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


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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

REVIEW: Witch Hunt by Devin O'Branagan

Witch Hunt
by Devin O'Branagan

Publisher: Pocket Books ??
Page Count: 352
Release Date: October 1, 1990 (first one)
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy; via Amazon

First attention getter: synopsis


From GoodReads:

Leigh has been married to a Hawthorne for a decade, but never knew the family secret: the Hawthornes are witches. When the dynamic Preacher Cody instigates a new worldwide witch hunt, Leigh must choose sides. Will she stand with her husband and children, or will she run? This isn't the first witch hunt the Hawthornes have faced, but it could be their last. Will anyone survive?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a while, years even. I can’t recall how long it’s been sitting on my Kindle, but needless to say it’s been on my radar for a long time. I love the idea of family sagas that entail blessings or curses that follow the generations; this one also entailed the Salem Witch trials with all the drama and persecution that involves. This book please on all fronts. I feel I’m safe to say it’s one of best reads for me this year.

Engrossing as heck, this book grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. From the opening sequence of a fiery plane crash, everything is a break neck speed of worsening persecution and a family’s struggles to come out alive, not succeeding on all fronts. Boredom will not be an issue with this one.

Yet despite all that, every character comes alive. From the historical figures of the Hawthorne family to their modern counterparts, nobody suffers from two-dimensional characterization. I liked how the author made people on both sides of the divide (witch vs. Christian) both good and bad. There was no blanket generalization of either side being more right than the other.

I thought this was a tale in the modern world with some harkening back to the Salem Witch trials. Instead, I got a family saga that flows over centuries. Traveling west via covered wagon, Indian captivity, WWII, and Irish immigration all play a role in this family saga. Family fortunes rise and fall with the centuries, never letting members get too comfortable before throwing the next challenge down.

I’ve got to give props to the author for where she was willing to go. This family goes through some truly awful events: murder, sudden death, torture, and persecution. Things start out grim, get worse, and end bleak. There’s no happily ever after here, folks. There’s a slight glimmer that things might turn around eventually, but it’ll be a long, uncertain road indeed.

The messages in this book also give pause for thought. The author talks about her inspiration for the tale in the beginning, and I can see where she’s coming from. In our modern world, the thought that such fundamentalist hate can rule the day seems far-fetched, given how society celebrates diversity nowadays. The thought that our modern society would believe in the evil of witchcraft and black magic also seems implausible.

However, all one has to do is look across the glove at such examples as ISIS, the KKK, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or the Westboro church to see true evil at work. Organizations or bodies such as these control the minds and perceptions of adherents to a brain-washing level. Is it really so incredible that given the circumstances portrayed in this book that thought patterns like that might not gain more of a mainstream audience and body of people? Scary stuff…

A tale heavy with lessons to take to heart and characters to love, this book will stay with you for a long time. I was caught from scene one and was never let go. This book started me on a witch kick; I’ll be looking for more books on the subject matter and re-reading older loved ones. The collection of novellas that explores the lives of miscellaneous historical figures in the Hawthorne clan is already loaded on my Kindle. Check this one out; it’s a fantastic read no matter the genre you’re looking for.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

REVIEW: A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

A Curious Beginning
by Deanna Raybourn

Publisher: NAL/Penguin
Page Count: 337
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Format: Hardcover

How got: personal buy; from B&N

First attention getter: pretty cover


From GoodReads:

In her thrilling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England…and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.
London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

A fantastic start to a new mystery series, this book sets a great tone, characters, and intelligence that I feel I’m going to enjoy for far in the future. The author takes her time in setting up her lead personalities and their backgrounds, all the while giving us a great mystery that’s still tied into our leads’ history. I’m panting at the gate for more in this series!

I adored our lead, Veronica. It’s been awhile since I’ve come across a woman so down to earth, practical, intelligent, adventurous, and earthy. She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind and has no patience with the niceties of polite society. God, but her frankness… At times both refreshing and downright hilarious, I found that trait her best one. Most leads of that era are far more circumspect and polite, but if Veronica thinks you have a funky wart on your nose, she’ll tell ya!

The way she and Stocker played off each other was also pure gold. There was an instant chemistry between the two, both physical and emotional. Sparks fly between them as they argue and banter with each other, all the while trying to fight a growing emotional attachment that doesn’t fit in either of their future plans. I loved how she was the practical and methodical one in the relationship and he the emotional and impulsive when it came to approaching circumstances. In your usual mystery, those roles are usually the other way round so to see that reverse was a nice change.

