Entries Categorized as 'Advanced Readers'

A Study in Scarlet

Our rating: ****

Dr. Watson agrees to share an apartment with Mr. Sherlock Holmes to save money. Soon he learns that Holmes is the only consulting detective in London and can make accurate logical deductions from even the smallest details. When a man is murdered and even Scotland Yard cannot find a clue, Holmes and Watson set out to untangle the threads and get to the bottom of the mystery, beginning the classic stories about the adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

This is undoubtedly an interesting story and a good mystery. There’s enough detail here that even though I’ve read it several times I still pick up on something new each time. You’ll find yourself trying to make Holmes’ deductions before he does as the plot thickens. I’ve marked this for advanced readers because the second half of the story is a bit disturbing, though not gruesome. An exciting introduction to one of literature’s greatest detectives.

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Our rating: *****

In this first of the Million Dollar Mysteries, Callie Webber is on her way home from a charity donation when her mysterious boss asks her to stop off and deliver two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to an old friend of his.
Callie, with her background in private investigations and law, is very loth to just hand over that much money to anyone without checking up on them first. After all, it’s her job to investigate anyone who requests a grant from her boss’s foundation. But she agrees, and grudgingly heads off to Feed the Need with the check. All she can think about is getting home and enjoying her dog Sal—until the head of Feed the Need is murdered.

A Penny for Your Thoughts is very well written with lots of suspense and action! And it has one of those “gotcha” endings that, when you think about it, you should have been able to catch! I love those. Actually, the whole series has the delightful distinction of being written by a Christian author, and starring a Christian main character. I wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers, though. Like every murder mystery, there are some unsavory people and events, as well as a teensy bit of mature content. Happily, that latter is not over the top, nor held up as good. I find these books so refreshing after wading through several secular series.

Drowned Wednesday

Our rating: ****

Wednesday dawns and Author Penhaligon is facing his next task: finding and claiming the next part of the Will and the Third Key. But this isn’t any easier than Monday and Tuesday were. Lady Wednesday herself, rumor has it, has been transformed into a monstrous, all-devouring whale. And the terrible and powerful pirate-sorceror Feverfew is set on capturing and killing Arthur. Falling in with the unusual crew of the salvaging ship The Moth, Arthur faces high adventure on the Border Sea, risking much to complete his quest. Lives are at stake.

Drowned Wednesday is fairly consistent with the first two books of the series, while still keeping the adventures fresh and unique. A good blend of humor and peril, with both old characters and new. I can’t say that it’s an exceptionally remarkable story, but I found it imaginative and enjoyable nonetheless, and I intend to follow it up promptly with the fourth book, Sir Thursday.

Vienna Prelude

Our rating: ***½

Europe, 1936, and Nazi darkness is beginning to descend. Elisa Lindheim is a violinist in the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra, and while she is half Jewish, she is protected by both her German Aryan looks and the stage name Elisa Linder. Though situations are worsening in both Germany and Austria, Elisa refuses to believe that Hitler’s Third Reich will gain as much power as it claims. But her family has to escape, and her father goes missing, and so many of her friends are in danger. Before she knows it, Elisa is involved with something much bigger, along with members of the orchestra and an American news-reporter, John Murphy.

This is overall a worthwhile book, providing a good look at what life was like for so many during the events that led to World War II. It also covers some of the bigger picture views involving the politics and problems that leaders in England and America were dealing with at the time. I do have a few complaints about Vienna Prelude, though, the primary one being that Elisa’s romance occasionally bogged down the main story to the point of frustration. Also, I cannot at all recommend this book to young readers, as the sheer brutality of the Gestapo and the concentration camps are not watered down. That said, it was still a fairly good read, and I will likely look into the rest of the series.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Our rating: ****½

There has not been a practical magician in England for several hundred years. So the people are astonished when Mr. Norrell, a small, quiet gentleman who has been studying the subject for much of his life, proves that he is, in fact, the next great magician. More than that, he intends to restore magic to England and even aid the country in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte.
In the midst of this rises a second magician, the young and dauntless Jonathan Strange. Strange has an uncanny knack for magic, and despite some rather grave differences of opinion between the two of them, Mr. Norrell takes him on as a pupil. Perhaps their most serious disagreements are about the Raven King, a mysterious figure in history who was responsible for much of the magical foundation. As time goes on, Strange becomes more and more intrigued with the Raven King and the more perilous forms of magic, risking not only his partnership with Norrell but everything that he holds dear.

If I do not restrain myself, I’m going to gush about this book. Problem is, if I force myself to slow down, I’m left speechless. This novel is 782 pages long, and I was enthralled to the very last one. It is incredible. The writing style itself is so beautifully similar to that of Jane Austen and other writers of that period, I could scarcely believe this was such a recent publication (2004). It is intricate, delightful, terrifying, and captivating. I have never come across anything quite like it. The antagonist alone was one of the most uniquely and well-done characters I’ve read. Everything is brilliant, right down to the use of footnotes to enhance the story and add to the seeming reality.
Now, all that to say… I don’t feel that I can go about recommending Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to everyone. My one single—but substantial—reservation about this book is the heavy involvement of magic. I do not mind magical things in fantasy realms, but this particular story grounds magic firmly in reality, in Europe, in the 1800s. Given that Susanna Clarke is not a Christian author, it creates some gnarly situations. So, is this book for you? I cannot say. You will have to do your own research and choose for yourself.