1 star, crime & mystery, historical

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock Holmes #2)

33835806
Title: A Conspiracy in Belgravia
Author: Sherry Thomas
Series:  Lady Sherlock Holmes #2

Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deducti.on to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.

Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.

In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body that surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?

Rating1star

First: if you plan to read this series start with the first book A Study in Scarlet Woman. This is not a series that can be read out of order. I was puzzled during the first chapters because I took all the mysterious hints for allusions to the events that were to come in that book but at least some of them were allusions to things that happened in the previous books.
Second: The even more sensible choice would be to not read this series at all and instead re-read A Scandal in Bohemia. Or The Adventure of Solitary Cyclist. Or one of Lyndsay Faye’s pastiches. Anything that is actually good instead of this mess. The book tries to be a crime novel that is also a Holmes-pastiche/meta and an examination of Victorian morals/hypocrisy/the role of women/the treatment of anybody who doesn’t fit in but fails spectacularly on every count.

Charlotte was involved in a scandal and is therefore not welcome in polite society (or her family) anymore. That’s not a problem for her though. She has benefactors who make sure that she has a place to live and enough money to buy French pastries. She even still gets a marriage proposal. Not for love, more as a marriage of convenience that would also make it possible to help her sisters (who are still stuck with their hypocritical parents). That gives Charlotte ample reason to explain that love-marriages are a stupid idea anyway because love is a fickle thing…and postpone her answer to the proposal over and over again…
The possibility that her parents could abduct her and lock her up somewhere to lessen the ‘shame’ she has brought over her family is brought up but thanks to her oh so superior intellect that means she can foresee anything she is never in any danger of that.

The people who are suffering because of Charlotte’s actions are her sisters who are still stuck with her parents. Livia, who is also clever but less confident and who misses Charlotte but can only exchange occasional letters with her. And Bernadette who has an unspecified mental disability and who after having lost Charlotte as attachment figure has gotten worse. (The danger that their Dickens-caricature-horrible parents would lock her up in an asylum is conveniently non-existent). But we see Charlotte barely bothered by any of this. Emotions are for other people.

As Holmes pastiche, it also doesn’t work. I need a proper ‘Watson’ as narrator for that but A Conspiracy in Belgravia jumps from one 3rd person narrator to another. Including an inspector that ends up doing nothing to solve the case. But even if you’re less pedantic about that: the few deductions Charlotte makes are ridiculously far-fetched. (And yes, I’m aware that this is also an issue in the original stories, but they still look tame compared to what Charlotte figures out). The case gets solved through a series of the most convenient coincidences.

Which brings me to my final complaint: the mystery is also shit. You can play any of the following drinking games and always end up completely wasted before the book is over:

  • convenient coincidence that helps bring the investigation along
  • a chapter ends with an ominous cliffhanger that later gets resolved in two lines
  • weird time-jumps for no reason
  • current POV narrator keeping information about things happening in front of them from the reader

I would not advice combining two or more of these unless you want to end up with alcohol poisoning. But then I would not advise reading this book at all.

 

ARC recieved from NetGalley

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3 stars, crafting, non fiction

A Stash of One’s Own: Knitters on Loving, Living with, and Letting Go of Yarn

34227605Title: A Stash of One’s Own: Knitters on Loving, Living with, and Letting Go of Yarn
Editor: Clara Parkes

This addictive-to-read anthology celebrates yarn—specifically, the knitter’s reputation for acquiring it in large quantities and storing it away in what’s lovingly referred to as a “stash.” Consider contributions from knitting and teaching luminaries, including:
Stitch ’n Bitch co-founder Debbie Stoller
Meg Swansen, daughter of master knitter Elizabeth Zimmermann
Knitting blogger and author Susan B. Anderson
alongside offerings from knitting greats Amy Herzog, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, and Franklin Habit—plus, stories from a romance novelist, an illustrator, a PhD-wielding feminist publisher, a globetrotting textile artist, a licensed clinical social worker, and the people behind the world’s largest collective online stash, Ravelry.com. The pieces range from comical to earnest, lighthearted to deeply philosophical as each seeks to answer the question of how the stash a knitter has accumulated over the years reflects his or her place in universe.

The stories in A Stash of One’s Own represent and provide validation for knitters’ wildly varying perspectives on yarn, from holding zero stash, to stash-busting, to stockpiling masses of it—and even including it in estate plans. These tales are for all fiber artists, spinners, dyers, crafters, crocheters, sheep farmers, shop owners, beginning knitters to yarn experts, and everyone who has ever loved a skein too hard to let it go.

