Showing posts with label Historical Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Historical Fiction. Show all posts

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Book Review: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

'The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls'
Author: Anton DiSclafani

Format: ARC
Published: Riverhead Hardcover; June 2013
Pages: 400
Genre: Historical fiction
Grade: B
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.

Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer.


My Take: For me, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is one of those novels that sticks with you long after it has ended. So much occurs within the pages, and so much isn't revealed until the end that it calls for you to keep thinking about it. I actually had to sit on this review for a bit until I could fully formulate my thoughts! Let's hope I do a decent job.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is both a mouthful of a title and Anton DiSclafani's debut novel. Thea Atwell is our narrator and when the novel opens she is a young girl turning into a young woman who tells the story of her childhood by flashing forward and back. It can be slightly confusing but you soon get the hang of it. Basically, something has happened, and she is the cause of it, and it has turned her life upside down.

Thea was raised in Florida, and as the Great Depression hits her family is constantly reminded just how charmed their life really is. They live on a remote mansion and basically just have each other for company: Thea's mother, father, and her twin brother Sam. Occasionally they have visits from her dad's brother, his wife, and Thea and Sam's cousin George who is just a few years older.

When the story opens, we are all aware that something tragic has happened but we won't fully understand what that something is until close to the end. What we do know is that Thea is being punished by being sent to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, far away from her family and everything she has ever known. This camp is high up in the North Carolina mountains and is full of girls. Thea has never really been around other children besides her brother and cousin, both male, so she is completely overwhelmed by all of this femaleness. But what the camp does have is horse riding and Thea is a masterful horse rider.

What follows is Thea learning how to live away from her family and become a part of the camp. Also, how her family deals with the tragedy that befell them. This is not a happy feel good story. It is full of tragedy and sadness but it is fascinating and can fill your thoughts with how one mistake can ruin everything. I will warn you that if you don't like graphic love scenes this may not be for you. However, if you are looking for an interesting look into the life of a young woman who is set to learn the power of her actions, I would highly recommend The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. I also think this would make a fascinating read for bookclubs.

Cover Lust: I do love this cover. At first glance I thought it really fit the time period. However, at a second glance I noticed that the young woman on the cover is wearing jeans decorated with bows up the leg. Did they wear stuff like that in the early '30s? I didn't think they did and that inconsistency kinda bugs me.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review: More Than You Know

'More Than You Know'
Author: Penny Vincenzi

Format: ARC
Published: Anchor; Jan. 2013
Pages: 608
Genre: Historical fiction
Grade: C
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: It’s 1958, and Eliza Clark has it all: good looks, a privileged upbringing, and a fast-paced career as a successful magazine editor. High fashion means high life, and she’s constantly jetting to Paris and Milan to take in the latest by Chanel, Dior, and Pucci. But when she falls head over heels for Matt Snow, an edgy working-class boy, and becomes pregnant, she is expected to give up her glamorous lifestyle and get married. 

Although their marriage is intensely passionate, it soon begins to fracture. When their divorce ends in a dramatic custody battle over their little girl, Emmie, and Summercourt, the country estate that has been in her family for generations, it leaves Eliza with a difficult decision: Love? Or money?


My Take: I am a HUGE Penny Vincenzi fan. You may not know this because I haven't reviewed any of her books in the time I've been running Amused By Books but there was a time when I read most of her back catalog. Let's see, there was her entire No Angles/Lytton Family Trilogy series which was amazingly engrossing and one of my favorite series of all times, as well as, Something Dangerous, Old Sins, and The Dilemma. All were big books, all were engrossing, all were soap-operatic, making them perfect summer reads. So yeah, when summer rolled around I knew that would be the right time to pick up her recent release More Than You Know.

Having not read any of Vincenzi's books for quite a few years I was excited to dive back into a beloved author's work. However, what I found was not what I had hoped. I believe what didn't work for me with More Than You Know was a case of synopsis overload. While the synopsis up there is brief, it gives away the crux of the story. By 300 pages in, I still hadn't gotten through everything the synopsis had given away and I began to wonder what the point of reading this huge tome was if I clearly already knew how it was going to end. I want to have a story unravel for me. And yes, I will still to continue to always read the synopsis, but that doesn't mean I want it to give me the whole story in one go!

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I can get to the actual novel. More Than You Know had everything in it I really enjoy. It was set in the era of Mad Men (1960s), it was also set in swinging London (love), and it had a strong female lead (double love). This strong female lead's name is Eliza and she comes from a privileged background but wants to do more with her life than just marry well and become a housewife and society dame. She wants to have a rewarding career and she wants this career to be in fashion. Eliza actually does really well for herself very quickly. It was fun to read about her passion for her work and the fashions of the day.

However, societal rules to not die easily and there is serious pressure for her to marry and to marry well. She also knows that by doing so she would probably be unable to keep the job she loves. When her longtime boyfriend (and very socially well off one) asks her to marry him, while it would seem like the perfect life, she decides that she doesn't actually love him enough to marry.

