Review: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

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When the Christian monk William of Baskerville arrives at a thriving Italian abbey with his apprentice, what was supposed to be a mission from the Emperor turns into something more sinister. For William arrives just as the abbey uncovers its first of seven bizarre deaths. Following the abbot’s desperate request, William agrees to become a detective to unearth the killer in their midst. In the backdrop of fraught religious politics of 1327, William must use his full logic to collect evidence, decipher secrets and dig deeper into the labyrinth of the abbey, all the while keeping in mind his most important mission, which has the history of his brotherhood at stake.

Personal Take: This is one of those books I’ve had on my shelf for so long, and only by the recent death of its author that I was spurred to pick it up. And I wish I’d read it sooner.

The Name of the Rose was beautifully written, in the point of view of William’s young apprentice. This works well, as we’re just as innocent and clueless as he is, and we see through his eyes the treachery of the “wise” people around him. His innocence also adds a nice humor throughout the book. His role as a side-kick to William almost gave this book the feel of Sherlock Holmes in the 12th century, except William is more level-headed and grounded.

The amount of research done to bring this book to life was very evident (and no surprise, considering Umberto’s profession). The book’s events are interwoven with real historical encounters that were almost seamless (I didn’t do my own research until after I finished reading). The story is a beautiful and gripping post-modern classic, and in true fashion of all the amazing writers, Umberto leaves nothing to chance.

This book isn’t for everyone– if you’re patient enough to go through the detailed layers of a novel, then this is definitely the book for you– I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a taste of a well-crafted murder mystery that takes place in medieval times!

Audience: Older readers. There are some pretty hefty historic explanations in this book, and some sexual references (and some disturbing descriptions).

Rating:

5stars

Other recommendations: Though this is the first Umberto book I’ve read, it’s by no means the last, as he’s written about really interesting topics.

Review: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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When young Nick Carraway moves West Egg, he notices the fast-paced and lavish lifestyle that surrounds him, and none comes close to lavish as the parties thrown at his neighbor’s house, Jay Gatsby. Gatsby’s name is rife with mystery among his guests, but to Nick, the young, handsome man is always alone in the crowd, as if waiting in the wings for something in his life to start in motion. Little does Nick know, he becomes the witness of a secret longing that has been long coming in Gatsby’s life.

Personal Take: I’m a huge fan of the movie, and I’ve always wanted to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work – which is absolutely beautiful. Even though The Great Gatsby is a slim of a book, there are so many details that brings the story to life. The dialogue, the imagery and setting is described vividly and so effortlessly. What I found most interesting was the way he wrote his characters, and how flawed they all were, but you still can’t help sympathizing with them. Even the most minor of characters are so well-rounded and while they don’t have an huge impact on the story, they still bring it to life.

What I also loved about it is how succinct it was too. It didn’t beat about the bush for too long, and just as we are eager to get on with the story, Fitzgerald was eager to tell it

It’s no surprise at well that it’s one of the most stunning American classics out there.

Audience: Older teens. The language can be a little hard to follow sometimes.

Rating:

5stars

 

Other recommendations: Fitzgerald had written several novels that were also considered classics, such as Tender is the Night, The Beautiful and the Damned, and another book that was a movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, among others.

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

 

At the turn of the century, a mysterious circus arrives at cities and towns without warning to put on the most magical and astounding shows on earth. Beyond the illusions of magic, a secret competition is underway between two magicians, Celia and Marco. But as the two play a strategic game of endurance, their bond, and their attraction to each other, grows stronger, and it is left to their instructors to intervene– with dire consequences.

Personal Take: This was a book after my own heart. I’ll admit it right now that it’s not for everyone. It’s not fast paced, it’s so very whimsical, and there is probably little character growth (which is unlike me), but I loved it. Mostly, I loved the language in the book. It’s so lyrical, and the descriptions are so beautiful and foreboding all at once. Part of me wished there was a circus like Le Cirque des Reves for it to carry me away like it did.

Having said that, I wasn’t completely blind to some annoyances in The Night Circus. At times the descriptions did get repetitive, and there was the issue of insta-love (it was still cute, but I hoped it would build up). And then the vagueness of some characters’ fates towards the end. It wrapped up a few loose threads, but something tangible would have been nice! I still enjoyed the mystery of it though.

Overall, if you want a real escapism book, this is THE one!

Audience: Adult readers, for minor sexual scenes and language.

Rating: 

4stars

Other recommendations: As far as I know, this is the only Morgenstern book, but if you want historical fantasy, I recommend Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

Review: The Last Queen by C.W Gortner

 

Princess Juana never thought her fate would take her closer to ruling a country. Being the fourth child, and third daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, the monarchy that united Spain, her only future was to marry a noble. As a girl ruled by her own heart, Juana finds it a surprise that her arranged marriage with Philip the Fair unexpectedly moves forward– and even more so that it’s filled with passion and love. But when tragedy strikes her family, Juana is dragged into a whirlwind of events that breaks every trust she’s ever forged, and has her fighting to keep her spirit from breaking.

