Book Review: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender

The Dead Girls of Hysteria HallThe Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall
Katie Alender
Point, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-63999-6
Hardcover

Precisely what I wanted from practically every book I picked up in high school; I simply cannot wait to share The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall with “my” students.  Teen-age angst, quintessentially captured in the sharp, witty and biting dialogue creates characters that are real and relatable.  Fabulous and freaky foreshadowing sets a quick, compelling pace making this a page-turner that causes the reader to declare “one more chapter” many, many times.  The sprawling haunted house/former institution “For the Care and Correction of Troubled Females” that Delia inherits from her former pen-pal and namesake Aunt Cordelia, serves as spot-on setting for this mesmerizing mystery.

While the plot pulled me in and kept me puzzling, the charisma of the characters captured my heart.  The familial and friend drama (with a dash of romance) that distract Delia from her ghost-saving goal of finding and eliminating the source of evil feels familiar.  Plotting escape from the house, Delia matures.  Refreshingly, Ms. Alender reveals this perfectly, in an honest way by allowing Delia to backslide…maybe she learns from this mistake the first time; but just like in real life, she doesn’t stop screwing up and she doesn’t learn from every mistake as quickly.

The history of Piven Institute, where female hysteria could mean anything from schizophrenia to too many opinions, coupled with her dad’s casual dismissal of anything uttered by a female, subtly introduces misogyny and its ill effects.  Conversely, the relationships Delia builds with the girl ghosts and her growing admiration for her little sister, “the prettiest, wittiest, most sparkling complete twerp of a human being you ever wanted to backhand on a daily basis” illustrates girl-power in its finest form.

There is so much to absolutely adore in this adventure peppered with amazing zingers that one highlighter was not enough to get me though this book.  I won’t be lending this out, I’ll need to read it again….at least once; but I will most certainly be giving it as a gift for a long time.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2016.

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Book Reviews: ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part by Edith Maxwell and They Danced by the Light of the Moon by Tempa Pagel

Til Dirt Do Us Part‘Til Dirt Do Us Part
A Local Foods Mystery
Edith Maxwell
Kensington Books, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-7582-8464-8
Hardcover

Cameron Flaherty has inherited her Uncle’s farm in Westbury, Massachusetts where she grows organic crops to share with the local townspeople. As subscribers to her vegetable service, each member of the organization receives a weekly share of the crops throughout the year. They volunteer time, working on the farm, helping Cam with the planting, weeding and sowing.

When one of the subscribers is brutally murdered, and Cam’s good friend is arrested and named a suspect she is pulled into the investigation. Cam juggles her time between her boyfriend, bringing in her fall harvest, planting seedlings for next year’s crops and following clues to solve the crime and exonerate her friend.

Of course, her questions attract the killer’s attention and life-threatening ‘accidents’ occur. As Cam rescues chickens, plows her crops and turns her compost pile, she uncovers information that puts her life in danger but ultimately solves the murder.

Well-crafted writing and an interesting plot combine with a story brimming with useful information about farming, composting, raising chickens, selling at a Farmer’s Market and a few interesting recipes thrown in for good measure.

If you are drawn to conservation, gardening, farming or vegetarian cooking combined with a good mystery, this book will be of particular interest to you.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, June 2014.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy.

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They Danced by the Light of the MoonThey Danced by the Light of the Moon
An Andy Gammon Mystery
Tempa Pagel
Five Star/Cengage, February 2014
ISBN 978-1-4328-2799-1
Hardcover

Andy Gammon, in company with her mother-in-law, Mayta Gammon, attend the opening of the refurbished Grand Hotel of the Atlantic. At their dinner table, they meet a young woman whom, during a later tour of the building, they find murdered. Andy actually discovers her, and is privy to Claudia’s last breath and a cryptic clue to her murder. Armed with this scant evidence, Andy and Mayta set out to reveal the murderer, since they seem to be the only ones who link Claudia’s death with the story of a girl who, a hundred years earlier, had disappeared from this same room and was never heard from again.

Or was she?

The plot revolves around the mystery girl as well as a present-time relative whose health seems to be failing. Natural, or human caused? And if human caused, why? Andy needs to find out before it’s too late.

As written, the story develops along parallel lines, with accounts from the missing girl’s journal for the historical bits, and from Andy’s perspective in the present.

I don’t want any spoilers here, but I do want to say the author’s research into the care of mental patients in the early 1900s adds wonderful details, even though readers may find those details a little shocking. The strict confines of upper strata society, especially concerning a woman’s place, is also clearly drawn.

I recommend reading They Danced by the Light of the Moon for the history over the mystery.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.