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
I have long been a fan of Sandra Byrd's writing and have read and enjoyed all three books in her Ladies in Waiting series (To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, and Roses Have Thorns) as well as the first book in this Daughters of Hampshire series (Mist of Midnight). I always know that when I see a new historical fiction book by Sandra is coming out I'm going to want to read it and I'm going to enjoy it. I'm happy to say that Bride of a Distant Isle kept her on this streak and once again provided hours of entertainment.
From the get-go I knew I was going to like Annabel. Right from the start she is thrown into one horrible situation after another - from being ripped from the school she loved teaching at to being thrown at a man she couldn't stand to having her very freedom ripped out from under her - and at every obstacle she refused to give up and barreled through to try and find the best outcome of each dire situation...and she did it all with more grace than I believe I could ever have had. I found her to be such a well drawn character, along with Captain Dell’Acqua and a most of the other secondary characters. I have to admit I wasn't as big a fan of the development of Mr. and Mrs. Everedge or Mr. Morgan (the man her cousin tried to force her to marry and who I didn't think necessarily warranted the vile disgust she seemed to feel for him, but that could just be me) but all of the other characters seemed very realistic.
I also really enjoyed the development of the surroundings our characters found themselves in. Sandra Byrd did an exceptional job of immersing me in the dark, slightly decaying Highcliffe Hall as well as the asylum we get to peek into. This whole world was so easy to see and experience along with the characters and I'm always delighted when an author is able to make me feel like I'm actually seeing the situations play out in front of me. It makes the reading experience so much more enjoyable!
I do have to say that I didn't have a very hard time figuring out the mysteries surrounding Annabel and who was involved in them. I don't want to say too much and spoil any surprises for other readers, but for me I had most of it figured out pretty soon, even if I didn't know the exact why's and how's. There weren't any big surprises or gasp-y moments, but that isn't to say that it wasn't enjoyable going along for the ride and seeing Annabel figure out what was really going on and whom she could really trust. I should also mentioned that this is clearly Christian fiction, so if you do not enjoy those elements in your historical fiction please take note. I think Sandra did a good job of never becoming too preachy (which I've experienced in other Christian fiction books and didn't enjoy) but I thought it should be noted.
I really do mean it when I say that I always know I'm going to enjoy a Sandra Byrd historical. She hasn't disappointed yet and this being my fifth book of hers I've read I have the upmost confidence that she'll continue to entertain me. Any reader who enjoys Christian fiction will especially love her books. ...more
Find my full review at http://aliteraryvacation.blogspot.com. Susan Meissner's last novel, Secrets of a Charmed Life, was my first 5-starred book of 20Find my full review at http://aliteraryvacation.blogspot.com. Susan Meissner's last novel, Secrets of a Charmed Life, was my first 5-starred book of 2015. This being the case I was beyond excited to read her newest, Stars Over Sunset Boulevard, not only because she's one of my favorite authors but because Gone with the Wind is my all time favorite movie. I've watched it more times than I can count and have always marveled at the costumes and complicated characters. Getting to see beyond the spectacle into the real world making of the movie....yeah, sign me up for that! Sometimes this kind of high expectation has lead me to disappointment, but I'm delighted to say Stars Over Sunset Boulevard was just as wonderful as I expected!
The modern storyline involving Christine McAllister and her discovery of the iconic green curtain hat from the making of Gone with the Wind is told more as small snippets that connect Christine's past to one of our characters from the 1930's than as its own standalone storyline. The small mystery of how the carpet hat made its way out of the hands of the movie makers and into a woman's private collection and how that woman connected to Christine kept the snippets interesting, but the real heft and emotion of the story resides in Violet and Audrey's relationship starting when they meet as secretaries on the set of the movie.
Audrey and Violet make wonderful counters for each other and serve to represent two distinct kinds of women during this vibrant and unique time and place in history. Audrey wants nothing more than to be a movie star and is as vivacious, beautiful and outgoing as one could want in a woman with this ambition. Violet, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to be a wife and mother and is shy and naive to the ways of Hollywood. Both are hiding secrets from their pasts that hamper there ability to get what they want most. However, when circumstances present themselves that will allow both women the chance at their greatest happiness, they take it, not realizing the consequences that might come. Watching each sacrifice so much and make choices they know aren't right in the hope that the outcome will be was poignant and touching. In the end the saying "be careful what you wish for because you just might get it" comes into play for both and they have to face the fact that what they thought they wanted might not have been worth what they did to get it.
