Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Mini-Review Roundup


  Mini-Review Roundup

Honestly, this was kind of a letdown. It's not that there's anything wrong with it, but I guess my expectations were too high. I had the sense that this was THE Marie Antoinette book. Unfortunately for me, I've already read Juliet Grey's fiction series and Caroline Weber's non-fiction Queen of Fashion and I prefer both of those. 

To me, Juliet Grey's series has all of the historical facts of Antonia Fraser's offering (I imagine she used AF's book as a major source-- it feels very much like "copy, paste, add humanity"), but also all of the heart, soul, and caring for the "characters" that Antonia Fraser's book lacks. Juliet Grey's series made the people come alive. I felt for the people in ways that I just didn't when reading AF's book. 

But Juliet Grey's series is fiction, you may say. Of course I'm going to feel for the characters more there, you may say. This is an unfair comparison, you may say. Yes, yes, except Caroline Weber's non-fiction book absolutely captured my heart and emotions. I was sobbing when reading the final years of MA's life, I felt for her as she wiled away her youth to distract herself from her childless and passionless marriage. I was emotionally invested in it all. Antonia Fraser's book just lacked this connection for me, and even though by this point I know enough about the story to fill in all of the emotional bits, AF's writing was just too distant and too plodding and too surface to leap off the page even with this knowledge. 

It wasn't bad by any stretch. If I had read it first, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. The facts are there. The writing isn't dry. The history is presented in a way that is easy to follow. It just...lacks the heart I want and have found elsewhere.



I picked this up on a whim because I was participating in a Victorian theme week and the conversation there sparked my interest in Victorian fashion. I enjoy seeing how fashion is influenced by and influences history (see Caroline Weber's excellent book Queen of Fashion) and Ariel Beaujot did a nice job explaining that interplay here. She focuses not on Victorian fashion overall, but on a few key items such as fans, umbrellas, gloves, etc. 

For those less interested in non-fiction and not terribly familiar with the Victorian era, this might be a little dry and disjointed. It did have that "dissertation" vibe to it. I also don't necessarily agree with all of her conclusions and I do question how factual some of her facts are (it's a little bit of a stretch to make the claims on, for example, umbrellas that she made). So, perhaps not for everyone. 

For me, I didn't mind these things. Overall, I enjoyed the book. I spent a lot of time looking up facts (that were true) and delving more deeply into the history through Internet searches. It was fun. It also taught me a lot of the "why" and the story behind a number of items that are antique store staples that I've seen a lot but didn't fully understand (like celluloid vanity sets). This was neat. It's a short read and one I considered well worth my time.


Well, this was...not what I was expecting. Did I like it? Yeah. I think. Yes. Mostly. 

I think this might have been, in part, a case of misplaced expectations. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it was not what I got. Here's what I would have told myself to expect if I could go back in time: 

The atmosphere is dreamy and hazy. The sense of place is palpable, but it's more about the heat and the vibe and the feel and the emotions than about feeling any particular historical sense of time and place. The mystery of what happened to the girls is at the center of everything, but this is not a detective story. You're not going to spend time gathering and putting together clues. This isn't about solving the mystery.

The event happens at the beginning, and then the rest of the story is more of a character study, exploring the impact and fallout of the event on the various characters. This almost reminded me of The Turn of the Screw in that you're in the position to observe the impact of events on the psyche of the characters, but you don't know for sure where the truth lies. Is that character losing their mind? Cool and calculating? Naturally bereaved? You don't know, you won't know. But the exploration and the questioning and the plausible pathways is captivating. 

Overall, yes, I think this is a good one. It has power and effect. It made me think and feel and wonder. It stayed with me. It's not what I would call an enjoyable read. It's not a happy book. I'm glad I read it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Mini-Review Roundup

  Mini-Review Roundup

Solid "nice." I enjoyed reading it, but I don't feel compelled to read the sequel. Chapters are short and it's easy to read quickly, even if the pacing of the plot isn't breakneck. There's also a little bit of the "glimpse into the past" which is a writing approach I usually find makes me want to read more and become more invested in finding out how the past and present connect, and that worked here too. 

The messages are sweet and the relationship between the characters is also sweet. There's just enough depth and nuance to both the characters and the plot to make this book stand out and stand on its own. It's also a sweet book. 

But, it's also kind of a downer book. The main character is likable and endearing, but she's also insecure, afraid, and kind of sad. This cast a bit of a shadow on my reading experience and leaves me with a vague feeling off glumness. So, I liked the book and I'm glad I read it, but I don't love the feeling it's left me with.


I wasn't expecting to like this one as much as I did. I almost decided to give it away unread, but finally figured I'd give it a shot since I can't find an e-book version. I ended up liking it so much I decided to keep my hardcover copy and added the companion book to my TBR. 

I was expecting a preachy book for kids that would be surface level and not terribly historical. Instead, I got a book with nuance and realistic history and a set of characters I enjoyed reading about. It even made me curious enough to do some light Internet research after I finished, which I always consider a good sign.

Chapters are very short so it was easy to zip through. The plot also moved at a brisk pace, even jumping ahead in time, but in a way that never felt gripping and fast but also kept things from dragging needlessly. There were scenes that stood out and felt real and I got a good sense of time and place. I wasn't sure at first about the supernatural element, but I thought it was done well. Even with those elements, this felt much more "straight historical" than "historical fantasy." Recommended.


Oh, I had such high hopes for this book but I did not like it. The writing seemed forced-funny, and I didn't find it funny. The characters felt forced-likable and I did not like them. The approach to storytelling with all of these random people telling bits and pieces of the story felt gimmicky and unnecessary. The plot felt overly long and pointless. The action scenes felt like something from a comic book, complete with forced "Kapow" moments to tell me what I should be feeling but the writing isn't evoking. I'm left feeling mildly irritated, unimpressed, and like I want to say, "I just spent my time for that??

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Mini-Review Roundup


  Mini-Review Roundup

Did I like this? Yes and no. 

The yes? I was engaged. I wanted to know what would happen next. I read through it pretty quickly as a result (this was definitely a "just one more chapter" kind of book for me). 

I love stories where you're unraveling past events and this book did a good job with that. The past (1930s) and further past (early 1900s) were well balanced and I didn't have a favorite. They felt different and "of their time." I was satisfied with the Big Reveal (though not astounded) and very happy with the ending. I also liked the time spent in the house and on the property (I love "house" books).

The no? The characters were all just okay. The whole book focuses on post-partum depression and the author did a truly excellent job conveying the impact something like this has on the individual and the family. That is a good thing (so a mark in the "yes"), but it was a hard thing to read about (so a mark in the "no").  All of the goods were solid goods, but none of them really wowed me. I decided not to keep my beautiful hardcover and I imagine in a few years I'll see the book and think, "What was that about again?" and shrug. It's good, I'm glad I read it, but it isn't The One for me.

This is definitely a book written in the 1990s. Thankfully I went into it with those expectations and so everything was fine. I was even pleasantly surprised. I also haven't read the previous books in the series and that wasn't a problem at all (though I probably got some spoilers for those earlier books, which I don't plan on reading). 

So what do I mean by "written in the 1990s?" It's short. A lot of things get wrapped up very quickly and the characters don't have a ton of depth or backstory. And that's fine. If I know to expect this, I actually am just fine with this easy-breezy approach. I got a quick story with characters that, even though they didn't have a ton of depth and nuance, were easy to understand and feel for. Some I felt annoyance, some hatred, some sympathy, and some liking. But I did feel for them. The male lead was no someone I liked very much, but the female lead was and I liked her character arc and romance.

The shortness of it all also meant that the author didn't so much paint a picture of the time and place but rather info-dumped and factoid-packed to give a sense of the setting. And, again, that works for me. There was a lot in there. This approach meant that while I might not have felt like I was living and breathing in the era, it did make me feel like I came away from the book with a good sense of history. I liked it.


I liked it. I didn't love it. I could have almost loved it, but there were a few elements I was looking for that weren't there. Namely, I wanted the relationship between the main character and the dragon to be one of those warm fuzzy bonding friendships and it just never got there. It's not in the dragon's nature. Ok, fine. I accept that, but that would have been the key to making this book a Favorite and not just a solid like. 

Anyway, it is what it is, and what it is is a murder mystery set in a "medieval fantasy village." There's the usual cast of characters, and for the most part I liked them. The main character is likable and tropish (think Geralt in The Witcher but less growly), but I consider that a good thing. The mystery was paced well, and though I never found it gripping, I did find it an enjoyable stroll. I liked it enough that I plan on reading the next book, but I wasn't in love enough that I need to read the next book right now. This ends pretty well as a standalone anyway with a promise of "future adventures" but a completion to this current adventure.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Mini-Review Roundup



  Mini-Review Roundup

I am so blown away by how much I adore this book. I wasn't expecting to love it like this, but this was the kind of book that as soon as I finished reading it I wanted to turn back to the beginning and start reading it all over again. If I hadn't read a single book this year except this one, I would have counted that a win. I don't think I can do this book justice with a full review, so here are some highlights: 
The length: Yeah, this worried me and is a big reason why it took me so long to finally pick it up. I didn't need to worry. It's compulsively readable and I flew through it. I wish there were more pages and that it would never end. 
The characters: I loved them. I quoted them. I wanted to shake them and hug them and have them in my life. I laughed with them, raged with them, was gripped in terror with them, and cried with them. The character studies alone make this a book worth reading. The movie did an excellent job capturing them, but the book takes them and makes them even more fleshed out, nuanced, and amazing. I can't sing their praises enough.
The history: so well told. I was utterly gripped as the yankees were descending upon Atlanta, I felt the elation and glow of the early days of the war and the anger and frustration and despair of picking up the pieces of life after everything has been shattered. The historical value of the book is less in a play-by-play of events (though you do get a good feel for things) and more for capturing the feeling of life during that time and all of the terror, hopes, fears, despair, grit, adaptation, resolve, and soul searching of a time of massive change and disruption. It's a history of people, and regardless of what side of the war resonates with the reader, it's important to remember that there were people on both sides, and this book shines a light on that human element.
Catherine is one of history's characters who has endeared herself to me. I like her. I feel for her. I admire her. Giles Trimlett's linear narrative non-fiction account of Catherine's life is everything I could have hoped for. You know when you find a version that makes you feel like that's it, you're done, you'll never be able to find a version that tops this one? Yeah, that's what Giles Trimlett has done for me with Catherine of Aragon. 

What sets this book apart is how well Trimlett captures the emotion of Catherine's story. Her tenacity and fear during the lean years when Henry VII held her fate in limbo, the elation of her early years of marriage to Henry VIII, her love for her daughter, her fight with her husband over her marriage-- all of these events are told with all of the passion, emotion, and tension found in great fiction stories. That scene when Catherine testifies at the divorce trial, throwing herself at Henry's feet, delivering that astounding speech, and then walking out was an absolutely captivating, mic-drop moment. Yes, Catherine did these things, and yes, even the driest author can't take away the power of that moment, but Giles Trimlett captured every detail and emotion with the skill of a great storyteller. I knew exactly what was going to happen, and still I was enthralled. 

Giles Trimlett has written a book about Catherine's mother Isabella, and I'll read that for sure. I wish he had written more about some of my other favorite historical ladies. I can only imagine how Matilda or Eleanor of Aquitaine, Cleopatra, or Marie Antoinette's stories would unfold in his hands.

Well, it seems a little unfair to review this book after those two Special Shelf Spectaculars, so let's try to give Enter Three Witches a fair shake. 
Did I love this book? No. Did I enjoy it a whole lot? Yes. Chapters are moderate size, but there are a ton of little chapter breaks within the chapters and each section shifts focus between different characters. The story spins out at a nice pace and it's easy to follow whether or not you're familiar with Shakespeare's version. There's a sense of doom and dread and while none of the characters were super fleshed out, I ended up invested in each of their stories. There's even a nice sense of time and place.
I liked this a lot. It's a creative, engaging take on the tale and I'm glad I read it. I decided to keep my print copy.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Mini-Review Roundup


  Mini-Review Roundup

I was hesitant about this author because I've heard his Richard III books are very biased (against Richard). But, I've been so tempted to try one of his books because he writes about so many subjects I enjoy reading. So, I picked up his book about Eleanor, and it is biased in the sense that you can definitely tell which people he likes and doesn't like, but thankfully in this case he likes Eleanor. 

Otherwise, this was a pretty straight forward linear account of Eleanor's life. Readable, engaging, and hits on all the high points without being boring for readers who are already familiar with Eleanor's story. Chapters are long enough to have substance but short enough to keep things moving at a pretty good pace and not feel bogged down or like I needed to set aside an hour plus just to read through one chapter. It wasn't a love, but it was enough of a strong like that I'm definitely going to pick up more of his books (just, maybe not his Ricardian books).
Oopffh, this has been sitting on my shelves since 2015! I'm glad I finally read it, but since I also have an e-book version I didn't love it enough to keep the print version too. 
Basically, if you like Eva Ibbotson's The Countess Below Stairs then you'll probably at least enjoy this book as well. Though I didn't think it was anywhere near as good as Ibbotson's take, the gist of the story is pretty much the same: girl escaping WWII ends up as a servant in a British household and falls in love with the lord of the manor. Essentially. There are differences and I won't spoil them here, but if that type of plot is appealing then this might be worth seeking out. 
There is a levity that was both amusing and also, somewhat, out of place. It's hard to reconcile "zany hijinks" with "Jews fleeing Nazi Germany," but Sullivan makes it work and I went into it with those expectations (it's kind of her style). Everything falls into place too perfectly, but, again, if you can suspend disbelief and just enjoy this as a fun romp then it makes for a nice way to pass the time.

I spent some time knocking off books that had been on my TBR for near on a decade, and so I feel a sense of satisfaction having read this one just for that fact alone. That said, I did enjoy the book, but not enough to keep my print copy.
I loved the premise and even though the main character wasn't particularly likable, she's going through a lot and does change over time so even though she wasn't always the most pleasant person to be around, I felt for her. The premise is right up my ally and the execution was pretty good, too. I felt a pretty decent sense of place, particularly during certain scenes (that hot springs scene, so minor in the story, is seared in my mind pun intended). The mystery about the main character's mother kept my interest and tugged at my heart. 

I would have liked this a whole lot more, but there were three characters that really rubbed me the wrong way. One is a potential love interest who is painted far too black and white. I thought there was a real opportunity with this character to explore things, but the hamfisted characterization made this a missed opportunity. One character was so unlikable as a person, and yet I got the sense I was supposed to give her a pass. I'm sorry, I don't. I don't think the main character was wrong about her and I didn't like the way it felt like I was being lectured by the author to be sympathetic toward this character. 
Finally, the love interest was okay, but then he'd start spouting off these anachronistic lectures at the main character whose only real sin was that she held the actual beliefs of her time and place (and was far more open minded than the love interest gave her credit for). Not only is this annoying, but it also made him a pretty awful love interest. Where is the mutual respect in this romance? I was disappointed in the main character for falling for a guy who treated her so poorly.
Had these characters been better, I probably would have adored this book. As it was, I can't help but feel like a modern author decided to write about the past, half so she could write about the past, and half so she could insert her modern viewpoints in to lecture the reader and the main character. Sorry, agree with the author or not, I don't like being lectured like this and I don't like my historical fiction infused with modern thoughts and approaches. 

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