The Visitors by Sally Beauman, A Review

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One of my surprise favorite books in 2013 was Sally Beauman’s “Dark Angel.” Suspenseful and twisty, I couldn’t put it down. Thus maybe I had the wrong expectations for her latest novel, “The Visitors.” More historical fiction than thriller, this novel is a must for Egyptology buffs or anyone else who is fascinated by the pyramids and their secrets. The book is told from the point of view of Lucy Payne, who we first meet at age 12, traveling in Egypt in the company of a caretaker following the death of her mother.  Recovering from a bout of typhoid, she soon finds herself mingling with some of the most well-known figures associated with Egyptology – Howard Carter, Lord Carnavon, and Herbert Winlock, the curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, whose daughter becomes a lifelong friend of Lucy’s.

As in her other novels, Beauman weaves her plot lines across time- from the past to the present, and manages to work into story one of the most famous archeological discoveries of the 20th century (hmm, can you guess what this might be?).  It is clear that Beauman has spent a lot of time researching the period and the historical facts about which she writes. The parts of the book I most enjoyed were by far those set in Egypt- Beauman’s writing easily transports the reader to another time and place. I struggled with the storylines set in the present. Similarly, I loved the sections of the novel that had themes of mystery/discovery, and would have been okay with less of the coming of age chapters.

Overall a solid read, both figuratively and literally (“The Visitors” clocks in at over 500 page). While the quality of Beauman’s writing never falters, her story does not have the same urgency to it that I enjoyed in “Dark Angel.” Probably best for reading when you have the time to dedicate to it (think a wonderful beach vacation, and less your daily commute), it is a definite for those that have enjoyed Beauman’s other works or love novels about Egypt.

Available for purchase from Amazon.com.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this novel courtesy of the publisher.

After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman, A Review

Hi Friends- sorry we’ve been a little slow with the updates so far this year. Life has been crazier than usual, and we’re a little off pace. Sad face. Just wrapped up Laura Lippman’s latest, “After I’m Gone.” Neither here nor there, it was not my favorite Lippman novel. “After I’m Gone” focuses on the mysterious disappearance of a suburban husband and the impact it has on the lives of those he has left behind. Told from the perspective of his wife, daughters and mistress (to name a few), time goes back and forth from the present to the 1970s. Evenly paced with smooth writing, the plot never really seems to build to a crescendo, but yet maintains a steady momentum forward.

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While I enjoyed the novel, it was definitely the weakest work of Lippman’s that I’ve read. Her female characters were reasonably well-developed and fleshed out, her male characters get no love. Felix, Sandy, and all of the men in the Brewer women’s lives are boring and totally flat. Side note: I don’t know how she does it, but somehow Lippman creates characters I can’t stand, yet I’m fascinated and can’t stop reading (ex. Michelle… man…).

Those who are fans of her previous work will most likely pick this one up- my recommendation is to grab it from the library.

A solid 3 out of 5 stars.

Available for purchase from Amazon.

xo The Book Bird 

“Savage Girl” by Jean Zimmerman – A Review

17987214 Jean Zimmerman’s “Savage Girl” has so much going for it, right from the get-go:

1) It’s set in New York City during the Gilded Age, my absolute favorite setting for novels in NYC.
2) The cover art is FIERCE. I mean look at Savage Girl.
3) Our narrator is delightfully unreliable, incredibly wealthy, and has a family that can only be kindly described as eccentric.

Weighing in at a solid 400+ pages, Savage Girl is a little slow to start, but soon you’ll be flying through it. From the silver mines of the west, to the debutante dance halls of the east, what sounds like a re-telling of the “Pygmalion” story quickly turns into a fast-paced mystery. While on a cross-country trip with his “old money” family, Hugo Delegate, Harvard student and current drop out, encounters Savage Girl—a teenaged girl, “raised by wolves” and barely domesticated. The Delegate Family, with intentions that cannot necessarily be described as selfless, bring Savage Girl into their world of luxury and excess. But far from being the docile pet  they expect, it soon becomes clear that Savage Girl, whose name is Bronwyn, actually may have her own agenda. In addition, it appears she seems to leave a trail of bodies wherever she goes… As Hugo finds himself becoming more involved, dare I say, obsessed, with his “sister” Bronwyn, it also becomes clear that he may also not be what he seems.

The highlight of this novel has to be Zimmerman’s characters. They are beautifully fleshed out and vividly fill the pages. Hugo is self-interested, a little bit whiny, and makes for a fun narrator as the reader is never quite sure what to believe. Bronwyn is surprising, strong, and quite believable, despite her outlandish origin story.

My only complaint is that I felt like the ending was a bit rushed- we spend roughly 350 pages on a wonderful adventure, only to have everything be wrapped up and tied with a bow in the last 50. Don’t get me wrong- the ending is satisfying, but it did not feel like it had the same depth and richness as the rest of the novel. I’m sure people will be of divided opinion re: the epilogue, and I’m eager to hear the discussion.

Available for pre-order on Amazon, and on shelves March 6th.

xo The Book Bird 

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book via the publisher for review.

The Quick by Lauren Owen – A Review

18050175This is one of those novels where you’re not quite sure where it’s going… and when you get there, it can be hit or miss as to whether you like the destination you’ve arrived at. Fortunately, I really enjoyed where we wound up. Part Gothic novel, part supernatural mystery, The Quick begins with a familiar proposition – two children and a British estate that has seen better days. Charlotte and her younger brother, James, who we meet at an early age, lead a solitary existence following the death of their mother. Their father, is also an absent figure, preferring to avoid his children, thus leaving them to spend their days exploring the grounds of their formidable home. It is only when James heads off to school (Oxford, obviously), and later London, that things start to diverge from the usual Gothic novel formula.

I don’t want to divulge any more- to do so would ruin the sneaky little plot twist that turns this book topsy turvy. Needless to say, you are either going to love it, or have a “WTF” moment.

Other thoughts on this novel: a little bit long and slow in places, it would be easy to put this one down until you get through the first third or so, however it is totally worth sticking with it.  Owen’s writing also conveys a wonderful fog-enshrouded atmosphere that I stayed with me throughout the book. Unlike some period pieces, she is consistent and you never get an accidental glimpse of the 20th century through language or description of the scene at hand. A definite must for anyone who likes something a little spooky and Victorian. Anyway, that is enough for me– you’ll just have to read it yourselves!

Available for pre-order on Amazon, and on shelves June 17, 2014.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: An advance copy of this book was provided for review by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.