Review: The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

The Clockwork Scarab Book Cover The Clockwork Scarab
Colleen Gleason

Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you’re the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood. And when two society girls go missing, there’s no one more qualified to investigate.

Now fierce Evaline and logical Mina must resolve their rivalry, navigate the advances of not just one but three mysterious gentlemen, and solve murder with only one clue: a strange Egyptian scarab. The stakes are high. If Stoker and Holmes don’t unravel why the belles of London society are in such danger, they’ll become the next victims.

Review:

When I first heard of The Clockwork Scarab, I was thrilled. After all, what’s not to like about a story of the female relatives of Bram Stoker and Sherlock Holmes? The answer is a boring protagonist, stilted dialogue, and the darn Victorian sense of propriety.

The Clockwork Scarab came really close to being a “did not finish” for me. I was all set to return it to the library after reading just a few chapters, but curiosity got the better of me regarding a certain romantic prospect in the book. I started reading bits and pieces of the remaining chapters to get to the juicy parts. As a result, The Clockwork Scarab ended up being more of a “skim through the boring bits to find mention of the sexy Cockney-accented thug” than a true “DNF.”

The bones of The Clockwork Scarab are promising. There’s a mystery involving dead debutantes, midnight excursions to the British Museum, and enigmatic connections to Egyptian goddesses and artifacts. There are also secret societies, high-class parties, and undercover missions requiring elaborate disguises. The problem is that my eyes started to glaze over every time Mina Holmes narrated a chapter.

As the niece of Sherlock Holmes, Mina possesses an acute power of observation, a piquant curiosity, and keen intelligence. Unfortunately, she also possesses a very stodgy voice. She comes across as very dry and clinical, and there are times when she’s a snooty know-it-all. It got to the point, about 100 pages in, where I simply skipped Mina’s chapters in favor of Evaline’s more exciting ones.

An unfortunate consequence of this is that I missed a lot of important stuff. For example, I eventually realized that there seemed to be a time travel element in the plot, but by that point I’d come too far and didn’t care to go back and re-read to try to figure out why this Zach from the 2000s was important or how he ended up in the 1800s. I did recommence reading Mina’s chapters toward the very end of the book (I wanted to see how the mystery was solved, after all), but it’s obvious I lost a lot along the way.

I realize this is a really ridiculous and unfair way to read a book, but what can I say – I was bored. My options were to read it in bits and pieces, or not read it at all.

Another motivation to skim rather than reading carefully from cover to cover was the formal, prim way the characters spoke. I’m guessing this was Gleason’s attempt to sound historically accurate, but I apparently don’t have much tolerance for Victorian speech, which strikes me as stuffy and contrived. I don’t have a lot of patience for Victorian propriety, either. Don’t let that man see your ankles, ladies! Don’t touch his hand without wearing gloves! I know this is true to the Victorian era, but I need a little more raciness to hold my interest in a book.

That’s not to say A Clockwork Scarab was all bad. As I mentioned in the beginning, there was a potential love interest, Pix, who was exciting enough to prevent me from returning The Clockwork Scarab to the library unfinished. I’ve always been fond of rascals, charmers, and men who are too clever for their own good, and Pix is all of these things. My favorite parts of the book were the scenes where he and Evaline kept ending up in compromising positions. Well, those scenes and one in an opium den…and that’s because Pix was in that scene, too. Shirtless. Yum!

Besides Pix, something else I liked about this book was Mina and Evaline’s desire to prove themselves. The two girls are very different from one another, with very different strengths, and each has her own fears and self doubts. For Mina’s part, she isn’t as pretty as Evaline and is self conscious about things like not fitting in among high society, not being invited to parties, not having any gentlemen who want to dance with her, etc. Evaline, Mina’s foil, is very pretty and popular, and unlike Mina she does receive invitations to attend social functions and dance with handsome men. For her part, though, Evaline wants to prove to Mina that she’s intelligent and doesn’t have to rely on Mina to be the “smart one.” The girls’ insecurities make them much easier to sympathize with.

There might be many more appealing aspects of The Clockwork Scarab that I missed by not reading the entire book. To be on the safe side, you might want to take my review with a grain of salt and read this book for yourself.

Bringing You Classics All Summer Long

Dreading the end of the school year? Wondering how you’ll survive the hot summer months without an English syllabus full of titles like Jayne Eyre and The Great Gatsby? Never fear, dear readers – Angela’s Library is here to make sure you get your literary fix even when school is out.

I’m proud to announce that the theme for this summer is:

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No need to lament the loss of English class – I’ll make sure you get your dose of the classics to make it through the summertime slump. This summer I’ll be featuring a variety of books based on British and American literature. I’ve got some wonderful retellings, prequels, and spin-offs for you, inspired by the works of greats such as William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and J.M. Barrie. Happy reading!

