Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray

Canadian author, Charlotte Gray brings history to the masses in this detailed account of the events surrounding the murder of Charles Albert (Bert) Massey by his family's domestic servant, Carrie Davies at the turn of the last century.

On the evening of Monday, February 8, 1915, Bert Massey was shot on the steps of his house at 169 Walmer Road by eighteen year Carrie, a British immigrant. Massey was carried to a neighbour's home where he died and Carrie, in shock, was arrested and taken to police headquarters at City Hall.

Carrie Davies had been in Canada for a mere two years, employed during that time by the Massey family. She arrived from Bedfordshire, England with the hopes of obtaining work as a maid in order to send money home to her widowed and nearly blind mother who had four children to support.

When questioned by police, Davies stated she shot Massey because "He ruined my character...",  a shocking allegation against a wealthy family that was a pillar of the Toronto's upper class at the turn of the century.

Set against the backdrop of World War I, Gray takes her readers first through the crime and then goes on to explore the events surrounding the trial by portraying life in Canada in the early 20th century and describing many of those involved either directly or indirectly in this major newstory.  Life in the city of Toronto in 1915, the history of the legendary Massey family, the women's movement in Canada and women's changing role in society in the early 20th century, the Toronto newspaper scene, and the Toronto judiciary are all detailed before Gray gets down to the actual details of the trial.

Gray describes the Women's Court, a separate court for women set up by the National Council of Women and Toronto's Local Council of Women, who were concerned for the integrity of the judicial process when it came to women. As women were unable to vote or create laws, the judicial process was usually not favourable to them. Only women were allowed to attend Women's Court.

The Massey family history is explored in-depth in a separate chapter entitled, "The Muscle of the Masseys". The Massey family were American Methodists from Vermont who settled on farmland north of Lake Ontario in 1802. Bert Massey's great-grandfather, Daniel, purchased a workshop in Newcastle and this heralded the beginning of the Massey foray into the production of agricultural implements - a venture which would make them millions. From the sale of threshers and reapers the Massey family became one of Canada's first self made millionaires. Gray reveals to readers how Bert's family gradually became estranged from the rest of the Massey's with the death of his father Charles from typhoid in 1884. Nevertheless, when the shocking circumstances surrounding the murder of Bert in 1915 began to surface almost immediately and the Massey name was facing the possibility of being irrevocably shamed, the Massey family began to assert their influence.

There's an interesting chapter on what was termed the "White Slave trade" - girls who traveled from Europe to be domestic servants in wealthy Canadian families. Such work often entailed long hours, little time off and placed young women in situations where they were preyed upon by their employers with little recourse to the law should events turn dangerous.

The Massey Murder is an engaging read for those who have a keen interest in Canadian history and that is the strength or weakness of this book, depending on your level of interest.  For those with a historical bent, Gray gives her readers a strong sense of Toronto society and life in Canada during the World War I era. Canada was a British colony and Toronto was a predominantly white, British immigrant city with a sense of obligation and duty to the England and King George V. Gray's main thesis is that Davies' legal counsel, Herbert Hartley Dewart, KC, was determined to win her case by creating a story for Carrie that would get her acquitted. There were several motivations behind his determination to win this case. The first was bad blood between the Dewart and Massey families. His father, Hartley Dewart Senior and Hart Massey had been at odds over the move of Victoria College from Cobourg to Toronto years earlier. There were also rumours of a stock deal gone bad between the two family patriarchs. Dewart had also lost an important case early in his career to a lawyer who managed to portray his client accused of murder, as the victim. Dewart never forgot this case and it was a lesson he was to use in Carrie Davies favour years later.

Hartley Dewart would craft a story that was based on his client's purity and defense of her honour - something that would turn the tables and make Bert Massey the villain. He would compare Carrie's fight for her honour to that of the British soldiers fight for honour in the trenches of the brutal war going on in Europe. He would appeal to patriotic sentimentality and the steadfastness of the British working class as the foundation of the British Empire. It was a risky defense but it just might work.

The main draw of the story, the trial of Carrie Davies on the charge of murdering Charles Albert Massey, takes up a mere four chapters of the book. These chapters are filled with drama and theatrics that would never be a part of a criminal trial in the 21st century. They are particularly insightful because they demonstrate how little the force of law played into the resulting verdict. The use of the "unwritten law" defense which entailed Since the transcripts of Davies trial were not preserved due to her acquittal, Gray relied on contemporary newspaper accounts to write about the trial.

Gray concludes her book with a follow-up chapter on the main characters in this drama, which will be of interest to readers. Charlotte Gray's blog has an relevant entry from 2013 about an encounter The book includes a map of Toronto during the time the events occurred, a diagram of the Massey family tree, black and white plates of Toronto newspaper coverage pluse many photographs of the Masseys and life in Toronto during this era. There is a detailed source list at the back of the book but no annotated bibliography.

