Saturday, March 25, 2017

Land of Hidden Fires by Kirk Kjeldsen

Land of Hidden Fires
by Kirk Kjeldsen

Publisher: Grenzland Press
Page Count: 212
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Format: Kindle

How got: free copy from author

First attention getter: setting/synopsis


From GoodReads:

Occupied Norway, 1943. After seeing an allied plane go down over the mountains, headstrong fifteen year-old Kari Dahlstrøm sets out to locate the wreck. She soon finds the cocky American pilot Lance Mahurin and offers to take him to Sweden, pretending she's a member of the resistance. While her widower father Erling and the disillusioned Nazi Oberleutnant Conrad Moltke hunt them down, Kari begins to fall for Lance, dreaming of a life with him in America. Over the course of the harrowing journey, though, Kari learns hard truths about those around her as well as discovering unforeseen depths within herself.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

A riveting tale of suspense, survival, and danger, this title has some strong points in its favor for a small publishing house\self-published book. The reader can't help but be pulled chapter to chapter, being held on the edge of their seat to see what happens. While not perfect, I'd still highly recommend this book.

Strongest point is the suspenseful story and how well the author does in keeping the audience engaged. Reading as a spy thriller mixed with a coming of age, the narrative has no problem flowing from scene to scene. The author has a talent in keeping the tension ratcheted up as Kari and Lance make for the Swedish border in frigid temperatures and with enemies hot on their tails. The alternating POV's do detract a bit from this aspect; however, the author still keeps things ramped up enough to make the climax a suspenseful showdown and a growing experience for Kari.

I'm not sure if the author is a native of Norway; his name might suggest so. His bio says he lives in Germany and got his degree in California. Yet, even so, his depth of knowledge and way of conveying the landscape and aura of Norway are incredible. I could literally feel the frigid mountain majesty of the northern peaks and feel the bite of the snow on my cheek. Very specific mountain, river, and town place names puts the reader right into the country. A country held under the Nazi thumb also came through vividly. The struggle to survive both the climate and the oppressors added a depth to the story.

When it comes to characterizations, this book also stands out. Each POV and secondary character has their own distinct personality and motivations. There was also a significant change and growth as the story progresses. This was especially evident in Lance and Kari as they struggle through the frigid arctic conditions, the dire circumstances that arose revealing their true natures. Yet in all parties explored, the author has a deft hand when it comes to revealing the inner depths of his character’s psyches. We really got to know everyone, which isn't always the case in a book this short.

There's one aspect that is this books shortcoming, though, and it sort of falls in this area. For a book that clocks in at 212 pages according to Goodreads, I felt like this book had too many POV's. The count standing at four, I felt like I was ripped from one tale to another, just as I was getting into the action of a certain storyline. Some of the suspense got lost and at times, the POV's would get muddled. While engaging, Sturre’s POV in particular, felt completely superfluous. The bits he added to the story could have been better done with Kari, Erling, or Moltke.

At the end of the day, though, this dynamic tale of survival, escape, and resistance keeps the reader engaged. Great characters, a vibrant setting, and action filled narrative keep the story hopping to a fantastic climax. Despite that one fallback, I still feel comfortable recommending this tale to lovers of historical fiction, especially for World War II fans and those who love spy thrillers. Not many tales explore World War II occupied Norway, so this is a real treat.

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

REVIEW: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

A Perilous Undertaking
by Deanna Raybourn

Publisher: Berkley
Page Count: 338
Release Date: January 10, 2017
Format: ARC Trade Paperback

How got: ARC gotten via

First attention getter: already loved book one


From GoodReads:

London, 1887 . . 

Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.

From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

A fantastic addition to the Speedwell series, this volume adds to the original and builds on our lead’s pasts to create stronger characters. Along with a character chemistry that is second to none and for the most part solid mystery component, Raybourn’s new series has a future that never looked brighter.

Favorite part hands down our Veronica, Stoker, and their relationship. I've never read a pair who have so much chemistry on the page and such intriguing interactions. Alternating between hilarious exchanges and heated UST scenes, these two banter their way across London as they encounter artists, royals, and an abandoned sex club. The intensity and hilarity never lightens up.

The mystery aspect wasn't as original as book one but still enjoyable. Reading more like a mystery than the previous book, this one delves into an enigmatic secret behind a murder in an artist circle's mansion. I wasn't as surprised at the eventual who done it as I might have been. Yet, the journey through the various clues and discussions was pleasurable nonetheless.

What I did enjoy about the mystery part was how much it added to our leads pasts again. While touching lightly on Veronica and her familial connections, the best part we got was more exploration on Stoker’s past. We get to see the family circumstances that develop his character and personality, getting to see how the bitterness developed when it comes to his family. Since most of book one was devoted to developing Veronica, these peeks into Stoker’s past helps develop him more fully.

