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The Vespertine
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 8, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
`The Vespetine' by Saundra Mitchell is a slightly haunting but beautiful story set in the late 1800s with a Gothic twist. Amelia van den Broek has been sent to Baltimore to find a husband and not to disgrace herself in the process. Amelia is sent to stay with cousins whose daughter, Zora, and her become fast friends. Even though her family might not be considered high class there are still rules to be followed and certain level of expectations put onto to her of whom she can marry. But everything seems to be blown with the wind out of open windows as she sets eyes on Nathaneil. Nathaniel is what they refer to as a "fourteenth", a man who makes his money for paint and canvass, so of course Amelia can have nothing to do with him.

Her world is filled with making new friends, going to school, trying to become a lady and going to the occasional dance. But that all changes when the sun sets, for that is when the Vespers come to her. As the sun sets into her eyes a fire burns inside her, and she sees visions of her friends or acquaintances. At first it is thought of as great fun and when one such vision comes about to save the beauty of a friend her life is then skyrocketed into Baltimore's true Mystic. Cards coming flowing in from people all over wanted to have their fortunes told and her time comes in high demand. With Zora acting as her `manager' in all of her dealings she takes tea parties around the city giving her innocent prophecies thinking only of them as pure and helpful to those around her.

Everything seems to change around her suddenly when her vespers seem to take on a mind of her own. In one such sitting she is asked to write instead of speak what she says and unknown to her within her vision her hands fly across the page giving a detail and harsh account for everything that she sees in a fast manner. Later on Amelia sits with many calling cards face down on a table and then as she is awakened from her 'trance' finds that she has written on every card. Does knowing the future mean that you can change things? Or is that Amelia knowing what is to come the cause of things to happen?

As Zora develops a relationship with a young man named Thomas Rae, a tall, blond, handsome and extremely gentlemanly man, Amelia is thrown into a deeper love for Nathaniel. Secrets are revealed that go against everything that she was brought to be but he is the wind that feeds her fire.

Filled with many twists that will pull at your heart strings, and shocks that will make you re-read to make sure that you have read things correctly! It is a story that will leave you wanting more once you finish and I can only hope to see another! The writing style was fresh and new and very easy to follow, and I just adored the mystery of it. I would have to recommend this to older teens as it does go at a pace that a young audience might find a little slow and also some of the subject matter.

Today in the vespers I see a sequel coming out....
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
The Vespertine combines historical fiction, with just a touch of mystery, supernatural occurrences and romance. In 1889, Amelia van den Broek is sent for the season from her small village in Maine to the relatively young city of Baltimore to stay with her cousin Zora, hopefully to entice a suitor for an appropriate match. While Amelia is a bit shy and overwhelmed by the city sights, Zora is exuberant and the two of them quickly become best friends. As was traditional during the time, the girls share a bed, meaning that each evening feels like a slumber party, as they whisper secrets to each other all night.

This is a world of such courtly and restrained manners that merely accidentally brushing wrists while seated next to a handsome dinner guest is enough to create a flurry of passionate feelings and enamored confusion in Amelia. Women must be tightly chaperoned at all times, and simply sneaking away to walk a few blocks down the street fills Amelia with a delicious, delirious sense of danger.

The girls make their rounds, collecting visitor's cards, attending dinner parties and balls, flirting and dancing. Zora quickly sets her heart on Thomas Rea, a doctor's son, a less than ideal, but not inappropriate choice while Amelia makes the socially disastrous mistake of becoming smitten with Nathaniel Witherspoon, an impoverished artist who makes his living as a professional party guest.

I was intrigued by the idea of the professional fourteenth guest, hired specifically as to avoid unlucky dinner parties of 13 members. It turns out this is based on a real tradition, originating in France, called a quatorzieme.

