The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn

The Dark Enquiry
Deanna Raybourn

I don’t know what it is but I was in the mood for a mystery, and the perfect choice was right on my TBR – an ARC copy of The Dark Enquiry picked up at BEA. This is one of my favorite series and I’m happy that I got a chance to meet the author two years running to get a signed copy. One of the highlights of BEA.
This is a series where relationships are built upon from book to book, and I strongly encourage you to start at the beginning if you haven’t started already. Here’s the lineup until now:
Book 1 – Silent in the Grave
Book 2 – Silent in the Sanctuary
Book 3 – Silent on the Moor
Book 4 – Dark Road to Darjeeling
**** This review has spoilers for earlier books, so if you haven’t read up to book 4, you read it at your own peril ****
The Premise: Back in London after their travels overseas, Lady Julia Grey and Nicolas Brisbane are settling into a new, combined household and a new partnership. This is not without its growing pains – finding new housekeeping staff and a cook that will stay is proving to be difficult, and Brisbane has trouble balancing his protectiveness of Julia with his promise to let her work with him. In fact, Brisbane tries to keep Julia out of his newest case, forcing her to engage in trickery to learn about it. She’s shocked to see her brother Bellmont leave Brisbane’s offices. Julia’s oldest and most conservative sibling is in trouble and has turned to her husband for help. He’s being blackmailed, but it is not a simple blackmailing – if Bellmont’s secret gets out, it could topple the government. Tracking the blackmailer leads Brisbane and Julia into the deadly intrigue surrounding The Spirit Club, where the wealthy consult the dead.
Read an excerpt of The Dark Enquiry here
My Thoughts: The Dark Enquiry starts off with our characters, Julia and Brisbane settling into London. Julia is eager to learn what she can so she can become a productive member of Brisbane’s business, so we find her mixing powders and causing minor explosions in her fervor to become a firearms expert. Plum is moving in, and is engaged in what looks to be a simple case of a missing Emerald necklace for Lord Mortlake. Brisbane looks to be resigned to letting his wife help, and has made the business more high tech with the installation of a telephone and buying Julia some expensive photography equipment. He’s even letting her join Plum on his trip to the Mortlakes. That is until Julia realizes that Brisbane is a little too eager to get her out into the country and away from London, and she schemes to stay and see what Brisbane is up to. This is when she finds her oldest brother, Bellmont visiting her husband.
I felt like the story doesn’t really start until Julia disguises herself and arrives at The Spirit House to aid Brisbane in whatever he’s doing for Bellmont. Then the story goes into real Mystery mode, with a murder and blackmail and Julia and Brisbane having no idea who is behind it. Things become more intense when there are indications that the culprit is aware of the investigation and has designs on Julia in particular.
Unfortunately,  for me, this was the weakest Julia Grey mystery in the series. In the past, every mystery has been very personal, with Julia trying to protect either herself or her family with a strength tinged with desperation. In The Dark Enquiry, I didn’t feel the same vested interest in solving the case, even though Julia’s brother Bellmont was directly involved. The threat that Parliament could topple because of Bellmont’s indiscretion was, in my opinion, a far-fetched one, and I didn’t feel like I cared very much if they found out who Bellmont’s blackmailer was. Maybe it was because Julia barely sees Bellmont, and when she does, he acts like a general ass. Maybe I feel this lack of connection because the stable of beloved secondary characters merely make brief, cameo appearances (the most connection we get is with Madam Fleur and with a new character introduced as a Grey relative). Maybe when the story tries to make the threat more immediate (when there’s a implied threat to Julia), it felt like a case of too little, too late. Or maybe, the mystery itself takes it a step too far, and is too ambitious or left-field in its scope.
What I think should have balanced this was the relationship growing pains Brisbane and Julia are going through. This could be why we see little of the secondary characters, but what there is of Julia and Brisbane’s relationship was.. awkward. It starts off well with a clash between the two when Julia discovers her brother is in trouble and Brisbane discovers that Julia has been sneaking around and putting herself in danger. There is some lovely relationship discussion about love and respect and obedience, which looked like it would move these two forward as proper partners. Yet, they both do things after this that suggest that they still don’t understand one another! It felt like the story I was reading the same argument over again, with the same “acceptance” at the end, only for the same argument to come back but from a different angle – now we’re not talking about love, we’re talking about “protectiveness”. I feel like throwing my hands up but I’m cautiously optimistic. I will allow that they are talking and there does seem like some sort of forward momentum because of these talks, but I am sick of the same talk over and over again. It reminds me of I Love Lucy where Lucy keeps asking to be in Ricky’s show. Ricky, just put her in the damn show!
What frustrated me further was that Julia is uncharacteristically idiotic this whole book.  I would have liked her to be described as someone doing well in her efforts to help Brisbane instead of someone constantly bungling and getting caught. Things literally explode in her face, and it frustrated me to have a female character that I like becoming a sort of bumbling fluffy-headed woman. Even after discussions about the danger and how Brisbane feels about her, and how she will be honest with him about what she’s doing, she turns around and does the very thing she said she would not do – go investigating on her own without telling him! Wow. WHY?!  Was this so that Brisbane could be right about his side of the argument? I really hope that some of these frustrating things I’m running into are in the ARC and not the finished copy. To make matters worse the climax involves a sort of thrown-in-there tragedy and the wrap up glossed over it in a strange way, so the last impression I have of the book was a sense of confusion.
Overall: I ended up putting this down in the same category as most books I have lately – in the good range. I thought it was OK. But writing the review, I find myself more frustrated by it than I thought I was when I read it. I guess I was disappointed in this one because I’ve been extremely impressed by the books before it. This one had a weaker mystery, the relationship drama felt somewhat of a rehash even if it does look like things are progressing, and the characterization of Julia in particular felt off.  I really hope Julia and Brisbane find their footing in the the next one.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews (I am in the minority in my reaction to this one!):
Book Harbinger – positive (read this one for a much less frustrated viewpoint on this installment)
Angieville – positive (ditto to the above)
Dear Author – B-

