Friday, August 24, 2018

Second Upstairs/Downstairs Mystery As Delightful As the First

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Scandal Above Stairs, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Death Below Stairs.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

Kat Holloway has earned herself a reputation as the best cook in London, but that's hardly her only claim to fame.  She's also become quite adept at sleuthing.  It's natural, then, for Lady Cynthia—an unconventional member of Kat's employers' household—to ask for help with a puzzling mystery.  Priceless paintings have gone missing from a baronet's home and his wife, Clementia Godfrey, stands accused of the theft.  Although Clemmie's desperate for money to pay off her gambling debts, Lady Cynthia knows her friend wouldn't stoop this low.  She begs Kat to help prove Clemmie's innocence.  

Artwork, Kat soon discovers, isn't the only thing being stolen in Mayfair.  To keep an eye on recent antiquity thefts, the always-enigmatic Daniel McAdams has stationed himself in a nearby pawnshop.  When a man is killed on the premises, Kat becomes concerned for her friend's safety.  She also needs his help, once again, because she's sure all the robberies are connected somehow.  With the help of Daniel's Greek friend, Mr. Thanos, Kat is positive they can discover the truth and clear Clemmie's name.  Even with her own neck on the line, London's best cook will not rest until she solves the case.  

It may not be the most original string of British detective stories, but nevertheless, Jennifer Ashley's Kat Holloway series is entertaining and fun.  I enjoyed the second installment, Scandal Above Stairs, just as much as the first.  With natural upstairs/downstairs tension, plus a lively mystery afoot, it tells an engaging story.  No-nonsense Kat is an understated, but alluring character, with a supporting cast that is no less intriguing.  Although the mystery at the heart of the novel isn't anything I haven't seen done a million times, I still didn't manage to guess whodunit.  All in all, then, I found Scandal Above Stairs to be a delightful, engrossing tale with plenty to keep me coming back for more.  I've thoroughly enjoyed this series so far and can't wait to see what comes next for the indomitable Kat Holloway.  


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and vague references to sex and prostitution

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Scandal Above Stairs from the generous folks at Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).  Thank you!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

YA Zombie Western Satisfies On Every Level

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Dusty and desolate, the mostly abandoned town of Glory, Texas, is little more than a pile of dirt in a vast, unforgiving desert.  It's a miracle anything survives in the rough, ugly settlement.  With "shakers"—mindless, cannibalistic zombies—haunting Glory's perimeter and greedy, heartless men-monsters ruling its interior, no one escapes Glory unscathed.  

Daisy "Willie" Wilcox lost her mother to the shaker disease last year, but the 17-year-old is determined not to let any harm come to her three younger siblings.  They might be penniless, but she's doing everything in her power to keep them sheltered and safe.  When a pair of violent shaker hunters accuses Willie's no-good, never-around father of stealing from them, Willie knows she has to take their threats against her family seriously.  She doesn't have $3 to give the men, let alone $300, but with a little help, she thinks she can track down her drunken dad.  After tricking a pair of more benign shaker hunters into accompanying her, she sets off on a desperate, perilous journey across the cruel, callous desert.  Willie will do anything, risk everything, to protect her siblings.  Even if it kills her—and it probably will—she'll fight to the death to save her family. 

As a desert dweller who's enjoyed a number of YA westerns in the past little while, I found everything about Devils Unto Dust—a debut novel by Emma Berquist—appealing.  From its gritty cover to its enthralling premise to its action-packed plot to its endearing characters, this is one of those books that just satisfies on every level.  True, it's not the most original zombie tale out there, but what it lacks in creativity it makes up for in solid writing, relatable characters, and an engrossing storyline.  Besides a little blood and gore, it's also a clean novel that has a lot of crossover appeal.  I thoroughly enjoyed Devils Unto Dust and can't wait until Berquist's new book (not a sequel) comes out next year.

(Readalikes:  Dread Nation by Justina Ireland)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Devils Unto Dust from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Debut Novel Offers Poignant, Heart-Wrenching Look at 1800s Native American Assimilation

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With her successful lawyer husband and posh Philadelphia home, Alma Mitchell appears to be just another sheltered, well-to-do society woman.  No one would guess she spent her childhood in the wilds of Wisconsin, mingling with the "savages" her father was attempting to tame at The Stover School for Indians.  As the only white child at the boarding school, Alma watched with fascination—and growing horror—as her brown-skinned classmates were stripped of their birth names, their native language, and their unique culture.  Forever changed by her experience in Wisconsin, Alma has buried the scars and secrets of her past in an effort to assimilate into a society that no longer feels like her own.  

