

However, in other aspects, the story felt very confusing. Others have mentioned the story being a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but I did not find tho aside from Ellis’ overall arc. And I felt nothing for Annie, finding her more frustrating in her stubbonrness than anything else, but given my mixed experiences with Gothic heroines, this is not surprising.

I did feel like some of the secondary characters, especially the loyal servants, redeemed the story to an extent, and I think I would have liked a story exploring them and their relationship with Ellis a little more, especially since it would amplify the Beauty and the Beast connection, particularly with some of the more modern and well known incarnations.

This was a bit of a disappointment, but perhaps another reader who likes Gothic and fairytale inspired stories will like this a bit more. It seems to have garnered a mixed early reception, based on some of the reviews I read after finishing for comparison, so it’s very possible some people will enjoy it.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2PuIcha

Review of “Lady Jayne Disappears” by Joanna Davidson Politano

Politano, Joanna Davidson. Lady Jayne Disappears. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2017.

eBook | $10.49 USD | 978-1493411108 | 339 pages | Historical Fiction/Christian Fiction

5 stars

Lady Jayne Disappears has been on my radar since its release, although I was never able to read it until now. It seemed to promise everything that I love: romance, mystery, and a bit of history. And given it’s also Politano’s debut, it’s wonderful, evoking a classic flair that feels reminiscent of real life Victorian novels, like Dickens or the Brontes.

Politano masterfully creates a Gothic atmosphere with her prose, with mysterious characters, all of whom are suspects in the murder of Aurelie’s father, great sense of place, and a plot that kept me on my toes with the twists and turns, as the many questions mount, culminating in well foreshadowed, but incredibly satisfying, revelations at the end.

While Gothic stories frequently turn me off due to their inept heroines, I absolutely loved Aurelie. She’s incredibly kind, but not saintlike to the point of irritation. And as an aspiring writer myself, I could empathize at various points with her in that way, as well as appreciating the care she took with words in crafting her stories.

This a great book displaying the writing talents of a great up-and-coming author. I recommend this to anyone who loves an atmospheric historical mystery.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2SotaeI

Review of “Cartier’s Hope” by M.J. Rose

Rose, M.J. Cartier’s Hope. New York: Atria Books, 2020.

Hardcover | $27.00 USD | ISBN-13 : 978-1501173639 | 322 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

While I’ve read a few M.J. Rose books by now, I still didn’t know much about what to expect with Cartier’s Hope, other than the obvious name recognition. And that’s a good thing, because the book ended up being not only about a legendary and mysterious jewel — and its relationship to Cartier — but about the wider landscape of the early twentieth century as well.

Vera’s story both intrigued and moved me, especially as she continued to fight to be her own person in control of her own life, in spite of the opposition placed in her way by both family and society. At one point, she is placed in an unfortunate situation regarding her reproductive rights, and I admired not only her courage throughout the ordeal, but how she used this personal experience to further investigate the issue and the current services available in a time when abortion was still illegal.

And while I, like most people I imagine, know the name Cartier, I knew nothing about their history, including that it was a family business. I enjoyed getting some insight into Pierre Cartier and his business dealings, even if some of it was fictionalized for dramatic effect.

The mystery of the Hope Diamond is also compelling, as it was another topic I knew about purely by name. The jewel has such a rich and complex history, and seeing that play into the mystery element is super fun.

This is a delightful book that has a little bit of everything: history, mystery, romance. I recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2UIYm9R

Review of “A Grave Matter” (Lady Darby Mystery #3) by Anna Lee Huber

Huber, Anna Lee. A Grave Matter. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2014.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425253694 | 421 pages | Historical Mystery

3 stars

Ugh, another kind-of just-ok installment. A Grave Matter does fix some of the series arc issues of Mortal Arts, but overall, I just wasn’t massively impressed with this one.

The big win is, obviously, the romance coming to fruition, and I’m quite happy there’s some closure earlier on, instead of the increasing trend in mysteries where the two leads pussyfoot around their feelings book after book. There is a great conflict here with Kiera unsure about this growing relationship with Gage, especially given the disaster of her first marriage, and while it’s been done, it’s nive to see that she comes to trust him.

And the idea at the core of the mystery is great. I adore anything to do with the Jacobites, and the tie-in here with the relics of that movement as it was in 1830 is interesting. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the overall arc of it, with the reveal at the end feels stale and mostly unfulfilling.

I’m undecided at this point what I want to do from here, especially since I seem to be enamored more with Huber’s concepts than her executions, in two different series she’s written. And given that these are somewhat popular books, I would say this could easily be a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” So, give this series a shot if you like historical mysteries, and perhaps you’ll like them more than I did.

Review of “Mortal Arts” (Lady Darby Mystery #2) by Anna Lee Huber

Huber, Anna Lee. Mortal Arts. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2013.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425253786 | 374 pages | Historical Mystery

2.5 stars

Mortal Arts is somewhat of a sophomore slump. That’s not to say that the plot is lacking, and I personally found the deviation from the standard whodunnit format ambitious and decently done, given Huber was still in her early career when this came out.

Minute historical details clearly are important to her, so I’m glad she delved into some interesting, even heartbreaking, ones here, discussing both the effects of PTSD and the foul nature of “lunatic” asylums in the nineteenth century. Will’s story is truly heartbreaking, and while it resulted in a weaker mystery plot overall, with it being incredibly obvious what had happened, I appreciate this different take for the series so early on.