Meanwhile, Matt, an army buddy of her brother, but also a boy who is making his own way, is coming in and out of Eliza's life. There is an attraction there but a relationship would be deemed socially unacceptable. Sometimes though the attraction just can't be ignored and the two become entangled in a passionate relationship. When Eliza becomes pregnant, well, it's time for the two to get married.

What follows is a rather realistic, if often sad tale, of choices made and the wonderings of what if. Unlike the above synopsis, I don't want to give that much away. Suffice it to say, what follows is Eliza's intense love for her husband and daughter but a constant wondering of what might have been if she had just chosen a different path. And eventually what she chooses to do with those wonderings.

If you want a great summer read, I might first recommend one of the above novels of Vincenzi's that I adored, but if, like me, you are already an ardent Vincenzi fan, you are going to want to read this one too.

Cover Lust: I think this cover is perfect. It doesn't give away too much of anything, yet hints at the opulent lives within. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: The Age of Desire

'The Age of Desire'
Author: Jennie Fields

Format: Paperback
Published: Penguin Books; May 2013
Pages: 384
Genre: Historical fiction
Grade: C
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Synopsis: They say that behind every great man is a great woman. Behind Edith Wharton, there was Anna Bahlmann—her governess turned literary secretary and confidante. At the age of forty-five, despite her growing fame, Edith remains unfulfilled in a lonely, sexless marriage. Against all the rules of Gilded Age society, she falls in love with Morton Fullerton, a dashing young journalist. But their scandalous affair threatens everything in Edith’s life—especially her abiding ties to Anna.
            At a moment of regained popularity for Wharton, Jennie Fields brilliantly interweaves Wharton’s real letters and diary entries with her fascinating, untold love story. Told through the points of view of both Edith and Anna, The Age of Desire transports readers to the golden days of Wharton’s turn-of-the century world and—like the recent bestseller The Chaperone—effortlessly re-creates the life of an unforgettable woman.

My Take: I'm going to be honest, I had a real love/hate relationship with this novel. And honestly, when a novel evokes those kind of strong feelings, that usually means its a good book. However, for me, I have to really like and root for a main character to get complete enjoyment from it, and I just could not root for Edith.

The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields is a fictional account of a very real person: Edith Wharton. I know for a fact that I read at least one, if not more, of Edith Wharton's novels in college. It's just that I had to read so many classics in college its hard for me to remember which ones and Wharton was an incredibly prolific writer!

Fields drops us into Wharton's life soon after the very successful publication of The House of Mirth. Wharton is from a very well-to-do family and married early to Teddy Wharton. It unfortunately quickly became evident to both that this was not a love match. Years later though they are still married to each other (as you did back in the day) and very comfortably living lives of companionship but no romance. However, there are cracks.

Edith loves to spend her winters in Paris. Her circle includes other intellectuals of the day and she is often invited to salons and other high-society Parisian events. Her husband, however, prefers to stay at home. Noticing their growing distance from each other, she seeks deep friendships with others. It is at this time she meets Morton Fullerton. Fullerton is well known across Paris as a cad, and everyone warns Edith, but she doesn't care. Theirs soon becomes a passionate affair that consumes each other.

There is another character at play that I must not forget: Anna. Anna was Edith's governess when she was a child, and as an adult is her, well for lack of a better term, personal secretary. They are also incredibly close friends and confidents, having shared a large portion of each others lives in each others company. However, Anna does not approve of Edith's paramour and as a result, how she treats her husband. This produces strife in the friendship.

Now, The Age of Desire, was one of those books that did engross me and vividly painted a portrait of these real-life characters so that they were utterly believable as to how Fields drew them. However, the vast majority of the novel I just wanted to slap Edith. She could not have been more simpering and utterly, ridiculously, moony over Fullerton, who was, for a lack of a better word, a complete jerk to her. I just wanted to shout 'he's just not that into you!'. While it may be one thing to listen to teenagers allow their lives to be completely ruled by their love and spend all of their time overanalyzing his every word, when a successful older woman does it, it is highly annoying and pathetic.

However, I am but one person who may think this so I highly encourage you to visit the entire Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour.

Cover Lust: I do love this cover! It sets the time period perfectly and it shows a barefooted seductress coming down the stairs!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway: The Girl You Left Behind

'The Girl You Left Behind'
Author: JoJo Moyes

Format: Hardback
Published: Pamela Dorman Books; Aug 2013
Pages: 384
Genre: Historical fiction
Grade: A
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: Jojo Moyes’s bestseller, Me Before You, catapulted her to wide critical acclaim and has struck a chord with readers everywhere. “Hopelessly and hopefully romantic” (Chicago Tribune), Moyes returns with another irresistible heartbreaker that asks, “Whatever happened to the girl you left behind?”

France, 1916:  Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Edouard’s portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officer’s dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything—her family, her reputation, and her life—to see her husband again.

Almost a century later, Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and a battle begins for who its legitimate owner is—putting Liv’s belief in what is right to the ultimate test.

Like Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress and Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, The Girl You Left Behind is a breathtaking story of love, loss, and sacrifice told with Moyes’s signature ability to capture our hearts with every turn of the page.

