The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Romance
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: January 2019

With little more than a name and place to direct her, Thea Reed arrives in Pleasant Valley to look for the mother who left her on the steps of an orphanage years earlier. When her search leads her to a mental asylum, Thea utilizes her skill as a post-mortem photographer to access the place. But her hunt unearths more than she bargained for. It reawakens the ghost of Misty Wayfair, a woman murdered decades earlier who townsfolk claim haunts the area and especially one family in particular.

A century later, Heidi Lane travels to Pleasant Valley, beckoned by a disconcerting letter penned by her dementia-ailing mother. Her search for answers leads Heidi to the ruins of an old asylum and the mysterious tale of the ghost believed to inhabit it.

Storytelling at its best, The Curse of Misty Wayfair delivers a spellbinding tale. An atmospheric and eerie read that haunts the reader long after its conclusion, Jaime Jo Wright seamlessly blends the past and present in a powerful story of identity and discovering it in our Creator.

Creepy without crossing into horror, Wright expertly uses vivid settings and descriptions to pin her audience to the edge of its seat and kick the heart rate up a notch, proving that one does not need to rely on blood and gore to deliver a deliciously suspenseful read.

The protagonists aren’t your typical (whatever that means) heroes. One won’t find a strapping FBI agent, modelesque detective, or brilliant lawyer but rather a gruff, grease-encrusted mechanic and a groundskeeper with tics and twitches. That is what makes them all the more loveable and heroic. They resemble people I know or can imagine encountering.

Wright masterfully created 3D settings that leapt off the page and had me feeling as though I experienced and interacted with the story world. Returning to reality proved jarring to say the least.

Despite only discovering Wright in December, I have already read all her novels. She has firmly planted herself at the top of my favorites list and become an author to emulate. Out of her three books, picking my number one choice would be impossible.

I strongly recommend The Curse of Misty Wayfair to readers who enjoy tales infused with a strong suspenseful element, a speck of romance, and a thread of faith. Now I’m off to re-read her stories because how else am I to make it until her next release in December?

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

In the Shadow of Croft Towers by Abigail Wilson

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Mystery
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: January 2019

Orphan Sybil Delafield leaves the only place and people she’s ever known to take up a new position as companion to an elderly woman. While on her way to Croft Towers, highwaymen rob the coach and Sybil’s life plunges into a spiral of lies, secrets, and danger.

When old Mrs. Chalcroft tasks her with delivering clandestine messages to town and Sybil recognizes a Croft Towers’ inhabitant as one of the highwaymen, she finds herself alone and with no one to trust. The threat increases, when fellow passengers of the robbed coach appear murdered. With nowhere to run or money to her name, Sybil’s only hope is to uncover Croft Towers long-held secrets.

In the Shadow of Croft Towers delivers a captivating tale of intrigue, danger, and love set to the backdrop of Regency England. Abigail Wilson pens a stellar debut in the vein of a Bronte novel — sans all the depressing bits. Gothic settings, mysterious characters, and secrets lurking behind every beam and column make tearing away from this story practically impossible. In fact, its absence left me with a hole the size of Croft Towers for days after finishing the tale.

Memorable characters leap off the page inviting the reader to come along for the journey. Sybil though too naïve at times and prone to do foolish things is so loveable one gladly forgives her. Mr. Sinclair, the nefarious highwayman, inspires the reader to happily toss caution and common sense to the wind and follow him anywhere. Move over, Mr. Rochester, a new gentleman has arrived in town.

Too many stutters and false starts in dialogue had the characters, in that aspect, sounding alike. While believable for hesitant Sybil, it didn’t ring true when it became a trait of several other characters as well. However, that proved a minor issue in the grand scheme of this incredible story and something the author will probably lose as she grows as a writer.

I strongly recommend this novel to historical fiction fans who relish stories of adventure and romance in the strain of Jane Eyre and Northanger Abbey. Without a doubt, In the Shadow of Croft Towers will go on my re-read shelf and I can already safely say it will be one of my top reads of 2019.

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

**Originally posted on Radiant Lit.

Death in Paris by Emilia Bernhard

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 2018

French financier Edgar Bowen drowned in a bowl of soup — literally. When his former girlfriend, American ex-pat Rachel Levis, overhears the details surrounding the strange death, she immediately suspects foul play, but the police rule it an accident.

With little more than a hunch, Rachel and her best friend, Magda, delve into the Parisian upper-class world determined to find out what really happened during Edgar’s last meal. As the suspect list grows, so do the number of deaths. With someone tying up loose ends, Rachel and Magda must uncover the truth without landing on a killer’s target list.

