I love it when historical fiction manages to be both informative about a time and place I knew nothing about, and emotionally crushing. Oh, okay, thatI love it when historical fiction manages to be both informative about a time and place I knew nothing about, and emotionally crushing. Oh, okay, that may be a bit dramatic - it's not that much of a depressing book. But still, Rachel's story made me cry :(...more
This book has a fascinating premise. Part historical fiction, part paranormal dystopia, it imagines a Victorian world where sin is visible inDNF - 50%
This book has a fascinating premise. Part historical fiction, part paranormal dystopia, it imagines a Victorian world where sin is visible in the form of an ugly smoke that leaks directly from a person's body. Imagine it: your anger, lust and shame displayed for the world to see.
The beginning opens in a rich, upper-class boys' boarding school near Oxford. And, at first, it is compelling. Thomas and Charlie are the protagonists; each likable and sympathetic enough to capture our interest. The narration is mostly third person, but slips into many first person accounts, and the writing style is dense and descriptive, but this suits the setting and atmosphere of the novel.
There's a darkness and fear to this world that keeps the pages turning for the first few chapters. Crazy religious zealots and "innocent" teenage boys are a combination that draws us in.
Unfortunately, though, somewhere towards the end of the first 25%, this book becomes unspeakably dull. It loses its compelling rhythm surrounding the way the smoke is used to punish the boys and the hint at mysteries and lies behind it. Instead, we get pages and pages of description about country life, fancy manors, and characters far less interesting than Thomas and Charlie.
The denseness of the narrative works when paired with a plot that intrigues, but it felt like wading through thick mud when the plot slowed down and nothing was happening. The more time we spent in this slow section (which I'm sure eventually gives way to interesting things again), the less I cared about the story and the fate of the characters.
Anyway, now I've finished bitching, I'm going to talk about how great this story is. It's a short, powerful, emotive read about the twelve hours before a Danish boy is due to be executed. He sits in his jail cell with a fly as his only companion, reminiscing about his life with his father (poor and often homeless), but The Last Execution is not just a book about the boy in question.
As we soon find out, there are many people involved in Niel's execution - from the carpenter who will make his coffin, to the baker who will serve bread to those coming to watch, to the poet who will record the events. It's a chilling tale about the whole town, and the vast array of emotions experienced - everything from sadness and pity to excitement and enthusiasm.
The boy's guilt of the crime is never really in question, but it is given context, which makes it hard not to side with Niels regardless. The book acts as a criticism of society and its failures to the lower, poorer classes, and also shows the way people are quick to rally around and enjoy another's misfortune. As Kirkus said: "the carefully paced reveals of the specific circumstances leading up to the fatal incident ultimately suggest Niels’ greatest crime might simply have been poverty."
By opening each chapter in the dark simplicity of Niel's cell and reminding the reader how long is remaining until the execution, the atmosphere is one of impending doom and the suspense is perfect. I really enjoyed the format of the storytelling, the gradual reveals, and the wide scope of such a small novel, incorporating the perspectives of many characters.
It was dark, she was alone, but her blood was beating; she was alive. She would study it, this place, this asylum. She would hide inside herself. She
It was dark, she was alone, but her blood was beating; she was alive. She would study it, this place, this asylum. She would hide inside herself. She would seem to be good. And then she would escape.
This was awesome. I have no idea how I found this book or ended up reading it - I haven't read the author's work before and I have literally heard nothing about this book or read any reviews, professional or otherwise. I guess it was something about the setting that did it. An asylum on the edge of the Yorkshire moors in 1911 was just too good to pass up.
I suppose I should warn you non-romantics that there is a love story going on, but I never for one second felt like it took over the novel. For me, this was a dark, scary tale of events horrifyingly close to historical truth. Torn between horror and fascination as I learned how easy it was to be sent to an asylum (and the chilling laws proposed regarding "lunatics"), I could not turn the pages fast enough.
