Book Preview – The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

second mrs hockadayAlways game for a novel set during and around the events of the American Civil War, I didn’t have to read too far into the description of Susan Rivers’ soon-to-be-released The Second Mrs. Hockaday before I knew I wanted to read it. I didn’t think much of the fact that the novel promised to tell the story in question through letters, journal entries, and inquest papers—it actually would have made it more appealing because telling a story through such limited means can lead to particularly creative story-telling. In the case of The Second Mrs. Hockaday however, I think these narrative conventions fail to live up to that potential and ultimately rob the story of some of its natural tension.

Placidia Fincher Hockaday met her husband the day of her step-sister’s wedding and married him the next day when she was but seventeen years old. A widower with an infant son, Major Gryffth Hockaday and his new bride didn’t have much time to themselves before he was called back to the Confederate front lines by his commanders. For the remaining two years the war lasted, they were separated with Placidia running his farm, raising his son, and commanding his slaves. When he returned at the end of the war, he discovered that there were scandalous rumors about just what his wife had been up to in his absence—and with whom. Decades later, the Hockaday children—having buried their parents—begin to uncover their mother’s secrets from those two years, what drove a wedge between their parents, and what brought the couple back together again in the end. Continue reading

1001 Books to Read Before You Die (Sort Of) Reading Challenge #172

tristram shandy - book coverAmong the few bright spots in 2016 was the fact that I ended the year by finally finishing Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. It was the last book assigned in one of my first semester classes of graduate school and I have been struggling to finish it ever since. A large part of my frustration with this book stems from the circumstances of its assignment; there was no way we were ever going to be able to finish the book at that point in the semester, especially when there were several dubiously long papers due in a short period of time, in that class and others. When I graduated, Tristram Shandy was one of a few books that had been assigned that I hadn’t finished during the school year but as I gradually finished the others, Tristram Shandy remained the most difficult one to get into enough to actually finish (the fact that there’s so much jumping around in the story and so many meaningless diversions didn’t help with the whole attention span thing). I finally made myself a promise that I wouldn’t let myself start reading the Song of Ice and Fire series until I had finished Tristram Shandy. So now I get to finally begin Game of Thrones!

Book Preview – The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

bear and the nightingaleI am incredibly happy to be starting a new year of reviews with this book because it was a fantastic book to be reading as this last year came to an end. After finishing it I went back and reread the initial description that inspired me to put it on my preview request list—having forgotten everything about that description in the months between submitting my request and reading the book. I had to laugh because usually, those descriptions feel strategically written with an eye towards marketing—which, of course, they are—but in this case I found completely accurate. Katherine Arden’s upcoming The Bear and the Nightingale reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and is also “recommended” for fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (which I just got a personal copy of for Christmas so I can read and enjoy it all over again).

It is some years after Pyotr Vladimirovich’s beloved wife Marina died following the birth of their youngest daughter, Vasilisa (called Vasya), but he finally admits that the time has come for him to remarry—mostly so there is another woman around to help with Vasya who appears to take her nurse’s fairy tales a little too literally. Journeying with his two oldest sons to Moscow, Pyotr returns with a devout new wife and a gift for Vasya from an odd stranger. Vasya can do nothing right in the eyes of her new stepmother but it isn’t until a new priest arrives in the village (determined to bring the fear of God to the northern people and save their souls) that more devastating effects threaten the village as the people begin neglecting the protective household spirits of old.

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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 Preview – The Memory Stones by Caroline Brothers

memory stones - book coverThe premise of Caroline Brothers’ The Memory Stones caught my attention a while ago but it has taken me a while to get through the novel—due out tomorrow, October 25, 2016. A combination of lack of time (on my part) and a lack of compelling pacing (on the novel’s part) made this book a slog when it really shouldn’t have been. The story being told should be incredibly compelling and at times it is, but its presentation and organization left something to be desired.

