The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry (Charlotte and Thomas Pitt #1)

11639032While the Ellison girls were out paying calls and drinking tea like proper Victorian ladies, a maid in their household was strangled to death. — The quiet and young Inspector Pitt investigates the scene and finds no one above suspicion. As his intense questioning causes many a composed facade to crumble, Pitt finds himself curiously drawn to pretty Charlotte Ellison. Yet, a romance between a society girl and so unsuitable a suitor was impossible in the midst of a murder.

Review:

I’ve been on the lookout for a series I can dig my teeth into and the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries may be it.

The good:

  • I have a thing for historical mysteries, and is there any better time or place for them than Jack the Ripper’s London?
  • Perry doesn’t assume that the reader knows all the history and social mores of the time and weaves in explanations unobtrusively. We learn about Victorian gender roles, class, marriage, crime, and more.
  • All of the characters, from our heroine on down to the maid, are well developed. Everyone has strengths and flaws without being too over the top. This allows the narrative to be carried by the polite conversations of the time without bogging down or getting boring.
  • Feminism, we haz it. Charlotte questions of the ways of the world and tries to point out flaws and contradictions to the people around her. It feels good. But…

The so-so:

  • Holy crap, there’s a lot of gaslighting. It’s for the most part women being told their wrong, they didn’t see what they thought they saw, they overreacted, that things aren’t really that bad. It’s true to the time period, I’m sure, and Inspector Pitt balances it out a tad, but that doesn’t make it any less depressing.

The not-so-good:

  • The book does take some time to get into. It doesn’t bother me so much, especially at the beginning of a long series like this one, but if you like to be gripped from the first page you may want to look elsewhere.
  • The romance is slight but still feels rushed, especially considering how little time the two characters spend together.

I’m looking forward to continuing Charlotte and Pitt’s adventures and watching them develop over, lessee… ~searches~ …30+ books. Woah.

Love and Gravity by Samantha Sotto

31564042Andrea Louviere is seven years old the first time he appears. While she’s alone in her bedroom, practicing her beloved cello, the light shivers and a crack forms in the wall. Through the crack, she sees a candle, a window, a desk—and a boy. Though no sound travels through the wall, the boy clearly sees Andrea, too. And then, just as quickly as it opened, the crack closes, and he vanishes.

Over the years, summoning the bright, magnetic boy becomes something of an obsession for Andrea. Then, on her seventeenth birthday, she receives a three-hundred-year-old love letter from Isaac Newton. Andrea knows that Isaac will change the world with his groundbreaking discoveries; the letter tells Andrea that she will change him.

As Isaac’s letters intensify in passion and intimacy, Andrea grows determined to follow his clues to their shared destiny—despite a burgeoning romance in the present. Only when she discovers the way into Isaac’s time does Andrea realize that she faces a heartbreaking decision: between what was . . . and what might be.

Review:

I loved and was flummoxed by this book in turns but it always, always kept me reading.  I finished it in less than 24 hours so while I have Things to say know that Love and Gravity is hard to put down.

Also be rest assured that I’m not going to spoil anything… here.  If you’d like to read a more detailed, spoiler-filled version of this review head over to the goodreads version where I give those spoiler tags a run for their money.

Now that that’s out of the way…

~takes a deep breath~

Wow.  What a book.

The good:

  • Time travel and time slip plots can get hairy as far as sequence of events go, but Sotto keeps events mostly on the rails. (Caveats below.)  Each chapter starts by telling us which character we’re following, Andrea or Issac, and places them in time by date and/or age.  In the narrative we’re reminded which years are important, so even when the chronology jumps around we can keep things basically straight.
  • The cast is small so there aren’t too many people to keep track of.  We watch them all grow over time in strikingly realistic ways.
  • Yea for epistolary (ish) novels!
  • If you don’t know much about Issac Newton’s life you’ll find yourself going down delightful wikipedia rabbit holes out of curiosity.
  • Even when things are crazy, even when you’re yelling “What?” and “How?!” at the pages, you will be compelled to read on.
  • Do you need a cathartic cry?  I hope you need a cathartic cry.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • This is a novel with a romance, not a romance novel.  If you know what that means then you know what I mean.

