Daughter of Baal by Gill McKnight

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Another one from The Law Game series, and another excellent one. If you’ve never heard of Gill McKnight (and why haven’t you?) I highly recommend her book The Tea Machine, because it may just be one of my favorites.

Daughter of Baal is another novella and it’s a good one. It’s set in the 1920s in England. The two protagonists are as different as they could be, but they agree that all the deaths at Clamp House must stop and the killer or killers be brought to justice. How the lady and her chauffeur will go about that, I will not tell.

What I will tell you is that the novella is beautifully written and the characters are charming. The case happens to be quite surprising, and that is an important part of a good mystery. You have it all here. As with Archer Securities, it’s only a little sad that it’s not longer.

If you like a short read, an entertaining read, something to pass the time pleasantly, this is for you. You might also wanna check out the other books in the series as they’ve all been written by very good writers. Now, go get and I’ll be here reading and telling you what to read next.

Carol by Patricia Highsmith

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The problem is this: in Germany, we don’t get to see movies in the English original, unless there happens to be a movie theater near that offers to do that. They didn’t offer Carol and I’m loath to watch the German dubbed version. What did I do? I bought the book.

The Price of Salt (the original title when it came out in 1952) has been on my reading list for some time, but as it always goes, I hadn’t come to it yet. The movie put the book in my local bookstore and there you go. I bought it, and I’m not sorry I did.

Here’s what Carol is about:

19-year-old Therese Belivet works in a department store over the holidays. Carol Aird is a customer looking for a doll for her daughter. Their eyes meet and from that moment on they yearn to be together. They try to be friends, but on a trip they take together they finally succumb to their desires. Waterloo is their downfall. But Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband has sent a private detective after them and their affair doesn’t stay undetected. The price of salt being the custody of Carol’s daughter.

Lauded as the first lesbian novel with a happy ending, this lauding took away the surprise of the ending. Because one could not help being surprised at a happy ending for a novel that seems melancholy. The love between the two women seems doomed and thus I had the feeling at the end that the ending doesn’t quite fit.

This however does not take away from the beauty of the novel. Told from Therese’s point of view, but not in the first person, it is a story of youthful awkwardness and misunderstandings. But it is a story of growth in a human being, maybe even more so than a love story. Through her love for Carol Therese grows into an adult. While Carol is certainly a guiding person, she is far from perfect. Her mood swings sometimes dramatically, and the audience – together with Therese – can only wonder at her attraction to the young woman. But it’s there, it is just hidden because Carol knows better than to fall for a woman again.

The book is an emotional roller coaster, and while one does not always understand Therese’s feelings or actions, they make sense for her. The same goes for her misunderstanding of Carol who remains a mystery for most of the tale.

Throughout the read, I kept underlining passages that are so beautifully written they took my breath away. While the book is of spartan discription, the inner musings are philosophical, sometimes poetic. The love falls in front of a cold backdrop, it being winter and even Therese wishing her feelings had fallen into spring. But love does not wait for the perfect backdrop, it just happens. And the book never doubts that it did happen for Therese, she’s not shy to even confess to them before she even knows that Carol feels for her too. These feelings overwhelm her, they’re too powerful to doubt them.

CarolThe Price of Salt – is a beautiful book, it’s an important book, it’s the book you should read in 2016 if you haven’t read it yet. I still can’t quite put my head around it, but it’s a great read, an emotional one too. It’s not a pleasant summer read, but it’s worth your time.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

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This is the first part of The Lives of the Mayfair Witches series which includes three books so far. Here’s what The Witching Hour is about:

Rowan Mayfair is a successful doctor in California, but unbeknownst to her she is the heiress of a legacy of an old New Orleans family. Despite rigorous attempts of a few family members to prevent her from coming to New Orleans, the death of her birth mother does exactly this. Together with Michael Curry, her lover and someone sharing a supernatural power since their first meeting, she discovers what this legacy entails: riches and jewels, yes, but also a ghost-like apparition whose aim and desire it is to become flesh and blood. And Rowan is supposed to fulfill that desire.

The book is over a thousand pages strong, so this short blurb only scratches the surface. There is a whole history contained in the book, but though it is supposed to be about the Mayfair witches, it’s more about their live-in spirit, Lasher.

I was actually looking forward to reading a book about witches, but already the beginning taught me that Anne Rice won’t just tell a plain story about a family of witches, about women (excuse me, if I think of women hearing the word ‘witches’, of course there are male witches, too). I’ve read some of her Vampire Chronicles books, and The Wolf Gift and they all struck me as very male-centric. I presumed that a story about witches (and Anne Rice seems to think mostly of female witches, too) would actually be about women. I was wrong, though.

While the story is interesting, enticing, gripping even, the story is not really about the Mayfair witches. It is more about the men watching these women. There’s a secret society in the book calling themselves the Talamasca, who have compiled the history of the Mayfair witches. Petyr van Abel tells a great part of that history. Then there’s Michael whose story starts in New Orleans where he is already pulled into the Mayfair history by seeing ‘The Man.’ Aaron Lightner is protagonist as well as compiler of the history. There’s Julien Mayfair, himself a powerful witch and pretty much the center of the tale about the Mayfairs, as well as his son Cortland.

