In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu

First published in 1872, this remarkable collection of stories includes such classics as Green Tea and Carmilla.

Each of the five stories are purported to be the cases of Dr. Hesselius; a ‘metaphysical’ doctor who is willing to consider ghosts both as both real and as hallucinations. The reader’s doubt and anxiety is meant to clearly mimic that of each story’s protagonist and so create the atmosphere of mystery that is the supernatural experience.

My dear reader, it pains me to end the year with a negative review but I’m afraid that is the way it will have to be.

I was unable to finish In a Glass Darkly and actually had to stop reading it out of sheer aggravation. The prose is so very purple and lurid that there were several times I had to reread a passage simply to try and make sense out of it. And more often than not, not being able to. While I am aware that Victorian writing styles vary greatly from the writing styles of today, I have read my share of books from that era and enjoyed quite a few.

Unfortunately, In a Glass Darkly is not one of them.

I believe I can understand what Le Fanu was trying to accomplish; however the efforts fall short. There is simply too much for the reader to try and digest. I cannot recommend this one, my dear readers, unless you are looking for something to put you to sleep.

 

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Deep in the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year. Hardy souls struggle to carve a life out in a place where the snowdrifts are often taller than the houses.

Young Vasilisa doesn’t mind. She was born to this wild place and happily spends many a winter night huddled around the fire with her siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Of them all, the loves the story of Frost – the blue eyed winter demon who appears in the night to claim unwary souls. Wise is the person who fears him, her nurse says. And wise is the person who honors the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their home from evil.

With Vasilisa’s mother dead, her father; in the realization that his young daughter needs a woman’s influence, marries again. Fiercely devout, the new stepmother forbids the family from keeping the old way and honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa somehow senses that more hinges on the rituals than any one knows.

The Bear and the Nightingale is one of those books that reads like a fairy tale within a fairy tale. As a little girl, Vasilisa grew up on the stories and when she becomes a young woman she finds herself living one. She is the plucky, brave girl with the overbearing and sometimes cruel stepmother. She escapes to the woods or out to the barns where her only friends are animal or spirit. Her father and other siblings are well meaning but they are unfortunately clueless.

Though at times Vasilisa can come across as headstrong, one has to remember that she is a teenager and is reacting as such. Her world is changing, both internally and externally, and she is having to adjust.

Set during a time in history where Russia was undergoing changes both religiously and socially, Arden skillfully weaves a story incorporating these issues in how the characters react. Everyone’s reactions – their anger, their sadness, their fear – all have a realism about them that draws the reader in. The characters are well written and it is easy for one to form an attachment to one or more.

I personally enjoyed reading The Bear and the Nightingale and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles (Warlock Holmes #2) by G.S. Denning

Warlock Holmes is back again! Sort of.

Warlock Holmes last adventure left him just a little…dead. Not one to let a little decay stop him, Holmes is determined to solve the cases that come to his door. Together, he and Watson will face the Pinkertons (the real ones), flesh-eating horses, a parliament of imps, boredom, Surrey, a disappointing butler demon, a succubus, a wicked lord, an overly-Canadian lord, a tricycle-fight to the death and even Moriarty himself.

Oh, and a hell hound, one assumes.

Back when I reviewed the first Warlock Holmes novel, I recall saying how much I enjoyed it. How Denning’s take on two so well known and well loved characters was incredibly done. And how I would be eagerly looking forward for the second (and subsequent) books in the series.

With the second book, I am pleased to say that Denning continues in the vein of the original. Taking two characters and their stories and turning them on their ear. Yet Denning also strays from Doyle’s stories, not in a way that detracts but in a way that adds and makes the characters truly original.

I am reminded of one of my other favorite authors – Terry Pratchett – taking what we know (or what we think we know) and making us see it from a different angle.

Once again Denning has taken the well known world of Sherlock Holmes for a joy ride. Like the first novel, I laughed my way through the pages and even shed a few tears. And again like the first novel, I recommend this one to all my readers – especially my fellow Holmes and Watson fans.

