Review – Above

Above by Isla MorleyWhen I sit down to read a book, I find a comfortable spot because I usually plan to be there for some time. With Above, I never found that comfort zone because I was putting the book down every few chapters. Why? It was such an intense read that I had to walk away but I was only able to stay away for a few minutes and then I was right back into it because I had to know more. If there’s one thing I didn’t expect from this book, it was the intensity.

At sixteen, Blythe Hallowell is a smart girl, not necessarily boy obsessed, but there is one boy she can’t wait to see at the Horse Thieves Picnic. When the boy is called away and doesn’t return, Blythe is hurt. Walking home later, a local man named Dobbs Hordin drives by and tells her that her brother has been hurt. She gets in the car with him, and instead of being the day she met a boy at the picnic, it becomes the day she goes missing from Eudora, Kansas. Dobbs Hordin is a local survivalist and has been preparing a missile silo for the end of days. He takes Blythe to the silo, locking her in with his other gathered possessions, and when the door is locked, her life all but stops.

The first few days and months of her captivity, Blythe focuses solely on getting out. She wants to go home to her family, she wants to see her best friend, and she wants to walk in the sun again. Blythe soon comes to the sad realization that isn’t going to happen and it’s a crushing blow to her mentally. Months pass and she falls slowly into a dark place fueled by loneliness, anger, and despair. After she gives birth to a stillborn daughter, her mental state becomes even more precarious making even her captor nervous.

Seventeen years pass and Blythe, Dobbs, and their son Adam, live out their meager lives in that silo. All Blythe can think about is her son and going above. She never gave up hope that one day she would be able to see sunlight in place of the sickly light that governs their waking hours below. Wanting her son to understand the world above, she tells him stories about what it will be like once they leave. Dobbs, who does come and go during those seventeen years, never tells Blythe or Adam about the outside world. When an unexpected and unplanned event gives Blythe and Adam the chance to leave, they walk into a world they didn’t expect and weren’t prepared for.

I can honestly say I didn’t see the twist coming. I wanted Blythe and Adam to walk out into the sun, admire the flowers and blue sky. I wanted to see them walk to her parents’ home and be welcomed with open arms. After seventeen years of captivity, they walk into a world that neither understands. It’s devastating to not only Blythe and Adam but you as the reader. I’m not one for happy endings, but I thought Blythe deserved something after what she’d been through and she wasn’t going to get it.

There’s something really wonderful about this twist though, and by wonderful I don’t mean good. I like that Morley doesn’t let the reader have the happy ending. I like that she takes everything away and leaves Blythe with nothing. In more than one way, Blythe gets to start over with a clean slate even if she doesn’t see that. While no one forgives Dobbs for anything — and he certainly doesn’t deserve forgiveness — Blythe does come to realize a few things about him that she never would have given thought to if she had still been locked behind concrete walls.

I won’t lie — this is a book you won’t be able to put down. And if you do put it down, you’ll pick it back up in a few minutes because you won’t be able to stay away. Having devoured it in a day, trust me when I say this. Morley delivers a book that will drive you through every possible emotion before you get to the end, and once you get there, your heart will be sore from the beating.

Above

By Isla Morley

Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books

ISBN: 9781476731520

In addition to this blog, I also write reviews for the Bookreporter. You can find my review of Above here.

Review – Clockwork Phoenix 4

Clockwork Phoenix 4Clockwork Phoenix 4 is a collection of 18 stories edited by Mike Allen. Who, I will tell you now, is a master editor. And the authors, all masters as well. This collection is really fantastic. I took my time reading it and was rewarded each time a new story began. You can call it speculative, fantasy, science fiction, but what it is, is good reading. After each story, I was left thinking of the characters and settings which were believable and yet unbelievable at the same time. I’m not always a fan of short stories, and soon after the book arrived, I become a little apprehensive and worried I wasn’t going to enjoy it. I shouldn’t have worried. There are stories in this collection that I’ll go back to again and again. They are so rich and detailed I know I’ll find something new each time I pick up a story.

Not to give away anything, I’ll do a short sentence or so about each because I feel each story deserves a mention. You’ll note I have many favorites.

Our Lady of the Thylacines by Yves Meynard – A Girl learning the value of life from the Lady. A slightly dark tale containing that all important lesson of the value we place on life. This is a great story to start the collection.

The Canal Barge Magician’s Number Nine Daughter by Ian McHugh – Behra is the ninth daughter of the Canal Barge Magician and she is full of the magic her father harnesses for his use. When she finds her magic and learns to use it, all bets are off and she wants out. Fantastic piece — I love stories like this. Blood magic is used in cruel and vicious ways in this story and the world building is amazing. A favorite of mine.

