Review: The Alienist by Caleb Carr

Title: The Alienist

Author: Caleb Carr

Genre: Mystery/Crime Thriller/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Random House

Publication Date: 1996

Length: 498 page

John Moore, a police reporter, is brought into an investigation of a recent string of murders. Someone is killing boy prostitutes in 1896 New York City and Dr. Laszlo Krizler, an alienist, is determined to use the science of psychology to stop him. Assembling a team that includes two detectives, Theodore Roosevelt’s female secretary, John Moore, and two of his former patients, Krizlern and company throw themselves into the investigation. Inciting the ire of policemen, mob bosses, and some highly placed officials, the team has their work cut out for them. When tragedy strikes, however, they discover that everything they’ve built may soon fall apart.

I highly enjoyed this book. I loved all the main characters, especially Laszlo. I liked this genius and certainty, but I also liked his fallibility and blindness in certain areas. I wanted to know more about him and get some idea of his inner life.

John Moore is the POV character and he’s a strong one. He is observant and clever, and aware of his own weaknesses. I like how he related to the other characters, especially Sara, the police secretary, and Joseph, a young prostitute he befriends.

This was, at time, a difficult book to read. It was very good at explaining why no one was helping the murdered boys or trying to help the boys trapped in the many brothels in New York. Still, the idea that children were going through such atrocities was hard to read about, especially the mutilations done to the victims. Occasionally, I had to gloss over some of the details.

I found the setting very vivid, if dark and gloomy. Carr’s New York of the 18902 is not one I’d be interested in visiting, although it made a fascinating story. I also liked the science behind the book and some of my favorite parts were when the characters were speculating and drawing conclusions about their murderer based on the evidence. Once the murderer was identified, the action became very suspenseful and I had a hard time putting the book down.

I thought this was a great book and worth of the hype it’s gotten. I look forward to not only reading the next in the series but also checking out the show.

Review: The Night Circus

Title: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Anchor Books

Length: 391 pages

Source: used bookstore

Celia and Marco have been bound together since they were children, even if they’ve never met. The students of two powerful magicians each determined to prove his way of teaching is best, Celia and Marco were entered into a competition in which one must prevail.

The venue is a circus. This circus arrives at night without warning and is full of unimaginable delights. Le Cirque de Reves has been designed to be the most unique experience in the world, and it gathers followers wherever it goes. The people in the circus are bound to it more deeply than they know, and the circus’s very existence is tied into the competition and Celia and Marco. When the two finally meet, the outcome was unforeseen by their teachers and puts the lives of the performers and patrons in a precarious balance.

I apologize for the terrible summary, but this book is so hard to explain without ruining the utter magic. I feel like I’m waking from a beautiful dream after reading this book. Everything about it is wonderful: the language, the imagery, the characters, the plot. I love this book. I was hesitant to read it, and I’m not sure why. I thought it might be too fantastical for me, even though it takes place in this world. But I still hesitated until I found a near pristine copy at the library bookstore and decided to give it a try.

I’m so glad I did. I fell instantly in love with the mystery of the circus. I could not only picture it, but I felt like I was walking among the black and white tents, seeing the contortionist and acrobats and, later, the more fantastical elements that I’ve never seen.

The characters were vivid as well. Celia was my favorite as I was drawn to her suffering and serene nature. She was so peaceful, even with everything she’d gone through. I loved her relationships with other characters, especially Thiessen, whom I wish we’d gotten more of. But, honestly, I loved all the characters and want more of all of them.

For all the magic and beauty of the book, the characters were very real and complex. I understood their motives and inner lives and felt for them while they tried to navigate their place in the world. This is a beautifully written book with a wonderful story. It’s truly a magical journey.

Review: Stepsister

Title: Stepsister

Author: Jennifer Donnelly

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Length: 352 pages (12h 52 min)

Source: library

Publication Date: May 14, 2019

Isabelle did what her mother asked: she cut off her toes to fit into a tiny glass slipper so she could marry the prince. It didn’t work, of course; the prince found out her deception with the aid of some birds and a bit of blood. Worse, it turns out her stepsister, Ella, is the girl he’s been looking for, the one he loves.

Now, Isabelle and her sister Octavia are known throughout France as “the ugly stepsisters.” Reviled, scorned, and abused by the village, the girls are forced to retreat to their manor and hide away. But little does Isabelle know that Fate and Chance are fighting over her future. To top it off, Isabelle meets with the fairy queen who helped Ella. She agrees to grant Isabelle her heart’s desire, but only if Isabelle finds the three missing pieces of her heart.