My Take: Believe it or not, I hadn't read a JoJo Moyes book before I was given The Girl You Left Behind to read. Moyes was an author I had always intended to read, believing that she was the type of author whose books I would really enjoy. As a result I have quite a few of her books on my shelves but needed to find the time to read them. I do believe this was the perfect opportunity!

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes is that wonderful type of book I have been enjoying recently: the type of book that is set in two different time periods with one time period unlocking the secrets of the other.

When The Girl You Left Behind opens, it is 1916 and we are in a small town in France and WWI is raging outside. Sophie is a young bride who has gone back to live with her family to keep everyone safe. Now she is running a hotel/cafe in German occupied France. It is a not an easy existence. They are facing cold, lack of food, and heartache on an almost daily basis. Sophie's husband who has gone off to fight in the war is an artist, Edouard Lefevre. During happier times, Lefevre had painted a portrait of Sophie which she now holds very dear. This portrait is entitled 'The Girl You Left Behind'. 

Close to halfway into the novel we meet Liv Halston, a young widow who lives in London. Liv is the proud owner of 'The Girl You Left Behind', and it is one of the few happy memories she has left of her short time with her beloved husband. However, because 'The Girl You Left Behind' may have been taken by Germans under duress during WWI, the provenance of this piece is in question and Liv's life is soon to be turned completely upside down. Through this trial we learn the true fate of Sophie and her love-story with Edouard.

It is hard to paint a picture (pun intended) of just how page-turning this novel is. The two story-lines are so different, you won't be confused by them at all and really all you want to do anyway is figure out what happened to Sophie. I love this storytelling device, and it worked once again for me really well in The Girl You Left Behind. If you are a fan of historical fiction, or are just looking for your next great read, I can highly recommend The Girl You Left Behind!

Cover Lust: While this cover is very simple, the great use of font made me think before I had even read the synopsis that this novel might be set in the early 1900s, and guess what, it was? So yep, I like it!

Giveaway Details
Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes to giveaway! The deadline for this giveaway is September 2nd; entries open to those in the US only (no PO boxes please).

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Three extra entries available. Giveaway open until 11:59pm PST September 2nd. I will draw the winners using random.org and announce them here on my blog. You will have one week to claim your prize. Good luck!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book Review: A Certain Summer

'A Certain Summer'
Author: Patricia Beard

Format: Paperback
Published: Gallery Books; May 2013
Pages: 336
Genre: Historical Fiction
Grade: B
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: "Nothing ever changes at Wauregan.” That mystique is the tradition of the idyllic island colony off the shore of Long Island, the comforting tradition that its summer dwellers have lived by for over half a century. But in the summer of 1948, after a world war has claimed countless men—even those who came home—the time has come to deal with history’s indelible scars.

Helen Wadsworth’s husband, Arthur, was declared missing in action during an OSS operation in France, but the official explanation was mysteriously nebulous. Now raising a teenage son who longs to know the truth about his father, Helen turns to Frank Hartman—her husband’s best friend and his partner on the mission when he disappeared. Frank, however, seems more intent on filling the void in Helen’s life that Arthur’s absence has left. As Helen’s affection for Frank grows, so does her guilt, especially when Peter Gavin, a handsome Marine who was brutally tortured by the Japanese and has returned with a faithful war dog, unexpectedly stirs new desires. With her heart pulled in multiple directions, Helen doesn’t know whom to trust—especially when a shocking discovery forever alters her perception of both love and war.

Part mystery, part love story, and part insider’s view of a very private world, A Certain Summer resonates in the heart long after the last page is turned.


My Take: I had to read A Certain Summer this summer! Why you ask? Well, because a. it has 'summer' in the title and b. it has all the elements of a book I would love. It was calling to me to read it! And yes, it was a fabulous summer read but really, you could read it anytime and be transported to this faraway land and time.

A Certain Summer by Patricia Beard is set shortly after the end of WWII in 1948. It follows Helen Wadsworth and her son as they summer in Wauregan, a made up island near New York where all of the wealthy have been going to for the past fifty years or more. Basically its like a really fancy summer camp for rich people. If I could be invited to spend my summers there, I totally would have!

Helen's husband, Arthur, was a spy during the war and has yet to come home. Declared missing in action, Helen and her son, Jack, are in a kind of limbo. Arthur is presumed dead but until they actually get confirmation, hope remains that he will come home and they can all resume life as it was.

This summer at Wauregan is different then previous ones though. Most of the husbands are back to help run the island, but few are the same person they were when they left. This leaves many wives wondering what to do next. I found this glimpse into what was probably a very real after effect of the war really interesting.

Helen and her son both miss having a man in their lives. There are two men in particular that are starting to have a greater importance in their lives during the period in which A Certain Summer takes place. The first, Frank, was friends with Helen and Arthur before the war and was a spy with Arthur during. Everyone thinks it's suspicious that he returned and Arthur didn't. The second man is Peter. He is handsome and gets along great with Jack but is dealing with the demons of the war he fought and could be considered a little young for Helen.

Without giving anything else away that is the premise of A Certain Summer. Will Helen end up with either of these two men? Or, will her husband finally return home? If you like love stories, historical fiction, and a bit of mystery, you really can't go wrong with Patricia Beard's A Certain Summer.

