I came across this book while searching out books during the Salem Witch Trials. This one is set 200 years later, and while it sounded interesting, I...moreI came across this book while searching out books during the Salem Witch Trials. This one is set 200 years later, and while it sounded interesting, I didn’t click the “Reserve a copy” button on my library’s online catalogue at first. I’m really glad I changed my mind, though, as I ended up really loving it!
Deputy Marshall Archie Lean is called to a grisly murder scene in which a young woman has been laid out in a pentagram with a pitchfork through her throat, a traditional method for killing a “witch”. As his investigation continues, he enlists the help of criminologist, Perceval Grey, and historian, Helen Prescott, the niece of medical examiner, Doctor Stieg. It soon becomes clear that this murder is not an isolated incident, and that several young women around Massachusetts and Maine have been killed by a man with a seeming fixation on the Salem Witch Trials.
Archie Lean is a fun protagonist; he quotes poetry and in his downtime, worries whether he’s going to be able to keep the position of Deputy in the future and buy a house for him, his wife and their two children [well, one child; second is on the way]. The character of Perceval Grey runs the risk of being accused of being a Sherlock Holmes clone, but what I found most interesting about him was his half-Abenaki heritage, and how this affected his relationships with the other characters. As the murder scene is constructed in such a way to make it look like the murder was an Indian, Grey is viewed with suspicion from Lean and the other investigators, even after he assures them he has not lived amongst his father’s people since the age of seven and they have nothing to “worry” about. Lean and Grey do warm to each other, though, and there is a lot of fun banter between them. Banter is my favourite thing.
Helen Prescott, unfortunately, was something of a plot device, and I wish we had been able to learn a bit more about her. She basically served as the expert on the Salem Witch Trials, filling in details the others weren’t aware of, as well as being a love interest for Grey (I’ve started the second book now, which is set a year later. She’s all but disappeared, but there’s a new female character who Grey finds “arresting”).
The plot is quick-paced, and I did sometimes have trouble keeping up with all the characters who played a part in the sequence of events that led up to the murders. There was one point where I was worried that the resolution was going to be rather unsatisfying after such a promising lead-up, but I realised soon after that if the murderer has been caught and there are still 60 pages to go, they probably haven’t actually caught the murderer. ;)
I really enjoyed the setting (period murder mysteries are just so much more fun than contemporary ones) though for something set in America, it did feel very Victorian. I mean, I really don’t know how much of a difference there would really be, but that did surprise me a little.
As I said above, I’m already onto the sequel, “A Study in Revenge” and so far it is promising to be good fun, too (though I was looking ahead to see how many pages it has and accidentally read the last few lines and I think we have a cliffhanger on our hands!). Kieran Shields is definitely an author to keep an eye on!(less)
Okay, a confession: I’m not really a poetry person. I’m all right if it rhymes, and I can even sort of get behind it if I can register some sort of me...moreOkay, a confession: I’m not really a poetry person. I’m all right if it rhymes, and I can even sort of get behind it if I can register some sort of meter. But free verse just confuses me; I just sit there wondering why the prose has so many line breaks. (Okay, I can appreciate it a bit more than that sentence implies, but I would still rather just read it in a series of paragraphs.) So when I realised Wicked Girls was an entire novel written in verse, I wasn’t immediately sure I would continue reading it. But it kinda grew on me.
Wicked Girls is the first in a series of books centred around the Salem Witch Trials that I’m probably going to read. I just finished a production of The Crucible a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m kinda hooked on that time and place in history (and totally not ready to let go of the production yet, either, if I’m honest). Hemphill tell the story of the trials from the points-of-view of three of the “afflicted” girls who testified against the “witches”: Mercy Lewis, Margaret Walcott and Ann Putnam Jr. Mercy and Margaret are both 17, while Ann Putnam is only 12. All three discover that in their restrictive, Puritan world, being able to point out who is doing the Devil’s work gives these otherwise ignored girls a real taste of power and a chance to right wrongs they feel have been done in the town.
The thing that drew me into this book was the group dynamics. The main group of girls create a clique; others are let in or thrown out, basically on their whims. Poor little Abigail, who is presented by Hemphill as someone who is very keen to help but who maybe talks a bit too much, is literally treated like a dog by Ann (being told to “sit” and “stay”) but she complies because it is a better option than being treated like she doesn’t exist. (Note: I played Abigail in the aforementioned production, so I have a bit of an attachment to her in any incarnation).
As I said earlier, I’m not a poetry person, but the verse format did lend itself to tinging the entire story with an underlying sadness. Mercy longs to avenge her parents, who were killed in the French-Indian wars. Margaret is engaged to Isaac Farrar, but convinced he has eyes for Mercy, and is consumed by the resulting jealousy. Ann wants to please her mother and father, but most of all just wants Mercy to be her friend. Ann, who positions herself as the queen bee of the group, is the last one to continue testifying in the trials. The others gradually realise their mistakes, and after watching innocent people hanged, no longer wish to go on with their accusations. Ann, being younger, does not fully comprehend the things their actions are causing, and doesn’t understand when her friends (or the closest things she has to friends) abandon her. Even though she acts like a spoiled brat for most of the book, I still felt just as sorry for her by the end.
As far as I could tell from what I know of the Witch Trials (I’m still learning!), the events described were all historically accurate,though sometimes embellished. Stephanie Hemphill is also the author of Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath. I may not be a huge fan of poetry, but I take my hat off to anyone who can take real people and reveal their lives in this format.(less)
Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Now that that’s out of the way, I want to say upfront, the reason that this book doesn’t get five stars from me is not necessarily that I don’t think it deserves it, but simply because there are certain aspects of it that are quite popular in this genre and no doubt appeal to a lot of people, but just never quite work for me. I’ll go more into that as this review goes on.
Bound is set in the kingdom of Darmid, where magic is banned, and magic hunters will kill anyone who exhibits magical ability without a second thought. Their neighbours over the mountains use magic quite happily, and are at home with the company of other species such as dragons, griffons and merfolk, and that just makes those from Darmid more suspicious of them. When Rowan, a young woman from Darmid with a love of fairytales and a life-long plague of awful headaches, unintentionally saves the life of Aren, one of her country’s biggest enemies, everything she’s ever known is called into question and she begins to learn that there’s much more to her than she realises.
I really enjoyed the way Kate Sparkes turned some well-used fantasy tropes on their heads, particularly regarding her female characters. They were not required to be pure, medieval maidens (even strong ones), and the fact that Rowan had not yet slept with the man she was betrothed to was considered even a little odd.
Aren was a a rather typical YA hero, and to be honest, I was far more interested in Rowan’s chapters than his (the novel is written in first person split narrative). However, this is one of the aspects I mentioned earlier that I know is really popular in YA fiction, and I know the YA crowd will probably really love him. He’s just not my type. I felt his change of heart and subsequent feelings for Rowan developed a little quickly, but it’s a bit of a catch-22, since without that, there would be no plot. I did, however, enjoy learning about Aren’s magic, and how magic works in his kingdom. Kate has clearly done a lot of work on her world-building.
Bound ends with a nice set-up for Book 2. There is still plenty that Rowan needs to learn, plenty of danger still lurking, and some interesting new characters we don’t know too much about. Kate is certainly a talented writer and I look forward to reading more!(less)
I had this book on my Kindle for ages before I got around to reading it. I think I downloaded it during a free promotion but had not paid attention to...moreI had this book on my Kindle for ages before I got around to reading it. I think I downloaded it during a free promotion but had not paid attention to the summary and thought it was full of poetry or something that I’m equally not actually that keen on, and thus kept putting off reading it at all.
What a stupid decision that turned out to be! Let’s clear it up now, this is actually a really entertaining YA supernatural book, with an engaging main character, side characters which evoked serious emotional responses from me (mostly of the “I want to punch them!” variety, but since that’s what the main character was also feeling, I think that was the point), and a plot full of suspense and intrigue.
Okay, maybe I’m getting a little hyperbolic so let me go into more detail. The main character, Reagan, and her family, suffer a huge tragedy when Reagan’s brother, Sam, is killed in what appears to be a bear attack while they are camping at Yellowstone Park. Sam’s body is never recovered, though, and Reagan starts having strange dreams about a gold-eyed wolf who insists she follow him. Meanwhile, grief starts to drive Reagan and her parents apart, and she becomes closer to her grandmother, a Wiccan woman with whom her mother has had very little to do in a long time, but who seems to be the only one willing to take Reagan seriously.
The book is very fast-paced; I would have read it in one sitting if I had been able to (unfortunately I had to drag myself out of bed to do housework). It was easy to empathise with Reagan, and I found myself always wanting to hit the other characters when they were treating her badly. The teenage characters were depicted convincingly but weren’t annoying to an older reader, and the older characters were also well-rounded. The story arc has been well set up for subsequent books. It does end on a cliffhanger, and I’m certainly looking forward to the next instalment! (less)
I read First of Her Kind, the first in the Darkness and Light series, back last May, so I was a bit worried about how much I’d remember. My concern wa...moreI read First of Her Kind, the first in the Darkness and Light series, back last May, so I was a bit worried about how much I’d remember. My concern was unwarranted, however, as I very quickly found myself settling back into the world of Ciara and Bolin and their adventures and struggles.
