Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for THE KISS QUOTIENT & SOLD ON A MONDAY

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for THE KISS QUOTIENT & SOLD ON A MONDAYThe Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Also by this author: The Bride Test
four-stars
Series: The Kiss Quotient #1
Published by BERKLEY on May 30, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 324
Also in this series: The Bride Test
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there's not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases--a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn't help that Stella has Asperger's and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice--with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can't afford to turn down Stella's offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan--from foreplay to more-than-missionary position...

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but to crave all the other things he's making her feel. Soon, their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic...

Review:

I’m not normally the biggest fan of romance novels, but I have to admit that Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient won me over almost immediately, mainly because of the fabulous protagonist, Stella Lane. Stella is smart and successful, an actual math whiz who drives a Tesla.  She has pretty much every aspect of her life firmly under control except, as her mother repeatedly reminds her, her love life.  Stella is on the autism spectrum and has a lot of difficulties interacting with others, especially when things start to get intimate.  Faced with the constant pressure from her mother to meet someone, settle down and start a family, Stella decides that she needs to problem-solve her relationship awkwardness.  She decides that most of her issues will resolve themselves if she can get better at sexual intercourse, so she takes matters into her own hands and hires a professional to teach her all about sex.

This is where Michael enters the picture. Charming, adorable, sexy Michael.  Michael works during the week as a tailor, but on Friday nights, he works as a professional escort.  He does so because his family needs the extra cash to help pay for his mother’s cancer treatments.  When Stella approaches Michael with an offer he can’t refuse, he agrees to take her on as a client.  Michael turns out to be the perfect choice for Stella.  Even though he has no idea that she has autism, he is still completely patient with her and really allows her to dictate the pace of their learning sessions.  I found myself immediately rooting for them to become more than just teacher and student.

The story is sexy, cute, and just all around sweet, which made for a fun read, but what I actually liked most about it was the way autism was represented.  The Kiss Quotient is an #ownvoices story and Hoang really does a brilliant job of getting inside the head of someone who has autism so that you can see the world from their perspective.  I have a niece and a nephew who are both on the spectrum so I just really appreciated this insight.  If you’re looking for a fun read with a refreshing protagonist and an endearing potential suitor, look no further than The Kiss Quotient.  The only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars is because for me, the sex scenes were a little too graphic and too frequent.  They definitely fit in with the storyline so no criticism in that sense; they just weren’t my thing.  Still an utterly delightful read though. 4 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for THE KISS QUOTIENT & SOLD ON A MONDAYSold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris
three-half-stars
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on August 28, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From New York Times bestselling author Kristina McMorris comes another unforgettable novel inspired by a stunning piece of history.

2 CHILDREN FOR SALE

The sign is a last resort. It sits on a farmhouse porch in 1931, but could be found anywhere in an era of breadlines, bank runs, and broken dreams. It could have been written by any mother facing impossible choices.

For struggling reporter Ellis Reed, the gut-wrenching scene evokes memories of his family’s dark past. He snaps a photograph of the children, not meant for publication. But when it leads to his big break, the consequences are more devastating than he ever imagined.

At the paper, Lillian Palmer is haunted by her role in all that happened. She is far too familiar with the heartbreak of children deemed unwanted. As the bonds of motherhood are tested, she and Ellis must decide how much they are willing to risk to mend a fractured family.

Inspired by an actual newspaper photograph that stunned the nation, Sold on a Monday is a powerful novel of love, redemption, and the unexpected paths that bring us home.

Review:

Set during the Great Depression, Kristina McMorris’ thought-provoking novel Sold on a Monday follows rookie journalist Ellis Reed, who is trying to figure out how to make his mark in the cutthroat newspaper business.  When he comes across two children playing in their yard next to a sign that reads “2 CHILDREN FOR SALE,” he can’t resist taking their picture.  He really has no intention of ever publishing the photo – it just really struck a nerve with him that times were bad enough that parents would even consider parting with their own children.

Lillian Palmer, a secretary who has ambitions to be more than a secretary, however, happens across Ellis’s photograph and takes it to their editor, who offers Ellis the chance to write a feature for the paper.  Ellis reluctantly agrees, his ambition and his desire to finally make his father proud of him outweighing his not wanting to exploit the struggling family.  The original photo is accidentally destroyed, however, so Ellis has to go back and take another.  When he arrives, however, the neighbors tell him the family has moved out.  The “2 CHILDREN FOR SALE” sign is still there though so he pays the neighbor’s children to take a staged photo to replace the original.  The chain reaction of events that the publication of the staged photo sets into motion is something that Ellis could never have predicted, as a family is torn apart.  Wracked by guilt once they realize what has happened, both Ellis and Lillian are determined to do whatever it takes to right the wrongs they’ve caused and reunite a family that never should have been separated.

Sold on a Monday is a powerful and provocative read that really gave me a lot of food for thought. It is a journey of self-discovery for both Ellis and Lillian and McMorris take us inside the minds of each of them as they re-evaluate choices they have made and rethink what is most important in their lives, on both a personal and professional level.  McMorris doesn’t stop there though.  She also shines a light on the frustrating societal expectations for women during this time by having Lillian working as a secretary although she aspires to be a reporter like the famous Nellie Bly.  Lillian not only has to hide the fact that she is unmarried with a young child in order to secure a job in the first place, but then she also has to contend with her boss ignoring any and all ideas that she pitches to him. Unfortunately Sold on a Monday did suffer from some pacing issues, especially during the first half which I found to be somewhat slow, but I would still highly recommend the read to fans of historical fiction and especially anyone who has any interest in what things were like for families during the Great Depression.  3.5 STARS

 

four-stars

About Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang is that shy person who never talks. Until she does. And the worst things fly out of her mouth. She read her first romance novel in eighth grade and has been addicted ever since. In 2016, she was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in line with what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Her journey inspired THE KISS QUOTIENT. She currently lives in San Diego, California with her husband, two kids, and pet fish.

About Kristina McMorris

KRISTINA MCMORRIS is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Her novels have garnered more than two dozen literary awards and nominations, including the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, RWA’s RITA® Award, and a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction. Inspired by true personal and historical accounts, her works of fiction have been published by Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Kensington Books. Her forthcoming novel, Sold on a Monday (Sourcebooks Landmark, 8-28-18), follows her widely praised The Edge of Lost, The Pieces We Keep, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and Letters from Home. Additionally, her novellas are featured in the anthologies A Winter Wonderland and Grand Central. Prior to her writing career, Kristina hosted weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, and has been named one of Portland’s “40 Under 40” by The Business Journal. She lives with her husband and two sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she is working on her next novel. For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com.

Review: THE MERMAID by Christina Henry

Review:  THE MERMAID by Christina HenryThe Mermaid by Christina Henry
Also by this author: The Girl in Red
four-half-stars
Published by BERKLEY on June 19, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 325
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

MY REVIEW:

 

Christina Henry’s The Mermaid is a captivating reimaging of the FeeJee Mermaid, one of P.T. Barnum’s infamous hoaxes from the 1840’s. In Henry’s version of the tale, the Mermaid is not a hoax at all.  Amelia is a real, live mermaid who lives in the sea until one day when a fisherman catches her in his net.  When their eyes meet, Amelia instantly knows that she wants to spend her life with this man, and so when he cuts her free from his net, instead of fleeing to safety, Amelia chooses to come ashore, find the fisherman, and live as his wife.  They live together in a cabin overlooking the ocean until the fisherman is lost at sea and Amelia is left all alone.

