I like it when an author surprises me

Stephen King has surprised me. I’m familiar with his work. In fact, I have certain expectations of his books. Every one of those expectation are good ones. His books have caused me sleepless nights — not because he scared me; he did that too — because I couldn’t stop reading. I devoured words racing to the end of each page, chapter, and eventually the end of the book knowing he wouldn’t let me down and knowing I had to know what would happen.

I’ll admit to being more familiar with his earlier books and I haven’t sampled the Dark Tower series yet, but I will. I’ve heard good things.

When 11/22/63 came out I took note. It went on my list. Then I became suspicious. Everyone loved this book and I mean LOVED it. They couldn’t stop talking about it. I dropped my suspicion and picked up my curiosity. Hmm…could I break my rule about not reading shiny, new books? Did I want to break my cherished rule? It’s a rule for a reason and this book could disappoint me, yes it could. I can’t have that. In the end, I decided to break my rule. I bought 11/22/63 and gave it a day or two. Then I opened it. It’s not at all what I expected. For one thing, and I say this knowing I’m not actually giving anything away, it’s a time travel book. Yes, Stephen King wrote a time travel novel. And, it’s so good. So good I actually want to be reading it right now and not typing this but I need to tell you all how it good it is.

Eventually there will be a review here and though I’ve still got a few pages left in this chunkster of a book, I predict it will be a positive review. There is so much here to love. The characters and setting break your heart so much so that you start wondering when the bad thing will happen and then you realize it already has.

Advertisements

A Highlander’s Temptation

A Highlander's Temptation

A Highlander’s Temptation

By Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Hachette Book Group

3.5 stars

Arabella MacKenzie is the beloved daughter of Duncan MacKenzie, the long ruling and well-feared leader of the MacKenzie Clan. Arabella wants nothing more than to be married but her father has refuted every attempt, finding something wrong with each suitor leaving her alone and craving a family and love of her own. She convinces him to let her travel to the Seal Islands, which are part of a marriage dowry she has yet to use, and he unwillingly relents realizing he will need to let his daughter go sometime.

During the voyage, the ship is attacked and wrecked upon the shores of the Hebrides Islands, home to Clan MacConacher. Arabella is spared and rescued by Darroc MacConacher, leader of the clan. He falls hopelessly in love with her not knowing who she is only that she is the love he has been waiting for. When Darroc finds out she is a MacKenzie, he realizes their love cannot be but Arabella has other plans. She spent her life waiting for a man like Darroc and refuses to give up now.

I don’t read many paperback romance novels; I can count the number on my left hand. I read a few reviews for this one several weeks back and, while browsing the bookstore, decided this would be a good distraction for a long plan ride. I have to admit that I enjoyed it. Darroc and Arabella have good chemistry, and while I did giggle out loud in a few places, found a few things here and there awkward, and sort of formulaic, overall it was a fun and very fast read.

Set in 14th Century Scotland, the setting is harsh, lovely, romantic, and really a very good setting for a love story. In the acknowledgments, Welfonder talks about her love of Scotland, and it does shine through in this story.

The White Queen

The White Queen

The White Queen

By Philippa Gregory

Thorndike Windsor Paragon

ISBN: 978-1-4104-1930-9

3 stars

Elizabeth Woodville is young, beautiful, and a widow with two small boys when she plans to petition the newly crowned King Edward to get her lands back from her former mother-in-law. She waits patiently with her two boys by the side of the road knowing he will pass by with his army. While the Woodvilles fought on the side of Henry, Edward’s cousin and now defeated king of England, she has hopes that her beauty will make him stop and help her.

The two fall in love, marry in secret, and wait for Edward to secure his crown before announcing the marriage. Elizabeth is a commoner and the marriage is not popular with the King’s counselors who do all they can to convince him to leave her. He doesn’t and the two begin building strong alliances by marrying off every supporter, brother, sister, and friend to anyone they see as a future problem. In the end, the war they fought so hard to end, never does. After Edward’s death, the world Elizabeth knows is gone but she keeps fighting wanting to continue and secure the Plantagenet line that she and Edward worked so hard to protect.

