A Grave Matter (Lady Darby Mystery #3)

A Grave MatterA Grave Matter
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780425253694
Series: A Lady Darby Mystery #3
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Pages: 421
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime

Well rats.

It’s over.  I wasn’t ready for it to be over.

A Grave Matter is a mystery first, but almost equally it’s a romance as things come to a head between Lady Darby and Sebastian Gage.  Ms. Huber will always hold a special place in my heart for not dragging this out past the point of painful into inanity.  There’s plenty of conflict between these two but it avoids most of the overused tropes and these two are actually gasp honest and communicative!

I thought the setting fabulously descriptive, although ironically, Edinburgh was the hardest of the locations for me to picture.  The border villages and the Abbey were crystal clear and I could hear the frost crackling under their feet as they transversed the graveyards looking for evidence.  I found myself reading aloud to MT about the first-footers and I was thrilled at the end of the story to read the author’s note about the authenticity of this tradition.  I’m wondering if I can get away with introducing it at our NYE festivities this year.

The plot is delightfully macabre; not scary or graphic and completely fitting with Lady Darby’s background and baggage.  I’ll admit I nabbed the bad guy early on, but I can’t say what gave it away.  Nevertheless, I was never absolutely certain.  I wouldn’t have been surprised had I been wrong.

There might have been some anachronistic narrative; I can’t say for certain, and I think it was almost all in the internal dialogue.  While women for millennia have probably wished at one time or another to throw things at men, it feels too modern when Lady Darby ‘contemplated throwing a shoe at his head.’  I don’t care about this, but others might find it jarring.

But the scene at the end between Lady Darby and Gage made even this pragmatic non-romantic feel a bit mushy.  Considering the chasteness of the period, Ms. Huber is very good at conveying romantic tension.  (To be fair, there’s a LOT of kissing going on; I’m betting more than considered acceptable for the time period.  Go Lady Darbry!)

There are a lot of things I could blather on about that I enjoyed; a GR friend is just now starting The Anatomist’s Wife and I’m more than a little jealous – I wish I had 2 and a bit of these books still ahead of me.  As it is, I’ll be waiting a very long year to catch up with Lady Darby and Gage.

Death Comes to the Village (A Kurland St. Mary Mystery)

Death Comes to the VillageDeath Comes to the Village
by Catherine Lloyd
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780758287335
Series: Kurland St. Mary Mystery #1
Publication Date: November 26, 2013
Pages: 282
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Kensington

A fast, entertaining read I picked up and finished in one day.

A wounded soldier and a rector’s daughter discover strange goings-on in the sleepy village of Kurland S. Mary in Regency England.

The author has a degree in history so I’m taking on faith that this is a historically accurate cozy mystery tale.  Either way I found it to be well-written with both likeable and detestable characters.  I’m pretty sure I liked all the characters I was meant to like; Lucy, the MC, and her sister Anna are modelled after Lizzie and Jane in Pride & Prejudice and I suppose arguments could be made for Major Robert Kurland favouring Darcy.

The setting was sketchy; I didn’t get a clear sense of the village at all, although the rectory and Kurland Manor are both well described.

The plot was good; very good.  I know many readers feel like a murder mystery should have a dead body appear almost immediately.  If you’re the type who is looking for the body to drop, this book isn’t for you; you’re going to be waiting a long time for a corpse to appear.  Instead, this is a very well crafted mystery focussed on the disappearance of two young girls and a rash of thefts taking place in the ‘big’ houses of the village.  The author takes you where she wants you to go, then slowly starts introducing the clues that make it clear things aren’t as obvious as they seem.  I picked up on part of the mystery early, but the bulk of it I didn’t get until Ms. Lloyed wanted me to.

Two things about this book stood out for me, neither of which detracted from my overall enjoyment of the book (much).  The first thing is niggling, really rather trivial: the opening two sentences of the book should be reversed.  The second, and I’m certain this is historically accurate, is the author doesn’t sugar-coat the complete disregard men have for women in this time; how women are truly nothing more than chattel.  It was a rather infuriating theme throughout the story.

I’m under the impression that this is the first in a new series.  If so, I’ll gladly read the second; I’d like to see more of Lucy and Robert and I’d like to see more of what the author is capable of in terms of plotting.

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)

Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: Paperback
Grave MercyGrave Mercy
by Robin LaFevers
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780547628349
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publication Date: April 3, 2012
Pages: 484
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Andersen Press

In the fifteenth-century kingdom of Brittany, seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where she learns that the god of Death has blessed her with dangerous gifts, and a violent destiny.


I just ate this story up with a spoon.

