This book has 2 connected storylines, one set in the past and the other set in the present day. I think the main problem with this is that Mosse tries...moreThis book has 2 connected storylines, one set in the past and the other set in the present day. I think the main problem with this is that Mosse tries to give equal page space to both plots. I enjoyed the story set in the past and thought it had just enough mystery to be maybe logically explained but maybe supernatural. A bit predictable in places but still enjoyable.
In the present day, there seemed to be long passages which read like a guide book, either about the places or the history and in one place, far too much explanation about tarot. Whilst some readers might find this interesting, it doens't help the plot flow and I found a lot of Meredith's story a bit pointless and contrived. The present day ending spoiled it a little for me too. I'd have preferred Meredith just discovering her past rather than having an 'adventure'.
I was really looking forward to this book but today I decided to give up on it after about 2 months of avoiding it! I liked the parts abour Crippen bu...moreI was really looking forward to this book but today I decided to give up on it after about 2 months of avoiding it! I liked the parts abour Crippen but so much seemed to be the lives of the people around him or the people that were on the boat when he tried to escape.(less)
Yes, this book is different from The Dante Club, but that doesn't make it a bad book. Obviously it is very well researched and I feel it is written mo...moreYes, this book is different from The Dante Club, but that doesn't make it a bad book. Obviously it is very well researched and I feel it is written more in the style of one of Poe's mysteries. The whole thing also reminded me a bit of Poirot! Not action packed and takes quite a lot of concentration but rewarding for Poe and historical fiction fans.(less)
Based on historical events, Year of Wonders is the story of a small village in Derbyshire that quarantined itself when plague struck in 1665 to preven...moreBased on historical events, Year of Wonders is the story of a small village in Derbyshire that quarantined itself when plague struck in 1665 to prevent the disease spreading to neighbouring villages.
For the time, the decision to quarantine the village was unique and courageous. It's well documented that Londoners fled the capital during the Great Plague and the king removed his court for the duration. Whilst I don't doubt they helped stop spread of infection, there's a point in the book stating that the rest of Derbyshire was plague free whilst in reality it did strike Derby in 1665 (they still have their vinegar stone similar to that in this book).
Anna's narrative is a bit restrictive as a rural housemaid and at times I thought she knew more that she should have under the circumstances. Even so, there wasn't enough information for me on the plague itself or the herbal remedies that were thought of as witchcraft. There were references which I thought without a good knowledge of 17th century English history you wouldn't get.
It would be hard to have written this novel without including some religious aspects but it started to take over the story somewhat. It focused a lot on whether this was punishment from god, a test or brought on by the devil. I started to feel that you can't have it both ways, that god is good and loving yet puts you through something as horrific as bubonic plague! The religious debate is more than would be believable for someone of Anna's age and background to be involved in too.
The ending seemed to veer off completely and felt like it belonged to a completely different novel. For me, the historical aspect would have been good enough an ending for me and the last minute drama was a bit off-putting.(less)
Although I was aware of the importance of the fossil records of the Jurassic Coast, I had never heard of Mary Anning before. So I really enjoyed the l...moreAlthough I was aware of the importance of the fossil records of the Jurassic Coast, I had never heard of Mary Anning before. So I really enjoyed the local history behind those great finds. Enjoyable and well researched historical fiction.(less)
Beautifully written. I felt that the passages describing war were very much in the spirit of the war poets. It is quite an intimate story, no big cons...moreBeautifully written. I felt that the passages describing war were very much in the spirit of the war poets. It is quite an intimate story, no big conspiracies or action, just the story of 3 people very much effected by the war.
A previous reviewer said that it felt a bit muddled. I can imagine that was exactly how wveryone was feeling in the days after the armistice.(less)
I found Aibileen's narration difficult to get into, so I'm glad the book switches between narrators. Overall, a moving and sometimes amusing read abou...moreI found Aibileen's narration difficult to get into, so I'm glad the book switches between narrators. Overall, a moving and sometimes amusing read about relationships and kindness in difficult circumstances. Some fantastic characters too, Celia probably being my favourite.(less)
Set in ancient Greece circa 342 BC, The Golden Mean is the story of Aristotle's time with the young Alexander (soon to be Great). The great philosophe...moreSet in ancient Greece circa 342 BC, The Golden Mean is the story of Aristotle's time with the young Alexander (soon to be Great). The great philosopher takes the position of the young prince's tutor as well as his disabled brother and forges an odd friendship in a time of war.
Leave your modern morality at the door to avoid being offended. Obviously lifestyles were very different back then and there's plenty of sexual references and coarse language that would be the norm for warriors of the time. Think Spartacus Blood and Sand in literary form (only Greek not Roman). As far as I can tell, the historical aspects are well researched and there's only a few occasions where the speech comes across as a bit modern.
The cover blurb would have us think that Alexander was a sadistic and unlikable child but I found some of the moments between him and Aristotle almost tender. I would have preferred more insight into the young mind of Alexander but the story revolves much more around Aristotle, although it skims over his depression. He explains he suffers from black bile which from description sounds like manic depression but I rarely felt it through the storytelling. The prose came across as a bit impersonal so I think it would appeal more to the reader with a historical interest.
