Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Last Days of Magic, by Mark Tompkins. Viking, 2016

 This book was advertised as utilizing both all the supernatural beings of the Celtic world and the ones from the Bible; that intrigued me. A tale that combines the Dead Sea Scrolls, Vikings, a Celtic goddess, and Vatican scheming? Sign me up. The fact that it takes place in both the present day and in the late 1300s made it even more interesting to me.

The story begins in 2016, when Sara Hill is contacted by her grandmother. Telling Sara that they are both in danger, she instructs her to cut open some old books. Hidden inside the covers are complete copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls- including the books that the Vatican has destroyed because they don’t fit with their philosophy. She tells Sara that she must come to Ireland immediately.

From those half dozen pages the story jumps to 1387. The story revolves around twin girls who are born periodically in Ireland who are half goddess, and a plot that combines the Vatican’s wish to erase all magical beings and the English king’s desire to rule Ireland. The next 360 pages are about the training the girls have, the scheming of the various kings and nobles, a marshal from the Vatican who isn’t quite what the Vatican thinks he is, witches in royal households, and lots of battles, big and small. The author goes into great detail about all of these things- sometimes a little too much detail and the story bogs down. The cast of characters is huge- at times I had trouble remembering who was who- and lot of them didn’t get enough stage time to let us get to know them; they enter, speak their piece, and leave. The ending left me completely hanging; this is pretty obviously going to have a sequel or two. We only got the story in the past; we have less than a dozen pages of the present day story. While we find out that all the supernatural races are descendants of the angels who came to earth and mated with humans, we don’t find out why this is so important that anyone who finds this out is in danger.

In the end, while the story interested me and I liked the writing, it badly needs some editing. The story seemed to get away from the author. 

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

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Black Rabbit Hall, by Eve Chase. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016

‘Black Rabbit Hall’ starts off fairly slow; Lorna and her fiancĂ© are looking for a wedding venue in 1999 or so, and Pencraw (the Black Rabbit Hall of the title) in Cornwall is first on her list, despite its decrepit condition and odd owner and manager. In 1968, young teen Amber Alton and her very happy and close family (Toby, her twin; young Barney; and baby Kitty) are leaving London for the summer at Pencraw, their ancestral estate. But it’s not long before things change; tragedy strikes the Alton family. The event shatters the close family; some do not have the coping skills to survive it. And the way the father choses to try and survive creates further problems that will echo through the years, intersecting with Lorna’s life.

The prose is lush and beautiful. Multi-sensory descriptions abound, allowing the reader to fully inhabit the story. While I had suspicions of how the story would wind up, it ended up surprising me. I stayed up late reading this book, and grabbed it again in the morning. Despite being set in the Cornish countryside and having no supernatural elements, it reads like a Southern gothic- at one point I thought it was going to go all ‘Flowers in the Attic’-ack. It’s family drama at its craziest, but with touches of sweetness.

It does have faults. While Chase has description and setting down pat, some of her character building is lacking. The wicked step-mother is pretty much nothing but wicked; she has not one redeeming feature or even any characteristic other than ‘wicked’. Father Alton is pretty one dimensional as well. Amber (the narrator of most of the story) is the most complex character because we spend so much time in her head; she’s got a good range of emotions and motives and I felt a lot of sympathy for her. Lorna, for some reason, is kind of blah even though she is the other main character. In some ways, she’s simply a device for the family secrets to be unveiled. Despite this character problem, the book is highly readable and compelling.

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

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, by Jenny Lawson. Flatiron Books, 2015

I think Jenny Lawson is probably the funniest woman on earth, so I was delighted when she announced that she had a new book coming out. I was on the library’s ‘hold’ list for it before it was even published.

While this book is nominally about Lawson’s battle with mental illness (depression, anxiety, some self-harming issues), the serious chapters are interspersed with the sort of manic ridiculousness that is featured on her blog. Things like going to Australia with her koala costume so she could wear it while holding a koala (which ended up not happening), having a bag full of dead cats, and the conversations she has with Victor, her straight man husband who apparently is either very patient or takes a lot of tranquilizers.

But I have to say, unlike a number of reviewers, I found the chapters on her mental illness struggles funny, too. Not in the point-and-laugh sort of way, but in the “oh, yes, I have TOTALLY had that conversation/anxiety attack/mortifying event!!” way. Because while everyone’s mental illness is peculiar to themselves, there are some traits we all tend to have and can identify with. And somehow knowing that this woman has done the things she has makes me feel normal. Sort of.

The title, ‘Furiously Happy’, comes from her way of dealing with life. She knows that she will continue to have a lot of bad days, whether they be from depression or anxiety. So on her good or even so-so days, she tries to make the most of it and be furiously happy, not just cruise on auto-pilot. And that seems like  a pretty good plan. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way influenced my review. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Eleanor, by Jason Gurley. Crown, 2016

In 1962, a young mother finds herself pregnant again, to her dismay. Before her first pregnancy, she was a swimmer with reasonable dreams of going to the Olympics. After giving birth, her former coach discourages her from thinking about competing again. Living on the Oregon coast, she settles for swimming out to a tiny island and diving off the high cliff, with her husband watching over her from a boat. Then one day she drives to the beach by herself and swims out, never to be seen again.

Years later, the daughter she left behind, Agnes, mother of twin girls, is driving to the airport in a bad storm to pick up her husband when an accident takes the life of one of the twins. Years after that, the surviving twin, Eleanor, is now her mother’s caretaker, basically, as Agnes spends her days and nights drunk. When she is awake she reviles Eleanor for being the surviving twin, claiming it is Eleanor’s fault Esme died that day. Eleanor’s parents are divorced, but her father has been as present in her life as possible, trying to make her life with her mother as bearable as possible. It’s not an easy life, but it’s predictable, until one day when Eleanor steps through a door and finds herself in a different time and place. She returns, but finds herself changed. And it turns out not to be a one-time event. The travelings get stranger, and the consequences to Eleanor get drastic. What is happening? Where is she going when she leaves her own life, and why is it happening? Who is doing this to her?

The story is a fantasy with psychological underpinnings, and I found it gripping. While it is obvious from very near the beginning who is causing Eleanor’s travelings, Gurley takes his time explaining who the other character in that world is. There is a high degree of tension- Eleanor is really being badly hurt by her adventures. The problems I had with the story was that it’s never explained *how* the travelings are precipitated, and the end has a little bit of a deus ex machina element to it. But I found that acceptable in return for the rest of the story being outstanding. 

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

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.