Book review: The Tudors

Dear friends:

Yesterday I finished listening to the audiobook of The Tudors: A Captivating Guide to the History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. 

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This choice won’t surprise many of you, as you know that I am fascinated by this period in English history, and particularly the stories of the Tudors, including “Bloody Mary,” Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots.

The audiobook attempts to be comprehensive, but because of its brevity, lacks some depth.  If you already know a lot about this time period, you may find this to be a “Cliff’s Notes” version of a very complex historical era.  The “bird’s eye view” aspect of it all might be useful to someone who is just beginning to explore Tudor history, but for me, it felt rushed and simplified.  (An exaggerated example, but this is the level of depth to expect:  Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon when he fell in love with her lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn.  He divorced Catherine to marry Anne.  Later, he ordered Anne beheaded when she was found guilty on trumped-up charges).  (Point, set, match).

I exaggerate, but not much.  On the upside, it’s short as audiobooks go, lasting just over 3 hours.

I did learn a few new (to me) facts about Henry’s sisters, and his best friend Charles Brandon, which I enjoyed hearing about.

Blessings,

Annette

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Book review: Naked In Death

Hello lovely friends,

I have long been a fan of Nora Roberts’ romance novels, so I decided to give her crime/thriller series a try.  She has written nearly 50 books in the “In Death” series under the pen name “J.D. Robb,” and this is the first of the series.

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The “In Death” series is set in the mid 21st century, so it’s slightly futuristic, but not science-fictiony; the futuristic elements are believable, such as an “Autochef” machine in the kitchen that prepares your meals (remember the Jetsons?).  In this setting, we meet police lieutenant Eve Dallas, who has been assigned to solve a sequence of serial murders – hopefully before the murderer strikes again.

We also meet Roarke, an enigma of a man who is wealthy and handsome (naturally), attracted to Eve (of course), but may be a suspect in the crimes.  Is she literally sleeping with the enemy?  (Cue suspenseful music).

The book was a fast read, and the police procedures and futuristic elements were exciting, as was the forbidden romance between Eve and Roarke.  The identity of the killer took me by surprise.

I will read more books in this series, which I understand will feature Eve and Roarke as a crime-solving power couple.

Recommended!

Blessings,

Winnie and the Professor

Book review: The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury

Dear friends,

I “borrowed” this book on Kindle Unlimited.  I would describe it as a road-trip novel, or a fictionalized travel memoir.

We meet Alice Pendelbury, a single woman living alone in a London flat, and her across-the-hall neighbor, Ethan Daldry.  Alice works as a “nose,” a person with an acute sense of smell who creates fragrances.  Ethan is an artist, and he covets Alice’s flat, because she has a skylight, and the natural light would enhance his paintings.  He had wanted to buy the flat before she moved in, so he is grumpy toward her at first, and toward her motley group of friends.

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Alice and her group of single friends (they reminded me of the phrase “urban family”) go to a carnival one weekend, and Alice has her fortune told by an old gypsy woman.  The woman tells Alice that everything she knows about herself is false, and that she will meet an important man who will change her life, but she must meet six other people first.  Alice also learns that the woman believes she was born in Turkey, which seems impossible, as Alice is sure she was born in England to English parents.

Alice and her neighbor Ethan take an excursion to Turkey, to investigate the fortune-tellers claims.

Overall I enjoyed the book, but found it VERY slow.  Lots of long, meandering descriptions of locations, which I suppose some would find “atmospheric,” but to me, they bogged down the story at times.  Ethan seems too young to be such a curmudgeon, although we eventually find out why he is so grumpy toward Alice (it’s not about the skylight).  Alice’s “important man” turns out to be quite a surprise.

After plodding along for hundreds of pages, the resolution of the book seems to come very quickly.  There are a few plot twists at the very end that wrap things up, but they come in rapid succession, and left me a bit unsatisfied.  After the lengthy, descriptive nature of the rest of the book, I actually would have liked more detail at the end.

It was ok.  Not a waste of time, but I wouldn’t reread.  Incidentally, the author is French and the book was originally published in French, so this is a translation.  It’s possible that culture and language are playing a part in my responses here.

Happy reading,

Winnie and the Professor

Book reviews: Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, and My Favorite Half-Night Stand

Dear friends,

Here are a couple of cute and fluffy “chick-lit” books you might enjoy.  Both are by the writing duo of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings (pen name Christina Lauren):

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Josh and Hazel first met in college, and run into each other again a few years later in the “early career” stage of life. Josh was very handsome (and, to Hazel, unattainable) in college, and when they meet again, he still takes her breath away. Hazel is a quirky, bumbling, “Bridget Jones” type character who embarrasses herself all the time and doesn’t have a very good handle on her life. She calls herself “undateable” for those reasons.

Josh and Hazel become good friends, but agree they aren’t romantically suited to one another. However, they’re both single and looking, so they make an agreement to set each other up on dates, and then to go out as a foursome. These blind “double dates” are meant to ease the pressure of going out with a stranger for the first time … but they don’t work very well for Josh and Hazel. Neither of them can seem to connect with the partners the other has chosen for them.

I’m sure you can imagine where this is going.

I enjoyed it, but had a couple of issues along the way:
1 – Hazel – the “manic pixie dreamgirl” stereotype. Her bumbling is cute for a while, but there came a point where I just found her annoying. Nobody is THAT far off her game, and she started to become unlikeable to me.
2 – The ending – which I won’t spoil here – has a “twist” that I wasn’t wild about.

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I loved this one!  Read it in a day and a half, and it was so much fun.

In this book, we meet college professor Millie and her four male faculty friends, who consider her “one of the guys.”  Millie’s best friend in this group is Reid, with whom she’s always had a close and tender relationship, but neither has allowed themselves to think it could be more.  Millie often gets together with the guys to drink beer and play Monopoly, and one night after getting tipsy, she and Reid “do the deed.”  When she wakes the next morning, he has already left.

Millie learns that such an encounter is called a “half-night stand.”

Of course, their intimacy complicates everything, even though they both tell themselves it’s a one-off.  Then, they learn that an important speaker is coming to campus, and it’s going to be a black-tie affair for which they will need dates.  Rather than going as a group, or one of the guys taking Millie, they all agree that they need to find “real” dates.  Group member Ed suggests they sign up for online dating.

Millie creates an alter-ego, Catherine, for her profile, and lo and behold, she’s a 98% match with Reid.  She begins corresponding with Reid as Catherine, and the two become very close (meanwhile real-life Millie is feeling more and more self-conscious around Reid).  When Reid finally asks Catherine to meet in person, everything comes to a head.

This is a very sweet story, and I truly felt for these characters.  All of Millie’s “Catherine” messages to Reid were true and authentic, so he has fallen in love with the real girl, just under a different identity.  Millie agonizes over having gotten what she wanted, but under false pretenses.  If she tells Reid the truth, will he understand, or will he be unable to forgive this deception?

Very cute.  Please read this one!

Blessings,

Winnie and the Professor

Book review: The End We Start From

Dear friends,

I read this one for a book club.  I probably wouldn’t have chosen it for myself, and it was one of the stranger books I’ve read recently:

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This short novel is a dystopian tale that combines / contrasts motherhood with environmental catastrophe – so, a beginning and ending juxtaposed against one another.  London is overtaken by floodwaters, so a young couple are forced to flee the city with their newborn baby boy.  They head north, to stay with relatives, but soon discover that a lot of other “refugees” are fleeing north as well.  Supplies are limited, and they must decide whether and how to move on and seek a new place to live and bring up their son.

We see this world through the mother’s eyes, and especially in her relationship to her child.  Even when their situation is dire, her child looks at the world with trust and wonder, and the mother realizes that no matter what happens, she must try to live for her child.  Thus, the child represents a new world emerging from the old, and hope rising out of despair.

The writing style is very sparse – passing impressions, sentences, “blurbs,” observations.  You’ll find mixed reviews online; some people find it beautiful and poetic, whereas others lament the lack of dialogue and character development.  I’ve seen it called “startlingly beautiful” and “gripping,” as well as “boring” and a “chore” to read, despite its short length (150 or so pages).

