Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: "11/22/63" by Stephen King

From Goodreads:  If you had the chance to change the course of history, would you? Would the consequences be what you hoped?

Jake Epping 35 teaches high school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and cries reading the brain-damaged janitor's story of childhood Halloween massacre by their drunken father. On his deathbed, pal Al divulges a secret portal to 1958 in his diner back pantry, and enlists Jake to prevent the 11/22/1963 Dallas assassination of American President John F. Kennedy. Under the alias George Amberson, our hero joins the cigarette-hazed full-flavored world of Elvis rock n roll, Negro discrimination, and freeway gas guzzlers without seat belts. Will Jake lurk in impoverished immigrant slums beside troubled loner Lee Harvey Oswald, or share small-town friendliness with beautiful high school librarian Sadie Dunhill, the love of his life?

My Thoughts:  I can't believe I waited sooo long to read this!  I honestly think I was a little intimidated by how big it is which was completely silly because it was such a fast read.  There is so much about 11/22/63 that I absolutely love and am fascinated by like time travel, the JFK assassination and historical fiction.  It was the perfect book for me. 

The premise of this book is awesome.  The idea of traveling back in time to stop the JFK assassination is so intriguing but what makes the book even more interesting is how the main character wasn't able to just travel back and stop it from happening.  Jake had to spend four years in the late 1950s/early 1960s assimilating to a completely different way of life; Stephen King does make Jake's assimilation to be a littl easier than I would have expected it to be but all in all, it still made for good reading.

I did think that I would be able to get away from some of Stephen King's usual creep factor in this book but not so much.  Jake ends up making a trip to Derry, Maine (home of that scary clown from 'It') and there are just some creepy characters like the Yellow Card Man and Johnny Clayton.  Jake definitely encounters different forms of evil on his quest but I think what is most creepy is how the past fights him.  Throughout the story, it is made clear that "the past" doesn't want to be changed and it has the power to try to stop whoever is trying to change things.

I have heard people say that Stephen King doesn't do well with endings but I must say that the ending to this book was perfect.  I don't want to give anything away but I liked that everything didn't end with puppies and rainbows (I don't want to give anything away because I really wasn't expecting what happened).  11/22/63 is now one of my favorite Stephen King books and I think everyone would enjoy it.  5 stars.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: "The Inquisitor's Wife" by Jeanne Kalogridis

From Goodreads: In 1480 Seville, Marisol, a fearful young conversa (descendant of Spanish Jews forced to convert to Christianity), is ashamed of her Jewish blood. Forced into a sham marriage with a prosecutor for the new Inquisition, Marisol soon discovers that her childhood sweetheart, Antonio, has just returned to Seville and is also working for the inquisitors. When Marisol’s father is arrested and tortured during Spain’s first auto da fe, Marisol comes to value her Jewish heritage and vows to fight the Inquisition. When she discovers that her beloved Antonio is working to smuggle conversos safely out of Spain, she joins him and risks her life on behalf of her people; a passionate romance follows.

Unfortunately, Marisol does not realize that her supposedly kind and gentle inquisitor-husband has been using her all along to lead Antonio and her fellow conversos to their doom...

My Thoughts:  I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  I find the Spanish Inquisition to be such a fascinating period in history so when I see a book set in that era, I have to read it.  The Inquisitor's Wife is a fantastic story following a conversa, Marisol, as she comes to understand and embrace her Jewish heritage while also trying to save herself and her loved ones the wrath of the Inquisition.

I really liked Marisol as a character.  She was really interesting because there was so much going on around her that she was unaware of.  That sounds weird to say but I thought it was interesting to watch her try to put the pieces of her life together; she had grown up thinking thinking one thing about her life and slowly finding out something totally different.  She started out as this incredibly naive, kind of spoiled, young girl but she really grew throughout the story as she learned the truth about her past, parents and husband.  

I really enjoyed this book and I think it had to with the fact that there were so many twists and turns.  When the story starts, the reader doesn't have any more information than Marisol does about events that have occurred in her family and in Seville.  I felt like I never knew what was going to happen next and every time I thought I had it figured out, something completely different would happen.  It made the story extremely exciting and made the book difficult to put down.

There was a pretty big twist at the end which was pretty awesome but I did feel like the story kind of ended abruptly.  There was so much more I wanted to know, mainly about Marisol's life after she escaped from Seville, but the story just kind of ended and the reader is left to assume that everything works out the way you hope it will.  Otherwise, I thought this was a great book and would highly recommend it! 4 stars.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (43)

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

I got so many awesome books this week!  I just want to lock myself in my house and read nonstop!

Purchased (ebook):

From NetGalley:

From the Library:

Received (from Simon & Schuster and HFVBT)

I participated in a blog tour for Anne Easter Smith a few months ago and I completely forgot that they were going to send a copy of this book.  It was such a great surprise!

