Friday, December 5, 2014

A Sudden Light - Garth Stein

Title: A Sudden Light
Author: Garth Stein
Ebook: 400 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published date: September 2014
FTC: I requested to review from NetGalley

Wow. This is one of those books I've been meaning to review and what I gave a solid five stars on GoodReads. I thoroughly enjoyed Garth Stein's novel The Art of Racing in the Rain (my review) and one of my husband's all-time favorites.  I even liked Raven Stole the Moon (my review).  But you have to check out the novel A Sudden Light. Such a beautiful coming to age novel with such atmosphere I'd except to see in Neil Gaiman book.  While the story is part ghost-story, I love that it's paranormal aspects are subdued. Anything more blatant I would call out as ridiculous while Stein makes this story believable. It's definitely my cup of tea.

Back of the book:

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.

A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

My thoughts:

I absolutely gobbled up this story of Trevor Riddell of whom from the very beginning I felt such an empathy towards. His mother and father are taking a separation in their marriage, they just lost their home his father is tasked with taking Trevor back to Riddell House - the mansion where they are to figure out how to talk his senile grandfather into selling the family estate.

I just adored the atmosphere the Garth Stein created. The author is from and familiar with the Pacific Northwest and what a setting. I also loved that he set the story in 1990, not in modern times. I think it works for the story's time-line but also because Trevor Riddell isn't able to plug into an ipod or smart phone and ignore the world and his problems. (Yeah yeah he could have a walkman or whatever but you know what I mean.)

The story is told with ghostly attributes but also with definite flashbacks to the stories of his ancestors who first built the house and digs into their secrets. While it might not be everyone's cup of tea, I love this because I am such a history geek but I also think that relationships and people are interesting and sympathetic whatever the time period. I also love how he made the house almost like the center character. It really reminded me of Sarah Waters very atmospheric story The Little Stranger (my review) where the English estate really a pivotal character.

While I really enjoyed Garth Stein's previous novels, especially The Art of Racing in the Rain, I think A Sudden Light is my new favorite novel of his.  Definitely worth checking out.

Here's Garth Stein talking about A Sudden Light:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

2015 Sci-Fi Experience

I absolutely love Carl V's annual Sci-Fi Experience. I've been really needing something to jump start me back into blogging.  This last year has been crazy raising two active boys and moving a couple of times. We are now settled in the beautiful state of Arkansas and it's amazing how much I already feel it is home.

When Carl's challenge popped up I was excited because I've just started reading Ender's Game and I was wanting an excuse to read Maria Doria Russell's novel The Sparrow.  I also read Abaddon's Gate a long while back and never reviewed it and need to get my hands on Cibola Burns. If you've never read James S.A. Corey's amazing Expanse series - you need to now. Especially since it's going to be a TV series soon so hop to it!

What I love about the Sci-Fi genre is that it really is such a wide genre and there really is something for everyone. For instance, Connie Willis is one of my favorites but it's no wonder since it's also really historical fiction too. If you like detective or mystery stories then you should really check out the first Expanse novel Leviathan Wakes.  I am excited to see what everyone else reads and recommends. Head over to Carl's review site to it all out!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Unexpected Earl - Philippa Jane Keyworth

Title: The Unexpected Earl
Author: Philippa Jane Keyworth
Paperback: 324 pages (my version eBook)
Publisher: Madison Street Publishing
Published date: 2014
FTC: Reviewed for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

When I saw that HF Virtual Book Tours was doing a tour for Ms Keyworth's Regency novel The Unexpected Earl, I couldn't resist. I am such a sucker for this genre. She loves Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer novels. Sign me up.

This novel was such a light fun read. I can tell that Ms Keyworth did her research and there were some great insights into the Regency life.  While it honestly didn't bring anything super new to the genre, it was an entertaining read (I seriously read it in just a couple of days) and I am looking forward to reading more of her novels.


Six years after being jilted without a word of explanation, Julia Rotherham finds Lucius Wolversley standing before her once again–unexpected, unannounced, unwelcome. With her heart still hurting and, more importantly, her pride, Julia must chaperone her younger sister, fend off fortune hunters, orchestrate a fake engagement, and halt an elopement–all whilst keeping the man who jilted her at arm’s length. But what Julia doesn't know is that this time, the Earl has no intention of disappearing, and this time, he has more than an explanation to offer…
My thoughts:

Honestly, when I first starting reading the novel I couldn't stand the character of Julia Rotherham. She seemed pretty abrasive and rude. But Ms Keyworth did a wonderful job of slowly eroding her walls and developing her character. I love books like this where we privy to more than just the heroine's point of view and it was entertaining to read Lucius Wolversley's side of the story.  Unlike many Regency's I've read, Ms Keyworth told a lot of the story from the men's perspectives. Ms Austen kind of gently inferred things but it was entertaining to follow these gentlemen out of the parlor and into the world they inhabited.

