21 June 2013

Thursday's Review: Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat

The book was provided by the author in exchange for a review. 

Publication Date: June 2, 2012
Publisher:  Self Published
Price: $4.38 eBook from Amazon only
           No longer available in paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

After reading numerous mystery/thrillers, lately I have been on an Historical Fiction bent.  I have been in love with HF since I was in my teams and first read the books of James Michener, Kathleen Woodiweiss, and Jean Plaidy.  There is just something about reading a book that takes you back in time and allows you to feel, hear, smell, etc., what life was like for the people in that time period. I love immersing myself in other cultures and time in this way.  Liza Perrat's debut novel, Spirit of Lost Angels certainly fits this bill.

As soon as I began reading the book, I instantly fell in love with the heroine, Victoire Charpentier.  In a time when women were largely illiterate and considered as possessions, Victoire is an exception.  Not only is she able to read and write, courtesy of her mother, but she also possesses a strong personality.  I really enjoy books where the author uses women with strong personalities in order to illustrate how exceptional this occurrence was in medieval times.  In fact, this book was filled with strong female characters.  In addition to Victoire, there was her mother, the village midwife and healer, who insisted that her daughter learn to read and write in a time where that was not an acceptable skill for women.  Another great female character in the book was Jean de Valois.  Jean is, in fact a historical character, and while actual knowledge of how she thought and felt is hard to come by, in this case the author did a wonderful job of giving her a personality that fit her persona.

The story presented here was also top-notch.  Through the eyes of Victoire, her family, and the many acquaintances that she makes through out her life, I felt that I was able to really get a good feeling for life in France during the time of the French Revolution.  Her joys and pains were my joys and pains. Her confusion and depression were so well written,  that I was immersed in the agony right along with her.  In addition, the author's descriptions of life in France were wonderful.  I really felt like I was in the small village of Lucie, the dungeons of a French prison, and the streets of Paris.  Most of the books that I have read regarding this time period were from the perspective of the aristocracy or royalty and I really enjoyed being able to look at things from the perspective of the average French citizen.  In this respect, I cannot believe there is a book that does a better job.

On finishing the book I was excited to find that it was the first in a trilogy of books about the women of the Charpentier family.  In fact, I am anxiously awaiting the next book in the series, which is about the French Resistance during WWII.  I am giving this book 4.5 out of 5 stars and it is going on my highly recommended list.


19 June 2013

Tuesday's Review: Bristol House by Beverly Swerling

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in return for my review. 

Publication Date: April 4, 2013
Publisher: Viking Press
Price: $27.95 Hardback
          $11.99 eBook
Genre: Thriller/Romance/Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

The publisher's blurb for Beverly Swerling's new novel, Bristol House talked about the blending of historical fiction with a supernatural thriller in a "dual period narrative".  For that reason alone, I would have read it.  Then it mentioned  that the historical part was set in Tudor England, a period of history that I am particularly fond of.  At that point I was hooked.  

Annie Kendall is a historical researcher who accepts a job to travel to London to verify the existence of a Jewish community in London during the reign of Henry VIII, a time when Jews were still forbidden to live in England.  In particular, her wealthy patron is looking for information regarding a specific inhabitant of the community, know as the Jew of Holborn.  It seems like perfect job to get her career back on track, but is it really? 

Rather than one story, there were really four separate stories  being told simultaneously in this book.  Each one was interesting in it's own right, but the author also did a marvelous job of seamlessly weaving them together into one cohesive main story.  Although I enjoyed the modern day story of Annie and Geoff Harris, it was the stories of the Jew of Holborn, Dom Justin, and Maggie Harris, Geoff's mother, that I enjoyed the most.  It was definitely the historical bent of these stories that drew me to them.  I found myself wanting to further research the possibility of a forbidden Jewish colony in Tudor England, and to further investigate the existence of the Kindertransports that Maggie was a product of.  I am always excited when a historical story presents new material that I can further research.  In contrast, the story of Annie and Geoff was a more contemporary romance sort of story, and, while well done, took second place in my mind. 

The use of the historical characters to actually tell their own stories and present the historical perspective of the book was a brilliant move on the author's part.  Giving the historical characters their own voice allowed me  to connect with them in a more intimate way.  This connection lent more realism to these stories, in my opinion.  I really enjoyed hearing about the Tudor times from Dom Justin and The Jew of Holborn, much more than having someone else talk about them, and wish that more of Maggie's story was included in the book.  Dom Justin, in particular, was an interesting character, although as a ghost, he was neither scary nor "haunting" as the publisher's blurb stated.  In fact, this is the only place in the book that fell short in my opinion.  I understood and enjoyed the author's use of the ghost as a story telling device, but I did not feel that the supernatural part of the story would have worked on it's own.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Since it was the first book that I have read by this author, I researched her other work and was excited to see that she has written a series of books about New York that begins in the Pilgrim times and follows it's development through the years.  I will definitely be adding ths series of books to my reading list.  I hope she does as good of a job with them as she has with Bristol House.  I would recoommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery story with a historical backdrop.  I am giving it 4 stars.