Book Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

The Deep by Alma Katsu is her newest novel, set aboard the Titanic. There is a growing sense of unease, and passengers become convinced that the ship is haunted – that someone, or something, is waiting for them, lurking in the sea. Then, they hit an iceberg. Years later, Annie Hebbley, a survivor of the Titanic, finds work aboard the Britannic, the Titanic’s sister ship. She cannot forget the fateful night when the Titanic sank, and the memories haunt her daily. Annie is convinced something sinister happened that night, and finds herself asking the question: what really sank the Titanic?

The Deep is an enjoyable mystery / ghost story with some unexpected twists, set against an interesting historical backdrop. It reminded me in style to The Lost Ones by Anita Frank.

I thought Katsu’s idea to suggest ghosts and spirits were onboard the Titanic was creative, though at times the explanations offered for these surreal supernatural occurrences were confusing to understand.

The book follows a number of different characters – some factual, some fictional. I must admit, this was lost on me as I don’t know very much about the Titanic’s passenger and crew anyway. Nevertheless, Katsu’s decision to follow a number of different characters from different social classes was a good one, as it provided fascinating, personalised perspectives of what happened in the build-up to the tragedy, and I particularly liked the characters of Annie Hebbley and Madeleine Astor.

Unfortunately, for me, The Deep was lacking in tension; the Titanic doesn’t sink until 3/4 of the way through the book and, whilst these scenes were very exciting to read, nothing particularly horrifying happens until then. If, however, you enjoy slower-paced books, this might not bother you.

Something else that “bothered” me was that, occasionally, the language or plot seemed anachronistic for the time (1912) and so characters sometimes spoke or behaved as if they were in a modern soap-opera, which made it feel less realistic.*

*Yes, I am complaining about realism in a book about ghosts onboard the Titanic. 

In summary, I thought The Deep was a good book and, even though I have made some critical comments here, I still enjoyed it.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

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I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, of Penguin Books.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith

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

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

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.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: The Haunting of Henderson Close by Catherine Cavendish

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

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.

My Photo [The Haunting of Henderson Close].jpg

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.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

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

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

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.

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.

Star Rating: 5/5 Stars

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Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an American novel of pseudo-historical fiction about Hester Prynne and her illegitimate daughter Pearl. Following Hester’s extramarital affair while her husband is overseas, she gives birth to a child, and is condemned to wear a scarlet A stitched upon her clothing as a sign of her sin.

The Scarlet Letter begins with an introduction and preface; I skipped both. I don’t think I missed much.

It becomes quickly becomes what the message Hawthorne is either satirising or endorsing is: women who have extramarital relationships are fallen and they alone are responsible for the sin.

My reading of The Scarlet Letter is that Hawthorne intended to mock Puritan society. There’s just too much irony for this not to be a satirical work:

  • It’s ironic that the townspeople who judge Hester for her sinfulness for being sexually deviant mark this judgement plain by staring … at Hester’s bosom, where the scarlet letter just so happens to have been stitched.
  • It’s ironic that Pearl’s father refuses to admit his paternity, so as not to besmirch his reputation, yet is on the committee of people querying whether Hester is a fit mother, wondering whether to remove Pearl from her care.
  • It’s ironic that over the course of the novel, Hester lives a quiet, penitent life whilst Pearl’s father becomes overcome by his guilt and shame.

It was sad that there was so much hatred and judgement for Hester – especially as this was all passed on to little Pearl too, who has done nothing wrong except, in the eyes of the townspeople, be born.

I really liked the supernatural elements of the book. I love anything with Gothic or horror undertones, and Pearl is often suspected of being an elf or demon by the townspeople because of her wilder, unruly nature; she wasn’t conceived within a Puritan marriage, you see, so of course she can’t be well-behaved.

I liked the Gothic descriptions of Hester and Pearl, and the way in which Pearl’s father is suspected of black magic or a supernatural illness due to his deterioration in physical and mental health. Of course, his decline in health is really caused by his guilt at witnessing Hester take all the blame upon herself.

The Scarlet Letter was a short book to read, but for me, it began to drag 2/3 of the way in. There doesn’t seem to be much action; the focus is largely on Hester trying to move on with her life, Pearl’s father wrestling with shame, and the “revenge” plot of Hester’s husband which, in my opinion, wasn’t an exciting subplot at all.

It wasn’t as sensational as I thought it was going to be – although perhaps for the time it was.

