The Witches of New York

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Earlier in the year I was eager to start a book club, not finding one in my area that I was able to join. Invites had gone out, prospective members had responded, and then I was concussed. That put the whole idea on hold indefinitely. Thankfully, I had already started a two-person book club (buddy-reading?) with the lovely Rialta Erie.

I sent her a list of books I was interested in reading, and from among them she chose The Witches of New York as our first read. It didn’t take either of us very long to realize this was going to be a very long road.

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I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while now, inevitably drawn to stories with witches.
I was certainly expecting magic to play a central role in the narrative. While that was indeed the case, this was an extremely slow-paced tale. The story centers around three women: Adelaide, Eleanor, and Beatrice. I found all of them to be equally tiresome in different ways. Their good points often lost under frustrating habits or opinions.

The plot was loosely focused on each character’s goals, with Beatrice portrayed as a savior of sorts for a new generation of witches. Adelaide and Eleanor guided her towards that fate in different and sometimes conflicting ways. I thought that the secondary characters in this book were interesting and fleshed-out enough to jog the story along when our main trio lagged.

The main antagonist, Reverend Townsend, was a wicked and contemptible man whom I deeply wanted to see dead the entire book. His scenes were by turn disgusting and discomfiting, and I would rush through them as quickly as possible. I won’t deny that McKay can write a great villainous character.

This story really had a lot of potential to be gripping but I did struggle through a lot of it. It was undeniably lovely in places; the descriptions of the teashop and the Fifth Avenue Hotel were beautiful and interesting. McKay’s descriptions of ghosts, dreams, and all manner of magical things were bright spots in the narrative. I simply found myself wishing for more magic and more of a meaty plot.

I learned small things about Adelaide, Eleanor, and Beatrice, but never enough to satisfy my curiosity. Had the story centered more on one of them as a main character rather than split between them, things may have been more fulfilling. I simply didn’t care enough about the wishes and goals of the main characters. I often found the plights and personal lives of side characters more poignant than the story itself. The most interesting side plots weren’t even resolved, to my dismay.

This isn’t a book I would re-read. If you enjoy a slow paced tale with magical elements, this may be for you. If you’re looking for something contemplative and like to fill in your own blanks, this is a winner. If you enjoy a fast-paced narrative with lore explored in more depth, this is likely not for you.

Have you read The Witches of New York? Care to recommend other witchy reads? Let me know in the comments below!

Tampa

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This was a strange and unexpected read for me. Not something I would generally have chosen on my own, it was recommended by a friend during a game night. We were discussing deviant sexual practices and the double-standards that can arise between men and women when allegations of sexual abuse are made (as one does), and Tampa was brought up. At the end of the evening I asked to borrow it, and here we are.

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Tampa follows Celeste Price, a middle school teacher in Tampa, as she preys on fourteen-year-old boys to satisfy her intense sexual desires. This was not a comfortable read. Celeste is a well-constructed character who finds it hard to think of things other than slaking her lust. Every action she takes she does with that in mind. She constantly manipulates everyone around her, using her beauty and her body as currency to keep the suspicions of others at bay.

All secondary characters are seen through Celeste’s rather biased eye. Her husband, who disgusts her. Janet, who disgusts her. Buck, who disgusts her. Jack and Boyd, the only ones she finds appealing in any way, are purely sexual objects to her and it shows. She is dismissive of other adults as to her they’ve passed their prime long ago, but she certainly doesn’t consider Jack or Boyd to be equals either. This narcissistic view, while interesting, does at times make things rather repetitive.

While at times I found it hard to believe that nobody suspected Celeste’s true actions or intentions, I have to admit that was culturally accurate. We are less likely to suspect the young and beautiful, especially if they’re women. Her deft manipulations of Ford (her husband) played right into his stereotypical view of women as mercurial creatures of mystery designed to plague men with frustration. Nobody tried to delve further into Celeste’s life because they believed so deeply that there was nothing there worth finding.

Tampa is undeniably a well-written novel. The narrative is carefully constructed with sometimes gorgeous turns of phrase coming out of nowhere. That didn’t lessen my discomfort as scenes of abuse took place between Celeste and her students. They’re written in a graphic way that I would term erotica if the subject matter wasn’t so disturbing. I felt vaguely sick the entire time I was reading though I did fly through the book in one sitting.

It is a mark of Alissa Nutting’s skill as a writer that I would recommend this book both despite and because of its subject matter. It’s not an easy thing to read about, but its something that is certainly worth thinking about more in depth. Will the content disturb you? Almost certainly. Will it spark an important discussion about male survivors of sexual violence and female perpetrators? I hope so.

There is more I could say, but for now I will sign off. Have you read Tampa? Do you have any books to recommend with strange or difficult subject matter? Let me know in the comments below!

The Cuckoo’s Calling

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I don’t generally listen to audiobooks. I haven’t enjoyed them since I was a kid listening to A Series of Unfortunate Events and Artemis Fowl. I often find it difficult to focus on the story, too distracted by the slow pace, my hang-ups with the narrator’s voice and inflections interfering with the plot.

Circumstances forced my hand, so I listened to samples of more than a dozen audiobooks before settling in to listen to the entirety of The Cuckoo’s Calling. I thought a mystery would be easiest for me to follow and exciting enough to keep me listening.

It’s nigh impossible to separate my opinion of the text itself from the narration so I will not attempt to do so.

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I enjoy a good mystery and thriller, being particularly fond of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad. I found the pacing of The Cuckoo’s Calling to be quite slow, the narrative taking the reader step-by-step through the investigative process and into Robin and Strike’s personal lives. While the story was interesting enough I did wish it would give me more of one and less of the other as the focus seemed unnecessarily divided.

I did enjoy the characterizations of Robin, Strike and the supporting cast. The narrator’s efforts to do the voices for all characters was appreciated, if unequal at times. I will confess for the entire book I believed that Strike’s first name was ‘Cormorant’ like the bird rather than ‘Cormoran’. Auditory perception really makes a huge difference to the way you experience a story. I’ll never know if I would have viewed characters differently were it not for the inflections of the narrator’s voice. Would I have been able to guess the outcome of the investigation? Would I have found characters more or less sympathetic?

As it was, I didn’t guess the outcome until the plot was rounding its final corner. By then I was so relieved to be through so many hours of narration I would have accepted any ending. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book.

While I found Cormoran Strike to be quite off-putting at times, he was a thorough private eye. He found and interviewed people I wouldn’t have considered and was willing to re-evaluate his stance on people when necessary. I liked Robin, though I found her passive-aggressive attitude both frustrating and funny. I’m interested to see the evolution of their personalities and working relationship as the series continues.

I think the most unrealistic thing about the book for me was people just agreeing to cooperate and speak with Strike at all. He’s not a police officer, just a private citizen who could be lying to them for all they know. Nobody ever asks for any identification nor do they call the man who paid for the inquiry to verify his identity. I thought it was absolutely bizarre and it certainly got me thinking on tangents when I should have been paying attention to the plot.

I found it frustrating that Strike would go over the same information with the same people at times. While a legitimate investigative tactic, it can make for a tiring chapter. I wished that Strike’s thought process was more available to the reader so that his investigative process would be shown less.

I did like that the story touched on the paparazzi and the way that celebrities in certain countries are hounded. It’s interesting to wonder if that subject was chosen because of the author’s own experience with them. Certainly not a topic I expected but I was glad it was brought up by quite a few characters.

While I will be reading the next book in the series, the format is still in question. Regardless, I hope that I warm to Strike and become sharp enough to deduce the ending with more than a chapter to spare.

Have you read The Cuckoo’s Calling? Do you listen to (and enjoy) audiobooks? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Update

It’s been more than a year since my last post.

I guess you could say I lost track of things – too distracted by day to day life to pick up a book and analyse its contents. I’ve missed it more than I thought, and I want to try to get back into a routine. I hope to post not only reviews, but also short fiction and opinion pieces in the future as well. While I can’t necessarily promise the quality of the writing, I can promise that it will be written and revised with enthusiasm.

I’m currently concussed and not weathering it as well as I would like. At my clinic assessment my doctor told me to do the things I love and not let it hold me back (within limits). It definitely got me thinking about my lack of motivation and the writing I’ve neglected for far too long.

So here I am, back for good. At least, that’s the hope. You can look forward to some audiobook reviews in the near future. If you’re still here, thanks for sticking around!

Everless

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Though I haven’t posted in a while, I’ve still been reading. Sort of. I’ve squashed some reading time into transit rides and before bed. It’s not the best but it’s all I can fit in just now.

I’m woefully behind on my NetGalley reviews, and my library e-book holds come and go before I can download them. Still, I’ve returned to bring you one of many reviews to come.

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I had super low expectations going into this book. If we’re being honest, I think we can acknowledge that YA has been shifty on quality of late. The cover of Everless is less than impressive, as is the tagline ‘Time is a prison, she is the key.’

I mean… really?

But the content. Wow.

The concept of time being quite literally money is one that I’ve never seen before. That’s the thing that piqued my interest despite the cover and tagline. That concept was so well-executed that I didn’t spend any of the book confused over it. The mechanics of everyday life and the clear divide between the aristocracy and the working population are easily understood and believable once you’ve accepted the premise of Sempera. While the circumstances surrounding ‘blood-iron’ and time being bound to blood/money are vague and unexplained, it was clearly a plot device.

Which brings me to the plot. It seems simple enough at the outset. Girl needs money. Girl returns to place of childhood trauma. Things spiral as new truths are uncovered.

I didn’t want to put this book down. Secrets were revealed at just the right pace and frequency to keep me going and Jules was a likeable protagonist. She’s just trying to get by at the beginning of the novel, which I’m sure many of us can empathise with.

