When it comes to historical fiction, I tend to gravitate to a few time periods: the Tudors and the First and SeconFirst published at Lit Addicted Brit
When it comes to historical fiction, I tend to gravitate to a few time periods: the Tudors and the First and Second World Wars. It isn't all that I read but probably 8 or 9 out of every 10 historical fiction books that I read are set during one of those times. Branching out a little and going back to the very early eleventh century gave me those moments where I had to bumble off to the internet to check what actually happened or get some background on a battle or relationship, the moments that I read historical fiction for in the first place. I think the reason that I'm drawn so much to Tudor history or modern history is because I know a little more about the periods (I did a Tudor History A-level and Boyfriend and I seem to holiday near war memorials pretty frequently) and I always forget how much I feel as though I'm learning by 'experiencing' other periods.
Bracewell does a good job of making Emma of Normandy's story one that is interesting to read about. There's a great balance between the factual background to the political situation at the time and the diplomacy and wrangling leading up to Emma's marriage to Æthelred and beyond and the fictional elaboration on Emma's story. A strong woman in a time where women were revered for delicacy and humility, she quickly finds herself struggling to find happiness in a country that she doesn't know among people that either hate her or pretend to hate her to advance careers or pursue ambitions. If I was being super picky, I'd say that I would have liked a little more of the political bits where Emma came across as stronger and a little less of the romantic angst and self-pitying but that's really just my preference generally.
Much though I loved branching out and getting to hang out with some Vikings, however, there were a couple of things about Shadow on the Crown that made reading it a bit of a flawed experience. The book is written by an American author but is set in England. I know that isn't an infrequent occurrence and is probably the case more often than I realise but I do think that if you're going to publish a novel in British English, you have to be very familiar with the differences between it and American English. There were a couple of times where there was a turn of phrase, word or style of speaking that didn't quite fit. We don't, for example, use the term 'Fall' for a season; we have 'Autumn'. Probably not noticeable if you're an American reader but it seemed a bit...sloppy to me.
The story is also a little repetitive. I know that with historical fiction that is grounded in actual history you don't always have a choice about the decisions that your 'characters' make or the situations they find themselves in. You do have a choice about what you focus on, though, and there were times when I was reading yet another illustration of King Æthelred s brutality or another and couldn't help but get a bit restless. Emma seemed to think round in circles and I wanted to shake her a bit even while I sympathised with her. There is only so many times that you need to beat me over the head with the "rape within marriage was common and terrible" message, particularly if the scenes are going to be so similar. Perhaps the repetition was part of the point but, if so, the technique felt over-used.
For all of my whining, I really did like Emma as a character and I was totally behind her and really did want her to find some happiness in England. Anywhere, actually. Alas, medieval England was pretty brutal and it's tough to find peace and tranquillity when Vikings come a-marauding. I obviously enjoyed it despite having some gripes because I genuinely did feel as though I cared (to my detriment mostly). History can be tough.
Overall: If you're looking for something a little different in the adult historical fiction market, Shadow of the Crown has plenty to recommend it. The story is solid and the time and setting were an interesting break from my usual sixteenth century/twentieth century fodder. Not perfect but fair....more
*sigh* Why do I find it so hard to write about books that I just feel ok about?! Let's find something I can be supFirst published at Lit Addicted Brit
*sigh* Why do I find it so hard to write about books that I just feel ok about?! Let's find something I can be super keen on to get started...the title! I don't know why I found it so intriguing but a large part of what prompted me to request this on NetGalley was the title. So that's a positive start!
Black Swan Rising saw me venturing back into the distinctly iffy territory of urban fantasy for the first time of 2013. In 2012, I read a few urban fantasy titles and was generally pretty underwhelmed - Darkfever had a ridiculously annoying protagonist and The Name of the Star had a few too many moments of teenage fool-hardiness. Black Swan Rising didn't exactly do a sterling job of convincing me that there was something about recent urban fantasy releases that I've been missing.
The story is a blend of fey, vampires, mythology and magic. Despite what my reviews of urban fantasy might generally suggest, I don't hate any of those things. I would love to read a truly brilliant book about fae, fey or fairies (whatever you want to call them) and I can still tolerate vampires. I *love* mythology and anything fun and magical. You would think that added all together, it would be a recipe for something fabulous. In this case, though, I think everything just ended up diluted. The twists on mythology were my favourite parts by far, I quite liked the fairy elements but the vampire wasn't great.
I liked Garet initially. She's a jeweller and helps her father with running an art gallery. It made a nice change to have a creative, independent female character. Adding in the dash of realism with the money worries was a nice touch but I found myself wanting more. I was quite prepared to love Garet and her strength and personality seemed to wane as she developed other...talents.