The story obviously revolves around Julia Rotherham and Lucius Wolversley.  I liked that instead of there being a lot of mooning and moping, the love story isn't sappy. Julia and Lucius are both having to learn about trust and being truthful and honest. It's also a story of family, especially Julia's relationship with her sister. I am such a sucker for books with good sister stories.

What makes The Unexpected Earl stand out from other modern Regency's that I've read is that Ms Keyworth is a wonderful writer and throws a lot of wit into the writing reminiscent of Ms Austen's novels.  Ms Keyworth lives in England so she's got the language done perfectly. If you've never read a Regency novel, I think this would be a great introduction to the genre. I am warning you that the book starts of a bit slow so get past that and you've got an amazingly well written, entertaining story, a surprising amount of action, and a novel that is much more than just a Regency love story.

Cover thoughts:

I read my book as an eBook but I adore the cover. It's one that I wish I had the actual book. I want to check out her other book The Widow's Redeemer which sounds interesting and also has a beautiful cover:

The Unexpected Earl Blog Tour Schedule

Saturday, September 20
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Monday, September 22
Review at Austenprose
Review at To Read or Not to Read
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Tuesday, September 23
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Spotlight & Excerpt at Romantic Historical Reviews
Wednesday, September 24
Review & Interview at Bookish
Friday, September 26
Review & Interview at Back Porchervations
Spotlight at Princess of Eboli
Sunday, September 28
Review at Book Nerd
Monday, September 29
Review at Mel’s Shelves
Review at Based on a True Story
Review at Queen of All She Reads
Tuesday, September 30
Review at A Library of My Own

For more information please visit Philippa Jane Keyworth’s website and blog. You can also connect with her onFacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Monday, August 11, 2014

East India - Colin Falconer

Title: East India
Author: Colin Falconer
Paperback: 317 pages
Publisher: Cool Gus
Published date: July 2014
FTC: Reviewed for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

When I heard that HF Virtual Book Tours was doing Colin Falconer's latest novel, I knew I had to jump on board. I read his novel on Cleopatra called When We Were Gods back in 2008 and became a Colin Falconer fan. Oddly enough I haven't read more of his books but I am going to have to. I didn't know he had so many books under his belt. I loved how he wrote Cleopatra as an amazing political figure. He has other famous women books such as Anastasia and Isabella of France. He even has a Jerusalem series I'm going to have to check out.

Back of the book:

In any other circumstance but shipwreck, rape and murder, a man like Michiel van Texel would never have met a fine lady such as Cornelia Noorstrandt.

He was just a soldier, a sergeant in the Dutch East India company's army, on his way from Amsterdam to the Indies to fight the Mataram. Such a woman was far above the likes of him.

But both their destinies intertwine far away from Holland, on some god-forsaken islands near the Great Southland. When their great ship, the Utrecht, founders far from home, surviving the Houtman Rocks is the least of their worries.

As they battle to survive and the bravest and the best reveal themselves for what they are, Cornelia's only hope is a mercenary in a torn coat who shows her that a man is more than just manners and money.

He makes her one promise: 'Even if God forsakes you, I will find you.'

But can he keep it?

My thoughts:

I have to be honest, I am only half way done with the novel. I received the book in the mail and then immediately went to visit family toting my one year old along. I thought I'd have had more time to read but alas.  That said...this book is addicting! The more I read the more I am getting sucked into the story.

The story starts off as the boat is boarding and leaving Holland. It's a tad slow build up but necessary as we see all the cast of characters come together for, I'm not joking, an expected eight (EIGHT!) month long voyage. Can you imagine?! What would happen if you threw over 300 men, women and children - sailors, soldiers, a pastor and his family, and a wealthy woman into a not too large boat for eight months. Grudges, jealousy, rape, murder, and shipwreck - and it is all historically based.

I was Googling the time period, the Dutch East India company and the Houtman Rocks of Australia when I came upon the story of the ship Batavia. This shockingly horrific event is what Colin Falconer based the book on. The story of the Batavia, as well as Colin Falconer's fictional Utrecht is literally like watching a shipwreck - fascinating, horrible, and hard to look away.

I really enjoy the historical aspect of historical fiction but I am looking forward to seeing how Cornelia and Michiel's story progresses.  Literally at 150 pages into the novel they are just shipwrecked and starting to interact on the island.  So far I am loving the various character's voices.  Colin Falconer tells the story not only in Cornelia and Michiel's points of views, but also alternates between the villainous skipper, the mutinous Undermerchant, and the mutable commandeur of the Utrecht. So far I only have two critiques: I'd love a character list and description at the beginning of the book. I sometimes get a bit confused when sailors are mentioned and what jobs they do. The other is that while I think the cover is gorgeous, Cornelia is supposed to be darker olive skinned with dark hair. Hmm.

The back of the book mentions a critic liking Cornelia and Michiel to Jack and Rose of the Titanic movie.  It is illuminating to know that from the start the reader knows that all will not end well - think of Romeo and Juliet's story or even Cleopatra. While I am prepared for non-happily ever after, I can't wait to see how this story ends. (I will update this review when I am done. Check back!)

