3 stars, challenges, historical

Blood Sisters

12338716Title: Blood Sisters
Author: Melanie Clegg

When the beautiful Comtesse de Saint-Valèry is dragged unwillingly from her Parisian home in the dead of night, her three young daughters are left to an uncertain fate at the hands of their father in a world that is teetering on the very edge of Revolution.

Cassandre, the eldest is a beautiful and heartless society beauty, trapped in an unhappy marriage and part of the dazzling court of Versailles. Lucrèce, her twin, is married to a man she adores but he pushes her away for another woman. Meanwhile, Adélaïde, the youngest, rebels against the destiny that her position in society appears to have doomed her to.

As the horror, turmoil and excitement of the French Revolution unfolds around them, the three very different sisters struggle to survive the bloodshed, find love and discover their true selves…

Life is too short and too fleeting to be spent waiting for something to happen or to loose sight, even for a moment, of the people you love.

Rating3star

This book does a great job of portraying (more or less) ordinary people caught up in a major historical event and an at-best mediocre job at telling the story of everything else that happened to these people.

It follows three aristocratic sisters through major events of the French Revolution: the storming of the Bastille, the women’s March on Versaille, the imprisonment of King and Queen, their execution, Danton’s trial and finally Robespierre’s execution. At least one of them is always caught in the thick of it (Lucrèce is a lady-in-waiting to the queen and with her the day she is arrested, Adélaïde is married to a fierce Republican who is friends with Danton…) The description of these events is very vivid and drew me right into it (despite not caring about that period that much) and had me biting my nails in anticipation of what would happen next. Even when I knew what would happen, the way the sisters were hoping and praying for a happy ending made me want to join in and I almost hoped that perhaps I had misremembered my French history.

But not everything that happens is directly connected to the French Revolution. The sisters also fall in love, marry, fall out of love again, grow up, discover family secrets and change their opinions about important issues. And that’s where the format of the story is working against it. It tells of events happening between 1789 and 1794 but not as one continuing story. In the first part, we learn how the sisters experienced the storming of the Bastille, in the second the women’s March and so on. But their life didn’t stop between all these events, rather the opposite: often quite major events and revelations happened in between but we’re only told a short summary of what happened at the beginning of each chapter. By that time major decisions are already made, any emotional fallout of huge revelations has happened…a lot of character-development happens between the chapters.

As a result, I could connect with the emotions of the characters but not so much with the characters as a whole since I only ever saw snapshots of them at different stages in their life. I didn’t see them grow, I saw how they had grown.


This is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season challenge:

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Book themes for Advent: Read a book featuring 4 siblings.

While the story only focusses on the three sisters, they also have a brother 😉

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16 tasks, 3 stars, fantasy

The Five Daughters of the Moon (The Waning Moon #1)

33099589 Title: The Five Daughters of the Moon
Author: Leena Likitalo
Series: The Waning Moon #1

The Crescent Empire teeters on the edge of a revolution, and the Five Daughters of the Moon are the ones to determine its future.

Alina, six, fears Gagargi Prataslav and his Great Thinking Machine. The gagargi claims that the machine can predict the future, but at a cost that no one seems to want to know.

Merile, eleven, cares only for her dogs, but she smells that something is afoul with the gagargi. By chance, she learns that the machine devours human souls for fuel, and yet no one believes her claim.

Sibilia, fifteen, has fallen in love for the first time in her life. She couldn’t care less about the unrests spreading through the countryside. Or the rumors about the gagargi and his machine.

Elise, sixteen, follows the captain of her heart to orphanages and workhouses. But soon she realizes that the unhappiness amongst her people runs much deeper that anyone could have ever predicted.

And Celestia, twenty-two, who will be the empress one day. Lately, she’s been drawn to the gagargi. But which one of them was the first to mention the idea of a coup?

Rating3star

I rarely say this, especially about fantasy novels but: This book would have been better if it had been longer. Especially the chapters featuring the oldest sister, Elise and Celestia, just throw important information at us at lightning speed. By the time of their first POV-chapters, many important parts of their story have already happened and all we get are flashbacks to those events. In addition to the things that are currently happening of course. In Celestia’s first chapter I almost laughed because it was so crammed with dramatic reveals, surprising twists and shocking events at a speed that made it hard to take it seriously (other authors would get a whole book out of what happened there, if not a trilogy).

