Friday, February 7, 2014

Virgins by Diana Gabaldon

Virgins is a short story prequel to the Outlander saga that is found in the new short story collection, Dangerous Women edited by George R.R. Martin.  I will admit that I bought Dangerous Women for my husband Ben for Christmas as he wanted to read Martin’s latest short story.  I was delighted to see that Gabaldon had a story in the collection as well.  When Ben finished his story, he handed it off to me to read.  This review is only for this short story, I hope to read the entire book one of these days.

Virgins is a prequel to Outlander starring Jamie Fraser and Ian Murray.  After Jamie faced a brutal whipping from British officer and nemesis Black Jack Randall, he went to France in search of his friend Ian Murray. Ian is with a group of mercenaries.  They are protecting a load of valuable rugs when they are viscously attacked.  Ian and Jamie fight valiantly and soon find themselves on a new mission, protecting their Jewish client’s most valuable possession, his beautiful granddaughter, Rebekah and a priceless scroll on her way to her fiancé.  Ian and Jamie soon find that they are in for more than they bargained and that Rebekah is not all that she seems.

I loved this short story by one of my favorite authors.  It was a strong, fascinating story about Jamie before Claire.  It also perhaps solved part of the mystery from Echo in the Bone of who the mystery woman was from Jamie’s time in France.  It made me further resolve that I need to reread the series and put it all together!  This story is worth a read from fans of the Outlander series as well people looking for a darn good story.  I need to read the rest of the stories in Dangerous Women, but I will leave that for another time.

Book Source:  I bought this from for my husband for Christmas

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Title: Mrs. Poe
Author: Lynn Cullen
Read by: Eliza Foss
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: 12 Hours and 1 minute
Source: Digital Review Copy from Simon & Schuster Audio.  Thank-you!

Mrs. Poe is not centered on Virginia Poe, the wife of Edgar Allen Poe, but of Frances Osgood, an American Poet and perhaps lover of Edgar Allen Poe.  I’ll admit that I had never heard of Frances Osgood and when I first started to listen to this audiobook I googled her to find out more.  I discovered that she was indeed a real person and that sadly what she is remembered for now is not her poetry, but her relationship with Poe.

My picture of Poe was not that of a man that was “catnip” to the ladies, but he was known as a ladies man back in the day.  The book is set in the 1840’s after Poe has written “The Raven” and has settled in New York City with his wife Virginia and Virginia’s mother (and Poe’s Aunt), Mrs. Clem.  Poe and Frances Osgood meet in the literary circles of the day.  At this time, Frances is separated from her husband, a handsome, but unfaithful painter that has left her and their two daughters with no word on when or if he will return.  Luckily, Frances’s friend Eliza Bartlett has welcomed her and her two girls into her home.  Frances and Poe continue to meet in public and find that they have a mutual attraction and understanding of one another.  Virginia, Poe’s young wife, also strikes up a friendship with Frances.  This proves awkward with how Frances and Poe feel about each other, but also may be deadly as Frances begins to suspect that young Mrs. Poe considers her a rival and is trying to kill her.  Will Frances and Poe be able to throw off the restraints of society and have a relationship?  Is Virginia Poe the ruthless woman that Frances suspects she is?  You will have to read this book to find out!

Overall, I enjoyed this audiobook and would recommend it to anyone that loves historical fiction or a good suspenseful romance story.  Eliza Foss was a fine narrator and I began to identify her voice as that of Frances.  It was soothing and enjoyable to listen to.  I loved all of the historical references in the book.  The various characters that Frances runs into like Louisa May Alcott, Herman Melville, and Teddy Roosevelt to name a few were intriguing.  It is amazing to think about such personalities all living or visiting New York City during the same time.  I also loved learning about Frances Osgood and her relationship with Poe.  I also loved learning about another side of Poe that I previously didn’t know about.  This is a great romantic historical fiction novel, although the real life events of what happened after this book ended at the note at the end were a bit gloomy.  But in a story of Poe, isn’t that what one would expect?

The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

Emily Braden decides to take a holiday to Chinon France to meet her cousin Henry who is researching the hidden treasure of Isabelle, the infamous King John of England’s Queen.  When Emily arrives, she is unsurprised to find that Henry has not arrived yet as he is notoriously absent minded.

Emily gets to know the people staying at her hotel and in Chinon.  There is the hint of romance with a few different men, and also Emily meets some annoying American tourists.  Emily also learns the romantic legend of another Isabelle in WWI who loved a German soldier and hid a treasure of diamonds when the Germans pulled out of Chinon.  While on the hunt for the two potential treasures, Emily learns some dark secrets and starts to wonder if something sinister has happened to her cousin Henry.

