Christina’s Review: A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett


Christina’s Review: A Dangerous Fortune by Ken FollettA Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2010-07-21
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Sagas, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 576
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads
four-half-stars
In 1866, tragedy strikes the exclusive Windfield School when a young student drowns in a mysterious accident. His death and its aftermath initiate a spiraling circle of treachery that will span three decades and entwine many lives.   From the exclusive men’s clubs and brothels that cater to every dark desire of London’s upper class to the dazzling ballrooms and mahogany-paneled suites of the manipulators of the world’s wealth, one family is splintered by a shared legacy. But greed, fed by the shocking truth of a boy’s death, must be stopped, or the dreams of a nation will die.   Praise for A Dangerous Fortune   “A terrific page-turner.”—Los Angeles Times   “Political and amorous intrigues, cold-blooded murder, and financial crises . . . old-fashioned entertainment.”—San Francisco Chronicle   “Breathlessly plotted . . . relentlessly suspenseful.”—The New York Times   “Gripping, complex plot . . . sexual intrigue . . . fascinating characters . . . You won’t be able to put down this exciting page-turner.”—Lexington Herald-LeaderFrom the Paperback edition.

Ken Follett never disappoints me… As I have repeated in numerous reviews, I love his writing style. His stories always captivate me and I feel connected to the characters. Follett’s A Dangerous Fortune was the 8th book on my “15 To-Read of 2015” list I have gotten to this year (tracking ahead of the game!) I came across this book in a library book sale and bought it because 1) It was Ken Follett and 2) It was set in Victorian England and had an intriguing synopsis.

A Dangerous Fortune began with the story of a group of boys away at school, one of whom was found dead in the nearby creek. It was unknown if the boy drowned on accident or was killed, but there were suspicions. However, the boy’s death was soon buried under the crash of a local bank and businesses associated with. An elite and powerful family looks to secure their future and prestige in the community, a boy in the family is taken in under charity by his relatives after the passing of his father… on the other side of town, another family affected by the crash as the father was laid off were separated, and a girl and boy were left to their own will as they leave to start new and separate lives.

The story continued crossing over years of time, and the wealthy Pilaster family continued to grow in prominence throughout the community. The family’s power was invested in the great Pilaster bank, one of the more powerful and stable banks in London. As their power grew, the concept of “a dangerous fortune” also grew with the control and wealth.  Follett drew the reader into a world of scandal, affairs, money, corruption, power, deception and defeat.  In the end, Follett tied together the story through a climactic finish.

One of my favorite things about Follett’s books is how he always brings the stories together so well in the end. There are no loose ends that leave my hanging, and I feel content after finishing his stories. The characters always have a purpose and are intertwined in an intricate network. There are always certain characters I end up siding with and routing for throughout the book, hoping the best will come to them. In this book, I sympathized for Hugh Pilaster and wished evil things would fall on Augusta Pilaster and Micky Miranda. At the same time, I found the manipulation and selfish doings of Augusta and Micky to be tantalizing and wanted more.

Side note on this book: A Dangerous Fortune featured a more sexual and mature environment than some of the others books of Follett’s I have read. There is scandal, adultery, brothels and more. Just a heads up for those going into this book! (Though I felt this added to the story and did not bother me)

One other side note: The edition I read needed better proofing. (Delacorte Press, hardcover, 1993) On a few different occasions, I came across sentence and grammatical errors. On at least one occasion, I also came across Augusta’s name missing the “a” in the end, spelling “August.” While this is not a big deal, it was distracting to me and I began to notice small errors like this. For example, one sentence on page 446 read:

“Edward, you cannot go the prizefight”

… missing the “to” … “Edward, you cannot go TO the prizefight.”

While this may seem nitpicky, there were a few minor errors similar to this I kept getting hung up on.

Overall, however, another great Follett book I am glad I found on the used book shelf. Whenever I start one of his books, I find it difficult to put down. At the same time, I never want to rush through them. Instead I want to take my time and picture the story playing out in my head. This book in particular would make an awesome movie.

