The Au Pair by Emma Rous | Advance Reader’s Copy Review

Au Pair Review

Title: The Au Pair
Author: Emma Rous
My rating: 4.5 / 5
Is it worth reading? If you love mystery and suspense, slow-revelations-style character development, and contrasting spooky/cozy atmosphere, this is a great book for you.
When does it come out? January 8, 2019
Random gushing: I love the cover of this book. It’s one of those covers that doesn’t disappoint you and fits in perfectly with the content of the book. Can’t wait to see this one on the shelves!

 

>>SPOILER FREE REVIEW<<

Summary:

After her father’s accidental death, Seraphine Mayes seeks solace in old family albums. That’s when she discovers a photograph she’s never seen before—of her mother serenely holding one, not two, babies on the day she and her twin brother were born. Hours after the photo was taken, her mother would throw herself from the cliffs behind their idyllic countryside estate, and the events surrounding the birth of the Mayes twins would become the stuff of local legend … tales of sprites and switched babies, changelings and a curse upon all twins born at Summerbourne. But who is Seraphine, really?

Review:

I was first intrigued by the cover of this book, and let me tell you—and like the girl on the cover, it will keep you looking back over your shoulder the whole time, hoping you don’t find a knife waiting for you.

Each chapter shifts between two perspectives—Seraphine in the present day, and Laura (the au pair) in the past. I love how this story slowly unfolds as the circumstances become more dire in each narrator’s story. I also appreciated how the author kept me guessing the whole time—just who are these children and where did they come from? Rous’ sense of place and atmosphere is wonderful. It made me want to sip tea in Summerbourne and run down to a rocky beach. But while sometimes the story felt cheery and homey, at other times it was eerie and mysterious (this always seemed to happen when I was reading it at night!).

I also liked Seraphine’s internal dialogue of self-doubt. Is she just being crazy and paranoid? Is she just grasping at straws to stay connected to her dead father? Or has she been ignoring her own intuition her entire life?

The story has a mostly satisfying ending (even some romance!), although we never know the extent of the accused character’s true evil or the extent of Ruth’s mental illness.

My only critique was that the first chapter felt a bit bumpy to me. I just didn’t initially buy into Seraphine’s sudden suspicions based on one photograph. But as the story unfolds, we see how little dominoes falling over the course of her life have lead her to this place of suspicion.

This one ticked all the boxes for me: Great mystery, interesting characters, intricate plot development, great sense of place, and quick read. Pick up a copy this January!

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

14 Agatha Christie books, ranked

I. Love. Agatha.

I am not a slasher, psychological thriller, criminal minds mystery lover. I unashamedly love cozy mysteries, and Agatha Christie is one of my favorite mystery authors.

One of my lifelong goals is to read every single Agatha Christie book ever written, but I have a feeling this will be a lifelong pursuit (she wrote 70+ books!). Last year, I knocked several more Christies off my list, and I’ve finally read enough to begin a ranking list of my favorites.

I know some readers feel Christie mysteries are either a hit or miss, and while I’ve definitely read some misses, for the most part I find Christie’s books to be consistently enjoyable. Hopefully this list will help you select your next cozy read from the Queen of Mystery:

1. And Then There Were None

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Ten men and women are mysteriously summoned to an island where they are forced to reconcile with their sins—as an unknown killer begins to pick them off one by one.

Utter. Brilliance. This is probably Agatha Christie’s most well-known work, and for good reason. It’s twisty, chilling, and just plain clever.  This was also the first Agatha Christie book I ever read. As The Lord of the Rings is a must-read for any fantasy lover, And Then There Were None is required reading for mystery lovers.

Bonus: The 2015 mini-series is incredibly well done. Gave me chills and I even knew what was coming!

 

2. Death on the Nile – Hercule Poirot

51zsVKc2zeL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_A beautiful young woman’s mysterious death shatters a peaceful cruise on the Nile, but Hercule Poirot is determined to find the killer who’s still onboard.

