Raven Black

Raven Black (Shetland, #1)Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Originally intended to be a quartet, there are now 6 in the series. 3.5 stars and I can’t quite round up to 4, but I’ll continue with the series. The setting is interesting, though I didn’t feel like I saw enough of it. It has been made into a TV show in Britain, and I think seeing the locale would help a lot. Like most of the main characters, I felt like an outsider looking in. I liked the shifting points of view – it helped keep the suspense. Everyone seemed unreliable and a possible suspect. All except the old man, Magnus, who had been already convicted in the minds of the townspeople. I also did not feel like I knew much about the inspector, Jimmy Perez, by the end. So there is plenty more to be learned in the rest of the series. It definitely shows promise.

Book description: Raven Black begins on New Year’s Eve with a lonely outcast named Magnus Tait, who stays home waiting for visitors who never come. But the next morning the body of a murdered teenage girl is discovered nearby, and suspicion falls on Magnus. Inspector Jimmy Perez enters an investigative maze that leads deeper into the past of the Shetland Islands than anyone wants to go.

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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…

The Importance of Being Seven

The Importance of Being Seven (44 Scotland Street, #6)The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a joyful start to a new year! I love the 44 Scotland Street series, and this installment brings some sweet rewards to some of my favorite long-suffering characters. To say any more would probably introduce spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that!

Book Description:
The great city of Edinburgh is renowned for its impeccable restraint, so how, then, did the extended family of 44 Scotland Street come to be trembling on the brink of reckless self-indulgence? After seven years and five books, Bertie is—finally!—about to turn seven. But one afternoon he mislays his meddling mother Irene, and learns a valuable lesson: wish-fulfillment can be a dangerous business. Angus and Domenica contemplate whether to give in to romance on holiday in Italy, and even usually down-to-earth Big Lou is overheard discussing cosmetic surgery. Funny, warm, and heartfelt as ever, The Importance of Being Seven offers fresh and wise insights into philosophy and fraternity among Edinburgh’s most lovable residents.

Son of the Morning

Son of the MorningSon of the Morning by Linda Howard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you don’t think too much about the glaring plot holes and gratuitous sex scenes I suppose this is sort of a fun, fluffy book. I have no clue what the title signifies. I don’t recall the phrase “Son of the Morning” coming up at all. I enjoyed the fact that a lot of the book takes place in the Twin Cities. And I’ll read anything about medieval Scotland, and a modern-day scholar translating historical documents. But Grace’s reasoning and inner-thought process left me shaking my head – starting with why the heck didn’t she go to the police immediately after witnessing the murder of her husband and brother. Then, of course, there is the fact that this CLUELESS woman is extraordinarily lucky, not just once, but quite a few times. This book contains VERY explicit sex – if you like that kind of thing you’ll be in heaven. It’s not my thing. Nothing particularly romantic about any of it. I suppose the fact that they share sex dreams before they even meet is supposed to indicate that they are meant for each other. Whatever. But first she has to get over feeling like she is betraying the memory of her dead husband. But like I said, if you can get past the plot machinations, I enjoyed the adventure of her outwitting the sadistic, evil guy, and her relationship with the woman she rents a room from in Chicago. But really, the sex added nothing at all to the story.

Description: A scholar specializing in ancient manuscripts, Grace St. John never imagined that a cache of old documents she discovered was the missing link to a lost Celtic treasure. But as soon as she deciphers the legend of the Knights Templar – long fabled to hold the key to unlimited power – Grace becomes the target of a ruthless killer bent on abusing the coveted force. Determined to stop him, Grace needs the help of a warrior bound by duty to uphold the Templar’s secret for all eternity. But to find him – and to save herself – she must go back in time to fourteenth-century Scotland and to Black Niall, a fierce man of dark fury and raw, unbridled desire. Audiobook read by Natalie Ross.

The Forgotten Queen

The Forgotten QueenThe Forgotten Queen by D.L. Bogdan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Setting: England, Scotland
Time: 1498-c1538

Main characters: Margaret Tudor (sister of Henry VIII); James IV, King of Scotland; James V, King of Scotland; Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus; Henry Stewart, Lord Methven.

First paragraph, Chapter One: There was no one high enough to intervene on behalf of my immortal soul, my grandmother had cried. I was a shameful creature, she went on, a wilted petal on the Tudor rose. It was time I was made to examine my wicked ways and repent. Grandmother was through with humble chaplains and confessors. I was a Princess of the Blood; the fate of kingdoms may rest in my finding salvation. Thus I was removed to my godfather, the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, where I must come up with an impressive confession. I was certain it wouldn’t take much; I had a wealth of sins to choose from.

