Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig: A Book Review

The Girl from Everywhere
Author: Heidi Heilig
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date:  February 16, 2016
Pages: 464
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis: Heidi Heilig's debut teen fantasy sweeps from modern-day New York City, to nineteenth-century Hawaii, to places of myth and legend. Sixteen-year-old Nix has sailed across the globe and through centuries aboard her time-traveling father's ship. But when he gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. The Girl from Everywhere, the first of two books, blends fantasy, history, and a modern sensibility. It's witty, fast-paced dialogue, breathless adventure, multicultural cast, and enchanting romance will dazzle readers of Sabaa Tahir, Rae Carson, and Rachel Hartman.

     Nix's life began in Honolulu in 1868. Since then she has traveled to mythic Scandinavia, a land from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, modern-day New York City, and many more places both real and imagined. As long as he has a map, Nix's father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place, any time. But now he's uncovered the one map he's always sought—1868 Honolulu, before Nix's mother died in childbirth. Nix's life—her entire existence—is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix's future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who's been part of their crew for two years. If Nix helps her father reunite with the love of his life, it will cost her her own.

     My Review: The Girl from Everywhere is a time travel novel that surrounds an actual pirate heist in Honolulu. Nix lives on the ship, The Temptation, where they travel through different eras by navigating old maps. However, Nix’s father wants to find the map of Honolulu 1868, where he can see Nix’s mother again. However, because that is also the time when Nix was born, she knows that if her present self is in the time period of her past self, then she cannot exist. Nix knows that she must stand up to her father if she wants to exist. Luckily, she and her father arrive in Honolulu at a different time period. She realizes that this is because the map they were using was inaccurate. In order to obtain the accurate map that could get them to her father’s desired destination, they are forced to steal from Hawaiian’s Royal Treasury. Will their heist be successful, and what would happen once they have the map?

     As a Hawaiian, I am always looking for books about Hawaii to learn more about my history and culture. I grew up learning all the myths and history of Hawaii. While I was disappointed that the book only scratches the surface and does not really go into a deeper level of the Hawaiian myths, for instance why the Hawaiian Night Marchers roam the night, or that this novel is not filled with rich historical details about Honolulu, it is still a great read for those who are not familiar with our history and culture. Hawaii is a very religious island filled with mysticism and superstition that make it a perfect setting for a fantasy novel.

     Nix is a fun character. At first, I was a bit annoyed with her. When her father is threatening with her basic existence, I would assume that she would stand up to her father. Instead, she does nothing. She just goes with the flow. Later, as the novel progresses, she soon finds her inner strength and begins to take a stand. She slowly grows into a mature young woman. She also becomes very independent. She comes to rely more on herself and becomes very confident.

      Overall, this book is about friendship, family, love, choices, and sacrifices. This is a coming-of-age story about a young woman who is trying to find her place in the world. The message of the book is to appreciate what you have right now because you never know when you may lose it. The story has some slow parts but it mostly moved at a steady pace. The characters were very interesting. I also love the father-daughter relationship which was the centerpiece of the novel. This book leaves you waiting for the sequel. I recommend this novel to anyone interested in historical fantasy, time-travel, and Hawaiian culture.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Endure (Book #3 of Defy Trilogy) by Sara B. Larson: A Book Review

Endure (Book #3 of Defy Trilogy)
Author: Sara B. Larson
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 337
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: The remarkable third novel in Sara B. Larson's bestselling Defy series!

     At last, Alexa and King Damian are engaged to be married. But their lives are far from safe. The kingdom of Antion is under siege, and Rylan is a prisoner of the enemy. Even worse, Alexa remains at the mercy of the evil Dansiian Rafe, who controls her mind and can force Alexa to kill or harm Damian at any moment. Despite this, Alexa is determined to rescue Rylan, which soon leads her far from Damian and deep into enemy territory.

     When she arrives, what awaits her is deadlier than anything she could have ever imagined: an army of black sorcerers, and a horrifying plot to destroy the world as Alexa knows it. Will she be able to gather the strength to free herself, protect the love of her life, and save the land? Will there ever be true peace?

     Acclaimed author Sara B. Larson has woven a stunning, romantic, and evocative finale to the Defy trilogy, that is sure to leave readers breathless until the very last page.

     My Review: Endure is the final book in the Defy trilogy. This book picks up immediately where Ignite has left. The kingdom of Antion is still in danger. They are under threat of invasion from the kingdom of Dansii, and Rylan is now a hostage of the king of Dansii. Alexa then decides to rescue him. However her mission is full of danger, and she realizes that her attempt will fail and she may lose her life. Can she save her friend and her kingdom?

     Alexa has grown stronger than in the first two books. She has grown more mature. She has known much pain and loss and is trying to heal. She is very tough, and I like how she can save herself. She is also very smart, and is always planning. Alexa is also very irrational and impulsive. There were times that I did not agree with Alexa’s actions. It is her impulsive nature that gets her and her friends into trouble. I also thought that she was selfish sometimes, and did not think about how her actions affected others.

