Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Tainted Dawn Blog Tour and Review

A Tainted Dawn by B.N. Peacock
review copy provided by author via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Synopsis:
August 1789. The Rights of Man. Liberty. Equality. Idealism. Patriotism. A new age dawns. And yet, old hostilities persist: England and Spain are on the brink of war. France, allied by treaty with Spain, readies her warships. Three youths – the son of an English carpenter, the son of a naval captain, and the son of a French court tailor – meet in London, a chance encounter that entwines their lives ever after. The English boys find themselves on the same frigate bound for the Caribbean. The Frenchman sails to Trinidad, where he meets an even more zealous Spanish revolutionary. As diplomats in Europe race to avoid conflict, war threatens to explode in the Caribbean, with the three youths pitted against each other. Will the dawn of the boys’ young manhood remain bright with hope? Or will it become tainted with their countrymen’s spilled blood?

My Take:

The reader is introduced to the three main characters of A Tainted Dawn when they have a chance encounter at a tailor's shop where Edward is having mourning clothes made for him. This brief interaction sets the tone for the entire novel. Edward and Louis take an instant dislike to each other and Jemmy is struck with admiration for Edward due to a small kindness. 

Edward is the most sympathetic of the boys, in my opinion. His story is also the most detailed and so I was better able to relate to him and to his circumstances. His father has recently died and although he is the heir to his father's house, his grandfather is made his guardian against his mother's wishes. We see Edward's father's family only briefly, but they don't seem like nice people and while reading about them I had visions of the worst type of Dickensian villains. Edward is immediately put on a ship and sent off to sea in the hopes that he would never return, thus freeing up the property for his paternal family to enjoy.

Louis is the son of a prominent court tailor and seems like a very pampered, spoiled brat, to be honest. I found it very ironic that he considers himself such a revolutionary and yet he has a generous allowance and is dressed in the finest clothes and goes to a fine school. Louis has only one thought and that is revolution. He hates Edward and considers his an Aristo -- after one brief meeting. Louis spends his time with another revolutionary and avoiding school. He doesn't seem to do much except imagine how great a revolutionary he will be. Eventually, his father sends him away because of his behavior and he ends up in Trinidad with a couple of men from the militia. 

Jemmy is just a young boy who tries to make money as a street musician to make up for the money his father, a carpenter, wastes on drink. He has a sister who has some issues and is the apple of her father's eye and a drain on Jemmy's energy because she is always running off and he has to find her. His reason for going to sea seems to be the least likely, to me. He is angry at his father about a fight they had and he takes off to sea. 

Jemmy and Edward end up on the same frigate for a while, but on different social levels. One of the most interesting aspects to this novel, for me, was the attention paid to the very strict social structures. While I was aware of the role social status played in life during this period, it had never occurred to me how rigid these would be aboard ship. While this is definitely a nautical based story, I don't think it romanticizes life aboard ship. In fact, the author gives abundant detail to just how brutal and hard life at sea could be. 

In addition to all the nautical adventure, there is also a lot of history covered in A Tainted Dawn. In fact, that aspect was probably my favorite. There was so much going on in Europe and in the various colonial holdings during this period. As the book makes clear, things are building towards war, and there is much to consider and keep in mind while reading this book. 

Because this is the first book in the series, I am guessing that Edward, Louis, and Jemmy will encounter each other again and have more involved stories as the series progresses. There is a lot of potential with this story and I hope that we learn much more about these boys as they grow and adventure across the seas. 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

B. N. Peacock has had a life-long passion for history. Her childhood hero was Lord Nelson. Her second passion was writing, which equally early on won her an honorable mention in a national Read Magazine contest for a short story about Bunker Hill as told from a British correspondent’s view. She majored in Classical languages as an undergraduate, and went on to get graduate degrees in International Relations and Agricultural Economics respectively. After college, she worked for USDA’s Economic Research Service and wrote for their Situation and Outlook Reports.
She returned to her love for history and writing when, as sandwich generation mother caring for children and elderly parent, she came up with the idea of writing about history from different perspectives. This was the start of A Tainted Dawn and the Great War (French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars) series. She currently lives in Manassas, Virginia, close to the Bull Run battlefield, with her husband and family, and also Mr. Orlando Cat and Fiona, the Famous Flying Golden Retriever.
Connect with B.N. Peacock:  WEBSITE | BLOG



Friday, January 25, 2013

Crime of Privilege

Crime of Privilege by Walter Walker
Digital galley provided by Random House via NetGalley
Description from Goodreads:
In the tradition of Scott Turow, William Landay, and Nelson DeMille, Crime of Privilege is a stunning thriller about power, corruption, and the law in America—and the dangerous ways they come together.

