#BookReview: Versailles by Elizabeth Massie

versailes bookreview

Versailles, 1667. Louis XIV is 28 years old and King of France. Still haunted by the memory of the Fronde, an opposition lead by the nobility against his father, Louis knows that he must tame the French aristocracy or risk being toppled by them. Louis conceives of the construction of Versailles – the greatest palace the world has ever seen – as a gilded prison designed to keep the nobles out of Paris and under his control. As his enemies circle, Louis XIV proves to be an extraordinary strategist, manipulative, and Machiavellian. There is nothing he will not do to ensure his sovereignty.

Meanwhile, court becomes a battlefield of tactical liaisons and private passions. Louis’ queen, Theresa of Austria, must fight to keep her husband’s attentions while he falls under the spell of his powerful mistress, the sister of the King of England. As tensions rise, Versailles proves to be more than a palace, it is a labyrinth of treason and hushed secrets, of political schemes and deadly conspiracies. It is a place of passion and death, love and vengeance.

From the publishers, Corvus Books, in exchange for a review.  This is the Novelisation of a new BBC2 Drama, and you can tell the show was done first, the book afterwards. There’s a particular style of presentation to this book – there’s lots of chopping and changing to scenes, few lasting more than a page. There’s lots within the book (and I suspect the show) designed to keep people entertained – lots of sex of most combinations allowed in a post-watershed BBC drama, intrigue, clothes, war, blackmail, scenery, parties etc.

As to the book itself – as expected from the writing style, it’s a fast read and easily got through. There’s not much in terms of exposition etc. It is the “book of the series” after all, and let’s not bog the story down with too much that’s not included in the show. I believe that the series is going to be 10 parts, and by the looks of things, this is the only book tie-in, so there’s a lot to cover.

Here’s a trailer for the BBC2 show that this relates to:

 

About this author

Elizabeth (Beth) Massie is a 2-time Bram Stoker Award winning author of horror/suspense/mystery novels and short fiction for adults. She also writes media-tie in fiction and historical fiction.  (I believe she has also written the 3 book series tied to The Tudors drama series)

#BookReview: Dark Surrender by Erica Ridley

Dark Surrender

Violet Whitechapel committed an unspeakable crime to save a child. To escape the hangman’s noose, she takes refuge in a crumbling abbey with secrets darker than her own. When its master offers her a temporary post, Violet cannot say no. Just as she begins to see him in a new light, her past catches up to her and endangers them all.

Alistair Waldegrave keeps his daughter imprisoned in the black heart of his Gothic abbey. As he searches for a cure to the disease the villagers call demonic, his new governess brings much needed light into their lives. But how can the passion between them survive the darkness encroaching from outside their sheltered walls?

From Intrepid Reads via Netgalley in exchange for a review. I’ve read other Erica Ridley books before (such as the #DukesofWar series) and it was whilst I was tidying up my Netgalley shelf that I realised I had this book lying around for  a while and needing a read and review. Whoopsie!

Dark Surrender is apparently the third (and currently last) in the Wicked Sinful series.  Violet is a woman who was orphaned quite young and had to learn to look after herself by any means necessary. Ultimately she gets a job as a governess, and the story opens with the school she is working at on the brink of being closed by the new owner.

She rescues one of her charges from being attacked, only to potentially have killed the attacker, so she escapes as fast and as far as her money will take her.

She comes across a seemingly abandoned abbey, only to find that it isn’t, and that the limited inhabitants are different to say the least.  There are locks on every single door, the windows are boarded up (hiding the stain glass windows), the servants don’t trust strangers or the master, and the master and his daughter (Lillian) are more than a little odd .

Marjorie, Lillian’s mother, died in childbirth, and it seems Lillian is allergic to sunlight (hints of vampires anyone?) and has been confined to her room and darkness since she was a child. All the doors are locked because she “escaped” into sunlight when 5 years old, and still has the burns to show for the mistake. All she wants is to see the day light, and she hates and resents her father for not giving her what she wants.

Seemingly on a whim, Alistair hires Violet as a governess for Lillian, and Violet manages to start breaking down some of the barriers with the child as well as the other staff. Violet also breaks down some of the barriers with Alistair, who has not moved on from the fact that Marjorie died, and he is spending all his time and money attempting to find a cure for Lillian (he, too, apparently has the disease).

There are plenty of “near misses” in terms of the sex content between Lillian and Alistair, and it’s good/interesting to see the reaction of a man who finds out that an unmarried young woman is not exactly “unaware” of the whole matter of sex – if you get my drift.

The rest of the book is about each of the major characters learning to trust each other – even Mr. Roper (the butler) and the rest of the staff learning to trust Violet. There are confrontations to be made and lies to be uncovered and dealt with on both sides. Finally, after some adjustments, a happy ending is found.