This novel is a bit road-trippy; Bolin is ordered fairly early on to take Ciara to the Emperor in the city of Nisair and I would estimate the middle 40% or so of the novel is them getting there. This does run the risk of letting the plot drag, but while there were a couple of points where it did seem to slow down a bit, for the most part there was plenty of action to keep the plot moving in spite of this.
We have a host of new characters in the form of the escort sent to make sure Bolin and Ciara arrive in Nisair. Most notable of these is Berk, who not only gets some awesome action scenes, but also acts as a second love interest to Ciara and makes Bolin grumble. Also, he’s super-adorable, and I never add “super” to things to make them sound even better, so that says a lot.
In First of her Kind, the big bad was Donovan, Ciara’s father from whom she inherited Andrakaos, one of her two forms of magic. Donovan is still around, but he is no longer the only adversary our heroes have to face. Donovan has teamed up with Teeva, a Dominion priestess in possession of some of the darkest magic there is. There are also Marauders to contend with, and they get nasty (actually there are some pretty dark things going on in the marauder camp, so if that’s not your thing, maybe give this one a miss). Oh, and let’s not forget that some of the Imperial Mages aren’t exactly acting under the direction of the Emperor anymore.
The multiple magic systems that K. L. Schwengel has created weave around each other seamlessly, and one of my favourite parts of the novel was the development of Ciara’s control over Andrakaos, which culminated in a very dramatic scene during the novel’s climax (vagueness deliberate). Bolin is also dealing with the effects of Teeva’s magic, and by the end of novel, there is something else looking on the horizon: the Darkness. The action scenes are also very vivid. I can see everything play out in my mind’s eye exactly as described.
My only real criticism of Emergence is that I thought we could have seen a bit more of Ciara. There was definitely some important stuff going on that we got to witness from her point of view, but I felt this was more Bolin’s story overall. Not necessarily a bad thing, he is a main character after all, but personally I would have liked a bit more of our heroine.
The ending has left us set up for an exciting and intense final installment in which many opposing powers are going to clash (there was also a Ciara/Bolin scene that left me with a huge, stupid grin on my face). I know I’ll be first in line on the day it goes on sale!(less)
Sigh… I have this real problem with Neil Gaiman… every time I read the back of one of his books, or someone sums them up for me, they sound really, re...moreSigh… I have this real problem with Neil Gaiman… every time I read the back of one of his books, or someone sums them up for me, they sound really, really awesome. But then I try reading them, and I just can’t click with the writing style. So up until now, The Graveyard Book was the only one of his that I had read all the way through to the end. I haven’t even read Coraline, and it’s pretty short. I thought I should read Neverwhere now, though, since it’s full of London Underground puns, which I might actually understand while the London Underground is still reasonably fresh in my head.
Back six months or so ago when Peter Capaldi was announced as Matt Smith’s replacement on Doctor Who, I ordered the BBC mini-series of Neverwhere, because Mr Capaldi played the role of the Angel Islington in it (cue: “The Angel has the phone box” references). It was very standard 1990s BBC fantasy fare, enjoyable, but the production values weren’t great and I couldn’t help thinking that the book was probably better. Sadly, it wasn’t, really, and my main complaint is the same as every second reviewer’s:
Richard Mayhew is a boring hero and the book would have been so much more interesting if the Marquis de Carabas were the main character.
To give you a bit of background, Richard is a normal business man whose life is changed forever when he helps a wounded young woman on the street instead of going to dinner with his fiancée and her boss. Suddenly no one can see him except for those from the world of the young woman he helped. That world is London Below, a world for those who have slipped through the cracks of the real world. It is a bizarre maze of abandoned train platforms, populated by even stranger people. Richard ends up travelling with Door (the woman he helped), Hunter, her bodyguard and the aforementioned Marquis de Carabas, a shady figure who apparently saved Door’s father’s life once and owes her a debt. Richard wants to get home, Door wants to find out who killed her family, Hunter wants to slay the London Beast and no one really knows what the Marquis wants, other than for all debts to be back in his favour.
