Book Review – Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Another of the fantastic novels recommended to me by friends, Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies is an examination of a marriage that breaks from the traditions of so many marriage-centered novels. While Lotto and Mathilde face many challenges along the way, they tend to have more faith in their marriage than they do in themselves individually. Exploring the ways they view themselves as well as their spouse, Groff’s writing style is unique and not just in creating two characters with such distinct voices and perspectives.

Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite was born to privilege. With family money spouting from a bottled water business and parents who thought he could do no wrong, Lotto seemed poised for greatness from an early age and his mother especially encouraged that attitude to flourish within himself. But everything changed with the sudden death of his father and his mother’s grief-stricken turn inward. Eventually shipped off to a private school in the north, Lotto drifted easily through school and girls until the day he met Mathilde just a few weeks before graduating college. Within two weeks the pair had eloped to the shock of their family and friends. While they struggle to make ends meet in the wake of being financially cut off by his disapproving mother, Lotto is certain of one thing—his and Mathilde’s love for each other—but how much of the Mathilde he loves is really her and how much is who he thinks she is? Does it even matter? Continue reading

Book Review – A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

For me, the best way to find new books and series that I love is through recommendations from friends; they know enough of what I like, and I know enough of what they like, plus there’s the added fun of having someone already there to talk about it. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas was a friend recommendation and I can’t wait to dive into the next book of the series in anticipation of the third novel’s release in early May. Incredible fantasy world building with plot elements that echo (and occasionally invert) classic fairy tales, myths, and legends and engaging characters and pacing are some of the fastest ways to capture my attention.

Feyre may be the youngest of three sisters but when it comes to providing for her family in their relatively recently acquired destitute state, she is the one who can be counted on to keep them all alive. Having taught herself hunting, she has a deer in her sights when a monstrously large wolf enters the scene—a wolf so large, Feyre believes it might be fairy in nature. Given everything that the fairies have done and continue to do to humans, even with the treaty in place, she decides to use her precious ash arrow to be sure she kills it dead. But a few days later an even larger beast appears at her family’s door demanding repayment for the slain fairy—a life for a life—and Feyre must either go to live in the fairy realm of Prythian for the rest of her days or die before her family’s eyes.

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Book Review – The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

A few years ago I had a book-a-day calendar on my desk that provided summaries and praise for each day’s title. There were many books from that calendar that made it onto that list and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery was one of them. An interesting exploration of human interaction, class, and philosophy, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is surprisingly poignant for the simplicity of its setting and premise.

Renée Michel grew up in a poor home far from the city but has spent the last twenty years working as the concierge of a high-end apartment building in Paris, a position she took over from her husband when he died. At the service of the building’s wealthy tenants, Renée spends most of her days hiding her intelligence and observing the interactions of the people in the building with each other, with her, and with the world around them. Paloma is the younger daughter of a diplomat and his wife who live on the top floor. An intelligent and aware child, Paloma is also jaded and sees little about adulthood worth living so she decides she will kill herself at the end of her school term, giving herself some time to make additional observations and attempt to find if there’s something worth staying alive. The death of one tenant and arrival of a new one serves as a catalyst for both Renée and Paloma. Continue reading

Book Review – In My Father’s Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate by Saima Wahab

I have had Saima Wahab’s memoir In My Father’s Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate on my To Read list since I saw her interview on the Daily Show several years ago. Documenting her childhood in Afghanistan and then Pakistan as a refugee before moving to the United States to further her education, become a US citizen, and eventually travel back to Afghanistan to assist US troops during the war–and given the current political climate in the US—it seemed like the perfect time to finally make myself read this book.

First published in 2012, Wahab’s memoir begins with her earliest memories of life in Afghanistan as the Soviets invaded the country and her outspoken and rather liberal father was among the first taken into custody. She never saw him again and her family fled first to her father’s people in their small village and then across the border to Pakistan where they were safer. Wahab notes that even from a small age, she rejected elements of her native culture, especially with regards to how the women were controlled and restricted by the men of their families. Sent to her uncles in the US as a teenager along with her siblings and cousins, she embraced many of the freedoms of American culture even as it caused her to struggle with holding onto and preserving her sense of her culture as a Pashtun woman. Once she begins her exploration of her time working as a civilian alongside US forces in Afghanistan–first as an interpreter and then as a research manager on an HTT (Human Terrain Team) where she helped research and map the cultural differences between the villages in Afghanistan—her narrative focuses on her struggle to reconcile the two sides of her identity, Pashtun woman and American woman. Speaking the language and understanding the culture of the locals, she worked to educate and guide both the US soldiers and the local Afghan peoples as the nations aimed to work together to rebuild her father’s country. Continue reading

