The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

The Watchmaker of Filigree StreetThe Watchmaker of Filigree Street
by: Natasha Pulley

(Steampunk/Victorian)

318 pages [Hardcover]

Six months after a gold pocket watch finds its way into Thaniel Steepleton’s possession, it saves his life, leading him to the enigmatic watchmaker Keita Mori.

Victorian, Steampunk, Japanese, and an amazing cover…this was a book I could not resist when I happened upon it at my local library, even though I already had enough to read at the time. Given the subject matter I loved the first half, but then…

First, let me start out with what I loved about the story before I start complaining. The clockwork is amazing! It was everything I could have wanted in a steampunk story. Often it seems the larger steam-powered inventions get all the attention, but here, the delicate clockwork got to shine. Katsu was probably my favorite thing about the story, but I can’t tell you much about him without ruining his awesomeness. Just trust me. I also really enjoyed the use of scientific theories of the time. I don’t love steampunk just for the gadgets and awesome costume opportunities, but for the way people thought in Victorian times. Sure, there were plenty of short-sighted ideas at the time, and boundless sexism, but when it came to science and discovery the Victorians seemed to be more open-minded in their attitudes toward discovery and thinking outside the box. There was so much that was unknown and so much progress, in a short time, that anything could be possible. I wish we felt more like that today. In a lot of ways, I think we’ve decided that we already know everything worth knowing. Where are the inventors and the mad scientists to keep us on our toes?

Now for what I didn’t love so much. The story began to get a little odd and melancholy for the last third of the book or so. Thaniel’s relationship with Mori seemed a little off, especially considering how events might have been manipulated by Mori himself. I felt like I couldn’t trust him. He seemed likable enough on the outside, quiet and unassuming, but something about him bothered me after a while. He even came across as a little possessive. I just didn’t like how that all played out. While the ending of the story mostly made up for these things, I couldn’t really warm up to Mori. I’m not sure if that was intentional on the author’s part or not.

Ultimately, I got my hopes up with this one, and it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Awesome steampunk cover art will do that to a person…or me anyway. Until next time…

Happy Reading!
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Bellman & Black

Bellman & BlackBellman & Black by: Diane Setterfield

(Historical Fiction)

325 pages [Hardcover]

After killing a rook in a moment of youthful folly, William Bellman’s adult life begins to take a slowly devastating turn. Rooks never forget. In order to save the only precious person left to him, he makes a deal with a mysterious stranger.

Victorian? Check.

Mysterious? Check.

Slightly misleading book jacket description?…check.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good book, and I’m happy to have it in my collection (even if I did get it from the bargain shelf), but the “decidedly macabre business” that Bellman and Black found isn’t nearly the nefarious sort of business I imagined. I won’t give away what it actually is, but it is a rather regular sort of business. When I read that description I was anticipating shadowy alleyways, murder, and other dastardly deeds. That is not what this story is.

In actuality, this book is an atmospheric kind of story, with something always lurking just out of sight, making you want to read more in hopes of glimpsing it. The story is largely just the tale of William Bellman’s life, how he kills a rook, finds happiness, loses it, and how he copes, partially with a little assistance from the mysterious Mr. Black. If it were only a story of Bellman’s life, it might have been less enjoyable, but the feeling and tone of the story made so many mundane things strangely fascinating.

It also helps that I have a fascination with Victorian/Edwardian department stores, so the details about everything from the mills that made the fabric to the function of the stores themselves was extremely interesting to me. Something about how they did things a hundred or more years ago seems so much more authentic somehow compared to how we do things today.

The theme of rooks and crows throughout the book helped to provide that eerie quality to the story, much like a foggy evening. Fog isn’t inherently dangerous or malicious, but you can’t help but feel like there’s something frightening lurking within it. That last page was awesome. I will forever view crows in a different light.

