Before reading The Master of Blacktower, I hadn't read anything by Barbara Michaels since The Sea King's Daughter, which I read a very, very long time...moreBefore reading The Master of Blacktower, I hadn't read anything by Barbara Michaels since The Sea King's Daughter, which I read a very, very long time ago. But this novel had sat on my shelf for about six years unread, so I thought it was high time I get around to it.
It was, on the whole, a good read. Michaels does a good job of emulating the traditional high Gothic romance of the 18th/19th centuries. The reader follows the uniquely named Damaris to northern Scotland, where she lives in a large manor house nestled in the highlands and works as the secretary for the master, Gavin Hamilton. Gavin is mysterious, arrogant, and brooding, and of course Damaris falls in love with him. And, as this is Gothic, there are of course secrets hiding in the woodwork that Damaris must uncover, for she ignores them at her peril.
I liked Damaris. I liked the cast of side characters - all well-drawn and adding to the plot in solid ways. I didn't really care for Gavin, but I generally get frustrated with cocky male characters, so this wasn't a big deal. I loved Michaels description; this was one of those rare books in which I felt like I was actually present in the spaces being described. In short, with the exception of Gavin, I loved the book.
Until I got to the ending.
I can't say anything about it without giving anything away, so I won't. But the rest of the book was strong enough to carry four stars, so I only demoted the book by one because of the way things tied up. I still think it is well worth the read, particularly for fans of the Gothic genre. (less)
I will definitely read more by Fowler. It has been quite some time since I experienced a mystery this well written - with enjoyable characters, a plot...moreI will definitely read more by Fowler. It has been quite some time since I experienced a mystery this well written - with enjoyable characters, a plot that was intricate but avoided becoming so twisty-turny that it became nonsensical, and a sense of fun in spite of serious subject matter. I care about May and Bryant, and want to see what other shenanigans they get into.(less)
As some may already be aware, I've been on a year without buying books since September of 2012. That deadline is nearly up, and I can buy books again...moreAs some may already be aware, I've been on a year without buying books since September of 2012. That deadline is nearly up, and I can buy books again come September 28th. In the meantime, several of my favorite authors have released books.
The two I was the most aggravated to miss out on were Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and this book, by Kate Atkinson. One of the caveats to this year without buying books was that I could receive gifts (I couldn't ask people to purchase books for me, but if they did, I was allowed to accept, if only for the sake of common decency). Well, my one year anniversary recently passed, and for all of you traditionalists out there, the one year anniversary is marked with a gift of paper. My wonderful husband bought me Life After Life.
Best. Anniversary. Present. Ever.
I always love Kate Atkinson, and I think this one just made it to my favorite top three novels she's ever written.
Life After Life tells the story of Ursula, born in 1910, who through some strange fluke is able to continually live her life over and over. If she makes it to point B on her timeline and then dies, she goes back, and might make it to point C or D. In a way, it is like the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray's character repeats the same day over and over. However, in Ursula's case there is less of a focus on the comical (though there certainly are comedic moments) and more of a poignant focus on the cause and effect of events.
The reader sees the first half of the 20th century through Ursula's eyes, with particular attention paid to WWII. She is subject to lovely, strange, and even traumatic happenstance depending on the timeline she occupies, and her reaction to things - or ability to somewhat remember how things went before - makes each life new and different.
Despite the nonlinear nature of the book, I was never confused. I was also never frustrated - the events in each of Ursula's lives vary widely enough to keep a reader from boredom. Plus, it is Atkinson - did I mention that she is an amazing writer? Because she is... - and I will generally speaking enjoy the lion's share of anything she writes.
So again, this was the best anniversary present I could have received, not only for the timing, but also for the content of the book. Highly recommended.
I did not read Dracula until I was in college, and was mightily surprised. Not by the level of Bram Stoker's writing, the intricacies of the different...moreI did not read Dracula until I was in college, and was mightily surprised. Not by the level of Bram Stoker's writing, the intricacies of the different viewpoints, or the overt sexuality he included in the text during a time period as repressed as his was. No...I was surprised by the fact that Dracula was...a monster.
Of course, this should have been obvious to me before that; in old Hollywood movies Dracula was always grouped in with the Wolfman, the Swamp Thing, etc. But having read the incredibly human vampires in the novels of Anne Rice, and seeing films that made vampires incredibly approachable as subjects with personalities (including, might I add, Francis Ford Coppola's version of Dracula itself), reading the novel that (sort of) kicked off the whole thing and finding the Dracula really was in fact a heartless, soulless, monster was almost astounding. But I digress. If you want to learn more about the weird history of the modern vampire, I suggest you read Sundays With Vlad by Paul Bibeau. I warn you, it was published before Twilight, so nary a glittery, angst-filled vampire is in sight.
My point with that diatribe is that I really loved the first half of Mina: The Dracula Story Continues, because I felt like the whole "heartless, soulless, monster" bit came out really well. The second half read a bit differently. I can't say much without giving away the plot, but the second half of Bergstrom's (or Kiraly's) novel has far too much human drama given what happened in the fist half. The beginning was also written in a style much more akin to Stoker's, which relieved me. I was worried it would read like a modern woman attempting to sound Victorian. While she never really digressed into sounding modern, the second half was still too outside of what Stoker sounded like (I realize that each author has their own unique voice, but if an author dares to tread the semi-dangerous territory of continuing another's work, particularly when that individual spawned a whole subculture, using a different voice is somewhat problematic). In fact, my like/dislike of the novel was pretty much split down the middle, hence the three stars.
Great writer, good concept, wicked hard to pull off.(less)
This is one of the best books about growing up that I have read, perhaps in my entire life. Precocious and humorous Calpurnia Tate is an almost twelve...moreThis is one of the best books about growing up that I have read, perhaps in my entire life. Precocious and humorous Calpurnia Tate is an almost twelve year-old with the gift of an inquisitive mind and a grandfather who will help her on the path to learning the Scientific Method. Unfortunately, the year is 1899, and Calpurnia must also deal with the social expectations of being a young lady a few years away from her debut.
What seems like a simplistic story is really a complex assessment of the age, vividly told through the introductions of new inventions (like the horseless carriage, the telephone, and Coca Cola), the exploration of different species characteristics, and the navigation of social mores. The age of the main character may be eleven, but I have read adult novels with less sophistication than Jacqueline Kelly has put into this book (so I broke even and settled for calling it appropriate for both the adolescent and YA communities).
The relationship between Calpurnia and her grandfather is so poignant and nuanced that I caught myself smiling on multiple occasions. All characters are in fact well thought out and portrayed. Calpurnia lies in birth order in the middle of six brothers, and each has a distinct personality (you will want to hug Travis and smack Lamar upside the head). I can absolutely see why this won so many distinctions, and will keep a look out for the next book Kelly publishes. (less)
This is a top quality first novel, and if it weren't my follow-up to In the name of the Wind, I may well have given it five stars. It was certainly go...moreThis is a top quality first novel, and if it weren't my follow-up to In the name of the Wind, I may well have given it five stars. It was certainly good enough for me to want to buy my own copy one day (rather than the somewhat questionably worn library copy I ended up with).
Ilena is a strong main character, and it is really easy to see that Malone did quite a bit of research on the era - not only regarding the political upheaval of the time, but also daily rituals, customs, garb, and food. She paints a vivid picture, and the novel sucked me in quickly. I recommend this to anyone looking for a decent YA historical fiction (because let's face it, a lot of the historicals out there, for teens or adults, are simply not good).(less)
This was a short, fun read, but in the end was a bit too short. Really, she could have beefed this up to 300 at least, without losing anything, and wi...moreThis was a short, fun read, but in the end was a bit too short. Really, she could have beefed this up to 300 at least, without losing anything, and without just adding vacuous filler. I would have liked to see more of the relationships between Lady Beatrice and the other women (how did the friendships work, etc.). I am nonetheless impressed that Baker managed to write a few complex and varied characters, an interesting and vivid plot, as well as finding room to throw in humor and a fairly complete back story in a mere 122 pages. This is the first book I have read by her, and I am curious to see what else she has come up with.(less)
This was the first book I won from Goodreads, and the first thing that I have won in quite some time. Naturally, I was worried that I would hate it an...moreThis was the first book I won from Goodreads, and the first thing that I have won in quite some time. Naturally, I was worried that I would hate it and be mincing my words rather carefully in order to give the best review possible. Luckily, this was not the case. I could have bought this book, and been exceedingly happy with my purchase.
Moran is not one of those historical authors who does bare bones research - enough to sound vaguely aware of reality - and then spins off on her own willy-nilly tangents. There was serious thought and preparation put into the design of the novel. Miraculously, she manages not to let the novel become bogged down with all of this research. It reads smoothly, at an even pace, without rushing too quickly. As such, even the events that the reader knows are coming (at least if the reader paid attention in history class) are filled with anticipation and where appropriate, dread.