     Overall, this book is about friendship, love, choices, and sacrifices. It is about a woman who is trying to heal from the loss of her loved ones. The story is very fast-paced and action-packed. However, I felt that the author was trying to cram too much plot into her story in such a short book. I think that the book should have been longer or broken into two books so that the story could flow more evenly and at a steady pace. The story was also predictable and there were no twists. Nevertheless, it was good to see how Alexa’s journey ended. I recommend this to anyone interested in reading action-packed fantasy and fans of stories about female warriors, such as Xena or Red Sonja.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 26, 2016

Blog Tour: Daughter of Destiny (Guinevere's Tale, Book One) by Nicole Evelina

02_Daughter of DestinyDaughter of Destiny (Guinevere's Tale, Book One) By Nicole Evelina

Publication Date: January 1, 2016 Lawson Gartner Publishing eBook & Paperback; 326 Pages Genre: Historical Fantasy

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Synopsis: Before queenship and Camelot, Guinevere was a priestess of Avalon. She loved another before Arthur, a warrior who would one day betray her.

     In the war-torn world of late fifth century Britain, young Guinevere faces a choice: stay with her family to defend her home at Northgallis from the Irish, or go to Avalon to seek help for the horrific visions that haunt her. The Sight calls her to Avalon, where she meets Morgan, a woman of questionable parentage who is destined to become her rival. As Guinevere matures to womanhood, she gains the powers of a priestess, and falls in love with a man who will be both her deepest love and her greatest mistake.

     Just when Guinevere is able to envision a future in Avalon, tragedy forces her back home, into a world she barely recognizes, one in which her pagan faith, outspokenness, and proficiency in the magical and military arts are liabilities. When a chance reunion with her lover leads to disaster, she is cast out of Northgallis and into an uncertain future. As a new High King comes to power, Guinevere must navigate a world of political intrigue where unmarried women are valuable commodities and seemingly innocent actions can have life-altering consequences.

     You may think you know the story of Guinevere, but you’ve never heard it like this: in her own words. Listen and you will hear the true story of Camelot and its queen.

     Fans of Arthurian legend and The Mists of Avalon will love Daughter of Destiny, the first book in a historical fantasy trilogy that gives Guinevere back her voice and traces her life from an uncertain eleven year old girl to a wise queen in her fifth decade of life.


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Praise


     “A gripping read that brings a wonderfully depicted Guinevere tumbling out of the shadows of myth.” – Anna Belfrage, author of The Graham Saga

     “Nicole Evelina shows a deep and passionate love for the Arthurian world, and her re-weaving of the story of Guinevere and Arthur makes for enjoyable reading. With more volumes to come, if you like stories of Camelot, ancient priesthoods, magical Avalonian dreams and embattled romance, this is for you.” – John Matthews, author of ‘Arthur of Albion’ and ‘The Camelot Oracle’.

     “Colorful and exciting…love all the characters. You will have a ball with this book.” – Serena Scott Thomas, actress and audio book narrator 


About the Author


03_Nicole Evelina


     Nicole Evelina is St. Louis-born historical fiction and romantic comedy writer. Her first four books are coming out in 2016:

     1. Daughter of Destiny (January 1 – This is the first book of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view)
     2. Camelot’s Queen (March 23 – The second book in the trilogy)
     3. Been Searching for You (May 23 – a contemporary romantic comedy that won in the single title romance category of the 2015 Great Expectations Contest (sponsored by North Texas RWA) and the 2015 Gold Rose Contest (sponsored by Portland RWA) and is a finalist in five others.
     4. Madame Presidentess (July 25 – Historical fiction about 19th century American Presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull, the first American woman to run for President)

     She hopes to have the final book in Guinevere’s Tale available in late 2016 or early 2017.

     Nicole is a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, and Sirens, a group supporting female fantasy authors, as well as a member of the Romance Writers of America, Women Fiction Writers Association, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Women Writing the West and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

     She is one of only six authors who completed the first week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness in 2014. Nicole has traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon

     Her website/blog is http://nicoleevelina.com and she can be found on Twitter as well as on Pinterest, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram and Tumblr.


Giveaway


     To win a paperback copy of Daughter of Destiny (Guinevere’s Tale, Book One) by Nicole Evelina please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below. Two copies are up for grabs!

Rules:

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on February 26th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. 

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O'Keeffe by Dawn Tripp: A Book Review

Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe
Author: Dawn Tripp
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: February, 9 2016
Pages: 337
Source:Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis: In a dazzling work of historical fiction in the vein of Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, Dawn Tripp brings to life Georgia O’Keeffe, her love affair with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and her quest to become an independent artist.

     This is not a love story. If it were, we would have the same story. But he has his, and I have mine. 

     In 1916, Georgia O’Keeffe is a young, unknown art teacher when she travels to New York to meet Stieglitz, the famed photographer and art dealer, who has discovered O’Keeffe’s work and exhibits it in his gallery. Their connection is instantaneous. O’Keeffe is quickly drawn into Stieglitz’s sophisticated world, becoming his mistress, protégé, and muse, as their attraction deepens into an intense and tempestuous relationship and his photographs of her, both clothed and nude, create a sensation. 

     Yet as her own creative force develops, Georgia begins to push back against what critics and others are saying about her and her art. And soon she must make difficult choices to live a life she believes in.

     A breathtaking work of the imagination, Georgia is the story of a passionate young woman, her search for love and artistic freedom, the sacrifices she will face, and the bold vision that will make her a legend.

     My Review: Georgia is about the love story between Georgia O'Keeffe and the photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Georgia is an art teacher who decides to live in New York City. There, the famous photographer Alfred notices her art work and sees her potential as a talented artist. The two of them soon have an affair and eventually marry. However, during their tempestuous relationship, Georgia fights hard to be an accomplished artist in her own right,  Yet to achieve it, she must make some hard choices.

