Thursday, December 31, 2015

REVIEW: Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Flight of Dreams
by Ariel Lawhon

Publisher: Doubleday
Page Count: 336
Release Date: February 23, 2016
Format: Kindle

How got: ARC from NetGalley

First attention getter: exploration of little known history


From GoodReads:

With everyone onboard harboring dark secrets and at least one person determined to make sure the airship doesn't make the return trip, Flight of Dreams gives an utterly suspenseful, heart-wrenching explanation for one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century.

On the evening of May 3, 1937, Emilie Imhof boards the Hindenburg. As the only female crew member, Emilie has access to the entire airship, from the lavish dining rooms and passenger suites to the gritty engine cars and control room. She hears everything, but with rumors circulating about bomb threats, Emilie's focus is on maintaining a professional air . . . and keeping her own plans under wraps.

What Emilie can't see is that everyone—from the dynamic vaudeville acrobat to the high-standing German officer—seems to be hiding something.
Giving free rein to countless theories of sabotage, charade, and mishap, Flight of Dreams takes us on the thrilling three-day transatlantic flight through the alternating perspectives of Emilie; Max, the ship's navigator who is sweet on her; Gertrud, a bold female journalist who's been blacklisted in her native Germany; Werner, a thirteen-year-old cabin boy with a bad habit of sneaking up on people; and a brash American who's never without a drink in his hand. Everyone knows more than they initially let on, and as the novel moves inexorably toward its tragic climax, the question of which of the passengers will survive the trip infuses every scene with a deliciously unbearable tension.
With enthralling atmospheric details that immediately transport and spellbinding plotting that would make Agatha Christie proud, Flight of Dreams will keep you guessing till the last page. And, as The New York Times Book Review said of her last novel, "This book is more meticulously choreographed than a chorus line. It all pays off."

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

It took me awhile to get into this book; we’re talking days to weeks to really get drawn in. I think it was the multitude of POVs. That took some getting used to. There also aspects of some of the relationships that seemed very sudden and overly melodramatic. Nothing will turn me off faster than melodrama. So why the five star rating you ask?

Let’s just say that after I finished, I had to take a moment to ponder the wonder I had just finished. The author is able to pull all those POVs into a cohesive whole, bringing to life one of the biggest unknown tragedies in history. I’ve met people today who have never heard of the Hindenburg; long less explored all its implications and human drama. I’m glad the author decided to explore this story.

I have to give kudos to the research that went into this book. The author brings the ship to life mechanically, to start with. Through various crew member POVs, we get to see how the ship was built, how it operated, the involved command structure, and how the very nature of the ship itself led to its doom.

She also pays as much attention to the personalities of the people involved. As the author’s notes mention, there aren’t any big biographies or works devoted to the people involved in the Hindenburg. She had to rely on sketchy background details and hints to personalities. I also really enjoyed the fact that Lawhon didn’t alter any fates; everyone who died, died or everyone who survived, survived in the book. Every character is a real person who was really there.

Lawhon takes the little known tidbits and creates characters as grand and vivid as the ship they flew in. Every single POV was rich with motivations, aspirations, dreams, and thoughts. I actually grew to love and enjoy the various POVS, making it an asset by book’s end rather than a liability that it was in the beginning.

All that melodrama and relationship stuff that was originally a burden actually turned into quite an asset. As the tension grew and grew closer to ship’s destruction, all those relationship woes turned into painful, tragic yet beautiful reminders of human life and existence as fire rained from the heavens. I think I got drawn into the lives of these characters more than I originally anticipated as by book’s end, I was actually crying.

The author has created a true gem of historical fiction in this work. She takes a dramatic story and makes it very human. By breathing life into little known people she does what historical fiction should do, bringing the past to life and making it very relatable to a modern audience. I loved her attention to detail; it paid off immensely in the emotional impact at book’s end. So I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s a true treasure of historical fiction and I look forward to exploring more by this author.

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

REVIEW: The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall

The Russian Concubine
by Kate Furnivall

Publisher: Berkley
Page Count: 517
Release Date: June 27, 2007
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: personal library; bought via local library used book sale

First attention getter: the interracial romance angle


From GoodReads:

A sweeping novel set in war-torn 1928 China, with a star-crossed love story at its center.

In a city full of thieves and Communists, danger and death, spirited young Lydia Ivanova has lived a hard life. Always looking over her shoulder, the sixteen-year-old must steal to feed herself and her mother, Valentina, who numbered among the Russian elite until Bolsheviks murdered most of them, including her husband. As exiles, Lydia and Valentina have learned to survive in a foreign land.

Often, Lydia steals away to meet with the handsome young freedom fighter Chang An Lo. But they face danger: Chiang Kai Shek's troops are headed toward Junchow to kill Reds like Chang, who has in his possession the jewels of a tsarina, meant as a gift for the despot's wife. The young pair's all-consuming love can only bring shame and peril upon them, from both sides. Those in power will do anything to quell it. But Lydia and Chang are powerless to end it.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Kate still impresses with her skills at world building, characterization, and relationship dynamics. I’ve only read one book by her so far, one of her newer works. This one seems to be the one she’s known most for so I’m glad I was able to experience it.

And “experience” is the correct term to use! The reader can literally smell the Chinese incense scents, see the vivid reds and golds of Chinese architecture and fabrics, and hear the calls of stall owners and shops of the markets. All of this is interposed over the rigid, orderly world of British society that ruled this area of China at the time. Then there’s Lydia, her mom, and the other Russian refugees caught in between, struggling to survive in a world caught between posh British who look down on them and poor Chinese who resent them. The author excels in making every bit of this world shine and breathe with life.

