This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
The Deep End by Kristen AshleyThe Deep End by Kristen Ashley
Series: Honey #1
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on March 7th, 2017
Pages: 454
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Indiebound | BAM!
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Enter a decadent sensual world where gorgeous alpha males are pleasure slaves committed to fulfilling a woman's every desire. At the elite Honey club, no boundary will be left untested, and one's darkest desires will become a sensual reality.

Olivier isn’t sure what he’s gotten himself into when he joins the Honey Club, only that a dark part of him craves the lifestyle offered by this secret, exclusive club.

When Amèlie invites Olivier to surrender, she pushes him to explore his deepest desires as a submissive. As they grow closer and find themselves falling harder than either of them anticipated, the truth about Olivier’s past could threaten the budding relationship they both long for.

Gripping and seductive, The Deep End is the first book in a sensational new series from bestselling author Kristen Ashley.

Erin’s Review:

 

 

WOW. I recommend you turn the air conditioning when you start this book. It is seriously HOT. I thought Kristen Ashley’s Unfinished Hero series was dirty…those books have NOTHING on The Deep End. Wow. In the Unfinished Hero books, KA does dabble a bit in the BDSM when it came to some of the sex scenes but not anything like this book. This book was ALL SEX for the most part and most of it was the drrrty kind, not the plain ole vanilla kind.

Ok, I have to be honest, it took a while for me to really get in to the story. I got a little lost in the beginning of the book. It might have been the narrative, as I am not the biggest fan of third person, possibly just the story starting out really slow as well. There was a lot of inner dialogue I could have lived without, especially in the beginning of the book but eventually I started to get in to the story. I really enjoyed the second half of this book a lot more than the first half. Things definitely got a lot more interesting, there was more than just intense dirty sex happening ..the story developed a lot more.

Amelia is the DOMME in this book, and it was interesting, seeing the female in that role… and Olivier was referred to as an Alpha/Sub.. and he was definitely a Kristen Ashley ALPHA IN ALMOST ALL THE WAYS, except for the playroom. O_O Say what? He is what I saw someone refer to in another review as “Lion in the streets, kitten in the sheets.” and I TOTALLY AGREE with that.  This made for an interesting Kristen Ashley story for sure.

It’s not my favorite book of Kristen Ashley’s but I didn’t hate it. It’s just a lot different than what we are used to from her. That’s ok though. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book. I haven’t seen the synopsis for it yet (is there even one out?) but I can take a guess as who it could possibly be! 🙂

 

Excerpt:

At that moment, for the first time in years, she was paying no attention to Stellan.

This was because Talia’s tall frame shifting out of the way offered an unhindered view of something else that had slipped in without her notice.

And gazing at him, Amélie went still.

As did her breath.

And her heartbeat.

Leaning a shoulder against the wall beyond the edge of the bar, six or seven feet from the door to the playrooms, he was surveying the scene as if he wasn’t part of it.

Or as if it was he who was on the prowl.

But although a Dominant could mingle freely in the open space, this would be done with some intent.

If they were on the hunt, they’d be at a booth.

Subs were not allowed to sit in a booth unless the invitation was extended. They populated the floor, on display, it was requisite.

In the mesh of bodies, a sub could be identified in a variety of ways. The cast of their gaze. Their bearing. Jewelry that declared their status.

And their position in the hunting ground.

No Dominant would linger there like he was, partially for that reason. Clear communication and transparent messages were key in their world. No Dom would give the impression of being a sub.

This was explained at length during membership orientation.

That magnificent beast was a sub.

An alpha-sub, assuredly.

It came from his sheer size, like a cloak stitched to his skin he had no hope of shrugging off (not that he’d wish to).

He had to be six five, perhaps taller. His dark suit and mono-chromatic shirt necessarily tailored for his physique for there were very few men on this earth that had it. His shoulders as wide as a log. His chest a veritable wall. The muscles Amélie had no doubt were hidden under his clothing apparent in the exposed line of his throat. It wasn’t that he had no neck. But that lethal shank of corded, sinewy muscle could not be established and maintained if the rest of him didn’t match precisely.

She knew he was alpha beyond that. His stance at the wall, casual and self-assured, it was openly cocky. He knew his allure. He knew his beauty. He knew even if he wasn’t exactly your type, every being would understand with base instinct his attraction.

He also knew how to use this. All of it. It was his art as sure as reading it on him was Amélie’s.

From what she could tell, his hair was dark blond, the thickness of it, how it was longer at the top, clipped short at neck and ears was so appealing, she was willing to make that single allowance for she preferred her toys to have dark hair.

She made that allowance, but if she had her way, and she often did, he’d grow it longer so there’d be more of it to fist her fingers into as a means to use to make him serve her will.

His facial features only heightened his appeal that already, with the rest of him, defied belief.

A strong brow over eyes she couldn’t see the color of from her distance. Hollowed cheeks under high cheekbones and over a firm, cut, clean-shaven jaw. And a large nose that was openly pugilistic, the dent at the top of the bridge not created by God but by a break that he didn’t deem important enough to have set properly.

Staring at him, utterly incapable of not doing it openly, she felt the insides of her thighs tingle. And her nipples were hard buds, the restriction of the lace of her bra suddenly excruciating.

That…

Now that was whisky.

“Oh my, Leigh, are you seeing what I’m seeing?” Mirabelle asked. And before she could answer, her friend went on, “It’s like he was made for you.”

It was, indeed.


Blog Tour:

Kristen Ashley’s THE DEEP END – Review & Excerpt Tour Schedule:

February 27th

All Romance Reviews – Review & Excerpt

Crystals Book World – Excerpt

Foxy Blogs – Excerpt

Garden of REden – Review

Stacey is Sassy – Review

Steamy Reads – Review

February 28th

Books,Dreams,Life – Excerpt

Marieke’s Books – Review & Excerpt

Read more sleep less – Review

Scandalicious Book Reviews – Review

She Reads New Adult Book Blog – Review

The Book Bellas – Review & Excerpt

March 1st

After Dark Book Lovers – Review & Excerpt

Booklovers For Life – Review

FMR Book Grind – Review

Jax’s Book Magic – Excerpt

Reads All the Books – Review & Excerpt

Three Girls and a Book Obsession – Review & Excerpt

March 2nd

Agents of Romance – Review & Excerpt

Under the Covers – Review & Excerpt

Book Bitches Blog – Excerpt

Oh My Growing TBR – Review & Excerpt

Reading Keeps Me Sane – Review & Excerpt

The Review Loft – Review & Excerpt

March 3rd

Random Book Muses – Review

MEReadALOT – Review & Excerpt

Mommys naughty playground – Review

Stephanie’s Book Reports – Review & Excerpt

Vilma’s book blog – Review & Excerpt

March 4th

a crazy vermonters book reviews – Review

Book Babes Unite – Review

Love Between the Sheets – Review & Excerpt

Vagabonda Reads – Review

March 5th

All About Romance – Review

Mustreadbooksordie – Review & Excerpt

Angie and Jessica’s Dreamy Reads – Review & Excerpt

PBC – Excerpt

March 6th

About That Story – Review

Krista’s Dust Jacket – Review & Excerpt

KT Book Reviews – Review & Excerpt

Night Owl Reader – Review & Excerpt

Read-Love-Blog – Review

StuckInBooks – Review & Excerpt

March 7th

Shh Moms Reading – Review

Words We Love By/LucyLiciousReads – Review & Excerpt

Books to Breathe – Review & Excerpt

For The Love of Fictional Worlds – Review & Excerpt

Joyfully Reviewed – Review & Excerpt

Nose Stuck in a Book – Review & Excerpt

March 8th

Shameless Book Club – Review & Excerpt

A Fortress of Books – Excerpt

BJ’s Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

Jen’s Reading Obsession – Excerpt

Lit Slave – Review & Excerpt

Straight Shootin’ Book Reviews – Excerpt

March 9th

Behind Closed Doors Book Review – Review

Dirty Girl Romance – Review

Friends Till The End Book Blog – Excerpt

iScream Books – Review & Excerpt

Red Cheeks Reads – Review

Smut Book Junkie Reviews – Review & Excerpt

March 10th

Bookcrack – Review & Excerpt

Two Girls with Books – Excerpt

E-Romance News – Excerpt

Four Chicks Flipping Pages – Review

Lit. 4 Ladies – Review & Excerpt

Natalie The Biblioholi – Review & Excerpt

True Story Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

March 11th

Aurora B’s Book Blog – Excerpt

Blushing babes are up all night – Review & Excerpt

Fangirl Moments and My Two Cents – Review & Excerpt

Reading Between the Wines Book Club – Excerpt

March 12th

Collector of book boyfriends – Review

Feeding My Addiction Book Reviews – Review & Excerpt

I’m A Sweet And Sassy Book Whore – Review & Excerpt

Stormy Nights Reviewing & Bloggin’ – Excerpt

March 13th

Black heart reviews – Review

Nice Ladies, Naughty Books – Excerpt

Once Upon a Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

Pretty Little Book Reviews – Review

Queenzany – Review & Excerpt

Sizzling Pages Romance Reviews – Review & Excerpt

Talk Books to Me – Review

March 14th

Abibliophobia Anonymous Book Reviews – Excerpt

Alpha Book Club – Review

G & T’s Indie Café – Excerpt

Once Upon An Alpha – Review & Excerpt

No BS Book Reviews – Review & Excerpt

The BookWhisperer – Review & Excerpt

The Escapist Book Blog – Review & Excerpt

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About Kristen Ashley

Kristen Ashley grew up in Brownsburg, Indiana, and has lived in Denver, Colorado, and the West Country of England. Thus she has been blessed to have friends and family around the globe. Her posse is loopy (to say the least) but loopy is good when you want to write.

Kristen was raised in a house with a large and multigenerational family. They lived on a very small farm in a small town in the heartland, and Kristen grew up listening to the strains of Glenn Miller, The Everly Brothers, REO Speedwagon, and Whitesnake. Needless to say, growing up in a house full of music and love was a good way to grow up. And as she keeps growing up, it keeps getting better.

