3.5 Stars. I knew the basics of Isabella's story, but I'd never read a book about her, and so I was really looking forward to Colin Falconer's new novel about her. The story opens on the eve of twelve-year-old Isabella's wedding to Edward II, a marriage arranged to mend relations between France and England over the contested land of Gascony. Though Isabella is young and harbors romantic dreams of her future, she is, as she frequently reminds the reader, a true daughter of France, who has been shaped by her father's wisdom and austerity, and who has been raised to be a queen. She quickly realizes her new husband, while nice enough, is not the knight in shining armor she envisioned sharing her life with. He is a weak ruler living in the shadow of his father, the mighty Longshanks, easily swayed by his affections for his favorites, and increasingly unpopular with his barons. And he is desperately in love with another man, a fact that torments Isabella.
Though Edward never comes to love Isabella the way she adores him, he does eventually realize the asset he has in her wisdom and diplomacy in political matters, and Isabella finds her star rising with his people as she helps negotiate one truce after another. But as the years go by and Edward begins to neglect his countrymen even more than he does Isabella, and as he allows a new favorite to supplant Isabella not only in his bed but in his council chamber, Isabella begins to wonder if a far different future, one in which she is loved as a woman and respected as a ruler, is within her grasp. And when she has reached the end of her rope, when she is forced to finally face the harsh truth about her husband, her marriage, and the future of England, she leaps past the point of no return by throwing her lot in with the rebel leader Roger Mortimer. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of the story, which chronicled the first fifteen years of her marriage and life as Queen of England. The story is fast-paced and full of drama. I couldn't put it down as events merged to lead Isabella on the road to rebellion. But unfortunately, that's where it started to fall apart for me. Isabella is so neglected and later mistreated by her husband that I was rooting for her to finally find the relationship she longed for, but I was disappointed in the result. What should have been fulfilling for her and exciting for the reader was neither. Isabella's relationship with Roger Mortimer is depicted as so single-minded that one wonders why a woman as powerful and respected as Isabella would allow it to continue. And hardly any page time is devoted to Isabella and Mortimer's conquering of England. I realize it was, in reality, a fairly easy victory for them, but after so much lead-up to their rebellion, I was expecting more depiction of it. And after everything Isabella went through, I found her final scene to be surprisingly lacking in emotion, and I did not particularly care for the tone it ended her story on. After that, the epilogue, which subscribes to the controversial revisionist theories surrounding Edward II's demise, seemed out of place.
I was warned that I had accidentally been given a version of the book that had not undergone a final edit, so I tried very hard not to let the abundance of typos, the sudden resurrection of dead people in later scenes, and scenes appearing out of order affect my rating of the story. However, I can't help but think that the final version probably still has some of the issues that gave me pause, such as a lack of indication of the passage of time (on one page Isabella has just given birth to her second child and on the next page she has four or five) and the inconsistencies in characterization.
So what did I like about this book? That's easy: Isabella! I do feel like this is a lighter treatment of her life story--it is only 200 pages and ends long before her life does--but she was a fascinating woman, an empathetic and compelling character, and my appetite for more novels about her has been ignited. And I do think Falconer has painted a fair and realistic portrait of Edward II. Though he makes terrible decisions and is at best an ineffective ruler, he is achingly human and makes the mistake of following his heart to his ruin. This is a lightning-quick read, engaging and entertaining, and as long as the final version of the book being sold to readers has been corrected, I can recommend it to anyone looking for an introduction to this famous "She-wolf" of England.(less)
2.5 Stars. I'm intrigued by Irish history, and I find it so hard to comprehend sometimes how a modern Western society could be at war over religion, s...more2.5 Stars. I'm intrigued by Irish history, and I find it so hard to comprehend sometimes how a modern Western society could be at war over religion, so I was looking forward to reading this book and getting an insider's view of the events leading up to and encompassing the Easter Rising of 1916. One of the first things that struck me in this book was the use of the theater as a medium for political activism. In an era before before movies and TV and the evening news, plays were the most personal way to reach an audience and draw attention to a plight or evoke emotion toward a cause, and the Irish nationalists used it to their full advantage. The backdrop of Dublin's theater scene provided a very evocative setting that dripped with Irish atmosphere, but it wasn't enough. This book has a few issues that prevented me from truly enjoying the story.
While Ms. Neary does display some moments of semantic brilliance in her poignant observations about the Irish culture and human nature, to find them the reader has to suffer through mounds of unnatural dialogue full of dramatic monologues and history lessons, and the life stories of every single character who had anything to do with the Rising upon their introduction to the story (and there are many). The story is also told in an omniscient point of view that allows for a good bit of head-hopping, and that served to never really allow me to connect with any of the characters. Helena is supposed to be the lead, but the story meanders into the lives of many others, most of whom I couldn't make myself care for. They're all either drunks, bullies, or adulterers--and sometimes all three. I was also a bit miffed about being misled by the mention of Helena's two lovers in the book description; there are no passionate love affairs in this novel--in fact, the only passion Helena ever exhibits is for Irish nationalism, and I had a hard time figuring out where that passion came from. And while her every reluctant encounter with Bulmer is depicted (and he's actually the best of the lot, though Helena is either too jaded or too stubborn to see it), the reader doesn't even learn that Helena had been intimate with Sean until their affair is over.
But despite my disenchantment with the characters and the unevenness of the story arc, I had to keep reading to see how everything would play out. I kept hoping that the Rising and its aftermath would make it all worthwhile, but I was disappointed again. The Rising itself was sort of anti-climactic, and it felt as if I were being held at arm's length throughout. It takes place over the course of only a few pages. Characters are wounded and killed, and there is no emotion on the part of the survivors whatsoever. (Overall, I thought the story was surprisingly lacking in emotion from the characters for its subject matter.) I really had been expecting a lot more from it since the entire book had been building to that point. And things seemed to fall apart from there. Toward the very end, we start learning about some pretty monumental things that Helena's been through since the Rising from other characters as the focus of the story shifts to characters that were relatively unknown for the first 400 pages of the book. But finally, the very last page felt so right after so much wrong, and it brought a smile to my face, and that's the reason for the bump up to 2.5 stars.
So unfortunately, this book didn't really live up to my expectations. But it does seem to be well researched, and most of the characters were actual historical figures, so it may be worth a read for anyone with a keen interest in this time period. (less)
I wanted to read this novel the moment I saw it. I'm a sucker for American historical fiction, and I had no idea Napoleon's baby brother had spent time in the states and had even married an American girl, Betsy Patterson, "the Belle of Baltimore." The story follows Betsy from her childhood in the large family of a wealthy Baltimore shipping merchant to her meeting and whirlwind courtship with French naval officer Jerome Bonaparte, her father's futile attempts to thwart their marriage, and their adventurous honeymoon trip, and then through the fight of her life as she and her young husband, who wed without his family's permission, become subject to the ire of the Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, who refuses to recognize the validity of their marriage and makes them pawns in his war with England and the rest of Europe.
The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is a great debut novel. It's a little heavy at times on precise description, but other than that, it's very well written. It's a story that encompasses many years and many characters, and Ms. Chatlien did a fantastic job of constructing the narrative arc, knowing when to narrow in on the important details and when to pull back to offer a broader view. The research seems to have been very thorough, and I love that the author used snippets of real letters surviving to this day to help carry the story along. The pacing suffered just a tad--I really enjoyed the beginning and I was well hooked on the story, but as the middle of the novel approached, I began to weary of the constant push and pull, back and forth--were they or weren't they going to get married, were they or weren't they going to France. It began to drag for me. But once Betsy and Jerome arrived in Europe and faced Napoleon's wrath, the pace picked back up again, and I was burning through the pages to see how everything would shake out and how Betsy would pick up the pieces of her life.
"Nothing ever turns out as we desire. But thus it has ever been, and I must adapt to my fate or be broken by it."
It was very easy to like Betsy and get swept up in her life in the beginning. I liked her so much and was getting so wrapped up in her dreams, in fact, that I did something I rarely do: I looked her up. I thought back on the little I knew of Jerome from reading other Napoleonic fiction--and it wasn't good--so I needed to prepare myself for what was going to happen. I understood how a girl like Betsy could yearn for something more and how she might see the dashing young Bonaparte as her ticket to that something more, but as the story progressed, I began to get annoyed with her single-minded focus on becoming royalty. Even at the end, she was still holding on to a dream that never materialized. I was disappointed that she continued to grasp and reach (in the name of her son, though one gets the feeling she sought to live vicariously through him) rather than make a life for herself with what she had, and what she could have had. I admired the grace and poise with which she conducted herself in the face of so much adversity, but ultimately, I was sorry that she could not see past her ambition to attain the personal happiness that should have been hers.
