Review of The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber (2012) (Lady Darby Mysteries #1)

Bottom line: A powerful mystery with a great new detective.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Scotland, 1830. Following the death of her husband, Lady Darby has taken refuge at her sister’s estate, finding solace in her passion for painting. But when her hosts throw a house party for the cream of London society, Kiera is unable to hide from the ire of those who believe her to be as unnatural as her husband, an anatomist who used her artistic talents to suit his own macabre purposes.

Kiera wants to put her past aside, but when one of the house guests is murdered, her brother-in-law asks her to utilize her knowledge of human anatomy to aid the insufferable Sebastian Gage—a fellow guest with some experience as an inquiry agent. While Gage is clearly more competent than she first assumed, Kiera isn’t about to let her guard down as accusations and rumors swirl.

When Kiera and Gage’s search leads them to even more gruesome discoveries, a series of disturbing notes urges Lady Darby to give up the inquiry. But Kiera is determined to both protect her family and prove her innocence, even as she risks becoming the next victim…

Review:

This was one of those books where I finished it and had the awesome-new-author-discovery jitters. The more I look back on it, I’m able to think more analytically about it and figure out what I liked and what I didn’t like and so on, but not many books actually make me giddy with joy when I’m done with them. So, as I do my review, keep that in mind.

First my complaints – I didn’t really like the male lead, and didn’t think he was extraordinarily well handled. We get interesting hints about him, that he pretends to be shallow and pretentious, but underneath is a serious and intelligent detective, but we’re only told the former for a few pages in the beginning, and suddenly he’s the latter, with no hints as to why he would pretend otherwise in the first place. Also, I’m not crazy about the “reformed rake” style hero (or in this case “could-possibly-reform-in-the-future-for-the-right-woman rake”). My other annoyance was that this novel takes place in high society in 1830, where apparently everyone cheats on their spouses with hardly any consequences, or batted eyelashes. Perhaps that’s true to the time, I’m not a historian, but it did irritate me.

Apart from those things, I loved it. This might be one of the few novels where I’ve seen angst well handled, and certainly one of the very few novels written in recent times where this is the case. The heroine is both strong and suffering from things in her past. Her level of angst over it, as well as society’s reaction seemed very believable considering the novel’s time and place.  Remember that these were things no one would have been able to see on TV and therefore become desensitized to. (If my wording here seems more awkward than usual, it’s because I’m trying to avoid spoilers, even little ones, as is my policy.)

The murder plot/discovery was very good, as were the pace, supporting characters (for the most part), and setting. I thought the author did an excellent job conveying the time period and location without overdoing it. There were several interesting facts dropped about oil painting in that time, but again, you never felt like you were listening to an info dump. She also conveyed what was necessary about clothing to help you picture the scene without making my eyes glaze over about corsets and petticoats and whatever else people wore back then (I’m even less of a fashionista than I am a historian).

However, despite really loving Kiera, the main character, the best part of this book, in my humble opinion, was how well the author handled Kiera’s emotions after the murder takes place. Authors all too often seem to err either on the side of “character barely affected by gruesome murder” or “character overly affected by murder of someone she barely knows and spends the whole book fainting and throwing up.” The horror Kiera feels at what is a particularly terrible murder is extremely well depicted. Though I have read far more graphic and violent murders, I was drawn in to all the pain and injustice that accompanied this one, much more than in other mysteries I’ve read. Reading about Kiera’s feelings seemed to echo and magnify my own in a powerful way. So, consider yourself warned.

Clearly, as you can see by how much I had to say about this book, it was one that really did affect me, and I mean that in a good way (I’ve got book two on hold at the library). If you are at all interested in historical mysteries – or willing to try them – this one is well worth the read.

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Family Fridays – Bread and Jam for Frances (Frances Series) by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban

Book: Bread and Jam for Frances (1964)

Series: Frances the Badger

Genre: Children’s general / early readers

Ages: 4-8 years old (younger is fine)

Blurb:

Frances is a fussy eater. In fact, the only thing she likes is bread and jam. She won’t touch her squishy soft-boiled egg. She trades away her chicken-salad sandwich at lunch. She turns up her nose at boring veal cutlets. Unless Mother can come up with a plan, Frances just might go on eating bread and jam forever!

