Wednesday, December 28, 2016

REVIEW: Windy City Blues by Renee Rosen

Windy City Blues
by Renee Rosen

Publisher: Berkley Books
Page Count: 448
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Format: Kindle ARC

How got: ARC copy via NetGalley

First attention getter: already fan of author

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:.

The bestselling author of "White Collar Girl" and "What the Lady Wants" explores one woman's journey of self-discovery set against the backdrop of a musical and social revolution. 

In the middle of the twentieth century, the music of the Mississippi Delta arrived in Chicago, drawing the attention of entrepreneurs like the Chess brothers. Their label, Chess Records, helped shape that music into the Chicago Blues, the soundtrack for a transformative era in American History.
But, for Leeba Groski, Chess Records was just where she worked... 

Leeba doesn't exactly fit in, but her passion for music and her talented piano playing captures the attention of her neighbor, Leonard Chess, who offers her a job at his new record company. What begins as answering phones and filing becomes much more as Leeba comes into her own as a songwriter and befriends performers like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Chuck Berry, and Etta James. But she also finds love with a black blues guitarist named Red Dupree. 

With their relationship unwelcome in segregated Chicago and shunned by Leeba's Orthodox Jewish family, she and Red soon find themselves in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement and they discover that, in times of struggle, music can bring people together.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Renee Rosen does it again! This time, she explores the turbulent emerging Civil Rights movement and the passionate early blues/rock ‘n roll scenes.This author has few peers when it comes to taking obscure history and making it into a gripping story fleshed out with amazing characters and relationship ties. There were aspects to the story that took me awhile to get used to and like; yet in the end, I enjoyed the book immensely.

The beginning decades of the blues and the early rumblings of the Civil Rights movement make for an incredible story. The author is able to incorporate so many details about the different personalities and events involved, both minor and major, that I felt I was living the tale along with them. One can tell the amount of research that went into this work, not only from the extensive listing of sources the author provides but how many such details were incorporated into the narrative.

I like how relevant this book stands to current events today. It gives us a historical context, a snapshot in history, of race relations and the early stages of our modern music industry. I appreciate how the author shows multiple sides of each scenario, giving us a rounded view of racism in mid-20th century America and the evils of it.

Then of course, there are our leads: Leeba, Red, and Leonard. All three have such distinct personalities that when a POV change happens, the reader has no problem following along, even if the author had not divided each change with a name heading. I grew to love all three for their differences and the love and friendship they felt for each other and of those they considered family. They faced racism and prejudice with dignity, calm, and bravery. I especially grew to love Leonard's approach to it and his special catchphrase.

In the beginning I wasn't in love with the multiple POV's; yet I grew to appreciate them and accept what they added to the story. In previous tales, the single POV of the lead led to an intimate look at the situation’s facing the different women the author wrote about. However in this one, I still felt like I got to know Leeba in-depth and as intimately, even though she shared POV sections with Red and Leonard. I feel like the author is upping her game and developing her writing style into a more well-rounded one.

I can safely say this book has only cemented my love for the author and her works. She knows how to tell a fantastic story with well-rounded characters that I grow to love. Especially in this book, she explores some harsh themes and history that only make it stand out all the more. I feel very comfortable recommending this book to any lover of historical fiction, especially if you enjoy obscure history and the impact it still has on today’s world.

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

Saturday, December 24, 2016

REVIEW: The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

The Other Einstein
by Marie Benedict

Publisher: SourceBooks Landmark
Page Count: 304
Release Date: October 18, 2016
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: obscure historical female figure via TV show, Legends of Tomorrow

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

A vivid and mesmerizing novel about the extraordinary woman who married and worked with one of the greatest scientists in history.

What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.

In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.

A literary historical in the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein reveals a complicated partnership that is as fascinating as it is troubling.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

I was inspired to start this book from an episode of Legends of Tomorrow where Mileva plays a central role. I had never heard of this woman before and was fascinated to learn that she might have played such a central role in Einstein's theories and fame. Books about obscure historical figures, especially female ones, always interest me. I was excited to start this one.

The heart of this novel is this amazing woman who had so much potential yet got lost to history. I feel she's a prime example of how women have gotten lost in the shuffle of possible famous historical figures, smothered in the achievements of the men in their lives. She had so much to give and unfortunately was not given the credit she was due.

Yet part of the problem I feel was her. I don't know if historically her personality had any basis in fact. However as portrayed in this work, I can see why history forgot her. She started out strong, with dreams as large as the world and the guts to pursue those dreams with all of her being. She faced down family condemnation, societal blocks, and physical limitations to pursue a degree and a dream of making a name for herself in the intellectual world.

Once she hooked up with Albert romantically however, it seems like her dreams, personality, and needs became subsumed by his. It didn't happen all at once but gradually. By the time we approached the end of the book, she finally drew the line in the sand and struck out on her own.

However, the journey to that decision was painful. I watched this woman I had grown to admire make herself subservient and a second-class citizen to her own husband. She put his needs above her own so many times that she lost track of what she actually wanted. She put her trust in him again and again, never learning the lesson once he betrayed her over and over. At least by the end, she found her spine and stood up to Albert once his demands reached a certain unbelievable level. By the books send, I admired her again.

Now Albert... that's a figure that's interesting in this book, whether it's in the fashion of an admirable figure in science or a douche bag on the level of Hitler is up to the individual reader. If even a quarter of what he did in this book really happened, I have to question the level of admiration given to him by history.

I do know for a fact that the list presented to Mileva at the end of the book did happen; that alone makes me distain him as a human being. But throughout the entire book he treats Mileva horribly. He steals her ideas, cheats on her, physically and emotionally abuses her, and threaten the lives of her and his children for his ego. At least I can say the author shows her skill at characterization by making such an icon of scientific history so ultimately flawed as a human.

I think that’s what can be taken away from this book and what makes it such a gem. The author’s skill at making her characters so flawed and unlikable yet making us root for them all the same takes serious characterization chops. Even though I hate Albert as a person, his brilliance and charisma still stand out. And Mileva… the crap that woman went through, partly what she allowed herself to go through, shaped her into a person that at the end I could admire and root for. The character journeys portrayed in this book are its heart and soul.

To me, this book was about Mileva as a person and historical figure. I feel the world lost out on a treasure once she hooked up with Mr. Douche-bag. The author takes the reader on emotional character journeys that leave you gasping and heart-wrenched. Whether you grow to love or hate Mileva and Albert, at least through this work, they still touch you in a deeply emotional way, right to your soul. I highly recommend this work to anyone looking for an incredible character journey or who enjoy obscure historical figures.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

REVIEW: Love's Sweet Revenge by Rosanne Bittner

Love's Sweet Revenge
by Rosanne Bittner

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Page Count: 512
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Format: MassMarket Paperback

How got: personal buy via local B&N

First attention getter: already fan of series

Synopsis:

From Goodreads:

Their Passion Shaped a Nation

Over the years, Jake and Miranda Harkner have endured all the dangers a wild and brutal West could throw at them. Now, settled on their ranch in the beautiful Colorado hill country, they’ve finally found peace. But for a man like Jake Harkner, danger is always lurking, and the world may not be ready for an infamous outlaw-turned-lawman-turned-legend to hang up his guns.

