A complex literary crime novel, based in 19th century France and revolving around the life, death and relationships of controversial poet Charles Baudelaire.
Description: It is 1870 and the Franco-Prussian war is not going well for France – the Prussians are advancing on Paris while many of the French population are close to starving. The aristocracy behaves as if nothing is wrong and seems oblivious to the plight of the working classes; the French capital becomes a hotbed of discontent. Against this backdrop, a man is murdered in a brothel and Commissioner Lefèvre is called in to investigate. Lefèvre, who has a colorful past including a bloody stint in the French army, is himself no stranger to the Parisian brothels.
The Commissioner, who is a lover of poetry, finds on the body a handwritten verse from a poem by Charles Baudelaire which appears to have been written by the poet himself, though Baudelaire has been dead for some time now. Lefèvre and his right-hand man, Inspector Bouveroux, are soon embroiled in a series of grisly murders that all seem to point to the dead poet or to someone who must have been very close to him. As Paris is drawn ever closer to anarchy and chaos and the two policemen seek clues in the darkest corners of the capital, they find themselves in grave danger.
John’s thoughts: This is a clever story with an unusual plot and a cast of complex and well-developed characters. It keeps you guessing right up to the last page and in truth it still had me scratching my head long after I’d read the last page. A simple and easy read it is not.
In reading the book I learnt quite a bit about 19th century French history and also about French literature of that period – the former interested me a lot, the latter not so much. This is a reflection on me rather than the novel, as poetry and most of the associated literary circles leave me rather cold. Consequently I did find the first half of the novel slightly heavy going and had difficulty reading more than 20 pages at a time, but once I got beyond that things went much more smoothly and overall I did enjoy the read.
Putting the historical and literary connections to one side, this is actually a smart and extremely dark crime novel. You get to visit the underbelly of society and meet some gloriously twisted characters. This is not a simple whodunit.
If you like dark historical crime novels with a literary twist then you will love this book - I am sure that many reviewers will rave over it. It didn’t quite hit the mark for me personally but I’d still rate it 3.5 stars. And I do find that my mind keeps wandering back to the story which says a lot for it (the book that is, not my mind!) (less)
Quick take: A complex and fantastical historical mystery and romance set in a make-beli...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
3.5 stars actually
Quick take: A complex and fantastical historical mystery and romance set in a make-believe gas-lit Portugal. It contains dark magic, mermaids and Selkies.
Description: Oriana Paredes is a spy. She is also a maid for a local female Aristocrat in The Golden City, which is located in Portugal during the very early 1900’s. She is a “Sereia”, a siren or mermaid of sorts, which she hides from almost everyone since her species has been banned from the city by the current King.
When Oriana finds herself sinking, upside down, in the city’s river inside a room-sized-box with her human employer, she is understandably the only one who manages to survive. She realizes that there is fowl play and perhaps something a bit more sinister and magical, so she becomes determined to find the killer of her employer and friend.
She also begins to realize that the murderer may have killed others too, since the room-sized-box is not the only one anchored in the city’s river waters; there is in fact an installation of them. They are a miniature replica of the Aristocratic houses of The Golden City, placed there as an underwater art show in a representation called The City Under the Sea.
Shellie’s thoughts: I enjoyed this novel – quite a lot actually. It’s a great first effort for the author since it has a complex plot, an intriguing mystery, and good romantic tension, so it keeps the reader interested and moving along. The author has an intelligent and detailed writing style which makes the novel thought provoking. All these are elements always welcome in a good story.
I liked that the story is also set in a familiar world, so it’s easier to read than some fantasies where the location and character names can be vastly different than what we are accustomed to. It’s also easier to sink into this almost realistic world because of its well-known paranormal creatures – water-related beings such as Sereia, Selkies and water Nymphs. All the above are nice aspects for a first novel.
However, I had issues with some of the editing. The story left me with a number of dangling questions about some of the author’s mythology around the fantastical creatures - especially the Selkies. I also had an issue around the uses of the names “The Golden City” and “The City Under the Sea”; both are so similar and became confusing. Lastly, I found myself rereading a number of sentences that did not make complete sense. I generally take responsibility for confusions such as this, however, it happened often enough that I was forced to take note. Regardless, I ended up ignoring and skipping over these parts so that the flow and enjoyment of the story would continue.
I’d recommend this to anyone interested in historical fantasy, and those who enjoy steampunk (it’s set during the gaslamp era), readers who like mermaids or Selkies, dark magic, or paranormal romance. I will definitely read the next book in the series since I would like to know what happens to the characters and still have questions about the Selkie and Sereia mythology. All in all I rate this debut novel a 3.5 star. A good first effort and start to a series. (less)
A historical fantasy set in 1494 Barcelona during the Spanish inquisition. It’s an exciting novel that con...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
A historical fantasy set in 1494 Barcelona during the Spanish inquisition. It’s an exciting novel that contains a strong intelligent heroine and a magical book that has esoteric knowledge which everyone is literally dying to possess.
