Tag Archives For: historical

14 Jul, 2017

Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
Series: The Agency #1
Published by Candlewick on March 9th 2010
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 335
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: England

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there?


Mary Quinn is given a last minute reprieve from the gallows and is sent to a school for girls.  She is savvy enough to know that this is very strange.  She doesn’t know what is behind it until years later when she finishes her education and is offered a place in a detective agency run by the headmistresses of the school.

Mary has secrets of her own.  She is an orphan and knows that her father was Chinese.  In 1850s London Chinese people are not admitted to polite society.  She explains away her dark coloring by saying that she is Black Irish.  That settles things for most English people but Chinese people she meets recognize the truth about her.

The Agency places its agents undercover as maids or ladies’ companions because women are considered not smart enough to be spies.  They can infiltrate places that men would never be able to get.

On Mary’s first assignment she runs into James Easton in a closet while snooping.  He is snooping about the family she is assigned to also but for different reasons.  They are forced to work together.  Mary and James have great chemistry in this series.  It is a slow romance that has many reasonable obstacles.


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee The Body At The Tower by Y.S. Lee
Series: The Agency #2
Published by Candlewick on October 26th 2010
Pages: 342
Goodreads
Setting: England

Now nearly a full-fledged member of the Agency, the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, Mary Quinn is back for another action-packed adventure. Disguised as a poor apprentice builder and a boy, she must brave the grimy underbelly of Victorian London - as well as childhood fear, hunger, and constant want - to unmask the identity of a murderer. Assigned to monitor a building site on the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, Mary earns the confidence of the work crew, inching ever nearer her suspect. But if an irresistible desire to help the city's needy doesn't distract her and jeopardize her cover, unexpectedly meeting up with an old friend - or flame - just might.

The Agency has always placed female operatives but one of the founders wants to expand.  She agrees to let Mary go undercover as a boy in order to get a large contract.  They are hired to figure out part of the reason why a man was murdered at the construction site of the Houses of Parliament.  Mary knows nothing about construction but is trying to fit in with her new crew when an engineer comes to do a review of the building practices.  It is a physically and emotionally battered and beaten down James Easton.

I think that this may be my favorite book of the series.  I don’t usually say that about second books.  They are usually a let down.  In this one the author has already established the characters so well that you care about them and their adventures.  You get a better idea of the dangerous world of the extremely poor in London.  For me this book was more about life in the city and the class and gender and racial barriers that both characters are bending than the mystery.


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee
Series: The Agency #3
Published by Candlewick on February 28th 2012
Goodreads

Get steeped in suspense, romance, and high Victorian intrigue as Mary goes undercover at Buckingham Palace - and learns a startling secret at the Tower of London.

Mary is on assignment undercover in Buckingham Palace to investigate some thefts.  This gives the author the chance to examine the lives of maids in Victorian times.  They worked all the time.  They were not supposed to be seen by members of the royal family so they had to freeze or hide if any of the nobility came into a room.  They are also vulnerable to any male member of the nobility who take a fancy to them.

While investigating the thefts, Mary stumbles on a scandal involving the Prince of Wales.  One of his highborn friends was killed in an opium den by a Chinese man who has the same name as her supposedly dead father.  She decides to investigate this and has to face the truth of her Chinese heritage that she has managed to avoid for most of her life.

Right when she is starting to make progress, she is recalled because the Agency finds out that the engineering firm owned by James Easton will be doing some top secret work under the palace.  They don’t want her to get involved with him again because he has complicated her other cases.  Should she stay or should she go?


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee Rivals in the City (The Agency, #4) by Y.S. Lee
Published by Walker on June 5th 2014
Pages: 352
Goodreads

The series comes full circle as the one of the criminals from book one is dying in prison. Mary is hired to watch for the one that escaped making a last minute visit. She knows they will have a score to settle with her and James.

This was a great last book.  It ties up a lot of loose ends by going back to the villains of book one and seeing how everyone has changed in the intervening years.  It is hard to talk about this book much without spoilers for the series.

I binged this series over the course of a week.  I absolutely loved it.  On top of complex mysteries there were discussions of the intersections of race and class and gender at the time.  Add a very fun and banter-filled romance on top of that and this is a great series even if mysteries aren’t usually your favorite.