Book Review – Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartless - book coverHaving so thoroughly enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, her latest novel, Heartless was one of the first I purchased with the gift cards I received back at Christmas. A stand-alone novel rather than the start of a new series, Heartless delves into the life of the young woman who becomes the Queen of Hearts and terrifies Alice on her journey through Wonderland. Once again, Meyer demonstrates her skill at paying homage to the source material while expanding and incorporating additional elements, including characters from nursery rhymes and poems.

Cath is the daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove in the kingdom of Hearts but what she wants above everything else is to open a bakery with her best friend, lady’s maid Mary Ann. Though Cath has already caught the king’s attention with her tasty treats, someone else has caught her eye—the new court joker, Jest. As a Jabberwock begins terrorizing the kingdom, Cath learns that there is more to Jest and his presence in Hearts than she’d originally thought and her dreams will clash with both reality and fate. Continue reading

Book Review – What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black by Gregory E. Pence

when we talk about clone club - book coverUsually I read a book before watching a film or television adaptation but every once in a while there’s a great book written about a movie or television series. As a fan of Orphan Black, I’m still in mild denial that the show is going to be starting its fifth and final season in a few short months. A provocative series about the lives of a series of clones, Orphan Black gives its fans plenty to talk about. Gregory E. Pence, a professor at UAB and an expert in cloning and bioethics, has compiled quite a few talking points in his book What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black. Delving into the science and history of cloning, he uses Orphan Black, its plots, and characters to help illustrate concepts and bring debates to life in ways that make it easier for readers (and viewers) to relate to and understand.

Pence begins the book by looking at the ways clones have been depicted in science fiction and literature, searching for the root of many of society’s assumptions about human cloning and the dangers it poses. He examines the origins of a variety of medical advancements that preceded the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep and the reactions from various sectors to those advancements. Using the science behind cloning and similar technologies, Pence critiques the plot and execution of Orphan Black in its depiction of clones. Some of the debates examined, such as nature versus nurture, will be more familiar to readers than others. Finally, Pence ends the book by throwing out a few areas of interest that the show and its writers could explore in the future.

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Book Review – The Girls by Emma Cline

the girls - book coverEmma Cline’s The Girls was one of those books that appeared on so many “Best of” lists that it was inevitable I would eventually have a go at it. While it was pretty good, I don’t know that I agree it was one of the best books of 2016––though, it certainly wound up capturing some of the themes that seemed to plague 2016.

Evie Boyd was born into wealth and privilege as the granddaughter of an icon of Hollywood’s golden age but by the time she’s an adult, she’s more famous for her long-ago association with a small and notorious cult. Though she didn’t participate the night of their most heinous crimes, she’s spent a lot of time reflecting on how she got as far in as she did and exactly why she wasn’t there on the infamous night. Ultimately so much of it boils down to the girls and more specifically, Suzanne. Continue reading

Book Review – The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

raven boys - book coverSince finishing The Lunar Chronicles last year, I’ve been searching for a replacement YA series to become invested in and I think I may have found it in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle series—or at least, the first book, The Raven Boys has left me still intrigued enough to check out the next book sometime soon. Bringing together mystical and mythological elements I’ve read about in both other novels and studied the histories of over the years, The Raven Boys definitely sets up a larger story than just the one that gets told in its pages.

Blue Sargent has grown up in a house full of psychics—her mother and her mother’s friends—but she shows no ability herself; she only serves as an amplifier or battery of sorts, helping to strengthen those around her. But one thing all the psychics in her life seem to agree on is that she will somehow spell death for her true love—whoever he might be—and must avoid kissing him to protect him… even though she’s just a teenager and has no idea who he might be. But on St. Mark’s Day when she accompanies one of those friends of her mother’s to the Corpse Road and actually sees and hears one of the spirits—a teenage boy named Gansey who attends the local private boys’ school, Aglionby—she might have learned the first bit about him. Blue has her doubts, however, when she actually meets Gansey and his friends, Adam, Ronan, and Noah, and begins assisting them in their search for the historically mythical Glendower and things in their small town of Henrietta begin getting even weirder than any of them could have dreamt.

