Monday, February 29, 2016

REVIEW: Fallen Land by Taylor Brown

Fallen Land
by Taylor Brown

Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Page Count: 288
Release Date: January 12, 2016
Format: Paperback ARC

How got: ARC thru GR giveaway

First attention getter: browsing upcoming releases on Amazon


From GoodReads:

Fallen Land is Taylor Brown's debut novel set in the final year of the Civil War, as a young couple on horseback flees a dangerous band of marauders who seek a bounty reward.

Callum, a seasoned horse thief at fifteen years old, came to America from his native Ireland as an orphan. Ava, her father and brother lost to the war, hides in her crumbling home until Callum determines to rescue her from the bands of hungry soldiers pillaging the land, leaving destruction in their wake. Ava and Callum have only each other in the world and their remarkable horse, Reiver, who carries them through the destruction that is the South.

Pursued relentlessly by a murderous slave hunter, tracking dogs, and ruthless ex-partisan rangers, the couple race through a beautiful but ruined land, surviving on food they glean from abandoned farms and the occasional kindness of strangers.

In the end, as they intersect with the scorching destruction of Sherman's March, the couple seek a safe haven where they can make a home and begin to rebuild their lives.

Dramatic and thrillingly written with an uncanny eye for glimpses of beauty in a ravaged landscape, Fallen Land is a love story at its core, and an unusually assured first novel by award-winning young author Taylor Brown.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

A book that is unflinching in the face of horrible stuff, Fallen Land doesn’t hesitate to explore the full horror of war and tragedy. So keep that in mind when reading this title or previewing it for younger readers; not everyone would be able to handle the imagery and themes explored within. Yet, if you can get past that, this is a gripping tale of survival, betrayal, war, and love.

First off, the leads are perfect to tell this story through. An intriguing mixture of innocence in the face of war and scarred souls, both Callum and Ava are immediately relatable. Two youngsters thrown in very trying circumstances, they give a horrific story a human face and young soul. Exploring how the events of war impact their lives and change them kept me reading from page one.

The dynamic story of survival against marauders and the elements in Civil War Appalachia and Georgia kept me on the edge of my seat. Not for one second does the story let up. From the very first words describing a confrontation to the last big showdown, the reader just can’t help but turn the pages, eager to find out if Callum and Ava with survive the next chapter. With all the horrific imageries and themes explored, their survival didn’t feel like a sure thing by any means.

Personally, I’m actually glad that the author wasn’t afraid to go full bore on those imageries. It gives a graphic image of what a war-torn landscape would look like: blackened trees, a fire red skyline, cold mountain breezes, random corpses, and a citizenry that is on the verge of collapse. It brings a sense of immediacy and realism to the story that makes it even more powerful.

I wasn’t expecting like this work as much as I did. The characters, vivid landscape, and intense survival story all make this a win. I’d recommend this to any lover of Civil War tales and powerful tales in general. I look forward to more from this author.

Note: Book received for free via a giveaway on GR in exchange for an honest opinion.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

REVIEW: The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice by Belle Blackburn

The Doctor's Daughter: Journey to Justice
by Belle Blackburn

Publisher: self-published
Page Count: 450
Release Date: October 4, 2012
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from author

First attention getter: author's email


From GoodReads:

Everybody, including her mother, believes that Kate's father committed suicide. Determined to prove otherwise, Kate sets out on a fascinating and sometimes hysterical journey through antebellum law and medicine. Set in 1860s Nashville and told with a biting wit, determined Kate finally discovers the truth - but at what cost? Will she ruin her own life trying to defend the life of her dead father?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

As a look at pre-civil war Tennessee and daily life during the time, this book excels. As a growing up tale of a young lady during this timeframe, also not a bad work. Yet as a mystery? This book fells flat.

Strongest feature is the time the author took in getting her details and setting right. From the prep of food, the ins-n-outs of the law, the gruesome details of medical practice and learning, how life was for a lady of leisure, and the beginning rumblings of the Civil War all contribute to a truly engrossing, detailed read.

The main lead, Kate, acted very human, and I could understand where she was coming from. Once her father dies, she becomes almost obsessed about certain goals, blinding her to other aspects of her life that could bring her happiness. I can understand the obsessive focus on one goal with the exclusion of others. And eventually, Kate’s eyes are opened.

Yet, on the journey to that eye-opening and through that obsessive laser focus, Kate often acted in ways that stuck in my craw and made me grit my teeth. While I can understand why she did some things, it still doesn’t make me like any more. I found it hard to sympathize with her at times with how she treated certain people. So she’s a toss-up.