It's interesting reading some of Aristotle's ideas with a modern perspective. He was eerily close on some areas of biology but others were so far off they are nearly laughable. For info, Ox Head is the translation of Becephelous, Alexander's famous horse. Considering that other names aren't translated I don't know why this was, especially as it's not flattering nor recognisable.(less)
In the late 18th Century, the learned pig became a popular circus attraction, with the pig spelling words with cards, they could answer questions, tel...moreIn the late 18th Century, the learned pig became a popular circus attraction, with the pig spelling words with cards, they could answer questions, tell the time and even read minds! The first sapient pig was Toby and this is his story. Whilst the pig was a real historical figure, this is a fictionalised account told from Toby's point of view.
The prose is written in a mock 18th Century style and the font used is even reminiscent of the worn type used at the time. If you can suspend disbelief for the length of this fairly short novel, Toby will bring a smile to your face. Of course, the real pig would never have been quite so learned and he didn't meet so many important people but history suggests that a lot of them did talk about him. At the back of the book are notes about some of the characters that did actually exist and it's an interesting historical read in some aspects. Whilst many people have written about the life of prohibition era circuses, this is where they started out, with travelling showmen and their well-trained livestock.
In 1817, a biography of Toby, The Life and Adventures of Toby, the Sapient Pig; with his opinions on men and manners was released as a pamphlet and is commented on in Pyg as fraudulent. The British Library still hold a copy of the original in their collection.(less)
The year is 1321. In the isolated village of Ulewic, the people are ruled by the Owl Masters and the church. When a group of women set up a beguinage...moreThe year is 1321. In the isolated village of Ulewic, the people are ruled by the Owl Masters and the church. When a group of women set up a beguinage on the edge of the village, they are viewed with suspicion but tolerated for their charity. As crops struggle in bad weather and disease strikes livestock and the villagers, they begin to doubt the purpose of the outlander women. Have they been cursed?
The Owl Killers, at the very least, will make you feel grateful for living in the 21st century. Not only was daily life a struggle to survive, but they lived under the oppression of the Catholic church who took their money and dictated what they must believe in or risk punishment. The church is shown as corrupt and hypocritical although the priest, at times, seems like he wants to show compassion but is constrained by those above him. Ulewic has the added tyranny of the Owl Masters, a pagan group of men who rule with fear and enact their own brand of justice. To receive a dead owl on your doorstep is a death sentence.
For the time, beguines were impressive women. They wished to be neither wives nor nuns and set up what we might think of as communes today. Whilst a fictional account, some of the actions of the women are based on historical records, such as giving mass after being excommunicated by the church. They believed in God as that was tantamount to the law but they didn't believe that faith was something that an entity could control.
The novel is narrated in first person by five different characters which makes it difficult to get into the story at first. However this does give differing viewpoints and shows that both religions had good and bad sides. The cunning woman, often thought as of a witch, did her best to aide the women of the village yet the Owl Masters used superstitions to maintain power. Greed was at the centre of the church's concerns yet the beguines helped tend to the sick and feed the poor. However even within the beguines there is prejudice and judgement.
The text is also historically interesting, from how everyday people lived their lives to the superstitions that shaped their lives. Things such as a small cut could mean death in those times, with no real medicines or understanding of sickness. It is sad to think that those with leprosy are still shunned in some countries to this day, even though it is easily treated with modern antibiotics. As it is set before the Gregorian calendar was in use, the passing of time is told with the relevant saint's day or festival and includes some fascinating tidbits.
A slow start, but persevere and it picks up. I enjoyed it more for the history than for the plot or charactisation though and, as is often the case with books over 500 pages, felt it could have been pruned a little. I do understand why setting the scene took so long due to the different narrators.(less)
Matthew Pearl's third historical literary thriller turns its sights onto the mystery of Dickens' final unfinished work. Shortly after his death, Dicke...moreMatthew Pearl's third historical literary thriller turns its sights onto the mystery of Dickens' final unfinished work. Shortly after his death, Dickens' American publisher embarks on a search to find out the true ending of The Mystery of Edwin Drood before his rivals can release a fake.
One of the most interesting parts for me was that around the history of American publishing. Even in the late 17th Century Harper & Brothers (to later become the modern day HarperCollins) were considered the evil publisher trying to usurp independents. Whilst the Bookaneers were by today's standards criminals, it's good to think that literature was exciting enough to elicit such a response that today would be limited to film and music.
As always, Pearl's historical research is interesting reading and most of the stories revolving around Charles Dickens himself are considered fact. The book depicts that beginnings of celebrity culture, with crazed fans and people camping out overnight to purchase tickets. Not to mention those who buy up tickets and sell them for a profit. I bet you thought all these things were modern!
The fiction itself focuses on publisher James Osgood who was indeed Dickens' representative in America, where at the time international copyright laws didn't apply. The plot isn't particularly strong and probably not helped by the fact that we know Drood remains incomplete to this day. Dickens' son, Francis was also featured, in his role as police in India and involvement with the opium trade. I didn't quite see the relevance of this, despite opium being widely used throughout the story, and it was somewhat distracting.
I would like to see Pearl tackle something without Boston connections. Granted, Boston was the sensible location for The Dante Club and Poe was at least born there but Dickens' only connection is that his American publisher resided there. He does take his hero out of America and into England but it does seem that Boston is the centre of his universe.
If you're interested in the historical aspect, it's a worthwhile read but if you're after a fast paced thriller, you would do better elsewhere.(less)