Lots of research, but simply too damn long and suffered from "author wants to put in every single thing she discovered and dramatize every little thin...moreLots of research, but simply too damn long and suffered from "author wants to put in every single thing she discovered and dramatize every little thing." It sometimes happens with these huge doorstoppers. But nice cover art by Tom Hall, as always.
For the record, I made it to page 300, but it took a few weeks to even get that far. A sad rate for the time period I read it, when I was knocking off a 500 page book every 3 days (and no skimming, either). If I had to describe this book in 3 words, it would be "Molasses in January."(less)
Elizabeth Todd, pregnant bride, is separated from her husband on the ill-fated Donner Party trek and finds herself raped in the snow by Luther Mosby,...moreElizabeth Todd, pregnant bride, is separated from her husband on the ill-fated Donner Party trek and finds herself raped in the snow by Luther Mosby, a tracker and scout. She survives (thanks to a convenient food supply *wink wink*) and emerges with some permanent scars and determined to avenge herself on Mosby, an obsession that lasts for over two decades.
This book started out real promising. It grabbed me early on by opening with Elizabeth (calling herself Esther Cable) in 1869 readying herself for a final reckoning with Mosby. As she prepares herself, she re-reads her journal that goes back twenty years. Interspersed with journal entries are recollections of past events and then leaps to 1869 again as another step is taken in Esther's final plan. Sounds confusing, but it was all laid out quite clearly. Details were dropped about events that had not yet happened, and so the flashbacks then were used to show how things turned out the way they did. For quite a while it kept my interest, but by the end I was tired of getting vague spoilers ahead of the game. I wanted to be surprised, especially since the "how it happened" stuff wasn't always super-exciting, when it wasn't weirdly far-fetched.
I can't fault the author for detail. There are many little things that read like he pulled them from newspaper stories of the time. Unfortunately it sometimes felt like they were put in there just to show his research (a flood tide wiping out a tent theater), or to toss in a famous person who was in San Francisco at the time (William T. Sherman in a very brief and pointless cameo), or to tie the fictional characters to local history (the 1856 vigilante hangings of Charles Cora and James Casey).
I thought the inclusion of Joaquin Murietta would be a great plot arc, but that one eventually fizzled out. The overall story lacked structure, despite having an intricate flashback framework. Esther's life kept going...and going...and her plots to get Mosby kept going...and failing....and going... The endless attempts to kill Mosby got ridiculous after awhile, and even in the beginning her plan made little sense. Since she wants to do the deed herself, she won't have him murdered. So her plan is to become rich in order to interfere with his life (??) as well as anonymously help her husband (who thinks she's dead) become successful. This rural Vermont girl and Ohio schoolteacher, just by recuperating at Sutter's Fort and surrounded by gold, becomes a financial savant. I guess. She makes buttloads of money, goes through extravagant schemes to get Mosby ((view spoiler)[including observing his bordello habits for months and getting him into bed in order to shoot him, but then....the place catches on fire from the ashes of his cigar and...plan thwarted! Again! (hide spoiler)]), and in the end all these far-fetched and wacky schemes (short of sharks with laser beams) turn out to be a total waste of time since (view spoiler)[it's up to Esther's Indian squaw BFF to actually kill the bad guy. Arrgh! (hide spoiler)]
I thought the best characters in the story were Miwokan and Solana, a Miwok native husband and wife. He was interesting because it was his people who knew where a hidden cache of gold was on Sutter's property and he knew his people were doomed once the white man found that yellow stuff, and she was interesting because she was dedicated and fierce and awesome. They had character arcs that really affected me. Too bad the book hadn't been about them. Honorable mention goes to Esther's son Moses, raised by Solana. Not nearly enough time was spent on him.
2.75 stars, rounded up to 3 for the Gold Rush-era stuff I learned. This book really was bloated with a plot that kept circling back on itself, pushed by a heroine who wasn't believable and didn't act believably. It could have lost 100 to 200 pages easily.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I'm a reader who holds grudges. Disappoint me, and it's likely that an author will get cleaned off my shelves and dumped in the donation bin because i...moreI'm a reader who holds grudges. Disappoint me, and it's likely that an author will get cleaned off my shelves and dumped in the donation bin because if I try to read another title by them, the bad experience keeps lingering and trashes the current read. But Philippa Gregory has been the exception.
After two rather blah reads (A Respectable Trade and Fallen Skies, the latter which I will certainly re-attempt), this hefty saga was recommended to me by the awesome Sarah, whose similarly awesome review told me that I would most likely love the notorious Wideacre. Incest, depravity, murder, gloomy Gothic dysfunction, and a totally unlikable protagonist/antagonist? Sign me up!