Rating3star

Asking a knitter what he or she plans on doing with the yarn he or she just bought is like asking a squirrel what it plans on doing with that nut it just buried under a pile of leaves. Obviously we plan on using it. Now? Later? For what? How can we know? Our main priority is simply to get that yarn safely back home and stored away in our stash. We’ll know when we need it.

I read this book to have a good time and I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now…

As it is the case with anthologies you get a mixed bag with this book. In Stashers: Who the heck are we? Lela Nargi simply wrote out some Ravelry stats about stash. I could never get much out of these “If you put all these together it would be enough to do X” things. Blame my failure to imagine measurements of any kind properly. Or the fact that for me 17 times to the moon and back and 100 times to the moon and back both boils down to ‘a bloody lot’.

But you also get a hilarious story by the Yarn Harlot about having too much stash, dealing with it and still having a lot that manages to describe the reason she is keeping a skein that looks like “Barbie and My Little Pony dropped acid and tried to come up with a colorway” in a rather touching way.

In another essay, Amy Herzog insists that she doesn’t have any stash. The yarn she has at home isn’t a stash. Never mind that it’s a lot more than I have in my two IKEA boxes (and that additional bag with sock yarn leftovers…) and that that yarn she has at home is not intended for specific projects which is for me the only reason to consider it not stash.

But then there’s also a beautiful essay by Franklin Habit (of It Itches-fame) talks about dealing with being a boy that wasn’t interested in typical masculine pursuits and then with the loss of his mother which was very moving.

After some outstanding (good and bad) stories, in the beginning, everything blurs together in the middle. Every essay seems to be some variation of ‘this is how I started knitting’ followed by ‘this is my stash’ and ‘this is when I realized it was too much and this is how I dealt with it’. Optionally accompanied by a story that is only vaguely/not at all connected to knitting and that sometimes takes more space than the parts about knitting. Somewhere in between a psychologist explains how much stash is too much and requires outside help (I don’t have that much).

Then, in the last third or so, we get some variety again. Lilith Green’s Work in Progress talks about her body image issues and how that also affected her knitting (and stashing) habits: muted colours, nothing that stands out, nothing that draws attention. And how she finally came to the conclusion that “I stash for the body I have now and will have for years to come. Not for the body others think I should have, or that I think I should have, but this body here and now.” while also admitting that loving her body is still ‘a work in progress’.

 

Here’s the thing. As makers, we fix things. That’s what we do. It’s our superpower. We’re good at it. When it comes to grief and loss, though, there’s no fixing.

 

A few more essays tell very personal stories about knitting as a way of dealing with loss and grief. For me, Comfort Yarn by Rachael Herron stood out especially but the others were great as well.

We also get A Proper Stash which has very little to do with (yarn or fabric) stash but sounds uncomfortably white saviour-y in parts. Eugene Wyatt’s On Giving is the essay that sounds most like self-promotion. It also opens with a quote by Anne Frank.
Allow me to throw a deeply-felt fuck you at that level of emotional manipulation. And finally, we look at Yarn as a Feminist Issue which makes some great points. Unfortunately, the writing is so condescending in some parts that I want to disagree out of spite.

So what do I think of the whole collection? It was…nice. The good stories (especially Comfort Yarn, Work in Progress and Habit’s Her Pretty String) were so good that I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time with this. Despite some boredom (and anger). Am I saying this is a must-have for a knitter? No. Listen to a crafting podcast (I suggest The Crafting System or their sister-podcast On Pins and Needles) and knit some of your stash instead.

 

ARC provided by NetGalley

4 stars, fantasy

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors (The Risen Kingdoms #1)

31702733Title: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors
Author: Curtis Craddock
Series:  The Risen Kingdoms #1

A polymath princess and her faithful musketeer must unravel the plot of a thousand-year-old madman in order to save an a foreign kingdom from a disastrous civil war.

Caelum is an uninhabitable gas giant like Jupiter. High above it are the Risen Kingdoms, occupying flying continents called cratons. Remnants of a shattered world, these vast disks of soaring stone may be a thousand miles across. Suspended by magic, they float in the upper layers of Caelum’s clouds. 

Born with a deformed hand and utter lack of the family’s blood magic, Isabelle is despised by her cruel father. She is happy to be neglected so she can secretly pursue her illicit passion for math and science. Then, a surprising offer of an arranged royal marriage blows her life wide open and launches her and Jean-Claude on an adventure that will take them from the Isle des Zephyrs in l’Empire Céleste to the very different Kingdom of Aragoth, where magic deals not with blood, but with mirrors.

Rating4star

“I still think I should-”
“No!” Isabelle rallied against the automatic male assumption that anything she might do, they could do better, even if they had no experience whatsoever.

