logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: 24-HOURS-AH
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-11-10 21:37
Society, freedom, the Black Death, and secrets
The Last Hours - Minette Walters

Thanks to Atlantic Books, Allen & Unwin and to NetGalley for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

Although Minette Walters is a familiar name, I have not read any of her crime fiction, so I can’t really compare this historical novel to her previous work, but after reading this I’ll check them out for sure.

I was intrigued by this novel, partly because of the author, but also because I had recently read a novel set during the period of the Black Death and was curious to read more on the subject.

The author sets the novel in Develish, an estate in Dorsetshire (there is not such a village in present-day Dorset, although there is one called Dewlish that I wonder if it might have been the inspiration for the one in the book), on the brink of the arrival of the plague to England. Sir Richard is away from the estate, trying to arrange the marriage of his daughter, Lady Eleanor, and although he tries to return home when he realises people are dying, it is too late for him. His wife, Lady Anne, who was educated in a convent and knows about healing, herbs, and letters, takes control (she already was managing the estate, although always unofficially, as her husband did not know how to read or write and thought that flogging or whipping his serfs was all that was required) and isolates the estate, moving all the farmers and serfs inside the walls of Sir William’s manor house —set apart from the village houses and the fields by a moat— and ensuring that her sanitation and hygiene rules are followed. Nobody really knows how the disease spread but her measures seem to work, although not everything is well in Develish.

The story is fascinating because of the complexity of the characters, the power struggles (there are clear differences between the Norman lords and the Saxon population, with the Normans being shown as abusive stuck-up individuals whilst the Saxons do all the work, and there is much discussion about taxation, indentured conditions, education…), the social order of the era, and the added difficulties of trying to confine two hundred people in a small space, ensuring the peace is maintained, and keeping their spirits up.

Lady Anne keeps records, with the intention of leaving a written account of what happened in case they all perish, so others might learn from their experiences, but she also keeps a more personal account, and at times it is clear that what she writes is an edited version of the truth, although always for good reasons. Her sensibilities seem very modern. She does not treat people according to their birth but to their actions, her religious ideas are out of keeping with the period (she has no respect for priests and dismisses any attempts of blaming the illness on people’s lack of faith or sinful behaviour) and she does show a great deal of understanding and hindsight of how the spread of the plague will revolutionise the social situation, bringing new opportunities to the skilled workers who survive (as there won’t be enough people to do all the jobs and that scarcity will allow them to negotiate better conditions). She is one of the most interesting and important characters of the novel, together with Thaddeus Thurkell, a young man (only eight years younger than her, as she was married at fourteen) of unknown parentage whom she has taught and protected from childhood and who seems as out of place as she is. At some point in the novel, due to the murder of his half-brother, he leaves the demesne with five young boys and we follow their adventures too, learning about the fate of other estates and villages, and getting more insight into the character of Thaddeus and his young assistants.

Sir William dies early in the story, although he is much talked about through the rest of the novel. He is an evil character with no redeeming features, although we don’t realise quite how bad he really was until close to the end of the novel (but we probably suspected it). Personally, I prefer my baddies greyer rather than all black. Lady Eleanor is another one of the characters that I found problematic. She is her father’s daughter, spoilt and cruel, dismissive of serfs and with a sense of entitlement not based on any personal qualities. Again, there are no redeeming features apparent in the girl, although her behaviour made me consider some psychiatric diagnoses (borderline personality disorder seems likely) and towards the end, I felt sorry for both, her and Lady Anne, as they are boxed into a corner with no easy or satisfactory way out. There are many other secondary characters, although very few of them are given enough individual space for us to get to know them (apart from the priest, Isabella, and Giles) but the author manages to create a realistic sense of a community growing and evolving thanks to an enlightened leader, united by their faith in Lady Anne, and facing together the challenges of their difficult situation.

The story is told in the third person but each chapter or fragment of the story is told from one of the characters’ point of view. This is not confusing and serves the story well, helping give the readers a sense of control (and also increasing the tension, as at times we believe we know the truth because we know more than some of the characters, but we do not realise we are missing important pieces of information). The book recreates the historical period without being too heavy on descriptions. We learn more about how society worked than about every little detail of clothing and food (but there should be enough information for fans of historical fiction to enjoy it, although I am not an expert in the era and not all reviewers agree).There are some funny moments (like when they see a cat for the first time and believe it is a monster), some battles, fights, scary moments, secrets galore, and plenty of intrigues, but it is not a fast page-turner and there is a fair amount of time dedicated to the politics and social mores of the era (that, for me, was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the story). I felt the novel progressed at a good pace, but I would not recommend it to readers looking for a story full of action and adventures.

I enjoyed the novel, in particular the historical background, the psychological portrayal of the characters (the bad characters are just bad, while the good characters are fairly complex and not all good, and there is plenty of room for further development) although I did have doubts as to how in keeping with the historical period some of the attitudes and the ideas expressed were, but my main issue was the ending. As many people have commented on their reviews, it is never mentioned that this is book one and not a full-story and then the book ends up with a to be continued. After so many pages, the ending of the novel felt rushed, and although the story stops at an inflection point, there are many questions to be answered and I suspect most readers will feel disappointed.

 An interesting incursion into the historical fiction genre by the author, and one that will make readers wonder about what freedom really means, the nature of power, and how much (or how little) life has changed since.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-10-11 01:19
Star Trek: Discovery: Desperate Hours - David Mack

The first Star Trek: Discovery novel is a mixed bag. The good bits include interaction between the Shenzhou (the starship in the pilot episode of Discovery) and the Enterprise (commanded by Captain Pike), interaction between Michael Burnham (star of the new show) and Spock, and an intriguing alien mystery. The bad bits include a very much by-the-numbers separatist-colony subplot and the underdevelopment of the alien-mystery plot.

