Review: The Quick ~ Lauren Owen

the quickLondon, 1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society, and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Unnerved, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine city that greets her, she uncovers a secret world at the margins populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of one of the country’s preeminent and mysterious institutions: The Aegolius Club, whose members include the most ambitious, and most dangerous, men in England.

5 Thumbs-UpSo, what can I say about this book?  Three things really, a) it is a debut novel for this Author b) I really didn’t see that coming and c) Noooooo!!!

I found this book by chance on a rummage through my local lending library the other day, and was intrigued both by the cover and the synopsis, so home with me it came and I’m glad I took a chance on something so unknown to me.  If other readers have already heard of this novel they may think I live under some rock and rarely venture out; that is not the case, I never read reviews on books and choose them purely on their own merit when out and about and this was the case with this one.

From a character point of view they are plentiful in this novel, and they are morose, they are arrogant; you may love them or you may hate them, but each of them will bring about a reaction in the reader of some description.  In my opinion it was hard to pinpoint one main character in the whole of this novel, as so many come and take centre stage in a way that will impact all those around them; and once they step away from the limelight they do not fade out of the plotline entirely as many Authors have their lesser characters doing.  Despite the time period in which this novel was set, there was one particular character I really connected with and I was rooting for her every time she appeared in the story; there were also others that no matter how hard I tried I could not find anything redeeming in their character and found myself chuckling when rough things happened to them.

Because of the way in which this book is written it is hard to write an in-depth review without giving away the plot.  It is written from a multi-perspective point of view , as each character comes to the front and also includes journal entries; all the good stuff that combine together to make an exceptional Victorian gothic novel.  It is very apparent from the way in which the Author addresses class issues and gender expectations that they have done an extensive amount of research into this period of history; the shock one woman expresses at seeing another wearing trousers is a good example.  The location descriptions are the best I have read in a long time, and in this area put me in mind of Dickens and Conan-Doyle in the way the Author uses the surroundings to propel the storyline along.  The grandeur of some buildings is, in the next paragraph startling contrasted against the poorer areas of London; along with smells and attire I could almost feel I was back in this time with the characters.

This is a moody, dark and gritty novel which really doesn’t show London at its best, but this is what adds to the novel.  There is no sugar coating of the privations some suffered and the excesses others enjoyed.  Because of its abrupt ending however, I am hoping that this may be the start of a series, one that I will definitely be following.  If not, and the Author decided to leave the reader with a cliff-hanger, I don’t really mind as I will definitely be reading this Author again.

I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, and those who enjoy a good gothic novel.  Also those who enjoy Victorian crime fiction may find this to their liking.

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From Tear-Jerkers to the Warm and Fuzzies…

As regular followers of my blog will know I am not a lover (excuse the pun) of the romance novel genre.  However, as today is Valentine’s Day I thought I would share with you six of the greatest love stories of all time, and which I fully intend to bite the bullet and read, or reread as in the case of Bronte, to review at a later date.  As always this list is in no particular order.

Wuthering HeightsTitle ~ Wuthering Heights
Author ~ Emily Bronte
ISBN ~ 978-0141439556
Publisher ~ Penguin Classics

One of the most passionate and heartfelt novels ever written, Wuthering Heights tells of the relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, the orphan boy her father adopted and brought to Wuthering Heights when they were children.

While Catherine forms a deep attachment to Heathcliff, her brother Hindley despises him as a rival. Heathcliff becomes torn between love for Catherine and the rage and humiliation he suffers. Finally he can stand it no longer and, in the violence of a summer storm, leaves the Heights for three years. During his absence Catherine has married, but her tormented heart belongs eternally to Heathcliff who is now prepared to exact his tyrannical revenge.

With its freedom from social convention and its unparalleled emotional intensity, Wuthering Heights is a highly original and deeply tragic work.

Anna KareninaTitle ~ Anna Karenina
Author ~ Leo Tolstoy
ISBN ~ 978-1593080273
Publisher ~ Barnes & Noble Classics (June 1st, 2003)

Married to a powerful government minister, Anna Karenina is a beautiful woman who falls deeply in love with a wealthy army officer, the elegant Count Vronsky. Desperate to find truth and meaning in her life, she rashly defies the conventions of Russian society and leaves her husband and son to live with her lover. Condemned and ostracized by her peers and prone to fits of jealousy that alienate Vronsky, Anna finds herself unable to escape an increasingly hopeless situation.

