Book Review: Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

Title: Anatomy: A Love Story
Author: Dana Schwartz
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: January 18, 2022
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical fiction / Young adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A gothic tale full of mystery and romance about a willful female surgeon, a resurrection man who sells bodies for a living, and the buried secrets they must uncover together.

Edinburgh, 1817.

Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.

Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.

But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.

I have to be honest — I was 100% drawn to this book because of the cover! I mean… gorgeous, right? Unfortunately, my impression based on the cover led me to expect something intense, dramatic, perhaps tragic… and while there’s a lot that works about this book, the initial impressions don’t really pan out.

Anatomy takes place in Edinburgh in 1817, presenting a view of the state of medicine and society at that time. The wealthy and titled live comfortable, oblivious lives, while the poor suffer and starve, and sickness spreads through the city without much in the way of effective medicine to stop it.

In this world, physicians may be respected, but surgeons certainly are not. Their work is considered only steps above butchery. To learn the art and science of surgery, anatomists must rely on “resurrection men”, grave robbers who dig up fresh corpses to earn a living.

Jack Currer is one such resurrectionist, a teenaged boy who supports himself through this gruesome and dangerous work, while dreaming of a better life. 17-year-old Hazel Sinnett is a young lady, niece of a viscount, comfortably settled in her family’s gorgeous home, pampered, and expected to marry her cousin, to whom she’s been unofficially engaged since childhood.

But Hazel nurtures a secret dream of becoming a physician, and she’s determined to pursue it, no matter the obstacles. Disguised in her late brother’s clothing, she begins attending classes at the Royal Edinburgh Anatomists’ Society in preparation for the physicians exam, but is soon discovered and tossed out.

Undeterred, she decides to continue studying on her own. With the rest of her family conveniently away for several months, she arranges for Jack to bring her bodies to study, and soon opens the doors of her family home to any poor people who need medical attention. While her practice flourishes, she gains skills and knowledge, and is soon a doctor in all but certification.

But something sinister is happening in Edinburgh. Other resurrectionists of Jack’s acquaintance have gone missing, and the business of digging up graves becomes more dangerous by the day. Amidst the danger, Hazel begins joining Jack on his work in the graveyards. As they spend time together, they develop trust and friendship, and then stronger emotions, although their difference in social station would seem to be insurmountable.

I was excited to read Anatomy, as the early history of modern medicine is truly fascinating. This is not the first book I’ve read set in this time and place, with a similar focus on the work of anatomists. However, while I expected that the plot would be mostly about the challenges of a young woman pursuing a career in science — something off-limits to her because of her gender and her social status — that’s not really what the book delivers.

Instead, the book takes a turn toward more of a thriller, with disappearances and sinister deaths, and there’s a supernatural/fantasy element that I wasn’t expecting — and honestly, that threatened to ruin the story for me. I loved reading about Hazel’s burning desire for an education and to do good in the world, but the climax and resolution negate the sense of historical reality established earlier in the book.

Also, this may be my own fault, but I assumed this was adult fiction. Only as I got further along did it occur to me that this might actually be YA — and yes, it’s listed as such on NetGalley, so I suppose I just didn’t notice that ahead of time. Maybe this is why the plot ended up feeling a little trite and simplistic to me. I wanted rich historical fiction; instead, I got a watered-down historical setting that focuses on romance and a fantastical element that’s just weird.

As for the romance — well, Hazel and Jack are both very likable characters, and I appreciated that they could develop feelings for each other, but their first kiss is anything but romantic:

Hazel pressed her shoulders up against Jack, partly to avoid the chill leaching from the moist earth through her jacket, but partly because his warmth — the solidity of his presence — made her less dizzy with fear. It anchored her. They were there, together. Whatever — whoever — was out there, neither of them would have to face it alone.

Wondering where this is taking place?

She had kissed Jack Currer in a grave, and he kissed her back, and even with everything else they had faced, that moment was the hardest Hazel’s heart had beaten the entire night.

I think if I’d realize this was a YA book, I might have had more tolerance for it as I was reading it. As it was, I felt a little let down by the realization that the intense, presumably adult drama I’d been expected had turned out to be a teen-aged love story with an otherworldly twist.

I would read more about anatomists in the early 1800s or historical fiction about Scotland in that time period or about women trying to study medicine at a time when they weren’t permitted to do so — in a heartbeat! Sadly, this book didn’t deliver what I’d hoped for.

Anatomy has a great setting and interesting premise, but the overall structure and content of the story was a letdown for me. It’s not a bad read at all, but this is a prime example of expectations getting in the way of enjoyment. Perhaps if I’d more accurately anticipated the tone and content, I might have appreciated it more.

