Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

 

Thaniel Steepleton is a low-level telegraphist with the British Home Office. One morning, after a long night shift, he finds a mysterious package sitting on his bed. Inside is a watch he is unable to open, though he can hear the clockwork moving inside. Forgetting about the mysterious watch as the months go by, Thaniel is drawn with the rest of the government into investigating bomb threats being made by Irish Nationalists. When the watch saves him from such a blast, Thaniel is determined to get to the bottom of the timepiece’s mystery. Seeking out the maker of the piece, a Japanese Baron turned watchmaker, Thaniel finds a quiet, unassuming man. As events continue, it appears more and more that Keita Mori is hiding something. Thaniel must weigh his growing regard for the kindly Mori with his increasing suspicion that he may be at the center of the bombings in London.

This is a neat little book, and took me down unexpected paths. In the interests of keeping my reviews spoiler free, I won’t elaborate any more on the plot here, but suffice to say that having started the book, I could not have predicted where it would wind up. There are elements of fantasy and steampunk in this story, but these aspects don’t seem intrusive, which is a fairly easy trap to fall into in this genre. Rather, the book felt like a historical mystery, with the more fantastical elements providing a gilding along the edges.

The characters of Thaniel Steepleton and Keita Mori are richly drawn. Mori, especially, is well done. As the plot weaves on, we come to regard both he and Thaniel as sympathetic characters, yet we are left guessing until the very end of the book whether or not Mori is a villain.

Fans of historical mystery, steampunk, or historical fantasy will find a great deal to like in this book. The book lies somewhere between the historical-with-a-bit-of-supernatural Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, and the vividly steampunk Magnificent Devices series by Shelly Adina.

 

Book Review: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

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The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Helena grew up in an isolated cabin deep in the marshes of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It wasn’t until she was a teenager that she understood the horrible truth of her unconventional childhood: her father was a kidnapper and rapist, and her mother his victim and prisoner. Now an adult, Helena has two young children of her own, and her father, known as The Marsh King, has been in prison for over a decade. Then one day, state troopers show up at her door; her father has escaped from prison. Helena knows that he will be coming for her, but her father is a consummate woodsman, able to disappear into the wilderness at will. Helena will have to use every bit of information he taught her in order to track him down and keep her family safe.

This nail-biting thriller contains shades of Room by Emma Donoghue and Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller. The story weaves between the present day, where Helena is living a more or less normal life in rural Michigan (though she still struggles with the intricacies of society), and her childhood living on the land in the isolated cabin on the marsh. We can acutely feel the subtle damage done to Helena by her father, yet she was raised to more or less worship him. Her father is a rapist, a kidnapper, and a sadist, but he was also the man who raised her, and what little girl doesn’t want the approval of her father? This dissonance between the facts and the feelings of her childhood present Helena with a horrible and complex dilemma. She knows her father is an evil man, and that he means to hurt her and her family, but how do you truly stop being daddy’s little girl?

I really liked this book. Dionne has taken a theme that occupies both newspaper headlines and our nightmares and made it into a terrifyingly realistic, gripping story. The weaving of past and present events is done well, revealing in increments the full story of Helena’s childhood. If you’ve been looking for a fast-paced, stay-up-until-one-in-the-morning read, this is the perfect book for you.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Horrorstör by Grady Henrix

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Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

This is one of those books I decided to try because of an intriguing cover and a gorgeous Instagram photo (you should check out@sadie_reads_them_all, her stuff is brilliant!). I am a total sucker for a great looking book. The intriguing blurb and the fact that another of Grady Hendrix’s books, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, has been on my TBR for a bit cemented the impulse buy.

Welcome to Orsk, Cleveland. This superstore offers pressboard furniture with clean lines and wallet-friendly prices. The massive showroom winds through setups of perfect living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms, all decked out exclusively in Orsk dressers, mattresses, tables, and couches. But something is wrong in this store; escalators run backwards, furniture is broken and vandalized in the night, and mysterious graffiti continues to show up in the bathrooms. In order to find out the cause of the vandalism, three employees stay overnight to monitor the store. What they encounter defies their worst nightmares, and it will be a miracle if they survive the night . . .

This book was a great take on the haunted house genre. Anyone who has been in a big box store in the dead of night knows just how creepy the place can be. There’s something about a location, normally bustling and loud with activity, echoing with the steps of a few 2am shoppers that works on the nerves. And anyone who has had to work an overnight shift (especially if by yourself) knows how much you seek out the well-lit and normal looking portions of the building to spend the night.