Cover Lust: I was really drawn to this cover and I think it is really fitting for the story contained within.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Book Review: The Queen's Vow

'The Queen's Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile'
Author: C.W. Gortner

Format: Paperback
Published: Ballantine Books; July 2013
Pages: 416
Genre: Historical fiction
Grade: B
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Synopsis: Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her—Fernando, prince of Aragon.

As they unite their two realms under “one crown, one country, one faith,” Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies. With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of the inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella’s resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny.

From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen’s Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile.

My Take: Having been a fan of C.W. Gortner's Elizabeth I Spymasters Chronicles series, having read both The Tudor Secret and The Tudor Conspiracy (click titles for my reviews), I was excited to read something else of Gortner's from a different locale. 

The Queen's Vow takes place in Spain, during the reigns of Enrique III of Castile, Enrique IV of Castile, and finally Isabella of Castile, of whom this story centers upon. One of the reasons this novel interested me so is because I know very little about Spanish history. Quiz me on the King's and Queen's of England and I probably know far more than is really necessary. Quiz me on the King's and Queen's of Spain, however, and you will probably be met with blank stares. So you could say that The Queen's Vow was both an interesting story for me to read while also serving as a pretty interesting history lesson as well.

When The Queen's Vow opens, Isabella is but a young girl, living in the castle with her father the King, whom she rarely sees, her mother who she doesn't see much either, and her brother who she plays with all of the time. Soon her father passes away and Isabella and her family are forced to live far away from the castle in somewhat less refined digs. However Isabella and her brother Alfonso are quite happy living the country life.

However one day the current King, and Isabella and Alfonso's half-brother, calls them back to court to welcome the birth of his daughter. What should be a happy occasion is in fact fraught with turmoil. There is question as to the true parentage of his daughter and the King's wife is a bit of a tyrant. However, while at the castle she is reintroduced to Fernando of Aragon, the sometimes warring faction of another part of Spain. These two have an immediate attraction, although they are young enough to not necessarily recognize it. 

For those of you who may read this and not know much about the history as I did, I don't want to reveal too much more. Suffice it to say that what follows is a fascinating look into Spanish history as two kingdoms combine their realms, deal with the major battles of the day, and usher Spain into a new era filled with far away conquests. If you like sweeping historical sagas, then you can't be much more entertained than you will be with The Queen's Vow.

For other opinions on this novel, please check out the rest of the Historical Fiction Virtual Tour.

Cover Lust: I love this cover! I prefer it when novels speak to the era but allow me to imagine what the people actually looked like.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: No One is Here Except All of Us

'No One is Here Except All of Us'
Author: Ramona Ausubel

Format: ARC
Published: Riverhead Trade; Feb. 2013
Pages: 416
Genre: Historical fiction
Grade: D
Source: LibraryThing EarlyReviewers

Synopsis: For the nine Jewish families who live in a valley in northern Romania in 1939, the troubles in their part of the world are known but distant. Then a woman who is the sole survivor of her ravished village washes up on the riverbank, and she, assisted by narrator Lena, suggests starting over, building a new and perfect world, with no memories of the painful past. With the barn as its temple and the stranger as its spiritual leader, the small village is bypassed by troops for years, until one day when three soldiers arrive and carry off Igor, Lena’s husband, a man who specializes in sleeping. Taking her children, Lena leaves, with the admonition that she survive to tell what happens. While Igor is a pampered prisoner in Sardinia, Lena endures unimaginable hardships and wrenching losses. Ausubel uses the history of her own great-grandmother as the framework for her first novel, which fully evokes the horrors of the Holocaust by merely touching on events. A fabulist tale of love, loss, faith, hope, community, and, especially, the power of story.

My Take: I was drawn to reading this novel because of the title. No One is Here Except All of Us just had this beautiful, lyrical ring to it. It's the kind of title for a novel that I think, what a perfect fit. And it was, it was just too bad I couldn't get into what was held between the cover.

No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel had all the trappings of a book I love. It was set during WWII and in a location that I haven't read as much about so I certainly went in excited to see how it would all turn out. Unfortunately much like the title, that which was contained within was written more like a poem so I found myself re-reading passages over and over again to make sure that I was getting the message.

The book centers around a small village of Jewish families who have been forgotten by everyone around them. They know that a horrible war is brewing in the big world but since no one really knows about this hidden village it doesn't really affect them. But then, one day, the river brings with it all kinds of debris and in that debris is a young woman who tells a horrifying tale of the war brewing without. The villagers get it into their mind to start completely over. If they wipe their slate clean and act like they are the only people in the world then the horrible things won't find them. It seems like a good idea except, for me, it just seemed like a bunch of adults pretending and the things that they did were sometimes uncomfortable for me to read about.

I think if you are a fan of poetry or are better able to suspend belief you will probably get more out of No One is Here Except All of Us. For me, it was just too fantastical for me to get behind.

