Review – Timeless Desire

I don’t read much romance but throw in time travel and a Scottish man and I’m in. All in.

Actually, I do read romance novels about once or twice a year. It’s not part of my regular reading feast but I like to change things up every few months and romance seems to be the thing for me. So when this book came along I was happy to find myself totally in the story and hoping for a happy ending.

Panna Kennedy is a librarian in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s in her 30s and a widow — her husband Charlie died two years earlier after a long and painful illness. She’s tried dating but doesn’t feel ready for a commitment yet. One night, a well-meaning friend sets her up on a blind date. As she’s getting ready to leave work, she stumbles upon a door in the library that is a time portal to 1706, and more precisely the border of England and Scotland which is about to erupt in battle. After going through the portal, she finds herself in a chapel. Not wanting to be seen, Panna runs off and ends up hiding in the library with a man named Captain James Bridgewater. He owns the castle and the library that she can’t help but admire. Trying to come up with a believable story for how she ended up in his house, she finds herself attracted to Bridgewater and keeps coming up with reasons to stay. Panna finally goes back to her own time but can’t stop thinking of Bridgewater and what might happen to him. Rushing back to the library, she hurls back in time and ends up in a whole mess of trouble that might get her and Bridgewater killed.

I loved that Panna was a librarian and pretty much fell in love with every book she came in contact with. It was a quirk I found very endearing. Being a young widow, she has her sad moments but it doesn’t consume her and while Panna professes she’s not ready for new love, well, it’s a romance so we all know what’s going to happen. And sometimes that predictability about a story is what I want. I wasn’t reading this book because I thought she might find a new man, I was all out waiting for him to appear, past or future.

Now James Bridgewater (Jamie to his friends) is likable in that gruff sort of way. A man without a family, floating between being a Captain in the English army and the grandson of a Scottish Clan leader, he’s more than stuck in the middle. Panna doesn’t make his life easier but she certainly makes it more enjoyable.

I’m a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and while I’m not out to make comparisons, I will anyway. Woman is the time traveler, meets Scot named Jamie, battle brewing between English and Scottish, two people marry under duress, find they really do love each other. You get the picture. Don’t take any of this as negative because it’s certainly not. I liked all these elements in the Outlander series and I liked them in this book. The story had a familiarity to it but didn’t feel the same for me. This happens when I read books with similar settings, which I do often especially with historical fiction, and while I wanted to mention it, it certainly wasn’t a drawback for me.

Here’s what it comes down to — Timeless Desire was a fast and entertaining read. The characters were likable, the setting a favorite time period of mine, and I can’t pass up a hot Scot. I was looking for a change in my reading and this book was a perfect summer evening read for me. I really I have to say I enjoyed it. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be adding more romance to my regularly scheduled reading but it did make me realize I need to give it a chance more often.

Timeless Desire: An Outlander Love Story

By Gwyn Cready

Astor + Blue Editions LLC

ISBN: 9781938231292

4 stars

Review – Shadow of Night

In Shadow of Night, we pick up with Diana Bishop, now Diana Clairmont, and her new husband Matthew in 1590 Elizabethan England. Having time walked back to 1590 to find a witch capable of understanding Diana’s magic and who can teach her how to control her powers, the two soon get caught up in 16th Century English politics and court intrigue. It’s a particularly fascinating place for Diana, being the scholar that she is, but for Matthew the new setting brings on a fresh set of problems and emotions. Matthew, a vampire who once hunted down witches, now has to reconcile his old role as witch hunter which is more than difficult now that over 400 years later, he finds himself married to a witch. He also must come to some understanding with his father — a man he knows as dead in his present.

In only a few months, Diana and Matthew have to find Ashmole 782, the mysterious book that brought them together months ago in their present time at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Hoping it may still be intact in 1590, they’re both somewhat optimistic that Diana’s burgeoning powers can help them understand who they are, what they are, and what will happen to their families. All the while they are dealing with Matthew’s past, well-known historical figures — Queen Elizabeth I anyone? — famous playwrights, witches, family drama, and weddings. Diana and Matthew not only have to figure out how to be married but also how to be a witch and vampire married to each other while looking for a book that they hope holds the answers to their future.

Matthew is still his controlling self — he’s a vampire but it’s still hard to ignore this annoying trait of his — but Diana is finally starting to understand what her witch heritage means, how to control her powers, and starts to stand her ground. Once reluctant to accept witchcraft, she finally begins using it and accepting it as part of who she is. Something her husband, a man who wants to control everything, struggles with as well. Their relationship becomes more of a partnership in the second book. These two obviously have picked a strange road to follow and one that many don’t see ending happily. I felt this second book in the All Souls trilogy (Shadow of Night is the second book in the series following A Discovery of Witches) had a bit less mystery for me but a lot more intrigue. I enjoyed the numerous strange characters that appeared and we finally get a look at Matthew’s past. Getting to meet Matthew’s family and friends explains his sometimes irrational mood swings and what both he and Diana will be facing in their life together.

