My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A fairly engrossing story set in Elizabethan England, one of those stories with gritty details about everyday life as well as plenty of descriptions of fashion and embroidery. There’s a bit of a mystery to the story, as Kat attempts to find her true parents and, she imagines, her real place in the world. The truth is revealed gradually, both through what Kat uncovers as well as through excerpts from her adopted mother’s journal, which makes the story something of a page turner but also means you know the truth long before Kat, having had access to that extra information.
The setting is fairly limited – a bit of time spent in the village where Kat grew up, followed by time at Elizabeth’s court. Once she gets to court, and is given a place due to her skill at embroidery, Kat rarely leaves the fairly small realm of Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting. There’s the occasional trip to wear the wardrobe is stored – and the descriptions of the dresses are vivid enough to delight anyone with an interest in period clothing – but having so many scenes set in and around Elizabeth’s private rooms gives the whole story an interesting sense of claustrophobia. It’s not a big, sweeping novel that gives you a sense of the Elizabethan world – instead it focuses more on a few characters and their lives, with history as a backdrop.
I recently read Jen Robinson’s comments on star ratings (among other things) which of course got me thinking again. I don’t like to rate a book on Goodreads without writing at least a few sentences about the book – I think of the star as shorthand to me, when I’m looking back over lists. It reminds me of those books that I loved when I’m trying to remember my favorites of the year, for example.
But the difference between a 3 and 4 star book, to me, is often just mood. If a few days have gone by and the book is still vivid in my memory, I might be more likely to give it four stars. If the characters stuck with me, ditto. If I thought it was well done but it didn’t appeal to me personally, I might only give it 3. A book that I enjoyed, but it lacked something stylistically? Probably 3 stars. Anything with at least 3 stars, I would recommend it to someone – maybe not anyone, but someone.
Which is all to say, I guess, that Jen’s comments reminded me that I’m always a bit uncomfortable assigning stars – and I would hate to have to do that as a professional reviewer. To me, the comments are so much more important. If all the bloggers I read just assigned stars to books, that would drive me crazy! What someone chooses to say about a book – what sticks – tells me much more about both the reader and the book.
Remembering all this is usually what forces me go back and write about books I finished a week or two ago. Not that I frequently refer to my own comments, but the process of thinking it through and writing it down solidifies my impression of a book. Then, when I’m glancing at covers or flipping through lists, I have a better chance of remembering the mood of a book or what was appealing about it.