Now, Isabelle is on the hunt for those pieces while her life falls apart around her. Despite the troubles that beset her and her family, she finds herself growing and changing and discover that she is stronger than she ever imagined. But is it enough to earn or happy ending? Or has it all been mapped out for her?

This book was amazing. It did such a fantastic job of humanizing both stepsisters, although, of course, Isabelle was the one who changed the most. From the very beginning I was enthralled by the duel between the three Fates and Chance personified. I have to admit, though, I went in a strange direction with them. It’s the Crone who is the main Fate and Chance is a young, handsome man. But I still shipped them hard. Every scene in which they bickered and battled, I was mentally rooting for them to do.

But they’re not as important as Isabelle. She was truly an ugly stepsister, although after the book ended, I really understood why. And she did too. She saw where her actions came from, and realized her deep complicity in the downward spiral of her life. But, despite her initial ugliness, she’s so darn likable. She’s brave and ballsy. Strong and competent. And I liked how she faced each tragedy in her life and grew from it.

I borrowed this book from the library, but I’m going to need to own it. It’s a special book with a deeply complex main character that I rooted for even when I was disgusted by her early actions. This really is a great book.

ARC review: No Good Men

Title: No Good Men

Author: Thea McAlistair

Publisher: NineStar Press

Publication Date: September 16, 2019

Source: The author sent me a copy in exchange for a review.

Struggling writer and bodyguard for the mayor, Alex Dawson finds his work tedious, but it pays the bills and gives him time to think of his stories. Plus, he gets to work with his mentor and father figure, Donnie. Then, one night, he meets a gorgeous stranger in a club. Moments later, both the mayor and Donnie are killed by an unseen assassin.

Determined to bring justice to his mentor’s killer, Alex investigates a series of assassinations and attempts. He is drawn into the underworld of the city and discovers that the mayor and Donnie were involved in something crooked. His handsome stranger turns out to be the cousin of a mob boss involved in the conspiracy. Alex has to uncover the truth before a corrupt policeman pins the crime on him, but with a growing body count and series of near misses, he may be in over his head.

I highly enjoyed this book. Alex is such a neat character. He’s creative and sensitive, and he isn’t afraid to be who he is. Of course, he has to hide his homosexuality since this takes place in the 1930’s, but when he meets Sev, his golden-eyed stranger, he isn’t afraid to let his feelings show. He’s emotional and vulnerable while being strong and fearsome. I love his relationship with Daisy, a waif whose father is abusive and absent. She’s really being raised by the people in the neighborhood, and I the way she interacts with everyone.

Sev is another delight. He’s lethal and dangerous, just what you’d expect from a man with the reputation for being an assassin, but also a victim of his time. As an unmarried man, he’s still living with his mother. His life and reputation are endangered by his sexuality, but he’s smooth and cool and does what he wants. I love his relationship with Alex. You could really see how enchanted Sev was by Alex and how Alex’s innocence appealed to him.

I hope people read this book because it’s a delight. The characters were wonderful, the mystery engaging, and the setting was picture perfect. I could really visualize the run-down neighborhood hit hard by the Depression. I don’t know if the author is planning a sequel, but I definitely would be down to read the further adventures of these two.

Review: Treacherous the Night

Title: Treacherous is the Night

Author: Anna Lee Huber

Publisher: Kensington

Length: 322 pages

Source: Thrift Books

Verity Kent sympathizes with others desires to connect with those beyond the grave, but she doesn’t believe that a medium can really accomplish that. She agrees to accompany her friend to a seance out of duty, not because she really believes. During the seance, the medium channels a woman Verity knew during the war when she was an undercover agent. A woman that Verity is sure is alive. Someone must be trying to send her a message. But is it her friend or someone who wants to draw Verity into a trap?

It’s not the best time for Verity to begin an investigation that will take her back to the war torn countryside of Europe. Her marriage is in a rocky state as she and her back-from-the-dead husband struggle to reconnect. But someone has reached out to her and Verity cannot rest until she solves this mystery.