I recommend this book for a wide-range of readers. It is great for the history lover, as well as the drama seeker. Anyone who likes George R. R. Martin will find Follett has a similar writing style and would probably enjoy his books. I recommend starting with his Pillars of the Earth series before proceeding to A Dangerous Fortune and other books of his. (Just to get you ready for his writing style and stories so you will fall in love like I did!)

pj - christina

Ellen’s Review: Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett


Ellen’s Review: Edge of Eternity by Ken FollettEdge of Eternity by Ken Follett
Published by Penguin on 2014-09-16
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Sagas
Pages: 1120
Format: Paperback
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy follows the fortunes of five intertwined families—American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh—as they make their way through the twentieth century. It has been called “potent, engrossing” (Publishers Weekly) and “truly epic” (Huffington Post). USA Today said, “You actually feel like you’re there.”Edge of  Eternity, the finale, covers one of the most tumultuous eras of all: the 1960s through the 1980s, encompassing civil rights, assassinations, Vietnam, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, presidential impeachment, revolution—and rock and roll. East German teacher Rebecca Hoffman discovers she’s been spied on by the Stasi for years and commits an impulsive act that will affect her family for generations… George Jakes, himself bi-racial, bypasses corporate law to join Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department and finds himself in the middle of not only the seminal events of the civil rights battle, but also a much more personal battle… Cameron Dewar, the grandson of a senator, jumps at the chance to do some espionage for a cause he believes in, only to discover that the world is much more dangerous than he’d imagined… Dimka Dvorkin, a young aide to Khrushchev, becomes an agent for good and for ill as the Soviet Union and the United States race to the brink of nuclear war, while his twin sister, Tania, carves out a role that will take her from Moscow to Cuba to Prague to Warsaw—and into history. These characters and many others find their lives inextricably entangled as they add their personal stories and insight to the most defining events of the 20th century. From the opulent offices of the most powerful world leaders to the shabby apartments of those trying to begin a new empire, from the elite clubs of the wealthy and highborn to the passionate protests of a country’s most marginalized citizens, this is truly a drama for the ages. With the Century Trilogy, Follett has guided readers through an entire era of history with a master’s touch. His unique ability to tell fascinating, brilliantly researched stories that captivate readers and keep them turning the pages is unparalleled. In this climactic and concluding saga, Follett brings us into a world we thought we knew, but now will never seem the same again.

With the final installment of Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy finished, it really feels like I’ve ended an era (Edge of Eternity is a whopping 1100+ pages).  Within three months I’ve explored the evolution of war in Fall of Giants; I’ve read about the devastation of Europe in Winter of the World; and finally, I’ve experienced the constant fear of nuclear war, the battle for human rights, and the fall of the Iron Curtain in Edge of Eternity.

In short, I loved this book.  If it hasn’t been apparent from any of my previous reviews, I’m such a Euro history nerd and especially for Central Eastern Europe.  Although I’m Eurocentric, the best parts of this book focus on events outside of Europe and the United States.  In my studies – again because I’m a Euro girl – the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War are often overlooked; however, they are such important moments in history.

I don’t like to dive too much into specific moments in the books I review because I want to be as spoiler free as possible.  I am ignoring my rule for Edge of Eternity.  In the 1960’s, Jasper Murray, who is not a particularly likable character, is drafted into the American army.  Jasper is a British citizen, but due to his permit to work in the United States, he becomes eligible for the draft.  During a mission to find out where the Vietcong are hiding, Jasper’s group finds a Vietnamese village.  In the subsequent scenes, the horrors committed by U.S. soldiers are detailed.

My generation may not know many men or women who fought in the World Wars, but many Vietnam veterans can be found across the United States.  Follett makes no attempt to hide the atrocities that took place in Vietnam: the rape of young girls, the torture of civilians, and murder.  The most stomach churning moment of it all was when Follett wrote about officers forcing their soldiers to participate so that no one could claim innocence.  You know it’s fictional story, but U.S. atrocities in Vietnam are not fiction.  For a character that I disliked so much, Follett placed him in a situation that I would not wish upon anyone.  It is hard to imagine Vietnam veterans that we encounter take part in anything similar but some may have.

