Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: "The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar" by Kim Rendfeld

Synopsis:  Can love triumph over war?
772 AD: Charlemagne’s battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her beloved husband died in combat. Her faith lies shattered in the ashes of Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. The relatives obligated to defend her and her family sell them into slavery instead.  In Francia, Leova is resolved to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her own honor. Her determination only grows stronger as Sunwynn blossoms into a beautiful young woman attracting the lust of a cruel master, and Deorlaf becomes a headstrong man willing to brave starvation and demons to free his family. Yet Leova’s most difficult dilemma comes in the form of a Frankish friend, Hugh. He saves Deorlaf from a fanatical Saxon and is Sunwynn’s champion — but he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband. Set against a backdrop of historic events, including the destruction of the Irminsul,

The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar explores faith, friendship, and justice. This companion to Kim Rendfeld’s acclaimed The Cross and the Dragon tells the story of an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances.

My Thoughts:  The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar is unlike any book I have ever read.  I have read the companion novel but while The Cross and the Dragon focuses on the nobility, this book focuses on the regular people, servants and slaves living under the reign of Charlemagne.

Likes:  I loved the story.  Ms. Rendfeld has done a lot of research and created  a wonderful story surrounding a Saxon family as they deal with slavery, heartache and betrayal.  I enjoyed reading about everyday life and the issues that people had to deal with.    I know almost nothing about this era so I found the setting and descriptions of Saxony and the different French cities to be fascinating.    I was really interested in the Saxon side of things; it was really sad to see how everything was destroyed by the French and then the Saxons were forced to give up their religion in order to just be allowed to live.  I would very much like to learn more about these events. 

Characters:  There were so many great characters in this story that it's hard to pick a favorite.  Leova's strength and intelligence were remarkable; she always seemed to be able to assess every situation and pick the path that would help her family the most.  Pinabel was pure evil and I spent most of the book hoping he would get what's coming to him.  One of the things I really liked about this book is that not only were there great main characters but the cast of supporting characters were pretty awesome too.  I loved Hugh from the first appearance he made and Ives completely snuck up on me.  I didn't think too much of him at first but he slowly developed into a character that I couldn't help but like.

Dislikes:  The only thing I disliked (not really disliked but questioned) was that the story ended really fast and things seemed a little too wrapped up.  I like that there were no loose ends left but at the same time it made the story seem less realistic.  

Overall, The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar is a really good book.  I am definitely looking forward to what Ms. Rendfeld has in store for readers in the future.  4 stars.

About the Author:

Kim Rendfeld has a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and legends, which set her on her quest to write The Cross and the Dragon.

She grew up in New Jersey and attended Indiana University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English, with a minor in French. If it weren't for feminism, she would be one of those junior high English teachers scaring the bejesus out of her students, correcting grammar to the point of obnoxiousness. Instead, her career has been in journalism, public relations, and now fiction.

Kim was a journalist for almost twenty years at Indiana newspapers, including the
 Journal and Courier in Lafayette, The Muncie Star, and The News and Sun in Dunkirk, and she won several awards from the Hoosier State Press Association. Her career changed in 2007, when she joined the marketing and communications team at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She gets paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing, and thoroughly enjoys it. She is proud to have been part of projects that have received national recognition.

Kim lives in Indiana with her husband, Randy, and their spoiled cats. They have a daughter and three granddaughters.

You can read the first chapter of The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar and The Cross and the Dragon at  Follow her on twitter at @kimrendfeld.

 Check out other stops on the tour here!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Giveaway and Review: "The End of Innocence" by Allegra Jordan

From Goodreads: 
On the eve of WWI, two students fall in love in Harvard's hallowed halls and must face a world at war from opposing sides

Helen Windship Brooks is struggling to find herself at the world-renowned Harvard-Radcliffe University when brooding German poet Wils bursts into her life. As they fall deeply in love on the brink of WWI, anti-German sentiments mount and Wils' future at Harvard-and in America-is in increasing danger. When Wils is called to fight for the Kaiser, Helen must decide if she is ready to fight her own battle for what she loves most.

From Harvard's hallowed halls to Belgium's war-ravaged battlefields, The End of Innocence is a powerful new vision of finding love and hope in a violent, broken world.

