I have to admit that, until very recently, I didn't have much interest in American Civil War history. That changed when I read the phenomenal Sisters of Shiloh and since then I've been keeping an eye out for any novels that seem to give a unique view into this devastating yet life-changing war that reshaped America as we know it. The Outer Banks House, taking place over the summer of 1868 on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is exactly that type of novel, giving the reader a view into the hearts and heads of Southerners on both sides of the newly drawn political and racial lines following this war that pitted brother against brother and tore many families apart.
The story is told from the point of view of both Abigail Sinclair, eldest daughter of a wealthy, prominent and traditional North Carolina family and Benjamin Whimble, local of the Outer Banks whom Abigail agrees to tutor while the Sinclairs spend their first summer at the summer house her father recently built by the ocean in Nags Head. When the two first meet they could not possibly be more different. Abigail has wanted for nothing materially while being raised by somewhat cold and distant parents that expect nothing less than the highest level of decorum and obedience from their intelligent and sometimes willful daughter. Ben, on the other hand, has been raised with very little in the way of luxury (he's never even owned a pair of shoes) and no education as is the way of most of his fellow locals who make their living off the land or sea. Against all odds and expectations they soon become very close and both open the other's eyes to a world they never expected to be a part of.
The Outer Banks House is beautifully written and the lyrical descriptions of the various islands these two explore make it easy to picture the rolling ocean, strong salty winds and the sandy forests. This location also presents an interesting mix of the old Southern ways (racist plantation owners like Abigail's father that still believe in slavery and superiority) and the changes that are still taking root in this post-Civil War world (Outer Bankers have been working side by side with their black compatriots for some time and Roanoke Island has a freedmen's colony on it that was thriving until recently) that I can't imagine taking place anywhere else. North Carolina seems to be that line between the North and South that has people on both sides living together and battling against the other's views. It is within this strange new world that Abigail can grow into the woman she is meant to be and see just how wrong the beliefs and practices of her family have been.
While I very much enjoyed both Abigail and Benjamin individually and liked watching how each influenced the other, I didn't really love them as a couple. They just made such a strange pair to me and it was hard to go along with two people falling madly in love with each other so quickly when they are so completely different. For example, it was hard to picture a girl born to such privilege and pampering quite happy to leave that all behind for a one room wooden house with no luxury whatsoever where she would now have to do everything, from cleaning to cooking to, I assume, making her own clothes since they wouldn't have the money to buy any. I'm sure in the grand scheme of things it would be possible, but it just felt too fast and furious to me. Then again, I've never been a big fan of quick and heavy romances so it could just be me :). I have an easier time picturing them as becoming friends that influence and support each other than as romantic partners. The novel also ends with them in a happy yet somewhat unresolved position but I'm sure the sequel will bring readers up to speed on what happened next for these characters (see the blog tour schedule below for blogs that are reviewing the sequel, Return to the Outer Banks House).
This being said, I enjoyed this novel as a whole and really appreciate how the author presented a mixed bag of characters that represented every possible side to this specific time and place in history. I didn't see any author's notes at the end of the book to denote what is actual historical fact and what isn't, but I plan to look further into North Carolina's role during and after the Civil War as I found it a fascinating look at the sentiments of the South after the war ended and the changing tides of the country. It also presented an intriguing look into what it means to be free and what an education means to different people, regardless of gender, race or social status, and the disparity between those that have it readily available and those that crave it. ...more
When I began A Pledge of Better Times I was anticipating the standard, yet still very enjoyable, historical novel that centered around a person from history that, while not as well known as some, had a strategic place within the greater machinations of the time. Well, this novel is that and so much more. While the relationship between Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk does play a big part in the story, for me the novel was more about the political and religious rollercoaster England went through during this time (1684-1705) and how the royalty and noblemen adjusted (or not) to the changing environment.
I have to say that I wasn't overly familiar with the history of this time period before starting, beyond some basic knowledge of the key players, but Margaret Porter did an incredible job of fleshing out this world for me in such a way that I now feel quite comfortable with the goings on and the people that shaped its history. There are just so many delicious details to absorb - from fashion to ceremony to the architecture and decoration of palaces - that the reader can easily imagine seeing it all right in front of them. While I can see how this eye for detail and the vast amount of time spent on military strategies and the ever shifting political, social and religious practices could feel somewhat dry to a reader at times, without it I just don't think this would be the same novel. It is very clear that Margaret Porter knows her history and, for someone like me who isn't as familiar with it but really wants to know that sort of information to feel fully absorbed in what is going on, I very much appreciated it.
The biggest surprise to me was just how much bed hopping seemed to go on for the royalty and nobility during this time! While I knew Charles II was a well known womanizer and had bastards I had no idea how many others did the same. Beyond that, the fact that many of the mistresses and their children were openly accepted into the court and given titles, wealth and property was new to me. This sort of lascivious way of life made a wonderful counter to the more staid propriety that William III and Mary II brought to the court shortly after.
Speaking of Queen Mary, this novel felt to me as much her story as Diana's and was the most touching to me. She comes across as such a kind woman who comes to love and respect her husband beyond all else and who doesn't really get that reciprocated love back until the very end. So many people seemed to disappoint or let her down and I wanted to hope against history that she would have a happier ending.
A Pledge of Better Times is a wonderful book for those that adore deeply researched and meticulously presented English Stuart history or someone that wants to learn more about this time period. Diana is only one of many people given a voice within it and I very much enjoyed spending time with them all. ...more
Ruby is the first book in a long while that has me scratching my head as to what exactly to put in my review. The book's writing has been compared to that of Toni Morrison and that comparison is a valid one. Cynthia Bond is a lyrical writer, creating vivid, otherworldly images that swirl around as the reader dives into the devastating world Ruby lives in. This can make it hard to follow the plot at times, however, and had me flipping back through the pages to remind myself what the florid language was meant to represent in the first place. The story takes concentration and time to not only appreciate the author's writing style but to fully grasp just how heartbreaking this story is.
The main storyline deals with Ephram Jennings trying to get close to Ruby Bell, the girl who has fascinated him since they were children. Seeing past the half-crazed woman most men in town have taken to sleeping with whenever they want, Ephram is determined to help Ruby out of the darkness she lives in and to help her to realize she is a good, worthwhile person. As Ruby slowly begins to allow Ephram into her world, Ephram's jealous sister Celia incites the small-minded and fearful religious townsfolk of Liberty to bring Ephram back to her and away from the evil clutches of a woman that surely must be possessed by the Devil.
Weaving through this narrative are glimpses into the past, that of not only Ephram, Ruby and Celia but of Ephram's mother and father and the town itself. The hardest parts to read involved Ruby's past, riddled with so much emotional, physical and mental abuse and torture that it made me feel slightly sick to read. These portions and more are quite graphic and made me just ache for Ruby.
There is also an old-world, dark magic seeping through the story that has taken hold of many within Liberty and affected them all, whether they know it or not. This was an odd component for me, given the horrors going on that were very real and didn't need the help of black magic to make them any worse. It did, however, make an interesting partner for the religious undercurrent of many of the characters, showing the hypocrisy inherent in them.
Finishing Ruby, it isn't hard to see why so many people are praising it and saying it should be required reading. That being said, it isn't an easy or even remotely happy read. It is a hard and sad and devastating look at a woman broken by nearly everyone she has met and the good man who tries to save her. The last few pages hinted at the possibility of brighter days to come but I'm not sure it was enough to lift me out of the muck the rest of the story put me in. ...more
Maybe it's just me, but I've always found identical twins to be somewhat creepy (truly, no offence to any identical twins out there, I'm purely going by their depiction in movies such as The Shining and the fact that I've read they seem to have an intense connection to each other's inner worlds, finishing each other's sentences, laughing together without saying a word, etc. I haven't, in fact, ever met true identical twins). So, when I read the synopsis of this novel and saw that it involved a surviving identical twin that might not be who they thought she was, I knew I wanted to read this book! Having now finished I'm very glad I did, because it not only has the central mystery of who is the surviving twin but adds a heavy dose of marital strife, secrets that should never have been hidden and even a nice dash of the paranormal.
The novel begins with Angus and Sarah Moorecroft trying desperately to move their family away from London to his ancestral home on a tiny, isolated island in the inner Hebrides near Skye. Not only are they trying to move on from the horrible death of one of their young twin daughters a little over a year ago but they are also trying to find a fresh start for their crumbling marriage and a way out of the serious financial debt they have found themselves in. Solution: move the family to the rundown cottage on the beautiful yet treacherous "Thunder Island" right before the horrific winter weather blows in. Maybe not the best idea but off they go!
Right from the get-go it is quite clear there are a lot of issues within this family, above and beyond the death of their daughter. Both Angus and Sarah are keeping secrets and resentments from each other, both of which will come into play as the story progresses. On top of all this is the fact that, when Sarah tells her surviving twin daughter, Kirstie, that they are moving she tells her mother that she is not Kirstie but actually Lydia, the dead daughter! Well, needless to say, Sarah is quite disturbed by this news but decides not to say anything to her husband (a pattern for these two) and tries to get to the bottom of which daughter actually died and then get her surviving daughter the help she needs to move on from this tragedy. Sarah has no idea that Angus knows something regarding his daughter's identity confusion as well and is on his own mission to put to rights his family.
Once they move to the island the story really picks up. I was amazed at how well the author transported the reader to this often gloomy yet gorgeous environment and how she kind of makes the island and the dilapidated cottage its own character (and an intensely creepy one at that). You are always waiting for something to creep up behind the characters or materialize out of nowhere...the entire environment just feels haunted! Then we add an intensely confused and disturbed young girl and her broken parents to the mix and you can't help but feel chilled as the author slowly reveals the truth behind what the characters have been hiding from us through to an ending I never saw coming!
Now finished with the novel I'm still not completely sure I know all the facts of what happened and, to be honest, that is part of the charm of this novel. You've got these very flawed people, including a confused and disturbed young girl (from the descriptions and actions I kept picturing one of the twins from the movie Village of the Damned, if one of the twins died and left the other alone and bereft) and more secrets and lies than can be counted and at the end of the day, who really knows all of what happened. Anyone looking for an interesting family drama that takes place at a beautiful yet dangerous location and that has an overlaying feeling of dread and fright will find much to enjoy in The Ice Twins.
Any reader would be hard pressed to find a more varied and eccentric collection of characters than at the delightfully shabby "Heartbreak Hotel", all led by the bombastic yet loveable owner Buffy. Aging and lonely and fed up with the changes happening to his London neighborhood, Buffy leaves the world he has always known behind to move to the Welsh countryside and take over the Bed and Breakfast left to him by an old and dear friend. Seeing that he cannot make enough money to live without making some change to either his rundown establishment (which he can't afford) or to how that establishment is seen by outsiders (something his acting and people skills make him perfectly suited for) he decides to use his vast experiences in relationships to conduct week long courses for those who have recently broken up. These "Courses for Divorces" will not only save him from loneliness but bring in some much needed money and hopefully help some people along the way. With the stream of people who come seeking a change from their life - some strangers and some unexpected family members - things are anything but dull and many occupants find love, both personal and for the countryside, in the strangest places.
Heartbreak Hotel is a sweet, fun read filled with humor and love and happy endings. While there are quite a few strange connections made it wasn't hard to see where the various storylines were heading or who was going to end up with whom. Many of the characters have much in common: being somehow involved in the arts, being from London and wishing for a slower, more connected life and being middle-aged or older. Even with these similarities they still all have their own quirks that are easy to like and root for. Something else they have in common: while most have had hard times in the love department no one is left without finding some sort of happiness, even if it isn't what they expected.
Something to keep in mind for American readers would be the fact that there is quite a bit of British slang thrown in which, while I found it easy to get used to and very funny at times, could take some a while to get used to. There is also a lot of discussion of an economical decline that has effected many of our characters which isn't something I was overly aware of. Being that America went through its own decline it isn't hard to relate, however, and I felt for the characters who were ready to throttle the bankers that were often discussed.
My only real complaint with Heartbreak Hotel would be the fact that it took quite a while for all of the characters to come together. A good amount of time is given to the backstory of some of our main characters and it isn't until over 100 pages in that the first course begins. This is a good 1/3 of the way in and I would have preferred getting to the hilarious interactions sooner.
I think anyone who enjoyed either the book or movie version of Ms. Moggach's previous novel The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with find similarities with this story and enjoy it just as much. Readers will be happy to discover that, if they enjoy Buffy as much as I did, the author has actually written a previous novel called The Ex-Wives that discusses his varied and eccentric love life. This novel is perfect for this time of year when you want a touching yet happy book to take on vacation. ...more
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
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
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
With Kari Edgren's first book in her Goddess Born series the author did a wonderful job of combining 1700s Colonial Pennsylvanian history with an otherworldly environment of ancient powers and healing. In this second installment we move away from the Quaker community our main character Selah has always known into the dangerous, unfamiliar worlds of both London society and the darker and dirtier back alleys of this ever-shifting city. As in the first book, Selah once again has to navigate the very human issues surrounding her, such as being accepted by her fiancé's noble counterparts that see her as little more than an upstart, as well as the fantastical otherworld that now presents new obstacles and enlightenment that she never even imagined existed.
Selah is a character unlike any other I have seen before. I love the way Ms. Edgren presents her as both a plucky, proud woman ready to fight for the love she has found with Henry Fitzalan as well as a young woman with the goddess Brigid's blood flowing through her veins, blood that gives her this remarkable gift that requires her to heal anyone who asks for her help whether she truly wants to or not. Expanding her story beyond what we saw in Goddess Born, everything Selah must face in A Grave Inheritance pushes her further and further and makes her fight even harder for what she truly wants out of this life as well as to keep herself and those she loves alive.
While the more realistic down-to-earth issues she is facing - getting others to support her marriage to Henry and getting his betrothal to the Princess Amelia dropped so Henry and she can marry, keeping her relationship with her best friend Nora from falling apart in London when their interests pull them in different directions, etc - are interesting, it is the advancement of the otherworldly storyline that really drew me in. In London Selah discovers that there are many more descendants of Brigid walking around, each with their own unique powers, and that the restrictions she has placed on her own powers are only the tip of what she is capable of doing. Along with these more positive discoveries there is the realization that an ancient evil is also prowling the streets, an evil that wants nothing more than to draw the descendants of Brigid into a battle to save the humans they have been charged with protecting and to unleash even more evil onto the world.
A Grave Inheritance ends on a delicious cliffhanger that has me itching for the next book in the series to come out! I highly recommend those interested in a cross over between historical fiction and fantasy to read both Goddess Born and A Grave Inheritance in preparation for the next book to come. It is easy to become very attached to these well drawn and intriguing characters and the experiences they go through, and I cannot wait to see what angles the story takes and the conclusion to this captivating series.
The Witch of Painted Sorrows, like all other books by M.J. Rose I have read, is an absolute treat for the senses! The reader is completely submerged in what the characters experience, every touch, smell, sound and feeling so perfectly presented that you feel like you are right there, experiencing the same things. Which, given the sinister undertone lacing through this story, can be quite unnerving.
The revelations that our main character Sandrine comes to realize, in regards to her family's history and the secrets her ancestral home is hiding, are slow burning, as is the insidious presence that begins to take over her life, first by unleashing her inner passions and vibrant artistic talents and finally altering her personality in frightening ways. This slow release makes the whole mystical world swirling around Sandrine chilling as she isn't even quite sure what is happening to her. The reader just has to keep turning those pages to find out what might happen next.
My favorite aspect of the novel would have to be the time Sandrine spends painting and developing her craft. It is rare that a novel takes you within the head of an artist so that you actually get the experience of seeing what that artist sees when looking at something that, for anyone who isn't an artist, would seem ordinary and watching it transform into something amazing. I wanted to spend more time within Sandrine's head as it was fascinating getting to see the workings of such a talented mind.
My only slight complaint (and given this wonderful story it is slight) is that I found a few of the secondary characters fell somewhat flat for me, especially Sandrine's husband. He is often referenced throughout the story as a horrid man who could pose a huge threat to Sandrine, but when we finally get to meet him it is barely a glimpse and that glimpse just didn't feel necessary. For me, he really only served to get Sandrine to Paris but added nothing else to the overall story.
The Witches of Painted Sorrows brings Belle Epoque Paris to life like only M.J. Rose can do. On top of the exciting and often frightening events discussed, the reader walks the halls of the Louvre, attends class at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and takes a walk around the Eiffel Tower. I am so very excited to see where Ms. Rose takes this newest series! ...more
I have recently realized that I apparently have a huge problem: I find these authors that have books that sound so wonderful I go get their books and add them to my toppling TBR pile and I then cannot find the time to actually read them . I know, many of you fellow bookworms probably have the same problem. When I decided to read Brandy Purdy's newest novel as part of her blog tour I realized I have almost all of her previous novels on my shelves, ready to be loved and devoured, but that I had not yet read even one of them. And, per the usual, I am now kicking myself that I took this long to read her books!!
The Ripper's Wife pulled me in from page one. Set up for most of the novel as Florie Maybrick telling her side of the story - from her meeting and falling in love with James Maybrick to the downward spiral of their marriage and her discovery that James was Jack the Ripper all the way to her final sad and lonely days - and interspersed in the middle of the novel with James Maybrick's diary entries detailing his violent and twisted alternate life as one of the world's most infamous killers, the novel never had a dull moment for me. The reader knows from the beginning what the outcome of Florie's life will be and the horrid turn her life will take and this caused a delicious sense of foreboding to hang over the whole story, even the seemingly fairytale beginnings of the Maybrick's early marriage.
It doesn't take long for Florie's life to spin out of control and while Florie makes some very bad mistakes over the years that had me yelling at her to grow up and make the right decisions for her and her children it was heartbreaking to watch the vicious beatings she took at the hands of this supposedly loving husband and the eventual jail time she served for a murder she didn't commit. I am not completely sure how much of this novel is based in fact (and this would be one of my only complaints about The Ripper's Wife...no author notes at the back of the book explaining what is fact and what is fiction) but the life Florie lived within the pages of The Ripper's Wife is absolutely heartbreaking. Ms. Purdy does not hold back from detailing the horrible things Florie went through and the descriptions are quite intense.
James Maybrick's diary entries are likewise vivid and descriptive and I felt like I was watching those poor women be stalked and torn apart by this sick and twist man. For some it might be hard to read these passages but I would ask why someone would think to read a novel about Jack the Ripper and shy away from then reading the bloody details....the actions of this killer were violent and horrible and Brandy Purdy perfectly brings it all to life.
Having now finished the novel and looking back at the story as a whole, I feel Ms. Purdy did a remarkable job at giving life to these characters, each one of which is flawed and sympathetic in their own way (even James, believe it or not!). Her descriptive power is superb and I felt completely immersed in the story as it unfolded. If you are a fan of historical fiction and are able to stomach what by right should be a graphic and depraved story given the subject matter, I would highly recommend The Ripper's Wife. ...more
Life in Park Slope, Brooklyn is anything but dull in Amy Sohn’s edgy, tantalizing novel Motherland. FolI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Life in Park Slope, Brooklyn is anything but dull in Amy Sohn’s edgy, tantalizing novel Motherland. Following five parents as they struggle with identity and happiness, the reader gets a voyeuristic look into the lives of a group of privileged yet ultimately unfulfilled and unhappy people struggling to find themselves amongst the strollers littering their lives.
First off, I must warn anyone preparing to read Motherland that it is incredibly racy and, at times, raunchy. Any reader shy about sex in any and all its forms should prepare themselves before turning the first page. While this didn’t particularly bother me I can see how someone caught unawares might be turned off by it. I also don’t think the typical reader will be able to relate to this over privileged lifestyle that kept reminding me of a smarter version of Desperate Housewives. How can a typical person relate to someone panicked that her child support has dropped from $5,000 a month to $4,000, with that amount not even including her mortgage? Or the constant name dropping of celebrities and New York elite that had me constantly googling names every few pages? Not this reader!