And then along came the apparently irresistible vampire to make it all that little bit more irritating. It wasn't necessarily that I didn't like the chap in question. I thought the dynamic and history between Garet and Mr Vampire (I hope you're appreciating my spoiler avoidance tactics!) early on was the promise of something unique. Something where the female character could find someone attractive but continue to challenge him and retain her sense of self. But then for some reason, this seemingly bright and feisty young woman started cavorting about on rooftops in the dark and inviting a predator to help themselves, nearly killing her in the process. I just...why?
After that development, the book had too much ground to make up, I suppose. I still loved the abilities that Garet started to learn and the bad guys really are quite bad and satisfyingly creepy but I was luke warm about the whole thing overall.
Overall: Average. There are some solid ideas but not quite enough to carry the story over into the 'good' category. Cautiously recommended if you're a really die-hard fan of urban fantasy....more
I really enjoyed the first book in the Healer trilogy and was beyond excited to get approved for an advance copy of the second on NetGalley. Let me geI really enjoyed the first book in the Healer trilogy and was beyond excited to get approved for an advance copy of the second on NetGalley. Let me get something out there early on: I enjoyed this one. Really, I did, but not as much as I expected to. The great thing about Snyder's Study and Glass series was that they were very well balanced, with each instalment as strong as the others. Scent of Magic, however, felt very much like the middle part of a trilogy; good character development and some progress in the overall plot but with little of its own to recommend it.
The story kicks off right back where Touch of Power left off. If it's been more than a few months since you read the last one, I would recommend a quick re-cap. There is a little bit in the way of catch-up but not much and I did find myself feeling a little lost at first. That isn't a criticism as such, since it means that you're launched straight into the action - it's more my own fault since it had been about a year since I'd read the first book.
When I'd managed to catch up, the pacing/timing became quite unpredictable and disorientating. Alternating narrators isn't something that I have a problem with at all. Quite the opposite. What I found frustrating was that it was almost impossible to tell how the two narratives fit together in time. At the very beginning, Avry and Kerrick separate and head off on their own journeys. After a few chapters, Avry has passed a few weeks while Kerrick has only passed a few minutes and yet we're still flicking between them as though they're running parallel. It isn't a huge point, I know, but I found it frustrating, particularly later on when both characters were passing months/weeks in their narratives with very little to tie them together.
I loved the characters in the first book. Worry not! They're still great and there are moments where their banter is a nice diversion from impending death by zombie. As Tohon's evil plans progress though, the tone becomes darker and stems the flow of the effusive "Guys!" type talk. Which isn't to say that the unusual blending of medieval-esque warfare and modern day language is gone, because it isn't. There is less though...planning for an epic battle does make a gang less jaunty, I suppose.
The best part of this trilogy is still its evil-doers. Damn it if Tohon isn't one alluring villain. Ok, so he uses magic to compel women to throw themselves at him and, sure, that's creepy BUT there is something unsettlingly charming about him...He is rather diabolical and it strengthens this particular book no end. The scenes with Avry and Tohon were the best. They highlight everything that's good about her character and they balance each other really well.
Actually, it occurs to me now that I also really liked the development of the different types of magic, especially Kerrick's. His forest magic is particularly well thought out and the descriptions are some of the best written in the book. There's a lot revealed about the other types of magic too, including some hints at where they come from and how they all work. I expected a lot more about "magic sniffers" too (because of the title...) and I was a bit disappointed. Fingers crossed there's more of all of this in the next book!
Overall: I finished this book a little underwhelmed - I liked the story well enough (even though it might not sound like it) but I just didn't love it. It will pass a few hours and will more than likely still have you coming back for more when the third and final instalment in the Healer trilogy is released but I'm reluctant to say much more than that...
The problem with marketing a book as "one of the most entertaining novels of the year" is that you have to work veFirst published at Lit Addicted Brit
The problem with marketing a book as "one of the most entertaining novels of the year" is that you have to work very hard very quickly to convince people that you are either quite droll or an extremely gifted author. "Magnus Flyte" (a pseudonym for the writing duo of Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch) is neither. I'm sorry but City of Dark Magic is ridiculous. I'll end on a positive-ish note but before that there will be much derision. If you would like to skip ahead to the smile-y bit or skip the rant, please do - I'll meet you there in a few moments.