My Thoughts:  Allegra Jordan's The End of Innocence is a beautifully written story set at the beginning of World War I.  Harvard University's campus takes center stage in this heart-breaking tale of love, loss, and new beginnings.  I really don't know anything about Harvard's history or campus but this story made me want to learn more.  The descriptions of the campus and the buildings were wonderful and I enjoyed learning about the building of the memorial chapel and the two memorials in it.  I liked how the author took one of the main characters and made her the main proponent of the need for a memorial to the German students.

The story centers around Helen, Wils and his cousin, Riley.  Wils is German and Riley is English which creates an interesting dichotomy.  The war has just broken out, tempers are heated on the Harvard University campus and Wils was German when it was the least coolest thing to be.  Wils was my favorite part of the story.  I loved his personality, his poetry and just his voice in general.  He dealt with all of the negativity on campus with such grace.  Riley was an interesting character in that he seemed really superficial at first but as the story progressed, he grew into a really admirable character.  Both cousins loved each other and didn't really have strong feelings about the war but were forced to fight against each other.  I've always struggled with a 'side' when it comes to World War I and this book cemented in my head the immense suffering that both sides had to deal with.

Following Helen throughout the story was kind of like riding a roller coaster.  There were a lot of highs and lows but at the end of the day, she was an extremely tough, resilient and intelligent character.  I can't imagine dealing with the pain she had to endure but I was glad to see her find herself as the story progressed.  The only thing that I didn't love about the story is that it felt really rushed at the end.  I loved the way it ended but it still seemed to go from one story line to the next really quickly.

I'm really interested in the World War I era but I haven't read much about what was going on in the United States during the early years of the war so this story opened up a whole new world for me.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a fascinating and well-written story. 4 stars.

For more information about the Memorial Church at Harvard, click here.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mailbox Monday (27)

 I'm linking up with Mailbox Monday again! 

I was sure I wouldn't have a book haul post this week but I found some great deals on ebooks and I couldn't resist!  One was only $0.99 and the other $1.99; how could I say no that?!  I work at a university and the Fall semester starts tomorrow so things have been super busy for me.  I'm taking a Russian class this fall so it will be interesting to see how much reading I'll be able to get done over the next few months.

Purchased (ebooks):

What books did you get this week?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Spotlight: "Extraordinary Rendition" by Paul Batista

I'm excited to share a fascinating new thriller with you!


When Ali Hussein, suspected terrorist and alleged banker for Al Qaeda, is finally transported from Guantanamo Bay to the US mainland to stand trial, many are stunned when Byron Carlos Johnson, a pre-eminent lawyer and son of a high-profile diplomat, volunteers to represent him.  On principle, Johnson thought he was merely defending a man unjustly captured through Rendition and water-boarded illegally. But Johnson soon learns that there is much more at stake than one man’s civil rights.

Hussein’s intimate knowledge of key financial transactions could lead to the capture of—or the unabated funding of—the world’s most dangerous terror cells.  This makes Hussein the target of corrupt US intelligence forces on one side, and ruthless international terrorists on the other.  And, it puts Byron Carlos Johnson squarely in the crosshairs of both.

Pulled irresistibly by forces he can and cannot see, Johnson enters a lethal maze of espionage, manipulation, legal traps and murder. But when his life, his love, and his acclaimed principles are on the line, Johnson may have one gambit left that can save them all; a play that even his confidants could not have anticipated. He must become the hunter among hunters in the deadliest game.

Written by no-holds-barred-attorney Paul Batista, Extraordinary Rendition excels not only as an action thriller, but as a sophisticated legal procedural as well; tearing the curtains away from the nation’s most controversial issues. Provocative. Smart. Heart-pounding. A legal thriller of the highest order.

About the Author

Paul Batista, novelist and television personality, is one of the most widely known trial lawyers in the country. As a trial attorney, he specializes in federal criminal litigation. As a media figure, he is known for his regular appearances as guest legal commentator on a variety of television shows including, Court TV, CNN, HLN and WNBC. He's also appeared in the HBO movie, You Don't Know Jack, starring Al Pacino.
A prolific writer, Batista authored the leading treatise on the primary federal anti-racketeering statute, Civil RICO Practice Manual. He has written articles for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The National Law Journal.

Batista's debut novel, Death's Witness, was awarded a Silver Medal by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).
Batista is a graduate of Bowdoin College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and Cornell Law School. He's proud to have served in the United States Army. Paul Batista lives in New York City and Sag Harbor, New York.