The horror is more psychological than flat-out gory (though there is gore, never fear). The store shifts and moves, entrapping the unfortunate employees in an increasingly sinister maze. The book reminds me a lot of House of Leaves, but without the dead spaces where nothing happens. Events ramp up quickly in Horrorstör and continue at a breakneck pace throughout the book.

I also enjoyed the portrayal of a more subtle horror: working in retail. The inanity, the amplification of petty annoyances, and the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped on a hamster wheel of fake smiles and interior screaming should be very familiar to any who has ever worked the other side of the cash register.

Horror fans will enjoy this book immensely. I’ve always enjoyed haunted house stories, and having one set in a thoroughly modern situation is refreshing. I will say, however, that reading the book gave me a paradoxical desire to go hang around the local Ikea . . .

Book Review: Lockdown by Laurie R. King

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Lockdown: A Novel of Suspense

Linda McDonald has taken over as principal at troubled Guadalupe Middle School in a small farming town in California. She has battled school boards and gang violence, dealt with truancy and the disappearance of one of her students. With her career day celebration, she hopes to inspire all her students to reach for their dreams. But there are many secrets hidden in this small town, and someone with a burning hatred in their soul is bent upon unimaginable violence. As the day wears on, threads pull and tensions rise. Events begin to spiral towards their horrifying and violent conclusion.

This is an extremely well-written suspense novel. Written largely in brief snatches of time, as experienced by the principal characters: McDonald, and her husband, Gordon, who has a hidden past of his own; Tio the school janitor; a top athlete with a fondness for guns, a psychologically scarred sixth grader; a wannabe gang member; a local cop; and others. Each character brings his or her own story into the spotlight as the day goes on, and we slowly learn more about each, never knowing who among them may be the one to initiate a bloodbath.

I found the book incredibly compelling, and in fact, I read the entire thing in more or less one sitting. School shootings being depressingly common in this day and age, the book felt extremely relevant and terrifyingly realistic. By spending so much time with so many different characters, the reader comes to care about most of them, yet you find yourself on edge, waiting for one for one of them to reveal the monster within.

If the subject matter isn’t too disturbing (which is totally understandable), fans of suspense, mystery, and thriller novels will enjoy this book. King has crafted a story that literally had me sitting forward in my chair, unwilling to stop reading until I had reached the end of the book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Wrath of a Shipless Pirate by Aaron Pogue

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The Wrath of a Shipless Pirate by Aaron Pogue

This book is the second in the Godlander Series by Aaron Pogue. If I have to tell you by now that there are spoilers ahead, I’ll be very disappointed. (My review of the first book in the series, The Dreams of a Dying God, was written pre-blog, but you can read it here, if you like.)

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I read the first book in the series several years ago, started this book, and promptly became distracted by something shiny. The poor thing has been sitting on my shelf ever since, and as I’m trying to be good about getting through long-timers on my TBR, I thought it was high time to give the book another try.

Corin Hugh has returned from the ancient city of Jezeeli and emerged in the present day with the favor of a God. Tasked by Oberon himself to kill usurper god Epithel, Corin first sets his sight on some satisfying revenge. Corin sets his sights on killing Ethan Blake, his mutinous first mate who left him to die in the ashes of the great city’s ruins. Unfortunately, it seems that Blake may actually be one of the Vestossis, powerful politicians and rulers who enjoy the favor of Ephithel himself. With the help of a druid ally, Corin must learn to use the magics given to him by Oberon to exact his revenge.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: time travel makes for messy book keeping. While an interesting concept, Corin’s traveling 1000 years in the past in the first book can only complicate the plot from here on out. Fortunately, Pogue seems to sidestep most of those issues by placing Corin’s first adventures in something analogous to a dream, as envisioned by the God Oberon (kind of a literal deus ex machina).

The story itself is engaging. However, it does take about 70-ish pages before you start to feel like you’re having fun. Once the book settles into its rhythm though, it becomes a rather entertaining swashbuckling, monster-fighting, ship-exploding, revenge-seeking, pirate-killing extravaganza. I would recommend reading the first book prior to this one, but, as I didn’t reread it prior to reading this book, you may be able to get by reading this book as a stand alone.