Furnivall is almost without peer when it comes to characterization. She does an incredible job balancing out virtues with vices. I can always count on her people being very human. There’s really only one exception to this in the book, and even then it’s not that blaring. In her previous work I’ve read, she gave one of her characters so many foibles that I ended up not liking them at all.

In this one, she’s made one of her characters almost too perfect. Chang is almost the perfect paragon: virtuous, courageous, principled, dedicated, and awesome at martial arts. He also gives his heart whole-heartedly when he falls in love. His love for Lydia does fall into the “obsessive” end of the spectrum at times so that saves him from being too perfect. Yet, Furnivall does such a great job with everything else that Chang doesn’t blare out that much, at least to me. I still enjoyed reading him.

I loved reading Furnivall’s examination of different relationship types as well. Friendships, lovers, husband/wife, father/daughter, teacher/student…. All are explored in depth within the story, really digging into how people relate to each other under different circumstances. She gives her readers an eye into how same relationship types differ as well, like how Lydia’s/Chang’s relationship differed from the teacher’s and Mei’s. How different circumstances can come to bear and steer and relationship into a different direction was fascinating.

Despite some aspects of Chang’s character making him read too perfect at times, I felt this was a very strong work by Furnivall. It definitely reads as the work that made her name. She makes her readers live the setting, feel for the characters, and just get sucked into the story. I’d recommend this one to any lovers of historical fiction or just a great story. Can’t wait to dig into more by this author!

Monday, December 28, 2015

REVIEW: The Lady Who Lived Again by Thomasine Rappold

The Lady Who Lived Again
by Thomasine Rappold

Publisher: Lyrical Press
Page Count: 222
Release Date: December 8, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; bought via Amazon

First attention getter: synopsis


From GoodReads:

Madeleine Sutter was once the belle of the ball at the popular resort town of Misty Lake, New York. But as the sole survivor of the community’s worst tragedy, she’s come under suspicion. Longing for the life she once enjoyed, she accepts a rare social invitation to the event of the season. Now she will be able to show everyone she’s the same woman they’d always admired—with just one hidden exception: she awoke from the accident with the ability to heal.

Doctor Jace Merrick has fled the failures and futility of city life to start anew in rural Misty Lake. A man of science, he rejects the superstitious chatter surrounding Maddie and finds himself drawn to her confidence and beauty. And when she seduces him into a sham engagement, he agrees to be her ticket back into society, if she supports his new practice—and reveals the details of her remarkable recovery. But when his patients begin to heal miraculously, Jace may have to abandon logic, accept the inexplicable—and surrender to a love beyond reason…

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 2.5

Ultimately, this book was a disappointment to me. I had high hopes as I always love a good historical romance with a touch of the supernatural. The book pleases on a few regards; yet, the other issues drag it down.

I liked Madeline and Jace as individuals. They both have strong constitutions and wills, being able to face heavy trauma and tragedy to come out stronger the other side. I liked Jace’s no nonsense, scientific attitude towards medicine, not being taken in by the local hocus-pocus and superstition. I liked how he approached the new venue of small town practice vs big town emergency room. I also liked how Madeline faced ostracizing from the locals again and again and still had the strength to show her face in town, knowing what she’d face. She’s a courageous gal, and I liked that.

Some of the medical details were also interesting. I liked how Jace started to contemplate using Madeline’s coping techniques as treatment for medical trauma. His past history with victims of survivor’s guilt and PTSD and being unable to treat them successfully ate him up. I liked that these two were able to grow together and use Madeline’s horrific past experiences to help people in future.

Now the romance part I’m on the fence about. I liked their exchanges together; I felt that their personality types dovetailed well together. For the most part, they’re very sweet and passionate together. However, the relationship has a tendency to run hot-cold in its progression. Both parties would go back and forth on whether they would actually pursue a relationship together and constantly fell back on the same excuses. I don’t know if these plot devices were used to help ratchet up the romantic tension or not; but to me, it just read as exasperating and tiresome, maybe because they were used so often.

The parts of the book I had some very serious issues with were the extent of the superstition in this small town and the role that certain secondary characters played. I mean, come on, this is the 1880s! The beginning of the modern industrial age and you’ve got a whole town believing in hocus-pocus, superstition, and the “power of the Devil” to such an extent?!?! Maybe some individuals, yeah, but the entire town? I could see these town folk getting ready to burn Madeline at the stake if the story had taken place 200 years earlier.

Then there’s the power that the preacher wielded. Now a religious preacher in small towns did control much influence with people, the field that they were in and all. And I can see where the motivation this particular preacher has in his hatred of Madeline personally. But it’s the power he has over the entire community that makes this a stretch. It’s his preaching hatred and that Devil claptrap about Madeline that makes everyone ostracize her so much. Not just individuals, the whole community. That just seems like a stretch to me, personally, that one man would have so much power.

While the main leads were enjoyable in and of themselves and their relationship was sweet and passionate at times, this book didn’t live up to the potential that it had with such a unique spin on a supernatural historical romance. I felt like this book fell on its face. A populace more situated for the Dark Ages, too-big-for-their shoes secondary characters, and a yes/no relationship kept this book back from greatness. I wouldn’t say no the second book in the series maybe some time in the future. But I won’t be going out of my way to find it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

REVIEW: Bathsheba by Angela Hunt

Bathsheba: Reluctant Beauty
by Angela Hunt

Publisher: Bethany House
Page Count: 368
Release Date: August 1, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: won from GoodReads giveaway

First attention getter: that beautiful cover!!!