After the awesome-sounding blurb and the advance praise, I expected a lot from this book and was slightly disappointed in the first few chapters. It infodumps a lot on the world and there is too much magical technobabble for my taste. It also doesn’t need long till my fantasy pet peeve appears: the brutal execution method (described in detail) that shows us just how horrible the world the protagonists live in is. It is pointed out that that method isn’t the norm in the whole country, only the duke that rules over the Isle des Zephyrs is a psychopath but that doesn’t make it much better. I’m very tired of books that begin that way.

I wasn’t grumpy for long, though because the book soon made up for its mediocre start. (And the mustache-twirling villain that is the heroine’s father…who also made sense in context later). We get a math-loving heroine whose life is turned on its head when she is married off to the son of a neighboring country’s king. He’s only the second son but there is pressure on his father to disinherit his firstborn because he refuses to divorce his barren wife.

Isabelle is now thrown into a cesspool of intrigue. Her husband-to-be’s older half-brother and his wife are unsurprisingly not pleased by her. But she also isn’t sure what her groom’s mother wants. Her own son on the throne instead of the son of her husband’s first wife, so much is obvious, but what role does Isabelle play in her schemes? And what about the priest who arranged the marriage? The prince and Isabelle come from different magical bloodlines and the church says those should never mix. Add a few more people with uncertain loyalties and I wished I’d made some notes during reading to keep things straight. (Seriously. Especially during the very grand, very epic and very awesome finale it almost got a bit much).

And what does Isabelle want?
Peace.
That’s right. She knows that any uncertainty about the succession will throw the country into a bloody civil war and she wants to avoid that. And she has only one certain ally in that endeavor: Jean-Claude, a Musketeer that has been more of a father than her actual father and who has now accompanied her to the foreign court.
Of course, Jean-Claude is a King’s Musketeer. And the king of Céleste also has plans for his neighboring country. He and Jean-Claude have some disagreements about the importance of Isabelle for these plans. That leads to some…intense discussions between the two.

tumblr_ootzc0y3m51udbbido1_500
Pictured: How I imagined Jean-Claude and King Leon

Now this book isn’t only about court-intrigue. There is also action (a couple of princes have to be saved after all) but if you don’t think that a scene in which Isabelle has to figure out what’s the right thing to say to her future mother-in-law can be just as tense and exciting as a swordfight you won’t enjoy that book as much as I did. (I enjoyed it a lot, in case that wasn’t obvious…now how long do I have to wait for the next book?)

3 stars, fantasy

Dust and Light (Sanctuary #1)

18683282Title: Dust and Light
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Sanctuary #1

How much must one pay for an hour of youthful folly? The Pureblood Registry accused Lucian de Remeni-Masson of “unseemly involvement with ordinaries,” which meant only that he spoke with a young woman not of his own kind, allowed her to see his face unmasked, worked a bit of magic for her….After that one mistake, Lucian’s grandsire excised half his magic and savage Harrowers massacred his family. Now the Registry has contracted his art to a common coroner. His extraordinary gift for portraiture is restricted to dead ordinaries—beggars or starvelings hauled from the streets.

But sketching the truth of dead men’s souls brings unforeseen consequences. Sensations not his own. Truths he cannot possibly know and dares not believe. The coroner calls him a cheat and says he is trying to weasel out of a humiliating contract. The Registry will call him mad—and mad sorcerers are very dangerous….

Rating3star

One part of Dust and Light is a buddy cop movie. No, seriously. There’s the new guy who is a posh bloke, arrogant, privileged and obsessed with obeying rules to the letter. And there’s a working class guy who has been doing this job for a long time who is very aware that justice sometimes clashes with what is legal. Of course, they can’t stand each other at first. But then a murdered child turns up and they realize that both want the person behind this to pay for their crime. There is also some mutual life-saving involved and soon they’re willing to do everything for each other.
The other part of the book is a conspiracy thriller. Lucian discovers that he has some very powerful enemies. He has no idea why they are after him but he soon learns that he can trust nobody. Now he somehow has to find out what’s so special about him that the whole magical government is after him while also avoiding being captured by said magical government. (And catch a child-killer. Because the constant threat of imprisonment and worse is no excuse to neglect your strong moral compass).

I love buddy cop shows. I hate conspiracy thrillers. And the thriller is the main plot. Now despite my dislike for that particular genre: it’s a very well done one. The more Lucian finds out about the why the less he knows whom he can trust. And the more he has to deal with what this why means for him and his convictions. Carol Berg once said that she likes to put her heroes in situations where they have to go against their most valued beliefs and that is very true for Lucian. I really felt for him that on top of everything he also has to come to terms with something that major.