That's all I got this week!  What books did you get?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-A-Thon April 2013- MASTER POST

It's that time again!  I am thrilled to be participating in Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon again!!  I had big plans for the day but my to-do list has continued to grow so I am going to have to figure out a balance between work and reading.  I am definitely not going to staying up all 24 hours (I'm pregnant and tired, yo!) but I will be trying to sneak in some extra reading throughout the day.  Hopefully I can get through at least one book if not more.

I have 3 short books that I have set aside for the Read-a-thon and I think I'm going to start with Surrender to Sultry.  It's only fitting since I read Sultry with a Twist during the last Read-A-Thon. 

Check back throughout the day as I will be posting updates here! 

Hour 1-Introductory Questionaire

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? I am in Kansas where it's raining this morning but supposed to be a sunny 65 this afternoon.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Surrender to Sultry.  I really love this series!
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I didn't stock up on snacks though there is a good chance I will be making some brownies later.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!  I am a book loving mama to be!
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?  As I said above, I may not get as much reading done as I did last time.  I have a ton of stuff that needs to get done today!

Hour 3 Update!

So far I have read 186 pages in Surrender to Sultry.  I had to take a break to help the hubs move some furniture in the baby's room and to throw some food in the crock pot but otherwise I have been reading!  I even went for a walk on the treadmill.  I love that I can read while getting some exercise!

I'll check back in a couple of hours!

# of pages read-186
Snacks-Cheese and crackers
Laundry breaks-1 : )

Hour 6 Update!

I finished Surrender to Sultry around hour 5 and have now started Spell of the Highlander.  I loved Surrender to Sultry and it is definitely my favorite of the trilogy!  I will probably take a little break from reading here soon.  I am waiting for the hubs to get home so that we can run some errands but I'll get back to my book as soon as I can.

# of pages read-349
Laundry breaks-2
Puppy snuggle breaks-1

Hour 9 Update!

I spent the last few hours doing some work around the house and running errands so not much reading was accomplished.  Hopefully I can make up for it in the next few hours!

# of pages read-507

Hour 12 Update!

I just finished Spell of the Highlander and I must say that I seriously love this series.   I can't believe I have finished 2 books today without really trying and while still accomplishing most of the work on my to-do list.  The hubs and I are going to watch a movie and then I will get back to reading.  I hope the readathon is going well for everyone else!

# of pages read-624
# of books read-2
Hour 12 snacks-Pizza, OMG it was so yummy!

Mid-Event Survey
1) How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired?  Surprisingly, I feel great!
2) What have you finished reading? Surrender to Sultry, Spell of the Highlander
3) What is your favorite read so far? I really enjoyed them both!
4) What about your favorite snacks? The pizza I had for dinner was awesome!
5) Have you found any new blogs through the readathon? If so, give them some love!  I did!  I really liked Sophisticated Dorkiness.

Hour 15 Update!

This is the last of my updates for today.  Since my last update, I took a break to watch a movie and then read 129 pages in The Happiest Baby on the Block.  I will read for a little while longer and then call it a night.  I haven't decided if I going to get up early to do some more reading or not but I will definitely do a final update when the readathon is over.  I hope everyone is having a great time!!

# of pages read-753
# of books read- 2.5
Hour 15 snacks-Brownies

Final Update!

After my update last night, I read about 60 more pages and then crashed.  I was kind of hoping that I would wake up early to finish out the last hour or two of the readathon but that didn't happen. Oh well!  I had a great time!  I feel a little caught up on my TBR pile and it was fun to see so many people on twitter participating.  And I read a total of 808 pages yesterday while also getting a ton of work done around my house! I would love participate again but I'm not sure if it will be in October or not.  I will have a 4 month old baby at that point and don't know if spending the day reading will be a possibility!  Hopefully next time I participate, I can participate in more mini-challenges and do more cheering.  I tend to get caught up in the reading and forget all about the other fun stuff going on.

Anyway, this readathon was awesome and I hope everything else had a great time too!


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: "Seduction" by M.J. Rose

Synopsis:  From the author of The Book of Lost Fragrances comes a haunting novel about a grieving woman who discovers the lost journal of novelist Victor Hugo, awakening a mystery that spans centuries.

In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.

Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey—where Hugo conducted the séances—hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different—Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.

What follows is an intricately plotted and atmospheric tale of suspense with a spellbinding ghost story at its heart, by one of America’s most gifted and imaginative novelists.

My Thoughts: This book was completely different than what I expected.  It was a fascinating story of spirits and suffering and wove together the lives of people from three completely different periods in history.

The author did an amazing job of creating three really unique and intriguing stories and of managing to weave them together into one larger cohesive story. I don't know very much about Victor Hugo's life so I thought the parts of the story that involved him were especially interesting.  I think the author made him into a sympathetic character; I couldn't help but feel for him as he grieved for his daughter and struggled with the 'Shadow of the Sepulcher'.  I also really enjoyed the sections that went back to 
56 BCE and Owain's life as a Druid priest.  It's unusual to read a story set so far back in history and I think that's why I liked it so much.

