12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to write a review.

12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Clara’s family fortune was stolen nine months ago, so she’s compelled to accept an invitation to spend Christmastide at Bleakly Manor. If she remains for all twelve days, she’ll receive five hundred pounds. Yet, besides bringing her face to face with the former fiancé who jilted her, there’s something more mysterious, even dangerous, about this whole setup in 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, a tale by author Michelle Griep.

Well! As the first book of the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series, there’s certainly something Dickens-esque about this Victorian holiday mystery. It’s cold and dreary but with drafts of light and humor that slide in, and it features an eclectic cast of distinct characters with a range of personalities and motives. What first drew me most into this story is its style, with excellent imagery and rare turns of phrase—a classic touch that’s refreshing to find in a modern read.

I was fairly enthralled through the first third of the book or so, and though I didn’t remain as gripped through the rest of it, my interest wasn’t lost. Now, there are bits of backstory that seem belatedly thrown in to help make sense of everything. I think “bringing it all together” works better when the right details are mentioned earlier in the book, instead of popping up suddenly to assist a late explanation or event. Also, there’s a slur in the book that I find culturally offensive and am sure the story could have done without.

Nevertheless, fellow fans of historical Christmas ChristFic should enjoy this tale, and I hope to read the second book in the series when it comes out next year.

 

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Predictability in Fiction

I often say that readers are entitled to their preferences and what they choose to read or not to read. So, even though I write some romance, I don’t think all readers should prefer that genre just because it’s something I write.

Even so, I was prompted to write this blog post because I often hear fellow readers say things like, “I don’t read romance because it’s predictable. You already know the guy and girl are going to end up together.”

True, you already know that fact beforehand, but predictable outcomes aren’t exactly exclusive to the romance genre. Besides, I think there’s a difference between a predictable outcome and a predictable story. I appreciate it when an author can weave originality and unpredictability together on the way to what may be a predictable outcome.

For instance, if you read an adventure or literary novel called Wreck of the Seafaring Vessel, you already know beforehand that the ship is going to wreck. But when the author can make you CARE about the fact that the ship will wreck, can make you wish that it wouldn’t wreck even though you already know it’s going to (or can ironically make you GLAD that the ship will wreck, even though you never thought you’d feel that way), can help you to deeply empathize with the complex characters on the ship through their backstories and emotions and motives–then you get something fresh, thought-provoking, and memorable out of the novel. The outcome, or an aspect of the outcome, is predictable, but overall, it isn’t a predictable story.

I look for the same thing in romance. I know the outcome, or an aspect of the outcome, but I want something fresh and thought-provoking along the way.

As far as predictability goes, much the same can be said for many suspense, thriller, and mystery novels, where readers especially like to be surprised. Before you even start the book, you pretty much know the major aspect of the outcome: the good guy is going to catch or put a stop to the bad guy, solve the murder case, prevent the enemy operation from blowing up the ocean, or what have you. In, say, 999 books out of 1,000, no matter how many thrilling car chases there are, how many kidnappers set out to blindfold and tie people up, or how many airplanes spontaneously combust in the sky, you already know that none of those dangers are going to kill the protagonist right smack in the middle of the novel. But when I read a thriller or a suspense or mystery novel, it doesn’t matter if I already know the protagonist will indeed make it out of the burning plane alive and the antagonist will inevitably get caught. I just want something fresh and thought-provoking on the way to seeing the inevitable take place. A predictable outcome, but not a predictable story.

Again, if romance simply isn’t your thing, then it simply isn’t your thing. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve considered predictability alone to be the issue, then perhaps it’s had more to do with the overall style or storytelling in the romances you’ve read, and less to do with the inevitable outcomes. Perhaps it’s had more to do with particular books or authors, and whether or not those were the right books and authors for you, and less to do with the romance genre as a whole.

I believe it’s just as possible to write a fresh and unpredictable romance as it is to write a fresh and unpredictable suspense or mystery novel, since it’s not merely about what happens in the end (the guy and girl get together, the detective wins and the murderer loses, etc.) It’s about the journey or process toward that outcome.

Does that make sense? 🙂

 

Be Still My Beading Heart: A Glass Bead Mini-Mystery by Janice Peacock

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Be Still My Beading Heart: A Glass Bead Mini-Mystery by Janice Peacock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Jax is in a rush to deliver some of her handmade glass beads to a glass gallery, but afterwards, she can’t find her car. She either forgot where she parked, or her precious Ladybug has been stolen. Not to mention it’s Valentine’s Day, so Jax hopes to track down her missing wheels and maybe get something together to scoot her love life along in Be Still My Beading Heart: A Glass Bead Mini-Mystery by author Janice Peacock.

Well! It turns out this ebook is mostly comprised of all the Bonus Material after the short story, so the story itself is the bonus, to me. And I’d say the mystery and the romance play pretty equal parts in this quick tale.

So, even though the story didn’t fill as much reading time as I expected, I otherwise got what I was looking for out of it: a jolly little read with a crime to solve and some fun romance woven in. I enjoyed the story’s humor and was pleased to see that it’s set in Seattle—best city ever! Plus, sometimes I just want a mystery that isn’t about murder, since, yes, there are other types of cases to solve.

Cozy mystery fans may want to check this Glass Bead Mystery series out.

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High Strung (Glass Bead Mystery, #1) A Bead in the Hand (Glass Bead Mystery, #2) Off the Beadin' Path (Glass Bead Mystery, #3)

 

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The White Feather Murders by Rachel McMillan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

It’s 1914 in Toronto, and Canada is on the brink of joining Britain in the great conflict overseas. Amid the rumblings of a world war, lady detective duo Herringford and Watts looks into a series of murders at home that may or may not be related. Perhaps a fight for justice here can help make Toronto a place more worthy of the troops’ return in The White Feather Murders, a novel by author Rachel McMillan.

Having now read my sixth mystery in this series, I can say that it isn’t exactly the mysteries that keep me coming back. I’m no expert on detective stories, but in these books, the mysteries themselves often feel like almost secondary aspects of the plot. There’s so much more going on about history, about immigration, about the need for social reform, about love, about friendship, about the tension between the duty to one’s family and the call of one’s professional passion.

It’s the “so much more” that most pulls me into these books.

Now, I did feel that the story here might’ve been stalling in a place or two, and perhaps rehashing the same kind of conflicts from the novels before it, without putting enough of a new spin on them. As in the other novels, the point of view seemed to float around sometimes, making it a bit challenging to follow. And I’ve never been a huge fan of the scenario where the bad guy does something like tie up the good guy in the end while the bad guy gives a big explanation, telling why and how he’s been the bad guy all along.

Still, the tension, the splashes of humor, the four central characters I enjoy watching, and the threads of poignancy woven into the story (and, gracious, this novel’s heartrending finish!) are all quite enough to leave me in anticipation of more from this series, if there will be more.

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Here’s my review of A Singular and Whimsical Problem.