Emilia Bernhard’s debut, Death in Paris, offers a predictable and borderline comical tale in the vein of cozy mysteries. Expecting something along the lines of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None or Eric Keith’s Nine Man Murder, I instead encountered a slow-paced narrative that I struggled to get into. I could have easily skipped pages and missed nothing.

Rachel and Magda came across as bored busybodies in a foreign country with too much time on their hands. Their theories, though many times right in the end, felt like lucky guesses that they pulled out of nowhere. For the most part, I struggled to take them seriously. Even Rachel’s own husband, Alan, seemed to mostly indulge his wife. As is, Rachel and Magda don’t have what it takes to carry a series, their current success appearing more like a fluke.

Extensive telling versus showing, and the fact that the author reveals a lot of the details and accounts through conversations between characters after the events take place rather than in “real time,” ensured my placement as a spectator instead of experiencing the story for myself.

The setting, though picturesque and nice, could have been any generic European city, and the novel as a whole felt too implausible and required too much suspension of belief. Readers who enjoy cozy mysteries and slower stories might still like Death in Paris.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks

Darkwater Secrets (Darkwater Inn #1) by Robin Caroll

Genre: Mystery, Romance
Publisher: Gilead Publishing
Publication Date: July 2018

In New Orleans’ French Quarter stands the Darkwater Inn — a confluence to a bustling street life, eclectic guests, and now murder. Managing the inn comes with plenty of challenges, but Adelaide Fountaine loves the job. However, the hotel guest stabbed with a kitchen knife could not only ruin the inn’s reputation but also cost Adelaide her job.

Detective Beau Savoie, Adelaide’s childhood friend, lands the case. As he delves into the victim’s past, Beau not only discovers a sordid history but also a surprising connection with Adelaide — one she’s kept secret for years. Hurt by the betrayal, things only complicate further when the investigation pushes Adelaide, the woman he has loved for years, into the arms of another man.

Part mystery, part romance, part drama, Darkwater Secrets is one story I’m not quite sure how to place. I picked Robin Caroll’s latest novel expecting a high-stakes romantic suspense read. However, the murderer is revealed and apprehended around the 70% mark. What follows is Adelaide dealing with long-held secrets and feeling torn between two men.

To be honest, the jury is still out on how I feel about this book. Though not completely let down, I didn’t feel totally satisfied either. The outcome will probably depend on how the series continues from here on out. In a way, it felt like the entire novel was just one long set up for what is to come. A risky move, but one I’m willing to give a shot.

At the moment, both Beau and Dimitri seem like nice men who genuinely care for Adelaide. She, on the other hand, tests the waters with both. A big no-no in my book. First, that’s a major red flag that she doesn’t truly love either one. Second, one should find out how s/he feels and then explore the possibility of a relationship. Not the other way around. One shouldn’t toy with people’s emotions. Despite being strongly, and wisely, advised by people in her life, Adelaide continually chose to disregard them, making poor decisions.

Set in New Orleans around Mardi Gras, the occult plays a role in the story, which again, I am waiting to see how the author handles it. While the one Christian character does say he has nothing to worry about because he has God on his side (which is true to an extent), he also takes the spiritual world too lightly — a dangerous stance for a believer.

Still, as a whole, Darkwater Secrets provided a quick read, and I will give the next installment in the series a shot.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!

 

If I’m Found (If I Run #2) by Terri Blackstock

Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication Date: March 2017

Casey Cox remains on the run accused of a murder she didn’t commit. Dylan Roberts still hot on her trail claims to know the truth and wants to help her. But trusting the wrong person could cost Casey her life.

While investigating the real murderers, she comes across something that leads her to a suicidal man and the child he is falsely accused of abusing. Unable to turn her back on the injustice, Casey puts everything on the line to help the man and protect the girl from her true abusers.

Terri Blackstock’s If I’m Found reunites readers with Casey as she struggles to clear her name. I loved the first book, If I Run. Sadly, the second installment in the series didn’t offer anything new. It felt like a repeat, simply with new secondary characters.

In book one, Casey goes on the run, encounters someone in trouble, and risks her life to save her. In book two, we find Casey still on the run, again she encounters people in trouble, and once more she puts everything on the line to help them. Though I know it’s fiction, it felt a bit too implausible. What are the chances that these injustices keep landing in her lap?

The suspense and pace were good. The author brought the setting to life in a that way allowed me to experience the characters’ world for myself. I enjoyed watching Dylan and Casey start joining forces more. All of this made for an entertaining read. I just would have liked a little something more, especially considering the stellar first book.

Newcomers, keep in mind that while the minor threads/mysteries come to a conclusion with each installment, the main story arches throughout the three books in the series.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!