Threatened by cruel men in search of revenge, the Harkner clan must be stronger than ever before. Yet nothing can stop the coming storm. With the Old West dying around them and the rules of this new world ever-changing, Jake vows to end the threat to his family no matter what it takes…

Even if it means sacrificing himself so his beloved Miranda may live.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

While a part of me enjoyed seeing Jake's and Randy's story continued for so long, ultimately I felt disappointed by this addition to the tale. I don't know if the author intends to write more in the series, but I can't say that I'll be as eager for the next volume as I was for this one.

I did enjoy seeing Jake's and Randy's story continued. It's rare to see historical romances with leads as old as they are. It's pleasant to see that romance continues for so long and stays as vibrant; in this book, it does. Jake's and Randy's emotional pull are just as strong as they have ever been. I loved most of their scenes together, just like in previous books.

There were times where the author harkens back to the same old themes and emotional pitfalls of previous books, though. Jake's continuing thought processes of not being good enough for Randy and Randy's continuing efforts to counteract that do get old. While this feature is a fundamental foundation of Jake's character and personality, constantly exploring, discussing, and mentioning it made me tire of the whole thing. While it didn't kill my regard for their relationship and romance, it was definitely a downer.

I enjoyed the authors continuing effort to keep her historical background as accurate as possible. She continues to show that she is a leading lady in historical romance when it comes to this aspect along with her emotional relationships. I got a real taste for ranch life in the 1890s and the differing societal environment that came about as the Old West got tamed. Seeing Jake's struggles with this new world order as he tries to protect his own was the root of many conflicts in the novel. They added a nice dimension to the overall romantic relationship and family drama.

To me, the biggest downfall to this book is the amount of filler that pads out the impressive page count for a historical romance. Now most of Bittner's work tends to run longer so that's not as much of a surprise. It's just the sheer amount of content that is repetitious.

Big example of this is the sheer amount of sex scenes in the book. Now it’s great to know the folks Jake's and Randy's age can enjoy a healthy sex life; however, when you have sexy times almost every four or five scenes it gets a bit much. This combined with the repetitious exploration of themes, personality traits, and dangers our family faces already done to death make this book a slog through most of the time.

While it's great to have historical romances that explore a relationship as far as this series has and still have a fantastic emotional pull, this particular volume has huge flaws. Repeated themes and filler content cushion this book out to the point of absurdity. If another book is forthcoming in the series, I don't know that I'll be as eager for it as I was with this one. It might be time to retire Jake and Randy and explore other people. Their grandchildren might be an interesting choice given when they'll be coming of age, during World War I and the Roaring 20s. Now that would make for an interesting setting for a historical romance in this family!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

REVIEW: Melville in Love by Michael Shelden

Melville in Love
by Michael Shelden

Publisher: Harper Collins
Page Count: 288
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Format: Trade Paperback ARC

How got: ARC from publisher

First attention getter: title and cover

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

A new account of Herman Melville and the writing of Moby-Dick, written by a Pulitzer Finalist in Biography and based on fresh archival research, which reveals that the anarchic spirit animating Melville’s canonical work, Moby-Dick, was inspired by his great love affair with a shockingly unconventional married woman.

Herman Melville’s epic novel, Moby-Dick, was a spectacular failure when it was published in 1851, effectively ending its author’s rise to literary fame. Because he was neglected by academics for so long, and because he made little effort to preserve his legacy, we know very little about Melville, and even less about what he called his “wicked book.” Scholars still puzzle over what drove Melville to invent Captain Ahab's mad pursuit of the great white whale.

In The Darkest Voyage, Pulitzer Prize-finalist Michael Shelden sheds light on this literary mystery to tell a story of Melville’s passionate, obsessive, and clandestine affair with a married woman named Sarah Morewood, whose libertine impulses encouraged and sustained Melville’s own. In his research, Shelden discovered unexplored documents suggesting that, in their shared resistance to the “iron rule” of social conformity, Sarah and Melville had forged an illicit and enduring romantic and intellectual bond. Emboldened by the thrill of courting Sarah in secret, the pleasure of falling in love, and the excitement of spending time with literary luminaries—like Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and Nathaniel Hawthorne—Melville found the courage to take the leap from light works of adventure to the hugely brilliant, utterly subversive Moby-Dick.

Filled with the rich detail and immense drama of Melville’s secret life, The Darkest Voyage tells the gripping story of how one of our greatest novelists found his muse.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Being unfamiliar with Herman Melville beyond the fact that he wrote Moby Dick, this book definitely had information new to me. It was intriguing to learn the personal side of such a giant in American literature. It's always fascinating to see such figures as human as you or I. However, some of the points the author reaches seem overly stressed. He expounds on the same points again and again, to the point of the proverbial 2x4. For a work this small, this duplicate expounding is even more evident.

The author presented his material in such a way to be very readable. He writes in an easy-flowing style, presenting the facts interspersed with quoted primary material. The narrative flows from point to point easily; the reader doesn't have to wade through chunks of dry material to absorb the information on this literary figure.

The information presented made me see Herman Melville in a whole new light. I hadn't given his personal life much thought besides the fact that he wrote Moby Dick and was an associate of Hawthorne. Yet the author is able to make this man a passionate, frenzied, melancholic, and flawed individual. He gives Melville depth by showing us his associations with friends, acquaintances, family, and lover. I finish this book feeling like I knew him on a very personal level; I'm not sure if this was the author’s intent, but it was achieved.

The author also makes some very interesting points on the writing process and inspiration for Moby Dick. Seeing how Melville's relationship with Mrs. Morewood impacted both his creative endeavors and personal life was the main focus of the book. The author does a fantastic job in shedding a new light onto Melville's inspirations and his primary work.

However, this area is also where the book fails a bit. There were times I felt the author was stressing Sarah's personality, love of nature, and hold over Melville too much. I got the point the author was conveying after the first few times the author makes it. Yet, these aspects are stressed so many times that it almost feels like the author felt his audience was dumb. And for a work this short, the overstressing of points and information is all the more a sin.

For an area that is fairly new to me, this book was engaging. It was informative and fairly entertaining to read. While there were times the author overstressed items and points, I still enjoyed this work as an intimate look into the life of an American literary icon and the impact the woman he loved had over him and his creativity. I would recommend this book to those looking for an informative and light read on a new topic.

Note: Book received for free from the publisher via a GoodReads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

REVIEW: The Beast's Garden by Kate Forsyth

The Beast's Garden
by Kate Forsyth

Publisher: Random House Australia
Page Count: 512
Release Date: August 3, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: personal buy via ebay

First attention getter: fairy tale retelling in Nazi Germany... hell yes!

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark' in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,' the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realize that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realization comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organization in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast's Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

This book took a while to get into; but once hooked, it was a wild ride to the finish. I went in expecting a fantastic retelling of a beloved fairytale in a time era that fascinates me. What I got was so much more! Drama, resistance, love, and horror all play a large part in the story. There's something for everyone in this Kate Forsyth work.