It’s not quite as extreme in Elise’s case. Partly because not quite as much happens directly in the chapters and partly because we met Elise before her POV-chapter through her sisters (either directly or via her sisters thinking about her) while Celestia is barely mentioned by her sisters as being an actual person. (She’s only ever the future empress). But there is still so much that happened to Elise before the book started that her chapters also feel like missing half the story.

And there is so much else that is done rather half-heartedly: One of the sisters cares deeply about another person but that person falls under a spell so that they don’t even remember that they once knew her. What the reader sees is one chapter where the two are still together, then in the sister’s next chapter, she has already figured out that the person is under a spell so there is no emotional fallout from the situation. It felt more like reading an early draft that needed more depths.

The world building also leaves some questions: The Crescent Empire can only ever have an empress. She doesn’t even marry (not a human man at least, symbolically she marries the moon…it’s complicated), just takes lovers to conceive children. Yet, for the ordinary people life is still sexist: the men alone go to war and without a man to earn money, families will starve. (And also for the empress and her family there are various rules about when they are allowed to lose their virginity).

I already bought the second book anyway. Because the story is still good even though it could have used a lot more polishing. But also because the book stopped mid-scene. Of course, the first book in a series is supposed to set everything up but I also expect a closure of something. The heroes solving one problem, only to discover that they caused another/now see the much bigger problem that was hiding behind the smaller one. At the very least I expect them to have a plan about how to solve the big problem. But The Five Daughters of the Moon just…stopped. Nothing is resolved. Nobody has any idea what to do. Things just got a lot worse and then it was over.


This is also part of the Reading for 16 Tasks of the Festive Season:

 

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Book themes for Calan Gaeaf: Read any of your planned Halloween Bingo books that you didn’t end up reading after all, involving witches, hags, or various types of witchcraft.

A ‘proper’ witch appears at one point in the book to help the sisters (or perhaps not…) and some of the sisters have supernatural powers (though mostly passive ones)

16 tasks, 3 stars, fantasy

Revelation (Rai-Kirah #2)

618197Title: Revelation
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Rai-Kirah #2

The former slave Seyonne, is busy fighting demons in the mental landscapes where they possess the living, just as his people always have–until the day when he meets a demon who is not a ravening beast, but an urbane charming being who knows altogether too much about Seyonne. To the pursuit of an explanation, and a new justice based on that knowledge, Seyonne is prepared to sacrifice everything he has–including his friendship with the Imperial Prince Aleksander and his marriage to his own queen Ysanne. As with Transformation, Berg creates in Revelation powerfully sensuous landscapes both realistic and uncanny; her characterisation of Seyonne, a man whose self-doubt is not the least of his virtues, is admirable, as is that of Fiona, the bodyguard/assassin set to watch him for signs of corruption and who comes to be his truest ally. Berg makes the pursuit of personal honour attractively the unchanging core of an adventure where everything else we know is unreliable.

Rating3star

As had happened each time I thought I had discovered the true depth of despair, I turned another corner and found the way still pointed downwards.

It’s rare that a single quote encapsulates a book so perfectly but this one tells you everything you need to know about Seyonne. He quickly reaches a point that makes the events of the first book look harmless – already an achievement – and then things still continue to get worse. As a result, the book slides quite close to the Dark, Edgy and Miserable(TM) territory (something Berg managed to avoid in her other books, despite their protagonists always being really unlucky). So especially during the middle part, it dragged a lot and I managed only one or two chapters per day. It wasn’t because it was boring; I just couldn’t cope with that much misery at once. Seyonne just couldn’t catch a break.

