malcolm in white

Books 50-51

Death by Dissertation (Cassandra Sato #1)Death by Dissertation by Kelly Brakenhoff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe a 3.5 read and not bad for a freebie. The ending and some other characterization for the protagonist sunk this a bit.

Cassandra Sato is Japanese-American born and raised in Hawai'i and wants to leave teaching for academic administration with being college president as her goal. To that end she's taken a job in Nebraska in student-based admin. She's dealing with homesickness and the racism of being the only Asian face in an extreme White area of the country. She has Meg, a friend I think was also from Hawai'i (this is one of the blah points for me, how do they know each other, how did they end up at the same university because let me tell you as an academic that is not easy) and naturally has to have a love triangle of male interests because we just have to (eye roll) in Andy Summers, campus cop and Fisher, one of the men who works under her.

Cassandra is left in charge as her boss goes on a trip to Chinese to stump for student exchanges, just in time to have Austin Price, a deaf student die outside the science building he worked at (Meg is an ASL interpreter as is our author). I liked seeing the ASL inclusion in this story. As it turns out Austin is working with a grad student who is looking at an enzyme that might fight cancer and has a huge grant from it (and yes it is a big deal) and they also are getting locally sourced beef who've been treated with this enzyme as a way of getting it in the diet (which seems premature to me)

Naturally Cassandra has to get involved in solving the crime while trying to protect both students and the grant funding/food contract and fighting the racism/sexism that is in her face.

While I liked Cassandra for the most part she does a few things that make me insane, like constantly bashing social media because in her job she pretty much HAS to use it (seriously we have faculty development all the time with that in mind) so her being disdainful should be a career impediment. She is always in heels (because she's short? because that's how they do it in Hawai'i?) I have no idea but she wore them to the farm and we get another woman falling down is funny crap again (Please stop this is NOT funny). She gets mad at a student and chews him out in Hawai'i creole in a move (as much as a lot of us would love to do) is far more likely to get her fired than anything she worried about getting her fired.

But it was the ending that really bothered me. One the villain, whom she knew, a chapter before she suddenly didn't know. Even more foolish is after one of the multiple break ins at her place she doesn't call the police. She doesn't call the campus police (and Andy who likes her but she doesn't seem to feel the same) . She calls the other dude in the triangle (who she might like) and I wanted to throw the book across the room. It's when characters are TSTL that I really get angry.

Will I read more? I have a short story freebie so I'll read that. The rest of the series is debatable.

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Clockwork Heart (Clockwork Heart, #1)Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the reviewers of this (who liked it less than me) said this was as if the UPS man was trying to solve a mystery and that's when I realized I've read way too many cozy mysteries as that idea didn't seem weird to me at all. And there is some truth in it. In this steampunk fantasy world, the city of Ondinium (a light weight metal of great worth) functions by a very strict caste system with the exalted at the top. Taya is an icarus (a named that bothered me as it's the only truly Earth/Greek Myth word in the book). The icarii wear metal wings and ondinium (and are small jockey-sized people) and fly around the city as messengers. They're one of the few who can go to all levels of the city and the castes.

Taya wants to be in the diplomat corps and visit other countries. What she gets is an accidental chance to be a hero when the wireferry (I'm thinking something like a furnicular train or gondola aerial tramways) is bombed and she saves Veira and her son from falling to their deaths, both of whom are exalted (believed to be reborn as the more pure human souls, closest to getting to go on to heaven/nirvana/whatever). In doing so, Veira befriends her and through her Taya meets Exalted brothers, Alister (now part of their ruling political system) and Cristof.

Cristof has thrown off the strictures of being Exalted (always being masked, wearing heavy garments to slow their movements to prove they don't NEED to go fast, do work etc) and all his wealth to work as a clockwright. he enjoys the work. Alister is a programer for the Great Engine (the thing that runs the town, how, we're never really told).

Naturally because of the romance subplot the brothers both want Taya's attention, the charming handsome Alister and the crabby, sarcastic Cristof (and this will go just as you imagine it would). All three of them are caught up in the terrorism gripping the city and Taya and Cristof especially are trying to get to the bottom of it (especially since the latter works with the lictors, the police caste).

