Double!! Book Review: Whispers Beyond the Veil and Whispers of Warning by Jessica Estevao

Whispers Beyond the Veil and Whispers of Warning by Jessica Estevao

So it’s time for a big ol’ review of the first two books in Jessica Estevao’s Change of Fortune mystery series. Since I’m reviewing both books together, there’s probably going to be minor spoilers for the second book in the series (duh).

Blurb the first:

Canada, 1898. The only life Ruby Proulx has ever known is that of a nomad, traveling across the country with her snake-oil salesman father. She dreams of taking root somewhere, someday, but, until she can, she makes her way by reading tarot cards. Yet she never imagined her own life would take such a turn…

After one of her father’s medical “miracles” goes deadly wrong, Ruby evades authorities by hiding in the seaside resort town of Old Orchard, Maine, where her estranged Aunt Honoria owns the Hotel Belden, a unique residence that caters to Spiritualists—a place where Ruby should be safe as long as she can keep her dark secret hidden.

But Ruby’s plan begins to crumble after a psychic investigator checks into the hotel and senses Ruby is hiding more than she’s letting on. Now Ruby must do what she can to escape both his attention and Aunt Honoria’s insistence that she has a true gift, before she loses her precious new home and family forever…

Blurb the second (spoilers, duh):

Partially reformed con artist Ruby Proulx is starting to feel at home in her aunt’s seaside hotel. She loves the feeling of being rooted in one place and also feels a sense of purpose as she helps her aunt keep her business afloat by acting as a psychic medium for the hotel’s metaphysically inclined guests.

When one of the guests, renowned Spiritualist and outspoken suffragist Sophronia Foster Eldridge, checks into the hotel for a month-long stay, Ruby finds her sense of purpose expand outside the confines of home and family. Sophronia takes Ruby under her wing and mentors her in the mediumistic abilities, encouraging her to work for a woman’s right to vote. But not everyone is as happy with Sophronia’s appearance in Old Orchard. When her body is found floating in the saltwater plunge pool of a local bathhouse, Ruby takes it upon herself to solve the murder, and in the process learns that Sophronia was hiding some secrets of her own.

Estevao has done a great job recreating a seaside town in Maine at the turn of the 20th century. She has clearly done a great deal of research, and the town of Old Orchard comes alive off the page. Ruby herself is a great character, an intelligent, independent woman who still manages to make mistakes, and occasionally do the wrong thing. In other words, Ruby has welcome nuance to her character. She isn’t a victim, a villain, or a superhero, but rather is someone relatable and sympathetic.

The mystery plots are well crafted, with red herrings and rich supporting characters. There is (isn’t there always?) a romance subplot, but it remains largely in the background, and doesn’t consume the characters.

In all, this is a great historical mystery series, with plenty of room to grow and evolve. Fans of the genre will have no trouble diving into this engaging book. Fans of Victoria Thompson and Deanna Rayborn should definitely take note.

Book Review: Welcome to Romero Park by Amber Michelle Cook

Welcome to Romero Park by Amber Michelle Cook

Romero Park is the ancestral home of Edward Dorchester, your classic haughty-yet-troubled gothic noble. It is harvest time, and Dorchester is planning a ball to celebrate the announcement of his engagement. But as the local gentry descend upon the manor, and the servants scramble to get everything in order, a fell moon rises on the proceedings, and a mysterious corruption is slowly working its insidious way through the manor house and grounds.

I wasn’t sure what I was in for when I started this book. Let’s face it, the zombie thing is on the decline, and classic-literature-plus-undead is hard to do right. Fortunately, Cook does a fantastic job with Romero Park, giving us both zombie mayhem and Victorian correctness in one package. The book uses the bones of Jane Eyre, and drapes it in rotting flesh and gnashing teeth. The story moves from person to person, flirting with the Brönte plot we know and love, but veering away into wholly original (and very entertaining) territory.

My original beef with the book is that it was largely build-up with little climax. Now that I know the book is the first in a planned trilogy, I can understand the reasons for the pacing. Cook slowly builds up the terror in store, letting us see glimpses of a future calamity, and setting us upon several red herrings. It also lets me appreciate the time the author takes with each of her characters, letting them live and breathe a bit before the undead come knocking.
This book, quite simply, is an enormous amount of fun. You know how the story is supposed to go, and you happily anticipate the chaos of the zombie apocalypse to come. And let’s face it, who hasn’t wanted some version of Blanche Ingram to get eaten by a horde of mindless undead?

