I absolutely loved this short story! Tatyana, the young returned that young couple Heather and Matt Campbell find on the side of the road, is such an...moreI absolutely loved this short story! Tatyana, the young returned that young couple Heather and Matt Campbell find on the side of the road, is such an amazing characters - so full of life and compassion - that I was really sad her story was as short as it was. I also found it interesting to see how bringing Tatyana into the Campbell home really set them at odds and highlighted a fractured marriage that was hanging by a thread even before their varying views on the returned was brought to light. Perfect companion to the novel.(less)
Having really enjoyed The Returned last year I was excited to see these short story prequels come out. In The First, we get to see how it all began wi...moreHaving really enjoyed The Returned last year I was excited to see these short story prequels come out. In The First, we get to see how it all began with the return of Edmund Blithe and how this mysterious occurrence not only effects him but his fiancé and the rest of the world as they try to navigate through this unusual, frightening and exciting miracle.
It has been about a year since Emily's fiancé, Edmund Blithe, was hit by a bus and died. Edmund had proposed the day before he died and it has taken Emily this entire year to try and move on with her life. So imagine her surprise when the news shows Edmund, very much alive and being held somewhere in Washington DC after walking into work like no time had passed. Emily wants answers and sets out of Washington DC to try and find Edmund.
Edmund, for his part, has no recollection of his death and feels like he just woke up like any other day. After going to work and seeing the terror and surprise on the faces of his coworkers, Edmund is taken to Washington to answer round after round after round of questions. Scared himself and wanting to speak to Emily he is told he will need to wait to see her and needs to help those questioning him figure out what is going on. Everyone is fascinated and terrified of what this means and are determined to get to the bottom of it. But one man will be touched enough by Edmund's need to see Emily to help him make it happen.
Going back and forth between Emily and Edmund's points of view, The First is a fascinating look at not only the world's attempt to solve the mystery of why Edmund came back but the smaller, much sweeter, attempt by Emily and Edmund to come back to each other and reestablish that relationship Emily thought she had lost. It is short and sweet and very satisfying. I am excited to see where Mr. Mott takes the other two short stories!
I should start out by saying The Bone Church deals with a part of history I know very little about. Weaving back and forth between 1944 and 1956 it takes place mainly in Czechoslovakia and sets as its backdrop the Nazi occupation (in the 1944 timeline) and later the heavy Soviet control of the country (in the 1956 timeline). Knowing so little about this time and place in history, much of the heavier political and social elements, while interesting, were somewhat confusing for me. Once I went and read a little more about these shifting factions I was able to better understand the underlying themes and how they affected the characters. However, even with the extra reading I found myself sort of glazing over the politics and focusing my attention and enjoyment on the characters and their actions.
I found all of the characters incredibly interesting. The seemingly visceral connection between Magdalena and Felix was simply fascinating and I kept flipping the pages to see if they would be able to escape occupied Czechoslovakia and, in the later timeline, find each other again. My biggest problem with the Magdalena/Felix portion of the story was I felt like both timelines just sort of plopped the reader down in the middle of action without giving a lot of backstory to give the reader a better understanding of what happened to lead up to what was currently going on. How did Magdalena and Felix come to know each other? How did their relationship develop into the close and unbreakable bond it became? How did Magdalena and her mother come to be living in the Andel's basement? What had happened between the two storylines that lead to where both characters found themselves in 1956? While tiny hints were dropped throughout the story to give the reader a taste of the answers to these questions I enjoyed the characters so much I just wanted more information.
The secondary characters were just as mesmerizing and what I loved the most was the way each of these characters kept surprising me! Just when I thought I had a good idea of the motives and allegiances of a character they would do something to flip that right on its head. Those that I thought would sacrifice Magdalena and Felix for the simplest thing ended up being their greatest champions and those I thought really had their back ended up doing things for their own selfish wishes that put the lovers' lives in danger (sorry for being vague...I don't want to give any surprises away!). I love when I think I know the essence of a character and find out I had no idea who they really were.
Another exciting element of The Bone Church that I was surprised I enjoyed as much as I did was Felix's paranormal abilities. Felix can not only communicate with the dead but can interact with them as well as the divine to get himself out of some sticky and dangerous situations. It isn't heavy handed (which, for me, would have made the whole story feel silly and unrealistic) but is utilized at just the right time and in such a delicate and beautiful manner that it really added a wonderful touch of mysticism to the whole story and helped pull in the religious elements of the storyline as well.
There is so much more I could discuss about the book - the actions of the Prague Underground, the plot to find the authentic Infant of Prague, the Bone Church itself - but that would make for a very long review. Suffice it to say The Bone Church has something for just about any reader to enjoy. Those that are well versed in the political, social and religious goings on in Czechoslovakia during these time periods will love it that much more. I think if I knew more about these elements and if there was more backstory given for Magdalena and Felix's love story this would have been a strong contender for my favorite book of the year. (less)
Anyone who has been in a relationship long enough knows that things change. That person that once made...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Anyone who has been in a relationship long enough knows that things change. That person that once made every nerve in your body pulse with excitement just by entering the room can now sit next to you on the couch without you even registering they walked in. All those annoying habits you found so adorable years ago are now just annoying. Every conversation, every argument, every everything…you’ve done it all before. So what happens if one day you look at that person and realize you cannot stand to look at them for one second longer? When you search for your love for them in your heart and…nothing?
This is the dilemma Lauren and Ryan Cooper find themselves in. They have been together since college and, after eleven years, they have reached the point where they make each other miserable. Knowing this can go on no longer they come up with a plan: they will separate for one year, each one using this space to figure out what they really want out of life and hopefully, during that time, a way to fall back in love with each other and save their marriage. The only rule is they cannot contact each other until the year is up. The rest is up to each of them to decide.
Please excuse me if a gush a little over Taylor Jenkins Reid because she has become one of my very favorite authors! When I read her first novel, Forever, Interrupted, I was so impressed with her ability to present the emotions of her characters so vividly that the reader feels everything – the anger, frustration, heartbreak – right along with them. Well, I am happy to say that Ms. Reid topped herself with After I Do, again presenting a story and situation that so thoroughly grabbed me that I literally had trouble putting the book down and doing anything else. Even when I did have to put the book down for mundane things like sleeping and working I was thinking about the characters and what they would do next.
