Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a PDF of this book. This review is also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads.
Narrated by the woman who pose...moreThank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a PDF of this book. This review is also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads.
Narrated by the woman who posed for his portrait of Venus, this semi-biographical novel of Diego Velázquez is a wonderful piece of historical fiction. Mujica's writing flows very smoothy, apart from the occasional untranslated Spanish word which may cause the reader to falter. I loved the tone of the book, it was both easy to read and informative.
I can't fault Mujica's descriptive writing. She creates some wonderfully vivid images of seventeenth century Spain, causing the reader to experience the smells and sights of Madrid. She also clearly sets out current events at the time, meaning that any reader who does not know too much about seventeenth century European history should be able to follow the story with few issues. As I studied this period of history in school, it was really fun to see familiar names and figures brought to life. The one thing that may confuse the reader at some points however, are the similar names and rather wide cast of characters. Whilst this is obviously not the fault of the author, the characters having been real people four hundred years ago, it would have perhaps been nice to have a list of characters in the book somewhere.
The major issue I had with the book is that the point of view was often confusing. I understand that the author wanted the identity of Venus to be a mystery (she is unknown to this day) whilst also having her narrate the book. This lead to some odd narratives, often switching between first and third person and in fact making the book feel like it had several narrators. I think the idea behind it was good, but it perhaps was not pulled off correctly.
I wouldn't so much refer to this book as a 'story of scandal' - especially when in the context of history that makes me think of things like the corruption of the Borgias or the supposedly inbred Hapsburgs - and the book doesn't actually focus too much on what is going on in the wide world, but more on domestic and smaller issues relating to Velázquez. And whilst the book is about Velázquez, he is often absent for many chapters - as he was often absent from the lives of his loved ones - so it is more a story about the people in his life.
I particularly enjoyed this one because most historical fiction that I read is either ancient history, or based in medieval or Tudor England. So this was a nice change, and is definitely a recommended read for anyone with an interest in seventeenth century European art or history, or the Baroque period.(less)
The blurb of this book definitely makes it sound exciting. It's what drew me to the book in the first place. But it also makes it sound like a 'typica...moreThe blurb of this book definitely makes it sound exciting. It's what drew me to the book in the first place. But it also makes it sound like a 'typical' YA novel - it doesn't reveal what's really hidden within this book.
And that just happens to be something original, exciting and very refreshing. What starts out as a Latin project develops into something much more sinister and dark, involving a group known as 'Seekers' and an object called the 'Lumen Dei'.
We have our protagonist, Nora Kane, just an average looking teenage girl, not particularly popular, but not a social outcast. Checking off all the YA boxes there, but that's about where it stops. Nora is especially good at Latin, what with having a Latin professor for a father, and having had lessons since she was young. She uses the study of Latin as an escape from the memories of her older brother's death, several years earlier. It's so nice to have a protagonist who has a skill like that, and is so blasé about it.
Nora's best friends, Chris and Adriane, also flesh out more as the story progresses - Chris more than Adriane, but it's nice to have so many of Nora's memories and happy moments added in. The relationships feel real. These are teenagers who've shared so much together, who've gone through hard times and fun times, who've stressed through exams and spent summers together by the lake. And you can really feel that. Nora's relationship with Max, her 'Prince Charming', was also very well done. In so many stories about teenage relationships these days, the characters seem to fall straight into love, but Nora questions several times whether she is in love or not. The attraction between her and Max is not instant, and in fact only appears with a little bit of a nudge. They don't do all these amazing things together: they act like a normal teenage couple. There are no big declarations of love, things progress slowly.
And between all these relationships, there's the action. With so many twists and turns, the story takes us from Massachusetts to Paris, and from Paris to Prague. Wasserman adds in a fantastic historical twist, all to do with the medieval Latin translations that Nora, Chris and Max were working on for a professor. The letters of Elizabeth Weston slowly reveal an eerie parallel with Nora's life until it seems that she has more of a link to her than just a pure interest and talent for Latin.
At times, parts of their exploration through Prague and discovery of more clues felt a little slow, but it was generally well-paced and exciting. And whilst it was interesting to have a main character with a talent for Latin, there wasn't much about Nora apart from that, the hole left by the death of her brother and her relationship with Max. It would have been nice to know what her other interests and passions were.
Overall, this was much more than I was expecting. An exciting 'historical' thriller, with well fleshed out characters and relationships, and plenty of (very shocking in places!) twists and turns, it's well worth a read. What's especially exciting is that many of the historical figures in the story within the story were real - but Wasserman has just taken a creative license to some of them.
I received a copy of this book for free from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. This review is also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads.
