Monday, November 13, 2017

Creatures of Will & Temper, by Molly Tanzer. Mariner Books, 2017

When Evadne Gray catches her younger sister, Dorinia, dallying with another teen aged girl right after the man Evadne loves informs her that he is marrying someone else, Evadne runs to their mother to tell and assumes it will put a stop to Dorinia’s planned visit to their uncle in London. (Dorinia has the ambition to become an art critic, and there is no art to be seen out in the country where she lives.) Instead, their mother decides that Evadne will accompany Dorinia, something Evadne has no interest in doing.

Upon arrival at their uncle’s house, they meet his friend Lady Henrietta Wotton, who goes by Henry and wears men’s clothing. Dorinia is immediately smitten by Henry, and Henry has taken it upon herself to introduce the girls to London. Evadne is shocked and revolted by Lady Henry because of her dress and open smoking. But Evadne has learned to fence and is thrilled to have an invitation to a fencing school from both Henry and the friend (and erstwhile boyfriend) who taught her. While still living with their uncle, Evadne and Dorinia go their separate ways.

Dorinia manages to convince Henry to invite her to a meeting of her secret society. The meeting seems totally harmless- a dinner devoted to one of the sense, so she cannot imagine why it’s considered secret. True, there is a short time where Dorinia is asked to step outside the room, but what could go on in that small space of time?

Evadne is taken on by the top instructor at the fencing school, and finds herself invited to a secret club, too. And she is shocked to discover that there is some common ground between that club and Henry’s…

The story took a very long time to get moving. There was a lot of gorgeous description, perhaps too much. There is a lot of going and coming and eating. I found it hard to really like any of the characters- I didn’t *dislike* them, but they just left me flat. I found it hard to believe that Evadne, who attends a fencing club where she is the only woman, is shocked and disgusted by Henry’s wearing of male attire, especially since she is unshocked by homosexual love. (yes, I know that homosexuality and cross dressing are two different things. But it just seems to me that if a person is okay with one, they’d most likely be okay with the other) I found it equally hard to believe that their uncle, who had left the secret society, would allow Dorinia to go. The book *almost* made me love it, but not quite. It’s a first novel, so I have great hope for this author. And the cover is absolutely gorgeous. Four stars. 

the above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Queen’s Prophet, by Dawn Patitucci. Turner, 2017

Maria-Barbara is middle aged when the Countess of Walther, her owner, dies. The Countess’s family doesn’t want her, which leaves her future up in the air. On a trip into town, Mari encounters a traveling street magician who quite quickly convinces her that she could make a living as a seer. Mari takes him up on it, figuring that making her own living, even as a fraud, beats an unknown future. Middle-aged dwarfs are not in high demand in 1600s Germany.

Dwarfs of whatever age, however, are in demand in the Spanish court. They are entertainers, dancers, buffoons, good luck charms. The Queen has heard that Mari is a prophet. In a court where everyone is plotting, a good luck charm and prophet can be very useful. Mari is terrified; she knows nothing about prophecy. What will happen when they find out she is a fraud? Some good luck, some knowledge of astronomy and math, and a quick mind help her make her place secure, at least as secure as anyone can be in a court full of intrigue and backstabbing. Even the Queen is insecure.

The story was inspired by a painting by Velasquez, ‘Las Meninas’, in which the focal point is the beautiful Infanta of Spain, but rather than focus on her or the Queen, the author chose Maribarbola, who stands to the side of the painting. This outsider’s view of the court has a very different feel from what it would have if the author had made the Queen the protagonist. The story also takes liberties with time; she condenses several years into a short time, making for more exciting reading.

The author paints the court of King Philip and his niece/wife Queen Mariana vividly, bringing it to life with lush descriptions of the clothing, the buildings, the plantings, the food, the drink. Lots of food and drink. I knew nothing about this period but found it extremely interesting and I was completely drawn into the story. Mari came to life with her fears, her triumphs, her physical pains, her hangovers, and her concern for the Queen. Four and a half stars. 

The  above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine  program in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Bryant & May: Wild Chamber. A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery, by Christopher Fowler. Bantam Books, 2017

The story starts with a ‘locked room’ murder- a woman is killed in a locked park, accessible only to flat owners and the gardener. The gardener doesn’t look good for the crime, but who else could have gotten in and back out when there is only one key per flat owner? The crime is odd enough that it lands in the laps of the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

Bryant and May are the old codgers who are the heart of the PCU. May plays straight man to Bryant’s over the top eccentricities. Bryant is a little more eccentric than usual right now; the meds he took to overcome a serious illness have left him with some delusions: he likes to have a chat now and then with hallucinations of people both dead and alive (QEII is one of them, as is Samuel Pepys). Thankfully, these hallucinations help him think things through, rather than being detrimental.

Another murder in a park, with similarities to the first, raises the specter of a serial killer. Because it, too, takes place in a park in London, a higher up in the police department decides to shut down all the city’s parks, and blames it on the PCU. If they would solve the murders, he’d reopen the parks. He seeks to gain monetarily if the parks can be privatized and locked. But the murders go on. Can the PCU solve them before the case is taken from them and given to the regular police force, and they are shut down for good? More bodies pile up- including those of suspects- as more and more pressure is put on the PCU.

While this is I think the 14th novel in the series, it is the first one that I have read. I thought from the description that the Peculiar Crimes Unit would be about supernatural crimes, rather like the Rivers of London series. It seems that they are not, but I am sure I’ll be picking up more of the series as I have become quite fond of the staff of the PCU, including Crippen the staff cat. What other police unit has a secret tunnel entrance through a bakery, a tunnel that has a medieval sarcophagus in it? I loved this book. Five stars. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.