The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

The Dead Travel Fast
Deanna Raybourn

I was thrilled to get an autographed copy of this book at BEA last year and I’ve been saving this read for a few months. I finally got around to it last weekend, and it was a relatively fast, atmospheric read.

The Premise:
Theodora Lestrange is left with little prospects after the death of her scholarly grandfather, and despite her sister and her husband’s good intentions, she has no desire to live with them. Theodora longs for passion and adventure and to be able to continue writing her books.  So when an old school friend writes to Theodora asking her to come to Transylvania to celebrate her betrothal and stay for a little while, Theodora jumps at the chance to be bold and to have her creativity sparked. When she gets there she falls in love with the mysterious countryside and the man who is lord of it, despite the disturbing beliefs of it’s people.
Read an excerpt of The Dead Travel Fast here
My Thoughts: The Dead Travel Fast is a book that is separate standalone from the Lady Julia Grey series, with a very different heroine and a very different tone.  Rather than a Victorian mystery, this is a tale spun in sensational Gothic fiction tradition, starting with it’s horror setting: a crumbling castle set imposingly above a rustic village in the Carpathian mountains. This is where Theodora arrives and meets an eccentric bunch: an aging but haughty countess, a stoic group of servants, a jovial family doctor, Theodora’s school friend Cosmina, and the handsome, enigmatic Count Andrei Dragulescu. Stories of vampires and werewolves abound, and Theodora is thrilled to have so much fodder for her writing. She doesn’t believe any of it’s true at first, but as she experiences more of this place, it’s difficult to disbelieve that there are not evil creatures roaming the night. As she falls under the spell of the castle, she also falls for the seductive count.
This story felt like a tribute to the Gothic genre and thus certain “rules” of that genre were followed, which I think lent this story a simpler feel compared to Raybourn’s other books, both in plot and character. Theodora felt like your typical intrepid but still innocent Gothic romance heroine. She has a high level of imagination and a romantic heart.  She tells her sister she wants to feel passion and will settle for nothing less, and when she meets the count, despite his improprieties, she just can’t seem to help herself. Over and over she resolves to stay away, and over and over she does not.
The count on the other hand is a despoiler, and it’s very obvious that he’s seducing our heroine. He even explains to her that there are “only three types of women that matter in a man’s life –those he marries, those he seduces, and those he takes. I have only to tailor my behavior to become whatever the lady in question wants me to be and I’m assured of success.” I think this sentence explains why I found his character unlikable. While he may be genuinely attracted to Theodora, the calculated way he got her attention rubbed me the wrong way. What softened the dislike was that his character fit the Gothic tale – is he the hero, or the villain? I hoped he was the hero because Theodora (the narrator) sees him through rose-colored glasses, but I questioned her judgment severely.
The first part of The Dead Travel Fast builds up the melodrama of the story, and I wasn’t sure whether a supernatural being would appear or not or if this would be just a romance or something more. Thankfully, the typical Raybourn mystery does appear (albeit in a smaller dose than in previous books). While this was a quick read, I was relieved by the mystery because that’s where I feel Raybourn shines. Theodora may not be as sharply observant as Julia Grey, but once she does put her mind to it, she’s just as quick to see the possibilities. As a result, the book ends on a satisfying high note.
Overall: This is a story which nods it’s head towards the Gothic fiction tradition and mixes that with a romance and a mystery. In the end I liked this one, but I wanted to like it more than I actually did. I understood where the author was going, but the Gothic affectations of the characters stopped me from really connecting to them. If it wasn’t for the satisfying ending this would have fallen into my “OK” category, but if I was an English Literature major or someone interested in the Gothic genre, I think I’d probably have appreciated this more.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Angieville – positive
See Michelle Read – mixed feelings
fashion_piranha – positive/some criticisms
The Book Harbinger – positive
Dear Author – B-

