Book Review: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

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The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

I’m continuing my Sherlockian trend with the first of this series by Laurie R. King!

Sherlock Holmes has retired from the life of a consulting detective to keep bees and indulge in chemistry experiments in the Sussex Downs. Mary Russell is a teenage orphan, forced to live with her penurious aunt until her majority. When the two chance to meet, Holmes is not expecting to encounter a mind equal to his, and Mary Russell is not expecting to find a mentor. This first book chronicles the first four years of their friendship.

This is the first in a series which now contains fourteen books. I’m definitely late to the party. Like most of the other Sherlock Holmes stuff I’m reading lately, the choice was inspired by From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Boström. The book is a series of interconnected vignettes rather than one contiguous story. In The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, we move from Mary and Sherlock’s first meeting, to their strange friendship, and the beginning of Mary’s training in the art of detection.

In Mary Russell, King has given us a heroine who is fiercely intelligent and independent, and more than a match for Holmes himself. I loved that while she shares a lot of Holmes’ personality traits, the two complement one another rather than existing as mirror-image duplicates. As with any new series, there is always the awkward getting-to-know-you period. But this is a great start to a series, and I’m quite looking forward to binging on the rest of the series.

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Book Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas


A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas

This is the second Lady Sherlock book by Sherry Thomas. You should naturally expect spoilers for the first book, A Study in Scarlet Women in this review. If you haven’t yet read the first book, stop what you’re doing and read it now. I’ll wait.

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I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the first book featuring Charlotte Holmes. Rather than the trite gender-swapped rehashing of the well-trod Sherlock Holmes stories, I found a smart, witty, and wonderfully realized mystery featuring not Sherlock Holmes, but a woman whose brilliant deductive mind is trapped in the body of a Victorian society lady,mwith all the attendant limitations and societal entrapment.

The second book in the series does not disappoint. Taking place shortly after the first book leaves off, we find Charlotte settling into the life of a social pariah, and enjoying the freedom that comes with being “Sherlock Holmes.” Things go a bit sideways when she is approached by the wife of Lord Ingram, her childhood friend, who is trying to track down her first love. Beyond the obvious conflicts of investigating the case without the knowledge of Lord Ingram, the further Charlotte digs into the identity and history of Lady Ingram’s former paramour, the more strangely complicated matters become. Soon Charlotte finds herself embroiled in hidden ciphers, codes within codes, blackmail plots, poisoning, and espionage. Weaving these disparate threads into a resolution will tax even her brilliant mind.

Charlotte Holmes is simply a great character. She is by no means a female stand-in for the great detective, rather it’s as if Thomas grew her from scratch; a brilliant and analytical mind on par with Sherlock Holmes, but within a person who has had to grow up adhering (to a greater or lesser degree) the societal expectations for a nineteenth-century lady of breeding. Thomas also continues to develop the characters of Mrs. Watson, Lord Ingram, Inspector Treadle, and Charlotte’s older sister, Livia. Though the supporting characters don’t get as much attention as Charlotte, there were several excellent subplots throughout the book. I was especially impressed with the characterization of Inspector Treadle, an honorable and forthright man, trying to come to grips with the existence of women who seek a measure of independence. This could easily have turned into some cliche or overdone condemnation of weak-minded men, but instead we see Treadles honestly wrestling with himself and his preconceptions.

Fans of historical mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, and the like should check out this series. If you enjoyed A Study in Scarlet Women you will likely enjoy this book as well. I cannot wait to see what Thomas does in future books in this series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Children of the Shaman by Jessica Rydill

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Children of the Shaman by Jessica Rydill

Thirteen year old Annat is a shaman by birth. Within her own people, the Wanderers, shamans can heal, protect, and enter bodily into other realms. Outside her people, however, shamans are looked upon with suspicion and mistrust. Annat is largely untrained in her powers, but when her aunt falls sick, she and her brother are sent to live with the father they barely know.