A murder on Cape Cod. A rape in Palm Beach.

All they have in common is the presence of one of America’s most beloved and influential families. But nobody is asking questions. Not the police. Not the prosecutors. And certainly not George Becket, a young lawyer toiling away in the basement of the Cape & Islands district attorney’s office. George has always lived at the edge of power. He wasn't born to privilege, but he understands how it works and has benefited from it in ways he doesn't like to admit. Now, an investigation brings him deep inside the world of the truly wealthy—and shows him what a perilous place it is.

Years have passed since a young woman was found brutally slain at an exclusive Cape Cod golf club, and no one has ever been charged. Cornered by the victim’s father, George can’t explain why certain leads were never explored—leads that point in the direction of a single family—and he agrees to look into it.

What begins as a search through the highly stratified layers of Cape Cod society, soon has George racing from Idaho to Hawaii, Costa Rica to France to New York City. But everywhere he goes he discovers people like himself: people with more secrets than answers, people haunted by a decision years past to trade silence for protection from life’s sharp edges. George finds his friends are not necessarily still friends and a spouse can be unfaithful in more ways than one. And despite threats at every turn, he is driven to reconstruct the victim’s last hours while searching not only for a killer but for his own redemption



My Take: 

This fast-paced book is told from George Beckett's point of view. The book begins on the evening of the crime that George witnessed and tells his side of the story. It is clear from the start that George is "a friend of a friend" and hadn't really met the illustrious Gregory family before this night. George is just a pretty typical college kid - he's not too wealthy, he is on the fringes of the wealth and power, he knows friends of these people, but he doesn't really feel that he belongs among them. Unfortunately, for George, he makes a cowardly decision and has to deal with the consequences of this choice. The interesting thing is that he actually benefits from this decision in many ways, but the choice has it's down side as well. He is plagued by guilt and is also threatened by the family of the victim of the crime. Years later, George is working in the basement of the District Attorney's office on Cape Cod; keeping his head down and trying not to cause trouble when he is approached by the father of the girl who was murdered years ago and whose murder has never been solved. In an attempt to redeem himself and bring the guilty person to justice, George begins the long and dangerous investigation into the murder.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the setting and the author seems to be very familiar with the area and describes it beautifully. This book had me hooked from the very beginning. George isn't the best person in the world, but I felt empathy for him. He made some bad decisions, but he was young and scared and intimidated. I did like that he felt actual guilt and remorse and finally decided to attempt to redeem himself and bring the guilty party to justice. 

The power and influence that the Gregory family wields is explained and described very well through the book. I thought that the way the locals felt about the family was well done as well. There always seems to be certain factions trying to undermine each other. The way power can influence and change people is another  prominent issue in the book. While reading, I couldn't help but think that the Kennedy family must have been a model for the handsome, wealthy, popular, political Gregory family since they also are from the same area. They are so famous and prominent in the American mind that they are who we think of when given these kinds of descriptions.

I kept trying to figure out how the book was going to end and what would happen to George - would he cave and drop his investigation or would he get framed for it or any number of other possibilities occurred to me while reading. This was a super fast read because I just could not put my kindle down. The last line of the book had such an impact on me. I wasn't expecting it and it made me have to go back and really think about everything in the book again.

I would highly recommend Crime of Privilege to anyone who enjoys fast-paced, political, crime stories. 







Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Thing Done Blog Tour and Review

A Thing Done by Tinney Sue Heath
review copy provided by author and Fireship Press via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Synopsis:
Florence, 1216: The noble families of Florence hold great power, but they do not share it easily. Tensions simmer just below the surface. When Corrado the Jester's prank-for-hire goes wrong, a brawl erupts between two rival factions. Florence reels on the brink of civil war. One side makes the traditional offer of a marriage to restore peace, but that fragile peace crumbles under the pressure of a woman's interference, an unforgivable insult, and an outraged cry for revenge.


Corrado is pressed into unwilling service as messenger by both sides. Sworn to secrecy, he watches in horror as the headstrong knight Buondelmonte violates every code of honor to possess the woman he wants, while another woman, rejected and enraged, schemes to destroy him.

Corrado already knows too much for his own safety. Will Buondelmonte's reckless act trigger a full-scale vendetta? And if it does, will even the Jester's famous wit and ingenuity be enough to keep himself alive and protect those dear to him?


This is Corrado's story, but it is also the story of three fiercely determined women in a society that allows them little initiative: Selvaggia, the spurned bride; Gualdrada, the noblewoman who both tempts Buondelmonte and goads him; and Ghisola, Corrado's great-hearted friend. From behind the scenes they will do what they must to achieve their goals—to avenge, to prevail, to survive.



My Take:


Corrado is the fool, or jester, in a small team of performers. He is paid by one of the nobles to play a prank on a knight of another family during a party and the resulting events make up the plot of A Thing Done.  It sounds simple enough, but becomes very complicated and dangerous very quickly.

 Corrado, is mostly just called “Fool” by the many and various wealthy nobles who hire him to run errands and messages between their various factions. His position becomes very precarious as these wealthy families of Florence run around causing mayhem and violence seemingly however they like, regardless of the fates of the common people.

I really liked the unusual protagonist – I don’t believe I have ever read a book where the main character is a jester – or fool.  This was a very fun and interesting way to tell the story. I learned so much about the position of the common people within society in Florence as well as just how powerful the noble families were.

Corrado is a likable character and tries to do the right thing even though he is required by his circumstances to be involved in some pretty shady dealings. He is forced to follow orders but he tries to set things right and is consistently thwarted. I was intrigued by woman who takes everything to the next level, Selvaggia, the rejected bride. She is not likable, but so strong and unwilling to be the dutiful, quiet woman so many wanted her to be. I didn't really like her, but I was impressed by her strength and felt sympathy for her situation. 

I think that Tinney Sue Heath did a wonderful job of supplying the historical information necessary to understand the time and place without bogging down the story at all. I found myself unable to put the book down for very long stretches because I just had to find out what would happen next.

Because I enjoyed this book so much, and I think everyone should get to find out exactly how it all unfolds for themselves, I don’t want to discuss the plot too much. I would highly recommend this book to anyone – but especially anyone who enjoys historical fiction. It has been a while since I learned so much while being entertained. 

About the Author



Tinney Sue Heath has loved music and history all her life. Born near Chicago, she started college in Boston at the New England Conservatory with the intention of becoming a professional flutist, but after a rather abrupt change of direction she wound up with a degree in journalism from Antioch College. She worked as a staff reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education and later provided editorial assistance to University of Wisconsin-based editors of two professional journals. 

Her musical and historical interests eventually merged, and she discovered the pleasures of playing late medieval and early Renaissance music on a great variety of instruments. Her historical focus is currently on Dante's Florence, so she and her husband spend a lot of time in Florence and elsewhere in Tuscany. They live in Madison, Wisconsin, where they enjoy playing music and surrounding themselves with native wild plants. 

www.tinneyheath.com







Friday, January 18, 2013

The House of Velvet and Glass

The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe
borrowed from the public library
Description from Goodreads:
Katherine Howe, author of the phenomenal New York Times bestseller The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, returns with an entrancing historical novel set in Boston in 1915, where a young woman stands on the cusp of a new century, torn between loss and love, driven to seek answers in the depths of a crystal ball.

Still reeling from the deaths of her mother and sister on the Titanic, Sibyl Allston is living a life of quiet desperation with her taciturn father and scandal-plagued brother in an elegant town house in Boston’s Back Bay. Trapped in a world over which she has no control, Sibyl flees for solace to the parlor of a table-turning medium.

But when her brother is suddenly kicked out of Harvard under mysterious circumstances and falls under the sway of a strange young woman, Sibyl turns for help to psychology professor Benton Derby, despite the unspoken tensions of their shared past. As Benton and Sibyl work together to solve a harrowing mystery, their long-simmering spark flares to life, and they realize that there may be something even more magical between them than a medium’s scrying glass.

From the opium dens of Boston’s Chinatown to the opulent salons of high society, from the back alleys of colonial Shanghai to the decks of the Titanic, The House of Velvet and Glass weaves together meticulous period detail, intoxicating romance, and a final shocking twist that will leave readers breathless.


My Take:
I really wanted to like this book. I loved Katherine Howe's first book, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and I hoped that this one would be even better. Unfortunately, this one just didn't have the same power. 

