nine women, one dress


The Facts

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen
Basia rates it: 2/5

I’m honestly not quite sure what kept me reading this book. It felt like a young author’s first novel, not the product of a veteran writer. The prose was pretty mediocre, and there were so many exclamation points–almost all narratively, not in dialogue–which is always frustrating. This book is an excellent example of why I am wary of reading novels in first-person: I never got a feeling for the character telling the story–or, for that matter, any character. The prose was simplistic and almost childish at times (probably the exclamation points), with every single “essay” sporting the same boy-howdy, golly-gee sort of tone to it, and the author often gave in to stereotypes, as if we wouldn’t believe one of the young women whose story was being told was Southern without her speaking, even narratively, as if she were in a Tennessee Williams play.

The format of the “essays” also annoyed me. Each was introduced with a title, a byline, and occasionally (usually for the women, major side-eye) their age. Furthermore, there were times when the essay-writer would address the reader or refer specifically to their title or byline. It was jarring and disconcerting. It was a self-aware move that only works with some books, and this was certainly not one of them. I picked up this book because it seemed reminiscent of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, to a degree; from the description, it seemed as if it would be a third-person account of where this dress went, that I would consistently follow it on its journey from person to person. That, however, was not the case. So if that’s what you’re going into this book looking for, steer clear. You won’t get it. I was most excited during a scene in which a woman is killed when her cab is swallowed by a sinkhole. I sort of wanted to join her.

To say nothing of the low-key way in which it condones stalking.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

I’m still not sure what kept me reading this book. I think it was because I wanted to know what happened to the millennial who was looking for a job.

places no one knows


The Facts
Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff
Basia rates it: 4.5/5

Maggie Stiefvater said she wasn’t sure if this book was “a dream wrapped in razor wire or razor wire wrapped in dream.” The beautiful thing about this book is that it’s both. It is a book about people who feel too much and people who feel too little, how to navigate feelings or unfeeling in a world where we’re constantly fed expectations of our emotional responses to situations.

All of Brenna’s books have a dreamy sort of quality to them, but this one especially. It creates an interesting juxtaposition of dream versus reality–when the thing you’re “dreaming” feels like the more tangible, more real space and your reality is the waking dream. This isn’t a book for everyone (Brenna’s books seldom are), but for those it speaks to, it will practically shout. It’s a story of expectation versus reality, of self-identity, of the difference between the self that you project and the one that you are on the inside. This book is raw and strange, but it is so powerfully honest. There’s something here for everyone to connect to, whether you’re a Marshall, a Waverly, or someone somewhere in between.

a beautiful blue death


The Facts

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch
Connor rates it: 3.5/5

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a lady in possession of a fondness for mystery novels must always be in search of another series.

Or at least, that’s the truth I’ve discovered after fifteen or so years in pursuit of, to turn a phrase, novel mysteries. Agatha Christie became one of my favorite authors after my brilliant book club leader decided the group of seventh grade girls she was leading should read Death on the Nile. (I owe a lot to that book club–my love of Jane Austen and The Lord of the Rings included–but I will always be especially grateful to our leader for deciding we needed to appreciate Hercule Poirot.)

The thing is, a girl in her early teens with a mind bent on reading Agatha Christie can accomplish that quite quickly. There are, after all, several Agatha Christie novels and detectives to enjoy, and obtaining them is not particularly difficult: the title of “best selling novelist” isn’t an honorary one. But there comes a time in every mystery lover’s life when she must turn away from the Queen of Crime and pick up the works of other mystery novelists. This was the point where my mother introduced me to what quickly became my next downfall: historical mysteries.

And that is how, after discovering Ellis Peters, Dorothy Sayers, Victoria Thompson, Elizabeth Peters, Peter Tremayne, and, most recently, Charles Todd–it came to pass that I needed a new mystery series.

Or, you know, nine. Ten, even. But at least two or three, and quite probably more.

I did what I always do in moments of literary trouble: I looked my problem dead in the eye, and I tackled it with all the force of a twenty-four year old bookworm with access to the internet. It wavered. It dissolved. It split at the seams. It tumbled into oblivion. It fell down upon the mountainside in ruins. It faded into nothingness. It trembled. It crashed. In short, it crumbled beneath the combined weight of Goodreads, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and my own curiosity, and I emerged with a list of not one, not two, but twelve mystery series to investigate.

One of the books that emerged from this was A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch. While not the most technically deft mystery I’ve ever read, I nevertheless enjoyed it quite a bit. The book cover described the novel as something of a combination of Sherlock Holmes, Gosford Park, and P. G. Wodehouse. For once, this was a surprisingly accurate description. I would argue that the Sherlockian tidbits were unnecessary and felt a bit forced, but on the whole the novel does have a Wodehouse/Gosford Park vibe to it.

Which is to say: the prose has an airy, refreshing lightness despite the pages’ content, and the mystery seems less important than the characters involved.

The breezy writing is well anchored in Finch’s main character, Charles Lenox. It is Lenox’s cheery outlook (and occasionally his dour moods) that keep the story moving along, and it is Lenox’s relationships that interested me most: that with his best friend, his brother, and his butler. The butler is Lenox’s most dependable compatriot in any investigation, from ferreting out information to providing background knowledge and an extra set of hands. Lenox’s brother has a much quieter brilliance than Lenox himself, but their clear affection for each other and willingness to help with the other’s difficulties or career is admirable. His best friend, though, is a woman he has known since childhood, the widow Lady Jane Grey.

I have often found that novels professing “life long friendships” leave me wondering how on earth the author expected me to believe these characters were lifelong friends–they never understand each other and, in fact, scarcely seem to care for each other at all. Finch is a pleasant exception to my experience, and A Beautiful Blue Death showcases a quiet, mutual affection between Lady Jane and Lenox that is both believable and lovely to read.

These three relationships–butler, brother, friend–keep Finch’s prose from veering too far into the lightheartedness of Wodehouse while also providing enough counterweight to keep Lenox from veering into despair as he works to solve the case. The murder itself proves a curious one, with enough twists to keep me guessing and a resolution that managed to live up to them, and I look forward to reading Charles Lenox’s next case.