Review – Island of Bones

There are some books you finish and want more of, immediately. For me, this is one of those books. I loved the setting, the characters, the mystery — everything. I’ve been reading a lot of historical mysteries lately, and oddly, they’ve all been series and I’ve started all of them somewhere in the middle rather than from the beginning. The same is true for this book; it’s Robertson’s third book featuring the characters of Mrs. Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther. Surprisingly, this hasn’t dulled my enjoyment one bit.

Mrs. Harriet Westerman is a woman still mourning her husband, even after her mourning period is officially over. Now, rather than be a spectacle to pity, she is trying to move forward with her life. When a request arrives to investigate the discovery of an extra body found in a crypt that had been supposedly untouched for many years, the idea of an adventure appeals. Mrs. Westerman, and Gabriel Crowther, a reclusive anatomist, set out for the Lake District to investigate the circumstances surrounding the skeleton. Crowther, also known as Lord Keswick, a title he has shunned and has done all he could to distance himself from not only the title but also his family, meets his past head on when they arrive in the Lake District. Not only is there a dead body and a mystery surrounding it, but Crowther’s sister and nephew are also in residence at Silverside Hall, a place once owned by Crowther and his family until he sold it. A happy family reunion it is not.

While the mysteries mount, a strange thing begins to happen — long held beliefs of the townspeople start taking center stage in the investigation. A lost relic called The Luck, a gold cross embedded with jewels, becomes part of the discussion and makes its way into the investigation of Mrs. Westerman and Crowther. More than one person’s hidden family history comes to light before the mystery is solved.

There’s something so very likable about Robertson’s writing. She writes great characters. They’re frank, smart, and surprising. I loved how she took a very relaxing setting and overlaid it with death, local folklore, and a mystery of family proportions that only seemed to grow larger by the day. It all fit so well together. When the story started coming to a close, I wanted more even after the satisfying conclusion. And, yes, there is a satisfying conclusion. I like that in a mystery.

Going back to the main characters, Mrs. Westerman and Gabriel Crowther — I said they were likable but it’s more than that. The two are a strange combination but a combination that works brilliantly. Crowther is a grump of a man, a recluse who takes no pleasure in people except for the few he can tolerate, and yet, his scientific analysis is a fascinating attribute. In fact, it’s an interesting aspect of the story itself and slightly morbid as he does care to spend more time with the dead than the living. Mrs. Westerman is a great counterpoint to his standoffish qualities. I also like unconventional women in historical fiction and she’s certainly unusual for her time. I should point out that the story is set in 1783 and a woman investigating murders is far from the norm.

Now that I have used one too many laudatory words in describing what I liked so much about this book, I leave you with this — read Island of Bones. They’ll be no regrets. I had high hopes for this book and those expectations were met.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Island of Bones

By Imogen Robertson

Pamela Dorman Books

ISBN: 9780670026272

4.5 stars

 

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Review – Death in the Floating City: A Lady Emily Mystery

Lady Emily Hargreaves, accompanied by her husband Colin, is on her way to Venice to help a childhood friend named Emma Callum. A better description would be a childhood nemesis — Emily and Emma were not exactly the best of friends as children and Emily did her best to distance herself from Emma whenever possible. However, Emma has asked for her help and Emily can’t turn down a plea for help, even when that plea comes from Emma Callum. Years ago, Emma ran off with an Italian Count and caused a bit of a scandal at home, but is now in desperate need of Emily’s detective skills. Her father-in-law has been murdered in the home she shares with her husband, and her husband, who is a suspect in his father’s murder, has disappeared making the case against him look even more telling. She needs Emily to find the murderer and clear her husband.

Weary of her Emma’s motives but still willing to help, Emily and Colin begin their investigation and Emily soon finds herself fascinated by Venice, a city she’s never visited before. With few clues besides an old ring to go on, Emily enlists the help of a Venetian historian and his daughter, Donata, to help her navigate the city and open a few palazzo doors for her to ask questions. With the help of Donata, Emily stumbles upon a centuries old love story that tore two individuals, and their families, apart. The same feud is still going strong which doesn’t help Emily when she needs questions answered. She begins searching frantically through libraries and family trees for any clue that will help solve the case while Colin begins a search for Emma’s missing husband.

This is my second Lady Emily mystery and I’m becoming addicted. I need to plan some reading time to go back and start this series from the beginning. Even though this is a series, these books do stand on their own but the characters and settings are so good I want to go back and spend more time in this world. Emily and Colin are incredibly likable characters and the settings, especially this particular book’s setting of Venice, are so lovely you want to step into the pages. Alexander does a fantastic job with the crumbling palazzos, dusty old books, and gondolas gliding along the canals.

