Review: The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas

Format: E-Book
Read with: Kindle Paperwhite
Length: Novel
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Lady Sherlock, #4
Publisher: Berkley
Hero: Lord Ingram Ashburton
Heroine: Charlotte Holmes
Sensuality: NA
Date of Publication: October 15, 2019
Started On: April 27, 2020
Finished On: April 29, 2020

The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas is the much awaited fourth installment in the Lady Sherlock series. This time around, Charlotte Holmes and her ragtag band embarks on a journey to find a lost piece of art for a former lover of Mrs. Watson’s, who is being blackmailed.

The third book saw Lord Ingram Ashburton and Charlotte coming together as lovers, but alas, only as a ploy to deceive the villain into playing right into their hands. Ingram is adamant that he would not take advantage of Charlotte in that sense, even if she is more than willing to be taken advantage of.

Lord Ingram’s life revolves around taking care his two children of whom he is now the sole parent of. While he deals with the unwanted and unwarranted affections of a governess, he must also deal with his mixed feelings when it comes to Charlotte, which has always been the case when it comes to her.

While I am not much of a fan of cat-burglar variety of mysteries, I still enjoyed this for the most part, with Charlotte and her accomplices donning disguises to infiltrate a prestigious household in pursuit of the lost artwork. What I particularly did not care for was the fact that Ingram and Charlotte’s arc takes backstage to all that is central to the plot of the story.

However, at the same time, there are subtle shifts happening between Ingram and Charlotte in terms of how Charlotte starts viewing Ingram and the prospect of a more permanent future between the two. But then again, I have my doubts when it comes to how Charlotte will fare with Ingram’s children, who need a mother as well. Which was for the main part what Ingram also has mixed feelings about when it came to the governess plot in the story.

Finally, this had bits and pieces to the story which sounded so preachy in terms of women’s rights, colonialism, gender equality etc. I am all for messaging done right and properly in a story, but for me, when stories start sounding like a women’s rights leaflet, that tends to bore me to tears. I kind of got fed up of reading stories by Courtney Milan because of the very reason.

I find it quite odd when authors go against the realities of the fabric of society at that point in time in which the story is taking place and flesh out out of place aspects of characters that seems far fetched for the time. I am all for strong heroines who defy the conventions, but at the same time, one must be realistic about what one is crafting and presenting to the readers.

Recommended for fans of the Lady Sherlock series.

Final Verdict: The Art of Theft moves at a slow pace for the most part, while the other half sounds overly preachy at times, along with muted shifts taking place between the main protagonists.

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Review: The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas

Format: E-Book
Read with: Kindle Paperwhite
Length: Novel
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Lady Sherlock, #3
Publisher: Berkley
Hero: Lord Ingram Ashburton
Heroine: Charlotte Holmes
Sensuality: NA
Date of Publication: October 02, 2018
Started On: April 26, 2020
Finished On: April 27, 2020

The third installment in the Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas, i.e. The Hollow of Fear, begins where the second book ends, and continues several months after the fact, with Lord Ingram Ashburton being implicated in the murder of his estranged wife. For the first time since the series started, readers get to see Charlotte Holmes “emotionally” affected in a way she never has been before, even going as far as to lose her appetite for her beloved cakes and desserts.

As the story continues, readers like myself who covet Ms. Thomas’ romance novels are rewarded with just barely enough entanglements of the nature taking place between Lord Ingram and Charlotte. There is so much push and pull factor happening when it comes to Ingram and Charlotte. There is much left unsaid, much yearning, and the desire between the two at times is almost a palpable thing. For someone like Charlotte who lives inside her mind most of the time, it is rather intriguing to see Lord Ingram through her eyes, the way she views his character, their shared history, and the parts of his life that are far removed from hers.

The ending as always, “surprised” me the with who the villain turned out to be. Having watched enough movies and TV series based on the character of Sherlock Holmes, you kind of tend to think along the lines of wo would be the most unlikely villain of all.

I liked The Hollow of Fear better than the first two books, perhaps because the characters themselves are being fleshed out more through each installment and of course there is the fact that things “progress” between Lord Ingram and Charlotte in a way that had me on tenterhooks. I would always look for romance in whatever Ms. Holmes writes, and I guess I am a glutton for punishment in the way I seek out the tidbits that hints as much when it comes to Lord Ingram and Charlotte.