I think part of what pulled me into this story is that I found so much of myself in Lauren. I have also been with my husband since college and could relate to that feeling of routineness and complacency that seems to come so naturally to a couple who have been together for a long period of time. While I am still very much in love with my husband I could understand what she was talking about and appreciate her and Ryan’s choice to spend the year apart to see if they could find a way back to each other. Every single character is so real and flawed that you love them and can relate to each one, feeling every pain and joy along with them. It’s quite remarkable to me when an author is able to create a world that has you not only entertained but really thinking about yourself in the same situations. I am going through a similar situation with my grandfather that Lauren and her family go through with her grandmother in After I Do and I found myself crying and thinking about how much of a steady rock my husband is in my life. I was staring at him with such pitiful appreciation at one point that it became clear I was making him slightly uncomfortable. That is how invested in the story I was!
Watching Lauren come into her own was amazing. She has such a wonderful, quirky family and seeing how much they supported her and how each opened her eyes to the various ways to love was touching to say the least. As the story was wrapping up I really had no idea whether Lauren and Ryan would end up together or not and that made it that much more realistic. Because in life who knows what will really happen?
I cannot recommend After I Do highly enough. If you have ever questioned the route your life had taken or wondered in the deepest part of your heart whether the person you were with was the right one for you pick it up now. Even if you just want a wonderful story that runs the gambit of emotions give it a go, it is well worth the read. (less)
When I typically think of time travel stories I think of someone sitting in some sort of machine that t...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When I typically think of time travel stories I think of someone sitting in some sort of machine that they manipulate to transport themselves to some other time and place. But what if all we needed was our own mind to escape to the past? What if each and every one of us, the imaginative individuals who can believe beyond belief that they are in another time, actually put ourselves into a kind of hypnotic state and then open our eyes and actually find ourselves there? And what might we do with that sort of power and the ability to change events of the past to alter the events of the future? These are the unusual and thought provoking questions answered within Jack Finney’s Time and Again, a novel written almost forty five years ago but just as intriguing and fitting for our modern times. With Si Morley as our guide, every lover of escapism can go back in time to 1882 and navigate the many joys and problems that arise from placing ourselves in a time and life we might not belong in.
Time and Again truly is one of the most unique and thought provoking books I have read in quite a while. The detailed and extensive time spent on how the program proposes time travel would work and the intricate and detailed training and work that goes into bringing that plan to fruition makes it seem completely plausible–and this is coming from a very rational and skeptical person like me! On the downside this very detailed and descriptive nature – not only with the details of the program but with Si’s exploration of 1882 New York, street by street – makes the story plod along in parts, slowing it down at times to the extent that my eyes began to glaze over with details.
The mystery behind Si’s girlfriend’s envelope, its cryptic note and the people and events that occurred after the envelope was sent was very fun to follow and I can honestly say I didn’t see the truth behind them coming. While I thought I had an idea where the actions were taking me and tried to account for what sort of consequences might come about from Si’s involvement in the unraveling of the mystery I enjoyed the tiny twists and shocks as they presented themselves.
Finally, the drawings and pictures dispersed throughout the story were absolutely lovely! I found they helped flesh out the story and characters for me and made for a wholly unique reading experience. While I found the romance between both Si and his modern day girlfriend and Si and the woman he falls in love with in 1882 very lukewarm, the individual character development was very detailed and the pictures attributed to each person made them feel very real and allowed me to feel more invested in their situations.
Time and Again is a love story of sorts to the imagination and to every reader’s ability to “travel” to whatever time and place their books take them. While I adored going along with Si on his adventure to the past I believe the journey’s retelling would have benefitted from some trimming. That being said, I am still very excited to read the sequel to this book and to see what other adventures Si might go on. (less)
Before reading Mrs. Poe I knew Edgar Allan Poe for much of the same things most people know him for: his shockingly unsettling poetry and stories, his dark and somewhat worn-out looks and crabby personality, his mysterious death. Mrs. Poe completely turns those stereotypes on their head, giving incredible backstory and justification to the darkness inside Poe as well as showing the tender side he kept well hidden from others and the jealous people in his life who worked to try and turn Poe into the monster many later believed him to be. All of this incredible character development is set up against the vivid backdrop of an ever-changing New York City in the mid 1840s, a world and group of people caught between constant advancement and an unyielding desire for life to stay within the traditional rules of decorum.
One of the biggest surprises to me was how attractive so many women found Mr. Poe during this time. From the images I had previously seen he just looks unpleasant. In Mrs. Poe he is reserved, sardonic and dark but he is also talented, intelligent, open-minded and brooding in a way that made the women swoon! It wasn't hard to see how Frances Osgood - the wife of a charismatic, flippant and philandering ne'er-do-well husband who has to try and support herself after being abandoned - would fall for this deep and attentive man. They are both lovers of words who are lonely and sad and there ability to find some happiness and passion within each other was captivating. The fact that they did so while bucking up against every acceptable norm of the time, many of which were just ridiculous given the circumstances, made me cheer for them even more. They were a very touching couple and, while this is by no means a happily-ever-after sort of story, I couldn't get enough of watching them come together like magnets only to be torn apart again and again.
The secondary characters (if they can even be called that as so many of them are flamboyantly unique and unforgettable) were absolutely delightful! The talented yet eccentric group of individuals that came together to discuss their art and the world were a who's who of artistic, political and industrial history and I got a little thrill each time a new member was introduced so casually to the conversations. So many have become favorites of mine through other readings so it was exciting getting a little peek at what they might have been like behind closed doors with their contemporaries. Some characters seemed slightly over the top - such as the childish, vengeful and ever-ailing Mrs. Poe and the hateful, pompous Rufus Griswold - but they are made that much more fascinating because of it and, reading through the insightful author notes at the back of the book, it is quite possible they were that bold in reality. They are the kind of people that exemplify the belief that sometimes the facts can be more entertaining than any fiction!
Another enticing component of Mrs. Poe is the ever present sense of foreboding and the dark mystery running through this complicated romance. Accidents and strange coincidences keep happening, some of which have dangerous and frightening consequences, and the reader is left to try and figure out who is causing them. There is a little twist towards the end that I wouldn't dare give away, but suffice it to say nothing and no one is exactly as it seems. As Poe would say:
"Madness spreads like a drop of ink in water. Soon one does not know who is mad and who is not."
Mrs.Poe is everything that is wonderful about historical fiction. It has stellar characters, a setting that is so well developed it might as well be a character itself and a sense of mystery and discovery that keeps the reader unable to stop reading until the very end. I can't think of any components that this novel does not have and I am so impressed with Lynn Cullen's ability to leave me heartbroken and breathless now that I'm done reading. It's quite plainly a perfect story. (less)
The destruction of Pompeii and the unique remains left behind have long fascinated me. Just looking at the well preserved plaster casts of those caught in the eruption is heartbreaking and provocative. But while archaeologists and scientists might be able to extrapolate facts surrounding the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE by what remains there seems to be very little remaining that can speak first hand to what these people felt leading up to, during and directly after the catastrophe. What would it have felt like to stumble through the streets in daytime darkness and booming explosions while rocks and ash rained down on you without knowing what was happening or what was coming? What would you be thinking as your world literally came crashing down around you? Vicky Alvear Shecter's Curses and Smoke showcases this emotional, humanistic side of living during this time and through this devastating event from the viewpoint of two young lovers desperately searching for freedom in a world not ready to give it to them.