If you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (and I will confess that I enjoyed this book more), or like a whiff of rotting flesh with your classic literature, this is an incredibly entertaining read. I’m waiting on tenterhooks to see how the story plays out in the next book!

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

confessions-of-young-nero

The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

Like most of you (I’m assuming), I really only think of one thing when I hear about Nero: the emperor who fiddled madly while Rome burned down around him. Well, Margaret George, one of historical fiction’s great writers, has set her sights on the infamous Roman emperor in an attempt to (at least partially) clear his name.

The novel (the first of two planned for Emperor Nero) focuses mainly on Nero’s childhood and early years as emperor. Born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, and nephew to the then-emperor Caligula (yes, that Caligula), who had his sister (Nero’s mother) banished from the country as a potential threat to his rule. Nero gets his first taste of Roman imperial politics at the tender age of three, when Caligula tries to drown him in a lake. Surviving the attempt, the young Nero’s situation is barely improved with the return of his mother after Caligula’s death, as her machinations, and those of the current rulers of the Roman empire, promise more pain and betrayal for the boy.

After ascending the throne at age sixteen, Nero pledges to himself to be a different style of emperor than his uncle, Caligula, or any of his scheming relatives waiting in the wings. An artist and musician at heart, he attempts to seek his own path as the most powerful man in the world.

George uses historical sources to bring accuracy and realism to her work, and this book is no exception. While artistic license must be taken (especially with Nero, whose achievements were largely posthumously suppressed from the historical record), Margaret George takes pain to ensure that her book cleaves as closely as possible to verifiable truth (and you know how I love a fictional book with a bibliography). Ultimately, this book is about family, and how the cutthroat and brutal dynamics of the Roman elite can sully even the most optimistic dreamer.

Any lover of history or historical fiction will find a lot to love in this book. Margaret George is the queen of historical fiction for good reason. The book is engagingly written and suspenseful, and George’s characterization of the young emperor is complex and compelling. In all, this is a highly readable book about a man who exists today as a caricature of himself.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Confessions of a Young Nero will be available for purchase on March 7th, 2017.

Book Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

After Alice Gregory Maguire

 

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

The summer day waxes hot in Oxford and young Alice has gone missing. But enough about her. Right now we’re concerned with the plights of Lydia, Alice’s older sister, Ada, the neighbor girl, and Miss Armstrong, Ada’s governess.

The book opens with the squalling of an infant: Ada’s younger brother, and a sudden, pressing need to be out of the house. Running out ahead of her governess, young Ada heads down to see her friend Alice. Encountering Alice’s sister, Lydia, on the road, she is directed to Alice’s regular haunt. Unfortunately for Ada, who requires an iron brace to walk straight, she encounters a rabbit hole instead and promptly tumbles down.

Miss Armstrong is left to search after her charge, becoming more and more worried when it seems that Alice may be missing as well. Dragging a reluctant Lydia along in the search, she is desperate to find the girls before Ada’s or Alice’s fathers learn the girls have gone. Ada, meanwhile, must navigate Wonderland and its strange denizens to find both Alice and her way home.

All this sounds a bit more promising in summary that it was in reality. I’m a fan of Gregory Maguire, Wicked was a fantastic book, and added a huge amount to L. Frank Baum’s classic. We don’t get that same gift here with After Alice. There are no huge revelations about any Wonderland favorites, nor is the real world plot very compelling. Following Ada into Wonderland, we meet many of the same folks that Alice did, but we gain nothing new in the encounter. After a bit, it seems as though we’re ticking off boxes, making sure we’ve said hello to everyone, but not really speaking to them.

Back in Oxford, we follow Lydia and Miss Armstrong as they search for Ada and Alice. This story line largely seems to go nowhere. The two women search halfheartedly, annoy one another, and compete for a gentleman’s attention. Lydia is sharp where Miss Armstrong is a bit insipid, but neither seems very engaged in finding their missing charges, which is the part I had been keen to explore: what pandemonium might erupt in Oxford when not one, but two children go missing? The answer seems to be very, very, very little.

In all, I feel like this is not Maguire’s best work. I’d recommend this for hardcore Maguire fans, and those looking for even a little bit more about Alice and her world. For the more casual reader: you won’t hate this book, but it left little impression on me.

A copy of this book was provided via Goodreads Givaways in exchange for an honest review. After Alice is currently available for purchase.