Though at times I wished for the story to be less intensive in terms of dialogue and included more on actual investigations, I did understand partly why the books are crafted as such. For the most part, these plots are centered around the ingenuity or cleverness and the mind games that play out based on Charlotte’s superior powers of deduction.

Recommended for fans of Sherlock Holmes mysteries and fans of Sherry Thomas.

Final Verdict: The Hollow of Fear brings important milestones to life when it comes to Charlotte and Lord Ingram. Enjoyed the twists and turns that heralded the end of this installment.

Favorite Quotes

He did not move again. Not because he might startle her—she had ever been imperturbable in these matters. But because he was startled. He had thought he knew everything there was to know about his desire. Had considered it, so long fettered and trammeled, as tame, or at least manageable.
When it had always been feral. Primal.
Her lips touched his nape, just above the rim of his collar. He spun around, cupped her face, and kissed her on the mouth, a kiss that he might never be able to stop.

He looked at her. She smoothed the back of a spoon across the jam glaze on top of the tart, returning his gaze. He stood very still—no fidgeting for him. But in the rise and fall of his chest there was agitation. Inquietude.
“Why are you nervous?”
He hesitated. “You make me nervous.”
“Why?” She was not nervous at all. “You must have done this hundreds of times—at least.”
“Not with you.”

“I have much to learn,” she said happily. “I wonder if Mrs. Watson can impart any wisdom.”
Good God. “How about I tell you exactly what I like?”
“Really?” She batted her eyelashes at him, needlessly long lashes that would have been a lethal asset had she any interest in flirting. “I’m astonished, my lord. You never tell me anything except what you don’t like.”
“In that case . . .” He placed his lips against her ear and whispered for some time.
When he pulled back, her eyes were slightly glazed. “I was rather hoping, given how starchy you are in public, that in private you might be a man of varied and somewhat depraved tastes. I must say I’m not disappointed.”

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Review: The Lion’s Courtship by Annelie Wendeberg

Formathelionscourtship.jpegt: E-book
Read with: Kindle Paperwhite
Length: Novel
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Anna Kronberg Thriller, #1
Publisher: Self-Published
Hero: Anna Kronberg
Heroine: Garret O’Hare
Sensuality: NA
Date of Publication: July 16, 2014
Started On: December 04, 2018
Finished On: December 06, 2018

It was my hankering to read something different that had me taking a look at The Lion’s Courtship by Annelie Wendeberg. This is the first book in the Anna Kronberg Thriller series, and is written in the first person. This was an intriguing and eye opening look into what the rest of the series entails.

Anna Kronberg lives in the worst of the worst that Victorian London has to offer. Anna is a doctor, who is viewed by most as a “nurse”, (because why on Earth would a woman be a doctor?), treating those who would never have access to proper medical care if otherwise. She treats the prostitutes, the criminals, and the children who grow up in the miserable and abject poverty that is brought to life so vividly in this story. And then there is her secret identity where she moonlights as Dr. Anton Kronberg at Guy’s Hospital.

When Garret O’Hare comes seeking Anna’s services, thus begins a reluctant acquaintance, at least on the part of Anna. However, Garret continues to surprise her and slowly gets under her skin. And it is only Garret that is willing to help Anna in her quest to find a man who had slashed the face of a young prostitute, the prostitute having seemingly disappeared altogether.

So begins the search, where Garret warns Anna of the consequences that could come calling. There is no prettying up what the squalid conditions of where the story takes place is like. Ms. Wendeberg dishes it out as it is, and as it should be. The whole setting comes off as authentic, Anna and Garret realistic in a way that you can relate to and root for them. The menace that lingers owing to the killer is one that does not abate as the story proceeds, the ending being the most shocking of all. A killer who can outsmart everyone else, that is in reality who he is.

I read this right after I finished watching The Alienist series, which I absolutely loved. I felt as if Ms. Wendeberg’s writing carried the same vibe, and I felt just right at home with the story that unfolded.

I did take a look at the next book in the series and find that this is probably the only ending this story is going to get? Plus the series is veering in a totally different direction? I believe I might come back and sample some of the other stories in the series in due time.

Recommended for those who love historical mysteries. This one definitely and cleverly serves as the appetizer to the next installment.

Final Verdict: Ms. Wendeberg certainly has the prose, style, and wit to carry this off. Definitely gets one thinking, which I love in my books!

