Born of Illusion: Magicians, Mediums and Mentalists One would think that the most intriguing aspect ofBorn of Illusioninvolves mediumship and magic, b...moreBorn of Illusion: Magicians, Mediums and Mentalists One would think that the most intriguing aspect of Born of Illusion involves mediumship and magic, but surprisingly it is the mother/daughter dynamic that carries the major weight. Anna's relationship with her mother is complicated by love, dependency, survival, deceit and admiration. The complexity is rich and thematically tuned. Unfortunately, the other relationships in the story are not as well-developed, and because of this, the love triangle treads in the shallow end of the pool.
To my delight, the story is based loosely on bits of historical details and famous people from the era including figures such as Harry Houdini. Fans of the great magician may recall that after the loss of his beloved mother, Houdini went on a mission to expose all fraudulent individuals claiming to have psychic abilities. He attended several seances and revealed the tricks used to fool the participants. Interestingly, the lesser known Ghost Club and Society of Psychical research are also introduced. As presented in the story, these two groups historically began with similar intentions and even cross-membership, but overtime diverged. I thought this was fascinating and immediately Googled the groups. For me, it was worth reading this book just to learn new nuggets of paranormal history. Here is the link to my blog post, which was inspired by what I found in my research of the subject: The Ghost ClubThe first quarter of the book moved rather slow and had me at times praying that'd it get better, which it did. Don't expect to be wowed by clever misdirection. The twist in not in the mystery or reveal, but rather grows from the coming-of-age development of Anna. Anna's character is the one who ultimately grows and by doing so, some of the others are forced to change.All in all, a solid young adult read that slides toward the teen end of the spectrum due to the clean nature of the telling. The violence depicted includes a few thrown punches and the sexual content is merely a chaste kiss. The historical content is interesting and is easily woven into the overall plot. *ARC provided by Balzer & Bray courtesy of Amazon Vine
The Skull and the Nightingale captured my attention when it claimed that it fell in tradition with Liaisons Dangereuses and echoed The Crimson Petal a...moreThe Skull and the Nightingale captured my attention when it claimed that it fell in tradition with Liaisons Dangereuses and echoed The Crimson Petal and the White, which just happens to be one of my favorite novels of all time. I must say, with such grand references, I opened the book with high expectations. If I had a red pen, I would go back and cross out all literary comparisons along with the words, 'chilling,' 'deliciously dark,' and 'exciting.' Thus, leaving the not so captivating blurb of, 'A literary novel of manipulation, sex and seduction set in eighteenth-century England.' That accurately depicts what you can truly expect from the book.
Much of the story is communicated through letters sent between characters. A few italicized letters would have added a creative element, but by using this continued mode of delivery throughout the novel...well, it becomes tedious, limits POV and kills any active tension. Several times a recap of events (out of necessity) is repeated in letter form. Sure, some detailing is left out to show the withholding of intimate details, but I certainly did not want to read any scene twice.
There is potential for the plot. I believe it has all the bones needed in the basic structure for it to live up to the adjectives given, but unfortunately, the more exciting, urgent period drama twists were not taken. Half way through the book I was convinced the godfather was a sociopath, which would have been fabulous, but the old man abandons his strangeness toward the end. It turns out he's just another eccentric pervert. In fact, all the quirky characters are domesticated rather easily or written off completely. The author took the least imaginative path for the 'twist' and to my disappointment, made the plot a touch predictable. The sexual scenes consist of aggressive grunting and border on descriptions of rationalized rape.
If you've read the novels mentioned above, you might find this one to be as satisfying as a tepid cup of tea.(less)
Included at the end of A Fatal Likeness is an author's note that goes into detail about the research and idea for the book. I must say, I appreciate t...moreIncluded at the end of A Fatal Likeness is an author's note that goes into detail about the research and idea for the book. I must say, I appreciate the conception, along with the research and development. The perspective is a visionary undertaking. Undoubtedly, the constructing of this piece was no easy task!
