Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Shadow Sister - by Lucinda Riley: Book Review

Title: The Shadow Sister
Series: The Seven Sisters
Author: Lucinda Riley
No. Pages: 684
Publishing Date: 25.04.2017
Publisher: Atria Books

I couldn't wait for the third book in the series! It kept me as intrigues and interested as the first two books did, and it made me curious about the next sister, and the next book as well. (Although, I must confess, the sister the next book will be about is one of the most irksome, in my opinion. But I can't wait to read the book!) 

(spoilers ahead!)

Star D’Aplièse is the quietest of the six sisters Pa Salt adopted from all over the world. She has always been too close to her sister Cece, but in her desire to use the clues Pa Salt left behind after his death* to help the girls discover their origins, Star finds herself forging a new life for her. I rooted throughout the book for Star. She is at time too calm and patient, but for someone who had always been used to listen rather than speak, to follow rather than initiate, she did well for herself. I enjoyed seeing this character develop and gain substance.

Set in present day London, Star's genealogy and roots conveniently send the reader to the Edwardian England, with some Victorian influences. It is one of my dearest periods in the English history, and seeing names like Beatrix Potter's, and even the King's used in the novel was a treat. I didn't know about Alice Keppel, but it was a nice surprise. As with the first two books in the series, I am amazed how well the details and intricacies of the English families were nicely used to create the main character's story. I confess I needed a notebook to write down some details, or else I would have got lost in the maze of names and historical information.

Although I believe Star, Beatrix Potter and Alice Keppel the characters, Aurelia and Flora are strong characters, not coincidentally strong leading feminine characters, my suspicion that arose even from the previous two books that The Seven Sisters men are weaker than the women has been confirmed. Both the men from the past, those in connection with Flora and Aurelia, and the men in the present day in connection to Star's life seem weak in comparison to their female partners. Mouse, Archie, the King are not as impressive in their actions, words and decisions as their counterparts, Star, Flora/Aurelia, Alice. Most men exhibit an unfounded air of superiority, talk too much, and often act only prompted, like pawns. Maybe it's the feminism tendencies in me, but it was a thought that followed me throughout the novel, and I am curious if it will be confirmed by the next books.

A thing that seemed somewhat inauthentic were some exchanges between characters. Mouse and Star's rocky start of relationship can be excused due to their inexperience and their personalities, but still their exchanges seemed forced. However, the most out of place was the one between Star and Shanti when Shanti expresses her romantic interest. I sensed from the moment she was introduced in the novel that she was going in that direction, but I wish it had been done in a less cringy way. Curiously, the present day characters seem to have the problem of authentic talking rather than the characters in the past. Maybe this is because it's the Edwardian period and puffy language is excused.

As far as the plot goes - well done! The story-telling is so written as to keep the reader interested to the very end, even after you learn everything about Star's past. Another thing that gave the novel consistency was the way the author connected the events. In book two there is a concert Ally is in and we were told that Star attended it. In book three we learn how exactly did Star get there, and why isn't Cece with her. I like the little details that tie the novels.

My only serious problem with this series is that the books don't come out soon enough!


I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

List of Characters. (spoilers ahead!) 
Star D’Aplièse (Asterope)
a Faberge panther - the clue Star has from Pa Salt
Orlando - bookshop keeper: Arthur Morston Books
Mouse - Orlando's brother
Alice - Mouse's deceased wife
Rory - 7years old. Mouse's son
Marguerite - Orlando's cousin
Flora MacNichol - keeps diaries, and that's how Star's story is told
Panther - Flora's cat
Aurelia MacNichol - Flora's sister
Esthwaite Hall - their family's manor
Rose MacNichol - their mother
Alistair - their father
Rose+the King (Bertie) = Flora
Lady Arabella Vaughan - good friend of Rose's. Archie's mother
Elizabeth Vaughan - Archie's sister
Lord Archie Vaughan - he loves Flora. marries Aurelia. then marries Flora
Louise - Archie and Aurelia's daughter. Flora will raise her, per Aurelia's request
Beatrix Potter - children's books writer
Freddie Soames - was to marry Flora, but due to her past the wedding is canceled
Countess Daphne + Count Algernon - Freddie's parents
Alice Keppel - the King's mistress. she takes Flora under her wing in London and introduces her into society
Violet & Sonia - Alice's girls
Violet + Vita Sackville-West (Mitya), a poetess
Sir Ernest Cassel - gives Flora the money the King left her
Teddy - the orphan Flora adopts
Louise + Teddy grow up as twins
Louise + Rupert Forbes=Laurence, Orlando and Mouse's father
Teddy + Tessie, the Land Girl = Patricia Smith
Teddy + Dixie/Cecilia O'Reilly, his wife = Michael, Marguerite's father
Patricia Smith + Alfred Brown = Petula (in '62)
Petula (18y/o) - Lucy Charlote (Star)
Petula = Sylvia Gray - Russia lit. professor at Yale, married with three kids
Robert Stein - Sylvia's husband

*I have my doubts about this. In book three, Star thinks she saw Pa Salt. Cece, too, thinks she saw a someone (we are not told who, but I suspect it's him) and is shocked. I book two, Ally thinks she heard Pa Salt's voice when she called Atlantis, but everything was settled when Ma said it was just the old answering machine recording. I don't remember if Maia, in book one, had a similar moment, but I wouldn't be surprised if she did. Since there are to be seven books in the series, and there are only six sisters, maybe book seven will give us more information. And I am pretty sure Pa Salt is alive.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley - by Hannah Tinti: BookReview

Title: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
Author: Hannah Tinti
Pages: 400
Publisher: Dial Press
Release Date: 28.03.2017

Samuel Hawley is a mysterious man. His daughter, Loo tries to uncover this hidden life of her father. As she pieces together bits and pieces of their lives, we learn about Hawley's past by looking at the scars on his body, scars caused by the bullets that pierced him. I liked how Hawley's story is revealed as Loo grows up. You'd think that she will become just like her father, but the ending reveals that sometimes you, the reader, can be very wrong.

Although it is clearly said that Samuel Hawley was shot, you are still kept in a tense state because you don't know how he got shot. Every new bullet is a surprise, both because it lets you learn more about him, but also because you most certainly don't see it coming. 

My favourite parts were those where Lily, his wife was present. She is a well-constructed character, and she seems to be the one holding Hawley in one piece. Loo, too, is a good character, and though she is a developing one, you can tell she has complexity and can be a stand-alone protagonist. She is my favourite character, with her quirks and shortcomings, her attempts to get by and add another day to her life. My least favourite character is Marshall. He is not good enough for Loo.

I read in the interview with the author, interview you can read at the end of the book, that the structure of the book was well thought - each Bullet Part had the same recurring elements: the bullet, the woman, the watch to point to love, time, death. I didn't think of this as I was reading the book, but you sense the tension created by these three elements. I find this very smart and so very good!

I strongly recommend this book to those who like suspense, but without the detective and police drama, mystery and alternating perspectives, as the book shifts from present to past to tell the story of each bullet. With each new bullet story you can't help but wonder where the new bullet will take you, since each shooting took place in a different part of the country. It was a good read, indeed! I look forward to reading more from this author.

4/5 stars

I received a free e-book copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Every Giant Becomes a Monster - by Collins Kelly: Book Review (Abandoned)

Author: Collins Kelly
Publisher: Rosethorn
No. Pages: 260
Publishing Date: 1.02.2017

I did not care at all about this book, about what happened, what was happening or what will happen to the characters. Carson, for some reason he certainly didn't know, decided to just roam the country. He decided to stop for a while in Flaggtrap because he met a woman he was attracted to. In his obsession with Donna, a I-like-it-rough-and-I-play-the-viction-when-I-could-be-divorcing-my-alcoholic-husband bartender, he is what some would describe a loser. A liar and good-for-nothing, with an affinity for and skills in music, he seems to have a high opinion of himself, trying to act like a  I-got-this-thing-called-life wanna-be man. He's 19; he knows nothing. Not even the wit the book description mention didn't endear him to me, the reader. 

The characters are weak, both in their actions in the novel and in the way they were created. Not even one character seemed worthy of interest from my part, not even the main character who was the most irksome of all.

Probably the only redeeming thing for this novel as far as I was able to read it are the references to music. No matter how unusual, crazy, dark and slightly creepy the genre the characters prefer, this is the only thing that makes them human.

I only read 40% of the book and I don't plan to ever pick it up again. The plan was to read until the 50% mark, but I couldn't. Too many better books out there to waste my reading time on something I was sure by the 10% mark I wasn't going to like.

The Good Reads description adds and an asterisk noticing the novel is "for adult fans of dark fiction only". I have never read such fiction before, and I was intrigued. Unfortunately, this book made me reluctant to try this genre in the future, although I looked forward to reading this novel, and I particularly liked the title. Major :(

I received a free e-book copy of this novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All negative thoughts expressed here are my own.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

If Not for You - by Debbie Macomber: Book Review

Number of pages:
Publishing Date: 21.03.2017

Spoilers ahead! Be warned!

If Not for You is the love story of two unlikely to make it work people. As you read, you realise that is true, it's very unlike that they will last, and that is not only because they come from different backgrounds, but because they are so immature, childish, and over-exaggerating that only in a romance could they make it work. Happy reading!

I tried to come to this novel unhindered by the fact that is was romance, and women's fiction, and chick lit. I had read a Debbie Macomber before, and it had been a cute read. This time around, yes, there were some things that I did like about this novel, such as:
* The main character was OK, I liked the way she ended up in a new city, namely Portland, OR.
* There were some mildly funny scenes
* I especially liked the story of Sunshine and Peter, mostly Sunshine's character. Probably the most likeable and down to earth character.
* Although it wasn't a gripping novel, I was still curious how things will turn out, despite the air of predictability it had.

And sure enough, there were things I did not like, nor did I think believable. They certainly read like something you'd see happening in a movie or a novel like this, despite the characters' remarks that such things don't happen to them, but only in fiction.
* Sam was immature, a teenager-like character who wanted to appear in control of his life. Despite his bad past and hurtful situations, he over-exaggerated mostly everything.
* Beth was a fix-everything kind of person, and I agreed with Sam's harsh observations that she shouldn't mingle in everyone's lives. But of course! everything she did works out just fine in the end. Convenient!
* Their love story is that of two teenagers. I am sorry, but I was not impressed. Overly infatuated with one another. Had it not been for that accident, there wouldn't be a story to tell, and maybe it would have been for the best. Harsh, I know, but I was not goo and aww over their love.
* At some point there seemed to be an unnecessary repetition: the author mentioned Sunshine and Ellie's rift in relationship, and twice she compared it with the large gap of the Grand Canyon. We got it the first time. Another thing, when Beth told Sam about her talk to Peter, Sunshine's first love, he offered his opinion and she told him about her opinion about Sunshine's ex-lover. Some chapters later, Beth brings up the same discussion and acts as if this is fresh news, despite talking about the same man before.

I am always overly judgmental when it comes to romance, but I am sure those who are fans of this genre will like this novel. For me it was an OK read, easy for a lazy day around the house. The fans of Debbie Macomber will surely appreciate it come March, I am sure. It's cute and darling, and it gives you warm feelings.  

Now someone tell me why I keep reading novels I know are not my go-to genre?!

I received a free advanced e-book copy of this novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Orphan's Tale - by Pam Jenoff: Book Review

Title: The Orphan's Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff
Pages: 368 pgs
Publisher: Mira
Publishing Date: 21.02.2017

Apparently, 2017 will be the year of World War II novels. I was drawn to the premise of the book, and therefore I requested it hastily from Net Galley. When I started reading it, I didn't know exactly what to expect. There are so many WWII novels out there, and with each new one I read I learn something different. The same was with this one.

It starts with a prologue that ends symmetrically with the epilogue. Astrid is drawn to a museum exhibition presenting two hundred years of circus life. From that moment we learn about her life before the war broke out, about her marriage to a German officer and the end of their marriage, about her life after she joined the circus that saved her life. Mingled with her, we learn about Noa, a young Dutch girl who was shunned away by her family because of her mistakes. She too joins the circus Astrid works at, but with a child in tow, a child who is not her own. 

Told from a first person perspective, alternating between Astrid and Noa's perspectives, the novel reads very personally, and that is a big plus. The novel doesn't have any heart gripping moments that end badly, it all runs smoothly. However, from the first pages you are breathless as the two women's separate stories are told - there seems at all times something bad about to befall them. The whole novel is a long, heart rending moment. The seriousness of the novel and the curiosity to learn what happens next is what keeps you turning page after page. 

What was somewhat irking was how the author kept repeating some of the same words and kept pointing to their past hardships and their present and future uncertainties. Remembering the time the story was in, year 1945, it is understandable. It was just something that drew my attention as I read the novel. Maybe because I read it in big chunks at a time, this made it more visible. 

One thing that always disappoints is when I guess the ending. And make no mistake, I always try to guess the ending. However, this novel did not end as I expected. The Prologue did not give me any hints as who of the two women was speaking. At one point towards the end I was sure I knew how it will end. I was pleasantly surprised when it did not, in fact, end as I anticipated. Another plus for the book! 

I didn't have very high expectations when I started reading the novel, but every expectation was surpassed in a great way. I learned about the circus life during the Second World War, about the existence of great Jewish circus families, and about the double purpose of large circuses: to entertain and to shelter endangered runaways. 

4/5 stars

List of Characters (might contain spoilers!):
Astrid Sorrell (previously: Ingrid Klemt)
Erich - her husband
Noa Weil - Dutch 
Theo - the baby boy Noa saves, he's Jewish
Lucien - German young man Noa falls in love with
Peter - German, Astrid falls in love with his. they get married, she's pregnant with Peter's child. Peter - taken away by the Police because of his disrespectful attitude
Herr Neuhoff - circus owner
Emmet - Herr Neuhoff's son
Jules - Astrid's brother, he escapes Germany and lives in Florida, USA.

I received a free e-book copy of this novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Reading Plans for the Year Ahead - 2017 edition

It's snowing outside as I write this, so what better moment to do on a Saturday afternoon than sit in bed, tea close at hand, and write about your reading plans for the yeah ahead? The answer: few things are better than this, really. 

As any person who  has reading as a hobby, I like to see the pile of read books add up. I have been using Good Reads for many years, but this year I decided it's time to go back to the traditional way of book tracking. I know it may not turn out to be a good year as far as reading is concerned, but that's not a good enough reason to not make it fun. Therefore, besides my Good Reads profile, I decided to print a bookshelf. I found one here, and inspired by it I made my own. I drew the number of books I want to have finished by the end of the year, and as I finish a book I will write its title on the book spine.
Hopefully, every spine will have a title as the year progresses. 

One thing I want to change about my reading habit is the books I read. It's high time I started reading some more Romanian literature. Putting pen to paper, I made a list of possible Romanian books I want to read this year. The number I have in mind is ten, but I wrote more than that to give myself flexibility. Of course that list is not exhaustive, I can add to it anytime throughout the year. But just to be prepared and have an option at hand at all times, I made the list. I am a bit nervous, to be honest. Over the last years I've read so many books in English and so little in Romanian that it takes a longer time to read the books in Romanian. I roll my eyes just typing this because I know how snob that sounds. Alas, it is the truth. But no more! I am ready to approach the Romanian literature. Ten is doable, right?

A five books goal is set for classics. You know them, Anna Karenina (which I began reading in high school and abandoned without a care in the world, but which I now think is time to try reading again), the books I haven't read signed by Jane Austen, rereads of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye, that sort of classics. Maybe I'll read more, maybe not, but five is good for me for now.

Last but not least, five books of non-fiction. I have a few from Net Galley, so maybe those will be a double win. I don't really care much about non-fiction, so five is a safe number. If there will be more, good for me.

If you kept track, that makes twenty books. In 2016 I read 38 books, so given the busy year this might turn out to be, somewhere around 30 books is a good number for 2017. Besides these twenty perfectly planned books, I plan to read ten more, but whatever I want. That means Net Galley books, books that I've had on the TR shelf on Good Reads for way too long, recommendations from friends and Internet people, or anything else that suddenly sparks my attention. Or something I buy impulsively and read it as soon as I have it.
* * *
Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy keeps mentioning that Life is too short to read boring books. How right she is! I have had this fear of abandoning books for a long time. I have continued reading Dostoievski's The Idiot because it was a "serious" book. I hated it. Better to abandon a book than to hate it, I guess. I do sometimes read a book despite my loath because I want to see how bad it can get; those are my 1-2 stars reviews, are most of the time they are Net Galley reads and I feel bad for not finishing them. However, this year I have already abandoned one book, a Net Galley book, because after I hit the 25% mark it no longer interested me. The mere thought of turning on my Kindle and reading it made me want to browse the Internet or do anything else but read the book. That's a clear sign that we must part ways. So, I have decided that 2017 will be the year I will abandon a book if it doesn't catch my interest and attention by the 25% mark. Thanks, Anne Bogel!

In theory, my plan is all formed, the necessary lists have been made, some books have been checked out from the library, some have been ordered from Book Depository. What lacks is the right mood to pick up the right book. Here's to a good reading year and many, many good (for me) books! Cheers!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

And 2016 Is a Wrap!

These are the books I read in 2016. I completely forgot about some of them.
To see a larger picture, click on it.
Here's to a rich and surprises-full 2017. Hear, hear!