While the gold of the story is the relationship between Audrey and Violet, I can't forget to mention the behind the scenes view into the making of Gone with the Wind, as it is as fascinating as you would imagine. Learning little tidbits, like the fact that Vivienne Leigh was not cast as Scarlett O'Hara when filming started, really fed my need to know more about the making of the movie. Susan Meissner did an exceptional job of perfectly describing this world so I felt completely immersed and could envision it all, from movie sets to Audrey's bungalow to the streets and sounds of old Hollywood. It was a perfect backdrop for this exceptional story.
I can't recommend Susan Meissner's novels enough for those that love glimpses into interesting times in history mixed in with a modern storyline that connects to the past. The characters are always well drawn and interesting and never fail to tug at my heart. Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is now another favorite of mine, and I cannot help but get excited to see what she comes up with next....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
I went into reading The Girl on the Train with some trepidation. So many people have read this book and lauded it as the "next Gone Girl", a book I really enjoyed, so I was prepared to be disappointed. I also read a number of reviews stating the characters were just horrible and not worth caring about, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. I'm so glad I set my concerns aside and picked up the book because I absolutely loved following along with Rachel as she tried to decipher her memories and figure out what really happened to the "Jess" girl she had been watching from the train.
The set up of the novel was great, with each chapter going back and forth in time and being told from the point of view of one of three characters: Rachel, a sad alcoholic with a tendency to not only make up fantasies within her own head but black out and lose whole stretches of time; Megan, the girl Rachel sees from the train that goes missing one day; and Anna, the new wife of Rachel's ex-husband and neighbor of Megan. Each character's point of view gives us bits and pieces of what has happened not only currently (with Megan's disappearance) but in each of their pasts. This sort of tentative release of information built a delicious anticipation, and this combined with seeing Rachel's lost memories of the night Megan goes missing slowly resurface, made for a wonderful whodunit.
While I will agree that there are no "innocent" characters in this story, whether that be these three women or the men in their lives, I never felt like I didn't care what happened to them. This is especially true with Rachel, who I couldn't help but root for and hope she would get the help she needed to stop drinking and move on from the dreams of her past "happy life". I've never been one to discount a whole story based solely on unsympathetic characters and I loved how complicated and real (if highly dysfunctional) the characters in The Girl on the Train were.
Now, the big mystery regarding Megan's disappearance. I'll admit I somehow guessed what really happened and who was involved pretty early on. With so many characters having a myriad of issues and dislikeable characteristics I channeled my inner Scooby Doo and went with the character I thought seemed the least likely and, lo and behold, I was right! Even with guessing the inevitable outcome I still very much enjoyed watching how the story would unfold and how the various clues would eventually fall into place. And there were still some elements I didn't even think about that make the ending that much more interesting.
I found The Girl on the Train to be a quick and enjoyably twisty tale. I can definitely see why this has been compared so often to Gone Girl as our main character and her memories are about as unreliable as they come. After finishing this one I've definitely been put in the mood for more mysteries like this, and I'm now on high alert for the next book by the author....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
I always know I'm in for a treat when I pick up a Stephanie Thornton novel! She is the queen of the strong female protagonist and I have read and adored every single one of her previous novels. The covers just happen to be breathtaking as well, which is always a huge plus for me. Ms. Thornton continues her trend of exceptional novels with The Conqueror's Wife, bringing back to life the stories of the women - and one man - behind this great conqueror of civilizations and making them the stars of their own lives instead of the footnotes of history where they have previously been placed.
I think what I appreciate most about The Conqueror's Wife is the fact that it feels completely authentic, making it so much easier to imagine these really are the emotions, actions and spoken words of our characters. None of them are perfect but are real and raw and human. Each has their own skills and strengths but also flaws and weaknesses that aren't glossed over to make them more agreeable. To be perfectly honest, it's Thessalonike's determination, Drypetis' spunk and sharp tongue, and Roxana's willingness to do anything to adapt to just about any situation and come out on top that make me enjoy them as much as I do. Even the secondary characters who, let's face it, refuse to be secondary - Alexander's mother, Olympias, Drypetis' grandmother, Sisygambis, Thessalonike's half-sister, Cynnane, just to name a few - are so multi-faceted that you can't help but admire something about them or appreciate where they are coming from even if they aren't overly likeable characters. And don't get me started about Hephaestion, Alexander's warrier lover...with his own sharp tongue and his weaknesses for wine and pretty faces combined with his love of learning and his just and loyal spirit, he might be my all time favorite character in the whole novel! Anyone who can walk away without really feeling for and with these characters is missing something.
