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review 2017-03-07 06:15
The Curse of the Kings
The Curse of the Kings - Victoria Holt

This was another difficult read to rate properly.  I couldn't put it down, but there was so much eye-rolling too.


The description on the book record is terribly simplistic, but it's as close or closer to anything I could come up with.  Honestly, Holt packed a lot into this book.  The first half is taken up with Judith's background and childhood; it isn't until page 174 that we even get to Egypt.


Judith's ridiculous obsession with Tybalt got on my nerves; I'd say someone should have smacked some sense into her, but she never let on to anyone in her world just how insanely besotted she was, she saved all those confidences for the reader.  But the rest of the book was compelling and incredibly readable.


The story itself is pretty trope-tastic; it's got the imaginary love triangle, mistaken for cheating, lack of communication, rags to royalty... not to mention the whole Egyptian theme; likely quite a few more I haven't even thought of, but it was first written in the 70's when some of these things weren't tropes yet, or were all the rage.  That somehow made it easier to roll with.


The writing kept me coming back.  It had all the qualities of a mid-century gothic that appeals to me, in spite of some the silliness coming from Judith.


I'll definitely check out more of Holt's work.

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review 2017-01-25 07:05
A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell, #2)
A Perilous Undertaking - Deanna Raybourn

I've been looking forward to this second book for months and while it wasn't quite as good as the first book, it definitely wasn't disappointing.


In the first book, startling revelations about Veronica were a big part of the plot, and Stoker's past was shared in teasing bits here and there.  I suppose, given those revelations, the author couldn't resist using them to prop up the plot in this book, but I'll admit I found the device (especially the you must investigate this!) trite.  At a guess, the family angst bit was perhaps meant to show Veronica's vulnerability and humanity - we all just want to be accepted and loved, dammit!  But it just didn't work for me.  I found the scene with the butterfly in the garden to be far more effective and moving, without being a cliché.  I did enjoy learning more about Stoker's family though.


A BookLikes friend of mine wrote, in her review, that the themes throughout this book seemed chosen as much for their shock value as for their ability to showcase Veronica's conscious independence.  She's not wrong.  I'm not sure if the author wanted to shock, or just combat the general assumption that Victorian England was the apex of prudishness, purity and virginal thinking, but either way, this book is not for anyone who prefers a chaste story.  There's no overt sex, but boy howdy, is it talked about.  A lot. 


The murder reveal didn't surprise me; the more the author asserts a character's innocence, the more I suspect them, but I hardly cared.  The banter between Stoker and Veronica–actually the banter between anyone and Veronica–were what I enjoyed the most about this book.  If you want a strong, intelligent, pragmatic, rational female heroine you cannot do much better than Miss Speedwell.  Raybourn knows how to write.


My favourite highlights: Patricia the Galapagos tortoise, and that final scene between Stoker and Veronica.  That final scene might, in fact, make my top 5 favourites of all time.



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review 2017-01-03 11:15
Book of Beloved (Pluto's Snitch, #1)
The Book of Beloved - Carolyn Haines

I'm a big fan of Carolyn Haines' Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries, so I was excited to see that she was starting a new historical mystery series, but said excitement was tempered by the fact that she was publishing with Thomas & Mercer for this one, not St. Martin's.


I have no idea why St. Martin's didn't publish it, but it wasn't because it was a bad story or concept.  The story was excellent.  A ghost story set in Mobile, Alabama in 1920.  Haines is the first writer to really make me realise just how close the Civil War was to World War I; a mere 60 years separated the two.  I always knew this in an academic sense, but I never really thought about the idea that people lived through both.  Haines also does an incredible job of putting the reader in the deep south in the early 1920's, with all that that implies.  I tagged this as cozy because 90% of it is, but the racial issues running throughout the story aren't cozy at all and Haines does the unthinkable for a cozy author by killing off at least one beloved character.


The plot also gets points for freshness; talk about your deep, dark secrets!  I'm not going to say what it is, not even in a spoiler because it would ruin the unexpectedness.  I thought it was clever, interesting, and between it and the ghosts my attention was riveted.