Wow. When...moreI received a copy of this book for free from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. This review is also posted on my blog, Rinn Reads.
Wow. When I requested this book from Edelweiss, I thought it looked good - pretty cover, interesting sounding plot - but I didn't think I'd enjoy it as much as I did, particularly as it was my first steampunk novel. As it is labelled as a Young Adult book, I was expecting the writing style to be fairly basic, as it tends to be in YA fiction. Cornwall, however, goes all out and writes the novel as if she herself was writing in nineteenth century England.
Where YA novels tend to base most of their description around characters (particularly of the male persuasion), this book contains many beautiful descriptions of the environment: the dark, eerie Yorkshire moors; the dingy alleyways of Victorian London. I don't know if it helped that I've visited Whitby and the Yorkshire moors myself, so I can imagine them more vividly, but I think even without visiting them Cornwall's descriptions do them justice. The writing flowed so well, and I think it is the use of words and diction contemporary with the setting of the story that really lifts it above all those other paranormal YA novels out there.
Rather than being a straight retelling of the Dracula story by Bram Stoker, Cornwall instead chooses to directly involve Stoker himself, which works really well. I find that when historical or famous figures are included in stories, as long as they are not too out of character, it makes the story more relatable, by presenting the reader with characters they are already familiar with. For example, we also get to meet William Gladstone, former Prime Minister, and Queen Victoria.
Speaking of characters, Lucy as a character is a wonderful protagonist, particularly as a female lead in a YA paranormal novel. She is strong, and barely phased by her transformation. She just gets on with it, she doesn't moan, whine or cry. Although there is some romance, it doesn't completely consume her and she never gets soppy. She's smart, quick-witted and generally a strong character all round, and manages to avoid cliches. We need more female protagonists like her.
Now as for the downsides of the book: I managed to guess one character's secret very early on into the story, which made the big reveal much less of an impact - I feel that perhaps Cornwall left too many clues for that one. I have to say, the ending was a bit of an anti-climax and over rather soon - but I felt the rest of the story kept it up at a five-star rating. There were also quite a few spelling and grammar mistakes, but as I read an ARC I'm hoping that they'll all be corrected in the final edition.
I highly recommend this one, even if you haven't read Dracula! (I haven't... better get on it.) It is beautifully written, and a fun read - especially if you want a more 'intelligent' feeling YA novel. If the steampunk element is putting you off, I would say don't let it - steampunk is only a very light part of the novel.(less)
Admittedly, if you are looking to read some historical fiction s...moreAlso posted on my book blog, Rinn Reads.
Odd's fish! This was a fantastically fun read.
Admittedly, if you are looking to read some historical fiction set during the French Revolution in order to learn more about that period of time, this really isn't the book. It is much more a story about the people, than the events. But what you do get, however, is a fun-filled adventure story with a very unusual hero, at least at first glance.
Sir Percy Blakeney is a lazy, dim-witted Baronet, married to Marguerite St. Just, one of the cleverest women in Europe. No-one understands the pairing, and least of all would they expect him to be the Scarlet Pimpernel - which is exactly who he is. The slow, stupid Percy is purely a mask; a mask so opaque that even his wife does not suspect. Yet as both a complete fop, and as the brave Pimpernel, Percy is such a loveable character. He is charming, in both manner and speech, and very much the classic hero. Add to this his quirky speech ' "odd's fish!" - and you get a character that it is impossible not to fall for. To give you a taster, watch this clip of Percy's very own poem about the Scarlet Pimpernel, from the brilliant 1982 film featuring Anthony Andrews as Sir Percy.
In contrast, Marguerite, whilst described as clever, comes across as a rather selfish woman, who marries Percy only because he worships her. However, the story gives her a chance to prove herself a worthy character, and she rises to the challenge. As well as the classically handsome hero and beautiful, intelligent female protagonist, Chauvelin, the French envoy to England, plays the role of the typical villain. Often described as thin, with pointed features, and walking with a slight stoop, he brings to mind a rat or other vermin. So whilst all the characters are actually very typical stereotypes of their roles, it works very well - and it must be remembered that this was the book that inspired many future 'masked avenger' titles.
Overall, despite the subject material, the book is just very funny - from Percy's various disguises (including an old hag), to Chauvelin's soldiers obeying his orders to literally every last word, thereby actually disobeying them - and one of the easier classics to read. If you tend to struggle with classic books, you should still try this one; the slightly later publication date than many others means the language is a little easier, and it really is a story not to be missed.
Also, another note: if you enjoyed the book, watch the film version from 1982, featuring Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen (clip shown above). Or just watch the film, regardless of whether you have read, or plan to read the book - Anthony Andrews gives a fantastic performance and really embodies the character of Percy.(less)