But Betsy was a real person with real flaws, and I cannot hold her life choices against the novel. Not only does this story shed light on a little-known woman who stood up to one of the most powerful men the world has ever seen, it's also a great portrait of family life in a burgeoning American port city. Baltimore and nearby Washington D.C. take center stage and make fine backdrops for a novel rife with political, economical, and emotional turmoil. And it's nice to get to see the War of 1812 depicted on such a personal level. I'm very glad I took this book on and learned about the life and times of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, and I can highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys American historical fiction or who is looking for something outside the realm of European royals.(less)
3.5 Stars. I've read several books in recent years about the persecution and subsequent expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and all of them ended with t...more3.5 Stars. I've read several books in recent years about the persecution and subsequent expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and all of them ended with the central Jewish characters leaving, though none said where they were going. So I was left wondering: Where did the Jews go when they were forced out of Spain? This book gave me an answer: the Ottoman Empire. Aha! This story begins with two young people whose privileged world is upended when they discover that the Christian lives they've been living do not reflect their true heritage. But embracing their secret Jewish ancestry and faith places them in danger as the inquisition sweeps through, and they are forced to flee to Istanbul, where they find shelter under Suleiman the Magnificent's rule. The couple's daughter, Tamar, is raised and educated among the Sultan's harem, where she forms a close friendship with Suleiman's grandson, Murat, that blossoms into love. But just as Murat is coming into manhood and preparing to step into his role as the next ruler of the Ottoman Empire, with his beloved Tamar at his side, Tamar disappears. Devastated and unaccepting, Murat consults a seer who tells him that he and Tamar are destined to be together again, and thus Murat devotes much of his life to finding his lost love, and going a bit mad in the process, giving rise to whispers of a Sultan's Curse that will plague generations of his descendants. The rest of the story follows various descendants of both Murat and Tamar as their souls search for each other throughout the ages.
I took me a while to warm up to The Debt of Tamar--about 200 pages, actually--and the reason for that is the writing style. It's a fast-moving story that does not leave much room for character development until the present-day storyline nears its conclusion. The quick pace doesn't leave a lot of room for in-depth story exploration either. Because it's a sweeping saga spanning multiple families and generations, I found it hard to develop a real emotional connection with most of the characters. Just when I felt like I was getting to know one of them, their part in the story was over and it was time to move on to the next character. And I felt like not enough time was spent on Tamar and Murat for me to feel the soul-deep connection that would give rise to the Sultan's Curse and guide the destinies of generations of their descendants. Nor could I figure out how some of the later characters were related to them. So I just tried to sweep those questions to the back of my mind and enjoy the story for what it was.
While I did feel that the writing lacked the sophistication and depth I've come to expect from historical fiction, Ms. Dweck did leave room in her prose for some fantastic, haunting imagery, poignant observations and social commentary, and mouth-watering description. I loved how the story wove together threads of the Jews under the Spanish Inquisition and under the Nazi regime, highlighting some similarities I had not fully recognized myself until now. I was totally enthralled as events and people finally came together in the present day, and the story did not pan out at all like I thought it would, so big props for unpredictability, but I can't say I was pleased with the outcome. I felt kind of gypped, like I didn't get to see the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy. Though I did shed a tear. I know! This book is a jumble of contrasting feelings for me--things I loved and things I didn't, elements that worked beautifully and some that didn't seem to work at all, characters whose motivations I couldn't understand and some whose motivations I understood all too well. There's definitely never a dull moment, and it takes the reader on a wild ride from Spain to the Sultan's palace and his harem to Paris under Nazi occupation to Palestine and present-day Istanbul and New York, with threads of the past and the Sultan's Curse woven throughout.
The Debt of Tamar is something different, something that may introduce readers to some history they haven't encountered yet, and something that may spark deeper thinking. I think this is the kind of book that will be a different experience for every reader. With so many characters and events and things to ponder, no two readers will walk away with the same thoughts and reflections. I like books like that.(less)
3.5 Stars. The Mapmaker's Daughter tells the story of Amalia Riba, a fictional character who bears witness to the tragic path that leads from the pers...more3.5 Stars. The Mapmaker's Daughter tells the story of Amalia Riba, a fictional character who bears witness to the tragic path that leads from the persecution to the expulsion of Jews on the Iberian Peninsula in the latter half of the fifteenth century. She lives a long and eventful life during a turbulent period in history, and along the way she rubs elbows with some of the most famous historical figures of the time, from her childhood on the fringes of Prince Henry the Navigator's court, to tutoring a young Isabella of Castile and bearing witness to Torquemada's inquisition. I was taken with Amalia from the beginning, when we meet her as a small child living as a converso, a person of Jewish descent who lives openly as a Christian. But her mother and grandmother cling to their Jewish heritage, praying and performing rituals in secret, and Amalia embraces this part of her ancestry, cherishing the closeness she feels to these women in their moments of faith. But the world is changing around Amalia, and it becomes more and more dangerous to practice the old faith. As she matures into a young woman, torn between her outward and inward displays of faith, Amalia constantly questions what it means to be a Jew, what it means to be a Christian, and how she can be true to herself in a world where doing so could mean her death.
I really grew to love Amalia and to feel for her internal conflict and the heartwrenching choices she was forced to make to remain true to her beliefs. But the story became something different about two-thirds of the way through when the focus shifted from Amalia's deeply emotional personal journey to a broader narrative of the later years of her life, her daughter's life, and grandchildren's lives, and that of Portugal's and Spain's constant political clashes and religious persecution. The story lost most of its intimacy at that point, and I found the huge cast of characters--many of whom were her grandchildren, and some of whom had the same names as other characters--hard to keep straight. I confess to skimming a bit at this point to get to the end and the climactic moment when Amalia would choose the course of her future. But I must say that after all of the build-up, the ending did not provide me with the closure I needed to say good-bye to Amalia's story. It was so abrupt and vague that I thought for a moment that I had a defective copy and was missing a final chapter. But that was not the case.
Though there were moments of brightness and joy, I found this story to ultimately be rather depressing. While I could admire Amalia's devotion to her faith, and the joy she took in sharing it with her family, I couldn't help but think of how much she lost because of that devotion, and I grieved for how differently her life might have turned out and what might have been. Especially given that she did harbor some regrets and had a deep sense of having an element missing from her life. I was left wondering if it was all worth the cost, and I don't know if, at the end, she could really say that it was. I just turned the last page feeling unbearably sad, both for her character and for the tragedy that befell the Jewish people during this time in history. The Mapmaker's Daughter is very well written and impeccably researched, and I can recommend it as a worthy read for such a personal insight into this period of religious persecution, but be prepared for the overriding sense of sadness and loss that flows through the story.(less)
Another winner from Elizabeth Loupas! The Red Lily Crown is an exciting and dangerous novel of Florence under Francesco de Medici's rule, and if you're not familiar with Francesco and his family, prepare to be shocked! Our story begins when Chiara Nerini, a young woman desperate to feed her starving family, attempts to sell her late father's alchemical equipment to Francesco de Medici, the regent and soon-to-be Grand Duke of Florence. Chiara ends up helping her family survive, but not in the way she imagined. She is given a position in Francesco's court as his soror mystica, a feminine counterpart to himself and his assistant, Englishman Ruan dell'Inghilterra, in his ultimate quest to create the mythical Philosopher's Stone.
Motivated by her own reasons for seeking to harness the power of the famed stone, she embarks on a path of alchemical education and enlightenment, pampered for the first time in her life and privy to some of the inner secrets of the court. But she quickly learns that Francesco's favor never comes without a price, and as his quest for power grows and his wrath turns on those she cares about, Chiara soon finds herself trapped in his court, fighting for her own life, attempting to stay one step ahead of a madman while vowing vengeance for those he betrayed. She is eventually aided in this effort by Ruan, who has his own reasons for hating Francesco, but in a court full of deception and betrayal, considering his dark background and even darker secrets, she'll have to decide if she can afford to trust him with her own secrets, with her heart . . . and with her very life.