From GoodReads:

After sending his army to besiege another king's capital, King David forces himself on Bathsheba, a loyal soldier's wife. When her resulting pregnancy forces the king to murder her husband and add her to his harem, Bathsheba struggles to protect her son while dealing with the effects of a dark prophecy and deadly curse on the king's household.

Combining historical facts with detailed fiction, Angela Hunt paints a realistic portrait of the beautiful woman who struggled to survive the dire results of divine judgment on a king with a divided heart.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 2

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!! READ @ OWN PERIL IF WANT TO REMAIN SPOILER FREE! But then anyone familiar with the Bible story knows what happens....

I was given this book for free via the GoodReads FirstReads program in exchange for an honest review. And I'll be giving it. Unfortunately, I can't finish this book. I stopped reading @ page 153 as I couldn't take the overabundance of religiosity and preaching anymore.

Now, I know people are saying, "Well, Sarah, this is a book based on the Bible, ya know?! There's going to be a ton of Christian stuff with THAT as a source material." And I'd have to agree with most people, there has to be some expectations of very religious themes and dialogue with a novel based on the Bible. However, there comes a point when a dramatization crosses over into being hit over the head with a proverbial sermonizing 2x4 that the novel stops being a dramatization and turns into pure religiosity.

The author tries to give her story a historical background, and this is the one area where she succeeds greatly. The reader gets a real sense for the ancient world of Judea and its varied peoples. It's a seething world of warring city-states and tribes, all co-existing and co-worshiping while at the same time warring with each other. So, points there.

However, the author lets her religious themes and message get in the way of the actual story and characters. The story is told through the POVs of prophet Nathan and Bathsheba herself. Nathan has a personality, at least: humble, a caring father and husband, and a great dedication to his Adonai.

Bathsheba, however, is a total mess. There is nothing to this girl. She's a complete doormat that lets the universe and other people direct her life: her father, husband, grandfather, Elisheba, David, and God himself. Not once does she have a thought produced from her own personality; she's just a reflection of everyone else in the story and their values.

Now the Christian themes. There's a heavy emphasis on surrendering your life to God, to his message, teachings, and voice talking to you. There's also a very strong message of forgiveness and the power of God's love. I can live with those teachings, no problem. It's just that their SO prevalent in the story that they almost drown out everything else. Like I mentioned though, I expected this a bit with the source material being a Bible story.

It's the whole way that the book was dealing with the rape aspect and Bathsheba's reaction to it that made me see red and just have to drop this book. Throughout, various people in her life are stressing to her that she wasn't to blame, that the blame was completely on David's doorstep. Yet, NOT ONCE, does Bathsheba ever take this message in.

She's constantly saying that she "enticed" David's reaction to her and that she was completely to blame for the rape. I've never been raped nor met a rape victim, so maybe this is a normal thought process for such an individual. I don't know.

But to me, it seems like the book was stressing that because Bathsheba was so beautiful, David couldn't help himself so his actions were excusable. There's even a scene between Nathan and David that this comes up with David saying she was so beautiful, he HAD to have her. Like that excuses anything?!?!

I don't know. Maybe I'm reading more into this than is really there. Other readers probably won't have this reaction. But because of all this harping on Bathsheba believing herself to be to blame for the rape and her doormat personality has made have to stop reading this.

Maybe another reader will get enjoyment out of this, I don't know. A heavily religious Christian reader would probably get more out of this than I. I enjoyed the author's attempt to give the story a firm historical background. I also liked her attempt at brining the Bible to life; she succeeds to a certain degree. But I just couldn't finish this for the reasons I stated. Sorry, Angela, just NOT for me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

REVIEW: Shadows of Asphodel by Karen Kincy

Shadows of Asphodel
by Karen Kincy

Publisher: self-published through CreateSpace
Page Count: 350
Release Date: September 13, 2013
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library: bought via Amazon

First attention getter: synopsis


From GoodReads:

She never asked for the undying loyalty of a necromancer.

1913. Austria-Hungary. Ardis knows better than to save a man on the battlefield. Even if he manages to be a charming bastard while bleeding out in the snow. She hasn't survived this long as a mercenary without some common sense.

When she rescues Wendel, it isn't because he's devilishly handsome, but because he's a necromancer. His touch can revive the dead, and Ardis worries he will return from the grave to hunt her down. Besides, a necromancer can be useful in this world on the brink of war.

A gentleman of questionable morals, Wendel drops to one knee and pledges his undying loyalty to Ardis. She resists falling for him, no matter how hot the tension smolders between them. Especially when she discovers Wendel's scars run much deeper than his skin, and it might be too late to truly save him from himself.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

I’ve never read the whole steam punk/diesel punk genre before. This was my first introduction. To me, it just reads like an alternate history/historical fantasy book. With that frame of mind, this is a very enjoyable read. I loved the characters and the story definitely doesn’t lack in suspense.

From skimming other people’s reviews, it seems like a great majority of people don’t like Wendel. Yet, I think I might like him the most. He’s a layered individual who’s brash, over-confident exterior hides a very vulnerable interior. He’s had so many hurts and has fought for so many years that his exterior is probably his best, and sometimes probably his only, defense against a very harsh world.

Ardis is another great character. I loved how strong and confident she was. She knew what she wanted out of life, went for it, fought for it, and if she didn’t get it, she found another route and plan. I also loved her heart, how she identified with those less fortunate and cared for those she protected or served.

