Review: Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

61816951With her satire on Anglo-Irish landlords in Castle Rackrent (1800), Maria Edgeworth pioneered the regional novel and inspired Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814). Politically risky, stylistically innovative, and wonderfully entertaining, the novel changes the focus of conflict in Ireland from religion to class, and boldly predicts the rise of the Irish Catholic bourgeoisie.

I can see why this book is so important in the history of women writers and political satire, however, I just found it quite a boring book. At least it’s a short boring book. There was little to interest the modern reader, and Thady Quirk was really not the most interesting of unreliable narrators.

Maria Edgeworth herself is a very interesting woman, and one whose works I would like to explore with more detail, in the vague hopes that it will be more interesting than this novella. Her writing really hasn’t translated well to modern life, and I think someone who was not familiar with the practice of rack renting and the absentee landlord system in place in Ireland during the 18th and 19th centuries would find this book completely boggling without further context.

Thady tells his story with quite a dull narrative voice, though there are parts where he is comically thick. The story of his son’s rise to riches is pretty implausible, though I kind of felt like he was one of the more reasonable characters, since he didn’t seem like a total idiot… money snatching and devious, but not as thick or cruel as others.

Regardless, I was glad to get this book over with, which didn’t take too long, since it’s only around 100 pages long, with extensive footnotes. I felt like there could have been magic there, but it fell pretty flat in comparison to less heavy handed satires of society at the time.

2/5 stars.

Review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

154510581 Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.

I had never heard of Gloria Steinem before this book was featured as the January pick for Emma Watson’s “Our Shared Shelf” book club, but I saw the book at work and thought it looked interesting, so decided to give it a solid shot.

I did not expect to love it half as much as I did. I didn’t expect to learn new things and find it incredibly inspiring and enriching to my long stifled feminism. I feel that I’m okay to loudly and proudly say that I am a feminist, as I don’t believe that the movement is solely about shutting men down- far from it, I have no problem with most men. I have problems with a certain type or group of men, but I have similar problems with certain women. But anyway, I digress.

“Feminist” has become a pretty dirty word to a lot of people. I’ve had people who don’t even know me talk down about “man hating, ugly feminists” and expect me to agree with them. My ex boyfriend repeatedly told me he would dump me if I ever said I was a feminist, for heaven’s sake… now I wish I had, but it’s a long time ago now.

Gloria discusses these ideas of feminism and breaks down the attitudes that have brought them about. She also discusses wider topics, such as the civil rights movement, indigenous rights, advocacy, her nomadic childhood, mental illness and politics with great sympathy and great anecdotes. Her storytelling throughout the book is phenomenal- for example, she talks of her most interesting experiences with taxi drivers, and I really didn’t want it to end!

The book is strangely organised, but I didn’t have a huge issue with it. I felt some parts would have been better slotted into other chapters, or some chapters would have slotted in better before or after others, but in general I thought it was fine. I didn’t really like that she assumed the reader was American, but perhaps she didn’t expect the book to gain the global readership that it has attracted.

The book details Steinem’s achievements as an organiser and advocate, but focus is often shifted to those that have inspired her throughout her journey. A chapter about her amazing friend, Wilma Mankiller (what a name!), was beautiful and truly inspired me to try and be as calm and patient in my own bodily suffering as she was.

I took quite a long time reading this book, as I felt the need to stop frequently to digest ideas and wrote all over the margins, underlining and commenting on ideas and thoughts. My copy now looks rather manky, but luckily the dust jacket is still there to cover up my sins…. and regardless, I will be keeping this book to read over again, to pick up and reinforce ideas and to contemplate.

So my first ever book club pick has been quite the success, though I read it a month late. I probably won’t read The Colour Purple, which is February’s pick, right now as I just don’t have the time at the moment. It doesn’t help that I couldn’t get a copy through work either! The OSS people seem to have wiped out the supplier’s stock! Well done!

I’d seriously recommend this book to anyone wanting an inspirational and enlightening book, to any woman wanting to read more about feminism without it being too “radical” (definitely no bra burning in this one, and no man hating either!) and those interested in contemplation of a nomadic lifestyle.

4.5/5 and Leo with a wine glass, not an Oscar.