I’m happy the author took so much time in establishing our leads and their respective backgrounds/personalities. She’s laid a great groundwork for future works to spring off of. The first mystery for our intrepid duo is also tied into their backgrounds so not only does it establish where Veronica and Stoker come from but how they’ll approach future mysteries. The author has balanced every aspect to a tee.

I can safely say that I’m now a fan of this series. Characters, how they play off each other, and the story itself all shine. There’s a nice blend of UST, crime-solving, and hilarity to satisfy fans of every mystery story aspect. Bring on book two!!

Friday, September 9, 2016

REVIEW: Our Man in Charleston by Christopher Dickey

Our Man in Charleston
by Christopher Dickey

Publisher: Crown
Page Count: 400
Release Date: July 21, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback ARC

How got
: ARC from LibraryThing giveaway

First attention getter: subject matter


From GoodReads:

Between the Confederacy and recognition by Great Britain stood one unlikely Englishman who hated the slave trade. His actions helped determine the fate of a nation.

As the United States threatened to break into civil war, the Southern states found themselves in an impossible position: Their economic survival would require reopening the slave trade, banned in America since 1807, but the future of the Confederacy could not be secured without official recognition from Great Britain, which would never countenance such a move. How, then, could the first be achieved without dooming the possibility of the second? Believing their cotton monopoly would provide sufficient leverage, the Southerners publically declared the slave trade dead, even as rapacious traders quickly landed more and more ships on the American coast.

The unlikely man at the roiling center of this intrigue was Robert Bunch, the ambitious young British consul in Charleston, S.C. As he soured on the self-righteousness of his slave-loving neighbors, Bunch used his unique perch to thwart their plans, sending reams of damning dispatches to the Foreign Office in London and eventually becoming the Crown's best secret source on the Confederacy—even as he convinced those neighbors that he was one of them.

In this masterfully told story, Christopher Dickey introduces Consul Bunch as a key figure in the pitched battle between those who wished to reopen the floodgates of bondage and misery, and those who wished to dam the tide forever. Featuring a remarkable cast of diplomats, journalists, senators, and spies,Our Man in Charleston captures the intricate, intense relationship between great powers as one stood on the brink of war

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Winning this book giveaway came at a fantastic time. My interest in how the American Civil War was viewed by or impacted the international community started to really grow just a few months before winning this puppy on LibraryThing. And what a find! Despite a hiccup in the beginning portion, this book proved to be both informative and engaging.

An English diplomat caught between two sides of a brewing civil war is a new story, for sure. Seeing the deteriorating stability of a nation through his unique eyes gives the Civil War a new angle. The author explores in devastating detail a society in freefall as the drums of war rumble louder and louder. Bunch had to do a balancing act unlike many others to serve his country and cause, all the while protecting his very life and family.

The sheer amount of information in here was fascinating. I had no idea that the Union and Britain came SO close to blows and war. Such a knife edge… Thanks to calm heads, that potential conflict was averted, despite the efforts of hotheads and war hawks.

I gotta give props for how the author chose to present his material. It’s not just a conglomeration of facts and figures thrown into paragraphs and then released. Primary source quotes are interwoven with the author’s writing instead of being inserted in block quotes. Also, the time and care given to description and scene-setting also gives this book a fictional feel to it, in that it’s easier to read for your casual history fan. For this person who fits that descriptor, everything worked perfectly in this regard.

At times, the balance of the narrative seemed a bit off. A ton of time was spent on the years leading up to the war; once the war hit, the book was actually starting to wind down already. I can see why this balance was struck as a lot of what happened in Bunch’s tale was during that time frame. Yet, there were times in the first half that I got a bit bored.

Despite this, this is a rock solid work on the subject, especially as there isn’t much on the international take on the Civil War out there. Bunch’s tale alone makes the book read worthy. I loved getting to know him and his situation. Yet, there’s so much more here. If you’re curious about this subject at all, definitely give this book a look!

Note: Book received for free from publisher via giveaway on LibraryThing in exchange for an hones review.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

REVIEW: The Other Tudors by Philippa Jones

The Other Tudors
by Philippa Jones

Publisher: Metro Books
Page Count: 327
Release Date: December 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover

How got: personal buy; from B&N

First attention getter: subject matter


From GoodReads:

'If you remember my love in your prayers as strongly as I adore you, I shall hardly be forgotten, for I am yours, Henry R forever.'- Henry VIII writing to Anne Boleyn in 1529

This devotion of the King did not endure, however, and in 1536 the once favoured Anne Boleyn was executed for treason. While Henry VIII has frequently been portrayed as a womaniser, The Other Tudors reveals a new side to his character. Henry spent his life in search of a perfect woman. He was a romantic who loved being in love, but none of his lovers ever fully satisfied him; all were ultimately replaced.