Review:

I don’t remember reading any of the Frances books as a child, but when I got two recommendations for this book in a week, I decided to pick it up at the library. It seemed vaguely familiar to me, so I probably did read it eons ago. The story and illustrations are delightfully simple and fun, and I loved all the little songs Frances makes up. It tells a cautionary tale for picky eaters and what can happen when you get what you think you want. It made me laugh because I go on food kicks where I only want to eat one thing, so I’ll eat it for weeks on end, then I can’t bear to look at it anymore for another several months, when it comes back into rotation. My current obsession is cinnamon toast. It’s toast with butter and cinnamon and sugar and you can pretend it’s a real meal with a cup of tea. LOVE IT.

Anyways, I highly recommend this book for early readers or younger. One of my favorite things about it was when Frances unpacks her lunchbox and she’s got a little doily and vase of flowers in addition to her food, I thought that was just a sweet little touch. It was a charming book and I’m looking forward to exploring more of the Frances series. One warning I have is that based on the reviews, this book is slightly abridged from the original version. I don’t know about that, but I enjoyed it as is. If you had the original memorized, you might want to do some research before buying.

Have you read any of the Frances series? Are you or are your kids picky eaters?

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Family Fridays – Winter is Coming

The only thing that I have in common with or even remotely enjoyed about the Game of Thrones (review here) is the whole “Winter is Coming” thing. I absolutely love winter. I wait for it all year. Mid summer I remind my husband that it’s not too early to start planning for Christmas. I love the cold weather, the snow, Christmas, boots, snuggly coats, dairy free hot chocolate (I have an allergy – it’s a curse), dairy free molasses cookies, Christmas, my birthday, the smell of wood smoke in the air, and, most importantly, Christmas.

I won’t say too much about Christmas now (November is fair game though – you have been warned!) but, I do think it’s important to acknowledge the changing of the seasons, especially with children. I missed the first day of fall (Sept. 22 this year), but when I got back to Colorado there was a definite bite in the air and summer is definitely over (finally! It’s been a rough summer for Colorado between forest fires and flooding).

Here are three wonderful books celebrating this time of year:

Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead (auth) and Erin Stead (illus) Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Full review here. This sweet, sweet story is one of my absolute favorite children’s books.

The Bear’s Winter House by John Yeoman (auth) and Quentin Blake (illus)  Amazon, Barnes and Noble

You may feel like Bear in this story if you’re hosting family or friends for Christmas!

Frederick by Leo Lionni Amazon, Barnes and Noble

I think this might be the first Leo Lionni book I’ve recomended, which is a shame. Lionni was incredibly talented and created several really wonderful children’s books.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Close Encounters of the Fourteenth Century Kind

Howdy! I’m on vacation in Brazil for most of September, so I turned the tables on my readers and opened up the blog for guests posts while I’m gone. Today’s post comes from John, a.k.a. Mr. Lector’s Books.

I have a confession: I listen to a lot of audiobooks.  Where most people listen to music, I would much rather hear a story.  This is why (other than my utter lack of mathematical ability) I majored in history.  History courses and books are most engaging to me when I get to know the people involved and understand how situations and perceptions affect decisions and events.  One of my favorite books, and one assigned in my American History 101 class, is Killer Angles by Michael Shaara.  Killer Angles is a novelization of the Battle of Gettysburg and tells the story of the battle from the perspective of soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies.  To study a battle is one thing, but to read/hear it coming from the voices and conflicted inner monologues of real people brings depth to a war that divided our nation and shaped its future.

I enjoy historical non-fiction and books on current events, but, if I’m completely honest, most of the books I listen to are pure sci-fi escapism.  I love the world building of authors like Robert Heinlein, C.S. Lewis, Susan Collins, and John Scalzi.  When I need something outside of my trusted authors, I will randomly pick a sci-fi book from an author I haven’t read or heard of before.  Sometimes I end up with a dud, but other times I find gems like Eifelhiem by Michael F. Flynn.  This wonderfully strange book combines elements of actual history and sci-fi to produce a work of fiction that is truly unique and speaks to my historical and alien-loving geekiness.

