I am embarrassed to admit that, even though my dad was born in Scotland and the majority of his family still lives there, I am woefully ignorant of Scotland's history. Sure, I've seen the movies and read little bits here and there, but I've never actually read a book that dives right in and gives me a comprehensive view of the rulers, wars, struggles and successes that made Scotland the country it is today. It is for this very reason I decided to read A King Ensnared, the story of James Stewart's early life and imprisonment in England.
The story begins with young James Stewart - the future James I, King of Scots - learning that his older brother and heir to their father's throne has been starved to death while being detained by his Uncle, the Duke of Albany, who wants to rule Scotland himself. James, now in danger as the heir, is spirited off by men loyal to the crown in the hopes of getting him to France where he can stay until he is older and it is safe for him to come back to Scotland and fight for his rightful place. However, on the way to France they are taken prisoner by English pirates and given over to the English king as prisoner. And so begins James's 18 year imprisonment, 16 years of which are discussed in this book.
A lot of time passes in this relatively short book and I found the first part to be somewhat slow going. So much of it deals with James in prison, trying to find something to occupy his time and energy while he awaits his release or, if it presents itself, his escape. What I did find interesting during this part was the way JR Tomlin described James's loneliness, isolation and disgraceful and humiliating treatment, far below what a rightful King should experience. He literally grows up behind bars, with no parents, siblings and only a few men loyal to him as companions or advisors. He is given a decent education by the English and doesn't seem to have been physically harmed in any way, but the mental anguish is a lot for a young man to deal with while also trying to find a way to get out of his imprisonment and, once he does, bring down his uncle and put his country to rights. It was very interesting to get an in depth look at how a noble captive of the English would have been treated during this time and that kept me turning the pages while I waited for something exciting to happen.
The real action and progress started when James and Henry V, King of England, begin their mental battle, each trying to outwit the other to get what they want, and when James fights under Henry in England's battles against France. At this point James is older and fully capable of ruling Scotland if he could get Henry to release him. But what Henry asks for is not only James's help in defeating the French but complete fealty to him. That is something James cannot agree to and therefore each continue to negotiate. While James isn't released in this book (I believe this is meant to be a series so hopefully that will happen in the next book) he does learn much from the brutal and vicious Henry V on the battlefield that he could definitely use in the future as King. The descriptions of war were very vivid and exciting and, much to my surprise, my favorite aspect of the book.
Another aspect I enjoyed, although it was somewhat brief and interspersed through the second half of the book, was the growing romance between James and Lady Joan Beaufort, an English noblewoman who I believe will become his wife. It showed a tenderness and softness that was a nice contrast to the hardened, cunning aspects of James that he had to present most of the time. The traditional Scottish words thrown in also helped the story flow for me, making the dialogue seem more genuine and intriguing.
The one thing I don't feel I got with this book was the in depth history of Scotland I was looking for. While I got to learn about James I and some of the political machinations between Scotland, England and France I just wanted more about Scotland. I am hoping that this will be accomplished with the future books in the series as I really came to like James and would love to see how he integrates back into his native country and how Scotland fares until his rule. (less)
Her Last Assassin is the third book in the Lucy Morgan series by Victoria Lamb. Having not read the previous two books in the series I was nonetheless excited to plunge into the Tudor world I so love and can't get enough of. The author does a good job bringing new readers up to speed on the backstories of her characters so that they don't feel too lost by not reading the first two books. However, I do think reading the previous books would have been beneficial as it might have made it easier to fully understand and appreciate the various passionate relationships and vicious rivalries going on. And there are quite a few!
There are four main characters that are all very well developed and intriguing in their own way. Queen Elizabeth is older in this story and is having difficulty balancing the many problems around her - the ongoing Spanish war, the seemingly constant threat of assassins, the pressure on her to name an heir, the stress and jealousy of getting older while the courtiers and ladies around her are young and virile - while still appearing strong and completely in control. She's selfish, vain, hypocritical yet also caring and giving when she wants to be. I loved this aging, unpredictable Elizabeth! Master Goodluck, one of the queen's spies, is constantly searching for would-be assassins and dissenters and trying to balance his duty to the queen and to England with his concern and growing affection for his ward, Lucy Morgan. Lucy is a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, known for her beautiful voice and dark skin. She spends the novel trying to follow the established rules of conduct for ladies-in-waiting while also trying to hide her passionate love affair with the married playwright William Shakespeare and, towards the end, another man. Shakespeare was my least favorite main character, completely abandoning his family in the country while gallivanting around London doing whatever he pleased. He seems to truly love only himself as his affections seem easily changeable and he is about as disloyal as they come. He does show glimmers of guilt for his actions from time to time but even those end with him placing blame on someone else for what he does.
The relationships between the various characters kept changing, rather abruptly at times, so that I couldn't help but doubt the true intensity of their feelings for each other. So, while they are all interesting characters on their own I didn't really feel invested in their relationships together. There are two rather odd shifts in relationships that I didn't see coming and, to be honest, didn't really see as beneficial for the story as a whole. Maybe reading the previous two novels would help alleviate some of that confusion, but as it is I wasn't that interested in these shifts of passion.
What really drove the story and kept me turning the pages was the author's wonderful descriptions of the Tudor court and all the glitter and danger that comes with it. I loved the immersion in the intrigue and struggles facing England during this time and seeing how its court and the Queen's council kept transforming and shifting even as Elizabeth tried to keep it as she wanted it. I only hope that there is another book in the series as it leaves off without much resolution for its characters. I would love to see how Ms. Lamb could round out the storylines.
Her Last Assassin is enjoyable historical fiction set during a turbulent time in English history. There was more romance than I typically enjoy but I would definitely be interested in reading any follow up that might give some settlement to the loose ends in the characters lives. Each character's individual plotlines were enjoyable and I would love to see how the author could wrapped them up. (less)
What C.J. Sansom does with Dominion - presenting an alternative history in which Winston Churchill does not become Prime Minister of Britain in 1940 and the men who do come to power agree to an appeasement with Germany that finds the now authoritarian government of Britain heavily influenced by their new Fascist friends - is simply fascinating! I love the idea of exploring how every little alteration and change of events can so heavily impact every aspect of our world. And the changes here make for some devastating and far reaching consequences.
I have to admit that I got bogged down at times with the various political and social factions discussed and had a hard time keeping them straight (Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Nationalism, Imperialism....just so many "ism's"!). There is so much intricate history here as well - the various countries involved with this ongoing war for German domination, their various leaders and the shifting allegiances between countries, the scientific advancement during this time - that I found myself having to stop reading the book to go look up the many bits and pieces of factual history in order to be able to determine the changes taking places in this alternative world. This slowed down my reading somewhat and caused some confusion but the historical notes at the end of the novel did help alleviate some of that confusion.
For me the driving force and what kept bringing be back into the story was the human element. Taking these broad and perplexing ideals and showing how they affected and influenced the people having to live under them made this shifted history seem real and frightening. It was sad yet inspiring to see the many reasons these characters joined Churchill's Resistance and was awe-inspiring to witness the bravery and selflessness they presented. On the flip side it was horrifying to see the greed, prejudice and cruelty of some of the other characters. All of these people came to life for me and thoroughly captured my attention.
In particular the two characters that fascinated me the most were Frank Muncaster and Gunther Hoth. Both are such complex, well developed characters that kept surprising me with their growth throughout the story. Frank, the scientist holding a dangerous and deadly secret, is such a sad, scared, introverted character that spent his life being bullied and unloved by everyone but who proved to have more bravery than most could imagine when it mattered. Most surprising of all, I found myself remarkably feeling compassion for Gunther Hoth, a Nazi man through and through, who had lost so much throughout his life but carried on with a purpose and determination to do what he felt was his job and his duty to Germany. He is a monster for what he did and what he supported but one that had a heart, although a twisted and misjudging one in my opinion. I am always delighted to find a novel that makes me feel for characters that are so multidimensional.