As a mystery, complete letdown. The book focuses on other aspects of the story far more than it does as trying to solve the “crime” of Kate’s father’s death. What attempts there are at evidence gathering or getting justice were slap stick, laughable at best and cringe worthy at worst. I think the author could have written a more successful book focusing on Kate’s journey to healing or moving on with her life rather than trying to gain justice for her father’s fate. Her attempts are laugh worthy and not worth the paper/screen they’re written on.

Good setting details and a lead character that is humanly understandable, if not all that likable most of the time, make this a read that’s at least enjoyable for most of the time. While the mystery aspects were sorry, to say the least, they didn’t completely kill the book. Still, this book could have done with some more polish.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

REVIEW: Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Princesses Behaving Badly
by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Publisher: Quirk Books
Page Count: 303
Release Date: November 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover

How got: personal library; received as gift from family member

First attention getter: subject matter


From GoodReads:

You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

I’m always down for learning more on obscure female historical figures, and this book hit the spot. It kept a great balance of readability and factual information. I don’t think I’d go straight to this book for a college paper or anything. As a casual, easy read for a history buff, though, it’s great.

I loved the wide range of people this book covered. From the truly obscure Asian princesses’ to their more commonly known European counterparts, the author gives a window into a wide range of personages who could claim the title of “princess”.

The author keeps the format very readable for the non-history major, teacher, or professor. For lovers of history who just want to learn stuff, this is a great choice. She writes in a way that feels like she’s right in the room with the reader, just relaying the tale over a campfire or cup of coffee. I loved that format.

So while not a good source for that dissertation or college final, this is a great read for the casual lover of history. The reader learns a ton and enjoys the journey as well. Definitely recommended!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

REVIEW: Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson

Moonlight Over Paris
by Jennifer Robson

Publisher: HarperLuxe
Page Count: 448
Release Date: January 19, 2016
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: personal library; bought via Amazon

First attention getter: author and cover


From GoodReads:

USA Today and international bestselling author Jennifer Robson takes readers to 1920s Paris in an enthralling new historical novel that tells the riveting story of an English lady who trades in her staid aristocratic life for the mesmerizing salons and the heady world of the Lost Generation.

It’s the spring of 1924, and Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr has just arrived in France. On the mend after a near-fatal illness, she is ready to embrace the restless, heady allure of the City of Lights. Her parents have given her one year to live with her eccentric aunt in Paris and Helena means to make the most of her time. She’s quickly drawn into the world of the Lost Generation and its circle of American expatriates, and with their encouragement, she finds the courage to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.

One of those expats is Sam Howard, a journalist working for theChicago Tribune. Irascible, plain-spoken, and scarred by his experiences during the war, Sam is simply the most fascinating man she has ever met. He’s also entirely unsuitable.

As Paris is born anew, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the Great War, Helena realizes that she, too, is changing. The good girl she once was, so dutiful and obedient, so aware of her place in the world, is gone forever. Yet now that she has shed her old self, who will she become, and where, and with whom, does she belong…?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

I found myself feeling a bit flat on this title. It’s an entertaining story and the characters are sympathetic to a degree. Yet, I found myself bored more than once and glad when the final page had been turned. This is one of those titles that are fun while you read it but that you quickly forget as the next book looms on the horizon.

The author takes her time when setting her story. 1920’s France with its hopping night life scene, artsy angst, and creative juices definitely breathes in this book. A world trying to rejuvenate after a devastating war comes across in spades. The author’s research and time in getting her details right is evident.

The characters, including the leads Helena and Howard, are very human and three-dimensional. They all have their quirks and foibles, avoiding stereotypes which are refreshing. I liked how Helena was strong enough of a personality to stand up to her parents when departing from their planned journey for her life. She wants to pursue her art and so does.

Yet, I found her to be without fire. Beyond standing up for her choice of life, I found her to be pretty apathetic. Her constant bemoaning on how here art skills aren’t that great or how her teacher isn’t paying attention to her go tiring quickly.

Unfortunately, Howard didn’t save this part of the story either. He’s great when he gets page time, but that isn’t that often. It seems like for half the story, he isn’t even there at all. While the main focus of the book is really Helena’s growth as a person and an artist, a book that touts itself as a “romance” certainly lacked a bit in that department with its hero absent many times.

Overall, this book was OK but ultimately forgettable. I enjoyed the story and characters during the tale, but I had no problem going onto the next book afterwards. The writer has written more engrossing works than this; don’t start with this tale if you haven’t read her before. But still, an pleasurable read and diversion from hectic daily life.