Click here to view all posts associated with the Classically Inspired theme.

Review: Insanity by Cameron Jace

Insanity Book Cover Insanity
Cameron Jace

After accidentally killing everyone in her class, Alice Wonder is now a patient in the Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum. No one doubts her insanity. Only a hookah-smoking professor believes otherwise; that he can prove her sanity by decoding Lewis Carroll's paintings, photographs, and find Wonderland's real whereabouts. Professor Caterpillar persuades the asylum that Alice can save lives and catch the wonderland monsters now reincarnated in modern day criminals. In order to do so, Alice leads a double life: an Oxford university student by day, a mad girl in an asylum by night. The line between sanity and insanity thins when she meets Jack Diamond, an arrogant college student who believes that nonsense is an actual science.

Review:

A free copy of this book was received from Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

If you enjoyed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, chances are you’ll get a kick out of Insanity.

Alice Pleasance Wonder is a patient at Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum in Oxford, where she’s been imprisoned for two years after causing the deaths of her boyfriend and all their classmates. Shock therapy and heavy doses of medication have caused Alice to forget her past, but she’s been told that as a child she got lost one afternoon and later returned insisting she’d been in the Wonderland from Lewis Carroll’s storybooks. The only other things Alice knows about herself are that she’s terrified of mirrors, loves her potted Tiger Lily, and occasionally suffers from hallucinations of talking flowers and creepy white rabbits. She longs to recover her memories and is given a chance to do so by an unlikely source: one of her fellow inmates.

Professor Carter Pillar is a wily, hookah-smoking psychopath who has murdered multiple people, bears a resemblance to the riddle-spouting caterpillar in Lewis’ stories, and has a knack for slipping in and out of the asylum at will. “The Pillar,” as he’s known, believes Alice is THE Alice and approaches her with a bargain:

“I can make you remember amazing things[…]. Like who the Red Queen really is. Why she chopped off heads. Who the Rabbit really was. Where the real rabbit hole exists. What a raven and a writing desk really have in common. Why Lewis Carroll wrote this book[…]. Basically, I can tell you who you really are.”

In exchange for this information, The Pillar demands Alice’s help in tracking down and stopping another serial killer: The Cheshire Cat. Together, Alice and The Pillar spend their nights locked in the asylum and their days investigating the Cheshire’s murders.

At first, the hunt for the Cheshire is exciting. The cat is aware that the two are on his tail (ha – get it?) and toys with them, leaving puzzles and riddles for Alice and The Pillar to solve. Through these riddles the readers learn fascinating facts about Lewis Carroll and the inspirations for his Alice stories, such as how the Cheshire Cat got his name. There are encounters with reincarnations of the White Queen, the Duchess, and the Reds from the stories, and there are fun references to a “raven-colored” writing desk, Carrollian words like “brillig” and “frabjous,” and interesting logic puzzles such as the ones Carroll included in his literary works.

These nods to Carroll and the fun insight into his stories were what I enjoyed most about Insanity. Unfortunately, the puzzles taper off as the story progresses, and the characters I really wanted to meet – the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, Tweedle Dee and Dum, etc. – never made an appearance.

Characterization and tight plotting fell by the wayside about halfway into the book, replaced by seemingly random plot points and appearances by characters who had no good reason to be in the scene other than to serve as a convenience or, in some cases, an inconvenience. The second half of the book just felt sloppy. There were lots of spelling and grammar mistakes, and the characters’ motivations and actions didn’t seem to be as firmly grounded as in the beginning. There was so much focus on silliness and madness – obtaining a useless, unnecessary Certificate of Insanity, making goofy proclamations to crowds of people, gallivanting around being mad and merry – that the book felt fluffy and lost a lot of the appeal and tension that it had at the start.

This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate whimsy and silliness. Whenever Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland are involved, you know there’s going to be a hearty dose of nonsense; after all, Carroll is the man who wrote passages like:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Still, nonsense needs to be backed up by believable characters and a strong storyline, which were missing towards the end of Insanity.

Although the second half of Insanity may not have lived up to my expectations, the first half was good enough that I’m willing to give the sequel, Figment, a shot. The references to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass definitely piqued my interest, and I’m eager to see what’s next for Alice Wonder.

To wrap up this review, I’ll leave you with the parting gift of a couple of great quotes from the book:

“So how is [this date] going to be?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean who’s going to pay? English way, we split the check. American way, I pay the check. French way, probably you pay the check. Carrollian way, we eat mushrooms and drink tea in a house we break into.”

And:

“Let go of me,” I say as a I pull away.
“Wow, you’re good at squeezing yourself away from a man’s arms,” he looks admirably at his empty embrace.
“You haven’t seen me with a straight jacket.”

See why I liked this book? 🙂