The not-so-good:

  • Anachronisms, we haz them.  Spoken British English in 1666 sounds a bit too close to modern American speech for my liking.  There are others but they have to go in the spoiler-ful review.
  • The curse of working in medicine is finding medical goofs in novels.  Won’t bother everyone, I’m sure, but I had to put down the book and vent to my partner before continuing.
  • Events and sequencing get more complicated by the end and I have the feeling that if I looked I would find something that doesn’t check out.  Sotto earned just enough of my trust for me to gloss over inconsistencies, and man there are a lot of balls in the air, but the nagging feeling that something is wrong won’t go away.
  • The whole book stemmed from a plot bunny in a chest, and at times it feels like revisionist history. Andrea is can be seen as a wish-fulfillment Mary Sue – Newton was a great guy and never got married, so let’s go back and put a woman in his life!
  • An apple or gravity reference is cute once or twice but there are so. many. I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes.

In sum my reading experience went like this:

Beginning – Ooo, interesting!  Tell me more.
Third of the way through – I’m not sure I’m on board but I want to see how you manage this…
Halfway point – Hello, anachronism.
Middle-ish – I saw this coming but what the hell was that?!
Last few chapters – ~sob~ No, I’m fine, it’s just that… ~sob~
End – ~runs to write review posthaste~

I Love the Earl by Caroline Linden (The Truth About the Duke #0.5)

12025403Margaret de Lacey has accepted her unmarried state with dignity, if not delight. She had no suitors when she was young and starry-eyed, though regrettably poor, and it’s unlikely any man will court her now that she’s older, wiser, and still just as penniless. Until, that is, her brother unexpectedly inherits the dukedom of Durham and settles an enormous dowry on her, making her the most eligible heiress in town.

No gentleman in London is more in need of a wealthy bride than Rhys Corwen, Earl of Dowling. He contrives an introduction to Margaret because of her dowry, but she swiftly sets him right: no fortune hunter will win her heart or her hand. Far from put off, Rhys is intrigued. Interested. Entranced. And soon the only thing he needs more than Margaret’s fortune…is her love.

Review:

I’m not a huge novella person.  They often feel rushed, and if they’re any good I want more pages, darn it.

I Love the Earl somehow hits a sweet spot.  It’s the perfect length for the story it covers, and I didn’t find myself wishing for a subplot.  Would I enjoy it expanded out to a full-length novel?  You bet.  But it’s not necessary.

Let’s call that the first thing good.  Here’s the rest:

  • There’s no Big Misunderstanding, and all the characters respect each other.  The plot doesn’t hinge on someone being stupid or doing something rash.  It’s refreshing.
  • The hero and heroine have a couple of conversations that boil down to, “Hey, this is what it would mean to be married to me.  Are you okay with that?”  Positive relationship modeling, yea!
  • It’s a comfort read.  I read a good chunk while enjoying a lazy morning in bed – heaven.

The not-so-good:

  •  Being so short the character development is a little lacking, but it’s still a nice setup for the series.

I’m finding Linden to be a go-to author when I need a warm literary hug… with the way the world has been going lately I may be running back into her arms soon.  ~sweatdrop~

The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma by Ratika Kapur

27293160Renuka Sharma is a dutiful wife, mother, and daughter-in-law holding the fort in a modest rental in Delhi while her husband tries to rack up savings in Dubai. Working as a receptionist and committed to finding a place for her family in the New Indian Dream of air-conditioned malls and high paid jobs at multi-nationals, life is going as planned until the day she strikes up a conversation with an uncommonly self-possessed stranger at a Metro station. Because while Mrs. Sharma may espouse traditional values, India is changing all around her, and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if she came out of her shell a little, would it?

Review:

The good:

  • We spend the entire book in Renuka’s head and it stays interesting.  Events are related after the fact, as if we’re a best friends and we’re discussing her life over tea.  The plot itself, character development, and short chapters make for a quick read.
  • The story is a look at what life is like in India today with context for those not familiar.  (~raises her hand~)  No info dumps, just helpful details perfectly placed.
  • I love that Kapur didn’t sanitize the English into something more British or American.  The Indian-ness (I’m inventing that word right now) of the language makes it sing.
  • A major theme is what it means to be a woman in a modernizing society and boy does it resonate.  Over the years Renuka has taken care of her own father, her husband, and her son, making her wonder:

But who will need me next? Who will I have to worry about next? Who else is standing in line waiting for my attention? I sometimes think that the head and heart that God gave me don’t actually belong to me, that even though they live inside me, I don’t actually own them.  Sometimes I just want to shout.  Give me back my head!  I want to say.  Give me back my heart!