As Death Draws Near (Lady Darby Mystery #5) by Anna Lee Huber

While enjoying their idyllic honeymoon, Kiera Darby and Sebastian Gage’s seclusion is interrupted by a missive from his father. A distant relative of the Duke of Wellington has had a deadly incident and Lord Gage insists that his son and new daughter in law look in to the matter.

With the incident occurring at an abbey just south of Dublin, Kiera and Gage travel to Ireland intent on discovering just who could be monstrous enough to murder a woman of the cloth. Travelling to Rathfarnham Abbey School, the young couple barely begin to make inquiries when another nun is slain, this time in broad daylight and near a class of young girls.

Though there are some who would wish to send the students home for their own safety, the growing civil unrest in Ireland means the journey would be a dangerous one and the Mother Superior makes the decision to keep the girls in place. This places yet another strain on the investigation as it seems that everywhere one turns, secrets and half truths lie.

As Death Draws Near is the fifth and most recent addition to the Lady Darby Series. It opens with Kiera and Sebastian on their honeymoon, their marriage happening at the end of the fourth book. What is supposed to be an idyllic time is marred when a letter arrives from Sebastian’s father practically ordering them to head to Ireland. Both naturally bristle at this but as neither can resist such a mystery, they head off almost immediately.

During the 1800’s there was a good deal of strife between those of the Catholic faith and those of the Protestant. Huber uses this to good effect in this most recent book, placing characters at odds and having others question themselves and what they believe in. It’s actually quite fitting considering some of the things that have been going on in the real world.

Like in past books, Huber’s writing is tight and well paced. She is able to capture the characters as well as capture the readers attention. Those who have been following the series so far will enjoy this particular entry. New readers will likely enjoy it as well and are advised to seek out the earlier books as well.

Art in the Blood by Bonnie MacBird

London, 1888. After a disastrous Ripper investigation, Sherlock Holmes languishes in a cocaine fueled haze in his flat on Baker Street. His good friend, John Watson, can neither comfort nor rouse his friend and is more and more worried about the other man’s health. The only thing that can rouse him is a new case and that comes in the form of an encoded letter from Paris.

Mlle La Victoire, a renowned cabaret star, has written to Holmes in great need. Her young son has been kidnapped and she fears his father, a known Lord, is to blame.

Holmes rushes to Paris with Watson at his side, where he finds the missing child to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The theft of a well known statue in Marseilles and the deaths of three children in Lancashire also vie for Holmes and Watson’s attention. The clues in all three cases eventually point to one man – an art collector who is seemingly above the reach of the law.

Art in the Blood is the first novel by movie and television executive and producer Bonnie MacBird. My dearest reader, if this is her first book and she has plans for writing more then I will be one happy person!

Art in the Blood follows our dear Holmes after a disastrous investigation in to the Jack the Ripper case. While what happened is alluded to, it is enough to make the reader guess that what occurred was not pleasant at all. For Sherlock or any one else.

MacBird does a wonderful job of penning a Holmes adventure; well enough to make Doyle himself proud. Clues are dropped throughout the narrative and only at the grand finale does everything come together and make sense.

The books only downfall comes with the way the characters speak at times. MacBird admits she was influenced by the actors who played Holmes and Watson themselves, from Jeremy Brett and David Burke to Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. It is evident that she drew heavily from the latter for speech for there are certain scenes – especially one particular scene with older brother Mycroft – that I heard the actor’s voices in my head.

Is this a bad thing? For me it isn’t as I adore the modern version of Sherlock Holmes just as much as I adore the original stories. However some readers might not like it, particularly those who regard themselves as “purists”.

MacBird says this is the first book in a proposed series. Personally, I greatly enjoyed this first foray and look forward to more.

Night Watch (Watch #1) and Day Watch (Watch #2) by Sergei Lukyanenko

In modern day Moscow, there live an ancient race of humans who call themselves “Others”. Gifted with supernatural powers, they must swear allegiance to either the Dark or the Light. The agents of Dark make up the Day Watch and are tasked with keeping an eye on the city during the day. Likewise, the agents of Light make up the Night Watch and keep watch over the night.

