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Reading Bite: Kate Mosse

Reading Bite: Kate Mosse

I seem to be getting through my books at an alarming pace recently! Having finished The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, I went straight into another short story that I’ve been meaning to read for some time; The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse.
Labyrinth
I love Kate Mosse. I first read Labyrinth when I was in the South of France on holiday some years ago, and I raced through it, pages turning almost too fast for me to keep up I was so enthralled. It deals with the Cathar persecution in the 13th Century and the importance of remembering the brutality of our history today. The juxtaposition between the past and the present and the constant mystery and building tension keeps you enthralled from first to last page. Just when you’re about to discover something, or just when the tension reaches its peak, you are dragged away to a different time. The way that the medieval character of Alais and the modern day character of Alice’s lives are linked through the centuries and a shared destiny is incredibly gripping and the twists and turns of the story (much like a labyrinth!) leave you guessing until the very end. I had no idea where the story was going to take me, but I was desperate to find out.

The historical element of her writing is another thing I love. I’m fascinated by history and the richness of the detail that she feeds into her stories is excellent. I believe she does a huge amount of research for her books and to capture such distant events and long forgotten atrocities in such vivid detail is astounding. But ySepuou never feel as though you’re reading a history book. She brings the times to life so vividly that even the more ‘magical’ elements of her books (The holy grail…eternal life…magic tarot cards…armies of the dead) become completely plausible as you read. I never even stopped to question the appearance of ghosts or the existence of magical texts!

Sepulcre is the second book in her Langedoc trilogy and is in keeping the with formula of its prequel, although the past is much closer to the present in this work. I will admit, I was not as enamored with this book as I was with Labyrinth. It had all the same ingredients but it felt rushed. It felt a little sloppy and I was never as gripped by the book as by the first. That doesn’t mean to say it wasn’t a very good read – it was and I enjoyed it – but I think that the excellence of the first book raised my expectations far too high and anything was likely to pale in comparison. That said, past and present destinies collide, ancient hidden mysteries and secrets are discovered and unwound, plots are uncovered and the mystical is still present!citadel

Citadel is the final book in the trilogy and involved even more recent history – WW2 in fact. This was better than it’s prequel and closer to the brilliance of Labyrinth. The main difference is that we no longer skip from present to past and back again. There is no modern day character searching for the truth of a long dead ancestor. But the other ingredients are there; fates are still interwoven and destinies are tied together by a shared goal and common secret. An old friend appears from the first two books and he is a comforting presence in what is by far the most gritty book in the series. There’s something about the closeness of the events in this book that make it feel more raw – the atrocities and deception and betrayal and all number of crimes against humanity that were committed by friends and neighbours and communities against one another during the occupation period feel to close for comfort. But it is this that keeps you gripping the book.

Once more, there is a mystical secret. Citadel combines the action and adventure of Labyrinth with the mystery and haunting secrets of Sepulcre spectacularly and in amongst all the very real action of French resistance and Nazi action of the War, there is a hidden secret buried in the Pyrenees and the fates of all our characters are tied to one another and to the discovery of this secret.

ghostsNow, I’m not quite finished The Winter Ghosts (only 40 pages to go though…) but I can safely say that it’s a very good short story, much in keeping with her themes and style. However, I do think it could do with more. I feel like there is so much left unsaid and so much more that could be present in the book and its a shame she cuts herself off. It feels like it has the potential to be, not necessarily as long as her other novels, but at least a little longer. It just feels rushed, like she is trying to hurry you through the story before you truly get a chance to grip the events taking place. But it’s still a good read, and it still has the secrets and mystery of her other writing. We follow a character Freddie, through the events that shaped his life. He is a broken man for having lost his brother in WW1 and a strange encounter and series of events that befall him in the mountains of the South of France change his life forever, and, of course, the ghosts of the past appear and are liberated through remembrance.

All her books are about bearing witness to the past. She deals with tough subjects and historical atrocities and presses the importance of remembering our history and learning from it. This is all very important, but what it really comes down to, for me, is ‘am I gripped by the story?’. If you’ve read my other ‘reviews’ you’ll see that I love a good mystery and thriller, and Kate Mosse really provides this in her books.

If you like stories where the past collides with the present, where ancient mysteries and long-buried secrets are unravelled and burst to the light, then Kate Mosse is for you. She cunningly weaves historical fact and rich ancient detail in amongst mythical characters and mystical stories passed down from generation to generation. If you want a book where you never know what’s coming next, with winding mysteries and haunting secrets, then Kate Mosse is the author for you.

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Reading Bite: Carlos Ruiz Zafón

shadow

Last christmas a family friend gave me a book entitled The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I had never heard of the author and being a little bit picky about books, I wasn’t sold, although the cover looked nice!

But then my dad said he had read the prequel, The Shadow of the Wind and he thought it was excellent. So whilst I was staying with my parents at home for the Christmas week, I decided to give the book a go.