I loved the leads together, too. They’re an intriguing mix of strong personalities and vulnerable souls. Sparks seem to fly from the very beginning and never let up. Ardis and Wendel even each other out wonderfully, both coming from very harsh backgrounds. I think that helps them to understand each other better and gives a stronger sense of loyalty and love to each other.

I think the mix of magic, machines, and alternate history might make me seek out this subgenre more often. I loved seeing how the world might have developed with a magic net that stops bullets, necromancy, automatons (Transformers!!!), assassin/mage guilds, and bloodthirsty swords. I was sucked in from the first chapter; it probably didn’t hurt that the book opened on a battlefield and rising corpses. The story is also as heart-pounding. From kidnappings to showdowns in warehouses to confrontations at sea, the reader is never left bored.

This is a great introduction to the whole steam punk/diesel punk thing. I just thought of it as historical fantasy and that worked well for me. I loved the characters, their main relationship, the story, and the world-building. I look forward to the future books in the series.

Monday, December 21, 2015

REVIEW: White Collar Girl by Renee Rosen

White Collar Girl
by Renee Rosen

Publisher: NAL
Page Count: 448
Release Date: November 3, 2015
Format: ARC

How got: ARC won through GoodReads giveaway

First attention getter: already liked the author


From GoodReads:

The latest novel from the bestselling author of Dollface and What the Lady Wants takes us deep into the tumultuous world of 1950s Chicago where a female journalist struggles with the heavy price of ambition...

Every second of every day, something is happening. There’s a story out there buried in the muck, and Jordan Walsh, coming from a family of esteemed reporters, wants to be the one to dig it up. But it’s 1955, and the men who dominate the city room of the Chicago Tribune have no interest in making room for a female cub reporter. Instead Jordan is relegated to society news, reporting on Marilyn Monroe sightings at the Pump Room and interviewing secretaries for the White Collar Girl column.

Even with her journalistic legacy and connections to luminaries like Mike Royko, Nelson Algren, and Ernest Hemingway, Jordan struggles to be taken seriously. Of course, that all changes the moment she establishes a secret source inside Mayor Daley’s office and gets her hands on some confidential information. Now careers and lives are hanging on Jordan’s every word. But if she succeeds in landing her stories on the front page, there’s no guarantee she’ll remain above the fold.…

My Thoughts:

Star Rating
- 4.5

This book started out slow and irritating; I think a large part of that was due to how I viewed the main character in the beginning. However, things quickly picked up pace as I got to know Jordan and got sucked into her story. The book finished on a fantastic note.

Like I mentioned, at first, I had a hard time liking or sympathizing with Jordan. Her thirst for advancement and achievement came off as too eager and immature; she seemed to view the world through rose-colored glasses which seemed a bit unrealistic.

Yet, once I got drawn more and more into her story, I started to see the gutsy side of her, the courageous woman in her core that went to many lengths to get her story, regardless of the cost to her personally. Some of her calls might be in the gray area ethically when it comes to her personal relationships or the law. But one has to admire her tenacity in getting her facts right and her bravery in facing some truly scary opponents as she got her stories. At the end, I really ended up liking her.

The overall story just sucked me in. I’ve read other reviews that compare this story with Mad Men, and I have to agree with the comparison. Jordan’s struggle for respect in her field rings very similar to Peggy’s advancement struggle. There’s sexism in the workplace and the disrespect for a junior reporter on top of that. Watching Jordan as she slowly gains the respect of her colleagues, enough that they go to bat for her at the end during a personal struggle, was a treat to explore. She also has some very personal losses to go through, family deaths and some very black grief processes. Seeing her struggle with both aspects made for some great reading.

As I’ve experienced in this author’s previous work, her skills at setting and world-building stand right up there with the best. She makes the reader smell the ink and feel the rumbling of the floor as the presses start their work. The frenetic energy of the news room and the tense world of journalism really come to life here. The author also draws on real historical events to give Jordan events to report on and grow with. Corrupt Chicago politics, disasters, and scandals abound.

With a rocky start, this book quickly became tons better and drew me. I grew to love Jordan as a person and to watch her strive for respect and journalistic greatness. The author’s skill with background building didn’t hurt either. I’d definitely recommend this one to historical fiction lovers, especially those who love strong female leads and to explore areas not often written about in HF.

Note: Book received for free from publisher via GoodReads First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

REVIEW: A Rebel Without A Rogue by Bliss Bennet

A Rebel Without a Rogue
by Bliss Bennet

Publisher: self-published
Page Count: 304
Release Date: September 15, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from author

First attention getter: a different take on a Regency


From GoodReads:

A woman striving for justice

Fianna Cameron has devoted her life to avenging the death of her father, hanged as a traitor during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Now, on the eve of her thirtieth birthday, only one last miscreant remains: Major Christopher Pennington, the English army officer who not only oversaw her father’s execution, but falsely maligned his honor. Fianna risks everything to travel to London and confront the man who has haunted her every nightmare. Only after her pistol misfires does she realize her sickening mistake: the Pennington she wounded is far too young to be the man who killed her father.