Osvaldo and his family living in Buenos Aires in the late 1970’s find themselves at the mercy of an increasingly ominous and powerful junta regime. When Osvaldo takes a chance and criticizes the military commanders in power, he must flee the country for his own safety, leaving behind his wife. He soon gets word that their youngest daughter and her fiancé have disappeared but whether they’ve gone into hiding or have actually been abducted by the regime is unclear at first. A rumor that his daughter was pregnant when she was taken sets Osvaldo and his wife, Yolanda, on the path to locating not just their daughter but their grandchild as well. The fall of the junta doesn’t necessarily mean they will find the answers they seek but perseverance and time might bring this family back together in the end.

Set in a place and period of history that I am not familiar with but want to learn more about, some of the tension in the early chapters of the book is fantastic. Through Osvaldo’s perspective as a member of the older generation, it becomes clear how unexpected the regime’s takeover was, how it crept up on them so that it was well under way before anyone thought to take significant action against them—so that, by the time anyone tried, it was already too late. The scenes between Osvaldo and his oldest daughter who was living with her husband in America as the situation in Argentina shifted, is some of the most emotional, compelling, and significant of the novel. Similarly, Yolanda’s persistence in searching for her daughter and grandchild while separated physically from her husband drives a lot of the story’s beginning.

It is in the middle that the story loses its way a bit. Following the chronological timeline so strictly proved to be a hindrance. It meant a lot of time jumps were necessary to introduce new characters and give exposition on what was happening in Argentina as the junta eventually fell and those who had been dispossessed and adversely affected by the junta regime fought to have their rights restored, the crimes against them acknowledged, and reparations in some form secured. Osvaldo’s emotional arc feels static through this long stretch as he does little more than continue searching for his daughter and grandchild. It takes a while to feel a significant connection to new characters like Ana though the focus on her in the final chapters does bring some of the story back into focus. It all ends, however, just before the part of the story I think would prove most compelling. I understand why that narrative choice was made, I just felt strung along and cheated out of it by the novel’s conclusion.

I think playing with the presentation of events and the timeline in the later half of the novel would have improved its flow. Jumping forward in time here and there and giving the events of the intervening years as flash backs would have kept it moving at a more consistent pace.

 

*This preview is a bit overdue (adjusting to a new work schedule during a time of year that’s already ridiculously busy for personal reasons has put me even further behind than I was anticipating). I may not be posting with as much frequency as I used to do but I won’t let my blog fall silent the way it did when I was in graduate school (I refuse to be that busy again).

Drabble – The Box

Prompt: From generation to generation, a box has been passed down with strict instructions not to open it until a certain date. That date is today. What’s inside the box?


OPEN DEC. 31, 1999 was scratched clumsily into the tin box’s lid that had rusted shut decades before.

“How long did Gramps have it?” Pam asked.

“Don’t know. He got it from his mother and she—”

“It’s been a while,” Mother said brandishing a screwdriver.

Prying the lid loose, they collectively held their breath. Pam removed it.

Inside were petrified cookies.

“Why would anyone want this saved?” Pam asked, banging a cookie against the table.

Her mother scrutinized the date on the lid. “I think… this… was supposed to be an eight,” she pointed at the first malformed nine.

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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Drabble – Late Policy

Prompt: “And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, A highwayman comes riding— Riding—riding— A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.” (to be paired with whatever strikes your fancy)


Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair,” Lucy finished to the applause of her class.

“Impressive, Ms. Skye,” Professor Diamond commended her as Lucy took her seat at the only empty desk in the classroom. “However, in future, please keep your selections to about the length of a sonnet. I don’t want to get rid of my late arrival policy because you choose poems long enough to waste additional minutes of class time. Or perhaps your classmates would prefer I schedule an additional class or online assignment to make up the difference.”

Lucy suppressed her self-satisfied smile.

