Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Beekeeper's Pupil by Sara George

This was a gently interesting book. I had a hard time getting really interested in the book for about the first half, but then I became engaged with the characters and the story held my interest a little better. There is A LOT about bees and after the first little while my interest waned a bit. But soon the plot thickened and I was caught once again. Bees are indeed fascinating and Sara George's characters are endearing. I appreciated their integrity and the affection and loyalty they showed to each other.

This is the story of a blind beekeeper/scientist, M. Francois Huber and his manservant/secretary, Francois Burnens. We learn a lot about bees as the account of each observation is recorded by the secretary, Burnens, whose journal accounts make up this story. As he puts it, he, Burnens, has the sight, but Huber has the vision--and together they produce the foremost monograph on the subject of bees. We get a full and lovely picture of the Huber family life. We get some insight into the life of a blind man--M Huber lost his sight at the age of 19. We also follow the maturation and growth of Francois Burnens, who comes into the Huber family just out of boyhood and leaves, a man.

The story takes place in Switzerland during the turbulent events of the French revolution. It is interesting to read about that revolution from the point of view of the Swiss. Some names from history clicked into place for me as the Huber family and Francois Burnens discussed such people as Voltaire, Marat (and his famous murder), Lavoisier, Priestly... very interesting.

I closed this book with a sigh. It was a lovely book. Quiet, scholarly, insightful, gentle and lovely. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters

This is another Amelia Peabody mystery. It was okay. The main story recounted here is the discovery by Howard Carter, and his patron, of the tomb of the Egyptian King Tut. The "mystery" in this story was much less prominent and not very interesting nor satisfying--and had very little to do with King Tut. In fact, there were several mysteries going on and, unlike the other Amelia Peabody mysteries, there was no overarching plot that needed to be unraveled. In my opinion, the book was rather slow and a little too sentimental. It took me forever to get into and never became particularly gripping.

The character of Amelia Peabody is always charming, though; I enjoyed her as always. Some of the other regular cast of characters were a little more one dimensional than usual. The whole feeling of this book was almost a "goodbye" feeling--loose ends were tied up, the family dispersed to different corners of the world for different reasons....

On the whole, not my favorite of Elizabeth Peters book, but since I really like the series, it's inconceivable that I would leave this one out of my collection. :)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters

How I enjoy Elizabeth Peters! I have read the Vicky Bliss series, the Jacqueline Kirby series, all of her stand-alones AND her Amelia Peabody series. This book is the latest one in the Amelia Peabody series, although it does not follow the one published before it in the chronology of the Emerson family. This one takes place in 1910 in Jerusalem (placing it, for those of you who are into this series, between "Guardian of the Horizon" (1907-08) and "The Falcon at the Portal" (1911)).

This one is less excavation and more intrigue, full of the humor that is one of the most entertaining things about the Amelia Peabody books. "A River in the Sky" is different from many others in this series in that the Emersons do not set foot in Egypt, so many of the figures we are familiar with are not present on this adventure--although Daoud and Selim are imported (along with all the members of the family, of course).

It was entertaining, engaging and even educational--like all of the others of this series. I love Elizabeth Peters!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Check out this book cover! Harlequin published this back in the day!! Before it became all nasty romance. I read this book as a free e-book though, thanks to the Gutenberg project and my Kindle.

And I LOVED it. It's another pre-WWI intrigue. It involves a great masquerade, spies, murder, romance.... Sigh. I loved the ending. I have a strong taste for vintage stories of almost any kind--romance, adventure, political thriller, etc. This one joins the others on my shelf of particular favorites.

All Through the Night by Davis Bunn

Well hm. This is a mystery novel. Christian. Our hero, Wayne (I dislike that name) must fight his personal demons as he unravels a very tangled mystery. He finds God, belonging and maybe even love along the way.

I liked Wayne. I liked all the other characters we met too. I didn't particularly like Bunn's style of writing. It felt very abrupt, almost elliptical. He had a tough guy style that I found distracting. It took me about two thirds of the way into the novel to be able to overlook his writing style and get lost in the adventure.

I have one major objection to the faith experiences in this book. Mr. Bunn uses prayer as fortuneteller, oracle and prophet. The anodyne to all conflicts, the immediate answer to all questions. I did NOT like this, it didn't seem realistic to me at all. I also do not enjoy as much Christian novels that include actual church experiences--the conversion to a church congregation more than the conversion to Christianity. It makes the experience more cultural than spiritual. There was a bit of that going on here.