When writing history it can be difficult to discern between fact and embellishment. Some readers may find this the problem with The Massey Murder. Gray mentions that no transcript of the Massey trial survived because of the outcome, so her account is based on newspaper articles of the day.

Regardless, this is a fascinating account of an event that gripped Toronto almost one hundred years ago.

Book Details:
The Massey Murder. A Maid, Her Master, And The Trial That Shocked A Country by Charlotte Gray
Toronto: HarperCollins Publisher Ltd.     2013
308 pp.


Friday, April 25, 2014

The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr

Set in the vast Ukrainian steppe in 1941, this novel tells the story of a young girl who tries to save the last of a herd of rare horses, known as the Przewalski's horses while outwitting a cruel SS captain.

In the summer of 1941, the Soviet caretakers at the State Steppe Nature Reserve of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic prepare to abandon the reserve with the coming of the German army. The senior manager, Borys Demyanovich Krajnik, advises the elderly caretaker,  Maxim Borisovich Melnik, to abandon the animals. Borys tells Max that when the Germans arrive, they will kill him and he orders him to slaughter all the animals on the reserve. The reserve is home to many exotic animals including ostriches, zebras, llamas and Przewalski horses.

Max however has no intention of killing all the animals. The sanctuary at Askaniya-Nova was created by a German, Baron Friedrich Falz-Fein with whom Max had a good friendship. Max who speaks German and who doesn't want to judge all Germans by what's he's heard, believes he will be able to reason with the German soldiers when they arrive. When the Germans come to Askaniya-Nova a mere two weeks later, Max meets the cultured, intelligent Captain Grenzmann. But when he tries to explain the uniqueness of the Przewalski horses to Grenzmann he is astounded to discover that the Germans do not consider the endangered horses to be something that should be saved. Instead, Grenzmann explains to Max that this is nature's way of saying that this type of horse is not fit enough to survive. "So the strong survive, the weak perish." The Przewalski horses are a forbidden bread and are to be destroyed on orders from Berlin.

Meanwhile unknown to Max, hidden in the forest on the Askaniya-Nova reserve is a young Ukrainian Jewish girl, Kalyna (Kalinka),  who has fled her village of Dnepropetrovsk. The entire Jewish population of Dnepropetrovsk was murdered in  Kalinka loves the horses she has found in the forest, she knows they are intelligent, clever and playful. She observes how they are able to communicate with one another through neighs and snorts. In particular she befriends a stallion known as Temujin and his mare, Borte whom seem to sense that like them, Kalinka is a refugee.

When the winter weather turns brutally cold, Kalinka is forced to seek shelter at Max's small blue cottage. Despite the risk to himself, Max recognizes that Kalinka has endured unspeakable horrors and offers her food and shelter. Max treats the wounded mare, Borte, and puts the horses in his stable to rest and be fed.  The next morning when the SS captain, Grenzmann arrives early at Max's home, Kalinka and the horses manage to hide. Max decides that in order to avoid detection by the Germans, Kalinka and the two Przewalski horses should hide in the abandoned waterworks, two huge round metal tanks. This seems to work until Grenzmann becomes curious about the abandoned buildings. Max knows that Kalinka and the horses are now in great danger and he makes a decision that "changes Max's fortunes irrevocably".

The Winter Horses is a story of deep tragedy, senseless brutality and tempered hope. Both Max and Kalinka are heroic figures who are persecuted for what they believe. Their archenemy, Captain Grenzmann, is portrayed as a typical Nazi, cultured, coolly pleasant until he finds he's been crossed.

The story in The Winter Horses is done from in the omniscient point of view, where the narrator knows what each character is thinking and feeling. Although the story, which is simply told, comes through, it's difficult for the reader to feel emotionally connected to  the characters and what happens to each of them.As such this type of narration doesn't do justice to the fascinating story which Kerr has developed - a struggling survivor on the vast, Ukrainian steppe who is helped by two endangered horses and an elderly man whose suffered through both the communist revolution and the Nazi invasion of his homeland.

Nevertheless, younger readers who are interested in horses and/or historical fiction will enjoy The Winter Horses. The Przewalski horses are endangered horses which were named after Colonel Nikolai Przewalski who spent time studying them. Przewalski horses were native to the area bordering China and Mongolia and have recently been reintroduced to Mongolia. They were also found in Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus. Since they were never domesticated, they are the last true wild breed of horse.

The Winter Horses would have benefited from having a map showing the location of Ukraine, the town of Dnepropetrovsk, the Askaniya-Nova reserve, as well as a map showing Kalinka's journey. This would have been helpful in establishing the setting for the novel's young readers. Although British author, Philip Kerr, has written several books for children, he is best known as the author of  the Bernie Gunther novels set in the 1930s.

Information about the genocide of Jews by the Nazi's at Dnepropetrovsk can be found on the Yad Vashem website, The Untold Stories: The Murder Sites of the Jews in the Occupied Territories of the Former USSR.