Something else I love about The Conqueror's Wife, and really all of Ms. Thornton's writing, is the skill taken with descriptions that completely immerse the reader in the world these characters are inhabiting. There are vast riches and many luxuries that some of our characters get to experience, and these are all beautifully presented to the reader, but there is also a lot of bloodshed, depravity and violence for them as well. Let's face it, this was not an easy time for anyone, let alone soldiers and women. Ms. Thornton places the reader front and center for torture, desecrated bodies, rape and agony - both physical and emotional - so it is impossible not to be a part of all the action, good and bad. All of it is necessary for the story to be realistic and to highlight why some of our characters are the way that they are. I think it is just brilliantly done and I can't help but be amazed at the author's ability to perfectly walk that fine line between realism and vulgarity.
As you might have guessed by now, I am a total fan girl for all of Stephanie Thornton's novels and The Conqueror's Wife fits perfectly within my admiration of her writing skills. Who would have thought that the great and powerful Alexander, stylizing himself as a god, would be relegated to the backdrop of his own story, but that is exactly what has happened here. He could have been completely left out of the story and I would have been just as mesmerized with the book because it is the brave, strong and determined women that encompassed his life that shine through. They are the ones that are great and powerful and I am so happy that I've finally learned their stories!
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
The Edge of Lost starts with a bang, beginning in 1937 with the disappearance of the 10-year-old daughterSee my full review at www.luxuryreading.com.
The Edge of Lost starts with a bang, beginning in 1937 with the disappearance of the 10-year-old daughter of a prison guard on Alcatraz island and then going back in time to 1919 and 12-year-old Shanley Keagen, barely surviving in Ireland with his abusive Uncle and longing to find a way to travel to America to find his father. From there the events follow Shan through an incredible amount of ups and downs, finally bringing us back to the mystery of the missing girl and the actions following her disappearance. This format was perfect for the story as it helped build the momentum and kept me wondering how we would ever end up back where we started. At the end of the day, however, the real heart and soul of the story happened between 1919 and 1937 as we get to know Shan and the good and bad people that make up his life.
Shan himself was such an endearing character and it squeezed my heart to see him struggle through so many obstacles, all the time seeming to never quite feel like he had a home or family to call his own. He’s far from a one-dimensional character, however, and his inherent resourcefulness, determination and good nature kept me rooting for him to succeed on his seemingly insurmountable journey, one that takes far from a linear path.
Shan’s remarkable journey takes us to so many wildly varied locations and I find it amazing that Kristina McMorris was able to make each so real and easy to visualize for the reader. The story takes us through the gritty streets and pubs of Ireland, into the warm homes and sometimes dangerous streets of Brooklyn, into speakeasies, gambling houses and supper clubs during Prohibition, backstage and onstage for vaudevillian and burlesque shows and, of course, onto the harsh and unforgiving rock that is Alcatraz prison. I felt completely immersed in every location and found them to be true representations of the time period.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the secondary characters as I found them to be just as endearing and multi-faceted as Shan himself, especially the Capello family that take him in and try to give him the family he so desperately needs. This Italian immigrant family felt very true to life and even their dialogue fit their characters perfectly and they just came to life on the page. Their portion of Shan’s story really highlighted the difference between people being related by blood and those that are truly family. But, as with any family, it is the pain experienced at their hands that hurts the most and Shan’s relationship with them was complicated at times. His time within their home, one full of love but also tinged with the sadness they themselves had experienced, was my favorite part of the story.
