Blogging for Books: Here and Gone

This is going to be a short review, for a short book.

Or maybe I should use the word “concise” for both.

here and gone

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck is a tight thriller that works very well, despite being somewhat different than advertised.

Audra is a former addict who, in trying to get her life back together for her children, realizes that she needs to leave her abusive marriage, so she packs up the kids and heads to California. When she’s pulled over in middle-of-nowhere Arizona, drugs are found in her car and when she arrives at the station and asks where her children are, she is told that there were no children in her vehicle. And thus begins a national news story that attracts the attention of Danny a former(ish) gang member who remembers a similar story from his own life and sets off to uncover the truth.

The blurb (and perhaps my description) made this thriller sound more psychological, and that’s what attracted me to the book. However, you know the entire time that Audra’s children were taken (you follow them along and some chapters are written in son Sean’s perspective). From the get-go you know exactly who the villains are, who the good guys are, and where everyone is. In that regards, there’s no suspense. Honestly even in terms of the ending, this book did not feel suspenseful, it was incredibly predictable, you can pretty much guess the outcome before you even hit the halfway mark.

But don’t confuse my saying that it’s not suspenseful with me saying that I didn’t enjoy it! I did enjoy Here and Gone. Beck knows how to write a story that doesn’t get dragged down with filler. This book gets straight to the point and never lulls or drags, which is why this book works so well and is so enjoyable.  The book doesn’t give you time to get bored.

This book would not have suffered from taking longer, building more suspense, and fleshing out this underworld it deals with (though blessedly, while child abuse is hinted at and heavily implied, nothing explicit ever happens in that regard- you don’t need to be explicit for your audience to get the hint and feel the urgency of the situation… looking at you Game of Thrones!). This book doesn’t suffer from being the length that is, as fast-paced as it as, and as concise as it is. If you want a light, unambiguous thriller to check out as summer draws to an end, I can safely recommend Here and Gone as a quick read.

3.5 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Blogging for Books: The Book of Esther

I’m back! And I’m starting with a long-overdue book review. But it’s ok, because I just finished this book a week ago! It was, shall we say, a slog and a half. The only reason it got finished was because I had to much plane/airport time in the past two weeks, because I was barely 100 pages in for a year. Yeah, an actual year. I put more time into wondering if I should just write the review as a “did not finish” than try powering through. But I am glad I powered through.

book of esther

The Book of Esther by Emily Barton references the Biblical book of Esther, wherein (in a gross oversimplification) Queen Esther saves her people from Genocide and lays the basis for the Jewish holiday Purim. The Book of Esther is about Esther, the daughter of a Royal Adviser, who sees the impending threat World War II poses to Jewish culture and sets out to, well, stop a genocide. The book is written in a magical realism style and plays on concepts and place names and traditions to create a kind of alternate reality.

And fails to engage.

Esther bat Josephus decides to leave her home in Khazaria and find a group of Kabbalists who will hopefully change her into a man so that she can join the fight against Germania. Khazaria references a real kingdom which historically was located between the Black and Caspian seas in an area we’d now know as “Caucus states.”

Barton explains absolutely nothing, however, and my own research into Khazaria didn’t really translate into insight when it came to reading the book. I am not Jewish by faith or heritage but I’ve felt that I have a pretty decent layperson’s understanding of the faith, especially the mystical (Kabbalah) side of things just because of my interest in studying religions. It’s entirely possible that I’m wrong about that, but I think it’s equally possible that Barton just failed to show OR tell anything about the world she was trying to create.

Another area where Barton fails is weaving in the magical realism. I am a huge fan of magical realism and that’s a genre where I do feel that I have strong footing. A magical realism novel set during WWII and focusing on a Jewish perspective sounded like a truly, well, magical, recipe to me. But more than enchanted I was confused. One of the big “characters” in the book is Seleme, Esther’s “mechanical horse.” Which is mostly described just like a motorcycle, but actually is supposed to be a horse that is mechanical?

There are plenty of interesting threads in the book that don’t come to fruition. Esther is a teenager growing into womanhood and questioning and testing her relationship to her faith and society as she grows and begins exploring her place in the world and her sexuality. This goes nowhere.

The book has a transgender* character who is intended to (I think) represent the difficulty of managing a desire for knowledge in a restrictive and gender-segregated society, but it goes nowhere. Also this character is just the absolute WORST and part of a totally useless, underdeveloped love triangle that kind of dances around Esther exploring her sexuality but just never commits to it in any capacity.

* Using the term ‘transgender’ feels a little wrong here, the character does undergo a change but the motivation is less “I was born in the wrong body” and more “these doors are closed to me unless I am a man,” which is the same motivation behind Esther’s quest to transition. I didn’t get the impression that either character, least of all Esther, would consider this kind of change in a society without those restrictions. This seems like an oversimplified (though certainly respectable, especially historically!) view of gender identity. But I cisgender so maybe I’m getting this all wrong too.

Things I did like: the pigeons, the exploration of religious devotion and sentience that was explored in the golems, the theme of uniting people from all different backgrounds to help the common good.

2 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Blogging for Books: The Secrets of Blood and Bone

The Secrets of Blood and Bone by Rebecca Alexander is the second book in the ‘Jackdaw Hammond Series’ and that makes it tough to review.

In order to effectively review this book, I snagged a copy of the first one (The Secrets of Life and Deathfor my Kindle app and speed read before Blood and Bone arrived at my doorstep.