Let’s talk about the mystery for a moment because there is one here. What I liked most about the mystery was the way it was wrapped up in a love story a la Romeo and Juliet style. Told through letters interspersed throughout the story, the centuries-old love story starts to show up in Emily’s mystery in unexpected ways. In the end, Alexander wraps this one up nicely with a little sneak peek of what’s ahead for Emily and Colin.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the way I was able to fall into the story and get lost in the mystery, the romance, and the city of Venice. I was pulled into the story very early and I didn’t want to leave. There’s just enough of everything in this book to make me a happy reader. Obviously, I’m waiting for Emily’s next adventure.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Death in the Floating City: A Lady Emily Mystery

By Tasha Alexander

Minotaur Books

ISBN: 9780312661762

4 stars

 

Review – The Map of Lost Memories

Irene Blum has spent her life studying the Khmer Empire and acquiring knowledge of ancient civilizations and artifacts. She’s an expert in her field and fully expects to be running the Brooke Museum of Oriental Arts in Seattle, which houses a collection she helped to build, in due time. When the curatorship is given to another, it devastates her. Still reeling from the death of her father a few months earlier, she turns to Henry Simms, a close family friend and the man who helped raise her after the death of her mother. He is also the person who instilled in her the intense interest she has in the Khmer Empire. Mr. Simms is dying of cancer, and knowing it will be the last great adventure of his life and the start of one for Irene, he shares an unknown diary with her that talks about lost copper scrolls containing the history of the Khmer. The scrolls are supposedly hidden in an ancient Khmer temple in the Cambodian jungle. With nothing left for her in Seattle, Irene leaves for Shanghai to convince a woman named Simone Merlin to join her on the trip to Cambodia. Both women have much to prove — to each other and themselves — and the trip to discover the lost scrolls becomes a test of wills.

While the big draw for me was the setting, Shanghai and the Cambodian jungle in 1925, it was the characters that surprised me. Everyone has secrets so deeply ingrained it drug them all down and each and every character fought out of desperation; each not wanting to admit being wrong or to give in. The setting amplified every single flaw these characters carried.

Irene and Simone are bound together in horrific ways that neither woman wants to think about — murder, drugs, and a personal history neither knew existed until Irene found Simone in Shanghai. Their interactions are sometimes painful to witness but that’s what I enjoyed so much about this particular relationship. In 1925, two women struggling to be more than what society has deemed appropriate was great to see. Their efforts to regain some sense of themselves, understand their dreams, and deal with how those dreams have changed made for notable characters.

The Map of Lost Memories is full of mystery and suspense — some of it brought on in the course of the discovery of an archeological gem in the jungle and at other times it’s complete human folly. I adored the mixture. I feel like I’ve skipped the brilliant setting in favor of discussing some flawed but captivating characters. The setting and the discovery of an ancient Khmer temple deep in the Cambodian jungle was what made me want to read this book and it turned out to be a book full of characters looking for and waiting for redemption in different forms.

Historical fiction is a favorite of mine and the thing that keeps me reading this genre are books that make me want to know more about an event, a person, or discovery after I finish the book. This book did just that. I found myself wanting to know more about the Khmer Empire and the forgotten temples covered by moss and vines.

A setting that’s fascinating, thrilling, and dangerous, and characters that are in turn annoying and absorbing with strong personalities but are flawed and human. Together these elements made it difficult for me to put this book down. Fay obviously has a love for Asian culture and history. If she decides to write more books with this setting, I’ll be reading.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Map of Lost Memories

Kim Fay

Ballantine Books

ISBN: 9780345531346

4 stars

 

Review – A Crimson Warning

A Crimson Warning

Tasha Alexander

Minotaur Books

ISBN: 9780312661755

4 stars

There’s something fun about discovering a new to me author and when I finish the new find, I’m always happy to know more is waiting for me. This is how I felt with A Crimson Warning. I enjoyed the book and learning it is part of a series made me happy to know I would once more have the chance to peek in on Lady Emily’s Victorian London.

The season begins and Lady Emily is looking forward to the balls, her involvement in lobbying for the right to vote, and of course time with her favorite Greek books. At one of the season’s first events, Lady Emily is happily dancing away the evening with her husband Colin looking for an opportunity to sneak out so they can spend some time alone when a fight breaks out among two men. It turns out an affair has been exposed and the two are arguing over ladies at the party. Suddenly, Colin, an agent of the crown, is called away on urgent business. Emily heads home with friends to discuss the eventful evening. When Colin arrives it is with sad news — a well-known business man has been murdered. His fiancée is devastated but it’s when she starts receiving threatening notes from the person who claims to have killed her soon-to-be husband, that Emily and Colin start investigating. Days later, red paint is found splashed on the homes of some of London’s most well-to-do. The paint is a warning and shortly after secrets are revealed leaving some in London to revel in the disclosures, and others to fear for their lives and what will be revealed about them. When two of society’s ladies are kidnapped, the season that held so much promise for fun, is now filled with fear.

Lady Emily is far from the standard lady of the day. While she enjoys the pleasures of the season, it’s her work lobbying for the women’s right to vote that riles her mother, a more straight-forward Victorian lady, to no end. She’s also smart and extremely well-educated which keeps her highly involved in her husband’s affairs with the crown. And more so, he’s willing to keep her involved even when others think he’s wrong to do so. Their relationship is certainly more open than most at the time and that’s one of the reasons this story is fun. There is romance too but it’s not overwhelming and blends nicely in with the story. As a non-romance reader, I was slightly worried that it would overtake the story and I was happily surprised with the balance that was struck.