For over a thousand years an uneasy truce has stood between the two sides. When an artifact is stolen from the Inquisitors – an impartial group of Others who keep watch over both sides – the consequences are dire.

Day Watch is the semi sequel to the aptly named Night Watch. I say semi sequel because the events in the book occur side by side with one another. The events that happen are told from two different perspectives, from the different members of the watch in their respectively titled books.

Having a storyline handled in such a manner made for an interesting read. Interesting in how the characters acted and reacted as well as the thoughts going through their heads at the time. How each side sees themselves as being “in the right”.

The Day Watch and the Night Watch are two sides of the same coin; they balance each other out on the cosmic scales. Neither watch is either truly good or truly evil – another thing I liked about these books – but are both cast in shades of gray. While the Day Watch embraces this grayness about them, the Night Watch seek to try and lighten the color. Again, showing how they are different.

Originally written in Russian, these books were translated in to English. Translation from one language in to another is never perfect, yet I felt these were well handled. The prose in Night Watch felt a bit clunky at times while Day Watch‘s translation seemed a bit smoother.

Day Watch (and Night Watch) are not for the casual reader. These books are a little heavier to read and process mentally. Not every one will enjoy them but the serious reader should definitely give them a look.

Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore

Milo is a very old soul. To date, he has been reincarnated over 9000 times; each time hopefully taking him one step closer to Perfection and Nirvana.

There is one small problem though…Milo doesn’t want to reach Perfection. He wants to spend his eternity with Suzie, aka Death. And it turns out she wants to spend it with him.

Milo now has to make a choice. You see, a soul can only be reincarnated 10,000 times before it must either move on to Perfection or fall in to the Void. But what good is Perfection if you cannot spend the time with the one you love?

Reincarnation Blues is one of those unique books that is hard to describe. Many have compared it to books by Kurt Vonnegut or Douglas Adams and after reading it I can see why. On the surface it seems a light hearted, almost formulaic tale – a young man searching for a way to be with his true love. Having to overcome various obstacles, so forth and so on.

Yet underneath there are darker threads interwoven through the story. Some of the lives Milo lives are fairly standard. While there are others that see him pushed to his limits, both mentally and physically. A few of them were actually hard for me to read because of this.

One thing I did find interesting was Milo’s transformation throughout the story. In the beginning he believes he knows the perfect way to reach Perfection (pun intended), yet with each life cycle he comes to realize that perhaps he doesn’t know everything. That every person must find their own path and there is no one correct way.

Overall, I liked Reincarnation Blues very much. Readers who enjoy Douglas Adams and other authors of their ilk will enjoy this one too.

 

Down Among The Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire

When twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen years old, they were sent off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is what happened to get them sent there.

Little Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter. Prim and proper, quiet and polite. So if her mother was a little strict, it was simply because raising a princess can take discipline.

Little Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter. Adventurous and daring, loud and rambunctious. So if her father was a little distant, it was simply because he had really wanted a son but was working with what he had.

When the girl’s were five, they learned that adults cannot be trusted. And when they were twelve, they found the impossible staircase.

Dear reader, I have often wondered if it is possible to enjoy the sequel to a novel more than one enjoyed the original? I now believe it is possible, because while I greatly enjoyed Every Heart a Doorway, I enjoyed Down Among The Sticks and Bones MORE.

Despite it being far too short, I was once again held enraptured by the world McGuire created for these two characters. The prose has a kind of sing song style to it, echoing fairy tales that were once told. And just like with older fairy tales, there is a darker side hidden among the light; yet here it is more blatant and sinister.

The characters of Jacqueline and Jillian are themselves unique. While they are identical twins – often times they are referred to as a “matching set” – each girl is also her own unique individual. It was interesting to see how each girl molded herself to fit the ideal that was set on them, and how they each sought to break the mold. Even after travelling down the mysterious stairway and entering the twisted world at the bottom, each girl is given a role to fill. And while the role seems to be more in line with her wants and needs, one cannot help but wonder if each girl is still playing a part.

