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review 2015-03-09 17:55
The Witch of Napoli
The Witch of Napoli - Michael Schmicker

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley
in exchange for an honest review. Thank you

 

A young reporter named Tomasso publishes a convincing photo of an Italian medium, Alexandra Poverelli, levitating a table, and it causes such a stir that the scientist/psychiatrist Professor Camillo Lombardi comes all the way to Naples to investigate the claim. To his astonishment, she proves she can do far more than simply levitate tables.

 

Result? She and the young reporter, Tomasso, who has fallen in love with her, are taken on a tour, first of Italy and then of the capitals of Europe, by the wealthy Professor Lombardi. Many are convinced by her. Others are either sceptical or fanatically against her – including the representative of an English society which investigates mediums, a repulsive character bent on engineering Alexandra's downfall.

 

The novel is based on the life of Eusapia Palladino, who is dismissed in Wikipedia as a fraud (but then so is homeopathy!). However, in this story her powers are certainly genuine. That she can and does accomplish seemingly supernatural feats is not in doubt. The only question is how. Is she really in communication with the dead, or is there some other quite different explanation?

 

An interesting point is that this (the whole "medium" thing) is often seen and presented – especially in its late 19th-century context – as part of the supposed war between science and religion. In fact the Church is quite as much her enemy as the scientific establishment. More so. Many scientists did – and do – have an open mind (and so they should, for that after all is the scientific method), her sponsor, Professor Camillo Lombardi, being such a one, whereas no one from the Church (as represented in this novel, at least) showed any sign of an open mind.

 

It is an enthralling story, and it was a brilliant decision to use young Tomasso as the narrator, to watch it all unfold through his eyes, the eyes of one who loved the much-abused but still tempestuous Alexandra for who she was and not what she could do.

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review 2014-12-28 20:40
Dangerous and Unseemly: A Concordia Wells Mystery by K.B. Owen
Dangerous and Unseemly: A Concordia Wells Mystery - K.B. Owen

If I remember correctly, this made it onto my radar when I spotted one of the newer books in the series on Smashwords (although the author needs to do a bit of cleanup – Smashwords lists books 2 and 3 on one K.B. Owen page and book 1 on another). The cover intrigued me, I liked the excerpt, and the price wasn't bad.

Miss Concordia Wells is a junior instructor at Hartford Women's College in 1896. The college is going through some bad financial times, so it's not entirely a shock when the bursar is found dead, an apparent suicide. Her death turns out to be just the start of a very hard year, however. The president and lady principal of the college become targets of threatening notes and pranks. Also, Concordia learns that her sister is suffering from a mysterious illness. Concordia's personal life is further complicated by her attraction to Julian Reynolds, who occasionally teaches at the college.

The things I liked most about this book were Owen's writing and the fabulous sense of time and place. There were tons of historical details. Sometimes I felt like Owen was being too obvious about her research, as if she was cramming in every interesting detail she'd learned, but I enjoyed it enough that it mostly didn't matter.

There were two main mysteries: Concordia's sister's illness and the possible misuse of funds at the college. Unfortunately, Owen wasn't always very subtle about dropping hints. For example, when it was mentioned that a door had a tendency to stick, I knew that someone would soon find themselves trapped in the room. I figured out most of the book's “revelations” well before the ending, so I spent a good deal of time waiting to see if there would be any surprise twists (there were, but only a few).

It took ages for Concordia to figure some things out. I realized what was wrong with Mary, her sister, after two very important details were revealed, but Concordia didn't learn the truth until nearly the end of the book. It was frustrating when Owen dragged things out further by not allowing readers in on the conversation that made everything clear to her, especially since there weren't really any additional twists to warrant it.

Some of the details of the primary mystery, the stuff going on at the college, were a surprise to me, but, after a few things were settled, I figured the rest out fairly easily. Again, Concordia took a bit longer than I did to put everything together. That's the main reason why I didn't like this mystery more – I felt like I was constantly waiting for characters to realize the obvious.

I had the same reaction to Concordia's possible romances. She constantly fretted over her attraction to Julian Reynolds, even while he did things that upset her, like being too open about his interest in her after she'd already told him that he needed to stop because it could hurt her reputation. David Bradley, on the other hand, was never anything other than gallant, kind, and easy to talk to, and there were moments when she clearly felt physically attracted to him. Even so, she insisted she only saw him as a friend and continued to tremble over Julian. The two attempts to make David look bad were weak, at best.

Although I felt that the book's mysteries were generally too obvious, and I sometimes had trouble remembering who all of the many characters were, I liked the setting and Owen's writing enough that I might continue with this series. I'd like to see how the college manages to recover from the events of this book, and it'd be nice to see how Concordia's familial and romantic relationships turn out.

 

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2014-05-27 16:27
"The Picture Of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde - 5/5
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde,Jeffrey Eugenides

I am a great lover of Oscar Wilde, I am wearing a fan t-shirt right now and I love all of his works. To be honest, the Picture is not even my favourite of his works. But not because it's bad, but because his other stuff is so dang good :)

 

I really love his writing style. It's so very simple, almost biblical but still very effective. In his other works (especially in his fairy tales and poems in prose) maybe more than here, but it's also in the Picture very beautiful.

 

It's a classic. A modern classic, but still a classic. But it isn't dusty or old, it's fresh and not modern, but simply timeless. People will always read it and always adore it. 

 

The charactersare interesting. I like Basil most, of course. I like Henry to some pits and agree with him at some points. I love/hate Dorian, just as I was supposed to.

 

The storyline is well known, so I don't have to say a lot about it. And I don't want to spoiler (in case someone doesn't know)

 

I know, many people love it, but just as many hate it. It's not a book for everyone.

 

But I recommend it.

 

My rating

five stars out of five

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review 2014-05-25 17:23
"The Phantom Of The Opera" by Gaston Leroux 5/5
The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux,Alexander Teixeira de Mattos

I am sure you have heard of that book. The musical is legendary, the character has been used for so many stories, everyone has heard about "The Phantom Of The Opera" - even if it's because of the Animaniacs or the Duck Tales or Sherlock Holmes. 

 

But have you read the book? 
Yes? Fine! Did you like it? I guess...

 

No? Then read it! No matter if you like the musical or not - I love both but many people like only one of them. 

 

Do you like to read on long afternoons or evening, watching the storm, rain or snow on the other side of the window, drinking tea, coffee, hot chocolate or wine and eating bisquits or other treats? Well, I personally do, so that book is just perfect for me.

 

It is interesting. It shoes happenings (both fact and fiction) from different points of view. Most of the characters are a little silly, yet still lovable. Christine is kind of my idol. The persian is fascinating. And Erik, poor, poor Erik...

 

I know, I should hate him, but I can't. I have mixed feelings about him in the musical (depending on the actor, mostly), but I mainly like him there. But book Erik... oh my poor, Erik. He is even a bit more evil there - but he is a thousand times more pitiful! I'm not like "Aaaah, Gerard Butler is so smexy, Erik is kewl", not at all (by the way, I can't stand the 2004 movie),. I like him as a character. 

 

 

Characters: Really good. It's an old novel, so don't expect the trendy, modern [insert random number here] dimensionality, you might be used to. But the characters are not flat at all. 

Writing style: Very beautiful. Very rational at some points, pretending it was real. At other points very flowery and poetic. 

Lenght: Not a big book, but also not thin. Long enough, but not too long. Between 300 and 400 pages, I think. 

Plot: Well, we know most of it right? But it's rather different from the musical and has some unexpected twists. Not many, but they are there.

 

It will follow you. Some bits of it are actually unforgettable.

 

And it has some unbelievably lovely quotes. I won't tell them - I don't want to spoiler. And I only have a German copy of it, I don't want to search all of the English quotes on the internet.

 

My rating:

five stars out of five.

 

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review 2013-09-22 21:09
Mail-Order Marriages by Jillian Hart, Carolyn Davidson, and Kate Bridges
Mail-Order Marriages: Rocky Mountain WeddingMarried in MissouriHer Alaskan Groom (Harlequin Historical) - 'Jillian Hart', 'Carolyn Davidson', 'Kate Bridges'

The mail-order marriages aspect immediately appealed to me and was the reason why I bought this book. I wanted to see how the various authors would handle the subject. I was a little surprised at how repetitious the stories felt, considering there were only three of them. The first two stories both include a "heroine inherits a lot of money and a man from her past chases after her" subplot, and both of them handle it in pretty much the same way.

“Rocky Mountain Wedding” by Jillian Hart

Synopsis:

Melody traveled to Montana with the intention of marrying the man whose mail-order bride ad she'd answered. However, when she got there she learned that the man she thought she'd be marrying had fallen in love with someone else. It's not really his fault – he had no idea his mother had been corresponding with a mail-order bride for him – but now Melody is stuck with no place to stay, very little money, and no job.

Gabe, the older brother of the man she was supposed to marry, reluctantly helps her. He's sure that his mother will try to set him and Melody up next. Melody doesn't seem like the kind of practical woman he's interested in marrying, and Melody isn't happy about the way he keeps insulting her. That doesn't stop them from being attracted to each other, and Gabe's protective instincts kick in when he learns that Melody is possibly being pursued by an abusive man from her past.

Review:

It's a good thing that the man Melody was supposed to marry was in love with someone else when she got there, or I predict that her marriage to him would soon have soured due to her and Gabe's instantaneous attraction to each other. I couldn't really understand why she was so attracted to him, considering how often he insulted her. He made it clear that he viewed her as some kind of gold digger and, even after he revealed that he was trying to push her away in order to avoid his mother's match-making efforts, I never really warmed to him.

This story didn't really work for me. I didn't hate it, but so much about it had me rolling my eyes. Although Gabe spent the beginning of the book mulishly determined to avoid being matched up with Melody, the instant he found out she might be in danger, he changed his mind and decided that they should get married. And Melody went right along with it, despite having previously been abused by a man she'd thought of as a family friend. How does any of that make sense?

Hart's writing was a little overwrought: lots of infernos of feeling, rising tides of need, Gabe's voice booming and thundering, etc. Also, there was some head-hopping - there were a few times when the story switched, without warning, from Gabe's POV to Melody's or vice versa.

“Married in Missouri” by Carolyn Davidson

Synopsis:

It's been several years since Lucas's wife died, and he has decided his home needs a woman's touch again. He puts out an ad for a mail-order bride and chooses Elizabeth – she is almost 30 and therefore more mature, and her volunteer work at an orphanage has given her plenty of experience with children.

Elizabeth, for her part, wants to get away from Amos, the man she thought she'd end up marrying but who chose her prettier sister instead. Life with Lucas and his sons suits her just fine. The boys like her, she's good at housework and enjoys having a home she can arrange as she wishes, and Lucas finds her attractive, even though she's tall and a little on the hefty side. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, trouble is brewing back at her old home in Boston.

Review:

This story suffered from too little conflict. Elizabeth was the perfect housewife who, at least in the eyes of her new family, had no failings (I, on the other hand, was bugged by the number of times she thought about how much better her marriage to Lucas was than her sister's marriage to Amos – she had a right to be bitter, but still). Although the boys didn't instantly consider her to be their new mother, they liked her right away and grew to love her. Lucas and Elizabeth's first time in bed went pretty smoothly, and, outside the bedroom, they lived together so well that it was almost liked they'd been together for years.

When trouble finally entered the picture, it was trouble of the wrong sort. This was a relatively sedate story – lots of what, to me, were very interesting paragraphs on the nitty gritty details of maintaining a rural home during this time period. After a while, though, it became a little boring because, like I said, there were almost no snags in Lucas and Elizabeth's new marriage. Absolutely everything went perfectly. It would have been nice to see a few things go really wrong and then see how the two of them handled it. Unfortunately, even the slightest snags were easily dealt with.

The arrival of Amos, the man Elizabeth had once thought she would marry, was the one thing that livened this story up, but his appearance and the danger her added was all wrong for this story, which practically cried out for quieter, more domestic complications. It didn't help that Hart's story went in that exact same direction.

One thing that was a little unusual: there were more mentions of religion than one usually finds in stories that aren't published in Harlequin's Love Inspired line. I'm a very secular reader, but I didn't think the mentions of religion in this story were too much, and they fit in well with the time period.

“Her Alaskan Groom” by Kate Bridges

Synopsis:

John is the successful owner of three livery stables. He thinks it's time for him to get married, but single women are few and far between in Alaska, so he finally takes the plunge and puts out an ad for a mail-order bride. He corresponds with Paulette, likes her, and believes they would suit. Unfortunately, the woman who arrives is not the woman he expects. Paulette has backed out, and the agency has sent Sophie as her replacement.

John's pride is hurt, and he unthinkingly insults Sophie, who is so upset that she walks off. It's not long before Sophie realizes that she could make a decent life for herself in Alaska, with or without John – there are plenty of potential husbands around, and she'd finally get to fulfill her dream of being a practicing midwife.

Review:

I loved the beginning of this story, but overall this was just too rushed to work as a romance.

The spark was definitely there. I liked that Sophie, despite being attracted to John, walked off after he said that marrying her would be like settling for a ham sandwich after expecting roast beef. I became more excited when Sophie realized that life in Alaska gave her options, that she didn't have to settle either. I wanted to see her make John work hard to win her back, but, unfortunately, she didn't.

I ended up feeling kind of “meh” about this story. They married and enjoyed having sex, but Sophie was worried because there didn't seem to be much more to their relationship, especially when she found herself really tied up in a patient's difficult pregnancy. I never became very emotionally invested in John and Sophie's relationship, and so I didn't fret when things were a bit rocky between them, and I didn't breathe a sigh of relief when they smoothed things over.

Overall:

I didn't hate this collection, but I didn't like it either. As with a lot of anthologies, there were some things I enjoyed and some things I didn't. Out of the three, “Rocky Mountain Wedding” worked best as a story. I liked the feel of “Married in Missouri” better, but the lack of decent conflict meant it rapidly became boring. “Her Alaskan Groom” started off really strong but needed a lot more fleshing out to be effective as a romance.

 

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted at A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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