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review 2017-11-21 20:17
The Candy Bomber
Candy Bomber - Michael O. Tunnell

This was a great book. It says that it is written for a younger audience. I didn't even know that there was an adult version of the book. I had heard about the dropping of candy during the Berlin Airlift following WWII, but I didn't know that it was started because the children would rather go without than give up their freedoms. The stories of some of the kids holding onto parachutes because to them it represented freedom. What an awesome story and such an uplifting story. Definitely good for the children, but also good for adults who just want a quick read on what happened that might prompt them to read the adult version. 

 

 

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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.

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review 2017-11-10 18:26
The Lone Wolf
An Education in Punishment: A Somerset Novel (Somerset Series Book 6) - Isadora Brown

True to form, Isadora Brown has given us another well-written, fast-paced read in the Somerset Series. In this sixth book in the series, we find out who and what is behind the NDS. The Lone Wolf has been someone to fear for a while now, but as Aubrey delves into the story behind the wolf, it appears that there is a method to his madness. Maybe he isn't killing indiscriminately. Aubrey shows just how tough she can be as she gets the answers from the wolf himself. Shane and Aubrey may not seem like the ideal couple at first, but the chemistry is certainly there and the tension and heat builds between them even as the suspense and intrigue surrounding the NDS continues to build. In Shane, Brown has given us a character that we should hate, and in real life, we would, but as questions are answered and we get to know him, hate is not the emotion he stirs. 

If you aren't familiar with The Somerset series, each book focuses on a particular couple, but I would recommend reading from the beginning to get the full impact of the suspense surrounding them. This reader will be anxiously awaiting the next installment of this series and I have to say that I am dying to know all of Luke's story!

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review 2017-11-05 18:16
The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton
The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton - Miranda Neville

Got this weekend (11/4) at my local library sale. Having heard about Miranda Neville's death, when I saw this, I picked it up. I've never read her and I thought I would remedy that.
Here is her obituary.
Avon's remembrance.

 

I enjoyed the opening. Celia was being kidnapped and stripped of her clothes. When the kidnapped leaves, she takes initiative and escapes, stumbling over Tarquin. It turns out, the hit on his head gives him amnesia. In the past, he had made a comment about Celia that, in turn, ruined her marriage prospects. So, to get back at him, Celia makes up a story and an identity for him.
I did find it hard to believe that Tarquin, with no title, had the influence he did. Seriously, *one* comment, and everything is ruined?!
I enjoyed the first part of the book (act 1). The road trip (for lack of a better word) across the countryside, their banter and interactions, the who/why was Celia kidnapped, their survival in the wilderness. This was the best part of the book.
Then (act 2), Tarquin remembers who he is. They go to a friend's house. I lost some interest at this point.
I was surprised at how much I liked Tarquin. (Since he is/was an arrogant bastard). Since this isn't a book that would have jumped out at me, I'm glad I read this.

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review 2017-11-01 15:37
Good Halloween Read
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Large Print... The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Large Print Classics) - Washington Irving

A few years ago, I re-read this book with one of my girls for school. Yesterday, I reassigned the book as a one day read and discussion with the girls. I figured Halloween subjects should be fun. This was a fun read and we watched an old cartoon version of the story as well and discussed how it was similar or dissimilar to the story they read. It was a fun day and fun read for the day. 

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