Sunday, February 28, 2010

West to the Sun by T.G. Good

book cover

West to the Sun
by T.G. Good

Trade Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Outskirts Press
First Released: 2010

Source: Free review copy from author.

Back Cover Description:
"We're moving to Oregon." With these words, Jedediah Symons changes the life of his entire family forever. Leaving behind farm, family, and friends, the Symons begin a journey of thousands of miles across prairies, rivers, and mountains. With nothing more than the possessions that can be packed in a single wagon, their reliance on one another, and their faith in God, they battle storms, animals, hunger, and disease. Will they be able to overcome these obstacles? And how can 11-year-old Jeremiah help his family reach Oregon-their new home?

In West to the Sun, young Jeremiah experiences firsthand the adventure and the heartbreak of the Oregon Trail, the sorrow of leaving everything behind, and the joy of pursuing a new life. From the daily drudgery of hiking through the dry lands of the western frontier, to the extreme excitement of a buffalo hunt, mountains that reach the sky, bighorn sheep that battle for primacy, and rivers that threaten to swamp wagons and drown occupants, Jeremiah grows to appreciate the majesty of the country. Throughout their travels, Jeremiah and his family meet some of the men who made the western frontier: Joseph Robidoux, Jim Bridger, and Peg Leg Smith. Most importantly, Jeremiah learns the importance of family, friends, and faith-and what it means to be a man.

West to the Sun is an enjoyable historical fiction about an 11-year-old boy and his family traveling by wagon train along the Oregon Trail around 1849. Though not heavy-handed with the historical details, this is the sort of book you read because you like (or want to learn more about) this part of history.

Clearly the author carefully researched the physical terrain, the struggles, and the history of the trail. However, I did question a few of the minor details he gave about the animals, food storage, etc. But they weren't details that were critical to the story.

The tone of the novel was formal--partly because the author didn't use contractions (that I spotted). Even the obstacles and struggles were described so briefly and in such a matter-of-fact tone that there was rarely much chance to feel suspense and I, as a reader, usually felt held at a distance.

The characters were interesting and I wanted them to succeed, but they weren't very complex and only Jeremiah changed much.

The main characters were Christian. They did fairly frequently refer to God (as in, "God's amazing handwork" when referring to nature). There wasn't any preaching to the reader, though there was some non-religion-specific moralizing. I don't recall any mentions of Jesus, just God in general.

I don't recall any bad language, and there was no sex. I suspect that the novel would appeal most to tweens or teens (especially boys). Overall, I enjoyed this novel and would recommend it as good, clean reading to those wanting to learn more about the Oregon Trail.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
When Uncle Peter arrived at our house, it was as exciting as Christmas, Declaration Day, and the fall harvest festival combined. The sun was brighter, the water fresher, and the apples crisper and juicier in our mouths. For a ten-year-old boy, life when Uncle Peter was around was a picture of excitement.

Uncle Peter was everything my father was not. His laughter was loud, showing his teeth underneath the beard that he always sported. He knew the games of boys and was never too important or busy to play them. He told stories of the things that he had seen in a way that made you dream of these previously unseen wonders. While his clothes were never stylish in a modern sense, the buckskin that he favored always spoke of daily adventure. The dirt was not that of the sweat in a field, rather it was the dust of the trail taken and not forsaken, the uncertainty of life beyond the horizon.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Giveaway: Recollections of Rosings

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Recollections of Rosings
by Rebecca Ann Collins

Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: SourceBooks Landmark
First Released: 2010

I enjoyed Recollections of Rosings by Rebecca Ann Collins, so I decided to give away my Advanced Reader Copy. You can learn more about the novel by reading my review.

This contest is for USA and Canada residents only.

To enter the giveaway:

1) you can twitter me saying "Hi @genrereviewer. Enter me to win RECOLLECTIONS OF ROSINGS. Another novel by Rebecca Ann Collins is _________." (You need to fill in the name of another book by this author. Hint: Look at this website.)


2) You can leave a comment to this post asking to be entered and giving the name of another book by this author. Please also leave some way for me to contact you--or follow this blog so you can see the winner announcement.

