Book Blitz: A Criminal Magic – Lee Kelly

A Criminal Magic
Lee Kelly
Publication date: February 2nd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult

THE NIGHT CIRCUS meets THE PEAKY BLINDERS in Lee Kelly’s new crossover fantasy novel.

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive – and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.

It’s 1926 in Washington, DC, and while Anti-Sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city’s magic underworld is booming. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Smugglers funnel magic contraband in from overseas. Gangs have established secret performance venues where patrons can lose themselves in magic, and take a mind-bending, intoxicating elixir known as the sorcerer’s shine.

Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC’s most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family’s home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.

Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic – and when their paths cross at the Shaws’ performance venue, despite their orders, and despite themselves, Joan and Alex become enchanted with one another. But when gang alliances begin to shift, the two sorcerers are forced to question their ultimate allegiances and motivations. And soon, Joan and Alex find themselves pitted against each other in a treacherous, heady game of cat-and-mouse.

A CRIMINAL MAGIC casts a spell of magic, high stakes and intrigue against the backdrop of a very different Roaring Twenties.

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Author Bio:

Lee Kelly has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper. An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced law in Los Angeles and New York. She lives with her husband and children in Millburn, New Jersey, though after a decade in Manhattan, she can’t help but still call herself a New Yorker. She is the author of A Criminal Magic and City of Savages. Visit her at http://www.NewWriteCity.com.

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Book Blitz: Nora & Kettle – Lauren Nicolle Taylor

Nora & Kettle
Lauren Nicolle Taylor
Published by: Clean Teen Publishing
Publication date: February 29th 2016
Genres: Historical, Young Adult

What if Peter Pan was a homeless kid just trying to survive, and Wendy flew away for a really good reason?

Seventeen-year-old Kettle has had his share of adversity. As an orphaned Japanese American struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to—the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”—things are finally looking up. He has his hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys.

Desperate to run away, the world outside her oppressive brownstone calls to naïve, eighteen-year-old Nora—the privileged daughter of a controlling and violent civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie and wishing on the stars every night for things to change.

For months, they’ve lived side by side, their paths crossing yet never meeting. But when Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window.

In her honeyed eyes, Kettle sees sadness and suffering. In his, Nora sees the chance to take to the window and fly away.

Set in 1953, NORA AND KETTLE explores the collision of two teenagers facing extraordinary hardship. Their meeting is inevitable, devastating, and ultimately healing. Their stories, a collection of events, are each on their own harmless. But together, one after the other, they change the world.

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EXCERPT:

I snort, push my sleeves up, and lean back on my forearms. She watches me, her eyes on my bare skin, and I wonder what she’s thinking. “Dances. Really? What’s to miss?” My experience with dances was one forced event in the camps where we watched the grownups awkwardly shift in lines to scratchy music. It didn’t look very enjoyable.

She releases the button she’s been playing with and smirks. “Says someone who’s clearly never been to one.”

“How do you know that?” I say, raising an eyebrow and touching my chest, mock offended.

She laughs. It’s starlight in a jar. I blink slowly. “Oh, I can tell just by looking at you, the way you move. You,” she says, pointing at me accusingly. “Can’t dance.”

The candlelight twinkles like it’s chuckling at me. “I can dance,” I say, not sure why I’m lying to defend myself. I’ve never danced in my life.
She stands up and beckons me with her finger, and I think there’s something wrong with my heart. It’s hurting… but the pain feels good.
She looks like a pirate’s cabin boy, shirt billowing around her small waist, ill-fitting pants rolled over at her hips to stop them from falling down. She points her bare foot at me. “Prove it!”

Shit!

I cough and stand nervously. I don’t know what to do with my hands, so I put them behind my back. She giggles. Touches me. Runs her fingers lightly down my arms until she finds my hands. She grasps my wrists and I gulp as she places one on the small dip between her hips and her ribs, extending the other out like the bow of a boat. Her hand in mine.

I follow her small steps and we wind in circles, avoiding the clumps of debris, painting patterns in the dust.

I stare at my socks and her narrow bare feet, listening to the swish of them across the dirt. “You know, this is pretty weird without music,” I mutter, looking up for a moment and suddenly losing my balance.

