It felt only right to pick this up around Christmas, given the title. Obviously crime books aren’t usually too full of the warmth and joys of Christmas, and so it proved again. Chief Inspector Brett Nightingale gets called out to the home of a Russian emigré, an old woman who seems to have been killed in her sleep and any valuables taken. The valuables turn out to have been very valuable indeed, so a meandering case starts to unfold involving a collector, a perky and pretty girl who works as an assistant in the shop, the old woman’s son, and various red herrings strewn about liberally. The main character is Nightingale, with some glimpses of his subordinate, Beddoes.
(There is a moment which made me laugh where Beddoes realises that Nightingale’s first name is actually David, and his name is Jonathan. I think that’s the allusion which is being made, anyway. Slightly raised eyebrows, given the often homoerotic interpretations of David and Jonathan these days. Not sure that’s what Kelly was going for.)
Overall, “meandering” is really the word that comes to mind. There’s a rather confused action-y bit at the climax, but that part also features a pages-long explanation from Nightingale, for the benefit of the collector, on what might be driving the Russian emigré’s son. It all seems really disorganised and hard to follow, although whodunnit is painfully obvious all along.
It’s engaging enough for a quiet afternoon, but I was hardly in love with it, and I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best of this series.
The Pursuit of… is the story of two men from opposite sides of the American Civil War. John Hunter spares Henry Latham at a key engagement, and Henry goes to find him to repay the debt afterwards. John expects him to duck out at every turn, but he doesn’t, and they head across country to John’s home — with Henry talking nineteen-to-the-dozen the whole way. It took me a while to warm up to John — though I liked Henry right away — but as he warmed up to Henry, so I warmed up to him. The cheese thing is silly and cute.
In fact, the whole thing is oftentimes silly and cute, though there are also serious parts: the discussion of what truly constitutes equality, Henry’s learning process, Henry figuring out that he has to go home and figure things out with his family… There’s also a scene with non-sexual intimacy that is just lovely.
There is a sex scene, of course; it’s pretty explicit, but skippable if that’s not your thing. It isn’t all about sex, by far, and it has a lovely happy ending — though it doesn’t go with the easiest happy ending. I enjoyed it a lot.
I picked up a bunch of Courtney Milan’s books because of the furore over the RWA judgement on whether her criticism of a particular book and publishing house constituted violations of the RWA codes of conduct. Since it was Christmas Eve, I grabbed this one in particular because it’s set at Christmas, though to be honest it isn’t really about Christmas and there’s not much about it that makes it particularly seasonal.
It opens with the main character, Lavinia, finding that there is a significant discrepancy in the books at her lending library business, and what’s worse, her personal savings are also missing. Just as she fully realises the loss, her brother arrives and unfolds a tale of woe — and in the room to overhear it is Mr William White, a patron of the library and admirer of Lavinia. He decides to help her out with her little problem… for a price.
The cover is misleading, I should add; Lavinia couldn’t afford such a dress, at least until the very end of the story.
I find the character of William White rather unpleasant, and despite the fact that he later somewhat redeems himself, the storyline sits quite badly with me. He basically coerces Lavinia: he will deal with her brother’s issues if she’ll have sex with him. (And yes, this is a period novel where that would also render her a fallen woman, to some extent, and where contraception is not available.) She’s smarter than him and easily figures out what he’s doing, and decides to go along with it anyway; she sees that he is deeply hurt and wants to reach out to him and offer him love and affection. I enjoyed Lavinia’s attitude to sex — the fact that she is practical, but also eager about the sensual experience — and her way of thinking about William… to some degree. It still makes me squirmingly uncomfortable that William’s behaviour is essentially rewarded.
Nonetheless, the book doesn’t end there, and slowly he gains in understanding and figures things out. There is a happy ever after for them, and it isn’t on horribly compromised terms: both freely come to the relationship, out of genuine love and care for one another. William’s character may not be to my taste, but things still come together satisfyingly — helped by the fact that the romance isn’t the only plot, but also Lavinia’s relationship with her brother.
There are sex scenes in the book, and one of them is a rather uncomfortable one; though Lavinia is eager and William in theory wants it, it’s rather awkward because of the intended coercion and self-disgust. I would say reading it is necessary to the story, though, because dialogue and introspection carry on through the scene.