I would recommend this book to fans of straight-up fantasy. It does take some work, but once you muddle through the first few chapters, it really does become quite a bit of fun.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Box Unboxing/Review: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box June – All Hail the King

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I’ve probably said it before, but I look forward to this book box all month. I was super excited for June (which the sadistic folks who run the box have been teasing us with for two months) – the theme for this month is “All Hail the King” and the box is full of Stephen King themed goodies!

First off the books. there are always two books for each box. This month’s new release is Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar.

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What makes this even cooler is that the cover is an exclusive variant only made for this box! I feel like this is such a wonderful idea, and I’m so happy that they were able to make it happen! Any how, the Goodreads description of the story says:

The little town of Castle Rock, Maine has witnessed some strange events and unusual visitors over the years, but there is one story that has never been told… until now.

There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.

At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.

One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: “Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me.”

On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat…

Journey back to Castle Rock again in this chilling new novella by Stephen King, bestselling author of The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and Richard Chizmar, award-winning author of A Long December. This book will be a Cemetery Dance Publications exclusive with no other editions currently planned anywhere in the world!

So . . . . squeeeeeee!

The previously released book is Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub

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Here’s the Goodreads description:

When a graduate student with a passion for jazz arrived in New York to discover that a legendary saxophonist he had assumed long dead is not only still alive but playing in an East Village club, he spends night after night in awe-struck attendance.And when the legend grants him an interview on Halloween, he jumps at the opportunity. What unfolds is an endless night filled with an extraordinary story told by a dying master: a story centered upon the Halloween night of his eleventh year, a white woman screaming in a shanty town, a killer and an unidentified man fleeing with a strange bundle in his arms.

I enjoy Straub’s books, and I’m really looking forward to reading this one!

And of course, in addition to the books, there’s a whole bunch of goodies in the box as well. As always, we get an art print

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And some fantastic looking tea (I may be slightly ridiculously fond of tea)

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There’s also a host of King-related pins, stickers, and patches (and a bookmark, of course!)

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And yes, the pin does feature King’s autograph, you jealous yet?

And fresh from my read of It, I absolutely loved the magnet that came in the box

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Oh, and have you noticed the lovely back ground for all these pictures? That would be a Gunslinger-themed bandanna you’ve been subconsciously admiring

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So as always, I’m fantastically happy with this month’s box, and now I’m waiting on tenterhooks for July’s box (the theme is “Feast”, yipee!)

If you haven’t yet, you should take yourself to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box website and check them out!

Book Review: Vacation Guide to the Solar System by Olivia Koski and Jana Grcevich

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Vacation Guide to the Solar System: Science for the Savvy Space Traveler! by Olivia Koski and Jana Grcevich

Is the grind of life on Earth getting you down? Want to get away? Look no further! Vacation Guide to the Solar System is your one-stop guide to the farthest reaches of our celestial neighborhood. Want to know what to pack for a trip to Pluto? What to do when you arrive on Venus? What bungee jumping on Neptune would be like? Wonder no more!

In all seriousness, this book provides a huge amount of information, packaged in art deco, retro-futuristic kitsch. In addition to sci-fi information like baseball tournaments on the moon and ice skating (with heated skates to melt the rock-like ice) on Pluto, the book is also packed with the latest information on our neighboring planets, celestial bodies, comets, dwarf planets, and alien moons. The book itself is stunning, with gorgeous retro travel posters and illustrations combined with actual photos from NASA’s archives.

The whole thing was put together under the umbrella of Guerrilla Science (you should check out their website here). Guerrilla Science is a rouge collection of scientists and artists whose goal is to bring science to wide audiences through interactive and innovative installations and events. Their Intergalactic Travel Bureau provided the seed for this book.

This is a great source for information on our solar system, appropriate for kids and adults alike. Fans of astronomy, science, and science fiction should jump on this book. Anyone who likes entertaining nonfiction (Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars immediately springs to mind) will enjoy this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Blackout by Marc Elsberg

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Blackout by Marc Elsberg

 

The entire European electric grid has gone dark. From Britain to the Czech Republic, millions are without power. As the blackout continues, international authorities are unable to find the cause of the disaster, or who might be responsible. Chaos and unrest continue to build as people are left without food, heat, water, or medical care. Hacker Piero Manzano believes he may have discovered the cause of the blackout, but he quickly finds himself Europol’s number one suspect. Manzano must continue his investigation on the run, and with the help of an American journalist, he sets out to find those responsible. But time is not on his side, without backup power, nuclear power plants across the continent are beginning to go critical.