Midnight in Berlin by James MacManusMidnight in Berlin by James MacManus
on April 19, 2016
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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In 1939, British Colonel Noel Macrae, stationed in Berlin and witness to the rise of the Reich, decides that he might be the only Englishman with the opportunity to avert war. As he attempts to convince the British government of his mission, the colonel becomes torn between his government's orders and his own personal beliefs, especially as he falls in love with a German-Jewish woman. Blackmailed by the Nazis, the woman and her family have faced unspeakable horrors, and the colonel must do whatever it takes to help her escape.

But the colonel doesn't know that the Gestapo have formed a plan of their own. Aware of the colonel's intense hatred of the Nazi regime, the Gestapo work to draw him into a fabricated plot against Hitler. As the colonel finds himself caught up in a tangled web of shifting loyalties, corruption, and shocking indifference, he soon realizes he must find a way to hold on to his sense of humanity to save not only the woman he loves but also himself.

Inspired by true events and characters, James MacManus's Midnight in Berlin is a love story set against a world on the brink of war that will leave you in awe of the human capacity for self-sacrifice and resilience.

This book goes beyond capturing the music, fashion, and style of the WWII era and paints a picture of the chaotic attitudes, theories, failed diplomacy, and missed connections that contributed to the start of the world’s bloodiest war to date. The tone of the novel is serious and the author does an excellent job of capturing the psychosis and sexism of not only the Nazi party but the culture in general. Pre-Nazi party, Berlin was actually a safe haven with an incredibly liberal climate under the Weimar Republic. Many African American entertainers moved to Berlin to escape the deeply rooted racism in America. But things changed in dramatic fashion after Hitler seized power, and the author does a great job at capturing the grey areas that still lingered after this dramatic shift in social and political climate.

Mid in Berlin photo

Set in Berlin, the story world is as deftly crafted as the characters, and I felt absorbed by the novel, if not a little overwhelmed as well. There is a lot of interesting internal dialogue and information to keep straight in this book, so I suggest reading it free of any kind of distractions.

Both the male and female protagonist of the story were likeable in a tense way, if that makes any sense. They are characters that had to make decisions outside of their own character in order to survive the times and plots they found themselves tangled in.

Like with any novel that has a well developed story world and well fleshed out characters, the pacing was slow and steady. The romance between the two MCs was both sad and exciting as only forbidden love can be set against a backdrop of war and racism.

I would recommend this book to those historical fiction fans that are interested in the diplomatic and psychological aspects that contributed to the start of WWII. It’s a heavier read that was incredibly insightful about the actual events leading up to the war and completely engaging on an intellectual and emotional level.

Have you read Midnight in Berlin? I’d love to know your thoughts on it.

Setting the Mood:

Fred and Ginger were famous the world over and Germans were still enjoying their music and films, as well as other American entertainment, at the onset of the war.

 

Just for fun:

Here’s a Donald Duck American anti-Nazi propaganda cartoon that would have been showed in theaters around America at the time.

 

 

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The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-LeviThe Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi
Published by St. Martin's Press, Thomas Dunne Books on April 5, 2016
Pages: 374
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is a dazzling novel of mothers and daughters, stories told and untold, and the binds that tie four generations of women.

Gabriela's mother Luna is the most beautiful woman in all of Jerusalem, though her famed beauty and charm seem to be reserved for everyone but her daughter. Ever since Gabriela can remember, she and Luna have struggled to connect. But when tragedy strikes, Gabriela senses there's more to her mother than painted nails and lips.

Desperate to understand their relationship, Gabriela pieces together the stories of her family's previous generations—from Great-Grandmother Mercada the renowned healer, to Grandma Rosa who cleaned houses for the English, to Luna who had the nicest legs in Jerusalem. But as she uncovers shocking secrets, forbidden romances, and the family curse that links the women together, Gabriela must face a past and present far more complex than she ever imagined.

Set against the Golden Age of Hollywood, the dark days of World War II, and the swingin' '70s, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem follows generations of unforgettable women as they forge their own paths through times of dramatic change. With great humor and heart, Sarit Yishai-Levi has given us a powerful story of love and forgiveness—and the unexpected and enchanting places we find each.

“Set against the golden age of Hollywood, the dark days of WWII, and the swinging ’70s, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem follows generations of unforgettable women as they forge their own paths through times of dramatic change.” – jacket excerpt

Looove this cov so much.
Looove this cov so much.

The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is an absorbing novel that traces the familial and amorous relationships and life-shaping decisions of four generations of Israeli women.

1940s dressmakers

“The shop employed several seamstresses who made the clothes according to patterns that appeared in Burda magazine, and Luna would devour the magazine voraciously, studying it for hours on end. She spent all of her wages on clothes she purchased from the shop, and was always dressed at the height of fashion, accessorized to the most minute detail.  The polish on her fingernails matched that on her toenails, which matched her lipstick, which in turn matched her dress, shoes, and handbag. As she dressed, she also blossomed.”

Here is a fun Pinterest board with some vintage covers of Burda magazine.
Here is a fun Pinterest board with some vintage covers of Burda magazine.

I have to admit, I really loved one of the main female characters, Luna, because of her obsession with fashion and her unstoppable desire to look good. It seemed like an act of defiance in a culture that controlled women and their bodies.

But the beauty of this story is beyond cover-deep. The author’s prose is as classy as the cover of this book and provided an often overlooked, alternative snapshot of WWII era. I have read SO MANY WWII historical fiction novels, but not once have I read one from the Israeli perspective. It was refreshing and completely engaging to follow the narratives of the women at the heart of this intricately woven tale that examines the strained and tumultuous mother-daughter relationships set against a backdrop of unstable times in Jerusalem.

While the pacing of this book takes some dedication, it is completely worth the time it takes to read. The author masterfully captures the struggles that younger generations experience with their parents and older relatives. There is almost a voyeuristic feel because of the candid, ”airing of dirty laundry” scenarios that give real depth to this tale. The author captures the rigid patriarchal culture of the times and how women both accepted and rejected the constraints of it throughout the four generations featured in the novel. Despite cultural and temporal differences, I identified with many of the situations and lines of thought among the female characters.

Any lover of historical fiction and literary family portraits will want to add this to their collection. Reading The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem was an enriching experience.

And just for fun:

I liked the WWII era storyline the best, so here is a fun and informative article about fashion in the 1940s. This fashion history website is addictive to look at and full of educational information. Enjoy!

1940s fashion pic

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Summer Reading Abroad: I’ll See You in Paris Review + GIVEAWAY!

by Michelle Gable
on February 9, 2016
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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After losing her fiancé in the Vietnam War, nineteen-year-old Laurel Haley takes a job in England, hoping the distance will mend her shattered heart. Laurel expects the pain might lessen but does not foresee the beguiling man she meets or that they’ll go to Paris, where the city’s magic will take over and alter everything Laurel believes about love.

Thirty years later, Laurel’s daughter Annie is newly engaged and an old question resurfaces: who is Annie’s father and what happened to him? Laurel has always been vague about the details and Annie’s told herself it doesn’t matter. But with her impending marriage, Annie has to know everything. Why won’t Laurel tell her the truth?

The key to unlocking Laurel’s secrets starts with a mysterious book about an infamous woman known as the Duchess of Marlborough. Annie’s quest to understand the Duchess, and therefore her own history, takes her from a charming hamlet in the English countryside, to a decaying estate kept behind barbed wire, and ultimately to Paris where answers will be found at last.

I enjoyed this story for the rich bits of history and biography revealed through long-lost discovered correspondence and the two main narrators of the story. The most entertaining character in the book was The Duchess of Marlborough, who tries her hardest to deny that she is, indeed, the duchess.

Gladys Deacon (aka the Duchess of Marlborough) Boldini painting.
Gladys Deacon (aka the Duchess of Marlborough) Boldini painting.

The story does some time hopping as each chapter reveals another piece of the puzzle concerning the duchess and the main female protagonist’s parentage. The pacing of the story is rather slow, which I have come to expect with novels that interweave the threads of multiple characters and different generations of a family. But it was a nice kind of slow. The kind of slow that goes great with a glass of wine and a bubble bath.

In addition to the fun mystery at the heart of the story that concerns identity and familial bonds, the author held my attention with the lush descriptions of Gilded Age New York, late Belle Epoque Paris, and the luscious English country side.

English house

I enjoyed the witty dialogue in this literary mystery. There are several laugh-out-loud moments throughout that you can imagine translating perfectly onto the big screen. This book definitely has a certain cinematic appeal because of the vivid descriptions and complicated characters. It is the perfect read for a lazy summer weekend when you want to indulge in an atmospheric story for some armchair travel.

If you have had the pleasure of watching the Smithsonian Channel’s two seasons of Million Dollar American Princesses and enjoyed it, then this book will be right up your ally. It has the same appeal.

Million Dollar
Million Dollar American Princesses Smithsonian Channel

Enter below for the chance to WIN a paperback copy of Michelle Gable’s lovely story, I’ll See You in Paris.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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The Tsarina’s Legacy by Jennifer Laam

by Jennifer Laam
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on April 5, 2016
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: the Publisher
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Then...Grigory "Grisha" Potemkin has had a successful long association with the powerful Empress Catherine of Russia. But Catherine and Grisha are older now and face new threats, both from powers outside of Russia and from those close to them. Haunted by the horrors of his campaign against the Muslim Turks, Grisha hopes to construct a mosque in the heart of the empire. Unfortunately, Catherine's much younger new lover, the ambitious Platon Zubov, stands in his way. Grisha determines that to preserve Catherine's legacy he must save her from Zubov's dangerous influence and win back her heart.