The plot thickens when Amelia's psychic gift begins to present itself. She has the ability to see the future, in absorbing visions which strike her just at the moment of sunset, or "the vespers" of the early evening. In an era when seances and mediums were all the rage, Amelia quickly is informally billed as, "Maine's Own Mystic" and soon finds herself and her cousin Zora very much in demand in society circles, as all the young women in town are eager to have their fortunes read.

I loved the scene where a rich heiress peremptorily calls Amelia for an audience, and presents her demands for fortunes to be told for her and all her party guests. As Amelia explains the limits of her gift - she can only see the future just at sunset, and only for one person at a time, she tells her, "Only a fraud can promise you everything, it's truth that has limits." I thought it made sense that Amelia becomes nearly drunk with the feeling of power her gift has given her. Towards the very end of the book, Amelia discovers she does have the ability to tell more than one fortune at once, by "spirit writing" as she goes into her evening trance, which made me curious how else the limits of her gift could be pushed.

I was happy to see that the cover of the book had been changed from the ARC. The ARC cover hints at her sunset abilities with it's rich orange tones, but the character's face is hidden by the font, and the necklace seems overly important. I thought the new cover, with it's dark, rushed, desperate feel was much more appropriate.

The only thing that marred the book for me was the discordant timeline. The story begins in the fall of 1889, with Amelia as a ruined madwoman, being kept in her brother's attic. In flashbacks, we learn the story of her wonderfully adventurous summer in Baltimore. While reading the story, it was hard to immerse oneself in the surroundings and enjoy the gaiety of the parties and balls knowing that Amelia has such a terrible future ahead of her. I was surprised and delighted then, by the ending of the book, which really turns everything around for Amelia and Nathaniel. The ending answers a lot of questions, and leaves the reader feeling very satisfied, yet with just enough mystery to warrant a sequel. This is a beautifully written book, with rich, lyrical prose that transports you to another time. I highly recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I kept seeing this book everywhere and I loved the look of the cover - so pretty. And well, I love historical and paranormal books, so it's right up my alley.

The story is interesting because I haven't really read that many books that dealt with someone having visions, so I found this topic quite entertaining. The story started a little slow, but once the visions started it picks up quickly.

Amelia - the seer in question - is supposed to be in Baltimore to make a suitable match and find herself a husband. But with her unknown supernatural ability coming to light, eveything changes.

She is drawn to an unsuitable man - one who is below her, yet she cannot stop thinking about him. He's the historical romance version of todays stereotypical bad boy. Nathaniel tries to make it known that he is beneath her and she should really try to find someone better, so he tends to let her instigate all of their meetings. Amelia, however, is a woman on a mission and wants to be with him no matter what the cost.

Zora - her new best friend - seems a little naive when it comes to Amelia and her visions. She sees it as a great way to meet people from better classes and doesn't realize that by Amelia seeing the future, it's not always sunshine and rainbows to be predicted. Though Zora seems to love Amelia regardless and doesn't want to know her own future - though Amelia has alredy learned a part of it.

I love the way that Amelia sees the visions at sunset through the vespers and it almost takes her over - and how some of the visions are absolutely wonderful and exciting, yet others are terrifying and disheartening. And then how horrifying to learn that some of her unpleasant visions actually come true - making people more wary of her than before.

During one the sweeter moments in the book I came across this passage that made me smile: I had never known it before, how the glow of someone else's joy could reflect so completely as to be shared.

I actually was sad when the book ended, I was hoping it would go a little longer and explore some more about what happens to Amelia after all is said and done with her trip to Baltimore. The ending is quite short and wrapped up I suppose to let you decide the rest of her future - though you do get a taste - it just leaves you wanting to know a little more. I wonder if there will be a sequel to explore her life now?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 13, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In the summer of 1889, Amelia van den Broek is sent to Baltimore to live with her cousins and find a suitable match. Her brother also expects her to start anew and make acquaintances to elevate her social standing so she won't be his responsibility any longer. With the freedom and excitement of being in a new city, Amelia ignores her brother's orders and enjoys a bit of trouble and fun with her cousin Zora. Then she meets Nathaniel, an artist paid to go to parties to make the numbers even, and she falls in love. He's obviously not a proper match, being not even close to her in terms of social standing, but she is inexplicably drawn to him. In addition to this budding romance, Amelia discovers by accident that the setting sun, the time of the vespers, reveals visions to her of things to come. At first, Amelia is frightened, but once word spreads and she gains quite a following, it seems fun. That is until a gruesome visions comes true and suspicion is cast on her as perhaps the cause of the accident instead of just a seer.

