The beginning was a bit rocky with a lot of world-building information thrown at the reader in rapid succession, and I am not a fan of the stop-in-the...moreThe beginning was a bit rocky with a lot of world-building information thrown at the reader in rapid succession, and I am not a fan of the stop-in-the-middle-of-the-action cliffhanger ending, but everything in between was pretty awesome. Creative, exciting, emotionally charged, and FANTASTIC characterization. Looking forward to book number two.(less)
3.5 Stars. The author includes a very helpful historical note at the beginning of this novel that orients the reader in time and place and sets the scene for a dramatic story unfolding against a backdrop that I don't think I've ever encountered before in historical fiction: that of wealthy English Catholic exiles living in the Spanish-occupied Netherlands. We usually get this time period from the other side of the Channel, in Elizabeth's court as she attempts to keep Protestantism on top and fend off a multitude of foreign threats, but here we get to see what the rest of the world was thinking and doing during her spat with Spain. I really loved the setting of this and the intrigue of a group of nobles in exile, cozying up to the Spanish to bring down Elizabeth. But before we get there, we begin on Sark, a quirky little Channel Island that really illustrates what life must have been like for the people who lived so far from the mainland and so close to the shores of the enemy during this tumultuous time in history. It is there that we meet our hero and heroine, Adam and Fenella.
What follows is an epic tale of patriotism and treason, political upheaval and oppression, familial love and the ties that bind. The book description does a good job of setting up the story, and I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll forego a plot recap. This is a fun, swashbuckling read, but there are two things that keep me from rating it higher: I wasn't a big fan of the tendency throughout the story to lead the reader up to a pivotal moment and then skip over it, bringing the reader up to speed after the fact, presenting scenes in retrospect and flashback rather than letting them unfold as they happened. It sort of muted the impact of some really great plot twists. And I thought things shook out a little too easily at the end; moral dilemmas and pesky legal ties that had been plaguing the characters throughout the story were suddenly and conveniently no longer problems. Like the previous book in this series, The Queen's Exiles can stand alone just fine, though at times I felt that if I had read the earlier books, I would have better appreciated some of the supporting characters, particularly Carlos and Isabel, and their history with each other and the main characters in this book.
Still, The Queen's Exiles was an entertaining read. Never a dull moment, exciting action, dramatic twists and turns, and a little bit of romance. Brash and colorful characters. And it transported me to a few interesting and vividly depicted historical settings that were new to me. A good pick for historical fiction fans in the mood for something bold and adventuresome.(less)
This is probably more like 2.5 Stars. I have to say I'm glad I read Finding It first or I probably would not have read any more of this series if I'd...moreThis is probably more like 2.5 Stars. I have to say I'm glad I read Finding It first or I probably would not have read any more of this series if I'd read Losing It first. I adored Finding It and deemed it my favorite New Adult to date, but Losing It was pretty uninspiring by comparison. The plot and characterization were very under-developed as was the relationship between Bliss and Garrick. Very superficial, lacking substance and real emotion, and a little too sweet for my tastes all around. I hope the first book in Cora Carmack's next series is better.(less)
3.5 Stars. A fast and fun read. Could have used more substance and less annoying little sister, and I wanted more out of the ending. Great voice, thou...more3.5 Stars. A fast and fun read. Could have used more substance and less annoying little sister, and I wanted more out of the ending. Great voice, though!(less)
I was drawn to this story first and foremost for the setting. It's different--Paris--and even better, this is a time in France's history that I know v...moreI was drawn to this story first and foremost for the setting. It's different--Paris--and even better, this is a time in France's history that I know very little about. And I was intrigued by the characters: a French nobleman soldier and an American artist. That combination had the potential for some serious fireworks and an unconventional love story, and The Count's Last Mistress did not disappoint! Our story begins as Olivier Valencourt, recently returned from war, arrives at a rundown Parisian boardinghouse attempting to fulfill his brother's dying wish: that he deliver a letter to his former mistress, Claudine Ardaut. Instead, he finds an intriguing American claiming she's never heard of Claudine, pretending to be French and pretending to be the mother of a little boy that looks exactly like his brother. While he would like nothing more than to complete his mission and get back to living his life, he owes it to his brother to discover what happened to his lost love and to take care of his nephew, and if he happens to break through the American siren's defenses in the process to get to know the real woman, so much the better.