All in all Dominion is a thought provoking and complex look at how our world and its history can change on a dime based on the wills, egos, and actions of others and how the actions of the few can so alter the lives of the many. This is my first novel by C.J. Sansom but it will definitely not be my last.(less)
Over the past few years Susanna Kearsley has become one of my all-time favorite authors. She has...moreReally 2.5. I reviewed this for www.luxuryreading.com.
Over the past few years Susanna Kearsley has become one of my all-time favorite authors. She has this remarkable way of melding and twisting the past and present together, creating these unforgettable, well developed characters and settings and spicing it all up with a sweet dose of romance. My love for her stories is so strong that I went out and bought every book of hers I could find after reading the very first one. Whether it’s this high expectation or the story itself I am not sure, but The Splendour Falls fell somewhat flat for me.
The narrator’s voice was beautiful and the way she read through the descriptions of Chinon, France really helped immerse me in the setting, but it was hard to keep track of the various characters, their actions and their connections to the main character, Emily Braden, as the sound of their voices all meshed together. While I could flip back through a written copy of a book to clarify any confusion within the plot and characters I obviously couldn’t do that with the audiobook version and therefore I had moments where I couldn’t keep track of what was going on.
The story itself left much to be desired as well. The plot begins with Emily Braden agreeing to meet her cousin Harry in Chinon for a holiday away from her troubles. When she arrives in Chinon Harry is nowhere to be found, but this doesn’t seem to bother Emily at all as Harry is described as incredibly unreliable. Emily stays in Chinon, exploring the beautiful town and becoming close with various other people staying at her hotel. While I understand this to be the author’s way of getting Emily to Chinon for her to discover the mysteries and secrets she begins to uncover it just didn’t seem very realistic. She is presented as so closed off and yet she is able to make friends and mingle in Chinon without knowing anyone. I just found this odd.
What I was most disappointed with, however, was the lack of any real immersion in the history. My favorite parts of her books are the time slips that give us the history through the eyes of those experiencing it and seeing how that history affects our present day storyline. While there were two separate historic storylines affecting and influencing Emily’s story – Queen Isabelle hiding her jewels during a 13th century siege on the castle in Chinon and a tragic love story between another Isabelle in Chinon and a German officer during WWII – these were barely shown from the viewpoint of those characters and mostly just referenced in Emily’s timeline. Both historic timelines had so much promise and could have added so much more to the story development but were instead just mentioned for how they affected what was going on with Emily and her friends.
If this were any other author’s novel I might have rated it higher as the scenic descriptions of Chinon are lovely and it is written with a lyrical and intoxicating style. However, being that I have read other books by Ms. Kearsley and they blew The Splendour Falls out of the water I cannot help but feel that this book was disappointing. This will in no way keep me from reading every book that Ms. Kearsley comes out with as I am hooked for life. However, I would recommend any reader new to the author start with one of her other novels. (less)
I need to begin by saying Wuthering Heights is one of my top five favorite books of all time. So how co...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
I need to begin by saying Wuthering Heights is one of my top five favorite books of all time. So how could I not love a continuation of one of my favorite stories, one that placed a modern American woman back on the wild, windswept English moors struggling to choose between two very different men? Well, unfortunately, Solsbury Hill just didn’t live up to the classic it compares itself to.
My main problem with the story is that, unlike the grand passions and emotions that run through Wuthering Heights, the relationships in Solsbury Hill fall somewhat flat. The situations infer intimate relationships between the characters, whether romantic or familial, but the actual dialogue and feel of the interactions doesn’t go very far below the surface. I didn’t feel the connections and found the responses to situations that should evoke grand emotions – your lifelong love betraying you, your newly discovered aunt dying before she can tell you all she needed to – lacked any real passion. The dialogue was also very stunted and jumbled at times and there was a lot of repetition of descriptions and statements for such a short story.
What saved the story for me and kept me turning the pages when I wasn’t altogether sure I wanted to were the description of the gently deteriorating Trent Hall and the surrounding landscape. The moors were really their own character and by far my favorite. The author did a superb job of describing the varying terrain and the ever changing elements that make the moors of England the awe inspiring place it is. There is also this wonderful strangeness going on when you aren’t always sure if the people Eleanor are encountering are alive or ghosts and this added a delightful chill. There is one ghost in particular who leads Eleanor on a grand yet abbreviated adventure that I really enjoyed and would have loved expanded.
Turning the last page of Solsbury Hill I was left somewhat confused about whether I enjoyed the book or not. I loved the descriptions of the setting as well as the haunting elements. However, these very elements as well as the characters and their relationships needed more development and what was discussed felt rushed. I think the story would be better served either expanded with more development or concentrating on one component (for example I would have loved if the story centered solely around Eleanor’s search for Emily Bronte’s secrets or concentrated on her struggle to choose between Miles or Mead). I also think trying to compare this story to Wuthering Heights does not do Solsbury Hill any justice. It just doesn’t match up. (less)
The Secrets She Carried does that wonderful thing so many books I’ve enjoyed lately do: effortlessly co...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
The Secrets She Carried does that wonderful thing so many books I’ve enjoyed lately do: effortlessly combine the past and the present, swirling the secrets and truths of the two timelines together until all the connections are laid open for the reader to marvel at. The modern day story of Leslie and Jay was very enjoyable, showing a slow but sweet love affair open up for these two characters that have been hurt in the past and need each other’s perspectives and honesty to move on from the pain they have been harboring. Without giving anything away the way the conflict between Leslie and her father is brought to a head is incredibly touching and I think the way both Leslie and Jay learn to open up and let other people in was spot on.
As usual the story line set in the past was my favorite part, however. Adele is such a captivating character and what she does for love is heartbreaking. While some of the secrets we learn were easy to see coming, other aspects were a total surprise for me and had me going back and rereading earlier passages to see how I could have possibly missed it. That, for me, made The Secrets She Carried that much more entertaining and a book I will remember for some time.
The Secrets She Carried is a touching look at the damage secrets can cause and the redemptive power of facing your demons, letting go of the past and opening yourself up to others. None of the characters are perfect which makes them easily relatable and sympathetic. Even thought the novel wraps up neatly by the end I enjoyed the characters so much that I have a secret hope the author writes a sequel so I can continue with the story of Leslie, Jay and Peak Plantation. That, to me, proves how enjoyable this novel is. (less)
On August 6th, 1930, Judge Joseph Crater – a man with seedy mob ties who was under suspicion for purcha...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
On August 6th, 1930, Judge Joseph Crater – a man with seedy mob ties who was under suspicion for purchasing his seat on the New York State Supreme Court – disappeared without a trace. To this day his disappearance remains a mystery. The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress uses what is known about Judge Crater, his various connections and the people closest to him to present a thrilling and emotional story of what might have brought down this flawed and powerful man.
The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress is told from the point of view of the three women closest to Joseph Crater: his wife Stella, their maid Maria Simon and Crater’s mistress Sally Lou Ritz. Ariel Lawhon does an excellent job of bringing these three women to life, flaws and all. Each woman has gotten herself wrapped tightly into a spot that could prove quite dangerous if they try to break away on their own terms. In a world of dark and seedy speakeasies where powerful and violent men hold all the cards, the women will have to keep level heads and beat the men at their own games to survive.
The pacing is perfect, starting the story 39 years after the judge’s disappearance with Stella coming back to one of her husband’s favorite hangouts, Club Abbey, on the day of Crater’s disappearance for her annual vigil and meeting with Maria’s husband, Jude Simon, one of the detectives assigned to investigate the judge’s whereabouts. From there the story goes back and forth, releasing little tidbits and details from each woman until the truth is revealed to Jude in a letter from Stella given to him before she leaves the club for the last time. The excitement and emotion is really in the details, however, with the reader being pulled along on a thrilling mystery that leaves you guessing but one that also forces you to become emotionally invested in the plights of the players with good hearts who are pushed into doing things they wouldn’t do in a different time and place. But don’t be fooled for a moment into thinking that every person involved is good or innocent. There are some vicious characters sprinkled throughout, namely Judge Crater himself and Owney Madden, the mobster who seems to be pulling all the strings. There are a number of bright lights and kind hearts to be seen, but there is just as much vice, lust and greed and that keeps the story moving at an exhilarating pace.
