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

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The Hollow by Jessica Verday

Abbey and Kristen have been best friends since they were little. They have shared everything with each other – their dreams, their hopes and their enthusiasm for Washington Irving’s legend of Sleepy Hollow. Growing up in the town of Sleepy Hollow, the girls often used to visit the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and talk about the  mystery surrounding the Headless Horseman and Irving’s classic legend.

But when Kristen vanishes one day at the bridge near the cemetery, Abbey’s life changes radically. Everyone in town assumes that Kristen is dead, but Abbey believes otherwise. That’s why the sixteen-year-old is determined to find out what really happened to her best friend. Abbey is aided in her investigations by a mysterious and attractive young man whom she met at the cemetery. However, Abbey’s new friend seems to have something to hide and when the heroine falls in love with him and finally finds out the truth about him, her world falls apart and she begins to question her own sanity.

The Hollow is the first book in a trilogy and it’s a paranormal romance packed with over 500 pages of suspense, mystery and gothic elements. It’s a sweet love story that will move you, as you will sympathize with Abbey and you will feel her pain, anger, grief and frustration. The sixteen-year-old is a likeable character that has to deal with a lot; she loses her best friend, falls in love for the first time and has troubles understanding her overprotective parents. The novel’s themes are therefore modern and they will appeal to young adults, as they will be able to relate to Abbey’s problems. Furthermore, the paranormal elements will attract Twilight fans as they will want to learn more about Abbey’s boyfriend and how their love story will continue.

All in all, The Hollow was a wonderful and engaging tale that left me longing for more. I can’t wait to read the sequel because I want to be transported back to Sleepy Hollow and to enter a fascinating world of intrigue, mystery and betrayal. I loved to learn about Irving’s legend because I haven’t read it before (but I plan to do so very soon). I also enjoyed all the scenes that were taking place at the cemetery because they gave the novel the right touch and thus, the author conveyed a gloomy and dark atmosphere that fit in with the novel’s themes.

This book is perfect for Gothic fiction fans and for those who like to read paranormal romances. I hope you will get the chance to read The Hollow and I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I did!

Note: I would like to thank Kathryn Mckenna from Simon & Schuster UK for sending me this wonderful novel!

Andreea

The Glass of Time by Michael Cox

If you are a follower of my blog, then you probably know that I have a little obsession with the Victorian Era and with books set in that period. Hence, you may not be surprised to hear that I was eager to read Michael Cox’s The Glass of Time.

Luckily, I received a copy of this great book from John Murray Publishers and after I have spent the last days reading The Glass of Time, I must say that it lived up to my expectations, just as I imagined it. This novel was everything I expected: 531 pages packed with suspense, mysteries, intrigues, betrayal and romance – the perfect ingredients for an unforgettable gothic romance! But now, let’s have a look at the plot:

1876: Nineteen-year-old orphan Esperanza Gorst has been living in France ever since her parents died years ago. She cannot remember her dear parents and doesn’t know much about them. When they died, they left their young daughter in the care of Madame de l’Orme and Mr. Thornhaugh and she has received a most remarkable education from them. Thus, when her guardians send her to England to occupy a position as a lady’s maid at the gothic house of Evenwood, it soon becomes clear that Esperanza will not take on the role of an ordinary servant. Madame de l’Orme and Mr. Thornhaugh have sent the young girl to Evenwood with a specific purpose in mind. They want Esperanza to fulfil a Great Task, but the heroine doesn’t know yet what this task is about. She has been told to wait for three ‘Letters of Instruction’ that will clarify her role at Evenwood. In the meantime, Esperanza’s assignment will be to win over her new mistress, the former Emily Carteret, now the 26th Baroness Tansor. With her charm and intelligence, the heroine succeeds in accomplishing her task and she wins Lady Tansor’s trust and respect over the course of time. Soon, she is no longer a lady’s maid, but she is Lady Tansor’s companion and friend. As Esperanza receives the first two letters of instruction, she learns that she must not trust Lady Tansor, but rather to consider her as an enemy. However, Esperanza finds it hard to do so, since she pities Lady Tansor, as Esperanza sees that Lady Tansor is plagued by grief and sorrow. Although her mistress is strict and disdainful to others, she is kind to Esperanza and the young girl finds it hard to regard her as her enemy. Nevertheless, the nineteen-year-old has to fulfil the Great Task and follow the letters of instruction that tell her to uncover Lady Tansor’s dark secrets. As Esperanza digs deeper into Lady Tansor’s past, she finds herself entangled in a web full of shocking mysteries, murders, deceptions, jealousy and revenge. She also finally finds out why she has been sent to Evenwood, and when she does, she is shocked to learn that there is a connection between her and Lady Tansor. But what kind of connection? At Evenwood (and everywhere else, it seems), people are not who they pretend to be and Esperanza must pay heed before it’s too late, as dangers are all around her. Whom can she really trust and will she be able to fulfil the Great Task?

