Tag Archives: 4 stars

Modern Day Selkies

The Visitors

 Author: Simon Sylvester
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 368 pages

When I first heard about this book, I knew it included so many aspects that I love in books: an atmospheric and foggy feel, a mystery, a coming-of-age story with a female narrator, a modern day story touched by mythology, selkies, a remote island in northern Scotland. Official blurbs were throwing out lots of comparisons to Neil Gaiman and Tana French.

And the good news? I predictably really liked this book.

Flora lives with her mother, stepfather, and baby brother on the remote island of Bancree. She’s in her final year of school, and all she cares about is graduating and getting off the island. She doesn’t quite fit in at home or at school. Then, several things happen. A strange man and his daughter, Ailsa, move into an abandoned house. And men around the area, often on the fringes of the community, begin disappearing.

As Flora begins the school year, she’s drawn into a school project researching selkies. She finds a macabre book about selkies and begins collecting selkie stories from several sources, including her grandfather and a sennachie, or storyteller, who lives in a hut near the sea. And she befriends Ailsa, another girl who doesn’t quite fit in, and finds out she and her father have been moving from place to place across the Scottish coast. Motivated by his own loss, Ailsa’s father has devoted his life to tracing a string of strange disappearances, much like the disappearances that are now happening in Bancree.

The book isn’t perfect. It’s slow to start (a bit too much rumination over breaking up with the boyfriend) and gets a bit overdramatic for my taste at the end.

That being said, The Visitors is well-written, atmospheric, and evokes a sad, lonely feel for life on what feels like the edge of the world. Flora was a great narrator. The story is a mystery, but it didn’t feel like a traditional mystery story throughout. Flora doesn’t set out to solve it, like a Scottish Nancy Drew. For most of the book, it feels more like a strange backdrop, until events draw Flora in. Also, the selkie elements were wonderfully woven in. The book is sprinkled with different selkie myths that are told to Flora, and these tales were some of my favorite parts. Selkie myths are so interesting to me–stories of people torn between the land and the sea, the way love and loss are intimately braided together.

Final disclaimer: I won this book from a GoodReads Giveaway (thanks!) in return for an honest review.

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Time-Traveling Serial Killer Alert!

book cover for The Shining Girls by Lauren BeukesTitle: The Shining Girls
Author: Lauren Beukes
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Pages: 375 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis:

The trailer for The Shining Girls is stellar. Seriously. I usually don’t like book trailers and I liked this one. It seems like a movie trailer and also gives you a great sense of the book.

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Oh, Aector

book cover of Sorrow Bound by David Mark

Title: Sorrow Bound
Author: David Mark
Series: Aector McAvoy #3
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 352 pages
Rating: 4 stars (Madeleine) 4.5 stars (Zelda)

Synopsis:

The ever-lovable, lumbering police detective Aector McAvoy returns for his third book in Sorrow Bound. When Philippa Longman is found brutally murdered, Aector and Pharaoh are at a bit of a loss to understand why. The woman was well-loved, kind, and dedicated to improving her local neighborhood. Philippa’s death is followed by another murder, and the only connection between the two is that both saved the life of a man years ago. But who would kill someone for being a good samaritan?

Aector’s personal life is also a source of stress. Aector and Roisin are preparing to move into a house that they may or may not be able to afford. After standing up for a friend and confronting a drug dealer (okay, and stealing his money), Roisin becomes the target of the local crime lords. And in other parts of Hull, DC Helen Tremberg finds herself in a sticky situation after attracting the attentions of a man who seems to be too good to be true.

Review:

Madeleine: Let’s be honest: what keeps me coming back to this series is Aector. He is such an atypical fictional detective in a world of hardboiled, jaded detectives with destroyed personal lives. Aector is a genuinely good person who constantly worries about being a good person and deeply loves his wife and family. I love reading about a detective who isn’t sure about actions to take, who can’t quite maintain a professional distance and often finds himself bewilderedly comforting grieving family members, and who blushes whenever someone teases him. I especially loved this description of Aector:

“She remembers their first meeting. Remembers that agonizing walk from Queen’s Gardens to Hull Crown Court. It had rained the night before and the damp pavements were patterned with the crushed shells of snails that had not got out of the way as the city’s commuters began their walks to work. McAvoy had kept stopping every five or six steps to pick up any snail he thought was in harm’s way. He filled his pockets with them then ran back to Queen’s Garned to put them safely on the grass.”

The man saved snails!

Zelda: The snail story was perhaps one of my favorite parts of the book!! I love that while Aector struggles with work and his family, he at least has a family to go home to. I love reading about jaded detectives as much as the next owl, but someone has to be happy, right?

