This book could have been much better than it was. There were pretty interesting themes that the author tried to explore--of privilege, of parental ex...moreThis book could have been much better than it was. There were pretty interesting themes that the author tried to explore--of privilege, of parental expectations, of sacrifice, and others--and there was great potential in a diary written by a victim of the Salem witch trial, which could have been fascinating and tragic.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be very shallow. The diary was probably the worst; the writing was bad, uninteresting, unrealistic, and, worst of all, didn't touch me at all. I never cared about Mercy the way I would have liked to, the way Lauren and Abigail do, the way I would have if I'd read an actual diary (or a well written fake). It was predictable and a lot of what was written in it is not stuff that a girl would write about in her own personal diary; it was just there to further along the witch trial story. Then, when she was actually accused and arrested, the entries kept going, as if she could really write in her diary in jail. And even worse, the love story, which according to the characters is what the diary is about, was completely unmoving.
As for the modern day story, it was better written and more fleshed out, but not enough. Again, it was shallow. No growth or achievement that the characters accomplished was actually built, it just seemed to happen. Lauren's circumstances seem unlikely--she is a rich girl making a stand against her rich background by going to a state school and living in a dorm with the same roommate for two years...what kind of stand is that? All her relationships, with her roommate, her parents, her cousins, her employer, are awkward and hard to understand, and seem to change from day to day. The mistakes and assumptions that Lauren feels terrible about making are predictable and boring, and the mistakes and assumptions that she doesn't really address (or that the author tries to show she was right about) did a disservice to the character and to those around her, and left me with a bad taste. Her love story, like Mercy's was unmoving.
The problems in Abigail's life, including her own past love story, were more interesting than those of Mercy and Lauren, but the character was so unreachable and unlikeable that I didn't actually care. Moreover, the situation between Lauren and Abigail was bizarre and unlikely, so I found it hard to believe that any of this would be happening, or to care.
I could have done without the religious aspect of the book (there was an awful lot about religion in the modern day story that not only did I not care for but--more importantly--didn't ring true), but that was actually one of the least problematic areas of the book.
Another huge problem was the writing. I found nothing special or interesting about the prose, about any turn of phrase or any character's way of speaking. It was just uninteresting. Something that personally bothered me was how snippets that were supposed to be pieces of writing--the diary and e-mail messages--were written as if they were spoken. In the middle of an e-mail from Raul to Lauren is an uncapitalized and unpunctuated interruption from Cole, and then Raul continues his e-mail. What? It's not being transmitted instantaneously. In real life anyone would simply have deleted the interruption. Mercy, in her diary, explains why she has to stop writing, and then later wonders if she has enough ink. In writing. She wastes ink by writing down her worries about not having enough ink (which it's ridiculous for her to have brought with her in the first place). This really made it hard for me to take the story seriously.
Overall, I found this to be a big disappointment. It was a quick read and was somewhat entertaining, but it just wasn't deep or good.
The Eight is a thrilling mystery/adventure with smart and capable heroines, fascinating history, intriguing mysteries, exotic locations, startling dis...moreThe Eight is a thrilling mystery/adventure with smart and capable heroines, fascinating history, intriguing mysteries, exotic locations, startling discoveries, math puzzles, codes and ciphers, amusing historical cameos, twists and turns, and what I think is an epic scope. It may not be high art, but it is extremely entertaining and enjoyable. It is without a doubt one of the most entertaining books I've read, and therefore, despite it's flaws, it is highly satisfying. So either I'm not a discerning reader or the entertainment value really is that good. Or both.
This is one of those books that the cliche of being unable to put it down was made for. It took a while, particularly since the narrative switches between two different time periods with two different heroines to get used to, but once I got into the story, I did little else other than read more of it (apart from the several hours I spent telling my boyfriend all about it and, in fact, reading parts of it that I'd bookmarked out loud to him until I literally lost my voice).
