Megge of Bury Down by Rebecca Kightlinger
I read it as an: ARC
Length: 252 pp
Publisher: Zumaya Arcane
In Kightlinger’s debut novel, Megge is a woman of Bury Down, a small village in the medieval Cornish countryside. To an outside observer, her life may seem ordinary enough. She lives with her mother, aunt, cousin, and great aunts, working as healers and tending their sheep. However, she is actually the latest in a long line of hedgewitches. When it is Megge’s turn to learn the secrets of her mother’s magical book on her sixth birthday, it calls her a murderer. Terrified, Megge refuses to have anything to do with her family’s traditions. Instead, she learns the trades of weaver and herder. However, when a horrific event takes place, Megge is forced to follow tradition and fight to keep the book out of the hands of wicked people.
There are many things to enjoy in this novel. The main characters all have depth and complexity, though a bit more character development is warranted since the novel covered many years. The descriptions of medieval life were adequate, but better-fleshed-out detail would have added to the atmosphere. The recurring theme “What people can’t see, they fear; what they fear, they hurt” was woven skillfully throughout the narrative. The plot, unfortunately, was quite slow-moving. While this is not a problem in itself, it is when nothing really advances the storyline. A lot of back story doled out piecemeal made for a somewhat choppy read.
Another quibble I had was the age range of the book. Megge is six when we meet her, and 13 by the end. Based on the characters’ ages, I’d say this is suitable for middle grade readers but given the violent content and slow pacing, the book is for adults (and is marketed as such). However, many adult readers may struggle to identify with such a young protagonist. The novel was enjoyable enough, but ultimately, I wanted to like it more than I actually did.
The Death Beat by Fiona Veitch Smith
I read it as an: ARC
Length: 336 pp
Publisher: Lion Fiction
In this third installment of the Poppy Denby Investigates series, our titular heroine, burgeoning reporter Poppy Denby begins the novel enraged with her editor, Rollo Rolandson. He made a bet – and lost – that an editor from the NYT could increase the ad revenues of Rollo’s London-based The Daily Globe newspaper within three months. If he does, the new editor can buy 60% of the shares of the paper, effectively forcing Rollo out of the position of managing editor. During the three months the interim editor is trying to improve The Globe (and surely none of Rollo’s staff would sabotage his efforts…), Rollo leaves London as part of the terms of his lost bet; he takes Poppy along with him because since she’s been at the paper, ad revenues have gone way up and he doesn’t want her making money for the temporary editor. While they are in New York, they stumble upon a puzzle they have to solve involving human trafficking, forced prostitution, and immigration. Somehow linked is the murder of a New York socialite in his penthouse. Poppy and Rollo can’t let it go until they figure it out and get the inside scoop ahead of their competition in the cutthroat game of investigative reporting.
As with the previous two novels in the series, this was taut and entertaining. I liked Poppy’s development from the earlier books as well. She’s always been somewhat torn between the way she was raised as the daughter of a Methodist minister and her own desires as a career-minded young woman in the 1920s. Her inner conflict felt more pronounced to me in this book. Poppy had enlightened standards for how women should be treated that deviated quite a bit from her very traditional, conservative upbringing, which at times causes her stress. It fit in well with the blossoming awareness people were gaining about the conditions of immigrants or people forced to work in sweatshops or forced into prostitution. While it was fun to see 1920s New York, I confess I missed London. In any case, it was an exciting, well written story and a good addition to the series. Recommended.