I was not aware of Judge Crater’s disappearance or the mystery and legend surrounding it before reading The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress but this captivating novel has me very excited to read more details and theories which, to me, is the hallmark of a great story and an equaling talented author. I’m very excited to see what Ariel Lawhon presents next. (less)
Having recently read and enjoyed It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green, my son was ecstatic when Deck the H...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Having recently read and enjoyed It’s Halloween, I’m Turning Green, my son was ecstatic when Deck the Halls, We’re Off the Walls! came in the mail. Knowing that the back of the book would have weird facts, puzzles, trivia and more, he instantly went to the back of the book so we could do all the fun activities first. These Christmas-themed activities were exciting for him as well as good practice for spelling and reading so I was happy to start with what he sees as the best part of the book. They didn’t take long to go through and we were soon on to the story.
Deck the Halls, We’re off the Walls! once again follows A.J. and his group of friends as they go on an adventure with unexpected twists and turns. This time they are going to the mall to try and speak to Santa and let him know what they want for Christmas. Things go awry when A.J. leaves the long line to try and find a present for his sister and unexpectedly must come to the aid of a young rapper, Cray-Z, being chased through the mall by young girls. Things are further complicated when A.J. is chased through the mall by angry parents after announcing to the waiting children that the Santa they are visiting is not who they expected to meet. This time Cray-Z will have to come to A.J.s rescue and A.J. learns the value of giving to others and what Christmas should really be all about.
This story had many of the same aspects my son enjoyed from the last book by Dan Gutman we read – over exaggeration, mild teasing and jokes that are perfect for young readers – and we were once again laughing along with A.J. and the gang. This book also has a funny Christmas rap as part of the story and my son had the best time learning the words and rapping it for anyone who would listen. I value anything that will get my son reading more and Dan Gutman’s books definitely do that!
I would recommend Deck the Halls, We’re off the Walls! for any elementary students looking for a funny, not too serious story that incorporates a snarky protagonist with lite life lessons that most kids can relate to. I know my son will be looking to see where A.J. and his friends go next. (less)
Growing up on the dense, lush island of Martinique, young and naive Rose Tascher longed to leave behind...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Growing up on the dense, lush island of Martinique, young and naive Rose Tascher longed to leave behind the disapproval and constraints of her home and sail away to the excitement and freedom of Paris. Witnessing the unhappy and unfaithful marriage of her parents, Rose resolved to marry for love or not to marry at all: she will settle for nothing less than pure devotion and adventure. Yet the reality she finds herself in is far from her ideal.
What she hoped would be a marriage of mutual adoration and appreciation quickly becomes one of loneliness. Her handsome, sophisticated soldier husband, Alexander, proves to be a cruel, adulterous and inattentive husband who refuses to accompany his young wife around Paris and soon enough abandons her with two small children. Forced to learn how to support her family, Rose uses her wits, connections and learned refinement to advance herself within the Parisian elite and charm various men in order to survive. Then the horrors of the French Revolution come crashing through Rose’s circle of privilege and she finds herself near death in a Parisian prison.
When the political tides turn once again Rose is released, barely having survived the inhumane conditions and humiliations. Now charged with a renewed appreciation for preservation and independence she resolves to do whatever it takes to make sure her and her children’s futures are secure. But amidst finding that freedom she comes into contact with an arrogant, unnervingly intense man who nonetheless finds a way to capture her heart: Napoleon Bonaparte. Marrying this passionate yet demanding man, Rose reinvents herself as Josephine Bonaparte and finds herself at the pinnacle of success as the Empress of France, with all the security and wealth that entails. But the balance between power and freedom, love and loss, will prove difficult for Josephine and she will have to decide what she is willing to live with and what she will have to fight for.
Having very little knowledge of the history of France after the French Revolution, I found Becoming Josephine to be a vivid, close up look at not only the shifting tides of power before, during and after the French Revolution but an in depth study of the woman who was Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife. Told from Josephine’s point of view the reader gets to see the precarious position a woman of Josephine’s status lived in and the fight such a woman would have to find security, freedom and faithful love in one man. While Josephine came off at times as slightly selfish and spendthrift, I couldn’t help but ache for her as she continued to be hurt and used by men with little recourse. She wanted more than anything a true and faithful love but seemed to have the worst time finding it. The roller coaster highs and lows she experienced during her life were simply mind boggling and her sheer determination to survive and ultimately find happiness in the life she had worked so hard to cultivate was mesmerizing and inspiring.
Becoming Josephine is a superbly written historical novel highlighting a woman seemingly relegated by history to the shadow of her power hungry husband. I found it utterly fascinating and I’m excited to read more about this captivating woman. (less)
In general I don’t read a lot of short story collections. I tend to gravitate towards long, gripping sa...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
In general I don’t read a lot of short story collections. I tend to gravitate towards long, gripping sagas and involved series that take their time with character and plot development. However I was excited by the prospect of reading David-Michael Harding’s The Cats of Savone: 8 Short Novels for Busy People. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Harding’s full length novels and was intrigued when I read that readers could go to Mr. Harding’s website and vote for which short story they wanted to be made into a full length novel. What a great opportunity, to get a taste of a compelling story and influence, even in a small way, the author in expanding it. I was in!
The Cats of Savone is a collection that does not fit neatly into any categories. The eight stories are a mix of so many things: historical fiction, contemporary fiction, western, coming-of age, even the paranormal fantasy genre is covered. There is a story to capture the attention of just about any reader regardless of their tastes. Each story is surprisingly well developed given the short length and each and every story has touching characters that are hard not to absorb into your heart.
For my part, being a huge fan of historical fiction, my favorite stories were Black Men in Bright Blue and Forever Beneath the Celtic. In Black Men in Bright Blue the Civil War is seen through the eyes of an intelligent, precocious and exceedingly tender hearted young Southern girl caught between what is expected of a rich young white girl of her station at this time and what she sees as the strange and brutal treatment of the slaves living on her father’s plantation. Our young heroine, Rachel, is a remarkable character and is able to follow what her heart tells her is right with bravery far above what you would expect for someone her age. It is truly heartbreaking and I would love to see this made into a full length novel. Forever Beneath the Celtic follows the crew of German submarine U-20 as they traverse the ocean depths and follow out their orders to sink enemy ships. But when the captain orders they sink the civilian passenger liner Lusitania the men will have their own internal battles between what they know to be their duty and what they can justify as necessary casualties of war.
These two stories are just the tip of the iceberg of what is offered in The Cats of Savone and I encourage readers to pick it up and see what else is on offer. I am so excited to see what story gets the most votes and is selected as the next full length novel from Mr. Harding. Any of them would make an excellent choice! (less)
After reading and enjoying Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale a number of years ago I was so excit...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
After reading and enjoying Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale a number of years ago I was so excited to see she was coming out with a new novel, Bellman & Black. While I can’t say that I enjoyed Bellman & Black as much as her first novel, Ms. Setterfield does present another intriguing story, one that will lead the reader into an eerie world where a seemingly small occurrence will haunt a man for his entire life.
When a young William Bellman kills a rook with his slingshot he is briefly disturbed by what he has done but soon forgets about it and moves on with his life. The nephew of the owner of Bellman’s Mill, Will begins working for his uncle and soon becomes indispensable to the company. Will seems to be blessed with a remarkable blend of brains, luck and an incredible work ethic and as he continues on at the mill he gets married, has children and eventually becomes the mill’s owner. William Bellman is happy. Yet as his star rises those around him continue to fall and a sinister man in black seems to always be close by but out of reach. No amount of planning, studying or calculating can keep Will’s loved ones from dying, that is until this Mr. Black offers him a deal and he takes it.
