Really 3.5 stars...and a frothy, enjoyable romp in the best possible way. The book is light on the mystery but quite delightful in the manners of theReally 3.5 stars...and a frothy, enjoyable romp in the best possible way. The book is light on the mystery but quite delightful in the manners of the day. While Alexandra and her friends do have the expected modern attitudes and anachronistic tendencies, the language is overall very polished and does not feel nearly as out of place or stilted as it often does in many other historical YA novels.
Some contemporary readers may not appreciate the book, but in truth, this is what a girl had to worry about back in the 19th century--the match she makes determines the whole course of her life. Most fans of Austen should enjoy this modern (albeit much less serious) take on romantic Regency fiction.
Would love to see more books like this from this author....more
Firstly: although Maggie Blair is accused of being a witch, readers should know that this is a work of historical fiction and it has no supernatural eFirstly: although Maggie Blair is accused of being a witch, readers should know that this is a work of historical fiction and it has no supernatural elements whatsoever. The book's description and cover art could probably use a bit of adjusting to make the focus of the book a little more apparent.
Even taken as a work of historical fiction, however, this story is interesting but it's not particularly riveting. It's well written enough, but it lacks a certain urgency and passion that you'd expect from such a compelling subject. The author has clearly done her research into 17th century Scotland and it seems that this story is loosely based on events from her family's history--but that very thing may be the root of the problem. The approach is a little too academic and little too even-keeled. It's also severely hindered by a relentless stream of what may be historically accurate, but incredibly polarizing overuse of biblical passages.
Readers who are interested in the topics of puritanical persecution and wrongful accusations would do better to try Elizabeth George Speare's YA classic The Witch of Blackbird Pond or Arthur Miller's scorching play The Crucible. Both these literary works offer not only an idea of how religious fervor has played a tragic role in world history, but also some sense of the burning passion that can lead to those unfortunate events. Without inciting genuine emotion and interest, a work of historical fiction--no matter how competently rendered--remains merely a thinly disguised history lesson.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review....more
3.5 stars. This book is not at all what I expected! I thought it was historical fiction, but there's too much crazy melodrama for it to be that. Then3.5 stars. This book is not at all what I expected! I thought it was historical fiction, but there's too much crazy melodrama for it to be that. Then I thought it was a historical romance, but it's far too detailed and well done for that, too. So the book is either extremely campy historical fiction or really, really excellent historical romance. But either way, it's loads and loads of fun.
A few things you should know about me that factor into why I enjoyed this book so much:
* I am picky about my tea. I have a lot of tea accessories and I love the ritual of going to tea and eating elegant little sandwiches. * I have a weakness for gorgeous gowns and ladies in big hats. I read lots of catalogues and fashion magazines. * I own vintage gloves and handkerchiefs. I dart around flea markets looking for pretty brooches. I get Victorian Papers catalogue. * I am somewhat obsessed with food. I read food blogs and tweets and magazines and cookbooks. I have a whole cupboard devoted to baking materials.
That part of me, the girly romantic part who loves pretty fans and peonies and nesting, is the one who loves this book. The author writes wonderful descriptions that bring up the exotic scent of tea wafting up from a tin, the heartiness and comfort of a good hot meat pie, and the bustling activity on the teeming streets of London.
The sensible part of me, the one who files her taxes in January and grits her teeth at the misuse of the term "literally," notes the following:
* This book is wildly melodramatic and unrealistic and predictable. * Every character is one-dimensional; they are either perfect or evil. * There are too many POVs. * The Jack the Ripper subplot is superfluous, as are some of the secondary characters and details. * Far too many people die. * There is too much name-dropping. (Yep, you can do that in a Victorian novel, as long as you include Gauguin and the Prince of Wales various other luminaries in your anecdotes.) * There is an unfortunate tendency to jump forward in the story and then backtrack with a flashback. * The author gives her characters a little too much credit in coming up with innovations in their fields. * There are too many instances of telling us things about a character rather than showing them. * Fiona is the ultimate Mary Sue with her beautiful face and figure, brilliant blue eyes, and tendency to strike awe and admiration in everyone she meets.
Having said all that, however, I really started to like Fiona after she leaves London. In the beginning, she's just a willful, reckless teenager, but she gradually develops into a pretty strong and admirable woman. I also liked how she gradually builds her wealth through her ingenuity and enthusiasm (and lots of luck), as well as the master scheme she undertakes to take revenge on those who have done her wrong.