I thought it was engaging and I liked the characters including the villain. I was less impressed with the two punishments favored in this place (death penalty or blinding/exile) and caste systems in general give me hives. You can almost sympathize with the idea of getting rid of the system (part of the point of the terrorists) until you realize that the villain's big plan is immigration control/blaming them for everything and eugenics (especially in today's atmosphere).

The support cast was interesting too. While this is a complete story in and of itself I know there are two more in the series so I'll be curious to see them.

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Book #45: Dead Man's Footsteps by Peter James

Dead Man's Footsteps (Roy Grace, #4)Dead Man's Footsteps by Peter James

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I felt a little cheated by this book's blurb, which talked of the main protagonist Detective Roy Grace leaving Brighton and jetting off around the world as part of his investigation, which takes up only a small portion of the narrative, and quite close to the end.

I didn't enjoy this book quite as much as some of the previous titles, as it felt a bit too ambitious for its own good, although with ITV adapting the book series for TV with John Simm playing Grace, I'd be interested to see how they handled this one.

The plot starts off feeling like four separate storylines. First off, Grace is called to a crime scene where an old corpse has been unearthed, and he believes it to be the remains of his missing wife Sandy.

In another storyline, a claustrophobic woman called Abby finds herself trapped in a lift, which appears to be the result of sabotage, and worse still, is appears that she has a stalker; the sequences on the lift recall the tense buried alive chapters in Grace's first outing, "Dead Simple".

As well as this, there are several flashbacks to New York on September 11 2001, opening with a man determined to get to a meeting in the twin towers, despite the very obvious terrorist attack taking place. The book paints a vivid description of the chaos that I can only imagine was taking place on that day.

Another set of flashbacks include the discovery of another body in Australia, a month before most of the action takes place.

It was easy to tell that all four storylines would eventually dovetail into each other, and it was just a case of figuring out what was going on as I read, but keeping track of each one was a little exhausting at times, and I'm hoping the later books in the series go back to using a more straightforward narrative format.

There was also a subplot about a detective with a grudge against Grace reopening the case on Sandy's disappearance, and even accusing him of murdering her, although this was not given as much time as it could have.

While this wasn't my favourite in the series so far, I still enjoyed playing the part of armchair detective as I read. Make sure you pay attention to the last chapter, which throws in the most unexpected plot twist so far, setting up a lot of possibilities for later titles.

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Books 48-49

Red Gold (Gabe McKenna Mystery #1)Red Gold by Robert D. Kidera

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this for free and got what I paid for it. This won a Tony Hillerman award? How? To be fair it didn't start out badly but it went down hill especially at the end. Gabe McKenna is a history professor in NYC who is on a long sabbatical after the death of his wife (which is not how sabbaticals work btw) and has just lost his aunt Nellie whom he hasn't been in touch with for years but has left him everything, her home in Albuquerque and all the land. He flies out to wrap things up with every intention of going home but after an attempt on his life he does his second impulsive, stupid thing (one of many) he decides to stay.

No, not to stay to see what is going on and why some lawyer is hot to have him sell out the land (as if the title didn't give away the why) no he decides to quit his job and move out here, depending on friends back home to pack up his crap. This is the level of his decision making through the whole novel, one ill thought out move after another (and at 54 you don't have enough to retire and you don't quit a tenured teaching job with nothing lined up, take this from a 54 year old professor! At this point he has no idea his aunt's property is worth enough for him to retire on)

He is reunited with a boxer he knew from his own fighting days CJ Jester who now owns a BBQ joint and with a former student when he was doing work in Pre Columbian history. He also teams up with the lady cop next door.

So I mentioned his second impulsive stupid act, so what was his first, finding someone connected to his aunt dead and only reports it anonymously which comes back to bite him in the ass. He ends up hospitalized several times in his search for the titular gold. And the real problem is he tells everyone, people he's just met or hasn't spoken to in decades all about it even though he knows someone is after him and the gold. This is just dumb.