Three times was the definite charm with Gregory. I'm hooked, and I will probably one day consider myself a fan. I loved it. This was the first book in a long, long while that I could say had me riveted from first page to the last. I can't think of any dull spots. It was gripping, turgid melodrama with the plot taking twists and turns that had me flipping pages and perched on the edge of my chair.
Sorry for using such lame clichés, but it was true. Could Beatrice become any more obsessed and amoral? Who else would fall under her dogged steamroller of psychoses? I had to keep reading and reading, and the ending.... What a grim climax it leaves to the imagination. It's left up to the reader, and their own feelings about Beatrice, as to how that little scene plays out when Beatrice meets her Maker (both the Divine and the Temporal one who started her on her path). It can be as merciful or merciless as one wishes. Do we get more details in the sequel?
I hope not, but at the same time I'm dying to know what Gregory thought up for one of the most memorable characters I've ever read.
Even though Beatrice is a very loathesome character, I found myself able to see things from her point of view, warped and void of morality as it was. She despises the prospect of being kicked out of her home and her land upon marriage, just because she's not male. Her feckless brother, Harry, has no feel for the earth and true traditions of Wideacre. All he knows, and cares about, are the perks of the position. But for what Wideacre is, Beatrice feels true kinship that becomes a demented fervor.
And, like that village so often quoted about, she has to destroy it in order to save it. The process is an inevitable, continual decline over the years. As Beatrice falls, so does Wideacre. Or was that blissful utopia of Nature only beautiful on the surface and it was the one rotten to the core? Was Beatrice the fertile soil that made Wideacre realize its destructive, soul-sucking potential?
Throughout the book, Beatrice refers to Wideacre in terms of a living thing, a thing with a heart, a pulse, and a soul that only she can sense and communicate with. It's a symbiotic, parasitic relationship, evoking the best Beatrice has to offer while at the same time consuming it and leaving nothing but the husk of a mad woman with absolutely no scruples or morals.
One can be squicked by the incest and never venture into the water, but there is plenty going on under the surface.
I loved Gregory's writing. Beatrice's voice is so cold and selfish all the while she insists she's giving up everything, including her soul, for Wideacre. She's a total sociopath, and it really took me by surprise how much I still wanted to read about her when I've wanted to tear books in half because of heroes and heroines that did much, much less. Since the story is told from Beatrice's point of view, we watch her mental gears turn and crash as she frantically justifies her actions to herself and the reader, as her entire world is seen through her twisted little mind.
Brilliant and engrossing. Meaty gothic melodrama the way I love it, and I haven't been so absorbed by a dark, demented family since Marilyn Harris' Eden series. Like Beatrice, the anti-hero Thomas Eden and his grandson John Murrey Eden were formed by long aristocratic traditions, a remote and self-contained world, and a desire to control absolutely everyone and everything in their lives. Wideacre is a natural companion piece to Harris' morbid, melodramatic saga.(less)
First line: Lily looked at her mother. Mary Malone lay very still, thin under the thin sheet and nearly that pale, worn thin and worn out by the workin...moreFirst line: Lily looked at her mother. Mary Malone lay very still, thin under the thin sheet and nearly that pale, worn thin and worn out by the working and the fevers. *** Oh wow, what a book! It’s one of those fat sagas that encompasses a woman’s life from childhood to old age, a genre I love, but this one stands quite above so many others due to its precise characterization, pacing, and catchy turns of phrase. The author knew what he wanted to show and showed it, and didn’t try to cover everything, thereby avoiding doing only half-assed justice to the whole epic. It was a very deliberate story, but never slow, creating a rich and absorbing read. By seeing Lily’s life unfold so intensely and, at times, minutely, it really dragged me in and made the situations and characters seem very real.
The bulk of the story takes place during two decades in the life of one Lillian Malone, with the finale set during the 1906 earthquake. Orphaned at 10, she and her older brother Fergy are shipped off from the tenement slums to St. Patrick’s orphanage. There, Lily ponders her present and future, in matters both material and spiritual. After a couple other tragedies, she decides that she has suffered just about enough at the fickle whim of God. She goes out into the world as a between-stairs maid and encounters no end of trouble there as well. However, for every setback she suffers, she presses onward with more determination to make the best of it, dust herself off, and strive ever onward and upward. Being a good Catholic girl, she tells herself that a lie or a deception or lapse into immorality will see her burn in Hell for sure (and this fear never leaves her), but she plows ahead anyway. Her determination to obtain her own dream of a worry-free and impregnable Paradise sees her through some pretty bad times, including a prolonged period as both whore and glamorous brothel madam in booming 1850s San Francisco. A bird in a gilded cage is our Lily.