The main problem with Neverwhere is that it never really feels like the stakes are particularly high. While the world is interesting enough to keep you reading, and I did enjoy understanding the puns on Tube station names like “Earl’s Court” and feeling like I was in the know because I was able to agree with Richard on things like “But Earl’s Court isn’t on the Central Line”, I didn’t exactly wait with baited breath to see how Richard escaped from the “Ordeal of the Key” (which is rather talked up) or what he would do after having his life-force temporarily sucked out of him by a sort of vampire-ice-lady-person. Even when I got to the climax and the true villain of the piece was revealed, my jaw didn’t drop. I didn’t have one of those moments where I had to stop reading for a moment and recover. One might argue that I had already seen the miniseries and perhaps this was why nothing surprised me, but I honestly think I wouldn’t have read all the way to the end had I not known where it was going. (I know, that’s a bit weird, but sometimes I do that; I have been known to read the last pages of books first)
There was also the issue of the author falling into really cliche descriptions of people: Door had an elven face with opal eyes, and all the non-white characters had their skin tones compared to food. I swear, if Hunter was described as “caramel” one more time…
To sum up, I know this is one of Neil Gaiman’s earlier works, so I’m willing to cut some slack, but it does sort of leave me wondering what all the fuss is about…(less)
Asdlksjefkjhsrkjfhsekjfbse. I really, really loved this book. Y’all should read it. That is all.
Oh, some incoherent rambling and three sentences do n...moreAsdlksjefkjhsrkjfhsekjfbse. I really, really loved this book. Y’all should read it. That is all.
Oh, some incoherent rambling and three sentences do not a book review make? Sorry, my bad. Let’s start again.
Have you ever read a book that is so good that you can’t immediately start another one (even if you’re in the airport for five hours and have a very long flight ahead of you) because you’ve gotten so involved in that book’s world you’re not quite ready to let it go yet?
The Dead Isle was this for me. It is set in a steampunk world of Creationists, who can Create objects out of thin air (though said objects are not permanent) and Engineers, who… well, study and build machines. Clare Fields is the former, Jack Baker the latter, but the two of them are as close as two friends can be. Jack studies Engineering while Clare studies Creation, until Jack’s immense talent is spotted by Ellis Graveworthy, a somewhat mysterious Englishman who wants to commission Jack to build him an airship so he can travel to Australia, “the Dead Isle”, where Creationists lose their power. Some are born immune to the Dead Isle’s curse, but they are quickly expatriated to England or America.
The story moves quite slowly and is quite long, but somehow it keeps you interested the whole way. It does take a little while go get into; I had read the first 8% of it ages ago, but got distracted and didn’t come back to it until I needed something to read on the Tube while I was in London and figured I ought to give it another look. I was very quickly hooked, and will freely admit there were a few days where I begrudged having to go out and do touristy things because I just wanted to stay in and keep reading! The main plot is interspersed with this world’s versions of well-known fairytales, as well as transcripts from letters and lectures given by the characters after the events of the book.
The plot deals with themes of gender, race, religion and class. Sam Starbuck is not Australian, but he does a very good job of portraying the divide between the Colonials and the Indigenous Australians (they are referred to as “Tribals” by the white people, which made me cringe; to my [admittedly limited] knowledge that term has never been in common usage in Australia, and though you could argue it was part of the alternate universe world-building, it still felt a bit awkward to me). There are an equal number of male and female characters, and it is particularly interesting watching the white male characters realise what their female friends (not white in one instance and in the other… well, that’s rather a big spoiler so I won’t mention it) are going through. Clare also struggles to reconcile her religious beliefs with what she is required to do to resolve an awful situation. There are shades of grey everywhere, and Starbuck does not necessarily set out to solve every problem, but to highlight them and show how a solution can be worked towards.
Sometimes the world-building got a bit confusing – there was quite a lot of talk about Australia before I finally figured out what the “curse” entailed – but for the most part it is incredibly detailed and beautiful. Whether it’s Jack examining an engine he’s never seen before (and his excessive enthusiasm for machines is so very endearing) or Clare watching a young Indigenous girl Create something that will exist permanently, the language is just wonderful and draws you in completely. The four main characters are all interesting and unique, and they develop a great dynamic with each other. It probably won’t surprise you to know that romances do develop over the course of the book but they are slow-building and gentle. As a hater of any kind of love-at-first-sight kind of plots, this appealed to me greatly.