But let me put spoilers on the ending which really should have taken this review to two stars but I felt generous. In fact I wouldn't have finished if I wasn't reading this in a doctor's office and couldn't get the wifi hooked up to download something else and it fit a prompt for a reading challenge I'm doing.

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What I know is I won't be moving on with the series.

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Of Murders and Mages (Casino Witch Mysteries, #1)Of Murders and Mages by Nikki Haverstock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know this is supposed to be humorous but no, it's really not (or it's not my humor or something). Ella is in Rambler Nevada working for a casino and tying up her late father's affairs only to find out that her father never told anyone he had a daughter (a son yes but I've already forgotten what happened to him) so there is this weird distrust until you realize that Rambler is the Reno for mages.

Ella is a mage and doesn't know it until Patagonia, a large cat, bites her, her arm streaks purple and three people start talking what seems like nonsense about binding her. Ella doesn't seem too concerned about any of this just confused. And she's constantly thrown together with Vin a surly security guard and his sister who is much friendlier.

They and the others are supposed to be training her in the ways of magic, not that they really do much and again Ella takes this a bit too much in stride. However she's the first to realize that a string of deaths are not as accidental as they seem so she and Vin start investigating.

Typical of 'funny' stories about women Ella falls down a lot (can someone please tell me how this is funny? I see it so often. prat falls are not funny). She and Vin naturally rub each other the wrong way (the typical romance drama, let me be attracted to this guy who is a total jerk though they are not a couple yet, leave that for the next book in the series I suppose).

The mystery was entertaining enough but there isn't much in the way of world building for the magic. It just seems random to fit whatever they need though there are specialized fields. Ella is of course super good at it without trying hard, another trope in the paranormal I could do without. I could also live without Vin's crazy jealous girlfriend.

It's an interesting concept but I'm not sure I'm going to read more of this. It would be a library read for me (or another freebie which this was)

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Book #44: Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

I read this book based on a recommendation; it is narrated by its central character, Matilda, who is living on Bougainville (one of the Papua New Guinea islands) in the 1990s, during a civil war.

Her teacher Mr. Watts makes a big impression on her when he reads Great Expectations to the class; she starts applying the lessons learned in the book to her own life, and compares other people (and even inanimate objects) to characters in the book. Her devoutly Christian mother objects to the teaching of a fictional book, and even hides Mr. Watt's copy of Great Expectations at one point.

Mr. Watts' teaching ends up making an impression on the militia groups, who start to think that Pip is a real character, and possibly a threat to their cause, and start demanding to see him.

Reading this, I sensed that there was an overarching theme of being lost; Matilda has an absentee father, and Mr. Watts is the only white man on the island. Great Expectations seems to explore similar themes, and towards the end, it felt to me that Matilida's own story was echoing Pip's.

My only regret with reading this was that I accidentally read a spoiler regarding a partticlarly shocking moment towards the end of the book. Despite this, I was enthralled from start to finish.

Score: 4/5

Backwards Cap

Book #43: Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

DraculDracul by Dacre Stoker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book I was wanting to read since last year, having seen it advertised as a prequel to "Dracula". My assumption is that the book's co-writer, Dacre Stoker, is a descendant of Bram Stoker.

I was expecting a kind of origin story, but it isn't that at all. Set in 19th Century Ireland, it tells a fictional account of Dracula author Bram Stoker's life. The fist section of the book is set during Bram's childhood, at a time when he is very sick with a fever. His nanny, Ellen Crone, is quite mysterious, and it becomes apparent early on that she herself is a vampire.

The book also throws in a subplot involving a man who apparently murdered his family, which becomes more significant later.

The book skips forward to Bram's early adulthood, when Ellen reappears in his life, and he first meets Dracula, who has apparently been turning his sister-in-law into a vampire. I won't mention too much about the plot, to avoid spoiling it, except that it also has a few similarities to "Frankenstein".

Most of the book feels very true to the original novel, written primarily in the form of journals (mostly from Bram's point of view) and letters, although some chapters are also written in third person, and present tense. During the first two-thirds, it also flashes forward to some time in the future, describing events that make sense later on. It is suitably gruesome at times, and some chapters will probably put off anyone with a phobia of creepy crawlies.