This is one of my favorite Hercule Poirot mysteries. The setting is exotic, the mystery is smart, and the reveal is extremely satisfying! I didn’t see the ending coming, and for me, that’s the mark of a great mystery. What I love most is that this book is that it’s transporting—meaning that I felt like I was floating down the Nile with Hercule Poirot. The atmosphere is fantastic!

Bonus: Rumor has it that Death on the Nile will be the sequel to the recent Murder on the Orient Express movie!

 

3. The Murder at the Vicarage – Miss Marple

516wvvl6WLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve talked about Murder at the Vicarage here and here, so I think it’s safe to say that I LOVED THIS BOOK. Before I gave Miss Marple a try, I was convinced there could be nothing interesting about a little old lady solving crimes (judgmental, I know!). But I’ll fully admit it: I was wrong!

This mystery was not what I was expecting—Miss Marple is not the main player in the story (like in many Poirot books), but her expertise in “human nature” is ultimately what saves the day.

 

 

 

4. Murder on the Orient Express – Hercule Poirot

u341fevwh7ngw7nlvxickikw2pmyaglw8rbmsyhbriag5ouet9tcq9f2xjffxkzsjelhh1dotzfe59az8eyzmcztb0of4sfmxkiawsw1oyzkgsradzgmvyczu.pngPoirot must draw from all his resources to find the killer of a most-loathed man from among thirteen passengers on the Orient Express.

This book had one of the most surprising endings of any mystery book I’ve ever read. I definitely recommend reading the book if you’ve only seen the movie. While I loved Kenneth Branagh’s recent film adaptation, the book’s resolution is much more satisfying. This is one of Christie’s most famous novels, and for good reason.

 

 

 

5. The Mystery of the Blue Train – Hercule Poirot

The-Mystery-of-the-Blue-TrainThe Mystery of the Blue Train spans across Europe as Poirot investigates the death of a beautiful young woman on a train to the Mediterranean … and the jewel that lead to her demise.

This one starts out a bit unconventionally—cursed jewels, gangs, gypsies—but soon settles into a familiar Poirot storyline.  I never suspected the killer, and like Death on the Nile, you’re pulled into a world of intrigue, passion, and European decadence. It’s one of my favorite Christie audiobooks too!

 

 

 

6. The Moving Finger – Miss Marple

5141B9s+zWL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The village of Lymstock seems perfectly peaceful, until a series of vicious anonymous letters sends everyone into an uproar … leading one villager to commit suicide.

Sadly, this book doesn’t feature much of Miss Marple—she sort of swoops in at the end and solves the mystery—but the narrator is (mostly) likable and the plot is deliciously twisty. The only thing I didn’t really like was the relationship between Jerry (the narrator) and Megan Hunter. Throughout the story she’s portrayed as a 20-year-old who acts more like a 10-year-old in dress and behavior, which makes Jerry’s attraction to her seem kind of creepy. But overall, I loved how the characters evolved throughout the story, and how the murderer (as usual) was the person I least expected! Megan’s heroism helps save the day, and I found this Christie a thoroughly satisfying read.

 

7. A Murder is Announced – Miss Marple

51nmzJynQYL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_The whole village is aflutter when a murder announcement is placed in the local paper—and local residents can’t resist coming to watch!

At first, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to finish this one. The first few chapters introducing all the characters were just boring. Then, the “murder attempt” was so ridiculous I was almost embarrassed for the characters! “How can this book be on so many top lists?!” I wondered. But once you get past the “setting the stage” portion of the book, it gets really good.

This one also features plenty of Miss Marple, and I never saw the ending coming! Highly recommend.

 

8. The Regatta Mystery (and Other Stories)

x500I usually avoid short stories like the plague. I don’t know why … something about the shortness of short stories always seems to leave me wanting more. I actually only picked this book up because I wanted to read something short to hit my 2017 reading goals.

