REVIEW: The Widow of Pale Harbour

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada and Graydon House for providing me with a copy of the ARC.


Attention all Poe fans! Do I have a book for you!

The Widow of Pale Harbour is the second standalone novel from Hester Fox and follows Gabriel Stone – a man on the run from his past posing as a priest – and Sophronia Carver – a wealthy woman accused of murder and witchcraft – as they navigate their way through the puzzles left by a madman terrorizing Pale Harbour by way of Edgar Allan Poe’s twisted works.

I really enjoyed this topsy turvy mystery novel. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Hester Fox’s latest novel, but it was definitely a lot of fun. The mystery itself was well thought out and even with the limited cast of characters, I still had a hard time cracking the case before the end of the book. It was the right balance between an armchair mystery and a horror-inspired thriller, with the mystery itself being on the gruesome side while very clearly knowing where the line was in terms of the descriptions.

The romance plot wasn’t exactly a slow-burn, but it moved at a good speed as the characters unfolded on the pages. We really get to know Gabriel and his dedication to those he cares for as well as Sophronia and her fear of being hurt (emotionally and physically) by those she thinks she cares for.

This is definitely a great book for the upcoming Halloween season and is a good cozy read for a chilly autumn day. If you’re an older reader who enjoyed the Stalking Jack the Ripper series by Kerri Maniscalco, this would be a title I would certainly recommend.

 

 

REVIEW: Spectacle

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of the ARC


I went into this one based on what I was hearing from others who were reading it (and enjoying it) so I was definitely intrigued. The Stalking Jack the Ripper vibes were strong with the description so I was excited at what the story would be like.

Spectacle takes place in the late 1800s in Paris, following Nathalie as she works as in secret as the morgue reporter for a large newspaper. While taking a look at the first of several murder victims killed by The Dark Artist, Nathalie touches the glass separating the viewing room from the display room and sees a glimmer of the girl’s murder as it happens in reverse. Her visions get clearer and more disturbing as the murders themselves violently escalate.

For the most part, I really liked the writing style and Jodie Lynn Zdrok has a really great voice. Spending my disbelief in regards to a 16-year-old girl writing for a newspaper in the 1800s, I still really liked Nathalie (and really, she’s not much different than Audrey from SJTR) and her tenacity to write and be involved in such a grisly task and basically recapping the previously night’s murders. Her friendships seemed really natural and her fear felt real.

I loved the accuracy of her family’s relationship with each other and was also fascinated by the depiction of her aunt’s mental

But here’s where the spoilers in my opinions come in.

My issue with the book was that it had me almost 99% and then they introduced the plot point that Nathalie’s powers made her part of a group known as the “Insighters”. Many of these Insighters got their powers through blood transfusions and the whole “secret society” feel about the reveal just didn’t grab me. I’m sorry to say I cared even less.

I skimmed the next dozen chapters hoping for something good, but it just seemed to drag for the remainder of the book. The last chapter, too, was a not a well done lead-in to the next book and it didn’t feel satisfying at all. It just… ended.

I guess I just went in with my expectations too high and ended up letting myself down. What I will say though, is that even though this might not be a series for me, I’ll still be keeping an eye on Jodie Lynn Zdrok’s future releases because her writing style is definitely worth another chance.

REVIEW: The Gentleman’s Guide To Getting Lucky

Last summer when Mackenzi Lee’s book The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue came out, I jumped on it instantly. It was just the fun, queer story I was looking for at the time, so when she announced that there was going to be a sequel, it went on my list of books to pre-order on my birthday. Thanks to my eagerness, I was able to submit my receipt early and then recently received my copy of the novella The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky.

It may be only 53 pages long, but believe me when I say that’s more than enough time for Monty to get himself into a whole bucket of trouble.

It’s been a month since the end of Vice and Virtue, and Monty is helplessly sober and shamefully virtuous. He knows that Percy is a virgin and doesn’t want to push him into anything, but – being Monty – ends up recruiting his sister to help make a plan so the two young men have the house to themselves.

Seeing as how the novella isn’t widely available at the moment and not everyone may have it, I won’t say much more than this about the story. However, I will say that I was laughing for the entire 53 pages and cringing with the second hand embarrassment. Monty and Percy are the dumbest, most wonderful characters and this novella was such a fun story to lift my spirits once again.

REVIEW: Never Anyone But You

I have a rather intense weakness for books set during World War II, especially when it focuses on the people fighting the good fight at home rather in a battle field setting. I also have an even bigger weakness for WLW stories.

Never Anyone But You is the fictional retelling of the very real lives of two artists, Suzanne Malherbe (aka. Marcel Moore) and Lucie Schwob (aka. Claude Cahun), as they fall in love and end up fighting against the Nazi occupation of Jersey Island through art and wordplay, risking their lives every second they remain together.

Told from Suzanne’s perspective we see how her life changes and her intense dedication to her partner, Claude as they transcend the gender norms of the early to mid 20th century both in their work and even in how they present themselves to the world. I have, personally, always enjoyed obscure photography from war times and earlier and had heard Claude’s name in passing, but have never known of their work or what they mean to the surrealist and queer communities. Having died shortly after the war, it’s hard to tell if Claude was non-binary or transgender, but this novel has sparked an intense appreciation of their work and their legacy in art, fashion, and writing.

This book broke my heart in a very real way as I felt incredibly connected to Claude both in terms of gender identity as well as mental illness. Rupert Thomson does an absolutely stunning job of capturing the intense love between these two people and their surreal lives spent with the likes of Hemingway and Dalí. I felt like I really got to know Suzanne and Claude through this book and will certainly be looking into Thomson’s other novels.

REVIEW: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society

I’m a sucker for war stories in general, but when I got emails from Netflix and Chapters talking about this book and it’s adaptation, I absolutely couldn’t say no.

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is written by an aunt and niece duo and follows author Juliet Ashton as she seeks out the subject of her next book. Upon receiving a letter from a gentleman in possession of a book she once gave away, Juliet forms firm friendships with the people who live on Guernsey Island while also developing a keen interest about their lives during the German Occupation that ended only the year before.

Told in letters and journal entries, the story is a pleasant one full of laughter and joy while also addressing the harsh realities of the trauma endured during the war and now post-war living. The intimacy of a novel told through personal letters really makes you care about every one of these people as they laugh and cry and get to know one another so deeply. It’s a story about people who love to read and how that love brings them together and keeps their hopes up even when there is seemingly no end in sight.

I adored this book from start to finish and know that I, for one, fell in love with Juliet myself. Although the ending felt a touch rushed, I found myself not caring because I came to love each and ever character like my real-life friends. Definitely the book to go to if you have been feeling down in the dumps as it is packed with laughs from cover to cover.

Everyone deserves their happy ending. I can’t wait to watch the film.


39832183Author: Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Published: December 12, 2011
Pages: 291
Publisher: Dial Press
ISBN: 9781984801814

Synopsis: January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb. . . .

REVIEW: Dreamland Burning

Dreamland Burning from Jennifer Latham depicts two very different stories that intertwine over the course of almost 100 years. In the present, Rowan Chase discovers a corpse beneath the floorboards of her back house. In the past, William Tillman has a front row seat to the race riot of 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma that lead to the burning of the Greenwood community. This complex story of racism and bigotry is an uncomfortable one, but an important novel made even more so by recent events in the United States.

Warning: This book contains graphic racial violence, racial slurs, and (very briefly) attempted sexual assault. 

The Story

This novel is written in a style that I find I either love or hate, switching back and forth between first-person narratives told by the main characters Rowan and William. This is one book that I loved it, as it made the transition between 2017 and 1921 flow far better than if it was a third person narrative. It added to the main mystery of the story: whose body did Rowan find in her backyard?

As the story progresses, there are major clues as to who the body might belong to, but it was not at all obvious which of the characters it could possible be. It’s a mystery first, but the bottom line of the story is that racism that should have ended long ago is still very much a part of many communities today.

The story is an uncomfortable one. But it is also a very important one.

The Characters

The two main protagonists in the story are Rowan Chase of modern day Tulsa, and Will Tillman of 1921-era Tulsa. The two are very different characters that provide a different perspective on a string of events that directly affect each other without them even knowing it.

Rowan is seventeen, brilliant, and interracial (her mother is a prominent black lawyer, and her father is a white old money – I can’t quite remember what his job is as it’s not relevant). She is aware that she has lead a privileged life and comes to terms with how little she knows about her own black history and culture while she works in the “poor black neighbourhood”. At the end of the day, Rowan knows that her white father can’t help her all the time, and that the colour of her skin will mean more to people than her name does. It’s a harsh reality but Rowan is the kind of girl who will use every spec of her strength and self-confidence to bring justice to those who need it. She’s a force to be reckoned with and a wonderful character.