However, the final chapter was an exciting ending; all secrets were revealed, and characters were confronted with their wrongdoings.

Did everyone face justice? Well, you’ll have to read it and find out.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Thank you for reading my blog post! Please click ‘Like’ to support my blog, and ‘Follow’ this blog if you would like to read more book reviews like this.

Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Book Review: Devil In The Countryside by Cory Barclay

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview.

This is a book review for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Devil In The Countryside is a historically inspired thriller set in 1588 at the time of the Reformation. The plot follows investigator Heinrich Franz, who is looking for answers after numerous mysterious killings in the German countryside, attributed to the Werewolf of Bedburg.

My Photo [Devil In the Countryside].jpeg

I think Barclay’s decision to mix fact and fiction was a bold one, but it made the political and historical context in which the book is set interesting.

Conventions of the genre, such as mysterious characters and gruesome murders were used well, and the writing was mostly easy to follow.

However, I struggled to imagine the settings and characters as authentically German. It felt more like a story about American characters that happened to have Germanic names. For me, this was particularly obvious when reading the amount of American slang used within dialogue – slang I’m quite sure wasn’t around in 16th century Germany!

This was a shame, because I think it prevented me from reading Devil In The Countryside as a historical fiction, and I read it more as a modern thriller.

Similarly, the dialogue also contained a surprising amount of crude swearing.

Normally, this is isn’t enough to discourage me, but in an era of strong religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants, I doubt casual phrases such as ‘God dammit’ would be used in dialogue between priests and religious citizens.

Devil In The Countryside is a reasonable thriller inspired by historical events, and if you enjoy violence or the supernatural, I’m sure it would be a good read for you.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.

Themes in: Crossing the River by Caryl Phillips

Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. Instead of a book review, this will be thematic book discussion.

Crossing The River by Caryl Phillips is an odd book to describe. It is a piece of historical fiction, with a trans-historical mode. This means that, whilst focusing on issues of colonialism and slavery, it collectively tells the stories of multiple characters, both black and white.  However, despite being a collection of different stories, they are all thematically linked.

Slavery

Phillips wanted to write about slavery involvement in the UK, so naturally, this theme is clear throughout Crossing the River.  At the start of the book, The Ancestor sells his children into slavery. The pairing of money and slaves is continued significantly in the characters of Captain Hamilton and Edward Williams. Captain Hamilton is the owner of a slave-ship who, ironically, believes slave-trading is wrong. However, the financial gains he makes from the slave industry is the motivation behind his continued involvement. Edward Williams is the owner of a slave plantation, who also believes slavery is wrong, and yet participates in the industry regardless. The monetary value placed on a human life, and the commodification of slavery is absolutely vile; apparently it is not enough to benefit from having someone fulfil each and every of your desires, a profit must be made too. Crucially though, the author is unbiased in their depiction of these characters. Their involvement in the slave trade industry is neither praised nor condemned, leaving it to the reader to decide.

Melancholy

Each story seems to have an undercurrent of sadness. The Ancestor sells his children, which breaks his heart. Edward and Nash are separated*, Nash’s letters to Edward are never responded to and Nash is given no reason as to why this is the case.

*It’s hinted Edward’s wife forced communication between the pair to end after she discovered the homoerotic nature of their relationship.

Martha travels across America searching for her daughter, and Joyce sadly gives up her baby. This melancholia is often paired with feelings of loss, abandonment, displacement and/or severed relationships – perhaps to reflect the feelings of slaves across history.  They have been taken from their homes, removed from their families, and forced to suffer at the hands of a slave master.

Journeys

Many of the characters undertake journeys in Crossing the River. There are two types of journeys however: physical and metaphorical.

Physically, Martha travels across America to find her daughter, Edward travels to Africa to find Nash, Travis travels from America to Britain because of World War II, and Captain Hamilton goes on sea voyages as a slave-ship owner.

Metaphorically, some of the characters make the “journey” from life into death. Furthermore, journeys may also represent the trans-historical mode of the novel. Taking a “journey across time” is a popular phrase to describe tracking certain events of themes through history.  By presenting multiple characters’ physical journeys and metaphorical journeys of self-discovery and freedom, Phillips provides the reader with a historical journey, presenting how the issues of slavery and race relations are still as relevant today as they were during the time of the British slave trade involvement.


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Have you read this book? What did you think? 

– Judith


This post was last updated in January 2020.