“There is no greater power on this earth than story.” // Review of “The Diviners” by Libba Bray

Title: The Diviners (The Diviners #1)
Author: Libba Bray
Audio book narrator: January LaVoy
Genre: Historical fantasy/horror
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 28/05/19 – 07/06/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book had everything I want in a book! 1920s New York, serial killings, the occult, ghosts. Not to mention January LaVoy is a fantastic narrator.

There is a large cast of characters, whose paths intersect in various ways, but the main ones are Evie O’Neill and co., who are assisting the police in solving a series of occult murders. In between these, we get spooky chapters detailing each killing (don’t listen to these after dark!), along with chapters introducing us to others with powers that will become known as Devining, making them Deviners.

Evie is pretty selfish and self-centred, though she has moments of vulnerability. She puts on a front to hide the grief of losing her brother in the war eight years earlier. But she and the others make a good team when it comes to solving the murders.

The rest of the ensemble cast all have really fleshed out characters, too. Even though in the cases of a lot of these  characters, the book is setting up for the sequel where they become central characters, their scenes never felt like filler. I really iked Mabel, Evie’s BFF, though I wished she would sometimes stand up for herself a bit more (though she definitely has potential to come into her own later). I had mixed feelings about Sam Lloyd and Jericho Jones, whom I am pretty sure are going to both become love interests.

I loved all the history involved in the mystery. There are fifty-year-old cults, and weird ceremonies, and prophecies and all sorts of fun things. And it’s so detailed. There are creepy murder scenes that were probably made extra creepy by the fact that I always seemed to reach them when I was walking after dark from the bus stop, or driving alone late at night. January LaVoy has a certain talent with voices, I must say. The climax is especially scary, with Evie mostly on her own against an army of ghosts.

There did seem to be about an hour at the end of the book where things were being either tied up or set up for  the next book. There are so many different characters, it really did feel like Bray was actively having to tick each one off to make sure she’d dealt with them. But I was still keen to start the second book as soon as this one was finished.


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Book Review: “Loch of the Dead” by Oscar de Muriel

Title: Loch of the Dead (Frey & McGray #4)
Author: Oscar de Muriel
Audio book narrator: Andy Secombe
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Target age group: Adult
Dates read: 11/07/18 – 04/08/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I thought I’d lost interest in this series by about a third of the way through this book. I actually DNFed it at first, before realising that I did actually want to know how it ended, I just didn’t have the patience to listen to the audio book anymore. I still think the first two books in the series are the best, but I did find this an addictive race to the finish line, and definitely an improvement on the third book.

This fourth installment in the series sees Frey & McGray travel to the very north of Scotland, where McGray has been promised access to a potential cure for his sister in exchange for helping when a young boy is threatened.

The format in this book changed once again: while most of it was still in first person from Frey’s perspective, there were some chapters from McGray’s. These were in third person, and I didn’t always realise that the change had happened, so I got pulled out of the story when I suddenly realised the tone was a bit different and Frey wasn’t actually there. As I said in the previous book, my favourite part of this series is the Frey and McGray banter, and when they spend so much of an investigation apart that McGray needs his own chapters, that means the banter is probably not happening.

There were some great moments throughout the book, some that made me laugh out loud (it’s always wonderful when McGray witnesses Frey making a fool of himself), and the climax definitely had me turning the pages rapidly and staying up late to finish. I did think that the eventual villains of the piece were a bit cartoonish and over the top, but it did make for an exciting finish.

This is all there is of the Frey & McGray series for now, but I will definitely pick up any further instalments de  Muriel chooses to write.


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Book Review: “A Mask of Shadows” by Oscar de Muriel

Title: A Mask of Shadows (Frey & McGray #3)
Author: Oscar de Muriel
Audio book narrator: Andy Secombe
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Target age group: Adult
Dates read: 28/06/18 – 11/07/18
Rating: ★★

Review:

After thoroughly enjoying the first two Frey & McGray books, I was excited to start the next one . Sadly, as you can see from my rating, this one was rather disappointing in comparison.

