Monday, September 28, 2015

REVIEW: The Empress by Meg Clothier

The Empress
by Meg Clothier

Publisher: Century
Page Count: 512
Release Date: March 14, 2013
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: local used book store

First attention getter: fiction about obscure female historical figure! Yahoo!


From GoodReads:

Constantinople, 1179

Princess Agnes of France is thirteen when she marries the heir to Byzantium, an empire unmatched in wealth, power - and glamour.

But once she sets foot in the Queen of Cities, a decadent world where dazzling luxury masks unspeakable cruelty, she realises that her husband is a deluded mother’s boy with mighty enemies and treacherous allies.

Welcome to the City

As emperors rise and fall, Agnes learns to play the City's game – until she falls for a handsome rebel and finds that love is the most perilous game of all.

Glittering parties in marble palaces soon give way to bloody revolution, shipwreck and exile and Agnes discovers there is no limit to what she will do to survive.

A world in flames

But only when crusading knights from her homeland attack the City, does she finally understand what is truly worth fighting for.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

I started out with such high hopes for this book. The time period is such a unique one, and any historical fiction that’s about an obscure female figure makes me a happy camper. However, ultimately, I was disappointed by this work. Not a great introduction to this author.

She got the time period down, at least. Her effort towards historical research and getting the details right show through. She chose a setting and historical period ripe with change and intrigue. The Byzantine Empire is on the verge of massive change, facing vast armies without and decay/breakdown within. The tale of this young girl thrown into this maelstrom of backstabbing and danger was enough to keep me reading. The author knows how to bring the Fourth Crusade and an empire in flux to vivid life.

I’m a bit ambivalent on the main character. At least I can say that she’s brave with all she faces, she can think on her feet sometimes, and is able to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. However, more often than not, she is more of a reactionary character rather than one who actually takes action. She goes along with the events as they present without taking many actions to change outcomes. There are a few times where she takes action (Andronkis comes to mind), but the instances are too few to save her as a good main character.

The less said about the “love” between Agnes and Theo, the better. There is absolutely no chemistry between these two, except for friction. Any romantic connection has as much chemistry as distilled water, nothing. They have very few scenes together, and the ones they do have they are usually fighting in. More arguments happen than actual love connections. It makes any dramatic tension that might have resulted from the characters striving for each other and being motivated by each other disappear.

Overall, I was disappointed by this work. The author did a good job in setting and story, but her characters and their relationships need some work. There are a few good points but not enough to save that aspect of the story. For a book this size, there isn’t enough substance to make it a worthwhile read. If you’re looking for a rare time period or murky female historical figure, then maybe look this one up. Otherwise, I’d move along.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

REVIEW: Tsura by Heather Anastasiu

by Heather Anastasiu

Publisher: ?? Self-published?
Page Count: 248
Release Date: August 18, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: Kindle Unlimited

First attention getter: email from author


From GoodReads:

In WWII Romania, Tsura, a young Roma (gypsy) woman, has no choice but to leave her lover, Andrei, behind and marry the grandson of the man whose basement she and Andrei have been hiding in. An epic WWII saga, for fans of The Bronze Horseman and Outlander.

“It won’t be a real marriage.” Tsura put her hands to Andrei’s shirt and pulled him in close. “I’ll never share a bed with him. I love you. I only do what I must to keep us all safe. Once the war ends, it’ll be as if it never was.” She caught his face in her hands. “I am only yours, Andrei.”

“Yes, you’re only mine,” Andrei bent over and growled in her ear. “When you put on that dress for him and walk down the aisle in that ugly goy church,” he kissed her hard before putting a strong hand to the back of her neck, pulling her forehead to his, “you think of me, here. When you say your vows to that man, you remember that it’s me who has owned your body tonight.” He again pressed his lips to hers. It was a claiming.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

This is definitely an emotional ride. Tsura is such a passionate, heart-on-sleeve, and vibrant personality that the reader can’t help but be drawn into her journey. We feel her every soar of passion and romance, all her betrayals, her sorrows, and her struggle to survive. It’s an out-of-control train ride all the way up to the end, ratcheting up the emotional tension with each turn of the page.

At first, I wasn’t that impressed with Tsura. The actions she took in the beginning of the novel struck me the wrong way. Anybody willing to risk the life of those hiding them for a quickie against the outside wall of the house reads as selfish and ungrateful to me.

Yet, once she’s married and in Bucharest, away from Andrei really, I started to like her more and more. She grew as a character, maturing as the war and time progressed. She started to see that not everything is in shades of black or white and that the world is a crueler place than her dreams of married bliss with Andrei. Sometimes she would back slide into two-dimensional snap judgments and immature thought patterns, but those lessened in frequency as the book progressed.

