Review: New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherford

new york“Oh Lord, we thank Thee for this thy gift of lobster Newburg. And grant us also, if it be Thy will, control of the Hudson Ohio Railroad.’
‘But we ain’t wanting control of the Hudson Ohio,” Sean softly objected.
‘True,’ said Gabriel Love, ‘but the Almighty doesn’t need to know that yet.”
Edward Rutherfurd, New York

New York. City of Lights. City of Dreams. The Big Apple. I have always been fascinated by this city, and cannot wait to visit someday. Always a draw to young people from the Maritime provinces looking for employment and/or adventure, my grandparents lived there before they were married. My father’s aunt stayed, spending her adult life there. Because of this, I am even more interested in the city’s history than its present day glitz & glamour (though I will happily take that in as well).

Having absolutely loved Rutherford’s book about London, I was excited to see this one released, and couldn’t wait to read it. it begins with New Amsterdam in 1664, when the city is little more than a trading village at the tip of the island of Manhattan. We meet the VanDyke family, soon to be bonded with the Masters family (English), as well as other important Dutch families like the Roosevelts and Stuyvesants. As with his other novels, Rutherford follows families through history to tell the story of the city, though in this one the focus is primarily on the Masters family, who are among the original English merchants and old Dutch money, and over time become kings of Wall Street. All other characters are somehow linked to them – their slaves, followed by their servants. Their friends and neighbours and classmates.

Overall I really like this approach to novelizing the history of a city or region, though somehow this wasn’t quite as engaging as the story of London. About a third of the book is devoted to the American Revolution – which frankly just isn’t that interesting in comparison to the rest. Yes of course it was important. But it is 10 years of the whole 350 covered by the novel. In my opinion, it was too much. But otherwise there was so much to learn or remember. The history of this iconic city, from the founding of the boroughs to the revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Slavery and the Underground Railroad. The Irish famines and the Irish gangs. Harlem, and Spanish Harlem. The crash of ’29, and the boom. So much history in one city. The Triangle Factory fire in 1911 and the terrorist attacks in 2001.

A good, if not great read, and definitely worth the time of anyone who enjoys historical fiction or has a fascination with this city.

Publisher: Anchor Canada (Sept. 21 2010)
Paperback: 880 pages
ISBN-10: 0385664273
ISBN-13: 978-0385664271

2015 TBR Challenge – the official one


Well, I have taken a slightly different approach to my reading challenges this year. I simply gathered all the unread books* on my various shelves, and lined them up. I thought I might fill one shelf in the living room. I nearly filled two.

That is challenge number one. Read all of those books. Within that pile, I am selecting 12 (well, 14) for The Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Roofbeam Reader. Since a part of that challenge is to also write and post a review, and excludes books published since January 1, 2014, I have narrowed my selections.

In no particular order, they are:

  1. King Leary by Paul Quarrington
  2. Ava Comes Home by Leslie Crewe
  3. The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
  4. Wonderous Strange by Leslie Livingston
  5. New York by Edward Rutherford
  6. Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
  7. Loch Bras D’or by Margaret MacPhail
  8. The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  9. As Long as the Rivers Flow by James Bartleman
  10. Maddadam by Margaret Atwood
  11. The Strangers’Gallery by Paul Bowdring
  12. The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley
Two alternates, just in case:
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Highland Settler by Charles W. Dunn

I’m interested to see how dedicating my year to reading all the books I have not yet gotten to is going to play out. Why do I keep leaving them on the shelf in exchange for the new and shiny, or the old, worn-out comfort reads. Sometimes, I have a book to read for work or for book club that takes priority, but mostly it comes down to choices.Will I discover new comfort reads? Or discover why my instinct kept skipping these?

And if you are new here, or you’ve all forgotten how this works:

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).


1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2014 or later. Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.

2. To be eligible, you must sign-up on Roofbeam Reader’s blog. Books must be read and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed. Your complete and final list must be posted by January 15th, 2015.

3. Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from or The Book Depository!

You can read the books on your list in any order; they do not need to be read in the order you have them listed. As you complete a book – review it, and go back to your original list and turn that title into a link to the review.

Visit The Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge page for more details on how to enter.

*Did not include D’s books though we share shelving. Thought about it, but may try that next year.