The Edge of Lost is the story of one man’s journey to find his way in the world, one full of complications, miscommunications and missteps that, in a way, leads him full circle in his search for family. There are surprising twists and so many memorable characters and experiences that I’ll be thinking about this journey for a while. This is my second book by Kristina McMorris and I am once again impressed with how much she can make me feel for her characters. Anyone looking for a complicated yet endearing story that flies off the pages with delicious touches of history will find much to love here. ...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
As much as I love history and historical fiction, my knowledge of French history is just dreadful. It's not that I don't enjoy it, I actually find it quite fascinating, I just haven't read very much about it. Because of this I know only the very basics about the most infamous figures, including Catherine de Medicis, and so was eager to see what delicious new information I would learn within the pages of Medicis Daughter. I am so happy to report that Medicis Daughter not only ignited my fascination of the complex and manipulative Medicis but completely immersed me in a time and place I won't soon forget.
Medicis Daughter begins with our young heroine, Margot, coming to the court of her brother, Charles IX, and continues until shortly after the vicious massacre of many of the Huguenots who had come to Paris to celebrate Margot's wedding to her cousin, Henri of Navarre, in what is now known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. While this time period only covers about eight years those years are chock full of manipulation, political intrigue and a rollercoaster of appeasement and fighting between the Catholics and Huguenots of France. Laced between these is the luxury of the court, its bed-hopping courtiers and the heady games of power and influence. With all this going on (and there is a lot of action and intrigue to delight in, perfectly presented by the author) the real heart of the story, to me, is much smaller: that of a beautiful, intelligent girl long held prisoner to her family's demands, threats and machinations finally learning how to break free, at least in part, from their control to become the woman of honor she longs to be.
I think one of my favorite thing about Margot (and really all of these characters) is that she isn't perfect, not even close. Sophie Perinot did an astounding job of making each character so well rounded and complex that they felt wholly real to me, not just glitzed up or vilified representations of what someone might want them to be. Not one character is completely good or bad, thought some fall pretty far towards the dastardly end of the spectrum. In Margot's case, when we first meet her she's quite naïve and pretty full of herself. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor, disheveled and ill mannered Duc of Navarre as she was just so mean to him when they were young and, truth be told, never seemed to care for him much throughout the story, even when she (seemingly begrudgingly at times) came to his defense and saved him from an almost certain death. Even the passionate romance between Margot and the Duc de Guise wasn't over romanticized, but was real and raw and painful at times like real love can be. And, best of all, we get to witness not only Margot's voice but her very character shift and grow as she learns that even those she thought she could trust could let her down and she needed to look within her own heart and mind to determine what actions she would take and what sort of person she wanted to be. This very human element within these larger elements of historical fact is what really grabbed me and kept me glued to the pages.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention my two favorite characters within the novel, Margot's two best friends, Henriette, Duchesse de Nevers and Charlotte, Baronne de Sauve. They both added a wonderful note of levity throughout the story and were always ready with a sardonic comment or observation to entertain Margot as well as the reader. Both were quite adept at seduction and taught Margot how to maneuver her way through the lascivious yet religious court and ultimately get what she wanted even within the barriers set up by her family. They also gave her two people to turn to and lean on when she had no one else she could safely turn to. I would love to see one of them, especially Henriette, get her own story as I think both have a slew of potential as main characters.
Medicis Daughter is a delightful yet heartbreaking story of what one must do and sacrifice in order to survive a court like that of Charles IX, especially with the vice-like influence of a conniving woman like Catharine de Medicis. I feel a need to read more about this court, the Medicis and Margot herself as I'm not quite ready to let them go just yet. Thank you to Sophie Perinot for introducing me to a whole new section of historical fiction to now become obsessed with (move over Tudors)! ...more
My first thought when reading the above synopsis and beginning The Witch of Napoli was that this was going to be Alessandra's story, from her perspective, about her powers and the various people in her life either supporting her or trying to stand in her way. What you actually find when you begin reading the story is that this is the recollections of Tommaso Labella (the reporter mentioned in the synopsis) of the fateful events that shaped his life and brought him into Alessandra's exciting orbit. It opens in 1918 shortly after Alessandra's death and then goes back in time to 1899 and the summer that changed everything for both of them.
Tommaso is young, impetuous and ready for adventure when he first meets Alessandra, a 40-year-old, poor and uneducated medium who can not only speak to the dead but levitate inanimate objects and materialize spirits that can interact with other people. He becomes enamored by her and follows along, photographing her séances for a Naples newspaper, as various men attempt to either prove her abilities to be real or prove she is a very talented trickster and as her fame around the world continues to grow. Tommaso is an incredibly endearing character and once I got used to hearing about the events through his perspective I very much enjoyed tagging along as he traveled the continent for the first time and began to grow into the reporter and man he is destined to become.