While I did love the story, I had a hard time with Jac's character.  I felt like I didn't get to know her that well; the story focused on a few very specific periods in her past but other than seeing how damaged she was, I didn't feel like she had much of a personality.  That being said, after finishing the book I realized that it is the second book that involves Jac's character so I think that it is very possible that if I had read The Book of Lost Fragances first, I would have had a better idea of who Jac was as a person and maybe I would have liked her more.  Though I had some issues with Jac, I did like some of the other lesser characters.  Theo's aunts, Eve and Minerva, added so much personality to such a dark story.  I also really liked Malachi, Jac's doctor.  His fascinating interest in reincarnation which really became a bigger part of the story than I expected it to but added to the uniqueness of the story as a whole.  

I think what surprised me most was how creepy this story was. There were times when I thought to myself that I should put it down until the next day because it was little scary.  I don't see this as a bad thing at all; I kind of like when a book can scare me a little.  Overall, I think this was a very well-written and captivating story.  3 1/2 stars. 

About the Author:
M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of eleven novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio. Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors – Authorbuzz.com. The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype. She is also the co-founder of Peroozal.com and BookTrib.com.

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

 Check out other stops on the tour here!
Follow the tour on twitter:  #SeductionVirtualTour

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: "Margaret Fuller: A New American Life" by Megan Marshall

 Synopsis:  From an early age, Margaret Fuller dazzled New England’s intelligent elite. Her famous Conversations changed women’s sense of how they could think and live; her editorship of the Dial shaped American Romanticism. Now, Megan Marshall, whose acclaimed The Peabody Sisters “discovered” three fascinating women, has done it again: no biography of Fuller has made her ideas so alive or her life so moving.

Marshall tells the story of how Fuller, tired of Boston, accepted Horace Greeley’s offer to be the New York Tribune’s front-page columnist. The move unleashed a crusading concern for the urban poor and the plight of prostitutes, and a hunger for passionate experience. In Italy as a foreign correspondent, Fuller took a secret lover; wrote dispatches on the brutal 1849 Siege of Rome; and gave birth to a son.

When all three died in a shipwreck off Fire Island shortly after Fuller’s 40th birthday, the sense and passion of her life’s work were eclipsed by tragedy and scandal. Marshall’s inspired account brings an American heroine back to indelible life.

My Thoughts:  I will be completely honest, I had never heard of Margaret Fuller until reading this book.  After reading it I am really surprised that not only had I not heard of her, I had never heard of any of her written works.  

The author did a really good job of providing a thorough picture of Margaret Fuller's life.  Ms. Marshall used a lot of excerpts from Fuller's letters and from letters written by those who knew her.  Margaret Fuller is definitely one of the most fascinating American women I have read about.  It was neat to see a woman growing up in the early eighteen hundreds who was so incredibly well-educated and so ahead of her time.  It was so impressive that she was a serious columnist for the New York Tribune and that people were actually interested in her thoughts and opinions. I also thought it was really interesting that she had such close relationships with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and other famous Transcendentalists.  Considering that she lived such an exceptional life, it was so sad to see her come to such an early and tragic end.

While I do think the author provided a very thorough look at Fuller's life, the book seemed a little long winded and at times I was bored.  There was so much detail that it was a little overwhelming and I felt like sometimes more emphasis was put on the thoughts of Fuller's friends than on her and what was happening in her life.  The descriptions of the last year of her life was probably the most interesting; up to that point, things had been moving kind of slow.  Also, there were points where I had a hard time deciding if I liked Fuller: she was intelligent and confident but also incredibly moody and arrogant at times. 

Despite the fact that the book read a little slow, Margaret Fuller was an intriguing look at an incredible historical figure.  I will definitely try to read some more about Fuller and her unique life.  3 stars.

About the Author: 

  MEGAN MARSHALL is the author of The Peabody Sisters, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work has appeared in The New YorkerAtlanticNew York Times Book Review, and Slate. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEH fellowships, Marshall teaches in the MFA program at Emerson College.

 Check out other stops on the Margaret Fuller tour here!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: "Starvation Heights" by Gregg Olsen

From Goodreads: In 1911 two wealthy British heiresses, Claire and Dora Williamson, came to a sanitorium in the forests of the Pacific Northwest to undergo the revolutionary “fasting treatment” of Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard. It was supposed to be a holiday for the two sisters. But within a month of arriving at what the locals called Starvation Heights, the women were emaciated shadows of their former selves, waiting for death. They were not the first victims of Linda Hazzard, a quack doctor of extraordinary evil and greed who would stop at nothing short of murder to achieve her ambitions. As their jewelry disappeared and forged bank drafts began transferring their wealth to Hazzard’s accounts, Dora Williamson sent a last desperate plea to a friend in Australia, begging her to save them from the brutal treatments and lonely isolation of Starvation Heights.