I didn't really know what to expect when I started The Vespertine, but it was a quick enjoyable read that held my interest. The characters were all different and full of life, despite what everyone assumes about that era. Amelia had a real joie de vivre and isn't above doing some supposedly indecent things to enjoy her life. She and Zora put on a show to be proper ladies of society, but in private, they were just normal teenage girls with the same fears and anxieties of modern teenagers. Even though they wear different clothes and don't have as many opportunities as modern women do, I could see myself in them. I loved their relationship and how they interacted. They were more friends than just cousins. Amelia's relationship with Nathaniel was also realistic and palpable. Unlike some other YA novel heroes, I could see why she was drawn to him and, even though he was socially inferior, he wasn't a bad boy or a jerk. He treated Amelia with tenderness and made sure he was there for her when she needed him. I looked forward to his appearance throughout the book. Even Amelia and Zora's school friends, all pretty minor characters, had their own fully realized personalities that were conveyed in short passages.

My only complaint about the novel would be the pacing and how little paranormal events there were in comparison to everything else. Much of the book was just about Amelia and Zora's day to day lives: their friends, the parties they went to, the clothes they wore, the social expectations of the day, etc. While I still find this interesting, I felt that Amelia's visions and the other paranormal aspects figured in as fairly minor. When the accident happens, causing her friends and family to turn on her, there were not very many pages left and I felt it was a rushed ending. Based on the description, I figured the bulk of the conflict would be after that event, but this was not the case.

The Vespertine was a fluid and fun read that had relatable characters and featured excellent, descriptive writing from Saundra Mitchell. I hope there is another book in the works and I will be sorely disappointed if there isn't. I would recommend this to all lovers of young adult fantasy and historical fiction.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Ok Here I go..

When I first thought of reading The Vespertine I really thought I would not like it... it was a period piece set in 1889, there would be no Hot Vampire or Awesome supernatural beings.. It is going to be BORING.. Then I started reading it maybe it caught my interest so quickly because it is set in Maryland where I live, I have been to Baltimore to many times to count. Or, maybe it was because I knew the setting, with its familiar places like the Inner Harbor, Druid Hill, Mt Vernon Place and Greenmount cemetery (one of my favorite places to take photos>>!!!).

For whatever reason, I was quickly immersed in their world. Their manner of dress and the atmosphere that Ms Mitchell created were so vividly described down to the sounds and smells, without forcing some sort of history lesson or being too wordy to understand.

Here is an example of Why I LOVE THIS BOOK===> "Before I boarded, I turned back to look at the city of my summer. All the huddled row houses clung together, making blocks of streets, and neighborhoods of blocks. Horse cars rang their merry bells, and Arabers called-- apples apples apples and an orange! oranges! All the color of it seared on my skin, red brick white marble, blue skies."

Ms Mitchell's style of writing is very melodic, and her story telling is wonderful. I feel that she caught the essence of these characters and I truly wanted to find out what happened to them. I was left curious about some untold futures, and I was also left saying what a wonderful read.

Amelia, thrust into an unfamiliar world was sent from her home in Maine by her brother to find a suitable husband, instead she found Zora her distant cousin and two became fast friends. She went in search of a husband and found a life.

Now I am not going to spill the beans about what the twists of the story are, but let it be known there are some good ones :O) I can't wait to read more...

