Tag: 19th-century

Review: The Black Country by Alex Grecian

Posted 21 May, 2013 by Heather in Book Reviews, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery / 10 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Black Country by Alex GrecianThe Black Country (The Murder Squad #2) by Alex Grecian
Published by Putnam Adult on May 21, 2013
Genres: Crime Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Source: the publisher
Buy on Amazon

The British Midlands. It's called the "Black Country" for a reason. Bad things happen there.

When members of a prominent family disappear from a coal-mining village--and a human eyeball is discovered in a bird's nest--the local constable sends for help from Scotland Yard's new Murder Squad. Fresh off the grisly 1889 murders of The Yard, Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith respond, but they have no idea what they're about to get into. The villagers have intense, intertwined histories. Everybody bears a secret. Superstitions abound. And the village itself is slowly sinking into the mines beneath it.

Not even the arrival of forensics pioneer Dr. Bernard Kingsley seems to help. In fact, the more the three of them investigate, the more they realize they may never be allowed to leave...

(from the book)

The Black Country is the second book in Alex Grecian’s Murder Squad series, and it is just as good as the first book (The Yard, which I read and reviewed last year). I am becoming very attached to Inspector Day, Dr. Kingsley, and Henry (Dr. Kingsley’s assistant). The banter between Inspector Day and Sergeant Hammersmith is even better than I remember it. While I really enjoyed The Yard and jumped at the chance to read and review The Black Country when it was offered to me by the publisher, The Black Country has me resting assured that I will want to read every book in this series.

In The Black Country, Inspector Day, Sergeant Hammersmith, and Dr. Kingsley head to the village of Blackhampton in what is called the “Black Country.” The synopsis of the book above says the nickname comes from the bad things that happen there, but it carries other meanings, too. Blackhampton is a mining town, and so there is much that is black about the village. Three people of the village have disappeared–a mother, father, and little boy of the same family–and the local constable in Blackhampton has done all he can without calling in the big guys from Scotland Yard. What Day, Hammersmith, and Kingsley find in Blackhampton over the course of the two days they spend there is a community of people who are torn between not liking outsiders but wanting help finding the three missing villagers (particularly the little boy). They also find superstition, a strange illness that is making more than half the villagers sick, and a stranger who has been hanging out in the village who seems to have a shoddy past and secrets of his own. Oh, and The Black Country includes a character with the worst facial-injury-turned-deformity EVER.

I enjoyed everything about this book–Grecian’s succinct writing style; the further development of the main characters, including their backstories and their relationships with one another; the mystery itself; the time frame in which the story takes place; the historical bits about superstition, mining towns in the late 19th century, and the Civil War; and the twists in the story that kept me guessing. Just when I thought I had things figured out, Grecian would throw me a curve ball…and the big TA-DA moment in the book is pretty shocking. I just didn’t want to believe it. Good stuff.

If you enjoy reading good crime fiction, particularly crime fiction that takes place in England in the late 19th century, I recommend Alex Grecian’s Murder Squad series. The writing and the stories are good, the characters are well-developed, the main characters in particular are good people, and the historical elements are very interesting. The Black Country comes out today, and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

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Review: Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd

Posted 7 February, 2013 by Heather in Book Reviews, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Mystery / 12 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher / TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Proof of Guilt by Charles ToddProof of Guilt (Inspector Ian Rutledge #15) by Charles Todd
Published by William Morrow on January 29, 2013
Genres: Crime Fiction, Fiction, Mystery
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: the publisher / TLC Book Tours
Buy on Amazon

London, summer 1920. An unidentified body appears to have been run down by a motorcar and Ian Rutledge is leading the investigation to uncover what happened. While the signs point to murder, vital questions remain: Who is the victim? And where, exactly, was he killed?

One small clue leads Rutledge to a firm built by two families, famous for producing and selling the world's best Madeira wine. Lewis French, the current head of the English enterprise, is missing. But is he the dead man? And does either his fiancée or his jilted former lover have anything to do with his disappearance--or possible death? What about his sister? Or the London office clerk? Is Matthew Traynor, French's cousin and partner who heads the Madeira office, somehow involved?