My problem with Edge of Eternity is that I wish it had been split in two.  When the story begins, all of the characters are young.  When the story ends, each is graying.  Beloved characters from Fall of Giants pass away, and many characters from Winter of the World are ignored.  It became difficult to keep track of characters’ ages.  Being such a long book, there were some stretches that I wanted to skip.  Also being selfish, I want more time with the characters (because forty years isn’t enough…).

Any of these books can be enjoyed as a standalone work.  However, if you are going to read them all, do so in order.  Of the three books, Fall of Giants remains my favorite.  This is perhaps because I find the events of the early twentieth century to be the most interesting and impactful of the century.  Edge of Eternity is a very close second.  Follett is a great storyteller and did extensive research to write these books as accurately as possible.  The series lacks a maturity that older, long-time historical fiction audiences may desire, but if you are interested in history and want major event after major event, The Century Trilogy is for you.

Ellen

Christina’s Review: I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe


Christina’s Review: I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabeI Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Published by Crown/Archetype on 2014-01-28
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, General, Historical, Romance, War & Military
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Goodreads
four-half-stars
An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband in the Civil War.Rosetta doesn't want her new husband, Jeremiah, to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. When Jeremiah leaves, Rosetta decides her true place is by his side, no matter what that means, and follows him into war.Rich with historical details and inspired by the many women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is a courageous adventure, a woman's search for meaning and individuality, and a poignant story of enduring love.

I very much enjoyed the book, I Shall Be Near to You, by Erin Lindsay McCabe. I received this book from a friend for Christmas because she thought it was right up my alley… she knows me too well. (Thanks Cassie!)

I first met the characters Rosetta and Jeremiah in their hometown in New York during the early start of the Civil War. I instantly felt a connection to Rosetta – she was a passionate, strong woman, one-of-the-boys and loyal.  McCabe does a nice job opening the story and introducing these characters whom I instantly fell in love with. The farms needed working on, mending needed doing, and early news of the war started coming into the town… death, duty, honor, and camaraderie. Jeremiah is ready to go into war, and Rosetta is ready for them to take the next step to marriage before he leaves. After their vows are said and Jeremiah leaves to fight for the Union, the real story of the hardships and brutality of war begins, and the evidential love between Rosetta and Jeremiah blossoms and pulls the reader in.

All I kept thinking from the start was “don’t you dare make me cry in the end.” I felt like I was there with Rosetta and Jeremiah in the story. Their love and travels kept me hooked and pulling for them throughout. If there was ever a moments hesitation in their love for each other, McCabe continued to make me fall in love with them over and over again. For example, the lake scene at night (you’ll know it when you get to it)… my heart melted for them.

Overall, I felt McCabe did a nice job keeping the characters’ voices, which allowed for me to stay invested and connected with the story. She also did a good job sharing the brutality of war… it was not all picturesque and romantic. The war was harsh. There was blood, a lot of blood. There were limbs severed off, bodies obliterated, letters that never made it home, and people that were never found. The war was cruel, and McCabe captured these details.

Looking at my collection of Civil War books from when I was working on my MA, I found a few I felt reconnected with reading McCabe’s book. Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! by George C. Rable was a book that really kept the brutality of war in the forefront, like McCabe’s battle and camp scenes. For Cause and Comrades by James M. McPherson is another great read on why men went to fight in the war – the comradeship, duty, honor, letters home and even the desertion and post-traumatic stress that followed. One last read that really resonated throughout McCabe’s read and was clearly well researched by her was An Uncommon Soldier by Lauren Cook Burgess.  Did you know there were women who went into battle and fought along side men… not as nurses, not as camp followers and laundresses… there were real women who changed their appearance – cut their hair, put on men’s clothes, and marched into the camps to join up and fight in the war. These reads are worth the reference before or after you read I Shall Be Near to You.

