Review of "A Grave Matter" (Lady Darby Mystery #3) by Anna Lee Huber

Huber, Anna Lee. A Grave Matter. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2014.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425253694 | 421 pages | Historical Mystery

3 stars

Ugh, another kind-of just-ok installment. A Grave Matter does fix some of the series arc issues of Mortal Arts, but overall, I just wasn’t massively impressed with this one.

The big win is, obviously, the romance coming to fruition, and I’m quite happy there’s some closure earlier on, instead of the increasing trend in mysteries where the two leads pussyfoot around their feelings book after book. There is a great conflict here with Kiera unsure about this growing relationship with Gage, especially given the disaster of her first marriage, and while it’s been done, it’s nive to see that she comes to trust him.

And the idea at the core of the mystery is great. I adore anything to do with the Jacobites, and the tie-in here with the relics of that movement as it was in 1830 is interesting. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about the overall arc of it, with the reveal at the end feels stale and mostly unfulfilling.

I’m undecided at this point what I want to do from here, especially since I seem to be enamored more with Huber’s concepts than her executions, in two different series she’s written. And given that these are somewhat popular books, I would say this could easily be a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” So, give this series a shot if you like historical mysteries, and perhaps you’ll like them more than I did.

Review of "Mortal Arts" (Lady Darby Mystery #2) by Anna Lee Huber

Huber, Anna Lee. Mortal Arts. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2013.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425253786 | 374 pages | Historical Mystery

2.5 stars

Mortal Arts is somewhat of a sophomore slump. That’s not to say that the plot is lacking, and I personally found the deviation from the standard whodunnit format ambitious and decently done, given Huber was still in her early career when this came out.

Minute historical details clearly are important to her, so I’m glad she delved into some interesting, even heartbreaking, ones here, discussing both the effects of PTSD and the foul nature of “lunatic” asylums in the nineteenth century. Will’s story is truly heartbreaking, and while it resulted in a weaker mystery plot overall, with it being incredibly obvious what had happened, I appreciate this different take for the series so early on.

But the characters (with the exception of Will) were so…lacking…in comparison to the first book. While I found the supporting cast engaging in the first book, they kind of seemed to be just…there…this time around. And while I liked Kiera and Gage’s dynamic in the first book once I got into it a bit more, it seemed like they too didn’t have much purpose (aside from Kiera’s connection to Will), so they seemed to butt heads for no reason.

In short, this wasn’t a great installment in the series, and between the lack of engagement and the holiday festivities, I just didn’t feel like I was missing much by putting it off. I think it’s worth reading within the context of the series, in spite of its flaws, and as an exploration of the aforementioned issues. But here’s hoping that the next one is a bit better.

Review of "Echo After Echo" by Amy Rose Capetta

Capetta, Amy Rose. Echo After Echo. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0763691666 | 421 pages | YA Contemporary Romance/Mystery

4 stars

While I’ve only read Amy Rose Capetta’s SFF works so far, I was intrigued by the concept of this f/f murder mystery. And for the most part Capetta is able to move between genres pretty well, with a mystery that comes together at the end (in spite of feeling a bit oddly paced at first) and a romance that’s an absolute delight to read.

Zara and Eli are such great characters, and I rooted for their romance, even though things seemed precarious at times, in a way that has nothing to do with being gay/bi, but rather the commitments of the theater. It’s refreshing to read about an LGBTQ+ relationship that isn’t so bogged down with the questions of sexuality or familial acceptance, and the hurdle is something else completely unrelated. Capetta, as a queer author, is likely aware of this, and I appreciated their commitment to diversify the types of relationships in LGBTQ+ lit.

And it’s rare these days for me to comment on the prose, unless it’s outright insufferable to get through (which is rare), but I love the stylistic choices made with POV and tense here. I was speaking with someone else about how third person, present tense reminded them of a play, and I realized that, intentional or not, this stylistic choice suited the strong presence of the play in the plot, as well as adding to the urgency of the situation.

While the mystery is a bit more understated than I believed going in, being something of an undercurrent in the larger story of Zara being involved in a play, I did enjoy seeing the payoff at the end, when all was revealed.

I really enjoyed this book, especially having a background in theater in school. I think this would be a great book for others who have some experience in the theater, as well as those looking for an engaging f/f story, with a mystery subplot.

Review of "A Madness of Sunshine" by Nalini Singh

Singh, Nalini. A Madness of Sunshine. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Hardcover | $27.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0593099131 | 314 pages | Mystery

4 stars

I was never a fan of Nalini Singh’s romances, in part because the bulk of her work is paranormal and I’m not a fan of the hero archetypes many paranormal authors fall back on, her included, if some of the reviews if I’ve read are to be believed. But when I heard she was releasing a thriller, I was intrigued, especially when I heard that the setting of A Madness of Sunshine was her native New Zealand.

