Mini-Reviews: Aunt, Farleigh, Likeness, Poldark

As you can tell, I’m not super motivated to blog at the moment, and I’m contemplating some possible changes to my process. Going forward, I’d like to absolve myself from trying to review every book I read, and maybe just focus on the best or most interesting books of each month. I’d also like to vary my content a little bit more, maybe by doing more discussion posts and memes à la Top Ten Tuesday. So I’m ruminating on that…but in the meantime, here are some more mini-reviews!

Death of My AuntIn Farleigh Field

C.H.B. Kitchin, Death of My Aunt — I love a good Golden Age mystery, but this one isn’t one of my favorites. I don’t remember it being particularly bad, but nothing stands out as particularly memorable either. It’s your standard “unpleasant family matriarch dies, the younger husband is the main suspect, but did he really do it?” plot. I did like the fact that the younger husband wasn’t an obvious slimeball, as they generally tend to be in these types of stories. But in the end, I think only diehard Golden Age fans will enjoy this one.

Rhys Bowen, In Farleigh Field — This book has a lot of my favorite things: historical fiction, World War II, spies, and a friends-to-lovers subplot. But while it was an enjoyable read, I didn’t fall in love with it. I think I wanted more from the espionage story, and the characters all seemed a little flat to me. Also, while the book can definitely be read as a standalone, I got the impression that it was setting up a sequel, and I’m not sure I care enough to continue with a (hypothetical) series.

Likeness, TheJeremy Poldark

Tana French, The Likeness — The modern crime thriller isn’t my preferred genre, but I made an exception for French’s In the Woods and completely devoured it. This is the second book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, and it focuses on Cassie, Ryan’s partner from the first book. The premise is somewhat outlandish, as Cassie must go undercover to investigate the murder of a young woman who looks just like her. But despite that, I found myself completely compelled by Cassie’s journey as she integrates herself into the dead woman’s life. I definitely plan to continue with this series — I’ve already bought book three!

Winston Graham, Jeremy Poldark — ***Warning: Spoilers for previous books in the Poldark series.***

Book three in the Poldark saga really amps up the drama, as it begins with Ross on trial for his life because of his role in the shipwreck and ensuing events at the end of Demelza. Of course, Ross is hellbent on making things as difficult as possible for himself, and George Warleggan is working behind the scenes to get Ross convicted. This is the book that really sold me on the series, although newcomers should start at the beginning with Ross Poldark.

Review: Dreamer’s Pool

Dreamer's PoolJuliet Marillier, Dreamer’s Pool

This novel, set in early medieval Ireland, tells the story of Blackthorn, a young woman who has been imprisoned by a cruel chieftain and sentenced to death. But on the eve of her execution, she is saved by one of the Fair Folk, who grants her freedom under two conditions: she must assist anyone who asks for her help, and she cannot seek revenge against her jailer for seven years. Blackthorn reluctantly accepts these terms and escapes from the prison, along with fellow prisoner Grim. At first, the two travel aimlessly, with Blackthorn occasionally using her skills as a wise woman to help those who need medical attention. Eventually, they arrive in the kingdom of Dalriada, where Prince Oran asks Blackthorn for help. He is about to be married to Flidais, the daughter of a neighboring chieftain. He has fallen in love with her because of the letters she has sent him; but when Flidais arrives in person, she seems completely unlike the woman of the letters. Blackthorn and Grim help Oran to investigate his bride’s seemingly changed personality, and their search eventually leads to a shocking discovery about the nearby Dreamer’s Wood.

I’m a big fan of Juliet Marillier’s books, and I’m pleased to say that I liked this one also. The novel is narrated by Blackthorn, Grim, and Oran in turn, and each character’s voice is very specific and distinct from the others. Blackthorn is clearly the book’s true heroine, and I found her an interesting protagonist, especially because most of her motivation at this point stems from her (justifiable) rage at being imprisoned for so long. In other words, she’s not a very nice person, and her traumatic past often leads her to assume the worst of other people. But her flaws make her a compelling character, and I look forward to seeing how she continues to develop as the (planned) series progresses. Grim is also an intriguing character, although not as well fleshed out as Blackthorn; I’m eager to learn more of his backstory. Like most of Marillier’s novels, the pace of this one is quite slow, and I’m not sure the mystery with Flidais needed to be as drawn-out as it was. That said, I did like the book and will plan to continue with the series; I believe book 2 comes out later this year.

Review: In the Woods

In the WoodsTana French, In the Woods

Detective Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, are two up-and-coming detectives on the Dublin Murder Squad. But Ryan is hiding a secret about his past: his real name is Adam Ryan, and when he was 12 years old, his two best friends vanished in the woods of Knocknaree without a trace. Ryan was even with them at the time, but he has no memory of what happened to them — or why they disappeared while he was found. Ryan has apparently done a good job of recovering from this trauma and moving on with his life, but he is deeply shaken when he and Cassie are assigned to another case in Knocknaree, where a young girl has been murdered. As Ryan returns to his hometown and is confronted with memories he didn’t even know he had, he wonders whether the girl’s murder is connected to his own past. Ultimately, Ryan knows that this case will have deep personal importance for him — but will it make his career or destroy it?

I’m having a hard time collecting my thoughts on this book. At first I thought I wasn’t going to like it at all — in fact, I almost gave up after the flowery prologue — but eventually I got completely sucked in. The strongest aspect of the book, for me, was the relationship between Ryan and Cassie. Ryan isn’t a particularly likable character, but the bond between him and Cassie is so strong that you can’t help feeling he must be a pretty good guy after all. The way this relationship evolves and changes throughout the book kept me riveted. The novel’s narrative structure also creates a lot of suspense: Ryan is the narrator, and he says right from the start that he tells lies. So I was constantly wondering whether he was lying about certain things, and I became really invested in both mysteries as a result. That said, the book’s ending drove me a little crazy: some things made me sad, others frustrated me, and others I actually liked a lot. So I’m still undecided about this book; but I am glad I read it, and I will certainly be reading The Likeness at some point as well!

Review: Son of the Shadows

Son of the Shadows by Juliet MarillierJuliet Marillier, Son of the Shadows

Warning: SPOILERS for Daughter of the Forest.

Liadan, the youngest daughter of Sorcha and Red, loves her home at Sevenwaters and wants nothing more than to remain there with her beloved family. However, it seems the Fair Folk have another destiny in store for her. While paying a visit to a sick farmer, Liadan is kidnapped by a group of mercenary soldiers and forced to use her healing skills on their behalf. Terrified to be held captive by these intimidating warriors, Liadan nevertheless does her best to heal the wounded man. Her quiet determination soon wins the men’s respect, but she frequently finds herself at odds with their leader, a man tattooed with menacing symbols and thus referred to as the Painted Man. The arguments between Liadan and the Painted Man eventually transform into a grudging respect and then something more, but outside pressures continually conspire to drive them apart.

I read the first Sevenwaters book, Daughter of the Forest, a few years ago and absolutely loved it. Soon afterward, I acquired the next two books in the series, but for some reason I never got around to reading them. Now I can say that Son of the Shadows is an excellent read, though not a very quick one. There’s so much lush language and description that the book moves fairly slowly.  While I got a little impatient with the pervasive mystical elements (telepathic communications, mysterious prophecies, etc.), they definitely help to create the full-bodied world of the series. I was also annoyed by the Big Secret involving Liadan’s sister Niamh, which was predictable and should have been revealed a lot sooner than it was. However, I really enjoyed the story of Liadan and the Painted Man, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the next installment of the series, Child of the Prophecy.

P.S. Question time: is this the worst cover ever? It’s definitely one of the worst I’ve seen!