Montreal, Quebec, Canada | Member Since 2011
Walter Hartright, a young art teacher, is startled when he is overtaken by a young woman dressed entirely in white while walking on the road from Hampstead to London. Visibly distressed, the young woman begs him to show her the way to London, and he offers to accompany her there. The young woman accepts his offer on the condition that he allow her to come and go as she pleases. Once he's dropped her off in London, two men in hot pursuit claim that the girl has escaped a mental asylum and must be returned there at once, but Walter does nothing to help them in their search. The next day he arrives at Limmeridge House, where he has gained a position as a drawing master. There he meets his young pupils, half sisters Marian and Laura. In no time at all, her befriends Marian—no great beauty is she, but quick, smart and amusing—and falls desperately in love with the heavenly loveliness that is Laura. But the encounter with the woman in white will carry many consequences.
I took absolute delight in discovering all the plot twists of this great classic mystery, so will disclose no more of the story nor of how it is told, but will say that it offers a wonderfully evil conspiracy and several highly memorable characters, not least of which the strange and compelling villain Count Fosco, who stole every scene in which he appeared, in my view. Also, the sublimely selfish Frederick Fairlie is one of the most memorable invalids I have ever encountered in a work of fiction. I must say that this version, narrated by Simon Prebble and Josephine Bailey, greatly increased my enjoyment of the tale, with wonderfully rendered characters. Now that I've listened to it and that there are no more secrets for me to discover, I still look forward to listening to it again for a fun romp with highly colourful characters and plenty of Gothic frissons.
Gwyneth and her entire family has always believed that her much more beautiful, better poised and much better educated cousin Charlotte had inherited the time travel gene, as Isaac Newton had foretold. The onset of the symptoms first appear during the gene-carrier's teens; headaches and dizziness and then out of the blue he or she is transported sometime in the past (never the future since it hasn't happened yet) for no longer than a couple of hours. Charlotte has been meticulously prepared all her life for this, but when Gwen suddenly discovers the hard way her mother has held back secrets from her and she lands in another century much to her surprise, the family is forced to accept this reversal of fortune.
There's some allusion to an alchemical secret and a circle of 12 which Gwyneth completes with the confirmation of her genetic capabilities which I guess gets worked out in the course of the next two books. Of course, she has a love interest, in the shape of a fellow time traveler and distant cousin, Gideon de Villiers, who at first seems to despise her and to show a marked admiration for the ravishing Charlotte, but soon comes to appreciate Gwen's spunk and ability to handle situations on the fly.
I don't always appreciate YA literature, often finding it too fluffy and predictable to my liking, but this summer my teen self seems to be enjoying the diversions I'm offering it, and this first book in the trilogy was so much fun that I'll be looking for the next two books soon to find out how Gwen fares in the end and what the 'ultimate secret', which one of her cousins is working hard to kept hushed up—supposedly for the good of all—is.
Many readers must come to this book having read quite a few Alan Furst WWII spy novels. After all, as the NYT stated in a recent review, "Mr. Furst has long since carved out this turf and made it his own", and while I've long wanted to start on his Night Soldiers series, I jumped at the occasion to acquaint myself with this novelist with his latest one-off.
Cristián Ferrar is a Spanish émigré living in Paris and has some clout as a lawyer working for a prestigious American law firm representing an international clientèle. When the novel starts in December 1937, the Spanish civil war is ongoing and the Republicans, fighting against General Franco's fascist army is in desperate need of munitions. Ferrar, with his skills as a negotiator and diplomat is recruited to help in the arms deal negotiations with dangerous criminals and to ensure the shipments actually get into the proper hands. A man of not inconsiderable charms and an amorous disposition, Ferrar quickly falls for the charms of a prim and proper potential client, the Marquesa Maria Cristina. Beneath her chic veneer is a woman all too willing to fall for Ferrar's charm, but is she who she claims to be and does she have ulterior motives? Ferrar is too clever to be played like an innocent in these dangerous times, but he also doesn't miss a chance to enjoy the bounties beautiful women and life in Paris have to offer, as the novel takes him from exclusive swank nightclubs and the famous Parisian landmark, restaurant Lapérouse, to wine and dine, and potentially bribe a necessary contact. From there to negotiations with Bulgarian gangsters in Istanbul brothels and uncollaborative train-yard inspectors in Poland, he and his collaborator, ex arms dealer Max de Lyon, must use all the finesse they can to deliver the arms to Spain or else see the republicans lose to the Fascists in the bigger war that is looming ahead. It took me a while to sink into the story, in which many characters are introduced in the beginning, but once I got in the groove it was a smooth, satisfying ride with plenty of zing.