Sarah Weston is perhaps one of the most irritating and...weird main characters that I have ever read about. I know that having a "good nose" for things is an actual saying but it should not be extended to including smelling emotions. It is not possible to smell envy, no matter what drugs you're taking. Maybe it was intended to be quirky or maybe it was just to make sure the reader understands just how good Ms Weston's intuition really was but I was one comment about her flipping nose away from throwing my eReader a long way away from me. You might think I'm getting a little over-excited about one bad analogy but really this is just one example of the bizarre writing style. Quirky I like, daft and erratic I do not.
Not only does Sarah have an unnaturally sensitive nose, she also seems to have a dangerous libido. On arriving in Prague, Sarah manages to inadvertently have sex with someone whose identity remains a mystery for quite a number of pages. I would hate to disrespect women generally by using any offensive or derogatory terms and I am all for liberty but...no. And then Sarah falls in love with the "handsome Prince Max". He is rude, uncommunicative, seemingly a bit loopy, aggressive and anti-social. Every girl's dream, I'm sure. Not a fan of InstaLove? Sarah and Max's relationship is about as "Insta" as it gets. One minute he's slamming doors in her face and ignoring her, the next he's swearing to protect her and getting arrested because of their irrepressible...connection. Why? I still don't know.
Not all of the characters are annoying - Pollina, a young musical prodigy, is intriguing and Nico, a four-hundred year old dwarf, is cynical and managed to illicit a couple of smiles. I would also have been happy to read more about some of Sarah's fellow academics. There is very little character development, though, and my enthusiasm about the cast is pretty lacklustre.
So that's the main character and her love interest, what else can I criticise? Ah, yes. The plot. It was actually the plot that drew me to the novel in the first place. I *loved* the idea of a scholar of the works of Beethoven travelling to Prague to sort through sheet music in search of revelations and prepare a museum exhibit. Despite a strong start in this regard, it was disappointing when Sarah got so caught up with her "romance" that she all but abandoned her research in favour of gallivanting about with Max. The plot was scatty, at best. There were times when I was sure that I was now settled into the substantive plot and that the story would gain some traction, only to find in a few chapters that I was settling into a tangent that would abruptly be abandoned. APPARENTLY there is some link between a historic Czech family and the Golden Fleece (yes, THAT Golden Fleece) but we were too busy being dragged about town seeing the past but not being in it to really get into that particular thread. There are some attempts at rationalising and explaining the more fantastic aspects of the story but they didn't really make any sense and involved the eating of Beethoven's toenails so I remain unconvinced. It read a bit like a plan made under the influence of alcohol: pretty ludicrous when viewed in the light of day but seems amazing at the time of inception. I would also mention the political "intrigue" but there is only so much vitriol that I feel as though I can direct toward any one work of fiction.
I suspect that the array of loose ends are to lure me back to the series for the second "adventure". You might have gathered that that is one release that I am by no means clamouring for.
Let's end on a high: Prague is one of the most beautiful and mysterious cities that I have been to and is a fabulous setting for a paranormal novel with some historical twists. Even a few pages describing the historical capital will pull me in and go a good way to helping me forgive a book's faults. If I wasn't in my positive paragraph, I might have pointed out that there were far too few such pages and that most of the book could have been set in any large European historical building for all of the advantage the authors took of Prague's magic. Thank goodness I'm in my positive paragraph, right? Right.
Overall: I can't in all good conscience recommend this to anyone. It's been a long time since I've read something that I felt compelled to say that about. You have to go some way to make a story that includes time travel, Beethoven, Prague, guns and castles so annoying that I will unhesitatingly warn you away. Remember that before you decide whether or not you want to pick up City of Dark Magic....more
When I posted my thoughts on the first in Mann's Newbury and Hobbes series, The Affinity Bridge, I gave it three sFirst published at Lit Addicted Brit
When I posted my thoughts on the first in Mann's Newbury and Hobbes series, The Affinity Bridge, I gave it three stars and said of the second instalment, "I might pick it up one day if I see a copy in a charity shop or something but I'm not exactly clawing at Waterstones' door to get it". That still pretty much sums up how I feel about this series. It's reasonable. The books haven't had me clutching at them, desperate to know what's going to happen next, but they equally haven't had me throwing them across the room in frustration.
Even though I remain kind of ambivalent about the series, I do think that The Osiris Ritual is a massive improvement on its predecessor. The writing was a lot stronger and the plot a lot more focussed. One of my criticisms of The Affinity Bridge was that it had so many sub-plots that the ideas felt jumbled and as though they were all fighting to make themselves heard. The Osiris Ritual felt...clearer. As though Mann had more confidence in his plot and didn't feel the need to throw all of the extra elements at it.