Anna Lee Huber has done it again. This book was so good. Verity is amazing. She’s smart and strong and does what she needs to uncover the truth. I like her struggles with her husband, because while they feel natural and, at times, frustrating, they also feel very real. They were young when they married and have spent most of their marriage a part from one another. Verity believed herself to be a widow and now she has to face the reality of what she did during that time and find a way to live with it.

I loved learning more about her time as a spy. Huber makes the danger very real and present. Not just Verity’s struggles, but her husband’s as well. I had to stop reading a couple times because I was upset imagining what it was like in the trenches for Sidney or putting up with German soldiers while maintaining her cover, like Verity had to.

They mystery was interesting as well. I liked the way all the treads came together and the slow reveal of what was going on. It was a masterful job.

Review: The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

Sally has been Lady Duff Gordon’s lady’s maid for years. She’s devoted and dutiful. When Lady Duff Gordon’s illness becomes life threatening, and she has to move to Egypt and a drier climate, Sally is excited. She’s always loved the Egyptian wing at the museum, and to go to live in the land itself is a dream come true.

Lady Duff Gordon soon adjusts to her new life, changing her way of dress and gathering a salon of locals to converse with. Sally adjusts too and even finds love. But when Lady Duff Gordon discovers Sally’s indiscretion, she banishes Sally from her sight and takes away everything, proving that Sally is really the mistress of nothing.

This book was quite a journey, and not just because of the hoops I had to jump through to read it. For those of you who are new, the original copy I bought turned into another book, Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders, at page 203. Luckily, Thrift Books sent me a new copy so I was able to finish it. And I really enjoyed this book.

Sally is such an interesting character. She’s been a maid all her life, ever since her parents died and her aunt sent her into service. Sally knows the ins and outs and genuinely loves her employer. She’s also adventurous and intelligent and has a keen interest in the world around her. When she gets to Egypt, she immerses herself in the culture, adopting the language and the style of dress as her own.

Lady Duff Gordon was interesting as well, although much less likable. Based on the real Lady Duff Gordon (whom I’d never heard of, but now am interested in learning more about), she’s also fiercely intelligent and penned in by her station just as much as Sally is. Of course, Lady Duff Gordon manages to find ways to subvert her station and not lose everything. She writes books, holds salons, dresses the way she wants, and is celebrated for being different.

I was very frustrated with the way she treats Sally after all is revealed. She refuses to see Sally and demands she leave the country. She feels betrayed, but her reaction felt over the top. I especially couldn’t understand her insistence that Sally leave Egypt; Lady Duff Gordon fired her. Why did it matter if Sally stayed or not? I genuinely couldn’t understand and know it’s a difference in time and class, but it puzzled me greatly.

Overall, I thought this story was very good. It was peaceful and flowing. There wasn’t a lot of action, but a lot happens. I loved the characters and really felt for Sally and her plight.

Review: A Curse Dark as Gold

Title: A Curse Dark as Gold

Author: Elizabeth C. Bunce

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

Length: 396 pages

Publication Date: March 1, 2008

Charlotte Miller has never believed in the curse on her family woolen mill. It may be crumbling and ramshackle and refuse to be repaired, but it’s the heart and blood of the town. When her father dies, though, bad luck seems to be nonstop. Just when things seem desperate, a man named Jack Spinner appears and offers to save them by spinning straw into gold in exchange for Charlotte’s ring. It seems like a small price, but Charlotte is drawn into deeper and deeper bargains with the mysterious man and soon finds his price too dear when it’s already too late. Desperate to save her family and the town, Charlotte must call on all her strength to solve the mystery of the curse and save her family.

Oh, I loved this story. I’ve always enjoyed the story of Rumpelstiltskin and this book told the story beautifully. Charlotte was an amazing protagonist, practical, level headed, kind, and thoughtful. She’s left with a huge burden after her father dies and never flinches from the reality of it. She cares not only for her younger sister but the whole town, as many of the villagers rely on the mill for their livelihood.

I greatly enjoyed the romance between Charlotte and Randall, who is a young banker who comes to collect the debt her father owed to his bank. He was so wonderful and sincerely good that I loved him from the first moment he appeared in the book. I thought the romance unfolded very well and was considerate of the time period as well.

I’m sure there were some faults in the story, but I enjoyed every bit. The author took her time laying the groundwork of the town, the mill, the family, and the curse before introducing the magical elements. I like being led into a world slowly and then uncovering the magic, so it really worked for me. I got the book from the library, but this is definitely a book I’ll be adding to my personal collection.