Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Time of Murder at Mayerling by Ann Dukthas

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 
Obtained from: Local Library 
Read: August 30, 2012 

Vienna, 1889. Glittering entertainments hide a world of sinister political intrigue at the court of the Hapsburgs. The world exploded with the horrifying news that the heir to the throne, handsome Archduke Rudolph, had shot his seventeen-year-old aristocratic mistress, Maria Vetsera, to death and then turned the gun on himself at the imperial hunting lodge at Mayerling. Or did he? Rumors of foul play soon began to surface as Vetsera's body was hurriedly buried in secrecy and the government suppressed any inquiry. Scholar Nicholas Segalla risks his own life to uncover the truth behind a spectacular cover-up and attempts to expose a murderer with a very intimate and surprising connection to the doomed prince.

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*** NOTE: Ann Dukthas is a pseudonym used by Paul Doherty.

Crown Prince Rudolph
I confess, this is not my first go round with The Time of Murder at Mayerling. I stumbled over it by accident in my youth and was so enthralled with the material that I've never forgotten it. Passing years have not dulled my interest, if anything they’ve enhanced it, which is how I found myself revisiting this old favorite.

The Time of Murder at Mayerling is the third installment of the Nicholas Segalla Time Travel Mystery series. It isn’t necessary to read them in order so long as once understands that Nicholas Segalla is immortal. He fashioned himself as the ultimate gentlemen's gentleman and was well-known in several royal courts throughout history. He’s gone to great lengths to hide his identity, but in the 1990s, Segalla befriended author Ann Dukthas and took to sharing the truth behind his adventures. The result is a delightful series of historicals that introduce young readers to some of the best-known intrigues of the past. 

I love the idea behind this series and think Dukthas' explanation regarding the deaths of the Crown Prince and Baroness Vetsera quite fun. My only disappointment is that there is no author’s note to explain the fiction or direct those interested in the research that went into the narrative’s construction. At twelve I didn't even notice the omission. I was, quite frankly, too caught up in the plot to give a damn where the history came from, but as an adult, it’s close to torture. 

Extensive independent study has given me rather strong views on Rudolph and Mary and while I don’t personally subscribe to the theories Dukthas used to create The Time of Murder at Mayerling, I can’t deny it captures the imagination. The manipulation of fact is brilliantly entertaining and leaves a remarkable impression on readers both young and old. 

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"The truth is far worse than any of the versions."
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Friday, August 24, 2012

The Things We Cherished by Pam Jenoff

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: August 20, 2012

An ambitious novel that spans decades and continents, The Things We Cherished tells the story of Charlotte Gold and Jack Harrington, two fiercely independent attor­neys who find themselves slowly falling for one another while working to defend the brother of a Holocaust hero against allegations of World War II–era war crimes. The defendant, wealthy financier Roger Dykmans, mysteri­ously refuses to help in his own defense, revealing only that proof of his innocence lies within an intricate timepiece last seen in Nazi Germany. As the narrative moves from Philadelphia to Germany, Poland, and Italy, we are given glimpses of the lives that the anniversary clock has touched over the past century, and learn about the love affair that turned a brother into a traitor. Rich in historical detail, Jenoff’s astonishing new work is a testament to true love under the worst of circumstances.

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I’m a WWII junkie, but Holocaust fiction has always been hit and miss in my book. It wasn’t until reading The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman, that I was truly moved by the adapted subject matter which is what led me to Pam Jenoff's The Things We Cherished. I was familiar with Jenoff’s work, but even so, the material and angle seemed rather ambitious. Truth be told, I wasn't convinced she could pull off dual timelines anchored by a torsion style timepiece, but I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. 

Turns out I needn’t have worried. Jenoff's use of the anniversary clock as a central plot element proved inspired and I was as thoroughly engaged in Charlotte and Jack's story as I was captivated by Roger and Magda's. Cover to cover I loved this book. 

My sole criticism has so little relevance it hardly deserves mention, but who exactly is the kissing couple on the cover supposed to be? Roger and Magda would never display their affection so publicly and the clothing is a bit outdated for Charlotte and Jack. I like the image and all, but am I the only one who likes the cover to represent the text? 

I didn't expect to fall in love with this book, but love it I did. The Things We Cherished is a superb WWII romance and an absolute must read.

