Shadow on the Highway is an exciting peek into the English Civil War from both sides of the fighting as well as from the viewpoint of those left at ho...moreShadow on the Highway is an exciting peek into the English Civil War from both sides of the fighting as well as from the viewpoint of those left at home to fend for themselves. I was impressed with how the author was able to highlight the greed and corruption on both sides of this coin and how this English war ripped apart families and communities. No one seems better equipped to represent this dividing of loyalties and the chaos that swirled through England during this time than young Abigail, a girl caught between the parliamentarian leanings of her family and the royalist household she finds herself ensconced in.
Abigail was by far my favorite character. You can't help but feel terrible for all she has had to go through: the guilt she feels over causing the fire that destroyed her family's home and the belief that the illness that caused her deafness was retribution for her actions; the sadness over losing her father and the hard life this left her mother and siblings in; the feeling that she has to stick it out and take whatever abuse she receives at the Fanshawe household because she has very few choices in life and needs to do what she can to help her family. With all of this she is stuck in the middle of all the varying beliefs and dangers around her, made to keep secrets from everyone and forced to find a way to survive, and all without being able to hear a thing! It was remarkable seeing her use her other senses to navigate the world around her and I got a great delight when she would let her anger and jealousies surface and act out in what little ways she could safely do.
My least favorite character would have to be Lady Katherine Fanshawe. She was bossy, stubborn and used poor Abi to get her way without taking into consideration what problems her demands might cause. Even when we see her in a more sympathetic light - seeing her being used by first her step-father and then the manor's overseer, the physical abuse she is made to suffer through for not doing what she is told, etc. - Katherine would turn around and threaten or cajole Abi into doing something or helping her to do something that could get them both into a lot of trouble. By the end she does show herself to be a better, more humble person that initially expected but I would have preferred that to happen a lot sooner. Being that this is the first in a trilogy and the final book is slated to be from Katherine's perspective I am hoping she will redeem herself in full when she gets to tell her own story.
Possibly the most fascinating aspect of Shadow on the Highway for me was the introduction of aspects of the English Civil War I had never heard of before. For example, The Diggers were a group of Englishman during this time who tried to live in what we would now call communes, living off the land in a state of equality for all and the sharing of all goods and properties. By having Abi's brother Ralph (who will be the centerpiece of the second book in this trilogy) advocating for a Digger's community on their village's common land we the reader are able to walk into this fascinating segment of history and see how these radical thinkers of the time tried desperately to make a place for themselves in a country placing so many restrictions and demands on their freedom.
One of the aspects of historical novels I cherish the most are the historical notes many authors put at the back of the book, letting the reader know where they have stuck to the true events discussed and where they have embellished to advance the story in some way. Deborah Swift's historical notes are delightful and prompted me to want to learn more about the English Civil War, the real life Lady Katherine Fanshawe, the 17th century advancements in helping non-hearing children communicate and so much more. This rounding up of the themes and characters discussed in the story really solidified the story for me and has me excited to read the next two books in the trilogy.
Being that this is categorized as a YA novel I think it will appear to young readers just learning about the English Civil War as well as readers well versed in this era. I have enjoyed Deborah Swift's writing before and this was no exception. I very much look forward to the next two books in this trilogy! (less)
The Sharp Hook of Love might be one of the most poetic and beautifully written novels I have read in quite some time. I found myself rereading passage...moreThe Sharp Hook of Love might be one of the most poetic and beautifully written novels I have read in quite some time. I found myself rereading passages out loud just to hear them spoken. The way the author included quotes from the lovers' letters to each other really helped solidify not only the ardent love they experienced but the hurt, fear and confusion that came from going against the destinies set before them and the political, religious and societal norms and rules they were breaking at every turn.
What I enjoyed even more than the beautiful writing, however, was the unbelievable complexity of the feelings between Heloise and Abelard. Both of these characters are flawed in their own way and yet their love is true and deep. Abelard is brilliant beyond compare in so many ways - he's a poet, philosopher, teacher, singer and songwriter - and he has no problem letting everyone know it! At times he comes off as arrogant, rude and manipulative and I found myself questioning his motives in regards to Heloise. Then as the story progressed I discovered how much he actually sacrificed for love and I realized that any man who didn't love a woman as he loved Heloise wouldn't have risked all he did to be with her whenever he could. Heloise isn't perfect herself, conducting her love affair under her uncle's roof knowing full well she is meant for the abbey and, feeling abandoned and pained, eventually elicits the help of this very same uncle, who she knows wants nothing more than to bring down Abelard, inadvertently taking away any chance of the two living happily-ever-after. These very imperfections are what makes this love story feel so real, unusual and meant to go down in history. No matter what they do to each other that sharp hook embedded in each of their hearts will never let go!
It is quite clear that Sherry Jones did a good amount of research into not only these two captivating people's lives but also into the environment they lived in. The descriptions of the architecture, the streets and the people all come to life on the page. To fully immerse themselves in the story the reader has to also fully immerse themselves in the time and place in which their lives unfold, and the author makes this easy to do. Heloise's vibrant intelligence and wit is not appreciated or, seemingly, wanted in her lifetime and she has very few choices when the men in her life try to determine what course her future should take. This was very hard to read at times, especially given the sacrifices she will have to make (I don't want to give too much away!), but this makes the choices she does make that much more poignant and heartbreaking. The author does not shy away from the very real and very harsh historical truths and I, for one, really appreciate that when reading historical fiction.