So, imagine my surprise when I thoroughly enjoyed this collection! Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Parker Pyne all make appearances. Far from being disappointing, these quick, punchy stories get right to the mystery and resolution quickly. I enjoyed listening in short spurts as I did chores around the house. It was great to not feel pressured to listen for long periods of time while still having the satisfaction of listening to a complete story.

 

9. The A.B.C. Murders – Hercule Poirot

71EqbWRE9MLThe A.B.C. Murders is arguably a fan favorite—and it is extremely clever, twisty, and has a wonderfully creepy serial killer who seems to be murdering his way through the alphabet.

Most of the build up was a little slow for me. The payoff at the end was excellent, but unfortunately this one gets low marks from me because I can’t stand Poirot’s friend Captain Arthur Hastings. I know he’s a foil to Poirot’s genius, but still. *Begin rant* Besides the fact that he’s one of the most idiotic characters ever written, his internal monologue is painful. Painful. You’d think he would stop questioning Poirot’s abilities … how many investigations has he helped Poirot with at this point?! But no, he always thinks he knows better than Poirot and always ends up being amazed that Poirot figured out the crime without any help from him. Shocker! *Rant Over*

You’ll have to decide for yourself what you think about Hastings, but The A.B.C. Murders is definitely still worth the read.

 

10. Ordeal by Innocence

ORDEAL BY INNOCENCEAPBAn interesting premise—a man awakes from amnesia only to realize he could have provided an alibi for a man convicted in a murder trial. His guilt leads him to confess to the family, and he is surprised to discover they are displeased. Jacko, the black sheep of the family, was the one person they all hoped was guilty.

This one gets lower marks for a few reasons. First, I essentially figured out the mystery before the reveal, one of the main characters was just plain annoying (and yet for some reason everyone seemed to be in love with her), and lastly, it purports some ideas about mothering and adoption that I’m still not sure about. One of the main sources of conflict in the story is that the matriarch of the family (the one murdered), cannot see people as they really are, and thus is overbearing in the extreme. This causes resentment, anger, and frustration for all the adopted Argyle children. I am not adopted, so I cannot speak to what it’s like to be part of an adopted family, but it seems like at times the book is implying that adopted children can never truly love or trust a family they’ve been adopted into.

 

11. Endless Night

16366Every Night & every Morn 
Some to Misery are Born 
Every Morn and every Night 
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to Endless Night 
– from Auguries of Innocence, by William Blake

This is probably one of the creepier Agatha Christie novels I’ve ever read, and perhaps that’s why I wasn’t a huge fan. The mixture of psychological suspense, obsession with architecture, disturbing passion, and that crazy twist at the end … it’s definitely not what you expect from a typical Christie. And that’s ok. It just wasn’t exactly my cup of Earl Grey tea. For much of the book, I didn’t know where the story was going, and I certainly disliked Michael Rodgers as the narrator. Add to that the creepy poem (quoted above) that is sung by one of the main characters at different points throughout the book, and you have a recipe for an eerie thriller.

Endless Night is considered one of Christie’s best, and in fact, is one of her own favorite works. It’s worth the read, but don’t expect it to be Agatha Christie business as usual!

 

12. The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Hercule Poirot

The-Mysterious-Affair-at-StylesWho killed the wealthy heiress? Was it her new husband? Her stepsons? Her housekeeper or her nurse? And how did they get into her locked chambers?

This is another Captain Hastings + Poirot mystery. As stated above, I don’t like Poirot books that feature Hastings. He’s like a more ditsy version of Dr. Watson. Which makes me wonder if Christie was trying to play off the Sherlock Holmes/Watson dynamic in these books? I suppose the Watson of the original Sherlock Holmes books was dazzled by Sherlock in a way that could be annoying, but that’s another discussion.

Back to this book. Besides my dislike for Hastings, I just didn’t think this was a very interesting mystery. Keeping track of the characters was more difficult than usual, and I suspected the resolution before it happened. Basically, a disappointing Poirot book all around. I recommend skipping this one.

