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Book Review – The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

ARC Received from Netgalley

Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women. Winters breathes new life into history once again with an atmospheric, vividly real story, including archival photos and art from the period throughout.

This book was a very welcome surprise for me. I knew it was a historical YA type read. I knew that it focussed on America amidst the women’s suffrage movement and I hoped it was really going to grab my attention. And thanks to very clever writing it absolutely did!

Olivia is the daughter of a dentist father, is supposed to be the perfectly behaved young lady that society expects her to be… She is also book smart and is a progressive thinker. She strives to be a part of the movement that intends to earn women the same rights as men and is enamoured with the changing tide of what is expected of women. She is, in so many way, the epitome of a teenager… She is just the 1900 equivalent to our modern day teens. These days we strive for our children to question everything, we encourage independent thought and tell them that they can do anything. However this was not always the case and if there is one thing this book does very well it’s that it reminds us to remember just how far we’ve come and what’s at stake if we become complacent.

I am a history buff, I love a good historical read, so this book was always going to catch my interest. However this book has something more than that, a point of difference that really makes its presence known. The very mysterious hypnotist Henri Reverie manages to bestow on Olivia a very unwelcome gift. Resulting in not only her seeing things ‘the way they really are’ but seeing them with so much gruesome detail that suddenly there are fangs, yellow eyes and evilness personified at every turn. THIS detail. THIS part of the story is what pushes this book into the ‘something special pile’.

At the very basis of the story it is a fictional telling of a young females experience during the time where women were fighting for their right to vote. For their right to be heard. For their right to fight to be equals. What the author has done so cleverly is write it in a way that it’s an accessible history lesson, rich in descriptive supernatural elements. This story is a story that makes me proud to be female, proud of where we’ve come. Education and entertainment wrapped so perfectly together you don’t realize where one ends and the next begins, definitely a ‘must read’.

The Cure for Dreaming

By Cat Winters

photo credit: El Bibliomata via photopin ccphoto credit: national museum of american history via photopin cc

Book Review – Kings & Queens by Terry Tyler

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This book was received from the Author in return for an honest review

Terry Tyler’s seventh novel is a romantic drama spanning the years 1971 – 2007, with an unusual echo from history …

“KINGS AND QUEENS” tells of the life and loves of charismatic Harry Lanchester, which just happen to mirror the story of Henry VIII and his six wives. All the passion and suspense of the Tudor court, but set in modern times.

Harry’s realm is his South of England property developing company, Lanchester Estates, while his ‘wives’ are the twentieth century sisters of their historic counterparts: Anne Boleyn is reincarnated as the equally intriguing Annette Hever, and Henry VIII’s fifth wife with the risqué past, Catherine Howard, lives again in 1999 as Keira Howard, a former lap dancer.

The saga is narrated by each of the six women, in turn, interspersed with short chapters from the point of view of Harry’s lifelong friend, Will Brandon.

Don’t worry if you know nothing of this period in history – “Kings and Queens” can be enjoyed as a contemporary family drama, very much in the vein of Ms Tyler’s previous novels. Readers with an interest in the Tudors, though, will pick up on many similarities, references and metaphors, some quite amusing. For those non-Tudor fanatics who would like a brief look at the life of Henry VIII before reading, the author has included, in the Kindle book, a link to a mini-biography on her blog.

A sequel, following the lives of Harry’s three children, is already planned.

There was the promise that this novel would be something different. That it would entwine the story of Henry VIII and our (by comparison) very modern current day world. I knew that if it was done well I was going to absolutely be absorbed by it. I also knew that if Terry Tyler wrote the characters in this book nearly as well as she had done in the past books of hers that I’ve read then I would be well and truly enamoured. I’m very happy to report that my expectations were more than met on both counts.

I loved how the book was broken down. Having the women in Harry’s life tell the story kept the pace up and most importantly it kept it fresh. Because Terry Tyler is so great at really giving her characters their own ‘voice’ and making them as individual as you and I are, you really got a clear picture of each woman, of how people and their personalities and idiosyncrasies really can make everything so completely different from what it was and what it will be. It’s so true that some people bring out the best in each other and some bring out the worst.

Along with the ‘wives’ each recounting their time with Harry we also hear regularly from Will, who is Harry’s best friend. His chapters are integral to the story as he fills in gaps and fleshes out parts of the storyline that you just know there is more to tell…. (Obviously the wives don’t witness everything about their husband’s life!) I definitely did have my favourites from the six women in Harry’s life, but Will had to trump them all. Possibly because he had been a constant in Harry’s life since they were both children and he was the kind of friend that stuck by Harry even when he didn’t agree with him, the romantic minded soul in me loves the idea of that length of friendship, or possibly because he seemed to be one of the kindest characters in the book, or possibly because he always came through with the extra details to whatever scandal was going on at the time. Whatever the reason I love how sometimes a character can sneak up on you like that and become someone that you are very attached to.