I loved the time period and the descriptions of the clothing, furniture, homes, and life in general were all well done and I enjoyed them very much. The problem for me was that I just didn't think there was enough . . . something. I'm not sure exactly what I found lacking. I didn't think the mysterious circumstances of Harley's leaving college were all that mysterious and the romance was slow and not really that interesting. I just couldn't make myself care that much. I did, however, like the interlude sections of the book that pertained to Sibyl's father, and his adventures as a young man.

I found it so frustrating, because there is so much potential in this story, but it just didn't grab me like I hoped it would. I liked it well enough, but it just didn't have the power and urgency of her first book.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Delirium

Delirium by Lauren Oliver
kindle book purchased from Amazon
Description from author website:
They didn't understand that once love -- the deliria -- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

My Take:
I found the premise for this book to be quite interesting and I have read so many rave reviews that I decided to give it a shot. I thought the story was pretty well told and I did enjoy the explanation for how the idea of love being a disease was developed and how it took over became the prevalent idea held by most people. I found the love story to be okay, but that wasn't really what held my attention. I was much more interested in how the author described all the people who voluntarily went in for this procedure and how everyone just accepted this pretty crazy idea. The propaganda and and reworked Bible stories and nursery rhymes and the  "cautionary" tales of Shakespeare at the beginning of each chapter were great.

To be honest, I was wavering between feeling the book was just okay and not really caring very much until I hit about 73% and then the story really took off for me. For the few people out there who haven't read Delirium yet, I won't spoil it, but things really got interesting and I was not expecting the book to end the way it did. I give Lauren Oliver credit for doing something different and I am looking forward to reading the second book in the trilogy.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Blood Gospel

The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell
review copy provided by William Morrow
Description from Goodreads:
An earthquake in Masada, Israel, kills hundreds and reveals a tomb buried in the heart of the mountain. A trio of investigators—Sergeant Jordan Stone, a military forensic expert; Father Rhun Korza, a Vatican priest; and Dr. Erin Granger, a brilliant but disillusioned archaeologist—are sent to explore the macabre discovery, a subterranean temple holding the crucified body of a mummified girl.

But a brutal attack at the site sets the three on the run, thrusting them into a race to recover what was once preserved in the tomb’s sarcophagus: a book rumored to have been written by Christ’s own hand, a tome that is said to hold the secrets to His divinity. But the enemy who hounds them is like no other, a force of ancient evil directed by a leader of impossible ambitions and incalculable cunning.

From crumbling tombs to splendorous churches, Erin and her two companions must confront a past that traces back thousands of years, to a time when ungodly beasts hunted the dark spaces of the world, to a moment in history when Christ made a miraculous offer, a pact of salvation for those who were damned for eternity.

Here is a novel that is explosive in its revelation of a secret history. Why do Catholic priests wear pectoral crosses? Why are they sworn to celibacy? Why do the monks hide their countenances under hoods? And why does Catholicism insist that the consecration of wine during Mass results in its transformation to Christ’s own blood? The answers to all go back to a secret sect within the Vatican, one whispered as rumor but whose very existence was painted for all to see by Rembrandt himself, a shadowy order known simply as the Sanguines.

In the end, be warned: some books should never be found, never opened—until now.


My Take:
When I saw there was a new book by James Rollins, I was anxious to read it because the last book I read by Rollins was just such a page turner and I really wanted another fast, exciting read. When I first read the prologue, for some reason, it struck me as something completely different from what I was expecting and I put it down for a few weeks. When I picked it up again, it was just what I was looking for and I read the book from cover to cover in a day.  I'm not sure why the prologue hit me wrong the first time, but I am so glad I picked it up again.

Rollins has taken an age-old idea of the vampire and taken it to new and daring places - or actually, it feels like he has put it back where it belongs. I really liked the new terminology that Rollins applies to the concept of vampire and how he treats them in a historical context.

I have to hand it to Rollins and Cantrell - I don't know of very many authors who would tackle vampires and ancient history and Biblical history all in one book. I absolutely loved how it was handled. I thought the concepts worked well and I liked the way so many of the explanations for why priests wore a hooded cassock and silver crosses to taking a vow of celibacy (or chastity), for example, were brought into the story.