And the setting is one of the immediate strong points. I knew little about the location prior, except a bit about Maori culture and its linguistic connections to Hawaiian in school. So, it was exciting to soak up more about the landscape and language, especially as Singh showed such care in depicting it, including consulting experts to cover her blind spots.

And while there are occasions where the plot moves a little slowly, it’s more or less an engaging thriller. This is one of those mysteries that does get you to question everyone, especially given the long history some of the threads have.

While it’s not a romance, I did enjoy the romance that developed between the two protagonists, Anahera and Will, especially given how they come together in solving the case. Anahera’s personal connection magnifies her determination to find her old friend, as well as solve the case of the hikers who went nissing before she left town. And Will brings an interesting perspective of being a newcomerto town, playing off returning resident Anahera in an interesting way as well.

This is a great first mystery/thriller for Singh, and I hope not the last, especially if she continues introducing international readers to different parts of New Zealand. I recommend this to fans of mysteries with excellent sense of place.

Review of "The Anatomist's Wife" (Lady Darby Myster #1) by Anna Lee Huber

Huber, Anna Lee. The Anatomist’s Wife. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2012.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425253281 | 357 pages | Historical Mystery

4 stars

I waffled for a long time about whether I wanted to read the Lady Darby Mysteries. I had a sneaking suspicion these were better than the standalone Gothic book I had read, but the fatigue with ongoing singular character arc series, especially those with secondary romance plots, had me wary, until I received a recommendation that made me aware that, unlike the ones that were frustrating me, there actually is progress in the romance over the course of the currently available books.

Kiera is a compelling heroine, even if her situation is not unfamiliar to historical readers. I felt for her when it was described how her late husband married her to utilize her artistic talents for his anatomical work, so that he wouldn’t need to hire someone else to do it, and I didn’t blame her for isolating herself after his death, while also applauding her courage when she found herself confronted with a murdered guest at her sister’s house.

Sebastian Gage took longer to warm up to, and I’m not sure how I feel about him due to his arrogance and insistence he be the one in charge of solving the crime, especially having hints of how things turn out between him and Kiera in later books. But I like that, while things start off a little tense, things come to an accord, and there is still room to grow between them, with the romance not feeling rushed, although the possibility is already there.

The resolution to the mystery did feel a little obvious, especially with some key revelations. There is a decent attempt at misdirection, but it becomes increasingly clear who it is. However, there were a few last-minute twists that I felt saved it from feeling a little too predictable.

This is a great first installment in a historical mystery series, and one which I hope will continue to be intriguing. I recommend any historical mystery fan who hasn’t tried this series yet to pick this one up.

Review of "The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek" by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

McLaughlin, Rhett, & Link Neal. The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek. New York: -Crown, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984822130 | 326 pages | Mystery

4 stars

After the success of their autobiographical Book of Mythicality, I wasn’t surprised Rhett and Link were releasing another book, although a novel did seem a little out -of-left-field, even if they were experimented further with more long-form story- based concepts in other media, like their YouTube Premium series. Yet, I tried to go in with few expectations, knowing almost nothing except that they took experience from their childhood as inspiration for this story.

And it ended up being really good, in spite of the odd identity crisis with its marketing, with it feeling sometimes like YA (although I mean that in the best way possible). Rhett and Link, with the help of ghostwriter Lance Rubin, have managed to create a story that is the perfect blend of their humor and a slightly edgier flair that leads the dark turns the plot takes as it’s revealed there’s something sinister going on in Bleak Creek.

And while the two lead male characters, Rex and Leif, are essentially a teenage Rhett and Link, they never feel like over exaggerated self-inserts, but characters based on themselves that have both the recognizable attributes and flaws they have in real life, that also allow the reader to resonate with the characters in-text as much as they do with Rhett and Link in real life. Granted, the self-insertion may not work for everyone, and could result in this not working as a stand-alone piece or the first introduction for a newcomer to Rhett and Link’s material.

However, the supporting cast is also well-drawn, from their friends to the other town residents. The villain has a surprisingly heartbreaking backstory, and while the end does not justify the means, I could relate to his sense of loss and empathize in part with his desire to do what he could to get his loved one back.

This is a fun book that is hopefully the first of many for Rhett and Link (there is minor potenital sequel-bait at the end, so maybe?), and I consider a must-read for all the Mythical Beasts out there.

Review of “Jane Steele” by Lyndsay Faye

Faye, Lyndsay. Jane Steele. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016.

Hardcover | $27.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399169496 | 422 pages | Historical Mystery/Thriller

5 stars

I heard about Jane Steele from BookTuber Jashana C, who raved about this book in a recent video. And the concept immediately intrigued me, particularly in terms of what it meant for Jane’s character, who in spite of her trials and tribulations, was always moral and upright in the original.

And she is an engaging character in Faye’s reimagining, with her narrative once again tackling the role of women in Victorian society (and, in some ways, our own), but instead showing how Jane has the strength to defend herself physically in the face of violence from male figures who exert violence over her or people she cares about.