I really liked this story. Chiara is the best kind of heroine: smart, bold, and ambitious yet also loving, loyal, and all-too innocent in the beginning. I also really liked the way Ms. Loupas handled the portrayal of Francesco de Medici. Yes, he's twisted, but he's also very human, yearning for the same things most of us yearn for: love, respect, knowledge. However, unlike most of us, when he doesn't get his way, people tend to die. And they do even when he does get his way, actually. I have to admit, I found it hard to dislike him, even as he did some pretty vile things. It may have had something to do with the fact that he doesn't actually get his own hands dirty, and so there was a sort of distance between him and his crimes. As the story progresses he grows more and more monstrous, but he's a refined monster, the most dangerous kind, the kind that always keeps you guessing, as Chiara soon finds out for herself.
I also found the alchemy and political turmoil of the time to be very interesting and great backdrops for the story. It also provides an interesting view into the art of poisoning, which the medieval Italians seem to have perfected. Much time is spent in the laboratory, but the trio of alchemists are surrounded by a good cast of supporting characters, from Francesco's poor wife Giovanna to his vindictive mistress Bianca to Chiara's feisty grandmother Nonna, they flesh out the canvas, presenting a very nuanced and evocative portrayal of the Florentine court and its subjects. I really only had one issue, and that was that I wasn't as impressed by the romance between Chiara and Ruan. It's not the focal point of the story until the end draws near, but I think it could have been a bit more developed. It was easy to see what Ruan saw in Chiara, but I found him a bit harder to like, and after so much indifference and single-mindedness on his part, his declarations were not as easy for me to buy as they were for Chiara. But I am a hopeless romantic, and I usually need to get caught up in a good love story for me to be wholly satisfied with a book. Other readers may have no complaints.
All in all, The Red Lily Crown is a well-written, suspenseful historical thriller featuring an engaging young heroine, providing a fascinating glimpse into an immoral and sociopathic family and the effects they had on those they ruled. It should please fans of historical fiction, particularly those interested in Italy's medieval ruling families.(less)
3.5 Stars. I really enjoy dystopian young adult novels, and I'm always looking for something new in the genre, so The Sowing went on my list as soon a...more3.5 Stars. I really enjoy dystopian young adult novels, and I'm always looking for something new in the genre, so The Sowing went on my list as soon as I saw it. I was drawn in right away as the story opens with the brutal murder of Remy Alexander's older sister, Tai, and the mystery of who was behind the attack and why deepens. After religious wars followed by years of famine decimated the population, the remaining society has evolved and organized itself into a series of farms and research labs--those who come up with the ideas and those who do the manual labor to implement them--to keep the people safe and healthy. But there is another group of people who have realized the Sector and OAC have been manipulating their subjects for years with genetically modified food, and that they will stop at nothing to ensure their programs of oppression, forced labor, and breeding remain in place. After the massacre, Remy and her parents, who used to be prominent officials in the Sector, flee to the Wilds where they join this group, the Resistance, living outside of the Sector's reach among the mysterious and secretive Outsiders, spreading the news of the Sector's lies and manipulations, taking shots at the Sector's storage and research facilities when they can, and working toward a day when the Sector's programs can be exposed and destroyed, restoring the order of nature and free will among the people.
It's a difficult and dangerous life, and over three years, Remy has become a hardened and seasoned rebel fighter. But she left a little piece of her heart behind when she fled the Sector in the form of Valerian Orlean, her almost-boyfriend and son of the two most powerful people in the Sector, the chancellor and the head of the OAC. And Vale has just been appointed as the director of a new program aimed at breaking the Resistance. Vale was raised for success and leadership; his life has been one of privilege and luxury, but he takes his training very seriously and determines to do what is necessary to preserve the stability of the Sector, even if it means finding out that Remy Alexander broke his heart and disappeared three years earlier to aid his enemies, and even if it means he'll have to turn her over to the authorities for punishment. But when Remy and Vale come face-to-face during a rebel mission gone horribly wrong, neither of them will ever be the same again. Forced to consider that everything he has ever known has been a lie, Vale must decide where his loyalties lie, and Remy must determine if she has the strength to keep fighting, and if she can trust Vale in the process.
I'm torn between calling this just OK or saying that I really liked it. (Damned star ratings!) Because I did like it, but not as much as others in the genre.I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of this book, but I thought it started to unravel a bit toward the end. The story is pretty fast-paced, though I will admit to skimming over some sections of scientific and technical jargon. The world-building is well-drawn and believable, the characters are interesting, and the motivations and relationships are very realistic. But in the end, I had more questions than answers. I realize this is first in a trilogy, so I know all answers will be revealed with time, but I had been expecting more meat to chew over in the meantime. I think one of my biggest issues is that the truth of what the Sector has been doing in secret was only touched on and the repercussions of it not expanded enough for me to understand what was at stake if the Sector wasn't stopped, and therefore I couldn't totally get what the Resistance was fighting for. I also couldn't get a good handle on the two men in Remy's life, and it would appear a love triangle is forming for the remaining books. Her Resistance friend Soren is aloof, condescending, and shady, though for all of that he seems to have an attachment to her, and Vale seemed inconstant to me. Initially, I really liked him; he's smart, compassionate, and capable, but his life-changing decisions were made pretty much on the fly and he thinks about other girls a lot. So bottom line is I thought this was a good read, and something different, but I'm not dying to know what happens in the next book. Time will tell if I decide to continue with the series.(less)
I knew nothing about Robert Louis Stevenson before reading this book, and his life sounded like...moreGiveaway! Enter to win this book @ Let Them Read Books!
I knew nothing about Robert Louis Stevenson before reading this book, and his life sounded like one grand adventure, so I couldn't wait to read about it, especially from the point of view of his stalwart wife. I fell for Fanny instantly. She's got that American gumption, that can-do attitude, that mentality that she is free and can do anything she sets her mind to. I'm going to forego a plot recap because life takes many twists and turns for the Stevensons, and I don't want to spoil anything, plus they just do so much stuff that I haven't the time to recap it all! The basic gist is that Fanny up and leaves her no-good husband and takes her children to Europe, where she sets up an artist's life and is eventually introduced to the young aspiring writer, Robert Louis Stevenson--known as Louis to his friends. For the next two decades their lives are inseparably entwined as they travel the world on many an adventure, riding the highs and lows of married life, the ebb and flow of fame and fortune, and the fickle whims of fate and failing health.
I just loved reading about this nineteenth century version of "jet-setting," where the jets are ships and trains, where artistic and literary types meet up in their favorite locales to inspire one another and travel halfway around the world to visit each other and fuel their creativity. I enjoyed sitting in as they discussed their craft, and I loved getting wrapped up in Louis's bursts of creative brilliance. And I really felt for Fanny as she put her own dreams on hold and fearlessly changed track each and every time it was required to save her husband's life. Though at times she mourned the loss of the life she had hoped to live, at times she harbored understandable feelings of resentment, she never lost her sense of self or her love for her husband, her children, and the determination to make the best of any situation.
I only have one real complaint, though it's a big one: the pacing is just so darned slow. After a wonderful beginning that swept me away with Fanny as she embarked on her new life, and then as she embarked on another adventure as the new Mrs. Stevenson, I was disappointed to find my interest waning. There were places where I really felt like I was slogging through an abundance of material that didn't necessarily need to be there, and I confess to skimming scenes that just didn't hold my interest. It didn't help that their married life sort of ran in repetitive cycles: Louis gets sick, they move, he gets better, repeat over and over until they settle in Samoa. Fortunately, things picked up again at that point, and watching Fanny and Louis form their own little eclectic community in Samoa was interesting and then exciting as they found themselves in the middle of a civil war. That combined with the emotional ending brought the book firmly back into four-star territory.
I mourned the loss of Louis right along with Fanny and the rest of the world. He was Scotland's hero, the weaver of stories that captured the imagination of his generation and those that followed. He was a bright star who determined to make the most out of life despite the betrayal of his frail body. He lived life to the fullest in a madcap, whimsical way that most of us would envy today, and the book is well worth the read just for that sense of joy and freedom alone. All in all, a good read for lovers of classic literature who enjoy getting a glimpse into the makers' minds and the bygone era in which it was inspired and created.(less)
When I first read the description of this book, I thought, "Footloose in Regency England! I'm so there!" Then I saw Julie Klassen was the author, and...moreWhen I first read the description of this book, I thought, "Footloose in Regency England! I'm so there!" Then I saw Julie Klassen was the author, and I knew it was going to be good. Ms. Klassen has a knack for writing sweeping inspirational historical romances with just the right blend of story and faith. (Two of my favorites: The Apothecary's Daughter and The Girl in the Gatehouse.) I admit I got off to a slow start with this one, but once the characters were in place and the mystery of why dancing was banned in Beaworthy started to take shape, I was hooked.