Both Tag and Lucia are very sympathetic, well developed characters and while the extensive and very informative author notes at the back of the book indicates that most of the characters, including Tag and Lucia, are fictional the descriptions of their struggles and the heart and soul they display make them feel all too real. Being that this is a YA novel described as targeting readers aged twelve and up, their fight for the right to make their own choices and decide their future will feel all too familiar to those going through that transition from child to adult. Reading about how little freedom these two had and how powerless slaves and women were during this time should also highlight how different life is now and how much more freedom is inherent in our modern society. This in no way limits the enjoyment for older readers as anyone can relate to what it feels like to lose control and struggle to grasp what you can. Regardless of age, gender or circumstances, it isn't hard to feel compassion for these two and cheer them on as they try for the seemingly impossible. My favorite character of all, however, was young, orphaned Castor, who follows Tag around like an energetic and loving puppy, pulling on heartstrings and just begging to be loved. These three characters are the stars of the novel and I can honestly say by the end of the book I was completely invested in what happened to them.
The only character that left me scratching my head was Quintus, the self-centered patrician who tried to come between Tag and Lucia. He seemed to be attracted to Tag but then would treat Tag like a lowly servant and do things to demean him. He would often tell Tag he wasn't as bad as Tag thought but then would be just as self-centered and nasty as you could imagine. While other characters, such as Lucia's horrible and cruel father, aren't likeable they still play an integral part in the overall story and by the end Quintus just didn't seem to have done that. That being said he didn't necessarily detract from the story either and so just felt unneeded to me.
One of my favorite aspects of the novel, besides the wonderful characters, was discovering the differences in religion, superstition, and cultural practices that were new to me. I was not aware of the Roman conquest of Pompeii and what that meant for the Etruscan people who lost their way of life and, for some, their freedom when they became slaves to the Romans. For that matter I wasn't aware of just how prevalent and accepted slavery was during this time. Another horrific discovery was the practice of exposing unwanted babies to the elements by being left to die outside the city. Just the thought of those poor babies being left to die and the complete inability of the mothers to do anything about it if their husbands refused to accept them just turns my stomach. These very different practices, regardless of how unsavory or foreign to our modern minds, are all integral parts of the story and give the drive needed for the characters to react and strike out at the world as they do. It really is fascinating to learn what people from history had to deal with and what they did to fight against the injustices that we often take for granted.
In regards to this being a YA novel I also enjoyed that the romance aspect felt very age appropriate. It was sweet, tender and confusing at times, just as first love should be. I think anything more heavy-handed would have felt inappropriate given the younger end of the spectrum of readers and makes it easier to recommend this to a wider audience. It should be noted that not all elements of the novel are easy to read and the ending, while breathtaking, might catch readers by surprise and not necessarily in a good way. It, like the life the characters are living, isn't always perfect or happy and really drives homes that fighting for something like freedom often comes with devastating consequences. With all this considered, Curses and Smoke is a remarkable novel that I don't doubt will spur on its readers to look further into this time and place in history. I know it has done that for me. (less)
When I read Deborah Lawrenson’s debut novel The Lantern a few years ago I was swept away with her abili...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When I read Deborah Lawrenson’s debut novel The Lantern a few years ago I was swept away with her ability to transport the reader to the vibrant lavender fields of France and to spin a story that not only grabs the reader with its taut mystery and brilliant characters but with its sensory-drenched descriptions. Needless to say I have been excitedly waiting for Ms. Lawrenson to come out with her next book. I’m happy to say that The Sea Garden, a collection of three short stories that all twist around to relate to each other in a most surprising way, was just as memorable and exciting as its predecessor and just as impossible to forget once read.
Each story was unique and entertaining in its own ways and I was truly surprised to see how they all fit together. I kept guessing how they would all connect and, much to my everlasting delight, I was completely wrong. There is a very different feel to each story – “The Sea Garden” being thrilling and somewhat supernatural in feel, “The Lavender Garden” being taut with anxiety and beauty and “A Shadow Life” being an incredible insight into how much went into the various spy rings working together and separately to bring an end to Nazi domination – but each is similar in that they all deal with some aspect of war, love and loss. While “The Lavender Field” was my favorite each had its marvelous points and would find an audience with a wide variety of readers.
Anyone knew to Deborah Lawrence might enjoy starting with The Sea Garden as each story can be consumed in a day or two and gives a wonderful insight into the author’s talent for setting and story development. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next! (less)
Novels about Ancient Rome and Egypt seem to be all the rage right now and for someone like me who loves...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Novels about Ancient Rome and Egypt seem to be all the rage right now and for someone like me who loves historical fiction but hasn’t had the opportunity to read much set during this time and these places, I am loving the trend. Livia Drusilla, the much maligned wife, mother and grandmother to Roman Emperors, is the narrator of I Am Livia and through her voice the reader gets a front-row seat to the danger, drama and political upheaval during Rome’s evolution into an Empire.
The novel is set up as Livia’s reflections on her life as she begins to come to the end of it. She is hoping to explain her actions to the gods, both the good and the bad, setting the record straight and dispelling the rumors of murder and treachery that have followed her rise in power and influence. While I found this confessional style interesting and enjoyed the way it lent itself to presenting a better-rounded, complex Livia than perhaps history remembers her as, it also came across as dry at times. I always prefer stories that immerse me in the action and drama, making me feel a part of what is going on instead of simply telling me what happened and much of I Am Livia did the latter. There are some wonderfully descriptive and emotional passages that kept me engrossed and made me begin to really see Livia as a fully fleshed, fascinating woman with brains and a heart but those were sometimes lost within a lot of descriptions of setting and justification of the actions of the characters.
Livia’s story wraps up rather abruptly and right when I was really starting to enjoy the complicated yet loving relationship between Livia and Octavianus. It felt real and messy and I wanted so much more of this well matched, fully developed pair and would have preferred more of this and less of Livia waiting for Octavianus to come home safe from his various wars. Still, turning the last page I found myself continuing to think about the life Livia was born into and the remarkable changes she helped make during her lifetime. I Am Livia has stoked my interest in this fascinating woman and I’m excited to see what else the author might offer in the future.(less)
While I had previously heard of William the Conqueror I did not realize the drastic actions that led to him becoming King of England before reading 10...moreWhile I had previously heard of William the Conqueror I did not realize the drastic actions that led to him becoming King of England before reading 1066: What Fates Impose. Who was this man who sailed from Normandy and took the crown of England for himself? What was England like before him? These questions and so many more were answered in this completely captivating novel that brought Medieval Europe to life in a way that few novels I've read have been able to do.
