Book review: The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter's TaleThe Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale by Robert Louis Stevenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Free download available at eBooks@Adelaide.

This book is being discussed by the 19th Century Literature Yahoo Group.

This is the story of two brothers set during & after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, often referred to as “the Forty-five”, in Scotland, India & America.

An incident in the rebellion of 1746, by David Morier

The narrator of this book is done by Mackellar, the loyal steward to the Durie of Durisdeer family, which consists of an old lord and this two sons – James, the Master of Ballantrae, and Henry. Another relative, Miss Alison Graeme, also lives with the family.

The two brothers have opposite trends: James supports Bonnie Prince Charlie and goes and fights for the Jacobites while Henry stays at home to keep favor of King George II. In this way, whichever side wins, the family’s estate will be preserved.

Once the Rising fails, the Master is reported dead and Henry becomes the heir of the estate. Living without glory brings no happiness to the surviving brother.

The End of the ‘Forty Five’ Rebellion – William Brasse Hole’s original etching, “The End of the ‘Forty Five’ Rebellion” depicts the final chapter of the 1745 Highland Rebellion led by Prince Charles Edward and the retreat of his defeated troops. Fatigue, hunger and despair accompany the wounded troops.

However, a turmoil in the story will happen once Coronel Francis Burke arrives bringing letters from the Master.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will stop my review here.

A movie was made based on this book: The Master of Ballantrae (1953), with Errol Flynn, Roger Livesey, Anthony Steel as well as three TV series: The Master of Ballantrae (1962– ); The Master of Ballantrae (1975– ); and The Master of Ballantrae (1984).

For those interested in reading a biography about the author, there are at least two interesting books on this subject: Fanny Stevenson: A Romance of Destiny (1993) by Alexandra Lapierre and Under the Wide and Starry Sky (2013) by Nancy Horan, see my review here.

However, it should be noticed that both books are fictionalized biographies. For a complete list of RLS’s biographies, please visit the author’s website.

The Battle of Culloden in fiction:

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon.

The Jacobite Trilogy by D.K. Broster.

Waverley by Walter Scott.

The Scottish Thistle by Cindy Vallar.

Culloden by John Prebble.

Book review: The Children Act by Ian McEwan

The Children ActThe Children Act by Ian McEwan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From BBC Radio 4 – Book at Bedtime:
Ian McEwan’s powerful story about faith, love and the law and about the welfare of children and the duty of those who care for them. Read by Juliet Stevenson. Abridged by Sally Marmion.

Juliet Stevenson begins Ian McEwan’s powerful and haunting new novel, The Children Act – a story about faith, love and the Law and about the welfare of children and the duty of those who care for them.

Fiona Maye is an esteemed High Court Judge presiding over cases in the Family Court and admired for her ‘godly distance and devilish understanding’. But beneath her professional composure, her happy marriage of thirty years is suddenly in trouble and a recent case has caused her heartache. Now she faces a life or death decision.

For religious reasons, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy is refusing life-saving treatment, and his devout parents support his wishes. Should the secular court overrule sincerely held faith? What really lies in the boy’s best interests?

This story did not convince me, specially after I have read many other books by this author.

NYTimes review.

4* Amsterdam
4* Black Dogs
3* Enduring Love
5* Atonement
3* The Innocent
3* Saturday
3* On Chesil Beach
3* Sweet Tooth
2* The Children Act
TR The Cement Garden

Book review: The Crossword Murder by Nero Blanc

The Crossword Murder (Crossword Mysteries, #1)The Crossword Murder by Nero Blanc

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher through Net Galley in return for an honest review.

This is the first book of the Crossword Mysteries written by the couple of writers Cordelia Frances Biddle and Steve Zettler.

The idea used by the authors by making use of the puzzle word is not so original by considering the books written by Herbert Resnicow.

Being a puzzle’s user, I found the proposed puzzles quite confusing once they are used to solve the mystery plot.

A few words a bout the plot itself: Thomas C. Briephs is a rich crossword puzzle editor whose private life is subjected to a constant blackmail.

After his murder, his mother asks the Greek-American private deceptive Rosco to held the investigation.

Through the crossword puzzles, Rosco tries to find some clues to the murder and tries to find out how Annabella Graham, the crossword of another Newcastle paper, could be possible involved in Thomas’ murder.

The narrative is richly filled by dialogues but the authors don’t manage to keep a high level of suspense, on the contrary.

The proposed puzzles are quite confused and it seems they were made by amateurs since they don’t follow the traditional way of make a crossword puzzle.

Book review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All ThingsThe Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of Henry Whitakker and his daughter Alma.