However, simply compiling information and arranging neat pieces with good editing does not make a story great. In my opinion, A Fatal Likeness lacks the electricity it truly needs to jolt this one to life. Given the baited mystery and intriguing subject matter, the telling of this version is remarkably flat and academic. The text is tired, and tries too hard to seem authentic and as a result, the characters suffer unjustly.
Since several characters had the same name i.e. Mrs. Shelley (we have three or four?), the individual voices and points of reference (time shifts) are critical to establish. Unique distinction through dialogue is essential and needs to be immediate for recognition. Unfortunately, this is lacking, which results in confusion. I had a difficult time, especially when coupled with picking up and putting down the book, establishing which family or Mrs. Shelley the narrator was talking to or about. Was this a flashback, an interview or present time? At first, I thought this was my fault and resulted from interrupted reading, but after awhile I became frustrated and often had to back up to get grounded. This truly takes the momentum, suspense and mystery out of a story and often, I just felt disoriented. The prolonged flatness of the characters killed it for me. I really lost interest and by the end, empathy. If I was not reading this book for review, it would have ended up in my DNF (did-not-finish) pile at the 50% page mark.
With such juicy characters to work with, I'm surprised at how chaste, tedious and dry this read actually is. Overall, a rather boring and disappointing historical fiction.(less)
3.5 stars In the imaginary world of mediumship this Victorian young adult mystery will entertain well enough to satisfy many fans of the genre. There a...more3.5 stars In the imaginary world of mediumship this Victorian young adult mystery will entertain well enough to satisfy many fans of the genre. There are some misses on the portrayal of medium abilities, but one can easily overlook and enjoy the fictional tale. At times, the speech wanes from the authenticity of the time period for example, "Usually she began her sales spiel before the door had fully opened…," which detracts from the overall set building of the story. The dialogue just felt too modern in places making it less genuine. Nevertheless, the story has got a demon on the loose, a brooding male, danger and mystery. What's not to like? The ending leaves the reader hanging, but since this is a series I'm trusting that Emily will face Jacob again and some resolution will be accomplished.(less)
Much like the Tudors, the Borgias have been overdone in recent releases of historical fiction. However, The Malice of Fortune provides a new perspecti...moreMuch like the Tudors, the Borgias have been overdone in recent releases of historical fiction. However, The Malice of Fortune provides a new perspective by creatively using the well-known history and incorporating it into a mystery/murder plot. By using lesser known players in the Borgia game, author Michael Ennis brings a fresh twist to a popular scheme. You certainly don't have to know the Borgia family history to read and enjoy the book, but for those readers who are familiar, you'll get more than a repeat telling. I've read several Borgia books and was pleased that I knew enough to add to my base knowledge, but wasn't bored or forced to re-read loads of already much published facts about the events. I did not need pages of background, and I think the way this book is set up, no one really would. However, some key information about the 'players' is listed in the front of the book, which is a helpful reference, but I don't think it is too difficult to keep up with the historical timeline or characters.
For those readers who are thinking about expanding into historical fiction, this is a good one to start with because it is more palatable than most. Without upsetting the academic critics, this novel harmonizes mystery, intrigue, murder and history without becoming dry as day old toast. It's a bit of a chunker due to the packed content, but despite the average page count, The Malice of Fortune is an attention-span friendly book especially for this genre. Ennis effectively manages to maintain a brilliant balance between intellectual fiction and entertainment, which will widen the general appeal and audience. Need a quick pitch-line to help you make up your mind? Okay, here it 'tis! A well-crafted, pre-packaged paced Three Musketeers meets The Man in the Iron Mask for the European bound traveler. A tad heavy for the beach and shorter trip, but good for a cabin getaway or longer flight. (less)
This is a mash-up of a contemporary generational story with historical fiction. A Sound Among the Trees is similar in tone to The Help by Kathryn Stoc...moreThis is a mash-up of a contemporary generational story with historical fiction. A Sound Among the Trees is similar in tone to The Help by Kathryn Stockett, but the time span between past and present is greater (i.e. present and Civil War era). Keeping that in mind, it does fit in the historical fiction genre because a good portion focuses on what occurred over 20 years ago. However, it is not classical historical fiction because the historical portion is communicated through 'flashbacks, character story-telling, diaries and half the setting takes place in the present. This may or may not appeal to historical fiction genre lovers. I do think it makes for an interesting cross-over and widens the appeal.
