Sunday, June 30, 2013

Review: City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

I got a copy of this book from Netgalley a while back, and had been so excited about reading it, because it took place in Prague, and I was in the process of planning a trip to Prague.  But for some reason, I didn’t read it.  There may have been other books I had already committed to reviewing or maybe things got busy at work.

Anyway, the book kept getting set aside.  And the reviews I saw on Goodreads were pretty harsh, so I was hesitant to read this.  But it remained on my list.

Well, I got to Prague.  I wandered around the Old Town area my first afternoon there, and I couldn’t get a feel for the place.  I was bothered by the huge crowds of tourists, everyone gathering around watching a guy in the middle of the square cracking a whip.  I go to these cities hoping for culture and history, and in Prague especially, I was in search of something dark and mysterious.  A sweaty guy in a torn tank top cracking a whip was not producing any magic or mystery.  I got some ice cream and went back to my hotel room.

That’s when I decided to start reading City of Dark Magic, hoping it could provide some hint of what to look for in this city.  The story pulled me in immediately.  Very fast paced story.

The next morning, as the rain poured down, I spent a few extra hours in bed reading.  (I had to be somewhere that afternoon and night, and I still had a few more days to explore the city, so no worries, I did not spend my entire time in Prague in my hotel room reading.)

But I am so glad I had this book to read while I was in Prague, waiting out the rain. 

The story is about a group of students -  academics, experts in their field - who have been hired to put together the Lobkowicz Palace’s Museum.  The family’s belongings have recently been returned to them – following WWII and then communism.  It’s a very strange group of people – as should be expected from a group such as this.  (Two trips through grad school, I know a little bit about these academic types.) 

I especially liked the main character, Sarah.  She’s smart and knowledgeable in her field – she’s hired to catalogue Beethoven’s manuscripts – and seems to have her act together.  Nice to read about a heroine who is comfortable in her sexuality, has no real hang-ups about enjoying herself.  (Oddly enough, a lot of the negative reviews complained about the sex in this book – so I was bracing myself for something dreadful – but didn’t see anything at all wrong with it.)  Now as far as romance, I thought more could have been done in that area.  I was surprised when all of a sudden she’s claiming she’s in love with Max, because I didn’t see much leading to love, other than them having great sex.  Maybe that’s enough, I don’t know.  I felt there was more to it, I think Max had been in love with her since fourth grade, and that’s hinted at, but not elaborated, and I felt it could have been.  But that’s a minor complaint.  I liked both of these characters and feel like they have a lot of potential.

 I very much enjoyed the mystery and the action in the story.  I think reading this while I was in Prague enhanced my visit to the city and added the magic for which I had been searching.  When I was about 60% through the book, I visited Prague castle and the Lobkowicz Palace.  I thought it was so cool to walk through the museum, having read the book.  I know it was fiction, but the authors did an excellent job with their research.  As I walked through each room, I felt like I was looking at the work put together by the characters in the book because it matched the descriptions in the book so accurately. 

I liked this book a lot and was very happy to learn there’s a sequel that is going to take place in Vienna – a city I visited a few summers ago and liked very much. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review: Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

I loved this book.  Absolutely loved it, easily one of my favorite reads of the summer.

I'd just finished listening to Winter Sea and liked that so much that I wanted to read something by the same author.  Only after I had decided to read this did I realize it was a sequel to Winter Sea, so in my head, the two books are one big story.  One big, wonderful, interesting, mysterious and romantic story.

There was a point in the book though where I felt so sad about what was happening, I had to stop reading it for a bit. The situation Anna was in seemed so wrong and unnecessary and the result of careless men, it upset me, knowing what her mother had gone through to protect her (her mother was one of the main characters in Winter Sea) and knowing this wasn't the life her mother had wanted for her. But, of course, I went back to the book, and my love for the character of Edmund wiped out all that sadness.

There are two stories happening here, the one in present time, and the one in the past, being viewed by two people with psychic abilities. That might sound a little odd, but it isn't. I'm a big fan of pretty much anything involving paranormal or psychic powers - and I'm not a big fan of time travel, and this isn't time travel. They see into the past, but don't travel into the past.

