Monday, February 16, 2015

Sandra Byrd's "Mist of Midnight"--a gothic Victorian treat

I've become a slightly more impatient reader in recent years.  If a book doesn't grab me fairly soon after I open it, I have trouble making myself keep reading.

Mist of Midnight, by Sandra Byrd, offered no such problem. As soon as the reader meets Rebecca Ravenshaw, then finds out her extraordinary quandary, you're in.

This from

"In the first of a brand-new series set in Victorian England, a young woman returns home from India after the death of her family to discover her identity and inheritance are challenged by the man who holds her future in his hands.

"Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her...and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca's name, but her home and incomes."
Rebecca is a likable heroine, and I kept turning pages to find out how she would deal with her plight and her growing attraction to Captain Luke Whitfield, who has taken over her family's estate. In true Gothic novel fashion, we have to question whether the handsome captain is friend or foe. (We're hoping it's friend, because we're a little in love with him ourselves.)

In fact, the entire story has that Gothic atmosphere that I used to enjoy in writers like Victoria Holt.

About Sandra Byrd

Sandra Byrd

Sandra Byrd first drew me in with her contemporary French Twist  series about a young woman who becomes a pastry chef in France,  Then I loved her Tudor series, Ladies in Waiting.  I'm not surprised that her Victorian series, Daughters of Hampshire, should be any different.

I've read dozens, if not hundreds, of Christian fiction books.  Sandra Byrd has that something extra that makes a writer stand out in the genre.  Faith is naturally infused into her books in, as she once told me in an interview, an "organic" way.

Most of all, her books have the quality I ask for of any writer:  Make me care about the story and characters.  Give me the sheer enjoyment of reading that makes me keep turning the pages.  Sandra Byrd does that, in spades.

Disclosure: I was provided an Advanced Reader Copy of this book.  This is my honest review.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A fictionalized peek into the story of Charles Dickens' wife

I'm fascinated with Charles Dickens.  I have been for quite some time.  And while I enjoy his writing, and feel he was one of the most amazing storytellers of all time, I've always thought his treatment of his wife Catherine was shabby at best.

Girl in a Blue Dress, subtitled "A Novel of the Life & Marriage of Charles Dickens," did nothing to change my opinion of Dickens.  But it was a truly interesting read.

This is from;

At the end of her life, Catherine, the cast-off wife of Charles Dickens, gave the letters she had received from her husband to their daughter Kate, asking her to donate them to the British Museum, “so the world may know that he loved me once.” 

Author Gaynor Arnold changes some things.  For instance, Charles and Catherine Dickens become Alfred and Dorothea Gibson, and she changes the names and birth orders of their children.

  She also adds some key scenes which probably didn't happen in real allowing Dorothea to confront the young actress who destroyed her marriage.

Other than that, as far as I can ascertain, Arnold stuck fairly close to the facts.  Dorothea/Catherine is a sympathetic figure because after giving her husband the best years of her life, she is literally cast aside.  Oh, Charles Dickens made sure the mother of his children was well-cared for, but that's about it.

One can feel the heartache of this woman who apparently never stopped loving the man who threw her over.

Arnold paints Charles Dickens just as he seemed to be: larger than life, brilliant, selfish, a superstar in his time and a lasting literary legend.

If, like myself, you have an interest in Charles Dickens and would like to gain more insight into his marriage and how it ended up, this book is a must-read.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How can you love a book when you can't stand the characters? My review of "Flinder's Field" by D. M. Mitchell

My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I read this book on my Kindle because I love psychological thrillers, and this had gotten a lot of five-star reviews.

Here's part of Amazon's summary:

In November 1974, a young woman called Sylvia Tredwin goes missing. Nobody has the faintest idea where she’s gone. She was wearing only a light skirt and T-shirt, didn’t take anything with her, no suitcase, nothing. Simply went out one dark evening and never returned. 

Some say she went off with another man, because there’d already been talk in the small Somerset village of Petheram that she’s that type of woman – attractive, flirty with it, dressed too provocatively. But her husband, Bruce Tredwin, doesn’t believe a word of the callous whisperings of the locals as they gossip about his outsider wife. So he never gives up searching for her. A fortnight later on a stormy winter’s night he finds her. She’s naked in a place called Flinder’s Field, wandering aimlessly, badly bruised and in total shock. But what she says to him will astound everyone. 

She says she’s been abducted by aliens, and she was never to be the same again, with tragic consequences…

While not badly written, I had two glaring problems with this book:

1) It took SO long to get going.  It was well into the book before anything really started happening.

2) And this one is a biggie:  I COULDN'T STAND THE CHARACTERS, especially the main character, George Lee!

George returns to Petheram, the village of his birth, and decides to try to find out exactly what happened to Sylvia Tredwin.

George was quite frankly a jerk, with no endearing qualities or anything that drew me to him.  Quite honestly, I didn't care if he lived or died.

None of the other characters were much better.

I stuck it out only because other readers had raved about the huge twist at the end, but even the twist failed to wow me.

The author has been touted as England's answer to Dean Koonce and Stephen King, but judging by this book, I'm not seeing it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"The Luminaries" didn't light up my world

The LuminariesThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky."--Goodreads

I really wanted to like this critically acclaimed and highly-praised book. It had so many characteristics that I like in a book: it was lengthy, well-written, had interesting characters and story, even a Dickensian flair that I enjoyed.

Why, then, was it so hard for me to read this book? I literally had to force myself to read it. I only finished it because at some point, I figured I had invested too much time in it to just abandon it.

I ploughed doggedly through it as if it had been assigned to me in school and I was going to be tested on it.

But I feel no sense of accomplishment or satisfaction on completing it. Maybe it was because there was no one character I was really rooting for? I just don't know. I liked Moody, and Anna Wetherell was a solid character, but neither were developed enough to really care about.

All I know is, life is too short and there are too many amazing, page-turning books out there to spend time forcing myself to read a book.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Remembering favorite writers from my early years

From the Rosamund du Jardin website:

"Most people wonder why I like these books so much when I am a child of the '80's and the '90's and these books are about what it was like to be young during the '50's and the '60's. To tell you the truth, I don't know myself! Perhaps it's because they are about a time when it was safe to walk a girl home at night or when people drank malteds in the soda shop while wearing their charm bracelets and sweater sets. In some ways, their world of wearing class rings and hoping for orchid corsages is the opposite of my world of MTV, gangs and violence, and teenage pregnancy, but it's still the same when it comes to joys and heartaches, growing up and learning."

Most people remember Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) for his poem, The Road Not Taken.

However, my favorite Frost poem is Reluctance. It ends like this:

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Mary Stolz, et al

I've liked that poem ever since my early teen years, when I read a book whose title was taken from it: A Love, or a Season, by Mary Stolz. To be honest, I don't remember what the book was even about. I do remember that Mary Stolz was one of my favorite writers at the time, along with the likes of Betty Cavanna, Rosamund du Jardin and Janet Lambert.
(By the way, if you were ever a Rosamund du Jardin fan, this website dedicate to her is really enjoyable.)

While some of these books were already ten to 20 years old when I was reading them, they still resonated with me as a starry-eyed bookworm.

Francena H. Arnold

Christian fiction was in its early stages, but there was some good stuff out there even then. I loved Not My Will, Light in My Window and Then Am I Strong, by Francena H. Arnold. (I even listed Not My Will as one of my Top 25 Books of All Time.)

I've since lost track of most of my copies of these books, but I see now that many of them are available online. Moody Publishers has even re-released Not My Will. I will probably eventually purchase some of my favorites online. Reading them again will be a delight.

Any favorites that you'd like to let me know about?

 (Originally posted on my main blog, Notes in the Key of Life, 3/26/07.)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children: my review

"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is one of the most charmingly quirky books I've read in quite some time.

With unbridled imagination and deft world-building reminiscent of Andrew Peterson's fantastical books (a must-read if you love fantasy), this tale also fulfilled my number-one need in a reading experience: the motivation to keep turning pages because I couldn't wait to see what happened next.