While Alessandra isn't as fleshed out as I would have necessarily liked (her backstory, feelings and experiences are all being given to us through Tommaso so they aren't as deeply drawn as if she was telling her story) it is quite clear to me that Michael Schmicker is an expert when it comes to the paranormal. Every single time I stepped into the room with Tommaso to witness the séances I was completely absorbed in what was happening and transfixed by the descriptions of not only the paranormal aspects shown but the detailed ways in which the investigators sought to catch Alessandra cheating and the various ways one could fake the paranormal activity being seen. I found these portions of the novel to be absolutely fascinating and at times terrifying, especially whenever the spirit of Savonarola made an appearance! The arrogant nonbeliever Huxley is another rather unsettling character as he will do anything to ruin Alessandra and anyone connected to her. We don't really get to learn exactly why he is this way but just hearing about how he plotted and manipulated situations to discredit her was enough to give me a chill when he popped back onto the scene.
Something else I found interesting was the tidbits of political and social commentary interspersed throughout the story, giving a nice backdrop that showed the wide belief in the paranormal still existing in Europe during this time as well as the shift towards skepticism and proof men of science were exacting against these beliefs. Not knowing very much about Italy or its beliefs during this time I enjoyed the inclusion of this information to give me some background against how the characters reacted and responded to the world around them.
While not what I initially expected, The Witch of Napoli was nevertheless a very enjoyable read. Even with not getting to hear Alessandra's story from Alessandra she was still a very intriguing character to say the least and it was easy to see how she could enchant most of the men around her. She makes a few questionable choices throughout the novel but this, for me, just served to make her seem more human. I am definitely excited to read more about séances and the paranormal and applaud Michael Schmicker for presenting a story wholly original and unlike anything I have read before. ...more
From page one of The Magician’s Lie the reader is drawn in when the main character, “The Amazing Arden”, the famous female illusionist, declares “toniFrom page one of The Magician’s Lie the reader is drawn in when the main character, “The Amazing Arden”, the famous female illusionist, declares “tonight, I will do the impossible” by releasing herself from her torturer and killing him. Lo and behold, that very same night the illusionist’s husband is found dead beneath the stage where she performed a gruesome act of sawing a man in half, an act she has become renowned for. But did she murder him? Is this the man who tortured her and whom she vowed to kill? What really happened that night?
Police Officer Holt, who was in the audience of Arden’s show, apprehends her trying to escape and decides to hear her full story before deciding whether or not she murdered the man and whether or not he should turn her over to those investigating the murder. As Arden relays her story to Holt he has to navigate through the shifting details to decipher fact from fiction. Could her wondrous story, filled with unfathomable hardships, travel and adventure and even a touch of real magic, be true? Holt, facing his own harsh reality and the potential loss of his career, knows that finding out the truth could not only save Arden’s life but his own. But as the hours tick by he realizes that the truth isn’t always as black and white as it seems.
The Magician’s Lie weaves back and forth through time, from Arden telling Holt her story in 1905 to her life as it happened beginning in 1892 and making it back to the actions that led to her arrest. Throughout the story the reader is firmly along for the ride with Holt, trying to decipher the truth from fiction in Arden’s story and trying to see where the story is headed while Arden is always ten steps ahead at all times. At the same time Arden, brilliant and brazen as they come, collects small dollops of information about Holt as she spins her tale of sorrow and joy that encompasses everything from a difficult upbringing to a psychopathic man who haunts her throughout her life whether he is standing before her or not. But even as you get lost in her story you can’t help wondering: how much of this is true?
I am fully amazed by not only this plot but this beautifully written story. There were sentences that I found myself reading over and over because they are just perfect. The lilting, dancing descriptions are captivating and I actually lost myself in the reading a few times so that when I finally paused I found that more time had passed then I anticipated. I heard nothing and saw nothing while with Arden!