The winner will be randomly selected. I'll announce the winner at noon (Central Time) on March 8, 2010 on this blog. If you entered using twitter, I'll send you a @ or DM telling you of your win and asking where to send the book. If you entered using the blog comments, you'll need to leave your e-mail address or check back to see if you won so you can e-mail me your shipping address. If the winner hasn't responded with a mailing address within four days, I reserve the right to pick a new winner.

I hope everyone has fun with this!

Recollections of Rosings by Rebecca Ann Collins

book cover

Recollections of Rosings
by Rebecca Ann Collins

Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: SourceBooks Landmark
First Released: 2010

Source: Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher.

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
The eighth novel in the bestselling Pemberley Chronicles series, with fascinating social history of the Victorian period as a backdrop.

Catherine Harrison and Becky Tate, daughters of Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins, grew up in the shadow of Rosings Park, domain of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh; but as adults their paths have diverged dramatically.

When a catastrophe at Rosings Park brings Becky back to visit her sister, the two clash over their aspirations for the marriage of Catherine's young daughter, and both women are forced to confront the ghosts of their past—in particular, Lady Catherine's cruelty and deception in separating Catherine, when she was young, from an "unsuitable" man she had begun to love.

Can the two sisters reconcile or will their differing values ruin her daughter's chance at love and prevent Catherine from taking a second chance at happiness?

Recollections of Rosings is a historical romance set in England around the 1860s and is the eighth book in this Pride and Prejudice sequel series. I haven't read the previous novels in the series, but I was able to easily follow what was going on and who was related to whom. (There's also a character list in the back listing who the characters are.)

The original Pride and Prejudice characters played little part in this novel; it was primarily about their children and grandchildren. However, when the Pride and Prejudice characters and events were referred to or showed up, they were consistent with the information given in Pride and Prejudice.

The novel was in a writing style very similar to Austen's in word choice and phrasing. It also had the slightly slower pacing of those novels.

The author focused on the historical events occurring at the time and how it influenced the main characters more than Jane Austen did in her novels. The characters frequently talked about the nation-wide events (like the movement to provide education for the poor), but few details were given about the character's clothing, houses, etc. The main characters tended toward modern sensibilities when it came to the new ideas emerging at the time.

The characters were interesting, and I cared about what happened to them. However, this novel lacked the sharp conflict and heartbreak of Austen's novels. There was little excitement or suspense except in one scene near the very end. The few setbacks were too obviously mere delays rather than actual obstacles to the main characters' gratification. So it was a sweet romance read for the enjoyment of seeing nice characters achieve true happiness (with the added bonus of some interesting historical information worked in).

There was a minor amount of swearing. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as enjoyable, fairly clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Catherine had tried many times during the journey from Derbyshire to Kent, first by train and then by carriage to Rosings, to imagine what it would be like.

From the scant information in Mr. Adam's letter to Mr. Darcy, it had not been easy to create a picture of how Rosings would look after the fire. She could not contemplate it. The scale and grandeur of the building, set as it was in a formal park of much beauty, surrounded by hundreds of acres of orchard, woods, and farmland, had so impressed themselves upon her mind since childhood that it was well nigh impossible for her to picture its destruction.

She felt stunned, disbelieving, exactly as she recalled feeling when told that her father, Reverend Collins, had died suddenly of a heart attack, which had felled him without warning as he inspected the chapel at Rosings with Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Then she had been a mere girl, yet it was she who had had to support her mother and comfort her younger sisters, while still unable to accept it herself.

Which is probably why the shock was so severe, when the carriage turned off the road into the long drive and there, before their eyes, was revealed the terrible truth.

Nothing had prepared them for this.

It was nearly four days since the fire, yet parts of the building were still smoldering--the smoke, acrid and dark, drifting upwards--while everywhere across the once immaculate park was strewn the debris of days past. Scorched walls, crumbling masonry, and shattered windows--all those many dozens of windows that her father used to speak of in a hushed voice, whose glazing had cost Sir Lewis de Bourgh a fortune--shattered now, hung with ragged bits of rich curtains blowing in the wind.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

In the Midst of It All by Tiffany L. Warren

book cover

In the Midst of It All
by Tiffany L. Warren

Trade Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
First Released: 2010

Source: Advanced Reading Copy from the publisher.

