Category Archives: historical fiction

Book Review: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, & Jodi Meadows

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi MeadowsMy Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Published: June 7th 2016 by HarperTeen
Format: Paper Book
Length: 512  pages
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy, magic, shapeshifters, royal drama
Rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…

Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…

Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.

The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?

Young Adult Book Review

I was prepared to give My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows a pass when I first heard of it. I usually find period historical royal drama books dull and pretty cringe worthy. Then a copy of My Lady Jane arrived in the June Owl Crate subscription box and I figured since I had it, I should give it a read. I’m glad I did. I expected something stuffy and sluggish but My Lady Jane is a hilarious, clever reinventing of English history with a heavy helping of magical highjacks. It was so much better than I could have anticipated.

Ah, the Tudors. Never a more dysfunctional royal family will you find. In case you need a refresher, this is the period of time where Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church just so he could marry 6 different women. (His wives kept ending up dead, for some reason.) His son Edward VI, by Jane Seymour (wife #3), was brought up a Protestant, while his half-sister Mary, by Catherine of Aragon (wife #1), was brought up a Catholic. Both were struggling for control of the English throne. It is into this political stew pot that our story unfolds. Our authors take the religious tensions of the day and switch them over to a magical prejudice system between shapeshifters, the Edians, and those who despise them, the Verity. Our story is set in 1553, just as young King Edward was about to die from tuberculosis (as history tells us). Only Edward doesn’t die, much to everyone’s frustration. Throw in a royal coup d’état, other dastardly plots, and a horse and you have My Lady Jane in a nutshell.

For the amount of political drama that is the setting, My Lady Jane is a silly historical comedy full of puns and mockery of the sexist attitudes and ridiculous social graces of the time period. It’s funny and tongue-in-cheek. It’s entertaining. My Lady Jane is the type of easy, undemanding book that you can relax with. The romantic relationships, especially between Jane and G, are done spectacularly, with a believable evolution. The humor is clever and sarcastic. It is the exact tone I love to read. The characters are interesting. I especially like Jane. I really identify with her. She has so much book smarts but it’s hard to translate that usefully into the real world. The plot is well-written and the blending of history and fantasy is splendid.

My only real complaint is that it jumps between three POV’s, making it slightly irritating when we switch over to another person and have to backtrack to cover what was happening to them during a time period we’ve already covered from a different POV. I find changing POV’s incredibly jarring to the reading experience, making it hard to really settle into the flow of the narrative. However, I would have never guessed there were three authors. The writing style doesn’t change throughout the book and the tone never shifts. Our authors blended seamlessly together. I have to assume they wrote different parts but you could never tell. There are some portions that drag but the action picks up quickly. I was pleasantly surprised by how NOT annoying the romances were. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows is a fun, witty rump through Tudor history turned on its head that I recommend anybody looking for a good chuckle and some sweet romance should read.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau

middlegradeBook Review: The Lightning Queen by Laura ResauThe Lightning Queen by Laura Resau
Published: October 27th 2015 by Scholastic Press
Format: Paper Book
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, Cultural, Poverty
Rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon

Nothing exciting happens on the Hill of Dust, in the remote mountains of Mexico in the 1950s. There’s no electricity, no plumbing, no cars, just day after day of pasturing goats. And now, without his sister and mother, eleven-year-old Teo’s life feels even more barren. And then one day, the mysterious young Esma, who calls herself the Gypsy Queen of Lightning, rolls into town like a fresh burst of color. Against all odds, her caravan’s Mistress of Destiny predicts that Teo and Esma will be longtime friends. Suddenly, life brims with possibility. With the help of a rescued duck, a three-legged skunk, a blind goat, and other allies, Teo and Esma must overcome obstacles-even death-to fulfill their impossible destiny. Inspired by true stories derived from rural Mexico, The Lightning Queen offers a glimpse of the encounter between two fascinating but marginalized cultures–the Rom and the Mixtec Indians–while telling the heart-warming story of an unlikely friendship that spans generations.

