The Start of Everything by Emily Winslow – Book Review

The Start of Everything by Emily Winslow
Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House

Outside of Cambridge, the body of a young woman is found in the sluice gates after the spring thaw. There is little left to go on besides the clothes she is wearing and some hairs found stuck to them; her body is so badly decomposed there is no hope of DNA, nor are there any hairs even left on her head. This does not allow much in the ways of leads for detectives Chloe Frohmann and Morris Keene, but they are determined that they will solve this case. At the very least they must identify the victim and notify her family so they are not always wondering.

At the same time, Mathilde Oliver is scouring Cambridge for a girl named Katja. Mathilde works in Cambridge’s post office and is one of the people tasked with following up on incomplete addresses. Katja has been receiving increasingly desperate letters from a young man named Stephen, addressed with only her first name and the college, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone by the name of Katja at Cambridge, at least not anyone who matches the description in the letters.

Before long, it begins to seem that there is some connection between the mysterious Katja and the unidentified – and certainly murdered – body. To discover the true story, however, Frohmann and Keene must sort through secrets, mistaken identities, and their own personal weaknesses.

Like Winslow’s The Whole World, The Start of Everything would likely best be described as a literary mystery. Although there are detectives and a heinous crime that must be solved, the reader’s focus falls primarily on the individual characters and the ways they are developed. And Winslow is certainly talented at creating unique and believable voices for her characters. I initially misread Mathilde’s name as Matthew and was slightly confused as I read her first section, because I thought I had seen a masculine name, but I was certain that this character must be female, just by the way Winslow wrote her. Similarly, I was able to discern between Frohmann and Keene’s sections almost immediately even without reading their names, because they both have such distinctive voices that they are impossible to confuse.

At its heart, The Start of Everything is comprised of a series of misunderstandings – many things must go wrong to create the situations Winslow’s characters find themselves in – but Winslow weaves them together such as that they seem much more plausible than perhaps they should. This results in a mystery with just enough twists to keep the reader on her toes, but not so many that it all seems unlikely, aka the perfect mystery.

Whether you’re a fan of mysteries, literary fiction, or both you’ll find something to love in The Start of Everything. Very highly recommended.

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The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller – Book Review

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Iris Dupont doesn’t particularly want to move to the small town of Nye, the name of which sounds like a negation. Her parents, though, think that leaving Boston and the memory of her best friend would be best for Iris, perhaps she’ll even start talking to her imaginary friend, who takes the guise of dead newsman Edward R. Murrow. Her new prep school, Mariana Academy, is all about status and popularity, which doesn’t fit Iris very well. Nor does it fit her favorite teacher, Mr. Kaplan who teaches freshman biology, but spends more time pushing his students to become ‘extremophiles’ than talking about Mendel. Both Iris and Mr. Kaplan quickly find themselves caught up in the storied Prisom’s Party, a secret society that is stalking Mariana’s halls.

The Year of the Gadfly is told in two time periods from three different perspectives. Iris and Mr. Kaplan both narrate the present, although Mr. Kaplan takes frequent trips down memory lane to his own time as a student at Mariana. The third point of view comes from Lily, an albino girl who is the daughter of the former headmaster of Mariana. Iris is now living in Lily’s room, but Lily’s point of view focuses on her own time at Mariana, where she was a classmate of Mr. Kaplan’s – and his brother’s girlfriend.

Three points of view, two time periods, the semi-ghost of Edward R. Murrow, a mysterious secret society – it sounds like Miller threw everything she could think of into The Year of the Gadfly. Upon reading the description, a reader can’t help but imagine that this must be a disjointed and overly ambitious story. Surprisingly, though, it all fits together as perfectly as a puzzle. Each piece, instead of detracting from the story, is necessary to get the whole picture. Iris is a highly entertaining protagonist, but Mr. Kaplan and Lily end up being developed just as well as she is, and their stories swirl together beautifully.

The Year of the Gadfly is a wonderful debut for Jennifer Miller. Between the characters and the mystery, you won’t want to put it down. Highly recommended.

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Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan – Audiobook Review

Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan, narrated by Erik Davies
Published in audio by Penguin Audio, published in print by Amy Einhorn Books, both imprints of Penguin

This is the second book in the David Loogan series. I previously reviewed the first book, Bad Things Happen.

Synopsis:

Things have mostly settled down for David Loogan; Grey Streets is chugging along fairly well, and his relationship with Elizabeth Waishkey is quite good, with David all but living with Elizabeth and her daughter. Until one day David finds a manuscript outside his door detailing the murder of multiple individuals who have recently died and the threat of another man who is next. All of the victims have one thing in common, they were the perpetrators of the Great Lakes Bank Robbery years earlier. Now Loogan must discover who is killing them, and why.

