Fantasy · fiction · Mystery

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

No book in 2020 has captured my attention and my imagination like this work of historical fiction. Jess Kidd’s story took me back through time and challenged my reality in a book I simply could not put down.


SYNOPSIS

Bridie Devine, female detective extraordinaire, is confronted with the most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors trading curiosities in this age of discovery.

Winding her way through the labyrinthine, sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing a past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where spectacle is king and nothing is quite what it seems.

Blending darkness and light, history and folklore, Things in Jars is a spellbinding Gothic mystery that collapses the boundary between fact and fairy tale to stunning effect and explores what it means to be human in inhumane times. from Goodreads.

thingsinjars


REVIEW

I’m struggling a bit to discuss this book. Every time I try to bring some coherent thought to my opinions I am left babbling over and over again, “It was so good. So, so sooooooooo good.” I have attempted (repeatedly) to shake my head to clear my thoughts but I keep returning to the same refrain. So, forgive me. I’m going to try…

It is London, 1863, and Mrs. Bridget Devine’s occupation is as mysterious as the plaque that hangs near her front door. It reads,

Mrs. Devine

Domestic Investigations

Minor Surgery (Esp. Boils, Warts, Extractions)

Discretion Assured

But, before we even gain a glimpse of Bridie’s home and her housekeeper Cora, the only seven-foot-tall housemaid in London, we have already followed Bridie through the graveyard, stumbled across the ghost of an incredibly attractive boxer, and watched as she investigated a long dead skeleton of a mother and a not quite human baby. All this before page 30.

I mean, honestly. This book!

The mystery presented to Bridie is that of a missing child. An odd missing child whose only friend doesn’t want her found. A little girl who doesn’t talk and doesn’t truly exist, not even in her own home. But Bridie is not one to give up.

Less mysterious but absolutely swoon-worthy is Rudy, the ghost who has attached himself to Bridie. I’m not sure what caused my infatuation with this character. Meh, that’s a lie. I definitely appreciated how protective and simultaneously proud of Bridie he was throughout the story. In addition, his loving teasing that she should remember him had me absolutely gasping to know what their history might have been. The cherry on top of this delightful concoction is his jealousy over her friendship with Inspector Rose. Ah Rudy….

It would be remiss of me to not mention that this Victorian tale is steeped in the vernacular of the age. I finally put a post-it note in the cover of the book so I could write down words I didn’t know instead of breaking the rhythm of the story to look things up. Mind you, not a regular post-it. I needed a lined double-sized one. Jess Kidd was not messing around with her regurgitation of life in London during the Victorian Era, straight down to the strange names for fruit and vegetable sellers in the streets (a costermonger, just so you know). It is a lot but absolutely worth the effort.

Once I caught the pace and the rhythm I shut myself away from the world in the smallest room in my home in order to give this book my full attention. I haven’t been this compelled to finish a book since I was a child reading in my closet at night. I am obsessed with this story. It is just so sooooo good. Darn it, I tried!


Tell me, please!

What’s the last book that you were obsessed with like this?


Fantasy · FrighteninglyGoodRead · Halloween2017 · Middle Grade · Mystery

Frighteningly Good Read #14

I know, I know. I’m running behind. There have been some big changes to my life outside this blog that have created a little hiccup in my schedule. But, I have all day today to get caught up!

So, lets start with the FGR for Saturday, October 14th. I have been reading some terrifying books during the day. At night, I just can’t do it. I have enough trouble with insomnia. So, I have been lulling myself to sleep with delightful children’s books that lean toward spooky or other wordly. This one is just too cute!

supernaturalsleuthingThe Supernatural Sleuthing ServiceThe Lost Legacy by Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe is the story of Stephen and his father moving to New York City to live in an unusual hotel, The New Harmonia. This hotel has a resident dragon and his hoard living in the basement. Bigfoot, creatures of the night and the fae are all frequent guests. And, my favorite side character, Elevator, torments riders with his big personality while he carries them up and down.

As is typical of books for grades 3-8, Stephen is dealing with moving to a new city, mysterious and magical artifacts and the self-discovery and social learning that is unique to children his age. This, as I have reiterated again and again, is what makes children’s literature so special. These characters don’t know who they are yet and they have to figure that out, deal with social norms and solve a big mystery. I will never stop reading them and recommending them because I think adults are constantly readjusting our self-knowledge. Except, we aren’t supposed to talk about it.

Stephen makes new friends and foes and together the story is simply adorable. With the characters including those of the night category I felt safe declaring it today’s (well, the 14th’s) FGR!


Tell me, please!?

Can you read truly scary stories right before bedtime?