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Review: The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

25666052As the Titanic and her passengers sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, a nearby ship looked on. Second Officer Herbert Stone, in charge of the midnight watch on the SS Californian sitting idly a few miles north, saw the distress rockets that the Titanic fired. He alerted the captain, Stanley Lord, who was sleeping in the chartroom below, but Lord did not come to the bridge. Eight rockets were fired during the dark hours of the midnight watch, and eight rockets were ignored. The next morning, the Titanic was at the bottom of the sea and more than 1,500 people were dead. When they learned of the extent of the tragedy, Lord and Stone did everything they could to hide their role in the disaster, but pursued by newspapermen, lawyers, and political leaders in America and England, their terrible secret was eventually revealed. The Midnight Watch is a fictional telling of what may have occurred that night on the SS Californian, and the resulting desperation of Officer Stone and Captain Lord in the aftermath of their inaction.

Told not only from the perspective of the SS Californian crew, but also through the eyes of a family of third-class passengers who perished in the disaster, the narrative is drawn together by Steadman, a tenacious Boston journalist who does not rest until the truth is found. The Midnight Watch is a powerful and dramatic debut novel–the result of many years of research in Liverpool, London, New York, and Boston, and informed by the author’s own experiences as a ship’s officer and a lawyer.

This is one of those books that grabs you by the throat and won’t let go until you’re staying up way past your bedtime just so you can keep reading it.

I started reading this, feeling I needed a break after reading quite a few tough books in a row, and wanting something a bit fun and interesting. I’ve been obsessed with the Titanic ever since I first learnt about it way back when I was little. My little brother and I would pore over great big books about it, read any kids books featuring the disaster, watched all the documentaries and went to see several exhibitions on the ship. I visited the Titanic museum in Belfast and cried, buying my brother all the merchandise and books I could carry; if you’re ever in Belfast and have even a smidgeon of interest in it, I thoroughly recommend the museum!

Anyway, this book was going to be mine once I saw it on the ARC shelf and work, and it did not disappoint me at all.

I was instantly grabbed by the reporter, Steadman’s, introduction, which captivated me and dragged me straight into early 20th century Venezuela, and then Boston. I enjoyed his point of view immensely, though I wish it hadn’t been the sole POV through the whole 2nd portion of the novel. I enjoyed the switching between him and members of the crew of the Californian, who were experiencing the disaster on the water, whilst Steadman unearthed it from the offices of Cunard shipping.

Lord, the enigmatic captain of the Californian, remained a very difficult person to understand. I still don’t really understand why he acted the way he did that night, but that’s the point. His actions were thoroughly reprehensible, despite his suave exterior. You never see the disaster from his point of view, but only that of the people around him. He’s the destabilising feature of the novel as much as the wreck of the Titanic is.

The final section is told from the fictional perspective of Titanic passengers during the disaster. I do like how it is brought into the story, though in some ways I feel it could have been woven through it before a final reveal. Regardless, I was moved to tears and lay there contemplating the ending for hours… needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night!

This book should be released in March or April, depending on your region, and I really do recommend getting your hands on it. I am really glad I took the chance and read it, because it would have been a shame to have it laying there unread any longer!

5/5 stars and a different Leo… because this is Titanic, not Gatsby!

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Thank you to Penguin Australia for the ARC. This review is entirely my own opinion and is in no way affected by the fact that this is a review copy.

Review: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovich

Peter Grant—cop, magical apprentice, and Londoner to the core—is being forced out of his comfort zone and into the English countryside. His latest case involves the disappearance of children in the small village of Herefordshire, and the local police are unwilling to admit there might be a supernatural element involved. Now Peter must deal with them, local river spirits, and the fact that all the shops close by 4 P.M.

Apologies for my silence recently! It’s been very busy.

Foxglove Summer is as close as this series has gotten to a stand alone novel, and whilst it was very good, I really really missed Leslie and Nightingale, who are both relegated to the background for different reasons. I do like Beverly Brook, as well as Peter’s new mate Dominic, but Lesley and Nightingale are just wonderful.

The mystery disappearance of the girls went in directions that I hadn’t expected, but I can’t say I was overly satisfied with the ending. It was kind of like Peter being taken hostage was either tacked on as an afterthought, or had been pared right back to the point of near pointlessness. The whole handover could have been done without it, or with the consequences being a larger feature. I feel like there was a major missed opportunity here… did the publishers just worry about the length?

