Louise Fletcher is a dairymaid in 1790, and a reasonably content one at that; she has a purpose in life, and a purpose that she’s actually good at. Then the hand of fate steps in and she finds herself a lady’s maid to a Captain’s daughter, Rebecca Handley, soon to be engaged to a gentleman and move to London. But first, Harwich, a port on the Thames where all manner of folk wind up, and where her brother vanished a few years ago, called to the sea like all Fletchers. Alongside Louise is Luke, a boy pressed into service in His Majesty’s fleet, at first miserable but who gains his sea legs and his skills as time goes on. These two stories intertwine in surprising ways as the novel goes on.
Reviewing this book without giving the story away is going to be a real challenge, but I’ll give it a shot. It’s definitely one of those books that you should let take you without much prior knowledge from the story. I didn’t expect what was coming, especially in the second half of the book.
Unfortunately, the book did fall prey to the fact that I just don’t really like this period in history and I like stories set on ships even less, if that’s possible. The beginning and end of the book felt too long; the middle really picked up and became excellent but sank back after the main revelation. I actually liked what the author did with the plot and the two main characters. It added a different spin on the story and gave it a new dimension of meaning. If you read the book, you’ll understand – it put me into a perspective that I had never experienced before and I thought it was worth reading for that alone. The plot twist is very reminiscent of Sarah Waters, as many other reviewers have said, and it’s not a surprise that Waters was Worsley’s mentor during her degree.
Worsley is also an exceptional writer, and the prose throughout the book shows this brilliantly. The settings are evocative, the characters’ feelings leap out from the page, and the narrators are distinct. Louise’s sections are told to a certain “you” which doesn’t take long to discern, while Luke’s are simply told from his perspective. It feels a very literary novel, carefully crafted, meticulously written, but unfortunately in this case lacking the spark that I needed to fall in love with it. This is very much a like but not love book.
Still, particularly if you enjoy Sarah Waters, you may find that She Rises is worth your while. I know I’d be keen to read more by Kate Worsley in the future.
All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.
Catherine Bailey, intent on writing a book about villages affected World War I, visited Belvoir Castle to investigate the extensive archives kept by the ninth duke, John Manners. To her dismay, she found that John’s journal abruptly ended in June 1914, just when his unit was about to enter the fighting. When she read his correspondence, she found the same gap, and on further investigation, found three complete gaps in otherwise comprehensive archives. She was so curious that she kept looking and the result was this book, a mystery unwinding into a fascinating picture of a still-privileged aristocracy hovering on the brink of change.
This is a book that actually took me by surprise. I’d read the first few pages a while back and didn’t feel compelled to continue. I have to be in a certain kind of a mood for a mystery, and I never felt that the time was right. When I finally did persevere, though, I found an absolute gem of a book. There are actually 3 mysteries, which are the gaps in John’s life, and Bailey does an excellent job of keeping the reader wondering about what’s happened while slowly revealing a picture of an aristocratic family which simply no longer exists.
The book is structured with chapters that are fairly short. A number of them end in cliffhangers, so that as a reader I was compelled to go on and read more to see what the author would find next; I actually read most of the book on a train and it was the perfect distraction to make a long journey seem much shorter. More than waiting to find out the mysteries, though, I was fascinated by the world which Bailey revealed. John’s life, and that of his parents and siblings, is still full of aristocratic excess, but crisis and change is very clearly on the horizon. When he is young, his family is virtually untouchable, yet by the time the first World War is over, this world is simply gone.
The amount of influence the family has – and believes they have – is incredible, and some of the strings pulled to get some of the events in the book to happen are almost difficult to believe now. Bailey quotes copiously from the letters and journals she finds, which helped me feel like I was digging through the archives with her. The way she slowly reveals John’s character and the events that shaped his life gave a feel for how she must have experienced the unveiling of his character; overall I thought it was an excellent way to keep me invested and reading. It’s also worth mentioning that this is a really quick and easy read for non-fiction; Bailey’s writing is smooth and easy to read, and her detective story makes the book feel like it could be fiction.