This book took forever to get through, because I just got so bogged down with SCHOOL and LIFE and STUFF and it honestly has sucked pretty hard for the past ten weeks but I finally finished this book and my term.

Hooray me.

The basic plot of the series is: Jackdaw “Jack” Hammond (who is a lady) was saved from death as a pre-teen by a woman named Maggie, who is a witch. Maggie needed Jack’s reanimated blood to save her daughter Charley from leukemia, and now everyone is all grown up and Jack mostly keeps to herself with her dog (Ches) doing some small-time magical wheeling and dealing. Along the way she saves a young girl named Sadie through the same reanimation magic, meets a professor named Felix, and gets loosely embroiled with some members of the modern day incarnation of the Spanish Inquisition.  In between the main characters’ shenanigans the reader is treated to fictionalized letters of real-life figures Edward Kelley and John Dee as they deal with famous serial killer Erzsebet Bathory (who in the book is also a “borrowed-timer/revenant”).

I’m going to try to write this review without spoiling either book for you, but that might prove tricky so be forewarned.

Onto The Secrets of Blood and Bone specifically:

secrets of

“following her showdown with Elizabeth Bathory, Jackdaw Hammond is running from her past, hiding from her future, and hoping to contain her newfound thirst for blood. Buying an overgrown home in the middle of nowhere seems like the perfect place to escape…at least until she finds herself in the sights of a murderous family with a terrible secret and a penchant for dark magic. Meanwhile, her old ally Felix Guichard has gone to New Orleans to conduct his own investigation into the nature of blood magic, but is soon sucked into the intrigues of the city’s occult underworld. But Jack will need Felix more than she knows, for the battle for her soul is set to begin.
 
Her only salvation may lie with the secrets of 16th century master occultist Edward Kelley, and a dangerous mission he undertook in Venice to confront the Inquisition, the darkest deeds of his own past, and the fearsome power of Elizabeth Bathory.”

The Luidaeg

I have tried to be as vague as possible, BUT I do not promise that this post is spoiler-free, so if you do not want to be spoiled for Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series (up to and including the most recent release) you may want to skip this post! 

Sick of this weeks content? Next week is going to be all reviews!

I just finished reading the newest installment in Seanan McGuire‘s October Daye series: The Winter Long, and since I now have to wait an entire freaking year for the next installment I wanted to take a post and discuss one of my favorite literary characters: The Luidaeg.

I discovered McGuire on tumblr, initially just enjoying her posts before realizing zomg, this person was actually a published and reasonably known actual author! She has two series under the “Seanan McGuire” mantle (which is, as far as I can tell her real name) and two under the “Mira Grant” mantle. Being that I personally am feeling way, way over-saturated with zombies and that the October Daye series featured a protagonist who was turned into a fish (a lifelong dream of mine, I wish I wish I were a fish*!). They were also easily checked out at my then-local library!

I was initially unimpressed with the October Daye series. I read the first book because there was an interesting premise, the second one because I try not to judge things by their “pilot” and the third one because I had checked it out at the same time as the second one. I dislike the first two so much that if I hadn’t had the third book on hand when I finished the second, I would have stopped and written them off. Given that I’m now on the please-don’t-make-me-count-for-you-th book, you can safely assume that I AM enjoying them and that I DO recommend them and would encourage someone starting the series to push through to at least the third book.

But even when I was thinking to myself “wow, Toby is really dumb and I don’t think I’m going to keep reading these,” I loved the Luidaeg. The Luidaeg is, effectively, the sea witch, and one of the oldest creatures in Faerie. She is frequently Toby’s guide in her quests, and she is someone I really identify with, despite being a fictional character.

The Luidaeg keeps some badass fish tanks; I merely keep some average looking ones… but someday!

She’s the big scary sea witch; I aspire to instill that kind of fear in children, my life will not be complete until someone starts a rumor that I’m a witch.

Like most great literary characters, she has a tragic back story, which I am lacking (and in no hurry to get), unless you want to count the PTSD**.

She has a much kinder view of roaches than I do, and that is our biggest difference (other than the whole ageless faerie/human thing, but you know, details)

We essentially have the same job: Give vague answers until people start asking the right questions.

Why did I feel this warrants a post? Because I read a lot. I read a lot of stuff I like, I read a lot of stuff I love, and I read a lot of steaming piles of crap (helloooooo Heart of Darkness). To enjoy something I have to “like” the characters (which is a tricky subject to discuss because there is a lot of backlash against likable characters. Without going all post-ception on this, I will say I define “liking” as “enjoying their screentime” which means I can like villains and side characters and unlikeable people if there presence in the story doesn’t fill me with rage and/or boredom). So because of that, I read a lot of books with characters that I like. And still, I rarely, rarely read something where there is a specific character that I absolutely adore. There are very few characters, especially in series, who whenever they are onscreen (eerrr, page?) I am filled with a giddy glee. There are very few characters whose potential death is enough to make me scream “No, if you do this I will FUCKING RIOT,” and terrify my sleeping cat. There are very few characters I wish I could drive up along side, Mean Girls style, and announce “Get in loser, we’re going to the aquarium.” Yet somehow, out of a book series I barely enjoyed when I started reading, McGuire has managed to create what may possibly be my favorite literary character. That’s a feat!

I’m a big fan of credit where credit is due, and for that, the Luidaeg get’s her own post. May I one day aspire to her sea-witchy greatness.

 

 

 

*Bonus points if you get that reference, double bonus points if you get that reference and are under 25.

**Diagnosed by a mental health professional, not myself, annoyed that I even feel like that’s something worth clarifying.