Provided for Review: The Irrationalist: The Tragic Murder of Rene Descartes by Andrew Pessin

This book has been provided for review by the lovely people at Bookglow.

 

Elegant divider scroll

In 1649, Descartes was invited by the Queen of Sweden to become her Court Philosopher. Though he was the world’s leading philosopher, his life had by this point fallen apart. He was 53, penniless, living in exile in Amsterdam, alone. With much trepidation but not much choice, he arrived in Stockholm in mid-October.

Shortly thereafter he was dead.

Pneumonia, they said. But who could believe that? There were just too many persons of interest who wanted to see Descartes dead, and for too many reasons. That so many of these persons were in Stockholm—thanks to the Gala the Queen was throwing to celebrate the end of the terrible Thirty Years’ War—made the official story all the less plausible. Death by poisoning was the unofficial word on the cobblestone.

Who would want to murder the world’s most famous philosopher? 

Turns out: nearly everyone.

Enter Adrien Baillet. A likeable misfit with a mysterious backstory, he arrives just as the French Ambassador desperately needs an impartial Frenchman to prove that Descartes died of natural causes—lest the “murder” in Lutheran Sweden of France’s great Catholic philosopher trigger King Louis XIV to reignite that awful War. Baillet hesitatingly agrees to investigate Descartes’s death, knowing that if—or when—he screws up, he could be personally responsible for the War’s Thirty-First Year. 

But solving the mystery of Descartes’s death (Baillet soon learns) requires first solving the mystery of Descartes’s life, with all its dangerous secrets … None of it is easy, as nearly everyone is a suspect and no one can be trusted. Nor does it help that he must do it all under the menacing gaze of Carolus Zolindius, the terrifying Swedish Chancellor with the strangely intimidating limp.

But Baillet somehow perseveres, surprising everyone as he figures it all out—all the way to the explosive end. (via Goodreads)

The Irrationalist is basically a historical murder mystery using individuals who really existed in the time when they lived. Rene Descartes was a well known mathematician and philosopher and in 1649 he did travel to Sweden to begin tutoring Queen Christina. In early 1650 he became ill and died shortly thereafter, the official reason being pneumonia. And while many didn’t question this outcome, some had doubts, yet once Descartes was buried the issue too was laid to rest.

This is where the similarities between what really happened and what happened in The Irrationalist ends. 

Pessin does an excellent job of taking a real event and spinning a “what if…?” tale from it. His characters – all either real people or based on real people – are interesting and just when one thinks they have a grasp of the person, a proverbial wrench is thrown in the works. Pessin has done his research and does admirably in making sure that everyone is well rounded and their inclusion helps push the story along. 

The tightly woven plot is really what makes this book stand out. To the casual observer, Descartes’ death seems very clear cut, but it is only when one starts to dig do they realize that not everything is as it seems. And in trying to figure out who would want to kill the man, every one has a reason. And again, just when the reader believes they know who the culprit was, Pessin gives a piece of information that casts doubt. It isn’t until the very, very end that we are given the truth about what happened to Descartes and if his death was indeed natural causes.

This is the first work of fiction by Pessin, and in my opinion it is an very good start. I would not be surprised if he continues to write more like this and when he does, I will be checking them out as well. I recommend my readers do too.

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Provided for Review: A Brazen Curiosity (Beatrice Hyde-Clare Mysteries Book #1) by Lynn Messina

This book was provided for review by the nice folks at NetGalley

Twenty-six-year-old Beatrice Hyde-Clare is far too shy to investigate the suspicious death of a fellow guest in the Lake District. A spinster who lives on the sufferance of her relatives, she would certainly not presume to search the rooms of her host’s son and his friend looking for evidence. Reared in the twin virtues of deference and docility, she would absolutely never think to question the imperious Duke of Kesgrave about anything, let alone how he chose to represent the incident to the local constable.