Eventually Lily does realize her dream of peace and respectability, but it is a long road she hauls and she does it with a panache that made her one of the best female protagonists I’ve ever read. She’s solid, patient, clever, dependable, driven, warm, a calculated risk taker, and brutally honest with herself and others. And she’s very very human. This book grabbed me from the first, as Lily’s mother lays dying and tells her daughter to “save your tears, for one day you may truly need them.” This Lily does, rationing out her tears and emotions through the years, getting stronger and stronger with each setback she suffers without giving in to weakness and hopelessness. Because Lily is always expecting there will be tougher times ahead, and she doesn’t want to waste those precious tears mindlessly. She’s a cautious optimist with bouts of pessimism. She’s sentimental without being weak. And far from being the clichéd feisty redhead, she’s ladylike and of dogged temperament, tenacious and admirable. What can I say? I loved her!
Lily’s story is interspersed with that of her dream guy, Brooks Chaffee, a member of old Dutch New York society. Chaffee and Lily only meet once and he soon forgets her (who remembers a maid that gives you directions to the library?), but Lily cherishes the memory of his good looks and gentle manner and uses him as a personification of that Brass Ring she is eternally striving for. While Lily is on the rocky road to success in California, Chaffee continues with the life that was laid out for him since birth, cushioned with money and few obstacles, and finds increasing disillusionment and misery courtesy of the Civil War and his marriage.
Rather than seeming intrusive and chopping up the flow of Lily’s journey, I thought that this subplot perfectly complemented Lily’s. Both of their lives are affected by the “inevitable” upheavals of the era (expansion/boom and war), and Lily meets the worst obstacles early in life while Chaffee’s trials come later, when he is less resilient. Eventually, their paths converge and her hard-earned strength is there for him when he needs it and heals him.
There’s so much packed into this book that I could go on and on about it. I loved the early chapters set within the orphanage where Lily and another girl become BFFs but end up suffering the slow and gradual dissolution of a friendship that often happens before one becomes aware of it. I loved Lily’s “education” within the world of the nouveau riche, wisdom that can’t be acquired through an entire library of books. I loved Lily and Fergy’s rocky relationship and enduring sibling love through thick and thin, and the realistic fears that keep Lily loyal to him. And most of all, I loved Lily’s determination to endure what she must in the present (but not for a moment longer) in order to create an idyllic peace for herself in the future.
The entire story was beautifully done and Lily was a solid heroine-protagonist. Not to be sexist, but I wouldn’t have expected such depth of female characterization from a male author, a breed whose track record from this period tends to be pretty spotty when it comes to ability to write convincing female characters. Also restrained was the sex. It wasn’t salacious or graphic - the only truly graphic scene was in a brothel, when Lily is an observer being shown the ropes of the trade.
So what didn’t I like about it? (There’s got to be something, right?) Well, the transition in the relationship between Lily and her daughter Kate was too pat and smooth. Granted, Kate doesn’t know exactly why her mommy was “Auntie” for so long, but the kid still adjusts way too easily to calling Lily “Mother.” So I’d have put in a bit more tension. But then again, I don’t know the psychology of 6-year olds to be convinced just how one would react to the bombshell.
Also, although it seemed like Lily was too visionary at times, it never got to the point where it was annoying. Since the story is set in the era of growth and innovation, she felt like a product of her times. This goes for her forward-thinking attitudes towards orphanages and agriculture (she reads farming journals almost exclusively) as well as her obsession and pessimism with how “High Society” will punish her family for her past. For all her confidence in some areas, she is highly conscious that a woman’s bad reputation can be wielded like a weapon by others. And underlying that is her old Catholic guilt that she will be punished for the things she's done.
So, my quibbles are nearly invisible. Things that would annoy me in other books (like Lily's references to God and angels) didn't bother me in the slightest here because it didn't feel like it was being pushed onto me like in the Christian lit I've read. Instead, it was simply an understandable part of who Lily is, rooted in her upbringing and the era in which she lives. Plus, her musings were personal and referred to herself alone. She wasn't preaching the Word or loudly pointing fingers.
An interesting side note about the author: the very brief bio in the back says that he, at the time, was a VP of Bozell & Jacobs, an ad agency. You might know them from the slogans “Pork. The Other White Meat,” “Got milk?” and “Corinthian leather.” I wonder just what inspired Mr. Murphy to write this saga. Whatever it was, I’m glad he did. It’s a marvelous book and really deserves to be back in print.
