BOOK REVIEW: A Knife in the Fog, by Bradley Harper

BOOK REVIEW: A Knife in the Fog, by Bradley HarperTitle: A Knife in the Fog by Bradley Harper
Published by Seventh Street Books
Published: October 2nd 2018
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 288
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Physician Arthur Conan Doyle takes a break from his practice to assist London police in tracking down Jack the Ripper in this debut novel and series starter.

September 1888. A twenty-nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle practices medicine by day and writes at night. His first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, although gaining critical and popular success, has only netted him twenty-five pounds. Embittered by the experience, he vows never to write another “crime story.” Then a messenger arrives with a mysterious summons from former Prime Minister William Gladstone, asking him to come to London immediately.

Once there, he is offered one month’s employment to assist the Metropolitan Police as a “consultant” in their hunt for the serial killer soon to be known as Jack the Ripper. Doyle agrees on the stipulation his old professor of surgery, Professor Joseph Bell—Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes—agrees to work with him. Bell agrees, and soon the two are joined by Miss Margaret Harkness, an author residing in the East End who knows how to use a Derringer and serves as their guide and companion.

Pursuing leads through the dank alleys and courtyards of Whitechapel, they come upon the body of a savagely murdered fifth victim. Soon it becomes clear that the hunters have become the hunted when a knife-wielding figure approaches.

As someone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes pastiches and nearly anything revolving around Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life outside of those stories, I was incredibly excited to see a new mystery (or mystery series, perhaps? Goodreads says it’s a series starter!) involving Conan Doyle, Bell, and Margaret Harkness. Bradley Harper’s A Knife in the Fog is incredibly well-researched and well-rounded. It’s difficult to get the tone and language of the time period to be believable without feeling as if it’s forced, and Harper manages to bring the style of the time forward to modern ears.

A Knife in the Fog follows Doyle, Bell, and Harkness as they try to deduce who calls himself “Jack the Ripper” and his motives for attacking the working women of Whitechapel. There are numerous theories of the identity of Jack the Ripper, and Harper’s theory ties in believably in the scope of his novel. Margaret Harkness is a lively figure in history brought to life in the novel in such a way that charges the trajectory of the narrative. As a reader, I thought the addition of Margaret Harkness into the dynamic duo of Bell and Doyle was a necessary and wonderful addition to the story. While I won’t go into spoilery details, Harkness is one of the two women in this story who forces each Bell and Doyle to reconsider their assumptions and prejudices about women and women’s work. And given the traditional nature of these boys’ club mysteries, I was pleasantly surprised to see two women.

I also liked the nods to various literary figures and future Sherlock Holmes stories scattered throughout the book as well. It was like hunting for literary clues. Overall, this is a well-paced, well-researched, and well-crafted mystery with just the right amount of flair and atmosphere. If you enjoy historical fiction/mysteries, Jack the Ripper stories, and Doyle/Holmes pastiches, I highly recommend you check out A Knife in the Fog!

Thank you to Seventh Street Books for sending me a complimentary review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Not Her Daughter, by Rea Frey

BOOK REVIEW: Not Her Daughter, by Rea FreyTitle: Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
Published: August 21st 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Emma Grace Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes. Brown hair. Missing since June.

Emma Townsend is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Abandoned by her mother. Kidnapper.Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal--and when a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her, far away from home. But if it's to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure she wants her daughter back.Amy's life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now she's gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But her real mother is at home, waiting for her to return--and the longer the search for Emma continues, Amy is forced to question if she really wants her back.

Emotionally powerful and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother--and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.

Rea Frey’s Not Her Daughter is a well-paced domestic thriller in which Sarah Walker, a successful entrepreneur, kidnaps Emma Townsend, a five year old girl. Amy Townsend, Emma’s mother, is worried about her daughter’s disappearance, but she also feels some kind of secret relief in not having to deal with the personality clashes she has with her own daughter. That secret relief Amy felt was one of the most interesting parts of the book for me.

While I felt like I did have to suspend disbelief a little bit while reading this novel, I really enjoyed how this was formatted. Not Her Daughter is divided into the perspectives of Sarah Walker and Amy Townsend, each with subsections of “before,” “during,” and “after.” The way each of these glimpses into the lives and minds of the two women added such depth to the story and kept me turning the pages because I wanted to know how this would be resolved and how everything would turn out in the end.