Now...When she learns she is the lost heiress to the Romanov throne, Veronica Herrera's life turns upside down. Dmitry Potemkin, one of Grisha's descendants, invites Veronica to Russia to accept a ceremonial position as Russia's new tsarina. Seeking purpose, Veronica agrees to act as an advocate to free a Russian artist sentenced to prison for displaying paintings critical of the church and government. Veronica is both celebrated and chastised. As her political role comes under fire, Veronica is forced to decide between the glamorous perks of European royalty and staying true to herself.

In Jennifer Laam's The Tsarina's Legacy, unexpected connections between Grisha and Veronica are revealed as they struggle to make peace with the ghosts of their past and help secure a better future for themselves and the country they both love.

Check out my review of Jennifer Laam’s The Secret Daughter of the Tsar HERE.

catherine-the-great-1995

Catherine Zeta-Jones as Catherine the Great 1995

St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg

I enjoyed Laam’s debut, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, and this follow up did not disappoint. Straddling the worlds of 18th century and 21st century Russia, the author bravely tackles some complex political and cultural issues that very much resonate with topics that are flooding American headlines today. It was absolutely genius how Laam weaved two narratives, three centuries apart, into a tapestry rich with cinematic appeal. Reading the book was like watching a Mission Impossible/Princess Diaries film in my mind. I loved it.

There were moments in where I was utterly frustrated with the two main romantic interests in both time periods, but a certain degree of romantic tension and indecision in a book only makes it better. The main character, Veronica, who goes to Russia to claim her title as a Romanov heir, is the perfect blend of bravery and intelligence, and incompetency and vulnerability, LOL. My favorite kind of character.

This novel is a heavier read than the first book and one that will make you ponder current affairs. Like the writing and subject matter, the pacing of the story was also cinematic. Laam does a great job of alternating between two worlds steeped in political unrest. This book casts a wide net as far as literary tastes go. Those who love historical novels, Russian history, and contemporary novels will enjoy The Tsarina’s Legacy.

Just For FUN: I loved how the novel name dropped Mozart and some of his most popular works during the chapters that cover the 18th century characters in Russia. It was a great way to set the intellectual and cultural mood for the times, especially in royal courts. It also plays nicely into the broader story line between all the main characters of the novel. Keep scrolling for a Cosi Fan Tutte soundtrack and link to the film Catherine the Great starring Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Cosi_fan_tutte_-_first_performance

 

 

Here is the movie of Catherine the Great starring Zeta-Jones FREE TO WATCH on YouTube:

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Paris Is Always a Good Idea by Nicolas Barreau

by Nicolas Barreau
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on March 29, 2016
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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Rosalie Laurent is the proud owner of Luna Luna, a little post-card shop in St. Germain, and if it were up to her, far more people would write cards. Her specialty is producing "wishing cards," but where her own wishes are concerned the quirky graphic artist is far from lucky. Every birthday Rosalie sends a card inscribed with her heart's desire fluttering down from the Eiffel Tower - but none of her wishes has ever been fulfilled.

Then one day when an elderly gentleman trips up in her shop and knocks over a post-card stand, it seems that her wish cards are working after-all. Rosalie finds out that it is Max Marchais, famed and successful author of children's books who's fallen into her life. When he asks her to illustrate his new (and probably last) book, Rosalie is only too glad to accept, and the two - very different - maverick artists become friends.

Rosalie's wishes seem to be coming true at last, until a clumsy American professor stumbles into her store with accusations of plagiarism. Rosalie is hard pressed to know whether love or trouble is blowing through her door these days, but when in doubt, she knows that Paris is Always a Good Idea when one is looking for the truth and finding love.

As one customer aptly put it in her review on Amazon, “Reading this book is a GREAT idea.” I concur.

paris is always a good idea pic

If you are like me and have never had the pleasure of visiting Paris, then you probably have a stack of travel books and travel fiction as tall as the Eiffel Tower. Not to mention ones with the word “Paris” in the title. Queue my NON-reluctance to read JUST ONE MORE book set among the most romantic city in the world.

Reading Paris Is Always a Good Idea is like unwrapping a Dove chocolate, popping it on your tongue, and letting it melt in your mouth. Seriously. This book is a sweet literary luxury that will warm you up like a rich, velvety cup of hot chocolate. The story was atmospheric and romantic with the perfect touch of sentimentality.

The three main characters of the novel all come together by chance giving this book the feel of one of those magical films starring Audrey Tautou. Rosalie, the female MC, is personable and the most likable character of the story. A lovely painter and postcard shop owner, she embodies what it is to be living the perfect Parisian life.

And as if the dreamy story world were not enough to make me starry eyed, the introduction of an intellectual idealist- a delicious Professor close to Rosalie’s age- enters the picture, rather chaotically, and adds another fun dimension to this synchronistic tale.

Although the story is quite predictable, it is only in the best way. It provides intense satisfaction seeing all of the  pieces fall into place as you had expected them to.

This book is a quick read that would be perfectly paired with a lazy afternoon and a snuggly reading spot.

Some of the scenery that came to mind while reading this book:

Paris is Always a Good Idea- Audrey Hepburn

 

Paris is Always a Good Idea- Audrey Hepburn by jeanine65 featuring a garden picture

Setting the Mood:

This book will make you want to sink into a plush velour chair or blanket surrounded by white Christmas lights with a mix of Edith Piaf and Carla Bruni playing in the background.


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The Secret Daughter of the Tsar by Jennifer Laam

by Jennifer Laam
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on October 22, 2013
Pages: 344
Source: Publisher
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A compelling alternate history of the Romanov family in which a secret fifth daughter—smuggled out of Russia before the revolution—continues the royal lineage to dramatic consequences

In her riveting debut novel, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, Jennifer Laam seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte. Veronica is an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles when she meets a mysterious man who may be heir to the Russian throne. As she sets about investigating the legitimacy of his claim through a winding path of romance and deception, the ghosts of her own past begin to haunt her. Lena, a servant in the imperial Russian court of 1902, is approached by the desperate Empress Alexandra. After conceiving four daughters, the Empress is determined to sire a son and believes Lena can help her. Once elevated to the Romanov's treacherous inner circle, Lena finds herself under the watchful eye of the meddling Dowager Empress Marie. Charlotte, a former ballerina living in World War II occupied Paris, receives a surprise visit from a German officer. Determined to protect her son from the Nazis, Charlotte escapes the city, but not before learning that the officer's interest in her stems from his longstanding obsession with the fate of the Russian monarchy. Then as Veronica's passion intensifies, and her search for the true heir to the throne takes a dangerous turn, the reader learns just how these three vastly different women are connected. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is thrilling from its first intense moments until its final, unexpected conclusion.

Мать Россия!!!

Wonderful domes of Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow
Wonderful domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow

A little bird told me something. That Historians secretly love to read alternate histories. I’m here to qualify that secret. We love to read well-written and believable alternate histories. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar almost made me want to change my focus of study as a historian-in-training, and that is saying a lot. These days, I am lucky to finish a book in a week. I finished this one in a few sittings. Reading about the tragedy and intrigue that surrounds the Imperial Romanov family NEVER GETS OLD.

The Romanov Family

The Romanov Family circa 1916.

If you are a writer, or an aspiring one, you have probably come across the piece of advice that recommends “writing about what you know” at one time or another. The author, a Historian herself, writes The Secret Daughter of the Tsar from the perspective of Veronica, a struggling historian being tossed around the cogs of academia, and two other women who’s stories unfold in different time periods.

Veronica is both vulnerable and bold, my favorite combination. I loved reading from her perspective the most, especially when she enters into a fast and curious romance with a mysterious hunk who has his own special interests in Russian history.

The novel is an exciting and absorbing book that takes the reader on an intellectual adventure and into super cool museums and archives. History buff or not, any reader will absolutely love the variety of experiences, mysterious romance, and clever story line offered in The Secret Daughter of the Tsar.

Setting the Mood:

I love Russian classical music as much as I love Russian history, so here is an AMAZING album to listen to while you read:

Russian Album

And check out these other great novels set in historical Russia:

Midnight In St.Petersburg coverTsarina

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The Violinist of Venice: A Story of Vivaldi by Alyssa PalomboThe Violinist of Venice by Alyssa Polombo
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, St. Martin's Press on December 15, 2015
Pages: 448
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Add to your Goodreads TBR shelf.
Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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A sweeping historical novel of composer and priest Antonio Vivaldi, a secret wealthy mistress, and their passion for music and each other

Like most 18th century Venetians, Adriana d'Amato adores music-except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family's palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.

Adriana's father is intent on seeing her married to a wealthy, prominent member of Venice's patrician class-and a handsome, charming suitor, whom she knows she could love, only complicates matters-but Vivaldi is a priest, making their relationship forbidden in the eyes of the Church and of society. They both know their affair will end upon Adriana's marriage, but she cannot anticipate the events that will force Vivaldi to choose between her and his music. The repercussions of his choice-and of Adriana's own choices-will haunt both of their lives in ways they never imagined.

Spanning more than 30 years of Adriana's life, Alyssa Palombo's The Violinist of Venice is a story of passion, music, ambition, and finding the strength to both fall in love and to carry on when it ends.

 

 

 

“Playing the violin again ignited a permanent glow that I carried inside me, which burned gently and steadily just beneath my breast bone. Before I left Maestro Vivaldi’s house, we agreed I should return at noon in three days’ time, but I knew my frequent comings and goings would not go unremarked upon for long. I was tempting il destino, but I couldn’t stop.”

The man, the myth, the legend:

Antonio Vivaldi
            Antonio Vivaldi

Most ears are familiar with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and think of him as the Italian Violin Master with no recollection of the exact period he was from, or with any idea that he was even a priest. While the maestro was, indeed, a priest, he was also an 18th century playboy by way of his rock star status. Yes, even 18th century Venice had rock stars. Vivaldi’s skill at playing the violin and at composition thrusted an aura of virtuoso virility around him that the ladies found hard to resist. Especially his virginal music pupils.

Original Vivaldi score auctioned at Sotheby's.
Original Vivaldi score auctioned at Sotheby’s.