I found the setting different from your usual WWII story. Nazi ally Romania isn’t an often written about spot. Seeing how they oppressed and persecuted their Jewish population, propagating huge pogroms like the Iasi pogrom and deporting to Transnistria yet refusing to give their Jews to the Nazis to send to the death camps was an interesting point. I also liked exploring the small resistance movement in Romania through Mihai’s and Tsura’s forging and spying activities.

I do have to say, though, that I ended the book ticked off rather than satisfied. It wasn’t a cliffhanger exactly; the reader isn’t left wondering if Tsura will survive a predicament or if Mihai will escape a situation.

However, there’s such a huge uptick in the emotional tension that builds and builds up to the very end with absolutely no resolution to come down from it. The emotions are of the gut-wrenching, soul-searing, heart-breaking variety. I was to the point of screaming at my Kindle with tears streaming down my cheeks.

And then suddenly: The End. Wait! What?!?!!? That was my reaction. The ending almost felt like emotional blackmail to get you to go get the second book right away. It worked on this reader; I’ve already gotten book two on my Kindle and have started it (thank God for Kindle Unlimited!). But that lack of any emotional resolution whatsoever really kills this book’s final impressions.

Great characters, emotional resonance that are off the charts, and an intriguing setting/timeframe of WWII make this an interesting read. Only the ending kills it; hopefully book two will end differently and give me a better impression of this duology. I’d recommend the book to lovers of romances and character studies in WWII; just have that second book prepared for instant reading and pretend that they’re all one book. Do that and I don’t think the abrupt ending will have as much power.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

REVIEW: A Tale of Two Citizens by Elyce Wakerman

A Tale of Two Citizens
by Elyce Wakerman

Publisher: Yucca Publishing
Page Count: 376
Release Date: Feb 17, 2015
Format: Hardcover

How got: free copy from publisher

First attention getter: publisher's email


From GoodReads:

A lie is the only thing that can get twenty-year-old Harry Himelbaum past the cold scrutiny of Ellis Island’s immigration official, Will Brown. A lie that locks them in a deadly battle.

It is 1929. At home, economic depression and dust storms ravage America, and abroad, the goose step of Nazism is intensifying. Widespread fear of “the other” has reached a fever pitch. Against this tumultuous backdrop, two families share the spotlight in this sweeping saga: the Himelbaums of Poland, and the Browns of Iowa.

All Harry Himelbaum wants is to live somewhere happy, and to send for the wife and child he must deny having. But Will Brown stands in the way. Will is a young, zealously patriotic Iowa lawyer, who has dedicated himself to staunchly upholding the nation’s laws and keeping his America pure. Little does he expect that his childhood sweetheart and new wife, Barbara, would form a romantic attachment for Harry, the man he’s sworn to keep out.

Based on the true story of the author’s father, this heart-wrenching clash of love and loyalties is a picture of an America torn between being a symbol of hope for immigrants and a proud nation fighting to re-create itself.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Wow what a story! This book surprised me in the intensity and suspense of a young man’s journey to become a citizen and bring his family to safety versus the American immigration system/bureaucracy. I found myself compelled to move from chapter to chapter rapidly, not wanting to stop for such mundane things as sleep and work. The author has a real gift for balancing the slower character-building scenes with the more intense hiccups in immigration and obstacles that find their way into Harry’s way.

This universal story of immigration (most everyone in the country had ancestors that came here in some fashion) to the US and the obstacles they faced was a fascinating one to explore. The questioning on Ellis Island, one wrong answer a decade ago tripping up future plans, and the added pressure mounting due to the rise of the Nazis and persecution all play a part in ratcheting up the tension for our characters. Every new development made my interest grow more and more.

I also really liked how relevant all this is to today’s political situation. It makes one stop and think, to see the sides of today’s issue from both sides, in this book that personalizes both. It was actually one of the things that made me take interest in the title when the publisher approached me for a review, that and the time period.

I loved all the characters, in all their nuances. There was enough of a balance between good and bad qualities that all of them were immediately personable and believable as real. I even liked Will to a degree even though he sort of read as the villain of the story to me. Harry especially won my heart, which is what I think the author intended. I loved how resourceful he was, how dedicated to his Raizel and son, and how focused he was on building a better life for himself and his family. His various struggles to build a business, bring his family over, and then fight to keep his American citizenship kept me enthralled.

I loved the time period explored. Before the whole explosion of warfare and when putting food on the table was the hardest thing to do, the author gives us a window into a world slowly going to hell and making way for tyrants and persecution in all its forms. I loved that we got to explore this deterioration on both sides of the Atlantic, in Poland, New York, and Washington DC. The added pressure on Jews to get out and the added road blocks put up in front of them made for riveting reading. It also added more heaviness with the reader’s knowledge of what awaited those Jews who were left behind.