The Sharp Hook of Love presents a love story out of time and one, given the time it DOES fall into, seemingly destined to fail. However these two intelligent and determined people will not let their world dictate what they feel in their hearts and, even given all the hurt caused, both want nothing but each other when their last days arrive. This is a heartbreaking and tragic story yet one that is also inspiring and completely captivating. (less)
Madame Picasso perfectly brings to life the bright and fast-paced world of the Moulin Rouge’s backstage and...moreI reviewed this for www.luxuryreading.com.
Madame Picasso perfectly brings to life the bright and fast-paced world of the Moulin Rouge’s backstage and the glittering opulence of the theater and its patrons in front, the disheveled yet pulsating energy of the artist’s studios, the vibrant intellectual stimulation of Gertrude Stein’s Saturday evening salons and the very streets and alleys of Paris itself, which becomes its own character. Sensuality and passion are always brimming and boiling over as would be expected in a city like Paris and in its inhabitants who want nothing more than to break away from conformity in their lives and in their art. But this colorful and vigorous imagery, which is so well developed and expansive, took a backseat to the wonderfully nonconforming characters that felt so tangible to me.
Eva is by far my favorite character, a woman of great determination and intelligence but also kindness and generosity. The reader is able to see her change Picasso’s very being and, by doing so, his art and thereby art history itself. Getting to see the inner workings of a man like Picasso, known for his eccentricities and womanizing, was inspiring and I so enjoyed finding a more fleshed-out, sympathetic and very human man within Madame Picasso’s pages. The rest of the characters – even the ones, such as Fernande, that I wasn’t a particular fan of – are just as well presented so that you cannot help but see them right in front of you, with all their foibles, fears and passions right at the surface. And the ending – oh, the ending – I don’t want to give anything away but just prepare yourself for tears!
Madame Picasso is top-notch historical fiction. I have never been a particular fan of Picasso’s work but the intricate story had me reexamining his painting and looking for any connections I could find online between the artist and Eva. That need to know more is always an indicator to me that a book is unforgettable. That is exactly what Madame Picasso is – unforgettable. Highly recommended to anyone who likes historical fiction. (less)
Oh Maggie, Maggie, Maggie...what am I to do with you?! Right from the start I wasn't much of a fan of Maggie Hogan, the determined young woman with a dream of making a name for herself in the fast and incredibly chauvinistic world of journalism in the closing years of WWII. While she's spunky, intelligent and determined she is also selfish and conniving, using her womanly good looks and charms that she seemingly hates the male journalists to focus on to actually seduce her way into a better career. Her ambitions know no bounds and she doesn't blink an eye at using other people to get what she wants. Being this ruthless makes it hard to like Maggie or feel much for her fleeting and ever-changing feelings for the various men she finds in her bed. But one of those men, the young officer mentioned in the synopsis, fully steals the spotlight from Maggie.
While the title and synopsis led me to believe this is exclusively Maggie's story the novel is actually told in two alternating viewpoints: Maggie and Johnny Pero, the hit man turned secret military agent that Maggie has an on again off again love affair with. And thank God Johnny got to tell his story because he saved this book for me! An Italian-American born into a rough neighborhood, he's working for the mob when his special skills at killing lead him to be enlisted into the military for select dangerous operations in Europe at the end of WWII. Having fallen head over heals for Maggie, he jumps at the chance to go over seas in the hopes of getting closer to her once she goes to Europe to write about what she sees at the frontlines. Through Johnny's eyes the reader gets the chance to see some of the devastation and viciousness that only someone in his unique situation could see: bombed, shot and/or stabbed bodies, destroyed towns, piles of tortured and starved bodies on the death trains...my only complaint with the portions of the novel detailing Johnny's time during the war is that they were too short. These portions were descriptive and compelling and I felt like I could have read pages and pages more.
To be honest the great majority of the story felt rushed to me and, at only 229 pages, I think some more development of the situations discussed would have really elevated the whole story. For examples, both the liberation of Dachau and the Nuremberg trials were introduced as important turning points in the story and could have really brought the reader front and center for these spellbinding times in history but, instead, were only given a few pages each and then moved away from. I found this disappointing because I really wanted more!
In the end Maggie's Wars was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The parts I enjoyed, which were pretty much any part from Johnny's perspective, needed more development and more time to bring me into the story instead of just telling me something and moving on. The ending left a lot to be desired as well and left me wondering why the author chose to wrap it up the way he did. With all this being said there is a lot of potential here. It's a quick read that gives a unique perspective on WWII I haven't seen addressed before. If the author were to write another book set during this same time with a bit more attention given to development I would be very excited to see where it went. (less)
I absolutely loved this short story! Tatyana, the young returned that young couple Heather and Matt Campbell find on the side of the road, is such an...moreI absolutely loved this short story! Tatyana, the young returned that young couple Heather and Matt Campbell find on the side of the road, is such an amazing characters - so full of life and compassion - that I was really sad her story was as short as it was. I also found it interesting to see how bringing Tatyana into the Campbell home really set them at odds and highlighted a fractured marriage that was hanging by a thread even before their varying views on the returned was brought to light. Perfect companion to the novel.(less)
This is my first book by Marina Fiorato and The Venetian Bargain simply blew me away with its poetic, fluid a...moreI reviewed this for www.luxuryreading.com
This is my first book by Marina Fiorato and The Venetian Bargain simply blew me away with its poetic, fluid and immensely descriptive language. It was easy to see the beautiful architecture, flora and clothing all around the characters in both Venice and Constantinople. I was absolutely drawn in by the passages dealing with the symptoms and effects of the plague as well as the intricacies of the various treatments and cures given to the sufferers. Seeing the differences between the old, often comical treatments used by the traditional doctors and the more “modern” methods Annibale and Feyra utilized was fascinating. It is clear to me that a lot of research was done to give the reader a clear picture of what a plague sufferer experiences and what does and doesn’t work as treatment.
