Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren

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Book: Waterfall
Author: Lisa T. Bergren
Publisher: David C. Cook
Release date: February 1, 2011
Source: Borrowed from Writer Musings
Series: River of Time #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) In Waterfall, American teenager Gabi Betarrini accidently finds herself in sixteenth-century Italy . . . Knights. Swords. Horses. Armor. And Italian hotties. Most American teens want an Italian vacation, but the Betarrini sisters have spent every summer of their lives there with their archaeologist parents. Stuck on yet another hot, dusty dig, they are bored out of their minds… until they place their hands atop handprints in an ancient tomb and find themselves catapulted into the sixteenth-centuryâ??and in the middle of a fierce battle between knights bent on killing one another.

First impressions: I actually read the first chapter, put the book down, and thought about not picking it up again. But if I have any advice it is this: KEEP READING! It doesn’t take long for the story to zoom off, whether or not you’re buckled in for the ride. Once I picked it up again, you practically had to pry this book from my clenched fingers.

Lasting impressions: Disgustingly good. Lisa Bergren is a diabolical plot genius who will keep you fully immersed in this world, despite bedtimes, homework, jobs, or significant others.

Conflicting impressions: For me, the opening chapters with the girls in the present time weren’t as engaging as the rest of the novel. For some reason, I just didn’t connect with that material as well, and felt I got more backstory than I really needed.

Overall impressions: If you’re not already loading this one into your online shopping carts, you haven’t been paying attention. This story has it all: adventure, suspense, romance, and mystery. It will keep you guessing, and keep your heart in your throat.

Gabi is a wonderful protagonist. She is thrust back through the centuries, uncertain if her sister is there with her, and winds up smack in the middle of an ongoing Italian turf war. Despite political, physical, and emotional hurdles, she uses her brain to make the best of her unexpected situation. Even though she doesn’t know who she can trust, she outmaneuvers everyone to put together a daring plan to rescue her sister.

I am a sucker for time travel books, mostly because it is a personal fantasy of mine. In the hands of an excellent researcher, that wish nearly comes true. I can always tell when a historical novelist really knows their stuff, and Bergren does not disappoint. Everything about the world rings true, which only sucked me deeper into the story. I melted into Gabi’s castle life with ease, and every room, road and character was brought vividly to life.

And oh, the characters! A flirtatious sidekick, a mothering cook, a sickly heir, a mean girl. It would be so easy to write the caricature and be done with it, but Bergren doesn’t do easy. She writes complicated, deep characters that read like actual humans faced with difficult circumstances. Each of these types becomes so much more, surprising our expectations and threatening our snap judgments.

Above all, this story has heart. Gabi will stop at nothing to find and save her sister, yet just when she thinks she is ready to leave, the beautiful Marcello gives her pause. It is a testament to Bergren’s gift that we can simultaneously want Gabi to leave and to stay. Her choice is difficult because we see the good Gabi can bring, and the love that can be her reward. Yet she struggles to cement her own fate one way or the other. It is the ultimate impasse, and completely riveting.

To me this book was like Outlander for teens. No lust. No sex. But a courageous, stubborn, time-traveling heroine who discovers more about herself in the past than in the present? Oh yes. That, and so much more.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Not enough gushing for you? Want to see even more high praise for this amazing book? Check out Small Review’s take and see if you can resist this book after that!

Need it now? Check out this interview with Lisa Bergren and win a copy of Waterfall at I Am A Reader Not A Writer. Be sure to check back here tomorrow, where I’ll be hosting a giveaway of my own!


Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Book: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release date: December 9, 2003
Source: Borrowed from local library
Series Gemma Doyle Trilogy #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy–jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.
Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order. A Great and Terrible Beauty is an impressive first book in what should prove to be a fascinating trilogy.

First impressions: Wow. The first few chapters of this book are gorgeous. Gemma is a feisty 16 British girl living in India with her parents, and witnesses the tragic death of her mother under mysterious circumstances she has a difficult time processing. We don’t know what Gemma saw, but it was scary and strange and compelling.

Lasting impressions: I think the summary says it best. This book is complicated. The friends Gemma makes in her new English boarding school are difficult to like, because we don’t know if we can truly trust them. If nothing else, this book is very suspenseful.

Conflicting impressions: Since the main characters were not that likable, I had a hard time getting into the middle of this book. The story is so dark and strange that for me, I just couldn’t get into it.

Overall impressions: Full disclosure: I skimmed the last third of this book. I couldn’t really stand to read it in-depth because I was discouraged by Gemma’s nasty “friends.” Still, I wanted to know what would happen when Gemma’s visions drew more people into them and how the mysteries would be solved. The ending delivers quite the punch, and I’m sure is terrifically satisfying for readers that connect more with the characters. Though I couldn’t fully engage with the material, I did appreciate the unique and mysterious plot.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Want a different perspective? Check out this review by The Elliott Review.

Review: The Minister’s Daughter by Julie Hearn

Book: The Minister’s Daughter
Author: Julie Hearn
Publisher: Atheneum
Release date: May 17, 2005
Source: Borrowed from local library

Summary: (from Goodreads) In 1645 in England, the daughters of the town minister successfully accuse a local healer and her granddaughter of witchcraft to conceal an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but years later during the 1692 Salem trials their lie has unexpected repercussions.

First impressions: The book introduces us to two different perspectives from the start: one is the young Nell, granddaughter to a local healer, in 1645 England; the other is Patience, younger sister to Grace, daughter of the town minister, who writes her own account of the events from 1692 Salem. I liked this alternating style, which added a level of deception and spite to the unfolding accusations of witchcraft.

I was also immediately taken with the voices of the girl Nell and the woman Patience. Hearn does a great job of establishing the stubborn ignorance of Nell, and the woeful remorse of Patience. These contrasting views only add to the heartbreak we know is coming.

