Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH BELOW STAIRS does everything right…

34927953Is it possible to give a book seven stars out of five? I would give Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH BELOW STAIRS seven stars out of five, if I could. So let’s say that I have. Good? Good. Now let me tell you why…

I think I’d read six percent (I’d happily received an eBook ARC) when I liked it enough to peek at it on Goodreads. Let me tell you, I was thrilled (thrilled!) to see there will be a sequel this summer. That’s a lot of investment from me that early on in a book, but you do what a book tells you to do. And this book made me want more of this world, of these characters, of Jennifer Ashley’s writing, and of the things that happened here.

DEATH BELOW STAIRS drops immediately into 1881 London (a definite hook for the historical fiction addict that I am) and I found myself meeting Mrs. Holloway as she starts a new job as a cook in one of the fancy Victorian houses that so much historical fiction likes to focus on. Mrs. Holloway, who is only about thirty years old and uses the idea of missus with some liberty, finds herself employed by Lord and Lady Rankin. They are minor characters in the story, hardly ever part of the action, but they are compelling. As are Mrs. Bowen and Mr. Davis, the housekeeper and butler of the Rankin house. The cast is rounded out by Sinead – a kitchen maid, James – a boy at home in the streets, Lady Cynthia – the unmarried sister of Lady Rankin, and Daniel McAdam – the mysterious man and father to James, who shares some history with Mrs. Holloway.

I adore them all. Absolutely adore them. They are, all of them, interesting and complex and fun.

It’s obvious that Daniel, who exists as easily as a wealthy man-about-town as he does a day laborer who hires himself out for menial chores and sleeps above stables, has something like love for Kat. (Kat is Mrs. Holloway, though only Daniel calls her that… and never in front of anyone else.) He might not be willing to admit it, but it’s there. And his hesitancy makes it all the more perfect.

I never watched Downton Abbey and my other experience with Upstairs-Downstairs dynamics in fiction is limited. But this? This murder mystery spin on that is something that works incredibly well.

I never guessed who might have killed the victim, why anyone might have killed the victim, or even how the murder would be solved. Even a murder in the Rankin house took on a whole different look under the wider scope of the Fenians, Queen Victoria, and openness and equality in Victorian England.

It’s Lady Cynthia who fascinates me, as much as I do the not-yet-couple that is Kat and Daniel, because it is Lady Cynthia who really bridges both worlds best. She can do it, she has to do it, because she doesn’t fit in either world. Not as she like to be accepted. (I may have cheered aloud when Mr. Thanos declared her beautiful and fascinating… and they may be one of the best reasons to read the sequel.)

I didn’t expect such breathless and yet balanced suspense and drama and action from this book. Maybe because I expect the Victorians to be stuffy and dull or maybe because I expected it to have more romance. I am very happy to have been proven wrong and I am sorry (and also not sorry, because how else would I be so surprised?) for it.

The story ends with sadness, which is essentially how it began, but it seems as though the message is that sadness gives way to a chance at hope and happiness. It’s awfully poetic and nice. And though there is a sequel to be released this summer, the main plot lines of this story are fully wrapped up. There is no cliffhanger and this book could stand alone easily (and I’m tempted to skip the sequel and let it, because I’m afraid nothing can be this good!).

I read it too fast and it was over too soon but I love this book. It comes out January 2, 2018 and I’m going to buy it. I hope you will too!

I received a copy of DEATH BELOW STAIRS through NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own & my review is cross-posted on NetGalley, Goodreads, and my blog.


first books – The Last City (The Last City series)

I am a sucker for supernatural stories, dystopian stories, and YA stories. The first book in Logan Keys’ ‘The Last City’ series ticked all three of those boxes when I read the description on NetGalley. So I was very excited when I was able to read the book.

And all of those things are present in the story. In fact, there are traces of ‘Twilight’ (I’m 99% sure the vampire girl actually watches Twilight at one point), ‘Divergent’ (the place where the lead girl eventually lives is very much a Factionless sort of area), ‘The Hunger Games’ (people are banished to decrepit places while the privileged few engage in many cosmetic surgeries), and ‘The Mortal Instruments’ (there are werewolves and hybrid creature-people and almost magic). Those are the four series that I’ve read so they are my comparison.