I have serious love for this one... Well done to Sandra Mitchell and thanks to NetGalley for the wonderful read. I will be purchasing a Hardcover copy to add to my collection. Twitter @SaundraMitchell.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Now this is a grand book. The plot is a little vague at times, but it doesn't matter. The characters leap off the pages, they're so real! The dialogue is suitably historical, without being stuffy. The descriptions are vivid and delightful, putting you smack dab in the middle of the story. This is how historical fiction ought to be written! There's even a dash of . . . well, I don't know quite what to call it. Science fiction, perhaps? Supernatural? Fantasy? And yet it fits so well within the confines of the story that you hardly notice that it's out of the ordinary.

The story is of a young woman who is sent to stay with her cousins for the summer, in order to find a husband. She finds someone, but he isn't the sort of match her family had in mind. While there, she discovers that she has the ability to look into the sunset and see the future. But it isn't all golden light and dancing figures. Sometimes the future holds things better left hidden. She also discovers that her would-be-suitor has an important secret of his own.

As far as it being an historic fiction, the author utterly nailed it. The scents, and sounds, and all the trappings of the late Victorian period---it really immerses you in the story. You can feel the weight of the lady's bustle, you can hear the swish of her petticoats, and the clack of dainty boots on the floor. Too many historic novels stuff the girl in a corset and call it good, but that isn't the case here. Not only are the descriptions accurate and vivid, but the dialogue is spot on, and the settings are perfect. She keeps up the descriptions, too, never letting you forget for one moment that it's in the past.

The author's depictions of historic costume are especially worthy of note. She really did her research! In fact, I would be willing to bet good money that the author has spent considerable time wearing a corset, a bustle, and petticoats. I have, and her descriptions really hit a chord with me. That little touch of realism made the story jump to a whole new level for me. My only complaint is that the costumes she describes better suit the mid-1870s, or even the mid-1880s, rather than 1889, when the story takes place. Bustles had all but vanished by 1889, and polonaises were becoming unfashionable. Just change the date to a few years earlier and it would be perfect!

I'm giving the book a full five stars, because the author absolutely hit the mark. The writing is superb and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to my friends.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Synopsis: It's the spring and summer of 1889 in Baltimore, Maryland. Amelia van den Broek has come from Maine to stay with her more fashionable cousins, the Stewarts, in the hopes of learning a bit of culture and the skills to land herself a suitable marriage match. Amelia is thrilled to be in the big city with her cousin. She has led such a sheltered life in Maine, being raised by her older brother August, that the freedom of the city and the glitter of the fashionable parties and people overwhelm Amelia.

What's more overwhelming is Nathanial Witherspoon, an artist that Amelia meets at a dinner party. Having no real means of employment, Nathaniel is not considered to be a suitable marriage match for Amelia, but Amelia can't help but feel connected to him and intrigued by the mysterious quality about him.

But Nathaniel isn't the only one that mystery surrounds. Shortly after arriving in Baltimore, Amelia is attending a party and is standing near a window as the sun begins to set. As the sun sinks below the horizon, Amelia has a vision. She sees her cousin dancing with her beau in a beautiful new dress. Amelia tells her cousin, Zora, about the vision, but the two are stunned when the vision comes true.

After that, Amelia discerns that her visions come to her only at sunset, at the time when priests are at their vespers, and that if she concentrates hard enough, she can control who her vision is regarding. People begin to clamor for Amelia's attention and want her to see their future. But when Amelia's visions turn dark and she predicts a tragedy, people begin to see Amelia not as a vessel of information, but the cause of the darkness that surrounds them.

Review: I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley. I appreciate the publisher allowing me to read it prior to release, and I appreciate that this book was free, because I did not enjoy it at all. I try to always look for and find something positive to say about a novel that I didn't really care for, but I cannot say that I enjoyed a single thing about this book.

