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

Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Cemetery Dance
Douglas Preston
Mystery/suspense is a genre I don’t mind reading but usually I don’t pay much attention to it and only read it every so often. When Hachette Books offered me Cemetery Dance I thought I’d give the book a try.

The Premise: It all starts off with the murder of a respected journalist and friend of FBI agent Pendergast and New York police Lieutenant D’Agosta. A lot of people in the journalist’s apartment building see the killer, and identify him as an actor named Colin Fearing, who also lives in the building. With so many witnesses, it seems like an open and shut case. But there is a problem: Colin killed himself a couple of weeks ago. Soon New York City is in an uproar over zombie killers and what the police are doing about them. Agent Pendergast and Lieutenant D’Agosta are on the case for the sake of avenging their friends death, but how do you find a killer who is supposed to be dead?

My Thoughts: This is the latest(I think?) in this series of books. I haven’t read any of the rest of them so this worked fine as a standalone, though I’m possibly missing a background on some of the reoccurring characters (I had no problems making guesses).

FBI agent Pendergast seemed to be the main character, although the focus moved to Nora Kelly and Lieutenant D’Agosta a few times. Pendergast is unique character, I thought of him as a lanky, rich, Southern, Hercule Peroit. The type of character who is very observant, a few steps ahead of everyone else, and always solves the crime. He seemed to be a mythical figure, and I found his eccentricity and past interesting, but sometimes it felt a bit over the top, for example having a huge apartment in the city with a housekeeper and rooms only he is allowed into which leads to an indoor japanese garden? An evil aunt in a mental institution? It was a bit much for me, but then I haven’t read the rest of the series, so perhaps it’s harder for me to accept. I also felt like there was not that much to go on with Pendergast’s emotions – most of the time his face is neutral and he gives nothing away. It makes him seem impenetrable, but also hard to connect to.

Lieutenant D’Agosta seemed to be an angry cop, sometimes letting his anger take over, which Pendergast or other characters having to step in to calm him or tell him to be careful to not let his anger jeopardize the case or his job. Nora seemed to have more scope than the two men, she swung back and forth between grief and fear and anger and put herself in danger to find out who the killer was, but the reader sees less of her in this book. My favorite character was even more minor – Laura Hayward. She had a few smart things to say and I liked how capable she was and how she questioned Pendergast’s methods, but her appearance was brief. I’m guessing she is another reoccurring character though because of her past with D’Agosta.

I thought I understood who was behind the murders and was feeling a bit put out that the police were being obtuse until about halfway through the book when I started suspecting someone else. So I thought the mystery was well done because of the twists.

Speaking of twists, this is one of the books this year which fall under my private label of “unexpected zombies”. All of a sudden, zombies appear when I least expect it, and this happened again here. I know that the blurb for this book talks about a walking dead guy, but I was sure this would be explained in a scientific way. When this didn’t immediately happen, I began to wonder if there really were zombies created through some strange ritual! The authors kept their cards close to their chests regarding magic in the book.

Last comment: there are some violent and creepy scenes in this book which kind of went with the flavor of the novel, but just FYI if you are squeamish. I didn’t think they were bad.

Overall: It was OK. I felt like I could see everything happening like you’d see in a movie, there is plenty of action, and suspense going on, and I did want to find out who did it and what will happen, but I just didn’t connect very well to the main characters. Maybe this is because I hadn’t read the earlier books or because it just wasn’t my thing. It felt like when I watch CSI: Miami. I like certain characters, but I cannot connect with Horatio Caine, and he’s the main guy, so in the end I can watch a show or two, but I am not so enthusiastic about it. That’s my problem here.

Review at Fantasy Book Critic (they highly recommended it)

An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris

A quick review because I'm spending time with the family this week and they keep interrupting my blogging!!

Charlaine Harris continues the adventures of Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver Lang in the third book of the series, set in Doraville, North Carolina. Harper has been hired to find the bodies of missing teen-aged boys – she soon does – eight young men buried in the same driveway next to an abandoned shack. All Harper wants to do is leave Doraville after this horrific job, but as usual, circumstances prevent it.

Despite this series being shelved in mystery, I think of it as being paranormal mystery because of Harper's ability to find the dead and identify how they died. There are also other reoccurring characters with some psychic ability that sometimes cross Harper's path. I always find these abilities fascinating within the story.

Overall: Every time I read one of these Harper Connelly mysteries, I expect a certain level of writing that will just let me kick back and enjoy – I always end up reading the book really quickly, not wanting to stop. So it wasn't a surprise that I liked this book. I think it's my favorite in the series so far. In the earlier books, especially book 1, I felt annoyed with the way people treated Harper because of her job, like she was a charlatan. It was a relief that in Doraville, Harper is treated much better so I wasn't annoyed by the other characters passing judgement on her. The mystery of who the killer was also kept me guessing, and there was enough of an element of danger to keep me absorbed, turning pages quickly to see what happens next. There's also enough of a cast of small town characters that Harper and Tolliver meet and a couple of old friends that stop by to help out to keep things interesting and the story moving along nicely. The weather also feels timely because as Harper dealt with an ice storm in An Ice Cold Grave, I was living through freezing rain and iced over roads in New York.

But be warned, this book goes to a weird place with Harper's personal life. I'm sure if you've read book 2 you'll have guessed what I'm talking about. Well, even though I expected this book to go there, I was still reeling when I read it. I'm still not quite comfortable either, but I guess I'll get used to it. Anyone else read this? What did you think? Am I right or what? Book 4 should be interesting – I'm still looking forward to reading it.

My past reviews:

Grave Sight (book 1)

Grave Surprise (book 2)


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Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

After reading Grave Sight last week, I was curious enough about the second book, Grave Surprise that I picked it up this week.

This story continues the life of Harper Connelly and her step-brother Tolliver Lang, this time in Memphis to demonstrate Harper's talents to a Bingham College class. The professor Clyde Nunly fully expects to expose Harper as a big fraud, but when she keeps accurately describing the deaths of people buried at the cemetery within campus, his smirk leaves his face. He really doesn't believe it when another surprise occurs - Harper discovers one grave with two bodies – the original and the body of an eleven year old girl who Harper once tried but failed to find. Soon Harper and Tolliver are again embroiled in a murder mystery, and because the victim was such a young girl, this time Harper really wants to find out who did it.

Overall: It's been a while since I've read something that falls more on the mystery side of things, so I enjoyed reading this. It kept my interest and I read it fairly quickly. I also enjoyed this better than the first book because I was feeling a little less annoyed at some of the other characters involved. There was less of a small minded small town vibe and while people still gave Harper a hard time over her talent, Harper and Tolliver managed to give as much as they got, even getting some apologies in the process. Which made me feel better. I also felt that if you read this book before book 1, you'd be OK, Harris went over Harper and Tolliver's pasts again in this book, so you wouldn't be missing anything. Meanwhile, there was some progress in Harper and Tolliver's relationship with their little sisters and something else which I guessed was coming from the first book. Besides that their characters stayed fairly consistent to what they were like in book 1 – Harper really intriuges me.. again, that half vulnerable, half hard thing. Anyway, if you liked book one, I'd recommend this one.

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Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

Grave Sight is the first in the Harper Connelly series by Charlaine Harris.

After being hit by lightening at an early age Harper has a talent at locating a dead body if the general area is known. She can also tell how they died. This doesn't make her very much liked by both sceptics (who think she preys on the weak) and by those who hire her (because they don't always like the truth that comes out).

In Grave Sight Harper and her step-brother Tolliver Lang get involved in a murder mystery in the southern town of Sarne. What starts off as a normal case – finding the body of missing, presumed dead wild-child Teenie Hopkins (whose boyfriend's body was found six months ago), becomes increasingly dangerous as more deaths occur. The people of Sarne immediately begin to blame Harper for all their troubles, and Harper is forced by the police to stay in the area. At that point, Harper feels compelled to investigate what is going on.

Overall: New spin on murder mysteries and worth a read. The murderer was someone I guessed at but it wasn't that obvious I think. The writing was absorbing – no troubles where I wanted to put the book down and go do something else, and interesting main characters. Really it's Harper's unusual talent and her life with it, that makes the book so interesting. I couldn't really pinpoint the genre here, it seems to cross a couple of them. There also seems to be a mystery in Harper's past (the abduction of her sister Cameron) which I hope gets more exposure in later books.

Harper was an intriguing character. Sometimes she seems very hard because of her upbringing in a broken home (her mother was a drug addict, as was Tolliver's dad), but also sometimes very vulnerable (with her great fear of lightening, and ailments caused by the lightening strike). She is also very reliant on her step-brother, and their relationship was really strange to read. I have a brother so their relationship didn't seem quite brother/sister, and staying together when they were in their twenties, working together, spending that much time together without their own separate lives - kind of weirded me out. I suspect that their relationship is going to become something more, if I'm reading the subtext right. I am not sure how to feel about that. I have a brother so… eck, I don't know.

