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review 2018-09-22 00:17
The World of All Souls: The Complete Guide to The All Souls Trilogy
The World of All Souls: The Complete Guide to A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life - Claire Baldwin,Colleen Madden,Deborah Harkness,Lisa Halttunen,Jill Hough

There are some here who know I'm an unapologetic fan of this series, but fan or not, I'm generally not the type to buy the "guides" the more popular series put out because in all truth, they feel like something that's been thrown together to squeeze just that much more money out of everyone; especially completists.  

 

But the cover of this one sucked me in at the Barnes and Noble and BN was the first bookshop stop on my Holiday of Book Buying Madness, so I caved.  

 

Yay to caving!  It ended up being really interesting, as evidenced by the fact that it took me three weeks to read the damn thing.  Harkness et al manage to weave an awful lot of historical facts into a book about books that are about vampires, witches and demons.  This is the place where Harkness gets to share all her historical knowledge, research and education that went into giving Matthew and Diana's adventures verisimilitude, as well as brilliantly weaving the lives of the vampires (and Diana to a lesser extent) into history.

 

She's really clever about this too; using real documents that have gone missing, or paintings done during the correct period that are of unknown subjects or known to have been destroyed over time, she's able to plausibly weave fact and fiction together without an abundance of anachronisms.  Little asides throughout the book in her own voice shares with the reader her inspirations for locations, homes, castles, even tea shops.

 

I had no problem seeing the delineation between the factual and the fictional, but in the section where the characters are outlined, a symbol is next to each name that does exist in the historical records, a touch I appreciated since Elizabethan history is something I'm hazy about, at best.

 

There are beautiful illustrations throughout, a couple of out-takes from two of the books, and a few full color illustrations from - I think - alchemical texts.  This was, in fact, my only complaint about the book - the full color inserts were not captioned - an odd oversight where everything else is clearly foot-noted and cited or explained within the narrative.  At one point Harkness' own historical research was used as a citation, leading me to believe the authors' were determined to be as clear and accurate as possible.  Perhaps this means the color inserts were the work of the illustrator for the book, and not historical, but it would be nice to know either way.

 

A fun and very informative read for those that enjoyed the trilogy; not sure how well it would work for those that didn't read it as it might be annoying to have fictional characters you know nothing about, or care nothing for, interwoven through all the historical goodies.

 

I read this for the New Release square of Halloween Bingo 2018.

 

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review 2018-08-14 05:00
I Always Loved You
I Always Loved You - Robin Oliveira

I have mixed feelings about this book.  Upfront, it's pure fiction; other than the artists' names, their work, and the broad strokes of accomplishment, it's made up out of whole cloth. 

 

This is the part I had issues with, I guess.  I don't know enough about Degas, Cassatt, Morisot and Manet, with the result that I feel like this book has unfairly coloured my impressions of them as people.  I'm going to forever be guarding against mixing up this story with the reality of 4 of the most talented impressionist painters who've yet lived.

 

But if you're able to keep fact and fiction seperate, this is a heartfelt, well-written story about people who might have taken the wrong turn at the fork in the road of life.  It's slow-paced, but always interesting; I enjoyed it, but it wasn't a fast read.  The end also has a high probability of making readers misty eyed of not weeping outright.  Oliveira is very talented at creating a sympathetic anti-hero; one that you want to hug as much as you want to smack.

 

At some point though, I'm going to have to follow this up with more information about these artists and their real lives so I don't every accidentally try to pass off as fact the imaginations of Oliveira's mind.

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review 2018-07-06 11:25
Lincoln in the Bardo
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

So, I was shopping Bloomsbury's annual end of financial year sale the other day, when I was suddenly possessed by someone who reads award winning literature; not wanting to waste the money spent on the book, I wanted to read it before the exorcism, so I cracked it open as soon as it arrived.  The ripping-off-the-bandaid method for personal growth.

 

Half-kidding aside, while I do generally use literary award short lists as guides of what not to buy, Lincoln in the Bardo has intrigued me for some time - from the descriptions, it came across as an adult version of Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, and while this sale was on it seemed as good a time as any to give it a try.

 

It turns out there is a lot in common with The Graveyard Book in terms of setting and characters, but it goes worlds beyond, too.  It's an odd book.  Written as something akin to witness testimony, only in present voice, and interspaced with historical quotes about the Lincoln administration and Willie Lincoln's death, each complete with proper citations, it's constructed in a way that is unique in my (admittedly limited) literary experience.

