Review of “The Dark Days Pact” by Alison Goodman

Note: Spoilers for Book One in this Series.

This is the second book in the Dark Days Club series, and picks up soon after the end of the first book. It is the summer of 1812, and Lady Helen Wrexhall is in Brighton, England for the season, having been evicted from her home with her aunt and uncle after a scandalous episode the night of her “coming out” ball. She is staying with Lady Margaret Ridgewell and her brother Michael Hammond, who are “helpers” in the Dark Days Club. This is a secret group that fights demons disguised in human form who prey on human energy. Helen herself is a “Reclaimer,” one of a small group having special supernatural powers to fight these “Deceivers” as the evil spirits are called.

In Brighton, Lord Carlston, the most powerful of the Reclaimers, visits frequently to give Helen training, which includes teaching her to pass as a man, one “Charles Amberley, young buck about town.” Helen’s maid, Darby, is also in training with Carlston’s Terrene, learning to be a Terrene herself.

A “Terrene” is a sort of dedicated helper. Each Reclaimer bonds with the Terrene by blood, conferring some of the powers of the Reclaimer onto the Terrene. When a Reclaimer takes away the energy from Deceivers, it will stay within the Reclaimer’s body. The Terrene’s job is to get the Reclaimer in contact with bare earth in less than twenty seconds to discharge it, or it will render the Reclaimer insane.

But all of their training is complicated by unforeseen events. Lord Carlston seems to be suffering from poisoning coming from the Deceivers’ energy that he has absorbed. The Duke of Selburn has followed Helen to Brighton to watch over her and try to win her back. And Ignatius Pike from the Home Office and Senior Officer of the Dark Days Club has come to Brighton as well. He assigned Carlston to go on a trip to London. After Carlston was gone, Pike pressured Helen and Hammond to take on a secret mission. They are tasked first with spying on Carlston to ascertain his loyalty to the crown. In addition, they are to take possession of a journal reputed to be full of information about both Reclaimers and Deceivers. Worst of all, they are not only sworn to keep this from Carlston, whom Pike clearly despises, but threatened with ruination if they don’t obey.

The journal is in the possession of Bartholomew Lowry, an evil and loathsome man who was the Terrene of Mr. Benchley, a Reclaimer killed in the first book. Lowry still has his Terrene powers, and thus still has supernatural strength, giving him an edge in negotiations. Pike tells Helen and Hammond they must meet with Lowry and offer him whatever it takes to get the journal. Since Lowry does not want to lose his special powers, he insists, as a price for the journal, that Helen take him on as her Terrene. When the Reclaimers find out, from a cooperative Deceiver, that the journal holds the key to curing Carlston, Helen feels she has no choice but to obey Lowry in order to save Carlston, who is deteriorating fast.

Everyone is after the journal: not only is it essential for Carlston’s cure, but apparently it has secrets that could undo everyone – Reclaimer and Deceiver alike. They all chase after it, with each party willing to kill the others to ensure possession. As all the parties come together in a desperate bid for the journal, the pace of the story becomes absolutely frenetic with tension and danger. I give the author a great deal of credit for her plot choreography involving so many people in the denouement. All of them are bent on attacking someone and/or protecting someone. The ending was excellently executed, and involved not one surprising cliff-hanger, but three.

Evaluation: Just as I felt after reading the first book, I can’t wait for the next installment. It’s fun, entertaining, full of romance and intrigue, and with just enough history to add substance to the story.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2017


Aurealis Award (Best Young Adult Novel, 2016)

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Review of “The Dark Days Club” by Alison Goodman

What could be more fun than a superpowers novel set in the Regency Era? That was a time when reality seemed much sillier and weirder even than the idea of select members of a population having superhuman abilities. The intersection of the two plot lines is very entertaining. (The author characterizes the book as a combination of historical fiction and paranormal adventure.)