Rumors about the existence of a mermaid reach the ears of P.T. Barnum, who is always on the lookout for new attractions for his museum.  When he hears about Amelia, he knows she is sure to be a money maker for him if he can convince her to join him.  He sends an associate to find her and after meeting Barnum, Amelia agrees to play the mermaid in one of Barnum’s attractions.  She sets her own terms – a 6 month contract and enough money to be able travel anywhere in the world she wishes to go – and they sign a contract.

At first Amelia is somewhat intrigued by the idea of showing the world what a real mermaid looks like, but the more she sees of humanity and how people behave, the less enamored she is with the idea and the more determined she is to leave the show as soon as her contract is up.

Will Amelia ultimately be free to leave Barnum when her contract is up or will Barnum’s determination to hold on to his moneymaker lead him to try and stand in her way?

 

Appealing main character.  I was drawn to Amelia from the first moment we meet her.  First of all, I loved that Henry chose not to give Amelia the half woman half fish appearance that typically comes to mind when we think of mermaids.  Instead, she gives Amelia the appearance of being something truly born from the sea.  Her body is completely covered in silvery scales and she doesn’t really resemble a human in any way.  In addition to giving her this unexpected appearance, Henry also makes Amelia’s transformation from mermaid to human and vice versa sound so beautiful.  I loved the idea that it was solely Amelia’s choice which form she took and that all she needed was sand to become human and ocean water to turn back into a mermaid.  I thought Henry just did such a beautiful job of bringing this mythology to life.

What really captivated me about Amelia, however, wasn’t really the way she looked.  It had more to do with the feminist twist that Henry gives her.  Amelia is a force to be reckoned with, a woman ahead of her time, and it’s mainly because coming from the sea, she really has no idea how society expects women to behave.  The more she learns about society’s expectations for women, the more she begins to dislike the whole idea of society.  She values her own freedom and independence above all else, and she has no use for anyone who tries to stand in her way and hold her back.  Because of this, she stands up to Barnum and challenges him in ways that he never expects to be challenged.  Barnum is portrayed as kind of a jerk as well so it makes it very easy to cheer Amelia on.

 Atmospheric writing:  The Mermaid is not what I would consider to be a fast paced novel.  Instead, it’s one of those novels where the storytelling is just so exquisite I felt as if a spell was being cast over me drawing me deeper and deeper into the tale with each page that I read.

Henry’s use of vivid descriptions made me feel like I had stepped back in time to 1840’s America.  I could feel my nose wrinkling in disgust at some of the less savory smells that were present on the streets of a less than sanitary New York City.  In contrast, Henry’s attention to detail also made me feel like I was at the ocean with Amelia.  I could practically hear the waves slapping the shore and smell the salt in the air.  Henry’s writing reminds me very much of Alice Hoffman’s, which is a good thing since Hoffman is one of my favorites.

Social commentary:  For the most part, The Mermaid reads like part fairy tale/part historical fiction.  It’s whimsical and almost otherworldly at times because of the mermaid’s presence and the mythology surrounding her, but at the same time, the story also contains a powerful social commentary on the lack of women’s rights and about how restricting societal expectations for women were during this time period.  It becomes especially evident in scenes between Amelia and Barnum’s wife, Charity.  There are many times when Charity is the one who seems like she’s living in a cage rather than Amelia.  Amelia even begins to pity Charity because she has so little freedom.

Amelia not only sees and speaks out against the fundamental wrongness of this lack of rights for women, but she also exposes how inhumane humans can actually be.  She is appalled by the idea that Barnum thinks he has a right to own people or animals, and she is also dismayed when the mermaid tour travels south and she sees slaves working the fields and being mistreated.  Through Amelia’s eyes, Henry delivers a pretty clear message that humans could use a little more humanity.

 

The only issue I really had with the novel was the character of Levi Lyman.  He is the associate of Barnum’s who is sent to find the Mermaid in the first place.  I liked him well enough, especially in the sense that he clearly had Amelia’s best interests at the forefront of his mind at all times.  My only issue was that it felt like I didn’t really get to know nearly as much about him as I would have liked.  Same thing with Barnum’s wife, Charity.  They both intrigued me and while there were hints of what they were like, I just wanted a little more.

 

The Mermaid is a beautifully written story that is sure to captivate fans of both historical fiction and mythology.  One caveat I’ll add is that Henry admits she has written the version of Barnum that she needed for this story, so I’d recommend taking this portrayal of him with a grain of salt since this isn’t meant to be a biography.  It is an exquisite work of fiction though and I fully expect it to land of my list of favorite 2018 reads.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the author of Lost Boy comes a historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea for love and later finds herself in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum as the real Fiji mermaid. However, leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was.

Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.\

P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid.

four-half-stars

About Christina Henry

CHRISTINA HENRY is the author of the CHRONICLES OF ALICE duology, ALICE and RED QUEEN, a dark and twisted take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as LOST BOY: THE TRUE STORY OF CAPTAIN HOOK, an origin story of Captain Hook from Peter Pan.

She is also the author of the national bestselling BLACK WINGS series (BLACK WINGS, BLACK NIGHT, BLACK HOWL, BLACK LAMENT, BLACK CITY, BLACK HEART and BLACK SPRING) featuring Agent of Death Madeline Black and her popcorn-loving gargoyle Beezle.

ALICE was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year in Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2015. It was also a Goodreads Choice Award nominee in Horror and one of Barnes & Noble’s Bestselling Science Fiction and Fantasy novels of 2015.

She enjoys running long distances, reading anything she can get her hands on and watching movies with samurai, zombies and/or subtitles in her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son.

Review: A STUDY IN TREASON

Review:  A STUDY IN TREASONA Study in Treason by Leonard Goldberg
three-half-stars
Series: The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mystery #2
Published by Minotaur Books on June 12, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

MY REVIEW:

Leonard Goldberg’s A Study in Treason is the second book in the popular series, The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries.  These books feature Joanna Blalock, daughter of Sherlock Holmes, and her husband, John Watson, Jr., who is (you guessed it), the son of Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. John Watson, Sr. as they follow in their parents’ footsteps and solve mysteries that are so tough they stump both local law enforcement and the finest detectives at Scotland Yard. I’ve always been a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries so I thought this would be a fun read

In this second book in the series, there is an imminent threat of war (WWI) and England and France have entered into a secret treaty that details strategies on how they will work together to defeat Germany if they actually do go to war.  The treaty is sent to the country estate of Lord Halifax so that copies of it can be produced, and even though the document is kept under lock and key and the room it is stored in is guarded at all times, somehow the document is still stolen. The local police and Scotland Yard are called in immediately, but when they can’t determine how the document was stolen from a locked and guarded room, Joanna and the Watsons are called in to lend their assistance.

