Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.
The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.
The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and the truth is the dirtiest part of all.
Review: I had really high hopes for These Shallow Graves and was disappointed with the book for many reasons. After starting with a promising prologue, the book's melodrama and a lackluster, predictable murder mystery drives the book. Set in 19th-century Manhattan, much like an Edith Wharton novel, socialite Jo Monfort's wealthy father meets an untimely death. Suicide is deemed the cause of death, but Jo believes foul play is the real cause because her father would never have thought to kill himself. When Jo overhears that her father's partners in a shipbuilding firm paid hush money to keep the fact that it was murder out of the press, she knows that solving her father's murder mystery is her mission and she is willing to risk her reputation to solve it.
I have mixed reactions to Jo. On the one hand, I admired her for asserting her right to run her own life, but on the other hand she makes no attempt to give up the comforts of her privilege lifestyle such as letting her maids put the clothes on her or serve her at the house. I was also very annoyed with her blatant naivety of the less pleasant side of city life such as poverty, prostitutes, and unsavory men just to name a few. Though I understood the author wanted to emphasis Jo's sheltered life, her ignorance became repetitive and very annoying. Donnelly also does a fair job in establishing the social expectations for women like Jo such as being married to a man of good status and having babies and comparing women with dog breeds, however like Jo's naivety, this was also repetitive and heavy handed.
In addition to the murder mystery and social issues in the book, there is also a bit of a romance, which fell flat for me. The insta-love with a bland love interest made me roll my eyes. I also thought a forced love triangle in which the other person didn't even know he was on it was very awkward and unnecessary.
Though the pacing was steady with the right amount of clues leading to the next step in solving the mystery, I had figured the mystery out pretty early on. I don't think this book needed 500 pages and I think it could have been told much better in 300 pages.
Rating: 2 stars
Words of Caution: There is some language, crude humor, scenes at a brothel and opium dens. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.
If you like this book try: The Agency series by Y.S. Lee, Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown, Out of The Easy by Ruta Septys
Review: The Killing Woods was a solid mystery, however, I was expecting a bit more from the book. The novel starts with an attention grabbing first chapter in which Emily Shepherd looks out the window in the early morning and sees her father carrying the body of a teenage girl through the woods. Things become much more complicated because Emily knows the dead girl, Ashlee Parker, a classmate, and girlfriend of football star Damon Hilary. Emily's dad is a war veteran, who suffers from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder, is accused of the murder, and it is up to her to find out what really happened in the woods that horrible night.
I really enjoyed the first half of the story. The narrative is split between Emily and Damon as we try to find out what really happened in the woods. Both Emily and Damon refuse to take responsibility for Ashlee's death and have their own personal motives making them unreliable narrators. Damon who was in a drug induced state the night Ashlee died can't remember his own actions and his lack of memory haunts him. The characters are revealed in complex layers and the woods themselves have an eerie personality, the only witness of the real truth. This first half is taut, suspenseful, and very intense.
The second half of the novel is not as smooth. The story becomes bogged down with repetitious dialogue and descriptions. The clues to the mystery are not given as much which slows down the pace and made me lose interest. I was also really disappointed how Emily's father seems to disappear from the book, making the mystery to be a bit more obvious. The ending does try to get back to the fast paced story with lots of action and details thrown rapidly. While I liked the book, it lacked a polished feel to the story.
Rating: 3 stars
Words of Caution: There is strong language, underage drug usage, allusions to sex, and strong violence. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.
If you like this book try: The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks, The Last Good Place of
Lily Odilon by Sara Beitia