Annat is finally able to train as a shaman under the tutelage of her father, Yuda, but the family soon turns down a dangerous path. Yuda has been assigned to investigate strange occurrences and brutal murders in a small northern town. Strange, old magic seems to be at play in the area, and soon after arriving, Annat’s brother Malchik disappears. Annat and Yuda’s search for Malchik will take them on a strange journey through a mystical land of winter, where they must find Malchik and stop the evil being responsible for the town’s troubles.

This was an interesting and well-crafted fantasy. The story exists in a slightly offset historical Russia/Eastern Europe, with a good dose of Judaism and Jewish mysticism. The Russian fairy-tale setting is in vogue at the moment, with books such as The Bear and the Nighingale by Katherine Arden, and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo creating well-deserved buzz. Rydill’s inclusion of Jewish history, religion, and folklore set her book apart and add a touch of realism and historical grounding in a fantasy tale.

In all, the book is well written. The character of Annat is well-realized, sometimes to the detriment of the other characters, who can feel a bit flat. The journey through the fairy-tale realm borrows from Eastern European and Russian folklore, and is for the most part exciting and fun reading. I did find that the book began to drag a bit towards the end, but overall I found Children of the Shaman a diverting fantasy.

Fans of the fantasy genre, especially those who enjoyed The Bear and the Nnightingale or Shadow and Bone will likely enjoy this book. Anyone looking for a fantasy featuring a strong female lead (Children of the Shaman reminds me a lot of The Green Rider by Kristen Britain) shoudl also consider this book for their TBR.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath

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Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by Jason Porath

Dear husband brought this book to my attention after hearing a segment about it on NPR (what a very good husband!). After hearing only a few anecdotes about it, I needed to read it, NOW. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime.

Rejected Princesses grew out of a lunchtime chat among Dreamworks animators: Who was least likely to be turned into an animated princess? Out of this seed grew a blog (http://www.rejectedprincesses.com) and the blog sprouted a book (with a second on the way!). The first volume is a massively heavy compendium of 100 women who defied norms, expectations, invading armies, assailants, and politicians. Each entry is roughly 2-3 pages long, and each features a Disney-style illustration of the featured “princess.”

The entries are neatly cataloged with maturity ratings and applicable trigger warnings. This means you can read the more family-friendly entries to the kids, and save the stories of rape, murder, and revenge for later (or never, as it suits you). In this way, Porath has created a book that has something for all ages, while at the same time not glossing over the violence experience by quite a few defiant women. The stories also skip across time, space, and legend. You’ll find biblical queens next to Bolivian revolutionaries next to British suffragettes next to African warriors next to Japanese samurais. You’ll find straight women and women who represent every color of the LGBTQA rainbow. Porath show us that there is a princess out there for everyone.

This book was amazing. Some women, like Hatshepsut (the only female pharaoh in Egypt), Harriet Tubman (“Moses” of escaping slaves), and Joan of Arc (the gold standard of defiant woman) I had heard of already, but others like Saint Olga of Kiev (who set a town on fire using pigeons), Calafia (mythical Muslim queen and namesake for the state of California), and Trung Trac and Trung Nhi (Vietnamese sisters who led armies to defeat the Chinese in the 1st century) I had never even guessed existed. The book is jam-packed with these kinds of stories, and the encyclopedia-entry-style of each story means it’s easy to pick up and put down as needed, and come back to your favorite parts. Once you read through the book, there are even more entries on the Rejected Princesses website, so you can head over there to keep getting your fix.

This is a great book for anyone looking for inspiration from some truly badass ladies. Porath’s rating system means that you can share these stories with the little girls in your life, and let them know they can grow up to command their own tank regiment (Mariya Oktyabrskaya), overcome handicaps (Wilma Rudolph), be great at math (Hypatia), and/or decide exactly what they want out life and strive for it.