Only having a vague sense of the deal he made with this dark stranger, Bellman opens a funerary emporium called Bellman and Black and works tirelessly to build a thriving business off of death, always saving for when Mr. Black comes for his payment. But when that occurs, what Mr. Black wants is not what Bellman could ever have envisioned.
Bellman & Black has a decidedly macabre feeling underlying the entire story, one that does not let up. While I will admit that this unsettling feeling makes for a tantalizing reading experience I wouldn’t categorize it as a ghost story as the cover would have you believe. It is more about a man grasping for life and, in doing so, actually missing out on living the life he has worked so hard to obtain. The strange character of Mr. Black actually only appears in snippets throughout the story while he served as more of a dark cloud over Bellman that he can’t quite get away from. The harder Bellman works the more he pulls away from the world around him and starts going mad with uncertainty of when Mr. Black will be back to collect whatever it is he wants. This slow unraveling was my favorite part of Bellman & Black.
What I enjoyed less, however, was the endless details given to the various business aspects of the Bellman empire. I found myself starting to glaze over slightly with the constant discussion of calculations, deals and workload but would perk up again when a death brought Mr. Black back in the picture. The way Mr. Black fits in with the killing of the rook was kind of odd to me as well but one I accepted as part of the general strangeness of the story.
Overall I enjoyed Bellman & Black for the otherworldly, old fashioned macabre story it is. It is a quick, spooky read and one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a little unsettling chill in their reading. (less)
In MJ Rose's Reincarnationist series she introduces us to an unforgettable character named Jac L’Etoile...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
In MJ Rose's Reincarnationist series she introduces us to an unforgettable character named Jac L’Etoile, a woman from a long and illustrious line of French perfumers who has continually fought against her abilities to experience past life memories, her own as well as others, and who has spent her life trying to debunk the mysteries of the past in order to make sense of the mysteries surrounding her in the present. In The Collector of Dying Breaths, Jac will be forced to face her abilities head on and to trust in not only those abilities but in the people closest to her if she stands a change of finding some peace in a life that has been marred by tragedy.
When Jac’s life is turned upside down (once again) by the death of one of the people closest to her (no spoilers for those who know the series) she is thrust into contact with Melinoe Cypros, an eccentric and cunning heiress who wants Jac to decipher the work of the 16th century perfumer Rene le Florentin and use it to figure out the formula to reanimate a person’s dying breath. Taking on this project will also bring Jac’s one and only love, Griffin North, back into her life, a man she has loved not only in this life but in all others and whom she has caused the death of in each previous life. But agreeing to Melinoe’s terms brings Jac into the lair of a conniving, ruthless woman who will do anything to get what she wants. And what she wants might just cost Jac everything.
Weaved together with Jac’s story is that of Rene, the man who rose from nothing to become the perfumer to Catharine de Medici. This great honor comes with a heavy price, however, and Rene finds himself also creating poisons for his queen to use against her enemies and continuing his mentor’s work of discovering the secret to bringing back the dead. But their close and trusting bond is shattered when Rene falls in love with one of Catharine’s ladies in waiting and he discovers just how dangerous this Medici princess can be.
Reading a novel by MJ Rose is unlike anything else. The meticulous sensory descriptions work to transport the reader through time much as Jac experiences it and it is hard not to feel the joy, passion and pain of the characters. The depths of obsession experienced by both Catharine and Melinoe and the lengths they both will go to to get what they desire is quite frightening and adds a heavy dose of shock, terror and passion to the suspenseful plots. I have long hoped that Griffin and Jac would somehow come together and watching their connection unfold alongside Rene and his love pulls at the heartstrings. Combine all of this emotion with the detailed and immersive history and the reincarnation twist and what isn’t there to love?
My only complaint would be that the story ended too soon for me and, from the ending, I have a very sad feeling that this might conclude Jac’s story. I truly hope I am wrong because I, for one, want more. (less)
I received this book as part of the Goodreads first-read program.
There is just so much to enjoy about this book! On the surface it is an incredibly to...moreI received this book as part of the Goodreads first-read program.
There is just so much to enjoy about this book! On the surface it is an incredibly touching story of John Saturnall, an Englishman in the 17th century who grows from nothing to become a well-renowned chef who's dishes grace the palates of kitchen boys and kings alike. As a child John grows up in a small, rural, highly superstitious village and is ridiculed and feared by many due to the fact that some believe his mother to be a witch. After John and his mother are run out of their village his mother begins to teach him the secrets of an ancient feast. As his hunger for knowledge and revenge - as well as his hunger for actual food - burns within him, his mother tries to teach John about not only the history and recipes of the feast but of the need to use his knowledge and advanced skills to keep the feast for everyone. But before John has all the answers he needs and craves, his mother dies and he finds himself sent to Buckland Manor, the great house of Sir William Fremantle, and finds himself moving up the ranks of the kitchens there. As the years pass, John discovers his mother had reasons she never told him for sending him to Buckland Manor. Mixed in with his search for the past is the development of his future, one that will find him at the head of the kitchens, on the fields of war, and in the arms of Sir William Fremantle's daughter, Lucretia. As the world continually changes around him, John will learn what he must fight for and what he must let go of if he is to not only accomplish what his mother wanted for him but survive to keep the feast.
John Saturnall's Feast is one of the most descriptive novels I have ever read. There are long passages dedicated to every aspect of cooking and preparing food. At times it feels like you can actually hear the crackle of various types of roasting meats as they brown on the spit and smell the delicate sugared concoctions as they cool. It is absolutely mouthwatering. Any foodie would love this book, even if they aren't that interested in the history. As the history takes a decided backseat to the food and character development, I wouldn't see this being a problem.
My favorite aspect of the novel would have to be the seemingly doomed relationship between John and Lucretia. Meeting as children they instantly dislike each other. John is angry and grieving his mother and Lucretia is snooty and still grieving her own mother (or the hole her mother's death left at Buckland Manor) who died giving birth to her. As they age a tentative relationship grows into something much more. But as Lucretia's marriage is the key to keeping Buckland in the hands of the Fremantles, there is little hope for her in being able to marry a mere cook, even if he is talented beyond all others. This storyline is quite bittersweet and I enjoyed watching John and Lucretia find a small bit of happiness in a terribly violent, chaotic world, even if that happiness might not last forever.
Not to be left out are the gorgeous drawings and snippets of recipes at the beginning of each chapter. I had a wonderful time looking over these and found them to add to the ancient feeling that reading about John's book of the feast gave to the story.
John Saturnall's Feast is sure to please history and food lovers alike. I highly recommend it! (less)
Cora, the Countess de Chevalier de Saint Leger Lawson, swore decades ago that she would never return to...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Cora, the Countess de Chevalier de Saint Leger Lawson, swore decades ago that she would never return to England, the land of her birth. Having left England behind as a child to accompany her aunt to Rome so they could start a new life, Cora has lived the glamorous, somewhat mysterious life of an expatriate traveling throughout Europe, dividing her time primarily between France and Italy: she has been the muse of artists; she has loved deeply and lost much; she has molded her own life into the story she wanted it to be. It is only when Cora’s last surviving relative, her grandson Jack, loses his mother in 1911 that she decides to finally go back to England. Having always kept her private life private, Cora hopes to finally tell Jack the true story of his family, something she has never told anyone and, now reaching the end of her life, has trouble at times remembering herself.