Alec Valcourt is disappointed to arrive in Beaworthy, the village his uncles lives in, to discover there is a moratorium on dancing. He's just moved to the country with his mother and sister to escape a scandal and start over, but how can he earn a living when the subject he teaches is banned? He soon learns that the villagers are not uninterested in his services, but they dare not risk angering Lady Amelia Midwinter, whose patronage they rely so heavily upon. But Lady Amelia's daughter, Julia, is thrilled to have a dancing master in the village. Beautiful, bold, and yearning to be anywhere in the world but Beaworthy, she attempts to work her charms on Alec. But he is quick to see through her facade to the sad and lonely girl underneath. As she introduces Alec to her friends, secret dance lessons commence and Alec becomes emboldened to finally open a school in the village.
But the arrival of a dancing master stirs up painful memories for Julia's mother, and amidst unanswered questions, suspicions, and sharp words, their relationship crumbles. Julia rebels under her mother's tight reins and determines to uncover the real reason behind the dancing ban. But will she uncover more than she bargained for? Who is the mysterious stranger suddenly arrived in the village who seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time? And what will happen to the hard-earned trust Alec has won with the villagers when his past catches up with him?
I'm not telling; you'll have to read it for yourself! But I really enjoyed this story, and it was fun to watch the village slowly awaken to joy and laughter again after two decades. There are a multitude of supporting characters who contribute to the success of the story, and I found myself grinning quite often toward the end as Julia and Alec savored their small victories, and as the villagers came around to support Alec and stand up to a pair of bullies plaguing the village. I thought I had Lady Amelia's secret figured out, but it turns out I didn't have it quite right, which was a nice surprise. And Julia's journey of self-discovery was by turns uplifting and heartbreaking.
But after all that, I was a bit disappointed by the structure of the ending. All's well that ends well, but I felt like a lot of the payoff I had been waiting for happened between the last chapter and the epilogue, so I didn't actually get to bear witness to those moments like I wanted to. But aside from that, I thought it a great read. Ms. Klassen paints a charming portrait of small-town life in Regency England with characters the reader can't help but root for. It should really satisfy fans of inspirational historical romance.(less)
4.5 Stars. I have a confession to make: After reading half a dozen books featuring rotten players wh...moreGiveaway ends November 17th @ Let Them Read Books!
4.5 Stars. I have a confession to make: After reading half a dozen books featuring rotten players who were supposed to be heroes, wishy-washy heroines who could do much better, and nothing but sex everywhere with nary a real story in sight, I quickly became disenchanted with the "new adult" genre. I vowed not to allow myself to be drawn in again by a sexy cover and a flashy description. So when the blog tour invitation arrived for Finding It, I was hesitant. But I was drawn to the different setting of this one--who can resist a European tour with a hunky guy? So I read it. Actually, I inhaled it. And upon finishing, I was like,
Holy cow, this is what new adult is supposed to be like!
I was drawn into Kelsey's story right off the bat and I couldn't put it down. It's been awhile since a book has really gotten under my skin, and I'm grateful to Finding It for pulling me out of my slump. Not only is the book exceptionally well written, but there's actually a real, meaningful STORY to go along with the sexy times. Kelsey has just graduated from college and is attempting to find some purpose to her life. She comes from a wealthy family, a product of a loveless marriage, and her parents are far more concerned with appearances and their own projects than they are with their daughter. As her friends settle in to post-college jobs and relationships, Kelsey feels lost. So what better way to find herself than to spend a few months partying across Europe on her daddy's credit cards? But Kelsey soon realizes that putting thousands of miles between herself and her problems doesn't make them go away, and she's not finding that sense of purpose and meaning she's desperately seeking in clubs and bars. So when she meets sexy fellow American Jackson Hunt, who is not into drinking and casual sex, but is into showing her what she's been missing on her grand tour, Kelsey decides a change in gears is exactly what she needs.
I loved reading along as Jackson took her to some of his favorite places in Europe, many of them off the beaten track and none of them including a bar or a club. I could feel the point where Kelsey started to finally get the big picture, when she realized that slowing down and just being, just enjoying the view and savoring the moment, was what it was really all about, and I was so happy for her. I was also happy that she got to experience one of the most awesome first kisses ever (real first kisses--you'll know what I mean when you read it)! And I loved that Kelsey and Jackson didn't just fall into bed together. She wants him from the beginning, and she knows he wants her and that he feels the deeper connection growing between them, but something is holding him back. At one point, I had a niggling little suspicion about the secret Jackson was hiding, but I had completely forgotten about it by the time the bomb was dropped, and I was left reeling just like Kelsey was. But she needed that experience too. Because in the end, Kelsey's European tour does finally serve its purpose--helping Kelsey find hers. It's not easy and there are some bumps in the road, but she emerges stronger, more grounded, and ready to be an adult and start the rest of her life.
The only drawback to this story is that I felt like I didn't really get to know Jackson terribly well, and he has a very interesting and meaningful back story, so I would have liked to see more of it come out. But at its heart, this is Kelsey's story, and when the only complaint you have is that you want more, more, more, can you really call it a complaint? I would say that this is actually the first "new adult" novel I've read that really gets across the "new adult" experience. It's not about having as much sex as you can and getting the guy that no other girl can get. It's about discovering who you are, what's most important in life, and what you want to do with yours. And Finding It nails it. Loved it.(less)
I love stories of frontier life and the American West. Throw in a European woman falling in lov...moreGiveaway! Enter to win this book @ Let Them Read Books!
I love stories of frontier life and the American West. Throw in a European woman falling in love with her Native American captor, and I'm totally there. So I was really looking forward to reading The Spirit Keeper. It's hard to go into much detail about plot without giving anything away, so I'll let the back cover blurb speak for itself and tell you how the story affected me. I was drawn to Katie right away. Her life before being captured (or rescued, depending on how you look at it) is vividly recreated in her memories as she compares and contrasts her old life with her new, and throughout the story, her emotions, particularly her keen sense of being unloved and unwanted, and then her joy and uplifting as those old fears were conquered, were living, tangible things.
The story kept me on the edge of my seat, burning through the pages to figure out what Syawa's vision entailed and what Katie's special gift for his people would be, and I was both pleasantly surprised and then somewhat disappointed at the twists and turns the story took as more of the vision was revealed because it ended up being not quite what I was expecting (nor what Katie was expecting either), and I was left feeling like the story could have gone much deeper. I know that seems odd to say of a story all about the power of dreams and visions and spiritual connections, and I can't quite put my finger on it, but it just feels like an opportunity was missed for a more profound message. The novel is on the shorter side, so more time certainly could have been spent exploring the central themes in more detail, and I would have enjoyed reading it. I wanted more of Katie and her companions. And while Katie really struggled all of her previous life and in the beginning of this journey, I couldn't help but feel that some things happened too easily for her toward the end. The Spirit Keeper strikes me as being more like a dressed up historical romance--which is totally fine by me, I love 'em! I say this so that those who aren't into romance are aware. And on another note, I was not bothered at all by the historical language and spellings, but there were a few anachronisms that will probably catch the eye of devoted historical fiction readers.
But overall, this emotional journey really put me through the wringer. I laughed, I cried, I sighed in contentment. The characters are very well drawn and the description and depictions of Native American beliefs, customs, and rituals were mesmerizing, as was watching Katie's transformation from a downtrodden, browbeaten farm girl to a strong and fearless--and loved--warrior. The Spirit Keeper is a quick and intense read and should appeal to anyone who loves historical fiction with a strong romantic element. I'm looking forward to more from this author, especially since there is plenty of room for a sequel!(less)
First off, isn't this cover smokin' hot? I think this is my favorite of all Foster's covers. I mea...moreGiveaway through November 7th @ Let Them Read Books!
