Review: I, Walter by Mike Hartner

Title: I, Walter
Author: Mike Hartner
Genre: Adult Historical
How To Purchase:

My Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I, Walter is an excellent example of a book that has been well-researched, thoroughly plotted, and has voice yet doesn’t strike my fancy. To use a refrain I’ve used before, it was not written for me.

The book chronicles the life of a young boy who comes from a poverty-striken background, but through hard work and a humble demeanor, rises through the ranks of 1500’s England to nobility. Walter is writing his story at the end of his life, while his wife supportively looks over his shoulder and tempers his sometimes-too-hard-on-himself ruminations with her own perspective.

One of the reasons that this book caught my eyes was its strong voice in the opening chapter. I liked Walter and wanted to hear about his life. The voice continues throughout, as Walter examines his life. Both the good and bad aspects are examined, the things he worked hard for, and the mistakes that he made.

My biggest frustration with this book is its format is what I call “the Forrest Gump phenomenon,” a term I just coined but something I’ve seen in other books. For those who aren’t familiar with Forrest Gump (Lord, help me, I’m not that old, am I?), it was a 90’s movie that followed the life of a mentally handicapped man in the 60’s and 70’s as he overcomes obstacles and makes an impression on important historical events. Perpetually optimistic (blech), Forrest Gump nestled himself into the hearts of many movie-goers and won all kinds of awards.

Walter, while not mentally handicapped, is perpetually optimistic and leads a charmed life. The deviation from Forrest Gump is that everything turns up roses for Walter. He meets and falls in love with his future wife in only a few days, and nothing stands in the way of their marriage. Money seems to flow from everywhere into his pockets. His rise through the ranks of sailors in the British navy is quick and painless. Everybody loves him; he’s humble and kind.

Like I said, this isn’t for me. I like flawed protagonists, people making lesser-of-two-evils choices. I’d also call Walter “lawful good,” although that’s not precisely right. But he reminds me too much of Superman and his attitude, which has always grated on me.

If you’re tired of dark books and want something light with a fairy tale ending, this is the book for you. I enjoy dark books more often than not, so I found myself skimming, wishing more would happen to Walter, that his struggles would be deeper, harsher, grittier. I caught a few typos and copy editing issues, but overall, it didn’t detract from the book. A lot of good reviews have been posted on Goodreads and Amazon, so I realize I’m just an old grump. Check it out if this is the kind of thing you like.

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Review: Scarlette by Davonna Juroe

Title: Scarlette
Author: Davonna Juroe
Genre(s): Adult Historical Paranormal Fairy Tale Re-telling
How To Purchase: Kindle

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ninety years before the Brothers Grimm penned their version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” an historic, gruesome series of events shocked all of Europe. Starting in 1764, an unidentified wolf-like animal ferociously mauled dozens of peasants in the Gévaudan region of France.

Whispered rumors of unnatural creatures blended with age-old superstition to cause mass hysteria. A werewolf was blamed for the carnage. Alarmed, King Louis XV sent his best huntsmen to rid the province of the beastly scourge, but this legendary massacre had only just begun.

Scarlette, a 19-year-old seamstress who is laboring to make ends meet, lives under this dark threat. Although fearful of the nightmarish monster lurking in the surrounding forest, she remains skeptical of the supernatural gossip.

Until her grandmother is attacked.

Scarlette learns that her grandmother has been infected by the animal’s bite. Desperate to save her, Scarlette begins to uncover the dark secrets of her village and finds there are those who wish to keep their pasts hidden. As time grows short, Scarlette is befriended by a local nobleman and a woodcutter who both share an eerie history with the wolf.

Scarlette must unravel the men’s connection and solve a long-forgotten crime. But as she pieces together the clues, Scarlette finds herself torn between the two men. Both of them desire more than friendship and together hold the key to the cure.

Based on both the traditional Grimm fairy-tale and older known French versions of “Little Red Riding Hood,” this dark Young Adult novel is set against the 18th century Beast of Gévaudan attacks and blends fairy-tale with Gothic romance in a modern, accessible prose style. Unique to the genre, the novel revives the fable of the girl-in-the-red-cloak with a new historical angle that blurs the line between folklore and reality.

I’m a sucker for fairy tale re-tellings. The darker, the better. Scarlette doesn’t disappoint, although it wasn’t what I expected.

