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review 2019-11-03 22:28
The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl / Theodora Goss
The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl - Theodora Goss

Life’s always an adventure for the Athena Club...especially when one of their own has been kidnapped! After their thrilling European escapades rescuing Lucinda van Helsing, Mary Jekyll and her friends return home to discover that their friend and kitchen maid Alice has vanished— and so has their friend and employer Sherlock Holmes!

As they race to find Alice and bring her home safely, they discover that Alice and Sherlock’s kidnapping are only one small part of a plot that threatens Queen Victoria, and the very future of the British Empire. Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine save their friends—and save the Empire? Find out in the final installment of the fantastic and memorable Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series.

 

Forget the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, because now we have The Athena Club. I guess we could call it the League of Monstrous Gentlewomen. Another of the feminist versions of the Victorian time period with plenty of girl power (although the main characters do get justifiably huffy about being called girls when they are full grown women).

Even the female villains outsmart their male counterparts in this particular volume. The women of the Athena Club may sometimes doubt their abilities, but they pull off the caper (with the help of Ayesha of course). Just like most women, they doubt themselves unnecessarily. Plus, they get to rescue Sherlock Holmes!

I know that this series is technically wrapped up with this third book, but it seems to me that there are enough loose threads and unexplored avenues that further adventures could follow, if the author can persuade the publisher to continue. Fingers crossed that there will eventually be another book about the Athena Club!

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review 2019-11-03 22:26
The Art of Theft / Sherry Thomas
The Art of Theft - Sherry Thomas

As "Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," Charlotte Holmes has solved murders and found missing individuals. But she has never stolen a priceless artwork—or rather, made away with the secrets hidden behind a much-coveted canvas.
 
But Mrs. Watson is desperate to help her old friend recover those secrets and Charlotte finds herself involved in a fever-paced scheme to infiltrate a glamorous Yuletide ball where the painting is one handshake away from being sold and the secrets a bare breath from exposure.
 
Her dear friend Lord Ingram, her sister Livia, Livia's admirer Stephen Marbleton—everyone pitches in to help and everyone has a grand time. But nothing about this adventure is what it seems and disaster is biding time on the grounds of a glittering French chateau, waiting only for Charlotte to make a single mistake...

 

One of the best aspects of my 2019 summer reading list (The Summer of Sherlock) was the discovery of this charming series, the Lady Sherlock series. I’m really enjoying a lot of these feminist revisionist Victorian adventures! The Victorian age as it should have been.

I love Charlotte Holmes as a character and I relate to her when she would rather be at home with a cup of tea and a pastry than out in the world pursuing criminals! I rather favour coffee and popcorn, but it’s the same idea. I have to laugh at her concept of Maximum Tolerable Chins, which is the point at which she restricts her pastry consumption until her clothing fits more comfortably. Been there, done that, my dear Charlotte!

My only disappointment with this book was that it did not deal with the Treadles’ plot line until the very last pages! I really want to know what happens between Inspector and his wife, but it seems that I must wait for the next book.

In the meanwhile, I have to applaud the author for being able to bring Charlotte and Lord Ingram together and then separate them so skillfully, retaining the romantic pursuit and it’s accompanying plot tension into the fourth book of the series. Of course I am also interested in the Livia and Stephen Marbleton situation, but it is Charlotte & Ash who command my attention in terms of relationships.

Ms. Thomas also uses the Maharani’s character deftly as a way to explore colonialism and to introduce a person of colour into the very white, upper-class world that the main characters inhabit.

All in all, I will be very excited when Book 5 is published, hopefully next year.

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review 2019-08-04 21:37
A Scandal in Battersea / Mercedes Lackey
A Scandal in Battersea - Mercedes Lackey

The twelfth novel in Mercedes Lackey's magical Elemental Masters series reimagines Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate 20th-century England

Christmas is a very special time of year. It is special for Psychic Nan Killian and Medium Sarah Lyon-White and their ward Suki, who are determined to celebrate it properly. It is special for their friends, Doctor John Watson, and his wife Mary, both Elemental Masters, who have found great delight in the season seeing it through young Suki’s eyes. 

It is also special to others...for very different reasons.

For Christmas Eve is also hallowed to dark forces, powers older than mankind, powers that come awake on this, the Longest Night. Powers best left alone. Powers that could shake the foundations of London and beyond.

It begins slowly. Women disappearing in the dark of night, women only missed by those of their own kind. The whispers only begin when they start to reappear—because when they do, they are no longer sane. And when Nan and Sarah and the Watsons are called on to examine these victims, they discover that it was no ordinary horror of the streets that drove them mad.

But then, the shadows reach for other victims—girls of good, even exalted families, who vanish from concerts, lectures, and evening balls. And it will take the combined forces of Magic, Psychic Powers, and the worlds greatest detective to stop the darkness before it can conquer all

 

***2019 The Summer of Sherlock*** 

Well, I called A Study in Sable a weird tribute to Sherlock Holmes. This book is even weirder. Not only does it continue to represent John & Mary Watson as magical practitioners, it joins them, Nan & Sarah, and Sherlock Holmes himself to battle eldritch horrors out of H.P. Lovecraft! 

The mash-up doesn’t work for me, but it may work for folks who are more into Lovecraft than Mr. Holmes. Both books, to my way of thinking, are far outside of the detective’s wheelhouse and his presence really isn’t appropriate.

