Review – Silent on the Moor

Silent on the MoorI started this series with book five, I think. It was a few years ago so I’m fuzzy on details but I remember enjoying it immensely even though I knew very little of the characters. Based on that one book, I decided the series was worth a look and started at the beginning, like one should when they read a series. This is book two in the Lady Julia Grey series following Silent in the Grave, and if you happen to like your historical fiction tied up with a bit of romance, try these books.

Lady Julia Grey, once more far away from Nicholas Brisbane, takes off with her sister to his home in the country to get re-acquainted, and more. Things of course, aren’t what they seem at Brisbane’s Yorkshire home, Grimsgrave. The estate, old and moldy, is falling down and the once proud family that used to own it is more than strange. Julia, after snooping around, manages to get herself involved in a family mystery and let’s face it, sometimes things are better left unsaid. From there, everything goes downhill.

Can I just tell you how much I like Brisbane? He’s moody, slightly unpredictable, and well, hot and lovable. Yes, there’s a reason Julia becomes all unladylike in his presence. I don’t usually go for these sorts of things in books but I think I found my guilty pleasure and I don’t care. I want to read more of these and I will. Bring on book three, library!

Silent on the Moor

By Deanna Raybourn

Mira

ISBN: 9780778326144

Review – Lords of the North

Lords of the NorthThis is the third book in the Saxon Stories series following The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman. I’ll try to avoid spoilers but you know the drill.

Uhtred helped Alfred win his last war against the Danes, but now, Uhtred is bored and tired of Alfred and his priests. Feeling unappreciated — Alfred rewarded him for his war efforts but minimally at best — Uhtred buries his hoard and leaves for the north with plans to capture Dunholm, a northern stronghold. After he inadvertently frees slaves, he also frees the region’s king, Guthred, and he now the men he needs to help him win Dunholm. Except, the gods are no longer smiling on Uhtred and his life, which had been running relatively smoothly, once more takes a strange turn when Guthred sells him into slavery. In an odd twist of fate, his only ally in the north, Hild, a former nun, convinces Guthred she must return to Alfred in Wessex and her nunnery. Upon returning to Alfred, she becomes Uhtred’s only hope for rescue.

Uhtred is a bastard in many ways, except when he’s not, and that can be a lot of the time. He’s a lord in his own right, except he has no land and the land that is his is being ruled by his uncle who usurped Uhtred’s father. Uhtred wants his land back and going north is his way of signaling to Alfred that he’s done with the war. Alfred isn’t ready for that to happen yet, and while he won’t admit it, he needs Uhtred more than Uhtred needs him. While Uhtred might be unreliable, when he makes an oath he won’t break it and Alfred keeps using that one very loyal part of Uhtred. Uhtred knows it but keeps letting it happen because he knows it’s the only way. To be fair though, Uhtred keeps using the oaths to his advantage as well so it’s fair play on both sides.

This is the third book in the Saxon Tales and I have a huge lag between books. Not because I wasn’t enjoying the series, I have been, but I forgot about the series until my last visit to the library when I decided to pick them up again. Cornwell is a favorite when I need some historical fiction, even though he can be a bit on the brutal, bloody side. Then again, he is writing about a very brutal time in history so it all fits. Besides, I like Uhtred. He’s surprising in that he’s extremely loyal, can be a very good guy when he wants to, which happens more often than he cares to think about, and he’s a bit of a softie, especially when it comes to the ladies. I swear, this man is always falling in love. It never gets mushy though which is what I like.

Here’s to the fourth book — Sword Song.

Lords of the North

By Bernard Cornwell

HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 9780060888626

 

Review – Ashenden

AshendenAshenden is an old, yet still grand, English country house. Falling into disrepair over the years, it can still impress, even if it’s just by the enormous cash reserves needed to heat the place. When Charlie and his sister inherit the crumbling estate, the stress of how to care for the place takes a toll on their already distant relationship. The two begin consulting engineers and surveyors to determine what needs to be done and whether or not selling or renovating is in their best interests, or the house’s.

While a decision is made about the house’s future, its past begins to unfold giving the reader a glimpse of the people it has sheltered, the sorrows and joys felt in its rooms, and the memories that have seeped into its walls. We are introduced to the people that have walked the halls of the house from the architect who envisioned the grand space, to the staff who kept the fires burning, and the families that owned the property.

What I enjoyed about this book was the way all of the stories were tied together, each flowing smoothly into the next. It wasn’t about the people but how the house was transformed by the years from a money pit that was wanted more for the prestige it bought, but was ultimately unaffordable, to the original builder, the individuals that toured the house, and the sick it protected. The people come and go but the house itself is the one constant that brings everything together.