Favorite line: Angus, his brother, and his cousin were little more than a glorified group of thugs to me, and I made sure to meet him in a beautiful dove gray velvet gown trimmed with ermine. Despite being married, I allowed my most stunning feature, my coppery hair, to flow free down my back, and it whipped about me in the wind. I was a Celtic goddess of old and I laughed at the comparison. Angus was nothing now. (p. 264)

The feisty, red-haired Margaret is sent away to Scotland at the age of 13 to marry the 30-year-old James IV of Scotland. This is a very readable and historically accurate account of Margaret Tudor’s life – her many pregnancies, the loss of most of her children, her need to be loved and protected and subsequent disastrous choices in men following the death of Jamie, her friendship with the exotic “black Ellen” – told against the background of the political machinations for control of Scotland’s young James V. Having been raised to be a Queen, Margaret expects to be always pampered and loved, and does not reconcile well with her circumstances. D.L. Bogdan has done a good job portraying a flawed, but still likeable woman. This book has a bit of the feel of Jean Plaidy in style, I thought. Although not a romance, it has an emotional style typical of romances, with language like “throbbing,” “cooing,” “sobbing,” etc. And the author has Margaret quickly adopting the Scots dialect, using “canna” and “dinna” in her speech. No explicit sex scenes, so this would be fine for young adults.

Description: From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. Her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland. Despite her doubts, Margaret falls under the spell of her adopted home. But while Jamie is an affectionate husband, he is not a faithful one. And nothing can guarantee Margaret’s safety when Jamie leads an army against her own brother, Henry VIII. In the wake of loss she falls prey to an ambitious earl and brings Scotland to the brink of anarchy. Beset by betrayal and secret alliances, Margaret has one aim—to preserve the crown of Scotland for her son, no matter what the cost…

About the author: D.L Bogdan is a history major, aiming for a master’s so that she might lecture one day. She is also a musician with classical voice training who has been playing keyboards and singing in bands since she was 18. She also enjoys reading, traveling, summer activities, spending time with family and friends, and researching her next novel! She makes her home in central Wisconsin.

When Will There Be Good News?

When Will There Be Good News?When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These books keep getting better and better. The only reason I didn’t rate this a “5” was because I found the American narrator’s “fake” Scottish and Irish accents very annoying. (Audio book narrated by Ellen Archer.) Jackson Brodie gets on the wrong train and ends up in a horrific train crash near Edinburgh. Reggie is a wonderful character, and provides the glue that holds the various plot threads together. Louise Munroe is back, but both she and Jackson have made life choices that would seem to put any chance of romance even farther away. Ms. Atkinson writes wonderful character studies, and tackles dark themes with an undercurrent of humor.

The first three books have now been turned into a three-part television series starring Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie. The first episode just aired this past Sunday in the US on Masterpiece Mystery, and will continue on the following two Sundays. It was mostly faithful to the book, although some of the more humorous or extreme elements were removed: Binky Raine’s cat “Nigger” was never mentioned by name, Jackson’s house is not blown up, the nudist club is missing, Amelia does not attempt suicide… Nevertheless, the end result is perhaps a bit easier to follow. I look forward to the next two episodes.

Description:
On a hot and beautiful day in the English countryside, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later, the man convicted of the crime is released from prison. Sixteen-year-old Reggie works as a nanny for a doctor devoted to her new young son. But Dr. Joanna Hunter has gone missing, and Reggie, no stranger to bad luck and worse, seems to be the only person who is worried. Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling toward her is an old friend – Jackson Brodie – himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted. As lives and histories intersect, as past mistakes and current misfortunes collide, Jackson is caught up in the most personal, and dangerous, investigation of his life.

One Good Turn

One Good TurnOne Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It was much more tightly plotted than the first book, featuring multiple points of view with quirky, interesting characters, witty dialogue, and a satisfying conclusion. This time I did not figure out the ending before I got there. Ably narrated by Steven Crossley. The style reminds me very much of Alexander McCall Smith. Jackson still remains something of a mystery himself, although I feel I know him better than after the first book. I didn’t understand what he saw in Julia, so not surprised to see that relationship unraveling. Martin was a wonderful character. I also liked the detective inspector, Louise, and her troubled son Archie, and perhaps we shall see them again in the next book?

Description:  In One Good Turn Jackson returns, following his girlfriend, Julia the actress, to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. He manages to fall into all kinds of trouble, starting with witnessing a brutal attack by “Honda Man” on another man stuck in a traffic jam. Is this road rage or something truly sinister? Another witness is Martin Canning, better known as Alex Blake, the writer. Martin is a shy, withdrawn, timid sort who, in a moment of unlikely action, flings a satchel at the attacker and spins him around, away from his victim. Gloria Hatter, wife of Graham, a millionaire property developer who is about to have all his secrets uncovered, is standing in a nearby queue with a friend when the attack takes place. There is nastiness afoot, and everyone is involved. Nothing is coincidental.

Through a labyrinthine plot which is hard to follow because the points of view are constantly changing, the real story is played out, complete with Russians, false and mistaken identities, dead bodies, betrayals, and all manner of violent encounters. Jackson gets pulled in to the investigation by Louise Monroe, a police detective and mother of an errant 14-year-old. There might be yet another novel to follow which will take up the connection those two forge in this book. Or, Jackson might just go back to France and feed apples to the local livestock.