Those objections aside, this was an exciting story with likeable characters. Will I read more Bunn? Probably not.

Courting Trouble AND Deep in the Heart of Trouble by Deeanne Gist

I have to review these two together because the first one (Courting Trouble) is NOT a sweet, uplifting story UNLESS you follow it quickly by its sequel (Deep in the Heart of Trouble). They are both Christian historical fiction. They are romances.

Courting Trouble introduces us to spinster Essie Spreckelmeyer and chronicles her attempts at love. Her character is not particularly likeable. She seems agressive, misguided and even rebellious. And, if the ending can be considered faithful, it cannot be considered exactly "happy". She does NOT get her man and she loses something precious.

Deep in the Heart of Trouble makes it all better, though. Essie finally gets her man. And we get to read about the bicycling fad of the late 1800s AND the Texas oil boom that happened during the same time period.

Read as a pair, Essie's story is very engaging. I don't want to say too much more about the plot because to discuss it is to give away the main event upon which the whole thing hinges. I DID end up liking Essie a lot more by the end of the second book. This is one of those stories, though, where so many troubles enter the life of just one character that you feel a little bruised just reading about it. After all, how many conflicts can be shoe-horned into one story? I did enjoy the books, though, once I got into them.

A Bride Most Begrudging by Deeanne Gist

Christian historical fiction. This one takes place in colonial America. There are very few women, the country is built on the backs of indentured servants and slaves, hostilities with the Native Americans still take many, many lives and the chances of a long and healthy life are slim for most. What a setting!

This story was of a young British noblewoman kidnapped and sold in America as a wife to the highest bidder. The young man she ends up with doesn't want her as a wife, but they are forced to marry because there are so few women there, that to "waste" one is inconceivable. This is the story of the growth of their relationship.

This one was more gritty than the others of hers that I've read thus far. There was a lot of death--it was the story of life for those first Americans. And the setting wasn't quite as compelling as some of Deeanne Gist's others. I did enjoy the story, though. Not one of my favorites, but still interesting and entertaining.

Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist

Another work of Christian historical fiction. This one takes place on the Vanderbilt estate--Biltmore mansion--in Asheville, North Carolina. I think I enjoy the settings that Deeanne Gist writes about almost more than I do her characters. I really liked envisioning the Biltmore mansion.

Tillie Reese is the perfect maid with ambitions to rise to the top--as Edith Vanderbilt's lady's maid. She ultimately has to choose between these ambitions and a loving relationship with a good man. It's an interesting topic, actually, which has some good modern-day applications. As usual, there's plenty of scripture (none of it from the King James Version of the Bible, which is a pity) and a strong story line with very sympathetic characters. The romance is full of chaste chemistry. I liked it all!

The Measure of a Lady by Deeanne Gist

More historical fiction, Christian style. I really like Deeanne Gist. I've read 5 by her in the last few days and I think this one may be one of my favorites. It's about a young lady and her sister and brother who are marooned in Gold Rush San Francisco. The city during this time just comes ALIVE in this book. I really enjoyed picturing it as it was then. Our young lady, Rachel Van Buren, struggles to support her family--and protect their virtue--in lawless San Francisco. She finds heartbreak, wisdom and love. I enjoyed the story very much.

This has all the critical ingredients for good fiction: growth of the characters, difficulties to overcome, romance, a great setting.... I have read other Christian historical fiction authors that I like better (Karen Witemeyer, for one), but Deeanne Gist is very enjoyable. I'll be reading more of her for sure.

The Mischief Maker by E. Phillips Oppenheim

This is a vintage political thriller. A young and powerful government official is involved in a scandal in London and has to leave the country. He ends up in France and gets mixed up in pre-WWI intrigue. There's plenty of mystery, adventure and even a bit of romance here.

I have fallen in love with E. Phillips Oppenheim. I tend to think of political thrillers as entertaining because they relate to current events, but I am fast changing my ideas about that. Helen McInnes writes about WWII, Oppenheim writes about the events preceding WWI. I find them both fascinating--exciting historical fiction. And the Gutenburg project makes them FREE e-books. Amazing. I will be reading all the Oppenheims that I can get.

Dear Lady by Robin Lee Hatcher

Another Christian Historical Romance. This one takes place in Montana. An English lady, escaping from a bad situation, meets a bitter and suspicious Montana rancher. Misunderstandings, resolutions, a bit of adventure, some scripture quoting AND romance all follow.

It was a nice story. I liked it. Predictable, sweet and totally unoffensive.