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

Days of Grace by Catherine Hall

Alternating between WWII and the present, Days of Grace tells the story of Nora Lynch, who at the age of twelve, is sent as an evacuee to live with the Rivers family in the English countryside. Nora immediately feels welcomed and loved by Mr. and Mrs. Rivers and their daughter Grace. From the outside, the Rivers seem like the perfect family, but in reality, there are many cracks beneath the surface, and Nora is too young to understand. The young girl is just happy to have found a friend in Grace and she enjoys every minute that they spend together. However, as her feelings for Grace become stronger with each passing day, Nora realizes that she cannot suppress her passion for Grace any longer, thus, she decides to return to London. 

When a pregnant young woman enters her life fifty years later, Nora is ready to reveal the secrets that she has kept for so long, and when she does so, the reader will be very surprised!

Days of Grace is an emotional story about friendship, suppressed passions, dark secrets and jealousy. As soon as you begin reading about Nora, you cannot help but feel moved by her dramatic story. That’s why this gripping tale will linger in your mind for a long time, as you will sympathize with Nora and you will be eager to learn all of her secrets.

I must say that I normally don’t like to read books on war, but I was interested in this one because I wanted to learn more about the children who were evacuated during the war. I wanted to find out how these children felt and how they dealt with this difficult situation, since they were separated from their parents. Furthermore, I wanted to learn how they were treated by their surrogate families. That’s why I liked Days of Grace so much; it showed all of these things and even more.

Days of Grace is an engaging novel packed with beautiful writing, historical detail, drama and heart-warming characters. Overall, I was really pleased with this book and I would recommend it to everyone out there who likes to read books on war and to Sarah Waters and Daphne du Maurier fans!

Note: I would like to thank Meredith Burks from Penguin Group for sending me a copy of this book!

Andreea

The Queen Must Die by K.A.S. Quinn

Katie is a lonely N.Y.C. girl who doesn’t have any friends since nobody seems to be interested in her, not even her mother Mimi. Katie can’t confide in her mother as Mimi is too preoccupied with getting married – every time she meets a new man, Katie’s mother feels the need to marry him. Thus, having no one to talk to, Katie likes to spend her time reading books. However, one day, when the young girl reads a book about Queen Victoria’s daughters, a peculiar thing happens – she finds herself lying under a sofa in Buckingham Palace, at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign.

Together with her new friends – Princess Alice, the young daughter of Queen Victoria, and James O’Reilly, the son of the royal doctor – Katie tries to find out why she has been sent back in time. However, there are other mysteries that need to be solved as well. For example, there are Katie’s strange visions and the frightening creatures that keep following her everywhere. As the young girl tries to discover the truth behind these strange happenings, she finds out something even more disturbing – dark forces have constructed a plot to assassinate the Queen. Thus, Katie and her friends must find a way to stop this unthinkable thing from happening. However, the young heroine must pay heed, as these supernatural creatures are out to get her. Will Katie be able to save the Queen and save herself? And will she be able to return to N.Y.C.?

The Queen Must Die is the first of The Chronicles of the Tempus trilogy and it’s an engaging children’s book packed with suspense, mysteries, secrets and many adventures. Filled with both fact and fiction, this novel narrates the exciting story of a young girl who feels alone and who is looking for distraction. Katie takes comfort in books; reading is her passion since she can embark on journeys and travel all over the world while sitting in her N.Y.C. bedroom. Books transport her into new worlds and she can meet new and interesting people that way. However, Katie didn’t expect that one day, she would literally be transported to another time and place. The young girl starts the most intriguing adventure of her life, but in the end, she gains more than just a thrilling experience – she learns so many things about life and furthermore, she gains new friends that appreciate and support her.

The Queen Must Die is a wonderful book about family, friendship and courage. It was a delight to read this book, as I love the Victorian Period, and thus I really enjoyed reading about Queen Victoria, the Royal Family and Buckingham Palace. I liked to read about Katie’s adventures in London and I especially liked the theme of time travel and the supernatural elements in this novel. As I mentioned before, I normally don’t read series, but I will read this one since it’s refreshing, captivating and fascinating. I am looking forward to reading the second instalment, The Queen At War, which will be published in 2011.

I recommend this book to everyone who is interested in the Victorian Period and to everyone who likes to read books about time travel.

Note: I would like to thank Atlantic Books for sending me a copy of this great book!