Favorite Reads of 2010 and plans for 2011

First, the stats:

  • 2006 – 103 books
  • 2007 – 99 books
  • 2008 – 77 books
  • 2009 – 79 books
  • 2010 – 82 books

As you can see, I still haven’t made my yearly goal to read 100 books, but the number is climbing upwards! The problem is that reviewing books (2006 and 2007 I didn’t review as I do now), cuts into reading time. Oh well, I won’t stop reviewing!

Out of those 82 books, these were my favorites (click on the book to see my review):

Blew me out of the water – Two books this year just had the perfect mix that made me feel like I was in utter love from start to finish. Unless I don’t feel consumed to a semi-obsession, a book won’t get on this list.


These books I loved and came close perfect (and wow, I had 9 of these this year. Up from 5 last year)

(Note: The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice is the repackaged mass market version of Pemberley by the Sea and Cordelia’s Honor is actually 2-books-in-one – I linked to the first book)

Goals for 2011:

1) Keep working on the TBR but don’t worry so much about how many books I buy. Last year I held back on buying books when I wanted to because I was concerned about the size of my TBR (it was 190, now it’s over 250). I’ve decided not to do that – if the TBR grows, it grows. Instead I think I’ll focus on trying to read more often than I have been (this year I often had rows of days where I read nothing. I’d like to read even a few pages a day as long as I read something)

2) Try to read 100 books – this is a long standing goal, just for a number to aim for. I don’t think it will ever not be a goal!

3) Be better about reading challenges – I sign up for online book clubs and challenges and I pretty much NEVER complete them. I suck at it. I’m going to try to read books for book clubs and challenges early this time. And oh man, I’d love to complete the Everything Austen challenge for once. Both times I joined, I got 4 out of 6 Austen related books/movies read and watched, then ran out of time. In 2011.. oh, I will get 6 out of 6. I WILLLLL!!

4) Stay easy going in this blogging thing. I think that will all the book blogs out there, it’s easy to put pressure on yourself and lose perspective. I want to make sure to remember that I do this because it makes me happy.

Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn

Dark Road to Darjeeling
Deanna Raybourn

This is a review of an eARC I received from the publisher.

Dark Road to Darjeeling
is the fourth book in one of my favorite series. Here are my reviews of the first three books:

Book 1: Silent in the Grave
Book 2: Silent in the Sanctuary
Book 3: Silent on the Moor


***** There are minor spoilers for earlier books in this review ****

The Premise: Lady Julia Grey and her now-husband Nicolas Brisbane have been honeymooning for 8 months, when her sister Portia and brother Plum cross paths with them in Cairo. Portia’s former lover Jane has written from India with the news that she’s pregnant and now a widow. She doesn’t explicitly say it, but Portia senses that there is something wrong in her letters and suspects foul play in the death of Jane’s husband Freddie Cavendish. So of course, Julia and Brisbane, Portia and Plum journey to India, to give Jane support during the last few months of her pregnancy and to secretly investigate the possibility of Cavendish’s murder.