The experienced Rutledge knows that suspicion and circumstantial evidence are not proof of guilt, and he's going to keep digging for answers. But that perseverance will pit him against his supervisor, the new acting chief superintendent. When Rutledge discovers a link to an incident in the French family's past, the superintendent dismisses it, claiming the information isn't vital. He's determined to place the blame on one of French's women despite Rutledge's objections. Alone in a no-man's-land rife with mystery and danger, Rutledge must tread very carefully, for someone has decided that he, too, must die so that cruel justice can take its course.

(from the inside flap)

When I accepted this book for review, I hadn’t read anything by Charles Todd before and I didn’t realize that Proof of Guilt is #15 in a long line of Ian Rutledge mysteries. Thankfully, the book reads well as a stand-alone (as I’ll bet the rest of the mysteries do, too), but I do wonder if I would have gotten more out of it or would have been more into it if I had been a long-time reader of the series.

As the description of Proof of Guilt relates above, the story takes place in London and surrounding areas in 1920. A man is found dead on a London road, presumably having been hit by a car, but the clues (or lack thereof) point to a more complicated murder. Ian Rutledge is an inspector for Scotland Yard and the case is given to him to solve.

Over the past year or so, I have found that I really enjoy reading mysteries set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There’s something about that time period that makes for good crime fiction–I think it might be that the inspectors really have to use their minds and their instincts to solve crimes because they lack a lot of the technological advances that we rely on today. I enjoyed Proof of Guilt as a 1920’s crime fiction novel, but I didn’t like it as much as some others that I’ve read.

Ian Rutledge is an interesting character, but I’m sure I would have connected with him more if I had been reading about him from the beginning of the series. He’s got this…issue…that is explained well enough in Proof of Guilt to get readers by, but that I wish I knew more about (especially since it seems that this issue helps him solve the crimes he’s assigned to). There were also mentions of past relationships and occurrences in Ian’s life that I think would have made me more sympathetic to him had I been reading this series all along.

As for the mystery itself, it is…okay. I love a good mystery, and I love being legitimately stumped by the author (I’m usually really good at figuring things out early on). Proof of Guilt definitely had me stumped until the end, but mainly because I was just really confused. There is so much going on in the story, and there are so many characters, that I felt like the author’s purpose in this book was to stump readers through confusion. There were missing people and siblings and illegitimate children (maybe) and half-siblings and friends of siblings/half-siblings…and I couldn’t keep track of everyone and how they related to the missing/dead man. A lot of it didn’t seem to make sense to me, and I don’t think that is a legitimate way for an author to make a mystery hard to solve. But I also wonder if I would have been less confused had I read more of the series beforehand. I don’t know.

And the ending kind of annoyed me. Not everything gets wrapped up neatly, which is fine in some cases, but one major part of the story didn’t get wrapped up in this case. Let me rephrase that: When the mystery is wrapped up, the reader knows what happened to one of the missing characters in the story, but neither Ian Rutledge nor anyone else in the story mentions anything about this missing character again before the book ends. That’s just…weird. This character has been the main focus the entire book, but his continued disappearance isn’t mentioned by the inspector himself at the end of the book. The way the reader finds out what happened to this particular character is a little odd, too. The admission is given in one or two sentences in the middle of an action scene, and then it’s never mentioned again. It’s like the author thought, I’m going to put this right….here…and let it go at that. I don’t want to spend more time writing it all out. It just seems highly unrealistic to me that the inspector who has spent the entire book looking for this particular character (or his dead body) would let that part of the mystery go so nonchalantly in the end. No way.

With all of that said, I am still willing to give the series a chance. I liked the author’s writing style and I’m intrigued by Ian Rutledge; I’m interested to know more of his backstory and I’d like to read more about the way he solves mysteries before I make too many final judgments. Internet research shows that a lot of people enjoy the Ian Rutledge mysteries, so I’m thinking this just wasn’t the right one for me to read first. I’ll definitely be borrowing more of them from the library.

Visit TLC Book Tours at http://tlcbooktours.com/

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Review: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Posted 30 December, 2012 by Heather in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Fiction / 10 Comments

Review: Kindred by Octavia ButlerKindred by Octavia Butler
Published by Beacon Press on 2004 (25th Anniversary Edition)
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 287
Source: my shelves
Buy on Amazon

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stays grow longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

(from the back cover)

I read Octavia Butler’s Kindred back in September as part of A More Diverse Universe. I was supposed to review it in September, too, but that’s right about the time I got disenchanted with sitting in front of a computer screen for hours. I think I’m finally over that phase, though, so ONWARD!

