Monday, March 27, 2017

Quick Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

From the Back Cover:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

My Thoughts:

Looks like I'm going to be the voice of dissension on this one. I'm sure you've seen the hype surrounding this book. It's hard to miss. Ads were everywhere when it was released, featuring one accolade after another. And the description sounds amazing, doesn't it? I so wanted to love it. I love Russian historical fiction, and I went into it expecting to love it, to be wowed, to be swept off my feet. Alas, none of that happened. While it's not a bad book, at the end of the day, I honestly found it to be just plain boring.

I loved the folklore and magical elements, and I liked Vasilisa, but the pacing is soooo slow. Agonizingly slow. And the omniscient style means we get the point of view of way too many characters, some who don't even have a name, that's how insignificant they are to the story, yet we get their fleeting thoughts anyway. And if you know me, you know I'm a stickler for a tight, focused point of view structure. The author's writing has been described as beautiful and lyrical, but I thought it was rather on the simple side. And then when I got to the end and discovered this is the first in a trilogy, I couldn't help but note that the story would not need to be a trilogy if this book had been trimmed down, the pace quickened, and the rest of the story added in. I actually groaned at the thought of reading this story stretched out over two more books at a snail's pace.

I don't mean to sound harsh, and I know plenty of readers are loving this, but it just didn't live up to my expectations. I'm still giving it three stars because I did stick with it till the end, and I did find some things to admire about it. But not enough to continue on with the other books.

My Rating:  3 Stars out of 5

*Please Note: This review references an advance digital copy received from the publisher via NetGalley, and therefore the final published copy may differ. Though I received this book from the publisher, these are my honest and unbiased thoughts, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

From the Back Cover:

In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.

“That beastly bourgeois Pompadour was one thing; a common prostitute quite another kettle of fish.”

After decades suffering the King's endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.

Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches inevitable revolution.

My Thoughts:

If you follow my reviews, you know that I adored the first two books in Sally Christie's Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, both making my list of best books in the years they were released, and I was awaiting the final installment with a mix of anticipation and sadness. Madame du Pompadour's novel was a tour-de-force, and she left huge footsteps to follow. I was skeptical that I could fall in love with the woman who took her place alongside an ageing king who had grown so debauched, cruel, and oblivious that no woman could possibly want to be his mistress for anything other than the perks. But I was wrong.

We first meet Jeanne Becu as a seven-year-old child working as a servant in a courtesan's household. Her unparalleled beauty, even at such an early age, makes life difficult for her as lecherous men seek to take advantage of her and women are jealous of her. She soon finds herself shipped off to a convent, where she spends the next ten years of her life. Though she stifles under such harsh living conditions and religious teachings, Jeanne's generous heart and sweet nature earn her many friends, and when she is finally released, she quickly lands a job at one of Paris's most exclusive dress shops, where beautiful girls attract customers and help sell the wares. Then one day the Comte du Barry walks in, and the rest is history. I knew little about Jeanne other than that she was Louis XV's last mistress, so there were a few surprises for me as I savored this story, some delightful, some tragic, so I will leave the details of what happens from here for the reader to discover.

This book differs from the others in that we have alternating chapters from the viewpoint of Jeanne's avowed enemy, Princess Adelaide. Desperate for any scrap of attention from her father, she determines to be a spinster and convinces her younger sisters to do the same, so that she may always be at her father's court. Thus she never knows romantic love and cannot understand the appeal of intimacy. Though she has a list of reasons why Jeanne, "the harlot," as she calls her, is an abomination in the world of Versailles, underneath it all, her hatred stems from nothing more than pure jealousy. She fosters animosity toward Jeanne in every courtier she speaks to and quickly turns the new dauphine, Marie Antoinette, against her. Adelaide is so resistant to change, so wrapped up in comporting herself in the manner she thinks befitting a princess of France, so blinded by her own self-importance that she allows the best of what life has to offer pass her by. In the end, the death of Louis XV sets both women adrift.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Review: Passion Favors the Bold by Theresa Romain

From the Back Cover:

DESPERATE MEASURES 

Georgette Frost’s time is almost up. On her twenty-first birthday, the protections outlined in her late parents’ will are set to expire. With prospects for employment or marriage unfavorable at best, she decides to leave London and join her brother, Benedict, on a treasure hunt for gold sovereigns stolen from the Royal Mint. 

