Book Review: WHAT STRANGE CREATURES by Emily Arsenault

Publisher: William Morrow
Released: July 22, 2014
Source: Review copy via Edelweiss
Rating: ★★★★

Scandal, love, family, and murder combine in this gripping mystery by critically acclaimed author Emily Arsenault, in which a young woman’s life is turned upside down when her brother is arrested for murder and she must prove his innocence.

The Battle siblings are used to disappointment. Seven years after starting her PhD program—one marriage, one divorce, three cats and a dog later—Theresa Battle still hasn’t finished her dissertation. Instead of a degree, she’s got a houseful of adoring pets and a dead-end copywriting job for a local candle company.

Jeff, her so-called genius older brother, doesn’t have it together, either. Creative and loyal, he’s also aimless, in both work and love. But his new girlfriend, Kim, a pretty waitress in her twenties, appears smitten. When Theresa agrees to dog-sit Kim’s puggle for a weekend, she has no idea it will be the beginning of a terrifying nightmare that will shatter her quiet academic world.

Soon Kim’s body is found in the woods, and Jeff becomes the prime suspect.
Though the evidence is overwhelming, Theresa knows that her brother is not a murderer. As she investigates Kim’s past, she uncovers a treacherous secret involving politics, murder, and scandal—and becomes entangled in a potentially dangerous romance. But the deeper she falls into this troubling case, the more it becomes clear that, in trying to save her brother’s life, she may be sacrificing her own.

WHAT STRANGE CREATURES is an entertaining, well-crafted mystery that had me hooked from the beginning. Theresa is a divorced 35-year old who adopts a pet after every failed relationship – she’s up to four now. She works an unfulfilling job writing descriptions of scented candles, and in her spare time she struggles with her never ending dissertation on Margery Kempe, a medieval Christian mystic.

Theresa’s ordinary life is shaken up when her brother Jeff is arrested for murdering his girlfriend, a young waitress named Kim. Desperately wanting to believe that Jeff is innocent despite the incriminating evidence against him, Theresa starts investigating Kim’s recent activities and is surprised by what she discovers. Theresa finds herself in a multi-layered mystery involving political scandals and older murder cases dating back to the early 90s. I enjoyed trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, and there were some nice twists along the way. I did have an inkling about who the culprit was, but what stumped me most was the “why.”

This is the first book by Emily Arsenault I’ve read, and I enjoyed her engaging writing-style and quirky, yet realistic, characters. Theresa is witty, snarky, and easily relatable, and many of her observations had me snickering. I especially loved how she threw in anecdotes from Margery Kempe’s eccentric life – both strange and funny. The animals in this book were a hoot too, especially the “puggle” called Wayne.

WHAT STRANGE CREATURES was an exciting murder mystery with plenty of humor mixed in.

“What strange creatures brothers are!”
― Jane Austen

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I am participating in the author’s blog tour, organized by TLC Book Tours.


Emily Arsenault is the critically acclaimed author of The Broken Teaglass, a New York Times Notable Mystery, and In Search of the Rose Notes. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, with her husband and daughter.

Find out more about Emily at her website and connect with her on Facebook.


Tuesday, July 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, July 23rd: Booksie’s Blog

Thursday, July 24th: Kritters Ramblings

Monday, July 28th: From the TBR Pile

Tuesday, July 29th: BoundbyWords

Wednesday, July 30th: Book-alicious Mama

Thursday, July 31st: Vox Libris

Monday, August 4th: bookchickdi

Wednesday, August 6th: Sara’s Organized Chaos

Thursday, August 7th: Book of Secrets

Book Review: DEAR DAUGHTER by Elizabeth Little

Publisher: Viking Adult
Released: July 31, 2014
Source: Review copy through Penguin’s First To Read Program
Rating: ★★★★¼

A sensational debut thriller featuring an unforgettable heroine who just might have murdered her mother…

Former “It Girl” Janie Jenkins is sly, stunning, and fresh out of prison. Ten years ago, at the height of her fame, she was incarcerated for the murder of her mother, a high-society beauty known for her good works and rich husbands. Now, released on a technicality, Janie makes herself over and goes undercover, determined to chase down the one lead she has on her mother’s killer. The only problem? Janie doesn’t know if she’s the killer she’s looking for.

Janie makes her way to an isolated South Dakota town whose mysteries rival her own. Enlisting the help of some new friends (and the town’s wary police chief), Janie follows a series of clues—an old photograph, an abandoned house, a forgotten diary—and begins to piece together her mother’s seemingly improbable connection to the town. When new evidence from Janie’s own past surfaces, she’s forced to consider the possibility that she and her mother were more alike than either of them would ever have imagined.

As she digs tantalizingly deeper, and as suspicious locals begin to see through her increasingly fragile facade, Janie discovers that even the sleepiest towns hide sinister secrets—and will stop at nothing to guard them. On the run from the press, the police, and maybe even a murderer, Janie must choose between the anonymity she craves and the truth she so desperately needs.

