A Great and Terrible Beauty – Libba Bray

•July 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

a great and terrible beauty

Synopsis

A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy—jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.

Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order.

My Thoughts

I remember reading this trilogy well over 10 years ago in high school, but I remember very little of it. Now, as an adult, I thought I’d give it another go. I was not disappointed.

Gemma is your average teenage girl. She longs to find a place to belong, to fit in, to be a part of something. Oh, she’s a part of something alright – but this something is far bigger, and far more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. Sometimes her emotions get the better of her – and that’s okay. This happens to everyone – teenagers and adults alike. She’s especially anxious at being thrust into an unfamiliar situation, with slightly unfamiliar expectations being thrust upon her.

Spence Academy really is just a Victorian reflection of any other high school – you have the cliques and the popular crowd, the bullied and the demeaned. However, much of that is exacerbated by the fact that many of these girls come from money; prestigious families looking to better their names. These girls are nothing more than a mirror with which to reflect back forced indoctrination befitting families of a certain status.

As Gemma says herself, the girls of Spence are “hollow vessels of girls to be rinsed of our own ambitions, wants, and opinions, just waiting to be filled with the cool, tepid water of gracious compliance.” I realize this is a common enough sentiment of the treatment of women in Victorian England, but a lot of those sentiments still ring true today – women are expected to be certain ways, and if they’re not, they’re told to expect less than humane treatment from men around them. Pardon my language, but it’s fucking bullshit. Gemma sees this loud and clear and is quite intent to rebel. The other three in the clique see and experience this in varying degrees – choosing to rebel in their own ways, as well, though maybe not as brazenly as Gemma. (Well, brazen for Victorian days, I suppose.)

There is also a mystery that Gemma is set on solving, and boy howdy did she get the shock of a lifetime as she solves it. Though a tough pill to swallow, Gemma marches on and tries to do what she thinks is best. This world of realms that she’s discovered – this magic that is live within her – is tricky, difficult, and dangerous. She’s intent on mastering it, despite the Rakshana – the guardians – being dead set against this.

As Kartik keeps a watch over her in order to keep Gemma’s visions from getting stronger, she’s drawn to him just as much as she rebels against him. This tiny bit rebellious will-they-won’t-they romance is very well balanced, as it doesn’t take over the entire plot. I quite like that. Their acquaintance is dark and steamy, and just the right amount to push forward, without being overwhelming. Gemma’s main objective is still learning about the magic, and finding out what happened to her mother.

Gemma is trying desperately to learn as much as she can, from as many sources as she can, to better understand her role in this entire endeavor – and do avoid the wrath of Circe at all costs. Her adventures have just begun as she must balance being an exemplary lady of Spence, as well as one of the new Order. Hopefully, this is a balancing act that doesn’t cost her any more than it already has.

The Diamond Conspiracy – Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris

•June 30, 2017 • Leave a Comment

mpo - diamond conspiracy

Synopsis

For years, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has enjoyed the favor of Her Majesty the Queen. But even the oldest loyalties can turn in a moment…

Having narrowly escaped the electrifying machinations of Thomas Edison, Books and Braun are looking forward to a relaxing and possibly romantic voyage home. But when Braun’s emergency signal goes off, all thoughts of recreation vanish. Braun’s street-wise team of child informants, the Ministry Seven, is in grave peril, and Books and Braun must return to England immediately.

But when the intrepid agents finally arrive in London, the situation is even more dire than they imagined. The Ministry has been disavowed, and the Department of Imperial Inconveniences has been called in to decommission its agents in a most deadly fashion. The plan reeks of the Maestro’s dastardly scheming. Only, this time, he has a dangerous new ally—a duplicitous doctor whose pernicious poisons have infected the highest levels of society, reaching even the Queen herself…

My Thoughts

Warning for strong language – HOLY SHIT.

That, dear friends, was my very last thought reading this book. It is a perfect summation of my feelings throughout the majority of the events that transpired within these pages, because, holy shit, I could not let my guard down for a moment! (I do apologize for such strong language, but sometimes it’s necessary [my partner says I curse like a pirate, anyway.])

We left off with Books and Braun finally – FINALLY! – getting their act together and properly becoming a most charming, and sassy, couple. Watching them work through problems, and never once faltering in their utter devotion to each other was a treat! They’re in this for the long haul, and it’s apparent that neither would have it any other way. Huzzah!

Amidst the Ministry falling, the Queen losing her marbles, and the most devious manipulation I’ve seen in a while, there is never a dull moment. The Ministry finds allies in the most peculiar places, and secrets that were safeguarded for decades come to light. There are moments where it takes a second to wrap your head around everything. It felt rather like someone had dumped everything on my head and stated “Here, have all this information, see what you can do with it, yeah?” and sauntered off into the sunset. Nevertheless, clues come together to form one brilliant twist after another.

The manipulation and trickery orchestrated by the puppeteer is extremely intricate. Without much fuss, he’s managed to get to the Queen, as well as her most loyal aides and allies. The ending blow-up is such cacophony, one would think there are no surprises left. One would be dead bloody wrong. This cliffhanger sent such a shiver up my spine, my teeth started chattering.

The Ministry still has to pick itself up, and rise from the ashes as they set to right what this puppeteer attempted to annihilate. It’s going to be an interesting ride getting there.

Darkest Mercy – Melissa Marr

•June 28, 2017 • 2 Comments

darkest mercy

Synopsis

The Summer King is missing; the Dark Court is bleeding; and a stranger walks the streets of Huntsdale, his presence signifying the deaths of powerful fey.

Aislinn tends to the Summer Court, searching for her absent king and yearning for Seth. Torn between his new queen and his old love, Keenan works from afar to strengthen his court against the coming war. Donia longs for fiery passion even as she coolly readies the Winter Court for battle. And Seth, sworn brother of the Dark King and heir to the High Queen, is about to make a mistake that could cost his life.

Love, despair, and betrayal ignite the Faery Courts, and in the final conflict, some will win…and some will lose everything.

My Thoughts

Darkest Mercy concludes a series that has been difficult for me, at times, and has surprised me in many ways. This conclusion was far better than I could have hoped for.

There is an ever-changing point of view which can be confusing at times. However, it makes the intricacies of the plot move along at a fast, often hurried and harried, pace. Overall, this establishes a sense of urgency and desperation to the overall plot. I read through this book in a matter of hours, barely remember to take note in important facts or things I found worth mentioning.

Every single character undergoes some form of significant change – mostly to their character – as they strive to achieve what they want in the face of pending doom. So much character development – especially with Keenan! – it made my head spin, in a very good way.

While this review remains short, the fact that this is a brilliant conclusion to a strange, intriguing, and sometimes frustratingly infuriating series remains the same. I am very glad I went on this adventure, and I am glad to have learned some things along the way.

I am left now with one pressing question – which series/trilogy to embark on next!

Radiant Shadows – Melissa Marr

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Radiant_Shadows_Cover

Synopsis

Hunger for nourishment.
Hunger for touch.
Hunger to belong.

Half-human and half-faery, Ani is driven by her hungers.

Those same appetites also attract powerful enemies and uncertain allies, including Devlin. He was created as an assassin and is brother to the faeries’ coolly logical High Queen and to her chaotic twin, the embodiment of War. Devlin wants to keep Ani safe from his sisters, knowing that if he fails, he will be the instrument of Ani’s death.

Ani isn’t one to be guarded while others fight battles for her, though. She has the courage to protect herself and the ability to alter Devlin’s plans—and his life. The two are drawn together, each with reason to fear the other and to fear for one another. But as they grow closer, a larger threat imperils the whole of Faerie. Will saving the faery realm mean losing each other?

My Thoughts

Radiant Shadows definitely redeemed the Wicked Lovely series for me. I have not been quiet about how disgusting I find the behaviour of most faeries in this series, and how those behaviours affect those around them. (Yes, I am aware this is a common faerie thing, doesn’t mean I have to like it, and it doesn’t mean all fey have to be such assholes.) Radiant Shadows shows very little of this behaviour – rather than all out disgust, I feel something more akin to annoyance and irritation, most of which stemming from how self-important and arrogant Sorcha is as High Queen. But, that I can handle, no problem.

Things are starting to fall apart, both in the world of Faerie, and in the mortal world. Bananach is out for blood – specifically a certain type of blood. There is a disaster coming – both beautiful and devastating. Radiant Shadows dives into more of the politics, scheming, conniving, and planning involved in winning this war that Bananach is hell-bent on having. It was a very intriguing twist. Diving into the politics of the fey added layers to what otherwise sometimes felt like a shallow plot.