There are also delightful tidbits of history throughout that are fascinatingly incorporated into the novel. The reader gets a behind the scenes view of not only traveling shows and magical acts but of The Biltmore Estate (which I now am dying to visit) and the horrific Iroquois Theatre Fire in Chicago on January 1st, 1904, which the author worked into the story at a pivotal point. The pacing is spot on, starting out slow and building and building until the end flies at the reader and leaves them breathless and satisfied as they turn the last page.
While the central question of whether Arden is telling the truth or not about the murder is certainly important, the story also brings up the question of whether or not what each character tells themselves is truth or illusion, or, as I believe it is for most of us, a mix of both. This is a story of true love, twisted obsession, magic, reality and everything in between. This one’s a keeper! ...more
The first thing I have to say about Sisters of Shiloh is that the concept behind it - two sisters disguising themselves as men so they can fight for the South in the Civil War, both for love but of very different kinds - is truly fascinating! While I learned from author Kathy Hepinstall's guest post that over 400 cases of women doing this have been documented, this is the first time I have ever read a book that discusses it and found it to be a completely original point of view for a novel. With so many components of history - the Tudors, the Borgias, WWII - saturating the market it was refreshing to read a part of history wholly new to me and let me just tell you that Sisters of Shiloh shines a bright light into historical fiction all it's own.
The novel starts out with a bang, Libby (now disguised as Thomas) meeting with her angry, demanding....and very much DEAD!...husband Arden in the woods, where he is demanding she kill more men to avenge his death and hinting to her that her much beloved sister, Josephine (now Joseph), is hiding something heinous regarding someone's death. This strange, disturbing encounter and mystery regarding what Arden is hinting at just pulled me in and made it nearly impossible to stop reading.
After this occurrence the novel goes back in time to when the two sisters are young and close and the whole world lays before them. Arden soon arrives on the scene and becomes a slight wedge between them, being unkind to Josephine and rather possessive and manipulative of Libby. But even when faced with an unlikable and prejudiced man like Arden, Josephine will do anything for her sister, including going along with Libby on her crazy mission to be with Arden before a huge battle he is set to fight in and to go into battle herself when Libby is determined to do so in an attempt to seek some sort of revenge for Arden's death. Josephine can clearly see that her sister is mad with grief but there is nothing for her to do - she will follow Libby right up to the gates of hell in order to protect her sister. This all consuming love that Josephine has for her sister is beyond touching and is the perfect mirror to the much more unhealthy consumption Libby has for Arden once he is gone. I don't have a sister but I could only hope if I did I had a relationship with her that was half as unconditional as Josephine's love for Libby!
The meat of this novel is the time the sisters spend in battle. The vivid descriptions of the carnage of war is unbelievably realistic and it is hard to read while also impossible to look away. The reader is in the middle of the battles and front and center to see men fall apart, both mentally and physically, as they trudge along between the spurts of furious and deadly activity in a war that seems unending. We see it all, disease, every possibly privation and what we all later will know as PTSD. Sisters of Shiloh is the perfect example of what makes me love a work of historical fiction - I was immersed in the goings on of the characters, not told what was happening to them.
While the battles and hardships might be called the meat, the tender love that develops between Josephine and the soldier Wesley would be its balm. With everything they go through and all that Josephine sacrifices, seeing her have a little bit of happiness, just for herself, was so sweet and, while rather a small part of the overall story, is by far my favorite part. It is one of the few happy points in a novel that definitely has more dark side to it.
I was completely blown away by Sisters of Shiloh. I can only hope that these sisters collaborate on more novels together. I, for one, will be first in line to get them if they do! ...more
While I am familiar with Auguste Rodin and his art I am sad to say I had never heard of Camille Claudel before reading Rodin's Lover. Given her extensive talent this is a shame but, sadly, not surprising as her exclusion from the history of art (at least what is taught on the very basic level most of us experienced in school) is most likely due to the very issues she faced during her lifetime, namely that she was a woman creating her art in a world run by men and in the shadow of one of the great artists of their time. I absolutely love the idea of bringing Camille out of Rodin's shadow and into the hearts of everyday readers, something that Heather Webb does with aplomb.