Upon her arrival in the small English village of Bramley, Cora soon finds that her reputation precedes her. The village gossips have written her life to be even more scintillating than the truth and enchant one young woman, Cecily Chadwick, into hoping to learn more about the many adventures of this fascinating woman. But Cora’s companion, Sylvia, a successful writer who has known Cora since her early days in Rome and who is quite possessive of Cora and her story, is quick to discourage Cora from interacting with Cecily and begins filling in the holes of what she already knows about Cora herself under the guise of writing Cora’s memoirs.
Cora has long lived secure within the various versions of her life floating about, most only hinting at the truth. But as the ghosts of her past continue to get closer the longer she lives in Bramley, as a sweet new love between Jack and Cecily begins before her eyes, reminding her of a love she had so long ago, as Sylvia’s insistent questions open up new pathways in Cora’s memories and as the walls she has put up within her mind begin to crumble with age, Cora will have to face the facts of her life – horrendous as some parts are – head on before it is too late to let that truth be known.
The Memory of Lost Senses is a compelling story dealing with the many ways our memory of events can be altered over time from what really happened and how we use these various mental safeguards to survive. As the story unfolds it becomes quite apparent that Cora’s history holds some devastating secrets and the tiny hints dropped about as Cora fights to keep her story from completely unraveling are delicious. Sylvia’s fabrication of the past, which she continually states is to protect Cora, shows how someone can consciously alter what they remember in order to protect themselves and justify their actions. The idea that our minds can also subconsciously hide traumatic memories from our conscious mind for survival is engrossing. This ends up not only being something Cora struggles with but Jack as well after he is involved in a horrible accident during WWI and ends up losing his memory of most of his past. I have long been fascinated with the coping mechanisms of the mind and The Memory of Lost Senses deals with so many of them.
The Memory of Lost Senses has so much to offer any reader. Combining what is discussed above with a look at history from the perspectives of a compelling, well traveled woman coming to the end of her life, a young, modern woman just beginning hers as the world around her continues to change and a young man thrust into war without fully realizing what that involves, it is a look at history unlike any other I have read before. Judith Kinghorn has become a writer I can’t get enough of.(less)
One of my favorite past times for the chillier, darker evenings of this time of year is curling up with...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
One of my favorite past times for the chillier, darker evenings of this time of year is curling up with a hot cup of tea, thick, soft blanket and a spooky story that presents dark mysteries stretching back and forth between the present and the past. After reading and enjoying Wendy Webb’s The Fate of Mercy Alban I knew she would be an author to look for when these sorts of nights presented themselves. She does not disappoint with her newest thrilling mystery The Vanishing.
After Julia Bishop’s husband swindles millions from strangers and friends alike in a Ponzi-scheme and then kills himself, leaving her alone to face the consequences of his heinous actions, Julia wants nothing more than to disappear and get a fresh start. When Adrian Sinclair arrives on her doorstep and offers her the opportunity to do just that by coming with him and serving as his mother’s companion she jumps at the chance. Sure, it is a little disconcerting that Amaris Sinclair, the famous horror novelist who Julia has always idolized and everyone believes has been dead for years, has instead been living in a secluded estate in the middle of the wilderness near Lake Superior. But this chance to leave her past behind might not happen again. Besides, what could possibly go wrong?
As it happens it doesn’t take long for Julia to realize the beautiful estate of Havenwood, and its various occupants, are hiding quite a bit. She cannot shake a distinct feeling of déjà vu around every corner and everyone seems almost too nice, accommodating and familiar. The figures in the paintings seem to whisper to her and strange visions keep presenting themselves. Julia cannot decide if she is hallucinating or Havenwood is actually haunted. As more and more strange occurrences keep happening and Julia demands answers from Amaris, Adrian and the charming man due to inherit Havenwood, Drew McCullough, she discovers a dark and ominous presence also resides at Havenwood, one that reaches far back into Julia’s family history and one that her presence has once again awakened.
The Vanishing has all the elements that make for a wonderful eerie mystery: secrets slowly unraveled, things that go bump in the night, strange noises around every corner. While I had a vague idea where the story was leading there were still elements that ended up surprising me, which always makes for an enjoyable reading experience. The characters are delightfully well written, especially Julia and Amaris Sinclair, and I would have loved to read even more about their backgrounds and experiences that lead each of them to Havenwood. The pacing was spot on as well and I was often surprised to look up and see that I had been reading for far longer than I had intended to. I just kept trying for one more chapter to see what new information would be presented.
My only complaints with The Vanishing were the fact that certain descriptions – such as a chill running up Julia’s spine and her stomach churning – were repeated a little too often until I had a slight sense of déjà vu myself. Also I found the epilogue strange and wasn’t quite sure what it was supposed to mean for the future of the characters. Still, these small issues mean very little when presented next to the deep foreboding feeling and development of the story.
The Vanishing is a great book for anyone looking for a spooky story mixing mystery, history and the occult. It is a quick read and one perfect for a cold, gloomy weekend. I am now a firm follower of Ms. Webb and will be keeping an eye out for her next novel. (less)
When I picked up Warm Bodies I wasn't quite sure what I would get. I tend to stay away from YA novels, especially those that involve paranormal romanc...moreWhen I picked up Warm Bodies I wasn't quite sure what I would get. I tend to stay away from YA novels, especially those that involve paranormal romances that so often seem cheesy to me. But with the movie coming out I thought I would give the book a try. I'm really happy I did because Warm Bodies turned out to be wholly unique and a thought provoking look at what makes us human.
Warm Bodies looks at "R", a zombie that begins to change when he meets Julie Grigio, a girl he initially saves from becoming zombie food and who soon becomes someone he cannot "live" without. While I have always enjoyed movies dealing with zombies, especially this time of year, I have never heard of a movie or book that takes on the perspective of the zombie. This was just such a unique way to look at things and had me sympathizing with the zombies' plight even as I cringed with the more violent and gory aspects of their existence. Some parts of the story were even funny, something I wasn't expecting at all!
What I enjoyed most about the book was the way it really dug into what makes someone human. While "R" wasn't technically alive he brought more emotion, compassion and fight to the world than many of the still breathing humans running around. He and Julie were both ready to really live and fight for a world worth fighting for and weren't content to just survive until the inevitable end of civilization. And that is when things really began to change!
I'm really excited I gave this book a try. I think I might need to expand my reading a little more and see what other surprises are out there!(less)
Still struggling to cope with the death of her husband two years prior, Audra Hughes is desperate to fi...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Still struggling to cope with the death of her husband two years prior, Audra Hughes is desperate to find another job and life far from the constant reminders and memories of their life together. But as Audra and her young son, Jack, begin a plane ride on their way to a job interview Jack becomes uncontrollable and must be restrained and removed from the plane. Once such a sweet and affable boy, Jack’s erratic and strange behavior continues to get worse, with violent night terrors, drawings of burning planes and Nazis and even speaking German – a language he has never been taught – to a young U.S. Army veteran, Sean Malloy, who he has never met before. When Audra and Sean work to try and piece together Jack’s actions with information they learn about WWII they begin to believe he might be experiencing past life memories. But as Jack becomes more withdrawn his odd behavior starts to attract the attention of others and some begin to question Audra’s parenting capabilities. Audra soon finds herself in a battle to not only discover what is happening to Jack but to even keep him within her care. She will have to draw on every ounce of strength, open-mindedness and love she has to try and help her son.
Alternating with Audra and Jack’s story is that of Vivian James, a young American woman living with her parents in London on the eve of WWII. She finds herself in love with a young American man of German descent named Isaak who will do everything he can to not only protect his family still living in Germany but Vivian as well. When Vivian is made to leave London for America Isaak is unable to accompany her but promises to do everything he can to be with her again. This begins a roller coaster ride for the rest of their lives that will test their loyalties and love to the breaking point.
As these two stories wrap around each other Kristina McMorris does a stellar job of keeping the tension mounting and the mysterious connections between the two just beyond reach. It isn’t until The Pieces We Keep comes to an end that the reader can fully grasp the various connections and the immense journeys these characters have been on, as well as the vast growth they have gone through to reach the end. The characters and settings are perfectly written and I was completely drawn into the fluctuating emotions and actions of each and every one.
