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!


    • Greg Hill

    • 4 years ago

    Aw that sucks about Mary reade, I read about her and Anne Bonny once and we need a good book to examine those two ha ha! The Murders of Molly Southbourne sounds like a TRIP. And I didn’t realize it was a novella! I might have to sneak that one in! It does sound kinda crazy, with all those clones and having to kill them. Is it bad that the carnage sounds fun? lol

    1. I know, it was such a bummer! The story could’ve been so great. Molly Southbourne is absolutely a trip, and it was so compelling. I wouldn’t say that the carnage was exactly fun per se…but it was “bloody” awesome nonetheless. LOL.

  1. I read The Murders of Molly Southbourne and I really enjoyed it, but yes it was BIZARRE! And it’s a series so I’m debating whether to keep reading it not😁

    1. Totally bizarre! Yet it was so cool. I think I might have to pick up the sequel when it comes out.

  2. Ooh that second one sounds so cool. I love books that have a crazy premise like that!

    1. Right? It was insane. I think you’d really enjoy it, although it’s pretty bizarre.

  3. Oh no!! I’ve seen Mary Reade around a few times lately and it looks so interesting! I’m sorry to see you didn’t enjoy it! A Perilous Undertaking does look good though! I may have to check out that series. Thanks for sharing 😀

    1. Right? I was hoping that it’d be awesome, but sadly it just didn’t work for me. Oooooh Tracy yes, you should absolutely look into the Veronica Speedwell books! Definitely my favourite mystery series in recent memory.

    • Karen

    • 4 years ago

    I haven’t read anything by Raybourn in a while so I’ll have to look up that series.

    Karen @ For What It’s Worth

    1. It’s soooo good, Karen! I think you’d quite enjoy Veronica Speedwell’s sass and tenacity.

  4. Oh, I’m pretty sure I just read something from Tumblr about Anne and Mary, and they sounded really kickass, so that’s a shame the book didn’t work for you. I don’t think I’d be able to find Anne likeable or root for that relationship either. But the queer rep sounds good!

    Ok I had no idea that’s what the Molly Southbourne book was about. I don’t even read horror, but I’m so intrigued that I just might give that one a try.

    The last one sounds fun, and I’m glad you’ve found some characters you really like!

    1. They were definitely kick ass historical figures and I could see shades of kick assery (lol) in the book, but sadly that version of them wasn’t all I’d hoped for. The rep was phenomenal though!

      I don’t even usually read horror either, but the premise of Molly Southbourne was just too enticing. And wow did the risk pay off! It’s such a creepy, weird, great novella.

      The Veronica Speedwell mysteries are so much fun! Great characters win every time for me. 🙂

  5. The Unbinding of Mary Reade sounds so amazing in the blurb! I’m sorry you found it so wanting and I think I would also find it very difficult to get behind a character and a romance like that.

    The Murders of Molly Southbourne sounds too dang freaky for me! Ha ha. I guess I’m not a horror reader!

    The Veronica Speedwell books interest me and I’m glad you largely enjoyed that one, even if it was predictable!

    Great reviews Danya!

    1. It’s an awesome blurb and premise for sure, but it was pretty lacking in execution sadly. 🙁 If only the characters had been more likeable! Sigh.

      Hahaha, oh yeah, it’s a freaky story for sure. I’m not usually a horror reader either, but I actually kinda dug it so…maybe I need to try more horror books soon!

      Thanks, Di!

  6. The Murders of Molly sounds absolutely fantastic and right up my alley, thanks for putting it on my radar. I’m glad you were able to read some enjoyable parts in the other two books

    Tori @ In Tori Lex

    1. You’re very welcome, Tori! I hope you enjoy it. I thought it was a wild ride!

  7. Well wow, the Murders of Molly sounds sensational and downright creepy, but I will admit the reality of it in your review is something I would not head towards. And yet I am still attracted to the blurb lol

  8. Oh man! It’s hard to enjoy a book when you can’t connect with the characters. I have a feeling I’d feel very similarly about The Unbinding. Just your description of the characters has me annoyed. I’m sorry it wasn’t what you wanted it to be. 🙁

    Molly Southborne sounds creepy as hell and definitely a book that a wuss like me should stay away from – haha! 😀 I’m glad this one was enjoyable for you, Danya!

    I’ve wanted to try the Veronica Speedwell series, but I kept forgetting about it. Thanks to your review though, I’m reminded why it sounds right up my alley. You know I love a good slow-burn romance and I’m here for the Veronica-Stoker chemistry. It’s a shame about the mystery being so obvious though. I haaate when that happens, but since I’ve been warned though it might not bug me as much.

  9. THE MURDERS OF MOLLY SOUTHBOURNE is completely new to me and sound bloody fascinating and scary!! I’m sorry THE UNBINDING OF MARY READE didn’t work out for you. I just had a read where I just didn’t connect to the characters and it broke my heart because I wanted to love the book. And, Veronica Speedwell has been on my list to checkout, so thanks for the reminder! 🙂

  10. Boo the first book not rocking your world with queer lady pirates. It should have had it all for you! I’m with you though, if you struggle to connect, or even like, some of the main characters it was always going to be struggle. The idea was good just some of the execution let it down for you which sucks.

    The Murders of Molly Southbourne sounds messed up, I want to read it! I adore horror films but I’ve only ever read like one horror book mostly because I feel like movies can set the horror atmosphere up with music etc and I don’t know if books can achieve the same thing. But then again the horror book I did read gave me a couple of creepy ass dreams so maybe I should check some more out.

    And I seriously need to start reading the Veronica Speedwell books, especially since you seem to be enjoying them so much. I know I’ll like them if I get buying them so I have no clue what my excuse is. Deanna Raybourn in general has been on my radar forever. I will commit to her books soon (I swear).

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