Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Review: "The Forgotten Queen" by D.L. Bogdan

From Goodreads:  From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. Her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland.

Despite her doubts, Margaret falls under the spell of her adopted home. But while Jamie is an affectionate husband, he is not a faithful one. And nothing can guarantee Margaret’s safety when Jamie leads an army against her own brother, Henry VIII. In the wake of loss she falls prey to an ambitious earl and brings Scotland to the brink of anarchy. Beset by betrayal and secret alliances, Margaret has one aim—to preserve the crown of Scotland for her son, no matter what the cost…

My Thoughts:  I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I have never read anything about Margaret Tudor before so I was really surprised by what an interesting life she led.  I am kind of surprised that she is not more prevalent in Tudor lore considering that, from reading this book, she seemed like a pretty unique person.

While I feel like Margaret must have been a really interesting person, the character portrayed in this book was difficult to like at times.  She was a fairly strong character who had to deal with so much adversity but at times she seemed kind of weak and insecure. She was so desperate for people, mainly men, to love her that she came as kind of pathetic and made some really bad choices in regards to the men she married.  I had no idea she was married 3 times and her second and third husbands were not the best men to be married to.  They seemed okay at first but wound up being total slime balls and in her need for love, she followed her heart and not her head when she decided to marry them.  I also felt like she had a very one-track mind.  I know that it was extremely important to her to preserve her son's right to the throne of Scotland but it seemed like she took this to the extreme.  Even when her son was old enough to rule on his own, all she could think about was keeping him on the throne despite the fact that it was no longer necessary for her to worry.  It got kind of annoying after a while.  She was just one of those characters that I both liked and disliked at the same time.

Now, despite being annoyed with Margaret as a character, I did enjoy the story.  There was a lot of drama and ups and downs that kept me wanting to read.  I can't believe that Margaret's life was actually like that because it was almost like reading a soap opera; there was always some twist every time I thought that things were going smoothly.  It was also interesting to see the English and Scottish relations during that period from the Scottish perspective.  It's not very often that there is a Tudor era novel set in Scotland and it was a refreshing change.  I may have had some issues with the main character, but overall, this was a fresh and unique work of historical fiction.  3 1/2 stars.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: "The Midwife's Tale" by Sam Thomas

Synopsis:  In the tradition of Arianna Franklin and C. J. Sansom comes Samuel Thomas’s remarkable debut, The Midwife’s Tale.

It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer.

Bridget joins forces with Martha Hawkins, a servant who’s far more skilled with a knife than any respectable woman ought to be. To save Esther from the stake, they must dodge rebel artillery, confront a murderous figure from Martha’s past, and capture a brutal killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. The investigation takes Bridget and Martha from the homes of the city’s most powerful families to the alleyways of its poorest neighborhoods. As they delve into the life of Esther’s murdered husband, they discover that his ostentatious Puritanism hid a deeply sinister secret life, and that far too often tyranny and treason go hand in hand.

My Thoughts:  This book was so good!  I think the topic of midwifery is so fascinating and combined with a fun mystery, it made for really great read.  I think Britain's early modern era was such an interesting time and I think this book does a wonderful job of portraying the different facets of the period.

Lady Bridget Hodgson is an awesome female lead character.  Considering the time, it was neat to see such a strong, independent and intelligent woman as the main character in this story.  I really liked her and I think she really made the story great.  Another character I really liked was Martha.  It made me giggle every time she picked a lock or got kind of sassy with one of Bridget's visitors.  She just made for a really fun sidekick for Bridget in both trying to solve the mystery and in dealing with Bridget's duties as a midwife.  I don't know very much about the role of the midwife in this era but after reading this book, I definitely want to learn more.  It seemed like midwives played such an important role in the lives of women, both rich and poor and that really intrigued me.   I also thought it interesting that a lot of the story surrounded women who had to learn to survive and be independent because they couldn't count on the men in their life.  Bridget was a widow but much was made of how useless her husband was and there was another female character who had to deal with a similar situation.  There was also much made of the dynamic between female servants and their masters.  I think the author did a good job of showing how powerless female servants were; their masters really had full control over them and their bodies and could use them however they wanted.  This created an interesting dichotomy in the story between women who had power and women who didn't.