About Y.S. Lee

Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
15 Jun, 2016

Arabella of Mars

/ posted in: Reading Arabella of Mars Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine
Published by Tor on July 12th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in England and Mars

Ever since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, they proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.
Now, one century later, a plantation in the flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby. A tomboy who shares her father's deft hand with complex automatons. Being raised on the Martian frontier by her Martian nanny, Arabella is more a wild child than a proper young lady. Something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.
Arabella soon finds herself trying to navigate an alien world until a dramatic change in her family's circumstances forces her to defy all conventions in order to return to Mars in order to save both her brother and the plantation. To do this, Arabella must pass as a boy on the Diana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company with a mysterious Indian captain who is intrigued by her knack with automatons. Arabella must weather the naval war between Britain and France, learning how to sail, and a mutinous crew if she hopes to save her brother from certain death.


Arabella was born and raised on a plantation on Mars.  Her mother is from England and wants to take her daughters back to have them raised as proper ladies.  When Arabella’s father dies, she seizes the opportunity and takes them back to England, leaving Arabella’s brother in charge of the plantation.

Back on Earth, Arabella doesn’t fit in.  When a nasty cousin realizes that he will be heir to the plantation if her brother dies, he jumps on an airship to Mars to kill him.  Arabella realizes that she needs to get to Mars first to warn her brother.

This book felt a lot more like a sea-going novel like Horatio Hornblower than a space-traveling sci fi book.

The ships that travel to and from Mars are basically British naval vessels of the sailing era fitted with balloons.  Arabella disguises herself as a boy and gets a job on a ship.  Most of the book takes place on the ship on the way to Mars with aerial battles and possible strandings and mutinies.

I was interested to see how this wooden ship was going to be made able to withstand the rigors of space.  Were the balloons going to wrap around it and seal the ship?  Nope.  In this world science is different.

  • There is air in space so you don’t need oxygen.
  • There is wind in space to move the ship using the sails.
  • It isn’t cold.  You can wander about in normal clothes.
  • There’s no vacuum so you don’t explode.
  • The only thing different on Mars is lighter gravity.

Social issues discussed

  • The role of women in society
  • The captain of the ship Arabella works on is Indian and that doesn’t sit well with several of the white crewmembers
  • There are native inhabitants of Mars who the English treat as servants as they were wont to do when colonizing places.  The Martians are not pleased with this.

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First come first served

 

06 Jun, 2016

Ghost Talkers

/ posted in: Reading Ghost Talkers Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by Tor Books on August 16th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in France

Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Hartshorne, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force.
Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence.
Ginger and her fellow mediums contribute a great deal to the war efforts, so long as they pass the information through appropriate channels. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she's just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…


I loved the premise of the British Army using mediums to communicate with soldiers killed in battle in order to find out more about enemy troop movements.  This takes place in 1916 during World War I in France during the Battle of the Somme.

This book is a great historical fantasy/mystery but it also addresses issues of class and race in the British Army at the time.

  • Ginger is the American niece of the titular head of the Spirit Corps.  She attends all the briefings because she is better suited for that duty.  Her aunt is in charge though because she is a Lady.
  • The most powerful medium is a West Indian woman named Helen.  She isn’t known to be the mastermind behind the program because she is black and the army command won’t consider listening to her.
  • Indian soldiers aren’t trained on how to report in after death.  They feel that it is a slight stemming from the fact that the white officers don’t feel that they wouldn’t be able to report accurate information.
  • Married women regardless of their abilities are not allowed to participate until things get desperate.
  • The women of the Spirit Corp are thought to be there to help morale in clubs like USOs.  No one outside knows that they also spend time talking to the dead.  No one thinks of this because they are women so how could they be doing anything vital?

I can’t talk much about the actual plot without giving away some spoilers.  No men know how the Spirit Corp trains soldiers to report in.  Only a few know who the mediums are.  The Germans know that it is happening but want to find out how it all works.  There is a spy and Ginger goes to investigate because she is one of the few people who knows all parts of the operation.

I loved the first half of the book.  For me the story bogged down a little in the second half so I gave it 3.5 stars instead of 4.  I’d recommend this to any historical fiction or paranormal fans.

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

I got this book at BEA this year.

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The ARC has been claimed.

 

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