Read an excerpt of Dark Road to Darjeeling here

My Thoughts: As with the earlier books, the writing beautifully describes a setting that’s in a different place and time, in this case a valley isolated from the world where Jane now resides in a tea estate: “The Peacocks is the name of the estate, a tea garden on the border of Sikkim, outside of Darjeeling, right up in the foothills of the Himalayas.”

Here, a small English community lives – the Cavendishs who own the plantation (Harry is the late Freddie’s younger brother, and Camellia Cavendish is their aunt and runs the household), the White Rajah (a mysterious older man who lives in a ruined monastery above the valley), the Pennyfeathers (a clergyman, his free-spirited artist wife Cassandra and two children Primrose and Robin), Dr Llewellyn (a grieving man who lost his wife after a tiger attack), and finally Lucy and Emma Phipps, cousins to the Marches (last seen in the second book of the series). Surrounding these are their numerous servants, including twins sisters Lalita, a cook, and Miss Thorne, governess to the Pennyfeather children.

As Julia and the others make acquaintances with those around them, it becomes clear that the mystery of Freddie’s death is going to be a tough one. Almost everyone could have had a reason or the means to have killed him, if in fact he was murdered. Officially he died of an infection after being bitten by a small, usually harmless snake, not something that would typically kill a healthy man, but India is a place where such things happen. In fact, as I kept reading this book, it began to feel like the valley is not kind at all to those who settle there.  One tragedy or another seems to have befallen everyone there, particularly the English.

In the meantime, the honeymoon is over for Brisbane and Julia, and the two are trying to figure out the compromises that make up married life, without being the one who actually makes the compromise! These two are as as in love as ever, but they’re clearly human. Julia wants to be a partner in Brisbane’s investigations, while Brisbane wants his wife to stay away from danger. This is probably the first book where I really thought about the problems in both of their perspectives, and I felt like neither was truly right or wrong. I think before this book, I was with Julia in expecting that she should be able to investigate, but now I see where Brisbane comes from. On the other hand, both characters also do things that probably aren’t best for their marriage when they try to exert their will over the other. Brisbane continues with his mind games to keep Julia out of trouble, while Julia hides things from Brisbane in order to “win” the race to figure out the mystery and prove she’s an equal. Clearly these characters are imperfect and I like that they have a lot of room to grow, but I the previous books didn’t leave me as frustrated with Brisbane and Julia as much as Dark Road to Darjeeling did. It left me with a generally perturbed feeling to uncover their shortcomings the way they were presented here.

Overall: As I’ve come to expect, I liked the book: it has all the Raybourn hallmarks (lovely writing, unique characters, beautiful setting), but I didn’t close the pages with the same feeling of happy satisfaction as the earlier books, so it’s not my favorite of the series. Conflict and the overall tragic events put this volume into a “bittersweet” category. Compared to the earlier books I felt unsettled after reading this one, but I still love and recommend this series, and I am looking forward to what happens next.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
See Michelle Read – positive review
Tempting Persephone – positive review
Monkey Bear Reviews – B- (I’m surprised by how similar I feel to this review – read it after writing mine)
Book Harbinger – positive
Babbling about Books, and More – B

Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn

Silent on the Moor
Deanna Raybourn

I’ve been meaning to read this, the third installment of one of my favorite series for a while but I’ve been gated by the fact that there are no mass market paperback copies. More on that side rant later.
Book 1: Silent in the Grave
Book 2: Silent in the Sanctuary

**** Minor spoilers for the earlier books in this review ****

The Premise: In the last book, Brisbane disappears, as usual, leaving Lady Julia Grey again with the sense of unfinished business regarding their relationship, so when her sister Portia is invited to Brisbane’s new home on the northern moors, Julia decides to take matters into her own hands and come along, uninvited or not. Julia doesn’t expect a warm welcome by a man who is clearly hiding something, but she’s surprised to find the previous tenants of Grimsgrave, the Lady Allensby and her two daughters, Ailith and Hilda, still in residence, while Brisbane acts as slippery as ever.