I absolutely loved the formatting of the novel, beginning in 1087 with King William stating on his death bed that he will declare no heir to the English throne since he did not earn it by hereditary right but took it from King Harold. This William is haunted by his heinous deeds and only hopes for some peace now that his life is ending, something that after finishing the novel I doubted he would find. The story then jumps back to King Edward on the throne in 1045 and the fate of English history begins to unfold for the reader in clear, brutal prose that ends with William defeating King Harold. While this eventuality is clear from the beginning, the connections to various characters developed throughout the story made the ending simply heartbreaking for me. You know a story is powerful when you keep hoping beyond hope that history will change itself and see your favorites rise triumphant!
This novel is absolutely saturated with historical facts and figures and it is quite easy to see that a huge amount of research went into the writing of it. When many fact driven novels seem to lack character development I was pleasantly surprised to see that 1066 was able to masterfully combine the facts with a story that humanizes these people from history so the reader is on the journey with them, feeling their joy, triumph and pain. For someone like me who loves English history but wasn't overly familiar with these particular conflicts or people, I was able to create a full bodied image - for better or worse - of each person and situation and I am now determined to read more and more about them all.
My favorite aspect of 1066, however, was the unbelievably vivid depictions of conquest, war and medieval justice that occurred during this time. While I was already aware that this was a brutal time I did not realize just how brutal it was. G.K. Holloway places the reader right in the heart of the action and doesn't let them look away. Some of it could be hard to stomach, especially a bloody scene that takes place at the mill of a town that William's men destroy, but this really helped immerse me in the time period. And the battle scenes...let me just say that the last 100 pages or so do not let up and I could not keep myself from turning the pages.
With William the Conqueror becoming the first Norman king of England the Anglo-Saxon period of English history came to a close and the political and social future of England would be forever changed. While Harold would be the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings and would reign for less than a year, 1066: What Fates Impose brought his story to life and, in doing so, expertly showcased the ever shifting world he lived in. I am now completely enamored with this period in English history and I have G.K. Holloway to thank for that. (less)
I am embarrassed to admit that, even though my dad was born in Scotland and the majority of his family still lives there, I am woefully ignorant of Scotland's history. Sure, I've seen the movies and read little bits here and there, but I've never actually read a book that dives right in and gives me a comprehensive view of the rulers, wars, struggles and successes that made Scotland the country it is today. It is for this very reason I decided to read A King Ensnared, the story of James Stewart's early life and imprisonment in England.
The story begins with young James Stewart - the future James I, King of Scots - learning that his older brother and heir to their father's throne has been starved to death while being detained by his Uncle, the Duke of Albany, who wants to rule Scotland himself. James, now in danger as the heir, is spirited off by men loyal to the crown in the hopes of getting him to France where he can stay until he is older and it is safe for him to come back to Scotland and fight for his rightful place. However, on the way to France they are taken prisoner by English pirates and given over to the English king as prisoner. And so begins James's 18 year imprisonment, 16 years of which are discussed in this book.
A lot of time passes in this relatively short book and I found the first part to be somewhat slow going. So much of it deals with James in prison, trying to find something to occupy his time and energy while he awaits his release or, if it presents itself, his escape. What I did find interesting during this part was the way JR Tomlin described James's loneliness, isolation and disgraceful and humiliating treatment, far below what a rightful King should experience. He literally grows up behind bars, with no parents, siblings and only a few men loyal to him as companions or advisors. He is given a decent education by the English and doesn't seem to have been physically harmed in any way, but the mental anguish is a lot for a young man to deal with while also trying to find a way to get out of his imprisonment and, once he does, bring down his uncle and put his country to rights. It was very interesting to get an in depth look at how a noble captive of the English would have been treated during this time and that kept me turning the pages while I waited for something exciting to happen.
The real action and progress started when James and Henry V, King of England, begin their mental battle, each trying to outwit the other to get what they want, and when James fights under Henry in England's battles against France. At this point James is older and fully capable of ruling Scotland if he could get Henry to release him. But what Henry asks for is not only James's help in defeating the French but complete fealty to him. That is something James cannot agree to and therefore each continue to negotiate. While James isn't released in this book (I believe this is meant to be a series so hopefully that will happen in the next book) he does learn much from the brutal and vicious Henry V on the battlefield that he could definitely use in the future as King. The descriptions of war were very vivid and exciting and, much to my surprise, my favorite aspect of the book.
Another aspect I enjoyed, although it was somewhat brief and interspersed through the second half of the book, was the growing romance between James and Lady Joan Beaufort, an English noblewoman who I believe will become his wife. It showed a tenderness and softness that was a nice contrast to the hardened, cunning aspects of James that he had to present most of the time. The traditional Scottish words thrown in also helped the story flow for me, making the dialogue seem more genuine and intriguing.
The one thing I don't feel I got with this book was the in depth history of Scotland I was looking for. While I got to learn about James I and some of the political machinations between Scotland, England and France I just wanted more about Scotland. I am hoping that this will be accomplished with the future books in the series as I really came to like James and would love to see how he integrates back into his native country and how Scotland fares until his rule. (less)
Her Last Assassin is the third book in the Lucy Morgan series by Victoria Lamb. Having not read the previous two books in the series I was nonetheless excited to plunge into the Tudor world I so love and can't get enough of. The author does a good job bringing new readers up to speed on the backstories of her characters so that they don't feel too lost by not reading the first two books. However, I do think reading the previous books would have been beneficial as it might have made it easier to fully understand and appreciate the various passionate relationships and vicious rivalries going on. And there are quite a few!
There are four main characters that are all very well developed and intriguing in their own way. Queen Elizabeth is older in this story and is having difficulty balancing the many problems around her - the ongoing Spanish war, the seemingly constant threat of assassins, the pressure on her to name an heir, the stress and jealousy of getting older while the courtiers and ladies around her are young and virile - while still appearing strong and completely in control. She's selfish, vain, hypocritical yet also caring and giving when she wants to be. I loved this aging, unpredictable Elizabeth! Master Goodluck, one of the queen's spies, is constantly searching for would-be assassins and dissenters and trying to balance his duty to the queen and to England with his concern and growing affection for his ward, Lucy Morgan. Lucy is a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, known for her beautiful voice and dark skin. She spends the novel trying to follow the established rules of conduct for ladies-in-waiting while also trying to hide her passionate love affair with the married playwright William Shakespeare and, towards the end, another man. Shakespeare was my least favorite main character, completely abandoning his family in the country while gallivanting around London doing whatever he pleased. He seems to truly love only himself as his affections seem easily changeable and he is about as disloyal as they come. He does show glimmers of guilt for his actions from time to time but even those end with him placing blame on someone else for what he does.