Overall, I’d still say it ends up being quite sweet and not a bad reading experience; your mileage will vary on how much William White’s character in the early part of the book colours your experience of the rest. He does redeem himself, and as I said, the happy ending is not on compromised terms.
In this instalment of the series, Curran and Kate head to Georgia to arbitrate an argument between the European shapeshifter packs. It’s a trap and they know it, but they badly need the payment they will receive if they pull it off: ten drums of panacea, the medicine that helps shapeshifters who are at risk of becoming monsters, a risk that most shapeshifters face during adolescence. It’s not clear where the trap is, and Kate’s going to be a lone human among hundreds of shapeshifters who don’t respect her and think they can easily crush her… but it’s got to be done.
As ever, the book barrels along at an enormous clip. I don’t enjoy the relationship aspect of this book very much at all; after what they’ve been through so far, both Kate and Curran should know better than to behave like idiots and ignore the trust they’ve built between them. I know it’s part of the drama of the series, but ugh, Kate, you know he’d face down an army for you, why are you letting yourself be played?
(Not that Kate’s emotional intelligence has ever been a highly vaunted point in this series, admittedly.)
The escalation of the plot as far as Kate’s origins goes, though, is pretty great. Now she finds herself in a confrontation with one of her father’s closest lieutenants, and though the Pack are at her side, there are a limited number of them with her. She has to walk the line, protect the person she’s there to protect and win the panacea, and try to prevent her father’s lackey learning too much about her capabilities. Every secret she can keep now is one more weapon later. And fittingly for stakes this high, there are serious casualties…
As always, the drama and action are balanced with exquisitely timed snarky humour, and quite honestly I reread this in about three sittings and just plain gulped it down. I might not love the relationship drama in this particular instalment, but I’m Team Kate and Curran all the way.
Hi folks! It’s been a while since I did one because stuff got overwhelming, so I’m calling bankruptcy on an actual roundup. Here are a few books I’ve been granted e-ARCs of or been gifted recently, and I’ll start next week’s roundup from here!
Now back to crocheting Christmas presents! But what have you guys been up to lately?
Miss Jacobson’s Journey is the first book in the trilogy with a book I already read, Lord Roworth’s Reward. It features Felix during his earlier adventures, alluded to frequently in the second book, though the main character of the first book is undoubtedly Miriam. It opens when she rejects a suitor chosen by her parents to travel around Europe with her uncle, a doctor, and swiftly moves onto her attempts to get home after her uncle’s death. She ends up on a mission to deliver gold to Lord Wellington, accompanied by her longterm companion, Hannah, and two men: a somewhat familiar Jewish man (the very same man she turned down years before), and a young English lord (Felix) — two men who don’t get along at all.
I enjoyed reading about Miriam trying to unite the two, and the struggles and missteps as both of them become attracted to her. I’m not Jewish, or well-versed in Jewish traditions, so it’s hard to evaluate whether the portrayal of Miriam and Isaac, and the other Jewish people they meet, is a good one — but it felt like it to me, as an outsider. Miriam is great, capable and kind, though not always endowed with the best of judgement when it comes to a pretty face. It was good to get to know Isaac a bit as well, after his brief appearances in the second book. Felix is hardly shown to best effect here: we do see him grow over the course of the book, but he starts out as a snobbish antisemite, and that’s a rough thing to shake off. (And perhaps it was easier for me to shake off because I know him from the second book, as a man who has got over a lot of his prejudice, if not all of his stupider ideas.)
The happy ever after is lovely, and I do appreciate the way this trilogy is completely embedded in the history of the time. It doesn’t go too far — Felix isn’t an invented war hero, Isaac’s no international superspy; they’re just cogs in the great machine of war — but it gives you a solid feel for the time they’re living in. All in all, I think I want to acquire copies of this trilogy for my shelves to reread some other time. Onto the third book, Captain Ingram’s Inheritance!