What I liked: The contemporary mash-up works and by beginning the story in the present, Meissner establishes Holly Oak (the house) as a character. It reminds me of Rose Red by Stephen King in the sense that the house is almost breathing. It's misunderstood, even by those who are closest to it. By doing so, the 'haunted' suspicion is accomplished. Each character has ghosts or something that lingers, including the house. The twist is that what is perceived changes and the haunt morphs from one thing to another. Are the characters haunted? Absolutely! By what, is to be determined. Does a cleansing occur? Yes. However, the epiphany is unique for each character, again, including the house. Also, the presentation of Southern culture is lovely, humorous, loyal and traditional. Each character is well-developed and the females display strength, intelligence, and real vulnerability that leads to flaws, all which are different, but relatable. I was able to connect and sympathize with each character without ever having to personally experience any of it.
The drawbacks: Beginning the book in the present gives the author only a few options to work in the historical fiction factor: through flashbacks, remembrance stories or letters. Meissner does a fairly good job trying to break it up without compromising any particular character's personal traits. However, this creates less flexibility and a great chunk of the story has to be discovered through the reading of letters. This is presented in text change and actual form that goes on for many, many pages. Since so much must be communicated, there is a large portion where the read is taken out of the present so the reader (along with the characters) can discover the truth. The transition to the past was easy and I admit, I was captivated. It was the hurling back to the present that I found jarring. It is similar to being yanked out of a dream. It made me a bit cranky because I didn't want to wake up. I understand at some point it had to be done, but it wasn't my favorite approach.(less)
Much like what happens in baseball, I believe I've fallen into a reading slump. This summer's advanced readers have been rather disappointing. All sed...moreMuch like what happens in baseball, I believe I've fallen into a reading slump. This summer's advanced readers have been rather disappointing. All seduced me with mention of Victorian London, but all failed to capture my attention. The Thing About Thugs is told in different voices by three different narratives, one of which is set in an annoying script. None of them are particularly interesting, surprising, shocking or intriguing. Instead of building tension and drawing a connection as promised in the synopsis, this style is jarring and convoluted. Just when I was getting used to a voice, it would whip back to another and frankly, was so over-written that it was stressful to follow. I simply got bored. I tried, I really tried, but I couldn't become engaged with the story. Also, the comparison to Charles Dickens is in my opinion, absurd. The only commonality is London, besides that, I have a difficult time agreeing with the PR for this novel. I think many readers will find it misleading and disappointing. If you're looking for a good old murderous mystery novel set in Victorian London, this is not it. If you want cultural insight into India and a lesson in phrenological science, perhaps you will enjoy The Thing About Thugs.(less)
2.5 stars Gems: What's not to love about the French court? You know you're in for a treat whenever this part of history is the subject. The historical...more2.5 stars Gems: What's not to love about the French court? You know you're in for a treat whenever this part of history is the subject. The historical research and detailing is phenomenal and demonstrates the authors knowledge and care of the era. It's very well documented, precise and sticks to the basics we all know and love. Now, certain readers will appreciate this, or they may find it a bit dry. It really depends on your particular taste. Although it's listed as historical fiction, it reads more like a non-fiction or memoir style book. I tend to enjoy history that takes more liberties, but do appreciate the painstaking detailing.