It’s so true that you don’t need really any knowledge at all of the Tudors to enjoy this book. You absolutely could pick it up and read it for what it is and be very entertained, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. But like I said at the beginning of this review I LOVE that there is more to it than that if you want there to be, that you can draw parallels between the stories of Harry and Henry VIII. That this take on the Tudor history has you dying to know more, even though really you do know the path the story takes… but trust me, even though you know the direction of this story you will not sit there checking off the boxes. There is so much going on that you’ll just HAVE to know whats coming next.

Terry Tyler has cleverly written a mini history on the Tudors on her blog so that those who want to know all about the people and story that this modern day fiction is based on then they can, I popped on and had a quick read as a refresher (I had a basic knowledge but certainly nothing in-depth enough to think I knew this story.) Personally I’m really glad that I did this, I definitely felt like knowing the history that the book is based on really added to the complete package of this story, I could appreciate the links that wouldn’t have been so obvious if I hadn’t schooled myself on the subject first. It really did illustrate how much thought and skill has gone into writing this very absorbing, very entertaining re-imagining of the tales of Henry VIII and his six wives. I have to say, that this is my favourite Terry Tyler read so far.

Kings And Queens

By Terry Tyler

photo credit: joiseyshowaa via photopin ccphoto credit: Caucas’ via photopin cc

Book Review – Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2) by Deborah Harkness

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You may have noticed that last week I was mostly MIA… Well that’s thanks to the fact I had started this book. It’s a hefty read just like its predecessor was, and just like the final instalment will be I’m sure. Once again I was transported into a world of humans, witches, vampires, daemons and more… And once again I LOVED it.

IT BEGAN WITH A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

Historian Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, she sparked a struggle in which she became bound to Matthew. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened.

Seeking safety, Diana and Matthew travel back in time to London, 1590. But they soon realise that the past may not provide a haven. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy for Queen Elizabeth, the vampire falls back in with a group of radicals known as the School of Night. Many are unruly daemons, the creative minds of the age, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot.

Together Matthew and Diana scour Tudor London for the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782, and search for the witch who will teach Diana how to control her remarkable powers…

This book picks up right where book one left off. We find Diana and Matthew at the destination of their time walking… the year 1590. Elizabethan England. I am someone who has a lot of love for anything to do with history. I love reading about past eras, whether in fact or fiction. So I was excited to follow this story and devour every single detail I could, not just about the characters but also about the setting…

There is a lot of detail packed into these pages. For me I love a book with a heavy dose of detail as long as it adds to the story being told and in this case it was certainly warranted. There is no way the author would’ve been able to paint such a vivid picture of the Elizabethan era if she didn’t spend the page space on building up every little detail from the clothing, the food, the buildings, the etiquette right down to the smells and strange little quirks of the period. I LOVED the detail that Deborah Harkness went into. I didn’t begrudge one single sentence of her world building. It was beautifully done. I really enjoyed that the same level of care that Harkness took in the first book with describing the scientific aspects of the story was also paid to the historical aspects in this instalment. For me I think what really highlighted the almost unimaginable alien feel of the time period was that we were seeing it through Diana’s eyes. Through her very modern, current day eyes. For as much as she is a history buff, she is still from our way of life. Having her deposited into 1590 highlighted just how much the world has changed.

Time travelling can be a very tricky plot to both write and follow as a reader. I really enjoyed the authors take on this subject… that said, there is always going to be some threads of the story that do raise question marks and it’s certainly no different here. I do wonder about the ‘old’ Matthew who reappears with apparently no knowledge of the events his future self participated in after Diana and ‘current’ Matthew return back to the current day. Think about it too hard and there are a lot of ‘what if’s’ there. Also the creatures that are let in on the secret of the time travelling have their future completely re-written, just by the fact they know what they know. But the implications of all of this can’t ever possibly be fully covered and explained.