My Thoughts:  I found this book by accident at Half Price Books about a year ago and finally got around to reading it.  I had never heard of the events discussed in the book and I really loved that it's a historical true crime story.  

I was shocked by how manipulative and devious Linda Hazzard was.  Her crazy idea that extensive fasting would cure illness was just mind boggling and the fact that people bought into was even more surprising.  I was really shocked by the lengths she went to in order to steal people's money and that people never questioned her motives.  The book focuses on one case in particular though it seems that many people died because of Linda Hazzard's greed and phony medical claims.  When Claire Williamson died as a result of Hazzard's treatment, the British consul in Washington pushed to get Hazzard tried for murder.  I couldn't believe that with all of the evidence available, it took a lot of time and effort to convince local officials to prosecute Hazzard.  It seemed like nobody cared about what she was doing.  I also hated how full of herself Hazzard was and how convinced she was of her own rightness.  She seemed like such an evil person and at times it was hard to believe that she was a real person.

For a work of non-fiction, this was such a smooth, easy read.  It was really like reading a novel and kept my interest from beginning to end.  The only thing I didn't really like about this book is that there weren't any footnotes or citations in the book.  It's hard for me to buy into works of non-fiction that don't list their sources and tell me where they are getting their information from.  It also makes me question how accurate the information is.  I think if it weren't for that, I would have given this book a higher rating.  As it is, Starvation Heights is a fascinating read centered around horrific crimes in America's not so distant past. 3 stars.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (42)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly feature hosted by Tynga's Reviews.
I am really looking forward to reading the books I got this week but I think I will save them for the read-a-thon next weekend.  They are both pretty short so I should be able to get through them.

From the Library:

What books did you get this week?

Friday, April 19, 2013

If You Want to Read About...Tudor England

Since I read so much historical fiction, I started coming up with lists of my favorite books from different regions and/or historical periods.  I thought I might share them on my blog over the next couple weeks.

This week's list focuses on Tudor England.  There are a ton of books out there that are set in Tudor England; at times, I definitely feel like I need a break from that era.  Also, because there are so many books set in Tudor England, there are a lot of books out there that aren't very good.  Below are some of my favorite books set in Tudor England:

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir- I enjoyed this book because it focused on Elizabeth's life prior to becoming queen and was very different from other books about Elizabeth.

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir-This is my favorite book about Lady Jane Grey.  I have read several about her and none can compare.

The Queen's Pleasure by Brandy Purdy-Robert Dudley's wife is the main focus of this book but I liked it because it was about Elizabeth's reign without really being about Elizabeth.  Plus it provided an interesting mystery.

The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien-While this book isn't set in Tudor England, it is about Katherine of Valois who began the Tudor dynasty.  Anne O'Brien's books are fantastic and this one was no different.

Gilt by Katherine Longshore-Katherine Howard is the focus of this work of YA historical fiction.  It's the first in a trilogy and I can't wait to read more from this author.

Her Highness, the Traitor by Susan Higginbotham - I would recommend reading anything by Susan Higginbotham.  This is a very unique, well-researched  and well-written book about the Dudley and Grey families as they struggle for power after the death of Edward VI.

The Flower Reader by Elizabeth Loupas-Loupas' novel is set in Scotland during Mary, Queen of Scots reign. It's not really a 'Tudor England' book but it's a Tudor era book and is a very good read.

Pale Rose of England by Sandra Worth-What I love about this book is it is set in Tudor England but during the reign of Henry VII.  There isn't a lot out there set during his reign so it's nice to read something different.

Have you read any of these books?  Are there any books set in Tudor England that you loved that aren't on this list?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Quick Review: "The Mirrored World" by Debra Dean

From Goodreads:  Born to a Russian family of lower nobility, Xenia, an eccentric dreamer who cares little for social conventions, falls in love with Andrei, a charismatic soldier and singer in the Empress's Imperial choir. Though husband and wife adore each other, their happiness is overshadowed by the absurd demands of life at the royal court and by Xenia's growing obsession with having a child--a desperate need that is at last fulfilled with the birth of her daughter. But then a tragic vision comes true, and a shattered Xenia descends into grief, undergoing a profound transformation that alters the course of her life. Turning away from family and friends, she begins giving all her money and possessions to the poor. Then, one day, she mysteriously vanishes.

Years later, dressed in the tatters of her husband's military uniform and answering only to his name, Xenia is discovered tending the paupers of St. Petersburg's slums. Revered as a soothsayer and a blessed healer to the downtrodden, she is feared by the royal court and its new Empress, Catherine, who perceives her deeds as a rebuke to their lavish excesses. In this evocative and elegantly written tale, Dean reimagines the intriguing life of Xenia of St. Petersburg, a patron saint of her city and one of Russia's most mysterious and beloved holy figures. This is an exploration of the blessings of loyal friendship, the limits of reason, and the true costs of loving deeply.