Madeleine: The only other detective similar to Aector that I can think of is Maeve Kerrigan from series by Jane Casey. I’ve only read the first book, but Maeve brings a fresh perspective as an early-career detective who is also concerned with doing the right thing and not 100% sure what to do at all times. In fact, now I want a crossover series with Maeve and Aector teaming up and being awesome together. Pharaoh can join too.

Zelda: I simultaneously want to go drinking with Pharaoh, but also find her so intimidating I hope we never meet. She seems so fun and yet terrifying. It’s a thrilling combination, I suppose. Jane Casey is fantastic. I love Maeve and can’t wait to get her next book, which is in cataloging as I type. 🙂

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The Burning

Book Cover of The Burning by Jane Casey

Title: The Burning
Author: Jane Casey
Series: Maeve Kerrigan #1
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 368 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis:

A serial killer, named the Burning Man, is murdering and then burning the bodies of young women in London, leaving very little evidence behind for police to follow. DC Maeve Kerrigan becomes deeply involved in the case when the fifth victim is found, Rebecca Haworth. Initially assumed to be the work of the Burning Man, there are a few details that are different in Rebecca’s case, leading Maeve to dig deeper into Rebecca’s lives and the lives of those around her, including an old college friend and an ex-boyfriend.

Review:

I’ll admit, it’s been awhile since I actually read this book, so details are a bit fuzzy. What I do remember is that I really enjoyed it. While the book blurb makes it sound like the story will be about the serial killer, in reality the focus is on Maeve’s investigation of Rebecca’s death. The story actually alternates between Maeve’s point-of-view and that of Rebecca’s old college friend, Louise.

The mystery and the story were interesting, but pretty straightforward. What I liked the most about the book was Maeve’s character. Maeve’s a very driven, insightful female detective whose trying to make it in a field dominated by men. I appreciated that Maeve could hold her own on the force and stand up for herself when needed without becoming an overly one-dimensional “strong” female character. I don’t usually enjoy hardboiled, jaded detectives. Maeve’s voice was refreshing.

I definitely want to continue with this series someday.

I received an free ebook copy of The Burning through NetGalley, as part of the promotion for the newest book in the series, The Stranger You Know.

The Real Boy

Title: The Real Boy
Author: Anne Ursu
Rating: 4 Stars
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Length: 352 pages

Synopsis

Oscar is a magician’s hand. He happiest gathering herbs from the ancient Barrow, reading books snuck from Caleb’s library during the night, or working in the cellar, surrounded by cats while preparing various magical herbs for Caleb. He doesn’t remember life before becoming a hand, and he doesn’t quite get his fellow human beings. When an accident forces Oscar to work in the shop, two things happen. One, he realizes he doesn’t work and think like everyone else. Two, he makes a friend in the healer’s apprentice, Callie.
The “perfect” children from the nearby city begin falling ill, while something dangerous lurks in the forest, attacking things with magic. With the magician and healer disappearing for large amounts of time, Oscar and Callie have to find a way to help the ill children and figure out what exactly is going wrong. 

Review

I really enjoyed The Real Boy. For a one-off, middle grade novel, Ursu’s Alethia is richly developed, with magic oozing from its pores (or in this case, the soil). It has a full history and developed society. Oscar and Callie were delightful main characters. And perhaps this is just because I was reading the book while traveling, but I found it hard to predict where the story was going, which I loved.
One of the major themes running through the book is Oscar trying to figure out why he is different from anyone else. He struggles to read people, is anxious in their company, and would rather read about the different properties and uses for herbs. After finding an unusual doll halfway through the book, Oscar starts to worry whether he is even human. Thankfully, he has Callie to help him puzzle it out. In return for teaching her how to use herbal remedies, Callie teaches him how to read and understand people.
During the book, I noticed Oscar had several characteristics that can be found on the autism spectrum, and I wondered if this was intentional on Ursu’s part. I looked into it, and it was very much intensional. Ursu’s son has Asperger’s, and she wanted to write a hero that her son would see is like him.
What I really appreciated about Ursu’s story is the nuance she uses with the subject. Yes, autism is a part of it, but Oscar is so well-developed that he is much more than that autism box some might want to put him into. I can’t really explain how well Ursu deals with this, so I’d encourage you to read her touching thoughts about her son, Oscar, and writing the book on Read, Write, Reflect. Here’s a taste:

I didn’t want Oscar to triumph in the end despite his autism or because of his autism; I wanted him to triumph because of who he is– an exceptionally brave, loving boy. I wanted him to know that he had the power to survive and triumph no matter what the world throws at him. I want every kid to know that. -Anne Ursu

While I caught the allusions to autism, I’m ashamed that I completely missed the numerous allusions to fairy tales throughout the book–specifically The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Pinocchio. I didn’t realize how much Ursu was weaving in older, familiar stories until I read another review that pointed this out. The allusions are everywhere, so now I really want to reread with this in mind!

