Book Review: “Ross Poldark” by Winston Graham (4.5/5)

Originally published 1945. 393 pages in my 2015 paperback edition.

Originally published 1945. 393 pages in my 2015 paperback edition.

I wanted to start exploring the Poldark series based on the growing popularity of the adaptation on BBC. This is the first book in a 12-book series by Winston Graham about the Poldark family. I haven’t watched any of the show yet because I wanted to see if I would enjoy the book first, but now I think I will definitely start watching!

Ross Poldark is the story of Ross Poldark (naturally), who returns home to Cornwall after fighting in the American Revolution. His family is fairly prominent around the area, though they are not the wealthiest or most powerful, just generally respected for the most part. Before he left for the war Ross was engaged to Elizabeth and he was so excited to come home and be with her again. However, when Ross gets home he finds out that not only has his father Joshua passed away in his absence but that Elizabeth figured him to have died in the war (it’s not like he could have sent her a Facebook message) and became engaged to his cousin Francis instead. Even after seeing that Ross has returned home, injured but alive and safe, Francis and Elizabeth go ahead with their wedding and Ross has to both heal his broken heart and make out a living for himself and straighten out his father’s home and land basically on his own (not spoilers — this is all at the very start of the book).

I first couldn’t help thinking of Ross like Ross from Friends. He was clearly so heartbroken over Elizabeth and everything that was going on, but tried his best to put on a good show for the family…

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Even though it was apparent that he actually felt like this…

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Ross has a couple of servants around the house, Jud and Prudie, who do a lot more drinking than helping out but he generously keeps them around, if only more for companionship after his father’s death and his own emotional trauma, and they eventually shape up and really get to helping him run things again. He also is very kind to the impoverished miners in the area, and rescues a young girl Demelza from her abusive father. More about that in the next books… I think that what Graham was trying to demonstrate in Ross’s character is that his generosity and kindness despite having relatively little himself and feeling so down helped him turn everything around and be well rewarded by the end of the book.

In many ways, it’s really hard to believe that this book is over 70 years old and that it details life in Cornwall in the late 1700s. Graham’s writing provides a lot of insight into character, family relationships, romance, gender roles, class politics, small-town gossip, criminal justice… SO many topics that really transcend time and remain so modern and relevant. Some of the vernacular is dated but for the most part I found this to be an easy read for its age with a pleasant flow and good pacing. The book is separated into a few different books that each span a slightly different time period. We really come full circle with Ross after his return home and get set up well for the following books even though the ending is satisfying and not a cliffhanger. I greatly enjoyed Ross Poldark and rate it 4.5 stars. The next book is Demelza and I’m looking forward to it!

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Book Review: “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab

“Blood was magic made manifest. There it thrived. And there it poisoned.”

Hardcover edition; Tor, 2015. 400 pages.

Hardcover edition; Tor, 2015.
400 pages.

I feel like it was only fitting that I first stumbled upon this book on this table at a Waterstones store while in London on my honeymoon (I took the photo more for the sign):

See it?? The British cover, though. I like both covers!

See it?? The British cover, though. I like both covers!

Anyway, the reason my discovery was so fitting is that in this book, there isn’t just one London, but rather four!! So basically the perfect book for an Anglophile like me. It is a bit hard to explain, but each London exists in a separate, parallel universe, and connection to and travel between them has been cut off aside from the two remaining Antari (blood magicians): our protagonist Kell, tied to the magical “Red London,” and dark, tortured Holland, of bloodthirsty “White London.” There is also “Grey London” which I felt was the closest to our Regency-era London in the real world, and “Black London,” smoked out by the excessively powerful magic that burned through its inhabitants like a plague. Only Kell and Holland have what it takes to move between these worlds, officially to deliver correspondence between the different Londons’ different rulers, but each behaves outside of this role too. Kell has a bad habit – he illegally smuggles items between the Londons – and this proclivity is ultimately what drives the plot as it gets him into some serious trouble.

The existence of the different Londons and Kell’s ability to travel between them is the backdrop for a very fast-paced, dark urban fantasy which was ultimately unlike any other book I’ve ever read. A Darker Shade of Magic basically blew my mind; I finished in approximately 24 hours and I’m going to give it 4.5 stars. Schwab’s writing pulled me right into Kell’s world, or worlds, as it were, and I enjoyed the ride. I LOVED the idea of multiple Londons, each with their own defining characteristics, and the notion that there were “Collectors” and “Enthusiasts” in magic-less Grey London desperate for some proof of the magic existing in the other Londons that they could grasp on to. I also thought that the supporting characters, from wannabe pirate Lila to rebellious Prince Rhy, were just layered enough to not be stereotypical. I had to really search to find something that I didn’t absolutely love, and what keeps it at 4.5 rather than a perfect 5 for me is that I wanted some more of Kell’s character. I felt like there was a lot more of Lila’s backstory than Kell’s. Hopefully this is something that will arrive in the next book (yes, it’s a planned trilogy!).

All in all, I found A Darker Shade of Magic to be a replica of its title. Schwab shows us how awesome a world with magic can be, but how tainted one with too much of it can turn. I thought a lot of the quote “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” while reading this. I’ll stop rambling now – I loved this book and highly recommend it!

Book Review: “The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker

“On a cloudless night, inky dark, with only a rind of a moon above, the Golem and the Jinni went walking together along the Prince Street rooftops.”

