Currently $1.99: The Judas Goat, by Robert B. Parker. The Shattered Tree, by Charles Todd.
Currently $2.99: His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik.
The title of this book was the first thing to catch my eye; the second was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's name on the cover as one of the authors. How can I possibly pass this up?
As an avowed fangirl of Sherlock Holmes, I've learned to stay away from almost all pastiches and mysteries featuring my fictional hero, but his brother... Mycroft makes few enough appearances in the canon that I thought perhaps it might work for me.
I thought wrong. I've realised reading this book that in my mind Mycroft is a distillation of Sherlock; a purer essence of all the things that make Sherlock so formidable. Put another way, Sherlock is Mycroft with an added touch of humanity (just a touch). The canonical Mycroft is only ever found in his home, and in his club. His club, the Diogenes Club, of which he is a founding member, is described thusly in The Greek Interpreter:
There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. [...] It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubbable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion.
So a Mycroft that hares off on a rip-roaring adventure on the high seas with his best friend, in pursuit of the love of his life and fiancee, is rather an anti-canonical Mycroft. Sure, he has the stunning faculties the Holmes family is renowned for, but he's also a romantic and, even if this book takes place when he's quite young, entirely too social and emotional a creature to truly call himself Holmes.
BUT... boy is this a good story. In spite of all my grumpiness above, I could not put this book down. I don't know exactly how accurate it is from a historical perspective, but it certainly felt very, very accurate. The authors didn't shy away from some of the less savoury aspects of the Victorian age, but thankfully didn't beat the reader over the head with it either. The atmospheric picture of Trinidad, from balmy weather to superstitious panic felt almost like a character itself.
I don't want to touch too much upon the plot, because the dawning reveal of the plot is, I think, somewhat central to the success of the book. Suffice it to say that it's a fitting subject for the Victorian time it takes place in, but probably not one that would immediately come to mind when thinking about Victorian fiction.
There are some rather extraordinary action scenes, especially at the end; extraordinary in the sense that they are wholly unrealistic and require the reader to suspend disbelief, but I suppose from a statistical point of view, it is almost impossible for an adventure mystery written by a man to begin and end without fisticuffs, gunfights and explosions.
If you know nothing about Mycroft Holmes, or can divorce yourself from the canonical Mycroft, definitely check this out if you're in the mood for a fun action adventure. I truly enjoyed it for that alone, in spite of myself.
Total pages: 336
The Poisoned Chalice is an early (I believe second) novel in Bernard Knight's "Crowner John" medieval mystery series.
It's 1194, and John de Wolfe, the coroner for Cornwall under Richard I, is having a busy time of it. To begin with, Hubert Walter is coming to town. Walter is the most powerful man in England (Richard I is, as he mostly is, out of the country - currently he is in France, to the regret of the French), as he is both Archbishop of Canterbury and Justiciar (the head of law and justice). John and his brother-in-law, the local sheriff, are butting heads about who has jurisdiction in the various cases that come up, and hope Walter will settle matters.
Meanwhile, he has a case of wrecking to deal with, and then the rape of one young lady of good family, and the death of another. And their families want justice, and they want it now - and there isn't much evidence, and no real suspect in either case. But gossip supplies names, and more trouble for all involved.
The setting didn't really sing, but was adequately done, and the mystery was very twisty. (I might even say it was verging on convoluted.) I might read another one, but I doubt I'd go looking for it in particular. The list of period terms was useful, as were the two maps, one of 12th century Exeter, and the other of the surrounding region.
A Perilous Beginning
by Deanna Raybourn
Book 2 of Veronica Speedwell
I'm going to admit, the excitement of this series kind of faded after a while, and that refreshing feel you get from a first book that starts off a series strong might have worn off. Nonetheless, I still loved reading A Perilous Undertaking a lot, and continue to enjoy the interactions between Veronica and Stoker--these two create a really strong, intimate, yet not quite romantic relationship and partnership that feels, at times, even deeper than a lot of romantic couplings I've read before.
Admittedly, this second book didn't seem to carry the same "flashy new gift" feel you get from discovering a lovely new favorite book--the giddiness I felt for the previous book didn't rear its head. After finishing the read, I'd say that I like the first book, A Curious Beginning (my review) more. Although it doesn't escape my notice that the story set-up is much more to the point in this second book; in contrast to A Curious Beginning, this second book doesn't spend endless pages taking you on a side tangent that seems unnecessary in the long run.
I'm not sure how I feel about that, because it has long been one of the complaints I've had about Deanna Raybourn's work since the Lady Julia Grey series--the fact that she spends way too much time building each book's story, world, and introductory.
So I found myself pleasantly surprised at how quickly A Perilous Undertaking hopped right into the murder mystery, bringing Veronica and Stoker into the investigation without dawdling.