Eifelhiem is about humans making contact with alien race that comes to Earth.  What is fascinating about the book is that the author sets this close encounter in fourteenth century Germany and the protagonist is the village of Eifelhiem’s priest.  As the author tells the story of the humans interacting with a “demonic” looking race of beings, there is a secondary plot set in the present.  In the present, a cliometric history professor (a field that uses economics to study the course of history) is trying to piece together why the village of Eifelhiem was abandoned in the fourteenth century and never inhabited again, while his wife, also a professor, ponders the mysteries of theoretical physics.

Like the history professor in the book, I came to admire the village’s priest, Father Dietrich.  Dietrich is a man whose fervor for his faith once led him down a darker path, but he now channels his passion into serving and taking care of the people of the village, his adopted home.  He is a man trained in religion, philosophy, history, logic, and science.  His learning and religious views are tempered by his age and wide array of experiences, making him a gentle and wise man and pastor.  His congregants love and respect him, and feel comfortable enough to make fun of his often technically brilliant yet dry sermons.

Dietrich is the first of the humans to recognize that the aliens, the Krank, are not demons.  He sees them as mortal men, simply different from himself.  However, he is not the first of the humans to offer hospitality.  The story explores themes of racism, charity, and grace.   It also delves into questions regarding the soul and who our “neighbor” is in the New Testament sense.

I would not call this a religious or Christian book.  The intent is to tell a story in the world of medieval Europe.  To tell a story in that place and time, just like when you study Western history, you have to consider the beliefs and motivations of that era’s people.  For Europeans at that time, their views of the world were shaped by the Catholic Church.  The author is not making a statement, just using the resources available to him during the time period of when he is writing.

I would recommend this book if you have any interest in history, economics, sci-fi, physics and/or if you have ever wondered how Christianity would reconcile the existence of sentient extraterrestrials.  I would also warn that the time period lacked our current medical understanding.  There are several scenes of detailed medical procedures that would seem counterintuitive to anyone who has even watched a modern medical drama.  There is serious foreshadowing throughout the book about the eventualities of the humans and the aliens. Even though the fates of the villagers and the visitors can be surmised through information in the book, I found that I still wanted to know how everything played out.  This is yet another unique quality of book I greatly enjoyed.

Thanks for reading,

John

Available (Audiobook): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Available (e-book): Amazon, Barnes & Noble

What are your favorite audiobooks?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Tools of the Trade: Goodreads

I’m starting a new feature here that I’m calling “tools of the trade”. This will be where I discuss places and things that help me in my quest to read as many great books as possible before I die. The first one up is a website and discussion forum called Goodreads.

I joined Goodreads a while ago, and frankly haven’t spent much time on it, so I’m still in the learning process. It is an online gathering of readers. You can put in the books you’ve read, rate them, organize them by shelves, get recommendations based on you previous ratings, but to my mind, the absolute best part is when someone gives you a great book recommendation, you can go on there, find the book, and rate it as “to-read”. Then the next time you’re looking for a new book (and you’ve already read all of my recommendations, naturally) you log on, and click on your “to-read” shelf, and voila: no more book recos missed because they leaked out of your brain.

Incidentally, I think the art of recommending books is much like the art of giving good presents. You know those people who conscientiously, every year for your birthday or special holiday or no reason at all, give you some lovely and thoughtful gift that reflects none of your tastes, interests, hobbies, or space availability? (I am not pointing any fingers – I come from a family of extraordinarily good gift givers, then married one, which is both awesome for my own selfish gain and incredibly intimidating when it is time to reciprocate.) I think many book recommendations are like that. People tend to assume that just because they loved something and it changed their life, then you are also going to love it and it’s going to change your life, too. Never mind that they love a good tear-jerker romance and you are more into witty police procedurals.

But back to Goodreads! There is also a social aspect of it, where you can make friends, or follow your favorite authors, or join discussion forums. I haven’t done much with this part of it, but I’d like to get more involved. I found the website just a little intimidating while learning to navigate it, but the more time I spend on it, the easier I find it. And as I said earlier, I absolutely love that I can save my book recommendations. It’s also visually organized, which works very well for me.

Is anyone out there on Goodreads? If so, be my friend –  my username is lectorsbooks (creative, I know). Are there people in your life who, when they recommend a book, you run the other way? Anyone whose recommendations you trust implicitly?