Buy the Book!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: "Revenge and Retribution" by Anna Belfrage

Synopsis:  Revenge and Retribution is the sixth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.
Life in the Colony of Maryland is no sinecure – as Alex and Matthew Graham well know. But nothing in their previous life has prepared them for the mayhem that is about to be unleashed upon them.
Being labelled a witch is not a good thing in 1684, so it is no wonder Alex Graham is aghast at having such insinuations thrown at her. Even worse, it’s Matthew’s brother-in-law, Simon Melville, who points finger at her.
Not that the ensuing hearing is her main concern, because nowadays Alex’s entire life is tainted by the fear of what Philip Burley will do to them once he gets hold of them – there is no longer any ‘if’ about it. On a sunny May afternoon, it seems Philip Burley will at last revenge himself on Matthew for every single perceived wrong. Over the course of twenty-four hours, Alex’s life – and that of her family’s – is permanently changed.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Alex also has to cope with the loss of one of her sons. Forcibly adopted by the former Susquehannock, Samuel is dragged from Alex’s arms to begin a new life in the wilderness.
How is Alex to survive all this? And will she be able to put her damaged family back together?

My Thoughts:  All I can say is WOW!  I know I gush about these books but they just keep getting better.  This book was rough on my emotions but it is probably one of my favorites of the six in the series.

 Anna Belfrage is an amazing writer and I think that was especially evident in this book.  She makes her characters so real that you could almost feel the same things they were feeling.  The Grahams fell on some hard times in this book and there were several parts that had me in tears.  One of the reasons that I like these books so much is that they 'keep it real'.  The Grahams are an extraordinary family but they aren't immune to the hardships of the real world.  They in American colonies in the 1600s, life wouldn't have been easy and Ms. Belfrage doesn't try to sugarcoat what life would have been like. I also think she did an excellent job of dealing with some really tough issues as they related to some of her characters.  There were a few characters who experienced some really horrible things and I thought she treated them so respectfully in the way she described the events and their aftermath.

I enjoyed getting to know some of the secondary characters more in this book.  I found Lucy to be so interesting.  She did some bad things and wasn't the nicest person on the planet but it seemed that really all she wanted was a little attention. Her fascination with the little painting/portal made me wonder if she'll play a larger role in future books.  I also liked getting to know Sarah as a character and enjoyed seeing the friendship between Sarah and Father Munoz grow.  The Burleys...UGH.  I hate them so much and wish they would go away and never come back.  They are some of the worst villains I have ever read about and are right up there with Black Jack Randall on my list of characters I despise.  I knew they were a bad bunch but this book just cemented how awful they are.

After some of the events in this book, I am curious to see what role 'the present' as Alex knows it will play in future books.  I really want to know what Isaac is doing now so I'm hoping he will show up again.  I am super excited to read the next book but a little nervous at the same time (I read the preview segment, and all I have to say is WHY???).  Seriously people, if you haven't read these books yet, what are you waiting for? 4 1/2 stars.

About the Author:

I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.
I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.

For more information, please visit Anna Belfrage’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

I received a copy of this book from HFVBT in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mailbox Monday (26)

I'm linking up with Mailbox Monday again!  Check it out here!

I'm too tired from work to say much of anything today.  Here's hoping next week is a little less stressful!

From the Library:

I picked this up at the library on Wednesday and have already finished it and returned it.  It was sooo good!

For Review (from Book Junkie Promotions):

What books did you get this week?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mini Reviews (9)

I love a good spy story!  The Kill Artist is the first book in the Silva's Gabriel Allon series and it is really good.  I had picked up book 9 and 10 in the series and really enjoyed them so I decided that i needed to start from the very beginning.  Gabriel Allon is a fascinating character; an art restorer by day, an Israeli spy by night.  He's a killer with a conscious which makes for good reading.  There was a lot of detail in this book which was boring at times but I think was probably necessary to set the scene for future books.  3 stars.

Anastasia's Secret by Susanne Dunlap

I know I've said this before but I will read anything that is about Russian history.  This story is told from Anastasia's point of view as her family's world collapses.  I really enjoyed it even though I knew how it was all going to end.  I liked that the author gave Anastasia a love interest and some happiness in her short life and I liked how the author portrayed her as a strong, intelligent young women.  A good read if you are interested in this period in history.  4 stars.

This is the third book in the Willi Kraus series and I have to say it was my least favorite.  Willi, a character that I normally really like, was just not very likable in this book.  The story was hard to get into and the mystery wasn't anywhere near as exciting as in the previous two books.  I still enjoyed the story once it got moving but it was kind of a let down since the last book was so good.  3 stars.
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