I was surprised with how much I liked The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau. I usually like my books with more action and excitement; but The Lightning Queen was rich and magical and I found myself unable to put it down. Teo and Esma’s story was genuinely interesting. The book did have its harsh elements. The sexism of both the Romani and Mixteco cultures made me livid and the racism both cultures experienced was heartbreaking. It is a harsh look into civil rights issues in the past and a reminder that we are still dealing with those same issues in the present day. I felt both sadness and anger seeing the mistreatment within another culture, even if I’m not familiar with the Mexican culture as a whole. It was fascinating to peek into a different world.

The Lightning Queen is what I call a ‘small story’; that is, the storyline is very focused. Small stories are driven by the characters, rather than grandiose plots and events. So the characters are very important and I don’t normally pick up such books because it usually falls flat for me. More often than not, I end up bored. Here, the characters were amazing. You connect with Teo and Esma and care about what happens to them. We end up with a charming story of friendship and understanding. I was a bit concerned with it being set in both the past and present but for the bulk of the story we are in the past and most of the present timeline events are at the end of the book, allowing the main storyline between Teo and Esma to unfold without interruption. I hate it when books jump back and forth multiple times during a story but, thankfully, we avoided that. The only other major peeve I have is the mother, who spends the book so deep in depression after the death of her daughter as to be catatonic, despite having a living child that desperately needs her care. I wanted to crawl into the book just to slap her. I can’t imagine ignoring a child to the point where you have no reaction when that child is slowly dying himself, no matter what happened in the past.

The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau is original and well-crafted and the story flows easily. The desert landscape is beautiful but it is the characters in this book that are the real magic; from Esma who refuses to abandon her dreams no matter the personal cost to herself, to Teo, who retains his kindness despite his own pain and misfortunes. The Lightning Queen is a compelling look into cultural and ethnic differences and how two young children overcome those differences to be friends and help each other. The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau was mesmerizing and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thank you for reading!

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Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

youngadult

curtsiesconspiraciesCurtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger
Published: November 2013 by Hachette Little, Brown & Co
Format: Paper Book
Length: 310 pages
Genre: Steampunk, Spy, Espionage, Paranormal, Young Adult, AU Historical
Goodreads | Amazon

Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?

Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy (won’t Mumsy be surprised?). Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners.

Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot–one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot-and survive the London Season with a full dance card.

I have no idea why I like Curtsies & Conspiracies so much when nothing really happens. I had the same problem with this book’s predecessor, Etiquette & Espionage. The first book of the Finishing School Series felt like set up with a little bit of action thrown in at the end. The second book, Curtsies & Conspiracies, is a hunt for clues with a little bit of action thrown in at the end. And yet, I enjoyed it a lot. It is cleverly written, quirky, and amusing. It was interesting to watch Sophronia navigate her lessons as an intelligencer, move about the dirigible at night, and piece together a conspiracy plot while taking tea. It’s entertaining and I couldn’t put the book down but I kept waiting for things to come together, for that big climax. Instead, we’re left with a bit of a mess.

It would probably be correct to say that if you like spy novels and steampunk worlds, you’ll like the Finishing School Series. The steampunk setting adds a nice flavor to the book. I really like all the little funny names for the machines. (Like the oddgob.) It’s a little like the Disney Little Mermaid song Part of Your World – “I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty; I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore”. The toys, as they say, are awesome. The world building is vivid. I especially like the mechanical maids and robots and the fact that the school is a huge dirigible. The characters are varied and unique but the cast may suffer from overpopulation. Some of the characters don’t really add anything to the story and just prove to be confusing with an already large cast to keep track of.

But the big draw for the Finishing School Series is that it is funny. There is widespread ridiculousness with everything from the names of objects to the names of people, the lessons the girl’s take, and the tongue in cheek foolery between the visiting Bunson’s evil genius boys and Mademoiselle Geraldine’s young ladies of quality. There is a steam powered metal sausage dog named Bumbersnoot, for heaven’s sake. Curtsies & Conspiracies is hilarious.