This is a scary book. Elsberg has thoroughly researched and crafted this book to hew as closely as possible to reality. His knowledge of electric grids, cyber security, and international policing and politics is comprehensive and used to best effect. In Blackout, we find a very real look at what a major terror attack against our power supply might look like.

My major problem with the book it that it lacks heart. The book reads more like an overview of events rather than a novel with characters we are supposed to care about. However, this may not be Elsberg’s fault. Blackout was originally published in German in 2012, the version I read (to be published in June of 2017) was translated into English. Translation of literature is a complex and fraught artform. Without careful attention to form and intent, the heart and soul of the book (or poem, etc.) in question can be lost. I am wondering if that is what happened here. As I do not speak German, that will have to remain merely a hypothesis until some kindly German-speaking person reads the book in its original form and lets me know if they found the same problem.

Still, this is a vivid and haunting picture of events which I could potentially see in my lifetime. The realism of the book is haunting, and will stick with you even after you’ve finished reading. If you’re looking for a disaster story, this one takes the cake.

 

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Seeds of Life by Edward Dolnick

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The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to da Vinci, from Shark’s Teeth to Frog’s Pants, the Long and Strange Quest to Discover Where Babies Come From by Edward Dolnick

For the entirety of our existence, we have wondered “where do babies come from?” Yet this question proved to be so incredibly complicated and intricate, that only in the last century and a half have we been able to discover answers with any sort of surety. Seeds of Life examines the scientific pursuit of the origin and continuation of life from the 16th century through the 19th. Scientific giants such as da Vinci, Leeuwenhoek, and Harvey would find themselves stymied by this question. In an age of scientific enlightenment and accomplishment, the inability to answer such a seemingly basic question was frustrating to the extreme. The pursuit of this answer led to bitter feuds and rivalries, and at times split the scientific community asunder.

Dominick does a great job of bringing this story to life in an engaging and easy to follow way. It is no mean feat to cover such a topic over such a broad time frame, but Dolnick sets the story as a form of detective novel, with various players entering the fray, only to crash on the shoals of an unanswerable question. Dolnick makes the story easy to follow, and adds welcome (and some would say, inevitable) humor to the topic.

Folks who enjoy their nonfiction with a dash of humor will enjoy this book. If you’re a fan of Mary Roach (indeed, Bonk is a great follow up to this book), or were entertained by Unmentionable by Therese Oneill, this is a great book for you. Even if you aren’t usually a nonfiction person, this is the perfect book for dipping a toe into the genre. It may not be an explosion-laced extravaganza, but it is an entertaining and fast reading true story. You’re bound to have fun with this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

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Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

All-too-familiar Caveat: This is a review for the second book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. That means there will almost certainly be spoilers here for the first book. Rather unavoidable, really.

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Now, then. I have finally gotten around to the the second book in the Miss Peregrine series (Yay!). If you’re interested, you can read my review of the first book here.

So the kids, led by Jacob and Emma, have escaped Cairnholm Island with a severely injured (and unable to transform) Miss Peregrine in tow. On their own in 1940, the children, already exhausted from their battle with the wights, must journey through the bomb-scarred British countryside to find someone capable of healing Miss Peregrine. The war-torn landscape gives perfect cover for hunting wights, and the children must race both time and their enemies in order to save their ymbyrne.

Okay I’m going to come right out an say it: this book wasn’t nearly as much fun as the first one. The first book gave us the joy of experiencing new worlds, new folks to meet, and while we got a good dose of creepiness, it was still fun. Hollow City is, in a word, grim. Traipsing through the wartime English countryside is not really an enjoyable pastime. The antique photos, used to such great effect in the first book, take on a new cast here, sometimes seeming like the sole factor driving the story at points. And be warned, some of the photos in the book are of dead bodies. I don’t have a problem with this in and of itself (after all, dead folks are my field), but photos of actual dead people in a young adult book is a bit surprising. Maybe I’m being too delicate. After all, I’m old, and don’t know what the young people are into these days (presumably dead folks. Good for you, young people).

So bottom line: Hollow City isn’t nearly as good as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but it’s still a fine example of the young adult genre. I’ll hold off on judging the series as a whole until I’ve read the third book.