It's difficult to find English sites about the Askaniya-Nova Reserve but this site has some basic history and photos of the park. This site deals exclusively with the biosphere site but tells nothing of the park's history nor the murder of Friedrich Falz-Fein's mother by Red Army soldiers when she refused to leave her estate in the park. The Unesco webpage also has some basic information on the reserve.

For a lovely version of the famous Russian folksong, Kalinka, that the Red Army soldiers sing at the end of the novel, listen to this:






Book Details:
The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr
New York: Alfred A. Knopf        2014
274 pp.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Movie Review: Divergent

The screen adaptation of  the first novel in Veronica Roth's immensely popular Divergent series was thrilling and faithful to the book. The movie, directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist) has a solid cast that includes Shailene Woodley as Beatrice (Tris) Prior, Theo James as Tobias Eaton, Ashley Judd as Tris' mother, Natalie, Ansel Elgort as Tris' brother, Caleb and Kate Winslet was Jeanette Matthews. Rounding out the cast is Maggie Q as the hardened Tori, Zoe Kravitz as Christina and Jai Courtney as the bad-ass Eric.

Divergent tells the story of post-apocalyptic Chicago, a city isolated from the rest of the country by an enormous fence designed to keep whatever is left, outside. Inside the city, the population is organized into factions based on virtues. At the age of sixteen, young people chose which faction they will belong too in an initiation ceremony. This ceremony takes place after they have undergone testing to see which faction they show an aptitude for. Beatrice Prior's test is inconclusive because she demonstrates an aptitude for three factions, Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless. This means that Beatrice can overcome her fears and that she cannot be controlled like most of her fellow citizens. She is warned not to tell anyone because she is considered "divergent" and that she must hide within a faction.

Believing herself not worthy of staying with Abnegation, at her choosing ceremony, Beatrice picks the Dauntless faction and leaves her family to begin initiation into this faction. The initiation process is cruel and physically taxing, but Beatrice who now goes by the name of Tris, finds an ally in Four who is one of the Dauntless leaders. Four sees that Beatrice is both brave and selfless and he begins to help her train to move up the ranks. As romance begins to blossom between Four and Tris, they discover that their factioned society is breaking down with the Erudite faction accusing Abnegation of mismanaging the government.

In an attempt to remove Abnegation from their position of control, Jeanine Matthews, leader of the Erudites, uses an mind control serum that causes the Dauntless warriors, who believe they are in a simulation, to attack the Abnegation faction. Because they are divergent, Tris and Four are not affected. Instead they must now try to stop the wholesale slaughter of an entire faction.

The movie provides fans of the novels a wonderful means to visually experience the Divergent world author Veronica Roth created in her novel, showing a ruined Chicago with vast abandoned areas, partially destroyed buildings and a rejuvenated city center. Director Neil Burger does an good job of portraying life in ruined Chicago with its five factions, showing how each group dress and how their lives are lived so separately from one another.

While the entire cast give strong performances and Shailene Woodley was surprisingly good as Tris, Theo James in particular stood out as Dauntless trainer, Four. James' solid effort proves he's more than just a pretty face and he almost steals the spotlight in this movie.

The screenplay is well done too, as it effectively showcases Tris' development from a shy, awkward teenager unsure about her future, into a brave and selfless young woman who begins to assert her "divergence" to challenge the status quo. This leads to plenty of action, romance, and tragedy.

Here's the well done trailer:


Completing this solid effort is a diverse soundtrack that is both appealing and enhances the action on the screen.

This movie is as good as the Hunger Games series and will be enjoyed by those who loved the Divergent series. The next movie, Insurgent is slated for release in March, 2015.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney

Julien Garnier lives in Paris with his parents where he attends the Lycee d'Aile. Julien has a deep connection to art; his mother runs the Musee d'Orsay, an art museum that displays works from 1884 to 1914 and he also sketches. He works at the Musee d'Orsay where he runs tours after school. Because of that he is allowed into the building whenever he wants. One night he sees a most astonishing sight - subjects in the paintings come alive before his very eyes. Dancers from the Degas paintings step out and pirouette, a peach rolls out from Cezanne and a black cat slinks down from Manet's Olympia. The art coming alive continues for several weeks before the beginning of his story.

Julien is not sure just yet what is happening to the art so he keeps what he has seen a secret. Meanwhile he is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Auguste Renoir's lost painting, The Girl In The Garden to the Musee d'Orsay. This painting surfaced a month ago in a family of high fashion designers, the Clemenceau's, who claim to have had the painting in their family for over a hundred years. Julien is desperate to view this lost treasure, so as an incentive, his mother tells him if he does well in his literature class he will be able to see the painting before it goes up in the gallery.

 A few days later, Julien's mother takes him to see the long lost Renoir at the Clemenceau's home on Montmartre. Mrs. Clemenceau's cross-dressing son, Bonheur, invites Julien to a surprise party for his eighteenth birthday on Friday evening. It is a surprise party because he will be giving away one of his strange ceramic creations, a five-legged calf, as a prize to the person who exhibits the best surprised expression during the party.
 
