Review: The Mangle Street Murders

The Mangle Street Murders, M.R.C. KasasianDisclosure: I received a free copy of The Mangle Street Murders from publisher Pegasus Books, LLC, but was not compensated for discussing/reviewing it. My thoughts on the book are my own.

It’s 1882, and Miss March Middleton has just arrived in London. Her father’s death has left her an orphan, and her godfather — the intelligent but rude “personal detective” Sidney Grice — has offered to take her in.

March has no idea what she’s gotten herself into. Grice is an apparently heartless, greedy, snobby, misogynistic man, more intent on padding his wallet than in helping others.

When a brutal, sensational killing rocks the city’s East End, it is only through offering up her own meager savings that March is able to convince her godfather to take the case.

Unfortunately for Grice, March’s monetary aid is dependent on her contributing to solving the case. Now he must set aside his ego — and March her own set of secrets — to identify the killer before he or she strikes again.

A terrifying city

London, despite its glittering palace and posh style, has a seedy underbelly. The city’s East End has its own nasty history, with Jack the Ripper and rampant poverty as the high points.

The Victorian age was an especially rough period, when industrialization and prosperity stood cheek-to-jowl with disease and homelessness.

M.R.C. Kasasian captures this dichotomy perfectly in the first in his Gower Street Detective series. The London into which Grice and March venture is disturbing, full of scenes and smells that turn the stomach. It’s a character in itself, and makes the plot leap off the page and into the reader’s mind.

An irritating detective

I do not like Sidney Grice one bit — I don’t think you’re supposed to. He’s, harsh, greedy, and just a little too eager to see people hanged.

He’s a cold, calculating bastard, and I’m hoping Kasasian sheds more light on Grice’s history as the series continues.

There are only two small things that give me any hope for the man:

  1. His maid, Molly, tells March he has a good heart
  2. He doesn’t eat meat

Molly also alludes to Grice’s “secret vice,” which makes me think that we will learn more about Grice later to make him a more sympathetic character.

Grice’s vegetarianism is intriguing because it shows he has some kind of heart. He’s seen one too many dead bodies (or pieces of them) to eat even ham. If he was completely callous he would be able to view a dissected body and then return home for a medium-rare steak.

He’s a cold, calculating bastard, and I’m hoping Kasasian sheds more light on Grice’s history as the series continues.

A secretive heroine

March is young, but she’s hardy. She assisted her late father, a military doctor, in India — bits of her diary describe terrible injuries and deaths — and is more than capable of holding her own against the male prats with which The Mangle Streets Murders seems to be filled.

Like Grice she’s got her secrets — the biggest of which she alludes to on page eight, then spends the rest of the novel dancing around. Also like Grice, she’s stubborn and a bit hot-tempered, although more lovable.

Grimy, funny, and perfect

The Mangle Street Murders is 329 pages of murder and mayhem, and it’s positively wonderful. Fans of whip-smart heroines, snarky detectives, and mystifying mysteries rejoice — M.R.C. Kasasian has written just the thing for you!

The second in the series, The Curse Of The House Of Foskett, is expected to be published in early June. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Like this post? Share it!

Review: The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion, Fannie FlaggSookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama has just married off her three daughters (one of them for the second time), and wants nothing more than to spend time traveling with her husband Earle. Her only problem? Lenore Simmons Krackenberry.

Everyone in town loves Lenore, but Sookie has always found her mother overbearing and obsessed with her daughter’s perceived shortcomings.

When Sookie stumbles upon a secret that calls her entire life into question, she embarks on a journey that takes her not only across the country, but also back in time.

In the early days of World War II, Fritzi Jurdabralinski is amazed to find herself and her three sisters — the daughters of Polish immigrants — taking over the running of the family’s filling station. But that adventures pales in comparison to the one on which she is about to embark.

Funny, heart wrenching, and covering small-town life as well as a little-known aspect of America’s twentieth-century history, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is another slam dunk by author Fannie Flagg.

Amazing small-town settings

Whether the chapter is set in 1940s Pulaski, Wisconsin or present-day Clear Point Alabama, Flagg positively nails the small-town atmosphere. It’s something she’s known for, and it’s one of my favorite things about her novels.

Authors tend to set their books in “special” or “big” places, like New York City or the magical towns about which authors like Sarah Addison Allen write.

What I love about Flagg’s books is that they’re set in places that feel real; the towns in her novels aren’t magical, but amazing things happen there nonetheless.

Just perfect

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion centers around Sookie Poole, a 50-something mother of four who’s spent her entire life trying to live up to her mother’s expectations. But when she learns that Lenore is not who she thought she was, she must come to terms with it while also working toward understanding and forgiving her mother for her deception.

As Sookie begins her search for the ruth, the reader is taken along for the ride through time and introduced to more strong, funny, hardheaded characters: the Jurdabralinski family and the Wisconsin community they call home.

The 1940s was a frightening, uncertain time in America and throughout the world. But Fritzi and her sisters are something special, and I found myself holding my breath during each of their adventures and scrapes, hoping the war would leave them all unscathed.

I felt a special kinship with the oldest and youngest Jurdabralinski sisters: wild, impulsive Fritzi (who leaves home to join a flying act as a stunt performer) and kind, quiet Sophie Marie (who does her best to follow in Fritzi’s footsteps).

There are many small side plots and stories, and Flagg made me care about them all.

A shadowed history

Did you know that there were female pilots in WWII? I sure as hell didn’t.

The 1,074 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) never experienced direct combat, but together they ferried thousands of different types of aircraft from factories to military bases, and towed thousands of drones and aerial targets around the United States.

Did you know that there were female pilots in WWII? I sure as hell didn’t.