 

My favorite part about A Study in Treason was actually the mystery itself.  It’s a cleverly crafted locked door mystery, filled with plenty of suspense and twists and turns that kept me guessing as to who the culprit was and how they did it, all the way to the very end.

I also loved the feeling of nostalgia that I got while reading because Goldberg does such a fine job of writing the story in the style of the original Sherlock mysteries and in capturing the atmosphere of pre-WWI England.  In that sense, I think this series makes for a great complement to the original series.  It was like meeting up with an old friend after many years.

Speaking of meeting up with old friends after many years, I also really loved seeing Dr. Watson again.  Sherlock has unfortunately passed away by the time this story is set, but Watson is still with us and it just warmed my heart to see him and especially to see how wonderful his relationship with his son is.

I also liked Joanna, well most of the time anyway. She’s quite the feminist and doesn’t put up with anyone treating her as less than capable because of her gender.  She is also truly a chip off the old block, both in terms of her personality and her investigative skills. She’s like Sherlock in a dress and is quite a fun character to follow around, as many of her mannerisms even mimic dear old dad’s.

 

As much as I liked Joanna, I unfortunately also had some issues with her as well.  Some of the clues Joanna found while investigating seemed like clues that any trained member of law enforcement should have also been able to locate.  In that sense it almost felt like other characters were being “dumbed down” to make Joanna appear more superior.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the way she would micro-manage everyone around her as if they were dimwits who couldn’t think for themselves at all.  There was one scene in particular where she wants her husband John to observe what one of their suspects is doing, but to do so without being seen.  She actually instructs him to hold his hand up next to his face to shield his face from view, as if he doesn’t have enough common sense on his own to figure out how not to be recognized.  She speaks in a similarly condescending tone to Dr. Watson at times, as if he’s a child, and I found it annoying.  Then, if they did something well or came up with an idea on their own, she would praise them as if they were pets.  I half expected her to reward them with treats every time they did something that pleased her.  That same arrogance used to occasionally annoy me about Sherlock, so I guess it’s not surprising that it annoys me with his daughter as well, lol.

 

Overall, I found A Study in Treason to be an entertaining read. If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes or even just a fan of mysteries, in particular, locked door mysteries, I’d definitely say to give it a try.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A continuation of USA TODAY bestselling author Leonard Goldberg’s The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Treason is a new intriguing locked room mystery for Joanna and the Watsons to solve.

The following case has not previously been disclosed to the public due to the sensitive information on foreign affairs. All those involved were previously bound by the Official Secrets Act. With the passage of time and the onset of the Great War, these impediments have been removed and the story can now be safely told.

When an executed original of a secret treaty between England and France, known as the French Treaty, is stolen from the country estate of Lord Halifax, Scotland Yard asks Joanna, Dr. John Watson, Jr., and Dr. John Watson, Sr. to use their keen detective skills to participate in the hunt for the missing treaty. As the government becomes more restless to find the missing document and traditional investigative means fail to turn up the culprit, Joanna is forced to devise a clever plan to trap the thief and recover the missing treaty.

Told from the point of view of Dr. John Watson, Jr. in a style similar to the original Sherlock Holmes stories, A Study in Treason is based partly on facts in our world and partly on the facts left to us by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Full of excitement and intrigue, this mystery is sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes as well as the works of Laurie R. King and Charles Finch

three-half-stars

About Leonard Goldberg

Leonard Goldberg is an American physicist, professor of medicine, and the author of the Joanna Blalock series of medical thrillers.

His novels have been translated into a dozen languages and sold more than a million copies worldwide. Leonard Goldberg is himself a consulting physician affiliated with the UCLA Medical Center, where he holds an appointment as Clinical Professor of Medicine. A sought-after expert witness in medical malpractice trials, he is board certified in internal medicine, hematology and rheumatology, and has published over a hundred scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals.

Leonard Goldberg’s writing career began with a clinical interest in blood disorders. While involved in a research project at UCLA, he encountered a most unusual blood type. The patient’s red blood cells were O-Rh null, indicating they were totally deficient in A, B and Rh factors and could be administered to virtually anyone without fear of a transfusion reaction. In essence, the patient was the proverbial “universal” blood donor. This finding spurred the idea for a story in which an individual was born without a tissue type, making that person’s organs transplantable into anyone without worry of rejection. His first novel, Transplant, revolved around a young woman who is discovered to be a universal organ donor and is hounded by a wealthy, powerful man in desperate need of a new kidney. The book quickly went through multiple printings and was optioned by a major Hollywood studio.

Dr. Goldberg is a native of Charleston and a long-time California resident. He currently divides his time between Los Angeles and an island off the coast of South Carolina.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULA

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULAFar from the Tree by Robin Benway
five-stars
Published by HarperTeen on October 3, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 374
Also in this series: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Review:

Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree is an incredibly moving and engaging read that grabbed hold of all of my emotions and didn’t let go until long after I reached the final page.  It made me laugh, it made me cry, and sometimes it just really made me sad and frustrated.  Why? Because Far From the Tree isn’t just a book about family.  It also touches on some important social issues that really resonate, such as teen pregnancy and the stigma that seems to follow the teen mom but not the teen dad; the many fears that plague both kids who have been adopted as well as those who are stuck in the foster care system; the impact addiction can have on a family; and so many more.

Far From the Tree follows three teenagers, Grace, Mia, and Joaquin, who are related by blood, but who have never met because their mother gave each of them up soon after they were born.  Grace and Mia were both adopted as babies, but Joaquin was never adopted and has spent his entire life drifting in and out of foster homes.  Grace has lived most of her life knowing that she was adopted, but until a heart-to-heart conversation with her parents, she had no idea that she also had two siblings out there in the world.  She sets out to find them and it’s just such an incredible moment to watch the three of them connect and gradually start to bond with each other, gradually sharing more and more about themselves, including most importantly, fears, whether rational or irrational, that have plagued them for most of their lives.

It’s incredibly easy to fall in love with all three siblings because Benway does such a wonderful job making each interaction feel authentic as she poignantly captures the awkwardness and all of the emotions that Grace, Mia, and Joaquin experience as they realize they’re not as alone as they each thought they were.  If you’re looking for a beautifully written contemporary novel that explores what it truly means to be a family, look no further than Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree.  5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for FAR FROM THE TREE and HUNTING PRINCE DRACULAHunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco
Also by this author: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
four-stars
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper #2
on September 19, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 434
Also in this series: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1)
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper's true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe's best schools of forensic medicine...and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.

But her life's dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school's forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again.

Review:

Hunting Prince Dracula is the second installment in Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series.  I loved the first book in this series so much and I’m happy to report that the second book is just as good, if not better, than the first!

Audrey Rose and Thomas Cresswell were just as fabulous this time around, as they traveled together to Romania to study forensic medicine.  Their witty and flirtatious banter fills the pages and serves as a fantastic counterpoint to the dark atmosphere and the danger that they of course find themselves enmeshed in once they enter the school, which turns out to be a super creepy castle.  I don’t want to give away any details about the mystery itself but there’s blood, bodies, bats, stakes through the heart, and oh so much more, including the threat that perhaps the infamous Vlad the Impaler has returned from beyond the grave.

