Provided for Review: The Girls with No Names by Serena Burdick

Not far from Luella and Effie Tildon’s large family mansion in Inwood looms the House of Mercy, a work house for wayward girls. The sisters grow up under its shadow with the understanding that even as wealthy young women, their freedoms come with limits. When the sisters accidentally discover a shocking secret about their father, Luella, the brazen older sister, becomes emboldened to do as she pleases.

With rebellion comes consequences, and one morning Luella is mysteriously gone. Effie suspects her father has made good on his threat to send Luella to the House of Mercy and hatches a plan to get herself committed to save her sister. She has however made a mistake, and with no one to believe her story, Effie’s escape from the House of Mercy seems impossible—unless she can trust an enigmatic girl named Mable. As their fates entwine, Mable and Effie must rely on each other and their tenuous friendship to survive.

This book was provided for review by NetGalley. Thank you!

Trigger Warnings: Infidelity, Mentions of rape, Teenage pregnancy, Racial slurs (Specifically the word “gypsy”)

“The times they are a-changin’…” So goes the line in the song by Bob Dylan and so goes the overall theme in Serena Burdick’s The Girls with No Names.

Told from the point of view of a variety of individuals, The Girls with No Names is a story about change. The changes that come with age, that come with knowledge, that come with the inevitable march of time. Events that change the way one sees the world regardless of how large or small it is.

As it is primarily set in the early 1910’s, the way of thinking of some characters might be off-putting for some. When Effie and Luella come across the Romani camp in the beginning of the book, they are enamored of the “other” ness of the group. There is a sense of playing with the forbidden when the girls continue to visit the camp even after their parents express their distaste. It is something that comes up again when the girls’ Grandmother complains of “foreigners” taking over the city.

I personally found myself captivated by each individual characters story in this book. Each woman is connected to the others in numerous ways – by blood, by love, by circumstance. Each connection bringing another layer to the story until it is a veritable tapestry.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Girls with No Names and was able to finish the book in just two days. While there is some difficult subject matter, I found it to be written about in a way that sensitive without being overly so.

Readers who are looking for well written female characters are likely to enjoy this book. I recommend they give it a go.

Warlock Holmes – My Grave Ritual (Warlock Holmes #3) by G.S. Denning

As they blunder towards doom, Warlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson find themselves inconvenienced by a variety of eldritch beings. Christmas brings a goose that doesn’t let being cooked slow it down; they meet an electricity demon, discover why being a redhead is even tricker than one might imagine, and Holmes attempts an Irish accent. And, naturally, Moriarty is hanging around… in some form or other. 

My Grave Ritual by G.S. Denning is the third book in the ever popular Warlock Holmes series. In it, Denning once again takes the much loved Conan Doyle stories and gives them a macabre and monstrous twist that would do horror authors like H.P. Lovecraft proud.

Much like the original stories, these are also told from the point of view of Dr. Watson. One story however is from the crayon scribbled journals of Warlock Holmes, giving us an insight in to the mind of such a unique character. Funnily enough, aside from how the story ends, Denning’s version strays very little from the original Doyle version.

While some characteristics of both Holmes and Watson have been switched around, one thing does remain true. And that is how highly Holmes and Watson regard one another. How much each man cares for the other, both as a friend and as a work partner.

So far I have been greatly enjoying reading the adventures of Warlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Mr. Denning has done a lovely job of giving us readers a new version of these characters while still staying true to what makes them unique. I look forward to reading further stories of these two and seeing what kind of mischief and mayhem they get in to next.

The Alchemist’s Daughter (A Bianca Goddard mystery) by Mary Lawrence

This review was originally published August 4, 2015.

Ask a school aged student what their favorite subject is, and more likely than not their answer will be anything other than “History”. There are those young students who do enjoy history, but for the majority it isn’t until we become adults that the subject holds any interest. This certainly holds true for myself, dear reader. Only as an adult have I found the subject interesting.

