weekly wrap-up 4/19

Happy Sunday, y’all!

Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison
This is the second in the Honeychurch Hall series and I still keep calling it Honeyhall Church. WHY, BRAIN. I received a copy of the first book last year, but hadn’t set aside time for it and it kind of fell to the side. An isolated country estate in London is the PERFECT locale for mysteries and you know how I love my cozies! Now that I have two I’m thinking I really should get to them. Maybe read them back-to-back for a double feature? Thank you, Minotaur!

Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh
Lately I’ve been getting into Christian fiction. The Beekeeper’s Son was a predictable, but sweet romance and Deception on Sable Hill was an incredibly engrossing historical murder mystery. I first came across Paper Hearts sometime last year when going through Tyndale’s catalog and made a note to check it out someday. Well that day is now. I’m not sure why, but last week I couldn’t get it off my mind and was thrilled when I saw my library had a copy. I’m looking forward to this one!

In Case You Missed It
Clifford Jackman’s The Winter Family was an insanely fun and gritty historical western, following the nefarious Winter family (not blood related; they’re a band of outlaws who have been traveling together) from their beginnings during the Civil War through the 1880s. A body count a mile long and all the blood and guts you could ever want in a book. So. Much. Fun!

While I was pleasantly surprised by The Winter Family, Joel Fishbane’s The Thunder of Giants also surprised me – and, sadly, not in a good way. This slim novel follows the life of Anna Swan, a real life giant who traveled with PT Barnum and, a few decades later, a fictional character. This one had so many wonderful things going for it, but it fell flat for me. Sure, I enjoyed it enough to finish, but now that it’s over, I really don’t have much to say about it and can’t see myself ever re-reading.

The Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane

The Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane
Pub. Date: April 14, 2015
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!!)
Summary: The year is 1937 and Andorra Kelsey – 7’11 and just under 320 pounds – is on her way to Hollywood to become a star. Hoping to escape both poverty and the ghost of her dead husband, she accepts an offer from the wily Rutherford Simone to star in a movie about the life of Anna Swan, the Nova Scotia giantess who toured the world in the 19th century.

Thus, Anna Swan’s story unfurls. Where Andorra is seen as a disgrace by an embarrassed family, Anna Swan is quickly celebrated for her unique size. Drawn to New York, Anna becomes a famed attraction at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum even as she falls in love with Gavin Clarke, a veteran of the Civil War. Quickly disenchanted with a life of fame, Anna struggles to prove to Gavin – and the world – that she is more than the sum of her measurements.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Recommended for: readers who enjoy a fictional account of real lives, those curious about the hidden world of circus acts

For a novel about giants, The Thunder of Giants is surprisingly slim, clocking in at just over 270 pages. Long-time readers of this blog know I’m a big (oh dear, how many times will I be throwing out words like gigantic, humongous, and huge in this review?) fan of what I’ve dubbed biographical fiction, that off-shoot of fiction – typically historical – that takes on the life of an actual historical figure. A Hapsburg empress. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Parisian artists. If there’s a story to be told, I’m on board, so when I was approached about The Thunder of Giants, a novel depicting the life of 8-foot-tall Anna Swan, I was ecstatic!

Told in two voices, The Thunder of Giants bounces between Anna’s story from her birth in the 1840s through the Civil War and on into adulthood, and Andorra Kelsey’s life in the 1930s. Anna with her humble upbringing, Andorra with her heartbreaking childhood. By the 1930s, Hollywood has become interested in producing a movie about PT Barnum’s famed giantess and it’s by luck (good or bad, that’s for you to decide) that a talent scout comes across Andorra and, despite fainting with stage fright as a child, she agrees to travel back to California.

While I enjoyed this book and its fast pace, I can’t ignore the one issue I had: Anna was a living, breathing person (look up photos of her – it’s mindblowing!) Andorra, however, is pure fiction, entirely the author’s creation. Perhaps this is just me, but the entire time I was reading, I kept confusing the two. Who was it again that was the actress? Wait, wait, was that Anna who was in love with Gavin or was it Andorra? I’m sure I’m partly to blame for not being able to keep the two straight, but I also feel part of the blame falls to the author. The names were simply too similar and were it not for the chapter heading baring dates, I would have spent the entire novel in a whirlwind of frustration.

