"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Friday, April 24, 2015

Bonus: Laiden's Daughter

CreateSpace Independent
Laiden's Daughter
Suzan Tisdale

The Summary
Raised by a tyrannical stepfather and harassed by her cruel half-brothers, Aishlinn has grown up believing men are scoundrels.  Her opinion is only confirmed when she is attacked by her employer, the Earl of Penrith, and must fight him off - and, subsequently, leaves him for dead.  Fearing for her life, Aishlinn flees to the Scottish Highlands in search of safety.

Injured, starved, and alone, Aishlinn is unexpectedly rescued by a group of warriors led by a man named Duncan McEwan, future leader of the Clan MacDougall.  They vow to help her and protect her from retribution from the Earl of Penrith (for they have no fondness for him), and Aishlinn must learn that there are indeed good men in the world.

The Good
I enjoyed the development of Laiden's Daughter.  The first few chapters were fairly engrossing, fast-paced with a heroine who was willing to protect herself at all costs.  Aishlinn endures a terrible childhood (her current situation isn't much better at the beginning of the book), but she has the potential to mature into a strong, thoughtful, self-sufficient individual.

The Bad
I'll be honest, I really disliked this book.  I was intrigued by the first few chapters, even if they were punctuated by grammatical mistakes and substandard storytelling, but I quickly lost interest as circumstances started to fall into place (conveniently and messily) and slogged through the rest of the book for closure.

Starting out, I rather liked Aishlinn.  She had the groundwork to become a strong, dynamic heroine, which I like in my historical-romance, but Tisdale really let me down with her character development.  After a while, her protests that she was no beauty felt like she was fishing for compliments and her decision-making skills were sorely lacking by the end of the book.

Furthermore, she seemed to waver between a headstrong, self-sufficient woman who learned how to farm, fight, and otherwise fend for herself and a demure, timid kitchen girl.  Considering the abuse she endures at the hands of her stepfather, half-brothers, and her employer, I couldn't understand why she was so naive.

I mean, she stabs a man within the very first chapter, flees from the castle in the dead of night (even with extensive injuries), and manages to escape the country; moreover, she understands hard work, she knows how to ride a horse, and she can string a bow.  She has the makings to be something great - and yet she becomes a damsel in distress waiting for her white knight to ride in on his horse and rescue her from certain danger.

I am unimpressed.

Besides which, I feel like I should point out that the story is set in 1343 in England (and Scotland, too).  Historically speaking, the English and the Scottish haven't had the most stable relationship.  If it wasn't Scotland inciting riots in a bid for independence, then it was England invading in an attempt to place a new monarch on the Scottish throne.

Not exactly the most peaceful relationship, right?

Right.  So, one would think this chaotic political and social climate might influence Laiden's Daughter, correct?  Wrong.  There are no major reprisals, no political ramifications after Aishlinn stabs one of the gentry and flees to Scotland.  I mean, even if no one actually liked the Earl of Penrith, wouldn't someone in significant power have decided it was a breach of political etiquette and reacted, even if for self-serving reasons?

Maybe, I'm nit-picking; maybe, I'm right.  Either way, I would never read Laiden's Daughter again and I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone else.

The Ugly
Don't even get me started.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bonus: Stern Men

Stern Men
Elizabeth Gilbert

The Summary
Ruth Thomas has spent her life bouncing between the islands of her birth and the mainland where Lanford Ellis, owner of a vast fortune and financial backbone of the island, has decreed she will go to school.

Now, at eighteen, Ruth has returned to Fort Niles Island and she stands at a crossroads:  will she stay on the tiny islands she's always considered home, or will she return to the mainland where everyone else seems to think she belongs?

The Good
Stern Men is an intriguing blend of lobsterman history and storytelling.  Although the story is primarily about Ruth Thomas, her struggle to acclimate to the mainland and find her place back on the islands, it also focuses on the history of Fort Niles and Courne Haven and, more importantly, their future.

Ruth is a complicated character.  She's tough (a trait she gained from living on the island as a child), she's smart, and she's commanding when she wants to be; however, she's unexpectedly timid when it comes to confrontation, especially with Lanford Ellis and Cal Cooley, and she's sometimes difficult to pinpoint emotionally.

She's a puzzling character and she's an intriguing heroine, but I enjoyed her story and I was always interested to learn more.  In particular, I was interested in seeing where her relationships on Fort Niles and Courne Haven would lead, especially her romantic interest in Owney Wishnell who, like Ruth, had his entire life planned out by relatives.

The Bad
The hardened lobstermen and citizens of Fort Niles and Courne Haven are rather difficult to connect to on an emotional level, especially if you're unfamiliar with the rough and rugged Mainer attitude they possess.  For me, I sometimes thought they seemed harsh, even cruel, but I realized it's simply who they are and how they were raised.

Regardless, I had a difficult time relating to and connecting with characters, which made my reading experience a little less enjoyable than it could have been.

The Ugly
As a rule, life can be rather ugly, but a lobsterman's life particularly so when a war for territory is happening.  It's something that even Ruth and the other citizens of Fort Niles can't seem to avoid.  (As an aside, I was bothered by the fact that Ruth is seemingly targeted at every turn.  It's alarming sometimes the designs that others have upon her.)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lady of the English

Sourcebooks Landmark
Lady of the English
Elizabeth Chadwick

The Summary
"Matilda, daughter of Henry I, knows that there are those who will not accept her as England's queen when her father dies.  But the men who support her rival Stephen do not know the iron will that drives her.

"Adeliza, Henry's widowed queen and Matilda's stepmother, is now married to a warrior who fights to keep Matilda off the throne.  But Adeliza, born with a strength that can sustain her through heartrending pain, knows that the crown belongs to a woman this time."

The Good
Elizabeth Chadwick is an excellent writer.  She has an incredible skill in weaving together an exceptional story, pulling from historical events and giving her work an unrivaled emotional depth.  Although she pulls individuals from historical record, she manages to give them a vibrancy and depth that we wouldn't otherwise experience.  She breathes life into history, which can seem dusty and dull by comparison.

I especially enjoyed that Chadwick decided to focus on such an incredible (and controversial) figure with Matilda, daughter of King Henry I.  I also liked Adeliza, Henry I's widow and Matilda's stepmother.  Both women, endowed with an incredible inner strength and personal fortitude, are truly incredible to behold.

Matilda was surely before her time in regards to the monarchy and she possessed an iron will that makes her one of the most fascinating characters (and historical figures) I've had the pleasure to meet my recent reading.

The Bad
Lady of the English spans a number of years, making it a particularly lengthy endeavor; more importantly, it runs the same risk as any novel based in historical fact:  it's history, which means it has already happened.  (And it's easy to spoil things for yourself if, say, you're acquainted with medieval English history - or, you know, have access to Google.)

The Ugly
I suppose I should point out that Matilda does start a war when her place on the throne is contested.  With the death of Henry I and her natural ascension is interrupted by Stephen of Blois, Matilda spends the next twenty or so years at war to regain her kingdom.  Violence is surely on the menu.

And, point of fact, Matilda isn't surrounded with the nicest men.  Between her father's manipulative games (which, I assume, completely blow up in his face) and her marriage to an abusive, controlling adolescent, I'm surprised she even lived as long as she did.