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review 2017-11-18 12:35
The IT Girls
The It Girls - Karen Harper
Sisters, Lucy and Elinor Sutherland grew up on the sleepy island of Jersey.  They were insatiably curious and had large ambitions; ambitions far bigger than the island.  Upon meeting the notorious Lillie Langtry one day in their youth, the sisters decide that they will one day become much more.  Through time, hard work and dedication, the two women eventually do realize their dreams. Lucy transforms into Lady Lucille Duff-Gordon fashion designer and entrepreneur extraordinaire.  Elinor becomes Elinor Glyn, scandalous romance writer whose books went onto the big screen.  Both Lucy and Elinor became the 'It' girls of their day; however, while both women excelled in their career goals, their dream came at a price in other areas of their life.

Elinor and Lucy quickly pulled me into their world of daring, creativity and determination.  I was amazed at what these two women accomplished in their lives, especially for women living in the early 1900's.  The story follows Lucy and Elinor from their youth through later life bouncing back and forth between the two women.  The writing showed the 'it' factor of each woman without laying it out.  Lucy had amazing grit while opening up her own fashion enterprise and ingenuity enough to make change in the fashion world.  Even though I knew of Lucille Duff-Gordon, mainly through her voyage on the Titanic, I never knew of her impacts on the fashion world and how they are carried through to the present.  Lucille was the first to use live models and do runway presentations,  she also led the way to get women out of corsets and into more natural silhouettes.  I did not know much about Elinor Glyn, but it seemed that her style of romance writing had an impact on many people.  It also seemed that she made an impact on Hollywood romance as well!  While the sister's careers and social standings skyrocketed, I was surprised to see that their personal and family lives took a toll.  Both women struggled in marriage and didn't seem to have strong relationships with their children, often living in separate countries.  This imbalance, to me, was a strong commentary on the lives of women at the time, showing that even successful, strong women had to choose either career or family.  Overall, a wonderful portrait of two strong, important women in history.  

This book was provided for free in return for an honest review. 

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review 2017-11-15 16:33
The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer
The Outcasts of Time - Ian Mortimer

This novel is beautiful in its prose, fascinating in its historical detail, and emotive in its themes on humanity and the passing of time. I was first drawn in by the promise that renowned historian Ian Mortimer would be taking readers on an adventure through time. Finding that this book does that while also making thought provoking statements on the human condition, I was helpless to put it down once I started it.

The story of John of Wrayment and his brother begins in 1348 during a devastating outbreak of the plague. One would think that any time might be preferable as an escape from the fate of man during that time, but such does not prove the case through John's eyes. He sees the plague as 'a second Flood. God is clearing the land. Not with water but with pestilence.' Yet, he is even more horrified by what he discovers when he accepts a supernatural offer to live his remaining six days on earth, each 99 years further into the future than the last.

The brothers explore Exeter and its surrounding area through the ages, the cathedral where John has sculpted those he loves into the faces of angels and disciples, serving at their centering point regardless of the century. John at first finds comfort in finding the face of his wife there, but his fear and anxiety is enhanced as the statues that seemed so permanent crumble and wear away the further he gets from his own time. Out of all the changes he sees, this seems to impact him the most. The loss of his own work and what was supposed to be eternal memorial of his family.

When we think about traveling into the future, I think we expect to see progress and increased happiness. Certainly, we would think that one leaving the time of the plague would see that, but that is not what John notices. He is confused by what we would call advances. 'We worked long days and had straightforward pleasures. But now, so many things are easier - yet what does the world do? It revels in causing suffering and killing.' John is horrified at the loss of faith that he observes. 'We were far more united and accepting of God's will. In this new century, people are all divided and unsatisfied, hoping that God will smile on them personally.' 

John wishes only to do good in order to please God, but the further he gets from his own time, the more he realizes that is no longer a key goal of the people. He is also frustrated by his inability to perform a heroic deed in any era. Due to his bedraggled state and lack of possessions, he finds himself at the mercy of others rather than able to help them. 'If Christ were living in this day and age, would He not have ended up in a workhouse?'

'Every day is composed of . . . of an unpredictable horror - no, of a horrific unpredictability.'

It seems that time travel is not all it is cracked up to be.

Each day/century brings John closer to his death and he grows eager for it. Though he is disappointed in his failure to do a great deed for God, he cannot tolerate what he witnesses occurring in the world. 'Men are starting to direct things that rightly only God should control.....Men've strived to compete and outdo one another, as if nothing is the will of God and everything is the will of man.' Instead of being impressed by progress, John sees only disintegration of faith and character.

Thankfully, there are a few bright spots included in John's six day journey. He meets at least one kind person in each time, and it is these small comforts that enable him to move forward.

I was eager to discover what would happen to John once his time was up, but I will not reveal it here. I will only say that the ending was satisfying and reiterated the message that John had already taught us, 'What is important is what does not change - that mothers and wives are so happy when they hear that their sons and husbands are alive that they run around the house yelling for joy; that men do their duty in the face of great danger not purely for themselves but for all their community.'

An amazing read - my favorite of this year.

The man who has no knowledge of the past has no wisdom.

I received this book through NetGalley. Opinions are my own.

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review 2017-11-14 21:18
The Library of Light and Shadow
The Library of Light and Shadow: A Novel - M. J. Rose

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

When I requested this novel, I hadn’t realised it was the third instalment in a series; however, it turned out you can read it even without having read the previous ones, since the narrator does summarise well enough what her family is about, and that’s what you mostly need to know as far as background is concerned.

I liked the premise—Delphine’s gift and how it can turn out badly, the family with witchcraft gifts... I also liked how most characters felt like they had a life of their own: they definitely weren’t just plot devices, but had relationships, past experiences (sometimes together, sometimes not), and generally breathed and lived.

A lot of descriptions, too, were vivid, and allowed me to picture the places and scenes quite clearly. I’m definitely not sure about all of the fine details, though (avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt in Paris in 1920... uhm, it was avenue Victor-Emmanuel III, but even without knowing that it doesn’t make sense), so I advise not getting into that with a historian’s mind. Unless those were corrected in the final copy, that is. Anyway, the prose does have its charm, and whether New York, Paris or Southern France in the mid-twentied, it conjures the needed images easily.

I had more trouble with the pacing. For a good half, Delphine doesn’t do that much, to be honest, apart from being depressed because of her gift (which she probably wouldn’t have been if she hadn’t been such a doormat to her brother) and remembering her love story. I don’t know about the format it was told in (a diary), background info was needed here, yet on the other hand, it felt disjointed from the story. Moreover, while in terms of relationships the characters had a life, indeed, their actions and decisions were at times... silly. I could guess the turns and twists, and seriously, Delphine, that vision you had, that made you run away to the other side of the world... it was so obviously opened to many interpretations that it being a misunderstanding was a given here.

The story picked up after the characters arrived at the castle, but at that point I wasn’t ‘in’ it anymore.

Still, I may try the first book, because the parents’ story could be interesting (there’s a duel and a bargain with the spirit of a dead witch, apparently?).

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text 2017-11-14 17:25
Reading progress update: I've read 331 out of 474 pages.
Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1) - S.J. Parris

 

Well, that went to hell in a handbasket (or close to it) pretty fast -- and it had such a promising beginning!

 

But either there is a major flaw in the plotting, or it's clear ever since page 95 who was responsible for the death occurring on pages 91-94.

 

Shades of Arthur Conan Doyle's Silver Blaze.

(spoiler show)

 

And yet, this fictional version of Giordano Bruno, an eminent scholar and scientist who in real life would, himself, eventually come to be burned at the stake for heresy, has spent the majority of the last 235 pages traipsing around Oxford like a headless chicken, ignoring even the most blatant clues -- and all the while I can't shut up the voice of Sherlock Holmes in my head:

 

 

And it certainly also doesn't help that in the very first scene following the first death the guilty party is getting rid of a witness (of sorts) in the same way that the murderer does

in Ellis Peters's fourth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael, St. Peter's Fair.

(spoiler show)

  Nor that this person is conspicuously absent during one of the novel's key events, where they should have been present along with all of their peers -- and during which time, in fact, a second murder is committed.  Nor that for this second murder, the murderer is providing himself with an alibi

in the same way that it's done in Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage.

(spoiler show)

  Nor that the whole "forbidden book" subplot has distinct overtones of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.  (I know forbidden books were a dime a dozen in the Middle Ages and the Tudor Era, but dear God, can we please have something more inventive than

allegedly nonexisting / destroyed books being secreted away by a librarian of a closed community (a monastery in Eco's book, an Oxford college here)?

(spoiler show)

  C.J. Sansom showed in Lamentation that it can be done ...

 

So no, Mr. Iggulden, contrary to your laudatory blurb, not only can Brother Cadfael easily hold a whole chandelier to this -- he'd also have solved this case in a fraction of the time it's taking this book's fictional version of Giordano Bruno.  So would Miss Marple.  So would William of Baskerville.  So would Matthew Shardlake -- don't anybody tell me that this is anywhere near legitimate competition for that particular series, either. (Looking at you, cover blurb writer Sam Bourne.)

 

And did I mention Sherlock Holmes?

 

Merken

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review 2017-11-14 14:40
Dark Winds Rising
Dark Winds Rising: A Novel (Queen Branwen) - Mark Noce

Author: Mark Noce

Series: Queen Branwen #2

Rating: 4 stars

 

I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.

 

Book Blurb:  "Three years after uniting the Welsh to defeat the Saxons and settling down with her true love, Artagan, Queen Branwen finds her world once again turned upside down as Pictish raiders harry the shores of her kingdom. Rallying her people once more, she must face her most dangerous foe yet, the Queen of the Picts. Ruthless and cunning, the Pictish Queen turns the Welsh against each other in a bloody civil war.

All the while Branwen is heavy with child, and finds her young son’s footsteps dogged by a mysterious assassin who eerily resembles her dead first husband, the Hammer King. In the murky world of courtly intrigue, Queen Branwen must continually discern friend from foe at her own peril in the ever-shifting alliances of the independent Welsh kingdoms.

Branwen must somehow defeat the Picts and save her people before the Pictish Queen and the assassin destroy their lives from the inside out. Just as the Saxons threatened Branwen’s kingdom from the landward side of her realm in Between Two Fires, now the Picts threaten her domain from sea in this thrilling sequel. But she soon finds that the enigmatic Picts are unlike any foe she has faced before."

 

This was a pretty good follow up to Between Two Fires

 

This time around Queen Branwen is pregnant and fighting. In short, the story is someone is threatening her baby boy and her lands so its time for her to step up and save the day. There is definitely a women empowerment feel to the entire story, with women basically solving problems/fighting/kicking butt and taking names while their male counterparts hit things and ask questions later. Meh - I dinged it a star for that. No need to stereotype to make a point. Women rock - we know. We don't need to knock men to realize it. 

 

That being said the story was enjoyable. There is a mystery in this one as there was in Fires. It is not as good. But the tension of the Welsh vs Saxons/Picts carried the story along nicely. One thing about these books is they are compulsively readable and an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. I finish Noce's books in a matter of days. Also, the characters are good. They stay true to form and he keeps a few shady ones around throughout the books to keep you on your toes. You never know whom to trust.

 

Looks like first person present tense is here to stay. I still don't like it, but again I enjoy this series and stories set during this time period. If another book comes out I will definitely be reading it. 

 

Recommend.

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