During his visit with Bonheur, Julien makes an interesting discovery in the Clemenceau home when he finds himself in the wrong room on the way to the bathroom; a chalk reproduction of half of Renoir's Dance at Bougival showing Suzanne Valadon who was also an artist herself and the first female painter admitted to an art school in France. Julien wonders what the connection is between the Clemenceau family and either Valadon or Renoir and how the Clemenceau family came to have the missing Renoir.

While Julien's mother reviews the documentation attesting to the authenticity of the Renoir painting, Bonheur shows the recovered Renoir painting to Julien. Julien is immediately taken with the painting, that of a beautiful girl with blonde hair in a flower garden and feels inexplicably drawn to it.

Meanwhile, Julien continues to experience strange phenomena around artwork. When he is with Emilie, an aspiring ballet dancer, he hears strains of Giselle which leads him to encourage Emilie to work towards getting in to the Paris ballet. When Julien and his friends attend Bonheur's party, Julien sneaks down into the basement below the trap door and can hear women's voices from below the basement floor. He later learns from Bonheur that these voices are those of the nine Muses from Greek mythology (Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia and Urania).

Julien learns that the house at Montmarte where Bonheur lives is the same house where Suzanne Valadon lived and that he is indeed distantly related to her. Bonheur tells Julien that The Girl in the Garden is not like other paintings and that his family has been entrusted to keep it safe. Bonheur allows Julien another chance to view the lost Renoir painting, Julien witnesses one slender finger from the beautiful girl slip out of the canvas, which shimmers with silver.

The strangeness continues when Julien is sent to the Louvre to check on sun damage on a Renoir painting. His hand is burned by the candle flame in a La Tour painting, he notices the repaired Renoir painting is showing damage again, and Rembrandt's Bathsheba has a drooping stomach. At first Julien thinks that he's crazy, but when he returns the next day to the Louvre, he discovers more paintings have damage.

Bonheur tells Julien that art is made to come alive in museums and that he has been told by the Muses that only special people like Julien can see art come to life. Bonheur also reveals to Julien that he speaks with the Muses who exist below his home and that they have given him the silver dust that he places in his five-legged ceramic calves. Bonheur tells Julien that the paintings can only come alive in museums.

Sure enough once The Girl In The Garden is hung in the Musee d'Orsay, the beautiful girl comes out of the painting, revealing herself to Julien as Clio one of the nine Muses. Clio and Julien go on dates in the museum, since Clio cannot leave the building. When Clio goes back into the painting she lives in Monet's garden and she also begins to take Julien into the paintings.

As the art begins to sicken, not only in the Louvre but in galleries and museums around the world, Julien begins to suspect that a terrible curse that involves Renoir and Clio might be behind the damage and that only he and Clio will be able to save the world's priceless art, at a cost that might mean losing everything that matters most to both.

Starry Nights is a unique and fantastical love story about a boy who falls in love with one of the muses who has been trapped in a painting due to a curse placed by Renoir. In this imaginative novel, Whitney has Clio and Julien go on dates where they travel from painting to painting - through Monet's works many of which include the bridge in his famous garden. The author has packed her story with numerous facts about paintings and various artists, although the painting at the center of the story is in fact, fictional. Nevertheless, readers might be inspired to look up Van Gogh's Starry Night, Toulouse-Lautrec’s Dancing at the Moulin Rouge, or Manet's Olympia.

The characters in Starry Nights are all very well drawn. Julien is a tender, romantic young artist who cares deeply about art as well as inspiring others to create art. Unlucky his first time in love, he finds his soulmate in Clio, the Eternal muse who spends her time inspiring art. Bonheur the cross-dressing son of the Clemenceaus is based on the real Rosa Bonheur who lived in the 1800's and was known for her portrayal of animals and for wearing men's clothing. He's a sweet soul who helps Julien recognize his ability to heal art as the only human muse and who believes in true love. It's unfortunate other characters in the novel were not more fully developed. Instead these characters such as Julien's friends, Simon and Lucy, were one dimensional and mostly uninteresting.

Readers may find the story line somewhat complex, fantastical and will have to make a careful reading of this novel, but they will be rewarded with a satisfying conclusion to this well written story.

To enjoy more of Renoir's beautiful paintings, check out this website, Pierre Auguste Renoir - the complete works.

Book Details:
Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney
New York: Bloomsbury      2013
275 pp.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Offering by Kimberly Derting

"That the measure of a true queen didn't lie in her magic. It had more to do with who she was, and what she was willing to give of herself, than it did with the powers she possessed."
The Offering is the final installment in The Pledge series about an ancient evil queen who has achieved immortality through her ability to move from body to body. That queen, Sabara, had her attempt partly thwarted when she was forced to transfer herself to Charlaina, who apparently is able to resist the ancient queen's ability to destroy her own existence. The two queens now co-exist within Charlaina's body.