     While I have known some of Georgia O'Keeffe's artwork, I have never known the personal details of her life. Yet, I found that her life was full of drama. Georgia is in an interesting character. She is a romantic, which is why she was attracted to Stieglitz. Stieglitz's photographs take an ordinary object and make it fascinating. Through Stieglitz’s art, it is like she has entered a dreamworld. However, she feels that her own art is not really being recognized. People praise her because she is Stieglitz’s latest flame. She is faced with reality and she is willing to do anything to make her dreams come true.

     As for Georgia and Stieglitz’s relationship, I found it a bit rocky. I did not really like Steiglitz. He is a womanizer. Sometimes, he can also be very controlling. He also has a mean temper. The novel can be a bit repetitive sometimes because they separate, but they come back together. While I did not like their relationship, I did find that Stieglitz had a major impact on Georgia’s artwork, and he is a main figure in her life.

     Overall, this book is about a woman’s quest to find love and happiness. This novel is beautifully written. While the characters are flawed, they seem real and very human. However, I did feel that this novel was a bit slow and repetitive at times. I recommend this novel to fans of art history, Heather Webb, Rita Cameron, and M.J. Rose.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min: A Book Review

Empress Orchid
Author: Anchee Min
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Release Date: 2004
Pages: 364
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: The setting is China's Forbidden City in the last days of its imperial glory, a vast complex of palaces and gardens run by thousands of eunuchs and encircled by a wall in the center of Peking. In this highly ordered place -- tradition-bound, ruled by strict etiquette, rife with political and erotic tension -- the Emperor, "the Son of Heaven," performs two duties: he must rule the court and conceive an heir. To achieve the latter, tradition provides a stupendous hierarchy of hundreds of wives and concubines. It is as a minor concubine that the beautiful Tzu Hsi, known as Orchid as a girl, enters the Forbidden City at the age of seventeen. 

     It is not a good time to enter the city. The Ch'ing Dynasty in 1852 has lost its vitality, and the court has become an insular, xenophobic place. A few short decades earlier, China lost the Opium Wars, and it has done little since to strengthen its defenses or improve diplomatic ties. Instead, the inner circle has turned further inward, naively confident that its troubles are past and the glory of China will keep the "barbarians" -- the outsiders -- at bay. 

     Within the walls of the Forbidden City the consequences of a misstep are deadly. As one of hundreds of women vying for the attention of the Emperor, Orchid soon discovers that she must take matters into her own hands. After training herself in the art of pleasing a man, she bribes her way into the royal bedchamber and seduces the monarch. A grand love affair ensues; the Emperor is a troubled man, but their love is passionate and genuine. Orchid has the great good fortune to bear him a son. Elevated to the rank of Empress, she still must struggle to maintain her position and the right to raise her own child. With the death of the Emperor comes a palace coup that ultimately thrusts Orchid into power, although only as regent until her son's maturity. Now she must rule China as its walls tumble around her, and she alone seems capable of holding the country together. 

     This is an epic story firmly in the mold of Anchee Min's Becoming Madame Mao. Like that best-selling historical novel, the heroine of Empress Orchid comes down to us with a diabolical reputation -- a woman who seized power through sexual seduction, murder, and endless intrigue. But reality tells a different story. Based on copious research, this is a vivid portrait of a flawed yet utterly compelling woman who survived in a male world, a woman whose main struggle was not to hold on to power but to her own humanity. Richly detailed and completely gripping, Empress Orchid is a novel of high drama and lyricism and the first volume of a duology about the life of one of the most important women in history. 

     My Review: Empress Dowager Cixi is China’s last empress. She is known as the woman who destroyed the Chinese Dynasty. She is often portrayed as cold and ruthless. In this historical novel, the empress tells the story in her own words of the early years of how she became empress. This novel shows a young woman who is forced to make sacrifices for the good of the kingdom.

     After the death of her father, Yehonala and her family move into the city to live with her uncle. When she is forced to marry a disabled cousin, she decides to be a candidate for the Imperial Concubine Selection. She is chosen and is a fourth rank concubine. Yehonala is not prepared for what awaits her at the palace. She is naive and full of hope for her future prospects. She receives the best food, servants that obey her every whim, and gorgeous clothes. Yet, the luxury is only a facade to what she has to endure. She is lonely. She realizes that the only way she can succeed is to get to His Majesty’s bed. However, His Majesty does not even notice her, and she is forced to live her days in solitude. She realizes that maybe one day, she may never have her chance with the emperor. Yehonala is forced to bribe the chief eunuch so she can have one night with the king. Her night goes well, and the king calls for her every night. Soon, she bears him a son.

     Yehonala is a sympathetic character. She is at first a romantic. She believes that being an Imperial concubine will lead to a life of luxury and bliss. Yet, she is forced to see reality that the court is a dangerous place. She is lonely and often depressed. She feels that her life will not improve. Eventually, she is forced to make sacrifices. She is also a woman who craves love and affection. When her husband, the emperor, is full of stress over the country’s affairs, Yehonala becomes interested in politics and helps him with court affairs because she loves him and wants to see him happy. Yehonala is also a loving mother. She is strict with her child because she wants him to be a good ruler. Throughout Yehonala’s journey, I loved watching her grow into a strong, mature, and intelligent woman. She is a woman who is devoted entirely to her country, and she fights for China to be grand again.

