The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Picture the Victorian Era but with magic and even more social taboos…

4/5 stars.
ebook, 384 pages.
Read from February 24, 2021 to March 1, 2021

I don’t even know how many reviews I’m behind on now. A lot. Working full-time while doing schooling full-time isn’t conducive to spare writing time.

This book was the fourth book I read out of the five Canada Reads 2021 contenders. While I was able to read all the books before the debates I wasn’t able to get them all reviewed in time. You can read how I ranked this year’s contenders here and check out how the debates went and its winner here.

When I saw that this book was selected as one of the finalists for the debates this year I will admit, I was less than thrilled, and wasn’t looking forward to reading it. At first glance, this book looked like a tacky YA novel that had no place within a literary debate (I will admit a bit of book snobbery here). I will happily admit that I was wrong about this book and will do my best to stop judging a book by its description. This book was an enjoyable and easy read that I think would speak to a lot of young women. The best way I can describe this book is to picture the Victorian Era but with magic and even more social taboos or to think of Jane Austen but on LSD.

Beatrice is coming to an age of marriage as she enters her first bargaining season but Beatrice has no plans for marriage, in fact, she is actively looking for the one way she can find her independence and that’s through magic. Women are not allowed to become magus’, in fact, married women who can bear children are forced to wear a collar that restricts any magic so that their children are not inhabited spirits before their born and any child born this way is executed. So it’s understandable that Beatrice is obsessed with finding a specific grimoire book that will help become a magus to escape the repressive fate of so many women in her society. Unfortunately, she is so involved in escaping marriage that she hasn’t noticed that her family is in serious financial disrepair and that if she isn’t successfully married her family will lose everything. In her search for the grimoire, she encounters the Lavan siblings, the handsome Ianthe and the beautiful Ysbeta. Ysbeta manages to con the grimoire from Beatrice right when it was within her grasp so she invokes a minor spirit of luck, named Nadi, to help her retrieve it. Spirits like Nadi are anxious to embody physical forms and experience the living world. Beatrice slowly builds a friendship with Nadi as well as the Lavan siblings. Beatrice soon learns that Ysbeta, like her, is even more desperate to escape the fate of marriage.

As Beatrice attempts to avoid the entrapment of marriage things become more complicated for her as she begins to develop feelings for Ianthe, who also happens to be the most wanted bachelor of the bargaining season. It also becomes complicated with Ysbeta with the struggle to keep their ongoings secretive and as Ysbeta becomes more frantic and inpatient to avoid her marriage fate, despite her not being ready to perform the magic required. As time runs out, the friends find themselves in more than a few predicaments that will tear the fragments of their society apart and leave Beatrice with an immensely difficult decision to make.

I expected to hate every aspect of this book but I found myself happily transported in a fun world that made for a nice getaway from daily life. I especially loved the aspects and relationship that Beatrice had with Nadi, I don’t think the book would have been the same without this relationship. Further, the book offers a feminist-leaning that’s accessible to everyone. The ending is especially satisfying in this sense.

This book was exactly what I needed to read during a stressful time. A comfortable read that transported me to a different world, unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep it in the Canada Reads debate standings. I actually predicted that this book would win Canada Reads just because it met the theme so well, One Book to Transport Us, and especially with the way the last few debates have gone, but this year was exceptional and it was nice to see a return to a respectful debate.

I would recommend this book to YA lovers, girls, or for those who would be interested in a Jane Austen setting with a fun twist, or just want something easy and enjoyable to read.

Canada Reads 2021 Contenders

The debates will take place March 8-11, 2021. I will attempt to read and review each book prior to the debates.

The Canada Reads 2021 shortlist has arrived! While none of the books from the longlist that I wanted to read made the cut I am excited about this year’s theme: One book to transport us. With this pandemic, it’s the perfect theme and I’m hoping for some great selections of writing and escapism from the following selected books:

The debates will take place March 8-11, 2021. I will attempt to read and review each book prior to the debates.

They will be hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio OneCBC TVCBC Gem and on CBC Books

The Unquiet Past by Kelley Armstrong

Tess has always been haunted, literally, by visions of ghosts that she can’t explain…When the orphanage randomly burns down, Tess is left without a home. She then decides to works up the courage to learn more about her family and past so with only a phone number and an address, Tess sets out on her own.

2/5 stars.
ebook, 174 pages.
Read from September 14, 2020 to September 16, 2020

One of the perks of paying for a Kobo membership is that I get one free ebook from them a year. The selection is often limited and not always of the quality of books that I would read but for the most part I’ve enjoyed my selections, well, except for perhaps this one.

Set in the 1960s, Tess is seventeen has been in an orphanage in Ontario for as long as she can remember. Tess has always been haunted, literally, by visions of ghosts that she can’t explain. For a long time she feared there was something wrong with her but as far as she can tell, she is perfectly normal besides her visions. When the orphanage randomly burns down, Tess is left without a home. She then decides to works up the courage to learn more about her family and past so with only a phone number and an address, Tess sets out on her own. When she finds herself at ramshackle house in rural Quebec, she learns that the home was once home variety of mental health patients that were severely abused. While trying to unravel the mystery of the home she gets some help from an unlikely (but handsome) Metis stranger named Jackson. Could this home be the key to her past? What gruesome horrors occurred at this home and is she due to suffer the same fate?

When you read the blurb it sounds like a fascinating paranormal horror mystery with a little YA romance on the side right? Well, that’s not what I felt I got. I’ll put it out there that when it come to YA books I don’t generally care for the majority of love relationships that tend to build in YA books but if the rest of the book comes together I’m often willing to look past the relationship stuff. In this book, the story starts out strong but fell apart for me when Tess met Jackson. The story falls prey to all the standard YA tropes and falls away from the unique concept of this book. After Tess meets Jackson, the plot becomes less about her paranormal abilities and the mystery of the home and rather about their obvious impending relationship. The story went from screaming souls to sappy teenage romance full of tropes and stereotypes. Further the structure of the plot felt like it fell apart after Tess meets Jackson. Not only is Tess’ best friend, that she left in Ontario completely dropped from the story, but the parts about the home and its mental patients felt rushed, and you only get fleeting details on her mother (the most interesting part, in my opinion) before the writing is focused back on Tess and Jackson’s relationship and their random side quests. The book severely lacked in depth as well as a missed opportunity to expand on an interesting concept and plot that may have been series-worthy.

This story had a lot of promise and started off with a bang that quickly died away for me. I appreciate that the relationship is why many readers liked this book but this was not my cup of tea. Further, the book wasn’t structured well enough outside of that for it to be redeeming for me. I did enjoy the French that was through the book and the descriptions of the Canadian settings but I actually forgot that this book was meant to be set in the past and have some sort of historical fiction thing going for it. The author could have expanded on this a lot further.

Sadly, this will probably be my first and last Kelley Armstrong.