The Violinist of Venice reads with the alternating tempos of adagio and vivace. It is an ambitious book that does a lovely job of capturing the culture and landscape of the times it is set in. I went into this book expecting the author to completely demonize and generalize Vivaldi’s character, but was pleasantly surprised when she didn’t. She composed his character with as much thought and dimension as Adriana, the female lead.

Adriana is a strong and rebellious character who embodies what I would hope to have been like had I been alive in 18th century Venice. The author does a great job at capturing the suffocating patriarchy that made women the property of their fathers or husbands in this era and dictated what they could and could not do. For a girl like Adriana, pursuing her musical aspirations was literally gambling with her life.

Carnivale Boat Venice

Carnivale! Venice, Italy.

Lush settings, including a few delicious scenes at Carnivale, and historically accurate social climates made this book an enthralling read. I loved the thematic elements such as the divisions of sections and chapter titles that made this book like reading a musical score. The Violinist of Venice was a smart and entertaining window into Vivaldi’s lifetime and that of the women who met his hypnotic and inspiring charms. Musician and non-musician alike will enjoy this emotionally engaging and epic love story that doesn’t play out as one would expect. I can’t wait to read the next novel by Alyssa Palombo.

Setting the mood:

Although Paganini came to fame a while after Vivaldi, the rock star aura of this talented violinist/composer drove women crazy in the same way. It’s not hard to see why in the film The Devil’s Violinist which tells the tumultuous story of Paginini during the height of his fame. This is a great film to watch before reading The Violinist of Venice to help paint a picture of how musicians like this were received in society, and a great film to follow-up with is The Red Violin which tells the story of a violin spanning over 3 centuries, all the way back to its creation in 17th century Italy.

And just for fun:

Everyone knows Vivaldi composed moving violin pieces, but not very many know that he also composed arias and other vocal pieces. Simone Kermes is one of my favorite contemporary Baroque vocalists, and I have included a Spotify playlist of her Viva! Vivaldi album for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!

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The Secrets of Midwives by Sally HepworthThe Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, St. Martin's Paperbacks Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Add to your Goodreads TBR shelf.
Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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A novel about three generations of midwives (a woman, her mother, and her grandmother) and the secrets they keep that push them apart and ultimately bind them together

THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES tells the story of three generations of women devoted to delivering new life into the world—and the secrets they keep that threaten to change their own lives forever. Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy—including the identity of the baby’s father— hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. For Floss, Neva’s grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva’s situation thrusts her back 60 years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter’s—a secret which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden?

Check out another fantastic book I reviewed that centers around midwifery HERE.

 Here’s a vague, three run-on sentence long history of delivering babies: 

Skilled women helped other women deliver their babies and would pass the torch of ”mystical delivery” down to other women because, after all, a woman knows how women things work better than a man. Fast forward to the nineteenth century and the medical field becomes ”professionalized” and the field of gynecology was invented in which ONLY MEN  were allowed to seek professionalization in. After this, midwives began to be demonized and were called ”witch doctors” and were looked upon by the male dominated medical profession as incompetent, ignorant busy bodies that had no right delivering babies even though they had been successfully doing it for centuries. 

Check out the engrossing BBC series Call the Midwives on Netflix.
Check out the engrossing BBC series Call the Midwife on Netflix.

A few years ago (heck, maybe even a few months ago), I would never have imagined myself being remotely interested in a story with midwifery as its vehicle. But it seems like midwifery and midwives in general have been making a comeback over the past decade, not only in real-life, but also in the entertainment industry. A good question to explore would be why this is happening. Why are more and more women turning to birthing centers that employ nurses and skilled midwives and turning to at home births instead of state-of-the-art hospitals with M.D.s?

Would you have a home birth?
Would you have a home birth? Click on the picture for an informative read about Modern Day Midwifery.

To answer and explore this question with the attention it deserves, I would have to write a dissertation for this blog post. So, instead, I will leave you some questions to ponder on your own (for those of you who are interested): How has the medical industry (in America) changed over the past two decades? How does access to healthcare impact the way women choose to deliver their babies? And what new information, documentaries, etc. have been released over the past decade that may have heavily influenced the way mothers-to-be have approached child birth? 

Okay, moving on to my review of Sally Hepworth’s The Secrets of Midwives now, lol.

In short, I loved it. I ended up reading it in a couple of sittings because it was fascinatingly informative and had a mystery at the heart of it. The social set-up and dynamic between the characters reminded me of the film How To Make An American Quilt, only this novel was way more entertaining.

This widely popular documentary appeared on Netflix in 2008 and created a movement of women who turned away from hospital births and reinvigorated the Midwife movement.

Business of Being Born

The story revolves around three generations of women and switches off between their perspectives. I thought this would be confusing at first, but it is clearly queued and so well done. I had no problem following their individual story lines in addition to the main story line.

The three women characters were fun, entertaining, and well crafted. I finished this book wishing I had these ladies as friends of my own, or the kind of friendship that they had with each other. The peripheral male characters were the perfect addition to the story to give it just the right amount of intrigue and… male-ness (?) LOL.

The Secrets of Midwives is a humorous, heart-warming, emotionally complex story full of laugh-out-loud, intimate, and watery-eyed moments. A satisfying and quick read that left me wanting to Amazon Prime all of Sally Hepworth’s other novels. Young Adult, mother, grandmother, daughter, husband- I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an entertaining yet meaningful novel.

Do you have an interesting birthing story? Would you ever deliver your baby at home with a midwife? I’d love to know what you think in the comments below!

Just for fun:

This is an attention-grabbing film about hippie women in the 1970s teaching themselves to be Midwives. Click on the photo of the film to watch a preview of Birth Story on YOUTUBE. Birth Story

 

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Midnight in St. Petersburg by Vanora BennettMidnight St. Petersburg by Vanora Bennett
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books on January 19, 2016
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Add to your Goodreads TBR shelf.
Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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St. Petersburg, 1911: Inna Feldman has fled the pogroms of the south to take refuge with distant relatives in Russia's capital city. Welcomed by the flamboyant Leman family, she is apprenticed into their violin-making workshop. She feels instantly at home in their bohemian circle, but revolution is in the air, and as society begins to fracture, she is forced to choose between her heart and her head. She loves her brooding cousin, Yasha, but he is wild, destructive and devoted to revolution; Horace Wallick, an Englishman who makes precious Faberge creations, is older and promises security and respectability. And, like many others, she is drawn to the mysterious, charismatic figure beginning to make a name for himself in the city: Rasputin.

As the rebellion descends into anarchy and bloodshed, a commission to repair a priceless Stradivarius violin offers Inna a means of escape. But which man will she choose to take with her? And is it already too late? A magical and passionate story steeped in history and intrigue, Midnight in St. Petersburg is an extraordinary novel of music, politics, and the toll that revolution exacts on the human heart.

“Bennett’s sophisticated grasp of historical realities and psychological complexity gives power and depth to what might easily have been a clichéd romance.” – Sunday Times

St. Petersburg

First, let me help you set the mood before starting this sweeping story of revolution, music, and romance. Do yourself a favor and Spotify or buy Anna Netrebko’s Russian Album to steep this reading experience in even more magic. Netrebko brings such rich, velvety tones and mastery of subject matter to the Russian arias on the album, reflecting the same qualities in Vanora Bennett’s novel.

Russian Album

Fans of Doctor Zhivago, both the novel and film adaptations, will love Midnight in St. Petersburg. Midnight in St. Petersburg unfolds at a similar pace to Zhivago and addresses a lot of the same emotional and psychological complexities that drive and sustain people during turbulent times. Fans of classics such as Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, etc. will enjoy the intricacy of thoughts and subject matter in this third-person narrative.

Doctor Zhivago Movie Poster

The story explores the lives of those who are passively and actively experiencing the Russian Revolution making for a rich historical and psychological experience. I liked how the author delved into the circles of the artists and intellectuals of the time and how their roles contributed to the revolution.

The female protagonist at the center of the story, Inna, is a talented violinist who has to make her own luck until she enters the world of two men who help shape her destiny, both whom she becomes romantically ensnared with.

“Inna began with a quiet, disciplined G major scale, a fluid run of quavers from the bottom to the top of the violin and back […] Her playing got gradually louder over the next few scales, up through D to E-flat. She’s not joining in, he thought, with disappointment. She’s just drowning me out. Using music as a weapon. Making war.”

The three main characters were deep and represented three unique viewpoints on the Russian Revolution. Inna is a lovely combination of strength and vulnerability that made me immediately empathize and identify with her character.

I also enjoyed the perspective on Rasputin’s character throughout the story. Like many other Russian Historical Fiction novels I have read, Rasputin is cast in a sympathetic light and demystified at the same time.

The story world was lush and developed with loving attention to detail. After reading Midnight in St.Petersburg, I could not shake the impression it left on me and I wanted to continue the atmospheric experience by listening to some Tchaikovsky or watching a film based on Russian literature.

Here are some great films to watch after reading Midnight in St.Petersburg:

Dr Z Keira KnightlyThe Last Station movie coverAnna Karenina Knightly

I love Russian history, music, literature, poetry, and films so this book was a real treat for me. Those who are interested in the people that made up Russia during the revolutionary period as much as the events that created it, will love this book.

Here’s a short and fun video on Russia that will help understand how the Russian people’s culture and identity has been shaped over the centuries:

If you liked J. Nell Patrick’s Tsarina, you will also enjoy the more dramatic Midnight in St. Petersburg.

Tsarina

And just for fun:

Here is a nice preview with Russian scenery of Netrebko’s Russian Album and following that video is the best of Shostakovich, a revolutionary era composer, for your listening pleasure:

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Avelynn by Marissa Campbell

by Marissa Campbell
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 8, 2015
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Add to your Goodreads TBR shelf.
Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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One extraordinary Saxon noblewoman and one fearless Viking warrior find passion and danger in this dazzling and sensuous debut

Marissa Campbell's debut novel is a winning combination of romance, history, and adventure sure to appeal to fans of Diana Gabaldon.