In addition to having great characters, this story had a really good mystery side to it.  Bridget tries to find out who murdered her friend's husband and there were so many different possibilities for who the murderer was.  This led to many twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat.  I couldn't put the book down because there was something new every time I turned the page.  I honestly had no clue who the killer would turn out to be and I was completely surprised by the plot twist that led to that discovery.  I love when a story can shock me like that!

Overall, this book had it all: great characters, an intriguing mystery and an interesting historical side.  I will definitely be looking forward to reading more of Mr. Thomas' books in the future.  4 1/2 stars. 

About the Author:

Sam Thomas is an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, and the British Academy. He has published articles on topics ranging from early modern Britain to colonial Africa. Thomas lives in Alabama with his wife and two children.

 Check out other stops on the tour here!
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Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: "The Cross and the Dragon" by Kim Rendfeld

From Goodreads:  A tale of love in an era of war and blood feuds. Francia, 778: Alda has never forgotten Ganelon's. vow of vengeance when she married his rival, Hruodland. Yet the jilted suitor's malice is nothing compared to Alda's premonition of disaster for her beloved, battle-scarred husband. Although the army invading Hispania is the largest ever and King Charles has never lost a war, Alda cannot shake her anxiety. Determined to keep Hruodland from harm, even if it exposes her to danger, Alda gives him a charmed dragon amulet. Is its magic enough to keep Alda's worst fears from coming true. and protect her from Ganelon? Inspired by legend and painstakingly researched, The Cross and the Dragon is a story of tenderness, sacrifice, lies, and revenge in the early years of Charlemagne's reign, told by a fresh, new voice in historical fiction.

My Thoughts:  I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I absolutely loved this book!  I haven't read anything about this period in history so this story was completely new and exciting for me.  The characters, romance and the setting sucked me in from page one and I stayed up pretty late a few nights because I couldn't put this book down.  

Alda was a fantastic character.  She was so strong-willed and like always, I loved that she didn't conform to typical feminine stereotypes of the era.  She wasn't afraid to state her opinions and she didn't try to hide her feelings about those around her.  I just found her to be a very admirable and likable character.  I also really liked Hruodland.  I was rooting for him through the whole story and I loved that he stood by Alda no matter how many people tried to tear them apart.  While I enjoyed reading about Alda and Hroudland, Ganelon was a whole other story.  He was the most evil villain!  Every time I thought he couldn't get any worse, he totally did.  I think the author did a great job of creating a character that was so horrible that he had absolutely no redeeming qualities. 

I also really enjoyed the descriptions of the setting.  When reading about the abbeys of Nonnenworth and St. Stephen as well as Drachenhaus, I felt like I could really see these places and all the things going on within them.  The story also made me really interested in this era in history.  I had never heard of Roncevaux and I knew next to nothing about The Song of Roland until reading this book.  Ms. Rendfeld's book included a very extensive author's note explaining the historical context for the story and I just became fascinated by some of the historical figures from the story.  I will definitely be doing some follow up reading and as is my way, I give major bonus points to this book for including an author's note.  It is obvious from the note that she did an extensive amount of research before writing this book. 

I would highly recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction.  The characters and setting are excellent and the story is a breath of fresh of air in a genre that has been overwhelmed with Tudor era novels. 4 stars.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: "The German Woman" by Paul Griner

From Goodreads:  This riveting war story introduces us to beautiful Kate Zweig, the English widow of a German surgeon, and Claus Murphy, an exiled American with German roots—two lovers with complicated loyalties.

In 1918, Kate and her husband,Horst, are taken for spies by Russian soldiers and forced to flee their field hospital on the eastern front, barely escaping with their lives. Years later, in London during the Nazis’ V-1 reign of terror, Claus spends his days making propaganda films and his nights as a British spy, worn down by the war and his own many secrets. When Claus meets the intriguing Kate Zweig, he finds himself powerfully drawn to her—even after evidence surfaces that she might not be exactly who she seems. As the war hurtles to a violent end, Claus must define where his own loyalties lie, whether he can make a difference in the war—and what might be gained by taking a leap of faith with Kate.

My Thoughts:  I think I bought this book at a library book sale a couple years ago and it's been sitting on my shelf ever since.  I finally decided to read it and I kind of wish I hadn't.  I really wanted to like this book unfortunately, it wasn't as good as I expected it to be.