On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse by Nicole Kornher-Stace – A post-apocalyptic world full of ghosts and the person who collects and catalogues them. I had a bit of trouble following this one but it’s such an interesting concept that I think I will go back and re-read it. A world ravaged yet full of ghosts is appealing.

Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl by Richard Parks – Do the dead get lonely? A drowned girl floating away her days wonders much about the world after meeting the beach bum. There’s a creepiness to this story but not the creepy you think of when you think of ghosts. I think it’s the idea of floating around, never knowing where you’ll land or what will happen that’s creepy. Maybe it’s just the great unknown and how scary it can be or maybe it’s just me. It’s a wonderful story though.

Trap-Weed by Gemma Files – A heart-broken selkie running from loneliness is captured by a collector. I love tales of sea creatures and the magic infused in this story is perfect. It rocks you slowly along bringing you to a bittersweet end that’s a strange metaphor for life and where we should place our trust. A favorite.

Icicle by Yukimi Ogawa – A half human, half snow-woman leaves the only home she’s ever known to look for her father and finds a love she can’t have. Oh, is this one a hard lesson of family life. Heartbreaking and yet wonderful. A favorite.

Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story by A.C. Wise – Two hungry ghosts haunting the world in the only way they know how. This is such a sad story but instead of disliking the ghosts, I just pitied them. When you open yourself to love, you open yourself to heartbreak. So good.

What Still Abides by Marie Brennan – Throw some Norse gods and the undead together and what do you get? This story. It’s told using Germanic derived words, according to the author’s website. Yes, I looked that up. I needed to know. In fact, the language makes this one. It brings it to a whole other level. Reading this one is an experience.

The Wanderer King by Alisa Alering – A post-apocalyptic world of the dead and dying and two women looking for a way out and the king that can get them to a new world. Oh, what a wonderfully sad, terrifying world. It’s brutal and full of menace. A favorite.

A Little of the Night by Tanith Lee – Fleeing from a murder, a man comes upon an evil place, and instead of continuing to run, he feels compelled to search for the source of that evil. He becomes drawn to it. A great, great story. A favorite.

I Come From the Dark Universe by Cat Rambo – Sex in a far off place. A brothel manager takes in a woman who says she came from the dark universe but offers no more. She’s quiet, mysterious, and maybe just the right bit of love needed for another lonely soul. Love in a whore house is so complicated. Eventually, what we come to learn is that there’s a love for all of us, if we’re willing to be patient. It’s hard to describe this as romantic (brothel and all) but it’s the best way to describe this so I’m going with it. It’s my absolute favorite in this collection. It’s one I will read again and again.

Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw by Shira Lipkin – A witch who can switch between realities and is happy to play around with the boundaries of love but shies away from her own heart. Zee, the witch, is such an intriguing character and I love how she plays around with everyone else’s heart and ignores her own. It’s a keeper and by that I mean it’s another favorite.

Lilo Is by Corinne Duyvis – Being a single mother of a spider-girl can be interesting, to say the least. Oh, my god. So wonderful. I laughed my way through this one thankful I didn’t need to deal with a spider-girl. Mostly I laughed nervously because spiders completely freak me out. I went back and re-read parts too. Love it. You’re tired of reading this, I know, but, a favorite.

Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer by Kenneth Schneyer – A critic takes us on review of an artist’s work. It’s such a strange story but very interesting. The descriptions make you see not just the artwork but the artist. A good read.

Three Times by Camille Alexa – Do you know what it means to be alive? An entity takes human form to learn what it feels like. Sweet, sad, than utterly heartbreaking. A lovely little gem of a story.

The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – A universe of replicated humanoids each with a role. When one being begins to die, she undergoes surgery only to wake with a chest full of bees where a heart should be. This reminded me of The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. A strange world that not only confuses but fascinates. A great story.

The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo – A scribe attempts to note the life of the Old Woman, who constantly interrupts and berates him. It’s amusing, warmhearted, and slightly sad. A good story.

The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff – An extended family gathers for a Seder, and in doing so bring together the universal soul. The history of soul 2065 evolves, and in turn, becomes a most wonderful story. Spanning 70 years, the soul changes but never forgets. An amazing way to end the collection. A favorite.
Ask me what this collection is about and I’ll tell you it’s about life, it’s about love, it’s about tragedy, it’s about the alluring nature of sex, it’s about the feeling of belonging. There’s so much more to these stories than you think there will be. Go and read them. That’s all I have left to say.