Coupled with Raybourn's beautiful writing style, and this book would be darn near perfect for me.
While the first book in this series seemed to focus on Veronica on a more personal level, it feels like this second book is a simple, typical murder mystery; and somehow Veronica and Stoker get entangled in the entire, convoluted twists. In fact, I sort of got a "cozy mystery" vibe from it, though I suppose it wouldn't be far-fetched to label this book a 'Cozy.'
We still get to touch upon some of the family secrets surrounding Veronica and how she's been affected since the big reveal in the previous book. And, just as well, we also get to touch upon some personal history of Stoker's--we even get to meet two more siblings in the Templeton-Vane family.
While the murder mystery seemed quite predictable, I can't say it wasn't outlined well. The progression was great, and the red herrings were placed appropriately. Related characters were colorful and intriguing in their own way. I just also get a bit frustrated with characters who get all "I'm not telling you anything even if it could help an innocent man go free" for whatever strange reasons that I didn't really understand, to be honest. Moving past that, the overall story was still lovely and I enjoyed following Veronica and Stoker in their investigations.
And, as always, I enjoy the character interactions a lot, especially between Veronica and others. She's a very likable woman, with all the traits of a strong, independent heroine, which is why I love her so much. She's also quite indifferent to how others perceive her, and pretty much just does as she pleases. Her banter with Stoker is probably the best parts of the book.
If there was one thing I'd have to say I had trouble with, it would be that Veronica's character feels a lot more... deliberate in this book than the previous. It feels like the author has taken many pains to make sure of the emphasis on Veronica's open independence in everything she says or does, from how she lives her life, to her unabashed love of sexual dalliances, to her indifferent, blasé feelings about how people view her. In agreement with some other reviewers, there may not be much explicit sex in this book, but it certainly is mentioned A LOT, and by Veronica, no less. I've read hardcore erotica where the characters don't even talk about sex this much.
But it's not just about Veronica's open views about sex that are deliberately emphasized. It's her entire demeanor from her ideas about the heart, feelings, the way she interacts with other characters. Even her stubbornness in always being right or always being in charge of everything--as Stoker DOES point out at some point, indirectly. While I love that she's so confident in herself, and I love that she's not shy about it, I feel like the way it was presented just felt too calculated from the author's side--as if the readers aren't already aware that Veronica is so free with her life and thoughts, and we need to be reminded over and again with every action and dialogue, all of it kind of blatantly aggressively presented.
Veronica may not fit into the setting's time frame, and is probably way too forward thinking for the era she lives in to feel real. And, truth be told, I love her straight forward, Devil May Care personality, just fine. But she is sometimes, throughout the book, presented as way too perfect, even in spite of some of the flaws the author gives her.
I'm not sure I know how to describe it properly, honestly; but the "in your face" way that Veronica's attributes are presented... it can get a little eye-roll-inducing at times.
Nonetheless, A Perilous Undertaking is still an exceptionally enjoyable book. And I loved it! And I am definitely looking forward to the third book.
This book is tagged as 'mystery.'
Page Count: 345
Case Award: +$3.00
Current Bank: $23.00
Set in small-town Northern Georgia during WWII, this series gives a great sense of time and place; it reminds me a lot of that old TV series Homefront (early 90's?).
As for the mystery though, it was o.k., but overly-convoluted. If Ballard had been able to structure it differently it would have worked a lot better, but as is, it's more than a little hard to follow. A skeleton is discovered during a school outing, the money from a bond rally goes missing, the town slacker goes missing, Miss Dimple's landlady is getting mysterious notes and someone is shot during the follies.
There are a lot of characters in this book and, told in third person, from the POV of several of them, the first few chapters felt like a hot mess - I couldn't keep anybody straight. Even after they sorted themselves out I never felt entirely confident about who was who as the POV shifted - I had to remind myself often about how someone was related to everyone else. Each chapter starts with the internal dialogue of one of the characters, but it's never the same one, and they all remain unnamed. This is likely done on purpose because it's the criminal, but when it wasn't, it became overly confusing.
The author kept using rifle and shotgun interchangeably; for someone who knows the difference, this is a big deal: a rifle shoots a single bullet at a time; a shotgun shoots a single shell full of tiny bullets (called buckshot) that spray outwards soon after exiting the barrel. So, when a shotgun was reported missing, but later someone was shot and had a single bullet wound, it messed with the plot and my head; until the terms were used interchangeably again and it became obvious what was going on, I thought there were two weapons.
Still, I enjoyed the story and the characters. The series is "Miss Dimple" but really the mystery solving is a team effort on the part of the women holding everything together while the war rages on. At the end it becomes clear that there are several threads of mischief running through Elderberry at the same time, but really, I stuck around to see if Will would show up for Charlie one last time before being shipped off.
Page count: 262
Dollars banked: $3.00