I read and listened to quite a few fantasy YA novels in June, and while fantasy and YA aren't usually in my comfort zone, ended up enjoying all of them. This particular trilogy only came to my attention because I've fallen in love with Samuel West's voice and narration style, and so have bought most of the audiobooks he's recorded that are likely to be of interest to me (16 of them so far). Twin sister and brother Kestrel and Bowman Hath are living peacefully in their now egalitarian society after having endured a totalitarian regime most of their lives (this is covered in book 1 of the Wind of Fire Trilogy). However this state of affairs doesn't last long when an ambitious young soldier decides to capture the entire town as slaves for the people of the Mastery. The methods used to keep captured slaves compliant are incredibly cruel, so the people have no choice but to let themselves be led to their new masters. While the raid takes place, Kestrel and Bowman are separated, with the boy and other family members taken in captivity while Kestrel is left behind to make her way to safety. Along the road, she meets a young and extremely beautiful princess travelling in great pomp who takes her under her wing. The twins each use their great intelligence and special skills to get their family back together again while also doing all they can to overthrow the oppressive regime, with the girls also having to fend off the advances of dangerously enamoured men. And exciting adventure story which is rather unique, as was the first book. Both are highly recommended.
I became very keen to learn all about the Tudors after reading Hilary Mantel's excellent Wolf Hall, followed by Bring Up the Bodies not long after. At that time I had very little notion about British History, and none at all about Henry VIII and his time, other than the fact he was an oft-married tyrant who had a couple of his wives beheaded. This book was just what I needed to fill some of the biggest gaps in my understanding of a) the reasons why H8 married so often b) who his wives were, with their backgrounds and personal stories and c) why he killed off two of his wives and divorced two more. I also learned in greater detail about d) how and why the break from Rome and the pope occurred, and why there were so many reversals back and forth from Catholic to Protestant beliefs, resulting in the deaths of uncounted masses of people for heresies which were determined according to ever-changing priorities and whims of the great monarch.
I felt I got quite a thorough overview of each of Henry's six wives, and also that Alison Weir seemed to greatly dislike Anne Boleyn, who came across as quite an unlikeable woman, though I gather this is a widely agreed upon opinion. Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, predictably enough, came across as a saint. Ann of Cleves and Catherine Parr, as the two clever ones who survived marriage to a vile brute. And of course, plenty of information about the monarch himself and his time.
Recommended for those who like me have an interest in literature about that period with little background on the topic, as I imagine a lot of the material is familiar to those who have a better grasp on English history.
While I really enjoyed the first book in the series, March Violets earlier this month, I can't say I felt quite the same about this one. We are now in the Berlin of 1938 and Bernie Gunther is asked to rejoin the police force to work on a serial murder case. Several young girls have gone missing and been found defiled in the most gruesome manner: raped, tied by their feet and drained of their blood exactly like slaughtered pigs. All the girls were around 15, blonde and blue-eyed; the perfect Arian stereotype. Another private case has him uncovering a man blackmailing a wealthy widow, a publisher whose son is a homosexual who (inadvisedly in this age of Nazi power) kept up a correspondence with his lover, some of those letters now being in the hands of the blackmailer. Two very different cases, and no apparent link to the question of the oppression of the Jews in this year which is marked by Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, an organized attack against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria which took place on the 9th and 10th November 1938. But of course we eventually learn that no crime in this time and place could occur without the aim of further oppressing the Jews.
While I liked the way the case started resolving itself two-thirds of the way in, I've developed a serious dislike for forms of entertainment which centre on serial rapes and murders of women, and the details in this case were truly horrendous. Perhaps because of this, I focused more on little things that bothered me with the first book; endless questionable similes and a main hero who is a typical macho male, which is accurate enough for the period portrayed and amused me the first time around, but here set off against the background of these female victims was distasteful to me. Is that reverse sexism on my part? All the same, solid writing overall (except those similes—why?) and a crime story which places the reader firmly in the heart of Nazi Germany just before WWII. I'll be listening to the third book to see what trouble Bernie gets into next.