Some of the issues I had with the novel were the body-shaming and a few logistic issues near the end. I am tired of the trope that the “bad” women are fat and not very pretty, while the protagonist is fit and conventionally attractive. The traveling scenes at the end of the book seemed farfetched in terms of distance and time as neither seemed very clear, and that’s where some of the suspension of disbelief tied in.

However, I did enjoy Frey’s writing. I found it engaging and well-constructed. And I loved the dynamic of Sarah and Emma’s mother/daughter bonding.

Not Her Daughter brings into question what is right and wrong in terms of a young child’s life, and Rea Frey deals with the difficult subjects of abusive and neglectful children, the children of parents who were neglectful, and how each of those circumstances tie together everything a person does in their present and future.

If you enjoy domestic thrillers and are looking for a new writer to add to your reading lists, definitely pick this one up!

Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a complimentary copy to review!

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books That Surprised Me

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly discussion hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl (and formerly hosted by The Broke and the Bookish), and this week’s topic is the top ten books that surprised you (in a good way or a bad way), and I’m going to go with the more positive route, because usually if books are surprisingly bad, I just stop reading them or choose to forget about them (unless they’re legitimately awful. And that’s pretty rare).

My list will focus on the top ten books that surprised me in 2017, so it’s functioning sort of as a recap for last year’s reading as well, since I was a little lazy and perturbed by the lack of functioning keyboard to have any desire to write anything. Anyway, this list is not in ranking order, but in order from when I read it in the year, from the beginning of 2017 to the end of the year.