The characters, by and large, are sympathetic and feel real. Let's just say I fell in love with Leo from the very beginning. He's an honorable and dignified man, from a privileged background, who is faced with horrible decisions and the tragedy of the Nazi hierarchy. Some of the choices he’s forced to make will make your heart bleed; needless to say, the reader will find him very relatable.

I ended up loving Ava as well. It took me a while to warm to her; at times, she could read a bit Mary Sue-ish. However, as tragedy upon tragedy is visited upon her family and friends, I could see her mature and grow as a woman as she made difficult decisions. As the tension ratcheted up with each resistance group and subtle act of defiance Ava involved herself with, the reader can't help but be sucked in chapter by chapter, not wanting to stop for anything.

I have to give special props to the author for her careful attention to historical detail. From the minutest snapshot of daily life in Nazi Germany to the discussion of the various formats of German resistance, the reader gets a real picture of a society under siege from fear and horror. Where a simple word or stray glance could send you to prison and the guillotine, the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, actions Ava and Leo took stand out all the more.

I enjoyed learning about the various formats in which that German resistance took shape. From college students handing out pamphlets to major movements in the military, the reader gets a real sense of how people from all steps of German society contributed to the attempted overthrow of a megalomaniac tyrant. I personally had never heard of some of these movements like the Baum Group nor knew much about such organizations as the Red Orchestra and Canaris' Abwehr. For this alone, the book is worth recommending as historical fiction done right.

Yet also impressing me was the author’s very careful attention to the Holocaust details as they took place in, and impacted the community of, Jewish Berlin. So many times in the past I've seen authors summarize or skim over small details to hurry the story along. When one even gets the big details of such a tragic event wrong, I feel like history is being dealt an injustice. And yes I know, this is only historical fiction and not a documentary on the Holocaust, but I feel writing such an event and using it as a backdrop or device in the story requires respect.

For what areas use Holocaust aspects, I felt the author did this. From the intimate horrors of Kristallnacht and how it impacted one particular family to the tiny details of deteriorating daily life of the Berlin’s Jews leading up to the last big round up of 1943, the reader gets a real sense of the pain and tragedy experienced during this event. The author even went so far as to give hints of the fate of one of the first transports sent to Riga in November of 1941 from Berlin, a detail so small even some devoted Holocaust scholars might not know it. That's attention to detail, folks!

What started out as just an intriguing idea of a fairytale retold in Nazi Germany quickly grew into something else entirely. I fell in love with the characters the story was told through; both leads are empathetic and realistic, even if Ava could come off as too perfect in the beginning. However, what really drew my love and respect was the author’s attention to the slightest detail, respect for the material, and the suspenseful tale she told of tragedy, survival, and love. This was my introduction to Kate Forsyth, and I find it sets a high bar for me when it comes to her writing. I feel very comfortable recommending this book to anyone, whether you enjoy historical fiction, fairytale retellings, or just the tale of a girl trying to survive and build a life in a world gone mad.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

REVIEW: The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

The Witchfinder's Sister
by Beth Underdown

Publisher: Viking
Page Count: 400
Release Date: March 2, 2017
Format: Kindle ARC

How got: ARC via NetGalley

First attention getter: subject matter

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six...


1645. When Alice Hopkins' husband dies in a tragic accident, she has no choice but to return to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witches, and of a great book, in which her brother is gathering women's names.

To what lengths will her brother's obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?


My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Given my recent reading trends, I dove into this book with a certain amount of anticipation. The writer does a fantastic job in setting the scene and creating a suspenseful tale. Characterizations for the most part were done well; I found myself drawn into the journeys of most everyone. The one person I had a hard time connecting with initially, Alice, I still could understand her motivations and actions, though. This was a promising start for this debut author.

The historical tale explored in this book grips the reader hard. A tension-filled countryside at war is a lush background for the swamp of accusations, interrogations, trials, and executions of women falsely accused. The author knows how to create an enthralling scene in which the reader finds themselves turning page after page to find out what happens next. She portrays the fear-filled atmosphere of 1640s England held under the sway of a Civil War and witch trials fantastically.

One of the main draws for me in this title was the person of Matthew Hopkins. Most casual history lovers nowadays won't know his name or his impact on history. So to see him brought so vividly to life was a pleasure. He's given motivations for why he hunted down women so ruthlessly, and his background creates a window into his soul. The author does a great job at making him such a slime ball that you want to kill him; yet, at the same time, you understand why he acts the way he does and you kinda empathize with him, ass-munch though he is. That's characterization done well.

Alice, for the most part, I enjoyed, especially in the latter half of the book. In the beginning though, I found her to be too passive. She seemed to let others dictate her life with little argument. I also found her hesitation to tell Matthew of her condition to be exasperating. In the end though, given how he sees women I don't think he would've acted differently if she had. Still, I wished she would've had more gumption and spunk in the beginning.

As the poop hit the proverbial fan though, Alice started to grow a spine. As accusations started to fly and danger grew fast, Alice looked for ways to help, especially those she cared about or grew to care for. By the time the book's climax hit, I admired Alice. While her actions may not have been the smartest choices, she still acted from her heart and with courage.

This book is a journey through hard times, exploring tragedy, misogyny, and of the perils of being a woman in 1600s England. The author explored new ground for me in the form of Michael Hopkins and his characterization. I enjoyed seeing him and the fictional Alice brought to life. The author used these two, their relationship, and their society to explore some harsh themes. Despite some issues with characterization in the books first half, I feel this is a strong introduction for the author. I look forward to more.

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

REVIEW: The Traitor's Wife by Kathleen Kent

The Traitor's Wife
by Kathleen Kent

Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co
Page Count: 400
Release Date: January 7, 2011
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: description

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

I'll not ask you to be mine ... I will never seek to blunt the fury in you, never, and will honour your will as my own. What say you? Can you be a soldier's wife?

New England, 1673. Martha Allen, a young woman reviled by her family because of her refusal to marry, is packed off to be a servant in her cousin's home. She takes charge of the neglected household and annoys everyone around her - including a mysterious Welshman who works for the family, a man whose forceful nature matches her own. As they both gradually let their guard down, a fragile, uneasy friendship grows between the pair.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, a band of assassins, driven by the will of Charles II, charter a ship to the New World. They have a single aim: to capture Thomas Morgan, the killer of Charles I, and bring him back to London where he will face an excruciating death. The Royalists want to see his head on a spike outside the Tower of London.

As Martha begins to fall for the tall Welshman, he reveals a little of his past. It soon becomes clear that his life is in grave danger. As the threat of the assassins grows closer, can Martha find it in herself to be a traitor's wife?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

I fell in love with Heretic’s Daughter so much that I immediately started reading the prequel, even though the emotional heaviness of book one still weighed on my mind. The emotional tone of this second novel is lighter, even though the reader knows the ultimate tragic fate for Martha. The themes and storylines explored in this book are about building a relationship and new life, even if it's in a harsh world, rather than the sad end of a love and family.