The characters were wonderful as well. Feyra is such an intelligent, feisty character and it was remarkable seeing her maneuver in a country that did not understand her value. Annibale was harder to warm to, being standoffish and rude in an attempt to keep from having to care for anyone else when no one has truly cared for him, but seeing his transformation as Feyra’s light and love changed him made me love him a little bit myself. And the Sultan, who uses such a diabolical instrument as germ warfare to weaken his enemy and make them a prime target for his continued evil machinations, has quite the sinister effect on the whole story even as he plays such a minor part overall. All the characters, whether major or minor players, are well developed and fit nicely into the overall story.
The Islamic concept of Mizan – the balance of all things – provides the framework around the story. From the balance between science and faith, mind and body, give and take, a balance is needed before a calm can be found. And balanced is exactly what The Venetian Bargain is – a highly entertaining, well executed historical novel that deals with a situation in history not often discussed. I am now thoroughly excited to read more by Marina Fiorato. (less)
Having really enjoyed The Returned last year I was excited to see these short story prequels come out. In The First, we get to see how it all began wi...moreHaving really enjoyed The Returned last year I was excited to see these short story prequels come out. In The First, we get to see how it all began with the return of Edmund Blithe and how this mysterious occurrence not only effects him but his fiancé and the rest of the world as they try to navigate through this unusual, frightening and exciting miracle.
It has been about a year since Emily's fiancé, Edmund Blithe, was hit by a bus and died. Edmund had proposed the day before he died and it has taken Emily this entire year to try and move on with her life. So imagine her surprise when the news shows Edmund, very much alive and being held somewhere in Washington DC after walking into work like no time had passed. Emily wants answers and sets out of Washington DC to try and find Edmund.
Edmund, for his part, has no recollection of his death and feels like he just woke up like any other day. After going to work and seeing the terror and surprise on the faces of his coworkers, Edmund is taken to Washington to answer round after round after round of questions. Scared himself and wanting to speak to Emily he is told he will need to wait to see her and needs to help those questioning him figure out what is going on. Everyone is fascinated and terrified of what this means and are determined to get to the bottom of it. But one man will be touched enough by Edmund's need to see Emily to help him make it happen.
Going back and forth between Emily and Edmund's points of view, The First is a fascinating look at not only the world's attempt to solve the mystery of why Edmund came back but the smaller, much sweeter, attempt by Emily and Edmund to come back to each other and reestablish that relationship Emily thought she had lost. It is short and sweet and very satisfying. I am excited to see where Mr. Mott takes the other two short stories!
There are few things I like better than a well told Tudor historical! There are so many angles to take and interpretations to present that show the ma...moreThere are few things I like better than a well told Tudor historical! There are so many angles to take and interpretations to present that show the many players and many sides in this political viper’s nest. While Jane Grey, the 9 days queen, is a key player in many novels surrounding the Tudor court her younger sisters, Katherine and Mary Grey, are usually relegated to the sidelines. Ms. Knight’s Prisoner of the Queen places Katherine front and center, letting her tell her heavy story of great love and much loss.
I have to say that I could not help but love Katharine! Sweet, generous and often innocently naïve, Katherine wants nothing more than to devote herself to helping others less fortunate and to find a marriage match based in true love and safety, something she has rarely seen among those of her class. But being a princess of the blood means many others – including her own cruel and unloving parents – will use her as a pawn in the dangerous game of power that always looms heavy around the throne. Seeing her sister beheaded by their own cousin, Queen Mary, for doing nothing more than being the unwitting recipient of the crown placed on her head by men who wished to rule through her, Katherine learns quickly she wants nothing of it. But everyone is suspicious of her and she can’t be sure who she can trust as she carefully slides around those jealous of her beauty and kindness, no one more than her other cousin, Queen Elizabeth. But don’t let her kindness deceive you! Katherine’s spine is all steel under her elaborate finery and she will let no one – not even the Queen – keep her from having the true love she finds in Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford. She will live for her heart, regardless of the consequences. How can you not root for a woman like that?!
Elizabeth is portrayed as a nasty, vengeful young woman and, eventually, Queen. While she seeks the love of her subjects she is refused the passion and love of a man of her own, making her bitter and jealous of anyone else having it. She plays quite the loathsome villain with all her arrogant, vicious and hypocritical ways. I kept thinking a glimmer of heart would shimmer through all that cold and calculation but she proved to be too damaged and scarred to see beyond her selfishness and fear. The gilding on this glamorous court and its people is thoroughly stripped off and what is left is the defensiveness and cunning of a group of people always living on the line between greatness and destruction.
Even with this wonderful character development my favorite aspect of the novel would still be the elaborate descriptive style. The reader is so effectively saturated in period details and descriptions that they can almost hear the wind rustling the elaborately embroidered dresses and feel the abject fear flowing through Katherine’s royal blood. I felt completely transported into her world and wanted her to find the peace and happiness she so longed for – even as I knew her story couldn’t possibly end that way – as if she was a real friend of mine.
Prisoner of the Queen is top shelf historical fiction. Anyone as addicted to Tudor history as I am will love escaping into this heartbreaking yet touching look at a woman taking her own life into her hands and making her own choices despite what tragedies may come. (less)
I should start out by saying The Bone Church deals with a part of history I know very little about. Weaving back and forth between 1944 and 1956 it takes place mainly in Czechoslovakia and sets as its backdrop the Nazi occupation (in the 1944 timeline) and later the heavy Soviet control of the country (in the 1956 timeline). Knowing so little about this time and place in history, much of the heavier political and social elements, while interesting, were somewhat confusing for me. Once I went and read a little more about these shifting factions I was able to better understand the underlying themes and how they affected the characters. However, even with the extra reading I found myself sort of glazing over the politics and focusing my attention and enjoyment on the characters and their actions.
