The Witch of Napoli (Review)

23710526Title: The Witch of Napoli
Author: Michael Schmicker
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Palladino Books
Release Date: January 2, 2015
Format: E-book
Acquired: Netgalley ARC
Pages: 294

Date Finished: March 27, 2015
4 Stars

Goodreads Description

Italy 1899: Fiery-tempered, seductive medium Alessandra Poverelli levitates a table at a Spiritualist séance in Naples. A reporter photographs the miracle, and wealthy, skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi arrives in Naples to investigate. When she materializes the ghost of his dead mother, he risks his reputation and fortune to finance a tour of the Continent, challenging the scientific and academic elite of Europe to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers. She will help him rewrite Science. His fee will help her escape her sadistic husband Pigotti and start a new life in Rome.

Newspapers across Europe trumpet her Cinderella story and baffling successes, and the public demands to know – does the “Queen of Spirits” really have supernatural powers? Nigel Huxley is convinced she’s simply another vulgar, Italian trickster. The icy, aristocratic detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums launches a plot to trap and expose her. Meanwhile, the Vatican is quietly digging up her childhood secrets, desperate to discredit her supernatural powers; her abusive husband Pigotti is coming to kill her; and the tarot cards predict catastrophe.

Inspired by the true-life story of controversial Italian medium Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918), The Witch of Napoli masterfully resurrects the bitter,19th-century battle between Science and religion over the possibility of an afterlife.

My Review

I was impressed with this book much more than I thought I would be.  I have read a couple of books about this same subject matter set in the same time period.  One of them was really good and the other was horrible!  So, I knew this one could go either way.  Much like the mediums of that time period, I was afraid the book would be a farce.  To my pleasant surprise, it was not.

The Witch of Napoli read like a biography even though it was fiction.  I’m assuming that’s because it is based on the story of Eusapia Palladino, a famous Italian medium of that time.  I’m not sure how much was pulled from her story, but it was highly entertaining.  It reflected well the serious battle that was raging between scientists and mystics at the end of the 19th century.  The Vatican was mentioned in the synopsis, but there was very little mention of it in the book.

I really enjoyed Alessandra Poverelli.  She was a true force to be reckoned with.  She sucked every bit of the life she could out of every experience.  I admired her tenacity and resiliency and found myself rooting for her success.

Wrap-Up

If you like historical studies on science vs. mysticism,  you’ll love this book.  It was really interesting, and I was sucked in from the beginning.  The synopsis made me think this would be a slow read, but it was actually quite the page turner.  I hope you’ll give it a shot.

Special Thanks…

I’d like to give a shout out to Netgalley, Palladino Books, and Michael Schmicker for giving me the opportunity to read and review this ARC.

Shadow of Night (Re-read)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2)Title: Shadow of Night (All Souls #2)
Author:  Deborah Harkness
Genre:  Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Paranormal Romance
Publisher:  Viking
Release Date:  July, 2012
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Kindle Purchase
Pages:  584

Dates Finished:  Oct. 20,  2012 & Sept. 1, 2014
4 Stars

Goodreads Description

Historian Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library,she sparked a struggle in which she became bound to Matthew. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened.

Seeking safety, Diana and Matthew travel back in time to London, 1590. But they soon realize that the past may not provide a haven. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy for Queen Elizabeth, the vampire falls back in with a group of radicals known as the School of Night. Many are unruly daemons, the creative minds of the age, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot.

Together Matthew and Diana scour Tudor London for the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782, and search for the witch who will teach Diana how to control her remarkable powers…

My Review

I recently finished my re-read of Shadow of Night.  As with my re-read of A Discover of Witches, I loved this book the first time I read it, and I loved it all over again during my re-read.  With the third book of the All Souls Trilogy, The Book of Life, recently being released, I had to re-read the first two books to get reacquainted with the details of the story line.  There is a ton of information and detail in Harkness’ writing and most of it is important.

In Shadow of Night, the story line picks up immediately where book one left off.  Diana and Matthew have traveled back to 1591, England in order for Diana to learn how to control her powers and to try to locate the mysterious book, Ashmole 782, which put this entire adventure into motion.

I will admit that Shadow of Night was a slower read than A Discovery of Witches.  There was not nearly as much action, but there was a lot of story development.  Diana begins to understand why she had such a hard time with magic.  She also learns how to be an Elizabethan lady, as well as how to deal with an Elizabethan gentleman of the age.  Matthew has fallen into a life he has already lived once, which ends up being a double-edged sword, as both Diana and Matthew discover.

I loved Harkness’ portrayal of historical figures such as Queen Elizabeth, Christopher Marlow and Sir Walter Raleigh.  William Shakespeare was even thrown in for good measure.  Their characterizations made them feel very real.  Several additional members of Matthew’s family were also introduced.  We finally meet Phillipe, Matthew’s larger than life father.  I absolutely loved him.  I also loved Gallowglass, Matthew’s nephew, as well as several other new characters.  Harkness’ ability to bring characters to life is definitely one of her strong suits.  Anyone who has read my blog knows character development is one of my biggest issues with books.  The plot can weaken and even drag for a bit, but I’ll still love it if it’s got characters I can fall in love with.

Wrap-Up

Shadow of Night did jump around a bit and it was a little slow in spots (thus the 4 star rating), but overall, it was a really fun read.  I hope you’ll give this trilogy a shot.  I’m off to read The Book of Life, the final book in the trilogy!  Happy reading!!

