Thursday, December 29, 2016

Study in Scarlet Women


















A Study in Scarlet Women- Sherry Thomas
Berkley
Release Date: October 18, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London. 
 
When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

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Just when you think there can be no possible new take on Sherlock Holmes, along comes Sherry Thomas with her Lady Sherlock series to prove you wrong.  The first in a promised series, A Study in Scarlet Women follows Charlotte Holmes, youngest daughter of a Society family and a young woman who doesn't fit in society or the confined role for women of the day.  When her dream of becoming headmistress to a school (and therefore relatively independent) falls apart, Charlotte takes steps to ensure she isn't "marriage material".  The ensuing scandal ends with Charlotte running away from home to try to make her own way in a world that doesn't make it easy.  She proves to be stronger and more resourceful in the face of adversity than she (or anyone else) expected, and a twist of seemingly good fate lands her the position as companion to Mrs. Watson.  Not entirely conventional herself, Mrs. Watson sees Charlotte's ability to notice details and deduce facts not as something to be stifled, but as a way for Charlotte to become fully herself.  On discovering that Charlotte has created the identity of "Sherlock" Holmes to help a police inspector through occasional correspondence, Mrs Watson encourages "Sherlock" to set up as a private detective.

"Sherlock" makes his name by declaring that the seemingly natural and unrelated deaths of Lady Amelia, Lady Shrewsbury, and Mr. Sackville are, in fact, premeditated murder.  Both Charlotte's father and older sister Livia are under suspicion and it's up to Charlotte, Mrs Watson, police inspector Treadles and Lord Ingram (with help from his shadowy and mysterious older brother Bancroft) to solve the murders.

Study does an excellent job of weaving together nods to the traditional Sherlock Holmes stories with wholly original, fresh characters and mystery.  Thomas doesn't hide any of the facts from readers but allows them to work alongside the characters to try and piece together motives, red herrings, and relevant facts.  The writing is lovely: descriptive and absorbing.  Characters are intricate and also often more likable than the originals.  Charlotte may be socially awkward but is not the abrupt, aloof, and (let's face it) obnoxious Sherlock that we are used to.  Mrs Watson is open, friendly, colorful, and supportive.  In many ways she becomes the mother figure Charlotte always needed: encouraging Charlotte's interests  and abilities, teaching her to learn to value herself as an individual, and understanding her need for independence.  The two are more kindred spirits than you would first assume.  Inspector Treadles is not relegated to playing second fiddle but is an active investigator.  Instead of relying on "Sherlock" for all the answers he is out talking to people, testing and experimenting to separate lies and truths, motives and simple jealousies.  The help he needs generally comes from not being connected to the world of Society that the victims moved in and not having knowledge of the scandals of their pasts.

The writing and mystery of Study is subtle and I think it will take several rereads to discover all the hidden gems within.  The growth of characters like Charlotte and Livia make me eager for the next book in the series to see how they continue to gain confidence and independence under difficult situations.  The intricacy of the mystery make me excited to see what Thomas has in store for Holmes' next big case.

Not only an excellent and unique take on Sherlock Holmes, but also just an all around great historical mystery!  Full of twists and surprises, A Study in Scarlet Women keeps you on your toes until the very end.  A must read for mystery lovers!







Saturday, December 24, 2016

Apprentice in Death



















Apprentice in Death - J.D. Robb
Berkley
Release Date: September 6, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: The shots came quickly, silently, and with deadly accuracy. Within seconds, three people were dead at Central Park’s ice-skating rink. The victims: a talented young skater, a doctor, and a teacher. As random as random can be.

Eve Dallas has seen a lot of killers during her time with the NYPSD but never one like this. A review of the security videos reveals that the victims were killed with a tactical laser rifle fired by a sniper, who could have been miles away when the trigger was pulled. And though the list of locations where the shooter could have set up seems endless, the number of people with that particular skill set is finite: police, military, professional killer.

Eve’s husband, Roarke, has unlimited resources—and genius—at his disposal. And when his computer program leads Eve to the location of the sniper, she learns a shocking fact: There were two—one older, one younger. Someone is being trained by an expert in the science of killing, and they have an agenda. Central Park was just a warm-up. And as another sniper attack shakes the city to its core, Eve realizes that though we’re all shaped by the people around us, there are those who are just born evil...

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What begins as an apparently random set of long distance murders at a skating rink turns into a race against time, a former cop gone bad, and his psychopathic but skilled teenage daughter.  Lt. Eve Dallas is presented with murders not only extremely difficult to have carried out, but the haunting question: is this a random killing or the beginning of something more?  Of course the answer is choice B.  While that's bad news for the victims it's good news for Eve because a pattern emerges behind the seemingly random  targets.  