It is 869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Eadlorman of Somerset has lived in an environment of love and acceptance. She hasn't yet found a man to make her heart race, but her father has not pressured her to get married. Until now. With whispers of war threatening their land, her father forces Avelynn into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status. The dreaded marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik the Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.

Alrik is unlike any man she has ever known, strong and intriguing. Likewise, he instantly falls for her beauty and courage. The two stumble into a passionate love affair, but it's more than just a greedy suitor who will try to keep them apart.

As the Saxons and Vikings go to war, Avelynn and Alrik find themselves caught in the throes of fate. Can they be true to their people as well as to each other?

ATTENTION FANS OF History channel’s VIKINGS: This is the book you have been waiting for. 

Vikings-TV-Show-Images

 

And now for the funny part. I couldn’t handle The Vikings show and unfortunately, Avelynn just wasn’t the book for me. That being said, I think a ton of people will really enjoy this book. It has a powerful female lead and there are strong feminist currents to the novel, which I loved, but I just couldn’t get into the romance. It almost seems like men were the author’s target audience, which is odd considering the strong female lead, and that may be why I didn’t connect with the characters and the romance. However, the lusty scenes between Avelynn and the mysterious Viking she meets on a moonlit night will set ships sailing into the sunset for many a reader.

I liked the general story even if it was a bit predictable, and the historical setting was successful at transporting me to the 9th century. The biggest win for me with this book was the way the main female character (who is secretly Pagan) basically tells the newly patriarchal and ”Christian” men in her tribe to shove it. The analysis of how the transition from the Pagan faith to the Christian faith effected men and woman differently was really intriguing.

So, if you like steamy romance set among stolen moments in the woods and the feelings of rage and anxiety that come along with war among ancient peoples where women were often used as pawns or as the spoils of war, then this book is definitely for you. Oh, and of course, like I said earlier. If you dig the Vikings show, you will love this book.

And just for fun:

Here’s the Vikings season one trailer to put you in the mood:

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The Debt of Tamar by Nicole DweckThe Debt of Tamar by Nicole Dweck
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on September 8, 2015
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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A USA TODAY Best seller!

Bestselling author Nicole Dweck brings to life one of history's greatest yet overlooked stories of love and resilience.

In 2002, thirty-two-year-old Selim Osman, the last descendant of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, flees Istanbul for New York. In a twist of fate he meets Hannah, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and an artist striving to understand a father she barely knows. Unaware the connection they share goes back centuries, the two feel an immediate pull to one another. But as their story intertwines with that of their ancestors, the heroic but ultimately tragic decision that bound two families centuries ago ripples into the future, threatening to tear Hannah and Selim apart.

From a 16th-century harem to a seaside village in the Holy Land, from Nazi-occupied Paris to modern-day Manhattan, Nicole Dweck's The Debt of Tamar weaves a spellbinding tapestry of love, history, and fate that will enchant readers from the very first page.

“Through it all, the very same sun and moon and stars never wavered, never once failed to rise and fall and shine their light upon the world. And though mankind itself had run amok, the universe never once collapsed in on itself.

Through seismic shifts, wars, famine, and mankind’s great experiment with its own free will, the universe never lost sight of even its most infinitesimal need for balance. “

Ottoman textile 1Ottoman textile 2

Some lovely Ottoman textiles. 

The Debt of Tamar was truly a gift.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that has tugged at the magical heartstrings that make me feel connected to the universe and humankind as a whole.

Inspired by the author’s longing to know more about her heritage, this book is a beautiful example of how genealogy and historical research can yield a treasure trove of thought and lyrical beauty bound into a spellbinding story.

Some familiar Ottoman architecture
Some familiar Ottoman architecture.

The Debt of Tamar filled me with wonder, sadness, courage and hope. I was enraptured by the author’s elegant writing style that mined diamonds of thought and ancient wisdom from simple yet profound sentences and character constructions on the page. Infused with rich elements like Sufi Mysticism, The Ottoman Empire, Holocaust Paris, and modern day Instanbul and New York, the story unfolds over centuries and lives connected by the same lines that hold constellations together at a pace that kept me reading ”just one more page”.

People being rounded up or escaping during the French Holocaust.
Jewish people being rounded up or escaping during the French Holocaust.

Written in third person, The Debt of Tamar reminded me of the film Amelie or A Very Long Engagement in its presentation. If you are a fan of films like the aforementioned or a fan of fairy tales, then you will enjoy this book. It is a fast, completely engaging read that will bring tears to your eyes on more than one occasion and that will leave you pondering the interconnectedness of everything long after you turn the last page. It was my pleasure to read The Debt of Tamar.

 

And just for fun:

Here’s a BBC documentary on The Ottoman Empire that will satisfy your thirst for more on this rich era after reading The Debt of Tamar:

 

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The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. HarnettThe Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, St. Martin's Paperbacks, St. Martin's Press, Thomas Dunne Books on May 13, 2014
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N
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The underground mine fires ravaging Pennsylvania coal country have forced Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents, the formidable Gram and the Black Lung stricken Gramp. Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the "curse" laid upon them generations earlier by a priest who ran afoul of the Molly Maguires. The weight of this legacy rests heavily on a new generation, when Brigid, already struggling to keep her family together, makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft. In the aftermath, decades' old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet. Inspired by real-life events in now-infamous Centralia and the equally devastated town of Carbondale, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place.

“We walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say. Basement floors too hot to touch. Steaming green lawns in the dead of winter. Sinkholes, quick and sudden, plunging open at your feet.”

The synopsis of this book is the kind that plants little hooks inside my historically minded brain and pulls on it. Especially the part of my brain that loves hauntingly atmospheric settings set among neglected snapshots of American history.

The below picture is what first came to mind when I read that the story setting was in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania. I immediately imagined the coal mining children of the early 1900s then realized that Harnett’s novel is set in the 1960s.

Penn boy miners

 

Close your eyes and imagine you live in a half-deserted town that has abandoned coal mines scattered about and end-of-the-world sized cracks in the ground with what looks like the steamy breath of hell seeping through them. That’s the story setting. Part of me was really wishing that this had been a full-fledged horror novel. There are, indeed, some horrific moments and they are presented in that strange and spellbinding way that leaves you questioning what exactly ‘just happened’.

 

Centralia 2Centralia 1Centralia 3

Pictures of the town of Centralia from brave tourists.

Brutal and raw in its telling, the book deals with a murder mystery, a family curse and the adolescence of the book’s narrator, Brigid Howley.  I enjoyed how these plot lines were woven through the story of Brigid’s personal experiences. While I sympathized with Brigid, I cannot say I enjoyed seeing the world through her eyes. It was utterly depressing and the supporting characters are so dramatically flawed that I found myself feeling rage on more than one occasion. I found it particularly meaningful in how the book presented the Irish-American family’s ”curse”. This thread of the story highlighted the importance behind words and beliefs and how a child can interpret the careless words of adults in damaging ways.

The Hollow Ground has been compared to To Kill A Mocking Bird and a Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’ve read both of those books (it’s been a LONG while) and I understand the comparison, but those were not the associations this book conjured for me. There are adult themes of abuse, alcoholism and violence that are presented in a much more raw way than what I remember from TKAM and ATGIB. I think those comparisons are aimed at a specific audience and as someone who reads all over the charts, I found myself comparing The Hollow Ground to Victorian era classic literature and a Young Adult novel (strange, I know).  If I had to compare this book to others, I would say it’s a mix between a Thomas Hardy novel and a Cat Winter’s novel.

The author has done an amazing job of capturing the coming-of-age voice of Brigid Howely and has painted the story world in a way that the reader knows it’s the 1960s but feels like the little town of Centralia, PA is stuck in an ominous time-warp, still holding on to the early 20th century. I would recommend this book for the author’s lovely writing alone, but also recommend it for those who like to read about tucked away tragedies in small, creepy towns.

Here’s an interesting documentary on the town of Centralia if you are intrigued by its history after reading The Hollow Ground like I was:

 

And just for fun:

Here’s a creepy little video comparing Centralia to Silent Hill, the creepy-ass video game that has given me nightmares since teen-hood, lol. (If you don’t care about the full backstory, you can skip in to 2:30 to see the drive through town footage.)

 

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Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson Review + GIVEAWAY!!!Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson
Published by St. Martin's Press, Thomas Dunne Books on August 4, 2015
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N | Kobo
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The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini's birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother's dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie's charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin's ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin's deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis's love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.

Check out my PSYCHOLOGICAL ANALYSIS of Marci Jefferson HERE, and don’t forget to ENTER to WIN a finished copy of the Enchantress of Paris at the end of the review!

“Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King’s opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.”

COULD ANYONE ASK FOR ANYTHING MORE IN AN HISTORICAL NOVEL?!

Versailles Palace GardensVersailles Hall of Mirrorsversailles_water_terrace

Some opulent scenery from King Louis XIV’s Versailles Palace

I loved Marci Jefferson’s Girl on the Golden Coin which focuses on Frances Stuart so I already had high expectations for Enchantress of Paris. BUT FOR THE LOVE OF LOUIS, this book surpassed my expectations a hundred fold.

As a musician, I sometimes come across a book that reads like music to me. Full of the kind of lyricism and glorious texture that sweeps me up with all the verve and passion of a symphony piece. There’s the side of my brain that wanted to stop and dissect the anatomy of this novel. What makes it so magical and pitch perfect?  But the side of my brain that prefers to be swept up in such a composition won.

Marie Mancini, The King’s Mistress                                                                           Louis XIV, The Sun King

Marie Mancini, the Sun King's MistressKing Louis XIV

Gah! Is there anything more satisfying for a Historical Fiction lover or Historian than being introduced to a Historical Figure that you didn’t even know existed?! I knew nothing about Marie Mancini before the Enchantress of Paris and now I want to know EVERYTHING about her. Marie is the kind of hypnotic female protagonist that will be haunting the halls of your brain for weeks to come after reading this novel. She is clever and strong, defiant and demanding- all the things that make a captivating heroine.