The relationships between the various characters kept changing, rather abruptly at times, so that I couldn't help but doubt the true intensity of their feelings for each other. So, while they are all interesting characters on their own I didn't really feel invested in their relationships together. There are two rather odd shifts in relationships that I didn't see coming and, to be honest, didn't really see as beneficial for the story as a whole. Maybe reading the previous two novels would help alleviate some of that confusion, but as it is I wasn't that interested in these shifts of passion.
What really drove the story and kept me turning the pages was the author's wonderful descriptions of the Tudor court and all the glitter and danger that comes with it. I loved the immersion in the intrigue and struggles facing England during this time and seeing how its court and the Queen's council kept transforming and shifting even as Elizabeth tried to keep it as she wanted it. I only hope that there is another book in the series as it leaves off without much resolution for its characters. I would love to see how Ms. Lamb could round out the storylines.
Her Last Assassin is enjoyable historical fiction set during a turbulent time in English history. There was more romance than I typically enjoy but I would definitely be interested in reading any follow up that might give some settlement to the loose ends in the characters lives. Each character's individual plotlines were enjoyable and I would love to see how the author could wrapped them up. (less)
When I read Stephanie Thornton’s first novel, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora, I knew I...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When I read Stephanie Thornton’s first novel, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora, I knew I had found one of those authors that would leave me always starving for their next book to come out. She created such a relatable, humanized figure in Theodora – a woman nearly lost to history who rose from the dregs of society to become one of the most powerful Empresses Rome would ever know – that I have been waiting with my fingers twitching to see what she would come up with next. Let me just say that I was not disappointed. In fact, the author’s second novel, Daughter of the Gods, is phenomenal!
Daughter of the Gods is the story of Hatshepsut, a princess of Ancient Egypt who rose from the wild, reckless second daughter of the Pharaoh Thutmose I to become Pharaoh in her own right. She ruled successfully for many years during the Golden Age of Egypt and gave everything for the country she loved. While many of the facts regarding her life and reign are lost to history, Ms. Thornton combines her obvious painstaking research with a fleshed out story that beings Hatshepsut to live as a feisty, often selfish yet brilliant and caring woman who refused to back down from what she believed was the Gods’ wish that she rule Egypt.
What impresses me so much about Ms. Thornton’s writing is the way she takes these historical figures and makes them seem so present and relatable. Hatshepsut is flawed, like any human, with a short temper and a selfish and haughty streak that would rival any diva. On the other hand, she is very aware of her duties to her family and to Egypt and does what she must. She is also remarkably compassionate and struggles with decisions when it places other people’s lives in danger. Even when it comes to the complicated yet sweet romance between Hatshepsut and Senenmut you have to watch her struggle with the limitations her duties demand. Without giving anything away, your heart can’t help but break along with Hatshepsut when an ultimate betrayal is revealed, something I did not see coming at all, and will be amazed at the bravery and strength she displays even when death seems easier. This is a woman to admire, even with her faults, and the reader cannot help but cheer for her throughout.
While there are some obvious, slightly squeamish, differences between the Ancient Egyptian culture described in the book and ours (most notably the fact that the royal Pharaohs often married their sisters and had many other wives and concubines on top of that) the detail and attention shown to this culture, their customs and superstitions fully envelops the reader and makes it easy to envision the settings as well as the characters. To be honest, I slowed my reading down by spending an inordinate amount of time looking up objects and pictures online to see how they compared to the story. This need to know more about what is going on in a book is a clear sign to me that it is a winner.
Regardless of what genres of books you enjoy, pick up Daughter of the Gods. It is just a stellar story and I would imagine any reader will find points of interest in it. Now that I am through, I am not so calmly waiting to reading Ms. Thornton’s next novel, The Tiger Queens, due out in November! (less)
What C.J. Sansom does with Dominion - presenting an alternative history in which Winston Churchill does not become Prime Minister of Britain in 1940 and the men who do come to power agree to an appeasement with Germany that finds the now authoritarian government of Britain heavily influenced by their new Fascist friends - is simply fascinating! I love the idea of exploring how every little alteration and change of events can so heavily impact every aspect of our world. And the changes here make for some devastating and far reaching consequences.
I have to admit that I got bogged down at times with the various political and social factions discussed and had a hard time keeping them straight (Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Nationalism, Imperialism....just so many "ism's"!). There is so much intricate history here as well - the various countries involved with this ongoing war for German domination, their various leaders and the shifting allegiances between countries, the scientific advancement during this time - that I found myself having to stop reading the book to go look up the many bits and pieces of factual history in order to be able to determine the changes taking places in this alternative world. This slowed down my reading somewhat and caused some confusion but the historical notes at the end of the novel did help alleviate some of that confusion.
For me the driving force and what kept bringing be back into the story was the human element. Taking these broad and perplexing ideals and showing how they affected and influenced the people having to live under them made this shifted history seem real and frightening. It was sad yet inspiring to see the many reasons these characters joined Churchill's Resistance and was awe-inspiring to witness the bravery and selflessness they presented. On the flip side it was horrifying to see the greed, prejudice and cruelty of some of the other characters. All of these people came to life for me and thoroughly captured my attention.
In particular the two characters that fascinated me the most were Frank Muncaster and Gunther Hoth. Both are such complex, well developed characters that kept surprising me with their growth throughout the story. Frank, the scientist holding a dangerous and deadly secret, is such a sad, scared, introverted character that spent his life being bullied and unloved by everyone but who proved to have more bravery than most could imagine when it mattered. Most surprising of all, I found myself remarkably feeling compassion for Gunther Hoth, a Nazi man through and through, who had lost so much throughout his life but carried on with a purpose and determination to do what he felt was his job and his duty to Germany. He is a monster for what he did and what he supported but one that had a heart, although a twisted and misjudging one in my opinion. I am always delighted to find a novel that makes me feel for characters that are so multidimensional.
All in all Dominion is a thought provoking and complex look at how our world and its history can change on a dime based on the wills, egos, and actions of others and how the actions of the few can so alter the lives of the many. This is my first novel by C.J. Sansom but it will definitely not be my last.(less)
Over the past few years Susanna Kearsley has become one of my all-time favorite authors. She has...moreReally 2.5. I reviewed this for www.luxuryreading.com.
