Book Review: A Pocket Full of Murder

A Pocket Full of Murder
By R.J. Anderson

My Edition:
Paperback, 368 pages
2016, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9781481437721

Isaveth’s father has just been arrested for a murder she knows he didn’t commit. Determined to seek justice and prove her father’s innocence, she teams up with a wise street urchin and begins unraveling a plot that winds its way through the divide in social classes in her magical city of Tarrenton. The rich have all the magic they could want, while poor folk like Isaveth and her family can barely afford spells for heat and light. The unrest of the common citizens is at its boiling point and the murder pinned on her father will only make matters worse unless she can prove he didn’t do it.

-stares open-mouthed into the distance for a moment- Oh! I finally understand the title! Ahem, anyway.

I purchased this book at the same time as A Sliver of Starlight and if you’ve seen my Judging Post, you’ll know I was lured in by wonderful cover art. But I was also intrigued by the plot and A Pocket Full of Murder didn’t disappoint!

Here’s a middle-grade mystery adventure that deals with religious persecution, the struggle of the lower class, the use (and abuse) of welfare (known as “relief” in the book) and standing up for justice, no matter the cost. Looking back, there are some potentially heavy themes in this book, but they were folded neatly into the story of a young girl who aspires to uphold justice like her favorite champion in the talkie series and save her father.

Isaveth is lower class and she and her family struggle to make ends meet since the death of her mother and her father losing his job. On top of that, they are Moshites and because of their religious beliefs, they are often discriminated against. Anderson managed to write about Isaveth’s plights without feeling preachy or heavy handed and Isaveth is a determined, bright heroine.

The world Anderson created blends steam power (yes!) with magic to create a world similar to our own, yet also very Victorian feeling. I especially loved the baking element of magic. Different spells and potions are crafted before they can be used. The upper-class use a different type of magic because they have different materials available to them, like metals. Isaveth, unable to afford materials like that, follows her mother’s cookbook and through her “spell baking” she creates tablets and potions at home out of ingredients like flour and sunlight.

I’m very fond of the character names Anderson uses as well. I don’t know about you, but I’m very picky when it comes to character names. Especially in the fantasy genre, it can be hard to create an original or uncommon name without making the reader mentally choke on too many vowels or consonants (ie: Cealeanae from Throne of Glass). Isaveth, Mimmi, Annagail, Lilet, Eryx, Quiz – I liked them all!

If you’re looking for a magical mystery with a Victorian feel, I highly recommend this. I’ll be purchasing the sequel as soon as it’s in paperback – gotta make sure my editions match!

Check out Anderson’s website for more about her other books.

Book Review: Arabella of Mars

 

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Arabella of Mars
By David D. Levine

Not My Edition:
Hardcover, 350 pages
2016, Tor
ISBN: 9780765382818

Arabella Ashby was born and raised on Mars on her father’s plantation. For seventeen years, she and her brother Michael were tutored by their Martian nanny, Khema, and Arabella often participated in hunting games that her mother considered unladylike. After one such game, Arabella takes a blow to the head that requires stitches and it’s the last straw for her mother. Arabella and her two young sisters are shipped back to Earth in the care of her mother to grow up as true English ladies should. Once there, Arabella is miserable and struggles to bend to the rules society places on ladies of her stature, as well as the heavier gravity. However, the death of her father and a threat against Michael’s life forces Arabella into action and she soon finds herself disguised as a boy and enlisted as a crew member aboard a Martian airship, racing against the clock to get home and save her brother.

This book checks a lot of boxes for me, so I assumed I was going to enjoy it (spoiler: I did!) We’ve got Regency England (check), steampunk (check), space travel (check) and one tough chick that can’t stand to be forced into societal and gender roles (check).

Continue reading

Book Review: The Bookman

The Bookman
By Lavie Tidhar

My Edition:
E-Book, 384 pages (paperback)
2016, Angry Robot
ISBN: 9780857665973

It is the 19th century and a lizard queen rules an England where a mysterious assassin kills his targets with book and authors live alongside their fictional creations. Orphan, is just that – but happy enough, living in the basement of a bookstore and working up the courage to ask Lucy to marry him. But when The Bookman strikes, targeting Lucy, he tears apart Orphans life and now Orphan must set off on a strange journey filled with automatons, pirates (both lizardine and human), Martian probes, criminal masterminds and The Bookman himself, if he ever wants to bring Lucy back.