John lifted his shovel to the hard winter earth. And he thought of where he was. And how long he had been there. And what was simple broke apart and became a shattered, sharded thing.
The story follows three third-person perspectives, each as interesting as the last. John is an Irishman with a past cloaked in mystery; only time will tell why he was locked up in the asylum. Ella was dragged away from the workhouse after displaying "hysteria" and stands as an example of how easy it was to be labelled insane in 1911, especially as a working class woman. And then there's Charles - a doctor and eugenics enthusiast, and the most surprising character in this book.
The author writes some gorgeous descriptions of the setting - from the isolated, eerie Yorkshire moors to the streets of London, to the asylum itself. And at the centre of this dark, miserable asylum, there is an old ballroom where the inmates are awarded for good behaviour once every week, and allowed to come together and dance.
A strange sound started up, a low drumming. At first, she couldn’t light on what it was, until it grew faster, and louder, and she understood: it was the men, beating with their boots on the floor. Something stirred in the pit of her stomach. It was wild in here. Dangerous. Anything might occur.
There is so much to praise about this book. The truth about the eugenics movement is unsettling, even more so because it really wasn't that long ago in human history.
In fact, it was only really the Nazi crimes that served as a wake-up call and halted the eugenics movements in the United States and Europe. Prior to this, many prominent politicians (including such as Winston Churchill) called for compulsory labour camps for the "mentally defective" and/or forced sterilization. It was a widely-accepted notion that a better race of humans could be bred by following Darwinian theory. God, people are stupid.
All of this makes Charles an incredibly important and interesting character who grows in complexity, offering a very different kind of experience to that had by John and Ella in this book.
There are also some fantastic secondary characters, particularly Clem. She offers some much-needed female friendship to Ella and the two cling to each other inside the asylum, being a way to keep the other sane.
Just a really great and interesting book, featuring love, friendship, history, sanity, insanity and the many insane notions of the supposedly sane majority. I enjoyed it a lot.
She stared at the book in her hands. ‘When I go to university,’ she said, ‘if I write an essay about it, then I’ll talk about the ending. How I want it to be different. But how it’s still the right ending after all.’
“The ease. Us, the children… I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”
Butler is an author that constantly pops up on "
“The ease. Us, the children… I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”
Butler is an author that constantly pops up on "Best sci-fi" and "Must-Read African American authors" lists and I can finally see why. This book may be my first by her, but it won't be my last. Kindred is a fascinating, horrific journey through a dark time in American history, combining eye-opening historical research with time travel.
I suppose some modern readers will want to compare this story to Outlander and there are some similarities - a woman trying to survive in the past, lots of blood-soaked history and horror, the harsh realities of being who you are in that time - but not only did this book come first, but it is far more distressing, more tied in with historical truth, and way more about surviving than it is about lusty scenes with a kilted hot dude.
It's a really important "what if" book about race. What if a modern black woman suddenly found herself transported 150+ years into the past, right into the centre of the antebellum South? The book doesn't shy away from portraying the realities of that (nothing is sugar-coated, be prepared for some upsetting scenes).
But it's also more than a gruesome look at historical racism and violence. There are many complex and interesting characters - both slaves and slave owners. Butler has written a book that goes deeper than surface level, exploring how people come to accept slavery as the norm and to justify poor treatment of slaves. Dana is horrified how easy it is. And so was I.
Kindred is so good because, not only is it well-written and emotionally effective, but it also manages to be several different important things: complex historical-fiction, intriguing science-fiction, and a memoir of slavery. For a novel so obviously fictional, it feels very real and true. Maybe because, sadly, most of it is.
I know this is one book that will stay with me for a long time.
