Did Not Finish, fiction, mini review

Mini-Review – Lord Byron’s Doctor

I did not finish “Lord Byron’s Doctor” by Paul West. The fact that I made it 50 pages is a testament to my will power. After forcing myself to sit down and read it for an extended period of time for the first time I accidentally fell asleep for 3 hours. In the 50-so pages that I managed to read next to nothing in terms of a plot happened. The titular doctor chronicled the poet raping not only himself but a multitude of women, then proclaimed his hopes and desires to one day be able to live up to the lord’s promiscuity and prove he’s not a prude. On top of this West used this ‘listen to how smart I am’ flowery language, in an obvious attempt to write as if from the time period, that made me have to reread most of what I had read to be able to understand what was happening. Besides, I think if you’re writing a novel about Lord Byron and his personal life from the point of view of a medical doctor you can use more mature language than “member”.

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fiction, historical fiction, Ohioana Author, Review, young adult

Review – Olivia Twist

Full disclosure –  I have not read Oliver Twist. The only Dickens’ novel I’ve read is “A Christmas Carol”. I’ve been meaning to rectify this, and had hoped this re-imagining would inspire me to read more – mission accomplished. When I met the author Lorie Langdon, at the Ohioana Book Festival last April, she jokingly referred to her novel as “A gateway drug to Dickens” and I think she was right.

While I’ve never read the original novel I have watched movies based on the work. 16b6dd3f65b56b3af83f7da5dbcac76eBeing a child of the 90’s my first interaction with the work was the 1997 Disney version.  This little work starred Elijah Wood as the Artful Dodger (right before he would star in the first Lord of the Rings film). My pre-teen heart melted at the sight of his baby blues, and I was young enough to not even care about his horrid, fake cockney accent (giving Dick Van Dyke a run for his money). I mean, I likely watched it right around the time I got introduced to Harry Potter so smirky British boys were starting to be my thing.

Trust me, this ramble about cute 90’s heart throbs has a point.

In “Olivia Twist” Langdon has woven an alternate universe worthy of a “Highest Rated” fanfic. Oliver Twist, the unlucky(ish) orphan from the original novel, was actually Olivia Twist; disguised as a boy during her adolescence to protect her from the worse off life of women and young girls on the streets during the Victorian age. Now in the care of her uncle she has no need for the protection and can live as she wishes.

The novel takes place a few years after the original. Olivia and Dodger are now young adults; both having found their ways into the upper class of society, but not completely lost of their old ways. Olivia is concerned about caring for her aging uncle, and the gaggle of orphans she can’t help but help. Dodger, or Jack as he goes by now, is primarily concerned with his next hit – until he recognizes someone from his past.

This book read like a love letter to “Oliver Twist”. Other beloved characters from the original make appearances, old plots are revisited, and references sprinkled on top. Reading Langdon’s work I felt a kindred spirit, not with the work particularly, but with the author. It wasn’t until I reached the acknowledgements that I understood why.

After seeing the musical Oliver! as a child, I fell in love with the Artful Dodger and the orphan Oliver – who, in my peculiar mind, was always a girl in disguise. I would sit in my bedroom for hours and stare at the album cover as I listened to the soundtrack, belted the songs at the top of my lungs, and then let my imagination run wild as I created further adventures for these beloved characters. – Lorie Langdon

I did the same thing. In fact, I vaguely remember doing this exact same thing after watching Wood’s Artful Dodger. However, my primary source of inspiration was Peter Pan, which at one point I attempted to re-write with a female Peter Pan (I got about 4 chapters in before abandoning it.) So, reading Langdon made me excited; she at one point was a young girl just like me, making stories she loved more representative of her, and actually accomplished at staying with it past adolescent imagination!

The novel was well written, and Langdon obviously adored her source material (it truly shows) and respected it in her re-imagining. The romance plot (that I often find either stale or forced) was exceedingly well done – the interactions between the two practically electric under the gas lights of London. To some, the ending might come as too happy or too predictable – but sometimes it’s nice to read a happy ending, and thoroughly enjoy the ride along the way.

 

historical fiction, Ohioana Author

Review – The Midwife’s Tale

It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer. – Goodreads summary

This book has sat on my shelf since my first Ohioana Book Festival 3 years ago. I had bought it because I felt weird only buying one book there and it seemed interesting enough, I mainly got it for the historical novel aspects. Since then I’ve gotten more and more interested in true crime and a murder mystery novel seemed all the more appealing – this might have been mistake (but more on that in a bit).

