Book Review: The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark

This is the first book in the series of the same name by Stuart Clark.

Quick Review (read on for the full review)

A fantastic historical novel about science, religion and politics – engaging, illuminating, educational.  4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

At the dawn of the seventeenth century Europe is a dark and dangerous place. As war rages across the continent and men’s immortal souls are traded for mortal lives, two astronomers risk everything to reveal the truth behind the universe’s grand design.

When Johannes Kepler discovers that the stars and planets move not to the whims of angels but according to natural laws, Galileo Galilei proclaims his own startling discoveries.  Ultimately both men become caught in a web of intrigue and face persecution as heretics in one of the darkest yet most enlightening periods of European history.

Favourite Quote

My favourite quote from the book is far too long to reproduce here, and without keeping in its entirety, it’s meaning becomes lost (in my opinion).  So I thought I would post a snippet of the final sentence that has stuck with me in the weeks that have passed since I read the book:

“…and one is left to wander about lost in the dark labyrinth of the sky.”

And now for a complete quote:

“I’m an astronomer.  I look at the heavens.  Would you ask a book-keeper what makes him count money?”

Review

First of all, I really love the cover of this book.  I know I don’t usually mention front covers in my reviews, but I do think it’s important to point out the one’s that work well with the story they are supposed to visually represent. This is one of them.

The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth is an engaging, thought-provoking read that reminds us what early scientists had to go through in order to literally change how the earth and the heavens were perceived during their lifetime.  An aspect of the story that really came through was the danger you and those around you could find yourselves in if you failed to openly endorse state or religiously approved science even though you knew it to be wrong and have the evidence to support it.  Possessing knowledge really could be dangerous.

The writing style of the author is very readable, combining fact and fiction to produce a dramatic story.  It was interesting to read about the personal lives of both Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei, as well as their discoveries.  As the story unfolds we get to see how their dedication to science impacted their families and how both men struggled to survive amongst the turbulent events of the period.

The book is full of vivid descriptions of locations, people and religion as well as, of course, astronomy and the universe.  Some passages felt a little heavy but that is to be expected, I think, when focusing on the complexities involved in the subject matter and what was happening in Europe at the time; their is much detail to incorporate into the story if it is to remain authentic to history, which The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth does.

With having so many book series on the go at the moment, I have been trying to avoid starting any new ones.  It wasn’t until I reached the end of this one that I learned it is part of a trilogy.  However, with most multiple-book series, it is the characters and storyline that move through the additional instalments.  With this one, it is the subject so that in book two, The Sensorium of God we have a new cast list (Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke and Edmund Halley) and a new location, Stuart London.  This means that the books can be read as standalone novels.  That being said though, I am very eager to read book 2.  This is not a book I’ll happily part with as part of my “Read, Review and Re-Home” policy; no, this book I’m keeping.

Rating

 

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Book Review: Claudia, Daughter of Rome by Antoinette May

Summary (from Goodreads)

Claudia has a privileged life. Niece of Rome’s favoured warrior, she lives in luxury, surrounded by her family and tended by slaves. Gifted with second sight, her dreams tell her many things, from which gladiator will win the battle in the Coliseum to the secret enemies who plot against the Emperor. When Claudia falls deeply in love with a charismatic soldier known as Pilate, she determines to win his heart, whatever the cost.

Ignoring the warnings, she enchants Pilate with a love-spell and the pair are swiftly, blissfully, married. As wife to one of Rome’s rising stars, Claudia is admired and talked about, for her beauty, for her lavish parties and for her gift of the sight. Yet her dreams begin to trouble her… Rome is built on powerful, treacherous alliances, and while Pilate’s star continues to rise, shame and tragedy stalk Claudia’s family.

As a circle of betrayal and despair threatens to encompass her, Claudia realises her fate and future happiness is inextricably bound with a man who appears in her dreams, a man who wears a crown of thorns, a man she knows her husband must not condemn to death …

Favourite Quote

We are not in this world to live safely.  We are here to fall in love and break our hearts.

Review

In a nutshell, this book was nowhere as good as it could have been.

It’s always tempting when writing historical fiction, especially when your main character is a real person about whom not much is known, to fill their lives with famous connections.  And this happens here, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it allows the author to tie into the story some of the major events of the period.

Even a few days after finishing the book, I can’t decide whether or not I like Claudia as she is portrayed in the book.  There are some terrible events that impact on her and her family in the story, and whilst in these instances I felt for her, the rest of the time I couldn’t help but think her problems were of her own making.  She does whatever she wants to get what she wants, which, I grant, is a very Roman quality, but when things go wrong she is full of self-pity and acts as if it wasn’t really her fault at all.

