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Andreea

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Andreea

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Enthralling and haunting, Kate Morton’s latest novel tells a gothic story of betrayal, dark secrets, madness and love. Meredith and her daughter Edie have never been close, but when a letter arrives fifty years after it’s been posted and Meredith refuses to reveal its contents, Edie is determined to find out if her mother’s emotional distance could be related to her secret past. Thus, Edie sets off to unravel Meredith’s past, but she is about to learn more than she expected. Evacuated from London during the Blitz, Edie’s mother was chosen by Juniper Blythe and taken to live at Milderhurst Castle with her literary family. The Blythes were eccentric people, whose lives revolved around the decaying castle and the dreadful tales that enveloped it and the more Edie investigates, the more skeletons come out of the closet. And what eventually comes to the surface is a tragic and disturbing truth that altered lives and destroyed hopes.

The Distant Hours will satisfy readers as they will stray into a labyrinth of deceit, family intrigue and mystery. Kate Morton has managed to capture a gloomy atmosphere throughout the novel by using various gothic elements, creating a dark and compelling tale full of suspense, romance and fascinating characters that will linger with you for a long time.

Needless to say, I very much enjoyed Kate Morton’s third novel and I hope that her next books will be just as wonderful, as I am savoring her writing style, her memorable characters and her captivating plots to the fullest.

The Distant Hours was very entertaining and informative and I found its themes very interesting. I liked to learn about the Blitz and its consequences for the protagonists and I loved to read about the Blythes and their fascination with writing and storytelling. But what I liked most was to learn about Milderhurst Castle, as I found its vivid descriptions fascinating and absorbing; the eerie tales revolving around the Blythe family were also very engaging.

Also, as I was reading this novel, I was reminded of another book that I’ve read in the past, namely, I Capture the Castle. There are certain similarities between these two books – of course there’s the setting and then both novels centre on a literary family. But The Distant Hours has more to offer; there are more stories to tell (modern and old) and I must admit that I liked it more than Dodie Smith’s novel. Kate Morton’s story has more twists and turns and it allows the reader a glimpse into a forgotten world where nothing is as it seems and after you’ve unveiled Milderhurst’s hidden secrets, you will sympathize with the characters and will be able to understand them better.

All in all, The Distant Hours was the perfect read for me and I would give it five stars out of five, as I loved everything about it. I can’t say anything negative about this novel except that I was sad that I finished it so soon. I think I can safely add Kate Morton to the list of my favorite authors!

What about you? Have you read any of Kate Morton’s novels? If so, did you like them as much as I did?

Note: I would like to thank Panmacmillan for sending me this great novel!

Andreea

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Last week I went to the book store in order to buy Elizabeth Kostova’s novel The Historian. Unfortunately, they didn’t have it so I bought her second novel instead. I know that many of you didn’t like it as much as they liked the author’s first book, but I am still glad that I read it, because despite its flaws, it was still an engaging and satisfying read for me.

Dr Andrew Marlow is a devoted psychiatrist and a hobby painter from Washington, D.C.; therefore, he is very interested in his new patient, renowned artist Robert Oliver, who attacked a canvas in the National Gallery. The psychiatrist is determined to help his patient and to understand Robert’s strange deed, but as he tries to shed some light on the matter he is faced with some difficulties, since Robert refuses to speak. The only existing clues are some antique letters that apparently belong to Robert and a dark-haired lady he paints day after day. Fascinated by his new patient and desperate to solve the mystery revolving around the dark-haired woman, Dr Marlow embarks on a journey that will change his life – he will learn about the women in Robert’s life and about a dark secret dating back to late 19th century France – a secret that still haunts the present.

The Swan Thieves is a suspenseful story of passion, love, obsession and impressionist art. However, it’s hard to categorize the book since it contains elements of different genres. The Swan Thieves is a blend of historical fiction and detective fiction, but it also has romance elements in it, so it’s difficult to say what genre it belongs to. What I can say for sure is that the novel is without doubt an intriguing read, allowing us a glimpse into the life of a confused genius – with every page with learn more and more about Robert Oliver, but not through his own words or thoughts (he barely speaks in the novel); we learn about him through others, namely, the women in his life. And that was very interesting and fascinating – at least that’s what I thought. I liked the fact that there were different narrators and each had his/her own story to tell and I was glad that Elizabeth Kostova managed to narrate these different stories without making it confusing or boring for the reader. I also liked how the author used the epistolary form in between in order to tell a heartbreaking story at the heart of French Impressionism, a story that is somehow related to Robert (I can’t say more about it or I’ll spoil everything).

Now let’s get to the things I didn’t like – Robert’s character, for example, but I suppose it was the author’s intention to make him unlikable. If you read about him and what others will say about him you will not be able to sympathize with him at all as you will find him selfish and overweening. He is a man who doesn’t care about anyone or anything except his art and his dark-haired beauty. He treats his family with indifference and doesn’t care about the needs of others as he is too absorbed in his art and too concerned with himself. These are the main reasons why I disliked Robert and there are many more, but again, I can’t say more because I’ll ruin the story for you.  However, I liked hearing about Robert and getting to know him, as I loved how the women in his life revealed his true character. The female characters were my favorites and I really sympathized with them from the beginning and I felt that I understood them completely.

Now to Dr Marlow – I really can’t say that I cared much about him because I felt that I didn’t get to know him at all. I found that he wasn’t fully developed as a character, but maybe it’s just my opinion. Another thing that I didn’t like about the novel was the fact that it was too long. Now don’t get me wrong – I usually love long books but I sometimes felt that The Swan Thieves was just dragging on and on and I think the author could have come straight to the point. But maybe it was just the author’s way to build up suspense.

On the whole I have to say that The Swan Thieves was still a great novel for me and I would give it four stars out of five. I enjoyed the story very much, especially the women’s narrations, the historical part (the moving love story dating back to late 19th century France), the mystery elements and of course the art part.

I can’t wait to read Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. In fact, I already ordered it from Amazon and I expect it to be even better than The Swan Thieves. I want more of Kostova’s writing and narrative skills because I was very impressed by her writing style and found it wonderful; as I mentioned above, I especially liked the use of different points of view and the use of the epistolary form and I hope that The Historian will feature these elements too.

What about you? Have you read Kostova’s novels? If so, did you like them?

Other reviews:

Bermudaonion

You’ve Gotta Read This

(If you have reviewed this book please let me know so I can add your link to the list.)

Andreea

The View outside my Window


Hello everyone!

I just wanted to let you know that our move went well, although it was very stressful and I am glad that it’s over. We finally have our own place and even though we still need a few more things, overall we have everything that we need. Our apartment is located on the outskirts of Wiesbaden, a city near Frankfurt. It feels like we live in a small village, but the apartment is still centrally located since I need only 15 minutes to reach the city and a few more to reach my family’s place. And the best thing is that we have a kindergarten and a playground right next to us. (If I look through the window I will be able to see Emma play in the future).

I will take more pictures in the near future and then you will be able to see where we live. I missed everything here and I am really glad to be back here in Germany. Everything is perfect now, except for the fact that my maternal grandparents still live in Romania and I miss them very much. They want to see Emma and I hope we will be able to visit them next year!

Apropos of Emma – she loves the new place and she can’t stand still at all. She has so much energy, you can’t even imagine. Every night when I put her to sleep I am exhausted. But it’s also wonderful at the same time. She grows so fast and she is so curious. She is interested in everything technical – for the last couple of months she has learned how to turn on the TV, the computer, the mobile phone etc. She just loves electronics. Maybe she takes after my uncle and my brother. The one is an engineer and the other is studying physics.  Who knows – I still hope she takes after me and will love literature. After all, she loves books already. Here’s the evidence photo (taken one month ago):

I hope you’re all doing great and enjoy reading. I will be back soon (with a review). Until then, take care and happy reading!

P.S. A few weeks ago Emma turned one. Unfortunately, we couldn’t celebrate as we wanted, since it was also the day we moved. Anyway, it was still great and here are two pictures taken at my family’s place. Can you tell she’s my daughter? (This is the first time you see me. I am shy, so I hate to take pictures of me:))

Andreea

Update

Hello everyone!

I’m not 100% back yet, but I am happy to have found the time to post. It’s been very stressful since we arrived here in Germany. We had a lot going on but we have managed to settle in at last. We still live with my family, but in a few weeks we will be moving to our own place. And that’s why it was so hard to keep up with my blog. I had (and still have) to buy furniture and many other things for our new apartment and it will be even more stressful when we finally move, especially with a little baby. However, we can’t wait to move and we are happy to be here. Emma is also happy here and she is doing great. She understands a lot (both German and Romanian), she is crawling and I can’t wait until she starts walking. She is very clever and she is learning new things every day. Her brain is like a sponge, absorbing everything around her and that’s why it’s important to teach her new things daily. In November we will celebrate her first birthday. Time flies and she is getting bigger and bigger and she brings joy and happiness to our lives. We are blessed to have such a wonderful little girl!

I will try to post some new pictures of her when time allows it. Oh, and I forgot to mention that she loves books! I hope she will love them in the future as well. She has a lot of books and I read to her every morning and she listens and smiles! She is so cute! And I also take her to the local book store every week. Hmm, and since I just confessed that I often go to the book store with her, I might add that I bought a lot of books since we arrived here. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to write any reviews, but I hope that I will be able to write reviews again, as soon as we move to our new place, and as soon as we have internet access. Anyway, since I cannot review all the books that I’ve read since our arrival here, I thought I could just mention them and rate them, in case you are interested in finding out if I liked them or not.

So here they are (Unfortunately, the local book store doesn’t have a great ‘English books’ section and a lot of great books are missing, but you can always order any book that they don’t have and then you can pick it up in a few days at no extra cost. Still, I have found a few books, and my mother also bought a few books for me as an arrival gift. And then there’s still Amazon!):

Looking for Alaska by John Green – 4.5 stars out of 5

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley – 4 stars out of 5

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel – 3.5 stars out of 5

One Day by David Nicholls – 4 stars out of 5

The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer – 4 stars out of 5

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern – 3 stars out of 5

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – 5 stars out of 5

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – 5 stars out of 5

The Memory Garden by Rachel Hore – 2 stars out of 5

The Wild Ass’s Skin by Honoré de Balzac – 4.5 stars out of 5

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé – 4 stars out of 5

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – 3.5 stars out of 5

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – 5 stars out of 5

I also stared a few books but haven’t finished them yet, and I don’t think that I will ever finish them:

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca is one of my favorite books, but this one isn’t as captivating, and I stopped reading in the middle of it, as I can guess where the story is leading)

The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges (it’s too complicated for me and I didn’t understand half of what I was reading)

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer (another book where the end is obvious and I don’t think it can surprise me anymore)

The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim (I can’t really say why, but I somehow didn’t like it and stopped reading after the first pages)

As I mentioned above, my mother bought a few books for me as a gift when we arrived here, but I haven’t stared them yet. Here they are:

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conon Doyle (I can’t wait to read these stories as I have wanted to read them since I was a little girl)

The Adventures of Gil Blas by Alain-Rene Lesage (French author; I am planning to read more French Literature)

The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight by Elizabeth von Arnim (I hope this one is as good as The Enchanted April)

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (Nymeth’s review made me curious, so I hope this book will be good)

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (I’ve heard good things about this book)

And these are the books that I’m currently reading:

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Endless Love by Scott Spencer

Love for Lydia by H.E. Bates

Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke (in German)

The Odd Women by George Gissing

As you can see, I have somehow managed to read a few books since arriving here. I try to read every time little Emma is sleeping.