Both Kate and Claus were very interesting characters but they were also very confusing.  In the beginning very little is known about them but more information was revealed throughout the story.  However, it seemed like no matter how much was revealed, the author was still keeping secrets from the reader.  I felt like I couldn't figure them out nor could I figure out the story.  There seemed to be all kinds of things happening just below the surface and I just don't feel like I understood all the suggestions to what was going on.  Every time I thought I was getting it, something would happen and I started to change my mind.

My other issue was that the story was very slow moving.  The book is only about 300 pages but it felt like it took me forever to read it because it moved very slow.  It felt like there was a lot of extra information thrown into the story that didn't seem super relevant.  I had a really hard time keeping track of all the details and I finally stopped trying because I realized it wasn't important.

I feel bad for writing a negative review about this book because, like I said, I really wanted to like this book.  I just couldn't get into it and honestly, I just didn't get it.  2 stars.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Quick Review: "The Nanny Diaries" by Emma McLaughlin and NIcola Kraus

From Goodreads:  Wanted: One young woman to take care of four-year-old boy. Must be cheerful, enthusiastic and selfless--bordering on masochistic. Must relish sixteen-hour shifts with a deliberately nap-deprived preschooler. Must love getting thrown up on, literally and figuratively, by everyone in his family. Must enjoy the delicious anticipation of ridiculously erratic pay. Mostly, must love being treated like fungus found growing out of employers Herm├Ęs bag. Those who take it personally need not apply. Who wouldn't want this job? Struggling to graduate from NYU and afford her microscopic studio apartment, Nanny takes a position caring for the only son of the wealthy X family. She rapidly learns the insane amount of juggling involved to ensure that a Park Avenue wife who doesn't work, cook, clean, or raise her own child has a smooth day.  When the Xs' marriage begins to disintegrate, Nanny ends up involved way beyond the bounds of human decency or good taste. Her tenure with the X family becomes a nearly impossible mission to maintain the mental health of their four-year-old, her own integrity and, most importantly, her sense of humor. Over nine tense months, Mrs. X and Nanny perform the age-old dance of decorum and power as they test the limits of modern-day servitude.  Written by two former nannies, The Nanny Diaries deftly punctures the glamour of Manhattan's upper class.

My Thoughts:  This book has been sitting on my shelf for a long time and I can't remember where I got it.  Since I am trying to read books I own, I figured I should probably read it.  I must say if you have seen the movie, pass on the book.  The movie follows the book very closely and the book doesn't offer anything that wasn't already in the movie.  It was an entertaining and easy read.

I must say if any of that book is really true and there are people who really act like that, I am nervous for the future of this country.  It was pretty sad to see how awful the parents were and how they really didn't care about their kids at all.  Mrs. X was a twit and her husband was a total creeper and they both were complete failures at being parents and at being decent human beings.  I think the main reason I kept reading this book was in the hopes that they would get a clue and change their ways, unfortunately, that didn't happen.  

If you haven't seen the movie and are looking for something light and fluffy, check this book out.  3 stars.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: "A Clash of Kings" by George R.R. Martin

From Goodreads:  ...A Clash of Kings transports us into a magnificent, forgotten land of revelry and revenge, wizardry and wartime. It is a tale in which maidens cavort with madmen, brother plots against brother, and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside.

Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, the price of glory may be measured in blood. And the spoils of victory may just go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel...and the coldest hearts. For when rulers clash, all of the land feels the tremors.

Audacious, inventive, brilliantly imagined, A Clash of Kings is a novel of dazzling beauty and boundless enchantment—a tale of pure excitement you will never forget.

My Thoughts:  I finished A Game of Thrones over the summer and finally picked up A Clash of Kings because I was missing the characters so much!  It was nice to pick it up and see a bunch of familiar faces.

The story is told through the eyes of Davos, Theon Greyjoy, Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, Catelyn Stark, Daenarys Targaryen and Jon Snow.  Tyrion seemed to be the main focus of this book and boy, was he busy!  I loved to seem him get his sister all riled up and it was pretty awesome when he gave Joffrey a beat down.  I liked Tyrion from the first book but I wavered in this book between liking and disliking him.  I think the dislike comes purely from the fact that he is a Lannister and those people can't be trusted.  Arya and Jon Snow factored pretty heavily into this story as well but whenever I read about them I can't help but feel anxious.  I keep thinking something big is going to happen to them and I can't wait to see what it is!

