Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1)

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

A great read is one that has you craving to know what happens next while wishing that the story would never end. When it does it, however, you are left wanting more. The Bear and the Nightingale is one such book. I long to read more about the characters, more about the lore that inspired the tale, and more about the history surrounding the story. I rushed through the haunting story of the family of a wealthy landowner in the far north of what is now Russia as they struggle to survive a clash between their old beliefs of spirits that dwell in the surrounding forest and the creatures that protect their homes, and the still-new Christian religion, anxious to know what would happen to the family, especially Vasya, who is more attached to the old ways than even she knows.
I’d had this book on my TBR list for a while and I’d almost picked it up at the library a few times; it was only when I saw that the third book in the trilogy was a finalist for a Goodreads Choice Award that I decided that this first book would be a good winter read.  I’m so glad that I did and I cannot wait to read the rest of the series.  Arden’s writing is gorgeous, transporting me almost immediately from the mild south Louisiana night to the great northern forest and the seemingly endless winter. The lore which battles with the new ways is fascinating, leaving me with a desire to read the folk and fairy tales that inspired Vasya’s story. It was a perfect read for a long winter’s night.

I’ve really been looking for some good fantasy fiction over the past few years and I particularly enjoy the fantasy fiction that combines history and mythology or folklore like The Bear and the Nightingale does.  If you like this fantasy/history/folk tale combination, I highly recommend Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series.  The first book in the series, Daughter of the Forest, in particular, has a lot in common with The Bear and the Nightingale.  

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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.

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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.
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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. 

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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.

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