One of the first things the reader learns about Camille and something that stays true to the very end is the fact that her greatest joy and passion in life comes from her creating sculptures out of the rich clay of the earth and that she wants nothing more in life than to be free to do her art and nothing less than to be tied down to the conventions of the day or to a man who might try to control her. It is impossible not to feel for Camille as she fights against her mother's uncaring remarks and determination to marry her off to a man that might stifle her unseemly (as her mother sees it) passion for sculpture as well as her fight to make her voice heard against the boom of the many other voices in the dog eat dog art world. But through it all she is absolutely determined to do whatever it takes to become one of the greatest artists of her day and it is this drive and one track mind that is both one of her greatest assets and her ultimate downfall.
Camille's relationship with Rodin is complicated to say the least. Both are equally passionate and obsessive about their art and their drive to make names for themselves. They are also both unable to stop thinking of the other and are driven together and apart time and time again as they war with their feelings and goals for the future. Both are consumed by each other and their art but neither are able to fully dedicate themselves to the other (especially in Rodin's case since he refuses to set aside his long time mistress and the mother of his son). What separates these two is that Rodin is able to rationally step back, in time, and extricate himself from unhealthy situations even as his heart breaks while the stress and heartache inherent in their lives begins to push Camille over the edge into madness. This vicious descent into madness - characterized by paranoia, rage, depression and even internal voices - is brilliantly presented in trickles throughout the novel until it becomes all consuming and the reader is left breathless at the end of it. Ms. Webb did an amazing job of layering this downward spiral against the every day occurrences to really highlight how close to the edge of insanity those who live by their passion get and the delicate balance needed to not tip over.
I also very much enjoyed getting the small glimpses at other huge names in the creative world swirling around Camille at the time, such as Monet, Emile Zola and an unhappy, bitter Victor Hugo at the end of his life. These names and many others helped draw the reader into that vibrant yet harsh creative world they all lived in and, for me, made it easy to see how one as sensitive and driven as Camille could lose herself under the weight of talent and ridicule.
One of the saddest aspects of the story was how everyone seemed to leave Camille, if not completely than enough that she was alone to battle her personal demons while funneling her emotions into her sculptures. Yes, Rodin loved her and supported her, both monetarily and creatively, but he didn't seem to see how far gone Camille was. Not even her brother, one of the few people Camille truly loved and trusted, saw the pain Camille was going through or did his best to help her. Her story is both inspiring and tragic and I don't think I will ever be able to forget her.
Rodin's Lover is an exceptional look at a brilliant artist not appreciated as she should have been during her time. While the novel ends somewhat abruptly without going into the end of Camille's life, the story it does tell is so compelling I found it impossible not to look up more about her. This, for me, is the mark of wonderful storytelling and I fully recommend Rodin's Lover to any reader who loves an unforgettable character both blessed with and brought down by her own talent. ...more
After Cora’s parents died in a fire when she was very young she lived with her maternal grandmother, EtI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
After Cora’s parents died in a fire when she was very young she lived with her maternal grandmother, Etta, above her dress shop in Cambridge. While Etta worked to change the lives of her customers one magical stitch at a time, Cora was more interested in numbers and science and changing the entire world, her heart having hardened itself against joy and love and embraced the solidity of measurable facts in an attempt to hold back the pain and grief that she can’t quite remember. Now having grown into an intelligent, socially-stifled young scientist, Etta is determined that it is finally time for her to work her magic on Cora, trying to find a way to open her granddaughter’s heart to the shy bookseller, Walt, who has loved Cora since he first met her when he was four. But working her magic has unexpected consequences, ones that not only confuse the relationship between Cora and Walt but also brings up old memories of what really happened the night Cora’s parents died, something that might not have been as accidental as it seemed.
If one can turn off their rational mind and just go into the reading of The Dress Shop of Dreams with a completely open and whimsical disposition than this story is a balm for the spirit. The main premise surrounding Etta’s magical dress shop and her dresses that help the women wearing them discover and reach their ultimate dreams is delightful. The descriptions of not only the dress shop but Walt’s book shop and the surrounding insular world of Cambridge is enchanting and so vivid that I couldn’t help but feel wrapped up tight in this wonderful setting.
My favorite aspect of the novel was the fact that it is an absolute love letter to bibliophiles. The descriptive passages of the all-encompassing effect books have on all the senses as well as the complete magic one experiences when opening the cover and turning the pages is simply spot on. I read these passages over and over and found a kindred spirit in the quiet yet bookish Walt.