More than anything else, however, the intricate and varied look at memory and how it affects each person was simply fascinating. From Audra trying to keep her memories of her husband away to Sean fighting to regain his memories after an injury in Afghanistan to Jack possibly experiencing strange memories from an entirely different life there is just so much to think about and question. There is so much to enjoy about this book I think any reader who enjoys history, mystery or an exploration of how we as humans cope with life’s unexpected and painful bumps will eat this up. (less)
When I first started reading The Luminaries I must admit I was a bit intimidated. This chunkster is 830...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When I first started reading The Luminaries I must admit I was a bit intimidated. This chunkster is 830 pages long, is broken up into twelve parts all labeled with a complicated looking astrological chart and location coordinates and has a classical, Victorian writing style to it. However, once I actually started reading it I found it hard to stop. This crime mystery set in 19th century New Zealand is unlike anything I have read before and, for that and many other reasons, was entirely entertaining and consuming.
The first part of The Luminaries is 360 pages all by itself and begins on a dark and stormy night in a small town on the coast of New Zealand. Walter Moody has fled his past and traveled to this remote location to find his future and, hopefully, his fortune in the goldfields nearby. Quite by accident he stumbles upon a secret meeting of twelve men, all seemingly very different but connected by things Mr. Moody has yet to discover. What follows in this first section is the history of each of these men and their separate connections to the strange events that have recently occurred all on the same night, namely the death of a reclusive drunk, the discovery of a vast fortune in gold hidden in the dead man’s home, the disappearance of a wealthy young man and the believed attempted suicide of a prostitute. Is it possible that all of these events happening simultaneously are a coincidence? As each man shares his knowledge and influence over these events it becomes quite clear that there is much they must discover if they will ever know the truth about what really happened on that fateful night.
The next three parts continue into the near future, showing how the men, now thirteen strong with the addition of Mr. Moody, try and put all the small and intricate pieces of these various puzzles together to discover the truth. As these events unfolded it was exhilarating to see how the pieces fit together and how so much of what had been perceived was in fact not what it appeared to be.
The remaining parts of The Luminaries go back in time to show the reader what really happened and come full circle back to the beginning of the story. I absolutely loved this structure and, for me, it helped bring closure to the events discussed as, whether for good or bad, the reader is finally given the facts as they are. By no means does the above description talk about everything going on in this book. The Luminaries is chock full of strange similarities as well as opposites: crime and justice; greed and generosity; love and hate; the mystical and the elemental. It has heavy astrological influences that, to be honest, I don’t believe I fully understand but which I find completely fascinating.
I think my favorite aspect of The Luminaries is the vast amount of time spent on character and setting development. I found it to be a completely immersive experience and the reader can’t help but feel like they are a witness to the complicated events unfolding.
It isn’t hard to see why The Luminaries recently won the Man Booker Prize. Any reader willing to give it the time it deserves will not be disappointed. (less)
From the very first page, The Tulip Eaters takes off like a shot of adrenaline and instantly draws the...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
From the very first page, The Tulip Eaters takes off like a shot of adrenaline and instantly draws the reader in with the anticipation of a twisting mystery that hints at deep historical secrets. Then by page fifty the reader is told everything: who killed Anneke and why, who the dead mystery man is, who took Rose….and just like that the climax is over with 300 more pages to go in the story. I was so disappointed that the great mystery was over so quickly and kept waiting for some new twist to excite me again. That great new twist, unfortunately, never came. Instead we, the reader, are witnessing Nora searching for the information we already know while also witnessing the people who took Rose do everything to keep Nora from finding her.
The remainder of the book seems to just repeat the same basic series of information: a desperate mother cannot rest until she finds her daughter; the people who took Rose will do anything to keep her; Nora’s mother and father were not who she thought they were and were hiding secrets regarding what they did during those dark days of World War II. The story just kept dragging along without any new information seeming to be given. Even the romance between Nora and her old love seemed predictable. I just kept waiting for more.
What was fascinating about The Tulip Eaters was the historical information given regarding the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, the Dutch Nazi party as well as the resistance fighters and the horrible treatment of the Jews during that time. Unfortunately this was only presented in small bits and pieces and left me wanting more real history and less of Nora running around. Even the title is barely referenced in the story.
Overall this story just fell flat for me. It has such a fascinating premise and taught me a bit about World War II that I had never heard of before. In the end, however, that just wasn’t enough to keep me entertained. (less)
I am always intrigued to discover the inspirations that lead an author to write a book. It seems there...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
I am always intrigued to discover the inspirations that lead an author to write a book. It seems there are nearly unlimited sources to draw from – conversations, research, accidental occurrences – but my favorites happen to be personal experiences and family history. When I decided to read The Aftermath I had no idea the author drew on his grandfather’s experiences in war torn Germany after World War II or even the complicated dynamics men like his grandfather faced trying to rebuild this decimated land and its equally affected people while also trying to find justice for the crimes done to those countries tasked with the reconstruction. Amongst other acts of humanitarianism, the author’s grandfather, a British Colonel in charge of reconstructing part of Hamburg, Germany, decided to have the German family whose house was being requisitioned for the Colonel’s family stay and live with them. He refused to find fault with this family simply because they were Germans and this act of kindness opened up the door for the brilliant story that would become The Aftermath.
In 1946 Hamburg, Colonel Lewis Morgan is placed in charge of beginning the process of rebuilding the devastated city as well as the rehabilitation and training of its battered and displaced people. When a beautiful house on the River Elbe is requisitioned for Colonel Morgan and his family – his wife, Rachael, and their son, Edmund – the Colonel makes the radical decision to let the owners of the home – Herr Lubert, architect and widower, and his teenage daughter, Freda – stay and live with them. In the beginning this merging of two opposing worlds is anything but easy. Rachael is still mourning the loss of her eldest son, killed during bombings in England, and fights with her feelings of loss and her strained love for the husband who has become little more than a stranger to her. Herr Lubert is mourning his own loss, that of his wife, as well as the loss of control over most aspects of his life. Freda is angry against these intruders of her country and her home and seeks redemption in dangerous ways. Edmund, young and largely unaware of the hatred and fear of those around him, seeks his parents love and admiration in the wake of his brother lost too soon. And Colonel Morgan, fighting everyday with the ever tipping balance between justice and revenge, must now also find a way to balance his difficult and all consuming job with the needs and responsibilities of his family.
As the families continue to live and interact with each other they will be forced to look beyond their own feelings of prejudice, guilt and sorrow and seek some truce and solace in the new world remaining amongst the rubble. By the end of the bitterest winter on record, each person living at Villa Lubert will have faced their own demons, made mistakes and come out the other side bruised yet sure of the person they want to be and the world they want to live in.
The Aftermath is so beautifully written that at times I found myself reading passages over and over again just to enjoy the lyrical language. The majority of the story is stark and heartbreaking but underlying it all is a feeling of hope for a better future. I had personally never heard of the feral children left homeless and parent-less, just roaming around the city digging for scraps to eat or cigarettes to sell, but these damaged children really helped bring home the idea of the battered and innocent people forced to pay for the evil done by some of their German countrymen. This was a side of history I had never learned before and in the skilled hands of Rhidian Brook it is something I will never forget.(less)
While Layla was born under an unlucky star her grandfather raised her to be educated and progressive, d...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
While Layla was born under an unlucky star her grandfather raised her to be educated and progressive, determined to try and give her the freedom to make her own destiny in a traditional Indian world that saw her as having very few choices. And with her independent and intelligent spirit, Layla does just that. Marrying a man previously betrothed to another and leaving behind everything she has ever known to follow her new husband to his job as an assistant manager of a British tea plantation in Assam, Layla and Manik set off on the adventure of a lifetime to chart their own course in a world previously clearly mapped out. But with the freedom of choice comes consequences neither envisioned.
