The Thief Taker (The Thief Taker #1) by C.S. Quinn

The Thief Taker (The Thief Taker #1) by C.S. Quinn

thieftakerIn the 1660s, thief takers solved the cases that were beneath the dignity of the typical London watchmen. The poorer sort of people, who had experienced a crime or theft, would come to men like the title character in this story for justice. He would attempt to track down the perpetrator by finding the property that they took and fenced.

Usually, the thief taker could either get the property back for his client or turn the thief in to the higher authorities. But, the punishments back then were so barbaric- chopping off a hand, splitting noses- that the thief taker would usually just let the criminal go with a warning to not steal again or advise him to find a different clientele.

Charlie Tuesday is a thief taker in London. One day, a beautiful young woman comes to him for help in solving her sister’s murder. Normally, he doesn’t work on any cases larger than theft but the money that is offered is more than he can refuse.

From the strange mutilation of the body, he determines that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye. As the plague descends on London, he and Anna-Maria race to stop the murderer from striking again and, perhaps, even threatening the throne of England itself.

The Thief Taker‘s scenery is lush. The customs, clothing, and food from 1665 are so different from what we have now. The reader is whisked away to a world that is the same in some ways (human behavior and emotions) and so different in other ways (social structures and occupations). I didn’t even know what a thief taker was until I read this book.

The story is an intricate mystery with the murders, possible witchcraft, and treason. I didn’t see the ending coming at all. It could be that I don’t read that many mysteries, but I thought that it was really well done.

Another fascinating piece to this story are the plague victims. The horrific conditions that the author describes, like bodies rotting in the streets and the Thames becoming clogged with corpses around London Bridge, actually took place.

Because of these icky details, The Thief Taker occasionally veers towards the horror genre but never really crosses that line. I kept picturing the rotting plague victims as zombies. In some ways, they’re similar. Contact with a plague victim could bring infection. Sometimes, the main character would come across a body that would appear dead, but wasn’t dead. At one point in the story, a character describes the plague victims who are wandering the streets in search of mercy as the “walking dead.” It was very creepy.

Also, the societal breakdown that accompanied the plague was so quick. Every moment the characters were in the London streets was filled with tension. The reader didn’t know if a plague victim was going to pop out of a quarantined house or if a thug was going to try to commit a robbery in a dark alley.

Readers who like the historical fiction of Philippa Gregory, Judith Merkle Riley, and Sarah Dunant may enjoy this.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads program.

Thanks for reading!

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

vampirehunterTake Abraham Lincoln and his famous rail-splitting ax, add a dash of vampires and voila: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Fans of horror may enjoy this creative re-mix of history more than I did. Though I enjoyed learning about Lincoln, the moments of gore inbetween weren’t for me.

I listened to the audiobook and my favorite parts were the Americana inspired musical interludes between some of the chapters. Banjos or plaintive violins shepherded readers into the next section. It was beautiful.

As for the story itself, I suppose I didn’t realize how easy it was to introduce vampires into every moment of a person’s life.

Example: Last night I had trouble sleeping. I opened my eyes at 3:45 a.m. and whispered to myself, “The vampires must be closer than I thought.”

Or, another real example, there was a terrible accident yesterday in which one of the bar owners in my small hometown was killed riding her motorcycle. I turned to my coworker with a grim look and said, “Vampires.”

See? You can vampire-ize anything!

Food goes bad in the refrigerator? Vampires. Cat pukes behind the bed? Vampires. Traffic is bad? Vampires.

Though it was fun at first, it became ridiculous.

But don’t let me deter you- if you like horror, you may love this. I enjoyed it but, I confess, I’ve had enough vampires to last me for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for reading!

Galore by Michael Crummey

Galore by Michael Crummey

“An intricate family saga and love story spanning two centuries, Galore is a portrait of the improbable medieval world that was rural Newfoundland, a place almost too harrowing and extravagant to be real. Remote and isolated, exposed to savage extremes of climate and fate, the people of Paradise Deep persist in a realm where the line between the everyday and the otherworldly is impossible to distinguish.”