Marci Jefferson’s storytelling is a full sensory experience. I swear, it’s like Marci tapped into some kind of ”powers that be” to craft such a rich and fascinating story. The mysticism that infuses Marie’s narrative was such an unexpected dimension to this story and added such an exciting and exotic feel to this European tale. Every aspect of the culture of the time period is touched upon in the Enchantress of Paris, and I adore Marci for giving some great historical detail about Jean-Baptiste Lully, the Sun King’s personal composer and  court musician.

Here’s an entertaining scene from the film about King Louis XIV, Le Roi Danse, featuring a Soprano singing an aria written by Lully:

As I’ve come to expect from Marci’s writing, the world building and characterization are equally brilliant and transcendent. The balance between historical detail and narrative is perfect. The ill-fated romance between Marie and Louis XIV was engrossing and infuriating at the same time- such a perfect combination. Marci really knows how to stir the blood with intimate scenes and clandestine dalliances.

We could hardly see so far from the lights of the palais. But we sensed each other and fell into each other’s arms.

“Did you come here to read the heavens?” he asked.

I glanced up and searched for the constellation Virgo, the virgin. But she had not yet ascended to the early spring sky. Instead I saw a shooting star sweep across the heavens. A sign of change? I chose to believe it meant we would overcome the odds. “You know I came for you.”

He ran a hand inside my cloak, feeling my satins. “You’ll be cold in this.”

“Not with the Sun King to warm me.”

“Look at us, forced to meet in the dark. What will happen to us, Marie.”

“You will shine, ” I whispered, “and darkness will flee.”

There, under stars tossed like silver against a velvet sky, our lips met.

Lets just face it. Marci Jefferson was born to write Historical Fiction. With the face of an angel and the brain of a she-devil, Marci Jefferson has made me a mega-fan with her second novel. I can’t wait to eat read the pages of the next thing she writes.

For your viewing pleasure, here’s an entertaining montage from the film Les Roi Danse featuring the best dance numbers in the film. (LOL)

Aaaand, just for fun:

If you are the type of reader who likes to listen to soundtracks with their novels, try Patricia Petibon’s French Baroque Arias which features music from Lully and other artists of the period.

 

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ARC Review: Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula BrackstonLamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books on August 4, 2015
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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Artist Laura Matthews finds her new home in the Welsh mountains to be a place so charged with tales and legends that she is able to reach through the gossamer-fine veil that separates her own world from that of myth and fable.

She and her husband Dan have given up their city life and moved to Blaencwm, an ancient longhouse high in the hills. Here she hopes that the wild beauty will inspire her to produce her best art and will give her the baby they have longed for. But this high valley is also home to others, such as Rhys the charismatic loner who pursues Laura with fervor. And Anwen, the wise old woman from the neighboring farm who seems to know so much but talks in riddles. And then there is Merlin.

Lamp Black, Wolf Grey tells both Laura's story and Merlin's. For once he too walked these hills, with his faithful grey wolf at his heel. It was here he fell in love with Megan, nurse-maid to the children of the hated local noble, Lord Geraint. Merlin was young, at the start of his renowned career as a magician, but when he refuses to help Lord Geraint it is Megan who may pay the price.

In the latest from Paula Brackston, a young artist goes to the Welsh mountains in search of love, but is faced with ancient legends and a mysterious man from the past – Merlin himself.

You can find my reviews of other Paula Brackston novels HERE.

All I have to do is see Paula Brackston’s name on a novel and know that I’m going to love it. Her writing is so rich and engrossing, and as Kirkus Reviews aptly puts it, “full-blooded”. The other books I’ve read by Paula revolve around the lives of female witches, but Lamp Black, Wolf Grey doesn’t have the same ”witch-y” elements as her other novels and instead revolves around a woman in her child-bearing prime and the legendary Merlin.

Growing up, I was obsessed with Arthurian legends and Mary Stuart’s Merlin trilogy was one of my favorites so I was equal parts excited and skeptical going into this novel because of the Merlin aspect. All read and done, LAMP BLACK, WOLF GREY IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE PAULA BRACKSTON NOVELS YET.

This one was a page turner. Every time I set the book down, the suspenseful plot called to me like German chocolate cake. I had no choice but to put everything else on hold and dive back in. This book hooked me like the 2000 film What Lies Beneath starring Michelle Pfeiffer. LB,WG has the same delicious elements (ghost story, revenge, romantic suspense, atmospheric, etc.) that left me feeling completely satisfied after reading it.

The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones
The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones

The Merlin aspect is brilliant. What I feared could turn into something cheesy ended up being something completely creative and clever. I really enjoyed how the legend of this ancient warlock tied into the contemporary aspect of the story.

A Magical Welsh Forest.
A Magical Welsh Forest.

This was the second book I’ve read of Paula’s that was set in Wales and I absolutely love the magical way she infused the history and folklore of this region into her work. The world building was marvelous as ever; I felt like I was experiencing something far more delightful than a Thomas Kinkade painting every time I read a description of the main character’s surroundings.

I loved the deep and emotionally stirring adult themes concerning conceiving a child and marital issues that the magical realism flourishes around in the story.

Like in The Silver Witch, the author goes back and forth between an ancient and contemporary world to tell the story of two characters who’s lives are mystically linked. Paula really has a knack for this kind of story telling. This is a device that can be confusing and overwhelming at times, but it is pulled off with ease and clarity under Paula’s hand.

To sum things up, LB, WG was: Magical. Hypnotic. Suspenseful. DELICIOUS.

 

And just for fun….Here’s the trailer to What Lies Beneath. It doesn’t really have anything to do with LB,WG except that this film satisfied me in the same way that Paula’s latest novel did.

 

 

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The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston Review + Giveaway!!!The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books on April 21, 2015
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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A year after her husband’s sudden death, ceramic artist Tilda Fordwells finally moves into the secluded Welsh cottage that was to be their new home. She hopes that the tranquil surroundings will help ease her grief, and lessen her disturbing visions of Mat’s death. Instead, the lake in the valley below her cottage seems to spark something dormant in her – a sensitivity, and a power of some sort. Animals are drawn to her, electricity shorts out when she’s near, and strangest of all, she sees a new vision; a boatful of ancient people approaching her across the water.

On this same lake in Celtic times lived Seren, a witch and shaman. She was respected but feared, kept separate from the community for her strange looks. When a vision came to her of the Prince amid a nest of vipers she warned of betrayal from one of his own. Prince Brynach both loved and revered her, but could not believe someone close to him wished him harm, even as the danger grew.

In her own time, Tilda’s grief begins to fade beside her newfound powers and a fresh love. When she explores the lake’s ancient magic and her own she discovers Seren, the woman in her vision of the boat. Their two lives strangely mirror each others, suggesting a strong connection between the women. As Tilda comes under threat from a dark power, one reminiscent of Seren’s prophecy, she must rely on Seren and ancient magic if death and disaster are not to shatter her life once more.

If you’ve ever had any interest in Welsh or Celtic mythology or ancient Welsh culture, you will be obsessed with this book.

The Silver Witch was AWESOME. I was enthralled with how Paula Brackston wraps up her fantasy/supernatural narratives in solid, mesmerizing historical research. You can find some of the historical artifacts she writes about in this novel here.

With spellbinding craft,  Ms. Brackston weaves the life of a contemporary widowed woman with the life of an ancient Celtic female witch/shaman in The Silver Witch. Haunting and alluring mythology is divulged in pieces as the story goes back and forth between Tilda, the main character, and Seren, the ancient shaman to a Celtic prince.

Silver Witch House
The Welsh cottage where Tilda resides, close to a lake.

The pacing of the novel was slow enough to luxuriate in all of the wonderful and creepy aspects of the story, but not so slow that my attention span was tested. Brackston’s character development is masterful and almost overwhelms the senses with the depth and beauty of detail she lends her page people. I found myself reading the book as if I were living the book and that, of course, is a reader’s dream come true.

The crannog on the lake outside of Tilda's cottage where much of the story unfolds.
The crannog on the lake outside of Tilda’s cottage where much of the story unfolds.

There is a thread of romance that had substance without challenging the main plot and made The Silver Witch seem like a really well-rounded read. The tone and the setting of the book are so gloriously mysterious and mystical. Just think of fog hovering over a lake and tinkling wind-chimes playing atonal melodies or a Lydian mode to get a sense of the feel of this book.

This was my second novel of Paul Brackston’s to read, and I cannot wait to burn my way through the rest of her books. You can find my review of The Midnight Witch here.

Enter below for a chance to WIN a FINISHED COPY of The Silver Witch, courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. 

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Monarch Madness: The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston + GIVEAWAY!The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books on March 25, 2014
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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"The dead are seldom silent. All that is required for them to be heard is that someone be willing to listen. I have been listening to the dead all my life."

Lilith is the daughter of the sixth Duke of Radnor. She is one of the most beautiful young women in London and engaged to the city’s most eligible bachelor. She is also a witch.

When her father dies, her hapless brother Freddie takes the title. But it is Lilith, instructed in the art of necromancy, who inherits their father’s role as Head Witch of the Lazarus Coven. And it is Lilith who must face the threat of the Sentinels, a powerful group of sorcerers intent on reclaiming the Elixir from the coven’s guardianship for their own dark purposes. Lilith knows the Lazarus creed: secrecy and silence. To abandon either would put both the coven and all she holds dear in grave danger. She has spent her life honoring it, right down to her charming fiancé and fellow witch, Viscount Louis Harcourt.

Until the day she meets Bram, a talented artist who is neither a witch nor a member of her class. With him, she must not be secret and silent. Despite her loyalty to the coven and duty to her family, Lilith cannot keep her life as a witch hidden from the man she loves.

To tell him will risk everything.