The story takes place in 1812 in London, a year after George, Prince of Wales (known by the public as “Prinny”) began his nine-year tenure as Regent of the British Monarchy. [A prince regent is a prince who rules a monarchy in the place of a monarch who is still the titular king but has been deemed unfit for any reason, such as age, or physical or mental incapacity. In this case, the Prince of Wales was standing in for his father George III, thought to be mad. On the death of his father in 1820, the Prince Regent became George IV.] The Georgian era is a period in British history from 1714 to 1830, named eponymously after kings George I, George II, George III and George IV. The sub-period that is the Regency era is defined by the regency of the future George IV.

The Prince Regent

The Prince Regent

During this period, society was greatly stratified – the monied and shockingly idle upper class was preoccupied by birth, wealth, and parties, and was largely horrified by, and contemptuous of, the very large mass of the poor. Many of the desperate people in this latter group turned to begging, theft, or in the case of women, prostitution. The Church abjured them, excoriated their blatant practice of “immoral” behaviors (which the wealthy engaged in also, but in private so it didn’t count) and also preached that patriarchy and the servitude of women to men was God-given.

This was also the time that the “Bow Street Runners” acted as a police force in London, but there weren’t many of them. In fact, not nearly enough to deal with the existence of, according to this novel, a demonic horde called Deceivers, who were hidden in plain sight across the cities, towns, and villages of the world.

As one of the characters explains, “Only a small group of people stood in the way of this multitude and its insidious predation upon humankind” – i.e., The Dark Days Club. Henry Fielding, who in real life started the Runners, also, in this story, created a clandestine “brother organization” called the Dark Days Club to deal with the evil in the city not caused by human agency. Fortunately, there are some people born with special skills who can combat them and they are called Reclaimers. There are only eight such people in England, so they are assisted by a variety of helpers, who also swear fealty to the Dark Days Club. The Club is under the aegis of the Home Office, but unlike the Runners, not on the ledger; they do not officially exist.

As this story begins, we meet Lady Helen Wrexhall, who has just turned 18 and thus is coming into her Reclaimer powers. Helen has been alarmed at the recent changes in her – she feels a deep energy, an uncanny ability to intuit character by reading facial expressions, and more acute senses of hearing and smell. Her reflexes are faster and she can prognosticate. What was she?

She certainly can’t ask her aunt and uncle, who raised her and her older brother Andrew after their parents died in an accident at sea ten years before. Helen’s mother Catherine was rumored to be a traitor to the Empire in some way. Her aunt and uncle refuse to discuss their parents with them. Helen’s uncle, mentally abusive and viciously misogynistic, seems particularly to loathe even the memory of Catherine’s renegade mother. He is constantly exhorting Helen that “obedience is the cornerstone of femininity.” Any deviation from that path elicits verbal tirades and even physical violence from him, lest she turn out “like her mother.”

Helen doesn’t know anything about either the Reclaimers or the Dark Days Club; she is informed surreptitiously by William Standfield, the 26-year-old Earl of Carlston, who is handsome, mysterious, and the most powerful Reclaimer in the country. It seems Carlson has the answers to all of her questions, but it’s very hard to arrange to get out of the clutches of her aunt and uncle in order to meet up with him. Yet she feels she must know why she is different. It also happens that he is a quintessential romance novel “bad boy” – strong, attractive, magnetic, and yet flawed; moody, dark, masterful, with a mysterious past that gives him much pain. Who can resist?

Carlston has a reputation of being a possible murderer – his wife Elise went missing with a pool of blood in her wake. A body was never found, so Carlston was never charged, but the “ton” as the upper class was called then, is convinced he killed her. Thus he is regarded as scandalous and unwelcome in spite of his Earldom. Both Helen’s brother Andrew and Andrew’s best friend the Duke of Selburn loathe Carlston, apparently because Selburn was at one time in love with Elise but lost her to Carlston, and moreover she then met a grisly fate. Meeting up with Carlston seems hopeless, but thanks to the machinations of some well-placed Dark Days Club “helpers,” Helen and Carlston manage to rendezvous.

