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These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Monday, October 12, 2015

Publisher: Hot Key Books
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 4/5
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.
I was intrigued by the premise of this book but didn't really know what to expect. I haven't read anything by Jennifer Donnelly before but I think I have The Tea Rose somewhere. So, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed These Shallow Graves - I thought it was brilliant! A real adventure though late 1800's New York City.

The plot twists and turns were just right and the suspense was maintained throughout. Often these murder mystery type stories can become a little drawn out but even at almost 500 pages, this book remained interesting. It also didn't feel like 500 pages - I could've done with another 100 pages I think! Even though whilst reading it you kind of know that certain people are not quite what they seem, it's still thrilling when all is revealed. Also, I read a lot of YA contemporary (and 'adult' contemporary - is that the correct classification?!) so it was also refreshing to not have the romance as the plot driver.

Jo was a very well written main character - extremely likeable, which obviously helped make the big reveal even more of a kick in the guy. Her drive and curiosity really helped to maintain the onetime and increased empathy for her situation. Eddie was also wonderfully written. His backstory was interesting too and I liked all of the other characters who were pulled into the story because of him such as Fay and Oscar. There's only so much space in a book but it would've been nice to see more of Jo's mother and her best friend, if only to get more of a sense of the kind of life she was straining against.

Equality was at the heart of the story. Jo wanted the freedom to do what she needed to do - such as get a job, follow her dreams or even just walk down the street without the threat of being branded immoral. I thought the opening of her mind and her eyes - by the likes of Eddie, Fay and her maid - was really well done. It wasn't condescending or patronising. Along with women's rights, there was a great deal about poverty. Once again Jo's eyes were opened to how the other half lived and this stirred up a need to tell the truth and lobby for change within Jo.

Overall, These Shallow Graves was a great read. I think it's classed as YA but I'm sure it could quite happily sit in the general fiction section as well. I really like Jennifer Donnelly's style of writing, so I'll have to try and find The Tea Rose or purchase another one of her books. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good murder mystery fronted by an extremely likeable and inspiring main character. 

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