"Figment" by Jim Zub tells the story Blarion Mercurial, a young, idealistic inventor, who one day harnesses the power of the imagination and creates a purple dragon from the depths of his mind. Blarion and his creation, Figment, are pulled into a strange world where they must figure out a way to get back to London and stop the clockwork army that has invaded the city.
I guess some backstory if you don't have a clue who Figment the dragon is. Since the series title of this graphic novel is "Disney Kingdoms," you already know it has something to do with Disney. Figment is a character seen at Epcot in the Imagination Pavilion where he has his own little attraction. If you are a Disney fan then you already know who Figment is and most likely love him. This "Disney Kingdoms" series is taking some of it's most popular rides/attractions and creating new stories by way of graphic novels.
I adored this graphic novel. Very child friendly, but adults can enjoy it as well. It was just so much fun. I really liked the story. Nothing overly complicated about it. It's basically an origin story not only for Figment, but an origin story for the Dreamfinder---Blarion Mercurial---who was also part of the Figment attraction. Above all, loved the characters!Figment was adorable, obviously. He has a sort of childlike wonder to him, very optimistic. And then you have Blarion who just wants to prove himself, reach his untapped limits, and believes you can do anything you want to as long as you have imagination and determination. Over the course of the novel he has his doubts and low points, but that's where Figment usually comes into play to boost Blarion's self-esteem. Other lovable characters include the flying-pink-dog creature, Chimera, and a blue sprite named, Fye. Another great thing about this story was it's themes. If you can't tell, a big part of this book is about imagination, that you should never hinder yourself, never doubt your potential, if you fail, try again, and don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something because it's impossible. It's also a story about friendship, which is the center of the Blarion/Figment relationship.
So to talk quickly about the artwork. Really gorgeous artwork. Very colorful and vibrant. Easy to tell what's going on on any given page. The pages aren't overcrowded with unnecessary detail that's distracting. The artwork is done entirely by Filipe Andrade. I'm really glad this whole thing was done by one artist. It frustrates me when some of these graphic novels use multiple artists and they all have their own individual styles, and it's hard to get into the story because you can tell the difference between artists and it takes away from the enjoyment.
Overall, I highly recommend this graphic novel. Adorable, cute, and so much fun from start to finish. Like I said, adults can definitely appreciate this and find enjoyment, and I really think kids would have a fun time as well....more
In "The Suicide Exhibition" by Justin Richards, it's the middle of World War Two, and British Foreign Office troubleshooter Guy Pentecross has stumbled into a conspiracy involving a secret war with an alien race called the Vril. The Nazis, notorious believers of the occult, are in league with the Vril, and believe it their destiny to side with the Vril and inherit the Earth. It's up to Guy and Sarah Diamond (an American pilot), and Leo Davenport (an actor turned SOE operative) to join a secret unit of the British intelligence to fight the Vril and win the war for humanity.
First off, I won this book in a Goodreads first-reads giveaway. Thank you Goodreads!
I don’t read much science fiction, so I’m not sure how to properly analyze this book, but I did, overall, really like this book, and I’m certainly willing to continue with the series. Justin Richards is a popular writer of “Doctor Who” fiction, so I was excited to check out an original piece by him. If you are a “Doctor Who” fan, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll enjoy this book. If you like the episodes where the Doctor and his companions deal with the military, or groups like Torchwood and UNIT, then this novel is probably right up your alley.
So what did I like and dislike about this novel? Let’s start with the premise. What caught my attention was the fact that it was World War Two historical fiction with a science fiction edge. It’s about a young man named Guy Pentecross who stumbles into a web of conspiracy involving an alien race and the only people in Britain who know about it is a special section of British intelligence. On top of that, the Nazis are working with this alien race to take over the world. This alien race, known as the Vril, have apparently been on Earth for millennia, and they have been waiting for just the right moment to make their move to do away with humanity. Sounds intriguing, right? The premise is well done over the course of the novel. Justin Richards takes quite a while setting up the novel, which at first, is a bit boring, but once Richards gets his stride you start to have fun. If anything, this book is probably one large setup for the books to come. It takes a while to start getting answers and an idea of where this series is heading. Like I said though, once Richards sets up the story and the characters, the novel is incredibly fun. As I also said earlier, I’m not a big science fiction reader. I did find quite a bit of the novel hard to understand and sometimes a tad bit boring. Add on top of that that the book also deals with some military lingo every now and then, and I had a hard time comprehending what exactly characters were doing.
As for the characters, I also liked the characters quite a bit. The main character, Guy Pentecross, unfortunately, is rather a bit dull. Don’t get me wrong, I liked him, but there wasn’t much to his character. All I can really tell you is that he’s brave and loyal and determined to figure out what’s going on with this alien race. Guy is easily outshined by a lot of the other characters in this novel, especially Leo Davenport. Leo Davenport…what can I say…he was easily, and quickly, my favorite character. He was the most fun, the most humorous. He’s actually an actor but he helps out with British intelligence on the side. Leo easily steals any scene he’s in. I also enjoyed Sarah Diamond who is a half American, half British, and she also flies planes. Sarah is definitely not your typical woman during this time. Think Peggy Carter from Marvel’s “Captain America” movies. Sarah very much can look after herself, she doesn’t rely on the men to save her. She’s quick thinking, and she often helps out the guys when they need her. Of course, there are numerous other characters that populate this book, but this three stand out the most.
Moving over to the Vril…we’re not given much of them. They are a mystery for the majority of the novel. We do find out what they look like (which I won’t spoil), and we do get a semi-idea of their goal, and we find out why they are working with the Nazis. I can’t say the Vril impressed me at the moment. Like I said, they are a mystery, so I’m assuming we’ll get more of them in the next books. I think you do get an idea of the threat they pose to humanity, though.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, and definitely plan on continuing the series. Excellent premise, great writing from Justin Richards, and an interesting set of heroes and villains. ...more
"Anastasia and Her Sisters" by Carolyn Meyer follows Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov from ages 13 to 17 as she experiences the extravagant life of Russian nobility to the horrors of World War I and the unrest that happens in Russia leading to revolution.
I didn't know this when I picked up the book, but Carolyn Meyer also wrote the Anastasia book that was part of the "Royal Diaries" series for children. "Anastasia and Her Sisters" is Caroyln Meyer's young adult take. I kind of felt like this book and the "Royal Diary" book were kind of the same if I'm being honest. In some ways, I felt like I was still reading a book intended for children rather than for young adults. The only additions here in "Anastasia and Her Sisters" are more adult subject matter like love and romance, but that's kind of it. I hate to say it, but I felt like this book was a bit bland in places. I wish Meyer had taken more creative liberties with the history surrounding this family to spice it up a bit more. Because this book just reads like a textbook of events. We go from one event to the next, and there's never any time to really examine Anastasia and her family and create them as characters. I don't think Meyer should have focused on Anastasia from ages 13 to 17. She should have just picked some years near the end and, like I said, taken more creative historic liberties. I think the strongest parts of this book was the family in exile. I think the focus should have been entirely on that. Meyer does some interesting things by developing a relationship between Anastasia and Gleb Botkin, and I wanted to see more of that, but instead it's shoehorned literally at the end of the book in the frame of a few pages. So I guess what I'm saying is that Meyer had some good stuff going near the end where she took some creative liberties but it was all hastily gone through, but that should have been her focus for the entire novel, while inserting flashbacks to life before the Revolution.
And that's kind of all I have to say about this book unfortunately. I've read a lot of Romanov historical fiction in my life and this was definitely at the bottom of the pack. Just a little too bland with not much even going on. I think that's the problem when writing about the Romanovs, we know so much about them, a lot was documented about their life, and everything has been covered in regards to historical fiction. This book did nothing new, presented absolutely nothing unique. It was still an okay read. I didn't utterly hate this book (though this review sounds like I hated the book), but I was expecting more I guess. Perhaps if you're someone who has had no exposure to Romanov historical fiction, this might actually be a good place to start....more
"Once We Were Brothers" by Ronald H. Balson tells the story of Ben Solomon, a Holocaust survivor, who accuses one of Chicago's leading philanthropists of being a former Nazi SS officer. It's up to attorney Catherine Lockhart to listen to Ben Solomon's story and bring a war criminal to justice. "Once We Were Brothers" is a novel about two boys struggling to survive in war-torn Poland and what one will do when confronted by temptation and greed.
Such an amazing story. Heartbreaking, inspirational, and all told at a break neck speed that will leave you wanting more chapter after chapter. I loved the premise of this novel, set sixty years after World War II, about an elderly man accusing one of Chicago's wealthiest men of being a former Nazi, but facing obstacles as this man keeps denying his involvement. So throughout the whole novel you are left in suspense: is Ben Solomon crazy? Is he mistaken? Is the accused a former Nazi? Or is the accused innocent? And throughout a large portion of the book, Ben tells his story to his attorney, Catherine Lockhart. So we get flashbacks to Ben's time in Poland and how he knows the accused.
Just to go through some things that I liked and disliked about this book:
1. I was a bit hesitant to label this as historical fiction. Typically, when you get a historical fiction book (even one told with half the story in the present and half the story in the past), you'll still get whole chapters dedicated to whatever the historical context is. In "Once We Were Brothers" Ben is telling Catherine his story in first person, and occasionally Catherine will interrupt, or something else will be happening as Ben is telling his story. So it's not historical fiction in the traditional sense, but I still decided to go ahead and label the book as such even though we are never actually present in the historical time.
2. Loved the characters. Some are a bit more multi-dimensional than others, but Balson tries his best to make sure you have a connection to Ben and Catherine throughout the novel and that you feel for them every step of the way. Ben is a kind elderly man. Catherine is a woman in need of inspiration after numerous mistakes in her past. So Ben and Catherine work well off of each other and provide each other support.
3. Wonderful writing from Balson. He clearly did his research, though I sometimes felt like his writing could be a bit condescending. Being a World War II buff, I'm pretty familiar with just about anything that deals with the Holocaust, and Balson would often define terms or concepts which I didn't think were necessary. Sometimes if seemed like Balson thought his readers didn't know anything about the Holocaust, which is ridiculous, because even if you only know the basics of the Holocaust, Balson didn't need to take the time to give you a rundown of the history because most people already know. For a few examples, there's some bits where Balson, through Ben, explains what a ghetto and a concentration camp are. Honestly, did not need those two things defined. Like I said, Balson's writing felt a bit condescending during moments like that. But yeah, outside of moments like that, Balson's writing was gorgeous. Just enough description to set a scene. Great character development in general. And an overall well planned out story.
4. Don't be fooled, this novel has several blurbs that keep saying that this book is a love story. Don't know where those people got that idea. Yes, through Ben's flashbacks he talks about his love, Hannah, but Hannah herself isn't really given much growth or personality. I mean, yeah, you like her, you have no reason to dislike her. But this story is called "Once We Were Brothers" afterall. This isn't a love story. It's a story about two men who grew up very close to one another, like brothers, and one of them is persuaded by greed to do the unthinkable. And not only is it there story, but it's also very much the story of Catherine as she seeks inspiration and encouragement from Ben to change her life and become a better person. So yeah, the love story is a very minor thing, not a huge thing like the blurbs make it out to be.
5. The reason I couldn't quite give this book 4-stars is mostly because I felt the last 20% of the novel flew by in a rush, things were happening so quickly, you didn't have time to digest anything, and I felt like Balson's writing declined in quality by the end, compared to the beauty that was the rest of the novel. Like I said, you are left in suspense the whole novel about whether or not Ben is mistaken in his accusations, whether or not the accused is a former Nazi, and the reveal is rather anticlimatic and way too rushed. Plus there's the fact that the last 20% of the novel or so is heavily focused on the buildup to the trial, and I found all of that a bit boring and hard to follow. Balson spent so much time explaining things about the Holocaust, but he didn't spend enough time simplifying court procedure and the mechanics of getting things to trial.
Overall, I did highly enjoy this novel. A fascinating story ultimately about human cruelty and what we can do to stop such cruelty and that we shouldn't let history repeat itself. Though I did enjoy the whole novel for the most part, I definitely think Ben's story was my favorite thing about the book. Recommend this book for people interested in the Holocaust....more
"The Maid" by Kimberly Cutter tells the story of Jehanne d'Arc, the girl who would later be known as Joan of Arc. Jehanne is a young girl when she hears voices in her head and comes to learn that she is chosen by God to lead the French army, crown it's rightful king, and banish the English from French land. "The Maid" is a novel about one girl's destiny to save France while battling against those who seek to underestimate her.
My first Joan of Arc historical fiction novel. I've read about Joan of Arc in other historical novels, like "The Lady of the Rivers" by Philippa Gregory and "The Queen's Secret" by Jean Plaidy, but in both those novels Joan of Arc was just a sidenote and only featured in a few chapters. So it was quite refreshing to read an entire novel about Joan of Arc.
As I said in the synopsis, this novel is about Jehanne, who at a young age hears voices and discovers that God has chosen her to be the savior of France. Jehanne faces obstacles early on, mostly from her family, before she's finally able to reach King Charles VII and persuade him God has sent her to place him on his rightful throne. Jehanne faces even more obstacles, from that of the king's leading advisers and even some of the military leaders who don't want a woman joining their battles. The entirety of the novel is basically Jehanne discovering her destiny, learning to accept it (even while knowing her impending death), and getting the men around her to believe in her and in her cause. And it's not easy. The novel is ultimately about the power and uncertainly of faith---who easily believes, who doesn't; who thinks Jehanne is divinely sent, who thinks Jehanne is insane.
Moving on to the characters and story in general. I did enjoy the novel for the most part. Kimberly Cutter's writing is really wonderful, you can clearly see she did her research. But I did find myself on a few occasions getting a bit bored. Sometimes I felt like Cutter's writing got a bit dry in spots. Or it may have just been me because I wasn't familiar with a lot of the historical characters. It's funny, I'm a huge reader of Plantagenet history over in England at the time this novel is taking place, but I don't know a lot about what was going on in France at the time, weirdly enough. So I guess for me personally, my problem had to do with the fact that Cutter dives right into this novel and you kind of have to be familiar with a lot of the people and events of the era. I had trouble remembering who was who quite often, and a lot of characters would disappear and not return until much later in the book, so that added to some of my confusion. I think this novel is definitely a must for people who are already familiar with this bit of French history, but yeah, if you are like me, this might not be a good place to start. I think I'd definitely like to learn more about the era and then maybe revisit this novel after my knowledge has grown. And as for characters, I don't think a lot of the characters were particularly delved into that much. The only character who gets development is Jehanne since we are mostly in her perspective the whole novel. She grows from a timid young girl, unsure of the voices in her head, to a woman determined to save her country where she learns to ride horses, use swords, and even cuts her hair and dons male clothing which was considered a sin at the time. A lot of the other characters, which were all men for the most part, barely get any sort of development. All the characters flow in and out of Jehanne's story and we don't get to really know them that well. And like I said above, I'm not familiar with a lot of the historical figures in this novel, so I was just getting confused by all the various different male characters since I felt like there wasn't much to distinguish one from the other.
Overall, I did enjoy the novel for what it was, but mostly just because it was nice to read an entire historical fiction novel about Joan of Arc, which I don't see often enough. Like I said, I wasn't familiar with this era and often found some of it boring and confusing. But I still enjoyed seeing the progression of Jehanne's character and seeing her turn into the tragic, iconic figure that we still remember even to this day....more
In "At the Water's Edge" by Sara Gruen, it's New Year's Eve 1944. Socialites Ellis and Madeline Hyde have made a spectacle of themselves. They are abruptly cut off from their finances, while also dealing with public shame over Ellis' inability to join the war. Seeking to gain back his father's favor, Ellis departs for Scotland with the hopes that he can capture footage of the Loch Ness monster. Madeline reluctantly joins her husband and his friend across the Atlantic. Scotland is a culture shock for Madeline who has been privileged her whole life. She has to deal with food rations, no servants, and air raids. But through it all she starts to form friendships with some of the village women and she starts to see life differently and beings to question everything she thought she knew. And even while her husband is looking for a monster, she quickly finds out that monsters can be standing right in front of you.
My first Sara Gruen book was "Water for Elephants" which I immensely enjoyed. And gotta say: wow! I adored "At the Water's Edge." It's by no means an absolute perfect book, but I really can't force myself to say anything negative. I will say that the book has a rather slow pace. If you are looking for a book full of action, this isn't the place. I personally flew through this book. I found it incredibly hard to put down. I felt like every word mattered. But on to the good stuff: you got Scotland, the hunt for the Loch Ness monster, you have spoiled rich people, and in the background World War II. And talk about a fantastic set of characters. Here's the thing...at the start of this book you probably aren't really going to like the three major characters introduced. Madeline and her husband Ellis, and his friend Hank, are the least likable people imaginable. They are spoiled, pampered, and only see what directly relates to them. Madeline at first hates Scotland, but as she starts to befriend the villagers and understand their way of life, her eyes are opened to a world other than her own. This novel is definitely Madeline's journey of discovery as she's forced to examine herself and examine her marriage. And what she eventually discovers isn't pretty. What I'm trying to say is that if you find yourself at the start of this book going, "dear god, I hate these people!" don't put the book down. Keep going. I think you'll be glad you did. Madeline is certainly a unique heroine---quite different from normal heroines. You struggle to root for her at first, but you eventually fall in love with her as she goes on this journey.
Some of the biggest themes present in this book are the ideas of friendship, self discovery, inner strength, the beauty of life, life's possibilities, real love, and who, in fact, is the real monster. I particularly liked the whole monster theme going on. You have the literaly hunt for the Loch Ness monster, which may or may not exist, and then you have the monsters of ones own past, the monsters of those around you, and then even the war itself as a monster because of the horror and destruction it causes.
Just a few spoilery bits for those who have read the book, mostly dealing with my only complaints:
(view spoiler)[ 1. First off, the whole Angus/Madeline relationship: I totally shipped it, adored them together, but it kind of did just come out of nowhere and I don't think Sara Gruen built it up enough. There seemed to be something missing, but I'm not sure what. In some ways it felt a bit forced. Weirdly though, I still loved the romance, though it did feel a tad convenient by the end when it's revealed Angus was a laird and had land and property. Felt like everything Madeline had learned didn't really matter anymore.
2. Were Ellis and Hank possibly in love with each other? I kept going back and forth on that idea. Sara Gruen constantly brings up that Hank and Ellis are inseparable, that they are practically one and the same. I was wondering if they might have been in love with each other and didn't realize it. Kind of a bit heartbreaking right at the end when Hank learned of Ellis' death. Gotta say, I found Hank to be slightly more likable than Ellis. Ellis was a total ass the whole book. At least Hank had a few redeeming moments whenever Ellis was horrible to Madeline.
3. Like I said above, the book has a slow pace to it, which was fine, and it built up these characters and story, but I did feel like the ending was rushed. Everything at the lake, Ellis attempting to kill Madeline, Ellis' sudden death (which I'm kind of confused about), and then Madeline/Angus tying the knot was done within about 30 pages. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, I loved this book. I finished the last page and immediately wanted to start over. Definitely recommend this book for historical fiction lovers, and even people who liked "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon. Maybe it was just the fact that this book took place in Scotland, but I was definitely getting some "Outlander"-like vibes while reading. Seriously though, I think this book might possibly be my favorite book of the year.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
In "The Tutor" by Andrea Chapin, the year is 1590 and Katharine de L'Isle is happy with her life at Lufanwal Hall. Queen Elizabeth is stil unwavering in her persecution of English Catholics, and Katharine is shocked when the family priest is found murdered on the side of the road. The de L'Isle family is adrift in household turmoil. But during all this, a new schoolmaster by the name of William Shakespeare arrives and Katharine immediately falls head over heels in love with this intelligent and flirtatious newcomer. Katharine finds herself as Will's muse and she spirals into an obsession that she may not be able to come out of.
Oh, boy, I need to stick in "Shakespeare in Love." The synopsis of this book mislead me. I think I was expecting "Shakespeare in Love," and that's not what I got. Jeez, Shakespeare was an unlikable dude in this novel. Even during his flirtations with Katharine I found him annoying. And Katharine was just an idiot. Let's just say I pretty much was able to predict the conclusion of this novel in regards to the whole Will/Katharine relationship.
I'll just go through some of the things I liked and disliked about this novel.
1. This novel had a great premise. Set during the Elizabethan era during a time when the strife between the Catholics and Protestants is ongoing. This is what the novel should have focused on. Andrea Chapin opens the book in an intriguing way, with the murder/mystery of the family priest. Katharine's uncle, a devout Catholic, takes off to avoid persecution, leaving Katharine to deal with the rest of her relatives as the household erupts into turmoil and hysteria. As a warning, it took me an incredibly long time to figure out who was who in the de L'Isle household. I honestly lost track of who was married to who, who their children were, etc. It was literally by the end of the novel that certain characters finally clicked for me. As a recommendation, it might help in future editions of this novel to have a family tree. So yeah, like I said, this book was at it's strongest with the religions turmoil and all the family drama and Katharine's place within all of that.
2. William Shakespeare. What to say? I'm so conflicted with his placement in this novel. In some ways I felt he was out of place and unneeded. The novel could have worked entirely without him. I finished the final page of this novel and didn't understand why he was even needed and what he provided to the overall narrative. But that being said, I kind of liked the idea of a young Shakespeare, a flirtatious rascal, a guy in search of a muse. This novel is basically the origin story for Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis." So I found all that interesting and how Katharine was the inspiration for that piece of narrative poetry.
3. Was it just me, or was there a lot of unanswered, open-ended stories in this novel? It's like, Chapin had a fantastic premise going on, but she had too many stories weaving in and out that oftentimes it felt like she lost track of some of the characters and stories. Chapin sort of resolves some things...but in one paragraph near the end. But I still found myself going, "but what about...?"
4. Robert Smythson...you guys...I loved him. I needed more of him. Easily the only likable character in this whole damn book. And that's pretty much all I can say without going into spoil territory.
Overall, I'm quite a bit disappointed with this novel. I've been really anticipating it and it just wasn't what I was totally expecting. The novel wasn't horrible. Chapin had moments of beautiful writing. I think she excelled at descriptions and historical accuracy...really making you feel like part of this era. But I think Chapin was definitely at her weakest in regards to character development and plot. Not sure if I'd recommend this. Maybe get it for cheap at a used bookstore, or go to your library and see how you like it. It does have it's nice moments, but I think a lot of the issues I had far outweighed the good....more
"Above Us Only Sky" by Michele Young-Stone tells the story of Prudence Vilkas who was born with a pair of wings on her back. Thinking the wings a birth defect, her parents have them removed, but the scars of her missing wings haunts Prudence as she realizes her wings are a birthright, and that other women in her family have had wings as well. When Prudence receives a call from her Lithuanian grandfather, he begins to tell her stories about her ancestors, and the trials their family had to go through as they suffered under the reigns of Stalin and Hitler. "Above Us Only Sky" is a story about family, home, and war and it's time for Prudence to embrace her past and future.
First off, won this on Goodreads giveaways, so thank you Goodreads.
I haven't read "The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton yet, but if you have, "Above Us Only Sky" sounds fairly similar to the synopsis of "Ava Lavender." Both novels feature a woman born with wings as they have to discover their birthright. If you liked "Ava Lavender," you might want to give this a go.