This story has a kind of poetic simplicity, which after reading complex tales of magic and politics is a nice break. Despite it not being quite what I expected, I found it thoroughly engrossing. Something about it drew me in. Until next time…

Happy Reading!

Traitor’s Storm

Traitor's StormTraitor’s Storm

By: M. J. Trow

mjtrow.co.uk

(Tudor Mystery)

220 pages (Hardcover)

Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, playwright, is called upon by the Queen to investigate the disappearance of another agent. This request sends him to an island community with eccentric inhabitants.

I know I said I was going to focus on all the unread books I currently have in my possession, but somehow I managed to wander into the library again, and I saw a couple of books with shiny covers that I had to bring home. This book was one of them, my previous review was the other. I really can’t help myself.

For me though, this book didn’t really live up to its shiny cover. I enjoy the occasional historical mystery, and this one being just over 200 pages, I figured I couldn’t lose. Unfortunately, I just had trouble with this one, mostly because it was often confusing. There were a lot of historical references that I just didn’t get, which isn’t the author’s fault necessarily, I suppose I should learn more history. It wasn’t just that, however, the story often seemed more about the military history of the region than it was about a mystery. I often had trouble finding the mystery. Then, there was the perspective problem.

I’ve been dabbling in the art of writing myself, and am far from experienced in that area, but I noticed that the perspective in this story seemed to occasionally jump around. I could be wrong, but it seemed that details were revealed suddenly that the main character, who’s perspective I presume I was following, couldn’t have known, or the thoughts of someone else would jump into the narrative. I probably don’t know what I’m talking about, and maybe I wouldn’t have even noticed if I wasn’t a little more focused on those details in an attempt to learn more about writing. Regardless, I found it to be abrupt and confusing. Add this to the historical bits and pieces I wasn’t familiar with, and 220 pages starts to feel an awful lot longer.

There were a few things I did like though. There were some amusing moments, a hint of irreverent humor, which I always enjoy, and a little toying with history. A lesser-known Shakespeare makes an appearance, especially at the end, which I really liked. It was subtle, but fun.

I like history and I like Shakespeare, but this combination didn’t quite work for me. The “strange inhabitants” of the island were oversold on the cover. They were really just mildly strange, and not in any truly unique ways. I felt like I was missing something. Perhaps the plot line of the mystery got lost along the way. As promising as this book seemed at first, it just didn’t live up to my expectations. Until next time…

Happy Reading!

Book Sale Haul VI

Wow, I’ve done six of these already? Time flies. I’ve been learning to restrain myself a bit more at these book sales, since I’m really running out of room, so this time I have 21 new books to share with you. Behold the literary splendor! (click for larger images)

Apparently I'm collecting The Wheel of Time books now...
Apparently I’m collecting The Wheel of Time books now…so far I’ve got 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 11. That’s a start.
Two more Shannara books for the collection and some fantasy/scifi...
Two more Shannara books for the collection and some fantasy/scifi…
Elizabethan espionage, sherlock, thrillers, and Ian M. Banks since I really liked The Algebraist...
Elizabethan espionage, Sherlock, thrillers, and Ian M. Banks since I really liked The Algebraist
Tarot and math make an odd combination, but I've always had an interest in forms of divination, as well as a fear of math. It says it's painless, so maybe I'll learn something.
Tarot and math make an odd combination, but I’ve always had an interest in forms of divination, as well as a fear of math. It says it’s painless, so maybe I’ll learn something.

So there you have it, my restrained book sale finds. I’m pretty happy with it and since my personal library seems to be growing at an alarming rate, I’ve decided to focus on reading what I already have for the time being. There will be no more trips to the library for a while, since I get distracted so easily. I’m almost done with The Wise Man’s Fear so there will be some new reviews in the very near future, including an indie or two, so please look forward to them! Until next time…happy reading 😉

Lisette’s List

Lisette's ListLisette’s List

By: Susan Vreeland

svreeland.com

(Historical Fiction/Art)

407 pages (Hardcover)

 

Dragged away from her beloved Paris and its many galleries and cafés, Lisette is forced to live in the rural town of Roussillon, with her husband as they take care of his ailing grandfather, who teaches her more about art than she ever could have imagined. She soon grows to love the town and its people just as much as she does Paris.

