by Andrew Michael Hurley
This story starts out taking its time, letting the reader get to know the characters. I thought when I was reading these early chapters that it explained why Stephen King liked it so much. It is told in first person, from the point of view of one of two brothers who visit the place referred to as The Loney every summer. It's a place where the tide comes in suddenly and the water is treacherous. Many bones have been found of those who misjudged their timing on the beach.
I'm not a big fan of stories about ordinary people so by the time I was getting close to halfway and starting to wonder when something was going to happen, I began to wonder why Stephen King had recommended it. One creepy couple had just made an appearance but otherwise I was finding it actually boring and far too religious for my taste. This was necessary to the story because there's a good and evil dichotomy involved, but it was still grating.
There were hints of something sinister happening but it was left to inference and never really explained. It was more a story about faith and fallibility than anything and although there was one moment when I felt fear from a purely physical source, too much was skipped over and left unexplained for me to feel like I've read a whole story or one that ever really got going.
by Michael Dobrzycki, , Bob Berry, Cynthia Knox, Meredith Dillman
A look at the beautifully shaded drawings on the cover is enough to tell me this is above my drawing level, but I thought I would give it a try anyway and see if my perspective might improve.
Like many drawing books, it goes over tools and materials first. I noted the inclusion of tortillions, used for smudge shading. This is followed by a section on shading techniques, so a lot of possibility there for improving my skills. Then we get to the construction of creatures using basic shapes. They make it look so easy!
The creating textures section goes into more detail than I've seen in a lot of books. I can see this becoming the key, along with the shading, to making the drawings have that detailed finished look. The details on claws, horns and especially wing positions was extremely well done.
The creatures shown in the instructions include the western dragon, eastern dragon, wyvern (perhaps a good starting project as it has fewer fiddly bits), wyrm, water dragon, hydra, sui riu (Japanese rain dragon), centaur, fairy, minotaur, satyr, griffin and unicorn. The fact that it's weighted towards dragon-related creatures is part of the appeal of the book to me.
There is another section on tools and materials, this time for adding colour. This goes into using marker for an alternative dragon design, a pegasus in pencil and marker and another fairy in coloured pencil. Then a detailed drawing of a wisteria fairy is provided for working in water colour, though there are no instructions for drawing this one.
Overall I think the book is wonderful, but it's going to take some real practice to get to a level that looks as good as the pictures provided.
by Eleanor Brown
This is a story of two women, each of whom discover Paris in their own way. We first meet Madeleine in 1999. She is drawn to art and loves to paint, but her family circumstances place her as a corporate wife to the sort of very controlling husband who makes a woman dream of being single and free to wear what she wants, eat what she wants, and spend her time painting instead of schmoozing with the wives of business contacts with whom she has nothing in common.
Madeleine finds her grandmother's diary and reads about Margie in Jazz age Paris, 1916. Margie lives in a time and culture where young women debut when they reach marriageable age and expect to find a well-to-do husband and have children. But Margie is having none of it, she wants to be a writer and live a Bohemian lifestyle. Her first encounter with a man her parents approve of, what might be called a rich wastrel, gives her a push in the direction of an unconventional life ahead.
I was struck by the writing in this and how eloquently the personalities involved were portrayed, from Madeleine herself down to the peripheral characters. Each of them came alive in just a few paragraphs of lyrical prose and made their indelible stamp on the story.
Madeleine and her grandmother had much in common. Both were born into 'society' families that had expectations of how young women thought and behaved, both had artistic urges that made then want to break out of the molds created for them and both were given the chance to sample what life might be like if they rebelled against the 'expectations' thrust upon them.
I could appreciate how difficult it was for each of them to break loose from the training of their lives, of family expectations and all that they knew to try to enjoy something of life beyond the prescribed formula for their social strata. More interesting still was experiencing Paris through the eyes of Margie, the grandmother, and wondering if she would find a way to maintain her newly discovered freedom.
The book kept me interested and wanting to know the fate of each of the women and what choices they would make for their lives, given the limitations thrust upon them. The end didn't disappoint, though I would have liked to see how Madeleine fared in Paris.
by Muriel Barbery
This Fantasy story has a very fairytale-like tone to the narration and starts rather abruptly, as if in the middle of the story, but the reader soon catches up and the situation becomes apparent. A foundling child, Clara, appears under mysterious circumstances and is adopted into a Christian home to have a normal human childhood, but something about her is very fairy-like.
Another child, Maria, who "talks like most people sing" is adopted in similarly strange circumstances in Italy. The connection between these little girls becomes apparent as the story unfolds.
There is very little dialogue, especially in the early chapters, but the story is told in an adult's version of the fairy-tale storytelling voice with a sort of dreamy quality. It is not an immersive read, yet it is entertaining enough to keep reading, despite sketchy description of what's going on. A lot of new characters are introduced through the story and their non-human nature is often inferred more than made clear.
There are digressions to tell background stories of various characters and sometimes it really is like following a dream, jumping from one sequence to another with only a tentative hold on the connections, but all is made clear by the end. I noted in the acknowledgements that it is translated from French, which explains some of this.
Overall a pleasant Fantasy read, but not one that will stimulate the emotions to a great extent
by Scott Wilbanks
Oh my, where do I start? This is a time travel book, my favorite subject, with an interesting selection of misfit characters. As far as the mechanism for time travel goes, it's a simple magic door, or actually a more complex magic door than the usual, but we're only given hints about how it actually works.
It starts out in 1895 with some rough city life and the leader of a sandlot gang being warned to flee, though we don't yet know why. The gang are pickpockets and scrounge food in an almost Dickensian situation, only they're in Kansas City. Then we move out into the country in Kansas and still in 1895 and meet Elsbeth Grundy. She owns a farm, but one day finds a house on her back 40 and writes the occupant a letter of complaint.
The letter is received by Annabelle Aster, only she lives in 1995 San Francisco and sees the farmhouse as an intruder into her back yard in her own time and location. There was an anomaly about other girls swooning over David Cassidy when Annie was growing up, which seemed to be in the wrong era, but otherwise so far so good.
Annabelle writes back to Elsbeth, explaining her side of things and the story begins to develop into something that becomes very interesting and intricate. Annie shows the farm to her best friend, Christian, who has his own strange experiences of repeatedly seeing a face in a crowd. On one occasion time seems to slow down while this is occurring, then speeds up again.
There's a great quote in reference to dumbing down writing: "Never lower yourself for others. Make them rise to you. Whether they can or not is their burden, not yours."
The writing for this story is very good and I considered giving it the full 5 stars, but a few things towards the end could use some clarification and I had to stretch belief a little far concerning something about the bad guy's sidekick.
The story did include an excellently written high tension climax, some very creative methods of self defence and the most erotic kiss I've ever read, ever! The erotica writers could take some lessons from this.
I'm being careful about saying too much about the plot because part of the joy of reading this story was discovering the intricate connections along the way. It involves a stage magician, a murder, some rough business dealings and hiding a baby in time. I found it all very original and absorbing and pretty much read the second half of the book in one sitting.
In places it feels like a nice story of friendships between women, or an in-depth look at flexible morality issues, or a high action story of intrigue. There's something of everything in there and plenty of mystery to boot. Most importantly, it was a great read and will leave me remembering the characters for some time to come. I'll also be keeping an eye out for anything else written by this author.
by Washington Irving
This is one of those classics I've meant to read for years. It's written in an older English dialect that adds atmosphere to the narrative and brings the Dutch communities of New England to life with all their customs and superstitions.
Icabod Crane is a schoolmaster who has cast his eye on a local girl, just eighteen. She comes from a family that is as well-off as is to be found in the small community and is also a beauty. While there wasn't as much about witchcraft in the original story as was in the most recent movie version with Johnny Depp, it is mentioned along with goblins and ghosts and especially the tale of the headless horseman who legends say rises from the grave to seek his missing head.
The story was a lot more basic than I expected, with the whole ghostly phenomenon more a matter of superstition and practical joking than the tale has grown into with retellings, but it was enjoyable nonetheless to finally read the original material.
by Glen Duncan
This started out with a different tone than I usually see in werewolf novels. More of a crime drama or conspiracy story tone as it's established that with the murder of a werewolf in Berlin, the protagonist is the last of his kind and an organisation that hunts down and kills werewolves will now be focused on him.
This was a very literary read. Despite a few descriptions of violence, the use of language made it a joy to read and the first person pov of the werewolf throughout felt very intimate and personal. I found myself wanting him to survive. It had a few very sexual references. Apparently being a werewolf sends the libido into animal rut. But both the sex and violence stopped short of becoming gratuitous, even if it nudged that parameter on occasion.
There was a lot of suspense well done and a few twists to keep things interesting. The last few chapters had me breathless!
The writing was so good that I went to see what else the author had written and found that this is actually a trilogy! I'll look forward to reading the next books. This was one of those stories that when it ended, I just had to sit a few moments, staring into space while processing the feels. It really had a strong emotional impact on me.
by William F. Mann
This was totally different from what I expected. I have a historical interest in the Knights Templar, who were disbanded and mostly executed in 1309. I didn't know that the Freemasons had adopted the name for their own organisation, although I've seen other modern groups do the same.
This story is set in American Civil War times and centered on a historical figure called Albert Pike, who was a general in the Confederate army and a Freemason.
The writing was reasonably good, apart from some of the dialogue, but this just isn't an area of interest for me. I feel the book is mis-titled, though I should have read the description more closely. The first few lines supported the impression that it would actually be about the Knights Templar from the title.
If someone wants to read about Civil War Confederacy and Freemasonry of the time, this should appeal. The connections to the Templars are certainly pure fiction though.
by Kate Morton
From the description: "June 1933, and the Edevane family's country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much-anticipated Midsummer Eve party. Alice Edevane, sixteen years old and a budding writer, is especially excited. Not only has she worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she's also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn't. But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night skies, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great that they leave Loeanneth forever."
This is a Mystery story that moves forward to when Alice is an old lady and the mystery of a missing child has still not been solved. In the beginning of the story, we get to know young Alice and become part of her dreamy world. She's an aspiring writer, has a crush on a man too old for her and she has a secret, something she's hidden from her family that you just know will be important later, but the reader doesn't get told what it is so soon.
The writing is really superb in this one. There are three strong female characters, each very different. It transports you to the place and time and inside of Alice's world easily from the very start. There are a few flashbacks, including the story of how her parents met, and an off duty detective begins to investigate the never solved mystery of the missing child, though the trail has gone cold over the years.
I actually found myself more caught up in Alice's mother's story than her own, but all of the facets of the tale kept my attention. The interweaving strands of mystery all come together in the end, although one aspect of Sadie's story was not resolved to my satisfaction which costs it a star. Definitely five star writing though!
by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This is part of The Cemetery Of Forgotten Books universe, along with Shadow of the Wind, The Angel's Game and The Prisoner of Heaven. They are stand alone stories but are connected through a common setting in Barcelona and some characters that appear in all of the stories. They are Literary, Gothic, Mystical Mystery stories that have helped define the Magical Realism category of fiction.
The book description tells us, "As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermín to save him."
They say you can read this series in any order and this was my first Zafón. I found it very slow in the beginning and with the characters changing in different segments, found it very difficult to find a linear plot line to follow. The second half was much easier as the various elements start coming together. The writing itself was undeniably good and there were definitely some exciting passages, but I think I might have to read it again with more familiarity with the characters and how they relate to each other. Hopefully the other books in the series will be easier as a result.
I think I would advise first time readers to start with Shadow of the Wind first.
by S. A. Chakraborty
This is the second book in The Daevabad Trilogy by S. A. Chakraborty. The first book, City of Brass, was a good read so it made sense to continue.
It begins five years after the events of the first novel and Nahri has married the eldest son of Daevabad's ruler, though it's a sham marriage. Her friendship with the younger son has been permanently damaged by the events that killed her real love, Dara. Again we have a magical world with Djinn and halfbreeds called Shafit, as well as other spirits like the Ifrit.
This one moved slower for me than the first book. Nahri's journey was high adventure, but now she's working toward practicalities in a world that has effectively imprisoned her. A lot of political intrigue features as well as royal family dynamics, more world building information about various djinn entities and a rebellion.
Nahri develops further as a character in this one as does Dara. This made the story more interesting as it went along. There was quite a lot of dramatic action towards the end that made it worth the slower parts, but the ending felt incomplete. It wasn't a cliffhanger, just one of those "Well what happens now?" endings. I expect another book will follow.
by Daniel M. Quilter
The target age for this story is Middle Grade and it reads appropriately for that level to me. The story is wonderfully imaginative and sends three teenage protagonists on quests and through adventures that would definitely appeal to young readers.
Henry Rockwell and his friends get whisked away into a fantasy world adventure with demons, pirates, magic and of course a quest.
Though the character development and plot were fairly average for the age group, I think younger kids would enjoy it. My only complaint is that it ends with some of the details of the story unfinished and an invitation to continue the adventure in the next book.
I'm becoming less tolerant of this sales approach as more authors do it and although I don't mind it in favorite adult or YA series, I think it sends the wrong message to younger readers and feel that even a series should conclude the adventure at hand and act as a stand alone. How can you encourage reluctant readers to take an interest if the story never ends? Or takes three or more books to do so?
Overall an okay story that would sit well in a children's library one the series is complete.
by Amy Kuivalainen
I got into this one a little slowly. It starts with a bizarre ritualistic murder, followed by an introduction to Penelope Byrne, archaeological researcher with an obsession with Atlantis.
The story quickly picks up and I got drawn in with interest. The story is part mystery, part fantasy magic. Some of the reveals feel a little clumsy and cliffhangers at the end of chapters were a little overdone, enough to feel contrived, but I liked the author's use of smell to create associations.
I'll admit what first got me interested in this story was that it was set in Venice, Italy. I've been there once for not long enough and was looking to capture the feel of the city. In that I wasn't entirely satisfied and felt a lot of things could have used more description, especially the reactions of the characters to events or things people said to them.
I felt the writing was around average. The story drew me in, but so many plot points felt under developed! The magic was also too Harry-Potter-fantasy to fit with an otherwise historical mystery feel. It was an original take on Atlantean mythology though and deserves points for that.
As it got close to the end, I couldn't help thinking it was getting set up for a 'next book'. I did like the ending, but the set up for the next book makes me feel the story is unfinished and that's a sore point with me in this age of series mentality. I prefer stand alone stories in general so that I get a complete story without having to buy more books!
This one could have had me for the next story if it had given me that feeling of being in Venice. The characters showed distinctive personalities and apart from a little too convenient magic, it was mostly believable on a fantasy level.
by Maia Toll
There's an immediate connection with spirituality in this book, even before the Introduction. It's very much a modern shamanism perspective and featuring popular animal totems or endangered species. The book is a companion for a deck of cards for animal spirit meditations.
The full color illustrations are very well done and probably translate well to the cards, which I don't have and couldn't actually find for sale anywhere, even the author's site.
Each animal has a section with general information about the animal followed by a ritual and reflection. The emphasis is on spirituality rather than science and gives the reader a reference for animal symbolism and possible meanings.
Quite honestly there isn't a great deal of substance, but despite that, I can see the cards working well as a meditation device and really the pictures in the book would do if the cards can't be found.
by Anna-Marie Crowhurst
Set in the seventeenth century, Ursula Flight is an unusual girl with a curious mind and a hankering for adventure. As a child she applies herself to learning to read and to learn about the world in ways that girls of her era seldom do, then a chance meeting with an actress leads her to fascination with a vocation with a bad reputation that is outweighed by the appeal of life on the stage.
Ursula is a likeable character from the start. She's intelligent and curious, more interested in an experience for its own merits than in 'what people will think'. However, although her father encourages her learning, when a local Lord takes a fancy to young Ursula, her father effectively orders her to marry him. Needless to say, Ursula is not pleased with being effectively sold into marriage.
The story is mostly told in first person, so we get a look inside the thoughts of a young girl, her fancies, and her unspoken opinions all along. One of her interests is in writing plays, so we are given interludes that she has depicted as a playwrite and have to wonder how much embellishment Ursula has added to her private writings.
Facing some difficult circumstances in an era when women were treated much as property brings out the strength in the character, even through girlish fancies. The story kept me interested all the way through and made me wonder if I would have had the courage to do some of the things she does to overcome obstacles to her happiness.
by Victor Hugo
This Classic was originally written in French and I've found that the translation does make a difference. I have a paperback copy from Penguin, translated by John Sturrock and my first impression was that the writing was very poetic, but I got the free Kindle version from Gutenberg with a different translator because it's easier for me to read on Kindle and in this one, the first chapters felt overly wordy and dragged a little.
I persisted though. I've seen various film versions of this story and didn't recognise most of the names I was reading until we finally meet Quasimodo in chapter five, followed by Esmerelda, though Gringoire who falls foul of the Paris underworld does make an appearance in the old 1939 black and white Charles Laughton version. From Quasimodo's introduction the story digressed into the history of Notre Dame Cathedral.
This one takes a little patience because there are many digressions. Life in fifteenth century Paris under Louis the XI, individual character histories and other commentaries on the times all come together to form a very thorough picture of the circumstances surrounding the familiar story line, but they do break continuity.
The extent to which Quasimodo's story intertwines with Esmerelda's was never fully expressed in the movies. I found the connections very interesting indeed! And Frollo was given a bit of undeserved bad press, especially by Disney. Movies require a villain and a priest immersed in austerity isn't a sympathetic character, but his reasons for adopting Quasimodo were based in charity, not obligation.
Quasimodo's back story is revealed in reverse, first showing us his experience with the Feast of Fools, then later revealing how he came to be ward of Frollo, and after that his origins and how he came into Frollo's path. Then later we move forward.
While the book would never get commercial publication in today's publishing market due to the extent of the digressions, the story is well told as a whole and the Classic enthusiast is likely to enjoy the fullness of the description and depiction of the time and place and how it shapes the events of the plot. I'm glad to have read it now and will look on film repeats with a more detailed knowledge of the whole of the story.
A worthwhile Classic, for those who have the patience to assimilate a fair bit of history between story events.