And yet when she stumbles upon the bludgeoned corpse of poor Mr. Otley in the deserted library of the Skeffingtons’ country house, that’s exactly what she does. (via Goodreads)

A Brazen Curiosity is every bit a Regency romance and then some. Messina manages to keep the Regency period style language throughout the entire book; from Beatrice’s interior monologues to descriptions of the ongoing action. Readers who are familiar with the rambling style of many Regency novels will find the language familiar, those who are not might find it a bit off-putting. Personally, I found the overly purple prose endearing at some times and annoying at others.

Also like many novels of the era, there is a romance threaded through the story. And like many Regency novels, it is a slow burn romance. Beatrice starts the novel day-dreaming about throwing various food items at the Duke, and by the end she still day dreams about pelting him with various foodstuffs but they have also both started to develop feelings for one another. There are no kisses, they don’t even hold hands. It is the kind of extremely slow build up between two individuals that I absolutely adore.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading A Brazen Curiosity. The quibbles I have are incredibly minor, especially when considering that what I didn’t always enjoy was something that is generally viewed as the mark of many original Regency era novels. As I said earlier, readers who enjoy books written in this time period will be familiar with this rambling writing style and will have little issue with it. 

As of this time there are two other novels in the series and while I haven’t read them yet, I will be adding them to my list. 

Strange Practice (Dr. Greta Helsing #1) by Vivian Shaw

Dr. Greta Helsing has inherited her family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, family practice. In her consulting rooms she treats the otherworldly citizens of London for a wide variety of worldly ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies – just to name a few. And although she has trouble making ends meet, Greta wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Until a sect of murderous monks arrives on the scene. Killing human and supernatural persons alike. Terror has taken the city in its grip and Greta will have to team up with some strange friends to stop the cult, save her practice, and her life.

Strange Practice was a book I came across while browsing over in Google Play. It was one of those “Recommended for You” type of things. Honestly, I enjoy browsing those areas just to see how accurate – or how totally off base – the recommendations can be. Sometimes I come across a title that interests me, while other times I’m left scratching my head.

Strange Practice is the first book in the Dr. Greta Helsing series and in it we are introduced to the titular character. Greta is a 30-something medical doctor, who after numerous years of study and practice in London’s hospitals, has taken over her father’s practice. It is something she has wanted to do since she was a child as her family has a history of dealing with some of the more unique individuals that walk the city streets. Taking care of others – especially those of the supernatural sort – is something she loves to do and is something she is quite good at.

On the whole, the actual plot of Strange Practice is a tad cliched. A group of young theology students find forgotten information about a long dead sect of Templar Knights. At first, they reenact the rituals for love of the pomp and circumstance, they are not serious in their efforts. That is until an odd, disembodied voice begins to compel them to take things a step further. To rid the world of those deemed “unclean” and “monstrous”.

What sets Strange Practice apart are the characters themselves. Whether human or supernatural – of which there are quite a few mentioned – they are each written in a way that makes them believable. There are moments of joy and of pain, of anger and of self doubt, of surprise and of relief. While the majority of this attention is given to the main characters, even the background characters like Greta’s staff in her clinic, are given this treatment (pun intended). Brief mentions of them as actual people are made so when something happens, we the reader react just as the other characters do. We hurt when they hurt, and at one point even cry when they do.

Though the action can be a bit clunky at times, and some scenes tend to verge in to more morose territory, overall Strange Practice is an enjoyable read. With well written and well rounded characters, it’s easy to overlook it’s small drawbacks. Shaw has given the readers a strong female character that I believe many can relate to. I recommend this one to my readers and hope they enjoy it as much as I have.

Provided for Review: A Conversation with a Cat: A Novel by Stephen Spotte

This book was provided for review by Book Glow. My many thanks to you!

Stephen Spotte’s imaginative novel recounts the tales of a scroungy former alley cat named Jinx, whose memories aren’t just his own but those of other cats who existed before him, one of which was Annipe, Cleopatra’s pampered pet. Through Annipe’s eyes the ancient Mediterranean world of Cleopatra and her legendary lovers, Caesar and Antony, is spread before us in all its glory, pathos, and absurdity. Jinx reveals these stories telepathically one night to his stoned and inebriated owner just home after gall bladder surgery. Annipe’s memories are bookended by Jinx’s own that detail his early scavenging days in bleak urban alleys. (via Book Glow and Goodreads)

Home fresh from the hospital after having gall bladder surgery, our unnamed pet owner is relaxing on his back patio with his cat Jinx. Aside from the copious amounts of pain medicine provided by the hospital, our man has also decided to self medicate with a bit of alcohol and marijuana. With this combination running through his veins, it is not hard to believe he is able to have a kind of psychic conversation with Jinx.

Jinx then begins to tell the tale of one of his predecessors – a cat named Annipe who belonged to the great Cleopatra.

Unfortunately, though the story is about a cat and told by a cat, there is not much cat in the actual tale. The felines are reduced to secondary characters with the humans being pushed to the fore. Annipe and her siblings have very little to do and therefore do not grow as characters as such. With so much attention given to the human characters, it is difficult to actually care for the feline ones.

Another unfortunate point is that the Egyptian story is the only story related by Jinx; aside from a brief telling of his own early years. Early in the novel Jinx says that all cats have a kind of racial memory, where one cat can recall what other cats in the past have experienced. It would have been nice it Jinx had given more than one story from the past.

One good thing I can say about A Conversation with a Cat is that Spotte has done a good deal of research. The struggle between Egypt and Rome is decently told with great detail. Sadly, it isn’t any different from what can be found in any number of history books.

As unique as the idea behind the book is, I’m sad to say it just wasn’t carried out to its full potential. And as rare as it is to have a book with a cat as the main character, I can’t recommend this book to my readers either.

Provided for review: After Hope Dies by Lilly Haraden

This book was provided for review by the folks at NetGalley

This is what happens after America dies: the monsters take over.

A young prostitute’s reanimated soul prowls the streets, seeking revenge against her killers. The reclusive nerd who lives next door suffers from a serious problem that goes far beyond the time-bending demon infesting his body. And across town, an occult guide owns a brothel where you can buy a child for cheap.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this dark literary fantasy debut examines life for the most disadvantaged who call post-prosperity America home.

Author/Publisher/Reviewers Note: This book deals with darker themes including racist content, depictions of rape, and strong themes of child sexualization/exploitation. If ANY of these subjects make you uncomfortable, then this is not the story for you.

My dearest reader, if the above paragraph in bold as well as the brief description above has not already convinced you, let me state it AGAIN – this book contains disturbing imagery. It is NOT for the faint of heart or easily offended. There are numerous passages that require the reader to have a strong constitution. Several of the reviews I have seen, the person reading it did not take the warning seriously and sadly suffered for it.

All of that aside: After Hope Dies is an excellent book. It provides a truly scary “What if…?” that once the reader finishes the book – including the epilogue – will leave them wondering just how much could potentially occur.

In three short stories, After Hope Dies, follows several individuals in a not to distant future. The city they are in could be anywhere in the United States and the persons the overall story centers on live in one of the poorest sections. Drug use as well as vices of other kinds run rampant and all of the characters are affected in one way or another.

While each individual story has its own main character, they also cross over in to the other stories. The child prostitute in the first story is the next door neighbor of the game playing introvert of the second story, and she goes to school with the younger sister who features in the third story. The introvert runs in the same gaming circles as the older sister in the third story. And between them all is the brothel owner and his assistant. They all play off of one another, acting and reacting to events as they occur.

Each person has their own story and Haraden does an admirable job of delving in to each one. It is certainly not an easy task, some of the jobs that these characters take on could be described as distasteful, yet they all do what they must. They make deals with demons with the intent of living another day.

