The Fall 2016 Dueling Librarians review is live! Read both reviews here. Mine can be found below:
Twain's End opens with Mark Twain's efficient assistaThe Fall 2016 Dueling Librarians review is live! Read both reviews here. Mine can be found below:
Twain's End opens with Mark Twain's efficient assistant, Isabel Lyon, readying the house for a visit from Helen Keller. The reader gets the impression that more is going between Twain, his daughter, and his assistant than meets the eye.The reader is then transported back in time to the moment Isabel met Twain, and the subsequent years that led up to the opening scene. Isabel, from a formerly wealthy family, is forced to take up work as the secretary for the Clemens family. In short order, she becomes obsessed with Clemens, a concept I found at best, odd, and at worst, strangely terrifying. After all, in this incarnation Twain is married to a woman who is almost never seen, won't allow his daughters to find love, is decades older than the main character, and somewhat resembles Colonel Sanders (that last bit is my own interpretation - I've always thought Twain looked like the KFC guy). Even further, assuming this book is researched accurately, Twain was a tyrannical narcissist who spoke down to everyone, and I found it hard to believe that any woman would pine for him in her mid-twenties, much less still carry a torch for him in her mid-forties.
I don't need romance to be sunshine and roses (in fact, as I rather dislike most romance novels, I prefer ones that aren't all sunshine and roses), but the pairing of Isabel and Twain/Clemens was simply not believable for me (at least, not the way it is written here). Twain/Clemens is such a tool in this novel. It made it wholly unbelievable that Isabel - a highly intelligent, independently minded woman who showed no interest in marrying even before meeting Twain - would have been so taken in. By the time things wound around to the Helen Keller scene again, I thoroughly hated Twain/Clemens, even though the author doggedly tried to draw a line between the two of them, as though Twain was the Mr. Hyde to Clemens' Dr. Jekyll (though if this was a matter of split personalities, both personalities were giant douche canoes).
From a literary perspective, I was mostly fine with the prose, though I did find a few things irritating. While the entire book is told in third person, periodically the focus would shift arbitrarily from Isabel to her mother to Clara, Twain's daughter, and back again in a flurry of prose. Additionally, from time to time the book suffered from trite dialogue - particularly during the scenes that built up the relationship between Clemens and Isabel (I can't really fault Cullen for this, good romance is painfully hard to construct through dialogue). And at times the pacing featured exceedingly slow exposition (I truly, truly enjoy description that is done well, but the beginning of the book in particular had an overabundance - almost a laundry list of items with accompanying descriptions). However overall, I would say that technically, the book is written quite well.
In the end, it was the characters that got to me the most. Clemens/Twain was obviously a huge problem for me, but the others were not much better. Clara was an undoubted bitch who seemed to hold on to every single slight that had ever happened to her as proof of persecution and license to treat others like cannon fodder or tools for her own personal use. Isabel as a main character was neither relatable nor particularly likable. In fact, the only characters I truly enjoyed reading about were Ralph Ashcroft and Mrs. Lyon, Isabel's mother, who, while only concerned with her daughter making a good marriage, seemed to be earnest in her thoughts and feelings, and not a total heel. When I was nearly finished with the novel, I came across an article in Nautilus magazine titled How to Tell if You're a Jerk. Comparing the premise of that article to this book, I would say at least 90 percent of the characters were jerks. I wonder how faithful Cullen was to their true personalities in real life, and how much was artistic license (perhaps the novel simply suffers from Cullen being too faithful to the personalities of a bunch of jerkfaces). In the end, even if the book is mostly well written, and likely accurately researched, heavens, the faults of nearly all of the characters made for a very long read....more
A lot of shelves for this one...because there are a lot of different types of stories here. Some really worked with the "love and death" star-crossedA lot of shelves for this one...because there are a lot of different types of stories here. Some really worked with the "love and death" star-crossed theme, and some were sort of stretches. Most of the collection was very good, which is hard to achieve in a collection of short stories created by several authors.
My personal favorites, in no particular order:
Rooftops by Carrie Vaughn (super hero fun) The Thing About Cassandra by Neil Gaiman (a given almost - I can't name a thing he's written that I don't like) Blue Boots by Robin Hobb (a good little fairy tale type of story) Under/Above the Water by Tanith Lee (which makes me want to seek out her novels) After the Blood by Marjorie M. Liu (crazy, disturbing, and very original)
Check it out. With this collection you are bound to find at least one story that you really enjoy, regardless of your personal tastes....more
At first, I expected A Discovery of Witches to read like some weird marriage between Twilight and Harry Potter for adults. In the end, it was actuallyAt first, I expected A Discovery of Witches to read like some weird marriage between Twilight and Harry Potter for adults. In the end, it was actually a lot like the TV series "Charmed." There are three different supernatural races that are born with their preternatural senses and powers - Witches, Daemons, and Vampires. According to social norms the three are not to canoodle with each other. Enter a witch who has turned her back on her natural abilities and a ridiculously old vampire, and watch the mayhem ensue. For those of you familiar with "Charmed," the love story read a bit like the forbidden romance between Piper and Leo (if Leo had been a bloodsucking, authoritarian vampire, and Piper had been more less witty and had golden hair).
