Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mrs. Poe (Lynn Cullen)

Lynn Cullen's Mrs. Poe is historical fiction at its finest.  Cullen certainly did her research in crafting this tale about Edgar Allan Poe, his wife Virginia, and his lover Frances Osgood.  While an author needs to be extremely careful about not tarnishing someone's name who is not here to defend himself, most of the events in Mrs. Poe have been thoroughly documented.

The mysterious Edgar Allan Poe has just published "The Raven" to astounding success.  Frances Osgood is a struggling writer who has been left by her philandering husband.  When her publisher discovers that people are craving Poe’s dark works, he gives Frances the task of parodying Poe's writings.  She gradually falls in love with Poe through interviewing him and his wife for Margaret Fuller's newspaper.  The sickly Virginia is less-than-kind when she finds out about their passionate affair, finding all types of ways to get her revenge.  Suspense then builds to a very satisfying conclusion.

I've reviewed a lot of historical fiction on 1776books, and this is one of the best.  It's very well written, thoroughly researched, and filled with historical characters from the past.  Most of the time, these well-known people are seamlessly woven into the text.  However, what's keeping this book from getting a 5 is the sometimes lame name dropping (a character referring to Hawthorne writing a book called the Scarlet something is an example). Other than that, Cullen does an exceptional job at filling in the blanks about one of America's greatest writers. 


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

This House is Haunted (John Boyne)

It's been awhile since I've actually had goosebumps and been in a constant state of anxiety while reading a book.  Congratulations John Boyne – This House is Haunted is exactly the type of novel one would expect from a title like that.  It's a good old fashioned ghost story set in the 1800s, and even Charles Dickens makes an appearance, however unfortunate.

After going through the unimaginable loss of the only relative she has left in the world, Eliza Caine decides to leave her life in London for a brand new start.  She answers a mysterious ad for a governess in a place she's never been, soon discovering that there are no parents there to meet her, just two children.  When unexplainable things start to happen that threaten her life, Eliza realizes that there is a force in the house that doesn't want her there.  Most people would just run in a situation like this, but Eliza's moral responsibility for the children is just too great.  The house is full of secrets, and Boyne reveals them slowly, delivering punch after punch.

Some reviewers have stated that this book is full of "haunted house" clichés, but I disagree.  Boyne has crafted a highly original and unbelievably scary tale that will keep you up at night.  And isn't that all you can really ask from a ghost story?


Monday, September 9, 2013

The Bookstore (Deborah Meyler)

Nothing fancy, no literary masterpiece, but just a feel-good read: that is Deborah Meyler’s The Bookstore in a nutshell.  There's nothing I love more than going into a good old-fashioned bookstore (which are few and far between nowadays), and Meyler seems to share my grumbling about e-readers through her characters' words.  Turning the pages and feeling the actual book are things you just can't do with an electronic device.

Esme Garland is an English woman living in New York City on a Columbia University art history scholarship.  She is quickly swept up by Mitchell, a wealthy man swimming in confidence, and soon finds herself pregnant with his child.  Her "dreamboat" guy soon wants nothing to do with either Esme or her baby, so she realizes that she's going to need money for her new life.  She begins a job at The Owl, a bookstore she's been frequenting as a customer.  And so the novel really begins here: with the stories of the "regulars" and Esme's fellow employees as they become ingrained in her life.

Reading this novel immediately made me want to go and visit some old bookstores.  Going to one is like settling under a cozy throw blanket or into a pair of well-worn slippers.  And while the ending of this novel was a little too abrupt for my taste, it's a worthwhile read that lets you take comfort in, unfortunately, what seems to be a dying breed.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Longings of Wayward Girls (Karen Brown)

I was drawn to Karen Brown’s The Longings of Wayward Girls because of the many similarities to Jennifer McMahon’s Island of Lost Girls.  Both have a very similar synopsis about missing children; even their titles and covers resemble each other.  However, while McMahon to me is a master at creating an eerie sense of dread in her books, Brown doesn’t quite write with the same effect.  For a debut, the story is well told, but I could definitely take or leave the plot.

On the surface, twelve-year-old Sadie Hawkins is a normal suburban girl growing up in the 1970s.  However, the reader only needs to dig a little deeper to discover that things are not all what they seem.  A local girl, Laura Loomis, disappeared a few years prior, keeping the town’s residents continually on edge.  Sadie’s mother has deep psychological issues that affect her family in exponential ways.  To escape the problems at her house, Sadie connives a plan with her best friend, Betty.  Together, they begin to write letters to a lonely schoolmate, Francine, pretending to be a boy.  As the pen pal “relationship” continues, things take a dangerous turn when Francine goes missing; only when Sadie has grown up with her own children does she discover the truth behind what happened.

I so wanted to love this book and was hoping that Brown would pen a really suspenseful tale.  However, I found Sadie’s actions to be quite unbelievable, particularly something she does as a grown adult (not to give anything away).  At times I couldn’t stop reading, and at other times, I just shook my head in disbelief.  For that, I’m going to give it an average rating.