On the other hand, the fact that the characters need to be careful about altering history is brought up quite a few times and this is actually one of the parts of the time travelling storyline I really enjoyed. How the author focused on the seemingly smallest things (the set of miniatures for example) and linked through them to chapters set in the current day was the perfect way to tie the story together and keep the pace and story going in the here and now as well as in the past. I loved that we got to check in with characters such as Marcus, Em, Sarah, Ysabeau and Sophie as well as some characters that weren’t familiar from the first book but I’m sure will be by the end of the last. This last point also goes for the characters introduced in the past. I loved getting to meet the people from Matthews past that I had heard of, I loved following Matthew and watching him be able to see people that he had lost long ago. There were some very poignant reunions; the chapters spent on their visit to Sept-Tours were my absolute favourites of the whole book.

The plotlines covering the manuscript and Diana’s powers all progressed at least in part. As far as Diana’s learning of her craft, even though I felt like it was a bit stop/start on the whole, I still really loved the direction this storyline ended up taking. There were some unexpected surprises and reveals about Diana and her powers and it was so satisfying that by the end of this book she had actually moved forward in learning about and managing her powers. The manuscript had a lot of writing time spent on the hunting of it. The actual acquiring of it…Not so much. But that doesn’t at all reduce the shocking discovery about its nature and I’m very interested to see where this particular storyline heads next, it’s gotten steadily creepier and creepier and I’m sure there’s much more of that to come.

Finally…The love story. As much as this is a story about creatures, magic and time travel, it’s just as much a story of a romance. The relationship between Matthew and Diana is the crux of this series. Everything comes back to them and their connection and in this book everything is taken up a few notches and we start to see exactly what is riding on this love story. Both characters develop and grow along with their relationship and I love that there is progress in this respect. Nothing drives me crazier than a love story that’s stagnant. Probably my biggest hope for Diana and Matthew is that they get some form of HEA once all is said and done. I’m still unsure what that HEA will look like, but I am staying optimistic!

So yes, this is a long read. Yes, this has A LOT of detail, historical and otherwise and yes it is based on a romance. I feel that all of these aspects make it work as a brilliant second instalment in this trilogy. It feels like we are hurtling towards all of these threads of stories being tied into finality and I literally cannot wait until July 15th when the final book is released… I can guarantee I won’t be sleeping much that week… I have seriously big hopes…. huge hopes!

 

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin ccphoto credit: true2source via photopin ccphoto credit: bijoubaby via photopin cc


The Warrior Queen (The Guinevere Trilogy) by Lavinia Collins

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This book was received from the Author in return for an honest review

A sumptuous romance based around the life of Guinevere and Arthur’s Court.

Never before has the magical world of Queen Guinevere, King Arthur and Lancelot and the knights of the Round Table been so deeply explored than in this warming saga of passion, duty and infidelity. Drawing on a rich seam of historical sources Lavinia Collins has created a fictional masterpiece, and epic romance that will stand the test of time.

The Warrior Queen is the first full novel length instalment of the Guinevere Trilogy. A Champion’s Duty and The Day of Destiny will be released by Spring, 2014.

I wasn’t too sure what this book was going to be like. Everyone has heard of Guinevere, Arthur, Lancelot and Merlin. Everyone has read, heard or seen a story about them at one point or another. My husband is SUPER into the story of these characters; he’s seen the movies, read the books. He knows the story in many of its incantations. So he gave me a refresher course on all things Camelot, and off I dove into the book.

I was pleasantly surprised! This was no regurgitation of the standard Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot story. Every time I’d put the book down and update my husband on what was happening in the story, he was genuinely interested in the direction the book was taking and it was actually really really nice to be able to discuss a book with him as in depth as we discussed this. He’s not always so interested in my reading material! It also just goes to show that for this book, it doesn’t matter whether you have a passing knowledge in the subject like I did, or a much more in-depth knowledge like the husband does, the story captures you either way.

The story is told through Guinevere’s eyes. It focuses on her journey and tribulations as we follow her from her homeland, through to Arthur’s court, onto the battlefield and back into the sticky politics of being King Arthur’s Queen. I really enjoyed venturing through this classic story from her point of view. It did of course contain the stories of war and combat, and meetings around the round table, but it also had the details that would only come from telling the story through her eyes.

I loved that there was a decent dollop of magic type plot. Not too much that it seemed ridiculous, just enough to make it a bit dark and mystical. Another love was the chemistry, the Guinevere/Arthur/Lancelot love triangle. Serious chemistry! There were some scenes with so much of it you could almost feel it coming through the pages… When you read this you are not going be short on action (bedroom variety!) and I had no idea I’d end up feeling torn between these two men, but I did. It’s not always a sure thing to be able to write the characters with the right amount of heat and tension between them but the author has definitely hit the mark here. Her writing of these relationships makes sure that this storyline is much more deeply layered than just a simple romance.

