The Agency (Mary Quinn Mystery)

By Y S Lee

Mary, a fugitive with ambiguous heritage and past, she escaped her death and found a normal life in an all girl school. She enjoyed a stable life but at 17, she wanted more. Being a teacher wasn’t enough. So, she became a spy.

The Agency 1: A Spy in the House by Y S LeeMary Russell (Mrs. Holmes, The Beekeepers Apprentice) had recommended The Agency in her tweet. One look at the description, I knew I had to read them. And I was almost out of commission until I was done with book 1 and 2.

Ying’s writing spirited me away to a Victorian England I didn’t know. I didn’t know the Chinese were treated as badly as they were in the States, I didn’t even know there were Chinese living in England then.

The story intrigued me because of Ying’s idea for The Agency itself. Women were still viewed as property at the time, rich or poor. And the working class females made perfect spies since people ignore them as if they were invisible.

The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower By Y S LeeAlthough we have seen similar ideas before (when you really want to know the truth, ask the servants) but none was depicted from an active point of view.

The story moved me because I, too, know how it feels to be Chinese and non-Chinese in the western society. I was much luckier that I didn’t suffer discrimination but the internal struggles of fitting myself into a specific race is the same.

If you haven’t been in our shoes, you might never understand this. It’s very strange but I feel more Chinese when I am with Americans and I feel like an American when I am with Chinese.

Life is easier for me than for Mary, since I am free to think that it’s OK to be both at the same time. All I need to do was to be OK with it myself. After that, it doesn’t matter what other people think.

How many books have you read that taught you history, transported your mind, and echoed with your essence?

The Manual of Detection

By Jedediah Berry

“The four second hands on the four faces of the clock trembled between numbers. The insides of Unwin’s ever-wound wrist-watch seized.”

“…the clocks remembered themselves…”

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah BerryWho writes like that?
Someone I should learn from!

In a few sentences, I knew this wasn’t your typical gumshoe, Dick Tracy, Guy Noir style detective story.

The main character, by the book, I’m not a detective, Charles Unwin, was a clerk given a promotion he didn’t want. And in pursuit of his old job, he broke many rules, solved many cases at once, rekindled old feud, and ran away with the circus and still got to be a clerk.

Why is this a good story? It wasn’t just the way Jedediah titled each chapter like it is an actual chapter in The Manual of Detection; it wasn’t the way he embedded the clues so I couldn’t skip a word (not that I ever had the urge to do so), it was the way he made me worry about Unwin when I wasn’t reading the book.

As I had to go along in tasks that provide me shelter and provisions, my heart was wandering in the rainy city, hoping Unwin’s umbrella would keep him safe and dry while I raced through my work so I could rejoin him on his journey.

Being a writer in progress, I must remember, perhaps file a report as a clerk, to never become arrogant when I write, to always be considerate of the readers, and no matter how complicated the story is, leave no details unanswered.

What If Mary Russell Met Flavia de Luce?

I had just finished reading “The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag” by Alan Bradley, and started on “The Moor” by Laurie R. King.

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan BradlyFor some reason, I thought, what if Flavia de Luce bumped into Mary Russell on a hill like how Mary met Holmes? Would Flavia find Mary an old and strange person?

Since no one else in Flavia’s life seemed to be interested in her “elemental explorations” and otherwise, Mary’s presence would be a great comfort to her, like Holmes was to Mary.

I believe Mary can see through Flavia’s innocent act and perhaps stop Flavia from all her attempts to poison her sisters. And may be Flavia would come to see Mary as a mother/grand mother and a teacher.

the moor by Laurie R. KingAnd because of their brilliant minds and adventurous spirit, they will get a long well. Flavia won’t think Mary is stupid and Mary won’t get frustrated waiting for Flavia to catch on. And although they both are strong-willed, with a 40-year age difference, Mary would have the wisdom to tame Flavia’s rebellious nature.

I hope they will meet someday, with Flavia on her bike and Mary on her walk, on a green hill somewhere outside of London, some time in the past.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

A Flavia de Luce Mystery
by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is a 11-year-old year who knows her poisons. Her love of chemistry and her unstoppable curiosity brought me back to my childhood.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce MysteryShe is a typical girl who hates her older sisters but she is unique because she applies what she knows to all the problems she encounters. In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, her quest for answers helped her understand her father as a human and solve two murder cases at once.

Although I admire her spunkiness and intelligence, I find it a little difficult to like her since there is darkness in her personality. She reminds me of Dr. Temperance Brennan from the TV series, Bones. And to see the same traits in a young girl reminds me to consider each child as a individual.

I enjoyed going on the detective adventure with Flavia and hope she will grow into a well-rounded lady who chooses to use her power for good.

Lord of the Far Island

This is by far the best of Victoria Holt’s I have read.

Lord of the Far Island by Victoria HoltIt’s hard to put it down because whoever showed interest in Ellen can also be the person who wanted to kill her. And you can’t really be sure who the bad guy is until almost the end of the book.

Since she wrote it in two separate parts, you are tricked into thinking one has little to do with the other, just like Ellen did.

On pattern I noticed is that the heroines in her books usually picks the seemingly bad dude. Still each bad dude was different enough, you won’t feel like she was just recycling characters.

Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt

Mistress of MellynThis is the second Victoria Holt I have read. As I expected, Mistress of Mellyn is similar to The Shivering Sands. However, I still couldn’t put it down because you don’t know who the bad guy is until the last part.

In both books, the heroines are in the role of teachers; the men of the house have questionable characters; the heroines hate the master at first, think Pride and Prejudice); they fall in love and lived happily ever after.

What kept it interesting is that in each story the heroines face different challenges. Also, her use of non-human characters-the archaeological dig site in The Shivering Sands, the horse riding/houses in Mistress of Mellyn, not only moves the stories along, you learn something interesting on the way.

The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt

In the last few weeks, I realized I needed to read more fictions to help me become more expressive. Many times, I was stopped by my limited abilities to write in the ways that would justify the feelings I was trying to portray.

The Shivering SandSince my instructor encourages me to write more romance, I decided on reading books by Victoria Holt. I remember reading them in my native language when I was in junior high.

The Shivering Sands is not only a romance, it is also a mystery. I was pleasantly surprised that I could read her books (first published in 1969) without difficulty.

This story keeps you turning the page. When she wrote about the sceneries, it was always just long enough to keep you from skipping to the next paragraph. And the romance is always tangled up with the mystery so it’s not just a frivolous part of the whole story.

Although in a few places I found similar conversations being repeated too many times. Perhaps I noticed it because we are living in a fast pace world and I didn’t want to read what I was already told.

It is amazing that Victoria Holt, Eleanor Hibbert in real life, wrote the story so long ago, I still couldn’t help becoming someone who might have lived in that time and place.