Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Book Review: The Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine


Pages: 592
Publisher: Harper Collins
Released: March 7, 2019
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Barbara Erskine is an author on my TBR list, but not one I had read yet. As a first foray, The Ghost Tree is not bad. I didn't love it, but I liked it enough to still want to read more of her books. I'd class this book in the same company as Susanna Kearsley or Mary Stewart's Thornyhold type of books: British, a touch of the supernatural, dreamy, historical, great houses, a slow background romance, and a main character who is likable but not particularly stand out.

The Ghost Tree is probably more massive than it needed to be. It clocks in at 592 pages and it's not riveting or detailed enough to really warrant that. It felt like another editing pass through to clean things up would have tightened the story, shortened the pages, and made for a smoother book overall. As it was, the length wasn't much of a problem for me because the chapters are so teeny tiny (1-5 pages on average).

So, what's going on here? A lot. We follow Ruth's ancestor Thomas during the 18th century as he basically lives his life, gets married, has kids, and tries to avoid a man who decides to stalk and harry him. We follow Ruth as she is stalked by a brother and sister who develop a fixation on her. She's also haunted by the ghost of Thomas's stalker and she enlists the help of a charming chef and a tweedily attractive ghostbuster/historian. Ruth also house hops trying to avoid her natural and supernatural stalkers and each house she stays in is awesome.

While neither story is particularly gripping, both were interesting enough to hold my attention and the stalking aspect, especially how randomly something like that can happen, was horrifying and well done. I feel like I'm damning this book with faint praise. The thing is, objectively, there's a lot I was pretty lukewarm about. I liked it all, but that's it. As a whole experience, though, I enjoyed it. I looked forward to reading more, even if I wasn't staying up late to do so. 






Monday, July 8, 2019

Book Review: The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin


Pages:352
Publisher: Berkley Books
Released: June 25, 2019
Received: Finished copy and e-galley from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I wasn't convinced I actually wanted to read this book when I received an invitation to the e-galley and tour. I find this time period interesting, but it's definitely not an era I read in much. So I added it to my e-reader with bland disinterest and opened it with the intention of reading a few sentences to try to hype myself into reading it, eventually.

And I was hooked. Ravenously. I couldn't stop reading. I put aside the books I was already in the middle of reading and dove in.

There was so much that just clicked with me about this book. The sense of time and place. The fabrics, smells, and tensions were thick in the air. I felt utterly immersed. We see Schiap and Chanel from the periphery and this made them both seem larger than life, known-but-mysterious. It was captivating. Their clothing collections, their political movements, their social circles, and their bitter, invigorating rivalry...ah, I loved every minute of it.

The main character is one of those somewhat bland, somewhat sympathetic, somewhat relatable characters. We see the story through her eyes, and while I often don't like this narrative device, sometimes I really love it and this is one of those times. Her own tragic story tugged at my heartstrings and her tentative and slow burn reawakening romance was quietly engrossing. I loved how both Schiap and Coco gave her clothes. This was like the sartorial equivalent of reading a book about an old Gothic mansion and vicariously possessing it.

There are almost three stories here: Schiap and Coco's rivalry, the main character's tragedy and romance, and the onset of WWII. The latter simmers in the background in the beginning, slowly pushing its way more and more into the story until it cannot be ignored, much like I imagine the onset of the war would have felt at the time. I loved the feelings of the book, the subtle and mounting tension of the war, the crackling razor edges of the rivalry, so prominent at first and then shattering under the weight of the war, the stupor of tragedy and magical awakening of love and healing. 

Another aspect I loved were the constant references to art and color. The main character is a painter, Schiap and Coco use fabric and perfume as their canvas. I Googled many paintings referenced, immersed myself in colors, imagined the feel of different fabrics, looked up images of referenced clothing collections, smelled the referenced perfumes. This book was an unexpected sensory delight.

