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review 2019-02-15 20:14
The Binding
The Binding - Bridget Collins

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This was a little of a rollercoaster book for me, in that the blurb -is- pretty misleading when it comes to the expectations it rises—so there were quite a few chapters when my interest ebbed and flowed, as I poised between “this is not what I wantedto read” and “that’s pretty interesting” and “I expected something different in terms of world-building”, etc. Especially, there’s a romance element that is -not- in the blurb, and since I’m not a big fan of romance for the sake of romance in general, my first reaction was pretty much ‘ugh, no, not yet another romance plot, you should’ve warned me about this, since I don’t feel like reading romance these days’.

However, as everything settled, as the plot fully came together, as I got to know the characters more, this change of mood abated, and I found that I was actually liking this novel. I do regret that the art of binding wasn’t explored more in depths, with deeper explanations of how it worked, and this is something that disappointed me until the end. Still, I nevertheless felt myself rooting for several characters, getting angry at how other people treated them, didn’t accept them, at the rampant intolerance, too. It wasn’t ‘enjoyable’ (I so wanted to slap the parents), no. The main characters were often annoying in many ways, too. But it made for a good story.

I must say that I usually have several pet peeves when it comes to romance (yes, there’s some romance in it), one of the major ones being when the lovers lose sight of priorities (typical example: “who will she chose, the boy she loves, or saving the world?” --> everybody knows that 99% of the time, the world is doomed). Here, there is strong potential for turning these characters’ world(s) upside down, but I didn’t get that feeling of thwarted sense of priorities, because all in all, most characters had bleak prospects to start with, and what hinged on them was something that wouldn’t have made so many other people happy anyway: arranged marriages, bad job prospects, abuse, cannot go back to their old lives, etc.

Speaking of abuse, the world Emmett lives in is rather bleak in that regard as well. It reminded me a lot—and that was no doubt on purpose o nthe author’s part—of 19th century novels, with a strong country/town dichotomy: the countryside as a ‘pure, natural, innocent’ world where people have a chance to be happy, vs. the town as polluted, home to crime and vice, and where the wealthy treat servants and poorer people in general as dirt, as toys that can be broken and then mended at will. While the abuse is not depicted in gory ways, and usually alluded to rather than directly witness, the allusions are not veiled either. It is very clear who rapes their servants, and who gets others murdered for the sake of their own interests. Those aren’t triggers for me, but they could still be depending on the reader. All in all, that also reminded me of other literary movements of that time: there’s no shortage of showing people being sick, reduced to their ‘bodily functions’, shown as the cowards they are, and so on. If you’ve read Zola, you’ll know what I mean. This novel doesn’t sing the praises of human beings in general, for sure, and shows most people as being weak at best, and hidden monsters at worst.

I am… bizarrely satisfied with the ending. It’s fairly open, and there are still many loose ends, but it also allows the book to close on a kind of resolution that I found fitting, balancing between “it could still turn so sour so quickly” and “well, there’s hope left and the future looks kinda good”.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars

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review 2019-02-14 21:56
Asenath: Vision of Egypt by Sara Hickman
Asenath: Vision of Egypt - Sarah Hickman

This was an enjoyable, speculative story about Asenath, who is barely mentioned in the Bible. She was Joseph's wife. This is the Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery, but he rose to become vizier, or the second highest after the pharaoh, in Egypt.


Great characters, believable story, and I enjoyed reading it. It is a Christian fiction book, as it tells of her conversion from worshipping her Egyptian gods, to converting and following the One God.

 

4 stars and recommended for Christian and historical fiction fans.

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review 2019-02-14 19:39
Carmela by Amalia Decker Marquez
Carmela (Spanish Edition) - Amalia Decker Marquez

I wasn’t sure about this book, which is long, little-known, and apparently only available in the original Spanish. But it presents an interesting story, if a meandering one; it’s semi-autobiographical, and more fictionalized biography than tightly-plotted novel. Carmela Macker is born into a well-off socialist family in Cochabamba in the the mid 20th century, becomes a guerrillera as a teenager, experiences love and tragedy, has several lovers and two daughters, becomes a journalist, runs for political office, and goes into and out of exile in a variety of Latin American countries as Bolivia goes through periods of dictatorship and democracy. The book’s timeline starts out scattered – going right from Carmela’s birth to the abrupt departure of her partner of many years in middle age – but around 50 pages in, it settles into a chronological structure that persists for the rest of the book.

It’s an interesting story, consisting primarily of short chapters, and with a lot of ground to cover the plot doesn’t ever linger for long in one place. It’s primarily told from Carmela’s third-person perspective, though on a couple of occasions it tells the stories of other guerrilleras whose connection to Carmela is tenuous, but whose capture by the military government exposes them to horrors that Carmela herself never experiences. There’s not a lot of physical action – situations that would have been milked for additional drama in a purely imaginative drama resolve themselves more quietly here – but there’s always a lot going on in Carmela’s life and the political realm in which she operates. I learned a fair bit about Bolivian history, though the author is perhaps not an entirely objective source; while Carmela ultimately leaves partisan politics, there were a few passages that made me wonder, such as the view of food rationing as a necessary sacrifice for the greater good during her time in exile in Cuba.

Even so, I was glad to read this book; Bolivia is a fascinating country about which not much has been written, and although this presents only one economically privileged perspective, it was still great to get an insider’s view of the country. I didn’t always like Carmela or agree with her choices – in particular, her embarking on an affair with a married playboy when she has a partner and young daughter at home, all presented as if she were powerless to stop herself from giving in and falling in love – but I found it to be a lively, readable story, full of political and personal reversals and characters who, one way or another, are always able to adapt. It’s too bad this hasn’t been translated to English, but for those who are able to find and read it I think it is worth the effort.

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review 2019-02-13 15:25
Once Upon a Time...
Once Upon a River - Diane Setterfield

Yes! My soul needed a good magical realism book. It was crying out for it you guys. "Once Upon a River" delves into many characters but manages to thread the needle with keeping an eye on the main plot from beginning to end of this book. I absolutely loved "The 13th Tale" so I was looking forward to see what Setterfield did with this. She weaves stories, fairy-tales, and myths together to tie around the Thames River and the people who live alongside it.

 

"Once Upon a River" starts with an inn called the Swan. Everyone tends to gather there to hear the innkeeper's husband tell stories. And can you imagine it in your head. A cold wintry night. A crowded inn with men and women together in order to beat back the cold. Listening to stories and laughing. And then a half dead men is brought in with what many take to be a puppet. And then everyone starts to realize that the puppet is a dead girl. After calling upon the village nurse/wise woman, the dead girl is somehow alive. And though the girl won't speak, many characters end up being drawn to her and want to lay claim to her. 

 

The young girl is proposed to be the missing girl of the Vaughans family who disappeared two years earlier. The wife is insisted that the girl is their daughter Amelia. And then a man named Robert Armstrong appears wondering if this girl could be his potential grandchild Alice. And then we have some side characters who wonder about the girl's identity and propose that it could be (whispered) and you wonder on that for the whole story too. 

 

Your heart bleeds for the Vaughans and for Robert Armstrong who is hell-bent on making sure all of his family are together and well taken care of no matter what. And you feel sad for the village nurse who has taken a shine to the girl though she is adamant she will not marry or birth any children. 


Setterfield's writing is fantastic in this. She manages to make sure every character have their own unique voice, but also everyone is developed so well. I don't know who I liked the best, but have to go with Robert Armstrong and his love for his wife, and their family. I could picture him in my head. Robert could have had his own book when you read about how he came to be, how he became a farmer, and why does he keep loving a song that rejects him every step of the way. Also can I say this, Robert needed to beat Robin's tail, like a lot. That said, I was so sad in the end when you have Robin finally realizing what mistakes he made. 

 

I will say that the flow of this book is slow and that you have to keep reading to see how things are revealed. Setterfield doesn't rush this book or it's characters at all. I think that readers will be happy with the resolutions of all the story-lines. 

 

The setting of the area felt full or magic and promise. I loved the idea of stories being carried down long after people pass away and how those stories can turn into myths which hold some truth to them. 


The ending was wonderful. I honestly wouldn't change a thing.

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review 2019-02-11 03:29
Not the Duke's Darling Mini Review
Not the Duke's Darling - Elizabeth Hoyt

I'm not sure if this is the first book in Hoyt's Greycourt series, but it's the first for me. I love her voice, I loved that the heroine is a Wise Woman, and I loved that the hero has a tragic past (or several of them), but we weren't overwhelmed with it. The setting is a country garden party/weekend--another fav of mine in historical romance. I just adore Hoyt and this book really broke my streak of not reading. A dose of female friendship and a funny side character--Lucretia, I adore you!--and this book was just what I needed. 

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