With that being said, Motherland does have quite a few snarky, funny bits that kept it enjoyable as well as an underlying theme of loss of self and loneliness that most parents and married people can relate to. Most of us have felt like a bad parent or spouse at some point and can sympathize with those feelings of regret and guilt even if we can’t relate to the fancy living or hugely selfish ways of coping some of the characters engage in.
Motherland is fun escapist reading for those not bashful about the more risqué aspects of life and those looking for a peak into the entitled world most of us only read about in magazines. Just don’t expect all the characters to have learned from their mistakes by the end. ...more
You know when you find an author you LOVE and you instantly go out and buy every book they've written right after reading the first book because you are so excited to read more from the author? That was me after reading Lucinda Riley's novel The Lavender Garden. Well, imagine my immense pleasure when I discovered that Ms. Riley not only had a brand spanking new book coming out but that this novel was the start of a seven book series (*brain explodes with happiness*)!
This new series is loosely based on the mythology of the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades and will tell the stories of seven adopted sisters, each named after one of these mythological sisters ( it is noted at the beginning of the novel that the girl that would have been their seventh sister, named Merope, was never found and adopted by their father. As this series is meant to be seven books and each book is supposed to deal with a separate sister, I have my fingers crossed that the seventh book will be about the elusive Merope!).
The first book in the series is The Seven Sisters, and at the beginning the girls learn that their loving yet mysterious adopted father has died. I have to note that their father, nicknamed Pa Salt, is exactly how I would picture a God-like character being when placed within our modern world. He's extremely benevolent and caring to his daughters and staff but also very removed, secretive and rules this world he created completely. He creates this luxurious fairy-tale like "kingdom" named Atlantis that is completely separated from the rest of the world on Lake Geneva and brings up his six adopted daughters there, giving them everything they could possibly want and encouraging them to find their passion in life and to go out and get it. At the same time he never tells any of them where they come from, what he does for a living or even where he goes when he isn't at home and brooks no argument when it comes to the way he runs their lives. Even after his death he is controlling the situation by making it impossible for the girls to attend a funeral and by giving each of them the coordinates to where they were born as well as a personal letter to each. Each daughter can now decide if she wants to find out where she comes from or whether she wants to move on with her life as it has always been.
The Seven Sisters focuses mainly on the oldest sister, Maia. She has always been the most responsible and grounded one, intelligent and beautiful but never brave enough to leave the sanctuary that is Atlantis. She has continued to live there, working as a book translator and always falling back on the excuse that she needs to be there for their father as he ages. Now that he has died and armed with the whereabouts to where she was born and her letter from her father telling her to open herself up to life and love, she resolves to embrace this new life and try and discover her biological family's history.
The book synopsis above does a great job of summarizing Maia's experiences in Rio so I don't need to do that again, but what I will say is that, as Maia learns the tumultuous and dramatic history of her great-grandmother, Izabela Aires Cabral, she begins to process her own grief and guilt over some actions from her past that have left her unable to love or fully open up and trust people since, and she finally allows herself to grow and become the woman she was always meant to be.
Alternating with Maia's present day story is that of Izabela, who was forced to choose between her family's wishes and needs and her ultimate heart's desire. These sections perfectly transport the reader to 1920's Rio as the magnificent Christ the Redeemer statue is being constructed as well as to the Bohemian streets and artists' ateliers of Paris. These are vibrant worlds full of color, heat, passion and heartache and I absolutely loved not only immersing myself in it all but learning so much about the process of sculpting and creating such luscious works of art as the Christ the Redeemer statue.
Even with my great love of history, I have to say that, in this instance, my favorite parts of the novel dealt with the present day sisters and Maia's discovery and transformation. There are just so many delicious questions left unanswered that I know the future novels will tackle ( What do all the other sisters' letters say? Where are they all from and will each choose to travel there and research their history? Will Star, the quiet and unassuming sister break away from her domineering sister CeCe? And who and where is this seventh sister they've never met?). I, for one, am absolutely biting at the bit to find out!
Being a huge fan of Downton Abbey I was so excited to read this book, which sounded to me like a cross between that lovely show and the movie Clue (although I assumed, given the cast of characters, that Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman would be a little less campy and much more elegant then that particular movie). Who wouldn't love the opulence of a lavish costume ball tarnished by a vicious murder and two missing girls? Well, I'm happy to say that the author did a wonderful job of setting the stage and delivering a page-turning murder mystery with a cast of characters sure to delight.
Being the two main characters, Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson were wonderful complements to each other and really showcased their two different worlds and how each were able to add their own bits of skill and expertise to the task of locating not only the two missing girls - Lucinda, the daughter of one of the guests and Violet, the house's newest housemaid - but discovering who murdered the despicable Teddy. I wondered at first how these two would ever begin working together given the strict separation of the classes but once Lady Montfort discovered her beloved son might be accused of the murder and implored Mrs. Jackson to assist her in finding out who did commit the crime before it was too late, it was easy to see how they could work if not together than towards the same purpose. Mrs. Jackson's loyalty to the family she works for and her steadfast belief that her duty was to guard the family's reputation from outside forces combined with her quick mind and calm demeanor made it easy to see her assisting the imaginative and determined Lady Montfort.