The novel opens with a prologue that tells readers what has happened to Niko and Xander's peace mission to Astonia's Queen Elena. Xander is a prisoner of the Queen as a result of the betrayal by Niko who appears to be in league with Astonia's Queen Elena.

Back in Ludania, Queen Charlaina continues with her reforms and reunification of the country. The work camps have been abolished, those sentenced to the Scablands reintegrated, and communication re-established across the country between Charletown and the southernmost city, 11South.

For Charlie, the struggle between her and Sabara is ongoing, as they are "two queens trapped in the same body".For now Charlie is winning the battle with Sabara relegated to the back of her mind.

One day four messengers from Astonia arrive bearing a paper box containing a gruesome gift hidden amongst layers of purple flowers. Both Zafir and Eden are distraught over the loss of their brother and leader respectively. Eden strikes out at the messengers, killing one before she is prevented from further action by Zafir and hauled off to be ministered to by Charlie's younger sister, Angelina.

Charlie returns to the hall pondering Queen Elena's motivation for sending her such a gruesome package. Upon closer inspection of the box, Charlie finds a letter from Queen Elena in the false bottom making her an offer she can't refuse. That offer is eventually revealed after Charlaina heads to Astonia with Eden as her bodyguard and accompanied by Brooklyn, head of the army. Charlaina hopes that Elena has a means to banish Sabara's Essence forever, to cure her of the evil ancient queen's insidious presence. But destroying Sabara will prove more difficult than Charlie ever imagined, as the threat to herself and Ludania grows more terrible by the minute.

Derting has crafted a good, if not predictable, ending to The Pledge series that delivers what most readers will want, hope and a happy ending. This third novel has multiple narrators offering perspectives from most of the important characters including Charlie, Max, Niko, Aron, Brooklyn and Queen Elena's sister, Sage. Charlie's perspective is in first person, while the other characters narratives are done in third person. Despite this switch in perspective, they are easy to follow, each advances the storyline and is seamlessly connected to the preceding narrative.

There are a few unanticipated plot twists in The Offering that will catch the reader by surprise, helping to hold interest, especially in the prologue and the first part of the novel. Although the middle section which describes Charlie's journey across Ludania towards Astonia is slow, it is important because the reader is given a glimpse into the tenuous existence of the abandoned children in the camps outside the cities. These experiences make Charlaina realize how her country has regressed during the lengthy reign of Sabara, reinforcing Charlie's determination to ensure that Sabara never regains the throne.

Charlie is a strong female character demonstrating integrity and sacrificial love for her country - something neither Elena nor Sabara exhibit. These qualities inspire loyalty from those around her, even unto death.

Overall, this is a fitting conclusion to an interesting, well written trilogy.  You can read about Kimberly Derting's next novel, The Taking on her website.

Book Details:
The Offering by Kimberly Derting
Toronto: Margaret K. McElderry Books       2014
286 pp.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Paige Torn by Erynn Mangum


Author Erynn Mangum, well known for her Maya Davis series, quickly sets the tone of this first novel in the Paige Adler series. Twenty-two year old Paige's best friend Layla Prestwick excitedly announces her engagement to boyfriend, Peter, and immediately draws Paige into helping her plan her fall wedding. But before that event, Layla is also organizing her parent's 25th wedding anniversary party and for that she desperately needs Paige's help. Paige can't turn down her best friend and is quickly drawn into helping her for this event too.

Meanwhile at work, Paige who is a receptionist at a private adoption agency, Lawman Adoption Agency, is busy organizing the agency's fundraising banquet, also to be held in February. Paige has a degree in child learning and development, hopes to take on cases some day, but so far that hasn't happened. Paige finds herself doing whatever it takes to keep the office running smoothly, including transcribing three interviews one night for one of the counselors.

Paige is also very involved in her church, Grace Church in Dallas, attending services and teaching the ninth grade girls youth group. At church she meets twenty five year old newcomer, Tyler Jennings, a computer software specialist, who has volunteered to take over the ninth grade boys group. The pastor of the church, Rick and his wife Natalie are expecting their first child any time now, meaning that Paige will be needed even more. Once Natalie's baby arrives, Paige is asked to fill in even more at the church and even ends up spending a weekend helping Natalie with her new baby.

It soon becomes apparent that Paige's life is off track. Between the demands of her coworkers, her pastor, the kids at the church, and her beloved best friend Layla, Paige can't find the time to eat, shop for groceries, or do her laundry. And she has even more trouble making time to pray. Her inability to say no has put Paige Alder on a treadmill she can't get off. When Tyler begins calling to ask her out, Paige, who finds Tyler very handsome, is almost too busy to accept. But Tyler has a way of making dates with Paige happen, all the while warning her that she needs to slow down and learn to say no to people. Paige is also reluctant to get involved with another guy and is still not completely recovered from her break-up with Luke Prestwick, Layla's older brother. Can Paige get her priorities in order and recognize

Erynn Mangum does a good job of demonstrating how Paige's life quickly becomes too busy and loses it's focus. However, Paige gradually recognizes that there is something amiss with her life. She ends each day looking at her Bible sitting on the nightstand, yet again untouched and thinks "tomorrow". But she seems powerless to change things until friends intervene.