The other thing I spent a lot of time thinking about with this book was how almost everyone in Sarne treated Harper and Tolliver badly. It seemed like this small-town, small-minded cliche, and I felt bothered by it. I had a hard time believing that so many people (including the police and city officials) could be so suspicious and rude, and I felt like it gives southerner's a bad name. The whole situation gave me a bad taste, and I was aggravated by the attitudes throughout the book.

Other than those two big issues I had, I did enjoy this book.

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Don of the Dead and The Chick and The Dead by Casey Daniels

I just finished these two books this week. I guess they fall under paranormal mystery. Paranormal because the main character (Pepper Martin) can see and hear the dead ever since she tripped and hit her head on the steps of a mausoleum at work (she's a cemetery tour guide in Cleveland). In the first book its dead mob boss Gus Scarpetti who shows up and pesters her until she agrees to help solve the mystery of his 30 year old death by drive-by. In book two its Didi Bowman, who needs Pepper to prove that her sister Merilee stole Didi's manuscript "So Far the Dawn", a Gone with the Wind-like tale with a fervored fan following. There are some cozy mystery elements (Pepper is an amateur sleuth, the mystery was really light, and the really violent stuff happens off-screen: Pepper almost gets killed a couple of times, but I wasn't worried), and very light romance with a detective (Quinn Harrison), and a "brain man" (Dan Callahan) who keeps trying to study her and isn't all he seems.

Overall I thought the series was OK. Probably a 6-6.5 out of 10 for me.

The good: The writing really flowed. I didn't find myself bored, and I was a little surprised that when I googled and went to Casey Daniels' website it looked like these were her only two books. She didn't seem like a first time author to me. So I googled more and found out Daniels is a pseudonym for Connie Laux (but only 3 books under that name too). The closest thing I can compare this author to would be Janet Evanovich.. but I'd say a less sexed up version (which is a good thing, because I don't like Stephanie Plum. There. I said it). The side characters are well-formed, and there is a really interesting thread that ties the series; this ability and Dan the brain-man's interest in it is a mystery itself. I think that mystery is what Daniels is going to use to keep readers reading (I know its driving me a little crazy), as well as the really slow building love triangle that hasn't got anything serious going on so far, but maybe people will want to see if anything does happen. Basically the books are a fun, light, read and the style is very easy to get into.

The less good:  a) It feels like Dan was meant to be this absent-minded but brilliant doctor interested in Pepper's brain scans for most of book 1, then he suddenly starts acting fishy and mysterious, hinting that he is someone else – did the author change their mind halfway? I'm suspicious it wasn't planned, but I guess its OK, though I don't fully buy his sudden change. Also he is barely mentioned in book 2, what's up there? b) I think that we're supposed to see Pepper's growth from a rich, daddy's girl who never expected to have a job to someone more self-confident who believes in her own intelligence. Problem is, this meant I didn't like Pepper's character for the first half of the first book – she was ditsy and annoying, didn't figure out some really obvious things (she grows out of this but still I found some of the mystery was obvious to me but not to Pepper in both books), and spends a lot of time happily bouncing her boobs in front of men. Which brings me to c) OK.. WHAT is up with the breast obssession? In book 1, I think just about EVERY. SINGLE. MALE character in the book stares at Pepper's breasts. Young, old (30+ years her senior), half paralyzed, they all stare and pretty much LEER. And they are just Cs, and I'm pretty sure they aren't popping out of some skintight top or something, so I really don't understand or care. I wasn't sure if I should be annoyed about the depiction of Pepper, because Pepper didn't seeme to mind, even puffing them out in certain scenes (even after arguing with Scarpetti about his chauvanism. Is she supposed to be feminist?), or annoyed at the depiction of men (in this century, I think most men know that's rude, or at least have developed a finely tuned way of not being obvious. At least don't make ALL the men in this book do that). Thank god that in Book 2 the detailed interchange of meet Pepper, stare/leer at boobs, Pepper talks etc, happened much less. Sadly Pepper also talks to more women than men in book 2. I still hope that this trend is dying. Finally, d) Pepper's fortunes changed so that she has to work - her dad was a surgeon bringing in 6 figures before who was convicted of fraud and Pepper lost friends and a fiance because of this. While it is often mentioned, we never see Pepper talk to either her dad in jail or her mother who moved to Florida. I wish I could see more personal interaction there than Pepper just being emo over it and repeating what I already know – dad's in jail, lost my fiance, gotta job – but I don't really believe I see anything that shows she's really messed up over except once thinking someone's guilty face reminded her of her father lying, unless not talking to her parents counts. Maybe in Book 3 – Tombs of Endearment.

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