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Book Review: “A Flickering Light,” by Jane Kirkpatrick

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Genre: Christian fiction; historical fiction; romance; coming of age story

Plot Summary: 15 yr. old Jessie dreams of becoming a photographer in the male dominated era of the turn of the century.  Her family are in poor straights leaving her and her sisters to get work wherever they can in the Midwestern city of Winona.  Jessie is fortunate to find employment with the Bauer portrait studio, and as the years go by she learns much about the business, her talent and capabilities, and about forbidden love.

My Book Review: I’d heard good things about the author Jane Kirkpatrick, so I was interested in reading my first book by her. A Flickering Light is the first in a two-book series called “Portraits of the Heart”.

The tale kept me going because I wanted to find out what would happen next, yet at the same time it had a very slow pace. I started to get bored about half way through because not much of anything new was happening by way of the plot.  However, things started tightening up a bit about 2/3 of the way in and my interest picked up.  I really liked how the book was interspersed with vintage photographs which made me wonder if this was based on a true story.

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Mr. Bauer’s Studio in Winona.

It turns out, it is. Jessie is based on Jane Kirkpatrick’s own grandmother and we get to learn much about her as a young girl and what life was like in the early days of photography.  This escalates the appeal of the book even further.  It is interesting to see how photographers were able to accomplish so much without digital technology or even film.  We even get to ‘witness’ historic firsts in the art.

Another thing I appreciated was the taboo nature of the plot. SPOILER: Our character Jessie falls in love with her married employer (many years her senior) and struggles with what she knows is right and wrong.  We don’t often read of this in a Christian novel, and I think it makes for an interesting study. Jessie and Mr. Bauer don’t start out with wrong intentions.  Instead, a series of innocent events leads to a little more and then over a long period of time things turn into a lot more than they’d planned to.  Thankfully, Jessie comes from a good family who loves her and when they come to a realization of the truth they take it upon themselves to intervene. END OF SPOILER.

I am looking forward to reading the sequel (An Absence So Great). I did look up some of the history behind the real characters, but I would advise anyone else not to because it did create a spoiler for me as to what happens in the second book.  If you can be patient with a quiet, slow-moving story, I think you will appreciate this read.

If you enjoyed this book, I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Man from Sing Sing,” by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Genre: vintage classic

Plot Summary: Reuben Argels is a man with a past behind him and a future ahead of him.  Having been a part of Moran Chamber’s syndicate in America, he turned traitor and was largely responsible for putting that man in prison.  But there is no living the straight and narrow for Argel.  He promptly benefits from his treason and moves on to greener grass, this time to the financial fields of England.  But maybe his old enemy isn’t behind bars like Argels thinks.  And Chambers has many friends who are willing to exact revenge for the man who did him wrong.  What will become of Reuben Argels?  And is Violet– the sweet, sensible woman so ready to help him– really who she says she is?

My Book Review: Continuing making my way through the works of Oppenheim

To be honest, I prefer other EPO novels to this novel of crime syndicate members. The plot sounds intriguing enough, but I got lost among all the stock exchange jargon (dated, and foreign to me).  It did, as EPO stories go, keep me guessing as to the motives behind certain characters.  But it was hard to find sympathy for the main character, Reuben, since he was neither a goodie or a baddie.  He professes a love for Chamber’s lover Ambouyna (a name I still have no idea how to pronounce), but yet pursues Miss Violet Withers on the side.  In fact, while admitting to her that he doesn’t love her, he asks if she would fill in for him since he can’t have whom he really wants?  Sure, that’s the way to win any girl’s heart!

Actually, Violet Withers was my favorite character from the book. She easily balances a personality of modesty and mystery.  I loved a couple of quotes surrounding her sensibility:

“Lots of girls do things they don’t want to because they have to. I’m not one of them…. If I get to like you well enough, I shall certainly allow you to call me by my Christian name, and possibly to kiss me occasionally. If I don’t, I shan’t. Believe me,… I am much more worth kissing because I have such queer ideas.”

SPOILER ALERT: It’s painful to watch Argels slowly being dragged to the bottom all the way to the end of the book.  He’s sent over the edge, but at the last minute is saved by his enemy of all people– on purpose.  And then they shake hands and a check is written and all is honkey dorey.  I don’t know.  It just didn’t fit together right at the end.  There’s all this build up of suspense because of the hatred of these two enemies, neither of which you particularly want to side with, but then suddenly it all disappears and Chambers has a change of heart for no reason.  It just didn’t make sense and the story fell flat on its face for me. END OF SPOILER.

So if you like the idea of characters existing in a glamorous world of the 1930’s, full of crime and blackmail, you might have your next favorite novel (which you can read for free here). But if you’re more plot-oriented (like me), you might want to skip past this one.