Mike Allen shared a copy of Clockwork Phoenix 4 with me for review.

Clockwork Phoenix 4

Edited by Mike Allen

Mythic Delirium

ISBN: 9780988912403

 

Review – Island of Bones

There are some books you finish and want more of, immediately. For me, this is one of those books. I loved the setting, the characters, the mystery — everything. I’ve been reading a lot of historical mysteries lately, and oddly, they’ve all been series and I’ve started all of them somewhere in the middle rather than from the beginning. The same is true for this book; it’s Robertson’s third book featuring the characters of Mrs. Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther. Surprisingly, this hasn’t dulled my enjoyment one bit.

Mrs. Harriet Westerman is a woman still mourning her husband, even after her mourning period is officially over. Now, rather than be a spectacle to pity, she is trying to move forward with her life. When a request arrives to investigate the discovery of an extra body found in a crypt that had been supposedly untouched for many years, the idea of an adventure appeals. Mrs. Westerman, and Gabriel Crowther, a reclusive anatomist, set out for the Lake District to investigate the circumstances surrounding the skeleton. Crowther, also known as Lord Keswick, a title he has shunned and has done all he could to distance himself from not only the title but also his family, meets his past head on when they arrive in the Lake District. Not only is there a dead body and a mystery surrounding it, but Crowther’s sister and nephew are also in residence at Silverside Hall, a place once owned by Crowther and his family until he sold it. A happy family reunion it is not.

While the mysteries mount, a strange thing begins to happen — long held beliefs of the townspeople start taking center stage in the investigation. A lost relic called The Luck, a gold cross embedded with jewels, becomes part of the discussion and makes its way into the investigation of Mrs. Westerman and Crowther. More than one person’s hidden family history comes to light before the mystery is solved.

There’s something so very likable about Robertson’s writing. She writes great characters. They’re frank, smart, and surprising. I loved how she took a very relaxing setting and overlaid it with death, local folklore, and a mystery of family proportions that only seemed to grow larger by the day. It all fit so well together. When the story started coming to a close, I wanted more even after the satisfying conclusion. And, yes, there is a satisfying conclusion. I like that in a mystery.

Going back to the main characters, Mrs. Westerman and Gabriel Crowther — I said they were likable but it’s more than that. The two are a strange combination but a combination that works brilliantly. Crowther is a grump of a man, a recluse who takes no pleasure in people except for the few he can tolerate, and yet, his scientific analysis is a fascinating attribute. In fact, it’s an interesting aspect of the story itself and slightly morbid as he does care to spend more time with the dead than the living. Mrs. Westerman is a great counterpoint to his standoffish qualities. I also like unconventional women in historical fiction and she’s certainly unusual for her time. I should point out that the story is set in 1783 and a woman investigating murders is far from the norm.

Now that I have used one too many laudatory words in describing what I liked so much about this book, I leave you with this — read Island of Bones. They’ll be no regrets. I had high hopes for this book and those expectations were met.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Island of Bones

By Imogen Robertson

Pamela Dorman Books

ISBN: 9780670026272

4.5 stars

 

Review – Death in the Floating City: A Lady Emily Mystery

Lady Emily Hargreaves, accompanied by her husband Colin, is on her way to Venice to help a childhood friend named Emma Callum. A better description would be a childhood nemesis — Emily and Emma were not exactly the best of friends as children and Emily did her best to distance herself from Emma whenever possible. However, Emma has asked for her help and Emily can’t turn down a plea for help, even when that plea comes from Emma Callum. Years ago, Emma ran off with an Italian Count and caused a bit of a scandal at home, but is now in desperate need of Emily’s detective skills. Her father-in-law has been murdered in the home she shares with her husband, and her husband, who is a suspect in his father’s murder, has disappeared making the case against him look even more telling. She needs Emily to find the murderer and clear her husband.

Weary of her Emma’s motives but still willing to help, Emily and Colin begin their investigation and Emily soon finds herself fascinated by Venice, a city she’s never visited before. With few clues besides an old ring to go on, Emily enlists the help of a Venetian historian and his daughter, Donata, to help her navigate the city and open a few palazzo doors for her to ask questions. With the help of Donata, Emily stumbles upon a centuries old love story that tore two individuals, and their families, apart. The same feud is still going strong which doesn’t help Emily when she needs questions answered. She begins searching frantically through libraries and family trees for any clue that will help solve the case while Colin begins a search for Emma’s missing husband.