As the last several In Death books have shown, just because you know the why and the who doesn't necessarily make for an easy arrest.  The twist in this case being that Dallas thinks she's looking for one killer, and discovers she has two. The next twist comes after the second attack, which claims the life of a NYPSD cop among the victims, when they learn that one of the killers was himself a cop.  The other killer? His 15 year old daughter.

In Apprentice Eve wrestles with questions of nature vs nurture and finds herself comparing who she was as a child to the shooter, Willow.  Could Eve have become the same person?  What makes a killer?  Roarke (as always!) is standing ready to convince Eve, as forcefully or tenderly as possible that she could never be that killer.  The other main theme in Apprentice is justice. When the system fails you, do you have the right to take justice into your own hands?  What's the difference between justice and revenge?  It's interesting that from the outside as a reader we might clearly see things one way, Robb does an excellent job of showing us the minds of the killers and their way of thinking.  Mackie was a cop who stood to help people but when he loses his wife his version of justice changes.  Why should other people get to be happy when he isn't, why does someone else have the right to a happy marriage when his wife is dead?   

The characters we've grown to know and love continue to shine.  With the growing cast of characters, not all can get equal time and some people may be disappointed by not seeing much of McNab, Feeney or Mira.  But there are some great scenes between Eve and Nadine, and some brilliantly played Interviews with Dallas, Peabody, and Reo- all of whom really seemed to enjoy playing roles against the killers.  Robb has a talent for combining the best and the worst of humanity in truly horrifying and gritty crime scenes and this shows best after a shooting scene where Eve checks in on Mavis, Leonardo, Nadine and even the terrifying Trina, as well as a perfectly pitched interaction between Eve and Summerset.  Robb also gives us another stunningly creepy child killer in Willow Mackie.    

At book 43 in the In Death series J. D. Robb is still going strong.  Where other authors might have grown stale or run out of things to do, Robb continues to bring not only excellent mysteries but also added layers and twists to the very human characters at the heart of the series.  Fast paced, witty, and edge of your seat action, Apprentice in Death does not disappoint!  





Tuesday, December 20, 2016

When All the Girls Have Gone

When All The Girls Have Gone by [Krentz, Jayne Ann]
















When All the Girls Have Gone - Jayne Ann Krentz
Berkley 
Release Date: November 29, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Possible spoilers ahead!

Synopsis: When Charlotte Sawyer is unable to contact her stepsister, Jocelyn, to tell her that one of her closest friends was found dead, she discovers that Jocelyn has vanished.  
 
Beautiful, brilliant—and reckless—Jocelyn has gone off the grid before, but never like this. In a desperate effort to find her, Charlotte joins forces with Max Cutler, a struggling PI who recently moved to Seattle after his previous career as a criminal profiler went down in flames—literally. Burned out, divorced and almost broke, Max needs the job.   
 
After surviving a near-fatal attack, Charlotte and Max turn to Jocelyn’s closest friends, women in a Seattle-based online investment club, for answers. But what they find is chilling...
 
When her uneasy alliance with Max turns into a full-blown affair, Charlotte has no choice but to trust him with her life. For the shadows of Jocelyn’s past are threatening to consume her—and anyone else who gets in their way...

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The newest Jayne Ann Krentz book When All the Girls Have Gone continues in the romantic suspense style of Secret Sisters: edgy, thrilling, and fascinating.  The theme of family echoes throughout the book- the family you're born to, the family you make, and what you are willing to do to protect those families.  For Charlotte Sawyer, family has always been her stepsister Jocelyn.  When Jocelyn disappears and her best friend winds up dead under questionable circumstances, Charlotte teams up with PI Max Cutler to find answers.  Max begins to piece together a pattern that began when Jocelyn was assaulted in college and reaches to her closest friends today.  Charlotte discovers that Jocelyn is keeping a lot of secrets and some of them are proving fatal.

When All the Girls Have Gone is fast-paced and full of twists and turns, surprises and secrets.  Max and Charlotte are well matched and while they describe themselves as "one foot in front of the other" types, neither is the boring, plodding type they think they are.  Burned in the past, they may be cautious, but the connection and chemistry are there from the start and only get stronger as they get to know each other.  Both are the type of person you feel you know, can relate to, see yourself as, or wish you were. And it was very satisfying at the end when Max comes to the rescue only to find that Charlotte hasn't waited around for him, but saved herself.  By the end, it seems clear that her optimistic approach to life (seen as naive and weak by everyone else) has also saved Max. 

Once again, Krentz successfully weaves together suspense, mystery, romance and humor; connects the past and the present; and a couple of strong lead characters into an excellent book that will keep you guessing until the end.  Who is betraying who? Who is protecting who? It all comes to a happily successful conclusion with no loose threads while at the same time leaving open the chance that we might get the visit at least some of these people again in future books (Max does have 2 brothers we haven't gotten to meet yet . . .). 