Exploring Puritan life and how that society worked was the highlight of this book. Book one touched on it, of course, as it illustrated how that society’s make up contributed to the Salem witch trials and their aftermath. Yet, I felt this book got more in depth into the subject as we didn't have the accusations and court drama hanging over the proceedings.

The reader got to explore how Martha and Thomas could create a new life together, given the strictures of their positions in Puritan society and the narrow pathways for advancement provided. The intricacies of Puritan family life, the importance of the church in society, and the fear inspired by the harshness of the New World environment all contributed to create a lush background for Martha's and Thomas's relationship.

I really liked Martha and Thomas in this one. Of course, I loved Martha in Heretic’s Daughter, too. In fact, she was one of the highlights for me. Yet, in this book we get to explore her personality more in depth and see how her life circumstances and position shaped her. Her strong will and fiery tongue make her stand outside of regular society, making it necessary for her to make her own future herself.

I loved exploring Thomas more. He didn't get much characterization in book one, given that the story focused more on Sarah and Martha. The figure I got in my head from that book was of a silent, large, and strong figure who loved his family and supported them throughout the harsh circumstances they faced during the trial. All of this is evident in this prequel as well. However, we get to explore more of Thomas' past and see how those harsh events shaped his personality and outlook on life. His strength of will and ability to rebuild his life after it's torn down by outside circumstances creates a fantastic foil for Martha and a partner worthy of her.

If ever there was a relationship of equals, Thomas and Martha are it. They both respect each other not only for their outer attraction but also for each other's opinions, thoughts, and life goals. They are two individuals who life has dealt a crappy hand of cards to; yet, they both deal with life’s harshness and set out to build something for themselves anyway. To such strong personalities, I could see rubbing against each other and causing friction. Yet, Thomas and Martha respect each other enough that they support each other instead. I love them together and felt that they were a realistic couple, not something that you see all the time in historical fiction romances.

The one downside to this novel are the bits about the party from London. While they cast some light on Thomas’s past and his involvement with the English Civil War and King Charles’ execution, the way those chapters are told alternating with Martha’s and Thomas’ story make them seem like a completely separate narrative. Characters are introduced whom I forgot about immediately, not developing any connection nor caring for their fates. I felt like the author was jumping from story to story with no regard in developing the secondary set of characters from London. As a consequence, I didn't care about them one bit. To be honest, I skimmed most of those chapters rather than read every word.

Despite the secondary storyline and cast of characters that I couldn't connect with, I found this second book of Kathleen Kent’s duology an enjoyable read. To say I loved learning more about Thomas, Martha, and how they met is an understatement. Even knowing historically what will happen to them, I was held in suspense watching their relationship develop, based on mutual respect. The historical details on daily Puritan life and society was just cream on the top. This is a worthy follow up to Heretic’s Daughter, one of my favorite novels of the year 2016. If you enjoyed that book, look into this one; you won't regret it.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

REVIEW: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

The Heretic's Daughter
by Kathleen Kent

Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co
Page Count: 356
Release Date: September 3, 2008
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: time period; subject matter

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts.

Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha's courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.

Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendent of Martha Carrier. She paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family's deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Before Heretic’s Daughter, I've never read Kathleen Kent. Boy was I missing out! This author knows how to combine family dynamics, characterizations, and engrossing storytelling to create one of the best works I've read all year. Let's just say, she'll be an author I'm keeping an eye out for in future.

With my recent witch kick I've been on lately, this book was a natural selection. As the Salem Witch Trials were the biggest example of witch hunts in America, works exploring this historical event are more plentiful than I originally expected. I'm glad this title was the one I chose to read.

Kathleen Kent’s novel is an intimate tale of a dysfunctional family caught up in an epic and tragic series of events, ultimately leading to both loss and personal growth. I like how this author is able to tell both the intimate details of how the witch craze affected different family members and also detail the stepping stones of the craze itself. The reader gets to see how the ball got rolling from a phrase tossed out in anger or a bad look turns into an accusation of witchcraft, resulting in loss of property and life.

It didn't pay to have an angry or straightforward personality in Puritan Salem. Unfortunately, Martha Carrier had such a one. Undiplomatic, tactless, and not suffering fools lightly are all adjectives that can describe her. Yet, for all of that, her honor, strength, and care for her family shape all her actions throughout this difficult time. I grew to respect her and ultimately to love her, despite cringing at some of her words to her neighbors.

At first, I didn't like the main speaker of the story, Sarah. Historically, I know she testified against her mother and others, along with her brothers. So going into the book, I was prepared to dislike her. However, as the story progressed and I grew to know the Carrier family more, I started to understand why Sarah did what she did and her inner thoughts on her actions. It takes a gifted writer to make me like and empathize with a character I started out disliking. As I finished the book, my heart went out to Sarah, and I felt all the tragedies of her family right along with her.

Given the events of the Salem Witch Trials and the fates of people caught up in the craze, this subject matter is a given for high emotional stress and content. Kent's take on the story is no exception. I haven't felt as much as I did reading this book in a while. As the fates of the Carrier family carried itself out and each tragic event happened, I felt myself more and more tied up with the different characters and their pain. Let's just say that by the time this book ended, I was emotionally wrung out. I had to go read a fluffy historical romance afterwards to recuperate. LOL

High emotions, humanized characters, and a gripping tale all make for a suspenseful read. Even though the reader knows what's going to happen historically, this book takes you on a journey and keeps you enthralled by the sheer power of the writing. I was so gripped by the Carrier family’s story that I immediately started the prequel, along with the fluffy romance used for recuperation. If you're going to read any historical fiction about the Salem Witch Trials, read this one. While I can't say I am an expert on the subject matter and wide read, I still think this work stands above the rest. Definitely check it out!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

REVIEW: Avelynn: The Edge of Faith by Marissa Campbell

Avelynn: The Edge of Faith
by Marissa Campbell

Publisher: self??
Page Count: ??
Release Date: September 14, 2016
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy on discount via Amazon

First attention getter: fan of the first book

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

It's the year 871. Charges of treason, murder, and witchcraft follow Avelynn into exile as she flees England with Alrik. Arriving in Wales, they find refuge among Alrik's friends in the Welsh nobility. Cast out by his half-brothers, Alrik seeks to regain his honor and earn favor with the gods. When war threatens, Alrik embraces gold and the opportunity for his crew to become mercenaries, aiding the Southern Welsh kings in their fight against Rhodri the Great.

Desperate to return home, Avelynn seeks to find a way to prove her innocence, but she is pitted against Alrik as their desires for the future clash. With battle looming, Avelynn's faith in their relationship is further tested through a bitter struggle with Marared, a jealous lover from Alrik's past. Marared's threats turn deadly, and Avelynn runs afoul of magic and sorcery, causing her to question her beliefs and role as priestess.

When Avelynn and Alrik are betrayed, Avelynn is captured and Alrik is charged with regicide. The two become separated, a chasm of greed, deceit, and ambition driving them apart. In an act of harrowing faith, Avelynn will stop at nothing to find her way back to Alrik and break them both free from Wales's bloodthirsty grasp.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

This second work fixes the issue I had with book one and improved on all other aspects. The author has a way of making history come to life and her characters relatable to the average reader. I grew to love both Avelynn and Alrik more and more as the pages turned. A worthy follow-up to the series premiere, I can't wait for book 3.