The not-so-good:

  • I’m only barely on board with the ending.  The last line makes it and saves it.
  • A big theme is what it means to be a mother, which is something that doesn’t interest me personally.  That’s just me, though, so don’t let it keep you away if you like exploring motherhood in fiction.

All in all a solid enjoyable read, but it lacks the oomph to make it unforgettable.

Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan

Synopsis:

temporarypeoplebydeepakunnikrushnan-9781632061423In the United Arab Emirates, foreign nationals constitute over 80% of the population. Brought in to construct the towering monuments to wealth that bristle the skylines of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this labor force works without the rights of citizenship, endures miserable living conditions, and is eventually required to leave the country. Until now, the humanitarian crisis of the so-called “guest workers” of the Gulf has barely been addressed in fiction. With his stunning, mind-altering book Temporary People, debut author Deepak Unnikrishnan delves into their histories, myths, struggles, and triumphs, and illuminates the ways in which temporary status affects psyches, families, memories, stories, and languages.

Deepak Unnikrishnan presents twenty-eight linked stories that careen from construction workers who shapeshift into luggage and escape a labor camp, to a woman who stitches back together the bodies of those who’ve fallen from buildings in progress, to a man who grows ideal workers designed to live twelve years and then perish—until they don’t, and found a rebel community in the desert. In this polyphony of voices, Unnikrishnan brilliantly maps a new, unruly global English, and in giving substance and identity to the anonymous workers of the Gulf, he highlights the disturbing ways in which “progress” on a global scale is bound up with dehumanization.

Review:

Until recently I thought I wasn’t a short story person.  I guess I was just reading the wrong ones, as I loved The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers last year and I love Temporary People. So what are the ingredients to a perfect-for-me collection?

  • A window onto an experience I’m not familiar with

The city flirted with these people, making all give and give up. The air was spiked; everyone wanted a taste.

Temporary People is about foreign laborers in Gulf states, working in places like Dubai.  Often they come for economic reasons, sending the money they make back home, but others start families and stay… until they’re forced to leave.

Unnikrishnan uses fantastic elements to get at the reality underpinning the guest worker experience.  The story Birds follows Anna Varghese, who tapes construction workers together after they fall from the buildings they’re working on.  When they hit the ground an arm skitters off in one direction, their spleen and eye in another, but they don’t die.  They simply wait for someone to come by at night and patch them together with glue, a needle, and some horsehair.

Anna had a superb track record for finding fallen men.  The woman must have been part-bloodhound.  She found everything, including teeth, bits of skin… the men were grateful to be fussed over like this.

…The fallen shared that when Anna reattached body parts, she spoke to them in her tongue, sometimes stroking their hair or chin… If she didn’t speak his language, she sang, poorly, but from the heart.  But even Anna lost people.

Metaphors of men being seen as things comes up again and again.  In one story they’re literally grown in soil to fill the need for more labor.  It would be clumsy and blunt in the wrong hands but Unnikreishnan breathes life into each story, which brings me to my next ingredient.

  • A solid plot held together with inventive writing

Temporary People is written in English, but it’s not the sort you may have grown up with.  It’s a Global English – largely the same but bending in places to fit the needs of its speakers.

In the back [of the shop]… was what some customers sought him out for, a fone.  The device resembled a rotary phone, but it wasn’t a phone; it was a fone… the fone’s main purpose was teleportation.  A man could use the fone to talk to his wife, and as his wife cried softly into the neighbor’s phone, her husband would hover over her, like a giant bee, seeing his wife cry like that, feeling satisfied that his wife could cry like that, content that he could see her cry like that, even though she wouldn’t be able to see him, or even know that he was there, so close he could see the dirt on the back of her neck.

Unnikrishnan molds words to do his bidding and they sucked me in.  Once there the plot keeps things moving – I made sure I had time to finish each story as I knew I wouldn’t be able to put it down halfway.