A gripping, electrifying debut novel with an ingenious and like-it-or-not sexy protagonist, Dear Daughter follows every twist and turn as Janie unravels the mystery of what happened the night her mother died—whatever the cost.

DEAR DAUGHTER is the impressive debut novel by Elizabeth Little that kept me reading way past my bedtime. The protagonist is Jane (Janie) Jenkins, an obnoxious “celebutante” who went to prison at age 16 for murdering her mother. What’s worse for Jane is that she’s not sure if she did it or not, and there’s just one obscure clue from that night that could lead to answers.

When Jane is freed from prison a decade after her conviction on a technicality, she heads to a remote South Dakota town under a new identity in hopes of solving the gruesome mystery. Jane’s character was devious, manipulative, and at times down right awful. She had a sharp, sarcastic wit I couldn’t resist. Likable? No. Reliable? Maybe. Compelling? Yes.

This was the kind of book that I hated to put down. I enjoyed the dark and suspenseful atmosphere the author created. I loved the tension, the fast-paced plot, and the isolated setting – especially the creepy ghost town. My one complaint is that there wasn’t a clear explanation of why Jane couldn’t remember if she was the killer or not. Was it alcohol, or just the trauma of the whole thing? I don’t know.

DEAR DAUGHTER was a great book with an ending I wasn’t expecting. All I could say was, “Ha!” I’m hoping for a sequel.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Penguin’s First To Read Program.

Book Review: A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS by Deanna Raybourn

Series: A Spear of Summer Grass, #1
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Released: April 30, 2013
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★¼

Paris, 1923

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savannah manor house until gossip subsides.

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming-yet fleeting and often cheap.

Amidst the wonders-and dangers-of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for-and what she can no longer live without.

A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS was such an enjoyable story. It’s told from the first person point-of-view of Delilah Drummond, a worldly flapper who’s caused embarrassment to her family one too many times. She’s banished to her stepfather’s ramshackle estate in Colonial Kenya until her latest scandal in Paris blows over. Her journey to this majestic and dangerous place changes her in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

At first Delilah’s character is arrogant, selfish, and shallow, but she’s compelling nonetheless. Her experiences in Africa bring out the complex, yet flawed, person she is below the surface. Delilah forms a precarious relationship with Ryder White, a man just as broken as she is. Ryder was so different from the men Delilah used and tossed aside. He challenged her, which was exactly what she needed.

A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS is intriguing historical fiction with romance, mystery, adventure, and an absolutely breathtaking setting. The author’s engaging writing style and rich descriptions of the people, politics, and landscape of Colonial Kenya drew me in. I’m hoping for a sequel!

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: TROUBLE VISION by Allison Kingsley

Series: A Raven’s Nest Bookstore Mystery, #3
Publisher: Berkley
Released: June 4, 2013
Source: Borrowed from the library
Rating: ★★★★¼

In quaint Finn’s Harbor, Maine, cousins and best friends Clara and Stephanie Quinn run The Raven’s Nest bookstore. But thanks to Clara’s ability to read minds and see the future, selling books sometimes gets shelved in favor of saving lives…

When the new mayor calls a press conference about the controversial hotel resort being built on the edge of the city, the residents of Finn’s Harbor have an opportunity to express their concerns about traffic and tourists. But when the debating turns into outright fighting, Clara gets a premonition that’s nothing but trouble.

While Stephanie is enthralled with her cousin’s vision, Clara just wants it to go away. Then a customer comes into The Raven’s Nest talking about a fatal fall at the hotel’s construction site, and Clara knows better than to ignore her Quinn Sense. In a town full of citizens who want the project to fail, Clara and Stephanie have to figure out who made the jump from anger to murder…

TROUBLE VISION is the third book in the Raven’s Nest Bookstore Mystery series, and it’s probably my favorite so far. Clara Quinn helps her cousin Stephanie run the town’s Edgar Allan Poe-ish bookstore that specializes in the paranormal. In addition to bookselling, the cousins have a knack for solving murder mysteries, with a little help from Clara’s “Quinn Sense.”

Before, Clara’s woo-woo gift of clairvoyance has been all over the place, but now it’s getting stronger and more focused. When a construction worker is killed at the site of a controversial new resort project, it’s deemed an accident, but Clara’s visions tell her otherwise. The tricky part is convincing police that it was murder without exposing the family gift, which means it’s up to the cousins to find solid evidence.

This was a quick and enjoyable paranormal cozy mystery. I love that Clara has psychic visions, but they don’t tell her everything. She still has to track down and eliminate suspects, piece together clues, and somehow figure out how it’s all related. The police chief is stubborn and doesn’t want to listen to Clara’s theories, so she has to be persistent and present strong evidence. Of course, sometimes that gets her into trouble…

I absolutely love the Raven’s Nest Bookstore and the quaint coastal Maine town. It was also fun watching Clara’s romance with the hardware store man heat up. (It’s about time!!) I’m ready to go back to Finn’s Harbor.