So what were my problems with this book? For starters, I did not enjoy Mitchell's writing style or Amelia's narrative voice. I read quite a bit of historical fiction and I've never encountered such an affected, forced, and often fake sounding/feeling narrative voice and construct. Much of the explanatory passages, character interactions, and general details of the novel had the feeling of having been written by someone who didn't research the language usage of the time period, and simply wrote how they thought it should sound. This was a major dent in the story for me because the story felt fake. I didn't feel like I was in 1889 while reading it. I felt like I was reading 2011 pretending to be 1889.

Because there was this fake feeling to the novel as a whole, I really had trouble liking the characters. Amelia, who is the narrator and protagonist, was very annoying, as were most of the female characters in the novel. All the characters felt so untrue from a historical fiction standpoint that I couldn't connect to any of them.

There's a supernatural element to this novel with Amelia's visions and Nathaniel's mysterious "gift." Amelia having visions was OK. Not really that interesting, though. Nathaniel's "gift" was outright hokey and ridiculous. Aside from the boring and ridiculous aspects, there was absolutely no sort of explanation as to where the "gifts" came from, why Amelia never experienced them in Maine, and what exactly triggered the visions in Maryland.

And then there was the ending of the novel. I don't do spoilers, so I am not going to give any great detail on the ending, but it was so slapdash, and totally outside the realm of the believable for a book set in 1889, that it just further entrenched my dislike of the book. Sometimes, a great ending can save what would have been just a mediocre novel. I had hope that was what would happen with this book, but it did not.

Overall, this book was very disappointing. If you still want to give it a try, I definitely recommend you check out a copy from the library. I would have been very upset if I had spent money on this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"...I had it all nearly figured out --- how to sit at the window, how to catch the light in my eyes just so. Where the gift came from remained a tantalizing mystery. I only knew that if I welcomed the sunset, the sunset would speak to me."

At sunset, the time of vespers, Amelia van den Broek can see --- that is, she has visions. She certainly doesn't understand its power, and perhaps it's nothing important. However, it's disturbing enough to her brother August that he sends her to her cousin's place for the summer, hoping that this will help her "situation." Everyone, especially Amelia, is needing a change.

"With another crisp bite of apple, I tasted --- perhaps for the first time --- the true sweetness of possibility."

The chance to go to Baltimore over that summer of 1889 was irresistible to Amelia. Staying with Zora and living in a world of Victorian finery was much nicer than being with August and her sister-in-law, Lizzy. Things never seemed happy there, and change could only bring better times. Zora is exciting to be with and knows so much more about the world. She certainly knows about boys and is an expert at flirting. Between tea parties, balls, archery and lively visits with friends, Amelia is soon entranced and swept away by all the gaiety of new adventures.

While she tries hard to conform to this new life, her "gift" follows her and eventually becomes known among a circle of Zora's friends. At once, Amelia is the center of attention and the main attraction at every party. These little parlor games are the hit of the season, and since Amelia wants very much to belong --- to please everyone --- she tries hard to appease their demands. But as her visions come, she grows frightened. Things are not going as they should. She does not like what she sees and cannot share these "truths" without hurting them. How much control does she actually have? Do her visions cause these things to happen?

Making the summer so much more memorable is the growing relationship with the mysterious Nathaniel. Although he is just a poor artist and certainly not suited for a possible marriage with Amelia, she's drawn to him.

"The warmth of his mouth bloomed across my hand, and his nails skimmed the inside of my wrist. Such great sensation for so little a touch..."

Nathaniel is like no one she has ever met. It would seem that he appears and disappears at will. His mind and hers share an intensity she cannot explain. While she knows there's danger with him, there is no resisting the pull between them:

"I looked in fire and saw the future; Nathaniel went on the winds. Should we both be monsters or not, it seemed we were infinitely suited."

She and Zora share stories and giggle together in the evenings over the relationships that are growing around them. Zora has fallen in love with Thomas, Sarah has Caleb, and now there's Amelia and Nathaniel. Like a flock of happy birds, they flutter from party to party, share their stories and bask in all the attentions. Tragedy seems so far away until a terrible accident (seen in a vision by Amelia) changes their lives and decidedly thrusts Amelia into an even more distant world, a world where her one ally is totally unexpected.

