Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book Review: The Poisoned House by Michael Ford

✰✰✰½ Travel back in time to Victorian England with this entertaining ghost story by Michael Ford. Abigail "Abi" Tamper is a scullery maid employed at Greave Hall in London in 1855. Her mother died during the recent cholera outbreak leaving Abi orphaned. Abi is now at the mercy of Mrs. Cotton, the cruel housekeeper who is also the sister-in-law of Lord Greave. Filled with despair, the young girl decides to run away from Greave Hall only to be caught and returned to a life of misery and drudgery.

As she accepts her fate, there is an air of change in Greave Hall.  Lord Greave's son, Master Samuel "Sammy" Greave, returns from fighting in the Crimean War. He has suffered a disabling injury and requires constant care. As a child, Sammy was  like a brother to Abi. However, young Abi soon learns that things are not always what they seem.

A series of paranormal events leads Abi to believe that her mother may not have died a natural death. Abi begins to believe that she is being haunted by ghost; she suspects it's her mother warning her from the grave. Prompted by the haunting, Abi begins to investigate the secrets of the house and its inhabitants. As Lord Greave slowly goes mad, Abi must find a way to reveal the truth before someone else gets hurt.

The Bottom Line: The story of Abigail Tamper is told from the viewpoint of a 15 year old girl's "handwritten manuscript."  This ghost story is a quick read with a few predictable twists and turns. Abigail Tamper is a believable character who values friendship. The elements of suspense and the supernatural in a Gothic setting that will appeal to many YA readers, especially girls. While The Poisoned House is entertaining and fun, it is not overly scary. Also, I was surprised to find more than a few typographical errors and misspellings. Recommended for teens and tweens who enjoy reading historical fiction with classic suspense and mystery components.

Details: The Poisoned House by Michael Ford. Hardcover published by Albert Whitman & Company in 2011. 328 p. ISBN: 978-0-8075-6589-6

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book Review: The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

✰✰✰✰ The year is 1659 in Schongau, Germany and the world is a different place filled with superstition and fear of witchcraft. A series of unspeakable crimes have recently been committed against the orphans of the town. One by one they are found murdered and the rest are missing. Fear quickly permeates the town and the midwife, Martha Stechlin, is quickly accused of being both a witch and a murderer. She is taken into custody, and it is the hangman's duty to extract a confession from her.

While others are quick to rush to judgment, the hangman, Jakob Kuisl, does not believe that the woman who brought his children into this world could be capable of such horrific crimes. However, without any evidence to the contrary, Kuisl is forced to continue with the torture.  As the intensity of the torture escalates, Kuisl's resolve to find the real murderer strengthens.

Thus, begins Kuisl's quest to solve the crimes with the help of his beautiful daughter, Magdalena, and her admirer, Simon Fronwieser, a young physician who will stop at nothing to impress Kuisl. Together the trio must find the missing children and solve the murders before it is too late for Martha Stechlin.

The Bottom Line: This story takes many complicated twists and turns and has multiple protagonists. Riveting and spellbinding, Oliver Pötzsch's debut novel is a fast-paced thriller. Additionally, this book provides an interesting look at life in 17th century Bavaria. Also, I found the role of the executioner and his knowledge of anatomy and herbs to be fascinating.

Overall, The Hangman's Daughter is highly recommended for mystery buffs, fans of thrillers and those interested in historical fiction. Also, those who enjoy trying something a little bit different may enjoy it as well. However, it is important to note that due to the descriptions of torture and child murder, this book is not for the meek. That being said, this book is fascinating and I, for one, am definitely looking forward to the next installment, The Dark Monk, which is scheduled to be released this summer.

Details: The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch. Paperback published by AmazonCrossing in 2010. 448 p. ISBN: 978-1-935597-05-6

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Review: Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick

✰✰✰½ Facing the challenge of reading Herman Melville's Moby-Dick this summer, I picked up this little book of essays looking for motivation. The chapters are short and insightful; Philbrick includes information about everything from whaling to whaleships, from Nantucket to chowder. Additionally, I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at Melville's life as he wrote his masterpiece, his struggles with his writing, and his experience working aboard a whaleship. Additionally, other chapters help explain Melville's dry humor, wit and use of characterization. Finally, of particular interest to me was the information about Melville's friendship with author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The Bottom Line: Whether you are attempting to read Moby-Dick for the very first time or rereading it for the fifth, Why Read Moby-Dick? is a helpful primer with insight into both Melville and his classic novel. This compact collection of essays is a quick read and not at all imposing. Author Nathaniel Philbrick has indeed motivated me to read Moby-Dick. I'll also be reading Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea later this Summer for my book club, so I'm excited to see how this all comes together. Recommended for those reluctant to read Moby-Dick for the first time and for those needing a fresh view of the classic work.

Details: Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick. Hardcover published by Viking in 2011. 144 p. ISBN: 978-0-670-02299-1