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Book Review – The Return of Sir Percival: Guinevere’s Prayer by S. Alexander O’Keefe

Sir PercivalI was exteremely intrigued when I first read the description for S. Alexander O’Keef’s The Return of Sir Percival: Guinevere’s Prayer and it promised to be the first novel in a new series. I go through phases of fascination with all things Arthurian so I’ll try just about any take on Camelot at least once. O’Keefe’s premise is an interesting one but while I can get behind the plot, the characters and style of story telling have me less likely to pursue this series beyond this first book.

It has been ten years since Arthur and Camelot fell in battle. Morgana and her mercenaries have the people of Britain under her thumb while she continues to hunt for her archenemy, Merlin the wise. Guinevere and a few of her ladies are protected in hiding by the church and via a promise Morgana made to one of her most capable knights. The Knights of the Round Table have been wiped out, or so everyone thought until Sir Percival returns from the holy lands with a friend. Having been sent to seek the Holy Grail alone, Sir Percival has failed in that quest but might have returned just in time to bring Morgana down and restore Guinevere to her rightful place as queen of the late Arthur’s broken kingdom. Continue reading

Book Review – Amsterdam by Ian McEwan, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #171

amsterdamSince reading Atonement, I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Ian McEwan’s novels. But with the exception of Atonement, they all seem to have one aspect that pushes things that last step too far and Amsterdam, while one of his more lauded works (and a book that gets me back to working on my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, which I’ve fallen behind on this year) is no exception. Its explorations of morality, mortality, and friendship are incredible but the way those thematic lines culminate as far as the plot is concerned don’t quite work for me.

One funeral brings together a woman’s three former lovers and her husband. Two of the former lovers happen to be good friends, Clive and Vernon, and Molly’s drawn out deterioration due to dementia and eventual death has the two men wondering what they would want if they found themselves in her shoes; ultimately they agree they would want someone to end it for them. But Molly’s death also brings some compromising photos of a politician (the third of her former lovers whom neither of the two friends like) to light. Vernon, a newspaper editor, seeks to publish; Clive, a composer, sees things differently and the men’s friendship is tested as news of the photos’ content begins to catch the public attention.

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Book Review – Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

practical magic - book coverI had seen the movie Practical Magic a number of times before I ever realized it was a book. Since one of my favorite things to do is compare book adaptations like that, it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic after learning that fact. There are some obvious changes from one medium to the other, mostly to flesh out thematic elements that take more of a back seat in the novel, but the story remains both recognizable and compelling between the two forms—not an easy feat.

Sally and Gillian Owens grow up with two distantly related aunts after their parents’ tragic deaths. They know that their aunts aren’t like other people in the town and everyone else knows it too so that the two girls also fall under the general umbrella of being Other. Gillian leaves as soon as she can, running away in the night with a young man and not looking back. Sally stays and finds a bit of normalcy when she marries and starts a family of her own. But tragedy strikes again and it’s Sally’s turn to leave the aunts, taking her own daughters to start again on her own. Years later Gillian turns up in Sally’s driveway needing her sister’s help and long ignored issues—especially personal and familial—must be addressed and remedied.

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Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

harry potter and the cursed child - book coverI haven’t reviewed any plays on my blog here before, but with all the hype around the release of and my own nostalgic affection for the novels, it seemed like the perfect place to break with tradition. The most difficult thing about reading a play is that much of what transpires is meant to be literally seen; thinking of it or treating it as a novel isn’t quite fair. But I should hope that in reading it I would at least be inspired to want to see it on stage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

The play begins where the book and movies ended—on Platform 9 ¾ as Harry and Ginny’s son Albus prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for his first year. There are several time jumps that then take place in rapid succession advancing the present to Albus’ third year—making him thirteen—and it’s clear that Albus’ relationship with Harry is strained at best. Harry isn’t thrilled with Albus’ friendship with Scorpius Malfoy and Albus resents the expectations and attention he receives as the son of Harry Potter—it isn’t fair. As rumors circulate that the Ministry of Magic has confiscated a Time-Turner (which were supposed to have all been destroyed), Amos Diggory shows up with an appeal for Harry to travel back in time and intervene to prevent Cedric from ever having been killed during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Harry refuses but Albus overhears and decides he wants to help right an injustice he sees as being Harry’s fault. But of course, terrible things can happen to those who meddle with time.