The prophecy of the Knight of Christ, Woman of Learning and Warrior of Man is interesting and brings in three great characters: Rhun Korza the Sanguinist, Dr. Erin Granger, archaeologist, and Sargent Jordan Stone.  There is tension between the three main protagonists, but they compliment each other and work well as a team - most of the time. I like this trio and very much look forward to reading more about them in the next book in the series.

This was such a action-packed book -- and it should be, considering the topic. There is a lot of history as well, which makes the story even more interesting. I loved the way it goes from Biblical times all the way to World War II and current time and then several places in between while revealing the various aspects of the Blood Gospel itself and Rhun's life history. So exciting and fascinating.

I don't want to give anything away, but oh! I loved how things get um. . . twisty and tangly at the end. Well played. I am anxiously waiting for the next installment in The Sanguines Series.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky
purchased from The Book Depository
Description from Goodreads:
The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct. The half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind. But the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory, the stuff of myth and legend. More than 20 years have passed since the last plane took off from the earth. Rusted railways lead into emptiness. The ether is void and the airwaves echo to a soulless howling where previously the frequencies were full of news from Tokyo, New York, Buenos Aires. Man has handed over stewardship of the earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. Man's time is over. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on earth. They live in the Moscow Metro - the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. It is humanity's last refuge. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters - or the simple need to repulse an enemy incursion. It is a world without a tomorrow, with no room for dreams, plans, hopes. Feelings have given way to instinct - the most important of which is survival. Survival at any price. VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line. It was one of the Metro's best stations and still remains secure. But now a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro, to the legendary Polis, to alert everyone to the awful danger and to get help. He holds the future of his native station in his hands, the whole Metro - and maybe the whole of humanity.

My Take:
This book was recommended to me by several people and I've read reviews and I was curious to see if it lived up to all the hype. The basic description from Goodreads is pretty much all that is needed to understand the situation where the book begins. The story pretty straightforward - at first anyway. I really liked the premise and I had really high hopes for this one. My real problem with the book was the English translation, I think. There are also some editing issues that were a bit jarring while reading. I'm giving the author the benefit of the doubt here. Translations are always a problem and I think Russian translations can be particularly problematic.

In this post-apocalyptic world that Artyom lives in, the people of Moscow who were lucky enough to find their way into the Metro after the various bombings, which appear to have been both conventional and nuclear, have managed to survive and have established their own little cities or states within the Metro. Life is hard and there are many dark, unexplained things inside the Metro with the people. But, outside it is so much worse. The aftermath of the bombings and various poisoning of the area has created some horrible creatures that try to get into the Metro and conditions make it impossible for humans to stay out very long. Artyom begins a quest to get help for his station, VDNKh and on the way he meets unlikely friends and foes. For the most part, it does seem like a typical quest story.

I found the book to feel very dark and closed in - much like life must be like living inside the Metro. Unfortunately, I think that the book would have had much more atmosphere if the translation had been better. There were several places where I thought things dragged on too long, but that too may have been a translation issue.

I did like the way issues of religion, superstition, rumor, legend and beliefs in general were explained. I found Artyom's thoughts regarding his own somewhat mystical experiences to be interesting and handled in a pretty realistic manner. I liked the way Artyom encountered many differing views of the Metro and the war and how each statelet or city had its own personality. His experiences force Artyom to rethink his ideas about his world and people. He learns and grows on his journey - as he should, since this is a quest story.

I thought it took too long to get to the most powerful idea of the book - the very end of the book, in fact. But, perhaps, there were more hints in the original Russian version. I thought the idea was powerful and poignant, but then it was the end of the book. It was kind of gut wrenching and depressing. I wonder if it would flow better in Russian.



Friday, January 4, 2013

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013

Okay, I just couldn't resist. I have been reading so many historical fiction novels lately that it seems silly not to sign up for this challenge too. This challenge is hosted by Historical Tapestry and you can find all the details here. Thanks to Historical Tapestry, I found several upcoming books to add to my TBR list. You should check out their post on 2013's Most Anticipated New Releases.

Updated: Historical Fiction reviews posted
1. The House of Velvet and Glass
2. A Thing Done
3. Thwarted Queen
4. The Waste Land
5. The Bruges Tapestry
6. Rocamora
7. The Chalice
8. The Fifth Knight
9. The Queen's Vow
10. Gracianna
11. The Queen's Rivals
12. Colossus: The Four Emperors
13. Queen's Gambit
14. The Tudor Conspiracy

Final update for 2013: I am sure there are a few more historical fiction books that I never posted to the challenge page, so I will grant myself one more to make the Medieval Reader level for 2013. I will strive to better at updating for 2014.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dystopia Reading Challenge 2013


Okay, one more challenge. No, really, just one more. I absolutely love dystopian fiction and any excuse to read more is great as far as I'm concerned. This challenge is hosted by Blog of Erised and you can find all the details here.

