Tackling the TBR 1: A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine

A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine
Pub. Date: January 1986
Source: Borrowed from the library
Summary: When Faith Severn’s aunt was hanged for murder, the reason behind her dark deed died with her. For 30 years, the family hid the truth–until a journalist prompts Faith to peer back to the day when her aunt took knife in hand and entered a child’s nursery.

Last month I announced a new series I’m doing called Tackling the TBR. If you’re anything like me, your TBR list is a mile long! In that first post I announced the picks (chosen by a random number generator so they were total surprises for me!) and couldn’t have been more thrilled with the selections. All were novels I had been eager to read, some for years.

Barbara Vine’s A Dark-Adapted Eye immediately caught my attention the first time I heard of it. I had never read a Ruth Rendell novel, let alone any published under her pseudonym, but she’s an author I’ve heard amazing things about, that her mysteries rank right up there with my girl Agatha Christie. Naturally I was intrigued and this one in particular sounded great.

Faith’s aunt had been hanged, executed for a shocking murder committed three decades earlier. The victim? Vera’s younger sister Eden, which made the crime all the more unfathomable since Vera had practically raised her little sister, doted on her as though Eden were her own. The two sisters adored each other…so what could have possessed Vera to kill Eden? The motive and details surrounding that day (and leading up to the murder) are long gone: Vera took her reasoning to the grave and several other witnesses have also passed or can no longer remember as it happened 30 years earlier. It’s not until a journalist interested in writing a book comes calling that Faith takes a deeper look into her family’s dark past.

Here’s the thing. That summary led me to believe a child had been killed. That’s not what happened at all, though a baby does factor into everything – including the motive. So while I was a bit misled, I was still wildly excited about diving into a mystery by one of the greatest authors of the genre.

…and I nearly abandoned the book. Multiple times. At 262 pages, A Dark-Adapted Eye felt ten times longer. This is definitely not a fast-paced, action-packed read. Instead, it’s much more of a character exploration, piecing together bits of Vera’s life, of Eden’s, in Faith’s attempt to discover who her aunts really were and just what could have led that fierce bond to suddenly break. I typically love character-driven novels – and this one includes a MURDER – but I’ll admit it was a chore to read. I also had an excruciating time trying to keep the family members straight: there was the immediate family; then the aunts and uncles and cousins; the in-laws and servants; neighbors were introduced; there were even godparents mentioned. I was already struggling with the book, the massive cast made it even more difficult.

The novel must have made an impression on me, however, since I actually had a dream about the characters one night! Although the novel is a short one, it took a fantastic amount of time and effort on my part, so I’m not surprised these character embedded themselves into my subconscious.

I’m fairly disappointed with A Dark-Adapted Eye. I’m nervous about picking up another Vine/Rendell novel though I’m still curious about this woman hailed as one of the great mystery authors. As for this book, it’s not nearly what I had expected and the slow pace that I usually love made getting through this book challenging. Readers of tightly-plotted novels beware, this one leaves the ending wide open.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope
Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
A Dark-Adapted Eye by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine
Mort by Terry Pratchett
The Dark Deeps by Arthur Slade
Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
The Promise of Breeze Hill by Pam Hillman
Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History by Tori Telfer

weekly wrap-up 12/10

• Whew. SO glad this week is over and that’s all I’m saying about that.

• The one bright spot of my week was using my new gnome mug! It’s technically an infuser (under his hat is a tiny removable ceramic infuser) but I’ve been using it exclusively for my coffee these past few days. Side note: I’m obsessed with watching QVC and follow several hosts on social media. Last night one of them shared a photo of his favorite Christmas mug and asked others to share theirs – I posted a photo of mine and almost immediately after posting a woman asked where I got it!

• It seemed like EVERY photo I scrolled through on IG yesterday was of snow. And some of you got a ton! Thankfully, Pittsburgh didn’t see a single flake…unfortunately, we woke up to a dusting ugh.

