Book Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

graves

I apologise for being away for so long – work’s been very busy! I’ll try to catch up with my Friday Finds this week hopefully ūüôā

 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Jo Montfort is a teenage blue-blooded New Yorker whose fate is to marry an even more blue-blooded childhood friend of hers, Bram Aldrich and be a good socialite. However, Jo’s passions lie elsewhere. She wants to be a writer – like Nellie Bly – and she wants to write about girls and hardships they endure. However, society doesn’t look too kindly upon a strong-headed, imaginative girl in 19th century New York and Jo is about ready to kiss her dreams goodbye. Her life changes drastically, however, when her father is found dead in their home. The police believe that he killed himself, but Jo, who loved her father very much, wants to get the truth. She starts to dig into her father’s past and meets a charming reporter Eddie Gallagher, who has secrets of his own. As the mystery unveils, Jo is sucked deeper and deeper into the New York that she never even knew existed, riddled with prostitutes, madmen and murderers. Would her and Eddie be able to be together and achieve their writing dreams, or will Jo’s naivete make her the killer’s next target?

 

“These Shallow Graves” was the book I’ve been anticipating for a few months now – Jennifer Donnelly is one of my favourite authors. Long-time readers of this blog would remember that I fell in love with “Revolution” and “A Gathering Light”. I was thrilled to hear that she was writing another historical fiction novel with a strong female protagonist. I was therefore over the moon when I got this copy from Netgalley.

However, I must say that my expectations were too high. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the story – I most certainly did, and thought it to be one of the better murder mysteries I’ve read this year. Perhaps my love for Donnelly’s previous books has set the bar a little too high for “These Shallow Graves”, and, while I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, I was rather underwhelmed. “Revolution” and “A Gathering Light” kept me engaged from the very first page, but “These Shallow Graves” didn’t manage to suck me in until about 30% into the book.

The main character, Jo, seemed too much like a spoiled rich kid at the start, which is understandable, given her upbringing, but it didn’t compel me to like her until quite a bit into the book. She does go through quite a bit of development and become a lot more interesting as the book progresses, though. Her romance with Eddie was a little too insta-love – either I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be sixteen and in love, or girls back then fell in love way too quickly.

The supporting cast was, however, just as good as that of Donnelly’s other novels. Oscar, Fay, the Tailor and other characters were well-rounded and interesting to read about, and added several more layers to the mystery, making it all the more compelling. They are the strong sides of “These Shallow Graves”, and so is the plot of the mystery. The writing is, while as atmospheric as her other books, just didn’t work for me. This is because I expected a lot more in terms of writing, given how much effect Jennifer Donnelly’s previous works had on me. I’d still recommend the book, though, and can’t wait for her next one!

 

Favourite quotes:

“If you’re going to bury the past, bury it deep, girl. Shallow graves always give up their dead”.

“Morality is a luxury, my darling. A very expensive one”.

 

Recommendations

You might like “These Shallow Graves” if you liked:

“The Cure for Dreaming” by Cat Winters

“Velvet Undercover” by Teri Brown

“Vengeance Road” by Erin Bowman

 

Book Review: The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

cure for dreaming

This is my first Cat Winters book. I found it when I was looking for books like Libba Bray’s a few months ago.

Olivia Mead’s rebellious ways of being a suffragette and reading gothic novels aren’t welcomed in Portland in 1900. However, that doesn’t stop her and her friends from fighting for women’s rights. On the day of her 17th birthday on Halloween, Olivia attends a performance by a magician named Henri Reverie and his pianist sister Genevieve. She volunteers to be the subject of Henri’s hypnosis and the magician astonishes the audience by his performance. The next day, however, Olivia’s conservative father confronts her about being a suffragette and employs Henri to remove these thoughts and inclinations out of her head. Henri, however, gives Olivia a great and terrible gift instead – to be able to see the people of the world for who they truly are while being unable to speak her thoughts out loud. Despite her father’s and her suitor’s efforts to deter her, Olivia is even more determined to speak her mind and enters into a dangerous alliance with the illusionist who is not at all what he appears to be. Will Olivia, Henri and their friends be able to change the world? Or will her spirit be broken by the anti-feminist Americans?

