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review 2018-07-31 11:00
Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army
Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army - Edoardo Albert

by Eduardo Albert

 

Historical fiction with humour, what's not to love? This drew me in right away with all the tension of a Viking raid on a monastery and a protagonist who never wanted to be a monk. Conrad is funny in his totally mercenary reaction to the situation and consistently along his further adventures. I do love an intelligent character with a good sense of survival.

 

It's set against a fairly accurate backdrop of history of the Viking invasions of England. Exactly what's based on fact is explained well in a note after the story and holds some real surprises as some details that seemed unlikely turned out to be based on archaeological finds! I may have a couple of locations to visit on my travels.

 

The story keeps a good pace and despite his perpetual self-interest, Conrad is actually a likeable character. How he came to be a monk gets explained in the curse of the story and it's easy to sympathise with him on that particular downturn of his constantly changing fortunes.

 

Best of all, the story puts believable faces to groups of people from history. Personalities among the Danes as well as historical figures bring the setting alive and I did laugh out loud at a few all too human foibles along the way.

 

I highly recommend this story for anyone who likes a Pratchett-like laugh, even if they don't normally read Historical Fiction. My only complaint is the overt way in which the author lets us know there will be a series. I will be interested in the next book despite my usual disinterest series that use this tactic.

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text 2018-07-27 18:46
Reading progress update: I've read 11%.
Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army - Edoardo Albert

This is brilliant! Just the right balance of comedy and tension. It might still be on Netgalley if anyone's interested.

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review 2018-06-14 09:23
Ecstasy
Ecstasy: A Novel of Alma Mahler - Mary Sharratt

by Mary Sharratt

 

Near the turn of the 19th century, Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. Female composers are unknown at the time, though new possibilities for women are opening up. She marries Gustav Mahler, who insists she give up her music as a condition of their marriage.

 

I liked the writing voice on this one right away. Alma had such enthusiasm that I wanted to see her achieve her dream from the start. The story takes us through her life as a young girl, her first love and her relationship with her various family members, but especially with her music.

 

It's not all upbeat though. Alma sacrifices a lot for her marriage and it's inevitable that she will question her decisions as time goes on. Mahler himself is a challenge to deal with and it was an era when women were expected to suppress their own needs and be supportive of a husband. Alma is a naturally passionate and creative person and this state of affairs can only clash with her natural inclinations.

 

I enjoyed reading this, despite the unhappy parts. The narrative kept my attention, even if at times I wanted to shake Alma and tell her she was making some bad decisions.

 

The historical note at the end was as interesting as the story itself. Alma was a woman ahead of her time, though her unfaithfulness in her marriages would bring a lot of criticism. She weathered some difficult times and gave her love to some of the top composers of her time. Some of her own compositions can be found on YouTube and I couldn't resist having a listen after reading this story. I found her 5 Lieder for voice and piano pretty amazing and can only imagine that if her music had been supported earlier in her life that she might have been recognised in history as one of the great composers herself, rather than just a shadow of her husband's accomplishments.

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review 2018-04-29 12:46
The Illumination of Ursula Flight
The Illumination of Ursula Flight - Anna-Marie Crowhurst

by Anna-Marie Crowhurst

 

Set in the seventeenth century, Ursula Flight is an unusual girl with a curious mind and a hankering for adventure. As a child she applies herself to learning to read and to learn about the world in ways that girls of her era seldom do, then a chance meeting with an actress leads her to fascination with a vocation with a bad reputation that is outweighed by the appeal of life on the stage.

 

Ursula is a likeable character from the start. She's intelligent and curious, more interested in an experience for its own merits than in 'what people will think'. However, although her father encourages her learning, when a local Lord takes a fancy to young Ursula, her father effectively orders her to marry him. Needless to say, Ursula is not pleased with being effectively sold into marriage.

 

The story is mostly told in first person, so we get a look inside the thoughts of a young girl, her fancies, and her unspoken opinions all along. One of her interests is in writing plays, so we are given interludes that she has depicted as a playwrite and have to wonder how much embellishment Ursula has added to her private writings.

 

Facing some difficult circumstances in an era when women were treated much as property brings out the strength in the character, even through girlish fancies. The story kept me interested all the way through and made me wonder if I would have had the courage to do some of the things she does to overcome obstacles to her happiness.

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review 2018-04-21 23:07
Gorgeous, fierce YA historic fiction
Sky in the Deep - Adrienne Young

Disclaimer: reviewing uncorrected pre-publication galley via NetGalley

 

This was an awesome read. To be honest, I decided to review it because it was getting so much prelaunch hype, but I kinda thought I wouldn't be the target audience. I really just couldn't care less about Vikings, and so much of the marketing around it emphasizes that element.

 

If you're in the same camp, not to worry. Sky in the Deep is incredibly well-done and tells an exciting, high-stakes story with a fierce multi-dimensional main character who goes through an incredible character arc and journey. I don't think it's positioned as fantasy, but to me, it felt as much like fantasy as historical fiction.

 

Eelyn is a warrior, and the book opens with her totally eviscerating guys in battle. Which . . . I wasn't that into. I think I was afraid she was going to be really flat, like some implausible, too-perfect super-warrior, but she becomes more of a sympathetic character pretty quickly because her dead brother shows up to the battle. So maybe she's crazy or in shock, but then he shows up again--and when she chases him, she gets captured by the enemy.

 

Eelyn lives by a sort of warriors' code and puts honour above all, so being taken captive and forced into slavery by the group they're perpetually feuding with is nearly grounds for suicide. However, this isn't really the story of Eelyn the Viking superhero shutting down the old-world slave trade. It's way more nuanced than that.

 

I really appreciated the slow development that shows how someone with a rigid view of the world could come to understand others and challenge her own beliefs and those of her family/community. The slow-burn romance wasn't bad either~~

 

I'm looking forward to seeing what else Adrienne Young has in store for us. This was a beautiful, powerful debut about a girl who's not only a wicked-strong warrior, but has the strength to learn, grow, and love others despite the cost.

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