I enjoyed this a lot, particularly as the book played with my expectations; I'd think I understood what was going on, but then the book would throw in multiple plot twists that would change my perspective completely. It made me want to read up more on Bram Stoker to find out how many of the events were based on fact.

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Books 46-47

Flying Too High (Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries #2)Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Often if I see a tv show and then read the book I like both (but it doesn't work the other way if I read the book first) But in this case I'm just going to say it, the TV show is far superior. I'm thankful they never tried to adapt this one because there are some truly gross things in this book to the point I think that third star is me being generous.

To be fair, the beginning of the book was good enough but the ending is a flat out one star, no negative stars. I needed a shower after the ending to get the gross off. I'll put that under a spoiler cut. But fair warning this was written in 1990 before trigger warnings. It includes child molesters, incest, rape and animal injury.

So we open with Phryne moving herself and Dot into her home chosen for it's 221 street address (eye roll) . She has a new client who thinks her son will kill her husband and she wants Phryne to prevent this. Dad is tired of sonny boy wasting money on his flight school. Well it just so happens Phryne can not only fly but she can wing walk and impresses everyone naturally.

In the meantime Candida, a young girl, is kidnapped and her dad is in the flying set so Phryne is asked to help with this because they said 'no police.'

Of course the dad with the high flying son is killed and the son arrested. In talking with the man's artist daughter, Phryne learns everyone wanted the man dead. He was brute who loved beating his wife and kids and raping his daughter. Phryne seems sympathetic to that until her solution for incestuous rape is 'being coaxed out of her shell by the right man' OMG! And naturally the artist has found just that man, a sculptor who mistakes Phryne as his model and sleeps with her. I have no issues with Phryne being sex positive but sleeping with your client's fiancee minutes after meeting him is a bit much.

Phryne spends an hour at the crime scene with the local cop who is known as Theory Benton because he makes immediate theories and bends the evidence to fit his theory. That's it, that's literally ALL the investigation she does. She sends out Bert and Cec to gather the evidence she miraculously knows will be there (and she's right so we're robbed of seeing any investigation by Phryne)

In the meantime Candida has been taken by Sidney, a child molester, and a married couple Ann and Mike. Mike doesn't want to do this but Ann has gotten involved with loan sharks so they need the money. Candida escapes rape by vomiting on Sidney. Needless to say Phryne saves the day, the child and captures Sidney but doesn't even take him to the police at first, just goes to a hotel for a rest. That's not the gross part. Let me put it under a spoiler

(view spoiler)[ Phryne takes pity on Mike and arranges for him to go free and pretend he wasn't there. How does she insure Sidney's silence? She promises him a kid to rape before he's hung. Wow. Let that sink in. Now it's not really a kid. Phryne knows a woman who'd do it for money. Klara is a working girl (a lesbian for some reason that makes no sense. It never comes up again and she seems to LOVE sleeping with condemned men to the point she said she'd have done it for free if she didn't need money. What in the name of hell is that about?) Klara is of age but she looks prepubescent. It might not be a kid but it's still a very gross.

The other issue I had with the ending is how ridiculous it is. Phryne decides to use a paint that can be seen from a plane flying low to track the car to the hideout but rather than lash the bladder of paint to the car she lashes HERSELF to the car and she's holding the bladder. How is she not seen? Ridiculous.

For those who love Jack he's barely in this and his part is unbelievable. She tells him she knows that Sidney the most wanted child rapist has a kid in a different county and can he call the police there to let them know she's coming (in fact the police in this are depicted as rather stupid) that's it. He's not concerned that a child is being held by a rapist. Nothing. In fact the emotions of everyone in this are very flat.

I had bought this for Mom. We talked it over. If we want more we'll get it from the library. If this is the quality of these books I'm not sure how this series ever got this popular. I'm even more grateful now for the three short years we got on TV. (hide spoiler)]

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The Death Collector (Department of Unclassified Artefacts, #1)The Death Collector by Justin Richards

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More like a 3.5 star read but it was a fun book so I rounded up. George is a young man working in the British museum mostly in maintaining clocks and animatronics which he loves. He's been approached by Sir William to work for him within the museum though George doesn't know why. He is swept up in something after witnessing his coworker/friends murder as two men try to rob him within his museum office. A fire is set and they don't get the books they're after. In fact the one they wan is burnt except for a scrap George rescues.