The Alchemist’s Daughter is a novel set in a time which I have found interest in – 16th Century London. The time of the reign of Henry VIII, a most turbulent time. In it, we meet Bianca Goddard, an intelligent young woman who uses her knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs to create remedies for the very poor in the Southwark slums where she lives. When her friend Jolyn comes complaining of stomach pains, the usual remedy doesn’t ease the pain but instead kills Jolyn on the spot. Trying to recover from the shock, Bianca begins to suspect that Jolyn was poisoned long before, something the local constable doesn’t seem ready to believe.

In order to keep herself out of the gallows, Bianca must try and find the real murderer. Using her knowledge as well as relying on help from those around her she needs to stay one step ahead and find out who killed her friend before time runs out.

The reviews on Amazon are mixed for this book, and I have to admit my feelings towards it are the same. On the whole, the book itself is fairly enjoyable. A dramatic tale with a variety of characters makes for a good read. The more casual history fan will like this book but the more ardent student will likely find problems. Characters speak more “modern”ly with only the occasional word or phrase from the time thrown in. Outfits, ideas, and even food and drink from a variety of eras form a sort of mish-mash that comprise parts of the novel.

Bianca, as well as the other main characters of the novel, were somewhat interesting. Bianca herself reads as the beautiful yet plucky heroine, constantly overlooked but determined to make her mark. Others seemed more like caricatures instead of full fleshed out persons, right down to the exasperated boyfriend. For me, the only character that I found truly worth wondering about was the mysterious cloaked rat catcher who showed up on occasion. Who was he and what was he doing? I found myself questioning his motives more than the main characters.

I wouldn’t call The Alchemist’s Daughter a light, fluffy read since the subject matter is far from it. It is however for the more casual reader and those who are real sticklers for historical accuracy should stay away. A decent read but I doubt I’ll be searching out any other books in this series.

On Night’s Shore (Edgar Allen Poe #1) by Randall Silvis

Standing on the grimy banks of the Hudson River, street urchin Augie Dubbins spots a young woman toss her baby into the water, then jump in herself. As the only witness to the tragedy, Augie sees an opportunity to make a few pennies recounting the events, and in doing so encounters a struggling young journalist named Edgar Allan Poe, a poet and newspaper hack whose penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time has earned him more than a few enemies.

When the unlikely duo discover the body of yet another young woman shortly after, they become entrapped in a mire of murder, greed, and power that stretches from the Five Points slums to the gleaming heights of Fifth Avenue.

Trigger Warnings – mentions of assault, mentions of sexual assault, mentions of abortion, mentions of incest

On Night’s Shore by Randall Silvis is a fictional account of real events.

Much like Edgar Allen Poe, Randall Silvis has a way with words. Whether this is a good or bad thing is completely up to the reader. The writing felt like Silvis had sat down with a dictionary picking as many large words as possible. It was more than a little disconcerting especially when one considers that the narrator is a street urchin.

Once one has become more comfortable with Mr. Silvis’ writing style, then it is easy to enjoy the story itself. It is easy to become drawn into the narrative and to follow along as Poe gathers information. And much like the detective C. Auguste Dupin, Poe’s genius is evident as he pieces the clues together.

This is the first book I have read by Randall Silvis. As a fan of Edgar Allen Poe, finding a novel with the famed author as the main character was a treat. I enjoy a good murder mystery and was hoping to enjoy this particular story.

It pleases me to say that I enjoyed reading On Night’s Shore very much. And it is one that I would recommend to my readers.

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

Review originally published February 2015

Like I have said before, I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes. I have read all the original stories and am currently enjoying the influx of new novels. Needless to say, when I saw this book bearing the title of Holmes’ nemesis, I was greatly intrigued.

Mere days have passed since Holmes’ and Moriarty have their final confrontation at Reichenbach Falls. Frederick Chase, an investigator from the infamous Pinkerton’s Detective Agency in New York arrives in Switzerland. There he meets Inspector Anthelney Jones from Scotland Yard, sent there to investigate and confirm Moriarty’s death.

Upon their meeting, Chase brings a dire warning: with Moriarty’s death a rather large vacancy has been left in London’s criminal underworld. While there is no shortage of candidates to fill the role, there is one particularly fiendish and cruel individual that Chase is after.