Despite my grumbling over their names The Thunder of Giants was truly a fascinating read and so far removed from my own life (I’m barely pushing 5′ in heels) that it opened my eyes to everyday things I take for granted. I have never had to bend down when walking around my house out of fear of hitting my head. I have never had to worry about the sturdiness of beds, sofas, and chairs. Silly to think about this now, because of course an 8′ woman would have trouble fitting inside a car! Something so obvious looking back.

Throughout the novel there are threads involving family secrets, mysterious parentage, and lost love. Characters I adored at first I grew to hate and characters I didn’t particularly care for ended up stealing the show. There is a moral at the end and while I wouldn’t exactly label it a sitcom-style ending (it’s certainly not all sunshine and roses) I was satisfied. Even better, Joel Fishbane did his job and now I’m curious about diving deeper into Anna Swan’s life. So for that, congratulations, Mr. Fishbane!

Although The Thunder of Giants won’t be reappearing on my Top Reads of 2015 list, I absolutely enjoyed the time I spent with it and have no reservations about recommending it to readers of historical fiction.

The Winter Family by Clifford Jackman

The Winter Family by Clifford Jackman
Pub. Date: April 14, 2015
Source: finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Doubleday!!)
Summary: Spanning the better part of three decades, The Winter Family traverses America’s harsh, untamed terrain, both serving and opposing the fierce advance of civilization. Among its twisted specimens, the Winter Family includes the psychopathic killer Quentin Ross, the mean and moronic Empire brothers, the impassive ex-slave Fred Johnson, and the dangerous child prodigy Lukas Shakespeare But at the malevolent center of this ultraviolent storm is their cold, hardened leader, Augustus Winter—a man with an almost pathological resistance to the rules of society and a preternatural gift for butchery.

From their service as political thugs in a brutal Chicago election to their work as bounty hunters in the deserts of Arizona, there’s a hypnotic logic to Winter’s grim borderland morality that plays out, time and again, in ruthless carnage.
Genre: Western, Historical Fiction, ‘Family’ Saga
Recommended for: those who have been craving Tarantino in book form

At the end of March I received a copy of The Winter Family and, though I had come across the cover while browsing netgalley and GoodReads, I really had no idea what this book was about. The Civil War, a band of murderous outlaws and psychopathic killers, a family saga. It had all the workings of a perfect Leah novel (as morbid as that sounds, sorry Mom!) and I couldn’t wait to dive in. Dive in I did and while The Winter Family wasn’t exactly the book I had been expecting, it was pretty fantastic – with a body count a mile long.

Detailing the lives of the Winter family from its conception just after Sherman’s March to the Sea to its bloody end three decades later, The Winter Family (whose members aren’t actually related, but soldiers who had saved each others’ lives and don’t necessarily like nor trust one another, but their fear of Augustus Winter keeps them together) is chock full of blood, guts, and destruction.

Augustus Winter was just a kid – granted, a mean and hardened kid (no thanks to his reverend papa who was quick to lash out with a whip) – when he went from man to legend. Winter is the type of person whose reputation precedes him: from his cold, soulless eyes to his almost-white hair, townsfolk country-wide know who he is the moment he rides into town (and if Augustus Winter should ever come to your town, death is sure to follow.)

There are a handful of early reviews comparing The Winter Family to Quentin Tarantino films and I have to echo them here. The Winter Family is almost comical with its death toll and the entire time I was reading I kept imagining Django Unchained. The hyper surrealism of the film kept pushing its way to the forefront of my mind and as the bodies piled up, I was less concerned with just who would be next, and more concerned with The Winter Family actually having any characters around for the ending. These men are mean and tough and lawlessness abounds within its pages. Even ‘civilized’ towns like Chicago are depicted like the seedy underbellies of society that they were – the Chicago arc is full of crooked politicians and gangsters and rigged elections and the Winter family is in the midst of it all, naturally with their pockets full afterward.

There’s a scene in the novel where Augustus has a makeover of sorts, coming out on the other side with a crisp all-white suit, cane, and curly hair. I giggled like crazy while reading and its moments like this that brought a bit of humanity to the story. It’s not all death and carnage, only like 99%. From then on Augustus became known as the Dandy Killer and while he secretly hated his new haircut, he kept it to show the world just how little he cares what they think. Once Augustus underwent this change I couldn’t help but head back to college and Symbolism Mode. It was in a Sociology class that we began discussing Savior Characters and I couldn’t help but think of this while reading about the all-white wardrobe…although if Augustus Winter is meant to portray a Jesus figure, Heaven help us all.