Read an excerpt of Silent on the Moor here

My Thoughts: Julia gets more and more impetuous in each book. I think the first impression she made on me has stayed in my mind (a woman who knows the societal rules of her time and abides by them despite feeling the constraints), so whenever Julia does or says things that are distinctly unladylike, I feel a little surprised. I wasn’t sure how to feel about Julia’s decision to just show up at Brisbane’s house, despite her sister Portia and brother Valerius coming along, because there are members of her family (including her father) who call it what it is – throwing herself at a man who of late has shown an insulting lack of interest.  I did cringe a little, wondering what Brisbane’s reaction would be.

When Julia gets to Grimsgrave, the sparring with Brisbane begins again, and their interactions highlight how much Julia’s character has evolved. Do not fear though – this is the best thing ever. I find their relationship even more delicious because Julia is comfortable with who she is. Brisbane is a dark horse; he manages to stymie Julia even when she thinks she has the upper hand, but Julia isn’t afraid to keep pushing.  I understand her character (it helps that she’s the first person narrator), but Brisbane holds his cards very close to his chest. I know he loves her, but he has strange ideas about honor, relationships, and protecting people. If Julia hadn’t changed into who she is now, I don’t think their relationship would work because she’d be too afraid to break down his barriers. This Julia gives as good as she gets, and I was cheering for her every time she managed to chip his armor.

Every book in this series involves a mystery.  In Silent on the Moor, the biggest mystery is Brisbane himself. He clearly has a past that is tied to Grimsgrave, and Julia learns as much about him as she does about the strange Allensbys. At first, it’s Julia’s nosiness that prompts her questions about the Allensby family. Is there something between the beautiful Ailith and Brisbane? Then there is the question of Redwall Allenby, Ailith’s brother, recently passed. Was there more to his death and his disgrace in Egyptology circles? These are things Julia is curious about, but it’s only when she makes a macabre discovery that the sleuthing begins in earnest. Julia knows that this is the window for her chance at happiness, and if she doesn’t figure out what’s going on, she’ll lose Brisbane forever.  Although the mystery feels somewhat secondary to the relationship troubles, I found it rather satisfying that the focus was where it was. I wanted what Julia does when she goes to Grimsgrave: to settle the thing between her and Brisbane once and for all.

It’s all very atmospheric. The Allenbys sit proud, closed off in their broken down home, remembering glory of generations long past, while the nearby villagers bear them no good will. Julia and her family stumble awkwardly into this situation, not exactly wanted but tolerated nonetheless, while Brisbane stomps in and out, dark and broody as ever. Brisbane perfectly suits the crumbling Grimsgrave and the wild and dangerous moor. I loved the setting, particularly at this time of year, when things get wet and gloomy, and dark clouds hang above.  With Brisbane’s gypsy past and the moor setting, it’s clear that there’s a nod here to Wuthering Heights, but in this case there’s a happier outcome.

Oh man, the ending. The story took it’s time getting there (my trade paperback is 465 pages), but it was well worth reading because the final pages are sigh-worthy.  For those of you who are peekers – just believe me that it ends well and try not to skip ahead.

Overall: This may be my favorite Lady Julia Grey installment yet. Wholly for the ending, although the dramatic setting on the moors, the strange Allenbys and the broody Brisbane aren’t too shabby in making this a lovely story. The mix of romance, mystery and the Victorian setting are perfect. I love this series. So good.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Side rant!
OK, I must say that I’ve been waiting for this book to be published in Mass Market because my copies of the earlier books are MMPBs. But, although this book was published in trade paperback in March, 2009 (as of this post 1 year and 8 months ago), there seems to be no plan to release this book in mass market? What’s up with that?

Other reviews:
See Michelle Readpositive review
Aneca’s World – 4/5
The Good, the Bad, and the Unread – B
Angieville – positive review

Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn

This is the second book in the Lady Julia Gray mysteries. I found a used copy of this book for sale at Savers in Phoenix, AZ.  Getting the second book actually prompted me to start the first one. The review for Silent in the Grave (book 1)  if you missed it, is here –

The Premise: After the events of the first book and a trip overseas, Lady Julia and her brothers are called back to the family home for Christmas. Julia’s father, Lord March, has a few family and assorted guests over at the March home, Belmont Abbey. Amid the usual family drama, odd occurrences start to happen and (of course, this is a murder mystery series after all), things culminate in a murder.

My Thoughts: I read this over my Holiday vacation, and it’s a book that goes with that season. It’s got snow, and family coming together, and holiday traditions. It is a good book to read curled up in a chair during winter and read for hours. The book is not a short one, but with so much going on, it entertains quite well.