Nothing much to say about this one; it just isn't holding my attention. The protagonist is already slipping from my mind and I seem unable to get caugNothing much to say about this one; it just isn't holding my attention. The protagonist is already slipping from my mind and I seem unable to get caught up in the Victorian dances and dresses. Maybe because I recently read the more compelling The Dark Days Club and These Shallow Graves. Or maybe I just need to try again at a different time....more
I very rarely put aside books after reading just a prologue and one chapter, but I cannot make myself suffer through any more of this. My stomach wDNF
I very rarely put aside books after reading just a prologue and one chapter, but I cannot make myself suffer through any more of this. My stomach was coiling with dread each time I even thought about pushing through another 300+ pages of this overwritten prose.
I ate in the blunt way I had as a child—a glut of spaghetti, mossed with cheese. The nothing jump of soda in my throat.
I tended to the in-between spaces of other people’s existences, working as a live-in aide. Cultivating a genteel invisibility in sexless clothes, my face blurred with the pleasant, ambiguous expression of a lawn ornament.
I'm sure a certain type of reader will love this, but that reader is not me. Out of curiosity, though, what's with the Manson-related stories? I just finished My Favourite Manson Girl, and now we have this book, which is based on the Manson cult and tells how Evie Boyd gets drawn into it. Did I miss something?
Critics are saying this is a realistic addition to the Bronte tale because of Case's style - slow, detailed, old-fashioned - and IJust... quite dull.
Critics are saying this is a realistic addition to the Bronte tale because of Case's style - slow, detailed, old-fashioned - and I quite agree. And yet, I don't think it actually adds much at all. The author has broadened the story to contain even more details, especially about Hindley and Nelly, but it feels unneeded and unexciting. It doesn't go to all the new places I'd hoped for....more
There would be no dressing up as a maid. No cyanide slipped into his crystal glass of mineral water. The Fuhrer’s death was to be a loud, screaming t
There would be no dressing up as a maid. No cyanide slipped into his crystal glass of mineral water. The Fuhrer’s death was to be a loud, screaming thing. A broadcast of blood over the Reichssender.
This book is an action-packed adventure, but it cannot be denied that a lot of its strength comes from one of the most fascinating premises I've ever read. Two, really. Though this may have been done by other authors, it was the first time I'd read anything like it. Wolf By Wolf imagines a reality based on two horrific "what ifs". And it is damn compelling.
Almost everyone knows about the atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II, and most people will know of some book or movie that explores the possibility of a world where Hitler won the war. What fewer people know is that medical experiments were conducted on concentration camp prisoners - painful, genetic alterations, attempts to cure homosexuality, injections of dyes to create blue eyes, etc.
Graudin takes the "what if" of Hitler winning the war and pairs it with the "what if" of an experiment that resulted in something else. What if the Nazi's attempt to play with genetics created a new type of creature - a "human" with the ability to shift their physical appearance, to take on the face of someone else? Meet Yael.
This book offers an introspective exploration of identity and the ultimate result of the Nazi crimes - a loss of identity, a loss of a sense of self. Yael can be anyone, have any face, and by doing so, she never really has an identity of her own. This inner struggle is paired with a fast-paced, heart-pounding plot.
Yael is part of a resistance with the ultimate goal - to kill Hitler. However, the Fuhrer rarely appears in public these days, so Yael must go to extremes to get close to him: join and win the Axis Tour (disguised as Adele Wolfe) and then put a bullet through Hitler's heart at the Victor's Ball in Tokyo.
But Yael makes the mistake of thinking her biggest challenge is becoming an expert biker. She gets way more than she bargained for when faced with the intricate web of jealousies, love and backstabbing from the other riders. The author reminds us that humans are complex and layered, and Yael is unable to view the other riders as empty followers of Nazi ideology because, of course, underneath everyone is so much more.
I will issue one warning - not criticism, exactly, because I quite enjoyed it - Graudin's prose gets a little purple at times. I found it more polished and less jarring than in her previous book (The Walled City) but I know flowery metaphors are a deal-breaker for some readers. Otherwise, I thought it was excellent.
