The Alchemist’s Daughter by Katherine McMahon.

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Book: The Alchemist’s Daughter.

Author: Katherine McMahon.

Rating: 5/10

Apologies first and foremost to all my avid readers, I have been quite absent the last few weeks due to the busy and hectic run up to this holiday season. Believe me when I tell you all, that I would have rather been writing book reviews then the countless hours I have spent Christmas shopping and preparing my house for the impending festivities. Indeed it has taken me such a length of time to finish this book, and not all due to the hectic days I have been having, but also because I found this novel utterly disappointing. It bothers me to no end, that the first review I must write after so long, is a negative one. Alas, I have promised to give honest reviews and so I must proceed with this one much to my own reluctance.

‘The Alchemist’s Daughter’ is set in the early 1700s onwards and tells the tale of Emilie Selden, a quiet, sheltered girl who has been raised in an old run down family estate in Bukinghamshire, almost in captivity if you ask me, by her philosopher father, a well renowned alchemist and scientist. whose aim is to make Emilie his apprentice and sees her, a female, as an experiment also. Emilie craves attention and more importantly love and affection. Her father although apparently raising her lovingly, and gifting her with his teachings of alchemy, has moulded Emilie into a well educated young lady, capable of holding debates with most learned of men. Emilie herself, a curious girl desperate to make her father happy, loves alchemy and treasures the moments spent with her father, in his unending search for the theory of what causes fire. Emilie also seeks the truth of who her mother was, and as her father is so unwilling to impart his knowledge of her mother, Emilie lives in a state of utter frustration, as she tries to come to terms with who she is and what her role is in the world. However it soon becomes apparent to the reader, that even though Emilie is highly educated, she is completely clueless about how women should behave and has simply no idea what the real world is like. 

Emilie’s sheltered existence comes under threat by the arrival of two men, polar opposites, who both become enamoured by Emilie’s beauty and intelligence. Reverend Shales is a quiet, kind man who is besotted with Emilie and encourages her curiosity but with less emphasis on Alchemy, since he is a reverend and is duty bound to disagree with the laws of Alchemy. Aislabie, is a flamboyant, charismatic, passionate man who sets his sights on Emilie, but secretly has ulterior motives. Emilie being so clueless and naive, allows herself to be seduced and destroys everything her father had been dreaming for in a simple selfish act, in her search for affection that has been lacking in her life up to this moment. Emilie’s small world is soon torn apart, as she now finds herself in a universe in which she knows nothing of, and must act a role she has never been trained for. Heartbreak and loneliness become huge themes in the novel following these events as Emilie is led down a path, she should never have gone.

I hated this novel. I cannot believe I am saying this as in theory the novel has everything needed to become a success. It has a wide range of interesting characters, it provides an in depth look at alchemy and the fascination scientists had for it in the 1700s. It provides a fascinating love story with plentiful love scenes that would make any reader blush. It has many moral arguments that any reader would like to sink their teeth into. Yet for some reason I was so utterly frustrated by this novel. The first half of the novel crawled by for me personally, I kept finding myself putting the book down. The second part of the novel, even though it picked up pace and contained much more exciting moments than the first half, was so full of over the top, dramatic, baffling moments that I started counting pages to see how much left of the book I still had to read before it was over.

The whole theory of Alchemy, although interesting and mildly captivating, was detailed in such a complicated manner, that a lot of it for me went over my head. I found myself yawning through the scenes in which Emilie and her father perform numerous experiments, when I should have been suffering from ‘mind blowness’ as I would like to call it. Although the author clearly did a lot of research on the topic which is what any reader would want, I do believe she could have written it in a more straightforward manner. Not all of us understand the scientific nature of the world and do in fact need it to be ‘dumbed’ down for us mere mortals. 

That being said, I was willing to overlook this issue had I been able to relate to the characters more. However this was not the case. I wanted to fell sorry for Emilie, as would any reader, for living such a uneducated existence when it comes to the real world and what would be expected of her in it. After all, had her father simply imparted pieces of information regarding her mother and even given Emilie the slightest bit of affection, he would have armoured her instead of leaving her defenceless to the evils of the world. Instead of feeling empathetic for Emilie, I felt such a deep level of annoyance with her character. Aislabie is clearly a rake, and no matter how naive someone is, his arrogance and seductive manner would have sent clear warning signs to even the dumbest of characters. She could have clearly gone down a safer path with the Reverend Shales but no, that would have been too easy and wouldn’t have provided the reader with such a overly dramatic plot.