The Winter Family is a novel that, while I enjoyed it immensely as I was reading, I’m finding I’m loving it even more now that it’s over and I’ve let my thoughts sit for a day. This is a book that’s certainly bloody and gory, but it’s also – dare I say it? – fun. The characters in these pages are NOT nice and wholesome family men, but I loved the time I spent with them. If you don’t mind getting down and dirty (seriously, this book is nothing but grit and grime) do yourself a favor and spend the weekend with The Winter Family.

Notable Quote

It is often observed that murderers do not look like murderers. No one said that of Augustus Winter.

weekly wrap-up 4/12

It’s that time again! I don’t know about you guys, but this week flew by for me! I guess it didn’t hurt that spring finally came to the Burgh – temperatures in the high 60s/low 70s and it was glorious. Haaa I began doing my daily runs again this week and holy moley my legs want to die.

Because I’ve been spending so much time outside, my audiobook listens have been off the charts! I finally finished Big Little Lies (oh how I didn’t want to say good-bye!), got my Classic Christie fix with some Hercule Poirot, and am currently completely engrossed in Erik Larson’s Dead Wake. So good, guys. AND I received an e-mail from audible this morning announcing a 50% off your entire wishlist sale. Um let’s not tell Matt about this, okay? It’ll be our little secret!

I didn’t receive/buy any books this week, so tell me: what did YOU get this week? Are you into audiobooks??

In Case You Missed It
Shelley Gray’s Deception on Sable Hill surprised me – in a great way! It’s actually the second book in this series (set during the World’s Fair in Chicago!) and there’s a serial killer on the loose, targeting young debutantes. I had a great time with this one and plan on going back to read the first book!

Jan Moran’s Scent of Triumph should have been a novel I devoured. Unfortunately, I was reading just to read by the time I got halfway through. I didn’t care about the characters or their problems and the main character didn’t seem to care at all that her child was missing and stuck somewhere in Poland while she was living it up in California. Sure, the perfume angle was interesting, but I wouldn’t recommend this one to anyone.

I started the Aunt Dimity series with the twentieth book…and fell in love. Aunt Dimity & the Summer King was a ton of fun and pretty much stomped all over my preconceived notions. I’m all starry-eyed over this series now and plan on the mother of all binge-reads by going back and reading the first nineteen books!

Aunt Dimity & the Summer King by Nancy Atherton

Aunt Dimity & the Summer King (Dimity #20) by Nancy Atherton
Pub. Date: April 14, 2015
Source: finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Viking!!)
Summary: There’s trouble in Finch. Four recently sold cottages are standing empty, and the locals fear that a developer plans to turn their cozy village into an enclave of overpriced weekend homes. But for once Lori Shepherd can’t help.

Her infant daughter, her father-in-law’s upcoming wedding, and the crushing prospect of her fortieth birthday have left her feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. Until, that is, she has a chance encounter with an eccentric inventor named Arthur Hargreaves. Dubbed the Summer King by his equally eccentric family, Arthur is as warmhearted as the summer sun. In his presence, Lori forgets her troubles—and Finch’s.

But Lori snaps out of her happy trance when she discovers detailed maps of Finch in the Summer King’s library. Next, a real estate agent comes knocking. Is Arthur secretly plotting Finch’s demise?
Genre: Contemporary, Cozy Mystery
Recommended for: Rainy weekends curled up with a blanket and cup of tea

Lori lives in the picturesque village of Finch. Sure, Finch might not have a booming nightlife – or even its own school – but Lori’s fine with that. She has a brand new baby, her father-in-law’s upcoming wedding, and a tight-knit community full of characters to entertain her instead. When a walk on an abandoned cart path leads her to the Summer King, Lori begins to feel her troubles melt away. No longer does she worry about the four cottages that just aren’t selling (and what that means for Finch, especially in terms of developers). That is, until the day she sees a map of Finch on the Summer King’s wall.

I want to start things off with a confession. While the Dimity series has always been on my radar (and you know how I love my cozy mysteries!), I had yet to read one and was a little hesitant when the publicist reached out to me. Could I possibly jump in with the twentieth book? Would the story be too far gone at that point that there would be no chance of ever catching up? Honestly, aside from a few initial moments of confusion (that were entirely my own fault and assumptions), Aunt Dimity & the Summer King gave me no fuss – I was able to jump right into the story and was easily brought up to speed with Atherton’s breezy Summary of Events-type backstory and introduction to the other residents of Finch. I’m actually wondering if long-time readers would be put off by this. Someone who’s already read the previous nineteen novels would be completely familiar with the town and its inhabitants and wouldn’t need a re-introduction with each book. So while that was great in my case as a newbie to the series, I’m a bit worried how other readers will fare.