And that's what makes this series so unique and special. Every aspect of the story, even the mystery itself, always builds and supports our leads personalities and pasts. It's not totally about the mystery itself; it's about the people involved: investigators, allies, suspects, and victim. I think that's what makes Veronica, Stoker, and their relationship so extraordinary. The author concentrate so much on building them up, then centering the mystery around them rather than the other way around.

Even though the mystery itself wasn't as enthralling as the first one, this book is still a solid five for me. The leads, how they play off each other, and the overall story carry the day. I can't help but find myself drawn into Veronica's and Stoker’s chases across London, reveling in their hysterical sniping banter and heated UST scenes. The mystery flows smoothly, if a bit predictably, yet it also enhances our leads and their backgrounds. If you're a fan of book one, definitely look this one up. If you haven't read book one and now this one, where have you been hiding?!?! Go read the series now! I can't recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

REVIEW: Shattered by Jennie Marsland

by Jennie Marsland

Publisher: self
Page Count: 270
Release Date: September 24, 2011
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: incorporation of 1917 Halifax explosion


From GoodReads:

Liam Cochrane no longer belongs. He lost his youth and his brother on the battlefields of Europe. Now he’s home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, trying to dull his pain with liquor and the occasional willing woman. He’s become a stranger in the North End neighbourhood where he grew up.

Alice O’Neill has never belonged. Able to read notes, but not words, she dreams of teaching music – and of Liam, who has held her heart for years and never known. But Liam has shadowy ties in England that he’s revealed to no one, and in that fall of 1917, Halifax is on a collision course with fate. On December 6, a horrific accident of war will devastate the city’s North End. What will be left for Liam and Alice when their world is shattered?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4.5

What drew me to the book was a personal disappointment, but this was made up for by a fantastic portrayal on other aspects I wasn't expecting. The Halifax explosion of 1917 is one of those forgotten events in history, outside the community where it happened. Hardly anyone nowadays seems to know about it which is a tragedy since it had such an impact, was so large, and killed so many. When I read it was incorporated into this title, I was eager to start. After finishing, I was pleased ultimately by a fantastic tale, great characters, and vibrant relationships.

Disappointment was aroused by how little the explosion actually played a part in the story. This is a personal quibble, as that's what drew my attention to the book in the first place. Yet, this massive event was smooshed onto the end, feeling like it was a tacked on afterthought rather than an integral part of the story. What we got was devastating and illustrated how this event wiped out an entire community and brought untold destruction and tragedy. I guess I was just looking for more exploration on how this event impacted the community and people who live there overall. Still, stacked against everything else, this is a small and personal quibble.

That being said, the rest of this book was fantastic. The characters shine as strong individuals, especially Alice. I loved her special blend of vulnerability and steely core. While she comes off as a bit of a doormat in the beginning, as the story gets rolling she matures into a strong woman who doesn't take gruff from anyone. She overcomes a dysfunctional, borderline abusive home situation and disability to make her own path in life, with her own goals and choices.

I also love Liam and his strength of character to overcome some truly tragic mental health issues. With a severe case of PTSD from the trenches of World War I Europe, he found the inner strength to overcome dark thoughts and build a life for himself. His family and Alice help him along the way, creating a truly inspiring tale of self-healing and overcoming obstacles.

Liam and Alice together make the story. Their depth of emotion for each other and strength in supporting each other create a vibrant relationship. Liam creates the strong bulwark Alice needs against her family’s violence and emotional damage. Alice is a well of love and acceptance for Liam as he faces the demons of war and heals. Together they are an example of historical romance done right.

But it's in the area of the World War I vets that this book really shines, unexpected for me. The author surprises in her in-depth portrayal of men caught in the horrors of war and bloodshed, then coming home to peacetime and family life. Not everyone is able to cope and some get lost along the way. The author shows the varying degrees of success, or not, that the different men have in dealing with the horrors. From Alice's brother to Liam to Liam's friend, the reader is taken on an emotional journey that reflects strongly on the plight of veterans and servicemen today.

This book was a pleasant surprise overall. The author takes us on an emotional journey of self-healing and strength in the face of adversity. Both Liam and Alice grow throughout the book, creating intriguing character arcs that can't be resisted. The only downer is the lack of details on the explosion itself and its importance on the story. It's tacked on nature at the end seemed rushed and an afterthought to me. Yet, that's a personal disappointment and may not stand out as strongly to another. I’d still highly recommend this book for its strong characters and emotional depth. This novel stands as an example of self-publication at its best.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

REVIEW: The Girls of Ennismore by Patricia Falvey

The Girls of Ennismore
by Patricia Falvey

Publisher: Kensington
Page Count: 448
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Format: E-Book ARC

How got: ARC via NetGalley

First attention getter: time period/location and pretty cover


From GoodReads:

Set in Ireland during the turbulent early 20th century, Patricia Falvey's sweeping novel explores an unlikely friendship between two girls of vastly different backgrounds, as each tries to overcome the barriers set by class and birthright... 