And all that made me often almost forget that all the conspiracy thriller tropes actually exhaust me. But then came yet another scene that made me wonder why Lucian hasn’t collapsed from exhaustion at an inopportune moment because he spent the last three days mostly without sleep, constantly running and getting beaten up at least once. Or he got attacked and my first thought was ‘Well, there’s about 8 possible choices for who did this’. So I was annoyed and at the same time really wanted to know how it all continues. (I still do and so I will read book two). Somebody who is less bothered by these tropes will probably enjoy this book more than I did. But for me, it’s a book I liked but one that won’t get a space on my favorite shelf.

4 stars, fantasy

Song of the Beast

11338966Title: Song of the Beast
Author: Carol Berg

Brutal imprisonment has broken Aidan McAllister. Once the most famous musician of his generation, celebrated as a man beloved of the gods, his voice is now silent, his hands ruined, his music that offered beauty and hope to war-torn Elyria destroyed. Even the god who nurtured his talent since boyhood has abandoned him. But no one ever told him his crime. To discover the truth, he must risk his hard-bought freedom to unlock the mind of his god and the heart of his enemy.

Rating4star

 

I did not know how to offer love or how to recognize it when it was offered to me, though I was fairly certain it did not come from those who told you in the same breath that they wanted to slit your throat.

One thing I really enjoyed about the Carol Berg books I’d read so far was that romance didn’t play a huge part in them. I don’t mind romance but I get annoyed when people who should be busy saving the world just talk about their heartache. So I was not too happy when both Aiden and Lara spent a lot of time in their POV-chapters talking about their own feelings and how sure they were that the other one could never reciprocate them.
But then both of them had very good reasons to think so, it wasn’t some ridiculous melodrama blown out of proportion. And while especially Lara’s chapters are sometimes really dripping with self-hatred and her ‘I’m sure he can’t stand me’ gets somewhat repetitive I can easily see why she is like that.
Oh well, and the romance has some of my favourite tropes. They have to pretend to be a couple twice. There’s dancing and live-saving and Aidan has to keep calming Lara down because really she just wants to kill people. Exactly my kind of couple. If you have romance in your fantasy, please do it like that.

And then there’s the villains. Or rather the lack of typical fantasy villains. Nobody wants to destroy the world for the evilulz. Nobody wants to kill the king. No foreign power threatens to conquer the country and enslave the people.
The closest thing we get to villains are the dragonriders (and yes, they admittedly don’t have that much depth) but even they don’t want more power than they already have. They just want to keep the power they have. And when that status quo is threatened they are Not Happy. But they are not the main reason for the bad things that happen in this book. The main reason is bad decision making. Some were made by the characters in this book. Some by their ancestors and they are now stuck with them. Admitting that those decisions were bad would lead to disaster. And now they all hope that they can just carry on as before, even if that means making some more bad decisions.

Now there are some things that show it’s the author’s first book. There are some info-dumps early on about the character’s past and the worldbuilding. Through the changing POVs we also get some pieces of information twice and the final battle is somewhat anticlimactic but those are just minor things in an otherwise great book. (And a single-volume fantasy no less! I can’t remember the last time an author managed to fit a whole epic fantasy in a single book).

5 stars, fantasy

Transforation (Rai-Kirah #1)

Title: Transformation
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Rai-Kirah #1

Seyonne is a man waiting to die. He has been a slave for sixteen years, almost half his life, and has lost everything of meaning to him: his dignity, the people and homeland he loves, and the Warden’s power he used to defend an unsuspecting world from the ravages of demons. Seyonne has made peace with his fate. With strict self-discipline he forces himself to exist only in the present moment and to avoid the pain of hope or caring about anyone. But from the moment he is sold to the arrogant, careless Prince Aleksander, the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Seyonne’s uneasy peace begins to crumble. And when he discovers a demon lurking in the Derzhi court, he must find hope and strength in a most unlikely place…