My first Philippa Gregory, picked up partly because it was on sale here at Audible, and partly because I was interested in learning more about the mother of the Princes in the Tower and that particular period of British history, which especially came to my attention when I listened to Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time (narrated by the fantastic Sir Derek Jacobi). Reading Tey's book, I was both impressed and frustrated. Impressed because Tey is such a great story-teller, but frustrated because at that point I knew little to nothing about the main characters involved in this political drama and I resolved to find out more about it so I could read it again eventually and feel I had a better grasp on the events and personalities described.
In that sense, this book has delivered the goods very well. Why go to a work of fiction rather than a no doubt more reliable work of non-fiction? Because I can retain facts much better when they are told to me as a story with interesting characters moved by complex motives. Gergory's work is obviously very well researched and she has a skill for writing compelling stories. Certainly she is never likely to win a literary prize, and I was slightly annoyed when certain details were repeated twice and three times. But otherwise the story of Elizabeth Woodville, who became Queen consort when she married King Edward IV for love—of all things, in an age when marriages were nothing more than political pacts (it was the cause célèbre at the time)—, is here very well told, and from her own perspective so that we get to hear how much influence the women likely had over these great men of power. The story begins in the 1460s, when she first meets the King and compels him to fall in love with her with a combination of charm, great beauty, brains, and if we are to believe the persistent rumours that have always surrounded her, witchcraft as well. She had two sons from a previous marriage to John Grey of Groby, who died fighting for the Lancastrians during the ongoing Wars of the Roses. Her own parents were also Lancastrians, so that while her alliance with a Yorkist King was certainly calculated to promote her and her children's welfare by aligning with the clan in power, it seems this ambitious woman truly loved King Edward and bore him 10 children, including Edward V of England, who was King of England for less than 4 months, and Richard, Duke of York, both Princes in the Tower who disappeared in suspicious circumstances when their uncle Richard III (King Edward IV's youngest brother) kept his nephews imprisoned in the Tower of London in his political machinations to take over the crown. Elizabeth Woodville's oldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, married King Henry VII, and King Henry VIII was one of three surviving children from that union, so that the heroine of this novel is the ancestor of every English monarch since Henry VIII and every Scottish monarch since James V of Scotland through her daughter Elizabeth. A really great read with plenty of political intrigue and romance as well as a good lesson in history. I checked many facts against wikipedia and found everything to be completely in order.
I only wish I'd checked the chronological order of the stories, as would have probably started the series with The Lady of the Rivers, which is third in publication order but tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville's mother, who sounds like a fascinating lady. Jacquetta of Luxembourg had a scandalous second marriage with a man far inferior in rank, Sir Richard Woodville, who served as her first husband, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford's chamberlain. Believed to be a descendant of the river goddess Melusina, she also allegedly practiced witchcraft, the knowledge of which she passed on to her daughter. I'll probably be moving on to that one next.
I'd been hearing about what a wonderful experience it is to read Georgette Heyer's novels ever since I joined an online reading group several years ago. Perfectly researched with great period details, and a great comfort reading experience is mostly what I gleaned from the various comments and reviews I'd read. I must say I agree. As it happened, I was very much in the mood for something comforting and not too demanding either intellectually or emotionally on the day I picked this book up, as I had just moments before decided to abandon a very difficult novel, as I didn't see the point of continuing to emotionally torture myself in the name of literary proficiency. I already had another Heyer novel in the listening stacks, but that day I was determined to find both the storyline and the narrator that most appealed my momentary whims, which is how I came to choose Heyer's third among her Georgian and Regency novels. The book blurb on this site, short and to the point appealed to me, and from the first 11 minutes of the novel, available on the audio sample, I decided this would do the trick very well (though in retrospect, I don't know why Cornelius Garrett made the Duke sound like an old man, when he's only 40). As can be expected, there are beautiful and lavish details of costume, an interesting cast of characters with comical quirks, a deep intrigue, and plenty of romance (although Romance is usually a genre is steer clear from). No, this is not a work of great literary merit, but it's well written, has a great plot, and it's so much fun... who cares?
