Book: The Reincarnationist

Title: The Reincarnationist
Author: MJ Rose
Genre: Historical Suspense
Length: 455 pgs.

Summary: Josh Ryder, an investigative photographer, is the survivor of a terrorist bomb that exploded a year ago in Rome, Italy. Thanks to the bombing, he is now the victim of odd flashes that have the “emotion, the intensity, the intimacy of memories.” But they couldn’t be memories. In these flashes, Josh is a pagan priest in ancient Rome, desperate to save a woman named Sabina and the treasures she is hiding from the marauding Christians. As his flashbacks uncover his previous life, deaths start piling up around Josh: whatever that woman Sabina was protecting in ancient Rome, someone today thinks they’re worth killing for.

Excerpts:

pg 36 – Josh experienced a flash of completely unfounded jealousy and unexpected emotion: a white-hot surge of jealousy unlike anything he’d ever felt for any lover he’d ever had. He wanted to rush over and pull Rudolfo away, to tell him he had no business leaning in so close, no right to get so near to her. Josh hadn’t known that this corpse even existed an hour before, but his recollections had taken over and in his mind he saw muscle appearing, then being covered by flesh, the flesh plumping out her face, neck, hands, breasts, hips, thighs and feet, all coming to life, her lips pinking, her eyes being colored a deep blue. … A million images crashed inside his head. Centuries of words he’d never heard before. One louder than the rest. He snatched it out from the cacophony. Sabina. Her name.

pg 261 – “You might as well be one of those stone sculptures,” Alex mused out loud. “Immune to falling in love. No one has ever made your eyes shine the way a stunning unset gem can.”

“Stop worrying.”

“One day you will stop believing in the possibility of heroes, accept the reality of the people you meet, deal with their limitations and learn to make the best of it.”

“Why should I do that? You didn’t. Aunt Nancy didn’t.”

pg 374 – “When you look into the eyes of someone you’re photographing, and glimpse a terrible suffering, don’t turn away,” his father had once told him. “It’s a gift to see into the depths of grief, because only when you realize that someone can be in that much pain and still function, speak civilly, shake your hand and tell you how nice it is to meet you, do you understand why you can’t ever give in or give up. There’s always another chance, another day. That’s the miracle of the human spirit. Take on the pain, Josh. Give it its due. That’s the only way to beat it.”

Why should you read this book?

You can always tell when I really like a book… I have a lot of excerpts from it that I think are the best-written passages. Let me tell you this: I’m in graduate school, and I’m super busy all the time. But I made time for this book. I read it in two days, despite all my assignments, because I was desperate to know what happened.

Read this book for a great example of suspenseful writing, for fleshed out characters, and even for some well-written intimate scenes. If you’re trying to write emotion but don’t know how to begin, this is an awesome start for you. If you’re tackling the idea of fate, and fate bringing your characters together/splitting them apart, read this book.

Book: A Pale Horse

Title: A Pale Horse
Author: Charles Todd
Genre: Historical Mystery
Length: 360 pgs.

Summary: It is 1920 London, and Inspector Ian Rutledge is freshly traumatized from the Great War. But he pushes it, and the persistent voice of a dead man, away so he can focus on this new mystery. The body of a man in a broken gas mask is found dead in the ruins of an old Abbey in Yorkshire, and no one knows who he is or how he came to be there. Rutledge is sent first to Yorkshire, and then to Berkshire’s White Horse in search of the man’s identity and murderer.

Excerpts:

pg 4 – In the darkness the voice of Hamish MacLeod answered him. A dead man’s voice, but for nearly four years now it had seemed to Rutledge as real as his own. Had had never grown used to hearing it, and yet with time he had come to terms of a sort with it. It was either that or madness. And he feared madness more.

pg 61 – Just as in the war, death pursued him as a policeman as well. It was his chosen profession, but he found himself thinking that the men who had built such splendor had left a greater legacy than most. Names long since forgotten, they lived on in what their hands had wrought. Not guns or tanks or deadly gas, but in stone, defining the human spirit’s capacity to create rather than destroy.

Hamish, good Covenanter that he was, preferred unadorned simplicity.

Why should you read this book?

Part mystery, part literary fiction about a man back from the gassed trenches of the Great World War (WWI to Americans), this book was excellent. I understand it is one in a series about Ian Rutledge, and this book drew me into his world and mind so well that I want to read the entire series. Will he get over his past with Hamish, his dead friend?

