fantasy, fiction, Review

Review – Requiem, Changing Times

Clint and Corbin are having a weird day. Best friends for life, things are getting a little strange around their town, and at school. When they’re followed by a strange man looking for Clint and later attacked by an imp, it makes sense to retreat to the safety of home. But when strangers from another world, Banks and O’Neil, arrive with their medley of allies, things get even weirder. Why are they here? What do they want? And what is The Requiem that everyone keeps talking about? As Clint and his friends and family are drawn deeper into a thrilling adventure, only one thing is for sure. They may not be getting out alive. And class with Mrs Christenson will seem like a walk in the park after this.

GoodReads

I was given a copy of this book by the author and publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Requiem, Changing Times has a lot of potential, and with that potential it also has a lot of room for improvement. The foundation of the book, the first in a series, is strong. The world building is probably the strongest feature of the book – it’s interesting with it’s mix of sci-fi and dungeon and dragons like elements. I could see it having been done very well as a middle grade book – the same age as the main characters.

That being said, the book is in serious need of TLC. The grammatical errors were frequent (multiple mistakes on the same page), and many were major (sentences literally stopping with no punctuation, repeated words, ect.) which almost made the book unreadable in some places. Additionally, continuity was an issue throughout the book (a character’s name changes spelling frequently, another character’s age changes, ect).

I, personally, would also have cut the entire first 80 pages – all of which are spent with two characters, who then disappear for the entirety of the book and only return at the tail end. Cutting those pages would have made the massive book a bit more manageable (and honestly they’re slower than the rest of the novel), would not have effected the plot because when the characters return we’re with a character who is not familiar with them and thus doesn’t know about the events of the first 80 pages, and then those pages could have been released separately as a prequel novella.

Overall, the characters are not as developed as the world – they’re definitely the weak point of the novel, which is a shame. Most have the complexity of a Disney Channel show. Which, honestly, would have worked very well if this was a middle grade book and the author leaned into it. However, it felt like he wanted to be serious and so there was a disconnect. I’ve read novels where the majority of characters are children, yet they are still given fully fleshed out personalities and don’t rely on clichés to float through the plot. Additionally, multiple people died and at one point a child dies right in front of everyone and there is literally no emotional reaction – no grief, no acknowledgement that these children have witnessed death. Nothing.

Most unfortunately of all is the underlying misogyny throughout the novel. The only female characters who are shown in a pleasant light are the females that the male protagonist likes – mainly the one kind girl at school who he has a crush on and his mother. The “mean” teacher is described as ugly, the “annoying” popular girl is depicted as an airhead. Most glaringly is the older goth sister who, due to dressing in dark clothing and preferring the company of her boyfriend and friends (who the main protagonist doesn’t like, and therefore must be horrid) is at one point given an intervention by an older character, who at that point is a stranger, who essentially tells her if she was where he was from she’d be dead. Only after she decides to dress “normal” and break up with her boyfriend does the main character comment on how pretty and nice she is. There’s another older sister playing the part of the stereotypical “so self absorbed she literally doesn’t notice something amiss right in front of her face, to an exaggerated and comic effect”. There is at least two females in the crew – but I think one died and the other didn’t speak much.

I feel like I need to reiterate that the bones of the book are good. I could see where it could be good. I appreciated some of the plot points that were hit and the bravery of the author to stick with them. However, it is in desperate need a serious editor. I would not give up on it, but I would give it a bit more love and continue to work on it.

Title: Requiem, Changing Times
Author: R.J. Parker
Page #: 464
Published: September 2019
Goodreads: Here
StoryGraph: Here

historical fiction, Review

Review – The Education of Delhomme

Frédéric Chopin’s piano tuner, hungry for money, is lured into a royal spy ring but later condemned for treason by Napoleon III during the 1848 Paris Uprising. His one-time competition for Chopin’s affections, George Sand, might be his only hope.

Filled with real historical characters and events, The Education of Delhomme is a captivating tale of struggle and hope amidst the social and political upheavals of mid-nineteenth century Europe.

GoodReads

1800s France is not normally my go-to for historical fiction. Additionally, despite a family legacy of field commanders, I have no musical talent. So, The Education of Delhomme was about a step to the right of my typical choice. However, after reading the short story collection “Ribbons of Scarlet”, I was more intrigued by France than normal. (As a lovely bonus, the first part of the novel depicts the main character attempting a career in surgery, and I had also just read a novel on surgery during the 1800s. It was a lovely coincidence.)

The Education of Delhomme is my type of historical fiction – in-depth information on a niche subject with historical research dripping through the pages. It also utilized one of my preferred forms of historical fiction, the narrator being a character just off to the side of the spotlight. As the summary explains the novel is told from the point of view of Chopin’s piano tuner, Beaulieu Delhomme.

