NetGalley Review: The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King

The Bones of ParisThe Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King
Read: July 28 – July 30, 2013
NetGalley selection.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Dell for sending me this advance review copy via NetGalley!

Release Date: September 10, 2013
Price: $26.00 USD (Hardcover)
ISBN: 9780345531766

Goodreads Book Blurb: Paris, France: September 1929. For Harris Stuyvesant, the assignment is a private investigator’s dream—he’s getting paid to troll the cafés and bars of Montparnasse, looking for a pretty young woman. The American agent has a healthy appreciation for la vie de bohème, despite having worked for years at the U.S. Bureau of Investigation. The missing person in question is Philippa Crosby, a twenty-two year old from Boston who has been living in Paris, modeling and acting. Her family became alarmed when she stopped all communications, and Stuyvesant agreed to track her down. He wholly expects to find her in the arms of some up-and-coming artist, perhaps experimenting with the decadent lifestyle that is suddenly available on every rue and boulevard.
 
As Stuyvesant follows Philippa’s trail through the expatriate community of artists and writers, he finds that she is known to many of its famous—and infamous—inhabitants, from Shakespeare and Company’s Sylvia Beach to Ernest Hemingway to the Surrealist photographer Man Ray. But when the evidence leads Stuyvesant to the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre, his investigation takes a sharp, disturbing turn. At the Grand-Guignol, murder, insanity, and sexual perversion are all staged to shocking, brutal effect: depravity as art, savage human nature on stage.
 
Soon it becomes clear that one missing girl is a drop in the bucket. Here, amid the glittering lights of the cabarets, hides a monster whose artistic coup de grâce is to be rendered in blood. And Stuyvesant will have to descend into the darkest depths of perversion to find a killer . . . sifting through The Bones of Paris.

My Opinion: I loved King’s first installment in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. So when this came across my NetGalley dash, I had to have it. I was really disappointed when I found out right before diving in that it was the second book in a series.

Normally that would be it for me, I would not have read it. But I did something I never do. I read the second book first. I feel like there were some things that I missed out on from the first book, as the characters weren’t showing as much growth as I would like. I would hope that would be a product of this being a second book, and being a fan of King’s I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

The Bones of Paris was a really enjoyable read for me. There was so much misdirection that I found myself going in circles with the “whodunnit” aspect of the story. Nothing was predictable, which was great. And oh man, can King write some creepy things.

One thing I didn’t like about The Bones of Paris was that I felt at times it was “Look! Famous people! Art! Things!” and all the name-dropping (for lack of a better term) was a little much. I think it would have been more effective if there had been one or two big names central to the story and then maybe one in the background, instead of the plethora there was.

One other thing for me was timeline. At times, it seemed like weeks had passed and it had only been a day. This was slightly confusing for me, as a reader.

Bottom Line: If you have ever read one of Laurie R. King’s other books and enjoyed it, I am willing to bet you will enjoy this one, too. If you haven’t read anything by Laurie R. Kingwhat are you waiting for?? Though, I would recommend checking out Touchstone before reading this one. Just for continuity’s sake. You have a few days before The Bones of Paris hits shelves.

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Review: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Beekeeper's ApprenticeThe Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laure R. King
Read: May 20 – May 26, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: Long retired, Sherlock Holmes quietly pursues his study of honeybee behavior on the Sussex Downs. He never imagines he would encounter anyone whose intellect matched his own, much less an audacious teenage girl with a penchant for detection. Miss Mary Russell becomes Holmes’ pupil and quickly hones her talent for deduction, disguises and danger. But when an elusive villain enters the picture, their partnership is put to a real test.

My Opinion: I have never read any of the original Sherlock Holmes books. I think I should, though. I really enjoyed The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

The prose and the tone are both delightfully English, as in the country… not the language. There is so much dry wit and humor to the exchanges that at times I found myself chuckling, if not outright laughing out loud.

I really found the relationship between Holmes and Russel to be very organic and natural. It was something that I really appreciated. There was no awkwardness and proclamations of love, just a really great teacher/student relationship. And Mary very much is a student. While she is smart and independent of her own accord, she also doesn’t know everything. She stumbles, and that is part of what makes her a believable character.

King has done a good job with worldbuilding, but one minor thing irks me. Either the level of mystery in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice went over my head, or the reader is meant to just be along for the ride. In other mystery books, you generally get a chance to at least try to figure it out before the end. There was no such chance here.

Bottom Line: A delightfully English book with great characters that unfortunately doesn’t include you in the mystery solving. Sherlock is a bit of a jerk that way, I guess.

Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
Read: May 12 – May 14, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

My Opinion: I loved The Help. My book club had read it a while back, and I bought it then, but chose not to read it. Then the movie came out. And I did something I hate to do. I watched the movie before I read the book. And I loved the story so much that I decided I needed to read the book. (For the record I saw the movie pretty recently on the free movie channels.)

I think the biggest mark of The Help being a good book for me was how uncomfortable I was while reading it. I feel like Stockett did a fantastic job of building the world of 1960’s Mississippi and the racism that plagued the country. My discomfort comes from the fact that real people were (and unfortunately still can be) like this. She also really explored the relationships between white women, their children, and their black maids at the time. It was really interesting for me to see the different dynamics in those various relationships, and I felt they were well written.

While the book made me feel uncomfortable a lot of the time, it also made me feel warm, it made me laugh, it made me mad, it made me cheer. It took me through the entire range, leaving no stone unturned.

The other thing I liked about The Help was the characters. Because this isn’t really an action packed novel, the characters are really important. While some of the background characters lacked depth, I really felt like Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter were really well done. We got to explore their minds, their personal thoughts, and their thoughts as a group. It was fantastic.

Stockett did a great job of writing in dialect, as well. There is a right way and a wrong way to write dialect and accents, and I felt like Stockett did it the right way.

Bottom Line: A very readable book with great characters.

Advance Review: The Wrong Girl by C.J. Archer

The Wrong GirlThe Wrong Girl by C.J. Archer
(Advance copy courtesy of C.J. Archer via NetGalley)
Read: May 24 – May 25, 2013
Release Date: June 1, 2013
Price: 3.99 USD

Goodreads Book Blurb: It’s customary for Gothic romance novels to include a mysterious girl locked in the attic. Hannah Smith just wishes she wasn’t that girl. As a narcoleptic and the companion to an earl’s daughter with a strange affliction of her own, Hannah knows she’s lucky to have a roof over her head and food in her belly when so many orphans starve on the streets. Yet freedom is something Hannah longs for. She did not, however, want her freedom to arrive in the form of kidnapping.

Taken by handsome Jack Langley to a place known as Freak House, she finds herself under the same roof as a mad scientist, his niece, a mute servant and Jack, a fire starter with a mysterious past. They assure Hannah she is not a prisoner and that they want to help her. The problem is, they think she’s the earl’s daughter. What will they do when they discover they took the wrong girl?

My Opinion: Going in to reading The Wrong Girl I had no real expectations. It caught my eye on the NetGalley catalog because I love me some Gothic mystery with a touch of paranormal. In that sense, I wasn’t disappointed.

However, at a mere 139 pages long, I did find The Wrong Girl to be a little disappointing overall. The action moved at a good pace, and I remained engaged with the story and the characters. But at the end, there just weren’t enough pages to answer all the questions that were raised throughout the course of the book. I recognize it is only the first book in a series, and I hope the questions are answered at a later time, but I wasn’t instilled with any sense of urgency by the end that the questions I wanted answered were of high priority.

I was impressed with the fact that Archer did her research with the time period, and there weren’t any discrepancies, barring a few involving propriety. I noticed that dialogue and behavior bordered on irreverent for the times without crossing over into simply being wrong. I also really appreciated that with so few pages, Archer didn’t devote any words to the trite young adult romance that seems to take precedence in literature these days.

I found Hannah repeated herself a lot, as the book is written from her perspective. She meditated on being the wrong girl for a good chunk of time, and later on other things. I wish those words had gone elsewhere. Overall, though, I didn’t find Hannah’s mind a hard place to be. She is a likeable character.

Bottom Line: I found this to be an enjoyable read, though I wish it was at least double the length. There are a lot of dodgy self-published works out there, but this is the first I have read that gives me hope for the market as a whole.

Review: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted GirlsThe Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Read: February 6 – February 9, 2013
Format: Paperback (library book), 357 pages
ISBN: 978-1-44341-234-6

Publisher: HarperCollins, 2012

Personal read.

Book Blurb: Paris. 1878. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventy francs a month, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work — and the love of a dangerous young man — as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in society, and must make the choice between a life of honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde—that is, unless her love affair derails her completely.

My Opinion: Every so often a novel comes along that makes you sit back and realize the author really cares about their craft. For me, The Painted Girls was that novel. It was a bonus that it was a historical fiction novel, which is hard to do well. And an even bigger bonus is that Cathy Marie Buchanan is a fellow Canadian. Three for three, The Painted Girls.

I am, by no means, an expert on Belle Époque Paris, but I feel like Buchanan really took pride in her writing. She didn’t make outlandish claims for her characters, and the Author’s Note at the end details where the few liberties were taken, something I really appreciated.

Buchanan’s writing is sublime. She flits effortlessly through the lives of Marie and her sister Antoinette. While some of the secondary characters are lacking in depth and polish, I found the main characters really made up for it. While Marie is thirteen at the start of the book, she never descends too deeply into the teenage angst that seems to steep books featuring a younger protagonist. Yet, we get a true sense of her age. I never thought she was anything other than a girl just coming into her own. The same can definitely be said for Antoinette.

While The Painted Girls has a light plot, in the sense that it isn’t driven to some great climactic moment where everything comes to a head and then all is well with the world, the story itself is far from light. Buchanan treads the waters of poverty, love, loss, and desperation very well. She toes the line, never going over it, but always describing just enough to convey what life was like for these girls. There is drama, there is laughter. I felt emotionally invested in everything that was happening.