As I said earlier, when I got to the end, I wanted more of this world, and not only because it’s partially set in Canberra, where I live, and no one ever sets books in Canberra (it was even pretty easy to ignore the fact that the book is set about thirty years before Canberra existed :P ) While it ends in a very good spot, the characters have all come a long way and are all moving into new chapters in their lives and it would be wonderful to see them handle those. I think, however, that I will have to be content with what I got, as after such a long, theme-heavy first book, a sequel would be a difficult thing to manage.(less)
The summary for this book on Wikipedia made it sound awesome! But… well, it wasn’t. I described it to people on more than one occasion as “a sequel to...moreThe summary for this book on Wikipedia made it sound awesome! But… well, it wasn’t. I described it to people on more than one occasion as “a sequel to the 1996 movie and of about the same quality”. I started reading it at the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary event in London while I was queuing to get into one of the theatre shows, and then sort of felt like I had to finish it just to see where it went.
The book does pick up where the 1996 movie starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor leaves off. The Master has left one last trap waiting for the Doctor in his TARDIS, and it causes the Doctor to lose all his memories. The Doctor then travels through his own timeline, meeting his former selves. They are able to top his memories up to their own point in time, and meanwhile he assists with whatever predicament the past Doctor is in at that moment.
The thing was, though, that many of the adventures that the Eighth Doctor appeared in the middle of were ones that any fan of classic Doctor Who has probably seen, and while the book extended them beyond what happened in the episodes, I still felt like I was reading descriptions of things I’d watched before. This issue was exacerbated by the fact that Dicks is clearly a better screenwriter than novelist; while in a TV script you can say things like “Character X feels smug after that incredibly sexist comment” (almost a direct quote, though I’m going from memory, so probably not quite), simply stating this as part of the story felt odd to me.
I did enjoy the several chapters based around the Sixth Doctor serial “Trial of a Time Lord”, as they added a whole other level to the original story, but in most cases, the additions just felt like a bit of a fanfiction-y sequel (not to diss all fanfiction; there is definitely some amazing fic out there) without much effort having been out in. It wasn’t clear exactly how wiping the Doctor’s memories benefited the Master, and the new companion introduced in the novel had no effect on the plot whatsoever. In fact, she only appeared in the first and last chapters and it felt like she was only there because Terrance Dicks was told he needed to introduce her.
I know there are plenty of good Doctor Who novels out there; I’ve read a few before. I’m clearly just going to have to be a bit more discerning in future and not assume that a multi-Doctor adventure equally means an awesome one.(less)
The Inheritance is the debut novel from Elaine Jeremiah, and based on the parable of The Prodigal Son, which can be found in Luke’s Gospel. I first be...moreThe Inheritance is the debut novel from Elaine Jeremiah, and based on the parable of The Prodigal Son, which can be found in Luke’s Gospel. I first became familiar with this story when I was in Year 2 and preparing for the Sacrament of First Reconciliation. From then, it tended to come up a bit throughout my Catholic schooling, not to mention the Bible Study groups I’ve sometimes been to since then, so I’m reasonably familiar with it, you might say. So when I first joined WIPpet Wednesday and learned Elaine Jeremiah’s current WIP (at the time, obviously) was based on this story, but centred around two sisters and set in modern-day England, I was intrigued.
The two sisters in question are Kate and Emma. The book opens with Emma blackmailing their father for her half of the inheritance so she can move to London and start living the high life, while Kate wonders why her sister would ever want to leave the family farm. You can tell very quickly that the good times aren’t going to last for Emma; even if I didn’t already know the story, I think I still would have reacted to the amount of her inheritance (£100, 000) with something to the effect of, “Honey… I don’t think that’s going to turn out to be as much as you think it is…” And yet, despite a series of bad decisions, I never felt like Emma was just plain stupid. Maybe a little too good at ignoring what’s right in front of her, and at getting swept along with a crowd instead of making her own decisions, but none of this stopped me from sympathising with her when everything inevitably fell apart.
Meanwhile, back on the farm, Kate is drawn into a mystery regarding her former boyfriend Stephen, who disappeared without a trace prior to the story’s beginning, and also starts re-evaluating some of her own life choices. I think I was the victim of a cultural divide here, as I had no idea what the “college” Kate began attending was in this context. However, considering the single state I live in has two different things that are referred to as a college, and neither of these is what an American would consider one, it’s unsurprising these things happen. I have to admit that I didn’t find Kate’s story quite as compelling as Emma’s, but there was still enough going on there to hold my interest.
To sum up, The Inheritance is a quick, light read with two interesting but diverse characters at its core. This isn’t actually a genre I read much of, but I do look forward to seeing what Elaine Jeremiah brings to us next!(less)