A man who will protect his family at all costs

Rumors of being shot by a spurned mistress might burnish the reputation of a rake, but for Kit Pennington, determined to add to his family’s honor by winning a seat in Parliament, such salacious gossip is nothing but a nightmare. To regain his good name, Kit will have to track down his mysterious attacker and force her to reveal the true motivation behind her unprovoked assault. Accepting an acquaintance’s mistress as an ally in his search is risky enough, but when Kit begins to develop feelings for the icy, ethereal Miss Cameron, more than his political career is in danger. For Kit is beginning to suspect that Fianna Cameron knows far more about the shooting—and the reasons behind it—than she’s willing to reveal.

As their search begins to unearth long-held secrets, Kit and Fianna find themselves caught between duty to family and their beliefs in what’s right. How can you balance the competing demands of loyalty and justice—especially when you add love to the mix?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4.5

This romance pleasantly surprised me. It started out a bit stiff but quickly picked up pace, emotionally, characterization-wise, and its story. This is definitely a keeper.

Both Kit and Fianna stand out as individuals. Fianna’s cold quest for revenge that hides a much scarred interior makes her such an interesting character. Her mix of vulnerable and balls of steel steal the show more than once. I liked that she accepted the lengths she’d gone for that revenge and didn’t let regret or society’s view of her now make her slink into the shadows. Yet, it still prevents her from fully pursuing her budding love with Kit until some very heavy soul-searching and emotional healing had occurred.

I don’t think the author could have chosen a better hero than Kit to balance out Fianna’s personality. He’s principled, emotionally supportive, and comforting. He wants to protect Fianna from the world at large, but he isn’t afraid to also let her fight her own battles or find her own way. He just seems like the perfect caring, emotional foil for Fianna’s colder, more analytical frame of mind.

At first, the romance bit was a bit rocky. In the beginning, I found the exchanges between the two stiff. Their conversation seemed very hackneyed, like I’d seen it all before, read it all before. However, this quickly changed. After their first emotionally charged kiss, I found myself sucked into such an emotionally complex relationship that I was very surprised. It’s such a dance of outside, societal influences and deep, tearing emotions that the reader can’t help but feel every glance or embrace.

I also have to give a special shout-out to the author’s effort to give her story a firm basis in historical fact. She gives great detail about the politics of the 1820’s, the 1798 rebellion in Ireland, the dire situation in Ireland at the time, and details on everyday society. I loved this attention to detail. She gives her book such depth, giving the gripping romance a great background and details with which to enhance that main relationship.

Overall, this book has become a favorite romance. Despite the rocky start to Kit and Fianna’s interaction, their quick save into a satisfying emotional support duo definitely has placed this on a favorite list. I love both Kit and Fianna’s personalities; they round each other out so well. And the historical background details only add in the book’s favor. I’d definitely recommend this one to historical fiction lovers. It’s something different than your typical Regency era book and a great read.

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

REVIEW: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr

Publisher: Scribner
Page Count: 530
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover

How got: personal library; bought via local bookstore, Cassiopeia Books

First attention getter: synopsis


From GoodReads:

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times)

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

For all the hype this book has, I’m sad to say I must be in the minority to not love the heck out of it and be awarding it five stars. The author does some great things, but there are some major flaws that keep it from being five star material at least in my book.

The themes and story the author presents is a huge plus. He examines the human cost of warfare in a jaw-dropping way. At one point, he talks about how it’s the dreamers of the world that pay the most in wartime. That’s a very true statement and is very evident in the persons of Werner and Fredrick who seem to pay the most in that regard. The author makes the reader think about what they’re reading rather than just engross themselves in the actual story which is a nice treat from your usual historical fiction.

Doerr knows how to tell an emotionally heavy story and make his setting come to incredible life. He uses metaphors a ton to draw great comparisons, giving his details more depth and life. From chapter to chapter, I was drawn into the lives of each of our leads by the complexity of their emotions and the wonderful world-building. At times, though, the metaphors gimmick seemed to be used too much. There were times where I got lost in the visuals and lost track of the actual story for a few paragraphs.

Favorite character hands down is Werner. He changes the most during his journey from a young boy interested in radios to a man struggling to balance his conscience with the reality of life in Nazi Germany and the army. What he’s exposed to and how torn he is literally ripped my heart in two. I cried over every crisis of principle, every harsh exposure of terror and blood.

Marie-Laure, though, I’m not so in love with. She’s not horrible, but she seems to change the least. She’s the same brave and intelligent girl at age sixteen as at age six. Her horizons are broadened in that she changes locales and gets outside more alone. But I think she had the courage to do that at the beginning too, even if her age and overprotective father kept her limited in what she actually did. So while she wasn’t horrible or unlikable, I found her story far more boring than Werner’s.

This book also suffered somewhat from pacing issues. The chapters dealing with the character’s early years flowed far better than the 1944 chapters. Maybe it’s because more ground and growing was covered by those early years, but I got bored real quick with the 1944 circumstances the characters themselves in. The same events would happen again and again; the characters would be stuck in the same places chapter after chapter. Eventually, in the last 60-70 pages or so, things moved far faster. But the last third of the novel, I’ll admit I scanned chapters now and then to get to something actually happening.