Book Review: Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto

Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto

Alice Roosevelt was the daughter of US President Theodore Roosevelt. Born into the heights of New York Society, and thrust further into the spotlight as a member of the first family, Alice was a determined rebel in an age where proper behavior was paramount for well heeled women. Fiercely intelligent and chafing at the limitations placed upon her by society, Alice drank, smoked, and drove in cars with men. She imposed herself on her father’s policy meetings, offering political advice and helping in diplomatic meetings. Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

R.J. Koreto brings this remarkable woman to life in the historical mystery Alice and the Assassin. Koreto is an old hand at historical mysteries, his Lady Frances Ffolkes series features another strong (and fictional) heroine, and is quite a fun read (you can read my review of Death Among Rubies here).

This book, hopefully the first of several, features seventeen-year-old Alice and her Secret Service bodyguard, Joseph St. Clair. The year is 1902, and Theodore Roosevelt has recently ascended to the presidency after the assassination of William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz. Alice, wishing to satisfy her own curiosity about the incident, decides to seek out famous anarchist, and associate of Czolgosz, Emma Goldman. However, this meeting seems to disturb powerful factions within the local community, and soon Alice and St. Clair find themselves embroiled in a wide-reaching conspiracy which may threaten another president.

I am a fan of Koreto’s previous work and this book did not disappoint. Alice is well realized, both as a vulgarity-slinging iconoclast and a sheltered seventeen year old who wants to protect her family. Historical details are sprinkled throughout with satisfying accuracy, and those aspects which are fictionalized for the plot roll nicely into the feel of the era.

The book begins with some stutters as the author introduces us to the protagonists and the world they inherit, but rapidly finds its footing. The pacing is splendid, with enough narrative false trails and red herrings to make for an enjoyable mystery. The plot, while fictional, is based on real events, and the final solution to the plot feels a bit too possible for comfort.

In all, fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this book. I would recommend Alice and the Assassin to fans of Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery Series, Deanna Raybourn‘s books,  or the Maisie Dobbs series. Anyone looking for an engaging book featuring a strong female protagonist will also enjoy this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Lola by Maria Scrivner Love

Lola by Maria Scrivner Love

Lola is adept at pretending to be less than she is. To the world she is the dutiful girlfriend to her gang-leader boyfriend, Garcia. She cooks, she cleans, and she keeps house. What no one outside the Crenshaw Six realizes is that Lola is actually the power behind the throne. In reality she is the sharply intelligent and utterly ruthless leader of their gang. When a representative of the Mexican Cartel makes the small-time gang an offer they can’t refuse, Lola finds herself drawn increasingly deeper into the world of the international drug trade. As the stakes get higher, Lola has to use every tool in her arsenal to ensure that not only does she survive, but that her gang makes it out on top.

This is a stong debut showing by former CSI: Miami writer Maria Scrivner Love. The character of Lola is well-realized as a strong, intelligent woman who must always play the part of the quiet, subservient girlfriend in order to succeed in the man’s world of the drug trade. Her internal struggle between feeling the need to adhere to social norms and her desire to be recognized for her own accomplishments mirrors the struggle of all ambitious women, no matter the legitimacy of their work.

Also on full display in this book are the racial tensions within the city of Los Angeles. Each group, latino, black, and white, have set aside their own exclusive areas within the city, and stepping outside one’s assigned area invites suspicion at best and violence at worst.

In all, this is an original and intriguing thriller. The action is fast-paced, the characters well realized and multidimensional. Fans of crime fiction will enjoy this book, as will anyone looking for an atypical book featuring a strong female protagonist.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Wages of Sin by Katie Welsh

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The Wages of Sin by Katie Welsh

In 1892, the University of Edinburgh began to admit female medical students. The pushback from both faculty and the male student body was immense. Indeed, society itself looked down on these women as unfeminine and broken. Enter Sarah Gilchrist, banished from London after bringing scandal to her family name. Cut adrift and dependent on the good graces of Scottish relatives, Sarah is determined to make her own way as a female physician. In order to get practical training, Sarah volunteers at a charity infirmary in the slums. The work is hard, and the prejudices of society are increasingly difficult to bear. However, Sarah is doing well with her studies and her work until one day she recognizes the corpse in her anatomy class as her patients at the infirmary. . .

I always like a good historical fiction, and this one did not disappoint. Welsh does a great job of demonstrating the fine line these medical pioneers would have to walk between Victorian propriety and their dreams of higher education. The hypocrisy of their male counterparts is also brilliantly illustrated. Welsh also does well with her main protagonist, Sarah Gilchrist. The lasting physical and mental trauma from her “scandal” feels very real. While you may occasionally want to reach through the page, shake her, and yell “think before you speak,” she is overall a very sympathetic character. The mystery aspect of the book was well paced, with the requisite red herrings and plot twists.

Fans of historical murder mysteries will find a lot to like in this book, which feels like the first of a series. Historical fiction or murder mystery fans in general will likely also enjoy the book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Wages of Sin will be available for purchase on March 14th, 2017.

Book Review: Firebrand by Kristen Britain

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Firebrand by Kristen Britain

Firebrand is the sixth book in Britain’s Green Rider series. So: There are going to be major spoilers for the previous five books in this review. I will also say that you probably don’t want to dive into this book without having read the previous ones. If you haven’t read any of the Green Rider Series, stop reading this review right now and click here to find out where to start.

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Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way: it’s wonderful to be reading a Green Rider book again! Britain averages about three and half years between books, and the wait for a new one always seems interminable. Add that to the rather disappointing Mirror Sight (the last book in the series, not bad on its own merits but not really a Green Rider book), and it has been seven years since we last got to travel to Sacoridia.

This book takes place shortly after the events of Mirror Sight, and five years after the first book. Karrigan G’ladheon (one of my original favorite badass female characters) has returned from the dark future time with a shard of looking mask embedded in her eye. The Second Empire, led by creepy and cunning Grandmother, still threaten Sacoridia’s northern border. To prepare for war with the Second Empire, King Zachary and his Eletian allies decide to send a party to seek out the legendary P’ehdrose people and convince them to fight at their side. Though not yet recovered from her past ordeals, Karrigan is chosen to make the perilous journey. Meanwhile, Grandmother has unleased an elemental force against the Kingdom, one that puts the royal family in grave danger.

As a fan of the series, I must say that this was a very satisfying book. It was wonderful to enter back into Sarcoridia again, and to take up all the treads that had been left dangling in Blackveil (the fourth book), and not addressed at all in Mirror Sight. The events of this book mainly revolve around heroine Karrigan (naturally), her friend Estral the bard, and an Eletian named Enver (briefly introduced in the first book). Grandmother returns, as does her frankly disturbing granddaughter, Lala. the book unfolds in typical Green rider fashion, with disaster and happenstance radiating off the main storyline. Nothing in Kristen Britain’s universe ever goes as planned.

Britain’s main strength is, as always, her ability to create worlds and characters that resonate. The setting she has created in Sacoridia is vivid and believable, with a wondrous amount of depth, and layers enough to provide for many more novels. Her characters, especially her female characters, have grown and evolved through the events of five previous books. I am constantly amazed at the organic way Karrigan and her counterparts grow and change through the Green Rider novels. Even with characters like Queen Estora, who would be easy to turn into a two dimensional foil, or Grandmother, who could simply become another raving villain, are given a depth and breadth of character that is rare in any genre. Even those characters you don’t like, you wind up at least understanding.

If you have read and enjoyed the previous books in this series, you will more than likely enjoy this latest book. In light of that, if you haven’t read any in this series, this book is not for you. There is simply too much back story, and too much intricacy lost without having read the previous five novels. However, if you tend to enjoy fantasy, and are looking for a series with a plethora of strong female characters, and you want to edge away (sometimes far, far away) from the young adult genre, then this series will appeal to you. I highly recommend you pick up Green Rider and get started.