Joining forces, the two men travel from Switzerland to London in pursuit of this new threat. They must track down a man who has never been seen and is spoken of only in whispers and who is determined to take Moriarty’s place as his successor.

Moriarty is the second novel by Anthony Horowitz to sanctioned by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate; and it is with good reason. In the novel Holmes’ world of Victorian London seems to come alive as Jones and Chase traverse its streets. Even those unfamiliar with the city of London will find themselves able to envision the settings in their mind.

Jones and Chase themselves are very interesting characters. Fans of the original Holmes’ stories will recognize Inspector Chase from ‘The Sign of Four’. Hating how he was portrayed in the published story, Chase becomes a devoted student of Holmes’ methods of deductions. He seeks to style himself as potentially Holmes’ successor just as he tries to find Moriarty’s successor. He delves in to his work much like Holmes’ does; head first and damned the consequences. Naturally this creates strife with his family and with his co-workers at Scotland Yard.

Chase is seemingly the penultimate Pinkerton Detective. Intelligent and headstrong he brings his own knowledge of the American criminals to London. He and Jones work well side by side as they try to solve a rather bizarre case.

Rare is the book, dear reader, that leaves me completely speechless by the end. Moriarty joins the rather short list that does just that. Now I will not spoil precisely what exactly left me so shocked, just know that while the entire book was a true page-turner it was those final few chapters that held me entirely entranced. With the final reveal and the final page, all I could say was “Oh wow…”

Well done Mr. Horowitz, well done.

Provided for Review: A Royal Kiss & Tell (A Royal Wedding #2) by Julia London

Every dashing young man in London’s ton is vying for Lady Caroline Hawke’s hand—except one. Handsome, delectable roué Prince Leopold of Alucia can’t quite remember who Caroline is, and the insult is not to be tolerated. So, Caroline does what any clever, resourceful lady of means would do to make sure a prince remembers her: sees that amusingly risqué morsels about Leo’s reputation are printed in a ladies’ gossip gazette…all the while secretly setting her cap for the rakish royal.

Someone has been painting Leo as a blackguard, but who? Socially, it could ruin him. More important, it jeopardizes his investigation into a contemptible scheme that reaches the highest levels of government in London. Now, Leo needs Lady Caroline’s help to regain access to society. But this charming prince is about to discover that enlisting the deceptively sweet and sexy Lady Caroline might just cost him his heart, his soul and both their reputations…

This book was provided for review by the publisher through NetGalley. Thank you!

It is very rare for me to not actually finish a book. It is even more rare when the book was provided with the intent to read and review it here. It saddens me when this happens, especially when the author is one I have read and enjoyed before.

Sadly, such is the case with A Royal Kiss & Tell by Julia London. I jumped at the opportunity to read and review one of Ms. London’s books as I have enjoyed many of them. Unfortunately, I made a little more than a quarter in to the book before I had to set it aside.

As always, Ms. London’s writing is quite well done. The scenes she sets up pull the reader in and it is easy to picture the action as it is happening. She has an ability to make the words jump from the page and to take the reader along for the ride.

My issue is with the characters themselves, especially Lady Caroline. She is a lady and yet her manners would claim otherwise. While she can be kind to most every one she meets, she often talks without caring if she is welcome or not. She also comes across as quite vain and shallow, taking great offense when those around don’t agree with her opinions of her own beauty.

Prince Leopold is thankfully a little better. While he finds Lady Caroline lovely to look at, he also finds her irritating with her apparent lack of manners. He chides her foolishness and spars with her in words. Being the second son, he is the “spare” to his elder brothers “heir”, a position he seems content with.

From some of the other reviews I have seen of A Royal Kiss & Tell, there are certain plot points that are not dealt with very well. They are supposedly dealt with in a ham-handed manner and often feel forced. I did not make it far enough in to the book to come across these particular sub-plots, so I cannot make any comments on to how they were written.

I have long been a fan of the author, Julia London. Having read numerous books by her, I have enjoyed many of them. While I personally did not enjoy reading A Royal Kiss & Tell, I will encourage other readers to give it a try. Just because it wasn’t for me does not mean it won’t be perfect for someone else.