Cover Lust: This cover doesn't have much to look at so there isn't too much to say.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review: The Tudor Conspiracy

'The Tudor Conspiracy'
Author: C.W. Gortner

Format: Paperback
Published: St. Martin's Griffin; July 2013
Pages: 352
Genre: Historical fiction
Grade: B
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Synopsis: England, 1553: Harsh winter encroaches upon the realm. Mary Tudor has become queen to popular acclaim and her enemies are imprisoned in the Tower. But when she’s betrothed to Philip, Catholic prince of Spain, putting her Protestant subjects in peril, rumors of a plot to depose her swirl around the one person whom many consider to be England’s heir and only hope—the queen’s half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.
Haunted by his past, Brendan Prescott lives far from the intrigues of court. But his time of refuge comes to an end when his foe and mentor, the spymaster Cecil, brings him disquieting news that sends him on a dangerous mission. Elizabeth is held captive at court, the target of the Spanish ambassador, who seeks her demise. Obliged to return to the palace where he almost lost his life, Brendan finds himself working as a double-agent for Queen Mary herself, who orders Brendan to secure proof that will be his cherished Elizabeth’s undoing.
Plunged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a mysterious opponent who hides a terrifying secret, Brendan races against time to retrieve a cache of the princess’s private letters, even as he begins to realize that in this dark world of betrayal and deceit, where power is supreme and sister can turn against sister, nothing—and no one—is what it seems.

My Take: The Tudor Conspiracy by C. W. Gortner is the second novel in his Elizabeth I Spymasters Chronicles series. The first, The Tudor Secret (click title for my review) I described as "a real page turner and had me hooked almost from the beginning!" So naturally, when it was suggested that I read the second book in the series I didn't hesitate. 

Much like The Tudor Secret, The Tudor Conspiracy is a highly entertaining read about the Tudor Courts. What can often be a stuffy time period to read about, Gortner instead makes the characters relatable, stumbling, funny, and therefore very human. 

The Tudor Conspiracy starts up very soon after The Tudor Secret ended and continues to follow the life and perils of Brendan Prescott and his faithful servant Peregrine. These two currently find themselves stuck in the middle of the current Queen, Mary Tudor, and her rival and sister, Elizabeth I. 

Mary Tudor it seems is trying to get comfortable with the Spanish royalty (basically the other Catholics in rule) and recently Protestant England isn't entirely happy about this development. Therefore at court there are many factions vying for power and in C.W. Gortner's novel this means intrigue and suspicions abound. 

Prescott has his task that he was sent to court with: to protect Elizabeth I. But of course, in doing this, he can't lose the loyalty of Mary. Prescott is a great character to follow and it's easy to understand how he can get in so many people's favors but he often finds himself in sticky situations.

If you read The Tudor Secret, I think that The Tudor Conspiracy would make it that much easier to follow. One really does pick up after the other. And if you are a fan of Tudor novels, then you can't get much more entertaining than this series.

Don't just take my opinion as fact! I recommend you check out the other reviews in the Historical Fiction Virtual Tour.

Cover Lust: I am going to be totally honest here, the redhead on the cover, who I am assuming is supposed to be Elizabeth I, totally creeps me out, so no, I am not a fan of this cover!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review and MEGA Giveaway: The Last Camellia

'The Last Camellia'
Author: Sarah Jio

Format: Paperback
Published: Plume; May 2013
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction; Historical fiction; Mystery
Grade: B
Source: TLC Book Tours

Synopsis: On the eve of the Second World War, the last surviving specimen of a camellia plant known as the Middlebury Pink lies secreted away on an English country estate. Flora, an amateur American botanist, is contracted by an international ring of flower thieves to infiltrate the household and acquire the coveted bloom. Her search is at once brightened by new love and threatened by her discovery of a series of ghastly crimes.
More than half a century later, garden designer Addison takes up residence at the manor, now owned by the family of her husband, Rex. The couple’s shared passion for mysteries is fueled by the enchanting camellia orchard and an old gardener’s notebook. Yet its pages hint at dark acts ingeniously concealed. If the danger that Flora once faced remains very much alive, will Addison share her fate?

My Take: The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio was like a breath of fresh air. I knew as soon as I cracked the spine this would be a book that I could really get into. And get into it I did, finishing it in a mere two days (kind of a record for me!). 

The Last Camellia was my first novel by the popular Sarah Jio. I am not sure what took me so long to read her, but I am certain I will make a great effort to read more of her! The Last Camellia uses my favorite story telling device: two interweaving story lines from two different time periods. Each chapter starts with the location and year so it's very easy to determine where you are at in time.

The novel starts with Addison in modern day New York. Addison is a landscape designer recently married to a Brit. However all is not right in her life as a man from her past comes back to haunt her present. When she learns that her husband's family bought a palatial old mansion back in England she decides now is the perfect time to visit, therefore trying to escape her past.

Meanwhile, we also learn the story of Flora, another American but this time from 1940. Flora is a botanist but mainly works in her family's bakery, trying to help them make ends meet. One day she is propositioned with a way to make big money for her family, but will mean doing something rather seedy and posing as a nanny in wartime England. Flora hesitates but knowing her family desperately needs to money she agrees to the proposition.

Once in England, Flora finds herself at the same mansion modern day Addison is at. Flora, as a nanny to four sad young children reeling from the loss of their mother, she learns that all may not be as it seems and also that she is growing in her fondness for this family and perhaps can't commit the crime she was brought there to do.