The Witching Hour is another good example for the tale of women told through male eyes. Anne Rice is such a superb story teller, but I’m wondering if she is actually able to grab the female voice, to tell a story from the female perspective. This astonishes me, honestly. You may wonder why it is important, but if you read any of my other reviews you know I’m a feminist and kind of focus on stories about women, often by women.

It’s certainly not a great tragedy, or a fault that makes Rice’s writing unreadable. As I said, I enjoyed the tale. But even her one female protagonist – every other female’s story was told by a male – has a strong masculinity about her. And Rice makes it part of her personality, actually. She’s aware of it, she uses it, also in the character of Carlotta Mayfair, or Aunt Carl.

This is an intersting observation and maybe I will one day write a paper about it, but let’s come back to the book.

It’s a good story. The history is told from the Talamasca point of view and you never know if the narrators are trustworthy. You don’t get to know the witches’ story first hand, so that you can never see through their reasonings. You don’t get to know who Lasher is, where he comes from until the end of the book. But you know he’s a man (gendering a spirit and making him sexually potent and all-consuming, really?).

Rice ends the book on a kind of cliff-hanger, but I’m reluctant to pick up the follow-up Lasher. For all the reasons I already disclosed. As for wanting to read a story about witches and wanting to know what they do, how they do magic? Maybe pick up Harry Potter again, because The Witching Hour is more a history of a family where psychic powers are rather common. But if you’re a Rice fan, go pick it up, it’s a good read.

A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

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Since I started reading Stephen King when I was only ten, I never really read young adult novels when I was a young adult. I’m pretty sure there weren’t as many around as there are now, I’m also doubtful that they were as good as some of them are today.

To these good ones belongs A Spy in the House, the first part of Lee’s The Agency series.

Mary Lang is kidnapped from her way to The Gallows, where London rids itself of its criminals by hanging. When she awakes, she finds herself in a school where she receives a formal education in the years to come. Same school is also a cover for The Agency, a covert operation helping the police and other interested parties to gain information. Like their students, all their agents are women.

Mary’s (now using the last name Quinn) first assignment for The Agency places her as a female companion in the house of the Thorolds. Mr. Thorold is suspicious in several crimes under the cover of his trading company. Mary tries to gather information, but gets involved in far more than just Thorold’s shady businesses.

If the summary sounds a little muddled, that’s my fault, because nothing in Lee’s novel is muddled. She did her research, she wrote an excellent, exciting tale. I couldn’t get away from this book, because I wanted to know what happened next, and next, and next.

Y.S. Lee spins an intriguing tale around her protagonist. Mary Quinn is a modern heroine trapped in times which treated women as anything but heroines. Victorian England is not for the faint at heart, and Mary surely isn’t. She has moments of doubt, moments of emotional turmoil, but she fights to be someone better than her lot in life has dealt her.

Mary’s story and the whodunit tale of the novel are woven into each other. We get to know Mary better as she unravels the mystery surrounding the Thorold family. And she finds herself a male adversary in James Easton. While their war of wits is charming and engaging, Easton is never put before Mary. She is the heroine, it is her story.

This is a book you will like, no matter if you’re 17, 37 or 67. While the main protagonists are in their late teens, they’re mature and interesting, the story is exciting and mysterious, the setting believably narrated. This is a truly wonderful tale. I bet you’ll like it too.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

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Look who’s been a lazy book blogger! Yes, that would be me. I have been reading, but I’ve been too lazy to tell you about it. Shame on me. But today, I wanna tell you about this book, ’cause it’s really good.

I first came across The Diviners at my favorite multi-media store in the German version, but the cover had just the right mix of mystery and 1920s feel to it that I was instantly intrigued. I wrote the title down and totally forgot about it, then lost the note, but finally reremembered. At some point, it was the only book I wanted to read at that instant and that was last month. And finally, I read.

And let me tell you, there was no disappointment there. Libba Bray writes in a humorous style about young adults, but that doesn’t mean she writes just for young adults. Just like the J.K. Rowling, Bray understands that the tone of a story can lure in people of all ages. She tells a mature story, doesn’t shy away from gory details and delivers a tale that’s thrilliing and engaging.

And now I almost forgot to tell you what it’s about:

Evangeline O’Neill of Zenith, Ohio, gets herself in a little bit of a bad situation at home and is temporarily shipped off to her uncle in Manhattan. The perfect moment for Evie to shine, though she didn’t think it would be as a part of a murder investigation. Evie has the ability to divine secrets from the possessions of people and it gets her into more trouble when those possessions belong to murder victims.

She’s not the only diviner in town. Through the happenings of the story, a number of people with mysterious abilities revolve around each other: Ziegfeld girl Theta, poet Memphis, piano player Henry, and trickster Sam are more than just coincidentally acquainted in one way or another. But Evie is the one whose life is in danger as she fights the spirit of a serial killer who’s about to put an end to all that’s golden about the 1920s.

Evie is a charming protagonist, but she’s also a bit of a self-involved mess. The tone in which she and her peers talk is the big-talking way of youth, but also the quick-witted repartee of their time. Bray describes the 1920s so well, the book rushes by in a blur. I found myself completely pulled into the plot. And it’s only the first part of The Diviners-series.

This is a story for people who like a good scare, some mystery, some thrill and little drinky at a speak-easy before bedtime. And who doesn’t like that?