I’m going to be looking forward to hearing other people’s thoughts on this book. It did keep me turning the pages, even though I found many aspects borderline ridiculous. Your mileage may vary.

Book Review: Where the Drowned Girls Go (Wayward Children, #7) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Where the Drowned Girls Go
Series: Wayward Children, #7
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: January 4, 2022
Length: 150 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC via Netgalley; hardcover purchased

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Welcome to the Whitethorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help, and you’ve already taken that step by requesting a transfer into our company.

There is another school for children who fall through doors and fall back out again.
It isn’t as friendly as Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

And it isn’t as safe.

When Eleanor West decided to open her school, her sanctuary, her Home for Wayward Children, she knew from the beginning that there would be children she couldn’t save; when Cora decides she needs a different direction, a different fate, a different prophecy, Miss West reluctantly agrees to transfer her to the other school, where things are run very differently by Whitethorn, the Headmaster.

She will soon discover that not all doors are welcoming…

If it’s January, it must be time for a new Wayward Children book!

Children have always been drawn to the doors.

In the 7th in the series, Where the Drowned Girls Go, the main character is Cora, whom we’ve met in previous installments as a secondary character. Here, she takes center stage.

Cora is a mermaid. That is, she was an ordinary human child until she went through a door to the world of the Trenches, an undersea world where Cora became a hero and a mermaid. Even though she was returned to her “real” world, she knows she belongs back in the Trenches… or she did, until (in book #5, Come Tumbling Down), she accompanies her friends through a door to the Moors, where she has a fateful encounter with the Drowned Gods.

She used to put her head down on the pillow and let the night take her away, off into dreams full of deep, diamond-dappled water, diving down where the currents were warm and the waters were always welcoming.

Since the Moors, though… since the Moors, her dreams were still full of water and waves, but the sea she swam in while she slept was no longer remotely kind. It was filled with teeth, and colder than she would have believed the water could be.

Now, back at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, Cora can’t shake the memories of the Moors and the awful whispers of the Drowned Gods, who want to drag her back down to their terror-filled realm. Feeling hopeless, Cora requests a transfer to the Whitethorn Institute, the other school for children who journey through portals to strange worlds and come back again. Against Eleanor West’s advice, Cora insists on the transfer, and soon finds herself in a very different type of school.

Days at the Whitethorn Institute always followed the same pattern, as perfect and predictable as a spider’s web.

At Whitethorn, the emphasis in on conformity. The students are urged through behavioral control to abandon any thought of other worlds. They must learn that this is the only world that exists, and give up the fantasies and delusions of other lives. It’s harsh, full of punishments and insistence on obedience, with an overwhelming grayness to it all.

But Cora is still a mermaid at heart, and soon comes to realize what an awful mistake she’s made. And when her friend Sumi shows up at Whitethorn on a rescue mission… well, things really get interesting.

I love the world of the Wayward Children, and despite the bleakness of the new school, there’s still plenty of magic and nonsense to appreciate in Where the Drowned Girls Go.

One of the truly special things about this series is how it celebrates otherness. The children in these books struggle to fit in in their “normal” worlds, and finding their doors is key to discovering who they truly are. What’s clear throughout this series is that the children’s differences aren’t the problem — the problem is a world that has no place for children who don’t conform.

As always, the writing is spectacular. Rovina Cai is back as the illustrator, and her drawings (again, as always) are beautiful and perfectly in tune with the narrative of the story.

Illustration by @RovinaCaiArt

I love this series so, so much. If you haven’t tried these books yet, start at the beginning! I’m thrilled that three more books in the series are listed on Goodreads — here’s hoping the Wayward Children thrive for years to come!

Book Review: The Unfamiliar Garden (The Comet Cycle, #2) by Benjamin Percy

Title: The Unfamiliar Garden
Series: The Comet Cycle
Author: Benjamin Percy
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication date: January 4, 2022
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The night the sky fell, Jack and Nora Abernathy’s daughter vanished in the woods. And Mia’s disappearance broke her parents’ already fragile marriage. Unable to solve her own daughter’s case, Nora lost herself in her work as a homicide detective. Jack became a shell of a man; his promising career as a biologist crumbling alongside the meteor strikes that altered weather patterns and caused a massive drought.

It isn’t until five years later that the rains finally return to nourish Seattle. In this period of sudden growth, Jack uncovers evidence of a new parasitic fungus, while Nora investigates several brutal, ritualistic murders. Soon they will be drawn together by a horrifying connection between their discoveries—partnering to fight a deadly contagion as well as the government forces that know the truth about the fate of their daughter.

Award-winning author Benjamin Percy delivers both a gripping science fiction thriller and a dazzling examination of a planet—and a marriage—that have broken. 