If you have any interest in 1840s/50s America or like a smart and tough heroine, do pick this one up!(less)
4.5 stars. When John Deems goes off to fight the British in the Revolution, his wife Hannah and daughter Molly are forced to rely on charity and shift...more4.5 stars. When John Deems goes off to fight the British in the Revolution, his wife Hannah and daughter Molly are forced to rely on charity and shift for themselves. At war's end, John Deems is dead and Hannah has no place to go except serve as drudge and bedwarmer to the highly unpleasant Seth Adams. When Molly comes of an age to attract Adams' lecherous eye, Hannah hustles her off to the home of Quaker Elizabeth Warden, to be a live-in servant and semi-ward.
Molly is determined that she will learn everything she can, take any opportunity that presents itself, and never be poor again. Knowing her birth limits her somewhat when it comes to marital prospects, she sets her sights on Elijah Merrick, a middle-class man with a bright future at sea. She spins a web and waits for this fly to wander to his doom. He, genial little insect, doesn't even realize he's been set up, leaped on, and wrapped up snug and tight to be feasted on at her whim, his fortunes - when they come - sucked out of him before he's had a chance to finish counting the gold.
As you can see, I didn't think much of Molly. She really is a cold and calculating mercenary, her early misery in childhood warping her entire outlook and retarding her emotional development well into middle age. Once she ascends that coveted social ladder in the small Cape Cod town of Rockford, she whines and fumes like a child denied her pretties when Elijah's fortunes get battered about by politics and war. She does grow the eff up, eventually, but it's a very rocky road.
Highly ironic is that Molly prostitutes herself for security, just as her mother did, except that she makes the extra "sacrifice" of being married and forced to live a lie for a man and an entire town every day. And Molly does see her playacting as being one of the many things she has to suffer to make others feel like everything is perfect. To be fair, she has some affection for him (he gives her stuff), but as for those things called PASSION and LOVE, well, those are reserved for the man Molly moons over for years, the ne'er-do-well Isaac Warden.
Even though I wanted to bitchsmack her many times, Molly's motives were understandable and it certainly made for good drama as she navigates a tricky path on her way up the social ladder as Queen Bee of Rockford, whereupon she can steamroll or manipulate at will. Like most of these kinds of characters, there is a downfall and I was both smug that it happened and impressed with how she handled it. It really tapped into what I feel is the New England character (at least the nostalgic old-timey view of it).
Elijah was a genial guy, and I really liked him, though I wanted to throttle him because he was so nice and clueless. Even a thought of Molly's lady parts made him a willing lapdog, deluding himself that he was the one in charge. The misery that comes both his and Molly's way is pretty well-deserved for their blindness to what's in front of them.
The setting of maritime Cape Cod was marvelous. The local politics (at vast odds with Washington) and their effect on all the levels of society there were woven in really well with the story. Most amusing were the small-town clan rivalries ("A King would never entertain a Hall in their house!"). The snobbish attitudes of those on the north side of Rockford (ship mariners and farmers) towards those on the south side of the town (hardscrabble fishermen) was a constant theme as outside events influenced how these two stubborn camps interacted. It was a vivid little picture of pastoral New England, with a red meat soap opera of ambition and adultery in the foreground.
The last part of the book lagged somewhat with Molly's dilemma entirely of her own making, and her whingefests about everything going wrong, but the finale was a real corking slice of Puritan Yankee humble pie (Mmmm mmmm, my favorite!) and made me eager to continue this saga with the sequel, The House of Kingsley Merrick.(less)
I hate book slumps. By all rights, I should have loved this book (look at all those shelves - some of my favorite things!), so that's why the rating i...moreI hate book slumps. By all rights, I should have loved this book (look at all those shelves - some of my favorite things!), so that's why the rating is 3 stars - 2 for how I actually felt about it, and 3.5 to 4 for how I know I would have rated it if I hadn't been in such a cranky book funk. Blah.
So, the plot: Glynda, bastard daughter of a Norman lord, is sold off to Philip of Verlaine who has plans for her. His wife is a fragile little thing and might die if she has to go through childbirth again, so their marriage is a hands-off deal. So that's where Glynda comes in - to serve as a vent for his needs instead of him continuing to frequent prostitutes. But Philip loves his wife, and he resents Glynda for making him feel affection for her as well. When Philip finds an excuse to the go to the Holy Land, he leaps at it, leaving his wife and Glynda behind where they face danger from Prince John & his minions, and Glynda eventually reaches the Holy Land herself where she has more adventures while Philip goes through a series of trials fighting King Richard's Crusade. The story ends up in England with a last-minute tragedy and the final HEA.
