Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Book Review: Under the Dragon's Tail (Murdoch Mystery) by Maureen Jennings

 
Under the Dragon's Tail by Maureen Jennings
A Detective Murdoch Mystery #2

My Rating
✯✯✯✯

❤ Official Synopsis ❤

Desperate women, rich and poor, come to her in need of help - and discretion. Dolly Merishaw is a midwife and an abortionist in Victorian Toronto, but although she keeps quiet about her clients' condition, her contempt and greed leaves them resentful and angry. So it comes as no surprise when this malicious woman is murdered. What is a shock, though, is that a week later a young boy is found dead in Dolly's squalid kitchen. Now, Detective Murdoch isn't sure if he's hunting one murderer - or two.

❤ My Thoughts ❤

My complaints of language and sexual innuendo of the first novel, Except the Dying, are still prevalent in the 2nd book in the Murdoch Mysteries.

However, I feel the plot was tighter, the characterization better, and I experienced a definite softening in my opinion of this very different Murdoch than the television version I'm accustomed to watching.

In fact, there is much to like about Detective William Murdoch. He's not fragile or naive, but he does his best to live life as uprightly as he can manage. He's undergoing sexual temptations right now, but instead of seeking out the wrong kind of female companionship, he's joined a dance class. It allows him to be near attractive, virtuous young women in the hopes that he may develop a relationship. He's all about constancy (or he wouldn't be mourning his deceased fiance this long) and so he's not going to indulge in a casual fling even when he's suffering serious sexual repression. Watch him go against character and succumb to temptation in the 3rd novel.

The mystery itself intrigued me, mostly because I suspect a great deal of readers might take offense at the "preposterous" notion that a midwife/abortionist might attempt to take advantage of any wealthy women who required her services. Imagine!? Murdoch comes up against so many tight-lipped liars in Under the Dragon's Tail that I'm impressed his head didn't spin. Was the killer this woman or that one? Was the killer the midwife's own poor, abused daughter, Lily? What of the little boys living under her roof, how are they involved? And what of the man whose chapters are so fleeting but tie into the story later in an AHAH moment of great clarity.

This is a complex story with many facets to it. Things I'd almost forgotten because they were mentioned only once suddenly became relevant at the end of the book, and I loved those moments when I suddenly understood who was who and what was what and where everyone stood.

Despite the language and promiscuity and sexual slang, I'm not scared off from the series yet. I read this one in about 24 hours simply because I could not put it down. And I've already got book 3 ready and raring to go. I've heard it's better than its predecessors so we'll see if it lives up to the praise!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Book Review: Except the Dying (Murdoch Mystery) by Maureen Jennings


Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings
A Detective Murdoch Mystery #1

My Rating
✯✯✯

❤ Official Synopsis ❤

In the cold Toronto winter of 1895, the unclad body of a servant girl is found frozen in a deserted laneway. The young victim was pregnant when she died. Was her death an attempt to cover up a scandal in one of the city's influential families? Detective William Murdoch quickly finds out that more than one person connected with the girl's simple life has something to hide.

❤ My Thoughts ❤

It's a bit of a shock going into this book thinking it'll be all charming and quaint like Canada's television series starring Yannick Bisson. In reality, there is nothing charming or quaint about this book series. It's gritty, it's hard, it possesses a great deal of language and sexual innuendo, and there is not a single character who is wholly likeable or lovable, not even Detective William Murdoch although he's probably more realistic as a flawed human being. Still, I love the Murdoch of the tv series who is so socially awkward and endearing while still being a brilliant detective. Much to love there. And don't get me started on his senior officer, Inspector Thomas Brackenreid. The man is boorishly entertaining in the tv series and an absolute bloody terror and bigot in the book series. Thank goodness they gave him that overhaul in the television program. And where, I'd like to know, is Dr. Ogden, the female pathologist that Murdoch has a crush on?! I did like the elderly couple who Murdoch lives with as their boarder. They're gentle and compassionate . . . except towards Methodists. Apparently there's some bad blood between Methodists and Catholics, of which Murdoch happens to be one.

And speaking of religion, because I'm going to do so, it was fascinating to read a book where the lead character is Catholic. It grows tiresome after awhile to read protestant fiction with a severely negative bent against Catholics. So I enjoyed Murdoch being Catholic (just like he is in the tv series). I know very little about Catholicism on the whole, but don't have a negative view of Catholics so the harsh bigotry against Murdoch and other Catholics within the book surprised me. I don't know why it did, though, since I know protestants and Catholics have a long, unhealthy hatred of one another.

So, obviously, this is not a Christian novel. There is unpleasant talk of murder, of sex, of an aroused dog, of prostitutes, and there are plenty of nasty slang terms flying around for various parts of the anatomy. There's even mention of *gasp* homosexuality. I don't usually like that much "stuff" in the books that I read and I do think Ms. Jennings went overboard quite a bit, which is why I'm only rating the book 3 stars. Negative content should not be added to a novel simply for the sake of shock value, whether it's secular fiction or not.

That said, I still enjoyed Except the Dying . . . immensely. I finished it in only a few days because I couldn't put it down. In some ways it reminded me of the originality of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael books that I love so dearly. I've already begun reading book 2 in the series. And I've done a fair job separating the books from the tv series, which took a bit of doing. But I'm growing to like Ms. Jennings' Murdoch even though I'll never love him as much as I do the Murdoch in the tv series.Ah well, life isn't always perfect.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Book Review: Lead Me Home (2016) by Amy Sorrells


❤ Official Synopsis ❤

Amid open fields and empty pews, small towns can crush big dreams.Abandoned by his no-good father and forced to grow up too soon, Noble Burden has set his dreams aside to run the family farm. Meanwhile, James Horton, the pastor of the local church, questions his own calling as he prepares to close the doors for good.As a severe storm rolls through, threatening their community and very livelihood, both men fear losing what they care about most . . . and reconsider where they truly belong.