  • The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin. I think I read this many, many years ago when I was much younger and much less aware of what science fiction could do in terms of exploring humanity and culture instead of merely exploring space. Ai, the main character of this book, is at first unsettled by the sense of duality and ambisexuality on Gethen, and this unsettled feeling is a direct exploration of how gender functions in our own society (granted, in 1969, the much-broadcast definitions were a little different than the conversations we’re having today, so some of it feels outdated). However, a lot of it feels so relevant, and it made me think and it made me wonder, and I think that’s what some of the best science fiction should do. “It is yin and yang. Light is the left hand of darkness… how did it go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, Therem. Both and one. A shadow on snow.”
  • The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Ever since I got my hands on an ARC from the table at work, I’ve been telling everyone I know to read this book. It’s relevant, it’s nuanced, it’s heart-wrenching. Though often hilarious and heartwarming at times, Thomas’s novel further reveals to us the consistent, prevalent institutional racism and broken criminal justice system in America in which so many people (without consequence!) continue to violate the civil rights of thousands because of the color of their skin. It will break your heart; it will make you angry. Read it. “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”
  • The Stars are Legion, by Kameron Hurley. I read this book a year ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It’s sci-fi just how I like it. It’s gross, it’s visceral, and it’s an angry yell into the void of space. I mean, don’t you want to read about asexual ships that give birth to whatever the ship needs, cannibalistic women who eat their deformed young, and womb/uterus/placenta references (with all of the associated fluids) all over the place? Yes, you do. I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot or the characters because half of the enjoyment of this is getting to discover that for yourself. Just read it. ASAP. “When you understand what the world is, you have two choices: Become a part of that world and perpetuate that system forever and ever, unto the next generation. Or fight it, and break it, and build something new. The former is safer, and easier. The latter is scarier, because who is to say what you build will be any better?”
  • The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu. The thing I liked most about this collection of stories, aside from Liu’s deft skill at writing and blending several different genres, is that so many of the stories focus on the idea of storytelling and what that means for us as people and as a society. In the collection, you’ll read about the ways in which species across the universe record their stories for the present and the future (“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”), the ways in which society tells us stories to keep us controlled and how difficult it is to break the illusions (“Perfect Match”), the literal power of words (“The Literomancer”), and the literal preservation of memory to be “read” and its upsides and pitfalls (“Simulacrum”).  “Time’s arrow is the loss of fidelity in compression. A sketch, not a photograph. A memory is a re-creation, precious because it is both more and less than the original.”
  • Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. Moby-Dick functions best for you, dear reader, when you are familiar with the history of the novel. I think I read this at a pertinent time in my life. Had I read it before I learned the history of the narrative, the novel, the American novel, religion and its function in the American novel, the personal life of Melville (and by extension Hawthorne), and postmodernism (and one can argue whether or not this novel is considered postmodern, but it’s different than anything else I’ve read from the time period and knowing how postmodernism works in a literary setting adds to my own consumption and enjoyment of the novel on some level because its lucidity is very much like James Joyce’s style), I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it as much as I do now. It’s a hefty novel, a undertaking, but it’s so incredibly worth it. It’s a love story, and you will wonder whether or not you are chasing your own white whale. “There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.”
  • The Whole Art of Detection, by Lyndsay Faye. I am so particular about my Sherlock Holmes pastiches. It’s so difficult to capture the essence of Doyle’s original stories while simultaneously making it new, and Faye does this with exemplary flair. All of these stories feel at once rooted in time and timeless, and Faye manages this with her effortless, captivating writing. If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes in any capacity and love a good historical mystery, read this right away. Dust and Shadow, a mystery in which Holmes and Watson discover the true identity of Jack the Ripper, is just as engaging. “In the broad light of day, I could not give his tale nearly so much credence as I had granted it when sitting rapt before a midnight fireplace whilst the tempest without erased the natural world.”
  • Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer. This is one of those cerebral post-apocalyptic dystopian novels that will linger with you long after you finish it. This standalone novel from the author of the Southern Reach trilogy explores how humans abuse science and nature for technological or monetary gain, and Borne shows us the aftermath of that greed. The novel also explores what it means to be a person, what it means to love and then to let go of love, what it means to live and then to die, and what it means when one finds beauty in the midst of so much chaos. VanderMeer manages to pack so much description, emotion, and longing into such a short novel, and it’s a novel that will make you reread passages and sentences again and again because of their beauty and complexity. The companion novella, The Strange Bird, is just as compelling. “He was born, but I had borne him.”
  • Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen. This is a supernatural Western, and it’s AMAZING. This follows Nettie Lonesome, a half-black half-Comanche young woman, who sets out to discover herself, her identity, and her place in the world only to discover that there are monsters lurking everywhere. This is steeped in Native American folklore with a hefty dash of that Old West mythology. Nettie is resilient, disguises herself up as a man and takes on a new name or two in order to get what she wants out of life, and begins to use her skills for the betterment of herself and others once she realizes she has the capacity to do so. It’s also a fantastic story with so many twists and turns, and you won’t be able to put it down, because I certainly couldn’t. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series. “Your heart is not a rock that stands unchanging. It’s like water. It flows, it moves, it allows neither boulders nor canyons to stand in its way. It hardens and softens and expands to fill new spaces. You are still becoming yourself. And you have a lot to learn.”
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I really didn’t know what to expect from this when I received it as part of BookSparks’s summer reading challenge, but I didn’t expect to read a heartfelt story of a woman of color navigating that man’s world called Hollywood. It was such a breezy, gossipy (but deep) read, and it’s about Evelyn Hugo coming clean about her life and owning up to her flaws and essentially wanting to become real after being put on a pedestal her entire life. It’s about coming to terms with the reality that behind someone’s “perfect life” is a person who struggles with themselves and their daily lives just as much as the rest of us. I don’t really cry at books, but this one got me teary-eyed more than once, and that’s saying something. “They are just husbands. I am Evelyn Hugo. And anyway, I think once people know the truth, they will be much more interested in my wife.”
  • The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang. I have so many feelings about this book (and this series), and all of them are good. SO GOOD. If you like -punk genres, you need to read this. If you like stories exploring identity and gender and what it means to be a person, you need to read this. If you just like engaging fantasy, you need to read this. In Yang’s Protectorate, gender is chosen (or not) by the person and sexuality is fluid, and it’s such an amazing exploration on those subjects. It made me feel less alone on the subject of presentation, and I think it’s one of those books that will make other people feel less alone on so many fronts. The second part is just as moving, and I am eagerly awaiting the third. “The saying goes, ‘The black tides of heaven direct the courses of human lives’. To which a wise teacher said, ‘But as with all the waters, one can swim against the tide.'”

