This is a really hard review for me to write because I have very mixed feelings about the overall story. First off, maybe it's just me but I didn't realize until I received the book and started reading it that this was part of a long standing series. Long standing to the tune of 32 books. Yes, that's right, this is the 32nd book in the Hamish Macbeth series! Needless to say, there is no way for a reader jumping into this series at book 32 to be able to know all the backstories and various connections between the characters. This doesn't mean that the story wasn't enjoyable, I just found most of the personal interactions between the characters somewhat confusing and skimmed over most of that to concentrate on the actual mystery at the heart of it.
Now, I can't help but admit that I was pretty disappointed that there wasn't more "ghost" to this story. From the title and description I assumed there would be at least some paranormal and eerie goings-on, but this aspect ended up serving as nothing more than a starting point to a multi-murder investigation that had our main characters traipsing all over the highlands in all types of weather, sampling copious amounts of food everywhere they went (I'm not kidding...food was discussed more in this book then just about any I can think of save an actual cookbook or culinary-themed mystery). Hamish did have some "highland senses" that gave him pretty reliable gut feelings and intuitiveness, but other than that this was a pretty standard police procedural, even if a somewhat comical one. I can say that I didn't initially see the true identity of the killer early on, but that might have more to do with the fact that vital information was not revealed to the reader until later on in the book than the story being intricately twisty.
What I did really enjoy about the story was the eccentric and colorful characters. Each of them was very unique and I especially enjoyed Hamish and Charlie, our two main characters. Charlie was so endearing and patient - falling all over himself and breaking lots of things in the process - while Hamish was more moody and prone to yell at the local gaggle of women trying to set him up with a good woman to set his life right. From the characterizations it's clear why this is such a long standing book series.
Death of a Ghost was a quick and entertaining read. I really think those that have already been reading the series will enjoy it as a continuation of the story while those that haven't, like myself, might find themselves feeling somewhat left out of the loop. If you like more cozy mysteries than I would still recommend giving it a try as the characters are quite enjoyable, maybe just start from the beginning of the series and work your way up to this one. ...more
Reading the synopsis of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, I was instantly drawn to it as it has so many components that I love in historical fiction: a look into the customs and culture of the time period in which it takes place; a resourceful, intelligent female battling against the set stereotypes of the time; some sort of drama/action/adventure to keep me interested. I've also been hearing great buzz about this audiobook version and was delighted at the prospect of finding another delicious audiobook to make my commute less frustrating and boring then it typically is. I'm happy to say that I did enjoy listening to Anna's story unfold very much, even if I did have some issues with the main heroine herself.
Speaking of Anna Blanc (or Anna Holmes or Ami Amour depending on whether she was using one of her aliases or not), I'm sorry to say that I wasn't a huge fan of her as a character. She was quite selfish, impulsive, and arrogant and this all served to undermined her natural talents at detective work and obvious intelligence. She seemed to act without any regard for how her actions would effect other people and even destroyed the property of other people without seeming to care. She also came off as somewhat flighty at times, which made for a really odd dichotomy between her obvious abilities and her ditzy persona. She seemed shocked when people didn't take her seriously, but then did things over and over again that would make anyone not take her seriously! I'm not sure if I missed something by this being a listening experience over reading the actual book but I just had the hardest time wrapping my head around Anna Blanc.
Now, that being said, I loved almost all of the other characters! Joe Singer was an amazingly charming character and the brothel girls were hilarious. Actually, there was quite a bit of humor amongst most of the characters and I found the banter to be very entertaining. The actual search for the killer of the brothel girls was interesting as well and I can honestly say that I had no idea who the killer was and was surprised when he revealed himself.
Even with the delightful secondary characters, my absolute favorite aspect of this audiobook would have to be the narrator, Moira Quirk. She was amazing! Her ability to change her voice and make every single character distinct was unlike any other narrator I've listened to before. She was easily able to express the humor and danger and romance wherever it needed to be and made me excited to keep turning it on to listen to a little bit more whenever I could.
Anna Blanc herself aside, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc was very entertaining. While I didn't connect with this particular heroine I can see how others might really enjoy her contradictory nature and, regardless, her adventures searching for a killer definitely keep your attention. ...more
As the synopsis says, The Enemies of Versailles is the third book in Sally Christie's entertaining Mistresses of Versailles trilogy and, having read all three books, I find it a fitting ending to this exciting and dramatic series that highlights the luxuriant and ever shifting world of Louis XV's court. This particular novel, however, was probably my favorite as it branches outside of the glitz and glamour of the Court into the dangerous and bloody streets of a people no longer content to let their nobility live the high life while they starve.
The story goes back and forth between two perspectives - that of Louis XV's final mistress, the lowborn Jeanne Becu (who becomes the Comtesse du Barry), and one of his daughters, Madame Adelaide - and it would be nearly impossible to find two women so different. Jeanne is somewhat lazy, especially when she is young, and is quite content to use her charms and skills of seduction to create a comfortable life of luxury. With this being said, she is also kind and giving and loving towards those that are close to her. On the flipside is Adelaide - cold, rigid, strict Adelaide - who can barely stand anyone other than her father and, at times, her sisters and who put propriety above happiness or connections with other people. I will say that, while I didn't particularly like her, I did feel sorry for Adelaide as she obviously yearned for her father's attention and love and he seemed more content to give that affection to his mistresses and his court. It is due to this great gulf between the women that we, the reader, get such a well rounded look at the court and France during this time and I thought it was such a great idea to expand our view of the people and the times surrounding them.
