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


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


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


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


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!