I also really enjoy the historical elements of this book. I feel like I'm learning quite a bit, while also getting a great, entertaining story. I actually felt quite knowledgeable while visiting some historic sights in Edinburgh - largely because of what I'd learned in this book and Winter Sea.  Before I read these books, I knew nothing of the Jacobites and the struggles for the throne during that time period.  (We don't go over a lot of that - or any of that - in our history classes here in the U.S.)

And it's so romantic, like truly romantic. Like, oh my god, that's so awesome, why can't I find someone like that, romantic. There's a line near the end, something along the lines of, "I'm not good with fragile things.... but I would take care of you" and I just melted. I'm being purposely vague so as to not spoil it for potential readers. I very much recommend this book, along with Winter Sea. Very glad I read them.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Review: Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (audio)

I got a copy of this book a while back - I think maybe it was an amazon kindle daily deal, or something like that. I'm also thinking it was a "if you liked Discovery of Witches" you'll like this. Whatever the case, I got it, but then kept putting off reading it.

I'm about to take a trip that includes a visit to Scotland, so I've been trying to read books set in Scotland (and the other places I'm planning to visit) to get me in the right mindset for my trip.

I ended up downloading a copy of this via audible - you get a special price if you already have the kindle version - and the plan was to just listen to it while doing some last minute yard work, housecleaning, tanning and whatever. But immediately, this story drew me in, and I found that I was avoiding other things so that I would have an excuse to listen to this. I did end up getting quite a bit of yard work done, and didn't bother me nearly as much as it usually does because I my mind was so immersed in this world. And a few times, I just laid down on the couch and listened, not doing any of those productive things I'd planned to do while listening.

I liked this story so much. It's so romantic, with a lush historical setting, as well as an interesting contemporary storyline. It's sort of a time travel story - but only in that the narrator can see into the past, she doesn't actually travel into the past. (I point that out because I don't usually like time travel stories.) It's also really sad, like at one point, as I was listening, I found myself sitting down in the yard, feeling overcome with sadness as what was happening to these characters. (I was working in the flower bed, it's not like I sat down in the middle of mowing the yard or something.)

I'm not the type of person who is usually curious about my ancestors. But my family claims to be Scottish, and this almost made me want to learn more about my own family background - though I doubt it's anywhere near as interesting as what the character discovered in the story.

Overall, this was a great book. The story reminded me a bit of Byatt's Possession. After having spent so much time listening to this book, I felt a little lost after it was over. Then I realized that Firebird is a sequel. Had no idea, but I got a copy of that book a few weeks ago, so I've started reading that now.

And I should add,  because this was the audio book, the narration by Rosalyn Landor is great.  There have been a few audio books that I think I disliked because I couldn't stand the sound of the narrator's voice.  But not the case with this book.  (Turns out she's narrated a couple of audio books that I really enjoy - Never Let Me Go and Water's Lovely.)

Review: Loving a Prince Charming by Danielle Monsch

This novella (only about 90 pages) is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.  I was eager to read it because Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite fairy tales - largely because I love the art in the Disney version, and that has, over the years, prompted me to seek out other versions of the fairy tale.

This is a cute, quick story about the prince, Seth, and his best friend, Kira.  They've been best friends since childhood, and as Kira gets older, her job is to act as bodyguard for the prince.  Kira is a great character.  I like that she's the protector of Prince Charming.  As you might imagine, feelings beyond friendship develop between these two as they reach adulthood.  However, the prince's father has already made arrangements for him to marry another princess - the princess who was cursed at birth.

The prince, because he's noble, accepts his fate and has every intention of honoring his obligation, despite being in love with Kira.  After meeting the princess he's to marry - also known as Sleeping Beauty --  he feels protective of her, she doesn't have much of a life, hidden away in an effort to prevent the curse from happening.  He promises to take care of her, and later feels it's his duty to marry her because he keeps his promises.

There's a journey and a few brief battle scenes and a bit of angst as Seth and Kira try to decide what to do with their feelings for each other as they also try to do what's right.  Then there are some big secrets revealed.

There's an interesting twist in the end.  I don't want to give it away.  It's a very different take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.  I respect that it was original, but didn't love it.  After I finished reading this, I probably thought about it too much and a few things didn't seem to make sense to me. 

But as long as you don't think too hard about it, it's a quick, enjoyable story. 

Also - the cover is beautiful - that's what initially drew me to the book - I love castles, as well as the color purple.

I received a review copy of this via Netgalley.