Saturday, 28 January 2017

Book Reviews - What I read this week

In Australia, this week is the last of the Summer Holidays. To that end, I got a bit of reading done.

Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She's Dead (The Toad Witch Mysteries) by Christiana Miller.  The title alone sucked me in. The cover art is rather cartoon-style chick-lit, with a few too many elements (really, it would be better without the skull or the witch hat on the toad), but one can forgive cover art if the story's good enough.

This story is good enough. I got sucked in for the first paragraph, and it didn't let me go.

I must caution you, this is actually two books in the one volume. The first book is purely chick-lit, with our Heroine Mara dealing with life as she hovers at the poverty line. BFF Gus is there to be her helping hand and rescuer as she deals with lack of a job, pending eviction and general rudderlessness.  I confess, this is not the book I thought I would be reading.  Still, Miller has a strong voice and style, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt.  Yeah, Mara is a witch, and she does spellcraft, but there's no paranormal element to this first book.

The first book ends with a H-ish E.A. when the solution to Mara's troubles comes in the form of an inheritance. Yay. If you don't like paranormal, you can stop reading here, for this plot arc is complete.

Book two is the paranormal book the title promised me.  Mara, having inherited her late Aunt Tillie's cottage in Wisconsin, leaves California to have a look-see. From the moment she arrives, she learns about the strange mystery surrounding her aunt's rather impressive "cottage". It's been renovated and expanded and has all the  mod-cons a California Millennial could possibly want, including a few ghosts, some serious consequences, and an impressively good mystery.

Alas, the mystery could have been played out a little bit more.  Having main characters deliberately withhold information, or having main characters completely fail to ask the obvious question does not make a mystery stronger. It just annoys those of us who are familiar with how a mystery should be laid out. Still, the plot was built sturdy enough I didn't have to roll my eyes at it.

Recommendation:  Yeah, if you're into chick lit and paranormal. Smooth, readable style, complex enough plot, reliable narration, strong voice.

Will I read on?  Possibly. The author's voice is a hooky one and the Gus character is a hoot.


Our Little Secrets (Montana Romance) by Merry Farmer.  Yep, it's a mail-order bride romance set in 1895.

The blurb doesn't do this rather intricate plot any justice.  If plot is your thing, this has it in spades. Charlotte is fleeing Philadelphia to get away from an overbearing stepfather who's urged her to commit certain (non-sexual) crimes in the past. She procures enough funds to afford a few train tickets, and flees out to the Wild West in hopes of starting a new life.  Granted, that's about as far or as detailed as her plan gets. She shows up in a small Montana town called Cold Springs, mistakes Our Hero for a porter, and off the story goes.

Michael West has secrets of his own, and looks to be keeping the secrets of a few other people. It is fun when all these secrets come out, including a few that I'm not sure would have been admitted, or reacted to in the way portrayed in the book. The modern sensibilities are too strong.

One issue I had with this book was the dearth of setting. There simply wasn't enough of it. We really needed more, lots more. A few sentences here and there describes the town, but not nearly enough. I wanna smell the dust, feel the heat (or the cold), and get a real sense of being there.

Another issue I had was lack of historical accuracy. Cold Springs is a relatively new country town in the late 19th Century. Yes, the late 19th Century had electric lights and the telephone, but they were not ubiquitous. I know many country towns that didn't have electric lights to every house until as late as the 1930's.  Also, the presence of a telephone, while plausible, seems unlikely, given the historical setting. When Michael seeks to communicate with Philadelphia, for him to place a long-distance phone call would not have been possible. The US long-distance telephone network in 1895 only stretched from New York to Chicago--certainly not to Montana!  Telegraph would have been the way to go.  IF (and that's a big IF) Cold Springs had the telephone, it would only have serviced the local town. Seems like a frivolity, if that was the case.

If one is to write  historical fiction, one needs to do research for plausibility's sake.

Characters are a bit one-dimensional, but at least they all have an interesting backstory.

Recommendation:  Um, not sure. If you're not a stickler for historical accuracy, and you don't care about a rich setting, why not?  The plot is strong enough to carry the story, though it could have use some decent accessorising.

Would I read the next?  Probably not.


Daughter of Nothing (The Scion Chronicles) by Eric Kent Edstrom.  I'm not really into dystopian SF, but this book had a good voice and style that carried me, along with some rich character-building.

Jacey has attended the Caribbean-based Scion School, where she's been trained in subjects like Memorisation, Literature and Ballet.  Other students have specialised in Science or Martial Arts--subjects chosen for them, not necessarily what they are most interested in.  They've been told that the outside world has been devastated, and they're being trained up to enter it in positions of leadership, to help fix a broken world.

As this is a dystopian novel, you know that's not the truth.  Eventually Jacey and her mates figure this one out. What are they really being trained for?

The mystery played out in this novel is well-crafted. The encluing is subtly well-done, which I appreciate. A few things I figured out ahead of time, but other things were a complete mystery to me. Nicely done.

Cover art was nice.

The other novels are available on my preferred platform of Kobo, so I'll be adding them to my TBR wishlist.

Recommendation: Yep, if you enjoy Dystopian. Well-built plot, round characters.

Her Grace loves how she can classify reading as "professional development".

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