This was my first reading experience with Octavia Butler, and it was a good one. A great one, even. I cannot believe I hadn’t read anything by Octavia Butler before. This book tends to get classified as Science fiction (because that is mainly what Butler wrote), but the only thing scifi about it is the time travel. Kindred is really about Dana and her husband learning what it was like to live during the era of slavery in the United States. I word it that way because Dana and her husband are an interracial couple–Dana is black, and her husband is white. This put an interesting spin on their relationship–and what they learned–when they were thrown/called back into the past. Dana is continuously swept back into the past to save the son of a plantation owner; not only must she deal with being black in a place that views black people as nothing but property to be used, but she also has to come to terms with helping the very people who wish to degrade her. On the other hand, when Dana’s husband decides to go with her into the past, he has to come to terms with being a white man at a time when he is not allowed to treat his own wife as his equal without putting them both–but predominately Dana–in serious danger.

Dana is the one who obviously bears the brunt of learning to survive on a plantation. When she is called back into the past, it doesn’t matter that she’s really a modern black woman. She must learn to devalue herself–at least outwardly–in order to survive. And there’s a twist to the story and her ultimate survival: two of the people on the plantation are her ancestors, and Dana has to ensure that they have the child that will become her direct ancestor (maybe great-great-grandmother?). If that child isn’t conceived and born, Dana won’t exist.

This is a very moving story. In an interview, Octavia Butler said, “I was trying to get people to feel slavery. I was trying to get across the kind of emotional and psychological stones that slavery threw at people.” She certainly accomplished that goal with Kindred. Butler’s writing is wonderful, and aside from the time travel, the story felt very realistic to me. It caused me to go through a wide range of emotions.

And the cover of the edition I read (pictured above) is just gorgeous.

Kindred is a book that covers so many bases: it’s loved by Science fiction fans, as well as used in African-American history courses and women’s studies. I highly recommend Kindred to anyone interested in any of those subjects.



Review: The Yard by Alex Grecian

Posted 25 July, 2012 by Heather in Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Suspense/Thriller / 8 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Yard by Alex GrecianThe Yard (Murder Squad #1) by Alex Grecian
Published by Putnam on May 2012
Genres: Crime Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Source: the publisher
Buy on Amazon

Victorian London is a cesspool of crime, and Scotland Yard has only twelve detectives--known as 'The Murder Squad'--to investigate thousands of murders every month. Created after the Metropolitan Police's spectacular failure to capture Jack the Ripper, the Murder Squad suffers rampant public contempt. They have failed their citizens. But no one can anticipate the brutal murder of one of their own...one of twelve...

When Walter Day, the squad's newest hire, is assigned the case of the murdered detective, he finds a strange ally in the Yard's first forensic pathologist, Dr. Bernard Kingsley. Together they track the killer, who clearly is not finished with the Murder Squad...but why?

Filled with fascinating period detail, and real historical figures, this spectacular debut in a new series reveals the depravity of late Victorian London, showcases the advent of criminology, and introduces a stunning new cast of characters sure to appeal to fans of The Sherlockian and The Alienist.

(from the back cover)

If you are a fan of graphic novels, you may recognize Alex Grecian as the author of the long-running series Proof. The Yard is Grecian’s first novel and it’s a good murder mystery set in Victorian London.

The Yard is split up into three major sections, one for each day that it takes Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad to figure out who is killing its men and to hunt the killer down. What makes Grecian’s novel a bit different from other murder mysteries is the revealing of the murderer to readers very early on in the book. To readers the book then becomes more of a thriller in which we watch the Murder Squad struggle to figure out what we already know before any more of them are killed. My first thought when the killer was revealed was, ‘Oh, man! This sucks. Now I can’t try to figure it out on my own. This book isn’t going to work.’ But it did work, and it worked very well. Knowing the identity of the killer didn’t at all take away from the thrill of watching the Murder Squad try to figure it out in a very limited amount of time (three days wasn’t a lot of time when the police officers of Victorian London didn’t have all of the resources and technology that our police officers have today). Additionally, other crimes are taking place in the city throughout the course of the investigation and the clues left behind during those crimes are getting (unknowingly) confused with clues from the case the Murder Squad is working on. This also adds to the angst the reader feels while watching the Murder Squad do its thing. All of the different plot lines come together to make a very interesting mystery/thriller that is very enjoyable to read.