First off, isn't this cover smokin' hot? I think this is my favorite of all Foster's covers. I mean, holy cow, who wouldn't want to read about him? And his name is Rowdy? And he owns a bar? You just know this is gonna be good! And it is. Turns out it's also one of my favorite stories of hers. I don't read many contemporaries, but I make an exception for Lori Foster. I've read the first four in her Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor series, which I very much enjoyed, but I haven't had a chance to catch up on this series, Love Under Cover. So I was a bit disappointed when the story opened and I realized Rowdy and Avery had been making eyes at each other for two books before I met them. But I got over it. Quickly. I literally could not put this book down from start to finish. Okay, there were a couple of times when I HAD to put it down, but I wasn't happy about it!
Rowdy Yates has had a tough life, but he's putting it behind him. After years of drifting, he's managed to save up enough money to turn a run-down dive into his dream bar and make the first real home for himself. Women have always been a pleasurable way to stave off his demons and keep the darkness at bay, but he's yet to meet a woman he wants outside of bed . . . until he hires bartender Avery Mullins. Sweet, honest, hardworking, doesn't-realize-she's-sexy-as-hell Avery turns Rowdy's world upside down when she declines his invitation for some fun between the sheets. Rowdy was already hot for the petite redhead, but now his curiosity is piqued even more. But the more he's determined to find out what's going on with her, the more she's determined to put up a wall between them. And Avery has her reasons. Rowdy is everything a woman could want in a man: handsome, strong, smart, compassionate, and fiercely protective of those he loves. Avery could get used to his attentions, but she knows Rowdy doesn't do relationships, and she can't bear to be just another woman he walks away from once he's gotten what he wants. Rowdy has become someone she can trust and depend on in a world of people who have let her down, and she's not about to give that up for a night of pleasure. She's careful and cautious--she has to be, she has her own demons she's trying to put behind her, only hers are the human kind, and she's always got one eye looking over her shoulder, waiting for the day when her past will catch up with her and she'll have to flee again.
When Rowdy is injured defending Avery in a bar fight, Avery takes on his recovery as her responsibility. As they spend more time alone together, they both find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Avery is touched by Rowdy's love and devotion to his sister and to a traumatized young boy he's taken under his wing. But if she gives in to her desire, will she be able to handle it when Rowdy walks away, as he inevitably will? And what will Rowdy do if he finds out where she came from and what she's running for? Rowdy has never let a woman into the private sanctuary of his apartment before, but now that Avery is there, he doesn't want her to leave. He's finally found a woman he can't walk away from. But can he convince Avery of that? And will Avery be able to handle the baggage he carries with him? It's a battle of wills as these two dance around each other, and since Avery refuses to be just another notch on his belt, the sexual tension is HOT and carries on and builds up until it reaches epic proportions! But just as everything is about to fall into place for the lovebirds, Avery's past comes calling with dangerous intent and deadly consequences.
So let me get out of the way the things that kept me from calling it perfect so I can tell you what I loved about it: The final twist gets big thumbs up for catching me completely by surprise, but that's tempered by the fact that I thought it was over-the-top and rather unbelievable. And the parts with the kid dragged on too long and overflowed with sappy goodness. Now here's what's awesome about it: Rowdy and Avery. Rowdy is the wounded bad boy, the protective big brother, the guy with a chip on his shoulder that he uses to take down bad guys. Watching him fall for a woman and reach for the happiness and security he was denied as a child was a real treat. Avery surprised me. Yeah, she's hiding, but she has a lot of strength and a strong sense of self. I loved that she made Rowdy work for it, and I loved that she was unafraid to lay it all on the line, and unafraid to stand up to Rowdy and call him out when necessary. Together, they make a great couple. Perfect complements for each other. And that penultimate scene between them--absolutely adorable. Great characters, a fun setting, excitement, danger, and true love . . . it's another sexy and oh-so-satisfying romance from Lori Foster!(less)
Oh, how I was looking forward to this book! I love reading about Restoration England and the Merry M...moreAuthor Interview + Giveaway @ Let Them Read Books!
Oh, how I was looking forward to this book! I love reading about Restoration England and the Merry Monarch and his licentious court. And I love reading about lesser-known people whose impact on history gets outshone by the light of the bright stars of their age. History may remember Frances Stuart simply as the only woman who managed not to succumb to King Charles II's charms--and that is highly debatable--but she was also the face of Britannia, chosen because the king felt she was the embodiment of the strengths of his great nation; she was beloved by just about every courtier, artist, and poet in his court, and she was an island of goodness and honor in a sea of debauchery and self-servitude. She was a calming, gentling influence on the king, and though her status as his mistress is debated, no one denies the longstanding and intimate friendship the two enjoyed. And she was just about the only woman who was able to exert any influence on his policies. Ms. Jefferson had a real opportunity here to take a woman fairly unfamiliar to modern readers, a woman who was famous in her time, though largely forgotten by history, and bring her back to life in a way that would allow her humanity to shine through while providing insight into a tumultuous time period. And she nailed it!
I absolutely loved Frances. Though she is subject to the demands of her family and of her king, she is no simpering milksop. She is so poised, so strong, so prescient in her ability to see through any situation to the heart of the matter that it seems as if she really must have been as Ms. Jefferson portrays her to have been able to capture and hold the estimation of not only her king but her fellow countrymen as well. And since we are privy to her inner thoughts, we get to witness her personal struggle with balancing the demands on her; we get to witness those private moments when her poise and graciousness fall away, where she's simply a daughter desperate to protect her family, simply a woman in love caught in a web of political maneuvering that never allows her to throw caution to the wind and reach for her own happiness. I knew a little bit about her life, and so I was prepared for the things coming her way, but I never stopped rooting for her to overcome them all. Really, I think it's a shame that a little two-bit actress like Nell Gwyn is best loved by history among his mistresses when Frances Stuart and even her archrival Lady Castlemaine were such grand women. Don't get me wrong: I've read several books about Nell, and I admire her spirit and her rise to the top, but when compared to the beauty, grace, intelligence, and accomplishment of Frances Stuart, she doesn't even come close.
I really wanted to rate this novel higher, and even now I'm toying with my final rating. I loved the characterization and I was thoroughly emotionally invested, but the storytelling was a little uneven in places. I wanted more. (WARNING: spoiler-ish material ahead.) Some events are skipped over or only briefly mentioned, like the deaths of the two most important men in her life. I wanted to know how her husband died and how she coped, and I wanted to be there with her when King Charles died. More page time is devoted to a royal hand-job than to the death of her husband, and the king's death was a footnote. I found that rather odd since practically the entire novel revolves around her relationship with him. So that was a big disappointment for me. And I had been looking forward to experiencing some of the cataclysmic events that took place during her time at court through her survival of them--the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London--but instead they are portrayed from a distance, and I felt like a real opportunity was missed in those instances to bring the enormous gravity of them to life, like Kathleen Winsor does in Forever Amber, one of my all-time faves.
But in spite of my desire for more in-depth coverage, I really did love Girl on the Golden Coin. It's a gorgeous novel, lush and intoxicating, with an inspiring heroine readers can't help but get swept away with. It's a loving tribute to a woman who deserves to be better remembered by history and a must-read for historical fiction lovers.(less)
Well this was a rip-roaring Carolingian good time! It's pretty much nonstop action and drama as Charles Martel (Charlemagne's grandfather) faces the e...moreWell this was a rip-roaring Carolingian good time! It's pretty much nonstop action and drama as Charles Martel (Charlemagne's grandfather) faces the end of his life and attempts to ensure his legacy remains intact by dividing his Frankish realm between his three sons: Carloman, Pippin, and Gripho. Of course, this creates a world of trouble after his death as all three sons have different ideas as to how to consolidate their power and finally turn the realm into a kingdom, as was their father's wish. On top of that, his daughter, Trudi, openly rebels against the marriage he arranged for her before he died, choosing instead to run away, and his pagan widow, Sunnichild, has ideas of her own for how her son, Charles's youngest, Gripho, should earn his share of the pie alongside his Christian brothers. And on top of that, Charles's enemies take advantage of the family strife and seize the chance to take back their conquered lands, adding more chaos to the tableau.
This is a rich story, full of complex characters and tricky relationships set against the backdrop of constant warfare for territory and religious reform in the eighth century. Many characters feature in the story, but for me, the stars were the women, Sunni and Trudi, and to a lesser extent, Pippin's mistress, Bertrada. Though they must bear the repercussions of the actions of the men in their lives, they are not without their own power, and each of them has a pivotal role to play in the destiny of this powerful family, navigating through the twisting whims of fate and the perils of the human heart to strive for their own chances at happiness while honoring what is good and right in a world torn by violence and vengeance.