I found all of the characters incredibly interesting. The seemingly visceral connection between Magdalena and Felix was simply fascinating and I kept flipping the pages to see if they would be able to escape occupied Czechoslovakia and, in the later timeline, find each other again. My biggest problem with the Magdalena/Felix portion of the story was I felt like both timelines just sort of plopped the reader down in the middle of action without giving a lot of backstory to give the reader a better understanding of what happened to lead up to what was currently going on. How did Magdalena and Felix come to know each other? How did their relationship develop into the close and unbreakable bond it became? How did Magdalena and her mother come to be living in the Andel's basement? What had happened between the two storylines that lead to where both characters found themselves in 1956? While tiny hints were dropped throughout the story to give the reader a taste of the answers to these questions I enjoyed the characters so much I just wanted more information.
The secondary characters were just as mesmerizing and what I loved the most was the way each of these characters kept surprising me! Just when I thought I had a good idea of the motives and allegiances of a character they would do something to flip that right on its head. Those that I thought would sacrifice Magdalena and Felix for the simplest thing ended up being their greatest champions and those I thought really had their back ended up doing things for their own selfish wishes that put the lovers' lives in danger (sorry for being vague...I don't want to give any surprises away!). I love when I think I know the essence of a character and find out I had no idea who they really were.
Another exciting element of The Bone Church that I was surprised I enjoyed as much as I did was Felix's paranormal abilities. Felix can not only communicate with the dead but can interact with them as well as the divine to get himself out of some sticky and dangerous situations. It isn't heavy handed (which, for me, would have made the whole story feel silly and unrealistic) but is utilized at just the right time and in such a delicate and beautiful manner that it really added a wonderful touch of mysticism to the whole story and helped pull in the religious elements of the storyline as well.
There is so much more I could discuss about the book - the actions of the Prague Underground, the plot to find the authentic Infant of Prague, the Bone Church itself - but that would make for a very long review. Suffice it to say The Bone Church has something for just about any reader to enjoy. Those that are well versed in the political, social and religious goings on in Czechoslovakia during these time periods will love it that much more. I think if I knew more about these elements and if there was more backstory given for Magdalena and Felix's love story this would have been a strong contender for my favorite book of the year. (less)
Anyone who has been in a relationship long enough knows that things change. That person that once made...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Anyone who has been in a relationship long enough knows that things change. That person that once made every nerve in your body pulse with excitement just by entering the room can now sit next to you on the couch without you even registering they walked in. All those annoying habits you found so adorable years ago are now just annoying. Every conversation, every argument, every everything…you’ve done it all before. So what happens if one day you look at that person and realize you cannot stand to look at them for one second longer? When you search for your love for them in your heart and…nothing?
This is the dilemma Lauren and Ryan Cooper find themselves in. They have been together since college and, after eleven years, they have reached the point where they make each other miserable. Knowing this can go on no longer they come up with a plan: they will separate for one year, each one using this space to figure out what they really want out of life and hopefully, during that time, a way to fall back in love with each other and save their marriage. The only rule is they cannot contact each other until the year is up. The rest is up to each of them to decide.
Please excuse me if a gush a little over Taylor Jenkins Reid because she has become one of my very favorite authors! When I read her first novel, Forever, Interrupted, I was so impressed with her ability to present the emotions of her characters so vividly that the reader feels everything – the anger, frustration, heartbreak – right along with them. Well, I am happy to say that Ms. Reid topped herself with After I Do, again presenting a story and situation that so thoroughly grabbed me that I literally had trouble putting the book down and doing anything else. Even when I did have to put the book down for mundane things like sleeping and working I was thinking about the characters and what they would do next.
I think part of what pulled me into this story is that I found so much of myself in Lauren. I have also been with my husband since college and could relate to that feeling of routineness and complacency that seems to come so naturally to a couple who have been together for a long period of time. While I am still very much in love with my husband I could understand what she was talking about and appreciate her and Ryan’s choice to spend the year apart to see if they could find a way back to each other. Every single character is so real and flawed that you love them and can relate to each one, feeling every pain and joy along with them. It’s quite remarkable to me when an author is able to create a world that has you not only entertained but really thinking about yourself in the same situations. I am going through a similar situation with my grandfather that Lauren and her family go through with her grandmother in After I Do and I found myself crying and thinking about how much of a steady rock my husband is in my life. I was staring at him with such pitiful appreciation at one point that it became clear I was making him slightly uncomfortable. That is how invested in the story I was!
Watching Lauren come into her own was amazing. She has such a wonderful, quirky family and seeing how much they supported her and how each opened her eyes to the various ways to love was touching to say the least. As the story was wrapping up I really had no idea whether Lauren and Ryan would end up together or not and that made it that much more realistic. Because in life who knows what will really happen?
I cannot recommend After I Do highly enough. If you have ever questioned the route your life had taken or wondered in the deepest part of your heart whether the person you were with was the right one for you pick it up now. Even if you just want a wonderful story that runs the gambit of emotions give it a go, it is well worth the read. (less)
Very loosely based on a 19th century prostitute, Belle Cora is the remarkable story of one woman’s figh...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Very loosely based on a 19th century prostitute, Belle Cora is the remarkable story of one woman’s fight to live her own life on her own terms no matter what tragedies God or man throws at her. A woman of many names and many lives, Belle recounts her story to the reader as a memoir in order to give a clear and truthful account of her life and actions. She gives the many reasons she became the woman the world would come to see as a dangerous and powerful madam and whore.