The Comet Cycle, a three-part look at the effects of a devastating meteor fall, began with the 2021 release of The Ninth Metal (reviewed here). The premise of this trilogy is chilling: A comet passes by earth, close enough that people around the globe gather to celebrate and enjoy the beautiful sight. But… a year later, Earth’s orbit takes the planet through the comet’s debris field, and it’s here that things go terribly wrong.

Earth is inundated with meteors and meteorites, and beyond the immediate destruction of the massive impacts, the biology and chemical makeup of the planet is forever changed.

In The Ninth Metal, we see the effect of the introduction of a strange, never-before-seen metal into the world of humans. Known as omnimetal, this element has strange properties that change the world in terms of huge leaps forward in technology as well as changing the economy, power balances, and in some cases, humans themselves.

In the 2nd book, The Unfamiliar Garden, the action moves from the Minnesota setting of the 1st book to the Seattle and Northwest rainforest area. The main characters are Jack, a professor of biology specializing in mycology, and Nora, Jack’s ex-wife, a neuro-atypical detective with the Seattle PD. Five years earlier, as the meteorites were striking Earth, their 8-year-old daughter Mia disappeared while out in the forest with Jack. No trace was ever found.

Now, after a long drought, rains have returned to the area, and with the rain comes a huge growth spurt for fungi and other plant matter. Also, and maybe not coincidentally, Nora’s department faces a rash of gruesome murders and seemingly ordinary people having sudden psychotic breaks.

As their work overlaps, Jack and Nora have to join forces to try to understand what’s causing this outbreak of violence, and along the way, may finally get answers to the mystery of their daughter’s disappearance.

The Unfamiliar Garden is a fast-paced, tautly-written thriller with sinister government agents, alien organisms, and a wave of bizarre illness and madness. Through Jack and Nora, we see the way the baffling clues start to form patterns, while also getting a sense of the horror of finding oneself in the midst of what’s actually happening.

Without giving too much away, let me just say… fungi = ewwwwww. I’ve now read several books in which fungi in some way or another basically spell the end of human life as we know it, and honestly, it’s terrifying!!

There are some scenes that are pretty gross, so this book may not be for you if you have a weak stomach and a low tolerance for an ick factor.

I found it fascinating, and I loved the relatively short length, which meant that the storytelling stays lean and propulsive throughout. I also love how each book in this trilogy focuses on a different geographic area and a different aspect of the comet’s aftermath.

Book #3, The Sky Vault, will be released in June 2022. I can’t wait!

Book Review: When You Get the Chance by Emma Lord

Title: When You Get the Chance
Author: Emma Lord
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: January 4, 2022
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Nothing will get in the way of Millie Price’s dream to become a Broadway star. Not her lovable but super-introverted dad, who after raising Millie alone, doesn’t want to watch her leave home to pursue her dream. Not her pesky and ongoing drama club rival, Oliver, who is the very definition of Simmering Romantic Tension. And not the “Millie Moods,” the feelings of intense emotion that threaten to overwhelm, always at maddeningly inconvenient times. Millie needs an ally. And when a left-open browser brings Millie to her dad’s embarrassingly moody LiveJournal from 2003, Millie knows just what to do. She’s going to find her mom.

There’s Steph, a still-aspiring stage actress and receptionist at a talent agency. There’s Farrah, ethereal dance teacher who clearly doesn’t have the two left feet Millie has. And Beth, the chipper and sweet stage enthusiast with an equally exuberant fifteen-year-old daughter (A possible sister?! This is getting out of hand). But how can you find a new part of your life and expect it to fit into your old one, without leaving any marks? And why is it that when you go looking for the past, it somehow keeps bringing you back to what you’ve had all along?

Millie Price is a LOT, and she knows it. Almost 17, done with junior year of high school, and completely obsessed with musical theater, Millie is ecstatic when she finds out that she’s been accepted ot a competitive “pre-college” (a combination senior year of high school plus four-year undergraduate program) that claims to have huge success in turning wannabes into Broadway stars. The problem? She never told her dad that she’d applied, and he’s absolutely opposed to her going.

But Millie is nothing if not determined, and she decides to convince her dad to let her attend in the weirdest way possible: After stumbling across her dad’s awful LiveJournal musings about his sad college romances, she decides to track down her mother — who, she’s sure, will back her up on this pre-college thing, since one of the few things Millie knows about her is that she was also a performer.

On her quest, Millie ends up taking an internship at a talent agency, where she’s forced to work side-by-side with Oliver, the grumpy stage manager from her high school theater department with whom she’s had a serious battle of the wills (not to mention ongoing very loud conflicts) for three years now. But working together, she finds out there’s more to Oliver than she realized.