ASSUMPTION #1: Aunt Dimity is the star of the show. The books are named for her, after all! Turns out she’s dead. And has been since the very beginning (in fact the first novel is actually titled Aunt Dimity’s Death.) Whoops! Part one of my confusion was with Lori as the main character. I wasn’t sure if she was simply a supporting star and later on Aunt Dimity would swoop in to solve whatever mystery lay ahead. Reading through the blurbs of some of the other novels it looks like Lori has been our girl since Day 1. The books focus on Lori while Dimity offers advice and friendship from beyond. Lori has a special notebook that allows Dimity’s words to come through. Okay, so that can get a little hokey, but I thought it was fun.

ASSUMPTION #2: There would be a murder to solve. Again, entirely my own fault. The other cozies I’ve read were all based on murders that the main character then goes about solving. Because of this I figured someone would turn up maimed or shot and it would be Lori and Dimity on the case. Here, however, Lori’s merely solving a riddle of just why these cottages aren’t selling and the answer goes back decades to a feud between Finch and its neighboring village. All these years later the bad blood is still there and Arthur Hargreaves, the Summer King, is right in the thick of it. In doing a bit of digging, it seems that death doesn’t always play a role in the Dimity series. Only a handful of books actually feature a murder, but the others are lighter in tone: Lori uncovers centuries-old family secrets, evaluates a book collection, discovers priceless jewels hidden away in an abbey, heads to America and the Rocky Mountains, does battle at a Renaissance fair, tracks down a neighbor’s long-lost brother, I could go on and on.

I know I’m breaking away from my typical review format with this one, but I think it works here. Going into Aunt Dimity & the Summer King, I had a feeling that I would enjoy it (A, it’s a cozy mystery and B, it’s from Viking) and enjoy it I did! I had such a great time with this one that I’m VERY eager to track down all nineteen other novels (the mother of all binge-reads?) and get started from the beginning. I would love to see how it all began: from Lori’s realization that Dimity was a real person (she had always assumed Dimity was a character her mother made-up) to the inheritance of the journal and cottage, to meeting Finch’s other residents as they move in. If you’re not already familiar with Dimity, don’t wait years like I did. Aunt Dimity & the Summer King is a quick and easy one-sitting read (and from what I can tell, the rest of the novels all hover around the 200-page mark as well) that was a ton of fun and full of great characters! Now if only I can find the time to read the rest (this is a valid excuse for calling off work for the next few weeks, right??)

Scent of Triumph by Jan Moran

Scent of Triumph by Jan Moran
Pub. Date: March 31, 2015
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s!!)
Summary: When French perfumer Danielle Bretancourt steps aboard a luxury ocean liner, leaving her son behind in Poland with his grandmother, she has no idea that her life is about to change forever. The year is 1939, and the declaration of war on the European continent soon threatens her beloved family, scattered across many countries. Traveling through London and Paris into occupied Poland, Danielle searches desperately for her the remains of her family, relying on the strength and support of Jonathan Newell-Grey, a young captain. Finally, she is forced to gather the fragments of her impoverished family and flee to America. There she vows to begin life anew, in 1940s Los Angeles.

There, through determination and talent, she rises high from meager jobs in her quest for success as a perfumer and fashion designer to Hollywood elite. Set between privileged lifestyles and gritty realities, Scent of Triumph is one woman’s story of courage, spirit, and resilience.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Recommended for: Fans of wartime fiction (WWII), perfume, and forbidden romance

1939. Danielle Bretancourt, traveling home to her family in France, had left her son safely behind with her husband’s mother back in Poland. When the liner is torpedoed by u-boats, Danielle sees for herself the true horrors of war. Now that Hitler has occupied Poland and terror looms over much of Europe, Danielle’s husband Max vows to return to their home, to find their son – to stop at nothing to save Nicky.

As the days turn into weeks and the weeks drag into months, Danielle longs to hear word from her husband, word that he’s safe, word that he’s found their son and is returning to her. Unfortunately, when she does receive a telegram it’s the one thing she doesn’t want to hear: Max had been killed. Whether it was a result of the war or his murder was planned, Danielle isn’t sure, but she does know she needs to leave France. Now.

