mini-review · sleuthing · stuff I read

A Letter of Mary (Mary Russell #3)

Summary from Goodreads:
In 1923, an amateur archaeologist brings Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes an inlaid box from the Holy Land and then promptly dies in a suspicious traffic accident that leaves the master detective and Mary with an dangerous manuscript seemingly written by Mary Magdalene. 

A very neat little mystery that promises a great deal in the way of theological intrigue and misogyny yet resolves itself in a mundane way. Much to Holmes’s chagrin. How boring for him and a nice change for the reader.

I liked this installment of Mary Russell’s “memoirs”. It continues in Mary’s theological vein, with the arrival of a purported letter from Mary Magdalene where she identifies herself as an apostle, but rather than the death-defying cat-and-mouse games of the first two books it has a bit of a slower pace. Also interesting to learn a bit about the Russell/Holmes marriage.  One of the best scenes was one where Holmes attempts to out-logic his gut reaction to Mary working undercover as a misogynist’s secretary; he views Mary as his partner in deduction, not a subservient wife, yet really has to fight an innate urge to keep his loved one from harm. A slightly-related scene that made me laugh was one where Holmes attempts to cajole Mary into something and she describes her nice warm bed as “invaded” by a cold, bristly male person smelling faintly of cheap gin and strongly of tobacco (I’m paraphrasing, since I don’t have the book to hand but you get the picture); an excellent way to show intimacy between the characters without being graphic.

Dear FTC: I borrowed this from the library.

mini-review · sleuthing · stuff I read

A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell #2)

Summary from Goodreads:
Winner of the Nero Wolfe Award
It is 1921 and Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes’s brilliant apprentice, now an Oxford graduate with a degree in theology–is on the verge of acquiring a sizable inheritance. Independent at last, with a passion for divinity and detective work, her most baffling mystery may now involve Holmes and the burgeoning of a deeper affection between herself and the retired detective. Russell’s attentions turn to the New Temple of God and its leader, Margery Childe, a charismatic suffragette and a mystic, whose draw on the young theology scholar is irresistible. But when four bluestockings from the Temple turn up dead shortly after changing their wills, could sins of a capital nature be afoot? Holmes and Russell investigate, as their partnership takes a surprising turn.

Returning to Mary Russell, I picked up A Monstrous Regiment of Women.  The intersection of Mary’s coming of age with the religious awakening and seeming cluster of deaths made for excellent reading.  Many kudos to Laurie R. King for the amazing sequence where Mary is kidnapped and deliberately re-addicted to opiates in an attempt to knock her off is excellent.  Love the ending.

(Also, this is a beautiful cover for the paperback edition I read.)

mini-review · sleuthing · stuff I read

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Summary from Goodreads:
Flavia de Luce 11 is an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. In the summer of 1950, inexplicable events strike Buckshaw, her decaying mansion home. A dead bird is on the doorstep, a postage stamp on its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man dying in the cucumber patch. His last words must save her father imprisoned for his murder.

Since I’m on a mystery kick, I decided to check out the Flavia de Luce series since the premise – eleven year old intelligent child-sleuth – sounded interesting.  So I borrowed The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie from the library.

This is a fun mystery, quick to read, but I had a bit of trouble with believing Flavia as the narrator.  She is supposed to be intelligent, nerdy, and self-educated but her vocabulary didn’t fit that of a child, let alone one who has extensively in the sciences.  For instance, a metaphor that compared furniture of two different eras/styles using the metaphor of an old man watching a mistress taking off her stockings.  Coming as it does in a chapter where Flavia explores her mother’s room it grates.  Good central mystery, though.  Not going on to the rest of the series now, but one to keep in mind for the future.

mini-review · sleuthing · stuff I read

Beekeeping for Beginners (Mary Russell prequel)

Summary from Goodreads:
In this crackling short story, New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King reveals an unforgettable new twist in the adventure that led supersleuth Sherlock Holmes to discover his first (and finest) apprentice, Mary Russell.

Sherlock Holmes is fending off a particularly dark mood as he roams the Sussex Downs, in search of wild bees. The Great War may be raging across the Channel, but on the Downs, the great detective nears terminal melancholia—only to be saved by an encounter with headstrong, yellow-haired young Mary Russell, who soon becomes the Master’s apprentice not only in beekeeping but in detection.

Holmes instantly spots her remarkable ability, but his sharp eyes also see troubling problems. Why is this wealthy orphan who lives with her aunt so shabbily dressed? Why is she so prone to illness and accident? Is she herself the center of a mystery? These are questions that the great detective must answer quickly lest his protégée, and his own new lease on life, meet a sudden, tragic end.

The tale of their meeting has been told from Russell’s point of view, but even those who have never met the famed Russell-Holmes pair will read this tale with delight—and, as its climax builds, with breathless excitement.

An interesting little story/novella that gives an extra bit of background to Sherlock and Mary’s first meeting in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.  Sherlock’s voice is nice, but there is an unnecessary switch from Holmes’s first person point-of-view to third person (Watson then Mary) before coming back to Holmes. Cute but definitely shouldn’t be read before The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

mini-review · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

The Sandman, Vol 10: The Wake

Summary from Goodreads:
In the final Sandman tale, Morpheus made the ultimate decision between change and death. As one journey for the Endless ends another begins for the Lord of Dreams and his family. All the final pieces come together for the final moments of the Sandman.

The Wake is exactly what it is.  A wake for Morpheus and it brings together in the Dreaming all sorts of characters from different parts of the series.  It definitely wasn’t the strongest in the series – and coming after The Kindly Ones that would be hard – but it had a particularly nice short story for Hob Gadling and Matthew had a lovely speech.  It was nice ending to the series.

mini-review · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

The Sandman, Vol 9: The Kindly Ones

Summary from Goodreads:
The most structurally ambitious of the collections, The Kindly Ones is a single storyline written as a Greek tragedy, with Morpheus as its doomed hero and an aspect of the triad of witches, the Erinyes, as the Greek chorus. It pulls together various threads left dangling throughout the series, notably the grudges against Morpheus of several characters: Hippolyta Hall, whose child, Daniel, was claimed by Morpheus; the witches themselves; the Norse god Loki; the witch Thessaly.

An amazing, sublime climax to the Sandman/Morpheus story arc.  I love how Gaiman created a Greek tragedy wherein the prophecy made and set in motion in earlier volumes with the death of Morpheus’s son, Orpheus, by his own hand (the spilling of family blood as foretold), is finished with terrible retribution by the Erinyes, The Kindly Ones, in this volume.  Haunting.  The art style is a bit different, with thicker black lines so the effect is more like stained glass; I’m not sure I liked it as much as other styles, but it worked.

mini-review · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

The Sandman, Vol 8: World’s End

Summary from Goodreads:
Reminiscent of the legendary Canterbury Tales, THE SANDMAN: WORLDS’ END is a wonderful potpourri of engrossing tales and masterly storytelling. Improbably caught in a June blizzard, two wayward compatriots stumble upon a mysterious inn and learn that they are in the middle of a “reality storm.” Now surrounded by a menagerie of people and creatures from different times and realities, the two stranded travelers are entertained by mesmerizing myths of infamous sea creatures, dreaming cities, ancient kings, astonishing funeral rituals and moralistic hangmen.

The eighth volume of Sandman, World’s End, is an interesting interval in Dream’s main story-line.  I loved the “nesting box” of stories, one within the other all being told in an inn at the crossroads of a reality stream.  Definitely inspired by The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron.  I particularly loved the art styles as I moved from story to story.  Excellent introduction by Stephen King.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (The Rules of Scoundrels #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

The second in the incredible new Rules of Scoundrels series from New York Times bestselling author Sarah MacLean.

Lady Philippa Marbury is odd. The bespectacled, brilliant fourth daughter of the Marquess of Needham and Dolby cares more for books than balls, flora than fashion and science than the season. Nearly engaged to Lord Castleton, Pippa wants to explore the scandalous parts of London she’s never seen before marriage. And she knows just who to ask: the tall, charming, quick-witted bookkeeper of The Fallen Angel, London’s most notorious and coveted gaming hell, known only as Cross.

Like any good scientist, Pippa’s done her research and Cross’s reputation makes him perfect for her scheme. She wants science without emotion—the experience of ruination without the repercussions of ruination. And who better to provide her with the experience than this legendary man? But when this odd, unexpected female propositions Cross, it’s more than tempting . . . and it will take everything he has to resist following his instincts—and giving the lady precisely what she wants.

(I don’t know about this cover copy, though – Pippa’s more than “nearly engaged” at the beginning of the book. The wedding is scheduled.)

[ETA: This is one that I’m very sad to lose the full review from the original post at Brazen Reads – I only have the last full paragraph.  I loved this book so much that I’m not even going to being to be able to reconstitute it.]

Pippa is a character after my own heart.  It aches for her because she believes that no one will truly love her because she’s odd, and scientific, and has glasses.  And for all of us fellow Geek Girls with Glasses:  we’ve been there.  Pippa gets her happy ending because she is herself, no matter how much Society tells her she needs to change (and her dog, Trotula).

Cross is a hero more than equal to her – and he’s a ginger to boot – with a guilt-laden past. He gives Pippa everything she asks for including a scorching seduction scene in which hero and heroine do not touch one another yet the room is almost on fire at the end.

Sarah MacLean has created a character far superior to any other bluestocking, non-normal heroine in the romance genre. Pippa is given leeway to speak freely, frankly, and intelligently. She is bold and unafraid of self-examination. Because of this the plot resolves itself in an unpredictable way – instead of the hero rescuing the heroine, it is the other way ’round. One Good Earl Deserves a Lover is one of the best books to release in 2013 – yes, I know it’s January now but this is the best MacLean novel to date.