The only real hitch I have for this title was the ending. We have a massive buildup of tension in Harry’s immigration status, with several sessions of questions, insinuations of wrong-doing, and allegations of criminal activity. One would expect from all that build-up a truly epic confrontation in the end between Harry’s political backers and the immigration service agent, Will Brown and his associates. A David/Goliath confrontation if there was one, which is suggested multiple times throughout the book.

However, what we got was such a wimpy, lackluster court session that I was left stunned. Where are the dramatic speeches, skirmishes between Harry and Will, and defenses of Harry’s character? We get some, but I felt like there wasn’t nearly enough to justify all that build-up we had. Then we jump years ahead and just a few mentions of the fates of those left behind before Harry is off to build a new life. Wait, what??!! Nothing else?? I seriously was craving more resolution than I got.

Despite an ending that will make you scream, this book is a dang good read. Subject matter that is relevant to today’s world as much as back then, characters that keep you engrossed, and a spell-binding story all combine to a fantastic book. I would highly recommend this book to readers of historical fiction everywhere, even with that ending.

Note: Book provided for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 14, 2015

REVIEW: The Mind's Eye by K C Finn

The Mind's Eye
by K. C. Finn

Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
Page Count: 247
Release Date: March 30, 2014
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; bought from Amazon

First attention getter: historical fantasy aspect and Nazi occupied Norway setting


From GoodReads:

A girl with a telepathic gift finds a boy clinging to his last hope during the war-torn climate of Europe, 1940.

At fifteen, Kit Cavendish is one the oldest evacuees to escape London at the start of the Second World War due to a long term illness that sees her stuck in a wheelchair most of the time. But Kit has an extraordinary psychic power: she can put herself into the minds of others, see through their eyes, feel their emotions, even talk to them – though she dares not speak out for fear of her secret ability being exposed.

As Kit settles into her new life in the North Wales village of Bryn Eira Bach, solitude and curiosity encourage her to gain better control of her gift. Until one day her search for information on the developing war leads her to the mind of Henri, a seventeen-year-old Norwegian boy witnessing the German occupation of his beloved city, Oslo. As Henri discovers more about the English girl occupying his mind, the psychic and emotional bonds between them strengthen and Kit guides him through an oppressive and dangerous time.

There are secrets to be uncovered, both at home and abroad, and it’s up to Kit and Henri to come together and fight their own battles in the depths of the world’s greatest war.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

I found myself really intrigued with the mechanics and possibilities of Kit’s gift. Maybe it’s the fantasy geek inside but I think that was my favorite part of the book. I loved seeing the limitations of her gift (i.e. how far she could travel or the cost on her physically), the different ways she could gather information with it, and the possible role it could play in the war. I think that will probably be the carrier for my interest in the rest of the series.

I enjoyed Kit herself as well. She’s a well-rounded young lady who has some serious trials in life to overcome. Not only having to evacuate from bombed-out London, but dealing with a serious, debilitating illness that requires constant medical care and serious readjustment of how Kit goes through her daily life. She shows courage and fortitude in facing all her trials that I admired.

At times, Kit came off as very juvenile and immature. How she utilized her gift at times and her focus on herself for parts of the book were off-putting to me. Yet, as the story progresses, Kit shows more and more maturity in how she interacts with the world. I think all the trials of WWII and how her world was affected by it helped her to grow up and become a woman rather than a teenage girl. I loved that journey.

The secondary characters were as vibrant and three-dimensional as Kit. I think I especially loved Doc Bickerstaff. He’s irritating, condescending, and socially awkward. However, he’s also a very dedicated doctor, a sufferer of depression, and courageous soldier, stopping to rescue his fellows rather than run to save his own skin. He, along with the whole Price family, made this book even more of a joy to read.

The historical aspects of the book were more muted than I was expecting. We do see how evacuation to the countryside affected the various parties involved, some aspects of the battlefront in North Africa, and occupation in France and Norway. The author shows her research in these areas. But, I think I was expecting more, especially in Norway. One of the characters being from Nazi occupied Norway was one of the things that originally drew me as that area of WWII Europe isn’t explored in fiction as often as other areas. However, there was enough of a historical emphasis that I didn’t feel lacking in that regard.

An intriguing way of exploring WWII, this book combines great characterizations, good historical details, and a fantastic psychic system to draw the reader in. This is book one of a trilogy, and I look forward to exploring the rest of this series.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

REVIEW: Only A Kiss by Mary Balogh

Only A Kiss
by Mary Balogh

Publisher: Signet
Page Count: 400
Release Date: Sept. 1, 2015
Format: Mass Market Paperback

How got: personal library; bought from Amazon

First attention getter: the series, my most anticipated title from this series yet


From GoodReads:

The Survivors’ Club: Six men and one woman, injured in the Napoleonic Wars, their friendships forged in steel and loyalty. But for one, her trials are not over....