     Overall, this book offers an in-depth psyche into one of China’s most powerful and controversial figures. Yehonala is a strong and complex woman who is forced to make hard decisions and sacrifices for the good of the nation. This novel is filled with court intrigue, suspense, and romance. This novel was very well-written and I loved the description of The Forbidden City. I also liked the author in how she portrayed her characters. Empress Orchid left me excited to read the sequel, and I cannot wait to read more about Yehonala’s journey. I recommend this book to those who are interested in Chinese royalty and Empress Dowager Cixi. I also recommend this novel to fans of C.W. Gortner, Philippa Gregory, and Allison Pataki.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Blog Tour: Emmy Nation: Undercover Suffragette by L. Davis Munro: A Book Review

Emmy Nation Undercover Suffragette by L. Davis Munro
Publication Date: 2015
Publisher: CreateSpace
Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: This book was given to me by iReads Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Being an independent woman in 1913 London is certainly empowering, but Emmy Nation is tired of the inescapable damp seeping through her worn shoes and the hopeless grumblings of her stomach.

     When she receives an offer from Scotland Yard to boost her typist income by spying on the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), Emmy jumps at the chance. But as she grows closer to the WSPU women the lines begin to blur, and when a painful part of her past resurfaces Emmy begins to question her choices.


​     How far are you willing to go to secure your equality?


     My Review: Emmy Nation works as a typewriter in the Scotland Yard. When the suffrage  movement is becoming very militant, the Scotland Yard wants Emmy to go undercover as a Suffragette to spy on their movement. Emmy jumps at this opportunity. She gets more pay and nicer clothes. However when she arrives at the Women’s Social and Political Union, she befriends a suffragette. As time goes by, Emmy soons becomes interested in the ideals’ of the suffrage movement. Soon, she must make a choice to truly be devoted to the cause.

     Emmy, at first, seems to be comfortable with her job as a typewriter. However, when she is given a better assignment she doesn’t hesitate to accept it. At first she is  happy to go undercover, for she thinks about the pay and the clothes. She is not really interested in their cause. Instead, she is afraid of the radical movement and thinks only about surviving through the marches of the suffrage movement. It is not until later that she actually thinks about the suffragettes’ cause. Soon, Emmy becomes a stronger and more mature person. We also get to see how intelligent Emmy is in the novel. She has to make hard choices and to do what is right. Therefore, Emmy is a likable character that audiences will root for.

    Overall, this book is about friendship, love, and choices. It is about a woman finding her own identity. I was intrigued with how the author portrayed the suffrage movement. These women were very admirable and they made many sacrifices so that women could have equal rights. I also liked the portrayal of the Pankhursts, the leaders of Women’s Social and Political Union. I had never heard of them until I read this book, but they seem like strong women. The writing is very engaging and it is fast-paced. The characters are complex and interesting. This novel leaves me excited to read the sequel. Emmy Nation is a great tribute to the women who have fought for their rights of equality.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Buy the Book: Book Depository, and currently for 99 cents on Amazon

Book Trailer:




About The Author:



     L. Davis Munro holds a master’s degree with a focus on women’s suffrage theatre and works in theatre and dance. She currently lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with her husband and her dog. Visit her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Dauntless (Valiant Hearts #1) by Dina L. Sleiman: A Book Review

Dauntless (Valiant Hearts #1)
Author: Dina L. Sleiman
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Christian
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 470
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: Where Legend and History Collide, 
     
     One Young Woman Will Fight for the Innocent

     Born a baron's daughter, Lady Merry Ellison is now an enemy of the throne after her father's failed assassination attempt upon the king. Bold and uniquely skilled, she is willing to go to any lengths to protect the orphaned children of her former village--a group that becomes known as "The Ghosts of Farthingale Forest." Merry finds her charge more difficult as their growing notoriety brings increasing trouble their way.

     Timothy Grey, ninth child of the Baron of Greyham, longs to perform some feat so legendary that he will rise from obscurity and earn a title of his own. When the Ghosts of Farthingale Forest are spotted in Wyndeshire, where he serves as assistant to the local earl, he might have found his chance. But when he comes face-to-face with the leader of the thieves, he's forced to reexamine everything he's known.

     My Review: In this retelling of Robin Hood, Merry is a young noblewoman that is forced to become an outlaw. She has decided to protect the orphan children in her former village, and created a band of thieves called, “The Ghosts of Farthingale Forest.” When she and her band steal a chest full of gold, King John wants the leader of the band captured and hanged. The young ambitious Timothy Grey vows to capture the leader. When he comes face to face with the leader, he comes face-to-face with his long-lost betrothed, Merry. Soon, Timothy must make the choice to save Merry or betray her.

     After reading the second book in the series first, I thought that Merry seemed like a fun character. In Chivalrous, she was very lively, strong, and cool. Yet, after reading Dauntless, she seemed like an entirely different person. In Dauntless, Merry is emotionally distraught. She has witnessed the deaths of her parents. Throughout this book she mourns her former life and the life she could have had if her parents were still alive. This Merry seemed solemn and distant. She can also be very indecisive. However, she is very selfless and protective of the younger children. She is the mother figure in the book. She makes plans for her band and their future. She is also very stubborn. While Mary is told to be a strong protagonist, and is assumed that she can fight, I did not really see it in this book. Instead, she seems to be more of a damsel-in-distress. She always needs saving.