I think my favorite aspect of the story would have to be what came after Louis XV died (yes, the story continues after our main man is dead!). The story progresses through the French Revolution and the heartache and terror that the nobility and those closest to the throne experience during this time is palpable. While I can't say that I felt bad for the court when the members began losing their possessions and vast excesses I did ache for them as the horror compounded and the began losing their lives because of this world most of them were born into. There is a particular scene with the Comtesse du Barry when she is no longer able to use her charms or the vast amount of goods she had collected to buy her way to freedom that was actually hard to read as I hoped against hope that she would find a way to survive like she had time and time again. If you don't already know how her storyline ends this book is the perfect way to discover it!
Another aspect I very much enjoyed was getting to see Marie Antoinette from such a unique perspective. She came off as such a sad character to me as nothing she did made a difference in how people looked at her. The nobility seemed to think she was improper and too informal while the common people of France used her as a symbol of the excesses of the court regardless of what she actually did or didn't do. I kept hoping that she and Jeanne would band together as misfits of the court and get along, but even though they had more in common that I expected that wasn't meant to be. In the end, both were somewhat isolated and dragged along through a court machine that didn't quite want them until the bitter end that neither could escape.
The Enemies of Versailles is wondering historical fiction and has really whetted my appetite to learn more about French History. Stretching from the end of the mistress Pompadour's hold on the court through to the end of the French Revolution, these women do a remarkable job of placing the aging King at the back of the story and letting their own lives shine through. While I don't think it's necessary to read all three stories in order I do recommend it as it gives you a fully rounded glimpse into the end of an era of extravagance and into the modern age of government. ...more
I have read and enjoyed each of Sandra Byrd's historical novels and A Lady in Disguise is no exception. I'm always amazed with how well Ms. Byrd draws the reader into the time periods, customs, and cultures her characters inhabit and how transported I always feel by her stories. A Lady in Disguise is the third novel in her Daughters of Hampshire series but, as with the other books in both this and her Ladies in Waiting series, this is a standalone novel with a wholly original storyline and characters and situations unlike any of the others.
The main plot of this story centers around Gillian Young's search for the truth about whether or not her father's death was really an accident, whether he might have been involved in illegal dealings as a police officer, and whether either man vying for her attentions are true to their words. With so much uncertainty, the reader is forced to question everyone's intentions and to wonder who is behind the more nefarious actions going on. While I can't say that the main "bad guy" came as a surprise to me (I figured out pretty quickly who that was going to be) I was surprised by some of the revelations regarding some of the secondary characters, not only in regards to things they were doing behind the scenes but the reasons behind those actions. With all the reading I do, any time an author can slip in some surprises for me, especially when dealing with historical fiction, I am always pleasantly surprised.
The writing style and dialogue felt very authentic to the Victorian era that the story took place in and it was very interesting to see how a woman making her own money by her own hands fit into this very traditional and uniformed world she inhabited. Her position in that world is also unusual as she comes from money and status on her maternal side but working class stock on her paternal side....something that did not happen very regularly during this time period. This sort of middle world she inhabits, one that cannot quite be pigeonholed in this time period, makes her grasp on her situation that much more tenuous and has her somewhat isolated from either side she might be able to seek help from.
With all this being said, my absolute favorite part of the novel was the detail given to developing the backstage world of the theatre and the unfortunate children who worked for it, as well as the beauty and detail that went into the art of costuming. While the theatre was quite exciting and somewhat provocative for the times, the abandonment of the child actors once they were no longer useful was abhorrent. The reader gets to see how people took advantage of these misplaced young girls and the kind of adult world they would find themselves in without the help of the various charities set up to help them, such as the Cause so prominent in A Lady in Disguise. Learning of the training and assistance given to these children by these charities, in the hopes of giving them the chance for a good future, was really interesting and something I'm sad to say I never even thought of before. The details given to Gillian's costume designing and learning of the skills and time it takes to create the beautiful pieces not only shown on the stage but in the ballrooms of the elite was also fascinating. While I'm not personally that into fashion, learning the intricate details makes me realize just what an art form costuming really is.
A Lady in Disguise is wonderful historical fiction. There is quite a bit of talk of Christianity and scripture, however given the overall characteristics of the story and players, it never felt preachy or overdone to me. In the same vein, while romance is never something I gravitate towards, the romantic situation Gillian finds herself in isn't overly done and is therefore something that can be enjoyed by those that do enjoy romance but not something that will be a turnoff for those that don't. There's even an excellent author's note at the end of the story that cements the facts from the fictions within the story, something I always look for with historical fiction. I definitely recommend this novel, along with all of Ms. Byrd's historical fiction novels, to anyone looking for an escape into another time and place they might otherwise never get to experience....more