I really liked the descriptiveness of the author's writing, particularly in regards to London and the day to day life of the working class. The author has a good ear for language and I enjoyed reading about the tea factory and the development of Fiona's tea trade, Joe's vegetable stand, and Fiona's little merchant shop. I am surprised that an author who writes so well in that regard, however, settles for such sketchy characterizations and overly dramatic plots. Fiona and Joe and Nicholas and so on are all likable, but none of them are very deep, and they all behave in ways that approach hysteria at times. I would also have liked to have seen Fiona achieve some measure of (view spoiler)[personal fulfillment outside of her relationship with Joe. You shouldn't have to wait 10 years and cross an ocean to get to happiness. (hide spoiler)]There are also far too many instances of "Look how wonderfully Fiona does this" types of passages. Editing these sorts of things could have easily turned this into a truly excellent work of historical fiction.
Still, I was so entertained by this novel that I couldn't stop reading it. It's sort of like a Victorian soap opera--high camp, beautiful clothes and setting, and lots of fun. I wasn't at all surprised by any of the events that occurred or by any of the characters, but I was pleased by the time I spent with them.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I really, really wanted to like this book. I'm a fan of novels set during the Victorian era, as I've always been very interested in how thinking, reasI really, really wanted to like this book. I'm a fan of novels set during the Victorian era, as I've always been very interested in how thinking, reasoning people-especially women--manage to survive in such a repressive society. It's the same reason I like Jane Austen novels, because the yearning for connection with other human beings is so often at odds with the strict customs of the day.
There's a tendency now in books for authors to just ignore those rules and just barrel forward with whatever story or agenda they may want to promote. I know that it's difficult from a modern standpoint to write about a spirited heroine without bending some rules here and there, but it's annoying that so many authors go ahead and just plain break them. Don't get me wrong--the author clearly has done a lot of research into the time period, and I believe it was also her educational specialty. But I find it tiresome that girls in historical novels keep getting put into breeches or constantly talk back at their superiors or go out and linger unattended on the streets. I know, I know, Mary is supposed to be a detective and whatnot, but girls of this time and in her position would never dream of behaving in this way. Showing courage and spirit and passion when extraordinary circumstances call for it is one thing, but to blithely move about everyday life as if expressing your wishes and opinions is commonplace is just plain wrong for this time period. If this is something an author wants to do, he/she is better off writing a steampunk novel or a story set in an alternate universe. I would argue that there must be a way for a gifted writer to make the book more true to the period of the time while keeping the spirit of adventure alive.
The writing itself is something that bothered me, too. The language of the time is fairly formal and specific, with a distinct wording and rhythm of its own. I just didn't feel convinced by the tone that was struck here, nor were the plotting or the mystery or the characters particularly unique. I happened to have the follow-up book from the library and I skimmed through that one as well to see if it was any more engaging, but for me, unfortunately, these books just don't work.
Well, I read the first 150 pages of this novel and then skimmed another 50, but this one just isn't holding my attention, I'm afraid. The writing andWell, I read the first 150 pages of this novel and then skimmed another 50, but this one just isn't holding my attention, I'm afraid. The writing and mood are actually rather nice, and the language seems pretty appropriate to early 20th century New England (albeit an alternate history version) aside from some jarring words here and there.
There just isn't enough witchery in this book for me, however, since the book seems very heavily centered around the romance. And unfortunately, the romance wasn't very compelling to me either, as the two boys--and Cate herself--do very little that is truly interesting or remarkable. And please, spare us from any more found-diaries-as-plot-device machinations!
Still, I expect this might be more appealing to lovers of YA historical romance who don't mind that the paranormal elements take a back seat, which is why I'm giving away my copy if you're interested in trying out the book for yourself! The book, which is the first in a planned trilogy, will be released next month in February 2012....more
I never go into historical romances expecting very much, so it's always a pleasant surprise when one is well-written and engaging enough to hold my atI never go into historical romances expecting very much, so it's always a pleasant surprise when one is well-written and engaging enough to hold my attention. I liked the premise of this book, which follows Lady Susannah, a woman makes her living as a professional unmatchmaker for men with unsuitable love interests. She's hampered in her quest to break up the current couple that is her job, however, because one man is standing in her way--James Devlin, her husband.
The beginning of the book is a little typical with angry words on both sides, but eventually the relationship between them became much more interesting. There is undeniable spark between the two which results in some reckless romps in carriages and in dark gardens, and there's the nice backdrop of Regency London to enjoy as well. What made this book a notch above other historical romances, however, is that soon after they meet again, Dev's attraction to the woman he believes to be his ex-wife deepens into sweet tenderness and caring--it's always nice when authors write men who aren't afraid to show their emotions. I grew to like both Dev and Susannah a lot, and I liked them both together as a couple.