Lasting impressions: I was quite taken by surprise with the amount of magical wonder throughout the book. The townspeople are new to the Puritanical religion, and are hesitant to completely disregard the paganism that has been a large part of their lives. Hearn takes this belief and spins it as truth, with the characters interacting with fairies and little creatures called “piskies.” It is fanciful and yet confusing. Are we readers to believe these creatures exist? Or are these the imaginings of a simple people who are not able to make sense of the world around them? I’m not sure what the intent was, but it was still delightful to read.

Negative impressions: That said, some of the longer scenes with the fairies and piskies didn’t feel like they belonged in this tale. The shorter sightings and interactions were much more effective for me. Though Nell goes through a long sequence to obtain an item that becomes incredibly important later in the book, while I was reading it I couldn’t figure out the point of that scene and it frustrated me as a reader.

Overall impressions: This is the kind of story that resonates with me. The “witchcraft” that so many women were said to practice in the 1600s was typically nothing more than pagan ritual, and oftentimes accusations flew to draw attention away from themselves or to act out against the repressive male hierarchy. The mass hysteria that fuels this hunt for wrongdoing and scapegoats turns my stomach, and insults my sense of justice in the world, so I was quite taken with the subject matter.

Here, a minister’s daughter discovers she is pregnant, is rebuffed by her lover, and decides to start acting possessed as a way to cover her tracks. Nell despises the haughty attitude of Grace, and refuses to give her an abortifacient when she realizes that the baby may be a “merrybegot” like herself – a sacred child of nature. So begins the quest for revenge, with Grace providing more and more nails in Nell’s withcraft coffin, and poor Nell unable to see how her pagan rituals are only adding fuel to the fire.

These events are also told retrospectively by Patience, Grace’s sister, who is in the midst of her own witchcraft trial in Salem some 40 years later. By her admittance that Grace is only pretending, we can only read on in horror as Nell and her grandmother are persecuted by their peers. It is a quickly moving tale with depth of feeling and carefully layered expositions into the actions of the main players. We soon realize that Grace and Patience’s father, the minister, may be more complicit than first assumed, and that other characters may not care whether or not Nell is actually innocent.

I highly recommend this book to fans of historical fiction, particularly those with an interest in the witch hunts. Although the primary narrative is not concerned with the trial, it is a fascinating study of how these types of charges were set up and delivered with the kind of one-two punch that can only result in a knockout. These women had no chance to refute the charges against them, completely oblivious to the danger approaching as they went about their daily lives. The book also speaks to the benefits of doing what is right no matter the cost, as you never know when your actions may come back to help or haunt you.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell

Book: The Vespertine
Author: Saundra Mitchell
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
Release date: March 7, 2011
Source: NetGalley ARC
Website: http://www.thevespertine.com (Trailers, interviews, period information, and more!)

Summary: (from Goodreads) Itâ??s the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunsetâ??visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his ownâ??still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.

When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Ameliaâ??s world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if sheâ??s not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.

First impressions: The opening chapter takes place in the fall of 1889, which we soon find out is after the events that span the rest of the book. On first read it is captivating enough, with Amelia being imprisoned in her brother’s attic, revealed to us as our “ruined” heroine. The brilliance of this first chapter is that as I progressed through the story, I could turn back and read it again, gathering more insights into the action. Just like the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, this opening chapter tells us of doomed love, and definitely got me interested in what events led to that outcome.

Lasting impressions: L’amour, l’amour! The relationship that gradually unfolds with Nathaniel is touching and mysterious and dangerous and…grand. Amelia knows she is not supposed to take an interest in this (by their standards) pauper, but she is intrigued by her strong attraction to him. After all, aren’t we always drawn like magnets to those we shouldn’t love? There is more to him than just his profession, however, and the more Amelia learns about Nathaniel, the more we understand why she doomed her reputation for him. These two left me aching for them.

Negative impressions: Every time I try to think of something negative to say, I talk myself out of it. I could say that I wish Amelia’s visions had appeared sooner or taken a more prominent role earlier on, but then I like that the reader discovers them at the same time as she does. This novel is perfection, and I can’t really think of anything I didn’t like.

Overall impressions: For me, this is that book. The one that you know you will read over and over again. The one you will put at the top of your favorites list. The one that means something to you, even if you can’t quite put your finger on what that something is.

Amelia is an everywoman…with a gift. She is eager and curious and shy and impulsive. She has this ability that she doesn’t understand, and just when she starts to learn how powerful it can be, it’s too late. She is rushed into the bustle of Baltimore, thrown into a whirlwind friendship with a bright star named Zora, and before she even has time to get her bearings, falls in love. Yet the story doesn’t run away from her as you might expect. No, this story grabs her and won’t let go, and I went right along with them.

Saundra Mitchell carried me through this novel with delicacy and ease. It swelled with period details, yet didn’t get weighed down by them. The dialogue rang true, and told us everything we needed to know about the characters. Zora’s mother is entirely revealed to us through her interactions with the girls, and she became one of my favorite characters because of that. Mitchell takes her time, revealing the details to us piece by piece, and I savored every moment. Each scene was like a sweet treat I wanted to take under the covers and unwrap where no one else could get at it.

For all of its lush setting and budding romance, this book really takes the cake with its ominous tone. Just as Amelia’s first few visions come true, she begins to foresee more horrifying events. You would think, given that we know how Amelia’s summer ends, that the story would lose its suspense, but it didn’t. Instead, my heart raced with anticipation, desperate to find out what would truly come to pass.

If you like historical fiction, even in the slightest, you should read this book. Amazing, vibrant, and touching, this is what great books are made of.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Interested in another point of view? Check out Small Review’s take on The Vespertine. There’s another review and giveaway at Fire and Ice.