Emilie also is unwilling to see things from others perspectives, she does not understand that the world is a complicated place in which people make decisions and that there are consequences to such decisions. She is altogether quite selfish at times, but again this is due to her ridiculous upbringing. She is the result of ‘the sins of the father’ so to speak. She is both emotionless/heartless and yet emotional at the same time, it is as if the author couldn’t decide what kind of character she wanted to create. Detached is the word I would use to describe this character. There are certain scenes in the novel where I literally wanted to shout at her character for being so deficient and gutless. Even though one must admit that she is also a different kind of female, then is expected for that era, it would have simply be unheard of for a female to have an education like Emilie has. Nonetheless I found her character spineless when I wanted her to stand up for herself and make her mark. For example If someone was forcing me to change myself, to tear down my family home and give up a career that was once so important to me, to fit into a mould of a perfect wife, I would not stand around and do absolutely nothing, and allow an attractive man to distract me from this, by using affection as a tool. I just do not understand it, and why anyone would want to write a character such as this, is astonishing to me.

I also resented the other characters in the novel, who could have stepped in at any moment to prevent Emilie’s downfall. Mrs Gill for example, the only motherly figure Emilie knew, practically turned her back to Emilie when she needed her most. Even Reverend Shales, for all the good he represented, could have whisked Emilie away from such a dreadful path. Instead he just warns her vocally and very insipidly, instead of actually doing something in an act of prevention. Once again in relation to her father, by keeping Emilie oblivious to the outside world, he set her on this depressing life journey. It is his fault, in my opinion, that all these events occurred. He created Emilie in his image, and while that image might work for him, it does not work for a young woman in the 1700s who hasn’t a clue how women act in this era. It was all so utterly frustrating to me as a reader. 

What I also don’t understand, is what kind of novel McMahon is trying to achieve. Is it historical fiction? or is it trying to be a scientific fiction? or a bodice ripping romance? I shall leave it to you readers to determine should you wish to read this novel, but I was completely confused as to what kind of novel I was reading. The first part of the novel, as mentioned previously details so much scientific inquiry, that is so complex, that one does feel they are reading a scientific journal. However the addition of historical figures such as Isaac Newton and various other famous philosophers, and the various mentions of how these famous characters brought about the age of enlightenment, challenging the church and whatnot, has lead me to believe it could be a historical fiction. Then there is of course the various amorous scenes in the novel, that would allow it to compete with any Mills and Boon novel. Its genre is terribly confusing as a result. 

Overall for me, it was a terrible novel and one I would not recommend to my dearest friends.I must begrudgingly admit that although I found the events in the novel terribly predictable, from the second part of the novel onwards, I could not put the book down. Even though I knew what was going to occur and knew that it would not be the ending I would like, I still persisted reading through it and was disappointed at the end as I foresaw. In fact the ending was so lifeless it is as if the author gave up. I am of the opinion that once I start a book, I must always finish it. However I really wish that after the first half of this novel, I should have realised it wasn’t going to get any better and I should have put it down, even though it goes against everything I believe in as a reader. I was actually aghast when reading other reviews of this novel that some readers actually quite liked the story. Nonetheless I do realise everyone has their own opinion on what works for them when it comes to novels. This unfortunately did not work for me. My sincere apologies to all the avid readers out there for my absence once more. 

Happy Holidays to you all, and I hope you Christmas season is full of love, laughter and plenty of mince pies!

As always, please feel free to leave a comment on my blog or twitter page, I love getting feedback.

The Avid Reader 🙂

Twitter: https://twitter.com/theavidreaders

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Changeless (#2 novel in the Parasol Protectorate series) by Gail Carriger

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Book: Changeless

Author: Gail Carriger

Rating: 9.8/10

What a positively, entertaining, hilarious, suspenseful and thoroughly enjoyable read. I must declare myself utterly tickled following my latest reading experience of Gail Carriger’s ‘Changeless’. I also am of the opinion this novel is the best in the series. If you are a fan of the supernatural, steam-punk, and Victorian era  genres, then I beseech you avid readers look no further then the cleverly put together works of Ms. Gail Carriger. The author is an altogether genius at merging these genres together in a manner so utterly entertaining, the reader will be positively craving the next instalment of the Parasol Protectorate series.

As with the first novel in the series, we meet the feisty, intelligent and altogether gutsy character of Alexia Maccon, now the Lady Woolsey, on yet another daring adventure. Having been honoured with the role of ‘Muhjah’ by Queen Victoria, which is a position on the Queen’s top secret shadow council that deals with supernatural, political affairs, Alexia is thrown into yet another mystery to which her preternatural powers come in to question. This time the mystery consists of a rather strange wave of  unsupernaturalness, as I would like to put it, is plaguing the supernatural set and reverting them to their previous mortal state, which is altogether quite unseemly for them. Alexia’s husband, the wonderfully gruff and ruggedly handsome, Lord Conall Maccon, has simply up and disappeared to Scotland in quest of this mystery and also an issue with an old werewolf pack of his.