But his arrival sends Jeanne Henri into a panic. Her roommate, Claudine, has not been seen in weeks, and Jeanne knows she never would have willingly left her son behind. Rumors of insurrection and a government crackdown abound, and Claudine was a known Commune supporter. But she can't tell any of this to the handsome officer looking for her, whom she mistakenly assumes is Claudine's former lover. Claudine's heart never recovered from his betrayal, and she won't betray Claudine by allowing him into her son's life. But she can't go on as she has been either. Times are tough for a struggling artist, especially for one hiding from an ugly past, attempting to raise her friend's son as her own. As she embarks on a dangerous mission to finally uncover the truth of Claudine's disappearance, the time has come for her to admit she needs some help, but can she trust Olivier with the secrets of her life . . . and of her heart? And will they find Claudine before it's too late?
The first thing that struck me about The Count's Last Mistress was Bess Greenfield's writing. It's very exciting to find a debut author with such talent not only for crafting a story but for telling it so beautifully. The second thing was the description. This book practically oozes atmosphere. I was fascinated by this foray into the artistic underworld of Paris. The sights, sounds, and scents come to life! From smoky cabarets to grand salons and the rubble leftover from the Commune's revolution; from artists arguing their craft with glasses of absinthe and cigarettes, to studios with scantily clad models and cafes bursting with life and laughter, it's a total immersive experience into the underworld of the Parisian art scene.
And finally, the characterization is fantastic. How refreshing to find an independent woman (easy for Jeanne in this case because it's Paris and she's American) struggling to get by on her own merits. Jeanne is intelligent, talented, and feisty, and she also has a big heart that tends to hold her back as she takes on the troubles of so many others as her own. She's a true artist, and it was such fun to read this story through her artistic eyes. Olivier is everything one would expect a French military hero to be. Dashing, handsome, and sophisticated but with a layer of guilt and that sense of having seen too much that war tends to inflict on its survivors. He does act like a right prick at times, but his background and social standing is such that the reader can understand why he acts the way he does in certain instances. I thought he was pretty realistically portrayed, and a very nuanced and dimensional hero. And so very French! He does redeem himself in the end and proves himself to be a worthy companion for our Jeanne. There's a good cast of supporting characters too, and I'm hoping to see Jeanne's friend, Sylvie, and Oliver's sister, Henriette, in future novels.
One thing I did miss and would have liked to see was a little more background info on the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune to help me better understand the historical significance and what the Commune revolutionaries were fighting for. For as our story takes place, they have not given up entirely, though they have been driven underground and now fight furtively, setting fires and causing mayhem when they can. It's an important backdrop to the story, especially given the disappearance of Claudine and her rumored clandestine activities.
But overall, I was thoroughly impressed with this debut. The setting, description, characterization, emotional angst, and rich storytelling all add up for one sublimely satisfying read. I couldn't put it down. The Count's Last Mistress is a true standout in a sea of Regency and Victorian romances, and I am anxiously awaiting Miss Greenfield's next novel!(less)
3.5 Stars. I absolutely love reading about early America (having grown up a hop, skip, and a jump from Jamestown, England's first permanent settlement in the New World), and Jenny Barden is an author I've been wanting to read, so I jumped at the chance to read her second novel, The Lost Duchess, which is a stand-alone follow-up to her first novel, Mistress of the Sea. The Lost Duchess tells the story of Emme Fifield, daughter of a baron, dutiful lady-in-waiting to a demanding Queen Elizabeth. Her world is turned upside down when she is compromised by a treasonous lord, but her future brightens when Sir Francis Drake returns to court with tales of the New World and a handsome mariner in tow, Kit Doonan, both of which ignite Emme's curiosity and desire for adventure. As the queen's favorite, Sir Walter Raleigh, pleads his case for a return to the new land of Virginia, named in the queen's honor, Emme finds herself swept up in the plans, a pawn for spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, who is keen to help England outwit Spain's plans for the New World. Traveling under an assumed identity with strict instructions of what to look for and what to report back to Walsingham, Emme sets out with Kit and a group of hearty souls prepared to make a new life in the New World, with no intention of ever actually going back to England.
But the journey is a perilous one, fraught with mishaps and misfortune, and though Emme's courage never wavers, her plans for a new future free of court obligations does. But with Kit's assured guidance, and a few new friends, she determines to prove her worth to the new colony, and to Kit himself, as the bond between them grows stronger and sweeter. But they are both hiding secrets, secrets that could have devastating consequences for their fledgling relationship, just as the hidden dangers and outright hostility from the original inhabitants of the New World could have devastating consequences for the success of the colony. As the struggle to subsist becomes a struggle to survive, Emme and Kit will have to decide what is worth fighting for . . . and what is worth letting go.
I'm torn in my rating of The Lost Duchess. I really wanted to love it more. At the halfway mark of the book, I was loving it, and I felt sure we were headed for four or five-star territory. But then, just as our heroine and her hero arrived in the New World, where things really should have started to get exciting, the story seemed to get bogged down in details and slow-moving narrative. I had been willing to overlook the fact that the "scandal" that caused Emme to flee had not been set up and expanded enough to make it totally plausible for such a drastic course of action because I was intrigued by Kit and the spark between he and Emme, and I wanted her to follow her courageous heart, but I found their love story to be rather superficial and even sappy at times, and I grew tired of Emme pining for the day Kit would ask her to marry him, especially when she was surrounded by so many more pressing problems.