Almost completely isolated in a strictly regimented colonial world, Layla must learn how to interact with the English men and women who have their own preconceived notions of her, the Indian servants she is now in charge of as well as the wild and often dangerous animals in her very own backyard. Even when Layla and Manik find deep love and contentment in the world they have chosen the ground shifts again as India in the late 1940s begins to fight for its own independence against British rule. In an insecure world that places the Debs on the knifes edge of an ever changing social, political and cultural divide, Layla will have to use every bit of ingenuity and bravery her grandfather instilled in her to survive the world crumbling around her and keep this life she has worked so hard for intact.
Teatime for the Firefly is absolutely mesmerizing. The writing provokes such vivid and beautiful imagery that it is easy to get lost in the language and lose track of time. From the brightness of the fireflies and the colorful saris to the stark savagery of the vicious environment that surrounds the tea planters I couldn’t tear myself away.
Knowing very little about India during this time, I also loved getting a peek into traditional Indian culture, the English influences on that culture and the various shifts and changes that occurred as the country was driven into the modern world. Both Layla and Manik refused to let tradition determine their futures and it was such a treat getting to see the good and the bad that resulted from going against tradition. Top all of this with unexpected humor and a tender yet powerful love story and Teatime for the Firefly is the full package. (less)
I decided to pick up Help for the Haunted after hearing the author do an online chat with another author, long time favorite Jodi Picoult, and hearing...moreI decided to pick up Help for the Haunted after hearing the author do an online chat with another author, long time favorite Jodi Picoult, and hearing that this book was a combination of ghost story, mystery and coming of age. Now having finished the book I realize that it is indeed all of those things and so much more, most noticeably a look at what makes a person "haunted" and how someone's perception of that characteristic can influence their actions, sometimes in devastating ways.
Growing up the children of parents dedicated to helping "haunted" people find peace, Sylvie Mason and her older sister, Rose, have never had lives that most would find normal. Their home is one that is not only open to the various paranormal possibilities but one that is also intensely devout, leading many outside their small family to either keep their distant or strike out against what they don't understand. Sylvie, the "good daughter" has gone along with their parents' unusual practices with little complaint while Rose, the wilder one, has bucked against the constraints her parents placed on them. Then one night their parents are murdered and everything changes in a flash.
Sylvie, the only witness to what happened that night, is left to not only attempt to pick up the shattered pieces of her life but to figure out what really happened. Left with a distant, secretive and angry Rose as her guardian, Sylvie will have to learn to trust in her own inner strength and abilities and to let go of everything she thought she knew about her parents, her sister and the greater world they lived in if she will ever be able to discover the facts of their lives and move on to create a new life from the rubble.
My first impression after finishing Help for the Haunted is that it isn't quite as scary as I thought it would be, at least not in the sense I anticipated. Like so many other factors within the book, once the truth is discovered and the deceptions laid aside the reality of the spookier aspects seem much more rational. What makes it truly frightening is the realization that believing in something and wanting it to be true can lead people to do some devastating things. When it comes to love, hate, jealousy, revenge and a laundry list of other intense motivators, sometimes these feelings can lead someone to do heinous things all while they justify the actions as necessary. When all the pieces finally came together at the end of the book, these facts are what caused the lasting chills for me.
Sylvie is a remarkable heroine and one I think most people will be able to sympathize with. So much pressure is on her small shoulders to do and say what others expect of her, to be the "good" one all the time. On the flip side, Rose at first came across as completely unlikeable, earning her place as the "bad" one. However, once I discovered what was really going on in her life and what she has had to put up with, I couldn't help but feel for her as well. What I come away with is the realization that every single character is influenced and motivated by external sources that shape and distort who they become, leaving everyone a little "haunted".
I don't want to give too much away as part of the excitement of this book is discovering the facts from the perceptions. However, I think most people will find various aspects of this book fascinating and quite a surprise. I am always happy to find myself completely shocked when the final page is turned and I discover I had no idea what was really going on. Help for the Haunted is one of those books and I am now really excited to go read more by John Searles. (less)
Reading books set during times of war never seem to fail to point out either the horrors experienced by those brave men fighting for their countries o...moreReading books set during times of war never seem to fail to point out either the horrors experienced by those brave men fighting for their countries or the sacrifices and activities of the women left home to worry for their loved ones. Unravelled is the first book I can think of that combines both a husband's experiences and inner workings and that of his wife, with all the loneliness, hurt and healing that is sure to happen with the continual ebb and flow of uncertainty.
When Edward Jamieson received an invitation to travel from Canada to France for the dedication of a monument to those brave men who served and died fighting during WWI he isn't sure whether he and his wife, Ann, should go or not. Edward has never fully recovered from the trauma and horror he experienced and doesn't see what good going back to the scene and letting himself remember those events will do. He has never fully told Ann about what he went through and isn't sure he will be able to keep himself sane. Beyond that, he isn't sure he is ready to see if the woman he loved, and later lost, will be there at the dedication. What will he do if he sees the woman who got away?
When Edward comes face to face with Helene, the woman who helped him heal after the war, he makes some series mistakes that put his own marriage in jeopardy. Working tirelessly to put his marriage back on track both he and Ann begin to experience some of the trust and intimacy they experienced in the early years of their marriage. That is until WWII hits.
When Edward is enlisted to be a part of some very top secret spy training for the Allies, he is forced to tell no one of his actions and to once again close part of himself off from Ann. With secrecy once again swirling around their marriage and a wall of lies between them, Ann seeks a companion and confidante in another man, a man who is willing to make her feel desirable and wanted instead of neglected like Edward. As war continues to rage on and Edward and Ann continue drifting farther and farther apart, will they ever be able to find themselves again in a marriage that seems doomed to continue to unravel?
I was continually impressed with the obvious research that went into writing Unravelled. The descriptions of war - both the planning and training aspects as well as the actual fighting - were fascinating and incredibly vivid. M.K. Tod did a fantastic job of balancing both this raw physicality with the emotional and mental goings on of the characters. Getting inside the head of both Edward and Ann you can completely understand why each made some of the decisions they did while you still see how their actions could have devastating consequences for their lives. This, if nothing else, really helped me see how the utter chaos of war can influence people to make some incredibly severe and rash decisions just to try and survive with their hearts and minds intact.
If I had any complaint about Unravelled it would be that I wish it was broken into two (or maybe three) books. I think it would have been wonderful to have the first half of the book - dealing with Edward's experiences in WWI, he and Ann's trip to France and the horrible consequences of Edward meeting up again with Helene - as its own book and the second half - dealing with Edward's secret work during WWII, Ann's affair and their attempt to find a way back to each other after WWII ended - as a completely separate book. I think this would have allowed for even more development of an already wonderful and intriguing storyline and leave it open (if I had my own way of course) for a third book that dealt with whether or not the two are able to find a way back to each other for good.
Anyone who enjoys books set during both world wars as well as books that show the difficult and often ugly give and take of a marriage falling apart and coming back together again should give Unravelled a try. I am definitely glad I did and now have my interest piqued to read more about both wars and the affects it has on those left standing when the rubble settles. (less)
A few years ago I remember reading an article about a rich old woman whose family suspected the people...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
A few years ago I remember reading an article about a rich old woman whose family suspected the people surrounding her – her medical staff, lawyers, etc. – were keeping her removed from the outside world and working to get her to give them all of her money. While I don’t remember much else about the article I do remember thinking, “How is that even possible?”, and feeling horrible for this used elderly woman and her family. Then I started reading Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune and realized that Huguette was the woman from the article and that there was a lot more to her story than I could ever have imagined. As the authors put it, her story is a fairy tale in reverse, a woman born into great wealth and privilege that eventually hid herself away from the opulent life she was born into and all but the bare minimum of human contact.