Set against this tragic affair is the story of Konstantin Levin, a melancholy landowner whom Tolstoy based largely on himself. While Anna looks for happiness through love, Levin embarks on his own search for spiritual fulfillment through marriage, family, and hard work. Surrounding these two central plot threads are dozens of characters whom Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together, creating a breathtaking tapestry of nineteenth-century Russian society.

From its famous opening sentence — “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—to its stunningly tragic conclusion, this enduring tale of marriage and adultery plumbs the very depths of the human soul.

Doctor ZhivagoTitle ~ Doctor Zhivago
Author ~ Boris Pasternak
ISBN ~ 978-0679774389
Publisher ~ Pantheon (March 18th, 1997)

This epic tale about the effects of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath on a bourgeois family was not published in the Soviet Union until 1987. One of the results of its publication in the West was Pasternak’s complete rejection by Soviet authorities; when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 he was compelled to decline it. The book quickly became an international best-seller.

Dr. Yury Zhivago, Pasternak’s alter ego, is a poet, philosopher, and physician whose life is disrupted by the war and by his love for Lara, the wife of a revolutionary. His artistic nature makes him vulnerable to the brutality and harshness of the Bolsheviks. The poems he writes constitute some of the most beautiful writing in the novel.

Sense and SensibilityTitle ~ Sense and Sensibility
Author ~ Jane Austen
ISBN ~ 978-0141439662
Publisher ~ Penguin Books (April 29th, 2003)

‘The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!’

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

Dangerous Liaisons - Les Liaisons dangereusesTitle ~ Dangerous Liaisons: Les Liaisons dangereuses
Author ~ Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
ISBN ~ 978-0192838674
Publisher ~ Oxford University Press (March 18th, 1999)

The complex moral ambiguities of seduction and revenge make Les Liaisons dangereuses (1782) one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. The subject of major film and stage adaptations, the novel’s prime movers, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, form an unholy alliance and turn seduction into a game – a game which they must win. This new translation gives Laclos a modern voice, and readers will be able a judge whether the novel is as “diabolical” and “infamous” as its critics have claimed, or whether it has much to tell us about the kind of world we ourselves live in. David Coward’s introduction explodes myths about Laclos’s own life and puts the book in its literary and cultural context.

Hunchback of Notre DameTitle ~ Hunchback of Notre Dame
Author ~ Victor Hugo
ISBN ~ 978-0140443530
Publisher ~ Penguin Classics (October 26th, 1978)

In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her that only Quasimodo can prevent. Victor Hugo’s sensational, evocative novel brings life to the medieval Paris he loved, and mourns its passing in one of the greatest historical romances of the nineteenth century.

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Review: The Cheesemaker’s House ~ Jane Cable

Cheesemaker's HouseInspired by a framed will found in her dream Yorkshire house, which had been built at the request of the village cheesemaker in 1726, Jane Cable discovered the historical aspect of her novel. Set near Northallerton in North Yorkshire, The Cheesemaker’s House is a page-turner that will have readers hooked instantly.

The novel follows the life of Alice Hart, who escapes to the North Yorkshire countryside to recover after her husband runs off with his secretary. Battling with loneliness but trying to make the best of her new start, she soon meets her neighbours, including handsome builder Richard Wainwright and kind café owner Owen Maltby. As Alice employs Richard to start renovating the barn next to her house, all is not what it seems. Why does she start seeing Owen when he clearly isn’t there? Where – or when – does the strange crying come from? And if Owen is the village ‘charmer’, what exactly does that mean?

4 Thumbs-Up

This is a debut novel for this Author and, in my opinion, signifies the beginning of a long and illustrious career as a writer with this gentle and mysterious ghost story.

The main protagonist in this book is a recently divorced woman, and the Author does a great job of instilling a feeling of loss and sadness into this character whilst at the same time injecting her with a sense of moving on.  Rather than bring in this character’s back story all at once, in an effort to get it over and done with, the Author gradually introduces all her flaws and insecurities over a period of time; this serves to draw the reader in and, even though they may not be in the same position as the character, they can easily connect with her and put themselves in her place.  This serves to make her have a real aura around her, as if she is someone we know personally.  The other characters in this novel are also well written, and once again, there is no cluttering up of the storyline with information that has no relation to the plot.  Being from Yorkshire myself, I could identify with a lot of the traits the Author places on her characters, and also could actually put some faces of people I know to them, this ability created by the Author  just made this book even more enjoyable for me.  All the characters in this book are shrouded with mysteries of one kind or another and the Author feeds titbits to the reader throughout its pages, to aid them in uncovering them.