It also adds further nuance to the power dynamic between Jane and the Rochester character, Charles Thornfield. Whereas the power imbalance in the original was rendered through injury and loss for him, as well as her own gain, they are consistently on even footing due to their respective dark pasts, and this is what brings them together, in a union that feels much more satisfying than the one in the original.

And the way Faye pays tribute both to plot elements from Jane Eyre and, in turn, the autobiographical influences from Charlotte Bronte’s life, is wonderful. From something as small as the naming of the institution Jane is sent to (Lowan Bridge, after Cowan Bridge, where the Bronte sisters were sent as children and Charlotte’s older sisters sickened and died) to the broader plot elements like the bigamous union and the mad wife, I loved all the little touches infused into the story.

This book is truly wonderful, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a dark take on a classic story.

Review of “Swipe Right for Murder” by Derek Milman

Millman, Derek. Swipe Right for Murder. New York: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown and Company, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316451062 | 356 pages | YA Mystery/Thriller

4.5 stars

I never would have found Swipe Right for Murder were it not for cross-promotion of the various “James Patterson Presents” titles on inside pages of one od the other books I was already interested in reading, not to mention further exploration of that page on Patterson’s website, where the blurb for this one caught my attention. But I’m thankful that I did, as I was so taken with the premise of a modernized North by Northwest, following a gay protagonist.

And this is an incredibly fun, fast-paced book, that also somehow manages to get to the heart of the struggle of what it means to be LGBTQ+ in a world that is still not always accepting, with the discourse being present in the news even more so given the positions held by many of the politicians elected into office, a subject this book touches on.

I also really love Aiden as a character. Along with showing admirable emotional maturity in the face of a situation he was essentially thrust in, as well as the baggage of his past, I love that there’s always a sense of hope running through him that he will find happiness and love, after seeing such darkness, even though I’m not sure the romance subplot was necessarily my favorite part of the book.

This is a fun thriller that explores deeper themes of sexuality and homophobia, so while I think it’s a great book for teens, I also think it is relevant and has appeal factors that will appeal to adult readers as well. In any case, anyone who likes a thriller that isn’t afraid to also tackle tough topics is strongly encouraged to give this one a try.

Review of “Capturing the Devil” (Stalking Jack the Ripper #4) by Kerri Maniscalco

Maniscalco, Kerri. Capturing the Devil. New York: Jimmy Patterson Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2019.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316485548 | 452 pages | YA Historical Mystery

3 stars

Capturing the Devil is the weakest in the series–not by much, but the mystery plot in particular is the most underwhelming. On the one hand, I do like the attempt to tie together the series’ mysteries in away not many others do, as far as I’m aware, but by revealing key elements of the identity of the killer in the blurb and some of the promotional material makes the ultimate reveal feel underwhelming.

But while I don’t personally feel the “Holmes is the Ripper” theory holds a lot of wieght, I do feel that the story itself , as a work of pure fiction, it’s fairly solid in terms of how it does use the forensic facts of the murders attributed to each of the killers of make a case for their connectedness.

I found the final solidifying of Audrey Rose and Thomas’ relationship to be the highlight of the book, and it was great to see them get not only some romantic moments, but the happy ending they deserved. However, it was a bit odd to me that out of nowhere his father the duke is mentioned, and some arranged marriage comes out of nowhere. Those things feel like they should have been mentioned earlier, perhaps in book two at the latest when his sister was introduced and his connection to Dracula explored.

On the whole, I finished it feeling more mixed than blown away, but not completely hating it. I would still recommend giving it to a teen reader or someone who isn’t fully aware of the identity of H.H. Holmes yet, because I feel this book could serve as a fun introduction to the case, compete with providing resources for further exploration in the author’s note.

Review of “The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl” (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #3) by Theodora Goss

Goss, Theodora. The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. New York: Saga Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $24.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1534427877 | 436 pages | Gothic Fantasy

5 stars

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl is the final Athena Club adventure, and even though I know the perils of a series overstaying its welcome, I will miss them, especially since I discovered them so recently. But this final installment is jam packed with all the adventure, mystery, friendship, and humor of the last three books, ensuing it does indeed end on an incredibly high note.

What was initially jarring with the first book with the asides from the characters is now my favorite part, especially as the characters’ banter truly shines through there. I also love the constant advertisements for the previous books by Catherine (the in-universe author), not to mention the list of her other works. I now desperately wish they existed.

After the near mammoth size of the previous book, this one is much closer to the length of the first book (about half the length of book two), and it helps the pacing somewhat, in terms of feeling a bit more focused plot-wise. While the introduction of yet more characters and delving into their backstories did sometimes go on a bit longer than I would have preferred, I still felt the overall plot felt more cohesive.

It was great to see how all the characters ended up, and all the little winking nods to Gothic literature and the Victorian era that happened along the way. My favorite has to me the introduction of Dorian Gray and him interacting with Justine.

This is a wonderful conclusion to a fun, genre-bending trilogy. If you love Gothic literature, I very much recommend it.