In The Other Tudors, Philippa Jones uncovers the intrigues behind Henry's many love affairs and illuminates the tumultuous lives of his many illegitimate offspring, whose paths often entwined with those of their royal siblings, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

Henry VIII is one of those historical figures that most everyone has heard of, even those today not interested in history. He’s usually remembered for being the dude with six wives and being a really nasty tyrant. It’s intriguing to see him in a different light, through the different lenses of his different wives, mistresses, and illegitimate children. He’s still a tyrant but one who’s a bit more understandable and relatable.

It was interesting to examine the personage of Henry from the point of view of someone eternally looking for his definition of love. He sounds like a perfectionist that was always looking for an ideal that didn’t exist, not letting anything or anyone stand in the way of that pursuit. That balanced with the demands of his kingdom and ruling gives us one of the biggest names in history.

I love exploring obscure historical figures, and you can’t get more obscure than a royal mistress with no name (as one example of Henry’s many loves). This book goes into detail the lives of the women who shared his heard and bed, however little a time that may be. The children that resulted from those liaisons round out a picture of a man who felt deep, intensely, but briefly.

Despite the subject matter and the exploration of obscure historical figures, this book had a major flaw. The author tended to wordiness, to the point where I got bored to tears at times. She would spend pages after pages after pages on the minutiae of Henry’s children’s lives, up to old age, that I felt like we lost sight of the book’s intentions or goals.

The introduction led me to believe that we were exploring Henry’s loves and children as a reflection of him as a person and that goal was reached for the most of the book. Yet, at times, way too much information was included in the narrative, and I got lost in the shuffle.

A stimulating subject and the depth of knowledge and research behind this book grab the attention of readers. However, this book suffers by an overly-verbose delivery that drags it down. I got lost in a slew of facts and figures that seemed to deviate and meander away from the central topic. While interesting in their own right, I felt like some of the meanders were out of place and boring in this book. Now a bad work on this subject but not the best either.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

REVIEW: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

Ghost Talkers 
by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publisher: Tor Books
Page Count: 304
Release Date: August 16, 2016
Format: Hardcover

How got: local library

First attention getter: the concept and the author


From GoodReads:

Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force.

Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence.

Ginger and her fellow mediums contribute a great deal to the war efforts, so long as they pass the information through appropriate channels. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she's just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

I really hope this book is the start of a series, ‘cause holy carp, is it good! Where I thought the book was headed changed about page 75-ish into a completely new direction. The new events led us on a heart-wrenching, suspenseful mystery/spy thriller that I wasn’t expecting. The intensity of the story and how much I was hooked surprised me. How’s that for proof of a great story?!

I loved Ginger. She’s a blend of courage and vulnerability, making her instantly relatable to the average person today. Experiencing a tumult of emotions throughout the entire book, she struggles at times to hold it together as she faces spies, bodies, and murder right and left. Yet, when the situation calls for it, she finds the inner strength deep down to face down enemy mediums and traitors alike.

When I say this story is intense, I think I’ve got to admit I’m understating things. This tale is a roller coaster ride of narrow escapes, chases through trenches and warfare, and confrontations with people Ginger wasn’t sure she could trust. The reader was never sure who was working for Ginger’s benefit or detriment. The final identity of the traitor/murderer blew me away, completely unexpected.

The author gave us an intricate, detailed ghost and medium system, like her previous series’ magic system. I love when the author takes the time to explore the mechanics of how the supernatural elements work into the story and how they affect the society and events portrayed.

In this book, she explores how a ghost operates and how their emotional state deteriorates their being. Seeing the ghosts loose themselves if they don’t immediately cross over after reporting in made my heart cringe in places. I also loved seeing how medium-ship and spying through spirits affected WWI and its espionage scene. Everything was unique to my reading experience which is not something that can be always said nowadays.

An engrossing tale from start to finish, this book continue to surprise throughout. A combination of relatable characters, suspenseful storytelling, and a great supernatural system makes this one stand out. I really hope this book is the start to a series; I’d be first in line to buy book two. This author has proven in the past to only get better as a series progresses. This book left some intriguing threads unanswered so I am panting for more exploration. More please, Ms. Kowal!!