Since witnessing the death of her husband during the wars, Imogen, Lady Barclay, has secluded herself in the confines of Hardford Hall, their home in Cornwall. The new owner has failed to take up his inheritance, and Imogen desperately hopes he will never come to disturb her fragile peace.

Percival Hayes, Earl of Hardford, has no interest in the wilds of Cornwall, but when he impulsively decides to pay a visit to his estate there, he is shocked to discover that it is not the ruined heap he had expected. He is equally shocked to find the beautiful widow of his predecessor’s son living there.

Soon Imogen awakens in Percy a passion he has never thought himself capable of feeling. But can he save her from her misery and reawaken her soul? And what will it mean for him if he succeeds?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4.5

Only one small disappointment dinged this book for me, but overall we have another great one from Balogh. I love the leads and their emotional journey. When all is said and done for historical romance, those are the most important things.

I really liked Imogen. She’s strong and vulnerable in all the places she needs to be. I liked how her traumatic past showed itself in her rigid self-control and semi-aloofness. Her hesitation to get close to anyone else besides her fellow Survivor Club members is a realistic and painful reaction to seeing what she has seen. I loved seeing her transformation, her journey towards loving again as she gets closer to Percy.

And oh Percy! What a fantastic hero! He starts out as your typical Regency era flaky playboy: gambling, drinking, no goals in life, and sleeping around. His transformation into a mature man who cares for his tenants and employees, who finds the courage to stand against smugglers (who few others seem to care about), and help to heal such a damaged individual as Imogen was awe-inspiring. I fell in love with him right along with Imogen.

I haven’t come across a couple in historical romance as well suited for each other as these two in a while. They dove tail so well together, having personalities, outlooks on life, and such that are different enough to balance the other out and similar enough to give common ground. I really feel that Percy is the best choice for Imogen, not only does he love her but he also heals, makes her laugh, and gives her a shoulder to help balance the burden of her past. I love them together.

My one area of disappointment will probably not be an area of problem for another reader. Towards the end of the book, more about Imogen’s past and her war trauma is gone over and explained. Her past also shapes her personality and how she approaches Percy, too.

Yet, I felt liked there was a missed opportunity here. The idea of the woman being the war-weary, injured party in a historical romance relationship is so unique. There seemed to be an opening to explore or examine how women contributed or were affected by the Peninsular war when physically present. Maybe I was just wishing for more exploration of Imogen’s role/experiences in the war and how it impacted her life than was actually present. It’s what really made me anticipate this entry into the Survivor Club series.

A pretty great historical romance, this book shines when it comes to characters and their romance. Extremely vibrant and emotional, I loved both leads and their romance was to die for. The only hitch for me was a personal one. I wished for more exploration of how the war trauma affected Imogen and her life, even though it does in very subtle ways in the book. So at least there’s something there. I’d still highly recommend this book to lovers of Regency era romances and Mary Balogh. It’s a great romance.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

REVIEW: The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr

The Winter Horses
by Philip Kerr

Publisher: Knopf Books
Page Count: 288
Release Date: March 25, 2014
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; bought from Amazon

First attention getter: time era


From GoodReads:
From New York Times bestselling author Philip Kerr comes a breathtaking journey of survival by one girl and two horses in the dark days of WWII.

It will soon be another cold winter in the Ukraine. But it's 1941, and things are different this year. Max, the devoted caretaker of an animal preserve, must learn to live with the Nazis who have overtaken this precious land. He must also learn to keep secrets-for there is a girl, Kalinka, who is hiding in the park.

Kalinka has lost her home, her family, her belongings-everything but her life. Still, she has gained one small, precious gift: a relationship with the rare wild and wily Przewalski's horses that wander the preserve. Aside from Max, these endangered animals are her only friends-until a Nazi campaign of extermination nearly wipes them out for good.

Now Kalinka must set out on a treacherous journey across the frozen Ukrainian forest to save the only two surviving horses-and herself.

This sensitive, inspiring tale captures the power of sacrifice and the endurance of the human spirit.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3.5

This book turned into something unexpected for me. Not necessarily a bad thing as the turns were interesting in their own right, but my expectations going in and how the book started made me not appreciate them as much as another reader might.

I went into the book expecting an engaging survival story against the elements (Ukraine in winter, enough said!!), escape from the Nazis, and a helping hand from fellow humans. And I got all those. Kalinka was a smart girl who found herself swept up into the tragic events of the Holocaust and WWII. Striking out on her own across Nazi-occupied Ukraine, she finds help from some unexpected quarters. I found her journey through the many parts of this devastated land suspenseful and illuminating for her character.

