The Anatomist’s Wife

The Anatomist's Wife (Lady Darby, #1)The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a period romance wrapped up as an okay country-house-type murder mystery, and the background of Lady Darby is intriguing. The author does work in some interesting historical details (Burke and Hare, jigsaw puzzles), but the setting in the Scottish highlands, near Inverness, just doesn’t work. I couldn’t figure out the social background of these people, and what they were doing in Scotland. There was nothing Scottish about any of it, certainly none of the names given to the characters. Kiera is decidedly a late 20th-century Irish name, Alana and Greer are also 20th-century names. There are other anachronisms (summer squash soup?, raccoons in 19th-century Scotland?, comparisons of eyebrows to cotton blooming?) and the dialog is far too modern. On the whole, I found the characters to be very flat — even the future love interest, Mr. Gage. The romance angle is very cliche. Maybe it is a notch above the usual Harlequin’s judging by the number of 4 and 5-star reviews on Amazon, but I prefer more realistic meat to my historical reading. I read this for my “Wife books” challenge, and I won’t be reading any more of the series.

Book Description: 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…

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Cutting for Stone

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very complex and detailed drama about the breaking and healing of family relationships. Exotic setting, mostly in a mission hospital in Ethiopia, and a range of interesting characters. Clearly autobiographical in many respects, and told with polished prose. But what is wonderful about this book is also its downfall – too much detail, especially about every medical procedure. The narrative was interrupted time and again to digress into the back story of one character or another. And yet it could have used more back story on the political events in Ethiopia and the Eritrean rebels. One character that seemed surprisingly shadowy – Marion’s twin, Shiva. The twin connection just seemed to be missing for me. The book could have been cut by 200-300 pages. By the time we got to the conclusion, it seemed to have run out of steam and didn’t have the impact it could have. Despite the flaws it is a wonderful book, well worth the time spent reading it, and one that I will remember for a long time. Just be prepared for a very meandering and detailed journey.

Book Description: Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles–and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.

The Crane Wife

The Crane WifeThe Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting blend of contemporary story about a man having a mid-life crisis, his socially inept single mother daughter, and the fairy-tale, mystical woman who comes into their lives offering love? forgiveness? redemption? It is also a philosophical look at storytelling and the nature of truth vs. myth. Lots of gorgeous prose and quotable lines. A strong beginning, but then a tendency to lose itself in the shifting points of view and time. The mystical and the real didn’t always intersect very smoothly, and the ending is hopeful but not necessarily convincing.

First line: “What actually woke him was the unearthly sound itself — a mournful shatter of frozen midnight falling to earth to pierce his heart and lodge there forever, never to move, never to melt — but he, being who he was, assumed it was his bladder.”

Book Description: George Duncan is an American living and working in London. At forty-eight, he owns a small print shop, is divorced, and lonelier than he realizes. All of the women with whom he has relationships eventually leave him for being too nice. But one night he is woken by an astonishing sound—a terrific keening, which is coming from somewhere in his garden. When he investigates he finds a great white crane, a bird taller than even himself. It has been shot through the wing with an arrow. Moved more than he can say, George struggles to take out the arrow from the bird’s wing, saving its life before it flies away into the night sky.

The next morning, a shaken George tries to go about his daily life, retreating to the back of his store and making cuttings from discarded books—a harmless, personal hobby—when through the front door of the shop a woman walks in. Her name is Kumiko, and she asks George to help her with her own artwork. George is dumbstruck by her beauty and her enigmatic nature, and begins to fall desperately in love with her. She seems to hold the potential to change his entire life, if he could only get her to reveal the secret of who she is and why she has brought her artwork to him.

Death at Buckingham Palace

Death at Buckingham Palace (Her Majesty Investigates #1)Death at Buckingham Palace by C.C. Benison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just love books that feature the current Queen of England as a character. Although the idea of Her Majesty collaborating with a housemaid may seem improbably silly, it is all great fun. Jane is a plucky young Canadian taking a year off from school and staying with her great-aunt Grace in England. Short of cash, and not wanting to return home to Prince Edward Island, she gets a job in Buckingham Palace. The time period is a few years after the Queen’s “annus horribilis” but before the death of Lady Diana. Lots of humor (footmen streaking naked through the palace), upstairs and downstairs intrigue, a film crew doing a documentary on life at the palace, and plenty of red herrings for Jane to sort through. I had fun searching for images of the various palace rooms on the internet to enhance my reading experience. These are books that I would reread, and I will definitely look for the others in the series. [Note: a much older Jane Bee, now married to a British aristocrat, also appears in the author’s Father Christmas mystery series (Twelve Drummers Drumming, etc.)]

Book Description: (from book jacket) Jane Bee came to Europe for adventure, only to end up with the job of a lifetime — housemaid at Buckingham Palace. Now her greatest challenge is removing gum from State Room carpets — until she comes across a nasty accident right outside the Royal Apartments. The Queen Herself has — literally — stumbled across the dead body of Jane’s good friend, footman and aspiring actor Robin Tukes, in what appears to be a suicide. But why would handsome, impetuous Robin, having just toasted his engagement to a gorgeous housemaid, not to mention his impending fatherhood, want to die? Buck House buzzes, but only Jane — and the Royal Personage known belowstairs as “Mother” — suspects foul play. At Her Majesty’s behest, Jane launches a discreet inquiry that takes her from Servants’ Hall to the highest echelons of the Palace. Yet the more Jane uncovers, the more clear it becomes that this latest royal scandal is a real killer.