Monday, April 23, 2012

The Traitor's Wife by Kathleen Kent


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The book's description from the author's website:

This novel was originally published under the title The Wolves of Andover.

In the harsh wilderness of colonial Massachusetts, Martha Allen works as a servant in her cousin's household, taking charge and locking wills with everyone. Thomas Carrier labors for the family and is known both for his immense strength and size and mysterious past. The two begin a courtship that suits their independent natures, with Thomas slowly revealing the story of his part in the English Civil War. But in the rugged new world they inhabit, danger is ever present, whether it be from the assassins sent from London to kill the executioner of Charles I or the wolves—in many forms—who hunt for blood. A love story and a tale of courage,
The Traitor's Wife confirms Kathleen Kent's ability to craft powerful stories from the dramatic background of America's earliest days.
The Traitor's Wife was my first experience with the early history of colonial America. For some reason, I have never been all that interested in this period in history (even though, historical fiction and history in general are my favorites). I can't say that Kent's book kindled my fire for books set in the Puritans' America, but it alone was written so skillfully that I indeed was interested and felt myself being pulled into that long gone world. What made The Traitor's Wife especially engaging is the retelling of England's Civil War led by Oliver Cromwell. The author blended these two continents and their moments in history smoothly, without causing any confusion.

In all honesty, I was for a moment considering rating The Traitor's Wife at three stars instead of four but in the end I realized that it would have been unfair to the author for a couple of reasons. One, it's well written. Ms. Kent is one of those rare writers (especially debut ones) who have a proper command of the English written language. I know, it may sound silly and definitely not as something to point out as a part of quality literature, but sadly bad language skills seem to be the norm nowadays among authors. For me, it's not the direction I want to see the literary art going and that's why any book that's written using the proper English will always get a higher rating from me. The meanings of this are many, but the main one is that the author (in this case Kathleen Kent) actually cares about her work, puts a lot of time and effort in creating something of value, and, however indirectly, respects her future readers.

Speaking of effort, a good amount of it Ms. Kent invested in the research of Thomas Carrier's and Martha Carrier's lives. Pretty much all that's in The Traitor's Wife, is factually and historically accurate  and where history blends with myth (whether Thomas Carrier was Thomas Morgan), Kathleen Kent freely admits to it in her afterword, which is yet another thing that separates her as a true practitioner of the craft from 'authors' who only wish to be just as good.

Lastly, and maybe even most importantly, The Traitor's Wife is simply a really good story. There is something in it that pulled me right in and made me want to just keep reading until I got to the last page. I can't even remember when was the last time I finished an over-300-page novel in two days, as I did Kent's book. It wasn't simple or simplistic and therefore easy to finish quickly, but rather a true pleasure to read, with the first pages already inviting me to immerse myself in the lives of Martha and Thomas and their growing love for each other. I'm only glad that I just found The Heretic's Daughter (Ms. Kent' debut novel) in my library (that's what happens when you have more books than wits to remember them all) since Kathleen Kent is the author whose books I'll always look for and read.

FTC: I received The Traitor's Wife from the publisher, Hachette Book Group via NetGalley.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Replacement Wife by Eileen Goudge


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The book's description from the author's website:

Camille Hart, one of Manhattan’s most sought-after matchmakers, has survived more than her fair share of hardships. Her mother died when she was a young girl, leaving her and her sister with an absentee father. Now in her forties, she has already survived cancer once, though the battle revealed just how ill-equipped her husband Edward is to be a single parent. So when doctors tell Camille that her cancer is back—and this time it’s terminal—she decides to put her matchmaking expertise to the test for one final job. Seeking stability for her children and happiness for her husband, Camille sets out to find the perfect woman to replace her when she’s gone.
But what happens when a dying wish becomes a case of “be careful what you wish for”? For Edward and Camille, the stunning conclusion arrives with one last twist of fate that no one saw coming.
I know that most of us readers (if not all) are familiar with the phrase 'stranger than fiction', and in truth, fiction works better when the events in a story are at least somewhat plausible. The Replacement Wife deals with a very serious and very real matter, a disease that kills every day, not only people afflicted with it but also those who loved them, cared for them, depended on them (parents, children, husbands and wives) and in the end had to watch them die. Unfortunately, the author manages, by a weird,  miracle of imagination, to turn all the unhappiness (caused by both the quickly approaching death and by all the mistakes and heavy consequences of the decisions made not only by Camille, but by almost every other person in the novel) into a happily-freaking-ever-after tale that belongs to the world of dreamy and steamy Harlequin romances, not the literary novel The Replacement Wife's author probably wanted it to be. I'm obviously no expert of literary critique but as a devoted reader I do know what I hope to encounter while reading certain types of books. While the first half of the book was promising and held my interest, the second half ruined any good feelings I had for the story by trivializing it with neatly tied, highly improbable turns of events.

The one thing that partly redeemed The Replacement Wife was Ms Goudge's impeccable writing skills and strong character building. Despite the above mentioned flaws, the book reads smoothly and with ease. The major 'players' built in me strong emotions, and whether it was immense dislike, such as towards Camille Hart, whose 'I'm-right-because-I'm-dying-and-you're-not' attitude I couldn't stand or her husband who elicited genuine sympathy from me (despite of his actions), because he really was pushed to the very limits of his love for Camille. All and all, there were very few characters that I felt truly indifferent to.

Even though the ending left me disappointed in the whole book, I must give it credit for a life lesson it imparts. What I took away from this novel, is that, if every action we take has consequences, then we'd better be damn sure we're prepared to pay the price, whatever that may be. And because one really can never be sure of anything, maybe we should stop and think first, and then expand our imagination beyond the unimaginable. Maybe that can spare a few lives from being broken and a few mistakes from being made.

FTC: I have received The Replacement Wife e-galley from the publisher, Open Road Media via NetGalley.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear


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The book's description  from the publisher's website:

Maisie Dobbs—psychologist, investigator, and "one of the great fictional heroines, equal parts haunted and haunting" (Parade)—returns in a chilling adventure, the latest chapter in Jacqueline Winspear's bestselling series.
Early April 1933. To the costermongers of Covent Garden—sellers of fruit and vegetables on the streets of London—Eddie Pettit was a gentle soul with a near-magical gift for working with horses. When Eddie is killed in a violent accident, the grieving costers are deeply skeptical about the cause of his death. Who would want to kill Eddie—and why?
Maisie Dobbs' father, Frankie, had been a costermonger, so she had known the men since childhood. She remembers Eddie fondly and is determined to offer her help. But it soon becomes clear that powerful political and financial forces are equally determined to prevent her from learning the truth behind Eddie's death. Plunging into the investigation, Maisie begins her search for answers on the working-class streets of Lambeth where Eddie had lived and where she had grown up. The inquiry quickly leads her to a callous press baron; a has-been politician named Winston Churchill, lingering in the hinterlands of power; and, most surprisingly, to Douglas Partridge, the husband of her dearest friend, Priscilla. As Maisie uncovers lies and manipulation on a national scale, she must decide whether to risk it all to see justice done.
This ninth part in Maise Dobbs series is, simply put, amazing. I have so far read only three other books: Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather and Among the Mad, and I think that Elegy for Eddie is the one I loved the most.There just so many reasons for my high regard of Elegy for Eddie and I hope to explain at least the crucial ones, the ones that I think would convince you to reach for this book next time you're wondering what to read.

I think the most important thing and the first one that struck me is how perceptive and empathetic Maisie Dobbs is. She's such a tormented soul herself, and yet she can feel and see the pain in others, the true nature of someone, who may not want this nature to be revealed to the world. Through Maisie and her uncanny insights, Jacqueline Winspear reveals her great writing talent. She's written the kind of book that made me marvel at how anyone could just sit down and write in such a way, and that only made me more certain of my belief that writing, just like any other form of art, is an innate gift and no number of courses or writing classes attended will give an aspiring author what they weren't born with, and Ms. Winspear is the lucky one that was born with this writing talent (probably grasping it firmly in her fist).

Elegy for Eddie really, truly was an elegy for 'a gentle giant' that although dead, his spirit and soul came alive as more details and puzzle pieces were being uncovered. And I cried. I cried for this innocent man (who most likely was a savant) and for the people whose lives he touched and who were bereft after his death. Eddie might only have had his mom for family but he was loved by almost everyone who got to know him. When he died, he left a hole in their hearts. For those who are familiar with other installments of Maisie Dobbs, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Eddie and his death seemed to me the embodiment of all the lives of sons, husbands, brothers and fathers lost in WWI and of all the women in those men's lives left to live on despite their broken hearts that could never be mended. It might just be me with my occasional flair for the dramatic, but that's how I understood Elegy for Eddie. After all, isn't it up to each and every individual reader to take from a novel what they wish and not what they're told to?

Have you noticed how nothing so far has been written here about the actual investigation into the murder of Eddie? This is because the investigation alone, 'the murder mystery' is such a miniscule part of the book that I didn't want to give a wrong idea about any particular genre or category this novel would belong to. Elegy for Eddie, more than other books in the series, transcends all genres. It's a literary work, that's also historical fiction, that does indeed carry elements of suspense and actual murder investigation, and that is, above all, a portrait of society (regardless of the year on the calendar) where the poor and the struggling have more wisdom to impart and see more things in the world around them than the rich of this world, who, for the most part, choose to live a life believing wisdom isn't necessary and hardships will not touch them. It's sad to read Elegy for Eddie (which takes place in 1933, only a few short years before WWII) from a perspective of someone for whom WWII belongs to the past (terrible, terrible past, but past nonetheless) looking into the lives of people who thought the worst of the wars had already been fought, not knowing yet that their children would again take up the guns and go fight, possibly never to return again. That flair for drama might be rearing its head again, but when I read books set in the period between the two World Wars, especially when it's books written by Jacqueline Winspear, I can't help but get philosophical and melancholy about the nonsense and cruelty of war and the waste of precious lives, lives of people who, when going off to war, "go to fulfill the dreams of dreamers" (to quote from another favorite author of mine, Gail Tsukiyama).

FTC: I received an ARC of Elegy for Eddie from the publisher, HarperCollins.

If you have time and/or you need some more inspiration to read Elegy for Eddie and other books featuring Maisie Dobbs, try visiting a blog created and written by Ms. Winspear and dedicated to Maisie and her generation:

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma, translated by Nick Caistor



The book's description from the publisher:

Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, The Map of Time boasts a triple-play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H.G. Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and thereby save the lives of an aristocrat in love with a murdered prostitute from the past; of a woman bent on fleeing the strictures of Victorian society; and of his very own wife, who may have become a pawn in a 4th-dimensional plot to murder the authors of Dracula, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, in order to alter their identities and steal their fictional creations.

But, what happens if we change history? Félix J. Palma raises such questions in
The Map of Time. Mingling fictional characters with real ones, Palma weaves a historical fantasy as imaginative as it is exciting, a story full of love and adventure that also pays homage to the roots of science fiction while transporting its readers to a fascinating Victorian London for their own taste of time travel.
The Map of Time is my first adventure with steampunk and it also convinced me to allow this genre more of my attention and maybe even to make it one of my favorite novel categories. However, this is a novel that must not be limited to steampunk. If you're a fan of alternate history (otherwise known as alternate universe), if you like literary fiction or like reading books set in Victorian England, I invite you to try The Map of Time. Felix J. Palma really had a great idea and followed up on it with fantastic writing (as opposed to some authors who despite having interesting ideas, can't quite put them on paper to create a successful novel).

I've read in some other reviews that readers didn't appreciate the three different plots which read more like separate novels rather than one, cohesive book but I suppose that's just a matter of personal taste. I like such a style if it's done well (which it is, in The Map of Time) and they all do come together at the finish line, so they're not really separate stories when they all play a role in creating one ending. And it's really written so well that there wasn't a minute of annoying confusion as to who did what or why.

I underlined the 'annoying' because (here comes the best part of Mr. Palma's time-travel, science-fiction work) the author managed to really play with my head. There was a point at which I really couldn't tell what was real and what was imagined, trying to guess in error where the reality ended and fantasy began. This wonderful 'guessing game' that Felix J. Palma served the readers, combined with intelligent, at times very lyrical writing, made it a true pleasure to immerse myself in The Map of Time.

Do not let the size of the novel discourage you. It might just be my personal preference since I do like long books but I really didn't think that even one paragraph was unnecessary. I like reading books to enter a different world and to lose myself in it and for that, it has to be a book with some 'meat' on it. Anything shorter and it seems to me that the story ends before it begun true and proper.
A note on the translator, Nick Caistor. He did a wonderful job of turning Palma's words into English. Nothing is 'lost in translation', I don't think a reader could even tell that The Map of Time was a novel originally written in Spanish. The 'soul' of the book is there and that's what the best translators do.

FTC: I received an ARC of The Map of Time from Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, for a review.

Best news of the day: there's part two of The Victorian Trilogy (which began with The Map of Time), The Map of the Sky, coming out in September, 2012.

Links to visit: 

1) Felix J. Palma's website.

2) The Map of Time website. This one is a must if want to get a feel of the novel before committing yourself to reading it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Dewey's Read-a-Thon - April 21st, 2012

It's that time again! While most of the book bloggers are long-time veterans, I have been so out of touch for the past two years (two new babies and what not), that I'm a little bit nervous going into this 'reading challenge' I will probably not be able to read for 24 hours with or without breaks but it's always worth a try.

Here's the lowdown for those of you who'd like to join:

What is Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon? For 24 hours, we read books, post to our blogs about our reading, and visit other readers’ blogs. We also participate in mini-challenges throughout the day. It happens twice a year, in April and in October.
It was created by the beloved Dewey (her blog has since been taken down, so the link won’t work). The first one was held in October 2007. Dewey died in late 2008. We’re still saddened by her absence, but the show must go on. The read-a-thon was renamed to honor its founder in 2009.
Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon is hosted by Trish and Shesten, with help from volunteers.
To sign up and find out more about this fun event, visit the Read-a-Thon website.

I don't yet have a list of books I'd like to read but I'm pretty sure they will all be review copies I'm in great need to read and review.

Good luck to all and happy reading!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Heart of Perdition by Selah March


The book's description from the publisher:

As the nineteenth century draws to a close, James Weston, Earl of Falmouth, is dying along with it. Despite living in an age of airships and automatons, even London's finest physicians cannot cure the young man's ailing heart. His last hope lies in retrieving a powerful artifact from the remote island home of an eccentric scientist's daughter.
Elspeth Shaw prefers her solitary life to the tragic results that come from mixing in society. Elspeth is cursed: every mortal being who forms an attachment to her dies a horrible death. Yet when the doomed Lord Falmouth arrives in search of the very artifact that blights her, she hasn't the will to refuse. But the price for cheating death may be more than any human can pay...

Despite my slight misgivings about Heart of Perdition being a novella (which I didn't know at the time of requesting this title), I was surprised to actually like this story. Thankfully, there aren't many characters introduced in here and therefore, it's easier to for a reader to fully acquaint her/himself with the ones that are. Also there is only one plotline, which works nicely in the format Ms. March chose to write her first piece. Since I'm not an expert on novellas and short fiction, I can't fully judge how well or not was Heart of Perdition written to fit this format. From a personal standpoint, it worked for me to like it but it's also the reason why I gave it three stars, instead of four. I prefer to read rather longish novels in which I can truly lose myself for days on end and it wasn't really possible with this story where things ended before they truly even begun. Not that there wasn't any action happening.

Heart of Perdition is a combination of genres: steampunk, romance and horror. I enjoyed it the most of all the sides to this novella. Steampunk is a fairly new genre for me but I appreciated how it made the background of the world James and Elspeth lived in that much more fun. I suppose it's given an old Gothic tale a new twist. Heart of Perdition did seem to me to be an atmospheric, strange tale reminiscent of the Gothic tradition and especially of The Picture of Dorian Gray. And before anyone cries 'foul!', I am in no way comparing the two or putting them in the same category. I'm merely saying that Ms. March's debut has some elements (including the effects of the artifact) that can be traced back to the Oscar Wilde's classic.

If you're up for some fun read that's quick, with a dose of chill and a pinch of romance, I think Heart of Perdition is something you should look into. It's not badly written at all and the tale doesn't end here either because the author is already working on part two. As a matter of fact, the story is intriguing enough and the writing is promising enough for me, that I wish it were a full length novel and I hope that Selah March will one day make a transition into the novel category. 

FTC: I received this ebook galley from the publisher, Carina Press via NetGalley.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama



The book's description from Goodreads:

The daughter of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father, Tsukiyama uses the Japanese invasion of China during the late 1930s as a somber backdrop for her unusual story about a 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen who is sent to his family's summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of a remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu's secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. Matsu is a samurai of the soul, a man devoted to doing good and finding beauty in a cruel and arbitrary world, and Stephen is a noble student, learning to appreciate Matsu's generous and nurturing way of life and to love Matsu's soulmate, gentle Sachi, a woman afflicted with leprosy. 

The only other book by Gail Tsukiyama I've read is The Street of a Thousand Blossoms (which I loved), and even though The Samurai's Garden is significantly shorter both in number of pages and in scope, it still contains just as much beauty and tenderness. Within the mere 200 pages, I came to care deeply for Sachi and Matsu, and even Stephen. It felt as if I've accompanied them throughout the bigger part of their lives and I still wanted to stay with them for just a little bit longer. There's not much, if any, action in this novel but it's not the kind of book you'd want any quick plot to reside in. There's no need for that. The Samurai's Garden is instead what we all need in our lives sometimes, a slowing down, an almost poetic meditation on the beauty of life and the world around us and within us. Therefore, if you're looking for a quick storyline, find something else to read because you won't find it in here.

Ms Tsukiyama has an uncanny insight into a human being's nature and it shows in this little book perhaps even more than in The Street of a Thousand Blossoms. It's amazing how she can pinpoint our yearnings and our cruelty in a brisk prose that comes as close to poetry as it gets (and even though I don't read poetry, The Samurai's Garden afforded me a glimpse of what I imagine people who love poetry feel when they read their most beloved pieces).

If I had any doubts as to whether I should put Gail Tsukiyama on my 'go to' and 'in case of emergency' lists of authors, I have none anymore. Reaching for The Samurai's Garden and finding my enthusiasm for reading coming back to me again after I'd worried greatly that another major reader's block fell upon me, dispelled all my doubts.


Gail Tsukiyama has written quite a few more books which makes me all the happier, as now I have many more days and weeks to immerse myself in her fantastic writing. You can learn about them on the website dedicated to the author. 
I am also very happy to announce to any fans (present and future) that Ms Tsukiyama has another novel, A Hundred Flowers, coming out in August from St. Martin's Press.