When You Get the Chance is a cute story, sure to appeal to anyone who (a) loves New York and (b) loves musical theater — but even if you don’t happen to love either of those, Millie’s out-there personality, her relationship with her father and her aunt, and the madcap search for her mother are sure to charm you anyway.

Millie’s extroverted personality, in person, would make me hugely uncomfortable. She’s someone who craves the spotlight, and her big emotions and reactions are constantly on display. While these traits carry her where she needs to go, she also steps on people’s toes and gets into all sorts of awkward situations, not to mention hurting the people she loves most by not talking to them directly instead of carrying out her wild schemes. Still, as a fictional character, she’s funny and charming, and we readers know that her heart is in the right place, even when her actions are over the top.

There are a lot of cute and engaging elements in this story: Millie’s search for her mother, based on the sparse cues she and her best friend find, take her all over the city and introduce her to people who all enrich her life in various ways. The mother “candidates” are interesting women who share some traits with Millie (and whose scenes with Millie are very entertaining), and the travels around New York are lively and enjoyable. Also, Millie’s aunt owns the Milkshake Club, a performance space that serves amazing milkshakes, which is such a fabulous concept… and now I desperately want a huge milkshake of my own!

The family conflicts and drama get resolved in satisfying ways, the romantic element is sweet (and I appreciated that the romance doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the story), and as a musical theater fan myself, I appreciate all the silly ways that various lyrics, plotlines, and characters get woven into Millie’s daily conversations and thoughts.

When You Get the Chance is a engaging read with an entertaining (and occasionally exasperating) main character. It releases the first week in January — what a fun way to start the new year!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten books on my TBR list for winter 2021/2022

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is about our winter reading plans. I love putting together these quarterly TBR posts!

This time around, my list is split between upcoming new releases and book on my shelves that I’m dying to finally get to. My top 10 priorities to read this winter will be:

New releases:

1) Where the Drowned Girls Go (Wayward Children, #7) by Seanan McGuire: Starting the year off with a new novella in this series is becoming an annual tradition! This one releases January 4, 2022.

2) Spelunking Through Hell (InCryptids, #11) by Seanan McGuire: Also an annual tradition from the same author, the next new installment in the ongoing InCryptids series, releasing in March 2022.

3) The Unfamiliar Garden (The Comet Cycle, #2) by Benjamin Percy: The first book in this series (The Ninth Metal) was so weird and so good — can’t wait for more! Releases in January.

4) When You Get the Chance by Emma Lord: Another January release — looks like a lot of fun.

And books I already own:

5) Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto: I hear it’s great!

6) Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger: My book group’s pick for January (and we’ll be Zooming with the author!)

7) Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo: An LGBTQ love story set in San Francisco in the 1950s. Sounds amazing!

8) The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood: I see to be gravitating toward light romances a lot lately, and I love that this one features a woman in science.

9) Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse, #6) by James S. A. Corey: The last season of the TV series is airing now, but there are still plenty of books left to read!

10) The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery: This specific book is a maybe, but I do want to read more L. M. Montgomery, and this is one of four options for me.

What books will be keeping you warm this winter? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Cover reveal: Soul Taken (Mercy Thompson, #13) by Patricia Briggs

Hot off the social media feeds! It’s the cover reveal for the next Mercy Thompson book by Patricia Briggs! Soul Taken will be released in March 2022. As always, the absolutely gorgeous cover art is by Daniel Dos Santos, who is such an incredibly talented artist.

So beautiful!

Here’s the blurb for the plot:

Mercy Thompson, car mechanic and shapeshifter, must face her greatest fears in this chilling entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.

The vampire Wulfe is missing. Since he’s deadly, possibly insane, and his current idea of “fun” is stalking Mercy, some may see it as no great loss. But when he disappears, the Tri-Cities pack is blamed. The mistress of the vampire seethe informs Mercy that the pack must produce Wulfe to prove their innocence, or the loose alliance between the local vampires and werewolves is over.

So Mercy goes out to find her stalker—and discovers more than just Wulfe have disappeared. Someone is taking people from locked rooms, from the aisles of stores, and even from crowded parties. And these are not just ordinary people but supernatural beings. Until Wulfe vanished, all of them were powerless loners, many of whom quietly moved to the Tri-Cities in the hope that the safety promised by Mercy and Adam’s pack would extend to them as well.

Who is taking them? As Mercy investigates, she learns of the legend of the Harvester, who travels by less-trodden paths and reaps the souls that are ripe with a great black scythe. . . . 

My preorder has been placed. Let the waiting begin!

Preorder at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2U8ei7A

Check out the artist’s work: https://www.dandossantos.com/