If you liked this book, I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “John Jago’s Ghost,” by Wilkie Collins

Genre: classic; mystery

*Playlist…

Plot Summary: In need of a vacation, a young English attorney (the narrator of the story) decides to visit extended relations in America.  But upon arriving at the little farm in the countryside, he discovers that all is not right in this tense environment.  There is an all-out war between the elder farmer, his hired hand, and the younger generation of sons.  And a pretty American girl caught in the middle of the drama…

My Book Review: I immensely enjoyed The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins.  So, as often is the result of something I love, I went in search of more books by same author.  This is my next foray into the Collins canon.  A novella really, this took no time at all for me to finish; it was a pretty easy read.

I found it moderately interesting, could predict some of what would happen, but novellas and short stories are not really my thing.  I did not realize it was so short when I ordered it through my library system.  But, I read it and was glad to add another title to last year’s list of books read.

Collins paints a good descriptive atmosphere that one could feel.  I like that in a book.  I might forget the details of what happened, but I carry the feel of a story around with me.  I also thought the content gave some fodder for the brain.  SPOILER: Even though the brothers did not commit murder as the town believed, their actions of hatred leading up to the dramatic episode in question reaped hard consequences.  Jago was not physically dead, yet they had ‘murdered him in their hearts’ and were paying the price.  One man lost his fiancé in the whole matter… to another man much more deserving.  END OF SPOILER.

If you want to stretch yourself to read something a little deeper but are not used to thick tomes or heavy vocabulary, I would recommend this book to you.  As an added bonus, the story is loosely based on a true story.  There is benefit to be gained by it, and will not require much time.  Another score in my book for Collins!

*This story also goes by the title, “The Dead Alive.”

I also recommend:

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Titus Groan,” by Mervyn Peake

6607257Genre: classic; literary

Plot Summary: Once upon a time there was an infant son and heir born to the Groan family of Gormenghast Castle.  His name was Titus and being so young he was yet unaware of the long line of history and tradition of which he stood in line to inherit.  But things were turned on their head (quite literally) on the day of his christening, and strange events began to unfold that are even stranger than the world into which he was born.

My Book Review: The Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake has been on my reading list from very early on.  I believe it was a discovery made while perusing the Dover catalog.  I really had no idea what it was about, which sometimes leads to interesting discoveries.  In this case, it was a very interesting discovery indeed, and has become one of my top reads for this year so far.

This isn’t normally a book I would have picked out for myself, so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know what it was about. I’m proud of myself for completing such a thick book.  I’m also usually more action-oriented, whereas this is more character driven.  There is not a lot of action and when there is there is always a slow buildup to it, making those scenes stand out more.  I tend to quickly forget details and character names of a lot of the books I read, but not this one.  The scenes in this book stand out clear and defined in my mind, in large part due to great detailed descriptions.  With names like ‘Prunesquallor’, ‘Nannie Slagg’, and ‘Countess Gertrude Groan’, they’re hard to forget.  And the author’s own illustrations of many of them are wild and memorable as well.

Even better than just the names and pictures are the full-bodied characters themselves. You really have to read the book for yourself to make them come alive, and once you do I can almost guarantee they will live forever in your mind.  The insane Lord Sepulchrave, the 76th Earl of Gormenghast, who thinks he’s an owl; his epileptic twin sisters Cora and Clarice who are stupid and vacant-minded; the vain, middle aged Irma Prunesquallor in love with a teenager; and the sociopathic Steerpike, the young puppet master behind the inhabitants of the castle.  These aren’t all the colorful people of the story; there are many more besides.  It’s ironic that the title character really doesn’t play a major role in this first of the series.  In fact it really only covers the first year or two of his life, but all the important things that occurred during it.

f021918e76aa942568f2cff1ff2172c9It’s hard to put a finger on why I liked this novel so much. At times it seemed rather dark, and longwinded, yet the wonderful descriptions and the weirdness of it all lured me on.  The author had a way of making even peeling paint sound interesting.  I think one of my favorite scenes was the description of Fuchsia’s attic hideaway.  Who wouldn’t want a great hidey-hole retreat like that all to oneself?

Is this book fantasy? I would not call it that, although it is set in a fantasy world.  If you go into it expecting fantasy, you might be bored.  It is not set in a particular time era, though the closest one might get is the 1880’s-1910 era with a fantastical twist.

Some say this book reads of despair and futility. It is dark and the people of Gormeghast do live futile lives of pointless ritual, but the unusual turn of things as Titus grows gives a glimpse that things may change with Titus as heir… ?

One caution: there is one chapter in which a character, Keda, has a one-night stand with a lover.

I’ve read that there is more than one audio drama of this series, and also a movie, but I don’t see how any of them can be as good as the novel.  If I ever come across them, I’ll surely review it and post if worth it.