So it turns out I can’t share the same opinion as most the rest of the reader’s base for this book. I loved Werner to death. The themes and metaphors, overall, added to the story as well. But Marie-Laure’s unchanging character arc, the overuse of metaphors, and the pacing issues keep this from being a truly enjoyable book for me. I’d recommend it for Werner’s journey; he gives a fantastic POV into life in Nazi Germany and what it did to the regular German under their horrible influence. Yet, for the size of the book, it’s definitely a slog with the other issues.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

REVIEW: Heroes of the Holocaust by Lyn Smith

Heroes of the Holocaust
by Lyn Smith

Publisher: Ebury Press
Page Count: 272
Release Date: January 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover

How got: personal library; bought via Amazon

First attention getter: subject matter


From GoodReads:

The moving stories of 27 ordinary people who were awarded the Heroes of the Holocaust medal for their actions protecting Jews from Nazi persecution

In March 2010, 27 Britons who took matters into their own hands to protect Jews from the Nazis during one of the darkest times in human history were formally recognized as Heroes of the Holocaust by the British Government. The silver medal, inscribed with the words "In the Service of Humanity," was created to acknowledge those "whose selfless actions preserved life in the face of persecution." Some of the recipients, like Frank Foley, a British spy whose cover was working at the British embassy in Berlin, took huge risks issuing forged visas to enable around 10,000 Jews to escape Germany before the outbreak of war. Others, like the 10 POWs who hid and cared for Hannah Sarah Rigler as she escaped from a death march, showed great humanity in the face of horrendous cruelty and suffering. All the recipients of the award were ordinary people, acting on no one's authority but their own, who found they could not stand idly by in the face of this great evil. Collected here for the first time are the remarkable stories of the medal's recipients, a moving testament to the bravery of those whose inspiring actions stand out in stark relief at a time of such horror.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

This is a great collection of examples of humanity in times of trial. Those who risked livelihoods and lives to save their fellow human beings from terror, these Brits are examples of the best in humanity. It was interesting to see how people from a nation that was never invaded by ground troops but was hammered from the sky put themselves at risk for others not of their own nation.

Most of the people detailed in this book I was familiar with from reading on Righteous Gentiles before that were recognized by Yad Vashem. I liked this volume, however, as it collected people from one nation into one work and some of which were not recognized by Yad Vashem for whatever reason. These are people that were recognized by Britain with their own Heroes of the Holocaust medal.

From diplomatic halls to occupied British soil to the very bowels of Auschwitz itself, this work covers a wide range of rescue and its arenas. It shines a light on people who would have most likely stayed ordinary under regular circumstances; but with tyranny and evil taking power, they became saviors and people of incredible bravery. I think that’s why I like reading about those who rescued others during the Holocaust. It brings light to how ordinary people can make a difference and be such a bright light of humanity amongst such inhumanity.

I liked how the author presented the information as well. Nonfiction works that present their information in personal story format with each chapter being a different person’s story is something I love. It makes the information very easy to digest, each chapter being one person’s story. Not a format that works for all non-fiction, it works great for works like this, telling us about multiple people over one broad theme. It also makes it very readable, giving it readability to a wider audience and even the casual reader who might not look at a non-fiction otherwise.

I personally loved this work. It presents a lot of information in a format that makes it readable by a wide audience, reaching more people with stories that relate in the modern age and give us examples of how even the ordinary can make a difference. Definitely recommended!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

REVIEW: The Fulfillment by Lavyrle Spencer

The Fulfillment
by Lavyrle Spencer

Publisher: William Morrow
Page Count: 384
Release Date: November 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover

How got: personal library; bought via Amazon

First attention getter: follower of the author


From GoodReads

Together they worked the land.

Together they loved one woman.Mary was little more than a restless, impressionable young girl when she left Chicago for the wheat fields of a Minnesota farm, where she would become the wife of Jonathan's younger brother Aaron, she was a respected, trusted friend. But after seven frustrating childless years, the foundations of a strong and happy union have started to show signs of strain. And Jonathan turns to his brother Aaron, to ask of him what he could ask no other man.

But what begins as an act of compassion becomes an act of need-and a brother's duty gives way to a man's desire-as one tumultuous weekend of sensual discovery turns the world upside down for three close and loving people. Amid the timeless rhythms of the changing seasons, a devoted wife's longing for that most precious of treasures-a child-awakens her to the bittersweet pain of infidelity, and sets Mary and the two men in her life on the road toward a new understanding of what it is to truly love.

LaVyrle Spencer's masterwork, The Fulfillment, is an enduring love story of rare sensitivity and sensuality. It is a moving tale of tragic mistakes, common heartaches, and uncommon joys. And once read, it can never be forgotten.

Together they worked the land.

Together they loved one woman.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Another satisfying read from Spencer, this one shines as an example of how this author can take situations that would seem cliché in another HR but makes them seem realistic and dramatic in hers. Whether it’s her characterizations or her writing style, she always seems to make her romances down to earth and extremely heartfelt.

I loved all three of our leads. What could justifiably be termed a love triangle, these two brothers and Mary are so practical and earthy that the melodrama is kept to a bare minimum (a refreshing take, I assure you). Each character is unique in and of themselves; they form a tight knit family with undercurrents that every family has. I loved how each character has such a distinctive viewpoint on the world and each obstacle presented to them. I fell in love with all of them.

A plotline that actually made me role my eyes before starting, Spencer actually pulls it off by having such great characters and giving everything an atmosphere of plain country life. The way everything was presented, all out in the open and with much of it fully acknowledged by all parties involved, kept this story from sliding into a soup of dramatic farce, a trap I could see another author falling prey to.

The relationships between Mary and each brother were distinct and as varied as both brothers’ personalities. Jonathan was a dedicated farmer whose first love was to the land but who also had a very deep love for Mary, even if he wasn’t able to express it that well. Aaron was the charming, emotional younger brother who is closer in personality to Mary and more in tuned with her needs. Mary finds herself torn between these two men, both of whom she loves in her own way. It tore at the heart to see her affections swing between the brothers, seeing how her relationship with both could make her happy. It definitely kept the emotional tension up!