But the characters (with the exception of Will) were so…lacking…in comparison to the first book. While I found the supporting cast engaging in the first book, they kind of seemed to be just…there…this time around. And while I liked Kiera and Gage’s dynamic in the first book once I got into it a bit more, it seemed like they too didn’t have much purpose (aside from Kiera’s connection to Will), so they seemed to butt heads for no reason.

In short, this wasn’t a great installment in the series, and between the lack of engagement and the holiday festivities, I just didn’t feel like I was missing much by putting it off. I think it’s worth reading within the context of the series, in spite of its flaws, and as an exploration of the aforementioned issues. But here’s hoping that the next one is a bit better.

Review of “Echo After Echo” by Amy Rose Capetta

Capetta, Amy Rose. Echo After Echo. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0763691666 | 421 pages | YA Contemporary Romance/Mystery

4 stars

While I’ve only read Amy Rose Capetta’s SFF works so far, I was intrigued by the concept of this f/f murder mystery. And for the most part Capetta is able to move between genres pretty well, with a mystery that comes together at the end (in spite of feeling a bit oddly paced at first) and a romance that’s an absolute delight to read.

Zara and Eli are such great characters, and I rooted for their romance, even though things seemed precarious at times, in a way that has nothing to do with being gay/bi, but rather the commitments of the theater. It’s refreshing to read about an LGBTQ+ relationship that isn’t so bogged down with the questions of sexuality or familial acceptance, and the hurdle is something else completely unrelated. Capetta, as a queer author, is likely aware of this, and I appreciated their commitment to diversify the types of relationships in LGBTQ+ lit.

And it’s rare these days for me to comment on the prose, unless it’s outright insufferable to get through (which is rare), but I love the stylistic choices made with POV and tense here. I was speaking with someone else about how third person, present tense reminded them of a play, and I realized that, intentional or not, this stylistic choice suited the strong presence of the play in the plot, as well as adding to the urgency of the situation.

While the mystery is a bit more understated than I believed going in, being something of an undercurrent in the larger story of Zara being involved in a play, I did enjoy seeing the payoff at the end, when all was revealed.

I really enjoyed this book, especially having a background in theater in school. I think this would be a great book for others who have some experience in the theater, as well as those looking for an engaging f/f story, with a mystery subplot.

Review of “A Madness of Sunshine” by Nalini Singh

Singh, Nalini. A Madness of Sunshine. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Hardcover | $27.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0593099131 | 314 pages | Mystery

4 stars

I was never a fan of Nalini Singh’s romances, in part because the bulk of her work is paranormal and I’m not a fan of the hero archetypes many paranormal authors fall back on, her included, if some of the reviews if I’ve read are to be believed. But when I heard she was releasing a thriller, I was intrigued, especially when I heard that the setting of A Madness of Sunshine was her native New Zealand.

And the setting is one of the immediate strong points. I knew little about the location prior, except a bit about Maori culture and its linguistic connections to Hawaiian in school. So, it was exciting to soak up more about the landscape and language, especially as Singh showed such care in depicting it, including consulting experts to cover her blind spots.

And while there are occasions where the plot moves a little slowly, it’s more or less an engaging thriller. This is one of those mysteries that does get you to question everyone, especially given the long history some of the threads have.

While it’s not a romance, I did enjoy the romance that developed between the two protagonists, Anahera and Will, especially given how they come together in solving the case. Anahera’s personal connection magnifies her determination to find her old friend, as well as solve the case of the hikers who went nissing before she left town. And Will brings an interesting perspective of being a newcomerto town, playing off returning resident Anahera in an interesting way as well.

This is a great first mystery/thriller for Singh, and I hope not the last, especially if she continues introducing international readers to different parts of New Zealand. I recommend this to fans of mysteries with excellent sense of place.

Review of “The Anatomist’s Wife” (Lady Darby Myster #1) by Anna Lee Huber

Huber, Anna Lee. The Anatomist’s Wife. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2012.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425253281 | 357 pages | Historical Mystery

4 stars

I waffled for a long time about whether I wanted to read the Lady Darby Mysteries. I had a sneaking suspicion these were better than the standalone Gothic book I had read, but the fatigue with ongoing singular character arc series, especially those with secondary romance plots, had me wary, until I received a recommendation that made me aware that, unlike the ones that were frustrating me, there actually is progress in the romance over the course of the currently available books.

Kiera is a compelling heroine, even if her situation is not unfamiliar to historical readers. I felt for her when it was described how her late husband married her to utilize her artistic talents for his anatomical work, so that he wouldn’t need to hire someone else to do it, and I didn’t blame her for isolating herself after his death, while also applauding her courage when she found herself confronted with a murdered guest at her sister’s house.

Sebastian Gage took longer to warm up to, and I’m not sure how I feel about him due to his arrogance and insistence he be the one in charge of solving the crime, especially having hints of how things turn out between him and Kiera in later books. But I like that, while things start off a little tense, things come to an accord, and there is still room to grow between them, with the romance not feeling rushed, although the possibility is already there.

The resolution to the mystery did feel a little obvious, especially with some key revelations. There is a decent attempt at misdirection, but it becomes increasingly clear who it is. However, there were a few last-minute twists that I felt saved it from feeling a little too predictable.

This is a great first installment in a historical mystery series, and one which I hope will continue to be intriguing. I recommend any historical mystery fan who hasn’t tried this series yet to pick this one up.