• Where are my local foodies? 50 of the best new Pittsburgh restaurants! LOTS of vegany goodness (including Onion Maiden, which I first discovered last year at a vegan festival), tacos, breweries, a ” custom glazed doughnut and ice cream sandwiches” shops that features toppings like Lucky Charms and Fruity Pebbles (!!!), a pierogi bar, a motocycle body shop-turned-Vietnamese cafe, a ramen bar, a Mac & Cheese-centric restaurant, a Korean fried chicken and empanadas, a cat cafe, I could seriously go on and on. Some are even dog-friendly!

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? I shared another round of recently added books. A contemporary romance involving twins and a case of mistaken identity, an Anastasia novel, an upcoming villain retelling, and more!

Though Bloodstains with Bronte is the second book in Katherine Bolger Hyde’s Crime with the Classics series, this can easily be read on its own (although I’m thinking knowledge of previous events might be a bit helpful!) A murder mystery dinner takes a serious turn for the worse after the pretend victim winds up dead.

The Summer I Met Jack by Michelle Gable
It’s no secret I loooove Michelle and her books (my reviews: 2014’s debut A Paris Apartment, 2016’s I’ll See You in Paris, & 2017’s The Book of Summer) and I was shrieking with delight when this one arrived at my door. The thing that draws me into her novels is that she uses real events and people and you all know how much I love that! The Summer I Met Jack is based on a rumored affair between JFK and Alicia Corning Clark along with the child they might have had! Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!


Bloodstains with Bronte by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Bloodstains with Bronte (Crime with the Classics #2) by Katherine Bolger Hyde
Pub. Date: December 12, 2017
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Minotaur Books!)
Summary: It’s a dark and stormy autumn on the Oregon coast. Windy Corner, the Victorian mansion Emily Cavanaugh inherited in Arsenic with Austen, is being remodeled into a writers’ retreat. Two of the young workers, Jake and Roman, are showing too much of the wrong kind of interest in Katie, Emily’s young single-mother housekeeper. Their boss, Jeremiah, is a disturbing presence in a different way with his obsessive, tormented piety. Soon the passions in the house grow as dark and stormy as the weather, and Emily begins to feel as if she’s living in a Brontë novel.

Meanwhile, to raise money for the local clinic, Emily and Katie host a murder mystery dinner on Halloween night. All goes well until the supposed corpse turns up actually dead—with Katie standing over him, a bloody knife in her hand.

Luke Richards, local sheriff and Emily’s true love, is forced to regard Katie as a suspect, but Emily refuses to accept the situation. Her loyalty to Katie crashes against her duty to Luke and to the truth as she fights to save Katie from a murder charge.
Genre: Cozy Mystery

TRIGGER WARNING: a large part of the plot revolves around a past rape
Emily Cavanaugh, a widowed English professor, recently inherited a grand Victorian mansion, Windy Corner, which she intends to convert into a writers retreat complete with themed rooms. The renovation project ushers two young men into her home – and much too close to Katie, her housekeeper. Both Roman and Jake seem too interested in Katie and Katie herself seems to be keeping something from Emily.

Things turn from bad to FAR worse when a charity murder mystery dinner leads to an actual murder…right outside Emily’s own bedroom. And Katie’s holding the bloody knife. Emily refuses to believe Katie could have had anything to do with the murder – even after learning the truth about Katie’s connection to the victim – but the local sheriff doesn’t seem nearly as quick to claim her innocence.

Confession time: I received an ARC of the first book, Arsenic with Austen but never got around to reading it! You can bet I’ll be jumping into it soon though. Despite not having read the previous novel, I was easily brought up to speed with earlier events and how Emily came to own Windy Corner – while I think this might be a series where it’s helpful to read the books in order, I don’t feel it’s necessary, intimidated readers, have no fear!

I love a good cozy, especially this time of year. A woman who inherited a mansion, a quaint town with a great cast of characters, the young single mother in need of a job, a new chance at love after being widowed, murder, it had all the makings of a fun and engaging story. What I DIDN’T expect, however, was the big rape plot. I recently mentioned in another review that I avoid posting spoilers unless it involves an animal death. I’m making an exception here even though I made mention of the trigger warning already: when Katie was 18, she was raped. By Jake. Now 19, Katie is trying to move on and raise their daughter on her own. After that night she never said another word to him, avoided all contact, refused to even mention anything about their child. While there aren’t any intense flashbacks or graphic depictions of that night, I felt it was better to explain the details here, even at the risk of spoiling a huge chunk of the story – as Katie’s rape itself is the backbone to a huge chunk of the story.