Couldn't quite give the book 4-stars. Very close, though. Let's start off with the good stuff: this book is beautifully written. Gorgeous descriptions, wonderful themes of acceptance and family, and a very symbolic book. In general, I like the idea of the book: girl born with wings, they are removed, the missing wings often feel like a ghostly presence. The novel also has so many connecting pieces. Things that you didn't think were important, become important. Characters you didn't think were important become important. The narrative is weaved together quite beautifully as all the dots connect. I think my favorite parts of the book dealt with the historical aspect, as Young-Stone would go back to WWII and tell the story of Prudence's grandparents and her ancestors. It's Prudence's grandfather's stories that provide a means for Prudence to learn about her history and realize that her wings weren't some defect. Like I said, a lot of symbolism and themes taking place on Prudence's journey, the notion of Prudence learning to fly without her wings, also the fact that Prudence is an ornithologist. It's also the story of gaining back one's birtright, returning back to the land you were exiled from, which is the story of Old Man, Prudence's grandfather.
The reason for my 3-stars mostly has to do with the first half of the novel. Sometimes the narrative felt a bit chaotic, and I felt like I was introduced to too many characters at one time without having enough time to get to know them. The overall frame of the narrative takes place in 2005 as the Old Man is on his deathbed and Prudence is making her way to see him. In between all this we get narratives going back to the 1940s, and then 1989, and also a few other years scattered in between those on occasion. I didn't have a problem with the back and forth narrative. What I had a problem with was not having enough time to get to know Prudence, her parents, her best friend. But once you hit the middle of the novel, this is where you get the Old Man's history and his sister Daina's history. Daina's story provides for a pretty large chunk of the novel, where we don't even see Prudence, and I definitely liked Daina's story the best in the whole novel. The whole novel could have been just fine with her story alone and I would have been happy, that's how much I liked her chapters. So what I'm saying, I think the first half of the novel had a tad bit of a rocky start (though the writing is gorgeous, just had a problem with the character development), and the second half of the novel is the best.
Overall, a beautiful book (I can't repeat that enough). Something very different for me. The novel has this element of magical realism in regards to Prudence's wings. The novel never verges into 100% fantasy. It has a fine balance of mixing in the real world and the notion of what if we had wings? It never seems silly or lame, but very much real. Like I said, if you liked "Ava Lavender," I recommend checking this out....more
"The Last American Vampire" by Set Grahame-Smith is the sequel to "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," following Henry Sturges, the vampire who set Lincoln on his journey to fight the forces of evil. Told in a humorous but often enlightening tale, the story follows Henry through his creation in Roanoke, the early days of America, the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination, the mystery of Jack the Ripper, the dawn of the electric era, the turmoil of both World Wars, and on. And through it all Henry has to find and destroy an infamous vampire who will stop at nothing to bring America to ruin.
I had so much fun with this book. I was a fan of Set Grahame-Smith's "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," and Henry Sturges was one of my favorite characters in the book, so obviously I was ridiculously excited when I found out Seth Grahame-Smith wrote this sequel all about Henry and his involvement with various events and people throughout history. This concept has been done in numerous other books...the idea of taking an event or a person and turning them into a werewolf, or a vampire, or a slayer of some sort. It's basically a gimmick. The concept doesn't work all the time and can be rather hit or miss. Seth Grahame-Smith knows how to do it right, and still be able to tell a fantastic story with some fascinating characters.
Let's start with the cover: epic! Bravo to the cover designer.
A few things to note about this book, whether or not you've read "Abraham Lincoln" (which I'm going to abbreviate as "ALVH"):
1. Should you be sure to read "ALVH" before "Last American Vampire?" Yes and no. Not reading "ALVH" will leave you hanging about Henry and Abe's friendship, which is important. Henry makes comment about a few things that happened in "ALVH" on a few occasions. That being said, I still think you can enjoy this by itself. Henry always places things in context, so I don't think it's ever confusing.
2. "Last American Vampire" has much more gore, sex, violence, and language than "ALVH." "ALVH" was a pretty mild and tame book, considering that it had a lot to do with hunting and killing vampires. In that book, the gore would often be there, but not to the extent like it is in this book. So just be warned that, if I was going off of a rating scale, "ALVH" would be PG-13 and "Last American Vampire" would be R.
3. Just like "ALVH," this book does the whole footnotes and pictures insertions. The footnotes are always fascinating in my opinion. They're either hilarious, or actually enlightening to something in history I might not have known.
Why didn't a give this a 5-star rating, you may be asking? Despite loving this book, I did have a few problems with it that left me a tad bit unsatisfied. This book covers cover 500 years of history. Simply put, Henry has had some sort of involvement in every major historical event. Though the book does have an overall goal and point, the story is almost told in short story segments. There would be one or two chapters focused on Jack the Ripper. A few chapters about the Russia Revolution, a few chapters about World War II, and so on. This did help with reading speed, you're never bored, but it did often make me go, "wait, that was interesting and going somewhere, go back!" Often times I still had a few questions and then the plot would go forward a decade into another historical event. There are quiet a few important people and events in this book that I wanted fleshed out more because they were vital to Henry's character development.
My one other complaint with this novel is the villain (which is incredibly hard not to spoil because I'm dying to talk about it!). Don't get me wrong, the villain is freaking genius! The reveal left my mouth hanging open. Here's what my complaint is: what exactly were the villain's motives? I never fully grasped why this character was doing the things they were doing. Why, why, why??? That's all I found myself doing. The villain, at one point, does sort of explain their motives, but at the same time, as the reader, you feel like, deep down, there's something more going on that's not being said. It was just incredibly frustrating because there was so much potential there to flesh out the villain, as well as Henry. And I think some of my problems with the villain might come from my first point about this book moving along way too quickly through history.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, like I said, so much fun from start to finish. A brilliant concept. An intriguing protagonist with Henry. His personality is the best. He can be serious, funny, cynical, heartbreaking, uplifting. Not only is this book about Henry, it's the story of America. There's just a beautiful theme throughout the book about the mistakes and achievements made in American history, but the people of America still remain, that loyalty still remains. Henry has seen the good and the bad, he has seen what humanity does for itself and others. Despite being a rather humorous book on occasion, I also think "The Last American Vampire" has a lot of heart and emotion to it and the power of the American spirit....more
"Alias Hook" by Lisa Jensen is an imaginative retelling of J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan," focusing on the infamous Captain Hook. After having an affair with a Caribbean priestess, Hook is cursed to live in the Neverland---a world ruled by a cunning boy who will stop at nothing to play games and wage war. Hook lives hundreds of years without aging, without dying, as those around him die under the hands of the boy, Pan. But one day, a woman arrives at the Neverland---an unheard of thing. This woman will either be the destruction of Hook, or his ultimate redemption to break his curse.
This book was so freaking good! I read "Tiger Lily" by Jodi Lynn Anderson over the summer, and I was hugely disappointed with that book. "Alias Hook" is how a retelling of "Peter Pan" should be. It had everything you love about the original story: pirates, fairies, the crocodile, the mermaid, the Lost Boys. And it displays it's two most popular characters in a whole new light. You have Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up, who is cast as the villain, while Hook is presented as the anti-hero. Jensen took what was great about Barrie's novel and expanded upon it, but also took her own creative licenses in telling the story.
Traditionally, "Peter Pan" talks place in the Victorian era. What I liked about this retelling was that Jensen pushed the narrative up to the 1950s. So the events of the original book have already happened. The book jumps around in time. Sometimes we see the present narrative in the 1950s, and other times we get flashbacks to the early 1700s where we see a pre-Neverland Hook and learn how he got to the island. I really enjoyed this tactic, rather than telling the story from point A to point B. It helped the narrative move along as different things would be filled in. I think the pre-Neverland and early arrival at Neverland were some of my favorites. It was nice to see Hook in an environment out of the regular. We get to see Hook as this witty, educated man, somewhat flamboyant in his attitude and how he likes to dress. He's also very much a ladies man. He's young and carefree. And it's his arrival at Neverland where he starts to lose who he was previously and all he wants is to die. The flashback to how he got the hook for his hand is one of the most spellbounding and eerie chapters. Very well written and certainly gave me chills by how it was executed. As for the other main character, Stella Parrish, she is a very strong heroine. She's lived through World War II, she's witnessed the changing of the times and what the war did to the war, plus she's had her own personal horrors. There was something about Stella that reminded me of Claire Randall from Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander." She's smart and witty, and she lets Hook know exactly what's on her mind. She's a very powerful presence in his life once she arrives on the island. And the Stella/Hook scenes were some of the best. Jensen gave them great chemistry on the page and you kept wondering "will they or won't they?" And like I've already suggested of Peter Pan, he's the antagonist of the novel, which I loved (if you liked the Peter Pan/Neverland arc on "Once Upon a Time," you'll really love this). All Pan wants to do is wage war with the pirates and play games. He's a very frightening character, considering he's just a child. He holds complete sway over how Neverland functions and has almost total control over it's inhabitants.
Overall, a terrific novel. I loved how it was written, I loved the characters, I loved the changes made to the original story. It was just fun from start to finish with a mix of everything: humor, drama, action, adventure, romance...all great! My only complaint with this novel mostly dealt with the last half of the book. For some reason I felt like the narrative got a bit rushed and hectic, and sort of confusing at times, whereas the first half of the novel was set up wonderfully and the narrative took it's time explaining things and getting acquainted with the characters. Not to say that the last half of the book was bad, but just a little random at times and not as wonderfully written as the first half. But yeah, if you like "Peter Pan" and historical fiction, I highly recommend this retelling. This is how "Peter Pan" should be told....more
In "The Last Templar" by Raymond Khoury, four masked horseman dressed as Templar knights storm into the Metropolitan Museum of Art to steal a valuable object. Attending the event at the museum is Tess, an archeologist, who hears one of the horsemen utter something in Latin. Tess becomes a prime witness and she teams up with an FBI agent to uncover the mysteries of Templar legend.
This was a relatively good read. I don't think the book brought anything new to Templar fiction, but still, a fast-paced, fun read. If I had to compare it to anything else I've read, it's a cross between Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" and Kate Mosse's "Labyrinth." So just judging from those those two, you can probably automatically guess that the book has something to do with Jesus Christ and the mysteries of the Bible. If you don't enjoy speculative research on the Bible and Jesus, don't pick this book up if you think it will bother you. I personally enjoyed the research and speculation.
As far as the writing goes, I thought it was well done. Very precise and to the point, with occasional flowery descriptions every now and then. Just enough description to set a scene. Having read "Da Vinci Code" I do think some of Khoury's writing verges into the "I-already-know-this" realm, which isn't necessarily his fault. A lot of Templar history is well know and in books like this, the same information tends to be rehashed. So some of the Templar backstory can start to sound monotonous. My one complaint about the writing would have to be that I felt like the ending was super predictable. Once the big secret is revealed, you can pretty much guess how the final pages will conclude.
I thought the characters were pretty basic, but interesting in their own ways. FBI agent Reilly was probably one of my favorite characters. I liked Tess at first, but I thought she started getting a bit annoying halfway through. She just seemed so insensitive to other people's opinions. I did start to like her again by the final chapters though. Reilly and Tess are great opposing forces throughout the book. Tess is a woman of science and fact. Reilly is a man of faith and belief. So those two sides are often in conflict, but at the same time there's the whole "opposites attract" vibe going on between them. As for the villains...not sure what to say. I feel like they were rather one-dimensional and typical in this sort of genre.
The book also has a few flashback chapters with some Templar knights. The book could have done perfectly well without any of those chapters. Those chapters were spaced out quite far between each other, so I often forgot what had happened previously and who was who. Overall, I don't think they really added much to the story. When I read books with both a present day story and a historical flashback story, I like the flashback story to have an equal amount of page time as the present day story.
Overall, an okay read. If you are looking for a fun and fast paced treasure hunt sort of book, then you'd probably like this. I recommend getting it used or at the library though. It's not that spectacular and unique for full price. ...more
In "Mrs. Poe" by Lynn Cullen, set in 1840s New York, we follow Frances Osgood, a woman struggling to sell her poetry while her husband fools around with other women. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" has just been published with literary acclaim and Frances is looking forward to meeting her idol. What follows is a passionate love affair between Poe and Frances, but coming between them is Poe's very young, very ill, wife who is jealous of their relationship and might even be plotting Frances' sudden death to get her husband back.