Like fairy tales of old, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is not a lighthearted tale. It is a dark story and some of the more sensitive readers might take issue. It is a wonderful story and one that I wish were longer. I urge all my readers, young and old alike, to pick this one up. Personally, I will eagerly be awaiting the next book in the series.

 

D’Arc (War with No Name #2) by Robert Repino

The Colony has been defeated, it’s mad Queen lies dead. In an effort to defeat the humans, the Queen released a strange and unknown technology in to the world. It’s purpose: to uplift the surface animals – cats, dogs, wolves, bats, etc. – and turn them in to sentient beings. These creatures would then rise up and kill their human oppressors, making way for a new era. Things however did not go as planned. The War with No Name is over and the world left behind will never be the same.

After years of bloodshed, these animals must now learn to coexist with the humans who were once their sworn enemies. Each side must learn to trust the other even as outside forces threaten to crush the fragile peace.

Our intrepid hero, Mort(e), still survives and has reunited with his beloved Sheba. Left “pure” by the Queen, she has received the mysterious treatment and has become like the other animals. She and Mort(e) have created a quiet life far from the new civilizations; and while he is content, she begins to yearn for more. When a series of strange occurrences threaten the holy city of Hosanna, she is given her chance. And Mort(e) has little option but to follow, whether he wants to or not.

Back when I reviewed the first book, I said I hoped Repino would write a second tale with these characters and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this book at my library. Picking up shortly after where Mort(e) left off, D’Arc is the sequel that I was waiting for.

At first, everything starts normal enough – Mort(e) has been reunited with his beloved Sheba and the two of them are living what many would consider an idyllic life. However things begin to change them, especially when news of strange goings on in the city of Hosanna reach them. When Sheba decides to leave the cabin and travel to the city, Mort(e) is angry at first. The image of the life with Sheba he built in his mind has come crashing down around him.

As in the first book, Repino handles these different scenarios quite well. From the danger of the first battle with the mutant spiders to the heartbreak of Mort(e)’s and Sheba’s parting, it almost feels as if we are there with the characters. He further builds and expounds on the world created in the first book, introducing new characters as well as bringing back familiar faces.

The narrative switches several times during the novel; at times we are with Sheba (now known as D’Arc) in the city of Hosanna, and at other times we are with a strange group of sea creatures as they travel towards an unknown destination. While the sea creature plot line wasn’t as strong nor as interesting, it is a good setup for a potential book somewhere down the line.

Just like with the first book, I was held rapt with reading D’Arc. I shed several tears, especially towards the end.

If you have read and enjoyed Mort(e), then I highly recommend you pick up the sequel, D’Arc.

And just as I did when I finished the first book and wrote the review, I must go and hug my dog.

 

 

Alabaster by Caitlin R. Kiernan

An albino girl wanders the sun-scorched backroads of a south Georgia summer, following the bidding of an angel – or perhaps only voices in her head – searching out and slaying ancient monsters who have hidden themselves away in the lonely places of the world.

First introduced in Caitlin R. Kiernan’s second novel, Threshold, Dancy has gone on to be the unlikely heroine in several short stories and even a novella. Each story is a small piece of a larger fantasy narrative and in Alabaster they are finally gathered together in to a single volume.

I admit, dear reader, I wasn’t quite sure what I was picking up when I picked Alabaster up off the shelf in my local library. In truth I had been looking for another book by the same author and ended up getting this one instead. From what I understood (or thought I understood), Dancy was a minor character in one of Kiernan’s novels and this collection of short stories expand upon her background.

Having not read Threshold, I don’t know if I’m correct or not. I do know, however, that these stories presume that the reader has at least a passing knowledge of Dancy. And having no prior knowledge of the character, I found myself a bit lost.

Kiernan is an excellent author, that much I do know from reading these short stories. She is able to spin a believable yarn; to give the reader information while still leaving something to the imagination. She does have the occasional penchant for run on sentences, but I have yet to read an author who doesn’t.

Readers who have read Threshold and are familiar with Dancy will likely enjoy this collection. It gives glimpses in to her character and takes the reader on brief adventures. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read the first book in the series, but all in all I found it a nice read.