I also liked the secondary characters; they were well-fleshed out and enthralling. Of course, Max shines as Kalinka’s savior. A sweet older man who has made it his life’s work to protect and work with the animals on his preserve, he stands as a bright light against the darkness of persecution and despair. I even liked the Nazi Captain Grenzmann. He had a certain charm about him, even though he also embodied all that was evil about the Nazis. He actually illustrated well how scary the Nazis could be: outwardly helpful and charming but willing to put a bullet in your head at the slightest cause on the inside.

The main animal characters of Temujin, Borte, and Taras were also given pretty strong personalities, to the degree that they could hold “conversations” with Kalinka and each other. They had distinct personality traits like stubbornness, protectiveness, and a strong will.

This is actually where the book started to go in a different direction than I expected. It never comes out the animals are having actual conversations with Kalinka; it’s more like an intuitive knowing what the other is trying to get across and what-not. Yet, it’s enough that the book slides into historical fantasy rather than a survival/WWII story. Those elements are still there, but the fantasy elements start to take over, with more and more of these “conversations” happening to the point that they are most of the exchanges we see.

There’s also the whole tomb thing as the finale of the book. That is pretty much ENTIRELY fantasy with visions, dream chats, and help from celestial bodies. Maybe the animal conversations were building up to this so it wouldn’t completely feel out of step with the book, but I was still jarred. I was looking for more of a realistic showdown/resolution with the chasing Nazis rather than this fantastical stuff. Left me a bit disappointed and feeling cheated.

So not a bad book but not what I was expecting. I loved the characters, even the horses and dog, as well as the WWII/survival elements. The story itself was suspenseful and kept me engaged. But the heavy presence and use of fantasy elements drove the book into unexpected directions and left me jarred. They didn’t work for me. Maybe another reader would appreciate them and like them better. I don’t know.

Friday, September 11, 2015

REVIEW: One Night For Love by Mary Balogh

One Night For Love
by Mary Balogh

Publisher: Dell
Page Count: 384
Release Date: August 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback

How got: personal library; bought used via Amazon

First attention getter: the author and reading about the characters in another book by this author


From GoodReads:

One reckless man...One passionate woman.
It was a perfect morning in May...

Neville Wyatt, Earl of Kilbourne, awaited his bride at the altar - when a ragged beggar woman raced down the aisle instead. The cream of the tonsaw him stare, shocked, then declare that this was his wife! One night of passion was all he remembered as he beheld Lily, the woman he'd wed, loved, and lost on the battlefield in Portugal. Now he said he'd honor his commitment to her - regardless of the gulf that lay between them.

Then Lily spoke her mind...

She said she wanted only to start a new life - wanted only a husband who truly loved her. She had to leave him to learn how to meet his world on her terms. So Lily agreed to earn her keep as his aunt's companion and study the genteel arts. Soon she was the toast of the ton, every inch a countess fit for the earl, who vowed to prove to his remarkable wife that what he felt for her was far more than desire, that what he wanted from her was much more than...One Night for Love.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Now this is what I’m talking about with a Balogh romance! Emotionally tense, well-rounded characters I love, a romance I can get behind, and attention to specific historical details to give us a great setting for the relationship all make an appearance.

The primary attraction for any historical romance, the main relationship, shines in this book, along with our leads. From the beginning, Neville and Lily have an unmistakable chemistry. Their relationship starts out as a promise to take care of Lily after her father’s death. But it blossoms into something very special, even after a long separation and some serious trauma. I was engrossed by every interaction between these two.

I liked that most of the drama wasn’t from the miscommunication trope that so many historical romances fall into. Nothing irritates me more. Right from the beginning, Neville and Lily both are up front and honest about their feelings for each other. It’s their different stations in life, past trauma, and self-esteem issues that impedes the blossoming love.

I liked that the author isn’t afraid to explore those darker elements. What happens to Lily during her captivity truly moves the heart. I liked that her trauma wasn’t just ignored or thrust to the side so the romance can proceed without impediment. What she went through prevents her from being able to completely revel in her relationship and to meet Neville as an equal party emotionally. It does seem to be resolved a bit too soon for my taste but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the romance overall.

I liked the details that Balogh incorporated with the Peninsular War, life in the army, and all the societal mores for Regency life. It was interesting to see all that went into making a lady “accomplished” for society, all that Lily had to learn on the fly and quickly. Her life traveling in the army and how the rank and file worked also added an interesting layer to the story and the characters portrayed.

It’s works like this that made me fall in love with Balogh. She knows how to blend characterization, romance, dramatic tension, and period details to create a fantastic historical romance. I look forward to delving into more stuff by her!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

REVIEW: Lord Windmere by Gianna Thomas

Lord Windmere: The Four Lords' Saga Book 1
by Gianna Thomas

Publisher: NPC Pubs
Page Count: 113
Release Date: August 3, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from author

First attention getter: genre and email from author


From GoodReads:

Will Lord Windmere (Matthew Fremont), who has been running from parson’s mousetrap, win, or lose and pay £1500 to his friends?

