Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones

murdermagicOriginally, I picked up Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones because Gail Carriger suggested it on her Facebook page. Carriger is the author of one of my favourite steampunk book series and she often talks about books by new authors that she’s reading. I trust her judgement and I was not disappointed.

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore is a young adult historical fantasy novel set in the year 1818 England about a young woman named Annis Whitworth. As it stands right now it is a stand alone novel, but the ending left it open enough to have a sequel or possibly a whole series based on it.

The story starts out with Annis and her aunt Cassia finding out that Annis’s father has been killed in a carriage accident. Annis, however, doesn’t think that her father died by accident — she thinks he was murdered. Why does she think this? Because her father was a spy for the British Empire.

Her suspicions lead Annis to wanting to become a spy herself so she can finish her father’s work, but her attempts seem to be thwarted at every turn. She’s desperate to become a spy because her only other option is to become a governess and teach children the alphabet. That is until she discovers she has magical powers and can sew magic into clothing. She uses this power to sew disguises for herself and her maid Millie. Together they solve the mystery of who murdered her father, stop Napoleon from being released from prison, and become spies for England. #theEnd

Things I liked about Murder, Magic, and What We Wore:

  • The writing style was good, flowed well, and was entertaining and humourous. Jones did a good job of describing the environment and the dresses that each character wore. In a book whose title includes “And What We Wore” this is an important detail.
  • I liked that Annis could sew magic. I myself am a seamstress (kind of…) so I really appreciate books that include sewing references. Annis reminded me a lot of Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones because Sophie, like Annis, could sew magic into hats, but she too was unaware of her power. Annis could make fabric bulletproof, or encourage the wearer to be invisible or feel extreme confidence. Sophie could do the same thing, but with hats. She could make a hat that would make the wearer more attractive, lucky, etc. It’s just a really cool power that I really appreciate.
  • The aspect of Girl Power in this book was great! Annis was a pampered lady who suddenly befell hard times, but rather than take what life gave her she decided to forge her own path. This book is full of strong female role models for girls.

Things I didn’t like about Murder, Magic, and What We Wore:

  • It was sooooooo predictable. There was no surprise at all to the “big reveals” at the end of the book. Maybe I’ve just read too much and am too good and picking up small details, but I felt that the clues Jones dropped were way too obvious and took some of the excitement out of the book.

Overall, I was very entertained by this book. I feel that it’s a good book for young adults as it’s easy to read and full of interesting characters. I gave Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because while I really enjoyed reading the book I felt the obviousness of the plot took away from the experience. Despite this I look forward to potential sequels.


The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

dark days pactHello, Internetland! Today I’m going to be reviewing The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman. This is the second book in the series about the Dark Days Club and I highly recommend the first book! Even though there are some people who categorize this book as Steampunk, it’s not. It’s gaslamp fantasy. There’s a very subtle difference between gaslamp fantasy and steampunk and this book definitely falls under the gaslamp fantasy umbrella. For one thing, there are no steampunky gadgets featured in this book. Can’t have a steampunk book without steampunk gadgets!

As I mentioned this is the second book in the series. The first book gives the reader a good base knowledge for the world the book is set in. I’m afraid that if you wanted to jump right into the second book it may take you a while to figure out what’s going on. Fortunately, however, there are some new faces being inducted into the Dark Days Club in this book so we do get a little bit of a recap on what’s happening. Here’s a very undetailed description of the first book: Lady Helen discovers the existence of the Dark Days Club, a secret government organization dedicated to fighting Deceivers (demons who lives as humans and feed off human energy) and that she’s a Reclaimer, basically a warrior who is physically able to fight Deceivers. I really enjoyed the first book in the series and so was quite excited for the second book! While I liked the first book better I really enjoys the second one as well, and I had a really hard time putting it down once I started reading it.

So here’s the basic plot of The Dark Days Pact. Spoiler alert! After the events of the first book Lady Helen has moved to Brighton with Lady Margaret to start her Reclaimer training with Lord Carlston. There she is visited by the Second Secretary to the Home Office, Ignatius Pike. He comes to deliver a message to Lord Carlston, but his true purpose is to swear Lady Helen into the Dark Days Club, officially, and also order her and Lady Margaret’s brother, Mr. Hammond, to secretly retrieve a journal owned by the Terrene of a mad Reclaimer who was the antagonist in the previous book. As Mr. Hammond and Lady Helen begin their secret mission they start to notice that Lord Carlston is slipping further and further into madness, a symptom of Reclaiming for too long. Lord Carlston is convinced it’s not Reclaimer Madness that ails him and starts trying to figure out ways to cure himself. He eventually asks the Comte d’Antraigues, a very old Deceiver who has worked with Lord Carlston before, for help. The Comte says he knows a cure for Lord Carlston, but as payment wants the same journal that Lady Helen and Mr. Hammond are secretly trying to retrieve, as the journal  is rumoured to contain sensitive information about the Comte and his family. Also trying to get the journal is a Deceiver named Philip who works for the Grand Deceiver. So now it’s a race to see who can get the journal first! Also it turns out the journal is actually a Ligatus, an item that could be used to destroy all Reclaimers and open a gate to the Deceiver world (aka Hell). So it’s more important that Lady Helen gets the journal before it falls into the wrong hands.