The first part of Empty Mansions deals with Huguette’s father, W.A. Clark, a man that seemed to personify the American dream: coming from humble beginnings and building a vast empire using good old fashioned hard work, intelligence and a heavy dash of luck.After his first wife died, sixty-two year old W.A. Clark married twenty-three year old Anna LaChapelle, a shy woman who would become mother to Huguette and her older sister, Andree.
Growing up in unimaginable splendor, Huguette’s life wasn’t all glamour and gold. Losing her sister and closest friend Andree and her beloved, exuberant father at a young age, Huguette seemed to get stuck in a childlike state, one she never really grew out of. After a very short and seemingly unromantic marriage she lived with her mother until her mother’s death, never venturing far and choosing to spend the majority of her time with either her paintings or her intricate, expensive dolls.It wasn’t until her face became riddled with cancer and she had no other choice but to reach out to a friend for help that Huguette left her home for medical care at the hospital. She would never go back to her home – or any of the lavish properties she owned – or leave the hospital again even though she would continue to live in relatively good health for a number of decades.
Huguette’s years in the hospital are probably the hardest part of this peculiar and excessively eccentric woman’s life for me to understand. From most accounts she seemed content to live in a small, sparse room with few luxuries and give lavish and expensive gifts to the few people she came into contact with. Even with the authors’ clearly balanced and well researched information I could not wrap my head around anyone giving millions upon millions in gifts to her nurses, doctors, lawyers, etc. while refusing to even see the people who had been her friends and family her whole life, even if the family members weren’t exactly close. The resulting fight over her $300 million fortune after her death was not surprising but something I just found extremely sad. It seemed that most people were more interested, at least in the end, in Huguette’s money then in what was best for her or what she wanted her inheritance to be.
Empty Mansions is a fascinating true story of a life of extremes: excessive wealth, intense shyness and obsessive behavior that few can relate to but most will find intriguing. It reads like fiction and is highly entertaining even as it presents a unique woman and an in-depth look at the growth of America from the mid 1800s through to the present. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a true story about the epitome of an eccentric millionaire and the good and the bad that comes with all that entails. (less)
A sad yet universal truth seems to be that, as humans age and interact and grow, they inevitably face t...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
A sad yet universal truth seems to be that, as humans age and interact and grow, they inevitably face the sadness and loneliness of losing someone they love. We lose friends, parents, spouses, children, sometimes under devastating circumstances and nearly always before we are ready to let go. Many of these losses leave us completely bereft or riddled with guilt of one kind or another. But what if we were able to see those loved ones again, given the chance to make different choices or simply appreciate them in a way we didn’t the first time around? Would we be able to finally find the closure denied us in the past, even as we struggled with how long we might have these loved ones in the present? In The Returned, Jason Mott presents a story where this incredibly alluring premise becomes a reality, with actions and consequences both delightful and devastating.
When Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s only son Jacob drowned at his eighth birthday party in 1966 they were utterly heartbroken. Harold blamed himself for telling his young son wild stories about treasures found near the water and turned his back on the God that would allow his son to be taken. Lucille turned even further into her Baptist beliefs in search of an answer that never quite came. However, as decades past and they continued their lives in the small town of Arcadia, North Carolina, their sorrows receded and they moved on, even if they never forgot. Then the dead started popping back up all around the world, looking and acting exactly as they did the last time they were alive, and their sweet and precocious eight year old Jacob arrives at their door, scared but happy to be home.
Interspersed with the Hargraves’ story are small snippets into the lives of some of the Returned struggling like everyone else to figure out why they are there and to try and resume the lives they had before they died, something that proves harder than they would imagine. Between these glimpses into the lives of the Returned, those that have had their loved ones returned to them and those that find the Returned frightening and a sign of the end of the world as they know it, the reader is forced to understand and appreciate each side even as they struggle to determine exactly how they would feel if thrust into the same situations. Would you embrace this previously dead person and try to resume the life you had with them or would you turn them into the government that is quickly rounding up these Returned people into little better than prison camps? Would you work to try and protect these previously dead people who are just trying to move on or would you turn your back on them in fear? So many of these questions will touch the heart of the reader and will make for intense and excitable book group discussions.
While faith and religion do play a part in The Returned it is anything but preachy. The story is much more about the emotional and psychological journey than about the particular devoutness of the characters or the reader. I found myself heartbroken at the sometimes heinous actions taken against these strange people even as I could understand why someone would be so scared by their very presence. I tend to be someone who feels pretty strongly about most situations, and I was continually surprised by how emotional I got at the various responses to these characters. The Returned is tender and violent in turns and completely unlike anything I have read before, nor a story I will soon forget. (less)
The Wild Roses is a fun, quirky sort of story that finds three beautiful women in the role of Musketeer...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
The Wild Roses is a fun, quirky sort of story that finds three beautiful women in the role of Musketeers. As I don’t know very much about this time period in France and no author’s notes were given detailing what is factual and what is fiction, I am hesitant to say how true to life the story really is. There were many times when I had to turn off my instinct to second guess the accuracy of the history and just enjoy the story for what it was. I had to do this with the language style as well, as it seemed to be very modern at times before transitioning back to what I would think better fit the setting. This being said, the adventures of Charlotte, Racine and Gabrielle were quite funny at times and I enjoyed their story line more than any other part of the book.
My biggest complaint with The Wild Roses would have to be that there were quite a few editing errors that kept pulling me out of the story and made for a disjointed and awkward reading experience at times. Missing words, double words and odd word placement kept throwing me off and making me reread the sentences to figure out what was going on. This might not be a problem for all readers but has always been a pet peeve of mine.
Overall The Wild Roses is a fast, exciting adventure that pits three remarkable and entertaining women at the forefront of what most would consider a male-dominated world. It was unconventional and thrilling and is sure to be enjoyed by anyone interested in a female Three Musketeer sort of story. (less)
As the foreword to Cherokee Talisman states, "History is written by the victorious". Nothing was more plainly clear to me as I read this book and comp...moreAs the foreword to Cherokee Talisman states, "History is written by the victorious". Nothing was more plainly clear to me as I read this book and compared what I had learned in my history classes about the burgeoning United States of America and its influence and interactions with the Native American people already living on the land and what I was reading in this book. It's a story of a proud, respectful culture being slowly extinguished and the brave members continuing to fight the inevitable outcome. This story is vicious, violent and exceedingly compelling.
Cherokee Talisman follows the changing world of the Cherokee Nation and some of its brethren nations such as the Shawnee, Creek and Seminole from 1775 through 1821. Seen mainly through the eyes of Totsuhwa, a Cherokee warrior and shaman, and his extended family members I was absolutely stunned at the various evils done against the Native American people. We see so called "American heros" like Daniel Boone and Andrew Jackson try to trick the leaders of the Indian tribes into signing away the land they had lived on since human feet touched it and, if that didn't get them what they wanted, see them slaughter at will every Native American man, woman and child they came into contact with. I was stunned at the continued attempt by the Native Americans to adapt and change in the best possible attempt to survive and retain the history and culture of their ancestors. They switched allegiances when necessary and did their own slaughtering of innocent settlers if they stepped foot on their land, but while I didn't find this to be something they should have done none of their atrocities seemed to even come close to the horror done to them.
With all the war and fighting I found my favorite parts of the story dealt with the portions within the Indian villages and the family interactions between Totsuhwa, his wife Galegi and his son Chancellor. These portions gave some much needed sweet to the tang of the rest of the story and was how I learned the most about the Native American history and folklore as well as how tender and kind these Indian warriors could be when not fighting for their rights.
Readers should be warned that Cherokee Talisman is quite graphic and violent at times, but given what is being described I think it would be a travesty against the story if it wasn't raw and vicious as was the truth. I will never look at the plight of the American Indian the same way again and look forward to seeing where the next book in this series might take them.(less)