Book Reviews: Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski and Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark

Fairest of All
Whatever After #1
Sarah Mlynowski
Scholastic Press, April 2013
978-0-545-48571-5
Trade Paperback

I am a fan of the fairy-tale re-tell.

It is always delightful when a familiar story gets a fresh twist. But, to take an already awesome creation to a totally new height—in the same way that Jimi Hendrix covered Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”—well, that really rocks my socks. So, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I absolutely adored Ms. Mlynowski’s Whatever After: Fairest of All.

And, you can well imagine my enthusiasm upon discovering that the author has already written an entire series of these treasures. I’m going to have to buy the whole set for some classroom library, but I should probably read them quickly, before turning them over.

In the meantime, I happen to have Special Edition: Whatever After: Abby in Wonderland in my hot little hands right now…

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2019.

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Fiction Can Be Murder
A Mystery Writer’s Mystery #1
Becky Clark
Midnight Ink, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5332-4
Trade Paperback

Semi-successful mystery writer, Charlee, has penned the perfect murder. At least according to her critique group, beta readers, boyfriend and agent. And yes, even if she does say so herself. But before it goes to print, her diabolical plan is implemented in the real-life murder of her agent.

Melinda Walters wasn’t well-liked. Maybe not even respected. Actually, not even an awesome agent. Few will weep when hearing of her untimely demise. The apparent automobile accident is instead, the result of a properly executed plan. Although there may be many with apparent motive, the suspect pool shrinks to only those who could have set the scene exactly as it was written.

Charlee has no reason to doubt the local law enforcement. Her father died in the line of duty. There was some speculation, but she assumed it must be normal and willfully blocked it out. Besides, her brother is a policeman and he is successful, trusted and well-liked. Probably.

Regardless, it’s clearly best if she conducts her own investigation. Charlee kicks relationships to the curb and treats everyone in her inner circle as a suspect. Turns out, even when not involved in criminal activity, there are a plethora of reasons to maintain privacy.

I found Ms. Clark’s Fiction Can Be Murder to be a very quick and (this must sound strange) but…light read. I quite enjoyed the moment that Charlee spent writing anything-but-murder-mysteries. Although this novel falls into the Fiction: Mystery genre, as opposed to my usual Young Adult, I’ll be passing it on to my favorite classroom library where I’m sure it will be well-received.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2018.

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Book Review: Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark

Fiction Can Be Murder
A Mystery Writer’s Mystery #1
Becky Clark
Midnight Ink, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5332-4
Trade Paperback

Mystery writer Charlemagne Russo is an up and coming, best selling author, who is having a bit of trouble with her agent, Melinda Walter. According to the agent, Charlee’s royalties are falling off, and no one seems to know why. Angry words pass between them. Then Melinda is murdered and the method used is the exact way Charlee’s latest fictional victim dies. Who is the easiest potential murder suspect for the police to glom onto? Why, Charlee, of course.

Afraid she’s going to be hauled in on a murder charge at any moment, Charlee frantically begins investigating on her own. Her interests center on her critique group, all of whom have read the manuscript and may have a reason to dislike Melinda, who is well known for her harsh rejections.

Now, in order to avoid any spoilers, I’m going to say Charlee is one of those TSTL heroines. The surprise at the end when the guilty person is unveiled is a good one, even if getting there was sometimes a bit torturous. And I’m afraid Charlee’s love interest just didn’t turn me on. Awkward!

That said, the writing is good, and the story is paced well, although Charlee’s investigative questions and the answers received became a bit repetitious. And since the story takes place in a Denver winter, I think Fiction Can Be Murder would make a good book for a hot weather beach read.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: A Different Kind of Evil by Andrew Wilson

A Different Kind of Evil
Agatha Christie Series #2
Andrew Wilson
Atria, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-4509-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Two months after the events of A Talent for Murder, during which Agatha Christie “disappeared,” the famed mystery writer’s remarkable talent for detection has captured the attention of British Special Agent Davison.

Now, at his behest, she is traveling to the beautiful Canary Islands to investigate the strange and gruesome death of Douglas Greene, an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service. As she embarks on a glamorous cruise ship to her destination, she suddenly hears a scream. Rushing over to the stern of the liner, she witnesses a woman fling herself over the side of the ship to her death.

After this shocking experience, she makes it to the Grand Hotel in a lush valley on the islands. There, she meets a diverse and fascinating cast of characters, including two men who are suspected to be involved in the murder of Douglas Greene: an occultist similar to Aleister Crowley; and the secretary to a prominent scholar, who may also be a Communist spy. But Agatha soon realizes that nothing is what it seems here and she is surprised to learn that the apparent suicide of the young woman on the ocean liner is related to the murder of Douglas Greene. Now she has to unmask a different kind of evil in this sinister and thrilling mystery.

In a combination of derring do, political shenanigans and possible espionage, Agatha Christie sets out to do the bidding of John Davison, British Secret Intelligence Service, who needs her help discovering who killed one of his agents in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. With a plethora of suspects and motives, she has her work cut out for her but Agatha has the kind of puzzle-solving mind that’s well-suited for such a task.