From the very first chapter I was completely and utterly drawn in and hooked. The Shadow of the Wind is essentially a story within a story. Daniel Sempere’s discovery of ‘The cemetary of forgotten books’ sets him on a quest to discover the identity of the author of a mysterious book, and the story twists and turns in a beautiful and captivating way as we slowly discover the tragic life of Julian Carax and the malignant devil that follows Carax and his works. A story of forbidden love, tormented souls, loss, discovery, danger and regret, this book had me enthralled from the beginning and I never knew what was going to happen next or where the story was going to lead me. This was a captivating book, full of a wonderful sense of setting, beautiful writing and incredible characters and I was in love from the start.

prisonerSo within a week I had finished the book and greedily plunged myself into the next: The Prisoner of Heaven. Set some years after the first book, but including many of the same characters, we are presented with another story within a story. The character of Fermin Romero de Torres, whom we met in the first book is brought to the forefront and in the eloquent, intricate and captivating style of Zafón’s writing, we are introduced to his story. His past is filled with melodrama; he was imprisoned during the civil war and befriended a strange author (who we meet/met in another of Zafón’s books!) and it is another story filled with passion, intrigue, crime, danger, literature and once again, a dangerous trend of the past coming back to haunt the present! I was not dissappointed by this sequel, as I so often can be; it really lived up to The Shadow of the Wind and turned my admiration for Zafón’s writing into something of an addiction!angel

The Angel’s Game is a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind and we are introduced to David Martin, a young author who is approached by a mysterious figure who employs him to write a book. And not just any book…We are lead down another winding path, with twists and turns and full loops as we see the tragedy and turmoil of Martin’s life unfold. Depending upon the order in which one reads these books, the reader may or may not have a sense of the character from reading The Prisoner of Heaven, which I read before this one, so I already had an inkling of where this labyrinthian tale was headed! But even so, the turmoil, tragedy, forbidden love, corruption, passion and disaster that I had grown to love in Zafón’s stories was still present and his artful creation of sinister characters and a constant sense of impending terror and doom was heightened and displayed magnificently.

I’m not going to write big long book reviews on Zafón’s works, and to be honest, it’s been too long since I read these books for me to do so. I don’t read with a critical eye, I read stories I enjoy, by author’s I love with captivating stories just to enjoy them. I read for pleasure and that is what all of Zafón’s books gave me. It’s just a shame that there aren’t more of his novels translated into English!

midnightThat said, a new book of his has just been released in English: The Midnight Palace. I bought this the other day – after having finished The White Queen I was desperately searching for a new book, and one that could live up to the excellence of Phillipa Gregory’s books – and I didn’t actually realise that it’s a short novella for young adults. But I didn’t let that discourage me and I can honestly say, although I’m not that far into it, the same old Zafón charm and style is there! I’m loving it at the moment and it’s got all the hallmarks: a sinister presence from the past, forbidden love, danger, passion and the constant twists and turns and jumps from the past to the present that I love so much. It may be aimed at young adults, but it’s doing the trick!

If you like mystery and intrigue, tales of lost love and tormented passion, and stories full of sinister characters, startling plot twists and a constant search for the truth, then I fully recommend Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s books. He creates beautifully vivid worlds and intricate, vibrant characters, and brings the styles of melodrama and gothic thriller together in an exciting and enjoyable way. These books cannot be taken too seriously, but they are enjoyable reading and if you’re not fussed on ‘accuracy’ or ‘believability’ then give Zafón’s works a try!

Reading Bite: Philippa Gregory

I am currently reading The White Queen, and I will say now, I’m loving it. the white queen

But then, I didn’t expect NOT to love it.

When the BBC aired their 10-part adaptation The White Queen, I was hooked. I had never read any of her books before – not even during the The Other Boleyn Girl hype, and so I thought, why not take a look?

I’ve always loved the Wars of the Roses/Tudor period in history, so I was thrilled when I found she had written so many books about the time.

So I began…

Rather obsessively I suppose, I decided to aim for chronological order…in a manner.

My first purchase, and my first read was The Constant Princess. This was my introduction to Gregory and it well and truly got me hooked!

the-constant-princessThe story is written from the point of view of Katherine of Aragon, from her early childhood through her initial marriage to Henry V111’s brother and up until the beginning of Henry’s affair with Anne Boleyn.

I was hooked from the first few pages. It often takes me a while to really get into a book (you know: can’t put it down, must know what happens next kid of hooked!) but not with this one. The style of writing is easy and the story engaging, and there is so much information about the period, that you feel like you’re learning as well!

Next came The Other Boleyn Girl. Now, if you’ve seen the movie, don’t think that means you know what the book is about. I had seen the film years ago and I was stunned at how different it is from the book. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the only thing they have in common is the name. This book was brilliant, in my opinion, and whether or not it is all factually correct is neither here nor there as far as I’m concened. It even got to the point that, although I knew that Anne and George Boleyn were executed (we’ve all been in primary school History?) as I was reading, I was really hoping and believeing that they might succeed and that they might escape their fate! Foolish, I know…

82004-Tea_and_a_good_book_CPxRILxAnnieMI read a bouple of others from the Tudor Court series, but I won’t mention them. Next I bought The Red Queen. Margaret Beaufort’s lifelong devotion to God, bizzare view of the world and maniacal ambition was gripping. I never warmed to the character, in fact I was rooting for her downfall, but still I could not put the book down!

Although we all know the stories: they’re our British history, and we know how everything ends, it is the journey that Gregory captures and what makes the books so engaging and interesting. Her factual accuracy has been widely questioned, but to me, that’s irrelevant. I want to read a good book with a good story. That’s all.

If you are at all interested in history…or scandal…or even witchcraft, romance or simple drama, then give Philippa Gregory’s books a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it.