  • A touch of something… different

Here, as you can tell from the above examples, it’s a touch of magical realism.  It bends reality like Global English molds the language, allowing us to get past the facts and come closer to truth.  Cockroaches wear clothes and walk on two legs.  A tongue jumps out of a mouth one day, crossing the road and leaving stray nouns in its wake.  An elevator is implicated in a crime.  It sounds fantastic when boiled down to one sentence like that, but it’s spun out in such a way that’s not jarring, just… well, magical.  Some stories share common links, making it easy to imagine the different settings as part of a cohesive whole.

The result is wonderful, and Unnikrishnan has earned a fan.  I can’t wait to see what he comes out with next.

…and if you know short story collections that have two or more of these ingredients tell me in the comments!  I’m always on the hunt for more :)

Thanks to Restless Books and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Wayward Children #1)

25526296Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Review:

This book is the perfect way to get out of your brain and set aside the world for a time. It will only be a short while but oh, how wonderful it is.

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is for children who have slipped away into different worlds. Some went to fairy lands that are akin to Alice’s Wonderland. Others visited darker places, or weirder places, or places that weren’t happy to see them. For various reasons they have returned to the real world, and many would do anything to find that door out once again.

The story is short with a simple whodunit at its core. But, much like Palimpsest, I wasn’t here for the plot. The various words described are intriguing and I want to know more about them. The characters are simply drawn but still deep and flawed and human. I especially love how the main characters cover a full range of gender and sexual identities.

And the writing! Overall it’s not difficult, pitched at the lower end of YA with a few expletives thrown in, but McGuire pops in observations that make you gasp and say “Yes, this”.

Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.

Some are like life lessons:

We don’t teach you how to dwell. We also don’t teach you how to forget. We teach you how to move on.

So good. As much as I loved this book, though, there are some things I would change. First, I wish it were longer because 1) I’m greedy and 2) a subplot would have helped round out the narrative. The plot felt thin for a world this rich and well thought out. Second, the characters annoyed me with their obsession for categorizing the worlds they visited. The basic classification is interesting and helpful, but the characters’ preoccupation with it drove me nuts. Granted, this has parallels with the real world (pigeonholing, stereotyping) but still. Grah.

I’m excited to see that this is the first in a planned series – I can’t wait to return to McGuire’s world.

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

31843383San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where magic, science, and art intersect.

Inspired by the pulps, film noir, and screwball comedy, Passing Strange is a story as unusual and complex as San Francisco itself.

Review (short version):

Guaranteed to be one of my top books of the year, if not number one.  I actually made myself put it down after a chapter or two each night so I wouldn’t finish too quickly.  Part of the joy is going in blind and I suggest you do the same, so if the blurb interests you go read it.  Now-ish. :)

Review (long version):

I’m going to say as much as I can while giving away as little as possible.  Characters live and breathe in a city that does the same.  The plot is wonderfully paced within an intriguing structure and the writing is as beautiful as it is unobtrusive.

Our heroines live the best life they can despite the homophobia and racism and other miasmas that hang over San Francisco in 1940.  They struggle, but they are not defined by that struggle.  They aren’t damaged or any less themselves.  These women do what they can, do what they must, and above all, persist.

I know I haven’t done the book justice so… go.  Read it.  An enthusiastic, wholehearted recommend.

Thanks to Tor and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

For Real by Alexis Hall

25376011Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.

It can’t be real.

Gaaaaah this book is wonderful and I’m thrilled to see it won a RITA for its awesomeness.

The good:

  • I love flipped tropes and this one is particularly delicious.  While most BDSM romances have a hunky alpha dom here Laurie, the sub, is the one with age and muscles on his side.  Toby is young, scrawny, and inexperienced so no one takes him seriously as a dominant but he convinces Laurie to give him a shot.
  • Similarly, it’s refreshing to have being penetrated separated from being the sub.  Universe – more of this, please!
  • The characters are masterfully drawn and realized.  They are flawed but it’s subtle, no unnecessary “oooo I wonder what his awful secret is!” angst.  We learn more about the heroes as the story goes on and each detail reinforces what we already know.
  • The large age difference is addressed and dealt with well.  It ends up being the largest sticking point of the relationship which rings true for me.
  • Chapters are told from each hero’s perspective and they could not be more different.  Laurie sound like the older, educated gentleman that he is, and Toby’s point of view is more casual and slang-filled.  The difference carries over into their speech so the whole book feels more unified than I was expecting with different POVs.
  • Laurie is a doctor and my (partially trained) eye didn’t find any medical weirdness or errors.  This is more rare than you would think.
  • The story is plain ol’ good.  I loved watching the couple fall in love and swallowed chapters in greedy gulps.