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Book Review – Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

9781250091840_p0_v2_s192x300Where many young adult series are told in one character’s first person perspective, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles wasn’t. With each novel additional characters were added to the mix and the perspective shifted regularly between them. This meant that where many young adult authors release complementary/supplementary short stories that offer a different character’s take on scenes the audience is already familiar with, her collection of stories, Stars Above, provided a different kind of depth—backstory. Most of the stories in Stars Above are greater explorations of the circumstances surrounding key moments in the series’ central characters’ lives that took place before the readers met them but that were hinted at or referenced briefly within the main books.

Most of the stories function as prequels to the books of the main series: how Scarlet’s grandmother became involved in hiding and healing Cinder as well as how Scarlet came to live with her grandmother in the first place; Cinder’s first days with her adoptive family in New Beijing; how Cress came to find herself in the satellite orbiting Earth; some of Thorne’s earliest schemes; Wolf’s early days as a soldier in Levana’s army; Winter’s perspective of growing up in her step-mother’s palace; Kai’s first impressions of Cinder. There are two stories that break from that pattern, however. The Little Android, while featuring an appearance by Cinder prior to the events of the first novel of the series, stands on its own as a reimagining of The Little Mermaid (the Hans Christian Anderson original more than the Disney version). Finally, the last story in the collection is a happy epilogue/sequel which finds the series’ four couples gathering on Earth for a long-awaited reunion and wedding. Continue reading

Book Review – Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

wintergirls - book coverSomewhere between Speak and The Impossible Knife of Memory, I missed that Laurie Halse Anderson had published another book—Wintergirls. Luckily I have friends who alerted me to my oversight and now I have corrected it. Always willing to dive into the darker realms of growing up, Anderson addresses the psychology of eating disorders—a subject everyone knows exists but few are willing to discuss or explore in the face of a society that doesn’t wish to change the ways it portrays and commodifies young women’s bodies.

Lia has been through treatment twice before to deal with her anorexia (a term that is not used within the narrative itself) but both times she has managed to escape intact, telling the doctors, nurses, her parents, and psychologists what they want to hear in order to hurry the process along. Though she and her best friend since childhood Cassie had suffered a falling out before their final year of high school, when Cassie turns up dead in a local motel and the other girl’s eating disorder is determined to be the root cause of her death, Lia finds herself haunted by Cassie’s ghost—Cassie had tried calling Lia thirty-three times the night she died. Is it in some way Lia’s fault? Will Cassie’s death turn out to be the wake-up call Lia needs or the final nudge over the edge? Continue reading

Book Review – The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

sudden appearance of hope - book coverI haven’t exactly been quiet about how much I adored The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (I even got two relatives and a close friend of mine to read it just so I’d have more people to talk to about it). So when I realized I’d missed the release of Claire North’s next book, The Sudden Appearance of Hope, I quickly bought a copy to rectify my mistake. A lot of what I loved about Harry August is still there along with a compelling new protagonist and set of circumstances, however it has a more pessimistic feel to it that I wasn’t expecting—but it does make sense given the contemporary setting and the themes to which the novel speaks.

While most teens feel at some point or another that the people in their lives are disregarding and forgetting them, for Hope Arden that was actually true. The people in her life could not remember her or her interactions with them once she walked away until her parents forgot her existence entirely and she was effectively on her own. Given the difficulties of holding a job when employers and coworkers couldn’t remember her from one day to the next, Hope became a practiced and effective thief, tangling and escaping the authorities using her unique condition to her advantage. But when she steals jewels from the neck of a Saudi princess at a high profile function, more than just Interpol is after her and technology remembers her. She nearly falls into a trap while trying to sell the jewels but a fellow darknet user, Byron14, reaches out to warn her and later enlists her for a job against an international self-improvement company—a job that has far reaching consequences for Hope and the world that forgets her. Continue reading

Book Review – The Black Country by Alex Grecian

book cover - black countryAfter finishing The Yard a few months ago, I quickly put the rest of the books in Alex Grecian’s Scotland Yard Murder Squad series on my To Read list with the intent that I pace myself rather than read them all at once. It will be easier to wait before moving on from The Black Country, the second book in the series. Though the characters that helped make the series’ first installment so thrilling are still present, something of the magic is missing in book two.

Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith have been called away from London to assist the constable in Blackhampton—a coalmining town—with the search for two parents and their missing son. The inclement weather (a late season snowstorm) promises to be the least of the obstacles impeding the investigation. The people of Blackhampton are falling ill left and right and those who are well want little to do with the out-of-town law enforcement. Everyone seems to know more than they are willing to share leaving Day and Hammersmith with no one to trust but each other. Continue reading

Book Review – The Unseen World by Liz Moore

unseen world - book coverThe Unseen World by Liz Moore—available in stores today—is another case of a fantastic description that, when I started actually reading the book, wasn’t really what I was expecting. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing, as the novel had strong thematic resonance, but it did take me a while to get invested in it—more so because of its pacing and organization. Weaving the early days of artificial intelligence development and computer programming with a deeply emotional personal tale, The Unseen World is a layered glimpse into the past while also looking forward to the possibilities of the future.

Ada Sibelius has lived an unusual life for a fourteen-year-old girl in 1980s Boston. Raised by her single father, she has spent much of her life with him at the computer sciences lab he directs, learning what he taught her and contributing to the lab group on their developing projects despite her youth. But when her father’s health begins to cause problems and confusion, Ada is forced into a more traditional school (a private Catholic school as opposed to public school, but a school where she must interact with her peers in age) where she must face the fact that she isn’t familiar with the social morays of being a teenager. As her father’s health and mental state continue to deteriorate, Ada learns that he had more secrets than anybody knew—secrets that cause Ada to question her own reality and identity as she struggles to unearth the truth. Continue reading

Book Review – Alone by Lisa Gardner

book cover - aloneI was amazed by how well Find Her read after I discovered it was actually the eighth book in an established series. Since I tend to be a bit of a completest, I decided to go back to the beginning of that series to read the others as well. Going to the start of Lisa Gardner’s Detective D.D. Warren series, Alone, I have high hopes that the books will all end up being strong enough to stand-alone like the series’ first and latest installments.

Bobby Dodge is a Boston cop who also works as a sniper with a special tactical response unit. The first to respond when the team gets called to a domestic incident in which a husband is holding his wife and child hostage, Bobby finds himself taking the shot and killing the husband as the man raises his gun on his wife and puts his finger on the trigger. As if killing a man weren’t enough, it turns out the man was the son of a very influential judge who has it out for Bobby, accusing the officer of colluding with the dead man’s wife to kill him. Pulled into the thick of the case by the judge’s vendetta against him, Bobby learns more about the widow, Catherine Gagnon whom the judge accuses of abusing her son for attention. Continue reading

Book Review – Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson

pirate hunters - book coverMy fascination with all things oceanic began at a very young age and pirates have captivated me along with millions of others. I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately and the college course I took on piracy in the Atlantic is one of those classes I’ve been thinking of revisiting so it only made sense to add Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship to my reading list.

John Chatterton and John Mattera are two men who had vast experience with diving and exploring shipwrecks that many didn’t dare attempt. They had been planning on searching for and salvaging a significant Spanish galleon in pursuit of claiming the fortune that sank with her and had already invested large portions of their time and money in the project when they got a call and an offer from one of the most respected and well known treasure hunters around––Tracy Bowden. Bowden had been on the trail of a pirate ship, the Golden Fleece stolen and captained by Joseph Bannister during the Golden Age of piracy in the Atlantic. Certain he knew where it was and being in possession of the salvage lease to that area of the Dominican Republic, he sought to bring Chatterton and Mattera in to definitively locate and claim the wreck. When Chatterton and Mattera go looking where Bowden proposes the wreck to be, they find nothing and must search more than just the waters off the coast of Cayo Levantado to piece together the story of Captain Bannister and the fight with the British Royal Navy that sunk the Golden Fleece.