She exhales and brings us back to equilibrium. She starts humming softly. It’s a song I’ve heard before, but I pretend it’s the first time. Her voice is sweet, cracked and croaky, but in tune as she gazes at the ground and leads us up and down the back of the tunnel.

This moment is killing me. I don’t want it, but I do. Because I know it won’t be enough and it’s all I’ll get.

The end of the song is coming. It rises and rises and then softly peters out. We look at each other, understanding that something is changing between us, and we have to decide whether to let it. Please, let it.

She sings the last few bars. “And if you sing this melody, you’ll be pretending just like me. The world is mine. It can be yours, my friend. So why don’t you pretend?”

Her voice is like the dust of a comet’s tail. Full of a thousand things I don’t understand but want to.

She stops and starts to step away. She’s so fragile. Not on the outside. On the outside, her body is strong, tougher than it should have to be. It’s inside that’s very breakable. I’m scared to touch her, but I don’t want to avoid touching her because of what she’s been through. That seems worse.

So I do it, because I want to and I don’t think she doesn’t want me to. Her breath catches as I pull her closer. I just want to press my cheek to hers, feel her skin against mine. There is no music, just the rhythm of two barely functioning hearts trying to reach each other through miles of scar tissue.

She presses her ear to my chest and listens, then she pulls back to meet my eyes, her expression a mixture of confusion and comfort. She breathes out, her lips not wanting to close but not wanting to speak. She settles on a nervous smile and puts her arms around my neck. I inhale and look up at the ceiling, counting the stars I know are up there somewhere, and then rest my cheek in her hair.

I don’t know how she is here. I don’t know when she’ll disappear.

We sway back and forth, and it feels like we might break. That we will break if we step apart from each other.

I can’t let her go.

I think I love dancing.

Author Bio:

Lauren Nicolle Taylor lives in the lush Adelaide Hills. The daughter of a Malaysian nuclear physicist and an Australian scientist, she was expected to follow a science career path, attending Adelaide University and completing a Health Science degree with Honours in obstetrics and gynaecology.
She then worked in health research for a short time before having her first child. Due to their extensive health issues, Lauren spent her twenties as a full-time mother/carer to her three children. When her family life settled down, she turned to writing.

She is a 2014 Kindle Book Awards Semi-finalist and a USA Best Book Awards Finalist.

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The Rules of Gentility – Janet Mullany // Bird Box – Josh Malerman // The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

The Rules of Gentility:

rules

“Regency heiress Philomena Wellesley-Clegg has rather strong opinions about men and clothing. As to the former, so far two lords, a viscount, and a mad poet have fallen far short of her expectations. But she is about to meet Inigo Linsley, an unshaven, wickedly handsome man with a scandalous secret. He’s nothing she ever dreamed she’d want—why then can she not stop thinking about how he looks in his breeches?

A delightful marriage of Pride and Prejudice with Bridget Jones’s Diary, Janet Mullany’s The Rules of Gentility transports us to the days before designer shoes, apple martinis, and speed dating—when great bonnets, punch at Almack’s, and the marriage mart were in fashion—and captivates us with a winsome heroine who learns that some rules in society are made to be broken.”

This is essentially Regency-era fluff, and it’s hilarious. I actually laughed out loud several times, though I’d be hard-pressed to tell you exactly what was so funny. Mostly, it was Philomena and Inigo’s relationship that made it so amusing, though some of the other characters also had their moments (spoiler alert: Inigo calls him older brother “Pudgebum”. That would never happen in an Austen book, and that makes it so much funnier).

For anyone who has ever read Austen or the Brontes, or anything else from that era, this is a must-read. You can’t take it seriously – it literally won’t let you take it seriously – but despite all the nonsense, it still has a great, Regency-era-typical plot. Read it for no other reason than to see Philomena’s reactions to Inigo and his evening breeches.

Bird Box:

“Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat-blindfolded-with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey-a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motely group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside-and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted?”

I don’t often read scary stories, though I do have an odd fascination with them. But, in the spirit of Halloween, I figured I’d pick up a thriller.

Here’s a tip: don’t read it at night. At least, not if you have an over-active imagination like I do (which is why I don’t watch horror movies). It was creepy and spine-tingly, and I think I shivered a couple of times. It’s succinctly well written: you don’t need a lot of extraneous details to feel scared. There was one moment that I was reading while at work, and I jumped a mile when a co-worker came up behind me.

