Batch Reviews: On Their Own Terms

For a while there it felt like I was reading some pretty decent books but I didn’t post anything about them.

Which begs the question: if a book blogger doesn’t blog about a book s/he read, did s/he even read it?

All kidding aside, some of these books didn’t blow my socks off but they didn’t make me want to throw anything so they probably deserve a bit of a shout-out.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams.

I am, apparently, embarking on a mission to read all of Williams’ books as quickly as possible. I loved One Hundred Summers (and have passed it on a couple of times to be loved by others) but The Secret Life of Violet Grant didn’t elicit the same response. It was decent, but not mind-blowing. Still, I wanted to read Tiny Little Thing.

tiny little thing

Tiny Little Thing tells the story of the eldest of the Schuyler sisters (Violet Grant was the first one, Along the Infinite Sea is the third. A Hundred Summer is about their cousin), Christina “Tiny” Schuyler Hardcastle. Tiny is the sister that has always fulfilled every expectation their mother had for the girls and has just married a young man poised to run for the highest office in the country one day. The set up is a kind of Kennedy family, with some dark secrets and naked ambition, set on the East Coast in the late 1960s. But before she married Frank, Tiny didn’t do exactly what she was supposed to. In fact, she did something she really shouldn’t have and now it’s coming back to bite her.

I liked that Williams tried to give Tiny the space to be her own woman, in a time when women were still very much at home. She is trotted out as it suits the campaign, but when she has a miscarriage and has difficulty bouncing right back, the family close ranks to keep her out of sight. But at times this one felt a little…expected. The dialogue was almost trite, which was a shame because Tiny really deserved better. She fights against the shackles of a political marriage in her own, quiet way. But a lot of the fight is in her own head which made it difficult to want to keep turning the pages.

Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen

A friend of mine has been after me to read Cullen’s Mrs Poe for a while. I still haven’t done it but Twain’s End jumped at me at the library (this cover!) and here we are.

twain's end

Twain’s End tells the story of the relationship between Mark Twain (Samuel Clemons) and his secretary, Isabel Lyon. She served the family faithfully for decades and then married Twain’s lawyer and afterwards Twain slandered them both in the press. The whole thing has always been super murky and weird and Cullen attempts to shed light on what might have happened.

It’s important to note that this is a fictionalized account of what could have happened. I liked that Isabel was trying to make her own way in the world, on her own terms. Her upbringing moulded her to be the equal partner of a man like her father, an intellectual. But when the family fortunes came tumbling down, she went out to become a governess, which led her to Mark Twain. I also really liked the sparring between the women in this book. Each of them (aside from Isabel’s mother who just wants her to be respectably married) wants a piece of Mark Twain and he loves pitting them against each other. His daughter, Isabel, the maid, his wife, even Helen Keller – all want to be adored by him.

I didn’t like the way the relationship between Isabel and Twain was portrayed. She just adores him and he worships her and then torments her and she keeps going back for more. His temper is supposedly legendary and he takes it out on all the women in his family. When Isabel refers to him as “King” I had to choke down the vomit.

It was an interesting account of a story behind literature that I didn’t know about. I’m super curious to read more about Mark Twain/Samuel Clemons now. And I’ll probably still read Mrs. Poe – even though it might fall under that whole bugaboo where a story about a woman has a title pertaining to the famous man she’s married/related to.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen.

I finally caved and read this book. I really needed a kickass heroine (see above).

I will say that, in the end, I liked it. I was curious about where this is all going and I finally felt like Queen Kelsea was who I was hoping she would be the whole book. So my hopes for Book 2 are higher.

But the getting there was rough for me.

queen tearling

Kelsea Raleigh is 19 and it’s time for her to take her place on the throne of the Tearling. But first she has to travel there, take the throne back from her uncle and stay a step ahead of the Red Queen who demands a shipment of slaves every month to keep the peace.

The slave thing was hard to read about; some seriously horrific descriptions there.

There was so much world building in this book, which I’m sure will serve me well if I continue the trilogy, but was hard going this round. So many character introductions as well. Also, the whole fantasy thing. This is just not my genre and it’s really hard work for me to get to a place where I go “YAS, all the reading!”

But hey, I wanted a heroine to get angry, one to demand her place in the world and in the end, that’s totally what I got. The meandering ramble to get there might have been worth it.

OK. Batch review, done!

10 thoughts on “Batch Reviews: On Their Own Terms

  1. I feel the same way you do about B. Williams. I loved A Hundred Summers and nothing else I’ve read by her has lived up to it. So much so that I’m not even bothering with her latest (I think it’s called A Certain Age). Is she writing books too quickly or something? Or have my tastes changed since I read Summers? I’m not sure…

    • That is disappointing to hear! And now that I’ve read the first 2 of the Schuyler sisters’ books, I feel like I have to read the one about Pepper, if only to find out what her real name is! Maybe I will step away for a bit…or save it for a weekend when I’m up at my in-laws’. She does seem to be pumping them out…maybe that’s it. I’ve read 3 of them in 3 months…I don’t think my tastes have changed.

  2. I hadn’t heard of Twain’s End or Mrs Poe, but I am intrigued! I would also say that while I loved The Queen of the Tearling, it wasn’t really love at first sight. I don’t think I even enjoyed the book until they got to the keep and Kelsea came into her own. Book two was much better, had a quicker pace, and there were quite a bit more twists in it than the first. I’m excited to see how book three wraps it all up.

    • I kept waiting for Kelsea to kick some ass – I had been promised this angry heroine and I think I felt ripped off that I had to wait so long to get her. But I was encouraged by the way that it ended and I’m glad to hear that the second book is better.
      I didn’t know anything about Mark Twain as a person – not even that Mark Twain wasn’t his real name. And the way he treated his secretary after she married was SO scandalous. I just wish that Cullen had given Isabel a little bit more backbone. Definitely still planning on reading Mrs Poe though.

  3. I loved Queen of the Tearling, but I also read it and its sequel back-to-back, so that might have helped it along. I will say – the character development that happens in the sequel was quite lovely. I think it’s worth reading for that alone.

    • I’m glad to hear that the second one is…better? I can see how reading them back-to-back would have helped – the end of the first felt kind of abrupt considering how much work we’d done to get there. I can feel the potential of it as part of a series but I’m not convinced that it works on its own.

  4. Pingback: Library Checkout: May 2016 | The Paperback Princess

  5. How did I miss this post?! I’ve been waiting to hear what you thought of Twain’s End and then I missed it. Anyway, I’m here now. I’ve always liked his quotes, and I loved, loved Huck Finn when I read it long ago. It sounds like a good book, but am I going to think a lot less of him when it’s over?

      • No, that wouldn’t help, but that’s okay. It’s much more realistic for him to be at least a bit of a jerk. 🙂
        I definitely won’t be reading that book about Roald Dahl, though!

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