Check out the rest of the HF Virtual Tour stops for more reviews.  

Trailer for the East India:

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Testing & Independent Study - Joelle Charbonneau

Title: The Testing (The Testing #1)
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Hardcover: 336 pages (my version ARC paperback)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books
Published date: 2013
FTC: Requested to review from publisher

When I heard about the premise for the YA trilogy The Testing I knew I'd want to check it out. I love YA dystopian novels - The Hunger Games, Divergent, Article 5, etc. I was pretty darn impressed with The Testing. So far, it has the most realistic premises for it's dystopian future.  I also really liked the protagonist Cia Vale. I don't normally write multiple reviews in one post, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Back of the book:

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation's chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing - their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father's advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies - trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this first book of The Testing series. I was very impressed with synopsis of the Seven Stages War that left earth pretty messed up.  Survivors have rallied and made a capitol city in Kansas while colonies are made in other regions of the U.S. The goal of the survivors is to fix and rejuvenate the earth while making sure their future government doesn't make the same mistakes. Gradually throughout the testing (and more in the second book) the background unfolds. I thought this was pretty brilliant on the author's part to gradually fill in the gaps of the apocalyptic background.

I also thought the idea of the future University whose goal is to recruit only the best and brightest who will be the future leaders of the United Commonwealth.  Think of The Testing as the ACT or SAT test only insanely more intense and life threatening.  What appealed to me the most about this book is how scarily logical the whole thing is. While some dystopian novels have kind of a silly or far fetched big brother government, this one is very realistic. The Testing challenges are also crazily brutal. I think it's more scarily done than The Hunger Games because it's done on such an awful stage.

I also really liked Cia Vale. Growing up with five older brothers, you can see how she became the person she is. She really looks up and adores her oldest brother Zeen and her father - both are very intelligent.  She's got a drive to impress and live up to her family's brilliance.  While this book has a tad bit of love story between Cia and Tomas, it really isn't mushy or overly done. I think even guys would enjoy reading the story. I was definitely looking forward to reading book two of the series.

Title: Independent Study (The Testing #2)
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Hardcover: 310 pages (my version eBook)
Publisher: HMH Books
Published date: January 2014
FTC: Check out eBook from the library

Back of the book:

Cia is a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas - and thought the government has tried to erase her memory of the brutal horrors of The Testing, Cia remembers. Her attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government's murderous programs put her - and her loved ones - in a world of danger. But the future of the Commonwealth depends on her.

My thoughts:

Hmm. This one is much harder to review. It doesn't lack in action, it starts out on a good foot that way.  Think of college freshman initiations only more deadly. That and Cia and her classmates don't get to pick which area of study they want. They are placed. So while Cia Vale was wanting to do mechanical engineering, she is placed into government studies. The synopsis is also a little misleading. Cia really doesn't remember her time during the Testing...but I'd spoil the end of book one if I told you what happens.

I think the problem with book two is that I just didn't connect as much with Cia. She is basically on survival mode and a lot of the relationships and character building of book one just isn't there. The book doesn't have a whole lot of dialogue so that's always hard for me as a reader. I'll admit that halfway into the book I was debating on giving up on the series.  I am glad I stuck with it though because I really liked how it ended on a cliffhanger and I'm going to check out book three. I won't be waiting on pins and needles but I do want to see how it ends. I just hope the last book gets back some of the personal tones and relationship building that book one had.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Salt & Storm - Kendall Kulper

Title: Salt & Storm
Author: Kendall Kulper
Hardcover: 416 pages (my version ebook ARC)
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published date: September 23, 2014
FTC: Requested to review from Netgalley

My goodness, I'm not sure exactly why but I love this cover. I would have read Salt & Storm without even knowing the story blurb based on the cover alone.  It's mid-July and this book isn't going to be published until September but I already know that Salt & Storm is going to make waves. (I'm laughing at my little joke.)

The story blurb:

 A sweeping historical romance about a witch who foresees her own murder - and the one boy who can help change her future.

Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island's whalers safe at sea, but her mother has forced her into a magic-free world of proper manners and respectability. When Avery dreams she's about to be murdered, she knows time is running out to unlock her magic and save herself.

Avery finds an unexpected ally in a tattooed harpoon boy named Tane - a sailor with magic of his own, who moves Avery in ways she never expected. Becoming a witch might stop her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers her magic requires a sacrifice she never prepared for.

My thoughts:

Salt & Storm is beautifully written and engaging. Kendall Kulper is a Harvard grad with a degree in lit and history. My kind of author!  So while this book may be tagged "romance" and "ya" it can stand alone as a piece of well written literature.

As a history major myself, I adored the mid-nineteenth century era Avery Roe is from. It almost makes me want to try and read Moby Dick again. I have yet to travel to the shores of Massachusetts but for some reason I always think it will look and feel like this book.  A girl can wish though, can't she?