At the same time, the overarching plot is fascinating. It goes in a completely different direction than I would have expected after the first book. While Transformation had a pretty standard (but incredibly well done) fantasy plot of ‘We have to fight the demons’, Revelation now asks ‘Why do we have to fight the demons?’ and ‘Why do we have to fight the demons?’ and the answers to that are hard to stomach. And these parts remind me again why I love Carol Berg’s books so much. It starts off with typical fantasy tropes and then digs really deep into it. She doesn’t subvert them in some high-and-mighty ‘actually fantasy is crap and if this was reality everything would be horrible so I’ll write about how horrible everybody is’-way. It’s rather about ‘We’ve always done it like this and we can’t suddenly change our ways is a really bad reason for doing something’. Especially, if, like in this case, you really don’t know anymore why you’re doing something.

But also, after having enjoyed the great relationship between Seyonne and Aleksander in the first book, none of those in this one could match it. Aleksander himself is absent for most parts and while there are other interesting characters they all only stay with him for a short while and so the relationships with them lack the depths and simply weren’t as fun to read.


Review of Book 1


This is also part of my 16 Tasks of the Festive Season reading:

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Book themes for Las Posadas: Read a book where the main character is stranded without a place to stay, or find themselves in a ‘no room at the Inn’ situation.

Seyonne is very much stranded. His own people exile him and then he does find a place to stay in the sense of a room with a bed but he isn’t really welcome there.

16 tasks, challenges

16 Tasks: Newtonmas & Saint Lucia

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Newtonmas: Take a moment to appreciate gravity and the laws of motion. If there’s snow outside, have a snowball fight with a friend or a member of your family. –OR– Take some time out to enjoy the alchemical goodness of a hot toddy or chocolate or any drink that relies on basic chemistry/alchemy (coffee with cream or sugar/tea with milk or sugar or lemon, etc.). Post a picture of your libations and the recipe if it’s unique and you’re ok with sharing it.

Saint Lucia’s Day: Get your Hygge on — light a few candles if you’ve got them, pour yourself a glass of wine or hot chocolate/toddy, roast a marshmallow or toast a crumpet, and take a picture of your cosiest reading place.

Well, these two tasks do go quite well together, don’t they?

First for Newtonmas. I can’t really call it a recipe because it really is just hot chocolate and flavoured syrup but that won’t stop me from posting pictures.

One thing I always stuff my suitcase with when I’m on holidays in the UK or Ireland is peppermint chocolate. Germany is severely lacking in that aspect. Yes, there’s After Eight and Ritter Sport but that’s not that much choice. And I’ve never seen peppermint hot chocolate anywhere in Germany…and since it’s been a while since my last trip to the UK and I’ve already used up all the chocolate I bought there I have to improvise with peppermint syrup and cocoa powder. Dark chocolate because that is clearly the superior one 😛 .

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(Moose optional. His name is Flen, by the way.)

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The milk does actually turn slightly green when you add the syrup but it doesn’t really show in the picture…

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Try to keep away from creatures that might also enjoy peppermint hot chocolate so you can have all for yourself.

 

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Take to your cosiest reading spot with your handmade t-shirt quilt made from all your band-, festival- and other commemorative t-shirts. Try not to sit on moose. Curse because you could have taken the water bottle out of the picture. Enjoy hot chocolate.


Part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season

4 stars, historical

The Secret Diary of a Princess

10755502Title: The Secret Diary of a Princess
Author: Melanie Clegg

The dramatic and often tragic years of Marie Antoinette’s early life told in her own words. This book for young adult readers follows her privileged childhood and adolescence in the beautiful palaces of Vienna as the youngest and least important of the daughters of the all-powerful Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and invites the reader to share the long journey, both emotional and physical that ended with her marriage to the Dauphin Louis of France at Versailles.

This is the unforgettable story of a charming, fun-loving and frivolous young girl, destined for greatness, coming of age in one of the most magnificent and opulent courts that the world has ever seen.

Rating4star

I may not be very clever but I always know what will most please people and that, I think, is far more important.

Novels in diary-format are usually not my thing. I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough to believe that someone would tell their diary in detail about their own family history or anything else they already know perfectly well. Thankfully, this book manages to avoid this pretty well. Sure, there are bits that you would not normally find in a real diary but that are only a few sentences at a time and not pages and pages about the history of the Habsburg dynasty. It also sounds believable like the voice of a young girl without being annoying (something not many authors can pull off).