Well, if you want to know the answers to these questions, you will have to read this captivating book. I won’t tell you more about it, as I don’t want to spoil this haunting tale. All I can say is that you must read The Glass of Time if you are a fan of gothic romances and if you like to read books that are set in the Victorian Period. I promise you that you will enjoy this well written novel, as it’s a page-turner and a fascinating read that will appeal to everyone who loves a suspenseful mystery with a touch of romance. In this engrossing tale, nothing is quite as it seems and you will witness how the past can haunt one’s present as one cannot always accomplish to leave the past behind so easily!

I really loved The Glass of Time and I am looking forward to reading Michael Cox’s other novel The Meaning of Night in the near future!

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 Séance by John Harwood

The Séance by John Harwood

Constance Langton’s childhood takes an unhappy turn when her younger sister Alma dies at the age of two. Her mother goes into mourning and hardly speaks to anybody, and her distant father ignores her and eventually abandons the family. Since she feels unloved and neglected by her parents, Constance begins to think that she might have been a foundling. However, her questions remain unanswered because the girl has no one to confide in. She often feels alone and she can’t bear to see her mother so unhappy, therefore, Constance wants to find a way to cheer her mother up and to put an end to her pain. Thus, one day, Constance pretends to be taken over by Alma’s spirit and tells her mother that she is in heaven. The girl thinks that her mother will finally be able to go on with her life and to stop mourning, now that she knows that Alma is in heaven. Constance’s mother, however, seems to become obsessed with the idea of hearing Alma. Thus, the two attend a series of séances where Constance continues to pretend to be her sister. Her mother seems to be happy and she even smiles sometimes, but she is no longer content with only hearing Alma; she also wants to see and hold her. In desperation, Constance decides to take her mother to a séance held by a group of charlatans. There, her mother is convinced that she has really seen her beloved Alma and after all these years of grief, she finally seems to have found peace. But when Constance’s mother commits suicide after this event, the girl is shattered and she begins to blame herself for her mother’s death. Since her mother is gone, Constance is all by her self and she feels hopeless and lonelier than ever. Much to her surprise, Constance soon learns that a distant relative has bequeathed her entire estate to her. The protagonist finds out that the estate consists of Wraxford Hall, a derelict manor house in the English countryside. The decaying mansion has an obscure reputation: once, people have mysteriously disappeared there and other sinister things have taken place. Still, Constance doesn’t seem to be deterred by Wraxford Hall’s sombre history. She is determined to find out everything about the decaying mansion and about her distant relatives in the hope that she will learn more about herself. While she tries to unveil the dark secrets of Wraxford Hall, she becomes more and more convinced that she has indeed been a foundling, as she feels a strong connection to Wraxford Hall’s former residents. As the protagonist digs deeper into the mysterious events surrounding the decaying mansion, she finds herself entangled in a web of secrets, lies and deception. Thus, Constance needs to be careful, as in this world of illusion, nothing is quite as it seems and hidden dangers await her.

The Séance is an accomplished second novel from a very talented author; this compelling tale pays homage to Victorian Literature and to Victorian ghost stories. John Harwood has created a captivating world of intrigues, mysteries and dark secrets. The reader will enjoy this suspenseful ghost story, as the author has successfully managed to capture the language and spirit of the Victorian period and in addition, he has provided us with a well-constructed plot and fascinating characters. The Séance will appeal to readers who enjoy Victorian ghost stories and gothic tales and I recommend this novel to everyone who is interested in the Victorian Era. I am a huge fan of Victorian ghost stories, thus I must say that I loved this spellbinding tale! I really liked reading about Wraxford Hall, with its secret passages and hidden chambers, and I loved how the author has used the elements of a classic ghost story in this engaging novel (haunted houses, stormy nights, skeletons in the closet, dark mysteries and secrets, etc.). All in all, The Séance is a terrific Victorian ghost story and therefore, a must read for ghost story lovers!

I would like to thank Mariner Books for sending me a copy of this engaging novel!