Matthew Fremont has accepted an invitation to a house party as he is seriously considering looking for a wife and starting his nursery as his parents have requested of him. He discovers on his arrival that Lady Jane Thornton—his longtime friend from a neighboring estate to his parents’ home—is also in attendance. Since he has not seen her for two years, he is pleasantly surprised to find that she is all grown up, and he is more than happy with the result.

Lady Jane Anne Thornton is also pleased at seeing her friend, Matt. Occasionally allowed to tag along with him and her older brother, Robbie, Janie has long held a tendre for Matt. And it’s not just because she saw him and her brother swimming at the hidden falls. Will their friendship turn into love? Will they be able to overcome the obstacle of a rival for Matt’s affections? And will Janie even survive the house party?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3.5

This was a short and sweet tale of Regency era romance. It’s got all the hallmarks of the Regency genre: bets made on romance, social balls/gatherings, the many societal mores of the times, and romance blossoming in the genteel English air.

I liked the time the author put into building her atmosphere and main relationship. She takes the time to set the scene, not something every novella writer does. I had no problem picturing every social interaction and the grandeur of Regency gentility.

I also really liked Matthew and Janie. They were very sweet together and made me smile more than once. There wasn’t a massive amount of depth or character analyzing present, but this is a novella so I wasn’t expecting it. For this being what it was, I liked the leads well enough.

I do think the author fell into the trap that many novella or short book writers fall into, trying to put too much into the story. The whole side story with Penelope and her antics was more irritating than entertaining. I found her to be juvenile and two-dimensional. She added nothing to the story but aggravation.

I also wished more mention could have been made on the whole bet thing. In the beginning, it’s hinted that hopefully the partners for these guys don’t ever find out about it. After that little hint, nothing else is ever mentioned. Maybe the author is saving that for the last book, don’t know. But another mention at the end might have been nice.

For a short, sweet romantic fluff piece, this novella is pretty good. It pleases in the romance, atmosphere, and main character departments. At times, the author tries to fit too much in for dramatic flair that’s not needed. Yet, the work is still enjoyable for what it is: a tender getaway into Regency love.

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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

REVIEW: The White Pearl by Kate Furnivall

The White Pearl
by Kate Furnivall

Publisher: Berkley
Page Count: 448
Release Date: March 6, 2012
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: local public library

First attention getter: setting and synopsis


From GoodReads:

National bestselling author of The Russian Concubine, Kate Furnivall spins a tale of war, desperation, and the discovery of love off the coast of Malaya.

Malaya, 1941. Connie Thornton plays her role as a dutiful wife and mother without complaint. She is among the fortunate after all-the British rubber plantation owners reaping the benefits of the colonial life. But Connie feels as though she is oppressed, crippled by boredom, sweltering heat, a loveless marriage. . .

Then, in December, the Japanese invade. Connie and her family flee, sailing south on their yacht toward Singapore, where the British are certain to stand firm against the Japanese. En route, in the company of friends, they learn that Singapore is already under siege. Tensions mount, tempers flare, and the yacht's inhabitants are driven by fear.

Increasingly desperate and short of food, they are taken over by a pirate craft and its Malayan crew making their perilous way from island to island. When a fighter plane crashes into the sea, they rescue its Japanese pilot. For Connie, that's when everything changes. In the suffocating confines of the boat with her life upended, Connie discovers a new kind of freedom and a new, dangerous, exhilarating love.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

If this book is anything to judge by setting and world building wise, then Ms Furnivall is a master at this element. I could feel the sweat dripping down my spine and feel the heavy weight of humidity as I read. The author has a real gift for bringing the vibrant and dangerous world of WWII Malaysia and the nearby tropical islands to life. This author is comparable to some of my other favorites in this regard.

The story itself was intense and suspenseful as it needed to be. The author managed her flow fairly well, with slow characterization scenes and dramatic action exchanges interwoven perfectly. Even the slower sections in British-held Malaysia plantations were interspersed with powerful flashbacks foreshadowing the coming invasion and events leading up to how everyone came to be on the White Pearl.

The story of the Japanese invasion of British-held territories is one I haven’t seen done often in WWII fiction. The author’s dedication to her research shows through. The siege of Singapore, the bombing of British Malaysia, and the island hopping fighting was unexplored territory for me. The British attitude towards the Japanese army, their underestimation of its prowess and speed, was an intriguing outlook to explore; goes to show that underestimating your enemy is the best way to get conquered.