Author Saundra Mitchell's language seems perfectly reflective of this period, and her descriptions of clothes, manners, cities and people --- even the dinner parties --- are poetic. Capturing the rigid values and women's limited roles, she describes Amelia's dress:

"My suit only fit if my corsets were strung as tight as possible, so I stood breathless in heavy, peacock satin. From shoulder to thigh, my bodice armored me --- a quilted shell in more of the same dour shade..."

Describing Nathaniel: "His charm fit him as easily as his coat. Vulcan red with black velvet accents, silver buttons, and a white carnation pinned to the lapel..."

While the descriptions work beautifully in providing a sense of period, some might prefer a more contemporary tone to the writing. For this reader, though, it was sheer pleasure from beginning to end. The story has the twists, turns and time shifts to keep an audience totally fascinated. Many questions linger at the end. Exactly what or who is Nathaniel, and what becomes of Amelia? Perhaps there will be another book to follow. We can only hope.

"The moon hung low. It glittered like a curved needle, left in a field of midnight velvet..."

--- Reviewed by Sally M. Tibbetts
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
The Vespertine is the kind of YA historical that's easy to fall in love with. Strong writing and magical twists buoy a charming romance and carry it along to a bittersweet, but hopeful end.

Mitchell's heroine, Amelia Van Der Broek, is both at home and adrift in Gilded Age Baltimore. She shares many of the same dreams as her peers--she, too, longs to meet her match, a handsome gentlemen to share a future. Even so, few young ladies of society are as remarkable and winsome. But no one shares her strange gift--at sunset, during Vespers, Amelia sees sun-dappled visions of the future.

And not all of the visions are welcome.

Amelia relies on courage and wit to handle these visions of friends and strangers. And in the process, she loses her heart to a dashing, impoverished artist with a secret of his own.

Chapter by chapter, the author pulled me into Amelia's world. I savored each page, enjoying the lush imagery and the slow build of suspense. I'm anxious to see where sequels might lead--I'd fill my dance card with Saundra Mitchell's novels anytime.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 30, 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I wasn't sure quite what to expect when I picked up The Vespertine -- what exactly was it? A historical? Romance? Mystery? Paranormal? Actually, it's a little of all that and more. The story starts out after everything is over, after Amelia's life is ruined and she's back with her brother, locked in the attic because he believes her to be both insane and suicidal. Then it flashes back to what happened to destroy her life as well as all those around her, starting with her trip to Baltimore, her stay with the Stewarts, and subsequent search for a suitable husband. It's during the first dinner party that Amelia meets the completely unacceptable Nathaniel, an artist who makes extra money evening out numbers at dinner (because having thirteen people at a table? It Simply Isn't Done.) But she's intrigued. There's something different about him, something that draws her to him. It's also at this dinner party that she has her first vision.

I loved how, while there are paranormal elements, they don't overwhelm the story. Amelia's gift is subtle, coming only in the fire of the setting sun. She doesn't understand it and can't control it. Soon, Baltimore Society is clamoring for her visions and Amelia is in demand at the highest levels of society. There's mystery, too. Who is Nathaniel, besides a starving artist? How does he always seem to know where Amelia is and appears there to see her? And the romance isn't just between Amelia and Nathaniel. It seems all of young Baltimore is hooking up. For some, Amelia sees promise but for others, only darkness and death.

The language of the story is sometimes hard to understand but once you allow yourself to fall into the rhythm of the language, it reads more like a beautiful poem or song than a novel. Having read many stories set back in this time (most of them romances that involved the Ton of England but the principle's the same), I loved how she used expressions and the speech patterns of that time as well. It lends to the atmosphere of the entire book as well as the subtle intrigue.

Lyrical and haunting, The Vespertine is a beautiful read.
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