It is that humor and absurdity that saves the book. I’ve read both the first and second book of the Finishing School Series and have yet to see a cohesive plot the entire time. We don’t know what the mystery is and there is no plot resolution at the end of the books. Our characters are just mucking about in pretty dresses and being overly clever for 15 year old girls. We are presented with facts and events but with no ability to arrange them into a pattern and very little is really settled or revealed at the end of the books. About 3/4 of Curtsies & Conspiracies is Sophronia going about being ‘very special indeed’ and more than a bit of a Mary Sue perfect girl. Curtsies & Conspiracies was a witty, funny, and quick read. But that’s about it.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

youngadult

madmandaughterThe Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd
Published January 29th 2013 by Balzer + Bray
Format: Paper Book
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Historical Fiction, Sci-fi
Goodreads | Amazon

In the darkest places, even love is deadly.

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood.

I assume that you have a least heard of the story of The Island of Doctor Moreau, if not seen the movie or read the original book by H.G. Wells. At this point, the “island full of monsters” plot is a familiar cliché. It’s been pretty well assimilated into our culture. The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd is a retelling of that story only now with added hormonal teenage girl. There is a supernatural twist to the story at the end that was surprising and the characters are well formed and not too annoying but I still found myself with some disappointed feelings as a whole. It comes from my basic annoyance with the main female character in young adult books. I loved The Island of Doctor Moreau and I can’t accept that story being diluted by, I’m sorry to say, some dumb girl running around.

What I Liked

blackdot It’s very well written. There were times where I was on the edge of my seat with suspense and I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough. The tension on the island could have been cut by a knife and the reader really feels that. The horror and gore has quite a punch. When the story gets going, it really goes and it’s intense. (Of course, the problem is when it stops going.)

blackdot I really liked the descriptions of the creatures. The sense of wrongness and creepiness Juliet felt when around them was well portrayed.

blackdot We have some truly awesome secondary characters in this book. My favorites are Alice, who Montgomery sees as a kind-of daughter but whom Alice loves romantically, and Ajax/Jaguar, who personifies the dual nature of human and animal and the nature of humanity and self-awareness.

What I Didn’t Like

blackdot There was the usually period piece nonsense, such as Juliet’s corset being suddenly too tight.

blackdot The book is a little overlong. Most notably, the chapters on the boat sailing to the island and then when Juliet and Edward are running willy-nilly around the island in the dark after Juliet saw her father and Montgomery preforming their experiments in the red shed. The middle part of the book felt a little wandering. Juliet’s inner rambling does not help. The pacing is too slow.

blackdot Love triangle alert. Add one part childhood friend and one part dashing newcomer and mix well. Cue the eye rolling.

blackdot While the supernatural twist at the end was surprising and I have to give kudos for the fact that I didn’t see even a hint of it coming, I felt it upset the overall tone of the book.

I normally love retellings but I felt the introduction of Juliet into The Island of Doctor Moreau was a disservice to the story. In the original book, there is no female main character on the island, let alone the daughter of the infamous doctor. Frankly, the most interesting part to the book was the beginning when Juliet was still in London. The London chapters had a great macabre atmosphere that really pulled me in. Perhaps I just like gothic historical fiction better. It started out great but then got bogged down with a slow plot and being too focused on the romance rather than the action. It takes a lot of skill to write a retelling of a popular story correctly and while I think The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd was a good result, I don’t think it was an improvement.

I’ve taken a glance at the sequel, Her Dark Curiosity, and it looks to be even better than The Madman’s Daughter. I hope that since it looks like the sequel is set in London that we can recapture the macabre and darkly gothic feel that the first few chapters of The Madman’s Daughter had.

Thank you for reading!

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Teaser Tuesdays 7/2/13

teaser tuesdays logoTeaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

madmandaughterThe Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

“His explanations continued. Examples, details, complications of his work. They made my throat go dry and my mind whirl. He had really done it.

My father had played God and won. ~ page 236.”