One of the places this book faltered was in its characters and how they were written. Many of the main people that play a lead role in events and their outcome aren’t given the amount of characterization that they desperately needed. I was left questioning motivations for more than one individual.

The characters that did get fleshed out were three-dimensional, I’ll give the author that, but most of them are to the degree that they’re almost unlikable. Prime example of this is Maya. The reader gets a close look into her head and really gets to know her, but for her, that’s not a good thing. I almost wish she had been killed so I could read less of her.

The main character of Connie I did end up liking, enough that I was invested on whether she survived or not, got her man, or whether she was able to stay united with her son. I liked how dedicated she was to her loved ones, how her eyes eventually opened to the reality of the British Empire’s future in Malaysia, and how courageous she turned out to be facing all the challenges that came her way.

If this is what I can expect from Furnivall in future, I think I’ll be hunting other titles by her. She sets a great scene and tells a spellbinding story with outstanding research to support it. Her characters could use some work, making them more likable overall. But I enjoyed the main lead, so I was kept invested throughout the book. For the unique look at the world during WWII along, I’d recommend this book. But it’s got other great qualities, too.

Friday, September 4, 2015

REVIEW: The Endearment by LaVyrle Spencer

The Endearment
by LaVyrle Spencer

Publisher: Pocket Books
Page Count: 308
Release Date: March 1, 1982
Format: Mass Market Paperback

How got: personal library; via BookMooch

First attention getter: synopsis and author


From GoodReads:


Lovely, fiery tempered Anna Reardon was forced to lie to get out of the street urchin's life that shamed her ... to become Karl Lindstrom's mail-order bride in the beautiful, treacherous Minnesota wilderness.

Karl forgave Anna for her deceptions--but there was still one shameful, burning secret that she had to hide from him, knowing its revelation would destroy the love that had become her very life!

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

While not my favorite work by Spencer, I still enjoyed this volume immensely. Her characters are rich, her setting detailed, and the relationship sweet.

I liked how detailed Spencer got with Karl’s Swedish background and his love of his rugged home. I got a real sense for how comfortable he felt in this wild land and how dedicated he was to building a home for himself and a family. His strong sense of family and personal sense of honor also defined who he was and shaped how he viewed and interacted with the world.

Annie and James, in contrast, come from a much different life and environment. What they had to do to survive and endure comes through with sad, vibrant detail. Annie, especially, made my heart ache. So much trauma and pain scarred her ability to trust and her self-image. How that affected her relationship with Karl really became the soul of the book and main relationship.

The romance in this book was as sweet and endearing as Spencer’s previous works. The main lead’s opposing backgrounds made for an interesting blend. They both balance each other out and provide something the other needs. Karl gave Annie and James a new home and opportunity in life. Annie mellowed Karl out and made him see that there are other walks of life, more trauma in the world than he may have experienced.

The only fault I can find does irritate me a ton, so it seems to have more weight than it would for someone else. At times, Karl’s sense of honor and right went over the boundaries of such, going into self-righteous territory. Holier-than-though could be used to describe his actions and attitudes towards Annie and her situation.

Now she does hide much and does lie to him more than once. So a bit of distrust and his attitude could be explained. But, a bit more understanding after he learns her full story would have helped to save his characterization for me. From other reviews I’ve come across, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Great characters, story, and romance make this a great historical romance. Even though the main male lead can be overbearing in his judgment at times, I still liked him and rooted for him. So still a solid 4 stars and recommended for lovers of historical fiction and of Spencer’s books, especially.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

REVIEW: A Chance Kill by Paul Letters

A Chance Kill
by Paul Letters

Publisher: Silverwood Books
Page Count: 300
Release Date: February 26, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; bought from Amazon

First attention getter: synopsis


From GoodReads:

An old-fashioned love story weaves through an authentic wartime thriller. Can individuals shape destiny? Or is it all by chance?

Based upon real events, seventeen-year-old Polish catholic Dyta Zając finds herself forced away from wartime Warsaw due to her family’s shadowy connections. Dyta’s time on the run sets her on a path towards confronting the ultimate Nazi.

Half a continent away, an RAF bomber crew embarks upon Britain’s little-known first offensive of the war. In a story of fear versus hope, the unspoken limits of loyalty are exposed and the value of a compromised life is contested. Courtship edges Dyta’s destiny closer to that of members of the RAF crew – and toward the Allies’ most brazen covert operation to strike at the Nazi elite.

Even more dangerous than the enemy, however, is the assumption that your enemy’s enemy is your friend...

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

This book had a ton of story to tell. Dramatic escapes, assassinations, mistaken identity, romance, and resistance against the Nazis play center stage. The reader is never left with scenes that dragged or overblown dialogue exchanges.

I also liked how much of WWII Europe the author explored. Poland right after the invasion, the mass exodus from France in ’40, war torn London, life in the RAF, and resistance in Prague all make an appearance. The research the author put into this book definitely shows through.