*   *   *

There is art in every description in this story with a focus on color, contrast, and texture. I have read many a description in my time, in different genres of fiction, but this author’s perspective led every landscape and every detail to be described as one would a painting. It wasn’t what I expected, but it had a lovely effect.

The story focused on Pissarro, Cézanne, and Chagall, when it came to artists and their paintings. I have to admit, I’m not as familiar with art as I could be, and while I recognized the names of these famous artists, I couldn’t recall any of their paintings. I’ve mentioned before that I love it when a book teaches you something without you really noticing. Ultimately, I googled all three. After reading so much about their paintings I had to see them for myself. The artists mentioned in this novel are humanized so well, that they feel like actual people, rather than iconic names from history or a gallery wall. I especially loved the way the Chagalls were portrayed. It made me want to meet them.

The story takes place over about a decade from the 30s through World War II. Lisette takes quite a personal journey, and for the most part I liked her character. She was rather naïve and a little spoiled at first, but slowly and realistically grew as a person. I especially liked how this self-proclaimed city girl managed to take care of herself in the countryside and even learn to milk a goat.

There was a lot of name dropping of streets and cafés in Paris, which didn’t really do anything for me, since I don’t have an innate knowledge of the geography of the city. For some reason I’m not as enthralled by that city as many are. To be perfectly honest, I’d rather visit Tokyo, but I can see how those details would be of interest to someone with a love of Paris.

And now for a slight rant about a particular character…

I don’t like Bernard. Now, I will try to explain why without giving away any of the story. If a girl doesn’t want to be with you, she doesn’t want to be with you. Stop freaking her out and accept it. It isn’t that she doesn’t want you yet. Persistence is more often creepy than romantic. That being said, Lisette has to stop giving him opportunities and should have told people that he was bothering her. On more than one occasion she put herself in a very vulnerable position. While some information comes out later in the story that redeems him somewhat, I felt that his behavior was inexcusable. It wasn’t something that could be made up for so easily.

After all the characters go through in this story, it’s tied up nicely at the end, which I appreciated since novels of this genre often end quite bleakly. I liked the Roussillon characters, and the tales of the artists. I had never really thought about where the paint came from, how difficult rural life at that time was, or what it was like living through German occupation. I gained a little perspective from this book, and that is always a good thing. Until next time…

Happy Reading!

A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible BeautyA Great and Terrible Beauty

By: Libba Bray

libbabray.com

(YA/Victorian/Fantasy)

403 pages (Hardcover)

Sixteen year old Gemma Doyle discovers her own magical abilities after the mysterious death of her mother.

*   *   *

Boy was this book disappointing! I’m really surprised at just how bad it was. Maybe that was too harsh? I hate writing reviews about books I didn’t like. I wish I loved every single thing that I read, but I suppose I can’t like everything.

I picked up book three in this trilogy at the last book sale. The cover was so pretty I couldn’t resist, plus what’s not to like about Victorian boarding schools and magical powers? Sure it’s a young adult novel, but it can’t be that bad…right?

The biggest problem with this novel, in my opinion, is that it could have used some serious fleshing out. The basic outline of something good is there, but the author didn’t really fill in the details. For example, the secret order of women with the ability to use magic is just known as “The Order”. Really? That’s a bit generic, and since this order seems to have only female members, why not a sisterhood of something at least. Gemma is instructed not to use her magic, but never given any reason why, so naturally she uses it anyway. There are realms, but we only see two of them, and their existence isn’t really explained. Are there more of them? Why are they important? There are no rules to the magic, obtaining it only requires touching a crystal, and there are no real consequences, until the very end, that is, when they pile on all at once.