In spite of the similarities where the romance was concerned, Harkness's novel is not bad. Sure, Matthew (the "heartthrob" of the novel) was arrogant, irritating, and I just did not understand what the main character saw in him, but I am willing to bet that in the post-Anne Rice world of fictional vampires, most authors are going to write the males like that. Outside of the romance, this book has a lot to recommend it to the casual reader. Harkness has begun to explore scientific reasons for the different supernatural races, her side characters are for the most part strong and ave purpose, and for reasons I cannot divulge here I am really looking forward to the next novel in this trilogy. ...more
Honestly don't know if I'll make it through this one...I'm listening to it on audio during my commute to work, and the main character is really gratinHonestly don't know if I'll make it through this one...I'm listening to it on audio during my commute to work, and the main character is really grating on my nerves. I've never really been into the plot where two characters hate each other and then fall in love...and Sir Bishop is a real ass, so I don't see why any woman would want to be with him, regardless of how perfect his "parts" are. But then, I also don't normally pick up romance novels, so maybe I'm just not used to the genre. Plus side? At least the woman reading this has an interesting voice. There's nothing worse than an ill-read audiobook...
...I confess, after a while I had to skip over the sex scenes. I just couldn't get into them, and the fact that the lead female was so enamoured of the lead male after his treatment of her annoyed me to no end, so when they started having sex my brain clouded over and went "ew." There seemed no reason for these two (or the other two) to get together other than sheer animal lust...which I guess is ok if you're a hormonal teenager in the world of today,but that doesn't apply here. Kitchy end. But the narrator has a very engaging voice, so one star....more
**spoiler alert** This is a re-read for me. When I was in my early teens, I read Shadows on the Aegean, not realizing that it was the second in a seri**spoiler alert** This is a re-read for me. When I was in my early teens, I read Shadows on the Aegean, not realizing that it was the second in a series until I was halfway through the book and came to the conclusion that the things that were confusing me must have been explained elsewhere. And so I went back to read Reflections in the Nile, and my early teen self was embarrassed by the number of sex scenes (the library didn't shelve these in romance, so it was unexpected). Fast forward to today, and I had a jonesing to re-read Shadows on the Aegean (don't ask me why the risque scenes in that book didn't bother me), but I thought I'd do it in order.
Enough back story, but suffice it to say I still did not enjoy Reflections in the Nile, if for entirely different reasons this time around.
The first half of the novel runs quite smoothly. There is a good backstory. Chloe, a former member of the military, was raised in various countries by her traveling family. She visits her sister in Egypt for her 24th birthday, and ends up being thrust back in time to the days of Moses, inhabiting the body of RaEmhetep, a priestess for the goddess HatHor. Romance and Biblical plagues ensue, during which time she learns that her love interest, Cheftu, is actually also a transplant from the future (in his case, from 19th century France). The character development is well done, the novel well-paced, and I remained interested....until about halfway through the novel, when things sort of fell apart for me.
It started with this quote:
It was comforting that the man she loved was not of a race and mentality completely foreign to her. He was European...
This after the author spent a great deal of time outlining how well-traveled the main character is. She knows x number of languages, traveled all over the Middle East (even during her formative years as a child), has been exposed for most of her life to different cultures and....is relieved to find out her love interest is actually Caucasian? I had to stop and read the line twice to make sure I had that right. Aside from the vaguely (or not so vaguely?) racist undertones implied here, it makes no sense, given Chloe's background, that she would be "comforted" by the fact that her love is not "completely foreign to her."
Also, in true ridiculousness, we learn that Chloe was a virgin before being transplanted back in time. By itself, this isn't so awful...she's only 24, and that is completely plausible. However, after being transplanted back in time, she and Cheftu have a slow-building relationship (he initially hates her because he hates RaEmhetep), and then they quickly get married for very convoluted reasons. The decision to get married is literally made within a page, and executed within two. So this falls squarely in the "the characters have to be married before they have sex" category. RaEmhetep's body even starts taking on Chloe's physical characteristics, including her restored hymen (*facepalm*). I don't know...if no sex before marriage is a thing for you, perhaps just write Christian romance novels with no sex at all?
Other things were annoying as well. Cheftu had to point out to Chloe that what they were experiencing was the Biblical plagues, even after 5 of them had already taken place. Why would he need to explain this to someone as well-traveled as Chloe, even if she is not that religious?? You'd think the Nile turning to blood might tip her off...but no, she has no bloody clue until Cheftu points it out to her.
Additionally, the timing and plot that had been well-paced in the first part of the novel became erratic and nonsensical in the second half. As an example of this:
- Cheftu steals Chloe away from her intended spouse, Thutmosis, next in line to be Pharaoh. A side character tells the pair that regardless of Cheftu's "favored status," Thutmosis is not pleased, and "all the court cowers" at his anger. Cheftu responds that he doubts his former status is "valid any longer." - Literally three pages later, Cheftu decides that he has to go to Thutmosis to warn him about further Biblical plagues. His reasoning regarding this (three pages later!) is: "Thut will not kill me. I am one of the favorites of the Great House." What? Because just three pages ago you said that your favored status was no longer valid.
What the what?
Argh. Never mind that - as is helpfully pointed out by Chloe - why is Cheftu even approaching Thutmosis about the plagues anyway? Whether you are religious or not - assuming that at least some of the plagues are based on historical fact - wouldn't that be messing with history in ways that would have unforeseen consequences? Why would that be OK to any time traveler?
At any rate, I'm still going to have to re-read Shadows on the Aegean because I went and bought it already (along with one of the next books in the series). I can only hope that it was as good as I remember, and that Frank managed to handle those books like she did the first half of this one - without weirdly racist undertones, massive timing issues, and nonsensical plot points.
______________________________ Original review, written about a decade after I initially read the book:
This would have been a lot better without the excessive love scenes, and if it were about 50 pages shorter (the research was done well, but the story just kept going...and going...)...more