Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: "The Patron Saint of Ugly" by Marie Manilla

When stories come pouring out of the tiny town of Sweetwater, West Virginia, about the miraculous healing powers of Garnet Ferrari, the Vatican dispatches an investigator to determine the truth of the so-called saint.

Garnet herself denies all claim to sainthood or miracles, but she cannot deny that something strange has been happening all her life. From the day she was born with a birthmark of the world covering her entire body, she has been set apart, marveled over by superstitious grandmothers and reviled by her peers. Only her mother, a blue-blooded runaway from Virginia's highest society circles, is determined to adore her map-stained daughter.

The Vatican's investigation follows Garnet back through time to the miracles she performed and the ones she failed. Was there ever really a Santa Garnet del Vulcano before her, or is Garnet truly the rebirth of a long-lost Sicilian saint? It's a legend the world has never heard before, but one which in Garnet's memory has been told a hundred times and more. 

4.5 out of 5 stars
(grump + breakdown below the cut)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: "The Wolf Hunt" by Gillian Bradshaw

When her brother is killed fighting in the Crusades, Marie Penthievre becomes the heir of the family manor: a rich prize fought over by Normandy and Brittany for generations. Now Marie herself is the prize. Before her Norman overlord can act, Marie is kidnapped from her convent and smuggled into Brittany.

Alone in the Breton court, Marie defends her honor and her right to refuse a husband from among her enemies. Tiarnan of Talensac, a knight in Duke Hoel's service, serves as her champion. But Tiarnan, a married man, has his own crisis of honor to endure: whether his new bride will still love him when she learns that he is a werewolf, an abomination in the sight of God.

When Tiarnan disappears, Duke Hoel's court grieves their favorite while Marie mourns for her first friend. But Tiarnan is not dead--only trapped in his monstrous form by his faithless wife and her former lover. Now the duke he once served hunts for him, and the forests of Brittany become a battleground.

5 out of 5 stars
(grump + breakdown below the cut)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson

"I was born with the devil in me. I could not help that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing."

Occasionally I have a craving for really solid narrative nonfiction. In The Devil in the White City (subtitle: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America), Erik Larson chronicles the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and the serial killer in its midst. It wasn't a particularly filling "meal" of a book, but it gave me a taste of the weird and unusual history which I love.

If the 1893 Chicago World's Fair was mentioned in any history class of mine, it was swiftly overlooked. Larson's loving chronicle brings to vivid life an era and a spectacle which I find now hard to forget. The number of visitors to the park on October 9th of that year set the record for highest attendance at any peaceable event in history!

Larson splits his narrative into three paths. One follows the architects, engineers, artists, and showman who attempted to surpass the glory of France's "Exposition Universelle" in 1889 in a fraction of the time. Another tracks the mentally ill man whose delusions led him to assassinate Chicago's leading figure in his hour of triumph. The third, and most riveting, closes in on H.H. Holmes and the dozens--possibly hundreds--of women he murdered during the days of the fair.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: "Howl's Moving Castle" by Diana Wynne Jones (plus notes on "Howl's Moving Castle" by Hayao Miyazaki)

As the oldest daughter of three, Sophie Hatter knows that adventures are not in her future. While her younger sisters seek their fortune, she slaves away in the family hat shop.

But fate has its eye on Sophie, for better or for worse. When a chance meeting with the dreaded Witch of the Waste leaves Sophie cursed with old age, she flees to the dubious shelter of a magical castle, owned by the equally dreaded Wizard Howl. Howl is rumored to eat the souls--or was it the hearts?--of beautiful young maidens. Surely old Sophie has nothing to fear. 

Howl's fire demon refuses refuses to help Sophie return to normal until she breaks his own curse. Will the fact that Howl and Sophie have a common enemy in the Witch of the Waste be enough? Or will Howl's heartless ways drive Sophie out to find her own magic?

1.5 out of 5 stars
(grump + breakdown below the cut)