Cinematic depiction of a Regency Era ball – good spot for a rendezvous

Carlston explains to Helen about the Deceivers and their pervasiveness. They are evil spirits – some say from Hell, and others say they originated from our own hatreds and base natures. There are four types:

Pavors: feeds on physical and mental suffering and our most primal desire to stay alive
Cruors: feed on bloodlust and dominance
Luxures: seek out the climactic energy of sex
Hedons: seek to sustain themselves from the energy of art and creativity

They colonize human bodies and live at all levels of society, wherever their particular taste will be best satisfied. Worse yet, they look no different from “regular” people (without a special lens to detect them) so anyone could be a Deceiver. With a special device, however, one can see that they have different auras, and also they have feeder tentacles that grow from capturing energy from humans.

It is the duty of the Dark Days Club to keep them in check. As to why they are called Reclaimers, Carlston explains: “There is another talent that is, perhaps, harder to believe…. We are able to reach inside a person’s soul and remove darkness.”

Furthermore, the Dark Days Club and the Home Office have a pact with Deceivers:

“We do not want the world to know that they exist – imagine the panic – and they do not want to be discovered. There are too many of them for us to kill outright, and we could not do so without serious repercussions: a number of them are in very high positions. So if they stay hidden and minimize their supernatural activities, we leave them in peace. But if any of them act in ways that could bring their kind to the notice of the public, then we are sent in to stop them.”

It is, as Carlston explains, “a toleration of lesser evil to avoid an even greater evil.”

Needless to say, Helen feels like her world has been turned upside down:

“She stepped back. No, she was not built for battle. Nor was she some harbinger of evil. She was just a girl.”

Carlston tells Helen further that not only are their special abilities unusual, but Helen is even a more rare case – she actually inherited her talents directly from her mother. Inheritance is not the usual way a Reclaimer comes to have powers. It may signal enhanced powers, or may even be a harbinger, according to lore, of the advent of “The Grand Deceiver,” someone posing an even more horrific danger to mankind.

London slums in Georgian times – Ripe pickings for Deceivers

When Helen’s aunt and uncle took her in, they let Helen keep two little miniature portraits – one each of her mother and father, – as long as she didn’t display them. This turned out to be fortunate, because the miniature of her mother, Helen found out thanks to Carlston, has alchemical properties important to Reclaimers. It can let her identify Deceivers just by holding it in her hand. It may have other powers as well; Carlston admonishes Helen not to let it out of her sight.

Helen also learns that each Reclaimer must appoint a “Terrene” – a sort of dedicated helper. The Reclaimer bonds with the Terrene by blood, conferring some of the powers of the Reclaimer onto the Terrene. When a Reclaimer takes the energy from Deceivers having whips, it will stay within the Reclaimer’s body. The Terrene’s job is to get the Reclaimer in contact with bare earth in less than twenty seconds to discharge it, or it will render the Reclaimer insane.

Meanwhile, the Duke of Selburn is interested in Helen and wants to court her. Helen finds him amenable, but he is nothing like Carlston, whom she thinks of as commanding, enigmatic, disturbing, and of course, charismatically attractive. Can she choose a life with Selburn now that she knows what she is? Can she resist the appeal of Mr. Darcy Carlston? Is he in fact a dangerous murderer? And will she accept the life she seems to be fated to live, one of danger, disguise, and huge responsibility?

Evaluation: I loved this book, and can’t wait for the next in the series to see what happens!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2016


Aurealis Award Finalist (Young Adult Novel, 2015)
Aurealis Award Finalist (Fantasy Novel, 2015)
Bank Street CBC Best Children’s Book of the Year 2017

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Women’s History Month Kid Lit Review of “Dorothea’s Eyes” by Barb Rosenstock

Dorothea Lange was born in 1895 in Hoboken, New Jersey. She became an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and for her pictures of the Japanese internment by the FDR Administration during WWII. Lange’s photographs, still famous today, greatly influenced the development of documentary photography.