This is my second Lady Emily mystery and I’m becoming addicted. I need to plan some reading time to go back and start this series from the beginning. Even though this is a series, these books do stand on their own but the characters and settings are so good I want to go back and spend more time in this world. Emily and Colin are incredibly likable characters and the settings, especially this particular book’s setting of Venice, are so lovely you want to step into the pages. Alexander does a fantastic job with the crumbling palazzos, dusty old books, and gondolas gliding along the canals.

Let’s talk about the mystery for a moment because there is one here. What I liked most about the mystery was the way it was wrapped up in a love story a la Romeo and Juliet style. Told through letters interspersed throughout the story, the centuries-old love story starts to show up in Emily’s mystery in unexpected ways. In the end, Alexander wraps this one up nicely with a little sneak peek of what’s ahead for Emily and Colin.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the way I was able to fall into the story and get lost in the mystery, the romance, and the city of Venice. I was pulled into the story very early and I didn’t want to leave. There’s just enough of everything in this book to make me a happy reader. Obviously, I’m waiting for Emily’s next adventure.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Death in the Floating City: A Lady Emily Mystery

By Tasha Alexander

Minotaur Books

ISBN: 9780312661762

4 stars

 

Review – Shadow of Night

In Shadow of Night, we pick up with Diana Bishop, now Diana Clairmont, and her new husband Matthew in 1590 Elizabethan England. Having time walked back to 1590 to find a witch capable of understanding Diana’s magic and who can teach her how to control her powers, the two soon get caught up in 16th Century English politics and court intrigue. It’s a particularly fascinating place for Diana, being the scholar that she is, but for Matthew the new setting brings on a fresh set of problems and emotions. Matthew, a vampire who once hunted down witches, now has to reconcile his old role as witch hunter which is more than difficult now that over 400 years later, he finds himself married to a witch. He also must come to some understanding with his father — a man he knows as dead in his present.

In only a few months, Diana and Matthew have to find Ashmole 782, the mysterious book that brought them together months ago in their present time at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Hoping it may still be intact in 1590, they’re both somewhat optimistic that Diana’s burgeoning powers can help them understand who they are, what they are, and what will happen to their families. All the while they are dealing with Matthew’s past, well-known historical figures — Queen Elizabeth I anyone? — famous playwrights, witches, family drama, and weddings. Diana and Matthew not only have to figure out how to be married but also how to be a witch and vampire married to each other while looking for a book that they hope holds the answers to their future.

Matthew is still his controlling self — he’s a vampire but it’s still hard to ignore this annoying trait of his — but Diana is finally starting to understand what her witch heritage means, how to control her powers, and starts to stand her ground. Once reluctant to accept witchcraft, she finally begins using it and accepting it as part of who she is. Something her husband, a man who wants to control everything, struggles with as well. Their relationship becomes more of a partnership in the second book. These two obviously have picked a strange road to follow and one that many don’t see ending happily. I felt this second book in the All Souls trilogy (Shadow of Night is the second book in the series following A Discovery of Witches) had a bit less mystery for me but a lot more intrigue. I enjoyed the numerous strange characters that appeared and we finally get a look at Matthew’s past. Getting to meet Matthew’s family and friends explains his sometimes irrational mood swings and what both he and Diana will be facing in their life together.

I’m a series reader and am happy to say that Shadow of Night kept up with A Discovery of Witches. Book two in a trilogy can sometimes feel like a place holder, and while Diana and Matthew’s questions aren’t answered, their lives do move on and I liked seeing their relationship change. They both wonder about their intrusions on the past and how their actions will alter their futures and the past. Diana finally accepts witchcraft as part of who she is but there are few precious hints at what it will hold for her future self. Matthew’s history hits him full on in 1590 and Diana understands for the first time why her husband falls into such dark places.

In short, time walking, famous dead people, more vampires, witches, and daemons, and lots of magic shape book two in the All Souls trilogy. And yes, I’m now sitting and hoping Deborah Harkness writes faster because I’m anxious to know what happens to Diana and Matthew.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Shadow of Night

Deborah Harkness

Viking Adult

ISBN: 9780670023486

4.5 stars

 

Review – All the Flowers in Shanghai

Feng is a young woman who is mostly ignored by everyone in her family with the exception of her grandfather who dotes on her. Her older sister is the one everyone’s hopes and dreams ride on but she’s cruel to Feng and the two have never had any sort of relationship. When her sister dies unexpectedly, Feng is forced to marry her fiancé to hold up the arrangements her parents made and Feng finds herself a wife to a son of a well-known and rich family in Shanghai with no idea how to fend for herself or any understanding of what’s expected of her.