One last note to compliment the book and a little side fieldtrip I took during the read: I am currently taking a Business of Wine class for fun through George Mason University. We had a fieldtrip this past week to The Winery at Bull Run, where they really do embrace the Civil War and preserve its memory. I highly recommend a trip to taste their wines if you are in the area and touring the battlefields. As I finished McCabe’s book, I needed to think on it some more so I poured myself a glass of their peach wine from The Winery at Bull Run. Excellent wine made with 100% peaches… not too sweet or syrupy like many fruit wines come off. Light, great chilled, and made a perfect glass to allow me to sit back and reflect on what I had just read.

Overall, great book by McCabe I highly recommend for the historical fiction lover. I am so glad I had the opportunity to read this book and reconnect with our country’s past. Enjoy!

pj - christina

 

From The Pages to the Screen: Outlander Review by Ellen


From The Pages to the Screen: Outlander Review by EllenOutlander by Diana Gabaldon
Published by Doubleday Canada on 2010-12-22
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 613
Format: Paperback
Goodreads
five-stars
Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an

It’s no secret that two of my favorite things include history and time travel (I’m a bit obsessed with Doctor Who), so I’m not sure how it took me this long to read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  I’d seen Michelle rave about the books and knew about the television show, but somehow it took forever to convince my stubborn self to give the series a chance.  I’m happy that I did.

Outlander follows the life of twentieth-century girl Claire Randall as she unexpectedly and accidentally finds herself in the eighteenth century Scottish Highlands.  Throughout the story you find a blend of action, humor, and romance as Claire learns how to survive in an unfamiliar environment.  Ultimately, she must make the decision between staying in the past and finding her way back to the future.

I thought Outlander was a great read.  It’s a nice change to read a story where the female protagonist doesn’t set out on an adventure to discover romance, but instead, romance discovers her.  Instead of giving a typical review – you can find Michelle’s here – I thought I would compare how the story translated from the pages to the television screen.

Starz released the first half of Outlander in 2014 with plans to continue the TV next month.  The show has remained true to the book so far excluding one major piece.  In Outlander the book, we do not receive glimpses into the life that Claire left behind.  We have no idea whether time has continued onward or whether she would return to the same moment in which she left.  From the author’s perspective, it would not make sense to add snippets from the twentieth century because it would disrupt the overall plot.

The show answers any questions concerning time.  Outlander the show creates scenes surrounding Claire’s husband Frank Randall.  We are able to see the mental struggle that occurs following Claire’s disappearance and learn about Frank as a person.  He is a relatively undeveloped character in the book unsurprisingly because he is absent for most of it.  Instead of Frank, we have Jonathan Randall, who is Frank’s ancestor and doppelganger.

An oft-debated discussion occurs with character casting.  When you read a book first, you develop your own idea of how the character should look and act.  Sometimes your vision is captured in the show or movie, and sometimes you develop an irrational disdain towards the actor because he or she does not match your vision.

This is a very subjective topic, but for me the show falls flat on capturing the characters correctly.  In the show, Claire, portrayed by Caitriona Balfe, looks as I imagined but does not seem to be as strong a woman as in the book.  Sam Heughan on the other hand does a fantastic job portraying Jaime but, in my mind, is not how I pictured the character.

Where the translation from book to screen excels is the setting.  Outlander is filmed in Scotland, so we are able to see the natural Scottish beauty that Gabaldon details in the book.  We hear Highlanders speak Gaelic, we see castles, and, of course, we see wondrous kilts.

In my opinion, Outlander is one of the better page-to-screen stories that I have encountered.  I was so happy with the book that I binge watched the show.  My hope is that the show creators continue to follow the story as true as possible.  With the second half of the season beginning in a couple weeks, Starz has released a couple exclusives.  An important difference that will occur is that the show will now feature episodes told through Jaime’s point of view.  I can understand this need, as Jaime has a complex history, but I don’t want the story sacrificed just to give the lead “hunk” more screen time.