Haraden’s writing is smooth and strong. As disturbing as some scenes are, they are penned in a way that is not difficult to imagine. The stories are easy to follow and the characters can be related to by most. As someone who is whiter than the proverbial sour cream, I will never be able to fully relate to the discrimination (both internal and external) faced by many. Reading After Hope Dies however, gave me a tiny inkling and takes me one step closer to understanding.

At times hard to read and hard to stomach, it is an engrossing book and one I simply must recommend.

Provided for Review: A Prayer for the Necromancer (The Shinigami Tomes #1) by C. Wain

This book was provided for review by the kind folks at Netgalley

Blood… Fear… Death… Love…

The legends of old tell of a primordial Creator. Merciful and lonely he was when he breathed new life into the barren womb of Oar, the everlasting universe. The Creator’s very essence and mana stood silently for stability and life.

Amidst gods and mages, the warming darkness of a mysterious man enshrouds the life of a young village girl. What happens when common beliefs hide the true evil in light? What happens when a rogue and despised necromancer sacrifices his own flesh for the sake of others?

A Prayer for the Necromancer is the story of Kaze Niss. A necromancer living in disgrace, feared and hated by many. He is on a dark path, searching for a way to avenge the wrongful death of his father. Travelling this path has so far led to death and destruction, but it has done little to deter Kaze. He will have his revenge.

Personally, I found A Prayer for the Necromancer to be one of those books that has an interesting premise but fails in the execution. Kaze is supposed to be the kind of character that has a gray morality, yet I found him to be quite unlikable. He is selfish and even when we are meant to be rooting for him, it was difficult for me to do so.

Wain’s style of writing was also troublesome. Many of the same words and phrases are used continuously throughout the story. One particular word that Wain seems to like to use is “giggle”. From young female characters to older male characters, they all giggle. Personally, I found this a bit off putting since no man I know giggles. Chuckles? Yes. Laughs out loud? Sure. Giggles? No.

For me, A Prayer for the Necromancer is very much a diamond in the rough. The overall premise and world building is interesting and given some more work via editors and such, it could be a must read. In time it could do well, it just needs a bit more polish.

Provided for Review – The Autobiography of Satan (Authorized Edition) by William Glasser

This book was provided as an e-copy by BookGlow.net in exchange for an honest review. 

The Story of Satan’s Many Struggles, Across the History of Human Existence, to Unshackle the Human Mind, and Open the Gates to Forbidden Knowledge.

From the moment of his first emergence as a single spark in the dimness of prehistory, to the more enlightening force into which he evolves across the full span of human existence, Satan has been urging human beings to open their eyes to the world around them, and to continue seeking, with unfettered minds, for ultimate answers. To do so he must struggle against the persistent attempts to stifle that urge by the “spoon feeders,” as he calls them, individuals who have insisted, within every age, and often with a bloody fist, that they, and they alone, are the possessors of the only beliefs that every human being should accept and live by, without question.

As Satan traces the history of their many attempts to stop human beings from thinking for themselves, he also takes his readers on a search for the ultimate source of all evil in this world. Readers will obviously enter the book with the standard concept of Satan as a supernatural figure of evil. They will leave the book, however, with a better understanding of how such mind-twisting concepts have been used to keep people away from the “forbidden” knowledge that lies beyond the borders of entrenched beliefs.

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting when I began reading The Autobiography of Satan, but a metaphorical think piece was certainly not it. And while it is certainly not a bad thing, again it just wasn’t what I was expecting.

Though it claims itself to be an autobiography, it comes across as more of a kind of history of religion. Satan himself – in whatever form he currently inhabited – is a only a minor character, watching from the sidelines and giving only minimal “nudges” to the humans he encounters. There were some good points made though – ie. that many of the major religions share basic mythology and clearly borrowed from one another in some point in time.

For every “serious” chapter following the path of Satan’s life, there are also more humorous chapters. These are little outtake chapters with Satan speaking to his assistant Wag, who is doing the writing while his boss talks. These are cute little chapters that perhaps make an effort to show a more human side to Satan. Funny and interesting, they however add little to the story itself.

As much as I enjoyed the story, the ending left me scratching my head. It felt disconnected and not even part of the preceding pages. Like perhaps it was tacked on at a later date. While I won’t divulge too many details for fear of spoilers, I’ll let the reader decide how they feel on the subject should they read the book themselves.

 

Provided for Review – The Lady in the Cellar: Murder, Scandal, and Insanity in Victorian Bloomsbury by Sinclair McKay

Number 4, Euston Square was a home like many in Victorian London. A boarding house, it was respectable, well-kept, and hospitable to those staying there. Yet beneath that veneer there seemed to be a darkness lurking.

In early May 1879, the corpse of a woman is discovered in the coal cellar. An investigation discovers she is an elderly woman named Matilda Hacker, a former resident of the boarding house. Questions are immediately raised. How did she die? How did she come to be buried in the coal cellar? And most importantly, who could have killed her?

In the investigation that followed, every resident of the home was scrutinized and more than a few secrets were brought to light. Someone in that house had killed Matilda Hacker and someone knew the truth.

I would like to thank NetGalley and the publishers for a copy of this ebook in exchange for a review.

The Lady in the Cellar is a true story. In the early summer of 1879, a body was discovered in the coal cellar of a boarding house. Almost every person who was there was a potential suspect. It was a story the newspapers grabbed on to, especially once more and more details started to come to light. And in a time when the so called ‘middle class’ were coming in to their own and the lines between classes were sometimes blurred, there were an abundance of details to titillate and delight.

The case of the murder of Matilda Hacker is a bizarre one. And it is one that the author covers in great detail. At times it feels like McKay is trying to reach a page count with their writing as there are long passages going in to details that nothing to do with the case itself. While it can be interesting to read about some of history about the family that owned the boarding house, with no actual relevancy, it leaves one to wonder why it was included.

Some of the other reviews I have seen where the reader did not finish the book lament the fact that McKay’s writing can be a bit tedious at times. It is an opinion I must agree with. Attention to detail is one thing, but to inundate a reader with information can be a it much. The actual trial and its aftermath take up roughly half of the book. And it is this half of the book that is the most interesting. It is slogging through the first half of the book and getting to the ‘good bits’ however, that can be difficult.

It is very obvious that McKay did a great amount of research in writing The Lady in the Cellar. The book is chock full of information and little details to draw the reader in. And while the actual case of the murder of Ms. Hacker was never solved, McKay gives a plausible ‘what if?’ scenario towards the end.

While I am sure there are those readers who dislike true crime books for one reason or another, I urge my readers to give this one a try when it hits shelves. In a day and age of sensational media such as ours, it is little wonder that the case of the lady in the cellar was so fascinating to the reading public of the day. It is my hope that modern day readers will enjoy it as well.

Corpse Rider by Tim Curran

Poor Christina is young and alone. Her every relationship seems cursed, each one slowly turning to poison. The only one that doesn’t seem to have soured is the one with her co-worker.

Christina is also at times kind. When visiting her mother’s grave, she notices a nearby grave left derelict. Thinking she is helping, she pulls the weeds growing around and tidies the tombstone up a bit.

Her simple act of kindness causes someone to notice and Christina realizes she is no longer alone. For what was laid to rest beneath that stone has attached itself to her and to it she will be the perfect wife. And, God help her, the perfect mother.

Corpse Rider by Tim Curran is the perfect creepy story to start off the month of October with. It is a short story – more a novella than a novel – and is therefore a fairly quick read.

This is the first book by Curran that I have read, but judging from his titles on GoodReads, he has a flair for the strange. His books run the gambit and it looks like his readers love them.