 While the overall formula for Hunting Prince Dracula is quite similar to that of the first book – there’s a mystery to be solved and Thomas and Audrey Rose get on each other’s nerves as they set out to solve it – what took the second book to a different level for me was the emotional turmoil that Audrey Rose experiences as a result of some of the things she learned about her family at the end of the first book.  It’s a thread that follows her throughout Hunting Prince Dracula and it adds some welcome depth to her character, although I of course already loved Audrey Rose because she’s so ahead of her time and is such a feminist.  I love watching her verbally filet anyone who tries to tell her she shouldn’t be at the school studying forensics.  She just has such a feisty, take no prisoners attitude and I love it (as does Thomas)!  I can’t wait to get my hands on the third book in the series to see what’s in store for Thomas and Audrey Rose next!  4 STARS

five-stars

About Kerri Maniscalco

Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a semi-haunted house outside NYC where her fascination with gothic settings began. In her spare time she reads everything she can get her hands on, cooks all kinds of food with her family and friends, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats.

Her first novel in this series, Stalking Jack the Ripper, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It incorporates her love of forensic science and unsolved history.

About Robin Benway

Robin Benway is a National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of six novels for young adults, including Audrey, Wait!, the AKA series, and Emmy & Oliver. Her books have received numerous awards and recognition, including a 2008 Blue Ribbon Award from the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, 2009’s ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and 2014’s ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. In addition, her novels have received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and have been published in more than twenty countries. Her most recent title, Emmy & Oliver, was published in 2015 by Harper Teen, and was named one of the best books of summer by the Los Angeles Times, the Houston Chronicle, and Publishers Weekly. Her latest book, Far From the Tree, won the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was published on October 3, 2017 by Harper Teen.

Robin grew up in Orange County, California, attended NYU, where she was the 1997 recipient of the Seth Barkas Prize for Creative Writing, and is a graduate of UCLA. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she spends her time hanging out with her dog, Hudson, making coffee, and procrastinating on writing.

Review: THE ROOM ON RUE AMELIE

Review:  THE ROOM ON RUE AMELIEThe Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel
three-half-stars
Published by Gallery Books on March 27th 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

MY REVIEW:

Kristin Harmel’s The Room on Rue Amelie takes place in Nazi-occupied Paris in WWII and follows the lives of three people whose lives unexpectedly cross paths during the course of the war:  Ruby Benoit, an American woman living in Paris, Charlotte Dacher, a Jewish teen who lives next door to Ruby, and Thomas Clark, a British RAF pilot who is flying missions over France.

As the novel opens, Ruby meets and marries the man of her dreams, Marcel, a handsome Frenchman.  She and Marcel move to Paris and Ruby dreams of walking hand in hand in the most romantic city in the world.  Her dreams are soon shattered, however, as the Nazis invade France and everything changes, including Marcel, who becomes secretive and who also disappears for days at a time, only to come back and refuse to tell Ruby where he has been or what he is up to.  The tension and the secrecy begin to take a toll on their marriage.  When Marcel is unexpectedly killed, Ruby discovers what he has been so secretive about.  Her discovery is life-changing…

Next door to Ruby and Marcel live Charlotte Dacher and her family, who are Jewish.  They have been hearing rumors about what the Nazis are doing to Jews throughout Eastern Europe.  Sure enough, as soon as the Nazis enter Paris, they begin imposing restrictions on the Jewish people, forcing them out of work and also requiring them to sew yellow stars on all of their clothing.  Soon after, Charlotte and her family realize that all of the rumors they’ve been hearing about Hitler and the Nazis are true, as mass deportations begin and their lives are torn apart.

Thomas Clark is a British Royal Air Force Pilot.  He has joined the RAF because he wants to protect England from Hitler and the Nazis but when his mother is killed in the Blitz, Thomas begins to doubt that anything he is doing is making a difference and questions whether it’s worth it to keep fighting.  That is, until he meets Ruby and Charlotte.  The unexpected connection he makes with them reignites his will to fight and he’s more motivated than ever to defeat the Nazis.

The Room on Rue Amelie is a riveting story about resistance, courage, and defiance in the face of seemingly impossible odds, and it’s also a moving story about love, fate, family, and the sacrifices we’re willing to make for those we love.

I was drawn to The Room on Rue Amelie primarily because the synopsis indicates it would be a great read for fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s The Lilac Girls and in many respects, I was not disappointed with the comparison.

My favorite part of The Room on Rue Amelie was its focus on all of the regular citizens of Paris and surrounding areas and the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that they defied Hitler and the Nazis.  The spirit of those people were what really made the book for me, especially those who worked on the “Escape Line” that is featured prominently throughout the novel.  The purpose of the Escape Line was to locate downed Allied pilots before the Nazis could get them and then provide them safe passage over the mountains and into Spain where they could then be sent back to rejoin their units and continue the fight against Hitler.  In many ways the Escape Line reminded me of the Underground Railroad with its many stops at different safe houses along the way and I just found it so inspiring that so many citizens were willing to risk their lives to work as part of the Resistance.

In addition to that, I also really loved the characters of Ruby and Charlotte.  They are fiercely, independent women who want to do their part to fight Hitler in any way they can, even though all of the men they encounter want to push them aside and tell them it’s too dangerous and that it’s man’s work.  I was especially drawn to Charlotte since, as a Jew, she was taking even more of a risk than Ruby was by putting herself out there.  I also loved how close Ruby and Charlotte became as the novel progressed.  They go from being mere neighbors to practically being like sisters, and their bond is wonderful to watch, especially since it contrasted so much with all of the tumult and danger that surrounded them.

The way Harmel structured the novel also appealed to me.  It’s told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas so it allows us to watch the war progress from three very different perspectives, which I thought really gave the story a lot of depth.

As much I enjoyed the story overall, I still had a few issues with it. The first is that it was more focused on romance than I expected it to be based on the comparisons in the synopsis to The Nightingale and The Lilac Girls, which don’t really rely on romance at all.  There were a few times while I was reading when it felt like the events of WWII served merely as a backdrop to Ruby and Thomas’s thoughts about each other.  Along similar lines, I was disappointed in the character development of Thomas.  At first I enjoyed following the story from his perspective as he joined the British Royal Air Force, hoping to do his part to defeat the Nazis.  It was interesting following along through his training and as he began to fly missions in the war.  I thought Harmel did a wonderful job of showing all the conflicting emotions Thomas was feeling while in the sky shooting down other men, and then especially after his mother is killed during the Blitz, when he begins to doubt that his efforts are even making a difference in the war.

 But then he just fell sort of flat for me.  Once he meets Ruby, it seems like she’s all he ever thinks about.  He only thinks about the events of the war in terms of how they can get him back to her.  If he gets shot down again, it’s a way back to her.  If he doesn’t go back and fight this time, he can stay with her, etc.  It was a little disappointing how one-track minded he became, especially since it was insta-love between he and Ruby in the first place, which was my final issue with the story.  I guess I just don’t believe in love at first sight because I was not at all sold on the idea that such an all-consuming romance could convincingly take place between two people who interacted for only a few days before parting company.