I must say that I wasn't super excited by some of the characters in this book.  We get to know more about Theon Greyjoy in this book and I was not impressed.  He is an arrogant jerk who isn't as smart as he thinks he is.  I also didn't care much for Davos.  I don't remember him from the first book and I didn't feel like I really got to know him in this book.  He was mainly used to allow the reader to see what kind of shenanigans Stannis Baratheon was up to.  And my last complaint is about Dani.  I loved her sections in the first book but my goodness, she was boring in this one.  I got tired of reading about her wandering through the desert with her ragtag bunch of Dothraki.

While I didn't love A Clash of Kings as much as A Game of Thrones, it was still a really good book and I am very eager to read the third book in the series now.  4 stars.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (31)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews.

This past week my local library closed up for a couple of weeks so that they can move to a temporary location.  They kept asking people to come 'help' them move by checking out items so I decided to do just that.  I checked out several DVDs, some baby related books and the books below.  All are books that have been on my TBR list for a long time so it would be nice if I could get to them.  Sorry for the bad picture quality.  My house is really dark so it's hard to get a good picture.

From the Library:

Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire (This is the 3rd time I've checked this out!)

What books did you pick up this week?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Top Ten Bookish Goals For 2013

 Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic:  Top Ten Bookish Goals for 2013

I don't have 10 bookish goals so I am splitting this up into bookish and non-bookish goals.

Bookish Goals:
1.) Read 75 books in 2013-This is a low goal for me but considering that life will be changing dramatically in June, I don't want to set my number too high.

2.) Read books that I own-Last year I didn't read very many books that I own.  This year I plan to make at least every other book I read, one that I already own.  There are so many books on my shelf that I want to read that I just keep putting off in favor of a library book.

3.) Purge book shelves again-This will be easier once I make a dent in my TBR pile of books.  I own a lot of books I bought on a whim that I don't necessarily want to keep forever.  Once I have read them, I plan to get rid of them.

4.) Buy fewer physical books-Until I am settled in a house that I plan to stay in for a LONG time, I really need to limit the actual print books I purchase.  Moving them is such a hassle so I think I will try to limit my book buying to ebooks.  I do know of a few books coming out this year that I will purchase in print format but that's it.

5.) Try to keep up with the blog-I got kind of burnt out on the blog and reading for a while and I am kind of getting my momentum back.  However, I am really backed up on posts since I am just getting into the swing of things again.  I need to make sure that I am doing a little every day to keep from getting behind.

Non-Bookish Goals:

1.) Exercise 5-7 days a week-I am no longer running but I do still try to get in some form of exercise on a regular basis.  I am starting to worry that this may fall to the wayside and am going to really try to keep moving.
2.) De-clutter the house-We just moved in August but for some reason our house feels messy and cluttered already.  I need to spend the next couple months reorganizing everything!  Especially since we now have to add some additional furniture to the a crib.

3.) Re-evaluate budget and finances-Our finances aren't a problem at all but we could definitely organize things a lot better.

4.) Work with Turbo on refreshing his obedience skills-For the most part, Turbo is a good dog.  However, he could use a refresher on some of the obedience training he received when we first got him.

5.) Have a wonderful year!-Enough said. : )

What are your bookish/non-bookish goals for 2013?  Leave me a link in the comments so I can check out your list!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: "The Forbidden Queen" by Anne O'Brien

From Goodreads:  1415. The Battle of Agincourt is over, and the young princess Katherine de Valois is the prize to be offered to Henry V of England. The innocent Katherine is smitten with Henry, but soon understands that her sole purpose is to produce an heir to unite England and France. When Henry leaves her a widow at the age of 21, Katherine is forced to resign herself to a quiet life as the Dowager Queen; her duty is to raise her son, the young King of England, and little more.

But Katherine is still young and passionate. Many desire her, and her hand in marriage is worth a kingdom. Setting aside those driven by ambition, Katherine falls in love with her servant Owen Tudor, and glimpses the happiness that love can bring. But their enemies are circling, all battling for power and determined to prevent their marriage. Katherine will have to fight to control her own destiny…

In this compelling and beautifully written book, Anne O’Brien tells the story of the innocent young princess, Katherine de Valois, a pawn in a ruthless political game between England and France, and the woman who founded the most famous royal dynasty of all – the Tudors.

My Thoughts:  I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This is the second Anne O'Brien book I have read and I must say that I definitely need to read more of her books!  The Forbidden Queen is such a good book.  I am really starting to love works of historical fiction that go outside the usual Henry VIII/Elizabeth I mold.  This is one of those books.