While the story is set in the past and it's dubbed a historical fiction, if that genre isn't your thing you'd probably enjoy this novel.  The whole story is from Avery Roe's perspective. She's sixteen and rebelling against the life her mom wants for her. While I liked the mystery around Avery's dream of her murder, her frantic search for a way to stop her murder, and her romance with Tane, I loved how the story rolled back to her relationship with her mom.  I think this is a great coming-of-age story.  And what sixteen year old girl isn't going to swoon over Tane. I would have.

I am looking forward to future books by Kendall Kulper.  

Alternate covers I found on Goodreads:

What's your favorite cover?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Modern Pioneering - Georgia Pellegrini

Title: Modern Pioneering
Author: Georgia Pellegrini
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Published date: March 2014
FTC: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

I love the site Blogging for Books. They've recently gone through a revamp and they have a ton of new review books. I gasped when I saw this one and then nearly drooled when I received it. I absolutely adore this book.  Tiny disclaimer - the "pioneering" is taken a bit lightly - you aren't going to learn how to pluck a chicken or anything major.  But this book is right up my alley as a newbie to gardening and eating in season.

This book is beautifully made.  I had to snap some pictures because while you can get it as an eBook, I'd definitely recommend getting the physical book. It is gorgeous.

I love that this book is so visually stunning and explains everything so easily. It's like being able to pick someone's brain and throw it all into a book for handy reference. I've been needing someone to explain what she does in just a couple of pages:

This is really a massively awesome cook book and gardening book. Like I said, while it won't tell you how to raise, kill and pluck chickens, it does show how to quarter one and how to make stock.  Again, perfect for me (although my husband has a dream to raise chickens, goats and bees for some reason).

My family and I are currently going through a massive change. We moved from Las Vegas and are looking for a job and a place to live. I'm looking forward to being able to grow some of our own food and get my two sons involved as well. Modern Pioneering is going to be a great resource for recipes and gardening tips once I get started. For instance, I might be able to grow radishes but then what? I love her section on preserving and jamming. Mmmm.

Check out the video:

Also check out:

Georgia Pellegrini's website
Georgia Pellegrini's facebook

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Glittering Promises - Lisa T. Bergren

Title: Glittering Promises (Grand Tour #3)
Author: Lisa T. Bergren
Paperback: 443 pages (my version ebook)
Publisher: David C Cook
Published date: 2013
FTC: Requested from Netgalley

When I saw the third book in Lisa T. Bergren's Grand Tour series on Netgalley, I knew I wanted to check it out. I really enjoyed the first two books, check out my review of book one Glamorous Illusions. This Christian fiction series has a cute romance story but I actually really liked the characters, especially the leading lady Cora Kensington. I also loved watching the characters tour around pre-WWI Europe.

Back of the book:

For Cora Kensington, the Grand Tour was to be the trip of a lifetime. She discovered the family she never knew she had and may have even found the love she longs for in Will. Yet her life has just become infinitely more challenging...

Hounded by the stubborn pursuit of Pierre de Richelieu and journalists chasing the beguiling story of the newest American heiress, Cora fights to remain true to her past, reconcile her present, and still embrace her future. But as Will struggles with her newfound wealth, Cora begins to wonder if their love is strong enough to withstand all that threatens to pull them apart.

As she glimpses the end of the tour, Cora knows it's time to decide Who and what defines her...and who and what does not.

My thoughts:

While book one, Glamorous Illusions, was my favorite book of the series, I thought Ms Bergren did a great job in book two and three of rounding out the characters and really showing their realistic struggles with each other and with their faith.

To be honest, the story can sometimes seem a little ridiculous.  Cora finds herself not only as the illegitimate child of one of the wealthiest men in America, but after coming into her own fortune, she also becomes the wealthiest woman in America. She is pursued by the wealthy European Pierre de Richelieu, hounded by journalists, and chased by a villain intent on kidnapping her. Ok. That's a lot going on.

But what I loved about the story is that Cora's and Will's internal struggles were something every one could identify with. Do we let our jobs, finances, relationships define us or are we defined by God? We all have to decide Who not what defines us. Sometimes Cora and Will drove me crazy by their childish behavior and lack of communication - but isn't that realistic too? Often we are our best worst enemy.

I loved the armchair traveling in this last book. Traveling around Italy I was Googling sites as they went. I loved that some of the excitement in the story happened at Pompeii and then the next book I read was also located near Pompeii although during WWII. How interesting is that? This series is great if you want to do a lot of armchair traveling.

I am loving Ms Bergren's story telling and am looking forward to checking out her other novels.

More novels:

The Homeward Trilogy

River of Time Series

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay

Title: Sarah's Key
Author: Tatiana de Rosnay
Paperback: 295 pages
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Published date: 2007
FTC: Bought at library book sale

Sarah's Key has been on my radar since it first came out in 2007.  I kept meaning to read it but never got around to it.  Then they made a movie and I knew I'd want to read the book before I saw the film.  Was it good? Yes. Five star good? No. Will I watch the movie and probably get all teary eyed? Yes. Will I keep the book? No.