Corpse Rider is very much a psychological book. Written in a way that makes the reader wonder just how much is real and how much is in Christina’s mind. Did she really see a figure in black on that hot, sunny day in the cemetery? Was there really a hearse driven by that same figure at her work a few days later? As Christina is the only one seeing these things, one cannot help but wonder if perhaps she is going insane.

At times, it certainly feels that way. Every one around her is skeptical as there simply isn’t any proof. No proof until the very, very end.

I won’t go too far in to what happens next because to do so will ruin the ending for any one who decides to read this. Personally, I recommend it to my readers. Especially to those who like a good, creepy read. So grab your favorite hot drink, a warm fuzzy blanket, and curl up with this great thriller.

 

Provided for Review – Saving Death by R. L. Endean

Two tortured souls. One unthinkable love.

Seventeen year old Ava is nearly drowning in her grief. After the death of her mother in a horrific car accident, she is set to live with her father on his farm. Away from old friends and the home she knew, she must try to start over.

On her first day there, Ava meets Sam – a young man hired by her father to work on his farm. Sam is handsome and seemingly close in age, so it seems only natural that Ava is attracted to him. But Sam seems to have his own secrets and there is more to him than meets the eye.

Getting closer to Sam not only brings a rush of emotions to young Ava’s heart, but also pitches her in to a strange world lurking just beneath the surface. And brings to light truths that might have been better left alone.

Saving Death was provided for review, attained by replying to a Facebook ad.

Saving Death is the story of Ava, a young woman sent to live with her father and attempt to start over with a new life. She meets and makes several new friends at school but she also meets Sam. Sam doesn’t attend school and works on her father’s farm and there is something dark about him that draws Ava in. He tells her not to get close, tries to keep her at arms length, but it is obvious that he too feels an attraction. When Ava meets some of Sam’s friends and eventually learns his secret, she wonders if maybe she has gotten in over her head.

Unless you have been living under a rock or such, then surely one is at least passingly familiar with the Twilight series of novels. Young woman meets mysterious young man and so forth and so on. It was a wildly popular series of books that spawned its own series of movies and other merchandise.

Saving Death is similar to Twilight only in the most basic of premises. It is in fact So Much More.

The titular character Ava is a young woman dealing with serious depression. While this is not stated outright, it is incredibly obvious when one looks at what brings her to her father’s farm and her subsequent actions. She is practically drowning in her grief, doing the most basic of things seems like a chore. When she does go out with her new friends, she either spends the entirety of the time with her mind elsewhere or she delves head first in to the activities in a kind of frenzy to try and feel less numb.

Yes, Ava can be a little irritating at times. However, when one considers her age and her immediate past, some of her actions can be forgiven. And while she doesn’t make a complete recovery by the end of the book, she at least seems to be taking steps in the right direction.

Sam is the other main character in the book. He is the young man that Ava meets her first day on her father’s farm. While I cannot go too much in to Sam’s character lest I spoil the ending, I will say he comes across as a decent guy. While he is standoffish towards Ava at times, when they do start to become close he is respectful of her boundaries. When Ava learns that Sam followed her to a rave, she is understandably upset; and when she tells Sam that she needs time away from him to think, he gives her that time and doesn’t intrude.

The way the book ends – especially with the epilogue – hints at the possibility of more stories set in this particular universe. And oh dear reader, I hope it is true. For this universe has quite a few stories to tell; some looking back and others going forward. Characters that were only briefly introduced, some that we thought we knew – who are they really? Hopefully, time and future stories will tell.

Advertised as a Young Adult gothic romance, Saving Death is that and more. While it will certainly appeal to the older teen crowd, there is also enough to draw the more “mature” readers. Readers who love a good story, one that takes you on a roller coaster of an emotional ride, will likely love this story. It is a good thing I started this book on one of my long weekends because I tore through it in little time. I absolutely recommend this one and cannot wait to see more from the author.