Compared to the first book, Silent in the Sanctuary had more story threads and twists. Which is not entirely surprising because there are a lot more characters, and they’re all staying in the same house, which makes things ripe for conflict and mystery. Along with Julia and her immediate family (Julia’s sister Portia, her father, her two brothers Plum and Lysander, and Lysander’s wife Violante), there are several guests – Alessandro, Madame Hortense de Bellefleur, Lucian Snow (the local curate), Julia’s two cousins Lucy and Emma, Lucy’s fiance Sir Cedric and his clerk Henry Ludlow, Julia’s aunt Dorcas, Nicolas Brisbane, and Charlotte King. It’s a long list, and I may be forgetting someone!

The story is like a game of Clue, full of possible suspects in one house, and plenty of hints at odd things afoot. There were missing items and people, and sneaking about in the middle of the night. In the end we don’t have just one mystery to solve, and there are a few surprising twists I never saw coming. I think I was more surprised at the twists in this one than the first.

And then there is the romance between Julia and Nicolas. Brisbane. His presence is a surprise for Julia,  thanks to her meddling father.  At the end of Silent in the Grave, she thought that they had romantic possibilities, but he never writes her while she is away. Julia is even more annoyed to find out that he got engaged in the meantime. Delicious I say! It’s a little different now that Julia has gotten used to being an independent widow. Julia is a lot more assertive, in a very March family way. She holds her own in solving the mysteries and even discovers some things Brisbane has missed. It also means she doesn’t worry as much about societal rules, and if she thinks Brisbane is in the wrong, she lets him know it.  It’s an engrossing dance between Julia and Brisbane, but but both parties have their baggage, and this affects how they see the other person. I had the feeling this was especially true of Brisbane. Julia was so different from when we first met her that it sometimes surprised me. I think I may have read this second book so close to the first that wisps of the Old Julia stayed in my brain so there was a clash with the new one, but that was a minor issue that I think only I had.

Overall: Loved the first one and the second one is again a strong book – I think I liked the twists in the mystery in this one more than the first book, but I’m undecided on which book I liked more for the romance. I really need to read book 3, Silent on the Moor! This series is shaping up to be one of my favorites, and if you are even considering reading these books, I strongly urge you to try them.

Mom’s verdict: She liked this one too. I think it took her longer to read than Silent in the Grave, but she agreed that the mystery had multiple surprises. She wants me to get book 3 so she can borrow it.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
Historical Tapestry – 4.5 out of 5
Angieville – “I went in with the highest of expectations and Silent in the Sanctuary more than lived up to them”
Dear Author – B+
Tempting Persephone – also positive

Silent In the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Silent in the Grave
Deanna Raybourn

This book has been on my radar for a while now. It was on a lot of best of 2008 lists and had positive reviews from bloggers who have tastes similiar to mine, and then Angie of Angieville has been pimping it left, right, and center. When I noticed that the ebook was offered for free (FREE!!) at everyone’s reading I downloaded it immediately. The direct link to the downloads by the way are here — epub, mobipocket.

The Premise: This is the first book in a series set in the Victorian era.  The story starts with a party hosted by Lady Julia Grey and her husband Edward, which goes south when Edward collapses on the floor. When Edward dies, it’s not really a shock because of his known family history of heart problems, but Julia’s vision of the world is turned askew by Mr. Nicolas Brisbane, who informs her that he was hired by her husband to investigate threats he was receiving. Mr. Brisbane also tells Julia that Edward was probably murdered. I also have to point out the cracking first line, which every other reviewer has commented on. It just draws you in – read it here in the excerpt.

My Thoughts: This is set in the Victorian era, but it has a modern edge. The story is told from the first person viewpoint of Julia, who comes from an open minded and eccentric family – the Marches.  Julia starts off as a bit of a disappointment to her colorful family – all she wants to be is normal, but after her husband’s death, she takes stock of her life and begins to come out of her shell. This is one book where there’s marked growth and change in the main character. The author takes a few liberties with Julia’s character because of her freewheeling family, but it worked for me.

I also liked that around Julia’s investigations, we see a lot of day-to-day interactions between Julia and her staff and between Julia and her family. We catch glimpses into how a household was run in those times, and the ‘rules’ that the nobility abides by, and it’s all very normal and familiar to these characters but for me, it was excellent world building and lovely to read.

I’m not sure you should read this so much for the mystery than for the characters. There are several well rounded side characters such as Julia’s servants (her butler and ladies maid in particular), and members of her family (especially her sister Portia), and then there’s Julia and Nicolas Brisbane.  While this has romantic elements and great sexual tension between Julia and Mr. Brisbane, the romance is not at the forefront of the book, and this is one of those series where the relationship evolves slowly over the course of several books.  Julia is funny for her nosiness about Brisbane and her adventures in amateur sleuthing.  Brisbane, while he is a dark and broody type, has great interactions with Julia, especially when she surprises him. A couple of times, I was laughing out loud at the things Julia did, and Brisbane’s agog response. I was reading this while on vacation and I was in the living room just laughing like a fool while my mother-in-law stared at me like I was crazy.

As for the mystery itself – there are only so many people who it could be, there are not that many characters to choose from, so an early guess is likely to be right, but why they did it and how was more mysterious and ultimately more surprising to me than who did it. There’s also the side mystery of Brisbane himself, which are hinted at when Julia visits him – a strange sudden illness when he’s a healthy man, and his odd interactions with Julia’s laundress.

Overall: I loved this one. It hit me in all the right places and I went on my best of 2009 list. I even made my mom read it (her report – almost done but she peeked at the ending! – tsk. But she asked if I had book 2, muhahaha).

Buy (this book was just reissued in trade PB):
Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:

Angieville – A very positive review
The Thrillionth Page – “lovely”
Miss Picky’s column — 3 out of 5
Aneca’s World – 3.5 out of 5
Rosario’s Reading Journal – gave it a B-
Reading Adventures –  “highly recommended”
The Book Smugglers – Thea gave it an 8, leaning towards 9
Tempting Persephone – positive review

Silent Pretties — Angie points out the gorgeous UK covers for the Julia Grey mysteries. I want them too!
Silent in the Grave website

Best of 2009 and New Year’s Resolution for 2010

I liked looking back last year at 2008 so this year I’m also looking back at 2009. I didn’t make my goal of reading 100 books, but at 79 books I was above last year’s number (77). Anyway, here’s my Best of 2009 list, broken down in the same way I broke down books last year:

The Books that Blew Me Away – This is a very small list, just three books, like last year.  I only put books on the list when a book consumes me.

  • Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliosotti
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore
  • Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn (this is technically a 2010 book. Review to come) –
Books that Came Close to Blowing Me Away This list is of books which I’d recommend without reservation and I loved them while reading them. There are more of these this year than last year (5 versus 4!)
  • Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre
  • Just the Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James
  • Salt and Silver by Anna Katherine
  • Endless Blue by Wen Spencer
  • Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews

Books I Really Liked/ Keepersthese are also recommended and all have several moments that I loved in them and I think many people will like these books:

  • Soulless by Gail Carriger
  • Silent Blade by Ilona Andrews
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Way of the Shadows by Brent Weeks
  • On the Edge by Ilona Andrews
  • Must Love Hellhounds (anthology) Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brook, and Charlaine Harris — I liked 2 of the 4 stories a lot
  • Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
  • Heroes at Risk by Moira J. Moore
  • Crazy Beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
  • Sins & Shadows (Shadows Inquiries) by Lyn Benedict
  • The Stars Down Under by Sandra McDonald
  • The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percey Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber
  • What Happens in London by Julia Quinn
  • Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
  • Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James
  • Hope’s Folly by Linnea Sinclair
  • Blue Diablo (Corine Solomon, Bk 1) by Ann Aguirre
  • Kitty Raises Hell (Kitty Norville, Bk 6) by Carrie Vaughn
  • What I Did for Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • Kitty and the Silver Bullet (Kitty Norville, Bk 4) by Carrie Vaughn
  • Austenland by Shannon Hale
  • Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville, Bk 3) by Carrie Vaughn

And for my New Year’s Resolution – First I have the usual one which is to read 100 books.

  • 2006 – 103 books
  • 2007 – 99 books
  • 2008 – 77 books
  • 2009 – 79 books

The second resolution is to make the TBR go down. I was really bad over my Christmas vacation and the TBR is over 190 right now. The plan is that I can’t buy a book unless I read two or more. Let’s hope I have the willpower.