 

FrighteninglyGoodRead · Halloween2017 · Mystery · Romantic

Frighteningly Good Reads #9

On the first Friday of every month my local library has a $4.00 Bag of Books sale. Sometimes there is little to nothing of interest for sale. But, this time I hit the jackpot! I found a couple of books to add to some of my series collections, some non-fiction gems and two fantastically ridiculous looking YA books that were perfect for the FGR theme.

queendeadThe first one is Queen of the Dead, A Ghost and the Goth Novel by Stacey Kade. The cover of this book was just too awesomely ridiculous to pass up. And the story did begin just like a made for TV movie. But then, slowly, layer upon layer the story became more complex and the characters more likable and realistic. At first, I couldn’t believe this was actually a series. But, by the end I was so glad there were more stories!

It helped too that this book was set in the small town of Decatur, Illinois near where I grew up. Isn’t it amazing the things you will forgive a story for if you lived in the town or visited it?

The story is about Alona who died in her gym uniform and Will who is a ghost talker. Alona goes from the most popular girl in high school to Will’s spirit guide. Will finally gets to spend time with the girl he has had a crush on since sixth grade. But, admiring people from a distance is different than waking up to them every morning as Will soon learns. And Alona finds out quickly that being popular is not the same as being liked.

Now, doesn’t this sound like every book we have ever read? Except, at almost the half way point the author really puts a new spin on the whole thing. Without giving any spoilers this suddenly had a unique storyline and I loved it!

This may not be a book that you buy multiple copies of to give to friends and family. But it is definitely akin to a middle of the day, cute ghostly romance with just a dash of mystery that you watch with a cup of hot apple cider. But I really loved it. And how hilarious is that cover!?!


Tell me, please!

Do you enjoy reading books set in your hometown?


 

FrighteninglyGoodRead · Halloween2017 · Mystery · Romantic · Uncategorized

Frighteningly Good Read #3

It is hard to write about things that make me happy when there is so much senseless violence and devastation in world. I was in an utter tailspin after hearing the news of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. My heart breaks for all those who were killed, their families and for the people who were hurt, scared or had a love one in any way involved.

For moments like these, I keep a shelf of books that bring me nothing but joy. They are all dog-earned and the spines are broken but they calm me down and keep my company on long nights when sadness is almost all consuming.

I have five Jennifer Crusie books on that shelf. I fell in love with her contemporary romances that combine a strong woman, a cute guy and a bit of mystery within their storylines. I love that her character’s happily-ever-after are varied and not so cookie cutter as requiring a marriage and children. Mostly, these books are well written escape. A much needed one at times like these.

maybeSo, today I recommend for you as a FrighteninglyGoodReadMaybe This Time. This romance pits a divorced couple against a creepy old house with both figurative ghosts from their past coming back to visit and literal ghosts in the present popping up and causing chaos. Add in two delinquent children and an unfinished romance and this book cooks.

There are ways to help people. There are a million things that must and will be done. But, tonight, if you have trouble sleeping, books like these are always there for you. They can’t fix anything but they will graciously keep you company.


Tell me, please!

Do you have an author you rely on to take you away?


 

Mystery

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen

farleighField

Secrets and the inability to share them create a tense and wonderful mystery story set in the English countryside during World War II.  Farleigh is the ancestral home of the Sutton family.  One morning a soldier dressed in Royal West Kent uniform is found dead in the fields of the grand home.  His parachute failed.  When examined more closely, the soldier is deemed a spy.  The question is, why would a spy even attempt to land at this remote and rural location?  What was his objective?

The author provides a lovely little bit of history with the inclusion of the seven rules for the civilian population of Great Britain during the war.  This was circulated throughout Great Britain in 1939.  One of the most important: Keep All Information to Yourself.  Within the story the question then becomes, how will anyone solve the case in an era of secrecy so severe that you could not even tell your family the nature of your job?

While solving the delightful mystery this story simultaneously highlights the tireless, important and sometimes overlooked work of women during World War II.  I think anyone with a basic knowledge of history remembers that women played an essential role in the war effort.  But even with a background in history (American though I must admit), the book reveals to me more of the countless ways women were vital to the war efforts.  For example, there are a number of references to Land Girls.  I had to look this one up and I was fascinated to learn that by 1941 women were conscripted into the Women’s Land Army to provide agricultural support.  These women had a non-compulsory uniform and were referred to as Land Girls.  And, please, pay attention to how they determined that the soldier was a spy.

Bowen focuses her story on the Sutton family since Lord Westerham, his wife Esme and their five daughters call Farleigh home.  I genuinely appreciated that these five women were a diverse group.  All of the women’s personalities and responses to the needs of the times were vastly different.  I must admit, there was one daughter I adored and one I would pay good money to slap.  Amazon put together this adorable little infographic but pay attention to the author’s cast of characters as well.  FarFieldFamily

Rhys Bowen is a prolific writer and this stand alone novel is my first experience with her mysteries.  This, to me, is truly a gift.  I read an exceptional story and found a new author to obsess over.