My feelings about this book are complicated. Lead Me Home will really only appeal to readership that wants Bible verses quoted every chapter, enjoys a passive writing style with little dialogue, and has personally experienced the death pangs of a small town church as the people leave for greener pastures. I don't fit into any of these categories and so I really had nothing to keep me reading, although I did keep reading.

To be fair, I liked all of the lead characters. Grief has a funny way of manifesting itself sometimes so I empathized with Pastor Horton's daughter, Shelby, as she makes a few poor life choices after her mother's death. Pastor Horton was likeable, Noble Burden was likeable too, although his name made me groan, especially when the character succumbed to a "noble burden" rather than following his own dreams and building a life outside of owning a small-town dairy farm.

And really, that's the whole gist of my issue with the book. Change isn't always negative. The dairy farm is killing the Burden family slowly. A change of pace would suit them. But when it comes down to it, Noble does the "noble" thing and turns down an offer to pursue his music in Nashville. That was ridiculous, but his decision to stay with the dairy farm was portrayed as pious. No, it would have served his family much better if he'd up and moved them all to a new town for a fresh start.

In the end, Amy Sorrell's writing style and storytelling format just isn't for me. I could almost compare her work a tiny bit to Lisa Wingate's style except that I feel Ms. Wingate's books have a better pacing. Or you could compare her work to Billy Coffey except that I find Coffey's books charming. Lead Me Home was just too churchy, if you get what I mean. If a highly churchified novel is what you're looking for then you'll love Lead Me Home.

* I received a free copy of Lead Me Home from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Book Review: The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna M. White



The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna M. White
Ladies of the Manor #2
Bethany House Publishers
2016

My Rating
✯✯✯✯✯

❤ Official Synopsis ❤

Lady Rowena Kinnaird may be the heiress to a Highland earldom, but she has never felt good enough—not for her father, not for the man she thought she’d marry, not for God. But after a shocking attack, she’s willing to be forever an outcast if it means escaping Loch Morar and the men who have jeopardized her life.

Brice Myerston, the Duke of Nottingham, has suddenly found himself in possession of a rare treasure his enemies are prepared to kill for. While Brice has never been one to shy away from manor-born ladies, the last thing he needs is the distraction of his neighbor, Lady Rowena, who finds herself in a desperate situation. But when the moody Earl of Lochabar tries to trap Brice into marrying Rowena, Brice finds he’s not as opposed to the idea as he expected to be.

Rowena wanted to escape the Highlands, but she’s reluctant to resort to marrying a notorious flirt just to gain his English home. And when she learns that Brice is mixed up in some kind of questionable business with a stolen treasure, she ’fears she’s about to end up directly in the path of everything she was trying to avoid.


❤ My Thoughts ❤

I already liked Brice in The Lost Heiress so I couldn't imagine that changing from one book to the next. I was right, I still like him. Brice is just one of those affable Edwardian men, almost better suited in nature to the early 1930s, sort of like Bertie Wooster. However, while the parts of the story that focus on him are somewhat lighthearted, the parts with the heroine. Rowena, are not. So if talk of rape and physical abuse disturb you, keep that in mind before reading Ms. White's latest novel.

Having just recently uncovered Scottish ancestry, I appreciated the time spent in Scotland and was somewhat disappointed that it didn't last longer. The Highlands were so intriguing, even with the rough and tumble people, and I almost wish we could have spent longer in them. However, it was not meant to be, and that turned out alright in the end because it meant reuniting with Brook and Justin back in England.

Even though the summary is a bit vague on the subject, Brice and Rowena do marry. He's literally know her less than 48 hours when they tie the knot and she's so panicked because of the attack she suffered that he has no intention of consummating anything. What I like about Brice is that he seems to verbally hear God's voice. When he met Rowena, God told him to "protect her." And instead of balking at the idea of marrying a Highlander, a woman whose clothes are outmoded and her manners so timid, he married her instead. Yes, I'm making him seem like some white knight, but really, Brice's marriage to Rowena happened out of his immense compassion for her pain and from his desire to keep her safe. I admire a man like that.

The two grow in their relationship with one another. Rowena discovers that she is of value and worth and that she has much to offer the world around her. And Brice learns that flippancy in his relational interactions leads to great harm because people never know when to take him seriously or not. See, even a strong Christian man like Brice has his weak points. In the end, of course, they fall deeply in love, a love made even stronger by the admirable restraint and patience that Brice exhibited towards his broken young bride.

I do feel the plot in this one is slightly more convoluted than in the first novel, and some aspects of it felt almost like a complete repeat of its predecessor, such as the maid who falls in love with another servant, etc. When Stella Abbott, longtime childhood friend to Brice and his sister Ella, first came on the scene I was hopeful that she didn't appear to be stereotypically in love with Brice. Well, that didn't last. I rather wish Stella had been left out of the story completely since it felt like she bogged it down and her vengeful chapters really didn't quite fit in with the rest of the book.I'm not sure why Stella didn't fully work for me . . . not something I can put my finger on. But it wasn't really enough to dampen by enjoyment of the novel on the whole.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed this second edition to the Ladies of the Manor trilogy. A third and final book will be published likely sometime within 2017, this time following the story of Brice's sister, Ella, who I like but don't know all that well and am curious to see who in the world would be a decent match for her. Possibly Geoffrey Abbott, dreaded Stella's brother, and a minister to boot.

* I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

(all my historic novel reviews)

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