As I said, it took me a little while to really appreciate it. As a history buff (or, at least, a lover of historical fiction), I was loving the opening of the story in 1790s France, which is undoubtedly a fascinating setting for a story. This made it very jarring for me to be pulled into a first-person narration (which I thought was grating) in New York City (too unexotic, I thought) in the 1970s (MUCH too recent to be of interest to me...I thought). But when the story went back to the past, I started to be annoyed by how unnatural the dialogue sometimes seemed. Other complaints, which I put in my status updates, included: "Characters are numerous, while characterizations and motivations are somewhat weak. But I'm enjoying it and wish to read it all in one go." and "Interesting story, interesting ideas. Perhaps too many. Writing a bit clunky at times, and unpolished." Neither of these were complete condemnations, which shows they weren't too bothersome. Not having read any later books by this author, I'm hoping the less than excellent prose was due to this being her first book. Also, compared to other writing that I've thought wasn't great, Katherine Neville is way above: she's not simplistic, and she definitely has a style--it's just unpolished.
Finally I found myself in such thrall to this book that I never put it down if I could help it. I wanted to read it in one sitting just so that I wouldn't have to wait to find out what happened. It took me four days, and if I hadn't talked to my boyfriend it would have been three.
This book made me excited to learn more about its themes, locations, characters, ideas. I'd been looking forward to reading this for so long that I had very high hopes for it, but after reading some reviews on goodreads had somewhat low expectations. Suffice it to say, my hopes were met, my expectations were exceeded, and now I want to go read the sequel that came out last year.(less)
The Expected One explores the long untold story of Mary Magdalene. It follows a journalist as she begins to investigate that much maligned woman follo...moreThe Expected One explores the long untold story of Mary Magdalene. It follows a journalist as she begins to investigate that much maligned woman following a series of visions that she believes are guiding her towards something--and finds out much more than she had anticipated, including her own role in the story that, after 2,000 years, is still being played out.
The story told in this book is an interesting one, although the writing wasn't the greatest. (Nor, however, is it the worst--it's merely simplistic and at times has too much monologue-as-exposition.) At any rate, it was interesting enough that I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the planned trilogy.
This book will inevitably be compared to The Da Vinci Code, because of their shared themes of ancient secret societies, intrigue and betrayal in Southern France, clues hidden in famous renaissance paintings, and the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. They have other similarities, including a lot of interesting ideas about history that are very tempting to believe (despite the lack of any need to cite--or even have--sources in fiction), and a writing style that belies more of an interest in telling a story than in creating high quality prose with any depth.
However, beyond these thematic and technical similarities, the two books tell very different stories. This one deals with fulfilling an ancient prophesy in this time, and also goes back 2,000 years to telling the story of Mary Magdalene's life, of Jesus and the apostles, and of the other people and events that surrounded them. That story is different from any others I've seen, has a very good message, and was worthwhile for me to read.(less)
If you love Jane Eyre as much as I do, and as much as the author and main character of this book do, then you'll probably like The Thirteenth Tale. It...moreIf you love Jane Eyre as much as I do, and as much as the author and main character of this book do, then you'll probably like The Thirteenth Tale. It is at once both an interesting story of its own and a love letter to books that book-lovers will see their own feelings reflected in.
It took me a little while to get to the point where I didn't want to put the book down. The first few chapters, while interesting and well written, came before the introduction of any real mystery that I wanted to find the answer to. At some point, however, I did find myself reluctant to stop reading, which is a feeling I wish every book invoked in me.
Frequently, I find I've discovered or understood things well before the characters in a story. Sometimes I don't mind this--sometimes that is clearly what the author intends--and sometimes I find it tedious. (But as much as I enjoy the infrequent occasions when I am surprised, what is by far worse than knowing everything already is when I'm utterly surprised at revelations because the author has not laid out the clues properly!) In The Thirteenth Tale, I usually figured things out only pages before the narrator did. Even when the conclusion we both reached was incorrect, this shows that Diane Setterfield laid her clues very well indeed. They were neither obvious nor unfathomable, they were simply elements that, when put together with other elements, produced a reasonable answer.
Some people might complain that the references to Jane Eyre, along with other much-beloved 19th century novels, are not subtle enough or, because of some quibble with the writing style or quality or characterization, are too presumptuous. The thought of these people makes me happy that instead of nitpicking or being disappointed, I was simply able to deeply enjoy this novel.(less)