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The Woman In White

thewomaninwhiteAuthor: Wilkie Collins
First Published: 1860
Publisher: Modern Library
668 pages (paperback)

I’ve had this sitting on my bookshelf for quite a long time. It was part of a 3 classics for $10 deal from a long time ago. There were 2 classics I wanted, but I did not know what to get for a 3rd. So I randomly chose this one, The Woman In White. Never heard of it before then. It ended up being one of my better decisions because this book was absolutely wonderful to read!

What I love about this book is how the plot went from being relatively simple to something so big and complex. Like a seed, it grew into a large tree with sprawling branches. Told in different points of views by various characters, The Woman In White begins with a drawing master named Walter Hartright. A bit down on his luck, his good friend Professor Pesco manages to find Hartright a job as a drawing instructor for two ladies at Limmeridge House. The night before his journey, he runs into a mysterious woman dressed all in white, on the road to London. She becomes quite excited to know that Hartright is heading to Limmeridge House, a place she remembers fondly from her childhood. After assisting her with directions, Hartright finds out that the woman he just helped is a patient who has escaped from an insane asylum.

Upon arriving at Limmeridge House, Hartright meets his new pupils: Marian and Laura. Hartright and Marian develop an instant friendship, bonding over the mysterious woman in white he encountered and wondering who she could be and what fond memories she has had at Limmeridge House. However, Hartright’s heart falls for Laura instead, who coincidentally bears a striking resemblance to the mysterious woman in white. Laura, too, appears to also have fallen for Hartright; unfortunately, she is already betrothed to the baron, Percival Glyde. Marian implores Hartright to not upset the family by respectfully asking him to leave before the obvious attraction between Laura and Hartright interfere with the already established engagement, which Hartright agrees to.

As if being heartbroken wasn’t enough, Laura receives a mysterious letter from anonymous defaming her future husband, Percival, and telling her not to marry him. Percival Glyde himself comes to Limmeridge House to set matters straight — he determines that the letter is from the mysterious woman in white, who is named Anne Catherick. He knows her mother, a faithful servant from the past, and helped sought medical help for her disturbed daughter by paying for her stay in the asylum. Thus, Anne hates Percival. Explanation understood, Laura marries Percival and becomes Mrs. Glyde.

The courteous and polite Percival Glyde suddenly transforms into a controlling and short tempered version of the baron. He knows Laura has fallen in love with another and is frustrated that she does her duties as his wife with no love.  He is also in some financial trouble and is angry that he has to ask his wife for money. Laura and Marian, in the mean time, have become more interested in who Anne Catherick is, who continues to try to contact Laura, but at the same time, have to fear Percival’s foreign friend, Count Fosco. Fosco is an incredibly cunning man and appears to be mixed up somehow in Percival’s financial issues. Part of his involvement is to stop Laura and Marian from contacting Anne Catherick, as she knows Percival’s terrible Secret, which could be the downfall of both Percival and Fosco.

You might be thinking that I just gave away most of the plot — crazily enough, that’s all just the BEGINNING! The story becomes incredibly layered and complex from this starting point, and yes, Hartright does appear again later in the story. I am still in awe at what I have read. They call this a ‘sensation’ novel and I understand what they mean. We have lots and lots of plot here — spying, family secrets, insanity, secret identities, kidnapping — you name it, it’s got it. It’s also a mystery novel, sort of, because of all the secrets that come to light, which Hartright and Marian try so hard to solve for the sake of their beloved Laura.

What I also like about this book is that it’s a book that was written in 1860 about that time period.  Therefore, it does what few historical novels can do — it truly immerses you into the time period. Everything feels so authentic about the time, from the language used to write to the manners and courtesies expected of the characters in each of their stations in life, to their hobbies, etc.

I am just so, SO pleased with this novel. I surprised myself by enjoying it so damn much. I know some people are hesitant to read older books because the language isn’t contemporary, and I myself am like that sometimes too, so I completely understand; however, this book was surprisingly easy to read, and easy to become addicted to. I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a good classic novel to read, and I hope you will enjoy it too!

My Rating:

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The Kingmaker’s Daughter

the-kingmakers-daughterAuthor: Philippa Gregory
First Published: August 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Series: The Cousins’ War #4
409 pages (paperback)

Ahh, I would have read this sooner but I wanted to buy it and I didn’t want to buy it in hardcover ’cause I’m cheap. Well, finally, it’s out in paperback and I finished reading it — so glad it lives up to my expectations of Gregory’s Cousins’ War series, especially since the last one on Jacquetta was okay, but a bit duller than what I expected. Also, I had little idea who Jacquetta was and frankly, just didn’t care about her. This one, The Kingmaker’s Daughter, is on Anne Neville (the wife of the infamous King Richard III), which to me, is considerably more interesting. By the way, I do talk about the story points rather freely — I don’t consider them spoilers because it’s, well, historical. But if you haven’t a clue as to what happens to Anne and Richard and all these historical figures, perhaps skip this review :)

In this book, it describes Anne’s life from a young girl to adulthood. She is the daughter of Richard Neville, who is known as the Kingmaker because whoever he supports becomes king. The fact that he is a strategist and that he only has 2 daughters and no sons means Anne and her sister Isabel find themselves becoming pawns in their father’s grand plans. One way or another, he vows to make one of his daughters queen and hopefully, a grandson will follow, eventually putting a king with Neville blood in his veins on the throne.

Anne is the younger sister and finds herself in a sort of rivalry with her sister, both wanting to be their father’s favourite daughter, both wanting to be Queen of England. However, the current Queen of England, Elizabeth Woodville, hates the Neville family with all her heart and Anne fears her greatly. She believes Elizabeth Woodville to be a witch, and is afraid of her wrath and powers. Fortune’s wheel rises and fall, and all the players in this story find themselves rising high and falling very low as well.

I really enjoyed this book a lot! I’ve never really noticed Anne Neville before this book, to be honest. Anne Neville is a character that is usually just brushed over in novels (granted, not much is known about her) and her perspective, as well as Richard’s, is a refreshing one. Often they are portrayed as villains because it’s all too easy to do so. In this book, Anne and Richard are devoted to the previous king, King Edward V, and are shown to be loyal to him to the very end. Everything they did was for the sake of Edward’s legacy and the country of England. Elizabeth Woodville is portrayed as a villainous witch; Anne trembles with fright just thinking of her. Many people think Elizabeth Woodville is a witch in this story, but there is no proof that she actually is one, by the way. Anyway, I love this flip of portrayals! Especially since I remember reading The White Queen by the same author, and loving Elizabeth Woodville and thinking, “Oh god, everyone is so mean to her, what a hard life this poor woman is living!” And then, in this book, I think, “That Elizabeth Woodville, she is so malicious and vindictive, sheesh! Poor Anne, none of this is her fault at all!”

I’ve seen some one-line reviews that call this book a sister story, but I don’t really think it is. Not that that’s a problem or anything, just something I noticed. While Anne and her sister Isabel’s rivalry figure prominently in the beginning of the story and explains Anne’s desire to become Queen, after Isabel dies, the rivalry dies off too and it’s all about Anne. I did enjoy reading about their relationship though, and it did bring back positive memories of Philippa Gregory’s other book on sisters, The Other Boleyn Girl.

I wasn’t too crazy about what I considered the climax of the story — when Anne finally became queen. I kind of expected more pomp and excitement from Anne when it happened, but it was so low-key. Anne talks about how she was born to be queen, and how she has fulfilled her father’s ambitions, but there wasn’t anything more than that. It was a little disappointing to be honest. I thought I would feel happy for our protagonist when she finally succeeds over Elizabeth Woodville, her lifelong enemy, but when Anne became Queen, I didn’t feel much of anything at all.

But the lack of excitement at the climax hardly puts a damper to the rest of the story. I feel like I learned so much more about the War of the Roses by reading this book from another character’s perspective, and a minor character at that too. It had everything I wanted — lots of historical details, creativity without straying too far from history, great plotting and pacing. I look forward to her fifth book on Elizabeth of York very much!

My Rating:

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The Long Walk

thelongwalkAuthor: Stephen King
First Published: July 1979
Publisher: Signet
370 pages (mass market paperback)

So, I have this sister who is a huge, die hard Stephen King fan. She loves all his books, owns all of them and has read nearly all of them. For years she has tried to get me to read one of this books, but I kept turning her down because I know Stephen King writes a lot of horror and I’m not a horror fan at all. Not just with books, I don’t watch horror films either and I don’t go in haunted houses, or do anything scary really. I don’t like being scared or grossed out or anything like that! :( Anyway, she finally got me to read The Long Walk because it’s not horror and I finally decided to try it.

The Long Walk is about a fictional event where 100 young teenage boys walk along a road through several states, in a sort of race. The last one to survive wins and the prize is that they can have anything they desire. What I mean by surviving is, there are a set of rules that the participants must obey or else they will be shot. The most obvious rule is that you must keep walking at a certain pace, forwards, no matter what. You get three warnings, and after that, there are no warnings.

It’s a fascinating and morbid idea, and it kind of reminded me a little teeny bit of The Hunger Games or Battle Royale since only one survivor is allowed. Unlike those two though, this isn’t an actual battle to the death, and also, I never really figured out what the purpose of The Long Walk is. In the previous two titles I mentioned, the battle game is a sort of means to control the population through fear. I imagine The Walk is based on a similar premise, though the participants are strictly voluntary and are actually allowed a certain time period to back out. So … I don’t know why anyone would sign up for this, even if the prize is super tempting. Maybe that’s the point though? Only the most desperate will join for the prize?

This was definitely more of a psychological book than a plot orientated/action type of story. The long and short of the plot is exactly what it sounds like — 100 boys walking and one by one, they are eliminated. I found it an interesting story idea, but I wasn’t over the moon about the book like my sister is. I think that is partly due to the fact that I just orient myself more to action/plot books to begin with, as opposed to character-driven stories.

My sister and I had a conversation about the book after that pretty much amounted me saying, “It was okay, but they just walked the entire story” and my sister saying, “Yeah, but it’s so good! The characters are so interesting!” So, there you have it — two different opinions on the book. I did like  it, but I just wasn’t able to see what was so crazy thrilling about it. She’s convinced that this book is amazing, I’m of the opinion it’s just okay.

Anyway, hooray, I read my first Stephen King book! And I liked it, overall! This doesn’t mean I will be jumping into all his books now because I’m pretty sure I’m still going to stay far away from anything horror related; but I know Mr. King writes non-horror books too so maybe I will give those a shot in the future.

My Rating:

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Artemis Fowl

artemisfowlAuthor: Eoin Colfer
First Published: January 2001
Publisher: Hyperion
Series: Artemis Fowl #1
280 pages (paperback)

I’ve heard a bunch of good things about this series, so I looked into it. I was a bit surprised that it was a children’s series, because the people who were praising the series didn’t seem like the type who read children’s books, but I was looking for something easy to read during my commutes to campus, so why the hell not? It seems like a light hearted read, which was exactly what I was looking for.

Artemis Fowl is a genius and millionaire 12 year old. His father mysteriously disappeared years ago and his mother has been depressed and holed up in her bedroom ever since, leaving little Artemis on his own most of the time. This is fine by Artemis because he’s quite independent and in fact, very mature and advanced for his age. It’s also beneficial that his parents aren’t really around because Artemis is a criminal mastermind, and not having the parents around makes his criminal activities a little easier to conduct.

His latest crime? Kidnapping a fairy. Yes, a real fairy! Artemis has big plans to obtain some fairy gold as per old legends and myths, but little does he know what the fairy world is really like. He captures Captain Holly Short, a member of the LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaisance) unit, and her colleagues are determined to rescue her from Artemis’ clutches.

The idea of Artemis as a criminal mastermind really appealed to me for some reason. A lot of children’s books often have a more traditional protagonist, someone more heroic and ‘good’. This is the first children’s book I’ve read where the protagonist is a self proclaimed criminal mastermind; it made for a rather interesting read. Artemis isn’t actually a bad guy, he just happens to dabble in criminality because it’s the only way to get what he wants. There are some things that he wants — such as his father’s return, or for his mother to notice him — that can’t be bought with money.

I was a little surprised that there was a fantastical element to the book. When I was looking up the series, I guess I somehow missed the fairy stuff, which I know is really hard to miss when you’re looking up Artemis Fowl on the internet, so no, I don’t know how that happened. You can imagine my surprise when I’m reading and reading and suddenly fairies are introduced. I know fairies are an integral part of the Artemis Fowl series, and for the most part I didn’t mind them, the fairies are alright. But I hated the dwarves. They just seemed too silly, even for a children’s book. I mean, one of them had an attack where he shot poop out his butt … so weird! And yes, I know, this is a kid’s book and I’m a mid-20′s adult, but I’ve always considered myself a kid at heart. Even I felt a little “WTF” when I read that part.

As for the actual story, it was alright too, a little simplistic but entertaining enough. Reading this book was kind of like watching a Saturday morning cartoon, it was funny and charming. It easy to pick up and put down repeatedly, which is a good attribute for a commute-ride-book. Never had a problem following the story. I’m not dying to know what happens to Artemis next, but I wouldn’t mind reading book two to see what misadventures he gets up to later. This book was certainly fun to read, it had its silly moments and laugh out moments, and lots of action too.

My Rating:

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Shadow On The Crown

shadowonthecrownAuthor: Patricia Bracewell
First Published: February 2013
Publisher: Viking
416 pages (hardcover)

If you read my blog/reviews, it’s apparent that I really love historical fiction about English royalty. Most of the time it’s Tudors or War of the Roses stuff I read, because that’s the easiest stuff to find. I was extremely excited to discover the existence of this book, Shadow on the Crown, which is about English royalty … from 1001! Whoaaa, no one ever writes about that period of the English throne! I just knew I had to have this book and read it.

Shadow on the Crown is about Emma of Normandy. She is the sister of Duke Richard of Normandy, and she is wed to King Æethelred of England quite quickly after the King’s first wife dies. However, Emma is not marrying the King to merely be his wife and consort. In exchange for Duke Richard’s cooperation in keeping the Danish Vikings away from English shores, Emma is to be crowned a queen in her own right, Queen of England.

But being Queen is not a glorious role and a thankless task. With Emma as Queen, King Æethelred’s sons by his first wife worry that if Emma and the King have their own sons, they will supplant them in the succession of the crown. After all, the sons of a consecrated queen surely have precedence over the sons of a mere consort. Though Emma has no such plan, her marriage to the King has already made enemies of the sons. To make matters more complicated, she begins to fall in love with one of her new stepsons, a man close to her in age, but a person she can never have.

There is also the Lady Elgiva, a beautiful young lady from the northern part of England who was a candidate for being the King’s new wife. Petty and jealous, Elgiva is furious that she lost an opportunity to become Queen and what’s more, now she has to serve in the Queen’s household. Elgiva is a viper waiting to strike and she is more than willing to sabotage Emma in any way that she can.

Lastly, Emma is isolated in this new country, with few of her own Normans for company. She is not sure if her brother, Duke Richard, will actually hold up his end of the bargain. If he does not, Emma is sure to be in danger from the wrath of the King. And there is the constant threat of the Danish Vikings invading England …

This book totally lived up to my expectations, I am so happy to have discovered this book and the story within. I will admit though, that my enthusiasm for this book may be kind of biased since I loooove English royalty historical fiction. The fact that this is the kind of book I salivate over definitely colours my opinion somewhat, but moving on … Though the author has taken many liberties with historical facts, as she outlines in the author’s notes in the back of the book, I feel what she has added or altered worked very well for the sake of the story. I know not everyone is cool with the idea of historical fiction based on real people being, well, fiction, but I think the author does a great job of it here. It is not too farfetched, and it all adds to the story, rather than changes it.

The characters aren’t paragons of characterization. Most of them are pretty black and white; good or evil, etc. However, this hasn’t stopped me from liking them and enjoying the story. Definitely my favourite character is Emma herself. I’m not super familiar with her so I don’t know how (in)accurate this portrayal is of her; everything I know about her is from Wikipedia. Emma in this novel is like a goody-goody, and I say that endearingly. Sent away from her home at the age of 15 to marry someone way older than her, she handled her situation much more maturely than I could have, if thrown in the same scenario. Though Emma did not want to become Queen and indeed, saw it as a great burden, she took on the role as if she was destined for it. Even the King (who held no love for her) and the sons had to begrudgingly admit that Emma was regal. It was like she was born for this. She looked and acted the part. Sure, she had some diplomatic blunders when she was navigating her way in the English court, but hey, she’s new, everyone makes mistakes.