Just as the title suggests, there are bits of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre sprinkled throughout the novel and each chapter opens with a quote from one of the two books. There’s also a nice parallel to one of the characters and Heathcliff and, I’ll admit, I’m eager to crack open my own copy of Wuthering Heights. It’s been over a decade since I read it in high school and its moody, broody tone is perfectly suited to this chilly Pittsburgh weather!

While there were a few things about Bloodstains with Bronte that seemed a bit of a stretch (namely the three men who are completely obsessed with Katie), I found myself immersed in this mystery. I do wish certain elements would have been fleshed out a bit more – there are some characters who came across as caricatures which made solving the crime a bit too easy – I have to say I genuinely enjoyed this one and will waste no time in going back to finally pick up my copy of the first book! Also, major points for having a cat named Bustopher Jones.


recently added

New month, new books added to my To Read pile! Let’s jump right in and see what recently caught my eye.

City of Shadows by Ariana Franklin
Berlin, 1922. A killer is on the loose, a detective is driven by a need for justice, and a young woman claims to be a lost Russian grand duchess. You all know I live for novels where the Romanovs survived (or, you know, just books about the Romanovs period). One of my very good friends recommended this one a while back and it’s been calling my name ever since.

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
Last week I read Mort, my first Discworld novel (finally!) and the first of my picks for a new project I’m doing called Tackling the TBR. Well I’ve already failed after book one since the whole purpose of the project was to clear out my To Read stacks. Immediately after finishing Mort I went and added the sequel. Whoops. But I mean really, Death wants to retire – or at the very least take a break for a bit (and can you blame him?) – and needs to find a replacement.

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid
Carrie is entirely to blame for this one! Contemporary Romance is still new territory for me, but there’s no way I could pass up this series! Fantastic covers, punny titles (Grin and Beard It, Beard Science, Beard Necessities), I’m sold already. This book features identical twins (though naturally one is broody while the other is outgoing and fun) and a case of mistaken identity. Yep, this has my name written ALL over it!

All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller
Though this novel doesn’t drop until May, I had to include it! This is a retelling, told from Cinderella’s stepmother’s perspective. Yes, the wicked stepmother. Agnes was born a peasant, becoming a laundresses as a child. As a teenager she’s seduced by a much older man and quickly found herself alone, penniless, and with a baby. It’s then she finds work in a grand manor as nursemaid to an infant named Ella. As much as I love retellings of princesses and heroes, I can’t help but be even more intrigued by retellings devoted to the villains.


weekly wrap-up 12/3

• I had a wonderfully short week thanks to Matt’s birthday. Only two days of work and an extra long weekend? I’ll take it! My sister also celebrated her birthday this week so it’s been a giant party these past few days.

• One of my favorite online shops shared a recipe on IG yesterday for cookies and lol I’m planning on whipping up a batch. I realized this wasn’t the first time a shop inspired me to bake: back in September I made apple spice scones with caramel glaze after the owner of one of my local favs, Bellwether, whipped up a batch of cranberry orange scones!

• Last night I began watching a series I had in my Prime watchlist for a while, only to discover it wasn’t quite what I thought. I assumed it was entirely set in the Victorian era (a psychologist and his photographer wife move back to his country home and become entangled in a number of supernatural events) only to realize there’s some weird time thing going on.. In the first episode the MC looked in the sky and saw an airplane (I wrote it off as a total goof), but then at the end of the episode, he’s hearing creaks at night and when he opens a door he sees a woman with an ipad. I’m 4 episodes in now (out of 6) and still not completely sure what to make of it and it’s even more frustrating because I just learned the show wasn’t renewed for a second season. There’s no way they’ll be able to finish the story – AND explain all the modern stuff – in 2 episodes. GIVE ME YOUR RECS! What are you watching right now??