Back of the book:

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting French families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard - their secret hiding place - and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.

Sixty Years Later: Sarah's story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.

My thoughts:

It's hard not to get overwhelmed at the number of fictional books out there centered around the Holocaust during WWII.  I've read a number of them so I am always in awe of authors who manage to find something "new" and manage to make it a fascinating, absorbing, and moving story.  Before Sarah's Key, I had never heard of the French police's involvement and the absolutely horrendous treatment of children during the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup. Sometimes it's easier to just blame the Nazi's but Ms de Rosnay's ability to remind us that ordinary people in any time period are capable of committing horrendous acts and how such horrible events are already becoming forgotten.  It is unbelievably sad.

On top of the Holocaust and the craziness that was the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, Ms de Rosnay manages to throw in the story of a young boy locked in a cupboard by his ten year old sister because just like it seems unfathomable to us, it was unimaginable to her that she would not be returning to her home. Sarah's story, while fictional, is one that everyone should read about and remember so history such as hers is never repeated.

I understood why Sarah's Key was interspersed with Julia Jarmond's story. I think to have the whole story centered around Sarah would have been almost too hard to read. I liked Julia's quest to uncover the truth, to find out who Sarah was and what happened to her, to want to tell her that people like Julia will never forget what happened.  But there is much of Julia's personal story that got in the way and I felt it was almost distracting. I could have done without the drama of her failing marriage or her husband's infidelity or her being l'américain in Paris. 

Other covers:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Half a King - Joe Abercrombie

Title: Half a King (Shattered Sea #1)
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Hardcover: 352 pages (my version egalley)
Publisher: Del Rey/Random House
Published date: July 15, 2014
FTC: Received eGalley from NetGalley

I've been wanting to check out Joe Abercrombie's books for some time. So when I saw NetGalley had the first book in a new series by Abercrombie, I jumped on it.  I didn't realize it until later but it's his first foray into YA.  I probably wouldn't have realized that since I haven't read any of his other books but don't let that stop you from checking it out. Wow. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series when it comes out and will be checking out more of Abercrombie's books. If you are a fan of Game of Thrones and want something just as good but not as gory, you must check out this series.

Back of the book:

"I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath."

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

 The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began - in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

My thoughts:

I love the niche that Joe Abercrombie has found and is filling superbly.  Game of Thrones and many other fantasy novels are widely popular but they are definitely something that I wouldn't want my boys reading (and definitely not watching) when they are YA age. Half a King is superbly written, well-crafted and is filled with addicting characters.  What I liked was that while there were battles and death, it lacked the over-the-top graphic battle and sex scenes that some fantasy novels have and was the perfect length at under 400 pages.  Often there are some interesting series or trilogies out there but the massive chunksters can turn me off.  A master storyteller can accomplish create a world, populate it with fascinating people and characters, and a compelling story that makes you eager for the next book to come out without making it a massive tome.

If you are not used to reading fantasy novels, Half a King would be a great introduction to the genre. The story is shown through Yarvi's eyes and is centered around his "coming of age" journey from younger inept brother suddenly thrust into becoming a king.  Yarvi was born with one hand partially formed and was constantly told he was not a whole man. His older brother was destined to become king.  Fate threw him onto the throne he did not want and into avenging the deaths of his father and brother. I love books where circumstances thrust a young character into growing up. It reminds me of Treasure Island or Silver. It's also reminiscent of Game in Thrones only in the fact that the world isn't too far off from our Middle Age past. I would have loved to have a map included in my galley edition and hope there is one in the hard cover version.  I am looking forward to book #2 whenever it comes out. In the meantime I will be checking out Abercromie's other acclaimed books.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

With Every Letter - Sarah Sundin

Title: With Every Letter (Wings of the Nightingale #1)
Author: Sarah Sundin
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Revell
Published date: 2012
FTC: Ebook from the library

I was perusing my library's ebook collection and while I've been trying to read ebooks that I own, for some reason I was drawn to this book.  I am such a sucker for WWII novels and I was drawn to the stories of these flight nurses.  While not five star material (ok four and a half), I was totally sucked into the series and am reading book two right now.  I'm looking forward to book three coming out in August. This book is also Christian fiction which I've been enjoying more and more.

Back of the book:

Lt. Mellie Blake is looking forward to her training as a flight nurse. She is not looking forward to writing a letter to a man she's never met - even if it is anonymous and part of a morale-building program.

Lt. Tom MacGilliver, an officer stationed in North Africa, welcomes the idea of an anonymous correspondence - he's been trying to escape his infamous name for years. As their letters crisscross the Atlantic, Tom and Mellie develop a unique friendship despite not knowing the other's true identity.

