The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara

Genre: Historical, YA

Publisher: Sky Pony Press on June 19, 2018

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

A clever, romantic novel based on the true story of a girl who disguised herself as a boy to sail with the infamous pirates Anne Bonny and Calico Jack—and fell in love with Anne Bonny.View Spoiler »

THE UNBINDING OF MARY READE is a book that I really wanted to love, and by all accounts I should’ve. Historical fiction featuring queer lady pirates? Sign me the hell up! Unfortunately, I struggled to care about the characters and found the story itself quite lacklustre.

Mary Reade grew up in the slums of London, barely making it by under the less-than-watchful eye of her alcoholic mother. Forced her to pose as her deceased brother to secure his inheritance from their wealthy grandmother, no one in Mary’s life knows she’s a girl, not even her best friend Nate…which is a bit of a pickle, since she’s in love with him. Fast forward a few years and Mary’s now on board a pirate ship trying to reunite with Nate, now a pirate hunter, when she meets the beautiful and mercurial Anne Bonny. Mary’s quickly captivated by the other woman, and falls in love with her hard and fast.

Watching how Anne manipulated and used Mary was infuriating, especially because Mary knew exactly what the other woman was doing. Why didn’t she stand her ground and insist on better treatment from her before the last 15% of the novel? It’s impossible for me to love a character like Anne, who was the worst combination of selfish and poorly written. McNamara tries to paint her in a sympathetic light but I found her attempts heavy-handed and awkward. I know I was supposed to sympathize with Anne and root for her and Mary but I just loathed her and the pair of them together.

The one thing I did really like about this story is McNamara’s depiction how difficult it was to be openly queer in the 19th century, especially as a pirate, an occupation steeped in machismo. McNamara also does an excellent job illustrating the fluidity of sexuality and gender presentation. Despite her feelings for and attraction to Anne, Mary is still drawn to Nate; her desires aren’t an either/or proposition. And although Mary pretends to be a boy because she has to, Mary feels like her true self when she wears masculine attire, even after all her friends and comrades know she’s a woman.

Readers looking for good queer representation in historical YA may want to read THE UNBINDING OF MARY READE, but those seeking likable characters and good writing may want to look elsewhere.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

Genre: Horror, Novella

Publisher: on October 3, 2017

Source: Library

Every time she bleeds a murderer is born. Experience the horror of Tade Thompson’s The Murders of Molly Southbourne.View Spoiler »

THE MURDERS OF MOLLY SOUTHBOURNE is a bleak, bloody, and beautifully written novella about a girl whose blood will be her undoing.

This book freaked me the hell out, y’all. If you’re familiar with my reading habits then you already know that I’m a horror newbie…and I struggle with a serious case of the scaredy-cats. Even so, I think that Molly’s predicament and its implications will unsettle even the most dedicated horror readers out there. Whenever Molly Southbourne bleeds, a new molly is born. These clones, which the Southbourne family call mollys, range in mental and physical ability, but they’re united by the ceaseless desire to kill the original Molly. You can’t reason with them, or even discover their motivations – it’s kill or be killed.

The detachment with which Molly’s parents and eventually Molly herself dispatch the mollys is deeply disturbing. I was morbidly fascinated by the knife fights, beheadings, and bloody beatings that Molly and the mollies dole out to one another. Even more unsettling was the intimacy between Molly and the mollys, which ranges from the emotional to the sexual. I guess when you’re so other, your murderous clones are the only ones you can really bond with. Much of THE MURDERS OF MOLLY SOUTHBOURNE is characterized by a sense of Molly’s detachment from other people, and for most of the novella I was left wondering whether Molly herself is detached from reality somehow. What could possibly explain her condition, and why are her parents so nonchalant about it?

I’m not typically into bleak books like this one, but I was hooked immediately and devoured it in one sitting. I wouldn’t say that I loved it – the story was a bit too disturbing for that – but it has been on my mind for weeks and it really made me think. That’s more than enough to make me curious about Thompson’s backlist and excited about the recently announced follow-up novella!

A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn (Veronica Speedwell #2)

Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Berkley on January 10, 2017

Source: Library

London, 1887. At the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge…View Spoiler »

Intrepid butterfly hunter and amateur sleuth Veronica Speedwell and her taxidermist partner in crime Stoker return for a second adventure in A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING.

The dynamic duo is languishing in Victorian London, bored out of their minds and craving adventure when that very thing is delivered to their doorstep. A mysterious and very high-ranking noblewoman “asks” them to save an innocent man charged with murder from the hangman’s noose…and bring the real culprit to justice. Infiltrating the high-class art world, navigating the interpersonal complexities of a swanky commune, and uncovering a secret grotto turned sex-dungeon. What’s not to love?

In terms of the actual mystery, I wasn’t hugely impressed by A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING. It was pretty obvious to me whodunit…and I never know whodunit. The mystery plotline of the first book was much stronger. But the real pull of the series for me is its characters, and the b-plot of Veronica’s heritage. Both were handled to perfection, and I’m loving the character growth of the protagonists as well as their friends and foes.

Raybourn does an excellent job of incorporating progressive viewpoints (which actually are period-appropriate, if subversive) into the story, ranging from sexuality to property to women’s rights. Stoker’s straight-forward assertions that women are possibly even more intelligent than men and Veronica’s openness about her sexual experiences don’t take me out of the story, they make me appreciate it more. And I’m particularly grateful that although Veronica herself refuses to submit to society’s expectations of women, she doesn’t look down on those who do.

Speaking of all things sexy, I’m loving the intense slow burn that is the (eventual) romance between Veronica and Stoker. They’re clearly into one another but they have some major hang-ups, namely Stoker’s dead wife and Veronica’s insistence on never getting involved with a fellow Brit. I’m predicting that they won’t properly get together until the series finale, but it’ll be a delicious wait.

Quite the eclectic group for you today! Have you read any of these books? What are your favourite creepy reads? Let me know in the comments!