The memoir style of the novel is absolutely perfect for the story, with Belle laying her life bare and even interrupting her own narrative to interact with the reader and explain that she understands what the reader might be thinking of her actions. Agreeing that she made mistakes and showing herself to be anything but perfect, the reader cannot help but feel for Belle and understand her choices even if they don’t agree with them. At times she is her own worst enemy, doing things that make you want to scream at her; this makes Belle wholly relatable. She is selfish, greedy, prideful, vengeful, and cruel at times but she can also be loving, giving, and remarkably understanding of the bad choices of others. By the end of this very long story (just over six hundred pages!), I had forgotten that this wasn’t a real memoir… it just felt so authentic!
On the downside, Belle Cora felt like a book that is six hundred pages. It wasn’t a fast read and at times felt like it was giving too much time to particular points in her very long life. I couldn’t help but feel like I wanted to rush through the heavy details to get to the next part. I should point out, however, that I am not typically a fan of memoirs for this exact reason, so it could just be me. There were aspects of the novel that pulled me out of Belle’s story as well, dealing with the politics, scandals, and real life historical figures of the time that sometimes felt like they were added as reference points and wouldn’t necessarily be items that a person would spend so much time when recounting their own life story. In the grand scheme of the novel, these are minor problems but are still things to note.
Bell Cora – both the fictionalized woman and the novel – is fascinating, and anyone interested in a no-holds-barred account of what it was to be an independent and intelligent yet flawed woman of this time will find much to enjoy. I was astounded at how genuine the whole story felt and at how much I was able to feel for a woman making so many bad choices. I have no doubt other readers will feel the same. If you enjoy historical fiction it is definitely worth the read! (less)
When I typically think of time travel stories I think of someone sitting in some sort of machine that t...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When I typically think of time travel stories I think of someone sitting in some sort of machine that they manipulate to transport themselves to some other time and place. But what if all we needed was our own mind to escape to the past? What if each and every one of us, the imaginative individuals who can believe beyond belief that they are in another time, actually put ourselves into a kind of hypnotic state and then open our eyes and actually find ourselves there? And what might we do with that sort of power and the ability to change events of the past to alter the events of the future? These are the unusual and thought provoking questions answered within Jack Finney’s Time and Again, a novel written almost forty five years ago but just as intriguing and fitting for our modern times. With Si Morley as our guide, every lover of escapism can go back in time to 1882 and navigate the many joys and problems that arise from placing ourselves in a time and life we might not belong in.
Time and Again truly is one of the most unique and thought provoking books I have read in quite a while. The detailed and extensive time spent on how the program proposes time travel would work and the intricate and detailed training and work that goes into bringing that plan to fruition makes it seem completely plausible–and this is coming from a very rational and skeptical person like me! On the downside this very detailed and descriptive nature – not only with the details of the program but with Si’s exploration of 1882 New York, street by street – makes the story plod along in parts, slowing it down at times to the extent that my eyes began to glaze over with details.
The mystery behind Si’s girlfriend’s envelope, its cryptic note and the people and events that occurred after the envelope was sent was very fun to follow and I can honestly say I didn’t see the truth behind them coming. While I thought I had an idea where the actions were taking me and tried to account for what sort of consequences might come about from Si’s involvement in the unraveling of the mystery I enjoyed the tiny twists and shocks as they presented themselves.
Finally, the drawings and pictures dispersed throughout the story were absolutely lovely! I found they helped flesh out the story and characters for me and made for a wholly unique reading experience. While I found the romance between both Si and his modern day girlfriend and Si and the woman he falls in love with in 1882 very lukewarm, the individual character development was very detailed and the pictures attributed to each person made them feel very real and allowed me to feel more invested in their situations.
Time and Again is a love story of sorts to the imagination and to every reader’s ability to “travel” to whatever time and place their books take them. While I adored going along with Si on his adventure to the past I believe the journey’s retelling would have benefitted from some trimming. That being said, I am still very excited to read the sequel to this book and to see what other adventures Si might go on. (less)
Have you ever found a book series that had you devouring each book as they came out, simultaneou...moreReally 4.5. I reviewed this for www.luxuryreading.com.
Have you ever found a book series that had you devouring each book as they came out, simultaneously saddened when the current book is over and newly excited to see where the next book will take the characters? Well after reading Barbara Kyle’s last book in her Thornleigh saga, Blood Between Queens, I knew I had found just that. Ms. Kyle’s newest book in the series, The Queen’s Exiles, picks up in 1572, three years after the action in Blood Between Queens and, just like its predecessor, takes off running and never slows down.
Venturing away from England into the wild open sea and onto the turbulent and dangerous lands of the Spanish-occupied Netherlands, The Queen’s Exiles shines a light on Fenella Doorn, a Scottish born woman running her own ship-refitting business on the island of Sark, making her own way in life after her husband was killed by Spanish invaders. When Adam Thornleigh, a man she helped rescue eleven years previously and one she has never been able to forget, sails into Sark’s harbor she is instantly drawn into his quest to not only work as Queen Elizabeth’s agent on the high seas but to get back his children from his traitorous Catholic wife, Frances, who has been in hiding since her failed attempt to kill the Protestant Queen of England. Their journey is dangerous and filled with endless surprises, people they believed to be dead found alive and some of those they have long had at their side meeting their final end. As they both work to rescue their loved ones from the clutches of the tyrannical Duke of Alba, a man slaughtering the Dutch in the name of his faith and his Spanish King, they will find themselves falling in love in a world that wants nothing more than to keep them apart. Fighting between what they want and what is right, both will make tremendous sacrifices in the name of love.