The remaining cast of characters, from below stairs and above, are a fun hodgepodge of gossiping servants and the eccentric rich. Most all fit into the neat patterns we typically see in this sort of story - loud and gruff cook, stuffy butler, cold dowager, rich lady dripping with jewels and an ever-present lap dog, etc. - but some break free of this mold and deliver a nice bit of change. It's interesting to see how quickly the secrets begin to slide out when everyone is made to stay put together and their every move is scrutinized. I very much enjoyed watching the juggling act Lady Montfort had to perform between keeping her guests happy and safe, the inspectors satisfied with their investigation and her own investigation from being discovered.
As a secondary storyline the novel highlighted the big changes coming to England during this time, from the uptick in "new money" to the changing politics to women's suffrage, and while I found these topics interesting they somewhat pulled me away from the central story of who murdered Teddy and what happened to those two girls. I also found the discovery of the two girls somewhat anti-climactic and by the last page wasn't overly sure why they were included other than to draw the eye away from the murder and give a reason for the killer to have committed the crime.
This being said I was completely surprised by who the killer ended up being. I was so sure I had it (going with the idea that it is usually the person you least expect) and kept reading to see if I was right. The author did a splendid job of giving the reader many plausible suspects and really surprising with the end result. By the end, learning what a horrid human Teddy had been, I was ready to forgive just about anyone for the murder and I have to say, without giving anything away, I left the story feeling like some justice had been done even if the actions were unlawful.
I am very much looking forward to the next book in this series. I agree that fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman but would also extend that to those who enjoy whodunits and a generous cast of plucky characters. ...more
I became a huge fan of Sandra Byrd after reading her delicious Tudor Ladies in Waiting series and therefore snatched up this newest novel of hers, the first in a new series set in Victorian England, as soon as I got the chance. While this novel has a very different feel from those mentioned above it was still as engrossing as its predecessors.
When Rebecca Ravenshaw steps off the boat from India she is seeking nothing more than some warmth, peace and serenity in a place she belongs after the painful and frightening ordeal of losing her family. Much to her dismay she finds none of that when she arrives at her ancestral home, Headbourne House, and instead is confronted with confusion and suspicion that she is an imposter, come to try and steal the home and fortune of the Ravenshaws from Captain Luke Whitfield, the closest relative now that the young woman who previously claimed to be Rebecca Ravenshaw died mysteriously. The whole community - from Captain Whitfield to the staff of Headbourne House to the local gentry - treat her coldly and make it quite clear they do not believe her story. But Rebecca is determined to prove that she is who she states she is and that Headbourne House is by rights hers. Alone in a country where no one knows her and most think she is trying to commit a heinous crime, this proves a difficult task, one potentially fraught with danger.
Rebecca is quite a character. Having gone through so much and still recovering from not only the physical wounds remaining from her dangerous escape from the Indian Mutiny but the mental ones that plague her, she nevertheless refuses to give up proving her claim, even when almost everything about her points towards her being an imposter. I love how the author used the fact that she was raised in India and therefore does not know all of the English customs that would prove she is an English lady (the ability to play the piano, the delicate rules of protocol for visiting other ladies and having them come to you, etc.) as well as her continued recovery that further complicates her proof of identity (after an accident during her escape she is terrified to ride horses, something every fine English woman should do) as the catalyst that keeps everyone suspicious of her motives and the resolution of determining her true identity deliciously up in the air. I have to admit I had my own suspicions about her as there were instances when she saw things that didn't make sense or was told she had been in places or did something she had no recollection of. I loved that feeling of "is she going mad? Is she who she says she is?" and it really kept me turning the pages to find out.
Our Rebecca isn't the only suspicious character in this novel, however. In fact just about every single character makes you wonder about their motivations. Everyone around Rebecca has an air of doubt hanging over them but, at the same time, they all seems to also do things that make them seem trustworthy. It left me continually questioning what really happened at Headbourne House when the other woman claiming to be Rebecca showed up and then mysteriously died, who could be trusted and what dangers Rebecca might be facing whether or not she is proven to be the true Rebecca. This Gothic mystery element was my absolute favorite part of the novel.
The backdrop against which these characters revolved was so well described that it nearly became its own character. Headbourne house is delightfully crumbling, having dark passages with locked doors, a derelict chapel and a cemetery covered with bramble and mist that can't help but illicit a shiver. The surrounding countryside and the towns visited are just as well drawn and it was impossible not to become ensconced in this world.
Something to be noted for other readers is the fact that there is quite a lot of discussion about scripture and religion, something that fit in nicely given the fact that Rebecca's parents were missionaries but that some might not be expecting in a typical Victorian gothic novel. This element never veers into the "preachy" zone, which I appreciated, but there is an incident towards the end involving Rebecca's chaperone, Mrs. Ross, that I didn't really think necessarily fit in with the rest of the story. However, after reading the very informative author note at the end of the book and discovering that this incident is based on the author's actual experiences I can see why it was included. Something else to just be noted is that this is definitely a romance novel, with Rebecca and Captain Luke trying to overcome their concerns about the other person and their motives and dancing that delicate dance between giving in to their feelings and maintaining the expected propriety of the times. These two elements - the religious discussion and the romance - slightly pulled me out of that foreboding mystery feeling I love about gothic novels but do have their importance in the story arc as well, especially the religious element as at times this deep belief within Rebecca is the only thing that seems to keep her level headed and from completely going mad. And without the romance between these two characters I wouldn't have been completely satisfied with the story's eventual outcome.