Flaws: Flat. The telling is one-dimensional even though it alternates between Sophia and Fersen's perspective. I could not tell the difference in points of view or voice, which greatly frustrated me. Without the clear personality of each character coming through in the words, I simply couldn't trust or wholly invest in the report. That is what the novel felt like, a report of historical events compiled through journals and documented information. It stayed on one plane and surfed right along. All I can say is, flat. For me this topic and these characters offer way too much to allow them to become, for lack of a better word, boring. It's a shame, because I wanted to enjoy it and was sadly very disappointed. (less)
It is no surprise that this book has already received mixed reviews and I believe, like with most novels, it depends on the perspective of the reader...moreIt is no surprise that this book has already received mixed reviews and I believe, like with most novels, it depends on the perspective of the reader - including what we refer to as 'expectations' by readers of the text. It's all in the approach. Nothing could be truer than when applied to this particular book. The structure alludes to the easy adaptation to a screenplay or dinner theater. It does deliver everything that is promised, but perhaps not in the exciting fashion the reader might hope for. The author's approach is likely influenced by the classical set-ups from previous authors that have mastered the traditional early century eccentric life in the country side. Purposefully, the sluggish beginning demonstrates the domestic boredom of the middle to upper class. Similar to Virginia Woolfe's, Mrs. Dalloway, The Uninvited Guests, ticks away at the hours where nothing much and everything all at once happens. Also, the house is a breathing character as well as setting, much like The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. For these reasons, classical stylists will appreciate the structure and care given to the book. Parts do fall on the ridiculous and could be viewed as tragi-comedy, but in my opinion fail, and lean more towards mean-spirited in order to create tension or excitement. However, the shenanigans fizzle, which leads me to the other result of this book. The creeping pace lends to the anti-climatic feeling even when coupled with a great mystery and where a Gothic macabre setting exists. The Uninvited Guests has 'Goethe' potential, but does not pull off the chilling haunt that is likely anticipated, and for that reason loses the interest and subsequently the rating stars from reviewers. (less)
3.5 Stars In an attempt to escape a wounded heart, Zora Stewart packs a bag and heads West. Robbery, rescue and the occasional tumbleweed follow. Being...more3.5 Stars In an attempt to escape a wounded heart, Zora Stewart packs a bag and heads West. Robbery, rescue and the occasional tumbleweed follow. Being a fan of the Vespertine inspired me to pick up the companion novel, The Springsweet. The setting shifts from Balitmore to the hardships of prairie life along the great frontier. Because of the setting, the book has a western country feel and for those readers who enjoy American settler stories, The Springsweet will be a pleasurable and clean read. It's appropriate for most ages and has a hint of mysticism, but mostly is grounded in the historical fiction of the time period. This book definitely has a different appeal than the The Vespertine and I wasn't as intrigued or connected to Zora as I became to the heroine, Amelia. The attraction and sweet love story is well-scripted. However, given the title of the book, I felt the actual areas where springsweet was involved should have been dimensionally developed. This portion of the story was skimpy and lacked detailing and information that could have contributed to the books depth by creating more of a shadow similar to that found in The Vespertine. Readers have certain elements they love about a series, and this specific string would have strengthened my personal fascination in the book. I felt a bit cheated and was left to figure out, or rather guess about what happened to Mr. Larsen. It was too vague and because of this, lacked impact. Emerson was the most developed character and will likely be memorable. Zora, she's a sweet girl, but does not come with the same force as the beloved Amelia. Good. Beach read. Summer read, and if you want clean and innocent -- this is a safe bet.(less)