A Discovery of Witches (Re-read)

8667848Title: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls #1)
Author:  Deborah Harkness
Genre:  Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Paranormal Romance
Publisher:  Viking Penguin
Release Date:  February, 2011
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Kindle Purchase
Pages:  579

Dates Finished:  Sept 9, 2012 & Aug 17, 2014
4.5 Stars

Goodreads Description

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

My Review

I loved this book the first time I read it, and I loved it all over again during my re-read.  With the third book of the All Souls Trilogy, The Book of Life, recently being released, I had to re-read A Discovery of Witches.  I could remember the gist of the story line, but I knew I had forgotten the details.  Trust me, this is not a series in which you want to forget details.  Deborah Harkness has spun an intricate web of characters and story lines which delight at every turn.

Diana Bishop is the heroine of the novel.  She starts off as a socially awkward historian who loves nothing more than being submersed in her world of academia.  Her books are safe and far away from the world of witches in which she was raised, but when she accidentally calls up an old, enchanted book from the library stacks, Diana sets off a bomb which sends ripples through the underworld.  She has no idea the single event of opening a book will set her on a path that will not only change her life, but the future of every witch, vampire and deamon in existence.

There is history and science and witches and vampires and love and intrigue and time travel and just about everything else you could want in a good book.  I do have one warning…this book is LONG.  I can’t really say the author should have chopped out a bunch of useless info, because there really wasn’t any useless info.  Everything furthers the story in one way or another.  Even if it doesn’t seem to be that important in this book, it comes into play in the next.  Deborah Harkness definitely has her crap together.  I love good world building and she does it wonderfully.

You may be wondering why I held back that 1/2 star on my rating.  It’s because Harkness doesn’t go into much detail about the logistics of time travel.  There are some important things that have to be answered when you get into time travel, like “What if you run into your former self?” or “Does your former self disappear from the past when you appear there from the future?” etc., etc.  Harkness basically tells Diana and the reader that you just have to trust the universe to work it all out.  I felt like she just didn’t want to be bothered with the time travel details.  So, that was my only pet peeve with the book.  I couldn’t give it a perfect 5 stars for that reason alone.

I hope you’ll give this one a shot.  It’s really a great read!

Daughters of the Witching Hill

Daughters of the Witching HillTitle:  Daughters of the Witching Hill
Author:  Mary Sharratt
Genre:  Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Publisher:  Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt
Release Date:  April 7, 2010
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Amazon Purchase
Pages:  352

Date Finished:  April 5, 2014
3 Stars

Goodreads Description

Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow living in Pendle Forest, is haunted by visions and gains a reputation as a cunning woman. Drawing on the Catholic fold magic of her youth, Bess heals the sick and foretells the future. As she ages, she instructs her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft, as well as her best friend, who ultimately turns to dark magic.

When a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate, eager to make his name as a witch finder, plays neighbors and family members against one another until suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights.

My Review

This was a quick read, but it didn’t offer too much substance.  Based on the synopsis, I expected so much more.  There was a lot of reference to magic, but there was little to no actual magic.  I’m guessing this was supposed to somehow reflect the witch hunts of the time (lots of talk, but no real magic), but it basically just aggravated me.  In my opinion, the book was more about the women’s relationships, the way they depended on each other and how quickly they could turn on one another.  So, don’t go into this one expecting a lot of magic.  It’s not there.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the end of the book because I don’t do spoilers in my reviews, but I will say this…it was the best and most accurate part of the story.  It was tough to read in some spots, and it felt very real.  In my opinion, the whole book was written just so the author could tell the story contained in the last few chapters.  Unfortunately, it was too late to redeem my opinion of the book.

Wrap-Up

Overall, I wasn’t that impressed.  It didn’t live up to my paranormal expectations.  That could be because my expectations were wrong or because the book synopsis was misleading.  Either way, this book just didn’t really do anything for me.

The Hangman’s Daughter ((2.5 Stars))

The Hangman's Daughter (The Hangman's Daughter, #1)Title: The Hangman’s Daughter
Author:  Oliver Potzsch
Genre:  Fiction; Historical Fiction

Publisher:  Amazon Crossing
Release Date:  December 7, 2010
Format:  E-book
Acquired:  Amazon Purchase
Pages:  448
Date Finished:  March 9, 2014
2.5 Stars

Goodreads Description

Germany, 1660: When a dying boy is pulled from the river with a mark crudely tattooed on his shoulder, hangman Jakob Kuisl is called upon to investigate whether witchcraft is at play. So begins The Hangman’s Daughter–the chillingly detailed, fast-paced historical thriller from German television screenwriter, Oliver Pötzsch–a descendent of the Kuisls, a famous Bavarian executioner clan.

My Review

Ok, I have to be honest.  I didn’t care for this book very much.  It was one of our book club picks and it was really a let down.  I was expecting so much more.  The story dragged on and on and there were huge parts of the book which could have been omitted.  For instance, one of the characters solved the mystery and then kept losing consciousness before they could relay who the murderer was.  Unfortunately, I’m not joking.

Jacob Kuisl, the hangman, and the historical bits surrounding his family were very interesting, but there needed to be more of it to hold my interest.  All of the supporting characters were…meh.  I didn’t connect with any of them.  They were flat, and…just not that interesting.  I couldn’t even be bothered to remember their names.  (Not that it would have been easy to remember all the German names.)  The villan was totally not scary.  One of my friends compared him to a Disney villan.  Overall, I just could not get invested in the characters or the storyline.

This is the first book in a series, and it did not make me want to read any more of them.  I hope the series gets better, but I don’t think I could make myself find out.

Sorry this review is so short, but sometimes, if you can’t say anything nice…