Day: March 17, 2017

Review: House Of Shadows

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House Of ShadowsMy rating: 3 of 5 stars to Nicola Cornick‘s House of Shadows, an ARC I received through NetGalley last week in exchange for an honest review. I realized it takes time to build up a good rating before publishers choose you to read new releases by famous authors, and so I set about choosing books by new authors or unknown authors that I might enjoy. Little did I realize, Cornick has several published series I could have gotten familiar with. While this book’s plot and setting initially attracted me, I feel it could have been stronger in the execution. Let’s get to the deets:


Story

Holly receives a phone call from her 6-year-old niece in the middle of the night, noting her father (Holly’s brother), Ben, has gone missing. Holly takes the long train from London to a distant Oxfordshire town where their family owns an old English home. Ben had been staying there for a few days doing research on the family tree when he disappeared. Holly’s just separated from her fiance and chooses to stay at the country home and search for Ben. As she traces clues, she learns he may have stumbled upon (1) the pearl and (2) the crystal mirror that the Winter Queen of a German duchy, Elizabeth Stuart, of the English Stuarts (Charles and James, Scottish kings) used with her husband, Frederick, as powerful objects to create fire and floods when in their wars. They were originally given to Mary Queen of Scots by her cousin Elizabeth I of England, as a wedding present after being previously stolen from another member of the family. The story is told through three time periods: (1) 1630’s with Elizabeth, (2) 1800s with Lavinia and (3) 2000s with Holly. Somehow they are all connected, and it seems someone used the power of the pearl and the mirror to wreck havoc over the centuries. But how it all comes together, who is related to whom, and what happened to Ben are at the crux of this multi-level story.


Strengths

1. The story is intriguing. Real people (Elizabeth, Frederick, Mary, etc.) are woven with fictional people to create an imaginative story to capture readers attention. You’ll find yourself flipping between the book and Wikipedia trying to figure out which parts are true. Did the pearl exist? Was the affair real? Did she really go on to have 11 children that eventually gave rise to most of the European thrones?

2. The story is very descriptive and you will clearly picture all of the setting and backdrop. It seems quite beautiful. You can separate easily from the views of the house in 2 of the 3 time periods, given it didn’t exist in one of them. The best word I can use is to say it is “pretty.” It sounds like the author has been dreaming of this story for a long time, so kudos to her for bringing it to full fruition.


Suggestions

It felt like something was missing, and the parts that were present didn’t fully line up for me. I love telling stories over multi-time periods, trying to figure out the connections among each of the characters. And some parts of this story handled it well; however, the ending was rushed which felt like I didn’t have time to absorb the consequences of each lie, affair or murder that occurred over the 400 year period. I think there should have been less focus on the current story’s secondary characters (Ben’s potential affair, Holly’s hook-ups, the multiple friends who didn’t really contribute much) and more focus on drawing out the connections among the different families over the years.


Final Thoughts

Given it had some good parts and some so-so parts, I give this one a 3… I’d recommend it for fans of this genre who like things a little open-ended, who like royal and non-royal connections and who love the English countryside.

I’d read a sample of this author’s work again, as the writing and language was good (a little slow at times), but the plot would have to be pretty strong for me to jump on the next one. That said, it is a fair book — just not as good as others in this genre that I’ve read and loved.

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TV Show Review: Falcon Crest

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3+ stars to “Falcon Crest,” a 1980s drama about a family running a vineyard in California. What a hoot! With the normal television cycle winding down next month, I decided to look for a “classic” TV series to watch via Apple TV and stumbled across this one… I was too young to watch this when it first aired, but I thought I’d give it a chance.

My mom watched it and thought it was pretty good at the time. It hasn’t held up too well in my opinion, as many of the scenes are just so cheesy — no better word. It’s typical acting of the drama category and time period; nothing to dash in that capacity. But the ending camera scenes and the facial expressions… oh my! I’ve seen some bad ones on daytime soaps, but this took the prize.

That said, I’ve only watched 1/2 the first season – about 8 episodes. The story is good… a man dies under suspicious circumstances (but his sister makes it look like an accident) and his son, Chase, comes back to California to close on the estate. But Chase falls in love with the vineyard and moves his wife and two teenage children from NYC to claim his small stake in the family vineyard. His father’s sister, Aunt Angela, runs the entire vineyard and is anxious to get rid of Chase before he figures out that if his father died under suspicious circumstances, the whole vineyard goes to Chase. She’s got a kooky daughter, Emma, who is the one who accidentally pushed her uncle to his death. And another one, Julia, who seems smart but trapped. Meanwhile, Julia’s son, Lance, is the hot young stud who gets away with everything (or almost everything).