By the end of the novel, I had a few questions, but it still wrapped up enough that you weren’t left hanging. It could lead into a sequel, but I don’t think continuing Malorie’s story would work – it would have to take place years later, probably with her children.

The Graveyard Book:

“Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy.

He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead.

There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy-an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, a gateway to a desert leading to an abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer.

But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family. . . “

If you’ve been following my blog for the past few months, you’ll know how obsessed I am with Neil Gaiman. I think he’s a magnificent storyteller and The Graveyard Book was no exception.

I had read somewhere that it was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; I haven’t read The Jungle Book, but the Disney movie has been one of my favourites since I was little. So, for much of the story, I was trying to draw parallels between the characters of The Graveyard Book and what I knew of The Jungle Book (i.e. ghouls = monkeys, the Sleer = Kaa, etc).

Overall, I really liked it. I loved the way Bod had the Freedom of the Graveyard, and the way he interacted with the other inhabitants, especially Liza the witch-girl, who was probably my favourite character. I also really liked Silas, partially because he was so mysterious but awesome, and also because, for some reason, I kept imagining him as Benedict Cumberbatch (as Sherlock Holmes). Sidenote: BC would be AMAZING as Silas in a movie adaptation.

One of the great things about Gaiman’s work is that once you hit the climatic moment, you race to the end and it’s very hard to put the book down – but he still manages to work in enough details that you don’t feel like you’re missing anything.

I also read/flipped through the graphic novel adaptations – they were very well done, and didn’t leave out a lot from the book’s plot:

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton // Tape – Steven Camden

The Miniaturist:

“On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of the illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

At first I thought The Miniaturist was based on a true story because there’s a photo of a doll cabinet on the first page…turns out it’s just inspired by the real Petronella Oortman’s doll house.

People seem really excited about this book and I quite enjoyed it. It’s descriptive, but the language flows easily and makes it a relatively quick read, despite its size. I read a couple of reviews that complained about how anachronistic some of the language seemed and while I’ll admit that comparing someone’s reaction to that of a dropped bomb was a little jarring (I didn’t think bombs existed in 17th century Amsterdam, but history’s not really my forte), it seems like Burton did a fine job researching into the lifestyle.

I also read reviews complaining about how Nella seemed too strong and independent for that time to which I ask myself: “A) Why have I started reading reviews when I normally never do? and, more importantly, B) How do we know there were no strong, independent women back then who just didn’t make it into the history books because people were scared of them?” Which seems plausible, when you think about it. But again, I’m no historian.

There were a couple of characters who I wanted to learn more about: the miniaturist, for example. She was the whimsical element that introduced magical realism to an otherwise “normal” historical fiction, and I was left with a lot of questions. Of course, this mystery surrounding her was probably part of her allure and it was a good way to put the reader into Nella’s position of wondering how this random woman knew so much without being told.

All in all, it was quite scandalous (for that time), but well written, especially for a debut author.

Tape:

“Record a voice and it lasts forever…

In 1993, Ryan records a diary on an old tape. He talks about his mother’s death, about his dreams, about his love for a new girl at school who doesn’t even know he exists.

In 2013, Ameliah moves in with her grandmother after her parents die. There, she finds a tape in the spare room. A tape with a boy’s voice on it – a voice she can’t quite hear, but which seems to be speaking to her.

Ryan and Ameliah are connected by more than just a tape.

This is their story.”

First of all, it’s pretty obvious how Ryan and Ameliah are connected from the first five pages, so it was almost frustrating to see how long it took Ameliah to figure it out (3/4 of the book).

I also went in thinking it was a love story (thanks, misleading synopsis on the inside flap); I suppose it was, just not in the time-travelly way I was imagining.

Once I found out that the author, Steven Camden, is also a spoken-word artist, the writing style seemed to make more sense. Granted, my main experience with spoken-word performances is that scene in She’s All That and the only thing I really remember is Freddie Prinz Jr. kicking the hacky-sack around (“Never let it drop.”)…but I digress. My point is that it had a flowing, almost conversational tone to it, which made for some very realistic dialogue, but was definitely more “telling” than “showing” when it came to the actual narrative.

