Tuesday, January 9, 2018

REVIEW: Alice and the Assassin by R. J. Koreto

Alice and the Assassin
by R. J. Koreto

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Page Count: 280
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Format: E-Book ARC

How got: digital ARC via NetGalley

First attention getter: main character and her historically established personality

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

In 1902 New York, Alice Roosevelt, the bright, passionate, and wildly unconventional daughter of newly sworn-in President Theodore Roosevelt, is placed under the supervision of Secret Service Agent Joseph St. Clair, ex-cowboy and veteran of the Rough Riders. St. Clair quickly learns that half his job is helping Alice roll cigarettes and escorting her to bookies, but matters grow even more difficult when Alice takes it upon herself to investigate a recent political killing--the assassination of former president William McKinley.

Concerned for her father's safety, Alice seeks explanations for the many unanswered questions about the avowed anarchist responsible for McKinley's death. In her quest, Alice drags St. Clair from grim Bowery bars to the elegant parlors of New York's ruling class, from the haunts of the Chinese secret societies to the magnificent new University Club, all while embarking on a tentative romance with a family friend, the son of a prominent local household.

And while Alice, forced to challenge those who would stop at nothing in their greed for money and power, considers her uncertain future, St. Clair must come to terms with his own past.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 2

The concept behind this book looks good in theory. Alice Roosevelt was known as a trend setter, a boundary breaker. Her historically known iron will and disregard for convention make for admirable qualities in a female lead to a historical mystery series. However, I feel like the author made some grievous errors in execution. The resulting work comes out, in the end, as very middle of the road, immediately forgettable after the reading is done. Not the impression you want to leave when starting a mystery series...

I did enjoy St. Clair to a point. His portrayal of a strong western lawman transplanted to urban New York comes across well. He’s a caring older brother and a protective Secret Service operative. Yet, I felt like there was a dearth of characterization for him beyond those few points and stereotypes. Most inner thought tracks we got from him fell into these small categories; so in the end, I never really thought that I knew him that well. At least the scenes where he had action flowed well.

The latter half of the book was far better than the first, though the problems with the book still persisted there. I feel the author did herself a disservice by starting Alice and St. Clair in the settings that she used in the first half.

Being introduced to Alice within a high society setting would have served her character far better. The meal with the van Schuyler family is a prime example. In that setting, Alice’s intelligence and political maneuvering skills really shine. I personally feel she would have been established as a stronger character, a real first daughter with weight behind her name and use of that position.

However, the author introduced Alice by trolling through New York slums talking to anarchists, police chiefs, and lawyers. Yes, she’s the president‘s daughter but good god!! The way everyone opens up to her, falling over themselves to sing like canaries, just because she’s a Roosevelt, felt EXTREMELY unrealistic. I mean, come on, the anarchist alone would’ve had nothing to do with her given that position! In the latter half, at least the folks that Alice and St. Clair end up talking to show some hesitation in breaking laws, showing a bit more realism then just spilling their guts to a teenager because she squeaks, “I’m the President’s daughter”.

The way the author uses Alice in the beginning feels very unrealistic and so highly unreadable. The whole situation at the lawyer’s office was just the icing on the cake. It was at that point where I stopped taking Alice seriously. She’s a 17-year-old teenager who is given the power and personality of an adult; all of which the author expect us to just swallow and relate to. While she gets a bit better in the latter half, by that point in the story, I was already too out of step with her to really care.

The mystery portion itself was a tossup. Like the bits I’ve mentioned already with Alice, the investigation stuff seems like it flowed way to simply. Sources and such seem to fall all over themselves to spill their guts to this paragon of a first daughter. Clues fell into their laps like snow. As such, their power faded just as quickly. By the time we got the big reveal at the end, I just really didn’t care. Whatever power the ending might have had was killed by how easy the steps to it were handled in the narrative.

I felt the author took some serious missteps with this one. I shallow mystery and irrationally-characterized female lead pretty much killed this one in the water for me. Some light at the end of the tunnel was there with St. Claire and some better writing in the second half. Maybe the author will get much better in future volumes, especially as Alice has been firmly established at least by this point. Yet, Koreto has some serious work ahead to pull this mystery series out of the depths. This book seems to have worked for other reviewer’s; with an average of 3.5 stars on GoodReads, somebody liked this. So maybe this book will work for others where it didn’t for me. But for me personally, I don’t recommend reaching for this book, and I won’t be looking for book two.