Paige thought that God's plan for her was to spend each and every moment serving him through service to others. But when she reads the story of Jairus and his daughter, she realizes that Jesus was careful to spend the time he had not trying to do everything people wanted of him, but to do what mattered and to make time to pray.This revelation helps Paige begin to bring some order and perspective into her life and to change her behaviour. Instead of micromanaging everything for her friends and coworkers, she begins to try to look realistically at what she ought to be doing.

Against this backdrop is the blossoming relationship between Tyler and Paige and that's the hook which draws readers into this novel and ultimately the next in the series. The author focuses their relationship on the formation of a friendship, which if successful, will perhaps lead to something more. Tyler is respectful and tender towards Paige, and acts as a leader in their friendship. At the same time he encourages Paige to make her needs and views known, thus modelling a healthy friendship for readers. The hanging ending, a total surprise in a rather predictable book and the possibility of a love triangle in the next book will leave readers yearning for more.

Although this novel was placed in our Young Adult section it really is part of a new genre termed "New Adult", which refers to young adults who are at least 18 years of age up to about 25 years of age. Themes in this genre deal with leaving home, sexuality, courtship, marriage, and work, essentially all those areas that new adults who are either off to college or finished their education and now working, must navigate. Mangum's offering will be appreciated by her many fans because it is also Christian fiction, part of publisher Think, an imprint of NavPress the publishing ministry of The Navigators, a Christian organization that encourages personal development. The front of the novel indicates that "some of the anecdotal illustrations in this book are true to life".

Book Details:
Paige Torn by Erynn Mangum
Colorado Springs: NAVPRESS     2013
289 pp.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

"I am scared almost all the time. But I never tell anyone. I can't afford to. I have to go on pretending I'm this confident person, because if I don't, if I'm quiet, I become invisible. People treat me as if I'm not there. I remember being tine, about Benjamin's age, standing in the sweet shop, and the woman behind the counter asking Mum,...How do you manage with her? It must be very hard...
The woman kept on and on, and Mum didn't know what to say, and I just stood there, feeling more and more upset, and as she went on, I suddenly though it was as if she was the one who was blind, and couldn't see me, not the other way around."

This fascinating short novel opens with sixteen year old Laureth Peak and her seven year old brother, Benjamin flying from London to JFK in New York in search of their father. It is seven o'clock in the morning Saturday London time when they board the plane and the events in the book take place over the span of one day -Saturday in London and Saturday in New York City.

Laureth's father, Jack Peak, is a well known author, whose first five books were extremely popular. She checks her dad's fan mail that comes in via his website and responds using pre-written replies. One evening while checking his emails, she encounters one about the "Black Book" which is what her father calls his notebook. The email, from a Michael Walker, indicates that he has found Jack Peak's notebook. Michael's use of the currency dollar leads Laureth to suspect he is in America. Laureth responds as though she is her father and asks Michael to prove that he has the journal. He sends Laureth some scanned pages of the journal confirming it is her father's. After arranging how much reward he will receive they arrange to meet him at the Queen's Library in Long Island City.

The discovery of her father's journal in New York city is upsetting to Laureth because she understood her father was in Switzerland. When she questions her mother, she tells Laureth that she doesn't care that they haven't heard from her father and that he is the one who is responsible for whatever has happened. Instead Laureth's mother continues packing for an overnight visit to Aunt Sarah's in Manchester; a visit that will leave Laureth and Benjamin on their own for the day and one night. Laureth tries contacting her father but his phone just rings.

At this point Laureth decides that she is going to go in search of her father. She takes one of her mother's credit cards and purchases two tickets to New York. She and Benjamin wait until their mother leaves the next morning (Saturday) for Manchester and then unbelievably they manage to circumvent security and board a plane to New York.  It is during her travel to the airport, that we learn that Laureth is almost completely blind and that this is the reason she has "abducted" her younger brother, so he can be her eyes.

Several interesting things happen in the airport and on the trip over to America. First, it seems that Benjamin has the ability to crash electronics, an anecdotal effect (that is not scientifically verified) known as the Pauli effect. Secondly Laureth has Benjamin read through the first of three pages of the notebook that Michael emailed to her and she realizes that her father is obsessed with trying to understand coincidences and whether they have any meaning in our lives.