This is the first Philippa Gregory book I’ve read. I love historical fiction but somehow I’ve managed to pass her over. I picked this one up with very high hopes. I won’t say the hopes were dashed, but it may be a while before I read another.

I liked the time period, I liked the royals fighting, I liked the court, and I liked the characters. Edward and Elizabeth had good chemistry and the court intrigue was really interesting but there was something that was holding me back from really liking it and I think it was the magical element to the story. It felt silly and contrived to me. I usually like the fantasy, magic, and witchcraft additions to a story but here it didn’t work for me. I vaguely remember reading that either Elizabeth or her mother were accused of witchcraft and I understand the need to include it in the story but I couldn’t get into it here.

I almost put this book down a few times but I decided to finish it and I’m glad I did. Gregory’s writing style can pull you in and in a few places I felt I was really liking the book and then the queen and her mother would get to cursing someone and I quickly backed away again. I don’t know what it was here but in a few months time I think I will give her another chance.

Cleopatra’s Daughter

Cleopatra's Daughter

Cleopatra’s Daughter

By Michelle Moran

Crown Publishers

ISBN: 978-0-307-40912-6

4 stars

After the deaths of Marc Antony and Cleopatra, Egypt’s new conqueror, Octavian, takes their three children, twins Alexander and Selene, and the youngest Ptolemy, to Rome as prisoners. Ptolemy dies on the journey causing Alexander and Selene to cling to each other even more knowing Octavian can order their deaths on a whim. After being paraded through the streets of Rome in chains, Alexander and Selene are sent to live with Octavia, Octavian’s sister who loves them as her own. While their life is by no means difficult — Octavia goes out of her way to make them feel at home — they still live in fear of death and desperately long for Egypt.

Told through Selene’s eyes, the story focuses on her brother and their small group of friends. While Alexander spends his time and money with Octavia’s son Marcellus at the Circus Maximus, Selene spends her time studying and attempting to make herself useful to Octavian hoping he will send her and her brother home. When their 15th birthday arrives and they are declared adults, Selene and Alexander’s lives take on a heightened urgency. Knowing a marriage will soon be in her future, Selene prepares for a difficult life, and Alexander attempts to live out his days happily instead of worrying about the future knowing he may not have one as the last living son of Marc Antony.

I enjoyed this book and the incredible detail Moran adds to the story. Selene is strong, stubborn, and unwilling to forget who and what she is — a princess of Egypt and daughter of Cleopatra. She questions Octavian’s orders, is outspoken to her guards, and always makes it known that she wants to return to Egypt. The years they spend in Rome are eventful and eye opening, even the smallest trip to the forum is interesting creating an incredible picture of Roman life.

I wanted to read this book because I loved The Heretic Queen so much. I don’t think I liked this book as much but it was still a great read. Moran has a way of describing events and details so well that you can picture everything clearly. She drops you right into the story. Selene is a captive princess in a foreign land and you feel her loss, fear, hope, and eagerness to learn and be useful. There were two small things that bothered me though. I did wonder about Selene’s maturity level at the beginning (she is 10 when Octavian invades Egypt) as she seems way too precocious for her age, and I didn’t like her eager acceptance of her chosen husband at the end. These two things didn’t deter from my reading, just made me wonder, but in the end had no impact on my liking the story any less.

Moran is fast becoming one of my new favorite authors. Now, I’m off to buy a copy of Nefertiti since my library doesn’t have it.