Note: Book received for free via NetGalley from publisher in exchange for an honest review (and boy was I honest!!).

Thursday, January 4, 2018

REVIEW: Yesternight by Cat Winters

Yesternight
by Cat Winters

Publisher: William Morrow
Page Count: 374
Release Date: October 4, 2016
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: personal buy from B&N

First attention getter: already liked the author

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

A young child psychologist steps off a train, her destination a foggy seaside town. There, she begins a journey causing her to question everything she believes about life, death, memories, and reincarnation.

In 1925, Alice Lind steps off a train in the rain-soaked coastal hamlet of Gordon Bay, Oregon. There, she expects to do nothing more difficult than administer IQ tests to a group of rural schoolchildren. A trained psychologist, Alice believes mysteries of the mind can be unlocked scientifically, but now her views are about to be challenged by one curious child.

Seven-year-old Janie O’Daire is a mathematical genius, which is surprising. But what is disturbing are the stories she tells: that her name was once Violet, she grew up in Kansas decades earlier, and she drowned at age nineteen. Alice delves into these stories, at first believing they’re no more than the product of the girl’s vast imagination. But, slowly, Alice comes to the realization that Janie might indeed be telling a strange truth.

Alice knows the investigation may endanger her already shaky professional reputation, and as a woman in a field dominated by men she has no room for mistakes. But she is unprepared for the ways it will illuminate terrifying mysteries within her own past, and in the process, irrevocably change her life.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3.5

Cat Winter has impressed me before by her incredible writing. She incorporates dark material, eerie Gothic tones, and unique story to great effect. This new title does follow suit in those areas. Once I got reading, I finished pretty quickly, given my slowed down reading habits lately. However, this book had some issues in the characterization department that kept it from true stardom.

Spooky cliff dwelling towns, remote hotels on bleak prairies, and dark dreams all stand out as a fantastic, ghostly back drop for Winter’s story. She’s got a gift for setting an atmosphere straight out of a Gothic tale or Edgar Allan Poe poem.

I’ve always been intrigued by reincarnation. The whole concept fascinates me so I love that winter incorporated it in multiple stages of the story. The story revolves around this concept, how it impacts families in a society where it’s seen as anathema to the logical world, and the individuals who experience reincarnation and their surroundings. She interweave this concept into a suspenseful story of unknowns.

Her characters, though, are where this title falls a bit. Our leads, Michael and Alice, are relatable enough to draw you in. In fact, I had no problem with Michael at all until the start of his story’s climax; after that point, he turns into Mr. Douchebag. That was a sudden turn!

Alice, I felt, couldn’t decide who she wanted to be and how she wanted to approach the world. I love her background of guts and determination; she wanted to get an education and not just be content with home and children. Yet, she constantly waffled between being logical and believing full bore in the whole reincarnation concept. She was either totally for one or the other, never interweaving both into one world outlook. I’ve got to say her taste in men is also atrocious! She trusts too easily and quickly.

I do have to say I love Winter’s ending, though. What a twist! She left me with a shiver down my spine, as if someone had walked on my grave. My guess would be this was her intention. The way everything worked out falls so perfectly into the overall atmosphere the author build up that I felt great pay off after finishing the title, in this department.

Despite some serious flaws in our main heroine’s personality and the hero’s mind-boggling turnabout, I feel I can recommend this title to anyone looking for a spooky, unique tale of reincarnation and dark turns. The author excels at telling an exceptional yarn that keeps the reader engaged, sucked into her spooky atmosphere and mind bending plot twists. Check the title out if you get the chance!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

REVIEW: The Chosen Maiden by Eva Stachniak

The Chosen Maiden 
by Eva Stachniak


Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Page Count: 412
Release Date: Jan 17, 2017
Format: Trade Paperback ARC

How got: ARC GoodReads giveaway

First attention getter: obscure female historical figure protagonist

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

The passionate, sweeping story of Bronia, an extraordinary ballerina forever in the shadow of the legendary Nijinsky--Russia's greatest dancer and her older brother

Born on the road to dancer parents, the Nijinsky children seem destined for the stage. Vaslav is an early prodigy, and through single-minded pursuit will grow into arguably the greatest--and most infamous--Russian ballet dancer of the 20th century. His talented younger sister Bronia, however, also longs to dance. Overshadowed by Vaslav, plagued by a body deemed less than ideal and struggling against the constraints of her gender, Bronia will have to work triply hard to prove herself worthy.

