The Mirk and the Midnight

16055662As an avid fan of Nickerson’s first novel, “Strands of Bronze and Gold,” her sophomore follow-up “The Mirk and the Midnight Hour” was one of the novels I most highly anticipated this year. Set in the south at the start of the Civil War, its protagonist, the teenaged Violet Delancey, finds her world changing rapidly. Her father is off to war, and has left behind a new stepmother and sister, and a young cousin has also recently been deposited at the family farm. In addition, the arrival of mysterious group of travelers in town, coincides with the discovery of a Union soldier hidden in the woods.

What I enjoyed most: As with her previous novel, I found it very easy to get involved in this novel. Nickerson is a strong storyteller, and for the most part allows the reader to suspend disbelief.

Where I struggled: The language was not always consistent- the story will grab you, but occasionally you’ll be struck by the odd word here or there that just doesn’t sit right. Example: an old woman who uses the word “yup.” Eh… no. Some of the characters can be a bit too one dimensional. Some characters (like Violet) get a lot of love, whereas others rely too heavily on existing stereotypes (ex. Sunny… who is the WORST). Pacing was also off- I got bogged down in the middle of the novel, and in my opinion it took way too long to get to the meat of the story (around the 40% mark).

Overall, a fun read- though I have to admit “Strands” continues to be my favorite of the two. Looking forward to Nickerson’s third novel! “The Mirk and the Midnight Hour” is on shelves now and available for purchase from Amazon.com.

Side note: “The Mirk and the Midnight Hour” is an inventive re-telling of the legend of Tam Lin. I highly recommend doing a Google search for the original story AFTER you’ve finished the book as you will definitely be impressed with the imaginative way that Nickerson weaves aspects of the traditional into her novel.

xo The Book Bird

Sleeping Beauty Grows Up – “While Beauty Slept” by Elizabeth Blackwell

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Elizabeth Blackwell’s “While Beauty Slept” is a rich re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty story that we all know. Told from the point of view of Elise, who starts her life as a lowly castle servant in the kingdom of St. Elsip, Blackwell’s creations blend beautifully with those we already may be familiar with. What I particularly enjoyed was the love and attention that Blackwell gives to each of her characters. Elise, Rose, Queen Lenore, Malefic- I mean, Millicent– I felt like I knew each of them like friends by the end of the novel. The author does a nice job of walking the line between the aspects of the story we have come to expect (ex. the spinning wheel), and much more grown up themes. Though I would not describe “While Beauty Slept” as a coming of age novel, it touches on themes that far exceed your traditional fairytale; instead of the kids’ version, we get adult ambition, love (not just the instant-at-first-sight kind), greed, envy, and revenge. Don’t pick this one expecting fairies, magic potions, etc, “While Beauty Slept” almost reads more like historical fiction.

 Except for being a little too heavy handed with foreshadowing about all of the “horrible things to come” and the “curse that hung over everyone,” Blackwell’s writing is clean and evenly paced. I did find myself putting the book down around the 40% mark for a little break, but when I picked it up again it was finished in a day long sitting.  On the long side (400+ pages), I did not find myself wanting less or more and was very satisfied by the conclusion. The writing is descriptive enough to help paint each scene without bogging the reader down in too much detail; trust me once you have a mental picture of St. Elsip each scene comes to life in vivid color.

Overall I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys classic stories with a twist on the new, though I would argue that what Blackwell creates is a new story in its own right. If you liked “The Kingdom of Little Wounds” (read our review here) you should definitely pick this one up.

Available from Amazon.com.

 xo The Book Bird 

p.s. You should definitely listen to this song on repeat while you’re reading- it got stuck in my head and totally set the atmosphere!

“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 Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohalian- A Review

16099189Having loved “The Night Strangers,” which has decidedly super natural undertones, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the latest piece of historical fiction from Chris Bohjalian, “The Light in the Ruins.” (I was pretty meh about “The Sandcastle Girls.”The good news is, I’m glad I picked this one up from the library! Bohjalian deftly weaves a together characters and plot against a historically fascinating backdrop- in this case, the mid to late WWII and the 1950’s. Set in Italy and told from three distinct points of view, the novel explores how the events of 1943 change the lives of the Rosati family, who own a beautiful estate outside of Florence, and those around them. Bohjalian avoids all of the cliches normally associated with WWII, or when he does venture towards that area brings a fresh perspective voice that doesn’t feel tired or “done already.” I also really like how as a male author, he is able to create and write in the voice of strong female characters (all of the main players in this novel are women).

While it became easy to tease out where the novel was going around the 2/3rds mark, I was so enamored with the characters and the story that I didn’t hesitate when it came to finishing the book off.

SPOILER (highlight the next two lines with your mouse to illuminate!): I swear during one of the killer POV chapters, Bohjalian has that person say that they are a woman… did I misread? Also, Arabella! Poor, poor Arabella!!

Available for purchase from Amazon.com. I also obtained a copy of this novel from the New York Public library (yay eBooks at the library!).

Have you checked out any of Chris Bohjalian’s other novels?

xo The Book Bird 

Historical Fiction Must-Reads for Fall 2013

There’s something about the first hints of fall in the air that make me drive into book hoarding mode like a squirrel preparing for winter. Thus, I’m already finalizing my “hit-list” by genre for the next few weeks. What’s on it? Check out my current historical fiction to-reads below and make sure to add The Book Bird to your RSS feed or follow us on Twitter (@thebookbird) for updates.

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Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
Available October 1st.
Edgar Allen Poe, an affair, a plotting wife… what more could you ask for? I am obsessed with 19th century New York (see my other pick below, Seven for a Secret if this is your thing as well), and was fortunate enough to get my book hungry hands on an advance copy of this one. Stay tuned for a review!

 

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Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye
Available September 17th.
The sequel to the well-received Gods of GothamSeven is already getting rave reviews. Detective Timothy Wilde is back, patrolling the lawless neighborhood of Five Points in 1840’s New York City. Wilde and his brother Valentine are incredibly well-fleshed out characters, and I am so excited about where their adventures will take them next. (Also, I found it incredibly amusing to imagine the bustling neighborhood of Chelsea as farmland, hehe.) A must for NYC historians and those who love a good detective novel.

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Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Freemantle
Available now.
This one made our “Six Tales of Tudor England” list — Queen’s Gambit follows Catherine Parr as she navigates the plots and intrigues of Henry VIII’s court.

 

What’s on your fall reading agenda?

xo The Book Bird