Personal Take: I love history in general. And I love historical fiction, though I haven’t read the genre is SO LONG. But reading The Last Queen reminded me why I loved it.

Gortner’s writing takes credit for most of my love for the book though– it was fantastic. I loved his portrayal of Juana, and how, to the best his abilities, he wrote her as a smart girl, growing into a strong-willed woman. The book also had a good balanced of Juana’s life and the politics happening around her, which had a huge part in her life.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, I resorted to googling Juana’s life, and didn’t like how she was portrayed on the internet, which took me back to Gortner’s book again.

Reading this wasn’t easy, especially knowing how it was going to end. I wouldn’t be surprised if George R. R. Martin used Spain’s history has a source of inspiration to Game of Thrones, because the politics of expanding Europe was so convoluted, crazy, and real. You can’t help but feel compassion for her, but at the same time reprimand her for her choices. Then again, I haven’t lived the life she’s lived.

It’s really an eye-opening read to one of the least known princesses and queens we’ve ever known, and with such beautiful prose. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.

Audience: I would say older readers, as there are some sexual themes.

Rating: 

4stars

Other recommendations: Gortner is a master of historical fiction, and wrote The Queen’s Vow, which is about Isabella (Juana’s mother), and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici (which I think Reign fans will love). He also wrote a historical fiction series The Spymaster Chronicles.

Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

 

When Margaret Hale moves from her childhood country home to the industrious bustle of Milton after her father resigns his parsonage, the family struggles with the different life they’re faced to lead. She encounters John Thornton, her father’s pupil, and is repulsed by his views of mastership and power over labourers. But when a series of tragedies and industrial rebellion comes into play, Margaret learns the reality of living an urban life, while Thornton learns of humanity.

Personal Take: I don’t know why it’s taking me a month to finish a book these days! Anyway, on to the review.
One of the incentives that motivated me to read this was the BBC series starring Richard Armitage as John Thornton. But really, without that, the novel itself was an emotional roller-coaster. Gaskell is now one of my favourite writers. While I’d describe this novel as a cross between Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it also had the industrialism/social classes portrayed by Charles Dickens. But unlike Dickens, the language was much simpler.
The characters themselves are so complex and just…amazing. I loved Margaret and Thornton. Especially Thornton (who’s now on my list of loveable men, with Darcy and Mr. Knightley). The emotions and turmoil these two characters faced were too much, even for me, but I loved them for every time they got through it.
It did drag up a little towards the end, but because Gaskell gave me that happy ending, I am happy. North and South is definitely one of those must-read classics.
Audience: Lovers of literature and classics.
Rating:
4stars
Other recommendations: So two books I’m definitely going to read (just because there are BBC adaptations), are Wives and Daughters and Cranford. I might also pick up her biographical work of Charlotte Bronte. Check out her work!

Review: Warped by Maurissa Guibord

 

When Tessa and her father manage to buy a box of old books at an auction, she didn’t expect to find a tapestry of a unicorn. And even though she doesn’t believe in magic, it’s hard to explain why the unicorn in the tapestry enchants her, or why the next day that unicorn turns into a handsome young man from the past. Soon, Tessa finds that there are people who would kill for such magic– and they wouldn’t mind killing her for it.

Personal Take: When I picked this book, I didn’t have high expectations. I knew I wanted a quick, no-thinking required- kind of read, and Warped did just that. Even though the characters were stock-characters, and very 2-D, there were times where I enjoyed their banter. It did feel like there were too many characters whose stories or roles didn’t complement each other, or appeared choppy in the story. Still, there were some really good twists, and I was impressed with the main idea.

Yes, execution of the idea was a bit clumsy, but I still found it enjoyable enough to finish it.

Audience: I’d say older teens– language becomes rogue towards the end.

Rating:

threestars

Other recommendations: Following Guibord’s debut, she also released her second book, Revel, which I read is pretty good– so check it out!

Review: The Age of the Warrior by Robert Fisk

 

Over 30 years of Middle East reporting, with civil wars, insurgencies and massacres, Fisk collects the writings he’s published as a columnist for The Independent, ranging from historical events to recent and personal subjects with sharp perception.

Personal Take: I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading this as much as I did. It’s non-fiction, and it’s about all sorts of atrocities within the Middle East, and a few times, during the World Wars. But somehow, Fisk makes it all so appealing. He expresses his views with so much wit, but with the right amount of knowledge, and it was never a dry read. If he wasn’t a journalist, he would be an amazing story-teller–his writings were gripping. It made me laugh, ache, wonder. It carried amazing sincerity, and he talked about his childhood too.