I loved the details, especially about the Czech resistance, the assassination of Heydrich, and its aftermath. This period of the war isn’t as explored as the resistance in France and Poland, probably because Heydrich was so successful in rooting it out so early in the war. The author gives us an intimate look at this very dangerous part of Europe for Resistance fighters.

I liked both leads, Dyta a bit more since we got far more of an exploration of her and her motives. I liked how we got to see war torn Europe through her and her actions. At times, she came across as too perfect: beautiful, competent, cunning, and brave. But I felt there were enough faults to leaven that too-perfect nature out when all is said and done.

I do have a bit of an issue with the ending. It seemed too open to be completely satisfying. I was longing to see the fallout from Tom’s reaction to Dyta’s final actions. I wanted to see how that would impact any further relationship. Also, the dramatic content and intensity of the story seemed to overshadow the intimate at times. I felt like the characters were subsumed by the war and got lost in the shuffle.

A pretty solid war thriller, this book tells an intense story of advancing armies, resistance, and survival against pretty high odds. I liked the characters overall and definitely appreciated the details and the depth of research. The ending left much to be desired and the intensity of the story had a downfall. Yet, I’d definitely recommend this one to lovers of WWII fiction. It’s a great portrayal of that great event and the people involved.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

REVIEW: Eleanor and the Iron King by Julie Daines

Eleanor and the Iron King
by Julie Daines

Publisher: Covenant Communications
Page Count: 224
Release Date: August 1, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: ARC copy from NetGalley

First attention getter: pretty cover and setting


From GoodReads:

Eleanor de Lacy has been bartered: her hand in marriage in exchange for a truce with her father’s sworn enemy.

Now the headstrong beauty must leave her ancestral home and the man she secretly loves to become the wife of the infamous Welsh king, Brach Goch. Tales of this cruel leader paint a chilling picture of a ruthless warrior, and all Eleanor knows for certain is that he is the villain responsible for the vicious attacks on her people and the death of her beloved brother.

Though she must marry against her will, she vows Brach Goch will never possess her heart. Her arrival at the inhospitable castle Bryn Du confirms her worst fears—a ghost walks the halls of the castle, and Eleanor receives an ominous warning from the uneasy spirit: Brach is not to be trusted.

Though resigned to a life of misery, Eleanor soon realizes all is not as it seems, for Brach is not the monster she dreaded but is a handsome and charming man whose gentle ways soon undermine her resolve to lock her heart. Clinging desperately to her pride, Eleanor finds herself trapped in a web of murder and deceit. And as the lines between good and evil become blurred, Eleanor must decide for herself who is to be trusted—and loved.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 1.5

Oh this book….. So much promise with so much flat return. I had high hopes with an intriguing setting and a potentially lovely romance (the arranged marriage gimmick is a new love for me). With an added supernatural flair, I was expecting a great book. Yet sadly, this book failed to deliver on almost everything.

I did like the Welsh, medieval setting. It was nicely pulled off with green, misty hills and forests. There was a certain air of mystical potential that I liked. There were also moments in the romance that I liked too. When Eleanor could actually deem to trust Brach and have an actual conversation/interaction, I liked how they played off each other. They had the potential to be a great romantic duo.

Where things started to go wrong quickly was the main character. She started out OK with some nice spunk to her. Unfortunately, she turned into the worst sort of shallow, stupid, and teenage YA heroine. She rushes into situations without the slightest pretense to planning. Stubbornly refuses to change her opinions or viewpoints after presented with evidence. She constantly jumps to conclusions on the flimsiest of information. And she doesn’t have the sense of a dodo bird in whom she trusts or how she acts.

Brach was much better, probably because he’s older and more mature. Yet, we’re given such little time with him that the reader isn’t given much of a chance to get to know him deeper. I found this very odd for a historical romance as it takes two to have such a relationship. So much time is given to Eleanor and her bungling antics that Brach is left in the dark most of the time.

The supernatural flairs to this book were promising before they started but quickly lost their luster. What I got was a grouping of campy bloody messages, eye rolling wailing women specters, and killer ghosts in the dungeon. I mean, really?! I got scarier stuff out of R L Stine’s series for kids back in the day. Every time the supernatural elements reared their head I had to sigh in frustration, what started out as potentially unique story element quickly turned into a drag on the book.

Hokey supernatural elements, a main heroine I’d rather shoot than cheer for, and not enough page time for the hero made for a drag of a read. The romantic bits and setting weren’t enough to save this puppy. I don’t think I’ll be hunting this author down again. I only gave the 1.5 since I finished the book and enjoyed a few things. Look elsewhere for reading material, folks! This one isn’t worth the time spent.

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