Provided for Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Undead Client by M.J. Downing

Sherlock Holmes has only been deceased a month when Dr. John Watson, still grieving, recounts his final case with Holmes.  A terrifying mystery, it sends Watson and Holmes into the dark reaches of London’s back alleys – and the human soul. 

It begins when Anne Prescott, a lovely Scottish nurse, begs Sherlock Holmes and Watson to help her find her fiancé and her sister, who have gone missing in the teeming streets of London. Immediately, Watson feels an attraction to her that shocks him. Newly married to Mary, and deeply in love with her, he struggles to put Anne out of his mind.

As Watson and Holmes dig into the slums and sewers of London looking for Anne’s fiancé and sister, they uncover a deadly web of bloody murders, horrific medical experiments, and even voodoo ritual that threatens not only London, but the entire British empire, and beyond.

Watson must call on his unique combination of expertise in the medical sciences, as well as his military training to stop this killer before London —and Anne — are lost to the killer’s bloody plan.

But time is short and the mystery ever more complex. How can he manage his feelings for Anne? What about his loyalty to Mary? He can’t have both.

This book was provided for review by Netgalley. Thank you!

If it hasn’t occurred to my readers by now, I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes. I have read all of the original Conan Doyle tales countless times and continue to enjoy them. I am also one who is more than happy to read other author’s stories starring my favorite detective. And while yes, I will admit, that it is often hit or miss with the books, I still enjoy it.

Unfortunately my dearest readers, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Undead Client is one of those that is a miss.

A great majority of readers are familiar with fan-fiction, and with that they are generally familiar with the term “Mary-Sue”. The term refers to a female character who is absolutely perfect in every way. She is incredibly smart and exceptionally beautiful, whatever task she attempts to do she is almost immediately proficient. And in almost every case she meets a tragic end.

The character of Anne Prescott is, in my mind, such a character. She comes to Holmes and Watson seeking their help in finding her missing fiance as well as her missing sister. At first, her interactions with Holmes and Watson are fairly standard – she is trying to help them find her loved ones after all. Soon though characterization goes a bit sideways and both Holmes and Watson become almost caricatures.

About halfway through Holmes expresses a wish to be more like Anne Prescott with her strength of character. I thought this was completely out of character for him as he had never wanted to be anyone else but himself. Also, about two-thirds of the way through, Anne seduces Watson and causes him to cheat on Mary. Again, this is quite out of character as in canon Watson professed how much he cared for Mary several times.

Aside from the mis-characterization, the writing itself is often over melodramatic to the point where it almost becomes purple. I understand that Downing was trying to capture the particular writing style of Conan Doyle’s Watson but like most everything else, I found it profoundly lacking.

If this book was about original characters fighting zombies in Victorian England, I would be more inclined to give it a better rating. However, because this is book is centered on the well known characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, I must rate it accordingly and advice my readers to skip it entirely.

The Watchmaker's Daughter (Glass and Steele #1) by C.J. Archer

India Steele is desperate. Her father is dead, her fiancé took her inheritance, and no one will employ her, despite years working for her watchmaker father. Indeed, the other London watchmakers seem frightened of her. Alone, poor, and at the end of her tether, India takes employment with the only person who’ll accept her – an enigmatic and mysterious man from America. A man who possesses a strange watch that rejuvenates him when he’s ill.

Matthew Glass must find a particular watchmaker, but he won’t tell India why any old one won’t do. Nor will he tell her what he does back home, and how he can afford to stay in a house in one of London’s best streets. So when she reads about an American outlaw known as the Dark Rider arriving in England, she suspects Mr. Glass is the fugitive. When danger comes to their door, she’s certain of it. But if she notifies the authorities, she’ll find herself unemployed and homeless again – and she will have betrayed the man who saved her life.

The Watchmaker’s Daughter is the first book in C.J. Archer’s Glass and Steele series. Like most first books in a series, it’s primary purpose is to introduce the readers to the characters of the series as well as give them a feeling for the universe they live in. For Glass and Steele, on the surface the characters reside in Victorian era London. But further reading shows that there is more beneath the surface.

