Book Reviews

Review: The Hangman’s Daughter, by Oliver Pötzsch – January 2013

the hangmans daughterGreat, great read. The book takes place in 1659 Bavaria, several years after the Thirty Year War and about 70 years after the last big push for a witch hunt. After a great vignette of a prologue, the novel opens with the murder of a boy. Witchcraft is suspected and the local midwife is arrested. Jakob Kuisl, the whipsmart town executioner with a heart of gold, believes the midwife is innocent, and thus the murder mystery unfolds as he tries to find the real murderer.

Like I said, this was a really fantastic read. Well written, great characters, fast paced, and mostly historically honest (though the author, a descendant of the real Kuisl line, admits he embellished in some areas for the sake of fiction). There are enough clues, potential villains, and red-herrings to keep you guessing at every turn. I highly recommend it. 4.5 Stars

Book Reviews

Review: The Witch’s Daughter, by Paula Brackston – January 2013

the witchs daughterFirstly, here’s the summary:

My name is Elizabeth Anne Hawksmith, and my age is three hundred and eighty-four years. If you will listen, I will tell you a tale of witches.  A tale of magic and love and loss.  A story of how simple ignorance breeds fear, and how deadly that fear can be.  Let me tell you what it means to be a witch.

In the spring of 1628, the Witchfinder of Wessex finds himself a true Witch. As Bess Hawksmith watches her mother swing from the Hanging Tree she knows that only one man can save her from the same fate: the Warlock Gideon Masters. Secluded at his cottage, Gideon instructs Bess, awakening formidable powers she didn’t know she had. She couldn’t have foreseen that even now, centuries later, he would be hunting her across time, determined to claim payment for saving her life.

In present-day England, Elizabeth has built a quiet life. She has spent the centuries in solitude, moving from place to place, surviving plagues, wars, and the heartbreak that comes with immortality. Her loneliness comes to an abrupt end when she is befriended by a teenage girl called Tegan. Against her better judgment, Elizabeth opens her heart to Tegan and begins teaching her the ways of the Hedge Witch. But will she be able to stand against Gideon—who will stop at nothing to reclaim her soul—in order to protect the girl who has become the daughter she never had?

This book was equal parts fun and frustrating. I downloaded it to my Kindle in the hopes that it would be an entertaining historical fiction with a slight mystical element to it – and part of it was. But the novel as a whole felt like it was written by two different authors.

The book spans 370 years, from the seventeenth century through modern(ish) day, stopping in the 1880s and WWI. These historical pieces were well written and fully fleshed out. They had mystery and intrigue, along with a well-defined tone and setting. The novel is weakest when it comes to present day Elizabeth. The tone shifts from historical thriller to a muddled New Age “Practical Magic” feel, and it’s quite jarring. I felt myself rushing through the modern segments to get back to the meatier period pieces.

But the tonal shifts weren’t my biggest concern with the book. What irked me the most was the pacing of the action. Each time period ended with a sort of magical battle that was heart-breakingly anti-climatic. I’m with Bess for 50-100 pages, feeling her pain and loneliness, hating the Warlock Gideon Masters right along with her, and the climax would resolve the situation in about 3 pages, sometimes killing characters, sometimes not, but never giving me a pause to register what’s happening or feel any sort of emotional release. The resolution occurs and time shifts immediately back to present day.

Overall this would be an alright beach-read for someone looking for a book more complex than The Devil Wears Prada, but the next great American novel this is not.  3 Stars

Book Reviews

Review: Terra, by Gretchen Powell – January 2013

TerraThe earth is decimated and civilization is split into two groups: rich folks in the sky-cities and poor folks on the planet’s surface. The dichotomy is reminiscent of Susan Collins’s Hunger Games. Let’s get the remaining similarities out of the way before moving on. The poor rarely have the opportunity to see the sky cities first hand, but they are practically forced to watch the unfair juxtaposition through government mandated television. They also have sky-born civil servants posted to their districts as well as security forces to maintain the totalitarian rule. And of course, the main character is a random clever girl from the wrong side of wealth, plucked from obscurity. Throw in a rocky home life and a younger sibling for the main character to cherish, and you might say you’ve found yourself a Katniss copy.

You’d be wrong.

Terra is the story of a land-bound girl doing her very best to forge a life for herself and her brother, Mica, in the shattered wasteland of earth, dodging acid rain and surviving off of canned chemical compound dinners. She is a scavenger, foraging outside of the city walls for spare parts dropped from above to take to the recycling plant for pay day.

The book unfolds in 3 acts. The first: Terra finds trouble while scavenging far outside the city limits. She meets a young man named Adam who saves her life. They get to know each other a little bit. The second: Adam follows Terra back to the city. They get to know each other better. We learn more about how civilization works in this dystopian future. The story progresses. The third: Well, I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s a pretty neat twist that makes this book decidedly un-Hunger Games-y.

Powell is a deft writer whose prose progress the story easily and keep the reader engaged. She’s created a fully-realized world with a few fascinating key characters whose personalities are at times endearing, at times frustrating, but always authentic. This is clearly the first in a series of novels, and as such, it does not have a very satisfying ending, but I will definitely be picking up book 2 when it is released. 4 Stars