However, in saying this, these are criticisms that I’ve thought of afterwards (though the whole rescue from fairyland bit was odd at the time), I did really enjoy the book and came out of it happy and wanting the next in the series to happen RIGHT NOW. Alas, until June we wait.

I did like the move from London to the country, and felt that Aaronovitch handled it perfectly. I love London as Peter’s setting, but I agreed with Nightingale- after the experiences of Broken Homes, he needed to get away and get distracted. Dominic was a perfect placeholder for Lesley, and I’m pleased that something is finally going on with Beverly and Peter! Also, that Lesley wasn’t entirely cut out, and their relationship is dented, but still respectful. Peter’s pain at her loss was so raw, and I loved that he understood why she did it and took it reasonably well.

So… now to wait for The Hanging Tree, which had better be awesome or Aaronovitch may have a legion of bloodthirsty fans waiting at his door… myself included.

Review: Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovich

9970042It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher—and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom—if it exists at all—is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and—as of now—deadliest subway system in the world.

At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah—that’s going to go well.

I’ve had a self imposed, almost year long, break from the PC Grant series, but I’ve let myself have a quick binge of the books over the last week or so!

Rivers of London was one of my favourite books in 2015, and while Moon Over Soho was good, it didn’t live up to its predecessor. However, Whispers Underground did not disappoint one bit!

I love everything to do with London, and I’m fascinated by the famous London Underground. Whilst it was a terrifying experience in peak hour, I found it far more interesting and easy to use than my own rail system in Sydney! The Underground has much to offer the imagination in real life… ghost stories, major accidents, secret tunnels, closed off stations and much much more. Aaronovich adds some even more freaky things in there in this book, and god damn, I loved every word.

Peter Grant is your typical bloke… he’s a beer swilling copper, but he also does magic. His amazing partner in law enforcement, Lesley May, is still recovering from the trauma of Rivers of London, but she’s absolutely kick arse and I adore her.

I know many people have a problem with Peter’s take on the women he meets, and as a feminist… I don’t see it. Sure, he looks at women and thinks they’re hot. So what? Every guy does it. Hell, lots of girls do it too. It’s a basic human reaction to seeing an attractive person, and you’re seeing this all through the eyes of an average man. He doesn’t treat women with disrespect, he thinks the world of Lesley and never attempts to “go there” with her, even when he would freaking love to.

I laughed out loud frequently throughout the book, read out bits to anyone who would listen and even went back to read over my favourite sections again. There’s a bit where Peter is trapped in the Underground with the ghosts of the many people who have died there, and it sent chills down my spine whilst reading it late at night!

I love all the references to geek culture throughout the series, and they sent me into fits of giggles on the regular. So many Lord of the Rings quotes! It’s partly why Peter is one of my favourite modern literary characters- so sassy, so geeky and doesn’t take shit from anyone. Except maybe Lesley, but most of the time he deserves it.

The actual crime itself is riveting, and draws in the FBI and a high profile US Senator. There is also the overarching problem of the Faceless Man who started causing problems in Rivers of London, and there is a very intense chase through a deep sewer. Nightingale is as hilarious and badass as ever, and I was pleased to see a fair amount of Molly, the resident creepy housekeeper, involved in this book.

I think this is definitely on par with Rivers of London, and is a book I’m bound to read again! I immediately bought Broken Homes and I’m hoping it’s as awesome as this was!

 

5/5 Stars

#CCWomensClassics Review: Bush Studies by Barbara Baynton

15832465Barbara Baynton’s short-story collection Bush Studies is famous for its stark realism—for not romanticising bush life, instead showing all its bleakness and harshness.

Economic of style, influenced by the great nineteenth-century Russian novelists, Baynton presents the Australian bush as dangerous and isolating for the women who inhabit it.

‘The terror Baynton evokes,’ Helen Garner writes in her introduction to the book, ‘is elemental, sexual, unabashedly female.’

Oh, dear. What a disappointing collection. It had so much promise, so much potential to be wonderful, but it failed. I have had a run of bad luck with Text Classics books, which I’m sure is not indicative of their value, but of my hopes and desires. They are all great examples of Australian Gothic literature, but are deeply flawed and uneven in quality.