Intertwined with the story involving Fenella, Adam and Frances is that of Adam’s sister, Isabel and her husband Carlos Valverde, a man longing for his home in England but having to work for the Duke of Alba in order to make enough money to be able to return to England and pay off his debts. These characters, like the others mentioned, have all been introduced in previous books in the series and it is fascinating watching them all try to untangle themselves from the various destructive webs they find themselves in, some of which have been twisting around them for a number of books. Mixed in with these established characters are some new and fascinating ones such as those in the groups The Sea Beggars and the Brethren, men and women all putting their lives on the line to push out the Spanish in the name of William, the Prince of Orange. The action and sacrifice is constant and Ms. Kyle does not shy away from placing the reader at the heart of the violence and adventure. But as in real life the determination and willingness of each character to give everything for what they believe in makes their triumphs that much sweeter and, for those that are not successful, their sacrifices that much more heartbreaking.
Barbara Kyle’s Thornleigh Saga is enthralling and each book draws the reader deeper and deeper into the lives and worlds of her characters, all against the backdrop of the very real and exhilarating history surrounding them. I for one cannot get enough of these books and am once again anxiously waiting to see how Ms. Kyle continues the many dangling threads of storyline in her next book.
Before reading Mrs. Poe I knew Edgar Allan Poe for much of the same things most people know him for: his shockingly unsettling poetry and stories, his dark and somewhat worn-out looks and crabby personality, his mysterious death. Mrs. Poe completely turns those stereotypes on their head, giving incredible backstory and justification to the darkness inside Poe as well as showing the tender side he kept well hidden from others and the jealous people in his life who worked to try and turn Poe into the monster many later believed him to be. All of this incredible character development is set up against the vivid backdrop of an ever-changing New York City in the mid 1840s, a world and group of people caught between constant advancement and an unyielding desire for life to stay within the traditional rules of decorum.
One of the biggest surprises to me was how attractive so many women found Mr. Poe during this time. From the images I had previously seen he just looks unpleasant. In Mrs. Poe he is reserved, sardonic and dark but he is also talented, intelligent, open-minded and brooding in a way that made the women swoon! It wasn't hard to see how Frances Osgood - the wife of a charismatic, flippant and philandering ne'er-do-well husband who has to try and support herself after being abandoned - would fall for this deep and attentive man. They are both lovers of words who are lonely and sad and there ability to find some happiness and passion within each other was captivating. The fact that they did so while bucking up against every acceptable norm of the time, many of which were just ridiculous given the circumstances, made me cheer for them even more. They were a very touching couple and, while this is by no means a happily-ever-after sort of story, I couldn't get enough of watching them come together like magnets only to be torn apart again and again.
The secondary characters (if they can even be called that as so many of them are flamboyantly unique and unforgettable) were absolutely delightful! The talented yet eccentric group of individuals that came together to discuss their art and the world were a who's who of artistic, political and industrial history and I got a little thrill each time a new member was introduced so casually to the conversations. So many have become favorites of mine through other readings so it was exciting getting a little peek at what they might have been like behind closed doors with their contemporaries. Some characters seemed slightly over the top - such as the childish, vengeful and ever-ailing Mrs. Poe and the hateful, pompous Rufus Griswold - but they are made that much more fascinating because of it and, reading through the insightful author notes at the back of the book, it is quite possible they were that bold in reality. They are the kind of people that exemplify the belief that sometimes the facts can be more entertaining than any fiction!
Another enticing component of Mrs. Poe is the ever present sense of foreboding and the dark mystery running through this complicated romance. Accidents and strange coincidences keep happening, some of which have dangerous and frightening consequences, and the reader is left to try and figure out who is causing them. There is a little twist towards the end that I wouldn't dare give away, but suffice it to say nothing and no one is exactly as it seems. As Poe would say:
"Madness spreads like a drop of ink in water. Soon one does not know who is mad and who is not."
Mrs.Poe is everything that is wonderful about historical fiction. It has stellar characters, a setting that is so well developed it might as well be a character itself and a sense of mystery and discovery that keeps the reader unable to stop reading until the very end. I can't think of any components that this novel does not have and I am so impressed with Lynn Cullen's ability to leave me heartbroken and breathless now that I'm done reading. It's quite plainly a perfect story. (less)
When I read Deborah Lawrenson’s debut novel The Lantern a few years ago I was swept away with her abili...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When I read Deborah Lawrenson’s debut novel The Lantern a few years ago I was swept away with her ability to transport the reader to the vibrant lavender fields of France and to spin a story that not only grabs the reader with its taut mystery and brilliant characters but with its sensory-drenched descriptions. Needless to say I have been excitedly waiting for Ms. Lawrenson to come out with her next book. I’m happy to say that The Sea Garden, a collection of three short stories that all twist around to relate to each other in a most surprising way, was just as memorable and exciting as its predecessor and just as impossible to forget once read.
Each story was unique and entertaining in its own ways and I was truly surprised to see how they all fit together. I kept guessing how they would all connect and, much to my everlasting delight, I was completely wrong. There is a very different feel to each story – “The Sea Garden” being thrilling and somewhat supernatural in feel, “The Lavender Garden” being taut with anxiety and beauty and “A Shadow Life” being an incredible insight into how much went into the various spy rings working together and separately to bring an end to Nazi domination – but each is similar in that they all deal with some aspect of war, love and loss. While “The Lavender Field” was my favorite each had its marvelous points and would find an audience with a wide variety of readers.
