Review: Jennifer Ashley’s THE SECRET OF BOW LANE (Below Stairs Mystery #6)

Secret_Bow_LaneHmmm, it looks like my favourite Below Stairs mystery, Death In Kew Gardens, has a rival in The Secret of Bow Lane. While I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the “ensemble cast” of characters, especially the butler Mr. Davies and assistant cook, Tess, The Secret of Bow Lane gave us more of Kat Holloway’s and Daniel McAdam’s backstories and brought them closer together. It was most pleasurable to read. In contrast to A Death at the Crystal Palace, the mystery held together, with a consistent, cohesive sequence of revelations leading to the resolution.

The Secret of Bow Lane refers to Kat’s childhood home, as well as where she was bamboozled by her bigamist husband and where she had her lovely baby, Grace, now baby no longer, but a perspicacious lady of eleven. She and Daniel McAdam call on Kat’s closely-held heartstrings and, at least in this latest volume and to the reader’s great delight, loosen them. But first, the back-cover blurb for clarity:

In Victorian-era London, amateur sleuth and cook Kat Holloway must solve a murder to claim an inheritance she didn’t know she had (more…)

Once more: audiobook review of Audrey Magee’s THE COLONY

ColonySince Magee was nominated for the Booker Prize, I thought I’d re-post this audiobook review of the nominated title.

I didn’t know what I was getting when I started listening to Audrey Magee’s The Colony and, to be honest, I was leery, having read “somewhere” that her prose is lyrical and breaks down, in a good way I assume was suggested, from the weight of her weighty themes. What I listened to, however, was less experimental, more compelling and thought-provoking. Because listening doesn’t come as easily as silent reading, I workd hard to follow the events and understand the characters. Stephen Hogan’s narration was excellent, clear, articulated, and with a particularly engaging gruffness to Magee’s Englishman painter, known only as Mr. Lloyd. (more…)

Mini-Review: Jennifer Ashley’s DEATH AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE (Below Stairs Mystery #5)

Death_at_the_Crystal_PalaceI’m glad to be caught up with Ashley’s Below Stairs mysteries with Death At the Crystal Palace in anticipation of #6, The Secret Of Bow Lane, whose premise sounds most intriguing and is set to be out next week. As always, Ashley’s amateur-sleuth-below-stairs-cook, Kat Holloway, is a wonderful heroine, but as with most mystery series I follow, it’s also the ensemble of characters around the central figure I love. This is no less true of Kat and her crew of sleuthing “aides”.

In this latest volume, there are two mysteries, tenuously connected, and somewhat half-baked, both of them. In Death at the Crystal Palace, Kat is tasked with discovering who is poisoning Lady Covington, the Bywaters’ neighbour where Kat is cook, all the while becoming embroiled in Daniel McAdam’s “police work” trying to bring to light who is bankrolling Irish rebel assassins. But it’s the friendships and potential love interests that see me love and follow the series, and especially because Kat’s “crew” are all infused with goodness, care, and the desire to bring justice (Kat, who never sees a wrong she doesn’t want to redress, address, or redeem). (They’re also quite funny.) Kat always finds the good in others, even when they’ve committed evil deeds and, were is just for that, Ashley has penned a wonderful heroine. (more…)

Review: Allison Montclair’s THE UNKEPT WOMAN (Sparks and Bainbridge Mystery #4)

Unkept_Woman…and possibly my favourite of the series (#1 is marvellous too). Montclair takes the narrative threads set up in book one, The Right Sort of Man, and brings them to some resolution. In The Unkept Woman, Iris Sparks finally reckons with her past and Gwen Bainbridge gains in strength and resolve, which go a long way to bring her closer to regaining custody of her finances and son (as we learn from book one, Gwen had what would be deemed in post-war England a “nervous breakdown” and was declared “incompetent” [legal term] losing custody of her son, Ronnie, and finances, given over to her conservative, draconian in-laws. Gwen’s emotional collapse came at the death of her husband, Ronald Bainbridge, in WWII). But in the latest volume, Sparks’ past returns: she is the eponymous “unkept woman”, having broken off from the married man she’d been having an affair with, on and off, during and post war-time intelligence training and action. But things are more complicated than what I’ve described so far. (more…)

Recent Summer Reading

Even though I’m on summer holidays, it’s been a busy two weeks, catching up on various appointments and cleaning and decluttering house. I never have time for spring cleaning, so it’s always put off to the summer. Nevertheless, as the city empties and days shorten, despite the hot weather, snatching a half hour on the deck with a book is my go-to relaxation time. Recently, I read two books, one distinctly unrelaxing but worthy and the other, most relaxing, the 4th in a Victorian murder-mystery series: Judy Batalion’s The Light of Days: Women Fighters of the Jewish Resistance and Jennifer Ashley’s Murder In the East End. (more…)

Review: C. S. Harris’s WHEN BLOOD LIES (Sebastian St. Cyr #17)

When_Blood_LiesI’m elated C. S. Harris continues to give us a St. Cyr mystery annually and that I can devote uninterrupted time to reading it because it’s summer holidays for this schoolmarm! And #17, When Blood Lies, did not disappoint; au contraire! I think it’s one of the best of the series, mainly because Harris finally arrives at completing certain story arcs she’s carried over the entire series. And, in her clever way, still leaves us with unanswered questions and the possibility of further revelations. Nevertheless, it still felt like we arrived at a new place for one of our favourite investigating couples, Sebastian and Hero, his wife. Be warned: if you haven’t read the series and wish to, some of the discussion to follow may spoil it for you, so read from book #1 and come back! (more…)

