Ah, the glitz and glamour of tinseltown! Who doesn't love the exquisite costumes and makeup, lavish set designs and larger than life personalities of the golden age of Hollywood? I've spent many an hour curled up watching old black and white movies, marveling at the splendor on the screen and own a copy of Gone with the Wind - my favorite movie of all time - in every possible format I can get my hands on so I always have it ready to watch wherever I am. But given this perfection and the powerful emotions drawing the performers together, what happened when the cameras stopped rolling and real-life began? All the Stars in the Heavens tackles not only the beauty of Hollywood during this magical time but the very real and very flawed people who inhabited it.
The story is told in the third person and jumps relatively rapidly from one person's perspective to the other. While this could be confusing at times, once I got used to it I found it a wonderful way to see inside the lives and heads of a large number of players. While the bulk of the focus is on Loretta Young and her secretary, Alda Ducci, the reader also sees into the hearts of a host of other characters, including some pretty famous names such as David Niven, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. These characters in particular, along with Loretta's mother, sisters and a few others, are wonderfully developed and the dialogue between them is brilliant and witty and feels right out of one of those wonderful movies these people inhabited. There are a number of other high profile names sprinkled throughout this hefty story that seem more used for background development and name dropping than to actually showcase the people behind the names, but the main characters are all developed into incredibly real, flawed people. And oh how flawed they are!
I find it amazing that Adriana Trigiani was able to give me these characters with some serious imperfections in personality and still make me love them. The men are especially selfish and unfaithful - I can't think of one male character, save a few priests, that didn't in fact cheat on the women they were romantically involved with - but somehow their humor, caring hearts and/or their dedication to their careers make them endearing even when you know they are not the type of men any woman would want to marry. The women have their own lapses in judgement and many seem to trade partners and husbands like they might dresses, but their love for family, passions and even religion seemed to shine through the muck they made in their personal lives to make them very real and very endearing. This would include the big "secret" Loretta keeps from most everyone for more years than seems possible and that Alda helps her orchestrate. While I can't say I agree with many of the choices she made her heart was clearly in the right place and she did the best she could given her experiences and the times she lived in.
On top of the wonderful characters, my favorite aspect of All the Stars in the Heavens would have to be the great attention and detail given to the development of the settings. Every small detail that went into the making of a movie - from painting and rigging the settings, dressing and making up the stars, filming on locations on and off lots, negotiating contracts, press junkets and fans, and so much more - are shown to the reader so it is impossible to not feel completely enmeshed in the process. The homes and locations, from Italy to California to a snow-covered mountain in Washington State, are all perfectly presented so the reader can see it all right before them.
This is the first novel I've read by Adriana Trigiani and I am so glad I started with this one. While there might be almost too much development of the many characters and settings throughout this epic novel, it is all and all a wonderful immersion into a particularly fascinating time and place in American history and culture. I not only feel like I was presented with a wonderful story but a better understanding of what it took to make a movie at the dawn of modern cinema. With as much attention as was given to the many people involved I very much wish the author had included a detailed author note at the end of the novel to help me navigate what portions and people are true to history and what was created to advance the story. Even without this I am now ready to delve even further into the history of this golden age in movies and I look forward to reading more by the author as well. ...more
The Kopp sisters are unlike any in fiction I have come across before! Each has her own quirks but all three - stubbornly willful Constance, bullish Norma and dramatic Fleurette - are intelligent, outspoken and incredibly resourceful, making for quite the combination. The very fact that the three live alone together happily on a farm out in the country is remarkable given the time in which they live. None of the men who come into contact with them knows quite what to do or what to expect from them, least of all the brutish Mr. Kaufman who expects them to roll over and give up after he causes the buggy accident that changes all their lives forever.
I think my favorite aspect of the novel, beyond my admiration for what Constance accomplishes by refusing to let the wrongs done to her and others go unchecked, is the introduction of what I think of as more modern law enforcement tactics in the beginning of the 20th Century. Not only does Constance do her own detective work, something not normally done, we get to see the meticulous collection of both forensic and photographic evidence, stakeouts, private investigations, the use of media (in this case newspapers) to influence the way a case is viewed by the public and sentencing deals done between police and criminals in exchange for information. There's even a courtroom drama towards the end of the novel.
An interesting twist added to the crime drama element is the slow unraveling of a long buried family secret that is revealed to the reader in flashbacks and memories. This secret, and the revelation of the paranoid and phobic way their mother raised them, is the very reason the sisters have so isolated themselves from society and determined that outsiders, even police, cannot be trusted. This buggy accident, while awful and traumatic for a number of reasons, does serve some good in bringing the sisters out of their own world somewhat and forcing them to realize that, at times, everyone needs help.
On the downside, I did find that the story dragged in parts. There are aspects added, such as Norma's slightly obsessive interest in her carrier pigeons, that didn't seem to add anything to the story and from the author's notes aren't based in the history known of the Kopp sisters. Another aspect that slowed the story down somewhat was the inclusion of a missing child case that Constance refuses to let go. While I found it interesting I'm not overly sure why it was included, other than to highlight the fact that Constance would make a good detective. I felt the close relationship between Constance and the sheriff was also made to insinuate some sort of attraction between the two, but that didn't seem to end up going anywhere.
Overall, Girl Waits with Gun is an entertaining and enlightening look into a unique, true to life woman who did her part to change the way society looked at the capabilities of women in law enforcement. There are moments of humor, heart and suspense and I'm so happy Amy Stewart brought these wonderful women's stories to the public. They really are unforgettable!...more
From page one of The Night Sister an eerie feeling permeates the story, one that makes you think of dangeFind my full review at www.luxuryreading.com.
From page one of The Night Sister an eerie feeling permeates the story, one that makes you think of dangerous things hanging back in the shadows, just waiting to pounce. It opens with one of our protagonists, Piper, being called home by her sister, Margot, after their childhood friend, Amy, is found dead along with her husband and son at what remains of Amy’s childhood home, the Tower Motel her grandfather built. All signs point to Amy as the murderer but neither woman can believe their friend would do that. It’s up to Piper to find out exactly what happened to Amy and her family, especially since the only survivor of the murders, Amy’s daughter Lou, could still be in danger.
Going back and forth in time, between the present, the late 1980’s when Piper, Margot and Amy were childhood friends looking into the mysteries of Amy’s family’s past, and the late 1950s/early 1960s when Amy’s mother Rose and Aunt Sylvie lived at the motel, little snippets of information are revealed that, in the beginning, create more questions than answers but soon begin falling into place revealing a much larger and darker puzzle. The author does a great job of keeping the tension and mystery strong, especially since there are so many story lines running at the same time that all seem somewhat separate at first but wrap up nicely by the end. There is clearly much going on than our characters are initially aware of, and there are a few gruesome and truly terrifying parts that definitely kept me glued to the story. Suffice it to say Piper and Margot are in way over their head and their own lives are put into danger by the time they finally figure out exactly what happened to Amy and what dark secret Amy’s family has been hiding for generations.
My only real issue with The Night Sister was how heavy the paranormal elements were. I knew going in there was the possibility of ghosts or ghouls or scary things but I assumed these scary mysteries from the past would turn out to have more grounded roots in reality. This wasn’t the case and let’s just say fans of “monsters” will be very happy to read this novel. I still very much enjoyed the novel, it just surprised me with this specific paranormal turn it took.