So, if you know me at all (even via the internet), you know I couldn’t resist a book with book in the title! Especially a fantasy one!

This book is a wild mix of alternate history, sci-fi and Victorian fantasy, sprinkled with odes to a wide array of classic fiction, especially Shakespeare. In fact, there were so many references to other works of fiction that I’m sure I didn’t pick up on them all, but it was fun to spot how Tidhar calls out to those books, be it in the form of a character cameo, plot theme, or even a shop or pub.

This book is challenging to describe, as there are so many characters and plot points that Tidhar weaves into a story about revolution, equal rights, space exploration and of course, love.

In short, a race of anthropomorphic lizards landed on Earth and took over the line of succession in England. There are those who are opposed to them, chiefly, The Bookman. He is a skilled assassin who uses books as his deadly devices. When Orphan’s fiancé, Lucy, is killed when The Bookman foils the launch of the lizard’s Martian probe, Orphan is pulled into the revolution between humans, lizards, automatons and The Bookman.

Orphan’s journey is not unlike that of Homer’s in the Odyssey, with notes of Orpheus’s journey to bring back Eurydice and a smattering of several popular classic adventures. He quickly realizes he’s a pawn in a large game and constantly battles with his own moral compass as he struggles to decide which of the many sides of the revolution to support, all while really striving to be united with the woman he loves.

My favorite portion of the book was actually the Sherlock subplot. Moriarty is Prime Minister and a staunch supporter of the lizards, while Irene Adler is chief of police and Mycroft is well, Mycroft, with his eyes and ears everywhere! No offense to Orphan, but I would have gladly tossed him aside for a full novel on Doyle’s characters running wild in the world Tidhar created.

Tidhar is excellent with his descriptions – even if I didn’t always fully understand what was happening, I could easily picture how it was happening. Here’s one of my favorite descriptions – I love the mental image I created from this:

“Things lived down here. For one crazy moment he had the notion of a vanished tribe of librarians, lost in the deep underground caverns of the Bodleian, a wild and savage tribe that fed on unwary travelers.”

I mean, what’s a better image than rabid librarians!?

I have to say, the “final battle” if you will, left me a little underwhelmed and mildly confused. In the 2016 reprint edition there’s also an extra novella, Murder in the Cathedral, included which details Orphan’s time in Paris (which is glossed over in the main story) and while it was interesting, it felt out of place after I had finished the story. I had a hard time going back to that point in the story after it had already concluded and perhaps it would have been more impactful if it were included in the main narrative, but then again, it might have felt like the story was being sidetracked.

If you’re looking for an epic literary adventure that no only tips its hat to classic literary adventures, but thoroughly integrates familiar characters, or you’re into alternative history with a little sci-fi twist, I would recommend you give The Bookman a try!

I received this book for free from Angry Robot in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
You can visit Lavie’s page on the Angry Robot site or check out his own website, or follow him on Twitter (he’s pretty funny).

Book Review: Lumiere

pic from Net Galley

Lumiere
By Jacqueline Garlick

My Edition:
ARC e-book, 400 pages (paperback)
2015, Skyscape
ISBN: 9781503944558 (paperback)

I received this book for free from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

From Amazon: Seventeen-year-old Eyelet Elsworth has only one hope left: finding her late father’s most prized invention, the Illuminator. It’s been missing since the day of the mysterious flash—a day that saw the sun wiped out forever over England. But living in darkness is nothing new to Eyelet. She’s hidden her secret affliction all of her life—a life that would be in danger if superstitious townspeople ever guessed the truth. And after her mother is accused and executed for a crime that she didn’t commit, the now-orphaned Eyelet has no choice but to track down the machine that was created with the sole purpose of being her cure. Alone and on the run, she finally discovers the Illuminator—only to see a young man hauling it off. Determined to follow the thief and recover the machine, she ventures into the deepest, darkest, most dangerous part of her twisted world.

Rather than write my own blurb for this book, I wanted to post what initially interested me and prompted me to request this book on Netgalley. Now, having actually read the book, I can firmly say the cover design (which I do think is fabulous) is the best part of this book. That, and the fact that I’m done with it and never have to read about these stupid characters again. First off, what kind of a name is Eyelet!? All I could think of was holes in cloth, for threading rope and whatnot. I obviously didn’t absorb her name when I first read the blurb prior to requesting the book, because when I started reading I was shocked at how ridiculous it was. This oddball name was followed by others – Urlick (which I decided to mentally pronounce as “Yur-lick” to keep things fun), Flossie and Professor Smrt. Yes, SMRT, no vowels necessary! I’m not sure what the thought process was behind that last one and because I don’t think the book could be any more ridiculous, I started mentally pouncing that as “Ess-em-arr-tee” rather than “smart” without the “a.”