On a June morning in 1900, Rosie Killeen crosses the road that divides her family's County Mayo farm from the estate of Lord and Lady Ennis, and makes her way to the "big house" for the first time. Barely eight years old, Rosie joins the throng of servants preparing for the arrival of Queen Victoria. But while the royal visit is a coup for Ennismore, a chance meeting on the grounds proves even more momentous for Rosie. 

Victoria Bell, Lord and Lady Ennis's young daughter, is desperately lonely. Though the children of the gentry seldom fraternize with locals, Lord Ennis arranges for Rosie to join in Victoria's school lessons. For Rosie, the opportunity is exhilarating yet isolating. Victoria's governess and aunt, Lady Louisa, objects to teaching a peasant girl. The other servants resent Rosie's escape from the drudgery of life below stairs. Bright, strong-willed Rosie finds herself caught between her own people and the rarefied air of Ennismore--especially as she grows closer to Victoria's older brother, Valentine.
As they near womanhood, the girls' friendship is interrupted. Victoria is bound for a coming out season in Dublin, and Rosie must find a way to support her family. But Ireland is changing too. The country's struggle for Home Rule, the outbreak of the Great War, and a looming Easter rebellion in Dublin all herald a new era. Not even Ennismore can escape unscathed. And for Rosie, family loyalty, love, friendship and patriotism will collide in life-changing ways, leading her through heartbreak and loss in search of her own triumphant independence.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

I was drawn to this book due to my recent obsession with Irish history and reading fiction set during it; I'm glad I picked the title up yet have some reservations. While the author excels in some key areas, I had an issue with some characterization and our primary relationship. Still, this stands as a beautiful depiction of an Ireland on the brink of change and two women caught up in it.

Descriptions of the timeframe and situation of our two heroines are lovingly described. I got a real sense for the differences between classes, the gentle splendor of a pastoral estate, and a capital city on the revolutionary brink. The author takes her time in presenting a setting the reader can experience and feel with the senses. The stark differences between the peaceful years before the Rising and the turbulent scenes of urban street fighting and death that followed make for an eye-opening difference in scenes. I can't credit the author enough for her fantastic use of the descriptors, making her readers really live the action and feel the emotions

Both leads also had distinct personalities all their own. The reader gets the real feeling for the strengths and weaknesses of both girls. They face their changing world and circumstances with courage and maturity. Both learn to think for themselves in a world that would keep them subjugated, especially Victoria. The most change is visible in her as she pursues a career, political belief, and relationship inappropriate to her old world.

I did have an issue with Rosie at times. She displays a strong courageous streak and incredible willpower to create a life on her terms, despite society’s expectations of a girl from her class. She works hard to find jobs to support herself and her family, finding a career and new life in politics and revolution. However, when it comes to her emotions and emotional maturity, I have to say there are times she felt like a dud. So many times she’d be faced with an emotional crisis and instead of dealing with it, she'd flounder and do nothing. Other times she face it with irrational anger and grudges, resulting in lashing out. This made her hard to empathize with.

I also took issue with Valentine. I had to admire his love for the land and wish to do the right thing. Yet, I also felt he went along with life too much, not striving for what he truly wished for. He let life happen to him rather than make his own way. This lack of ambition, both professionally and emotionally, led him to miss out on many opportunities to create a better life for himself and to achieve the relationships he desired.

Thankfully, as we approached the end of the book, Rosie and Valentine improved. Revolution and danger sparked something in them to finally act. Yet, this didn't translate into the relationship at any time. If you could call it a relationship… Not even at the very end, did I ever feel these two have any chemistry. All interactions, even emotional ones like confrontations or love confessions, felt flat and boring. Even being on opposite sides of a rebellion didn't add that extra spark of forbidden love. These two together are just boring, hands down.

The other relationships in the book at least save this title from relationship purgatory for me. Brandon and Victoria are just sweet together. Two people from different sides of the class barrier, their relationship has the element of the forbidden that Valentine's and Rosie's lacked. My heart couldn't help but soar as they strove to be together, despite war and societal expectations. I also adored Rosie's relationship with Cathal. Now there is a relationship with incredible chemistry and emotional turbulence from the past that the pair do a great job in overcoming, even despite Rosie's emotional issues. The issues and consequences in that relationship felt real. Why oh why couldn't that relationship have worked out and made it to the end?!