Ellen

Christina’s Review: The Exchange of Princesses by Chantal Thomas


I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Christina’s Review: The Exchange of Princesses by Chantal ThomasThe Exchange of Princesses by Chantal Thomas
Published by OTHER PressLLC on 2015-07-07
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary
Pages: 329
Format: ARC
Goodreads
four-stars
Set in the French and Spanish courts of the eighteenth century, this novel is based on a true story about the fate of two young princesses caught in the intrigues and secrets of the moment   Philippe d'Orléans, the regent of France, has a gangrenous heart--the result of a life of debauchery, alcohol, power, and flattery. One morning in 1721, he decides to marry eleven-year-old Louis XV to the daughter of Philippe V of Spain, who is only four. Orléans hopes this will tie his kingdom to Spain. But were Louis to die without begetting an heir--the likeliness of which is greatly increased by having a child bride--Orléans himself would finally be king. Orléans tosses his own daughter into the bargain, the twelve-year-old Mlle de Montpensier, who will marry the Prince of Asturias, the heir to the Spanish throne.   The Spanish court enthusiastically agrees and arrangements are made. The two nations trade their princesses in a grand ceremony in 1722, making bonds that should end the historical conflict. Nothing turns out as expected.

Before beginning, I wanted to note I received this review from the publisher, The Other Press, which has no effect on my review. This book is set to be released in the United States on July 7, 2015.

The Exchange of Princesses is a historical fiction by Chantal Thomas set in France and Spain, 1720s. The main characters of focus include: Louis XV (to become King of France) and Luis I (to become King of Spain); and the princesses Mariana Victoria de Borbón (to become the Queen-infanta of France) and Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans (to become Queen of Spain).

The story is one of: politics, scandal, love, hope, passiveness, deceit, and a touch of disease thrown in during this tumultuous time of history in the two countries. The Exchange of Princesses started off so politically with the marrying off of children (the two princesses; one of whom was only four years old) and the crossing of the border between France and Spain to exchange the two of them. The children did not seem to grasp the full meaning of this exchange at first. It was so interesting to compare the attitudes of the children with those of the parents during the performance of the exchange.

It took me a couple of chapters to adjust to the writing style (it is a book that has been translated by John Cullen from the French) and to pair out the characters. It may have helped if I had a background in French or French history from this period to help with the titles and small formalities, but after a few short chapters in, that was no longer an issue for me. I found myself enjoying the book and especially looked forward to reading the chapters on the infanta, whom I had grown attached to.

It was startling for me to discover how protected these princesses were from the outside world, which added to the comprehension of the politics behind their marriages off. In one chapter on the infanta, it was noted in her travels that she would cover her eyes from the outside world of her carriage because “[t]he outside world is too ugly.” (61) This line really caught me and caused me to linger for a moment on the page. Leading up to the exchange of princesses itself, it was so ceremonious. Within seconds, it was over as the princesses crossed each others’ path over the border of the two countries.

Continuing the read, Thomas alternated chapters between Mariana Victoria and Louise Élisabeth. Following each character and their interactions with their princesses (soon to become Kings) and their new surroundings, I started to sense the difference in relationship perceptions of the princesses and their future kings. For example, when reading the infanta’s chapters I sensed the child-innocence and the little girl’s infatuation with her future husband and King. She was the youngest of the four (and her betrothed was eleven).

As the story progressed, I discovered the relationships and behaviors were not all that was hoped for in each relationship. Could two people in a political arrangement come to love each other? Would the age difference have any effect? How would these exchanges affect the futures of the two countries? For myself and other readers, did one feel sympathy for the two princesses, the kings, or the couples in general? The story was a fascinating one. Thomas did a wonderful job transitioning between the two princesses and their developing situations. I found myself growing attached to the book as I continued to read and infatuated with how the story would end and what would happen to the two relationships.