Good Things (Or What I Should Have Loved): * Emotionally-tortured hero sleeps around...a LOT! Adultery and child prostitutes included. * War and massacres! * Torture! With implied hero rape in prison! * The heroine gets passed around like a collection plate and lusted over by numerous men, including Chief Justiciar William Longchamp, Prince John, a fictional Merry Man of Robin Hood's, a Knight Templar, a Turkish sultan, a German in the Holy Land, and several others. * Robin Hood & Co. in a cameo. C'mon. * A good secondary character: Deborah, a Jewess from York, who serves as the 4th side of the love square (the other sides being the hero & his wife, and the heroine) * Tournaments and hand-to-hand combat! * Research research research. Leigh put in lots of details about the time period.
Stuff That Annoyed: * Excessive angst and wangst. Really, Philip and Glynda LOVE to mull over their thoughts for hours on a daily basis. If you're a reader who likes to know what's in the characters' heads at all times, this book is for you. * Huge logic fail with the hero going down on Glynda, which prompted the huge question of why he and the wife don't find non-penetrative satisfaction with each other, making Glynda totally unnecessary. After that happened, my mind started to disengage from the book because the angst and wangst that Philip, Glynda and his wife go through seemed utterly pointless and completely avoidable. * The pacing was on the slow side, and the writing - while detailed - sort of felt like it had a Kathleen Woodiwiss moribundity to it. Lots of words, lots of pages. Not all that much action. Since I'm ambivalent about KEW, fans of her writing would probably see this as a plus. It did have more consistent motion than KEW's stuff, whose pacing I find is utterly spastic after long stretches of nothing. * I'm beginning to think that perhaps I like the idea of medievals more than I do the actual books. The history's great, but when it's turned into fictional form, boredom sets in more often than not. Maybe I've read too many in an English setting over the years.
In conclusion: What a disappointment. I'd had this book on my shelf for over a year and probably picked it up at an extremely wrong time. But if you like detailed historical romance, Woodiwiss in particular but don't mind a rather indecisive-in-love hero and some very gritty bodice ripper elements, then you might enjoy it.(less)
Fauna is the story of multiple generations with a strain of African blood that wreaks havoc on their lives....moreWARNING: Lots of GIFs. Sorry. (Haha. NOT.)
Fauna is the story of multiple generations with a strain of African blood that wreaks havoc on their lives. For 250 to 300 pages each, the female protagonists get put through the physical and emotional wringer, then are graciously given an HEA by the beneficent author.
Probably the greatest weakness about an omnibus like Fauna is that it shows the weak links in a writer's style. Here, it becomes glaringly obvious that Denise Robins' formula is MISERY + ANGST + SELF-INFLICTED WOE + LAST MINUTE HEA = STORY.
850+ pages of it is a little much to swallow in one go. The woman was hella prolific, cranking out at least 170 books during a very long career. Her language is lovely and very retro, but the formula gets a little old after awhile.
Luckily these are actually 3 self-contained books (published in the 1950s under Robins' other nom de plume Harriet Gray), not one over-arching story. Any past histories and links between the stories are rehashed, so there's no need to keep track of things and they can be read with great, long and vast stretches of time between each one.
Published in 1954, this is a pretty raw and tawdry little tale of Fauna, a quadroon who arrives in England on a slave ship and is purchased as a plaything for a social-climbing aristocratic bitch. She's abused and neglected recklessly when she's not wanted (like a child's toy) and her life is miserable until she slaps eyes on Harry Roddney, who shows her some kindness one night when she's been the brunt of her mistress's inane society stunts. When Fauna is going to be sold off to another society doyenne to be "matched up" with her little slave-dwarf-jester-minion, she runs to the one and only person who she thinks will help her. Harry immediately is struck by Cupid's arrow, but happiness won't last long, and the lovers are separated while Fauna falls into the hands of a cynical Svengali who gets his kicks out of seeing that Fauna kicks the asses of those who've done her wrong. Top of that list, unfortunately, is Harry. There's an Epic Misunderstanding afoot that propels the last third of the novel.
My Thoughts: This was my favorite of the bunch. Easily 5 stars. It was trés romantique with Fauna's degradation, her rescue by her knight in shining armor (Harry Roddney's now in my man-harem), the callous and cruel fates that separate them, and the final reunion. I wuved it. WUV.
This gloriously lurid cover (1957 U.S. edition; the UK got Bride of Doom) is actually pretty representative of what lurks inside. Fleur, daughter of Fauna, unsuspectingly wanders into the lusty sights of one Denzil St. Cheviot, a total reprobate who wants to feast on her sweet, pale virgin flesh and make her his own. After brutally raping her one night and forcing a marriage, he loses all interest in her and Fleur is left to suffer the slings and arrows of a nasty housestaff and virtual imprisonment in a secluded country estate. When she delivers a baby boy who is melanin-enhanced, St. Cheviot pitches a royal shitfit and Fleur's security (and life) are in danger. The only one willing to protect her is the poetic dreamer and painter Peveril Marsh, who only succeeds in his quest because he's the hero. Even so, it's up to Fleur's daddy to really pull the fat from the fire and make it possible to tie a shiny HEA bow on things.
My Thoughts: This one was pretty gothicky with Fleur constantly in peril and surrounded by evil characters. It was fun and melodramatic, but Peveril was a total milquetoast of a hero who didn't impress me much. He's thin and pale and wispy with a big heart. I wanted to start up a collection of chest hair to give him. He needed a bit of a testosterone boost. Handwringing heroes aren't my fave.
So while I did enjoy it quite a bit, my interest was slightly muted to 4 stars.
LAST, AND DEFINITELY LEAST:
The cover lies! Lots of boobies might have saved this one.
So after 566 pages of the main characters getting ganged up on, railroaded, blindsided, and generally kicked around, what was in store for the last installment?
More of the same, you say?
Charlotte Goff is a poor, wee orphan who has the lucky break of nearly getting run over by the coach of a do-gooder aristocrat. Taken into the lady's home, she's raised and educated and becomes real book-smart. Unfortunately that means she's total fail at real world savvy and gets tumbled in the heather and knocked up by the lady's nasty-ass rakey son, a reprobate with the fearsome name of Vivian. The old woman decides to finally lay down the law with her wandering son and forces him to marry her, which guarantees that these two crazy kids will be utterly miserable in the future. Vivian is hounded by guilt at what his actions have wrought with his mother and tries to reform. But deep down he's simply a hardcore buttmunch twat and Charlotte suffers years upon years of his physical and emotional abuse since she has no legal recourse (and hasn't read the first two books to get pointers on pluckiness from both Fauna and Fleur).
The link between this and the two previous books isn't apparent until 1/3rd of the way through, when Fleur appears and becomes an agony aunt to poor Charlotte. But Fleur stands by and wrings her hands while Charlotte continues to put up with her miserable lot in life. Charlotte eventually meets and finds her soulmate in the much-older Dominic Unwin, an MP who has been grieving over his dead fiancée for years. They maintain a platonic friendship over the years and (sometimes) avoid Vivian's towering jealous rages. But then magically everything is resolved for an HEA.
My Thoughts: Ugh. This one should have been left out of the compilation. It really didn't continue Fauna and Fleur's story, and the theme (the African bloodline) was a last minute reveal that had no bearing on the plot whatsoever. (view spoiler)[Dominic is actually Fleur's "dark-skinned" son who was whisked away after birth, not stillborn. (hide spoiler)]
Speaking of the plot, there is none. The book's 290 pages long, with a quickly set-up premise and about 250 pages of repetitious angst and woe and inaction.
Over and over and over again...
I liked Dominic. A lot. But he came in way too late and then didn't live up to his potential. Charlotte was a dishrag, and Fleur and Peveril were props who annoyed me more than they should have. Maybe I was just burned out after hundreds of pages of chicks getting shat upon. I like the gloomz and doomz, but after awhile...
3 stars. Which averages out to a 4 for the whole shebang. This one will stay on my keeper shelf for the first two, but that last book is never getting re-read.
They're all worth a read, no doubt, but portion them out. You'll be happier that way.
This was a Buddy Read and you can find a similar reaction here.["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"]>["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"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The story - or, rather, the hero, if you want to be specific - hit the Brick Wall of Logic on page 143, sending the L, H & B train onto a track th...moreThe story - or, rather, the hero, if you want to be specific - hit the Brick Wall of Logic on page 143, sending the L, H & B train onto a track that wasn't going to be a fun trip with 500 more pages to fill. The pacing had been quite slow (dare I say, leisurely) and it sounded like the War of 1812 aspect of it would liven things up a bit with the hero's nemesis causing all kinds of havoc with Seth & Charl's happiness, but I decided to jump off rather than wait for it to pull into the station. I think it'd be a good epic-y read, given the right mood.(less)
Despite the cover, this book isn't a bodice ripper and not really a romance. Today it'd be published in trade pb with a "proper" cover full of austere...moreDespite the cover, this book isn't a bodice ripper and not really a romance. Today it'd be published in trade pb with a "proper" cover full of austere dignity, most likely using a close-up of some well-dressed damsel in a portrait from a totally unrelated era.