Enter Eddie a pick pocket who steals George's wallet and the wallet of Elizabeth's father which draws her into the case. George was going to give the scrap to Augustus Lorimore but it was in his stolen wallet. Now Lorimore is after all three young people to get this for his Frankensteinesque experiments in waking up dinosaurs and creating a super race of brain dead but super strong workers from reanimated corpses. In the meantime Sir WIlliam is the head of the Department of Unclassified Artefacts so a sort of X-Files/Warehouse 13 sort of thing and he's trying to help them and stop Lorimore.

It was different and fun. There are some hiccups (ignoring one scene were Eddie probably was in once and was cut but not all references to him were edited out) like there is no real resolution for the homeless, family-less Eddie at the end. George is almost painfully naive. A lot of their troubles are because he doesn't think things through. I'm not sure the target audience would notice.

I did enjoy it though and I'd read more of the seires.

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Book #42: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

SolarisSolaris by Stanisław Lem

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book; the narrative style was quite dense, so it was hard to get into at first, but at times it put me in mind of Jules Verne.

Most of the novel is set on board a spaceship, which is in orbit above the "Solaris" ocean, and involves characters encountering hallucinations. These appear to have contributed to the mysterious death of one of the on-board scientists. Most significantly, the book's narrator has visions of his lover Harey, who died 20 years ago.

But these aren't typical hallucinations, as somehow Harey seems completely tangible; other characters can see her, he can take a blood sample from her, and he even shuts her in a space shuttle at one point. She also seems to be unusually sentient for a hallucination, even acknowledging that she isn't real. The book does give an explanation, although it wasn't something I found easy to understand because of the techical language involved.

Instead, I enjoyed it for the interactions between the narrator and Harey, and his obvious fixation with wanting to spend time with her, despite knowing that she is just a hallucation. I found the book touching, moving and very sad in places. Definitely a recommended book.

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Book #41: Summertime Death by Mons Kallentoft

Summertime DeathSummertime Death by Mons Kallentoft

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in the Malin Fors series, and right from the start it is darker and more harrowing than the first.

The book opens with the discovery of a girl who has been raped, although she has no memory of who the perpetrator is. As the title suggests, there are murders too, although they don't occur until later on in the book. The book did get particularly gruesome when it reached its denouement.

The book followed a similar format to the first book, but gradually built up to an event that is more personal for Malin. It was something I had accidentally had spoiled for me by reading the blurb for the next book, but it was signposted throughout the book.

Despite the subject matter, I really enjoyed this book; the portrayal of Malin as a detective who is also mother felt very realistic, particularly when she realised the first victim was the same age as her daughter Tove. Later on she started imagining one of the murder victims as Tove.

The book also raised a lot of ethical issues too, addressing the fact that often rape cases get blamed on immigrants. In places the story felt like it was about a witch hunt, with two Asian men being accused of the crimes, and even attacked phyisically by one of the detectives.

This book also continued to include magical realism by having some parts told from the points of view of the dead victims. I noticed that among the switches from third person to first person, there were some paragraphs told from other points of view, usually the killer's.

I am definitely going to keep reading this series.

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books 43-45

The Gauntlet  (The Gauntlet, #1)The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At this point there are so many got-sucked-into-a-game books out there there should be a subgenre. What would that be called? That said that doesn't mean this feels cookie cutter or trite in the least. The blurb called it a steampunk Jujmanji. I would agree but add as seen through a Muslim lens.

Our point of view character is the Bangladeshi-American twelve-year-old Farah, who is having a bad birthday. Her family has gone more upscale in NYC and she really doesn't know most of the kids invited to her party and she feels like the only Muslim. At least at her old school she wasn't alone. Her two friends from there, Alex and Essie , have come from the party where her ADHD brother Ahmed is keeping Farah from hanging with them (Because her family's entire treatment of his ADHD appears to be to give him everything he wants to avoid tantrums).