Marie is a striking main character. What Moran could not possibly fill in with from historical documents, she carefully constructed from imagination. We are given a witty, daring, endearing, yet shrewd businesswoman with real feeling and regret. The only aspect of her personality that I sometimes took issue with (and the only reason that this review is four rather than five stars) was what seemed to me to be her continued naivete. By this time in history, Charles I of England had already been executed, so I found it hard to reconcile her shock at the idea that anyone would not want a monarchy. After a time, I was able to let this aspect go, and I really, really enjoyed the rest of the novel.
I will have to look out for other books from Moran, an author who I have not encountered before, but would like to encounter again.(less)
In an alternate universe, Napoleon won the battle of Waterloo and this leads to (among other things) Albert...more**spoiler alert** Let me get this straight.
In an alternate universe, Napoleon won the battle of Waterloo and this leads to (among other things) Albert Einstein becoming a poet, Scotland instituting the use of suicide machines, and the development of a program that churns out the teenage secretarial equivalent of the Stepford Wives?
Leaving these bizarre things aside...
In this alternate reality, England fell in the Great War, and Scotland is part of an alliance with the Hanseatic countries - Sweden, Denmark, etc. - that are diametrically opposed to "Europe," made of the other mainland countries. Scotland is also beset by a group of terrorists (much of the beginning of the novel sounds like a commentary on recent events in U.S. history). In order to avoid too many spoilers, I will leave out the truth behind the terrorists.
Enter into this stage one 16 year-old girl named Sophie(how apropos, given the "wisdom" connotations), some good old-fashioned mystery solving a la Nancy Drew, and more spiritualism than I really knew what to do with.
Despite all of the complaints, I really found myself enjoying this book. Davidson is apt at making characters believable and multi-dimensional, to say nothing of the interesting plot derived from such a bizarre turn of historical events. I heartily began to look forward to a satisfying and dramatic conclusion. Much to my chagrin, this will have to be resolved in Davidson's next novel, Invisible Things, due out next month (unless she decides to make this a trilogy).
If you can get past the irritation of the things that seemingly arbitrarily shifted due to a different outcome at Waterloo (why would Wellington's defeat have affected the practice of seances and respectability of mediums to the degree that spiritualism is taught in school?), this is a highly rewarding novel. (less)
A perfectly paced and inventive adaptation of the life of Maid Marian, in which the title character is fleshed out completely. Rather than seeing only...moreA perfectly paced and inventive adaptation of the life of Maid Marian, in which the title character is fleshed out completely. Rather than seeing only a beautiful woman, the reader is treated to a witty, impatient, compassionate, politically-minded, careful-but-at-times-impetuous woman who is loathe to leave her fate in the hands of anyone else. Paired with this is Watson's careful research of the era, beyond the normal "Richard the Lionheart/Prince John" focus seen in some other adaptations.
I'm pleased to say that despite the tried and true nature of the Robin Hood story, if I wanted to I could divulge spoilers (but I won't). In large part, this is a new story built on the skeleton of the story we have about Marian from other authors. Watson could feasibly have written a similar story with a different noblewoman in mind, but I am very glad that she tuned her plot to Marian. I am also pleased that Watson clearly put a lot of thought into keeping the "voice" of Marian throughout the narration, and managed to make other characters (equally fleshed out) sound different. I think finding good dialogue is one of the hardest things when perusing novels, and Watson manages it quite well (very little gets under my skin faster than characters of varying ages, sexes, and classes who all sound the same, or authors who think that peppering their novel with words like "thou" make them seem historically engaging).
With all of this praise, I almost forgot my one note of caution. If you are looking for just another retelling of Robin Hood, you might be disappointed. Watson tells the story of Marian in first person, and only when their lives overlap (which they do often, of course) does the reader see Robin. It was refreshing for me, but the Robin Hood purist might be irritated.(less)
Exceedingly well written: brilliant description, top-of-the-line characters with multiple dimensions, avoids cliches...and yet...I found myself bored...moreExceedingly well written: brilliant description, top-of-the-line characters with multiple dimensions, avoids cliches...and yet...I found myself bored through long stretches. I even berated myself, thinking "come on Renee, clearly Dahlquist is a substantially better author than many, snap out of this ennui," but to no avail.
I suppose even in cases dealing with the best of books it all comes down to individualism and likability. This is one of those odd cases when I can actually recommend a book I did not particularly enjoy. (less)
This was one of the most well-written historical fictions for youth I have encountered. Hendry researched the time period quite well and it shows. Cha...moreThis was one of the most well-written historical fictions for youth I have encountered. Hendry researched the time period quite well and it shows. Characters are clearly drawn, scenes are described impeccably, and I genuinely cared about the outcome of the novel. My only real beef with the book was the somewhat rushed ending, but that was still only enough for me to knock this down a single star.