Photographer Dorothea Lange pictured in Texas, circa 1934.

This book for kids tells the story of Dorothea Lange’s childhood, and what led to her career later in life. Dorothea grew up alone with her mother after Dorothea’s father left them when Dorothea was twelve. Dorothea already had experienced heartbreak in her life; she contracted polio when she was seven, and thereafter walked with a limp on her withered right leg. Kids taunted her, so she pretended to be invisible. She was lonely though, and passed the time by observing the details of everything that was around her.

By the time Dorothea was 18, she knew she wanted to be a photographer, and studied under photographers by doing whatever jobs they would give her. Eventually she was able to start her own portrait studio in San Francisco. She began to win wide acclaim for her skill at photography, and soon, all the richest families in California wanted portraits by her.

But Dorothea felt she should do more; she wanted to use her eyes and her heart. By this time the Great Depression had started, and what Dorothea saw all around her were people who were sad and lost. She well understood how they felt: invisible and ashamed. She took photo after photo, going out on the road to document what the effects of the Depression.

Depression Era family by Dorothea Lange

As the author reports:

“For five years, in twenty-two states, Dorothea drags through fields, climbs on cars, and crouches in the dirt to photograph people the world can’t see. The jobless. The hungry. The homeless.”

Because of Dorothea, and the style she developed, called “documentary photography” – the country saw what she saw, and her photographs helped convince the government to provide people with work, food, and safe, clean homes.

“Dorothea’s eyes,” the author concludes, “help us see with our hearts.”

Japanese children prior to their internment in camps during WWII, photographed by Lange

In an Afterword, the author provides more background on this important artist, observing that her image “Migrant Mother” is “one of the most famous, most reproduced photographs in history.” There is also a selected bibliography, a detailed timeline, and information on where to see Lange’s pictures online.

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

Although most of the book is illustrated in a striking mixed-media way by Gérard DuBois, to my delight the author also includes some reproductions of some of Lange’s most famous photographs.

Published by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights, 2016

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Review of “Tess of the Road” by Rachel Hartman

Tess of the Road is the first installment of a new duology set in the world of Seraphina, the doughty half-dragon, half-human heroine of Hartman’s earlier duology.

Tess Dombegh and her fraternal twin Jeanne are step-sisters of Seraphina. They have always lived up to (or down to) the descriptions given to the three of them: Seraphina: the smart one; Jeanne: the pretty one; and Tess: “The One Who’s Always Been Trouble.”

We first learn about Tess as a small girl and what life is like with her parents. Her father had been disgraced after the exposure of his earlier liaison – marriage to a dragon in human form was illegal. Her mother remains bitter over it and has retreated into religious rigidity to cope.

Her vinegary mother tells the twins:

“Girls, remember: this mortal, material world will let you down. Husbands, love, life – everything and everyone will disappoint you eventually. Only one thing never fails. Do you know what that is? Heaven.”

She gives constant lectures on the evils of lust and desire, and on what the roles of women should be – i.e., very restricted. She harps on the sins of the flesh, and on Tess’s perceived sins in particular, all the more blatant since apparently Tess bore a child out of wedlock. (We only learn the details gradually as the story progresses.). Tess has grown up believing she was “singularly and spectacularly flawed, subject to sins a normal girl should never have been prone to.”

When Tess is 16, and Jeanne receives a marriage offer, she is faced with only two options: to live with Jeanne as nursemaid for her children at the home of Jeanne’s new husband and his horrific family, or to enter a convent. Tess doesn’t look forward to either. She longs to have adventures like her childhood hero, the fictional pirate Dozerius.

Tess takes increasingly to drinking, but after one disastrous episode that led to a run-in with Jeanne’s new family, she decided to take off, disguised as a male. At first she is accompanied only by the inner censorious voice of her mother, but eventually she is reunited with her childhood friend Pathka. Pathka is a quigutl, a small species related to dragons.