Instead of some books, Farah's gift from her aunt is the game, the Gauntlet, which naturally her brother tries to take over for himself and gets sucked in. Her aunt tells her the horrors of the game, which threw her out years ago. Farah and her friends enter to save Ahmed. The rules are simple, solve the puzzles/win the games and you win your freedom, fail and become a permanent resident of the game like Henrietta Peel and Vijay.

While the stakes are high, I will say some of the games seem less than threatening (keeping in mind this is for middle graders so that would be why.) I like Farah and her friends but if this had a half star rating this would have been 3.5 and that's because this is so close third person point of view it might as well have been in first person. We never really get to know Alex or Essie well and that was disappointing.

Overall though, this is a fun book and I enjoyed it.

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The Solstice KingsThe Solstice Kings by Kim Fielding

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted a LGBT book for Pride that wasn't all about the pain of being rejected for being gay and it took some doing to find on in my current collection that wasn't. This one was a quirky novella and in some ways it might have worked against it a bit but I really did enjoy it. Sometimes novellas do feel like you have too much for a short story but not enough for a novel and that's where this was.

It has strong paranormal undertones that felt like they could have been better developed. Miles Thorsen has lived apart from his family for years pock marked by drugs and alcohol before he finally sobered up in New Orleans (of all places) Recently abandoned by his lover, he decides to head home even though he doesn't want to. I think overall it's why he feels so cut off from his family that seems off in this story.

When we meet them the Thorsens are loving and wonderful and have been since they adopted him as a very young boy. The family is huge and magically in a very understated way as is their house and the forest beyond. And that's the part that didn't work as well as it needed to for me, there's some 'I need more' for their magic' but I could live with that. It was more of why is Miles so dead set about coming home.

We finally learn it's about Remy, a family friend with paranormal secrets of his own. Apparently all of this was from Remy's rejection of Miles back in college (Miles assumes it's because he's good for a lay but nothing more which isn't the truth naturally).

As the holiday approaches, Miles starts to feel at home with everyone but Remy. A little Solstice magic, some enpowerment from the Holly and Oak kings, and you get your HFN romance resolution. I enjoyed it.

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HamnetHamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I do not have a good track record with award winning books. I often sit there thinking how did this win and yes, that was the case for this. It's a 2.5 read for me at best and I wouldn't have picked it if not for Popsugar challenge. It has all the things every writing professor I ever had said not to do, over describe, multiple analogs in a row and sentence fragment after sentence fragment.

I also have issues with stories about real people (I always wonder did that/could that have happened) Here's the thing we know very little about Ann (Agnes which is the name used here) Hathaway-Shakespeare so O'Farrell could create this wholecloth and probably as fictional as it comes. Honestly this should have been called Agnes and not Hamnet (nor Hamnet and Judith as it was in the UK) . This is HER story and not her son's.

O'Farrell does her level best to turn Agnes into a Cunning Woman/Hedge Witch right down to giving her a fairy mother. No seriously. Her mom 'appeared out of the woods' which is seen in fairy tails all through the UK. Mom dies young and naturally we have an evil step mother. Agnes is considered to have second sight and is feared by the villagers as she walks the woods with her trained kestrel on her arm. At one point Shakespeare's mother even accuses her of bewitching him. Even her name Agnes we're told is not pronounce AGH-ness but Ann-iss like Annis, a fairy hag. Like I said O'Farrell goes all in on this fairy background and yes Agnes is an herbalist, what would have been called a Cunning Woman in that day.

We do know Agnes is older than Shakespeare. We know they were pregnant when they hurriedly married. We know Hamnet dies young. Those are facts. I was one hundred percent over this book when Hamnet decides he'll trade his life force for his sister Judith who is sick with the plague.

most of this book is about Agnes as I said. Hamnet feels like an afterthought in his own book. And for a book about loss, it's mostly not. It's more about the mom's life (she even goes out to the woods alone to give birth another tie in to the fairy magic thing) and oh fair warning there is on the page child abuse by Shakespeare's father when he was young.

I know I'm in the minority here but I didn't think this was that great.

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