Even though I had a few issues with The Room on Rue Amelie, I’m still glad I read it because I very much enjoyed reading about the pockets of resistance throughout France and how big of an impact that they had on the war.  Based on its focus on the relationship between Thomas and Ruby, however, I’m not sure I was really the ideal audience for this book. I think fans of romance would easily find this a 4 or 5 star book.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

For fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, this powerful novel of fate, resistance, and family—by the international bestselling author of The Sweetness of Forgetting and When We Meet Again—tells the tale of an American woman, a British RAF pilot, and a young Jewish teenager whose lives intersect in occupied Paris during the tumultuous days of World War II.

When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevards, awash in the golden afternoon light. But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter, too.

Charlotte Dacher is eleven when the Germans roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze. After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear the yellow star, Charlotte can’t imagine things getting much worse. But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is ripped forever apart.

Thomas Clarke joins the British Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he’s really making a difference. Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting—and an unexpected road home.

When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis—and to open their own broken hearts—as they fight to survive. Rich with historical drama and emotional depth, this is an unforgettable story that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.

 

three-half-stars

About Kristin Harmel

Kristin Harmel is an international bestselling novelist whose books have been translated into numerous languages and are sold all over the world. A former reporter for People magazine, Kristin has also freelanced for many other publications, including American Baby, Men’s Health, Glamour, Woman’s Day, Travel + Leisure, and more.

Her latest novels — The Sweetness of Forgetting, The Life Intended, How to Save a Life, and When We Meet Again — are out now from Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster. Her latest, The Room on Rue Amélie, a tale of three lives that collide in Paris during World War II, is due out in March 2018 from Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster.

Kristin grew up in Peabody, Mass.; Worthington, Ohio; and St. Petersburg, Fla., and she graduated with a degree in journalism (with a minor in Spanish) from the University of Florida. After spending time living in Paris, she now lives in Orlando, Fla., with her husband and young son.

Review: I WAS ANASTASIA by Ariel Lawhon

Review:  I WAS ANASTASIA by Ariel LawhonI Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon
four-stars
Published by Doubleday Books on March 27th 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

MY REVIEW:

Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the subject matter of Ariel Lawhon’s I Was Anastasia.  One half of the novel chronicles the imprisonment and subsequent assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire royal family following the Bolshevik Revolution.  Even if you don’t know all of the details, you’ve probably at least heard the name Anastasia Romanov, who was one of Tsar Nicholas’s daughters and who was rumored to have survived the assassination attempt.  Whether or not Anastasia survived is the focus of the other half of I Was Anastasia, as we follow a woman named Anna Anderson who claimed to be Anastasia for 50 years until her death in 1970.

Is it possible that Anastasia survived?  If Anna isn’t really Anastasia, what would lead her to so desperately claim that she is for so many years?

Even though those of us who are familiar with the Anna/Anastasia story know how it ends, it’s still quite compelling to see how it all unfolds in this incredibly well researched retelling.

 

What fascinated me most about this novel is the way Lawhon captured both Anna and Anastasia.  Whether they are one in the same or two different people, I was completely invested in both journeys I was reading about.  Anastasia’s story of course immediately had me sympathetic, just knowing the history of how her family suffered at the hands of first, Alexander Kerensky after he forced her father to abdicate, then later the Bolsheviks after they overthrew Kerenksy’s provisional government.   Lawhon chronicles these painful events in great detail, making the reader want, all the more, for someone from the Romanov family to have survived the brutal massacre.

Anna’s story, however, was equally compelling as Lawhon shows how she spent much of those 50 years trying to prove her identity — being shuffled from place to place, having no real home or financial security of her own.  Some are sympathetic to her cause and believe she truly is Anastasia and want to help her prove her case in a court of law, while others don’t care who she is but just want a piece of the spotlight that is bound to come from being associated with possible royalty.  And still others pursue her relentlessly, trying to do everything they can to prove that there’s no way she can be Anastasia.

Even though I was already familiar enough with the story to know how it all ends, what I loved about I Was Anastasia is that the author focuses more on showing us how the story began and she does this using a unique dual timeline structure where she alternates the chapters between Anna’s story and Anastasia’s, presenting Anastasia’s timeline in chronological order, while presenting Anna’s timeline in reverse chronological order.  It was fascinating to watch these two timelines on a collision course and I couldn’t wait to see how the author would have them crash into one another to give us the truth about whether Anna Anderson and Anastasia Romanov are one in the same.

 

Even though it was fascinating watching each of the timelines unfold and waiting to see how the author would merge them in the end, I have to admit that I found Anna’s timeline much more difficult to follow than Anastasia’s.  Where Anastasia’s is a straight forward chronological rendering of events in the months leading up to the Romanov family facing a firing squad in 1918, Anna’s journey is actually presented in reverse chronological order, working backwards from 1970 to 1918.  That wouldn’t have been an issue in itself, but the way her story unfolded it meant that sometimes she would be referring to someone in earlier chapters but who that person is and how they came to be connected to Anna and her cause isn’t really revealed until later chapters as we continue to travel back in time.  It took me a few chapters to get used to this structure and slowed me down a few times throughout my reading as I tried to remember what I had read about a certain character in later years now that I was meeting him for the first time as I continued to journey back in time.

 

 

If you’re not at all familiar with Anastasia Romanov and Anna Anderson, I’d definitely recommend reading I Was Anastasia.  Lawhon has crafted together a suspenseful mystery that will keep you guessing as to whether or not Anna is Anastasia, and at the same time, will have you hoping against hope that she really is.  And even if you do know the story, as I did, I’d still recommend it because it is a powerful and emotional retelling and because the journey to 1918 and the “birth” of Anna Anderson makes for an engaging read.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Countless others have rendered their verdict. Now it is your turn.

Russia, July 17, 1918 Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920 A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Her detractors, convinced that the young woman is only after the immense Romanov fortune, insist on calling her by a different name: Anna Anderson.

As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre, old enemies and new threats are awakened.

four-stars

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the critically acclaimed author of THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, FLIGHT OF DREAMS, and I WAS ANASTASIA. Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, four sons, and black Lab—who is, thankfully, a girl.

Review: THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

Review:  THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin HannahThe Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 6th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Pages: 440
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I didn’t think there was any way Kristin Hannah could top The Nightingale, which left me sobbing by the end and is one of my all-time favorite reads, but if she didn’t top it, she came awfully darn close with her latest novel.  The Great Alone is an absolutely exquisite piece of writing.  It’s filled with realistically drawn characters, a compelling storyline that will reach out and grab all of your emotions, all in an awe-inspiring landscape.  It can be a harsh and devastating story at times as it explores dark subjects such as domestic violence and the effects of PTSD, but ultimately The Great Alone paints a beautiful portrait of hope and resiliency in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

Set in the 1970s, The Great Alone follows Ernt Allbright, his wife Cora, and their 13-year-old daughter Leni as they set out to relocate from Seattle, Washington to a remote part of Alaska.  Ernt was a POW in the Vietnam War who has struggled with day-to-day life ever since he returned home.  His behavior is erratic and volatile at times and he is often plagued by nightmares (flashbacks from his captivity) and bouts of paranoia.  Ernt has also been struggling to find and keep a job so he and his family just keep moving from place to place, hoping their luck will change.  When one of Ernt’s fallen comrades leaves him some property in Alaska, Ernt is convinced this is a sign and convinces his family that a move to Alaska is exactly what they need.  Leni and Cora are hesitant, but what we learn right away is that Cora would follow her husband to the end of the world and back if he asked. It’s just the nature of their relationship.