I thoroughly enjoyed Anvil of God. It's like a Carolingian soap opera with lots of drama, political maneuvering, betrayals, and familial strife. It's a lot like Game of Thrones without the fantasy, although after reading the author's notes and discovering that so much of this story--including pivotal events, character actions, and personality traits--was pure fiction, I would say it does stray a bit into the realm of fantasy. It's not so much "this is what happened" but a "this is what could have happened" kind of book. And it was very entertaining. The author does a great job of managing and balancing a huge cast of characters and multiple points of view, which I normally don't like, but in this case, it all worked together very well. I'm bumping it down a notch for gratuitous and at times painfully awkward sex scenes (also a la GoT), and I was a bit disappointed afterward to learn how much dramatic license the author took with some of the historical figures. But other than that, it's a fantastic read. Very well written and complete with everything I like in a book: vibrant historical detail, compelling characters, emotional and physical conflict, and in this case, multiple love stories! I couldn't put it down and I can't wait to see how these family threads will play out in the rest of the series.(less)
Loved it. Absolutely loved it. I'm so glad I started off the year with this book. I've lamented how few books blew me away in the past year; I yearned...moreLoved it. Absolutely loved it. I'm so glad I started off the year with this book. I've lamented how few books blew me away in the past year; I yearned for a book to get under my skin, pull me in deep, refuse to let go of me, and then haunt me afterward. This book did all of that to me and more, and the reason is no doubt the vibrant, poignant, masterful characterization of the woman who captivated lords, generals, politicians, and ultimately, the man who would become the first Emperor of France.
Ms. Webb has painted a portrait of a larger-than-life woman judged and labeled by contemporaries and historians alike, but who was, underneath it all, all too human. Josephine's heartaches were my heartaches, her triumphs my own, her anger, her fear, her humiliation, her happiness -- all of it lived within me as I was reading. She endured much at the whims of men, and much as a Patriot of France, and though there were moments that were difficult for me to read, through it all I was comforted by the knowledge that Josephine could handle anything life threw at her, and though things would not always turn out as she hoped, she would recover, regroup, and rise from the ashes as she ascended from a Caribbean planter's daughter to Empress of France.
This is the first novel I've read about Josephine, and I did not know much about her beforehand other than that she was Napoleon's wife and supposed great love until he divorced her, so all of the tumultuous events of her life were new to me -- and what a life she lived! I don't want to spoil the pleasure of discovering the story of this indomitable woman firsthand for others, so I will avoid a plot recap. But I will say that it was so chock full of drama and history that there was never a dull moment, and I could not put the book down. From the sultry heat of Martinique with its sugar plantations, island spirits, and terrifying rebellions, to the dichotomy of Paris with its glittering salons and glamorous, free-living elite, rotten streets and starving peasants, and chaotic and paranoid revolutionary fervor, I was transported and transfixed.
All that being said, the novel is not perfect. There are a couple of things I could point to that niggled at me, one or two areas in which the book may have fallen a bit short, but in the end, none of that mattered when weighed against the pure reading pleasure this book provided me. It's going to be hard for another 2014 historical fiction debut to top this one, and even harder for another historical heroine to live up to the bar set by Marie-Josephe-Rose de Tascher de La Pagerie de Beauharnais as envisioned by Heather Webb. Becoming Josephine is a must-read for my fellow historical fiction lovers!(less)
3.5 Stars. I was really drawn to the premise of this novel and the idea that a Romanov heir exists that is neither Anastasia or Alexei. The story begi...more3.5 Stars. I was really drawn to the premise of this novel and the idea that a Romanov heir exists that is neither Anastasia or Alexei. The story begins with Veronica, a struggling professor attempting to write a biography of Empress Alexandra, who becomes involved with a man whose interest in the Romanovs matches her own. Orphaned as a young girl and raised by her grandmother, Veronica has always felt like an outsider within her large family, and later in her academic career. When she learns of the notion of a mysterious lost Romanov heir and a shadowy society devoted to restoring the heir to the throne, Veronica seizes the chance to take her book to the next level, and to learn more about Michael Karstadt, who may have ulterior motives in pursuing a romance with her. Entwined with Veronica's story are those of Lena and Charlotte, two women from different times who also play their parts in the mystery.
Lena, a trusted servant of Alexandra, gives us a glimpse into life behind closed doors in the imperial Russian court in 1902, where all was not sunshine and roses for the empress, who was desperate to provide her husband and his country with a male heir after the birth of four daughters. As the tsar's mother and brother and other disgruntled nobles circle around the empress, searching for weaknesses they can exploit, Lena rises to the defense of her beloved mistress. Forty years later, Charlotte, an aging dancer trapped in Nazi-occupied Paris, finds herself hunted by a high-ranking Nazi official for reasons she can't comprehend, and ends up on the run with her small son and estranged husband in a desperate attempt to reach sanctuary in Spain.
I loved the historical threads in Russia and France and the connection that was eventually revealed between the three women. Their stories all came together rather seamlessly and satisfyingly in the end, even if it was fairly easy to predict the outcome. Unfortunately, the present-day thread didn't work as well for me. I found the idea of restoring the Romanovs to the throne in the twenty-first century, in a Russia under Vladimir Putin's leadership, rather implausible, and much of the present-day story hinges on that. But I was able to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the story and the intense climactic moments.
While I enjoyed the story and the characters, the writing style was a bit disappointing. It lacks the elegance and resonance I associate with historical fiction. I also like a more subtle style of writing; I like to be able to read between the lines, to figure things out for myself--I don't like to have things spelled out for me and clues made obvious. But the book does get a big thumbs up for taking on the idea of a Romanov heir with a new twist and for flawlessly braiding together three separate stories in different time periods. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar doesn't quite live up to the standards of my favorite past/present novels from authors like Susanna Kearsley, but it is something different and ambitious in historical fiction, and I liked it enough to pick up the sequel when it comes out.(less)
It's no secret: I dig wolves. And werewolves. And the premise of this story seemed to be right up my alley. Reagan Cooper is attacked in the middle of the night by a wild animal while her younger brother is dragged off and presumed dead during a family camping trip to Yellowstone. Afterward, while trying to cope with the gaping hole the loss of her brother leaves in her life, and trying to find some semblance of normal again, she starts having horrific nightmares and hearing voices in her head. She loses interest in her boyfriend and her school activities. The only person who does suddenly attract her interest is the new boy in town, but there's something about him that repels her and puts her on edge at the same time. And while Reagan's parents and the authorities are convinced it was a bear that attacked them, Reagan's dreams are full of wolves, and one in particular, with golden eyes. The only person who seems able to help at all is Reagan's Nana, with her Wiccan beliefs and practices, but Reagan's parents disapprove and become determined to force Reagan into a routine of psychiatrists, drugs, and mental evaluations to figure out what is going on in her head. But as Reagan's behavior become more erratic, and she begins to question her sanity and needs the support of her friends and family the most, she discovers she can't trust anybody and will have to solve the mystery of what's happening to her on her own . . . while she still can.
I was really hooked on this story. I was sucked in by the prologue and looking forward to a good teen paranormal, but I did become a bit dejected in the next chapter when the teenspeak and Twilight references started, but fortunately, the high school drama soon takes a backseat to the spooky mystery of what happened that night and what has been happening to Reagan since then. (And turns out there are more Shiver references than Twilight :) As her parents try to help her with good intentions, though awful results, and as Reagan takes charge and searches for her own answers, truths are slowly and deliciously teased out, including some real What the Heck is Going On moments--and I mean that in a good way. It's refreshing to not be able to predict the outcome or to be able to tell the good guys from the bad. I give Ms. Bach major thumbs up for keeping the story compelling and unputdownable while not actually revealing much about what happened that night in Yellowstone. And I was OK with that. Though I'm anxious to put the pieces together, I can appreciate an intense, slow-burning build-up to a larger and more meaningful revelation.
I really only have two issues with the book: I thought the writing was a little uneven, but I'm hopeful Ms. Bach's style and execution will improve with each book; and I can't say that I was a fan of the abrupt, stop in the middle of the action ending. Especially because I was reading on my Kindle app and was so into the story that I didn't realize I was at the end until it smacked me in the face. Then I had to go back a couple of times to see if my file was missing pages! But it wasn't, and now of course I'm going to have to read the next book to find out what happens!
Overall, it's a great story and a good start to a promising new series--dramatic, mysterious, and scary, with rich characterization and an interesting mix of Wiccan, Native American, and lycanthropic mythology and ideology. I really enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to the next book. Highly recommended for fans of paranormal YA.(less)
I really didn't have much knowledge of Robert the Bruce before picking up this book, so I jumped at the...moreGiveaway @ Let Them Read Books! (US/UK/Canada)
I really didn't have much knowledge of Robert the Bruce before picking up this book, so I jumped at the chance to read it. When it arrived, I groaned a little because it is a chunkster, and as I started reading, I realized it was going to take me awhile to get through it. This is a dense, thick read, packed with detail and history, but it is absorbing, and it did not take long for me to become engrossed in the story.
This novel covers Robert the Bruce's early life and sets up the dilemma that will plague him as an adult: whether he owes his allegiance to Scotland or England. He was born in Scotland and adores his Scottish mother and the wild lands of his family's domains, but his paternal ancestry is English, and he learns at an early age what it's like to straddle that line between the two. Robert learns much from his mighty grandfather, the fifth Robert the Bruce, also known as the Competitor for his claim to the Scottish throne. When the Scottish King Alexander dies, the clans jockey for political position, pitting enemy against enemy, and the Bruces find themselves exiled to England, where Robert earns the favor of King Edward I. He spends several years in England as a squire and then a knight, honing his skills at combat and with the ladies. But splintering relations between England and Scotland drag the Bruces back into the fray, and Robert, at the tender age of twenty-one, is forced to leave his youth behind and step into a new, serious role of responsibility as an earl and as a husband. And when Longshanks comes seeking repayment for his good graces in the form of leading men against his homeland, Robert must decide who he can trust and where his loyalty truly lies.
I found some of the lengthy political lessons in this book to be a bit dry, and I confess I found myself skimming here and there, and there was an adolescent "smell my fingers" scene that made me cringe, but other than that, I really enjoyed this book. Whyte paints a complex picture of a young man shaped by loss and conflicting loyalties, and he brings Longshanks's court to life in all it's beautiful, dangerous glory. This is the second book in a series about medieval Scotland's "guardians," the first having been about William Wallace, who does make a few appearances in Bruce's story. When I finished, I went in search of the release date of the next book, thinking it would be a continuation of Bruce's story since he is only twenty-three at the end of this book and has another thirty years of life ahead of him, so I was disappointed to see the next book is about the Black Douglas. While I am very interested in reading his story, I do hope there will be a healthy dose of Bruce to go along with it, for I wasn't ready to let go of him at the end of this rich and poignant telling of the formative years of one of Scotland's most powerful men and revered heroes.(less)
After finishing Elizabeth Fremantle's debut novel, Queen's Gambit, I'm feeling quite sad, as I alwa...moreGiveaway @Let Them Read Books! Ends Sept. 22, 2013.
After finishing Elizabeth Fremantle's debut novel, Queen's Gambit, I'm feeling quite sad, as I always do after reading about Katherine Parr. She is my favorite of Henry's queens, and not just because she's the one who got away, but because she was such a grand lady, so smart, so poised, and so tragic. I go into each novel knowing how it's going to end, but I still get swept away, much as Katherine does; I still hope for that happy ending, and then I get so angry when the people she cared about most end up ruining the last months of what should have been the happiest time in her life. (Two other solid 4-star reads about Katherine: The Secret Keeper by Sandra Byrd and Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir.)
Fremantle begins the novel with the death of Katherine's second husband, Latymer, and captivates the reader with her poetic narrative and fantastic description as she touches on the key points in Katherine's life: her infatuation with the dashing Thomas Seymour, her marriage to an aging and ailing Henry VIII, her relationships with her stepdaughters Meg, Elisabeth, and Mary, her relationships with the reformists and the martyr Anne Askew, and her own close call with Henry's desire to be rid of yet another wife. Katherine manages to accomplish quite a bit in her thirty-five years, not the least of which includes bringing Henry VIII's children together in the only semblance of family they've ever known, serving as regent of England, and publishing two books of her own writings. And Fremantle portrays all of this mostly through the eyes of Katherine herself and through her devoted servant Dot Fownten, and in doing so she has created two rich and compelling heroines for the reader to get attached to as they navigate the perils of the court and of the heart. I was hooked from the first page and could not put the book down as Henry's Catholic cronies cast their net around Katherine.
There's not much to complain about in this novel, other than some awkward sex scenes, but I can't justify a higher rating because this novel really doesn't contribute anything new to my understanding of Katherine Parr. I was very intrigued early on by a couple of things that were definitely new to me, but then the author admitted they were fictions in her note. (Nothing wrong with that--I can appreciate dramatic license with the facts when it's acknowledged.) For me, the best aspect of this novel, and the one that I will remember most, is the way Fremantle brought the underworkings of the court to life. Because Dot was an actual servant and Katherine was such a hands-on queen, the enormity of what it took to keep Henry's court running, from the lowliest kitchen boy to the noblest lady-in-waiting, comes into exquisite focus. I was fascinated by the behind-the-scenes glimpses of feasts and festivals, occasions of state, the court on the move, and the day-to-day duties of the army of servants required to make everything seem so effortless and easy in Henry VIII's court. It's little details like that, coupled with giving voice to the people who worked so hard to make it happen but who have been forgotten by history, that really bring a time period to life and remind me why I love historical fiction so much.(less)
Laura Ingalls Wilder's books were some of my favorites growing up. I'll never forget the day my mom brought home Little House in the Big Woods for me....moreLaura Ingalls Wilder's books were some of my favorites growing up. I'll never forget the day my mom brought home Little House in the Big Woods for me. My mind was opened up to a whole new world. In fact, these books were probably responsible for my lifelong love of historical fiction. As a child, I didn't care who wrote the books or how much was based on fact and how much was fiction, and I was surprised to learn there was a bit of controversy surrounding the authorship of the series. I was curious about the woman who is now given much of the credit, though she could never claim it in her lifetime, and I was also wary since I grew up with Half-pint and her family, and worried I would learn something that would tarnish my fond memories. But my fears were for naught. While many memorable moments from Laura's life still live on in my mind, I found her daughter's life to be just as interesting, and though some may feel the two women deceived the world, I am grateful that Laura had a daughter with the skills, connections, and devotion to help bring her mother's stories to life.
A Wilder Rose is a fictionalized memoir, a fascinating look at the life of Rose Wilder Lane, a woman who wrote for some of the biggest publishers and magazines for a living, who moved in a circle of literary icons, who had the freedom to go where she pleased, to experience life and draw from her travels and observations to craft stories that resonated with a nation under duress. Along the way, Rose illustrates how not just her own but also her fellow writers' views changed over the years, and how that affected their work. Rose also illustrates how her relationship with her mother impacted her life and her writing. She and her mother were born of two very different generations, and while at first I hardly recognized Half-pint in the matronly Mama Bess, I soon came to see how her childhood had shaped her into the woman she became.
I really enjoyed this book, though I got a little annoyed at how it skipped around in time, jumping forward and backward, highlighting some moments while sweeping others that I would have liked to read more about under the rug. And I found the story lost some of its steam toward the end when the focus shifted more toward Rose's political views and writings. But I just loved reading about how the Little House series was born, Rose's trials in working with her mother to craft the novels, her life with her parents on their Missouri farm, and how Rose's interactions with everyday Americans struggling to survive during our country's darkest decade inspired her writing and urged her into activism.
If you're looking for a grand, sweeping historical fiction saga, this isn't it. But if you love books and want to get an intimate view of the state of America and the publishing world during the Great Depression, the life of an acclaimed working writer during some of America's best and worst times, and some insight into the mind of one of America's most beloved children's authors in her later years, this is it.(less)
3.5 Stars. Deborah Swift is a master at bringing seventeenth-century England to life. And not the glitz and glamour of kings and queens and courtiers,...more3.5 Stars. Deborah Swift is a master at bringing seventeenth-century England to life. And not the glitz and glamour of kings and queens and courtiers, but the diorama of everyday life, of merchants and tradesmen, of husbands and wives and mothers and fathers, of servants and street urchins and criminals. A Divided Inheritance brings us into that world once more and introduces us to Elspet Leviston, daughter of the successful owner of Leviston Lace. She and her father have lived humbly and quietly since the death of her mother, and Elspet is perfectly content to handle the affairs of the house while also helping handle the affairs of the business. She enjoys the sense of purpose and freedom she finds in being included in the business, and though her father is not given to displays of affection, she is secure in the knowledge that she is first in his heart--until the day his long-lost illegitimate son shows up on their doorstep. Suddenly, Zachary Deane becomes the center of her father's world, usurping Elspet's place in the business and in her father's estimation. Elspet finds herself relegated to a "woman's domain," her opinion no longer welcome in business matters, and even worse, her father becomes determined to marry her off to a man she's never met. Her resentment and suspicions about Zachary grow by the day, but her concerns fall on her father's deaf ears.
Zachary is delighted to suddenly find himself the center of such a prosperous world. The old man who thinks he's his father dotes on him, anxious to make up for lost time, and Zachary is perfectly happy to let him. But instead of focusing his attentions on the lace business, his new-found wealth serves to spur on his passion for fencing, fighting, and dueling. After one too many scrapes with the law, his father decides to send him on a grand tour of Europe to make connections for the business. Elspet fumes at this lavish reward for ill behavior, but she is powerless to do anything. But not long after Zachary's departure, a series of mishaps places the lace business in peril, and one final blow proves to be more than her father's heart can handle. Alone in the world, Elspet is incredulous to discover that her father left everything but a share in his business to Zachary. Elspet doesn't even own the house she lives in, and she is now reliant on Zachary for everything. She literally can't do anything without Zachary's approval. But Zachary is nowhere to be found, having departed from his itinerary to seek out the best sword makers and fencing masters in Spain. Elspet determines to take her future into her own hands and makes the perilous journey by sea and by land to Seville, where she finally catches up with her ne'er-do-well "brother." But her pleas for cooperation are lost on Zachary, who wants nothing to do with his shrewish and disapproving sister now that he has his father's money. Elspet finds herself in a desperate fight for her livelihood in a strange land on the verge of a religious war as the Spanish king seeks to remove all Muslims from the country. With the help of a few unexpected new allies, and with Zachary slowly coming to understand there is more to life than fighting and revenge, they will both discover hidden truths within themselves and the strength and courage to stand up for what is just and make amends for what is not.
Elspet and Zachary are stars in this novel with wonderfully drawn personalities and character arcs, but the time spent on many lesser characters they encounter detracts from them and their central story a bit. As in all of Ms. Swift's novels, the description is vibrant, the historical detail is fantastic, and the quality of the writing is superb. But I thought the pacing was off in this one. In the beginning, I found myself burning through the pages as I got to know Elspet, but I found my interest waning for most of the middle section of the novel. The narrative starts shifting back and forth in time and shifts to new characters right at the point where I was expecting the story to really kick into gear, but instead it sort of expanded and unraveled. Things picked up again once Elspet and Zachary met up in Spain, and there was a very exciting sequence of events leading up to the ending, but then the ending itself left me a bit dissatisfied. What I had hoped would happen didn't happen, and I was left without a real feeling of closure. And I like closure. So while this isn't going to be my favorite Deborah Swift novel, I can still recommend it as a worthwhile read for its unique story and impeccable historical flavor.(less)
I've been trying to broaden my reading selections a bit this year, stepping out of the realms of American and European historical fiction to check out...moreI've been trying to broaden my reading selections a bit this year, stepping out of the realms of American and European historical fiction to check out some books that I might not have normally picked up off a shelf. I was really intrigued by the description of The Shogun's Daughter and decided to give it a try. The story delves right into mystery and intrigue as the shogun's only legitimate child, his grown daughter, Tsuruhime, dies a gruesome death from smallpox at the same time a scheming member of the shogun's court, Yanagisawa, is attempting to pass his own son off as the shogun's long-lost heir. Doubts and questions swirl through the palace compound, and none more so than in the mind of Sano, the shogun's trusted councilor and top investigator, whose deeply ingrained sense of honor will not allow him to let the falsehoods he suspects go unchallenged, even if it causes a fall from grace and places his family in danger. Tasked with uncovering a plot to murder Tsuruhime by none other than the shogun's wife, Sano walks a dangerous line between rival court factions while uncovering a deeper conspiracy that could topple the empire and cost him and his family their lives.
I'm glad a branched out a bit into some historical territory that was relatively new to me, but I can't say I enjoyed The Shogun's Daughter as much as I'd hoped I would. I normally like to read a series in order, but I gave this one a go anyway since I'd seen some reviewers say that the books in this series could stand alone, and this one can, but it's because there's a lot of backstory on what happened in previous novels sprinkled throughout to fill the reader in. I felt like I walked in on a story already in progress and was being given the CliffsNotes version of the entire series. I found it a little distracting, and I can imagine if I had read all of the previous novels, that probably would have really annoyed me. And I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the writing. With sixteen novels in the series before The Shogun's Daughter, not a few of which have received stellar reviews and plenty of awards, I was expecting a much more sophisticated and sweeping style and tone. Instead I found it rather simple. The dialogue didn't feel very authentic--it seemed stilted and too modern at times. There was a tendency to explain things that were obvious. I found Sano and his wife and son likable, and they were surrounded by an interesting mix of characters, but aside from one or two stand-outs, most of the secondary characters were very stereotypical. And I'm usually a fan of some mysticism, but in this case, the subplot involving Sano's retainer Hirato and his secret society controlled by a murderous ghost seemed hokey. That could be due in part to not having become familiar with the deeper aspects of that storyline in previous books. But I had a hard time taking it seriously.
The Shogun's Daughter did have some good points to weigh against what I didn't like. It's an easy read, and a quick one, as the pace zips right along through the murder investigation and the surrounding political maneuverings. And it got pretty exciting there at the end as Sano and his family raced against time to solve the case and save themselves. Though the main mystery was solved, everything was not wrapped up in a tidy, happy, predictable ending. I was surprised by the final turn of events setting up the continuation of the story in the next book. And I did enjoy the glimpse into the feudal hierarchy of Japan and the ways of the samurai and the customs of the times, and I thought the setting of a city recovering from a devastating earthquake very interesting and evocative. It's a worthwhile read for its historical context, and I can certainly see how this series has carved out a unique position in the genre. But I would recommend that someone considering an introduction to the series via this book go back and start at the beginning instead. It's not often that all of the books in a long-running series maintain the same level of quality, some are always better than others, and based on what I read and what other reviewers are saying, I think The Shogun's Daughter may be a weaker link in the overall series.(less)
3.5 Stars. Forty Years in a Day is based on a true story and begins with a father-daughter outing to Ellis Island, wher...moreGiveaway @ Let Them Read Books!
3.5 Stars. Forty Years in a Day is based on a true story and begins with a father-daughter outing to Ellis Island, where immigration exhibits spark memories, and the story of a family's tragic roots is finally told. The tale begins with the young, beautiful, and idealistic Victoria at the turn of the twentieth century and follows her as she flees Italy with her small children for a new beginning and a better life in America. Victoria quickly realizes how hard it is to make a home for her family in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York, but she finally finds her place, and though times are tough, her children have a loving, happy home to grow up in. The focus of the story shifts to each of her seven children along their paths to adulthood and highlights choices made (both good and bad), the whims of the human heart, the capacity of the soul to be by turns generously loving and relentlessly cruel, the senselessness of tragedy, and the joy of triumph.
Forty Years in a Day is a quick read, entertaining, with lots of ups and downs and dramatic moments as Victoria's children grow up and live their lives, but I felt as if the real "meat" of the story was missing. It covers a lot of time and a lot of people, and so the story naturally lends itself to more telling than showing. There's a good bit of exposition on what's happening in America and the rest of the world at the time, but no real connection is made to how it affects the family. There are some very interesting characters in the large cast, but they each only have a few moments to shine, so we never really get to know most of the characters beyond what we're told about them. It reads more like a narrative with some dialogue thrown in here and there, and what I love so much about historical fiction -- that deep emotional connection that links the characters and the experience of the times they lived in to me as the reader -- was mostly missing. While I thought the story lacked the depth I look for in a great historical fiction novel, I can still recommend it as a worthwhile read for shedding some light on the lives of the millions of people who came to America in search of something more, and the hardships and limitations they faced while reaching for their dreams.(less)