The characters in this book are mostly horrible, bratty children. At first I thought that Gemma befriending the mean girls was an interesting twist, that she would defeat them from the inside, but instead she essentially becomes one of them, while still largely opposing what they do. She never chooses a side and most of her actions don’t seem to have any real substance behind them. Then we are expected to believe that these people are her closest friends sharing a deep bond, but in reality, everyone was only pursuing their own selfish ends.

That brings me to Kartik. Involving a handsome and mysterious Indian boy in all of this is really a no-brainer given this is YA historical fantasy, but he’s just so awful. He stalks and threatens Gemma, telling her not to use her abilities without giving any reason, and in spite of this she’s rather obsessed with him. What makes it worse, is a lot of the story focuses on how sexist Victorian society was and how these poor girls would just be married off to the first suitable husband their parents could dig up. Gemma thinks that’s horrible, but she’s going to chase after a guy who stalks and threatens her?

Between her mean-girl friends and her slightly disturbing interest in Kartik, this story provides a horrible example of what relationships can be, glorifying the most superficial aspects of both friendship and romantic relationships. I really wish these novels would stray from the blueprint Twilight created, and instead, entertain young adults with stories of deep friendship and loyalty, not the mysterious, but abusive, hot guy. Just because he’s hot, doesn’t make it ok.

And to top it all off, it took the main character so much time to come to basic realizations. When she noticed that the class photo of the year the mysterious fire happened was missing, it took her nearly the entire book to check behind the photo of the previous year to find it. A lot of the supposedly interesting plot points were extremely predictable and cliche. However, there was a bit of a twist at the end that was a little interesting, but it was really far too little too late.

The only thing I can’t complain about is the writing, that part of the story was perfectly fine. I just wish the author had taken more time in crafting the story behind it. Maybe I’m just too old for a book like this, maybe I’m being too critical, but I don’t think that’s the case. I’m usually pretty forgiving, especially if I really want to like the book. A lot of people really love this series (almost 4 stars on goodreads), and they’re even planning on making it into a movie, just like every other moderately successful YA series these days. I wish I could have liked it, but I just can’t get over how disappointing it was. Until next time…

Happy Reading!

And Only to Deceive

And Only to DeceiveAnd Only to Deceive

By: Tasha Alexander

www.tashaalexander.com/index.html

(Victorian Mystery)

310 pages

This is the first book in the Lady Emily series of Victorian mysteries, and since I was in a historical fiction kind of mood, it seemed appropriate. This series had actually been on my book list for quite a while, and I had picked up the second book in the series at a book sale somewhere along the way, so I thought it was about time I started it.

The most important thing in a book like this is to like the main character, especially since it’s written in the first person. Fortunately I did. She was the right combination of independent and confident, while still being believable, and faltering from time to time. She wasn’t too strong or too weak. The characters surrounding her complimented her nicely, and presented plenty of suspicious options as to who the culprit really was.

While the story was intriguing in a “who done it” sort of way and with its connections to antiquities and Greek history, I felt like something was missing. By the time I finished the book I realized what it was, danger. Lady Emily, despite poking her nose into some slightly dangerous plots, was never in any real danger. There was no running about London, or wandering its seedy underbelly. It was all a very proper kind of danger. However, after reading the author’s explanation in the back of the book, I understood this lack of real, action packed, danger.

The author explains that she didn’t want to take a modern girl with modern, freethinking sensibilities, and stick her in period costume. The idea was to make a character that was dangerous and shocking for her time, and with that she succeeded. After thinking about it, I realized I was just expecting something that has become a bit of a cliche, and in a way, I rather like this idea of a heroine who is a little ahead of her time, without fully removing herself from the society she is a part of.

I think I’ll definitely be reading more of this series. I like variety, and I’ve been a little lacking in the historical fiction department lately. I’ve only read a couple mysteries in the past, and I find that placing them in a historical setting makes them a lot more fun. Until next time…

Happy Reading!