     Overall, this book is about friendship, love, and courage. The message of this book is that there is always hope. This story is very fast-paced and filled with fun characters. It is filled with action and romance. This book is a great start to the Valiant Hearts series, and I can’t wait to read the third book. Dauntless is perfect for fans of the Robin Hood legend, Melanie Dickerson, Jody Hedlund, and Tamara Leigh.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Interested in learning more about the book? Here is the author reading an excerpt of Dauntless:

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Blog Tour: The Secrets of Lizzie Borden by Brandy Purdy: A Book Review

02_The Secrets of Lizzie BordenThe Secrets of Lizzie Borden by Brandy Purdy

Publication Date: January 26, 2016 
Kensington Books eBook & Print; 384 Pages 
Genre: Historical Fiction 

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Source: This book was given to me by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: In her enthralling, richly imagined new novel, Brandy Purdy, author of The Ripper’s Wife, creates a compelling portrait of the real, complex woman behind an unthinkable crime.

     Lizzie Borden should be one of the most fortunate young women in Fall River, Massachusetts. Her wealthy father could easily afford to provide his daughters with fashionable clothes, travel, and a rich, cultured life. Instead, haunted by the ghost of childhood poverty, he forces Lizzie and her sister, Emma, to live frugally, denying them the simplest modern conveniences. Suitors and socializing are discouraged, as her father views all gentleman callers as fortune hunters.

     Lonely and deeply unhappy, Lizzie stifles her frustration, dreaming of the freedom that will come with her eventual inheritance. But soon, even that chance of future independence seems about to be ripped away. And on a stifling August day in 1892, Lizzie’s long-simmering anger finally explodes…

     Vividly written and thought-provoking, The Secrets of Lizzie Borden explores the fascinating events behind a crime that continues to grip the public imagination—a story of how thwarted desires and desperate rage could turn a dutiful daughter into a notorious killer.

     My Review: Lizzie Borden is one of the country’s oldest and most notorious mass murderers. She was known to brutally kill her stepmother and father with an ax, hacking them multiple times. She is the subject of a children’s nursery rhyme along with having rock bands named after her. Yet, while she is a famous historical figure, it still puzzles many people as to why she did it.This historical fiction novel is an in-depth look into the psyche as to who Lizzie Borden was before she became a murderer and why she resorted to such a horrific act.

     The story is told by Lizzie Borden herself. I have to admit that with the novel being in first person told by a mass murderer, it brought chills to my spine. I had to put the novel down the first few times until finally I was more comfortable to continue reading the rest of the novel from her perspective. This story begins with a controlling father. While they are rich, her father demands that they live frugally. Her father controls every move they make. He discourages all suitors and socializing. While Lizzie is not happy about her father’s decisions, she tolerates it. She dreams that when her father dies, she will have an inheritance and can live as she pleases. However, one day she learns that her father is planning to leave her and her sister, Emma, with no money. Instead, when he dies, he gives all his money to Lizzie’s stepmother. Soon, this proves to be too much for Lizzie. Lizzie decides to commit a gruesome act so she can have her freedom.

     Because the story is in first person, the readers are inside her head. We see things from her perspective. Lizzie is a complex character. She faced trauma at an early age. This has matured her. She can also be a bit of a romantic, but the situations in her life force her to be realistic. In this novel, Lizzie is described as lonely. She does not have any friends. Her only interactions with people are in her own house. She does have the opportunity to go to Europe, and she experiences many freedoms that her father never let her have. When she comes back, she is forced to live with her oppressive father. Lizzie yearns for freedom and happiness.

     Overall, this book is about a woman who is searching for happiness and freedom. While I do not agree with Lizzie’s actions and that she should have found other ways to fight for freedom rather than committing murder, I felt that this book gives readers a good look as to the motive of her murder. This book does start off slow, but it picks up halfway through the novel. Because the story is about a mass murderer, there are some violent scenes. Still, I feel this book should be added to your Halloween reads in October. I also think this novel would make an awesome horror novel. I recommend this novel to anyone interested in Lizzie Borden, true crime readers, and psychological thrillers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 


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About the Author

     
     Brandy Purdy (Emily Purdy in the UK) is the author of the historical novels THE CONFESSION OF PIERS GAVESTON, THE BOLEYN WIFE (THE TUDOR WIFE), THE TUDOR THRONE (MARY & ELIZABETH), THE QUEEN'S PLEASURE (A COURT AFFAIR), THE QUEEN'S RIVALS (THE FALLEN QUEEN), THE BOLEYN BRIDE, and THE RIPPER'S WIFE. An ardent book lover since early childhood, she first became interested in history at the age of nine or ten years old when she read a book of ghost stories which contained a chapter about Anne Boleyn haunting the Tower of London. Visit her website at www.brandypurdy.com, you can also follow her on Facebook as Brandy Purdy aka Emily Purdy.


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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia by C.W. Gortner: A Book Review

The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia
Author: C.W Gortner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Pages: 401
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: For fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, bestselling author C. W. Gortner effortlessly weaves history and drama in this captivating novel about one of the world’s most notorious families. Glamorous and predatory, the Borgias fascinated and terrorized fifteenth-century Renaissance Italy, and Lucrezia Borgia, beloved daughter of the pope, was at the center of the dynasty’s ambitions. Slandered as a heartless seductress who lured men to their doom, was she in fact the villainess of legend, or was she trapped in a familial web, forced to choose between loyalty and survival?

