The Animals at Lockwood Manor – Jane Healey

81fPbnDoPxL1940s, London, during WWII: Hetty Cartwright is in charge of an unspecified museum’s natural history collection that is evacuated to a country estate, Lockwood Manor, for safety during the Blitz. Lord Lockwood is tyrannical and dismissive, and his grown daughter, Lucy, is still under his thumb while in mourning for her mother’s recent death. This book has all the elements that make me excited to read: Gothic undertones, historical museum collections, a mysterious death surrounded by rumors of a haunting. As the book progressed, however, the suspense lessened and it became more of a battle of wills between the monstrous Lord Lockwood and the ineffectual Hetty Cartwright.

In retrospect, the book may have been improved with additional characters (something I rarely think is the case), who may have offered some red herrings or engaging side plots to allow the storyline to be more multifaceted.

The setting is dark enough to keep an atmosphere of intrigue, and the story, though it becomes sluggish in the middle, is original in its elements. The narrative becomes practically a pastiche echoing Daphne du Maurier, though not like that’s altogether a bad thing, as she’s one of my favorites.

I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I’m still going to keep Jane Healey on my radar.
Many thanks to BookishFirst for this advance copy in exchange for my review.

Things in Jars – Jess Kidd

9781982121280_p0_v3_s550x406Jess Kidd is an auto-buy author for me. If she writes it, I must read it immediately.

Kidd describes Victorian London with witty aplomb; the sights, surely, but more so the stench and emanations of its denizens. There is so much stink in this book I could taste it, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. There are botched surgeries, festering skin infections, and delectable, if not a little bit hallucinogenic, pipe tobacco. I was often curled up reading this romantic phantasmagoria thinking, “Damn, I love this!” Also, bring a highlighter on this adventure. My vocabulary increased threefold.

The whole story is a mystery involving a kidnapping of an otherworldly, sinister child. The child looks like an angel, but on close inspection really looks more like a corpse. And don’t get too close – she’s likely to snatch at your fingers with her pointed teeth. Draped behind the plot is the backstory of our protagonist, red-headed Bridie Devine, and how she came to be one of the most skilled surgeon’s assistants cum detective. Her seven-foot-tall sidekick, Cora, is a force to be reckoned with as well.

There are inclinations of magical realism, as there are in all of Kidd’s books. Evil mermaids (“merrow”) who can drown people on dry land, curious grotesque specimens in jars, and a ghost with the most winsome personality and animated tattoos that you can’t help but fall in love with him. My favorite character was little precocious Myrtle and her one-eyed doll, Rosebud.

Things in Jars requires a keen reader, as Kidd can be subtle in revealing plot twists. This is not a book to be rushed through, and I think it’s best taken in large doses, not unlike a pipe full of Dr. Prudhoe’s Bronchial Balsam Blend, in order to follow the different characters and the nuanced relationships among all of them. The kidnapping and the motives behind it have very deep roots.

Highly recommend. I want to go back and start it all over again. I did not want to leave the world of Bridie Devine. Many thanks to Atria Books / Simon & Schuster for the advance copy in exchange for my review.