My Thoughts:  I will read just about any work of historical fiction if it is set in Russia so when I saw this book I knew I had to read it.  It sounded really good and I loved Dean's The Madonnas of Leningrad so I figured I would love this too.  However, that just wasn't the case.

I didn't hate this book but I felt like it needed so much more.  It was very short and it seems as though it could have been longer.  There was a lot of story leading up to Xenia's transformation and then the story soon ended after that point. I had expected there to be more about her life helping the poor and it just wasn't there.  She seemed to become such an interesting character and yet the reader didn't really get to know her at that point.  I also was kind of disappointed that the narrator, Dasha, was not more developed.  I wanted to know more about her but despite being the narrator, she really was a minor, almost unimportant, character.

I do think the author provided some beautiful descriptions of Russia during the reign of Empress Elizabeth: I loved the scenes at the costume party.  I also like that this book made me want to know more about the real Xenia because I had never really heard of her before.  Otherwise, I was not super impressed with this book.  I just think that the story had so much potential and it just wasn't able to live up to it.  2 1/2 stars.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Top Ten Books I Can't Believe I've Never Read

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

This week's topic is 'Top Ten Tuesday Rewind' so I picked: Top Ten Books I Can't Believe I've Never Read
1.) The Odyssey/Iliad by Homer-I don't know how I made it through high school and college without reading this but some how I did. 
2.) The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman-I have seen nothing but rave reviews of this from historical fiction fans and feel like I can't call myself a true historical fiction fan until I read this.
3.) 11/22/63 by Stephen King-I was so excited for this book to come out and I got it for Christmas a year ago and just have never read it.  I know I'll love it, I just haven't picked it up!
4.)  If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster-It's so weird that I love Jen Lancaster and have read all of her memoirs but I have never read any of her works of fiction.
5.) A History of Russia by Nicholas Riasonovsky-I was a terrible grad student and never read this.  I think it was on our reading list and it's supposed to be 'the' history of Russia.  I have owned this book for many years but it just looks pretty on my shelf right now.
6.) The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn-This is another of those books I should have probably read in grad school and never did.  Shame on me.
7.) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck-This book is a classic and I loved East of Eden so I should have read it, right? Wrong.
8.) The Unfailing Light by Robin Bridges- The first book in this trilogy was awesome and I couldn't wait to buy the second book and read it.  I bought it in December and still it's unread.

9.) Inferno by Dante-I started this in high school and had every intention of reading it but it was really hard and I gave up.
10.) The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli-This is another classic work that I really should have read at some point.  What kind of history major was I?!

Have you read any of these books?  Are there any books you can't believe you have never read?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Quick Review: "Bright Young Things" by Anna Godbersen

From Goodreads:  The year is 1929. New York is ruled by the Bright Young Things: Flappers and socialites seeking thrills and chasing dreams in the anything-goes era of the Roaring Twenties.

Letty Larkspur and Cordelia Grey escaped their small Midwestern town for New York's glittering metropolis. All Letty wants is to see her name in lights, but she quickly discovers Manhattan is filled with pretty girls who will do anything to be a star....

Cordelia is searching for the father she's never known, a man as infamous for his wild parties as he is for his shadowy schemes. Overnight, she enters a world more thrilling and glamorous than she ever could have imagined — and more dangerous. It's a life anyone would kill for...and someone will.

The only person Cordelia can trust is ­Astrid Donal, a flapper who seems to have it all: money, looks, and the love of Cordelia's brother, Charlie. But Astrid's perfect veneer hides a score of family secrets.

My Thoughts:  I didn't know what to expect from this book but it was a freebie from Barnes and Noble a while back so I decided to check it out.  Unfortunately, I kind of wish I hadn't wasted my time on it.  I think the story had a good premise but was extremely over-simplified and any twists were pretty obvious well before they occurred.  It felt like the author tried to cram a story that should have been longer into 250 pages and the story really suffered from it.

I think Letty had the potential to be an interesting character but she just was very under-developed.  Cordelia and Astrid got on my nerves and I found it annoying how things just magically worked out for Cordelia in her search for her father.  It seemed so unrealistic and contributed to the story being boring.  It's a lot more fun to read about a person's struggle than it is to read about someone who just gets everything they want.  I will admit that I skimmed some pages because I just really didn't care that much about the characters or what was happening to them.

This is the first book in a trilogy and honestly I can't see myself continuing with the next book. I hate to write negative reviews but this book just really didn't do it for me. 2 stars.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (41)

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

Well, I really shouldn't have received any new books this week but I saw two books on NetGalley that I had to read.  I need to slow it down on the review books but it's so hard to say no!  I also need to start saying no to any nook deals.  I can't resist books that are only $1.99!