Bronia's stunning discipline and mesmerizing talent will eventually elevate her to the highest stage in Russia: the prestigious, old-world Mariinsky Ballet. But as the First World War rages, revolution sparks in Russia. In her politics, love life and career, Bronia will be forced to confront the choice between old and new; traditional and groundbreaking; safe and passionate.

Through gorgeous and graceful prose, readers will be swept from St. Petersburg and Kiev to London and Paris and plunged into the tumultuous world of modern art. Against the fascinating and tragic backdrop of early 20th century Europe, and surrounded by legends like Anna Pavlova, Coco Chanel, Serge Diaghilev and Pablo Picasso, Bronia must come into her own--as a dancer, mother and revolutionary--in a world that only wishes to see her fall.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

This novel took me forever to finish. First receiving it earlier this year and starting it in September, I’m only now just finishing it. So many times I’d start and get further, only to get bored and want to move on to other projects. I found enjoyment in our main character and her life‘s journey. The author also does a great job in description. However, she let some aspects overweight others to the detriment of her overall work.

Bronia shines as the bright star to Stachniak’s work. Her resilience and finding her own art within the rigid structures of the classical Russian ballet world makes her a figure to be admired. She doesn’t let others dictate to her; she finds herself no matter what. She also faces an uncertain time with a spine of iron and a deep well of courage. Having to flee multiple times an ever dangerous European landscape in the first half of the 20th century, she always finds a way to build her life a new, even in the face of familial pressures with mental illness and finding herself professionally.

Stachniak also has a talent when it comes to description. Her scenes put you right into the story with rich descriptions of classical ballet schools, the intricate details behind the scenes of ballet productions, and all that goes into actually getting hired into ballet companies or launching one’s own. Yet, this is also a downfall. I’ve seen other reviewers make this point, and they’re correct. At times, the author tends to be TOO descriptive to the disadvantage of her narrative.

To me, the biggest drawback is the authors writing style and her overuse of the descriptive paragraphs. Yeah, I love a lot of description in my historical settings; however, the way Stachniak incorporated hers doesn’t work well. When you’ve got paragraph after paragraph of description, down to the tiniest detail, I personally felt drowned in imagery. She also tends to run lyrical and poetic in her phrasing. While that writing style works with some readers, for me, I felt lost when her prose ran to such. That combined with an imbalance of description versus dialogue ran me sour on this title. This is the biggest reason why it took me so long to read this.

It’s this last detail that unfortunately leaves the most impression with me. It’s the reason it took me three months to get through this one. Yet, I loved Bronia to death; her journey and growth as a woman is what makes this book. The unique historical background and the author’s abilities with description also were superb. Ultimately, though, this book was a slog through with too abundant of those descriptive paragraphs back to back and too much poetic language. This book might please others, but it didn’t do it for my palate.

Note: Book received for free via Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

REVIEW: The Hidden Light of Northern Fires by Daren Wang

The Hidden Light of Northern Fires
by Daren Wang

Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Page Count: 304
Release Date: August 29, 2017
Format: ARC Trade Paperback

How got: BookMooch trade

First attention getter: obscure historical subject matter

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

A novel rooted in the remarkable, but little-known, true history of the only secessionist town north of the Mason Dixon Line.

When escaped slave, Joe Bell, collapses in her father’s barn, Mary Willis must ward off Confederate guerillas and spies, Joe’s vengeful owner, and even her own brother to help the handsome fugitive cross to freedom.

Mary has always been an outcast, an outspoken abolitionist woman in a town of bounty hunters and anti-Union farmers. Helping runaways is the only thing that makes her life in Town Line bearable. As the countryside is riled by the drumbeat of civil war and the promise of an extravagant bounty for the wounded fugitive, Mary finds herself drawn to the stranger in forbidden ways. When rebels cross from nearby Canada intent on killing him, they bring the devastation of the brutal war to the town and the farm, and threaten to destroy all that Mary loves.