Anyone knew to Deborah Lawrence might enjoy starting with The Sea Garden as each story can be consumed in a day or two and gives a wonderful insight into the author’s talent for setting and story development. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next! (less)
The destruction of Pompeii and the unique remains left behind have long fascinated me. Just looking at the well preserved plaster casts of those caught in the eruption is heartbreaking and provocative. But while archaeologists and scientists might be able to extrapolate facts surrounding the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE by what remains there seems to be very little remaining that can speak first hand to what these people felt leading up to, during and directly after the catastrophe. What would it have felt like to stumble through the streets in daytime darkness and booming explosions while rocks and ash rained down on you without knowing what was happening or what was coming? What would you be thinking as your world literally came crashing down around you? Vicky Alvear Shecter's Curses and Smoke showcases this emotional, humanistic side of living during this time and through this devastating event from the viewpoint of two young lovers desperately searching for freedom in a world not ready to give it to them.
Both Tag and Lucia are very sympathetic, well developed characters and while the extensive and very informative author notes at the back of the book indicates that most of the characters, including Tag and Lucia, are fictional the descriptions of their struggles and the heart and soul they display make them feel all too real. Being that this is a YA novel described as targeting readers aged twelve and up, their fight for the right to make their own choices and decide their future will feel all too familiar to those going through that transition from child to adult. Reading about how little freedom these two had and how powerless slaves and women were during this time should also highlight how different life is now and how much more freedom is inherent in our modern society. This in no way limits the enjoyment for older readers as anyone can relate to what it feels like to lose control and struggle to grasp what you can. Regardless of age, gender or circumstances, it isn't hard to feel compassion for these two and cheer them on as they try for the seemingly impossible. My favorite character of all, however, was young, orphaned Castor, who follows Tag around like an energetic and loving puppy, pulling on heartstrings and just begging to be loved. These three characters are the stars of the novel and I can honestly say by the end of the book I was completely invested in what happened to them.
The only character that left me scratching my head was Quintus, the self-centered patrician who tried to come between Tag and Lucia. He seemed to be attracted to Tag but then would treat Tag like a lowly servant and do things to demean him. He would often tell Tag he wasn't as bad as Tag thought but then would be just as self-centered and nasty as you could imagine. While other characters, such as Lucia's horrible and cruel father, aren't likeable they still play an integral part in the overall story and by the end Quintus just didn't seem to have done that. That being said he didn't necessarily detract from the story either and so just felt unneeded to me.
One of my favorite aspects of the novel, besides the wonderful characters, was discovering the differences in religion, superstition, and cultural practices that were new to me. I was not aware of the Roman conquest of Pompeii and what that meant for the Etruscan people who lost their way of life and, for some, their freedom when they became slaves to the Romans. For that matter I wasn't aware of just how prevalent and accepted slavery was during this time. Another horrific discovery was the practice of exposing unwanted babies to the elements by being left to die outside the city. Just the thought of those poor babies being left to die and the complete inability of the mothers to do anything about it if their husbands refused to accept them just turns my stomach. These very different practices, regardless of how unsavory or foreign to our modern minds, are all integral parts of the story and give the drive needed for the characters to react and strike out at the world as they do. It really is fascinating to learn what people from history had to deal with and what they did to fight against the injustices that we often take for granted.
In regards to this being a YA novel I also enjoyed that the romance aspect felt very age appropriate. It was sweet, tender and confusing at times, just as first love should be. I think anything more heavy-handed would have felt inappropriate given the younger end of the spectrum of readers and makes it easier to recommend this to a wider audience. It should be noted that not all elements of the novel are easy to read and the ending, while breathtaking, might catch readers by surprise and not necessarily in a good way. It, like the life the characters are living, isn't always perfect or happy and really drives homes that fighting for something like freedom often comes with devastating consequences. With all this considered, Curses and Smoke is a remarkable novel that I don't doubt will spur on its readers to look further into this time and place in history. I know it has done that for me. (less)
Novels about Ancient Rome and Egypt seem to be all the rage right now and for someone like me who loves...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
Novels about Ancient Rome and Egypt seem to be all the rage right now and for someone like me who loves historical fiction but hasn’t had the opportunity to read much set during this time and these places, I am loving the trend. Livia Drusilla, the much maligned wife, mother and grandmother to Roman Emperors, is the narrator of I Am Livia and through her voice the reader gets a front-row seat to the danger, drama and political upheaval during Rome’s evolution into an Empire.
The novel is set up as Livia’s reflections on her life as she begins to come to the end of it. She is hoping to explain her actions to the gods, both the good and the bad, setting the record straight and dispelling the rumors of murder and treachery that have followed her rise in power and influence. While I found this confessional style interesting and enjoyed the way it lent itself to presenting a better-rounded, complex Livia than perhaps history remembers her as, it also came across as dry at times. I always prefer stories that immerse me in the action and drama, making me feel a part of what is going on instead of simply telling me what happened and much of I Am Livia did the latter. There are some wonderfully descriptive and emotional passages that kept me engrossed and made me begin to really see Livia as a fully fleshed, fascinating woman with brains and a heart but those were sometimes lost within a lot of descriptions of setting and justification of the actions of the characters.
Livia’s story wraps up rather abruptly and right when I was really starting to enjoy the complicated yet loving relationship between Livia and Octavianus. It felt real and messy and I wanted so much more of this well matched, fully developed pair and would have preferred more of this and less of Livia waiting for Octavianus to come home safe from his various wars. Still, turning the last page I found myself continuing to think about the life Livia was born into and the remarkable changes she helped make during her lifetime. I Am Livia has stoked my interest in this fascinating woman and I’m excited to see what else the author might offer in the future.(less)
From the very first page of The Red Lily Crown the tension and desperation dragged me in and wouldn't let go until the very end. Chiara and her family are in such dire straits when the story starts and her need to do anything to feed them was so admirable that I instantly fell in love with her as a character. She is also outspoken, stubborn and snarky and, as the story progresses, determined to grasp what power she can, making her a well rounded, relatable person. She sets out to use Grand Duke Francesco de Medici as much as he wishes to use her, helping him with his alchemical experiments in the hopes of ultimately creating the Philosopher's Stone so she can become an alchemist in her own right - something not many women could claim - as well as to heal her terrible headaches and the demon voices she had heard in her head since being kicked by a horse as a young child. This all seems like a good and manageable plan until she finds herself within the heart of the Medici family and she sees first hand just how corrupt, vicious and vindictive they really are. And that is when the fun really begins!
