Friday, September 27, 2013

Very Mixed Feelings about The Anatomist's Wife.

THE ANATOMIST'S WIFE (A Lady Darby Mystery #1)
Anna Lee Huber
Berkley Trade Books
January 2012

It is Scotland in 1830 and Kiera, Lady Darby, has taken refuge at her sister's estate.  She is reviled by Society and even threatened with criminal prosecution for her illustrations accompanying the manuscript for her husband's anatomy book. The infamous Burke and Hare body-snatching case was in the recent past so there was hysteria about the possibility of another outrage. Since Sir Anthony Darby has recently died, she faces Society's fury alone.  What Society does not know is that Sir Anthony married her only for her artistic talents and forced her to do the illustrations. Only her family remains steadfast in their support.

After sixteen months in Scotland her sister and brother-in-law venture to host a house party. Kiera knows that she will be the object of derision and scorn, but hopes to keep a low profile. When a house guest is murdered she knows that she will be the logical suspect among the harpies at the house party. Her only hope is to help another of the house guests investigate the murder in the roughly three days before the prosecutor arrives at the estate. Sebastian Gage is a sought out member of Society and has some experience as a private inquiry agent. Despite her initial dislike of Gage, she and he forge an uneasy alliance. That alliance is sorely tested before the murderer is unmasked.

I initially gave 4 stars to The Anatomist's Wife because I thought the mystery very well done. I did not figure it out on my own at any rate.  While I don't have to particularly like the characters in a book I really need to understand their motivations. Kiera was by turns passive and aggressive about her plight, then clever and/or stupidly impulsive. I never knew what sort of dangerously ill-considered action she might take next. She was a moderately successful portraitist before her marriage so I find her passive consent to an arranged marriage hard to understand. It was difficult for a woman of her station to avoid marriage, but it could be done. The fact that she was content to let her father make such an important decision for her was incomprehensible to me.

There have been many comparisons of The Anatomist's Wife to the Lady Julia Gray mysteries. I don't see it, even though their situations as widows involved with inquiry agents are similar. Lady Julia has a backbone of steel and a will to match; and Sebastian Gage is no Brisbane! The fact that The Anatomist's Wife lingered in my head after I finished gives me hope for the next book in the series, Mortal Arts, which I will certainly read.

RATING- 3 Stars

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Kelley Armstrong's New Cainsville Series Always

OMENS (Cainsville # 1)
Kelley Armstrong
August 2013

Imagine this- you are the only daughter of one of Chicago's wealthiest families; Ivy League educated, pursuing volunteerism and philanthropy, and engaged to a handsome tech firm CEO (and Senate hopeful). In one day you discover that you are adopted and are really the daughter of notorious serial killers, Todd and Pamela Larsen. Your already distant adoptive mother distances herself even further and your fiance thinks you should "postpone the wedding". On the run from the papparazzi and refusing any financial help from "mother" you go on a voyage of self-discovery and a search to find out if there is anything of your real parents in you. And could they be innocent? I was immediately riveted by Olivia's sudden reversal of fortune and Omens kept me turning the page throughout nearly 500 pages.

Olivia lands in Cainsville, a small town on the outskirts of Chicago. Cainsville is a very strange place indeed, filled with even stranger inhabitants with unusual abilities. They all seem to have been expecting Olivia. With the help of Pamela Larsen's most recent lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia meets Pamela and agrees to investigate the last killing the couple was charged with. Pamela thinks that if they can be proven innocent in that murder, the evidence for the others will fall apart. Along the way, Olivia finds her own strange abilities and a strong streak of pragmatism she never suspected in herself. 

Olivia and Gabriel are two of the more complex characters I have encountered.  Gabriel is " a riddle wrapped up in a mystery, inside an enigma". For much of the book he seems to be somewhat of a sociopath, but there are definitely layers underneath. I am anxiously awaiting the second of the series! Omens is highly recommended for paranormal and mystery fans.

RATING: 5 Stars

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Promising New Steampunk Series

Emma Jane Holloway
Random House/Del Rey
September 24, 2013

It is 1888 in London and Evelina Cooper, the niece of Sherlock Holmes, is preparing for her first season in society. Wait- you didn't know Sherlock Holmes had a niece? Well- never mind- that is just one of the "facts" that Emma Jane Holloway plays with in this clever beginning book of a trilogy coming out in rapid succession this fall. Evelina's England is in love with technology and in servitude to a group of Steam Barons who control all the power and materials used to make and run the technology and therefore, power the Empire. Needless to say, the Barons are no benevolent despots. They have the ability to wreck businesses and lives by "Disconnecting" and are not shy of using it. Disconnection spells ruin financially and socially, no matter high born you may be. Into this London steps Evelina who has the ability to meld magic and technology thereby cutting out the Barons. If the rebels who oppose the Barons knew this, she would be in great danger from both sides. And, magic usage is a crime that can be punished by burning or incarceration in one of Her Majesty's "research laboratories". Then there is the evil Mage who wants Evelina for his own nefarious purposes.

A Study in Silks attempts to mix steampunk, mystery, a romantic triangle and a coming of age story into a cohesive whole, mostly successfully. My feeling is that the book, at 500+ pages, bogs down in the middle and could stand some cutting. Holloway writes description very well but gets a little carried away and stalls the narrative flow.  I am a reader that really enjoys descriptive passages and I was thinking, "Just get on with it!". That being said, I  enjoyed the book and characters and I am looking forward to Book 2, A Study in Darkness, coming in October. Thanks to Random House/Del Rey and for an advance digital copy in return for a free and fair review.

RATING- 3.5 Devas

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Thieve's Quarry

THIEVE'S QUARRY (Thieftaker Chronicles #2)
D.B. Jackson
July 2, 2013

Thieve's Quarry by D.B. Jackson is a worthy follow-up to last year's Thieftaker. Jackson takes us back to Boston in 1768, where revolutionary politics coexist uneasily with magic. Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker and "speller" or conjurer. Even though the events in Salem took place nearly a hundred years earlier, he tries to keep his spelling quiet as much as possible. Business has been pretty steady since the events of Thieftaker, despite run-ins with Sephira Pryce, the chief thieftaker in Boston, and her band of thugs. But when Ethan is awakened one morning by a massive wave of magic, he knows that problems are coming his way. An occupying force of British warships is in Boston Harbor and on one of them the full complement of men- nearly 100- are found dead. The Crown hires Ethan to find out the identity of the rogue speller and threatens to hang Ethan and every other conjurer in Boston if he does not succeed in five day's time. 

Thieve's Quarry is a fine merging of historical fact and fiction. It is true that the British occupied Boston in 1768 and such figures as Samuel Adams and John Hancock make appearances. Ethan himself is a royalist but I think we will see changes in his beliefs- he along with the rest of Boston does not like the occupation. The Thieftaker Chronicles are great adventure tales packed with period detail, mystery and vivid characters. I highly recommend them to fans of urban fantasy and historical fiction.

RATING 4.5 Tricorns