I rated “The Midwife’s Tale” a 3 on Goodreads, but it was a solid 3.5. I had come to this conclusion about 70% into the book, but whether I rounded up to a 4 or down to a 3 hinged on if Sam Thomas went the way I figured it was going to go, or ended up surprising me with who the murderer was. As it turned out it was the murderer I first suspected on page 53 for pretty much the reason I had pieced together throughout the novel. That’s not to say that everyone will catch the clues, and I’m normally not one to read a mystery just to try and figure out who the killer is, anyways; for this I blame my growing interest in true crime.

Even pretty much knowing who the killer was likely to turn out to be I still enjoyed all the historical details Thomas incorporated into his novel. I almost wish he would have gone the route of a strictly historical novel, instead of adding the mystery angle to it. He obviously did a lot of research for the novel, even offering a map at the front (and who doesn’t love a good map at the start of a novel). The one downside to this is that his main character Bridget, who tells the novel from her point of view, comes off sounding a bit like a tour guide at the start of the novel.

The female main protagonist written by a male author was interesting. I will admit there were times I thought “a woman would never think like this” but they were few and sparse (male authors please stop having woman look in a mirror and think “I’m pretty enough for most” or the like). In fact, Thomas gave himself the difficult task of having a majority of female characters in this novel. I will give him praise that with the added difficulty of placing them in the 1600’s they all had their own personalities and were very easy to tell apart.

Oddly enough, at times I found the book read a bit like a novelization of a movie. From descriptions of character reactions, to how chapters ended like closings of scenes, along with the pacing of dialogue and narrative cues; something about it felt very much like a historical movie along the vein of “Sleepy Hollow” or “Van Helsing”.

Nevertheless, having bought the next in the series “The Harlot’s Tale” I will likely give it another chance. It was a rather simple, easy read if one goes in with the right expectations.

fiction, mini review, Summer Reading Challenge

Mini-Review: Frankenstein

I read this book as a part of my “Summer Reading List” Challenge. This was one that I skimmed for my 4th year Classic Hollywood Horror Monsters class. I feel like I either skimmed a lot of it, or I really read spark notes because a lot was familiar. If I was certain about anything it was that – this is not your mother’s Frankenstein (if your mother’s Frankenstein was in fact in the famous 1930s version).

Mary Shelley was the OG science fiction author and honestly, I prefer the classic version of science fiction than a lot of what’s written presently. There’s very little science in Frankenstein; no multi-page passages about the exact procedure that Frankenstein conducted to bring his creature to life. Within about a paragraph you’re told he decided to do a thing, then he did it, then he really regretted the life choices that led to him doing it. It’s relatable, honestly.

I would definitely recommend this to any looking to read more classics. It’s a short read, and very well written. Don’t worry about being bogged down by science fiction cliches, there’s actually more philosophy than physical science explored in the work.

For fans of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “The Time Machine”.

fantasy, Review, young adult

Review – To Kill A Kingdom

The best way to describe “To Kill A Kingdom” by Alexandra Christo is probably – Imagine the Little Mermaid, but instead of marrying, she wants to kill the prince. Of course, the book is so much more and Christo put so much into the world the narrative takes place in to just call it a “retelling” would feel like short changing it.

At first Christo’s world can seem a bit confusing. There’s no exposition. You’re thrown into this completely new world, with different rules, in the midst of a war. They have their own kingdoms, their own languages, their own currency and ways of doing things. At first, one might question if you’re supposed to know what they’re talking about; don’t worry, you’ll catch on. Names can be tricky to pronounce, but making up your own pronunciation works fine.

There’s a refreshing amount of casual diversity in this book. It never fills like Christo’s ticking off boxes as she writes, but it’s sprinkled throughout the narrative. Skin tones are casually mentioned. sexual orientations often seen as taboo in our society are spoken of as common in this world. Above all, the prospect of a romance is not seen as the end all be all prize to be won. There are more important things – like duty, loyalty, and caring for others.

Overall, I really liked this book more than I thought I was going to. The narrative and it’s characters are not cliched, and their desires unconventional. The world they inhabit is an interesting steampunk fantasy hybrid with inspiration from dozens of different cultures; ranging from Scandinavia to Egypt. It’s definitely one where I hope the author keeps it as is and leaves it to a stand alone. I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish.