Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Summary: Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver, 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.

Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Rating: 4/5 stars

These Shallow Graves is a wonderful story that hits all the checkboxes, leaping through genres. There’s a bit of historical fiction here, enough of a romance to make you swoon but not enough to take away from the real story, and a mystery that Jo is determined to solve. It feels strange to say for a book that discusses such dreary topics, but this was such a fun read. Jo is constantly jumping from one situation to the next, and even when she gets in danger, you can’t help but feel a bit of excitement for her.

The reason for this is that Jo is perfectly written. That doesn’t make her a perfect character; she certainly still has her flaws, but it makes it so easy to root for her. This story is set in the 1890s, and while women are still expected to marry strangers to keep their family names sacred, Jo has zero interest in settling down. She dreams of being a reporter and doesn’t care too much for love (honestly, same, girl). This book explores what this time period was like for women, and I enjoyed watching Jo argue with her friends, all girls who are perfectly content to settle down and have babies with a stranger to make their families happy. In this aspect, Jo is Not Like Other Girls, but it never comes off in a bragging sort of way. Rather, considering how different the 1800s were to today, it’s easy to be happy for Jo for thinking for herself and wanting to escape that life.

When Jo discovers her father’s death might have been a murder, she resolves to get to the bottom of the case. The world Jo tumbles into is gritty and bleak, with situations that you’d expect someone like Jo to faint from. Instead, Jo is tough and abrasive against any ruffians, firmly standing her ground and using her wits to get the information she needs from them before making a narrow escape. The scenes are fast-paced and make for an exciting read. Every time things begin to settle, Jo and Eddie discover a new piece of the story that has you anxious for them all over again. And the best part? That never gets old.

Jo and Eddie are such a great team. Sure, there are some cliched drama thrown in, but somehow it works with them. Eddie is constantly taken aback by Jo’s demeanor, and I appreciated that neither of them really swoon over each other initially. They’re a funny couple, constantly bickering and getting on the other’s nerves, but there are some tender, sweet moments between them too. I won’t give away the ending, but I was pleasantly surprised with Jo’s choices and the consequences following them, as I had fully expected the author to pander to one portion of the audience.

As I mentioned before, the romance side of the story never takes away from Jo uncovering the truth about her father’s murder. I never actively seek out romance but don’t mind when it’s included, and I felt like this was a really great balance. The murder mystery is the main plot point of this book, but I felt that overall the different elements of Jo’s life were seamlessly blended here, which made for an easy, enjoyable read.

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