Oscar de Muriel experiments with his form a bit in this book, and I didn’t think it really worked. Or maybe I’m just resistant to change Rather than just being a straight narrative, this book was in the form of a police report compiled at the end of an investigation. Alongside the usual first person narrative from Frey’s perspective, we also have fragments of Bram Stoker’s (yes, that Bram Stoker, more on that below) journal and letter fragments recovered at one point in the investigation, placed throughout the narrative, ostensibly where Frey thought they best fit.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous reviews, one of the things that makes this series so enjoyable is the relationship between Frey and McGray. In this one, they spent far less time together, so there was so little delightful banter. When it did happen, it was great, but I wanted more. Much of the narrative in this book was just the two policemen interviewing suspects, and then re-interviewing them when someone else brings a new fact to life. By the time the culprit was revealed around the 85% mark, I was just plain bored.

One thing I have noticed in both the previous books, and again in this one, is that there aren’t many likeable female characters, which is a bit disappointing. I think the issue probably stood out more to me this time because I wasn’t enjoying the things that usually make up for it.

To be fair, de Muriel’s historical detail was meticulous. The book centres around the real life production of Macbeth mounted by the celebrated Henry Irving, and Irving, his leading lady, Ellen Terry, and their theatre manager and later author, Bram Stoker,  all feature prominently as characters. While the mystery is fabricated, of course, de Muriel had to invent very little about the historical figures themselves in order to weave the narrative around them. I found myself pausing the audio book to look up Wikipedia articles or YouTube videos about them to learn more.

Fortunately, I’ve seen some reviews from others who thought this book a bit lacklustre who assure me that the fourth installment is back to the standard of the first two. I have already listened to the first twenty minutes and it’s definitely a promising start, so I think this one was just an anomoly.

You can read my review of the first book in the Frey and McGray series, The Strings of Murder, here, and the second, A Fever of the Blood, here.


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Book Review: “A Fever of the Blood” by Oscar de Muriel

Title: A Fever of the Blood (Frey & McGray #2)
Author: Oscar de Muriel
Audio book narrator: Andy Secombe
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Dates read: 14/06/18 – 22/06/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book was just as fun as the last one, and de Muriel continues to build on the characters that he introduced us to in The Strings of Murder. Andy Secombe’s narration also continues to be incredibly entertaining.

The plot is well-paced, with some great action scenes that were particularly exciting in the audio book. I thought at one point I must have reached the climax, only to realise I was only at 65%. The actual climax actually did build from there, and the situation for many of the characters was difficult to guess, which kept me hooked.

The relationship between Frey and McGrey was once again the highlight. There is plenty of the banter that came out in book one, but there is also genuine conflict which I expect will play a part in the subsequent books.

Having said that, I did have a few criticisms. I felt this installment was a bit more reactive than the previous one. There were fewer clues for the detectives to follow; instead, a lot of the plot relied on them simply ending up in certain places at the right time. I also found that the antagonists who show up at about the 70% mark bordered on the comical and cartoonish at times.

Still, that can all be forgiven in the name of fun and entertainment. I am waiting to get my hands on the third audio book, which I hope is up to the same standard.

You can read my review of the first book in the Frey and McGray series, The Strings of Murder, here.


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Book Review: “The Strings of Murder” by Oscar de Muriel

Title: The Strings of Murder (Frey & McGrey #1)
Author: Oscar de Muriel
Audio book narrator: Andy Secombe
Genre: historical fiction/mystery
Dates read: 06/05/18 – 19/05/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Well, this book was a whole lot of fun. It’s a cracking historical mystery, and the audio book is narrated with so much interesting variance that I often forgot I was listening to one person.

Jack The Ripper has London in a panic, and when a disemboweled body shows up in Edinburgh, Scotland Yard fears a copycat. Disgraced police officer Ian Frey is sent north to investigate, along with Scottish officer Adolphus McGrey. McGrey has his reasons for believing the case has a supernatural bent, and the two lock horns in a race against time to find the murderer.

The interactions between Frey and McGrey were definitely the highlight of this book for me. McGrey takes to calling Frey a “London lassie” and Frey is constantly sputtering in shock over the things that come out of McGrey’s mouth. McGrey’s unconventionial methods also clash with Frey’s by-the-book nature. The side characters are also well-drawn; I was able to form distinct opinions about all of them, even the characters we don’t see all that oftne.

The mystery itself was complex without being overly complicated. I felt some information did come out of the blue towards the end with very little to hint at it, but that was a small issue, really.

