Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

This book was a pick for the book club that I help coordinate at work. It was chosen by one of our members and I was looking forward to reading it because it sounds exactly like my kind of book! 

The story is about a female apothecary named Nella from 1790's London who dispenses poisons to women to use on the men in their lives that have hurt them. The apothecary only helps women to hurt men, and she keeps a register that she records the names of the women and their victims, along with what she gave them to do the job. 

We go along with Nella when she meets a 12 year old girl who's been sent on an errand to retrieve one of the remedies. The two form a friendship of sorts, but sets of a series of events that threatens the shop, and everyone who's listed in the register. 

The story also follows present day Caroline as she spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone in London. She comes across an old apothecary bottle on her trip and goes down the rabbit hole researching the shop and the "apothecary murders". 

I liked the premise of the story, of course. After all, I greatly enjoy murder mysteries and everything to do with them. I also enjoyed both of the timelines. I think they meshed well together and it was interesting to see the similarities between women in the 1790's and women today. Many of the same problems still exist, especially when it comes to men!

This book was shorter than I expected and I finished it all in one sitting. I read it so quickly because I wanted more from this story. I was so drawn in by the premise and the idea of a murderous apothecary that I was expecting a much more nuanced and deep book. 

Caroline was not my favourite character by far. She's in London alone on her 10th wedding anniversary because her husband cheated. The author did a good job of creating the husband as someone we all want to hate, but didn't do enough to give us a wife we could really sympathize with. Many of the reasons Caroline's marriage came to this was down to her choices.

I also felt while Caroline was researching the apothecary that in order to keep the story going, the author just made it super easy for her to complete her research. The additional characters the author threw in that help Caroline along, didn't feel like anything other than plot devices. They felt unreal. If you are going to write me a story that can happen today with actual people, then include things that could really happen. 

I am hesitant to go into any more details on the story because I don't want to spoil anything for anyone. I will say, there was a moment where I got really angry at the book but my anger was short lived in that instance, for which I am grateful. 

Had this book not beed a pick for my work's book club, I may have skimmed it instead of reading it fully because while I enjoyed parts, there were parts I could have done without. 

Recommendations: This isn't a wow book. It's okay. If you wanted to read this, please do. It's not one I would condemn into the depths of book jail but it's not one deserving of high praise either in my opinion. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

This book was a binge read if I ever saw one! I finished this one sunny afternoon, totally drawn into the story. 

This novel is inspired by Bolivian politics and history (which is a topic I know nothing about). In reading this, we are transported to another world, one with two sides of peoples who are struggling for control of their country. There's a revolution brewing and it comes down to the main character Ximena and what choices she will make. 

Having said that, there's also magic in this story. Ximena is able to spin moonlight into thread. Other characters have gifts too that come into play throughout the book. 

Of course, what would a revolution story be without a little bit of romance. I adored that part of the story. It was just enough that it kept me on the edge of my seat rooting for them to overcome all the adversity and be together. As this is a young adult novel, the romance was not explicit or inappropriate which I greatly appreciated. 

I greatly enjoyed the world building, the mythology, the use of other languages interspersed in the story and the atmosphere the author created. The descriptions of the scenery, the colours, the food. It was a whole experience.

One of the other things I greatly enjoyed was the use of other languages in the story, sometimes without an immediate explanation of what the word meant. Some of the words are simple to figure out based on context and I liked how they were added in. I may be in the minority in this though!

This book stood out in my mind because it just felt different reading it. Sure, it has the same elements that a lot of books (especially young adult fantasy) all have, but I haven't read anything quite like it before.

While writing this review I went over to Goodreads to refresh my memory of the story. I found a lot of comments regarding the history and politics that this novel was inspired by and many of the comments were not good. While I admittedly know nothing about Bolivian politics and history, I want to note that those who are more familiar with them feel that this book draws on racial stereotypes. Some have also said the author included the mythology to fetishize the exotic qualities of the people. Many have explained that author also put the so called "good" people as the colonizers and the "bad" people were the indigenous people of Bolivia. If it was written instead about Canadians or Americans and the Indigenous people, it would have been obvious to everyone the problematic nature of the story.  

While there is a realization moment, a change of perspective, and move in the right direction in this story, for many it's not enough to cover up the damage done in the rest of the book. 

As readers, we sometimes forget that stories aren't just stories. Sometimes they are pure fiction, and other times they are inspired by pain and suffering of a race of people. I think instead of asking "was this a good story?" we might want to instead ask "was this something that should have been written?". The answer won't always be "no" but the conversation that comes with that question is an important one. 

Recommendations: I won't tell you to read this, but I won't tell you not to either. While I did enjoy the story before I was aware of problems, I urge anyone interested in this book to look into it a bit more before you decide. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson



Elisabeth was raised as a foundling in a Great Library where books have magic, and they can come alive. As in they can turn into snarling murder monsters if they are let out. When someone releases the library's most dangerous book, Elisabeth is implicated and her only ally is a sorcerer named Nathaniel and his demon Silas. Only thing is sorcerers are the enemy. Now she needs to trust one to save herself. 