Most of these women were not recognized and honored for their contributions until the late 1970s, when their records were declassified. These women proved to their country that when given the same training as their male counterparts, they were just as capable in non-combat flying.

The National WASP WWII Museum is located in Sweetwater, Texas (one of the training sites set up for these pilots), and is filled with photos, several of the 77 types of aircraft the women flew, and a six-person bay where the women lived during their training.

And at the center of it all, inscribed in the floor of the museum’s hangar, the most uniquely-designed Airforce wings:

The WASP wings…were designed for the WASP with a diamond in the center that symbolizes the shield of Athena — Greek goddess of war.

I cannot believe this history isn’t more well-known, covered in history classes, and discussed in book clubs.

Read it right now

Once again, Fannie Flagg has hooked me into a story, made me fall in love with her characters, and gotten me thinking.

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, like all her other novels, is a masterpiece. Read it today.

Like this post? Share it!

DNF: Kushiel’s Dart

Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey“The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good…and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission…and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies.” – Goodreads

Just…no

I heard about Jacqueline Carey’s Phèdre’s Trilogy sometime in 2012 or 2013, and was intrigued to read a series starring a character like Phèdre nó Delaunay; I like female characters who are strong and intelligent, and I was especially interested to see how Carey would treat the masochism element.

…after 200+ pages if someone can’t get their mind around the world you’ve created, perhaps you’re doing it wrong.

What Kushiel’s Dart ended up being — as least through page 206, which was as far as I got into the 1,105-page chunkster — was more of a political “thriller,” replete with aristocrats betraying each other at every turn, dastardly murder plots, and two-faced friendships.

In short, boring. And there’s two more books in the series. I just couldn’t do it.

The amateur psychologist in me wanted to learn more about Phèdre, her “peculiar” enjoyments and how she comes to terms with them. Is she able to find happiness?

Instead I was bombarded by the political drama of a constructed world that on which I could never quite get a handle. So they’re all Nephilim? Is everyone a member of the various houses? How did this world come about?

Maybe these questions would have been answered had I kept reading — but after 200+ pages if someone can’t get their mind around the world you’ve created, perhaps you’re doing it wrong.

Like Byron Easy, Kushiel’s Dart is not poorly written — it’s just so far from my taste in books that I couldn’t enjoy it. I’m disappointed.

Anyone read Carey’s series? What did you think?

Like this post? Share it!

Introverts Blog Quietly: Solitude

Introverts blog quietly(IBQ is hosted by Chris at 61 Musings, and is a way for introverts to share all that goes into living a quiet life.)

This week’s prompt: What does solitude mean to you? How do you experience solitude?

It’s never apparent how loud the world normally is until you get up early on a Sunday morning to get some writing done.

No one calls you and your phone doesn’t buzz with text messages; your email is silent; traffic noise is quieter; there’s no one at the computer next to you clicking around or listening to their music too loudly; no one leans over your shoulder asking about project status.

It’s like someone has turned down the world’s dimmer switch. Everything is still and small and quiet.

This is the opposite of my mind, which is constantly spinning and thinking and planning and worrying. Many introverts can relate to this experience, but add in my (now officially diagnosed) Generalized Anxiety Disorder and you’ve got a recipe for frequent meltdowns.

For me, solitude is critical. Being around so much noise — traffic, conversations, music — is physically exhausting, and solitude is what charges me back up so I’m able to function the next day.

I do better, feel better, work better, relax better, and enjoy myself better in solitude.

Like this post? Share it!

Review: 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More

Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2014(I read this book as part of The Mount TBR Challenge. Here’s to a shorter list!)

As the Type A of all Type As, I spend a lot of time planning: my day, my reading, my work schedule, my savings account deposits, my Best Friend’s day, work schedule…you get the idea. I’m obsessed with articles like, “The Secret to Getting Everything Done” and “Productivity Hacks You’d Never Believe Work!” And obviously books like 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More.

Stever Robbins’ book has been on my TBR list for a couple years, but for some reason I could never get into it. I finally buckled down and gave it a read last week, and now I know why it never hooked me: it didn’t really teach me any new techniques.

I found the first few chapters the most helpful because they focus on bigger-picture stuff, like knowing your business and personal goals and getting rid of activities that don’t bring you closer to them.

None of the items in Robbins’ book were particularly new or novel to me, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t helpful.

Unfortunately the nitty-gritty productivity tips were things I’ve either always done naturally (staying organized), or things I’d heard or read about previously and have always incorporated into my daily routine (multi-tasking is generally not helpful, so focus on one task at a time).

None of the items in Robbins’ book were particularly new or novel to me, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t helpful — if nothing else, it taught me to be aware of the tactics I’m already using, and how to keep building upon those to optimize them even further.

A couple things in particular I’d like to try:

  • Keep a Learning Log - Anytime I learn a lesson (“Schedule phone calls for first round of intern interviews,” or “The new dishwasher is super loud, so don’t run it after 9pm”), drop it into a spreadsheet. This becomes a running list of “stuff I done learned already,” and I can reference it at any time. Particularly helpful for developing new processes at work.
  • Cut the small talk - Introverts hate small talk. Turn any small talk conversation into a more meaningful one by focusing on externalities (“Isn’t that painting lovely?”), then traits (“I love your hair, is it naturally curly?”), then values (“Why is that important to you?”). Find a value on which we agree and voila, instant deeper conversation!

It’s also nice to know that most of the time-saving and productivity processes I’ve put in place for myself are things that experts recommend. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

It also wants me to break out spreadsheets and highlighters, but that’s a story for a different therapy session blog post.

How do you stay productive? Leave your tips in the comments!

Like this post? Share it!