My Thoughts
:

Star Rating - 3

I went into this novel due to the obscure history it incorporates. Detailing the only northern town to secede from the union to join their Confederate “brothers” is a fascinating setting and concept. I’ve heard of this event mentioned in a movie called Copperhead. That caught my attention and so was excited to get a full novel exploring that. While this book was interesting, though, I feel like it’s mediocre at best, not the great work it could have been.

The narrative began strong, immersing the reader into a world in turmoil. While the town is situated in upstate New York, right up against the Canadian border, the reader gets a real feel for the divided loyalties of its populace. While there are strong abolition tendencies with Mary’s Underground Railroad station and a church close by whom is also a part of the network, there’s also a very strong undercurrent of resentment against African Americans from the strong German population of the town. The author does a great job in creating a tense atmosphere of suspicion, betrayal, and prejudice against which to tell her intense story.

In the beginning, I also felt a strong connection to the characters portrayed as well. I was enthralled by Mary and her family’s efforts to hide John from the local bandits who hunted down refugees for the reward and the local hostile population. Mary’s strength of will and gutsy nature nabbed my love and admiration. Her family and community members felt like real individuals. I also adored Joe’s determination to live a life of his choosing, no matter the cost. His bravery, intelligence, and compassion in the face of the horrors of slavery and prejudice make him stand out.

However, I’d say about half way through this book starts to lose its way. As we explore more characters POVs and start to divert into other storylines, the plotline loses its focus on Mary and Joe. While this might not have been a problem in a longer work, this book’s latter half didn’t give enough room to fully develop these side stories and alternate POVs. What we’re left with is a mish mash of story threads and half-baked ideas that never really live up to the potential they could have had.

And because of these additional storylines, the heart of our story, Mary and Joe, get lost. They show up less and less as the novel progresses. The author’s effort to explore other stories and different aspects of the Civil War in the latter half bog this book down, drowning out Mary and Joe almost completely. By the time our stories concluded, I felt no connection to anyone, not even these two. In the end, I felt let down by this title due to this.

While expectations were high and the first half started out strong, ultimately I felt let down by this title. Characters started out strong, drawing the audience in emotionally. However, with multiple story threads and POVs making an appearance, the book tries to be too epic in too short a page count. In the end, readers are left with a mediocre title that could have been so much longer. Here’s hoping that future titles from this author get better with time.

Monday, October 23, 2017

REVIEW: To the Farthest Shores by Elizabeth Camden

To the Farthest Shores
by Elizabeth Camden

Publisher: Bethany House
Page Count: 330
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Format: E-Book

How got: ARC via NetGalley

First attention getter: already followed author and pretty cover

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

The unpredictability of her upbringing prepared army nurse Jenny Bennett to face any challenger at the Presidio Army base, but the sudden reappearance in her life of the dashing naval officer who broke her heart six years ago is enough to rattle even her.

Lieutenant Ryan Gallagher is one of the few men in the world qualified to carry out a daring government mission overseas--an assignment that destroyed his reputation and broke the heart of the only woman he ever loved. Honor-bound never to reveal where he was during those years, he can't tell Jenny the truth, or it will endanger an ongoing mission and put thousands of lives at risk.

Ryan thinks he may have finally found a solution to his impossible situation, but he needs Jenny's help. While her loyalty to her country compels her to agree, she was too badly hurt to fall for Ryan again despite his determination to win her back. When an unknown threat from Ryan's past puts everything at risk--including his life--can they overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against them in time?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 2

Unfortunately, this volume of Camden‘s was not my cup of tea. In fact, I think it stands as my least favorite of hers. She still has that special touch in finding the obscure in history and weaving an intricate historical background and story. It’s her lead characters and their chemistry together I’ve got an issue with.

Intriguing and not well known, the early spy scene pre-World War I was a fascinating choice as background for her story. She does a fantastic job in exploring the early methods of spy training and of the requirements for such a position. The motivations for an individual to choose such a shadowy career path, given the preoccupation with honor and reputation in society at the time, also added a unique depth to the story and the reasons the characters did what they did.

Her Christian values component was handled OK to a point, being very important themes to promote. The themes of forgiveness and compromise made themselves known with no problems. Yet, that’s where this part faltered a bit also. There were times where I felt the forgiveness theme was pushed too hard. They felt pushed down my throat, definitely not how Camden‘s themes have been handled in the past. Her subtlety in this area were sorely lacking in this newest novel.