Outside of the formalities, the writing was different – more straight-forward and to the story. Whether this was with the translator or the original story, I cannot say. But I found it easy to play the story out in my head and attach myself to certain characters. (I may have almost cried at one point too…) In the end, there was a note on the sources from the author, including the fact that “[a]ll of the extracts and correspondences quoted in this book are authentic.” I appreciated this addition and found the history-lover in me grow all the more attached with the book. One thing I would have liked to have seen, although I do know I had the “Advance Uncorrected Proof” copy that was not for sale, was the addition of footnotes. To see where these sources came from and piece out what exactly were the authentic quotes would have been more enjoyable and helpful for me. Following this author’s note was also a brief history of the main characters (the two Kings and two Queens). I loved this addition as well – it allowed for both a good history refresher as well as a satisfying end to their stories. Do not read these until you have finished reading the book itself or the story will be spoiled.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book. The writing style took me a moment to adjust to, but once I did I found it difficult to put the book down. It was a tale of politics and arrangements, differences in emotions and in how things can be unpredictable and be changed. I have already recommended this book to two friends I think would enjoy the story very much. I cannot wait for the book to be released in the U.S. this July and see what others have to say. For me, it was a captivating, refreshingly different, and a unique read I will continue to recommend for both the historical fiction lover and the casual reader.

pj - christina

Christina’s Review: Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin


Christina’s Review: Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth GriffinSilhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin
Published by Milkweed Editions on 2012
Genres: 20th Century, Family, Girls & Women, Historical, Homosexuality, Parents, Social Issues, United States, Young Adult
Pages: 189
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads
two-stars
Silhouette of a Sparrow is an excellent example of an historical, coming-of-age lesbian young adult novel. Written with a deft hand, based in the true history of its setting, and with characterizations that will ring true to any teenager, it is a worthy and enjoyable read for anyone. --Lambda LiteraryWINNER OF THE MILKWEED PRIZE FOR CHILDREN'S LITERATUREWINNER OF THE 2013 PATERSON PRIZE FOR BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERSALA RAINBOW LIST RECOMMENDED BOOKAMELIA BLOOMER PROJECT LIST RECOMMENDED BOOKLAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FINALISTMINNESOTA BOOK AWARD FINALISTFOREWARD REVIEWS BOOK OF THE YEAR HONORABLE MENTIONIn the summer of 1926, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is sent to a lake resort to escape the polio epidemic in the city. She dreams of indulging in ornithology and a visit to an amusement park-a summer of fun before she returns to a last year of high school, marriage, and middle-class homemaking. But in the country, Garnet finds herself under supervision of oppressive guardians, her father's wealthy cousin and the matron's stuck-up daughter. Only a job in a hat shop, an intense, secret relationship with a beautiful flapper, and a deep faith in her own heart can save her from the suffocation of traditional femininity in this coming-of-age story about a search for both wildness and security in an era full of unrest. It is the tale of a young woman's discovery of the science of risk and the art of rebellion, and, of course, the power of unexpected love.

Silhouette of a Sparrow was one of the earlier books selected for our book club to read by a group member. It was a fast-read and contained some mature content (even though it is noted for winning the “Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature.”)

The book is about a girl, Garnet, who is away from home during the summer of 1926. While away, she picks up a job and meets a girl from a different side of the tracks than herself. Garnet has the opportunity to explore who she is and what other opportunities and adventures are out there for her during this coming-of-age period in her life.

This book allowed for a great group discussion with multiple opinions and directions for conversation to go between the mature subjects and metaphorical references carried on throughout. My main critique: It felt like the author was trying too hard at times to get her message across between the environmentalism and “coming-of-age” experiences. The book felt over-dramatized at times, with numerous “disasters” occurring back-to-back for a book that I thought was intended to be more relatable for younger generations.

However, after discussing this book with my book club, I saw more behind the story I did not appreciate before. For example, the significance behind the bird-cutting hobby of Garnet and how she spread her wings in the end…

It was not a favorite on my list, but others ranked in highly and felt that connection the author intended. It is a light, quick read… probably great for a summer-time pool-side book.

pj - christina

Michelle’s Review: Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon


Michelle’s Review: Dragonfly in Amber by Diana GabaldonDragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Published by Delta Trade Paperbacks on 1992
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Romance, Time Travel
Pages: 743
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
three-half-stars
With her now-classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon introduced two unforgettable characters -- Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser--delighting readers with a story of adventure and love that spanned two centuries. Now Gabaldon returns to that extraordinary time and place in this vivid, powerful follow-up to Outlander.... For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland's majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones ... about a love that transcends the boundaries of time ... and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his.... Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire's spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart ... in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising ... and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves....