After compiling this, a majority of the books have a similar theme: identity, discovery, and what it means to be yourself, and for me, 2017 was a lot of that, so it’s interesting to note that the books I read last year that have stuck with me reflect that theme as well.

BOOK REVIEW: Bannerless, by Carrie Vaughn

BOOK REVIEW: Bannerless, by Carrie VaughnTitle: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn
Series: Bannerless Saga #1
Published by Mariner Books
Published: July 11th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

A mysterious murder in a dystopian future leads a novice investigator to question what she’s learned about the foundation of her population-controlled society.

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.  Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn't yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?  In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.

What happens when you mix a post-apocalyptic dystopian with a bit of detective fiction? You’ll get Carrie Vaughn’s Bannerless. I really enjoy traditional, structural genre stories mixed with a fantastic setting, and this one didn’t disappoint. Bannerless takes place about a hundred years after a series of events destroy society. It’s a little like taking a peek into our future if we aren’t careful about our relationships with other countries and if we aren’t careful with our planet. Instead of being another post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, Vaughn uses this vision of the future as a twist in her traditional mystery and that twist adds a dimension to the story that I found really enjoyable.

In this futuristic world, the population has dwindled, birth control is mandatory, and people live in tight-knit communities in which everyone knows everyone else’s business. People group together in family units called houses, and they work together to provide enough materials for themselves and for their families, and once their quotas are met or consistently exceeded, these families can apply to get a banner which allows that household to have a baby.

Enid of Haven is an Investigator, a role that combines the roles of police, detective, and judge. Crime doesn’t really exist in this future world, and most of it ends up being bannerless pregnancies or unauthorized food and material production to try to game the system. She is called up with her partner to investigate a suspicious death of a bannerless person in a neighboring community, and she is forced to confront someone with her past as she and her partner Tomas figure out the mystery. I also really enjoyed Enid’s self-discovery as she investigates the suspicious death. She goes from being a little insecure of herself as an individual to growing more and more confident in herself, and to me, that’s entirely relatable. Told in alternating chapters of Enid’s past and present, Bannerless explores a future in which our very society is regulated on the local level and how our actions, even with good intentions, can be devastating for entire families.

If you enjoy traditional mysteries, dystopian futures as imagined in books like Station Eleven, and speculative fiction, you’ll probably enjoy this one! It’s short, yet well-crafted and well-paced. And I’ve just read she’s working on another post-apocalyptic murder mystery, so I’m hoping that the next one will continue following Enid’s investigations!

This book was provided to me for review by Netgalley and Mariner Books. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: A Perilous Undertaking, by Deanna Raybourn

BOOK REVIEW: A Perilous Undertaking, by Deanna RaybournTitle: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn
Series: Veronica Speedwell #2
Published by Berkley Books
Published: January 10th 2017
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Veronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries...
London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.
But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.
From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....

In the second installment of the Veronica Speedwell mysteries, Veronica continues to be a woman out of her time. The mystery in this one is not as prominent as it was in the first, but I found this to be excellent in learning more about who Veronica (a lepidopterist) and Stoker (a natural historian) are. We find out more about Stoker’s past and meet some of his family, and I found that it really rounded out Stoker as a character.

With her ties to a major family, Veronica is swept up into a job preventing the hanging of someone some believe to be innocent. Along the way, Veronica and Stoker become closer friends with so much romantic tension hanging between them. While I’m not really one for romances in a traditional sense, I’m really liking this slow burn, and I’m hoping that later in the series something happens because I have a feeling it will be so satisfying to read.

The other characters in the novel are well-developed and engaging, and I felt each of them added so much to the depth of the story. I loved all of the incidents Veronica and Stoker find themselves in, and I especially loved the peeks into that upper-class art scene and those sex houses/clubs of Victorian England.

If you enjoy vivacious and smart women, broody and Byronic men, visual glimpses into life in Victorian England, and a lot of humor and tension, these mysteries should be on your reading lists!

Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Books for a review copy! All opinions are my own.