Over the past few years Susanna Kearsley has become one of my all-time favorite authors. She has this remarkable way of melding and twisting the past and present together, creating these unforgettable, well developed characters and settings and spicing it all up with a sweet dose of romance. My love for her stories is so strong that I went out and bought every book of hers I could find after reading the very first one. Whether it’s this high expectation or the story itself I am not sure, but The Splendour Falls fell somewhat flat for me.
The narrator’s voice was beautiful and the way she read through the descriptions of Chinon, France really helped immerse me in the setting, but it was hard to keep track of the various characters, their actions and their connections to the main character, Emily Braden, as the sound of their voices all meshed together. While I could flip back through a written copy of a book to clarify any confusion within the plot and characters I obviously couldn’t do that with the audiobook version and therefore I had moments where I couldn’t keep track of what was going on.
The story itself left much to be desired as well. The plot begins with Emily Braden agreeing to meet her cousin Harry in Chinon for a holiday away from her troubles. When she arrives in Chinon Harry is nowhere to be found, but this doesn’t seem to bother Emily at all as Harry is described as incredibly unreliable. Emily stays in Chinon, exploring the beautiful town and becoming close with various other people staying at her hotel. While I understand this to be the author’s way of getting Emily to Chinon for her to discover the mysteries and secrets she begins to uncover it just didn’t seem very realistic. She is presented as so closed off and yet she is able to make friends and mingle in Chinon without knowing anyone. I just found this odd.
What I was most disappointed with, however, was the lack of any real immersion in the history. My favorite parts of her books are the time slips that give us the history through the eyes of those experiencing it and seeing how that history affects our present day storyline. While there were two separate historic storylines affecting and influencing Emily’s story – Queen Isabelle hiding her jewels during a 13th century siege on the castle in Chinon and a tragic love story between another Isabelle in Chinon and a German officer during WWII – these were barely shown from the viewpoint of those characters and mostly just referenced in Emily’s timeline. Both historic timelines had so much promise and could have added so much more to the story development but were instead just mentioned for how they affected what was going on with Emily and her friends.
If this were any other author’s novel I might have rated it higher as the scenic descriptions of Chinon are lovely and it is written with a lyrical and intoxicating style. However, being that I have read other books by Ms. Kearsley and they blew The Splendour Falls out of the water I cannot help but feel that this book was disappointing. This will in no way keep me from reading every book that Ms. Kearsley comes out with as I am hooked for life. However, I would recommend any reader new to the author start with one of her other novels. (less)
I need to begin by saying Wuthering Heights is one of my top five favorite books of all time. So how co...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
I need to begin by saying Wuthering Heights is one of my top five favorite books of all time. So how could I not love a continuation of one of my favorite stories, one that placed a modern American woman back on the wild, windswept English moors struggling to choose between two very different men? Well, unfortunately, Solsbury Hill just didn’t live up to the classic it compares itself to.
My main problem with the story is that, unlike the grand passions and emotions that run through Wuthering Heights, the relationships in Solsbury Hill fall somewhat flat. The situations infer intimate relationships between the characters, whether romantic or familial, but the actual dialogue and feel of the interactions doesn’t go very far below the surface. I didn’t feel the connections and found the responses to situations that should evoke grand emotions – your lifelong love betraying you, your newly discovered aunt dying before she can tell you all she needed to – lacked any real passion. The dialogue was also very stunted and jumbled at times and there was a lot of repetition of descriptions and statements for such a short story.
What saved the story for me and kept me turning the pages when I wasn’t altogether sure I wanted to were the description of the gently deteriorating Trent Hall and the surrounding landscape. The moors were really their own character and by far my favorite. The author did a superb job of describing the varying terrain and the ever changing elements that make the moors of England the awe inspiring place it is. There is also this wonderful strangeness going on when you aren’t always sure if the people Eleanor are encountering are alive or ghosts and this added a delightful chill. There is one ghost in particular who leads Eleanor on a grand yet abbreviated adventure that I really enjoyed and would have loved expanded.
Turning the last page of Solsbury Hill I was left somewhat confused about whether I enjoyed the book or not. I loved the descriptions of the setting as well as the haunting elements. However, these very elements as well as the characters and their relationships needed more development and what was discussed felt rushed. I think the story would be better served either expanded with more development or concentrating on one component (for example I would have loved if the story centered solely around Eleanor’s search for Emily Bronte’s secrets or concentrated on her struggle to choose between Miles or Mead). I also think trying to compare this story to Wuthering Heights does not do Solsbury Hill any justice. It just doesn’t match up. (less)
The Secrets She Carried does that wonderful thing so many books I’ve enjoyed lately do: effortlessly co...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
The Secrets She Carried does that wonderful thing so many books I’ve enjoyed lately do: effortlessly combine the past and the present, swirling the secrets and truths of the two timelines together until all the connections are laid open for the reader to marvel at. The modern day story of Leslie and Jay was very enjoyable, showing a slow but sweet love affair open up for these two characters that have been hurt in the past and need each other’s perspectives and honesty to move on from the pain they have been harboring. Without giving anything away the way the conflict between Leslie and her father is brought to a head is incredibly touching and I think the way both Leslie and Jay learn to open up and let other people in was spot on.
As usual the story line set in the past was my favorite part, however. Adele is such a captivating character and what she does for love is heartbreaking. While some of the secrets we learn were easy to see coming, other aspects were a total surprise for me and had me going back and rereading earlier passages to see how I could have possibly missed it. That, for me, made The Secrets She Carried that much more entertaining and a book I will remember for some time.
The Secrets She Carried is a touching look at the damage secrets can cause and the redemptive power of facing your demons, letting go of the past and opening yourself up to others. None of the characters are perfect which makes them easily relatable and sympathetic. Even thought the novel wraps up neatly by the end I enjoyed the characters so much that I have a secret hope the author writes a sequel so I can continue with the story of Leslie, Jay and Peak Plantation. That, to me, proves how enjoyable this novel is. (less)
On August 6th, 1930, Judge Joseph Crater – a man with seedy mob ties who was under suspicion for purcha...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
On August 6th, 1930, Judge Joseph Crater – a man with seedy mob ties who was under suspicion for purchasing his seat on the New York State Supreme Court – disappeared without a trace. To this day his disappearance remains a mystery. The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress uses what is known about Judge Crater, his various connections and the people closest to him to present a thrilling and emotional story of what might have brought down this flawed and powerful man.
