Book Reviews

Review Wednesday: Whispers in the Reading Room by Shelley Gray

1Lydia’s job at the library is her world—until a mysterious patron catches her eye . . . and perhaps her heart.

Just months after the closure of the Chicago World’s Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does.

Only when he rescues her in the lobby of the Hartman Hotel does she discover that his name is Sebastian Marks. She also discovers that he lives at the top of the prestigious hotel and that most everyone in Chicago is intrigued by him.

Lydia and Sebastian form a fragile friendship, but when she discovers that Mr. Marks isn’t merely a very wealthy gentleman, but also the proprietor of an infamous saloon and gambling club, she is shocked.

Lydia insists on visiting the club one fateful night and suddenly is a suspect to a murder. She must determine who she can trust, who is innocent, and if Sebastian Marks—the man so many people fear—is actually everything her heart believes him to be.

When you put together a murder mystery, library, and two unlikely lovers, you’re at the start of an interesting read. I was hooked from the very beginning and the twist and turns found throughout the novel kept me fully engaged.

While the title and cover leads one to believe that this mystery will be centered in a library, we actually see very little of the library. Most of the setting revolves in or around Sebastian’s club. This setting makes the novel more difficult to stay in the Christian category. This book will not be for all readers.  I hope to help you see where the book shines and where it fell apart for me so that you can decide for yourself whether to add this one to your reading list or not.

As mentioned, the setting sets up for a dark and gritty type of novel. Gray actually does a really good job with these subjects. In context, we pick up dark vices such as prostitution, drinking, gambling, and murder. While there were a few key moments that were slightly shocking, I felt that as a sensitive reader, I wasn’t so put off by Gray’s handling of these hard subjects. The sexual content was extremely light. Prostitution was mentioned various times, but it was mentioned only and never acted out on the page. The relationship between the couple was very tasteful. There were mentions of beatings and using one’s fists to gain respect or to get results, but again, these acts were mentioned and not seen on the page. For me personally, the most disappointing thing was how Sebastian made his money. While he has a form of reformation towards the end, his drinking and selling drink was never repented of and was a deal breaker for this dry Christian. Many won’t agree with me, but for those that do, you’ll want to know that this isn’t the book for you.

Another disappointing factor was Lydia’s acceptance of sin in general. We’re led to believe that she’s a Christian character from the start of the book, but I found this to be very inconsistent. Whispers in the Reading Room was a classic story of a good girl falling in love with a bad guy. I kept waiting for Sebastian to have a change of heart and change of direction, and, to some degree, he has one. What I found most disturbing was that the further we went into the story, the more accepting Lydia was of him AS he was.
Here’s a sample from the novel: The couple has just broken into a locked building for the sake of exploring and entertaining themselves for the hour. “She realized he was enjoying the wickedness of it all. He liked that they were somewhere forbidden. He liked that they were standing somewhere that broke every rule of both society and its laws.
As for her? She liked it too.  After a lifetime of merely existing in her world of books, she liked actually living. ‘It is wondrous,’ she replied.”
While Sebastian grew to have some unrest for leading Lydia into places that she shouldn’t have been, SHE never shows any remorse for this. In fact, when he later explains that he wants to reform his sinful business dealings she actually tells him that she doesn’t expect that of him. It was never her intention to change him. While on the outside this sounds noble, when dealing with sin, it was anything but.

The story was engaging. It kept my interest until the very end. But I’m sorry to say that the Christian aspect of it was unsettling and I wasn’t able to overlook it. I don’t require a strong message, just a sound one and I hate to say that I didn’t find it here.

~I received a copy from BookLook in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

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