Thursday, November 30, 2023

Double Mini-Reviews: The Paleontologist by Luke Dumas, Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein by Anne Eekhout

I have a little bit of catching up to do on reviews, so today I have two mini reviews to share with you all, and there will probably be more coming in the future. Let me know if you've read any of these books and what your thoughts are!

The Paleontologist by Luke Dumas
Atria Books
Publication: October 31st, 2023
Paperback. 356 pages.

About The Paleontologist:
"Curator of paleontology Dr. Simon Nealy never expected to return to his Pennsylvania hometown, let alone the Hawthorne Museum of Natural History. He was just a boy when his six-year-old sister, Morgan, was abducted from the museum under his watch, and the guilt has haunted Simon ever since. After a recent break-up and the death of the aunt who raised him, Simon feels drawn back to the place where Morgan vanished, in search of the bones they never found.

But from the moment he arrives, things aren’t what he expected. The Hawthorne is a crumbling ruin, still closed amid the ongoing pandemic, and plummeting toward financial catastrophe. Worse, Simon begins seeing and hearing things he can’t explain. Strange animal sounds. Bloody footprints that no living creature could have left. A prehistoric killer looming in the shadows of the museum. Terrified he’s losing his grasp on reality, Simon turns to the handwritten research diaries of his predecessor and uncovers a blood-soaked mystery 150 million years in the making that could be the answer to everything.

Are these the ravings of a madman? Or is there something supernatural at play? And what does this have to do with Morgan’s disappearance?

The Paleontologist centers around a haunted museum and a man on the hunt to find out just why and how his sister disappeared when they were just kids. There are some supernatural and ghostly elements, some mystery, and plenty of unpredictability to keep readers riveted. 

What I liked: I love dinosaurs, ghost stories, and museums, so this was sort of the perfect mix of all of those. Much like in Dumas' A History of Fear, the atmosphere in The Paleontologist was absolutely on target and captured the vibe of a creepy mildly abandoned (currently empty due to COVID) museum full of dinosaur bones and dark basements. I definitely felt this book's setting and was immediately transported to it. I also think Dumas managed to craft a mystery around Simon's sister's disappearance that really quite gripping and complex, and provided a variety of twists that kept me hooked. I also appreciated that the author definitely seemed to do his dinosaur research for this book and I enjoyed all the different times when we got some history lessons about various dinosaur related things.

What I didn't like: The haunting and ghost elements felt a bit underdeveloped and under-executed. I feel like there was a lot of build up about the museum being haunted and we got some pretty intense glimpses into things that happens with some, uh, bones of the dinosaurs... and then it feels like that all just was ignored? There was some mention of it at the end with a general "let's wrap this up" vibe, but it felt very underwhelming in general to me. This book didn't really end up being quite what I expected it to be based on the premise provided and the push towards making this sound like scary haunted museum/dinosaur ghost story, but it was a bit more of a mystery/thriller about a man trying to find out what happened to his sister and all the different emotions and struggles that come from that. This wasn't bad, and Dumas wrote this really well, but it just wasn't quite what I expected. 

Overall, I've given The Paleontologist 3.75 stars.

Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein by Anne Eekhout
Publication Date: October 3rd, 2023
Hardcover. 320 pages.

About Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein:
"Switzerland, 1816. A volcanic eruption in Indonesia envelopes the whole of Europe in ash and cloud. Amid this “year without a summer,” eighteen-year-old Mary Shelley and her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley arrive at Lake Geneva to visit Lord Byron and his companion John Polidori. Anguished by the recent loss of her child, Mary spends her days in strife. But come nightfall, the friends while away rainy wine-soaked evenings gathered around the fireplace, exchanging stories. One famous evening, Byron issues a challenge to write the best ghost story. Contemplating what to write, Mary recalls another summer, when she was fourteen…

Scotland, 1812. A guest of the Baxter family, Mary arrives in Dundee, befriending young Isabella Baxter. The girls soon spend hours together wandering through fields and forests, concocting tales about mythical Scottish creatures, ghosts and monsters roaming the lowlands. As their bond deepens, Mary and Isabella’s feelings for each other intensify. But someone has been watching them—the charismatic and vaguely sinister Mr. Booth, Isabella's older brother-in-law, who may not be as benevolent as he purports to be…"

Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein reimagines the life of Mary Shelley up until her creation of the well-loved Gothic classic, Frankenstein. This is a character-driven and slower paced story that is full of complex relationships and beautiful writing. 

What I liked: I liked getting to meet this reimagined version of Mary Shelley and experience some of what her life may have been like. I also enjoyed meeting a variety of the different figures (literary and otherwise) in Mary's life and seeing their different interactions, as there was a lot of complexity to many of the relationships in this book and I think the author conveyed that aspect extraordinarily well. Additionally, this is a translated work so I can't speak to the original prose itself, but the translation is really beautiful. It appears to me as though the translator managed to capture the style and mood of the author extremely well, and I thought it was written really beautifully. This was one of those novels that, even if the plot wasn't always really strong, the writing was lovely enough that I found myself captivated anyway. 

What I didn't like: Not all that much really seems to happen in this book, and I did find some of it the slightest bit hard to follow at times. Much of the story does seem to drag on, so I found that you really had to be either invested in the characters or enjoy the prose itself to really feel compelled to keep reading. I also didn't find many of the characters overly engaging, but fortunately their interactions with one another were a bit more compelling than the characters themselves, if that makes sense.

Overall, I've given Mary and the Birth of Frankenstein 3.5 stars. 

1 comment:

  1. I had mixed feelings about The Paleontologist too, it was really different than I was expecting!