Book Preview – The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin

The Blind Astronomer's Daughter - book coverI was fascinated and thoroughly enjoyed The Stargazer’s Sister last year, a novel about Caroline Herschel, the sister of eighteenth century astronomer William Herschel who became a prolific astronomer in her own right. The description for The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter promised to explore similar themes in a similar setting. While there are elements of what I was expecting—hoping—to find in the novel, Pipkin goes beyond focusing on his titular heroine and not always with tremendous success.

Fictitious astronomer Arthur Ainsworth is determined to find a new planet in the heavens so he can name it for his late wife and honor her legacy. It is a mission he enlists his daughter, Caroline, to help him with as he transforms his Irish estate into an observatory and commissions work on a telescope to rival that of William Herschel in England. But there is more going on in Ireland and there are more secrets in Caroline’s past than she is aware of until her father, blinded by looking too often at the sun through his telescope, dies. She learns the truth of who she is and it upends everything she once thought about herself, her father, and his work. It will take many years for Caroline to pick up the pieces of her shattered self and reassemble them into someone new, just as Ireland threatens to rip itself apart in 1798.

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Drabble – Plane Tickets

Only 100 words instead of 500, I’ve started dabbling in drabbles and might be posting some here to get back into posting some of my creative fiction. Most of these are inspired by specific prompts which I’ll also post for reference (and feel free to comment with additional suggestions/prompts, etc.).


Prompt: A pair of plane tickets but only one is round trip.


“You can have the window seat,” Mom insisted. “I’ve got it all to myself on the way home.”

She said it as a joke but neither of us laughed. She would fly home alone while I stayed behind on campus, thousands of miles from everyone and everything I knew.

The airline called our section and we rose to board.

“It’s not that long till Thanksgiving,” I said, trying to sound optimistic as I handed over my one-way boarding pass. Mom held out her round-trip boarding pass for scanning.

“I’ll start looking at the airline rates on the plane,” Mom promised.

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 Preview – The Upright Heart by Julia Ain-Krupa

upright heart - book coverIn the case of Julia Ain-Krupa’s upcoming The Upright Heart, I find myself once again in the situation where what I was expecting based on the description provided and what I actually got were two very different things. Yet, when I went back to the description it actually is very close to the story being told in the novel—it just didn’t prepare me at all for the way that story was going to be presented. Luckily, in this case the surprising difference between expectation and reality worked in the novel’s favor, and I can’t honestly think of a much better way that the book’s description could prepare the reader for the way the narrative unfolds.

In the years following World War II, the people of Poland—both living and dead—struggle to make peace with all that transpired. Wolf married and moved to America before the war while the rest of his family were killed in the war; he returns to his hometown to see what is left and to say the prayers for the dead in the hope he and they may rest easier. On another plane, his first love Olga—a Catholic who helped hide his family as long as she could—clings to him when he reappears; she is unable to move on but isn’t sure why. A young woman, Anna, sees and feels the spirits of the dead around her, uncertain whether the people she sees are among the living or the dead; she is also haunted by memories of her former coworker, a woman who concealed her Jewish identity when they both worked as maids in the household of the governor general’s subordinate. Wiktor and his family survived the war but an on-the-job accident shortly after its end leaves Wiktor’s family mourning his loss while his spirit seeks to assist the spirits of others who have been having trouble moving on. 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 Preview – Since She Went Away by David Bell

book cover - since she went awayI’m kind of in the middle of a murder mystery kick, so when I read the description for David Bell’s upcoming Since She Went Away it seemed logical to add it to my list. While there are certainly plenty of mysteries within the novel, I didn’t find the path to the answers—or the mother and son whose perspectives form the main narrative—as engaging as I had hoped.

Jenna blames herself for her best friend’s disappearance several months earlier—it was Jenna who called Celia and suggested the two of them get together in the middle of the night and try to recapture some of the glory of their high school days and it was Jenna who ran late when they were supposed to meet in the park. She finds herself in a static and frustratingly helpless position, as every call could be terrific news or terrible news or worst of all—no news. But as winter moves towards spring and her son finds first love with a vaguely familiar new girl at his school, the seemingly cold case begins to thaw as new leads pop up.

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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