The Devil’s Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici

The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici

The Devil’s Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici

By Jeanne Kalogridis

St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 978-0-312-36843-2

4 stars

Catherine de Medici was born into Florence’s most powerful family, the de Medicis. An heiress to a family fortune, she learned at an early age that life would be one fight after another. When she is nine years old, her family faces a revolt and she stands with her aunt against the family’s enemies. She soon finds herself imprisoned in a convent. Suffering but still strong, she is rescued by a French cousin and taken to a more friendly convent but her peace doesn’t last long. Once again, enemies of the de Medicis manage to imprison her and threaten her life. When her imprisonment finally comes to an end, she finds herself married off to a French Prince by her uncle Pope Clement.

At 14, she finds married life no easier. While the French King Francois likes her very much, her husband Henry is less enthralled. He does seem to have a genuine regard for her but there is no love at first. Henry takes a mistress and Catherine goes childless for many years knowing that her life in France is tenuous without an heir. Always the student of mathematics and astrology, she turns to a trusted adviser for help. She buys the lives of her children with blood and dark magic and finds the flimsy hold she has on happiness pulled very thin. With the death of her husband, her life becomes one fight after another to keep her promise to her husband — to keep the throne of France in Valois hands.

Catherine’s interest in the occult brings a mystical quality to the story. She very much wants to protect her family and those she loves so much so that she is willing to go to great lengths to buy their doomed happiness. Disgusted by what she has to do, she does feel some remorse but it doesn’t stop her. You see how badly she wants to please others and to be happy but it’s not in her stars, literally. She makes a lot of bad choices along the way but still believes she is only doing what is right for her family.

I enjoyed this book a lot. While I’m not sure if I liked Catherine or not by the end of the book, I do know that every small turn in her life was interesting. I wanted to see how she would handle the next hurdle and what magic she would turn to. I also felt sorry for her. She wanted so badly to be happy and to make those around her happy but her attempts only brought on more hurt. It was a sad life but it made for a good read.

Kalogridis has a way of bringing characters life. The clothing, palaces, and events were done so well that you can imagine each and every detail. It’s historical fiction the way I like it.

Dracula The Un-Dead

Dracula The Un-Dead

Dracula The Un-Dead

By Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

Dutton

ISBN: 978-0525951292

3 stars

Since Saturday is Halloween, I thought this would be a good book to talk about.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. Below is a short summary of my review of Dracula The Un-Dead which can be found on their website in full here.

Dracula The Un-Dead re-introduces us to the original characters — Dr. Jack Seward, Jonathan and Mina Harker, Arthur Holwood, and Dr. Abraham Van Helsing — 25 years after their heroic battle against Dracula in the Carpathian Mountains. We find out that Dracula is still roaming the earth and so is a new evil — an evil more cunning and diabolical than Dracula himself. The next incarnation of the undead is committing gruesome murders and terrorizing residents of London and Paris, leaving one individual to stop the carnage.

Dracula The Un-Dead is written by the great grand nephew of Bram Stoker, Dacre Stoker, and is billed as a sequel to the original written in 1897 using Bram Stoker’s notes. All in all, it’s a fast read and exciting in parts but I think too much is asked of readers of the original in having to forgo old beliefs of who and what Dracula is. In the end, enjoy it for what it is, another vampire story for October.

If you are interested in my review of the original, it can be found here.

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

By Audrey Niffenegger

Scribner

ISBN: 978-1439165393

5 stars

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. Below is a short summary of my review of Her Fearful Symmetry which can be found on their website in full here.

Her Fearful Symmetry begins with a death. Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, leaving her London apartment to her estranged sister’s twin daughters, Julia and Valentina. Excited by the prospect of a new life life, the twins leave for London unaware of the dark secret which has kept their mother and aunt apart for decades.

This book is full of interesting characters who all seem to be waiting around for something in their lives — a wife to return, a secret to be revealed, a love to return, or a love to be found. Hovering over everyone is death and disappearance. In the end, you feel sad for all the characters, even the ones that manage to find themselves again but you may not get over the final last act that brings everything full circle.

Her Fearful Symmetry was eagerly awaited by fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife. I didn’t fall in love with these characters that way I did with Henry and Clair but, it was worth the wait and is one great read.