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Book Review: The Abolition of Evil by Ted Richardson

aoeI am a HUGE American history (well, any history, really) fan, so when author Ted Richardson contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing his book The Abolition of Evil, was immediately intrigued – how many novels have YOU encountered that tie together billionaires with secrets, political drama, Lewis and Clark, and conquistadors?? My review copy was graciously provided by the author in exchange for my honest review.

The book description can be read on Amazon or the author’s website. I won’t rehash that – I’ll tell you why the description is only the beginning of what should catch your eye about this book (and Richardson’s other(s) in the series)… Let’s start with the characters – anyone who reads my reviews knows I am a fanatic for great characters. I like them well-developed, complex, and human. Richardson’s Matt Hawkins, the protagonist in this great series, is one such character. But he’s not the only one – the book is populated with them… Even the passing-glance characters (who, incidentally, often wind up being not so by the time the story plays out a bit) are multi-faceted and interesting to read. Some of that, for me, is probably due to the subject matter Richardson so adeptly introduces into the world of fiction. He’s one of a few authors I’ve come across who seems to delight in fashioning fascinating stories out of what would otherwise seem to be relatively obscure bits of Americana (example: black conquistadors – I have a father who is obsessed with American history AND pirates/explorers in all forms and loves talking about both, and I had nary an inkling such a group existed). He layers his history and his fiction deftly, placing just enough of each on the spoon at each bite to ensure you work your way through the entire presentation…

I must admit, there were a few points where the story got a little slow for me. There is a lot of detail here, and sometimes it felt a little dense. But by the time I reached the end, I came to the conclusion that it was all probably necessary to fully flesh out the history and the mystery in equal parts. This is the second in the Hawkins series; I didn’t know this when I agreed to the review. It’s a good thing, because I’m OBSESSIVE about reading series books in order, and I probably would have respectfully declined this one had I known. I didn’t realize it until I was probably a quarter of the way through this one – and not because of any failing or confusion in the story, but rather because I found myself curious as to whether there might be other books by the author and thinking that several of the backstory allusions would lend themselves to a fascinating book of their own (turns out, they do and have – it’s called Imposters of Patriotism, and is on my To Be Read list now). The ending quite strongly suggests there is way more in store for Mr. Hawkins – and Mr. Richardson (one volume – A Nation of Hucksters – is excerpted at the end of this one). I, for one, am delighted and looking forward to reengaging with both in the future!

Jill Elizabeth

Book Review: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club was GREAT – I found it randomly while browsing through the Amazon “you might like” list at the end of some other book I can’t even recall… It is a clever recasting of the twelve dancing princesses fairy tale, set in Flapper-era New York. It features a cast of marvelous characters and a gloriously-imagined and -described setting. There is drama, excitement, suffering, redemption, non-redemption and my gracious goodness DANCING… Clear, straightforward prose that paints a crisp outline and fills it in with deliciously hazy yet oddly sharp details puts the icing on the proverbial cake (and sounds like an oxymoron, but is strangely apt).

As a teaser, here’s one of my favorite quotes:

He was like a song she’d heard years back, played again in a quiet room; there was no telling if the song was any good, or if she only remembered it fondly because of the person she’d been long ago, when she heard it first.

There is subtle magic here. The writing is as gorgeous as the setting, the tale will break your heart and surprise the hell out of you. The resilience of youth, the persistence of family, the strength of conviction all come shining through. Definitely check this one out!

Jill Elizabeth

Book Blurb: Hell by Robert Olen Butler

This was my first foray into Robert Olen Butler’s world, back in the day; suffice to say I am now hooked and completely understand how he won a Pulitzer. How can you not love a book whose main character – the anchorman from Hell, literally – manages to be both hero and anti-hero at the same time? Hell is a very clever take on the idea that hell is personal to each of us and features exactly those torments designed to maximize the hellishness of the experience. The banality of what comprises the greatest possible eternal torture is both thought-provoking and laugh-inducing (Schadenfreude, anyone?). I mean really, how can you not admire a mind that determines that the most Hellish thing possible for Anne Boleyn would be getting stuck in a quasi-relationship that can never be consummated, all the while regularly losing her head, literally, while constantly searching for a bloated old King Henry VIII who doesn’t want to see her?

Jill Elizabeth

The Official, What-Else-Is-There, Blog Thought for Today…

Blogging is not writing. It is graffiti with punctuation.

from Contagion (2011, Steven Soderbergh)

Really, what more can I say??

(Notice, I ALWAYS use punctuation. A lot of it. I know my blogging…)

Jill Elizabeth

Not-Quite-A-Review: The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

So here’s another one of those “I’m still reading but had to share” posts… This time about The Masked City, the second book in Genevieve Cogman’s superlative “Invisible Library” series. And hooray – it’s almost as good as the first in the trilogy! I say hooray and sound surprised because, in my experience, the middle books in trilogies are often necessary evils – they need to say what they do to set up the finale, but are often not the best stories to read by themselves… This one has some moments that clearly feel like setup – the pacing slows, the exposition grows, paragraphs feel just that little bit out of flow – but on the whole it also still reads like a really good story. Now I DEFINITELY can’t wait for the final installment! Unfortunately I have to wait until January… Blecch.

Here’s a taste of the writing in this one. I just love the straightforward, no-nonsense personality of Irene – this scene sees her facing off against one of the villains of the piece. This burst of villainous loquaciousness is a prime example of Cogman’s magnificent use of language and spot-on ability to nail the human condition:

“People want stories. You should know that more than anybody. They want their lives to have meaning. They want to be part of something greater than themselves… Most people don’t want a brave new world. They want the story that they know.”

If you haven’t started the series, you really should!

Jill Elizabeth

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