Jayne Ann Krentz fans will cheer this newest addition to their collection and newcomers will become instant addicts.  A captivating and clever new book for romantic suspense fans!
  



 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Glass Universe


















The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars- Dava Sobel
Viking 
Release Date: December 6, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis: In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women's colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates. 

The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed over the ensuing decades—through the generous support of Mrs. Anna Palmer Draper, the widow of a pioneer in stellar photography—enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight. Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman originally hired as a maid who went on to identify ten novae and more than three hundred variable stars; Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that was adopted by astronomers the world over and is still in use; and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne, who in 1956 became the first ever woman professor of astronomy at Harvard—and Harvard’s first female department chair. 

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The Glass Universe is a new look behind the scenes of some of the most influential, ground breaking discoveries of the Harvard College Observatory and the women who helped make them.  Beginning in the late nineteenth century, Harvard University began hiring women to assist with astronomical computing.  Thanks to Harvard's Professor Pickering and donors Mrs Anna Palmer Draper and Catherine Wolfe Bruce, women received job opportunities considered unusual at the time.  Astronomy enthusiasts and mathematicians, amateurs and college graduates, they were paid less than their male counterparts but generally treated as equals in the workplace- even publishing work under their own names before women in America had the right to vote.  

I have virtually no knowledge of astronomy, Harvard, or the history associated with either, but I found The Glass Universe to be both easily understandable and very interesting.  It is the story of the development of astronomy in the late nineteenth-early twentieth century as much as it is the women of Harvard.  The story of one cannot be told without the other, and without following the advancements in photography that made so many of the discoveries possible.  I loved learning about Harvard's "glass universe" of glass negatives- photographs taken by telescopes to track stars and their movement.  Before electronic computers there were "human computers"- in Harvard's case largely women- who measured distances and movements, light and speed, of various stars in what I would imagine were mind-boggling calculations.  Eventually they began using the plates for their own research and their work helped to define the universe as we know it today.

This is not a book filled with equations and charts.  It is the human story behind the science. The Glass Universe is a perfect example of how all history can be told through the stories of people and how these stories can make any subject both interesting and relatable.  It is also the story of how Harvard's glass universe helped (perhaps accidentally) break many of the glass ceilings faced by women at the turn of the century.  

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 5, 2016

How to Train Your Highlander

How to Tra


How to Train Your Highlander (Broadswords and Ballrooms Book 3) by [English, Christy]















How to Train Your Highlander (Broadswords & Ballrooms #3)- Christy English
Sourcebooks Casablanca
Release Date: December 6, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Possible spoilers!

Synopsis:   Wild Highlander Mary Elizabeth Waters is living on borrowed time. She's managed to dodge the marriage banns up to now, but even Englishmen can only be put off for so long...and there's one in particular who has her in his sights.

Harold Percy, Duke of Northumberland, is enchanted by the beautiful hellion who outrides every man on his estate and dances Scottish reels while the ton looks on in horror. The more he sees Mary, the more he knows he has to have her, tradition and good sense be damned. But what's a powerful man to do when the Highland spitfire of his dreams has no desire to be tamed...
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How to Train Your Highlander's Highland heroine Mary Elizabeth Waters a character not often found in Regency romances.  While we read about plenty of women who see only the downsides of marriage, who are intelligent, possibly stubborn and headstrong, and don't fawn over money or titles we rarely see all of these qualities armed and dangerous.  Mary's rule is to never have less than three knives on her at any time.  And she knows how to use them.  Refusing to be anyone but herself has scared off all the fine men of Edinburgh and London, so her mother has sent her to Nothumberland to see if Mary can catch a duke.  Mary isn't impressed by dukes, but she rather likes the look of the stableboy Harry.  

Harold Charles Percy, Duke of Northumberland, isn't a fan of the mindless fawning of people impressed by his title.  When his mother's guest mistakes him for a stablehand (eventually upgrading him poor relation of the family) he loves it.  Mary treats him like an equal, like a friend- even if he is English.  No one has ever talked to him the way she does and he wants it to go on as long as possible.  Harry bribes the servants and his mother to go along with the idea and puts off telling Mary for as long as he possibly can.  It only takes a few days for him to fall in love with her- knife throwing, sword wielding, bareback riding and all.  But can he ask Mary to give up her freedom and her Highlands to be a duchess?  And would Mary agree to give up everything she loves if he does ask?

One of the things I really liked about Highlander was that from the beginning, Mary knew who she was and had no intention of changing.  She liked herself, was comfortable with her tomboyish ways, and proud that she could ride rings around any Englishman she needed to.  Her mother wants her to be someone she isn't: a classic, demure debutante. But despite the pressure Mary never considers changing herself to make others happy.