When it comes to the lead’s personalities, Camden didn’t do too badly. They’re not outstanding but their workable. I like Jenny’s gritty determination to make something of herself and her courage to face the problems of her past to build a future. I also liked Ryan’s gentle nature and caring heart. If ever there was an individual not suited for spy work, I think it be him. He’s too honest and sweet; yet somehow he pulled it off for years so there must be some hidden depths there.

Individually these two people stand out; together, they are a mess. They don’t work at all. There’s no chemistry there. I felt Jenny was too strong a personality for Ryan; she’d run right over him domestically. The will and determination I admired in her would subsume Ryan’s gentleness with a vengeance. I just don’t see them working together, and the narrative shows that. I got extremely bored with their interactions, wishing like crazy that Jenny we just move onto another man who fit her better. In fact, I felt Finn was a far better fit for her personality wise, even though he wasn’t in the running.

While I’ve admired Camden‘s works in the past for their subtle interweaving of Christian themes (especially important for her non-Christian readers like me), her obscure historical backgrounds, and strong yet human characters, this newest addition to her body of work doesn’t stand up. Her leads have absolutely no chemistry together, and the subtleness of her themes isn’t there. If ever you’re going to give Camden a try, skip this one. I’d skip it anyway, even if you’re a fan. I’ll still look for her works in the future; I’m thinking this one might’ve been just a bad fluke. Time will tell.

Note: Book received for free from publisher via NetGalley and exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 16, 2017

REVIEW: The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

The Orphan's Tale
by Pam Jenoff

Publisher: MIRA
Page Count: 353
Release Date: February 21, 2017
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: personal buy @ B&N

First attention getter: cover design and already knew author's work

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan's Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival.

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep. When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another - or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Pam Jenoff has always been hit or miss with me. I usually either love the book or hate it so much I drop it. This one, thankfully, was a homerun. Rich descriptions of a hidden world, flawed characters who make me fall in love with them, and a suspenseful tale of survival kept me thoroughly engaged.

The world of the circus inherently has that allure and mystery of the unknown. Whether it’s true or not, circus individuals are shown in various media outlets as closed off from outsiders, a world of secrets and intrigue. Now imagine all that in a setting like Nazi Germany and World War II, and you’ve got a captivating background for our story. The background story of a circus hiding Jews during the war is also a true story; I remember first reading about it in middle school when we were studying the Holocaust. That also gives it more weight, knowing elements were true.

Jenoff did a fantastic job in making us live and breathe a circus in freefall. In a world where being different can mean a death sentence and money is tight everywhere, trying to make a living as a circus was almost impossible. Yet, we still get a sense of that magic a circus can bring. The wonder of the exotic animals, the death defying flight of the acrobats, and the overall excitement all bleed through to make the reader experience this world of enchantment.

Her characters were also stellar here. Every single one are beautifully flawed and intrinsically human. From insecurity to fear to deep love, all emotions shine crisp and vivid. I love how each character grew in changed on this book journey. Noa, especially, showed this growth. She started out as such a broken down and lost individual; finding Theo gave her the push to leave her grinding situation at the train station and develop as she strived to save him.

I also loved Astrid and Peter. Both of their lives were destroyed by the Nazis and Stalin; yet they both had the incredible courage and fortitude to stay strong despite that. They both showed defiance in their own way, showing the world that evil would not crush them. Yet, for all that defiance, their emotional scars from the tragedy of their lives prevented them from reaching true happiness. In a world where life and death could be decided on the turn of the moment, this story element truly hits the heart when it comes to these two.

This tale hits the ground running from page one with a daring winter rescue. From that point, the action and suspense doesn’t let up. As the reader gets drawn into Noa’s and Astrid’s story, we get daring rescues, hair-raising close calls, and the knowledge that betrayal could come from anywhere. As we build to the suspenseful climax, the reader can’t help but turn page after page in a desperate struggle to keep up with the pace of the story. The power of the ending and the big reveal at the end is excellent pay-off and truly satisfying.