"Mrs. Poe" is straight up Poe fantasy fan-fiction. I loved it though. Even though I'm a fan of Poe's poetry and short stories, I'm still not a Poe scholar and there's a lot about his life I'm unfamiliar with, especially in regards to Frances Osgood, which was all new to me. What you need to keep in mind about this book is that it's historical fiction, not historical nonfiction. If you are a Poe scholar, you're probably going to nit-pick this book to death. Instead, you need to treat this book something more along the lines of speculative historical fiction. Lynn Cullen presents some pretty bold research and ideas when it comes to the relationship between Poe and Frances that may or may not appeal to some readers.
What I enjoyed about this book was that it's very much a feminist novel. It takes place at the height of the literary scene where we see cameos from various literary figures popular at the time. Frances Osgood, at the start of this novel, has had success with some of her poetry for children, but at the moment, she's struggling to come up with inspiration and to even sell what she does produce, and she's often critiqued on her poetry simply because she's a woman. So this novel is very much a representation of the time period and the struggles a female writer had to endure. Add on top of that Frances' husband is out and about cheating on her with other women, leaving her nearly destitute and struggling to support their children. I think Frances Osgood was definitely a perfect choice in protagonist for this story. I liked her as a character, I could sympathize with her. And because she is a woman, it's most improper at the time that she's having an affair with a married man, even though her own husband is cheating on her.
Let's talk about the characterization of Edgar Allan Poe himself. Re-read my very first sentence of this review: Poe fantasy fan-fiction. Lynn Cullen makes Poe a pretty hot guy and even refers to him as "catnip" to the ladies during his day. The Poe I have in my head is not an attractive guy. Cullen presents Poe not only as attractive, but tormented by his past, broody, temperamental, but passionate at heart...basically he sounds like a traditional Byronic hero. Not gonna lie, I love Byronic heroes, so I instantly started swooning over Poe just like Frances did. Let's just say I totally wiped out what Poe really looks like and replaced him with a better looking version (is that horrible of me?). In general, I really did like Cullen's interpretation of Poe. She did a fantastic job of fleshing him out and making his relationship with Frances Osgood believable.
The title of this book refers to Virginia Poe, Edgar Allan Poe's much younger wife, who also is his cousin and also very sick. A very interesting choice on the part of Lynn Cullen to name this book after her, even though our protagonist is Frances Osgood. Virginia Poe is in this novel just as much as Frances and plays a huge role in events that transpire. Cullen presents Virginia as very young and naive, very childish, not bright, and we get the idea that she's lonely, hence why she wants to befriend Frances early on in the novel. I found myself feeling horrible for Virginia. Even though I loved the whole Poe/Frances relationship, I kept coming back to Virginia who was the one being cheated on. Frances was being no better than her husband. All Virginia wanted was for her husband to be with her, talk to her, but she's pushed to the side for another woman who is more Poe's intellectual equal. I think the love triangle was some of the strongest elements in this book, and certainly the most intriguing and intense.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. You can't go into this book and take it too seriously. There's probably a lot of things about it that's inaccurate in regards to Poe and Frances, but you just have to roll with it and, like I said, treat the novel as speculative historical fiction. Highly recommend this book for historical fiction and Poe lovers....more
"All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr takes place during the height of World War II. It's the story of Marie-Laure who, at the age of six, goes blind, but she learns to read braille and navigate confidently around her neighborhood. It's the story of Werner Pfennig who is enchanted by radios, and because of his talents he wins a spot at a brutal Hitler Youth academy. It's the story of a German Sergeant Major who wishes to defy death and will do anything to save himself. And it's the story of a mythical stone that curses whoever takes possession of it.
I've heard quite a bit of hype about this book and of course, me being a lover of historical fiction, had to pick up this book. This book was by no means horrible, but neither was it as amazing as I kept hearing it was. I actually feel bad for giving this a 3-star rating. Come on Goodreads...half-stars would be nice.
Things I Enjoyed 1. The writing is so beautiful! It's sensory overload. If I had to describe this book, I would tell someone that it's a very sensory experience. This of courses makes the book descriptive, but not so descriptive that it's boring. This book is all about seeing, hearing, tasting, and feeling. Anthony Doerr has a way with words when it comes to describing things.
2. Even though I have some complaints as far as characters go (see Things I Disliked), overall, I still really liked the characters. The characters are sympathetic and likable. Not a single character I disliked, and even the antagonists, are very well done.
3. I liked the layout of this book. The chapters are incredibly short. Most chapters are anywhere from 1-5 pages. And the chapters alternate between characters. You will have a chapter with Marie-Laure. Then you'll have a chapter with Werner. Then you'll have a chapter with the German Sergeant Major. And then you'll even have some chapters with some of the side characters. This may be annoying to some readers, especially if you prefer someone's story over another, but it provides the story being split up in such a way that it moves the plot along.
Things I Disliked 1. Sometimes felt like Doerr spent more time on the time period and the descriptions rather than on fleshing out the characters. Don't get me wrong: characters were fantastic, as I said above. But I still felt like something was missing in regards to the characters, and I'm honestly not sure what is missing. I never felt like I got to know these characters. I know Marie-Laure was blind, had freckles, loved to read. I know Werner was great with radios, exceptional at math, had white hair. Still...something missing...again, what exactly? Everything felt very surface-level with these characters. I liked them, but I didn't know why. You never fully got inside their heads. I feel like Doerr should have wrote this book in first person, because that might have solved some of my problems.
2. I feel like this book was trying to be "The Book Thief." Thing is, in some ways, it feels very reminiscent of "The Book Thief." There's something about Doerr's way with words, way with story, way with structure that reminded me a lot of Markus Zusak's style of writing. But I don't think it ever quite got there. I feel like this book was trying to be emotional and deep, but once again, never quite got there for me.
3. The novel doesn't seem to come to a climax. There are some great, exciting moments in this book, but because of the very surface-level nature of the characters, it just never peaked for me. Sometimes I felt like the story was about to go somewhere interesting, but then would veer off differently from what I expected.
As you can see, I'm rather conflicted in my feelings. There's something so very beautiful about this book, something kind of poetic, but my issues with the characters and plot kind of left me hanging and left me wanting more. I do highly recommend this book, especially if you love World War II historical fiction, or even if you want a nice place to start in regards to the genre. Like I said, this book is by no means bad. I quite liked it. But there was just something missing that I can't place my finger on....more
"The Winter Guest" by Pam Jenoff tells the story of twin sisters, Helena and Ruth, as they struggle to raise their younger siblings in Nazi occupied Poland. Things change dramatically when one day Helena discovers a stranded American paratrooper. Helena is put in a rough place: protect the soldier or tell her sister, which could lead to the Nazi's discovering the American. "The Winter Guest" is a story about love and sibling rivalry all against the backdrop of a world torn apart by war.
I won this book from the Goodreads First-Reads giveaway. Really glad I won this one and I did enjoy it for the most part. I guess the one thing to note about this book is that it's rather generic. The book takes place in Nazi occupied Poland. There's twin sisters who are having heated issues. There's a stranded American who Helena ends up falling in love with. There's Jews being persecuted and murdered under these characters very noses. You can probably say that quite a bit of this plot verges into predictability. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Just don't go into this book expecting 100% originality. You just have to flow with the story and enjoy it for what it is. The book doesn't do anything new for World War II related historical fiction, but it's still a great story that's a page turner and has likeable characters. Pam Jenoff's writing is rather simplistic. There's not a whole lot of depth to it. But it's still beautifully written in it's own way. I'll give Pam Jenoff this: she certainly knows how to write about starvation and freezing snow. I often found myself feeling cold and hungry while reading. As for the characters, they are rather standard and basic, but they still have enough there for you to relate to and like. The two leading heroines, though twins, each have their own distinct personality and I think Jenoff's writing really shown in their scenes of conflict where each of their personalities would come through. Of course there's a love story (what WWII fiction doesn't?). Overall, I liked the love story. It was sweet and cute. I don't know...I think I wanted more sexual chemistry...and naughtiness. It was just too sweet and cute for me. But if you're the type of person who likes tame relationships without graphic sex scenes, then you'll probably prefer how this relationship is told.
This story takes place in about the space of a month or so, so obviously some things, like the romance, are hurried along. Like I said earlier, you just have to go with the flow of this book and move on. If you linger on details then you won't like this. There is a subplot involving a resistance movement, which I kind of didn't ultimately feel one way or the other about. I almost felt like it was unneeded in some ways. Or if it was needed then it could have been expanded. For a WWII book this novel comes in at almost 350 pages, which is rather short in my opinion, and I think it could have had an additional 100+ pages or so to fully expand out, not just the resistance, but further character growth, relationships, and backstory. Maybe that's just it: this book tries to handle too many things for such a short book. Not only is their the story of the twins and their siblings, but you have this American who comes with his own interesting story and history, but then Jenoff also has this resistance group and she also deals a lot with Jewish identity and the persecution going on with the Jews. Too much going on with very limited pages. But I was never bored. The book moved pretty quickly and there was always something going on.
Overall, like I said, a generic book, but still fun and entertaining. If you like WWII historical fiction you might want to check this out....more
"Sarah's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay tells the story of Julia Jarmond who is on assignment to write an article about the sixtieth anniversary of the Vel' de'Hiv' roundup that occurred in July of 1942 in France when the French police rounded up Jewish residents and handed them over to the Nazis. Julia comes to learn about a ten-year-old girl named Sarah who was part of the roundup and stumbles upon a trail of secrets and mysteries as she tries to discover what happened to this little girl sixty years ago.
Whoo! A beautiful story. As a World War II history buff, I am ashamed that I knew absolutely nothing about the Vel' de'Hiv' roundup that occurred in France when the French government handed over their own Jewish residents so callously to the Nazis. This event is horrifying and disgusting, and I can't believe I have just now been introduced to it. My thanks to Tatiana de Rosnay for introducing this event to me and creating such a heartbreaking, touching story about a little Jewish girl and how her story influences Julia Jarmond sixty years later.
The novel is told as a duel narrative. The first point of view is that of Julia Jarmond, the journalist who learns of Sarah's gut wrenching story. Julia is an American born woman who has lived in France for the majority of her life, has a French husband, and has quite a lot of marital problems with a husband who doesn't understand why she persists in investigating a story that the French people have tried to forget. The second narrative comes from the little Jewish girl Sarah herself who is violently taken, along with her family, to the Vel' de'Hiv where they await an uncertain fate before they are taken to a labor camp. Prior to leaving her home though, in an attempt to save her little brother, Sarah locks her brother in a secret cupboard with the promise she will return to get him. Julia's and Sarah's stories intertwine in interesting, unforgettable ways as the reader longs to know what happened to Sarah and did she ever get her brother out of the cupboard. The duel narrative worked brilliantly in this novel. I really enjoyed both stories, though I found myself most interested in Sarah's story, as it was the most heart-thumping and intense. Julia's story was intriguing as well as you join her step by step on her investigation and you're eager to find out what secrets her French in-laws are keeping. My only problem with Julia's story occurred near the end of the novel as events sort of switched over to Julia's marital problems. Not to say it was boring, but it got a tad over dramatic, and it felt like Julia really had no concerns for those around her and the consequences of her actions in investigating the story of Sarah. Let's just say Julia's character got a fit frustrating, though you did still sympathize with her throughout the narrative.
Overall, so glad I picked this book up. Introduced me to a bit of World War II history that I had no clue about. Great set of characters, great structure, and I definitely loved Tatiana de Rosnay's writing style which just breathed life on every page....more
"Sepulchre" by Kate Mosse tells the story of two women---Leonie Vernier and Meredith Martin---born a century apart but united in their destiny to discover the secrets of a magical set of Tarot cards, rumored to hold the power of life and death.
