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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book review: "Silent in the Grave" and "Silent in the Sanctuary" by Deanna Raybourn

I decided to combine the earlier review for Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Grave and this new one for Silent in the Sanctuary, for the sake of a better flow and also because it was so great to revisit with the characters from the first book while reading the second one.

Silent in the Grave (December 30, 2009)

The annual Christmas drive to St. Augustine, FL to visit my husband's Grandmother takes about six and a half hours one way - much too long to be listening either to the news, or to talk radio or to Christmas favorites. So, in addition to regular packing and stocking up on snacks and drinks, we make certain to have several audio books either on CD's or on a laptop.

I usually prefer to familiarize myself with new authors the old-fashioned way, I have heard so much about Deanna Raybourn's "Silent" series I simply couldn't wait. Even having heard (an thoroughly enjoyed) the first book in the series Silent in the Grave, I will definitely get a hard copy and read it again.

As I told Deanna in an e-mail, her writing makes it worth being a well-read, well-educated reader. Clever, witty and full of references to and influences by other works of literature, it acquires a new dimension in the hands of someone, who can actually recognize and appreciate those literary connections. The author is definitely one of the (unfortunately) small army of writers, who refuse to use one- and two-syllable words and no-more-than five-word sentences, just to dumb the writing down to accommodate a wider audience.

Call me a snob, but I follow the same principles in my writing as well, hoping that those who truly wish to read clever books will take time to educate themselves and figure out what the words mean. And those who don't wish so? Well, why should I worry about them? Back to Silent in the Grave, all of the perks described above come with a thrilling story, delightfully told. One advantage of the audio version of the book is that you get to hear it narrated by the amazing Ellen Archer, who is definitely the only Lady Julia Gray for me going forward.

Not that the existing "Silent" book covers are not gorgeous, but, as it often happens when I am particularly inspired by a book, I penciled a few illustrations of my own, while in Florida. As we still have two more months of winter, consider setting aside a few of those chilly evenings to spend with your favorite blanket, your biggest mug of hot chocolate and Deanna Raybourn's fascinating characters.

Silent in the Sanctuary (March 30, 2010)

When you form a relationship with a writer's work, picking up that writer's book becomes a kind of home-coming experience. Even if the book is a brand new and unfamiliar one, you can still enjoy the anticipation of coming back to your favorite's writing, storytelling style and - if it is a series - the characters you have come to love from the prior works.

Being an enthusiastic "serial reader" myself, I revel in the sense of returning. This was very much the case with Azimov's Foundation series and Clarke's Rama series, the delicious Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling and even Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series (until the author got lost in his own plot lines and couldn't find the way out).

So, it was with no small pleasure that I finally got around to reading the second in Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series Silent in the Sanctuary. The feeling was further enhanced by the fact that the book itself also began with a home-coming of Lady Julia and her brothers (with a few new characters in tow) to the March family seat - the Bellmont Abbey.

From then on, it is Deanna Raybourn doing what she does best: making you laugh one moment, frown in puzzlement the next and cringe two minutes later. She is precisely the kind of author, with whom you need never worry about being disappointed - it just cannot happen. After the edge-of-your-seat page-turner that was Silent in the Grave, one might think that there are really only so many riddles and plot twists one author can come up with to keep the reader interested. Well, apparently this author has a secret portal into a riddle and plot twist universe, because I personally don't see her running out of them any time soon.

The complex multi-layered plot is garnished with all the favorites Deanna Raybourn supplied so generously in the first book: fantastic environment (Thornfield Hall would have been so proud!); incredible food (I think each book should come with a recipe Appendix); gorgeous clothes; the cleverly-hidden nods to other works of literature (read the March family train station scene and then the similar departure scene from Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat side-by-side - you'll laugh twice as hard at them both); and - of course - the characters that, while honoring the great traditions of romantic literature, remain nonetheless fresh and fascinating: the likable villains, the crazy-yet-sharp old ladies, the annoying I-know-something-but-I-won't-tell guests - all of them swirling in a mad vortex around Lady Julia herself and - of course - the incomparable Mr. Brisbane.

A word of caution: if you are hoping to get a breather with this book, think again. The closer you get to the end, and the more questions are being answered, the more new mysteries pop up. So, if you are anything like me, expect to stay up till midnight devouring the last 100-150 pages. Not that you will notice the time, mind you - you will be far too busy enjoying yourself in the company of Deanna Raybourn and her characters.

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