Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

I had to write this review as soon as I had finished this book because there's so much to say and I was afraid I would forget something!

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness is the second in the All Souls Trilogy, and if you did not read A Discovery of Witches you must stop reading this right now, buy a copy, and read it.  This book will make no sense to you if you haven't read the first book.

With that being said, I did throughly enjoy this book.  As I did in reading A Discovery of Witches, it took me about 100 pages before I was in the swing of things and completely immersed in the continuing story of Diana and Matthew.  I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of new characters and Elizabethan London at the beginning.  My head was spinning a bit, but I slowed down and regrouped.  The author's knowledge of Elizabethan London is very evident, and makes this a special part of the book.  I felt as bewildered as Diana for a bit, until she stops thinking like a historian, and instead starts living in London like a resident.  The clothes, the smells, the customs are all part of what makes this story line very entertaining.  I have few criticisms of this book, but I did feel that some of the scenes could have been shortened a bit.  It was very helpful to have the names and relations of all the characters in every part of the novel included at the end of the book.  It helped keep everyone straight in my head.  I could quickly thumb through and refresh my memory.

Without giving too much away, I will say I love love loved the continuing evolution of Diana and Matthew's relationship.  As we all know, you can love someone but not really know  someone until you spend heaps of time with them; sometimes under very trying circumstances.  What I liked so much about their relationship in A Discovery of Witches was the "adultness" of it all.  The recognition of knowing that person is the one; the absolute belief that you have met that person who makes your world.  Quiet, unshakable strength.  That continues in Shadow of Night. Diana and Matthew find out so much more about each other--and Diana's got a bit more of Matthew to deal with--one a bit different than the 21st century scientist she meets at Oxford.  She's got another Matthew--one who's comfortable in 1591 England--with all its customs, political shenanigans, and dangerous deceptions.  Can they keep themselves out of trouble in 1591 England, and find their way home again?  

I would love to tell you more, but that would be spoiling the story.  I will say Diana finds out much more about her witch background and it was one of my favorite elements of the story.  I was surprised (but really, should I be?) at how darn clever Deborah Harkness is in weaving such a fantastic world!  It will be a very long time to wait for the third book.  

Suffice it to say, I am pretty certain fans of A Discovery of Witches will not be disappointed.  If you are someone who read it awhile ago, I would say re-read it before diving into this novel, which has a US release date of July 10th.  It will help you navigate through Shadow of Night.  If you're like me, and you don't re-read books, don't hesitate to jump in--you will quickly find yourself remembering events and people from the first novel and settling in for great read!  Thank you to Net Galley and Penguin for providing me with an e-book galley and a bound galley.  And yes, I will buy the hardcover to keep on my bookshelf alongside A Discovery of Witches.

Rating:  4/5

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What's On My Reading List

A quick review of Summer Rental  by Mary Kay Andrews starts us off this week.  Three childhood friends:  Ellis, Julia, and Dora rent a house on the North Carolina Coast for the month of August to hang out and catch up with each other's lives.  The house, Ebbtide, is a bit run down, and the owner--Mr. Culpepper--is only available via email.  Ellis soon runs into Ty, the gorgeous man who lives above the garage in a tiny apartment (and the real Mr. Culpepper) and sparks fly.  Meanwhile, Julia is facing a big decision involving her long term relationship with Booker, an Dora's got a big bombshell to share.  

It's a fun novel about friendship, and days on the beach.  Throw in Madison, a mysterious woman who rents the third floor from the ladies, and you've got another dimension to an otherwise fairly tame read.  I give it 2/5.  Not much to this novel, but enjoyable and a perfect read when you just want to escape.

Still overwhelmed by books!  I'm working my way through Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness and enjoying being in the company of Diana and Matthew.  Here's what else I am reading this week:
(fingers crossed I can get it all done!)

Favorite author!

Struggles on a violet farm

Creepy forest

Family secrets
What's on your reading list this week?  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

I don't know which cover I like better.  I did like the novel, however.  I read Ami McKay's first novel, The Birth House and have been waiting for The Virgin Cure!  

Ami McKay wrote The Virgin Cure based on her great great grandmother's career as a female physician in New York during the late 1800's.  She was part of a revolution in allowing females to become doctors, and she worked with the poorest women--many of them prostitutes.  "The Virgin Cure" is a completely dumb idea floated around by men that if you have sex with a virgin, their "virgin blood" would cure them of syphilis.  This crazy and completely untrue rumor still floats around in today's world, mostly in poor countries.  Instead of curing these men, it usually gives the woman the disease.  

Based on this, Ami presents Moth, a 12 year old girl who lives with her mother--a gypsy fortune teller--in a very poor section of New York in 1871.  Her mother soon "sells" Moth to Mrs. Wentworth, a woman of some means to become a maid in her household.  Mrs. Wentworth quickly makes her true personality known--she's a crazy, abusive kook who delights in beating Moth with her fan until her face is bruised and her arms are black and blue.  Her husband is nowhere to be found--he's restricted his wife to the house, and she's not allowed to go out at all.  Instead, she promenades around the house at precisely 3 o'clock, and sticks to a strict daily schedule of tea, changes of clothing, and rituals.  

Moth gets away from Mrs. Wentworth's house of horror and soon finds herself recruited to become a whore--at Miss Everett's home.  She's a well know madam who grooms young virgins, presents them to wealthy men, and they pay a price to de-flower these girls.  If the girls are lucky, they are soon taken away to be mistresses, or move onto another house with "skills" that will make them money.  It's a huge racket that's supported by the police and politicians who run New York.  Moth lies about her age and says she's 15.  She has no where else to go, and even when Dr. Sadie (the female physician who cares for the young ladies) befriends Moth and tries to get her away from Miss Everett's home, she decides it's the only way she can make a living and stay off the streets.

Will Moth stay at Miss Everett's and become a prostitute?  Can Dr. Sadie save her?   I have to say through most of the novel I was slightly cringing, imaging Moth going through this process of losing her virginity and losing herself in the process.  I kept hoping something good would happen and she'd find another solution.  I can't tell you if she does, cause that would give away the rest of the story!  But Dr. Sadie plays a huge role in this novel, and provides another point of view through her journal entries throughout the chapters.  The New York of the 1870's is brilliantly described by the author, and fully pulls you into the worlds of Moth.  It was hard to remember Moth was only a little girl--12--and facing huge decisions that only an adult should face.  

This is a great novel for fans of historical fiction, women's history, and New York.  Rating:  4/5 for historical details and a solid story.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans

I received an advanced copy of this book from Simon and Schuster, and I devoured it like an excellent piece of chocolate cake.

The Island House had all the elements of a good story that I love:  archaeology, dual story lines, and a bit of romance mixed in with a good story in which not everything always ends up happily ever after.  

Freya Dane arrives on the island of Findnar off the coast of Scotland after her estranged father drowns in a New Year's Eve boating accident.  He's lived on Findnar by himself for years, and has left it all to Freya.  Both of them are archeologists, and Freya soon finds that her father was quite busy amassing artifacts and endless notes from digs he was making on the island.  Expecting to stay for only a week or so and then sell the island, Freya is quickly caught up in her father's obsession with the island and all of the questions posed by his finds:  Who lived there, and when?  Both Freya and her father find evidence of early Christians, Pagans, and Vikings.  

And then there are the visions Freya begins to have on the island, and most important, when she runs into Daniel Boyne--the man her father saved the night he died.  Her quest to uncover the mysteries on the island are tied into Daniel, and the local librarian Katherine soon becomes involved helping to solve the puzzles that are quickly accumulating and racing towards an incredible reveal.

Oh--but there's more!  The heartbreaking story of Bear and Signy.  Signy is a young girl who travels to Findnar with her older sister to worship at the stones ( a smaller version of Stonehenge).  They do this on the down low, as monks and nuns have taken up residence on the island, built an abbey, and are working on spreading Christianity to the pagan world that surrounds them.  The Christians do not like the Pagans coming to the island to worship and try to drive them off when they see them.

Signy's world is forever altered when she spies Viking raiders landing on the island.  She hides with her sister, and witnesses the horrors of fire, murder, and utter pillage of the Christian settlement.  But the tragedy touches Signey, and her sister is murdered by the Vikings.  Signey is left on the island with no way to return to her family, and unwilling to leave her sister's grave.  

Bear is a young Viking who has been caught in the fire and gravely injured.  He's left for dead, but survives with half of his face scarred by the flames.  The remaining monks and nuns reluctantly take in the two young children--one a Viking, the other a pagan.  This critical act sets Bear and Signy on a journey of love, loss, and heartbreak.  And--their story is told through the artifacts Freya is finding centuries later on Findnar.  

I loved this book!  It reminded me  of Susanna Kearsley and Barbara Erskine, two of my favorite authors.  Posie Graeme-Evans really did her homework on this one--the archeology is well researched and shows a fascinating time when the Pagan and the Christian worlds were colliding.  

It will be out in paperback at the end of June, and also available as an e-book.
Rating:  5/5 Great story, archeological detail is just enough without being overwhelming, and the characters are well written and hard to forget.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mercy Train by Rae Meadows

I will admit that I'm a cryer.  Doesn't take much for me to turn on the crying machine.  I have been reading this book for the past few days, and there are moments in this novel that made me tear up and reach for a tissue.  I have been wondering why, and I think it is connected to recent family events, and the realization that the generation above me is getting much older, and so much of my family history is unknown.  I spent the weekend in Chicago with my cousins for a family graduation party, and my sister and I stayed at my Aunt Judy's home.  This is the same home she has lived in for over 50 years.  It is the home that we always went to for family Christmas parties, graduation parties, and so many other fun events.  Walking into it reminds me of so many family members that are gone.  

While we were there, my sister and I were looking at family photos of our grandparents, great grandparents, and great-great grandparents.  I saw a photo of my grandma that I have never seen before, and I was just struck by how beautiful she was in that photo.  It was taken in the 1920's, and she was 16.  She was just stunning, and I can see how much my Mom looks likes her, and how much my Aunt looks like her father.  My Aunt promised to send my sister and I copies of that picture.  I've been toying with the idea of researching family history, and this has spurred me on with that idea.  

This book, Mercy Train, is all about family history.  It is told through three generations of women:  Violet, Iris, and Samantha.  Violet's story is the most poignant.  She is 11 years old, and lives in New York City in 1901.  Her mother, Lilibeth, has fled from Kentucky and an unhappy marriage to New York, where she quickly becomes addicted to opium and goes from benefactor to benefactor.  Violet is left to run the streets with other kids, picking pockets and stealing food.  Her mother finally gives Violet over to The Children's Aid Society, which put kids on orphan trains and sent them out West to be adopted by people. Many children were put to work on farms, and treated very badly.  Some kids found new homes and quickly forgot their past.  Violet realizes she has to leave New York City because  she will probably become a prostitute in just a few short years and doesn't want to end up like her mother.  

Iris is Violet's daughter, and she is dying.  She's 72, and the cancer that started in her breasts has spread and she's decided she's going to die on her birthday.  She's divorced and lives in Florida, far away from Chicago, where her 40 year marriage saw her in a life full of dinner parties, society events, and involved with her children's school life.  It was empty, and now she's happy to live alone, far away from it all.  As she edges closer to death, she looks back at her life, and choices she's made, and contemplates what it all means.

Samantha is Iris' daughter, and a new mother.  She lives in Wisconsin, and is a gifted potter.  She's feeling disconnected from her husband and her life before her baby.  She's struggling to find meaning in her marriage and her life.  

The stories go back and forth  between the three women. Violet's story at age 11, and  between the time before Iris dies, and the year after she's died; Samantha has had her baby, and receives a box full of her mother's things.  In it, she finds a bible with The Children's Aid Society stamped in it, and a letter from her grandmother to a woman in New York City asking for information about someone.  It is dated 1910.  It gets Samantha wondering:  where did her grandmother come from?  Why did her mother not tell her anything, if she knew anything at all?  

I enjoyed this book, especially Violet's story.  Each woman struggled with complicated situations, choices, and guilt.  Each loved their daughter fully, but sometimes lacked the skills to show that love.  This would make a good book group book, and there are discussion questions and an interview with the author at the back of the book.  It's available in paperback, and as an E-book.  

Rating:  3/5.  Good writing, compelling story.  The switch in character narration may be hard to get used to for some readers.