It was a nice story, but I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. I felt bad for both Ryan and Ameliah, but, apart from Ryan’s hilarious friend Liam, the rest of the supporting characters were pretty blah and not completely sympathetic to the two pre-teens who had lost their parents. Pretty cold-hearted, but I guess that’s just what thirteen years old are like (being thirteen sucked).

The actual design was fantastic – the page numbers reflected the spools inside cassettes, so that the farther you got into the book, the amount of “tape” wrapped around the numbers decreased/increased accordingly (if I remember, I’ll add a picture to show what I mean). And I liked that Ryan’s parts were written in past tense (and a different font), while Ameliah’s was in the present. Little nuances like that really elevate a book.

Company of Liars – Karen Maitland // The Reluctant Assassin/The Hangman’s Revolution – Eoin Colfer

I don’t think I’ve ever done a post of THREE books…but one I finished on Sunday, the next on Monday, and the last one on Thursday.

Company of Liars:

“In this extraordinary novel, Karen Maitland delivers a dazzling reinterpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales—an ingenious alchemy of history, mystery, and powerful human drama.

The year is 1348. The Black Plague grips the country. In a world ruled by faith and fear, nine desperate strangers, brought together by chance, attempt to outrun the certain death that is running inexorably toward them.

Each member of this motley company has a story to tell. From Camelot, the relic-seller who will become the group’s leader, to Cygnus, the one-armed storyteller . . . from the strange, silent child called Narigorm to a painter and his pregnant wife, each has a secret. None is what they seem. And one among them conceals the darkest secret of all—propelling these liars to a destiny they never saw coming.

Magical, heart-quickening, and raw, Company of Liars is a work of vaulting imagination from a powerful new voice in historical fiction.”

This one took me forever to finish. I felt like nothing really happened until somewhere around page 300, and by that point I had already started skimming. So many long descriptions! Which were good and really gave you a feel for the time (the 1300’s), but it got tiresome after a certain point because I just wanted action.

I also found that the character I wanted to learn more about was the “villain” of the piece – Narigorm, the weird little witch girl. She was in it but not in it. A big part with very little background detail. That might have been the point – because she was so mysterious – but I would have welcomed pages of description for her and her life-before-the-company. I also liked Cygnus but he didn’t last long.

That was my other problem: once the story actually got moving, it seemed very formulaic: Narigorm reads her runes and indicates that someone’s secret is about to be spilled; the person she implies to be in trouble goes missing late at night; the next morning, the same person is found dead – either a brutal murder or an apparent suicide.

There were nine people in the company, and by the time it ended, only four – excluding Narigorm – survived. I will admit that most of the secrets were quite scandalous, especially for that time period, but, had they been revealed a little sooner, it might not have taken me so long to get into the story.

The best parts were the “tales” that each traveller told. I wanted more of those.

The Reluctant Assassin:

“Riley, a teen orphan boy living in Victorian London, has had the misfortune of being apprenticed to Albert Garrick, an illusionist who has fallen on difficult times and now uses his unique conjuring skills to gain access to victims’ dwellings. On one such escapade, Garrick brings his reluctant apprentice along and urges him to commit his first killing. When the intended victim turns out to be a scientist from the future, part of the FBI’s Witness Anonymous Relocation Program (WARP), Riley is unwittingly transported via wormhole to modern day London, followed closely by Garrick.

In modern London, Riley is helped by Chevron Savano, a nineteen-year-old FBI agent sent to London as punishment after a disastrous undercover, anti-terrorist operation in Los Angeles. Together Riley and Chevie must evade Garrick, who has been fundamentally altered by his trip through the wormhole. Garrick is now not only evil, but he also possesses all of the scientist’s knowledge. He is determined to track Riley down and use the timekey in Chevie’s possession to make his way back to Victorian London where he can literally change the world.”

and it’s sequel, The Hangman’s Revolution:

“Young FBI agent Chevie Savano arrives back in modern-day London after a time-trip to the Victorian age, to find the present very different from the one she left. Europe is being run by a Fascist movement known as the Boxites, who control their territory through intimidation and terror. Chevie’s memories come back to her in fragments, and just as she is learning about the WARP program from Professor Charles Smart, inventor of the time machine, he is killed by secret service police. Now they are after Chevie, too, but she escapes–into the past. She finds Riley, who is being pursued by futuristic soldiers, and saves him. Working together again, it is up to Chevie and Riley to find the enigmatic Colonel Clayton Box, who is intent on escalating his power, and stop him before he can launch missiles at the capitals of Europe.”