None of this is to say that Keys is unoriginal or copied ideas. That’s not true at all. Keys created a world where these things seem to work together, where the catalyst for action is different than in any of the other stories, but where strands from popular culture are woven together in a whole new one.

I originally rated this book three stars out of five but I’m upping it to four stars because, although it didn’t grab me right away and when I read the last page I wasn’t sure I’d want to read more, I realize that it was the first book in a series. First books are meant to set up a world, to explain the world is at it is, and to make a reader want to know more about a character and a plot. All of that was accomplished in this book.

There were dry places, confusing places, and even possibly unnecessary places but, in the time that’s passed between reading it and writing this review… I want to read book 2 as soon as possible!

(I received a copy of THE LAST CITY through NetGalley and Le Chat Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own & my review is cross-posted at Goodreads, NetGalley, and on my blog.)

Do you know how to remove a brain?

I don’t, because I’m not a brain surgeon. And David Haviland didn’t exactly teach me how to remove a brain in his book HOW TO REMOVE A BRAIN AND OTHER BIZARRE MEDICAL PRACTICES.

(I say not exactly because he discussed how the Ancient Egyptians would yank out pharaohs brains through the nose before mummification, but I already knew that.)

23217984I forgive Mr. Haviland, though, because the “other bizarre medical practices” included in his collection of super bizarre medical stories. I yammered on and on and on, to the point of possibly annoying friends and family, while I was reading this book. And I have no regrets.

No regrets because I did not know things like the fact that people used to grind up mice into a paste as a cure for a toothache. That the French nearly drove leeches to extinction with their intense devotion to bleeding and bloodletting, and actually imported leeches from other places in Europe. (I’m writing this review unfortunately late so I don’t remember a lot of specifics… or maybe I’m just really trying to get you, Unknown Blog Reader, to read this book. It works either way.)

I loved this book. I love this book. I’m going to read it again one day. Why? Because I forgot some things, because it is history (and I LOVE all things history), and because it makes for a great conversation starter. Even if people might look at you a little bit sideways!

spoiler alert: The Founding Fathers hated each other…

So… “Hamilton” is a thing. You can’t get much more all-American than George Washington. Jefferson created the basis for the laws we still follow today. And there are a handful of other Founding Fathers we learn about in elementary school, and then probably forget unless somebody asks us “who is on the $1 bill?” or their birthday means we get a day off from work or school.

But do you know what we don’t learn about the Founding Fathers in elementary school?

That they kinda hated each other with an awesome sort of passion.

I sort of knew this, especially since Alexander Hamilton was the sort of guy who would duel and be killed by Aaron Burr, the Vice President!

There is so much more to the feuds of the Founding Fathers, though. So very much more. And Paul Aron lays it all out brilliantly in FOUNDING FEUDS.


If you ever need a good, old-timey insult to fling at somebody during a political debate (and who doesn’t need an insult in a political debate?), look no further than the Founding Fathers. After all, Aron cites William Cobbett saying of Thomas Paine (English and European, but also greatly influencing the creation of America was we know it):

How Tom gets a living now, or what brothel he inhabits, I know not. Whether his carcass is at last to be suffered to rot on the earth, or to be dried in the air, is of very little consequence… Like Judas he will be remembered by posterity; men will learn to express all that is base, malignant, treacherous, unnatural and blasphemous, by the singly monosyllable, Paine.

And they were friends! (Sometimes.)

But that’s just a taste.

It’s really not surprising that they showed and shared such a deep-rooted dislike for and distrust of one another. Their egos and senses of self had to be huge to think they could start a revolution and found a country. No way they could all peacefully co-exist without proverbial, and sometimes literal, bloodshed.

So if you need a break from the political bickering that’s currently and always ongoing, I could not recommend something more than I can recommend this book. The vaunted Founding Fathers argued in a much classier way, and they weren’t afraid to mince their words. It’s great!