I’m glad this is one volume of this author’s that I truly enjoyed. She balances suspenseful storytelling and complex characters in a world so vivid I could hear the roar of the circus crowds beautifully. I look forward to another in-depth and fascinating exploration of World War II and the Holocaust from this author’s talented pen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

REVIEW: The Merchant's Pearl by Amie O'Brien

The Merchant's Pearl
by Amie O'Brien

Publisher: self
Page Count: 466 (according to Amazon)
Release Date: July 24, 2016
Format: Kindle E-Book

How got: free from author

First attention getter: setting

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

As a missionary’s daughter, Sarai was taught that love and faith conquer all. But when her parents are murdered, she quickly learns that the world doesn’t stop for love.

As a teen, Sarai—now called Leila—is enslaved, a palace concubine-in-waiting for the Ottoman Sultan Aziz. Though she does her best to elude him, she’s forced out of her shell when his son, Prince Emre, claims her for his own. Tossed into competition with the other girls in his harem, Leila must face the lavish attention of her young master and the resulting retaliation from his prior favorite, Aster. But it’s an unexpected gift and a glimpse inside his family’s struggles that collide headfirst with Leila’s upbringing. Soon, despite her better judgment, she finds her heart has a mind of its own.

Can she subject her faith and independent spirit to such a future—a future in which the best she can hope for is to be his favorite? How will she stand sharing him with the other girls in the harem? As the sultan’s fragile kingdom unravels around them, will it even matter?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3.5

For a self-published work, this novel has a lot going for it. The author put in the effort to research her timeframe and society setting, not an effort many put in with a harem setting. I also loved the slow build for our main relationship for most of the book. Yet, there are some issues that keep this from true stardom.

1870s Ottoman Empire is a world in flux, the modern world and European powers encroaching on a traditional Muslim world. Told through the eyes of a captive Ottoman prince and his harem favorite love, the reader gets an in-depth and intimate look at a powerful family in freefall from power. Just a short 40 years after this book’s events, the Sultanate and the empire they rule fall. I was as intrigued by the political conversations and maneuverings as I was our main relationship.

I appreciated the time and care the author took in building our relationship into something believable and real. Most historical romances don't take this route, instead of going straight for the sexy times. This is especially true of a harem setting. Emre and Leila reached a pinnacle of mutual respect and friendship before they even start to think of a physical consummation of their relationship. Starting out as friends first is always the best way to build a relationship, I feel, so I was very pleased to see that here.

I also enjoyed our lead’s personalities overall. Emre was the perfect blend of a gentleman and friend. He respected Leila as an individual, enjoying her mind and personality just as much as her physical form. Being trapped in the insular society that was Ottoman palace and harem politics made his personality stand out all the more as he had to please other parties besides himself, so acting in a way that was hard for him and his dealings with different hair him and family members.

My like for her starting out strong way, Leila proved herself to be a strong, iron-willed gal who didn't take gruff from her fellow harem members while also possessing an equally strong diplomatic streak. Ever since the death of her parents, Leila’s life has been one tragedy or struggle after another. So her finally finding a meaningful relationship with Emre and other harem members gladdened the heart.

Yet, as the story progresses, she started to wear on the nerves. She'd blow hot and cold on Emre, alternately wanting to be with him then punishing him for small, sometimes even imagined, slights with silence and the cold shoulder treatment. The latter half of the book contained these instances more and more, as we went along. By the time we got to the end, at times, I felt like Emre could have done better.

I also felt that this book was far too long. Clocking in at over 400 pages, this book felt like it had extra padding. The relationship journey between Emre and Leila could have been told in half their scenes together. Repeated themes and the conversation topics bogged down their time together in the latter half. Maybe that's why Leila started to grind on me a bit; she was rehashing emotions and thought patterns that I felt should have been resolved or at least evolved by that point.

Still, at the end of the day, this read stands out far above other historical romance titles in the harem sub-genre. It takes the time to explore the world of the Ottoman Empire and the many political maneuvering's that were a part of daily life, both within the harem and without. The main relationship is also build up with a firm foundation and respect and friendship, with romance coming after that. Our leads are relatable for the most part and enjoyable, with occasional bursts of irksome behavior from our heroine. While the heft of this volume is daunting and unnecessary in many places, I'd still look into this title if you're looking for a well-written historical romance.

Note: Book received for free from author in exchange for an honest review.