I’ll admit this has sat on my TBR pile for awhile as I was a bit shy about starting such a thick YA book.  But once I picked it up I was loathe to put it back down again.  I’m usually a character driven reader; I can put up with a lot if I connect with the characters.  But I can’t say it was the characters that drew me deeply into the book.  I liked them, don’t get me wrong.  Ismae, Gavriel, The Beast, Anne – all of them characters you want to see come out all right.  But here, it was the story, the palace intrigue, the writing, that sucked me in well and good.  I know absolutely nothing about the time period this book takes place in, so I wasn’t burdened with knowing whether or not there’s any realism, or whether any research was done.  I was just along for the ride.

I didn’t give the book 5 stars because in a sea of villains, it was still obvious to me who the ultimate traitor was.  It didn’t in any way hamper my true enjoyment of the book, but it felt like the author could have hidden the clues a bit better.  I suspect I’m also not the books target audience so perhaps I’m being too harsh a judge.

Grave Mercy is YA really only in the sense that the MC is a 17 year-old.  The writing is oblique enough that I still can’t figure out if anyone was getting lucky or not, so I guess someone could argue that makes it more ‘age-appropriate’.  Although that someone wouldn’t be me.

If you enjoy historicals, and a bit of mythology this is a book that might be worth checking into.

Mortal Arts (Lady Darby Mystery #2)

Mortal ArtsMortal Arts
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780425253786
Series: A Lady Darby Mystery #2
Publication Date: March 9, 2013
Pages: 384
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

No sophomore slump here.  An excellent tale of murder and the evils that men do, that takes place in early 19th century Scotland.

After the events that transpired in The Anatomist’s Wife, Lady Kiera Darby is pulling herself together.  She’s no longer trying to disappear amongst the furniture.  She’s stronger, more willing to stand up for herself and others.

Sebastian Gage is unchanged, although in this book we see more of his true feelings come out – eventually.  He’s starting to open up, but more like a box whose lid hinges have rusted shut and must be worked open, bit by bit, as opposed to a jammed lid that springs open and starts gushing the box’s contents.

That was a horrible metaphor.  I hated creative writing in school, and now it’s clear why.  It’s also clear to me that we’re in for the long haul if we want to see Kiera and Gage together; this is not going to be some combustible romance, but a love that is going to build up over time, tears, and insults, as well as mutual respect and trust that is earned.  With a few kisses thrown in to keep the pulse rate up.

There’s a mystery and a story in this book – at 370 pages there’s room enough for both.  Lady Darby and her family are en route to Edinburg when they are asked to make a stop on the way, to the home of an old friend from Keira and Alana’s childhood (who also happens to be a uni mate of Alana’s husband).  Upon arriving they discover the Lord of the manor, William, missing and presumed dead for the last decade, has been found and rescued from an insane asylum his father secretly committed him to.  William was, at one time, Keira’s art tutor as well as childhood chum; a war hero she had secretly worshipped.  She is invested in doing whatever she can to see him mended.

The book’s mystery, in my opinion, takes a bit of a back seat to the larger story here.  Mortal Arts is also a narrative about the horrors of war, the damage it does to the men fighting it, and the further damage that can happen when the people who are supposed to love them misunderstand the effects on those returning home.  Battle fatigue, shell-shock, PTS, PTSD – whatever name it’s given by whatever generation suffers it, it’s all the same.  We get a front seat view of the damage both the war and the asylum have done to William.  Unless you read a lot of horror, or other graphic fiction, I dare say the scene when Kiera sees William again for the first time is one that will leave an impression, if not raise the hair on your arms.  Ghastly and horrific.  But not really graphic in it’s details – the author allows the reader’s imagination to add the colour and detail (or not) to many of the descriptions.

The mystery surrounds the disappearance of a girl in the village – could William, who’s still suffering ‘episodes’ stemming from the horrors of his incarceration, have been responsible?  Kiera refuses to believe it’s possible for William to hurt any female, but evidence comes to light that he may have murdered a young woman while at the asylum – a fellow ‘resident’ of the facility.  Kiera and Gage agree to investigate the missing woman and find out what really happened before deciding William’s fate.  It’s a good mystery, but not a great one, since I think it’s a rather narrow field of suspects and little doubt as to where the true perpetrator lies.  It’s more about establishing for a fact, William’s innocence and finding evidence that can stand up in legal proceedings.  Because there’s so much else going on, the mystery itself also loses a bit of urgency, but I didn’t mind, as caught up as I was in the other dramas.

The ending was heart-wrenching; no tears, (thank god, I hate crying over books!) but definitely a bit of melancholy when I closed the book.  I found Lady Darby’s reaction to the aftermath felt authentic; I think I would have reacted in much the same manner had I found myself having to suffer similarly.

The last page ends with portents of future investigations and strong use of foreshadowing, which I normally hate, but since I know the third book’s publication date is coming up, I’m not as irritated as I might be.  It’s already on my list of books to buy for July and I’m relieved to see there will be at least two books beyond that; colour me hooked on this series.