Thoughts on the story:

I just love Harry Dolan’s David Loogan series – even if I do have a tendency to mix up the author and character name for some bizarre reason. These mysteries are super smart with a literary bent to both the writing and the plot. Loogan’s job as the editor of a small literary magazine devoted to mysteries is a fantastic hook that Dolan, who is an editor himself, plays perfectly. Very Bad Men succeeds because it manages to provide both a feeling of continuity with Bad Things Happen and a plot that is fresh and not merely a rehashing of the first book.

The plot of Very Bad Men kept me guessing to figure out what exactly was going on and who was behind it, while at the same time coming together in a very plausible way.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Erik Davies is so exactly David Loogan that it is almost eerie. He doesn’t excel at narrating women, though, and they took a more prominent role in Very Bad Men than they did in Bad Things Happen, so that detracted a bit from the audio experience. For a more details on the audio, please see my review in Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

Another smart, engaging thriller from Harry Dolan, complemented by more great narration from Erik Davies. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

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* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson – Audiobook Review

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson, narrated by Kristine Ryan and Gerianne Raphael
Published in audio by Harper Audio, published in print by Harper, both imprints of HarperCollins

Synopsis:

A whirlwind romance takes sensible Eve from her life in London doing French translations of boring, mundane things such as contracts to a lovely if somewhat decrepit old house in the South of France with a loving but secretive man named Dom. As summer fades, so too does the perfect live Eve imagined that the two of them were living together. She begins to question what happened in Dom’s first marriage that has made him the way he is today, and to feel a chill in the house around her that leads her to wonder if their lovely Genevriers is haunted.

As Eve’s story unfolds, so too does a story of her house’s recent past, centered around Benedicte, a young girl who once lived in Genevriers with her troubled family.

Thoughts on the story:

Initially the story of The Lantern unfolds slowly, it is well past the halfway mark before the reader has any idea what is meant by the title or how the stories of the two women will intersect. Luckily, the slower plot has Lawrenson’s lovely writing to fall back on. Aside from seducing the reader with beautiful language, Lawrenson is taking the first half of the book to fully develop Eve and Benedicte’s characters, as well as the secondary characters around them, giving the reader a stake in their lives when the tension begins to build in the second half the novel. And build it does. By the time I reached the halfway mark, I hesitated to leave the story, so drawn in was I; Lawrenson does a wonderful job building both investment and interest. And although I won’t spoil the ending, I will say that I found the wrap-up and explanations particularly satisfying.

Thoughts on the audio production:

As tends to be the case with books produced by Harper Audio, the audio production – and particularly the narration – was wonderfully done in The Lantern. Both Ryan and Raphael are talented narrators, but I was particularly impressed by Ryan. The character she was portraying, Eve, was a French-educated American women who at the beginning of the novel had been living in London for years, but who moved early in the book to the south of France. Certainly a narrator could have decided to work with only one or two of these linguistic heritages, but Ryan had me wondering if she had the exact same background as her character. At the base of her speech was a standard American accent, but there was a definite British inflection, with a French accent that rose and fell, depending on what exactly she was saying. It was absolutely perfectly done, more than just believable, she completely lived into her character.

Overall:

Although there is somewhat of a slow start, sticking with The Lantern is a decision that pays off completely. I am confident that Lawrenson’s lovely book would stand up quite well in print, but Ryan and Raphael’s masterful narration adds an extra degree of wonder that is well-worth experiencing.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com:

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: .
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry – Book Review

The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

Zee makes her living as a psychiatrist in Boston, but she has her own demons to deal with. When Zee was young, her bipolar mother committed suicide and Zee was the one who found her. When one of Zee’s patients, Lily Braedon, who reminded Zee so much of her own mother, jumps off of a bridge after being involved in an abusive affair, Zee is determined to get to the bottom of what happened. To complicate things, Zee’s father Finch is deteriorating rapidly. Finch has Parkinson’s, but he is starting to lapse into Alzheimer’s. After Finch kicks out his longterm partner Melville, Zee is left as Finch’s sole caregiver at the same time she is trying to discover what happened to Lily and reconcile her own past.

I really enjoyed Barry’s debut work, “The Lace Reader.” It was one of the first books I got really excited about when I started blogging. “The Map of True Places,” like “The Lace Reader” is set in Salem and had the same atmosphere. I don’t think that “The Map of True Places” had the same immediacy and sense of mystery that “The Lace Reader” had, however, I also think it was a more complex book in many ways. I loved the literary connection with Finch’s past as a literature professor and Zee’s mother’s obsession with fables.

Although somewhat less dramatic than “The Lace Reader,” I thought that “The Map of True Places” was a lovely book and I loved the story of Zee’s discovery of herself and her family’s history. Recommended.

Available May 4, 2010

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
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Amazon
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This review was done with a book received from the publisher.
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