There are definitely some things that muddle the plot a bit too much, including the reason they separated to begin with and subplots involving a pair of twins. Still, this is a lighthearted, fun read that is recommended for anyone who enjoys historical romances.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review....more
3.5 stars Recommended, although with some strong reservations. The story gets pretty convoluted as it progresses, and the book would have been much st3.5 stars Recommended, although with some strong reservations. The story gets pretty convoluted as it progresses, and the book would have been much stronger if many elements and just about all the characters were further developed. I'm also a bit turned off by the numerous occasions when a young teenager was witness to some pretty squicky adult situations, although they were admittedly non-graphic in nature.
An entertaining gothic tale in the tradition of Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt (for mature YA readers only), but I dearly wish the story had been more cleanly plotted and was more emotionally satisfying....more
I hardly ever read straightforward fantasy, but every once in awhile a book comes along that blows right past all my usual objections to become a newI hardly ever read straightforward fantasy, but every once in awhile a book comes along that blows right past all my usual objections to become a new favorite. As gently but strongly as a wisp of incense, Eon beckoned until I was completely in the thrall of its magic, and I hate to think how sad my life would be if didn't have this vividly imaginative novel in it.
For years, 16-year-old Eon has been training to be a Dragoneye apprentice, a coveted position in which the student serves as the conduit between energy dragons and the human world. Eon's whole way of life is cloaked in secrecy and danger, however, because Eon is actually Eona--a girl forced by necessity to live her life as a boy. If her secret were discovered, her life would be danger, as well as the lives of those around her. To make impossible odds even more impossible, Eona is also crippled, so the deck is very much stacked against her. But on the day the apprentices are chosen, it is revealed that Eona has the unusual ability of seeing all the energy dragons, not just one--and she is chosen by the powerful Mirror Dragon, a being that has not been seen in hundreds of years.
There are gorgeous dragons and epic sword battles, all against the backdrop of an incredible setting that takes its influences from a blend of Japanese and Chinese cultures, but is still a unique world of its own. I really like the idea of stories with girls disguised as boys, and though the concept is certainly nothing new, it's definitely not something we see too much in young adult literature. What makes this an exceptional book is the intricate tapestry of characters and themes that are deftly woven together, as well richly textured and evocative writing. You can practically hear the whisper of heavy silk robes and see the glow of majestic dragons as you read this book, and every night when I closed my eyes, I kept thinking about the creak of wooden wagons and the clang of swords that I'd read about that day.
You are wrong when you say there is no power in being a woman. When I think of my mother and the women in my tribe, and the hidden women in the harem, I know there are many types of power in this world...I found power in accepting the truth of who I am. It may not be a truth that others can accept, but I cannot live any other way.
For me, the book's greatest strength is its depiction of gender and the roles that women play in a parochial society. This is definitely a novel for mature young adult fans because of the situations and themes explored with transgendered characters, eunuchs, forced intimacy, and physical assault. I found it fascinating that the author chose to write a book focusing on a world where power is forbidden to women, and my favorite character was the indelible Lady Dela, Eona's "contraire" mentor who is a man living as a woman...who is in love with a noble eunuch. I mean, really! Who could fail to be intrigued by such a scenario? And who could fail to admire the gutsiness of a YA author in exploring such impossible loves?
The book is by no means perfect, however. Eon has a problem connecting with her dragon, and as soon as the problem was presented, I knew immediately--as I suspect most readers will--what the issue was. So it was frustrating to watch her further sabotage herself for several hundred pages before she finally realizes what the solution is near the end. (view spoiler)[Just say no, Eona! (hide spoiler)] I also wasn't crazy about the fact that one of the most interesting things about Eona's character is just...negated, in a very fairy tale sort of way when (view spoiler)[Eona's lameness is suddenly and conveniently cured in the climax of the story. (hide spoiler)] I mourned the loss of that trait, because it unnecessarily removes an obstacle she had already proven she was able to overcome.
As frustrating as the novel occasionally became--and it is admittedly very slow in the middle--I really, really liked this one. It's so uncommon to find a book with such an engaging fantasy story and an intriguing heroine, let alone one that also seamlessly blends magic, a historical feel, and thought-provoking themes. And the fact that this also happens to be a YA novel means that it's a very rare animal indeed. I'd strongly recommend picking up Eon if you find the synopsis even remotely appealing; I think most readers will be just as enthralled as I was.