This is definitely a book I can see having a love or hate reaction from readers. If it clicks with you like it did with me, then you're in for a fantastic treat. If not, then I can definitely see this one boring readers. In that way it reminded me of Sally Beauman's The Visitors, which is another book I was sucked into and think about long after having finished it.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Book Review: The Poison Thread by Laura Purcell


Pages: 351
Publisher: Penguin
Released: June 18, 2019
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Last year I read and enjoyed Laura Purcell's creeping Gothic horror The Silent Companions and, while I didn't love it, I did enjoy it and I've been looking forward to reading more from this author.  

The Poison Thread follows a similar pattern of alternating perspectives, one character telling their story, another character learning the tragic and horrifying events of the past. The narrative device worked very well here, building tension, intrigue, and mystery. I felt for Ruth, the character telling her story as she waits in prison for her murder trial, and while I didn't love Dorothea (she's a little too naive self-righteous do-gooder for me) I was interested in the events of her life (though, I think, she picked the wrong man).

Characters and place felt real and drew me into the story. I felt for them. I felt like I was there (early Victorian England). I found myself thinking about the story when I wasn't reading it and trying to find extra time to fit in a few more pages. I ended up forgoing an earlier bedtime in order to read just a few more chapters (and given the tiny chapters, it was especially tempting to say "just one more"). Now that I'm finished, I wish I had more of the story left to read. I don't want it to be over.

The story kept twisting and turning, keeping me on my toes, and just when I thought I figured things out, we'd take another turn. There's a supernatural element, but this too is kept in question throughout the story as to whether or not it's truly supernatural or not. This was all done very well.

I like books that give me glimpses into learning about neat things. In this one we get phrenology (not my favorite subject), sewing (I did like this), and historical bits and pieces surrounding life during the early Victorian era from the perspectives of people in different classes of society (loved this).

I don't feel like my review is doing this book justice. I loved it. I can't wait to read it again (with the right reader, this would make a fantastic audiobook), and I can't wait to read Laura Purcell's next book.






Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Book Review: Remembrance by Jude Deveraux


Pages: 432
Released: 1994
Publisher: Pocket Books
Received: Library
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Well, it's no Knight in Shining Armor. I had to start with that, because that's what I wanted from this book. I wanted a book that gripped me in that way that makes everything in life come second to reading this book. Like, yeah, yeah, I know eating, sleeping, that's important sure, but reading this book comes first. That's what I wanted.

I also wanted a swoony romance and a good historical setting. I wanted a plot that kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen next and how the problem/mystery would get solved.

That's what I wanted. And, I've learned that it's best to not put so many expectations on books and just accept and enjoy them for what they are. But, that's apparently a lesson I'm still learning.

So, what did I get? Disappointed, that's what I got. I picked this up on a total spur of the moment whim, downloaded a copy, put it right on my e-reader, decided to just try a few pages, and found myself sucked into the book entirely. Expectation number one? CHECK.

The story starts out in the present day (or, well, 1994 present day, when the book was written) where we're introduced to the main character as she's obsessively exploring the concept of past lives and discovering that her past lives are wreaking havoc on her current life. Ok, I'm on board.

Then we travel back in time and I'm still totally on board. This is great! It's everything I love about time travel books. It's funny, there's a hate-to-be-turned-love romance, and I'm emotionally invested. CHECK, CHECK, CHECK.

And then we suddenly travel back in time again. And this is where everything fell apart for me. Even the writing tanked. The main characters, ack, awful. Poorly drawn, absolute caricatures, boring, and simple...in every sense of the word. So many pages were spent just retreading and reiterating how much the two characters loved one another and couldn't be separated, and yet of course they were separated and the method of this separation was so contrived and stupid. I ended up hating the main characters (especially the man) by the time this section was over. I was actually hoping the villain would win.

Which is a shame because the "bones" of this part of the story were actually pretty good. This whole section reminded me of a fairy tale, which is a very good thing. The side characters were interesting and the villain's story was a great "reverse fairy tale" story.

I wavered with a 2.5 stars, but ultimately a 3 seems more accurate. It was fast, compulsively readable, and despite all my frustrations, this was still fun. Even the bad section told a story I liked...I just wish it had been written differently.






Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Book Review: Dream More by Dolly Parton


Pages: 128
Publisher: Putnam
Released: November 1, 2012
Received: Library, Own
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Well, Dolly Parton isn't who I would normally think I should think of when I'm listing off inspirational people, but she undeniably is who I think about. Funny how that works out.

This book is super short and easy to read. I felt like I was sitting with Dolly chatting and she was sharing stories about her life and her thoughts and why she did some of the things she's done. And I drew inspiration from that. Rather than the other way around where people set out to inspire, if that makes any sense? 

I liked it this way. It felt genuine. Her good works (and wow are they good!) made me think about what we could do in my school. Her chapter on learning more and what inspired her to believe in that was well told and emotional. Her humility is charming. Her simple message: Dream More, Learn More, Care More, and Be More is easy to understand and remember, and worth striving to apply.

This is a feel good book in a lot of ways and one that I read through quickly but has stayed with me long after. I bought a copy to keep in my personal library, as I think I'll revisit it again. I also recommend checking out her commencement speech on Youtube, which was adapted and fleshed out to make this book.

Friday, January 4, 2019

2019 Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge




Challenge Basics: 

Name: Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Hosts: Me!
Starts: January 1, 2019
Ends: December 31, 2019
Goal: 15 books
Eligible Books: Books you acquire in 2019

Why I'm Interested:  

I'm not sure if anyone is actually hosting a challenge like this, but it's a challenge I'm giving myself, again. Last year I read a ton off books I acquired in 2018, and rather than feel bad about neglecting my previously owned books, instead I felt like I was accomplishing something with every new book I acquired and read. And I was!

Every year I participate in the Read My Own Books Challenge where I try to read as many books I own as possible. Downside? Those challenges don't count books you acquire during the challenge year, and I think they should! Sure, I know the goal is to read all those books that have been languishing year after year, but what about preventative measures? I think those should be rewarded, too!

(I feel like a health insurance plan)

So, enter my challenge. I'm going to try to make a dent in the books I get in 2019 and therefore whittle down my mountain of books remaining unread on my shelves in 2020 (I can't believe I just wrote 2020...where is the time going?!).

Some books I'm considering: 

As many books from my Acquired 2019 shelf as possible. At the end of the year I'll compare how many books I acquired to how many books I've read from that list to see how well I've done. I'd like to shoot for reading/DNF-ing at least 15 books.


Books Completed:

18. Let's Move and The Show Must Go On by Courtney Shienmel and Bianca Turetsky
17. The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
16. The Poison Thread by Laura Purcel
15. The Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine
14. Where I End and You Begin by Preston Norton
13. 104 Horses by Mandy Retzlaff
12. The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin
11. Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser
10. Busy Body by Marion Chesney
9. Productivity Hacks by Emily Price
8. Henry VIII by Robert Lacey
7. There Goes the Bride by Marion Chesney
6. The Kings and Queens of England: A Tourist Guide by Jane Murray
5. A Spoonful of Poison by Marion Chesney
4. Remembrance by Jude Deveraux
3. Kissing Christmas Goodbye by Marion Chesney
2. Love, Lies, and Liquor by Marion Chesney
1. Dream More by Dolly Parton

Books DNF'ed: 

1.


Thursday, January 3, 2019

2019 Historical Fiction Challenge


10/15 books

Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
Hosts: Passages to the Past
Starts: January 1, 2019
Ends: December 31, 2019
Eligible Books: YA and adult historical fiction books. Non-fiction included.
Levels: I am going to try for 15 books

Why I'm Interested:  

Historical Bio and Historical Non-Fiction: These are the weightier, meatier books that I want to make top priority. They go into detail about actual people and events and I'll learn the most from them. I've thrown in the non-fiction books onto this shelf, too. I've been toe-dipping into non-fiction, and I'd like to continue that toe-dip.

Historical Fantasy: These vary as far as actual historical learning goes. Some have a ton of historical detail, but most just use a historical setting. Some of my favorite books come from this shelf and I don't want to neglect them just because they're not heavy historical fiction.

Historical Lite: These are a lot like the books on my Historical Fantasy shelf, just without the fantasy elements. Usually they're mysteries or romances set with a historical backdrop of varying degrees of detail. They're often easy breezy, fun books and I want to make sure I read them as well.


Books Completed:

Historical Non-Fiction


4. Henry VIII by Robert Lacey
3. The Kings and Queens of England: A Tourist Guide by Jane Murray
2. The Medieval Anarchy by Kaye Jones
1. Rotten Rules by Terry Deary

Historical Bio (fiction):

10.
9.
8.
7.
6.
5.
4.
3.
2.
1. The King's Secret Matter by Jean Plaidy


Historical Fantasy:

2.
1.

Historical Lite:

8. The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
7. The Poison Thread by Laura Purcell
6. The Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine
5. The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin
4. The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian
3. Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser
2. Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser
1. Yvonne Goes to York by Marion Chesney


DNF:

1.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2019 Read My Own Books Challenge


9/12 books


Challenge Basics: 
Name: Read My Own Damn Books Challenge
Previous Hosts: Estella's Revenge
Starts: January 1, 2019
Ends: December 31, 2019
Eligible Books: Books you own prior to 2019.
Levels: I'm going to try to read and/or DNF and get rid of 12 books I own.

Why I'm Interested:  

I seriously have too many books and they keep sitting on my shelves unread. I did this challenge in 2015 and ended up getting rid of almost all the books I read for the challenge, which means I've carted around and found room for all those books that I didn't even end up liking. Before I move again, I need to reevaluate the books I'm bringing with me and make sure they're books I actually want.

Some books I'm considering: 

Anything on my Own-Unread shelf that I acquired prior to 2019.

At the start of 2019, here's where I stand as far as what books I own and what percentage of them I've read:

26% read of books acquired in 2018 (250)
21% read of books acquired in 2017 (360) 
37% read of books acquired in 2016 (368) 
19% read of books acquired in 2015 (113)
35% read of books acquired in 2014 (80)
47% read of books acquired in 2013 (58)
43% read of books acquired in 2012 (77)
77% read of books acquired in 2010-2011 (146)
81% read of books acquired in 2008-2009 (36)
87% read of books acquired in 2003-2007 (100)
97% read of books acquired in 2002 and earlier (76)

Books Completed:

13. Hestia the Invisible by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (2016)
12. The King's Secret Matter by Jean Plaidy (2014)
11. The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian (2003-2007)
10. Amphitrite the Bubbly by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (2016)
9. A Tangled Web by L. M. Montgomery (2017)
8. Princess at Sea by Dawn Cook (2013)
7. Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser (2016)
6. Sif and the Dwarf's Treasure by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (2018)
5. The Medieval Anarchy by Kaye Jones (2018)
4. Rotten Rulers by Terry Deary (2017)
3. Yvonne Goes to York by Marion Chesney (2018)
2. The Perfect Paragon by Marion Chesney (2018)
1. The Deadly Dance by Marion Chesney (2018)


Books DNF'ed:

4.
3.
2.
1.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2019 Re-Read Challenge




Challenge Basics: 

Name: The Re-Read Challenge
Hosts: Belle of the Literati (in 2016)
Starts: January 1, 2019
Ends: December 31, 2019
Eligible Books: Books you've already read.

Why I'm Interested:  

Whether it's re-reading for comfort or to revisit old favorites, I want to make sure I enthusiastically dive into re-reading whenever I feel the urge.


Some books I'm considering:

My Special Shelf favorites, of course. Also, books I liked enough or am curious enough to re-listen to on audio.

Books Completed:

10.
9. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
8. A Pearl Among Princes by Coleen Murtagh Paratore
7. The Decoy Princess by Dawn Cook
6. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling



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