If all the stories in this collection were as good as the last one, I would have enjoyed the experience and recommended it. “The Chosen Vessel” was gripping and frightening, and had me well within its clutches. Swagmen are an essential part of Australian colonial culture, and are almost always depicted as a jolly nuisance that one must feed, give work and tolerate. Baynton flips this on it’s head and turns him into a figure of terror. The “heroic” stockman is a figure of idiocy and religious fervour, not the lighthearted saviour of the usual kind. The villainy of the patriarchy is on show, from the husband who sneers at his wife’s fear to the swagman who feels he has the right to not only take her body, but her life.

Baynton knew too well the horrors of living alone in the bush, and how frightening it could be for a woman. Each woman in the stories is a different archetype, from the masculine Mary in “Squeaker’s Mate” to the timid governess in “Billy Skywonkie”. All face a myriad of terrors, not only in the stories, but before and after them. Baynton is not optimistic or positive about life in the bush for a woman, setting the role of a bushman’s wife as a hellish experience, contradicting the typical 19th century ideas of life on the land.

However, Baynton’s storytelling technique is at points nigh on impenetrable, her dialogue a complete mess and the narration confusing. I found myself backtracking over and over, having missed what on earth was going on, and jumping back to find my question is inexplicably unanswered. I’m not sure if Baynton actually intended this, or if it’s just me, or her fault as a writer. Action scenes were hard to follow, and I ended up skim reading stories like “Scrammy ‘And” because I simply couldn’t work out who was who and what was happening.

The dialogue is stilted and makes very little sense at times, even with reading it aloud and having a pretty decent knowledge of Australian slang, accents and older terminology. In her attempt to depict language as it sounded, Baynton has completely muddled it and made it far more difficult for the reader than necessary. The better stories are those with little dialogue, namely the first half of “Squeaker’s Mate, “The Chosen Vessel” and “A Dreamer”. The others are dialogue heavy, making them confusing and unenjoyable.

“I know who yer thort ’twas, Warder!” They were sitting side by side, yet he spoke very loudly. “Scrammy ‘and, ehm?” He had guessed correctly. “An’ yer thort yer see ‘im lars’ night!” He was right again. “An’ yer thort ’twas ‘im that ‘ad bin ramsakin’ the place yesterday, when we was shepherdin’. An’ yer thort ‘t must ‘ave bin ‘im shook the tommy!”

(Scrammy ‘And, pg.28)

That’s a pretty standard set of dialogue, which does make sense, but takes a little bit of interpreting. That, set over the length of a story, (and it does get worse) then over several stories, gets old really quickly. I don’t even mind a bit of phonetic dialogue, but Baynton has taken it too far.

Helen Garner, in her introduction, is tough but fair on the collection. She raises many of the points that I have, and critiques Baynton’s attitude towards the bush and humanity. I enjoyed the introduction more than half the stories, which is a first for me!

If you would still like to read them, and I do recommend the three that I mentioned as good earlier, you can find them here for free. I wouldn’t spend too much money on them, though they are published by Text Publishing, so a free pdf is a good idea, and one I wish I’d known about before purchasing the book.

These are a grim set of stories, but unfortunately I will not be recommending more than three of them and regret buying this. But hey, you live and learn and there are plenty more books on the shelf!

2/5 stars

Review: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

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Cormoran Strike is back, with his assistant Robin Ellacott, in a mystery based around soldiers returning from war.

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

Career of Evil is the third in the series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A mystery and also a story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.

Oh. My. God.

 

I just finished this, and I think this is definitely the best by far- and I really, really enjoyed the last one. I know some people hated it, but I disagree on all points, and think Rowling is far from formulaic. If I hadn’t accidentally dropped the book at work, and seen some chunks of the last few chapters, I’d have been guessing until the end… Regardless, I was still second guessing what I’d seen and thought it must be wrong! I’m battling to keep this review spoiler free for you, but if you’re worried, let’s just say that I loved it and you should read it!

I loved how much time we got with Robin in this book, and I found her so much more relatable here. I totally get why she behaved the way she did, and feel that many people would do the same thing in her position. There was so much emotion, so much tension and stress that Strike could have barely guessed at that drove her in this book, and I found it hugely relatable. I wish she didn’t make the one MAJOR decision she did, but again, I truly understand her motivations, even if I disagree with them. She is reacting not only to a violent event in her past, but to current violence, work problems, people treating her like a lesser being than Cormoran simply because she’s a woman, and a family who just doesn’t really understand her. Of course she’s going to be turbulent and make decisions that just aren’t rational.

Strike himself annoyed me slightly, particularly towards the end, and likely more because I felt so closely aligned with Robin’s feelings. His relationship with his new girlfriend, Elin, didn’t sit right, and for good reason. I’m glad that much of the Charlotte angst is over for him, because she was really effing annoying. I like Strike a lot, however, and understand how he feels, especially physically. I was about ready to punch people when he did. I was with him in the Saatchi gallery cafe, raging at those who cannot truly understand the frustration of disability since they aspire to it. I was cheering along when he finally pulls through and does the right thing in the end. I still see him as looking like the bastard child of Vincent D’Onofrio and Rebus though!

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I do like how their personal and professional lives have grown and shifted around each other, and that they have become far more comfortable, yet in the same way, uncomfortable, around each other. It’s such an interesting dynamic and I can’t wait to see where it ends up.

As for this killer… he actually scared me. Even though the murder in The Silkworm was grisly, the misogyny and outright hatred that drives the killer in this novel was far more frightening. I didn’t particularly enjoy his chapters, because I hated being in his head, but they were enlightening and kept me jumping from suspect to suspect. I did lean towards the right suspect for most of the book, even before I accidentally saw his name, because his past known crime was so abhorrent and fitted his MO. I also didn’t think the other two entire fitted the crime, even though they were both as disgusting in their own ways. However, I totally did not expect him to be where he was. That hit me by total surprise and the implications of it were shattering.

I hated Matthew in this book almost as much as I hated the murderer. In his own way, Matthew is almost as despicable, but of the most insidious, garden variety misogynist hiding behind a pretty veneer and urban normality, not the raging serial killer type. I’m struggling to decide which is more damaging. Matthew, who represents safety to Robin, is as repulsive in his misogyny, because it is so common and so accepted. He sees it as his business to tell Robin what shoes to wear (“Matthew didn’t like her too tall”), who she should be working for and accuse and implies that she either is, or will be, unfaithful because of Strike. What is frightening is that for many people, his behaviour is normal, even excusable. He delights in her failures and masks it as concern. He abuses her trust repeatedly and goes way beyond what a partner should be doing with the others belongings, to the point that Robin is consciously making sure he can’t get at her things and invade her privacy. He deliberately tries to sabotage her, for heavens sake! That’s not something that ANY partner, let alone someone who apparently loves you and says he wants to marry you!

It’s a mark of a good book that it can make you giggle, cringe, become thunderous and then grin stupidly at the page within a couple of chapters. This one had me doing just that, and I enjoyed (almost) every second of it. My only criticism is that I didn’t like the killer chapters very much, as I preferred the flow of Robin and Cormoran’s points of view and didn’t like them interrupted to go into the mind of a sadist. Other than that, I loved it, and stayed up way past my bedtime for two nights running to keep reading!

5/5 stars

#AusReadingMonth Review: The Enchanted Island by Ellie O’Neill

When Maeve O’Brien’s boss sends her to a dreary old island to finalise some paperwork, she couldn’t be happier. It’s the career boost she needs to become a fully-fledged lawyer – besides, it hasn’t been so great on the home front in Dublin.

Maeve’s oldest friend and flat-mate has kicked her out, and moving back in with her uptight mother has been less than cosy. But her reception on Hy Brasil, a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, couldn’t be any more hostile – it’s as if the island itself wants her gone. The locals are all ancient – and spookily well preserved – and they’re all so nasty. And what is that terrible screaming noise that echoes around the island?

I had really high hopes for this book, spurred on by this interview with Ellie O’Neill. It sounded totally up my alley, for a light and fun read. Light and a bit fun it was indeed, but unfortunately I found the main character, Maeve, almost totally unbearable. 

Maeve is a typical self absorbed, selfie loving young woman, who has dug an enormous hole for herself. She has a huge credit card debt and has really messed up her social life. I thought she sounded pretty relatable, but it turns out she was rather self centred and annoying, and didn’t change fast enough for me to be able to like her. I got the impression that whilst her attitude changed on Hy Brasil, she would go back to Dublin and carry on how she was before. She reminded me of one of those selfish dumb women on a reality show, all bleach blonde hair and eyelash extensions (and she had both, if my memory serves me correctly!) She was, however, perfectly voiced and characterised, which shows me that O’Neill is a good writer and a whiz at getting personalities right.

