Book review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock, #2)A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, and I think it is even better than the first. Or, rather, the mystery is even better. The first book suffered (relatively speaking, as it was excellent) from having to set up the characters and the plot to establish the existence of a female Sherlock Holmes, and the mystery component of the book took a back seat as a result. In the second book, with the characters firmly established, the author has the luxury of further developing her characters as well as creating a mystery that is both complex and personal to the characters. The tease of Moriarty’s existence that ended the first book returns in this book, a little more front and center but still a tease.
Historical mysteries have a double burden of creating an interesting mystery and staying authentic to the period. The author has done both here. In addition, what I find so compelling about this series is that Charlotte Holmes’s voice rings so true. The Benedict Cumberbatch line in the “Sherlock” television series about being “a highly functioning sociopath” applies here as well. Charlotte’s intelligence is a relatively easy thing to write about. Charlotte’s thoughts as someone who is on the autism spectrum is not an easy thing to write, and her thoughts come across as genuine and consistent throughout the book. It is masterfully done.
I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, and I am hoping there are more books to come!
The series is best read in order.

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Book review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1)A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The premise for this series is very interesting: it posits that Sherlock Holmes is actually a woman, Charlotte Holmes. In this first of a series, Charlotte deliberately loses her virginity in order to carve out a life as an independent woman. She is rescued from her attempt to earn her own living by a former actress, Mrs. John Watson, who befriends her and invests the seed money for Sherlock/Charlotte Holmes to open up a consulting detective business.
The initial mystery is a murder where Charlotte’s sister is the primary suspect. Charlotte is assisted in her investigation by a police officer and a childhood friend.
The author is wide-ranging in her books, writing everything from romances to fantasy. Her research into Victorian times and the role given to women is impeccable. The premise works–Charlotte may not be a self-described high functioning sociopath in the manner of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes in the BBC television series, but she is definitely not within the mainstream of women or men in Victorian society. The mystery is solidly, if not impressively, plotted, and the characters are well drawn.
I really enjoyed this twist on the Sherlock Holmes genre, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

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Book review: Bonfire Night by Deanna Raybourn

Bonfire Night (Lady Julia Grey, #5.7)Bonfire Night by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the last in the Lady Julia Grey series, and I have been putting off reading it because I don’t want the series to end. I gave the novella 4 stars but would probably more honestly give it somewhere between 3 and 3.5 stars if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the last story. The author wraps up most of the loose ends of the previous novella, but the story reads as if she wants the series to end as well. There isn’t much of a plot, and the characters aren’t as vibrant or witty or full of personality as they have been in previous books.
I very much wish that the series could continue in novel length (novellas being limited in their story-telling by their shorter length) as I think the main characters still have many stories to be told. That being said, if you have not read this series, I highly recommend you start at the beginning and work your way through (including all the novellas). The characters, the quality of the writing, and the mysteries are all beautifully rendered and should not be missed.

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Book review: The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford

The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, #1)The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love the premise of this first in a series of YA mysteries: Ada Byron (the daughter of Lord Byron) and Mary Godwin (the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft) form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency as young girls. Ada is better known as Ada Lovelace, sometimes referred to as the world’s first computer programmer and known as a brilliant mathematician, and Mary is better known as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. The author takes slight liberties with the timeline, having the girls only 3 years apart in age as opposed to 18, but this allows the girls to be contemporaries and friends and allows the author to portray their very different personalities and temperaments.
Other historical personages that make appearances in this book are Charles Babbage, Charles Dickens and Percy Shelley.
In addition to the interesting premise, the mystery is interesting and engaging, and the book is well-written.
If I had to describe the book (and presumably the series), I would say it is similar to the Encyclopedia Brown series but geared towards girls.
The book is a quick read for adults but if you are interested in Ada and Mary and the lives they might have lived, this is the book for you!

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Book review: The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters

The Hermit of Eyton Forest (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #14)The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been slowly but faithfully making my way through this series, which is so wonderful. (I am going to be really sad when I’ve finished them all.) I’ve taken only to reviewing ones that are unusual or resonated with me beyond the normal “I love this series” feeling.
This book is one that stood out, not so much for the quality of the mystery but because it gives great insight into how the medieval world valued honor and loyalty. There isn’t much of the medieval world that I’d trade for what we have today (medical care and standard of living come instantly to mind), but I think we could do well to emulate their code of honor.
At any rate, the musings towards the end of the book of the main characters, Brother Cadfael and Hugh Beringar, about what constitutes loyalty and honor are a good reminder of the values we should all live our own lives by.