     With the ascension of the Spaniard Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI, a new era has dawned in Rome. Benefitting from their father’s elevation are the new pope’s illegitimate children—his rival sons, Cesare and Juan, and beautiful young daughter Lucrezia—each of whom assumes an exalted position in the papal court. Privileged and adored, Lucrezia yearns to escape her childhood and play a part in her family’s fortunes. But Rome is seductive and dangerous: Alliances shift at a moment’s notice as Italy’s ruling dynasties strive to keep rivals at bay. As Lucrezia’s father faces challenges from all sides, the threat of a French invasion forces him to marry her off to a powerful adversary. But when she discovers the brutal truth behind her alliance, Lucrezia is plunged into a perilous gambit that will require all her wits, cunning, and guile. Escaping her marriage offers the chance of happiness with a passionate prince of Naples, yet as scandalous accusations of murder and incest build against her, menacing those she loves, Lucrezia must risk everything to overcome the lethal fate imposed upon her by her Borgia blood.

     Beautifully wrought, rich with fascinating historical detail, The Vatican Princess is the first novel to describe Lucrezia’s coming-of-age in her own voice. What results is a dramatic, vivid tale set in an era of savagery and unparalleled splendor, where enemies and allies can be one and the same, and where loyalty to family can ultimately be a curse.

     My Review: C.W. Gortner is one of my favorite authors of all time. Ever since he wowed me in The Last Queen, on every release day of his novels, I always go to my local Barnes and Nobles right on opening time and purchase his newest selection, often before they even have time to put the book on the shelves. His books have always been a NEED rather than a WANT for me. After I bought The Queen’s Vow in 2012, I went on his website on the news section, which I check regularly, and saw that he had a novel based on Lucrezia Borgia that will be coming out in 2016. I was elated but at the same time disappointed. Four years was a long wait for me. I wished that the book would have come out immediately. To pacify that time waiting for the novel about Lucrezia Borgia, I read many biographies on the subject. Then, in 2015, when C.W. Gortner released his latest novel, Mademoiselle Chanel, I was ecstatic. I devoured the novel on its release day and was satisfied. His latest novel definitely pacified me waiting one more year for his Lucrezia Borgia novel. So when I happened to come across his novel about Lucrezia Borgia, now titled The Vatican Princess, on Netgalley, I was super excited! Hooray! The wait was finally almost over! I was happy that I was granted early access to the novel that I had waited four years for, and if I loved it, I would purchase it on release day and add it to my C.W. Gortner collection. I knew that I would instantly fall in love with the book because I loved everything he had written so far. Immediately, when I had the ARC novel on my kindle, I made a cup of coffee, sat down, and began to devour the book, excited to be transported to the Borgia era. After I finished the book, the result was . . . a huge letdown.

     The Vatican Princess is about Lucrezia Borgia’s early life. She is the bastard daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia. When the pope Innocent VIII dies, and her father is in the conclave as the cardinals choose the new pope, Lucrezia feels that her life is about to change. For right now, she is the daughter of a nobody, but if her father becomes pope, she knows that she will be important. Her father does become pope Alexander VI. Yet, to be pope, Alexander made a bargain. He would marry his daughter Lucrezia to Giovanni Sforza. Soon, Lucrezia is thrust into an unhappy marriage. Lucrezia then realizes that there is an animosity between her father and her husband. Lucrezia must choose one over the other. As she makes her decision. Lucrezia fights for her happiness.

     I did like how C.W Gortner portrayed Lucrezia Borgia in the book. Lucrezia is a strong female protagonist. She is at first naive and obedient. She can also be judgmental. Over the course of the novel, she grows into a mature woman. She is clever and observant. She can see through other people’s deceits. She is very strong-willed. She is obstinate and is determined to fight for her own happiness.

     Now that I have told you what I like about this book here are the things that disappointed me. One of the things I like best about C.W. Gortner’s novels is that they are all meticulously researched. I do not think this was the case here. Maybe if I had not read the Lucrezia Borgia’s biographies, especially my personal favorites by Sarah Bradford and Maria Bellonci, then I might have enjoyed this novel a bit more. I could not find anything remotely accurate in the novel about Lucrezia. It was like C.W. Gortner only read the basic details about her life and did not explore any deeper. There was no depth to her story.

     Over three-quarters of the novel is about Lucrezia’s marriage to her first husband, Giovanni. Giovanni is portrayed as a villain in this story. In history, Giovanni was not a villain. While Giovanni and pope Alexander VI were hostile towards each other, he was not a bad husband. With this book being a historical fiction book, I can see why the author would make him a villain if it drove the plot. However, by making Giovanni the villain, it did nothing to enhance the plot. Instead it became boring and repetitive.The second thing I did not like was that the author portrayed the rumors surrounding Lucrezia to be true. One of the things I like about C.W. Gortner’s novels is that he take a much-maligned character, and give us a spin on the rumors surrounding her. This novel was not the case. Yes, Lucrezia is a sympathetic character. However, C.W. Gortner took no effort to dissuade the rumors. Instead, he enhanced it to try to make his novel interesting. This did not make his novel enticing. Instead, it made for very uncomfortable reading and did nothing to further the plot.

     Overall, this book is a coming-of-age tale. It is about a woman who is searching for happiness. The story was a very unsatisfying read. I could not connect with the story and the characters, for most of them were one-dimensional with little depth. This was not C.W. Gortner’s best. Lucrezia Borgia is a hard subject to write about, but C.W. Gortner just could not pull it off. I hate to say this, but I will not purchase The Vatican Princess to add it to my C.W. Gortner collection. He is still my favorite author of all time, and I am still going to keep reading every book he writes. I am excited to read his next novel, Marlene. For those of you who are not familiar with Lucrezia Borgia’s storyline, you might enjoy it. However, for longtime fans of C.W. Gortner and who know what to expect from him, I advise you to skip it and read his other novels instead. The Vatican Princess is forgettable and a disappointment.

Rating 2 ½ out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Into The Dim by Janet B. Taylor: A Book Review

Into The Dim
Author: Janet B. Taylor
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. And she's alive, though currently trapped in the twelfth century, during the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Passing through the Dim, Hope enters a brutal medieval world of political intrigue, danger, and violence. A place where any serious interference could alter the very course of history. And when she meets a boy whose face is impossibly familiar, she must decide between her mission and her heart—both of which could leave Hope trapped in the past forever. 
     
     Addictive, romantic, and rich with historical detail, Into the Dim is an Outlander for teens.

     My Review: When Hope Walton’s mother has been disappeared for months, it is presumed that she is dead. In her grief, Hope spends the summer with her aunt in Scotland. When she arrives, she finds that her aunt has secrets. She learns that her mother and her aunt are part of a secret organization called the Time-Slippers, who have found ways to travel back in time. Hope realizes that her mother is stuck in time during the reign of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and is determined to go back to the past to rescue her. Can Hope save her mother and return back to the present?

     Hope is not a very likable protagonist. She comes across as a smartalec. She is very condescending and talks back to those around her. She can be judgmental, and thinks bad things about other people. She is also a Mary Sue. She is good at everything she does. I also did not think of her as a strong protagonist. She came across to me as very weak. I think she paled in contrast from all the characters around her.

     Overall, this story is about love, friendship, family, and trust. While I did not like Hope, I did think all the other characters were fun. I also thought the villain was mysterious and intriguing. I also loved the portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was a fascinating character. The story starts out slow, but it gradually picks up speed. I loved the setting of medieval London. This novel is full of adventure, suspense, and action. This book leaves you excited to read the sequel. I recommend this novel to fans of fantasy, time-travel, and to those interested in Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Mrs. Houdini by Victoria Kelly: A Book Review

Mrs. Houdini
Author: Victoria Kelly
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: A captivating debut novel, meticulously researched and beautifully imagined, about the passionate marriage of Harry and Bess Houdini—a love story that defied death itself.

     Before escape artist Harry Houdini died, he vowed he would find a way to speak to his beloved wife Bess from beyond the grave using a coded message known only to the two of them. When a widowed Bess begins seeing this code in seemingly impossible places, it becomes clear that Harry has an urgent message to convey. Unlocking the puzzle will set Bess on a course back through the pair’s extraordinary romance, which swept the illusionist and his bride from the beaches of Coney Island, to the palaces of Budapest, to the back lots of Hollywood. When the mystery finally leads Bess to the doorstep of a mysterious young photographer, she realizes that her husband’s magic may have been more than just illusion.

     In surprising turns that weave through the uncertain days of the dawn of the twentieth century and continue into the dazzling 1920s, Mrs. Houdini is a thrilling tale that will take you deep into the heart of one of history’s greatest love stories—asking what drives people to believe in something bigger than themselves—even as it reveals the famous magician’s most remarkable feat of all.

     My Review: Harry Houdini is one of my favorite magicians of all time. I’ve read many biographies, documentaries, and do some of his card tricks to learn more about this eccentric man who seemed larger than life. When I saw that there was going to be a historical fiction novel based on Houdini’s wife, I was excited. Mrs. Houdini is often overshadowed by her elusive husband, and it was refreshing to have her in the spotlight. This novel follows two different timelines. The first timeline is when Mrs. Houdini is a widow, and she embarks on a search to bring back Houdini’s spirit. The second timeline follows Mrs. Houdini’s marriage to the infamous magician.

     Bess is a singer in a traveling circus. Within the first few hours of their first meeting between her and Harry Houdini, Harry suddenly proposes to her. Because Bess has only just met him, she is at first reluctant to agree.  Eventually, she agrees to marry him because she does not want to go back home to her mother. The two marry immediately, and she becomes Harry’s assistant. She becomes his number one supporter as he embarks on a journey to fame.

     Bess is a likable protagonist. She is impulsive, bold, clever, and observant. She is the first person to see through Houdini’s tricks. Because she married Houdini immediately after meeting him and does not know anything about him, she often ponders what her life might have been like had she refused his proposal. She wonders what she will be and what type of guy she might have married. She is also a sympathetic character. Harry oftens ignores Bess to focus on his career, and she is lonely. She wants to have children, and the fact they do not have any children hurts her immensely. However, through their marriage’s difficulties and their faults, they deeply love each other. Harry promises her that if he dies he will come back to her as a ghost. Bess sincerely believes his promise and is determined to see Harry’s ghost.

     Overall, this story is about love, friendship, and trust. The characters are very complex. Both Bess and Harry have flaws that have made some mistakes in their marriage, yet they both made up for it. The story is beautifully-written, lush, and lyrical. Mrs. Houdini is also a mystery and a ghost-story. The pacing was steady and full of suspense. I recommend this novel to anyone interested in Harry Houdini, supernatural mysteries, or love stories that transcend life and death.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Monday, February 1, 2016

Platinum Doll by Anne Girard: A Book Review

Platinum Doll
Author: Anne Girard
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: January 26, 2016
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Set against the dazzling backdrop of Golden Age Hollywood, novelist Anne Girard tells the enchanting story of Jean Harlow, one of the most iconic stars in the history of film. 