The one blip in the book I didn’t enjoy was occasionally the atmosphere would get in the way of the story, if that makes sense. The dogged pace of life on a Midwestern farm and the rigmarole of daily routines sometimes got in the way of the story. Not that the description came in massive spurts of text or paragraphs; far from that. However, I found myself getting bored with the scene setting more than I enjoyed it. Spencer seemed to have a similar problem with another book I read by her, Then Came Heaven .

Despite the over use of scene setting in places, this was a very enjoyable historical romance. The characters are strong, and the relationships emotional as heck. This is another winner from Spencer; I look forward to exploring more from her. Highly recommended for those who love emotional HRs!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

REVIEW: Texas Bride by Joan Johnson

Texas Bride
by Joan Johnston

Publisher: Dell
Page Count: 358
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback

How got: personal library; bought @ local Hastings

First attention getter: it's genre


From GoodReads:

He May Be Her Only Hope.
She May Be His Last Chance

Miranda Wentworth never imagined becoming a mail-order bride. Now marriage to a stranger is her only hope of finding a home where she and her two younger brothers can escape the brutality of the Chicago orphanage where they live. With any luck, she can even start a family of her own, once the three of them are settled at Jacob Creed’s Texas ranch. But Miranda has one gigantic concern: Her husband-to-be knows nothing about the brothers she’s bringing along. What if he calls off the deal when he discovers the trick she’s played on him?

Jake Creed is hanging on to his Texas ranch by his fingernails. His nemesis, Alexander Blackthorne, is determined to ruin him. Jake will never give up, but he’s in desperate trouble. His wife died six months ago in childbirth, along with their stillborn son, and his two-year-old daughter needs a mother. The advertisement Jake wrote never mentioned his daughter—or the fact that he has no intention of consummating his marriage. He’s determined never to subject another wife to the burden of pregnancy. But Jake doesn't count on finding his bride so desirable. He doesn't count on aching with need when she joins him in bed. And he never suspected his bride would have plans of her own to seduce him.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

I’m glad I gave this series another chance. The first book of the series I read, Book 3, I abandoned as I hated the lead heroine and I felt the untruths went on for far too long. This one, Book 1, is far better in my estimation. It hits the spot perfectly for a western historical romance.

The whole mail-order bride/marriage of convenience thing has become a real weakness for me since starting to read historical romances more often. I loved it in this work as well. Both Miranda and Jacob come from hard-lived, tragic pasts that come with a ton of baggage. Their journey as a couple while dealing with those painful pasts made the book for me.

I liked that the author kept the secrets and misunderstandings to a minimum. Those aspects of historical romance drive me up the proverbial wall, and they seem to crop up in so many titles. The secrets of Miranda’s brothers and Jacob’s daughter come out real quick. Miranda’s sisters stay secret for a bit longer but their existence is learned only about half way through. So that’s not held over the story’s head until the very end, either. I liked that refreshing departure.

As unique individuals, Jacob and Miranda are strong and carry the story well. I liked their combinations of strength, heart, and vulnerability. They dealt with the issues and problems that came their way in realistic ways and developed as individuals as a result of those obstacles. The only chink in the books armor, occurred in this area, though. There were times where Miranda read as too perfect: beautiful, strong, courageous, a bit vulnerable, willing to sacrifice her life for others, hard-working, and sweet. While those aren’t bad in and of themselves, they do stand out starkly if not balanced with a few sins.

I loved the chemistry between Jacob and Miranda as well. There’s definitely a ton of tension of the sexual variety present. Yet, due to Jacob’s no pregnancy rule, the amounts of sexual encounters are lower than one would imagine for a western historical romance. I actually liked that; it left lots of room for the development of their emotional connection. I loved seeing that develop, even if it did over such a short time period that the book takes place during. They seemed to balance each other out so well, filling holes in their souls with each other’s love.

Like I mentioned, I’m glad as heck I gave this author and series another chance. Her characters and romance make the story shine. Even though there are a few romantic clichés and too-perfect characterizations, overall they are not as present as they could have been. I’d definitely recommend this title to lovers of historical romance, especially of the Western variety. I look forward to reading more books by this author.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

REVIEW: Wherever There Is Light by Peter Golden

Wherever There Is Light
by Peter Golden

Publisher: Atria Books
Page Count: 368
Release Date: November 3, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: ARC copy from publisher

First attention getter: forbidden love aspect


From GoodReads:

From the author of Comeback Love­, a sweeping, panoramic tale of twentieth-century America, chronicling the decades-long love affair between a Jewish immigrant and the granddaughter of a slave.

Julian Rose is only fifteen when he leaves his family and Germany for a new life in 1920s America. Lonely at first, he eventually finds his way—first by joining up with Longy Zwillman and becoming one of the preeminent bootleggers on the East Coast, and later by amassing a fortune in real estate.

Kendall Wakefield is a free-spirited college senior who longs to become a painter. Her mother, the daughter of a slave and founder of an African-American college in South Florida, is determined to find a suitable match for her only daughter.

One evening in 1938, Mrs. Wakefield hosts a dinner that reunites Julian with his parents—who have been rescued from Hitler’s Germany by the college—and brings him together with Kendall for the first time. From that encounter begins a thirty-year affair that will take the lovers from the beaches of Miami to the jazz clubs of Greenwich Village to postwar life in Paris, where they will mingle with Sartre, Picasso, and a host of other artists and intellectuals. Through his years serving in American intelligence and as an interrogator at the Nuremberg trials, what Julian wants most is to marry and find the joy that eluded his parents. Kendall craves her freedom, and after trading her oil paints for a Leica camera, becomes a celebrated photographer, among the first American journalists to photograph the survivors of a liberated concentration camp. Yet despite distance, their competing desires, and the rapidly changing world, their longing for each other remains a constant in the ceaseless sweep of time.