Read this book for an example of how to intersperse research and setting between self-reflection, dialogue, and plot. We know where we are and what we’re doing, dropped into a mystery and unsure Rutledge will be able to prove who the killer is, and whether we’re right about our own suspicions. But like I said, this isn’t just a straight mystery. We learn so much about Rutledge in the way he reacts to people, and how he holds conversations with Hamish when alone to appease his guilt. I truly enjoyed this book, and learned a great deal from the writing style.

Book: Silent in the Sanctuary

Title: Silent in the Sanctuary
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Length: 552 pgs

Summary: Lady Julia Grey is back from her Italian getaway, where she recovered from the loss of her husband, the shock of discovering who killed her husband, the confusing emotions toward the detective hunting her husband’s murderer, and the smoke inhalation from the night all these factors came together in a literal blaze of fury. Home for Christmas in Sussex, Lady Julia is shocked to see among the guests Brisbane, the aforementioned detective, who is newly engaged to one of the silliest women she has ever laid eyes on. When murder happens in the abbey, it is up to Lady Julia and Brisbane to solve the crime despite their tumultuous history.

Excerpts:
pg 158 – She proceeded to comment on everything we passed–the symmetry of the maze, the magnificence of the bell tower, the cleverness of the carp ponds.

And then she saw the gates. She went into raptures about the iron hares that topped them, the darling little gatehouse, the pretty shrubbery by the road. Another twenty minutes was spent on the straightness of the linden allee, and by the time we reached the village of Blessingstoke, my ears had gone numb with the effort of listening to her.

“So many words,” he murmured. “I did not think one person could know so many words.”

pg 482 – “That’s the trouble with women,” she said wonderingly. “We know what we oughtn’t do, but when a man comes along, we only hear his voice, and not our own.”

pg 497 – I finally ran him to ground in the library, gamely working his way through Pride and Prejudice. He sprang to his feet when I entered, smiling broadly.

I nodded to the book. “How are you enjoying Jane Austen?”

He waggled his hand from side to side. “She is a little silly, I think.”

Now I was more certain than ever in my decision. I could not love a man who did not love Jane Austen.

Why should you read this book?
Contrary to many of the reviews that I read on Amazon.com, I really liked this book precisely because the continued love-hate relationship from the previous book, Silent in the Grave, was in no way resolved, and in a way that was true to the characters. That’s genius, if you ask me, because it keeps the true fans of the series panting for more. This book is funny, charming, and portrays High Victorian Society oh so well. The setting is well-written without overtaking the plot, the characters are snappy, and my favorite device is used: giving tertiary characters their own subplots that affect the whole.

Read this book for a sophomore attempt that was as good (if not better) than the first, for a lesson in creating characters that don’t fit in their own society and yet seem genuine to the reader, a true puzzle of a crime, a charming and funny narrator, a passionate romance with no real sense of a happy ending (must continue to read the series!), and the only series in a long time that has an alpha romance lead that doesn’t make me want to shoot him.

Book: The Deception of the Emerald Ring

Title: The Deception of the Emerald Ring
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: Historical Fiction, Chick Lit
Length: 387 pgs

Summary: Modern day – Eloise Kelly, like any good graduate student, is neck-deep in research for her dissertation about the Pink Carnation, attempting to prove the English spy existed. 1803 England – Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, an English operative in league with the Pink Carnation, is ordered to Ireland to prevent an Irish rebellion and catch the Black Tulip the same night he means to elope with the beautiful Mary Alsworthy. When the carriage door opens, however, it’s not Mary that steps out but her sensible sister Letty determined to stop the happy couple. The ensuing scandal forces Letty to marry Geoffrey, and when he leaves her on their wedding night for Ireland, she’s decided enough is enough and follows him, unaware she is about to stumble into the world of espionage, and even romance.

Excerpts:
pg 2 – One day. It had only been one day by the calendar, two years in terms of agonized phone staring, and about half an hour in boy time. It is a truth universally acknowledged that time moves differently for men. There was, I reminded myself, no reason why Englishmen should differ from their American counterparts in this regard.

pg 100 – There’s nothing so attractive as a blank slate. Take one attractive man, slap on a thick coat of daydream, and, voila, the perfect man. With absolutely no resemblance to reality.

pg 310 – He looked down into her flushed face, framed with its tangle of hair that alternated between copper and gold in the candlelight, and knew that no number of compliments would convince her. With her sturdy common sense, she would write them off as pure flummery. To a certain extent, she would be right. She would never be a beauty by the accepted standards. Pretty, yes. Even lovely. But she lacked the stateliness and symmetry society demanded of its chosen goddesses. …One might admire a well-carved statue, but it would be deuced uncomfortable to cuddle up with at night.