At least this book had a suspenseful tale of rebellion and character growth to carry it. Both Rosie and Victoria's maturation were a joy to partake in. Relationships with Brendan and Cathal also added spice and emotional depth to their characters. Even though Rosie fell flat emotionally for a large part of the book, at least by the end I felt some connection to her. However it's in the area of her relationship with Valentine and how long it took Rosie to develop that brought this work out. So in the end, this is a upper-to-middle of the road book for me. I'd be open to other works by this author in future, though, since she displays promise as a writer and suspenseful storyteller.

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

Friday, March 3, 2017

REVIEW: Summon the Queen by Jodi McIsaac

Summon the Queen
by Jodi McIsaac

Publisher: 47North
Page Count: 352
Release Date: January 17, 2017
Format: Kindle

How got: personal buy via Amazon

First attention getter: loved book one!


From GoodReads:

It may be impossible to alter the past, but Irish revolutionary Nora O’Reilly is determined to try. Armed with a relic given to her by the goddess Brigid and joined by immortal Irish warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill, Nora is hurled back through time to the sixteenth century. There Nora and Fionn seek the infamous pirate queen Granuaile—Grace O’Malley—the one woman who may be fierce enough to stop Queen Elizabeth I’s tyranny over the Irish people.

But finding Granuaile is no easy feat, and securing her help is tougher still. Nora and Fionn face enemies at every turn, risking capture, separation, and even death in their quest to save Ireland and finally put an end to the centuries-long curse that torments Fionn. But as Nora’s connection to Fionn grows stronger, her loyalties are tested: she may not be able to save both her country and the man she’s grown to love.

In Jodi McIsaac’s thrilling and heartbreaking sequel to Bury the Living, Nora will once again battle time, history, and her own intense desires in an attempt to rewrite the past—and to change the fate of all she holds dear.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

This middle book of the trilogy keeps the magic flowing with Fionn and Nora traveling to late 1500s Ireland, the grip of Elizabethan England ever expanding westward. McIsaac knows how to keep the story moving forward, not an achievement every middle book of a trilogy can boast. This book whetted my appetite for more Nora and Fionn, all the while building up anticipation for book three.

The favorite part for me was the exploration into more of the Irish history of this period. I don't think it's a timeframe that gets written about much, especially Irish history. Yet, it's got so much potential. We're right on the cusp of Gaelic Ireland’s death and the complete domination by Britain.

McIsaac uses Nora, Fionn, and their magical journey as a fantastic foil through which to explore it. We get to meet influential figures from the time: Grace O'Malley, Hugh O’Connell, Donough O'Brien, and Elizabeth I herself. We also get a picture of a society on the brink, Irish chieftains and nobles fighting tooth and nail to keep their traditions alive and family land intact, to varying degrees of success. Some saw the benefit of cooperating with the English and some fought for the old ways with every fiber of there being. I was held in thrall seeing how each figure dealt with the timeframes perils, and my heart was torn by the plight of the everyday person caught in the middle.

The time spent in establishing Nora's and Fionn’s characters in book one really paid off in the second volume. With such well-established personalities, we were able to focus on their relationship, both working and personal. I enjoyed watching the romantic feelings for each other grow with each passing chapter, despite the many obstacles that arose against them. From wild magic to rivals to imprisonment, the author holds nothing back in throwing stones into the romantic pathway. Reading Nora and Fionn rise to the challenge made my heart soar. Even though by the end everything wasn't worked out nor rosy (far from it!), the reader could still get a sense that this romance might have a HAE after all.

I like the additions we got to the folklore and magical aspects as well. McIsaac really tested how far Fionn’s powers go, keeping him alive through some pretty ghastly circumstances. With the timeframe these two are going to next and the individual they're going to face, I have to wonder what's in store for this poor guy. That specific individual also will add a ton more to this area of the story, too; I definitely look forward to that. I loved getting more insight into the actual time travel stuff too; we learn the details about the real power behind that. What that means for Nora's family history and herself makes me twitch in anticipation for book three.

Between historical setting stuff, awesome characters themselves, a vibrant central relationship, and time travel magic, this book ticks off all the right boxes for me. Keeping strong despite being the middle of a trilogy, a position notorious for mediocrity, this book keeps the trilogy and narrative rocketing forward with suspense, emotion, and anticipatory glory. I hope to the high heavens that book three follows as quickly as two did to one; I don't think my anticipation can take any longer of a waiting period. LOL I highly recommend this book along with book one; I'll be the first in line for book three!