Even knowing that the ending couldn't possibly be as neat as planned, I did not see it coming. It opens up possibilities for an exciting sequel, while still drawing a line under this chapter of the story. I cannot wait to read more about this world and its characters - their trials, troubles, struggles and hope.
He hadn’t stood a chance really, but that was the power of hope, the utter cruelty of it.
The pure song of a nightingale, a rossinhol, rang across the water, ending in a trill. It was an hour for sprites and fairies. What magic might lurk
The pure song of a nightingale, a rossinhol, rang across the water, ending in a trill. It was an hour for sprites and fairies. What magic might lurk among the riverbank grasses? Anything was possible just before dawn.
Either it's been a really long time since I was this completely immersed in a story, or The Passion of Dolssa just managed to make me forget all others. Because I found this book engaging, infuriating, frightening and magical. It took over my life for a little while.
It's the kind of book I had to make time for - I would hold it in one hand as I made tea or brushed my teeth because I simply couldn't put it down; I needed to know what happened next.
The writing is exquisite, painting the thirteenth-century French and Spanish countryside with brilliant description. And, into this time of mystical beliefs and holy witch hunts, come richly-drawn characters.
Dolssa and Botille are the main characters and they burst off the page, but Berry makes every single character that walks through this novel interesting. Nobody is a wasted, throwaway addition; everyone is treated as a complex human being, creating a story full of life and emotion, sadness and humour, love and hate.
Oh, and despite how the title sounds, this is not a romance at all. On the contrary, it is a gritty, medieval tale about a young woman accused of heresy and all the people who get pulled into her story when she escapes from her own execution. Her journey is a truly heart-pounding one and I felt constantly on the edge of my seat.
It's a book that is somehow gentle and character-driven, at the same time as being compelling, awful and fast-paced. Perhaps it is because you care so much about all the characters that their fates never stop being important. You're constantly afraid of what dangers lurk around every corner.
Not only are the characters memorable in themselves, but their relationships with one another are built up gradually, allowing the reader to become deeply invested in the relationship between mothers and daughters, sisters, and friends. What was strikingly noticeable while reading this book, was the extent to which we were made to care about every character, no matter how central they were to the story. There was not a single character's death (even that random person who is barely mentioned) that didn't affect me emotionally, and that's a really rare thing.
Julie Berry knew exactly how to make me care about her characters, and exactly how to draw me in and keep me hooked.
Some books are beautifully-written, finely-crafted and deserving of literary awards. Some books are fast-paced and exciting, making the pages fly by. The Passion of Dolssa, though, is both.
I try, I really do, but Sepetys's war stories do nothing for me. Yes, I know I'm in the minority. I was one of few who didn't love her debut - BetweenI try, I really do, but Sepetys's war stories do nothing for me. Yes, I know I'm in the minority. I was one of few who didn't love her debut - Between Shades of Gray - and much preferred her second book - Out of the Easy. Now she returns to World War II and, once again, I don't get it.
As with her first novel, I feel a little uncomfortable being negative about these kinds of books. This was a horrific time when some terrible atrocities were committed and I applaud the author for always focusing on the unknown, but no less true, parts of history.
Many of us know the tales of German and Polish Jews during the Nazi reign, far less know what Lithuanian refugees faced. Even fewer will know of the tragedy this book is about. I like that. Historical fiction that teaches me something is always appreciated. However, a few history lessons is truly all I took from this book.
The story is told in very short chapters of 2-3 pages (sometimes just a few sentences) and the perspective jumps between four different people - Joana, Florian, Emilia and Alfred. Personally, this didn't work for me. We spent so little time with each character before moving on that I constantly felt distanced from them, never making an emotional connection. In the beginning, the rapid movement between perspectives even made it difficult to follow the story.
Sepetys, for me, writes some of the most detached accounts of WW2 atrocities. It honestly shouldn't be that hard to evoke sympathy or some feeling for these poor people, but I genuinely felt nothing. You know those expendable people that get gunned down in movies while the hero runs from the bad guys? The ones who the camera brushes over and we never think about again? That is how I felt when learning of all the casualties and brutality in this book.