I initially wasn't going to bother reading this book. I had a lot of issues with Mosse's other book "Labyrinth." "Sepulchre" is actually book two in the series known as the "Languedoc" series. To make a note of that, I don't think it necessary to read the books in any particular order. "Labyrinth" and "Sepulchre" can both be read as standalone books (and I'm assuming the same cane be said for "Citadel," the third book in the series, which I have yet to read as of the date of this review). There are a few returning characters, or mentions of other characters, from "Labyrinth," but it's in no way confusing or out of place. If you do decide to read "Sepulchre" first, one particular character may be a bit mysterious and you never get the full story---so if you want the full story, you do need to read "Labyrinth," but again, the order of the books isn't necessary. "Sepulchre" does hit some of the same beats like "Labyrinth" as far as the storytelling goes: two women, some villains, all after the same object, all in the same general area of France, and the discovery of how the characters from the past and the present connect with one another. In some ways, if you've read "Labyrinth," "Sepulchre" might come across as predictable, but I don't think that necessarily a bad thing. The story and characters of "Sepulchre" were far more entertaining, that's for sure.
My primary issues with "Labyrinth" was that I thought it badly written, kind of bland, overly descriptive, and no character development. With "Sepulchre" I feel like Mosse's writing improved immensely. I thought both past and present storylines moved along at a good pace and that there was actual character development. I felt for these characters, I sympathized with them, compared to the characters of "Labyrinth." I will say that the final 10% of this novel got a bit hectic and confusing for me, but overall, I find the storytelling quite captivating. And no overabundance of description! With "Labyrinth" I felt like Mosse got overly into telling about the landscape and history of France. With "Sepulchre," there is description, but not so much that it's distracting and takes away from the characters and plot.
I guess my only complaint with this novel had to do with the magical Tarot cards. The main characters, Leonie and Meredith, come across the Tarot deck in different ways, and the deck means different things to both of them. What I didn't quite understand was the purpose of the Tarot cards. The synopsis of the book makes mention that the deck holds the mysteries of life and death...but I never felt like the storytelling stressed that enough. All I knew was that Leonie, Meredith, and the villains were all after the deck...but why exactly? You are never given a reason why.
Overall, my enjoyment of this book far exceeded that of "Labyrinth." If you are someone who did love "Labyrinth," then I think you'll really love this. If you didn't like "Labyrinth," like me, I do suggest at least giving this a try and see if you like it....more
In "The White Princess" by Philippa Gregory, Princess Elizabeth of York is grieving the death of the man she loved, Richard III. To unify her country Elizabeth agrees to marry the enemy of her house, Henry Tudor. This marriage does nothing but to continue the fear and paranoia that plagues the house of Lancaster. And to make matters worse, pretenders make claim to the throne of England, claiming to be one of Elizabeth's brothers who were murdered in the Tower of London. Elizabeth walks a fine line and must decide who she is loyal to: her own house of York or the house of Lancaster that she has married into.
Book five in this series was so good! This addition to the series basically becomes a sort of historical mystery as the question arises as to if the two princes in the Tower lived or died, and if one of the numerous pretenders is, in fact, one of the boys. Philippa Gregory poses an interesting theory and I don't think it's that far fetched. I love when an author can take a mystery and come up with believable scenarios and really immerse you into the plot.
Elizabeth as a character was fascinating. She doesn't have a lot of power from the start of this book. Her protector, Richard III, is dead. She has to marry Henry Tudor to unify England. There is no love between Elizabeth and Henry, and even once Elizabeth is crowned queen and provides male heirs, she is still given no sort of say or power. All power goes to Henry's mother, Margaret Beaufort (heroine of "The Red Queen"). Elizabeth doesn't even get the Queen's rooms that are rightfully hers! Elizabeth's only power comes from her wit and intelligence, and her ability to stay cool under pressure and not let Henry and Margaret see her falter in her loyalty to their house. Elizabeth isn't ambitious like her mother, her mother in law, or even the former Queen Anne, but she makes up for that with her own strengths.
I didn't expect to dislike Henry and Margaret so much in this book, which is an odd sensation considering that I really liked them in their own book "The Red Queen." Let's just say it all beings with Henry pretty much raping Elizabeth just to make sure she is fertile before marrying her. Philippa Gregory is just so masterful in how she tells the narratives of all these various characters in the series. Every character sees themselves as the protagonist. Others see them as villains. It all depends on whose point of view you are reading from. In "The Red Queen" you get to know Margaret, you get to know her struggles, and you learn that from the time she gave birth to Henry that she made it her life goal to make sure he gets placed on the throne of England. What Margaret doesn't anticipate, as "The White Princess" progresses, is that Henry is not beloved, he is not wanted. He does not have the charm and appeal of the House of York. So even though you do really hate Henry and Margaret throughout this book, you do start to feel sorry for them, even pity. And it's this fact that no one likes the Tudors that Elizabeth is constantly throwing in their face.
One of the most intense aspects of this story deals with the pretenders to the throne claiming to be Prince Richard of York. There are a couple false boys, but there is one, Perkin Warbeck, who is the most believable. Philippa Gregory, in her author acknowledgments, is very firm in her belief that she thinks this pretender was really Elizabeth's brother. Obviously, we'll never know for sure. All historians can do is speculate. The character of Perkin Warbeck was my only complaint with this novel. The novel builds up to this question of: is this boy really Richard? And then finally we get to see Richard. But after that...that's kind of it. The novel seems to focus more on his wife, Lady Katherine. I was expecting there to be some really dramatic, intense scenes between Elizabeth and Perkin, and Elizabeth wanting to be sure this was her brother. But all the two ever do is make eyes at each other. There is never an actual conversation between them if I'm not mistaken. So I was very disappointed that Philippa Gregory didn't do more with Elizabeth and Perkin.
The one thing about this novel is that you better know your Tudor history. The book ends in 1499, so we don't get the death of Prince Arthur or even King Henry VII (I'm assuming that will all be in the concluding book to the series, plus "The Constant Princess" went into all of this in detail, including Katherine of Aragon marrying Henry VIII). Back in "The White Queen," Elizabeth and her mother cursed the family who killed the two princes, saying that the line of sons through that house would die and the house would end with a girl on the throne. I loved this heavy foreshadowing of Queen Elizabeth I. And that feels like what the whole series is working up to. "The Cousins' War" is about a divided England, an England at war. But it takes until the end of the Tudor line, with a woman, to bring about this Golden Age of English history. I love these hints of the future because everything in "The Cousins' War" is so dark and dreary, but you know hope is around the corner.
Overall, loved this installment of the series. It did have a few slower parts and some aspects that I was disappointed in, but overall, I loved how the story progressed and what Gregory did with Elizabeth who is often ignored in history. There's a fantastic part in the book when Elizabeth is contemplating her life and she says, "It does not matter that in my heart I am passionate and independent. My true self will be hidden and history will never speak of me except as the daughter of one king, the wife of another, and the mother of a third" (231). So beautifully said and quite poignant to this book and character....more
Approved by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate as part of the "Sherlock Holmes" canon, "The House of Silk" by Anthony Horowitz follow Homes and Watson as they help an art dealer who says he is being followed by a wanted criminal from America. The case takes the two detectives through the criminal underground of London and they learn about the House of Silk---a secretive group that involves many in the highest positions of government.
What intrigued me the most about picking up this book was the fact that the Arthur Conan Doyle estate approved this book as part of the "Sherlock Homes" canon. My first thought was obviously, "how can this compare?" I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was flawlessly crafted and it certainly felt like I was reading the original stories. My fears going into this book were that I thought Anthony Horowitz was going to turn Holmes and Watson into this macho action heroes and that none of Doyle's characterizations of these characters would show through. I was highly mistaken and, overall, pleasantly surprised how much I liked this story. "House of Silk" read like a traditional "Sherlock Holmes" story. Horowitz managed to not only have his own style of writing flowing through the pages, but also managed to incorporate Doyle's style into the narrative structure. Horowitz was able to take those subtle nuances of Doyle's and craft a story that felt old fashioned, but at the same time modern.
As for the plot itself, it does start off a bit slow, which is how I always felt about the Doyle stories anyway, but once it gets going, it really gets going and it's hard to put down. Horowitz came up with an excellent story that had me intrigued from start to finish. My only complaint is that I had a hard time remembering all the characters involved. Some characters would show up briefly and then be important somewhere near the middle or end, but I could never remember who they were exactly when first introduced earlier on. I don't know how Horowitz did it, but he managed to die up every single loose end, even ones that I had forgotten from earlier. Every character has some sort of major role to play over the course of the narrative.
Overall, I highly recommend this book, especially if you are in love with Doyle's original stories. I don't think you'll be disappointed with this book. If you've never read Doyle, I actually suggest maybe giving this book a go and see how you like it before you get into Doyle's stories. I think this might be a nice, easy place to start. Sometimes Doyle's stories can drag, get boring, or even get confusing, and I never felt that way with this book. So glad I picked this book up. I loved all the shoutouts to other Holmes and Watson adventures. The references were cleverly done and never out of place. ...more
In "Target Churchill" by Warren Adler, it's the end of World War II. The United States and Great Britain are victorious, but the Soviet Union still has it's own agendas involving world domination. Churchill is preparing his Iron Curtain speech, and it's going to be during this speech that an American Nazi, a mole for the Soviets, will complete his mission to assassinate Churchill.
This book was so good. I immensely enjoyed it. It had everything that I look for in a political thriller: quick pace, lots of action, and interesting characters. Plus there's the added bonus that this is a work of historical fiction taking place after World War II.
It's amusing to me that I just happened to read this book because during Memorial Day (of 2014 as this review is going up), the History Channel aired a three part mini-series called "The World Wars" which was about World War I and II and the leaders who influenced events---Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and Hitler. I highly suggest watching this mini-series before going into this book, especially if you aren't familiar with a lot of the details that make up Churchill's life and his connections with Roosevelt and Stalin during those wars. I found the mini-series extremely helpful because Churchill (though I knew exactly who he was), is a figure that I oddly enough never really learned about. The mini-series helped me navigate this book and I didn't feel overwhelmed with the history I wasn't familiar with previously.
So on to the book itself. Wonderfully written. The writing is rather simplistic. It's very easy to follow, and the book isn't overloaded with countless paragraphs of description. Like I said, this book is a political thriller and I look for quick pace when I read these sorts of books---not books with tons of description that weigh down the action. And the historical detail is just enough to help set the mood and immerse you into that period. World War II is such a fascinating topic. There was so much going on. Adler does a great job of telling this one tiny story, but he's able to place it on this larger global scale by using Churchill's Iron Curtain speech as a sort of frame and how this speech influences all the various countries and their own agendas. I felt like Adler had great control of his plot, especially how he managed to interweave all these various characters and somehow make everyone's plots connect in interesting ways to one another.
As I concluded this novel I was quite surprised with how much character development there ended up being. With thrillers you don't typically get that level of development. I really felt like I got to know these characters, their quirks, and the things that make them tick. This book has quite a few narrators as they switch out each chapter. There's Churchill who is rather depressed that he was voted out of office and he needs his confidence back. There's W.H. Thompson, Churchill's loyal friend and bodyguard (totally loved the Churchill/Thompson bromance by the way). There's the intelligent Victoria Stewart who finds herself in the midst of events she didn't see coming. There's the conniving Donald Maclean, the First Secretary of the British embassy. As well as a host of various other characters that have a few chapters here and there. But my favorite chapters have got to be from Franz Mueller, the American turned Nazi turned Soviet spy. Anyone who knows me knows that I love villains, even the truly despicable ones that utterly disgust you. Mueller is that sort of villain. It was fascinating to see the inner workings of his mind and see him plan things out and discover why he is the way he is. He even goes through some inner crisis halfway through the book that begins to crumble his ideology. His chapters were easily my favorite, even though he's obviously the bad guy and you don't want him to succeed. But it was his psychology that was causing me to flip the pages to find out the rest of his story.
The only negative things I have to say with this book are just minor and may only be things that I personally didn't like. I generally liked the women in this book. I liked that they were all intelligent and independent. The one thing that bugged me was some of the female dialogue on occasion. The dialogue didn't seem realistic sometimes, and sometimes the women verged a bit on the whiny side when things would start to go wrong. I would say some of their dialogue out loud and it just wouldn't sound right for whatever reason. There was also the issue of the ending being a tad bit anticlimatic, especially for one specific character (view spoiler)[And that would be Franz Mueller. Remember, I said I liked his chapters. The fight sequence with Thompson got a little confusing and blurry and then all of a sudden, Mueller dies. I say his ending is anticlimatic mostly because of the fact that his chapters dominate a good portion of the book and we really get to learn about him as a vile human being and his death was just too quick for me personally. (hide spoiler)]. Some other issues, that didn't bother me, but might bother other readers, is that this book is quite gritty and graphic. There's lots of profanity, sex, and violence in general that might make some people uncomfortable.
Overall, I highly enjoyed this book. I was pleasantly surprised. I recommend this book for lovers of World War II historical fiction and lovers of political thrillers. The one thing that often came to mind while reading this was the TV series "The Americans." The show and this book take place a few decades apart, but there was still something familiar about the overall style and themes which I connected. I guess it's that element of spies and the Soviet Union that I'm connecting. I can definitely see myself re-reading this one in the future.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Set during the reign of King Louis XIII of France, "The Three Musketeers" by Alexandre Dumas tells the story of D'Artagnan, a young man looking to enter the ranks of the Musketeers. Along with fellow Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, D'Artagnan fights to foil the schemes of Cardinal Richelieu and his partner in crime, the seductive Milady.
I'm so glad I've finally read this. I've seen various movie adaptations of this book, so I've always known some of the basic premise. It was great to finally read the source material and get to know these infamous characters deeper.
Let's start with accessibility. This book is relatively easy to follow. The language isn't too difficult. On occasion it does get a bit dry and dull, but once you get out of those moments, this novel really has some standout moments that leave you reeling. This is a very long novel, so obviously not everything is so fascinating to read. The first 250 pages are so is probably what a lot of people are most familiar with, especially if you've seen the most recent movie adaptations. It's the middle part of the book where I felt like I had entered new territory and, honestly, a lot of the middle chunk of the book is where I had my issues. There were some great moments scattered in there (mostly anything dealing with Milady), but other than those few moments, the whole middle found me zoning out quite frequently and I kind of missed out on some of the plot. There's a lot going on with D'Artagnan and the Musketeers in need of money, so there's all their plotting and scheming on how best to buy new horse, new armor, new clothing, as well as food. There was even a subplot with Porthos trying to seduce his lady friend, which I still don't entirely understand what was going on there. Boring! This is why I kept zoning out. I felt like a lot of this material was unneeded. But the book kicks right back at around the 500 mark with an intense scene between Athos and Milady, and it just continues from there with Milady pretty much dominating the rest of the book and the Musketeers and D'Artagnan taking a backseat.
Which leads me to characters. A fantastic set of characters. I think I loved and enjoyed just about every character, including the villains. You have the brash D'Artagnan. The noble Athos. The colorful Porthos. The devout Aramais. The conniving Cardinal. The seductive Milady. The innocent Constance. And they all interacted so well off of each other. Dumas really knew how to set up relationships and how to interweave everyone together within the plot. I obviously loved D'Artagnan and the Musketeers. Talk about bromance between those four! There's beautiful camaraderie, friendship, and trust. Each guy has a chance to shine. But it wasn't these men that drew me into the story. I found myself the most interested in Milady. She's seductive and mysterious and you never quite knew what to expect from her, which ultimately made her the most fascinating character in the whole book. She was a villainess you loved to hate and someone who you felt sympathy for. Alongside Milady, I found myself also enjoying Cardinal Richelieu's scenes as well as anything involving the Duke of Buckingham, King Louis XIII, and Anne of Austria.
Overall, I had so much fun reading this book. Like I said, basically loved the entire beginning and end of the novel, but it was a good chunk of the middle that threw me out of the story for a bit. It was nice to read such a beloved and popular classic that is easily recognizable in pop culture, even when you haven't read the book. I highly recommend this for lovers of the classics, also historical fiction fans, as well as anyone who loves swashbuckling adventure stories....more
"The Secret Daughter of the Tsar" by Jennifer Laam tells the story of three women who share a secret that relates to the last Tsar of Russia. In the present is Victoria. She meets a man who may be the heir to the Russian throne. In 1940s Nazi occupied France is Charlotte. She is on the run with her son and husband from a German soldier who seeks knowledge about the Russian family. In the 1902 Russian imperial court is Lena, a servant and confidant to Empress Alexandra. These three women and their stories collide in the most unexpected of ways and the future of Russia is in their hands.
This story suffered from three things: too quick a pace, predictability, and a certain lack of Romanovs. Other than those three things, this book had massive potential to be excellent. Before I get to those three points, I will say that I vastly enjoyed this book. There was constant action from start to finish, the characters were interesting, and the overall story was riveting. This story is about these three women who connect in the most insane of ways and it all has to do with a supposed fifth daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. That alone is why I wanted to read this book. I've read a lot of Romanov historical fiction, but I haven't read anything inserting a mysterious fifth daughter. I think Jennifer Laam's writing was beautiful and well done as far as descriptions and historical research went. Historically, in 1902, Empress Alexandra supposedly had a miscarriage, and that miscarriage is the centerpiece of this book. So on to my three points:
1. Too Fast Paced: Like I said, this book had action from start to finish, and the plot was constantly flowing, but I think the character development and some aspects of the plot suffered because of that. This book is almost 350 pages, plus the narrative of three women is weaved throughout. That doesn't leave much time to fully flesh out all these women and the individuals in their lives. The book probably needed an additional 100 pages, if not a bit more, to really bring these characters to life. Some of my issues as far as pacing goes, one deals with the relationship between Veronica and Michael, the man who might be the Russian heir. They are kind of just thrown together and they have an instant attraction, that has nothing more to do with other than the fact that they have a fascination for Russian history. I really liked the interaction between Charlotte and her husband, Luc, but we don't get much of their history, just simply that Luc didn't want children and that's the cause of their estrangement. And then Lena has a great story, but we are just told about her history more than anything. Plus her relationship with Pavel seems rushed, just like Veronica and Michael. A lot of rush, rush, rush through these stories.
2. Predictability: This novel is about a fifth daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra who was born between Anastasia and Alexei. You can probably already form the frame of this story from that alone and how that weaves into Veronica, Charlotte, and Lena's stories, especially once you see the time frames that each woman is existing in. I predicted what Lena's involvement was going to be. I knew immediately who Charlotte was. And then I made a wild, insane guess about Veronica. That fact that I got the end of the book correct still didn't really upset me, because it was the journey I needed to make and to make all the connections and see if I was right about my guesses. But if you are someone who doesn't like to guess correctly, you may hate this book and it may dampen your enjoyment of the story.
3. Where are the Romanovs?: For a novel based on the Romanov family, they aren't really in it. Empress Alexandra and the Dowager Duchess Marie are in here the most, which was actually refreshing. Nicolas makes a cameo and one of the grand duchesses makes a cameo. Other figures from this history have quite larger roles than the Romanovs themselves. Nicolas' mistress, the ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya, plays a pivotal role in Charlotte's story. And the Romanovs did have an African American guardsman (who I think did go by Pavel), who features heavily in Lena's story. Lack of Romanovs is just a minor, silly complaint from me. I would have liked to have seen Nicholas play a more active role, and seen the Romanov sisters, but that's just me.
Overall, I did really enjoy this book, but it was just the three things above that drew me out of the story a bit. An additional 100 pages for more character and plot development would have been perfect. And I think some more creative twists to the story would have been nice to constantly keep the reader guessing. If you love Romanov historical fiction, I do highly recommend this one. It's fun and action packed, and the interweaving of three women is extremely well done....more
"Tsarina" by J. Nelle Patrick takes place in imperial Russia at the height of the Russian Revolution. In the middle of this is Natalya, a young girl in love with the heir to the Russian throne, Alexei Romanov. One day, Alexei tells Natalya a secret: hidden in the Winter Palace is a magical Faberge egg, enchanted by Rasputin, that will keep the Romanov family safe from its enemies. But revolution hits, the Romanovs are taken as prisoners, and the magical Faberge egg goes missing. Natalya, along with her best friend, is forced to team up with a young man, Leo, who is part of the Red army. Together they travel through war-torn Russia to retrieve the magical egg in order to restore order to Russia and the Romanov throne.
Wow! I can't believe how much I enjoyed this book. I went into it not expecting too much, expecting that some ridiculous love triangle would somehow emerge, and that the leading lady would turn out to be annoying. Totally wrong on both accounts. Though the summary of the book makes a point of saying that Natalya and Alexei Romanov are in love, this story is ultimately, not really a love story. There are elements of romance, but it's not the prime focus of this book. This book is more of a political story. I love reading historical fiction that takes place during the Russian Revolution, and I was worried there wouldn't be much history presented in this book. History floods this book, and J. Nelle Patrick clearly did her research. Everything to clothing, food, events, people, and architecture is presented in fine detail and never out of place in this book. Like I said, the politics of this time period are the main focus. In J. Nelle Patrick's acknowledgements at the end of the book, she says this rather perfectly, and I think this sums up the theme of this book: "Every line in 'Tsarina' leads to a single truth: that when you forget that those you disagree with are people, not just your faceless opposition, you don't end up proving who is right and who is wrong. You end up with a body count." That is the very basis of this novel. You have the White Army, those who are loyal to the monarchy. You have the Red Army, those who want revolution and for all Russians to be equal. Leo is Red and Natalya is White. They totally don't see eye to eye and they can't understand either sides opinions and feelings. It makes for a fascinating dynamic throughout the story and to see both Leo and Natalya begin to understand what's at stake on both sides in Russia.
As for characters, I really loved this set of characters. Natalya is a strong heroine. She's was born to a noble family, she's interacted with the Romanov family, and she's even been preparing herself to become the next tsarina of Russia. She can be a bit arrogant at times, but she's also compassionate and determined. She could have been a noble lady and simply stood back and did nothing, but she takes action into her own hands. Her friend Emilia is the very essence of the spoiled upper class of Russian society. But even Emilia proves her worthiness in the chase to find the magical Faberge egg. Natalya is the strong one and Emilia is the weaker one, but their differences are really perfect over the course of the novel, and each of them are capable of different things. Leo is a young man who is part of the Red army. He's very idealistic about what the Reds want to achieve and he despises the monarchy for his own reasons. Like I said, that contrast between his ideals and Natalya's ideals are stunning to read and provide some of the most emotional parts of this book.
This is a YA book, and I thoroughly went into this thinking that the characters and plot would turn out to be a disappointment and one dimensional. I am so very glad I was proven wrong. A stunning story from start to finish, very emotional, and the historical elements are placed flawlessly into the story. If you love Russian historical fiction that takes place during this time, I highly recommend it....more
Sandra Schwab's "Springtime Pleasures" takes place in 1817 England as it follows Carlotta (Charlie) Stanton and George Griffin. Charlie is not considered a typical women due to her unwomanly height and ugly glasses. George is a drunkard with an unhappy past and must marry quickly at his father's behest. Charlie and George, two people who seem like polar opposites, develop a liking with each other. "Springtime Pleasures" is a funny and charming story about duty and honor and the many forms of love.
Sandra Schwab kindly sent me this book for review. The novel is historical fiction, so I had a feeling I would enjoy it, which I did. The novel is incredibly short, coming in at a little over 200 pages. It's a fun, charming read with a lot of great humor and heart to it. As soon as I got past the first page it immediately reminded me of Lauren Willig's "Pink Carnation" series, which takes place at about the same time in England and features fun and quirky characters getting up to all sorts of mischief. Like the "Pink Carnation" series, "Springtime Pleasures" is almost a parody or satire of the Regency era (or even I dare say, a parody of "Pride & Prjudice"), poking fun at the customs and mannerisms of that society and people.