The one thing I didn’t like about The Painted Girls seems small in comparison to all the things I loved. The timeline jumps around a lot. There were times when it was hard to determine how much time had passed between the end of one chapter and the start of another. It was disorienting, and sometimes disconnected me from the story.

Bottom Line: Superbly written character-driven historical fiction.

Review: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Briar RoseBriar Rose by Jane Yolen
Read: January 18 – January 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover (library book), 192 pages
ISBN: 0-312-85135-9

Publisher: Tor/Tom Doherty Associates Inc, 1992

Personal read.

Book Blurb: Ever since she was a child, Rebecca has been enchanted by her grandmother Gemma’s stories about Briar Rose. But a promise Rebecca makes to her dying grandmother will lead her on a remarkable journey to uncover the truth of Gemma’s astonishing claim: I am Briar Rose. A journey that will lead her to unspeakable brutality and horror. But also to redemption and hope.

My Opinion: While I was reading this book, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had read it before. But I can’t actually remember reading it. Which means I either haven’t ever read Briar Rose, or it was so long ago that I don’t remember.

I am not sure why, other than length and the fairy tale aspect, this book would be recommended for anyone under the teenage mark. It deals with some pretty heavy subject matter, as books about the Holocaust tend to.

This story was fairly heavy. I am enthralled with anything Holocaust related, so when I learned that this book entwined the story of Sleeping Beauty and the horror of the Holocaust, I had to read it. Briar Rose didn’t disappoint.

There were times when I wanted to beat the characters over the head for their apparent stupidity. You are Jewish. You are researching your grandmother, who apparently has no past… and you can’t put two and two together without having to have someone else spell it out for you? It was maddening to me.

That, combined with some editing inconsistencies (Aron and Aaron, both referring to the same person. As well as Potoki and Potocki) lessened my enjoyment of the book somewhat.

However, the plot drew me in. The sadness and longing to know about Gemma and the family history was very palpable. And when Gemma’s story was being told, my heart broke, as it usually does when I read about the terrible things that happened while Hitler was in power.

Bottom Line: I really enjoyed this book, and I think I have actually read it before. There is no magic or fairy tale retelling with it, though, so if that is your expectation, then best look elsewhere.

(Cover image and book blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

Review: The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly (Spoiler Free)

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
Read: September 11 – September 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover (library book), 546 pages

Publisher: Thomas Dunne, 2002

Book Club selection. (Historical Fiction genre)

Book Blurb: East London, 1888 – a city apart. A place of shadow and light where thieves, whores, and dreamers mingle, where children play in the cobbled streets by day and a killer stalks at night, where bright hopes meet the darkest truths. Here, by the whispering waters of the Thames, Fiona Finnegan, a worker in a tea factory, hopes to own a shop one day, together with her lifelong love, Joe Bristow, a costermonger’s son. With nothing but their faith in each other to spur them on, Fiona and Joe struggle, save, and sacrifice to achieve their dreams.

But Fiona’s life is shattered when the actions of a dark and brutal man take from her nearly everything-and everyone-she holds dear. Fearing her own death, she is forced to flee London for New York. There, her indomitable spirit propels her rise from a modest West Side shop-front to the top of Manhattan’s tea trade. But Fiona’s old ghosts do not rest quietly, and to silence them, she must venture back to the London of her childhood, where a deadly confrontation with her past becomes the key to her future.

My Opinion: The Tea Rose was kind of like a historically inaccurate soap opera set in 19th century London and New York. I love the historical fiction genre, something I discovered quite by surprise after reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. But the big difference here was that Jennifer Donnelly didn’t seem to care much for the historical aspect of her writing. When writing about the past, it is true that certain liberties can be taken, but they shouldn’t be taken at every turn.

Case and point. Fiona (our main protagonist) becomes a self-made millionaire over a span of ten years in New York. The first self-made female millionaire in America didn’t happen until around 1920. The Tea Rose is set in the late 1800s.

There is a fair bit of romance that happens in the book. It was nice at first, but it quickly became very soap opera-esque. There were secret trysts, gay husbands and so many near hits/misses with Fiona and Joe that I wanted to tear my hair out. Multiple times. And I don’t look good bald.

The characters were very one-dimensional, and Fiona is a Mary Sue in the truest sense. She is a character set up just to be torn down, and there is only so much of that a reader can take. Bad things happen to good characters, it is part of writing. But piling up the bad and then pulling something good out of thin air to atone for it is weak. Your story should be able to rest on more than just bad things happening to the characters, and this one didn’t.

Writing and language wise, I found The Tea Rose very enjoyable. I liked that the accents were spelled out, I liked the backdrop for the story. The prose was very descriptive, and the details were succulent. I just didn’t care overly much for the story itself. Some things didn’t make sense to me, like how Fiona only met other foreigners in New York, and never any Americans. As a millionaire, you would think she would have business dealings with all sorts of people.

The Bottom Line: A story with a lot of promise that failed to deliver. The main characters get themselves into stupid situations, and then the author writes fantastical compensation for them. I might read the second book, depending on the description, but it is not high on my list priority-wise.