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Book Review – The Crown by Kiera Cass

the crown - book coverHaving finally gotten my hands on a copy of The Crown by Kiera Cass—the final book in her Selection Series—I’m mostly left wishing that there had been more to the series as a whole. It was a satisfying conclusion as far as the characters and where they end up as their arcs come to a close, but the series could have been so much more than just what was presented. There are hints at the depths it could have explored but it was content to go through the more superficial motions leaving this reader pondering what might have been.

Following her mother’s heart attack in the wake of her brother’s elopement, Eadlyn Schreave, the heir to the throne of Illéa feels the need to step things up when it comes to taking on responsibilities related to running the kingdom so her father doesn’t have to leave her mother’s side—and part of taking on more responsibilities means making some decisions concerning the Selection and narrowing down her choices. Going so far as to get rid of all but six, her Selection has suddenly entered the Elite stage. Still struggling with her public image and her people’s discouraging opinions of her, Marid Illéa—a descendant of a different branch of the royal family dating back to the nation’s origins—steps in to help Eadlyn with her public appeal. But as Eadlyn takes on more formal responsibilities and juggles them with the final stages of the Selection, she discovers she may have taken on more than she realized and her throne is unexpectedly threatened.

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Book Review – The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

golem and jinni - book coverA friend recommended The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker to me a few weeks ago and after reading the description, I was more than a little intrigued. Though it took some time for me to get into it, once I was in there was no turning back. It’s a novel comprised of pairings that don’t seem like they would make much sense initially but which are brought together in surprisingly beautiful, complementary ways. Compelling in the simple surface action of the story, The Golem and the Jinni proves even more engaging at deeper, philosophical levels.

The story begins with introducing—or in the case of the Golem, creating—the two central and titular beings of the narrative. The Golem’s creation and waking are quickly followed by the death of her master, leaving her untethered during the critical early days of her existence. She arrives in America with no one waiting for her who can help her navigate a city teeming with the hopes and wishes of thousands of people. A young tinsmith inadvertently releases the Jinni from a copper flask but the Jinni can’t remember the specifics of how he came to be trapped in a human form or who it was that put him in the flask. He too is wildly unprepared for life in New York City during the height of immigration. The Golem and the Jinni soon come to grips with how to survive in their new lives but both yearn for something more—to be able to be their true selves without fear though first they have to figure out what those true selves are. Continue reading

Book Review – The Yard by Alex Grecian

book cover - the yardThere are times when, as a reader, circumstances converge in the most interesting ways. Since seeing the television adaptation of And Then There Were None last month (my favorite Agatha Christie novel and probably my favorite murder mystery of all time as well), I’ve been on a mystery kick. I’ve also recently been busy getting interested in the television show Penny Dreadful, so when I happened upon a murder mystery set in Victorian London in the wake of the Jack the Ripper murders, I was primed to enjoy the book. But I think my enjoyment of Alex Grecian’s The Yard, goes beyond the fact that I came upon it at a time when my interests happened to converge in just the right way; beyond the mystery itself, The Yard explores an intriguing set of characters at a point in history when so much was changing in terms of the criminal justice system—from the technologies used to catch the criminals to the way metropolitan police systems were organized.

The London police are still reeling from their failure to catch Jack the Ripper and it appears they may be more directly under attack when the body of one of their men—Inspector Christian Little—turns up stuffed into a trunk at a train station. The case falls into the hands of Inspector Walter Day who has just moved to London with his wife and is beginning to question the decision. With the assistance of his fellow inspector Michael Blacker and the unorthodox Dr. Bernard Kingsley who quickly becomes Scotland Yard’s first forensic pathologist, Day works to catch the killer before any more policemen can be killed. In a city like London, though, beat cops like Nevil Hammersmith already know all too well just how many murders and disappearances fall by the wayside and how difficult it can be to pick up a trail when hampered by bureaucracy and apathy.

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Book Review – Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

thunderstruck - book coverHaving read and enjoyed so many of Erik Larson’s books in the past, I eagerly took up Thunderstruck though I had no real knowledge of the underlying subject matter—the development of trans-Atlantic wireless telegraphy and the 1910 Cellar Murder in London. Given his skill at weaving together seemingly disparate narratives elsewhere, I was eager to see how he managed to connect these two historical threads and while he managed to do so, it wasn’t as compelling as I would have hoped though it is a remarkable and effective juxtaposition.