Captivating and infused with historical detail, this is the epic tale of three generations, two different but intertwined families, and one unforgettable love story.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Well, this book was definitely a meaty, thought-provoking read. Dealing with heavy subjects like race, prejudice, and war, there were several times where I had to just stop and digest the material, reflecting on its relevance to today’s world as well as on the times it portrays.

I liked that the author wasn’t afraid to delve into these heavier topics. Interracial relationships and the history that go along with them are as relevant today as they were then. The judgment that society piles on such unions and their progeny is heart-breaking; every time that Julian and Kendall faced down those bigots and gave them one-four, I cheered. The author delves into murder, lynching, racial pressure from both sides of the color spectrum to not mix, and betrayal while telling this gripping story.

I fell in love with Julian almost immediately. He’s tough, gritty, determined, intelligent, and protective as hell. He doesn’t give a fig what society makes of him, his views, or his life; he’ll live as he dang well pleases and woe betide anybody who stands in his way or threatens his own. I admire his viewpoint on life and its issues; it’s one I hope I can adopt some day.

Kendall I’m a bit more mixed on. I do like her grit and her pluck in pursuing her dreams. She wasn’t going to let familial pressure steer her onto a predetermined road; she was going to pursue her dreams of travel and art no matter what it took.

Her attitude towards how society viewed her relationship with Julian and her unwilling-ness to defend it and him, though, got on my nerves. Julian didn’t hesitate to throw pie in someone’s face after a derogatory slur directed her way; however, when the opposite happened, she didn’t say a word, just looked in the other direction and pretend that nothing happened. She also let the pressure that society put on race and her relationship keep her from building a life with Julian and so hurting both herself and him in the process. A part of me felt like she didn’t deserve Julian because she wasn’t willing to meet him halfway in the fight against society’s expectations and prejudice.

Despite some reservations on how Kendall was sometimes portrayed, overall I really enjoyed this book. It tells a great story that doesn’t hesitate to explore material that other authors might shy from. The main leads were strong enough to carry the story and thematic material, giving these a human face and making everything very personal. Highly recommended to lovers of historical fiction!

Note: Book received for free from publisher via GoodReads FirstReads program in exchange for honest review.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

REVIEW: The Medium Path by Elizabeth Davies

The Medium Path
by Elizabeth Davies

Publisher: Romance Beckons
Page Count: 250
Release Date: May 26, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from author

First attention getter: liked the first book


From GoodReads:
Ruby died nearly one hundred years ago. She saw spirits of the dead when she was alive, and now she is dead she has become a guide who helps ghosts pass on. When ghosts start being taken by darkness instead of the light, Ruby is forced to seek help from a handsome and unwilling medium, who awakens emotions she never knew she had.

My Thoughts:
Star Rating - 3

I was given the opportunity to read/review this book by the author; I had done the same with the first book in this series. I really enjoyed that exploration of her unique supernatural system and intriguing storyline. Davies meets those expectations again in this sequel. Yet, this second volume didn’t have the same magic as the first.

The author’s distinctive take on the world of ghosts with its spirit guides, how crossing over into the light works, the different levels of ghost power, and mediums makes for a unique mix. I found it interesting to tell the story through a spirit guide as the main storyteller this time rather than the medium like in the first volume.

The reader gets more of an in-depth view of what being a spirit guide entails and the various pitfalls of that position. To constantly be exposed to the rapture of crossing into the light to hardly ever get the chance to do so oneself just tears at the heart of the reader as well as the spirit guide.

Spirits being taken by darkness, a stealer of souls on the loose, and a young woman who died young and in tragic circumstances trying to find equilibrium as a spirit guide keeps the reader engaged. From scene to scene, I was always eager to find out what was going to happen next. The author went to some truly individual, unexplored realms as she spins a suspenseful story.

Yet, for all that strength, this book seemed to lack the draw that the first had for me after finishing. I loved the first, maybe it was being exposed to the unique supernatural system, forbidden romance, characters, and historical setting all for the first time.

However, this time round, I found the ending to be almost anti-climactic. Though definitely suspenseful with characters fighting for their lives/afterlives and not always succeeding, I found myself a bit hollow after finishing. I couldn’t care less what ultimately happens to them after finishing and almost didn’t care during that finale, either.

I think a big part of this might be attributed the characterization that the main character starts to display in the last third of the book. She starts to display a callousness and self-interest that was very off-putting. She seemed willing to throw her fellow spirits under the bus to obtain her own goals. Maybe it was the circumstances in which she was existing at the time, an influence from outside herself may have played a part. I don’t know if that was what the author was trying to portray or not. Once she started acting the way she did, though, I lost all empathy I had for her and couldn’t care less what happened to her.

Despite a strong storytelling skill and a special take on ghosts, I found this book to be a sub-par follow-up to the first. I was intrigued enough by the story to finish the book; some of the secondary characters were actually pretty strong. Yet, how the main character changed in that last part and some of her motivations turned me off big time. The ending was somewhat lack luster in my opinion and not what I was craving at all. So this follow-up to the original might work for another reader, but I wasn’t as in love with it as the first.

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