An advanced copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Firebrand will be available for purchase on February 28th, 2017.

Book Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

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The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

When we first meet Noa, she is cleaning a German train station in exchange for scraps of bread. Kicked out of her parents’ home at sixteen for becoming pregnant to a Nazi soldier, and later forced to give up her baby in service to the Reich, Noa is cast adrift, keeping herself to the background and speaking with no one. On the fateful night, an odd sound draws her outside the station, and to a boxcar filled with dead and dying infants; Jewish babies whose parents have been sent off to concentration camps, their children left to die of exposure in the German winter.Seeing movement, she snatches a still-living infant from the pile. As the enormity of what she has just done overcomes her, she flees into the winter night.

Astrid is a trapeze artist from an old Jewish circus family. Returning from Berlin after her Nazi-official husband divorces her, she finds her family home abandoned, her parents and siblings vanished. She seeks out Herr Neuhoff, owner of a rival circus for answers, but no one knows what has become of her family. Neuhoff makes her an astonishing offer: to hide her from the Nazis by giving her a new identity as a performer in his circus. Astrid accepts the offer, and, one snowy night, the circus finds a half-frozen teenager and a baby in the woods.

Noa, fearful of retaliation by the Nazis, and desperate to keep safe the Jewish baby she rescued, accepts a similar offer to hide within the circus as a performer. She is placed under Astrid’s tutelage to learn the flying trapeze. Rivals at first, the two women form a bond as everything crumbles down around them.

The Orphan’s Tale is incredibly well written. Both Noa and Astrid are brought sharply to life through the power of their dueling narratives. Each woman is broken but resilient, each vividly wrought and believably fashioned. The horrors brought on by the Nazis are contrasted with the small braveries of those who resist them.What emerges is a tale of love and humanity against one of the bleakest backgrounds imaginable. The story is made all the more amazing once you learn it is based (loosely) on real people and events.

This book is a good fit for those who enjoyed books like The Orphan Mother or The Light Between Oceans. Anyone with a fascination for World War II will also enjoy this book. I would also recommend this book for anyone looking for a reaffirmation of humanity; for the knowledge that even small acts of resistance in the face of fascism can make a difference.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Orphan’s Tale will be available for purchase on February 21st, 2017.

Book Review: The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni

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The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni

 

This is the fourth book in the Tracy Crosswhite series. Hopefully unnecessary caveat: There may well be spoilers in here for the first three books in the series.

When a high school student takes his boat out to an uninhabited island to poach crabs, he has no idea what he’s getting into. Tangled up in his trap line is another crab trap, one with the body of a woman inside . . .

Enter detective Tracy Crosswhite, still recovering from the events of previous novels. Crosswhite, who has a soft spot for young female murder victims after the death of her sister, is determined to find out who killed this woman and stuffed her body in a crab trap in Puget Sound. But identifying the victim turns out to be only the beginning. The more Crosswhite learns about the young woman in the trap, the more intricate and convoluted the mystery becomes.

I’m going to come right out and say it: I did not finish this book. The synopsis sounds great, and for the most part the mystery was intriguing. I was getting flashes of “Gone Girl” while reading certain parts. But I just couldn’t get behind Crosswhite as a main character. We just didn’t have any chemistry. Towards the middle of the book, I found myself skipping over page after page of baby-crazy contemplation on her part, and after a while, I just felt that life is too short to keep reading a book I’d lost interest in.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that this is not a good book. A mystery aficionado should give The Trapped Girl a try. I have mixed feelings about this book. I, personally, did not like the main character, and I also don’t crack open mystery novels to hear a central female character pine about wanting a child. Yet the mystery, without the added-on drama, was an interesting one, and one that unfolded in unexpected ways.

So, long story short, I didn’t like this book very much, but I certainly don’t discourage others for giving it a shot.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The Trapped Girl will be available for purchase on January 24th, 2017.