The story deviates from the fairy tale plot that we all know and love, but it doesn’t disappoint. In this book, the “wolf” is both real and figurative. Scarlette, our protagonist, lives in the mid-1700s France, in a small town that is frightened and shocked by animal attacks on the population. Her mother is terrible to her, her employer is a lecherous old man, and she’s struggling to feed herself and keep a roof over her head. Scarlette’s grandmother is the only light in her life… but poor granny doesn’t last very long.

As the attacks intensify, Scarlette becomes confused and overwrought. She makes friends with a rich nobleman, who isn’t what he seems. Or is he? Good ol’ Marquis de Sade gets a minor role–which is always a great way to solidify a place in my heart.

The woodcutter guild was an interesting aspect that I wish was explored in greater detail. Scarlette’s friendship with a woodcutter who saves her is on shaky ground–especially since the guild kidnapped her previously, adding to her disorientation and confusion. I would have loved to see the story finish on a darker note than it did, but, after all, it is a fairy tale. Happy ever after mandatory?

Scarlette blends paranormal, romance, and historical fiction into an interesting story. I’ve tried to decide if this is Young Adult or Adult, and because of the dark tone and theme, I would consider it Adult. The details of 1700’s France are fascinating. The older I get, the more I appreciate historical fiction, and Ms. Juroe did a great job creating that time period.

If you like fairy tale re-tellings or paranormal historicals, I would suggest this book. A solid four of five stars, and I’m looking forward to more of the author’s books.

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Review: The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

Title: The Witching Hour
Author: Anne Rice
Genre(s): Adult Paranormal Historical
How To Purchase: Kindle | Kobo | Paperback (Amazon)

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

On the veranda of a great New Orleans house, now faded, a mute and fragile woman sits rocking. And the witching hour begins…

Demonstrating once again her gift for spellbinding storytelling and the creation of legend, Anne Rice makes real for us a great dynasty of witches – a family given to poetry and incest, to murder and philosophy, a family that over the ages is itself haunted by a powerful, dangerous, and seductive being.

A hypnotic novel of witchcraft and the occult across four centuries, by the spellbinding, bestselling author of The Vampire Chronicles.

Oh, my God, Anne Rice. What were you thinking?

At times this book strays into one star territory and at times it strays into the five star category. It took me months to finish it, and by the time I was done, I felt like I’d run a marathon. “Anne, this is a great story,” Anne’s editor must have said upon first reading the weighty tome placed on his desk, “however, you have to cut the back story and extraneous detail. When we’re done, this thing will be one third the size.”

“I will not!” Anne said. “I’m Anne Rice! I write what I want!”

So that is how we ended up with an intriguing plot line, an engrossing story, and a fascinating concept, splayed across several hundred pages too many. I was confused, I skimmed, and I backtracked, all because the story couldn’t stay focused.

This is the story of a supernatural creature named Lasher–is it a demon? a ghost? an alien? something else?–that harasses generation after generation of Mayfair family members. Each time the newest daughter is born, it latches onto the child and protects her above all else. People die unexpectedly and gruesomely while it bides it time, waiting for the moment to hatch its plot.

Now, the most powerful witch in history has been born. Her family has sent her away to protect her, and she knows nothing about her heritage. But it’s time that she found out.

Doesn’t that sound fabulous? Too bad it’s not.

In the middle of the book is hundreds of pages of back story. One of the characters has gotten his hands on a file that’s been kept by a secret society watching the Mayfair family for thirteen generations. Ms. Rice decided to reveal the entire excruciating contents of that goddamned file to us. Who’s sleeping with whom? Whose baby is whose? Who is Auntie So-in-so in generation 8? I don’t know. And I don’t care.

The Lives of the Mayfair Witches trilogy taught me a valuable lesson: Even if you’re only spending your Kobo gift card money, buy one book of a series at a time. Unfortunately, I purchased all three of these books without having cracked open a one of them. Fortunately, the story gets better. Lasher is the second book, and its plot, while exceedingly weird and disjointed, is told better and is more engrossing. I haven’t yet moved on to the third book Taltos, but I don’t dread it. Someday I’ll get around to reading it.

If you like this kind of thing (generations of subtlety and twisted family trees), you’ll like The Witching Hour. If you’re like me and you can’t keep any more than four characters straight at a time, you’ll want to give this a pass. The ending I give 4.5 stars. The middle I give 0 stars. And the beginning… Eh. Probably 2. It confused me as well.

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