Monday, December 29, 2008

The Musician's Daughter--A Fun YA Read in 18th Century Vienna

Susanne Dunlap's "The Musician's Daughter" tells the story of 15 year old Theresa, who--after the mysterious murder of her father--finds herself removed from the everyday routines of a young lady and thrust into a world of court politics, music and political intrigue. As she helps to solve the mystery of her father's murder, Theresa finds her true loves in life, music, family, and a young musician/wronged nobleman named Zoltan. The stakes are high as Theresa risks everything to help solve her father's murder and the reader is left wondering whether it will all be worthwhile in the end. I chose to read Dunlap's novel before I realized it was considered young adult fiction--I thought the plot sounded interesting and I was impressed with Dunlap's background as a historian, so I thought the novel would be good. In my opinion, this book did not read like YA fiction--the language is mature and the historical context is rich--even if it does have a teen appropriate storyline. I thoroughly enjoyed this book--it was probably the best YA fiction i've read in years. The pacing is good, the narrative kept me interested and the characters are well developed. I would recommend this book to mature teenage readers looking for good historical fiction, or even adult readers that are interested in the time period.

Blindspot--A Great Historical Romance Set in Pre-Revolutionary Boston

"Blindspot", a collaboration between Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore, is a wonderful historical romance. The novel has two narrators--Fannie Easton, a fallen Boston woman of aristocratic birth who disguises herself as Francis Weston to move freely in Boston society; and Samuel Jameson, a Scottish painter who has come to America to flee debtors prison in Britain. Fannie answers Jameson's ad for an apprentice, and Francis Weston becomes Jameson's apprentice. A comedy of errors ensues, as Fannie and Jameson--who believes Fannie is a young boy--fall in love, become involved in a murder investigation, and paint all of Boston society. 

This book is smart and enjoyable. The book uses a diary/letter style to make the use of two narrators easy for the reader--there is no confusion about who is narrating at any given point. As you would expect from two college professors, Kamensky and Lepore did a thorough job researching their work, and their portrayal of Boston immediately before the American Revolution feels authentic, from the scenery to the language. This book really pulls you in, and you want to figure out what is going to happen in all of the different storylines--with the romance, with the mystery, with the other characters in the novel. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical romances. The romance and the mystery plots are both captivating, and you will keep turning the pages on this great book.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Disjointed Story with a Shocking Twist--"The Lace Reader"

Brunonia Barry's "The Lace Reader" is a complicated novel. It tells the story of Towner, a thirty something year old woman who has returned to Salem, MA from California after her beloved great aunt has gone missing. The reader quickly discovers Towner fled Salem after a series of traumatic events, which she begins reliving soon after coming to town. A series of violent events begin happening to people close to Towner, and it soon looks like Towner herself may be the next victim. A fantastic twist at the end of the novel leaves everyone--including the reader--in shock at the magic and mystery that surrounds old Salem. 

"The Lace Reader" is a hard novel to get into, and then to follow. Three characters narrate different parts of the novel, the story does not follow a linear time sequence, and several of the characters are constantly changing their version of the story. On top of these obstacles, Barry's language is choppy and often confusing making it hard for the reader to follow the complicated story line. This novel would have benefited from a good editor and some enhancement of the central storyline, which at times becomes so vague the reader isn't sure what's happening. 

Overall, the story in the "The Lace Reader" was interesting, but too disjointed to really like. I would recommend this book to people interested in Salem or in witchcraft, but not necessarily to the casual reader.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Mighty Queens of Freeville--A Heartwarming Memoir

Amy Dickinson's "Mighty Queens of Freeville" recounts Dickinson's life with her daughter Emily, after her divorce when Emily was a toddler. Dickinson--of Ask Amy fame--has a humorous way of telling the trials of her life, and a heartening way of describing how she is always drawn home to the tiny upstate New York town of Freeville, where she grew up. Dickinson's narrative invites you to join her family of loud opinionated women, and you see where she learned the advice she dispenses in her daily syndicated column.  

I don't know exactly what it was about "Mighty Queens"--maybe its that I also grew up in the DC area, that my parents are also divorced, or that I'm only 10 or so years older than Dickinson's daughter--but I really loved this book. So many of the experiences Dickinson described reminded me of my own childhood, that I felt like I was reliving part of MY past. I usually don't love memoirs, but I loved Dickinson's warm story.