On the six hour flight over to New York, Laureth meets a young man named Sam who befriends her and tries to give her his phone number until he finally realizes that Laureth is blind. When Benjamin and Laureth arrive in New York, they meet up with Michael Walker who is not as they thought he would be. He is twelve years old and has a funny habit of speaking like someone out of a Dickens novel. But he does have Laureth's father's notebook which he gives to Laureth. Laureth tells him that their father is missing and asks Michael how he came into possession of the notebook and if he knows anything more about the notebook. Michael tells them that he found a receipt in the book from the Black King Hotel in Manhattan.

With the notebook as their only guide, Laureth and Benjamin set off on a race against time to solve the mysterious disappearance of their father and in the process learn much about themselves and their parents.

The first part of the novel is quite interesting, especially as Laureth learns about the research her father did regarding coincidence.  Jack Peak was going to incorporate coincidence into his next book and was doing research on it. Using this as a springboard, Sedgwick weaves in many interesting ideas that readers may not have encountered; numinous (the feeling that you have experienced God), apophenia (the tendency to see patterns in events), Benford's Law (on the frequency a digit will be the first digit in a number), as well as famous scientists such as Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, and Paul Kammerer. The storyline itself is filled with numerous coincidences and chance meetings, all of which work together to help Laureth and Benjamin in their quest to find their father.

Laureth is a fascinating character, a teenage girl who's blind and who has worked hard to make sure she is not invisible in life. This drive to force herself to be assertive has been scary but in the end pays off when Laureth travels halfway around the world to try to find her father. Laureth's determination and initiative saves her father and her family. Through all of this Sedgwick does an excellent job of conveying to his readers a sense of what it is like to be blind, busting a few myths about the blind along the way.

The resolution to the problem of Laureth's father's disappearance is somewhat disappointing but is offset by the dangerous situation Laureth and her brother find themselves caught up in. Sedgwick uses Jack Peak's diary to build tension in the novel, as the entries grow ever more mystifying and darker, leading Laureth to suspect the worst about her father and her parent's marriage.

She Is Not Invisible is a departure from Sedgwick's novels which tend towards horror and the occult. Because of the numerous interesting concepts put forth in this novel, it would make an excellent book club selection.


Book Details:
She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
London: Indigo    2013
354 pp.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd

Her Dark Curiosity picks up Juliet Moreau's story several months after she returns to England. Previously in The Madman's Daughter, she had barely escaped her father's island and its terrible beast men created by her father. The man she loved, Montgomery, her father's assistant had stayed behind to try to tend to the creatures. Juliet was picked up, adrift in the dinghy, three weeks later by a ship bound for Cape Town, South Africa. From there she traveled to Dakur and onto Lisbon, Spain. Desperately ill during the last part of her journey, Juliet was cared for by her best friend, Lucy Radcliffe.

But in London when Dr. Hastings learned of her whereabouts, he had Juliet thrown in jail for attacking him. Fortunately, Juliet was rescued by her father's colleague, Professor von Stein who successfully had the charges dropped. Von Stein was the colleague who reported Juliet's father to the police for his unethical experimentation/research. He is now determined to save Juliet and has taken her into his home.  Despite his kindness to her, Juliet has never told the Professor about her father's continued experimentation nor his creation of the beast men. She has never told him about the creation of Edward Prince, "a young man created from a handful of animal parts chemically transmuted using human blood." Edward loved Juliet but he was a man who contained a beast within, who at any moment could take control and murder.

Juliet too has her own secrets - the most important of which involves her condition. Born with a deformed spine, her father straightened her spine and replaced several of her missing organs with those from a fawn. Her body is always attempting to reject the foreign tissue, causing Juliet bouts of dizziness and tremors. To prevent this Juliet has always taken daily injections, but now they are no longer working.

To try to find a serum that works, she has rented a small attic in a lodging house in Shoreditch. She feels more at home in the attic with its rustic atmosphere, where she can be herself and where she uses animal parts from a butcher to try to replicate the serum her father made for her.

Nevertheless, living most of her time at the professor's home, Juliet must try to adjust to London society. As Juliet continues to try to assimilate back into London society, the city is gripped in terror by four gruesome murders. Each of the bloody murders has seen the victims badly mauled, leading newspapers to dub the murderer the Wolf of Whitechapel. Upon learning the names of the victims, Juliet is horrified to discover that they are all people she knew and who had harmed her in some way.

Determined to examine the victims, Juliet sneaks into the Kings College of Medical Research morgue. From the type of injuries, she comes to the conclusion that Edward Prince did not die on the island, but has survived and managed to travel to London.

Meanwhile, Juliet's friend, Lucy, reveals that she has two suitors, neither of whom she particularly likes; Inspector John Newcastle who is leading the investigation into the Wolf of Whitechapel murders and a strange man named Henry who has a strange appeal to Lucy. When Juliet meets Henry, who goes by the name of Henry Jaykll from Finland, she recognizes him at once as Edward Prince.