At the same time, I’m beginning to realize that historical novels featuring real historical people as main characters are not really for me. Especially cases like this. The Secret Diary of a Princess begins when Marie Antoinette is nine years and ends with her wedding at fourteen. During that time, things happen to her and she has no influence over any of those things. Because children of her age rarely have, princesses at that even less (and daughters of Maria Theresia definitely not). I’m aware of all of these things but in a book that reads like fiction a part of me will always expect something – well fictional – to happen. Anything that would stop the plot from going to A to B in a straight line. But since Marie Antoinette’s life wasn’t fiction that doesn’t happen. And so I ended up being somewhat unsatisfied at the end even though I enjoyed the book. But in the future, I guess I’ll stick with historical novels that feature characters that can do whatever they like ;).


This is a read as part of 16 Tasks of the Festive Season

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Book themes for Christmas: Read a book whose protagonist is called Mary, Joseph (or Jesus, if that’s a commonly used name in your culture) or any variations of those names.

16 tasks, challenges

16 Tasks of the festive season: Kwanzaa

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Tasks for Kwanzaa: Create a stack of books in the Kwanzaa color scheme using red, black and green and post your creation and post a photo (or post a photo of a shelfie where black, red and green predominate).

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Did you know that German publishers seem to like a red-blue-green colour scheme fo YA-trilogies? I didn’t. But the Tintentod, Mara und das Todesmal and Saphierblau all have blue covers. (The third Temeraire book is black so I guess I could have put that on the picture as well, but I noticed it too late because it’s still on my tbr-pile).


Part of 16 Tasks of the Festive Season

3 stars, fantasy, Uncategorized

Ash and Silver (Sanctuary #2)

25176096Title: Ash and Silver
Author: Carol Berg
Series: Sanctuary #2

Ever since the Order of the EquitesCineré stole his memory, his name, and his heart, thinking about the past makes Greenshank’s head ache. After two years of rigorous training, he is almost ready to embrace the mission of the Order—to use selfless magic to heal the troubles of Navronne. But on his first assignment alone, the past comes racing back, threatening to drown him in conspiracy, grief, and murder.

He is Lucian de Remeni—a sorcerer whose magical bents for portraiture and history threaten the safety of the earth and the future of the war-riven kingdom of Navronne. He just can’t remember how or why.

Fighting to unravel the mysteries of his power, Lucian must trace threads of corruption that reach from the Pureblood Registry into the Order itself, the truth hidden two centuries in the past and beyond the boundaries of the world…

Rating3star

I stand by my opinion that people who are not me might enjoy the Sanctuary Duet a lot. Unfortunately, I am me and I still don’t enjoy conspiracy thrillers. And while Dust and Light had at least a very entertaining murder mystery B-plot, Ash and Silver is all about the conspiracy. Well, and Lucian’s lost memories. I like the amnesia trope about as much as conspiracy plots. Still, like for the first book, I have to say that I might dislike the trope in general but it’s still well written. The complete confusion before Lucian’s memories come partly back isn’t drawn out too much and there are enough other things to keep him (and the reader) busy. Very busy in fact. And that’s where I’m again back to a complaint I already had about the first book: there is only so much of a character being constantly on the run and almost getting killed or seriously injured I can take before I refuse to believe that a single person could get through this. At some point, I just crossed the line where I felt for Lucian because yet another thing went wrong and just rolled my eyes and thought ‘seriously?’

Besides, one of the things I always enjoy about Carol Berg novels are the friendships. Her characters might start off as lone wolves but over the course of the story, they meet somebody with whom they form a strong bond. And all of these friendships feel so well-developed and go far beyond what you usually find in fantasy novels. In Dust and Light Lucian had Bastien but while he still appears in the second book his screen-time is much shorter. And, with the conspiracy plot getting turned up to 11, there really isn’t anybody else he can form such a friendship with. He can trust nobody and everybody at least quadruple-crosses him because that’s what happens in conspiracy thrillers…

Last but not least: I wasn’t a fan of the ending. I am used to endings that don’t rule out another book completely from Berg’s other novels. But this one felt a lot like a very strange sequel hook.


Review of book 1