When I began reading I was expecting this to be predictable as heck but as I read further it became clear that that wasn’t the case. So then I thought to myself – ‘maybe the author tried to be clever and do the opposite of what readers would expect’.

I was wrong about that too. I’m grateful that Sara Holland wrote a plot and characters twisty enough to be unpredictable.

Seeing Sempera through the lens of Jules was interesting. Her opinion of her world and it’s occupants definitely coloured mine as a reader, but Holland is such an expressive writer that that isn’t all you see. There is plenty of room to see past Jules’ prejudices and realise that she holds them in the first place. We don’t learn a lot about any side characters, but it seems purposeful rather than lazy and I wasn’t bothered by it.

Bonus points for this book: women supporting women, no true love triangle, no overt or overtly annoying romance, great characters, cool world concept, and an interesting villain.

The more I read, the better it got. I was breathless by the last chapter. I will certainly be reading the next book.

What did you think of Everless? Read any shifty or non-shifty YA lately? Let me know in the comments below!

Mini-Reviews

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It’s been a while, folks! It’s true that things have gotten a bit away from me this year. Still, I have been reading despite being busy with other things, and I’m back to share my thoughts on some titles.

You know when you’re looking forward to reading something and then begin it and realise rather quickly that it isn’t what you thought it would be? Yeah, that was The End We Start From in a nutshell.

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I received an e-arc of this earlier this year and it took me a while to start it. When I finally did, I wasn’t as wowed as I expected to be. The cover is undeniably beautiful but the content wasn’t to my liking. I was expecting a book centered more around a dystopian society or a world-shattering event. The book is narrated by a woman navigating her way through what appears to be society-altering flooding. It’s quite fragmented, taking place over a large period of time. Despite that, I really wouldn’t shelve this as science fiction or dystopian.

The book focuses a lot on the protagonist’s sense of new motherhood. The story meanders and there isn’t really a plot. This wasn’t my favourite read, but if you’re looking for something sparse and contemplative to read during the winter this may be for you.

Next up: Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend.

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That’s right, this is a real book. I was egged into reading this by a co-worker after she told me that Bearllionnaire was a thing. (Review of that to come in the new year, fear not.) Thinking it might be the exact kind of weird and hilarious read I would enjoy, I caved to the peer pressure and went for it.

Sadly, it was not good. Not the kind of not good that you can enjoy and read because it’s still fun, but just the didn’t finish kind. The protagonist was unlikeable, and while that isn’t usually a deal-breaker for me, if I’m 50 pages in and still haven’t had very many scenes with the aforementioned Pterodactlyl Boyfriend, I call foul on the whole thing.

Next, Ask Baba Yaga.

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I’ve been dipping in and out of this gem since I picked it up a few months ago. I read a couple pages before bed every night and I’m super sad for the impending end of the book. Formatted as an advice column, regular mortals seek answers to every day problems from the well-known oracle/witch Baba Yaga. Beautifully formatted with thick, glossy pages and intricate illustrations, I highly recommend this.

While Baba Yaga’s advice is obviously strange, sometimes violent, and often cryptic, it reads well and is always rather solid stuff. Just great on all fronts. If you like weird, you’ll love this.

Another good read was The Witch Boy.

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I read this back in spooky season, on the recommendation of a co-worker (not the same as above). Bless her heart she knows me well, I did indeed love this. The story revolves around a boy born into a magical family where boys become shapeshifters and girls become witches. His entire life however, he’s felt no pull to shapeshift, only a desire to learn the spells taught to his female kin.

This graphic novel was wonderfully illustrated, and the story, while straightforward was really lovely and absolutely something I would recommend, especially to younger readers. I’m sad that this is a standalone and I hope the author revisits this ‘verse in her future work.

That’s all for now. Have you read these titles? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Books to Read Sans Synopsis

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Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Thoughts on Tomes and created by Lainey @ Ginger Reads Lainey. You can check out the group’s Goodreads page for this month’s topics!

This week’s theme is books that it’s best to go into blindly. Those few titles you want to recommend without spoiling anything, and just end up describing as vaguely as possible. “No trust me, don’t google it – just read it! You’ll love it, I swear.” These books are usually fantastic if you can read them unspoiled, but even their own back covers can sometimes mar the story within. (How do publishers let that happen?)

Here are five books that I think you should read without a synopsis. Either they spoil the content a little too much or they misrepresent the story enough to make you unhappy with it. Just trust me.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

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Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier

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Cathy’s Book, by Jordan Wiseman

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Genesis, by Bernard Beckett

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Deathless, By Catherynne M. Valente

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There you have it! Some of these are genre fiction, and some are not. I’ll not be telling you which is which, because that would spoil the whole point of this post. Have you read any of my choices? Do they coincide with the books you would recommend someone read without a synopsis?

Let me know in the comments below!