Gathering what little family she has left, Danielle arranges passage on a liner heading for America – both in an attempt to get away from those who might be following her and in order to start a new life. America is the Land of Dreams after all, and Danielle is determined to provide the best for her family.

When I first heard of Jan Moran’s Scent of Triumph, I knew it was one I wanted to read. Not only did it have a wartime setting (y’all know how I love my wartime fiction!), but it had an intriguing element I had never read about: perfume. Interestingly, Moran is a fragrance expert, has spoken before the American Society of Perfumers, and has even developed her own line! While the perfume jargon was certainly interesting, Danielle’s nose took me out of the story. Yes, I understand that she comes from a long line of perfumers and yes, I understand that she’s been in training since she was a child. But do I really need to have it constantly beaten over my head that she’s a Super Scenter? Anytime she meets someone new – or even when she’s interacting with someone the reader already knows – she launches into an inner monologue about the notes in the perfume/cologne that character is wearing, what the main essence is, how much of each ingredient is in the scent. Enough, Danielle.

I’m worried this review will be more a rambling of my thoughts than a coherent, linear criticism. I’ve been sitting on this one for well over a week and still I’m finding myself grasping for things to say. Sure, I enjoyed the story while reading, but it wasn’t anything spectacular. It also wasn’t anything horrendous, so Scent of Triumph is stuck in that Limbo-esque middle ground – and I’ve found that those solid average reads are always the hardest for me to discuss.

While I enjoyed the setting and time period, I was never emotionally invested in the story. I didn’t particularly care about Nicky and was more than a little shocked to discover that, after only a year of being on his own he’s forgotten his name and his parents. He’s seven years old at this point. For months he had been hiding away with his grandmother and relatives until they were all brutally murdered. After that, he joined a pack of children where they were taken in by a few families and he somehow made his way from Poland to London. Am I really to believe he’s already forgotten his mother? His father? His name? Had he been a baby, okay, but he’s a school-age child. Sorry, I’m not buying it.

I also wasn’t a big fan of Danielle. With such a large part of the novel being devoted to her search for Nicky, Danielle certainly doesn’t seem all that concerned. She’s able to pick up with her life and move on, carting her daughter and traumatized mother (there was a scene where a man was meant to be taken out by a car bomb, but as it turned out, Danielle’s parents and sister-in-law had been in the car as well. The only thing that saved her mother was that she forgot her purse and turned around to get it..) across the Atlantic and starting a new life. She goes through three husbands – if you were Husband #3 and were well aware that both #1 and 2 were murdered by Nazis (who oddly had a grudge against Danielle since they traveled halfway across the world to track her down) wouldn’t you think twice about marrying this woman? The only thing she really has going for her is her business savvy. Once she has her things sent to America, she sets to work creating a perfume she had been working on for months, determined to find a way to support her family. She’s able to rise through the ranks, from a shop girl in a boutique to, eventually, a self-made woman.

Things seem to just fall in place for Danielle, and the convenient nature of it all had me rolling my eyes. Her perfume really takes off when a gossip columnist gets a whiff. Husband #2 had been depicted as a playboy the ENTIRE novel, even mentioning the hundreds of women he’s been with…until Danielle is made a widow. Then his entire persona changes because it’s ~tru luv~ on his part. However, all throughout the novel, Scent of Triumph had been setting up Danielle with Husband #3 so I knew it was only a matter of time until they finally got together. By the time they admit their feelings for each other, they’re both married. WHAT TO DO. Fear not, reader! Remember those pesky Nazis who want to stop at nothing to kill Danielle? Husband #2 jumps in front of one, taking the bullet and neatly ending his life. Husband #3’s wife? Turns out the baby she’s carrying isn’t his! And she wants to marry the baby’s father! And his wife just agreed to a divorce! Nicky is tracked down after someone in an orphanage just so happens to remember his eyes and, as luck would have it, Danielle spots Nicky on a ship – while on the dock (she must have amazing eyesight since the ship was already heading out to sea.) The nice captain even turned the boat around. See what I mean? There was far too much of this throughout the novel.

I know it seems like I’m airing an awful lot of grievances but I truly enjoyed the time I spent with the novel. I’m not entirely sure who to recommend it to though – or if I would even recommend it at all. Scent of Triumph wasn’t BAD, but there wasn’t anything about it that stood out for me. It does have a truly beautiful cover though, but a cover alone doesn’t make a novel.