Guglielmo Marconi took a concept that British scientist Oliver Lodge had lectured about and spent decades experimenting with it and developing a system of wireless telegraphy from it. With no formal scientific education—and little true understanding or interest in the science behind it—he becomes the epitome of “trial and error” invention. After he moved from Italy to England with the idea of patenting, marketing, and expanding his invention that he started clashing with the British scientists and their established way of doing things—in large part because he was rather socially obtuse. The politics of science, invention, and underlying copyrights helped drive his obsessive need to demonstrate his superiority and relevance, culminating in his determination to transmit wireless messages across the Atlantic ocean.

Juxtaposed against this biographical look at Marconi’s development of wireless telegraphy, Larson lays out the history of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen and his second wife, Cara. Though his medical background stemmed from early homeopathy, he spent most of his professional life making and selling pharmaceuticals in the industry’s formative (and unregulated) years. His wife longed for the attention and glamor of the stage and was a domineering personality where he struck most who met him as submissive and kind. Living in London for some time, his wife’s friends became concerned when she apparently up and left for the United States only for her husband to later tell them he’d had word of her death overseas. Unconvinced, his wife’s friends brought their concerns to Scotland Yard and trigger an investigation that yields disturbing answers. Continue reading

Book Review – The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

book of life - book coverOf the three books in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, this was the book I read the fastest. The final installment in the trilogy—though it’s unlikely to be the last in this universe she has created—The Book of Life deftly weaves together several of the plot threads that almost felt like they’d been dropped through the second book, while still holding tight to the newer plot threads from that second book. Once everything is brought together, the story presses toward a climactic showdown that probably won’t work for everyone but worked well enough for me.

Having returned from the sixteenth century with a better understanding of her powers and what they need to accomplish with regards to the Book of Life, Diana and Matthew must first adjust to the changes that have occurred in the twenty-first century in their absence—including the death of Diana’s aunt, Emily. Vampire customs and the rules of the Congregation’s covenant begin clashing with increasing frequency against the de Clermonts’ expanding family but their biggest problem proves to be a vampire son of Matthew’s who’d been disowned centuries earlier—Benjamin. Obsessed with discovering a way for vampires to reproduce with witches to create a master race, Benjamin has been working at the edges of things longer than anyone realized and is just as determined to find the Book of Life—and gain revenge on his sire by getting his hands on Diana and the twins she is carrying. Continue reading

Book Review – Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

death comes to pemberley - book coverAs a general rule, I avoid what I consider unauthorized sequels to famous works—especially those that I love. In the last decade, there have been an absurd amount of novels along these lines for Jane Austen’s works and I have avoided them almost entirely. But having heard only good things about the 2013 television adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberely and recognizing the name of author P.D. James, I decided to make one of the rare exceptions to my general rule—and after all, I do like most twists on fairy tales and there are amazingly interesting novels like Wide Sargasso Sea (with its origins in Jane Eyre) and plays like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (with its origins in Hamlet), that I thoroughly enjoy. I feel that the novel, Death Comes to Pemberley falls somewhere between those and what I usually see as glorified fanfiction (which is not a criticism of fanfiction; when I say ‘glorified’ like that, I’m referring to books that would be considered ‘only fanfiction’ if the authors hadn’t found publishers and profited monetarily from them).

It has been six years since Elizabeth married Mr. Darcy and became mistress of Pemberley. As they prepare for the annual ball—referred to as Lady Anne’s Ball in honor of Darcy’s mother, who started the tradition—a terrible storm strikes along with tragedy. Elizabeth’s unfortunate and presumptuous youngest sister, Lydia, arrives in a carriage the evening before the ball, hysterical and claiming that her husband, Mr. Wickham, set out into the woods after their friend, Captain Denny, who first stopped the carriage to be let out, and that she fears one or both of the men must be dead having heard gunshots. When Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and a third gentleman set out to search for the pair, they discover Captain Denny dead and Wickham in a terrible state over his friend’s body, blaming himself for the man’s death. Bringing Wickham and the body back to Pemberley, Darcy must summon the proper authorities to deal with the inquest and the general suspicion that Wickham had more to do with Denny’s death than he’s willing to admit, dragging Darcy and Pemberley into the thick of things and notoriety once more.

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