If you’re looking for a scary story about things that go bump in the night you will not be disappointed with The Night Sister. I can honestly say I had a few scaredy-cat moments during this story, and that isn’t something that happens often with me. I definitely plan to read more by Jennifer McMahon, I only hope they aren’t all as heavily immersed in the paranormal as this one. ...more
I have to admit up front that I haven't read very extensively about French history. British history has always been my favorite and with the exception of books centered around Marie Antoinette and/or The French Revolution I haven't had that many novels set in France cross my path. This being said I was delighted when I saw TLC Book Tours would be doing a blog tour for The Sisters of Versailles. How could I NOT want to read a novel that promises to be a well researched peek into the scandalous court of King Louis XV, something I knew so little about? Decadence, intrigue and plotting sisters...I'm all in! I'm happy to say that the synopsis lived up to it's promises and thoroughly immersed me in the plotting, grasping and sometimes devastating world of the Nesle sisters and their time at court.
These sisters had an upbringing I would expect for those of their background: distant parents, an education more in the ways of being a proper woman of fortune than of intellect, the prospect of advantageous marriages. Where what I consider "normal" for women such as these began to veer off was the fact that four of the five sisters so easily found themselves the mistresses of the King! Now, I can see one sister falling into the King's bed and would have been satisfied with Louise's story of her rise in favor and devastating fall, but the fact that her sisters schemed their way in for their own selfish, or naïve, reasons was just delightfully scandalous. This whole concept just drives the point home that regardless of familial love and devotion, the prospect of advancement can warp someone's actions and the greed, jealousies and natural competitiveness of sisters can be amplified and deformed into something quite ugly. I also enjoyed seeing how the more innocent personalities they developed in the nursery were so corrupted by the adult world they were born into....the court didn't make the women who they became but sort of exaggerated the negative aspects of their personalities. I've never come across sisters quite like these!
The chapters alternate between sisters (the first and last being from Hortense's point of view, which is interesting as she was the only sister not to land in Louis XV's bed and was the last surviving sister) and gives a front row view into not only each of their inner machinations but into the toll the court takes on their personalities over time: Louise, the eldest, was a loving, sweet yet gullible young woman until the court intrigue and betrayal of her sisters broke her spirit; Pauline, the headstrong and fiercest sister only became meaner with the court's influence; ever jolly and lazy Diane became more gluttonous in the opulence that surrounded them; and littlest Marie-Anne, always cunning, sharp and pretty, was able to further hone her skills at manipulation until she became the cruelest of them all. Only Hortense, the most pious and virtuous of the sisters, seemed to escape the court relatively unscathed, but even this might be biased as she is the one leading the story. I found their journeys not only surprising and fascinating to watch but somewhat sad, as none were really able to live full, happy lives even with all their wealth and influence.
The only small qualm I have with the story was that it felt somewhat repetitive at times. Yes, I know that Louise is easily manipulated and somewhat over-emotional, that Hortense is sanctimonious and that Diane is a horrible writer and eats a lot. I didn't feel these traits needed to necessarily be mentioned as much as they did, however I can't say it necessarily pulled down the writing too much either. It simply had me rolling my eyes from time to time, which may have been the point as I can see the other sisters doing that as well when discussing it.
Overall this is a remarkable and fascinating look at a pack of sisters that found their way into the heart of the French court but seem almost lost to history. I am so glad Sally Christie let them tell their story and I am now thoroughly intrigued by French history. This makes me that much more excited when I know there are two more novels to come out about more of Louis's mistresses, and not only am I excited to learn about them but to see how Louis's personality might change over time as he indulges even more in his need for new women and an end to his easily triggered boredom. A wonder beginning to a very promising series. ...more
Please excuse me while I gush a little bit (well, maybe a lot!) about Come Away With Me by Karma Brown. It has been quite a while since a book made me actually, physically cry...like big, fat, hiccup-inducing tears...but that is exactly what happened on and off as I read this story. The raw emotions these characters are experiencing are written so vividly I at times felt like I could feel their pain, anger, anxiety and hollowing sadness along with them. While this did bring about some strange looks from my husband and dogs I am so happy to have experienced these feelings along with Tegan. This is a story that will consume you, and in my opinion that makes one hell of a great read.
After the accident Tegan can't seem to get out of her own head or see past her grief, and is so filled with an emptiness and livid anger that she can't help but want to hide away from the world and lash out at anyone who even attempts to get her to think about a time when she can start healing and moving on. While I have thankfully never experienced a tragedy like Tegan's, my son was born two months early and had to spend the first month of his life in the hospital. He is now a healthy, happy ten year old, but I will never forget going home from the hospital without him and the abject emptiness I felt the first time I walked through the door without him in my arms. Ms. Brown nails describing this feeling and made me instantly sympathize with Tegan and the myriad physical and emotional symptoms that come along with an accident like she experiences.
As the story progresses the reader not only gets to go along with Tegan and Gabe as they travel to three dream locations but, disbursed throughout, are chapters that go back into Tegan and Gabe's life so we get to see how their love developed and the life they had been living up until the horrible accident. These chapters are filled with laughter and love, and if you haven't fallen a little in love with Gabe by the end I would be shocked. He is such a kind, patient person with Tegan and his careful treatment of her as they travel to Thailand, Italy and Hawaii was beyond touching. Oh, and be prepared to add these three locations to your bucket list, if you haven't already, because Karma Brown's ability to transport the reader made me feel like I was riding an elephant, taking a cooking class filled with ripe tomatoes and garlic and learning how to surf right along with Tegan and Gabe. She hits all the senses with a bang and I am now ready to put my backpack on and take off!
There is a twist towards the end of the novel that actually made my heart start beating faster. I honestly didn't see it coming and it really hit me harder than I would have expected given the fact that these things weren't really happening. Regardless, I think it was perfectly done as it drives the story in a direction that will finally come to a conclusion with a sense of satisfaction and hopefulness. After all the tears I was very happy to come to this sort of conclusion!
I can't recommend Come Away With Me enough, to anyone who wants to travel along on a sometimes sad yet always fascinating adventure with some unforgettable characters. The fact that this is Karma Brown's debut novel is astounding to me, and I can tell you that she has found a forever-fan in this reader. ...more
I was first drawn to The Panopticon after reading the synopsis. Right after college I worked with "troubled" kids, first as a Mental Health Associate in a Behavioral Health Center and then as a Behavioral Specialist at an alternative school, and Anais sounded like many of the kids I came into contact with during those years. I worked with kids that had experienced unspeakable childhoods and some that did horrible things, but what I learned from all of them was that each had learned how to survive and cope with the world they lived in the best they could. Many had been let down, time and time again, by those adults and institutions that were supposed to help them and keep them safe and were therefore incredibly suspicious of any that came into their lives. How could anyone blame them for that? This aspect of the story, combined with the mystery of whether or not Anais had harmed the policewoman and what part "the experiment" played in the whole thing, drew me in. While I can't say all my questions were answered by the last page I can say this character-driven story was powerful and heartbreaking, and important reading for anyone trying to understand the mind of children let down by the same society that views them as the problem.
I purchased The Panopticon as an eBook/audiobook combo but ended up listening to the audiobook for the majority of the story. The narrator (Gayle Madine) has a very heavy British accent and this, combined with the profuse slang used, made it difficult at first to keep up with what was happening. Once I got used to this, however, I really enjoyed the inflections and feelings she put into the story. Even with the heavy subject matter being discussed, the lives of these young offenders are infused with humor and love that felt very real and made me hope they would somehow all come out the other side of their tangled young lives happy and healthy (which, of course, is not realistic). While some readers might find the slang, heavy cursing, violent actions and drug use discussed a turnoff, I think it was completely necessary to present this world of damaged and neglected children as realistically as possible.