I enjoyed this novel, but it was apparent that it was one of Susanna Kearsley’s earlier novels where she hadn’t quite yet honed her craft.  I didn’t really feel romance between Emily and any of her potential suitors.  The suspense factor also wasn’t as high as it is in Kearsley’s other novels.  It was still an enjoyable story over all, but I think I was expecting something different after reading Kearsley’s other works.  

Book Source:  Review copy from Sourcebooks – Thanks!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Title: Me Before You
Author: JoJo Moyes
Read by: Susan Lyons, Anna Bentinck, Steven Crossey, Alex Tregear, Andrew Wincott, and Owen Lindsay
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: 12 CDs, approximately 14.5 hours
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Audio.  Thank-you!

Me Before You is the February pick for the FLICKS Book and Movie Club.  This worked out perfectly as I had an audiobook version awaiting review on the top of my pile from Penguin Audio.  It was a great book to listen to; it kept me fascinated during long and snowy drives home.  It also had me in tears driving home the last day; luckily it was not during a snow storm!

Me Before You looks like a standard chick lit novel, but it is anything but.  It starts off as a unique meet cute story, but turns into a story on the topic of euthanasia.  It was a very thought provoking novel, and one that I’m sure should spark some lively discussion during book club this month!
Louisa Clark (or Lou) is a twenty-six year old woman living in a small village in England.  She has never left her village, still lives at home, has a steady boyfriend (aka Running Man), and works in a small café.  After losing her job when the café closes, Louisa looks for new jobs.  Finding herself unqualified or unwilling to do most (being a poll dancer is not in her future), she takes a job as an assistant to a paraplegic thirty five year old man named Will Traynor.  

Will had a large life before his accident, women, wealth, a great job, and high flying adventures all over the world.  He is barely civil to Louisa when she first starts, but Louisa refuses to treat him any different and tells him exactly what she thinks about him.  She is the first person to ever treat Will this way and he likes it.  The two develop a close friendship and then Louisa makes a stunning discovery.  I won’t go more into it to ruin the book for someone else, but it is riveting.

The story is told from the point of view of Louisa, but there are a few random chapters told from another point of view (but never Will’s) throughout the book.  Each one had a new narrator, which I liked, but I didn’t like the change all of the time.  The one I did really like was the first new narrator, Mrs. Traynor, Will’s mother.  She seems like a cold woman to Louisa, but when you get her point of view, you realize how much she loves her son Will, but that she is not an outwardly emotional woman.

I highly recommend this novel. It was wonderfully written with unforgettable characters and an unforgettable story.  This book will keep me thinking about different issues for years to come.  I think it would make a great book club pick for other clubs as I’m sure this is going to lead to great discussions this month – especially as it seems most of the club has finished it (and not just me!). 

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich

Title: Takedown Twenty
Author: Janet Evanovich
Read by: Lorelei King
Publisher: Random House Audio
Length: 5 CDs, approximately 5 hours
Source: Kewaunee Public Library.  Thank-you!

I love Lorelei King.  She is a wonderful audiobook narrator.  The voices she does for each character are unique and fun to listen to. Truthfully, I would have given up on the Stephanie Plum novels a few books ago if I didn’t have Lorelei King to listen to.  I felt the same way at the end of this novel. 
In Takedown Twenty, Stephanie Plum and her sidekick Lula are trying to find Salvatore Sunucchi, better known as “Uncle Sunny.”  He has skipped out on a high dollar bond and Stephanie needs to capture him to pay the rent.  Unfortunately he is beloved in Trenton and no one is happy that Stephanie is trying to track him, especially Bella, Stephanie’s boyfriend Joe’s grandmother.  

Stephanie and Lula are also helping Stephanie’s other flame Ranger try to solve the mystery of a killer that is killing old ladies in town and leaving them in garbage dumpsters.  I liked the mystery, but it seemed like it had a rather sudden conclusion.  After twenty novels, Stephanie still has not shown any growth.  She thinks about making a decision between Ranger and Joe, but fails to do so in this novel.  I think it would bring these books back if she could make a choice and the hilarity that would occur as Stephanie got married, tried to settle down, and had kids.

Overall, Takedown Twenty is another lackluster edition to the Stephanie Plum novels, but the narration by Lorelei King on the audiobook edition saves the day.