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A Hundred Summers Read Along

6.2.13_AHundredSummers

I might have raved about Beatriz Williams on this blog once or twice. Her newest book, A Hundred Summers, just went on sale last Thursday. I was lucky enough to snap up a galley of this beauty in February, and I read the entire thing in one sitting; I was so wrapped up in Lily’s story and so enchanted by the characters and the settings of Rhode Island in 1938 and New York City in the 20s that I was loath to put it down. Not to mention it banished the dreary winter weather we were having and made me look forward to summer. As with Overseas, I couldn’t wait to read it again.

The perfect opportunity to do so came when Jennifer from Literate Housewife announced that she was planning a read along for July. When she brought it up to the Hashtag Book Club, our three-month-old Twitter discussion group, all of us jumped on board and tried to think of a fun way to get the word out, and the blog hop was born.

I chose this quote because it comes at a point in the book where both the physical and emotional storms that have been brewing are about to break, not to mention it gives you an idea of just how incredible Beatriz’s writing is.

I hope you’ll join us for the read along! Check out the discussion schedule, and for further inspiration, visit my fellow bloggers and see what quotes they chose:

May 28 — Teresa’s Reading Corner

May 29 — Girls Just Reading

May 30 — Anita Loves Books

June 1 — Linus’s Blanket

June 2 — The Red Headed Reader

June 3 — Poof… books.

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The Yard by Alex Grecian

The Yard by Alex Grecian

Summary from the publisher:
Victorian London is a cesspool of crime, and Scotland Yard has only twelve detectives—known as “The Murder Squad”—to investigate countless murders every month. Created after the Metropolitan Police’s spectacular failure to capture Jack the Ripper, The Murder Squad suffers rampant public contempt. They have failed their citizens. But no one can anticipate the brutal murder of one of their own . . . one of the twelve . . .When Walter Day, the squad’s newest hire, is assigned the case of the murdered detective, he finds a strange ally in the Yard’s first forensic pathologist, Dr. Bernard Kingsley. Together they track the killer, who clearly is not finished with The Murder Squad . . . but why?

This book first came to my attention via a lovely ad in Shelf Awareness, and I was immediately intrigued. I’ve always been fascinated by the early days of the police force, be it Scotland Yard or New York’s finest (and if you are interested in the latter, you must read the fantastic The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye), and this had the added interest of being set directly after the Ripper murders, when London was still reeling and morale at the Yard was extremely low. By the time I got to the part about a serial killer targeting police, I was sold.

And this book delivers. Grecian really captured the ambiance of Victorian London, from the wealthy neighborhoods, to the underbelly of the East End, to the rundown dwellings of the underpaid members of the Murder Squad. He also gave a great sense of the public’s attitude towards the police and how that contempt led the murderer to undertake a sort of vigilante justice. But the most fascinating part, for me, was watching the Murder Squad solve the case without the methods we take for granted, such as fingerprinting, which, at that point, was not an accepted science, and the sequestering of evidence—there was a moment where someone almost made off with the murder weapon that had me on the edge of my seat.

The characters are also absolutely winning. There was a fearful moment at the beginning where Day and Hammersmith’s paths felt slightly divergent, but Grecian brought them together masterfully, and I really loved watching them come into their own. Day, Hammersmith, and pathologist Dr. Kingsley make a great team that I will happily follow through future cases.

This was a solid debut mystery that had me riveted all the way through. I can’t wait for the next installment in the series!

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Overseas by Beatriz Williams

Overseas by Beatriz Williams

Summary from the publisher:
When twenty-something Wall Street analyst Kate Wilson attracts the notice of the legendary Julian Laurence at a business meeting, no one’s more surprised than she is. Julian’s relentless energy and his extraordinary intellect electrify her, but she’s baffled by his sudden interest. Why would this handsome British billionaire—Manhattan’s most eligible bachelor—pursue a pretty but bookish young banker who hasn’t had a boyfriend since college?

The answer is beyond imagining . . . at least at first. Kate and Julian’s story may have begun not in the moneyed world of twenty-first-century Manhattan but in France during World War I, when a mysterious American woman emerged from the shadows of the Western Front to save the life of Captain Julian Laurence Ashford, a celebrated war poet and infantry officer.

Now, in modern-day New York, Kate and Julian must protect themselves from the secrets of the past, and trust in a true love that transcends time and space.

Readers, let me ask you: have you ever read a book that makes your heart hurt in the best way possible? Where you grow to love the characters so much that they’re the last thing you think of when you go to sleep and the first thing you think of when you wake up?

That is Overseas.

Let me say right off, this is not a historical novel. It’s more of a romance with elements of magical realism, and it requires some suspension of disbelief, which, for me, wasn’t at all difficult because I was so completely immersed in the story that I didn’t find myself questioning the plausibility of the whole thing, rather I wondered how the events of the past affected Kate and Julian’s future, and whether those things were going to catch up to them. Alternating between Amiens in 1916 and Manhattan in the present day also allowed the author to maintain some seriously high stakes, and the last 50 pages were particularly harrowing.

The characters are also wonderfully engaging. It was so easy to identify with Kate as she reeled with the knowledge of Julian’s past and then fought to maintain a balance between her independence and Julian’s protectiveness and wealth. And Julian is definitely going to perpetuate my unrealistic expectations in men, although I did like that he had his own flaws and that Kate called him out on them.

I can see readers getting a little confused about the how and why of the time travel and wanting more of an explanation. It made sense to me, and as the characters don’t fully understand how it works, I was able to accept the explanation we got. The author is very open to questions, so contact her via her website (linked above) or on Twitter if you want to know more.

I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a story of epic, consuming love, with some interesting little twists. For me, it was the ideal way to kick off the unofficial beginning of summer.

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The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

Summary from the publisher:
Small-time private investigator Ray Lovell veers between paralysis and delirium in a hospital bed. But before the accident that landed him there, he’d been hired to find Rose Janko, the wife of a charismatic son of a traveling Gypsy family, who went missing seven years earlier. Half Romany himself, Ray is well aware that he’s been chosen more for his blood than his investigative skills. Still, he’s surprised by the intense hostility he encounters from the Jankos, who haven’t had an easy past. Touched by tragedy, they’re either cursed or hiding a terrible secret-whose discovery Ray can’t help suspecting is connected to Rose’s disappearance. . . .

I can’t say how excited I was when The Invisible Ones arrived right before Christmas. Someone from the fabulous marketing team at Putnam recommended it to me because I love Tana French, and between that, the fact that it was about Gypsies in England, and the rave reviews it received in such publications as People, I was itching to pick this up. When I finally did last week, I found that it was well worth the wait.

The Invisible Ones is one of those twisted mysteries where you think you have a handle on where things are going and who the guilty parties are, only to be completely surprised when the truth finally hits you. The fact that Ray lost his memory at a crucial point in the case only heightens this, because you’re desperately trying to piece together his deductions as he remembers them. I was glued to the page, to the point where I wished my commute was just a few minutes longer so I could finish the chapter.

I really enjoyed Ray as a protagonist because he’s not your typical, brilliantly observant private investigator. That’s not to say he’s not those things—he is—but he’s also dealing with a lot of emotional baggage from a painful divorce and a previous case that went horribly wrong, and both of these things play strongly into the Janko case, causing him to be too cautious in certain situations and too trusting in others. And, of course, he has to reconcile his own past with his experiences with the Jankos and the rest of the Gypsy community. A character like this has every potential to be frustrating, but Ray never reached that point for me, rather I felt that he worked through all of his issues as he worked through the case, and when the solution finally became clear to him, he truly earned it.