The climactic scenes, which depict a very believable account of what could have happened to the lost colonists of Roanoke, were very well done, but ultimately, the ending did not sit well with me. It was probably pretty realistic, but since these were fictional characters in a fictional scenario, it could have been a little more upbeat and satisfying. And on a final note, which I'm not holding against the book but which did make me stop and wonder, I found the title and back cover copy to be misleading and rather confusing after having read the book and not making much of a connection.
But while I have mixed feelings on the story itself, there's no question Ms. Barden can write. Her meticulous historical research shines, as does her descriptive capability. Her depiction of life aboard a sixteenth-century ship and of a New World filled with beauty and wonder, yet full of peril and uncertainty, is masterful. I think The Lost Duchess is well worth a read just to get a sense of what it must have been like for those first tough, brave souls who ventured into the complete unknown, attempting to carve out a new life and a new England with no idea of what awaited them. As Ms. Barden continues to write and hone her craft, she could become an author to watch in the world of historical fiction.(less)
I am loving the increase in young adult historical fiction titles. I read a lot of YA, a...moreAuthor Guest Post + Giveaway @ Let Them Read Books!(US/UK/CAN)
I am loving the increase in young adult historical fiction titles. I read a lot of YA, and I'm all for anything that gets kids interested in history. So when I saw Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Shecter, whose debut novel, Cleopatra's Moon, has been on my wishlist forever, I had to read it. And I loved it--mostly.
This is the story of Lucia, a privileged young woman living in Pompeii. The only surviving child of the owner of a gladiator school, she is pretty much free to live and do as she pleases . . . until the day her father betrothes her to a man old enough to be her grandfather in exchange for an influx of cash into his struggling school. Despite her pending nuptials, she's determined to carry on as she always has while trying to come up with a scheme to get out of the marriage. She's very interested in the natural world and has been documenting a series of events and observations that trouble her: an increase in tremors, springs drying up, the smell of sulfur hanging in the air, behavioral changes in animals. She pores over her father's scrolls of Pliny's Natural History, even campaigning to get an audience with the great man himself to speak with him of her troubling discoveries. But no one will take her opinion, that of a woman and a young one to boot, seriously. Only Tag, a slave in her father's school and a childhood friend, lends any credence to her observations.
Tag knows he should stay away from Lucia--after all, her father has promised death to any man who touches her--but he can't resist the call of her beauty and brains, her tender heart, or the way she treats him like a human being worthy of respect. Trained as a medical slave, Tag yearns to fight alongside the gladiators he patches up to attain his dream of earning his freedom. Falling in love with Lucia was not part of the plan. But as her wedding draws near and she becomes increasingly more desperate to avoid it, the two form a plan of escape and begin to build dreams around the possibility of a totally new future free from all bonds. But trouble arrives in the form of Quintus, a haughty young patrician who comes to the school to play at being a gladiator, and who finds pleasure in flirting with and tormenting both Lucia and Tag. His meddling could unravel all of their carefully laid plans. And Tag has a secret. A burden he's been carrying since the death of Lucia's mother three years earlier. If Lucia ever finds out, she may never want to see him again, and he may not survive her father's wrath. And if all of that weren't enough, just when our young lovers seem to be on the verge of attaining everything they ever wanted, the mountain explodes, raining down ash, rock, and fire, and the world as they know it ceases to exist.
The first thing that struck me about this story was that Lucia is just like a typical teenager. Although thousands of years have passed between her time and ours, some things never change, and I loved this glimpse into what a teenager's life could have been like during this time period. Lucia visits with friends, goes shopping, spends a day at the spa, spends hours in her secret place writing in her journals . . . though the similarities end where she is forced into an arranged marriage to a much older man, and she has the shadow of Mount Vesuvius looming over her. The story is told in alternating viewpoints by Lucia and Tag in the month leading up to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii. This structure works wonderfully, allowing the reader to experience this time period from two very different walks of life while witnessing how they interacted with each other, and allowing the romance to develop beautifully, and the anticipation of the coming eruption to simmer until it reaches the boiling point. The story is rife with drama, and it has its fair share of melodramatic moments, but it is delicious! It's a historical tribute, a sweet and poignant love story combined with the action and excitement of an end-of-days tale.