And I wish it would be republished, because it totally deserves to be. DeBoer did her research on the twilight of the Second Empire, the Franco-Prussian War, and the political upheavals that rocked Paris throughout a long and grueling siege. Bonapartists, royalists, republicans, and socialists all were at each others' throats, and DeBoer's characters span the array of political loyalties, creating quite a stewpot of tension and drama.
The story starts on the typical romance note with Daphne de Monceau, betrothed to another man, falling in love with the Algerian/French soldier Adrien Villancourt. She throws away her virtue quite giddily, but is unable to run off with him because her family puts her on a tight leash. When her father, off writing a book on the Carlist rebels in the mountains of Spain, is kidnapped, Villancourt is recruited to rescue him. His asked-for reward, Daphne's hand, is denied and it seems the lovers will be forever separated. But Adrien is determined to have Daphne, even though Daphne has resigned herself to marriage with a kind, albeit unexciting, Marquis.
Meanwhile, Daphne's twin brother Nicky has marital problems of his own, and his disillusionment with the Imperial Court puts him on a path that follows the political convulsions of Paris. He's a very flawed individual, dedicated yet at the same time a dilettante, selfless and yet selfish. I thought he was a far more interesting character than the "hero" Adrien.
But since this isn't really a romance with the typical formula, but more historical fiction with a dollop of romance, terms like "hero" and "heroine" and "HEA" don't really apply. It's a historical saga with plenty of melodrama and characters torn by issues of trust, loyalty, and honor.
Speaking of HEAs, the one in this book seemed tacked on at the end and very abrupt. I don't know if DeBoer thought her book was getting too long or what, but the final twenty pages are some of the most nail-biting I've ever read, and then.....HEA. The shift in moods was jarring, at least to me. I'd have been happy if there hadn't been an HEA. The long section of the book that covers the siege of Paris is so grim and hopeless that the conventional happiness at the end seemed like a bit of a cop-out after being put in the mood of doom and gloom for so long.
Despite being a chunkster, and a Leisure at that, I didn't think there was a bit of filler. In fact, I think that DeBoer needed to flesh out her research a bit more. When the story moves to the Franco-Prussian War and the battling political factions within Paris, names and events were at times dropped into the conversation without thorough background and context. For someone very unfamiliar with Second Empire and post-SE France, it got a bit confusing. I was able to keep up - barely - but if I had been more grounded in the players and history, I doubt I'd have been so confuzzled. So if one wants to read this, it'd probably be a good idea to bone up on the era via Wiki (including the entry on the Paris Commune). I wish I'd read this book before Book 5 in the Eden saga, Eden Rising. That one took place after the Commune fell with pretty much zero historical background. DeBoer's book has all the detail and drama that Marilyn Harris didn't give her imprisoned revolutionary, the tragic and doomed Elizabeth. (In fact, there was a very strange conversational aside about an Elizabeth coming from England to help the movement. Turns out DeBoer was referring to Elisabeth Dmitrieff.)
Some caveats for readers: there's rape and unapologetic adultery. If you don't like that, don't read it. But you're missing out on a hell of a story.
I highly recommend this for readers who are tired of wallpaper and would like to read a story in a setting that isn't found much in romance or historical fiction. At least, I haven't seen much Second Empire HF. No doubt if there were, it would be focused on Napoleon III's many mistresses (as is the case with Charles II). I mean, who wouldn't want a dozen (or more) novels on the Countess di Castiglione?(less)
I recently read Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen Woodiwiss and found it a little lacking, to say the least. Usually I love thick historicals with tiny pr...moreI recently read Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen Woodiwiss and found it a little lacking, to say the least. Usually I love thick historicals with tiny print, but that Woodiwiss book...I can't even summon up the will to write a good review for it. The romance annoyed me, the hero turned Inexplicable Idiot, the heroine was an unprincipled little faker, and the "historical" aspect of it was far too invisible for a book of its size. So I've simply tossed it into the virtual dustbin, never to be bothered with again. If it had been anything like this book, however, I'd have been running to a keyboard in record time. Because Tarifa is the kind of chunky historical with romance I love. LOTS of history with a romance that kept me guessing. Of course I knew that Tarifa and Bart Kinkaid would eventually get together at the end. At least, I figured they would since they're on the cover. But if I hadn't sneaked a peek at the last page early on, I'd have been in suspense for about 80% of the book. Because these two? Getting along really wasn't a priority. And to have the romance serve the plot rather than being the plot is a nice change of pace from what is typical romance formula.