I’m not sure if it was done on purpose or not, but Delhomme ended up being a rather startling example of a quintessential millenial – starts off being noted that he’s too old to be living at home (in his twenties), tries a career that would make him successful and ends up quitting it because it doesn’t make him happy. Eventually, he moves to the city and begins hanging around artists…and then eventually gets swept up in a revolution and becomes a convicted spy. (Okay, the last bit is a stretch, but I’m claiming it as a millenial experience.) While, I will admit he was not the most likable character (a lot of his unlikable qualities were very obviously grounded in the time period and his privileged upbringing) he was interesting. I can respect an unlikable character when there’s logic to the characteristics the author gave them.

Despite not having any prior knowledge of the famous characters (Chopin, George Sand, Vidocq), and very little knowledge of the era (I know it’s set after Les Mis…) I never felt lost. Burkhalter did a fantastic job of interweaving historical details and events with the plot without heavy handed exposition.

There is a small romance subplot that plays into the larger plot. I could have lived without it, it felt a bit forced and the love interest wasn’t developed much. Honestly, I felt like Delhomme was in love with Chopin, which made his actual romance pale in comparison. I would have either found another way to push the main plot forward, or invested more time so it didn’t feel like an after thought.

Overall, especially for an indie publisher, this was a great read. It was fast paced, and you could tell it was a passion piece for the author. I’d recommend this odd little historical to anyone looking for a historical novel that’s just off to the side of what’s popular. A French spy novel – but with a twist!

I’d like to thank Netgalley and History Through Fiction for the free electronic copy (in which I was horrendously late in reviewing).

Title: The Education of Delhomme
Author: Nancy Burkhalter
Page #: 290
Published: November 2020
Goodreads: Here
StoryGraph: Here
Suggested Reading: Ribbons in Scarlet by [multiple authors], The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer, My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray

fiction, historical fiction, Review

Review – The Monsters of Templeton

“Part a contemporary story of a girl’s search for her father, part historical novel, and part ghost story. In the wake of a disastrous love affair with her older, married archaeology professor at Stanford, brilliant Wilhelmina Cooper arrives back at the doorstep of her hippie mother-turned-born-again-Christian’s house in Templeton, NY, a storybook town her ancestors founded that sits on the shores of Lake Glimmerglass. Upon her arrival, a prehistoric monster surfaces in the lake bringing a feeding frenzy to the quiet town, and Willie learns she has a mystery father her mother kept secret Willie’s entire life. The beautiful, broody Willie is told that the key to her biological father’s identity lies somewhere in her family’s history, so she buries herself in the research of her twisted family tree and finds more than she bargained for as a chorus of voices from the town’s past — some sinister, all fascinating — rise up around her to tell their side of the story. “

GoodReads

This is another case where I had very high hopes for a book and it did not meet a one of them. There was way too much going on and nothing got resolved meaningfully. In the words of Ron Swanson “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

A quick rundown of all that’s happening in this book that I can remember off the top of my head – main character went rogue and thinks she’s pregnant, her mother tells her that her father has actually lived in their town this whole time so she begins research based on a vague detail given by her mother to figure out who he is…then we have the sea monster that washed up on shore in the town, the pyromaniac ghost orb haunting the house, the mute Native American girl, the mother’s side plot of dating a preacher, the slight romance plot for the daughter, the serial philanderer Quaker ancestor, and a group of middle-aged running bros each with problems of their own.

I understand having a lot of little subplots surrounding the main plot – but when your main plot is not strong enough to support itself let alone all those little subplots you have a problem. I also understand that Lauren Groff based the town on her hometown of Cooperstown and thus wrote it as a love letter to that town. Neither make the book better.

From what I can gather, the subplots where supposed to be the main character’s ancestors “speaking” to her to help her figure out who in the town is her real father. How the mysterious sea monster plays into that, I did not figure out. I also don’t understand how one of the ancestors, who was a pyromaniac, turned into a “orb” figure that haunts the house and why she was the only ancestor to do so.

A major issue with the book is how unlikable a character the main character is – and it’s told mainly from her perspective so that really hurt the book. If you follow me on Twitter you witnessed my full on rant about this character – and specifically how she describes other characters. Her mother is the main target of her jeering – constantly describing her poorly, pointing out her flaws, and needlessly pointing out her weight issues. Looking back through the book the only character the main character describes in a positive light is herself – and her semi-love interest after he loses weight. Everyone else, including her two love interests, are described solely by what makes them unattractive and most of the time it wasn’t needed to further develop the atmosphere or scene. It got to the point that it just felt like she was being mean.

Not only that, the character is described and remarks on how she was always seen as intelligent – so intelligent that she would be able to leave the small-town and not return. However, she really doesn’t make a smart decision the entire time and despite being a grad student picks the slowest process in which to do research (you could tell the author was trying to prolong the plot, thus the poor decisions. They were really illogical.) This is almost a funny commentary on the book itself. Both the main character and the book take themselves way too seriously.

If you’re wondering, she does in fact eventually learn who her real father is. However, little more than a couple pages are spent on it and it’s met with little fanfare.