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? Terry Pratchett’s Mort was the first read in my Tackling the TBR project and it was a ton of fun, though it didn’t have the belly laughs I had been hoping for. Still, I’m thrilled I finally experienced a Discworld novel and I immediately added book 2 to my to read list…which kind of defeats the purpose of this project hahaha

I shared my November 2017 recap!

After a year of some pretty lackluster releases, Joanna Schaffhausen appears with The Vanishing Season, a wickedly intense thriller about a woman who was the sole survivor of a serial killer 14 years ago. She’s now living under a new name in a new town and works as a cop – she’s convinced a string of missing persons cases are related (and possibly tied to her past) she can’t get anyone on the force to believe her…until she receives a gruesome gift. I loved this one.


The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen

The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen
Pub. Date: December 5, 2017
Source: e-ARC via publisher (Thank you, Minotaur Books!)
Summary: Ellery Hathaway knows a thing or two about serial killers, but not through her police training. She’s an officer in sleepy Woodbury, MA, where a bicycle theft still makes the newspapers. No one there knows she was once victim number seventeen in the grisly story of serial killer Francis Michael Coben. The only victim who lived.

When three people disappear from her town in three years, all around her birthday—the day she was kidnapped so long ago—Ellery fears someone knows her secret. Someone very dangerous. Her superiors dismiss her concerns, but Ellery knows the vanishing season is coming and anyone could be next. She contacts the one man she knows will believe her: the FBI agent who saved her from a killer’s closet all those years ago.

Agent Reed Markham made his name and fame on the back of the Coben case, but his fortunes have since turned. His marriage is in shambles, his bosses think he’s washed up, and worst of all, he blew a major investigation. When Ellery calls him, he can’t help but wonder: sure, he rescued her, but was she ever truly saved? His greatest triumph is Ellery’s waking nightmare, and now both of them are about to be sucked into the past, back to the case that made them…with a killer who can’t let go.
Genre: Mystery, Suspense

Fourteen years ago Francis Coben terrorized the nation as girl after girl went missing. When the bodies began turning up, it was clear Francis was more than your run-of-the-mill twisted killer. The man was sick: after torturing the girls he would cut off their hands as keepsakes – and what he did with those hands was too disturbing for even the media to disclose. So when 14-year-old Abby Hathaway was taken one night, it was a race against the clock to find her. But find her one young agent did and overnight the pair became famous: Reed for being the rescuer (and later went on the write a runaway bestseller detailing the crime) and Abby, the sole survivor.

A decade and a half later, Abby – now Ellery – has taken on a new life away from the place she called home. Now a police officer, Ellie avoids any talk of her past, playing off her scars as the result of a childhood bike accident and disregarding her birthday altogether. However, with three new girls now missing, Ellie believes there may be a copycat killer at work, though she can’t get anyone to believe her – until she pays a call to an old FBI agent from her past. Reed is the only one who knows Ellie’s true identity, he’s the only one who believes her suspicions, especially after she shows him a secret stash of birthday cards she’s been receiving: Ellery was kidnapped on her birthday and has made a point of never divulging the date to anyone in her new town. Whoever has been sending the cards not only knows who she is, but also knows where she lives. It isn’t until Ellery receives a gift-wrapped present – a severed hand – that the Woodbury PD finally realize Ellie’s theories may actually hold some truth.

Although The Vanishing Season is less than 300 pages, it packs a HUGE punch and I was glued to the page. Ellery’s determination to run from her past, her insistence that the missing person cases are linked – and frustration at not being believed, the vulnerability that’s revealed once the new (??) killer makes their presence known and every inch of her home is inspected, I simply couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. On the surface Ellie seems cold and closed-off, not interested in forging relationships or getting to know her fellow officers. She has a dog and has a friendly relationship with the guy who runs the shelter, but that’s as far as buddy goes. It isn’t until Reed enters her home that he discovers the nailed-shut closets. Every single one. For days Ellie was held in a pitch black closet, only let out for another of Francis’s unspeakable acts. Fourteen years later she’s still carrying that with her.