About: Nadira, is a tiny young woman who barely looks her age. Although in her 20’s she appears 17. Of Muslim descent (and called Moorish during this time period), she arrives in Spain as a small child. Abducted from her desert home as the proceeds from war she is sold as a slave along with her mother to a Spanish master.
Amazingly, before leaving her homeland her mother taught her to read and write in their native tongue. Even more unusual is that Nadira’s new owner, a once Jewish man, trains her in various other languages. Giving her extraordinary abilities as a reader of Ancient Greek, Latin, Arabic and Hebrew which makes her among the few who have the skills needed to read a controversial and blasphemous book - the Hermetic of Elysium.
When Nadira is “taken” again but now from her new Spanish master by the English lord - Baron Montrose, she is at first resistant. But things change for her rather quickly when she realizes this man is of good character and swears to protect her with his life, if only she will help him avenge his brother’s death and decipher the contents of this esoteric book.
Thoughts: An easily read novel that I did not want to put it down, it has a strong female character (my favorite), a strong and likable male lead, and a scattering of interesting side characters which creates an interesting and colorful ride. I particularly liked that there was only light sexual references and romance.
The story feels like it’s historical fiction with a thread of the fantastical (which is turning out to be one of my preferred type of fantasy). With writing that is intelligent, imbued with literary and philosophical knowledge, including key issues around human nature, what is good and evil, and a solid definition of ignorance and knowledge. All the while presenting a way for readers (like me) to get some world history without even realizing it. Considering it happens during an intriguing and volatile period there is plenty of opportunity for some very nasty bad guys – the Black Friars, to do horrible inquisition type things.
What didn’t I like about this book? Absolutely nothing, since it was just one of those great reads that gave me a needed escape. It’s a 4.25 star in my opinion since I could not decide which way to go; 4 star or 4.5 stars. Kudos to this author who apparently self published the book under a different title before finding its current home. But the best yet is there is a sequel coming soon, which I will be excitedly waiting for.
A dark modern fable translated from German. It is a literary novel that is tragic and blac...moreOriginal review post at Layers of Thought.
3.5 stars actually
A dark modern fable translated from German. It is a literary novel that is tragic and blackly humorous, told by a narrator who is definitely misguided and “unreliable”.
About: Set in Russia in the 1970s, The Hottest Dishes is told in the first person by the self-centered Rosa. It starts with Rosa’s daughter Sulfia becoming pregnant in her early teens and not willing to disclose who the father is. Understandably Rosa is not delighted with the situation, but claims her “troublesome” granddaughter Animat as her own and attempts to mold her into an image of what she believes a child and a Tartar should be (Tartars are descendants of Genghis Khan or “mountain people”).
As the reader is lead though the changes, deaths, and difficulties during the deterioration and dissolution of the Soviet Union (most historical details are easy to miss due to the extensive family drama), the tale culminates in a family visa finagled through some twisted means by Rosa from a German native who is researching Tartar Cuisine.
My Thoughts: Rosa is an intriguing character who is definitively an unreliable narrator, possessing a vision of herself that is unreasonably high. She navigates her life with a positive flair that ignores the perspectives and feelings of her family, creating situations which are painful and heartbreakingly sad. All the while she downplays the difficult reality in her world and country, which is more than a bit askew. Although her ability to get by in a harsh world is at times mildly admirable, in the end I was left asking myself the questions: How far would you go to get by or survive? What would you be willing to sacrifice for a chance at a better life for yourself and your family?
This is a short novel but one which I would consider a “chewy” read; it took me some time to finish due to its denseness. The text was not difficult, and the translation is excellent, but due to Rosa’s complexities and the unusual family dynamic she inadvertently creates it took a bit longer than normal. I had to stop to digest what it was about Rosa that I empathized with and what it was that I had a hard time understanding, and why her horrific opinions were in fact humorous. In the end I decided that at her best she is an extremely misguided “mother hen”. But as the adage goes “when does the means justify the end result”?
In conclusion I think that the story can be seen as dark fable for those who “do way too much”, providing lessons on what not to do even though one may think they know what is the best for everyone. Rated at 3.5 stars I enjoyed this translated story, and recommend it for readers who like literary fiction, unusual and complex characters, black humor, or those who would like a lot to think about. This is another book which would be perfect for a discussion group, as there could be so much to talk about. (less)