Henry is a British autodidact botanist who tries to surpass his competitors which work at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.

In order to find new horizons, he decides to move to America where he becomes a healthy and successful botanist in Philadelphia due to the selling of the Peruvian roots which were used to treat malaria at that time. He builds a magnificent house in a huge propriety where he starts to build his own gardens with plenty of glass-houses.

Alma is his only daughter who survived at the countless miscarriages of her mother Beatrix. By moving to America, the married couple decided to bring their own Dutch governess.

By telling the tale of the life of a woman botanist in the 18th century, the author keeps the reader’s interest even if in the middle of the book the narratives becomes a little bit boring.

Alma becomes fascinated by the mosses and she writes two books on this subject. She falls in love by a younger man, Ambrose Pike, who paints orchids and he will make a real turmoil in Alma’s life.

In order to overcome a disastrous marriage, he moves to Tahiti where he will die.

After her loss, Alma decides to donate her inheritance to her adopted sister and decides to travel to Tahiti in order to understand the final and tragical life of her husband.

By returning to Holland, he finds out the Darwin’s evolutionist theory with many resemblances with her own observations and she shares her old age with sharing her knowledge with another nature’s scientist.

A beautiful and engaging story even if sometimes the narratives extends beyond count. Sometimes we have the impression that the author will engage in a romantic story but the author manages to move back to the historical fiction.


An interesting article just came up: The Gardens of Their Dreams by Robin Lane Fox.

Book review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Round HouseThe Round House by Louise Erdrich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

By telling the story of a Native woman who was raped and tortured, the author raises the question about the national US pandemic of violence against Native women.

The plot describes how Geraldine Coutts could cope (or not) with this violence and how her husband – a tribal judge, and his son could help her to surpass this tragedy in their lives.

According to the report issued by Amnesty International, Maze of Injustice, “Sexual violence against Indigenous women in the USA is widespread. According to US government statistics, Native American and Alaska Native women are more than 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the USA.”

The best review of this book was written by Will Byrnes and may be read here.

Some interesting links about this subject:

Indian Law Resource Center

Tribal Law and Order Act

Book review: Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh

Death in a White Tie (Roderick Alleyn, #7)Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the seventh novel of the Roderick Alleyn series and it was first published in 1938. This series comprises a total of 32 books.

Roderick Alleyn belongs firmly in the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction” which is a type of fiction which was predominant in the 1920s and 1930s.

According to Wiki, “many of the authors of the Golden Age were British: Margery Allingham (1904–1966), Anthony Berkeley (aka Francis Iles, 1893–1971), Agatha Christie (1890–1976), Freeman Wills Crofts (1879–1957), R. Austin Freeman (1862–1943), Michael Innes (1906–1993), Philip MacDonald (1900–1980), Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957), Josephine Tey (1896–1952), Anne Hocking (1890–1966), and many more. Ngaio Marsh (1895–1982) was from New Zealand, but her detective Roderick Alleyn was British. Georges Simenon was from Belgium and wrote in French. Some of them, such as John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, and S. S. Van Dine, were American but had similar styles”.

The plot is about the murder of a British lord after a debutant’s party, with plenty of treachery, heiresses, gamblers, adulterers and blackmail.

A great and fast-paced story written by one of the writers who are considered as “Queen of Crime”.

A TV series Death in a White Tie (1993), produced by BBC, was made based on this book, with Patrick Malahide, Belinda Lang, William Simons.

4* A Man Lay Dead
4* Death in a White Tie
3* Death of a Peer
3* Death and the Dancing Footman
3* Night at the Vulcan
3* When in Rome
TBR Death at the Bar
TBR Dead Water
TBR Clutch of Constables

Book review: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite all controversial reviews about this book, I really liked it.

What intrigues me is why this book is considered as a “banned” one.

According to Wiki, “in 1960, a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma was fired for assigning the novel in class; he was later reinstated. Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. The book was banned in the Issaquah, Washington, high schools in 1978 as being part of an “overall communist plot.” In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States. According to the American Library Association, The Catcher in the Rye was the tenth most frequently challenged book from 1990 to 1999. It was one of the ten most challenged books of 2005, and although it had been off the list for three years, it reappeared in the list of most challenged books of 2009.”

Some other critics claim that “several shootings have been associated with the novel.” It is hard to believe but everything is possible nowadays.

The only authorized film adaptation of Salinger’s work is based on his short-story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”, produced by Samuel Goldwyn, with Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward.

Due to the filmmakers’ infidelity, any movie version was made based on the present book, see this interesting article on this subject: IFILM: The Internet Movie Guide.