Sunday, June 16, 2013

Review: Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

This is an endearing novel made up of fictional letters between the main characters, which I won in a giveaway. It’s a somewhat unique approach to tell a story entirely in letters but it tells a story of a long distance romance between a woman in Scotland and a man in Illinois during the early 20th century, around the time of WWI. It also consists of letters between the same woman and her daughter and others during WWII and through them pieces of the past are put together. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this approach but it wound up working really well, the scenes manage to come alive as the characters recall and reminisce to each other.

Due to the format of the storytelling, I didn’t quite get a sense of the historical setting. The book description says “full of captivating period detail” but I’m not sure I’d fully agree with that. Apart from talk about the world wars, the history didn’t really come alive for me.

But on the other hand, the relationship between the two main characters really struck a chord with me since my English husband and my American self met online, first communicating by email, then “instant messenger”, then phone, and then finally meeting in person. The letters reminded me of the emails between my husband and I - the feeling of knowing someone so well before you’ve even met them in person, feeling so connected to someone who is so far away, eagerly awaiting the next letter from them, the thrill of meeting them in person for the first time.

It was a little bit predictable but that’s okay because the end game isn’t what this book is about, it’s about the characters and their relationships and their journey, which was really well done.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Review: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

Perhaps it’s just because I recently read Germs, Genes, and Civilization but I was a little disappointed to see the author get her plagues mixed up. The book opens in 1690 with the onset of an illness of the main character’s brother. It’s named as smallpox but the author then goes on to describe what sounds more like the Bubonic plague (black death) than smallpox. The main character talks of how entire families would wake up healthy in the morning and all be dead by nightfall; this is a completely inaccurate description of smallpox. By 1690, smallpox was not that fatal - the mortality rate was only about 30% so the likelihood of an entire family perishing from it was small. Furthermore, smallpox does not kill this quickly, death usually occurs after about two weeks from onset. All of this IS an accurate description of the bubonic plague though. The only thing that didn’t sound like the black death was the mention of the pustules on the face. Sounds like the author either didn’t do her research well enough or got mixed up in the process of her research.

Granted, I did consider that it was being told from the point of view of a small child and perhaps the author intended it as the child who got confused with the stories of the bubonic plague and smallpox. But you’d think if that were the case, the narration would mention that later in life the girl realize her mix up so that readers don’t get confused.

(Btw, I’m not considering this a spoiler since it occurs in the opening chapter and is mentioned in the very first paragraph).

I was also a little perplexed to find a randomly thrown in passage written in present tense near the end when the rest of the book was in past tense. I’m guessing the author was trying to distinguish the moment but it felt more jarring and out of place to me.

So why am I giving it 4 stars? Because the book is otherwise very well written with excellent, complex characters and a great plot. Though it is slow paced and there’s a lot of internal dialogue, it’s not boring - it's very emotionally powerful.

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