My biggest gripe with book one was the small amount of page time given to Avelynn’s and Alrick’s relationship. They might've shared scenes for maybe less than a fourth of the book; not nearly enough to make me believe they were as in love as the book ending portrayed.

So this work was a vast improvement on that front. Their time in Dark Age Wales and their involvement with the politics thereof drew them together as a couple and as partners. They faced danger from many fronts as well as internally through their conflicting personalities and life goals. Yet, their relationship was as emotional and resonant in this work as book one's ending tried to portray. I felt the added time together and the new challenges they faced helped to strengthen their bond and made it more believable this time around. I definitely look forward to more in book 3 when they go to such a different world.

I still love are two leads just as much now as I did in the beginning. Avelynn still comes across as such a flawed heroine, always planning for the future but failing in the carrying out of those plans. She learns from her mistakes but often makes new ones, placing her in as much danger as book one. However, she faces everything with the same courage and spirit. Alrik is our manly Viking: brash, violent, hot tempered, and courageous. Yet, there is a side to him not often seen in fictional Viking men, an emotionally sensitive one. It's evident from the very start that he loves Avelynn with all his heart and respects her abilities and opinions. His emotionally heated ways were a nice foil to Avelynn, though with two such emotional people arguments and confrontations made themselves known.

The historical setting was as excellently portrayed in this second novel. Dark Age Wales seems to be a popular setting for me this year; I think this is the fourth book I've read set there. In my opinion, Campbell has done the best in her setting and bringing this brutal world to life. A rising Catholic Church, old vestiges of former paganism, and the feuding ways of rival kings all our vividly portrayed. Christian Welsh jockeyed for positions against pagan Vikings and old religion Welsh, creating a seething cauldron of politics and suspense. This aspect of the book added great spice to the characters and our main romance.

I'm itching with anticipation for book 3’s release. Where our heroes are headed next, I’ve only read one historical fiction from in this timeframe. I would love to see Avelynn in this setting, given how much the Viking culture respects and values her position as a priestess. Even though they don't worship her particular deity, they respect her position as a divine representative on earth. So bring on book 3!

Edge of Faith is a worthy follow up to its predecessor. The area that needed fixing was addressed; the excellence in all other aspects was continued. Our main leads are as strong and vibrant as before, and historical details bring the story to life. Anyone who does not fall in love with the main romance has no heart! LOL. See the final sentence of the previous paragraph for my final thoughts on book 3. :D

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

BLOG ENTRY: 100 Book Tag Post Meme


The 100 Book Tag

I saw this post on a blog I follow, Helen's She Reads Novels, and I thought now that's a fun way to analyze what I've been reading, what I'm reading now, and future plans. She was tagged from FictionFan and her 100 post. As Helen mentioned, I'm not nearly as organized as FictionFan is, with spreadsheets and everything. All my organizing is loosely done on GoodReads. My TBR pile/list is an ever changing scene, depending on what my current frame of mind and interests are. But I figured what they hey?! This would be a fun way to maybe inspire a bit more organization for me. So consider me inspired, folks! :)

What is the 100th book on your TBR list? (In the unlikely event that you don’t have 100 books on your TBR, what book’s been on there longest?)

Like Helen, I don't do spreadsheets (see ever changing TBR in 1st paragraph *snicker*). So I did the same thing, took my 100th to-read book off of GoodReads, which was:


I first added this book in November 2012, and I've got it already in Kindle format. So I've really got no excuse other than the sheer number of books on my to-read GoodReads list. So will I ever get to it? Who knows? I won't be reading all the books on my list in my lifetime so we'll have to see. LOL Yet it sure sounds intriguing!

Open your current book to page 100 (or randomly, if you don’t have page numbers on your e-reader) and quote a few sentences that you like.


"She regard herself dispassionately - as strangely detached as she'd been the day he'd laid bruises on her arm. She looked quite different: her hair now about her ears and forehead, and her face smeared with her own blood. Behind her face Nello's floated, sated and gloating. She understood that she wasy lucky. With a wisdom well beyond her own innocence, she knew that if he had not cut her hair he would have raped her, even if she bled."

I liked this paragraph as it illustrates how precarious women's positions were in the past. A husband could get away with such behavior, no censor from society or the law coming his way. As I read historical fiction, I find the examination of women's positions and how they overcome them as one of the most intriguing aspects of the genre.

When you are 100, what author(s) do you know you will still be re-reading regularly? (This should be an easy one for those of you who are already over 100…)

I'll tell ya, there are days I FEEL over 100. LOL! With that figure being so far in the future, I don't know how solidly I can guess on this one. But as of right now, I feel safe to say that I see myself reading Elizabeth Chadwick, Simone St. James, and Stephanie Thornton again and again, in future. I've already re-read works by these guys and look forward to doing so again (maybe after that ever growing TBR mountain range is scaled a bit. :D).

Link to your 100th post (if you’re a new blogger then link to your tenth post, or any one you like). Do you still agree with what you said back then?

I've been reviewing books far longer than I've been doing a blog; I'm a late comer to the blog scene with a start date of May 2015. So I went with my 100th review on GoodReads which was for:


I posted this review on June 29, 2014 which is mind tripping as it doesn't seem that I've been posting reviews that long. As to agreeing with what I said back then, 100%! This author knew how to bring an obscure female historical figure to life, balancing her out against some very heavy-hitter family members (Eleanor of Aquitaine, anyone!!). 'Twas all the more impressive as the book was considered YA which threw me. Completely still agree with the snippet below:

"Yet, being caught up in the upheaval between father, mother, and brothers has also given Joan an aloof approach to life (to protect her heart I'm guessing) and a very strong problem with trust, especially when it comes to men. She has a warped sense of what counts as a strength and a weakness in men. She sees any kindness as a weakness. Yet I can see her, time and time again, yearning for that kindness with all the strength that she spends on seeing it as weakness. The author has taken the time to present her as a very three-dimensional character with all the strength and fallacies that being a Plantagenet entails. "

Name a book you love that has less than 100 pages. Why do you love it?

Egads, this is a hard one. Like Helen, I tend to read longer works. I think I can count the number of novellas or the like on my fingers, and even the majority of those were over 100. After looking through my reading history, I've gotta fudge a bit. I went with a work that's 128 pages, so only 28 over the limit!


A collection of short stories on the history of New Zealand, this work took me on a journey through this isolated landscape and its inhabitants, bringing to life a colonial world unlike any others in history. The harsh landscape and how it impacted New Zealand's early colonists made for jaw-dropping reading. I'd still recommend it.

If someone gave you £100, what would be the five books you would rush to buy?

Holy carp, that's a hard one!!! So many choices! I can't say there's any one title that is burning me inside out to get right now. I'll go with five titles I'm eyeballing right now and may acquire sometime in the near future (or when they publish).


