Balm (Dolen Perkins-Valdez, 2015)

balm

 

Why did you choose this book?

I’m a huge history nerd and I especially love reading about the American Civil War.  You can then imagine that when I saw this book I had to pick it up!  Can we also talk about this insanely beautiful cover art?

What’s it about?

Sadie arrives in Chicago to find that her husband of a few months was killed in a train accident.  She starts to make a life for herself and discovers the spirit of a deceased soldier (killed at Shiloh) can speak through her.  She becomes an acclaimed medium.

Madge grew up as the daughter of a family of herbal healers in the south and has the ability to touch someone and immediately know what ails them.  She travels to Chicago to get away from a mother who didn’t show her love.  She becomes a maid in Sadie’s household.

Hemp is a former slave who travels to Chicago in search of Annie, the wife he adores and who was sold to a different owner.  He meets Madge while working as a carriage driver for Sadie’s friend.

It’s a tale of these intersecting stories and 3 people trying to make new lives for themselves in postwar America.

Categories

Historical fiction, literary fiction

Similar reads?

I’m not sure.  I would say you’d probably like other literary authors who dabble in different periods and locations.  The book I’ve read that most reminds me of this one is Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland.

Review

I have such mixed feelings about this book.  I really really wanted to love it and I adore the cover art.  But at the same time, I really struggled with it.  I couldn’t seem to care about the characters or the outcome of any of their storylines.  I’m not sure that the “fantasy” elements of spiritualism and Madge’s touch added anything to the story.  I also feel like this wasn’t the historical fiction read I expected but some type of literary fiction instead.  Maybe I missed the broader point of the story.  It seemed like the author was trying too hard to be literary, almost to the point of being pretentious.  This is a book that I finished, but I’m not sure why I didn’t just give up halfway through.

Next up?

Mission: Hindenberg (The 39 Clues, Doublecross) by C. Alexander London

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Whose Body? (Dorothy Sayers, 1923)

whose body

First, a quick apology.  I realize it’s been quite a while since my last post.  But I promise, you haven’t missed much.  I just got bogged down on this book (despite its short length), and distracted by the purchase of a certain game called Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

Why did you choose this book?

My boss (the director of our library) LOVES Dorothy Sayers.  So I figured I’d give one of his favorite authors a try.

What’s it about?

This is the 1st book in a series.

A body is found in a bathtub, wearing nothing other than a pair of golden pince-nez.  The same night, a prominent man goes missing.  Is there a connection?  Only intrepid detective Lord Peter Wimsey can find out!

Categories

Mystery, classic mystery (not classic like To Kill a Mockingbird but classic in the sense that it was a foundational mystery and one often referred to when talking about the genre.  Agatha Christie is another classic mystery author.  I’m not sure that this is an official term, but it makes sense to me so I use it!).

Other recommended reads?

Agatha Christie for oh so many reasons. First, both authors wrote in the 1920s and use the same type of language in their writing.  Second, they are both relatively cozy in the traditional sense, which mostly just means that their books don’t include a lot of gore or sex.  Cozy in the more modern sense refers to a genre of mysteries fitting that metric but also with amateur sleuths with various connections to law enforcement, and often with cheesily punny titles.

Review

For some reason, I read the first 70 pages of this book and then was completely stuck.  I picked it up again a week later and read the remainder in one night.  I’m not sure why it took me so long to get into it.  The resolution seemed similar to some Agatha Christie novels I’ve read and I also started to get frustrated with the fact that Lord Peter is amazing at many more things than most people.  He’s almost too good to be real…I also both loved and hated the amount of detail Sayers included in her villain’s confession.  I loved knowing all of the intricate details and the points along the path of the story that mattered, but I hated taking forever to come to the end.  I also felt that such a long confession was unrealistic.  All told though, I would read another Wimsey mystery!

Next up?

Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

 

Nooks & Crannies (Jessica Lawson, 2015)

nooks crannies

Why did you choose this book?

I honestly don’t remember where I first heard of this one, but I was intrigued by the plot.  I love mysteries where all of the characters are confined to a grand manor house.  Or mysteries set during the Victorian/Edwardian time period.

What’s it about?

In 1906 or 1907 (I can’t remember), six children receive a letter inviting them to the home of a reclusive philanthropist.  The group includes churlish Barnaby, clever Oliver, book-smart Edward, sweet Viola, haughty Frances, and curious Tabitha.  Tabitha is the main character.  She loves Inspector Pensive mysteries (similar to Sherlock Holmes) and constantly looks for clues with her pet mouse, Pemberley.  Tabitha’s parents have always treated her horribly, and while they try to make the trip profitable, Tabitha is happy to be exploring the grand manor without them.

Categories?

Mystery, historical, juvenile fiction

Other recommended reads?

This is in 2 parts.  First, many reviewers compared this book to Roald Dahl.  I have never enjoyed his books and thus can neither agree nor disagree.  I found some aspects of it (such as Tabitha’s cruel treatment at the hands of her parents) to be similar to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I loathed that series when I was younger as well.

Personally, I would compare the overall feeling of this book to one of my all-time favorites, The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.  If you haven’t read it, go put it on hold now – it’s soooo good!

Review

I really, really enjoyed this book, and I didn’t solve the mystery until Tabitha did.  I enjoyed the eccentricity of the characters as well, but I did feel that some parts of the book were too dark and mature for the book’s target age group.  I’d recommend this for upper elementary and middle school students.

Up next?

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers