Book Review: Scandal Above Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

Scandal Above Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

This is the second book in the Kat Halloway Mystery series, so this review may contain spoilers for the first book. You can always check out my review for Death Below Stairs here.


Kat Halloway has settled into her role as cook for a wealthy London family after several months of murder, mystery, and fenian plots. When a friend of Kat’s employer is accused by her husband of stealing priceless artwork, Kat finds herself drawn into the scandals and betrayals of the above stairs world. When the rash of thefts spreads to neighboring houses and the British Museum, it seems Kat has her work cut out for her. Balancing her demanding work life, prickly new assistant, devotion to her daughter, and unofficial detective duties is hard, but cooks are very good at multitasking.

This is a strong second entry into the mystery series. Kat Halloway is quite a good protagonist, smart, quick-witted, and relatable. So many Victorian-era mysteries focus on upperclass women solving mysteries, it’s nice to see the belowstairs folks get their day in the sun. Ashley has also provided us a strong secondary character in the form of Tess, Kat’s sharp-tongued new assistant. While it would have been easy to leave Tess as a surly young woman (with or without a heart of gold) Ashley takes the time to flesh her out beyond the basics and make her someone the reader wants to root for.

This is a great series for folks who dig historical mysteries. If you’ve read and liked The Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson, or the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, this is a great next stop for you!

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto

The Body in the Ballroom by R.J. Koreto

This is the second book in R.J. Koreto’s Alice Roosevelt series, so there may be spoilers ahead for the first book. You could likely read this book as a stand-alone, but reading Alice and the Assassin first is a better choice.


Alice Roosevelt and her intrepid bodyguard, Secret Service Agent Joseph St. Clair, have been reunited and sent back to New York for the social season. When a man is poisoned at the coming-out ball of one of Alice’s friends, Alice can’t help but get involved in the investigation. As they dig deeper into the man’s death, Alice and St. Clair find rumors of a secret society, and a surplus of suspects. It seems a lot of people had good reason to wish the victim dead…

R.J. Koreto writes a great female protagonist. In this series, he bases his leading lady on real-life Alice Roosevelt, daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt, and verifiable hellion. Koreto brings the plain-talking, cigarette-smoking, taboo-busting Alice into a great historical mystery plot and lets her loose.

The first book had some rough areas, which can usually be attributed to the difficulty inherent in introducing a new world and new characters without sacrificing plot and pacing. Happily, this installment is a fun, engaging ride, with Alice and St. Clair hitting their respective strides. Fans of historical mysteries will find a lot to like in Alice Roosevelt.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Dead Men Whistling by Graham Masterson

Dead Men Whistling by Graham Masterson

This is the ninth book in the Katie Maguire series, so this review will probably contain some minor spoilers for the previous books in the series. However, I read this book without having read the others, and was able to enjoy it on its own merits.


Garda detective Katie Maguire is still reeling from her last brutal case; her dog, Barney, was nearly beaten to death, and the man responsible for his condition has managed to avoid prosecution for his crimes.

When a Garda officer is found in a local park beheaded with a tin whistle sticking out of his neck, Katie Maguire finds herself thrown into a case that could bring down the entire Garda from within.

This is a dark, grim murder mystery, along the lines of Jeffery Deaver. Masterson was a horror writer prior to trying his hand at mysteries, and it shows. Beyond the gore, this is a book that doesn’t look away from the horror and terror of its plot. Many would try to come at the darkness of the plot from the side, or from any safer angle. Masterson sets off headlong into the jaws of the beast, and takes the reader along with him.

My biggest problem with the book is that it’s noisy. There are numerous subplots banging around in the background, and sometimes it is hard to find the thread of the main plot through all the chatter. Perhaps this is the inevitable result of a long running series, and those who have read the previous books may find more in hose subplots than I did.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

This is Holmberg’s fourth entry into her Paper Magician universe. This is not a direct sequel, rather The Plastic Magician explores new themes and magics within the same universe as the Paper Magician Trilogy. This means you can read this book as a standalone without having read the others. But I’m going to say right now that if you haven’t read the original trilogy, then you are seriously missing out.