Things have fallen apart between Elspeth and her long-term partner, so she heads home to her mother, only to find a murder investigation ongoing practically in the back garden. Haunted by what she saw when she checked it out, she looks through her books to discover why it’s so familiar, and finds that it’s a recreation of scenes associated with the local mythology of the Carrion King. She teams up with a childhood friend (now a police officer with a rather slack notion of what should be kept from the public) to dig into it, writing articles for the local paper along the way, and stumbling across more than her fair share of the bodies.
Overall, I found the plot kind of predictable; the mystery side was obvious pretty early on, and it didn’t make much of the tension between ordinary everyday policing and the actually supernatural events. That’s kind of left hanging at the end: the characters agree that there seem to be more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in their philosophy, and then… end of book! I’ve got the second book, and I’m curious enough to dig in, but I’m not overly enthused. I wonder if this might work better for someone who isn’t as steeped in crime fiction as I am? (Because okay, I like my Golden Age crime fiction, and you won’t have anything of this sort in Dorothy L. Sayers, but I did do a module on Crime Fiction during my BA, and I read a lot of Ian Rankin growing up.) For me, the marriage between genres was a rather distant one, tilted toward the crime fiction end, where it wasn’t exactly the freshest doughnut in the box.
Oddly enough, I also found the emphasis on Elspeth’s music choices rather disruptive as well. I don’t know most of the singers/bands mentioned (except Bowie), so if it’s meant to set the mood, it’s totally lost on me. I’m not going to put the book down to spin up Youtube to glean whatever clues to the character’s mental state or the tone of the chapter might be in the music choices.
Peter’s a bit of a non-entity so far, to be honest; Elspeth likes him, but I’m weirded out by the lack of professionalism in giving evidence — interview tapes from people being accused of serious crimes! — to a reporter, childhood friend or not. Elspeth herself… I have no objections to her, but nor am I wildly enthused.
The thing is, although this is all very lukewarm, I read this book in about four sittings tops over the course of 24 hours. It went down easily and I never considered putting it down. That’s worth something, with my current mood (around me lie at least 14 unfinished books, and I haven’t been reading regularly for several weeks now). It’s not that it’s a bad book, but I wanted more from it to be really enthusiastic. I’ll be interested to see what the second book does for me!
Return of the Black Death: The World’s Greatest Serial Killer,Susan Scott, Christopher J. Duncan
Full disclosure: I was sceptical before I even picked this up from the sensational title. You’ve got to go a seriously long way to convince me that the Plague is the “world’s greatest serial killer”, even if we accept that a disease should be considered in such an anthropomorphic light. Let me introduce you to your friendly neighbourhood Influenzavirus A, my #1 vote for “disease most likely to have the means to suddenly eradicate humanity”.
I picked it up because an author tweeted a thread of things she would never let anyone change her mind about, and one of the items was that she doesn’t believe the Black Death was caused by Yersinia pestis. Now, infectious disease is one of my special interests, and I already happened to know that Yersinia pestis has, for example, been isolated from plague pits. So I asked her for evidence of the claim, and she pointed me to this book.
From the start, it was not very rigorous or scientifically accurate? They’ve claimed that HIV is completely understood and under control and causes no panic, for one thing. (I wrote my dissertation on tuberculosis, so I can guarantee you that no HIV isn’t fully understood, because if we could, for example, understand how it and tuberculosis enable each other, that would be really helpful. We have theories, but as of a year ago, we don’t really know for sure.)
And then they make absurd statements like this: “…by all the rules of infectious diseases, when the Black Death was finished it should have disappeared.”
What?! Have they never heard of animal reservoirs? Re-introduction from the original sources? Endemic diseases? Fast-adapting diseases like influenza that change their surface proteins and thus evade immunity? Infectious diseases almost never just “disappear”, though there may be an outbreak in a new species due to chance contact that doesn’t reoccur that might look like disappearance.
What rules of infectious diseases can they possibly be referring to?
I mean, how many diseases do you even know of that have been driven extinct after much effort by humans doing so deliberately? That’ll be two: smallpox and rinderpest. (Smallpox is the only human disease to be eradicated, and with the aid of a highly effective vaccine and extremely persistent vaccination campaigns, it took 11 years of intense campaigning. We have so far been unable to repeat the effect on other target pathogens.)