DANGEROUS LIAISONS

Lord Hugo Starling has always felt protective of his friend Benedict’s sister, Georgette. So when he discovers her dressed in ragged boy’s clothes, about to board a coach for parts unknown, he feels duty bound to join her search. But mystery piles upon mystery as they cross England together, not least of which is the confounded attraction between them. As Georgette leads him to a reward he never expected, Hugo realizes he’s embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime…

My Thoughts:

I've been hearing lots of good things about Theresa Romain, and I'm always down for a good treasure hunt, so I decided to make her Royal Rewards duology my introduction to her work. While I can find no fault with her writing, and she created some very intriguing characters in Benedict and Charlotte in Fortune Favors the Wicked, I thought their backstories needed more fleshing out to make them fully plausible, and the plot didn't turn out quite as I expected, though it had a wonderful ending that made me cry. I'm happy to say that I enjoyed the sequel, Passion Favors the Bold, much more.

All of England is talking about the crime of the century, the theft of fifty thousand newly minted gold coins from the royal treasury, and those that aren't simply talking about it are trying to find it to claim the five thousand-pound reward. Suddenly, the English countryside is swarming with fortune hunters, and the merest hint of a gold sighting attracts them in droves. When Georgette Frost pieces a few clues together from newspaper reports and realizes her brother, Benedict, is right in the middle of the action, she determines to join him. But she doesn't count on Lord Hugo, her brother's best friend, thwarting her plans when he discovers her in a coaching yard, dressed as a boy and preparing to traverse the countryside unescorted. Unwilling to give up on her dream of leaving her sheltered existence in her family's bookstore behind, she convinces Hugo to escort her to her brother, and thus begins her hopeful adventure.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Blog Tour Video Guest Post: The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO
by Margaret George

Berkley Hardcover
On Sale: March 7, 2016
ISBN: 9780451473387

The New York Times bestselling and legendary author of Helen of Troy and Elizabeth I now turns her gaze on Emperor Nero, one of the most notorious and misunderstood figures in history.

Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar's imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman or child.

As a boy, Nero's royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son's inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.

While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina's machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero's determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become, an Emperor who became legendary.

With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy's ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.


Praise for The Confessions of Young Nero:

“George’s reconstruction of the man, in terms both of his public life and private character, is more than a revisiting of fact: It’s a subtle exploration of identity and the insidious effects of power. . . . Confessions is all about identity: How is it made, lost, reinvented? . . . Margaret George occupies that blurry space between history and fiction. And between Tacitus and Margaret George, I rather think it’s George’s account that is not only most sympathetic but most truthful.”—Diana Gabaldon, Washington Post

“With conviction and flair, George looks past two millennia of bad press about Nero to reveal an intelligent man of justice and religious tolerance who takes refuge in artistic expression. This is the first of two novels charting his dangerous, outrageous life in first-century Rome; the second will be eagerly awaited.”—Booklist


“Highly acclaimed for the detail and personality she gives to epic subjects, George’s heavily researched novel flows dynamically among multiple points of view. VERDICT: Historical fiction devotees and anyone who enjoys the entertainment of a grandly dysfunctional family will quickly devour this first volume of a duology and eagerly await its sequel.”—Library Journal


GIVEAWAY!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Review: The Visitor by Amanda Stevens

From the Back Cover:

My name is Amelia Gray. I'm the Graveyard Queen.

Restoring lost and abandoned cemeteries is my profession, but I'm starting to believe that my true calling is deciphering the riddles of the dead. Legend has it that Kroll Cemetery is a puzzle no one has ever been able to solve. For over half a century, the answer has remained hidden within the strange headstone inscriptions and intricate engravings. Because uncovering the mystery of that tiny, remote graveyard may come at a terrible price.

Years after their mass death, Ezra Kroll's disciples lie unquiet, their tormented souls trapped within the walls of Kroll Cemetery, waiting to be released by someone strong and clever enough to solve the puzzle. For whatever reason, I'm being summoned to that graveyard by both the living and the dead. Every lead I follow, every clue I unravel brings me closer to an unlikely killer and to a destiny that will threaten my sanity and a future with my love, John Devlin.

My Thoughts:

I am such a fan of the first three book in this series for several reasons: I love Charleston. It's my favorite city in the US. I love old cemeteries, and whenever I visit Charleston or any other old town on the East Coast, you bet I'm going to spend some time exploring their cemeteries. And finally, I love me some Southern Gothic. Add a smart heroine, a brooding hero, some sexy times, some history, and lots of spooky chills, and it all adds up to reading perfection for me. It's hard to review books in a series without revealing spoilers from earlier books, and it's doubly hard to review a mystery without accidentally revealing a little nugget a reader would have rather found on their own, so I'm going to skip the plot recap and just tell you how I felt about this book: I waited three long years for this fourth installment, and while I wish I could say it was well worth the wait, I did not find it as satisfying as earlier books.

