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

Advertisements

A Moment of Silence by Anna Dean

When I discovered A Moment of Silence a few months ago, I immediately added this book to my wish list since it was described as a mystery novel with a touch of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie. I don’t think I need to tell you how much I love Jane Austen and Agatha Christie, because if you follow my blog, then I suppose you are already familiar with this fact. Thus, I was eager to read this book because I knew that I would love it. And I must say that I really did love this charming novel and I am looking forward to reading more works by Anna Dean in order to find out more about her main character Miss Dido Kent.

But now let’s have a look at the plot:

In 1805, Miss Dido Kent arrives at Belsfield Hall, the country estate of the Montague family, in order to help her niece, Catherine, deal with the fact that her finacé, Richard Montague, has suddenly broken their engagement and disappeared. Miss Dido learns that at Catherine’s engagement ball, a peculiar thing had taken place: a stranger had appeared at Richard’s shoulder and had looked at him without saying a word. Afterwards, Richard had immediately broken off his engagement to Catherine and left Belsfield Hall, never to be seen again. Therefore, heartbroken Catherine seeks the help of her spinster aunt Dido in order to discover the motive for Richard’s strange behavior and disappearance. But it seems that Miss Dido will have to solve yet another mystery, since after her arrival at Belsfield Hall, the discovery of a body in the shrubbery is made. However, Catherine’s aunt enjoys solving mysteries, thus she is eager to shed light on the strange and shocking events that have taken place at Belsfield Hall. Nevertheless, she must pay heed, as everyone seems to have something to hide and people are willing to do everything in order to keep their dark secrets safe. The Montague family seems to have a few skeletons in the closet, and Dido must be careful not to put herself in danger while trying to uncover the mysteries of the past.

A Moment of Silence was a delightful book and it was a real joy to read such an entertaining novel! As I was reading this book, I often caught myself smiling because the main character is so amusing with her interrogations, assumptions and observations. Miss Dido Kent is such a likeable character; she is very clever and she reminded me of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, with her witty way of questioning everybody and with her many enchanting thoughts. What I really loved about A Moment of Silence was the fact that Anna Dean has given the reader a glimpse into Miss Dido’s mind by allowing the protagonist to reveal her thoughts through letters. That way, we can witness what is really on Miss Dido’s mind and furthermore, we can conclude many things by knowing how she feels about a certain matter. In my opinion, this was very cleverly done by the author and I found it very refreshing to read Miss Dido’s letters.

A Moment of Silence was the perfect book for me, as I love a good mystery novel. Moreover, the book’s ingredients were very appealing to me, since the novel deals with dark secrets, intrigues, lies, murder and deception. The murder case was not that important to me (although I was eager to find out Whodunit); I was more interested in Miss Dido and I loved how she tried to solve the mysteries with her nagging questions and her desire to know about everything and everyone. She doesn’t spare anyone and she always observes even the smallest things, and we all know how important that it, when it comes to solving a murder case! All in all, I must say that I really enjoyed this book and I couldn’t get enough of Miss Dido Kent! I recommend A Moment of Silence to everyone who likes to read mystery novels and crime fiction and I think that this book will appeal to all Agatha Christie fans!

Note: I would like to thank Chiara Priorelli from Allison & Busby for sending me a copy of this great book. You can find out more about A Moment of Silence here.

Also, make sure to check out Aarti’s review of A Moment of Silence (the U.S. title is Bellfield Hall) at Booklust.

Iola Leroy (or Shadows Uplifted) – Published in 1892

In my last post, I told you that I received two other books from Penguin Group. One of them is Iola Leroy, which I will review today: 

Frances Harper’s Iola Leroy tells an incredible story of struggle, conflict and survival and it is one of the first novels published by an African-American woman. 

The book begins with Iola Leroy, the beautiful young daughter of a rich white Mississippi planter and his wife, a former slave he has freed, educated and married. In order to protect Iola and her siblings from disdain and shame, the planter decides not to tell his children about their descent. Thus, he tries to avoid contact with other planters and sends his children north to be educated. But when her father suddenly dies, Iola is kidnapped and learns that her mother is of mixed race and that she was the former slave of her father. The young girl is sold into slavery and is separated from her family. Although she faces many ordeals and struggles to escape from the unrighteous intentions of her former owners through the Civil War, Iola still manages to remain faithful to herself and she blossoms into a courageous young woman. After she is freed by the Union Army, Iola is determined to search for her lost family, including her brother Harry. What she doesn’t know, is the fact that Harry has learned about the happenings and has joined a coloured Union regiment in order to rescue his sister. While Harry is trying to find her, Iola embraces her heritage and refuses to pass as white. When Dr. Gresham, her devoted admirer, wants to marry her, Iola refuses him because he wants her to keep her heritage a secret. Instead, she marries Dr. Latimer, who is also of mixed race and who appreciates Iola for her dedication to the black community and for her courage. Together they try to improve the condition of blacks in America and they fight for racial justice. After a long journey of search, suffering and resistance, Iola is finally reunited with her beloved family. 

Iola Leroy is a remarkable story of struggle, courage, deliverance and hope. It’s a must read for everyone as the author draws a vibrant picture of the Civil War and provides us with fascinating characters, allowing us to see such important historic events through African-American eyes. I really enjoyed reading this fictional work, as it deals with complex issues and it masterly presents a social chronicle! 

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

I didn’t realize how much I missed reading until I began to read Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel Remarkable Creatures. It was a delight to read such a notable book and I savored every page of it! So here’s my review:

Mary Anning, a young girl from the working class, collects and sells fossils in an effort to earn some income and thus support her family. Since her father’s death, Mary’s family has been struggling financially. Therefore, Mary spends every day on the beach of Lyme Regis, hunting for fossils. But for Mary, fossil hunting isn’t just about earning money – she has a real passion for her discoveries. The residents can’t comprehend Mary’s love for fossils, so she doesn’t have a good reputation in her town. The villagers think of her as an odd girl and their resentment to her becomes even stronger when Mary befriends Elizabeth Philpot, a spinster from London’s upper middle class. However, Mary has never been overly concerned about what others might think of her. Thus, she continues to visit Elizabeth and the two protagonists spend a lot of time together, hunting for fossils, studying their findings and exchanging thoughts on evolution and extinction. Over the years, Mary and Elizabeth have developed a strong bond, despite the fact that there is a 20-year age difference between them. Even though they come from different social backgrounds, their mutual respect and their love for fossils unites them and with Elizabeth’s help, Mary soon makes the most remarkable discoveries, such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. The clever girl has often found ammonite and belemnite shells in the past, but these fossils were common in Lyme Regis, thus they were nothing out of the ordinary. Her latest discoveries however, are the rarest of creatures, arousing the interest of many wealthy collectors, and Mary’s contact with them makes her once again the talk of town. Hence, the curious girl has to deal with gossip, scepticism and chauvinism. Moreover, her friendship with Elizabeth is threatened by jealousy. Will the two manage to overcome any obstacle and save their friendship? Any will Mary finally gain respect for her findings?

Remarkable Creatures is an absorbing and highly accomplished novel about two incredibly strong women who share the same passion and who struggle for recognition in the male dominated world of science in the 19th century. Tracy Chevalier skillfully illustrates how the inspiring protagonists are brought together by their shared obsession. However, this novel is so much more than just about scientific discoveries – it’s a radiant and moving novel about friendship, mutual admiration and jealousy. The author manages to create a mesmerizing setting and her attention to detail is what makes this book a must read for history and geology fans!

Although Remarkable Creatures is a work of fiction, Mary Anning, Elizabeth Philpot and other characters in the book really existed. Bestselling author Tracy Chevalier became inspired by Mary’s fascinating life story while visiting a small museum in England, where she came across some of Anning’s fossil finds. And I’m sure readers are glad that the author made this “remarkable discovery”!

I highly recommend this beautifully written tale to those who like historical novels and who like to read books about exceptional women. I really loved this amazing book because it was very interesting to learn about fossils and to find out that women made such incredible scientific findings. However, Mary and Elizabeth encountered a lot of scepticism and chauvinism because of their love for fossils. Mary Anning’s discoveries were largely overlooked at that time, due to her gender and social status. Her fossil finds were controversial and they raised questions about the history of origins. Mary’s discoveries forced people to look at the world with different eyes and that’s what makes her findings so important!

All in all, I must say that I really enjoyed reading this engaging book. It left me with a fascination for fossils and made me want to read other novels by this outstanding author!

I would like to thank Amanda Walker from Penguin Group for giving me the opportunity to read and to review this great book!