Favorite Quotes

Rotten food was squeezed in floorboard cracks — floorboards so dirty that one must think they’d never seen a brush and a dollop of soap in their entire life.
Twelve straw-covered pallets were stuffed into the limited space. He’d had to climb over sleeping bodies to reach his bed. He can still hear the tinkling of urine in chamber pots, the snoring and grunting, the bawling of an infant, the swearing, burping, and farting. This was not the shiny paradise his once boyish mind had dreamt up. This was the place where humans had reached their lowest point and had long lost all shame.

She unlocks the small room at the very end, steps in and locks it, fumbles for the matches, then lights two oils lamps and yanks off her dress.
She hates being scared and being fragile, being the weaker of the sexes. She hates not having equal access to education, employment, and basic rights. If screaming could make things better, she’d scream until her throat turned numb.
Instead, she sheds her dress and undergarments, and opens the wardrobe where she keeps her disguise. Only ten minutes later, she’s her professional and controlled self: Dr Anton Kronberg of Guy’s Hospital.

Both women know that once the unwanted child is gone, the cycle will start anew, and there is little to be done about it. For Anna, this is hard to accept. She kills miniature children, knowing she’ll never have one of her own. Every time she holds one in her hand and sees the bloody mess of tiny limbs sliced off the small body, she looks up from between the legs of her patient and sees a woman whom nature simply hasn’t considered. Not only are prostitutes at the bottom of society’s cesspit, evolution has no regard for them, either. Without the ability to switch off conception when copulation is used to avoid starvation, prostitutes are left at a social and biological dead end.

‘Most of the time, I don’t like people. They could all be apes; it wouldn’t make too much of a difference to me.’
Garret’s breath stalls. His mind refuses to provide a meaningful analysis of Anna’s statements. ‘I don’t believe you. You help people every day. You wouldn’t do it if you didn’t like them at all.’
Several moments pass without a reply. Her breathing has grown deeper and slower, and he believes she has fallen asleep.
But then she stirs a little. ‘Because when people are sick and weak, when they fear death, they reveal who they are. They wear no masks and I can see their souls.’
‘Do you like them then?’
She sighs again, and searches for his hand he had withdrawn a moment earlier. ‘All souls are beautiful. But you…’ She presses the back of his hand against her forehead. ‘…you have an exceptionally beautiful soul.’

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ARC Review: Kimjongilia by Victor Fox

Format: E-bookkimjongilia
Read with: iBooks for iPad
Length: Novel
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Standalone
Publisher: CreateSpace
Hero: –
Heroine: –
Sensuality: NA
Date of Publication: May 29, 2015
Started On: September 10, 2016
Finished On: September 12, 2016

Kimjonglia is a story that should interest anyone that has an avid curiosity when it comes to the ultra secretive regime that is North Korea. When one considers the recent events of volatility involving its current leader and the current US President, the North Korean leadership now into its third generation since the reign of the Dear Leader, its history is of vital importance if one is to understand where the regime and its ideology stems from. I believe that Kimjonglia offers vital insight into the regime’s very fragile beginnings which was orchestrated in a very large and significant way by both China and Soviet Union at the time. Stalin’s notoriety as a despotic leader and his regime’s dark influence is seen in the mechanisms that were used by the North Korean regime in the early years to subjugate the masses, which saw entire families “disloyal” to the regime sent to gulags, killed, or worse. Stories of the abject horror that the residents of these gulags are subjected to emerge and trickle down from prisoners who risk their lives to escape. But this is not what Kimjonglia is about.

Kimjonglia, according to the author of the book, is a flower that is named after Kim Jong. Story begins when Peter Chang, whose heroic role in defeating the Japanese forces in China is entrusted with protection of Kim Jong-Suk, wife of Kim Song-ju, the man who was being groomed to become the leader of North Korea. Kim Song-ju’s description in the book needs no further explanation which I will quote here.