What fascinated me most about this book, though, was the incredible insight Ms. Penney gave the reader into the Gypsy community through her second narrator, JJ. Gypsies are notoriously reticent towards outsiders, and having JJ’s input on what was going on within the Janko family and on Gypsy lifestyle was invaluable and really made the story special. Without it, The Invisible Ones had the potential to be a one-sided mystery about the dark and mysterious world of the Traveler. I also have to commend Ms. Penney on really capturing the Gypsy lifestyle, both from the traveling stand point and those who live “in bricks,” as she says. It’s clear that there was a lot of research involved, and it’s all presented respectfully, but truthfully.

Even though this book was recommended to me as a Tana French fan, I think The Invisible Ones is in a category all its own. It was an incredibly absorbing yarn that takes its time to unravel, and I highly recommend it.

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Book vs. Movie: Practical Magic

With the recent theatrical release of The Help, the debate over book vs. movie has been reignited on Twitter (there’s also been some controversy over The Help, but I’m not getting into it because I haven’t read the book or seen the movie). I rarely find that a film is better than the book it’s based on; I generally feel the adaptation is on par with the book, despite the changes the scriptwriter and director had to make. Occasionally, there will be that film that makes me stare in horror as the credits roll and that will have me toying with the idea of writing an angry letter to the studio (The Other Boleyn Girl, I’m looking at you), but those are almost equally rare as those films that are better than the books.

This week, I was surprised to discover a book that I liked less than the film.

Practical Magic is one of my top five favorite movies of all time. It’s easily one of the most played DVDs in my collection (and I’ve only owned it since Christmas of last year), and even though I own the movie, I have to watch it when it’s on T.V. It’s one of those movies that is the total package for me: great setting, great story, magic, a romantic element that’s not too nauseating, and strong performances all around. When I turn it on, it immediately conjures fall weather, warm fuzzies, Halloween with friends, and all good things.

For those who have never seen Practical Magic (and if you haven’t, Netflix and/or rent it, pronto), it’s about a family of witches whose powerful ancestor put a curse on the female line that their husbands will all die. Sally and Gillian are the latest in this line of Owens witches, and they both rebel against their heritage in different ways: Gillian moves from man to man and refuses to settle down with anyone, while Sally tries to suppress her powers altogether. Eventually, Sally falls in love with someone (with a little help from Aunt Frances and Aunt Jet) and has two children, but the curse works its magic and he dies. Sally is devastated and moves back in with the aunts, and she forbids them from teaching her children magic.

Gillian gets involved with an abusive boyfriend, Jimmy, and calls Sally for help. He dies, accidentally, and rather than call the police, Gillian insists they bury him in the aunts’ backyard. Jimmy starts to haunt the family, and things get worse when a police officer, Gary Hallet, comes knocking because Jimmy is wanted for murder. Sally is horrified that she can’t lie to Gary. Things come to a head, Gillian gets possessed by Jimmy, and they have to banish his spirit. In the process, Sally owns who and what she is, and the town accepts the Owens women as well.

I can watch Practical Magic a million times and still feel the same emotions when Sally and Gillian create the bond of blood, or when the women gather together to form a coven to banish Jimmy’s spirit, or when the Owens women jump off the roof and fly.

It took me two or three viewings of the movie to see the “Based on the novel by Alice Hoffman” credit, and it took a little longer for it to click in my head that there was a book! I could read Practical Magic, and it would be even better than the movie, because that’s how these things go. The world would jump off the page and hit me just like the movie. My beloved characters would be captured as the author intended. I immediately reserved it from my library, and it came in just in time for the weekend.

It was about halfway through the book that I realized that the book and the movie were extremely different. The characters in the book were sullen or careless to the extreme, and the lighter moments of the film that came in the form of Aunt Frances and Aunt Jet were completely missing in the novel, because they were miserable too! Sally and Gillian, and then Sally’s daughters, also don’t grow up surrounded by magic. The aunts still work their love spells, but the girls aren’t learning spells, and it doesn’t feel like the home and magic go hand-in-hand. The action also moved away from the aunts’ house in the book, and the way Jimmy haunted the family was different as well. Because of all of this, one of my favorite moments, the aforementioned coven, didn’t happen. Instead, the family banished the spirit together, which had the similar effect of making the Owens women come together and acknowledge who they are once and for all, but I felt it wasn’t as powerful as the film.