 

13. Hallowe’en Party – Hercule Poirot

16307An annoying teenager is drowned in a tub of apples during a Halloween party … not long after she was heard bragging that she witnessed a murder. Was she crying wolf again? Or was she finally telling the truth?

I read this book for Halloween because I love reading holiday-themed books. But goodness … this was disappointing. I had to keep forcing myself to finish and I was very close to having the whole thing figured out two-thirds of the way in. The whole plot felt odd and disjointed. I left with the feeling that this book was just an excuse to have a book that centered around Halloween—which is really a shame. I don’t recommend this one!

 

 

14. The Seven Dials Mystery – Superintendent Battle

9780062074164-us-300A group of young adults decide to play a prank on their friend who is known for oversleeping—they place eight alarm clocks in his room, only to discover he is dead the next morning. Soon, the survivors are involved with a secret society and international spy ring before discovering the truth of their friend’s murder.

The worst Christie I’ve read to date. The characters were incredibly one-dimensional, pompous, and ridiculous. I barely recognized Christie’s voice—the story is too light and the characters too petty. It was also annoying how every single character said, “Oh!” before they began a line of dialogue. Superintendent Battle barely played a role in the story at all (even less than Miss Marple), which seems like a waste.

The twist at the end redeemed it a little, but this book was the closest I’ve come to DNF-ing a Christie book. I just couldn’t take the plot (or a character named “Bundle”) seriously. I love this review on Goodreads about the book and recommend you read it if you’re still unsure.

On almost hitting my reading goals, favorite books of 2017, and more

What a turbulent, change-filled, and exhausting year 2017 has been.

Besides the craziness happening in the world at large, this has been one of the most difficult years of my life. When I started this blog back in January of last year (here’s my first review!), I had no clue how much things would change in my personal life, and how little blog writing I would actually get done this year.

My husband and I moved across the country. I spent a stressful summer looking for a job while working from home (torture for an extrovert). I started graduate school. We moved again. I started a new job. My husband started his own business. I’m tired just writing all of that.

Basically, life has been bananas (and I mean B-A-N-A-N-A-S) for months.

And here, on the fresh cusp of a new year, I finally feel like the dust may slowly be starting to settle. The stress about the business is still there. The endless pile of to-do’s are still there. The dirty dishes are ALWAYS there.

But it’s difficult for me to feel too pessimistic at the start of a new year. Something about a new year feels like a fresh start…a new chance to be a better version of myself, to grow and improve, and to reflect on what did and didn’t work last year.

What didn’t work: Moving twice within six months. Never again.

What did work: Reading more books, finding a library job I love, and taking the plunge into grad school in a field that excites me.

Still in progress: Forming community and finding new friends in a new place.

Today, I hope you have a chance to reflect on 2017 and what obstacles you have overcome in your own life this year. Last January, I never would have imagine how much upheaval we would experience this year. If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to even begin.

But here I am, still alive somehow, on the other end of 2017. You can do it too. I hope you have a truly marvelous 2018!

2017

So close…

On to book matters:

For 2017, I had a goal of reading 40 books. Maybe something about not having friends or lots of free time this summer helped me go past my goal goal until it was a week before January 1, and I was at 48 books. I wanted sooooo badly to hit 50 (I’ve never read 50!), but having family in town (among other excuses), meant that I was finishing my last book of the year, On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder last night at 11:30 p.m.

I only read 49.

The anal part of me is dying inside.

I know I should be glad that I could read nine books over my initial goal, but of course all I can think about is that one measly little book I somehow couldn’t manage to finish. Sigh.

Next year.

Best of the best of 2017

I read so many good books this year. So many. Here are some highlights:

  • I discovered Louise Penny’s wonderful Chief Inspector Gamache series.
  • I chipped 4 (almost 5!) more Agatha Christie books off my lifetime list.
  • I only read two Jane Austen adaptations instead of the usual five.
  • I read 20 nonfiction books—a new record for this fiction lover!
  • I even read one short story collection—The Mistletoe Murder by P.D. James—and discovered I don’t hate short stories!