Here are some of the things I liked about the book. I love the gaslamp fantasy genre almost as much as I love the Steampunk genre. The setting of the book is 1812. I studied historical costume design in university so I’m really familiar with what the fashions of the time were. This made it easy for me to picture the story in my head as I read. I also really enjoyed the secret society fighting evil theme and the characters. I felt the characters were written really well, and even if there’s nothing about the character you can relate to on a personal level you can empathize with them because they are written in such a way that you almost experience their emotions along with them. The romantic tension between Lady Helen and Lord Carlston is a prime example. Dang… The last thing I like about this book is the race against time theme. It makes the book so exciting! Honestly, I had a really hard time putting it down. Work? Who needs to work? Food? Eh, I’ll eat later. It was that compelling.

Despite loving this book so much there are still a couple things that I disliked about it. The first is that while I like the plot, and the secret society theme… it’s really overdone. There are tonnes of books about secret societies that fight evil in order to protect humanity. The Infernal Devices/Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, for example. Despite it being a really overdone theme in young adult literature right now… I still like it. So sue me. The second thing I disliked about this book was one point of inconsistency that was never explained. At the end of the book SPOILER ALERT when Lord Carlston brings the journal to the Comte and it’s revealed to be a Ligatus the Comte says he wants nothing to do with it. But just a few pages later the Comte tells Lady Helen that the Ligatus is the key to curing Lord Carlston because it will allow them to be joined as the Grand Reclaimer. If the Comte only just found out the journal was a Ligatus how could he possibly have known that it was the key to curing Lord Carlston of his madness?

There you have it, Internetland. My review of The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman. I gave this book four out of five stars on Goodreads because while I really enjoyed it, that one giant plot hole at the end was enough to make me dock a star. I hope you’ll give this series a try! If you like books set in Victorian England with a fantasy/supernatural theme you will enjoy this book!

What I Was by Meg Rosoff

What I Was by Meg Rosoff

What I Was by Meg Rosoff

This book was really not what I expected it to be.

This book is like Pot of Gold chocolate. You think you’re eating a chocolate but what you really get is a chocolate with a cherry inside. Well, not cherry. I don’t like cherry. We’ll say hazelnut… but you can have a cherry if you really want it, Internetland. Basically, what I’m saying is this book makes out to be something, but ends up being something TOTALLY UNEXPECTED. At least I didn’t expect it.

What I Was is a story told by an old man named H looking back on his youth. You find out his real name later in the book, and I don’t want to spoil it for you ;). H is a sixteen year old boy in 1967 who is transferring to a new boarding school called St. Oswald’s on the coast of England. I was initially drawn to this book because of the boarding school theme. For some reason I’ve always been fascinated by boarding school life and I always wished I could have gone to boarding school. I know I’m a weird-o. This love of boarding school life is what also drew me to the Harry Potter books.

Anyway, moving on. H is sent to St. Oswald’s because he has been kicked out of two other boarding schools and this was the only one that would take him. The way he describes the school reminds me of the school Harry’s aunt and uncle pretended he was going to – St. Brutus’s Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys. But, H is not an incurable criminal. He’s just lazy. He doesn’t like to do school work, or sports, or anything at all. He was kicked out of his previous schools for simply lacking ambition.

H tells us about how horrid his life at school is and how he is proud of having been kicked out of two schools previous to this one. He describes himself as lanky and unattractive, and says he can’t be successful because he is lanky and unattractive while the other students at the school are tall, handsome, and athletic. He always seems to be putting himself down.

Eventually, H meets a mysterious boy named Finn who lives alone in a beach hut on the coast. Finn doesn’t go to school, doesn’t have a social security number, and basically doesn’t exist to the government. He lived with his grandmother after his mother abandoned him and when his grandmother passed away he continued to live his simple life. H admires Finn in every way. Finn is attractive, independent, and free. This is what H wants more than anything, and he becomes a little obsessed with Finn.

Now this is where you think you have figured out what this book is – a gay coming of age story. Since I read this book for my Young Adult Literature class I didn’t think anything of this. I’ve already read one book about a gay teen making his way in the world, so I figured there would be another one.

So, Finn and H become friends and H even stays with Finn over the Easter holidays. They get closer and closer, with H admiring Finn more and more as the time passes. H learns different skills from Finn, including sailing and fishing.

Then something unthinkable happens that disrupts H’s fantasy life with Finn. H’s classmate, Reese, discovers Finn and is forced into telling the school officials about him. While this is going on Finn becomes seriously ill and H has to take care of him. Cue ROLE-REVERSAL theme music!