 

I had two problems with this book. Firstly, it was too short. Secondly, it doesn’t have a sequel.

Yes, it was that good. Cat Winters’ atmospheric and bone-chilling writing had me glued to my Kindle from the first page onwards. I devoured “The Cure for Dreaming” in six hours, only getting up to get snacks! Last time I was this into a book this much was when I read Rachel Hawkins’ “Rebel Belle”. The way Winters weaves the story of Olivia against the world is gripping and haunts the reader long after she puts the book down. The amount of detail is staggering but in no way overwhelming to the reader. On the contrary – it only adds to the creepy factor and will give you goosebumps. Because this is a horror story.

It would be unfair to any girl who’s ever had to fight for something to call it anything other than a horror tale. A young member of the suffrage movement has the whole world against her, and people like her father do their best to put an end to her rebellion. What used to be the reality ¬†for many girls only a hundred years ago seems terrifying for women today, and I hope that a hundred years from now, the sexism in today’s society would seem just as terrifying and unbelievable to women who aren’t born yet. Writers like Winters, who cleverly use literary devices to illustrate the dangers of misogynistic societies in their books are important. As an example, Olivia’s father hires Henri to make it difficult for his daughter to talk about controversial topics and to silence her on the subject of feminism. Henri, however, hypnotises Olivia to instead see the world as how it truly is, which can be argued to be a metaphor of how women used to be, and still are, frequently become victims of gaslighting when it’s convenient for men in their lives. By making Olivia see the ugly nature of the people, Henri accomplishes the opposite of Olivia’s father’s wishes. Instead of curing her of her dreams, he just makes her even more determined. The even scarier element of his hypnosis is that Olivia cannot express her anger – instead, she must say “All is well”. This is terrifying. Removing a chance to say NO is terrifying to any woman.

However, this story is not all dark and depressing. Olivia’s friendships with her female friends is great – I love reading stories where women support each other, like warning you that a cute rich classmate is a creep and a sexual predator, or like raising money for your dream to go to college. And I surprisingly enjoyed the brief romance between Olivia and Henri – and I most certainly loved when the third part of the love triangle turned out to be a lot creepier when Olivia got her powers! The best thing was, however, that Olivia did at the end manage to make a difference. Again, Cat Winters’ genius allegoric use of paranormal was wonderful to read.

So, yes, this book is scary. And it will make you angry and frustrated. And possibly afraid of monsters in your dreams. But it’s so damn good. And definitely not my last Cat Winters – can’t wait for “The Uninvited”! My rating for “The Cure for Dreaming” is¬†8.5/10¬†– I do wish it were¬†longer!

 

Favourite quotes

“I just think he’s a snob, that’s all. And snobs are only fun in Austen novels”

“No one should ever be silenced. Not you. Not me. Not any other woman or man. Please, open your eyes and see, we’re all on the same side. We’re all being treated as second-class citizens. Why are you just sitting beside your husbands and fathers and accepting this rubbish?”

“Females are raised to become rational, industrious, fair and compassionate human beings. Males are taught to sow their wild oats and run free while they’re able. Which gender is truly the most prepared to make decisions about the management of a country” Do you want a responsible individual or a rambunctious one choosing the fate of our government?”

 

Dreamcast

Olivia Mead –¬†Troian Belissario¬†(I know she’s too old to play a high schooler but she’s just so good at being the leading feminist lady)

Henri Reverie –¬†Jake T. Austin

 

Recommendations

You might like “The Cure for Dreaming” if you liked:

Any book by Libba Bray

“The Fall” by Bethany Griffin

“A Mad, Wicked Folly” by Sharon Biggs Waller

“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

Have you read any Cat Winters’ books? What are your favourite books about suffragettes? Do you have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments!