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

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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 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

 

How It Happened in Peach Hill by Marthe Jocelyn

Fifteen-year-old Annie and her mother, Madame Caterina, roam from town to town in order to cheat people and collect their money. Annie’s mother poses as a clairvoyant and she makes people believe that she can communicate with the dead. She has many strategies, but when the duo arrives in Peach Hill, Madame Caterina has a new idea – Annie must pretend to be an idiot. That way, the young girl can gather information about clients and make her mother’s business a success. But Annie is a clever girl who yearns to be normal, to attend school and to make friends. However, her mother doesn’t really want Annie to do all these things, as her daughter is her best weapon when it comes to her shady work. As the story evolves, the young girl dares to break out of her role and learn to tell the truth.

How It Happened in Peach Hill is an entertaining and engaging coming-of-age story; it’s the tale of a young girl who has to make painful decisions and learn what she really wants in life. Annie is a fifteen-year-old who is torn between her duty towards her mother and her desire to be herself. On the one hand, she loves her mother and helps her with her work as a spiritual advisor even though she knows it’s wrong, but on the other hand, she wants to be just like every other teenager and longs to make her own decisions. However, her mother is not really interested in Annie’s happiness. She is a selfish person who sets a bad example for her daughter; she teaches her daughter to deceive and cheat people in order to get rich. Madame Caterina completely ignores Annie’s dreams and beliefs since she sees her daughter as a source of income. When Annie begins to understand these things, she is determined to break free and become her own person. The young girl shows courage and strength and she is ready to do anything in order to be independent, even though it means to part with her mother.

Annie is a great character and that’s why I liked this book so much. I admired her and I shared the thrill with her when she stepped closer to her independence. I also liked the other characters, as they were engaging and well drawn.

Furthermore, I liked the book’s themes because they are effective and important. Although the story takes place in the 1920s, its themes are very modern and the characters’ problems and dilemmas can be found in our every day society. Many teenagers have to cope with selfish parents and it’s hard for them to break free when their parents are too controlling and think they know what’s best for their children even though it may not always be true.

Overall, I was really pleased with How It Happened in Peach Hill because it’s a wonderful story about courage, morals, dreams and decisions. It was very intriguing to catch a glimpse of a clairvoyant’s life and to see behind the curtain of this alluring world. What I also liked about this novel was the fact that there were old wives’ tales at the beginning of each chapter. They are relevant for the plot and I found them really entertaining!

Ever since I read Marthe Jocelyn’s book Folly, I wanted to read more works by this author and I am glad that I read How It Happened in Peach Hill since it was just as wonderful. I am looking forward to the author’s future books!

I would like to thank Casey Lloyd from Random House for sending me a copy of this engaging book!

Andreea

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

After her mother’s suicide in India, sixteen-year-old Gemma Doyle is sent to the Spence Academy in Victorian London. There, she feels lonely and out of place, and she tries to make sense of the visions that have been haunting her since her mother’s death. Furthermore, Gemma tries to understand why she is followed by a mysterious and attractive young man who warns her against her visions.

As an incident occurs at Spence, Gemma is immediately accepted into the circle of the school’s most powerful girls and she is glad to finally have found some friends. But when the girls begin to play with supernatural powers, they put themselves in danger. Moreover, they discover that Gemma’s mother was involved with a dubious group called the Order. As the sixteen-year-old tries to find out more about this shady and dangerous group and about the true cause of her mother’s death, she discovers some shocking and frightful things, but she also learns a lot about herself and the destiny that awaits her.

Packed with 400 pages of suspense, gothic and supernatural elements, passion and jealousy, A Great and Terrible Beauty is a fascinating and intriguing novel that captivated me from the beginning. This is the first book of the Gemma Doyle trilogy and it tells the story of a sixteen-year-old girl who is unconventional and insecure and who tries to understand who she really is and what’s happening to her. At times, she is spoiled and likes to rebel because she doesn’t like society’s rules and thus, she refuses to submit to them. She doesn’t have impeccable manners and she doesn’t always think before she speaks. Still, she is a very likeable character, especially since she is so flawed. Her friends are also great characters and they have their own problems. These problems are very typical for the Victorian age, as women at that time had to fulfil a certain role, a role that didn’t allow them any freedom and independence. And that’s why I liked this book so much, because it touched upon these themes. Although A Great and Terrible Beauty is set in the Victorian period, the novel still felt very modern to me because it deals with things that are present in today’s society – the girls have to cope with rivalry, jealousy, trust, acceptance and self-knowledge – things that teenage girls have to face every day. And I think that’s what makes this novel so attractive to young adults, because it deals with matters that they understand and can relate to, since they go through the same things.

A Great and Terrible Beauty was an engrossing read that left me longing for more and I am desperate to read the sequels, as I want to know how Gemma’s story will continue. The last sentences of this book definitely make you curious about the next two books:

“I’m running because I can, because I must. Because I want to see how far I can go before I have to stop.”

I want to find out more about Gemma’s destiny, about the Order and about the realms and I hope the sequels will satisfy my thirst!

Note: I would like to thank Casey Lloyd from Random House for sending me a copy of this engaging book!

Andreea

Folly by Marthe Jocelyn

Mary Finn is a fourteen-year-old country girl who finds work as a scullery maid in Victorian London. She has always been a girl of common sense, very helpful and skilful, until Caden Tucker enters her life. Mary immediately falls for the handsome soldier and their passion for each other leads to Mary’s downfall.

Intertwined with Mary’s tale is the story of James Nelligan, who is a remarkable and clever foundling. At the age of six, the boy is taken from his foster family and brought to a foundling hospital in London. As the story unfolds, the reader will be surprised to find out that their stories are connected.

Ever since I read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, I have developed a passion for the Victorian Era and I tend to read every book that is set in that period. Thus, when I first heard of Folly I knew I had to read it, since the synopsis piqued my interest. I was eager to read this book because I knew I would love it. And I am so glad that I had the chance to read this novel because it was wonderful in every way.

Folly was a gripping tale that left me longing for more, as it was full of romance, passion and jealousy.  I enjoyed every single page of this captivating book and I was desperate to find out how it would end. But as it happens with all the books I love, I was sad when I finished reading it because I wanted to learn more about Mary, James, Caden and Oliver. I could not help but feel moved by James and his tragic tale and I felt sad when I read about his days at the foundling hospital. It was touching to read about all these children who didn’t know where they came from and who their parents were. I also enjoyed reading about Mary and I sympathized with her and her awkward situation. But what I liked most about this book was the fact that Marthe Jocelyn has done such a wonderful job reviving the streets of Victorian London with her vivid descriptions, her authentic language, and her attention to detail. I just felt that this book was refreshing and different from anything that I have read lately. Folly stood out and impressed me with every single page. And the reason why this book is so striking is because Folly was inspired by Jocelyn’s family history. The author knew that her grandfather was an orphan, but she was shocked to learn the true story of his birth. Although he was raised in a foundling hospital in London, his parents had been very much alive. It was his own mother who brought him there, but Marthe Jocelyn wasn’t able to learn why her grandfather was left there by his mother. Moved by this discovery, the author was inspired to write Folly. And I am so glad that she did because it was an incredible and realistic novel that will linger in my mind for a long time! I am looking forward to reading other books by this talented author and I would recommend Folly to everyone who is interested in the Victorian Period and to those who like to read a fascinating and suspenseful tale!

I would like to thank the author and her publicist Casey Lloyd from Random House for sending me a copy of this engaging book!