Regarding the books I am currently reading – so far, I like them all, but, I noticed that I have become a little picky lately, concerning the choice of my books as I expect a lot from them. I want to find books that overwhelm me and enchant me, books that are unforgettable and that make me sad and happy at the same time. I want to find books that make me think – books that challenge me and linger in my mind for a long, long time. I have read such books in the past. Dickens’s Great Expectations is such a book, or Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. I hope to find more books like that, but I know that it will be hard, because not every book that I pick up is wonderful. Some books are disappointing, some are just okay and some are good. What I really want is to find a brilliant book and I hope you can help me. That’s why I wanted to ask you the following question:

What book(s) has inspired you, has made you want to read it over and over again? In short, what is your favorite book? I know it’s a hard question to ask, as you may have many favorite books, but I just want to hear of a few books that meant a lot to you. Please feel free to share your favorite book(s) with me. I trust you and your reading suggestions and I can’t wait to add your titles to my long wish list!   

I hope I haven’t wearied you with my long post! But I miss all of you, I miss ‘talking’ to you about books! I miss visiting your blogs and hearing what you’ve been up to. I hope to be back soon (maybe December?). Until then, take care and happy reading everyone!

P.S. I hope you’re doing great and I hope you’re enjoying the ‘golden October’, as we say here in Germany. The weather has been wonderful these last couple of days and I have been out with Emma quite a lot! I can’t wait for her to grow up so we can go to the park together, sit on a bench and just read:)

 Andreea

The Sweetest Thing by Fiona Shaw

Sixteen-year-old Harriet wants to leave her fishing village behind and start a new life in York. Mary, a girl from her village, wants to accompany her and so the girls leave, in the hope that they will have a better future in the city. There, Harriet and Mary are looking for jobs and when opportunities arise, the girls are happy to have found a way to earn money. Mary works as a laundress and she also gets paid for photographs, and Harriet works at a cocoa factory. There, Harriet falls in love with Thomas and her life seems perfect, but when certain events lead to a tragic end, Harriet’s world falls apart.

Intertwined with Harriet’s story is Samuel’s tale, a kind gentleman who helps Harriet with her job search. He is a Quaker and a collector of photographs showing working-class girls in their working clothes. Samuel cares deeply for working-class women and he wants to improve their situation. He takes a special interest in Harriet because he has fallen in love with her. However, he knows that he doesn’t have a chance, since she is already in love with someone else. Still, Samuel and Harriet become friends and when tragedy strikes, Samuel does everything in order to help Harriet.

The Sweetest Thing is a wonderful and engaging novel that gives the reader an account of late-Victorian life, drawing an intimate portrait of ordinary people while revealing their feelings, situations and hopes. The book concentrates on working-class women and their conditions and we learn a lot about their lives, especially through Harriet. For example we find out that young girls like Harriet who fell in love and wanted to get married had to hide their marriages in order to be able to continue working. Once a girl got married, she had to leave her position at the cocoa factory and become a house wife. However, many of these girls got married in secret and continued working as if nothing happened. That way, the girls could still earn money, although it must have been hard for them to pretend to be single.

In The Sweetest Thing, we also learn a lot about the cocoa factory and its shadowy policies and we learn how the owners put their employers in great danger in order to become successful and wealthy.

The novel also touches on topics such as religion, morality and ‘madness’ (Samuel’s sister Grace has been confined to an asylum because her mother couldn’t accept Grace’s friendship with another woman and her wish to never get married). Together, these subjects make The Sweetest Thing an enjoyable and captivating read. Moreover, each individual story will move you as the book concentrates on the protagonists and their tales, and I can assure you that Harriet and Samuel will linger in your mind for a long time.

I really liked this book because of its themes, the dated language and the individual stories that fascinated me. If you like historical fiction and if you are a fan of Sarah Waters and Tracy Chevalier, then I truly recommend this novel to you!

Note: I would like to thank Virago Press for sending me a copy of this book!

Andreea

 

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