Will is a character who is not very likable, but does get better. He is racist and bratty despite not even being white himself. His father is white and his mother is Native and yet he picks a fight with a black man simply because he finds him offensive. At the beginning of the book, I personally hated him and just wanted to skip back to Rowan’s chapters. It takes a while for Will to pull his head out of his ass, but once he does, he learns quickly just how much his actions affect his entire community. One little fight leads to a death that could have been avoided. One little kindness leads to a whole lot of joy.

When it comes to non-major main characters, we’ve got quite the cast. Rowan’s best friend is James, a half-black half-Native aromantic asexual. He’s nerdy, funny, and understands the hardships that Rowan is dealing with as he deals with them himself. In the past, Will comes to know Joseph and Ruby, two black siblings from Greenwood that very quickly grow on him as if they were siblings of his own. Joe takes care of himself and sees to it his family has what they need. Ruby is a little girl with a sharp tongue and a sharper mind, forced to grow up quick.

All the characters play very different yet equally important roles in the story and are all incredibly well written.

The Issues

As usual, this is where the spoilers are, so skip to conclusion if you care to avoid them. Also this section will discuss some of the potentially triggering content. I had very few issues with the book itself but I want to talk about the content first.

The book itself goes into fairly graphic detail at times, describing hangings, beatings, people being dragged behind cars until they’re bloody dust in the wind. The riot in William’s chapters is devastating as is the death of Arvin in Rowan’s chapters. It’s mindless genocide. It’s heartbreaking.

Although it’s not as prevalent as it would have been in the 20s, there are several different racial slurs that make a semi-consistent appearance in both the protagonists’ chapters. In the author’s note, Latham mentions that to exclude these words would be inaccurate but did not use them to, let’s say Tarantino standards. They are said. Characters react as they should. And the story moves on. It is nothing more than a dash of historical accuracy and helps showcase just how cruel the KKK and other racist organizations are. Then and now.

The two issues I very much had in this story involved Ruby and Will. Towards the end of the book, our main antagonist attempts to sexually assault ten-year-old Ruby because he sees her as a worthless little black girl. But she is a child. I felt that it was an unnecessary addition to the final confrontation, and Vernon is so terrible for the entirety of the novel that it went over the line. It is a moment that lasts about a paragraph while Joseph and Will move to stop him permanently.

The second issue is with Will. We meet him in a speakeasy being a racist little brat, jealous of his crush sitting with her black friend. They fight and Will’s lies that come out later result in Clarence’s death at the hands of the Klan. Sure, Will feels bad, and does his best to apologize to Addie for the loss of her friend, but in my eyes that isn’t nearly enough. Yes it is a catalyst event in the novel so I wouldn’t necessarily change it, but I do have a bit of a problem with Will’s motivations. It isn’t until after a black man has died because of his actions that Will starts to look at the other community as decent people. He should feel bad for going after an innocent man to begin with. 1921 was a different time, but that fact that it took a lynching to change Will’s mind upsets me.

Conclusion: ★★★★★

Dreamland Burning is about social justice and the inequality people of colour, specifically black people, face in the United States. A black teenager finds a skeleton in her yard and the police distrust her. She is involved in an accident that results in a racist white man shoving a homeless black man into the street where he is killed. In the past, an entire community is burnt to the ground simply because of the colour of the residents’ skin. It’s a difficult book to read. I, myself, am a white person in Canada. I have the privilege of simply turning off the TV when I don’t want to hear about these things. I can avoid it. But there are real people like Rowan and James and Joseph who can’t avoid it. Who don’t get the choice to just tune out. It affects them every single day.

Jennifer Latham creates a wonderful atmosphere and a brilliantly intertwined story full of well written characters and heartbreaking disaster. It’s important to read this book, especially with so much injustice going on in the world, primarily in the States. Read this book. Learn some history. 5 out of 5.


24382227Author: Jennifer Latham
Published:  February 21st 2017
Pages: 365
Publisher: Little Brown Books
ISBN: 9780316384933

Synopsis: Some bodies won’t stay buried. Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past, the present, and herself.

One hundred years earlier, a single violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.