The case begins before the cruise liner even gets to its destination when a woman throws herself overboard but, of course, Agatha has no way of knowing then that there might be a connection to the agent’s murder. On the island, she meets quite the diverse set of characters but is one of them her quarry? And why was the agent, Douglas Greene, murdered, not to mention a few other poor souls?

Bits and pieces of this story remind me of one of Christie’s own novels, A Caribbean Mystery featuring Miss Marple, and that gave me quite a lot of pleasure as it’s one of my favorites of her work. Granted, it’s really far-fetched to think the Secret Service would send a mystery author to solve an agent’s murder but this is one of those stories that requires a healthy suspension of disbelief and the result is a good deal of fun.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million
iBooks // Google Play // Amazon // Indiebound

Agatha Christie makes a plausible amateur detective in Wilson’s
stellar sequel to 2017’s A Talent for Murder, a crafty whodunit
worthy of the queen of mystery herself…Wilson does a superior
job of balancing surprising plot developments with a sensitive
portrayal of his lead’s inner life.—Publishers Weekly

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About the Author

Andrew Wilson is the highly-acclaimed author of biographies of Patricia Highsmith, Sylvia Plath, Alexander McQueen, the novel A Talent for Murder, as well as Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived. His first novel, The Lying Tongue, was published by Atria in 2007. His journalism has appeared in The GuardianThe Daily TelegraphThe ObserverThe Sunday TimesThe Daily Mail and The Washington Post. 

Website // Twitter

Book Review: A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

A Talent for Murder
Andrew Wilson
Atria, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-4506-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

“I wouldn’t scream if I were you. Unless you want the whole world to learn about your husband and his mistress.”

Agatha Christie, in London to visit her literary agent, is boarding a train, preoccupied with the devastating knowledge that her husband is having an affair. She feels a light touch on her back, causing her to lose her balance, then a sense of someone pulling her to safety from the rush of the incoming train. So begins a terrifying sequence of events—for her rescuer is no guardian angel, rather he is a blackmailer of the most insidious, manipulative kind.

“You, Mrs. Christie, are going to commit a murder. But, before then, you are going to disappear.”

Writing about murder is a far cry from committing a crime, and Agatha must use every ounce of her cleverness and resourcefulness to thwart an adversary determined to exploit her expertise and knowledge about the act of murder to kill on his behalf.

Real people have been featured as characters in works of fiction before now, pretty frequently, in fact. Having Agatha Christie be the central figure in a murder is taking things a step further considering who she was and her undoubted mind for crime and her well-known yet unexplained disappearance is the perfect backdrop to such a scenario. As a longtime Christie enthusiast, I couldn’t help wanting to see what Andrew Wilson would do with this idea and I was rewarded, with some reservations.

Solving the puzzle of where Dame Agatha was during those few days is one of the holy grails of the mystery world and, hey, this could have happened, right? If anybody was ever born to successfully commit murder, she’s the one, but I think I know too much about her persona and her life to fall completely for the plot. Still, I think Mr. Wilson showed restraint in not letting the premise go too far and become laughable, proving his true regard of this remarkable woman.

The style of this mystery is just right for the times and the then-existent quirks of society with a despicable villain, a wandering husband, a shameful mistress and a heroine who’s not exactly helpless. Think about it—who better to contemplate doing murder and then work to figure a way out than the Queen of Mystery?

Hesitations put aside for the nonce, I let myself go with the flow and found this to be a highly entertaining “what if”. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this wonderful author, can you?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

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Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million
Google Play // Amazon // Indiebound

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“In a stranger-than-fiction spin, crime novelist Agatha Christie
went missing for 11 days in 1926. Author Andrew Wilson uses
that real-life mystery as a starting point for a whodunit
as gripping as Christie’s own beloved writing.”
Coastal Living, 50 Best Books for the Beach This Summer

“It’s a real-life mystery that has never been explained: In 1926,
mystery writer Agatha Christie left her house, abandoned her
car and disappeared for 11 days. Christie, in her mid-30s at the
time, claimed that she had amnesia and couldn’t remember what
had happened or why. Now, nearly 100 years later, Andrew Wilson
has written a novel that imagines what might have happened to
her in that missing chunk of time – a story based partly
on research and partly on his imaginings.”
Houston Chronicle, Summer Reading List: 15 Anticipated
Books for the Long, Hot Days Ahead

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About the Author

Andrew Wilson is the highly-acclaimed author of biographies of Patricia Highsmith, Sylvia Plath, Alexander McQueen, as well as Shadow of the Titanic: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived. His first novel, The Lying Tongue, was published by Atria in 2007. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Daily Mail, and The Washington Post.

 

Website // Twitter

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Agatha Christie never spoke of her ten-day disappearance in the
winter of 1926, and it has remained one of the most intriguing
mysteries of modern times. She eventually turned up in a seaside
hotel, registered under the name of her husband’s mistress. 

The official statement released by the family was that Christie
suffered a sudden episode of amnesia as the result of a car crash.
She rarely talked about the experience, and omitted its
mention entirely from her autobiography.

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“Wilson (The Lying Tongue) effectively imagines a different
scenario in this twisty thriller… Wilson fully realizes
the potential of this ominous setup.”
Publishers Weekly 

“A most ingenious homage, solidly researched…
Christie would have applauded its intricacy.”
—Andrew Taylor, author of The Ashes of London