The mystery behind the island was the only thing that kept me going, to be perfectly honest. I considered giving up a few times before the 30% mark, but then decided to continue on to find out what happened. There was an air of menace through the book, which kept me interested, and I kind of wanted to see Maeve eaten by some kind of mystical Irish bog monster. Unfortunately, the ending kind of sputtered to a halt, with a kind of solution-dump to wind off the mystery. I was pretty gobsmacked by it, but I wish the revelation had happened earlier, with some kind of resolution to the whole debacle.

The side characters were interesting and quite fun, and I thought the old people were pretty interesting in their weirdo ways. Killian was probably the least interesting of the lot, but I wasn’t bothered by it, since I didn’t feel any great love for Maeve either. I did laugh out loud at a few points, which is always a nice thing!

The elements of Irish mysticism were fabulous, and O’Neill’s writing style does draw you in, but unfortunately this just wasn’t really the book for me. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who likes light and funny books, with a twist of Ireland and the supernatural. Other people might have a higher tolerance for people like Maeve, or perhaps this just came at the wrong time for me. I did enjoy it enough to finish it, and was drawn in and excited to find out the conclusion. I’d like to read another of Ellie O’Neill’s books, since my problem was more with the main character than with the writing or story!

2.5/5

Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

It seems this book is rather polarising; I’ve seen some hate it and some love it. I actually began reading this in February, on the train home from Melbourne, but I felt sick and thought that reading Anne of Green Gables would cheer me up more (and I was right). Then uni got in the way, so despite enjoying this book, it has taken me until now to actually finish it!

This is a pretty immersive novel, and at over 550 pages, it’s a bit of a beast. You really do feel connected to the characters, and their flaws are displayed to the reader in a fairly realistic way. I enjoyed the tenacity of Diana, the main character, who discovers that her witching abilities are far stronger, and far more deadly, than she anticipated. Matthew, her vampiric love interest, is a dictatorial knobhead, to be sure. They quarrel and discuss their way through the book in a rather convincing way. My only qualm is that the timeline of the novel leaves a lot to be desired. It happens within the space of a month, making me concerned that their love is of the obsessive, dangerous kind, in the Twilight tradition of paranormal romance novels. I dislike this, and wish that Harkness had let their relationship develop for longer, say, stalling their eventual partnership and “marriage” until the final book.

I enjoyed Diana’s abilities as a witch, woman and historian, but did resent that she really does do some bloody stupid things, and puts herself in unnecessary danger just because she wants to prove herself brave. She does this more and more as the book goes on, making me prefer her character in the first third of the novel far more than the end. Once they got to America, it was a bit of a slog to get through, since the action rapidly diminished. I do realise that Harkness needed to do it to set up the next two books, but I think some clever editing could have got the book down to 500 pages or less.

As for the history, which is deeply entwined with all aspects of this book… the history is why I kept going, despite my misgivings about the two main characters. Harkness has done an incredible job on this front, working with so many aspects of historical knowledge from alchemy to Darwin to Shakespeare. For any history nerd like me, this is a goldmine of awesome. This is why I will continue with this trilogy (well… at least the second book, so far) and why I think this book is pretty good. I like that the main character, for all her misguided tenacity and cluelessness, was a history professor, and damn good at it. It was refreshing and something a bit different for a paranormal romance character. I also liked that it wasn’t some wishy washy subject, like say, the history of hot pink lingerie, but alchemical manuscripts. You don’t fuck with a chick who understands alchemical manuscripts. Look at that thing! You don’t mess with someone who can make sense of that.

The prose was well written, switching from first to third person narration, which seems to have bothered some other reviewers, but I honestly didn’t mind it. It was kind of nice to get out of Diana’s head for a bit and see what was going on elsewhere. I didn’t find it jarring, and it didn’t switch too often or too intrusively, which can often be the case if an author attempts such a style.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this, and will definitely jump on the next book when it appears in my mail. I know others were disappointed in it, but I’m really excited, because London in the 1600’s is a really cool time to be shifting to. I don’t really care too much about the romance elements of the story, because of my disbelief in their fanatical love, but I will be in it for the historical aspects. It’s a difficult book to rate because of my dislike for the romance and some characters, but since I did really enjoy Deborah Harkness’ style and her blending of history and the paranormal, it made a guilty pleasure book a little less guilty, and I will always be okay with that…. not that I believe in feeling guilty for liking to read such books!