Carlotta, or Charlie, was a fun heroine. When you read these types novels, the heroines are always freakishly gorgeous without flaws. Charlie is tall, wears glasses, and speaks her whatever enters her mind. Because of this, many of the other characters take a dislike to her. It was refreshing to read about a normal, typical looking woman. George is everything you'd want in your leading man. He has a terrible tragedy about his past, he's a bit of a drunkard and womanizer, but he is absolutely devoted to Charlie. In some ways he's more of an anti-hero since he goes against the norms of his society and does his own thing. These two had wonderful chemistry and I always looked forward to their scenes together.
I only have a few complaints about the book. Sometimes the writing could be a bit cheesy, especially some of the lines of dialogue. But again, this is a comedic novel poking fun at that time period, so I guess some cheesy dialogue is bound to ensue. Charlie's whole motto dealing with the school she came from, St. Cuthbert's, got a little annoying on occasion. Seriously, she would mention her school practically ever chapter. I got the point that the school raised it's girls in a particular manner and Charlie didn't need to constantly refer to it to justify her actions. The sex scenes...sex scenes have to be very specific for me. I like them hot and steamy. The sex scenes in this were hot and steamy...but again, here would come a bit of the cheesy dialogue which would have be laughing (this is an issue I take with Lauren Willig's "Pink Carnation" series during the sex scenes). I like when characters just...well...do it and the writer just lets the description take over.
Overall, I really liked this book. Sandra Schwab mentions that this is her second self-published book. Self-published, really? I think Sandra Schwab deserves to be published by a big publication company. The writing was wonderful and Sandra Schwab really made me think twice about self-published books (normally I dislike self-published books for a variety of reasons). The book did suffer from quite a few grammatical errors, but they didn't bother me too much. If you enjoy fun historical fiction I highly recommend this one....more
"Death Comes to Pemberley" by P.D. James is a sequel to Jane Austen's classic "Pride and Prejudice." Elizabeth and Darcy have been happily married for six years. But on the eve of the annual autumn ball, Elizabeth's sister Lydia arrives at Pemberley in hysterics, screaming that her husband, Wickham, has been murdered. What proceeds is a murder trial that puts the lives of those at Pemberley in danger.
The reason for this 2-star rating is the fault of the miniseries that aired in 2013 starring Matthew Rhys, Anna Maxwell Martin, Matthew Goode, and Jenna Louise Coleman. That miniseries was fantastic! I immensely enjoyed it and my love of it is the reason why I wanted to pick up this book. The book and the miniseries, in some ways, are two separate things. The one thing they have in common is the murder mystery. But this is not going to turn into a book-to-screen review---if you want to hear my thoughts on the miniseries check out the link above. I'm going to try and stay as focused on the book as much as possible.
It takes about 50 pages for this book to get anywhere. So, yeah, a slow start. The first 50 pages are practically backstory and summarizing "Pride and Prejudice." Not only this, but we just get a sense of what Elizabeth and Darcy's life has been like for the last six years and what various characters have been up to. Plus, there's all this planning going on for the annual autumn ball. It's all a bit dull and you find yourself going "I've already read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I don't need this." The first 50 pages read almost like a traditional novel that you'd find from the nineteenth century. If you have a hard time reading literature like that, you may find the beginning hard to get through.
After the first fifty pages, that's when the action of the story finally happens. Lydia arrives at Pemberley in hysterics, screaming that her husband, Wickham, has been murdered. She and Wickham were traveling with Captain Denny when all of a sudden Denny bolts from the carriage and Wickham goes after him. A few minutes later shots are fired. That's all that the reader and the guests at Pemberley are given. Sounds like an intriguing story, right? Unfortunately, the writing lacks that intensity considering that this is a murder mystery. You never really feel invested and you never really connect with the characters. This novel is mostly plot driven rather than character driven. You are just tagging along for the ride, and it's not even that enjoyable of the ride. The novel turns into "CSI: Pemberley," and you'd think this would be the best part of the book. Like I said, there's no intensity in the writing, no urgency. It's all very lackluster and bland. Even when the trial happens halfway through the book, you'd think this would be interesting, but again, no. It's all too technical rather than interesting.
Overall, this book was a massive disappointment, which is a shame. The miniseries was brilliant, so well told, and the character development and intensity that was lacking in this book was totally present in the miniseries. If you do have an interest in reading this book, I'd suggest getting it either used or at the library. This book isn't necessarily bad, but it's just uninteresting the majority of the time. Also, don't go into this book expecting a lot of beautiful Elizabeth/Darcy moments. They seriously only spend a few chapters which each other....more
Starting in 1945 post-war Scotland, "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon tells the story of Claire Randall who is on a second honeymoon with her husband. While out taking a walk, Claire finds herself standing in an ancient stone circle. Suddenly she is hurled back in time to 1743 Scotland. Claire finds herself in the midst of clan battles, various dangers that threaten her life, and even a young Scotsman that tests her fidelity to her husband.
This is one of those books that I've been dying to read for almost a decade now. I've constantly heard good things about it. What finally prompted me into picking this up is the new Starz series airing in August based off of this book. What better time to start, right? I'm going to start with the things I liked about this book before heading into all of the negatives. Let's just say I was conflicted.
Diana Gabaldon's research is spectacular. I can see the amount of work she put into this book---everything from mapping out this world, historic sites, clothing, food, medicine of the period, etc. The book can be a bit lengthy with some of the descriptions, but it's all beautifully done and I get a real sense of being in this time period.
As for characters, I do think I enjoyed the characters for the most part. She was a nurse during World War II, she witnessed firsthand all the dangers the soldiers went through as she attempted to heal their wounds. She is very much a modern woman for the time period. She's very intelligent and independent. She's deeply in love with her husband Frank, though the two of them are having some issues seeing as how they've been separated for most of the war and are just now reforming their relationship. Claire as a heroine was oftentimes hilarious (something I wasn't expecting). She has a great sense of wit and humor---she's by no means dull. But she can also be stubborn and demanding when she wishes. I love that her personality carries over into 1743---a time when women weren't treated with equal rights and they weren't allowed to be outspoken. I was surprised how quickly Claire adapted to suddenly being thrown into the past. She's momentary stunned, but, like I said, she uses her intelligence to realize she has to tread carefully or else she won't be able to return back to her own time. She immediately puts her medical skills to use and she's able to gather respect. Then there's Jamie Fraser, a young Scots warrior who vies for Claire's affections. This causes great conflict for Claire obviously since she has a husband lingering back in the future. Claire and Jamie don't get along at first, but they quickly develop a sort of friendship that develops into something more later. Jamie is young and brash, if not a bit vain, and he's always willing to play the sacrifice. I did have some issues with Jamie about 200 pages in that involved some uncomfortable material that I won't get into as they are spoilers, but these issues made him suddenly unlikable and out of character. Fortunately my dislike of Jamie faded and I fell back in love with him. I also liked many of the side characters. There's Colum and Dougal, two brothers who are in charge of their clan. There's Rupert and Murtagh, two clansmen who often travel with Claire and Jamie. There's the villainous British army officer, Randall, who has some dark and twisted secrets and who also reminds Claire heavily of her husband Frank. I even liked Laoghaire (lear-e), even though she was often jealous of Claire and Jamie's relationship---I liked her as a foil to Claire. Then there's Geillis (gay-lis) Duncan, a modern woman in her own right, who has some hidden secrets. There's lots of characters that populate this story and many of them only appear for a few chapters. But overall, I liked the majority of them.
As a warning, this book is pretty heavy on some issues. If you don't like reading lengthy, explicit sex scenes or rape scenes, don't pick this book up. This book is also graphic with it's language (it's populated by soldiers and Scottish men, what else would you expect?)Claire is quite free with her language as well. The first time she uses the "f-word" in the book is hilarious. Also this book is graphic in terms of showing in detail injuries, lots of blood, some protruding bones, etc.
Let me move on to what I didn't like about this book, thus giving it a 3-star rating.
1. Family tree confusion: I wasn't able to keep the family tree together in my head. I kept losing track of who was related to who.
2. Twist after twist: So many plot twists in this book it wasn't even funny. And because of that, I think that's why I had trouble keeping track of who was related to who. I felt like a lot of the plot twists were unnecessary.
3. Too much plot = too long of a book. Once again, I felt like some plot elements were unneeded. Sometimes the story felt like it was dragging. This book took me an incredibly long time to read. Either things would be uninteresting, or there would be too much character info dumping that was hard to keep in my head.
4. The plot I did enjoy was often skipped over. There's one particular character who provides for some very dramatic, intense parts of the book and we learn some interesting developments, especially in regards to Claire realizing some things. And then the book moves on! In the meantime I'm screaming, "No, wait! Go back! You can't just leave me hanging like that!" This book is essentially a time traveling story. This element is what piqued my interest in reading this book. I wanted the historical fiction aspect of the book, but I also wanted some answers and revelations regarding the time traveling. So when the story would be about to touch on the time traveling, and reveal something, the narrative would suddenly be interrupted and would go someplace else.
5. Out of character moments: Even though I liked Claire and Jamie, there were a few instances where they would do something totally out of character. Claire is independent and speaks her mind. But there's a few places where she suddenly becomes passive and just lets things happen to her. Jamie is fun and naive at the beginning of the story and then suddenly he does some very questionable things that didn't seem in character, providing for some rather uncomfortable, anger-inducing moments that cause you to hate him. As a side note: how often was Jamie bloody, bruised, and broken? I don't think he went this entire book without some sort of injury.
Overall, even though I did have more negatives than positives, I still liked the book for what it was and I am still very curious to continue the series. My main complaints were that the book was too long, unneeded plot, and when it would finally get somewhere good it was often brushed aside. I do recommend this book for historical fiction fans, maybe also if you like a dash of a bit of fantasy to the story. Also recommend to lovers of romance fiction. Like I said, there's very mature subject matter in this book, so make sure you can handle that before picking this book up....more
"Under the Black Ensign" by L. Ron Hubbard is a pirate adventure story that follows that of Tom Bristol who was press-ganged into serving the British navy. After nearly killing the Lord High Governor, Bristol is sentenced to 100 lashes, but before he receives those lashes, the ship is boarded by pirates and Bristol is set free. Bristol's story is a tale of adventure. First he's accused of murdering another pirate, he's also accused of harboring a woman on board, and then Bristol is even stranded on a island to fight against the elements. Full of swashbuckling action, "Under the Black Ensign" is a must for those who love a good pirate adventure.
I won this book through Goodreads Giveaways. It was an okay read I suppose. Not really my thing. To start off with, this book only took me about an hour and a half to read (it's incredibly short, barely 100 pages). So there wasn't much in the way of character development. It's pretty much action after action after action. And I was quite confused the whole time. There's a glossary in the back with a list of all the shipping terms used throughout the book, but that still didn't help me. The majority of the book was spent on having these epic ocean battles which I didn't enjoy, nor understand fully what was going on, and they were overall just boring.
I did like Bristol. He was like Robin Hood on water. Jim (aka Lady Jane) was the only female in the novel and I think she wasn't developed very well. This book was wrote back in the 1930s, so obviously making Jim as damsel in distress was bound to happen. Though I have to give Jim credit for helping Bristol out on a few occasions, so she wasn't entirely useless.
Overall, this little book wasn't entirely my thing, but if you're someone who likes quick easy pirate stories and high sea adventure you may appreciate this more than me....more
"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs follows sixteen year old Jacob who, after a terrible tragedy, heads to a remote island off the coast of Wales to discover the hidden secrets of his grandfather's past. It's here where he searches through the remains of Miss Peregrine's home for orphans and comes to discover the tales his grandfather told him years ago about the peculiar children might not just be tales of fiction.