I think I liked the sequel more, but they were both good, if not occasionally confusing. I spent much of the sequel wondering how the future-travellers were going to adapt if they changed the course of history. Just re-reading that sentence causes me to furrow my brow in consternation. But that can’t be helped because time travel is, as Ron Stoppable one said, “a cornucopia of disturbing concepts”.

I’ve read most of Eoin Colfer’s other books, particularly the Artemis Fowl series which first came out when I was 11 and ended when I was 22. So I’m a fairly big fan. Of course, being a fan, I got the sense that Chevie Savano is basically Holly Short: spunky, sassy, and a troublemaker-with-the-law-even-though-she’s-part-of-the-law. Both are fantastic, strong female characters, but, I felt, are rather similar – except Chevie’s a human (Holly’s an elf).

The writing was very efficient: any time someone got stuck in a small space (which happened a surprising amount of times), I actually felt mildly claustrophobic just reading the descriptions. And, since I had bought them within days of each other, I knew there was a sequel, but it still didn’t stop me from feeling a little anxious about halfway through The Reluctant Assassin. And there were some colourful characters, one of the best being Otto Malarkey, a king of thieves, who plays a bigger role in book two.

Alice I Have Been – Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been:

“Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories.

That story, a wild tale of rabbits, queens, and a precocious young child, becomes a sensation the world over. Its author, a shy, stuttering Oxford professor, does more than immortalize Alice–he changes her life forever. But even he cannot stop time, as much as he might like to. And as Alice’s childhood slips away, a peacetime of glittering balls and royal romances gives way to the urgent tide of war.  

For Alice, the stakes could not be higher, for she is the mother of three grown sons, soldiers all. Yet even as she stands to lose everything she treasures, one part of her will always be the determined, undaunted Alice of the story, who discovered that life beyond the rabbit hole was an astonishing journey.

A love story and a literary mystery, Alice I Have Been brilliantly blends fact and fiction to capture the passionate spirit of a woman who was truly worthy of her fictional alter ego, in a world as captivating as the Wonderland only she could inspire.”

This book has been on my “To Read” list for at least a year and I finally got around to it this past week.

I quite enjoy Alice in Wonderland though I didn’t realize how much I like it until I re-read it for my Children’s Lit class about three years ago and re-discovered how whimsical it is (I like whimsy). So, despite how long it took me to actually pick it up, I was very intrigued by this book – for all my knowledge of Alice in Wonderland, I don’t know much about the real Alice herself.

I’m sure everyone, at some point, has heard that Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) was a bit – well, creepy, is probably the best way to put it, particularly in terms of his fascination with photographing little girls (even that sentence is creepy). What I didn’t know where that there were some rather risqué photos of a young Alice Liddell that probably fuelled these thoughts to begin with.

This one in particular – quite scandalous when you think about the era and the fact that she was only 7 at the time.

I also didn’t know that there was a point where the Liddells broke off all communication with Dodgson and there are no recorded explanations (correspondence burned, pages from his diary ripped out…); that’s the whole basis of this book: what happened, presumably between Alice and Dodgson, that led to this break?

Benjamin doesn’t explicitly say what she thinks happened until near the end of the book when eighty-year-old Alice Liddell is reflecting on her childhood, right before selling her first (handwritten) edition of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. Because we don’t have real facts, a lot of the novel is based on speculation, but it’s interesting.

It also made me feel a bit creepy and at first, I was worried it would ruin Alice in Wonderland for me, but if anything, it just made me think: what did happen between Alice and Dodgson? Will we ever know the truth? Probably not, but this book did a good job at offering a possible explanation.

Wicked Girls – Stephanie Hemphill

I didn’t read much last week so it took me longer than it should have to finish Wicked Girls.

