Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Spy In the House Review (Y.S. Lee)

London, 1858. Mary Quinn - sometimes known as Mary Lang - has been a pickpocket for a good portion of her life. Until she was arrested for breaking and entering, that is. And sentenced to hang. But she was saved from the noose by one Miss Anne Trevealen of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. It is now 5 years later, and 12-year-old Mary is 17, and unsure what to do with her life. She doesn't want to marry yet - if ever -, and all other occupations open to a woman seem . . . uninteresting to her.

Then she's introduced to The Agency. An elite group of women investigators - top secret, of course - with a reputation for getting the job done. They're often employed by Scotland Yard to solve cases that are a bit tricky for them.

Mary's first assignment? Infiltrate the house of one Mr. Henry Thorold disguised as his daughter's lady's-companion. Mr. Thorold is suspect of smuggling priceless artifacts. But Mary's position is a little less active than she would hope. She's only to watch, listen, and report anything suspicious she observes within the household. Nothing more. But of course, Mary ends up being drawn into the whole mess more than was first intended - especially when one James Easton finds her breaking into Mr. Thorold's study. On top of that is the strange behaviors of Mrs. Thorold, Mr. Gray the secretary, and even young Miss Angelica Thorold, to whom she is companion.

The heat of London is making everyone crazy, and Mary is running out of time to discover who is behind the web, and what to do about James?

The story, as a whole, was very good and very engaging. Mary Quinn is easily liked. However, I found some of the dialogue less enchanting. Especially that between Mary and James. At times, it is positively irksome and has far too much of a modern flare to it. And the end contains such a dragged-out cliche that I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. Aside from these sad points, I thought it an ingenious idea - a secret agency made up exclusively of women - and some of the other characters added great flavor. Y.S. Lee's descriptions at times leave much to be desired - there seems to be something lacking - and some of her "grosser" details bring the mind's camera up waayy too close to the object, detracting from the general beauty of the scene. However, I do look forward to the sequel when it is released.
Star Rating: 3/5 (liked it)

Others in The Agency Series:
1)A Spy in the House
2)The Body at the Tower
3)The Tratior in the Tunnel

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Climbing the Stairs Review (Padma Venkatraman)

Vidya is a fifteen-year-old Indian girl belonging to a non-traditional Brahamn family in WWII English-occupied India. She dreams of attending college and doing something grand with her life. But when her father is thrown into jail, she and her family must live with her traditional-minded grandfather. In his home, women do not go outside unveiled, they do not eat with the men, they live downstairs separately from the men, and they most certainly do not attend colleges.

In a desperate attempt to escape from her new, boring life - and her conniving aunt -, Vidya dares venture upstairs into the men's portion of the house and into her grandfather's library. It is there that she meets Raman - a young man who believes that women should be allowed the same freedoms as men.

Thus begins a secret friendship that blossoms into more, and when WWII strikes India hard, Vidya comes to realize that Raman may be the only one who can keep her from losing everything she cares about.

This book is a story about a strong young Indian girl living in one of the most perilous times in history, trying to break through the traditional view of a woman's role in life. She is discouraged about going to college when she finds herself surrounded by traditional-minded men and women, telling her that she must give up on her fantastical ideas and accept her role in life. But Raman offers her encouragement and support in her dreams, and with WWII affecting life in India, she comes to realize that she must not give up on her dreams of becoming a doctor.

With Padma Venkatraman's colorful and personal insight into Brahamn households, she offers a good comparison between the traditional and non-traditional forms of their living. Her well-developed characters makes it easy to fall in love with them and hate those who would obstruct their happiness. British-occupied India, and the looming threat of WWII, offers a colorful and interesting backdrop that leaves plenty of room for heart-pounding action, and the different viewpoints that are offered on the political struggles during that time make it a good book for group discussion. I certainly thoroughly enjoyed it.
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