I’d definitely recommend The Secret Rooms and now I’m eager to read Bailey’s first book, Black Diamonds, too.
I received this book for free for review.
Erika von Kessler is a diva with big dreams; though she’s well into her twenties and married, she secretly longs to leave her husband and travel to Italy where she might become the star she believes she is destined to be. Her businessman husband Peter’s fervent desire to have a child, and her seeming inability to conceive, have only caused her to long even more to leave him. Fertility doctor after fertility doctor have failed to help her conceive, until the couple go to Doctor Ravell, a Boston specialist who has reportedly worked miracles in an age before artificial insemination was regularly practiced. Ravell is immediately captivated by Erika and, eventually, she by him, until their lives and ambitions become woven together.
This was not a book that sucked me in right away. In fact, I didn’t actually like the characters. Perhaps realistically, they are all very selfish in their own ways, very human and particularly flawed, but that certainly makes them hard to understand. Erika’s struggle for a child dominates the beginning of the book; it infuriated me, I must admit, when her husband refused having his sperm sample analyzed and then Ravell found out that the “fault” lay with him, not her – I find this difficult to articulate but I intensely despised him after his arrogance allowed him to go on blaming his wife for something that had nothing to do with her, when in reality it was a burden they could have borne together.
In some ways, despite the fact that I didn’t like her much, it’s easy to understand Erika’s struggle, which was particularly indicative of the early twentieth century. Her ambitions are greater than the life she has, and she is forced to contain her talent in a world which expects her to be happy as a wife and mother. Although some women are, she isn’t made for that role, and because she doesn’t fit the mold, she has to do something extreme to achieve her own dreams. Still, she doesn’t do so without any emotion, and her eventual choice is one that does in fact devastate her. I may not have appreciated the “romance” within this book much, but I can’t fault McDonnell’s characterization of these characters.
Yes, the “romance”. I really did not feel that much about any connection between Erika and Ravell. I did not like a huge number of their actions and I honestly didn’t get where the romance came from. Ravell has a complicated relationship with his gynecological patients, given he’s also having an affair with another one when the book opens, and there is some insight in how they could feel some level of intimacy towards one another. But … I just wasn’t convinced.
Anyway, the book is actually quite well written and cleverly structured, with different phases of Erika’s life mapped out with different sections of the novel, of which there are six in total. Some of the scenes are beautifully written, and I found those in Trinidad, in the jungle, to be particularly appealing, almost as though I could feel the sand and the breeze and the warm nights. I think McDonnell could be a phenomenal writer, and it’s impressive that this is her first book – it’s just a shame I didn’t relate more to the characters in this very character-driven novel.
I received this book for free for review.
It’s May! The sun is out, flowers are blooming, and it’s warm! Despite some family problems that cropped up in April, these things make me feel more positive. It would be nicer for the weather to go above 60 degrees one of these days, but I’ve learned to take what I can get here.
I also like reading and, fortunately, I’ve been doing a lot of that. I read 12 books this month:
- Fudoki, Kij Johnson
- With This Kiss, Eloisa James
- Widow’s Web, Jennifer Estep
- Seraphina, Rachel Hartman
- Steel’s Edge, Ilona Andrews
- Any Duchess Will Do, Tessa Dare
- The Crane Wife, Patrick Ness
- Dark Currents, Jacqueline Carey
- Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch
- Charmed Life, Diana Wynne Jones
- Midnight Blue-Light Special, Seanan McGuire
Favorite of the Month
Amazingly, the two books I loved, I managed to review! I’m going to move more in this direction in the future and do more currently reading style posts. I want to make this blog chattier and more fun, at least for me, and I think that might be the way to do it!
In May, I’m going to carry on with re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire and read more non-fiction I hope! What’s ahead for you this month?
Lady Margaret Chattan knows that she’s the only person who can stop the curse that’s been plaguing her family for generations. Decades ago, Fenella Macnachtan cursed one of Margaret’s ancestors for leaving her daughter Rose to marry an English girl, causing Rose to kill herself. Both of Margaret’s brothers have fallen in love and, as the curse dictates, fallen ill shortly thereafter, with one of them near death. As the only girl born to the Chattans since the curse, Margaret is special, but as she heads homeward to Scotland, she knows that she has no idea on how to save her brothers’ lives. Then, a horrific freak accident takes the lives of nearly everyone escorting her, leaving Margaret untouched and rescued by the Macnachtan family, the very clan who have fostered the destruction of her own. Little does Margaret suspect that the head of the family, Heath, is an honorable man who has been admiring her from afar for years.
Having read The Scottish Witch a few months ago, I’ve been eager to find out how the so-called Chattan curse is defeated. It had to be; this is a series of romance novels, after all, and killing off the heroes very shortly after the books have ended just wouldn’t happen. So I was looking forward to reading about Margaret, who has spent years of her life being pursued and fighting off that pursuit, convinced that love is not the course for her, and Heath, who has little in his mind beyond how to save his family’s ancestral home. The added touch here is that of course Heath saw Margaret years ago and was captivated by her beauty, so finding her in the midst of a carriage wreck is not the first time he’s confronted by her.
I really liked this romance, though; I think sometimes the curse makes it a bit too convenient for the couple to be together, but they have chemistry. It just means that the author can write that they feel as though they’re meant to be together while still having it work within the plot, rather than either of them ever really having serious doubts about their relationship. It’s fortunate that the couple works, because I think it could easily have felt forced. The magic element isn’t too bad, either. Again, it’s something that could have felt off very easily, but it works well within the context of the book.
A quick, engaging read, The Devil’s Heart is a good choice for historical romance fans who don’t mind a little bit of magic in with their love stories. I would recommend checking out the first two books too, though, as it’s very nice to get the back story to these characters before we find out how the curse is resolved.
All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.
Since I’m not particularly inclined to writing reviews right now, I thought it might be fun if I talked a little bit about the myriad of books I’m reading at the moment and how they’re going. I’m not reviewing a very big portion of my books right now, so this might be a fun way to let you all know and comment on some of the rest of those reads a bit, if you’d like.
So! First up, I’ve been re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. I re-read A Game of Thrones and found myself completely swept up in it, despite the fact that I’ve read it twice and seen the show. I’m now in the middle of A Clash of Kings and I actually love this one, too. It’s so nice to get swept back up in a world that feels familiar, and I’ve been having a strange sort of fun picking out the differences between the show and the book. There are parts of the show that I’m convinced didn’t happen, so I’m looking forward to finding out whether this is true or not.
The whole reason I am re-reading the books is that I can’t remember what happens in A Storm of Swords, which is the current book / TV show, and it is irritating me. In addition, I haven’t actually read A Dance with Dragons, which is the fifth book (although I have it in two volumes, it is one book), so re-reading these means I will finally get to it.
The other book that I’ve been reading for what feels like a short eternity is The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark. It attempts to re-evaluate the causes of World War I, and since my husband has been interested in World War II and *its* origins, I’ve been trying this out for him as a background to the background, if that makes sense. I like history, he wants to make sure he’s reading something that will explain things to him properly, so it works out. Unfortunately this feels dense even for me, who loves history. I think it’s just because I don’t recognize any of the names or places in eastern Europe, so I quickly lose track of the significant Serbians simply because my brain doesn’t want to process their names. It’s annoying, and I’m actually very interested in the subject matter, so I’m persevering.
Finally, the last book that I’ve just started is The Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell. I’m only about 20 pages in, so I don’t have any real thoughts on it yet, but I’ve put it off for 3 years, so I’m clearly not madly excited to read it. I’m still hopeful that it will be worth the time I intend to spend reading, though.
What are you currently reading?