When they arrive in remote Kaneq, Alaska, the local residents reach out immediately and let them know that no matter how prepared they think they are to survive in Alaska, they’re dead wrong and have a lot of work to do.  Thankfully, the sense of community is so strong that the regulars don’t just dole out the advice and go about their own business.  No, they dole out the advice and then jump in and help make that advice a reality.  They get Ernt and his family about as ready for an Alaska winter as they possibly can and embrace them as new members of their pioneer community.

At first, Ernt thrives in Alaska. There’s so much to do and he loves the idea of living off the land.  But then as winter approaches and he is faced with 18 hours of darkness a day, he starts to struggle again, this time turning to violence and alcohol.  As much danger as they face outside, with the threat of the frigid temperatures and deadly wild animals, Cora and Leni soon realize that they’re in danger inside their home as well.  It becomes more and more clear that they can’t rely on Ernt to help them survive in Alaska and that this “fresh start” could end up costing them their lives.

 

This is one of those books where I could go on and on about everything I loved, but I’m just going to stick with a few highlights so that I don’t write a novel about the novel. I hope it’s not too spoilery but maybe turn back now and just know I LOVED this book if you haven’t read it yet.

Sense of Community.  I was just so touched by the way the community of Kaneq makes it their mission to make sure everyone who comes to their remote area has the tools they need to survive.  The community is filled with strong, independent, resilient people and they treat each other like family, sharing their resources and looking out for one another.  And in many cases, it’s the women of the community who are the most formidable.   Large Marge, in particular, as her name suggests, is a force to be reckoned with and one of my favorite characters in the book.  She is strong, fiercely independent, will put someone in their place in a minute if they deserve it, and she’s also hilarious.  She might just be a secondary character, but take it from me, she is fabulous!

Mother-Daughter Bond.  I thought the relationship between Cora and Leni was just beautifully written.  They share such a deep bond, first from having lived together by themselves for so long while Ernt was a POW, but then they were basically on their own once Ernt succumbed to his dark nature in Alaska.  Cora and Leni are so protective of each other – each would sacrifice themselves in order to save the other from Ernt’s violent side.  Cora wants Leni to get away so that she knows Leni is safe, but Leni won’t leave because she knows her mother will never leave her father and therefore Leni feels that she must stay to try to protect her.  In so many ways it had me screaming at the book because I wanted them both to get away before he completely lost control and killed them, but at the same time, that strong mother-daughter bond moved me to tears.

Realistically Drawn, Flawed Characters.  Hannah has such a gift for creating characters that just feel so real.  All of her characters, especially Ernt, Cora, and Leni, are messy and flawed, and even the secondary characters feel three dimensional.  There’s just so much depth to all of their personalities.  I became invested not just in Ernt’s family but in the entire Kaneq community.

The Great Alone.  I want to talk about the atmospheric quality of Hannah’s writing here.  Her descriptions of Alaska are so detailed and vivid that I was left awestruck, not just by the physical beauty of the Alaskan landscape but also by how deadly that beautiful landscape can be.  I felt the bone-chilling cold, the darkness closing in as winter approached, and the lurking bears and wolves that could attack without warning.  I truly felt like I had been transported there and like I was planning my own survival and living the pioneer life.  The Great Alone is, by far, one of the most atmospheric reads I’ve ever experienced.

 

I can’t really say that I had any issues with this book, although the scenes of domestic violence were definitely hard to take, so be forewarned.  The scenes were jarring and horrific and the portrait of a toxic relationship is frighteningly realistic.  It’s a testament to how vivid and powerful Hannah’s writing is, but man, is it disturbing!

 

It’s a brutal read at times, but The Great Alone is still one of the most beautiful books I’ve read so far this year.  It both captivated and horrified me, gutted me yet filled me with hope, and it kept me reading until the wee hours of the night because I just had to know the fate of Ernt and his family.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS: 

Alaska, 1974.  Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.  For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

five-stars

About Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, Winter Garden, Night Road, and Firefly Lane.

Her novel, The Nightingale, has been published in 43 languages and is currently in movie production at TriStar Pictures, which also optioned her novel, The Great Alone. Her novel, Home Front has been optioned for film by 1492 Films (produced the Oscar-nominated The Help) with Chris Columbus attached to direct.

Kristin is a former-lawyer-turned writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. Her novel, Firefly Lane, became a runaway bestseller in 2009, a touchstone novel that brought women together, and The Nightingale, in 2015 was voted a best book of the year by Amazon, Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library Journal, Paste, The Wall Street Journal and The Week. Additionally, the novel won the coveted Goodreads and People’s Choice Awards. The audiobook of The Nightingale won the Audiobook of the Year Award in the fiction category.

Review: THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by Katherine Arden

Review:  THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by Katherine ArdenThe Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Also by this author: The Bear and the Nightingale
five-stars
Series: The Winternight Trilogy #2
Published by Del Rey on December 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Also in this series: The Bear and the Nightingale
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

MY REVIEW:

Katherine Arden’s The Winternight Trilogy is one of the most captivating series I’ve ever read.  I fell in love with the series last winter when I read the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale.  Filled with lush worldbuilding, a feisty heroine, fascinating Russian folklore, and a touch of the supernatural, The Bear and the Nightingale entranced me from the first pages and I just fell in love with everything about the story.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the second book, The Girl in the Tower, and was thrilled to be approved for an advanced copy to review on my blog.

I didn’t think it was possible to top the gorgeous storytelling in the first book, but Arden proved me wrong.  As much as I adored The Bear and the Nightingale, I thought The Girl in the Tower was even more amazing!  It has all of the same wonderful elements as the first book – the magic, the Russian folklore, beloved characters like Vasya, her horse Solovey, and the Frost Demon.  But then, there’s just also so much more to love.

In The Girl in the Tower, Vasya has really come into her own in terms of character growth.  She is still a free spirit who refuses to bow down and do what society expects young women to do, but now she is also more mature and a bit wiser because of what she went through in the first book.

The Girl in the Tower picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale left off. Because of what happened to Vasya in the first book, there are rumors swirling around her village that she is a witch.  Faced with the choices before her – either marrying someone she doesn’t love or being sent to live in a convent —  Vasya decides to create her own destiny and runs away from home.  When the story opens, we meet Vasya traveling, disguised as a boy, with only her horse, Solovey, by her side.

