The Book of Blood and Shadow: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

“I should probably start with the blood.

. . .

“But beginning with that night, with the blood, means that Chris will never be anything more than a corpse, bleeding out all over his mother’s travertine marble, Adriane nothing but a dead-eyed head case, rocking and moaning, her clothes soaked in his blood, her face paper white with that slash of red razored into her cheek. If I started there Max would be nothing but a void.”

Nora Kane never expected her independent study as a research assistant would lead to romance or murder much less a centuries-old conspiracy that started in 16th Century Prague.

And yet, after just a few months translating the letters of Elizabeth Weston, Nora finds herself in the middle of a nightmare tied to a mysteriously indecipherable book called the Voynich Manuscript and the forces who want to unravel its secrets in The Book of Blood and Shadow (2012) by Robin Wasserman.

The Book of Blood and Shadow is a thoroughly-researched blend of thriller and mystery that imagines what secrets the real Voynich Manuscript might hold. This story is dense with details of Prague’s history as well as morsels of truth about the real historical figures who feature in this work of fiction.

Although often long-winded with its extensive detail, this book is always extremely clever. The plotting is surprising and aptly executed even when it veers into the very, very unlikely.

Wasserman also does interesting things with characterization. Readers know early on exactly how bloody this story will be even though the inciting incident from the first page is not fully addressed until about one hundred pages into the story. Throughout the novel there is a push and pull dynamic between what is presented as fact and what is left to the imagination. (Is Max guilty? Is he unhinged or is it just being told that Max is unhinged that makes the difference?)

Sadly, not all books are for every reader either. The Book of Blood and Shadow brought up some particularly specific and personal bad memories that made it very difficult to finish. I also discovered, in reading page after page about it, that I have almost zero interest in Prague or its history. These were obstacles.

The bigger obstable, however, was Nora herself. Despite all of the things Wasserman does extremely well, Nora remains a very one-dimensional character. We see her through a few specific lenses (friend, girlfriend, researcher, daughter) but none of those pieces coalesce into a larger picture. Even as the narrator of the book, Nora’s story often felt more like a frame for the smaller story found in Elizabeth Weston’s letters.

While this book has a good story and raises a lot of interesting questions, it is very thin on closure. The treatment of Adriane is also problematic not just as the only other (not-centuries-dead) female character but also as Nora’s friend. No level of cleverness can distract from the problems surrounding Adriane’s character arc.

Recommended for readers who enjoy a surprising mystery and want to watch all of the puzzle pieces come together. Less recommended for readers with only a minimal interest in Prague. Not at all recommended for readers who might ask themselves what it means when the minority characters in a book are either murdered or complicit by the end of the story.

You can find more information about The Book of Blood and Shadows and the real stuff featured therein on Robin Wasserman’s website:

Possible Pairings: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, The Diviners by Libba Bray, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga,  Tamar by Mal Peet, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island

Top Ten Tuesdays img by Miss Print

Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island:

In truth, there is actually only one correct answer to this question. That answer is MacGyver.

Who else but everyone’s favorite 1980s TV Star would get you off that island with a raft made of your hair ties, some tic tacs and a few palm fronds? That’s right. No one else.

That said, if you insist on not traveling with Macgyver, these book characters would be my top picks to survive (and get off) a deserted island:

  1. Katniss from The Hunger Games: Since the entire series is basically about Katniss surviving things, I’m pretty sure she’d be a good deserted island buddy. She would help you find food and build a shelter and you know she wouldn’t rest until you both made it off the island. (Note: if the island has a giant cornucopia, disregard all of that information and run. You’re on your own. I’m sorry.)
  2. Katsa from Graceling: With her very useful Grace, Katsa is skilled in all sorts of things from fighting to surviving in the woods. Katsa is also fiercely loyal, so once you’re on her good side you’re really golden.
  3. Anyone from The Outlaws of Sherwood: Oh how I rue the fact that I gave away my copy of this book. That said, if you’re looking for people who can survive anywhere, Robin Hood and his Merry Men are probably a good pick.
  4. Eugenides from The Thief OR Sophos from A Conspiracy of Kings: While his skills aren’t always obvious, Eugenides is pretty clever and more than likely to survive in any situation. Much like Eugenides, you wouldn’t think Sophos would be much in the way of surviving, well, anything. But Sophos is smart and overcomes all sorts of difficulties in his book (the latest in the much-loved Queen’s Thief series) so I’d trust him on a deserted island!
  5. Pell from The Bride’s Farewell: Pell leaves her home (in 1850s England) to escape an arranged marriage and choose her own life. Along the way she runs into lots of trouble but she never once waivers and what’s more, she makes it.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

(Image made by me.)