The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress is told from the point of view of the three women closest to Joseph Crater: his wife Stella, their maid Maria Simon and Crater’s mistress Sally Lou Ritz. Ariel Lawhon does an excellent job of bringing these three women to life, flaws and all. Each woman has gotten herself wrapped tightly into a spot that could prove quite dangerous if they try to break away on their own terms. In a world of dark and seedy speakeasies where powerful and violent men hold all the cards, the women will have to keep level heads and beat the men at their own games to survive.
The pacing is perfect, starting the story 39 years after the judge’s disappearance with Stella coming back to one of her husband’s favorite hangouts, Club Abbey, on the day of Crater’s disappearance for her annual vigil and meeting with Maria’s husband, Jude Simon, one of the detectives assigned to investigate the judge’s whereabouts. From there the story goes back and forth, releasing little tidbits and details from each woman until the truth is revealed to Jude in a letter from Stella given to him before she leaves the club for the last time. The excitement and emotion is really in the details, however, with the reader being pulled along on a thrilling mystery that leaves you guessing but one that also forces you to become emotionally invested in the plights of the players with good hearts who are pushed into doing things they wouldn’t do in a different time and place. But don’t be fooled for a moment into thinking that every person involved is good or innocent. There are some vicious characters sprinkled throughout, namely Judge Crater himself and Owney Madden, the mobster who seems to be pulling all the strings. There are a number of bright lights and kind hearts to be seen, but there is just as much vice, lust and greed and that keeps the story moving at an exhilarating pace.
I was not aware of Judge Crater’s disappearance or the mystery and legend surrounding it before reading The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress but this captivating novel has me very excited to read more details and theories which, to me, is the hallmark of a great story and an equaling talented author. I’m very excited to see what Ariel Lawhon presents next. (less)
Having recently read and enjoyed It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green, my son was ecstatic when Deck the H...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Having recently read and enjoyed It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green, my son was ecstatic when Deck the Halls, We’re Off the Walls! came in the mail. Knowing that the back of the book would have weird facts, puzzles, trivia and more, he instantly went to the back of the book so we could do all the fun activities first. These Christmas-themed activities were exciting for him as well as good practice for spelling and reading so I was happy to start with what he sees as the best part of the book. They didn’t take long to go through and we were soon on to the story.
Deck the Halls, We’re off the Walls! once again follows A.J. and his group of friends as they go on an adventure with unexpected twists and turns. This time they are going to the mall to try and speak to Santa and let him know what they want for Christmas. Things go awry when A.J. leaves the long line to try and find a present for his sister and unexpectedly must come to the aid of a young rapper, Cray-Z, being chased through the mall by young girls. Things are further complicated when A.J. is chased through the mall by angry parents after announcing to the waiting children that the Santa they are visiting is not who they expected to meet. This time Cray-Z will have to come to A.J.s rescue and A.J. learns the value of giving to others and what Christmas should really be all about.
This story had many of the same aspects my son enjoyed from the last book by Dan Gutman we read – over exaggeration, mild teasing and jokes that are perfect for young readers – and we were once again laughing along with A.J. and the gang. This book also has a funny Christmas rap as part of the story and my son had the best time learning the words and rapping it for anyone who would listen. I value anything that will get my son reading more and Dan Gutman’s books definitely do that!
I would recommend Deck the Halls, We’re off the Walls! for any elementary students looking for a funny, not too serious story that incorporates a snarky protagonist with lite life lessons that most kids can relate to. I know my son will be looking to see where A.J. and his friends go next. (less)
Growing up on the dense, lush island of Martinique, young and naive Rose Tascher longed to leave behind...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Growing up on the dense, lush island of Martinique, young and naive Rose Tascher longed to leave behind the disapproval and constraints of her home and sail away to the excitement and freedom of Paris. Witnessing the unhappy and unfaithful marriage of her parents, Rose resolved to marry for love or not to marry at all: she will settle for nothing less than pure devotion and adventure. Yet the reality she finds herself in is far from her ideal.
What she hoped would be a marriage of mutual adoration and appreciation quickly becomes one of loneliness. Her handsome, sophisticated soldier husband, Alexander, proves to be a cruel, adulterous and inattentive husband who refuses to accompany his young wife around Paris and soon enough abandons her with two small children. Forced to learn how to support her family, Rose uses her wits, connections and learned refinement to advance herself within the Parisian elite and charm various men in order to survive. Then the horrors of the French Revolution come crashing through Rose’s circle of privilege and she finds herself near death in a Parisian prison.
When the political tides turn once again Rose is released, barely having survived the inhumane conditions and humiliations. Now charged with a renewed appreciation for preservation and independence she resolves to do whatever it takes to make sure her and her children’s futures are secure. But amidst finding that freedom she comes into contact with an arrogant, unnervingly intense man who nonetheless finds a way to capture her heart: Napoleon Bonaparte. Marrying this passionate yet demanding man, Rose reinvents herself as Josephine Bonaparte and finds herself at the pinnacle of success as the Empress of France, with all the security and wealth that entails. But the balance between power and freedom, love and loss, will prove difficult for Josephine and she will have to decide what she is willing to live with and what she will have to fight for.
Having very little knowledge of the history of France after the French Revolution, I found Becoming Josephine to be a vivid, close up look at not only the shifting tides of power before, during and after the French Revolution but an in depth study of the woman who was Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife. Told from Josephine’s point of view the reader gets to see the precarious position a woman of Josephine’s status lived in and the fight such a woman would have to find security, freedom and faithful love in one man. While Josephine came off at times as slightly selfish and spendthrift, I couldn’t help but ache for her as she continued to be hurt and used by men with little recourse. She wanted more than anything a true and faithful love but seemed to have the worst time finding it. The roller coaster highs and lows she experienced during her life were simply mind boggling and her sheer determination to survive and ultimately find happiness in the life she had worked so hard to cultivate was mesmerizing and inspiring.
Becoming Josephine is a superbly written historical novel highlighting a woman seemingly relegated by history to the shadow of her power hungry husband. I found it utterly fascinating and I’m excited to read more about this captivating woman. (less)
In general I don’t read a lot of short story collections. I tend to gravitate towards long, gripping sa...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
In general I don’t read a lot of short story collections. I tend to gravitate towards long, gripping sagas and involved series that take their time with character and plot development. However I was excited by the prospect of reading David-Michael Harding’s The Cats of Savone: 8 Short Novels for Busy People. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Harding’s full length novels and was intrigued when I read that readers could go to Mr. Harding’s website and vote for which short story they wanted to be made into a full length novel. What a great opportunity, to get a taste of a compelling story and influence, even in a small way, the author in expanding it. I was in!