The roads she travels on are rugged and unsafe, but Vasya’s journey ultimately takes her to Moscow where she is reunited with her monk brother, Sasha; her sister, Olga, who is now a princess; and her cousin Dmitrii, who is the Crown Prince of Moscow.  Desperately trying to conceal her true identity, Vasya gets caught up in a web of deception, lies, and political unrest and finds herself faced with extremely dangerous choices everywhere she turns.

How will she get out of her predicament and what will happen to her if her true identity is revealed?

As with the first book, the atmospheric quality of The Girl in the Tower was one of my favorite parts of the novel.  As soon as I began reading, I felt as though I had been transported to Vasya’s world.  Arden masterfully paints a medieval Russian landscape and skillfully dots this landscape with a fascinating mix of supernatural elements and Russian folklore.  Her descriptions are so vivid that I could practically hear the snow crunching under Solovey’s hooves as he and Vasya traversed the snowy landscape, just as I could easily envision the tiny magical spirit guardians hidden in each building Vasya entered.

Vasya is of course still a major favorite of mine.  I admire her bravery and her feistiness and the fact that she doesn’t want to be forced into marriage or into a convent.  She has no interest in society’s expectations for women and, instead, wants to be an adventurer and travel the world.  Vasya has a spirit that cannot be tamed, and I couldn’t help but cheer her on, even though I know it’s likely to be dangerous for her.

In addition to Vasya, another favorite character of mine is her stallion, Solovey.  Solovey and Vasya can communicate with each other, and some of their exchanges are truly hilarious.  I love Solovey for his loyalty, his sassiness, and for his fierceness.  You’ll want a Solovey of your very own after reading this story.  He’s the perfect companion for Vasya.

And, of course, I can’t leave out an unexpected favorite character, Morozko, the Frost Demon.  Arden adds layers and layers of complexity to Morozko in this second book and I just fell in love with him even more than I did in the first book.   The details of his history, along with his connection to Vasya, are what truly take this story to the next level, and even though I probably shouldn’t ship Vasya and Morozko, I totally do.  I just can’t get enough of the two of them together!

I also loved that this story seemed a little darker and a little more grounded in reality than the first story because of the focus on political unrest in Moscow. It added a layer of danger and intrigue that really made for an exciting and fast-paced read.

The only issue I had while reading this book was that it started out a little slow for me.  It may have been because it took a few pages to actually get to Vasya’s story, but I’m actually going to chalk it up as a personal issue because I was trying to start the book while riding on a train and was constantly distracted.  Once I got home and continued reading where there were less distractions, I devoured the rest of the book in less than 24 hours.

The Girl in the Tower is a tale that is beautiful yet dark, enchanting yet also horrifying. With its gorgeous prose, memorable characters, and intricate storytelling, it has also secured itself a spot on my Top Reads of 2017 list.  Katherine Arden has truly captivated me with this series and I can’t wait to get my hands on the final installment.  I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves a strong, feisty, independent heroine and good solid storytelling, as well as to anyone who is interested in Russian folklore.  You won’t be disappointed!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

five-stars

About Katherine Arden

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

Review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

Review:  Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha SilvaMr. Dickens and His Carol: A Novel of Christmas Past by Samantha Silva
four-half-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on October 31st 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

MY REVIEW:

Samantha Silva’s Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a charming, heartwarming tale that follows Charles Dickens at a difficult time in his life.  Dickens has been a hugely successful writer for years, with each book selling better than the last.  That is, until Martin Chuzzlewit, whose sales have unexpectedly flopped.  Three weeks before Christmas, Dickens’ publishers pay him a visit to tell him the bad news about his book sales and to issue him an ultimatum:  write a heartwarming, best-selling Christmas book in the next three weeks or else face financial ruin.

Needless to say, this does not put Dickens into the Christmas spirit, especially when on top of his bad news, he also has to contend with his family who is expecting the same lavish Christmas that they are used to.  Additionally, one of Dickens’ cousins is lurking about because he wants money for an investment, and Dickens’ deadbeat father is also milling around town racking up debts and expecting Charles to take care of them.

Dickens begins to feel backed into a corner and starts to lash out at those around him, eventually driving his wife and children away from their home.  At first, Dickens flat out refuses to write a novel on demand because it’s not his style, but ultimately realizes he has no choice and sits down to write.  There’s just one problem – he has no inspiration whatsoever and a huge case of writer’s block.  Growing increasingly frustrated, Dickens begins to wander aimlessly around the city of London and eventually finds himself on an Ebenezer Scrooge-like journey that ultimately becomes the inspiration for what ends up being his most beloved novel, A Christmas Carol.

There were so many things I loved about this book, but I think the Dickensian atmosphere was what I loved the most.  I truly felt like I had been transported back to Victorian London while I was reading.  Silva does a marvelous job of capturing all of the sights, sounds, and smells (both the good and the bad!) of the time period and the overall effect was just magical! It was instantly clear that Silva had done her homework, both with respect to Dickens himself and to the time period.

I also loved the way Silva brought Charles Dickens to life for her readers.  She portrays him as likable and charming, and yet so flawed and human at the same time.  His family means everything to him and he’s worried that he may not be able to take care of them because of his lagging book sales.   I really sympathized with what he was going through –everyone wanting something from him because of his success,  his wife telling him that he has changed and that she and the children are leaving until he gets himself sorted out, and then having to write a Christmas story on demand in order to keep from falling into financial ruin.  It’s a lot for anyone to have to deal with and Dickens also feels the tremendous pressure of up-and-coming writers such as Thackeray and begins to doubt that he can compete with them.  Dickens’ frustrations were palpable and so very understandable, as were his feelings of self-doubt.  The writer’s block that follows is something that all of us who write can relate to, and I thought it was brilliant that Silva uses all of these pressures she has piled onto Dickens’ shoulders to take him on a Scrooge-like journey of his own, which is what ultimately inspires his writing of A Christmas Carol.

I’m a huge fan of both Dickens and A Christmas Carol, so every time I was reading and happened across a shout out to either A Christmas Carol or one of Dickens’ other works, it made me smile.  I thought it was especially fun when he came across names he thought would make good character names and jotted them down, or on other occasions when he met someone he didn’t like and vowed to use them in his book to exact his revenge on them on paper.  I also chuckled to myself that Dickens would grumble “Humbug, bah!” when he was in a particularly foul humor and then ended up incorporating the now famous words into his tale, since he obviously modeled Ebenezer Scrooge after himself.  In this sense, I would think the book would be a lot of fun for Dickens fans.

Overall, this was such an enjoyable read for me, but I will mention that there were a few spots that were heavy in description, which slowed the pacing a bit.  Thankfully though, the lulls were brief and the action picked back up pretty quickly.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a charming, heartwarming tale that is perfect for fans of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, or even just Christmas itself.  I personally think it would make a lovely Christmas gift for the Dickens fan in your life.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Shakespeare in Love meets A Christmas Carol in this transporting debut novel set during the whirlwind period in which Dickens wrote his beloved classic, as he embarks on a Scrooge-like journey of his own.