All the Flowers in Shanghai interested me because this is a timeframe I’m unfamiliar with — Shanghai in the 1930s — and I don’t read much historical fiction set in China which was very appealing. While the setting was interesting, I didn’t care for any of the characters. Feng goes from being exceptionally naïve to bitter in an amazingly short time frame. Her mother, the social climber, is not even worth mentioning as she wasn’t much of a mother so much as person bartering away her daughters for social acceptance. In the end, this book is a letter to a daughter Feng doesn’t know but why she would write such awful things to her daughter I just don’t understand. Yes, she was looking for forgiveness in the end, but throwing every hateful thing she’s ever done out into the world — both to the daughter and to her husband — doesn’t portray her in a good way.

Oddly, Feng gave her daughter away so that she wouldn’t have to face the life she did but the entire time I was reading, I kept wondering why she couldn’t leave any of her bitterness especially for her children. No, her life wasn’t an easy one but she didn’t want to see any happiness in her life and drove all of it away from her which meant she drove every family member away that she could. In the end of her life, she does begin to understand her hatred and deal with it but the letter feels like a poor apology and nothing more. She spent her whole life looking to get back at people and never sought to understand anyone’s motivation but her own and I couldn’t accept her mea culpa.

Like I said, the setting is really appealing and I wish there had been more about the revolution and the changes China went through. Because the story is told through Feng’s perspective, it’s hard to see the impact of the changes and what little of the revolution Feng does come in contact with she doesn’t understand because of the secluded life she led.

While I had trouble with the characters in this book, the writing is solid and has given me a new timeframe for historical fiction to explore.

I won this book through the LIbrayThing Early Reviewers program. An ARC was sent to me by the publisher for review.

All the Flowers in Shanghai

By Duncan Jepson

William Morrow

ISBN: 9780062106971

2.5 stars

Review – The House I Loved

There are books where the beginning hints at the ending. The House I Loved is one such book but knowing how this one will end is what makes it so special. It builds very slowly and before you know it, you’ve been picked up and carried to the end.

A Parisian widow in mourning for many years, Rose Bazelet still maintains a rather full life on the rue Childebert in the house left to her by her husband. She has her friends and her routines but when the Emperor, Napoleon III, decides to bring Paris into the modern age by destroying what’s considering quaint by her neighborhood’s standards and replacing it with modern and better functioning buildings and facilities, her world comes crashing down. Rose does not want her Paris, the one where memories of her deceased husband and son reside, to be torn down and rebuilt. She takes a stand and makes the decision to fight for her home, her life, and her street. Rose tells everyone she knows that she will not be leaving her family home and nothing, not money or destruction, will make her leave the house she feels she must protect at all costs for the husband she dearly misses.

Hiding in the basement of her home, with frequent visits from Gilbert, a homeless man who has taken to protecting and helping Rose, she writes to her husband. In long letters, and short, she tells him about her fight and how the man at the office treated her as if her home and life meant nothing — and indeed it meant nothing to him all. She reveals long held secrets to him, secrets she has never told another living person. Rose writes about her neighbors that have brought her joy over the years and have kept her company after his death. As the day of destruction nears, her letters become more heart wrenching, sad, and poignant.

I’m the type of person that will read the last page of a book before I start. I love spoilers just that much. The House I Loved was the first book in a very long time where that didn’t happen. I had a feeling I knew how this one was going to end and I don’t say this as a way to ruin this book for anyone. The beauty is really in the letters and memories Rose is telling and reliving for her husband. Some of the memories were lovely — for instance, when she begins her love of reading and how she tells her husband that she now finally understands how he could sit for hours absorbed in a book. A reader would love that! Others are awful, sad memories that only impending change would cause her to reveal.

I don’t want you to think this book is only sad, it is in a way, but it’s also very heartwarming and the picture that de Rosnay paints of this little street in Paris in the 1860s is very vibrant. The parks, the buildings, and the people are alive in Rose’s letters. And while Rose’s world is very small, it feels much grander thanks to the words she writes to her beloved husband. Her description of a neighbor and friend, Alexandrine, a local florist, is wonderful and you can see how close the women are and how much they admire, and need, one another. It’s in these letters about Alexandrine that you catch glimpses of Rose’s relationship with the daughter she never felt close to and you see why she feels so loving toward Alexandrine.

At first I thought of Rose as a stubborn old woman but soon found myself admiring the character for her strength and convictions. To her, the house was more than just simple bricks and mortar. It was her life and the memories that kept her going. She refused to part with it for reasons that only she understood but also out of love for a husband she wanted desperately to feel close to after his death. It’s a love story on more than one level.

The House I Loved

Tatiana de Rosnay

St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 9780312593308

4 stars