All that being said, the novel is not perfect. At times I thought the dialogue felt too modern, and I felt like the development and resolution of the subplot with Quintus was a bit short-shrifted. And while I can look back now and appreciate the impact and beauty of the ending, when I first read it, I was not prepared for it, and I was not a happy camper! I'm still a little mad about it now, but I can admire the power of a story well told. But all of that aside, it was still a great read. Fast-paced, exciting, and romantic, and oozing with historical ambiance--perfect for fans of young adult and historical fiction alike.(less)
I've been wanting to try one of this author's historical romances for a long time, so I jumped at the chance to check out her first historical fiction...moreI've been wanting to try one of this author's historical romances for a long time, so I jumped at the chance to check out her first historical fiction offering, but I'm sorry to say that it didn't send me. I gave up after about 150 pages. There were some mechanical issues like too much telling of historical, political, and character info and "as you know, Bob" dialogue, but mainly I could not swallow the heroine's inconsistency; she continually pined over her love and devotion to her husband and her yearning to have her feelings returned, yet her head (and her body) was easily turned by the first courtier to give her "that look," and that courtier's ulterior motives were rather transparent. I just didn't want to read about her anymore, not with so many other books calling my name. But I'm seeing good reviews from other readers, so it may just be me. (less)
3.5 Stars. I was so excited to read this book, especially because I've not really been...moreRead the prelude and enter to win a copy @ Let Them Read Books!
3.5 Stars. I was so excited to read this book, especially because I've not really been a fan of Peter Pan. I always thought he was a bit of a brat, so I was very intrigued to read about him from the viewpoint of his great nemesis, Captain Hook! As the son of a wealthy British shipping merchant in the eighteenth century, James Hookbridge had the world at his feet and took full advantage of the pleasures it had to offer. In love with the sea and life on board a ship, he happily took on a privateering commission and swashbuckled his way across the sea, seizing the riches of enemy ships and leaving a trail of female conquests in his wake. Until the day he was captured by the French and thrown into prison to rot for several years. Upon his escape, he emerges into a world much changed, where everything he once loved has disappeared and a bounty has been placed upon his head for piracy. Angry and lost, he decides he might as well earn that bounty and throws himself into the cutthroat world of pirates. But along the way, he breaks yet another heart--only this time with disastrous consequences--and the beautiful Caribbee witch Proserpina banishes him to the Neverland to atone for his sins.
For two hundred years he has languished there, a mere plaything for the boy tyrant Pan and his band of Lost Boys, forced to be reborn every time he is killed while he watches a stream of his men find their way into the Neverland only to be killed in truth in Pan's bloody games. He longs only for the peace of eternal death--until something that has never happened before forces him to re-examine everything he thought to be true: a grown woman stumbles into the Neverland. First mistaking her for a spy and then for a witch, Hook is finally forced to consider that twentieth-century Stella Parish may be something else entirely: she may be the key to his salvation, his freedom, and his heart. But when Pan finds out a woman has entered his domain, he becomes determined to find her and kill her for breaking his laws. Hook and Stella must navigate the pleasures and the terrors of the Neverland together in their search for a path home, battling the magic that bends to Pan's will but also finding allies in unexpected places, before Peter Pan can seal their doom.
The first thing that struck me about this book was the absolutely gorgeous prose. Hook's world, both before and after he finds himself banished to Neverland, is brought vividly to life with lush description and rich emotional undertones. The narrative switches back and forth in time, heightening anticipation and deepening mystery as Hook's history alternates with the present day in the Neverland, and Hook himself is a wonderful character. A beautifully flawed antihero. Yet in spite of all those positives, I didn't end up loving the book as much as I'd hoped I would. Though the writing is lovely, it's rather wordy and thus makes for a dense read. Slow pacing coupled with large chunks of time spent on introspection also contributed to my feeling at times that I was slogging through the book, even though I anxiously wanted to see how it would all play out. And then there was a twist near the end that I didn't see coming--yet made perfect sense, but I didn't feel like enough time was spent developing the repercussions of that twist to make the ending as believable and satisfactory as it should have been. Still, the book is beautiful, a worthwhile read for fairy-tale lovers, and a must-read for fans of Peter Pan.(less)
I got suckered in by the blurb, the 99-cent price tag, and a Jennifer Armentrout recommendation. Great premise, but it suffers in the execution. I'm t...moreI got suckered in by the blurb, the 99-cent price tag, and a Jennifer Armentrout recommendation. Great premise, but it suffers in the execution. I'm two-thirds of the way through and just don't care anymore.(less)
Really surprised to see so many glowing reviews of this one. After fifty pages of nothing happening and an abundance of elevated, frivolous, adverb-ri...moreReally surprised to see so many glowing reviews of this one. After fifty pages of nothing happening and an abundance of elevated, frivolous, adverb-riddled dialogue, I had to put it down and move on.(less)