Now, I’m about the describe the climax of the book and if you don’t want any spoilers you should skip to the end of my post.

A storm is coming and H needs to get help for Finn who is getting more and more ill. When H pulls back the blankets covering Finn he discovers that Finn is covered in blood. Naturally, he panics. I would too! H rushes to town to call an ambulance for Finn, and all the while the school officials are trying to hunt H down and bring him back to the school to explain himself. The storm is getting worse and H retreats to Finn’s hut to hide. Finn is gone when he gets there and H assumes he either left or was taken to the hospital. During the storm H hears Reese calling for him from across the water. When H tries to go out and save Reese the boy ends up getting washed away by the waves and drowns. H feels he’s to blame because had he not shouted for Reese, Reese would have not been distracted enough to let go of what he was holding on to and wouldn’t have fallen into the ocean and drowned.

When the storm is over, H needs to find Finn. He phones the hospital to see if his friend made it there, but when the receptionist tells him no one named Finn was admitted the night before he makes his way to the hospital to make sure. When he gets to hospital H figures that Finn would have given the hospital staff his name because Finn technically doesn’t exist to the government.  H asks for Hilary, his real name. When H finds Finn the nurse keeps referring to him as a she and H is getting quite upset. Finn won’t even look at him and finally the nurse says they found Finn suffering from glandular fever and dehydration and he was menstruating at the time. Wait… what? Menstruating? But, that would mean… Finn is actually a girl. A fourteen-year-old girl. And that means this book ISN’T a gay coming of age story and is actually about gender roles in society without really being about gender roles in society. Whaaaat? Mind = blown.

Actually, I figured it out when H found the blood, but up until that point I believed what H believed. Meg Rosoff did a great job writing from H’s point of view.

Okay, you can start reading here again.

H jumps forward in his story explaining how he left school and home and went to live in Finn’s little hut by the ocean. He fixed it up, lived simply, and basically became Finn. He even started to use Finn’s name. He grew up into an attractive and mysterious man who lived in a hut by the sea. Everything he wanted to become he became.

I really enjoyed this book and its crazy twist. Rosoff did a wonderful job.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I’ve read a few young war novels during my time as an intern teacher. These include The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and The Book Theif. I usually find myself really enjoying war novels, especially World War II novels, and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein was no exception. Although, I have to admit it took me awhile to really get into the book. I am fairly sure it is because of the way it was written.

The story is about Julie, a spy for the Allied Forces in during World War II. During a secret mission, Julie is captured by the Gestapo and in order to avoid further torture she agrees to give her captors wireless codes and the names of aircraft. The prose in part is written as Julie’s confession and tells the story of Maddie, the pilot who dropped her in France. It describes how Maddie became a pilot, how she came to work for the air force, how Julie (who describes herself as Queenie in the story) and Maddie became best friends, and why Maddie (a civilian pilot for the Air Transport Auxillary) was dropping agents into enemy airspace. Part two of the book is from Maddie’s perspective after she crash lands in France. Maddie describes her emotions towards the events that occur before, during and after she gets back to England. Mainly, she is concerned for Julie, who’s codename is Verity.

One of the things I loved about this book were the parallels between Verity and Kittyhawk (Maddie’s codename). Julie’s fake identity while in France was supposed to be Katharina Habicht, which is “kittyhawk’ in German. Maddie finds this sweet, but rather risky on Julie’s part.  I think the best parallel is when Julie and Maddie are updating their list of fears at virtually the same time. Also, they both have the same dream at about the same time as well. Other parallels include Thibaut. In Julie’s story, Thibaut is a French Nazi who tortures Julie to get information out of her. In Maddie’s story, Thibaut is Etienne Thibaut, the son of the family whose barn she is hiding in. I also love the way Wein uses the character of Anna Engel. In Julie’s story, Engel is the lady Nazi who forces her to keep writing day after day and then translates everything for the Gestapo officer in charge of the prison, von Linden. Julie often writes of how brutal Engel is to her, and tries to get her into trouble by writing things that Engel does, such as smoking. In Maddie’s story, Engel is actually a kind woman who helps the resistance get the information that Julie was sent into France to get. It comes to light that Engel was actually compassionate to Julie, and Julie was covering for Engel by making it seem that Engel was a horrid Nazi b!tch.

I loved the way Wein describes emotions in Code Name Verity. Julie’s fear is so real that one word can make the reader equally as fearful. Kerosene. Julie’s worst fear. Now mine. Literally, gives me shivers every time I think about it.

Finally, I loved how plausible this book it. It’s almost as if this book could have been a true to life biography of two female officers during World War II. Wein admits that she took some creative liberties to avoid breaching the Official Secrets Act, but where she could she used real facts, such as the ball-point pen. Wein says in the Author’s Debriefing of Code Name Verity that “there’s a real story, like this one, behind just about every detail of episode in the book” (Wein, 2012, p. 337), and it’s this that makes me love this book so much.