November 1st, 2013


Book 198-199: The Night Villa and The Book of Fires

Book 198: The Night Villa.
Author: Carol Goodman, 2009.
Genre: Romantic Suspense. Historical Mystery.
Other Details: Paperback. 420 pages.

After a devastating event, classics scholar Sophie Chase takes a research position in a project excavating the Villa della Notte - the Night Villa; once home to a slave girl whose lawsuit to gain her freedom had been the subject of Sophie's doctoral thesis. The villa had been covered by layers of volcanic ash following the eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Concealed in the villa's subterranean labyrinth rests a cache of ancient documents believed lost that is of great interest to Sophie and her fellow researchers but also has attracted the attention of a sinister cult that draws its inspiration from ancient traditions. Sophie's long-term boyfriend had joined the cult some years before and broken with her. Now they have resurfaced in a number of unsettling ways.

As with the other Goodman novels I have read the theme of pagan rites is central to the plot. She does an excellent job of setting the scene in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Sophie finds herself in the typical position of the heroine of a romantic suspense novel of not knowing who she can trust. I had assumed from the back cover blurb that the novel would be set in two time periods but rather than this there are sections of ancient texts that the researchers translate and read out to one another. I enjoyed it very much, finding it an engaging read.

Book 199: The Book of Fires.
Author: Jane Borodale, 2009.
Genre: Historical Fiction. 18th Century England.
Other Details: Paperback. 406 pages.

It is 1752 and pregnant with an unwanted child 17-year old Agnes Trussel runs away from her home in rural Sussex. Before leaving she finds her elderly neighbour dead and steals her savings. Once in London Agnes finds herself overwhelmed by the city though soon comes across the household of John Blacklock, a firework maker. He hires her as his first female assistant and she learns to make fireworks eventually joining Blacklock in his quest to create more spectacular fireworks. As the months pass she struggles to keep her pregnancy a secret from Blacklock and the household. There is also the matter of the stolen coins, which weigh heavily on her conscience.

I found with a nagging feeling that I had read something very similar a few years ago. Checking my shelves at Goodreads I found this was The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark, which also was set in 18th century London and featured a pregnant runaway. However, I felt more empathy here with Agnes and her circumstances than I ever did with Monsters' Eliza and this was a more uplifting story.

The novel managed to surprise me as things happened that I didn't expect and vice versa. Some teasing on part of the novelist perhaps? I felt it was a sound historical novel in terms of its story, characterisation and setting. Something that would make an excellent BBC mini series. This was a reading group selection that won't be discussed with others until later this month as a special library event bumped our October meeting.
yellow roses

October 2013 Reading

October 2013 reading:

42. Adventure Time Encyclopaedia, by Martin Olson (160 pages)
Introduces nearly everyone in the series. At times a little tiring, but entertaining since it's narrated by Abadeer.

43. Love, Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli (288 pages)
The first book was from Leo's point of view, and this one is from Stargirl's, as she struggles with her sense of self and, oddly, her compulsion to do what Leo tried to do with her: change people. It is only through finding a home with her new community that she can rediscover herself.

44. The Women and the Men: Poems, by Nikki Giovanni (64 pages)
It took me a bit to get into her style, but I enjoyed the poems and there are bits of them that really struck me as true and beautiful--even if the truth was not so beautiful, the way it was written was. I connected with this more than I expected to, and one that stood out to me was "Housecleaning."

45. When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan (344 pages)
This book reminded me poignantly of The Handmaid's Tale, as I suspect it was in some ways meant to. Set in a dystopic future United States where criminals are "Chromed," their skin turned a color to match their crime, it follows the story of Hannah, who becomes a Red for the crime of having an abortion. This questions societal and religious norms, especially those of gender roles, sexuality, and God. I also enjoyed that it included discussion of race, class, and LGBT concerns as well.

October pages: 856

Pages to date: 13,911

Progress: 45/50

October 2013 Comics/Manga Reading:

282. Wandering Son: Volume 4, by Shimura Takako (224 pages)
283. 5 Centimeters Per Second, by Makoto Shinkai (566 pages)
284. Nana: Volume 18, by Ai Yazawa (200 pages)
285. Nana: Volume 19, by Ai Yazawa (194 pages)
286. Nana: Volume 20, by Ai Yazawa (194 pages)
287. Nana: Volume 21, by Ai Yazawa (192 pages)
288. Jack of Fables: Volume 8, by Bill Willingham (128 pages)
289. Jack of Fables: Volume 9, by Bill Willingham (144 pages)
290. Kamisama Kiss: Volume 13, by Julietta Suzuki (200 pages)
291. The Story of Saiunkoku: Volume 9, by Kairi Yura (158 pages)

October pages: 2,200

Pages to date: 57,639

Progress: 291/350

Books 200-201: The Shadow Collector and Autumn Killing

Book 200: The Shadow Collector (Wesley Peterson #17).
Author: Kate Ellis, 2013.
Genre: Police Procedural. Historical Mystery. Witchcraft/Wicca.
Other Details: Hardback. 368 pages.

Lilith Benley and her mother, rumoured to be witches, were convicted of the brutal murder of two teenage girls. Eighteen years later Lilith is released from prison, and shortly after she returns to her old home, a young woman is found dead at a neighbouring farm where a celebrity reality TV show is being filmed. When DI Wesley Peterson is called in to investigate he has to deal with fragile egos and hidden truths, as well as the possibility that Lilith Benley has killed again. Meanwhile archaeologist, Neil Watson discovers a gruesome wax doll at a house that once belonged to a woman hanged for witchcraft in the seventeenth century. And when Neil has a near fatal accident, some suspect a supernatural connection. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This was another excellent police procedural in this series that kept me guessing as to 'whodunit' until the final pages. It was very hard to put down. I also felt that Kate Ellis portrayed both witchcraft and Wicca sensitively, which is always a plus when these themes appear in popular fiction.

I was a little confused about the relationship status of D.S. Rachel Tracey when it was mentioned that she was preparing for her wedding as I didn't recall any engagement in Book #16. I emailed Kate Ellis and she was kind enough to confirm that some time had passed between novels and that the engagement had taken place in this in-between. Rachel is one of my favourite characters in the series and I remain uncertain about whether this is the right move for her. Yet that is one of the many things I love about Ellis' writing: I feel I know these characters and care about the ups and downs of their lives.

I have now reached the end of the series to date so shall be reading the new ones as they are published.

Book 201: Autumn Killing (Malin Fors #3).
Author: Mons Kallentoft, 2009. Translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith, 2012.
Genre: Police Procedural. Nordic Noir. Euro Crime.
Other Details: Paperback. 503 pages.

The season now is Autumn and the brutally stabbed body of internet billionaire Jerry Person is found floating face down in the moat surrounding the castle he has recently purchased. There are plenty of suspects yet following the events of Summertime Death Detective Malin Fors is finding it hard to keep her life together and apply herself to the investigation.

I appreciate the risks that Mons Kallentoft takes in this series including having commentary provided by the corporally-challenged. Indeed, there were a couple of times here when they seemed to be getting through to Malin rather than just floating about and providing no clues to the identity of the murderer.

What I did find difficult in this third in the seasonally-themed series was that Malin was so broken; drinking too much and not admitting that she has a problem. It is very realistic in terms of how people can deny addiction and it caused some uncomfortable memories to surface.

Note: Wow! I've never managed 200 books in a year before and here I am with two months to go hitting that milestone.