 

Upon Willie Lincoln's death and internment, Willie fails to move on as he should and a battle erupts in the graveyard over his eternal soul.  Saunders populates the graveyard cast with a wide and varied collection of souls, good and bad, all flawed, although Saunders seems to prefer a larger percentage of twisted and corrupted.  Perhaps this makes sense in the construct of the story's logic, but there were moments that teetered precariously towards gratuitous. 

 

Is this story Man Booker worthy?  I wouldn't know, but it is brilliantly written; unique; startlingly creative.  Did I like it?  Yes, it was a compelling story; one I couldn't put down and read in two sittings.  Do I think it's the acme of the literary form?  No, but probably not far from it.  Did I find it flawless?  No. What was the reverend's fate?  Saunders invested an awful lot of intimate detail in the reverend to just leave his fate unexplained.  And I found the ending ... odd.  Abrupt.  In any other literary form, I'd say there's a sequel in the works.

 

LIncoln in the Bardo is in the purest sense, a ripping good story; one that just happened to win an Important Literary Prize, and that's why I'd recommend it - the prize, in this case is irrelevant.  

 

Off now to that date with an exorcist... 

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review 2018-04-16 08:45
The Essex Serpent
The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

What an odd book.  I liked it, but I'm struggling to say why.  I suspect I've just been fed literary fiction disguised as something more palatable and mainstream, wrapped in an irresistible cover.

 

The two most overwhelming impressions I took away from the book are poetry and allegory.  Poetry in the form of the prose in the opening pages of the story, where it's so heavy with lyrical verse as to be cloying, and again in the opening pages of each section, where it's dialled down but still more melody than verse.  Allegory, because the story feels like the author's way of working out the balance between faith and empiricism, if not for the reader, then perhaps as an exercise for herself.

 

On a literal level, the story is, as I said, odd.  The reader is held at such a remove from the characters, it's hard to feel any emotional investment in any of them.  I liked Cora and Will and Stella, but the rest?  I'm afraid I really don't understand the point of Luke's part, and for me, Perry utterly failed to convince me that Frankie was anything more or less than a selfish and spoiled boy.  Martha, too, struck me as nothing more than a narcissist, caring more about her duty than the people she is fighting for.  For me, the most convincing character of the lot was the pan-handler, Taylor.

 

Still, it's a beautiful, richly told story, if one is willing to experience it as the distance the author holds it.  Looked at too closely, it's flawed, but hold it back far enough to fuzz the edges and it's gorgeous.

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review 2018-01-25 04:06
The Pursuit of Love
The Pursuit of Love - Nancy Mitford

My first Nancy Mitford read was Love in a Cold Climate and while I could recognise the talent in the writing, and enjoy the humor, I failed to see anything significant or profound in the story.  That means this, my only other Mitford book, languished on the TBR for years.  I finally picked it up a couple of days ago.  It is a significantly better book, in my opinion.

 

Told in third person by a narrator that is the niece/cousin of the Radlett family, it chronicles the life of one of the Radlett daughters, second-oldest of 7 (I think), Linda.  Linda is a delicate natured, highly emotional child who loves animals, in a family that is hilariously savage, headed by a father that is the very stereotype of landed gentry.  As a teen she becomes highly romantic and impatient for her Grand True Love.  Most importantly to her future, she is undereducated and naive, but kind, charming and pleasant.

 

Of the two books, this one is the most realistic; Linda is just as likely a character today as she was almost 100 years ago.  I didn't read reviews of it before beginning it, but when searching for a synopsis I glanced over several that read of the tragic undercurrent of this book.  On the face of it, I see why people claim this, but really, I can't see it.  Linda herself would not see her life as tragic, and I"m not at all sure Fanny (the narrator) sees it either.  Linda's life was not blameless, but Linda herself never thought it was, and undereducated or not, she owned her mistakes and would repeat them all given a choice, in the end.  I admired her for that.

 

I could talk forever about this book, but I'll just wrap up with a note about the introduction to my edition, written by Hugo Vickers.  In it he states that it is widely believed that this book is largely autobiographical, with Fanny, the narrator, being Mitford.  I know nothing about Nancy Mitford save what he himself wrote in a quick biographical sketch, but based on this, I don't see it; she appears  to have lived much more of Linda's life than the solid, quiet life of Fanny.  Perhaps Mitford, as Fanny, was playing the omniscient observer of her own history, adding the ending she'd have preferred, over the one she ultimately got.  I suppose that's what Vickers meant, but if it was, he didn't make that clear.

 

By far my favorite of the two books, this is engaging writing, amusing reading, and offers readers a depth of insight that will stay with them without weighing them down.

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