From NetGalley:

What books did you get this week?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Review: "Flesh" by Khanh Ha

Synopsis:  The setting is Tonkin (northern Vietnam) at the turn of the 20th century. A boy, Tai, witnesses the beheading of his father, a notorious bandit, and sets out to recover his head and then to find the man who betrayed his father to the authorities. On this quest, Tai's entire world will shift. FLESH takes the reader into dark and delightful places in the human condition, places where allies are not always your friends, true love hurts, and your worst enemy may bring you the most comfort. In that emotionally harrowing world, Tai must learn to deal with new responsibilities in his life while at the same time acknowledging his bond, and his resemblance, to a man he barely knew--his father. Through this story of revenge is woven another story, one of love, but love purchased with the blood of murders Tai commits. A coming-of-age story, but also a love story, the sensuality of the author's writing style belies the sometimes brutal world he depicts.

My Thoughts:  I don't think I have ever read a work of historical fiction set in Asia, let alone in Vietnam.  I am really not familiar with the history of Vietnam so for me, this book was a breath of fresh air; it was a unique story that left me wanting to learn more about the history of this country and region.  

Khanh Ha is a fantastic writer.  His descriptions of the landscape of Vietnam were amazing.  He didn't just describe Vietnam, he created it.  I especially enjoyed his descriptions of the jungle and I think some of the most vivid descriptions were during the scenes when Tai has smallpox and ran away from his home.  I felt like I was with Tai as he moves through the jungle and eventually hides under a pile of straw; that was how vivid the author's writing is.  I also think that the author created a unique set of characters.  While Tai was the main focus, some of the side characters were just as interesting.

I will say that at times the story was a little confusing.  At times, I felt like I was reading a group of stories that had common themes and characters rather than one cohesive story.  I noticed this more in the beginning of the story: after I was about half way through the book, it felt like it started to flow better from chapter to chapter.  I kind of want to go back and read the book again because I feel like I missed things and I might understand the story better after a second look.

There was a pretty significant twist at the end which kind of shook things up.  It wasn't an obvious twist but as it got closer to being revealed, I did guess that was the way the author would end things.  It made me feel bad for Tai but at the same time it added to the 'coming of age' theme of the story.  Overall, I think that Flesh is a rare work of historical fiction that combines a unique tale with beautiful writing.  3 stars.

About the Author:

Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years, he began writing short stories, which won him several awards in the Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He studied Journalism at Ohio University and learned the craft of writing under Daniel Keyes (Flowers for Algernon) and Walter Tevis (The Man Who Fell to Earth).  FLESH (Black Heron Press, June 2012) is his first novel (literary fiction).

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Review: "Tully" by Paullina Simons

From Goodreads:   The time is the late 1970s. The place is the windswept heartland of America. The woman is Tully-- defiant young rebel with an agonizing secret, devoted friend faced with a shattering betrayal, impassioned lover haunted by a man whose touch is more powerful than all her pain. But in the years to come, beyond the torments and marvels of adolescence, into a world where men will vie for her and lie to her, Tully will dare to win everything, and risk losing it all, in one raw, reckless gamble of the heart. From Paullina Simons comes an astonishing novel about passion and loss, love and revelation; about friendship that endures through lifetimes, and even beyond death; and about one unforgettable woman named Tully, struggling to make sense of it all.

My Thoughts:  This is a really hard book to review because I am not still not 100% sure how I feel about it.  I do know that I love Paullina Simons' writing and this book is another example of how great of a writer she is.

Tully was a difficult character.  I liked her while at the same time she was such a frustrating character.  I was definitely felt sympathetic toward her; she had an awful childhood filled with sexual and physical abuse and so much loss but she never tried to get help for her issues and it drove me nuts!  She spent so much time advocating for abused children and trying to get them the help they needed while she just pushed down her issues and refused to deal with them.  At times she seemed so tough and strong but at other times I just wanted her to drop her walls and let people in.  I really loved her husband, Robin, and it was so hard to see how much he loved her and how much she pushed him away.  I guess I am kind of rambling at this point, but what I am trying to see is that Tully was a very complicated character with so many layers.  

I read a lot of reviews of this book on goodreads.com and a lot of them talked about how they thought the character, Jack, was the best in the whole book. I disagree.  I personally liked Jack the least of all the characters.  He just seemed shifty and untrustworthy and there was just something about his character that rubbed me the wrong way.  I didn't like his relationship with Tully and I didn't like that he kept popping in and out of the story.  