The Author writes with a style that hooks the reader from the first page, making them want to keep reading until the end, and the initial mystery laid out before the reader is one that is not easily solved; another great way to keep you hooked until the end.  Despite the mild aspects of romance in the book, I actually enjoyed it.  I didn’t find the Author wrote too much of this side of the main protagonists new life, sticking mainly to the ghost story aspect of the plot.  Where I did feel, however, that the book tended to get bogged down was with the minutiae of village life; there are only so many times you can read about onions as big as your head, and the cut-throat world of the village fete before you never want to tend attend one again.  Other than that though, the Authors description of village life in Yorkshire was spot on, and I thoroughly enjoyed her giving some of the characters in the book the local dialect, which came easily to my mind as I read causing no difficulties.  Other readers not familiar with the dialect may find it hard to decipher, as I do when reading novels containing the southern US dialect.  I particularly enjoyed the historical aspect of this novel, and how pulling on her research into her own home, the Author was able to add realism to her work.

I would highly recommend this novel to lovers of the suspense and crime genres, but if you are totally into romantic fiction you may be disappointed in this read.  Thankfully it was not a major part of this book, and as such means I will be looking for more from this Author if she keeps writing in this way.

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Review: Being Franklin Zebb ~ Nyla Naseer

BeingFranklin Zebb’s life had never been straightforward. 

From a very early age it became clear that Franklin was different and appeared to have a somewhat charmed ability to ‘get lucky’ in all sorts of different and mind-bending situations, from launching a global multi-player computer games business as a teenager, to being an international athlete, a strategic subversive and an innovative media mogul with a penchant for investigative journalism and ‘helping deserving causes’ that might appear, at first sight, a little unusual or even dubious. He had certainly made an impact.

There comes a point in every man’s life when it is time to take stock and think back over one’s achievements. After an exhaustive few decades, Franklin had reached this point and decided to settle into a hermit-guru lifestyle, living in a cave in the Yorkshire Dales, writing his first book and meditating, whilst hosting various friends from his past who popped in now and again. 

Predictably, he attracted a faithful group of followers and curious observers, with whom he shared the remarkable stories of his life, thus far. This book is an account of Franklin’s year as a hermit-guru and his own recollection of the extraordinary experience of being Franklin Zebb.

The story sees Franklin succeeding, more by luck than judgement, in some key themes of social and cultural change of the past thirty plus years and rightfully claiming the title of ‘Master of the Almost Believable’.

This is a funny, clever, satirical book which draws on naivety and parody whilst it tumbles along!

4 Thumbs-Up

This is the third published work by this Author, and the first in the Franklin Zebb ‘Chronicles’

Franklin Zebb is an amalgamation of Walter Mitty and Richard Branson and, although this book is first person narrative it manages to build a very deep and precise look at the character of Zebb.  Through the main leads own words we are taught what made him who he is today, and what he thinks will take him to where he needs to be tomorrow.  This character is so personable that the reader cannot do anything but like him, and his naiveté.  Using Zebb as a mouthpiece, the Author brings to life all the people her character meets on his haphazard journey through his history, and compels them to keep reading on until the end.  You cannot help but admire Zebb; complete with his total lack of political correctness at times.

The Author describes the locations in her book very well and, being from Yorkshire, I was able to revisit places that I haven’t been to in a long time; but this isn’t the only locale that the Author takes us to, in this entertaining little novel the reader also travels to places as far apart as Africa and Alabama.  It’s a book that, to review in-depth, would mean writing spoilers and I feel that would be a disservice to the Author who has penned this great little story.  If the Author decides to go ahead and write more about Zebb, I will definitely be reading them, and I think that in time she will give James Thurber a good run for his money.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone that is looking for a delightful and hilarious read.  It is full of satire, wit and, at times, a glorious lack of political correctness that some may not like.  Regardless of this, this light-hearted and extremely readable book will definitely be able to get a conversation started amongst all those who have read it, so I feel that it would be a good choice for book clubs that are looking for something completely different and off the wall.

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