Book Review: Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show by Eric Scott Fischl

Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show by Eric Scott Fischl is a book set in 19th century America about a failed Civil War surgeon who has since become a snake-oil salesman and quack doctor. Dr Potter is part of company of travelling salesmen, circus performers and fortune tellers, selling a special elixir said to cure all manner of ills. However, the Sagwa elixir has some sinister side-effects.

My Photo [Dr Potter's Medicine Show].jpg

Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show is structured in 3 parts, so I’m going to structure my review into 3 parts.

Part One: The Medicine Show

The characterisation of Dr. Potter as a fraudulent doctor was immediately apparent, which was good. However, the reader is not given much time familiarising themselves with Dr. Potter before lots of other characters are swiftly introduced. I felt that more characters were added to the beginning of the story than was necessary. Subsequently, it was difficult to remember each character’s individual personality and role within the group. This worked to the book’s detriment as it meant Dr. Potter didn’t wholly stand out as the main character. The story developed fairly slowly; some parts of the narrative made complete sense but other parts I found somewhat confusing to understand.

Part Two: The Great Work

By the second part of the novel, the story was more coherent and I could clearly distinguish between characters and follow different narrative strands. I liked the overarching themes of body-snatching / body invasion, alchemy and medicine in the book, and I think the book’s genre is an interesting combination of horror, science fiction and historical fantasy. I also enjoyed reading about the secrets of different characters’ backgrounds, which were revealed through flashbacks. However, I still think there may be too many characters involved in the overall story.

Part Three: The Stone

I liked the final third of the book the most, even though there is a small printing error, as it is labelled Part 2 instead of Part 3. There was much more action, gore, character interaction, and exciting supernatural moments. The story seemed to make much more sense, and the writing was easier to follow too. The antagonist is desperately searching for a stone that seemingly grants immortality (is it an irony there is a stone which provides immortality and one of the characters is also called Potter?), experimenting on unwilling victims until he has the right scientific formula, and he must be stopped at all costs. Because of these scenes, it was apparent Fischl has done some detailed research into alchemy, medicine and how scientific experiments were conducted in 19th century America, which I found interesting.

Whilst I did enjoy reading this book, for me, it took a while for the story to get going. As a side note however, I really like the cover design.

Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show is available to buy as an e-book directly from Angry Robot Publishing. Many thanks to Angry Robot Publishing for providing me with a free copy!

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

– Judith


Book Review: The Haunting of Henderson Close by Catherine Cavendish

I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and Flame Tree Press, an imprint of Flame Tree Publishing.

The Haunting of Henderson Close is a ghost story, with elements of supernatural and historical fiction, by Catherine Cavendish about the escape of an evil, demonic presence in the heart of Edinburgh.

I was intrigued by the classification of The Haunting of Henderson Close as a horror, mystery and thriller novel, as I love to read books in these genres.

I liked the hints at ghostly activity presented at the start of the book. Gradually, these ghostly hints seem to point towards a more malevolent, demonic activity, suggesting the threat is more serious than a simple haunted museum. At times though, it felt as if Cavendish was trying to write a historical murder mystery rather than a supernatural ghost story, as a lot of the story focuses on Hannah, the protagonist, investigating a Victorian murder case, rather than directly investigating demons, ghosts, and legends of hauntings.

Cavendish’s use of flashbacks provide interesting visions of the past, which brings to life the history behind the museum in which Hannah now works. It’s interesting to know that the streets the protagonist gives historical tours on are the same streets the ghosts once walked on. However, at points, these flashbacks to the past seemed too sudden and jarred with the present-day narrative, so perhaps narrative cohesion and clarity could be improved in the future.

The use of setting was one of the main strengths of the book, as the descriptions of 19th century Edinburgh were detailed and made it easy to imagine just what Victorian Scotland used to look like.

The ending of the book was darker, more serious, and more sad than I had originally anticipated. This is not a criticism however, as I’m not of the opinion that all books must have a happy ending.

Overall, The Haunting of Henderson Close is a reasonable ghost story with an interesting historical concept behind it.

The Haunting of Henderson Close is released today! It is available to buy as a paperback, hardback, or e-book directly from Flame Tree Publishing.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

– Judith

Book Review: The Help

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett is fantastic.

It’s a novel consisting of a collection of fictional first-person perspectives about black domestic servants working in white households, in 1960s Mississippi.

I studied the American civil rights movement at A-level so before reading, I had some understanding of the historical events and prevailing social attitudes at that time. However, The Help is not written like a textbook or documentary. Whilst a work of fiction, The Help was undoubtedly inspired by real events and real people. It’s personal, raw, emotional and shocking.

Stockett’s writing perfectly reflects the different characters’ personalities. There are three main narrative perspectives; Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson are both maids in white households, subject to constant racial prejudice. Eugenia Phelan is a white woman who realises the shocking racism in her town and seeks to expose it.

My favourite character was Aibileen, who works for Elizabeth Leefolt . She’s incredibly loving towards the child in her care, humble, respectful. The strength she demonstrates in working dutifully in the face of the many racist comments made about her by her employer – is remarkable.

Given the subject matter, The Help is obviously quite dark and serious in places. Yet, there are some light and funny moments as friendships grow between different characters.

I also found it interesting to read about Minny’s perspective, who works for Celia Foote.

Miss Celia, as Minny calls her, lacks the ‘Stepford Wife’ personality to fit in to society. She doesn’t even know how to cook and is scorned by the other women; she’s never invited for afternoon tea or card games and seems to be truly alone. and she feels truly alone. However, Minny and Miss Celia seem to bond somewhat, in their shared experiences of feeling like an outcast.

Whilst The Help is clearly designed to highlight and condemn racial discrimination, it also draws attention to the varying social prejudices that existed (and still do exist) in communities as well.

I strongly recommend this book; The Help is a gripping read and I didn’t realise quite how much I’d enjoy it.

– Judith