The book is told in one long, tedious journey and features many flashbacks that failed to pique my interest. The present is literally about them trekking across the icy landscape and having to show their papers to one soldier after another, before finally getting to the boat they want to board. I'm sorry, but it was so boring.
Maybe I could put it down to recently reading a fast-paced, exciting (and horrifying) book set during the Second World War - Front Lines - but, to be honest, I just think the author's war stories are not for me. I'm an emotional reader, and this kind of narrative leaves me cold.
Jane Steele is being called a retelling of Jane Eyre, but it isn't. The narrator presents the story asThe first 1/3-1/2 of this book was really great.
Jane Steele is being called a retelling of Jane Eyre, but it isn't. The narrator presents the story as an autobiography and claims to have read Bronte's most famous novel and "the work inspires me to imitative acts". And Jane Steele's life does indeed resemble that of Jane Eyre.
But with a huge twist - a lot more blood, murder and vengeance.
Regardless of whether you like Jane Eyre or not (and I do), it's hard to not be pulled in by Jane Steele's narrative voice. Her mother dies, leaving her orphaned and at the mercy of her constantly-disapproving aunt, who later sends her to a strict, miserable boarding school. But that's not before she commits her first murder.
Steele is fuelled by fire and vengeance. She is not afraid to get her hands dirty. And even though she seems increasingly nuts and lacking in human empathy, the author somehow manages to convince the reader that her crimes were warranted. From attempted rapists to sanctimonious religious hypocrites, Steele is a serial killer with strong - and often understandable - motivations.
Her time at boarding school is my favourite part of the story because that place is horrid. Nothing drags you into a story like a nice serving of despair and unfairness to really piss you off. And the boarding school is full of it. As well as the angst, there's also some great (but complex and not always loyal) female friendships. The section ends with blood and drama, and it was sad to see the novel never quite reach that level again.
Truth be told, once Jane Steele becomes a governess for Mr Thornfield, the story kind of loses its momentum. Every bit of excitement and bloodthirsty drama is gradually drained away as the romance is introduced (though gradually; no instalove in sight) and Jane finds a place for herself in Thornfield's life.
The pacing slowed and it became far less compelling. A disappointing and anticlimactic, if not unexpected, end to a novel that started so well.
4 1/2 stars. This is pretty close to five stars and I might change my mind yet. Just a beautiful, lyrical and magical book, even though there is no li4 1/2 stars. This is pretty close to five stars and I might change my mind yet. Just a beautiful, lyrical and magical book, even though there is no literal magic or fantasy elements.
karen pretty much nailed it when she said this was "classic-feeling". This whimsical historical tale has something timeless and wonderful about it - like all the best children's classics. The characters are so well-drawn and memorable, and the writing sparkles with a certain bittersweetness.
It's about a spunky, intelligent girl called Sophie, who was found floating in a cello case in the English channel as a baby. The man who found her - Charles - decides immediately to do the only natural thing - raise and love this baby girl as if she was his own.
People will easily fall in love with Charles. He is not a conventional parent and the child services certainly don't value his habit of letting a little girl wear trousers (god forbid!). He is quirky, weird and more concerned with raising a happy child, than one who fits into society's expectations. Also this:
“I do, I’m afraid, understand books far more readily than I understand people. Books are so easy to get along with.”
There's something about his attitude and the way he speaks that gives me a Dumbledore vibe.
The setting moves between the rooftops of London and Paris as our charming pair of criminals run from the authorities who wish to take Sophie away. Behind this, though, is the search for Sophie's mother and all they have to lead the way is the cello and it's music.
There is so much love for life, language and adventure in this book. It has you wishing you were the kind of person who could go racing around rooftops at midnight, seeing the whole of a beautiful European city laid out before you.