Book Description (my take):
After leaving yet another church due to an embarrassing scene caused by Audrey, her schizophrenic mother, Zenovia and Audrey join a new church group called the Brethren of the Sacrifice. The Brethren may have an odd church service, but they warmly welcome the newcomers, befriend them, and make them feel cared for.

Seventeen-year-old Zenovia has concerns about some of the teachings of the Brethren, but she pushes them aside due to her desire to stay near a Brethren boy she has a crush on. Her mother, Audrey, has no concerns. She's found the man she knows she's going to marry due to a vision she had years ago. But after Audrey marries, her husband convinces her to stop taking her medication in faith that God will heal her if she does.

As Audrey loses control again, Zenovia becomes angry and pushes the limits of Brethren rules in rebellion. Can Zenovia find soul-satisfying redemption for her sin within the Brethren or will their method of gaining salvation force her to leave everything she loves behind?

In the Midst of It All is Christian general fiction with a good dose of romance. The novel was a quick read, and the pacing was very good. However, the world-building lacked consistent depth. The scenes involving the Brethren meetings were clearly detailed, but the details surrounding the rest of Zenovia's life and the "outside" lives of the other characters were usually vague to nonexistent.

The characters were realistic and likable. I sometimes felt like they didn't have a lot of depth, though, as usually only surface motivations were explained. I did care about what happened to Zenovia and sped through the heavy foreboding of the first two-thirds of the novel to discover what happened next.

I rather wish the novel had started with a scene showing Audrey "going mental" in their last church prior to the Brethren so I could have felt why Zenovia stayed with the Brethren and emotionally sympathized with it instead of just understood it. It worked as written; I didn't feel the urge to "shake some sense" into Zenovia. But I think I would have been more deeply engaged by the Brethren scenes that way rather than just hurrying through them.

Audrey and Zenovia had visions. Audrey thought they were from God, Zenovia wasn't certain, and the issue was never clearly resolved. Religious beliefs were a main focus of the novel, though mainly the obey-the-rules beliefs of the cult rather than the teachings of traditional Christianity. The author assumed the reader was familiar with what the Bible really teaches on the topics covered as she generally didn't clarify the differences between that and what the cult taught. I don't think most non-Christians would find the novel preachy, but I suspect they might be confused by parts of it.

There was a very minor amount of explicit bad language. There was premarital sex, but it wasn't graphic. Overall, I'd recommend this novel to Christians as good, fairly clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Zenovia heard knocks on the door.

They were not the soft knocks of the children in the apartment next door. There were two of them--a boy and a girl. Always dirty, with unwashed faces and mismatched socks, if any. Their mama was on crack, like so many of the mothers in King Kennedy, one of Cleveland's most notorious housing projects.

The two children visited Zenovia and Audrey every morning looking for breakfast. But it was ten a.m. and they were probably plopped in front of their television, watching the Saturday morning cartoons.

Zenovia waited for the knock again. This time it came with a voice. "Hello? Is anyone home? We'd like to share the Gospel with you today."

Zenovia laughed. She had been thinking that the person behind the door was a drug boy running from the police or a crackhead hustling some stolen property. But it was a lady, and she wanted to share the Gospel. No harm there.

Still, she didn't answer the door.

Audrey rushed from the bedroom of the one-bedroom apartment. She was wearing a ratty yet colorful housecoat. Wild red hair framed her face like a flame, perfectly complementing her freckles and green eyes.

"Why don't you get the door?" she asked.

She didn't wait for a response, but went to the door herself. She swung it open wide and smiled at the two ladies who stood before her.

"Good morning!" Audrey sang.

"Well, good morning to you too!" said the lady.

Audrey asked, "Did I hear y'all say, y'all was talking about the Gospel this morning?"

"Yes, you did. The Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

"Well, come on in and keep talking! Zenovia, something told me we were going to have good news today."

Zenovia felt a smile tickle the sides of her lips. That something was a vision. Audry had been having them since she was a little girl, and Zenovia had started having them when she'd turned twelve. They were haphazard messages, sometimes future, sometimes past. Usually there wasn't enough information contained in the visions to do anything useful. Most times, Zenovia was annoyed by the visions; treated them like unannounced visitors. Just like the two Bible ladies.

[Note: Yes, Zenovia has dark skin like on the book cover.]

Read more from chapter one.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shoofly Pie by Tim Downs

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Shoofly Pie
by Tim Downs

Trade Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Howard Books
First Released: 2003

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description:
Within minutes of a murder, the first fly arrives at the scene. Soon there are hundreds, then thousands, and each one knows the victim's story...

Thirty-year-old Kathryn Guilford turns to Dr. Nick Polchak, the Bug Man, to help her learn the truth about the apparent suicide of her longtime friend and onetime suitor. Polchak introduces her to a mysterious world of blood-seeking flies and flesh-eating beetles. But there's a problem...

Kathryn Guilford has a pathological fear of insects.

Now she must confront her darkest fears to unearth a decade-long conspiracy that threatens to turn her entire world upside down.

Shoofly Pie was an enjoyable contemporary suspense/mystery novel. The mystery was fairly easy to figure out (this was a group read, and we all agreed on the who-done-it and why long before the end), but the detective also figured out the who-done-it at about the same time. Their problem was finding the proof that would stand up in court while surviving the ever-increasing body-count. So the suspense was sustained throughout the novel.

The characters were fairly complex. Nick was enjoyably quirky (though he started out as a jerk), and there was an underlying humor to the story. Nick's parts were very funny, and all of the characters--even the minor ones--were engaging.

My main complaint was the excessive level of detail given in two dramatic scenes that were supposed to be happening breath-takingly quickly. For example, in the prologue, the author gave extreme detail about the cars, how they were placed in relation to each other, personal details about a very minor character and his dogs, what the beehives looked like, and so on. I couldn't tell what details I should try to remember out of the onslaught, and the detail level slowed the pacing so much that the suspense was lost. Most of the novel hit the right level of detail, but these two "supposed to be going fast" scenes didn't work for me.

I was also disappointed in the climax. In order to have a huge, dramatic ending, both Nick and Kathryn did unexplained and very stupid actions that weren't in-character (since they were previously smart and quick-thinking in similar circumstances). The climax turned into a Hollywood suspense movie cliche--though with some funny, unique details--and was very predictable.

The examining-the-body scenes were graphic and gross, but Nick added such humor to the scenes that the gross details didn't bother even our normally easy-to-gross-out listener. I don't recall any bad language, and there was no sex. I'm looking forward to reading the next novel in the series. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as humorous, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Cary, North Carolina, April 21, 1999

Nick Polchak rapped his knuckles on the frame of the open doorway. He glanced back at the Wake County Sheriff's Department police cruiser blocking the driveway, orange and blue lights silently rotating.

"Yo!" Nick called into the house. "Coming in!"

A fresh-faced sheriff's deputy in khaki short sleeves poked his head around the corner and beckoned him in. Nick wondered where they got these kids. He looked younger than some of his students.

Nick stepped into the entryway. Dining room room on the right, living room on the left. It was a typical suburban Raleigh home, a colonial five-four-and-a-door with white siding and black shutters. A mahogany bureau stood just inside the door. At its base lay three pair of shoes, one a pair of black patent leathers. Nick shook his head.

He knew the layout by heart: stairway on the left, powder room on the right, down a short hallway was the kitchen, and the family room beyond that.

Nick paused in the second doorway and took a moment to study the young officer. He stood nervously, awkwardly, constantly checking his watch. His right hand held a handkerchief cupped over his nose and mouth, and he winced as he sucked in each short gulp of air. Nick followed the officer's frozen gaze to the right; the decomposing body of a middle-aged woman lay sprawled across the white Formica island in the center of the kitchen.

Nick knocked again.

"Officer...Donnelly, is it? I'm Dr. Nick Polchak. Are you the first one here?"

Read the rest of chapter one.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

First Test by Tamora Pierce

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First Test
by Tamora Pierce

Mass Market Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Random House
First Released: 1999

Source: My personal library.