“Kim Song-ju was born in 1912, the oldest of three brothers. His father was a Presbyterian minister, kicked out of the church for stealing funds. Even though Kim never fought in a guerrilla war, many stories about him circulate on the Korean Peninsula. No one really knows how these stories came to light, but there is strong evidence that Soviet leaders, desperately looking for a Korean ally, might have been behind the tales. In reality, Kim Song is an insecure man who loves to spend his time with loose women rather than with men of respect and honor. He loves to tell family stories to impress people, and often misrepresents his real family background. Many people in Korea, China, and the Soviet Union believe that he is a God-loving Christian man, but in point of fact Kim Song is an atheist who believes in aliens. He loves astrology and often makes absurd claims, such as seeing aliens and meeting them in his home. He believes firmly that he was born an exceptional man who is destined to rule the world. The Soviet Union and China know about his weaknesses but support him because he is the most gullible Korean public figure available. Both countries believe that Kim Song-ju will be easily controlled, and they use his incapacities to their advantage. An unspoken war is in progress between the two countries to get full control of Kim Song-ju, and unfortunately, from the Chinese point of view, our position is weakening and deteriorating. Kim Song is getting closer to the Kremlin and has even adopted his new name, Kim ll-Sung. We don’t know why the Soviet Union convinced him to change his name, but we think it was to hide his military records. Lately we have confirmed that he has become a big consumer of vodka and drinks heavily in the evenings. Our source also tells us that alcohol consumption is having a terrible effect on his health, and some Soviet doctors are trying to stop him from drinking too much. He also suffers from numerous sexual diseases. While the Soviets were busy throwing beautiful women at him, we arranged for him to marry one of our finest agents.”

Though born as a Korean, Kim Jong-Suk had been brought up loyal to China and the Communist Party of China (CPC). In the end, afraid that the Soviet’s influence on Kim Song-ju was growing too rapidly, China had been “forced” to convince Kim Song-ju to take Kim Jong-Suk as his wife. However, Kim Song-ju had proven to be far difficult and unpredictable a man to control as CPC had initially thought. Which is how Peter is sent as a live in household staff at Kim Song-ju’s residence.

At first, I did not believe that I would be as fascinated with the story as I was in the end. I didn’t expect myself to be thoroughly captivated by the tale that unfolded, but the story is told in such a way that the elite founding members of the dictatorial and autocratic regime that is North Korea appears in a more human light. I wouldn’t use the word humane on a leader who laid down the foundations of depraved cruelty for his people, but nevertheless he is discussed in a light that sheds insight into the man he became later on. A man who is as much flesh and blood as you and me. A man driven by his baser desires of drinking and need for women that he could never get enough of, and the wife that he kept at home, who turned to another man for comfort which brings forth with it scandalous secrets of the kind that could shake the very foundations of the regime itself.

Kimjonglia also shows the Chinese and Russian machinations that went on behind Kim Song-ju’s back. The Chinese and Russians trying to outdo each other in the influence both wielded on Kim. How the Chinese planted spies loyal to the CPC within Kim’s inner circles, and how the Russians cultivated enough personal information on the offspring of Kim that could have literally broken him into pieces. The hostility that North Korean regime shows towards the US, Japan and the South Korea is a dynamic that interests foreign policy enthusiasts. So does its close ties with Russia and China which has continued up till today. 

Kimjonglia is passed off as written by one of the earliest Generals of Kim’s army, one of Chinese origin, who worked as a spy for the Russians, but eventually found himself in cahoots with the Chinese in order to protect their assets on the Pyongyang ground. Utter barbaric cruelty of the Kim Jong even as a child is displayed in the book, one that barely hints at the savagery he would later wield over his people once he took over from his father. 

Tales of love, lust, betrayal, and treachery lines the lives of the family, and makes for a fascinating read that remains highly plausible once you do more reading on the characters that appear in the book as it unfolds. What happened to Kim’s first wife, mother of Kim Jong and her lover and father of her two kids remains a mystery, conveniently explained by the North Korean regime as having being killed in child birth. Because of the secrecy that shrouds the members of a regime that has become increasingly paranoid over time, what you read and garner between the lines is just as captivating. I just wish that there was more of it!

Final Verdict: Focusing on the personal lives & ties that bind, Kimjonglia tells a tale that is irresistible to anyone interested in the North Korean regime.

Favorite Quotes

“Do you know Kim ll-Sung?”
Peter thought momentarily. “The Korean?”
Hands clasped behind his back, Shao nodded gravely, his jaws tense.
“I’ve heard about him, but never met him in person.”
“How about Kim Jong Suk?”
“Yes, I know her,” Peter said.
“How do you know her?”
“I’ve seen her at the headquarters once or twice.” Several Koreans had fought the Japanese alongside the Chinese. “She is his wife, right?”
“True. You know more than I thought.”
“I’m not a fool. Who doesn’t know the Korean? People say he is full of shit and a coward. How can a man like him become important?”
“Don’t pay attention to gossips. Nobody is perfect,” Shao waved his finger. “Our job is to do what’s good for China. And he is good enough.”
“What if he is bad for his own people?”
“We can’t carry the burden of others. Our concern is only for the CPC.”

Purchase Links: Amazon

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