Adventure, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Romance

Review: Beauvallet

BeauvalletBeauvallet by Georgette Heyer

My rating: 2.5of 5 stars

I’ve had Georgette Heyer’s books on my to-read list since reading Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Ain’t She Sweet? in which one of the heroine’s favorite authors is Heyer.  I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed, however, by Beauvallet. The story of an English pirate during the reign of Elizabeth I who falls in love with a Spanish noblewoman whom he returns to Spain after attacking the ship she’d been on with the promise that he would return for her to make her his bride is pure escapist literature.  But I hope that is not one of Heyer’s best.

The romance left much to be desired, and the action sequences – something you’d expect plenty of in a novel about pirates – were quick and not all that thrilling. As for the characters, Nicholas Beauvallet is fun like an Errol Flynn (or rather, given that Beauvallet was originally published in 1929, Douglas Fairbanks) character, though not too swoon-worthy, Dominica is intelligent, strong-willed (reminiscent of Elizabeth Swann from the Pirates of the Caribbean film series but with less daring-do), and Joshua, well, I can’t decide whether he is the heart of the narrative or simply annoying. As for the rest of the cast, they are, with the exception of Dona Beatrice, totally unremarkable.

Georgette Heyer is know for having basically created the Regency Romance genre but this novel is set in the Elizabethan era.  If you are interested in more romantic fiction set in that era, I would turn to Philippa Gregory and her series of novels about the royal lives of the Plantagenet and Tudor houses.

View all my reviews

Historical Fiction, Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: Kopp Sisters on the March (Kopp Sisters #5)

Kopp Sisters on the March (Kopp Sisters, #5)Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love Amy Stewart’s series about the lives of the real-life Kopp sisters but this fifth book is, while quite different from the first four – if you’ve been reading the series you’ll understand why – one of the best.

As with the rest of the series, Stewart covers the quest for women’s rights and fair treatment in a way that never preaches, instead entertains and educates.
One main difference is that the focus is less on Constance alone and while I do love Constance, it was wonderful to get more of Norma and Fleurette’s characters.

But as Stewart states in the historical notes, this part of the Kopp sisters’ story draws largely from Stewart’s own imagination but we meet many new and interesting characters from the footnotes of history. In fact, even though the Kopps are in the title and their individual characters are as boldly drawn as ever, they act mainly as a framework for the story, which is really the story of Beulah Binford and her undeserved(?) infamy. Kopp Sisters on the March is also about the general experiences and emotions of the women in the months leading up to the United States entering World War I. It was truly fascinating, often infuriating, and I cannot wait to see where the Kopps go next.

I usually write an if-you-liked-this recommendation right here but there are only so many times I can say read this series instead I’ll say, check out Amy Stewart’s website for more historical information about Constance, Norma, and Fleurette as well as the other real-life characters they encounter.
View all my reviews

Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: How to Stop Time

How to Stop TimeHow to Stop Time by Matt Haig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I understand that the way you stop time is by stopping being ruled by it.

Thank you to Goodreads for the opportunity to read Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time. Rarely do I come across a book as potentially life-changing as this one. How to Stop Time is the story of Tom who has a rare but not, he learns, a unique condition where he ages slowly – like only 1 year to every 15 years of an average human’s life. More than 400 years old and Tom still struggles with how to live his long life. Heartbroken and scarred by the loss of his love during the Elizabethan era, the only thing that keeps him going through his loneliness and the overwhelming memories is the hope of finding his daughter which he hopes to do with the help of the Albatross Society, a network which claims to protect people with this condition in return for a bit of ‘recruitment’.
There is a deep melancholy running through Tom’s tale but even in the darkest moments, the moments when he must remind himself what he’s living far, the narrative shines with rays of hope. Albeit thin ones throughout most of the novel. Tom’s struggle and fear of a world filled with superstition and prejudice forces the reader to examine not only how they would live if they had hundreds of years to live rather than our brief time here but also to ponder how the world and our relationships would differ with the perspective that longevity would bring. Haig talks often about how little the world as far as the human experience goes changes despite the importance we give each event we experience. Is the 21st century really that different from the 20th? Or the 20th from any of the centuries before it?
The novel gives the reader a lot to think about. My favorite parts of How to Stop Time, though, are the forays into the immense chunk of history Tom has lived through – performing at the Globe Theater with Shakespeare, discovering new lands with Captain Cook, meeting Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at a Parisian nightclub.
This is not a book made for light reading. While you could pick it up and quickly read one of its short (sometimes only a single page) passages, it is best read when you can curl up and devote a few hours to it and disappear into Tom’s long history. And to absorb its many, many words of wisdom.

I haven’t really read anything else like How to Stop Time but at times it reminded me of Jon Cohen’s Harry’s Trees.  While they aren’t similar in subject matter, they both gave me a sense of hope belied by their melancholy beginnings.  Both novels also spoke of our connections through things bigger than our human lives – history, nature, books, love.  Also, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to tout Harry’s Trees again. 

View all my reviews

Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: That Churchill Woman

That Churchill WomanThat Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephanie Barron’s novel, That Churchill Woman, is the story of Jennie Jerome, the American woman best known as Winston Churchill’s mother. Jennie is a strong, independent woman who in many respects is ahead of her time but must make sacrifices to avoid scandals that would destroy her husband’s career, damage her children’s future, and, yes, lose her place in Victorian society.
The story often goes back in time to explore Jennie’s formative years and the events that lead up to her becoming Lady Randolph Churchill. This helps the reader to understand a character whose decisions may not always be the most admirable but the novel’s strength lies not in character, who often seem two-dimensional, but in its power to transport the reader to the glittering world of society’s upper echelons during the Gilded Age. While reading I felt that I was in the parlors and ballrooms of British estates or on the rocky shores of the east coast of the U.S. And I could not only picture the sumptuous fashions but feel the materials and hear the rustle of the fabric.

If you enjoy historical fiction, particularly about the British Royal family or the Victorian era, I recommend reading Karen Harper’s The Royal Nanny, the story of LaLa who was charged with the care of George V’s (Victoria’s grandson) youngest children.

View all my reviews

Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: Once Upon a River

Once Upon a RiverOnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

My rating: 2.75 of 5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River. This historical mystery tale begins when a wounded stranger enters The Swan pub carrying what appears to be a waxen doll and is told like a fairytale. The mystery begins when the doll turns out to be a little girl who seems dead only to come to life setting tongues wagging in the village and villages up and down the Thames. Who is the little girl? Two families seem to claim her but there is a cruel plot afoot. With elements of the supernatural balanced by the scientific logic of a Rita, the local nurse and Henry Daunt, a skilled photographer and the girl’s rescuer, some mysteries are solved and some endings are happy.
The first third of Once Upon a River moves a bit slowly as the reader is acquainted with the characters and the local lore but after Part One the story moves along while not quickly, more steadily with as many twists and unexpected connections as the river itself. It was these twists that kept me reading, eager to learn exactly where the girl had come from. Personally, as the daughter of a photographer, I was most fascinated by the Victorian era photography methods and Taunt’s character.

If you enjoy the Victorian era feel of the Once Upon a River but wished there was more fantasy in it, I highly recommend the superior Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.  It is quite a tome so it is a bit of a commitment to read it but it is so worth it.

View all my reviews

View all my reviews