I’m going to assume that everyone at least knows the basic story behind The Island of Doctor Moreau, even if you’ve never seen the movie or read the original book by H.G. Wells. The Madman’s Daughter is an interesting mash-up of that original story as told from Juliet’s POV.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

middlegrade

katincorrigibleKat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
Published April 5th 2011 by Atheneum
Format: Paper Book
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Magical, Historical
Goodreads | Amazon

Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she’s inherited her mother’s magical talents, and despite Stepmama’s stern objections, she’s determined to learn how to use them.

But with her eldest sister Elissa’s intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat’s magical potential; her other sister, Angeline, wreaking romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat’s reckless heroism will be tested to the upmost.

If she can learn to control her new powers, will Kat be able to rescue her family and win her sisters their true love?

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis has been on my to read shelf for some time and it’s only recently that I’ve gotten off my butt enough to go through my backlog of books. I’m sorry I waited so long! Kat, Incorrigible is a middle grade book and has the same original and imaginative quality to it that I expect from really great middle grade books. There is a host of likeable characters, a spot of magic, and a plot that ended up being more than I expected.

What I Liked

blackdot The plot of Kat, Incorrigible surprised me with a bit more depth than I was expecting. The book has a type of Matilda feel to it and the introduction of the Guardians extended the plot further than I was assuming it would be. It took a book that might have been just merely cute and predictable into something with a bit more meat on its bones.

blackdot I liked all the characters. Everybody has depth to them and I didn’t feel as if I were reading about cardboard cutouts. Kat is hilarious, her sisters are spot on in their rolls and play an active part in the plot rather than just being there for scenery, and even the bad guys are awesome, in a mustache twirling type of way.

blackdot I liked the setting and timeline. I found the Victorian aspects of proper manners and dress to be interesting. It added to the plot without being stifling. Younger readers might not care for the focus but older readers will find it to be a good detail.

What I Didn’t Like

blackdot There are times where Kat seems kind of bumbling. I know she’s young, only twelve, but at times she sort of annoyed me. She makes up for it by being stubborn, feisty, and independent. The sisters aren’t much better sometimes. Elissa is insipid and needs a good whack and Angeline is so self-involved and arrogant that I want to kick her. There were times when I just wanted to start throwing things.

blackdot There is not enough information given about the magical system and the Guardians. We’re left kind of wondering what the big fuss is all about. I’m hoping the sequel corrects this and we learn more as Kat’s training starts.

blackdot The plot and dialogue are a little wandering. I found myself waiting for things to happen, especially at the beginning, and some conversations between the three sisters are rather like beating your head against the wall. Yes, it’s very “family” but it’s also annoying.

Middle grade books are often my favorite and Kat, Incorrigible is no exception. It was a quick and fun read at under 300 pages and made my Saturday afternoon very enjoyable with a cup of tea and a comfy chair. If you are looking for a magical adventure but don’t want anything too heavy, than this novel is what you are looking for. There is nothing ground breaking but Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis is a great weekend read nonetheless.

Thank you for reading!

Book Review: The Back Passage by James Lear

erotica

backpassage

The Back Passage by James Lear
Published May 5th 2006 by Cleis Press
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 199 pages / 1317 KB
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction, Gay Erotica, LGBT
Reading Level: Erotica – Adults Only
Goodreads | Amazon

Agatha Christie, move over! Hard-core sex and scandal meet in this brilliantly funny whodunit.

A seaside village, an English country house, a family of wealthy eccentrics and their equally peculiar servants, a determined detective — all the ingredients are here for a cozy Agatha Christie-style whodunit. But wait — Edward “Mitch” Mitchell is no Hercule Poirot, and The Back Passage is no Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Mitch is a handsome, insatiable 22-year-old hunk who never lets a clue stand in the way of a steamy encounter, whether it’s with the local constabulary, the house secretary, or his school chum and fellow athlete Boy Morgan, who becomes his Watson when they’re not busy boffing each other.

When Reg Walworth is found dead in a cabinet, Sir James Eagle has his servant Weeks immediately arrested as the killer. But Mitch’s observant eye pegs more plausible possibilities: polysexual chauffeur Hibbert, queenly pervert Leonard Eagle, missing scion Rex, sadistic copper Kennington, even Sir James Eagle himself. Blackmail, police corruption, a dizzying network of spyholes and secret passages, watersports, and a nonstop queer orgy backstairs and everyplace else mark this hilariously hard-core mystery by a major new talent.