There were things I didn’t agree with, of course. But that didn’t stop me from reading, and dog-earring and highlighting passages. I’ll definitely be visiting a few of his selections again and again.

Audience: People who are into world affairs. This is not for the light hearted.

Rating:

4stars

 

Other recommendations: You can always look up Fisk’s articles online. You can also read two of his other books The Great War of Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East and Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon.

Review: The Duke and I (Bridgertons #1) by Julia Quinn

 

After her two Seasons in London, Daphne Bridgerton almost lost all hope that she’ll ever get married. Almost, that is, until the Duke of Hastings (her older brother’s best friend), returns to England. In a desperate attempt avoid ambitious mothers and their daughters, the Duke and Daphne fake an attachment. While the Duke successfully repels young ladies of society, Daphne’s door is lined with suitors impatient to make her their wife. But Daphne isn’t sure she can resist the Duke’s charm, or hide her affections from him.

Personal Take: I won’t lie. I thought I was going to be put off by this book the moment I turned to the first page. It’s not that Quinn isn’t a good writer– she’s fantastic. But being an Austen purist, I know that Quinn shows more…risqué scenes than necessary. And yes, while those bothered me, she did a great job with the bigger picture in the story that all I can think of is…how awesome the Bridgerton family is.

They are hilarious! As a family and individually. This one focuses on Daphne, and she was so much fun to read about. The tone of the book sort of changes halfway through, and she changes with it, but not in a bad way. I liked how she matures towards the end. Her relationship with the Duke is equally hilarious most of the time, and even though their love sort of happened too fast for me, their relationship seemed…right.

The novel is rife with drama, which usually isn’t my kind of thing, but the humor laced in between the lines kept me reading, and I enjoyed it. I cannot wait to read more Bridgerton books, because I’m so invested in the crazy regency kids grown-ups!

Audience: Older readers, definitely. Not for the young.

Rating:

4stars

 

Other recommendations: I reviewed What Happens in London and Ten Things I Love About You. Quinn also wrote the Bridgerton series (which this is book 1 of!), as well as Smythe-Smith Quartet , among others.

Review: The Names Upon the Harp by Marie Heaney, illustrated by P.J Lynch

Ireland’s premier talents join forces to create a definitive collection of tales from one of the world’s greatest folkloric traditions. Included in this emotionally stirring anthology are renowned Irish legends such as “The Birth of Cuchulain”, “Oisin in the Land of Youth”, and “Finn and the Salmon of Knowledge”. The stunning illustrations combined with the clean, spare text make this book a gift for every book-lover’s shelf.

Personal Take: I consider this book to be one of the treasures I brought back from my trip to Ireland. I mean, the land is rife with historical and mythical stories, including faeries, which is a genre that dominates books now. Even though one could consider it a children’s book, older readers can read between the lines and tell there’s more to these stories. It’s bloody, gory, but beautiful and tragic at the same time.
What I also loved about it is that the stories were sort of in chronological order. Characters would be introduced, and even though they were the center of the next story, they would still make an appearance.
The added bonus was the breathtaking illustrations in the book. It was just beautiful to gaze at and imagine what these heroes and villains were going through.
If anyone is interested in Irish folklore and mythology, I suggest this book as an intro.
Audience: Young teens right up to adults would enjoy this.
Rating: 
5stars
Other recommendations: Even though Marie Heaney collaborated with her husband on the (the illustrator!), she also wrote other Irish mythology/folklore books. One I’ll be reading sometime this year is Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends. Check out her other books!

Review: Wildwing by Emily Whitman

 

Born out of a scandal, all Addy Borrow every knew about her town is that she’s at the bottom of society. Forced into a future she doesn’t approve of, she finds a way back to the medieval ages, where she is treated as a high-born lady. Just when she believes that everything is set for her- and this is where she belongs- she meets Will, the son of the falconer on the estate. The instant connection she feels to him might unwind all her plans to grandeur.

Personal Take: This book would have been the first non-classic-to-modern adaptation of time travel I’ve read, and I’m so sorry to say that it wasn’t much. For one, I could feel nothing for the characters- especially Addy. There were times when, yes, it seems that her situation sucked, but then most of what she did or thought was so shallow.

It was expected that there was insta-love, but the other thing that really got on my nerves was how everything was so convenient. It worked out fine because either the others are so dumb, or the author somehow conjured sense when even the readers couldn’t figure out how it led to this scene or conclusion.

At some point I was just reading for the sake of finishing it. The writing was alright, and I didn’t dislike it, but there wasn’t much to grasp my attention or make me like it a little extra.

Audience: It’s a fairly clean read, but towards the end there were some…suggestive marriage jokes that were tasteless. If you’re looking for quick stand-alone books, this is the one.

Rating: 

2stars

 

Other recommendations: Whitman also wrote about Persephone in Radiant Darkness, which might be worth checking out if you love Greek mythology!