Finally I’ve kept my favourite point for last. The world building. I could picture EVERYTHING in my head. I felt like I was there in Camelot with them. Sitting at the banquets, riding into war, the clothing, the weapons, the liaisons, the politics. The attention to detail was mind blowing. I love love love books that transport you to their world, and I was most definitely transported to Camelot. I was blown away with the descriptive writing, and it’s this descriptive writing that really has me wanting to read the next two installments, I can’t wait to follow this story to the end.

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Book Review – Life After Life By Kate Atkinson

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‘What if we had a chance to do it again and again,’ Teddy said, ‘until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?’

This book took me a little time to read. It couldn’t be rushed. It was one of those books that you would do yourself a total disservice if you tried to read quickly. It needed to be absorbed slowly, mulled over and really thought about. And I guarantee you it is TOTALLY well worth it. For a start, check out this bit of stunning writing:

An icy rush of air, a freezing slipstream on the newly exposed skin. She is, with no warning, outside the inside and the familiar wet, tropical world has suddenly evaporated. Exposed to the elements. A prawn peeled, a nut shelled. No breath. All the world comes down to this. One breath. Little lungs, like dragonfly wings failing to inflate in the foreign atmosphere. No wind in the strangled pipe. The buzzing of a thousand bees in the tiny curled pearly of an ear. Panic. The drowning girl, the falling bird.

There is much, much more from where that came from. I found no matter what part of the story Kate Atkinson was telling, her writing was beyond beautiful. Even when discussing death, loss, pain or despair. She has a beautiful way with words.

The books follows main character Ursula and her numerous lives. What would it be like if every time you died you came back again? What would that do to the person? What would it mean for the people around that person? And of course, how would it alter the course of the world and even possibly history? The chapters flick back and forth and with each time she dies, the stories reincarnate with her. Each time her life story would slightly be altered, have a slightly different direction. Each time she would have a sense of déjà vu or a sense of foreboding for no good reason. From the readers point of view it’s beyond intriguing to watch Ursula make different decisions based on a feeling of fear, but not knowing it’s because in another life she or someone else had made a decision that ended badly for her or for people around her. That subconsciously she was trying to prevent events that she doesn’t even know will happen in her current life. Her alternate lives have her in various scenarios, sometimes taking multiple attempts at living to actually survive an event. Sometimes she would come back and avoid the first death or disaster only to fall to something that still ended her life in the same time or situation. Each time the story rewinds. Many times we start back at her birth, or start back at a certain chain of events.

Everything familiar somehow. ‘It’s called déjà vu,’ Sylvie said. ‘It’s a trick of the mind. The mind is a fathomless mystery.’ Ursula was sure that she could recall lying in the baby carriage beneath the tree. ‘No,’ Sylvie said, ‘no one can remember being so small,’ yet Ursula remembered the leaves, like great green hands, waving in the breeze and the silver hare that hung from the carriage hood, turning and twisting in front of her face.

The jumping back and forth slows down once she reaches adulthood; she seems to have fewer situations that bring her back to being born on a freezing snowy night in 1910. As the gaps widen between her life restarting, the stories really start to develop. World War 2 is starting to encroach on Britain and it is these stories, these potential lives lived by her that cram the most gripping detail in. Kate Atkinson really does take Ursula down every potential life that you could lead in wartime. She manages to layer so many layers into one character, see so many different scenes with in the same war and have so many different experiences. One such life I am so glad that she wrote about was when Ursula was in Berlin. She was trapped in Germany when the war accelerated, and more so, trapped within Hitler’s inner circle. I think that this life of Ursula in Germany was so important to the greater story, how else can you convey so many details through one character if she doesn’t experience them first hand.

At the Fuhrer’s approach the crowd’s excitement had grown to a rabid frenzy of Sieg Heil and Heil Hitler. ‘Am I the only one to be unmoved?’ Sylvie said. ‘What is it, do you suppose – mass hysteria of some kind?’ ‘I know,’ Ursula said, ‘It’s like the Emperor’s new clothes. We’re the only ones who can see the naked man.’ ‘He’s a clown,’ Sylvie said dismissively.

 The detail over chapters and chapters of the blitz in London and the people caught up in it makes you feel that you too are trapped in the midst of the swishes and booms of bombs, the dust caked in your lungs and the constant fear and weariness of being trapped in a city that is slowly being obliterated. The rawness of what people faced sometimes was hard to digest. I could compare it to the book The Cellist of Sarajvo By Steven Galloway. (Also WELL worth reading) You are constantly on edge. It’s unsettling. The facts laid out cold and bare, babies dying in bombings, people blown apart like crackers, the cold, no food, the smell and the sound of war and the fact that soon Ursula and other characters began to find a normalcy in the constant violence.