Week in Review: July 20


This week on the blog you can check out:

Blind is an exciting review because it’s an adaptation of my first review published in School Library Journal by the way :)

This has been a really long week. I didn’t sleep well. It was hot. And I was just really not happy and at sixes and sevens all week. I’m feeling better as I write this up (on Friday) but I’m hoping for better things next week.

This week I finished Clariel by Garth Nix, read Damaged by Amy Reed and started 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma. I have no bought any books besides my preorder of Isla and the Happily Ever After and I hope to continue with the not buying through August at least. I’m still getting books for review consideration and for my committee so I simply have NO EXCUSE to buy books. (My friend from work Nikki also is moving to California for a super awesome opportunity as a YA Librarian so I even got some books from her before she left!)

Nicole and I are hanging out on Sunday (for the first time since BEA! *gasp*) and we will be making matches for the Summer Box Swap so everyone who signed up will be getting their match soon. (I’ve been hoarding books I don’t even need so I have fun things to give whoever is my match!)

I’m trying to plan my blog birthday giveaway right now. Also want to start up Miss Print’s Re-Prints. Then I had an idea for Clariel. So Clariel is a prequel to the Old Kingdom series. And the more distance I have, the more I love it. The ending is seriously heartbreaking but it is so well done.

In getting ready to review Clariel I also realized I no longer like the review I have for Sabriel and I never reviewed the other books in the series. SO I’m thinking of taking October and making all of my Chick Lit Wednesday Reviews center around the Old Kingdom books. Since Clariel is a prequel and publishes October 14, I figured I’d start with Clariel in the second week of October and then move through the other three books (Sabriel–I don’t want to just erase my old review so I figured I’d just publish a whole new one, Lirael and Abhorsen–with Abhorsen being reviewed November 5) and then run a regular/non-Wednesday review of Across the Wall. Anyway. I think this is a great idea. What do YOU all think?




Linktastic! July 18, 2014 Edition: Infographics, Feminism and Puns!

Many links today!

A Creature of Moonlight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca HahnThe villagers have been talking of the woods all summer. More than usual. Farther from the woods than usual.

It’s one thing, now and then, for a stray bit of the woods to encroach. A well lost here, a path obstructed. Such things are to be expected.

This summer is different. The entirety of the woods seems to be moving in leaps and bounds, creeping closer than they have in years.

Marni knows the woods are dangerous place–a place of magic and wonder that often draws girls to it only to swallow them whole. Still, time and again, she finds herself sneaking there–away from Gramps, away from the prying eyes of the villagers who buy their flowers, away from the life that was snatched from her the day her mother was killed.

Marni has always walked a narrow path between the life the was stolen and the life she has with her Gramps. But now, with the woods moving closer and promises being made, Marni will have to decide where she will stand in A Creature of Moonlight (2014) by Rebecca Hahn.

A Creature of Moonlight is Hahn’s first novel.

Hahn masterfully weaves a world here where magic is as beautiful as it is dangerous–a world populated with calculating lords and kings as well as dragons and Phoenixes. Marni is a fascinating narrator, one who views both the humans and the woods with a healthy sense of skepticism. She is a strong heroine with a strong sense of self and an even stronger desire to secure her freedom.

She also has a very strange twang to her entire narration that is more reminiscent of a novel set in the Depression Era west (or just the West) than it is to this bit of higher fantasy. Marni reckons about many things and is none too afraid to say so neither. Her voice is often extremely jarring as readers are drawn repeatedly out of the story to ponder the choice of words on the page.

The story is typical coming of age fare as Marni learns more about both sides of her “family” such as they are and, over the course of the novel, comes into her own in various ways.