The majority of the story takes place in Anais's head, which is an interesting perspective as it makes some aspects very fanciful or gritty while also making some of what she tells us unreliable. As the synopsis points out, Anais has been moved around from one home to another since she was a baby and she has developed a long list of habits and rituals to help her cope and control what she can, as I imagine most children in her situation would do. Anais is a remarkable character, clever and sensitive (about certain things at least) but also cynical and desensitized given her experiences. I spent much of the story going back and forth between believing she had severe mental issues - with her believing she is part of an experiment where she is constantly watched and manipulated by unseen people that want to see her locked up for life, panic attacks were she sees faces on the walls and feels like she is shrinking, her inability to remember what happened at the time the policewoman was beaten so badly she ends up in a coma - and feeling like she had a better handle on this world than most adults do. She's caring, abusive, generous, selfish...in other words she is a complex and flawed person like everyone else. It isn't often I come across a character that is as destructive as Anais and that I wholeheartedly cheer for nonetheless, but that is exactly what happened.
My only real issue with The Panopticon was the author's failure to wrap up the various threads she started in the story. Two of the main aspects - the policewoman in a coma and the experiment tracking Anais - sort of drifted off by the end. The reader isn't given any concrete answers to either issue and this made the drama and mystery just sort of deflate for me. There are other more minor threads, like the disappearance of a fellow Panopticon resident and the fate of Anais's incarcerated boyfriend that used her in a most horrible way, that are left unresolved as well. The fate of Anais herself is left somewhat unresolved and, while I can see that the author is leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions, I would have preferred a little more resolution when it came to the future of these captivating characters.
Author Jenni Fagan clearly knows how to get inside the heads and hearts of young people who are forced to cope with things that no human should have to cope with and I think she presents these mistreated and neglected children perfectly. The family that develops at the Panopticon is remarkable and I absolutely loved spending time with them. While I would have preferred more concrete resolutions, those readers that enjoy drawing their own conclusions will revel in the material given. I won't soon forget Anais or her compatriots and I will definitely watch for more novels by Ms. Fagan. ...more
Being as big a fan of historical fiction, nonfiction and movies and TV shows centered somehow around history as I am, I tend to slip into the belief from time to time that I've read or heard it all about most aspects of history. That being said, I'm always delightfully surprised when I come across a book that talks about an aspect of history I have never even heard of before. When I read the synopsis of Orphan # 8 I knew this book fit the bill and was one that I needed to read. I'm happy to say the book satisfied my need to learn more about this time and place in history and presented a narrator in a specific set of circumstances I can't imagine coming across again.
First and foremost, my heart ached for Rachel. If something could befall a person it seemed to happen to her. From the horrific circumstances that left her and her brother Sam orphans to her being placed at such a young age in a separate orphanage from Sam - an orphanage where she became "material" for the doctors' experiments that lead to a plethora of medical issues - to being reunited with her brother and then separated, time and again, from him....if it could have happened it seemed to happen to her. Her entire life was a struggle with loneliness, health issues, abandonment issues and so much more. Is it any wonder that, when placed face-to-face again, now as an adult, with the doctor that was the catalyst to so many of her issues, that her myriad of emotions that had built up over the years concentrated into anger and revenge towards this one cruel, uncaring woman? Not in my mind!
The structure of the story - alternating chapters that either told Rachel's history or showed Rachel confronting Dr. Solomon and deciding what to do with her newfound control over the woman - was at first slightly confusing. There are no date indicators at the beginning of each chapter to assist the reader in knowing when and where the next chapter is going to take place and it is only once the reader dives in that they are able to use context clues to figure it out. Once the alternating chapters became a pattern it was easier to figure out and actually helped keep suspense within the two storylines building, but in the beginning especially I would have preferred that time indicator noted at the beginning of the chapter as is often done in historical fiction that goes back and forth in time.
An aspect of the story I was not expecting was the romantic relationship between Rachel and her friend and lover Naomi. Including this aspect, which showed in historical context how unaccepted this relationship was at the time and the isolation and danger that came with it, was a perfect addition to the other threads of Rachel's life that caused the feelings of loneliness and isolation that built over her lifetime and affected the woman she became. I could not help wishing Rachel and Naomi could be happy and open about their love and feeling like this might have, at least in part, helped Rachel to heal from much of the trauma she experienced as a child, but I also appreciate the author's adherence to historical fact and her willingness to show how hard it was for these women to live and love in a time they just weren't accepted in.
Overall I think Orphan # 8 is an exceptionally fascinating story. Rachel is unique and brave and admirable for surviving the life she was handed as well as for what she fought to build within that life. While I don't necessarily believe Rachel got the ending she deserved I think the ending was very realistic and did have touches of hope and better things to come. The author also includes an expansive "About the Book" section at the end that gives an in depth look at the real history behind the story and how that history is connected to the author herself and this served to expand my appreciation of the story and the history even more. I would definitely recommend the book to any historical fiction lover who is looking for something different from the everyday and a heroine unlike any they have likely come across before....more
Tudor history is one of those time periods that has been written about every possible way, with just about every person of note highlighted and nearly every corner unearthed to try and present the history in a new and interesting light. While I still can't get enough of the Tudors I do understand why many readers have all but banned them from their reading lists....there's just been such an over-saturation of the subject matter! So what could draw a reader familiar with the time period back? Simply put, exceptional writing and a story that, while familiar, is still poignant and alluring. This is exactly what you will get in Elizabeth Fremantle's Sisters of Treason, a novel that is so well written you cannot help but be drawn in and captured by the characters even as you know the inevitable paths their lives will take.
I switched back and forth between the Kindle version and the Audible audiobook version of Sisters of Treason but I must note that the audiobook was so captivating that I listened to the majority of the story. The narrators (Georgina Sutton, Rachel Bavidge and Teresa Gallagher) were perfect and did a phenomenal job of giving Lady Catharine, Lady Mary and Levina Teerlinc their own voices and personalities. So often with audiobooks there is one narrator that does their best to create distinct voices for multiple characters, but having the three separate narrators eliminated any possible confusion between characters and gave each her own story within a story. Whichever narrated Lady Mary was PERFECT and was able to somehow give us this higher, innocent sounding voice laced with steal that perfectly personified the Lady Mary within the story. I was so disappointed whenever I had to stop listening and do anything else.
Choosing to tell this story from these three points of view was excellent. The story as a whole covers the time period from Jane Grey's execution through a good part of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The royal blood that flows within the two surviving Grey sisters meant they would never be too far from the court or the intrigues that surrounded the thrones of Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, especially Lady Mary as her deformity and small stature made her less of a threat to both queens and made it so she was nearly invisible to many. She was almost a pet to these queens and was witness to many conversations and intrigues that wouldn't have happened in front of others. Lady Catharine, on the other hand, did present more of a threat so was closely watched and punished for any personal freedoms she sought without the queens' permission. Levinia also presents a great point of view as she shifts from the fringes of the court as a painter into the grime and dirt of the streets, giving a way to show what all level of person would have felt and experienced during this turbulent time. These shifting perspectives gives a constant feeling of tension overlaying the story as danger and grief is never far behind any of these women.