To tell you much more would be to give away the meat of the story, the mystery that permeates both eras and every chapter. As far as summer reads go, The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio is perfect. It's short, its intense, and its not too taxing. I can highly recommend it for historical fiction and mystery buffs alike.

Cover Lust: As far as matching a cover to a book, you can't get much better than this. The camellia spoken of in the book is on the cover and in the background there appears a woman from the 1940s. It's perfect!

For more opinions on this book, please check out the full TLC Book Tour.

Giveaway Details
Thanks to the publisher, I have FIVE copies to give away! The deadline for this giveaway is July 29th; entries open to those in the US and Canada only (no PO boxes please).

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3 extra entries available. Giveaway open until 11:59pm PST July 29th. I will draw the winners using random.org and announce them here on my blog. Good luck!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Book Review: The Firebird

'The Firebird'
Author: Susanna Kearsley

Format: Paperback
Published: Sourcebook Landmark; June, 2013
Pages: 544
Genre: Fiction; Historical fiction
Grade: D
Source: SheReads Book Club

Synopsis: Nicola Marter was born with a gift so rare and dangerous, she kept it buried deep. When she encounters a desperate woman trying to sell a small wooden carving called "The Firebird," claiming it belonged to Russia's Empress Catherine, it's a problem. There's no proof.
But Nicola's held the object. She knows the woman is telling the truth.
Beloved by readers as varied and adventurous as her novels, you will never forget spending time in New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Susanna Kearsley's world.

My Take: I am going to keep this review short and to the point. The synopsis for The Firebird by Susanna Kearlsey sounded like a book I would probably really enjoy: two stories told in alternating time periods with an interweaving story line. I have been enjoying this storytelling method a lot recently. However, I just couldn't get into it. Perhaps it was the fact that if anyone is going to be time traveling back to Scotland (or ghost watching as it probably more accurately is in this novel) I want it to be Claire traveling back to see Jamie (Outlander series fans know what I am talking about), otherwise I am just not into it. Additionally, it could also be because I was suffering from too many big books in a row fatigue. People, tighten up your story lines! Whatever it was, I just couldn't make it through this one. 

However, if you are a longtime fan of Susnna Kearsley, or if you have read The Winter Sea (to which I think this is a sort of sequel) then you will probably get a lot more enjoyment out of this one. As for me, I am going to cool my jets for a bit and go back to shorter books for awhile.

As always, I am only one opinion in a sea of many, so I invite you to check out the full SheReads Book Club for other opinions.

Cover Lust: I do think this cover is beautiful. I like how it looks like it's printed on old, worn paper.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Book Review: A Half Forgotten Song

'A Half Forgotten Song'
Author: Katherine Webb

Format: ARC
Published: William Morrow Paperbacks; May 2013
Pages: 496
Genre: Historical fiction; mystery
Grade: B
Source: TLC Book Tours

Synopsis: A spellbinding tale about the power of love, the danger of obsession, and the unfaithful nature of memory, A Half Forgotten Song is by turns haunting, joyous, and heartbreaking
1937. In a windswept village on the Dorset coast, fourteen-year-old Mitzy Hatcher has endured a wild and lonely upbringing. But the arrival of renowned artist Charles Aubrey, along with his exotic mistress and their two daughters, changes everything. Over the course of three summers, Mitzy develops a deep and abiding bond with the Aubrey household, gradually becoming Charles's muse. Slowly, she begins to perceive a future she had never thought possible—and a powerful love is kindled in her. A love that will grow as she does: from innocence to obsession; from childish infatuation to something far more dangerous.
Years later, a young man in an art gallery happens upon a hastily drawn portrait and is intrigued by its curious intensity. The questions he asks lead him to the seaside village—and to the truth about those fevered summers of long ago.

My Take: A Half Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb had all of the characteristics of a book I would love. It's historical fiction, it has a hint of mystery (my new favorite addition to books), it's set in England. And guess what? All of these elements did add up to a book I really enjoyed. I love it when that happens!

Let's start at the beginning though shall we? A Half Forgotten Song tells two different, intertwined stories. I am going to try to summarize them without completely blowing the mystery for you. One of the stories is set in the present day and follows Zach, an art gallery owner and recent divorcee learning how to live a life that he feels he has lost control of. In his gallery hang three portraits by Charles Aubrey, a famous artist from the 1930s who may or may not have had an affair with his grandmother. The other story is of Dimity "Mitzy" Hatcher. An old, mysterious woman who lives on the coast of Dorset being interviewed by Zach about her relationship/connection to Charles Aubrey in the summers of the late 1930s for a book he may be writing.

We travel back to the 1930s during Dimity's recollections of the past to Zach but soon her memories overtake her and we are there with her when she is young. Dimity is at best an old woman who perhaps doesn't remember the past as well as she might, at worst she is an unreliable narrator who colors events the way she wishes they had occurred. Because of this, you the reader, have to work hard to try to figure out what the real emotions are of the characters involved. Dimity was a young, naive girl when these things were happening. Her accounts may not be entirely accurate.