(I received a copy of FOUNDING FEUDS through NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS in exchange for an honest & original review. All thoughts are my own.)

“The Girl Before” by J.P. Delaney

Read this book!

Let’s start there because, well, you should read this book. If you like drama, suspense, thrillers, psychological stories, and a little romance… you should read this book. Like yesterday.

It’s one of the rare ones that absolutely breaks the 5 star scale. I’d rate it higher if I could, so let’s pretend that I did. If I were fan of psychological thrillers, 5 stars would do fine. But I’m not usually a fan of this genre. Some of the books I’ve tried in it get way too complicated.

And, much like the houses Edward Monkford designs in THE GIRL BEFORE, it is the stark simplicity of this story that makes it absolutely TERRIFYING.

Terrifying in a special, can’t put it down, gonna give me nightmares but I’m okay with that sort of way.

Which is funny to type but… the truth can’t be avoided.

I thought I had this book figured out. I thought I knew who was stalking who and who was killing who. There was a lot of stalking and killing going on too.

I didn’t know ANYTHING.

And that made this book amazing.

I’d say more but… just read the book? Yeah. Good.

(I received a copy of THE GIRL BEFORE through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

“The Facts of Life” by Patrick Gale

I received a copy of THE FACTS OF LIFE through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest and original review.

I did not, however, manage to finish this book. I have a general rule of getting to at least 20% of the book read, especially in the cases of books acquired in exchange for reviews, and I reached that and stopped. There was no connection between me and the main characters at that point, Sally and Edward. In fact, I felt more connected to Sally and Edward’s mentors than I did to them.

The story seemed to reach too far, trying to hard to encompass every event and mood of the post-World War II years.

But the final straws for me were when Edward found his sister in a psychiatric hospital in Paris, having survived medical torture in the Nazi death camps, and without much thought at all… smothered her with a pillow. Apparently because she’d be too much of a burden? It was hard to understand, knowing what I knew of Edward, why the author thought this was necessary.

The other final straw was during the birth of Sally and Edward’s child. Sally and Edward hardly tolerated each other by this time, suffocating one’s sister and not telling one’s wife could probably lead to that, but a storm prevented them from going to a hospital and the midwife was away. Which is all fine. But then, for reasons no one will ever explain to me with an satisfaction, the author described the bowel movement that Sally had as she pushed her daughter out. And…

…some details are just best left unsaid.

“Cluny Brown” by Margery Sharp

29893549It’s hard not to feel for poor Cluny Brown. The orphaned girl is raised by her maternal aunt and her uncle. When Aunt Flossie dies, it’s Uncle Arn who takes charge of the young woman in the years just before World War II. Uncle Arn is a plumber, a successful one, in London but he does not believe that answering the phone for a plumber is the proper path in life for Clover “Cluny” Brown, his niece and ward. So he arranges for her to become a maid in the safety of the Devonshire countryside.

Cluny is not meant for the countryside, for service, or for someone else deciding just what she should do. She finds herself relishing her Wednesday afternoons off because she gets to play in the woods with the neighbor’s golden retriever.

Sharp parallels Cluny’s story with that of Andrew, the soon-to-be Lord of the Manor at Friars Carmel – the country house where Cluny is in service, who yearns to be anything but what his birthright says he should be. He wants to be part of the coming war, not married with children and looking after a farm.

Cluny and Andrew stumble along similar paths to marriage and lives that someone else wants to define. Andrew wants to rebel against his parents and marry a party-girl on the London scene but she turns out to be the perfect Lady of the Manor-in-waiting. Cluny charms a wealthy, successful pharmacist who proposes to her. And then she runs away to do what she wanted, at least what she wanted in that moment.

The novel is good. I was disappointed in the ending, because what I absolutely expected to happen never did. But it was a good ending just the same.

(I received a copy of Cluny Brown through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own. My review is cross-posted at NetGalley, Goodreads, and Adventures With Words – my book review blog.)