When both are transferred to Algeria, the two are poised to meet face-to-face for the first time. Will they overcome their fears and reveal who they are, or will their future be held hostage by their pasts?

My thoughts:

This sounds like such a cheesy romance right? Ok sort of. But what I loved about the story is that it went much deeper than that.  I loved Mellie Blake's background - part Filipino who helped her father apply medicine in the field in jungles and back country.  She prays for his safety as he is currently missing in Japan. Her background provided excellent training for a nurse but she struggles with making friends and being social. I adored the other flight nurses - Rose, Georgiana, and Kay.  So while there is romance, a good part of the story is watching Mellie grow as a person.  The other two books center around Lt. Georgiana and Lt Kay. Sarah Sundin's books are also great because the chapters alternate perspectives between Mellie and Tom.  I really enjoyed Lt. Tom's voice and insight. This book is also Christian fiction so while it's not slam in your face, I loved the ethical and moral decisions these characters faced and how they overcame them.

As a history buff, I loved learning about different theaters, operations, and people during WWII.  Lt. Mellie Blake, while fictional, was part of the 802nd Medical Air Transport Squadron. If you head over to Sarah Sundin's website she gives more in depth about the historical aspects of her novel. Lt. Tom MacGilliver was part of the Corps of Engineers. I thoroughly enjoyed following Mellie and Tom through Algeria and Tunisia as Operation Torch was carried out.

This book is a great read whether you are wanting romance or history.  I was also excited to find book #1 of her other series Wings of Glory free as a Nook book.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Unthinkable - Richard Cibrano

Title: Unthinkable
Author: Richard Cibrano
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Authorhouse
Published date: 2013
FTC: Received to review from Kelley and Hall Book Publicity

When I heard of Richard Cibrano's novel about the Titanic I knew I'd have to check it out. I've always been fascinated by the Titanic. I remember when the National Geographic came out in the 80's when they discovered the ship underwater. I couldn't even read but I remember flipping through the pages.  Then when I found out this novel contained the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Teddy Roosevelt and a conspiracy...come on!  Sign me up.  I had so much fun with this novel. I hope Mr Cibrano decides to write more novels staring Pinkerton agent Dimaio.  In fact, this would make an awesome series for BBC or PBS. 

Back of the book:

When detective Francis Dimaio, supervisor of the Pinkerton detective agency's Philadelphia bureau, read the telegram from Allan Pinkerton, ordering him to leave immediately for New York, he knew he would have to put off the vacation with his wife. What he couldn't have known was that he was about to open an investigation into the deaths of more than 1500 people.

A few days earlier, former president Theodore Roosevelt had arrived unexpectedly at Pinkerton's Broadway office. In his possession was a letter from his former aide and adviser, Major Archibald Butt. Butt, now the aide-de-camp for President Taft, had been returning to the United States on the Titanic after a round of diplomacy with the King of Italy, when he went down with the ship. In the letter, dated the day of the sailing, Butt wrote that a representative of the Italian Prime Minister approached him with knowledge of a stratagem to incite the world to the brink of war. Most alarming, the plot would involve the sinking of a passenger liner. The source of the tip further confided Titanic would be the logical target. Determined to uncover the facts behind the portentous warning, Roosevelt persuades Pinkerton to take on the case. Dimaio, a tenacious investigator whose resume includes tracking Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, accepts the assignment and quickly uncovers an elaborate insurance fraud involving Titanic and her sister ship Olympic. Working every angle, Dimaio discovers the fraud was double-edged, and as evidence begins to emerge that the plot is still in play, he and Pinkerton find themselves in a race against time with an ambitious financier, a ruthless agent from British Intelligence, and the cabal of powerful men working behind the scenes, hell-bent on seeing to completion their diabolical plans.

My thoughts:

I have to get this off my shoulder first. I'm not a fan of present tense narrative. For some reason it always takes my brain a bit to adjust to the different narrative. That said, by the end of the book I barely noticed it I was having so much fun with the story. 

Richard Cibrano did an amazing job weaving in historical facts and fictional what ifs.  What if Titanic was switched with the badly damaged Olympic as an attempt at massive insurance fraud.  What if people knew something was going to happen to the Titanic that voyage? I also adore books that have Teddy Roosevelt. He is such a fascinating character, such a larger than life figure. I'm also intrigued by the historic Pinkerton detective agency. I need to read more fiction and non-fiction books about them.

I ended up really loving the character of Dimaio. A historical figure himself, I adored his fictional persona Cibrano made up and his intriguing real life accomplishments. Seriously, some one HAS to make a series or movie on this guy. He went under cover in the mafia and chased Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in South America. I wish there was more info out there on this guy. I also loved that Cibrano included the character of Rigel, the hero dog of the Titanic. Even if the story of Rigel was made up, I love the fictional Rigel of Cibrano's story. 