 

The major motivator of the plot is Michael Burnham's candidacy for First Officer of the Shenzhou. The author, David Mack, does a good job (most of the time) of keeping our eyes on this target, and the resolution of it is satisfying. It also works as a focus for character interactions, because the dynamics between Burnham, her nemesis Saru, and Captain Georgiou get some space to play here. Although the book was written before the show premiered and by now we've only seen a little bit of how Burnham interacts with others, there's been enough established that at least this one novel can play out some of these threads.

 

It's unfortunate that this novel suffers from the all-too-common Trek malady known as the Subplot. Now, I do not hold the Subplot per se in disfavor. But I recognize that it is not a thing to be taken lightly and that it is difficult to make satisfactory. There is a subplot in this novel involving a separatist colony. Why exactly they want to separate was a mystery at the beginning of the novel, and the causes and potential effects of separation are almost completely abandoned by the end of the book. In a word, this subplot was pointless. As far as I'm concerned, the only good that came of it is that it gave an excuse for the chief medical officers of the Shenzhou and Enterprise to meet and exchange banter for about one and a half pages.

 

That said, I was usually entertained by the story. Many elements of it are time-honored Star Trek story elements, and the sense of discovery is palpable... at least if you can remember to be excited by the alien mystery amid the fiery distractions of numerous firefights.

 

One more thing I enjoyed about Desperate Hours is that the oldest Star Trek (Pike's Enterprise) meets the newest. At this point, I think it's always going to be a challenge for Trekkies to reconcile these iterations produced 50 years apart from one another and yet supposedly occupying the same canonical space. But I applaud David Mack for giving it a genuine effort. On the page, at least (where visual effects are... less visible), it's fun to throw them together.

 

UP NEXT: Well, I was going to continue Strahan's Year's Best vol. 11, but while I was at the bookstore, I picked up the Sept/Oct issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, just on a whim. It's been years since I've read a sci-fi magazine and the urge overcame me. So, I think I'll read that next, then jump back into Strahan's anthology.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-08-08 21:24
'The Hours' well spent
The Hours - Michael Cunningham

This short book was winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1999 and takes as its start point the graphic suicide of Virginia Woolf. The tragic loss of one of the leading lights of the 'Bloomsbury Group' in 1941, finally succumbing to the fatal depths of recurrent depression at the age of just 59, conferred a profound loss on the cultural health of a nation, yet posterity has rightly lauded the author's legacy. In his homage to Woolf, Michael Cunningham interweaves the thoughts and experiences of three female characters: Mrs Woolf (Virginia), Mrs Brown (Laura) and Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa), Located in 1923 London, 1949 L.A. and 1990s New York , respectively. Virginia is mulling over ideas for the fictional character yet to inhabit her most famous novel, while Clarissa and Laura are spending a day in preparation for a celebration in their respective times and place. Successive chapters rotate between the discrete storylines  culminating in an unusual cross-over in the end, but the snapshots also draw on some common themes, which beset each of the protagonists, irrespective of the prevailing social norms in 'their' time.

 

What rescues the book from a sense of cerebral indulgence on the part of the writer though, is the moving beauty of the language and as the reader quaffs down the pages like a smooth, warming liqueur, it is good to savour the interplay of quite sumptuous tones. It also remains consistent with the 'stream of consciousness' storytelling deployed by Woolf in 'Mrs Dalloway' (published 1925), albeit this example is not entirely satisfying, given its fragmentary nature and slightly bitter aftertaste

 

Still, the takeaway theme for me from this book is the individual capacity, indeed responsibility, to create and shape one's life, within the context of the prevailing time and to weigh the personal sacrifices and gains that attend our choices. Some of the metaphors were also interesting, for example, some mistakes such as cake-making are retrievable, others require stoicism to deal with the consequences, but when it comes down to it, life and love is fundamentally fragile...and fickle.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-08-04 00:22
The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman
The Velvet Hours - Alyson Richman

See review at Book Haunt

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-07-12 06:37
Soul Deep by Pamela Clare
Soul Deep: An I-Team After Hours Novella (Volume 2) - Pamela Clare

When Janet Killeen slides off the icy road, and spends the night freezing in her car, the last person she wants to rescue her is Jack West, the asshole rancher who’d thrown her off his ranch the year before when she was protecting Laura Nilsson.

But it is Jack who rescues her, offering his home for the week, hoping to make up for his brusque manner the last time he met the beautiful FBI agent and soon Janet stirs more than Jack’s protective and nurturing instincts...


What a perfect little story this was. It made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me happy.

I loved the MCs were an older couple, because let’s face it, older people are in love, too, feel attraction, and have sex. And Jack and Janet were such a lovely couple to read about. Both adult, mature, in tune with their feelings, nature and disposition. They actually communicated, and they were equals.

Their romance might’ve been rather quick, their feelings instantaneous, but as Jack said, at that age, there’s no point beating around the bush. It was quick, but their maturity and age helped with the realism of it, if I might use that word.
They knew their own minds and their characters, they knew what they were looking for, they knew what they needed, and when they actually found it, they embraced it. Individually, they were strong characters that slowly turned into a power couple. And their courtship was romantic, sweet, sexy, and, yeah, very hot.

The suspense was interesting, maybe not really serving to propel the story and/or the romance forward, but provided a nice little mystery.
The last part of the story was a bit sappy, true, but it brought a stupid grin on my face, so I’m happy.

The entire story brought a stupid grin to my face. I’ve loved Jack West since he appeared in his son’s book and I’m glad he found his second happily ever after, and they were absolutely adorable together...And that last surprise. Yeah, I’m grinning again.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?