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Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Published September 20th 2011 by Bloomsbury Publishing
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mythology, LGBT
Reading Level: Older Teen
ISBN 1408816032 (ISBN13: 9781408816035)
Goodreads | Amazon

Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.

Achilles, ‘best of all the Greeks’, is everything Patroclus is not — strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess — and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

I added The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller to my TBR pile when The Books Smugglers reviewed it earlier this year. I will freely admit that I wanted to read it mostly based on its LGBT theme and only slightly because I enjoy tales set in ancient history. I seek out LGBT books because I like reading about alternative forms of lifestyle, different forms of love, and diverse characters. It’s interesting to see how two characters in a romantic relationship of the same gender are depicted and how their relationship functions in contrast with a more mainstream romantic relationship with people of different genders. Even a romantic relationship between two girls is vastly different to a romantic relationship between two men. You have to remember that even if you are reading about a gay couple, they are still men and how that relationship functions needs to reflect that.

I studied the myth of Achilles a bit in college and I know a fair bit about him. The Song of Achilles deals with Achilles’ childhood through his death during the Trojan War. In that time, Patroclus sort of gets dragged along for the ride.  Achilles is the son of a goddess but Patroclus is simply a mortal of no great reputation and yet he ends up doing astonishing things, mostly in the name of his love for Achilles. Amazing things happen to Patroclus and he does amazing things simply because these things are happening around him and there is no other choice but to deal with it. It’s a very human reaction, creating a character that could be anybody and a man who may be more of a hero than Achilles himself.

We examine what it means to be a hero or a coward. Is Achilles worthy of his praise as a warrior because he allowed thousands to die when he refused to fight? His beauty and fighting skill is given to him through his blood. He didn’t have to work for it. Is Patroclus’ compassion and the fact that he learned to be a healer and even risked his life to turn the tide in the war worth more than Achilles’ exploits? I think Achilles and Patroclus loved each other because they were all each other had, especially when they were young. Patroclus loved Achilles because he was beautiful, inside and out, and Achilles loved Patroclus because he knew the other boy’s love was pure. The Trojan War changed Achilles and he was no longer beautiful. He valued his pride and his promised glory more than Patroclus and Patroclus’ love could no longer withstand the changes in Achilles.

Sorry if I went all academic essay on you there. The Song of Achilles is a good book and will definitely appeal to readers of historical fiction and Greek history. Like most myths transformed into novels, it can be a bit slow in places. Novels often don’t have the luxury of skipping all the little boring bits and getting straight to the action the way a myth does. It can make the slog toward the Trojan War seem a bit much. This is a story about people, about love and personal worth. Don’t expect a war epic. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller ended up being less about Achilles and his myth than it was about the people trapped in the wheels of fate.

Rating 4 out 5

Book Review: Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey
Published June 21st 2011 by Walker Childrens
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Paranormal, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Reading Level: 12 & Up
ISBN 080279839X (ISBN13: 9780802798398)
Goodreads | Amazon

Violet Willoughby doesn’t believe in ghosts. But they believe in her. After spending years participating in her mother’s elaborate ruse as a fraudulent medium, Violet is about as skeptical as they come in all matters supernatural. Now that she is being visited by a very persistent ghost, one who suffered a violent death, Violet can no longer ignore her unique ability. She must figure out what this ghost is trying to communicate, and quickly because the killer is still on the loose.

Afraid of ruining her chance to escape her mother’s scheming through an advantageous marriage, Violet must keep her ability secret. The only person who can help her is Colin, a friend she’s known since childhood, and whom she has grown to love. He understands the true Violet, but helping her on this path means they might never be together. Can Violet find a way to help this ghost without ruining her own chance at a future free of lies?

