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

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

Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson

On the surface, Edith and Bruce Ottley seem like the perfect Edwardian couple – respectable, presentable and well mannered. However, in reality, Edith begins to feel a little bored with her marriage since Bruce is a man with many eccentricities and absurdities. Edith’s husband seems to complain about everything and everyone and he thinks too well of himself. Luckily, Edith’s friend Hyacinth Verney is there to bring a little excitement into Edith’s dull life. Hyacinth is a beautiful and glamorous young woman whom everyone adores and admires. She appears to have the perfect life, except that the young woman is madly in love with someone who doesn’t show any interest in her. Hyacinth cannot really understand why the man of her dreams doesn’t seem to admire her like everyone else, thus she tries to do everything in order to win his attention. After many misunderstandings, heartaches and jealousies, Hyacinth and her beloved are finally united.

Love’s Shadow is a classic comedy of manners and it deals with the affairs of the heart and their consequences. Ada Leverson masterfully explores the different facets of love – the love between friends, unrequited love and being in love. Furthermore, her novel draws a lucid portrait of married life, while revealing all its oddities, enigmas and obscurities.

Love’s Shadow is packed with charm, wit, hilarious dialogue, eccentric characters and superb writing. Since the novel is set in the past and in England, it was the perfect book for me. I just loved everything about this book and I had to laugh many times while reading it. There are just so many witty remarks and funny characters in Ada Leverson’s novel that you can’t help but adore it! I liked all the characters except for Bruce Ottley since he is such a peculiar and unlikeable man! (However, I think that it was the author’s purpose to portray him that way). Bruce is so obnoxious and so full of himself – he never seems content and he always finds fault with everything and everyone. I can fully understand why Edith is bored with him, since Bruce is so annoying with his attitude and outrageous behaviour. He thinks of himself as a ‘man of the world’ when in reality, he is lazy, odd and ignorant. Furthermore, he treats his wife as if she were an object and a servant. Bruce thinks that Edith is not clever, but the truth is that she is more intelligent than he could ever be. However, Edith has to keep things to herself, because wives at that time couldn’t take the liberty of opposing their husbands. But she still gets her own way quite often, because she is clever enough to let Bruce believe that he’s in charge, when in reality, Edith has the upper hand when it comes to their marriage.

Love’s Shadow was a pure delight and an enjoyable read and I recommend it to everyone out there who likes to read books set in the past and to everyone who likes to read about gender roles.

Andreea

The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes

The Ghosts of Kerfol is a wonderful collection of five interlocking ghost stories inspired by Edith Wharton’s ghost story Kerfol. In her classic tale of thrill and suspense, Edith Wharton narrates the story of Anne de Barrigan, who married Yves de Cornault, the lord of the Kerfol estate. As Yves de Cornault is found dead, seemingly attacked by a pack of dogs, Anne de Barrigan is sentenced of murdering her husband. But here’s the peculiar thing: there were no dogs at Kerfol the day the lord was murdered – at least no living dogs!

I must admit that I have not read Edith Wharton’s ghost story yet, but now that I’ve read and enjoyed The Ghosts of Kerfol, I want to learn more about the original Kerfol. I really absorbed every page of Deborah Noyes’s remarkable collection and I have been haunted by the characters in my sleep (I am serious – after reading some of the ghost stories, I went to sleep and dreamed of Kerfol and its dark secrets). But now let’s have a look at these powerful tales of revenge:

Hunger Moon (set in 1613) is the first ghost story and it’s my favorite one as it revolves around Anne de Barrigan and her husband Yves de Cornault. The story pays tribute to Edith Wharton’s Kerfol and it is told from Perrette’s perspective. Perrette is Anne’s new chambermaid and she witnesses all the strange and frightening events that take place at Kerfol. The young girl is a very likeable character who carefully observes the relationship between Anne and her husband Yves. Perrette immediately perceives that Anne seems very unhappy and lonely at Kerfol and that she doesn’t have any freedom, as her husband is a very ruthless and dominant man. Although he overwhelms her with the most expensive and exquisite gifts, Yves can’t fill Anne’s emptiness and make her happy. But one day, he manages to at least bring some joy to Anne by giving her a little dog. Perrette is glad to see her Milady smile and rejoice for once. However, her happiness is short-lived, as one day, her precious dog is found dead on her pillow, killed with a sapphire and diamond necklace, one of Yves’s gifts to Anne. Everyone at Kerfol supposes that Anne’s jealous husband is behind this dreadful deed. He must have learned that Anne has befriended a young nobleman named Hervé de Lanrivain and as an act of revenge, he killed Anne’s little dog. Other dogs follow, since Anne brings in a new dog every time the previous one is found dead on her pillow, killed exactly as the first dog. A year after the first dog was brought to Kerfol, Yves de Cornault is found dead on the stairs, apparently killed by a brutal pack of dogs. Anne is immediately convicted of murdering her husband, but since the judges disagree with each other, Anne is released into the care of Yves’s relatives, who imprison her in the tower of Kerfol where she dies years later. The judges failed to understand how it was possible that some savage dogs attacked the elderly lord, when there were no living dogs at Kerfol that day. Only Anne’s dead dogs were there, her beloved dogs that were strangled and buried one by one by her violent husband.

The following ghost stories These Heads Would Speak (set in 1802), The Figure Under the Sheet (set in 1926), When I Love You Best (set in 1982) and The Red of Berries (set in 2006) slip forward in time, giving the reader a glimpse into the lives of troubled characters. The stories feature a young and confused artist, a party girl who drowns her sorrows in alcohol, an unhappy young American couple and a deaf gardener who cares for the Kerfol estate. All these people have something in common, as they are plagued and haunted by the ghosts of Kerfol. Anne’s dead dogs torment and rip apart each of these souls and they don’t spare anyone, as they have come to take revenge!