Audiobook Review: Roni Loren’s FOR YOU AND NO ONE ELSE (Say Everything #3)

For_You_No_One_ElseI knew I was taking a gamble listening to Roni Loren’s For You and No One Else for two reasons: one, I’ve struggled getting through a romance at all these days; and, two, I did not enjoy the first in the series, Yes and I Love You. I can’t say anything about #2 because, having been burned by #1, I didn’t read, or listen to it. And that’s the main reason why I settled on this one: I could listen to it, maybe that would help get some of my romance mojo back. It did and it didn’t. I enjoyed it, think it’s likely the best of the series, can safely assume contemporary romance fans will enjoy it, but I still grew impatient with the genre’s flaws and won’t be rushing out to read as much romance as I used to. But maybe, just maybe, I can take the genre in small doses, preferably aurally. 

To start, for some background and context, the novel’s blurb:

“Eliza Catalano has the perfect life. So what if it actually looks nothing like the story she tells online? As a therapist, it’s part of her job to look like she has all the answers, right? But when she ends up as a viral “”Worst Date Ever”” meme, everything in her Instagram-filtered world begins to crumble.

Enter the most obnoxiously attractive man she’s ever met—and a bet she can’t resist: if she swears off social media for six months, Beck Carter will teach her the wonders of surviving the “”real world.”” No technology, no dating apps, no pretty filters, no BS.

It seems like the perfect deal—she can lay low until her sudden infamy passes, meet some interesting new people, and maybe even curate this experience into a how-I-quit-the-online-dating-racket book along the way. But something about Beck’s raw honesty speaks to Eliza in ways she never expected. She knows he’s supposed to be completely hands-off…but as complex feelings grow and walls come tumbling down, rough-around-the-edges Beck may be exactly what Eliza needs to finally, truly face herself—and decide who she really wants to be.” (more…)

Audiobook Review: Audrey Magee’s THE COLONY

ColonyI didn’t know what I was getting when I decided to listen to Audrey Magee’s The Colony and, to be honest, I was leery, having read “somewhere” that her prose is lyrical and breaks down, in a good way I assume was suggested, from the weight of her weighty themes. What I listened to, however, was less experimental, but more compelling and thought-provoking. Because listening doesn’t come as easily as silent reading, I had to work hard to follow the events and understand the characters. Stephen Hogan’s narration was excellent, clear, articulated, and with a particularly engaging gruffness to Magee’s Englishman painter, known only as Mr. Lloyd. (more…)

I Read Jo Baker’s LONGBOURN

LongbournI’m almost scared to write another gushing review: what is happening that I can’t discern anything negative in my last five reads, stellar all?!

Jo Baker’s Longbourn, the story of Pride and Prejudice‘s barely-glimpsed servants, manages to stay true to Austen’s romance and create a world, characters, and stories running parallel to the original and yet wholly unique. It is quite the achievement, both homage and uniquely itself, beautifully written and with only, at most, one forgiveably faltering section.

One of Longbourn‘s greatest strengths is its rich characterization of servitude’s silent shadows: Mrs. and Mr. Hill, the two housemaids, Sarah and Polly, and footman, James Smith, how their lives intertwine in profound and interesting ways, how fully-formed their stories are, for example, the as lovely-if-quieter romance between Sarah and James as the ones occurring “upstairs”. I also loved how Baker made Wickham more villainous than he appears in P&P, but in keeping with what we learn about him via Austen. Ultimately, however, it is in the richness, the tragedy and joy, of the servants’ inner lives and relationships that the novel’s strengths lie.     (more…)

I Read Mick Herron’s SLOW HORSES (Slough House #1)

Slow_HorsesGah, this was good; I devoured it in a two days. After the first chapter, I promptly ordered the series. I am a sucker for good writing: clever, adept, no gimmicks, nothing *shudders* lyrical, clean, direct, and sarcastically witty, “noir-ish” dialogue. Herron’s writing is all of these things and equal to it is his deft hand at characterization and pacing, no sagging middles, or info-dumps. Everything unfolds in steady detail, BUT Herron also does something de rigueur in crime/thriller/spook fiction: no matter how seedy, rough, or disreputable his spies are, they have a moral core, battered but apparent “when the chips are down”. (I can see from review-blurbs, Herron is likened to Greene and LeCarré; frankly, I find their books a slog, but didn’t have that response to Herron.) 

Speaking of disreputable, the spooks who people Herron’s world are disgraced and exiled, who didn’t cover themselves in glory for “crimes of drugs and drunkenness and lechery; of politics and betrayal; of unhappiness and doubt; and of…unforgivable carelessness” (15). At their head, in the home of the exiles, in Finsbury’s “Slough House”, “an administrative oubliette where, alongside a pre-digital overflow of paperwork, a post-useful crew of misfits can be stored and left to gather dust,” (16) Jackson Lamb reigns, an overweight, lumbering slob with reserves of sly cleverness, sudden bursts of physical prowess, and a sharp, sarcastic tongue. What we learn is that like his “misfits,” at core, he possesses some, if not spark, glowing ember of moral rectitude. Like Diogenes, with similar unsavory personal-hygiene habits, the greatest cynic is the greatest moralist, disappointed in the world, expecting and finding the worst in humanity, but not in himself, and in Lamb’s case, his disgraced team.      (more…)