In this historical novel set in 1836 Istanbul, a eunuch named Yashim is asked to investigate into several cases. There are four officers who have gone missing (one of which turns up dead in an oversized cauldron a short while later); the sultan's most recent concubine is murdered in her bed; and the sultan's mother's jewels have gone missing. In the case of the officers, Yashim finds clues that seem to point toward the Janissaries as being responsible for the abduction and it's aftermath. The Janissaries had had a powerful presence in Turkey until 1826, just a decade previous to the start of our story. An elite force created by Sultan Murad I in 1383, they formed the Ottoman Sultan's household troops and bodyguards, but Sultan Mahmud II found them to be an unruly and disruptive presence, and wanting to create a modern army to keep up with the Europeans, he disbanded and slaughtered the Janissaries. But it seems there were survivors after all, and Yashim needs to figure out what they are up to to stop more bodies from turning up dead. Aiding him in his search for clues are his colourful and somewhat eccentric friends, the Polish ambassador and a transsexual dancer. A complex plot and an entertaining mystery set in an exotic place which is undergoing a great transition from ancient traditional customs to European modernization. I would have liked to find out more about Yashim himself, but perhaps more is revealed about him in the following 3 novels.
Loved Stephen Hoye's narration.
A gritty, noir thriller, and the first of what promises to be a gripping series. Bernie Gunther has left the police force and struck out on his own as a private investigator. What makes his work interesting is the time and place: Berlin, 1936 when the Nazis are in full power and preparing for the Summer Olympics. His services are more or less forcibly retained by a millionaire industrialist who has just lost his beloved daughter and her husband to a fire in their home. Both bodies are found in their bed, and the safe containing a priceless diamond necklace has been broken into. Was this a straightforward murder and burglary or is there more than first meets the eye? As Gunther investigates local jewelry vendors, he can't help but be horrified at how the Jews are being taken advantage of, with glaring anti-semitism at it's peak. Desperate to sell their valuables to get away from the repressive measures taken against them (most professions are banned to them, and everyone is quick to add "German" as a preface to their profession on their business cards to indicate they are of good Arian stock), they are forced to sell their belongings well below the market price. Trying to find out anything in this repressive system is bound to bring about all sorts of complications, and when Bernie's widowed secretary is too scared to return to work after being bullied by Nazi police officers, he's delighted to find a beautiful and single replacement for her in ex-journalist Ilse, but their romantic involvement is bound to render him that much more vulnerable. “March violets” was a term used for late-comers to the Nazi Party after the passage of Hitler's Enabling Act which rendered him a dictator on March 23, 1933. In May, the Nazi Party froze membership, and those with the lowest membership numbers were given preferential treatment, though everyone was eager to be seen as a Hitler supporter. Not so Bernie, who has Jewish clients and doesn't care for the views of a party he never chose to support, which is dangerous in and of itself because dissidents are daily being sent to concentration camps, where few are expected to survive the harsh conditions. I loved every bit of this private dick story set during a very dramatic period in history. Those who've enjoyed the more recent John Russell series by David Downing are bound to find this precursor highly satisfying. I'm very much looking forward to the next book!
Like most seventeen-year-olds, Jenna Fox is still trying to figure out who she is. Only she probably has more existential questions to deal with than most teenagers, because Jenna has just woken up from a year spent in a coma following a horrific car accident that nearly killed her, and she can't remember anything at all about her past or who she was. She has to rely on a bunch of videotapes recorded over the years by her parents to see for herself what she was like growing up, and she's not sure she can continue being the perfect and adored child she seemed to have been for the first 16 years of her life. Her grandmother Lilly seems to mistrust, even dislike her, though Jenna has no idea what she's done to deserve this cold reserve. Day by day, she begins to recover memories from her past, including some memories which she shouldn't have, such as when she was baptized when only a few months old. She's curious to know why they are now living in California when her and her parents had spent all their lives previous to a few weeks ago living in Boston, where her father is still working. Little by little, she recovers her memory, but still things don't seem to add up, and she isn't quite sure there is a connection between the Jenna before the accident, and the one who has woken up a year later. There's very little else I can say about this book without revealing a major spoiler.
A very well written story with an intriguing premise and and intelligent development which is suitable for young and old adults alike. It's a short novel to begin with, but I created lots of listening time and finished it in just two days because I was dying to know how things unfolded. Jenna Lamia, who narrates the audio version, is a great narrator and is convincing as a teenager with her girlish voice and the maturity she brings to the reading of a complex character. This is book is part 1 of a trilogy, but it's great as a stand-alone too. Definitely recommended.
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