Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: "Of Fathers and Sons" by Evan Ostryzniuk

 Synopsis: Geoffrey Hotspur and the Este Inheritance takes place in 1395 when the conflict between rival branches of the mighty Este family over the succession to the strategic Marquisate of Ferrara reaches its climax. The Este lands are vulnerable. The unexpected death of the powerful Marquis Alberto d'Este in 1393 has left his ten-year old son, Niccolo, as his sole direct heir. Though born out of wedlock, the pope himself legitimized the boy’s birth, but in an age when great lords ruled by the sword as much as by the laws of inheritance, having a boy lead the family can be a sign of weakness.

Made unhappy by the father, several Este vassals want to humble the son, and they see their opportunity in the essential weakness of Niccolo’s minority rule. Championing their cause is the head of a humiliated branch of the Este family who is not only a famous condottiere, but also a powerful captain of the ambitious lord of Milan. Fearing that civil war will lead to a shift in the already fragile balance of power in favor of the hated Milan, the city-states of Florence, Venice and Bologna combine to keep the Este inheritance in Niccolo’s hands. If Niccolo falls, the great powers of Italy will be plunged in to war.

Geoffrey and Niccolo are confronted by the same questions: How can an orphan find his place in a society informed by patriarchal relations? For how long must a son honor the wishes of his father? When does the boy become the man?

My Thoughts:  Of Fathers and Sons was a very different than anything I have read.  Set in Italy in the late 14th century, the story follows Geoffrey Hotspur, a young man eager to prove himself, as he struggles to help Niccolo d'Este hold on to his inheritance.

Geoffrey is a unique character but I really struggled to like him.  He was extremely arrogant and self-centered.  He was always looking for ways to showcase his prowess and made bad decisions in order to do so.  I did like him as he interacted with the young Niccolo.  Geoffrey helped the boy find his voice and gave him the confidence to fight for his right to rule.  Geoffrey became like a big brother to Niccolo and it was this side of Geoffrey that made him a little more likable.

To me, the most interesting character in the story was the astrologer, Catherine.  She was incredibly intelligent and very mysterious.  It seemed like she had a past and I really wanted to be get to know her more. I wish she had played a bigger role in the story because I enjoyed the sections where she made an appearance  I also liked that the author didn't try to create a romance between her and Geoffrey; I kept expecting it to happen even though they seemed very mismatched.

I really enjoyed the setting of this book.  I haven't read many books set in Italy and none that were set in medieval Italy.  I liked reading about all the different places Geoffrey Hotspur visited as well as the complex system in place in Italy regarding condottieri and warfare.  I always think it's neat to read about eras that I have never read before and Of Fathers and Sons introduced me to some interesting aspects of medieval Italy.  Overall, Of Fathers and Sons was an entertaining read that left me curious about what adventures these characters will have in subsequent books. 3 stars.

About the Author:

Evan Ostryzniuk was born and raised on the prairies of western Canada. After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a B.A. in History and Modern Languages and an M.A. in Modern History, Evan crossed the ocean to do post-graduate work at the University of Cambridge, concluding four years of research with a doctoral thesis on the Russian Revolution. He then found his way to Eastern Europe, where he took up positions as a magazine editor, university lecturer and analyst in the financial services sector before rising in the ranks of the local publishing industry to become Editor-in-Chief of a popular weekly.

Evan Ostryzniuk currently resides in Kyiv, Ukraine near a very large candy factory. He has travelled extensively, including the locations of his novels. Of Fathers and Sons: Geoffrey Hotspur and the Este Inheritance is his second novel. 

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

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (46)

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

I only received one book this week and I actually just finished it yesterday!

For Review:

What books did you get this week?

Friday, May 24, 2013

If You Want to Read About...Spain

 The Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain

I recently read an awesome book set in Spain which was the inspiration for this post.  I haven't read a lot of works of historical fiction set in Spain but the ones I have read are really good.  Here is what I recommend for those interested in reading about Spain's history.

The Queen's Vow by C.W. Gortner-Gortner's books are excellent and this one focuses on Isabel of Castile's youth and rise to power.

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan-This book found me and I am so glad it did.  It takes place in Spain during the Inquisition and is an absolutely wonderful story.  I highly recommend it!

The Inquisitor's Wife by Jeanne Kalogridis - While this is another book about the Inquisition, it is a very different story than By Fire, By Water.  This is the book that made me want to do to a list about Spain.

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner-Another Gortner book but this one is about Isabel's sister Juana.  I have read a couple of books about Juana's life and this one is by far my favorite.  Juana is a fascinating historical figure and this is a great read whether or not you are interested in Spanish history.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway - I read this book in high school and I still remember how much I loved it.  It takes place during the Spanish Civil War and is a wonderful work of literature. 

These are all of the books I could remember loving that were set in Spain.  Have you read any of these?  Are there any books you think I missed? 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: "Royal Mistress" by Anne Easter Smith

From Goodreads:  Jane Lambert, the quick-witted and alluring daughter of a silk merchant, is twenty-two and still unmarried. When Jane’s father finally finds her a match, she’s married off to the dull, older silk merchant William Shore—but her heart belongs to another. Marriage doesn’t stop Jane Shore from flirtation, however, and when the king’s chamberlain and friend, Will Hastings, comes to her husband’s shop, Will knows his King will find her irresistible.

Edward IV has everything: power, majestic bearing, superior military leadership, a sensual nature, and charisma. And with Jane as his mistress, he also finds true happiness. But when his hedonistic tendencies get in the way of being the strong leader England needs, his life, as well as that of Jane Shore and Will Hastings, hang in the balance.

This dramatic tale has been an inspiration to poets and playwrights for 500 years, and told through the unique perspective of a woman plucked from obscurity and thrust into a life of notoriety, Royal Mistress is sure to enthrall today’s historical fiction lovers as well.

My Thoughts: I love all of Anne Easter Smith's books and Royal Mistress is no different.  It is a wonderfully well-written story that I could not put down.  I think Edward IV is a really interesting historical figure and Royal Mistress provides a look at the end of his reign from a very unique perspective.

Jane Shore was one of Edward IV's mistresses and the author made her into a truly fascinating character.  She was a strong-minded woman who knew what she wanted and wasn't afraid to go after it.  I thought it was so interesting to see a woman in that era actively  pursue an annulment because of her unsatisfactory marital situation.  I don't know if I have seen that before and I thought it was really neat. 

This story focused not only on Jane Shore but also on the rise of Richard III.  I really enjoyed the sections that highlighted Richard's rise to power and the downfall of Jane Shore and I liked how the author portrayed Richard.  She didn't make him out to be a villain; Easter Smith's Richard III is a much more complex character and I think that added a lot to the story.

Like all of her books, Royal Mistress had an extensive author's note at the end of the book that discussed what was fictional and what wasn't as well as where the author got all the information about the characters in her story.  This was an extremely well-researched story; I love that Royal Mistress is not only a great read and that the author is very clear about where her information is coming from.  I hate when authors make claims about historical figures with no evidence to back it up.  

If you are fan of the Plantagenets, or historical fiction in general, I highly recommend Royal Mistress!  4 stars.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Quick Review: "Clockwork Princess" by Cassandra Clare

From Goodreads:  Tessa Gray should be happy - aren't all brides happy?  Yet as she prepares for her wedding, a net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute.

A new demon appears, one linked by blood and secrecy to Mortmain, the man who plans to use his army of pitiless automatons, the Infernal Devices, to destroy the Shadowhunters. Mortmain needs only one last item to complete his plan. He needs Tessa. And Jem and Will, the boys who lay equal claim to Tessa's heart, will do anything to save her.

My Thoughts:  I can't believe it's over!  I have said it before and will say it again, the Infernal Devices is so much better than the Mortal Instruments. I loved this whole series and I loved the way the author wrapped it all up  

I could not put this book down at all!  I loved all the little romances that popped up and all the action that was going on as the Shadowhunters tried to fight and stop Mortmain.  I also enjoyed finally finding out the truth of Tessa's background, it wasn't exactly what I expected but it was still pretty cool!  The one thing I wasn't expecting was how emotional this book made me.  There were some really sad moments and some really surprising ones.  I almost want to go back and read some of the Mortal Instruments again after finishing this book because of some of the information that came to light.  I also must say that while I really like all of the characters in this series, I really love Magnus.  I want him to have his own book!

Clockwork Princess was a great finale to the Infernal Devices series.  I would recommend not looking at the family tree at the beginning of the book; there were so many spoilers on it!  I read a review that mentioned this so I had to try really hard not to look at it! Sorry for gushing so much but I think everyone should read this series because it is so awesome!  4 stars.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (45)

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

I only received one book this week which is totally fine with me since I am starting to slow down on my reading.

For Review (from Historical Fiction Book Tours):

What books did you get this week?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Quick Review: "The Devil Wears Prada" by Lauren Weisberger

From Goodreads:  Andrea Sachs, a small-town girl fresh out of college, lands the job “a million girls would die for.” Hired as the assistant to Miranda Priestly, the high-profile, fabulously successful editor of Runway magazine, Andrea finds herself in an office that shouts Prada! Armani! Versace! at every turn, a world populated by impossibly thin, heart-wrenchingly stylish women and beautiful men clad in fine-ribbed turtlenecks and tight leather pants that show off their lifelong dedication to the gym. With breathtaking ease, Miranda can turn each and every one of these hip sophisticates into a scared, whimpering child. 