Individually, each woman's story is laced with loss, heartache and, ever so briefly, small glimpses of joy. Lady Katharine wants nothing more than to love freely and be loved and, for anyone who knows the story already, her actions toward this end bring her years of imprisonment and indescribable loss. Lady Mary wants peace and security away from court and, while she eventually finds a small taste of this, faces her own losses of love and happiness before getting there. Levina sacrifices much of her own love and family in the pursuit of her art and to protect the Grey sisters and, while I wasn't familiar with her as a court painter, watching her tug-a-war between her home life and her court life was fascinating. All of these characters are brought to life in such a way that it was impossible not to feel for them and ache a little for all they lost.
The secondary characters are just as well brought to life. I was amazed at the detail given to Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and Ms. Fremantle does an exceptional job of showing the mental and physical unraveling of Mary as well as the whip-smart and vindictive nature of Elizabeth. I was a little surprised at the sympathetic presentation of the Grey sisters' mother, Francis Grey, as I have always seen her presented as a cruel, cold and manipulative woman, but I enjoyed seeing her as a more loving and kind mother to Catharine and Mary and supportive friend to Levina. The entire story, from character development to period detail, is just perfectly presented.
Even though I have all three of Elizabeth Fremantle's novels this is my first experience with her writing and it is just superb. I am now prepared to dive right into Queen's Gambit (the first in her Tudor Trilogy with Sisters of Treason being the second) and Watch the Lady (the third book in the Tudor Trilogy). I can't imagine a better way to spend my time and recommend her writing to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or just a wonderfully spun story. ...more
Taylor Jenkins Reid is one of those authors that, when I see a new book of hers ready for pre-order, I instantly hit the button and then wait anxiously for it to arrive at my door. Her books are just that good! She has this way of making you really feel for her characters, she makes you internalize their pain and joy until you are just breathless watching their lives unfold on the page. For me, she also makes me look at relationships and their issues and successes in a different way than I necessarily did before. She mixes humor with heavy elements so that the stories are neither fluffy nor overly depressing and I always feel completely satisfied when I turn the last page. In other words, I'm a fan!
In Maybe in Another Life, our main character Hannah has kind of drifted through life, never really putting down roots or committing to anything in particular. The more you get to know her you discover that her parents moved to London when she was a teenager while she stayed in L.A. and lived with her best friend's family and, since then, she has been trying to discover where and what "home" is for her. While I can't say I've experienced this same feeling or agree with all the choices she made by the time we meet her, she is charming and caring and a completely sympathetic character. She's the kind of girl I would want in my corner if I really needed someone to be there for me, good or bad, and tell me the truth when no one else would.
The story really takes flight when Hannah and her friends go out to celebrate her return to L.A. and we begin to see how one tiny decision - whether to go home with her best friend Gabby or her ex-boyfriend Ethan - can spiral into two very different, yet in some respects very similar, life paths. I'm not about to give away how either story progresses because that would spoil too many surprises for anyone who wants to read it, but I will say that neither life is a smooth path and both are filled with the many ups and downs of any life. This seemingly small choice will have far-reaching consequences for not only Hannah but many other characters, and it was fascinating to see how the various characters experienced many of the same elements - infidelity, pregnancy, feeling alone, finding love - in both storylines even while they were presented or experienced in different ways. This brings up the whole fate versus choice debate and my mind was spinning back and forth as I tried to see which way the cards would fall for each of them.
The end of the book presents a concept that I am completely in love with now and it is this: each choice we make fractures our life into alternative universes, and each of those alternate universes is another existence or life that we are living parallel to the one we are in now. With all the choices we make each and every day this gives us infinite, varied lives that we are living. There might be some similarities that remain across the universes but it would be impossible for them to be the same. I keep thinking about how, if I hadn't agreed to tag along with a friend one night in college, I might never have met my husband and might then never have had my son. However, it could be that we would have still met, just at a different time and under a different circumstance. Or, I could have met someone else and be living a whole different life. Who knows! I start getting emotional when I think about this too much as I don't really want to imagine my life any other way and I'm just glad I am living in this universe. What I end up coming away with each time is that, regardless of whether fate will have its way or not, we have to make the choices we think are right for us and let the world unravel the way it will.
Taylor Jenkins Reid's novels are smart women's fiction, novels that make you really think about your life and how much you can relate to her character's experiences and feelings. I've read all three she's written so far (click on the name to see my review of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do) and I've loved each one more than the last. I can't recommend her enough for those looking for an emotional, thought-provoking book that tests what you think about love and relationships and leaves you longing for more. ...more
I was absolutely blown away by Shona Patel’s debut novel, Teatime for the Firefly, when I read it a few ySee the full review at www.luxuryreading.com.
I was absolutely blown away by Shona Patel’s debut novel, Teatime for the Firefly, when I read it a few years ago and haven’t been able to forget her intelligent and independent heroine, Layla Roy, or Layla’s determination to chart her own life in an Indian culture based on strict traditions and expectations. The author’s use of language and imagery completely transported me to the beautiful yet savage environment of the Assam tea plantations and brought a world to life that I had never seen before. At the beginning of that novel we meet Layla’s kind and free-thinking grandfather, a man that raised Layla to be just as educated and self-possessed as any man. At a time when this way of thinking is nearly unheard of, Biren Roy has become a well-respected man known for his unwavering support of equality for the women of India, especially involving education. But how did he become this man? Flame Tree Road is Biren’s story of love, heartache and a passion born from tragedy that is just as beautiful as its predecessor.
Flame Tree Road begins in a small village in 1870s India with Biren’s family living a relatively poor yet loving and happy life. His parents have never been supporters of the country’s traditions that support cruel treatment and inequality towards women and Biren grows up dreaming of a different world. When his father dies and his mother is ostracized from everyone, including her family, and stripped from her position in society and her very humanity simply because she is a widow, smart and sensitive Biren knows his purpose in life must be to change these antiquated customs and ensure that the women of India can have a life of their own and the education they deserve regardless of their caste, their money or their marriage status.
The bulk of the novel deals with Biren’s journey to have his dream of equality and education for women realized. This takes him to England, where he becomes a lawyer and seeks to make changes within the British government that now rules over India, then back to India where he works to make sure those changes can become a reality. I hate to say it but I found Biren’s journey slow moving and, at times, tiresome. As would be expected, there are a lot of political and societal issues and delays that make this passion of Biren’s difficult to bring to fruition. While this helps highlight for the reader the odd traditions and superstitions of old-world India (to our modern eyes at least), after a while I became as frustrated as Biren clearly was at the obstacles that kept getting in his way. The relationships he develops along the way take a backseat to this journey and felt somewhat lackluster until he falls in love with Maya, the independent daughter of an Indian educator Biren works with to build a school for Indian girls, and by the time that beautiful relationship comes to be it isn’t given enough time to really flourish. Once Biren and Maya marry the story progresses at a rapid pace, covering many years in a short amount of pages, and, for me, wraps up too quickly. On top of that, I was saddened to see Biren’s life marked largely by tragedy as he lost so many of those he loved along the way. I get the idea that for a person to appreciate the sweet they must experience the sour, but it seemed like kind Biren got the short end of the stick there.
All of this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Flame Tree Road. Shona Patel’s writing is amongst the most beautiful I have come across and her abilities to bring to life a brightly colored world of beauty against the ugliness of this time and place in history (at least when it comes to the rights of women and an antiquated caste system) is unmatched in my reading. She perfectly shows how this free-thinking man becomes stuck between two worlds – the old world beliefs of India and the advancements and changes of England – and I very much enjoyed seeing how Biren reconciled these two parts of his life together. He is a remarkable character and I feel quite satisfied that Ms. Patel gave fans of Teatime for the Firefly the history of one of the most enigmatic characters from that novel.
