Sunday, 30 November 2014

Mystery and intrigue to brighten up a dreary November morning...

Oh, the dreary weather is making me sleepy!  It is warm-ish and damp, which is not inspiring me to get to all the tasks that should be done today.  I guess I’ll just have to stay inside, drinking tea and reading!  
This is not a bad thing, as I’m a bit more than halfway through my next bookclub selection, Eva Stachniak’s The Winter Palace:  a novel of Catherine the Great.  I put this title on the list reluctantly, as I am not a fan of historical novels, but one of my members loves this genre of fiction.  It is over 400 pages, a rather large, intimidating hardcover that, I have to admit, I was dreading having to read.  I don’t like reading historical novels in general because, based on the few I have tried to read, I have found them to be too descriptive; the author feels it necessary to describe in detail the settings, the clothing, and the customs of the time period in which the story is set.  That is not interesting to me; that is, when I’m reading, I don’t want to be transported to another time and place, as some others who enjoy historical fiction have described their experiences.  I like character-driven novels that explore the journey or development of the main character, either psychological, emotional, spiritual, or whatever kinds of journeys there are.  But I also like a good mystery, and a good spy story, and a novel that explores political scandal.  Well, The Winter Palace is all of these things, and more!  It is an incredibly well-written, detailed account of the intrigues, scandals and secrets that all played into the making of one of the most famous figures in all of history, Catherine the Great.  I am historically-challenged, so I know virtually nothing about Catherine the Great, so, as much as it shames me to admit, I don’t know really how the book is going to end.  What is keeping me interested is the deviousness of some of the characters, especially Empress Elizabeth, and the nasty, underhanded ways she behaves towards Catherine.  I suspect that, in the end, Elizabeth’s plan will backfire and, rather than getting rid of Catherine, her actions will help her to become an even stronger woman and a better leader of the Russian people.  Told from the point of view of her attendant/maid and only real friend, Barbara, or Varvara, this novel chronicles the transformation of playful Prussian teenaged princess Sophie to one of the most powerful women in Russian history.  It is an intense mystery, a gripping drama, and an exploration into one woman’s struggle to overcome her oppressors, and Stachniak hardly ever describes what the women were wearing or what the ballroom looked like.  For that, she gets two thumbs up from me.  I will talk about this book more next week, after my book group meets to discuss it, but I had to tell you about it today, since it is such an awesome book.  If you haven’t read it yet, run, don’t walk, to your nearest public library and check out a copy of The Winter Palace – you won’t be disappointed!  
I’m also listening to an excellent audiobook right now, Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder, a British mystery about the brutal murder a young girl near a canal in Bath, and the search for her killer.  I’m loving it, but will tell you more when I’ve finished.
WOW, today’s post was quite a teaser.  I don’t usually write about books I haven’t finished, but that’s all I had to work with today.  Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Bye for now…
Julie

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