After reading Outlander, I was so hooked on the story that I…

spoiled the series for myself.

There’s no good reason why, but I did. I read reviews with spoilers and different wikipedia articles, learning more about the events of each book. Why I didn’t just read the book, I don’t exactly know. But it’s safe to say that many of the reveal moments in this book was not exactly news to me.

However, I still enjoyed the book. It was lovely to go back to Jamie and Claire and see how their marriage evolves. They became very different people in France than they were in the Highlands, which unfortunately took away some of my enjoyment from the book. France became very tedious, dealing more with political intrigue and domesticity. Compared to the crazy adventures in the Highlands, this shift was almost too much and it was comforting to hear the same things echoed by fellow readers. (Including my mother who is reading it now. I have told her the same thing I was told: just get through France and it gets better.)

And that’s true. Without going too much in the details to spoil other potential readers (like I had done myself), the book does get better towards the end. Is it enough for me to give it a higher rating…likely no.

I am torn with my rating. Is it a three, where I liked it but didn’t love it thanks to France and the lack of novelty making it seem a little more ridiculous? Or is it a four, that I loved it enough to want to keep reading the series?

This series has become a little problematic to me. I’ll say more in my Voyager review, but it’s suffice to say that at a minimum I will likely see Jamie and Claire to the end, regardless.

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper


I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Michelle’s Review: Salt and Storm by Kendall KulperSalt & Storm by Kendall Kulper
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on 2014-09-23
Genres: 19th Century, Family, Fantasy & Magic, Girls & Women, Historical, Multigenerational, United States, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
four-stars
A sweeping historical romance about a witch who foresees her own murder--and the one boy who can help change her future.Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island's whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she's to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane--a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.

Sea witches is not something that I have had much experience in reading about. But Salt & Storm presents a magic structure that was intriguing and had me interested through most of the book. Each of the Roe witches has their own specialty, something that makes me turn into a little kid, imagining what my own specialty would be. (Don’t ask, I haven’t decided yet.)

If I’m remembering correctly, this book to me had a lot of opportunities to become cliche but avoided most of them. The setting was unique, being both historical and paranormal, on an island somewhere in the northeastern U.S. In some regards, I almost wished for more setting of the world beyond, but it matched the type of isolation Avery was feeling on the island.

The author’s note was perhaps the most interesting to me, which sounds strange, but it really helped tie things together for me. The book had its flaws, and it wasn’t a perfect read for me, but it was definitely an enjoyable one.

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: Lucky Us by Amy Bloom


I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Michelle’s Review: Lucky Us by Amy BloomLucky Us by Amy Bloom
Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2014-07-29
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Literary, Sagas
Pages: 272
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads
three-stars
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND O: THE OPRAH MAGAZINE“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”So begins this remarkable novel by Amy Bloom, whose critically acclaimed Away was called “a literary triumph” (The New York Times). Lucky Us is a brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny novel of love, heartbreak, and luck.  Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.   With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.

The beginning of this book left me with a smile and feeling like I could finish this book real fast.

The middle and end disproved my theory.

I did not finish it real fast. I don’t know whether to blame feeling tired or stressed or if it was really that I was losing interest in the book. The beginning seemed like it was a story about these two girls and their crazy antics. There was a connection there with the characters and while it felt a little far-fetched, it was okay.

But then I started getting confused as more characters were added to the story, and not just as secondary characters, but sometimes switching to their point of view. Time raced by and I started to feel a little more disconnected from most of the characters. When bad things happened, my emotional reaction was just ‘ok’, instead of actually experiencing it.

