The sinister mystery of The French Girl

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

french girl

Ten years ago, on a holiday at a farmhouse in France, the French neighbour went missing on the last night Katie and her friends were there. Now, Tom is telling her that they found Severine’s body in the well at the farmhouse and a french detective would be coming to speak with each of them once more.

In the ten years since that week, Katie has become a lawyer, starting her own legal headhunting business and doesn’t need the stigma of being involved in a murder investigation. Still, everyone from that week is cooperating – Tom, who is coming back to London from Boston, his cousin Seb, Katie’s ex-boyfriend who she hasn’t seen since they broke up right after that week, Caro, still singular-minded, working at her father’s law firm, and Katie’s best friend Lara, a Swedish transplant who has never had any trouble getting the kinds of men she wants. The only one missing is Theo – it was his family’s farm, he knew Severine the best and after whatever happened happened, he signed up for the military and ended up dying over there.

Lexie Elliott’s The French Girl is a different kind of mystery. The mystery happened ten years ago, there are no flashbacks, no clues uncovered by intrepid investigators or curious friends. We stick with Katie as she is haunted by Severine, as she tries to piece together what might have happened all those years ago, while trying to get her business into the black. She reconnects with the group that was there that week and all of them talk about what the French detective has been asking, what he’s been focused on.

The French Girl is kind of sinister because we don’t have anymore idea what happened all those years ago than Katie. There is no evidence, no trail to follow. The entire book is the interactions this group has with each other and the detective. It’s a unique way of telling this kind of story and I really did appreciate it. I enjoyed my time with The French Girl, reading it in glorious late-winter sunshine.

But I’m not sure that this one will excite everyone. It was clever for sure but was it compelling? Not especially. I wasn’t counting the minutes until I could get back to it. It was an easy, no-pressure read that I would have been happy reading on a beach or poolside. I’m not convinced it would have held my attention on a long flight or a commute though.

I liked The French Girl, I will loan it out, and I’m OK with not getting anything more out of it.


Taking ‘Buckshaw’ out of the Buckshaw Chronicles

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Recently, I’ve seen people “confess” to their love of the Flavia de Luce books (fine, the Buckshaw Chronicles). Like reading and liking these books is something to feel guilty about, they are some kind of guilty pleasure.

I’m not about that life, guys. Are Alan Bradley’s delightful mysteries set in the 1950s English countryside gritty or dark or violent? Nope. But that’s kind of their charm. They are much more in the vein of Agatha Christie and I for one appreciate their lighter fare. I’ve spent several years loving Flavia and her penchant for solving crimes, chemistry and finding new ways to torture her older sisters.

So I’m not here to rag on these books. I think they are the kind of books that we probably need these days.

But I think Book #9, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place, might be the end of the line.


This is the copy I have…

After the shocking end of Book #8 (still not over it), the ever faithful Dogger takes Flavia and her older sisters on a boating trip before they are all off to new lives. As they are making their way up the river, Dogger is just telling Flavia about the wonderful case of the vicar who poisoned three of his parishioners and how they dropped dead right in the front pew, when Flavia literally drags a body from the water. One minute she’s dragging her arm in the water, the next a body is hanging from her hand by its teeth.

Naturally Flavia is delighted and Dogger and the de Luces decamp to the village of the famous poisoning incident. While there, Flavia endeavors to find out not only what happened to the body she dragged from the water but how did the vicar actually go about poisoning his parishioners?

In true Buckshaw Chronicles fashion, Flavia uncovers more than she bargained for and learns ever more about human nature.

If you’re familiar with these books, then you know exactly what you’re getting with The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place. It follows in the footsteps of it’s predecessors. The fact that this one is removed from Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey does mean that we lose access to some of the characters that didn’t come along on the trip. But Bradley has given us a whole cast of new characters that ably fill the void. However, if this IS the last one, the series is going out with a whimper, not a bang. And I can’t decide how I feel about that.


…but THIS version is stunning!

Now that Flavia has made a decision about her future, putting all her skills and training to use in this new pursuit, now that all of the financial issues around Buckshaw have been sorted out, I kind of want to see what direction these books could go in. They really do feel like an homage to Agatha Christie, maybe mixed with The Bletchley Circle and Harriet the Spy. Having freed himself from some of the constraints of the story, I want to see what Bradley comes up with for Flavia.

If you can come to this maybe-final book accepting it for what it is, then I suspect you will enjoy the ride. Flavia is in fine form, finally understanding how humans relate to one another, something that has always eluded her.

Finally, Flavia is all grown up.


Library Checkout: February 2016

Last month was dismal for library reading so I didn’t bother joining in with RiverCity Reading’s Library Checkout. But February was EXCELLENT for my relationship with the library and here we are!


Library Books Read
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
The Wrong Girl by David Hewson
The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse
The Right Attitude to Rain by Alexander McCall Smith
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Politt

Returned Unread

Still To Be Read
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Jennie Churchill: Winston’s American Mother by Anne Sebba
The Color  Purple by Alice Walker
The Sisters: Babe Mortimer Paley, Betsy Roosevelt Whitney, Minnie Astor Fosburgh: The Lives and Times of the Fabulous Cushing Sisters by David Grath

On Hold

See? A great library month. There was nothing better in February than the crackle of a fresh library cover. You know that particular sound that comes from reading a library book, yes?