I'm hoping Richard Cibrano writes more stories of Dimaio.  I'd love to read one about the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The House at Tyneford - Natasha Solomons

Title: The House at Tyneford
Author: Natasha Solomons
Paperback: 359 pages
Publisher: A Plume Book/Penguin
Published date: 2011
FTC: Library book sale

I love that the world has finally caught up to my love of Downton Abbey.  I've watched since Season One and my husband set aside Sunday nights so I could watch on PBS.  I'll admit that I haven't been as hooked this season...only have seen most of the first episode. That said I still love the era and the books that are set around one of Britian's imposing estates.  I also love WWII era books so I knew I'd enjoy The House at Tyneford.  I rarely give books a five star rating on Goodreads but this one definitely merited that rating.  Beautiful.

Back of the book:

It's the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlour maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford's young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely upstairs-downstairs friendship that will transform Tyneford - and Elise - forever.

My thoughts:

The story is what drew me into reading The House at Tyneford but it was the writing that made me fall in love with the book.  Solomons writes about the great house on the Dorset coast with such beauty that if I went to visit I would feel like I'd been there before.  There are some books that make me yearn to travel and visit their locations and this is definitely one. Tyneford house is a fictional place but Solomons based it on a real manor that was requisitioned during WWII.  This novel isn't just an ode to the men and women who fought and survived during WWII but an elegy to a way of life and an era that came crashing down because of the war.

The novels characters are also beautifully drawn.  As the youngest daughter of a wealthy Viennese family, Elise could have come off as irritatingly spoiled.  However, she is mourning the loss of her family and home all the while trying to daily do her job with a straight face as if her whole world isn't just crashing down around her. It's always interesting to me to learn new facets of WWII.  I had never heard of the "domestic service visa" which allowed affluent refugees to come to England and work.

While there is a love story or two in the novel, I definitely wouldn't consider this a romance book. It's a novel of WWII and a hauntingly beautiful ode to a bygone era.

Alternate covers:

As you know I love to check out alternate covers.  The House at Tyneford also goes by another name, The Novel in the Viola.  Elise is charged with taking a copy of her father's latest book, hidden in a viola.  While this is definitely a main part of the story, I think naming the novel after it is a bit confusing.  It only makes sense after reading the novel but I would think that a reader going into the story thinking it revolved around the novel in viola might be disappointed or confused.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Governess of Highland Hall - Carrie Turansky

Title: The Governess of Highland Hall
Author: Carrie Turansky
Paperback: 314 pages (ARC version)
Publisher: Multnomah Books
Published date: October 2013
FTC: Requested from Blogging for Books

I signed up a while ago to the site Blogging for Books which is part of Waterbrook Multnomah Books.  They are a Christian book publishing company and this is my second book I've requested from them.  Think of Downton Abbey era meets Jane Eyre governess and you've got The Governess of Highland Hall.  While this book didn't blow me away, it was a cute story and a fun setting.  I'd read another Carrie Turansky book.  Looking on Goodreads this books is touted as Edwardian Bride #1 so there will probably be more.

Back of the book:

Worlds lie between the marketplaces of India and the halls of a magnificent country estate like Highland Hall. Will Julia be able to find her place when a governess is neither upstairs family nor downstairs help? 
Missionary Julia Foster loves working alongside her parents, ministering and caring for young girls in India. But when the family must return to England due to illness, she readily accepts the burden for her parents’ financial support. Taking on a job at Highland Hall as governess, she quickly finds that teaching her four privileged, ill-mannered charges at a grand estate is more challenging than expected, and she isn’t sure what to make of the estate’s preoccupied master, Sir William Ramsey. 
Widowed and left to care for his two young children and his deceased cousin Randolph’s two teenage girls, William is consumed with saving the estate from the financial ruin. The last thing he needs is any distraction coming from the kindhearted-yet-determined governess who seems to be quietly transforming his household with her persuasive personality, vibrant prayer life, and strong faith. 
While both are tending past wounds and guarding fragile secrets, Julia and William are determined to do what it takes to save their families—common ground that proves fertile for unexpected feelings. But will William choose Julia’s steadfast heart and faith over the wealth and power he needs to secure Highland Hall’s future?

My thoughts:

First things first: this is a Christian book and it's pretty obvious.  I was obviously ok with it because I'm a Christian and I signed up to read this knowing the book's stance.  But if you just grabbed it off the shelf you'd probably know that to because, well, Julia Foster is a missionary so it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise.  

This is a great quick book if you are needing to come out of a reading slump like I was.  I was in one of those keep picking up books but nothing was sticking mood.  This is a quick, light, and fun read.  I enjoyed most of the characters including the side characters.  While sometimes Julia Foster seemed a little too perfect, it wasn't too grating because I love how books like these divulge her inner thoughts and prayers.  A quick short little sentence that really states her fears and thoughts and it's refreshing.  I think the only character I'd have liked to know more is Sir William Ramsey.  It was hard to get to know him too much because he was completely overwhelmed with being thrown into the role of Highland Hall's master and dealing with all the financial problems that come with it.  The character I really enjoyed was Sir William's sister, Sarah, who became a good friend of Julia's and was a refreshing change from the snobby elitism you'd expect from women of her class.  