For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, and he is famous on the streets of London, where avid fans sneak up on him to snip off pieces of his hair. He and his wife have five happy children, a sixth on the way, and a home filled with every comfort they could imagine. But when Dickens’ newest book is a flop, the glorious life he has built for himself threatens to collapse around him. His publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, he accepts, but with relatives hounding him for loans, his wife and children planning an excessively lavish holiday party, and jealous critics going in for the kill, he is hardly feeling the Christmas spirit.

Increasingly frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace and inspiration in London itself, his great palace of thinking. And on one of his long walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets a young woman in a purple cloak, who might be just the muse he needs. Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy, propel Dickens on a Scrooge-like journey through his Christmases past and present—but with time running out, will he find the perfect new story to save him?

In prose laced with humor, sumptuous Victorian detail, and charming winks to A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva breathes new life into an adored classic. Perfect for fans of Dickens, for readers of immersive historical fiction, and for anyone looking for a dose of Christmas cheer, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is destined to become a perennial holiday favorite.

 

four-half-stars

About Samantha Silva

Samantha Silva is an author and screenwriter based in Idaho. Mr. Dickens and His Carol is her debut novel. Over her career she’s sold film projects to Paramount, Universal, New Line Cinema and TNT. A film adaptation of her short story, The Big Burn, won the 1 Potato Short Screenplay Competition at the Sun Valley Film Festival in 2017. Silva will direct, her first time at the helm.

Silva graduated from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, where she studied in Bologna, Italy and Washington, D.C. She’s lived in London three times, briefly in Rome, is an avid Italophile, and a forever Dickens devotee.

Book Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Book Review:  The Alice Network by Kate QuinnThe Alice Network by Kate Quinn
four-half-stars
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 6th 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 503
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I love historical fiction that is set during WWI and WWII, so Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network was the best of both worlds for me as it has a dual time line, one of which takes place during WWI while the second takes place a couple of years after WWII.  What an incredible read this was! And the fact that the story is based on an actual real life women’s spy network that was active in France during WWI?  Amazing!  How did I not even know there was such a thing?

The Alice Network follows the story of two women, Charlie St. Clair and Eve Gardiner, and what happens when their lives unexpectedly cross paths.

Nineteen year old Charlie St. Clair is pregnant and unmarried.  The year is 1947, so as you can imagine, Charlie’s parents have deemed her situation a “problem” and so are shipping her off to a clinic in Switzerland so that it can be taken care of low-key so as not to ruin Charlie’s reputation at home.  Charlie makes the trip with her mom, and when they have a layover in England, Charlie runs away because she is on a mission of her own:  to find out what happened to her cousin Rose who had been living in Nazi-occupied France and disappeared during WWII.  Her family has presumed she is dead, but Charlie is convinced that she is still out there somewhere.  She only has one lead at this point, an address in London and a name, Evelyn Gardiner.  She has no idea who Evelyn Gardiner is or how she can possibly help her find Rose, but she is determined to follow this lead wherever it takes her.

Enter Evelyn, or Eve as she is known, Gardiner.  I’m not sure what Charlie expected when she first knocks on Eve’s door, but a snarky, stuttering, gun-toting drunk with horribly disfigured hands was probably not it.  At first Eve barely even listens to Charlie’s story about her cousin Rose and has no interest at all in helping her. That is, until Charlie mentions Le Lethe, which was the name of the restaurant where Rose was working at just prior to her disappearance, and Monsieur Rene, the owner of the restaurant.  As soon as Eve hears those names, her whole attitude abruptly shifts and she decides to help Charlie.

As Eve sets out to help Charlie, we are also taken on a second journey, this time back to 1915, where we follow Eve and see how she has ended up the way she is when Charlie meets her in 1947.  In 1915, Eve is working as an administrative assistant at a law firm in England, but she desperately wants to do something more important. Specifically, she wants to join the action in WWI fighting against the Germans.  She unexpectedly gets her chance when a visitor to the law firm, notes that Eve has qualities that would ideally suit her to working as a spy.  Namely, she appears to remain calm, cool, and collected no matter what is going on around her, and she is able to lie with a straight face.  Those qualities, coupled with a horrible stutter that make others assume she’s a bit dim-witted and therefore underestimate her.  Because of these qualities, the visitor recruits her to become a part of The Alice Network, an all-female spy network that was operating in France, right under the German’s noses.  Eve is eager to join and so we follow her through her spy training, to her primary assignment in enemy-occupied France during the war and all of the dangers it ensues, all the way through to why the names Le Leche and Monsieur Rene struck such a chord with her so many years later when Charlie St. Clair mentions them.   Eve’s journey is equal parts riveting and horrifying, and 100% life-changing.

I love when a dual timeline narrative is handled well and author Kate Quinn does a marvelous job presenting both Charlie and Eve’s stories in The Alice Network.  The chapters alternate between the 1915 and the 1947 timelines so Eve’s backstory is presented a little at a time as is Charlie’s mission to find out what happened to her beloved cousin.  Both stories are so compelling that I found myself easily pulled along, particularly because I really wanted to know what happened to turn Eve from spy extraordinaire to a bitter, disfigured woman with a major drinking problem.   I also wanted to see how exactly Eve was supposed to be the key to helping Charlie find Rose, not to mention I really wanted to know if Rose was still alive, and if so, why has she gone two years without trying to contact her family.

I also think that part of the reason the dual timeline works so well in this story is the active presence of Eve in both timelines.  She is such a fascinating and complex character, both in her younger days where she so desperately wanted to fight against the Germans and as we see her in 1947, where she is ready to take her Luger and blow the head off of anyone who so much as looks at her funny.  I adored Eve’s bigger-than-life personality and the way it just fills the pages of this story.  She made me laugh, she made me cry, and she had me scared to death for her at so many points throughout the story.

Charlie is very likeble as well, but in a different way, since we only see her at age 19.  What I liked about Charlie was her spunk and her determination, as well as her absolute devotion to her cousin, who was more like a sister to her.  Charlie’s youthful enthusiasm, combined with Eve’s fierce snark, makes them a pretty formidable team as they journey together to find Rose.

Kate Quinn also does a brilliant job of depicting the settings, both in 1915 with enemy-occupied France and then 1947, with both the French countryside and with London.  The sights and sounds felt authentic, and Quinn’s attention to detail is spot on.  As I read and followed these women, I felt myself transported to each time period and location.

I wouldn’t really call it a dislike, but I do have to admit that I found Eve’s storyline to be a lot more compelling than Charlie’s.  I loved both characters and was invested in both storylines, but Eve’s journey and the life-threatening danger she faced every moment while working as a spy was just absolutely riveting. Charlie’s story just fell a bit short in comparison.

If you’re looking for a well written, riveting read, I’d highly recommend checking out The Alice Network.  It’s sure to be a favorite for fans of historical fiction, but I think anyone who enjoys reading about strong and complex female characters would love this read as well.  Since this was a fictionalized account of the actual Alice Network, I find myself now wanting to go out and learn more about it since I had never heard of it during any of my history courses in school.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1915.  In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1948. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth …no matter where it leads.

four-half-stars

About Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with “The Alice Network.” All have been translated into multiple languages.

Kate and her husband now live in San Diego with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.