When I finished the book, I couldn’t help but wonder how fans of the book reacted to the movie. There are only very vague resemblances between them; they could be two different stories. I felt more than a little wrongfooted that I didn’t like the book all that much. I thought it was well written and I liked reading Gary’s perspective of how he felt when he met Sally for the first time, but I detested the characters and I missed the sense of community that the movie did so well. When I watched the movie again on Sunday, I realized it was official: I thought the movie was better than the book.

Amazing.

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India Black by Carol K. Carr

India BlackIndia Black by Carol K. Carr

Where to start with India Black?

If you’re expecting a very correct Victorian novel, do not pick this up. You will be disappointed and annoyed. The language, in particular, is not true to the period and will drive purists crazy.

That said, I absolutely loved this book, which, I’m excited to find, is the first in a series!

The novel begins with the fabulous sentence “My name is India Black. I am a whore.” Actually, she’s the madame of Lotus House, and she’s thoroughly comfortable with her lifestyle. But her world is turned upside down when a government minister dies at her house–a government minister who was carrying some very sensitive documents that would disgrace the British government and prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. With the future of Lotus House in jeopardy, India has no choice but to help the government and retrieve the case filled with memoranda. An adventure in espionage ensues as India and Disraeli’s right hand man French follow the documents from the Russian Embassy, to Claridges Hotel, to the coast.

One of the blurbs at the back of the book called India Black a mix of Fanny Hill and Nancy Drew, and that pretty much hits the nail on the head. India is a heroine who doesn’t beat around the bush, and the thrilling story is perfectly punctuated by India’s observations and asides. I also liked that India didn’t come into the case as a ready-made spy; she used her street smarts to get through many a tough situation, but she still had to learn the subtleties of spying. And the twists and turns of the story kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.

This is a really well done debut by Carol K. Carr. I can’t wait for the next one!

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The Valcourt Heiress by Catherine Coulter

The Valcourt Heiress (Medieval Song, # 7)The Valcourt Heiress by Catherine Coulter

I was sadly disappointed with The Valcourt Heiress. I went into it with high expectations; my mother is a huge fan of Catherine Coulter’s FBI series, and I was excited that she’d turned her hand at a historical romance. The premise was right up my alley: Merry’s father dies, and she suddenly finds herself an heiress at the mercy of her mother, an Abbess who also happens to be a powerful witch. When her mother announces that she’s selling her to the cruel Jason of Brennan, Merry runs away.

Meanwhile, Garron, a young member of the king’s guard, learns that his brother has died and he is the new Earl of Wareham. While on the journey home, he rescues a young boy from a band of ruffians who have kidnapped him. The boy disappears, and Garron and his men continue on to the castle only to find the whole place ransacked by a man the villagers are calling The Black Demon. The villagers explain that Garron’s brother stole a cache of silver coins from The Black Demon, and that he’d destroyed the castle and killed almost all its inhabitants in reparation. Garron vows to rebuild the castle and take his revenge on The Black Demon.

Unbeknownst to him, the young boy he saved in the forest, who happens to be Merry in disguise, sneaks into the castle and reveals herself to the elder maids. She promises to rehabilitate the castle if they keep her identity a secret.

And I think you can figure out the rest.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. Unfortunately, the plot felt a little contrived (Did it sound contrived when I summed it up? I thought so.), the twists were extremely predictable, and there were so many redundancies in the writing that I found myself skimming at points (which I hate!). Merry and Garron are extremely likeable protagonists, but the story was so uninteresting to me that they were a little wasted.

I’ve read worse books in my time, and I finished this one fairly quickly, so if you want to give it a go, I won’t say you shouldn’t. You might find it a lot more compelling than I did.

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