Every single one of the Medici family are presented as absolutely terrifying and calculating in their own way. It becomes quite clear that none can be trusted, even when they seem relatively kind if spoiled as Isabella and her cousin Dianora come across, because every one of them will turn against anyone, even each other, to save their own skin and preserve or improve their power. Imprisonment, torture, even murder are not beyond their scope and the way they proceeded with such cool superiority no matter what diabolical act they had to sanction or do themselves chilled me. The descriptions of the violence and depravity are quite vivid and I couldn't help but keep reading to see just how far they would go. Watching Chiara slowly come to realize just how much danger she is in as the glittery film around the court falls away was mesmerizing and her growth and evolution so she was able to survive amidst all the manipulation and scheming was admirable.
Another aspect I found just fascinating was how Elizabeth Loupas incorporated how the deep and long lasting damage of a bad childhood can come to affect a person as they get older. Each of our main characters - Chiara, Francesco and Ruanno - had scarring childhoods filled with abuse of one kind or another and the effects of that abuse followed them into their adulthood in some strange and horrible ways. It made me wonder what might have been different if these people had had the opportunity to be nurtured as they needed. While some of the characters, especially Francesco's younger brother Pietro, would most likely have been mad no matter what sort of childhood they had received, it did make me think about the whole nature/nurture discussion and to think what difference a positive childhood might have made to these people individually and for history. While the reader will learn in the author notes that Chiara and Ruanno are fictional characters the Medici were very real and therefore might have been very difference given the circumstances. Although as deep as the craziness seemed to go possibly not.
Lastly, the slow, somewhat twisting yet satisfying relationship that developed between Chiara and Ruanno was very enjoyable to experience. With all the backstabbing going on you couldn't help but feel for Chiara as she tried to figure out how much she could trust Ruanno, a man who clearly hid many secrets of his own. I couldn't help but hope that Chiara would be able to find someone she could trust implicitly and whom she could count on to help her navigate through this treacherous landscape and hopefully be there for her if she was able to make it out safely. Did she find this someone? You will have to read the book to find out!
The Red Lily Crown has all the components I love in my historical fiction: historically accurate settings and people, intriguing and enigmatic characters, strong descriptions that allow me to feel like I am in the midst of the story and not reading it and, ultimately, a storyline that draws me in and holds my attention until the last page. Having previously read and enjoyed The Last Duchess by Ms. Loupas and now having enjoyed this book so much, I am a forever fan and am so excited to have found another author to keep on my radar.(less)
When I read Stephanie Thornton’s first novel, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora, I knew I...moreI reviewed this book for www.luxuryreading.com.
When I read Stephanie Thornton’s first novel, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora, I knew I had found one of those authors that would leave me always starving for their next book to come out. She created such a relatable, humanized figure in Theodora – a woman nearly lost to history who rose from the dregs of society to become one of the most powerful Empresses Rome would ever know – that I have been waiting with my fingers twitching to see what she would come up with next. Let me just say that I was not disappointed. In fact, the author’s second novel, Daughter of the Gods, is phenomenal!
Daughter of the Gods is the story of Hatshepsut, a princess of Ancient Egypt who rose from the wild, reckless second daughter of the Pharaoh Thutmose I to become Pharaoh in her own right. She ruled successfully for many years during the Golden Age of Egypt and gave everything for the country she loved. While many of the facts regarding her life and reign are lost to history, Ms. Thornton combines her obvious painstaking research with a fleshed out story that beings Hatshepsut to live as a feisty, often selfish yet brilliant and caring woman who refused to back down from what she believed was the Gods’ wish that she rule Egypt.
What impresses me so much about Ms. Thornton’s writing is the way she takes these historical figures and makes them seem so present and relatable. Hatshepsut is flawed, like any human, with a short temper and a selfish and haughty streak that would rival any diva. On the other hand, she is very aware of her duties to her family and to Egypt and does what she must. She is also remarkably compassionate and struggles with decisions when it places other people’s lives in danger. Even when it comes to the complicated yet sweet romance between Hatshepsut and Senenmut you have to watch her struggle with the limitations her duties demand. Without giving anything away, your heart can’t help but break along with Hatshepsut when an ultimate betrayal is revealed, something I did not see coming at all, and will be amazed at the bravery and strength she displays even when death seems easier. This is a woman to admire, even with her faults, and the reader cannot help but cheer for her throughout.
While there are some obvious, slightly squeamish, differences between the Ancient Egyptian culture described in the book and ours (most notably the fact that the royal Pharaohs often married their sisters and had many other wives and concubines on top of that) the detail and attention shown to this culture, their customs and superstitions fully envelops the reader and makes it easy to envision the settings as well as the characters. To be honest, I slowed my reading down by spending an inordinate amount of time looking up objects and pictures online to see how they compared to the story. This need to know more about what is going on in a book is a clear sign to me that it is a winner.
Regardless of what genres of books you enjoy, pick up Daughter of the Gods. It is just a stellar story and I would imagine any reader will find points of interest in it. Now that I am through, I am not so calmly waiting to reading Ms. Thornton’s next novel, The Tiger Queens, due out in November! (less)