Just as I enjoyed reading about historical New York City in Lyndsay Faye’s The Gods of Gotham, I enjoyed reading about Victorian London and the general feeling of its citizens in the wake of Jack the Ripper’s murder spree. I don’t know a whole lot about the evolution of criminology, so it was interesting to learn about one of the first branches of criminology to be made official by Scotland Yard and other law enforcement agencies. As happens with any new discovery or technology that people are unfamiliar with, the people who would benefit the most from the discovery of this branch of criminology scoffed at it and didn’t take it very seriously. It was funny to me to read about this particular method being made fun of when it is something that we take for granted today as one of the most widely used criminal tracking methods.

The characters in The Yard are well-written, although the book is obviously very plot-based. The bad guy is extremely creepy and makes my skin crawl. Walter Day makes a very good character for readers to follow through the rest of the series, provided that’s who the series continues to follow in the future. I also really like Dr. Kingsley and the man who becomes his assistant at the end of the story. I’m looking forward to reading more about all of them.

Alex Grecian knows how to write a good mystery/thriller with multi-dimensional characters and an interesting plot. The Yard is a real page-turner. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and mystery novels.



Some (Scattered) Thoughts About Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Posted 16 May, 2012 by Heather in Book Reviews, Classic Literature / 13 Comments

Some (Scattered) Thoughts About Vanity Fair by William Makepeace ThackerayVanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
Published by Book-of-the-Month Club on 1991 (orig. 1847-48)
Genres: Classic, Fiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 768
Source: my shelves
Buy on Amazon


This is not going to be a formal review. I spent an entire month reading Vanity Fair, and it fought me the whole time. I know I had a lot of things to say about it when I finally turned the last page, but I have waited too long to put those thoughts into words, so my thoughts here may be a bit scattered. Why did I wait so long? Because honestly, I was downright tired of thinking about it or talking about it. I’ll do my best to put everything I’m going to say here in some kind of order, but I promise nothing. I think typing this out in a question/answer format will be best in terms of keeping things straight and not letting it get out of hand. If you haven’t read Vanity Fair, I won’t be hurt if you decide not to read this post; I wouldn’t want to talk someone out of reading it since I seem to be the only one in the history of humankind that didn’t love it, and you probably won’t understand what I’m talking about anyway. If you decide to stay and read about my struggles, thank you. I appreciate it, and I’ll try not to bore you. Heh heh.

Let’s begin…

Why did it take me a whole month to read a book that should have taken a week at the most?

I know that a billion of you love this book. I had gotten so many “Oh, that’s my favorite book!” comments when I talked/tweeted/blogged about wanting to read it that I was all ready to fall in love with it. Sigh. Didn’t happen. And when I tweeted about struggling with Vanity Fair, I got a response that would have ticked me off, if being easily offended were something I’m guilty of (but I’m not): “You don’t like Vanity Fair? Oh.” No, no–if I’m going to be completely honest here, I really didn’t like Vanity Fair. Since I’ve already gotten that comment once, the rest of you can save it for someone else who struggled with it like I did. *smooches*

Parts of it were interesting enough to keep my attention and keep me turning the pages, but just when I would get to one of those parts and think, ‘Oh! Here we go! It finally got interesting! Woooo! I’m going to love this!’, it would laugh in my face and get boring again ten pages later. It would be easier for me to count how many pages I found interesting, than to try to count how many pages made me (literally) fall asleep. Listen, Thackeray, I don’t care how so-and-so made it into high society, who they know, who they screwed (ok, I don’t think he actually ever wrote about that), or whatever–especially if that person has no real bearing on the story, at all. Within the first hundred pages, it is made perfectly clear that Thackeray is making fun of high society and how ridiculous it all is, so to keep giving example, after example, after example (and sometimes really boring examples) was just not needed. The main story was great, and I was quite interested in finding out what was going to happen to all of the main characters, but the story was scattered throughout pages and pages of unnecessary stuff. Just stick to the main story and the main characters and tell me what happens already.

The answer to this question in one sentence (now that I’ve written two paragraphs): It took me a month to read Vanity Fair because I (literally) kept falling asleep every time I picked it up.