The Ghosts of Kerfol is an absorbing collection of ghost stories that will make your flesh creep and that will leave you hungry for more. The talented Deborah Noyes does a great job creating a dark and sinister atmosphere by using gothic elements and she skilfully portrays a sombre world full of secrets, intrigues and mysteries. I truly loved this book and I highly recommend it to everyone who loves ghost stories and who is a fan of Gothic Literature. These haunting tales will linger in your mind for a long time and you will want to read other works by Deborah Noyes. I just wished that these ghost stories were longer and not so short because I longed for more! Luckily, the author has a promising upcoming novel, Captivity, and you can find out more about it here.

Note: The author kindly sent me a copy of her fascinating book and I would like to thank her for that!

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

In 1853, twelve-year-old orphan Mary Quinn is struggling to survive on the unsafe streets of shady London by committing crimes. But one day, she is unwary and is caught housebreaking and therefore, Mary is sentenced to hang. Luckily, she is rescued by a mysterious woman, who is dressed as a prison warden. The woman turns out to be Anne Treleaven, the head teacher at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls and she offers Mary an exceptional education at her school. There, she is able to acquire fine manners and other special skills. After finishing her education, Anne reveals to seventeen-year-old Mary that the academy is in fact a cover for The Agency – a top secret female investigative unit. Acknowledging Mary’s intelligence, bravery and good skills of observations, Anne encourages Mary to join The Agency and thus, put her hard training to the test.

Mary is intrigued by this new opportunity and therefore, takes up this thrilling challenge with great expectations. Her first assignment as a female investigator is to infiltrate the Thorold household in order to collect information on Mr. Thorold’s missing cargo ships. In the guise of a lady’s companion, Mary must work fast and find out the truth about Mr. Thorold’s business. But in the Thorold household, nothing is quite as it seems and Mary must be careful in deciding whom she can trust. Everyone seems to have dark little secrets: Mrs. Thorold acts rather suspiciously, her daughter Angelica is spoiled and seems to hide something and Mr. Thorold’s secretary Michael Gray flirts with Mary. And then there’s also James Easton, an arrogant, yet very attractive young man. His brother George is one of Angelica’s suitors and they have met several times. But why is James always behaving so strangely and why does he follow her everywhere? Can she really trust him or will she put herself in great danger by cooperating with him? And why is Mary trying to avoid talking about her past and parents?

The Agency: A Spy in the House is a delightful novel set in the heart of Victorian London, where shady and dangerous things are taking place. Y.S. Lee has written a compelling tale packed with suspense, action, mystery, intrigues and romance. Readers will enjoy accompanying Mary on her dangerous journey through the dusky streets of Victorian London and witnessing how this young and clever detective discovers secrets and fights the demons of her troubled childhood. I really loved this captivating tale and I wanted to read more about Mary and her fascinating adventures! The Agency: A Spy in the House is Y.S. Lee’s first novel and it’s part of a trilogy. Therefore, there will be a second novel in the Agency series, called The Body at the Tower and it will be published in August in the States. I can’t wait to read the promising sequel!

For more information on the Agency series, please visit the author’s website here. There, you can also enter a contest to win a copy of The Agency: A Spy in the House and other prizes.

Note: I would like to thank the author and her publicist Tracy Miracle from Candlewick Press for sending me a copy of this engaging book!

The Girl with Glass Feet

The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

When Vivienne at Serendipity mentioned The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw, I knew that I had to read this book! The book’s cover immediately attracted me and the synopsis piqued my interest.

Jason Liebman from Henry Holt and Company kindly sent me an advance reading copy and I must say that I really enjoyed reading it!

Midas is a shy young man who enjoys being alone, as he doesn’t really know how to talk to people. He has lived on St. Hauda’s Land his entire life, but he barely has any friends. Therefore, Midas has devoted his whole life to photography and when peculiar things begin to take place on the islands, he is eager to capture everything on camera. Odd winged creatures and albino animals seem to have appeared on the islands and other unusual things are happening. However, Midas doesn’t seem too concerned; he is intrigued by these beings and wants to take pictures of them. But everything changes when the young man meets Ida, the girl with glass feet. Her body is inexplicably turning into glass and she desperately searches for a cure. At first, Midas only seems to take an interest in her condition and wants to take pictures of her glass feet, but as they spend time together, he begins to fall in love with her. There is something about the girl’s nature that gradually changes Midas and thus, he begins to blossom into a brave and confident young man. Ida helps him overcome the demons of his past, while Midas helps her come to terms with her affliction. Together, they try to find a cure for her condition, but time is slipping away. Will Midas be able to save his beloved? And what does his father’s death have to do with all of this?

I don’t want to tell you more about this wonderful book, because I think that you should also read it and thus experience this absorbing story yourself! The Girl with Glass Feet is an unusual, magical love story that will touch your heart and will linger in your mind for a long time! I recommend this fanciful novel to everyone out there, since Ali Shaw has done such an excellent job fabricating a beautiful and gripping fairy tale! The author describes the landscape and the characters in a poetic way and he successfully manages to create an elegant world, where reality wonderfully merges with fantasy! All in all, The Girl with Glass Feet is an imaginative novel, full of suspense, magic and marvels. I have never read a book like this before, since it’s so unusual, but at the same time it’s so spectacular! I really loved this heartbreaking novel and I am so glad that I had the chance to read it!

Note: The book is scheduled for release in January 2010!