At the end of the day I think Flame Tree Road is a very solid novel that just fell slightly short of my very high expectations given how much I loved its predecessor. Regardless, I am still a huge fan of Shona Patel and will continue to read whatever she writes. Given her remarkably beautiful writing, I don’t think anyone could go wrong in picking up her novels. ...more
Oh how I loved this story! I purchased the book as a Kindle/Audible Audio version but to be completely honest I didn't read a page. The narrator (Karina Fernandez) was so spectacular that I wanted nothing more than to listen to her weave the story with each character's individual personality and voice and had trouble pulling myself away when I had to get anything else done. That isn't to say the story itself isn't as wonderful as the narration. This was a perfect combination of an excellent story and the right narrator able to pull off the complicated emotions and circumstances it presented.
The story weaves back and forth in time, from Meg, the oldest Bird child, her daughter and, eventually, her father, sister and brother Rory, cleaning out their mother Lorelei's home back to various Easter weekends over the course of their lives. When we first meet Meg in 2011 we discover that Lorelei was a hoarder (think of the worst possible episode of Hoarders and you'll have a good idea of how badly she lived). As we go back in time we see her sickness evolve from a sort of whimsical, free spirited quirkiness into a brutal, sometimes aggressive need to keep everything until there is literally walls of junk and only one chair she can sit in. She pushes everyone away and refuses to bend or compromise with anyone. This sickness, along with the tragic incident that happened one Easter, pushes each member of the Bird family in opposite directions and effects how each of them develops as a person. We get to see each character battle with their guilt and lack of control and the author really does an astonishing job of presenting the heartache and damage done to them (and that they do to each other) by the circumstances of their lives. We get to see first hand the vicious cycle of mental and, in some cases, physical damage that can cause generations to pass on this sort of problem even as they swear they will be different.
The story also incorporates the email correspondence between Lorelei and an online romantic interest and it is within this correspondence that we get to peek inside Lorelei's scarred heart and mind and see how her life imploded from her own point of view. We learn what really happened that one horrible Easter and her attempts to try and fight her mental illness as much as she can. These parts really broke my heart! The narrator does such a great job of inflecting a false happiness into Lorelei's words as the listener can hear the pain and sadness crack through. Even though Lorelei had hurt those she said she loved most, quite badly at times, I couldn't help wanting to give this fictional character a hug and try to help her. Even being done with the story I still can't get her out of my head!
While I know this sounds just horribly sad it isn't all bad. We do get a sense that things could be different in the future for some of the Birds, if they are willing to get help and help each other heal and move on. Regardless of where these characters might have gone after the story technically ended, the time spent with each of them was quite the journey. I'm always amazed when an author can make me truly feel for their fictional characters and Lisa Jewell definitely did that. I am so excited to see what else she has to offer! ...more
I have to admit that, until very recently, I didn't have much interest in American Civil War history. That changed when I read the phenomenal Sisters of Shiloh and since then I've been keeping an eye out for any novels that seem to give a unique view into this devastating yet life-changing war that reshaped America as we know it. The Outer Banks House, taking place over the summer of 1868 on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is exactly that type of novel, giving the reader a view into the hearts and heads of Southerners on both sides of the newly drawn political and racial lines following this war that pitted brother against brother and tore many families apart.
The story is told from the point of view of both Abigail Sinclair, eldest daughter of a wealthy, prominent and traditional North Carolina family and Benjamin Whimble, local of the Outer Banks whom Abigail agrees to tutor while the Sinclairs spend their first summer at the summer house her father recently built by the ocean in Nags Head. When the two first meet they could not possibly be more different. Abigail has wanted for nothing materially while being raised by somewhat cold and distant parents that expect nothing less than the highest level of decorum and obedience from their intelligent and sometimes willful daughter. Ben, on the other hand, has been raised with very little in the way of luxury (he's never even owned a pair of shoes) and no education as is the way of most of his fellow locals who make their living off the land or sea. Against all odds and expectations they soon become very close and both open the other's eyes to a world they never expected to be a part of.
The Outer Banks House is beautifully written and the lyrical descriptions of the various islands these two explore make it easy to picture the rolling ocean, strong salty winds and the sandy forests. This location also presents an interesting mix of the old Southern ways (racist plantation owners like Abigail's father that still believe in slavery and superiority) and the changes that are still taking root in this post-Civil War world (Outer Bankers have been working side by side with their black compatriots for some time and Roanoke Island has a freedmen's colony on it that was thriving until recently) that I can't imagine taking place anywhere else. North Carolina seems to be that line between the North and South that has people on both sides living together and battling against the other's views. It is within this strange new world that Abigail can grow into the woman she is meant to be and see just how wrong the beliefs and practices of her family have been.
While I very much enjoyed both Abigail and Benjamin individually and liked watching how each influenced the other, I didn't really love them as a couple. They just made such a strange pair to me and it was hard to go along with two people falling madly in love with each other so quickly when they are so completely different. For example, it was hard to picture a girl born to such privilege and pampering quite happy to leave that all behind for a one room wooden house with no luxury whatsoever where she would now have to do everything, from cleaning to cooking to, I assume, making her own clothes since they wouldn't have the money to buy any. I'm sure in the grand scheme of things it would be possible, but it just felt too fast and furious to me. Then again, I've never been a big fan of quick and heavy romances so it could just be me :). I have an easier time picturing them as becoming friends that influence and support each other than as romantic partners. The novel also ends with them in a happy yet somewhat unresolved position but I'm sure the sequel will bring readers up to speed on what happened next for these characters (see the blog tour schedule below for blogs that are reviewing the sequel, Return to the Outer Banks House).
This being said, I enjoyed this novel as a whole and really appreciate how the author presented a mixed bag of characters that represented every possible side to this specific time and place in history. I didn't see any author's notes at the end of the book to denote what is actual historical fact and what isn't, but I plan to look further into North Carolina's role during and after the Civil War as I found it a fascinating look at the sentiments of the South after the war ended and the changing tides of the country. It also presented an intriguing look into what it means to be free and what an education means to different people, regardless of gender, race or social status, and the disparity between those that have it readily available and those that crave it. ...more
When I began A Pledge of Better Times I was anticipating the standard, yet still very enjoyable, historical novel that centered around a person from history that, while not as well known as some, had a strategic place within the greater machinations of the time. Well, this novel is that and so much more. While the relationship between Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk does play a big part in the story, for me the novel was more about the political and religious rollercoaster England went through during this time (1684-1705) and how the royalty and noblemen adjusted (or not) to the changing environment.
I have to say that I wasn't overly familiar with the history of this time period before starting, beyond some basic knowledge of the key players, but Margaret Porter did an incredible job of fleshing out this world for me in such a way that I now feel quite comfortable with the goings on and the people that shaped its history. There are just so many delicious details to absorb - from fashion to ceremony to the architecture and decoration of palaces - that the reader can easily imagine seeing it all right in front of them. While I can see how this eye for detail and the vast amount of time spent on military strategies and the ever shifting political, social and religious practices could feel somewhat dry to a reader at times, without it I just don't think this would be the same novel. It is very clear that Margaret Porter knows her history and, for someone like me who isn't as familiar with it but really wants to know that sort of information to feel fully absorbed in what is going on, I very much appreciated it.