I’m a series reader and am happy to say that Shadow of Night kept up with A Discovery of Witches. Book two in a trilogy can sometimes feel like a place holder, and while Diana and Matthew’s questions aren’t answered, their lives do move on and I liked seeing their relationship change. They both wonder about their intrusions on the past and how their actions will alter their futures and the past. Diana finally accepts witchcraft as part of who she is but there are few precious hints at what it will hold for her future self. Matthew’s history hits him full on in 1590 and Diana understands for the first time why her husband falls into such dark places.

In short, time walking, famous dead people, more vampires, witches, and daemons, and lots of magic shape book two in the All Souls trilogy. And yes, I’m now sitting and hoping Deborah Harkness writes faster because I’m anxious to know what happens to Diana and Matthew.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Shadow of Night

Deborah Harkness

Viking Adult

ISBN: 9780670023486

4.5 stars

 

Review – The Watchers

Lausanne, Switzerland, gothic cathedrals, talk of angels, a man in the belfry calling the hour, a hooker, and a man with no memory. The Watchers is a book full of strange people and places but somehow they all work beautifully together.

In the first part of The Watchers, we get to know the characters, peek in on their lives, and in the second part, we watch all of the characters’ lives collide in some way or another.

Katherine Taylor is a high priced hooker hiding out in Switzerland. She enjoys her life, the money, and has let herself feel safe in all her choices up till now. Even though she’s convinced herself that she’s made the right move, some things about her life do bother her when she looks past the fancy clothes and money but she carries on wanting to get the most out of the situation believing she can go back at any time. Marc Rochat is the last of a dying breed — he calls the hour at the Lausanne Cathedral spending his days talking to the bells, shoeing pigeons out of the way, and unintentionally spying on the city and its inhabitants. One night Marc sees Jay Harper standing on the bridge and in his own innocent way, believes him to be some sort of investigator out looking for clues. He gets into his head that he too should be on watch with all the strange happenings around the city, including several gruesome murders no one seems to be able to explain.

This book has a lot going on but don’t let that deter you. The mix is odd, but the setting, which is dark but familiar, makes it work. I started out thinking this was a thriller and was sure I was going to see every character die a gruesome death and in at least one case that does happen. All the problems the characters face are real even if they might have an extraordinary/paranormal explanation. For instance, Marc Rochat may be a simple man with very little ambition and naïve in the ways of the world but he seems to see and understand more of what’s going on than most of the people in town. Katherine Taylor, hooker extraordinaire, was annoying but sympathetic and other than learning some humility, I’m not sure she learned much of anything but I wasn’t expecting that to happen. Now, Jay Harper. Is he a detective or a paid spy? He’s a man with no memory of his life before a phone call a few weeks back. He remembers nothing before coming to Lausanne and meeting an odd group of people for a job he doesn’t know if he’s qualified to complete or not. You know he’s part of a bigger plan.

I’ll admit that the ending was not what I was expecting but I went with it and found I liked where it led even if I wasn’t so sure about it. It didn’t ruin anything for me and I sometimes like it when an author tests my ability for the realities I expect. There is some graphic violence in this book but I wasn’t particularly bothered by it mostly because it fit with the story and I didn’t feel it was added for show.

Bottom line — The Watchers an interesting book from a new author I’d like to read more of. Steele took the elements of an old city, made them feel even older, darker, sadder, and topped it with characters that made me unable to stop reading. My copy of The Watchers topped out at 574 and felt like a mere 200 pages to me.

The Watchers

By Jon Steele

Blue Rider Press

ISBN: 9780399158742

4 stars

Review – The Seventh Gate

Sophie Riedesel is a teenager in Berlin in 1932. Other than being too smart for her own good with a biting sense of humor and always ready with a sarcastic remark, she’s a fairly normal young woman of the time. When Hitler begins his rise to power, her life takes a drastic turn. Her father, a scientist and a member of the Communist party with strong beliefs, suddenly switches to the Nazi party and espouses views she never thought he had. Sophie wants to believe he did it to save his job and family, but she isn’t entirely sure that’s the case. She has trouble understanding her father now, and it becomes even worse when her boyfriend, who she’s known since they were small children, also joins the party telling her things she doesn’t want to hear.

With all the men in her once-stable life now on the wrong side of her belief system, she takes comfort in her growing friendship with an older Jewish neighbor, Isaac Zarco, and his eclectic and — according to the Nazi party — socially unacceptable group of friends, which includes Jews, social activists, and some former circus performers.