A Creature of Moonlight is decidedly short on peripheral characters, making the time spent in Marni’s head often claustrophobic as so much of the story centers on her inner conflicts. While her observations of the woods and at court are often entertaining and razor sharp, Marni’s motivations are never as clear as they should be.

While it is refreshing and modern to see Marni repeatedly turn down marriage proposals, the logic behind her deep conviction to not marry is murky at best–particularly given the specific set of obligations that will come with a life at court (which Marni adopts at one point in the plot).

Though often unsatisfying, A Creature of Moonlight remains a solid debut from an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Top Ten Tuesdays: TV Shows

Top Ten Tuesdays img by Miss Print

While you’re here, be sure to also sign up for the Summer Box Swap I’m co-hosting with Nicole the Book Bandit! Sign ups run through July 19!

I watch a lot of TV but here are some of my current favorites:

  1. Big Brother–I’ve been watching this reality show since the first season and have no plans to stop now. I secretly dream of being on the show but I think I’d probably have a breakdown in the first week.
  2. Longmire–This is a great show about a small town sheriff and cool mysteries. Robert Taylor is fantastic as are supporting cast members Lou Diamond Phillips, Katee Sackoff and Bailey Chase. I can’t recommend it enough!
  3. Suits–while I hate seeing Mike and Harvey fight this season. I love this sleek lawyer show. Especially for Donna and Louis.
  4. Endeavor–This is a Masterpiece Mystery series about a young Inspector Morse. Set in the 1960s it’s a really thoughtful, well-done English mystery.
  5. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries–Australian mystery set in the 1920s based on a book series. This show is zany and fun but honestly it would be worth watching just for the clothes.
  6. Death in Paradise–Oh look, another British mystery. This one is set on the island of Saint Marie. I still haven’t recovered fully from Ben Miller leaving the show but it’s a lot of fun.
  7. Scott & Bailey–(Along with 4, 5, 6 this is another show I watch on PBS–I feel like I should donate to them.) This is a weird soap opera cop procedural that is oddly compelling and always ends abruptly so I feel like I can’t stop watching.
  8. Reckless–new lawyer show on CBS. It’s kind of like time traveling to 2000 because three of the stars are Cam Giganet, Adam Rodriguez and Shawn Hatosy.
  9. Major Crimes–I watch a lot of cop shows, okay? This is a cop show with heart and madness and a great ensemble cast. I would pick a favorite but I can’t even decide.
  10. Taxi Brooklyn–This show has a terrible title. But it’s actually a really good cop show (act shocked, go ahead!) about a woman cop whose license is revoked so she has to work with an immigrant taxi driver (who used to be a wheel man in a crime ring in France) to get around. Sounds insane but it’s kind of great.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

(Image made by me.)

Blind: A Review

Bline by Rachel DeWoskinWhat starts as an ordinary fourth of July watching the fireworks becomes something much worse in an instant when Emma Sasha Silver is blinded by a stray firework at the age of fourteen.

A year after the accident, Emma is still learning how to negotiate her large family, school, and everyday tasks without her vision when one of her classmates in the suburban town of Sauberg is found dead. As she struggles to make sense of this sudden death and her own drastically changed life, Emma wonders if losing her sight means she has also lost her chance at a bright future in Blind (2014) by Rachel DeWoskin.

DeWoskin offers a well-researched and much needed story. Emma is a capable heroine who negotiates her disability with the expected dejection as well as sudden moments of grace. The narrative is well-informed with Emma learning how to organize her life as well as travel with a cane as she begins to accomodate for her lost vision.

While this is a valuable story, DeWoskin’s efforts to describe Emma’s world in the form of sounds and textures can feel excessive. Similarly, side plots involving tested friendships, a large family, several crushes and musings about the death in town make this contemporary story convoluted and detract from Emma’s growth in the final quarter of an otherwise lengthy novel.

Although Emma is fourteen going on fifteen, she often feels and sounds younger giving Blind crossover potential (aside from some kissing and bad language) as a middle grade as well.

Emma remains strong and resilient during the story and gives a face to an often under-represented group in YA stories. Blind is also a positive portrayal of blindess without any negative tropes (such as being “cured” or somehow being “punished” in relation to a disability.)

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the June 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online including an SLJ Spotlight*