 

The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte by Laura Joh Rowland

The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte by Laura Joh Rowland

Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre, heads to London with her sister Anne to resolve an important matter: her publisher, George Smith, has falsely accused her of breach of contract and thus Charlotte wants to set the record straight and to clear her name. On the train to London, the sisters meet a mysterious, beautiful girl named Isabel White who behaves strangely and who seems to hide something. Nevertheless, Charlotte finds the girl sympathetic, so when she unintentionally witnesses Isabel’s murder, Charlotte is appalled. Since no one seems to be interested in solving Isabel’s murder, the author is determined to discover why the girl has been killed and to bring the offender to justice. Aided by her sisters and by Isabel’s attractive brother, Gilbert White, the author begins her investigation but soon finds herself entangled in a web full of secrets, lies and intrigue.

Will Charlotte find her way out of this deceptive labyrinth and therefore manage to save her beloved family and country? And what does Isabel’s brother have to hide?

Well, you’ll have to read this enchanting book to find out! I recommend this novel to everyone who loves historical fiction and who loves to read about Victorian England and the famous Bronte family. The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte is a suspenseful detective novel, full of mysteries, intrigue and romance; therefore, readers will find it impossible to put this book down! Laura Joh Rowland has done a fantastic job narrating a captivating story, taking the reader on an unforgettable journey through Victorian England and at the same time drawing a fascinating portrait of the Bronte family. The story is told through Charlotte’s eyes and her narrative voice is very authentic and sensible. Therefore, Laura Joh Rowland has successfully managed to give the narrative a believable profundity, allowing Charlotte to witness the great adventures and romance she never experienced, but fervently desired! Furthermore, the author has created a credible Charlotte whose obstinacy and intellect will remind you of Jane Eyre! All in all, I really liked this detective novel and I think that The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte is a must-read for Bronte fans!

I would like to thank Vida Engstrand from The Overlook Press for sending me a copy of this engaging book!

The Ghost Writer

As you all know, I decided to read The Ghost Writer by John Harwood for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. I discovered this book at Melody’s lovely blog, Melody’s Reading Corner, and I couldn’t wait to read it!

Young Gerard lives with his overprotective mother and his reticent father in a small Australian town. He doesn’t have any friends and his parents are very strict. His life is uneventful, thus, one day, he decides to sneak into his mother’s bedroom. There, he makes a mysterious discovery as he finds a strange photograph of a beautiful woman and a manuscript in his mother’s cupboard. However, Gerard cannot enjoy his discoveries, since his mother enters the room and beats him up for invading her privacy.

When he wants to find out more about the mysterious photograph, he realizes that his secretive mother has something to hide. He senses that the photograph must have some connection to his mother’s past, but she won’t tell him any further details. All he knows is that his mother grew up in England and that she lived with her grandmother at a grand country estate called Staplefield.

Gerard often thinks about the mysterious photograph and about Staplefield, but he can’t tell anybody about it, since he has no friends. Therefore, he is very happy when he begins a pen-friendship with an English girl named Alice. She is an orphan girl who is restricted to a wheelchair after a terrible car accident. She doesn’t want to talk about her past and Gerard agrees not to ask any further questions. Finally, Gerard has found someone to confide in; he can tell her everything and share his ideas and feelings with her.

Over the next couple of years, they frequently write to each other and their letters become very passionate. Gerard and Alice realize that they have fallen in love with each other and Gerard can’t wait to see his beloved. Thus, he plans to visit Alice in England, but she doesn’t know about his intention. All she knows is that Gerard wants to find out more about his mother’s past while he is in England. Unfortunately, he cannot see Alice during his stay, so he disappointedly returns to Australia.

After his mother’s death, Gerard leaves his home and heads for England. This time, he hopes he can finally meet Alice and be with her. He also hopes to find out about Staplefield and the mystifying photograph and thus solve the mysteries behind his mother’s past.

John Harwood does a brilliant job embedding a few Victorian ghost stories within Gerard’s suspenseful story and the reader soon realizes that these stories are somehow connected to Gerard’s mother. But how are they connected? And what does Alice have to do with these spooky stories? What does she have to hide, anyway?

Well, you’ll have to read this superb book to find out. You won’t regret it, as this novel is truly a masterpiece and a tribute to gothic literature! I recommend this book to everyone out there, since The Ghost Writer tells a story full of hidden secrets, mysteries, intrigues and deception. This novel is an astounding piece of work and a terrific ghost story! I just couldn’t put this book down and was eager to find out how it will end. I loved everything about this captivating novel, especially the stories within the story. The Ghost Writer will remind you of The Turn of the Screw and other Victorian ghost stories and it will linger in your mind for a long time!

The Ghost Writer is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I am looking forward to reading other John Harwood novels in the future.

I would like to thank Brittany Edwards from Harcourt Trade Publishers for sending me a copy of this engaging book!

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