It also drove home some of the difficulties and decisions a woman had when she considered marriage in this time.  Often marriage was the only way of ensuring a future, but when it isn't? Mary has a family who loves her, a home she loves, and can't imagine living anywhere else.  She doesn't fit in with the Ton and has no wish to try.  When she falls in love with Harry she has to weigh that love against leaving Scotland, taking up the responsibilities of a duchess, dealing with the aristocratic English she doesn't care for. 

I wasn't as happy with the fact that, haven't not read the two previous books in the series (How to Seduce a Scot, & How to Wed a Warrior), I always felt like I was playing catch up.  I assumed some things mentioned briefly in this book happened in one of the others in the series.  But even though some (like drawing a sword on someone in the park) have serious repercussions for Mary and might have even started of what brought her and Harry together, the reader doesn't get any kind of explanation.  No quick summary or memory. No backstory, or character introduction.  Until almost the end of the book I didn't feel like I knew anything about Mary's family or even her own story.  While what you see is what you get with her, I kept waiting for the hints of her past that showed why she was the way she was.  As open and honest as she is, I didn't feel like I knew her.  Harry gets an equally brief touch of his past so you have to pretty much fill in your own ideas on why he is the way he is. Nor did I understand Mary's relationship with her mother and why her mother was so insistent on Mary marrying the way she was.  Was there some hidden reason? Fear? Money troubles? Did her mother just want to get rid of Mary?  And at the end, when Mary does something that is actually quite intelligent and logical, she does it in an uncharacteristically secretive way that may be a classic bit of non-communication to increase drama, but was totally out of character.

Overall I found How to Train You Highlander a mix of fun and aggravating. Mary and Harry are fun, witty, and have great chemistry, but this is clearly a series that doesn't work well if you read it out of order.  Having started with book 3, I was frustrated enough with the sometimes awkward descriptions and writing style, with the brief mentions of important things that tied to other books that should have been significant (apparently nobody cared other family and friends running off to get into trouble and/or married?) that I wouldn't go back and start the series over. 

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Mistletoe, Mischief, & the Marquis













Mistletoe, Mischief, and the Marquis (The Heirs' Club) by [Grey, Amelia]





Mistletoe, Mischief, & the Marquis- Amelia Grey
Swerve
Release Date: November 29, 2016

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis:  The Marquis of Wythebury, is expecting an ordinary Christmastide at Hurst—until he is set upon by a beautiful miss who takes him to task for not allowing his young nephews to play outside. In his mind, a five and seven year old needn’t get chilled in the snow; better to plop them in front of the fire with a book. Few people have ever been brave enough to challenge him over anything, much less the rearing of his wards. The cheeky Miss Prim has no such compunction. No matter how fetching he finds her, he can’t give in to his attraction…for she is the sister of his best friend.

Growing up the middle child of five rambunctious girls, Lillian Prim doesn’t understand why two young boys visiting Hurst don’t know how to play until she meets their dashing guardian. The Marquis of Wythebury is commanding and intensely serious-minded. To her surprise, she’s captivated by him. It’s all she can do not to give into her feminine fantasies about her kissing him. Lillian has no intention of falling in love with the Marquis, but she will create Christmastide mischief and teach the boys and the handsome Marquis how to play.

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Mistletoe, Mischief, and the Marquis  is a fun and quick short story of Regency England, Christmastide, families, and love.  Seth Wythebury, Marquis of Wythebury, has brought his two young nephews with him to a friend's home for the Christmas holidays.  His nephews are recently orphaned and now under his guardianship, but Seth knows nothing about children and isn't quite sure what to do with them.  He believes they'd be better studying all the time indoors.  Miss Lillian Prim, sister-in-law to Seth's best friend (and host) has other ideas.  Snow ball fights, sleigh rides, and not studying all the time are what she recommends.  Can opposites attract in time for a Christmas engagement?

A fast paced novella that still manages to include high jinks, humor, challenges, and chemistry is a rare thing, but Mistletoe manages all of that and more.  Lillian and Seth battle back and forth, matching wits and stubbornness while enjoying themselves enough to fall in love.  I'm not fond of books including small children, so I was glad that the nephews acted more as a way for Seth and Lillian to discover their differences in approaching life, while also being what draws them together, than being main characters themselves.  Both characters know themselves, but also begin to discover where they can compromise to make the other happy.  I enjoyed Seth's big declaration at the end, where he proves himself above the average suitor in imagination and memory.  Perhaps one of the most touching, and memorable, moments for me was at the very end, when Lillian worries that eventually they will become unhappy because of their differences- how can they be sure their love will last?  Not a question that often comes up- and Seth's answer is one that applies to couples today as well as it applies to him and Lillian: that's part of the challenge of love, and when differences start to push you apart, remind each other of the love and special memories that brought you together in the first place.

A lovely and fun story for the holidays- and all the year through!

I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley for an honest review.