What I really enjoyed about A Half Forgotten Song was the fact that you knew there was a mystery, some sort of suspense building, but at times I couldn't even figure out what the mystery was surrounding. Once I reached the last 100 pages, events started unfurling that really brought these mysteries to the forefront and then, just as efficiently, solved them.

What I didn't really enjoy was that at almost 500 pages, divided into only twelve chapters, and with incredibly small print, A Half Forgotten Song quickly began to feel more like homework than pleasurable reading. As enjoyable a story as it was, the book needed to be tightened considerable to make this one that I would read again. My suggestion? Remove the modern day story of Zach and keep the mystery around Dimity/Mitzy intact.

However, those who enjoy historical novels with ghosts and mysteries thrown in will surely get enjoyment out of this novel.

Don't just take my word for it! Check out the whole TLC Book Tour.

Cover Lust: I think this is a perfect cover for A Half Forgotten Song. This is exactly what I envisioned The Watch (the house Dimity has lived in her whole life) to look like.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review: The Perfume Collector

'The Perfume Collector'
Author: Kathleen Tessaro

Format: ARC
Published: Harper; April 2013
Pages: 514
Genre: Historical fiction
Grade: A
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: An inheritance from a mysterious stranger . . .
An abandoned perfume shop on the Left Bank of Paris . . .
And three exquisite perfumes that hold a memory . . . and a secret

London, 1955: Grace Monroe is a fortunate young woman. Despite her sheltered upbringing in Oxford, her recent marriage has thrust her into the heart of London's most refined and ambitious social circles. However, playing the role of the sophisticated socialite her husband would like her to be doesn't come easily to her—and perhaps never will.
Then one evening a letter arrives from France that will change everything. Grace has received an inheritance. There's only one problem: she has never heard of her benefactor, the mysterious Eva d'Orsey.
So begins a journey that takes Grace to Paris in search of Eva. There, in a long-abandoned perfume shop on the Left Bank, she discovers the seductive world of perfumers and their muses, and a surprising, complex love story. Told by invoking the three distinctive perfumes she inspired, Eva d'Orsey's story weaves through the decades, from 1920s New York to Monte Carlo, Paris, and London.
But these three perfumes hold secrets. And as Eva's past and Grace's future intersect, Grace realizes she must choose between the life she thinks she should live and the person she is truly meant to be.
Illuminating the lives and challenging times of two fascinating women, The Perfume Collector weaves a haunting, imaginative, and beautifully written tale filled with passion and possibility, heartbreak and hope.

My Take: I was immediately drawn to this book because of the strikingly beautiful woman on the cover of Kathleen Tessaro's new novel The Perfume Collector. If only I could have such style! Upon reading the synopsis and learning that it was set in both the 1920s and the 1950s I knew that this would be a book I would enjoy.

Considering the length, I veritably blew through The Perfume Collector. Finishing it in only a few days, it's one of the best books I've read in a while. I became completely captivated by the twinned stories of Grace Monroe and Eva d'Orsey.

The Perfume Collector begins with Grace Monroe. It is the 1950s in London. Grace is a newly married woman, a little shy, a little uncomfortable in her own skin. She receives a letter from a law firm in Paris telling her that she has come into an inheritance after the death of Eva d'Orsay. The only problem is, Grace has never heard of this woman before in her life. In order to solve this mystery, Grace flies to Paris to meet with the lawyers to learn who this Eva woman is.

The novel cuts to the 1920s in New York City telling us the story of Eva d'Orsay, a young immigrant working as a maid in a hotel, trying to find her way in life. I want to tell you more, but alas I don't want to give anything away so I better stop while I'm ahead!

The two different story lines are not confusing to follow. The chapters begin with the location and the year and Grace and Eva are different enough that you can't really get confused between the two stories. Even though I figured out pretty early on how these two women were probably connected I couldn't help but want to keep reading how the 'mystery' would be solved for Grace, what it would mean for her life, for her marriage. And Eva? Well her life was just plain fascinating.

If you love historical fiction with a bit of mystery, and characters you get to know as though you've become friends with them in real life, then Kathleen Tessaro's The Perfume Collector will not let you down.

Don't just take my word for it! Be sure to check out the full TLC Book Tour.

Cover Lust: As I said earlier, I couldn't take my eyes off this cover. It was very fitting and I think this woman may have been Eva.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: Cascade

'Cascade'
Author: Maryanne O'Hara

Format: Paperback
Published: Penguin Books; April 2013
Pages: 384
Genre: Historical fiction
Grade: B
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Synopsis: It's 1935, and Desdemona Hart Spaulding has sacrificed her plans to work as an artist in New York to care for her bankrupt, ailing father in Cascade, Massachusetts. When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father's Shakespeare Theater, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free?

Fans of Richard Russo, Amor Towles, Sebastian Barry, and Paula McLain will savor this transporting novel about the eternal tug between our duties and our desires, set in New York City and New England during the uncertain, tumultuous 1930s.

My Take: This was another case of me wanting to read a book solely based on it's cover. I'm sorry but I spent about half the time I was reading Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara just mesmerized by that cover! It is so beautiful. But you've probably swung by to see what I actually thought of the book, so let's get right down to it!

Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara is set in depression era Cascade, MA. But really, it could have been set in any town in any time period because the issues at play were issues people have always dealt with. 

Desdemona is our leading lady and she is in a bit of a pickle. When the story opens, her father is on his death bed and she has rushed home to be with him and take care of him. A young artist, she saw herself pursuing her dream in New York, but instead finds herself stuck with a dying man who has made them both destitute. Not wanting to move her dad into a hotel and seeing no other way out, she marries Asa Spaulding, a man who has had a crush on her his whole life and who owns the local pharmacy, so even in a depression can take care of a family.

Once married, reality hits that perhaps there is more to life than a gut decision that leads to a lifetime of boredom. Des and Asa could not be more different and watching them try to make a 'happy marriage' out of the life they fell into is very heartbreaking to read about.

One day a travelling salesman who is also an artist, Jacob Solomon, drops by Des's house and a friendship starts up. Initially it was just a friendship but soon it starts to reveal deeper emotions and Des and Jacob must both come to terms as to what this might mean for their lives.

A couple of other major things to take into account while reading Cascade: a law is under consideration in nearby Boston to make a reservoir to supply the large city with water and one of the locations they are considering flooding to do so is Cascade. If this goes through, will this mean a fresh start for Des or will they choose a different location and Des will have to decide her own destiny herself? Another thing to consider is Des's dying father's last wish: that she see his once glorious Shakespeare Theatre come back to life. Can Des fulfill this last wish?

So, yes, while it does seem that there is a lot going on, and certainly a lot at stake, O'Hara has actually written a rather slow moving and very thoughtful story. It's not a novel to rush through, it's more of a novel to savor. And for those who aren't big fans of historical fiction, you will probably still really enjoy Cascade as it deals with emotions more than time periods. For a book that will make you continue to think about it long after you've read the last page, you can't go wrong with Cascade by Maryanne O'Hara.

Cover Lust: Well as I've said before, this cover is so beautiful I want to frame it as a piece of art on my walls!

For more opinions about this novel, be sure to check out the full Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Review: Princess Elizabeth's Spy

'Princess Elizabeth's Spy'
Author: Susan Elia MacNeal

Format: Paperback
Published: Bantam; Oct. 2012
Pages: 384
Genre: Historical fiction; mystery
Grade: B
Source: Publisher

Synopsis: As World War II sweeps the continent and England steels itself against German attack, Maggie Hope, former secretary to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, completes her training to become a spy for MI-5. Spirited, strong-willed, and possessing one of the sharpest minds in government for mathematics and code-breaking, she fully expects to be sent abroad to gather intelligence for the British front. Instead, to her great disappointment, she is dispatched to go undercover at Windsor Castle, where she will tutor the young Princess Elizabeth in math. Yet castle life quickly proves more dangerous—and deadly—than Maggie ever expected. The upstairs-downstairs world at Windsor is thrown into disarray by a shocking murder, which draws Maggie into a vast conspiracy that places the entire royal family in peril. And as she races to save England from a most disturbing fate, Maggie realizes that a quick wit is her best defense, and that the smallest clues can unravel the biggest secrets, even within her own family.

My Take: After reading and falling in love with Maggie Hope in Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal (click title for my review) I couldn't wait to read the next book in this historical mystery series!

Princess Elizabeth's Spy takes off pretty soon after Mr. Churchill's Secretary ends and the characters all came flooding back to me very easily. I liked that MacNeal didn't spend a lot of time reminding us of the backstory of her previous novel, that she just jumped in with quick introductions. 

When Princess Elizabeth's Spy opens, Maggie Hope is being trained to be an MI-5 spy with the hopes of being dropped off in Europe to really help catch war criminals. Oh yeah, did I mention this book takes place in WWII (ie, my favorite time period ever to read about!)? Anyway, while Maggie is incredible at breaking codes and solving mysteries, her physical abilities do not quite match the rigors that her training requires for her to be a spy. 

Instead, she gets assigned to go undercover as a maths tutor at Windsor Castle for the young Princess Elizabeth. Maggie is not happy with this assignment. She is pretty sure it will be boring. What she doesn't realize is that there is a spy afoot at Windsor and the Princesses Elizabeth and Mary are in danger! For some back story here, Windsor Castle is more in the country so while they stayed in England during the War, the young Princesses were felt to be more safe in this castle. Their parents stayed in Buckingham Palace during the week and would visit them on the weekends.

Back to the story! As Maggie soon finds out, there is plenty to keep her busy at Windsor Castle, as a spy is causing all sorts of problems that Maggie needs to solve before the Crown is put in serious danger.

Let's cut to the chase here. If you enjoyed Mr. Churchill's Secretary then you most certainly will want to read Princess Elizabeth's Spy! While not quite as fast paced for me as the first in the series, it was enough to keep me turning the pages and want to find out what was going to happen. And the set up at the end for the next in the series, Her Majesty's Hope (which was released this past Tuesday), well, let's just say you will want to rush out and buy it! The ending of this novel revealed what Maggie would be doing next and it sounds exciting!

Cover Lust: I am loving the covers in this series! They look like works of art!
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