When this one publishes in August of next year, I'll definitely be in line waiting to get it. I've read Europeans/Americans in Japan but samurai in 1600's Europe?? What follows sounds like an amazing examination of culture shock at its highest. Some of the samurai even stayed behind and their descendants live to this day. That blows my mind... I can't wait to explore that more!


If I had the extra money, this one would be a fascinating one to grab. It details events that happened just roughly 40 miles north of where I live. So little is known about this massacre that I believe this is the first detailed work on it ever written. In all the wonderful history around the world, I find I often neglect my own local history. Reading this work would be a good start to remedying that.


Now this, to me, tingles all my interest cells to the extreme. If I had the extra cash and the in to a copy of this rare book, I'd swipe it up in a heartbeat. An examination of a young woman captured by Amazonian rain forest natives in the '30s, she spends 20-25 years with them, living their life, marrying, having kids, and basically becoming one of them. After a time back in the modern world, she shuns it all and returns to the tribe to finish out her life. Even respected by anthropologists as a legit source, I think I'd find this book mind-boggling.


My interest in this subject got quenched a bit with another title I read this year, Our Man in Charleston by Christopher Dickey. Yet, that only covered one man and really one country, Great Britain, in regards to the Civil War. This one sounds like it covers all over Europe and Latin America. Exploring more on this topic intrigues me, seeing the war as involving so much more than just the North and South, but issues that impacted the whole world.


For my last one, there's not even a cover out yet, despite a publish date rapidly approaching. Either way, I'd wait to the ends of the earth for a book by this author. No one can combine creepy ghostly imagery, gripping mystery, historical details, and lovely romance in one volume as well as she can. She's always a treat to read and this one sounds like no exception. It's a departure from her usual '20s in that she's now exploring the '50s. Can't wait!!

What book do you expect to be reading 100 days from now?

I honestly can't answer that. There's no way for me to predict where my interest will be swinging at that point in time. Safe to say,it'll incorporate history in some fashion. Yet, whether that'll be a nonfiction, historical romance, and straight historical fiction, I can't tell you.

Looking at The Guardian’s list of “The 100 greatest novels of all time”, how many have you read? Of the ones you haven’t, which ones would you most like to read? And which will you never read?

I had to laugh out loud when I got a number of read titles of this: 7. And most of those were for school. I'm just not a big classical reader; I usually find the language too odd to enjoy. I even had to drop the Lord of the Rings trilogy just as they were leaving Rivendell as I couldn't take it anymore. If given enough ambition, I think I'd like to try that trilogy again since I love the story itself so well. I'd also like to give Count of Monte Cristo a try since I loved the Three Muskateers. Yet, the rest I'll probably never read. Call me a philistine or what you will. LOL

Free Question – Create a 100 themed question of your own choice and answer it.

I think I'll have to go off a riff of FictionFan's original question ('cause I'm as original as a rock) but with a bit of non-classical Sarah twist, given the last question.

What TV/movie/play adaption of a classical work could you watch 100 times yet never (or at least only when the zombie apocalypse might be happening) want to read the original work?


The BBC adaption of Elizabeth Gaskell's, I find myself re-watching this BBC mini-series at least once every six or seven months; I love it that much. It's got a great story and characters; those lead actors just make the show for me. Yet, the prospect of reading the original work just freezes me cold. From what I understand, it pushes its lessons of equality and the harshness of the worker's lot in life hard. For the time it was written, these issues were front and center, in your face. They still hold some truth today; but combined with the awkwardness of speech older works have for me, I think I'd find this book too bogging and harsh for me. Who knows, maybe something will change my mind in future, but I'm not counting on it.

So there ya go, Sarah's 100 tag post to add to the blogosphere. If you're feeling like joining in, tag you're it!


Friday, October 28, 2016

REVIEW: Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

Midwife of the Blue Ridge
by Christine Blevins

Publisher: Berkley
Page Count: 417
Release Date: August 5, 2008
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: personal buy via Amazon; used

First attention getter: subject and enjoyed author's previous works

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

From the villages of eighteenth-century Scotland to the colonies of America, Christine Blevins takes us on a richly imagined, perilous adventure, as one woman seeks the life she deserves...

They called her Dark Maggie for her thick black hair, but the name also had a more sinister connotation. As the lone survivor of an attack on her village, she was thought to be cursed—and unfit for marriage.

Maggie is not cursed but gifted with quick wits, skilled in medicine, and trained as a midwife. Venturing to the colonies as an indentured servant, she hopes to escape the superstitions of the old country, help women bring new life into the world, even in the most primitive and isolated corners of an unsettled land—and find a home of her own.

What she discovers is a New World fraught with new dangers—and, having given up her own freedom to join a people that yearn to be free, she must rely on her talent for survival now more than ever...

My Thoughts:

Star Rating
- 3.5

I've been on a historical midwife and witch kick lately, so this book was right up my alley. It's actually been on my to-shelf for years, at least two. So I figured it was time to give it a go. It proved to be a fairly enjoyable read with a great main character and fascinating historical storyline with unknown elements for me. Despite a few hitches, I would feel comfortable recommending this book on to others.

I adored the historical story explored in this book. Information about indentured servants and the back country of Appalachia are not often represented in historical fiction. The author gives a ton of details about how the indentured servant system worked and how it impacted all the parties involved, both the servants themselves and the bidders for their contracts. She also makes the rough life on the frontier in the 1700s come alive. Abundant details on daily life illustrate how tough it was to survive in this wild environment, where either the weather or the natives could take your life easily. The author does a great job at making the reader viscerally experience both aspects of the history explored.

Maggie made this novel for me; she's tough, courageous, and practical. She comes from a harsh background to create a life in a new world equally as harsh. Death and despair are common occurrences in her life. However, Maggie doesn't let that drag her down. I loved the way she approached the hardships in her life, with grit and a sensible outlook on life. I found elements of my own personality in hers and so found her all the more relatable.

Most of the secondary characters and the main male lead, Tom, were as distinct an individual as Maggie. I loved Tom. He stands out as a rugged, courageous man comfortable in the wilds of frontier North America and within his own skin. I also grew to love Maggie's indentured family whom she served and the rest of the inhabitants of the nearby town.

However, one of the hitches of this book fell in this area. The main villain came off as a caricature for the most part. He's over-the-top, to the point of un-believability. Let's just say that if the railroad had existed in this time, I could have seen this villain tying Maggie up and doing a Snidely Whiplash routine like the cartoon. There would have been much mustache twirling going on. This exaggeration of his character detracted from my enjoyment of his scenes and role in the book.

My other problem with this book has to do a bit with the villain and his scenes with Maggie. The story goes into some very dark places; yet, I expected that from reading other reviews. In fact, that was one of the reasons I hadn't picked up this novel till this point. After reading this book, I feel that some of what happened to Maggie at his hands were over-the-top, like his characterization. I felt the story would have held as much weight without these unnecessary brutal scenes. I don't fault scenes like these being in historical fiction titles; brutal things like this did happen. Yet, the ones included with this book seemed unnecessary with the rest of the narrative flow.