Reed didn’t fare that well either and, though not physical like Ellie’s, he’s still baring scars from the past. Once the star rookie agent with a book deal, Reed soon gave more of himself to his work than to his family and, while technically still married, he and his wife have separated. He adores his little girl, but he’s struggling to make good on his visitations with her and counseling sessions with his wife. Even worse is that he’s currently on mandatory leave after dropping the ball on a major case. He realized all too late that they had their guy; once he was released he went out and killed a little boy.

Ellery is no longer the terrified teenager, Reed has fallen from grace and a good chunk of The Vanishing Season is watching these two navigate their ideas of who the other was with who they are now. I will say, though, that I am THRILLED the book didn’t stray into romance when it so easily could have. There’s a 13 year age difference, so it’s not like it would have been unthinkable, especially given their past, but the book is all the better for avoiding even a hint of romance.

Clearly this is a book I seriously enjoyed, seeing as how I can’t stop rambling about it, so I’ll try to wrap this up. I avoid spoiler talk in my reviews unless it deals with an animal, specifically dogs. At 93%, during the final showdown, Bump is shot off-screen so to speak, and is assumed dead. I’m happy to say he survives and is well on his way to a full recovery the next time he appears.

The mystery in The Vanishing Season was SO fun (or as fun as severed hands can be) and I truly didn’t want to set the book aside for anything. This was one of those novels where, if I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it and counting down the time until I could return to it (thanks to pesky things like work and sleep – who needs ’em). Looking back, I should have easily pegged the killer since there are so few characters, but I’m glad I didn’t and that I got to sit back and enjoy watching it all play out. I’m both excited and heartbroken that this is Joanna’s debut: I’m thrilled to see what she does next but oh how I would love to be able to read more of her work now!


November 2017 recap


• Today marks 1 month of owning my new car! As much as I absolutely LOVED my last car I get excited just thinking about driving the new one – and I normally hate driving.

• On Instagram I discussed my armchair travels and how I can’t wrap my mind around anyone not loving to read when, in the course of a week, I spent an afternoon in space, witnessed the Russian Revolution, watched a group of women in the 1920s fight for justice, and solved a mystery in 1905.

• This article about how our love affair with digital is over had me cheering. It’s not just book sales that are up, it’s records, board games, tickets to Broadway shows!

• Both my sister and Matt just celebrated birthdays, so between that and Thanksgiving, my work weeks have been blessedly short!

• Despite only sharing 3 reviews in November, I read a total of 18 books, 14 physical/e-books, 4 on audio. There was one DNF (Murder in the Manuscript Room by Con Lehane) and no 5-star reads, but plenty of wonderful 4-stars (including I Was Anastasia, The Radium Girls, A Square Meal, The Hunting Accident, Thornhill, and more)! This brings my total for the year to 121 books read.


THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST BY RHYS BOWEN was my introduction to the Molly Murphy series (17 books later..oops!) and I. Am. HOOKED. Molly, her husband, and young son are invited to spend the holidays with family friends at a grand old estate. There they learn of a terrible tragedy: 10 years ago, their hosts daughter wandered out into the snow and was never seen again. Now, a decade later, as everyone gathers to sing carols, there’s a knock at the door and a young woman enters, claiming to be the lost daughter. VERY entertaining and had my attention the entire time though I admit I figured out the Big Reveal early on. Still, I can’t say enough about this book and look forward to reading the rest!

NOT NOW NOT EVER BY LILY ANDERSON was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, the follow-up to Lily’s 2016 debut (and one of my top reads of the year), The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You. Set a few years after the events of the first book, Not Now Not Ever has much of the same geeky, nerdalicious humor and romance that I adored. Though I didn’t love this one nearly as much as the previous book, I’m so excited to see what Lily does next.

MORT BY TERRY PRATCHETT was the first of my Tackling the TBR reads. Discworld is a series I always wanted to get into, but was so overwhelmed at where to start. Mort was the perfect introduction. Death decides to take on an apprentice and poor Mort has no idea what’s in store.