If you're looking for historical fiction full of danger and intrigue with a touch of romance, then Whispers in the Reading Room is just your style. Lydia'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. Whispers in the Reading Room is one of those novels that you just can't put down. I should know, as I read it far into the night (and paid for it the next day). From the beginning, I was intrigued by Lydia, a quiet librarian who set aside her own wants to please her mother, even agreeing to marry a man she didn't love in hopes of securing her mother's financial security.
I also loved Sebastian, though perhaps I shouldn't have! Sebastian is not your typical Christian romance novel hero ... and that's probably why I liked him so much. He drinks, he owns a bar, he fights, he runs an illegal gambling club ... yet he is also fiercely protective of those he loves, he is generous to a fault, and he despises those who would take advantage of a woman in any way.
The novel's action moves at breakneck pace, as Lydia finds herself in one scrape after another and murders on Camp Creek Alley, the seedy area of Chicago where Sebastian's club is located, become all too frequent. There is also a delightful subplot featuring Sebastian's maid Bridget and his club manager Vincent. In essence, it's two love stories for the price of one!
For the first 90 percent of this novel, I was reading one of the best books of the year. At the very end, however, the novel faltered a bit. By that point, much, but not everything, had been resolved. Then the action jumped forward nine days, and the reader only finds out in passing who was behind the murders on Camp Creek Alley. Then the action jumps forward another week, and the reader learns that Sebastian has stepped in to help with Lydia's financial situation. It just seemed an odd narrative choice to me, as in the majority of the novel, the reader is completely involved in the action, so it was a letdown to find out about these two major events after they happened.
My disappointment in the end of the novel does not change the fact that it is a great book. It is so different from most of what is available in the inspirational market, and it is such a gripping story that, although let down a bit by the end, I still highly recommend it. 4 stars.
Note: Whispers in the Reading Room is the third book in Shelley Gray's Chicago World's Fair Mystery series. It functions as a stand alone novel, but characters from the first two novels do make an appearance. I read it just fine without having previously read the first two books, and now they are on my wish list!
Shelley Gray is the author of The Heart of a Hero series. Her Amish novel (written as Shelley Shepard Gray), The Protector, recently made the New York Times best seller list. A native of Texas, she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in Colorado and taught school for ten years. She and her husband have two children and live in Southern Ohio.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group and The Fiction Guild. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Also, some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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