The book is also really well-written and beautifully illustrated. Also of note is that the main characters are all people of color, but like the autism element, it’s quietly part of their characters without being a defining characteristic or an afterthought.

Ursu is also the author of Breadcrumbs, which has been on my to-read list for awhile now, and The Real Boy was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award this year. If you enjoy middle grade fiction or classic fantasy, I’d definitely recommend this book. And if you know a kid who enjoys fantasy, definitely hand this one to them.

The Secret of Magic

Rating: 3.75 stars 

Genre: Mystery

Length: 402 pgs

Synopsis: While on a bus traveling through Alabama on his way home from WWII, decorated officer Joe Howard Wilson is ordered, along with the other blacks on the bus, to give up their seats for German POWs. Upset that having fought for the United States in the war hasn’t changed attitudes in the American South coupled with disdain for the Nazis he was asked to move for, Wilson refused. The bus continued on its way, but arrived at its destination minus one black soldier. Wilson’s body turns up two weeks later.

A few months or a year later (the timeline isn’t perfectly clear) a letter shows up at Thurgood Marshall’s office with the NAACP. One of the young lawyers, Regina Robichard, is surprised when she recognizes the sender of the letter as the author of one of her favorite books from childhood, The Secret of Magic. The letter urges someone from their office to come down to help with an investigation of Joe Howard’s death and Regina convinces Marshall that she should be the one to do it. Thus Regina, a young black woman lawyer from New York City, travels to the Jim Crow South to find a murderer.

Review: There’s no magic! Often I’ll request books months before their release after seeing them on GoodReads or in BookPage or somewhere and then by the time they come in for me, I’ve completely forgotten what they were about. That happened in this case. I got this book from the library and it’s called The Secret of Magic and there are fairy lights in the trees on the cover, so I assume something fantasy-ish, but instead I got murder. Which is fine – I like murder, but it’s a bit like thinking you’re going to eat ice cream and then it turns out to be frozen yogurt. Both are good, but my brain wasn’t quite ready. So here’s your warning: there is no magic in this book.

Other than the whole “no-magic” thing, I actually really enjoyed this book. I loved the character of Regina! She was such an interesting character. Her father had been lynched when she was very young and her mother had turned into kind of a crusader for civil rights, but Regina had never been outside of New York City. When she made her way to a small town in Mississippi, she was completely overwhelmed with the differences between the way the races were treated and how they interacted with each other. She had heard second hand about segregation, but what she didn’t expect was how there were black and white people everywhere. In New York City, people of different races stayed in their own neighborhoods and she had never really talked to a white person before. I think my favorite character, however, was Mary Pickett Calhoun. Regina was surprised to get the letter from this famous white author, especially when she reaches Mississippi and find that the lead suspect is the son of a former flame. The murdered man and his father had worked for and Mary Pickett’s family for generations, in fact, since before slavery was abolished, so she felt she had to do something to avenge the death, but was also just starting to come to terms with the town’s inherent bigotry. All in all, the murder mystery serves as a backdrop to a character study of small town Southern life in the late 1940s and its themes definitely stuck with me after finishing it.

The Cuckoo’s Calling


http://www.robert-galbraith.com/
J.K Rowling’s first crime novel, written under pseudonym Robert Galbraith, has its ups and downs, but overall it’s a great read. As Rowling is so adept with details and figuring out how to weave those details into a cohesive conclusion, she is primed to be a master of the crime novel. What seems to bog her down though is the tedium of these details. Often, I just wanted the book to move faster! Towards the end I couldn’t put it down, but the first few hundred pages were a bit slow. Even so, her characters are wonderful. At first I wasn’t sure about Cormoran Strike, private detective, as the main character but he definitely grew on me. However, Robin, Cormoran’s temporary assistant, I have to say is my favorite character. The scenes between her and Cormoran are alternately hilarious and embarrassing. I also like that she’s a strong female protagonist without being uber-feminist. I’m getting rather sick of the unconsciously gorgeous, independent female leads who all end up seeming the same. Robin falls somewhere in the middle, and I think she’s awesome. I just hope she dumps that loser of hers, Matthew.
I don’t really read crime or mystery novels, so I can’t say that I have much to compare The Cuckoo’s Calling to, but it was well-written and I never suspected who the killer actually was. I had my suspicions on one person but was completely wrong. If Rowling writes a second Cormoran Strike novel, which I believe she is, I would definitely read it.