Alexia is left to her own devices, which readers of the previous book will know, will never end well. With her unusual taste in friends as allies, she decides to take matters into her own hands and solve the mystery herself. With a recently purchased, ugly, but supernatural battling efficient parasol, Alexia finds herself facing danger from all sides and also more knowledge on exactly what being a preternatural entails.

Old and new characters alike aid the exhilarating plot. The author also challenges society viewpoints at the time for example Madame Lefoux, a woman inventor and scientist, who not only dresses like a man but regularly bequeaths Alexia with amorous advances, which is an altogether refreshing aspect to read for a novel set in a stuffy, annoyingly polite Victorian society.  The reader also observes a more in depth look at certain characters from the first novel such as the charming Professor Lyall, the eccentric and preposterous Lord Akeldama, as well as Alexia’s best friend, the entertainingly senseless Ivy Hisselpenny. The novel also shows the beautiful relationship that exists between Alexia and Conall, and how newly married life is treating them. They are both learning how to relate to one another and it is truly like these characters are dear friends, the reader is granted the ability to observe their playful and fiery relationship.

So yet again, Gail Carriger provides the reader with an endearing romance, come supernatural, come steam-punk novel that is so hard to put down. The author’s talent lies in her use of humour, which permeates every page of the book for example, in a scene chronicling an unfortunate incident Alexia gets herself into, the author plays out the events in such hilarious fashion, and I will now quote from page 176 of the novel, an exchange between Alexia and her friend Ivy:

“But honestly Alexia, I do not mean to be boorish, but you do realize that your underdrawers are exposed to the night air, not to mention the public view?” 

“Ivy, I am hanging on for dear life to the side of a floating dirigible, leagues up in the aether. Even you must admit there are some instances wherein protocol should be relaxed”

“But why?”

“Ivy, I fell, obviously”

I still giggle incessantly at this scene in the book and there are many others just the same throughout the novel.

I therefore beseech all you avid readers out there, to go purchase a copy of this book series. It will not disappoint and I thoroughly await the ability to discuss it with you all once read. Gail Carriger is a force to be reckoned with in the world of steam punk and the supernatural. I dare you to disagree.

As always, comment or tweet me your opinions,

The Avid Reader 🙂 

A New Spine Chilling Supernatural Ghost Busting Series

May I begin by saying that like most people I approach the supernatural genre with reluctant intrigue. It is not that I am ashamed of reading the paranormal, but I do understand that when one wants to recommend books to others, a supernatural book would not be the first on my list only out of fear of appearing altogether ridiculous. However the supernatural genre has always and will always be a guilty pleasure of mine and it is only with choice friends can I really indulge in discussion over such books. I wish it wasn’t so but alas the real world is a cruel one where we all are judged based on our interests. However having been raised on back to back episodes of TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, the supernatural genre is in my blood and unfortunately for some, it isn’t going anywhere any time soon. So without further ado I shall begin my latest review of a new ghost busting series by a talented author Simone St. James. 

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Oh yes, even the name of the author sets the tone for this captivating book series. Simone St. James, what a brilliantly refreshing name. I congratulate the author on it’s brilliance. Now as to the books themselves. ‘The Haunting of Maddy Clare’, ‘An Inquiry Into Love And Death’ and the last ‘Silence for the Dead’, this is the order of the books in the series also.

In the first book, The Haunting Of Maddy Clare, we meet our heroine, Sarah Piper, in the post World War one era. Society is a most depressed state, and Sarah herself adds to this depressive background. She seems to have no family or friends and very little to call her own. Sarah is a temp worker and the novel begins with her being assigned to assist a rather radical ghost hunter by the name of Alistair Gellis, a scarred world war one soldier, who is tracking down a ghost who hates men hence the need for Sarah’s presence. Sarah in need of quick funds accepts the job offer. The story is quite fast paced and literally begins once Sarah accepts the position. We meet a variety of colourful characters, including the aloof and mysterious Matthew Ryder who is physically scarred from the war and has an almost overbearing demeanour, but opposites attract which is evident from this novel as Matthew is the love interest for the wet rag that is Sarah. Perhaps a harsh criticism of a character, but throughout the book I find myself at odds with her character, I found her quite the damsel in distress at times, and wanted to shout at her to grow a backbone. However I must admit the other characters balance the naivety of Sarah rather well, but altogether very clear male/female roles in the story. As for the story itself, perhaps a tad predictable in certain areas but as a whole rather enjoyable, with plot twists galore, numerous hair-raising moments and a moment or two of saucy scenes. I would recommend it for those who love a good spine chilling horror with a gothic twist. Also a must for World War One fans and romance lovers naturally. Overall rating: 8/10

