Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advanced Reader Copies

I've seen numerous references on my favorite blogs to advanced reader copies that bloggers have received. I followed up on some of the sources and have received 5 books so far, some I truly enjoyed and one I disliked (personal preference since I've read positive reviews by readers). I'm still reading one.

The House at Midnight: A Novel
by Lucie Whitehouse
This was the first ARC that I received. I wasn't too sure what to expect from a first novel - I usually stick to the tried and true novelists.

Joanna and six of her university friends spend New Year's Eve at Stoneborough, the country manor house of Lucas, one of the seven. Lucas has recently inherited the estate from his uncle Patrick after Patrick's tragic death. Now that Lucas has something to offer her, he confesses his love for Joanna and they begin a tempestuous affair. Somehow the house seems to be a part of their relationship. When Lucas and Danny, a manipulative friend, move into the house full-time, Lucas becomes totally entwined in the house and various family mysteries that revolve around it, almost to the point of obsession. Relationships come and go, lives change and, when the mysteries are explained, no one is the same.

In many ways, I'm not sure I was the target audience for this novel. I'm a member of the older generation - Uncle Patrick and and Lucas' parents Clair and Justin. A lot of the angst the friends are experiencing and the fluidity of their relationships are foreign to my experience so difficult to identify with. The writing, however, was excellent for a first time novelist. As I've said before, I enjoy vivid locations and the house and grounds were real for me - just not some place I'd care to spend much time.
I give the book a 3.5/5

The Aviary Gate
by Katie Hickman

This is another two-points-in-time novel - a university student doing research and the subject of the research (similar to The Rossetti Letter). Elizabeth has discovered a document which could solve the mystery she has been researching. Celia, the daughter of a British sea captain, was rumored to have been captured and held in the Sultan's harem during the late 16th century. The novel switches between Elizabeth's life and the life of Celia in the harem (the rumor was true!) Elizabeth needs to grow up, her portion of the novel was a bit trite and predictable - an affair with an undeserving man, insecurities and lack of focus. Celia's life and the events in Constantinople, however, were fascinating.

Life in a harem always sounds mysterious and glamorous as well as slightly wicked. This harem fits the image - intrigue abounds around every corner, the setting is extravagant with jewels and silks and exquisite tile work and furnishings. If you can survive the jealousies and plots plus the sexual demands, life was luxurious, if somewhat dangerous. Add to the situation the fact that the lady was English and everything about her environment was totally foreign to her.

Was Celia's story plausible - who cares, it was intriguing. Ms. Hickman's research was detailed and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I will definitely read some of the other books she has written.
I give the book 4/5

Feather Man
by Rhyll McMaster

This is the book I disliked. Intensely. I read the discussion on Barnes and Noble's Explorers Book Club about the book and hardly recognized it. Ms. McMaster is a well respected Australian poet and her writing style, which I found pleasant enough, reflects her poetry. The novel is set in Australia in the 1950s and revolves around Sookie and her life in Australia ('50s) and London ('70s). Sookie was molested frequently as a child by her neighbor Lionel, the feather man - he raised chickens. Needless to say, as a molested child, she is confused, with serious emotional issues. I could not finish the book. I picked it up several times and each time found it exceedingly unpleasant - I see and hear about enough evil on the news, I don't want to read about it in my free time. I know Ms McMaster was trying to show the misery of this innocent child and all the horrors she experienced. She reached that goal, I just don't want to be subjected to it.
I give the book 1/5 - the 1 is for the writing.

The Fire
by Katherine Neville
Another book that tells stories in multiple time periods - but this one is all over the historic and geographic spectrum from 19th century Albania, to Charlemagne to Northern Africa to France to Russia to the United States and back and forth. Maybe if I had read The Eight first, I would have had less trouble following the story. The story was complicated (I really should have taken notes) and involved puzzles with solutions that didn't always make sense to me and answers that seemed to come too easily given the clues. I have only a basic knowledge of chess, which didn't hamper my ability to understand the story. But understanding The Game (not necessarily chess) was much more complex. I think I'd like to read The Eight and then try this one again.
I'm not going to rate this one until I read it again.

The Queens of Freeville: A Mother, A Daughter and the People Who Raised Them
by Amy Dickinson

This is the book I'm still reading.

Amy Dickinson earned the opportunity to take over Ann Landers writing the advice column (renamed Ask Amy) for the Chicago Tribune and 250 newspapers nationwide. She is not Ann Landers - she's a bit edgier and blunt in her advice. Her motto is "I make the mistakes so you don't have to." Queens is a memoir of the mistakes she's made and successes she had.

She grew up on a failed dairy farm in New York, raised by her mother after her father left the farm and family. After college at Georgetown, she marries the wrong man who leaves her and their daughter in London. You'd think she'd be bitter or angry or feel like life keeps dealing her an awful blow. But she remains upbeat. Her family, mostly women on their own, gather around her in their hometown, Freeville, NY, where most of the women still live within blocks of each other.

Each chapter is a different short essay on an aspect of her life - religion (Peanut Jesus), pets (Livestock in the Kitchen), the women in her family (every chapter). Is this great literature? Not really, but it's real. These are things that happen to real people and her reactions and her support structure are true to life. I can understand why she her column rings true - she lives or has lived a lot of the problems she addresses. And if she hasn't, she has learned to rely on her common sense to solve problems.
I give the book 4/5.

I took Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off to enjoy a long Thanksgiving holiday. I have much to be thankful for and it was wonderful to be lazy and take my time doing those chores that fell in the "ought to do" category. I hope your holiday was tasty and relaxing.

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