As for the other characters and their stories, I liked and felt for Marcella (her story would make a good standalone novel), and Agrippina was interesting, as was Pontius Pilate.

One problem I had with the book is that Claudia’s story is full of drama from the moment we meet her, and yet when Jesus is crucified the book suddenly stops.  There’s a four-page epilogue that condenses down the next 35 years of her life and that’s it.  I’m left wondering why…?  The ending felt far too sudden.

There were plenty of aspects of the book that I enjoyed.  The tour of the empire was fascinating.  As the story unfolds we see Gaul, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, Jerusalem, and more.  Also, the story was entertaining, dramatic and fast-paced in places.  The different religions of the time and how they did and didn’t get along were interesting to read about.

One of my favourite threads of the story was that of Claudia’s “gift”.  I thought it was realistic to have it feature throughout the book rather than just at the end when her dream holds a warning for her husband.

This isn’t a bad book, but I am left feeling a little disappointed that it wasn’t a better one.  Or that I didn’t enjoy it more than I did.  That being said, I would recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction, especially books set in the early years of the Roman Empire – the tour of the empire alone is well worth the read.

Rating

2.5 / 5

Book Review: The Little House by Philippa Gregory

Summary (from Goodreads)

A contemporary psychological thriller in the style of Ruth Rendell, from one of today’s most versatile and compelling storytellers.

It was easy for Elizabeth. She married the man she loved, bore him two children and made a home for him which was the envy of their friends.

It was harder for Ruth. She married Elizabeth’s son and then found that, somehow, she could never quite measure up…

Isolation, deceit and betrayal fill the gaps between the two individual women and between their different worlds. In this complex thriller, Philippa Gregory deploys all her insight into what women want and what women fear, as Ruth confronts the shifting borders of her own sanity. Laying bare the comfortable conventions of rural England, this spine-tingling novel pulses with suspense until the whiplash double-twist of the denouement.

Favourite Quote

Their very generosity to her and concern for her had told her that she was a stranger, and unwelcome.

Review

This was a gripping read that kept me reading until the very last page and left me feeling chilled to the bone afterwards.  This is perhaps one of the best psychological thrillers that I have read to date.  Philippa Gregory conveys just how easy it is for what appears to be kindness to be used to manipulate someone who is more-or-less alone in the world.  What unfolds is just so hard to read and some passages are simply harrowing.

The characters are superbly imagined.  Ruth is talented and successful in her own right, but the only family she’s got – her selfish husband and his overbearing and controlling parents – are not interested in her work.  They are only interested in his successes.  She is nothing more to them than add-on to the family; there to serve a purpose.  I really felt for Ruth, and was moved and upset by the evil treatment she received at the hands of the people who should have cared for her the most.

As for the ending, I’ll try and explain my thoughts without letting any spoilers out.  The first thing that happened, had to; there was simply no other course of action for Ruth to take if she wanted things to change.  However, I was surprised – and perhaps a little disappointed – in what that led to, though I can understand why things turned out as they did.

All-in-all, I can’t recommend this dark sinister tale highly enough.

Rating

4.5 / 5

 

Short Story Review: The Adventure of The Copper Beeches by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches is the twelfth and final short story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Summary (from Goodreads)

When a young governess, unemployed and desperate for a position, accepts a job with a couple living in a remote country home, her positive first impressions of the man and his family begin to change. With a mixture of fear and uncertainty, she asks Sherlock Holmes to investigate the increasingly disturbing events that have begun to unfold around her.

Favourite Quote 

I couldn’t chose between these two:

“Crime is common.  Logic is rare.  Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell.”

*

“Data! Data!  Data!” he cried impatiently.  “I can’t make bricks without clay.”

Review

This was one of the more exciting stories in the collection, with a bit more action and drama in it than some of the previous stories.  Violet Hunter, the governess, is an interesting character: strong and sensible, which coupled with the mystery at The Copper Beeches made for a very enjoyable read.  There is quite a lot going on in this little story, ensuring that the pace is fast and the storyline engaging.

This is one of my favourites from The Adventures, which I think is due to the very Victorian Gothic feel to the story…Highly recommended!

Rating

 

 

Bookish Reflections – March 2018

A monthly round up of all things bookish at Sammi Loves Books…It’s my attempt at becoming more accountable in my reading and reviewing habits…


In a nutshell

March saw me start posting book reviews on Sammi Loves Books after a two month break, and the schedule I implemented at the beginning of the month seems to held (for the most part). I’m hoping for more of the same for April.  One of my goals for 2018 is to continue to work through the many books I have in my house.  The policy is simple: Read, Review and Rehome.  Of course, there are always books that are hard to part with but I am getting better at keeping books that I know I will re-read, rather than simply keeping the books I enjoyed.  I’ve decided that this year I’m going to add a One Sentence Review to my Goodreads ratings.  I haven’t started this yet, but plan to get it underway by the end of the week (hopefully!)  And finally, I’ve been playing with the idea of starting an online book club…

Books I’ve reviewed

Favourite read of the month

Books I’ve bought (or been given)

  • None – I’ve been good 🙂

Books I’ve downloaded

  • None – as I said above, I’ve been good 🙂

What I’ve been reading on Wattpad

  • Nothing recently

February’s “Read and Review” Goals

  • N/A

What I’m reading and reviewing in April

  • The Little House by Philippa Gregory
  • The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • Outside the Law by Anthony Berkeley
  • Claudia by Antoinette May

Goodreads Reading Challenge

My goal is 40.  I’ve read 7.  18% complete.  Currently 3 books behind schedule.

Other reads (books not on Goodreads): 0

Total books read so far this year: 7

Book Review: The Sanctuary Seeker by Bernard Knight

The Sanctuary Seeker is the first book in the Crowner John Mysteries by Bernard Knight.

Summary (from Goodreads)

November, 1194 AD. Appointed by Richard the Lionheart as the first coroner for the county of Devon, Sir John de Wolfe, recently returned from the Crusades, rides out to the lonely moorland village of Widecombe to hold an inquest on an unidentified body.

But on his return to Exeter, the new coroner is incensed to find that his own brother-in-law, Sheriff Richard de Revelle, is intent on thwarting the murder investigation, particularly when it emerges that the dead man is a Crusader, and a member of one of Devon’s finest and most honourable families…

Favourite Quote

It was now more than three hours since they had left Exeter and the ceaseless downpour along the eastern edge of Dartmoor was enough to rot a man’s soul.

Review

The first time I came across Crowner John it wasn’t in one of the Crowner John Mysteries but in The Tainted Relic by The Medieval Murderers, of which Bernard Knight is one.  I so thoroughly enjoyed the Crowner John story (in that and subsequent volumes) that I knew I had to give this mystery series a try.

My first impression of the book came from its cover, and I loved it.  I also liked the chapter subheadings, which always began with, “In which Crowner John…” does something or other.

I really enjoyed the story too.  The characters are diverse and have their own histories which nicely come through as the tale unfolds, adding richness and depth.  Crowner John is an interesting character with an interesting task to tackle which the author presented in an engaging way.  It would have been very easy to bog down the story with great swathes of historical detail, but that isn’t a problem here.

There is an authentic feel to the story, not solely because of the level of historical accuracy but also because the characters feel quite true to the time period.  The mystery is a good one and the story moves at a good if not fast pace.

The glossary in the front of the book was very handy and very informative.  In fact, I learnt a great deal from reading it, and although I know a fair amount about the period (I like to consider myself a bit of a history buff) some of the in-depth information I had never come across before whilst other snippets built upon what I already knew.

The Sanctuary Seeker was a great historical mystery, and an enticing first book in a series.  As such, I am looking forward to reading book two, The Poisoned Chalice.

I recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction.

Rating

4.5 / 5

Short Story Review: The Screaming Skull by F. Marion Crawford

Summary

An old sailor moves into a house which is haunted by a screaming skull.  Whenever the skull is moved, or the old sailor tries to get rid of it, strange, sometimes terrifying happenings occur in the house.  The house used to be occupied by a couple he was friends with, a Dr Pratt and his wife.  Whilst staying with them once before their deaths, he shared with them a tale he had heard on one of his many travels…and now, he can’t help but wonder if the presence of the screaming skull has something to do with him…

Favourite Quote

If I were you, I would never tell ugly stories about ingenious ways of killing people, for you never can tell but that someone at the table may be tired of his or her nearest and dearest.

Review

I really enjoyed this short story.  Although it wasn’t chilling or scary, it was very atmospheric and quite suspenseful in places.  Gruesome details add to the macabre nature of the story, whilst the narrator proclaiming loud and often that he is a sensible man who doesn’t believe in ghosts and ghostly things, brings balance to the telling.

The story is told in such a way that it’s as if the narrator is relating it to you as it is told from his point of view and in a conversational style.  However, he’s actually talking to another character, a friend from his maritime days, but of him we hear very little.

On the negative side, the story feels quite long for the amount of story and detail we are given.  If it had been a little more condensed, I think the creepiness of the story would have increased.

I recommend The Screaming Skull to those who enjoy macabre ghost stories and those who read early twentieth century literature.

Rating

3.5 / 5