In this story, we leave magicians Ceony Twill and Emery Thane behind and instead follow Alvie Brechenmacher, an American girl with German parents who desperately wants to be a polymaker, that is- a magician who works with plastic. As polymaking is the newest and least understood magic, there is an entire world waiting for discovery, and Alvie, naturally brilliant and creative, wants to make her mark on the world. When she manages to apprentice to the world’s foremost polymaker, all of Alvie’s dreams seem to be coming true. But when she and her mentor develop a groundbreaking new invention, old rivalries emerge and Alvie learns that the world of magician can be a dangerous one.

This was a great addition to the Paper Magician world. Alvie is a fantastic protagonist–unapologetically brilliant, kind, creative, and more than a little socially awkward. I also enjoyed how, despite the book’s historical setting, everyone seems to take Alvie’s intellect as a given, and as an asset. Alvie occupies the brilliant inventor trope that is so often the territory of male characters, and she does it well. I always love a female protagonist who is comfortable with their own intelligence.

In fact, my biggest complaint would be that the antagonist of this book, while amoral and devious, exists more as a witless foil than a true challenge. While he certainly succeeds in disrupting things in the book (as he must), once his master plan was revealed, I felt a bit let down (really guy, that was your plan? And then what?!).

In all, this is a fun YA book that will appeal to a wide age range. Fans of the previous books will enjoy this one, and anyone who thinks this book looks good should check out the Paper Magician, like, yesterday.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Buried Symbol by Jeffery L. Kohanek

The Buried Symbol by Jeffery L. Kohanek

At birth, every child in the empire is branded with a rune, which determines the path their life will take. The chosen follow their assigned path and thrive in their life’s calling. Then there are the unchosen, those who, at birth, are not favored by the gods. These are the equivalent of an untouchable caste, occupying the lowest rungs of society. They have no prospects, and no hope to improve their lot in life. Brock is one of these unfortunates, but he is determined to be more than his birthright dictates. Obtaining a counterfeit rune, he sets off to become one of the Empire’s ruling class. At the academy, he uncovers a lost form of magic, and secrets that could bring the Empire itself to its knees.

This book has a lot of potential. As a debut offering, there are fantastic bones to this story. The magic and caste systems are original and nicely developed, the protagonist is interesting and sympathetic, and the world is fleshed out and full of wonder and danger. The writing and pacing are a bit rough, but the underlying talent is there. With a book or two more of experience under his belt, Kohanek could make quite a name for himself in the fantasy genre.

The book is certainly designed to appeal more to young adult audiences, but older readers enthusiastic about fantasy will probably enjoy themselves as well.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso

The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso

Fair warning: this is the second book in Caruso’s Swords and Fire Series. If you haven’t read The Tethered Mage, then there’s probably going to be spoilers in here for the first book. Of course, if you haven’t read Tethered Mage, then you’re missing out on a fantastic fantasy series and should go read it right now. I’ll wait.


Amalia Cornaro’s political star is on the rise. After averting disaster and civil war within the Raverran Empire, she has, however reluctantly, accepted her place as her mother’s heir. But the Witch Lords of Vaskandar, led by the sadistic skinwitch Ruven, are preparing for war with the Empire. These incredibly powerful mages, each more or less invincible in their own realms, could spell the end of Raverra itself. Amalia and her fire warlock falcon, Zaira, once again find themselves the first line of defense for their homeland.

The Tethered Mage was one of my favorite debut fantasy novels. Caruso created a world (based loosely on renaissance Venice) that was full of magic and people, a world that was vibrant, that had a feel of reality and history to it. In Defiant Heir, Caruso build on this strong foundation, and allows the world and her characters to grow.

This story takes us out of the now-familiar Raverra and into Vaskandar, of which we hear only vague rumors before. I enjoyed how the focus on the Witch Lords allowed for the magic system of the world to grow and evolve alongside the characters.