While I have loved the undeniable chemistry between Amelia and John Devlin in previous books, I thought this one focused too much on Amelia's insecurities where Devlin is concerned. Now that they are finally a couple, I began to notice little things that bothered me, not the least of which is Devlin's refusal to acknowledge Amelia's true nature in spite of everything that's happened (FYI: she sees dead people), and they don't seem to have much in common outside of the bedroom. All of this leads up to what happens at the end of the book (and if you haven't read this book yet, don't read the blurb for book five, which includes a spoiler), so it definitely serves a purpose, but I found her inner worries to be repetitive, and they also made her look a little weaker in my eyes.

Another thing that contributed to my lower rating of this installment is that Amelia doesn't even get to a cemetery until halfway through the book. The pace was incredibly slow. Who would have thought it would take me two weeks to finish this book when I devoured the others in two days. And lastly, this book should have been published sooner. Three years is really too long to go between books in a series with an ongoing plot. I'm very glad that it reminded me of so much I'd forgotten, but I'd imagine those reading it right on the heels of The Prophet might be annoyed at the backstory info dumps. However, book five is already out, and book six releases next month, so we don't have to wait any longer to see where this thing is going.

Now on to the things I loved and that will keep me reading this series! Amanda Stevens has not lost her knack for writing some seriously creepy stuff without straying into the realm of outright horror. Conjoined twins, cults, antique ghostly photos, a curiosity shop filled with the odd and macabre, bees and cicadas, and that ever-present Gothic vibe that is uniquely Southern--this book is full of things to make your spine tingle. And, as always, the climax is made of pulse-pounding, nail-biting stuff. And I'm glad that a little bit more was revealed about Amelia's heritage. I am hopeful that one day she is going to get all of the answers she needs to be able to embrace who she is and live her life to the fullest. I'm already on to The Sinner, hoping it will take this series back up to the level of awesomeness of the earlier books. If you haven't yet read this series, I highly recommend that you do, in order, starting with The Restorer.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars out of 5

*Please Note: This review references an advance digital copy received from the publisher via NetGalley, and therefore the final published copy may differ. Though I received this book from the publisher, these are my honest and unbiased thoughts, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Blog Tour Review: Daughter of a Thousand Years by Amalia Carosella

From the Back Cover:

Greenland, AD 1000

More than her fiery hair marks Freydís as the daughter of Erik the Red; her hot temper and fierce pride are as formidable as her Viking father’s. And so, too, is her devotion to the great god Thor, which puts her at odds with those in power—including her own brother, the zealous Leif Eriksson. Determined to forge her own path, she defies her family’s fury and clings to her dream of sailing away to live on her own terms, with or without the support of her husband.

New Hampshire, 2016

Like her Icelandic ancestors, history professor Emma Moretti is a passionate defender of Norse mythology. But in a small town steeped in traditional values, her cultural beliefs could jeopardize both her academic career and her congressman father’s reelection. Torn between public expectation and personal identity, family and faith, she must choose which to honor and which to abandon.

In a dramatic, sweeping dual narrative that spans a millennium, two women struggle against communities determined to silence them, but neither Freydís nor Emma intends to give up without a fight.

My Thoughts:

Two women, similar struggles, one thousand years apart.

Freydis, only daughter of Erik the Red, is faced with a decision: marry a man she doesn't love or respect in the hopes of one day commanding her own sailing ship, or face an uncertain future under her brother's thumb in a land rapidly converting to Christianity and abandoning the faith and traditions that are so important to her. Against counsel, she chooses marriage and discovers that it still isn't enough to grant her her heart's desire, or to protect her right to worship her gods, particularly Thor, in whom she places her utmost trust and faith. So when a stranger appears offering her physical and spiritual comfort and promising her the life of her dreams if she only stays true to her faith, she accepts and determines to forge her own destiny, though she will have a difficult journey ahead of her.

In the twenty-first century, congressman's daughter Emma Moretti struggles to reconcile her departure from Catholicism with her place in her community and in her own family. But the middle of her father's brutal reelection campaign isn't exactly the best time to announce that she's a Heathen, and her excitement at teaching Norse history at the local college is quickly dampened when her views are challenged in the classroom. To make things worse, a reporter has gotten hold of information about her faith that gives her father's opponent ammunition to take him down right before the election, and Emma has to decide if standing up for her beliefs will cost her more than she's willing to lose.