Juliet confronts Edward in private and tells him he must stop the Beast within him from murdering. Edward reveals to Juliet that Montgomery is alive and has been hunting him on the island. Scared he would kill Montgomery, Edward escaped the island to come to London in the hopes of finding a cure for his transformation into the Beast. Edward admits to loving Juliet, telling her that the Beast loves her too. He is finding it more and more difficult to control the beast, that the beast is able to retain his form longer each time and that he feels he is losing himself to the beast. Juliet takes Edward to her attic room begging him to chain himself there. During this time, Professor von Stein's neice, Elizabeth arrives from Scotland. She tells Juliet that both of their families have secrets in their past.

Shortly after Edward begins staying at the attic, Juliet arrives to find Edward covered in blood with torn clothing. Juliet realizes that the Beast has stuck again. Despite the horror of this, Juliet and Edward become lovers. In the morning however, Juliet regrets her actions of the previous night and tries to explain to Edward that she still loves Montgomery. This causes the Beast to reappear and attack her. Juliet escapes but vows to cure Edward and save him from the Beast.

The night of the Radcliffe masquerade, Juliet and Lucy share the secrets they have both been keeping from one another. Lucy reveals that her father has in his possession, letters with strange information about Juliet's father's research. Since Lucy's father is an investor, Juliet now believes he has been financing her father's research on the island. Juliet reveals to Lucy Henry's identity and origins. The two girls decide to search Lucy's father's study but find little to help them understand further what the connection is between the two men.

It is at the masquerade that the mystery deepens further; Juliet meets Montgomery who explains that he has received notes from both Edward and the Beast stating that Edward wants to find a cure, the Beast is hoping to experience all the "pleasures and pains" of life. While talking with Montgomery, they overhear a conversation between Lucy's father, Radcliffe, and another man which reveals that they know about the existence of Edward and that they are attempting to capture him at the ball.

Juliet and Montgomery are in a race against time to find Edward. For Juliet, time is running out to find a cure for Edward and to save him from both Montgomery and Radcliffe and the King's Club.

Once again, Megan Shepherd has crafted a unique story that takes many of the elements of the classic novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to create completely new story. From this novel, it appears she will then segue into Frankenstein, weaving together a trilogy that encompasses three classic gothic/horror novels.

Both the characters and the storyline are compelling in this novel, as they were in The Madman's Daughter. The forbidden romance between Edward and Juliet is deeply disturbing and not surprisingly, Shepherd continues to develop the love triangle which was hinted at in the first novel, with the reappearance of Montgomery.

The characters of Edward and Juliet are primarily the focus of this novel. It would have been wonderful to see more development of both Lucy and Elizabeth, both of whom are interesting characters. Hopefully we will see more of Elizabeth in the third novel as she appears to be a linking character whose purpose is to transition the storyline into the third novel.

The essence though of Her Dark Curiosity is the relationship between Edward and Juliet and the tension they experience. Edward tries to convince Juliet that he has more in common with her than does Montgomery; that they are both creations of her father and are part animal. This is only partly true, since Juliet is the biological daughter of Dr. Moreau but Edward is made out of animal and human. Edward is referring to the fact that he comes from animal parts while Juliet had animal organs grafted into her. He also suggests that her civilized behaviour is only a veneer that covers the animal inside. This theme is demonstrated using some interesting symbolism in the novel; Juliet's corset becomes a symbol of her civilized side which both Edward and the Beast ask her to remove. This suggests that Edward is not quite so separate from the Beast as he leads Juliet to believe. Juliet's corset is symbolic of the social norms which prevent her from acting on her baser impulses. Once Juliet removes the corset (her civilized nature) she is easily seduced by Edward - in fact quite willingly, despite him being covered in blood after the Beast committed a murder. What kind of woman would make love to a man who has just murdered someone and is drenched in blood?

The title of the novel refers to Juliet's curiosity about herself, but more importantly, about Edward and the Beast. The Beast accuses her of sabotaging her own attempts to develop a cure as a result of her dark curiosity.

"You're dying of curiosity -- that's why some deep part of you is sabotaging any attempts for a cure. You're desperate to know what you'll become, and as far as Edward goes, let's just come out with the truth, shall we: You don't want to cure him, either, not deep down, because the one who fascinates you is me."

Earlier in the novel Juliet demonstrates a dark curiosity about Edward. She is curious about what Edward experiences when he transforms into the beast; what he feels and what he might remember. This curiosity upsets Edward greatly when he sees Juliet's desire to know more because he is repulsed by the Beast and wants to destroy him.

Juliet also recognizes her unnatural curiosity. "A part of me thinks he was right. There is something unnatural about me. I can feel it, deep inside. I don't care for the things other girls do. I'm curious about things I shouldn't be. I'm so fascinated by Father's research that I can hardly stop thinking about it. I feel like a monster for thinking that."

Overall, this novel was engaging with its decidedly gothic tone, but has disturbing elements too. Due to the graphic violence and sexual content of the book, it is recommended for older teens.

Book Details:
Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd
New York: HarperCollins Children's Books    2014
422 pp.