Title: The Monsters of Templeton
Author: Lauren Groff
Page #: 364
Published: February 2008
Goodreads: Here
StoryGraph: Here

fantasy, fiction, mini review

Mini-Review – Little Nothing

In an unnamed country at the beginning of the last century, a child called Pavla is born to peasant parents. Her arrival, fervently anticipated and conceived in part by gypsy tonics and archaic prescriptions, stuns her parents and brings outrage and disgust from her community. Pavla has been born a dwarf, beautiful in face, but as the years pass, she grows no further than the edge of her crib. When her parents turn to the treatments of a local doctor and freak sideshow proprietor, his terrifying cure opens the floodgates persecution for Pavla. Little Nothing unfolds across a lifetime of unimaginable, magical transformation in and out of human form, as this outcast woman is hunted down and incarcerated for her desires, her body broken and her identity stripped away until her soul is strong enough to transcend all physical bounds. Woven throughout is the journey of Danilo, the young man entranced by Pavla, obsessed only with protecting her.

GoodReads

I’m just going to start off with the truth – this book was a disappointment. I’m willing to place some of the blame on the fact that the book I read immediately before it was of the same genre and done so incredibly well that it tarnished a lot of my perception of this book – so had I read this book at a different time I might have liked it better. I mean, it’s right up my alley as being a part of one of my favorite sub genres.

The first issue is the main one – the main character. Pavla goes through so many changes over the course of the book and we hardly ever get any insight to her that it’s hard to connect to her. I understand it was likely done to make her more “mysterious” and “magical” and play into her not really knowing herself – but it ends up just making her a plot device in her own story. Danilo, who is supposed to be the romantic lead, ends up having more development and a more emotionally connected plot than the main character and I honestly found myself waiting impatiently for his chapters to come up. Each section of Pavla’s story – the beautiful dwarf daughter, the hideous wolf girl, the fierce wolf, the imprisoned woman – would have been fine on it’s own, but they don’t work together as one character’s arc.

The thing is – the genre of magical realism and a misfit travelling through life has been done before and done better. All the books in the suggested reading below would be a much better, in my opinion, time well spent in this genre. I understand wanting a fairytale book with twists and turns, but when you don’t have a singular foundation among the twists and turns (specifically in your main character) you lose the plot. Silver needed something holding everything together and she didn’t have it in an attempt to make reality bend.

Title: Little Nothing
Author: Marisa Silver
Page #: 337
Published: September 2016
Goodreads: Here
StoryGraph: Here
Suggested Reading: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang, Big Fish by Daniel Wallace, Wicked by Gregory MaGuire

fiction, historical fiction, mini review, RIPChallenge

Mini-Review – The Orphan of Cemetery Hill

The dead won’t bother you if you don’t give them permission.

Boston, 1844.

Tabby has a peculiar gift: she can communicate with the recently departed. It makes her special, but it also makes her dangerous.

As an orphaned child, she fled with her sister, Alice, from their charlatan aunt Bellefonte, who wanted only to exploit Tabby’s gift so she could profit from the recent craze for seances.

Now a young woman and tragically separated from Alice, Tabby works with her adopted father, Eli, the kind caretaker of a large Boston cemetery. When a series of macabre grave robberies begins to plague the city, Tabby is ensnared in a deadly plot by the perpetrators, known only as the “Resurrection Men.”

In the end, Tabby’s gift will either save both her and the cemetery—or bring about her own destruction.

GoodReads

Hester Fox has a gift for filling the gothic novel hole in my heart. With her debut of The Witch of Willow Hall and now The Orphan of Cemetery Hill she’s brought the gothic traditions, typically seen across the pond, to an American setting. Having gone through a Poe phase in high school, you would think I’d realize how perfect 1800s America is for a gothic novel but Fox has reminded me.

Fox blends the traditional beats of a gothic novel within a modern filter beautifully. Foremost, the main setting of the novel is a cemetery (try and get more gothic). You can almost feel the fog surround you as you read. There’s a murder mystery, supernatural elements, secrets, a dash of romance, and a corrupt villain.

Despite taking place in 1800s Boston there’s diversity to the main cast of characters, which was a nice touch by Fox but doesn’t feel forced. It would be hard not to care for Eli the way Tabby does. Side characters are allowed to be flushed out and three-dimensional. The main character in particular, Tabby felt realistic while keeping to the gothic tradition of the “innocent” heroine. Caleb, the male lead, is a great mix of Byronic Anti-Hero and Artful Dodger.

Those looking for a modern gothic novel should look no further than Hester Fox, and The Orphan of Cemetery Hill is a great addition to her library.

Title: The Orphan of Cemetery Hill
Author: Hester Fox
Page #: 384
Published: September 2020
Goodreads: Here
StoryGraph: Here
Suggested Reading: The Witch of Willow Hall By Hester Fox, The Familiars by Stacey Hall, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, The collected works of Edgar Allan Poe.