Katherine of Valois is the grandmother of Henry VII, the first king of the Tudor dynasty.  I knew almost nothing about her life before I read this book and I have to say she lived a very fascinating life.  Katherine is such a fantastic, strong character.  She had to endure so much hardship in her life but still managed to obtain the happiness she wanted and deserved.  I think O'Brien made Katherine into a very human character.  She wasn't perfect; she fell into fits of despair and could be very naive but I think that's why I liked her so much.  She seemed so real!

I thought the author did an interesting job of forshadowing problems for Katherine's son, King Henry VI.  The story included a prophecy about how he would 'reign long and lose all' and there was a lot of talk about how Katherine's father was mad and the concern that she carried this in her blood.  Knowing that King Henry VI did suffer from some sort of mental breakdown made these parts of the story even more intriguing. 

The one thing I did not like about this book was how the story ended.  I don't know why it really bothered me and was not the way I had hoped to see the story end.  It did make me think I need to read more about Katherine of Valois as I am curious to see how things turned out for her.  I also would have liked to see an 'Author's Note' that explained what was fact and fiction in the story.  Those things aside, I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.  4 1/2 stars.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (30)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly feature hosted by Tynga's Reviews.
This week I only picked up one book which after last week, is completely fine with me!  It was only 99 cents so I couldn't resist!
Purchased Ebooks:

The Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

What books did you pick up this week?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Review: "Every Last One" by Anna Quindlen

From Goodreads:  Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother, whose three teenaged children come first, before her career as a landscape gardener, or even her life as the wife of a doctor. Caring for her family and preserving their everyday life is paramount. And so, when one of her sons, Max, becomes depressed, Mary Beth becomes focused on him, and is blindsided by a shocking act of violence. What happens afterwards is a testament to the power of a woman’s love and determination, and to the invisible line of hope and healing that connects one human being with another. Ultimately, in the hands of Anna Quindlen’s mesmerizing prose, Every Last One is a novel about facing every last one of the the things we fear most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, to live a life we never dreamed we’d have to live but must be brave enough to try.
My Thoughts:  After reading the synopsis of this book, I was very interested in reading it.  I think I was most intrigued by the idea of this 'shocking act of violence' and wanted to know what happened.  Well, it was most definitely shocking!  After getting into the story, I had an idea as to what the act of violence might be but I honestly had no clue the author would take it as far as she did.  I was so surprised by how quickly and horribly the story shifts after the event takes place.  (Sorry for being vague, I am really trying not to give anything away!).

Mary Beth was an interesting character.  She tried so hard to be a regular soccer mom with the perfect life and family but it was obvious that this wasn't the case.  I am not saying the fmaily was completely dysfunctional but it seemed that she tried to portray an image of something that didn't really exist.  I definitely liked her more after things happened; she seemed more human and less 'Stepford Wife'.  I think the author did a great job of showing a regular person might deal with their grief after such a tragic incident. 

I must say that I haven't read a book that deals with this subject matter before. I think the author did a good job of making a very accessible story without taking away from the events and emotions she was trying to portray.  Overall, this was a though-provoking read that I am glad I finally got to. 3 1/2 stars.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top Ten Books I Resolve To Read In 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's topic:  Top Ten Books I Resolve to Read in 2013
Happy New Year everyone!!!  There are a lot of books that I really need to get to this year but here are the ones at the top of my list.

1.) 11/22/63 by Stephen King-I got this for Christmas last year and I still haven't read it!  I must get to it!
2.) Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks-Another book I got at Christmas last year.  I'm such a slacker.
3.) Children of Liberty by Paullina Simons-This is a prequel to The Bronze Horseman and it comes out in February. I can't wait to read this!
4.) A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin-I really miss the whole Stark gang and want to make some progress on the series this year.
5.) The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien-I loved The Fellowship of the Ring and hope I will like this one as much.
6.) City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare-I am not super excited to read this but I really need to get caught up on the Mortal Instruments.
7.) The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead-I am so ready to see what Sidney and Adrian have been up to!
8.) Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare-I am curious to see how this trilogy will end.  I have enjoyed it so far and hope this book is just as good.
9.) Lover at Last by J.R. Ward-More of the Black Dagger Brotherhood?  Yes, please.
10.) The Waste Lands by Stephen King-It's been a while since I read book #2 in the Dark Tower series and I think I am ready for book #3.

What books are you hoping to read in 2013?

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