How was your library month? I don’t know about you, but posting about my library usage always makes me want to run back to the library and get more books. And I need more books like I need a hole in my head.



Batch Reviews: Crime Fiction

Once you decide that crime fiction is going to be a genre you love, there are so many reading options.

You could go for roller coaster thrill rides with Linwood Barclay or country house weekend style with Agatha Christie. Camilla Lackberg could send you to small town Sweden where you would be shocked at the deprave things people get up to. Ian Rankin is all about the seedy underbelly of Edinburgh while Jo Nesbo prefers Oslo. Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series likes a balance of philosophy and mystery, while Mo Hayder just likes to get right to the blood and guts.


There’s an entire section of the library devoted to mysteries! Sometimes it just feels impossible to hone in on a good one.

I’m here to help.

If you’re looking for something quick to get your skin crawling, I would recommend The Grownup for Gillian Flynn. Just 64 pages but it packs a big punch. Her narrator, a former sex worker turned “psychic”, starts right off talking about hand jobs and carpal tunnel so it’s probably not for everyone. But if you can get past that, I found it to be an expertly crafted little story. Susan Burke comes for help after moving to a new neighbourhood. Her stepson starts acting strange (more like a little psycho) and her house seems like it’s haunted. Our narrator decides to help, planning to spend hours in the library reading instead.

I was totally creeped out, completely taken in by Flynn’s misdirection and thoroughly enjoyed how it ended. Flynn shows just how good she is with this pocket sized tome and I am now more impatient than ever for her to give us something new.

If you were a fan of the show The Killing, might I suggest David Hewson’s Pieter Vos series? There are just two books so far (The Doll House and The Wrong Girl) but they are deeply enjoyable. One of the things that you really notice about these books is Hewson’s ability to get a place right. Apparently he spends lots of time in the cities he chooses to feature and he gets Amsterdam just right in these.

I think if you’re going to feature a city so prominently, you have to understand it’s people and way of life and Hewson nails it on both counts. In The Wrong Girl, a little girl, Natalya, is abducted at the Sinterklaas parade. Her mother is a sex worker, an illegal in Amsterdam from Georgia (the country) where they lost everything. On the day of the parade Natalya wears a new pink jacket that her mother got for her. She doesn’t like it much but it’s the warmest thing she owns. Across town, another little girl, Saskia, wears the same jacket. She’s the girl that is meant to be taken but it’s Natalya that they get. Now Vos has to find Natalya while he has the equivalent of Homeland Security on his ass because they’ve been working on this terror cell that is potentially in the Netherlands.

Oh yes, I enjoyed this one. I first wanted to read them because they were the only mysteries I knew of that took place in Amsterdam. But once I started reading them realized that they were actually really well done. Now I’m just hoping that Hewson is working on a third one.

Do you like your mystery fiction to take place in another time? Perhaps The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse will fit the bill.

It’s 1912 and about 10 years earlier Connie Gifford fell from a great height and hit her head. Her whole life until that day disappeared. Recently she’s started seeing a strange woman in town that looks vaguely familiar but she can’t tell why. When a woman’s body is found in the creek behind her house, it’s the beginning of a series of strange things happening, including the disappearance of a number of men in the area.

This was a strange one but it was decent. Connie has learned how to taxidermy birds from her father who was once a “bird stuffer” of some renown. Chapters are marked with excerpts from a book that teaches taxidermy, as well as a letter to Connie from someone mysterious talking about why certain things had to be done. There are loads of sketchy characters, stormy weather that hampers travel, and the hint of a love story. I will say that there were some taxidermy elements that were so gruesome I had to skip them…

The one big thing that I really had an issue with in this one is why do we keep having to refer to the main characters in books as someone’s wife or daughter? This one could have been called Constantia or The Corvidae Club or any number of other things. Her father barely features in it except as a drunk she has to make sure doesn’t off himself. Let’s make a deal to stop doing this.

After all that fiction, it’s probably time to take another stab at non-fiction…


Crime Fiction shorts: Partners in Crime

I picked up Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime because I saw a trailer for a TV version of it and wanted to read the book before I watched it.

I just watched the trailer again and am now surprised by how different it is from the book – namely that it’s taking place in the 1950s and Tommy and Tuppence are now evidently spies in the Cold War.

But we will get to that.

I chose Partners in Crime as a sort of palate cleanser after the short story experience of The Tsar of Love and Techno. I was ready to jump into a story and stick with it for a couple of days. Or hours, really. Agatha Christie books are never more than 300 pages.

So I was pretty shocked to realize that Partners in Crime are a bunch of short stories featuring Tommy and Tuppence Bereford!

tommy and tuppence

Tommy and Tuppence are probably the least popular of Agatha Christie’s characters. They are a married couple who solve crimes that come their way as proprietors of a detective agency in London. Tommy and Tuppence both worked for the secret service during the war – although as Partners in Crime was published in 1929, one presumes that “the war” in question was actually the First World War. Now that the way is over, Tommy is still working for the agency in some capacity but Tuppence is bored at home – their place isn’t that big and it doesn’t take that much effort to keep it running smoothly. So when Tommy’s boss asks them to operate this agency undercover, Tuppence convinces Tommy that they should do it.