So, it’s a matter of personal taste.  If you enjoy using your imagination to fill in the blanks of what a character is like, or what their motives are, you might find this novel compelling.  If you prefer that the author fleshes out the story in full, you may be frustrated by its brevity and lack of detail.  Either way, it’s a short read and likely to make you think!

Blessings,

Winnie and the Professor

Book haul #2

Hello friends,

Currently listening to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on audio (as I’m working my way through the series again).

Just finished Sawkill Girls (see review), so I’m anxious to start something new, probably something light and fluffy as a palate cleanser.

In the past, I’ve always had several books in process at the same time, but I find that I forget a lot that way … so I’m working on reading one straight through before I start another.

Here’s another little haul for you, of books I’ve bought recently (including at the library sale) …

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More Than Words by Jill Santopolo – this is a new-release hardback I purchased because I enjoyed her previous book, The Light We Lost.

September by Rosamunde Pilcher – I don’t really know anything about this book, but I enjoyed her novel The Shell Seekers, so I thought I’d give it a go.  Got this one at the library sale.

The October Horse by Colleen McCullough – she’s the author of The Thorn Birds.  This book is a story about Caesar and Cleopatra.  Sounds interesting.  I like historical fiction.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – I’ve been seeing this book a lot on blogs and videos, and most readers seem to rave about it.  I believe it’s about a woman who is living her life over and over again.

A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos.  This is the first in a series, and the second book just came out in hardcover.  I believe it’s a futuristic / dystopian world where people live on these “spires,” which are leftover parts of their former planet.

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman (father and son team, I believe).  A book about a severe drought, and how people behave (and turn on each other) when they are deprived of basic life needs.

I don’t do “to be read” (TBR) lists, because every book I haul goes into the queue!  And sometimes I want to pick up something completely different  – so no promises that I’ll get to any of these super soon.

That’s my second mini-haul – which of these have you read?  I’m happy to hear your recommendations!

Blessings,

Annette

 

Book review: Sawkill Girls

Dear friends,

I just finished Sawkill Girls, which I had borrowed from the university library:

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A brief synopsis: Sawkill Girls centers around a trio of girls living in a place called Sawkill Island (Sawkill Rock).  Young girls have been mysteriously disappearing over a period of years, and local legend has it that there is some kind of monster lurking in the woods.  So Marion (plain-Jane newcomer to Sawkill), Zoey (daughter of the local policeman), and Val (the beautiful rich girl) team up to locate and destroy this evil before it strikes again.

The author incorporates diversity (Zoey is mixed-race, and there’s some girl / girl romance going on), and is clearly a feminist, but the girl-power message became a little heavy-handed (to me) near the end, when a gathering of community men turn out to have dark motives that only the girls can vanquish.  Females good, males bad (aside from the girls’ friend Grayson, a kind and gentle young man who bakes cookies).

This book has a lot of mixed reviews on Goodreads, and I can understand why readers would have a “love it or hate it” reaction.  For me, it was just ok.  It became a bit of a chore to finish.

First: I don’t think I’m the intended audience for this book.  It’s a YA (“young adult”) tale, and I’d put it in the horror / paranormal genre, which really isn’t my favorite.  So part of my lukewarm reaction is probably tied to those factors.

Beyond that, my main issues with the book were:

The horror / suspense doesn’t build – rather, it’s intense from the start, and stays intense all the way through.  This level of constant danger and violence is unsettling after a while.  I didn’t feel like I got to know the characters as people, beyond the ways they reacted to paranormal threats.

The book is long.  Looooong.  Around 450 pages.  With horror scene after horror scene, in an episodic format (I was going to say, episodic rather than building to a climax, but that wouldn’t be fair, the episodes *do* build to a climax, but often don’t seem to be heading anywhere).  There’s no mystery as to which character is the “villain” (or aiding the villain) – we’re told from the start.

Bottom line: I didn’t care for it, but I can see how fans of the genre might enjoy it.  Give it a try if you enjoy paranormal tales.

Happy reading,

Winnie and the Professor