Why should you read this book?
This is my favorite book out of the Pink Carnation series, perhaps because the historical heroine, Letty, isn’t a madcap adventurer like Amy, or a self-indulgent younger sister of a great English operative… she’s a nobody, a younger sister that no one thinks of despite the fact that she makes sure everything is good for everyone else. Finally, we get to see a little about what other people think of this Pink Carnation character, who have no connection with the operative. This romance, despite its hasty beginning, is more organic to me, much more believable, because it seems the characters are actually meant for one another. There are obvious clues that let you think this, whereas the other books…well, the first one was “lust first, love after,” and the second was “childhood friends turned lovers.”

As always, an entertaining series, well-written, a good amount of history and other allusions thrown in, something great if you want a bit of fluff in-between your heavier reading. I look forward to reading the next book, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose. Writers should read this book for a believable burgeoning romance between previously unknown persons.

Book: Silent in the Grave

Title: Silent in the Grave
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Mystery
Length: 509 pgs

Summary: Always weak, Sir Edward falls to the floor while he and his wife, Lady Julia, entertain some friends. Julia is sent from the room by her father, but not before a mysterious and dark man, Nicholas Brisbane, warns her that this was very likely murder. Certain Brisbane is mad, Julia disregards his warning until a year later, when she throws off her full-mourning and starts to pack away Edward’s things…only to find a death threat shoved in his desk.

Excerpts:
pg 1 – To say I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.

Why should you read this book?
For you historical fiction writers looking for a first-person narrative, this book is a great example from which to learn. Julia is impetuous, frank, and conflicted, all great character traits for a narrator. For those of you writing in the High Victorian era (i.e. late Victorian era, from 1870’s-on), read this book to learn how to drop details about society, class restraints, and aristocratic assumptions without taking away from the story.

Unfortunately for me, I read too much, so many stories start to seem similar and I guess things before I should, like who the killer might be. I did not, however, guess the motive at all and I give Raybourn props for that. An entertaining read, similar in theme to Tasha Alexander’s A Poisoned Season, I’m wondering whether I shouldn’t switch my own 1880’s novel to a first-person narrative in which a young woman loses her husband before she really knew him, thus freeing her to walk about Society the way an umarried woman cannot, and solve mysteries in a Nancy Drew sort of way.

Book: A Poisoned Season

Title: A Poisoned Season
Author: Tasha Alexander
Genre: Historical Mystery
Length: 306 pgs

Summary: It is the start of the summer Season in London, and everyone worth speaking to is whispering about Mr Charles Berry, an alcohol-and-woman-happy man claiming to be the lost descendant of the dauphin (that is, heir to Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette). Lady Emily Ashton, our heroine, becomes suspicious of Mr Berry as items once belonging to his “beloved grande-mere” are stolen from unsuspecting peerage about town. As deaths occur and the thief begins to stalk Emily, rather than running away or hiding behind her dear friend Colin Hargreaves, Emily uses her cleverness and curiosity to solve the mysteries plaguing London.

Excerpts:
pg 5 – “Surely you’ve put aside all thoughts of studying during the Season?” he asked.
“Studying Greek, Mr Berry, is what will get me through the Season.”

pg 132 – His lips brushed my hand. “How do you like the room? I finally realized that if I’m to have any hope of marrying you, I’d have to show you my library first.”

pg 134 – I think had he the presence of mind to propose at that moment, I would have accepted. The combination of hearing him speak in such an enlightened manner and the perfect setting of his library would have been too much to resist.

pg 296 – Added to this angst was Colin’s absence. His actions during the past months had surprised me at every turn. He had not tried to keep me from pursuing my investigations and had offered assistance without taking charge on his own. And now, in the aftermath of it all, I wanted nothing more than to sit with him, in quiet triumph, discussing what had transpired.

I loved to flirt with him, tease him, to discuss Greek with him. But I had not expected to find that, as a partner, he could offer more than that. He challenged me, stimulated my thinking, and offered both comfort and support when I succumbed to frustration. Was it possible that, as his wife, I might grow more than if I remained alone?

Why should you read this book?
This was just the sort of book I needed to read. The voice (written in first person) is amusing, conversational, yet intelligent. We are given detail about the London Season and high society, without it dragging the story. Motives were plausible, and everyone had a story to tell. Even the bit players. And they were interesting stories. Alexander didn’t sugar-coat her description of life back then, especially in terms of relations between men and women, married and single; yet, everything was written tastefully. Read this book for an engaging heroine, a cozy mystery, and a fun read. Fun, I think, because of the pacing and the lively characters. This is the second in what I assume will be a popular series, and I’m thinking of going back to read the first book, which I have yet to do. Give it a try, I think you might like it!