My Thoughts:  I have no idea why I bought this book but at some point in time, I did.  I have read one other Lauren Weisberger book and I think this one will be my last. 

The story was very predictable and not super exciting.  Once I got started reading it, I knew exactly what was going to happen for the rest of the story.  It actually seemed like the same plot formula from another Weisberger book, Everyone Worth Knowing.  I didn't feel sympathetic towards any of the characters and I thought they were all pretty two-dimensional.

I honestly don't know what I was expecting from this book but it really didn't do it for me.  It was a light read and I got through it pretty quick but I kind of feel like I could have used that time to read something else instead.  I haven't seen the movie for this book but I am not a huge Anne Hathaway fan so I will probably have to skip it.  2 stars.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Stacking the Shelves (44)

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly feature hosted by Tynga's Reviews.
I hope everyone had a great week! Here are the books I picked up:

Won from Dewey's Read-A-Thon
 (Thanks to Deb Nance at readerbuzz)

Purchased (ebook)

What books did you get this week?

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: "The Fifth Knight" by E.M. Powell

Synopsis:  To escape a lifetime of poverty, mercenary Sir Benedict Palmer agrees to one final, lucrative job: help King Henry II’s knights seize the traitor Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. But what begins as a clandestine arrest ends in cold-blooded murder. And when Fitzurse, the knights’ ringleader, kidnaps Theodosia, a beautiful young nun who witnessed the crime, Palmer can sit silently by no longer. For not only is Theodosia’s virtue at stake, so too is the secret she unknowingly carries—a secret he knows Fitzurse will torture out of her. Now Palmer and Theodosia are on the run, strangers from different worlds forced to rely only on each other as they race to uncover the hidden motive behind Becket’s grisly murder—and the shocking truth that could destroy a kingdom.

My Thoughts:  Wow! I don't know what I was expecting when I decided to read this but what I got was a fast-paced, action-packed historical mystery.  I have read a lot about Eleanor of Acquitaine's life but I have paid little attention to her husband, Henry II, and his issues with Thomas Becket.  This story starts out with the murder of Thomas Becket and follows Sir Benedict Palmer and Sister Theodosia as they seek the truth behind Becket's death.

Palmer was one of those characters that you start off not liking but who slowly redeems himself throughout the story.  He came off as greedy and arrogant but as events unfold the reader gets to see his softer side and personally, I really liked him.  I also liked Theodosia but I struggled with my feelings about her times too.  It was hard to see her be so constrained by her religious upbringing and to watch her deal with her conflicting feelings about the path her life should follow.  She had moments where she was such a tough character and then she would revert into being a silly, scared, naive girl who just wanted to go back to being secluded from the world at large.  As I did with Palmer, I began to like her more as the story progressed.  Oh, and I can't forget about Fitzurse.  He was such a great villain!  He was the bad guy who just would not die.  Every time I thought he was out of the picture, he would show back up.  He was a great addition to the story!

There were several big, unexpected twist toward the end of the story and honestly, I never saw them coming.  I love when I don't figure out the twists before they happen!  I liked how the author changed up the usual story of why Thomas Becket was murder and took some of the heat off of Henry II.  It definitely made this book different than any other I have read about this era.  As a whole, the story was excellent; there was the right mix of romance and mystery along with a lot of action.  It's a must read for any fan of historical fiction and I will definitely be looking for other books by this author. 4 stars.

About the Author:
E. M. Powell was born and raised in Ireland, a descendant of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins. At University College, Cork, she discovered a love of Anglo-Saxon and medieval English during her study of literature and geography. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Manchester Irish Writers, the Historical Novel Society, and International Thriller Writers. A reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, she lives today in Manchester, England, with her husband and daughter.

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

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review: "Murder as a Fine Art" by David Morrell

SynopsisThomas De Quincey, infamous for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, is the major suspect in a series of ferocious mass murders identical to ones that terrorized London forty-three years earlier.

The blueprint for the killings seems to be De Quincey's essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." Desperate to clear his name but crippled by opium addiction, De Quincey is aided by his devoted daughter Emily and a pair of determined Scotland Yard detectives.

In Murder as a Fine Art, David Morrell plucks De Quincey, Victorian London, and the Ratcliffe Highway murders from history. Fogbound streets become a battleground between a literary star and a brilliant murderer, whose lives are linked by secrets long buried but never forgotten.

My Thoughts:  I loved this book!  It is the perfect mix of historical fiction and murder mystery and is guaranteed to give you the creeps.  I haven't read such a good mystery in a very long time and I enjoyed every last page.

I liked all of the characters in this book.  They all were really interesting which doesn't always happen when there are a lot of main characters.  Thomas De Quincey was such a noble character despite his issues and addiction; he seemed like such a truly good person who simply made bad life choices.  You really couldn't dislike him and I liked him more and more as the story progressed.

The best character in this book was the murderer.  I am not going to say to much about him except that he was so perfectly evil.  His crimes were so planned out, violent and without mercy; it was almost scary to read about him.  I loved that the author gave him such an elaborate backstory, explaining who he was and why he did the things he did.  I also loved that I couldn't figure out who the murderer was until it was revealed in the story.  There were very few hints given about who the killer might be and why he was committing his crimes so I had no clue who it would turn out to be and the surprise was so shocking!

Murder as a Fine Art was such a fast-paced story; once I got pulled in, I had to keep reading.  The descriptions of London's darker side added to the creepy factor and it was just a great story overall.  Honestly, I was surprised by how good this book was and am so glad I read it!  4 stars.

About the Author: 
David Morrell is a Canadian novelist from Kitchener, Ontario, who has been living in the United States for a number of years. He is best known for his debut 1972 novel First Blood, which would later become a successful film franchise starring Sylvester Stallone. More recently, he has been writing the Captain America comic books limited-series The Chosen. 

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

Friday, May 3, 2013

If You Want to Read About...Russia (Historical Fiction edition)

This is my second 'If You Want To' post on I thought I would focus it on historical fiction set in Russia.  I am obsessed with Russian history (I even got my master's in Russian Studies) and so anytime I see a work of historical fiction that is focused on Russia, I have to read it.  Personally, I don't think there are that many really good works of Russian historical fiction  but below are some of my favorites.  I may do another post at some point that focuses on non-fiction about Russia and/or Russian Literature.

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons-I'm sure you are all well aware about my love for this book.  It's seriously one of my favorite books ever and it is set in Russia which makes me love it more!

The Jewel of St Petersburg by Kate Furnivall-This is a wonderful love story set at the beginning of the Russian Revolution.  It has wonderful characters and a beautiful setting.  It's the first in a trilogy but I think it was the definitely the best of the set.

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges-This book is fantastic because it is paranormal, YA and Russian historical fiction.  It is not the most historically accurate but it is still a really fun story.

The Little Russian by Susan Sherman-I loved that this story was so unique and very well-written.  It was set in Ukraine in shtetl and provides a completely different look at the experience of living through the Russian Revolution. 

The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller-The Lost Crown is one of many books that focuses on the family of the last tsar.  What makes it so different is that it is told from the point of view of Tsar Nikolai's four daughters.  I found this story to be incredibly poignant and heart-breaking.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith-Child 44 is an awesome murder mystery set in Stalinist Russia.  It is super creepy but so good!

The Siege by Helen Dunmore- I find the Seige of Leningrad to be so fascinating and this is a short but well-written narrative about the seige.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys-One of my focus areas in grad school was Stalin's mass deportations of various ethnic groups living within the Soviet Union.  This book is narrated by a young Lithuanian girl whose family is affected by these events.  I am so glad that someone wrote an approachable book about one of the lesser-known atrocities committed by Stalin.

Have you read any of these books?  Is there a book you think I should have included?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

April Wrap Up

I had a great reading month in April!  I had no idea I would get so much reading in but I know that it definitely helped to participate in Dewey's Readathon.  I read a total of 14 books in April which puts me at 45 books for the year. My goal is to read 75 books this year and I think I am well on my way to that goal!  I am going to try to read as much as I can in the next 8 weeks because once the baby gets here, I am not sure how much reading I will be able to get done. I also am pretty proud that 6 of the books I read this month were ones I already owned.  I need to keep that up because I still have a ton of unread books on my shelf.

Here is what I read in April:

1.) Tully by Paullina Simons
2.) Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen
3.) The Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell
4.) The Mirrored World by Debra Dean
5.) Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen 
6.) The Inquisitor's Wife by Jeanne Kalogridis
7.) 11/22/63 by Stephen King
8.) The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
9.) The Witch of Cologne by Tobsha Learner
10.) The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
11.) Surrender to Sultry by Macy Beckett
12.) Spell of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning
13.) The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp
14.) Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare
How many books did you read in April?  Are you on track to meet your reading goals?
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