Like in her other books, Archer has done a good job in creating a universe that is both familiar and new. As this particular series is to be set in Victorian England, not as much time is spent world building as Victorian England is already a fairly well known time period. What was disappointing though was that while there is supposedly magic in this universe, it is hardly mentioned.

Another thing I found disappointing was how little time was spent on some of the characters. More than enough time is spent on Mr. Glass and Miss Steele; not surprising since these two are the main characters of the series. But as far as the rest of Glass’ crew – these individuals that are his close friends and that he supposedly trusts with his life? Very little is given on them aside from physical descriptions and barely a hint towards any kind of back story. It is my hope that in future books this is rectified and these incredibly interesting characters are given more page time.

For the first book in a series, The Watchmaker’s Daughter does pretty well. It offers enough story to stand alone while hinting at possible future plots. The main characters are interesting without being too cliched and the slow burn romance between them is a nice treat. At current count there are over 10 books in the series and I’ll slowly but surely be making my way through them.

Provided for Review: Five Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Maurice Barkley (Edited by David Taylor)

Five new short stories for fans of Sherlock Holmes!

1 – Children are disappearing mysteriously from the streets of London. The only clue is a strange old woman who is seen shortly before the children disappear. Who is she and what does she have to do with the missing kids?

2 – Two sisters and their half brother beseech Holmes to help them with a riddle their father left behind. Will Holmes agree when he realizes what the adult children are truly after?

3 – A train disappears in to seemingly thin air between one village and the next. Just as strangely as it disappeared, it reappeared three years later. How could something so strange happen?

4 – Mycroft Holmes seeks the aid of his younger brother in a unique case. Top level politicians are being blackmailed by someone who has photographs of high level secret contracts. In a room with no windows and only one door, just how did this person get these photos?

5 – An abandoned moving cart and horses is found on the London docks. Beside it lies a man dead, his chest crushed by some unknown force. With no clues pointing to who the man was or what was in the cart, how is Holmes expected to solve this one?

This book was provided for review by The Write Reads and by the author. Thank you!

I have said it once and I will say it again, I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes. So when I am offered the opportunity to read new stories featuring the great detective, I eagerly agree.

5 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Maurice Barkley is one such collection. Originally published separately, this is the first time the stories have been combined in one compendium.

Personally, I greatly enjoyed reading these stories. Barkley has done a very good job in capturing the ‘voice’ of the original tales. His writing is very much like Conan Doyle’s as is his portrayal of both Watson and Holmes. This is especially true in the second story – The Legacy of Doctor Carus – where Barkley not only shows Holmes’ serious side but also his more mischievous side, something that is not often seen even in the original tales.

As these are all short stories, every one is a quick and delightful read. It would be quite easy to finish the whole book in an afternoon though I do recommend the reader take it slowly and see if they can figure out whodunnit before Holmes and Watson can.

For fans of the great detective (like myself) I urge them to give these stories a try.

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller (translated by Philip Boehm

Romania—the last months of the Ceausescu regime. Adina is a young schoolteacher. Paul is a musician. Clara works in a wire factory. Pavel is Clara’s lover. But one of them works for the secret police and is reporting on all of the group.

One day Adina returns home to discover that her fox fur rug has had its tail cut off. On another occasion it’s the hindleg. Then a foreleg. The mutilated fur is a sign that she is being tracked by the secret police—the fox was ever the hunter.

Images of photographic precision combine into a kaleidoscope of terror as Adina and her friends struggle to keep mind and body intact in a world pervaded by complicity and permeated with fear, where it’s hard to tell victim from perpetrator.

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter is one of those books that it is quite difficult to write a review for. Simply because – at least for me – the book itself is quite difficult to describe. Told in a lyrical kind of prose, the book has a stream of consciousness feel to it. Müller puts so much attention in the settings, bringing them in to such sharp focus, that the human characters fade in to the background.

Looking at other reviews over on Goodreads, I find that I am not alone in my opinions. There are just as many there who are like me, who just do not “get it” when it comes to this book. Likewise, there are a goodly number who sing its praises. The Fox Was Ever the Hunter did win a Nobel Prize, so there is that as well.

Perhaps much of what makes this book appealing is lost in translation. Perhaps I am just too dense to understand.