Spanning the opulence of Edwardian London and the dark days of World War I, The Midnight Witch is the third novel from New York Timesbestselling author Paula Brackston.

monarch

 

Okay, so this book doesn’t technically involve a monarch BUT it does involve a Duke and Duchess, so I’ve decided to include this review and the giveaway hosted by St.Martin’s Press.

I had not had the pleasure of reading one of Paula Brackston’s books until The Midnight Witch, and I cannot believe it took me this long to get around to it.

I can’t imagine a more magical combination for a Historical Fiction lover and all around genre lover than what Ms. Brackston has merged together in this book. We have: Royalty, World War I, Witches, Ghosts, Bohemia, Romance, and CATS. ——-Yes, you read that correctly; all of those luscious elements are embodied in this book.

Lilith has two very separate lives; she’s a Duchess and she’s the head witch of her coven. A necromancer coven. Lilith’s coven communes with the dead and can bring the departed back to life and use spirits as guides and helpers. Lilith keeps her witch side under the cloak of night, but both of her worlds end up colliding in this novel. The paranormal and the mundane become inextricably linked as Lilith discovers a sinister plot that will harm those she loves most.

And then she looks up and spies Bram, and her green eyes shine, and the smile with which she greets him warms his heart. As soon as she reaches him he snatches up her hand and presses it to his lips. For a moment they stand close, without speaking, desire fizzing between them.

The romance that spans the novel is beautiful and bohemian-like. Lilith is torn between the gentelman that is right for her status, and the one that is right for her heart.

I really enjoyed Brackston’s characters, and felt like they had a familiarity to them. The way the story unfolds was reminiscent of Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. The Midnight Witch had a very epic feel and pace to it. The writing was beautiful and lyrical, but I would have liked a little more of the time period to have been captured as far as what was going on outside of Lilith’s circle. The part in the summary that mentions World War I was a huge pull-factor for me, but what is captured of it in the story is not satisfying for someone who really enjoys this time period.

Overall, I really liked this book and was inspired to read more of Brackston’s work. Full of rich descriptive detail and wonderfully crafted sentences, The Midnight Witch was a pleasure to read. ENTER BELOW for a finished Paperback copy of The Midnight Witch that includes a SNEAK PEAK at Paula’s forthcoming novel, The Silver Witch!

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Monarch Madness: The Queen’s Dwarf by Ella March Chase + GIVEAWAY!!!The Queen's Dwarf by Ella March Chase
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on January 21, 2014
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Source: the Publisher
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It's 1629, and King Charles I and his French queen Henrietta-Maria have reigned in England for less than three years. Young dwarf Jeffrey Hudson is swept away from a village shambles and plunged into the Stuart court when his father sells him to the most hated man in England--the Duke of Buckingham.

Buckingham trains Jeffrey to be his spy in the household of Charles' seventeen-year-old bride, hoping to gain intelligence that will help him undermine the vivacious queen's influence with the king. Desperately homesick in a country that hates her for her nationality and Catholic faith, Henrietta-Maria surrounds herself with her "Royal Menagerie of Freaks and Curiosities of Nature"--a "collection" consisting of a giant, two other dwarves, a rope dancer, an acrobat/animal trainer and now Jeffrey, who is dubbed "Lord Minimus."

Dropped into this family of misfits, Jeffrey must negotiate a labyrinth of court intrigue and his own increasingly divided loyalties. For not even the plotting of the Duke nor the dangers of a tumultuous kingdom can order the heart of a man. Though he is only eighteen inches tall, Jeffrey Hudson's love will reach far beyond his grasp--to the queen he has been sent to destroy.

Full of vibrant period detail and with shades of Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Philippa Gregory's The Queen's Fool, The Queen's Dwarf is a rich, thrilling and evocative portrait of an intriguing era

 

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The Queen’s Dwarf was a completely engrossing historical tale of turmoil and  intrigue from the perspective of the cherubic, 18 inch tall Jeffrey Hudson- a spy planted in the Queen’s Menagerie of freaks.

Jeffrey Hudson, The Queen’s Dwarf, and Queen Henrietta Maria

Jeffrey Dwarf and Queen Henrietta

 

I have not read much historical biography or fiction from the reign of King Charles I, and this book was such a great introduction to the time period. The Stuart era is lushly crafted, and the author moves her characters beyond the personas we usually associate with royalty. Ella March Chase gives her characters just the right amount of depth and development, and really grabbed me on the psychological level of each of the main players.

Was I like these people? Once I stepped through this door, I would be embracing the fact that I was a grotesque, repellent as the living corpse or the aged fool who seemed constructed of nothing but bile and gristle.

Still, what did it matter what outcasts such as these thought of me? I took a bold step into the room, trying to seem confident, though my breeches were bagging. […]

“Look at the shape of him!” I heard someone murmur.

“An angelic freak,” another marveled.

“This is Jeffrey Hudson.” Will said, interrupting. “His ears may be small, but they work just fine.”

Jeffrey’s character was endearing and hypnotic. It was somewhat heartbreaking- here was the complex reality of a young man who lived his life before the palace as someone who tried to blend in and navigate the world without being squashed to death. And then of a young man who is thrust into court life as a freakish marvel and is looked at as a ”pet” or possession. I loved how the author captured the sadness and frustration of Jeffrey as a man with desires and feelings the same as any normal size person but being prevented from expressing those feelings or embracing them wholly because of his dwarfism.  I couldn’t help but feel a protectiveness towards Jeffrey by the end of the novel. I loved being inside of his head and seeing him go through the very real, very troubling situations that tested his duties to Buckingham- the devilish duke that took him away from his family and employed him as his spy-and his loyalty to the French Queen. Loyalty that Jefferey could not help but feel towards the woman he was meant to destroy because he was so beguiled by her tenderness towards him and by her naivete.

Her luminous brown eyes sank a hook in my heart. I could feel them drawing me in. I bowed, flinging off Goodfellow’s cloak, baring my ridiculousness on purpose. Laughter rose from the ladies and even the queen herself.

King Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria, Duke of Buckingham

King Charles I(c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationDuke of Buckingham King Charles I

 

It was wonderful to be shown the perspective of a commoner and what Jeffrey thought about royalty and the monarchs while living beyond the palace walls, and then how that changed once he was in the midst of it all. It’s seems everyone, including Buckingham, was much more complex and tormented than one would assume. Despite the lavish parties, entertainment, and settings, every day in court seemed like a day playing Russian Roulette. I really enjoyed how the author meticulously represented all of this through her descriptive details that encompassed much more than lovely or -freakish- facades.

 

Greenwich Palace

Greenwhich Palace ceiling

 

The pacing of the story was just right, so as to fully develop every aspect of Jeffrey’s life and experiences and the Stuart era. There were many flashbacks throughout that help us understand Jeffrey as a character, and give insight to how he suspected his dwarfism came about. I can’t wait to read another book by Ella March Chase, and I recommend The Queen’s Dwarf to any Historical Fiction fan who is interested in reading about royalty from an un-royal and unique perspective. This book is also perfect for anyone interested in the Stuart era, or anyone who wants to be swept up in a lovely interpretation and depiction of real historical figures.

Many thanks to St.Martin’s Griffin for providing me with a copy for review of this novel, and for also providing a finished paperback copy for giveaway. The giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada residents only. Enter below for a chance TO WIN!

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BOO!ks for October: Death, and the Girl He Loves by Darynda JonesDeath, and the Girl He Loves by Darynda Jones
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on October 8, 2013
Pages: 272
Format: eBook
Source: Amazon
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The fate of the world is not something a girl wants on her shoulders, and that is especially true for Lorelei McAlister. Unfortunately for her, that is exactly where the world’s fate has decided to take up residence. Lorelei has seen firsthand the horrors that lie beneath our everyday world. And those horrors are getting her friends killed. Because of this, she agrees to leave the sanctity of her hometown and is sent to a different world entirely. A boarding school. But even here she is being watched. Someone knows what she is. What she carries inside her soul. And on top of that she’s seeing visions. This is nothing new for Lorelei. But these visions are something more: death, destruction, and the end of the world. Lorelei must face the fact that there are people who want her dead, and no matter where she goes, no matter how far she runs, the lives of her friends and family are in mortal peril. Lucky for her, her friends and family include the handsome Angel of Death, a fiercely protective half-angel, and a ragtag group of loyal supporters who aren’t afraid to get a little dirty in the name of fighting pure evil.

Hell hasn’t frozen over, Lorelie was sent to Maine.

(You can check out my review for books one and two in this trilogy here, and here.)

At the end of book two in the Darklight trilogy, Lorelei was ghosted away to a boarding school in Maine to keep her safe from the restless spirits and forces of evil that were hunting her down back  in Riley’s Switch, New Mexico.  She is the last prophet , after all, and needs to be kept safe so she can save the world from it’s biblical ending. But Lorelei quickly discovers that she isn’t safe anywhere, as long as she has a dormant demon inside of her, and her visions are getting worse. Moving to Maine hasn’t made her stop seeing the END OF THE WORLD, it’s intensified the visions!

While at boarding school, Lorelei meets some shady characters. She’s not sure who to trust, and is going through major withdrawals from her loyal group of friends and guardian angels back home. Someone seems to have it in for her at her new school, and it’s not long before Lorelei returns to Riley’s Switch.

Things are worse than ever when she gets back home, but she’s the only one who seems to have lost hope. Lorelei’s grandparents and followers of the prophet have faith that she will save everyone from death, doom, and destruction, and everyone does what they can to make sure Lorelei embraces the bad-ass prophet that she is.

I was thoroughly sentimental at the beginning of this book, and really, really, really missed the interactions/banter between Lorelei and her posse. Although the time she spent away from home was interesting, I was mad about her lost time with Jared. I was giddy with joy when Darynda brought Lorelei back to New Mexico, and that’s when I feel like the story really began for me.