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Hardcover edition; HarperCollins, 2013. 496 pages.

This was a truly beautiful, very unique book. I am so glad that I finally picked this up from the library and basically tore through it in just a few days despite having work and other current reads. I feel that the only way I can truly honor how fascinated and entertained I was by Wecker’s story is through the use of some GIFs from Supernatural throughout this review, so bear with me 😀

While the title might make this obvious, I will give a brief summary of our main characters: Chava is a golem. Traditionally these creatures are made from clay, are infinitely strong, and are bound to serve a master.

The Golem in Supernatural

The Golem in Supernatural. Golem smash!

In Chava’s case, her creator designed her to look very human as she was a “special request” from a man who aimed to have her as his wife. Her master, and would-be husband, dies on the voyage to America right after he wakes her. She is then left to her own devices in 1899 New York City, grappling with the massive conflict between unleashing her true nature and desiring to fit in and behave as a human.

Ahmad is a jinni. His true form is that of fire, but he has been trapped in a (very handsome) human form. A tinsmith in Little Syria accidentally releases him from his long-standing imprisonment in a copper flask, and he, too, has to try to adapt to this new, rather detested life, which is like an entirely new type of prison for him.

Now, I think that if Ahmad looked like this, he might have had considerably more trouble blending in...

Now, I think that if Ahmad looked like this, he might have had considerably more trouble blending in…

Chava and Ahmad end up meeting and realize that they have far more in common than they might have believed. They originally really do not get along due to their (understandably) very different viewpoints on human nature, love, religion, and almost everything else, but in this New York where it is possible that the next person you meet on the street might not be a person at all, but rather a supernatural creature, their friendship is crucial.

Castiel is an angel... he gets it.

Castiel is an angel… he gets it.

I really don’t want to give anything else away about the plot, but you have to realize that with these two characters at the center of the story, when we are exposed to their origins, special abilities, inherent weaknesses, and the conflicts that they have with one another and the people around them, the end result is bound to be pretty awesome. I loved this book. It is apparent that Wecker is a gifted writer and it’s hard to believe that this was her debut novel. The way that she was able to blend multiple cultures and mythologies to create this story was very successful to me. I am Jewish and had heard and read about the legend of the golem before but I like Chava’s story best of all of the golem tales I’ve heard. It was also refreshing to read about a jinni who didn’t just grant wishes! The other aspect of this book that really highlighted the author’s craft was the perfect imagery of New York at the turn of the 20th century. The descriptions are all expert – it was so easy for me to picture everything: the opulence of families like the Winstons contrasted with the ethnically divided neighborhoods and their crowded tenements, the noises and smells in the streets, a Central Park where sheep still grazed, and the glittering, gas-lit dance hall…

My one small critique, which leads me to rate this at 4.5 stars, is that I felt that at times the plot did drag somewhat and was slow going. The focus here is really on the characters rather than the story and sometimes it was just a bit too plodding for me. Though I suppose if the story moved faster it would have meant fewer pages of Wecker’s lovely writing. All in all, this was an excellent read that I think would appeal to fans of both historical fiction and urban fantasy. I plan to read Wecker’s further works as they emerge.

How I felt during the last few pages (and at the end of any great book really): walkin' on sunshine

How I felt during the last few pages (and at the end of any great book really): walkin’ on sunshine

Book Review: “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

“You’re alive, Bod, that means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change.”

Hardcover edition; HarperCollins, 2008. 320 pages.

Hardcover edition; HarperCollins, 2008.
320 pages.

I think that by now even new visitors to my blog can quickly see that I am a big Neil Gaiman fan and I mention him a lot. In between the rest of my book choices, I am trying to finish reading everything that he has written. I got this book from the library last month as my next step towards achieving complete Neil Gaiman mastery.

The Graveyard Book is marketed as a children’s book, though I really do think that readers of all ages would enjoy this story. Gaiman drew inspiration from The Jungle Book, but instead of being raised by wild animals, the main character in The Graveyard Book, Nobody “Bod” Owens, is raised by ghosts and is forbidden from leaving his graveyard “home” for his own safety. Each chapter represents a glimpse into Bod’s unique childhood and coming-of-age. Bod has special challenges in the graveyard, being alive while all of his friends and family are deceased, and has even more challenges as he decides to take on some more human experiences like attending a regular school. I really enjoyed the original story and approach. In my opinion, this is the literary equivalent of The Haunted Mansion ride at Walt Disney World – you want to hang out with the ghosts (except the bride room, that’s the only actually creepy part of that ride, but I digress).

I am giving The Graveyard Book 4.5 stars. Bod was an endearing, intelligent main character and I loved watching him grow up. The supporting characters also rounded out the story, especially Bod’s adoptive parents, Mr. & Mrs. Owens, who did everything they could to raise a human child in the best way possible given the parental values in play at the time they died. My reading experience itself was also enhanced by the illustrations, which were sparsely scattered throughout the book, but really lent a lot to the story every time they appeared. What keeps The Graveyard Book from being a perfect read for me was that I felt that the resolution and ending were a bit rushed, and that certain things could have been explained better, because I still had some unanswered questions at the end of the book. When I read children’s or even YA books these days I really like finding books that I want my future kids to read someday. This is definitely one of them.