The biggest surprise to me was just how much bed hopping seemed to go on for the royalty and nobility during this time! While I knew Charles II was a well known womanizer and had bastards I had no idea how many others did the same. Beyond that, the fact that many of the mistresses and their children were openly accepted into the court and given titles, wealth and property was new to me. This sort of lascivious way of life made a wonderful counter to the more staid propriety that William III and Mary II brought to the court shortly after.
Speaking of Queen Mary, this novel felt to me as much her story as Diana's and was the most touching to me. She comes across as such a kind woman who comes to love and respect her husband beyond all else and who doesn't really get that reciprocated love back until the very end. So many people seemed to disappoint or let her down and I wanted to hope against history that she would have a happier ending.
A Pledge of Better Times is a wonderful book for those that adore deeply researched and meticulously presented English Stuart history or someone that wants to learn more about this time period. Diana is only one of many people given a voice within it and I very much enjoyed spending time with them all. ...more
Ruby is the first book in a long while that has me scratching my head as to what exactly to put in my review. The book's writing has been compared to that of Toni Morrison and that comparison is a valid one. Cynthia Bond is a lyrical writer, creating vivid, otherworldly images that swirl around as the reader dives into the devastating world Ruby lives in. This can make it hard to follow the plot at times, however, and had me flipping back through the pages to remind myself what the florid language was meant to represent in the first place. The story takes concentration and time to not only appreciate the author's writing style but to fully grasp just how heartbreaking this story is.
The main storyline deals with Ephram Jennings trying to get close to Ruby Bell, the girl who has fascinated him since they were children. Seeing past the half-crazed woman most men in town have taken to sleeping with whenever they want, Ephram is determined to help Ruby out of the darkness she lives in and to help her to realize she is a good, worthwhile person. As Ruby slowly begins to allow Ephram into her world, Ephram's jealous sister Celia incites the small-minded and fearful religious townsfolk of Liberty to bring Ephram back to her and away from the evil clutches of a woman that surely must be possessed by the Devil.
Weaving through this narrative are glimpses into the past, that of not only Ephram, Ruby and Celia but of Ephram's mother and father and the town itself. The hardest parts to read involved Ruby's past, riddled with so much emotional, physical and mental abuse and torture that it made me feel slightly sick to read. These portions and more are quite graphic and made me just ache for Ruby.
There is also an old-world, dark magic seeping through the story that has taken hold of many within Liberty and affected them all, whether they know it or not. This was an odd component for me, given the horrors going on that were very real and didn't need the help of black magic to make them any worse. It did, however, make an interesting partner for the religious undercurrent of many of the characters, showing the hypocrisy inherent in them.
Finishing Ruby, it isn't hard to see why so many people are praising it and saying it should be required reading. That being said, it isn't an easy or even remotely happy read. It is a hard and sad and devastating look at a woman broken by nearly everyone she has met and the good man who tries to save her. The last few pages hinted at the possibility of brighter days to come but I'm not sure it was enough to lift me out of the muck the rest of the story put me in. ...more
Maybe it's just me, but I've always found identical twins to be somewhat creepy (truly, no offence to any identical twins out there, I'm purely going by their depiction in movies such as The Shining and the fact that I've read they seem to have an intense connection to each other's inner worlds, finishing each other's sentences, laughing together without saying a word, etc. I haven't, in fact, ever met true identical twins). So, when I read the synopsis of this novel and saw that it involved a surviving identical twin that might not be who they thought she was, I knew I wanted to read this book! Having now finished I'm very glad I did, because it not only has the central mystery of who is the surviving twin but adds a heavy dose of marital strife, secrets that should never have been hidden and even a nice dash of the paranormal.
The novel begins with Angus and Sarah Moorecroft trying desperately to move their family away from London to his ancestral home on a tiny, isolated island in the inner Hebrides near Skye. Not only are they trying to move on from the horrible death of one of their young twin daughters a little over a year ago but they are also trying to find a fresh start for their crumbling marriage and a way out of the serious financial debt they have found themselves in. Solution: move the family to the rundown cottage on the beautiful yet treacherous "Thunder Island" right before the horrific winter weather blows in. Maybe not the best idea but off they go!
Right from the get-go it is quite clear there are a lot of issues within this family, above and beyond the death of their daughter. Both Angus and Sarah are keeping secrets and resentments from each other, both of which will come into play as the story progresses. On top of all this is the fact that, when Sarah tells her surviving twin daughter, Kirstie, that they are moving she tells her mother that she is not Kirstie but actually Lydia, the dead daughter! Well, needless to say, Sarah is quite disturbed by this news but decides not to say anything to her husband (a pattern for these two) and tries to get to the bottom of which daughter actually died and then get her surviving daughter the help she needs to move on from this tragedy. Sarah has no idea that Angus knows something regarding his daughter's identity confusion as well and is on his own mission to put to rights his family.
Once they move to the island the story really picks up. I was amazed at how well the author transported the reader to this often gloomy yet gorgeous environment and how she kind of makes the island and the dilapidated cottage its own character (and an intensely creepy one at that). You are always waiting for something to creep up behind the characters or materialize out of nowhere...the entire environment just feels haunted! Then we add an intensely confused and disturbed young girl and her broken parents to the mix and you can't help but feel chilled as the author slowly reveals the truth behind what the characters have been hiding from us through to an ending I never saw coming!
Now finished with the novel I'm still not completely sure I know all the facts of what happened and, to be honest, that is part of the charm of this novel. You've got these very flawed people, including a confused and disturbed young girl (from the descriptions and actions I kept picturing one of the twins from the movie Village of the Damned, if one of the twins died and left the other alone and bereft) and more secrets and lies than can be counted and at the end of the day, who really knows all of what happened. Anyone looking for an interesting family drama that takes place at a beautiful yet dangerous location and that has an overlaying feeling of dread and fright will find much to enjoy in The Ice Twins.
Any reader would be hard pressed to find a more varied and eccentric collection of characters than at the delightfully shabby "Heartbreak Hotel", all led by the bombastic yet loveable owner Buffy. Aging and lonely and fed up with the changes happening to his London neighborhood, Buffy leaves the world he has always known behind to move to the Welsh countryside and take over the Bed and Breakfast left to him by an old and dear friend. Seeing that he cannot make enough money to live without making some change to either his rundown establishment (which he can't afford) or to how that establishment is seen by outsiders (something his acting and people skills make him perfectly suited for) he decides to use his vast experiences in relationships to conduct week long courses for those who have recently broken up. These "Courses for Divorces" will not only save him from loneliness but bring in some much needed money and hopefully help some people along the way. With the stream of people who come seeking a change from their life - some strangers and some unexpected family members - things are anything but dull and many occupants find love, both personal and for the countryside, in the strangest places.
Heartbreak Hotel is a sweet, fun read filled with humor and love and happy endings. While there are quite a few strange connections made it wasn't hard to see where the various storylines were heading or who was going to end up with whom. Many of the characters have much in common: being somehow involved in the arts, being from London and wishing for a slower, more connected life and being middle-aged or older. Even with these similarities they still all have their own quirks that are easy to like and root for. Something else they have in common: while most have had hard times in the love department no one is left without finding some sort of happiness, even if it isn't what they expected.
Something to keep in mind for American readers would be the fact that there is quite a bit of British slang thrown in which, while I found it easy to get used to and very funny at times, could take some a while to get used to. There is also a lot of discussion of an economical decline that has effected many of our characters which isn't something I was overly aware of. Being that America went through its own decline it isn't hard to relate, however, and I felt for the characters who were ready to throttle the bankers that were often discussed.