And there’s this one: “[Measles] is not a danger to well-nourished children in the developed world.” Measles, which can kill (yes, even in the developed world), and furthermore wipes out your immune memoryas well as depressing your innate immune system. And they think that Ebola literally liquefies your internal organs.
And then, you know, I read the immortal words stating that “it came as a great surprise to learn” that Iceland had effective contact with the rest of Europe in the 15th century, and also suffered two major outbreaks of the Black Death. Do they just… know nothing of history? At all? Clearly not: they also referred to a manuscript from 1404 as “ancient”…
I had more quibbles. Honestly, I was made out of quibbles about this book. I do have some lingering questions from good points they raised about the vectors, since they claim that rats/fleas of the type that could transmit bubonic plague were not present in Britain and certainly not in Iceland. It’s clear that their claim it was simply too cold in Britain for bubonic plague to survive is untrue, since studies since the publication of this book with reliable controls have found Yersinia pestis in plague pit remains in Britain, but that still makes me wonder about the vectors.
I’d also like to see independent verification of their work on the incubation period of the Plague, which according to their calculations aren’t at all like the modern Yersinia pestis (which is not genetically that different from the medieval version). However, the shakiness of their grasp on facts elsewhere leads me to doubt just about everything they say.
The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts. Check out the link-up post here.
What are you currently reading?
I just started Miss Jacobson’s Journey, by Carola Dunn. It’s actually the first in a trilogy of connected books, and I’ve read the second already, so it’s a bit weird to meet Felix as an arrogant young buck… but it’s lovely to meet Miriam and get things from her POV, already having encountered her in a supporting role in Lord Roworth’s Reward. I haven’t read any other romances with a Jewish lead before (I haven’t read that many romances yet, to be fair, so maybe it’s common), and I’m enjoying how matter-of-factly that’s treated, while it also shapes things.
I wish I knew this portion of history a bit better, because I’m a liiiiittle bit lost in terms of the political/military background to the story, which is pretty important in this trilogy.
I’m also still rereading Genevieve Cogman’s books; I’m currently partway through The Lost Plot. Once I’ve finished that, it’s pastures new for me; The Mortal Word and The Secret Chapter will both be new to me. I mostly find it like brain-candy; it’s familiar (so far) and comforting because of it, but the less I think about it, the better. (There have been some contradictions in the world-building and such that break things down a bit if I stop to think!)
Aaaand finally I’m reading Susanna Kearsley’s The Firebird for a group read. I’m finding the flashbacks into the past a little clunky, but so far it’s working okay for me.
What have you recently finished reading?
Ugh, I’m not reading that much at all recently, so I’m not sure what I recently finished reading… oh, wait, I remember: the last thing I finished was The Santa Klaus Murder, by Mavis Doriel Hay. I don’t know if I just need a break from British Library Crime Classics or what, but it felt really pedestrian. Mind you, if I recall correctly, I didn’t think that much of Hay’s other book in the series. Maybe I should restore my faith by reading another of Michael Gilbert’s… Smallbone Deceased certainly stood out.
What will you be reading next?
I’m not really sure; I’ve never been good at guessing what I’ll be in the mood for next. Ideally, I need to clear some library books out of my stack, since they’ve overflowed from the “library” shelf and started stacking on the windowsill. Whoops. So, picking at random, I’m gonna try Wychwood next. (Or Hallowdene, if that’s first, but I think it’s Wychwood.)
Ivory Vikings is ostensibly a book focusing on a famous archaeological find: the Lewis chessmen. The chessmen constitute multiple sets of pieces, though there are pawns lacking, and are carved from walrus ivory. Nancy Marie Brown attempts to look into who made them, and when and where the carving was done. She communicates this by taking each type of piece in turn (bishop, queen, king, etc) and discussing the pieces themselves briefly, and then ranging off into historical and geopolitical context.
Mostly, it doesn’t work for me. The book relies heavily on her Scandinavian location being correct, and it’s very plain she has one particular person in mind as the artist from the outset. A lot of the information is not relevant if her theory is incorrect, and her theory is far from proven (even though I agree that from the evidence as presented, it does seem likely).
I wanted something a bit more focused on the pieces themselves, I’ll be honest. It wasn’t a bad read, but it dragged a little, because I’m not here for church politics!