Andreea

Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner

1859: Alexandrie is a hard-working and ambitious farm girl who dreams of becoming a famous and successful ballerina in Paris. But her passion for ballet is not the only reason why the young girl wants to pursue her dream. Alexandrie’s family is very poor and is struggling financially, thus, her mother hopes that as a ballerina, Alexandrie will be able to support her family. However, when the heroine finally joins the renowned Paris Opera Ballet, she is shocked to discover the truth behind the glamorous life of a ballerina. Even though ballerinas enjoy a sophisticated life style, including expensive and exquisite clothing and jewellery, they have to become mistresses of wealthy married men in order to lead such an exclusive life. Thus, Alexandrie perceives that she must pursue this shady path if she wants to support her family financially. But the young ballerina doesn’t want to become part of this tradition of high class prostitution, and decides to concentrate on her dancing. Nevertheless, she soon becomes distracted by the attractive artist Edgar Degas, who wants Alexandrie to model for him. The aspiring ballerina agrees to do so, since she hopes that Degas’s paintings will make her famous. But as Alexandrie is spending more time with the young painter she begins to fall in love with him and she is soon forced to choose between love and her duty towards her family. Will she follow her heart or will she make the choice to become the mistress of a wealthy man in order to help her poor family? As Alexandrie finally comes to a decision, she realizes that there’s nothing more painful in life than the choices of the heart!

Dancing for Degas is a fascinating tale about duty, morals, competition, jealousy and the painful decisions we make in life. Furthermore, it’s a heart-breaking story about love and the consequences that await us if we try to ignore it. Kathryn Wagner’s novel gives us a vibrant glimpse into the eminent Paris Opera Ballet, with its shocking and entrancing behind-the-scenes and the author manages to fully capture the true spirit of the Parisian ballet and art scene, depicting their different and alluring facets. In addition, Dancing for Degas draws an authentic portrait of one of the world’s most famous artists, offering the readers a believable Edgar Degas who is willing to sacrifice everything for his passion.

I really loved everything about this book and I was sad when I finished reading it (this also has to do with the novel’s ending). When I discovered Dancing for Degas last month, I immediately wanted to read it because of the following reasons:

– As a little girl, I also dreamed of becoming a ballerina and today, I am still fascinated by ballet
– I love Paris and I visited the City of Lights a few years ago
– I am interested in Impressionism

Thus, I was eager to read this book because its synopsis piqued my interest and because the novel sounded so promising. And I must say that Dancing for Degas met all my expectations since I was immediately drawn into the world of ballet with its glamorous reputation and its scandalous behind-the-scenes.

I really liked the heroine Alexandrie and I admired her strength and ambition. I felt very sympathetic to her and to her struggles to resist so many temptations and to make life-changing decisions. On the other side, I must admit that I didn’t really like Edgar Degas because he seemed so arrogant and self-centered. While I like his work and appreciate him as an artist, I don’t like his character (of course we cannot really know how he was in real life other than reading letters and other documents about him but I think that Degas was really like Kathryn Wagner portrayed him in this book). I don’t really understand how Alexandrie could have fallen in love with him. However, the person I disliked most in this book was Alexandrie’s mother. I have never read about someone who is so selfish, cold and calculating. The heroine’s mother never thinks about anyone else other than herself and she doesn’t really care about her daughter’s life or happiness. As long as Alexandrie sends her money each month, her mother is content, regardless of how Alexandrie might have procured the money. She doesn’t mind if her daughter becomes a mistress; on the contrary, she pushes Alexandrie in this direction because she knows that her daughter will send her even more money that way. Alexandrie’s mother wants her child to sacrifice her life for the benefit of her family, at all cost. I just couldn’t believe that a mother was capable of doing such a thing, but sadly, I know that there are mothers out there who do the same thing today (we only need to have a look at the film and music industry).

Dancing for Degas is a wonderful historical novel that will appeal to Tracy Chevalier fans and to readers who are interested in art and ballet. The book is also perfect for everyone who loves a heart-warming and complicated love story. I enjoyed reading Kathryn Wagner’s novel and I felt transported to another time and place where I had the chance to catch a glimpse of what was really going on behind the scenes at the Paris Opera Ballet in the late-nineteenth century. Dancing for Degas shows the reader both the beautiful and glamorous side of the ballet and the awful and often disgusting side that comes with being a famous ballerina. Furthermore, Dancing for Degas is a bittersweet and unforgettable love story and that’s why I loved this book so much!

Note: I would like to thank the author for sending me a copy of her engaging book!

Here are some of Degas’s ballerina paintings and some of the pictures I took when I visited Paris a few years ago. I hope you like them!

Degas’s Ballerina Paintings: Courtesy of Google Images

Paris 2006:

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