Back Cover Description:
"Girls are fragile, more emotional, easier to frighten." This is the typical attitude that Keladry of Midelan is up against. Kel is the first girl in ten years to take advantage of the decree that permits girls to train for the knighthood, and she is about to smash everyone's preconceptions about what girls can and cannot do...

Set in Tortall during the reign of King Jonathan III and Queen Thayet, First Test launches the Protector of the Small series, which chronicles the coming of age of a heroine who is far more than she seems.

The Protector of the Small series is a favorite of mine (an adult) and the 12-year-old girl I mentor. I had a concern about a statement in book three (Kel's mother tells her there are no drawbacks to sleeping around if you're not concerned about keeping the noble bloodlines pure...though Kel is prevented by circumstances from following through on this advice during the series), but otherwise the books had a great message.

Kel is a determined young woman who stands up for what's right, works hard to achieve her dreams, and uses her strength to protect rather than bully those who can't stand up for themselves. I love this girl, while my mentee mainly talks about all the animals in the book.

First Test is the first book of the series. The pacing and world-building were very good, and the situations were realistic--Kel dealt with unfair treatment, how to deal with bullies, and her fear of heights. The bad guy characters were a bit stock "boarding school bully," but I enjoyed the variety of engaging good-guy characters and the animals that Kel took under her protection (an ornery horse and some courtyard sparrows in this book).

Although in a medieval-type setting, the good-guy characters had some modern sensibilities about the treatment of the lower classes. (Which is fine; I'm just pointing it out.) The novel had made-up gods and goddesses, magical creatures, and typical fantasy-magic. Kel doesn't have magical abilities, though. There was no bad language and no sex. Overall, I'd highly recommend this book as fun, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Alanna the Lioness, the King's Champion, could hardly contain her glee. Baron Piers of Mindelan had written to King Jonathan to say that his daughter wished to be a page. Alanna fought to sit still as she watched Wyldon of Cavall, the royal training master, read the baron's letter. Seated across his desk from them, the king watched the training master as sharply as his Champion did. Lord Wyldon was known for his dislike of female warriors.

It had been ten long years since the proclamation that girls might attempt a page's training. Alanna had nearly given up hope that such a girl--or the kind of family that would allow her to do so--existed in Tortall, but at last she had come forward. Keladry of Mindelan would not have to hide her sex for eight years as Alanna had done. Keladry would prove to the world that girls could be knights. And she would not be friendless. Alanna had plans to help Keladry through the first few years. It never occurred to the Champion that anyone might object.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Entertaining Angels by Judy Duarte

book cover

Entertaining Angels
by Judy Duarte

Trade Paperback: 294 pages
Publisher: Kensington Books
First Released: 2009

Author Website

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description:
From the author of the heartwarming Mulberry Park comes an uplifting, unforgettable new novel that proves that though our path through life sometimes takes us in unforeseen directions, it may also lead us to the places and the people we need most...

As a teen, Kristy Smith spent her nights dreaming of a college scholarship--dreams that ended abruptly when she became pregnant. Now Kristy works hard to support her young son, Jason, and her ailing grandmother, staving off regrets about the chances that slipped away.

When Craig Houston became a pastor, he envisioned making a difference in some distant, poverty-stricken country, not dealing with youth groups and shut-ins in a tidy suburb like Fairbrook. But things aren't always what they seem. Soon, Craig finds locals who need guidance even if they'll never admit it--like Kristy's best friend, Shana, who's always strived to be the perfect daughter; Renee, a pregnant teen trying to make it on her own; and Kristy herself, a vibrant and loving young woman unaware of just how much she has to offer. One by one, the residents of Fairbrook are about to learn that the future can surprise and redeem us, especially when there is courage and true friendship in abundance, and a little help from an unexpected source...

Entertaining Angels is religious general fiction about people who feel inadequate, unloved, or regretful and beaten down by past mistakes and sorrows but who discover God is at work in their lives. It's an uplifting and inspirational novel that reminded me of the TV show Touched by an Angel, but from the human's viewpoint and no big "I am an angel" reveal at the end.

I really bonded with the characters and wanted to know what happened to them. They were smart, but imperfect, and had realistic struggles and regrets. The world-building was good, and the pacing was very good.

Many of the characters were Christians, but they only referred to God, not Jesus. There was no preaching or "Jesus is the only way" comments. Non-Christian readers would probably enjoy this novel unless they're strongly anti-God.

There was no sex. The minor amount of bad language was in the "he cussed" style. Overall, I'd recommend this novel as well-written and enjoyable clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Renee Delaney trudged along the sidewalk on her way to the bus depot, her leather soles scraping against a layer of city grit on concrete.

It was too bad she hadn't put on her wannabe Sketchers when she'd left the house, but she'd been in a hurry and had slipped into the only other shoes she owned--a pair of worn-out brown sandals that had been resting near the cot in the back room where she'd slept. Now her toes were cold, and she had a sore spot just below the inside of her ankle, where the frayed strap had rubbed the skin raw.

The chill in the air caused her to shiver, and she drew her fists into the sleeves of her sweat shirt, which she'd chosen to wear because the extra-large garment hid the growing bump of her stomach. She'd never been fat in her life, but she wouldn't stress about that now, or she might freak out at the thought of how big she was going to get.

Up ahead, a man wearing a tattered gray trench coat with a dirty, red-plaid lining pushed off the wall he'd been slumped against. As he approached, he grinned. "Hey there, little girl."

Her stomach clenched, and her heart rate spiked. She knew better than to look away from him, so she eyed him warily and continued walking at the same pace.

As he approached, his smile broadened, revealing discolored teeth, the front one chipped. "Where you goin', girl?"

Yeah, right. Like she really wanted him to know. She narrowed her eyes in a don't-mess-with-me glare, which worked--sort of. He did walk past her, but his arm bumped her shoulder in the process.

He reeked of stale cigarette smoke and sweat on top of sweat. Cheap booze, too. And the horrible smell lingered, even after he passed her by.

She suspected he was homeless, just like she was.

Oh, God, she thought. Don't let me end up smelling like that guy.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon

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The Rose of Sebastopol
by Katharine McMahon

Trade Paperback: 412 pages
Publisher: Berkley
First Released: 2007, 2010

Author Website

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description (slightly modified from author's website):
In 1854, the Crimean War grinds on, and as the bitter winter draws near, the battlefield hospitals fill with dying men. In defiance of Florence Nightingale, Rosa Barr - young, headstrong and beautiful - travels to Balaklava, determined to save as many of the wounded as she can. For Mariella Lingwood, Rosa's cousin, the war is contained within the pages of her scrapbook, in her London sewing circle, and in the letters she receives from Henry, her fiance, a celebrated surgeon who has also volunteered to work within the shadow of the guns.

When Henry falls ill and is sent to recuperate in Italy, Mariella impulsively decides she must go to him. But upon their arrival at his lodgings, she and her maid make a heartbreaking discovery: Rosa has disappeared and Henry is desperate to find her.

Following the trail of her elusive and captivating cousin, Mariella's epic journey takes her from the domestic restraint of Victorian London to the ravaged landscape of the Crimea and the tragic city of Sebastopol. In the Crimea, she encounters Rosa's dashing stepbrother, a reckless cavalry officer whose complex past - and future - is inextricably bound up with her own as they try to discover what happened to Rosa.

As her quest leads her deeper into the dark heart of the conflict, Mariella's ordered world begins to crumble and she finds she has much to learn about secrecy, faithfulness and love. But, in the thick of a war fought on more fronts than one, she also discovers a strength and passion she never knew she possessed.

The Rose of Sebastopol is a historical (with a bit of mystery) set mainly in 1844 and 1854-1855 in England, Italy, and the Crimea. If you like nuanced historical novels, you'll probably find this one a lovely read.

The historical details were expertly woven into the story background, bringing the society, setting, etc., vividly alive in my imagination. Yet the details served the story rather than being the point of the story. The level of detail given for the Crimea landscape made me wonder if the author had really been there (which, according to her website, she has). The settings varied widely, from higher-class home life to various hospitals to a lead mill to the war front, yet they all had depth.

The characters were complex and nuanced. I didn't particularly like any of the characters, but I understood why they acted the way they did and wanted to know what happened to them all. The novel maintained a nice level of suspense that kept me turning the pages.