Believe it or not, as much as I liked Eon, I loved the sequel Eona! And yes, yes, I will attempt to put my thoughts down on paper at some point. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Ah, steampunk libertines! Who'd have thought they'd be so appealing?
Books that are heavily influenced by classic stories are always tricky, particulaAh, steampunk libertines! Who'd have thought they'd be so appealing?
Books that are heavily influenced by classic stories are always tricky, particularly when it's as ambitious an undertaking as a story inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe classic. I loved the lavish setting and moodiness of the original story, so I had my doubts that anything could come close to capturing its crazy vibe. But somehow Bethany Griffin has managed to create a very similarly dark, extravagant feeling in her gothic adaptation, which is a surprisingly compelling read.
Seventeen-year-old Araby Worth lives in a world devastated by plague. Haunted by the death of her twin brother Finn, she and her friend April spend their nights attending opulent club parties, trying to lose themselves in pleasure so they can forget the what's going on around them. In this atmosphere of dissipation and discontent, she meets the reckless Elliott, the nephew of the mad Prince Prospero who controls the city, and Will, a boy who works at the Debauchery Club who is desperately trying to take care of his little brother and sister. Through her association with them, she is shaken out of her numb acceptance of the world she lives in, and learns that she just might hold the key to saving countless lives.
I fully admit that my overall liking for the book is fairly reliant upon the extravagant world that the author created, but that's not necessarily a bad thing when it's such an important part of adapting Poe. I was mesmerized by: the visuals of porcelain masks that protect the wealthy from the contamination which were invented by Araby's scientist father; disease-carrying bats; zeppelins in the sky; nights of debauchery; tattered velvet dresses; the threat of death by crocodile. I also liked the central story line involving a plan to steal blueprints for the masks so they might be distributed to the poor, and the romance had enough substance to keep me interested, too.
Things that should have driven me crazy but didn't: first person, present tense; a love triangle, mostly because it keeps you guessing for the most part and doesn't always go the expected route; recreational drug use, because it fits in with the story; modern slang mixed in with a historical-ish style; the vow Araby takes to avoid all pleasures that Finn will never get to experience. I do wish that we'd gotten a little further along in the central plot to undermine Prince Prospero, however, as well as in Araby's relationships with...well, everyone, since it seems as though there is a lot of buildup, and then the book ends just as things are really starting to get interesting. And I wish that the choice Araby makes towards the end was a little more meaningful (view spoiler)[since I was never really all that interested in April (hide spoiler)]. I think she's a girl who is just discovering who she is for the first time, however, so I don't mind that we don't really know her all that well yet. She shows the promise of being a strong, take-action sort of heroine, and I'm hoping that we'll see her character, as well as everyone else's, further developed in the sequel.
I really liked Masque of the Red Death (much more than I enjoyed Nevermore, by the way) and I'm dying to see what happens next. Readers who don't mind a slower, more literary style will like this book, and I think most Poe fans will be happy with it, too. The story pays homage to the original story but doesn't adhere to it too slavishly, instead expanding on the world and imagining what would happen if it were a teenage girl that was caught up in the baroque madness. This strange mix of dystopian-steampunk-gothic-romance works really well here, in no small part because the author does such a beautiful job in creating a decadent, imaginative world for the characters--and us--to lose ourselves in.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Inspiration Behind the Story
If you aren't familiar with Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, by the way, it's a masterpiece in drama, tension, and symbolism. Read the story online and compare it to this one--I think it actually makes you appreciate what Bethany Griffin did even more.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
3.5 stars I liked this one. It has an intriguing premise, it's set in Victorian London (which I love!), and it's overall very well-written. I would li3.5 stars I liked this one. It has an intriguing premise, it's set in Victorian London (which I love!), and it's overall very well-written. I would like to have seen a bit more of the supernatural elements as well as character development, however, and for some reason I was never really as drawn in by the romance or the sex as many of my fellow readers have been. Still, I *loved* the part when we finally find out the fascinating thing under Lord Archer's mask--if the story had concentrated more on that, which had so much potential, I would have been much more engaged. I'll be reading the next one to see what happens...fingers crossed for the paranormal stuff to take center stage!
* Riveting beginning with fantastic scenes of horror * An uneven middle that I'd love to do all kinds of unholy surgery to, especially the over-emphas* Riveting beginning with fantastic scenes of horror * An uneven middle that I'd love to do all kinds of unholy surgery to, especially the over-emphasis on the uninteresting and rather tedious romance(s) * But saved by a great premise, awesomely freakish moments, solid writing, and a bang-up, untraditional ending.