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“From Printz Honor winner and Your Own, Sylvia author Stephanie Hemphill comes this fictionalized account of the Salem Witch trials from three of the real young women living in Salem in 1692.

Ann Putnam Jr. is the queen bee. When her father suggests a spate of illnesses in the village is the result of witchcraft, she puts in motion a chain of events that will change Salem forever.

Mercy Lewis is the beautiful servant in Ann’s house who inspires adulation in some and envy in others. With her troubled past, she seizes her only chance at safety.

Margaret Walcott, Ann’s cousin, is desperately in love. She is torn between staying loyal to her friends and pursuing a life with her betrothed.

With new accusations mounting against the men and women of the community, the girls will have to decide: Is it too late to tell the truth?”

I read one of Stephanie Hemphill’s books, Hideous Love, a few months ago. I thought it was fascinating that it was written in free verse rather than the traditional prose. The same goes for Wicked Girls.

I don’t know much about the Salem Witch Trials, so this was a bit of a history lesson for me. I mean, obviously Hemphill took a few liberties in the telling of the story, but I imagine she did her fair share of research before writing. Plus, there is a convenient section at the end of the novel that explains what happened to the girls in real life.

There’s not much to say about Wicked Girls. It was enjoyable and somewhat educational. It takes a few pages to get used to the free verse but once you hit your stride, you don’t even notice how much you’ve read. It also might make you want to pick up an actual history book, but when has that been a bad thing?

Becoming Jane Eyre – Sheila Kohler

I meant to write a post about Becoming Jane Eyre last Friday, but alas, I did not finish reading it until this Monday (and what’s the point of writing a review if I haven’t finished reading it, y’know?).

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“The year is 1846. In a cold parsonage on the gloomy Yorkshire moors, a family seems cursed with disaster. A mother and two children dead. A father sick, without fortune, and hardened by the loss of his two most beloved family members. A son destroyed by alcohol and opiates. And three strong, intelligent young women, reduced to poverty and spinsterhood, with nothing to save them from their fate. Nothing, that is, except their remarkable literary talent. So unfolds the story of the Bronte sisters. At its centre are Charlotte and the writing of Jane Eyre.

Delicately unraveling the connections between one of fiction’s most indelible heroines and the remarkable woman who created her, Sheila Kohler’s “Becoming Jane Eyre” will appeal to fans of historical fiction and, of course, the millions of readers who adore Jane Eyre.”

First of all: yay, historical fiction!

Second of all: I wouldn’t say I adored Jane Eyre. Tolerated it, would probably be better. I think I had a lot of issues with Mr. Rochester and the age difference weirded me out (I’m pretty sure at one point she acknowledges that he is old enough to be her father and I was like “way to make it awkward, Janie”). Otherwise, it was a decent story.

Side note: I read a grreat “updated” version (Jane by April Lindner) shortly after reading the original. While it stayed true to its source material for the most part, Mr. Rochester was an ageing rock star…which meant I found their relationship easier to accept.

In this book, Kohler hints at ideas and experiences that ultimately helped Charlotte in creating Jane. The story starts with Charlotte tending to her recently blind father in Manchester before they rejoin her sisters and depressed brother at their home in Haworth.

Throughout the text, there are references to Charlotte’s past that call back to moments/characters/ideas present in Jane Eyre, personal experience that inspired her work: the professor with whom she almost-but-not-quite had an affair (who Mr. Rochester may be modeled after); the fire her drug-addicted brother sets in the house, etc. Her sisters help her work out her characters problems (sometimes unintentionally), all while trying to find a publisher for their own works.

I liked seeing the “rivalry” between the sisters: when Emily and Anne get an offer for their books (Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, respectively) but Charlotte is overlooked – only to have Charlotte receive the biggest/best offer and become the literary sensation of their time.

I didn’t know much about the Brontes before, but now I have a better understanding of them: their (family) history, background, etc. I felt like there were moments when it moved too fast to have an effect: for example, towards the end, Charlotte’s siblings’ deaths are delivered in a handful of paragraphs. I’m not even sure what they died of, though I suppose the story focused more on Charlotte herself than on the others.

You don’t have to necessarily be a fan of Jane Eyre to appreciate this book; as an aspiring author, it was interesting to get into Charlotte’s head and follow her as she tried to piece her work together.