The overall story was beautiful and frustrating and complex and followed Tully from her teenage years into adulthood.  At times I wanted to throw the book across the room and at other times I was completely enchanted.  I will say that his book could have easily ended in a bad way but it didn't.  I absolutely loved the ending and it was exactly what I would have hoped for.  It really couldn't have been more perfect and I think that it made up for all of the moments I was irritated with Tully or the story as a whole.  So even though my review is kind of wishy washy, I would definitely recommend this book.  It's so different from anything I have ever read and I am really glad that I finally read it.  4 stars.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review: "City of Lights" by Melika Lux

Synopsis: What would you risk for the love of a stranger?

Ilyse Charpentier, a beautiful young chanteuse, is the diva of the 1894 Parisian cabaret scene by night and the unwilling obsession of her patron, Count Sergei Rakmanovich, at every other waking moment.

Though it has always been her secret desire, Ilyse’s life as “La Petite Coquette” of the Paris stage has turned out to be anything but the glamorous existence she had dreamt of as a girl. As a young woman, Ilyse has already suffered tragedy and become estranged from her beloved brother, Maurice, who blames her for allowing the Count to drive them apart.

Unhappy and alone, Ilyse forces herself to banish all thoughts of independence until the night Ian McCarthy waltzes into her life. Immediately taken with the bold, young, British expatriate, Ilyse knows it is time to choose:  will she break free and follow her heart or will she remain a slave to her patron’s jealous wrath for the rest of her life?

My Thoughts:  This was really a sweet a little story.  It was short but had a fun, exciting plot and interesting characters.  Sometimes historical fiction can feel really heavy, but this was a nice light read.

I haven't read very much about France in the late 1800s but I loved the way that the author portrayed Paris.  I have never really wanted to go to Paris but I kind of want to visit the Paris portrayed in this book.  It seemed so beautiful and surreal to read about a Paris where the Eiffel Tower was new and exciting and nightlife was brilliant and exciting. Even the descriptions of the poorer sections of Paris were fascinating; the author just made Paris seem to be an amazingly dream-like place.

The character, Count Sergei Rakmanovich, was awesomely evil.  To be honest, I thought he was the best character in the bookHis obsession with Ilyse was so crazy; at first I thought he was just a really mean and controlling person but as more was revealed about him it was obvious that he was a complete psycho.  I know it's weird to say that he was my favorite character but I felt like he was the most interesting and well-developed character in the story.  I liked Ilyse and Ian but I thought they could have had more depth.  They were borderline cheesy and I would have liked to get to know them better, especially Ian.  I also really liked Maurice and would have loved to know more about his life during the six years he and Ilyse were estranged.  

Overall, City of Lights was a fun read with a wonderful setting and the perfect villain.  If you are looking to relax with a light read, you should definitely check this book out.  3 stars

About the Author:
I write historical fiction, suspense, supernatural thrillers, horror, fantasy, sci-fi, short stories—you name it, I write it! I love to read just about anything and everything and am particularly fond of historical fiction, the classics, mysteries, epic fantasy, history, and non-fiction. I am also a classically trained soprano/violinist/pianist and have been performing since the age of three. Additionally, I hold a BA in Management and an MBA in Marketing.    

I am a HUGE fan of Psych, most British drama, comedy, and mystery shows, and am always up for a movie quote challenge. Jaws is my favorite movie of all time, with The Lord of the Rings being a very close second. Tell me something about yourself, and I'll most probably be able to "Six Degrees of Separation" it back to Gandalf.

Lastly, I love to spend time with my family and friends, and I absolutely adore traveling. Not only is it great to experience other cultures, but travelling expands my horizons as a writer and sets my imagination reeling with a million different ideas for stories. If I hadn't decided to become a writer (And there's a Gandalf story for that, too.), I would have become a marine biologist, but after countless years spent watching Shark Week, I realized I'm very attached to my arms and legs and would rather write sharks into my stories than get up close and personal with those toothy wonders.

I am currently working on the sequel to my supernatural thriller/historical novel Corcitura, a collection of comedy/horror/fantasy stories set in Eastern Europe in the 1800s, and the first book of a planned fantasy duology. To learn more, please visit www.booksinmybelfry.com.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Quick Review: "Lover at Last" by J.R. Ward

From Goodreads:  Qhuinn, son of no one, is used to being on his own. Disavowed from his bloodline, shunned by the aristocracy, he has finally found an identity as one of the most brutal fighters in the war against the Lessening Society. But his life is not complete. Even as the prospect of having a family of his own seems to be within reach, he is empty on the inside, his heart given to another....

Blay, after years of unrequited love, has moved on from his feelings for Qhuinn. And it’s about time: The male has found his perfect match in a Chosen female, and they are going to have a young—just as Qhuinn has always wanted for himself. It’s hard to see the new couple together, but building your life around a pipe dream is just a heartbreak waiting to happen. As he’s learned firsthand.

Fate seems to have taken these vampire soldiers in different directions... but as the battle over the race’s throne intensifies, and new players on the scene in Caldwell create mortal danger for the Brotherhood, Qhuinn finally learns the true definition of courage, and two hearts who are meant to be together... finally become one.

My Thoughts:  I know I have said it before but I love this series!  This book is the first of the bunch that dealt with a romance between two men and I thought it was very well done.  I love Qhuinn and Blay and I was so glad to finally see them get together.  It was also nice to see Qhuinn deal with the demons from his past and open himself up a bit.  

 I am starting to notice that while the later books in the series still focus somewhat on one couple, they also have a lot of other subplots.  There were two additional budding romances  in this book and at times the story felt like it was bouncing all over the place.  I do like Xcor a lot and hope to see him redeem himself but it was a little hard to keep him and Assail straight.  Since they are both 'bad' guys, I started to get confused as to which one is involved in which kind of bad behavior.  

The other thing I didn't love about this book was that most of the Brothers made very small appearances.  I feel like usually you get to see more of the Brotherhood as a whole but that didn't seem to happen much in this book.  I am really excited by Layla's pregnancy and can't wait to see another baby in the mansion.  I think this book lay the groundwork for the next book and I can't wait to see what direction Ward is going to take the series.  Overall, Lover At Last was a good addition to the Black Dagger Brotherhood series but I am hoping the next book will be even better. 3 stars.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (40)

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

When I started writing this post I had only one book to showcase but then I got sucked into Barnes & Noble's 50% off ebook sale.  I shouldn't be buying books but I just couldn't resist!

Here is what I got this week:

For Review (From Historical Fiction Book Tours):

Purchased (ebooks):

Do you ever get sucked into book sales?  What books did you pick up this week?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Guest Post by Julie K. Rose, author of "Oleanna"

I am so excited to welcome Julie K. Rose, author of Oleanna, to the blog today!

I'm always fascinated by the little details that make a time and a place come alive, the traditions that express a sense of culture and history. One fantastic way to connect with history is through clothing, and in Norway, the most important expression of culture through dress is bunad.

Bunad are special occasion wear based on the folk clothes of centuries past. Norwegians like Oleanna at the turn of century, and Norwegians today, wear bunad for weddings, important events, holidays, and Constitution Day (May 17) to show pride in their country and respect for their history.

Below are two fabulous images of the bunad worn at Jølster in Sunnfjord (western fjord Norway), where Oleanna and her family lived. This is the kind of bunad Oleanna and Elisabeth would have worn, inspired most likely by the clothing they'd seen their grandmothers wear.

Image courtesy of <a href = " https://beta.kulturnett.no/portal/web/kulturnett/home">Kulturnett.no</a>

"Jølster girls with a man in a small boat, ca 1900" via <a href = "http://bewareoftherug.blogspot.com/2011/11/three-girls-in-national-costumes.html">Beware of the Rug</a>

My great-grandmother's Hardanger bunad, probably sewn after she immigrated to the U.S. in 1907. Wearing bunad was a way for many immigrants to feel connected to their homeland.

Bunad is unique to each region, even down to counties and specific communities. They're differentiated by color, the style of apron and skirt, the type of embroidery, and the style of sølje jewelry worn. As with any kind of fashion, bunad can be straightforward or incredibly detailed—it's all based on the amount of time (and money!) you have. To purchase an entire outfit, you're looking at $3,000—and that's before accessories!

My husband took this shot in Oslo on Constitution Day in 2004; I love the juxtaposition of the historic folk dress and the mobile phones!

"Modern day postcard showing young girl in national costume on a Fjord horse with view of Jølster, Norway in the background" via <a href = "http://bewareoftherug.blogspot.com/2011/11/three-girls-in-national-costumes.html">Beware of the Rug</a>

It's important to note that in most cases, this is not extant clothing—it's reconstruction of an (idealized) folk past, taking bits and pieces to create a new whole that you can order from a shop to have handmade today.

You'll see in the "new" Sunnfjord bunad below (ca. 1914), the pointed hats and colorful aprons of the Jølster bunad are gone and the whole is simplified. This is the bunad you see most often today for the region; I must admit I've not seen any modern photos of women wearing the pointed Jølster bunad hats of yesteryear. It's fascinating to see how history is sewn and resewn anew with each generation of bunads!

If you'd like to learn more about bunad, check out these links:
·         http://www.norskflid.no/bunad/

Julie K. Rose is an author of unique historic and contemporary fiction. She is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society and former reviewer for the Historical Novels Review. She earned a B.A. in Humanities (SJSU) and an M.A. in English (University of Virginia), and lives in the Bay Area with my husband and our cat Pandora. She loves reading, following the San Francisco Giants, watching episodes of Doctor Who, and enjoying the amazing natural beauty of Northern California.

Oleanna, short-listed for finalists in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom literary competition, is her second novel.  The Pilgrim Glass, a finalist in the 2005 Faulkner-Wisdom and semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, was published in 2010.

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