Andy Secombe is a masterful audio book narrator and I’m pleased to see he has also recorded the subsequent books in the series. His character voices are so varied that I did often have to remind myself there was only one person reading the story. I think this made the book even more entertaining. Reading “Och, shut up, ye London lassie” is one thing, but hearing it in a thick Scottish brogue is quite another.

I’m definitely intending to continue with this series, and recommend it to any fan of historical fiction.


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“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.” // Review of “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie

Title: Murder on the Orient Express
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery
Date Read: 25/04/2018 – 26/04/2018
Rating:
 ★★★★☆

Review:

As someone who very often finds classic literature dry, stuffy and inaccessible,  I  had put off reading Murder on the Orient Express for a long time. It’s so iconic, and I didn’t want to sllog my way through it and then end up disappointed. I needn’t have worried. I flew through it in two days. It was completely engaging.

While I’d never read a Poirot book before, I had seen many an episode of the TV series starring David Suchet. Poirot is just as interesting a character on paper; his way of talking to people makes me laugh, but his powers  of deduction are masterful.

Having reached the end of the book, I could see why this particular one is so iconic, and widely considered Christie’s best. I tried keeping track of details, but of course, the outcome took me completely by surprise. Just when I thought things were getting completely unrealistic and ridiculous, that gets addressed and is part of the solution.

The reason that this doesn’t get a full five stars from me is because the decisions made by Poirot in literally the final paragraphs threw me off a bit. I couldn’t quite reconcile it, and even after googling some discussions surrounding the ending and coming to understand it, I still don’t know how I feel. But honestly, that was the only issue I had.


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Book Review: The Truth of All Things by Kieran Shields

Title: The Truth of All Things
Author: Kieran Sheilds
Genre: Historical/Mystery
Format: Hardcover
Date Read: 06/06/2014 – 11/06/2014
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I came across this book while searching out books truthofallthingscoverset during the Salem Witch Trials. This one is set 200 years later, and while it sounded interesting, I didn’t click the “Reserve a copy” button on my library’s online catalogue at first. I’m really glad I changed my mind, though, as I ended up really loving it!

Deputy Marshall Archie Lean is called to a grisly murder scene in which a young woman has been laid out in a pentagram with a pitchfork through her throat, a traditional method for killing a “witch”. As his investigation continues, he enlists the help of criminologist, Perceval Grey, and historian, Helen Prescott, the niece of medical examiner, Doctor Stieg. It soon becomes clear that this murder is not an isolated incident, and that several young women around Massachusetts and Maine have been killed by a man with a seeming fixation on the Salem Witch Trials.

Archie Lean is a fun protagonist; he quotes poetry and in his downtime, worries whether he’s going to be able to keep the position of Deputy in the future and buy a house for him, his wife and their two children [well, one child; second is on the way]. The character of Perceval Grey runs the risk of being accused of being a Sherlock Holmes clone, but what I found most interesting about him was his half-Abenaki heritage, and how this affected his relationships with the other characters. As the murder scene is constructed in such a way to make it look like the murder was an Indian, Grey is viewed with suspicion from Lean and the other investigators, even after he assures them he has not lived amongst his father’s people since the age of seven and they have nothing to “worry” about. Lean and Grey do warm to each other, though, and there is a lot of fun banter between them. Banter is my favourite thing.

Helen Prescott, unfortunately, was something of a plot device, and I wish we had been able to learn a bit more about her. She basically served as the expert on the Salem Witch Trials, filling in details the others weren’t aware of, as well as being a love interest for Grey (I’ve started the second book now,  which is set a year later. She’s all but disappeared, but there’s a new female character who Grey finds “arresting”).

The plot is quick-paced, and I did sometimes have trouble keeping up with all the characters who played a part in the sequence of events that led up to the murders. There was one point where I was worried that the resolution was going to be rather unsatisfying after such a promising lead-up, but I realised soon after that if the murderer has been caught and there are still 60 pages to go, they probably haven’t actually caught the murderer. 😉

I really enjoyed the setting (period murder mysteries are just so much more fun than contemporary ones) though for something set in America, it did feel very Victorian. I mean, I really don’t know how much of a difference there would really be, but that did surprise me a little.

As I said above, I’m already onto the sequel, “A Study in Revenge” and so far it is promising to be good fun, too (though I was looking ahead to see how many pages it has and accidentally read the last few lines and I think we have a cliffhanger on our hands!). Kieran Shields is definitely an author to keep an eye on!