Mist of Midnight was a very satisfying read and firmly upholds Sandra Byrd's place on my "must read" shelf whenever she has a new historical novel coming out. I very much look forward to the remaining novels in this Daughters of Hampshire series!
When Angelica loses her one day old daughter, a daughter she wasn’t even aware she was pregnant with, sI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When Angelica loses her one day old daughter, a daughter she wasn’t even aware she was pregnant with, she is beyond bereft. Having already buried her sons, who died during the plague, she feels empty even with her caring and always attentive husband, Pietro, by her side. When she is whisked off on the same day she lost her daughter and employed as wet nurse to the newborn daughter of the rich and powerful Cappelletti family, her new charge becomes a balm for her battered heart and her new position as young Juliet’s everything gives her a new purpose in life. Her new life isn’t always safe and happy, however, and her unique position within the walls of the Cappelletti’s home allows her to see the vice and extravagance of a world she was not born into and one she doesn’t much want to be a part of. But her all-consuming love for Juliet keeps her there, ready to defend and do what is right for this daughter of her heart. And when it comes time for Juliet to marry and her young charge goes against the wishes of her father to be with the boy she loves, Angelica will try and do what she thinks is right for Juliet even as events unfold that she could never have anticipated.
I listened to Juliet’s Nurse as an audiobook and found it to be absolutely enthralling! The narrator did an excellent job of giving each character their own voice and perfectly captured the rollercoaster of emotions they all went through throughout the story. Her inflections and pacing was spot on and had me eager to get back in my car so I could get back to the story that had me completely captivated.
The author did a wonderful job as well, breathing new life into the complicated relationships and allegiances surrounding Romeo and Juliet. Having the focus be on Angelica is just brilliant with her unique and always present position not only within the opulent halls of the Cappelletti household but on the grimy and dangerous streets of Verona. I also loved that the author spent the majority of the story before the events of Romeo and Juliet even occur, giving the reader a better sense of what brought about the strong bond between Angelica and Juliet as well as a greater sense of the actions and jealousies that brought about those fateful days dealt with in Shakespeare’s classic story.
I cannot recommend Juliet’s Nurse enough for those looking for a new spin on a much told story. Historical fiction and classics lovers will just eat this one up and it would also be appealing to anyone looking for a novel with a spitfire of a main character or one that fully encompasses and expands on the world Shakespeare created centuries ago. ...more
When Kevern and Ailinn meet and fall in love they aren’t entirely sure if it is fate or someone else’sI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When Kevern and Ailinn meet and fall in love they aren’t entirely sure if it is fate or someone else’s machinations pushing them together. Both come from such mysterious backgrounds, neither knowing really where they come from nor being entirely sure where they are going, and the fact that they have found each other in the brutal and secretive world they live in seems quite astonishing. As certain acquaintances of theirs draw closer and begin dropping information about their families’ pasts the lovers begin to realize their relationship was not an accident and there are those who would use them to make up for a horrible wrong done in the past that the world has long been trying to erase from memory and history. But is this a wrong that can be corrected or has it all gone too far? And if it can be corrected, should it?
Does my description above seem rather vague and mysterious? Well it should! J deals almost exclusively in suggestions and innuendoes, leaving the reader to discern what actually happened in the past that no one in the present story is supposed to talk about or remember and exactly how Kevern and Ailinn fit into the plan to make up for that past wrong. This shroud of mystery makes every revelation that much more delicious and startling and the casual way the situation is discussed by the secondary characters well aware of what happened makes the actual horror of what happened that much more chilling.
This is what we, the reader, know: the world the characters live in is some future time where something horrible happened in the past that has been essentially erased from history and barely lives in the minds of most of those now living. Everyone refers to what happened in the past as “what happened, if it happened” and are discouraged from discussing it or keeping things from this past time period while never being forcibly told to not do so. There are those that would like to try and correct the injustice of this past horrible act and Kevern and Ailinn are the key to starting towards this correction. The reader will figure out what this horrible act was by the end of the story but I don’t want to give it away here…the punch to the gut wouldn’t be as strong if you know ahead of time what heinous crime was committed!
I listened to J as an audiobook and I feel this is the perfect venue for this story. The main narrator did a remarkable job of giving each character their own voice and delivered this slow burn of a story perfectly so the listener is shocked when hints as to what happened are delivered amidst casual conversation or a character’s internal dialogue. The secondary narrator, voicing the diary entries of the person tasked with watching over Kevern, served throughout to show that these main characters are being monitored and also, towards the end, to highlight that the hatred and prejudice that caused the horrible incident in the past still burned within at least some of those that remained.
A part of me wishes I could give more concrete information but another part of me wants everyone to experience this story for themselves without knowing exactly what to expect. It will remind us all how far hatred can go and just how true the statement that “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” is. This story will appeal to a wide range of readers and I would recommend it to most everyone as I found it to be a very entertaining experience. ...more
Goddess Born is a remarkable amalgamation of historical fiction, fantasy, mystery and romance quite unlike anything I have read before. For much of the story, Selah reminded me of an Austenesque character - plucky, determined and sardonic while also being kind and joyful - and if the story stayed within these lines it would have been enjoyable enough watching Selah try to solve her problem with the odious Nathan Crowley by marrying the handsome stranger Henry Alan, only to find herself, against her wishes, falling head over heels for him. Add on to this her heritage as the descendant of the goddess Brigid and her preternatural gifts of healing and we are in a whole new ballgame! I really enjoyed seeing how the author carefully dealt with this otherworldly element with such a tender hand that it never came across as hokey or beyond belief. It seemed quite plausible that Selah and her ancestors could have this gift and just as plausible that there would be those who would suspect something evil from it and plot against her for their own selfish reasons.
The element I did not see coming at first but which was just as enjoyable was the mystery of who was working within Selah's home as well as without to help Nathan Crowley expose Selah as a witch and potentially kill her. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my initial suspicions were incorrect (at least partly) and I was shocked at the web that the more dastardly characters had woven around Selah and her home and just how far reaching their madness went. There are so many characters keeping secrets throughout the story - Selah, Nathan, Henry, others that I won't name in case I give something away - but it was this darker hidden fear and anger directed towards Selah and the vicious actions against her that really drew me into the story.
While I can't say that I am a huge fan of romance in books, I have to say that watching the back and forth between Selah and Henry as they fought their frustrations and feelings towards each other and then the inevitable love that sprouted, the I'll-give-up-everything-for-you kind of love, was very satisfying and makes me eager to see just how far they really will go for each other when the pitfalls that stand in their way aren't so easily traversed. The book ends on a delicious cliffhanger so I am very excited to see how they handle what lies ahead.
Goddess Born is a hard novel to classify but is easy to recommend because it is such a gratifying experience to read it. There really is a little something for everyone to enjoy. For someone like me who reads for pure enjoyment and escapism into history and a life unlike my own I couldn't ask for much more from this story. I am biting at the bit to read the next installment in this series!...more
Diane Chamberlain has become an author I search for whenever I go looking for an enjoyable book to readI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Diane Chamberlain has become an author I search for whenever I go looking for an enjoyable book to read, one with complex characters and storylines unraveling to expose the mysteries hiding around every corner. The Silent Sister lives up to what I now expect from her excellent storytelling. I could not help but feel sorry for Riley as she continued to unravel the lies her life had been built on and protective of her as she had to deal with those around her using their knowledge of her family’s history for their own selfish reasons. Then there was her distant and angry brother, Danny, scarred from his own dealings with their family and his time serving in Iraq. For much of the novel it is hard to decide who is being honest with Riley and whom she can trust but once all the pieces fall into place I felt satisfied that Riley had learned the truth and would be able to move on with her life as it now stood.
Most of the novel is from Riley’s point of view but scattered throughout the middle is Lisa’s story, giving the reader a better understanding and justification for the events that took place. While I didn’t end up agreeing with all of Lisa’s actions by the last page I could understand her motives as well as the motives of her parents, giving a nice rounded feeling to the narrative. None of these characters are perfect and that is exactly what made them feel so real and relatable.
My only real issue with the story was the sporadic references to Riley’s recent breakup with her married boyfriend. I didn’t feel this had a place in the story and, while it doesn’t detract from it, it also doesn’t add any real depth or development to her character or her motivations. It just felt superfluous.
Diane Chamberlain is a prolific and much loved author and anyone who already enjoys her books will no doubt love this one as well. For those who haven’t discovered her yet this is a wonderful book to start with. Just be prepared to want to read all her other novels once you start! ...more
As with Ms. McDine's story Powder Monkey, my 9 year-old son and I read The Golden Pathway in one sitting, drawn into the story from the very first pagAs with Ms. McDine's story Powder Monkey, my 9 year-old son and I read The Golden Pathway in one sitting, drawn into the story from the very first page. The bravery and kindness displayed by David is remarkable and I was happy to find the main character doing what he felt was right in such a horrible situation and being such an inspiring example for my son. We had quite the conversation when the story was over, discussing the difference between doing what your parents tell you (which is what my son has been taught) and doing what is right when a parent just so happens to be doing something very bad. I always enjoy when a book prompts these sorts of discussion and between this and the discussion of slavery we spent a while talking about David and Jenkins and their journey as well as the historic context of slavery, the underground railroad, etc.
I enjoyed the illustrations very much and found that they very accurately depict the high emotion and drama going on in the story. The colors are bright and draw the eye to them, and having a picture on every other page makes for a visual adventure as much as the story lead us on a written one.
After finishing this story as well as Powder Monkey my son's biggest complaint was that they were both very sad and, at times, scary (he did not like hearing about the slaves or David getting beaten!). While we talked about the fact that many aspects of life and history are not happy I think in the future I will intersperse heavy stories such as these with some more light-hearted fare. Even so, we both enjoyed the story and I especially enjoyed the long discussions that came after! ...more