That’s not to say that the book wasn’t good–there is a certain art to the way it is written and type of slice of life (but with a definitive and conclusive ending) style that is atypical. My experience of the book was just that the middle to end was less tight at the beginning.

pj - michelle

Ellen’s Review: The Rules of Love and Law by Jeff Russell


I received this book for free from the author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Ellen’s Review: The Rules of Love and Law by Jeff RussellThe Rules of Love and Law by Jeff Russell
Published by Abbott Press on 2014-09-15
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 328
Format: eBook
Source: the author
Goodreads
three-stars
It is 1938 in Baltimore, Maryland. The worst of the Depression is over, a troubled Europe is an ocean away, and all races seem to know their place. But on Thanksgiving Day, a violent assault brings two very different people together and changes each of their lives forever. Juliana Corbeau lives in the city's most prestigious neighborhood, attends private school, and is a near-perfect example of blue-blood upbringing. But when she makes the mistake of taking a walk through Wyman Park at dusk and is attacked by a man, it is Will Stahl, an immigrant's son, scholar, and near-perfect example of a first-generation American, who rescues her. As their unlikely love story begins, they are set on a path where they must not only confront the biases that separate them, but also a tragic miscarriage of justice, a fateful Supreme Court decision, and danger for family trapped in Nazi Germany. When the war finally reaches America at Pearl Harbor, everything changes again, forcing them to make impossible choices about love, justice, family--and ultimately their very lives. In this historical tale, two young lovers brought together by chance must somehow find a way to keep their love and dreams alive amid prejudices, uncertain times, and forces beyond their control.

The Rules of Love and Law by Jeff Russell is set against the backdrop of an America recovering from The Depression and turmoil rising to the forefront in Europe.  The story follows the lives of two seemingly opposite Baltimore residents.  Juliana Corbeau is Baltimore royalty.  Her family lives in the nicest house in the most luxurious neighborhood and makes money through her mother’s railroad dynasty and her father’s upscale jewelry store.  Across the town lives Will Stahl, the son of middle class German and Swiss immigrants.  Will is a student at Loyola prepping for law school application.

The story begins Thanksgiving evening as Juliana is strolling through the local park.  She looks up to discover a colored man charging at her.  In the distance Will hears a scream and rushes to Juliana’s aid.  The assailant quickly escapes the scene and is left for the local police to find.  From the start, there is obvious chemistry between the two – something more than a hero and damsel in distress.  Problems arise when Juliana realizes that neither her father nor debutant society will approve of Will’s middle class upbringing.  Similarly, Will’s family constantly warns him that getting involved with a society girl will only lead to trouble despite his insistence that they are only friends.  So starts the tumultuous relationship between Juliana and Will.

If you are a fan of Nicholas Sparks, then you will enjoy The Rules of Love and Law.  The plot will remind you of Sparks’ The Notebook in both time period and of love between economic opposites.  The main difference is portrayed in Will’s storyline, as he is not a stereotypical, lovesick protagonist.  Will’s first love is the Constitution.  Everything he has worked for has been to help him achieve his goal of working for the Justice Department.  Through Will, we learn how the U.S. justice system failed to treat minorities equally and about the process of amending the Constitution.  It is Juliana who learns to adapt to Will’s life more so than Will altering his lifestyle for Juliana.

Although they attempt to be no more than friends, the book remains a love story.  There were moments when I wanted to toss my Kindle and yell “just kiss her already” at Will because it takes so long for the pair to realize the strength of their feelings towards each other.  I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it will leave you both upset and satisfied.  I wish Russell hadn’t written such an abrupt ending and that I could learn more about how each character develops; however, it is the ending that I think separates the book from fairy-tale love stories.

Despite liking the story, I felt that I was longing for more out of the writing.  I missed Sparks’ colorful, romantic language, which Russell substitutes with straightforward vocabulary.  The dialogue was more realistic to how twenty-somethings would speak, but again, I like fiction for being able to use fantastic vocabulary.  Certain descriptions also seemed unnecessary or too detective-ish, like “so-and-so was watching them from afar,” which could have been incorporated in a more fluid manner.  I found a couple errors in word choice and spelling, but in all fairness, I’ve also found them in academic works.  Ignoring my concerns, The Rules of Love and Law remains a charming story about discovering love and was an enjoyable read.

Ellen