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He imagined a home with a mantelpiece, tried to envision the people who would look at and admire it and take from it the cadence of their day. A piece of himself, going places he would never see.
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War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars by Andrew Carroll

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 
Obtained from: Personal Library 
Read: June 12, 2012 

With the drama of history and the intimacy of memoir, Andrew Carroll's landmark anthology encompasses every conflict, from the Civil War to Desert Storm. Presenting 175 letters, this book captures vivid depictions of famous battles, profound reflections on the nature of warfare, gripping tales of rescues and escapes, and many more unforgettable expressions of fear, loneliness, love, and patriotism.

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Carroll's collection of war letters is one of the most interesting nonfiction pieces I've had the pleasure of picking up. It is one thing to read the politics or the history of a conflict, it is another to read the thoughts of the men and women who fought it. To read, in their own words, their motivations, emotions and understanding of history as it was being made. 

In most cases, the individuals who put pen to paper were not writers and Carroll did not make any effort to edit their correspondence. These letters are presented in their original format, a choice which I felt, preserved their value. Don’t expect perfect structure or grammar and be prepared to navigate some interesting variations of spelling, but read between the lines and you will understand my rating. 

I wont call this a must read. It isn't the kind of book that takes over your down time and creeps up on you throughout the day, but I greatly enjoyed it just the same. Carroll's obvious regard for history and respect for those who fought made this a particularly well-construction collection and one I’d highly recommend.

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Perhaps it was a different story in their hearts, or perhaps there were too tired, or thinking of home too much, or thinking of their buddies who didn't live to see the victory, to do much celebrating or merry making. But I'm sure of one thing - the troops were glad they wouldn't have to fight anymore - I was.
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Honor Bound by C.J. Archer

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: August 14, 2012

Fans of Diana Gabaldon and Philippa Gregory imagine this: 7 years ago a woman with too many secrets and a man with too many lies fell in love. Then she left him. Isabel's quiet life as an assistant to one of London's famous apothecaries hides a deadly secret. A secret that could see her put on trial for witchcraft if the authorities uncover the truth. But when the authority figure who turns up at her shop is Sir Nicholas Merritt, she's at risk of losing more than her life. She could lose her heart and soul, and the man she loves. Royal spy Sir Nicholas Merritt can't believe his luck when he stumbles upon Isabel during an investigation. He's been searching for her for seven long years and now he has her again, in his bed and his life. Except she's resisting all the way. Worse still, she's somehow tangled up with a plot to assassinate the queen. To hold onto her this time, he must find out why she left him while hiding a secret of his own that could tear them apart forever.

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Just my opinion, but I don't think drawing comparison to Gabaldon or Gregory was the way to go here. C.J. Archer's Honor Bound is good, definitely worth the $2.99 it is currently listed for on Amazon, but it doesn't have a thing either title. Even as a tease, the line seems ostentatious and arrogant.

That said, I liked the book. I spent a lot of time wondering when Isabel's secret was going to be incorporated into the plot and that sort of put a damper on the rest of the story, but it is what it is. Up to the halfway point Isabel is working as an apothecary's assistant, trying to convince herself she can live a normal life, refusing to use or even acknowledge her abilities. I was about to chuck the book when it finally got to the point in the best possible way. Needless to say, I was pretty impressed.

Archer's lovebirds possess some very modern sensibilities and that was a little awkward for me as I personally like period appropriate perceptions, but beyond that I can't fault the book. Light, but not a bad beach read. 

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Men! What sort of silly fool did they take her for? She could forgive the earl's assumption of her lack of intelligence, but Nick? He should know better...
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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Six of One by Joann Spears

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: August 1, 2012

“Six of One” is the ultimate ‘girls’ night in’…with the six wives of Henry VIII. It’s the most fun you can have with your nightdress on! Join Dolly, the Tudor-obsessed heroine of “Six of One”, on a Yellow Brick Road journey to the alternate reality of an all-girl Tudor court. It all begins when Dolly loses consciousness on the eve of her marriage to the six-times- divorced Harry. She awakens in the company of the Tudor women she’s studied all her life. They have a mission to accomplish, and Dolly may be just the girl who can help them do it. As a warm-up to her life-changing interview with the six wives of Henry VIII, Dolly gets to dish with lots of the other fascinating females of the Tudor era. She learns things she never guessed about the Princes in the Tower from their sister, Elizabeth of York…Henry VIII’s mom. She talks sex with Henry’s sisters and scholarship with his daughters. She even gossips with the help, since Kat Ashley and Bess of Hardwicke are among the ladies on hand. Of course the heart of the story is in Dolly’s interview with the six wives of Henry VIII. It turns out there’s something to each of the wives’ stories that’s been held back all this time. You won’t believe what really happened…or will you? “Six of One” offers no tragedy, no excuses, and no apologies. It does have lots of broad humor, not to mention tons of puns. And—for a change—a happy ending.

