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Review: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes Mysteries, #2) by Nancy Springer

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes Mysteries, #2)The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Another very smart story, it's just fun to watch her puzzle it all out. It's kind of a mix between cozy mysteries and traditional detective stories in that it's a regular girl who becomes a "perditorian" or finder of lost things. The steps she follows and the process she takes is actually very believable. She gets scared, she flips out occasionally, she's clever but not insanely so, brave but not a superhero. Yes, it's a stretch to believe she's so independent at fourteen, but she is a Holmes after all. I just really like this girl, she's a great mix of clever and vulnerable, witty but not snarky. I also like the believable way that she's discovering the world, she's very well-read but there are so many things that a young girl of her time just has no way of knowing, books she can get her hands on may mention things like ladies of the night or white slave trade, but they don't say what they actually are, so Enola is in the dark about these things still. Even now that she's living in London and has seen some of the worst the city has to offer, she's still an innocent fourteen year-old girl in many ways and seeing how she grows into her new situation is going to be fascinating.

I'm also enjoying the way the historical lessons are layered into the story without being too preachy. I think kids (and adults) will absorb a lot of information along the way while just reading an enjoyable story. It's hard as a woman not to root for Enola and her mother in their quest for freedom from society's strangling (literally) restrictions. And this book had a lot of interesting information about what was going on at the time in London regarding the labor movement. "And after we withdrew bloodied and defeated, this is what one member of Parliament had to say, 'It is in bad taste for people to parade their insolent starvation in the face of the rich and trading portions of the town. They should have starved in their garrets.'" And another good quote, "Yet one could speak the truth and still be a villain." Just coming off of a rough election season those ideas resonated through the centuries with me.

Enola is a great hero, someone you can really root for. The books are a definitely a bit dark, the London portrayed in these stories isn't glamorous, it's poor, cold, and hungry. But kids who love the Hunger Games and heroes like Katniss for her cleverness and bravery might admire Enola as well. Her situation certainly isn't quite as desperate, and there's no thrilling romance in this one. The big difference is that Enola is taking control and doing the manipulating instead of being controlled by everyone else. That's what makes her so interesting. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how she manages to stay safe and free in the next book and what mysterious puzzle she solves next.



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Review: The Kingdom (Graveyard Queen #2) by Amanda Stevens

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Kingdom (Graveyard Queen #2)The Kingdom by Amanda Stevens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Another great atmosphere, spooky, enchanting, engrossing ghost story. And yes, I did stay up until 5 a.m. to finish it and that is past even my bedtime. These are not books that are easy to put down once you've started them, I'm giving you fair warning.

The thing that bugged me in the first book, the frequent overly heavy-handed foreshadowing, was not a problem in this book. But it did bug me a bit that Amelia was so hung up on Devlin. She barely spent any time with him in the first book and she keeps repeating that she hasn't seen him or talked to him in months. It just feels forced to me at this point. They have some sort of connection but that isn't a relationship, that isn't love. It's a crush. It's too romance novel insta-love. I was pleased that they weren't together at the end of the last book, I thought they were going to have a relationship that developed slowly over the course of several books, and maybe that's what's eventually going to happen, but the constant mooning over him in this book felt a bit irritating and immature, not particularly romantic. I get that maybe the author is building up a "forbidden love" story, but right now this aspect isn't working for me. Even though Amelia is 27 years-old, when it comes to relationships she's still very young because she's been so isolated for all of her life, which is another romance novel trope that I don't enjoy. I just prefer reading about mature adults in relationships that function in realistic ways. And Amelia is so great on other levels, it feels like she's being short-changed in this way a bit.

And it was a bit rushed at the end. Suddenly everyone knows the big secret, boom, she leaves town. And the big confrontation wasn't so big compared to some of the little ones in the woods earlier, which were very suspenseful.

But basically the rest of the book was great, these are really small quibbles. The characters in the town were so vividly drawn I felt like I could paint them (if I could paint). The way the author portrays the locations and atmospheres made me feel like I was there, from the lovely and calm to the haunted and eerie to the frightening and terror filled moments (they threatened her new dog!!! - anyone who knows me knows I was truly scared), it all rang true without being overdone. Honestly, I don't like to be scared so it's a fine line between a bit of suspense and actually horror for me, I can't even read thrillers, I'm that much of a wimp, but this walked the line perfectly. I know, people who read my reviews regularly know I read a lot of dark urban fantasy, but Richard Kadrey-style dark fantasy, for example, isn't actually scary, even if it's violent, and a lot of that stuff has a bizarre dark humor that lightens the tone quite a bit. This was spookier because it didn't have the humor to break up the tension. It was eerie, which created a lot of suspense.

So to make it clear, other than a few small complaints, I liked the book a lot and I'm a big fan of the series. And my big complaint about the romantic aspect might well be more due to my personal preferences about how I like romance to be portrayed in fiction than to any issue with the author's writing, it may be a matter of what you like. But definitely don't let that turn you off of the book or series either way, this is a series about mystery, history, discovery, family, love, hate, the living and the dead and more, and I really think that most of my friends who like urban fantasy would enjoy it.




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