My only real complaint with Heartbreak Hotel would be the fact that it took quite a while for all of the characters to come together. A good amount of time is given to the backstory of some of our main characters and it isn't until over 100 pages in that the first course begins. This is a good 1/3 of the way in and I would have preferred getting to the hilarious interactions sooner.
I think anyone who enjoyed either the book or movie version of Ms. Moggach's previous novel The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with find similarities with this story and enjoy it just as much. Readers will be happy to discover that, if they enjoy Buffy as much as I did, the author has actually written a previous novel called The Ex-Wives that discusses his varied and eccentric love life. This novel is perfect for this time of year when you want a touching yet happy book to take on vacation. ...more
Avelynn is one of my favorite characters I have come across in a while. When the novel first opens she is almost too smart and willful for her own good, especially given the time she lives in. But being raised and educated to believe she was meant for more than the traditional roles of a well-born girl, not only expected to run her father's estate when he is gone but to become a pagan high priestess (this, of course, hidden from most everyone since the move to Christianity would find her burned for that designation), she is not willing to let her father broker a marriage to a man she doesn't love, even if it might keep her safe from the invading Vikings. This spirit doesn't fade but deepens and matures, even when Avelynn is faced with a murderous and conniving fiancée and uncle determined to take everything away from her or with the possibility of having to leave the world she has always known behind to escape to freedom with Alrik. Through it all her faith, strength and determination to set all the wrongs that befall her right and claim what is hers never waivers and she remains true to herself. Given all that happens to her during the novel I find this remarkable and I was cheering her on the whole way.
The mysticism and traditions of Avelynn's pagan faith are fascinating and very well developed. This sort of otherworldly aspect was a wonderful counterpoint to the more solid and real dangers and obligations that she faced in her life. I found it interesting that the "savage, blood-thirsty" Vikings seemed to have more respect for Avelynn's religion than her English Christian counterparts. Through the novel it was made perfectly clear that there were horrid individuals on both sides of the battle, but kindness and loyalty too.
Sensitive readers should be warned that there are quite graphic battle and sex scenes throughout Avelynn. I found them perfectly fitting given the context of the novel but thought it should be noted for those that are squeamish about that sort of thing. The passion between Avelynn and Alrik is palpable and watching it develop and deepen into true love and respect was very satisfying.
The book ends with just about every possible storyline left waving in the breeze unresolved. Going over what those are would give away too much of the surprising plot twists but I will say I am very eager to see what happens next for Avelynn, Alrik and many of the other characters. Being that Avelynn seems resolved to take a stand against those that have wronged her, I have a feeling the next book is going to be choked full of action and conflict.
Loving history as much as I do, I really wish the author had included an author note of some kind at the end of the novel, giving the reader a better idea of what was fact and where the story moved off to fiction. The battle strategies, celebration traditions and both Christian and Pagan worship practices are very well drawn and I will have to look further into whether these are true to history or not. I plan to do just that as having read Avelynn has sparked an interest in Medieval history and I cannot wait to learn more about it. ...more
My first introduction to Kate Quinn's writing was Empress of the Seven Hills, the third book in her Empress of Rome series, and since then I have gobbMy first introduction to Kate Quinn's writing was Empress of the Seven Hills, the third book in her Empress of Rome series, and since then I have gobbled up both of her novels in her Borgias series, The Serpent and the Pearl and The Lion and the Rose. Ms. Quinn has an exceptional ability to create these incredibly endearing yet flawed characters that you just can't help but love. Now with her fourth book in The Empress of Rome series, Lady of the Eternal City, coming out she has gifted her readers with a vignette of stories that fill the reader in on what three of the main characters have been up to in the year long break between the action in Empress of the Seven Hills and this newest installment. It being a few years since I read Empress of the Seven Hills I was all for getting caught up with Vix, Titus and Sabina and all I can say is, don't start reading The Three Fates without having Lady of the Eternal City ready at hand because you won't want to wait to continue the story!
The Three Fates is only 48 pages long but it packs a powerful punch in that short duration. As backstory, beloved Emperor Trajan is dead and Hadrian, a man without many friends, has become Emperor. He hasn't wasted any time asserting his command and ensuring his enemies are taken care of in the hopes that he won't face any resistance when he rides into Rome as Emperor. Vix, our battle-hardened ex-gladiator with a heart, finds himself in an impossible position: either he can become Hadrian's attack dog and do his bidding in eliminating those that Hadrian sees as his enemy, including Vix's best friend, Titus, or he can refuse the Emperor and face his wrath. While normally our loyal and proud Vix would spit in Hadrian's face before doing what he says, the possibility of his family being harmed if he refuses Hadrian looms large over his decision. He is left with an impossible choice, one he continues to try and find a way out of.
Meanwhile, studious and humble Titus is enraptured by his new bride, Faustina, sister of Titus's friend and new Empress, Sabina. As they usher the last of their celebratory guests out of their home and prepare to retire to their marriage bed, Vix shows up and informs Titus he must come with him as a prisoner of Hadrian's. Titus, a man who never wanted to be Emperor but who's blood alone makes him eligible, must decide if he should give in to what seems an inevitable death at the hands of his best friend or refuse to go down without a fight.
While all of this is going on, wily, adventurous Sabina finds herself unexpectedly, and unhappily, married to a man who has not only become Emperor but a cold and blood thirsty madman. In the hopes of finding a way out of this marriage she enlists the advise of a well known soothsayer. But what he has to tell her is far from what she wants to hear: Hadrian will never divorce her or allow her to leave him and she alone can influence him to determine if he will be a tyrannical or good Emperor. Her worse nightmare - living a long life next to a man she has come to hate - seems inevitable. On top of all of that, the baby growing within her, which isn't Hadrian's, will have to remain hidden because if it doesn't Hadrian will have it killed. What is Sabina to do?
Now doesn't that just whet your appetite? I'm off to begin reading Lady of the Eternal City right now and will have my review post on March 23rd, so be sure to come back then to see what I thought. I am jittery with anticipation....don't you just love when a book does that to you? If you have read any of the other books in this series or are as big a fan of Kate Quinn as I am this is a definite must read! ...more
As soon as I heard a "new" novel by Harper Lee was coming out I instantly pre-ordered it. This is unusual for me as I tend to wait until closer to publication to order books by favorite authors or even wait until well after publication for those I know I will eventually want to read, but being that To Kill A Mockingbird is in the top five of my favorite novels of all time I knew I wanted it in my hands as soon as possible. After ordering it I began to read all the negative hype and backlash towards the book (I'm sure most of you know what I'm talking about) and saw many fellow readers declaring they would not buy or read this novel that turned one of the iconic perfect fathers in literature into a racist. While I can completely understand their hurt and anger (I also grew up feeling Atticus was a shining example of what a man should be) I have never been one to shy away from reading something just because the subject matter might be hard to read or others seem against it. Without reading it I wouldn't be able to form my own opinion on its content or really know how it would affect my appreciation for To Kill A Mockingbird. So I dug in and devoured it at every free moment I had. Am I happy I read it? 100%. This is a wonderful companion to Harper Lee's classic work of art and, as the synopsis states, adds depth to those characters we all grew up loving.
When the novel opens, Jean Louise Finch is returning home to Maycomb, Alabama for her yearly two week visit. She's grown used to the big city and, while she has fond memories of the small town she grew up in and grudging respect for this place that never seems to change, from the get-go she seems almost ready for the visit to be over. There are things that pull on her to come home and stay - her father, her beau - but she's not sure if that's the life she wants. Then she discovers that none of the people, including the father that she's always kept on a pedestal of righteousness, are who she thought they were. I really don't want to give away too much about the actual plot, but suffice it to say that what she discovers regarding the opinions and beliefs of those she has cherished are not what she thought they were and she goes on the warpath to let her great indignation and disgust be known before she plans to leave for good. This isn't the end of the story and I won't give away how it ends but this is the main focus.
What I loved most about Go Set A Watchman was the way that everything Jean Louis was experiencing, every burst of shock, anger and disbelief, so well mirrored what I was feeling. How could these people not be who they had always been? Why had they changed? What has happened to bring about this great shift in reality? The answer, simply, is that nothing has actually changed other than the rose-tinted glasses of youth (which was what To Kill A Mockingbird was viewed through) have been removed and in the light of maturity and understanding this is the actual reality it has been all along. Jean Louise, and we readers, are faced with the fact that no one is perfect and everyone is human and therefore flawed. This might be hard to swallow but it is true. The real test of maturity, and what Jean Louise comes to realize, is that we are each responsible for our own beliefs, opinions and actions and, while we can do everything we can to influence other people and try to show them the "correct" way to be, each individual is responsible for themselves and must face the choices and consequences that brings. The overall theme I was left with after turning the last page is what is written in the Serenity Prayer: you must have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change (other people's beliefs), the courage to change the things you can (change the laws governing our society and punish those that break those laws) and the wisdom to know the difference. We shouldn't change our beliefs for anyone else and we shouldn't expect the reverse either. The key is to try to present information and reasonable arguments to influence those around us and, by doing so, illicit the changes that are needed. Burying your head in the sand or screaming your disgust and running away from a problem is never going to give you the results you want, but by rationally presenting your opinions and valid solutions to the issues you at least stand a chance at making a difference. Easier said that done, I know, especially when faced with views and opinions many of us find disgusting and heinous, but there you have it.
Do I think Go Set A Watchman is as good as To Kill A Mockingbird? No, not at all but I don't think that is necessarily a fair comparison either, especially given the fact that the latter novel is such a treasure to me. However, I did enjoy seeing so many of these beloved characters again, even if I wasn't happy with all of them, and there were many lines I read over and over because they were beautifully written. This is an accurate depiction of many small Southern towns during the Civil Rights movement and presents a realistic view of the good and the bad that you would have found there. Harper Lee is a remarkable writer and I can only hope that she did intend for this novel to be published (another one of those rumors floating around). I'll be thinking about this one for a while to come. ...more
I read Pam Jenoff's novel The Winter Guest last year and it was one of my favorite books of 2014. It was the kind of book that had me adding her backlog to my wish list, it was that good. She has a way of presenting complex, unusual stories set during WWII that somehow give you a new angle on a much discussed topic while also making what the characters go through seem relatable and entirely absorbing. I just couldn't put the novel down and I am happy to say The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach was just as captivating.
What I appreciate most about the characters in this novel is how imperfect and therefore realistic they all are. These are fully formed beings that are trying to live and love, the best they can, in a time in history that made life anything but predictable. Addie and the Connally boys, especially Charlie and Liam, make many mistakes across the novel, running away from pain and grief, changing their minds about what they should do and where they should go as well as who they should love, and for me this makes them endearing even as I want to shake them around sometimes until they stop making their lives so complicated. People are not perfect so I love novels that don't try to make the characters appear that way.
For as much as occurs within the novel, it really doesn't eclipse that much time, just three short years. During that time we see our Addie go from feeling like an outsider in America to feeling like a part of a family with the Connally's, and then we see her go full circle with those feelings once again. We see a few love triangles, some poor decisions and one tragic accident that will break any reader's heart. While the war is always in the background and some of our characters do experience it head-on, The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach really isn't about the war as much as, say, The Winter Guest was, and for me this made it a very different read. At times I felt like I just had to hold on and weather the myriad of emotions these characters go through - love, joy, loneliness, acceptance, anger, jealousy, blinding sadness, duty, acceptance - in order to reach the conclusion they all had to get to eventually: the past cannot be changed and should not be ignored, but should be accepted for what it is so you can move on to the future you are meant, and want, to have. Without the hardships and heartaches they each went through they wouldn't have become the people they needed to be.
Clearly from my review you can see this was a character-driven novel for me, which isn't to say that the plot wasn't solid. I was completely immersed in the settings as they shifted from America to war-torn Europe and Ms. Jenoff did a great job, as I expected, of creating this well drawn world in which her story could unfold. There were a few parts that I didn't know quite why they were included, such as a portion dealing with Addie's need to rescue some orphaned children from France, but even those parts were enjoyable and didn't pull away from the central story being told.
I've said it before and I'll say it again now, Pam Jenoff's novels are top shelf historical fiction. If you love novels that incorporate history, especially WWII, and want something unlike the usual novel set during this time pick up her novels. The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach was a little heavier on the romance than I was expecting, but even those that aren't big on romantic themes will find much to love here. I'm a firm follower of Ms. Jenoff's and I look forward to reading much more from her. ...more
It has been a while since I've read a good, old-fashioned crime mystery but, having now read Inspector of the Dead, I have the urge to read more and more of them! Thomas De Quincey sets a new high standard for tragic yet brilliant crime solvers and it is his unique perspective, fueled by opium nightmares and a brain that won't stop, that makes him so open to deciphering the criminal mind and motive and guiding his companions, and the reader, to a conclusion nearly impossible to find any other way. Combine this with stellar writing full of real history and a wealth of heart and action and you have a book that is truly unputdownable.
Mixed in with the classic crime mystery our characters are trying to solve (who is killing wealthy citizens of London? Why are they targeting these particular people and who might be next? Why are they posing the victims the way they are and why are they putting notes with the names of people who tried to kill the Queen on the victims?), the reader gets to hear the story from the perspective of the killer, called "the revenger", who gives us his history full of pain, degradation and humiliation. You cannot help but feel for the revenger even as you are shocked and disgusted by his actions. The reader also gets to read entries from Emily De Quincey's journal that shows her own brilliant mind as well as the harsh life she and her father have lived due to the hold his laudanum addiction has over his life. These three varying ways of seeing the story made for a completely rounded perspective and made it evident that no one was all good or all bad. I found this to be an irresistible way to tell the story and made me really care for all of the characters no matter what their role in it.
Being the lover of history that I am, I found the extensive true history weaved in through this fictional story fascinating as well. So much of this story is true, including Thomas and Emily De Quincey and the information given about the men who had attempted to kill the Queen before the events in Inspector of the Dead. The background regarding the development and advancement of the London police department and forensics was also intriguing and instantly had me searching out more information about crime solving during Victorian times. The reader is also given information on the horrible treatment of the lower classes, especially Irish immigrants, and the appalling conditions they lived in, whether on the streets or in prison. David Morrell puts the cherry on top by giving the reader a delightful afterword that wraps up the true history as well as an extensive further reading list. This reader, for one, is so excited to dive in and check out some of the recommended reading!
Inspector of the Dead is the second Thomas De Quincey novel (Murder As A Fine Art being the first) but it is in no way difficult to begin reading the series with this second installment. Not having time to read Murder As A Fine Art before this review was due, I never felt like I was lost in the story or missing something because I did not read the books in order. However, having read and been completely captivated by Inspector of the Dead, I already have Murder As A Fine Art and plan to read it as soon as possible. David Morrell has now become a favorite author to follow! ...more