Death and decay were on her skin, in her hair, in her nostrils, her lungs, beneath her fingernails, all the time. They had become part of her.

So I’m over-emotional and trying to put down on paper words that just don’t seem poetic enough, descriptive enough to tell you about this novel. I don’t feel that my review can do this book justice, I honestly think that everyone will pull something different from it and I cannot recommend it enough. I personally found this book so incredibly thought provoking. It’s hard to wrap your head around the possibilities raised within the pages. So much of it replays in my mind, even after finishing it and I’ve been kept up at night thinking about its many aspects and layers. There was actually a certain paragraph that hit very close to home for me;

‘Hugh’s sixtieth birthday’, one more in a roll-call of family occasions. Later, when she understood that it was the last time they would all be together, she wished she had paid more attention.

How true is that, even in our everyday lives today. How often do we go about life, seeing people we love, family and friends and just check it off like a box on a to-do list. The finality of not being able to have these times back gets forgotten until someone is no longer here. This is what I think this book does so well, it explicitly points out how life is short, how life is unfair, how we have no way of predicting the future and how unlike Ursula, we can’t just go back and re-live it every time the black bat comes for us.

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Book Review – Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate #1) – By Gail Carriger

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I have a soft spot for history, always love to read about it and totally don’t discriminate over which era or storyline it’s set in. So imagine my excitement when last Saturday night (because what else would I be doing on a Saturday night) I found this series, The Parasol Protectorate. Set in the 19th Century in London it follows the adventures and mishaps of a Miss Alexia Tarabotti. She is a spinster, an Italian with an apparently too prominent nose, a preternatural amongst humans, vampires, werewolves and ghosts. Being preternatural, her touch can ‘neutralize’ supernaturals back to human, another characteristic of being preternatural….she has no soul.

In Soulless, the first book of the series it sets a lot of the groundwork, background and character building for the series. The main story revolves around missing vampires, appearing vampires, agencies trying to get it all under control, scientists trying to experiment every way they can and Alexia being dragged into the middle of all of it.

I have to admit for the first 4 or so chapters I was wondering whether I was really going to get into this book. It was a pleasant enough read but I hadn’t been gripped into that ‘must read can’t put it down state.’ That changed soon enough. I was hooked. Alexia, the type of girl we think we would totally be if we were living in that world, wearing that many petticoats and dresses, fainting at this that and the other and worrying that someone might see our knees…. There was a description at one point about her that secured her as a kindred spirit to me:

“Miss Tarabotti, once composed, was generally of a peckish proclivity”

Food lover. What more can I say! Any girl, who orders food at a ball from the butler because there were no snacks, is a friend of mine.

The use of terms, language and niceties from that era mixed with the comedic relief of a girl who followed her own tangent wove to create a really unique character and reading experience. Yes I had to concentrate more to follow the story, but if it hadn’t been written in the tone correct for its time then the story wouldn’t have been nearly half as good. For example, From Alexia’s mother:

“You must make him marry her! Call for the parson immediately! Look at them… they are…” she sputtered, “canoodling!”

And from Alexia’s storyline:

To put the pudding in the puff: she had retreated to the library, her favourite sanctuary in any house, only to happen upon an unexpected vampire. She glared at the vampire. For his part, the vampire seemed to feel that their encounter had improved his ball experience immeasurably. For there she sat, without escort, in a low-necked ball gown.

As for the other characters, which include, Lord Conall Maccon, Earl of Woolsey (Alpha Werewolf) Professor Lyall (Beta Werewolf) Lord Akeldama (Probably the most flamboyant Vampire of those times) and that creepy automaton (I still cannot get this things description out of my head) They were all written with such distinct characteristics and voices that there was no chance of one blending into another.  Lord Maccons character does follow the general lead male gist and his and Alexia’s storyline does go much as you would expect it to in the paranormal romance genre but it was well balanced, fun and for those times, very very outrageous! (Far too much canoodling you could say!)

It was one of those nice quick reads you could get through in a couple of nights or less. Maybe a bit slow to get into but definitely worth it and riveting once you were in deep enough. So all and all, my history loving geek self and my urban fantasy geek self are both pretty pleased with what my Saturday night self picked. Even if you’re not sure about reading about petticoats, bloomers and proper manners, think about giving it a try. The humour and characters have a lot to give.

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