The bug in my iced tea?  I have come to expect a certain polished writing style from Haines that wasn't quite up to snuff here.  I'm thinking mediocre editors.  As good as the story was, it could have been tighter and there were definitely a few things that got missed (like the MC parking her car twice in the same paragraph).  The very end was a bit illogical too, but not disastrously so; mostly it just felt weak.  If this had been my first Haines book I don't doubt I'd have rated it higher, because it is good.  But I know what she's capable of so I know it could be better.


I hate buying anything that benefits Amazon, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for the next book; Haines has me hooked for at least one more.

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review 2016-12-13 05:26
Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Kopp Sisters, #2)
Lady Cop Makes Trouble - Amy Stewart

I am really liking these so far.  Amy Stewart has crafted another interesting if not nail-biting mystery around actual events and cases that Miss Constance Kopp worked on in her career.


Lady Cop Makes Trouble focuses on the case of escaped convict Von Matthesius and Kopp's efforts to recapture him.  Along the way she also investigates a landlady arrested for killing a tenant and man taking advantageous of native young girls.  Kopp's sisters play a much smaller part in this story and Stewart turns up the tension between Kopp and Sheriff Heath without so much as implying any attraction or romance (although Normal gets a few jabs in on occasion).


I kept expecting the story to drag, but it moved along well and the pacing was smooth; there's very little 'whodunnit' here so any expectations on the part of mystery lovers is going to require some adjustments.  It's definitely worth it.


As before, Stewart includes an acknowledgments and citations page at the end that discusses exactly what parts of the story were taken from newspapers and historical accounts, with relevant citations and suggested readings, and which parts of the story she made up.  It's not unreasonable to imagine that if Stewart kept writing Kopp's adventures, a reader would end up with a rather credible biography at the end of it.  I'll be hoping for a third book, at least. 

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review 2016-12-08 03:22
The Mangle Street Murders
The Mangle Street Murders - M.R.C. Kasasian

I bought this at a library sale because the cover caught my eye; I had no expectations, as I'd never heard of it before but it had a vaguely Holmesian feel to it.


I wasn't wrong; there are both subtle and blatant nods to Doyle and Holmes throughout the story, but... I don't know how to say this.  The Mangle Street Murders reads like it was written by someone well-versed in the Holmes cannon but who resented the varnish put on the Victorian age and so set out to reimagine a Holmes worthy murder mystery in all its gory, gritty detail.


If that's indeed what Kasasian set out to do, then boy howdy did he/she succeed.  Sydney Grice, the famous personal detective is what Holmes might look like if he were actually a sociopath.  Self admittedly greedy, vain, selfish and without a shred of courtesy or decency he's almost a comic figure, until the reader is forced to witness his delight in public executions and other examples of his inhumanity.  The author tries half-heartedly to hint at some underlying decency, but frankly fails; they are too few and too brief to have any impact.  Add to that the grisly, graphic details in just about every scene of the book and it's a wonder I kept reading past the first mortuary scene.  There were times I honestly felt like the author was trying to punish the reader, beating them over the head with the reality of the 1880's.


But I did keep reading; I really liked the MC, March Middleton.  From the introduction it's clear she's Grice's historian, in much the same way Watson was for Holmes, only she is (sorry Watson, I love you) much smarter than Watson and a far more invested participant. Of course she has a hidden pain - a tragedy in her past - that is shared piecemeal in the form of old journal entries.  These are done perfectly: just often enough that they tug at your soul and keep you on the edge of your seat dreading what must be the inevitable.  The inevitable, however, must be part of a multi book story arc because we don't get to it here.


The plotting was competent.  Of course Grice is secretive so neither Marsh nor the reader are every privy to crucial details until very nearly the end when he waves his superiority around in a nauseating way, but Marsh gets hers back, making for a more even read.  The ultimate criminal was a person I pegged very early in the book, but there were so many layers and complexities that really all I'd done was identify the tip of the iceberg.


All said, the writing is excellent, the story and characters were compelling and I definitely won't read the second one.  I'm not at all ashamed to admit that I don't want this level of factual realism in my books.  I enjoyed the mystery but it was overshadowed by the author's need for verisimilitude; if you don't mind that level of grittiness, and you enjoy a good historical mystery, then this one is worth exploring.  Otherwise stick with Holmes and Watson.



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