Andreea

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

After her mother’s sudden death, Emily is forced to move to Mullaby, North Carolina in order to live with her grandfather, whom she never met before. But when the seventeen-year-old arrives in Mullaby, she is surprised to find out that she’s already the talk of town. The residents act strangely around Emily, because they suspect her to be just like her mother Dulcie. However, Emily doesn’t understand why that would be such a bad thing, after all, her mother was a kind and selfless person. But then, Emily doesn’t really know anything about her mother’s past, since Dulcie has always been so secretive about it. Since her grandfather, a real-life giant, doesn’t want to talk about Dulcie’s past, Emily is determined to learn more about her mother from the residents. But even her new acquaintance Julia won’t tell Emily more about Dulcie, and the heroine becomes more and more suspicious. However, as the story evolves, the seventeen-year-old girl makes some shocking discoveries concerning her mother’s past. What secrets did Dulcie hide from her daughter and why did she never return to Mullaby? Also, why is Emily’s new friend Julia always baking cakes? Does she bake them for someone special? Since everyone in Mullaby seems to behave strangely, Emily feels out of place there. Odd things seem to happen in this small Southern town and the young girl doesn’t know what to believe. From wallpaper that changes to suit your mood and mysterious lights that appear at midnight, to a family who never goes out after dark, Mullaby is a place surrounded by magic and many secrets. When Emily’s questions are answered in the end, the readers will find that nothing is quite as they would have expected, as is the case with all of Sarah Addison Allen’s books.

The Girl Who Chased the Moon is such a fantastic book about forgiveness, lost love, consequences and the haunting shadows of the past. It’s a delightful story about two women who try to find their place in the world and who, in the end, learn that they shouldn’t let the past define them. I loved everything about this book, as it had all the right elements for me – it was magical, charming, engaging, and full of secrets and surprises. Furthermore, I loved all the characters as they draw you in and you begin to sympathize with them from the beginning. I also loved Sarah Addison Allen’s beautiful writing and her vivid descriptions of Mullaby. But what I probably loved most about her book was the fact that it had all these magical elements in it. I must admit that I normally like to read books set in the past, preferably in England as I like to learn more about forgotten times. However, when I heard of this book, I knew I had to read it because it sounded so good. And I am so glad that it was everything I expected and even more! The only negative thing I have to say about The Girl Who Chased the Moon is that it was too short. Why is it that whenever I love a book it happens to be too short? I wanted to learn more about Mullaby and its residents, I wanted to be surrounded by more magic and charm and thus, I was sad when I finished this book. I read it really fast and after I finished reading it, I realized that I should have taken my time with it. But luckily, Sarah Addison Allen will write more books, and I plan to read them all in the future (I only read Garden Spells a few years ago).

I highly recommend this book to everyone out there who likes Magical Realism and to those who like to read a wonderful novel that is full of suspense, mysteries and Southern charm!

Other reviews:

Peeking Between The Pages

Note: I would like to thank The Bantam Dell Publishing Group for sending me a copy of this lovely book!

Andreea

Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen

During the summer of 1968, Shenny’s mother disappeared, leaving her and her twin sister Woody with their once-loving father who now drowns his sorrows in alcohol while trying to copy with the whole situation. Since then, twelve-year-old Shenny (who was named for the Shenandoah Valley), is trying to take care of herself and Woody, who stopped speaking the day their mother vanished. As her father threatens to send Woody away, Shenny is determined to find her mother before it’s too late. The young girl senses that Woody might know something about their mother’s disappearance, but since her twin sister doesn’t speak anymore, Shenny can’t seem to solve this mystery. However, when a series of events takes place, the young protagonist is ultimately forced to face the heart-breaking truth about her family and about what really happened to her mother.

When I first read the synopsis of Tomorrow River, I was intrigued by the sound of this book, mainly because I liked that the story is told from a child’s point of view. I find that whenever I read a story narrated by a young protagonist, it makes the book so much more interesting and special. I think that it has to do with the fact that a child has such a different view of the world and everything that surrounds us. Children often tend to see things that adults are likely to ignore and neglect, mainly because adults are too preoccupied with other things. Therefore, children are perfect for telling a story, because they are good at uncovering secrets and other mysteries. With their curiosity and honesty, children can find out so much and it’s their witty and ingenious questions that often make them perfect sleuths. That’s why I liked Tomorrow River so much! I must admit that I didn’t really care much about the plot, as it was Shenny who really stood out. You can’t help but feel sympathy for her and you long to help Shenny find her mother. I also deeply cared about Woody, since she seemed so fragile and even though she didn’t speak, she still communicated with Shenny in her own way. We see Woody through Shenny’s eyes and what we see is a wounded girl who will never be the same again, because of what she had witnessed the day her mother vanished.

Overall, I was really pleased with this novel and I really liked the fact that it had such a surprising ending. Like me, you have all probably read books with endings that did not really surprise you, as you already knew how they would end. Tomorrow River is different as the story evolves in an unexpected way and you will find that nothing is what it seems when it comes to this book. And I really like novels that take you by surprise and sweep you away!

I recommend Tomorrow River to everyone who likes to read an emotional and heart-breaking story about a girl who has to cope with the painful truth about her dysfunctional family. Lesley Kagen has created a coming-of-age story and a haunting tale about a brave and brokenhearted young girl whose courage and intelligence lead her to finally discover a dark and disturbing truth that will change her family and her life forever!