The Cats of Savone is a collection that does not fit neatly into any categories. The eight stories are a mix of so many things: historical fiction, contemporary fiction, western, coming-of age, even the paranormal fantasy genre is covered. There is a story to capture the attention of just about any reader regardless of their tastes. Each story is surprisingly well developed given the short length and each and every story has touching characters that are hard not to absorb into your heart.
For my part, being a huge fan of historical fiction, my favorite stories were Black Men in Bright Blue and Forever Beneath the Celtic. In Black Men in Bright Blue the Civil War is seen through the eyes of an intelligent, precocious and exceedingly tender hearted young Southern girl caught between what is expected of a rich young white girl of her station at this time and what she sees as the strange and brutal treatment of the slaves living on her father’s plantation. Our young heroine, Rachel, is a remarkable character and is able to follow what her heart tells her is right with bravery far above what you would expect for someone her age. It is truly heartbreaking and I would love to see this made into a full length novel. Forever Beneath the Celtic follows the crew of German submarine U-20 as they traverse the ocean depths and follow out their orders to sink enemy ships. But when the captain orders they sink the civilian passenger liner Lusitania the men will have their own internal battles between what they know to be their duty and what they can justify as necessary casualties of war.
These two stories are just the tip of the iceberg of what is offered in The Cats of Savone and I encourage readers to pick it up and see what else is on offer. I am so excited to see what story gets the most votes and is selected as the next full length novel from Mr. Harding. Any of them would make an excellent choice! (less)
Have you ever found a book series that had you devouring each book as they came out, simultaneou...moreReally 4.5. I reviewed this for www.luxuryreading.com.
Have you ever found a book series that had you devouring each book as they came out, simultaneously saddened when the current book is over and newly excited to see where the next book will take the characters? Well after reading Barbara Kyle’s last book in her Thornleigh saga, Blood Between Queens, I knew I had found just that. Ms. Kyle’s newest book in the series, The Queen’s Exiles, picks up in 1572, three years after the action in Blood Between Queens and, just like its predecessor, takes off running and never slows down.
Venturing away from England into the wild open sea and onto the turbulent and dangerous lands of the Spanish-occupied Netherlands, The Queen’s Exiles shines a light on Fenella Doorn, a Scottish born woman running her own ship-refitting business on the island of Sark, making her own way in life after her husband was killed by Spanish invaders. When Adam Thornleigh, a man she helped rescue eleven years previously and one she has never been able to forget, sails into Sark’s harbor she is instantly drawn into his quest to not only work as Queen Elizabeth’s agent on the high seas but to get back his children from his traitorous Catholic wife, Frances, who has been in hiding since her failed attempt to kill the Protestant Queen of England. Their journey is dangerous and filled with endless surprises, people they believed to be dead found alive and some of those they have long had at their side meeting their final end. As they both work to rescue their loved ones from the clutches of the tyrannical Duke of Alba, a man slaughtering the Dutch in the name of his faith and his Spanish King, they will find themselves falling in love in a world that wants nothing more than to keep them apart. Fighting between what they want and what is right, both will make tremendous sacrifices in the name of love.
Intertwined with the story involving Fenella, Adam and Frances is that of Adam’s sister, Isabel and her husband Carlos Valverde, a man longing for his home in England but having to work for the Duke of Alba in order to make enough money to be able to return to England and pay off his debts. These characters, like the others mentioned, have all been introduced in previous books in the series and it is fascinating watching them all try to untangle themselves from the various destructive webs they find themselves in, some of which have been twisting around them for a number of books. Mixed in with these established characters are some new and fascinating ones such as those in the groups The Sea Beggars and the Brethren, men and women all putting their lives on the line to push out the Spanish in the name of William, the Prince of Orange. The action and sacrifice is constant and Ms. Kyle does not shy away from placing the reader at the heart of the violence and adventure. But as in real life the determination and willingness of each character to give everything for what they believe in makes their triumphs that much sweeter and, for those that are not successful, their sacrifices that much more heartbreaking.
Barbara Kyle’s Thornleigh Saga is enthralling and each book draws the reader deeper and deeper into the lives and worlds of her characters, all against the backdrop of the very real and exhilarating history surrounding them. I for one cannot get enough of these books and am once again anxiously waiting to see how Ms. Kyle continues the many dangling threads of storyline in her next book.
After reading and enjoying Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale a number of years ago I was so excit...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
After reading and enjoying Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale a number of years ago I was so excited to see she was coming out with a new novel, Bellman & Black. While I can’t say that I enjoyed Bellman & Black as much as her first novel, Ms. Setterfield does present another intriguing story, one that will lead the reader into an eerie world where a seemingly small occurrence will haunt a man for his entire life.
When a young William Bellman kills a rook with his slingshot he is briefly disturbed by what he has done but soon forgets about it and moves on with his life. The nephew of the owner of Bellman’s Mill, Will begins working for his uncle and soon becomes indispensable to the company. Will seems to be blessed with a remarkable blend of brains, luck and an incredible work ethic and as he continues on at the mill he gets married, has children and eventually becomes the mill’s owner. William Bellman is happy. Yet as his star rises those around him continue to fall and a sinister man in black seems to always be close by but out of reach. No amount of planning, studying or calculating can keep Will’s loved ones from dying, that is until this Mr. Black offers him a deal and he takes it.
Only having a vague sense of the deal he made with this dark stranger, Bellman opens a funerary emporium called Bellman and Black and works tirelessly to build a thriving business off of death, always saving for when Mr. Black comes for his payment. But when that occurs, what Mr. Black wants is not what Bellman could ever have envisioned.
Bellman & Black has a decidedly macabre feeling underlying the entire story, one that does not let up. While I will admit that this unsettling feeling makes for a tantalizing reading experience I wouldn’t categorize it as a ghost story as the cover would have you believe. It is more about a man grasping for life and, in doing so, actually missing out on living the life he has worked so hard to obtain. The strange character of Mr. Black actually only appears in snippets throughout the story while he served as more of a dark cloud over Bellman that he can’t quite get away from. The harder Bellman works the more he pulls away from the world around him and starts going mad with uncertainty of when Mr. Black will be back to collect whatever it is he wants. This slow unraveling was my favorite part of Bellman & Black.
What I enjoyed less, however, was the endless details given to the various business aspects of the Bellman empire. I found myself starting to glaze over slightly with the constant discussion of calculations, deals and workload but would perk up again when a death brought Mr. Black back in the picture. The way Mr. Black fits in with the killing of the rook was kind of odd to me as well but one I accepted as part of the general strangeness of the story.
Overall I enjoyed Bellman & Black for the otherworldly, old fashioned macabre story it is. It is a quick, spooky read and one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a little unsettling chill in their reading. (less)