I have many issues with this book, but I’ll do my best not to rant. In a nutshell, this book was full of confusing imagery and half-developed ideas, which led to the feeling that Garlick was making up the rules as she went, to suit each situation, rather than establishing solid rules and boundaries for the world she created. I thought this would be a post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure and while I think Garlick did focus on the steampunk elements, everything else seemed to fall to the wayside. The “mysterious flash” and following blackout described in the blurb was the most disappointing element. One would think, with there no longer being any sunlight in England, that there would be catastrophic consequences and that Eyelet’s daily life would be greatly impacted by this factor. But no.  I think it was mentioned maybe once, that the sun didn’t shine and that she used something called a “bumbershoot” (never came close to figuring out what that was) for light, then it was never discussed again.

About halfway through the book there are also magical elements, such as demons made of vapors, ravens that can shape-change and a motorcycle made of bones with leather wings. His name is Bertie, if you were wondering, and he is “alive,” in that he can whimper, chortle, shudder, whine and sigh when you talk to him. Perhaps Bertie (what a terrible name for a potentially awesome character) could have been developed into something fantastic, but there was no mention of how he came to be created or what gave him his sentience. Like Bertie, the magic system was never really addressed, so it wasn’t clear what the rules where and who possessed magic or how it could be used. It felt like a convenient plot device to help our heroine when needed, only to be discarded moments later when it was no longer of use.

The characters are cardboard cutouts. Eyelet is your traditional beautiful, smart, witty, headstrong, somewhat clumsy heroine. In fact, she appears to be the only good-looking person in the world. There’s a man with no arms, a girl without a tongue, a rival with a harelip and a big hairy mole on her face and her semi-albino lover. She does suffer from seizures (which she insufferably refers to as “the silver”) which was intriguing and unique, but I don’t think Garlick pushed that envelope far enough. Urlick is an albino…with black hair…and a wine stain birthmark (on his face, described several times as a snake’s open mouth, ready to strike) and a permanent hand-shaped bruise on his throat. Eyelet eventually falls for him, as anyone with half a brain would know was coming, and their “relationship” felt rushed even by YA standards.

With quotes like “My heart rattles like a bag full of snakes,” and a scene where Eyelet shakes Flossie’s hand and can smell “weakness and a lack of a warm heart,” (WHAT.EVEN.) it’s no wonder I wasn’t impressed. I could probably dissect this book into a million, horrible, disjointed little parts, but this review is already longer than I planned. Sadly it’s just easier for me to rant about a bad book than praise a wonderful one. I really can’t say I’d recommend this to anyone.

 

Mini Review: Boneshaker

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Boneshaker
By Cherie Priest

Not My Edition:
Paperback, 416 pages
2009, Tor
ISBN: 9780765318411

From Amazon: In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born. But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead. Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history. His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.

This book has been buried in the depths of my Amazon cart for many years. During a recent trip to the library it caught my eye, and I’m glad I decided to finally read it! Boneshaker is a steampunk novel with a handful of American history sprinkled in for good measure. I often find that many of the steampunk novels I read are set in England or perhaps a fictional country modeled after England. It was a nice change of pace to read something set in my country.

Briar and Ezekiel are likeable characters and their backstory is a rich one – one I’d actually like to know more about. I was intrigued  by the Bone-Shaking Drill Engine and it was featured less in the story than I imagined. That’s really my only issue with this book – there were plenty of other steampunk creations to read about, but I wanted to know more about that drill! The war is mentioned from time to time, but if you’re looking for a version of the Civil War with more steampunk elements in it, this is not the book for you. Personally, this didn’t bother me (though I do think that’s a cool premise and if you know of any books like that, let me know!)

This book also took me longer to read than I’d guessed. I never felt bored or bogged down, but it was one of those books that I’d read for a few hours and think that I must be half done, only to find I’d made barely any progress. I don’t consider that a negative, just something to think about.

I had a lot of fun reading Boneshaker and it was very easy for me to picture the world Priest created. I’ll definitely seek out more of her work!