Monday, May 29, 2017

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

From the publisher: Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. This is the story of what happened first… . Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a presequel of sorts to Every Heart a Doorway. Jack and Jill are two of the main characters in Every Heart a Doorway; this book is their story, of the fantasy land they stumbled into at the age of 12 and returned to at the end of Every Heart a Doorway.

I really really loved Every Heart a Doorway  (see my review at I would heartily recommend it to anyone who feels they don’t quite fit in. I enjoyed Down Among the Sticks and Bones because I really love the way Seanan McGuire writes, but it’s not quite as good as the first book in the series. The fantasy land is well drawn, but what’s missing is the immersion in a place where everyone feels different and is seeking the place they belong.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a short book and a quick read. We get to know Jack and Jill better, and it has the same sort of creepy allure that the first book did. It has the same language affirming the right to choose how you are who you are.

For a short time the twins are cared for by their grandmother, and when she is sent packing by their parents when they fear she is influencing them too much, the grandmother thinks:

She had done her best. She had tried to encourage both girls to be themselves, and not to adhere to the rigid roles their parents were sketching a little more elaborately with every year. She had tried to make sure they knew that there were a hundred, a thousand, a million ways to be a girl, and that all of them were valid, and that neither of them was doing anything wrong. She had tried. (p. 34 of the advance reader copy)

I definitely recommend this book if you read and enjoyed the first.

I read an advance reader copy of Down Among the Sticks and Bones. It will be published in mid-June and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and an ebook.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

From the publisher: When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway's latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She's worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It's just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway... . But Conway's latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

If you are a fan of Agatha Christie-style "locked room" mysteries, you will want to put Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz on your "to read" list. This book within a book kept me fully engaged. Both the fictional novel written by Alan Conway and the narrative by his editor were interesting. The ending of both works is satisfactory, and the book really is an homage to the great locked room mysteries of the past. 

Once you get your hands on a copy, settle in for an engrossing read. 

Magpie Murders will be published in early June. The Galesburg Public Library will have it available in print and as an ebook. I read an advance reader copy of Magpie Murders.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown

From the Publisher: "On the family homestead by the sea where she grew up, Martha Mary saw ghosts. As a young woman, she hopes to distance herself from those spirits by escaping to an inland college town. There, she is absorbed by a budding romance, relieved by separation from an unstable sister, and disinterested in the flyers seeking information about a young woman who's disappeared - until one Indian summer afternoon when the missing woman appears beneath Martha's apartment window, wearing a down coat, her hair flecked with ice." I enjoyed reading this novel. It was an eerie psychological story. The author hooks you in the first two pages and keeps you interested during the entire novel. We are introduced to young Martha on her seventh birthday where we learn about her mystical gift. She is an awkward girl, and considering what was going on in her life we can see why. She has a sister with some issues as well and was considered insane enough to be put in a home. The story really starts when Martha gets sent off to college by her Mother, who is equally as awkward. It is during this time where we learn the truth about Martha, her sister Del and what really happened to the boy who went missing from their hometown. If you like suspenseful, psychological mysteries with a lot of surprises and great writing, then this book is for you! Read On!!

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

Wow. Tooth and Claw is definitely the most original comedy of manners I have ever read. Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope meet - well, dragons. All the characters are dragons. 

Much about the dragon society made me uncomfortable. Eating dragon meat makes dragons grow and get healthy, so they share in the eating of their parents when they die. But high ranking dragons also eat the dragonets of their farmers and their servants when they get old. When a maiden dragon falls in love and agrees to marry, she changes from gold to blush pink. But a single male dragon can "crowd" a maiden uninterested in his attention and cause her to blush, which will either ruin her or force her to marry him.

But when I stop to think about it, much about Victorian society, especially in regards to women, children, and the treatment of servants, should make me just as uncomfortable, and that I think is Walton's intent. 

Walton is such a fine wordsmith that I know that when she writes, for example,

"That's amazing," Avan said, amazed. (p. 321)
she means it, and it is not because of lazy editing or unimaginative word choice.

The plot surprised me many times, and the ending is satisfyingly happy - although still with those niggling concerns about society and justness.

Recommended for lovers of Victorian novels and dragons. The Galesburg Public Library owns Tooth and Claw as a print book and as an ebook.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Here is a story of a lovely married couple, David and Adele. David is a successful psychiatrist and Adele is his loving, beautiful and perfect wife. We learn there was some "terrible necessary act" that happened back "Then" - "a thing had been done that could not be undone." Cryptic and creepy, that. But here in the present, we are introduced to Louise, who is a single Mom with no self-esteem and possibly a slight drinking problem. She is David's new secretary, and this is where this dark and disturbing tale starts to unfold. Our naive Louise has no idea what she is getting herself into when she befriends these two. The one thing she learns very quickly, and we the reader discover before she does, is that this marriage is very, very, messed up and she should cut and run far, far away. This is a well-written psychological thriller that was a quick read, but mostly because I couldn't put it down. Completely unpredictable, shocking in places and kind of insane. I thoroughly enjoyed it!