Monday, December 22, 2014

Wither, by J.G. Passarella. Pocket Books, 1999

Windale, MA, is a quiet little college town in New England- most of the time. Three hundred years before, three witches had been hung. That, Danfield College, and the annual King Frost parade on Halloween night, are its claims to fame. Then odd things start happening; college freshman and white witch Wendy finds one night that the spells she casts have real and sudden results, and she begins having horrific nightmares. Entering the third trimester of what has been a routine pregnancy, college professor Karen discovers that her baby has very severe problems- and she, too, is having nightmares. And eight year old Abby is suddenly ill; when graduate student Art finds her sleeping on one of the hung witch’s graves with a high fever, he goes to take her to the hospital and is attacked by her, which causes an accident that gravely injures her. But she is healing remarkably fast… and the scratches she gave Art by his eye are infected with something that won’t yield to antibiotics. And now there are townspeople going missing and signs of violence during the night. Something bad is going on, and it’ll take more than one person to figure it out.

This is a pretty grim book, and it takes the New England witch story in a new direction; the three executed women are not your average witches, especially Elizabeth Wither. The three plot lines braid together nicely, and the characters are pretty good- not really deep, but good. There is a lot of tension because it looks like no one is going to survive! It reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a lot of ways, but without the snappy repartee. I’ll be looking for the other books in the series. 

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link. Random House, 2015

 I’ve read Link’s work before and enjoyed it, so I was happy to see this book offered from  Vine. One of the stories, ‘The Summer People’, I’d read before and I have to say it’s the best story in the book. A teenage girl is obliged to take care of vacation houses for people; clean the houses, buy their groceries and stock the kitchens, clean up after them. One of the houses, though, is home to some rather different people, people who need her to supply them with odd things and give odd presents in return. It’s a modern fairy tale.

The rest, sadly, I was rather disappointed in. They all have Link’s strain of weird, but they aren’t charming like a lot of her work has been. They are set in dreary, depressing situations. The people are at best boring and vaguely annoying; at worst, obnoxious- in other words, like regular people are when not having good days. Even the magic/fantasy components seem joyless. Teen age girls with crushes on full size animated dolls (who have no memory of who they were before), superheroes with crappy powers, aging daemon lovers, space crews who don’t know if they are alive or dead. Link’s fantasy world has turned dark. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Death at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in Victorian England, by James Ruddick. Atlantic Books, 2001

This is a non-fiction book in two parts: in the first half, the author tells what’s known about a murder that took place in 1875 England. In the second, he goes through the evidence and interviews descendants of the people involved and presents his theory of what happened.

Florence Campbell was the daughter of a well to do upper middle class family who had the worst luck in relationships. She married Alexander Ricardo, who was in the service, and demanded that he resign because she feared for his life in the military. He declined into total alcoholism and became abusive. When she left him and went home, her father refused to take her in, wanting her to ‘do the right thing’ and stand by her husband. For her to leave would reflect poorly on her family, of course, and he couldn’t have that. When she refused to go back to Ricardo, he agreed to send her to a sanitarium for a stay ‘for health reasons’. There she met Dr. Gully, the much older, married, owner of the sanitarium and they started an affair. During this time, Ricardo had the good grace to die, leaving Florence a rich widow. It did not do her much good, however, because word of her affair got out, ruining her in society. She was happy to marry Charles Bravo, as this made her acceptable to society again. He was happy to marry her, as she was very rich and let him spend her money freely. Bravo would have had it made had he not been a mean and greedy man, dismissing Florence’s servants and getting rid of everything that he personally had no interest in, such as the garden and the horses. He became emotionally, sexually, and physically abusive to Florence. Then one evening he became violently ill. Doctors were called and they realized he had swallowed poison. After three horrible days, he died. Was is suicide, as Florence’s paid companion claimed? Or had someone poisoned him? If so, who? There was no lack of people that he had angered. Despite an inquest, no one was ever charged with Bravo’s death.

Ruddick’s examination of the evidence convinced me pretty well that he has fingered the right suspect.  He was able to find out things from the descendants that never came out at the inquest. There were also presumptions about what people of different classes and sexes would and wouldn’t do that colored the minds of the investigators. Had this same crime been committed today, there would have most likely have been a conviction. An interesting piece of Victorian true crime. 

A Summer Bird-Cage, by Margaret Drabble. Popular Library, 1962

Written in 1962, this book takes us back to the beginning of the era when women were starting to push back against the assumption that, even if they went to college, they would marry and have kids right after. Sarah, our narrator, is a bit surprised that her older sister, the stunningly beautiful Louise, is not just marrying, but marrying Stephen, a writer who is distinctly odd. The sisters have never been close, so Sarah has no idea why Louise might be marrying who she does. Stephen, an author of very literary books, does have money, but even that doesn’t seem to make it all make sense. Sarah doesn’t give it too much attention, though; she’s having her own crisis of trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life now that she’s graduated. Nothing really interests her. She might like to write a humorous novel, a la Kingsley Amis, but no idea how to go about it. She might wed but the man she might want to marry is studying in America. So she works at a job that she doesn’t respect. Louise’s situation catches her attention when Sarah discovers that Louise has been having an affair with John both before and after her wedding.

This is a novel that is about women in the state of dissatisfaction. Sarah is dissatisfied with her business and personal life. Louise is dissatisfied with her husband and with her lover. Their mother is dissatisfied with her own life and with theirs. Sarah’s friend has just left her husband, an ultimate dissatisfaction. The men seem much happier with their lives, although we don’t really get to see that much of them. It’s interesting to note that all the dilemmas the women face are one’s that women today still face; there was a shift in the early 60s when many more women decided to have more of a life than being married and having children but there hasn’t been much change since then. I’m not sure there could be any more change; women (and men) must still face the existential question of what to do with their lives, and no matter what one does they will be missing out on something else. Although written fifty years ago, this book is a bit dated but still pertinent. 

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