Deception on Sable Hill by Shelley Gray

Deception on Sable Hill (Chicago World’s Fair Mystery #2) by Shelley Grey
Pub. Date: April 7, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Zondervan!!)
Summary: The World’s Fair is nearing its end, but the danger in Chicago lingers.

It’s mid-September of 1893 and Eloisa Carstairs is the reigning beauty of Gilded Age Chicago society. To outsiders she appears to have it all. But Eloisa is living with a dark secret. Several months ago, she endured a horrible assault at the hands of Douglass Sloane, heir to one of Chicago’s wealthiest families. Fearing the loss of her reputation, Eloisa confided in only one friend. That is, until she meets Detective Sean Ryan at a high-society ball.

Sean is on the outskirts of the wealthy Chicago lifestyle. Born into a poor Irish family, becoming a policeman was his best opportunity to ensure his future security. Despite society’s restrictions, he is enamored with Eloisa Carstairs. Sean seethes inside at what he knows happened to her, and he will do anything to keep her safe-even if he can never earn her affections.
Genre: Mystery, Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction
Recommended for: readers who enjoy a light-hearted, predictable romance with a bit of mystery thrown in

I wouldn’t necessarily call it a pseudonym, but Shelley Gray is Shelley Shepard Gray, bestselling author of Amish fiction. It’s through those books that I came to be aware of her (Amish fiction is a massive seller where I work!) and while I haven’t read any of her work, I was extremely curious about this new series, a murder mystery set during the World’s Fair in Chicago!

Eloisa Carstairs, the It Girl of Chicago society, puts on a brave face as she attends ball after ball, party after party. Just a few short months ago she was assaulted by the heir of one of Chicago’s wealthiest families and since then, she’s been carrying that secret inside for fear of completely ruining her reputation.

With the Society Slasher (a man who’s been attacking high class debutantes) still on the loose – and still going after young ladies – the police force have focused their attention on protecting those who may be at risk. Sean is completely out of his element in this strange new world of gowns and elaborate dinners. Coming from a poor Irish family, Sean joined the police force early and quickly rose in the ranks, working his way up to Lieutenant Detective. Handling blood and crime is nothing, but Eloisa is another story. Even though Sean knows they’re leagues apart his growing affections for her are too strong to hide and he’s determined to stop at nothing to keep her safe – and finally track down this madman.

Whenever I read Christian fiction, I always know what I’m going to get, I always know what’s in store. I had an incredibly stressful week and needed something that I could easily sink into that would alleviate my worries. Enter Deception on Sable Hill. Admittedly, I have not read the first book. Secrets of Sloane House came out last year and although it’s definitely on my To Read list now, I went into Sable Hill completely blind…and I think it hurt a bit. In the beginning I was a little confused – characters hint and allude to events that took place in the first book, assuming the reader had already read it (whoops). Over the course of the story, however, the details were filled in so I guess it’s not required that you read this series in order, though I’m positive it helps. Actually, reading over the summary for Sloane House, it looks like that novel focuses on an entirely different cast of characters! I recognize the names from this novel (though they were more off-screen mentions), so I’m guessing Eloisa played a bit role in the first and now this novel is her story.

To be honest, halfway through the novel I expected the Society Slasher to turn out to be H. H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer (many of his murders were committed during the World’s Fair). Though I was a little disappointed when it turned out not to be him, I had an extremely fun time playing detective!

Probably my biggest guilty pleasure is a class different in romance. Sable Hill jumps right in with this: Eloisa’s family is one of the richest in Chicago while Sean grew up living in the slums. BE STILL, MY HEART! Not only do they find love (I don’t consider that much of a spoiler – the novel pretty much points it out from the start), but there’s another relationship, this time with the roles reversed. Sean’s partner Owen comes from a well-off family, earning him the nickname Gentleman Detective at the station. The moment he sets his eyes on Sean’s youngest sister Katie, he’s done for. Both relationships were super straightforward and sweet, no fuss at all.

While the constant hammering home lectures about being escorted around town grated on my nerves a bit, I was eventually able to look past it (the 1800s were a different time and there was a murderous madman on the loose, after all). With its no-nonsense romances and angle of mystery, I tore through Deception on Sable Hill and any initial confusion was entirely my fault (read the first novel, guys). Everything wraps up nicely here so I’m not completely sure whether or not this was meant to be a duology, but if Shelley Gray plans on writing more, I plan on reading them!