Titus Groan won’t be for everyone.  But I’ve certainly learned that character-driven books can be just as interesting (or even more so) than the plotted ones.  I’m not sure what the other books in the series will be like, but I can’t wait to see what will happen in the next installment of Titus Groan’s life.  The entire series are as follows:

  1. Titus Groan
  2. Gormenghast
    1. Boy in Darkness
  3. Titus Alone
  4. Titus Awakes

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Seven Conundrums,” by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Genre: mystery; intrigue; classic vintage

*Playlist…

Plot Summary: A trio of entertainers are down on their luck when a mysterious man emerges out of the night to make them an offer of a lifetime.  Desperate, they agree to do anything he asks of them in exchange for a guarantee of work lineup.  Soon, they are rolling in it and living the highlife while touring England and abroad.  But exactly who’s side are they on—the side of the just or the side of evil?

My Book Review: Although Oppenheim’s most famous novel (The Great Impersonation) had me an instant fan as a kid, I’ve sort of become less enthused about some of his other works since then.  I was hoping this novel would draw me back in, or else I was seriously going to rethink whether I wanted to continue with his canon.

I was pleased to find myself enjoying this very much, especially for the book’s atmosphere.  The seven mysteries, the intrigue, wild characters, and the some of the exotic European locales had my interest.  Although it still did not have TGI beat, I’ve decided to continue on with more Oppenheim novels next year!

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Big Four,” by Agatha Christie

Genre: classic; mystery; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] “Framed in the doorway of Poirot’s bedroom stood an uninvited guest, coated from head to foot in dust. The man’s gaunt face stared for a moment, then he swayed and fell. Who was he? Was he suffering from shock or just exhaustion? Above all, what was the significance of the figure 4, scribbled over and over again on a sheet of paper? Poirot finds himself plunged into a world of international intrigue, risking his life to uncover the truth about ‘Number Four’.”

My Book Review: This Poirot mystery was a lot different from any previous one I’ve read so far.  For one, murder isn’t so much the focal crime point as it is an international gang of power wranglers and terrorists.  This had my attention!  The way it read reminded me in a way of old Nancy Drew or other novels of mysterious intrigue that I used to read as a preteen.  I think I might have enjoyed it more back then.

It also reminded me a lot of one of Christie’s other mystery novels, The Secret Adversary.  But I was much more hooked on the bumbling Tommy and Tuppence-duo battling elusive criminals than I was on Poirot being duped over and over.

This is a short, easy read but with my then-schedule I dragged it out much longer than need be and had a hard time remembering details. It just felt like Poirot was bested one too many times, and too many lives were lost before Poirot won the day.  The last few chapters were exciting, but a little too unbelievable and made me glad I was finished with the book and on to something different.

I will enjoy watching the film, but I haven’t come across it yet. Loyal Poirot fans will want to complete the reading of the canon, I’m sure.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “A Season of Shadows,” by Paul McCusker

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Genre: Christian fiction; historical fiction; suspense; intrigue; WWII; espionage

Plot Summary: When the rich, beautiful Julie Harris finds herself a widow during the early days of WWII, she decides she needs to find out the truth about her late husband.  Was their marriage a sham ever since they met?  Was he true to her, or did he live a double life?  The only way she can answer these questions is by going undercover herself, as one of America’s first agents of the war.  Working in London, she gets to know a small circle of people who seem to be her friends.  But who can she really trust?

My Book Review: It’s been a long time since I’ve ever read a book by Paul McCusker.  I remember I loved his Passages series when I was a kid (spin-off novels from Adventures in Odyssey, which McCusker helped create).  What would one of his novels for adults be like?  This one grabbed my attention, as espionage always does!

I found that I enjoyed this suspense story very much. Although I suspected the one character all along, I was never quite sure enough and I kept going on the edge of my seat.  Some great plot twists I didn’t see coming, and different love interests for our beautiful heroine that kept me guessing, too.  🙂

But more than that, I really learned a lot about England (esp. London) during the air raid bombings in 1940. I love fiction books that can teach me about a certain era, and this was definitely one of those.  Everything from what civilian daily life was like, how they coped, their attitude during the most difficult of days, and the everyday heroes of the war such as the emergency volunteers, the doctors and nurses, and the priests.  I even learned some things about Churchill.  To confirm all of this, I ended up watching a documentary on Netflix (“Winston Churchill: Walking With Destiny”- narrated by Ben Kingsley) that went over the same timeline during which this book is set and I got to hear and see photographs of the very things “Julie” would have witnessed.  I also watched a brief documentary on the first spy training camp the US set up in Canada, where our heroine also would have been sent to.  It made the book feel all the more real and I know it was well researched.

Some drawbacks to the book are that some readers may find it predictable. Sometimes I wanted it to be a tad more cloak and daggerish, but that’s probably just me being unrealistic!  I did find it somewhat unbelievable that Julie would run off to be an agent to spy against the very people her husband supposedly sympathized with, so soon after his death.  That part just didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

But I still enjoyed it, and stayed up late nights trying to finish it in time to send it back to the library. Those are the good ones, aren’t they?  So, if you’re up for burning the midnight oil, I think you’ll like this one!

I also recommend…

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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