     It's the Roaring Twenties and seventeen-year-old Harlean Carpenter McGrew has run off to Beverly Hills. She's chasing a dream—to escape her small, Midwestern life and see her name in lights. 

     In California, Harlean has everything a girl could want—a rich husband, glamorous parties, socialite friends—except an outlet for her talent. But everything changes when a dare pushes her to embrace her true ambition—to be an actress on the silver screen. With her timeless beauty and striking shade of platinum-blond hair, Harlean becomes Jean Harlow. And as she's thrust into the limelight, Jean learns that this new world of opportunity comes with its own set of burdens. Torn between her family and her passion to perform, Jean is forced to confront the difficult truth—that fame comes at a price, if only she's willing to pay it. 

     Amid a glittering cast of ingenues and Hollywood titans—Clara Bow, Clark Gable, Laurel and Hardy, Howard Hughes—Platinum Doll introduces us to the star who would shine brighter than them all.

     My Review: I have heard of the legendary movie star, Jean Harlow. However, I have not seen any of the movies she starred in, or known any details about her personal life. Reading Platinum Doll was a pleasure because it showed how fascinating and complex Jean Harlow was. This novel chronicles Jean Harlow’s early years of how she became a star. This story follows Jean through her turbulent marriage to Chuck McGrew, her ambitious and controlling mother, Jean Bello, who wants to thrust her daughter into the spotlight, and her struggle to make it big in Hollywood.

     This novel uses Jean Harlow’s real name Harlean. Harlean had just run away from her home to marry, Charles, a young rich boy. They moved to Los Angeles hoping to start a new life. However, Harlean befriends an aspiring actress. While waiting for her friend on set, she caught  the eye of a few Fox executives who gave her letters of recommendations to Central Casting. Reluctant to go to Central Casting, her friends made a bet that she should go. She went to Central Casting and used her mother’s maiden name for her stage name. Soon she became an extra for a movie. Afterwards, she realized that she loved acting and decided to pursue it as a career.

     Harlean is a sympathetic figure. At first, she is an idealist and a romantic. She is passionately in love with Charles and is content at being a housewife She loves books and aspires to be a novelist. She is reluctant to act because she is content with her life. Yet, when she starts to act, her husband becomes jealous and possessive. He does not want her to act. However, when her mother comes to move in with them, their marriage becomes even more heated. Her mother wants Harlean to be a famous actress. Thus, Charles and her mother clash as they try to assert control over her. Harlean fights to be her own self and to make her own decisions for her happiness. 

     Overall, this novel is about love, family, choices, and sacrifices. It is a quest for a woman to find her happiness and her identity. The message of the book is to follow your dreams and to never give up. I felt the characters to be complex and engaging. Harlean was an inspiring character. She never gave up on her dream, even when defeat seemed to be her fate. I also loved the setting of Hollywood’s Golden Age. We get to meet some stars in her life, most notably Clark Gable. My only complaint is that this novel left me wanting more. I wanted the book to continue as an established star. I hope that the author will write a sequel because I did not want this book to end. I loved Jean Harlow and her world. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Jean Harlow and Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner: A Book Review

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard
Author: Susan Meissner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: January 5, 2016
Pages: 386
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: In this new novel from the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life, two women working in Hollywood during its Golden Age discover the joy and heartbreak of true friendship.

     Los Angeles, Present Day. When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind  ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take her on a journey more enchanting than any classic movie… 

     Los Angeles, 1938.  Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Hollywood after her  dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, and lands a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide.  What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future. 

     My Review: Gone With The Wind is one of my favorite movies of all time. So, when I saw that Stars Over Sunset Boulevard was about the story of two women set during the filming of Gone With The Wind, I immediately decided to read it hoping to be entranced again by Hollywood’s Golden Age. The story is about the lives of two struggling women in Hollywood, Violet and Audrey. Both of them have come to Hollywood to make their dreams realized. However, in order to get what they want, the two women soon become entangled in the webs of lies and deceit.

     Violet and Audrey are likable protagonists. Both of them have been hurt by their past. They have come to Hollywood to heal and to have a new start. They are roommates, and the two immediately become friends. Yet, they have different dreams of what they want in Hollywood. Audrey wants to make a name for herself, and Violet wants to find love. While at times their friendship had its rough moments, it nevertheless stayed strong throughout the whole novel. The two women were very flawed, but they were human. They made mistakes and regretted them. Thus, they were very sympathetic characters.

     Overall, this book is about friendship, love, choices, and sacrifices. It is about two women who are trying to find their identity. The story was slow and repetitive at times, but I thought the characters were complex and interesting. The filming of Gone With The Wind is in the background, for the two characters work behind the scenes. I loved the tidbits about the movie, but I wanted it to be more than just a background. I wanted David Selznick, Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, and Olivia de Havilland to have interactions with the characters. I also did not like the present story-line. I found it unnecessary because it did not help further the plot. Still, I recommend this book to fans of Gone With The Wind movie, and to anyone interested in Hollywood’s Golden Age and are looking for a story about an everlasting friendship.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars