The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker

I can’t tell you how glad I am that I stumbled across this book!  I was in the mood to go searching for some new Victorian historical fiction, and came across it.  I was aware that there was a paranormal element to it, which was ok with me.  When I started reading, I was a little surprised by just how prominent the paranormal/fantasy aspect was – and with a stack of library books due back shortly, I briefly considered putting it down in favor of something else.  Boy, am I glad I stuck with it instead.

Percy Parker is a young girl in Victorian London, and very unique.  Brought up in a convent, shy and timid Percy is an albino with the ability to see and communicate with ghosts.  Add in her extraordinary language abilities and the visions that come to her a night, and Percy knows she is anything but normal.

When she enrolls at Athens Academy in London, she meets the brooding and mysterious Professor Rychman.  Although she finds him intimidating, she is very much drawn to him – but he has  a secret of his own.  Since childhood, Alexi Rychman and five others have made up The Guard, a group of six who protect London from the spirits that inhabit it.  With a Prophecy that they will soon find a seventh, and Alexi’s belief that she will also be the woman he is meant to love, tensions in The Guard are high.  Percy is a great new character, and I found her very easy to relate to – maybe having always been a bit shy myself helped with that.

I loved Hieber’s style, and while cross-genre novels like this may not work for everybody, this one combined all of my favorites and it absolutely worked for me!  Victorian historical fiction with a Gothic edge, fantasy, and a romance with great characters (who also have great chemistry!) made such a great combination.  The first half was a little on the slow side, but once I hit around page 150, I was hooked and didn’t want to put it down!  I’m very much looking forward to the sequel due out in May, and I’ll be on the lookout for more from Hieber in the future.

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, and more!

Before I get into my review of Peter Ackroyd’s newest novel, I wanted to mention that Karin’s Book Nook is having a contest for a signed copy of Linger, the upcoming sequel to Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver!!  Shiver was just so good, and I don’t know about you, but I would love to win this one!  Here’s her post about the contest. I’m really looking forward to reading this one either way…loving the cover, too!

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, so on to the The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein.  I love neo-Victorian novels.  And Victorian novels.  And anything to do with that era.  I really do.  So I really wanted to like this, but, well, I didn’t.

It was rather slow to start for me. That may partially be because this has been a stressful week for me, but it finally picked up about 150 pages in.

Ackroyd has a great style – I didn’t feel so much like I was reading a neo-Victorian novel as I was the real thing at times. His settings and descriptions were wonderful, and the overall atmosphere of this was great.

As far as story and plot go, however, I wasn’t all that impressed by this one. It has an interesting take on the tale, with Frankenstein being a friend of the Shelleys rather than merely the subject of Mary’s tale (which does make an appearance, by the way), but something in the execution was lacking for me. The “twist” was obvious to me well before I got to the end, so I was disappointed by that as well.

This one gets three stars from me…I considered giving it two, but it gets an extra one for style.

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

51jim7NTY8LI haven’t read much Byatt since I finished my thesis last spring, and I didn’t realize how much I missed her writing. This was somewhat different (for me, at least) from her other works that I’ve read, in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. It spans social and political changes over a rather large period of time, centering primarily on the Wellwood family and others that have entered their social circles at some point or another. The large cast of characters could make it a bit difficult to remember who was who at some points, but overall I think I enjoyed all of them – they all had their roles to play in the big picture.

Now, my thesis was on her use of fairy tales and fairy tale elements – if she’d written this novel a few years ago, I probably could have centered the whole thesis on it! Fairy tales are vital to this story. Olive Wellwood is a writer of children’s stories in Victorian (and later, Edwardian) England, and her fairy stories and themes almost define her family.

I especially loved her portrayal of women in this novel. Olive’s children (and their childhood playmates) are growing up in a time when it is becoming accepted for “respectable” women to hold “real” jobs – but often at the cost of any romantic desires or chances of marriage. Dorothy (who wants to pursue the career of a doctor/surgeon) is perhaps the most affected by the double standard, observing that although there are female doctors with husbands, those are few and far between. Griselda and Florence grapple with this decision as well. One can pursue a career, but by the time her studies are through in her late 20’s, she would be considered something of an old maid. One of my favorite passages in the novel that sums this struggle up nicely comes on page 495:

“Florence was in a turmoil. She had promised herself to Geraint, and she was now promising herself to years of study. She did not think Newnham College would care for married students. She wished to disturb her father, at some ferocious girlish level, and felt – she was not really thinking – that the engagement would do that.
And yet – like Griselda, she did want to think. And she did see her future as, perhaps, the choice between thinking and sex.”

Byatt has always done a wonderful job of exploring the roles that women play in various situations, past and present. This novel is no exception.

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

41UcQIQgnaL**spoiler alert!**

 

Where to begin??

For the record, I spent the last…hmm, 4 hours reading this to finish it, when I really should have been doing homework. Oops. But it got to that point where you just have to find out how it ends – the point of no return, shall we call it. Once that jerk took Jem, that was it for me. I looked at the clock, and said “Screw it.”

Speaking of Jem, that means that Roger has gone back for no reason at all, and has no way of knowing this unless Brianna (who else?) goes back as well to tell him! If something happens to Roger after all of this, I will be very upset – though I don’t think Diana would do it. Speaking of this whole situation, the guy’s last name is Cameron, which I totally didn’t catch on to until I saw his name again when he showed up in the study. So I’m thinking he’s a descendant of Jocasta (and also related to Bree?), knows about the gold and recognized it for what it was, and now wants to claim it again. I knew he was up to no good with Roger’s book.

I’d accidentally seen a bit of a review earlier that was upset about the cliffhanger ending. For a good 30 pages or so I was absolutely terrified that this one would end with Claire still thinking Jamie was dead, and I really don’t think I could have dealt with that for the next however many years until book 8! Not that they got much of a reunion, and Jamie certainly isn’t out of the woods yet, but at least they can both live (relatively) happily in my mind until then!

I wasn’t terribly interested in the adventures of Willie and Lord John throughout the book though – at least until they became intertwined with Jamie & Claire’s story, which I knew they would be eventually. I was always happy to see that the next chapter was about Jamie & Claire or Brianna & Roger.

It really is the characters that make these books though. When I sat down to start this book, it was so nice to reacquaint myself with them, and read about them again. They truly do become like old friends, and I realized (while fuming that Claire might not find out about Jamie, etc.) how desperately I wanted them to be happy. I know it will be a while until I can visit them again (unless I reread the series, which I very well might – at least the first!), but I do look forward to it!

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

51-GmB+jGVLReally lovely – well written, and the story pulled me along the whole time.  Buchanan’s descriptions of the river are fantastic.  Although I’ve never been to Niagara Falls, the danger and power that underlie its beauty were easy to imagine.

I do wish I got to know Tom better – throughout the novel, he almost seemed more of a legend than a man.  Part of this probably comes from the chapters he is absent, away at war.  When he returns, he has more depth to him, clearly changed and disturbed by what he saw.  After that subsided, and he became himself again, I realized I wasn’t really sure what that meant.  I really liked him as a character, I only wish I knew more about him – how he was in everyday life, not just in his daring during (and his modesty after) a rescue that we saw so often.

Bess is a strong character.  We see her go from living the life of luxury to having to work to support herself, and the bumps she hits along the way.  Even years later, she wants that house on May Avenue, even if it’s more than they need.  She seemed very real to me.

I really enjoyed this novel.  A beautifully written account of a family’s life in Niagara Falls, and how the river becomes irreversibly intertwined with their lives.

*Review of ARC

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

51QWTugZNbL ** spoiler alert **

This was an okay weekend read. I think I was most turned off by the fact that Connie herself winds up having these magical powers – if it had stayed away from that angle, I would have enjoyed it more. The premise was really interesting – grad student stumbles upon undiscovered Salem witch (all the more interesting to me, being from MA), and has to hunt down her ancient book of spells, etc., and discover her story. But then it’s – “Oh, by the way, she’s your ancestor and you’re a witch. Your mom is too, but she never bothered to tell you any of this. AND every time a woman in your family falls in love, hubby dies in a terrible freak accident.” I guess it was just a little too much.

Not bad if you’re looking for something to entertain you, or if you’re super interested in the Salem trials. It could be pretty predictable, and Connie wasn’t too smart herself sometimes – I mean, reading the journal, it’s only after five entries that mention delivering babies that she catches on the girl is a midwife. Really? I thought it was a given right off the bat with the first entry, and then two pages later this comes to her as some kind of an epiphany.

I also wish a bit more time was spent on Deliverance’s side of the story, and on the book itself – she finally finds it, and we really don’t get much about it. Overall, just an okay read.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

51KBQPF3ZDL._SL500_If you’re looking for something fun to read that will hold your attention, you’ve come to the right place…or rather, right book. No, it’s not exactly a great literary work of historical fiction, but reading isn’t just about literary value, it’s about entertainment as well.

Willig has taken some liberties with dates and names (as she explains in the historical notes at the end of the novel), and the main characters are fictional. Despite that, it still remains fairly historically accurate, although the heroine and her companions do some things that ladies of the time would very likely not have done. If you can look past that and just enjoy the book, you’ll have a lot of fun with this one.

The novel has elements of a number of genres – romance, adventure, and mystery, to name a few – so there’s more or less something for everyone. I knew the whole time I was reading it how predictable it was, but Willig actually surprised me in the end by proving me wrong with a twist or two.

Even though I know it was a little bit silly, and not exactly serious, I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. It will definitely provide a nice break from reading the heavy, academic stuff (enjoyable though it is) that comes with being an English major.