Ashenden is a mixture of short stories about the people that admired the grand house, found love and heartbreak inside its walls, and those that recovered in the green expanse that was part of the property. Its residents, owners, builders, all make and break the house and while the reader sees the past, it’s the current owners that are struggling with the future. I liked the way Wilhide smoothly moves the story along while it remains in place at the same time. It’s a very effective way to tell the story of the house and make it more than simply a structure of bricks, glass, and wood. It becomes a living part of the story, in fact, the story itself. With each new chapter, I wanted to know how it was holding up and what it had become in its new reincarnation as it does change with each new generation that walks through the doors. From the start, you know it’s not a simple home but something built and imagined to be more than that.

Many of the stories told here are very sad but overall I wouldn’t say that about the book. It made me smile many times, and even though the individual stories being told were not on the whole always happy, it was an honest look at the people who passed through the halls and that I could appreciate — nothing too sad but not all that happy either, a nice equilibrium of stories.

Wilhide is a writer who cares very much about the details and it is those details that make this story. Without the finer points and the clear image she creates of the house, this story wouldn’t work. The particulars create an invisible web that lets the story meander, but always bringing it back home. It’s such a lovely story and a satisfying read for a winter evening.

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.

Ashenden

By Elizabeth Wilhide

Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 9781451684865

Review – Frenchman’s Creek

Frenchman’s Creek is a book I wanted to read last year. I even got it out of the library, very excited to have it in my hands, and then I never read it. It went back to the library unopened. A few weeks ago I decided to put it on hold and decided this would be the time I read it, and I did. And it was wonderful. It’s full of cold, rainy Cornwall days, French pirates, romance, and pillaging. What more could I want?

Lady Dona St. Columb is not one for high society although she is a fixture in London society. Always the most daring and outspoken one in the room, and mostly by choice, she tires of it all and take off for her husband’s country estate on the coast of Cornwall with only her children and a few servants in tow. She arrives at the dreary closed up home happy to finally be alone and out of London. She can’t stand the neighbors and does her best to make a few scenes to amuse herself but they reluctantly pester her to write to her husband and ask him to take care of the pirate who is raiding the coast. Not at all wanting to see her husband, she doesn’t bother with telling him the news but she does find she’s interested in finding out more about this pirate.

This book is certainly more romantic than the other du Maurier books I’ve read. Dona, a very selfish woman by all accounts, and even though she claims to care for her children, is happy to run off for days without seeing them. It’s all about her and what she wants. What she wants is the French pirate and that’s what she gets. I can’t say I blame her. I too pictured a lovely French pirate as well, but overall, Dona’s not an endearing person and not all that likable for her actions. Did I mention her leaving her children for days on end and she doesn’t even think about them while she’s gone. Oh, and she’s claiming this entire time that she’s a good parent. And, you guessed it; she’s also having an affair. If you didn’t guess that, my apologies, I didn’t mean to ruin that for you. Wipe that last sentence from your memory. But I came to like her anyway and especially at the end which I won’t be sharing.

The strong personalities in du Maurier’s books are amusing, entertaining, and full of passion of one kind or another — think Rebecca, Rachel, and add Dona to that list — and that’s what I like that about her characters. I don’t always like her characters but do like the surprises her sometimes selfish, mean, and cruel female characters can bring about.

Frenchman’s Creek has only made me want to read more of her books. My library has Jamaica Inn and that might be the next one on my list of du Maurier books to tackle. This one was a real pleasure.

Frenchman’s Creek

By Daphne du Maurier

Source Books Landmark

ISBN: 9781402217104

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

 

Thoughts on Re-Reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Last year I decided I wanted to re-read this behemoth of a book. I refer to this book as a behemoth because I have the combined paperback of all three books. It’s a sucker to hold up, if like me, you’re reading it in bed which may have contributed to part of my slow reading. My arms would give out and due to the number of pillows holding me and my arms aloft, I would get comfy and drift off — the drifting off had nothing to do with the story though. That, I can assure you, is still good to go.

Did I enjoy this re-read? I did and here’s why:

Mr Norrell is still arrogant and naive. His hoarding of books is something I can totally understand although I obviously like to share more than he does. I found him to be much more annoying this time around though. I’m not sure if I noticed it the first time I read the book or not but he’s much more insecure than I remember his character to be.

Childermas, butler to Mr Norrell, is a character I liked much more this time around. His sarcastic, biting remarks are such a contrast to Mr Norrell and he does it sometimes knowing that Norrell won’t understand either because he hasn’t told him or he doesn’t get society in general. He also played a larger part in the plot than I originally remembered.

Mr Drawlight and Mr Lascelles are a riot of absurdity. These two are the main reason for describing this book as Austen-esque. They are society at its best.