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Book review: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #1)Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first experience with the author, and it was an enjoyable one. The book takes place in early 1900s England, which is a period of British history that I usually don’t dabble in (it’s a bit recent for me). However, this was a fun romp of a read. The narrator and main character, Lady Georgiana, is a minor royal and has the worst of both worlds–a family reputation to uphold without any money to do so. She’s spirited, irreverent, bright and with no marketable skills. The queen asks her to do some digging into the relationship between her son, Prince David, and a Mrs. Wallis Simpson. In the course of doing the queen’s bidding, there are multiple attempts to kill Georgie. A mystery ensues that is ably solved by Georgie (with the help of a few coincidences).
I’d call this a fun beach read, except that it’s frigidly cold outside. So call this a lighthearted read, perfect when curled up in your favorite chair in front of the fireplace with a piping hot mug of tea beside you. I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

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Book review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell, #2)A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Profound relief was my first reaction after reading the first half of the book. I was disappointed that one of my favorite authors (whose Lady Julia Grey mystery series I love) had created a heroine that I took an immense dislike to in the first book of the series (“A Curious Beginning”): the know-it-all, smug, and arrogant Veronica Speedwell. In this second installment of the series, Veronica has mellowed out significantly and while still opinionated and sometimes difficult, is *much* more likable and sympathetic. The series is narrated in the first person by Veronica, and in this book, she is more self-aware and less self-absorbed, to the benefit of the reader.
The other main character of the series, Stoker (short for Ravenstoke Templeton-Vane) is also less irascible, more sympathetic, and more likable than in the first book. There is additional information on Stoker’s background, which further rounds out his character.
Oh, and then there’s the mystery. Veronica and Stoker race to clear a man that has been convicted of a murder but that an important person claims is innocent. The mystery is complex, filled with interesting secondary characters (most of them suspects), and well plotted. I will say that the week or so that the main characters have to solve the mystery seems to move rather slowly (that is to say, there seems to be more activity than one might think could be fit into a week), but I wasn’t keeping particular track of the days, and it is possible that the temporal pace of the book might not require any time travel.
This second installment of the series was a TREMENDOUS improvement over the first, and I highly recommend it!

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Book review: The Good Knight by Sarah Woodbury

The Good Knight (Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries, #1)The Good Knight by Sarah Woodbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is the first in a mystery series that takes place in medieval Wales. The characters are interesting, and I always enjoy books where the protagonist is a woman. The secondary characters were well characterized and had sometimes outsized personalities. The author is clearly extremely knowledgeable about the time period and setting. The plot was quite clever, with a last-minute twist that was both unexpected and plausible.
My only issue (but it’s a big issue) is with the writing. The dialogue was flat and two dimensional, and the writing seemed unnecessarily simple. There was not much nuance or subtlety–when a point needed to be made, it was made with a sledgehammer. I would have preferred more deftness in the book.
That being said, I was torn between 3 and 4 stars and decided to give the book 4 stars. The author definitely gets points for writing about a culture and place that doesn’t get enough attention (Wales tends to be overshadowed by its larger neighbor). And I am intrigued enough by the characters to be willing to try the second book to see if the writing matures as the series progresses. I’ll keep you posted! 🙂

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Book review: Where Serpents Sleep by C.S. Harris

Where Serpents Sleep (Sebastian St. Cyr, #4)Where Serpents Sleep by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t always review individual books in a mystery series after the first book, unless one book particularly stands out. This is one of them. The Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries series is set in Regency England but instead of using the frothy tone of most books set during that time period, this series exposes the reader to the dark side of the period.
The reason this particular book stands out (and I’m still working my way slowly through the series) is because of the development of the relationship (if you can call it that) between Sebastian St. Cyr and Hero Jarvis, the daughter of a powerful noble and enemy. In addition, the book examines the issue of prostitution during this era, the assumptions made about the morality of the women who were prostitutes, the different business models, and how they were treated by others. Occasionally, the tone is a tad didactic, but the topic is interesting and well-integrated into the plot. In some ways, the book demonstrates that civilization has not moved forward in its attitude towards prostitutes some 200 years later.
As with my previous review of this series, I highly recommend it!! (The series is definitely best read in order.)

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Book review: Heresy by Sharan Newman

Heresy (Catherine LeVendeur, #8)Heresy by Sharan Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the eighth in the Catherine LeVendeur mystery series. Overall, the series is fabulous. It is fabulous not only because of the depth and accuracy of the historical research but also because the series depicts the lives and conditions of Jews during the Middle Ages. This interesting (and often heartbreaking) perspective is unusual, especially for a mystery series, and fascinating. The author doesn’t presume to apologize for the attitudes she describes (and, indeed, there is no apology needed–facts are facts), nor does she attempt to modernize the characters’ outlook.
This particular mystery is interesting because one of the main characters is Astrolabe, the son of Abelard and Heloise. As someone whose mind is not suited to deep philosophical or theological debate (which I discovered when reading Abelard’s writings for a college course many years ago), I was relieved to learn that neither was Astrolabe’s. 🙂
The mystery itself is not the strongest part of this particular book (historical mysteries often have this issue), but the discussion about the religious factions, Astrolabe (and Heloise’s) places in the world, and the ramifications of the Crusade are knowledgeably described and well-integrated into the story.
The main character, Catherine herself, is a delightfully imperfect person, and the secondary characters–all of whom you have gotten to know throughout the series–continue to grow and deepen.
I highly recommend this series and this book. The series is best read in order.

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