This book has been so hyped and I was worried that I wouldn't like it as much as some people. I ended up really enjoying this. Quite a surprising read, really. From my understanding, Ransom Riggs discovered some old photos of children doing odd things and he worked his novel around those photos. All of those photos appear very creatively throughout the novel, really setting the mood and atmosphere of the book from start to finish.
I won't say that this book is perfect. I do think it has some minor flaws to it. The story has a very fantastical premise and deals with a time traveling and time looping. These fantastical elements were a bit overwhelming on occasion and sometimes it seemed like the the world building was a bit inconsistent. I think the world building got more complicated than what it needed to be. If you can tell by my use of placing this book in my "historical fiction" shelf, I'm terming the book as historical fiction in a very loose way. The majority of the story takes place in the present and Jacob travels back and forth in time only once he reaches the island. I also don't think some plot points were fully fleshed out and brought to a conclusion. And some plot points I was still a bit confused about.
I enjoyed the characters in this book. Jacob was an angst ridden teenager and something horrible happens at the beginning of the book that's sets up the rest of his journey. I will say that I didn't ultimately agree with some of Jacob's decisions by the end of the book (view spoiler)[I was frustrated by how easily Jacob left behind his life and kind of just dismissed his father to join the peculiar children. I get that Jacob's going off to fight this epic battle against the hollows, but still, I didn't like how he treated his father and his former life. (hide spoiler)] Many of the peculiar children were fun to read about. I adored Emma and her spunk (plus she can control fire) and she has a history with Jacob's grandfather. There's the invisible boy Millard; the floating girl Olive; the "I-can-bring-people-back-to-life" boy Enoch; and there's a host of other children. I did get a bit confused with some of the kids and who had what power. A lot of the kids are introduced at once so that was a bit overwhelming at first. As for Miss Peregrine herself: she was so fun! She enforces order amongst the children and she's the one who knows all the secrets. She's a figure that you can admire and she's very motherly.
Overall, I enjoyed this book so much. A fun ride from start to finish. I honestly didn't know what to expect and the plot twists in this were fantastic. When you start the book, it almost seems like you're getting into some sort of horror novel (especially because of the creepy cover), but I don't think I'd say this story was scary at all. If anything it was more of a mystery. Highly recommend this book for younger readers and adults as well.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
"Children of Liberty" by Paullina Simons is the prequel to "The Bronze Horseman" trilogy, focusing on Gina Attaviano and Harry Barrington. Gina and Harry meet by chance on the docks of Boston where they develop a forbidden friendship. Gina is a poor Italian immigrant. Harry is a upper class university student. "Children of Liberty" is a story of the modern world versus the traditional world, the poor versus the wealthy, and the possibilities of opportunity and potential.
It's little known that Paullina Simons popular "Bronze Horseman" trilogy has a set of prequel books focused on "Bronze Horseman" male lead Alexander's parents and how they first met. I adore "The Bronze Horseman," so obviously I had to pick up this first prequel book and see if it's any good. I do have some rather mixed feelings on it. In general, Simons writing is just as descriptive, beautiful, and sensory. Her research is fantastic. She really gives you a sense of living in the time period and experiencing the same things the characters are going through. The themes of the book pretty much run the entirety of the book. There's a lot about traditional and modernity, poor and rich, and the whole idea of shaping your own future and not letting others shape it for you. I also enjoyed the characters for the most part. As individuals, I really liked Gina and Harry. I loved their passion and zeal for life and opportunities. I wasn't expecting all the side characters, but I did like most of them as well. Simons does a great job of fleshing them out, too. I particularly liked Harry's friend, Ben, who has this big dream of going to South America, dig a canal, and sell bananas. I also liked Gina's brother, Salvo, who is a protective older brother and has dreams of opening up his own Italian restaurant.
So here at the things that I had issues with:
1. I said I really liked Gina and Harry as individuals. I had trouble buying them as lovers or soul mates. They both make some really unlikable decisions and hurt those closest to them in the process of their forbidden love. Them being together actually made me not like them that much. This book is about how they meet, which is the entire focus of the book, so it's pretty terrible I didn't 100% like them together. It felt like Simons kind of just threw them together out of nowhere, and I don't think she built up their relationship into anything believable. It was much too quick.
2. Is this Gina's story or is this Harry's story? I was often confused who Simons wanted me to focus on. The first half of the novel felt like Gina's story, but then the entire second half was Harry's story, and I felt like Gina's story (and family) kind of dropped from the picture. I think their stories should have been intermingled a bit more rather than feeling so separate.
3. I felt like the politics of the novel go overly preachy. This book was all about anarchy, socialism, communism...probably some other stuff that flew over my head. I got bored quite honestly during a lot of these political rallies and conversations. I couldn't keep everyone's personal politics straight in my head.
Overall, "Children of Liberty" is not a horrible book, but nor is it perfect. If you loved "The Bronze Horsman," I definitely don't think you'll like this as much, but it is still a nice read to see where Alexander's parents are coming from. I do intend on picking up the second book, because there's still a lot more to tell that "The Bronze Horseman" mentions that this book hasn't even gotten to yet....more
"Within the Hollow Crown" by Margaret Campbell Barnes is historical fiction based on King Richard II's rule. Richard never wanted to be king and his father is a continual shadow in his life. England is in political and class warfare, and an inexperienced Richard must figure out a way to form his own kingship and not let his uncles control him.
Richard II is a bit of a vague area for me, but an area of the English monarchy that I'm trying to learn more about. The only bit I know of Richard II comes from Shakespeare's history play. So I don't quite know all of the historical details related to Richard II's life---I really only know how it all ends.
This book is a bit of a slow read at the start. I found myself zoning out on occasion and loosing focus. It didn't help either that since I don't know about all the people surrounding Richard II that I was getting overwhelmed with all the characters and their numerous titles. To put it bluntly, the first half of the novel is kind of boring, with occasional moments of interesting entertainment thrown in. The novel begins to pick up when Richard marries his first wife, Anne. Anne was a very refreshing addition to the story. Once Richard and Anne begin to form their relationship the novel continues to build up at a great pace, climaxing at Anne's death. The novel continues to be a fast read all the way through Richard marrying his second wife, the child Isabel of Valois. It's a few chapters after Richard's second marriage that I felt like the novel moved too quickly through the rest of Richard's reign all the way up to his death. It was all just so sudden in regards to Henry Bolingbroke (King Henry IV)usurping the throne and Richard being imprisoned. The novel spent so much time in the beginning showcasing Richard's early career as king and showing his faults and achievements, and then is just whizzes by the end of his reign. I think the end of Richard's reign and all the events leading up to it are so fascinating and I felt like Barnes wasted a good thing in her narrative retelling.
Richard as a character was intriguing. Like I said in my opening paragraph, he's a figure I'm not all the familiar with and the Shakespeare play was one of my first encounters with him. Richard in Barnes' novel is a man of many complexities. Richard is sensitive, passionate, demanding, and compassionate all rolled in to one. One moment he could be joyous and laughing. The next minute he could be kingly and controlling. Richard was not one dimensional by any means. I also adored his relationship with both of his wives. With Anne, he has a true companion and a soulmate. When Anne dies it's heartbreaking to see Richard's response. With Isabel, Richard has a child bride who he treats more like a daughter than a wife. After Anne's death Richard thought he'd never be able to experience joy again, but he smiles again with Isabel. As far as other memorable characters, not too many stick out (like I said, I had trouble telling a lot of them apart, especially the uncles). Robert de Vere was one of the most interesting and I liked his relationship with Richard. But it's their close relationship that starts up rumors that the two are romantically involved, which causes Richard to send Robert away to Ireland. I adored Simon Burley as well who was almost like a father figure to Richard. There weren't too many women in the novel outside of Anne and Isabel, but Richard's mother, Joan, his childhood nurse, Mundina, and Lizbeth, a woman of the court, were fascinating and domineering presences on every page. I have to say I'm disappointed with the lack of Henry Bolingbroke. Considering that he is the future King Henry IV, I was disappointed with the lack of his character and his presence in Richard's life. Bolingbroke is mostly talked about more so than shown.
Overall, I did enjoy the book. It had an incredibly rough start and was boring until Anne showed up. But once the novel got going, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The characters, the time period, and the writing were outstanding. My biggest complaint was how quickly the novel went through Richard's reign and how quickly it went through his dethronement and death. If you want to learn more about Richard II, I do highly recommend this one....more
"Serena" by Ron Rash takes place in the mountains of depression era North Carolina, following newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton as they create their timber empire. George and Serena are ruthless in their endeavors to run their business and vanquish anyone who gets in their way. "Serena" is a novel about greed and corruption and the lengths someone will go to guarantee what they want.
A fantastic novel. I tend to read a lot of English monarchy or World War II historical fiction, so I found "Serena" a breath of fresh air. Depression era America is a subject I hardly read about. It's seriously hard to talk about this book. So much going on that can accidentally be spoiled (by the way, it might be best not to read the entirety of the blurb on the back of the novel because I think it spoils a good chunk of the book). All you need to know is what I just told you up above in the synopsis.
One of the first things that struck me about this novel was how much it reminded me of classic literature. It's not dry and dense like classic literature can be, but there's something about the structure of the narrative and use of themes and imagery that harken back to classic literature. This isn't a novel that you just read. It's a novel that demands your attention. Rash's descriptions and use of imagery are stunning, and I really loved the larger themes going on in the book, like greed and corruption, as well as gender roles in this society that is primarily male. Funny enough, though this book is called "Serena" I often felt like Serena herself was hardly in the book. Yes, she was in the book quite a bit, but it also felt like Serena was talked about or seen far afar. She's very much a mystery. There's even a part in the book when she gets her photo taken but the image of her face is blurred which I found very symbolic, because Serena is a blurry character in some ways. The book has many symbolic moments and you definitely have to read into them to understand the larger picture.
My edition of the book has an interview with Ron Rash and I just want to highlight some bits of his interview and make comment because he says things better than I could ever do in this review.
1. "I thought it would be interesting to have a female character who had power, even the power of life and death, at a time when women had few opportunities to achieve such power. Her ruling a timber camp full of men struck me as even more intriguing."
My thoughts exactly as I was reading the book. There's only a few female characters in this book, Serena being the main one, and then Rachel, the girl who had an illegitimate child by George. Serena is the epitome of corruption and power while Rachel is the model of goodness, though she is often looked upon as being a whore because of the child. Serena makes things happen, she gets her way, while Rachel struggles daily to provide for her child. Two incredibly fascinating women who work perfectly as opposites in this book and in this time period.
2. "I wanted to write a novel that had the sensibility and to a degree, the structure of an Elizabethan play."
Ron Rash then continues after that and says that "Serena" is a bit like Shakespeare's "Macbeth," which was about a husband and wife who, very much like George and Serena, are swayed by corruption and greed to make sure they are the ones in power. First off, I'm incredibly frustrated with myself for not seeing the "Macbeth" parallels going on in this novel. It's totally obvious when I think about it now. Serena is very much an equal with her husband, if not more powerful on occasion. All the men at the timber business are in awe of her, she's a complete mystery to them, but they also admire her and are absolutely terrified of her at the same time.
3. "You can bring the place more intensely to the reader's mind, which allows the reader to enter the story more fully---to understand that place as fully and in as many ways as possible, which includes how the place influences the characters' sense of reality."
This book is very much all about the atmosphere, it's all about the place, the timber company. In some ways the setting and the environment becomes it's own character, and the characters are merely players in that environment. The environment effects everything these characters do. Rash's world is so descriptive, I can see it clearly, and I definitely felt immersed, like I was one of the characters, too.
Overall, a truly fantastic novel. Very intense from start to finish. There may have been a bit of predictability going on on a few occasions, but I still immensely enjoyed the narrative. Of note, this book, if you haven't been able to tell, is heavily symbolic, it's about the larger themes, and the environment these characters live in. There is character development to a degree, but not a heck of a lot of it. So if you are a "character" reader, you may find this slow and boring. But if you are someone who appreciates narrative structure, imagery, and themes, I think you'll highly enjoy this.