Something I’d forgotten when I’d been critical of fey behaviour is that, first and foremost, the fey will, and do, manipulate and deceive each other. Though incapable of lying, they can carefully choose words, and twist meanings. Radiant Shadows reminded me that while faeries are inherently unkind to mortals, they are absolutely cruel to each other.

In the middle of all this is Devlin – the Sorcha’s assassin. Devlin is unlike most of the male fey I’ve read so far, and that’s a good thing. There are parts of him that feel more human than faerie, which is both unusual and refreshing. Devlin is careful – he chooses his words carefully, he is careful to nourish his relationships and friendships, and (most importantly, in my opinion) he is careful about consent. This was a major game changer for me!

Devlin and Ani prove to be big influences in what seems to be a major disaster coming. With the help of Rae, a dreamwalker whom I can’t help but adore to bits and pieces, they accomplish what others once thought impossible.

Considering how wary I’ve been about the other books in this series, I am really looking forward to seeing how this all wraps up in the fifth and final installment.

Tales from the Shadowhunters Academy – Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, Robin Wasserman

•May 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

TSA_cover

Synopsis

Simon Lewis has been a human and a vampire, and now he is becoming a Shadowhunter. But the events of City of Heavenly Fire left him stripped of his memories, and Simon isn’t sure who he is anymore. He knows he was friends with Clary, and that he convinced the total goddess Isabelle Lightwood to go out with him…but he doesn’t know how. And when Clary and Isabelle look at him, expecting him to be a man he doesn’t remember…Simon can’t take it.

So when the Shadowhunter Academy reopens, Simon throws himself into this new world of demon-hunting, determined to find himself again. His new self. Whomever this new Simon might be.

But the Academy is a Shadowhunter institution, which means it has some problems. Like the fact that non-Shadowhunter students have to live in the basement. And that differences—like being a former vampire—are greatly looked down upon. At least Simon is trained in weaponry—even if it’s only from hours of playing D&D.

Join Simon on his journey to become a Shadowhunter, and learn about the Academy’s illustrious history along the way, through guest lecturers such as Jace Herondale, Tessa Gray, and Magnus Bane. These ten short stories give an epilogue to the Mortal Instruments series and provide glimpses of what’s in store in the Dark Artifices.

My Thoughts

This anthology was certainly informative. We learn quite a bit about the past in this anthology which helps illuminate a lot of the goings on in both The Infernal Devices trilogy, and The Mortal Instruments series. There are also a lot of major hints as to what’s coming ahead in The Dark Artifices trilogy. It’s going to be quite the rollercoaster, that’s for sure.

Simon has a very interesting perspective – he tries to understand Shadowhunter tradition, while simultaneously calling out the bullshit. It is refreshing, and a lot of fun, to read about the Academy from Simon’s point of view. (Simon has some especially imaginative language in regards to what passes for food.)

He sees the class division, the elitism, and the snobbery, and he has absolutely zero respect for it. Going through, story by story, it becomes more and more clear that the more these children are indoctrinated into the traditions and particular ways of the Shadowhunters. This indoctrination is antiquated and archaic – it’s been proven time and time again that Shadowhunters are terrified of change. The roots these traditions, stereotypes, and methods have stem from centuries of fear and hatred. (Spoiler alert – if history tells us anything, it’s that doing something drastic – like policy making and law making – out of fear and hatred never ends well.)

There are many real world parallels found here, many of which infuriate me to no end, but that’s a much larger discussion for another day, on another platform.

Simon seems keen on challenging these traditions, or at least the archaic thought processes. By the last story, I am confident that Simon is going to work towards changing things for the better. Progress has already started – much to my delight – but it’s going to take a lot more effort, and much more time to get the ball rolling. These Tales give me high hopes for The Dark Artifices.

The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers who Inspired Chicago – Douglas Perry

•March 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

the girls of murder city

Synopsis

The true story of the murderesses who became media sensations and inspired the musical Chicago

Chicago, 1924.

There was nothing surprising about men turning up dead in the Second City. Life was cheaper than a quart of illicit gin in the gangland capital of the world. But two murders that spring were special – worthy of celebration. So believed Maurine Watkins, a wanna-be playwright and a “girl reporter” for the Chicago Tribune, the city’s “hanging paper.” Newspaperwomen were supposed to write about clubs, cooking and clothes, but the intrepid Miss Watkins, a minister’s daughter from a small town, zeroed in on murderers instead. Looking for subjects to turn into a play, she would make “Stylish Belva” Gaertner and “Beautiful Beulah” Annan – both of whom had brazenly shot down their lovers – the talk of the town. Love-struck men sent flowers to the jail and newly emancipated women sent impassioned letters to the newspapers. Soon more than a dozen women preened and strutted on “Murderesses’ Row” as they awaited trial, desperate for the same attention that was being lavished on Maurine Watkins’s favorites.

In the tradition of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City and Karen Abbott’s Sin in the Second City, Douglas Perry vividly captures Jazz Age Chicago and the sensationalized circus atmosphere that gave rise to the concept of the celebrity criminal. Fueled by rich period detail and enlivened by a cast of characters who seemed destined for the stage, The Girls of Murder City is crackling social history that simultaneously presents the freewheeling spirit of the age and its sober repercussions.

My Thoughts

(Disclaimer – I read this book a few years ago, but never reviewed it, so, after reading it for a second time, here we go!)

Months, even years, before the Janet Smith murder rocked Vancouver with its twisted details and sensationalist journalism, there was Chicago. Chicago in the roaring twenties is the heart of flash, glam, guts, and gore. Where there’s booze, there’s blood. The things that occurred during this time seem too outrageous to be true. And yet, for everyone involved, it was all too real.

As a massive fan of the musical Chicago, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book!! Douglas Perry has researched every minute detail of the lives of the women who inspired first a stage play, then two films, and finally, the musical. His hard work has most certainly paid off. From the murderesses themselves, to their lawyers, and even the journalists covering the case, Perry’s research is factual and exhaustive. I’ll certainly be checking out some of his sources to add to my book collection!

This book is fascinating in that it doesn’t dryly relay the events – it explores every angle. Readers are privy to the opinions of the journalists covering the cases. We learn about the lives of the prosecutors. In a very real way, we, ourselves, are involved in the goings on of Murderess Row at the Cook County Jail.

It’s very eye-opening to see the overlap of real events, in comparison to the plot line of the musical adaptation. Not only did these women get away with murder, they felt completely entitled to their freedom – despite having taken a life. They truly did not believe that they had done anything wrong! (The Cell Block Tango has been playing on repeat for half an hour, just to drive this point home to me.)

We see many of these events reiterated to us through the journalistic tactics of the Chicago Tribune‘s whipper snapper crime reporter Maurine Watkins – a no-nonsense, satirical writer. She never held back her opinions – she knew these women were getting away with murder, and never once let her disgust slide. The incredible ridiculousness of the situation is what led her to penning the stage play, inspired by the events of the trial of Beulah Annan. Oh, how I would have loved to witness the original play!

Chicago in the 1920s was a city in full-swing party mode. The war is over, soldiers are back, and it’s time to celebrate! This is the atmosphere of the city – a city with little to no remorse for its less than legal activities.

The Girls of Murder City offers a very interesting insight into the infamous gunner girls who inspired plays, movies, and musicals with their antics and cases. What feels like the fictional events of a sensational film noire are things that really transpired. And that, in my opinion, is the greatest appeal and fascination of the era known as the roaring twenties.

Who Killed Janet Smith? – Ed Starkins

•March 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

who killed janet smith

Synopsis

“Who Killed Janet Smith?” examines one of the most infamous and still unsolved murder cases in Canadian history: the 1924 murder of twenty-two-year-old Scottish nursemaid Janet Smith. Originally published in 1984, and out of print for over a decade, this tale of intrigue, racism, privilege, and corruption in high places is a true-crime recreation that reads like a complex thriller.

My Thoughts

While the description of the book states that it reads like a complex thriller, I felt more like I was reading a satirical parody of policing. I have  no idea how these individuals got away with bumbling an investigation so epically. The only explanation that makes sense to me is a total lack of care for the victim, but that’s just conjecture on my part. However, I should note that a few individuals were reprimanded for their actions, or lack thereof, in the course of the investigations into Janet Smith’s murder. A few individuals even lost their jobs, while others fell from social and political grace. Had the case been properly handled, such extremes may not have been necessary.

There were so many individuals involved in the murder investigations of Janet Smith – the victim herself, most notably, ended up taking a back seat to everyone else. While the case is, indeed, complex, and at times quite thrilling, it’s not because of the case itself, but rather because of how the case was handled, or mishandled. It would seem, at least to me, that investigators and journalists alike didn’t particularly care about Janet Smith herself. Rather, they cared about the affluent family she worked for, and how this would affect their social standing and their reputation, as well as the general public perception of the residents of Shaughnessy Heights – where Vancouver’s rich and elite lived.

Starkins phrases it best – “What is most remarkable about the Janet Smith murder case is just how much it reveals of the spirit and sentiment of the 1920s”. This sentiment was rooted in elitism, entitlement, racism, and the notion that money can buy you out of trouble. Sadly, these are things that are still all too relevant today.

Newspapers and magazines latched onto the story of Janet Smith, but it wasn’t because they cared about solving the murder. It was because they wanted to tarnish Vancouver’s elite with rumours and gossip – some of it true, most of it false. Such things led the investigations (there were multiple investigations into Janet Smith’s murder) in all sorts of directions – none of them beneficial to actually finding her killer.

Investigators began targeting Wong Foon Sing, the Chinese houseboy who worked alongside Janet Smith in the household. He was interviewed, kidnapped, beaten, and tortured multiple times for information. The reasoning? He wasn’t white – investigators and political figures were keen on a Chinese man being wrongfully tried and convicted for the murder of Janet Smith in order to put the whole thing behind them. Nary a word was ever said in Wong Foon Sing’s defense. Racism played a key factor in the persecution of Wong Foon Sing .

The investigation stayed focused along these lines – despite most of the investigators knowing that he was innocent, it was easier to wrongfully prosecute a Chinese man than to investigate the rich, elite socialites of Shaughnessy Heights. Investigators are tired, frustrated, and have no evidence due to earlier mishaps and bumblings in the first investigation. The case hits a dead end. And so, the question remains: Who killed Janet Smith?

To this day, Janet Smith’s murder remains unsolved. All we’re left with is speculation and theories as to what actually happened to Janet Smith in July of 1924. While the state of policing has gotten much better since 1924, it cannot be denied that there was much bumbling which may or may not be directly related to being bought off by those who knew the truth about Janet Smith’s death. However, there are some things that still remain the same since those days.

Humans are still left with a morbid fascination with death and murder – we want it, and we crave it. (I know I do, otherwise I wouldn’t read as much true crime as I do.) Sometimes this fascination is beneficial – you learn about the facts of a case, you read and do research, you think critically, and you can glean your own conclusions; you learn about other humans, and why they do the things they do.

Other times, this fascination is derived from scandal and gossip. This was definitely the case in the years following Janet Smith’s murder. Newspapers across Vancouver latched onto gossip and rumours, sensationalizing the case in tabloid-like journalistic tactics. The gossip even made international headlines, watering down actual facts in favour of the glitz and glamour of the rumours. Many people didn’t particularly care about what actually happened to Janet Smith – they cared about the swirling gossip surrounding Vancouver’s elite and affluent.

It would seem that no one is 100% certain as to what happened to Janet Smith. However, two things are blatantly clear: 1) Janet Smith was murdered, and; 2) A lot of money and influence was thrown around to make her murder go away.

We still don’t have an answer to the question of who killed Janet Smith. And that’s what’s most frustrating. We’re left with speculation and theories. This isn’t enough for me. Due to entitlement and elitism in 1924 (entitlement and elitism that is still rampant to this day), one woman will go down as one of Canada’s most infamous unsolved murders. Someone believed themselves to be above the law, and made efforts to get away with murder. This event may have occurred in 1924, but it still remains as a dark spot in Canadian policing history.

The lack of care taken with the Janet Smith case establishes one thing – money and influence are more important than justice. With advances in modern policing and investigation techniques, I can only hope that this statement is not longer true. However, I remain skeptical and critical. The year is now 2017, 93 years since Janet Smith was murdered. In 1924, elitism, entitlement, and racism were rampant in the streets of Vancouver. However, all I have to do is open a newspaper to today’s news to see that public opinion hasn’t changed much. 93 years, and Canadian streets are still full of hate and inequality rooted in ignorance and entitlement. I guess we really haven’t changed much, have we?