Despite a few hiccups with unnecessary scenes and a two dimensional villain, this book was an enjoyable journey into colonial frontier America. A strong main character leads the cast of equally strong secondary characters to make the reader live the story, not just read it. The fact that the author explores unfamiliar historical details and stories is just icing on the top for me. I would feel very comfortable recommending this book to friends and family, especially if you have an interest in colonial America fiction.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

REVIEW: The Witches by Stacy Schiff

The Witches
by Stacy Schiff

Publisher: Little Brown and Co
Page Count: 498
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: free copy from GR giveaway

First attention getter: subject matter

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent's life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched--at a politically tumultuous time--on the edge of what a visitor termed a "remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness." With devastating clarity, the textures and tension of colonial life emerge; hidden patterns subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

I had to laugh at the timing in which I received this book. I had just finished a fictional work on witchcraft in the modern world and the history of the main family. So I was on a witch high when I got this book. Imagine my excitement to get such a large volume on the history of the Salem witch trials, the United States, biggest historical example of a witchcraft hunt. Unfortunately, this volume did not meet most expectations.

The author definitely did her research. She goes in depth on many aspects of Puritan society and the history of the colonies, witch trials, and the superstitions of the Puritan brand of religion. At times, the author's research seems to veer away from the witch trials themselves, but everything ultimately gives background and depth to the trials themselves and the ladies involved.

Ultimately, I got what I wanted out of this volume. I learned the intimate details of the lives of the accused, their accusers, and their judges. I learned little known aspects of this well known historical event such as the different type of accusers and how closely families stuck together or how quickly they fell apart under the burden of suspicion and death. However, beyond the wealth of information and the joy of learning such, this book suffers from many flaws.

The author tends to get wordy, she'll use five words were one will do. I am not sure if she was aiming for readability, to make the work more relatable to the common reader rather than just scholars. If so, her plan backfired. The reader can get bogged down in so many words that the general point of the paragraph, page, or chapter gets lost.The author's tendency to wander also doesn't help with this.

The author tends to wander from subject to subject, on one societal aspect to another randomly. She'll go in depth about a particular person's witch trial; then three paragraphs later, she'll talk about the superstitions of Puritan society or the history of its ministers. There are some stretches to this work where you could have five or six subjects crammed onto one page, varying from paragraph to paragraph. Some consistences from chapter to chapter would've helped this book.

There are also narrative issues. Many of the trial scenes, and I stress the word SCENE, read as fictional rather than nonfiction. Now in and of itself, this aspect wouldn't be as glaring if the author used the same narrative style for the rest of the book. However, she does not. So the trial scenes are glaring in there scene setting rather than flowing with the rest of the work.

At the end of the day, I got what I wanted out of this work. I learned more about a seminal event in American history and intimate details of those involved. I only wish, however, that the author had paid as much attention to the nitty-gritty details of writing as she did to the historical facts presented. Formatting is screwy, words pile up on top of each other, and a wandering narrative drag this nonfictional work down. Would I seek this work out again? Maybe if I had a specific question on a party involved with the witch trials. I would not, however, seek to read this work again for pleasure.

Note: Book was received for free from the publisher via a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 24, 2016

REVIEW: The Soldier's Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian

The Soldier's Scoundrel
by Cat Sebastian

Publisher: Avon Impulse
Page Count: 213
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: that cover!!

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

A scoundrel who lives in the shadows

Jack Turner grew up in the darkness of London's slums, born into a life of crime and willing to do anything to keep his belly full and his siblings safe. Now he uses the tricks and schemes of the underworld to help those who need the kind of assistance only a scoundrel can provide. His distrust of the nobility runs deep and his services do not extend to the gorgeous high-born soldier who personifies everything Jack will never be.

A soldier untarnished by vice

After the chaos of war, Oliver Rivington craves the safe predictability of a gentleman's life-one that doesn't include sparring with a ne'er-do-well who flouts the law at every turn. But Jack tempts Oliver like no other man has before. Soon his yearning for the unapologetic criminal is only matched by Jack's pleasure in watching his genteel polish crumble every time they're together.

Two men only meant for each other

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

This book caught me by surprise. It's the first m/m Romance I've seen from a major publishing house. In the past, all the ones I've seen have been either self or indie published. So that alone would have caught my attention. Yet, the author gives us enjoyable characters and a lovely romance to go along with that individuality.

I adore Jack and Oliver. Both characters have distinct personalities, uncouth Jack and refined Oliver. Yet where other authors my fall into the trap of making these characters stereotypes or caricatures, the author succeed in making both men individual unto themselves. As the story progresses, each character changes with the turns of the story as well. Both leads were able to develop and grow, not being stuck in characterization ruts.

The relationship between these two made for sweet reading. The author does a great job in conveying that two men can have as emotional and romantic a connection as a man and woman can, especially given the timeframe this takes place in. The Regency era was a time when a relationship such as theirs was punishable by death. Jacks and Oliver's personalities played off each other beautifully, rounding each other out to create a cohesive relationship.

I also liked the time the author spent with her historical details. I got a real sense of the societal rules of the Regency era and the little details of everyday life like dress and home life. Seeing those details play into our lead’s personalities and how their relationship developed was an added bonus.


The one aspect of this book that was weak was the background mystery. The sleuthing was predictable, the clues somewhat hackneyed, and the overall mystery itself borderline silly. I could care less what happened to the Wraxhalls or their associates. However, this is a historical romance; such a story aspect really doesn’t have to be that strong in this genre. It’s still an enjoyable tale.

For what this book is, it shines. The romance and leads are very well done, especially as this is a debut novel. I adored watching these two men grow, both in themselves and together in their relationship. While the background mystery was predictable and boring, historical romances don't hinge on that story aspect, at least for this reader. I would definitely look for other volumes by this writer; she's a promising author for the m-m romantic subgenre.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

REVIEW: Love Across the Ocean by Ellynore Seybold

Love Across the Ocean
by Ellynore Seybold

Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Page Count: 158
Release Date: August 3, 2016
Format: Kindle ARC

How got: ARC copy from NetGalley for free

First attention getter: the pretty cover

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

Charlotte Mesinger is willing to do almost anything to escape the beatings in the home where she grew up. When she spies an advertisement for a wife to help care for three children, she sees it as an answer to her prayers, even though it means going to America and forgetting the young man she's been seeing.

When Friedrich Haupt's wife dies giving birth to their third child and her parents insist he must hand over the children to them, he is frantic. A customer in his jewelry shop suggests going to America, and another offers to buy the establishment. But convention forbids a woman living in his household without marriage, for whatever reason, and he places the ad, ready to give the woman her freedom after a year.

With these desperate situations resolved, Charlotte and Friedrich still have many secrets...

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - none as DNF-ed @ 30% (put 2 on Amazon as had to put something)

I really tried to like this book; my expectations were high as it involved a trope that is a favorite of mine. I am also partial to immigration stories. However, and this is a big however, this book has so many issues that it has reached the point of not being enjoyable. After 30%, I have to declare this book a DNF.