To put it simply, this is a book readers will love or despise. Which way the reader rolls will ultimately depend on their everlasting devotion to Jane...moreTo put it simply, this is a book readers will love or despise. Which way the reader rolls will ultimately depend on their everlasting devotion to Jane Eyre. My natural reaction is to recommend, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, to fans of Bronte, but purists may (and have been) put-off by the re-creation and are abashed by the blatant audacity of retelling a beloved classic. However, if someone has to do it, I'm pleased that Margot Livesey took on the challenge. Her prose are elegant, setting imaginative and the character are vivid and memorable. Personally, I liked that Gemma did not carry the same voice as Jane, albeit, similar. There was just enough difference to give an original style to the novel and portray the time period accurately. For me, this novel read more like a homage to a great, rather than a breech of the literary fortress. So exactly what worked? You don't have to know or have read Jane Eyre to thoroughly enjoy this novel. It stands alone, strong and is self-reliant. Being familiar with Jane Eyre is a bonus and allows for drawing comparisons, identifying similarities, while at the same time, has just enough nuances to hold the readers interest. Most literary enthusiasts know the story of Jane Eyre, but Gemma Hardy's ...well, her journey is new, fresh and involves its own twist. You might think you know how it will end, but do you? As I said earlier, either you'll love it or hate it -- which is evident if you've already browsed other reviews. I choose to love it!(less)
3.5 Stars Piet Barol is a classic, seductive, golden boy who comes from modest means, but rises with the help of good looks and some common-sense charm...more3.5 Stars Piet Barol is a classic, seductive, golden boy who comes from modest means, but rises with the help of good looks and some common-sense charm that carries him a long way. The book is divided into two parts, with Piet Barol the focal character that pulls it together. The first half is intriguing and builds as the imperfections, phobias, morals and obstacles of the characters are revealed. Based on this, I would have rated the book higher, but then disappointment occurs when the period with the Vermeulen-Sickerts family is neatly tied up and Piet Barol abandons ship and sets sail to Cape Town. It is too neat and tidy for my taste. All is so quickly forgiven and realized, which gave me pause. However, there is room for a sequel and I'm hoping this is merely a set-up for more to come, but despite Piet's evident talent of the tongue, he left me unsatisfied. The second half takes place on the ship heading to Cape Town. This is a bit rushed and convenient as well. Piet gets himself in some situations, but is always saved or let off the dangle rather easily. This decreases the tension and gives a ho-hum outcome. It's a touch taboo and a bit randy in places, but all in all too light in scandal and risk. I wanted more at stake, or at least a better build up with nail-biting disappointment. History of A Pleasure Seeker floats causally like an imposter at a party no one really cares if you crash.(less)
I know what you’re probably thinking, not another vampire story about immortality and love! Once a fan of the vampire lore, I’ve come to loathe each n...moreI know what you’re probably thinking, not another vampire story about immortality and love! Once a fan of the vampire lore, I’ve come to loathe each new release because of the over and poorly done books flooding the market. However, I’m not completely jaded and I’m glad I gave Taker a chance to seduce me back into the underworld. The story alternates between past and present combining modern with historical fiction. A spin on immortality, or how it came about for these characters, adds a fresh twist that is interesting and captivating. Author Alma Katsu establishes her own style combining fairy tale lore with an Anne Rice like voice providing the story with an old school vamp feel that made me grin and turn page after lovely page. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not redundant or copied by any means, but if you prefer tradition with a turn, you’ll enjoy reading Taker.(less)
Lynmar Brock, Jr. creates an intimate portrait of a family's history during WWII. In This Hospitable Land details the hardships experienced by the Sev...moreLynmar Brock, Jr. creates an intimate portrait of a family's history during WWII. In This Hospitable Land details the hardships experienced by the Severin family. The expansive time they suffered is astounding and their determination to survive, memorable. Historians and those readers with a particular interested in WWII (1940's) will find this a good read. However, the casual historical reading audience might discover the length grueling, daily life repetitive and despite the events, lacking in anticipation. I compare the experience to thumbing through someone else's family photo album or watching home movies. The past is interesting and you get to know the characters, but I felt kept at an arms length and was unable to fully invest. It seemed as if the author was still protecting the privacy of the family and by doing so, I became merely an observer during the journey. For example, when a terrible violation happens to the young girls at school, the matter is given a few sentences and the reaction of parents even less. It was greatly 'breezed' over and took me a bit by surprise. It is an unpleasant topic to dwell on and most families would wish not to discuss. I found myself wondering why more type space was given to describing the slaughter of an animal than to the trauma of these little girls? Perhaps by attempting to be sensitive to private matters, the author was insensitive to revealing a true horror that might have provided a deeper intimacy.
Note: My copy was an ARC and contained 604 pages. (less)