Review: Jackaroo by Cynthia Voight

Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One upon a time (grade 7/8 ish) Cynthia Voight was my favourite author. I stumbled across this book a few days ago by complete accident, and absolutely had to read it. Voight writing alternative-history/fantasy? Amazing.
It was an easy and enjoyable read. Not really fantasy, just a Medieval kingdom not necessary based on any fact – but no magic, dragons, or wizards.
I enjoyed reading about Gwyn. She’s just the kind of heroine I can get behind. She is independent, intelligent and hardworking. She is stubborn and opinionated. She is a dreamer and a bit of an idealist. She is well aware of the world around her and the problems those both more and less fortunate than her must deal with. She has a keen intuition into the personalities and motivations of those around her, for better or for worse. She does have her blind spots though, especially romantic ones – but really, don’t we all?
Gwyn must make a choice. She must marry, soon. Or she must announce that she does not intend to marry at all, a decision that is not reversible, and will leave her reliant on her brother to take care of her, with a lifetime of working at the family Inn ahead of her. She isn’t completely against marrying, but sees few if any attractive local prospects and fears being tied forever to the wrong man.
And of course there is Jackaroo – the title character – a Robin Hood like figure who helps the poor and downtrodden. But who is he? Does he even exist?
Voight has done a good job of presenting the realities of life in the middle ages, the romantic aspects for sure, but also the less galmourous details: the hard work, lack of freedom or spare time, even the walk to the privy in the cold and dark and dealing with menstruation before tampax and advil.
If I have any criticism, it’s that it was perhaps too light, too easy to read. A bit more depth, character development, and relationship development would have strengthened the story, but sometimes you just need a nice light read. I love a book that I can read in a day.

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Review: The Skystone

The Skystone
The Skystone by Jack Whyte

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a new (well, relatively – 1990s) take on the Aurthurian legend, Jack Whyte looks not at King Arthur himself, but who came before him. How did Camelot come to be in the first place? What world events allowed the fabled kingdom to be created?

Set in the dying days of the Roman Empire, Roman general Caius Britannicus and his friend Publius Varrus, an ex-soldier and blacksmith, combine forces, resources and families to found a colony. Here they strive to protect their loved ones and their way of live from the barbarian invasions they know will be coming. The end of the Roman Empire is the end of the world as they know it. Their ultimate goal is to stop Britain from falling into barbarism, to uphold loyalty, discipline and honour in their small pocket of the island.

This novel was a great start to another epic retelling of the Arthurian saga. I can’t wait to see where this series goes. There is a little too much military history/strategy for me to give it a full five stars, but the characters are well developed and the attention to detail is phenomenal. I even love the “sciency” bits where Varrus tries to work out the origin and identity of the mysterious Skystone.

“Magic, after all, is no more than the product of knowledge others don’t share.” 

I keep guessing at which characters will morph into traditional Arthurian roles, but I think I am likely way off. Too early for that yet. Clearly, Excalibur will be smelted from the Skystone. But I must say that if the Lady of the Lake is reduced to a mere statue, I will be disappointed.

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Review: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“‘They don’t hate you, Saul.’
‘Well, what, then?’
‘They think it’s their game.’
‘Is it?’
I could hear the crack of our tires in the frost on the road. ‘It’s God’s game,’ he said.
‘Where’s God now, then?’ I asked.”

Incredible story.

I was worried that the combination of residential school experience with a young man’s love of hockey was going to be too much – too Canadian. I was wrong. This worked, so very well. Wagamese reminds us all that no matter how different we may be (or appear to be) as individuals or as cultures, underneath we are still the same, driven by the same needs and desires.

This ought to be on required/suggested reading lists in high schools across Canada.

“When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”

Review: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was heartbreaking and frustrating and so incredibly engaging. But really, what was I thinking, reading a novel about a women who loses three babies before deciding to “keep” the one that literally floats into her life?
While I easily empathized with the characters, I still struggled with the choices they made. We’ve all dealt with loss, it doesn’t turn you into a kidnapper. I don’t like the idea of an infertile woman as some hysterical, amoral creature who will justify anything to have a child.
Yet, the whole setting led up to making you accept it. There they are, on an island in the middle of the ocean. No one to see, no one to know. Perhaps more importantly, no one to share their struggles and lend support. A woman who lost both brothers in the war, and a man struggling with the guilt of surviving the same war. You can’t help but think “you know, in that situation, maybe I’d have done the same.”
But the fallout. I expected the standard “well meaning couple does terrible thing, learns lesson, everyone lives mostly happily ever after.” I did not expect the gut-wrenching consequences. I did not expect to be up at midnight, desperately reading, tears streaming down my face, hoping everything would be alright in the end. It so rarely is after someone has done a terrible thing.
That’s all I’m going to say. Any more will spoil it. Highly recommended.

Wait – one more thing. I didn’t realize it when I bought the book, but the back-story to the novel is the first World War, and its aftermath. Set in Australia, it is a different take on the war than usual – very similar, but different stories and battles emphasized. Made ever more poignant this year, this week, as it is the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.

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Review: The Onion Girl

The Onion Girl
The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I read a fantasy novel, I tend to either obsess over it and the whole series love it or dismiss it entirely. I rarely have an in-between reaction.
When this book started, I thought I was having the latter reaction. I just didn’t buy in right away. To me, fantasy should be completely detached from the real world. That’s why I like it. This was different. The characters live in the real world (albeit in a fictional city) but know that a parallel fantasy world exists. Some visit it, some cannot.
That was pushing my acceptance level.
Where de Lint won me over, however, was with his characters. I liked them. I wanted to know more about them. I kept reading about this world I wasn’t sure I believed in so I could be sure they were OK. And before I knew it, I had bought in. So much so that I am already reading the next book.
I wouldn’t rate it as a full-blown obsession yet, but it could happen.

Note: content heavily features reminiscence of childhood sexual abuse.

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