The Anatomist’s Wife (A Lady Darby Mystery #1)

The Anatomist's WifeThe Anatomist's Wife
by Anna Lee Huber
Rating: ★★★★
Series: A Lady Darby Mystery #1
Publication Date: February 1, 2016
Pages: 357
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

I read about this book recently here on BookLikes and the combination of the review and the title grabbed my attention enough that I went right out and ordered the book.  I received it this week, and it became my Friday-after-Thanksgiving-and-I’m-not-moving read.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book – at least, I enjoyed it as much as I could considering the murder (this murder isn’t for the feint of heart or those that like their murders cozy – this was gruesome).  This is an example of the type of historical mysteries that hook me; I can get behind these characters and care deeply about what happens to them.

The main character is Kiera, Lady Darby.  She’s the widow with a scandalous, somewhat tragic past.  But not in the typical, clichéd way; I like what the author has done to create this character and to me, it’s very unique.  There’s a bit of wounded bird to her personality, justifiably so, but there are moments where she gives as good as she gets and those moments are gold.  Her sister Alana is fantastically likeable and it’s a breath of fresh air to read a book about sisters who like each other;  I’ve rather been on a run of books with nasty-shrew sisters recently.

Gage, the inquiry agent is perfect for a series worth of fun sexual tension and witty banter. Blond/blue eyed, gorgeous, intelligent and a rogue.  The scenes with Gage and Keira are sometimes fun, oftentimes sweet and always leaving me wanting to read more.  I love that Keira is a widow, we get to skip all that innocent-lamb-must-be-chaperoned stuff that comes with women who’ve not yet been married.

The rest of the characters are all vividly written and easy to distinguish, although I’ll admit at first to being worried about keeping all the Lords, Marquis, and Earl’s straight.  Luckily, in such a large house party, only a handful were serious suspects and it became much easier to keep them all straight.

As to the murder plot, I never had any idea who it was.  It wasn’t just a matter of who wanted the victim dead, but who would go to such lengths?  This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill murder.  I didn’t start to put it all together until Keira did, and that’s always fun when it happens.  I don’t mind guessing early if the characters are worth reading about, but not figuring it out until I’m supposed to?  Well that’s just the best possible outcome for a murder mystery.

My only beef with the plot:

View Spoiler »

Overall, this was a great book and I’ve already ordered the second in the series.  I couldn’t put it down even though I was exhausted from holiday revelry the day before, so I still stayed up too late last night because I had to know how it ended.  I can’t wait for the next one to arrive.

How did Gage, Phillip and the rest of the rescue party know that Lord Stratford took the three women out into the loch?  I don’t see how Gage had time to find Keira’s note, trace her movements, figure out about the boat, run back and organise another boat and a rescue party, all in time to make that final showdown scene work.  It fails the logic test.

INSERT SPOILER TAG HERE

Overall, this was a great book and I’ve already ordered the second in the series.  I couldn’t put it down even though I was exhausted from holiday revelry the day before, so I still stayed up too late last night because I had to know how it ended.  I can’t wait for the next one to arrive.

Window on the Square

Window on the SquareWindow on the Square
by Phyllis A. Whitney
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1962
Pages: 297
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Suspense
Publisher: Appleton-Century-Crofts

 

This was one of the first ‘adult’ books I’d ever read, one of my mothers favorites. I love the story, even though it’s not my usual fare.

Ms. Whitney does a brilliant job of writing characters that come alive – from the prim and proper Megan, to the mercurial Brandon, and the dark and forbidding Garth. I’ve read this story again and again over the years, wearing out the paperback until it is in pieces and held together with a rubber band. I upgraded to the hardcover version so I can keep on re-reading this book – it stands up very well over time.

If you like a ‘dark’ (kind of gothic) cozy, I think you’ll enjoy reading this oldie but goodie.

India Black and the Widow of Windsor (Madame of Espionage #2)

I really enjoy this series – what’s not to like about a brothel madam that becomes a spy for her majesty? I love the repartee between her and French, her partner in spying. I love India’s sass and wit and her pragmatic outlook to life.  

 

This book, the second one in the series, takes place in Scotland at Balmoral castle. Generally, I’m not a fan of ‘away’ mysteries, since I usually have to adjust to a new cast of characters, but this one simply relocates the entire cast to Balmoral for the duration. India goes undercover as a personal maid for a Marchioness who is rather eccentric. There are scenes with this woman that had me absolutely laughing out loud – one involving pepper that forced me to put the book down for a moment, I was laughing so hard. Truly these are Stephanie Plum-worthy scenes, although the book itself could hardly be compared to J. Evanovich’s popular series.  

 

The book ends with some intriguing hints to future character developments and I look forward to the next book.