This time around, Sir Newbury and Miss Hobbes are investigating a string of murders against a backdrop of archaeological discovery and Egyptian mythology. I adore anything to do with Ancient Egypt (and Ancient Greece, for that matter) so the combination of that and the clear steampunk elements of this series was always going to be a tough one to ruin for me. There are plenty of twists and turns in the story but far fewer seemingly random tangents that leave too much to be wrapped up at the end. There are still a few threads wrapped up in neat discussions as the story comes to a close but it didn't annoy me too much this time.
One thing I will give Mann is that he's created some brilliant characters and the dynamics between them are very well handled. Sir Maurice Newbury is everything I imagined when I heard the title 'Gentleman Investigator for the Crown'. Debonair, able to battle in close quarters while sporting a good quality suit and charming but with some demons to give him a bit of a dark side. Delicious!
I actually also like Miss Hobbes. Too often, I find myself getting annoyed by female protagonists in fiction set in any historical periods that are so desperate to prove that women are equal to men that they're just a bit...irritating. I'm as much of a feminist as the next woman and yet I almost always way dresses/skirts. You don't have to scamper about town with cropped hair and trousers just to prove that women are capable. Which is a long way round of saying that I'm a big fan of how Miss Hobbes gives Sir Maurice a run for his money in the investigating stakes while also managing to be attractive, elegant and not ashamed of her penchant for being well turned out. Both characters are developed really well in this instalment and it is that more than anything that will make me likely to pick up the next in the series, The Immorality Engine.
Overall: A step in the right direction for the Newbury and Hobbes series. A bit of a dark take on steampunk but a rollicking good story all the same. Definitely recommended if you read The Affinity Bridge and were about to give up on the series. Actually, I probably recommend reading this instead if you're thinking of reading The Affinity Bridge......more
I was really looking forward to reading this because I find American history at the time Abraham Lincoln was PresFirst published at Lit Addicted Brit
I was really looking forward to reading this because I find American history at the time Abraham Lincoln was President of the USA fascinating. My limited knowledge was mostly accrued on holiday recently and was of political upheaval and unrest following the American Civil War and in the face of huge legal changes and rapid development of the country's infrastructure. Add a conspiracy theory to the mix and I expected greatness.
A lot of what the novel's synopsis promised was delivered but the experience of reading it wasn't always a smooth process. Since it's a matter of historical fiction that John Wilkes Booth was the perpetrator of President Lincoln's assassination, any author trying to add mystery has to work pretty hard. In this case, I thought that the conspiracy angle was a little bit weak; detective Temple McFadden comes across some intriguing diaries almost by accident and becomes gripped by a need to reveal their secrets. For me, there was an imbalance between the amount that Temple seemed to be prepared to sacrifice to retain the diaries. I'm hesitant to blame the author entirely because I think that a lot of the tension is likely to be built around twists on history, the more subtle of which I missed entirely because I'm British and have only a basic knowledge of America's history. That said, relying so heavily on prior knowledge means that the "characters" aren't fully drawn and are hard to get to grips with when you don't already have some expectations or understanding of them. Readers with a similar level of prior knowledge to mine might feel a little adrift too.
The exceptions to that are Temple McFadden and his wife and friends. Perhaps that's because they were the fictional element and so had to be drawn more fully. Fiona was a particular highlight for me. I loved how plucky and resourceful she was and I respected Temple a lot more for the faith he put in his wife's abilities, letting her help him and herself rather than trying to save her all the time. Augustus and Nail were great additions too and there were some moments that really made my heart hurt for them all.
The plot's pace varied quite a lot: there were times that I was cramming as many pages as possible into my train journey and evenings; there were others when I would put my eReader aside and then wouldn't feel overly inclined to pick it back up again. The blend between thriller and historical fiction didn't always feel very natural, with some characters reminiscing to weave in some historical context. The background was interesting but didn't help the story maintain its momentum or focus. After such a detailed build-up, the ending was quite abrupt. There's a fairly significant revelation late on that made me double-take but more could have been made of it and very shortly after it, everything was done and dusted and I was left wondering what the point of the twist actually was if it wasn't going to be used more.
A health warning for more sensitive readers: the author doesn't shy away from the harsher language and terms that are all but unheard in modern society. It lends a certain authenticity to the novel's tone but reading the word n**ger can be jarring.
Overall: A very detailed and well-written thriller, The Lincoln Conspiracy: A Novel will appeal to those interested in American history, the politics behind the abolition of slavery and, of course, the assassination of President Lincoln. Just remember that if either you aren't American or you need a little refresh of your history, I would recommend spending a few minutes having a quick catch-up on the key political players at the time if you want to get the most out of the story....more