It's about Jacob Portman, a 16-year-old self-described bored rich kid from Florida, whose grandfather raised him on unbelievable tales of bloodthirsty monsters and children with unusual abilities who live in an idyllic haven on an island in Wales.

Jacob had long since stopped believing his grandfather's stories, despite the fact that he had the photographs to "prove" them.  Photographs that Jacob could see were often doctored, and not even that skillfully.

And because Jacob's grandfather was a Jewish man whose family was killed in the holocaust, and who joined the army to fight the Nazis, it was easy to decide the monsters in his grandfather's tales were simply an allegory for the real-life monsters he had fought.

It isn't until Abraham Portman's death that Jacob begins to believe all the stories might have been real. And prompted by his grandfather's last words, Jacob embarks on a trip to the Welsh island, determined to learn the truth.

Criticisms of the book

Because I enjoyed this book so much, I was really surprised to see the number of one- and two-star ratings it got on Goodreads.

Most of the criticism seems to be that the cover of the book was misleading.  Readers thought they were in for a chillingly creepy horrorfest, and were disappointed to find that it's a young-adult fantasy novel in which the only creepy things are the actual photographs that pepper the book.

Having read some things about the book, I wasn't expecting a bone-chilling tale, and I actually liked the story's air of fresh, sweet innocence.  Don't get me wrong...there's danger, bloodshed and mild scariness, but nothing along the lines of Stephen King or Dean Koontz.

About those photographs 

The vintage photographs are quite real, and author Ransom Riggs admits he built the story around them.  To me, they lend a quirky charm, despite the fact that some of them are rather weird and creepy.  They all came from the hands of collectors of such pictures.  One can't help but wonder about the circumstances in which some of them were taken.

A sequel is coming--yes, the book pretty much ends on a cliffhanger--and Riggs promises that more such photographs will be featured.

Overall, I truly enjoyed reading "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," and I look forward to finding out what happens in their further adventures.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Deeply Odd was deeply enjoyable

Deeply Odd (Odd Thomas, #6)Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Deeply Odd was deeply enjoyable.

It's been a while since I read an Odd Thomas book. I skipped "Odd Apocalypse" because, frankly, I wasn't in the mood for an apocalyptic read. So when I saw this one at my local library, I decided it was time for a return to the world of a uniquely sweet young man who "sees the spirits of the lingering dead."

Honestly--unlike some of the reviews I've read on here--I think "Deeply Odd" is one of my favorites in the series.

Although there was the requisite evil and the horrific tragedy Odd needs to avert, it was also infused with a spirit of hope and goodness.

The book leaves the enigmatic Annamaria in the background. (She's the pregnant young woman that he befriended a couple of books ago. Enigmatic almost to the point of being annoying, I might add.)

It also introduces a wonderful new character that I hope sticks around...the elderly, but feisty and sparkling, Edie Fischer. Edie is also enigmatic and mysterious, but also down-to-earth and very likable.

For example, after the story's suspenseful and nerve-wracking climax, this exchange:

Edie: "How do you feel, Oddie?"
Odd: "Starved. I need a big pile of breakfast."
Edie: "First you need a shower, dear, so the rest of us will have the stomach to take breakfast at the same table with you."

A new ghost is also introduced (in the past, Odd has helped ghosts like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra pass over to the other side), and there's a new, awesome twist with this one. Plus, he seems to be even more helpful to Odd than some of the spirits in past books.

One of the criticisms I've read has been that Odd didn't ever seem to be in very much danger. Umm, did you read the same book I did? I would think being relentlessly pursued by a bloodthirsty demon would qualify as "dangerous."

I actually appreciated that the story seemed to be a tad less chaotic than some of the "Odd" books. For me, the main attraction of an Odd Thomas book is Odd himself. His thoughts, his ponderings, his humor, his unique outlook on the world. All that I got in spades.

Another criticism was that "not enough questions were answered." The better to keep us buying the next books, maybe?

As for the element of hope? Previous Odd Thomas books have held the gloomy undertone that the world as we know it is being overtaken my evil. "Deeply Odd" revealed that the good is out there too, and working just as hard.

View all my reviews


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...