The action in this book, and Lorelei’s internal dialogue were the best things about it. Once again, Darynda had me LOLing. Lorelei McAlister has become one of my all-time favorite female characters. I absolutely LOVE this trilogy, and am sad that it ended after only three books. That being said, Death and The Girl He Loves was my least favorite Darklight book. I felt like everything was wrapped up rather quickly, and a little anti-climatic for the series. The resolution to the story might be a complete shocker for some, but I saw it coming, and almost wished I had been wrong. You will either think the ending is really bad-ass and clever, or a little lame and feel cheated. I’m stuck somewhere between the two.

At the end of my review for Death, Doom, and Detention I said:

 I’m hoping for some EPIC Prophet/Angel of Death kissing scenes in the third book due out this October. I might go a little Azrael myself if Darynda doesn’t deliver.

Well, we definitely get some epic body-melting kisses, toe-curling touches, and lustful, lingering stares between the Angel of Death (aka Jared) and Lorelei (aka the Prophet), but I was still left unsatisfied. The title: Death and The Girl He Loves made me think we were going to get some serious quality time with them, but alas, I was mistaken. Don’t get me wrong. This trilogy is AWESOME and I think everyone should read it. I just wanted more. This wasn’t my best review, but I just couldn’t seem to piece together my thoughts on it properly. They still feel somewhat muddy since it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Dumb excuse, I know… Anyway, who knows. Maybe Darynda will write a spin-off series focusing more on Jared and Lorelei in the future.

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ARC Review: All Our Pretty SongsAll Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry
Series: All Our Pretty Songs
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on July 30, 2013
Pages: 240
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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The first book in an exciting YA trilogy, this is the story of two best friends on the verge of a terrifying divide when they begin to encounter a cast of strange and mythical characters.

Set against the lush, magical backdrop of the Pacific Northwest, two inseparable best friends who have grown up like sisters—the charismatic, mercurial, and beautiful Aurora and the devoted, soulful, watchful narrator—find their bond challenged for the first time ever when a mysterious and gifted musician named Jack comes between them. Suddenly, each girl must decide what matters most: friendship, or love. What both girls don’t know is that the stakes are even higher than either of them could have imagined. They’re not the only ones who have noticed Jack’s gift; his music has awakened an ancient evil—and a world both above and below which may not be mythical at all. The real and the mystical; the romantic and the heartbreaking all begin to swirl together, carrying the two on journey that is both enthralling and terrifying.

And it’s up to the narrator to protect the people she loves—if she can.

 

 

 

“Until now, I’ve never loved anyone except Aurora. It’s more than his music, more than even the smell of his skin. More than the way his body is like a magnet calling all the iron in my blood. He’s a drug that’s hooked me on the very first trip. “

 

Do you remember the hard, black, book sized  journals you had to keep in high-school if you were in photography or art class? The pages warped and stiff with the dried rubber cement used to paste pictures and collages; the contents swelling up with new entries, pushing  their boundaries, and stretching the binding so that the covers no longer lay flat? That’s what All Our Pretty Songs reminded me of. Sarah McCarry’s writing is a piece of art. Her prose is dripping with poetic angst and juvenile passion. I felt like a live-wire, sentimental and electric with the memories and feelings of what it was like to be young and in love. This book sped up my heart beat and made me want to put on my darkest lipstick, tease my hair, and jump on my bed to an old Sex Pistols record. It  made me want to lay on the floor and listen to Sunny Day Real Estate while thumbing through the incredibly conflicted poetry written in my high-school art journal  about unrequited love, and friendships gone awry. This book took me back to the physical and euphoric sensations of worshiping at the sweaty-pit alters of my favorite bands; staring up with wide-eyes, swaying to the music and leaning on my friends. Sarah’s writing invokes all the senses. So much punch is packed into each sentence, that I could swear Sarah McCarry wrote this when she was 16. AOPS had that feeling of raw emotion, and devil-may-care energy that makes you feel immortal when you’re a teenager. This book is beautiful like a song. Lyrical and melodious by the emotional weight of it’s words.

It’s been a while since I read about Orpheus in my philosophy class in college, but I’ve seen the movie Black Orpheus more recently and it was only half-way through this book that I was able to make a connection. If you are familiar with the mythology of Orpheus, then I think you will appreciate the creative spin Sarah McCarry put on this story. That being said, the bones of this book felt completely original, as well as the words and thoughts used to flesh out this tale. The story is told entirely from our main character’s POV. Our narrator and her best friend, Aurora, were brought up together in a whirlwind of partying, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Both girls grew up without father’s from a very young age, and their mother’s used to be best friends until drugs and unfortunate circumstances lead to a falling out between them. Despite this, our narrator and Aurora stayed like sisters and faced a life of hard knocks together.

When Jack (our Orpheus) enters the story, new and startling feelings find their way to the surface of our narrator’s psyche. Feelings that make her suspicious of her best friend, and lead her to question her very existence and motivations. When strange dreams and strange men start to make appearances, our narrator is instantly leery. One of these strange men seems otherworldly and familiar, working his way into the lives of Jack and Aurora, leaving  the narrator feeling suspicious and left out. Things have slowly began to change since Jack materialized into their lives, and a dark unwinding begins. From  here, we follow the narrator on what feels like a really bad psychotropic trip.

If you are looking for a fast-moving plot and definite answers, you will not find that in AOPS. It reads more like an intimate biopic about one girl’s experiences and journey. What I enjoyed most about this book was the way the characters came off the pages, and the descriptions that were like brush strokes saturated in color, painting a vivid experience.  This book is listed as the first of a trilogy on Goodreads, and I am curious to see how more of this story will unfold. Sarah McCarry made a fan out of me and I will gladly read anything else she writes.

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Fated (Soul Seekers #1)Fated (Soul Seekers #1) by Alyson Noel
Series: Soul Seekers #1
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on May 22, 2012
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
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Strange things are happening to Daire Santos. Crows mock her, glowing people stalk her, time stops without warning, and a beautiful boy with unearthly blue eyes haunts all her dreams. Fearing for her daughter’s sanity, Daire’s mother sends her to live with the grandmother she’s never met. A woman who recognizes the visions for what they truly are—the call to her destiny as a Soul Seeker—one who can navigate the worlds between the living and dead.

There on the dusty plains of Enchantment, New Mexico, Daire sets out to harness her mystical powers. But it’s when she meets Dace, the boy from her dreams, that her whole world is shaken to its core. Now Daire is forced to discover if Dace is the one guy she's meant to be with...or if he’s allied with the enemy she's destined to destroy.

I’m at Target staring at the empty spot where the book I drove here for should be. It’s close to 10:00 p.m. , and I don’t have the energy to frantically look behind all of the other books on the isle like I normally would, so I do a quick sweep with my eyes for an appealing cover and land on Fated.  The girl on the pretty purple cover makes me want to run to Forever 21 and buy dream catcher earrings. I pick up the book, read the back blurb, and I’m sold. Oh, and look! All three books in the series are here. I grab those, too and feel the instant surge of endorphins that comes with buying things. This story promises mystery, magic, and an intoxicating love affair. Seems like a safe buy. Five chapters into Fated, and I’m scolding myself for buying a book based on the cover.
Let me start out by listing the things I LOVED about this book. The cover and chapter transition pages are beautiful. There is a very cool few pages dedicated to Animal Spirit Guides and their meanings, and there is one particular passage at the beginning of the book that I found moving and sublime:
       ” I am the hydrogen in the very water I float in.
I am  the oxygen in the air that I breathe. 
I am the small bubble of heat in this mineral spring.
I am the blood that courses through the boy who kisses me-as sure as I’m the beat in the raven’s wings that led me to him. 
I am an integral part of everything- and everything is an integral part of me. “
Daire, our female MC, is on the verge of 17 and has spent her life globe-trotting with her single mother who works as a Hollywood makeup artist. Daire has had a somewhat lonely, unattached existence since her father passed before she was born and her and her mother’s lifestyle keeps them from setting down roots and spending time with family. Daire has always known she was different and while on an assignment with her mother in Morocco, strange things start happening that leave Daire on the verge of insanity. Daire’s strange unwindings and outbursts drive her mother to contact Daire’s long estranged paternal grandmother for some answers, and hopefully a cure. Thus, our story really begins and Daire is shipped off to New Mexico to live with her stranger of an abuela against her better wishes.
Daire discovers that she is from a long line of powerful seekers and has the potential for magick beyond her wildest dreams. Book one of the Soul Seekers takes us through Daire’s journey learning about her powerful gifts and destined future. In between vision quests in caves and dreams that feel more like waking life, Daire meets Cade and Dace. Twin brothers who represent good and evil and will play a fundamental part in Daire’s life as a seeker and last defender of her bloodline.
The books setting made me want to buy a table top cactus and cover up on my couch with a southwestern style afghan while sipping sage root tea. The mysticism and anecdotes Daire’s grandmother passes down to her had me intrigued, and I was excited to see how the story would unfold. One hundred and seventy-five pages later, I was one bad Carlos Castaneda like trip away from bailing. Daire’s character had no real depth, and despite the model on the cover, I kept imagining her as Kristen Stewart. If you’ve read my other reviews, you know how I feel about hot brothers in stories. Cade and Dace didn’t even have a chance to earn a spot on my closet boyfriend list. These brothers stayed flat on the page for me, and the chemistry between Daire and Dace (the good twin) seems to materialize out of nowhere near the end of the story. I felt robbed and misled after what the back of the book cover promised me. The pacing seemed slow as a desert tumble weed, and there were more than a few gruesome descriptions I wish I could vision quest right out of my head. I wish this book would have read better for me, but I don’t think I will continue with the series. There is not a doubt in my mind that Alyson Noel is a marvelous magician with words, but I think I’ll spend my time on her Immortal series instead.
SEIZURE WARNING: Many descriptions in this book will remind you of your days in college when you took some mushrooms with the boy in dreds from your Magic, Ritual, and Religion class. Two chapters in this book are completely dedicated to living vicariously through a ROACH. I won’t go into more detail because I almost had a seizure typing that word. You have been warned.
One StarOne StarHalf a Star