Rating5star

No, my lord. It is your heart. Difficult as it may be to comprehend, there is a possibility you may have one.
Look at that blurb. And then at that cover. I know how this looks but this isn’t a highly problematic gay romance. It is a beautiful story but also one that’s probably not for everybody.
Slavery in fantasy-stories isn’t unusual but most books shy away from really touching the topic. It mostly happens far away to Other People. If it happens to our protagonists he either remained strong and resistant and honourable through the worst abuse or has the great luck to meet the one Nice Guy master who does not abuse the human being he owns for fun (even though everybody else in the story does).
Transformation doesn’t go that way. The first few chapters are not easy to read because some horrible things are done to Seyonne. (It’s not needlessly graphic but also doesn’t leave any doubts about how bad it is). And Aleksander does some of these horrible things. He’s a spoiled brat with a frightening amount of power who has never thought about the consequences of his actions.
He gets better.
And I’m buying his redemption arc. There is no long and meaningful conversation between him and Seyonne where he explains how sorry he is and how he realizes how horrible he’s been. There are only two or three short scenes where he says things that make it clear that his views have changed drastically. He also does a lot of things to make up for his behavior. (Yes, I know that threatening to kill people if Seyonne gets hurt is not a sensible or healthy thing to do but it is very delightful. And it’s not the only thing he does).
So yes, for me his ark worked but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people who see him at the beginning and don’t want to see anything more of him.
And since that book is about Aleksander, Seyonne and how they and their relationship changes over the course of it, you will only enjoy it if you buy the redemption. Sure, it’s a fantasy novel where the protagonists fight demons but that part is so closely linked to the characters that you will not enjoy it if you don’t like them.
So what I have just said in many words is that this is a very character-driven story and that I like the characters a lot. Is the book perfect? No, there are some pacing-issues towards the end. A lot happens on the last 100 pages. Actual action and revelations and you get barely time to comprehend all of it because there are already three more things happening simultaneously. At the very end, there is even something that I expected to be the sequel-hook but it gets resolved in 5 pages.
But…I don’t care. I still loved it because it shamelessly panders to preferences. A fantasy novel with a small cast of characters and focus on their relationship, mages, a world that isn’t just fantasy medieval Western Europe and even though it’s dark it never feels dark and gritty(TM) just for the sake of being dark and gritty.
not a book

Mid Year Freak Out Book Tag

Found this one over at Maxxesbooktopia.

1. Best book series you’ve read so far in 2017?

I loved the Collegia Magica books by Carol Berg. It’s been a while since I was so enthralled in a world and loved the characters so much. Besides, I also really enjoyed KJ Charles Spectred Isle and will check out more of her.

2. Best sequel of 2017 so far?

If you ask for ‘Sequel that has been published in 2017’ I can’t answer because I haven’t read any. Though K.M. McKinley’s The City of Ice was published on December 27th, 2016 so I guess it almost counts and I enjoyed it and intend to read the next book so that qualifies. If you just ask for sequel I have read in 2017 then I have to point to the above question and say The Demon Prism, third Collegia Magica book.

3. New releases you haven’t read but want to?

That are already out? None to be honest. Unless you count approximately 1325 series I started reading and want to continue eventually.

4. Most anticipated release of the remainder of 2017?

That’s easy:

Ben Aaronovich – The Furthest Station because it’s another Peter Grant novel AND WHY DO I STILL HAVE TO WAIT SO LONG?

As well as Curtis Craddock – An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors because it sounds like The Three Musketeers In Space and I can never pass anything Musketeer-related.

5. Biggest disappointment?

Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom. I liked Six of Crows despite some of its faults and had hoped the sequel would improve but it didn’t.

6. Biggest surprise?

Stefan Lehnberg’s Durch Nacht und Wind. Goethe and Schiller solve a crime in a well written Holmes-style story. The dialogue is hilarious and it’s full of allusions to their works.

7. Favourite New Author (Debut or new to you)?

You might have noticed that I started binging on Carol Berg and have no intention of stopping anytime soon.

8. Newest fictional Crush?

I don’t really crush on fictional characters. I wouldn’t mind having a cup of tea and nice chat with any of the Collegia Magica characters (especially Anne or Portier) or Katriona from City of Ice.

9. Newest Favourite Character?

Over the course of Spectred Isle I grew very fond of Saul. And I’m not only saying this because I don’t want to mention Collegia Magica again. Though I loved Portier. And Illario.

10. Book that made you cry?

I didn’t cry but I sniffed a bit at the end of The Demon Prism.

11. Book that made you happy?

Shira Glassman’s Knit One Girl Two and Spectred Isle. Both were cute, funny and had lovely characters.

12. Favourite book to movie adaption?

I guess strictly speaking Lawrence of Arabia is an adaption? Because apart from that I only watched a really shitty French adaption of The King’s General and The Sign of the Musketeers which only had Musketeers in its title and very little to do with the book.

13. Favourite review you’ve written this year?

Spectred Isle was fun to write.

14. Most beautiful book you bought or received this year?

I assume we’re talking about the cover here since I already talked about best book? I found this very adorable:

34732711

15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

None 😉 But I should reduce my tbr-pile (especially the physical books one),