Where my enjoyment of the novel ebbed slightly was in the fact that everything was just a little bit too whimsical for me. Not only does Etta have a gift for stitching magic into her dresses but Walt’s second job reading books aloud for the radio has people overcome with longing and hope just from hearing his words. A local priest can hear the confessions of his parishioners even without them speaking and the police officer that assists Cora when she tries to find out what really happened to her parents can instinctively know if someone is lying or telling the truth. It just seemed too convenient that all of these people have special, magical gifts and that they’ve all somehow found their way to each other.
The other aspect that lessened my enjoyment was the simple fact that just too much was dealt with within this relatively short book (under 300 pages). We have the magical dress shop and the women who come in and out of the shop that Etta helps, we have her trying to bring Cora and Walt together and Cora’s warming heart unleashing painful memories that set her on her quest to discover how her parents really died. That in itself would be enough for me but also laced in with these storylines is a secondary romance for Walt, the complicated relationship between the police officer assisting Cora and his ex-wife and even an old and complicated relationship for Etta. It just felt a little too much and in the end all wrapped up a little too neatly.
The Dress Shop of Dreams is an altogether enchanting and enjoyable story. It is beautifully written and any reader looking for a read to get lost in will end the book happy and completely satisfied. However, if you like any reality mixed in with your magic then you might find yourself questioning just how perfectly everything fits together. I definitely enjoyed my time within the story and look forward to reading other books by the author. ...more
Susan Meissner has become an author I love to read for her ability to weave together storylines set in the past and the present, twisting and turning them around each other and finally showing how the past actions have impacted the present. She does not disappoint with Secrets of a Charmed Life, a stunner that plops the reader in the heart of the utter horrors that occurred during the Blitz on London and showcases how decisions made out of longing, fear and guilt can have dire and unexpected consequences.
The present storyline with Kendra Van Zant, a history major hoping the essay she plans to write about Isabel McFarland's experiences during World War II will be selected by her professor for publication in a newspaper, serves to push the narrative back into the past and to slowly but surely bring all the facts and mysteries together until the reader is able to piece together what really happened. These portions of the story were much shorter and farther apart than those dealing with the past but were quite compelling, especially seeing Isabel celebrating her 93rd birthday and finally being able to discuss her rather secretive past for the first time in order to give voice to those who no longer can (and some who never could). Ending the story in the present left me satisfied if saddened by all that had occurred, but also with that sense of release and relief that, in the end, all came out into the light. With all this being said, however, the true gem of Secrets of a Charmed Life are the portions dealing with Emmy and Julia Downtree and their unbelievable experiences during World War II.
I could not help but ache for Emmy, a 15 year old at the start of her story, caught between wanting to make her indifferent and slightly cold mother proud and wanting to break away from a home that is far from happy and go after her dreams of becoming a designer of bridal gowns. Sketching gowns has served as a sort of balm for her unsatisfactory life and given her a glimpse of a normal life that she has never had. Her tense relationship with her mother topped with the pressure and responsibility placed on her shoulders to take care of her younger sister, Julia, pushes her to make rash decisions that will have unbelievable consequences that follow her like a shadow the rest of her life.
Mixed in with Emily's story are journal entries from Julia, entries that perfectly show how trauma and war can so completely shape a life into something filled with guilt, fear and grief that paralyzes a person emotionally and makes it hard to move on from what they experienced as well as a need to control whatever parts of life they can after having so little control over life as it broke apart around them. I found Julia's inner turmoil and struggle to be simply heartbreaking but so vital to give the reader the true experience of someone who had gone through what Julia and Emmy went through.
London itself as well as its citizens play a huge part in this story as well. The depictions of London before and after the Blitz are absolutely consuming and the realistically gruesome descriptions of the carnage and destruction is heart stopping. The abject fear and eventual PTSD of the people is fascinating and horrifying at the same time and I felt completely drawn in to all they experienced until I felt like I was slightly in shock myself.
Dealing with topics I haven't read much about before - the evacuation of London's children during the war and the emotional toll this took on England's population, the social and moral stringencies of the time, the complete decimation of London during the Blitz - I was thoroughly engrossed in Secrets of a Charmed Life from the very beginning until the last page. It is a remarkable story of survival and learning to forgive not only others but yourself for mistakes made as well as learning to let the past go in order to have a future. A must read for anyone who reads historical fiction! ...more