Book: The Thirteenth Tale

Title: The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Genre: Fiction
Length: 406 pgs

Summary: Margaret Lea has a secret about her birth; a secret that haunts her to this day, and affects every decision she makes. She is the daughter of an antique book dealer, and so is his helpmate in running the bookshop that maintains their lifestyle. One day, a letter arrives for Margaret, written in an awful hand, requesting that she journey to the home of the infamous writer, Vida Winter. Miss Winter is infamous because of her past, or lack of it, for with every interview there is a new rendition, and none of them are true. There is no record of Miss Winter’s birth, her childhood…nothing to say who she was before she appeared in the literary world. Miss Winter, it seems, wants to tell the truth of her past for the first time, ever, and she has chosen Margaret for the job. After thirty (or forty, perhaps?) years of public speculation about the past of Miss Vida Winter, and the plot of the missing thirteenth tale from her book Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation (only twelve were released), Vida Winter is ready to speak the truth.

Excerpts:
pg 4 – (I never read without making sure I am in a secure position. I have been like this ever since the age of seven when, sitting on a high wall and reading The Water Babies, I was so seduced by the descriptions of underwater life that I unconsciously relaxed my muscles. Instead of being held buoyant by the water that so vividly surrounded me in my mind, I plummeted to the ground and knocked myself out. I can still feel the scar under my fringe now. Reading can be dangerous.)

pg 5 – Some writers don’t like interviews of course. They get cross about it. “Same old questions,” they complain. Well, what do they expect? Reporters are hacks. We writers are the real thing. Just because they always ask the same questions, it doesn’t mean we have to give them the same answers, does it? I mean, making things up, it’s what we do for a living.

pg 32 – I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a yearning for the lost pleasure of books. […] Miss Winter restored to me the virginal qualities of the novice reader, and then with her stories she ravished me.

pg 45 – People with ambition don’t give a damn what other people think about them. I hardly suppose Wagner lost sleep worrying whether he’d hurt someone’s feelings. But then he was a genius.

pg 46 – “Readers,” continued Miss Winter, “are fools. They believe all writing is autobiographical. And so it is, but not in the way they think. The writer’s life needs time to rot away before it can be used to nourish a work of fiction. It must be allowed to decay. […] To write my books I needed my past left in peace, for time to do its work.”

pg 100 – You could hear the power of his brain in his voice, which was quiet but quick, with a facility for finding the right words for the right person at the right time. You could see it in his eyes: dark brown and very shiny, like a bird’s eyes, observant, intent, with strong, neat eyebrows above.

pg 177 – As he listened, he had been been rather struck by her queer little voice. Despite its distinctively feminine pitch it had more than a little masculine authority about it. She was articulate. She had an amusing habit of expressing views of her own with the same measured command as when she was explaining a theory by some authority she had read. And when she paused for breath at the end of a sentence, she would give him a quick look–he had found it disconcerting the first time, though he now found it rather droll–to let him know whether he was allowed to speak or whether she intended to go on speaking herself.

pg 220 – His voice had the unmistakable lightness of someone telling something extremely important. A story so cherished it had to be dressed in casualness to disguise its significance in case the listener turned out to be unsympathetic.

pg 289 – Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes–characters even–caught in the fibers of your clothes, and when you open the new book, they are still with you.

Why should you read this book?
Because it is a love story to readers and writers. This just might be my favorite book if 2007, just as Elantris was my favorite of 2006. I will be hard-pressed, I think, to find another book that immediately enfolded me in its mystery and charm, leaving me dazed in my everyday activities as I contemplated the characters and plot. Every character is tangible and sympathetic, the setting is distinct, and the plot is original (to me, at least). The style is romantic in the classic sense of the word, yet entirely believable given the narrator’s (Margaret) deep appreciation of books. We’re never given a time period, yet I’m left with the impression that Margaret lives in the 1930s, 40s, or perhaps even 1950s.

Reading this book left me with sensations of DuMarier’s Rebecca, Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, LeFanu’s The Wyvern Mystery, and other such romantic, gothic, books. Read it for the intense characterizations. Read it to know the language of a bibliophile speaking with another bibliophile, describing favorite works. I feel as though The Thirteenth Tale has changed me and so my writing: it’s let me believe that there are readers willing to entertain a more romantic and classic style from a modern author, and that is good news indeed.