Elisabeth is one of those main characters I adore. She's fierce and she dives head first into any situation. She many not know what's going on, she may not be making the safest choices, but if she can save someone or stop something bad from happening, she's going to do it. 

Nathaniel is that guy. He's handsome, skilled, broody, and knows everything. Elisabeth has a hard time coming to terms with him actually trying to help her, and he puts up with her antics with a sigh and an eye roll. 

I adored descriptions of the work she does, cleaning and caring for the books. They breathe, they move, they feel. It's so weird but awesome. 

The other thing about this book is that it wasn't all spelled out at the beginning. Some fantasy books give you all the details and world building, complete with rules right at the start, but then the rest of the book turns everything on it's head. This one revealed things as it went, allowing for that natural experience of Elisabeth discovering things. 

Writing this review I've realized how much I really loved this book. I don't believe it's going to be a series, which sucks so much because it's just that good and I really want more about these characters. I loved so much about this book that if I keep writing, I'm going to spoil things too much and I really don't want to. 

This one is going to be re-read, that's for sure!

Recommendations: Read this. If you love fantasy, a strong female character, demons and books that come alive. If you love fantasy stories of main character self discovery and triumph of good over evil, this is for you.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs is the first book in a historical mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear. The series follows Maisie Dobbs, a former servant turned detective in 1929 London. 

I believe there are/will be soon 16 books in this series. You know I love a big series. When there's more than 10 books in a series in a genre that I love, I HAVE to see what the fuss is about. Knowing that so many love this series, I picked up the first one, expecting to fall head over heels for it. 

That didn't quite happen. 

The series starts with Maisie opening her own business as a detective and lands her first case. 

The writing was different than I was expecting, and in some places I found myself re-reading passages because they were just so beautifully written. I fell for the wording, time and again. 

The mystery was okay. Not as thrilling as I tend to like. It was a bit wrapped up in a lot of emotions, and caused Maisie to reflect on the war. I didn't mind it that much at first, except after a while the story moved away from the mystery and into a historical fiction story. Again, I enjoy historical fiction, but when I'm here for a mystery and I get something else, it changes how I feel about the book. 

I found it hard to connect with Maisie. I wanted more depth, more about her that goes deeper than the war. 

Overall, it was a good book, but I didn't find myself running to the store to buy up all the books. 

I think I will read another one though. I feel like this is a series that if I had come across it at the library, and accidentally picked a book in the middle of the series, I would have fallen in love with it. 

Recommendations: For those who love historical fiction with a bit of mystery. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn


This book was amazing! 

I received a digital copy from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada. I was really excited to receive this one because it's a book written by a Black author featuring a Black main character. 

I started reading it closer to the release date and I was enjoying it so much I went out and bought a copy on release day! Then I realized I had barely got a third of the way through, which was wonderful, it meant I had a lot more of the story to read! 

First off we have a super smart sixteen year old who gets into a residential school program for smart kids at a college, while trying to deal with the death of her mother. Then throw in magic, Arthurian legend, queer and non-binary characters, a Black main character and it's my favourite YA read of 2020!!

This book had everything! It was an urban fantasy that gave you reality and magic in such a way I was never bored, and completely enthralled. 

The romance was pretty darn great too. Sometimes I feel like it can be an afterthought or just a bit off when it's done in fantasy books, but this one did it well!

The character exploration and background that was added in gave so much to the story. I love the way the author incorporated genealogy and ancestry into the story. That gave it another level of greatness that I looked forward to even as much as the other magic stuff. Honestly, I don't think there was a moment in this book where I got bored or felt like it was filler to get to the main story. 

Then there was the ending!! Suffice to say I need the second book. As soon as it's released, I will have it in my hands. There isn't even a title for it yet, or a release year even. Still, I need it!! 

This will be a book I will happily re-read when the next comes out so I can experience it all again. 

Recommendations: For those who like urban fantasy, King Arthur and Merlin, and different magical systems, this is for you. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah

This book is the fourth of the New Hercule Poirot Mysteries written by Sophie Hannah. I LOVED this one just as much as the other three. Any time I get to read more Poirot is a good time! 

I think Sophie Hannah does an incredible job writing in Agatha Christie's style. I feel that she brings Poirot back to life and lets us continue to experience one of the best detective characters to ever have been put down on paper. 

It's possible I'm not as critical as I could be with these novels, particularly this one. I know there has been mixed reviews, but the enjoyment I get reading a new Poirot mystery overshadows everything else and I end up having a fantastic time reading! 

This mystery did start off a bit different and I was a bit perplexed as to where it was going, but once the plot picked up, I found myself glued to the page. I guessed a bit of what was happening, but not everything. I was still surprised by the ending as usual, which I love.  

I will say that I knew I wasn't reading a story by Agatha Christie, as some of the additional characters felt a bit different, but Poirot was present and accounted for. 

Recommendations: For the lovers of a good, classic mystery. For those who love Poirot. For those who love a thrilling, twisty read.