-Description from Goodreads

galoreGalore is all over the place. And I didn’t like it.

I like epic historical fiction. (The Far Pavilions) But, this one wasn’t epic. It was more a collection of pointless stories strung together than a rich tapestry with unifying threads.

I don’t necessarily mind plot lines about priests who act in un-priestly ways. (The Thorn Birds) But there was nothing redeeming about this priest.

In fact, I can’t think of a single character that I cared for much. That’s a shame because there were so many to choose from.

On to the next book. 🙂 I recommend giving this one a pass.

Thanks for reading!

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook  by Christina Henry

lostboyChristina Henry, author of the chilling Alice, which is a brilliant re-telling of Alice in Wonderland, has shifted focus to a new fairytale. In Lost Boy, readers get to experience the story of the boy-who-never-grew-up through the origin story of his arch-nemesis. And what a story it is.

“Peter will say I’m a villain, that I wronged him, that I never was his friend. But I told you already. Peter lies. This is what really happened.” loc 85, ebook. Goosebumps? Yeah.

Fans of the original tale will need to prepare themselves for having beloved characters shown in a new and sinister light. Think Longbourn, but worse, much worse. “I had been with Peter longer than I’d been in the Other Place, longer than I could count, anyway. The seasons did not pass here and the days had no meaning. I would be here forever. I would never grow up.” loc 146, ebook. The others in Peter’s group call the narrator, Jamie.

He is a fierce fighter- the best. And he protects the younger and weaker members of those lucky few that Peter brings back from the real world or in this tale, the Other Place. This protective instinct is sneered at by Peter who accuses Jamie of “babying” or “mothering” the boys. In truth, there is no worse insult in Peter’s arsenal. Grown ups either abuse you or take your stuff or both. They’re pirates.

“(Peter) had invited us there, had promised us we would be young and happy forever. So we were. Unless we got sick, or died, or were taken by the pirates.” loc 257, ebook. So, Neverland is not the paradise that it is portrayed as in the original tale. There are also monsters called Many-Eyed that eat the boys alive, if they catch them.

“Was this, I wondered, what it felt like to be a grown-up? Did you always feel the weight of things on you, your cares pressing you down like a burden you could never shake? No wonder Peter could fly. He had no worries to weight him to the earth.” loc 1971, ebook.

The stage is set. Love and hate intertwine with magic, blood and, of course, a little bit of fairy dust.

If you enjoyed this tale, you may also want to explore some other Peter Pan re-tellings like Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson or All Darling Children by Katrina Monroe. The last, a horror-filled offering, may really appeal to those who want to delve more into the potential shadows of Neverland. There’s a price to pay for never growing up. In that tale, as in this, Peter pays it without a qualm.

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for a free advance reader’s copy of this book. Reminder: the short quotations I cited in this review may vary in the final published version.

Thanks for reading!

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

mistressoftheartA medieval mystery in which Simon of Naples, a eunuch and a unique woman with the ability to decipher the wounds inflicted on bodies, race to discover the identity of a violent killer of children before he strikes again.

From its opening lines, The Mistress of the Art of Death had me in its thrall. “Here they come. From down the road we can hear harnesses jingling and see dust rising into the warm spring sky. Pilgrims returning after Easter in Canterbury. Tokens of the mitered, martyred Saint Thomas are pinned to cloaks and hats- the Canterbury monks must be raking it in. They’re a pleasant interruption in the traffic of carts whose drivers and oxen are surly with fatigue from plowing and sowing. These people are well fed, noisy, exultant with the grace their journey has gained them. But one of them, as exuberant as the rest, is a murderer of children.” pg 1.

I have been to Canterbury and viewed the spot where Thomas Becket was cut down by the knights of Henry II. It is an amazing place. Even more so when you consider that it has been standing for so long. I loved going back there, if only in a story.

The Mistress of the Art of Death herself, Adelia, is a brilliant and headstrong heroine. She embodies what I imagine women to have been in the time before we were allowed the same privileges as men. “She sighed with impatience. “I see you are regretting that the woman, like the doctor, is unadorned. It always happens.” She glared at him. … “Turn over that stone”- she pointed to a flint nearby-“and you will find a charlatan who will dazzle you with the favorable conjunction of Mercury and Venus, flatter your future, and sell you colored water for a gold piece. I can’t be bothered with it. From me you get the actuality.” He was taken aback. Here was the confidence, even arrogance, of a skilled artisan.” pg 52.

The reality that Adelia has been taught to see is not pretty. She learns all about the horrors that mankind inflicts on one another through her schooling. It has hardened her, but she seeks, beyond all else, to give voice and justice to the murdered. “Man hovers between Paradise and the Pit… Sometimes rising to one, sometimes swooping to the other. To ignore his capacity for evil is as obtuse as blinding oneself to the heights to which he can soar.” pg 77.

And yet, Adelia is still sassy. I loved her attitude. “He found her modest- a description, Adelia had long decided, that was applied to women who gave men no trouble.” pg 88. Though this novel could have dragged the reader through the stultifying reality of medieval attitudes and prejudices, instead Ariana Franklin takes us on a sparkling adventure filled with just enough detail to give the flavor of the time.

Recommended for those who like mysteries, historical fiction, strong heroines and perhaps some romance on the side. The Mistress of the Art of Death, though it touches on dark themes, was a welcome respite for me from a world that so often shows its shadows. I hope that it is an escape for you too.

Thanks for reading!

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

annihilationA group of female scientists and professionals are sent to explore a region that is not like the world they know. Annihilation is a hypnotic science fiction/thriller that weaves its spell slowly. Then, all at once, it has your complete attention and you find yourself hanging on every word. I loved it.

Isolation from the modern world and technology places this tale in an anachronistic bubble: “One rule for an expedition into Area X was that we were to attempt no outside contact, for fear of some irrevocable contamination.” pg 7, ebook. It harkens back to the idea that, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

They’re far from home in a surprisingly deadly world. It has already claimed eleven groups of explorers. But, we don’t know what killed most of them: “We were scientists, trained to observe natural phenomena and the results of human activity. We had not been trained to encounter what appeared to be the uncanny.” pg 46, ebook. Extraordinary things begin to happen, almost from the moment the team sets foot in Area X.

“When Area X first appeared, there was vagueness and confusion, and it is still true that out in the world not many people know that is exists. The government’s version of events emphasized a localized environmental catastrophe stemming from experimental military research.” pg 61, ebook. The government has reasons to cover this place up. But why? What is it really and what does it contain?

Creepy and enthralling, Annihilation is a treat. It is easy to see why this won the Nebula Award for Best Novel. I highly recommend it for science fiction lovers and those who enjoy experiencing a world that doesn’t behave by the usual rules.

Thanks for reading!

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

theshininggirlsA killer travels through time picking his victims and leaving mementos behind.

I thought I’d venture outside of my comfort zone with The Shining Girls and I certainly managed that. It was far too gory and violent for me.

The trouble is that almost half of the story is told from the killer’s point of view. The reader gets a front row seat at the crimes, usually immediately after a series of passages describing the girl so that an emotional connection is formed with the victim.

I was on a run listening to the audiobook… now, let me be honest. I was on a mildly taxing walk listening to the audiobook and I had to turn it off when he attacked Kirby. It was simply too much with all of the horror, violence and the bit with the animal too.

Perhaps if I had been reading a physical book, I could have skimmed the awful bits. But even then, I think it would be safe to say that this was not the book for me.

I was really excited when Beukes introduced the reader to the newsroom of the Chicago newspaper. Her description of the reporter’s cubes all stacked up on one another with the sports and feature writers off to the side was eerily accurate to where I work.

I also enjoyed the interactions between Dan and Kirby- those two were snappy and fun.

Overall though, the gore of the story was too much for me. Only recommended for readers who can handle that type of thing.

Thanks for reading!