As Germany changes, so does Sophie. Her relationship with her father, once open and loving, becomes halting and difficult. Her already strained and distant relationship with her mother, who outwardly doesn’t seem to care for her, turns nasty. Her younger brother, Hansi, a boy who hasn’t spoken in years, is a silent comfort and burden to her at the same time. She shares things with him she doesn’t tell anyone else, secretly wishes he would go away, and deeply wants to understand what goes on in his head.

Sophie becomes more and more involved with Isaac and the work he and his friends are doing to try and stop the growing power of the Nazi party. Isaac and his friends have formed a group called the Ring, which is working to get the word out and possibly stop the atrocities taking place in Germany. When a member of the group is murdered, Sophie, having grown close to Isaac, begins investigating the murder and asking questions in places she shouldn’t. She eventually becomes so involved in Isaac’s life that he begins making plans to send her away before any harm can come to her.

I don’t read much about World War II because I find it such a sad time in human history, but to me this book is an exception. What drew me to it was the mystery thrown in and mixed with the idea of kabbalist mysticism. Sophie is growing up fast in a city hampered with new rules every day, and it was particularly interesting seeing it all happening through her eyes. She takes risks, false steps, and makes mistakes, but sticks to her beliefs even when she knows what she’s doing could bring harm to those she loves. Her life, which once revolved around her boyfriend and obsession with Hollywood movies, is now made up of a group of people she realizes she can’t live without.

Isaac, who is a scholar of Jewish mysticism, begins teaching Sophie what he knows, and her love for Isaac and understanding of what drives him becomes a force in her life she will fight for in ways she never thought possible. Seeing Sophie change from a young girl fascinated by her own growing sexuality into a woman concerned with the political implications of her country’s governmental policies was an interesting metamorphosis in the way it affected her life in a most singular way — her family and the family she made. It’s Sophie’s ties that make this book so moving.

If you love historical fiction with characters that make no apologies for who they are and what they do, The Seventh Gate is a book you should read.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Seventh Gate

By Richard Zimler

Overlook Press

ISBN: 9781590207130

4 stars

 

Review – All the Flowers in Shanghai

Feng is a young woman who is mostly ignored by everyone in her family with the exception of her grandfather who dotes on her. Her older sister is the one everyone’s hopes and dreams ride on but she’s cruel to Feng and the two have never had any sort of relationship. When her sister dies unexpectedly, Feng is forced to marry her fiancé to hold up the arrangements her parents made and Feng finds herself a wife to a son of a well-known and rich family in Shanghai with no idea how to fend for herself or any understanding of what’s expected of her.

All the Flowers in Shanghai interested me because this is a timeframe I’m unfamiliar with — Shanghai in the 1930s — and I don’t read much historical fiction set in China which was very appealing. While the setting was interesting, I didn’t care for any of the characters. Feng goes from being exceptionally naïve to bitter in an amazingly short time frame. Her mother, the social climber, is not even worth mentioning as she wasn’t much of a mother so much as person bartering away her daughters for social acceptance. In the end, this book is a letter to a daughter Feng doesn’t know but why she would write such awful things to her daughter I just don’t understand. Yes, she was looking for forgiveness in the end, but throwing every hateful thing she’s ever done out into the world — both to the daughter and to her husband — doesn’t portray her in a good way.

Oddly, Feng gave her daughter away so that she wouldn’t have to face the life she did but the entire time I was reading, I kept wondering why she couldn’t leave any of her bitterness especially for her children. No, her life wasn’t an easy one but she didn’t want to see any happiness in her life and drove all of it away from her which meant she drove every family member away that she could. In the end of her life, she does begin to understand her hatred and deal with it but the letter feels like a poor apology and nothing more. She spent her whole life looking to get back at people and never sought to understand anyone’s motivation but her own and I couldn’t accept her mea culpa.

Like I said, the setting is really appealing and I wish there had been more about the revolution and the changes China went through. Because the story is told through Feng’s perspective, it’s hard to see the impact of the changes and what little of the revolution Feng does come in contact with she doesn’t understand because of the secluded life she led.

While I had trouble with the characters in this book, the writing is solid and has given me a new timeframe for historical fiction to explore.

I won this book through the LIbrayThing Early Reviewers program. An ARC was sent to me by the publisher for review.

All the Flowers in Shanghai

By Duncan Jepson

William Morrow

ISBN: 9780062106971

2.5 stars

Review – Railsea

Railsea has been compared to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, but it’s really just China Miéville’s take on an adventure story. Its philosophies, the hunt, the unknown, and the need for answers and exploration of our origins drive this novel.

Shamus Yes ap Soorap (Sham for short) is the youngest crew member of the Medes, a mole train on the hunt for a big catch on the great Railsea. He has dreams of working salvage — finding new things, old things, and alien things. What he actually does is assist the doctor of the Medes and bring water to the men and women who are working to break down the moles they hunt into oil, bone and skin. The captain of the Medes, Naphi, is on the hunt for a mole — a legendary ivory-colored mole called Mocker-Jack. She believes, as other mole train captains do, that capturing Mocker-Jack is her destiny.