Books read:
1. Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky
2. Delirium by Lauren Oliver

100 Books in a Year Reading Challenge 2013


Yes, I'm going to attempt this massive challenge hosted by Book Chick City. I probably won't review all the books I read, but I will try to review most of them.  You can find details here if you are interested in this challenge too.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Lady and Her Monsters

The Lady and Her Monsters by Roseanne Montillo
review copy provided by William Morrow
Description from Goodreads:
The macabre meets art in this startling blend of grotesque nineteenth-century science and fascinating literary creation that examines the actual Victor Frankenstein's and the real-life horrors behind Mary Shelley's gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein

A highly entertaining blend of literary analysis, lore, and scientific history, told with the verve and ghoulish fun of a Tim Burton film, The Lady and Her Monsters traces the origins of the greatest horror story of all time-Mary Shelley's Frankenstein-using the novel as a centerpiece from which to explore the frightful milieu in which it was written. Roseanne Montillo recounts how Shelley's Victor Frankenstein mirrored actual scientists of the period-curious and daring iconoclasts, influenced by their predecessors in the scientific age, who were obsessed with the inner workings of the human body and how it could be reanimated after death.

Montillo reveals how Shelley and her contemporaries were products of their time-intellectually curious artists, writers, poets, philosophers, and others intrigued by the occultists and daring scientists appearing across Europe who risked their reputations and their immortal souls to advance our understanding of human anatomy and medicine. But their remarkable experiments could not be undertaken without the cutthroat grave robbers who prowled cemeteries for fresh corpses. The newly dead were used for both private and very public autopsies and dissections, as well as the most daring trials of all: attempts at human reanimation involving electricity-experiments eagerly attended by the likes of Shelley and other onlookers compelled by the bloody and grotesque.

Juxtaposing the monstrous mechanization and exploitation of rising industrialism with the sublime beauty and decadence of Romanticism embodied in the legendary artists who defined the age, Montillo takes us into a world where poets become legends in salons and boudoirs; where fame-hungry "doctors" conduct shocking performances for rabid, wide-eyed audiences; where maniacal body snatchers secretly toil in castle dungeons. The result is a unique, rich, and revealing look into the creation of a classic.


My Take:
I have been interested in the Romantics since college. I took a wonderful class on the later romantics and I just loved it. I was particularly interested in Byron and Mary Shelley. This book filled a gap in information for me.  I was aware in a general way of many of the people and issues discussed in The Lady and Her Monsters, but this book really went into depth and gave some very good background information for better understanding Mary Shelley.

I found the parts relating to her father and her family to be very interesting and helpful in gaining some insight into her life. There will always be controversy surrounding these people - they lived an unusual life and had a different view of many things. I think that for the most part, this book handles the lives it chronicles very well. I would have liked to have seen a bit more attention paid to the effects of Percy's behavior and attitudes toward Mary examined a bit more, but I thought many important issues were addressed. Now, to be honest, I have never like Percy Shelley as a person (though I cannot deny he was a great poet) -- he always seemed like a jerk and too self righteous. I find this a bit stupid considering he persuaded a young girl to run off with him and left his wife and child to do so. This being the case, it would take quite a bit to change my mind about him. I thought that Montillo did a good  job of being fair regarding the different people in the book -- Mary, Percy, Byron, Claire, etc. I mean, this is the stuff of movies and soap operas.

This is one non-fiction book that reads pretty much like fiction. Of course, you can't really do any better than Lord Byron and Percy Shelley for scandal, gossip, outrageous lifestyles, etc.

I was also quite impressed with the research into the scientists, criminals, students, and various other people involved in the trade in corpses. This is an unsavory topic and is gruesome without even trying. This is where the real gap in information was for me - I knew in a vague way these experiments were going on, but The Lady and Her Monsters really explains how this area of study and experimentation changed things and how it could have influenced Mary Shelley.

The Lady and Her Monsters will appeal to both history buffs and literature fans. I was entertained and educated at the same time - and you can't go wrong with that combo.