I’m excited to see where it will go, but not sure how much of the over-play I can take! Anyone out there watch it when it first aired and have thoughts?

365 Challenge: Day 5 – Shy

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Shy: being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people

Am I shy? My instinct is to say overwhelmingly yes, but I’m more like the 80/20 rule when it comes to being shy. How so, you ask?

Undoubtedly, if I walk into a room where I do not know anyone, I will find the closest empty spot and attempt to blend into the scenery (wearing those plain colors comes in handy, you see, of course)! Strangers are scary. They want you to talk to them. They look at you and probably make up terribly embarrassing things about you. OK, now that’s just silliness.

Yes, I am shy and I do try to blend into the scenery. I worry about others’ perceptions of me, but not enough that I am overly anxious about it. I probably won’t be the person who initiates a conversation if I am completely foreign to the crowd and the gathering’s purpose is not something I am passionate about. For example… if I were to walk into a crowded room of readers, genealogists, writers, grandmothers, etc., I’d feel comfortable and strike up a conversation. But if I walked into a room of people all waiting in line for something, or an auto parts store, or even a train station, I would not want to interact with anyone.

I don’t get obviously nervous, e.g. sweating profusely or babbling. I just pull out my phone or a book and ignore everyone else rather than make an effort to be congenial. If someone attempts conversation with me, it’s a 50/50 shot whether or not I will respond with any sort of non-verbal or verbal invitation to continue to conversation. I won’t be rude, but I’ll use close-ended answers rather than be open-ended in my replies, hopefully politely discouraging further attempts at communication.

That said, if I walk into a room full of people with common interests, I will initiate conversation. And if it’s people I know, I will also converse and enjoy the time. But I’m not entirely comfortable where I let my guard down. I still consciously think about the fact that I’m around more than 1 or 2 people at a single time and need to be acutely aware of everything I say and do.

However, on some rare occasions, when it’s more than just me and 1 or 2 other people, I do find myself quite comfortable around others and willing to talk or engage in some sort of discourse. And when it does, there have been 3 types of scenarios or reactions:

  1. I’ve had a few drinks such that I’m less conscious of my surroundings but not so altered to the point where anyone would think differently. It’s enough to make me what I assume is how everyone else generally feels: Comfortable, unconcerned, open, relaxed…
  2. I’m having a rather confident day where I feel ultra sexy, handsome, smart, cute <<insert adjective related to wherever it is I am>>; as a result, I feel like I’m standing out for positive reasons and others will naturally flock towards me. (No, I don’t think I have self-image issues… it’s more like… “I’m fine with who I am and being average, but today I see a whole lot more.”)
  3. I’m in search of something that I believe I can catch, conquer, amass, learn or get. Perhaps I was in a bar/club and flirting in search of meeting someone. Or maybe I’m trying to show off certain strengths to convince someone to do something my way. It could be that I’m the focal point among people I’m known for a long enough time period where I know they know my flaws and idiosyncrasies, and I don’t mind it being obvious!

I certainly couldn’t claim I’m 100% shy, especially given some of the things I’ve seen myself do over the years. I am fairly strong when it comes to public speaking. I’ve led teams of over 100 people in the corporate world. I’ve flirted and left a bar with someone I barely knew. I’ve been naked (without having any drinks) in front of a few others for a non-sexual purpose. (A dare… don’t ask… it’s enough to admit it).

But my initial reaction to anything I believe will have people I don’t know is generally not a positive one. When friends suggest bringing another friend along, my mind thinks “scary stranger.” When someone talks to me in public, I’m usually highly aware of my surroundings but at the same time, turning off an ability to hear anyone say something. So while I know there are 3 people in one corner and an exit in another and a cashier looking around for the manager, I fail to recognize 1 of those 3 people just said “excuse me, do you know where ‘x’ is?” And when I do, I ALWAYS respond with “I’m sorry, what?” and an expression similar to that of a 3 year-old being forced to eat vegetables.

I am pretty sure my body language gives off the vibe “don’t talk to me” but on the flip side, when I do know you, absolutely no topic is off limits. You want me to reveal a horrible secret about me, sure… I’m honest and blunt about those things. You want to talk about something deep and troubling, OK, happy to cover how it felt to have a kidney stone at 8 years-old screaming “what the hell is coming out of my #$#@.” (I got a puppy out of it because no one believed me when I said I was peeing blood!) I’ve got super high boundaries but they are very easily removed.

So there’s the 20%. A bit disorganized today in my thoughts, but at the same time, I think it probably showcases a lot about who I am.

365 Challenge: For those new to these posts, I’m posting a characteristic I either currently have or I want to have. Check out more here.