When the Railsea leads the crew of the Medes to an old wreck, Sham goes with the crew to investigate and finds something he hopes to make his very own piece of salvage. Instead, he hands over the small camera memory chip to the captain. The images it contains lead Sham and his captain in essentially the same direction with different outcomes — Sham is led to two children of now dead-explorers, and the captain is led to new, never-before-conceived hunting grounds. Naphi’s dreams of bringing down Mocker-Jack, her famed ivory-colored mole, now seem within reach.

What Miéville does that I absolutely love is create places so familiar, yet at the same time so strange. He creates a land that the crew is afraid to step on for fear of dying. This world of safe land among animal-prowled soft dirt is both alien and accessible at the same time. It’s a world of dirt, but he makes you see it as a world of water — deep and unsafe water at that. Out in the Railsea, it’s the tracks that keep everyone safe, and you have no choice but to believe that’s the absolute truth of this world.

This is also a book filled with characters you’ll care about and fear for in a world poised to attack. Sham is young, untested, naïve, and trusts people too easily. He never knew the fate of his parents, and when he has the opportunity to bring closure to two children whose parents have died, he sets out to do just that, unaware of the implications his actions may bring. His pet, an injured daybat he nursed back to health and named Daybe, is a stalwart friend and more than just a silly little bat. Daybe is fearless, with crazy loyalty to young Sham, and is one of the book’s most memorable characters.

I’ve read several of Miéville’s books, and he’s now on the list of authors from whom I anxiously await books. No matter the topic, a book by Miéville is one that I want to read. He has an ability to take our world, warp a few elements, twist a few basic beliefs, and make it something so new and strange. These new worlds don’t stop existing simply because the book is closed. His worlds and stories stay with you long after the end.

As a side note, I’ve seen this book described as a young adult novel. It’s really much more than that, and much more than just a re-telling of Moby Dick. It’s about dreams and adventure in a world we want to get to know better. And isn’t that why we read? China Miéville makes these worlds we crave possible. In fact, you should be reading Railsea now.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Railsea
By China Miéville

Publisher: Del Rey

ISBN: 9780345524522

4.5 stars

Review – The House of Velvet and Glass

Sibyl Allston spends her days mourning the loss of her younger sister and mother whose lives ended tragically when the Titanic sank in April of 1914. The two were returning home from a grand European tour and their loss devastates the family. As the oldest daughter and most responsible of the Allston children, Sibyl takes over as the woman of the house but doesn’t have the backbone to garner any respect — not from the house staff or family acquaintances. Accepting of the fact that she will most likely remain single, she does what she can to make her life, and her father’s, as normal and comforting as she can considering their loss.

When Sibyl’s brother Harley is kicked out of Harvard under circumstances that he won’t discuss — everyone assumes it has something to do with a young woman — her already heartbreaking and complicated life gets one more added layer of sadness. Her father and brother can’t be in the same room together without fighting, and after a particularly stressful time, Harley leaves. Later, a young woman shows up at the house covered in blood with news that Harley has been severely injured. While waiting at the hospital for news on Harley, Benton Derby, Sibyl’s former love — a man she still has great feelings for — shows up wanting to help throwing not only Sibyl, but the whole family, into a tail spin.

Sibyl, a devotee of fortune telling, begins to find solace in the art hoping that a medium used by her mother will help her find comfort in the memories of the past and answers about the future. What she doesn’t understand yet is her own gift in the art and the affect it will have on her life and her family members.

What Katherine Howe does very well is capture a moment in time. Boston of 1915 is a rich setting and she doesn’t let any of the details slip. The book moves around in time thanks to the fortune telling aspect, but the characters pull the story back reminding you where the story is taking place. Sibyl is a particularly poignant character looking for comfort and acceptance from her father but also from a deceased mother that lost hope in her and placed all her dreams of a good marriage match on her younger sister. Sibyl’s a sad person but so wrapped up in handling the necessities of her day that she hides most of her feelings hoping others won’t see her hurting. Her need for comfort, acceptance, and assurance land her in a dangerous place.

While I did enjoy certain aspects of the fortune telling in this story — it was a popular pastime at this point in history — it did make parts of the story feel slightly disjointed. It’s a nice touch but is also a bit heavy handed making the story feel like it is coming and going at the same time.

This is Howe’s second book following The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. She’s a writer more than willing to immerse her readers in history and if you enjoy historical fiction, Howe is a writer to look to.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The House of Velvet and Glass

Katherine Howe

Hyperion

ISBN: 9781401340919

3.5