Since choosing one favorite book is obviously impossible, these were my favorite books by genre. Apparently I only read three genres:

Fiction

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Not since The Lord of the Rings have I found a fantasy that so captured my imagination like this one. I love the format of the story too—as Kvothe tells the story in flashbacks, it keeps you itching to know more. Part hero epic, part action adventure, part love story, Rothfuss’ world feels as real as Middle Earth. It’s a huge book, but it reads fast.

 

Honorable mentions:

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Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did. I honestly thought it was going to be something like desperate housewives with petty, shallow characters crying in their Mercedes convertibles and fighting over popularity. I was so wrong. I loved how this book highlights the secret burdens and pains we all face. The twist at the end was great too! Don’t go in expecting a full-fledged mystery or thriller. It’s a little of both but not fully either.

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Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

I’ve already talked about what I love about this book over here, but if you haven’t picked this one up yet, you should. The audio version is also fantastic. I laughed out loud and also was forced to think about my own assumptions following scandal.

 

Nonfiction

liturgy of the ordinary tish harrison warren nonfiction picks

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren

This was such a readable and thought-provoking work. I won’t rehash everything I’ve already said about this one, but I really recommend you pick this up if you’re searching for significance in the everyday, ordinary parts of your life. This book is a reminder that we can be worshipful even in the most seemingly insignificant moments.

Bonus: It’s Christianity Today’s 2018 Book of the Year!

 

Honorable mentions:

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Booked by Karen Swallow Prior

I actually had Dr. Prior for a class in college, and I remember this (her first book) coming out. But it was only this year that I picked it up for myself, and I am so glad that I did! Dr. Prior reflects on different points in her life and the books that shaped those times. I loved the combination of memoir + love letter to reading. She also has some seriously important insights on how reading is one of the greatest way we can grow and mature. (I was even inspired to finally give Great Expectations a try!)

the road back to you ian morgan cron enneagram

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile

I loved learning about the Enneagram from this book. I’ve reflected a lot this year on my type and what role fear (the Type 6’s great struggle) plays in my life. Before reading this book, I didn’t realize how much fear impacted my choices. Read this book if you want to know yourself better! (And read here for a more detailed review.)

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Evicted by Mathew Desmond

I couldn’t have said it any better than Roxanne Gay when she reviewed this book: “The brutal truth of poverty in America is far more devastating than any fiction ever could be.” This book was eye-opening, tragic, and amazing. There is so much I didn’t know or understand about eviction until I read this book. I was angry and enlightened. This is an incredibly important read.

Bonus: It won the Pulitzer Prize and was named a Top 10 Best Book by the New York Times Book Review in 2016.

 

Mystery

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The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

I have read so many great mystery books this year, but this one stands out as the one that surprised me the most. I can’t wait to read more Agatha Christie in 2018! Read more here about how I changed my mind about Miss Marple.

 

Honorable  mentions:

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Still Life by Louise Penny

I have Anne Bogel over at Modern Mrs Darcy and What Should I Read Next? to thank for convincing me to try Louise Penny. I love this series! Especially now that we live in a small mountain town, I feel right at home in Three Pines as Chief Inspector Gamache solves mysteries and reflects on the simple pleasures of life. I also appreciate how Penny wrestles with human nature and analyzes her character’s fears, joys, and struggles throughout the series. I’m on book four now and I can’t wait to read book five!

Death-Comes-to-Pemberley-Book-Cover

Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James

This was my first P.D. James book. I watched the mini-series on Netflix and enjoyed it, so I decided to pick up the book. I’ve never read a Jane Austen retelling that is also a mystery, so this was an interesting departure. It’s a light, fun read if you enjoy imagining the world of Pride and Prejudice after the Darcy wedding.