Pathka asks Tess to help her find Anathuthia, the World Serpent, “the one beneath our continent, the one who will restore us to ourselves.” It was important to Pathka, her oldest friend, that Tess accept, and so she did.

The two have many adventures, indeed, like Dozerius, although Tess gets a new outlook on her old hero as they travel along their road. Tess wants to bite him, which is a concept among quigutl that enables someone who is angry and hurt to find forgiveness. But there is another she wants to bite too: “‘What do you do, Pathka,’” Tess half whispered, ‘if the person you most desperately need to bite is yourself?’” Pathka explains to Tess how it is done, and it’s really not so far from a human concept.

Tess also learns some life lessons from a nun she meets on the road, Mother Philomela. The nun tells her that both guilt and love can carry a person a long way, but your own two feet can take you farther than either of them:

“We’re all on this road, metaphorically. . . .”

She also tells Tess that the religious strictures under which she was raised are just wrong. “The body is innocent,” she insists. And children are not born evil. But unfortunately, as she explains:

“. . . goodness withers when it is continuously ground underfoot. We fulfill our parents’ direst prophecies, then curl around our own pain until we can’t see beyond ourselves. You want to walk on? Walk out of that shadow. Walk, girl. . . . Walk on, yes, but don’t walk past people who need you. Uncurl yourself, so you can see them and respond.”

In other words, the past is never really past, unless you can learn to bite it and move on.

Tess has a decision to make, about how she can finally be the hero of her own story, and whether guilt or love will hold her back.

Evaluation: This captivating story offers both a metaphorical and literal portrayal of the road to healing. And I loved meeting another worthy young female heroine who will make a great role model for girls. I can’t wait for the next book!

Rating: 4/5

Published in the U.S. by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, 2018

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March 14 – Pi Day

Pi Day is an annual celebration commemorating the mathematical constant π (the Greek letter pi), the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi Day is celebrated around the world – usually with edible pie – on March 14th since Pi = 3.1415926535…


As Smithsonian Magazine observes:

“A fascination and interest in circles predates recorded history. . . . Because of their symmetry, circles were seen as representations of the ‘divine’ and ‘natural balance’ in ancient Greece. Later on, the shape would become a vital foundation for the wheel and other simple machines.”

Circles also became the basis for a wide range of important historical structures, including temples, amphitheaters, and government buildings.

Chausath Yogini Temple, an 11th-century temple located in Morena district in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Pi is an infinite number (i.e., having no limits or boundaries in time or space or extent or magnitude) but is often rounded to 3.14 or 3.142. As the ListVerse website points out:

“The value of pi has puzzled and interested humans since at least 1900 BC, when ancient Babylonians calculated it to be 3.125, whereas ancient Egyptians estimated it to be 3.16. Archimedes of Syracuse is believed to be the first person to accurately calculate the value of pi. He calculated it to be a number between 3.1408 and 3.14285.

In 1874, William Shanks calculated pi to 707 digits, although he was only correct until the 527th digit. In 1945, D.F. Ferguson calculated it to 620 digits, and by 1947, he had calculated it to 710 digits. In 1999, Takahashi Kanada calculated pi to 206,158,430,000 digits, and in 2011, Shigeru Kondo calculated it to ten trillion digits.”

How to celebrate? By baking a pie of course! Theoretically, it should be in the usual “pie” shape of a circle, but creative people might want to try this recipe (the outcome for which is shown below) for a π-shaped pie shown at the “Instructables” website. Detailed instructions with visual aids for making the pie into this shape are also included. (Beware: you may get distracted at this website; it has lots of unique and delicious-looking recipes. Put the word recipe in the search box.)

Happy 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939… Day!


wkendcookingThis post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. where bloggers share food-related posts. Stop by her blog and see what’s cooking this week!

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