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Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category

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This book was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t at all what I expected – I was quite surprised when it finally arrived, and it was such a slim volume. The story of Mr. Oto, Miss Anne and Sophie was sweet and languid, much like the 1940s south the story was set in. I enjoyed the interweaving of the Japanese folk tale about the crane’s wife, and how that was a frame for Sophie and Mr. Oto’s relationship.

However, like another reviewer mentioned, the story left me wanting more, much more. I wanted to know more about Sophie and Mr. Oto’s relationship. About Sophie and Sally’s friendship. About Miss Anne. There were quite a few threads left hanging in this book – I’m not a big fan of the “use your imagination to figure out what happened” literary device.

If you liked The Help, give this one a try. But be prepared to use your imagination.

Reviewed for the Library Thing Early Reviewers program. Advanced Reading Copy provided courtesy of Bell Bridge Books.

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With the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic being recognized this year (“celebrated” doesn’t seem an appropriate word to use here), there is a slew of Titanic-themed fiction and non-fiction being released over the next few months. The Dressmaker is one of those novels.

I found this story of an aspiring dressmaker/maid who is brought on to the Titanic at the last minute to be engaging, and a fresh take on the Titanic story. Tess Collins runs away from her position as a maid in Cherbourg, France and ends up on the dock before the sailing of the Titanic. In an unlikely turn of events, she is hired on the spot by the aristocratic Lady Duff-Gordon, famous dressmaker and head of the House of Lucile.

Tess is thrilled and honored that Lady Duff Gordon has hired her as her maid, and hopes to parlay that good fortune into one day becoming a dressmaker herself. What she doesn’t bargain for is the sinking of the Titanic, and the reprecussions of events in a lifeboat that continue to have an impact on her and Lady Duff Gordon’s lives long after they have been rescued.

Like any good romance, Tess ends up with two suitors – the good-hearted but poor sailor Jim Bonney, and the rich, aristrocratic divorcee Jack Bremerton. Her involvement with Mr. Bremerton (the rich older man) again seems somewhat unlikely. It’s these types of things that prevented me from giving this book more than 3.5 stars, in that I just couldn’t find some of the things that happen to Tess to be believeable.

Still, if you can look past those things, you’ll find this an interesting piece of historical fiction, that keeps you intrigued until the end. If you enjoy Titanic-themed fiction, I’d definitely recommend picking this one up.

 

Reviewed for the Library Thing Early Reviewers program. Advanced Reading Copy provided courtesy of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

I was drawn into this novel right away, the story of an aristocratic newborn who is left at a French convent by her grandmother. The first half of the story, telling of Amandine’s time at the convent, growing up with her guardian Solange, reminded me of the boarding school stories I’d read as a child, complete with the evil headmistress.

But when the story turned to Amandine and Solange’s trek across France as they tried to get to Solange’s childhood home during the midst of WWII, the book slowed down, with overly detailed descriptions of what they were eating and where they were staying. There was more telling than doing, and it started to wear on me.

I did finish the book, but the oblique ending annoyed me, and wasn’t at all satisfying. I wanted a more concrete ending to Amandine’s story.

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I started Tears of Pearl immediately after having read the 3 previous books in the Lady Emily Mysteries series straight-through, one after another. While I enjoyed the first two books (particularly book 2, which I read in just under 2 days), the third was really boring for me. But I thought the exotic setting of book 4, with Lady Emily venturing into a sultan’s harem, would make for an interesting story. Unfortunately, this book did not stand up to my expectations for it.

The story didn’t hold my attention, and I had to force myself to continue reading. There were just too many plot points that didn’t seem realistic. As a previous reviewer stated, would Lady Emily really have had such open access to the sultan and the harem?

I’m not sure whether I’ll read the 5th book in the series, since the last two disappointed me so.

Palace Circle by Rebecca Dean

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I wanted to like this novel – based on the plot summary, it sounded like a rich, historical novel with lots of intrigue and interesting characters, set during one of my favorite time periods – Britain before and during WWII. However, while the author made a valiant attempt, the story fell short.

The first section of the book (roughly 115 pages), was the story from Delia’s point of view – a young, naive Virginia girl who marries into English high society. Sounds like a story with possibilities, doesn’t it? The problem was that large swaths of time (multiple years) are glossed over with just a sentence or two, and before you know it, she’s got two teenage daughters and a frosty marriage. There was no delving into the character and her relationships – we were just hitting the high points – almost as if it was the Cliff’s Notes version. Not satisfying at all. It was at this point that I seriously considered not continuing with the book.

The remaining four sections of the book are each told from a different character’s point of view, which was somewhat annoying, as we never really discovered each character’s motivations. Each of the characters could have had their own book – particularly Delia, Davina, and Petra – which would have been much more interesting. As it was, much of the book was just overly detailed descriptions of what each character was wearing, or eating. It became so tedious that I found myself starting to skim the text in some places.

The “family secret” that twists its way through the entire story was far too obvious – I had it figured out very early on (before the end of the the first section), and the way it was dealt with became quite over-the-top, with much drama and the requisite big misunderstanding that separates two lovers. Yawn.  

The last section of the book became a military espionage story, which didn’t fit at all with the rest of the novel in my opinion. And of course, the end was wrapped up far too quickly, with the misunderstanding revealed and all the loose ends tied up.

I did like the changes in setting between society London and British-occupied Egypt. I had not read a book set in 20’s/30’s Cairo before, and the author’s descriptions of place were interesting. But they couldn’t make up for the “been there, done that” storyline.

Started: 17-Mar-09 / Finished 24-Mar-09
Advanced Reading Copy courtesy of Random House – Broadway Books
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I really wanted to love this book, as I so thoroughly enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl. But this story was SO boring and repetitive.

I got really tired of hearing about how Mary was regal and untouchable, and George was honorable (but a fool), and Bess brought herself up from nothing and loved nothing more than her houses and land. Over and over, the same things. Yawn.

The plot was boring. Nothing ever really happened. A lot of planning, but no results. Back and forth from house to house. I didn’t feel a need to keep reading – it was far from compelling. I realize this story is based on real events, so maybe this just wasn’t the best subject for Ms. Gregory to write a novel about.

I forced myself to keep reading, but found my mind drifting off several times, because I wasn’t engaged in the story.

A disappointing read.

Started: 4-Aug-08 / Finished: 11-Aug-08


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