The evil magician who starts the whole situation going isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and the tentacle monster has pretty banal requests of him. Said evil magician is so pitiful at covering his tracks that it’s amazing that he wasn’t apprehended almost immediately!

If you are a dyed-in-the-wool Mercedes Lackey fan, you will probably enjoy this. To my way of thinking, Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft fans are better off avoiding it. What it may accomplish is sending inexperienced readers to Doyle and Lovecraft if they fancy this novel and haven’t read those two authors.

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review 2019-07-08 20:58
Body on Baker Street / Vicki Delany
Body on Baker Street - Vicki Delany

Gemma Doyle and Jayne Wilson are busy managing the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium on Baker Street and adjoining Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room in anticipation of the store's upcoming book signing with the illustrious Renalta Van Markoff, author of the controversial Hudson and Holmes mystery series. But during the author Q&A session, dedicated Sherlockian Donald Morris verbally attacks Renalta and her series for disgracing Sherlock's legacy, only to be publicly humiliated when the author triumphantly lashes back and gains the upper hand. That is until Renalta collapses on the table--dead. Donald insists he didn't do it and pleads to his friends to clear his name. Fortunately, Gemma and Jayne have no shortage of suspects between author's bullied personal assistant, her frustrated publicist, the hapless publisher, a handsome rare book dealer, an obsessively rabid fan, and a world of other Sherlock enthusiasts with strong objections to Renalta's depiction of the Great Detective. It's up to the shrewd sleuthing duo to eliminate the impossible and deduce the truth before the West London police arrest an innocent man.

 

 

***The Summer of Sherlock 2019*** 

I realize that I’ve read volumes 1 & 2 of this series too close together for my complete enjoyment. This one feels very, very similar to the first volume and if I’d left more time between the two, that feeling wouldn’t be quite so strong. But that’s on me, not the author, for choosing to read them so close in time.

Each book has its own narrative arch, which should be the main draw, but for me, it’s the ongoing details, the relationships that drive my desire to read. And the relationships in this one are stuck pretty much in the same spot as they were in Elementary, She Read. Gemma is still trying not to carry a torch for her cop ex-boyfriend and wondering about the rare book dealer that she’s gone on a date or two with. Her BFF Jayne is still seeing a man who Gemma considers to be a useless sort and a nearby bar owner can’t seem to get Jayne’s attention.

Cozy mysteries like this one really lack the tension factor that I value in a mystery. The stakes just don’t seem to be high enough to keep me engaged. Delany is no slouch as a writer, but she needs to fish or cut bait soon with regard to moving the relationships along or complicating them or something. I find myself wishing for more of something--more tension, more emotion, more complications. 

Although the next book is sitting mere shelves away from me in the library, I’m resisting the urge to go sign it out. Despite the desire to see what happens next, I need some time. Absence should make the heart grow fonder, yes?

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review 2019-03-18 19:16
Remarkable Creatures / Tracy Chevalier
Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier

From the moment she's struck by lightning as a baby, it is clear Mary Anning is different. Though poor and uneducated, she learns on the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast that she has a unique gift: "the eye" to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip - and the scientific world alight with both admiration and controversy. Prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster and also a fossil hunter, becomes Mary Anning's unlikely champion and friend, and together they forge a path to some of the most important discoveries of the 19th century.

 

I’ve just recently read a non-fiction book about Mary Anning (The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman Whose Discoveries Changed the World by Shelley Emling) and I was anxious to read this fictional account of Anning’s life before the details had faded too much in my mind. Chevalier sticks to the big, important details, but takes the liberty that those who write fiction often do, to write in drama and make a better story.

It’s always a tricky business, writing fiction about real historical figures. I appreciated Chevalier’s depiction of the friendship between impoverished, working class Mary Anning and genteel spinster Elizabeth Philpot. It was a real friendship, made across class boundaries and well documented in the written records of the time. What either woman was actually like personally is an unknown quantity (to me at least), but well filled in by Chevalier.

The official record doesn’t offer much drama beyond Mary and her family being on the edge of going to the poor-house most given days. Very suspenseful if you are experiencing it, but not the most riveting plot for the reader. So I completely understand why Chevalier creates the rivalry between the two women for the attention of one un-noteworthy man. Still, it disappoints me. One the main ribbons running through this book is the changing role of women during this time period—getting recognition for their minds, not just their appearances, and loosening some of the conventions that bound them to child-rearing and household roles. Both of the main characters and all of the marine reptiles are indeed remarkable creatures.

Some details are extremely fictional—there’s no indication that Mary’s mother, Molly, ever set foot on the beach or ever searched for a fossil. She was only reluctantly won over to fossil selling as a way of earning cold, hard cash. I know Mary’s dog, Tray, was killed in a landslide, but I don’t think that Mary herself was caught in it (although it made good, dramatic sense in this version). I also wish that Chevalier had captured more clearly the intellectual achievements of Mary and the expertise that she drew on to educate many of the fossil-hunting men who came to her for assistance. There was definitely an auction by Lieutenant-Colonel Birch to fund the Anning family, but no indications that it was Elizabeth who shamed him into it or that he was romantically involved with either woman.

In short, this was an enjoyable, dramatic telling of a famous woman’s life, but don’t take every detail as gospel. As they say of movies, “Based on a true story.”

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