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What could be more fun than a henhouse visit with Henry VIII’s women? Admit it, you'd jump at the chance to get the dirt on Old Coppernose straight from the horse's mouth. Just the idea of rubbing elbows with everyone from his indomitable grandmother to his unfortunate great niece makes you giddy. It did me and despite my usual tendencies, I decided to take a chance with Joann Spears’ Six of One. 

Looking back, I don’t hate the book, but Spears' humor and mine don't exactly jive. The piece is marketed as a riff, but I wasn't laughing. The cosmic connection between the bride-to-be and her collected confidants felt contrived rather than comical, Dolly's habitual rhyming reminded me of story time with my toddler, and the declarations of the deceased missed their mark. 

I really don't mean to deter other readers or cause offense, but Six of One wasn’t my cuppa tea and I’d have difficulty recommending it to other readers.

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The depth of human folly is unfathomable, Dolly. But we live, after our fashion, in hope.
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Catherine the Inquisitor by Leigh Jenkins

Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: August 3, 2012 

He killed his wives, broke from Catholicism and founded his own church. But history could have been quite different for Henry the VIII, as author Leigh Jenkins proves in this alternative history series, if only one key moment had changed in each of his marriages. The first book of the series, Catherine the Inquisitor, explores how life would have been different if Henry and Catherine's first child, a boy named Henry, had lived instead of died less than six weeks after his birth. With his much sought after heir, Henry would feel no need to create the Church of England or travel down the destructive path that led to his wives’ murders. But would that have been best for England? Jenkins delves inside one of history's greatest enigmas – the mind of King Henry the VIII of England. This intense, often poignant, look at King Henry shows that, with a twist of fate, England could have remembered a very different king.

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Eventually I'm going to have to start heeding the warnings of other readers or I'm going to straight up lose all semblance of sanity. Despite plenty of warnings, I attempted Leigh Jenkins' Catherine the Inquisitor. The end result? Well, I spent an entire evening telling myself that opening a review with the line 'fuck wank bugger shitting arse head and hole' isn't constructive even if it does describe my reading experience.

By the end of the first chapter I had pretty much determined the book wasn't my kind of read and I figured I would be penning yet another 'not for me' two star review. Catherine is a domineering ox with absolutely no regard for her husband's title or position? Henry is a sniveling weakling with no aptitude for life at court? I thought we were exploring what might have been had Catherine's son survived infancy, but this felt more like a a visit to the twilight zone. 

Now different interpretations of character aren't unheard of. It happens right? Not a big deal. You agree to disagree and walk away. Other issues were harder for me to ignore.

  • Loc. 349: "In turn, Edward's sons had been smothered by their uncle who was in pursuit of the throne."

    They were smothered? By Richard? This has been definitively proven? Can I see a coroner's report and a copy of the trial proceedings? Forgive me but last I checked the fate of Edward V and his brother Richard of Shrewsbury remains unsolved and again, the only fact that was supposed to be changed, is the survival of Catherine's son.
  • Loc. 761: "[Catherine] had not been so demanding earlier in our marriage. I was not sure if Catherine had not noticed my infidelities or if she hadn't cared as long as I came to her bed."

    Really? I could have sworn that not only was she that demanding but that she was also well aware of your philandering. Loc. 114: "' I will be churched in two weeks. See that she is gone.' It was useless to act as though I hadn't taken a lady to my bed while Catherine had been lying in the past month. I gave her a short nod and left her chamber..."
  • I can forgive the odd typo, even the most seasoned and respected writers make them, but repeated errors are particularly distracting and can leave readers with a very negative impression of one's work. 

    Various Locations: Margaret Beufort (Beaufort) 

    Various locations: King Louise of France (Louis)  

    Various locations: weld (wield)  

    Various locations: lead (led) 

I think Jenkins had an interesting concept but as the saying goes 'writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.' I feel Catherine the Inquisitor has potential in terms of concept but the piece, as it currently stands, is more than a little rough. 

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Mary nodded and looked towards her mother but it seemed that Catherine, white with shock over the loss of her son, was not prepared to say anything. With a smile, Mary turned to look at me, her face strong and proud. 
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