This book is ostensibly in the young adult genre, but is engaging and intelligent enough to appeal to a wide range of readers. Anyone looking for a fantastic fantasy series featuring a smart, resourceful, and relatable female lead need look no further.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Prudence and Imprudence by Gail Carriger

 

prudence imprudence

Prudence and Imprudence by Gail Carriger

Okay, these books are pretty much a sequel to Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, so if you haven’t read those books, you probably aren’t going to get a lot out of them. However, you really should read that series, it is one of the best examples of paranormal-steampunk out there. But for now, if you keep reading, there’s going to be spoilers for the Parasol Protectorate series.

________________________________________________________________________

So I was a huge fan of the previous books featuring Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Conall Maccon. Carriger manages to give us stuffy Victorians, steampunk gadgets, werewolves, vampires, and tea fanatics, and make the entire thing funny, entertaining, and (most astonishingly) not ridiculous.

Prudence and Imprudence continue the story two decades later, featuring (naturally) Alexia and Conall’s metanatural daughter, Prudence (though she prefers to go by Rue). Having been raised by a combination of her werewolf father, preternatural mother, and vampire spy master Lord Akeldama, Rue has had anything but the typical Victorian childhood. Fortunately, Rue is her mother’s daughter and thrives in the atypical. When Lord Akeldama presents Rue with her very own Dirigible for her birthday, she naturally takes to the skies with her best friends Percy and Primrose Tunstell, and Quesnel leFoux. Through the two books, she travels to first India and then Egypt, her time heavy with the style of adventures Alexia Tarabotti would have dived into in her day.

It is always hard to continue a series in the same world, but with new characters. People inevitably long for the good old days with the characters they know and love. Carriger does a great job of modernizing her story (to the 1890s, let’s not get crazy), and keeping enough of the old guard about to make the entry into Rue’s world both novel and satisfying (it doesn’t hurt that there are so many ageless characters to choose from). It is gratifying to see what became of some of our favorites in the intervening two decades, but Carriger keeps the focus on the newest generation, and does a wonderful job of it. Rue is definitely her mother’s daughter, though she would never admit it. Seeing Ivy’s twins grown up and rebellious in their own ways is fun. And of course, we have our requisite bad boy in Quesnel leFoux.

What I especially like in this series is Carriger’s willingness to tackle the dark sides of the Victorian era. She deals frankly (though in a steampunk fantasy way) with the violence the British wrought in India and their other colonies, and with the Victorian tendency to see people other than themselves as less than human. Rue marches straight into the teeth of these issues, and the books are the better for it. So many Victorian-era books glide over the problems with the era. I’m not opposed to romanticism on the face of it, but these books came through like a breath of fresh air.

If you were a fan of the Parasol Protectorate series, you should definitely check these books out. If you haven’t read the first series of books, this review is probably highly confusing. Go read ’em!

Book Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

rivers of london.jpg

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

This is the first book in the Peter Grant series. I was recommended this series by a friend of mine, who knew I’d been meaning to start The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. Note to self: book shopping after talking with friends during a long night at the bar can be dangerous.

Peter Grant is a fresh new constable with the London Metropolitan Police. He seems to be your average constable destined for average desk work until one night, while guarding a crime scene, he has a chat with a ghost. This odd ability brings him to the attention of one Chief Inspector Nightingale, and Grant suddenly finds himself swept into a world where magic is real and very, very dangerous.

I really enjoyed this book. I still haven’t read The Dresden Files (my bookworm friends will understand the unstable sand that is a TBR list), but from what I know of the series, this is built in the same vein. As always, first books always have the awkward getting-to-know-you-and-the-worldscape stage, but Aaronovitch manages to get through that with a minimum of sacrifice for pacing. There is a good amount of action, and quite a few scenes that were genuinely creepy. Add that to the fact that the book is so firmly set in London that you can follow the action on Google Earth (I absolutely did this), and this is vastly entertaining, incredibly realistic fantasy read.

Fans of Jim Butcher, Kevin Hearne, and other urban fantasy series should absolutely check this out. The best part is, since I’m coming onto this series late, I can binge!

 

Book Review: Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley


Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

The first book in the Kat Holloway mystery series introduces us to our heroine; a Victorian-era cook with secrets in her past that leave her teetering on the fine edge of respectability. After starting a new position as cook for a wealthy and influential London family, Kat’s professional life takes a blow when her young assistant is brutally murdered. With the help of her long-time friend (and mysterious the secret-agent type), Daniel McAdam, Kat vows to uncover the truth about what happened to the young woman. As the plot thickens, the scope of the crime continues to grow, until even Queen Victoria placed at risk.

I love a good period mystery. Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery Series is a perennial favorite. Seeing the typical Victorian mystery through the eyes of a cook (generally depicted as tyrants or foils) also promised to be interesting and novel. And in general, Death Below Stairs delivered on its 19th century promises. Kat Holloway is intelligent but not perfect, Daniel McAdam is mysterious and reserved, and the supporting cast of characters is eccentric and entertaining.

However, I do have to say that this book doesn’t read like the first in a series. There is a lot of backstory, especially with Kat and McAdam, that is mentioned but not explained. Past events are referenced obliquely and little detail is given. I assume that a lot of this will be fleshed out in future books, so no harm done, but the book feels more like jumping in at book four or five than starting fresh. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I’m glad the author has fleshed out her characters to this extent, but I did have to check multiple times that this was indeed the start of a series. 

Nevertheless, fans of period mysteries, especially Victoeian-era mysteries, will probably enjoy this book a great deal. This a well-crafted mystery, perfect for consuming over the course of a chilly gray afternoon.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review and GIVEAWAY!!! Bloodstains with Brönte by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Bloodstains with Brönte by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Giveaway details are at the end of my review!

Fair warning, this is the second book on the Crimes with the Classics series, so expect spoilers below for the first book. But good news! You can read this book and have fun without reading the previous book. 

_______________________________________________

Okay, so this book finds Emily Cavanagh in the midst of renovations to turn the mansion she inherited from her murdered aunt into a writer’s retreat. Unfortunately, Emily’s ward, Katie, seems to have a horrible past with one of the workers, and the other seems to have developed an unhealthy obsession for the young woman. When one of the young men turns up dead at a murder-mystery fundraiser at Emily’s house, Katie becomes the primary suspect. With tensions running high and the dreary winter storms setting in, Emily must uncover the truth if she’s to save her young friend. 

I like a cozy mystery every now and then. A nice bit of fiction to consume in an autumn afternoon. Bloodstains with Brönte fit the bill perfectly. You have a quirky, independent woman pulled unexpectedly into crime solving, a small town with a crazy high murder per capita rate, a great setting in an antique house replete with hidden staircases and dark corners, and colorful local townsfolk to provide a plethora of red herrings for our heroine to follow.

My one complaint is with Emily herself. I expect my detectives to be flawed, and no mystery novel would be complete without pointing the finger at the wrong person once or twice, but midway through the book, Emily completely abandons all logic (it’s actually stated that “He might have reason on his side, but affection trumped reason in her book.”) in the face of Katie’s possible guilt. I’m all for sticking up for friends and family, but I prefer my amateur detectives to be a bit less willing to divorce their investigation from the facts. Fortunately, Emily eventually comes around, and the book continues on in a more satisfying way, but come on.

So cozy mystery lovers and fans of Louise Penny take note. Despite its flaws, this is a fun little tea cake of a mystery series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

______________________________________

Giveaway Details: 

Enter for a chance to win a finished copy of this book! (US only, sorry)

How to Enter:

Like and comment on this post for one entry

You can get bonus entries by following and liking the giveaway post on my Instagram page (@irregularreader) and by following me on Twitter (@readirregular) and retweeting the giveaway post. 

A winner will be randomly selected on December 20th, 2017. The book will be mailed directly from the publisher!

You know you want a free book for the holiday season!