While I enjoyed Colin and Lady Emily’s investigation, what I enjoyed even more was the setting. Alexander does a wonderful job with the details creating interesting ladies and a picture of Victorian England that is easy to be swept up in. I do wish Lady Emily’s mother played a larger role in this book — she was quite the interesting character and obviously one very different from Emily. It would have been fun to see more of their interactions.

As a reader of a lot of historical fiction, this is one author I’ll be returning to for a dose of fun mixed with a great historical setting. Alexander does a fantastic job of weaving together interesting characters with a mystery to keep you wondering what secrets are buried deep in the closets of high society. If you like a little mystery mixed with your historical fiction, Alexander doesn’t disappoint.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Review – Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead

Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead

By Sara Gran

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

ISBN: 9780547428494

4.5 stars

I always thought I didn’t like mysteries. Obviously, I’ve been reading the wrong ones.  I can admit when I’m wrong. Maybe it it’s the offbeat way the mystery is solved or the setting which is more than a map of clues but also a background for a messed up detective trying to figure out how to fit back into society and whether or not she wants to go through with the plan or leave everything behind.

Claire Dewitt is a detective with issues.  A stint in a hospital has left her slightly skittish, mentally, but also slightly interested in getting back to work.  When a client seeks her out, she decides it might be time to test her own enthusiasm for work.  A case of a missing district attorney brings her home to New Orleans — a city newly devastated by Hurricane Katrina.  Claire starts feeling around for clues in her unorthodox way but what she finds has more to do with herself than the case she’s being paid to resolve.

There are so many things wrong with Claire and not the little things we all might be able to relate to on some level.  She’s screwed up; really screwed up.  A one-time teenage detective, she carries around guilt over never having found a friend who went missing.  She’s an addict — drugs, alcohol, and the above mentioned strange and scary array of guilt.  Like crazy guilt.  And she’s eccentric, especially inher detecting style.  A devout follower of Jaques Silette’s mysterious detective handbook, Detection, she uses out of the ordinary techniques such as omens and mind-enhancing drugs to seek out clues.  In fact, she isn’t the type of detective who looks for clues at all.  She waits for them to find her.  It’s an interesting way of looking at things for someone who is supposed to be a detective.

There are so many small mysteries surrounding Claire that the main case of the missing district attorney seems almost background noise to what’s really going on with her.  New Orleans is a haunted place for Claire and many times you wonder what it is she’s chasing. Is it her own demons or one more clue that found its way out of the ether into her head which is already full of scary ideas? You also aren’t surprised when her client, the only one she has, wants to fire her. Oddly, you’re not surprised either when she manages to have an explanation for everything in the end. Well, not everything, but enough to make you wonder exactly what is with the woman.

There is so much to love about this book and I’m not sure I’m doing it justice so here’s my plea to you — read it.  I recommend it highly.

Review – Tales of Terror and Mystery

Tales of Terror and Mystery

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Penguin Books

ISBN: 0-14-004878-2

3.75 stars

I’ve been reading more short stories this year and have come to one conclusion — I prefer one author over several.  I enjoy the stories more if I become familiar with the author’s voice and I can then move along without feeling the need to stop and regain my footing at the end of each story.  In Tales of Terror and Mystery, this is exactly what happened.

There were 13 stories here; six tales of terror and seven tales of mystery.

Tales of Terror:

The Horror of the Heights follows a pilot who encounters giant jellyfish like aliens.  The Leather Funnel reminds us what a true nightmare can be.  The New Catacomb is a take on the value of friendship when a woman’s love is involved.  The Case of Lady Sannox is an affair gone wrong.  The Terror of Blue John Gap involves an imaginary monster made real.  The Brazilian Cat is a tale of family woe and backstabbing relatives.

Tales of Mystery:

The Lost Special is a recounting of a train kidnapping.  The Beetle-Hunter follows a young doctor and the horror he finds in answering an advertisement.  The Man with the Watches is about a train with missing persons.  The Japanned Box makes us wonder what a widower is doing alone in a room late at night.  The Black Doctor involves the disappearance and supposed murder of a well-liked town doctor.  The Jew’s Breastplate is a museum caper complete with a mummy.  The Nightmare Room is an odd scene with a séance to boot.

If you know anything about Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, these stories reflect many of his interests including his love of new technologies and preoccupation in the afterlife.  It’s endearing and somewhat uncomfortable at the same time as his prejudices also come through.  I’m not going into that here though.

I enjoyed the tales of terror more and there are a few gems among the mysteries as well but I did see a few endings coming which didn’t cause any disappointment.  With a short story, in some cases only pages, it’s going to happen.

If you’re a fan of Doyle, this one is worth a look.  It’s fast and the stories are entertaining.

 

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so other participants know what you’re reading.

Today I’m reading Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran.

“Apparently Vic had been fascinated by the Indians too, or at least interested.  I got a chair and looked on top of the bookshelf.” (pg. 31)