Goodreads Monday- Karen Memory

Goodreads Monday is a weekly meme where we randomly select a book from our Goodreads To Be Read list and show it off. It’s hosted by Lauren’s Page Turners, so don’t forget to link back to her page so we can see what everyone’s planning to read.

22238181Karen Memory
by Elizabeth Bear
346 pages
Published February 2015

From Goodreads: “You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”

Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.

I’m not sure where I first saw this book, but it looks interesting. I’ve had a longstanding love of fiction set in the Victorian era, and a slightly newer fascination with Steampunk. It looks like this book scratches both of those particular itches, so it should be a run read!

A Perilous Undertaking

Veronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries…

apu-350London, 1887.

Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task—saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman’s noose in a week’s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer—a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia’s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime. From a Bohemian artists’ colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed….

I stumbled upon Deanna Raybourn’s first Veronica Speedwell novel, A Curious Beginning at the library last spring and was 1) immediately hooked, and 2) disappointed to find out that while it was the first of a new series, book two had not been published yet. And so when I heard what the new title was going to be, I kept checking back with the library to see when A Perilous Undertaking would be available and placed a hold for it. When I received the notification that it was in, I checked it out as soon as I could and once again was hooked within the first few paragraphs.

Veronica, our heroine and narrator has all the charm, wit, and beauty of a proper Victorian lady, but with a decidedly modern view of education, feminism, and sexuality that somehow does not lift the reader out of the book’s Victorian setting. I think that stems from the fact that Deanna Raybourn has said that writing about people from the 1800s isn’t all that different from writing about people now- we’re all individuals with the same sorts of hopes and fears, we just wear different clothes and use different transportation methods. Of course there are characters who are shocked by Veronica’s ideas and her history (though she takes measures to ensure that her foreign escapades will affect her reputation as little as possible while she’s in England and publishes her papers on lepidoptery as V. Speedwell), but there are people in the 21st century who would be aghast at her bluntness regarding sex and marriage. We’re not so different from the Victorians, even if we are separated from them by nearly 120 years.

But enough of that. Veronica and her colleague, Stoker, are scientists not detectives and so they go about their investigation in a different fashion from the police of Scotland Yard. By using reason and logic, they gather their suspects, interview them, and poke them with metaphorical sticks to find the guilty party. This doesn’t mean that they don’t gather clues- they do that- but it’s not like reading a Sherlock  Holmes story. Veronica has spent her life studying people as thoroughly as her beloved butterflies, and so she knows how to handle people and convince them to tell her things they normally would not admit to, whether it’s through words or body language.

Throughout A Perilous Undertaking, Veronica is witty and charming, and she delights in blithely shocking people like she has no idea that her lifestyle is out of the ordinary (though she can read everyone in the room like a book), and though Stoker makes me want to roll my eyes with his occasional Victorian stodginess he, too, is ahead of his time. There was never a point where I wanted to put the book down because it was boring or slow. Strategic action scenes and well-crafted interviews keep the book moving at a quick pace, though the best parts are the conversations between Veronica and Stoker. I had a good guess as to the murderer’s identity about halfway through, but that didn’t mean the reveal at the end wasn’t exciting to read. I might have known the killer’s identity, but I did not suspect the motive.

Victorian era mysteries are my favorites within the mystery genre, and Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell novels are making their way to the top of my list, right up there with Will Thomas’s Barker and Llewellyn series. The only thing I don’t like about A Perilous Undertaking is the long wait until the next one comes out!

“The Beauclerk girls had a habit of driving away hapless governesses with well-timed hysterics or the odd spider in the bed. I rather thought it a pity that no one had told them about the efficacy of syrup of figs dribbled into the morning tea, but it was not my place to tutor them in misdemeanors.”

– Deanna Raybourn, A Perilous Undertaking

P.S. After reading a variety of other book blogs, I’ve decided to change up the format of my reviews as I’m not very good at summarizing books and other people have done a much better job at doing so, leaving me free to spend more time on the review itself. This particular synopsis comes from Raybourn’s own website.

The Best Laid Plans…

I know I was going to read Oates’s Bellefleur and Cantero’s The Supernatural Enhancements, but I didn’t do that. Instead, I read a book about fear and how the media influences us to be mortally afraid of things we shouldn’t be afraid of (The Science of Fear by Daniel Gardner), and then I started re-reading part of the Barker and Llewellyn mystery series by Will Thomas.

I found this series quite by chance, just after the second book had come out. I was wandering around the library and the cover art caught my eye, so I picked it up, read the synopsis, and decided to give it a shot. Well, partway through I realized that it was the second book in the series so I tracked down the first book and have been hooked ever since.

I’ve read other Victorian-era mystery novels, but none of them have really sparked my interest. It seems they’re either cozy little stories about husbands and wives living their proper little lives while also solving grisly murders, or they’re about put-upon officers of Scotland Yard trying to do too much with too little, and neither of those have appealed to me.

Enter Barker and Llewellyn. Cyrus Barker is a private enquiry agent and Thomas Llewellyn is his assistant. They undertake their investigations in the underworld of 1880s London, encountering the Mafia, Chinese Triads, and a whole world of people and cultures trying to make places for themselves in proper old England. It’s a different take on the Victorian murder mystery imbued with interesting people and places, exacting (but not annoying) historical details, and plenty of humor.

I re-read this series one a year or so, and even though I know how the stories unfold, they’re still fun. The next book, Anatomy of Evil comes out May 12.


I’m also interested in reading Andrea Chapin’s The Tutor, a story that takes place during a relatively unknown period in Shakespeare’s life. The synopsis looked interesting, but we’ll see how it goes. I may not have time, given that I’m trying to get through The Black Hand and Fatal Enquiry before the next installment comes out.