I loved the contrast between her and Elgiva. As far as I know, Elgiva was a real person but I don’t think she and Queen Emma actually had a rivalry of sorts. Anyway, Elgiva is the complete opposite of Emma. She wants and craves power, and she can (usually) manipulate people to get what she wants. She’s easily jealous, and quite petty. The kind of person who can hold a grudge for a decade or two. Emma is light whereas Elgiva is darkness, which is fitting given that Elgiva has a great fear of cramped, dark spaces, heh. The contrast is kind of cliche, yes, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

I really loved this book, and it is so, so refreshing to read about medieval England. The author’s note at the end says she intends for this to be a trilogy, which I figured as much as I was reading because I was near the end of the book and I knew there was so much more of Emma’s life story left to tell. Looking forward to book two immensely!

My Rating:

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Daughters Of Rome

daughters-of-romeAuthor: Kate Quinn
First Published: April 2011
Publisher: Berkley
Series: Rome #2
370 pages (paperback)

Around two years ago, I took a course on ancient Rome for fun (well, for an elective) and it was one of the most fascinating and well taught courses I ever had during my academic career. Now, I wouldn’t say I have the same interest in ancient Rome as I do in historical Britain, but it does perk my interest when I see a book that takes place during the ancient Roman period. Anyway, I have heard of this series, and heard mostly positive things about it. When I saw this book for sale at my local bookstore, I impulsively decided to but it (which is how all my book purchases come to be, hahaha). I didn’t find out until later that this is considered the second book in a series, but it is the kind of series where you can read them out of order and it doesn’t matter because there are different characters and plots in each book. I certainly had no trouble following the story.

Daughters Of Rome takes place in 69 AD, the famous Year of the Four Emperors. It is the year Emperor Nero dies, and Rome unfortunately becomes embroiled in a succession of battles as the throne is up for grabs and varying factions fight for it. Loyalties are fickle things, and the empire is unstable.

In this book, we are focused on four lovely ladies of the Cornelii family, all of whom are named Cornelia. Don’t worry, they have nicknames though! Cornelia Prima is the only one who keeps her name as Cornelia. She is the ideal Roman wife and the one everyone expects to be Empress one day, because her husband will likely be named the Emperor’s heir. Marcella is Cornelia’s sister, a woman who is more withdrawn, with an absentee husband which suits her just fine. She loves witnessing history and the Year of the Four Emperors is particularly thrilling for her. Lollia is their cousin, a promiscuous young woman who has been married more times than you can count on your hand. Finally, Diana, also a cousin, who is a gifted equestrian and doesn’t care for any of the hundreds of suitors lined up for her hand because all she wants to do is race and care for her horses. These four ladies all have their own roles in the succession of emperors to come. Marcella, in particular, is curious as to how she can manipulate history herself, an action that causes severe consequences for her sister and cousins.

I’m no expert on this time period (I mean, I only took one general course on it), but the environment and setting feels quite authentic. Even the way the typical Roman home is laid out, with a tablinum and everything, was not missed. When I was reading this book, I definitely felt like I was in ancient Rome.

The characters and plot were good but sometimes felt a bit lacking. It was an easy, interesting read and I enjoyed the way the story was unfolding, but I was never shocked or surprised in the story, no strong emotions. Lots of drama going on, but I almost felt like a lot of it was predictable. I know parts of it were definitely going to be predictable: the Year of the Four Emperors kind of gives away what’s going to happen to each emperor. The story was told well and I enjoyed it, but it could have been more.

I felt the same way about the characters. They were all generally enjoyable and memorable. I didn’t have a favourite Cornelii but they were memorable as one unit, heh. I found Marcella’s character kind of bizarre but maybe that’s because I simply cannot understand the mindset she has. She started off pretty “normal”, but as the story went on, she changed into this person who doesn’t care for the well being of her family or her country. She just wants to see how crazy history can become if she meddles with it. And by meddle, I mean she has some connections with powerful people so she would whisper things to them, swaying them to do one thing or another without them knowing they are being swayed, and then Marcella would sit back and see how everything plays out. Even if that means dire consequences for her sister and cousins. It felt like as the story went on, Marcella became more distant from her family in a way that she doesn’t care about them. When confronted about what she has done, Marcella is the one who is irritated that her family cannot appreciate her role in history.

Overall, a good solid book. If you have an interest in ancient Rome, I’d recommend this book for sure, even if you don’t know a thing about that time period. This was definitely an entertaining-drama kind of book so I am sure you will find something to like about it if it perks your interest at all.

My Rating: