The Shadow Land

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova follows a young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, ¬†who lands in Hungary and accidentally steals an elder woman’s bag as she’s getting into a taxi. Trying to return the bag, she turns to the police and another taxi driver. Alexandra and her new taxi friend travel around Sofia and the surrounding countryside desperately trying to find the older couple and their son who lost their bag.

Along the way, the duo gets caught up in the story about the man who’s belongings are in the lost bag, a young violinist who was detained in politically oppressed Bulgaria. Alexandra’s story is interspersed with the tales of Bulgaria from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, spilling secrets that somebody wanted hidden.

There is an old world gothic feel to this story, as if ghosts might pop out of the corner. But the horrors in the real world are more terrifying than any ghost story.

Great novel!!! Read May 2017

Three Sisters, Three Queens

I’ve read other Philippa Gregory novels and really enjoyed them. It was difficult for me to get through¬†Three Sisters, Three Queens and I’m trying to determine what it was.

On one hand, Gregory takes the mostly unknown story of Queen Margaret of Scotland and makes her a feminist icon by having her marry whom she wanted, not who she was dictated to marry. She fought hard for the legacy of her son, the heir of Scotland and England and even battled against her 2nd husband for her reign.

On the other hand, Gregory makes Margaret out to be a petty, superficial, entitled brat who does nothing but compare herself to her sister, Queen Mary of France, and her sister-in-law, Queen Katherine of England, All of these women fought hard for their own rights, but are capricious with no further thought than themselves.

The story starts when Margaret is young and not married, and she shortly loses several members of her family. She’s married off, still quite young, to a much older King of Scotland to help broker a peace between the England and Scotland. Much of the history of this time period, that I know, centers on King Henry VII and his upheaval of the Catholic Church in England. Part of that story is in this novel, but more about what leads up to it from a Queen’s point of view. While I found many aspects of the period of time fascinating, I had a hard time getting past the pettiness of Queen Margaret.

Read April 2017

The Devil in Montmartre

The Devil in Montmartre by Gary Inbinder was an interesting read. Having just read and enjoyed The Yard, there were so many similarities. A young and upcoming detective with a young wife, newly discovered fingerprinting evidence, post-Jack the Ripper world, prostitutes, separate sub plots. It felt like the author read The Yard and decided to reinvent it in Montmartre with a lot more name dropping of artists of the time.

I can’t say if I would have enjoyed the book on its own, but when compared to Alex Grecian’s work, The Devil in Montmartre couldn’t match up. It felt like trudging through mud while reading. The book never compelled me to sit down and read it, so it took forever to get through.

Anyway, maybe this book would be more enjoyable for any one interested in some art from the period since Inbinder included many artists. Overall, i just didn’t enjoy this novel very much.

Read April 2015

The Yard

The Yard takes place in London just after the Ripper has stopped killing and Jack was never found. The opening line “Nobody noticed when Inspector Christian Little of Scotland Yard disappeared, and nobody was looking for him when he was found,” fits for the time period and sets the scene. Alex Grecian captures the loneliness and messiness of Victorian London perfectly from the beginning to the end. The underbelly of London, where danger lurks around every corner, is where Little’s murderer should be found, and DI Walter Day has to search through the refuse to try to find a killer.

I really enjoyed this novel for two reasons. The first being that this was a captivating crime story where the reader knows more than the detectives. Grecian uses this to heighten the fear and anxiety surrounding the detectives and other characters every time they encounter each of the criminals. The fact that there were so many criminals and crimes happening concurrently made the story breeze by. You just never knew who was going to kill next and if it would be a strangely justified murder or if an innocent would be hurt.

The second reason for loving this novel are all the period details that Grecian includes. The fear the prostitutes have (remember Jack the Ripper was never caught) and the way they prevent further crimes against them while exacting their revenge against bearded Johns. Or when the detectives have to dive into a work house and the horrors that they encounter were a real part of Victorian London, not in a pretty carriage ride kind of historical story. Also, Grecian details the beginning of Forensics science with Dr Bernard Kingsley’s fingerprinting and new morgue.

Overall this was a great read for both the crime story and historical details.

Read March 2015

The Homesman

The Homesman educated me about some of the hardships specific to women who settled the American Mid-West in the 1850’s. The land was cruel; the loneliness brutal. Families settled on land far from one another with very little community support established. As much as Glendon Swarthout captured how they tried to look out for one another as best they could, for the most part, each family were on their own.

The story centers on a small group of families where the woman of the household has gone mad. Each story that accompanies the madness is so sad and personal, but the hard reality is that the women cannot stay on their farms with no one to care for them and the men needing to care for the land. They need to be sent back east to families or possible sanitariums to care for them. While many of the women suffered things that women elsewhere in the world have suffered, the madness is intensified by their isolation and desperate circumstances.

Mary Bee Cuddy is an independent woman who owns and tends her own settlement. Due to one of the women’s unsympathetic husband, Mary Bee ends up being the one who collects the women with the intent of heading back east alone. After coming across a stranger in dire circumstances, she ends up partnering up with him, a claim jumper named George Briggs, who is only out for the money that is promised him.

Swarthout’s detail of what life was like on the American Mid-West is well researched and full of personal stories. I don’t doubt any of what he says, and it amazes me that America somehow spread beyond this period of time and this land. Its interesting that Swarthout also included that there was importance placed on keeping the women’s stories from reaching any women westward bound, lest they turn around and head back east.

This was an interesting and nice read. I would recommend to anyone who’s interested in learning about how women lived in the American Mid-West during the great American expansion west.

Read August 2014

The Aviator’s Wife

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin is very similar to The Paris Wife by Paula McClain and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. Also, although I’ve never read it, I’ve heard it is also very similar to Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. All of these are about the famous man, the forgotten woman and the family burden left to her alone. Of course these men being who they were, their family and wife were never enough to entertain the ego of these men.

The Aviator’s Wife is about Charles Lindbergh’s wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Benjamin included great details about the Lindbergh’s life including a heart breaking section devoted to the Lindbergh kidnapping. There were great stories about how Anne flew with her husband, not just as a passenger, but as an active navigator, radio operator, and fellow explorer flying around the world creating new flight routes which would help develop the burgeoning world of commercial aircraft. There were stories about being trapped by paparazzi before there was even a term to describe the reporters stalking the couple and their family. I learned more about Charles Lindbergh’s association with Hitler and the Nazis and how it almost brought down the great legend than I’d ever heard before.

Even with all this, this story felt like it had already been told. A book club friend speculated that after the popularity of all the other ‘wife’ books someone rushed to research the wife of the famous aviator. Anne Lindbergh’s life sounded interesting but the writing and story telling techniques felt tired and it wasn’t enough to hold my interest very well. Perhaps if I had read this book first, I would have felt different. But I didn’t.

Interesting facts and an ok read.

Read June 2014.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

When I think of Zelda Fitzgerald, I think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife who lived the very essence of the Jazz Age and succumbed to the hangover of that time in a sanitarium due to some mental illness. I had not heard or remembered much about her supposed effect on her husband’s work or that she was either a muse or a yoke.

Therese Anne Fowler’s novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald takes the rumors and the facts of her life to create a realistic picture of what Zelda’s life could have been. Fowler portrays F. Scott Fitzgerald as a man in love with life, and in love with the beautiful girl from Alabama that he met while in the military. He helps transform a southern belle into the epitome of the modern Jazz girl, a real flapper that dances on table tops or in fountains after drinking champagne all night.

Fowler takes license to create a relationship between the Fitzgeralds that I’ve only glimpsed in other novels. Fowler does not dispute that they both loved to party and they moved on whims to better create an environment conducive to writing. The people that filled their lives, fill this novel and its a who’s who of the writing world in the 1920’s. The Fitzgeralds knew everyone who needed to be known. This alone made the novel worth reading. Its a different point of view from Ernest Hemingway’s An Immoveable Feast or Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, but one worth remembering and thinking about.

We also get to see a relationship built on love, but not necessarily logic or reality. Fowler treats Zelda as someone who’s true story hasn’t been told. And maybe that’s true. The victors write the history books, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s success allowed his tale to take dominance. Fowler gives some history to Zelda’s side and throws doubt on whether Zelda should have been in the sanitariums and perhaps if the treatments caused some additional ailments.

I can’t comment on the accuracy and in the Author’s Notes and Acknowledgments, Fowler discussed the historical truths and literary licenses she took in writing the novel. Was Fitzgerald a louse who preferred to party over writing, or was Zelda the instigator who made it hard for him to find time to write. Just like most relationships, I’m sure there’s truth to all the rumors, and this novel gives more light to the possibility that F. Scott Fitzgerald drove their relationship over the edge, not Zelda.

Read March 2014.