3.7/5 stars

Review: The Lake House by Kate Morton

A missing child.

June 1933, and the Edevane family’s country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much-anticipated Midsummer Eve party. Alice Edevane, sixteen years old and a budding writer, is especially excited. Not only has she worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she’s also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn’t have. But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night skies, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great that they leave Loeanneth forever.

An abandoned house.

Seventy years later, after a particularly troubling case, Sadie Sparrow is sent on an enforced break from her job with the Metropolitan Police. She retreats to her beloved grandfather’s cottage in Cornwall but soon finds herself at a loose end. Until one day, Sadie stumbles upon an abandoned house surrounded by overgrown gardens and dense woods, and learns the story of a baby boy who disappeared without a trace.

An unsolved mystery.

Meanwhile, in the attic writing room of her elegant Hampstead home, the formidable Alice Edevane, now an old lady, leads a life as neatly plotted as the bestselling detective novels she writes. Until a young police detective starts asking questions about her family’s past, seeking to resurrect the complex tangle of secrets Alice has spent her life trying to escape.

I just cried my little heart out over this book, handed it to my mother in law and said “Drop what you’re doing and read it”… which she promptly did. I’m thinking of beginning a new book tonight to avoid getting a serious book hangover… I’ve lived and breathed this book for a few days now, thinking about it constantly, riddling it all out in my head. I eventually did come to the right conclusion, but only just before the characters did, and with many red herrings along the way. My fiancèe said to me last night as I was buried in the book, “I can see I’ve become second fiddle to Kate Morton…”

My initial thoughts and feelings on the book can be found here.

This is the most “mysterious” of Kate Morton’s books, only for the fact it has a police officer following up on the case. It gave me a kind of Rivers of London vibe, but mostly because of the setting and because I liked Sadie so much. I was very pleased to discover that she takes her tea the same way as me: milk and one sugar. I saw quite a bit of myself in Sadie, which made me very, very fond of her. She solved the mystery and stuck to her principles, honouring her gut feelings the whole time. I was pleased with the final moments of the novel, as so many things that I’d hoped for came true. Alice was a perfectly terrifying character, though I do with Peter was slightly more developed, because I really did like him and wanted to know more about him.

Morton is a master of place, making you feel as if you’ve been picked up and dropped into the setting. Cornwall is her specialty; in fact, all kinds of wild, windy places in England have been drawn perfectly by Morton’s loving hand. I do hope she’ll set a book in Australia at some point, but for now England is a good spot for her lovely mysteries. The scenes switch seamlessly between London and Cornwall, and between 1933 to 2003, and from character to character, who each had their own distinctive voice and perspective on the novel’s events.

The book didn’t have as much of a romance edge as her previous novels do, particularly for the modern characters (though it isn’t entirely missing) which I quite liked. It didn’t feel as obvious to me this time, which is a huge improvement on The Distant Hours, which I was very disappointed in. I kind of felt the mystery’s solution was slightly too coincidental, but the clues were there from the get go to set it up, just very cleverly hidden, though I have read that some people were unsatisfied with it.

In response to more criticisms, yes… I believe Morton can’t keep recycling her “formula” forever, because sometimes it works, and sometimes it falls disastrously flat. She’s at risk of becoming too predictable, but for me, this book wasn’t so. She’s tried her hand at the police procedural mystery here, but with her own twist, which she hasn’t done before. As for Morton being “fluff”, as she has been repeatedly described, I beg to differ. Just because something is written to be entertaining and enjoyable, and is written by a woman- because all too frequently, that label is attached to female writers, regardless of their content- doesn’t mean it isn’t good and people should feel guilty about reading it. Tight plotting, a hell of a lot of research and great characterisation and setting went into this book, and shouldn’t be ignored.

I thoroughly enjoyed the latest Kate Morton offering, and can almost forgive her for making me wait 3 years to get it! Now, I must endure the waiting game for a new book once again… or maybe I should go back and re-read some of the ones that are a bit blurry in my memory, like The Secret Keeper.

5/5 and Leo!

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