It's been hard for me to even start this review, since I'm not sure exactly where to begin. What is Tarifa? Is it a romance about a gypsy girl from Spain? Is it a "Driven and successful but emotionally barren woman" story, only set in Old California rather than Manhattan glitz? Is it a fat historical about the metamorphosis of California from a refined backwater of Spanish gentry into a land of opportunity/exploitation by the growing American empire? Is it a sprawling family saga with a huge cast of characters with their own subplots? Is it an exploration of faith, redemption and sacrifice?
Well, I'd say that it's all those things. At 893 pages, there's plenty of room to stuff in all kinds of doings, and Taylor does so. And successfully, in my opinion. Even with the Christian theme, which suddenly got heavy towards the end of the book and isn't my cup of tea anyway, didn't drag the book below a full 5 stars.
The book stars with Tarifa as a 15-year old gypsy infatuated with a toreador who is the George Clooney of his day. A visiting Californio, Santiago Alvarjo, sees a diamond in the rough and decides to bring her back to California with him where she can earn more money dancing in the cantinas than in the streets of Seville. Although he has the noblest of intentions, he uses a bit of underhandedness to get her aboard ship. She is brought home to the Alvarjo family who is not pleased at having an uncouth pagan dropped on their doorstep. Who will bend? It sure as Hell ain't gonna be Tarifa. From this moment on, it's clear that Tarifa will always land on her feet like a cat, taking whatever is slung her way and throwing it back in Fate's face. It's all too delicious and I want to give things away left and right, but I'll be good and say that she marries well, builds an empire of her own with take-no-prisoners discipline, and rides out the upheavals in California's political (mis)fortunes.
Tarifa is a ball-buster, pure and simple. She doesn't take shit from anybody if she can help it, and hates as hotly as she loves. Her greatest desire is for her California rancho, Loma de Oro, and her machinations to preserve it against the fickle political whims of Mexico and America consume the majority of the book. Not only does she have to watch her back from double-crossing government officials, but also vipers within her own family. She doles out abuse and scorn to family and enemies alike, and fights to remain true to what she thinks is herself, all the while keeping Loma de Oro intact.
The internal struggles Tarifa goes through and the device of Loma de Oro as a substitute for a false idol was where the Christian element came in noticeably, and while it did get quite preachy in parts (especially towards the end with the character of Padre Cazón), I honestly didn't get all that irritated with it - and that stuff tends to irritate me a lot. Though Tarifa eventually comes to terms with God, she does it in her own fashion. If she had become a Bible-babbling ninny, I'd have despised it and an otherwise fantastic book would have been ruined. Fortunately, that didn't happen.
Is there romance in this book? Well....yes, though at times I was seriously wondering if there would ever be anything conventional in the hero/heroine relationship. Tarifa and Bart Kinkaid have a rather rocky romance, to put it mildly. If you like your heroes to be almost masochistic in their devotion to a heroine who doesn't appreciate it (to again put it mildly), than you shouldn't be disappointed in Tarifa and Bart's years-long struggle for that HEA and their detours with other loves. They don't have ups and downs. It's a series of nadirs, some involving serious bodily harm, and low-lying spikes of grudging acceptance and tolerance. Sounds romantic, doesn't it? I suppose it's possible to interpret Bart's silent devotion to her as a parallel to a Christian's faith in an angry, unyielding God, but I have no idea if that was Taylor's intent. It was simply a stray thought I had. Once matters of religion and spirituality get brought into a story, everything feels like it's open to interpretation. Bart isn't a doormat, however. He is sea captain who has wenched and brawled in every port in the world, but he meets his greatest challenge in a stubborn and brutally honest gypsy girl from Seville. Over the course of the story (which encompasses some 10 years or more, is my best guess), they help and harm each other in ways big and small. At times I wanted to punch both Tarifa and Bart for their inability to come to terms, but it didn't turn into full-on rage on my part because, unlike the usual romance, there was far more to the story than two peoples' hormones.
There's plenty of history here for the lover of historical fiction. I knew nothing about the transfer of California from Spanish to Mexican control, or what the rancho culture of old California was even like. Taylor certainly writes with the air of authenticity, her descriptions vibrant and clear, whether it's a sparsely populated early 1840s San Francisco, the main setting of San Diego, or scenes like a brutal culling of a musteño herd on the rancho. (My animal lover heart broke in a few scenes.)
The plot takes several turns and characters disappear and reappear (or disappear entirely when their story has run its course). It sometimes seems messy, but the focal point of Tarifa and Loma de Oro is always the endpoint.
It's a sprawling emotional epic with complex characters, and I couldn't believe how awesome it was.(less)