Here are some of my favorite lines that perfectly describe this wonderful book:

“During the course of all our lives, there comes a time when something or someone very dear to us will break beyond repair. Growing older teaches us we have no choice but to humbly accept that no matter how hard we try or how many tears we shed we’re powerless to glue those precious pieces back together again. But during the summer I went searching for our missing mother, I was just a girl. I hadn’t learned that lesson yet. No. It wasn’t until the damage was done that I truly understood the meaning of “Pride goeth before a fall”.”

Note: I would like to thank Tala Oszkay from Penguin Group for giving me the opportunity to read and review such a remarkable book!

So what about you? Do you like stories that are told from a child’s point of view? What books have you read that were told by a young protagonist like Shenny? I would like to read more books like Tomorrow River and I would be happy if you shared some reading suggestions with me.

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

When Emily agrees to marry Philip, the Viscount Ashton, she decides to do so because she wants to escape her authoritative mother and also because she has to submit to the rules of Victorian society. Thus, when she learns about her husband’s death while on safari in Africa soon after their wedding, Emily feels little grief, since she barely knew the man she married.

However, nearly two years after her husband’s death, Emily begins to show interest in Philip and she is eager to find out more about his passion for artifacts. This has to do with the fact that she discovered his journals, and since then, the young widow longs to learn everything about Philip. While she reads more and more, she is surprised to find out how much her late husband really loved her. But Philip’s passionate love for her doesn’t seem the only thing that was unknown to Emily. As she digs deeper into Philip’s world of antiquities, the young widow finds herself entangled in a dangerous web of intrigues, mysteries and deception. Just when Emily realizes that she has fallen in love with her late husband, she begins to suspect that Philip might not be the man everyone believed him to be. Was Emily’s late husband really involved in a shady business concerning rare stolen artifacts? And what do his two attractive and wealthy friends have to do with this matter? What are their real motives for courting Emily? As she tries to find the answers to all of these questions, Emily has to be careful, because danger awaits her everywhere and people are not who they appear to be.

And Only to Deceive is a very suspenseful novel set in the late Victorian period and while the book’s main theme is a mystery involving stolen artifacts, it also strongly deals with issues such as a woman’s search for independence and it shows how a woman’s attempt to gain freedom impinges on her role in society. And Only to Deceive successfully displays Emily’s struggle for independence in a male-dominated world where a woman’s role was to be a good wife and mother, sacrificing her own needs for her family. The ultimate goal for every aristocratic woman in Victorian England was to marry well, and to marry in a short period of time. If two or three years passed and a woman had not found a suitable husband, she would be considered a failure. Thus, Emily, like every other aristocratic young woman at that time, is pressured by her mother to find a wealthy husband. In order to avoid any unpleasantness and to escape her mother’s controlling behavior, Emily defers to her mother’s will. She doesn’t really know her husband when she marries him and she doesn’t show any interest in getting to know him, as she does not love him. It is only after Philip’s death that Emily begins to show interest in him (and to eventually fall in love with him), as she discovers his journals and begins to read Homer and to visit the British Museum in order to learn more about her late husband. In doing so, she gains a lot more than just finding out about Philip’s passions. Emily begins to yearn for more freedom; she longs to do whatever she pleases, to read what she likes and to wear what she wants, regardless of society’s rules. (Widows had to spend at least a year in deep mourning and to dress in black; once a widow entered the period of half-mourning, she would be allowed to gradually return to society and to attend events that were appropriate for a widow). Thus, Emily starts to rebel little by little and to show her strong-minded side more often. There’s a particular scene in the book that highlights her rebellious character and her rejection of society’s rules: After dinner, Emily and her friend Margaret, prefer to stay with the gentlemen and drink port with them instead of retiring to the drawing room as ladies would normally do. This was of course a very shocking thing to do, because it disregarded society’s rules that were imposed on women at that time and it did not please Emily’s mother and the other guests. (Although I must admit that I found it very amusing). As the story unfolds, Emily embarks on a journey of self-discovery and refuses to remarry again, knowing that marriage would put an end to her newfound independence.

And Only to Deceive was the perfect book for me, as I really liked reading about Emily’s journey and her fight for independence. I am very interested in this subject, as it’s a major issue when it comes to Victorian Literature and Culture. I must admit that although I found it very interesting to read about art forgeries and the intrigues and deceptions involved (which are actually the main themes of the novel), I found it more interesting to read about Emily’s rebellious way and her desire to learn more about the world, to read and to explore new places. I just enjoyed reading about her attempts at escaping the submitting role that Victorian society has forced upon her and I loved that Tasha Alexander has chosen this path for the heroine.

Overall, I really loved this engaging book and I recommend it to everyone who is interested in Victorian Literature and to everyone who likes to read a suspenseful novel set in the Victorian period.

Note: I would like to thank the author and her publicist Danielle Bartlett from Harper Collins for giving me the opportunity to read and to review this wonderful book!

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