The only real problem I had with the writing is that while most of the story is told through Julia or William's perspectives, there were random once in while chapters told from other characters' perspectives.  While I didn't mind those perspectives, it made it a bit confusing and sporadic feeling.  I would have liked to just stick with the two perspectives.  


I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bellman & Black - Diane Setterfield

Title: Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story
Author: Diane Setterfield
Paperback: 337 pages (ARE version)
Publisher: Atria
Published date: October 2013
FTC: Requested to review from Atria

I was so excited when I saw Atria was offering the newest Diane Setterfield book.  I really enjoyed her book The Thirteenth Tale (must re-read that one again) and thought this one sounded pretty good.  I mean a ghost story for the fall.  Diane Setterfield is a good writer.  Beautiful really.  But the story was just, well, boring.  I think this would translate a lot better into a short story.

Back of the book:

 One moment in time can haunt you forever.

As a boy, William Bellman kills a rook with his slingshot. The act is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games, but has unforeseen and terrible consequences. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems to have put the whole incident behind him. But rooks don't forget. When a stranger mysteriously enters his life, William's fortunes begin to turn. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business. And Bellman & Black is born.

My thoughts:

I am a nerd for history.  My undergrad degree is in history and I am just a sucker for things that probably are completely boring to other people.  Bellman & Black is chock full of details.  But even the historian fiend in me started yawning.  I mean it IS interesting.  If you want to know all about the Victorian era - how Bellman ran a country business selling wool and dyes.  How he methodically expanded his business.  How he eventually got into the Victorian craze for death and created a company that catered to the business of burying loved ones.  All very well researched and in depth descriptions.  But man.  I just wanted to get to the ghost story part.

Which brings me to the ghost story part.  I get that killing a bird as a boy would probably be a pretty memorably haunting event.  But each chapter had a little section on rooks and while it started out interesting it just got boring and repetitive.  Then the ending of the ghost story - to me - just fell flat.  All that build up and all that detail....

As I said before, this would have made one fantastic short story.  This story would appeal to you if you were really interested in rooks, Victorian era industry, or the Victorian era burial traditions.

Alternate Covers:

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton

Title: The Forgotten Garden
Author: Kate Morton
Paperback: 645 pages
Published date: 2008
Publisher: Pan Books
FTC: Bought at library book sale

Whenever I get into a reading slump I know that a Kate Morton book will get me back on track. It's amazing how her books just suck me into the story and I can speed through these little chunksters.  My only problem is now I've read them all (this is my second favorite - first being her newest The Secret Keeper).  I'm going to have to go back and re-read my first Morton book The House at Riverton.

Back of the book:

1913 - On the eve of the First World War a little girl is abandoned after a grueling ocean voyage from England to Australia. All she can remember of the journey is that a mysterious women she calls the Authoress had promised to look after her. But the Authoress has vanished without trace.

1975 - Now an old lady, Nell travels to England to discover the truth about her parentage. Her quest leads her to Cornwall, and to a beautiful estate called Blackhurst Manor, which had been owned by the Mountrachet family. What has prompted Nell's journey after all these years?

2005 - On Nell's death her granddaughter, Cassandra, comes into a surprise inheritance. Cliff Cottage, in the grounds of Blackhurst Manor, is notorious amongst the locals for the secrets it holds - secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is at Cliff Cottage, abandoned for years, and in its forgotten garden, that Cassandra will uncover the truth about the family and why the young Nell was abandoned all those decades before.

My thoughts:

For some reason I've been on a random kick lately reading books set in Cornwall.  It wasn't a conscious decision but it's been making me long to travel.  Morton always has a beautiful way of writing and developing the landscape and characters.  Her stories are always set in different time periods, chapters alternating in time adding pieces to a type of jigsaw mystery.  I love how she does it and how it all comes together at the end.  While I wasn't really surprised (guessed most of the mysteries before they were reviled) it was still a lovely ride.

I was reading Kate Morton's bio at the front of this book and noticed that she grew up in Australia.  Most of her books have taken place in the UK so it was pretty cool to have the Australia part in this one.  I'd love to see her write more about her native home.

Like her previous novels, it's not only the time period and location that sucks me in, but how she writes her characters.  This one was no exception.  It's amazing to see how secrets change lives.  I fell for the Authoress, Eliza, of this story.  If you have never read a Kate Morton book, try picking up The Forgotten Garden.  Beautiful.

Cover versions:

The above cover is the book I found at the local library book sale.  It's a UK version.  I also adore the US version cover.  Her books all have the same look and I would love to collect these ones:

While perusing Kate Morton's website, I also noticed there are new paperback versions with a different type of cover.  Not sure how I feel about these.  They feel too generic romancy.  What are your thoughts?

Check out my reviews for Kate Morton's other titles: The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper, The House at Riverton