I did struggle a little to complete this – it didn’t seem to flow as easy as previous books I’ve read by this author – it seemed a little earnest and trying too hard (possibly why there was only three in the series?).

I still like this author, but will not be in an immediate rush to track down or read the other two books in this series.

Top Eight Books I Feel As Though Everyone Has Read But Me

I read a lot of Front-list books (those books that are about to be, or have just been, published. I’m getting better at reading Back-lists, but it still needs work. Despite spending a reasonable amount of time in bookshops browsing what’s on offer, I can easily fail to pick up the latest “must read”.  Here are some of the books that I’ve managed to avoid reading to date, that I suspect many other people have at least said they’ve read….

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – I read the first few chapters, but didn’t care for it, so passed it on to someone who did want it. No, I haven’t seen the film either.
  2. Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – I saw a lot of noise about it in 2015, but seeing it compared to “Gone Girl” – which I had recently just ditched – was not a way of making me want to read it.  Looks like the film will come out in 2016.
  3. 50 Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James. I’ve read none of them, and wouldn’t admit to it even if I had! I have no problem in reading sexy stories/erotica, but I do have standards and heard from people I trust that the books were simply badly written. Don’t get me onto the fourth in the series, as it was clearly done as a money-making exercise.
  4. Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer – I read the first one, wasn’t particularly impressed (sparkly vampires? What’s the point of vampires if it’s not about sex, right? Christian values, No sex before marriage, etc. Bah Humbug!). I’ve caught bits from the movies, which are now on irregular repeats on the TV, but have never sat down to watch an entire film.
  5.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I’m not big in YA arena so to hear the ravings of fans when the films came out made me wonder, but not enough to go out and read one of them!
  6. It’s the same with Divergent by Veronica Roth – another YA book that got enough critical mass when the films came out
  7. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This is perhaps more my style – large with a cast of thousands and historical fiction. It’s actually on my bookshelf somewhere and I’ll get around to it at some point, however, I refused to read it at the time because of the hype. I suspect it’s one of those books that people claim to have read it (but haven’t really) in the hope it will impress people.
  8. Most of the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling. I read the early books after the films came out. I have neither read the later books nor seen the later films. I’m bad I know. So Be It.  I am not sure I have (had) all the books – I can’t actually remember the last one I read, but it was certainly long before the end of either the books or watching the movies. The last one is on the bookshelf, and I’ve read the last few pages, so in theory I know how it ends, but still…

Have you read any of these books? Were they worth it? Did you read it because of the hype? 

#BookReview: The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian by David Dyer

the midnight watch

As the Titanic and her passengers sank slowly into the Atlantic Ocean after striking an iceberg late in the evening of April 14, 1912, a nearby ship looked on. Second Officer Herbert Stone, in charge of the midnight watch on the SS Californian sitting idly a few miles north, saw the distress rockets that the Titanic fired. He alerted the captain, Stanley Lord, who was sleeping in the chartroom below, but Lord did not come to the bridge. Eight rockets were fired during the dark hours of the midnight watch, and eight rockets were ignored. The next morning, the Titanic was at the bottom of the sea and more than 1,500 people were dead. When they learned of the extent of the tragedy, Lord and Stone did everything they could to hide their role in the disaster, but pursued by newspapermen, lawyers, and political leaders in America and England, their terrible secret was eventually revealed. The Midnight Watch is a fictional telling of what may have occurred that night on the SS Californian, and the resulting desperation of Officer Stone and Captain Lord in the aftermath of their inaction.

Told not only from the perspective of the SS Californian crew but also through the eyes of a family of third-class passengers who perished in the disaster, the narrative is drawn together by Steadman, a tenacious Boston journalist who does not rest until the truth is found. 

From the publishers (Corvus Books) in exchange for a review, this book is split into four parts.

Part one is about the sinking of the Titanic from the Californian’s standpoint, where the Second Officer Stone has taken the Midnight Watch, can see flares go up from a “steamer” nearby, and does not go to find out what’s wrong. By the time the Californian reaches the US, all hell has broken loose, and Steadman is risking his job to get the untold story.  There is a wall of silence around Captain Lord, whose word is apparently gospel, but Steadman can see that Stone (plus a couple of other crew members) have something else to say and he doggedly follows them and tries to get the scoop.

Part two finds Steadman in the UK for the UK inquiry. Captain Lord is maintaining that he was never told about the flares (Stone says he was), but even without admitting this, it is clear that the Californian still failed.  Lord refuses to take responsibility – never admitting that anything wrong was done – but it is not long till he’s drummed out of the company.  Steadman is still trying to find his angle to tell the story from a unique perspective – he’s known for “finding the bodies” and writing about specific people in a unique way, but he has yet to find it on this story.

Part three is Steadman’s telling of the story from the side of a third-class family of nine, who are all lost. It is the hook that he’s lost his job for, and he has been disappointed that the Americans are all focussed on the 1st class guests (Astor etc), whilst ignoring the 3rd class guests entirely.  The UK press mentioned 3rd class, but noone’s story was ever told.

The Epilogue is set years later – Stone has died (never making Captain, and never going back to sea, though remaining with the shipping company). Lord has been driven out of the service, and now blind, but spending years in trade. He is bitter that Stone kept his job, seeing him as a weak man, who never stood for much.

The Titanic sank in 1912, so the centenary passed a few years ago.  Whilst I know the basics – e.g. the fact that there were in theory, plenty of ships were nearby and that more people could have gone into what lifeboats there were – I’d never really thought about those ships that could have helped.  This was a good book to add a new dimension to someone with average historical knowledge, even if most of it isn’t true (apparently the inquest Q&A is true). There is a good added dimension of how things are changing socially and politically – the status quo is being broken and the blind Victorian loyalty to your “betters” is being challenged; women on both sides of the Atlantic are going for the vote, wearing trousers and removing corsets (much akin to “burning of bras” in the 1960s).

About this author

David Dyer spent many years as a lawyer at the London legal practice whose parent firm represented the Titanic’s owners in 1912. He has also worked as a cadet and ship’s officer on a wide range of merchant vessels, having graduated with distinction from the Australian Maritime College. His worldwide research and access to countless documents and artifacts has informed and inspired his work in The Midnight Watch. He currently teaches English in Sydney.

#BookReview: Just one of those things by Mindy Klasky

Just one of those things

Matt Dawson has returned to Harmony Springs after ten years of pitching in the major leagues. His father thinks he’s a screw-up who should have joined the Army instead of playing ball. His old buddies think he’s a hero with a bottomless bank account. But Matt knows he’ll never be a hero, not like his brother Jon, who recently died in Afghanistan.

Emily Barton once dated Jon but their break-up was brutal, made even worse when Matt tried to intervene. Years later, Emily remains trapped on an emotional treadmill, regularly changing her apartment, her job, and her boyfriend in a futile attempt to regain her earlier success.

Determined to give back to Harmony Springs, Matt opens an American Discount thrift store. But Emily recognizes a threat to the downtown shopping district and she organizes a grassroots campaign. Will she succeed at driving the American Dollar out of town—and Matt out of her life—forever?

From the publisher via LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer’s Feb 2016 batch

Just One of those Things is told from two main points of view – those of Emily (“Em”) and Matt – with multiple timeframes, which gives some insight into what happened previously between Matt, Jon and Emily, and what it was like for Emily to grow up as the middle child in an extended family.  Emily has plenty of friends, who on her 30th birthday challenge her to go on 3 dates every month, starting with the next single guy they spot. Unfortunately, that guy is Matt, the brother of the man who broke Em’s heart 12 years previously and with whom she’d had a very brief flirtation.

On the first date, Em finds that Matt has returned to town, bringing the thrift store to the edge of the business district, which Em fears could change an already struggling economy for the worse. Matt believes that by bringing a thrift store to town to bring the stuff other people aren’t stocking will help the economy and not have people drive an hour away to the next town, or have to wait 2 days for internet deliveries.

Whilst the two of them flirt and date, there’s is also the community Save our Shops, initiated by Em, in an attempt to ward off the threat of the Thrift Store. Meanwhile, Matt is struggling to deal with his brother Jon’s death whilst in the army, and his father’s belief that it should have been him instead. He’s also trying to find his way in the world after coming out of the leagues, whilst dealing with a corporate world who don’t look on jocks too favourably.

Ultimately both people have to deal with what is true to themselves whilst doing what’s best for their family and friends. People get hurt along the way, as is always the case, but most of the time it’s dealt with ok. Some of the secondary characters come in and out of the frame and are not always 3 dimensional, but that’s ok – there could be some space for more stories in this community.

It’s not a fluff book – there are enough topics included to keep the reader challenged a little more than standard romance novels, which is not a bad thing. Overall it’s a decent contribution to the genre.

 

#BookReview: The Silent Hours by Cesca Major

the silent hours

An epic, sweeping tale of love and loss inspired by heartrending true events in the Unoccupied Zone of wartime France.
The Silent Hours follows three people whose lives are bound together, before war tears them apart:
Adeline, a mute who takes refuge in a convent, haunted by memories of her past;
Sebastian, a young Jewish banker whose love for the beautiful Isabelle will change the course of his life dramatically; Tristin, a nine-year-old boy, whose family moves from Paris to settle in a village that is seemingly untouched by war.
Beautifully wrought, utterly compelling and with a shocking true story at its core, The Silent Hours is an unforgettable portrayal of love and loss.

I received this direct from the Publishers (Corvus Books) in exchange for a review.  This book has multiple voices, spanning approximately 10 years around WWII in German Occupied France.

It ranges from the mute Adeline, mother of Isabelle, who is staying in a convent following the war. She submits to ongoing tests by French and English doctors in an attempt to find out why she does not speak. We get to hear via Adeline’s dreams there was a trauma she witnessed during the war. Her failure to speak, and also a failure to commit to becoming a nun, frustrates the Mother Superior, and there are thinly veiled threats about moving Adeline away.

Isabelle is a teacher, whose brother Paul gets called up then captured. The two write letters to each other, but we’re never quite sure they reach each other. The one where Isabelle confesses to be in love with (and pregnant by) the Jewish banker Sebastian definitely doesn’t reach him. For Isabelle, being unmarried and pregnant to a man her mother doesn’t remember meeting makes life in the small town very difficult.

Sebastian is Jewish, and he and his father are bankers. Sebastian is out one day visiting Isabelle and he returns home to find his parents have disappeared. He spends some time living rough (he is one of the German Spies that Tristin believes is living in the run down shack outside of town), but it becomes too risky for both him and Isabelle for him to stay, so he slowly makes his way to England.

Tristian is a young boy who sees the war through the eyes of the child he is – the uprooting from Paris to this small village, wondering whether the small boy Simon will ever come back to school – and not understanding references to “those people”, whether Pere Noel will find them this Christmas etc.

There’s a mix of letters and narratives in different voices, chapters are short (often a page long, and rarely dated, even letters) and there is a build up of the mystery as to what happened in the town and why Adaline is now mute. It all comes to a tie together at the end, where even the English doctor treating Adaline seems to have a vested interest in what happened in the village. The central mystery is dealt with in a few short chapters, told in present tense, and in retrospect with Adaline finally letting the walls down on her grief.

For a debut novel, I thought this was very well done, and finely executed. It did take me longer to complete than usual for a book of this size which generally tells me that whilst I liked the book, I didn’t love the book enough to not put it down until I finished.

 

#BookReview: Tainted Tokay by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen

tainted tokay

Celebrating the success of the Cooker Guide, the Winemaker Detective Benjamin Cooker takes a cruise down the Danube with his wife and editor. Enjoying mythic Tokaji wines in Budapest, all is not what it seems. Meanwhile, Virgile must handle the business in Bordeaux, while Alexandrine is attacked.

From the publishers Le French Book, via Netgalley in exchange for a review.

Another shortish book about The Winemaker Detective and there’s a change of scene. Benjamin and Elizabeth are on holiday, taking a cruise down the Danube. It is at the expense of Benjamin’s publisher Claude who is travelling with his current girlfriend – a much younger, very sulky and hot headed woman, called Consuela who claims to be from Brazil.

Whilst sightseeing in Vienna, Benjamin and Elizabeth pick up a tour guide called Zoltan, who proves to be interesting, but dangerous. His flirtation with Consuela also threatens the relationship between her and Claude. The guide comes with them as they move forward on their trip, and the group have some problems, where both Claude and Elizabeth have their passports stolen.

Virgile remains at home and is charged with running things whilst Benjamin is away. Almost immediately, however, things go wrong, as Alexandrine (who runs the lab at the office) is viciously attacked and ends up in hospital. It doesn’t help that Didier – Virgil’s mortal enemy – keeps hanging around the hospital.  To date Alexandrine has ignored Virgile’s womanising reputation and it is initially thought that her attacker was her girlfriend Chloe. As the book progresses, it turns out that the reality is much more nasty and it takes much to persuade Alexandrine the issue is worth pursuing with the police.

Both issues get resolved in a satisfactory way, and Benjamin is reminded not to be on the bad side of his wife – for once in this series, she is involved in the resolution of Zoltan, the missing passports and how one of their guests on the river boat had ended up dead.

Whilst it’s nice to see that the book can be up to date (there are comments regarding the refugee issue as a result of the fighting in Syria), it’s a little disappointing that the supposedly gay Alexandrine is apparently easily seduced by a man when it looks like she’s been dumped by Chloe (echoes of Gigli anyone?). I don’t have a problem with gay characters but I do have one where it seems characters are not true to themselves.

Of course there are some meals, wine and cigars involved, including a reason why Austrian wines are not as popular as perhaps they should be (a story I remember from the late 1980s, early 1990s involving Austrian wine and Anti-Freeze, which when discovered made the bottom drop out of any market for the wine)