The story switched between Mariella's childhood, events in 1854 leading up to Rosa going to the war hospitals, and what happened in 1855 after Henry turned up sick and Rosa went missing. I didn't find these different time lines difficult to keep track of, though, and this set-up kept the suspense up for me--how did all three time lines tie together to explain what had happened?

Though Mariella was the point of view character, the story was about Rosa--it started with Rosa ("what happened to Rosa?") and ended with Rosa (solving of what happened and why). Mariella's future wasn't neatly tied up for the reader, though it was clear where things were headed. I usually hate untidy endings for POV characters, yet I didn't feel like I was left hanging with things left unresolved. While I would have liked to know more, her ending fit what she learned in the novel--that unexpected, uncontrollable things happen so don't plan too firmly too far ahead. In a way, the story structure was that of a mystery, with the story ending when the mystery was solved.

There was a minor amount of swearing and a very minor amount of cussing. There was unmarried sex with a very small amount of explicit foreplay (removing clothing, upper body touching). There was a lot of sexual tension, but not really of the erotic kind. Overall, I'd highly recommend this novel was well-written, fairly clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Italy, 1855

We arrived in Narni late on a Sunday evening. Although the door to the Hotel Fina was locked the driver roused a servant who stumbled out with creased shirt tails, brought in our luggage and showed us to a bedroom that smelled of unwashed feet. Nora took away my cloak and bonnet, then I snuffed the candles and lay down. A man was shouting in the distance, perhaps the worse for drink. Instead of sleeping I rode through the night as if still in a carriage jolting over badly made roads across the plains of Italy. Eventually I heard a clock strike five and the rumble of a cart in the square outside and I fell asleep to the sound of women’s raised voices and the clash of a pail against stone.

I woke to a blade of sunlight sliced between the shutters – it was nearly mid-morning. Nora was standing over me with a breakfast tray and a letter from Mother which I didn’t read. None of the clothes in my portmanteau was fit to wear, being too crushed, so I put on my travelling dress again and said we would go out at once. In the lobby I struggled to make myself understood by the proprietress, who was dressed in black and whose mouth was pulled down at the ends, as if from despair, but when I showed her Henry’s address she drew us a rough map.

Narni was an ancient town built near the top of a hill and the Hotel Fina was at its centre, in a little square. What with the bunch of women round a fountain and the confusion of streets and shopfronts there was no telling which direction was the right one so we set off at random up a flight of steps and under an arch. The sun was very hot, the street oppressively narrow and our travelling clothes too heavy so we stopped under a shady porch while I consulted the map.

A cluster of children formed around us, I asked one of them for ‘Via del Monte, Signora Critelli?’, and he set off back the way we’d come. We followed him, recrossed the little square, and this time plunged down a steep street with the houses built so close on either side I could almost touch them. Washing of the most intimate nature hung from balconies or was suspended like dingy carnival flags from wall to wall. I was surprised to find Henry lodging in such a poor quarter.

Eventually the child paused in front of an open doorway where there was a smell of wet stone and flowers because someone had just watered a pot of narcissi. I hovered at the entrance, my resolve gone, wishing that I had never left England or that at the very least had sent Henry a note to let him know I was on my way. Now that I was here I wondered whether he would think it appropriate. I was also afraid of seeing him ill. What if he didn’t recognise me, or I him? Unlike Rosa, I never knew what to do in the face of sickness. I glanced at Nora but she raised an eyebrow as if to say: You got us into this; don’t expect any encouragement from me.

In the end I crept along the passage to a kitchen where a woman stood with her arms immersed in a wash bowl. She squinted at me through the droplets of water that trickled into her eyes.

‘Dr Henry Thewell?’ I asked.

She gaped, dried her face first on a towel then on her skirt, leaned her hand on the door frame and let fly a torrent of Italian which ended at last in a question.
I shook my head. ‘Non capisco. Inglese. Mi chiamo Mariella Ling-wood. Ma-ri-ella. I am engaged to be married to Dr Thewell. Dov’e Henry Thewell?’