Jonathan Strange is much more interesting on the magical front but has a few of the same eccentric habits about him which even he admits may have come from Norrell. He also doesn’t show up until much later in the story than I thought he did. The things you happen upon while re-reading.

The setting is lovely, lovely, lovely.

The man with the thistle down hair! Yes, yes, yes. He’s mean and self-centered but I adore his magical style.

Jonathan Strange’s fall into the magical underworld — it’s interesting to see what his obsession with outdoing Mr Norrell does to him and to those he loves.

What I didn’t enjoy so much:

The length. I knew this was a long book. I’d read it before and thought I was prepared for it but it was still long. Knowing what happened, even if I was a tad foggy on some of the specifics, stopped me from reading ahead but I also didn’t feel like there was a pressing need for me to rush through either. I read very slowly, and probably enjoyed the story all the more for it, but when I got down to the end, I wanted it to just end. Those last 150 pages were the longest 150 pages I’ve spent with a book in a very long time.

It was a successful re-read though. I’m glad I decided to read it again and that I did it early in the year. I think if I had waited, I might not have gotten to it, mostly because of the size. I like long books, but this one felt extra long though.

When someone asks about a great fantasy read, I’ll still recommend this book but I’ll warn people to scope out time for it and don’t tread into it lightly.

Review – The Little Stranger

Ghost stories are wonderful things. I’ll clarify this — for the people that love them. I am one of those people. The tension, build up, agony of long held secrets finally revealed; I love it all. The promise of a ghost, or something akin to one, was the reason I read The Little Stranger. Unfortunately, for me, it was not to be a long lasting love.

Dr. Faraday once visited Hundreds Hall, a now crumbling mansion and estate, as a child. His mother, a former servant at the Hall, took him inside and he has always held on to this one shining memory. Now a country doctor, he passes by the Hall frequently on patient calls. One day he is called to the Hall to treat a sick maid and quickly becomes infatuated with the place and its owners, the Ayres. Roderick, wounded in the War, is struggling to keep Hundreds Hall afloat, his sister Caroline, a spinster proud of her current unmarried state, helps with the running of the estate but mostly entertains her mother, Mrs. Ayres. Faraday becomes obsessed not only with Hundreds Hall but with Caroline. When an incident occurs during a cocktail party and a young girl is injured, rumors about the old house and its owners start swirling. Faraday, deep in his obsession, is unable to walk away for the place or the people that inhabit it.

Creepy old house. Check. Eccentric people. Check. Unreliable narrator. Check again. All the elements were there. All the elements failed me. The malcontent that seeps from the pages was just that boring. When the events, creepy I suppose they were supposed to be, began, I didn’t look for other explanations. I sighed. It wasn’t there for me.

*Warning: this is spoilery.* I really want to talk about the narrator, Faraday. I said he was unreliable and I expect that in a ghost story. You want someone who is not quite sure what is going on. She/he doesn’t understand the history, the people, etc. That was true here too — while Faraday really wants to be one of the Ayres, he’s not — but he tries to sneak his way in. Usually I would be all right with this but he became the obsessed person content to diagnose everyone else as mentally unstable when I think he was the one to watch. Bait and switch is fine but I began to dislike Faraday intensely for what he was doing to this family. To me, he seemed to believe that his one trip there as a child qualified him to tell its owners and inhabitants what they should think and feel. One by one he sends them away. When his engagement to Caroline falls apart, he, who had been picturing himself as the new manager of Hundreds Hall, attempts to find a doctor and lawyer who will counteract him and say that Caroline is in fact not in her right mind. Really, he was just a bastard. By the end of the book I was disgusted for him and that he spent the rest of his sad days drowning in an alcohol induced sleep didn’t bother me one bit. This doesn’t happen by the way, I just wanted it to.

Now, I feel I’ve been harsh and I’m sure there are many of you out there that loved this book. Found it atmospheric. Found it a good read. I didn’t. Not that I need to state that now but my disappointment stems from the fact that I really wanted to enjoy this book and I didn’t. Unfortunately, I couldn’t accept it as anything other than a ghost story and I couldn’t appreciate the nuance.

As readers, we come across books that don’t stand up to our expectations. There was nothing wrong with this book other than my not enjoying it. It happens and it makes me wonder if I missed something in the reading but then I remind myself that I don’t need to, and will not, love every book I read. That was the case here.

Did you read it? What are your thoughts? I know there are many people out there that loved/enjoyed this book hence the adding it my list. I still plan to read Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith or maybe Affinity. I think she does decaying aristocracy well and I want to make sure I give a fair shot to her other works.

The Little Stranger

By Sarah Waters

Riverhead Books

ISBN: 9781594484469

2.75 stars