Title: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press
Published: August 1st 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
How many years does it take to grow into someone?
In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.
On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.
As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.
Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done is a strange and sometimes engaging reimagining of the famous Lizzie Borden murders. Told from alternating perspectives over the course of a few days, we are given insight into the minds of Lizzie and those involved in one way or another with the murders of Lizzie’s father Andrew and stepmother Abby.
By the end, I enjoyed this book, but I felt the book suffered from two things: target market and a slow exposition/initial pacing. I understand that publishers want to reach a wide range of audiences with certain titles, but I felt like this one was YA as I was reading it because of the writing style. It took me about a good third or more of the book to feel really engaged with the characters and the story, and then it seemed to pick up and then I couldn’t put it down. If you aren’t much of a YA reader, this one might feel a bit simplistic in the way in which it’s told. However, in some ways, I think that starkly simple language is what makes Lizzie’s story effective, because if you’re familiar with Lizzie Borden, you already know what’s coming, and by the time it does, it’s one of those chest-grabbing moments.
See What I Have Done explores in greater depth the relationships between Lizzie and the rest of her immediate household. At thirty-something, she still lives at home, unmarried, and behaves as if she is still a teenager with temper outbursts and juvenile outlooks on the world (which is where my “this feels like YA” comes from). It’s apparent from the very beginning that something is off about Lizzie’s mental state, and this disconnect between reality and what goes on in her mind adds to the Lizzie’s relationship with her father is odd and unsettling. At times, her attention-seeking behavior appears as if she’s a love-sick girl starving for the object of her affection’s attentions, and other times it feels as if her behavior is that of a child wanting her father to pay attention to her. Lizzie’s behavior toward and eventual murder of her father and stepmother stems from her deeply rooted jealousy toward her stepmother. As it happens in fairy tales, the stepmother “replaces” the dead mother, and to the main character, the stepmother is therefore “bad/evil,” and for Lizzie, she is the displaced princess.
In a series of twists and turns, Sarah Schmidt delivers a chilling examination of what goes through the minds of those closely involved with Lizzie Borden and her forty whacks. While it takes a bit to warm up to it, See What I Have Done is a solid debut.
I won a copy of this book through Goodreads giveaways for review! All opinions are my own.
Title: The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins
Published by Viking
Published: March 1st 2016
Format: Trade Paper
An epic novel of magic and mysticism, Celts and faeries, mad kings and druids, and the goddess struggling to reign over magic’s last outpost on the Earth
What became of magic in the world? Who needed to do away with it, and for what reasons? Drawing on myth, legend, fairy tales, and Biblical mysteries,
The Last Days of Magic
brilliantly imagines answers to these questions, sweeping us back to a world where humans and magical beings co-exist as they had for centuries.
Aisling, a goddess in human form, was born to rule both domains and—with her twin, Anya—unite the Celts with the powerful faeries of the Middle Kingdom. But within medieval Ireland interests are divided, and far from its shores greater forces are mustering. Both England and Rome have a stake in driving magic from the Emerald Isle. Jordan, the Vatican commander tasked with vanquishing the remnants of otherworldly creatures from a disenchanted Europe, has built a career on such plots. But increasingly he finds himself torn between duty and his desire to understand the magic that has been forbidden.
As kings prepare, exorcists gather, and divisions widen between the warring clans of Ireland, Aisling and Jordan must come to terms with powers given and withheld, while a world that can still foster magic hangs in the balance. Loyalties are tested, betrayals sown, and the coming war will have repercussions that ripple centuries later, in today’s world—and in particular for a young graduate student named Sara Hill.
The Last Days of Magic
introduces us to unforgettable characters who grapple with quests for power, human frailty, and the longing for knowledge that has been made taboo. Mark Tompkins has crafted a remarkable tale—a feat of world-building that poses astonishing and resonant answers to epic questions.
Mark Tompkins’ The Last Days of Magic
is about the Celts and the old days of magic before it supposedly disappeared from the world. Aisling and Anya, twin girls, were born to unite the Celts with the faeries of the Middle Kingdom. And while the clans of Ireland fight against each other, England and Rome want to drive the magic out of the Emerald Isle. War looms on the horizon, and political tensions twist and stretch among allies and enemies.
I really liked the concept of this book. I expected a story full of history of the Emerald Isle, the warring clans of Ireland, the threats of invasion from Rome and England, and I feel like I got that, for the most part. Sometimes I felt like the history was explained and told to me rather than shown throughout the narrative, and sometimes I felt like it helped me understand the story a little bit better.
However, the thing that bothered me the most about this story was actually the prologue and the epilogue. In the prologue and epilogue, we find out that a young woman named Sara Hill has some family secrets that she is just discovering from her grandmother, and while en route to escaping with some documents that important people have been after for centuries, something happens to her (I don’t want to spoil it too much). I felt like none of that truly tied in with the story at hand until the very end when I realized that most of this book is just a prelude to a potential, as-of-yet unannounced sequel. I feel like this story could have easily stood on its own without the prologue and epilogue or could have incorporated more of Sara’s story through alternating chapters of the past and Sara’s present.
I did enjoy reading it, and I’ve always loved stories set in old Ireland, old England, and old Scotland because I find those histories so amazing and complex, so I was very pleased to see such a well-researched concept explored in this book. I think it’ll be great for anyone who has either a passing interest in the magical history of Ireland and anyone who enjoys historical fiction infused with magic. The mythology is entwined with history so well that this story about the last days of magic is very believable.
Thank you to Viking and Goodreads for an advance copy of this book! All opinions are my own.
Title: The Devourers by Indra Das
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: July 12 2016
Format: Trade Paper
Yes, you looked at me and I wished you were not human, that I could cleave your soul in two and watch your second self emerge, a beast as lovely as your first.
I received this book last year as part of a Goodreads giveaway, and am just now getting around to reading it and reviewing it. I’m making a serious effort to reading and reviewing those review copies I get, and I feel like I read this at just the right time. I started it last year when I received it but couldn’t get into it the way I had hoped. Sometimes we just have to wait for the right moment to read something!
Anyway, I was initially interested in this book because The Devourers draws comparisons to Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman, two of my favorite authors, and I can see why it does. The Devourers is a violent, fantasy-infused exploration into India’s shapeshifting mythology. If you are turned off by graphic mentions of violence and rape, then this might not be the read for you, but if you can stomach that sort of thing, then this might be something to consider picking up! Das explores concepts of gender identity and expression in The Devourers, and this exploration becomes really apparent in the last third of the book.
The thing that bothered me the most was the rape and then the constant referral later on to the act. It felt like a third of the book just kept constantly referring to it in a very weird way, as if it affected the shapeshifter who did the act more rather than the woman who experienced it. I did like, however, that the woman brought up her assault every time the man who attacked her tried to dismiss his behavior. It’s difficult to talk about, in real life and in books, and I think once I got to the end, I liked how Das wove it into the story.
It’s a very interesting story, very much a fairytale that explores the deepest, darkest parts of humanity, and once it’s done sweeping you away, it leaves you with a lot to think about.
Thank you to Del Rey and Goodreads for a copy of this book to read and review! All opinions are my own.