The only not-so-good things I can think of are nitpicks and not even worth mentioning.  If you like BDSM romance, or gay romance, or just plain ol’ romance For Real is a wonderful read.

Rogue Magic by Kit Brisby

32714776While trapped in a stalled subway train on his morning commute, PR rep Byron Cole flirts with Levi, a young waiter with adorable curls. But Byron’s hopes for romance crash and burn when Levi saves him from a brutal explosion—with outlawed magic.

When Levi is imprisoned, Byron begins to question everything he’s ever believed. How can magic be evil when Levi used it to save dozens of lives? So Byron hatches a plan to save Levi that will cost him his job and probably his life. If he doesn’t pull it off, Levi will be put to death.

Byron must convince Levi to trust him, to trust his own magic, and to fight against the hatred that’s forced him to hide his true nature his entire life. The more Levi opens up, the harder Byron falls. And the more they have to lose.

Ooo boy, is this book timely.  In a world very much like our own magic is a real thing.  Not everyone can use it, and those who can are forced to register with the government and are vilified by the public.  (See that? Yup.)

Bryon works for the company that confines mages and believes the party line until he meets Levi, who saves his life with a well placed magical shield.  Bryon wrapping his brain around this new information is one of my favorite parts of the book.  We watch him struggle with long held beliefs, do his best to open his mind, and become friends with people he formerly would have brushed aside.  The process takes time and feels right.

Brisby’s New York is delightfully rooted in the reality of our own, and I appreciate that the medical details are (to my knowledge) accurate.  The friendships are especially satisfying, maybe even more than the insta-romance that pops up.

The world building is good early on but, like the plot, it loses steam. I would have liked more info about the history of mage suppression or theories on where the magic comes from and why only some people can use it. A lot gets swept under the rug with ‘it’s outlawed, so we don’t know’ which works in the beginning but gets frustrating as the story goes on. In a similar vein the ending left me with some unanswered questions as well as doubts that everything could have changed so quickly.  And if you like your allegory subtle this is anything but.

Still, I enjoyed Rogue Magic.  A diverse, escapist urban fantasy that manages to both address and take my mind off of current events?  I’m here for that.

Thanks to Riptide Publishing and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

The Phantom Lover by Elizabeth Mansfield

24444922Fiery young “Nell” Belden went to Thorndene Castle to escape a lover, not to find one. She was bound by the strict conventions of England’s Regency to a man she could never love, then bound by the ties of passion to a man she could never marry! For at Thorndene, she discovered a new and startling love, a love that was as intense as it was doomed…

“You must leave Thorndene!” said the ghost. Then he added, more gently, “I come to warn you, not to harm you. I may never touch you, any more than a shadow may..”

“What does that signify?” Nell asked. “Since you are dead, you can have no need or inclination to touch me anyway.”

“You can’t know much about men-or ghosts-or how delightful you look in that nightdress, if you believe that,” he said with disturbing sincerity.

Nell blushed and pulled the bedclothes over her. For a long moment, neither of them spoke. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the ghostly figure was gone…

Review:

After seeing the 1979 publication date I was afraid this book would be full of literal bodice ripping and alpha-holes and old skool awfulness.  But in fact it’s a lovely Regency romance with a feminist heroine and a good share of laughs.

The good:

  • Nell is a strong character that has her head on straight.  She calls people out on their bullshit and is determined to only marry for love.
  • The hero appearing as a “ghost” is fun device that is executed well.  There’s nothing domineering about Henry, a genuinely nice guy.
  • While there’s a ballroom scene most of the action takes place away from society, allowing for a comfortingly small cast of characters.  Everyone is fleshed out, from the housekeeper’s family to the suitor from hell.
  • The whole book is just silly in a good way.  Great aunt (or is it grandma?) Amelia is always good for a laugh and the action never gets too heavy or dour.  Escapist romance for the win!

The not-so-good:

  • The relationship between the hero and heroine’s families is a little convoluted and I’m still not sure I can explain it.
  • The ending is rushed and only half-earned.

All in all a welcome diversion that reads quickly and leaves you smiling.