Sunday, December 21, 2008
TSS - two quick reviews
Good morning, and welcome to the last Salon before Christmas. Everyone done with their shopping? I am - I'm just hoping one more gift I ordered for my Dad shows up before the big day. Oh well - if not, I can just wrap up a picture and mail it to him.
I managed to finish a couple of books this week - my LibraryThing ER book, and its prequel, so for your reading pleasure today, here are my reviews.
Sunrise by Jacquelyn Cook
The true love story behind one of Georgia's most famous antebellum mansions. In the 1850's Anne Tracy, a smart and well-educated young woman from the stifled but elegant world of Macon, Georgia, made a polite marriage with an older, wealthy merchant, William Butler Johnson. The unlikely pairing blossomed into a romantic and devoted marriage. The Butlers' wide travels through 1850's Europe inspired them to return to Macon and build an incredible Italiante mansion. Through the trials and trbultions of family tragedy and later the Civil War, the Butlers maintained an amazing legacy and an amazing home.
It was fine. Not horrible, not wonderful, just fine. The writing is fine, the dialogue is fine - it just didn't have anything that really engaged my emotions, which is what I always want a book to do. I want to really empathize with a character, or really despise a character, or SOMETHING - this book just left me feeling detached.
The author spans about 40 years in the novel, so I think the biggest problem I had was that relationships seemed to develop very....quickly. Suddenly Anne and William are in love. Suddenly Anne loves her brother's wife like a sister. Suddenly William and his neighbor are best friends. Because she was dealing with so many events so rapidly, the author didn't have a chance to actually show the relationships developing, and I think that is why I didn't really feel any real sense of caring for any of the characters.
Also, and this could be important to some readers, there is a LOT of history in this novel. I mean A LOT. And the author moves through it QUICKLY. I really think if she had focused on one portion of the story - perhaps expanded this one novel into a trilogy - I would have enjoyed it more, because it wouldn't have seemed quite so rushed. I know there will be some people who really like this novel - I was just hoping for a little more substance.
The Gates of Trevalyan by Jacquelyn Cook
Family. Faith. Love. War. The Gates of Trevalyan brings the turbulent years before, during and after the Civil War to vivid and passionate life. Trevalyan, the beautiful central-Georgia plantation where idealistic young Jenny Mobley and aristocratic Charles King marry and build a life together, becomes a symbol of the heartache and division brought by the nation's bitter wounds.
Author Jacquelyn Cook weaves the King family's story into a tapestry featuring the most compelling figures of the time--from charismatic statesman Alexander Stephens and his doomed love for Elizabeth Craig to Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and many others. Richly detailed and intensely researched, THE GATES OF TREVALYAN breathes the spirit of great storytelling into a fascinating historical era.
This is the second in Cook's "Georgia Civil War" trilogy, and I actually liked it better than the first. Again, the mechanics of the novel are sound, but in this one I was able to enjoy the characters more. Once again, Cook chooses to write about a fairly extensive time period - we start in 1844, and end in 1866 - but this time, she is able to develop each of her main characters enough that I felt like I actually got to know them.
Perhaps the difference was that her heroine, Jenny King, was fictional. Sunrise is the story of Anne and William Johnson, who actually lived, so Cook was forced to stay within the confines of actual historical accounts in telling their story. Jenny King is smart, and vivacious, and strong-willed, and completely made up, so Cook is able to create a much more imaginative world around her. Several of the other characters are real people, and Cook uses their own letters and journals to tell their stories, but Jenny is all her own, and I think Cook shines when she is able to create her own heroines.
Once again, The Gates of Trevalyan has A LOT of history - fully the final 2/3 of the book is spent jumping from one battle to the next, one political war to another. Cook obviously researches her novels well, but it would be a bit more enjoyable for the reader if she were able to disguise some of the research a little more convincingly into the flow of the narrative. I also still think that she would be better served to make this installment into a multi-book set - I think her stories would be stronger for more fleshing out. In general, however, it was an easy, entertaining read, and I'm sure it will appeal to many readers.
And now I am on to Alaska, by James Michner, the first in my "Relative Reads" series. I've had a bunch of good recommendations from various family members, so I'm excited to get started. Have a good week, everyone!