I had learned from watching my father that it is better, in moments of crisis, to speak quietly rather than to shout. Certainly Signora Critelli calmed down; she went on talking but less rapidly, wiped her hands again, gestured that I should get out of the way and led me up a narrow flight of stairs to the first floor where she knocked sharply on a door, flung it wide and announced me with the words: ‘Signorina Inglese.’

I took a step further, and another.

Read more from chapter one.

Friday, February 5, 2010

They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer

book cover

They Found Him Dead
by Georgette Heyer

Trade Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: SourceBooks Landmark
First Released: 1937, 2009

Publisher's book page

Source: Review copy from publisher.

Back Cover Description:
One heir after another turns up dead…

Silas Kane's sixtieth birthday party is marred by argument and dissension amongst his family, and then the next morning, Kane is found dead. The coroner's verdict of death by misadventure would seem to confirm that Silas accidentally lost his way in the fog. But then his heir is shot, and threats are made against the next in line to inherit his fortune. The redoubtable Superintendent Hannasyde is called in to investigate. All clues point to an apparently innocuous eighty-year-old woman, but as the Inspector delves further into the case, he discovers that nothing is quite as it seems…

They Found Him Dead is a mystery set in the 1930s in England. I think this is my favorite of the Heyer mysteries that I've read so far. The characters were nicer and less, um, neurotic, than normal, so I actually liked them rather than simply finding them interesting or amusing. The humor in this book was provided by Timothy's youthful ideas and antics regarding the murder. I found all of the characters complex and engaging.

As usual, Heyer introduced a large number of characters at the very beginning, many of whom had non-typical connections to each other. This made for a somewhat slow start as I tried to figure out all the "who is who," but the pacing picked up and was excellent after that.

The mystery was very clever. I did guess correctly who-did-it and why about halfway through, but only because I've read way too many mysteries. And I still thoroughly enjoyed discovering if each new clue supported my theory or not. One thing that I thought particularly clever was that Heyer had her Inspector go through all the possible culprits the same way the reader is so it's not simply a matter of picking the one suspect that no one is looking at closely.

There was very minimal bad language and no sex. Overall, I'd highly recommend this mystery as well-written and entertaining clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
Miss Allison thought that Silas Kane's sixtieth birthday party was going off rather better than anyone had imagined it would. Such family gatherings — for the Mansells, through long business partnership with Silas, might almost be ranked as relatives — were, in Miss Allison's sage opinion, functions to be attended in a spirit of considerable trepidation. Nor had this one promised well at its inception. To begin with, Silas was at polite variance with old Joseph Mansell. Their disagreement was purely on a matter of business, but although Joseph Mansell, a husband and a father, had existence outside the offices of Kane and Mansell, Silas and his business were one and indivisible. He was not, at the best of times, a man who contributed largely to the gaiety of an evening party. He was invariably civil, in an old-world style that seemed to suit his neat little imperial and the large stock-ties he wore, and he would listen as patiently to a discussion on Surréalism as to the description of the bird life on the Farne Islands which was being imparted to him at the moment by Agatha Mansell. Both subjects bored him, but he inclined his head with an assumption of interest, smiled kindly and coldly, and said Indeed! or Is that so? at the proper moments.

Miss Allison, glancing from his thin, pale face, with its austere mouth and its calm, aloof eyes, to Mrs Mansell's countenance, wondered whether a realisation of her host's complete indifference to her conversation would shake Agatha Mansell's magnificent assurance. Probably it would not. Mrs Mansell had been to college in the days when such a distinction earned for a woman the title of Blue-Stocking and the right to think herself superior to her less fortunate sisters. She had preserved through thirty years this pleasant feeling of superiority and an alarmingly cultured voice which could make itself heard without the least vulgar effort above any number of less commanding accents.

'We were disappointed at seeing no gunnets,' announced Mrs Mansell. 'Of course, when we were on Ionah last year we saw hundreds of gunnets.'

'Ah, is that so indeed?' said Silas Kane.

'I saw a film about a lot of gannets once,' suddenly remarked young Mr Harte. He added disparagingly: 'It wasn't too bad.'

Neither Silas nor Mrs Mansell paid any heed to this contribution to the conversation, and young Mr Harte, who was rising fifteen, returned unabashed to the rending of a drum-stick.

Read more of chapter one.