Ok, so I didn’t like the book overall, but I must have liked Becky Sharp, right? RIGHT?

Um, yes and no. I really liked her when she first appeared in the story at the very beginning of the book. When she tossed that dictionary out the window of the coach? Go, Becky! You show them who scoffs at conventions! Yeah!

I even felt sympathy for her for a little while after that–she had no family, no friends aside from Amelia (and I’m not sure they were ever really friends), no money, and no place to go (except into someone else’s home as a governess/nanny). Who in the prime of their life wants to go take care of someone else’s kids? Nah. I felt horrible for her.

Then she decided to prove that she could make it into high society even though she didn’t meet any of the qualifications. Her cunning was all she needed. Again, I say, ‘Go, Becky!’ I was ready to laugh with her about infiltrating a group of such hypocritical, sanctimonious jackasses. I really was. Except, Becky turned into someone whom I just couldn’t like. I tried. I did my best to put myself in her shoes, but I couldn’t stand the person she ended up becoming, and I couldn’t stand the way she treated the people who really cared about her. She used people and tossed them away like wet paper towels. I ended up feeling so bad for Rawden, that poor guy.

As the saying goes, “you reap what you sow,” and boy did Becky eventually do a lot of reaping. And I say, ‘Oh well,’ because she deserved every bit of it. Man, she was a rotten bitch. Honestly, I’d rather be poor and have good friends, than be rich, lonely, and miserable.

What about Amelia? She was the complete opposite of Becky, so I must have liked her much more. Yes?

Again, yes and no. Sure, Amelia was sweet and I liked that about her. She was sincere, I believe, and although I might have found her a bit condescending sometimes if I were Becky, I know she didn’t mean it. Amelia was genuinely trying to be Becky’s friend and help her out. Amelia was a genuinely sweet person. I did like her much more for the majority of the book.

But oh my goodness, when it came to her mostly one sided romance with George, I just wanted to kick her in the pants (skirt?) and tell her to get over him already. Sheesh. I know how it is. I’ve been there and done that. She fell in love with a man who she thought she couldn’t live without. She’d never love another, no matter what happened between them. She was smitten. Head over heals. Common sense left her as soon as he walked into a room. I get it. But he treated her like total crap…often. I’m not going to turn this into an essay about bad relationships, their symptoms, and their consequences, but good god. When her family fell out of high society, and George’s father didn’t want George to have anything to do with her and her family anymore, she should have just walked away. She would have been better off. And I know, I know, it doesn’t work that way. Again, I’ve gone back to someone (in stupidity) that I should have just stayed away from. But then George did a bunch of other awful crap and she really should have just kicked him to the curb. Hey, Amelia–toughen up, love yourself, drop that zero and get yourself a hero. LIKE WILLIAM DOBBIN. And darn it, don’t screw it up and don’t wait until you’re old and grey to do it. You’ll be happier, really. Trust me.

Amelia frustrated me as much as Becky pissed me off.

Hey Heather, has anyone told you that you can be verbose sometimes? Could you somehow be related to William ‘Verbosity’ Thackeray himself? Let’s wrap it up.

Yes, yes, I’ve been told that since I learned to talk.

Wrapping it up because I’ve really forgotten much that I wanted to say: I didn’t dislike this book completely. I really liked some parts, and I really disliked others. Unfortunately, the dislikes outweighed the likes. I enjoyed the message and the underhanded snark about high society and all of those ridiculous people, but it just took too long for Thackeray to make his point (or rather, he made the point over and over and over and over). So much could have been edited out of this book that wouldn’t have affected the story or the feeling of the book at all. I don’t know–maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to read it. Maybe I’ll pick it back up in a few years (read: no less than twenty) and try again. But for now, I’m putting it on my never-recommend-this-to-anyone-for-fear-of-making-lots-of-enemies list. If you loved it, and if I’ve disappointed you, I’m sorry. I’ll tell you what–I won’t hold your love of this book against you, if you don’t hold my dislike against me. Deal? Deal.

(Please don’t hesitate to leave comments if you have them, even if you comment just to say how much you loved Vanity Fair. Really. But I’d absolutely love to hear from some people who didn’t like it. All joking aside–and contrary to the Highlander creed–I cannot be the only one.)