Well, I didn’t do very well with posting on my blog during this particular Read-a-thon, did I? I saw quite a few people posting on Tumblr and then linking their updates back to a main post, and I think I might just do that next time. I checked in on Twitter every so often and I’m looking forward to going around and seeing how everyone did a bit later on this afternoon.
My time zone in the UK makes the Read-a-thon’s hours a little bit awkward; it officially runs from 1 pm on Saturday to 1 pm on Sunday. There is simply no way that I can stay up all night and then until 1 pm, much less go to work on Monday, so I’ve never actually tried, but I like that I still get to spend Sunday morning reading away and generally getting one last book in before the event is over. It’s even easier now that my schedule seems to ensure I’m up around 7 or 7:30 on the weekend, so I had hours to read Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire and try to make some progress in The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark.
That makes now perfect to answer the questions around the End of Event meme:
1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
I suppose the hour in which I fell asleep, which was around my 11 pm. I have no stamina these days, especially not after waking up early and taking a driving theory test, so it’s something of a surprise that I didn’t fall asleep at 9!
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
My choices were all good until the last book – I always go for short books that I know I can read quickly. This time fantasy was all I managed to read.
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
I’m not sure I spent enough time on the website or doing any of the challenges to notice – I liked how visible the hosts were on Twitter, though, when I did pop in to check.
5. How many books did you read?
Two full books and parts of two more.
6. What were the names of the books you read?
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones, Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire, and The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark.
- 7. Which book did you enjoy most?
Probably Midnight Blue-Light Special although I also really liked the first two. No stand-out loves.
- 8. Which did you enjoy least?
I’m really struggling with The Sleepwalkers. It’s all about the origins of World War I and I’m finding it incredibly difficult to keep up with the parts about eastern Europe. I simply don’t know the region or any of the history which makes it slow going for me.
9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
I hope to still be reading!
Now I’m off to write some reviews, hopefully, so that this blog doesn’t stay silent this week, and check out some posts.
Did you read or cheer this time around? How did you do?
Good afternoon everyone! I missed last fall’s read-a-thon and I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since. I’m not particularly good at the community aspect of this event usually; I like to pop in on twitter every now and again and visit some other blogs, but mostly I like to read rather than do too many mini challenges. And reading is exactly what I have planned for the rest of the day after a brief diversion taking my UK driving theory test (I passed, thankfully).
So what do I have to choose from today?
Lots I’ve been looking forward to in this pile! But first I’m going to finish Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. I’m only on page 90 but I’m really enjoying it and finishing a book is a great way to start many hours of reading.
Are you reading today? What do you have on your pile?
George is living out the fairly boring life of a middle-aged divorced “good guy” until one night he hears a strange noise outside his house. He finds a crane, her wing pierced by an arrow; he saves her and she flies away. The next day, a beautiful, somehow old fashioned woman called Kumiko appears outside his print shop, and he falls in love with her almost immediately. George’s adult daughter, Amanda, is mystified and somewhat jealous, living out her own life as a single mother with a small child and feeling as though she’s never quite fit in. In small, significant ways, Kumiko starts to change their lives, but never quite lets them into her own.
A re-telling of a Japanese folk tale, The Crane Wife felt to me like an odd mix of beauty and disappointment. In parts of the book, like the actual stories of the tiles, I felt that I could feel the gorgeous writing and meaning I’d found in Patrick Ness’s other works shine through. In most of the book, though, I felt disappointment, as something I’d expected to love fell apart with every page.
Perhaps this book just fell prey to the fact that I really don’t much like stories set in the “real world”. I may be the only person who just didn’t appreciate the fact that George is relieving himself in the middle of the night when he hears the crane on the very first pages of the book. I can, in a way, see how Ness was trying to juxtapose the ordinary with the fantastic, by bringing George right into our world with one of humanity’s most basic needs alongside the crane’s mysterious call and appeal. I can see that, but it’s something that I wasn’t looking for, and so the book hit a wrong note with me immediately.
Plus, the book is insistent on the fact that George is a good, nice guy. He’s one of these nice guys who seems to vaguely feel like the world owes him something for being nice; he has infinite female friends but he’s just too nice for any of them to love him, and his ex-wife actually says this in the course of the book. I don’t like this stereotype; the world doesn’t owe anyone anything and I actually think that there are plenty of women who would love a nice guy (I married one, after all). I also felt that, as the book went on, he actually proved more or less that he wasn’t really that nice a guy.
Much of the book also felt a little bit like it was trying too hard to say something meaningful. Patrick Ness’s other books are incredible and subtle; A Monster Calls affected me so much that I never actually managed to write anything about it because if anything I felt too much. With this book, I honestly just felt distanced from the characters and the story, almost as though I could see how the weaving was meant to affect me without it actually happening.
That’s not to say it’s all bad; I found some beautiful passages within the book, and I almost felt as though the interludes about the woman and the volcano could have worked as a short story on their own. Here’s one that I marked:
Her hand is raised, ready to fall, ready to end this torment, which she will admit, if only to herself, is as bad for her as it has ever been for him. She loves him and it is impossible. She hates him and that is impossible, too. She cannot be with him. She cannot be without him. And both are burningly, simultaneously true in a way that grinds the cliché into dust. (210)
I actually appreciated the message that we need to trust, to believe that those we love will love us back. But I think some of the meaning of the book slipped through the cracks for me.
I wanted to love this book, but it just didn’t happen, and in the end, I feel more disappointed by that than anything else.
I received this book for free for review.
Princess Harueme has lived her life in the shadow of Japanese emperors. In the winter of her years, though, she needs to leave court and head to a convent, where she already knows she will die. Compelled to fill empty notebooks, Harueme begins telling the story of Kagaya-hime, a cat who has lost her family and her fudoki due to a horrible fire in the middle of her city. As the story progresses, Harueme intertwines the tale of her own life with Kagaya-hime’s, and we slowly learn about these two women and their individual struggles.
I never doubt Ana when she recommends a book and this is one I can specifically trace back to her recommendation. I could not resist the idea of this cat-turned-woman story. Even so, as with so many books, it sat on my wishlist until a friend bought it for me, and then I finally read it – and, of course, I loved it. It immediately drew me in with the tale of a tortoiseshell cat who loses her entire family and just barely survives the fire; it’s sad, but poignantly written, and it felt just pitch-perfect. The book remains just that perfectly and magnificently written.
This story of intertwined women shines so brightly and has so many things to say about life that I’m not even sure I can review it properly. It’s one of those books that illuminates things that I hadn’t necessarily thought about, but in a way that stuck me as perfect.
Perhaps some quotes can illustrate this better than I can:
What man, what lost love or deceased kinsman is worth death? The space in my life that my half-brother once filled is now an aching icy pain, like the hole left after a tooth is pulled, and I am dying in weeks or months – and yet I still fight for life, as every mouse does, until the final beak-blow. The grace in tragedy is not to succumb, but to fight on. (87-88)
It’s such a beautiful book. I loved the format with the story of the two women, I loved Kagaya-hime’s cat-like sensibilities, I loved Harueme’s thoughtful reflections on her life gone by. It’s a book to make me wish I was more articulate so I could explain better just why it appealed to me. I haven’t read The Fox Woman which is Johnson’s first book, but I wish that I had, as I’ve read that the books are connected in small ways. In a way, though, I’m glad, because it’s an excuse to read this book again.
Domei once told me that he missed war.
“How can you?” I asked, shocked.
He was drunk and more candid than usual: he slurred as he spoke. ” I have never had such good friends.”
“You are surrounded by people who love you,” I said, “and no one is dying here.” How could war be better than this? Than me?
“We are all dying,” he said. “We just forget that when nothing is trying to kill us.” (233)
Very highly recommended.