This October seems to be full of ghosts and mediums. I have a thing for the paranormal and my DVR is full of Ghost Hunters and Paranormal Witness episodes. Halloween is a yearlong thing for me. Young adult books and authors are more than happy to feed my obsession with the paranormal. There are no shortage of YA books that deal with ghosts and ghouls. Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey is one such book.

Haunting Violet is not a completely original idea, as plots go, but it is an enjoyable story. Violet herself is a great character. Colin is okay. The fledgling love between them is bearable. I’m rarely wowed by the love aspect of most YA books and while Violet and Colin succeed in not annoying me, I feel the book would have been just as good without it. It always confuses me that YA authors insist on having some sort of love story happening in their books and often one that really doesn’t make sense. Violet and Colin grew up together, shocking each other with spiders in their shoes and frogs in their beds, but now that they are teenagers, they are suddenly in love. I don’t think two people who grew up as sister and brother suddenly fall into romance love. It’s a little “ew” worthy, when you think about it.

Haunting Violet is set in Victorian times but I don’t get that type of vibe from the story. The only part that truly seems Victorian is the huge class distinctions, very upstairs/downstairs. Violet herself seems like a very modern girl and I can’t accept her being low born as the reason she is so capable and sensible. She’s very different from Elizabeth and Tabitha and even her own mother. Violet has a 21st century type of voice and tone that just doesn’t fit with the supposed Victorian setting. It’s hard to believe she’s only 16 years old in the book either. I thought she was at least in her early 20’s before the book revealed differently. Haunting Violet is a murder mystery but the murderer is obvious and even clichéd. The plot is classic ghost story, so don’t expect any surprises, but while the end result is unremarkable, the journey there is pleasant.

Looking at all I just wrote you’d think I didn’t like the book! But you have to remember that while the plot in Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey has been done before; it’s still well-written with likeable characters and is very entertaining. It’s a good book but just with a common story. The situation between Violet and her mother is interesting and it’s great getting a look into Victorian con practices. I’m a bit of a history buff and the height of the paranormal craze during Victorian times is fascinating. Haunting Violet won’t shock you with anything new but it’s still a good ghost story to read on a chilly autumn night.

Rating: 4 out 5

Book Review: Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick

We are going to call this a mini-review because this is a very small book. I was browsing aimlessly through the library when the name caught my eye. I’d been on the waiting list for Marcus Sedgwick’s new book for about three weeks and I thought perhaps a peek at some of his early works might whet my appetite and give me some idea of his writing style. So I picked up Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick. It’s a short book, not even 150 pages long, and I raced through it in a little over an hour while at my favorite coffeehouse. I irritate the workers by camping out on the couch and abusing the bottomless cup they offer at least once a month. I’m evil that way.

From book jacket: The fire in his home was a family tragedy that Jamie can’t forget. Fire dominates his waking thoughts and his dreams. When his family sends him away to Crownhill to recover, they don’t realize they are sending him to a village with its own dark history of witchcraft – and with ancient buried powers that are unleashed by Jamie’s presence. A present-day boy, a seventeenth-century girl, and an ancient crone: for a single moment, their lives are fused by fire.

This is the type of story that feels so familiar you could have sworn you’ve read it before. (It’s entirely possible I have and just can’t remember.) It’s the type of story that is told around campfires and is ingrained into the human consciousness from our long oral history. It’s a classic with a thousand retellings and drags up the memory of being a young child, wondering at the shadows of our bedroom. Every thump and dump in the night is the boogieman coming to get us. However, the writing style is jerky. It’s as if you’re being yanked along a rough draft rather than a complete, polished book. There is no flow and Witch Hill ends up feeling like something unfinished.

I sincerely hope this is not all that Marcus Sedgwick has to offer. Witch Hill was first publish in 2001 and is a juvenile book, so it is possible that his writing has improved since then. I’m really looking forward to Midwinterblood and I hope it deliveries something different from Witch Hill. I was left dissatisfied by Witch Hill and feel like with more effort it could have turned into something fantastic. I can see the potential in the book and it’s frustrating to be presented with a story that falls so short of what it could have been.

Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgwick
Published September 11th 2001 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
147 pages
Stand alone; not part of a series.

 

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