 

In the second book of the series, we meet quite a different heroine by the name of Jillian Lee, an Oxford student, who from the outset would rather remain in college then clear out a house that belonged to her recently and suddenly deceased uncle Toby, who fell to his death off a cliff. The major difference with this character compared to the first novel is that she seems to be from an exceedingly wealthy background. Her parents are away holidaying somewhere and so it is left to poor Jillian to gather together her Uncle’s possessions, which she is only doing out of duty having no real connection to her aloof uncle. Her uncle Toby lived in a seaside village with nosy neighbours, whose comings and goings seem to be quite odd. It doesn’t take Jillian long to realised that all is not what it appears to be, eerie incidents begin to take place in Uncle Toby’s little cottage and Jillian begins to discover secrets about her Uncle that she never knew, the most prominent being that he was a ghost hunter. And so we find a common ground with St. James first novel. Everyone is convinced her Uncle committed suicide, but Jillian is determined to prove that his death was not intentional and so joins forces with a charming and alluring Scotland Yard Inspector Drew Merriken, who believed that Toby’s death was as a result of murder. Drew himself, as usual with these books, has a dark past himself and the two find themselves drawn together, quite physically and quite a lot! 😉 In fact their relationship tends to take away from the actual plot of the story due to the insistence that these characters just can’t stay away from each other, so this in my opinion hinders the pace and richness of the plot, to the point I actual found myself shouting at the character to ‘just get on with it’! I think it is the background characters that make this story intriguing with their suspicious ways, you find yourself acting as you would in a game of cluedo, guessing who is the killer and what was their motive. I found it quite difficult to attain a connection with the main character, and her relationship with Drew annoyed me to no end. Particularly with him being a ladies man his whole life, he can suddenly switch off this side of his personality because he’s suddenly found the one in the uninteresting character of Jillian. Overall one cannot ignore the fact that St. James is a pro at the game of suspense. Her clever plot thickenings and twists give any reader the thrill of the journey to discover the truth, but in the series itself, an Inquiry lacks the pace and well roundedness of the other books and would be my least favourite I must admit. Overall rating: 6.5/10

 

This leads us to the last and most recent book in the series (one more still to come in April 2015). Silence for the dead, is in fact my favourite of the book series. I shall try to explain why but first I’ll give the plot summary. In this book we meet the rather amusing and brazen character of Kitty Weekes, who although is the worst named character of the book series to date, is beyond my favourite. From page one the mystery that surrounds Kitty, who seems to be on the run from something or someone, immediately captures the attention of the reader. She is not your normal heroine in this book series. She is no damsel in distress (hallelujah!) and so overturns the usual male/female roles. At the beginning of the book we see her lying to obtain a position as a nurse in a hospital dedicated to the care of troubled World War One veterens, who have been left shell shocked by the horrors they have faced in the war. This hospital has an altogether Gothic name of Portis House, and a Gothic setting seeing that it can only be reached by a bridge as it is built on an island. So basically if any storms occur or if any spine chilling incidents occur, the inhabitants of the hospital are on their own. Literally. The hospital itself has seen better days, the place is practically falling apart, there is not enough staff to run the grounds or the hospital itself. Most of the building has been abandoned and was left in disarray quite abruptly by it’s previous owners (which is one of the main plots in this story). This story is not as predictable as the others and the characters themselves have to be some of the best I’ve ever imagined reading. This is a true Gothic novel. From page one we are given the plot, the problem and the person who is set upon solving a mystery. Kitty is a vivacious and brave character, if not a little bit nosey, who realises all is not what it seems in this dilapidated hospital and sets about trying to solve the mystery. Then enters the mysterious, aloof and magnetic character of Jack Yates, or patient sixteen, who Kitty is warned to stay away from, but as per usual with these kind of characters their fates are always entwined. Yates really did appeal to me as the surprising hero in the story, his back story is intriguing and his connection and how his relationship with Kitty develops, is compelling and entertaining. The other characters also balance the plot, the Matron, who at the beginning of the story catches on to the fact Kitty is not what she seems, but is desperate for the help in the hospital, and almost admires Kitty’s deviousness. We have plenty of antagonists in the story to choose from and keep us guessing who is behind the mysterious goings on. We have a brave, outspoken and slightly reckless female lead. We have a compelling love story, we have a haunting and a murderous plot, all set against a back drop of the miseries of war. Once more St. James proves herself as a capable suspense writer and I must congratulate her on this gem of a story. 

Overall rating: 9/10

 As per usual, I’d love to hear your comments/opinions!

The Avid Reader 🙂