The stories are short and sweet, if a little far-fetched at times. But they are still extremely clever. Some cases are little more than misunderstandings, such as the missing fiancée who is actually just at a kind of fat camp, while others are more serious and have shades of spy rings.

They decide that they will emulate famous fictional detectives, which actually is really hilarious. Sometimes they try and be Sherlock Holmes, other times a pair of detective brothers but when the decide to copy Hercule Poirot and encourage the use of “the little grey cells” – well that’s obviously the best.

This little book is very much of it’s time and while I don’t have much time for Tommy, I’m a fan of clever Tuppence. It seems like TV adaptations always make Tuppence seem kind of scatterbrained and flakey but she’s actually much the cleverer of the two. Tommy is very much a man of his time but Tuppence is quite modern.

In the end though, this book is from 1929 and when Tuppence gets pregnant, of course she will give up work.

I’ll still try and watch the show but I’m not sure that Tommy and Tuppence will be my Agatha Christie go-to.


Library Checkout: November 2015

We’ve already celebrated Thanksgiving up here in Canada but since this will go up on American Thanksgiving, just wanted to wish all of you celebrating a happy, delicious day with your loved ones.

I know I’m super thankful to Shannon at Rivercity Reading for starting this handy little library love chain letter because it means I don’t have to think about content for a blog post! And of course, I’m so thankful to have such wonderful libraries close to home because they continue to support my love of reading without devastating my bank account.

Let’s get to it!


Library Books Read

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Broken Harbour by Tana French
Snobs by Julian Fellowes
The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

It felt like I had a strong library reading month but actually, I just had a strong library visiting month. I did manage to read these before my crippling inability to CHOOSE a book handcuffed me. (Anyone else feeling this right now? I dread finishing books because I have to DECIDE what I’m going to read next and I don’t want to make the “wrong” choice. As if there’s such a thing.)

Checked Out, To Be Read

The Wife, The Maid and the Mistress by Arial Lawhon
Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (I thought I had A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Chelsey, but I don’t! This is the one I grabbed)
Carol by Patricia Highsmith

For some reason when it’s time to choose a new book and I look at these books I don’t want to read any of them. But I have the same issue with all the books I have yet to read, the ones I’ve borrowed and my own. What is happening?

Returned Unread

The Bishop’s Man by Linden McIntyre

I started reading it, was looking forward to reading it in fact. But nothing about it hooked me and after 60 pages I decided that actually I wasn’t in the mood to read about the horrible things priests did to kids that the Church did nothing about.

On Hold

Still nothing! I don’t deserve to get to hold anything – I was late returning some of the books and now I owe $0.60.

What did your library month look like? Any tips for healing my choosing paralysis? 



Flat Crime Fiction: Broken Harbour

A few years ago, I did not read crime fiction.

Hard to believe now, isn’t it? I don’t even remember what triggered my love for the genre a few years ago but now I can’t get enough.

I read the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Scots.  I have a newfound love for Linwood Barclay and continue my love affair with Agatha Christie. Taking a stab at the Irish, I recently read Tana French for the first time and found that The Secret Place was well worth the 452 pages it took to get to a resolution. I was definitely game to read more of her work.

I thought Broken Harbour was the first of the “Dublin Murder Squad” books. It is not – it’s the 4th. Why can I never seem to get the right book in the right order? Why is this so hard?

It seems like they all work as standalones, so it’s not actually that big of a deal.

Detective Mike Kennedy is being given another stab at a high profile case: a family found dead in a house about an hour outside of Dublin, in what is now called Brianstown. He takes his brand new partner, Richie Curran, with him to show him how working a high profile murder investigation goes. When they get to the house, they see that the whole development is a dump – the victims’ house is one of the few finished houses in a sea of half built, abandoned house shells. Kennedy himself feels very uneasy about being back in Brianstown – it had been called Broken Harbour when he used to spend two weeks of the summer there every year as a kid. He has fond memories of the place, until he thinks about their last summer there.

His past is all super secrety and his fear that his younger sister, Dina, will find out about him working this case, is all very interesting but it leads to nothing.

Seriously. This book is 533 pages of dense crime fiction-y writing. And I would have been totally down with that if the secondary story had a point, but it doesn’t. Even the main event is kind of suspect. We spend a lot of time wandering around these wild animal message boards that one of the victims seemed obsessed with. Kennedy is a cranky old detective who wants you to believe that he’s seen it all but when his newbie partner sees things differently, Kennedy refuses to entertain his ideas.

I’m glad that these “Dublin Murder Squad” books work as standalones because I don’t think I want to spend any more time with Kennedy. The sister angle, which could have been so great, was really just sad. Same with the actual crime. It kind of made me feel like a voyeuristic creep for enjoying the sad state of their lives.

At least I didn’t enjoy it too much.