The premise of this romance is strong initially. An arranged marriage to protect a family and build a new life makes for intriguing reading. I also grew to like Friedrich. He's a caring, considerate man whose main focus in life is to protect his children and build a new life for them after a tragic circumstance.

With a great starting premise and relatable main hero, one would think this romance had a strong foundation. However, these two points were the only good ones in all of the part that I read.

The first offender was Charlotte, our main heroine. She is far, far too perfect. She is innocent, beautiful, angelic, and good. I grew to hate her, even though I only read 30% of this book. I can only imagine the depth my hate would have reached if I had tried to force myself to finish.

Next is the premise. What started out as an intriguing idea quickly moved into absurd territory. The background with Friedrich’s in-laws and the intricacies of family law in Germany seems silly to me; nothing about that seemed real. I'm not an expert on 19th century German law so maybe the author had some grounding in fact. Yet, it wasn't portrayed on the page well enough to be believable to this reader.

The writing style didn't work for me as well. The author did have some good descriptive passages. I got a clear picture in my head of the scene the author was trying to set. Yet, the way she chose to frame the writing seemed simplistic. Choppy dialogue paragraphs and short sentence structure made this a hard read, grammar-wise.

My next point of contention is probably a small one for other readers. It just bugs me more, because I like things to have a strong historical background, even my historical romances. The author was very ambiguous about her historical setting. I got the vague impression it was the 19th century with the immigration to America storyline and some of the background details. However, the author chose to leave the reader guessing on a more specific time frame. Whether this was in the 1830s, 1850s, or the 1870s, the reader could only guess. But like I said, this is a personal bone of contention. It may not bug another reader, so take this paragraph with a grain of salt.

What started out as a highly anticipated historical romance turned into a big disappointment for this reader. Good bones seemed to be in the offering in the beginning. Yet, bad characterizations, an absurd premise, a flaky writing style, and vague historical details quickly killed this bird for me. I'm not sure I could recommend this book to anyone. I feel it could do with a good edit and a good going over by the author.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2016

REVIEW: The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs

The Hamilton Affair
by Elizabeth Cobbs

Publisher: Arcade
Page Count: 408
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Format: Hardcover

How got: free ARC from publisher via GR

First attention getter: primary characters

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Revolution, and featuring a cast of iconic characters such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette,The Hamilton Affair tells the sweeping, tumultuous, true love story of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler, from tremulous beginning to bittersweet ending—his at a dueling ground on the shores of the Hudson River, hers more than half a century later after a brave, successful life.

Hamilton was a bastard son, raised on the Caribbean island of St. Croix. He went to America to pursue his education. Along the way he became one of the American Revolution’s most dashing—and unlikely—heroes. Adored by Washington, hated by Jefferson, Hamilton was a lightning rod: the most controversial leader of the American Revolution.

She was the well-to-do daughter of one of New York’s most exalted families—feisty, adventurous, and loyal to a fault. When she met Alexander, she fell head over heels. She pursued him despite his illegitimacy, and loved him despite his infidelity. In 1816 (two centuries ago), she shamed Congress into supporting his seven orphaned children. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton started New York’s first orphanage. The only “founding mother” to truly embrace public service, she raised 160 children in addition to her own.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

I’ve always liked Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father who thought a strong central government was key to success and a strong financial basis for a new nation key to growth. I’ve read where he’s been demonized by his fellow patriots for his views. It was a fantastic change to see him humanized in the middle, neither a firm monarchist nor a superhuman figure. His relationship with Elizabeth Schuyler is explored with as adept a skill. I thoroughly enjoyed this look at an often misunderstood man.

As mentioned, Hamilton was portrayed fantastically as a three-dimensional man. I loved seeing his journey in growth from a man of uncertain beginnings to a deviser of national finances and industrial growth. Each step in his life from apprentice to warrior to father to Secretary of the Treasury is given equal measure. I liked seeing his insecurities in regards to his origins and what he deserved out of life; he grew from them to become real to me beyond words on a page.

I also liked how the author portrayed Elizabeth, though she didn't spend as much time on her. She's made out as a practical, sensible woman looking to make her own way in the world and love in marriage, a thought far removed from the norm of the day. I felt she was a wonderful balance for Alexander's ambition and intelligence.

Seeing the American Revolution, early Colonial society, and the early years of a struggling republic also made for intriguing reading. Besides fighting for a common ideal and enemy, so many opinions and plans were involved with the shaping of our country. It's fascinating to contemplate where the nation might have gone if Jefferson and Madison had had their way...

The author's done a great job of balancing the intimate of characters and relationship with the broadness of history, war, and politics. I got to know the Hamiltons well enough to make them feel real. I feel this is a worthy read for any lover of the era, the American Revolution and Founding Fathers in particular.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

REVIEW: Tender Betrayal by Rosanne Bittner

Tender Betrayal
by Rosanne Bittner

Publisher: Diversion Books
Page Count: 708
Release Date: January 31, 2016
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy; on discount @ Amazon

First attention getter: the author

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

Stolen kisses and secret rendezvous lead to a passion that war cannot sever.

Beautiful, proud Audra Brennan felt like a stranger in a foreign land when she came north from Louisiana to study music. But when she savored her first forbidden taste of desire in the arms of handsome lawyer Lee Jeffreys, his caresses sparked a flame within her that burned away the differences between rebel and Yankee, all objections silenced by the fierce beating of two wild hearts falling impetuously, impossibly in love.

Suddenly cannon fire shatters the country. Principled, impassioned, and committed to a nation united, Lee answered the call to fight against the Confederacy, while Audra hurries home to a plantation shadowed by the darkening cloud of war. But in the most terrible of wars, can either afford to surrender their hearts.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Ah Bittner, you know how to take me on an emotional journey. More used to her Westerns, this take on a Civil War tale still pleased on all fronts. I appreciated the new environment but still enjoyed the classic Bittner elements.

At first, I didn’t like Audra; I found her immature and blind to the world around her. Yet, she quickly aged as the Civil War years approached and the harsh North/South divide played a part in her life. By the time we’d reached the climax, she was a strong, resolute woman, determined to make a difference in the world and to create new lives with those she never thought to rub elbows with.

Her relationship with Lee was heart-felt from the beginning. Despite such different backgrounds and family circumstances, there’s an instant connection that laid the groundwork for a relationship to develop through the war years. While they may not share much time together page-wise, there’s still a very tangible love between these two that the reader is sure to feel.

From a historical standpoint and as a tale of the Civil War in general, this book also entertains and excels. The harsh reality of a civil war comes to vicious life as the author explores the institution of slavery itself, the toll of the war took on all, and the common place death that stalked the American South.

I was reminded of a mini-series from the ‘80s that I enjoyed, North & South, with Patrick Swayze. That also combined a historical familial saga of the Civil War years with romance. This book is similar in that it has plot points and characters that ring close to those others. I have to wonder if the author didn’t pull some inspiration from Patrick Swayze and his flowing locks. LOL

A nice shake-up from Bittner’s usual Westerns, this tale of Civil War romance and bleakness stands out. The characters change with the circumstances, being relatable to the audience. The romance is sweet and emotional. If you like Bittner, you’ll love this title.