Fifteen years after fleeing Wisconsin, Alma reads a shocking newspaper article that propels her right back into the past she's been trying so hard to forget.  An old friend from the Stover School, Asku "Harry" Muskrat, is being charged with the murder of a federal agent.  The smart, sweet boy Alma knew would never commit such an act.  Determined to right a past wrong, she begs her husband to represent Asku.  When the two confront the angry Native American, Alma is shocked by what she sees.  The boy could never have harmed anyone, but what about the man?  With Asku's life on the line, Alma will find the truth and free her old friend, even if it means reopening the wounds and heartaches of her past. 

Between Earth and Sky, a debut novel by Amanda Skenandore, offers a sharp, heart-wrenching look at the U.S. government's troubling efforts to assimilate Native Americans into "polite" society after the Indian Wars of the 1800s.  It's a fascinating subject, made even more intriguing through Senandore's use of lyrical prose, sympathetic characters, and a compelling (if a little slow) plot.  Although the novel is depressing, it's also affecting and eye-opening without being sentimental or preachy.  Overall, I enjoyed this thought-provoking book. 

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language; violence; and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, August 09, 2018

New Bell Elkins Mystery Hits Me Right in the Feels

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Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Bone on Bone, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from previous Bell Elkins mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

After insisting on serving a jail sentence for killing her abusive father, Belfa "Bell" Elkins has paid her debt to society but lost her job.  Although she's been fired and disbarred, Bell retains her loyalty to her "small, poor, done-in county" (34).  When a local banker is murdered, she can't help looking into the case.  With Rhonda Lovejoy—Bell's long-time friend and successor—and Jake Oakes—a former deputy sheriff who's reluctantly adjusting to life as a paraplegic—by her side, she's determined to figure out who killed Brett Topping.  As the usual suspects fall by the wayside, however, Bell will have to look uncomfortably close to home to find the murderer.  

While Bone On Bone (available August 21, 2018), the seventh installment in the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller, isn't as unique as some of its predecessors, it's still a poignant, compelling novel full of everything I love about this series.  Keller excels at bringing Acker's Gap, a worn-out Appalachian town, to life in all its problems and pleasures.  While some of the Bell Elkins books rely more heavily on plot, Bone On Bone is definitely about the characters.  I always love our understated hero and it was fun to get to know her and her compadres even deeper.  Although the killer becomes fairly obvious in this one, the book's finale still caught me by surprise—and hit me right in the feels.  Now, I really can't wait to see where this series goes next!

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Bell Elkins series, including A Killing in the Hills; Bitter River; Summer of the Dead; A Haunting of the Bones [novella]; The Devil's Stepdaughter [novella]; Ghost Roll [novella]; Last Ragged Breath; Evening Street [novella]; Sorrow Road; and Fast Falls the Night)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence, depictions of illegal drug use, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Bone On Bone from the generous folks at Minotaur (a division of St. Martin's Press/Macmillan).  Thank you!

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Fascinating New HERstory Book Brings Women's Civil War Contributions to Light

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

If you were asked to name women who made important contributions to the Civil War—on either side of the conflict—who would you list?  Clara Barton is the one who comes quickest to my mind, followed by Harriet Tubman.  After that ... um ... I got nothing.  Of all the thousands of women who served, sacrificed, and risked their lives to help with the war effort, it's natural that many of their names and deeds have been lost to time.  It's astounding, though, that certain women—all of whom performed unique, impressive, and courageous actions—are not household names.  

Perhaps that will change with the publication of Marianne Monson's newest book, Women of the Blue & Gray.  A follow-up to her Frontier Grit (2016), this volume features a wide cross-section of females who aided the war effort as spies, soldiers, scouts, nurses, doctors, abolitionists, cooks, political activists, reformers, revolutionaries, and more.  The women were wealthy, destitute, educated, illiterate, married, single, widows, mothers, childless, white, black, Native American, and so on.  What they have in common is incredible stories, most of which I hadn't heard before.  If you, like me, are not familiar with the many contributions made by women during the war, I urge you to pick up this book.  It makes for fascinating reading.

Although I found all of Women of the Blue & Gray engrossing, some sections interested me more than others.  I love that Monson includes "Further Reading" lists with every chapter.  That way, I can delve on my own into the subjects that interested me most (women disguising themselves as men to serve beside their husbands, brothers, and fathers for instance).  The book's concluding chapter, "Pathways to Peace" is an especially touching finale, discussing efforts made after the war
to promote forgiveness and looking forward instead of backward. 

As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed Women of the Blue & Gray.  It's interesting, engaging, touching, and inspiring.  I'm passing it on to my 16-year-old feminist daughter, who I know will be just as awed as I was by the incredible stories within its pages.

(Readalikes:  The chapters on women disguising themselves as men in order to fight in the Civil War remind me of I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe. I'm sure They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook is also similar, although I haven't read it yet.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Women of the Blue & Gray from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain.  Thank you!
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