Monday, February 19, 2018

Fawkes- Nadine Brandes

My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death. But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did it. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

My Thoughts: When I found out that this was based on historical events, I decided that I did not want to research those events beforehand. For me, it was a rare occurrence where the historical events and characters were ones which I had never heard of, even in passing, and I wanted to see how well the story held up if I did not already have some background knowledge to fill in the gaps. Which, when it came to a fantasy version of events, might not have been the best approach. As a history lover, I spent a good portion of the novel trying to figure out who the Igniters and Keepers correlated with in real life and whether or not the author was unwittingly or otherwise making some sort of political or religious statement cloaked in magic.

Or then again, maybe the author just took an interesting historical event and decided to make the survivors her good guys (is that a spoiler? I don't know, I guess is depends on how much you know about the actual Gunpowder Plot).

That said, I do believe that there was a religious backdrop to Nadine's magic system and the way that her characters approached the use of it. And it was an interesting magic system. I cannot think of many other novels, and certainly none that I have read, where color was the bases for how the magic worked. It allowed for a new way of interaction with the characters' sensory input when the colors had sounds and personalities that even someone who is blind could utilize. Also, the reliance on their masks in order to call upon these colors kept the magic system from being overly powerful. Yet there were some holes in how the magic worked and the logic with which many of the characters approached it. I think what bothered me the most with this was how the Keepers insisted that the White Light would guide them, but also that they could not speak with it because it was a force that would pollute their minds and cause them to lust after power.

Outside of the magic, Nadine presents a cast of characters which is welcomely diverse. The main character, you find out in the first couple pages, is blinded in one eye from a plague that would leave him a social outcast if found out. Along with that, there is also a heroine who stands strong on her own without needing to rely on the hero. Coupled with this are a number of minority characters, one of whom plays a significant role.

What probably makes Fawkes stand out from most of the other books I have read recently is simply the sheer amount that I found to be worth discussing after reading it. Normally, a review of mine would have ended two paragraphs ago, and I still feel like there is more that I could have mentioned from this novel. While I definitely still see the holes, Nadine's work has pushed on subjects and taken chances that few novels traditionally published in the CBA market ever have. And though books published under the Blink imprint are far from explicit with their Christian content, I think that Nadine did a great job of weaving it into her story.

I have provided an honest review after having received an eARC from the publisher through Netgalley.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Austen Escape- Katherine Reay

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Description: After years of following her best friend’s lead, Mary Davies finds a whimsical trip back to Austen’s Regency England paves the way towards a new future.

Mary Davies lives and works in Austin, Texas, as an industrial engineer. She has an orderly and productive life, a job and colleagues that she enjoys—particularly a certain adorable, intelligent, and hilarious consultant. But something is missing for Mary. When her estranged and emotionally fragile childhood friend Isabel Dwyer offers Mary a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in Bath, Mary reluctantly agrees to come along, in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes that she lives in Regency England. Mary becomes dependent on a household of strangers to take care of Isabel until she wakes up.

With Mary in charge and surrounded by new friends, Isabel rests and enjoys the leisure of a Regency lady. But life gets even more complicated when Mary makes the discovery that her life and Isabel’s have intersected in more ways that she knew, and she finds herself caught between who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who stands between them. Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this triangle works out their lives and hearts among a company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.

My Thoughts: This is my first read by Katherine Reay and though I have seen her other novels around, I have never been a fan of Jane Austen, so I have not pick up any of Reay's work. However, this year, I was given this book as part of a Christmas pack meant to allow me to review outside my typical comfort zone.

At first, I found it really difficult to get into the story. With Austen in the title, I expected romance and initially it appeared as though there would be none. Lucky, a romantic subplot eventually did make an appearance. Beyond that, Mary's attitude toward the place in which she and Isabel stayed, along with Isabel's attitude altogether, was something that I had difficulty swallowing. Not only did Mary fight much of the role play inherent in the trip, but she also treated the history of the house as something infinitely sad for what had been lost from it rather than respecting what had been preserved. This perspective set a melancholy tone that was reinforced by her and Isabel's refusal to let go of their own pasts, ultimately casting Isabel as someone who I could not like.

However, things did improve toward the middle of the book. At that point, Isabel had lost her memory and was a genuinely (or maybe artificially?) sweet character and a lot of the other side characters brought life to the retreat and role play in which Mary was dragging her heels. As well, the romantic plot had picked up. My interest in the story remained steady at that point, even through the end, despite my believing that certain issues had been too easily solved.

Though I do not know a whole lot about Austen, I recognize some of the relational drama that was present in the few stories that I have been exposed to. And for those who have previously enjoyed Reay's work, I believe that this read would still be appreciated.

I have provided an honest review after receiving a copy of the book through The Fiction Guild.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Crooked Path- Irma Joubert

                                                                 My Rating: 4 Stars

Description: From the bestselling author of The Girl From the Train, comes another compelling coming of age story of delayed love, loss, and reconciliation in WWII-era South Africa.

Lettie has always felt different from and overshadowed by the women around her– this friend is richer, that friend is more beautiful, those friends are closer. Still, she doesn’t let this hold her back. She works hard to apply her mind, trying to compensate for her perceived lack of beauty with diligent academic work and a successful career as a doctor. She learns to treasure her friendships, but she still wonders if any man will ever return her interest.

Marco’s experience in the second world war have robbed him of love and health. When winters in his native Italy prove dangerous to his health even after the war has ended, he moves to South Africa to be with his brother, husband to one of Lettie’s best friends. Marco is Lettie’s first patient, and their relationship grows as she aids him on the road back to restored health.

In the company of beloved characters from The Child of the River, Marco and Lettie find a happiness that neither of them thought possible. With that joy comes pain and loss, but Lettie learns that life—while perhaps a crooked path—is always a journey worth taking.

My Thoughts: My favorite thing about Irma's novels is that while the stories all depict some part of WWII and the Holocaust, that is not all that the stories are about. I think we often forget that people who survived the war had lives that went on after, and that those lives were just as important as what they went through during the war.

Marco is a prime example of this. My favorite character in the novel, he also suffered the most from the war: starvation, imprisonment, and <spoiler> the death of his fiance <spoiler/>. Yet once he recovered his health, he refused to let memories stop him from keeping on with his life. Though the war had changed everything he had ever thought to have, he still found happiness elsewhere.

Lettie's story was one that I both loved and yet wished could have been put aside in favor of more of Marco's story. Lettie managed to come through the war without scars, her only experience with it being in the lives affected around her. For her, the true pain came when, years later, polio found its way into South Africa. As a doctor, she struggled to mitigate the damage of a disease that she could not stop.

It was in the discussion of polio that Lettie's character lost me. Being a doctor, she often spoke of the disease, listing symptoms and treatment in medical terms, as well as citing medical journals. These sections would often cover pages, with the only break being Marco or someone else asking for certain words to be explained in laymen's terms. While it made Lettie's character more believable, it also dragged, with her using dates for every journal and discovery.

Also, while this book can be read separate from The Girl From the Train, I would not suggest it anyone who has not read Child of the River. Characters from that novel factor heavily into the lives of Lettie and Marco, with their stories overlapping, and I am not sure that I would have fully understood what was happening with those characters had I not read the other book first. That said, The Crooked Path serves a sweet epilogue to Persomi's story from the last book.

I have provided an honest review after having received a copy of this book from the publisher.